Wednesday, December 31, 2014


A laid-back day. Whatever "work" I did, I did from home. Beefed up and did some initial editing on a sermon for Epiphany I (January 11 at St Paul's Cathedral). Began some broad stroke planning for liturgies at the pre-Lenten clergy retreat in February. Ferried our son and his wife on a shoe-shopping expedition, and bought a sweater for myself in the process. Completed the broad stroke liturgical planning I started earlier, then roughed out the first of the three retreat addresses I will be giving. Spent about three hours a the home of some friends down the street, along with several other quite interesting people whom they invited. Happy New Year, everyone.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Tuesday (St Thomas Becket, transferred)

Intentionally slow start to the day ... MP and task planning at home ... in office by mid-morning .... dashed off a note of condolence to a colleague bishop who has suffered the loss of a loved one ... polished, fine-tuned, and printed my homily for this Friday's ordination of a transitional deacon ... digested the content of and responded to a substantive email ... made air, car rental, and lodging arrangements for my February DEPO visit to Holy Communion, Charleston (SC) .... scanned a substantive amount of hard copy --- swang by St John's Hospital to look in on one our priests, who had major surgery yesterday .... home by mid-afternoon.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

First Sunday after Christmas Day

A rare opportunity to channel my former incarnation as a parish priest, as I "supplied" at St Paul's Cathedral for the vacationing Provost Fr Gene Tucker, and the effect was compounded by Brenda filling in at the organ during a transition in that position. She and I worked together as priest and musician for many years, so there was an element of nostalgia about doing so again. After some rest in the early afternoon, I tackled a to-do list that included digesting some Nashotah House documents in preparation for an early February trustees meeting, and some materials from a missionary seeking to partner either with the diocese or parishes in the diocese. 

Sermon for the First Sunday after Christmas

Springfield Cathedral--John 1:1-18

About a week ago, we passed the shortest day of the earth’s annual trip around the sun. This is a dark time of year. For most of us, it’s dark when we get up in the morning and dark when we come home in the evening. And for that very reason, it’s also a time of year that is full of light. Whether we use candles, or oil lamps, or incandescent or fluorescent bulbs, we go to great lengths to surround ourselves with light in the midst of the pervasive darkness. Most of the houses and lawns that have brightened our neighborhoods with their multi-colored lights will continue to do so for a few more days. The lights on our Christmas trees adorn our living rooms and dens. We are entranced, in an almost mystical way, by the power of light shining in the darkness.

When the ancient people of Israel escaped from slavery in Egypt, the Lord led them to their eventual homeland through an extended period of wandering in the desert. The Israelites were at that time a people who walked in darkness—figurative darkness all the time, literal darkness about half the time. During the hours of daylight, they were led by what the book of Exodus describes as a “pillar of cloud.” It must itself have been luminous, glowing like a fog bank glows when you can tell it’s going to burn off in another        hour or so. During the night time hours, the Israelites were led by a “pillar of fire.” This was surely a sight to behold! They began to associate light with the presence of God in their midst. In due course, Moses, their leader, erected a special tent, called the Tent of Meeting. Within the tent there was a place called the Tabernacle, which means, literally, to “encamp,” to “pitch a tent” in a particular location. Moses alone would enter the Tent of Meeting and commune with God at the Tabernacle, receiving instruction and wisdom for his demanding leadership duties. When Moses emerged from the tent, his face glowed with the very glory of God, such that he actually had to wear a veil in order for his countrymen to be able to look on him. The tent itself was luminous—one might say that it was “lit up like a Christmas tree.” It was experienced by Israel as the place where the Lord dwelt among them, the place where his glory abides.

You and I, in our natural human condition, are just as lost as the ancient Israelites. The universe is a dark place, an “old” place, terminally ill, in bondage to the power of sin and death. We are, in a profound spiritual sense, homeless within it. We are, in fact, homesick for heaven, even though we’ve never been there. We are born refugees. We yearn longingly for a far country that we know is our true and lasting home, but we’ve forgotten where it is, or how to get there. We desperately need a light, a pillar of fire to illuminate the darkness, a luminescent tabernacle that glows with the glory of God.

Blessedly, there is just such a source of light available to us. St John tells us about it in his marvelous prologue to the Fourth Gospel. He tells us of the eternal Word of God, who was with God in the beginning, and who is, in fact, himself God. Of this Word, John says, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” He is the “true light that enlightens every man.” And then, in that climactic fourteenth verse of the first chapter of John, we read that “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” When John says that the Word “dwelt among us,” he uses the same Greek word which also translates the Old Testament Hebrew word for “tabernacle.” Jesus, the Word made flesh, is our tabernacle, the dwelling of God in our midst, the place where his glory abides. Jesus is, in effect, our ticket home. He knows the way, and if we hang out where he hangs out, we’ll eventually arrive at that far country that we long for with such intensity.

After his resurrection from the dead, of course, Jesus ascended, in the words of the creeds, back to “the right hand of the Father.” But his presence with the Father does not mean he is absent from us. He has left us the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, a sacrament that nourishes and sustains his people with his very presence every time they gather to dine on his broken body and poured out blood. In fact, the place where we put the “sacred leftovers,” the consecrated bread and wine which is reserved for the communion of the sick, is, in fact, called the tabernacle, and a lamp is perpetually lit above it, signifying the presence of God’s glory in our midst. This is the house of God, the place where his glory abides. Bending the knee before his tabernacle is an entirely fitting and proper act of reverence. We are as privileged as Moses, and if we realized just how privileged we are, I wonder how much more brightly our faces would glow as we emerge from this Tent of Meeting back into the world.

Now, I could quit right here, because there’s unspeakable good news in what I’ve already said, more than ample reason to “make Eucharist,” which is to offer thanksgiving. But there’s more. There is, as they call it in Louisiana, lagniappe, something extra, an unexpected bonus. Out of this tabernacling in our midst, we not only see God in his glory, but we also see, in the light reflected from the face of Jesus, our own true selves. In Christ, we know ourselves more completely than we ever could before. We see ourselves to be simultaneously a people walking in darkness, miserable offenders, struggling under the grievous memory and intolerable burden of sin, and also as a people who have seen a great light, forever united to the One who has so mercifully “pitched his tent” among us by assuming our human flesh and human nature. The very fact that we are at all able to live under Grace, the fact that we are able to pray, able to love, able to forgive—this is all made possible by the marvelous light of Christmas, the light of the Incarnation, the light of the Word made flesh.

So keep the lights turned on. It’s Christmas. The Lord has shone forth his glory. Come, let us adore him. Amen.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

St John

Slept in (till nearly 9, rather to my amazement) ... morning reading and internet surfing ... weights and treadmill workout ... Did a close reading of the TREC report, and made some notes, seeing as how I will be in a position to participate in debate and vote on its proposals (and I will probably offer some written reflections in due course) ... continued to help Brenda with her preparation to fill in tomorrow as cathedral organist ... attended to sundry household projects and processed a few emails.

Friday, December 26, 2014

St Stephen

A low-key, but not completely unproductive day. Spent a good chunk of time at the office-cathedral complex, helping Brenda get oriented to the organ (she's subbing there this Sunday, and a couple of more time next month), doing some scanning of hard copy detritus, and writing out my customary notes to clergy and spouses with nodal events in January. Also managed to edit and upload the second session of last Lent's teaching series at St John's, Decatur. 

