Monday, September 30, 2019

St Michael & All Angels

Out the door at 0800 to catch a 1010 flight from O’Hare to Dallas, touching down at 1245. Picked up my rental care and made my way to the Hilton Garden Inn in suburban Lewisville. Had some lunch at a nearby restaurant, got settled, and took a bit of down time. Eventually drove the five miles or so to the Church of the Annunciation, getting there around 6 pm. An hour later, the ordination liturgy began, and we made Jonathan Totty a priest. For Jonathan is serving as curate at Annunciation, but he’s a product of the ordination process in Springfield. It was a complete joy, and he is, by all accounts, doing a splendid job in the parish.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

The Lord's Day (XVI Pentecost)

Up and out of my hotel room in Marion in time to arrive at St Stephen's, Harrisburg at 0930, half and hour before their regular 1000 Eucharist. I was flying solo because their priest-in-charge, Fr Tim Goodman, is in hospital recovering from surgery. I spoke with Carol, his wife, while en route so as to be able to give the people a fresh report. Hung out a good while at the post-liturgical luncheon, hitting the road north around 12:30. Got home a little past 6pm.

Sermon for Proper 20

St Stephen’s, Harrisburg-- Luke 16:19–31

I’m probably not the only one in the room this morning who can say this, but I have from time to time indulged in fantasies about what I would do if I won the lottery in a big way. I would, of course, ensure the financial security of my family, but most of my fantasies involve giving money away—being able to support institutions and causes that mean a great deal to me. Of course, I’ve been predictably unlucky in playing the lottery, owing in part to the fact that I don’t actually buy lottery tickets but maybe once a decade, and, as they say, if you don’t play, you can’t win.

But, given what the scriptures have to say about the spiritual hazards of wealth, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I’ve been lucky by not ever winning. Just to cite a few of many possible sources, there’s the rather stunning language about reversal of fortune that we find in the text from Luke’s gospel that Anglicans use at Evening Prayer—the Magnificat: “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.” Then there’s the teaching of Jesus about how it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. And it’s certainly a dominant theme in this morning’s gospel parable about the rich man and Lazarus.

Just as the saying goes that “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” we can say that wealth corrodes the soul and great wealth corrodes the soul greatly. (Now, just for the record, everyone in this church today is, by world standards, greatly wealthy, so … the saying applies to all of us.) The acquisition of great wealth sets one on a slow but inexorable slide toward spiritual corrosion. When I fly, as I do several times a year, I surely don’t spring for first class, but I do pay the extra thirty or forty  bucks or so for seats that have slightly more leg room and are closer to the front of the plane. I can justify it on a number of levels, like the fact that I’m claustrophobic, or that being more comfortable on the place will make me more effective in doing whatever I’ll be doing when I arrive at my destination, but it’s just a few steps away from an attitude of entitlement: I’ve earned this perk … by being 68 years old, by being the Lord Bishop of Springfield … whatever. And the end of the arc that begins with the airline seat selections I make, is where the rich man in the parable lives: In contemporary terms, clothed in custom-made designer apparel, and eating food from five-star chefs at every meal.

This all leads to the nth degree of the sin of Pride, which is such an inflated and developed degree of entitlement that one puts oneself in the place of God, becoming completely self-absorbed and self-referential. The rich man is licked literally by the flames of hell, as St Luke’s text presents the parable, not for being rich, per se, but for not being mindfully rich, for being callously rich, for not being prudently rich. His cluelessness is only compounded when he asks Abraham to send Lazarus—by name, no less (!)—to bring him a drop of water and then to go warn his brothers to clean up their act, so they don’t end up where he is. The rich man knew by name the beggar who had lived right in front of his house—so, he can’t plausibly plead ignorance of Lazarus’ condition—he knew the name of the beggar with whom he had failed to even lean momentarily in the direction of generosity.

So, wealth is dangerous because, if we’re not super-careful, it can put us on the wrong side of the great gulf that separates those who walk in the presence of God and those who are eternally separated from God. The rich man, too late, recognizes this, and realizes that his brothers, who are also rich, are vulnerable to his fate, and he begs Abraham to somehow warn them.

Now, the key to understanding a parable is usually to place yourself within it, to identify with one of the characters. How would we approach this parable that way? I don’t know about you, but I certainly wouldn’t be inclined to identify with Abraham, nor could I, or any of us, plausibly identify with Lazarus. There might be a bit of pressure to see ourselves as the rich man, but none of us, to my knowledge, employs a celebrity chef on our household staff, so … maybe not.

Well, who’s left, then? Why, it’s the rich man’s brothers! WE ARE THE BROTHERS! It’s not yet too late for us. We have time to change our ways, to learn to use our wealth prudently, to cultivate the habit of generosity, to be faithful stewards, to be good neighbors. But who will warn us? Who will bring us that message that the rich man hoped Lazarus would bring to his brothers?

Today’s good news is precisely this: WE HAVE BEEN WARNED!  We have not only “the Law and Prophets,” as the rich man’s brothers did, but we actually do have someone who has come back from the dead, and we meet on the first day of every week to eat and drink and celebrate our union with that One who has come back from the dead, that One by whose teaching, example, and grace we are able to triumph over the sin of pride, and offer ourselves, our souls and bodies, as a living sacrifice to God, the One from who we can learn the humility and generosity that enable us to become threads in the beautiful tapestry of redemption that God is weaving.

The only question is: Will we hear and heed the warning and repent of our self-absorbed, entitled, imprudent use of the wealth that has been entrusted to us, and for which we must one day render an accounting as stewards? Appropriating the grace of this Holy Communion is a good place to start down that road of repentance.

Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Saturday (St Wenceslas)

  • Out of my office encampment and in the cathedral reading Morning Prayer by 0730.
  • Down to McD's for a quick breakfast, then back to prepare cathedral chancel area for the Cursillo Ultreya Mass, mentally prepare a homily, and otherwise get ready. Took a few minutes to process the collection hard copy items on my desk.
  • Celebrated and preached the Ultreya Mass, anticipating the feast of St Michael & All Angels.
  • Attended a nearly three-hour Standing Committee meeting. We had a lot to talk about. Most of the time was devoted to the first "annual review" of the bishop's ministry. Yes, it was actually my idea, and my mantra at this moment is "There is no such thing as bad feedback; all information is useful."
  • Walked to lunch at nearby Boone's with four members of the committee.
  • Came back and decompressed with an episode of the show "Britannia" on Amazon Prime video.
  • Signed and sealed certificates for two transitional deacons who are about to be ordained to the priesthood.
  • Wrote out notes to clergy and spouses with nodal events in October.
  • Refined and printed my homily for Proper 21, tomorrow at St Stephen's, Harrisburg.
  • Performed necessary cosmetic surgery on a sermon text for Proper 21 (next Sunday at the two Marion County Eucharistic Communities,
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Headed south around 5:30, arriving at the Hampton Inn in Marion just before 9:00, with a longish stop for dinner at the Cracker Barrel in Mt Vernon.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Friday (St Vincent de Paul)

  • Out the door and headed southbound at 0530.
  • Kept an 0800 breakfast appointment with Fr Halt in Bloomington. We discussed a broad range of issues.
  • At the (otherwise empty) office around 1030. Spotted Fr Wells' vehicle and went into the cathedral office to have a few words with him.
  • Got my computer plugged in, cleaned off my desk a bit, and otherwise got myself organized, task-wise.
  • Stepped out at 1115 to keep an 1130 lunch appoint in-lieu-0f-an-Ember-Day-letter with one of our postulants. This included a quite rich theological discussion of Origen of Alexandria, one of the early church fathers.
  • Headed down the street from there to the blood bank, where I had an appointment to donate red cells. It actually happened this time, as my hemoglobin level was not compromised, as it was the last time I tried.
  • Drove the YFNBmobile down to Green Mazda for some scheduled maintenance. Caught an Uber back to the office.
  • Met with another of our postulants for nearly two hours in one of a series of tutorial sessions in liturgics. 
  • Prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary in the cathedral, followed by Evening Prayer.
  • Grabbed a dinner of chicken wings and broccoli in the Dirksen Parkway corridor. Headed back to the barn for an early bedtime. This introvert is maxed out.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Thursday (Lancelot Andrewes)

  • Up and out for an 0800 chiropractor appoint. At my "work station" about 1030.
  • Began responding to a short stack of late-arriving emails that were not yet in the task system, some of them minor but urgent.
  • Had an extensive conversation with one of our parish clergy who phoned me.
  • Dealt with some lingering details regarding the text of my synod address, how it should be processed for publication by the Communications Coordinator.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Opened a sermon file on Proper 27, which will find me at St Matthew's, Bloomington on November 10.
  • Broke off from this work to take Brenda to an acupuncture appointment, where I leveraged the opportunity to get some reading done.
  • Returned to the sermon task, make some initial notes on the readings.
  • Took a brisk 35-minute walk.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.
  • After dinner: Attended to some routine calendar maintenance chores. Got packed and loaded for an 0-dark-thirty departure for Springfield in the morning (with a breakfast appointment in Bloomington en route).

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Wednesday (St Sergius)

  • Intercessions and MP in our domestic chapel. Tea, breakfast, crossword, email scanning, task planning--i.e. the usual morning routine.
  • Did some final proofreading edits on my synod address and sent the text off to the Communicator so she can begin to prepare some PowerPoint slides.
  • Made and communicated a difficult decision about a mission travel opportunity next spring. Regretfully having to decline.
  • Reviewed some materials pertaining to the Lambeth Conference.
  • Reviewed an appeal from the Diocese of Southeast Florida for contributions in relief of hurricane damage in the Bahamas. Arranged for a discretionary fund gift.
  • Forwarded to parish clergy some materials related to congregational development from one of the presentations at last week's House of Bishops meeting that was actually worthwhile.
  • Scheduled a service appointment for the YFNBmobile for when I'm in Springfield this Friday.
  • Took a walklet with Brenda, the route of which I leveraged to be able to stop by Pizza Hut and pick up some lunch. Consumed said lunch in from of a mindless TV episode. (If you must know: NCIS New Orleans.)
  • Sat intensively with my notes for the readings of Proper 24 until they yielded a homiletical message statement, which will be developed into a sermon for my visitation to St Paul's, Carlinville on October 20.
  • Answered a query from my tax preparer for more info (we're "negotiating" with the Illinois Department of Revenue).
  • Attended to a small pastoral-administrative matter.
  • Reviewed both quantitative and qualitative feedback on the ministry review instrument that the Standing Committee and I agreed on and which was completed by about 20 laity and clergy in the diocese. This is in preparation for my meeting with the Standing Committee on Saturday.
  • Reviewed a report from our historiography team. I wish I knew of a simple and inexpensive process for digitizing our diocesan archives (which contain enough information, I would suspect, for multiple doctoral dissertations to be written).
  • Reviewed a recently-submitted Mission Strategy Report.
  • Took another walk, this time longer, to get to my step goal.
  • Evening Prayer in our domestic chapel.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Tuesday (Our Lady of Walsingham)

  • Usual start to a weekday workday morning.
  • Wrestled heavily with my homiletical message statement for Proper 24 (October 13 in Rantoul), ending up with a developed outline that will provide the basis for a rough draft next week.
  • Took a brief walk, about six blocks, just to decompress (much as I might have were I in the office).
  • Dealt with a lingering financial-administrative diocesan issue.
  • Lunch from a nearby taqueria, eaten at home.
  • Digested an unanticipated email about a serious pastoral-administrative issue. Plotted further actions.
  • Substantive phone conversation with a priest who is interested in exploring deployment in the diocese.
  • Read and replied to a stack of Ember Day letters from our postulants and candidates for Holy Orders.
  • Took the developed outline of my address to synod next month and turned it into a rough draft. It will need some refinement, but it's essentially finished.
  • Evening Prayer in our domestic chapel.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Lord's Day (XV Pentecost)

