Saturday, November 30, 2019

St Andrew

Took a long walk on a very inclement morning ... did the finish work on my homily for tomorrow ... packed and loaded the YFNBmobile, heading south at 2:40, and arriving in O'Fallon six hours later, with brief stop in the office in Springfield, and dinner as well while I was in town.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019


The morning was productive in the ministry-related sense. Created a developed outline for my Advent III sermon (St Luke's, Springfield). Took a substantive phone call from a priest of the diocese. The remainder of the day required my attention to Brenda's health: first dental (a serious and time-consuming procedure happened), then a substantive meeting with her memory care specialist. On now to Thanksgiving and the day after out in the suburbs with my family-of-origin and offspring and offspring's offspring. Catch you back in this space sometime over the weekend.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019


  • Regular morning stuff. After more than a year, our domestic oratory is beginning to have that "prayed-in" feel.
  • Corresponded with the Senior Warden of one of our Eucharistic Communities in transition around multiple points.
  • Dealt with a handful of administrative-pastoral items.
  • Corresponded with the Lambeth Conference office regarding some details of my attendance.
  • Took care of some business with our Communicator.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • With some substantial walking in the middle, spent the afternoon drafting a sermon for Advent II (St Barnabas', Havana).
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Christ the King

Up and out of the Hampton Inn, Marion around 0715. Breakfast at the nearby Bob Evans iteration. Then on to St Andrew's, where I fielded questions at the 0900 adult forum. At 1000, I presided, preached, and received one adult. Tasty potluck followed. There is an almost tangible good vibe at St Andrew's nowadays. They seem to be very happy under the care of the interim rector, Fr Dale Coleman. 

A little past noon, Brenda and I headed east on State Route 13 all the way to Harrisburg for a meeting with Fr Tim Goodman, and his wife Carol. Fr Tim compares himself to a Timex watch--takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin'. He seems to have more lives than a cat. After what he's been through, I was amazed to even be having such a conversation with him. He celebrated Mass from his wheelchair this morning, and his aspirational trajectory is to be able to walk unassisted and preside standing by Easter. May blessings abound. 

So we hit the road northbound at 1:30opm and arrived home six hours later. Illinois is a big state, and we saw most of it from bottom to top today!

Ser on for Christ the King

St Andrew’s, Carbondale--Luke 23:33–43, Colossians 1:11–20

A week from now, we’ll be able to say “Happy New Year” in church, right? Today is the final Sunday of the liturgical year, and next Sunday is the beginning of the new one, the beginning of Advent. Yet, even though we’re technically talking about two distinct church years in a repeating cycle, one leads smoothly into the next. The end of the old year is actually powerfully connected to the beginning of the new one. If you look in the Prayer Book, you won’t find any such season as “pre-Advent.” But, if you’ve paid close attention to the readings for the last two Sundays, as well as those for today, you’ve seen how the end of one liturgical year tees up the next one, with material from various sources about God bringing a conclusion to the long story that we live in the middle of. Some of it is direct, some of it is subtle, but it all points in the same direction. So, next Sunday is all about Jesus returning in power and great glory to judge the living and the dead. Then, we slingshot back in time to the prophecies of Isaiah about a coming Messiah, and the narratives about John the Baptist, who was Jesus’ advance man, all before an angel appears to Joseph in a dream and we slide on in to Christmas.

Today, as part of that unofficial pre-Advent season, is known, also unofficially, as the feast of Christ the King. We read him in the epistle to the Colossians:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
But when we look at the appointed gospel, it seems a little underwhelming, perhaps even disappointing. Three weeks from now, we’re going to have a gospel reading in which an imprisoned John the Baptist sends messengers to Jesus to inquire, “Are you he who is to come, or shall we wait for another?” John, remember, had prophesied a Messiah who was basically going to blow a lot of things up, and kick a lot of rear ends and take names. The only things he hears about Jesus doing are talking kindly to people and healing those who are sick. John’s question itself betrays a bit of disappointment. So now we have a gospel reading about a Jesus who’s been arrested, tried by the Jewish authorities, sentenced to death by the Roman governor, and then executed in an unimaginably cruel manner. In its own context, this snippet from the passion according to St Matthew doesn’t scream “Christ the King.” It’s part of a larger narrative that is foreboding, full of dark inevitability. Our first inclination is, understandably, to associate this sort of thing with Holy Week, and to hear it read publicly outside of that context feels more than a little bit jarring.

It might make a little bit more sense, though, when we look at any of the passion narratives through the lens of this present moment of liturgical time—that is, Christ the King Sunday. If we’re able to do that, the accounts of our Lord’s suffering and death take on a special character of meaning that is uniquely powerful in its own way. I would suggest that we might call it “sacred irony.” As he hangs on the cross, Jesus is arguably in his least kingly moment. Yet, it is in that manifestly unkingly moment that Christ is most evidently the King—not just incidentally, but precisely. It is precisely in his unkingliness that Christ is sdeen to be the king. It is in his abject vulnerability—a vulnerability that we know to be completely voluntary, not something forced on him—that his royal character is most clearly revealed. Indeed, we can say that it is at the foot of the cross, and only at the foot of the cross, that we can know Christ as King.