For quite some time now I've had intermittent wonky chest symptoms, and after my adventures of the spring of 2013, I tend not to blow things off. There' s a list of reasons why they should not indicate coronary artery disease, but lately there's been a bit of an uptick, so it seemed meet and right to have it checked out. The bad news is that I spent about five hours in the ER at St John's Hospital. The good news is that there's no evidence of anything cardiac-related going on. So the symptoms remain mysterious, but they're pretty mild, and apparently need not be a cause for anxiety, so I can chill out. Worth the co-pay.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Eve

Listened to the annual broadcast of Lessons & Carols from King's College, Cambridge (which has become more or less a Christmas Eve habit for us) ... wrestled and continued to settle in with a new domestic technological paradigm (having switched TV, internet, and phone providers on Monday) ... fleshed out developed notes into a rough draft of a sermon for the ordination of Cameron Nations to the transitional diaconate next week ... preached at the 5pm Christmas Eve liturgy at the cathedral ... enjoyed a dinner out with Brenda ... after a brief nap, it was back to the cathedral to preside and preach the Midnight Mass. It eventually felt good to be horizontal. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Sermon for Christmas Eve

St Paul's Cathedral

Part of me identifies with Ebenezer Scrooge. I am not by nature a terribly sentimental person, so by the time Christmas actually rolls around, many aspects of our society’s way of observing the holidays have long since worn a little thin with me, and I’ve been known to utter that famous expletive “Bah, humbug!” from time to time. Some have even used the word “Grinch” in commenting on my attitude. I guess my cynicism about “the holidays”, as the whole season is now commonly referred to, has been a long while in the making. Some years ago, while I served as a the chaplain for a parish day school, the principal had a special sweatshirt made for me. It featured a pumpkin, a turkey, and a representation of Santa Claus. I called it my “hallow-thanks-mas” shirt. It was good from mid-October into the new year, and, in Louisiana, where I lived at the time, I was able to extend its useful life all the way to Ash Wednesday just by adding a necklace of Mardi Gras beads.

The holidays. Does it sometimes seem like we celebrate holidays just for the sake of celebrating, rather than for anything they might represent? I’m glad to have a day off and a backyard barbecue on the first Monday in September, but I can’t say that I’ve ever gotten choked up with emotion over the contribution of organized labor to the fabric of our culture. If Christmas is just another excuse to celebrate, then I’m sorry, but that doesn’t interest me very much. From the mere fact that you’re with me here in this church, I suspect that many of you share my feeling. Bah, humbug! Surely Christmas means more than that.

Some of you are, or are related to, or are acquainted with, an owner or manager of a retail business. Christmas is deeply significant to retailers, of course, in a very concrete way. Up to a third of their annual income is received during the month of December. That’s why, with their incessant “muzak” and decorations unveiled the day after Thanksgiving, or even earlier, they make sure we realize what time of hear it is. And just behind them in cultivating an awareness of the season is a legion of church treasurers all across the land, cognizant of the fact that, thanks to the virtues of the Internal Revenue Code, December is a banner month for contributions to churches. But somehow I think even the most enthusiastic church treasurer realizes that Christmas means more than an opportunity to close the books for the year using black ink. And I also choose to believe that we are not here tonight to worship at the altar of “St Retail Sales.”

Many years ago a parishioner remarked to me that she was encouraged that there seemed to be less emphasis on Santa Claus that particular Christmas season. When she was young, of course — and, for that matter, when I was young, as well — Santa Clause was the symbolic epitome of the secularization of Christmas. I told her I thought that might be the case that there’s less emphasis on Santa Claus these days, but that I didn’t find it particularly encouraging because I suspect that it just meant there was less of an emphasis on Christmas, period, and more of an emphasis on the generic “holidays.” At least Santa Claus has a link to St Nicholas, a bona fide Christian saint, who really did distinguish himself by giving gifts to children. In contrast to the real secularization that has taken place in recent years, Santa Claus seems like a veritable religious icon. Yet, even in such a context, Santa Claus doesn’t provide sufficient motivation for us to leave our fireplaces and family gatherings and come to an otherwise deserted downtown Springfield to do what we’re doing. Christmas has got to mean more than honoring the memory of an ancient middle-eastern Christian bishop.

Right after Santa Claus, one of the most widely recognized icons of the season might be Charles Dickens’ fiction character Ebenezer Scrooge—you know, my old buddy. Mr Scrooge always looks quite earnest as he’s being lectured by the Ghost of Christmas Present about the virtues appropriate to the season: peace on earth, good will towards men, love, generosity, and all that. Once when I was in one of my “Grinch” moods, it was explained to me that there’s just a certain magic in the air during this time of year, a magic that, just for a while, seems to mellow the natural competitiveness and selfishness of human nature. Hollywood does a remarkably fine job capitalizing on this spirit. Even unsentimental Bishop Daniel still gets teary-eyed in the last scene of It’s a Wonderful Life when the good people of Bedford Falls gather around George Bailey and remind him how important he is to all of them. Even the crusty old bank examiner joins in singing Christmas carols. By and large, this is about as far as the world around us is willing to carry the search for the real meaning of Christmas, and the Christmas episodes of every thirty minute sitcom and sixty minute drama make the same point over and over again. Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m still not satisfied. I am, after all, a Grinch, an Ebenezer Scrooge, and sooner or later I’m going to feel like I’m drowning in a sea of sweetness and light that is a hundred miles wide but only a foot deep. And if Christmas is about magic in the air, then what am I doing dressed up in these funny clothes standing here lecturing you?

And it came to pass in those days that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. And all went to be taxed, everyone into his own city. And joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him is swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

Is this a step in the right direction? Are we getting warmer? Are we providing a deeper and firmer foundation for our experience of Christmas by anchoring it in these familiar words from the gospel according to Saint Luke? Indeed, I believe we are. The official name for this feast is “the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ.” So it’s a birth that we’re celebrating. For many years, my in-laws, lovely people now departed this life, festooned the exterior of their home every December with a large sign that read “Happy Birthday, Jesus.” Well should it have borne that message, for that is the message of Christmas. Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Bishop, of course you would say that. It’s your job to say that.” Well, allow me to burst your bubble, because I want to say that I don’t think we’re there yet. If we make our way past the generic “holidays”, past the commercialism, past Santa Claus and Tiny Tim, past the schmaltz of magic in the air, and to a shepherd’s cave on a Judean hillside and a baby lying in a feeding trough, we have indeed come a long way. We have made great progress. And because of that, all the more is the tragedy if we let ourselves remain stuck admiring an adorable baby and his heroic parents. Saint Luke, with the assistance of the translator’s of the King James Version, gives us those wonderful words which are so familiar and so precious to us that those of my own generation and older, at least, can practically recite them by heart without ever having actually tried to memorize them. But Luke only gives us a partial picture. The Christmas gospel is incomplete without St John’s contribution:

In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. … and the word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.

Christmas is more than Jesus’ birthday. It is more than the remembrance of a nativity. Christmas is the remembrance of an incarnation. Christmas is the remembrance and celebration of word becoming flesh. A word floats on the air in sound waves and is lost as soon as it is uttered and heard. Flesh is corporeal and concrete and can be grasped and held. God is an infinite creator. You and I are finite creatures. Christmas bridges that gap.

God inhabits eternity. Past, present, and future are all one and the same to God. You and I inhabit time. We have no being apart from the progression of heartbeats and days and months and years. Christmas bridges the gap between the eternal and the temporal, because Jesus was born at a particular time: “In the days of Caesar Augustus.”

God is, as the theologians say, omnipresent. He is everywhere, and there is no place where he is not. You and I are “spatially challenged.” We can only be in one place at a time. Christmas bridges the gap between God’s way of being and our way of being, because Jesus was born in a particular place: Bethlehem of Judea.

God dwells in the inaccessible light of pure holiness, beyond all human knowing. You and I dwell in the thick darkness of sin and suffering that we know all too well. Christmas bridges the gap between God’s luminescent holiness and our dark despair, because Jesus is a “man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief”, who “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death.”