We drove back home from Minneapolis yesterday without incident. But the whole experience of being at the House of Bishops, on top of the rail journey to Mississippi the previous weekend left me feeling pretty drained, so I'm allowing myself time to recover. That didn't stop me, of course, from fulfilling the commitment I have made to the rector of Ascension here in Chicago to cover for him while he's in California burying his mother. So I presided and preached at the 0900 and 1100 liturgies there. It's always a joy.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Friday (John Coleridge Patteson)

Day Four of the regular 2019 fall meeting of the House of Bishops.

The available morning time was devoted to a presentation from, and interaction with, members of the House of Deputies Committee on the State of the Church. Although this committee has been in existence since 1821, we were told, the President of the House of Deputies intentionally constituted this particular iteration solely with members of Generation X and Millennials. The oldest member is 51. After introducing themselves, they spread themselves out amongst the tables of bishops to ask a series of open-ended questions and invite responses. What excites us in our ministries? What discourages or challenges us? What is our most ambitious aspiration for TEC? What's holding us back from fulfilling that aspiration? You get the idea. My contributions included what I said the other day about the perils of using the Eucharist as a tool for evangelism, and an observation that the biggest obstacles holding us back are sheer intertial momentum and lack of a critical mass of members who are fully converted to Christ. Oh ... and that Sunday visitation are the highest joy of my work.

The afternoon began with what has become a customary feature of HOB meetings, known as the Fireside Chat. (It began many years ago when Presiding Bishop Griswold gathered members of the house around a literal fireplace at Kanuga.) It's a chance for the PB to informally share various things that are on his mind. Today's items included recent developments in the dioceses of South Carolina and Venezuela.

We then moved into the single formal business meeting of our time together. The principal item on the agenda was consideration of a draft "message" from the HOB to the entire Episcopal Church about the Lambeth Conference, particularly in light of widespread dismay over the fact that Archbishop Welby declined to invite the same-sex spouses of our three LGBT active bishops (along with one in Canada). I've already expressed my views about the drama around this subject in general, so I won't cover the same ground here, except to mention that I did stand up and point out that the language of the document, in several places, indicates a degree of unanimity that is simply not present. There was lengthy debate, and several amendments offered, and many accepted, that attempted to address in various ways the issue I raised. In the end, it passed, of course, with 60 Aye votes, 17 Nays, and three abstentions. So, roughly one-quarter of the house did not support the statement, which is, I think, noteworthy.

The afternoon, and the the entire meeting, concluded with more "self-organized" groups. I attended the one featuring the task force on "communion across difference." It was appointed by the Presiding Bishop, and the PHOD, in response to a 2018 General Convention resolution, and its purpose is to seek ways by which those who hold opposing views around sexuality and marriage can all flourish in the same church, in equally sustainable ways. To that end, it is equally weighted between supporters of the historic understanding of marriage and supporters of marriage redefinition. It is a daunting task, but it is critical that its mission be accomplished--from my perspective, so that those who hold an orthodox position don't have to consider every General Convention a potential existential threat. 

At 5:00pm, I headed immediately over to the home our our daughter's family in St Paul, where we had pizza delivered and enjoyed one another's company. We'll head toward home in the morning.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Thursday (St Theodore of Tarsus)

Day Three of the regular 2019 fall meeting of the House of Bishops. From the standpoint of subject matter considered, the day can be understood in three sections: morning, early afternoon, and late afternoon.

The morning was devoted to a report from the House of Bishops Theology Committee, which includes mostly bishops, but also some professional theologians, both lay and ordained. The report focused on white supremacy--its historical roots, its enduring effects, and what some name as a recent resurgence. We were given via email yesterday an executive summary of a much longer document that have produced, and then, today, we were sent the document itself. The report calls out any notion of white supremacy as a sin--a collective sin of which not only the larger society is guilty, but the Episcopal Church is guilty as well. 

I don't think there's anyone in the church who would disagree that the notion of white supremacy is a pernicious evil. It contradicts and undermines the very core of the gospel, and it is not inappropriate that the church examine its complicity with it in the past, and, when called for, take remedial action. It appears that the theology committee is wanting us to digest their work, and invite us to come back to it in the future, It's an ongoing project. If I have any cautionary flags to wave, it would be a hope that we don't allow the strong emotions that the subject can evoke to drive us into making pronouncements about public policy that rely on the a presumption of expertise that does not actually exist within our ranks, that overlook the complexity of the phenomenon, and needlessly provoke division in the church.

The early afternoon was devoted to "self-organizing groups" covering a variety of different concerns. I attended a meeting of the Communion Partners. We covered a variety of subjects, mostly mundane and practical, but the "900 pound gorilla" was the news received just yesterday that our friend a colleague Bishop Bill Love of Albany will be brought to what is in effect a trial over his stated intention of upholding the canons of his own diocese and declining to make provision in any way for the celebration of same-sex marriage in Albany. (None of the Communion Partner bishops will flat-out allow same-sex marriage, but the rest of us have agreed to various schemas whereby we cede our spiritual oversight of a parish to another bishop.) We are united in our support of Bishop Love and will stand with him through this process. 