As he hangs on the cross in voluntary vulnerability, Jesus demonstrates his kingship in three distinct royal acts, acts that only a sovereign can perform.

Jesus’ first royal act is to invoke forgiveness on those who are doing him harm. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” A true and good king loves his people more than he loves himself. Literally as he is being put to death, Jesus’ concern is with the spiritual—we might even say the psychological—welfare of those whose job it is to carry out the deed. When they look back later on what they’ve done to him, he doesn’t want them to be crippled by remorse. He wants them to experience the grace and liberation that come from being forgiven.

Jesus’ second royal act is to endure mocking. Matthew tells us that “the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” Then, the soldiers placed an inscription over his head that mockingly identified him as “The King of the Jews” after they themselves had ridiculed him by saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.” Yet, both these acts of ridicule serve only to shine a light on Jesus’ kingship. A true and good king cares not for his own pride, or his own reputation. Jesus knew he had work to accomplish that day, and that work involved dying. He could have called down legions of angels to rescue him and incinerate his tormenters. But he was focused on his royal duty, and wasn’t going to let a little mocking and derision deter him.

Jesus’ third royal act is to grant entrance into his kingdom to the penitent thief. Two criminals were crucified on either side of him. One joined in the mocking; the other expressed remorse, and pleaded, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus responds, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Only a king can grant entrance into his kingdom. And a true and good king welcomes those who approach that kingdom in humility.

It is only as we walk the way of the cross that we know ourselves to have been “transferred”—as St Paul writes to the Colossians—transferred to the kingdom of Christ. Christ is King for us, we walk the way of the cross, inasmuch as we imitate him—which is to say, inasmuch as we become his disciples and follow him. We follow Christ when imitate his kingly behavior from the cross. We are disciples of Christ the King when we forgive those who are harming us, loving others more than we are concerned about our own welfare. We follow Christ the King as we courageously endure ridicule, particularly if it comes as a consequence of our faithful witness. We imitate Christ the King as we extend ourselves in welcome to those whose lives ours intersect with, not just writing a check or handing them a plate of food, but when we look them in the eye and take a genuine interest in them, seeing another human being for whom Christ the King died on the cross.

I can think of no better way to close than with one more snippet from the epistle to the Colossians:

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, [20] and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Saturday (St Clement of Rome)

Brenda was much better this morning. So, she came with me to Carbondale, where we are spending the night. Left around 1120 and got to Marion at 4:15pm. Quickly checked in at the Hampton, changed clothes, and drove over to St James Chapel, where we celebrated the Vigil Mass with a small congregation. Then off to the home of Trish Guyon of St Andrew's, Carbondale for dinner with MLT and spouses. It's always a delightful time. 

Friday, November 22, 2019

Friday (C.S. Lewis)

With Brenda still hospitalized, attended by our oldest daughter, I headed south at 0510 this morning, and arrived at the diocesan office at 0830. Prepared to preside and preach at the Diocesan Council Mass, and got some things in order for the meeting. Did the liturgy (keeping the lesser feast of C.S. Lewis), then did the meeting. It was productive and fruitful. Kept a lunch engagement with the President of the Standing Committee. Enjoyed another two-hour tutorial session in pastoral liturgy with one of our ordinands. Got a call from my son with the news that Brenda had been discharged and was back at home, but still not quite capable of being left completely on her own there, so, to relieve my generous children, made the decision to drive back to Chicago. Arrived around 8:30. Still planning on keeping engagements in Marion and Carbondale tomorrow evening and Sunday.


Got a fair amount of stuff done today. Worked on my Advent I sermon. Responded to a bunch of emails. Pursued some administrative projects. But the clinker was having to spend the evening in the ER with Brenda, who was exhibiting symptoms we've come to associate with low sodium. They're keeping her for observation overnight.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

St Edmund

  • Usual AM weekday routine.
  • Dealt via carefully-written email with a modestly vexatious issue that seems to have an extended shelf life. This took longer than I had anticipated, as it generated a handful of secondary emails.
  • Extended telephone conversation with the Chancellor.
  • Kept abreast of more late-breaking emails.
  • Began to wrestle with my exegetical notes on the readings for Advent III (St Luke's, Springfield) toward the end of distilling a homiletical message statement.
  • Broke off from this for a lunch of leftovers.
  • Re-engaged the sermon work, finally emerging with the mission accomplished.
  • Took a modest walk with Brenda, stopping to pick up some dry cleaning.
  • Made an initial effort toward summoning an ad hoc Board of Examining Chaplains.
  • Attended to an ongoing administrative project.
  • Touched base with the Senior Warden in one of our "vacant" parishes over a couple of small details.
  • Broke off to work for a while in my basement, which will continue to be a black hole of need for some time yet.
  • One more small bit of administration, this one involving the diocesan archives.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Tuesday (St Elizabeth of Hungary)

