Sunday, May 31, 2015

Trinity Sunday

For the first time ever, I cast aside the sermon I had prepared and extemporized something completely different this morning. I made this decision during the Gospel Procession. On Trinity Sunday, no less. Click this link to find out why.

Sermon for Trinity Sunday

Trinity, Mattoon

Today is Trinity Sunday. It's something of an anniversary for me, because it was on Trinity Sunday 1979, 36 years ago, that I delivered my first official, public, Sunday sermon. Those of you who are familiar with my biography will realize that 1979 was about a decade before I put on a backward collar and was legitimately authorized to preach. Indeed, my first Sunday sermon was as a layperson.

It all started one weekday afternoon in early May or late April of that year. At the time, I wore the hat of music director of St Timothy's Church in Salem, Oregon. I was sitting down with the rector in his office, as was our custom every few weeks, to pick hymns and otherwise plan the upcoming Sunday liturgies. My rector—my boss, in that context—just casually mentioned—half in jest, perhaps; I really don't know to this day whether he was serious—he mentioned that he didn't think he would give a sermon on Trinity Sunday. After all, what can one say in the face of so great and wondrous a mystery as the Holy Trinity? 

Well, as an amateur theologian and a strict constructionist of Prayer Book rubrics—which I kind of still am, for whatever it’s worth—I objected. After all, how can one simply say nothing at all in the face of so great and wondrous a mystery as the Holy Trinity?  "If you're not going to preach, I will!,” I said—half in jest, perhaps; I really don't know to this day whether I was serious. 

I'm kind of fuzzy on just what happened next. But I do know that, come Trinity Sunday, I found myself in the pulpit of St Timothy's Episcopal Church! And, I have to say, I did a masterful job. I examined the theological implications of the doctrine of the Trinity with subtlety and refinement. I read from my own journal, and shared my own inner struggle in my relationship with the God who is one-in-three and three-in-one. I quoted from well-known hymns and from the writings of the saints and doctors of the church. 

When I stepped down from the pulpit, and made my way back to the choir to lead the singing of the Nicene Creed, there was a holy hush over the congregation. "That went pretty well", I thought to myself. "Maybe I should consider doing it professionally." 

My sense of accomplishment was short-lived, however, for as I was directing the choir during Creed, I glanced at my watch, and did a double-take. To my horror, I saw that it was 10:55, about the time that communion should be winding down, and we were only at the Creed! Most Episcopalians are only too happy to have theological mysteries explained to them, but not if it means listening to a 45 minute sermon at a Sunday Eucharist!

I assure you that today I do not intend to be either as lengthy, or, probably, as profound, as I was on this day 36 years ago. So let me just cut right to the heart of the matter. It has often been said that Trinity Sunday is the only festival of the church year that celebrates a doctrine, rather than an event or a person. Don't you believe it! Trinity Sunday is not about celebrating a doctrine. In a way, I wish it were. I'm personally quite fond of doctrine in general and the doctrine of the Trinity in particular. I enjoy trying to wrap my mind around it, and I believe it is absolutely essential to the well-being of the Church and to a right relationship with God. To my dying breath, I will struggle to confess and uphold the doctrine of the Holy and Undivided Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—as it is proclaimed in the scriptures, creeds, and liturgies of the historic church. So passionately do I feel, and so resolutely am I convinced of the correctness of the traditional doctrine. But I do not for one instant fool myself that either my passion or the correctness of my belief will deliver me from the power of sin and death and make me worthy to stand in the presence of the Triune God! Only the Triune God himself can do that. And it is this God, not the doctrine of him, whom we celebrate on Trinity Sunday. 

The Old and New Testaments contain any number of commands pertaining to our relationship with God. We are told, among other things, to love him, obey him, serve and follow him, trust and put our faith in him, worship and adore him. But nowhere, as far as I can tell, are we commanded to understand God. 

Does that come as a relief to any of you? It certainly does to me! Most of the time, I enjoy trying to understand God, but I'm awfully glad my salvation doesn't depend on how well I do so, because I'm often not very successful! Among the varied gifts of the Holy Spirit is the inclination and ability to penetrate, to a point, the mystery of God's identity, and to articulate that mystery in fresh and compelling ways. Those who have this gift should indeed exercise it for the benefit of the rest of us. We can all enjoy God more as a result. 

But we will never solve the mystery, and, in the end, our job is to simply rest in the joy of his love for us and in what he has done to reconcile us to him. Trinity Sunday is not about a doctrine. Trinity Sunday is about the Triune God. Doctrines are for understanding. The Holy and Undivided Trinity is for worshiping and adoring and loving.            

            Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
            Praise him, all creatures here below,
            Praise him above, ye heavenly hosts,
            praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost                        


Saturday, May 30, 2015

Saturday (St Joan of Arc)

Spent the morning--until nearly 1:00, actually--with the four clergy and four lay deputies to General Convention, as we watched a video livestream orientation organized by Province V. We availed ourselves of the opportunity to turn the sound down and discuss things amongst ourselves from time to time. We also availed ourselves of the opportunity to ask some pointed questions about the proposed budget. Not sure we got equally pointed answers. General Convention begins in a little more than three weeks--June 23. 

Spent the afternoon relaxing at home--watching a movie with Brenda, taking a long walk together, and going out to dinner.

Friday, May 29, 2015


  • Devotions and Morning Prayer in the cathedral. 
  • Spent the entire morning preparing music for worship at the St Michael's Youth Conference the week after next. This involved some minor composing, and getting reacquainted with Finale and Adobe Acrobat Reader, plus doing some copying and scanning. Disappointed that it took so long, but reasonably pleased with the result. 
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers. 
  • Followed through with arranging for two conference calls that need to happen. They are now both on the calendar. 
  • Did a final review of the draft revised charter for Nashotah House that was passed on first reading at least week's trustees meeting. 
  • Spent some time with four different commentaries on the Gospel of Mark, in preparation for preaching on Proper 17 (August 30 at St Mary's, Robinson). 
  • Facing a deadline, I wrote an article for the next issue of the Springfield Current--some high-altitude reflections on the upcoming General Convention. But, as is now the practice, it's already available online
  • I had intended to sit for a "holy hour" in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament as part of my Friday prayer discipline. I was tardy getting out the door of the office because of the aforementioned writing task. And when I did so, it was in the midst of a rollicking thunderstorm and torrential rainfall. So I just remained in the shelter of the overhang at the rear door of the Diocesan Center and found myself swept up into a rather sweet period of recollective and intercessory prayer. I was "spiritually" in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, even if a couple of hundred feet and a few brick walls away Eventually, the rain subsided, and I went indoors for Evening Prayer. 
  • Once again, I spent much of the evening after dinner dealing with various administrative and pastoral issues via email. Not my favorite thing to do, but there is so much to catch up on.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Thursday (Jesus Christ the Eternal High Priest)