What I, at least, wish the "powers that be" might come to understand is that there are no winners in the scenario which they have set in motion. I wish they could "see the whole board" the way a master chess player does, and think several moves ahead, rather than just stumbling from one move to the next. The entire Anglican Communion is watching. If sanctions taken against Bishop Love amount to anything more severe than a written reprimand, he will become an instant martyr. The Diocese of  Albany will re radicalized. There will be unrest in other dioceses. There will likely be several more years of property litigation in the secular courts. The Anglican provinces that are already suspicious of TEC will be pushed over the line into breaking communion. Companion diocese relationships will be terminated. In an era of precipitous decline, the rate of the decline will be accelerated exponentially. There is no way this ends well for anybody. Although the train has begun to leave the station, there is still time to halt it before it becomes a wreck. But not much. 

The late afternoon invited us to turn our attention once again to next year's Lambeth Conference. Several of my colleagues are in agony over whether to accept their invitation, believing that by doing so they are aiding an abetting the fundamentally unjust basis on which they were sent--that is, excluding the same-sex spouses of LGBT bishops (on the basis that, since there is actually no such thing as same-sex marriage, the partners involved are not, in fact, spouses; hence there is no invidious discrimination). It was a closed session, so I'm limited in the specifics that I can share, but I certainly can say that there was a great deal of metaphorical hand-wringing and lots of genuine angst. Again, what I wish my friends and colleagues could see more clearly is that, while they experience the Archbishop's decision as unjust and harsh, the majority of the Anglican Communion sees it as way too lenient, an essentially meaningless gesture, and hundreds of bishops are staying away from Lambeth as a result. While I do not doubt the sincerity of the feelings of anyone who came to the microphone today, I cannot help but see the drama I witnessed as one more manifestation of western privilege, where wealth is presumed to buy entitlement and power; indeed, a manifestation of the very sort of white supremacy we spent the first half of the afternoon decrying. So, let those who need to stay home do so. If I had been writing the script, none of the TEC bishops who have authorized same-sex marriage would have been invited. TEC has been consistently warned for the last sixteen years what the consequences would be for the actions we have taken. Nonetheless, we took the actions anyway, for the perceived sake of justice. Now we are shocked that we are indeed seeing the consequences we were told about years ago. We shouldn't be.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Wednesday (E.B. Pusey)

Day Two of the 2019 regular fall meeting of the House of Bishops. The Eucharist was celebrated, keeping the lesser feast of Edward Bouverie Pusey, with the Bishop of Puerto Rico presiding and the Bishop of West Tennessee preaching.

Both morning and afternoon sessions featured Adam Hamilton, founding and senior pastor of the Church of the Resurrection, the largest United Methodist congregation in the world (average Sunday attendance over 12,000), located in Kansas City. He is the author of several books and a highly sought-after speaker on the areas of leadership development and evangelism. Without any doubt, this was the best and most worthwhile outside presentation in all my eight-and-a-half years in House of Bishops. He is a remarkably gifted leader, pastor, evangelist, and teacher. By his own admission, he didn't tell us anything we didn't already know, but articulated it in freshly compelling ways that were inspiring. The planning team got it right this time. Even though I am saddened that Pastor Hamilton comes down on what I believe is the wrong side of some controverted issues, particularly on marriage, his humble faith and dedicated discipleship of the Lord Jesus are authentic.

In his ecclesial context, Pastor Hamilton's approach to evangelism has a certain coherence. He carefully orchestrates the Sunday morning experience to be accessible to people with little or no faith or faith formation. They are his target, because, he would say, they were Jesus' target. I'm not going to argue with his targeting decision; in fact, I wholeheartedly support it. But I would lament Episcopalian leaders emulating his example with respect to the Sunday liturgy. The Eucharist, which is normative in TEC while not in the UMC, is not for "seekers," not for "lookers." It is for the initiated, for dedicated disciples. We ought not to be using the Sunday Eucharist as our "show window," as  the primary point of connection with the unchurched. This is an abuse of both the Eucharist and the unchurched. (I wrote about this some time ago.)

Rather, we need to be about finding ways of connecting people with the gospel in their world, not in ours. (Indeed, Pastor Hamilton gives an excellent example of conducting an Alpha series in back room of a cigar shop.) Or ... if we can't break away from the "invite your friends to church" model, let's at least structure worship services that are low-demand, accessible, with room for a 30-minute teaching sermon, but are non-eucharistic. (In the Anglican tradition, of course, we have something ready-made for this end. It's called Morning Prayer.) This means that a parish would want to have a celebration of the Eucharist, with low-key publicity, in addition to a seeker-0riented observance of Morning Prayer, or a more loosely-structured worship event, which would impossibly strain the resources of most of our parishes. But in a post-Christian society, the Eucharist cannot be asked to bear the freight of evangelism. That's not what it's for, not what it is.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Tuesday (Hildegard of Bingen)

Day One of the regular 2019 fall meeting of the House of Bishops. We began with Eucharist, at which the Presiding Bishop preached. As is his wont, he preached the gospel with some degree of fullness, so by the time he was finished, it was the departure hour for spouses who were signed up for a Mississippi River boat cruise. Brenda and I parted company at that point. The rest of the morning was devoted to table groups for "check in" time. This may sound like fluff, but it's not. Bishops have no peers in their daily lives, so it's important to have time to share with peers on those rare occasions when we are together what's going on in our lives. The afternoon was devoted to presentations about (and brief plenary discussion of) next year's Lambeth Conference. Many in the house remain annoyed at the Archbishop of Canterbury's decision not to invite the spouses of bishops in same-sex relationships. Some are planning on attending in order to "make a witness." Others are declining the invitation for the same reason. What they all seem not to realize is that the Archbishop's decision, which seems unjustly harsh to them, is seen by most of the Anglican world as risibly lenient--hardly a meaningful "consequence" of TEC's decision to alter the Church's historic core doctrine around marriage--and a great many of them are staying away from Lambeth to make their witness to the integrity of the gospel. If I thought it would help all from the Global South to see their way clear to attending, I would counsel most of my TEC colleagues to stay away. Sadly, we may be beyond that point.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Monday (St Ninian)

Our City of New Orleans Amtrak train arrived at Union Station in Chicago about 20 minutes early, around 8:45. We caught an Uber home and attended to various necessary tasks, repacked our suitcases, and were back on the road just after 1:30, arriving in downtown Minneapolis at 9:15. The meeting of the House of Bishops starts in the morning.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Lord's Day (Proper 19)

We enjoyed another lovely visitation with the gracious people of Trinity, Yazoo City, MS. It is a joy to serve them as the bishop under DEPO. After the liturgy and potluck, we were able to work out an extended stay at the Hampton Inn, and appreciated the down time (during which I achieved that elusive "Inbox Zero") before being picked up by the Woodliffs at 6:15 for transportation to the Amtrak station. The train arrived on time and we are once again spending the night on the rails, looking forward to arrival in Chicago in the neighborhood of 0900.