The productive hours of the morning were devoted to processing a stack of pastoral-administrative tasks via email. Some were quick and clean, some were more complex and time-consuming. The major accomplishment of the afternoon was homiletic--expanding my message statement for Advent II (St Barnabas', Havana) into a developed outline. I then slipped out to get a haircut, returning in time to pray the evening office with Brenda.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

The Lord's Day (XXIII Pentecost)

In the cathedral for Morning Prayer at 0725, then loaded up the YFNBmobile and headed east and a little south to Mattoon. Arrived at Trinity Church about fifteen minutes ahead of their regular 10am celebration. Presided and preached. The people there are under the faithful pastoral care of Fr Jeff Kozuscek, whose day job during the week is in Centralia, where he lives. So it's a commitment. Trinity is blessed by the presence of three "choral scholars"--college students with strong and skilled voices who augment their choir in a delightful way. After a liturgical potluck, I met for a while with members of the Mission Leadership Team to discuss some of their concerns. On the road northbound right at 1pm, and I arrived home exactly three hours later.

Sermon for Proper 28

Trinity, Mattoon--Luke 21:5-19, II Thessalonians 3:6-13

I’m the oldest of seven siblings. The one who’s closest to me in age died six years ago. This is my brother Phil. Phil was a prankster. He loved to play practical jokes. And he discovered very early that his older brother is a really easy mark. When I was in college, and he was still in high school, Phil had me on the phone to an auto parts store inquiring about the price of a quart of “piston slap.” His biggest offense, for which it took me a long while to forgive him, was when he coaxed me to put my high school class ring into a length of pipe that he presented to me, on the pretense of “show[ing me] something,” and then going outside and tossing the ring around with a friend of his until it fell into a flower bed. I have to think it might still be in that flower bed, because we never found it.

It’s no fun to be tricked, no fun to be deceived, is it? I used to be a fan of a comic strip called Close to Home. It once depicted a drug store pharmacist holding up a bottle and saying to a customer, “The bad news is, it costs $700 and your insurance won’t cover it. The good news is, it will absolutely cure you of being gullible.” I have to admit, I had a moment or two of identifying with that poor customer! In the Great Litany, there’s a petition on behalf of “all such as have erred, and are deceived.” It’s not only not fun to be deceived, taken, swindled, conned, led down the primrose path; sometimes it can be dangerous, and downright deadly.

Today we are with Jesus in the last few days before his passion. He has entered Jerusalem in triumph, and now he’s with his disciples in the temple. Ten years ago, I walked in that same area. There’s only one wall of that temple still standing, and that was impressive enough. But I did get to see a large scale model of the way in looked in Jesus’ day, and it was stunning. It had a ground footprint, and took up an amount of airspace, comparable to a major professional sports stadium today. It was massive. Somebody remarks to Jesus about how beautiful it is, and Jesus immediately predicts its destruction. So they ask, in effect, “When? How are we going to know that this is about to happen?” And Jesus says—and, again, I’m paraphrasing—“Watch out! People are going to try to con you. People are going to try to tell you that they speak for me, or are me. People are going to give you all kinds of ‘evidence’ and try to get you to go along with them. Don’t fall for it!”

Apparently, it didn’t take too long for people in the earliest Christian communities to illustrate exactly what Jesus was talking about. St Paul’s two letters to the Thessalonians are probably the earliest written documents in the New Testament; we’re talking barely twenty years after Jesus walked on the earth. Already there are those who are laboring under the impression—or not laboring, actually, which is the point—the impression that Jesus has already returned to this world and inaugurated God’s heavenly reign. So there’s no need to work. It’s time to just kick back and let God run the show. “Not so fast!” says Paul. “If you don’t work, you don’t eat. Got it?” He actually had to be a little stern with them. Some of the Thessalonian Christians had been deceived—led astray, hoodwinked—by false teaching. They had allowed to happen to them what Jesus warned against that day in the temple.

What makes this so difficult—at least for gullible sorts like me—is that it’s pretty darn easy to be deceived. I’m terrible at spotting liars; I know that. How can I be sure, then, that I’m not being taken for a ride—especially when it comes to what’s true about Ultimate Reality, about God? How do I avoid ending up like those poor Thessalonian slackers that St Paul was yelling at? I suspect that many of you have had moments when you’ve asked yourself the same question.

So what I need to do now, I’m afraid, is talk some serious theology with you. In his message to the Thessalonians, Paul tells them—commands them, actually; quite strong language—to “keep away from any brother or sister who is living in idleness, and not in accord with the tradition that you have received from us.”

Not in accord with the tradition that you have received from us.

Here’s the clue we’re looking for, I think; the cure for gullibility. Only it won’t cost us $700 a bottle. The word “tradition” might be a little scary at first. It might call to mind frozen attitudes, antiquated ideas and procedures, or something that is of human rather than divine origin. Some of us would walk over glass in bare feet before hearing ourselves labeled as “traditionalists”!  So I offer you this image: Think of a relay race at a track meet. A team of runners participates in this event, but they don’t all run at the same time. At designated points during the race, one runner passes a baton to another runner on his or her team. In order to prepare for this exchange, the new runner starts out and picks up speed so that the handoff of the baton can take place without breaking stride. For a little while, both teammates are running side by side. Then, after passing the baton, the first runner drops away and the second runner continues the race.