  • Customary Thursday morning weights and treadmill workout. 
  • Morning Prayer in the car on the way in. Brief devotions in the cathedral. 
  • Met with an ordinand and a team of four other clergy as ad hoc examiners in order to certify academic fitness. At about half past noon, the examining team and I adjourned to a nearby restaurant to multi-task by discussing the morning while we took necessary sustenance. 
  • Met with the Administrator and the Archdeacon in--yes--the first step in preparing for October's annual diocesan synod. Some canonical offices are filled by bishop's appointment, and we made those decisions. For those that are elected, we endeavored to ensure that there is at least one candidate for each office. There is, of course, a regular nominating process as well, so there may be some contested elections. 
  • Took care of one more outstanding item in the preparatory runup to the St Michael's Youth Conference. 
  • Attended to some Renewal Works, Peru visit, and Nashotah House tasks. 
  • Sat with my notes on the readings for Proper 11 (July 19 at St Mark's, West Frankfort), and emerged with a central message statement from which to craft a homily. 
  • Evening Prayer in my car en route home. 
  • After dinner, spent most of the evening turning an outline into a first draft of a sermon for Proper 5 (June 7 at Trinity, Jacksonville).

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Wednesday (First Book of Common Prayer)

  • Morning Prayer in the office. Devotions before the Blessed Sacrament in the cathedral. 
  • Dealt with an administrative issue pertaining to General Convention. 
  • Spoke at some length by phone with a potential candidate for a clergy vacancy in the diocese. 
  • Reviewed and replied to an email pertaining to the details of one of my upcoming visitations. 
  • Made preparations to preside and preach at the cathedral midday liturgy. 
  •  Took some small steps, via email, toward nailing down the details of our planned July visit to the Diocese of Peru. 
  • Began working on turning some broad stroke notes for my next Covenant blog deadline to a postable product. 
  • Celebrated and preached the 12:15 Mass, keeping the lesser commemoration of the First Book of Common Prayer. The appointed first reading ends with Acts 2:42: "And they continued steadfast in the teaching and fellowship of the apostles, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers." Indeed, the Prayer Book provides a healthy context and medium for doing just that. 
  • Lunch from Taco Gringo, eaten at home. 
  • Spent most of the rest of the afternoon on the aforementioned Covenant post. I was frustrated, but I shouldn't have been. I should have known it would take that long, and not included so many other things on today's task list. Writing takes however long it takes. 
  • I did squeeze out a couple of Nashotah-related emails before heading to ... 
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Tuesday (St Augustine of Canterbury)

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral. 
  • Arranged for a disbursement from the Discretionary Fund to help seed a program initiative in one of our communities. 
  • Passed on some information about a book I recommended to someone in the ordination discernment process. 
  • Took some administrative steps toward ensuring there is a cohort of parishes doing the Renewal Works survey and follow-up workshops this fall. 
  • Dashed off a brief email to one of our ordinands. 
  • Took care of a detail of General Convention business. The pace of that sort of thing is about to quicken. 
  • Responded to a request from a layperson in the diocese for help with a theological issue. 
  • Began the work of refining this Sunday's homily (Trinity, Mattoon). 
  • Attended a meeting with the priest, two lay leaders, and the daycare center director of St Thomas', Glen Carbon--along with the Archdeacon and the Treasurer--to take counsel together regarding the ongoing viability of the enterprise. While we all no doubt wish we had never begun it in the first place, there are some encouraging recent trends. 
  • Completed the work of refining and printing this Sunday's sermon. 
  • Lunch from La Bamba, eaten at home. 
  • Did some low-level calendar organizing. 
  • Took care of a small bit of business on behalf of one of our postulants. 
  • Worked on the presentations I am responsible for at the upcoming St Michael's Youth Conference. 
  • Drafted a formal letter of invitation to the Bishop of Tabora for him and his wife to visit us this October. He needs this letter in order for them to get visas from the U.S. State Department. 
  • Took a good thorough look at some proposals that will come to General Convention. One could affect us rather severely, as it would turn voluntary financial askings into mandatory assessments. 
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Monday, May 18, 2015


I'm writing this mid-afternoon, right before hitting the road north to Nashotah House. It will be a busy week, with the installation of the new dean, commencement, and trustees meetings. My time will not be my own, and there will be no wifi connection in my lodging, so I'm just going to say now that I won't be posting daily accounts of my doings. There may be occasionally something on Facebook, so follow me there, if you'd like. Then, next weekend, we're having some extended family time in Door County, WI. So I'll be back to regular posting here on Tuesday the 26th.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Seventh Sunday of Easter

Back home from Cairo--the town that's closer to New Orleans than it is to Chicago, and I'm not just talking about geography. Four years ago, the Church of the Redeemer was all but dead. Today's attendance was 44. We baptized a family of four, confirmed two and received two. Delicious potluck meal (best chicken and dumplings ever) in the parish hall afterward. Redeemer is now a growing, multi-ethnic community that is modeling the sort of racial reconciliation that Cairo has so sorely needed. Yes, Christ is risen. Cairo is, of course, the longest jaunt on my circuit. We pulled away just before 12:30 and arrived home just past 4:30.

Sermon for Easter VII

Redeemer, Cairo--John 17:11b-19, Acts 1:15-26

What a great day! We’re still basking in the afterglow of yesterday’s festivities. This is a time of new beginnings. Yesterday we celebrated the relationship between Father Muriuki and the people of this congregation. Today we celebrate new promises made, new vows taken, and new relationships established as we baptize and confirm an impressive group of people! And all of this happens within an environment among the Christian community of Cairo and the surrounding areas that has seen a lot of stress and a lot of change over the last several years. I am aware that there are those among us today who have, in effect, lost their church home, and while I rejoice that you are finding a new one here at Redeemer, I nonetheless also share your grief over what you have had to let go of. In an environment like this, where lots of difficult choices and decisions get made, one could be forgiven for assuming that the Church—any particular church, and the whole Church in general—we could be forgiven for concluding that the Church is a voluntary association of like-minded individuals—that the Church is a religious club, a faith-based version of a fraternity, or service club, or an athletic league, or a professional or trade association. If the purposes and activities of the organization appeal to you, you can decide to join it. Of course, once you join, it’s only fair that you pay your dues, and support the group financially. A few really enthusiastic members take on leadership roles, and become officers. And, if you get disenchanted, or burn out, or have a tiff with another member, you can find another chapter or club, or maybe even just quit the whole thing entirely. And when we allow ourselves to think this way, of course, then we have a hard time escaping the notion that the Church is an institution, the ultimate goal of which is simply to perpetuate itself, to continue to exist. We may have lots of concrete and measurable goals; we may have elegantly crafted mission statements hung up on banners in the parish hall, as some churches do—but as long as we think of the Church primarily as an institution that is concerned with perpetuating itself, all these goals and mission statements are simply practical means to an end. They become sacramental signs, not of the gospel, but of articles of incorporation and by-laws and policies and all that technical, lawyerly stuff.  Now…if that doesn’t inspire you to go out and die the death of martyr, then what will, eh?!

