Thursday, December 24, 2020

Christmas Homily

Springfield Cathedral--Luke 2:7

During the first nearly eight years of my time as Bishop of Springfield, Brenda and lived in a spacious home in Leland Grove, as some of you know. It had four bedrooms, including a former master suite, bearing that title before the current master suite was developed over the garage. I can’t say we used those bedrooms very many times, other than when our children and grandchildren were visiting us at Christmastime, but it was nice to be able to say, at least, “We have a guest room,” and we did, in fact, use the former master suite a few times for people other than family. Now, of course, we live in a 1500 square foot apartment that has three rooms that are classified as “bedrooms,” but only one actual bed! So, on those rare occasions when we want to have overnight company, they stay up on the third-floor apartment, our daughter’s, where there are all of two beds.

Yet, not having a guest room doesn’t necessarily prevent the exercise of hospitality. Have you ever had the experience of making arrangements to stay with friends or relatives, and arriving—perhaps in time for dinner, or at least some late-night conversation in the family room—and then being shown to your bedroom? You settle in, look around—although it may not dawn on you until the next morning—you realize that you’re not in a guest room, but in a child’s bedroom. There are posters on the wall, toys in a pile, clothes in the closet, all belonging to a child whom you realize is still very much an active member of that household—and, apparently, sleeping somewhere else. It makes you stop and think. No one, least of all a child, enjoys having their domestic routine disrupted, and being told that something they think of as their own is not quite 100% their own. Your comfortable night has come at the cost of somebody else’s inconvenience.

Of course, there’s a pecking order. If the anticipated guest is somebody special, we make allowances; we go to great lengths to make that person welcome and comfortable, even if it involves considerable inconvenience. I still remember an episode of the PBS TV series Upstairs, Downstairs from the ‘70s, when the Bellamy family entertained King George—or was it Edward? I can’t remember! —the Bellamys had the King and the Queen at their home for dinner. They inconvenienced themselves, and their household staff, in a big way. If it had been Uncle Bill from Canada dropping in for a visit, there wouldn’t have been quite so much rigmarole.

I don’t really know anything about the state of the hospitality industry in first century rural Palestine. In most movie depictions that I’ve seen, Bethlehem looks like an inauspicious collection of low-lying and tiny houses made of rough-hewn stone. There was certainly no neon sign that flashed the letters H-O-T-E-L. There wasn’t even a hanging wooden shingle that advertised the location of an “inn.” But there was apparently some sort of commercial enterprise—perhaps just a room or two in somebody’s home—where a traveler might expect to find lodging. Whatever this place was, there was somebody in charge of it. Now, perhaps whoever that person was just didn’t want to be bothered, but if we take St Luke’s account at face value, he had simply let out the available space on a first-come first-served basis, so when Joseph came looking for a room for himself and his wife who was about to have a baby, the innkeeper just followed standard operating procedure. “Sorry, we’re full up. No vacancy.”

And who can blame him? It’s the same message any of us would expect to get if we pulled off the interstate and drove up to a Hampton Inn without a reservation on a weekend when the Cornhuskers Guild is having its annual convention. “No Vacancy” means no vacancy, and we wouldn’t hold it personally against the desk clerk who gave us the bad news. We would just thank him and ask directions to the Motel 6.

Fiction writers over the centuries have been inspired to speculate in any number of ways about the character of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who ordered the crucifixion of the Son of God. Did it weigh on him? Did it haunt him the rest of his life? Or did he never have the slightest inkling of the cosmic magnitude of the event he made happen? For my part, however, I wonder about that innkeeper. Let’s grant the assumption that the spaces he had for rent were indeed taken. But what about his own personal living space? Now, we wouldn’t ordinarily expect a hotel desk clerk to make such an offer. But what if he had known? What if he had known the true identity of his prospective guest? Do you suppose he might have found a more appropriate place than a barn for the incarnation of the eternal Word of God to make his entrance into the world of time and space? Do you suppose he might have been willing to inconvenience himself some? Might he have asked, say, his twelve-year old daughter to give up her room for the night?

Of course, the innkeeper didn’t know. He was operating at a disadvantage, and we should cut him some slack. You and I, on the other hand, have all the advantage of hindsight. We know who it is that is knocking on our door tonight. It’s the One by whom and through whom all things were made, the light that no darkness can overcome, the perfect visible image of the invisible God, the infinite made finite, the eternal made temporal, the great made small—Jesus, Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing. Do we have room for him? We know who he is, but the question remains, and is all the more pressing precisely because of our knowledge: Do we have room for him?

Can we make room for Jesus in our affections? Can we love him above all others? Can we grant him access to the innermost chambers of our hearts, even as he draws us into his own heart? Can we make room for Jesus in our minds? Can we yield to him our intellectual autonomy, and let our minds be formed by the mind of Christ, and delight in the truth that he proclaims? Can we make room for Jesus in our wills—our decisions and actions? Can we let Jesus have a say in our finances? Can we listen to his advice about our relationships, our sexual behavior, and even our politics? Can we make room for Jesus tonight? Are we willing to allow him to inconvenience us, to change our routine?

The innkeeper of Bethlehem can be easily excused for turning non-yet-born Jesus away. Our excuse isn’t so good, because we know exactly what we’re doing. One of my favorite poets of Christmas is Robert Herrick, who wrote in seventeenth century England. He wrote poignantly about making room for Jesus:

Christ, He requires still, wheresoe'er He comes,
To feed, or lodge, to have the best of rooms:
Give Him the choice; grant Him the nobler part
Of all the house: the best of all's the heart.

Tonight we have an opportunity that the desk clerk of the Bethlehem Super 8 didn’t have. We know who it is that’s knocking on our door, asking for a room. I’m going to let the truly immortal words of Bishop Phillips Brooks articulate our response:

O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;

Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today.

We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tiding tell;

O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel.

Merry Christmas, and Amen!

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Up and out of my Effingham hotel room at the quite reasonable hour of 0815, having already had time for Morning Prayer and email perusal in my room, in order to arrive at St Thomas', Salem half and hour ahead of their regular 0930 liturgy. I presided and preached (as "supply" this time, since they're in transition)--again, with everybody observing very strict pandemic protocols. Afterward, we had a short plenary meeting into order to get the same conversation going in Salem that I had already initiated in Mt Vernon and Centralia involving a vision of a shared future for those three relatively proximate congregations. I was back home right at 4:00.

In view of the impending holidays, when routines get trampled, I'm going to go dark in this space for a couple of weeks, until January 5 (the evening wen I expect to be ordaining Carter Aikin to the priesthood in Carlinville at a very small "invitation only" service). My plan is to be at the cathedral on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. Next Sunday I have a bye, and January 3 may or may not see me at Christ Church, Springfield, depending or whether they decide to be meeting then or not.

Sermon for IV Advent

 St Thomas’, Salem--Luke 1:26-38, 2 Samuel 7:4,8-16, Romans 16:25-27

Many of you are probably familiar with the comic strip Dilbert. I read it every day. It seems to capture the realities of work life in corporate America in a deliciously cynical way. A while ago, I read an interview with Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, and he is indeed a cynic of the first order. He’s a cynic even about himself, and without knowing it, he’s become an influential theologian—a PR man for the Christian doctrine of original sin. Adams seems a pleasant enough fellow, and obviously has a great sense of humor, but he has a very dark view of human nature. He sees very clearly that every person has a streak of fundamental dishonesty and selfishness that is often repressed but is always itching to come to the surface. Dilbert is so popular, I would suspect, because a great many people share Scott Adams’ cynical outlook on life. Cynicism is rampant in our culture.