Across the yawning chasm between God’s infinite and eternal holiness, and our temporal and finite sinfulness, lies the Word made flesh. We celebrate not just a birth, but an incarnation, because in the incarnation God became as we are, sharing the conditions of human existence. And because of God’s participation in our life, we have the inestimable joy and privilege of participating in his life. Saint Peter tells us in his second epistle that Christian are “partakers in the divine nature.” And that, my brothers and sisters, makes me want to celebrate. The chance to share in the very life of God is sufficient motivation for me to put on these party clothes and come over here to St Paul’s and sing God’s praises before his altar. It even makes me want to treat people with kindness and love and buy a few gifts and generally spread warmth and cheer wherever I can, and, heck — even enjoy “the holidays.” See, I’m not really a Grinch. But my Christmas joy comes from the realization that God became as I am precisely in order that I may become as God is. O come, let us adore him. Amen.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Tuesday (O Emmanuel)

  • Task planning (for an abbreviated week) at home; Morning Prayer in the (beautifully decorated) cathedral.
  • Made the requisite preparations to preside and preach at the midday Mass.
  • Took care of a necessary annual administrative chore at the behest of the Treasurer (who asked at the behest of the IRS).
  • Responded to an earlier email from the person who takes care of our diocesan website. There's an attractive new update in the making.
  • Did some minor revising and otherwise polished and edited, then printed, my homily for Christmas Eve (two Masses at the cathedral).
  • Celebrated and preached the 12:15 Eucharist, observing the feast of St Thomas, delayed a day (after already being delayed another day due to a conflict with Advent IV). I was ordained a priest on the eve of St Thomas in 1989, and celebrated my first Mass the following day, so this was my silver anniversary Mass, which is kind of a thing, I guess. It hardly seems possible. What a ride it's been.
  • Lunch at home.
  • Devoted a good chunk of time troubleshooting a wonky treadmill. To my eventual delight, however, a telephone conversation with a manufacturer's rep solved the issue. It was mid-afternoon by the time I was back at the office.
  • Back to sermon prep, doing the exact same thing I had done earlier, only with the sermon for this coming Sunday, also at the cathedral.
  • Filled out a form online for the renewal of my passport (which expires in February), then printed it, signed it, and attached a photo. Now all it needs is a check and an envelope.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sermon for IV Advent

St Barnabas', Havana--Romans 16:25-27, II Samuel 7:4, 8-16; Luke 1:26-28

For the last twenty years, I’ve always lived fairly close to the office from which I work, so I long ago fell into a weekday lunch hour routine wherein I tend to eat lunch at home, most of the time with micro-waved leftovers—and, I have to say, usually in front of the television. Several years ago, before I discovered TV on demand, and relied on old-fashioned channel surfing, I ran across the last forty minutes or so of a great old western from the ‘60s called The Command.

The main character is a physician who is the medical officer in an army cavalry unit sometime during the great westward migration in the nineteenth century. After an unfortunate skirmish with hostile natives, this doctor is the sole surviving officer, and, according to the rules, he very reluctantly assumes command. A crusty old sergeant, who knows a great deal more about military strategy than the doctor, grudgingly defers to him, and manages to keep the enlisted men, who are even more skeptical than he is about the whole arrangement—he manages to keep the enlisted men in line as well. But there is unrest and uneasiness all around, from the commanding doctor down to the horses, it seems. They’re a long way from anywhere, and they have a wagon train full of civilians to protect as they travel through Indian country.

Many times, it feels to us, as we make our way through the hazards and hostilities of life in this world, like we are with that cavalry unit and that wagon train. We feel cosmically vulnerable to a host of dangers that we don’t even know about and can’t identify. It seems like God is AWOL, if he was ever around to begin with. After all, just look back over the Second Millennium. If God were on the job and in command, would the bubonic plague have been allowed to decimate the population of Europe several times during the first half of the millennium? If God were on the job and in command, would the attempts to exterminate Armenians and Jews and various African nationalities—all within the century that most of us here can well remember—would these attempted genocides have been allowed to happen? If God were on the job and in command, would the manifest evil of slavery in America, and the racism that follows in its wake, have been allowed to occur? If God were on the job and in command, would child labor laws and the Federal Trade Commission and the whole judicial system, for that matter, even need to exist? Would there be any need for campaign finance reform or laws against bribery or sexual misconduct policy statements? Would we worry about shady moral standards on the worldwide web or the White House or wherever?

It’s no wonder that, a couple of hundred years ago, many of the leading intellectual lights in England and America professed belief in a God who is far removed from his creation, and is no longer actually involved in human lives. There was even a school of philosophy in ancient Greece—the Epicureans—who had a similar theology: divinity and humanity simply do not mix. This perception of an absentee landlord God who leaves us to our own devices heightens the general level of anxiety and escalates our capacity for inflicting all sorts of mayhem upon one another. Of the ten centuries in the Second Millennium, by far the most violent and destructive and deadly was the one that most of us were born in, the one that we are now not quite fifteen years away from.

Meanwhile, “back at the ranch,” or, back with the wagon train and its cavalry escort commanded by a doctor only a few days away from his discharge date, there are some surprise developments. Our doctor-turned-military-commander reads a few pages in a cavalry strategy manual, and picks the brain of his experienced sergeant, and applies a combination of his own imagination and common sense, and comes up with a plan. He doesn’t sit everybody down and explain his plan and ask for feedback and try to work for a consensus. This is the army, after all! Rather, the doctor simply starts giving orders like he knows what he’s doing. Some of them sound a little strange, because they’re not “by the book,” they’re not the way the men are used to doing things. Some of the men grumble and complain and even threaten disobedience, but these voices of dissent are quickly silenced by the sergeant. Most of them simply follow their orders without hesitation. They don’t necessarily understand the significance of the job they have been given, they don’t know how it fits into the larger scheme of things, but they know what their orders are and they carry them out. They’re clear about who they are—that is, field cavalry troops—and who they’re not—officers with command authority.

Realizing who we are is a tremendous gift! When you I and realize that, in the grand battle between good and evil in the cosmos, we are all mere ground troops, and not even line officers, let alone members of the general staff, we can be more comfortable about carrying out our assigned duties with fidelity and diligence. We can rest in the knowledge that God has a proactive plan to redeem human experience from all the evils—past, present, and future—that we are all too familiar with. God’s plan, in the words of St Paul in the final paragraph of his letter to the Romans, is “the mystery which was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed and through the prophetic writings is made known to all nations.” One of these prophetic writings that Paul talks about is the Old Testament book of II Samuel, which records the prophet Nathan’s words to King David:

When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son.

This is certainly a rather cryptic oracle, but with the advantage of Christian hindsight, we can see it as perfectly fulfilled in the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the offspring of David’s body who has built a “house” for God’s name—that is, the Church—and whose throne and kingdom have been established forever, and who is, indeed, the Son of God. The coming of Christ is the fulfillment, the execution, the implementation, of God’s proactive plan for dealing with the anguish of the human condition. His coming in obscure weakness the first time, to be our Savior, was, in the words of Churchill, the “end of the beginning.” His coming in glorious power the second time, to be our Judge—that will be the beginning of the end. But the proverbial cat is out of the proverbial bag. The Spirit of the Lord is on the loose in the world. The cry of a universe doomed to death by an ancient curse—“How long, O Lord? Save us, O God!” —the unspeakable desire of every human heart, is being heard and recognized and answered by Almighty God—the God of justice, the God of love, and the God of peace.

By the way, the cavalry doctor turned out to be quite the bright fellow. He outsmarted their enemies but good, and against all odds, the wagon train made it to safety intact. Once the soldiers began to grasp the method in his madness, the cooperation which began as only a dutiful following of orders became enthusiastic and heartfelt. They put every ounce of their will and energy into the effort.

I have often wondered just what it is that makes the difference between lukewarm, nominal Christians, whose hearts are basically aimed in the right direction, but for some reason hold themselves back from full immersion into the mystery of spiritual life and growth and service—why do some Christians remain in a state of arrested development, and others wonderfully “get it,” and are able to devote themselves soul and body to, as the old catechism used to put it, “working and praying and giving for the spread of God’s kingdom?” This is a deep question, and I don’t profess to know the answer for sure, but I have a suspicion that the “turned on” kind of Christian has somehow had an intuitive glimpse of the wonderful master plan of God’s redemption that is fulfilled in the coming of Jesus Christ. He or she has seen a vision of the glorious destiny of the universe according to mystery kept secret for long ages, now revealed in Jesus.