Well, there’s this biblical text that the scholars call the “high-priestly prayer” of Christ, and, in a way, it reins us in from thinking of the Church too much in institutional terms. This prayer takes up a long portion of John’s gospel, and, within that sequence, it takes place at the Last Supper, on the eve of our Lord’s crucifixion. It was a sort of farewell address, a valedictory invocation. God the Son was interceding—as a high priest—Jesus was interceding with God the Father, petitioning the Father for the sake of his followers—not only the twelve who were with him in the upper room, but all who would come after them, including us. Jesus is asking the Father to preserve us and protect us and guide and direct us.
Holy Father, keep [the ones you have given me] in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.
Jesus knows the hostile and challenging environment into which he is about to send his disciples, and he wants a blanket of divine protection to cover them and inspire them and call them to be all that they are meant to be.
I have given them your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not pray that you should take them out of the world, but that you should keep them from the evil one.
In this high-priestly prayer, Christ reminds us that it is God who writes the Church’s mission statement. It is God who sets the Church’s goals and mobilizes her resources. Jesus prays,  
As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth. 
It is God who casts the vision for His Church; it us God who incites His Church to a passion for that vision, and it is God who delivers the marching orders. God energizes and sustains His church-in-mission.
This is itself a lofty vision. It is not for the faint-hearted. It invites us to change our thinking. It invites us to change our attitudes in some very fundamental ways. The most important of these attitude changes, I would say, you all have, for the most part, already begun to work on. So keep it up! What I’m talking about here is getting rid of the idea that the “people in the pews” are the “consumers,” and that the clergy—and in the case of Redeemer, his family!—are the “providers” who try to please their constituency, the consumers. This, my friends, is the picture of a community that is way too interested in technicalities, and is not availing itself of the blanket of providential care that Jesus prayed for. That’s the image of a cruise ship, where the crew members serve the passengers. In fact, though, if the Church is a cruise ship, there are no passengers. You’re either a crew member … or a stowaway. And the stowaways are always welcome to join the crew!

Ultimately, when the details are boiled down, the mission of the Church—and the mission of each individual member of the Church, is to be a witness-bearer. We are witnesses to the world that Christ is risen from the dead, that death and evil are conquered, and that life has meaning. We are witnesses to the good news that God’s love has the last word in every situation that a human being can face. The Church is a sign that there is never a lack of witnesses to the resurrection of Christ. This is what the election of Matthias to replace Judas in the company of the twelve apostles is about. On a smaller scale, the election of any bishop is a token of this assurance that the risen Christ will never want for witnesses—which means that there will always be a consistent message of healing for those who are sick, deliverance for those who are addicted, forgiveness to those who are regretful, relief and freedom for those who are enslaved to work or wealth, companionship for whose who are lonely, and fidelity for those who are wounded by betrayal of trust. Whatever we do or say as the Church—locally, nationally, or globally—it is our faithfulness to this witness-bearing mission, not whether we adhere to our by-laws, that is always the standard of our success.
Alleluia and Amen.

Saturday, May 16, 2015


The induction and installation of Fr James Muriuki as Priest-in-Charge of Redeemer, Cairo was a rip-roaring celebration. Over 90 people in the room, including a great turnout of diocesan clergy and laity from as far away as Bloomington and Champaign, a representative ecumenical sampling of local clergy, which included the mayor of Cairo. After the Spirit-filled liturgy, there was superb local BBQ under a tent in the churchyard, which was procured in anticipation of the need for shade but ended up being needed for shelter in the midst of ever-increasing rain. In due time, we made out way to our hosts for the night, parishioners Burt and Emma Gruchy, who live in the country near Anna and Dongola. A very pleasant place to unwind.

Sermon at the Institution of Fr James Muriuki at Redeemer, Cairo

John 15:9-16, Romans 12:1-18, Joshua 1:7-9

What a grand occasion this is! When I became the Bishop of Springfield in March of 2011, it was right before both the rivers that define the geography of this town were so swollen with spring rains upstream in both the Ohio and Mississippi valleys, that there was a great fear that Cairo would be flooded into oblivion. There was great fear that this lovely and historic church, the very place where we are at this moment, would be covered with several feet of water. Instead, as you may recall, the Corps of Engineers diverted that water to some Missouri farmland, sparing Cairo yet one further indignity. A couple of months later, in June of that year, I made my first visit to this area, and witnessed the high water mark on the levee wall, and saw the large sinkholes that had opened up in what were once busy downtown streets. I met the one remaining active Episcopalian who continued to worship faithfully at Redeemer, and it broke my heart to think that we might well have to put these beautiful windows into storage, board up the holes, deconsecrate the building, and simply let nature take its course gradually over the years. So, with that as my introduction, you can imagine the joy welling up in my heart as I share this celebration of a new ministry with all of you here this morning.

The scriptures appointed for this event are full of advice, which is entirely appropriate for the celebration of a new ministry. Let’s look at some of the highlights. In the twelfth chapter of St Paul’s letter to the Romans, we hear the Apostle tell us to “outdo one another in showing honor.” In other words, don’t just be polite and respectful, but make it a competition among yourselves. Always be looking for ways to one-up your neighbor in showing honor and affection and love. In the gospel of John, Jesus takes leave from his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion and tells them to “abide” in him, to remain steadfastly connected to him, to draw their life from him, and, along the same lines as Paul’s advice to the Romans, to constantly be about loving each other. And, in our first reading, from the Old Testament book of Joshua, in a scene that also takes place at a turning point, a watershed moment in the experience of the people of God, the Lord himself is commissioning Joshua as the new leader of that people. Moses has died; the people are about to end their wandering in the wilderness and enter the Promised Land. It truly is the celebration of a new ministry! And the Lord tells Joshua, in effect, “Keep to the straight and narrow. Go where I’ve told you to go and do what I’ve told you to do. Don’t let curiosity or boredom get the best of you, and start veering off this way or that. If you do what I’m saying you will have good success.” Good success. That’s a pretty compelling argument, isn’t it? I mean, who would not want good success?