And one of the fruits of cynicism, quite often, is hedonism. Hedonism exalts the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain to preeminent status. Life becomes an endless search for the perfect anesthetic—the perfect antidote to the pain caused by human dishonesty and selfishness, the longest-lasting physical and emotional high. So we have expensive hobbies and expensive toys and expensive medications, both legal and illegal (though the illegal ones are rapidly becoming legal!). We run ourselves ragged trying to make enough money for our hobbies and toys and medications, and then we run ourselves ragged using them, all in the hope that we will thereby be spared the necessity of looking deeply into our own hearts and souls and really seeing what’s there—or, more significantly, what’s not there. We are looking to anesthetize ourselves from the despair—indeed, the cynical despair—that we experience when we consider our careers and relationships and health and finances.

Now, you might be thinking, cynicism and hedonism are not the only possible responses to the pervasive reality of dishonesty and selfishness. And you would be right. There is an alternative. It’s activism. There are always those who look at the dishonesty and selfishness, and the social ills that result from dishonesty and selfishness, and instead of joining with Scott Adams in proclaiming everybody to be a “weasel” at heart, or going out and buying a new SUV, they decide to roll up their sleeves to “do something” about the problems they see. They may do volunteer work, or found an advocacy group, or run for the school board. They are determined to work longer and harder and smarter than whatever it is they’re struggling against: poverty, illiteracy, racism, sexism, crime, pornography, abortion, drunk driving—whatever. This response certainly seems nobler, more righteous, more optimistic, and more practical. In the end, however—and maybe this is my own cynical streak showing through—in the end, cynicism and hedonism still triumph. We can only hold our finger in the dike for so long.

Cynicism, hedonism, activism—what do they all have in common? They are all responses to dishonesty and selfishness . . . and they all functionally atheistic, they all leave God out of the equation. Cynicism and hedonism treat God as if He’s absent, or at least looking the other way. Activism treats God as if He’s incompetent, powerless. All three of them have effectively “given up” on God. It is distressingly easy for us to get impatient when God doesn’t “fix” things right away. We look at natural evil—earthquakes, floods, epidemics—and wonder how a loving God could allow a million people across the world to have their lives cut short suddenly by a rampant virus. We look at social and political evil—corruption, tyranny, religious persecution, terrorism—and we wonder what the very concept of justice means when the “bad guys” so easily get away with their “bad deeds.” We look at personal evil—lying, cheating, stealing, fornicating, committing adultery, abusing drugs—and we wonder why we are unable to keep ourselves from doing things we know full well are destructive and stupid and will only get us into trouble. And we wonder these things because God is God, and we’re not. God knows more than we know, and God sees more than we see. We are limited by time; God is beyond time, eternal. We are limited by space; God is everywhere—omnipresent, as the theologians put it. Because we’re not God, we wonder. And we doubt.

So it is an unspeakable blessing for us, on this Fourth Sunday of Advent, to be allowed to stand alongside a young Jewish girl getting ready for her wedding day, as an angel appears in her presence and makes her privy to some very important information about what God is up to by way of relieving us of our impulses toward cynicism and hedonism and activism. And, thanks to St Luke, you and I are also now privy to the same information. Gabriel greets Mary and says, in effect, “Gosh, what a lucky girl you are!” Mary just looks at him, perhaps with the faintest of smiles, as if to say, “I haven’t the foggiest idea what you’re talking about, but why don’t you run along now and let me get back to work.” So Gabriel has to get more specific, and he just lays it all out—everything about being come upon by the Holy Spirit and being overshadowed by the Most High and getting pregnant and having a baby who will grow up and reclaim the throne of David that had been vacant for more than 500 years, and establish a kingly rule that would have no end.” “Oh,” she says, “Why didn’t you just say so. Now I get it.” Well, not exactly. In fact, her actual response is even more astounding than that: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." No cynicism, no hedonism, no activism, just obedient openness to what God is doing. God is keeping His promises.

Way back in the Garden of Eden, in responses to the original acts of dishonesty and selfishness, God promised to do something, to fix things, to make everything all better. He didn’t reveal the details of His plan, but He did make a promise. And through successive covenants with Noah and Abraham and Moses and David, God pursued His plan of salvation, His plan of redemption and healing and reconciliation and restoration. All that, we might say, constituted the beginning and the middle of the story. St Paul, as he writes to the Roman church, refers to it as “secret kept for long ages.” With the Annunciation, however, with the appearance of Gabriel to Mary, we are now at the “beginning of the end.” God is about to fulfill His promise to redeem His creation.

The angel told the Blessed Virgin that the son she would bear “will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end."  Since she was a woman, of course, we can’t say how thoroughly Mary had been instructed in the scriptures, but if she was familiar with the second book of Samuel, she knew of the prophet Nathan’s oracle to King David:

I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.  He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever.

Neither Nathan nor David, in all likelihood, realized the form in which this promise would be fulfilled. They probably conceived of something rather more literal, but a good bit less wonderful. In fact, the promise made by the Lord to David through Nathan was fulfilled in the angel Gabriel’s mysterious announcement to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

And as a result, there is no longer any foundation for cynicism or hedonism or activism or any other strategy that gives up on God. God is neither absent nor incompetent. Rather, He is so “present” in our lives and in the world that He’s difficult to see because there just isn’t anywhere God is not! The Annunciation brought this fact home to Mary in a huge way, because God was now present, physically, in her very womb. Her pregnancy was a sign to her not to yield to cynicism or hedonism or even activism—there was nothing she had to “do” other that simply let things happen.

Mary’s pregnancy can have the same sign value for us, if we will let it. The incarnate Christ is “God with us.” Not just God merely around us, in the general vicinity, but God in us and among us and through us. God is no less present in our weaknesses than in our strengths. God is no less present in our disappointment than in our gratification. God is no less present in our sorrow than in our joy. Even error and deception bear the mark of God’s presence, because there is no falsehood that is not the distortion of a truth. Even human dishonesty and selfishness bear the mark of God’s presence, because nothing is evil in its own right. That would make evil too real, give it too much power! That which we call evil is merely the gross distortion of that which we call good. God is not too proud to use our very sinful and rebellious behavior as the means of sneaking His grace into our lives. The good news of the annunciation is that God is present in and through all things. There is no room for cynicism. There is no room for hedonism. There is no room for activism. There is only room for faith: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Amen.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Saturday (O Radix Jesse)

Attended to domestic concerns (chores and errands) until it was time to pack for an overnight and a 3pm southbound departure. Arrived at Effingham's Hampton Inn about 7:15, having prayed the evening office in a rest area, dinner from KFC drive-thru south of Kankakee, and gas in Mattoon. Once I was checked in and unpacked, I grabbed a vigorous 5,000 steps, just to get me to my daily goal. 

Friday, December 18, 2020

Friday

 

  • Did the finish work on this Sunday's homily--which included sending a copy off by email to a Marine officer who will deliver it as he presides at Morning Prayer with his family ... in Okinawa.
  • Perused my backlog of Christmas sermons, and selected one that can be convincingly refurbished for use this year at St Paul's Cathedral. Both the top contenders worked the "room in the inn" theme, so that's what I'm going with.
  • Attended a 75-minute Zoom meeting of the House of Bishops "Table 10," with the Bishops of Spokane and South Dakota, and the Assisting Bishop of Long Island. The Bishop of Southwestern Virginia and the retired bishop of Arizona are part of this group as well, but circumstances conspired against their attendance.
  • Did an Ignatian meditation on the daily office gospel reading for the day ... plus the usual afternoon walk with Brenda.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Thursday

The first major project of the day was the drafting of my regular "column" in the Springfield Current that will appear around Epiphany. The second was working through a stack of Advent Ember Day letters from our postulants and candidates, and responding to each. In addition, I worked some more with the postulant whom I am coaching on learning to preach (he's coming along quite well), and read and responded to a detailed report from one of our interim clergy on the parish he is tending to.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Wednesday

 Big stuff:

  • Finished the pastoral letter on tithing, diocesan assessments, and giving to the national church. It's now up on the website.
  • Carefully perused the materials of some aspiring potential candidates for one or more of our parishes in transition.