The Blessed Virgin Mary herself, on the occasion of her angelic visit from the heavenly messenger, Gabriel, surely enjoyed the same sort of glimpse. Perhaps it was on the basis of such a moment of profound sight that she was able to utter the most far-reaching Yes that has ever been spoken: “I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

May the Lord whose advent we both celebrate and await grant us even today such a vision, and the will to make Our Lady’s word’s our own: Let it be to me according to your word.

Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Saturday (O Clavis David)

Morning: Relaxing, reading, workout.
Afternoon: Miscellaneous small work-related tasks. About 45 minutes spent in the office.
Evening: Delightful dinner party with some people in the neighborhood. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Friday (O Radix Jesse)

  • Usual AM routine. MP in the cathedral.
  • Conferred with the Archdeacon on a pastoral-administrative issue.
  • Began the process of trying to upload the video I spent so much time editing yesterday. I won't chronicle the details, but I was dealing with this on and off the rest of the day and into the evening. See the results here.
  • Via email and three telephone calls (in various parts of the day), dealt (not conclusively yet) with an emerging Nashotah House concern.
  • Took a homily for the First Sunday after Christmas from many years ago and began the process of refurbishing for use this year at the cathedral.
  • Lunch at home.
  • With ongoing attention to items already mentioned at various points in the afternoon, I spent most of it doing scanning and electronic organizing of hard copy. With my new faster scanner, I'm not only dealing with new hard copy detritus as it accumulates, but going back into other paper records and digitizing them. This will be a long-term project.
  • Intended to spend a "Holy Hour" in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in the Lady Chapel of the cathedral, but it turned pretty much into a "holy 20 minutes," on account of one of the phone calls already mentioned. Still, a sweet time.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Thursday (O Adonai)

  • Customary Thursday morning weights and treadmill. 
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Reviewed and tweaked a draft of this Sunday's bulletin at St Barnabas', Havana.
  • Reviewed (and responded to) via email an issue pertaining to my membership on the Living Church Foundation.
  • Reviewed via email an administrative issue raised by a priest of the diocese.
  • Developed and fleshed out the pre-existing bare bones of a homily for Christmas Eve. Turned them into a rough draft ready for refinement next week.
  • Appointed a team of priests to review the protocols for regular clergy gatherings. There seemed to be some energy for changes in the routine when were last together about a month ago.
  • Lunch at home.
  • The afternoon--and a good portion of the evening--was devoted to wrestling with technology, which does not put me in a good humor. My goal was to make an incremental step in making the videos from last Lent's teaching series available on the website. However, both iMovie and my computer itself teamed up to show me a lot of attitude. Eventually I won the battle, but they took their pound of flesh in the form of lower production values than I would have liked. I will be victorious in the end.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Wednesday (O Sapientia)

  • While still at home, I plotted out the tasks involved in preparing for my now-arranged Lenten teaching series at St Michael's, O'Fallon.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Prepared for the midday Mass.
  • Initiated telephone tag with another Nashotah House trustee regarding an issue of follow-through that we need to attend to. I successfully connected with him later in the day, and we have the situation in hand.
  • Made a substantive email reply to a diocesan lay leader on a programmatic concern. We spoke by phone later in the day.
  • Took a brisk walk down to South Grand Avenue and back.
  • Responded via email to a priest regarding an administrative concern.
  • Rolled up my homiletical sleeves and got to work fleshing out the broad strokes of an ordination sermon for Cameron Nations on January 2.
  • Presided and preached the Eucharist for the ferial Wednesday in the third week of Advent.
  • Lunch at home.
  • Finished what I had earlier begun with the ordination sermon, ending up with an outline that leans in the direction of a rough draft.
  • Made air travel arrangements for a short trip to the Pittsburgh area in February, where I will give the Ash Wednesday quiet day at Trinity School for Ministry.
  • Took another hard walk, this time up to Madison Street and back.
  • Edited, formatted, and posted a substantial amount of new material to the diocesan website concerning the history of the diocese: from the tenure of Bishop Seymour, beginning in 1877,  up into that of Bishop Hillestad in the mid-1970s.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Drove down to South Grand for a bite of dinner. After learning that Subway was out of meatballs, I settled for a McRib.
  • Attended and participated in a 2+ hour meeting of the cathedral chapter. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


  • Weekly task planning at home; Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Conferred with the Interim Provost on a range of emerging concerns.
  • Conferred with the Archdeacon on a different range of emerging concerns.
  • Reviewed and commented on a draft program for the ordination of Cameron Nations to the transitional diaconate on January 2.
  • Spoke by phone at some length with the rector of Emmanuel, Champaign regarding some potential candidates for discernment toward ordination.
  • Composed and printed a letter to C,M. Almy & Company explaining some ongoing issues with the crozier we bought from them less than three years ago for no small amount of money, the one I use every Sunday.
  • Lunch at home.
  • Thought about and then articulated in writing to the vicar of St Michael's, O'Fallon a proposed topic for the five-Wednesday teaching series I will be giving there this coming Lent.
  • Responded by email to an issue raised by the Bishop of Tabora regarding his visit to the diocese next October.
  • Attended to a bit of Nashotah-related administrivia.
  • Beefed up, refined, and printed my homily for this Sunday (St Barnabas', Havana).
  • Since I'm going to be preaching and celebrating at the cathedral two Sundays within the next month, and since Brenda will be filling in on the organ those Sundays, it somehow fell to me to choose hymns for those occasions. It was actually kind of fun reconnecting with what was a routine chore when I was a parish priest.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Took my crozier to FedEx, where they packed it up and shipped it off to the Almy workroom in Pittsfield, Maine. Until it returns, I'll be exploiting the fact that Bishops Chambers and Clough left their croziers lying around when they moved on to the nearer presence of God.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Third Sunday of Advent

Presided and preached the 7:30 and 10:00 liturgies at St Matthew's, Bloomington this morning. Good things happening there under the able pastoral leadership of Fr Dave Halt,with the assistance of Fr Bruce DeGooyer. It was fun to give a homily that proclaim that "we rejoice because we know that in the kingdom of God, Murphy's Law is repealed!" Delicious Chinese lunch after coffee hour with Fr Dave and Amy, along with the Rector's Warden and his wife.

Sermon for III Advent

St Matthew's, Bloomington--John 1:6-8, 19-28; Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11, I Thessalonians 5:12-28

When we’re in school, we’re required to learn all kinds of scientific principles and laws of nature. “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”—that sort of thing. One law that we don’t learn in class, but which all of us know to be true by actual experience, is known as Murphy’s Law: “Whatever can go wrong will go wrong.” When I was getting ready to go to seminary in 1986, I bought my first computer. It was a used, first-generation IBM PC, the kind with two floppy disk drives—one for the software program, and one for the data. There was no hard drive. A short while into the semester, I got ahead of myself, and finished three five-page term papers before they were actually due. I had not yet even printed them out. So I wanted to be really, really careful about things, and lots of people had warned me about backing up my work. Enter Murphy’s Law. Between the unfamiliar world of MS-DOS prompts—some of you who are either older or younger than a certain age range won’t even know that those are!—and apparently not being able to tell left from right, A from B, rather than backing up the floppy disk containing my completed term papers, I reformatted it. They were gone. This is the first time somebody mentioned to me the words “Norton Utilities,” but it was too late. The papers were gone. I had to rewrite them. Murphy’s Law strikes again.