Now, I hope I’m not being incredibly presumptuous by taking advantage of the moment and piling on with some advice of my own. First, of course, I’m going to reiterate what the scriptures have already said. Dear people of the Church of the Redeemer, along with James their pastor: Abide in Christ, love God and love one another with genuine zeal and enthusiasm, follow the course that the Lord lays out for you and enjoy some of that good success! Joshua led the people who had come up out of Egypt into Canaan. Now, James, my brother, God has called you to lead a portion of the spiritual heirs of that people, in a sense, back down into Egypt—“little Egypt,” that is---and bear the light of Christ where there is darkness, the healing power of Christ where there is sickness and disease, the peace of Christ where there is anxiety and fear, the love of Christ where there is discord and strife, and the life of the Risen Christ where the kingdom of sin and death threatens to flood the area and carry away the dignity and freedom of women and men and children who are made in the image and likeness of the Most High God.

That much comes from the Holy Scriptures. But now let me be be bold enough to add my own advice, as Chief Pastor of this flock, hoping that whatever I say is in line with what we’ve heard in sacred scripture, and is the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work in my own mind and heart.

Father Muriuki and people of Redeemer: Love Cairo. Love all of Pulaski and Alexander counties. Love this very special piece of God’s earth, where the mighty waters of the Ohio and the Mississippi come together. Love the land and love the people of this land. This is your parish. As your Bishop, I am, on this very public occasion, assigning you all of Pulaski and Alexander counties as your mission field. You and the people God sends you to be part of this community at Redeemer are evangelists, missionaries, heralds of Christ, responsible for the mission of the one church of the Diocese of Springfield in this corner of extreme southern Illinois. The fields are ready for harvest, and our job this morning is to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send laborers who will work in his field and who will come home rejoicing at the end of the day, shouldering their sheaves of grain with that “good kind of tired.”

Then, as you love Cairo and the people of your mission field, come into this place of sanctuary to find refreshment, to meet Jesus. Be nourished in the Word of God from this pulpit. Be nourished in the Body and Blood of Christ at this altar. Outdo one another in showing honor as you gather after worship in the parish hall and see one another on the street during the week. And then be Jesus to those around you. Make him known. Make him visible. Take him out from here and let him love the people of this city through you. Knowing a little bit about the history of this church, it would not surprise me if, probably on more than one occasion, there has been a Corpus Christi procession, taking Jesus, present in the Blessed Sacrament, in solemn procession out into the streets of this city, reminding everyone that Cairo is under the watch of Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Next, never let the baptismal font go dry. Now, I have to tell you that, and here’s why. Last August, on the feast of St Mary the Virgin, I was the guest preacher at the church way out in Salem, Oregon from which I was sent off to seminary 29 years ago. Now, in that church they baptize by immersion; they have a font that’s large enough for an adult to get in it and be dunked. The reason I was mentioning the font was because of Mary being the Mother of the Church and the font being the womb of the Church, the place where new Christians get born, with the water in the font being a sort of amniotic fluid. It’s a very rich image! And I told them on that day about Redeemer, and about Cairo, and about what both the city and the church have been through. And I told them about the long period of time—some fifteen years, if I’m correct—in which the baptismal font in this church was bone dry, but how, a couple of years ago, there was actually a baptism. And I told them that I would be here on this day, doing what I’m doing—and I asked them to pray for you, by the way, which I expect many of them have—I told them we would be here today celebrating this new ministry, and that I would tell you what I told them: Never let your baptismal font run dry!  I’m overjoyed that, when I’m back here tomorrow to celebrate the Lord’s Day, the Seventh Sunday of Easter, there will be Holy Baptism. It will be the fifth Sunday in a row for me with at least one baptism in the churches that I visit, so that’s just plain wonderful. But the baptismal font is the place where new disciples of Jesus get born. We still have to make them into disciples as they grow in their faith, but they get their start right here. So keep it busy. Don’t let it dry out!

Finally, pray for God to act and then expect God to act. It never fails to impress and amaze me how, whenever a great work of the Holy Spirit—a revival, a revitalization, a turnaround in a church—whenever a great work of the Spirit is analyzed and dissected after the fact, it invariably turns out that the whole thing began with one or two or three people just praying—faithfully, consistently, persistently, usually over a rather long period of time. There’s no formula for confecting a mighty work of God, of course. But it always starts with prayer. So pray, my brothers and sisters. Pray that the Spirit of God will be poured out not only on the Church of the Redeemer, but on all the Christian communities in Cairo and the surrounding counties. Pray that the Spirit of God will be poured out not only abundantly, but disruptively. Pray that well-laid plans will be interrupted and business as usual turned upside down, and that every eye shall see him, and every knee bend, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. Alleluia and Amen.

Friday, May 15, 2015


  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Looked over the readings appointed for the liturgy for the purposes of conceiving and hatching a homily.
  • Made some final logistical preparations for the Diocesan Council Mass.
  • Downloaded and printed some materials that I would need to read later.
  • Presided and preached at the Diocesan Council Mass.
  • Presided over the regular quarterly meeting of the Diocesan Council.
  • Met with Sandy Moore in her capacity as Chair of National and Global Mission, planning visit form Springfield to Peru, and from Tabora to Springfield.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Performed the exegetical phase (mostly spending time with commentaries) of preparing to preach on the readings for Proper 11 (July 19 at St Mark's, West Frankfort).
  • Developed my message statement for a homily on Proper 17 (August 30 at St Mary's, Robinson) to the stage of "developed outline."
  • Put all the furniture in the cathedral chancel back they way it needs to be for Sunday. 
  • Left for home to get changed and packed. Out the door with Brenda a little past 5:30. Bedded down in Sikeston, MO ahead of tomorrow's Celebration of a New Ministry in Cairo.