Smaller stuff:

  • Participated substantively in a theological discussion among authors for the Covenant blog. I'm sometimes intimidated by the group because the majority of them have PhDs and are way more current on their reading than I am. But sometimes I feel like I've got "skin in the game" on a particular subject, and this was one of those occasions.
  • Administration and pastoral care via sundry emails.
  • Descended into the customer service hell of Comcast and Ameren (the actual phone function on my phone had stopped working, and the gas was inexplicably shut off at our Springfield home, which is, praise God, under contract, but the inspector couldn't do his work). Both issues were successfully resolved, but not before I used my *entire* vocabulary.
  • Long walk and Bowflex workout.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Tuesday

 Big rocks:

  • Attended a 2.5 hour meeting of about 50 bishops with executives of the Church Pension Group. There was no big breaking news. They're just seeing to their PR needs among the leaders of their constituency--not just doing the right thing, but being seen doing the right thing. CPG is a complex entity. Not only to they operate their core business, which is clergy and lay pensions, but they also run the health insurance plan for church employees (contracting with Blue Cross and CIGNA for plan administration), a property/casualty insurance company, and a publishing company.
  • Made substantial progress in the drafting of a pastoral letter to the diocese on the subject of financial support: parishioners of parishes, parishes of the diocese, the diocese of the "national church." Things aren't always as simple as they seem, and there's some serious theology involved. I hope have the letter live on the website sometime tomorrow.

Smaller rocks:

  • Wrote a congratulatory email to the bishop-elect of Chicago, in whose new backyard I will be planted as a retiree. I'm hoping for a good relationship.
  • Kept an appointment with my dentist to follow up on something suspicious they spotted on an exam three weeks ago. I have a referral to an oral surgeon.
  • Processed new emails as they arrived. I'm a little bit compulsively attached to "inbox zero."
  • Took Brenda on a long walk because some work on the gas lines in our basement was sending her into an agitation zone.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Third Sunday of Advent

Broke camp in my office lodging. Morning Prayer in the cathedral. Continued the gradual project of moving items from office to home. After a stop at Hardee's drive-through for some breakfast (I have to say, for a fast-food joint, they make exceptional biscuits and gravy), I was on IL-29 through Rochester and Taylorville to Pana, then down U.S. 51 through Vandalia and Sandoval and finally to Centralia. I am going to really miss driving through central and southern Illinois countryside as part of the regular routine of my life. Arrived at St John's-Redeemer a full hour ahead of their regular 1130 Eucharist. Presided and preached in an exceedingly disciplined environment with regard to COVID precautions. Afterward, there was a relatively brief meeting with the Mission Leadership Team (everyone masked and spread out all over the nave) to discuss their future in a post-Father Baumann world, which will arrive soon enough, though we don't know when with any precision. I was on the road again a little past 1:00 and home (with Popeye's chicken in hand for dinner) around 6:30.

Sermon for III Advent

 St John’s, Centralia--1 Thessalonians 5:16-28, Psalm 126

Back in the early and mid-eighties, in the years just before I went off to seminary, I was deeply involved, as a lay catechist, in the preparation of adults for baptism and confirmation. It was a pretty intense process, and it was our habit to take each year’s crop of candidates on a brief retreat—a fasting retreat, actually—in the middle of the Paschal Triduum. We would leave for a nearby retreat center right after the conclusion of the Good Friday liturgy, and bring them back into town mid-afternoon on Holy Saturday, where everybody had just a few hours to recharge before coming back to church for the Easter Vigil, when the baptisms would take place.

I still have an image burned into my memory from one of those years. We were on our way to the retreat, just a couple of blocks from the church. I was in somebody else’s car, not driving. I happened to glance up at a marquee promoting a hotel restaurant and lounge. All it said was, “It’s Friday, so party hearty.” Now, mind you, I had just come from the intense and emotionally demanding liturgy of Good Friday, with the dramatic reading of the Passion and the Veneration of the Cross. My mind was on helping lead a retreat and on the Vigil liturgy 24 hours later.

“It’s Friday, so party hearty.” My first reaction was one of revulsion mixed with sadness mixed with a little bit of superiority. How could anyone think of “partying hearty” on Good Friday? But then I remembered another Good Friday a few years earlier, when I was in college, and exploring San Francisco for the first time. In effect, I was “partying hearty” on Good Friday.

What this incident, and my subsequent realization, illustrate for me, is the profound and uncomfortable disconnect between our “religious” lives and our “real” lives. For too many of us, things like Good Friday—or Epiphany, or the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, or, for that matter, the Third Sunday of Advent—are what happens in church but have no meaningful relationship with day-to-day reality in the world. Inside the church, for those who are there, it’s Good Friday. But when they walk out of the church, or at least when they drive off the parking lot, it’s Friday night, and time to party hearty.

Consequently, we have difficulty knowing what to do with the approach of religious festivals—like, for example, Christmas. We have a better idea of what to do with the secular season known as “the holidays,” but let’s face it, it isn’t really Christmas anymore. I heard a commercial recently sung to a familiar tune, but the words were “We wish you a happy holiday, we wish you a happy holiday…”. So, we have some inkling of what to do with “the holidays,” but Christmas throws us for a loop. For the most part, we’re indifferent toward the approach of Christmas, or bored by it.  And as for the actual approach of the consummation of our salvation, the glorious return of our Lord and Savior, we hardly give it a second thought. We just party hearty on Friday night.

This sense of disconnection between the sacred and the secular, between the religious and the temporal, is probably rooted in a number of complex causes. I would speculate, however, that a big part of it is because we lack a vivid understanding of the enormity of what God has saved us from. The great colonial Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards was known for being able to paint such a vivid picture of the pains of Hell that his listeners would break out in a sweat even on a cold winter morning! I don’t propose to do anything like that even if I were so gifted, but we could do worse than, from time to time, taking stock of just what we have been delivered from through the mercy and grace of God revealed to us in Jesus Christ. Without Christ, we are under the iron grip of sin and death. Without Christ, we are drowning in dysfunction, depression, and despair. Without Christ, we have no hope and no future, and no reason, other than basic instinct, to even draw our next breath. We might also do well to focus some attention on the splendor of what God has saved us for: As the title of a popular book from some years ago suggests, we have been saved to live a truly purpose-driven life. God’s mercy and grace, including the gift of faith, have set us on a trajectory for the ultimate fulfillment of desires so deep we don’t even have words for them.

So, when we fully appreciate just what it is that God has done for us—what He has saved us from and what He has saved us for, then a lot of things begin to make more sense. Christmas makes a lot more sense. Easter makes a lot more sense. Advent and Lent make a lot more sense. And if we pay close attention, even the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost takes on a beauty all its own. But what really starts to make a lot more sense are all the passages of scripture that call us to be joyful, to live lives that are dominated by uncontrollable joy. St Paul, through his letter to the Thessalonians, tells us to “rejoice always.” Always. In whatever circumstances. Even in the midst of a viral pandemic that will soon have taken 300,000 lives just in the United States in the last nine months, and which greatly restricts the way we live our lives.

In the western liturgical tradition, this Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent, is referred to as “Gaudete”—or “Rejoice!” Sunday, because of the fixed opening hymn in the old Latin rite. The Psalmist sings today “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are glad indeed.” Actually, only if we are fully conscious of what the Psalmist is singing about, only if we are fully aware of just what the great things are that the Lord has done for us, does St Paul’s admonition make any sense. Only if we are aware of the height and the breadth and the depth of the Lord’s mercies showered on us do we have chance of not laughing off the notion of rejoicing always. John the Baptist tells us that the Best Man in a wedding rejoices greatly on hearing the voice of the groom. He was, of course, referring to himself as the Best Man and to Jesus as the groom. Even though Jesus’ arrival on the scene meant that his own public ministry was at an end, even though he would only decrease, and Jesus would increase, John was able to rejoice because he was aware of the magnitude of what God was going to accomplish through Jesus. When we fully appreciate just what it is that God has done for us, joy become an authentic expression of our lives. We realize that joy is the fitting response, the only fitting response, to the approach of Christmas, and the approach of our salvation. The theme of this “Gaudete” Sunday makes sense.