We’ve all been there. If a medicine is supposed to be effective in 95% of the population, we’re in the lucky 5%. The one day that we absolutely depend on the buses or trains or planes to run on time, there’s a delay. When we’re late for a flight, there’s a highway accident en route to the airport. The job or house or relationship that looks like the answer to our prayers turns out to be a disaster. When Murphy’s Law reveals itself, sometimes we can laugh about it, sometimes we can smile through our tears, and sometimes all we can do is weep.

But however it happens, it’s no wonder that we as the human race are as vulnerable as we are to apathy and despair, loss of feeling and loss of hope. At this time of year, as the glitter and glamour of the world around us rises to a frenzy, so does the suicide rate, so does the level of gnawing spiritual emptiness among the very people who are hoping that holiday cheer will temporarily anesthetize them to their pain. Unless our livelihood depends on retail sales, when the normal routines of life return in January, we look back and wonder what was it we just did. For many, or even most, of those around us, if not for ourselves, it seems kind of empty. What’s wrong with me? Why didn’t I “get” more out of it? Why did it feel so empty? Everyone else said they found it rich and fulfilling; why didn’t I?

The reason is, “everyone else” is probably lying. And the reason behind that reason is that the “holiday” experience is devoid of any anticipation of the coming of Christ. The exchange of gifts on Christmas morning seems detached, an empty ritual, a thing unto itself, because it is cut off from that which it used to symbolize. It no longer symbolizes a deeper experience of waiting and hoping and preparing and, finally, welcoming. It is divorced from that which it used to stand for. We no longer associate it with the supreme Christmas gift: God’s gift to the world of Himself, incarnate in human flesh and bones and DNA molecules.

Without trying to stake out a position in the “war of Christmas” cultural debate, it’s just a simple fact that the trend, for whatever reasons, has been toward avoiding talking about the “Christmas season” or “Christmas music” or “Christmas gifts.” Instead, everything is “the holidays.” This is not news to you. We even put up “holiday trees.” And since we celebrate Christmas less and less, fewer and fewer people actually have a clue as to what it’s about. The level of sheer innocent ignorance in our society is staggering.

But if ignorance were the only issue, it wouldn’t be much of problem. All we’d have to do is get the word out that the landlord has occupied one of the units in the building he constructed and owns. He’s come to be with us. The Christmas affirmation that “the Word was made Flesh” literally means “God has pitched his tent among us.” But if we’re already doing a shoddy job of keeping the place up, the fact that the owner is paying us a visit does not come as good news. The fact is, even when we’re not ignorant, we’re still sinful. And when the Holy Spirit shines light on our sin, we have two options: We can repent, and change our ways, or we can unscrew the light bulb and pretend we haven’t seen the sin. When we are unrepentant, it becomes necessary to avoid the truth, to forget what we know, because to acknowledge it would be too costly.

Fortunately for us whose hearts are, as the hymn text puts it, “prone to wander,” our God is a persistent God, a stubborn God. He doesn’t coerce, but neither does he take No for a final answer. He just keeps on asking us to repent and believe, to have faith and follow him. And so we have experiences of God touching our lives in unexpected and unsolicited and memorable ways. We have experiences of undeserved blessings, of inexplicable good fortune, of diseases that just all of a sudden aren’t there, of damaged relationships that find healing, not through heroic effort but just by being open to grace, of marriages that seem to have hit a dead end, but somehow find a spark of new life, of things working not the way they’re supposed to but better than they’re supposed to.

Through the eyes of faith we can see God in these experiences, and know him as a Presence that sticks to us like Super Glue, of One who simply will not abandon us to our own foolishness or to the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God. We are like the people hanging out along the banks of the Jordan River and eavesdropping as the priests and Levites from Jerusalem interrogate John the Baptist. “Who are you?” they want to know, “Are you the Messiah, the Christ?”

“Nope,” John replies.

“Then tell us who you are.”

And John quotes from Isaiah, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” In other words, John is saying, “I’m just the warm-up act. The main event is yet to come. Jesus is the one. Pay attention to him.”

John’s message to the priests and Levites is also his message to us on the Third Sunday of Advent two millennia later. The main event is yet to come. Pay attention to Jesus. And what an abundant source of hope this is! The message of Advent is a veritable hope chest for our wounded and weary hearts. We derive hope from remembering, with the advantage of hindsight, that the prophetic ministry of Isaiah and John the Baptist did bear fruit. The Messiah, the Savior of Israel, the Savior of the nations, did come. God did visit and redeem his people. The Savior’s name was Jesus, and he did live and die and rise from the dead on our behalf.

We also derive great hope from our anticipation of his continuing Advent, his every-day coming in and through the fabric of our lives. Christ comes to us in ways we do not expect and at times that we would not have chosen. If we are ready for him, if we have, through repentance and faith, prepared room for him in our hearts, these are moments of unspeakable blessing.

Finally, we derive great hope from our anticipation of the final coming of Christ at the end of time, in power and great glory, to bring his saving and redeeming work to a glorious conclusion. For those who are ready to meet him, it will be an occasion of great victory and unimaginable joy.

And joy is, in effect, the bottom line of everything that today’s liturgy is about. Our experience of God, interpreted by the gift of faith, yields hope, and hope, in turn, brings forth joy. Our hope in the coming of Christ—whichever coming that might be—our hope in the coming of Christ is the source of profound joy. As St Paul wrote to the newly-established Thessalonian church, in the first letter he ever wrote to one of the churches he had established, “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” We rejoice because we know that in the kingdom of God, Murphy’s Law is repealed! Not only repealed, but inverted: “Whatever might bring forth evil, brings forth good instead. Whatever might issue in harm, issues in health. Whatever might break down ends up working better than new.”

Let our Advent hope be spoken in these words from the prophet of the Advent himself, Isaiah: “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Saturday (St Lucy)

Relaxation ... reading ... exercise ... household puttering ... email processing ... dinner at Red Lobster on our way to Bloomington, where we are now camped out ahead of tomorrow visitation to St Matthew's.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Friday (Our Lady of Guadalupe)

  • Usual weekday routine; MP in the cathedral.
  • Conferred with the Interim Provost in his office on a range of matters.
  • Conferred for a bit with the Archdeacon on a different range of matters. Utilized his notary status to execute some documents in connection with a real estate financing transaction one of our parishes in engaging in.
  • Had a surprisingly positive telephone customer service interaction with United Airlines, whereby they rectified the problem caused by my inability to distinguish between AM and PM when booking air travel, and made the necessary reservation change without charging and arm and a leg--or anything, for that matter. I think the fact that I'm a pretty regular and loyal customer may have helped.
  • Tied up the loose ends and otherwise refined, then printed, a working text for this Sunday's homily--two Masses at St Matthew's, Bloomington.
  • Ran an errand, missed a turn, got caught by a train, and eventually got home for lunch.
  • Replied via email to a couple of substantive issues raised by two of our clergy.
  • Reworked the illustrations and otherwise freshened up the draft of a "previously delivered" homily for Advent IV, to be given--as if for the first time, of course--at St Barnabas', Havana.
  • Took a longish walk on a fine day for it--over to Spring Street, then northbound, jogging over to First when necessary, as far as Madison, then back down Second to the office. Racked up some good steps on the pedometer.
  • Fleshed out a rough draft, then refined it sufficiently to submit to the editor of the Covenant blog an article that should appear next week. A teaser: It mentions Bill Cosby.
  • Prayed the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary at my office shrine, followed by Evening Prayer in the same location.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


Back now from my retreat, and re-entering the grid. It was exactly what I needed it to be--the right balance of praying, walking, reading, reflecting, writing, and sleeping. I'm very grateful to the monks of St Gregory's Abbey in Three Rivers, Michigan for their hospitality.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Second Sunday of Advent

Very little pumps me up more than presiding at Holy Baptism. We had four at St Andrew's, Carbondale this morning, plus six confirmations, and about 80 people (by my count) in the room (which is really good for that parish). And I did NOT lower the average age when I walked in. Not even close. Kudos to their rector, Mother Kathryn Jeffrey for "bringing in the sheaves." The morning was capped off by a hospital visit to the seriously ill grandfather of one of the baptizands. What a blessing.