Sermon for Proper 19

(This homily was delivered at my DEPO parish, Trinity Church in Yazoo City, MS, which I oversee on behalf of the Bishop of Mississippi.)

Exodus 32:7-14, I Timothy 1:12-17, Luke 15:1-10

If this were a classroom, instead of a church, there’s a certain game I would like to play with you. I would divide this congregation into two groups. I would ask Group One to read the following passage of scripture, from the prophet Joel:
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness there is spread upon the mountains a great and powerful people; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them through the years of all generations. Fire devours before them, and behind them a flame burns. The land is like the garden of Eden before them, but after them a desolate wilderness, and nothing escapes them. 
I would also ask Group One to read a passage from the book of Revelation:
When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale; the sky vanished like a scroll that is rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the generals and the rich and the strong, and every one, slave and free, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand before it?"
I would then ask Group One to write a description of the nature of God, based solely on the information that they could glean from these two passages.

What do you suppose they would come up with? Words like “angry” and “vengeful” and “capricious” would probably come to mind quite readily. But if the members of Group One continue to reflect seriously on the question, they might arrive at a more positive adjective, such as “just.” God is just, even in his wrath.

A few minutes ago, we read a very dramatic narrative from the book of Exodus. Moses has been up on Mt Sinai for forty days receiving the Torah—the Law—from the hand of God. He comes down at last, and what does he find the people of Israel doing? They have forsaken the Lord, who had led them out of slavery in Egypt, and taken to worshiping an idol, a golden calf that had been fashioned by Moses’ brother Aaron. At that moment, God announces to Moses that he’s about to press the Reset button on this whole enterprise of a chosen people, and start from scratch. Moses alone will survive. Strictly speaking, it would not have been at all unjust of God to destroy those people. They had behaved shamefully, and deserved to be done away with.

Stories like this bring us up short. When we allow ourselves one of those rare moments of absolutely clear honesty, we realize that if God were to be absolutely just with us, we would deserve something along the same lines of what God had in mind for those ancient Israelites. We have, indeed, done those things which we ought not to have done, and left undone those things which we ought to have done. We have not loved God with our whole heart, and we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We deserve no less than the full wrath of God.

But what about the other half of the congregation, Group Two? I would also have some scripture readings for them. First, I would have them look at the fortieth chapter of the book of Isaiah:
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins.
I would also have Group Two look at those passages which long-time Episcopalians remember as the “comfortable words,” like John 3:16:
God so loved the world that he gave his only son, to the end that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. 
...and Matthew 11:28:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  
...and I John 2:1-2:
If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the perfect offering for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.  
Then I would put the same question to Group Two: Describe the nature of God,
based solely on these passages of scripture. I think it’s safe to say that the results of their deliberations would offer a much different picture than that presented by Group One. Phrases like “slow to anger,” “rich in mercy,” “faithful,” “caring,” “forgiving,” and “compassionate” would emerge.

So ... are we talking about two different God’s here? Is there one God who is wrathful and just, and another God who is merciful and forgiving? In the early years of Christianity, there were some who thought precisely that. There was a fellow named Marcion who taught that the Hebrew God of the Old Testament was a completely distinct being from the Christian God of the New Testament. But Marcion’s views were eventually declared to be heresy, and the orthodox teaching of the church has been that God is both wrathful and merciful, both completely just and utterly loving.

And this is, of course, a paradox that is virtually impossible for the human mind to wrap itself around. We can understand justice and we can understand love, but we also understand that there are situations when those two values conflict with one another, and one must be favored to the detriment of the other. We cannot comprehend both love and justice being perfectly upheld by one being at all times.

Yet, this is precisely what our Christian faith teaches us to affirm. When God declared his intention to manifest the justice inherent in his nature and destroy the idolatrous Israelites, it was Moses, of course, who stepped into the breach. He implored God on the people’s behalf. He reminded God of the promises made to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, of everything he had already invested in that people. Moses begged God to relent, to change his mind, to turn away from his anger.

Now, it’s pretty amazing for a mortal man to talk to God this way, and it’s even more amazing still that God listened! In response to the intercession of Moses, God did change his mind, and manifested the mercy that is also inherent in his nature.

Now, as we read the Old Testament through the lens of the Christian gospel, we see in Moses a pre-figurement, a foreshadowing, of Jesus. When Moses stepped into the breach on behalf of Israel, he bridged the gap between God’s justice and God’s love. What Moses did for one nation on that one occasion, Jesus does for all people for all time. As he stretched out his arms of love on the hard wood of the cross, Jesus stepped into the breach between God’s justice and God’s love, and forever bridged that gap.

And when God’s justice is combined with God’s love, the result is like a strong chemical reaction. The resulting compound is alive and active. It makes all things new. It seeks out wounds that need to be healed, relationships that need to be reconciled, sin that needs to be forgiven, loss that needs to be redeemed. The gospel parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin illustrate the persistence and power of justice combined with love. The shepherd does not passively wait for the lost sheep to wander back to the fold—he takes the initiative and searches for it. The widow does not just sit back and wait for the lost coin to turn up someday—she sweeps every corner of her house until she finds it.