I have a feeling that the “party hearty” attitude encouraged by that hotel sign that I saw nearly four decades ago had less to do with authentic rejoicing than it did with people anesthetizing themselves from the depression and despair in which they lived their lives. Even though those of us on our way to a retreat were subdued and a little somber, I think we knew more about rejoicing than the “Friday night” crowd. The Lord has done great things for us, and we are glad indeed. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Saturday (Our Lady of Guadalupe)

Attended to domestic matters until 1pm, when it was time to pack for an overnight and head south. Arrived at the Diocesan Center around 5pm. Prayed the evening office in the cathedral. Went to the newly-opened Portillo's (the drive-thru was mobbed) for dinner, then to Meijer for an errand. Scanned the items that had accumulated in my physical inbox. 

Friday, December 11, 2020

Friday

 

  • Went down yet another technology rabbit hole, this time in arranging for an alternative to Gmail. In due course, and as I begin to disengage from my diocesan email account, I will appropriately make known (not by announcing it in a blog!) a new personal email address. It's not that I hate Google; I just don't want to be quite as interwoven with them as I'd gotten.
  • Took care of a couple of modest pastoral-administrative matters via email.
  • Did the finish work on this Sunday's homily,
  • Finished up my "thank-you" calls on behalf of Nashotah House.
  • Did a Lectio Divina on tomorrow's daily office Old Testament reading from Isaiah 8.
  • Late-in-the-day "touch base and catch up"  conversation with Canon Evans.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Thursday

Absent the pressure of a burgeoning task list (see entries from the last two days), it was easy to lose most of the morning to a technology rabbit hole (migrating from Google Chrome to the Opera browser as a strategy for avoiding the pop-up ads I've been plagued with of late). So far so good. I did, however, manage to do some moderate surgery on a vintage sermon text for Advent IV in anticipation of deploying it at St Thomas', Salem before breaking for lunch. The PM was more productive (even extending into the evening)--I drafted the text for my next catechetical video in the "Seven Habits" series, which I hope to complete before I leave office. On a fine December afternoon, there was, of course, a walk, though Rosehill Cemetery, where one of my predecessors, Charles MacLaren, the third (and last) Bishop of Illinois, is buried. (When the dioceses of Springfield and Quincy were created in 1876, he remained with the Diocese of Illinois, which shortly thereafter changed its name to Chicago.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Wednesday (George Franklin Seymour)

I was speaking recently with a priest who is discerning a potential call to ministry as a bishop, and remarked to him very prosaically that one of the contrasts between the life of a parish priest and the life of a bishop is the month of December. I have found it every year to be my quietist month, save for the one that I'm on vacation. So, as I remember remarking last year at this time, my ministry-related to-do list is in ebb stage, so I'm filling more of my time with domestic concerns. That said, I did so some major and final work on a post for the Covenant blog scheduled to appear on Holy Innocents Day, read through the psych eval of one of our ordinands, communicated to the Lambeth Conference apparatus that they will need to transfer their invitation to my successor, made another "thank-you" call to a Nashotah House donor, and did my final "macro" sermon preparation task planning exercise--literally for the remainder of my episcopate. That is sobering.

Today is the anniversary of the death of George Franklin Seymour, the first Bishop of Springfield, and therefore my predecessor ten times removed, in 1906. He laid the foundation for much that we still enjoy in the diocese, and I feel like I stand on his shoulders. His ministry and witness were heroic, and I would not be unsupportive of the development of a proper "cult" venerating Bishop Seymour. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Tuesday (Immaculate Conception)

Some days it feels like even a very few tasks result in a quagmire of unproductivity. Other days, a number of action items that at first feels totally aspirational evaporate like morning mist. Today was one of the latter. I selected an agenda from the possible candidates that I thought would be challenging, but found myself mostly through it by early afternoon, so there was time for a long walk and some household chores. While my nose was to the grindstone, however, I had a nicely substantive phone conversation with Canon Evans and made some significant progress in the various clergy deployment irons we presently have in the fire. Also attended to a matter in connection with my membership on the Nashotah House corporation.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Second Sunday of Advent

Out of the garage southbound at 0645. Presided and preached the regular 0930 liturgy at St Christopher's, Rantoul. There were only five bodies in the room, but several more "attending" via Facebook Live. Back home around 1:30.

Sermon for II Advent

 St Christopher’s, Rantoul --Isaiah 40:1–11, Mark 1:1–8                                                                                                 

As are many of you, I’m a member of the Baby Boomer generation. When Baby Boomers were young children, they couldn’t build schools fast enough to keep up with our mushrooming numbers. After two years at one school in the Chicago suburb of Addison, shifting demographics had me being moved to a new school for the third grade. Indeed, the whole neighborhood was new, and the streets around the school were not even paved yet when the school year began. And as an eight-year old boy, of course, I would much rather have spent my days watching the heavy equipment work on the streets than be indoors learning cursive! First, the graders would level the street surface. Then dump trucks would deposit a layer of gravel, which would promptly be tamped down tight by steam rollers. Meanwhile, forms were laid for the curbs, and cement trucks poured concrete into the forms. When it was dry, the forms were removed, and different dump trucks arrived and put down a layer of asphalt on top of the packed gravel. And there, at last, was a respectable street. I managed to file all that information away in my third-grade brain just from what I could see coming in the morning and leaving in the afternoon over a few weeks in the fall of 1958.

Many decades later, while visiting the Diocese of Tabora in Tanzania, I got to observe the construction of a road heading west from the city of Tabora to the smaller city of Urambo. It was being built by Chinese contractors, using a mix of Chinese and Tanzanian labor, in return for the Tanzanian government signing over some valuable mineral rights to China. The quality of construction wasn’t even up to the suburban Chicago standards of the 1950s, but it was a vast improvement over the rutted dirt roads that continue to be the norm in that part of the country.

Of course, over the last ten years, as I’ve driven the federal and state highways and county roads of central and southern Illinois, there has been nary a trip that did not involve some form of construction delay. Because of the hot summers and cold winters in the midwest, highway maintenance is an ongoing project. By the time the last stretch of road is fixed, another one is ready to be resurfaced, and the cycle begins again.

For those who are the heirs of the Judeo-Christian tradition, thinking about roads leads organically to reflection on the circuitous route—without an actual road to guide them; only a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night—the winding route taken by the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt through the Sinai desert to freedom in the Promised Land.

Centuries later, the descendants of those desert wanderers walk a more organized path, as they were taken from Jerusalem by their Babylonian captors along the royal highway—this time through a different desert--into the city of Babylon. And then, the next generation took that same royal highway on their return to Jerusalem, in order to rebuild its walls and restore its temple. As they approached the holy city, they literally walked through the “cities of Judah,” which are mentioned poetically in today’s first reading—“Say to the cities of Judah: Behold your God!” It is this context of road building and road traveling that informs how we understand this familiar reading from Isaiah, chapter 40. Just as the cities of Judah had been the first to absorb the Babylonian invasion, so now they are the first ones to see Israelites returning from exile and reoccupying their ancestral homeland. They are the first witnesses of God’s powerful and victorious acts of redemption and restoration. The prophet is instructed to “comfort” the people of God, to speak words of comfort to Jerusalem. Well, the ultimate act of comfort is to announce that God is retaking possession of his chosen people and their destiny.

John the Baptist, whom we encounter in the gospel reading, bases his whole schtick on Isaiah, and Isaiah 40 in particular. John very deftly paints himself into the picture. He calls for repentance on the part of the people, the descendants of those who had traveled the royal road through the cities of Judah to be the harbingers of God’s saving action—he calls the people to repentance with an eye toward obedience. Obedience is part of the foundation of the roadway—the packed gravel underlayer—that John’s ministry is announcing.