I've got some personal retreat time scheduled this week, tomorrow through Thursday, up at the Benedictine community of St Gregory's Abbey in Three Rivers, Michigan. So I will be going dark in this space until Friday. May Advent blessings abound.

Sermon for Advent II

St Andrew's, Carbondale--Mark 1:1-8, Isaiah 40:1-11

Christ is coming. God is on the move, as we saw in the liturgy last Sunday, bringing an end to history, an end to reality as we know it, and also bringing a beginning to an age of perfect peace, justice, love, and harmony. We pray for it every day: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done.” The season of Advent puts us in mind of that final coming of Christ, to make things all better. Christ is also coming, once again, as he has done a couple of thousand times now, in the “corporate memory” of his people, in the annual rhythm of the Church’s liturgical life, as we once again keep the holy feast of Christmas two-and-a-half weeks from now. When he comes—whether it’s at the end of history or in our hearts on Christmas, Jesus wants very much to save us. He wants to set us free from our bondage to sin and evil and death, and give us a taste of what human life is really supposed to be about. In the metaphorical language of two Sundays ago, Jesus wants to count us among the sheep at his right hand, and not among the goats at his left.

This is, on the whole, good news. Very good news. But there’s a problem. For the most part, you and I are quite unprepared to meet him. We are almost certainly unprepared to meet him as our Judge. We are not yet enough like him. We cling too closely to those habits of thought and action that tend to draw us away from his love. In a little bit, we’re going to have some baptisms, and the candidates will be asked whether they renounce all “sinful desires that draw [them] from the love of God.” And they will respond, “I renounce them.” But they will fail, as we all fail, to perfectly live up to that renunciation. And it is highly likely that we are also unready—spiritually, that is—we are most probably also unready to even properly celebrate Christmas in this Year of Our Lord, 2014. We are, in the words of our collect for next Sunday, “sorely hindered by our sins.” We are held back and weighed down by destructive patterns of thinking and feeling and behaving. These destructive patterns act as a barrier between us and God. They block us from experiencing the fullness of God’s grace. God is “broadcasting” an abundance of love in our direction, but our “receivers” are not properly “tuned” so as to access all that God is sending. Christ is coming, but we are unprepared to meet him.

So, just how do we prepare? How can we gain access to the abundance of mercy and peace and love and joy that God wants to lavish on us? The prophet Isaiah tells us to “prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” John the Baptist, in his wilderness preaching, seconds that motion. He quotes Isaiah, and implies that his own ministry is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. But he also gets more specific. John says that the way to prepare for the coming of the Lord, the way to “make straight in the desert of highway for our God,” is the path of repentance. Repentance is the critical element in preparation for the coming of Christ. We will all, shortly, in the context of the baptisms and confirmations, promise to, when we fall into sin, “repent and return to the Lord.”

I’m afraid, however, that repentance is a highly misunderstood concept. Do you remember the climactic scene of the third Indiana Jones movie? Our hero is trying to avoid getting his head chopped off in a booby-trapped cave. In the knick of time, he solves a cryptic clue: “He who would survive must assume the position of a penitent.” Indiana Jones drops to his knees just before a blade comes whizzing by horizontally at neck height. Repentance is associated with getting on one’s knees, expressing contrition and sorrow, begging for forgiveness. As healthy as it is, I believe, for us to spend time on our knees, on appropriate occasions, mere sorrow—regret, contrition—this is not the true soul of repentance. It may be an accompanying outward sign, but it is not the heart of repentance.

More to the point, though not quite yet all the way there, is a concrete change in behavior. C.S. Lewis calls it moving “full speed astern.” If I’m walking south and I want to repent, I don’t just say I’m sorry for walking south, I turn around and walk north. If I’m driving west on Highway 13 from Marion trying to get to St Andrew’s, and find myself in Murphysboro, I’ve got a problem. I need to repent. But it matters very little how sorry I feel for my mistake; what matters is that I turn around immediately. That is the true outward sign of repentance—actually changing our behavior. I still remember a sermon I heard on this subject when I was about ten years old; I remember it because one single line from this sermon became established in my family’s vocabulary for years afterward. The preacher talked about the necessity of being able to say, “I’m sorry.” But then he added that just saying “I’m sorry” isn’t enough, and he challenged us with the question, “Are you sorry enough to quit?” Are you sorry enough to actually change what you’re doing? Real repentance means being sorry enough to quit.

But I would like to take you even yet one more level deeper into repentance. The heart and soul of repentance is more than saying “I’m sorry.” The heart and soul of repentance is even more than being “sorry enough to quit.” The inward heart and soul of repentance is a profound change of mind. The New Testament Greek word for repentance is metanoia, and that’s what it literally means—to change one’s mind. In repentance we say, “I’m sorry about ‘that thing I do.’ I’m willing to stop doing ‘that thing I do.’ And I realize that I’m wrong in the way I think about ‘that thing I do.’ In rationalizing my own sin, I have deceived myself. But now I’m changing my mind. I’m agreeing with God. Take all of me, Lord—take my actions and my words, take my will and my heart, and take my mind. Change the way I think, so that I see what you see and know what you know about me. I want to agree with you in all things. Change my mind.” Our highest good is not to dethrone God, but to agree with God, to learn to see things from God’s point of view. Our call is to be obedient. If, along the path of obedience, we can sometimes have our “Why?” questions answered, so much the better. But it will not do for us to condition our obedience on such knowledge.

Repent. Prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. This is the vocabulary of Advent; this is the language that tells us Christ is coming.

From time to time over the years, I have enjoyed watching National Geographic specials, and the like, on television, about some of the more remote areas of the world, particularly the Amazonian rain forest—perhaps because of my South American ancestry, I suppose. Because of the thick vegetation, jungle settlements can seem even more remote than they actually are. The basic supplies of life can be shipped in by boat, but it’s slow. In the event of an emergency, small aircraft have for decades served as rapid response lifelines to the outside world. But while a plane may be able to get close enough to drop food and medicine, it cannot actually transport anyone out of a jungle settlement unless one important condition is met: there must be a runway. It must be smooth enough to permit a safe landing, and long enough to allow reaching takeoff speed, and enough room for gaining altitude to clear the treetops. And a jungle landing strip must be constantly maintained if it is to be ready for use. The call of Advent is for us to prepare a landing strip—a runway—in the jungle of our hearts, in the rain forest of the families and institutions in which we live and work and worship. It must be long and wide and smooth, and it must be maintained. This is done through continuous and persistent repentance. This is done by changing our minds, and doing something different, and—yes—even feeling sorry for our sins. “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” And as the residents of a rain forest village, when they have completed and maintained a runway, are able to enjoy the benefits of emergency food, medicine, and even a ride to the nearest hospital, so are we, when we practice the art of repentance, able to experience the fullness of God’s plan for us. As Isaiah puts it, “Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken." 

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Saturday (St Nicholas)

Leisurely Saturday morning, just hanging out with Brenda, cruising social media, reading the morning office, and eventually getting around to a weight and treadmill workout. A little reading, recreational organ playing, light email processing, and packing in the afternoon. A couple of minutes past 3pm and we were out the door headed for Carbondale. We arrived at the home of super-hostess Trish Guyon right at our 6:15 target time. Enjoyed a fabulous meal and wonderful camaraderie with member of the St Andrew's vestry and many of their spouses, along with their rector, Mother Kathryn Jeffrey. Looking forward to four baptisms and six confirmations in the morning.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Friday (St Clement of Alexandria)

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Conceived and hatched a homily for the ordination of Cameron Nations to the transitional diaconate on January 2.
  • Checked in with the Parish Administrator at Emmanuel, Champaign regarding the program for said ordination, and left a voicemail with the rector on a couple of other concerns.
  • Arranged for a modest contribution from my discretionary fund to the College for Bishops.
  • Developed and made appropriate notes on a strategy for recruiting vocations to ordained diaconal ministry in the diocese. We have some great deacons, but not enough of them.
  • Lunch at home ... after which I just stayed there, taking a rare afternoon off, and appeasing my puritan work ethic with the reminder that it will be a long weekend of work (Carbondale Saturday evening and Sunday morning).