Because God is just, he will not let us off the hook for ours sins. Because God is loving, he will not let us perish in our sins. Because Jesus bridges the gap between divine justice and divine love, God seeks me out, seeks you out, like we were that lost sheep or that lost coin. He takes us who are, in the words of the General Confession from Morning Prayer in the older Prayer Book—he takes us who are “miserable offenders” and fashions us into his own very image and likeness. He makes us holy; he redeems. The combination of justice and love is redemption.

In his letter to Timothy, St Paul holds himself out as “Exhibit A” in the collection of evidence that God is a redeeming God. Paul was a sworn enemy of the cross of Christ and the chief of sinners. He was the most unlikely candidate imaginable to be made a herald of the gospel of Christ. But the risen Jesus—the same Jesus who stands in the gap between the demands of justice and the demands of love—actively sought Paul out and knocked him off his horse with redemptive power.

Justice … plus love… equals redemption.

And the only appropriate response to redemption, on the part of those who have been redeemed, is thanksgiving. That’s what we’re here for. That’s what the word “eucharist” means: thanksgiving. You and I now have the opportunity to respond “eucharistically,” by offering ourselves at this altar, by making ourselves available to a God who is fully just and fully loving. Let’s not hold ourselves back. We wouldn’t want to miss anything he has to offer!


Saturday, September 14, 2019

Holy Cross

Our train to Yazoo City, MS arrived at 10:00, just twenty minutes behind schedule, which, for Amtrak, at that distance from point-of-origin, is pretty good. Fr Woodliff, rector of Trinity, had seen to it that we were cleared for early arrival at the Hampton Inn, so we got settled in. An hour or so later, Fr George picked us up and we journeyed about an hour south and west to the historical community of Vicksburg. We enjoyed lunch at a rooftop restaurant with a spectacular view looking north and west, then toured the museum in the old courthouse (built just before the Civil War) and then the marked driving tour through the battleground and cemetery area. I was reminded how prominent Illinois troops were fighting for the Union in that conflict. Back to Yazoo and some down time at the hotel. Fr George and Jill picked us up for a 7:00 dinner at a place out on the Delta.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Friday (St Cyprian)

I'm writing this from the City of New Orleans Amtrak run that left Union Station in Chicago at 8:05pm. Our destination is Yazoo City, MS. Trinity Church there is under my oversight, per a request from the Bishop of Mississippi. We've had a happy relationship for six years now. Scheduled arrival is mod-morning on Saturday. Brenda and I have a sleeping compartment, so it's actually kind of fun. While much of the day was spent getting ready to be away for ten days (since, as soon as we arrive back in Chicago on Monday, we need to repack and hit the road by car to Minneapolis for a House of Bishops meeting), I did do the finish work on two homilies (for this Sunday and next), and stay on top of several administrative and pastoral situations.

Thursday, September 12, 2019


  • Per recent Thursday pattern, 8:00-9:00 at the chiropractor's office (massage, exercise rehab therapy, chiropractor's table). Home, cleaned up, and organized by around 10:30.
  • Worked on some clergy deployment and mission strategy issues ('tis the season, apparently).
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Took Brenda to her acupuncture appointment. Managed to process some email from my phone while she was essentially napping while needled up!
  • Another opportunity to spend quality time with biblical commentaries, this time in connection with preaching on Proper 24 (October 20 at St Paul's, Carlinville).
  • Roughed out the broad strokes of my address to synod.
  • Evening Prayer in our chapel.
  • After dinner (with a Bond movie running in the background): Made some final edits and revisions to my pastoral teaching document on sexuality and marriage, in light feedback from my vetting group. Ready for formatting now. Hope to promulgate in at the end of the month, on the feast of St Michael & All Angels.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019


  • Usual start to a working weekday.
  • But meat on the bones of my developed outline of a homily for Proper 21, turning it into a rough draft that can yet be perfected for use at St Stephen's, Harrisburg on the 29th.
  • Devoted the rest of the morning to working with my daughter and son and daughter-in-law in a project none of us anticipated or enjoyed: moving stuff out of the basement and stowing in temporarily in the garage so the rat exterminators we have engaged will have access to the space for cleaning and disinfecting. A rat infestation pretty much constitutes a near-emergency, I guess,
  • Lunched quickly on leftovers.
  • Headed to an appointment with my primary care doctor, following-up on the seven hours I spent in the ER Sunday nights into Monday morning with a kidney stone attack. I'm grateful to have been out of pain since I was released.
  • Dealt with issues pertaining to next month's annual synod, the Department of Mission, and clergy deployment (which is generally on the front burner now with as many vacancies as we have).
  • Took a 3,000-step walk with Brenda.
  • Evening Prayer in our domestic chapel.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019


  • Customary early AM routine
  • Worked my way through a thick stack of messages and situations needing a response--none were inordinately time-consuming, but there was a lot of them. It took the whole morning.
  • Stepped out to grab some KFC for lunch, which we ate at home.
  • Ran a healthcare-related personal errand.
  • Wrestled aggressively with my exegetical notes for Proper 23 and extracted from them a homiletical message statement for my visitation to St Christopher's, Rantoul on October 13.
  • Relived the stress created by such labor by taking an equally aggressive and longish walk on a sultry and warm afternoon. 
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Sermon for Proper 18

St George’s, Belleville--Philemon 1-21

It hardly ever happens that we get to read nearly an entire book of the bible all in one sitting. But today we do that with St Paul’s letter to Philemon; only a couple of lines at the end dealing with incidental details are omitted from the reading.