The season of Advent focuses our attention on the preparation of a road—a road on which the gospel of Christ can enter human experience, a road on which comforting good news can reach those who have been traumatized by tribulation, by oppression, suffering, and persecution. This road is constructed individually by believers, and corporately by the people of God, through the practices of repentance and obedience. Repentance is sometimes dramatic, a decisive 180-degree change of direction. There are circumstances when that’s what repentance needs to look like. More frequently, however, I suspect that the repentance required of us takes the form of constant, daily, small mid-course course corrections, kind of the way we handle a steering wheel as we drive down a road, never simply holding it in a fixed position, but always making small adjustments to get us where we want to go.

Obedience can be a little more complicated than repentance. Sometimes, the path of obedience is clear, and when it’s the clearest is usually when it’s the most undesirable and difficult—or, at the very least, inconvenient. I recently saw a graphic meme on Facebook that posed the question: “How has being a disciple inconvenienced you lately?” That’s not a bad question to ponder!

Advent has dual themes—once might even say conflicting themes. It offers us hope and expectation and joy. Advent culminates in our celebration of God pitching his tent among us in order to rescue us. But Advent also offers repentance and, finally, judgment. The prophet in Isaiah is called to speak words of comfort to God’s people. But that comfort doesn’t arrive instantaneously, all at once. The debt has been paid, and then some. But it takes a while for the redemption to be realized. The road to salvation, redemption, passes through judgment. Judgment is a way station on the road to comfort. So, we embrace Advent in its contradictory complication. Through active repentance and obedience, in the light of judgment, we build the road on which the gospel of Christ comes to us and speaks words of comfort. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Saturday (St Clement of Alexandria)

Indulged in a "slow" morning ... did the finish work on tomorrow's homily ... did a Bowflex workout and took a long walk ... prepared an annual accounting (in an Excel spreadsheet) of personal and ministry-related mileage in the YFNBmobile for the diocesan treasurer ... attended to some tasks related to my continuing members on the Nashotah House corporation.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Friday (St John of Damascus)

 Big rocks:

  • Worked on editing and revising a paper I am writing with a colleague bishop, as part of an ongoing Communion Partners project.
  • Descended into the hell of customer service with Zoom regarding a billing issue. Of course, as a big tech company, Zoom is not really set up very well for this sort of thing. It was inordinately time-consuming. However, there was a surprising amount of progress.
  • Identified, approached, and secured the acceptance of a cleric to full an unexpired term on the Commission on Ministry.

Lesser rocks:

  • Dealt with the usual array of email-generated tasks requiring an array of responses.
  • Took delivery of my new iPhone (which I would rather not have had to buy, but I'm a victim of planned obsolescence), and got it set up and running.
  • Took a brisk walk on a lovely afternoon.
  • Spent a "Holy Hour" in contemplative prayer in our domestic oratory.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Thursday

Spent most of the morning working through a tall stack of email-generated tasks--responding to people administratively, pastorally, or both. After lunch and couple of errands, I wrote a prayer for the Anglican Fellowship of Prayer website, concerning the governmental transition that our country is in. Then I worked on a long letter to canonically resident clergy and lay delegates to synod concerning an awkward moment in the 2020 synod a couple of months ago. There is often a small needle that needs to be threaded in order to satisfy the demands of both justice and charity. The letter will no doubt give offense to some, but I believe it serves the interests of transparency and accountability.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Wednesday (Channing Moore Williams)

  • Attended briefly to some Nashotah House corporation work.
  • Reviewed and commented on another sermon draft from a postulant whom I'm coaching in learning to preach.
  • Responded at some length to a message from the Bishop of Tabora. Followed up with some related administrative tasks.
  • Responded substantively to a message from a potential candidate in one of our parishes in transition.
  • Reached out by email to confirm this Sunday's scheduled visitation to St Christopher's, Rantoul.
  • Did some cosmetic work to "contemporize" a sermon text for III Advent, in preparation for visiting St John's, Centralia on that occasion.
  • Kept a phone appointment with yet another potential candidate for one or more of our clergy vacancies.
  • Did a Bowflex workout and took Brenda on a long walk (through the nearby cemetery where one of my predecessors, the last Bishop of Illinois and the first Bishop of Chicago, is buried).
  • Laid out a fairly detailed sketch of my next-due post for the Covenant blog (about the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem, for appearance on that feast day, December 29 this year).

 

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Tuesday (Nicholas Ferrar)

The morning was devoted to getting a 60,000-mile service performed on the YFNBmobile. While that was happening, I get my daily step quota in, and then some. The afternoon (beginning late) featured a Zoom meeting with the Standing Committee (for a change, not to discuss conflict, but to talk about more uplifting things). After that, I was feeling kind of drained, and not firing on all cylinders. There was a phone conversation with Canon Evans, a bunch of late-arriving email, and some coaching on sermon preparation with one of our postulants who is being forced to learn to preach "early" because he often finds himself a Worship Leader in a presently priest-less community. Then I had to turn my attention to replacing my phone, because it's no longer holding a charge. It's over four years old, which is a venerable age in smart phone years. #plannedobsolescence

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Wednesday (James O.S. Huntington)

 

  • Attended to some administrative (with a pastoral accent) chores pertaining to the ordination process.
  • Spent the rest of the morning drafting a sermon text (using the developed notes I made last week) for Advent II, scheduled to be delivered a week from Sunday at St Christopher's, Rantoul.
  • Thereafter, declared myself "off the clock" (with the exception of processing some emails as they arrived) in preparation for the holiday weekend. In deference to the pandemic, the customary gathering of around forty people at my sister's home out in suburban Palatine isn't happening, so we're celebrating tomorrow with those already in our bubble: daughter, son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter. For the first Thanksgiving in ... basically ever ... I'm doing a significant share of the cooking. 
  • Kept a podiatry appointment, then went to two Whole Foods locations (first the wrong one, then the one from which I *did* order a turkey) and picked up tomorrow's main course.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda, dinner, and then on to pre-preparations for tomorrow's cuisine. While I turns out I may have a late-developing supply gig for Sunday, there's no visitation scheduled, so, between the holiday weekend and my usual Monday sabbath, I'm going to go dark in this venue until late Tuesday. Have a great, and safe, celebration.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Tuesday

 

  • Began to prep for my participation in the evening's diocesan hymn sing,
  • Kept a dental hygiene appointment. I didn't get scolded about flossing, which is always the gold standard for these things.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Continued and completed my hymn sing prep.
  • Made chili for dinner and left it simmering.
  • Scheduled a service appointment for the YFNBmobile.
  • Forwarded another potential candidate to the MLT of one of our parishes in transition.
  • Worked on a Communion Partners project.
  • Responded pastorally to an email from one of our clergy.
  • Plotted sermon prep tasks for a visitation recently added to my calendar (St Thomas', Salem on Advent IV).
  • Attended to a small piece of "national church" business.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.
  • After dinner, co-hosted the diocesan hymn sing on Zoom, covering both Thanksgiving and Advent hymns.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Christ the King

Up at six. Morning Prayer in the cathedral at 0630. Packed, loaded, and on the road at 0715, with a stop at Hardee's for breakfast. (Somewhat to my surprise with a fast-food place, they have rather excellent biscuits and gravy.) Pulled up at Trinity, Mt Vernon just a bit past 10:00. Presided and preached at what couldn't help but feeling like a restrained observance of the feast day. Afterward, met for about 30 minutes with the leadership (masked and spaced throughout the parish hall) to inventory where we are in the process of addressing their "permanent" pastoral care and leadership needs. On the road just before 12:30; home five hours later.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Saturday

 

  • Attended the first 30 minutes of the Commission on Ministry meeting.
  • Did the finish work on tomorrow's homily (Trinity, Mt Vernon).
  • Processed some odds and ends with various people, including the Communications Coordinator.
  • Attended to some domestic chores (major vacuuming) and did a Bowflex workout.
  • Took a walk with Brenda.
  • Packed and headed south around 3:15. 
  • Once in my Springfield office, I did some deferred blog reading and scanned the hard copy in my physical inbox.