The New Testament Greek word that gets translated as “tradition” literally means “handing along.” It refers precisely to what takes place in a relay race when the baton is passed. Possession of the baton is the outward sign, the guarantee, that the race is being run in an orderly fashion. The holder of the baton is the legitimate representative of his or her team. And you don’t get to hold the baton unless you hang out with the team, unless you participate in the community that is the team. If you don’t operate as part of the team, you’re not in the right place at the right time, and you miss the handoff of the baton.

My friends, the Catholic Church is the team. (Sadly, it’s still necessary to qualify a statement like that: I’m not speaking of the Roman Catholic Church, but the Catholic Church of the creeds, the body of which Christ is the Head and all baptized persons are the members, the visible body of which we, as Anglican Christians, are a part.) The Catholic Church is a team. And the content of our faith—our tradition—is the baton.  Possession of the baton is the outward sign that we’re running the race in an orderly fashion, that we have received the faith from the previous generation, and they from the one before theirs, and so on back to the generation of Paul and the Thessalonians.

And what is this “baton” that we have received, and which we will hopefully pass on, made of? There are many ways we could answer that question, but here’s one that is probably as good as any other. Back in the 1886, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, meeting in Chicago, adopted a statement of principles on which this church would base its conversations with other Christian bodies. A couple of years later, this statement was adopted, with minor modifications, by the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops from around the world. It became known as the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, because it has these four points:

  1. The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the revealed Word of God.
  2. The Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.
  3. The sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist, using the words and elements ordained by Christ himself.
  4. The Historic Episcopate—that is, the line of succession of bishops, a visible sign of continuity that can be followed back to Christ and the apostles.

There is certainly more that we would want to say about the content of our faith, about the “baton” that we are presently holding as we run our leg of the journey, but these four points give us a base from which to operate in our relations with other Christians. I would suggest that they also give us a base from which to insulate ourselves from the danger of deception. If we don’t ever stray too far from the scriptures, the creeds, the sacraments, and the ministers of the sacraments, it’s hard for me to imagine that we would fall victim to false teachers or false prophets or just garden variety sloppy theology.

The “baton” of sacred tradition has been handed off to us from previous generations. Some of us are just now getting up to speed to receive the baton. Some of us are in the midst of the race. Some of us are approaching the handoff point and are looking for the next runner. Together, we are all awaiting the appearing of our Savior, not resting from our labors until we hear him call our name, and greet his return, not with shame or fear, but with great joy. Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Saturday (St Margaret)

  • In the cathedral for devotions and MP at 0730. Then to McD's to pick up some breakfast.
  • Back at the office, organized my work for the day. Processed some late-arriving emails.
  • Between 0930 and just past noon, attended the meeting of the Commission on Ministry, and "resourced" them for their interview with two aspirants to postulancy, and one postulant applying for candidacy.
  • Lunch from Chick-Fil-A, eaten in my care.
  • Spent the afternoon with a handful of  administrative chores of varying size and scope.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Friday, November 15, 2019


  • Up, put together, and in the cathedral by 0715 for devotions and Morning Prayer,
  • Kept an 0800 dental hygiene appointment. Picked up a chicken biscuit at Hardee's on my way back to the office.
  • Triaged my email--responded to some, created tasks from others. Organized tasks for the day.
  • Attended the regular semi-annual meeting of the diocesan trustees. (This is the group that oversees our investments.)
  • Met briefly with one of the trustees in his capacity as a member of the camp board.
  • Stepped across the alley and met briefly with the Dean on details about the Society of King Charles the Martyr Annual Mass & Luncheon at the cathedral on February 1.
  • Responded by email to some administrative questions from wardens in two our our Eucharistic Communities in pastoral hiatus. Responded to a couple of inquiries from the Communications Coordinator. Responded to a question from one of our seminarians.
  • Lunch from 5-Guys. Eaten in my car while listening to the impeachment hearings on the radio.
  • Did the finish work on my homily for this Sunday (Trinity, Mattoon). Put hard copy in the car and scheduled it for website posting.
  • Spoke by phone with one of our seminarians over a question that has arisen.
  • Spent a "holy hour" in contemplative prayer in the cathedral.
  • Roughed out a liturgy plan for the Annual Mass of the Society of King Charles the Martyr, which the cathedral is hosting on February 1. This was rather daunting, since there are some rather "niche" hymns floating around out there for this "niche" feast. I think it will turn out quite lovely, however.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Thursday (Consecration of Samuel Seabury)

Once again, the major accomplishment of the day was sermon-related--this time, the production of a rough draft for Christ the King, November 24 at St Andrew's, Carbondale. Also had a chiropractor appointment, batted several emails around, had an abbreviated treadmill workout, cooked a batch of jambalaya to make sure Brenda has enough prepared foods to eat while I'm away for the weekend, and drove to Springfield, where I am now encamped.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019