So let’s set the stage. Paul is in prison as he writes this. It’s a pretty humane imprisonment as that sort of thing goes; his friends and other visitors apparently have generous access to him, and he’s allowed to have a secretary to write down what he dictates. One of these visitors is a fellow named Onesimus, which, in Greek, means “useful;” that’s an important fact to know because Paul plays a little word game with that name at a really key point in the letter. Paul is instrumental in leading Onesimus to Christ, and becomes the young man’s mentor and spiritual father. They are very close.

But there’s a problem. Onesimus, it turns out, is a runaway slave. And, to make matters worse, the master he ran away from is also a Christian, and somebody whom Paul knows fairly well from his missionary work prior to this particular imprisonment, a guy named Philemon. One of those uncomfortable “small world” moments, right? Of all the people for Onesimus to connect with, he has to choose somebody who knows his boss!

So Paul wants to fix things. But before we dig in and begin to look at his strategy, which is very impressive, we have to do just a little bit of mental housekeeping, and at least be aware of, even if we don’t set them completely aside, the prejudices and assumptions that we bring to this story. One important reality we need to understand is that, while slavery is always slavery—one human being claiming to own another human being—slavery in the ancient Mediterranean world was often a much, much less brutal institution than it was in the American South prior to the Civil War, which is the mental model you and I are most likely to import into the mix between Paul and Onesimus and Philemon. Still, from the standpoint of pure justice, Onesimus was within his rights to run away. No human being has the right to own another human being. This may not have been as self-evident to Philemon as it is to us, or even as it was, I would suggest, to Paul. But it’s nonetheless true. From the standpoint, like I said, of pure justice, Onesimus didn’t do anything wrong.

So why didn’t Paul just give Onesimus a high-five and shoot an email off to Philemon, “You idiot! Christians can’t own slaves! What were you thinking?” Because, not only did he not do that, but he sent Onesimus back to Philemon with only this lousy letter for protection, all at some considerable risk, one might imagine, to Onesimus. I’d like to have been a fly on the wall for that conversation! What’s going on here?

I haven’t formally studied mathematics for 51 years—and counting! But one thing I do remember from studying math is that it usually not enough just to get the right answer. You’ve got to get the right answer for the right reason. That’s why teachers make you show your work, rather than just fill in the blank with the right answer. Well, that’s kind of what’s going on between Paul and Philemon. The “right answer,” of course, is for Onesimus to be free, to no longer be a slave. The “right answer” is for Philemon to permanently set Onesimus free—to do so openly and legally, as only he was able to do. Paul wants Onesimus to enjoy freedom that is not tainted by being technically illegal and underground. He wants Onesimus to be free openly, transparently, not in the shadows. Onesimus deserved that much as a human being created in the image of God. For Philemon to liberate Onesimus was most definitely the right answer. It would satisfy the obvious demands of justice—obvious to us, at any rate, though probably not so much to Philemon and his contemporaries.

But even that is not good enough for Paul. He doesn’t simply want Onesimus to be free. He doesn’t simply want Onesimus to be legally emancipated by Philemon just because it’s the right thing to do. He wants Onesimus’ freedom to flow naturally from both Onesimus and Philemon having a mutual epiphany, a simultaneous “Aha!” moment. He wants them both to understand that the entire foundation of their relationship is no longer determined by Roman law, or by Greek social custom, but by the new identities they have been given by having both been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul wants them to know that their union in Christ trumps and transforms all other dimensions of their relationship.

But in order to bring them both to such a realization, especially Philemon, Paul has to persuade Onesimus to once again put himself in a very vulnerable position, putting his very freedom at risk. Paul wants Onesimus to return to Philemon and say, “I’m back. What’s next?” And he wants Philemon, in turn, to not merely come to his senses about the immorality of slavery, but to see Onesimus not as a slave, or even—and this distinction is critically important—not even as a former slave, but as a brother in Christ. “Perhaps this is why he was parted from you for a while,” Paul writes, “that you might have him back for ever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother.” And he wants it to be Philemon’s idea, not a matter of bowing to pressure from his old friend Paul. He says, “I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own free will.”

Now, while human trafficking, sadly, does happen in our world today, it’s in the shadows, quite illegal, everywhere. Chattel slavery is no longer a legal institution in our world. So we might be tempted to admire Paul’s rhetorical skill in this letter, but then cast it aside as not really relevant. We would be wrong to do so. While we may not deal with slavery in our experience, we do deal with issues of identity. Even more than he wanted freedom for Onesimus, Paul wanted Onesimus and Philemon both to set aside entirely their slave-master relationship. More than wanting it to be over, he wanted them to see it as meaningless, moot, yesterday’s news. Our society invites us to claim our identity—in effect, to name ourselves—in a multitude of ways. Young … old … fat … fit … sick … successful … poor … gay … straight … American … disabled … educated … wealthy … depressed … beautiful … clever … illiterate … illegal … bright … addicted … privileged … and many, many more. We are every day sucked into defining ourselves, and therefore our relationship with others, whether we’re aware of it or not, according to these labels. Paul invites Onesimus and Philemon to cast aside the labels “master” and “slave” as categories by which they understood themselves and their relationship to one another, and to adopt instead “brother in Christ.” He invites us, through this letter, to do the same. He invites us to set all those other identities down on the ground—not necessarily as garbage, but simply as no longer necessary, no longer relevant—and keep on moving. He invites us to see our relationships with one another not as people who agree on something, or who share the same political views or the same taste in fashion or music, or whatever, but as sisters and brothers in Christ, marked as Christ’s own forever and sealed with the Holy Spirit in the waters of new birth.

Do we know who we are? Are we ready to live like we know who we are? Amen.