Thursday, May 14, 2015


  • Customary Thursday morning workout--weights followed by a long while on the treadmill.
  • Morning Prayer in the office (they were cleaning in the cathedral).
  • Brief email responses to a couple of administrative concerns.
  • Refined and printed my homily for this Sunday (Redeemer, Cairo).
  • Met (along with Administrator Sue Spring) with a couple of office equipment sales reps. Our office copier is a workhorse, but it's 12 years old and will need soon be coming to the end of its serviceable life. I have visions of a network printer/copier/scanner with color capability. We'll see how it pencils out eventually.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Planned hymns and service music for all five celebrations of the Eucharist at next month's St Michael's Youth Conference. This sort of thing takes time, if it is to be done well.
  • Left the building a little past 3:00pm, retrieved Brenda at home, and pointed the YFNBmobile in a southerly direction.
  • Joined Fr Dale and Deacon Jody Coleman for dinner at Ruby Tuesday in Fairview Heights.
  • Presided and preached at a Darrow Deanery (plus St Mark's Lutheran) Ascension Day solemn Mass at St George's, Belleville. A grand time.
  • Home a bit past 10:30.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Rogation Wednesday

  • Usual AM routine. Morning Prayer in the cathedral. 
  • Responded by email to some ever-developing activity in front of next week's Nashotah House board meeting. 
  • Responded by email to some ever-developing activity in front of next month's triennial General Convention of the Episcopal Church. 
  • Took some steps toward bringing us closer to having a cohort of parishes involved in next Fall's "wave" of Renewal Works
  • Worked on my homily for this Sunday (Redeemer, Cairo), bringing it to the stage of being ready for final refinement and printing. 
  • Attended to some developments in the process of reconfiguring our financial administration procedures in preparation for the Treasurer's impending retirement. 
  • Began to dig into the (electronic) pile of sheer reading and absorbing I need to do in preparation for General Convention. 
  • Met with an individual in the early stages of discerning a call to the diaconate. I feel so blessed to be part of these liminal moments in people's lives. 
  • Lunch from McD's, eaten at home. (Still rejoicing over the return of hot mustard sauce.) 
  • Back to the General Convention reading project. 
  • Brief attention to some initial prep for next November's clergy conference. 
  • Devoted a chunk of time to preparing for my participation in next month's initial Diocese of Springfield St Michael's Youth Conference. This is going to be really exciting. 
  • Took an initial prayerful pass at the readings for Proper 17 (August 30 at St Mary's, Robinson ... yes, that's a long way off, but the aforementioned SMYC, General Convention, and my annual vacation all happen in the meantime, so ... this is where it belongs in the queue). 
  • Did some deconstructing and reconstructing of previously-delivered homily for Trinity Sunday, when it will be my joy to be with the people of Trinity, Mattoon on their feast of title. 
  • Reviewed and consented to a request from a priest to solemnize the marriage of two previously-married parishioners. I'm glad to be the medium of grace and second chances. At the same time, I'm troubled about how routine it has become. I'm ready to have a conversation with the clergy about a policy under which all remarriages of divorced persons with a living former spouse would be contracted in the secular arena, and then be eligible for blessing in church after a determined period. No hasty decisions here. 
  • Joined with the Archdeacon in preparing the cathedral sanctuary for this Friday's Diocesan Council liturgy. 
  • Attended to a small but important pastoral-administrative matter. 
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Rogation Tuesday

The major work of the day was to produce a sermon for this Saturday's institution of Fr James Muriuki as priest-in-charge of Redeemer, Cairo. I laid down a few broad strokes last week, but about 90% of the effort had to happen today, so there wasn't much more of the to-do list that checked off. I did attend the regular quarterly meeting of the diocesan trustees, who are responsible for overseeing the Endowment and the Combined Account. I also dealt with some cathedral-related issues via email and telephone, and weighed in by email on emerging events ahead of next week's meeting of the Nashotah House board of trustees. Morning and Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sixth Sunday of Easter

That moment when you look right at someone and tell them that they are sealed with with the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ's own forever. Priceless. Got to do it six times today at St Andrew's, Carbondale. Three babies, three toddlers. And one adult confirmand. A lawyer, even. Evident fruit-bearing ministry by Mother Kathryn Jeffrey in that place. This makes four consecutive Sundays with baptisms, and next week will make five if all goes as planned. That's pretty sweet.

Sermon for Easter VI

St James' Chapel, Marion & St Andrew's, Carbondale--John 15:9-17

Through a combination of circumstances that I tend to see largely as fortunate, I have never served in any branch of the armed services. I did explore becoming a reserve chaplain in the Navy when I graduated from seminary, but was told that, at age 37, I was just a year too old. Nonetheless, I have a profound respect and admiration for the military as an institution. In order to accomplish their mission, armies and navies and, more recently, air forces, have evolved over the centuries a culture that honors and prizes duly-constituted authority and chain-of-command. In an enterprise as vital as maintaining peace and, when necessary, waging war, you simply cannot have it any other way. There must be a cohesiveness in communication and execution that can be relied on absolutely. Lives depend on it.

Yet, the practical reality of all this is that not everybody can know everything about what’s going on all the time. When you get an order from a superior officer, you may or may not be supplied with the reason behind it, but in any case, he or she is under no obligation to give you that reason. Ordinary field personnel usually have a very restricted view of the big picture. All they know is, their orders are to “take and hold this hill,” or “send this message,” or “make our depth sixty feet,” or whatever. It is neither practical nor desirable to have every foot soldier and deck hand brought up to speed on the strategic thinking of the generals and admirals in the Pentagon.

Now, life as a Christian in this world has often been compared to a battle, and the Church has often been spoken of as an army. St Paul exhorts us to put on “the whole armor of God,” and then goes on to describe the attire of a Roman legionnaire. As baptized Christians, we are soldiers of Christ. As the well-known hymn text says it, “Christ our royal master leads against the foe.” It behooves us, then, to adopt the attitude of soldiers. Our duty is to follow orders. Why? Because we have all sworn in our baptismal vows to follow and obey Jesus as our Lord—going where he wants us to go, doing what he wants us to do, being what he wants us to be. As John Henry Newman expresses it in the old Victorian hymn Lead, kindly light: “I do not ask to see the distant scene, one step enough for me.” Humble obedience is the hallmark of a good soldier, and a good follower of Jesus Christ.

Yet, even on the road to mastering humility and obedience, you and I— foot soldiers and deck swabbers that we are—you and I are invited into the war room for a strategic briefing from the commander-in-chief. In the fifteenth chapter of St John’s gospel, Jesus is bidding farewell to his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion. He tells them, “You are my friends, if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father, I have made known to you.”

Apparently, in the army of Christ, everybody gets to see the big picture. We still have to follow orders, and we may not know every detail, but we are clued in to the Commander’s broad strategy. We’re not kept totally in the dark, because we’re not just his servants; we’re his friends. Indeed, I might go so far as to say that the very heart of our common vocation, our shared calling as Christians, is to grow beyond a spirit of mere servanthood—not that we aren’t still servants, but we’re not only or even mainly servants—to grow beyond a spirit of mere servanthood into an appreciation of the inestimable privilege of friendship with God. A servant follows orders out of duty. That is all well and good. But a friend of the commander follows orders out of love. That’s better. A friend of the commander follows orders out of love, and out of a knowledge of what is on the commander’s heart, and what is in the commander’s mind.