Sermon for Christ the King

 Trinity, Mt Vernon--Matthew 25:31-46, Ezekiel 34:11-17, 20-24, Psalm 95:1-7

                                                                       

Today is that last Sunday of the church year, and we are celebrating the feast of Christ the King. Christ the King is not an ancient feast in the Christian calendar; in fact, it’s quite recent, dating back only to the middle of the last century. And in our own American Prayer Book, it’s only implicit rather than official. You won’t find the expression Christ the King officially attached to this day in the calendar; it’s styled simply the Last Sunday after Pentecost. This is perhaps a reflection of our American discomfort with the very idea of royalty. The principle of equality between human beings is embedded very deep in our national DNA. We instinctively pull back from any notion of hierarchy or chain-of-command or any such thing that is not rooted in democratic decision-making processes. So we have a tendency to process our experience of, say, the British royal family, into peculiarly American categories like “rock star” or “cultural icon.” We know what to do with a rock star or other celebrity. We have no idea what to do with an actual king or queen.

So, as we attempt to come to terms with this festival of Christ the King, perhaps we would do well to first take certain images of royalty off the table, to point to them and say, “This is not what we mean when we call Christ our King.” First of all, Christ the King is not Christ the tyrant, Christ the despot. He’s not a self-indulgent egomaniac like, say, some of the Egyptian Pharaohs, or the Roman Caesars, or certain Asian sultans and potentates. He’s not like the petty French and English monarchs in TV docudramas, like Henry VIII or Louis XIV. But neither is Christ the King comparable to some ideal mythical “good king,” like, for example, King Arthur, ruling over Camelot wisely and benevolently as he leads his people into the land of “happily ever after,” even while taking care of an occasional crisis along the way. And Christ the King is certainly not to be thought of as a mere symbol or figurehead, and therefore of questionable relevance, like the current monarchs in Great Britain or Japan or Sweden or any number of other countries.

So, having set aside these unhelpful images of the kingship of Christ, what are we left with? What is it that we can positively affirm about Christ the King? I would suggest that today’s scripture readings supply us with two distinct but complementary and interdependent lenses through which we might view the kingship of Christ.

Let’s look first at the powerful narrative from the twenty-fifth chapter of St Matthew’s gospel. It paints a picture that takes us to the end of time—or, more accurately, to that time outside of time—when “the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him,” when Jesus “sits on his glorious throne.” It’s certainly a picture of royalty and all the signs and symbols that are associated with royalty. But it doesn’t stop there. It gets more specific. Matthew goes on to describe a scene of judgment, a scene where the one seated on the throne, whom we know to be Christ, discriminates between those gathered in the throng in front of him. He discriminates between those whom he considers to be sheep—these are the favored ones—whom he directs to gather on his right, and those whom he considers to be goats—these are the unfavored ones—whom he directs to gather on his left. This is a glorious scene, but it’s certainly not free of stress. It’s not a particularly happy occasion, especially among the “goats.” I guarantee you that nobody there is singing “Kumbaya”! Judgment is just that way.

But by the time we heard the gospel, we had already encountered a very similar, though certainly not identical, scene from the thirty-fourth chapter of Isaiah. Isaiah puts these words onto the lips of the LORD:

Behold, I, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad, I will save my flock, they shall no longer be a prey; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.

Now, the job of a judge is to measure behavior against some standard. The standard may be a formal written legal code, an unwritten common law tradition, or a universal social custom, but it is always something objective, something that a wide diversity of people can look at and see the same thing. A standard of judgment also needs to be impersonal—that is, it applies equally to everyone; a judge is not allowed to play favorites. A judge calls us to account for our conduct. Sometimes a judge is looking specifically for bad conduct; this is the job of a judge in a court of law. Other kinds of judges, though, are on the lookout for good conduct, such as the ability to sing or dance or cook, or some such. Of course, human judges are never perfect. Every umpire will have a slightly different judgment about where the strike zone is precisely located. But uniformity and consistency are certainly goals, even for umpires. Perfect uniformity and consistency do not define success, however. In this case, the attempt is just as important as the outcome, because it’s the knowledge that consistency is the goal that enables us to navigate life with some degree of confidence. Without those who exercise the ministry of judgment, we would live in a world like Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, where words don’t have any objective or consistent meaning, but mean only what those who speak them say they mean at any given time.

So, we learn from Matthew and Isaiah that part of the kingly ministry of Christ is to be a judge: Christ our King is Christ our judge. He will call us to account for what we do with the knowledge that we have. We have been given knowledge of right and wrong, and Christ our royal judge will call us to account for how we have used that knowledge. We have been given knowledge of God—in creation, in scripture, in the life and worship of the Church—and Christ our royal judge will call us to account for how we use that knowledge. We have been given knowledge of God’s call and God’s activity in our lives and in the world. Christ our royal judge will call us to account for how we have used that knowledge.

Christ our King is Christ our judge. But it’s a stereoscopic lens that the feast of Christ the King gives us—like one of those 3-D Viewmasters that those of us of a certain age routinely found in our Christmas stockings when we were kids—and our view is obscure if we do not also see his kingship as that of a shepherd. It is, after all, sheep and goats that Jesus is separating on the last day—and separating sheep from goats is the essential job of a shepherd! Looking back at the Isaiah passage, the God who declares himself to be a judge first declares himself to be a shepherd:

As a shepherd seeks out his flock when some of his sheep have been scattered abroad, so will I seek out my sheep; and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered … And I will bring them out from the peoples, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel…

And the Psalm for today reminds us that “…we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand.” Now, the job of a shepherd is to consistently provide several things to the animals entrusted to his care. A shepherd provides food and water, which is to say that he leads the sheep to pastures and streams where they can find the nourishment needed to sustain life and allow it to thrive. A shepherd also provides guidance and leadership, pulling when pulling is called for and pushing when pushing is called for—whatever it takes. And shepherds, of course, provide protection from thieves and predators, banishing and driving away those who would lure the sheep away from the fold or attempt to enter the fold and cause them harm.

Christ our Shepherd-King provides us, his sheep, with exactly this kind of ministry. The very words pastor and pastoral come directly from the business of minding sheep. Jesus provides pastoral care directly—through the sacraments, through our prayers, and through the presence of the Holy Spirit—and Jesus provides pastoral care indirectly, through ‘sub-shepherds’ whom we call bishops and priests, and through the various and diverse ministries of the laity within the Body of Christ. Christ our Shepherd-King provides us with spiritual nourishment; he provides us with vocation, guidance, and direction; and he provides us with protection from forces and desires that “draw us from the love of God.”

Christ the King is intimately relevant to our lives, as the one who calls us, equips us to follow him, and holds us accountable for our faithfulness to that holy and divine vocation. On this celebration of his kingship, we righty and appropriately offer him the honor and praise of our grateful hearts. All hail King Jesus! Amen.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Friday (St Edmund of East Anglia)

 

  • Took care of some routine personal organization chores related to the coming end-of-the-month.
  • Presided over the regular November meeting of the Diocesan Council.
  • Attended the regular semi-annual meeting of the diocesan trustees.
  • Attended to some Communion Partners business.
  • Took a long walk with Brenda on an unseasonably pleasant November afternoon.
  • Engaged one of my regular Friday prayer practices: Listening to the performance of hymns on YouTube. Owning the stage this afternoon was the old Methodist workhorse, I Need Thee Every Hour. It is neither great poetry nor great music nor exceptionally profound spirituality, and it will never be my favorite hymn, nor even one that I particularly like. But, today, it gave voice to where I am with stunning, overwhelming, precision.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Thursday (St Elizabeth of Hundary)

 

  • Attended a meeting of the diocesan Department of Finance.
  • Built out my homiletical message statement for Advent II (December 6 in Rantoul) unto a developed sermon outline.
  • Spoke by phone with Canon Evans.
  • Attended to some matters of clergy deployment and clergy discipline. 
  • Interfaced with the boiler repair crew on site, who finally completed their work, and we have heat!