The Lord's Day (XIII Pentecost)

Yesterday until mid-afternoon was spent getting a haircut and dealing with rat drama. Apparently we have a "major infestation" in our basement and it will cost us $$$ to eradicate the critters But it will be nice to have done. Brenda and I headed south around 2:30 and pulled in at the Hilton Garden, O'Fallon five hours later. We grabbed a nice dinner at Bella Milano across the street and then hit the hay. Up early this morning, in time to preside and preach (as "supply priest") both liturgies at St George's, Belleville, and then meet with their Mission Leadership Team to discuss both the near and mid-term future, as they are in the early stages of a pastoral interregnum. On the road northward at 1pm, arrived home at 8:00, after a stop for lunch in Litchfield and in Springfield for some shopping (believe it or not, there are items we got accustomed to in Springfield that we haven't been able to find in Chicago yet).

Friday, September 6, 2019


  • Customary early-AM routine,
  • Traded emails with the rector of the host parish for next month's annual synod, mostly pertaining to worship details.
  • Edited, refined, printed, and scheduled for posting my homily for this Sunday (St George's, Belleville). The "printed" part of that sequence turned into a black hole, however, as I got sucked into technology hell trying to work out a relatively small kink. I failed, and had to eventually settle for the output I had. 'Twill serve.
  • Then, as I was returning to the apartment after placing the sermon text in the back seat of my car, as is my habit, I noticed a non-domestic mammal scurrying across the kitchen floor. We've had escalating rat sighting in the basement and the back stairwell of late, and were taking appropriate measures, but having one in our living space is another matter entirely. It consumed our attention for quite some time. We made some calls and arranged for an exterminator to come by "sometime after 3pm." We regretted no longer having a cat living with us.
  • So ... while we waited:
  • Lunched on some chicken taquitos that were in the freezer, purchased for just such as contingency as this.
  • Wrote a "friendly" email to the Eucharistic Communities of the diocese that have not yet turned in a Mission Strategy Report for 2019 (which is more than half of them).
  • Corresponded with the co-chairs of the Department of Mission about related matters.
  • Completed a review of my own ministry, using the same instrument that others have been asked to complete about said ministry.
  • Carefully read another in the catechetical pamphlet series from the Living Church Foundation. Two more to go.
  • Welcomed the exterminator, finally, at 4:45. He placed a couple of pro-grade traps in some strategic areas and carefully searched for the intruder, finding nothing. I'm choosing to believe the varmint got out the back door while we left it open all afternoon trying to create that very possibility.
  • Still feeling kind of traumatized, we let Evening Prayer slip through the cracks. Brenda and I ended up walking out for some Indian food. We returned feeling rather better.

Thursday, September 5, 2019


  • Save for some task-organizing time, the morning was consumed by healthcare appointments--first me, then Brenda. We grabbed a slightly early lunch from Subway and ate it at home.
  • Spent intensive quality time with commentaries on Luke's gospel in preparation for preaching on October 13 at St Christopher's, Rantoul. I very much enjoy an excuse to engage in this sort of close study of scripture.
  • Took a small but significant step in a difficult pastoral-administrative situation that is on the home stretch toward resolution.
  • Sat down to choose hymns and service music for the Mass and annual synod next month, This kind of thing invariably ends up consuming more time than it feels like it ought to.
  • Polished the draft of my review of Chris Arnade's Dignity and sent it off to the editor of The Living Church.
  • Wrote my column for the next issue of the Springfield Current, posted it to the website, and sent a link to the Communications Coordinator,
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda

Wednesday, September 4, 2019


  • Customary early AM routine.
  • Took care of a couple of small administrative matters via email with the Administrator.
  • Did the hard work of developing a homiletical message statement for Proper 21 (September 29 at St Stephen's, Harrisburg) into a developed sermon outline.
  • Watched a set of videos about baptism being purveyed by the communications office of the Episcopal Church. I'm happy to say that the production values are great and they're a pleasure to watch, and I'm sorry to say that they are utterly vapid and devoid of meaningful theological, spiritual, or pastoral content. What a wasted opportunity.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Participated in one more volley of pastoral care emails with a lay person of the diocese.
  • Took Brenda to an acupuncture appointment.
  • Drafted my review of the book Dignity (by Chris Arnade) for the Living Church. I will refine it and send it off to the editor by week's end.
  • Did a quick bit of synod-related work.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda. Fixed dinner just a tad on the early side so I could take a long walk before darkness set in.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019


  • Customary early AM routine.
  • Conferred with the Archdeacon by email over a couple of different issues.
  • Spent a not insignificant chunk of time drafting a memo to the Chancellor seeking his counsel on an administrative matter that feels like something from the old Terminator movies.
  • Did appropriate cosmetic surgery on a "pre-preached" sermon text on Proper 19 in anticipation of giving it a reprise when In visit my DEPO parish in Yazoo City, MS on the 15th.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • "Ran" a personal healthcare-related errand by phone.
  • Did some more homiletical cosmetic surgery, this time on a text for Proper 20, when I have no visitation but have accepted a guest gig at Ascension, Chicago.
  • Developed and polished an already-existing rough draft of my next-due post for the Covenant blog and sent it off to the editor. A few minutes later, at his urging, I performed a minor tweak.
  • Took an initial prayerful pass at the readings for Proper 24 and opened a sermon file for my October visitation to St Paul's, Carlinville.
  • Took my daily walk, racking up around 8000 steps.
  • Spent much of the evening, with the Cubs game in the background with no audio, working on a sensitive and difficult pastoral situation.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

The Lord's Day (XII Pentecost)

No visitation this weekend (I had kept it clear to be able to attend my 50th high school class reunion events), so Brenda and I sat in the pews at the regular 1030 Mass at St Paul's-by-the-Lake. Ran into a former ordinand and curate of the Diocese of Springfield and her priest husband, both now serving parishes in the Diocese of Oklahoma, who grew up at St Paul's. Small world. Spent some significant time in the afternoon polishing my pastoral teaching on marriage in light of feedback I've gotten from a vetting group. Then it was off to DuPage County for the main reunion event. The whole weekend has been an emotionally complex experience for me, but nearly completely positive. Therapeutic, even.