When we know ourselves to be friends of God—humble and obedient friends, to be sure, but friends nonetheless—when we know ourselves to be friends of God, we see the world through God’s eyes, we understand the terrain of the battlefield as God understands it, and our estimation of the enemy is according to the “intelligence” that God provides us. Yes, even friends don’t necessarily tell one another everything that’s on their mind, and there are moments when we must adopt the attitude of Newman— “Lord, just show me the next step I should take.” But friends do communicate to one another their vision —their hopes and dreams and aspirations. God communicates his vision to us in the pages of the Bible. We know what’s on his mind. We know his battle plan. We know his strategy. We’re friends of the Commander. This knowledge should give us added courage, and strengthen our resolve to do the “little things” that seem so trivial and inconsequential. When we receive orders to “take that hill” or “send this message,” we have some idea what the reason is. We’re not just grunts in the army of Christ. We’re friends of God.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Saturday (St Gregory Nazianzen)

Usual Saturday morning routine, the highlight of which was a long walk on a perfect day for walking. At 1:30 I hit the road, solo, for points south. Arrived in Marion in time for the regular 5pm liturgy at St James'. Then on to St Andrew's, Carbondale for a nice evening of heavy hors d'oeuvres from a new Brazilian eatery in town, and an opportunity to do some teaching on baptism. Looking forward to Mass, with baptisms and confirmation, tomorrow at St Andrew's.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Friday (Julian of Norwich)

  • Attended to part of the process of renewing Brenda's passport, which will be necessary for her to come with me on a visit to our companion diocese of Peru this July. 
  • Brief devotions in the cathedral; Morning Prayer (short form) in the car as I headed north toward Bloomington. 
  • Made a hospital visit to a recent seminary graduate whom we have adopted in the diocese, but whose path toward ordination is overshadowed by very serious health issues. 
  • Met with Fr Halt at St Matthew's for a bit. There's always something. 
  • Headed back south right at noon, stopping in Lincoln to grab a burger. Dealt with torrential rain much of the way. 
  • Kept a phone appointment with a retired priest in New Jersey who is involved with the ongoing revival of ancient catechumenal practices. This is the sort of thing that dovetails very nicely with our diocesan mission strategy. We may be in the process of working up some sort of event. 
  • Grappled with the readings for Proper 5 (June 7 at Trinity, Jacksonville), and commentaries thereon. Arrived at the ever-crucial message statement--a declarative statement of good news with no imperatives, negatives, or subordinate clauses, out of which the sermon will be developed. 
  • Eliminated the mountain of hard-copy material in my inbox and on my desktop (both terms used literally in this case, not cybernetically), mostly through scanning and tossing, some through reading (headlines and pictures) and tossing, some just by tossing. My wastebasket is now full. 
  • Ignatian medication on the office gospel appointed for today. 
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Thursday, May 7, 2015


  • Task organization and some email processing at home. 
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral. 
  • Conferred with the Provost on a couple of emerging matters. 
  • Conferred with the Archdeacon on a couple of emerging matters. 
  • Attended to some administrative (financial) business via email. 
  • Spoke by phone with one of our rectors on two distinct concerns. 
  • Focused on the long-delayed task of making transportation arrangements for getting to and from General Convention in Salt Lake City. Having cleared my calendar (see phone call in previous bullet point) on the Sunday following convention, the possibility of driving presented itself. Driving would certainly offer some advantages. But when I ran the numbers, adding in all the ancillary costs, it came out significantly more expensive. So Brenda and I now have airline reservations, but these were not obtained with considerable time spent on United's website, and then a 58 minute phone conversation trying to wrangle the use of my accumulated frequent flyer miles. They don't make it easy. It was after 1:30 by the time I was finished. 
  • In the meantime, while on hold, I booked lodging for a June retreat for authors of the Covenant blog, and dealt with a couple of minor matters by email. I also cruised Facebook a lot. 
  • Very late lunch at home. Leftovers. 
  • Got my ducks in a row in terms of task planning for two projects: Wrangling (see, I've used a new word twice now) a group of parishes for the fall 2015 "wave" of Renewal Works and getting ready for the St Michael's Youth Conference next month. 
  •  Took a fine-tooth comb look at some revised policies that will be considered by the Nashotah House board of trustees in a couple of weeks. 
  • Took a phone call from a colleague bishop. 
  • Attended to a small bit of Forward Movement business. 
  • Pursued via email the financial/administrative issue I had touched on in the morning. 
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015


This was a hybrid sort of day. I basically took the morning 'off'--sleeping in a bit, lifting some weights, taking a long walk. In the afternoon, I had a couple of substantive work-related phone conversations and dealt with a pile of email; it just kept pouring in. In the midst of all that, I took care of some long-delayed software updates and syncing between Macbooks and iPhones, both mine and Brenda's. It's amazing how that sort of thing can eat up time. Ready to tackle a "regular" day tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015


The plan had been for the Forward Movement board to conclude its business this evening and for everyone to travel home tomorrow. But we were more efficient than anticipated and were finished at 5:00. I seized the moment, packed quickly, and hit the road. Pulled into my driveway right at 9:30. I plan on slightly easy tomorrow, working from home. Back in the office on Thursday.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Monday (St Monnica)

Up and out of the Hampton Inn in Shelbyville, IN at a decent hour. No problem getting to the Cincinnati suburb of Glendale in time for the midday beginning of the Forward Movement board meeting (at the retreat center operated by the Sisters of the Transfiguration). Our chairman had a sudden medical issue arise (nothing long-term serious), so I was asked to lead the meeting this time, which I was happy to do. I'm pretty good at following and agenda! Nice outing after dinner to one of the locations of the local ice cream empire--Graeter's. At it again all day tomorrow.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Up and out of our O'Fallon hotel in time to preside and preach at the 8am liturgy at St George's, Belleville. Between services I spoke at the adult forum. They were mostly curious about my trip to Cuba, but we also touched on the General Convention issues. At the 10:30 celebration there was one baptism and one confirmation, and it was al splendidly joyful. We had lunch at a downtown restaurant with the vestry after that, and we arrived home at about 4:30. It was a quick turnaround for me, though, as I unpacked, repacked, and hit the road eastward for Shelbyville, Indiana, where I am spending the night. On to Cincinnati in the morning, and the spring meeting of the Forward Movement Board of Directors.