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Wednesday (St Hilda of Whitby)

Labored most of the morning on preparing materials to submit to two of our Eucharistic Communities in transition regarding some potential candidates in their searches, plus scrounging up some additional ones that I can send in a few days. There were a lot of boxes to check and details to confirm and reconnections to make. The bulk of the afternoon was consumed was consumed by a technology project that was not in itself "productive" but was necessary to facilitate future productivity. I've been an enthusiastic user of the the app Evernote since 2009. When I scan hard copy, or make notes of any sort, or organize a project, Evernote is where it happens. Well, lately, Evernote has been getting a little wonky in its upgrades, and I haven't been happy. So I did ton of research on alternatives and am now in the process of important my massive number of Evernote files into something called Nimbus Note. So far, I like it. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Tuesday (St Hugh of Lincoln)

A big chunk of the day was eaten by taking Brenda to a substantial healthcare appointment, and further disturbed by crew installing a new boiler in our basement, with the yet additional distraction of being cold, because they won't finish until tomorrow afternoon. Space heaters take the edge off, but there's nothing like the real thing. I did also manage to plough through a short stack of deferred responses to emails, schedule a couple of Zoom meetings, and dash off a letter to clergy (or senior wardens in the case of priest-less parishes) about the governor's latest COVID-19 restrictions.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

The Lord's Day (XIV Pentecost)

After breaking camp in my office, and reading Morning Prayer in the cathedral, I was on the road southbound (with a stop at the McD's drive-thru) at around 0730. Arrived about 30 minutes ahead of the regular 0930 Eucharist at St Bartholomew's, Granite City (in the gentle pastoral hands of Fr Scott Hoogerhyde). Given the state of the pandemic, turnout was excellent (still, though, with plenty of space for observing strict distancing and masking protocols). It's always a joy to share Word and Sacrament with the people of God, no matter the circumstances. With coffee hour in abeyance these days, I was back on the road at 10:45 and home five hours later.

Sermon for Proper 28

St Bartholomew’s, Granite City--Matthew 25:14–30, Zephaniah 1:7, 12–18,  1 Thessalonians 5:1–11

 

We’re winding down Year A of our three-year cycle of scripture readings for the Eucharist. Next Sunday is the end of the church year; two weeks from now, Advent begins, and we’ll be in Year B of the lectionary. So, we’ve been making our way methodically through the gospel of Matthew in Year A, and, for the last several Sundays, the gospel reading has been a parable told by Jesus. When I taught young children in a parish day school early in my ordained ministry, I told them that a parable is “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.” Indeed, we have yet another parable this morning, as we will next Sunday as well.

For the Kingdom of God] will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property.

Now, it’s not always, or even usually, possible to interpret a parable as an allegory, with A representing X and B representing Y, and so forth. But in this case, it kind of is! The wealthy man who is preparing to go on a long trip stands for God. The fact that the man is going on a journey represents God voluntarily “stepping back” in order to allow us—humankind, the crown jewel of his creation—to allow us to exercise free will, which is one of the marks of the image of God in which we have been created. It also reminds us of the delay in Jesus’ return to earth, this time not so much to be a savior as a judge. (We saw this same theme last week in the bridegroom being delayed in his arrival at the wedding celebration, which spelled disaster for the five bridesmaids who had not thought to bring extra oil for their torches). The man’s entrusting to his household staff sums of money—denominated as “talents” in the parable—represents God entrusting to us gifts of time, ability, and material resources—not as unconditional gifts, but with the expectation that we will be good and faithful stewards of what has been entrusted to us, and with the understanding that we will someday be called upon to render an accounting of our stewardship.

To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability.

We each are endowed differently. Some have a long life and some a shorter one. We have different amounts of time over which to be stewards. Nobody does everything well. All of us do one or two or a handful of things well. We have differing abilities, and our English word “talent,” which is how we talk about these different natural abilities, comes from this very parable. Some of us inherit wealth or find the opportunity to acquire great wealth. Others, not so much. We have varying degrees of treasure for which we will someday have to give an accounting. Time, talent, treasure.

He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money.

The money that was “given” by the man wasn’t really a gift. It was a trust: The servants were to consider themselves stewards, trustees, fiduciaries. They quite properly understood that they would be held accountable for what had been entrusted to them.

Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them.

This was not a surprise. It may or may not have taken longer to arrive than the servants had anticipated—we’re not told one way or the other—but it wasn’t a surprise. It was expected. They knew the day was coming. And this settling of accounts, in the symbolic grammar of today’s parable, represents what we commonly call Judgment Day—you know, that to which we refer when we confess in the Nicene Creed that we believe Jesus will return to “judge both the living and the dead.”  I suspect it’s not a concept that we like to think about very much! But judging is part of God’s nature. It’s part of who he is and what he does. In the reading this morning from Zephaniah, the prophet is at pains to portray the LORD as fully reliable in his execution of judgment, not at all complacent:

At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the men who are complacent, those who say in their hearts, ‘The LORD will not do good, nor will he do ill.’ Their goods shall be plundered, and their houses laid waste. Though they build houses, they shall not inhabit them; though they plant vineyards, they shall not drink wine from them.

In other words, God’s going to be God, and it’s crazy to think otherwise.

In today’s second reading, St Paul writes to the Thessalonians along similar lines:

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

Complacency appears not to be a good idea!

Continuing now with the parable:

And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’

And then ditto for the one who had two talents. Good stewardship is rewarded! More to the point: initiative and risk are rewarded. You don’t double your money without actively surveying opportunities and taking some risks, right? Good stewardship, faithful discipleship, involves taking initiative and risk.

He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.

You and I are, because of the way we’re conditioned culturally—we are tempted to feel sorry for this fellow. We empathize with his fearfulness. Yet, we miss the point in doing so. His fear is rooted in the sin of sloth—laziness. If he wanted to be conservative, he could have put the funds in a passbook savings account or a money market CD. He wouldn’t have doubled his money like the others, but at least there would have been something. He was a bad steward and therefore a “wicked” disciple.

So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Again, these feel like harsh words to us. But we need to push past that initial emotional reaction. Instead, we should be grateful that Jesus is warning us that we will be judged as stewards—which is to say, as disciples—we will be judged according to the level of initiative and risk we take—the initiative we take with whatever has been entrusted to us: time, talent, treasure, relationships, ultimately the gospel itself—the initiative and risk we take for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Passivity and fearfulness are tantamount to the sin of sloth, certainly on the part of individuals, but especially on the part of communities, like church communities! For sloth we will be judged. For faithful stewardship we, both as communities as well as individuals, we will be rewarded. Some of that reward will come in this world and some in the next. But reward is as much a part of judgment as punishment is. All the talk of punishment is meant to sober us up and motivate us to fly right, but it’s the reward that we should be focusing on. Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Saturday (Consecration of Samuel Seabury)

Indulged in a "slow" morning ... did some household financial chores ...began the finish work on tomorrow's homily ... all the while with our building's boiler having issues, with the necessary repairs not able to be done until Monday (so, a cold weekend, with space heaters doing the best they can). Then, just as I was ready to head to Springfield, the basement carbon monoxide alarm sounded. We weren't sure it was safe to be in the building, so we (Brenda, our son and his wife, and their daughter) camped out on the sidewalk while we waited for the fire department and the gas company to scramble. It turned out there were some "interesting" levels of CO in the residential areas, accounting for some mild symptoms experienced by a couple of us. So ... adventure. Eventually we got the all-clear and moved back inside. I'm now in my office encampment in Springfield, where the heat works! But when I get back home tomorrow afternoon, it will be a bundling-up situation for the following 24 hours. And we will be collectively several thousand dollars poorer, because ... the boiler needs to be replaced.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Friday