The principal accomplishment today was homiletic: deep dive into commentaries for the lections on Advent III (St Luke's, Springfield). I probably have too much fun with this sort of thing, because I'm always disappointed that the dive isn't even deeper. In and around all that, I stayed on top of incoming emails, dispatched a handful of old ones that have just been sort of handing around, prayed the offices, walked on the treadmill, and did three loads of laundry.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Tuesday (Charles Simeon)

  • In our domestic oratory: intercessions and Morning Prayer; then tea, breakfast, internet scanning, crossword.
  • Took Brenda over to Swedish Covenant hospital for a test. It's only three blocks away, and we would normally walk, but the record cold and wind chill, along with the iced-over sidewalks, meant we drove.
  • Sent a substantive email to the company to which the Lambeth Conference has outsourced logistical issues, I had some non-standard questions and concerns for which I need some feedback from them.
  • Wrestled with my exegetical notes for the reading of Advent II and eventually wrangled a homiletical message statement from them, which will eventually become a sermon for my visitation to St Barnabas', Havana on December 8.
  • Lunch from the hole-in-the-wall Chinese place around the corner, eaten at home.
  • Did a brisk 45 minutes on the treadmill, which is, as of the weekend, up and running for the first time since the move to Chicago.
  • Drafted and sent a substantive and fairly detailed email over an emerging administrative issue.
  • Responded to an email enquiry from the Communications Coordinator.
  • Attended via email to some Society of King Charles the Martyr board business.
  • Again, via email, took care of three small administrative issues.
  • Listened to/watched a YouTube presentation from one of our clergy about the fruit of her recent sabbatical.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

The Lord's Day (XX Pentecost)

Celebrated and preached the 0730 Mass at St Matthew's, Bloomington. Went to breakfast with Brenda, with the Rector's wife joining us, which was a delight. Celebrated, preached, and confirmed three adults at the principal liturgy. Got a tour of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd atria with head catechist Emily Lavikoff. Visited at coffee hour a bit. Lunch with Fr Dave and Amy at a nearby Indian buffet. Back home right at 4pm.

Sermon for Proper 27

St Matthew’s, Bloomington-- Luke 20:27–39

One of the first parish visitations I made after my consecration in March of 2011 was to St James’ in McLeansboro, which, if Illinois geography isn’t your strong suit, is a county seat town about 25 miles southeast of Mt Vernon. It’s main claim to fame is that it’s the hometown of Jerry Sloan, who was first a player and then an accomplished coach in the NBA. St James’ Church is a lovely structure that was consecrated in the 1870s by Bishop George Seymour, my predecessor ten times removed. On the occasion of my visitation, both the church and the nearby parish house were in excellent condition, quite attractive on a gorgeous spring day. The only fly in the ointment was that there were only four regular communicants left at St James’, and, over a potluck lunch in the parish house, they unanimously asked me to close the place down, which, with sadness, I did, and the Eucharist that morning was the last one celebrated in St James’ Church.

About a year ago, I went back to McLeansboro on a Sunday afternoon, and was met there by Fr Bill Howard, a lawyer-priest who lives in Mt Vernon and takes care of St John’s in Albion, which is the oldest church building in the diocese continuously in use. Our solemn duty that Sunday afternoon was to officially deconsecrate St James’ Church, remove it from my spiritual authority, and consign it to secular use. Except … it’s not actually being used, either religiously or secularly. So, the entire property was kind of an eyesore. The lovely grounds that I remembered from seven years before had “gone native.” The building was obviously slowly decaying. The interior was just dark, hollow, depressing.

When something is neglected, it decays. When order is not maintained, chaos takes over. Those of us who drive extensively, whether on city streets or interstate highways, are acutely aware of this. There’s always construction, road maintenance, going on somewhere. Except on very short trips around the neighborhood, construction is impossible to avoid. Roads have a life cycle, and, left to their own devices, potholes take over, and pretty soon there’s no road left.

This is what physicists call entropy, or the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Without intentional intervention, order surely and certainly disintegrates into chaos. This is a law of nature that we experience not only with abandoned churches and city streets, but in our own homes and gardens, the public places we inhabit every day—indeed, with our own bodies. Stop paying attention to personal hygiene for a few days, and everybody in your life is going to become very, very concerned!