Sermon for Easter V

St George's, Bellville--John 15:1-8

Before moving to the midwest eight years ago, Brenda and I spent thirteen years in the central valley of California, where, for the past several decades, grapevines have dominated the landscape. In the southern part of the valley, the grapes mostly end up as raisins. In the northern part, they mostly end up as wine, and the border between wine country and raisin country seems to be moving steadily southward, as wine, for some inexplicable reason, seems to be a lot more popular than raisins. Of course, with the drought, that whole system is in jeopardy, so keep California in your prayers … and possibly also begin to develop a taste for southern Illinois wine, I guess!

A longer time ago, between the mid-seventies and the mid-eighties of the last century, we lived in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. In the backyard of our home there, there was a large Concord grape arbor. It was—roughly speaking, and if I remember my high school geometry correctly—an isosceles triangle, and the distance from the vertex to the base was probably around fifteen feet. It was large enough to provide shade for several people in lawn chairs on a summer afternoon. But, as large as the wooden structure of the arbor was, its only function was to support a just one plant, a single organism. At base of the post supporting the vertex of the arbor, the thick trunk of the plant emerged from the ground, anchored to what I can only imagine was an extensive underground root system. It was a marvelous thing, and, thirty years later, I still miss it.

So, whether it’s acres and acres of grapevines in the California sunshine, or that one magnificent plant in my backyard in Oregon, I find the grapevine to be a mystically rich and compelling organism. I actually feel much the same about corn in the midwest, but grapes are what we are presented with today by the gospel according to St John. A grapevine can grow to become quite large. It forms a complex network of branches and shoots springing from other branches and shoots in a web so extensive that it would be effectively impossible to map, even if one were inclined to try. The furthest leaf emerging from the furthest shoot from the trunk is a great distance from a leaf much nearer to the trunk. Yet, those two leaves are intimately and vitally connected to one another. They share the same life. I often wondered over the fact that, if I were to take a pair of loppers and randomly make a cut somewhere in the middle of that extensive plant, that single cut could have a fatal impact on several square feet of that vine, killing off a whole section of the network.

What all the leaves on a grapevine have in common, whether it’s large or small, is that they are all connected to the trunk, and they are connected to the trunk precisely and solely through the rest of the vine. As long as that connection is maintained, a leaf lives. When that connection is broken, the leaf dies. And it should be ridiculously easy, then, to see how Jesus deploys the image of a vine when he teaches his disciples, a teaching event that we are privileged to overhear, courtesy of St John. “I am the vine; you are the branches,” he says. “As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” 

The word “abide” is no longer a common part of our secular vocabulary. We might use a phrase like “abiding interest” or a cliché like “humble abode,” but, for the most part, the only time we use it is when we are engaging texts like the one in front of us this morning. But in this context, it is a tremendously important word. When we understand how a vine works, to abide in the vine becomes quite literally a matter of life and death. We are fed by the life of Christ precisely inasmuch as we abide in him. So what I’d like to do, in a sort of bold stroke sketchy way over the next few minutes, is tease out what it concretely looks like for a Christian to abide in Christ, to abide in the True Vine, so as to have life and bear fruit.

What are the elements of “abiding” for us as disciples of Jesus? I would like to suggest three: Word, Sacrament, and Community.

Word. Jesus is God’s word spoken; scripture is God’s word written. Not everybody is called to be a biblical scholar. I don’t really care whether you know about the documentary theory of the formation of the Pentateuch, or have an informed opinion about the three stages of tradition in the synoptic gospels. Those are not bad things to learn about if you want to, but … purely optional. What I do care about is that you engage scripture in some way on a disciplined and intentional daily basis. I care that the vocabulary and grammar of the Bible become the language of your heart. I care that, when you sing hymns that refer to passages of scripture, you’re able to make the connections, and that you understand the grand narrative sweep of the Old and New Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation, from creation to consummation, from the Garden of Eden to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. To abide in Christ includes abiding in scripture.

Sacrament. Sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace. There isn’t time now for me to break open the whole sacramental system, so I’ll simply suggest that the “sacrament of abiding” is probably the Eucharist, because that’s the sacrament that we participate in most frequently and regularly. When we come together for the Eucharist, we reconnect with both our beginning and our end, with our original bliss in the Garden and our ultimate bliss in the Celestial Banquet. We share in the very life of God as we are nourished by the Body and Blood of his crucified and risen Son. Coming to this altar Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day, holy day after holy day, is the consummate act of abiding. The other sacraments are tremendously important, but it’s the Eucharist that connects them and gives them context.

Community. A grape leaf or a cluster of grapes does not have an independent existence. It can’t go rogue and start its own vine. It will die trying. Nor does it have a direct and singular relationship with the trunk. It depends on the whole interrelated web to be able to draw life from trunk. So it is with us. We have no life apart from God, and we have no relationship with God apart from the community of his people. To switch biblical metaphors, if Christ is the Head of the Body and all baptized persons are the members of the Body, there is no relationship with the Head without a simultaneous relationship with the other members of the Body. It’s a package deal. So, when we study scripture, we do so shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the Body, both those whom we can see and those who have gone ahead of us, because only in that context can we be sure that the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth. When we celebrate the sacraments, it is always, at least in concept, an act of the whole Church, the whole community of the baptized. Even in confession, the priest represents the whole Church. And when we serve the world in God’s name, we appropriately do so together with the Church and as the Church. That’s abiding in Christ because the Church is the Body of Christ.

So … Word, Sacrament, and Community. This is what abiding in Christ looks like. And abiding in Christ is what results in bearing fruit. And bearing fruit is what results in the glory of God, the salvation of our souls, the building up of the Church, and the life of the world. Got it? Good! Alleluia and Amen.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Saturday (St Athanasius)

Allowed myself to sleep in a bit and spend a leisurely half-morning eating breakfast, perusing the interwebs, reading Morning Prayer, and answering a bit of email. Hit the Bowflex in the basement for my usual workout, then the streets of Leland Grove and Springfield on a gorgeous spring morning. I can no longer deny that a walking route that used to take me an hour now consumes about 15 or 20 extra minutes. My cruising speed just isn't what it used to be. For that matter, neither is my age. 

After a shower and lunch, I went out for a haircut. Back home to look at General Convention travel plans. Not locked down yet, but almost. I then attended--just as a pew-sitter--the special 5:00pm Eucharist at the cathedral using the 1789 Prayer Book rite, in connection with this weekend's Lincoln funeral sesquicentennial observances. Brenda was in the choir for the occasion, and since I had no liturgical role in the service, it occurred to me about halfway through that I should have been as well. It would have been fun. 