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Thursday (St John of Damascus)

  • Customary Thursday morning quality time with the Bowflex and the treadmill. Running slower than usual, so it was nearly 10 before I made it into the office.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Responded to a couple of late-arriving emails.
  • Met with an aspiring postulant for Holy Orders, who has traverses an exotic and unlikely path to get to where he sat in my office today.
  • I had to scrounge, but I finally located an electronic file for a diaconal ordination program that I promised to the office staff at Emmanuel, Champaign so they can get started on preparing for the ordination of Cameron Nations, now less than a month away.
  • Shot off a couple of administrivial emails.
  • Attended the midday Mass in the cathedral, just because John of Damascus is one of my faces.
  • Lunch at home.
  • Made a final tabulation of the amount we've collected toward helping with rebuilding expenses after the dormitory fire at St Peter's School in Tabora (Tanzania), then hoofed it down to Illinois National Bank to arrange for a wire transfer.
  • Did a fairly minor bit a sleuthing in connection with a Nashotah House concern.
  • Drafted and sent to Sue for promulgation a memo to the clergy-in-charge of mission congregations in the diocese on an administrative concern where we seek greater uniformity of practice.
  • Conceived and hatched a homily for Christmas Eve (at St Paul's Cathedral). It is now officially in gestation.
  • Laid out the broad strokes of an article for the Covenant blog that is due the week after next.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


  • Morning Prayer at home.
  • Stayed home to take part in a 90-minute video conference call on some national church business.
  • Drove in to the office. Prepared for my customary midday Mass duties.
  • Took care of some Nashotah House business via email.
  • Put some tasks in play pertaining to my commitment to lead the Ash Wednesday quiet day at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA next February.
  • Presided and preached at the liturgy for Wednesday in the first week of Advent. Visions of the celestial banquet--a prize on which to keep our eyes during Advent.
  • Lunch from La Bamba, eaten at home.
  • Formatted, refined, and printed a working script of my sermon for this Sunday (St Andrew's, Carbondale).
  • Reviewed recent credit card statements to categorize the charges for accounting purposes.
  • Responded to an email inquiry from our UTO coordinator.
  • Routine processing of hard copy items in my physical inbox.
  • Evening Prayer in the office.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Tuesday (Channing Moore Williams)

I am neither a technophile nor am I obsessed with technology for its own sake. But I enjoy what technology can help me accomplish, and it is easy to grow dependent on it for the routine activities of daily living. That places one in a very vulnerable position, however, because technology will fail from time to time, and the more dependent one is on it, the more havoc its failure can wreak. There was some havoc in my day today.

The first hint came when I looked at my email first thing in the morning, and there was a couple of posts to a listserv--both from other bishops, actually--about how an iOS app that made the daily office lectionary available was not operating. I didn't pay much attention until I sat down in the cathedral nave for the Psalm at Morning Prayer, clicked on my iPad lectionary app, and saw ... nothing.

Quickly it was apparent that the original purveyor of the app wrote the code through the liturgical year that just ended a few days ago, then walked away from it and left it unsupported. I hustled back to my office, finished reading Morning Prayer the old-fashioned way, and investigated alternatives to my familiar apps. There were a couple available, but both required the latest version of the iPad operating system, which is itself not available to my first generation iPad. Can you see my emerging quandary?

After quickly processing a couple of emails, putting in some substantial work on a homily for Advent III (St Matthew's, Bloomington), and making a few notes in preparation for a meeting on my calendar tomorrow, all the while in touch with my frustration over my no-longer-supported iPad operating system, I swallowed hard and headed to the nearest Apple retailer. The nearest one, it turned out, didn't have the configuration I needed in stocked, so it was off to a big box electronics retailer, where I was taken care of promptly and made it home for lunch a more or less the usual time, the reluctant owner of an iPad Air 2.

Now, when the technological infrastructure of my life is not operating seamlessly, getting it running smoothly pretty much becomes Job One, taking a back seat only to scheduled appointments, of which there were two on my afternoon calendar: one with a candidate for Holy Orders who is very nearly ready for ordination, and the other with the blood bank, which is now back to being interested in me as it's now been the requisite year since I've been in Tanzanian malaria country. (I donated two units of red cells.) Aside from those two engagements, my time and energy were sucked into the black hole of technology. I'm happy to report that everything seems to be operating smoothly at this hour, and I should have my life back tomorrow.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Advent Sunday

Up at "zero-dark-thirty" to be out the door and on the road in time to arrive at St Andrew's, Edwardsville for their regular 8am Eucharist. Presided and preached then and at 10 (where we confirmed three and received two) and taught the adult forum between services. Exceptionally carnivore-friendly repast after the principal Mass. St Andrew's has a fine liturgical and musical tradition that I always find uplifting, and they seem to be thriving under the leadership and pastoral care of their newly-permanent priest-in-charge, Fr Ralph McMichael. It was nearly 70 degrees when we got in the YFMBmobile to head home around 1pm. It was 37 when we got there. It was nice while it lasted.

Sermon for Advent Sunday

St Andrew's, Edwardsville--Mark 13:24-37, Isaiah 64:1-9, I Corinthians 1:1-9

"Don't go away—we'll be right back after these messages." How many thousands of times have those of us who are a certain age heard that request for us not to get up and change the channel? (Of course, that was in the days before channel surfing with the remote.) We're being told to wait right where we are, the interruption is only temporary. General MacArthur, as he was retreating from the Philippines just ahead of the Japanese onslaught, solemnly promised, "I shall return,” and asked the Filipinos to wait for him. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in the Terminator movies immortalized the phrase "I'll be back", as he vowed to return to the scene of a temporary defeat. And how many times have we told a child or a friend in a public place, "Wait for me here, I'll be right back."

As he neared the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus communicated this same message to his friends and followers in progressively clearer tones. He would be handed over to the authorities and put to death, but would rise from the dead in three days. And after his death and resurrection, he prepared his closest disciples for the fact that he would be taken from them once again, this time to return to the right hand of the Father, from whence he came. And when that moment arrived, and the dazed disciples stared at the cloud that had removed him from their sight, an angel promised that "This same Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come ... in the same way as you saw him go into heaven." And in that experience, when they saw Jesus ascend into his glory and heard the angel's voice promising that he would return as he had departed, the disciples very likely reflected on his words to them which are recorded for us in the thirteenth chapter of Mark's gospel. "Beware, keep alert, for you do not know when the time will come. ... What I say to you, I say to all: Keep awake."

In other words, the disciples felt themselves to be entering the intermission in a two-act drama. Jesus's incarnation, his life and ministry, his dying and rising, and his ascension into heaven constituted the first act. A lot was accomplished, but there remained a good deal yet to be done. After the intermission, during Act Two, he will come back and finish what he started. All wrongs will be righted, all suffering relieved, and every tear wiped away. The good guys in the white hats will carry the day and the bad guys in the black hats be given their just desserts before the closing credits roll and the show comes to an end. What a glorious event to look forward to! What a wonderful future lay in store for these disciples and those who would hear their message!