Today we encounter one of the “parties” within the Judaism of Jesus’ time and place. We’re more familiar with the Pharisees—they show up in a lot of gospel stories—but today we meet one of their rival factions, the Sadducees. The Sadducees are best known for their denial of any notion of the resurrection of the dead, which is an idea that was not part of ancient Hebrew religion, but, by the time of Jesus, had acquired a prominent place within Jewish thought. They use Jesus, in effect, not to try to trip him up, as we are used to hearing about the scribes and Pharisees doing, but to score some cheap rhetorical points against their opponents. They pose what they think is an unanswerable conundrum, and Jesus’ inability to answer it will make the Pharisees’ heads explode. Suppose there’s a married man who dies before being able to father any children. According to the Law of Moses, this man’s brother would be obligated to try to impregnate his brother’s widow, and the resulting child would be deemed legally to be the offspring of the dead man. So, now suppose that the brother fails in this duty, not for lack of trying, necessarily, but … you know … just because. And then he dies. And then five more brothers all have a go at it, and each one dies without having given Brother #1 any posterity. In the resurrection—which, remember, the Sadducees believed was a hoax—in the resurrection, whose wife will this woman be, since all seven had been her husband? They think they have Jesus, and, by proxy, the Pharisees, painted into a corner, and are starting to high-five one another.

But Jesus has other ideas, and, like a savvy politician when being grilled by journalists looking for a story, refuses to accept the premise of their question, which is that institutions like marriage naturally survive into the social economy of the resurrection of the dead. Instead, Jesus responds that marriage is one example of one of countless human institutions that are necessary in this world precisely because of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, because of entropy. Entropy decrees that all living organisms eventually fail in their efforts to maintain order in the face of chaos. This is the failure we call death. Because of entropy, because of death, there is a need for every species of life to perpetuate itself. Marriage is one “intervention” that human beings deploy to beat back entropy, by fostering the procreation and successful nurture of children to continue the human race.

But in the time of the resurrection, Jesus says, there is no marriage because, as he implies, there is no entropy. The need for marriage will no longer exist—just as there will be no highway maintenance crews, because highways, or whatever the heavenly equivalent for highways is—will not degrade. Without entropy, there can be no potholes!

Despite the underlying beliefs of the popular culture that surrounds us, human beings have no inherent hope of immortality, whether in some state that we call “heaven” or some condition or place that is … well … “not heaven.” We don’t all just automatically all have a “soul” that will, in some manner, survive the death of our bodies. The Christian hope is not the “immortality of the soul.” I really can’t stress that highly enough: the Christian hope is not in the immortality of the soul. Rather, the hope of Christians is in resurrection. Let me refer you to the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds on this point, neither of which mention immortality, and both of which mention resurrection. We may have “life after death” to look forward to, but it’s something more on the order of “life after life after death” that we ultimately believe in.
But that which even makes resurrection conceivable, is God’s inherent deathless nature. God is the only immortal being in the universe. God is the only one who is, by his very nature, exempt from the Second Law of Thermodynamics, immune to entropy. This is what Jesus is getting at in the second part of his answer to the Sadducees. He calls their attention to the incident when Moses encounters a burning bush on the slopes of Mt Sinai—a bush that is burning, but is never consumed. The voice coming from the bush says, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Present tense. I am their God. But Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, of course, are long dead by the time of Moses. And if God is presumed to be the God, not of the dead, but of the living, then those three patriarchs must still somehow be alive, which proves the resurrection, and Jesus sends the Sadducees away with his own “gotcha” line: “You are quite wrong.” Now, to our ears, that may seem too clever by half, a bit of intellectual contortionism. But, in the thought world of that time and place, it was a genuine zinger. Jesus deftly deflected their supposed conundrum and sent the Sadducees packing.

There is much talk these days about sustainability—sustainable agriculture, sustainable energy, sustainable fishing, sustainable economic growth. These ideas, though, are ultimately just attempts to beat back entropy long enough for another generation to figure out how to do it again, and then again and again in each succeeding generation. But it is God’s deathless nature—revealed in raising Jesus from the dead—it is God’s deathless nature alone that defeats entropy. God’s deathless nature alone repeals the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The destiny of a redeemed universe is one of infinite sustainability. Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, November 9, 2019


Aside from processing a few emails, devoted most of the day to domestic projects. At 6pm, Brenda and I loaded up the YFNBmobile and pointed her south, arriving in Bloomington around 8:30, ahead of tomorrow visitation to St Matthew's.

Friday, November 8, 2019


The main accomplishments of the day were doing the finish work on a homily for this Sunday (St Matthew's, Bloomington); doing necessary plastic surgery on a "vintage" homily for Proper 28, reconfigured for use at Trinity, Mattoon next Sunday; email exchanges with the Treasurer, the Bishop of Tabora, the Communicator, and the Senior Warden of one of our Eucharistic Communities. Participated in a Doodle poll about the next meeting of the Province V bishops. Morning Prayer fell through the cracks because of a need to take Brenda to a lab for a blood draw first thing in the morning, but we prayed EP together, and I prayed the Luminous Mysteries of the rosary. Got a brisk walk in on an unseasonably cold but beautifully sunny day. 