Back home to pack, then head south. Dinner it Litchfield at Ruby Tuesday. We're not settled in at the Hilton Garden in O'Fallon ahead of tomorrow's visit to St George's, Belleville.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Ss Philip & James

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral. 
  • Dropped by the office of the cathedral provost, just to check in. 
  • Prepared the ordination certificate for David Wells. This involved melting red wax, pouring a dollop on the certificate in just the right and amount and just the right place, and then applying the seal of the diocese. Since this is now "the fifth year of our consecration" (per the language of the certificate), I'm getting better at it, and nailed this one in one pass. 
  • Attended to some Nashotah House business via email. 
  • Got to work on spending quality time with a couple of commentaries on Mark's gospel in preparation for preaching at Trinity, Jacksonville on June 7. 
  • Took a substantive an important phone call from a Nashotah trustee. 
  • Lunch at home--leftovers. 
  • Finished the exegetical work on the readings for Proper 5 that I had begun in the morning.
  • Attended to a couple of additional Nashotah-related tasks. 
  • Conceived, hatched, and laid out the broad strokes of my next post on the Covenant blog (due date in June, but there's a lot on my plate between now and then). 
  • Prayed the Glorious Mysteries of the rosary. 
  • Took an initial fly-by over the readings for Proper 11 (July 19 at St Mark's, West Frankfort).
  • Brief evening devotions in the cathedral. 
  • Off to St Luke's (Springfield) to prepare for the ordination of David Wells to the transitional diaconate. Everything went splendidly. These are always jorous occasions.

Homily for the Ordination of David Wells

St Luke's, Springfield--II Corinthians 4:1-6

We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God's word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.

In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

We are celebrating a watershed event tonight—a seismic shift, a sea change, a paradigm shift, a milestone. Are there any other appropriate clichés that I haven’t already mentioned? When we’re finished, David will be different, the Church will be different, and, in some unmeasurable way, the universe will be different.

Oh, David will still be David. There will be continuity. We will still recognize him in the same ways we’ve always recognized him. But he will also have become a symbol, a living and walking and talking icon, something larger than himself. David will have become a person for others. It’s not that he isn’t already that, of course. All the baptized members of the people of God, the whole community of disciples of Jesus, are for others. Our vocation is to spend ourselves in the service of others, ultimately thereby serving God. But when we set a person apart in Holy Orders, that identity of servanthood gets taken to a new level. Certainly, it gets turbo-charged with a whopping dose of the Holy Spirit. There’s going to be some serious power flowing through the hands of the Bishop of Springfield in a few minutes. But, the way I suspect David himself will most notice the difference in his identity when he leaves here tonight, is that his life will suddenly be much more constricted, much more restrained, with fewer items in the toolkit he uses to negotiate his way in the world. Let me explain, in a bit of a roundabout way.

One of the hats I currently wear is that of Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Nashotah House, an Episcopal seminary located in southeast Wisconsin, of which I am myself an alumnus, and David as well. Nashotah has had a long relationship with the Diocese of Springfield, stretching back about a century and a half. At the present time, the Nashotah House trustees are engaged in a fairly comprehensive overhaul of our governing statutes, in an attempt to remain responsive to a rapidly changing ecclesiastical and cultural and economic environment. We’re trying to live into a governance culture in which the trustees resist the urge to micromanage, and instead hire and oversee a Dean and President. We tell the Dean where we want him to take the institution, and, for the most part, untie his hands to do his job in whatever way he sees fit. We only hold him accountable for results, not for the means he uses to achieve those results. Except … for certain things. We are actually right now in the process of adopting a list of restricted means, known technically as “executive limitations.” So we tell the Dean, “This is your job, and these are the ways you are not allowed to do it.” We very much hope to keep that list of executive limitations as short as possible, but there will be things on it.
David Wells is tonight being given both a new job and a new identity to go with it. He is being made a Deacon en route to becoming a Priest. And tonight’s reading from the second epistle of St Paul to the Corinthians sets the “executive limitations” under which he will need to operate in this new ministry. David’s job is to be a servant leader, one who leads the flock of Christ into green pastures and still waters. Only here’s how he is not to accomplish that mission, as Paul says:

We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God's word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.

For someone with a background in law enforcement, these particular executive limitations may at times turn out to be a little constraining! Now, I will confess to you that I enjoy watching political dramas—things like House of Cards and Scandal and Madame Secretary and, back in the day, The West Wing.  It’s sort of a guilty pleasure for me, because these programs allow me to do vicariously what I am not allowed to do in real life, because of the “executive limitations” on my job, which are pretty much the same as will now apply to David, and which apply to everyone in Holy Orders—bishops, priests, and deacons. And, to boil it down, it’s this: Pastors don’t get to play hardball! Why? Because we have renounced the shameful things that one hides and we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word and we aspire to commend ourselves to the consciences of everyone by the open statement of the truth. This is not a code that any of the politicians in any of the TV shows I just named are even remotely committed to living by. It’s not a code that most corporate executives are committed to living by. It’s not a code that detectives and investigators and other law enforcement officials are committed to living by—at least not if the cop shows I watch from time to time are accurate!

Of course, the reason I like the political dramas that I watch is because the characters are able to do things that I can’t do, and I’m envious. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t wish I could resort to cunning and manipulation and deviousness in order to accomplish my agenda, which, I will remind you, is full of good and honorable things, so these questionable means would be deployed in the service of very worthy ends. Yet, such practices would run afoul of my executive limitations, the executive limitations of anyone in Holy Orders, whether a bishop or a newly-minted deacon. This is frustrating at times, and part of my vocation is learn to embrace it with joy.

Yet, in the midst of this frustration, there is incredibly good news—good news for David, and good news for everyone else. The good that flows from renouncing the shameful things that one hides, from refusing to practice cunning or falsify God’s word, and from openly speaking the truth is well worth the frustration of laying aside political hardball. Embracing his new executive limitations will be good for the health of David Wells’ soul. It carries the highest likelihood of perfecting his holiness, of making him look like Jesus, of turning him into a saint. Making friends with these restrictions and restraints has the effect of building up the Church. It paves a road that allows Jesus the Good Shepherd to show up and minister God’s healing love in all sorts of situations. Living by such a counterintuitive code, we can be so bold as to say, brings life to the world in small and quite local ways that are then enfolded into the massive universal redemptive mission of God.

David, my brother, please stand. As we prepare now to lay hands on you and turn the Holy Spirit loose to make you a deacon, I can think of no better charge than the words by which St Paul concludes the section of his second letter to the Corinthians that is appointed for this feast of the Apostles Philip and James. “It is not ourselves that we proclaim; we proclaim Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants, for Jesus’ sake. For the same God who said, “Out of darkness let light shine,” has caused his light to shine within us, to give the light of revelation—the revelation of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.