But the intermission began to go on for a long while. The generation that had heard the promise of Jesus's return and the admonition to stay awake began to die off.
Many perished as martyrs, to be sure, but many others, like St John on the Isle of Patmos, simply died of old age. He said he'd be back, and we believed him, but we never thought it would take this long! And since then, the followers of Jesus have been making adjustments in their expectations. The second generation of Christians, around the turn of the second century, had the biggest adjustment to make, because their parents had led them to count on Jesus' return in their lifetime. But every generation of Christians since then has also tended to see itself in apocalyptic terms, as living in the end times. Yet, as the long-anticipated event didn't come, and didn't come, it was supposed that maybe this isn't the intermission in a two-act play, after all. Maybe we're in Act Two—maybe Act Two is this time between Christ's first coming as a powerless infant and his second coming in power and great glory. There, that helps a great deal to make sense of things. But, still, as second acts go, this is an awfully long one. And it's getting harder and harder to wait patiently. Many times it has seemed to the church as if she lives in the Land of Narnia as described by C. S. Lewis: "Always winter, but never Christmas."

Always winter but never Christmas. Just ask any child you know, or the child that still lives within you, and you will be reminded that this is an extremely challenging state of affairs with which to live. And amid the stress of such a challenge there are many temptations. One such temptation is to try and hurry things along. In every age, there have been those among the Christian community who have become obsessed with the second coming of Christ. They have looked at whole books of the Bible as elaborate cryptographic codes, which, if correctly solved, would yield the answer to the question we're all asking, "How long, O Lord, how long?" If we have our eyes and ears open, we know only too well that this temptation is alive and well in our own time. When I was a parish priest, and contemplated doing a serious adult Bible study series, I knew that doing one on the Book of Revelation would attract the largest number of class members! The ultimate extreme, of course, is represented by those groups who are so sure they've figured it out right that they sell their homes and quit their jobs and climb the nearest mountain to wait for the final moment. We had a rather high profile example of this just two or three years ago, didn’t we? So far, every one has had to admit that they figured it wrong. Not an encouraging track record for deciphering the code. And one wonders, when the Master of the house does finally return, will he be pleased with those servants who have been so pre-occupied with the welcome they plan to give him that they abandon their usual duties?

The opposite temptation is, perhaps, even more dangerous. This is the temptation to say, "We've been duped, taken for a ride! He's not coming back, or he would have done so by now. We're just wasting time and energy with this vigilant waiting business. I'm going to forget it all and just try to find what joy there is in life as I know it." A variation of this—something a little nobler, perhaps—is to say, “He’s not coming back, so our job is to build the kind of world that he would make happen if her were.” Two thousand years, after all, is a long time for a bride to wait at the altar before coming to the conclusion that maybe her fiancĂ©’s car didn't break down and he didn't really misplace his bow tie, and that he really is not going to show at all. When the Master of the house returns, these are the ones who will have already skipped out, nowhere to be found.

For many years, I had a plaque on the wall beside my desk which was given to me by a parishioner as a memento of a moment we shared in a Bible study. It simply said, "I'm God and you're not." I'm God and you're not. From one perspective, such a statement, projected onto the lips of God, might seem off-puttingly overbearing, unnecessarily arrogant. But as it has resonated in my own heart several years, it has been a source of comfort. The undertone that I hear in it is, "I'm God, so you don't have to be—just drop that particular load right where you are. I'm up here in the hot air balloon; you're down on the ground. I can see what's over the next hill and around the next bend; you can't. I can see that storm brewing out over the water; you can't. I can see everything that's going on and how it fits together; you can barely see past the end of your own nose on a clear day. And, besides, a thousand years for you is like the blink of an eye for me. And besides that, I do have a record of eventually keeping my promises: Abraham did become the father of a great nation, the people of Israel did get out of Egypt and into the Promised Land, the kings of Israel and Judah who followed me faithfully did have successful careers, and the Messiah that the prophets foretold did eventually arrive. And you don't even have any idea of all the times my grace has kept you away from disaster without your knowledge. So my advice to you is, lighten up and go with the flow."

My friends, Jesus, in his love, warns us to stay awake and alert, to be faithfully vigilant for his return. Faithful vigilance certainly doesn't mean abandoning hope. But neither does it mean being fixated on the day and hour of his coming in power and glory. Faithful vigilance simply means doing what we're supposed to do and being what we're supposed to be while we wait. Francis of Assisi was once asked—according to legend, at any rate—Francis was once asked while he was hoeing weeds in his garden, what he would do if he knew that the Lord's return would occur in the next few minutes. Francis' answer was that he would just keep hoeing and try to finish the row. At that moment, hoeing was what Francis was supposed to be doing, and if the Lord Jesus were to return that day, how else could Francis possibly hope to be found?

For today's Christians, faithful vigilance means continuing to come together in worship each Lord's Day, continuing to celebrate the mystery of his dying and rising in word and in sacrament, being faithful to one another in Christian community, ministering according to the gifts we have been given, within the Body of Christ and in the word, being responsible parents and children and friends and citizens, loving God above all and our neighbors as ourselves. If the Lord returns today, he will want to find us faithful in each of these tasks. And if he finds us faithful in these ways, he will also find us contented and at peace. Living and moving within the will of God is a source of great peace, peace that passes understanding, peace that comes from knowing that not only are we not God, we are not even executives in the kingdom! The Kingdom of God has no management personnel, only labor. We are but shift workers, looking forward to the paycheck that we've been promised, knowing that the boss will be back any time now, and that he wants to find us at work when he returns.

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


  • Finished a "non-statement" about the situation in Ferguson, MO, and posted it both on my own blog and on the diocesan website.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Prepared to celebrate the preach the midday liturgy.
  • Got the ball rolling, by means of a fairly substantive email, on planning the liturgy for the ordination of Cameron Nations to the transitional diaconate on January 2.
  • Brought my homily for Advent II (St Andrew's, Carbondale) to the condition of "rough draft."
  • Presided and preached at the 12:15 Mass, using the ferial propers appointed for the day. I was particularly drawn to a line from Revelation 15: "... for with them [the last of the seven plagues] the wrath of God is finished." I went off in homiletical reverie on how what humans tend to experience and name as the wrath of God may actually be the love of God in disguise--that is, God preserving human freedom (a central aspect of the imago dei) by allowing us to experience the natural consequences of our own behavior.
  • Lunch at home.
  • Hand-wrote notes of greeting to clergy and spouses with nodal events in December.
  • Took a brisk walk across the parking lot to Spring Street, then down to South Grand, back over to Second and up to the office. Got snowed on.
  • Prepared a summary document for the chair of the Commission on Ministry with information about everyone at any stage of the ordination process, from about-to-be-ordained to the early stages of discernment. I can see a couple of lengthy COM meetings on the road ahead.
  • Evening Prayer fell through the cracks today. Happens sometimes.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


  • Usual AM routine; MP in the cathedral.
  • Conferred with the Interim Provost on a range of currently active concerns.
  • Participated via conference call in the regular quarterly meeting of the Diocesan Trustees. The call also included our investment advisor, who was calling in from home, as his office is in Clayton, MO, which was not exactly stable and safe this morning.
  • Met with two representatives from an Ohio-based church-related capital fundraising firm, at their behest. We do have some capital needs, both at a diocesan level and in some of the parishes, and their approach has a bit of a wrinkle that potentially removes the element of tension between diocese and parish whenever the subject of a capital campaign comes up. So ... we'll see what develops.
  • Lunch at home.
  • Took care of three small bits of administrivia by email.
  • Met with a representative of the vendor of our new telephone equipment for a scheduled tutorial on the bluetooth headset that will allow me to participate in conference calls while pacing the room ... and even switch them over to my mobile phone if I need to leave the office. Having the technology and being able to use it are two different things. We'll see how good a student I am. In my defense, I will say that I was able to successfully transfer an incoming call to the Archdeacon this morning. 
  • Revised, refined, and printed a working text for this Sunday's homily--Advent Sunday at St Andrew's, Carbondale.
  • Took a brisk walk down Second Street to South Grand, and then back up the other side. Brrr.
  • Via email, engaged the senior warden of one of our parishes concerning the details of a search process.
  • Made lodging arrangements in Sarasota for a special winter meeting of the Nashotah House board of trustees. Why go to Florida for a meeting? Have you been to Wisconsin in February?
  • Evening Prayer in the office.