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Thursday (St Willibrord)

After nine consecutive days "on the job," six of which were spent away from home, I was due for some down time, but the most I indulged in was a slow start to the day. I completed and submitted a fairly major essay on the subject of Confirmation for the Covenant blog, had a substantive phone conversation with a cleric of the diocese, developed a homiletical message statement for Christ the King (November 24 in Carbondale) into a sermon plot/outline, and processed a bunch of emails as they arrived. Walked. Prayed. Back at it tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Wednesday (William Temple)

Finished up the clergy conference. Celebrated Mass for the lesser feast of William Temple. Had lunch. Took Bishop Alexander to the airport in St Louis, then drove home. We arrived around 7:30.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019


At the annual diocesan clergy conference, with Bishop Neil Alexander laying wisdom on us on all matters liturgical, especially music. I'm breathing a sigh of thanksgiving about how this has all turned out.

Monday, November 4, 2019


Out of the house with Brenda at 0800, packed for two nights away. We rendezvoused with our clergy conference presenter, Bishop Neil Alexander, about five-and-a-half hours later in the airport in St Louis, We then all made our way to Toddhall Retreat Center in Columbia, IL, got settled in, etc. etc. Dinner, Evensong, and then Bishop Alexander's first presentation. It's rich stuff.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

The Lord's Day (Solemnity of All Saints)

Between the time change and the service time at my destination, the morning unfolded at a humane pace. I rose at 7am (CST), got myself put together, broke cam, prayed the morning office, said hello to some cathedral folks at the 8am liturgy coffee hour, stopped by Hardee's for some sustenance, and headed north at around 0920, arriving at All Saints, Morton about a half hour ahead of their regular 11am Mass. Presided and preached at a beautiful liturgy, hung out at coffee hour, conferred with the priest for a while, and headed home, where I arrived at 5pm.

Sermon for All Saints'

All Saints, Morton--Revelation 7:2-4, 9-17

Several years ago, I announced I was going to lead an adult Bible study on the Book of Revelation. We had nearly thirty people sign up, and there were both morning and evening sessions of the class, meeting weekly over a two-and-a-half month period. The following year, when I offered a class on the Epistle to the Philippians, total signups were less than half that number, and the same pattern held steady in subsequent years for Genesis, Acts, the Parables of Jesus, and Ephesians. There’s obviously something about Revelation that excites curiosity and interest. It is mysterious and difficult material, hard to understand. It seems cryptic and full of codes. The Revelation to St John the Divine—or the Apocalypse, at it is alternatively known—Revelation is also subject to widespread misuse and misunderstanding today, particularly from those who see it as primarily a codebook, and when those codes are successfully broken, a vast amount of information about coming events that will bring the end of the world as we know it suddenly becomes available. A small fortune has been made, I’m sure, producing books and movies that purport to dramatize how all this is going to play out.

I’m not going to go down the road of pontificating about who’s right and who’s wrong when it comes to such predictive prophecy as the Book of Revelation may contain. We have a magnificent reading from Revelation today, as we celebrate All Saints’ Day, and I’d like us to get beyond the “codebook” mentality, and begin to consider how this material spoke to the lives of its original readers, the ones St John had in mind as he sat in his lonely cave, in exile on the Isle of Patmos in the Aegean Sea.

In these two excerpts from chapter seven that have been pieced together in our lectionary, we get a glimpse of the splendor of Heavenly worship. The first thing that strikes me—perhaps this reflects my professional prejudice!—the first thing that strikes me is that it’s a huge congregation. St John tells us that it is “a great multitude which no man could number.” Just before that, in a slightly different context, he mentions the number 144,000. In Jewish symbolism, this is a significant number—12 times 12,000—the twelve tribes of Israel each represented in great quantity; it’s a sign of wholeness and completeness and inclusiveness. So it’s not just lots of people, it’s lots of different kinds of people. Indeed, John spells it out: people from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues.”

The worship of Heaven is also distinguished by lots of enthusiastic singing! Several times—not only in today’s passage, but in other places—John’s vision tells us of the congregation of millions of worshippers being united in songs of praise to God—the “one seated on the throne”—and to Christ—referred to as “the Lamb.” And the people are not only united in song, they are further united by their shared experience of bearing witness to Christ in the world, outside of formal worship, and under extraordinarily difficult conditions, including torture and death. This is what entitles them to be called “martyrs,” which in the Greek language of the New Testament, means “witness.”

But what most gets my attention in this scene of heavenly liturgy is the sheer glory of it all. There’s a throne, there are angels, there are multitudes vested in white robes and carrying palm branches, and lots of incense! And there is an orderly division of duties, each performing his or her proper role, each exercising a significant ministry—angels, elders, the four “living creatures, “the Lamb,” and the “One seated on the throne.” What a magnificent scene!

Now, none of us were alive in the first and second centuries to observe the Eucharistic worship of the early Church, but there is considerable plausible evidence that the scene St John describes in Revelation—in Chapter Seven and in other places—there is considerable plausible evidence that this material is an amped-up, turbo-charged version of what early Christian liturgy actually looked like, that John was incorporating not only his mysterious vision but some of his actual experience into what he wrote down. What an intriguing thought. I wish I could travel back in time to check it out. The altar, the throne, the elders arrayed on either side of the throne, the incense, and the singing—all these elements are documented features of ancient Christian worship.

Of course, they are all also features of our worship today, of contemporary Christian liturgy. Yet, we cannot help but also be aware of a certain paltriness in our earthly worship, by comparison. For most of our services, there are lots of empty pews, so we don’t often experience what it’s like to worship with a multitude too great to number. Most of the time, we are also pretty homogenous as we gather at the altar, particularly Episcopalians in central Illinois; ethnic diversity is not what we’re known for! We are Americans, and by the standards of the rest of the world, we tend to be pretty affluent Americans at that. And we tend to be better-educated and more socially privileged and politically influential than the general population. And one could hardly say that we are united in song. Such quarrels as we have from time to time are frequently related to the songs we sing, or don’t sing, and some of us just plain … well … don’t sing. And, so often, our liturgy here on earth seems tedious and dull—not too often in Tazewell County Parish, though, I hope!—and even when we seem to get it right, it is but a pale reflection of what we read about in Revelation.

So, what speaks to my heart on this All Saints Day as we celebrate the Eucharist is that the liturgy of the Eucharist itself, no matter what style it’s celebrated in, transports us beyond time and beyond space and into the worship of the whole communion of saints gathered around the heavenly throne. Eucharistic worship takes us out of ourselves, out of the limitations of place and time that so constrict our vision, and raises us to the very courts of Heaven. What a marvelous gift and privilege it is to be able to come here Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day, holy day after holy day, and join our voices to the songs of the saints and angels falling prostrate before the heavenly throne. The very word “eucharist” means “thanksgiving,” and how appropriate—we give thanks through it and we give thanks for it. And we give thanks in spite of the obvious paltriness of what we are able to offer in our liturgy.

Christian faith, we know, is rooted in grace—God’s grace, to be specific. And the thing about grace is that it’s not about us, it’s about God; it’s not about what we do, but about what God does. So corporate worship—our gathering at the Lord’s own table on the Lord’s own day—is not about what we “feel” when we walk out the church door. It’s not about what we “get out of” the sermon, or the music, or the prayers. Sure, it may be easier to “feel” God present in a packed church with rousing singing in a solemn high Mass. But God is no less present at a weekday celebration with half a dozen people who are barely awake, because it’s not about us, it’s about Him. As we come to this altar, my brothers and sisters, we are actually gathering—being gathered would be a more accurate way of putting it—we are actually being gathered around the heavenly altar that we read in the Revelation to St John. We are part of that vast multitude, gathered with the apostles, patriarchs, prophets, and martyrs; with Mary the Mother of our Lord, and John her surrogate son, with all who have confessed the name of Jesus in this world and have been signed with his cross throughout the last 2,000 years, with all the saints—we are being gathered to worship the One seated on the throne and Christ the Lamb who was slain. To God be the glory, unto ages of ages. Amen.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Saturday (All Souls)

  • Up and out of my office encampment, having offered Morning Prayer already, at 0800, making my way on foot the two miles to Charlie Parker's for breakfast. Back in the office, having eaten well and logged my step quota for the day, by 10am.
  • Took care of some loose ends pertaining to yesterday's Mission Strategy Report work.
  • Began poring over commentaries on Matthew, as part of preparing to preach on Advent II at St Barnabas;, Havana.
  • Broke off the attend the All Souls Day liturgy in the cathedral chapel.
  • Got back to my exegetical work.
  • Broke off again to pick up a late lunch from Taco Gringo and bring it back to the office, where I ate it while watching an episode of the new Jack Ryan season on Amazon Prime,
  • Back again to the Matthew commentaries, this time bringing my work to completion.
  • Scanned, categorized, and tagged the items in my physical inbox.
  • Wrote notes of greeting to clergy and spouses with nodal events in November.
  • Evening Prayer in the office.
  • Out for some pot stickers and broccoli at Fridays.
  • Spent most of the evening working on my next-due post for the Covenant blog.

Friday, November 1, 2019

All Saints

  • Up and out and on the road southbound at 0530. Walked into the office right at 0900 (having stopped at McD's in Pontiac to grab a bite, and being delayed slightly by a phone call just as I arrived).
  • Checked in for a bit with the Administrator. Debriefed on the usual "range of issues" with the Archdeacon.
  • Triaged my email and created several new tasks.
  • Planned and prioritized my work for the day.
  • Stepped across the alley and conferred with the Dean on a couple of things.
  • Culled the accumulated hard copy items on my desk.
  • Got on Facebook to share a link to this morning's Forward Day by Day meditation. I am the author for the entire month of November.
  • Did the finish work on my homily for this Sunday (to be delivered at All Saints', Morton).
  • Out to Chick-Fil-A for lunch.
  • Met with the better part of two hours with the  postulant whom I am tutoring in liturgy. Third session of an eventual probable six.
  • Pretty much devoted the rest of the afternoon to preparing the liturgy leaflet for the clergy conference. It's not artful or elegant, but it will get the job done. It mostly went smoothly, but that sort of thing is very time-consuming, especially given that I'm quite out of practice in formatting and producing that kind of hard-copy output. 
  • Lectio divina on the Hebrews reading for All Saints in the office lectionary.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.