 

  • Responded at some length to a recent email from a potential candidate for one of our parishes in transition.
  • Took care of a bit of Living Church Foundation business.
  • Read and responded to a message from one of our seminarians about an academic snag he's run into.
  • Read and responded to a message from an individual in the ordination discernment process about some health setbacks that have affected him.
  • Refined, recorded, and uploaded a teaching video on intercessory prayer for the benefit of the Anglican Fellowship of Prayer. Once it appears on their website, I will publicize a link.
  • In the midst of all this, dealt with a technology gremlin (email client misbehaving), did four loads of laundry, took a brisk walk, worked out on the Bowflex, and prayed the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Thursday (Charles Simeon)

 

  • Planned, wrote, and promulgated a pastoral direction to the diocese regarding annual parish meetings.
  • Sat with my exegetical notes on the readings for Advent II (when I'll be at St Christopher's, Rantoul) until a homiletical message statement emerged from the missed. Wrote it down quickly before is disappeared. It will get built out next week.
  • Consulted with Canon Evans on a range of issues.
  • Drove out to close-in suburban Norridge to pick up a pair of orthotic shoes that I had ordered, prescribed by my podiatrist.
  • Immediately broke the shoes in with a four-mile walk in the sunshine with Brenda.
  • Reviewed and commented on a draft parish profile developed by one of our communities in transition.
  • Reviewed and commented on a draft Whistleblower Policy for the Living Church Foundation.
  • Responded by email to a pastoral situation that was at a rolling boil a month ago, but is kind of at a simmer now.
  • Reviewed and offered what I hope is a constructive response to a draft sermon for Advent I by a postulant who is kind of informally caring pastorally for one of our smaller communities. It was actually a very fine effort--better than what about 80% of Episcopalians hear on Sunday morning, I'd say.
  • I had a fairly major piece appear on the Covenant blog this morning, so, in the nooks and crannies between all that I've already noted for today, I spent some time interacting about the article with people on social media.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Wednesday (St Martin of Tours)

 

  • Delivered our California guests--Brenda's sister and brother-in-law--to O'Hare in time for them to catch their 0930 departure.
  • Worked via email with the choir director at Emmanuel Champaign to get ready for an online hymn sing that I'm guest-hosting on the 24th. The whole diocese is invited, and we'll be including both Thanksgiving and Advent hymns. It looks to be fun.
  • Built out my developed outline for this Sunday's homily (St Bartholomew's, Granite City) into a full rough draft.
  • Grabbed a brisk walk with Brenda while the daylight was still robust.
  • Moved the ball noticeably down the field in some clergy deployment issues, by means of a handful of substantive emails. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Tuesday (St Leo the Great)

The heart of the day was devoted to the abbreviated Zoom iteration of the annual clergy conference (which would normally have met in person over 44 hours or so). We had two guest presenters, who did an outstanding job helping us think about the ministry of bishops, something to be considering as we head toward electing the 12th Bishop of Springfield. Beyond that, I did some reconstructive surgery on an old sermon text for Christ the King, in preparation for preaching on the feast this year at Trinity, Mt Vernon. And beyond that, I took a much-needed brisk and long walk, and played gracious host to our out-of-town company. 

Sunday, November 8, 2020

The Lord's Day (XXIII Pentecost)

It was a humane start to the day, as I was already in Carbondale and the liturgy at St Andrew's was not until 10:00. Presided and preached with a congregation that, by Coronatide standards, was of quite decent size. Every visitation is emotionally challenging now, as the places and people trigger a flood of memories that lead quickly to grief. As I drove away from Carbondale late this morning, I could feel that grief physically. It nearly brought me to tears, and there will be much more of the same.

Sermon for Proper 27

 St Andrew’s, Carbondale--Matthew 25:1–13

I was a Boy Scout for all of about two or three weeks, when I was around eleven years old. But you don’t have to be a Boy Scout to know about their famous motto: Be prepared. OK, what, specifically, do we need to be prepared for? We’ve all had to make it a habit to grab a mask every time we step outside these days, so we’re prepared to meet somebody at close range. We prepare for a road trip by making sure there’s gas in the tank. Every Sunday evening, I prepare to fix dinners for the week by making a meal plan and a grocery list. But is there not a larger dimension for the application of this motto? Is there a more profound level at which we would do well to be prepared?

In a series of parables toward the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus urges his followers to be prepared. Today we have a story about ten bridesmaids. Their job as part of the festivities is to wait in a given location, at night, for the arrival of the groom, and then to accompany him in a torchlight procession to the place where the marriage will be celebrated. But, for some reason that we are not given, the groom is late, and the torches are beginning to fade and flicker. They need a fresh infusion of flammable oil. Five of the bridesmaids have brought extra oil for precisely this contingency, but the other five have not. So these “foolish” bridesmaids, in contrast to the “wise” bridesmaids who brought extra oil, have to run to Wal*Mart in the middle of the night to buy some more. By the time they get back, they discover they’ve missed the arrival of the groom completely, and when they show up at the venue for the ceremony, nobody will let them in. It’s too late. Next week, we’ll hear the parable of the three servants who are given “talents” to invest while their boss is away on a long trip, as they wait for his return, and they are asked for an accounting. Two weeks from now, it’s the parable of the sheep and the goats, an image of the Last Judgment as Jesus sits on the throne of his kingdom. So, there are these themes of waiting and judgment, and being prepared for the moment of judgment, of giving a reckoning, an accounting, for our lives. We do well to note the clause in both the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds: We believe Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead. I’m pretty sure this qualifies as the sort of event for which we would want, like good Boy Scouts, to be prepared.

Judgment is an understandable source of anxiety. Nobody enjoys being called into the boss’s office for an annual performance review, and the Last Judgment is a performance review on mega-doses of steroids. Even though our standing in Christ removes fear of the ultimate outcome—we’re saved by grace, through faith, and not by our works—the prospect of judgment, when we think about it, is terrifying. Standing before the One to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid—if that prospect doesn’t cause us to tremble just a little bit, then we’re not really paying attention. So, the question naturally arises: On what will we be judged? How should we “be prepared?”

Since we’re encountering today’s parable in Matthew, perhaps we should look elsewhere in Matthew’s gospel for some guidance. Of all the “teaching” of Jesus in the four gospels, what is usually been considered the high point, the apex? Well, it’s probably the Sermon on the Mount. It starts off with the Beatitudes: blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted on account of their faith. Jesus then goes on to talk about being the salt of the earth, refraining from anger and lust, being true to your word, not seeking revenge, loving your enemies, giving to the needs of the poor, refusing to be anxious, avoiding being judgmental, and treating others the way we would like to be treated ourselves. This is what it looks like to live the life of the Kingdom of God, and it’s a pretty good bet that this is the material that will show up on the final exam!

But note the feature in today’s parable: the groom arrived later than expected. The “foolish” bridesmaids were plenty prepared for him to show up on time, as expected, but they were manifestly unprepared for him to be delayed, and they were excluded from the eventual wedding celebration. So, we need not simply to get the answer right; we need to get the answer right repeatedly. Hear what the New Testament commentator Eugene Boring says:

Readiness in Matthew is, of course, living the life of the Kingdom, living the quality of life described in the Sermon on the Mount. Many can do this for a short while; but when the Kingdom is delayed, the problems arise. Being a peacemaker for a day is not as demanding as being a peacemaker year after year when the hostility breaks out again and again, and the bridegroom is delayed. Being merciful for an evening can be pleasant; being merciful for a lifetime, when the groom is delayed, requires preparedness.

So, it looks like we need to be patient, and we live in a cultural context in which the virtue of patience is not often highly regarded. Now this is starting to sound like the sort of sermon I really hate—“do more and try harder.” So I need to conclude by reminding us all, in the words of the collect from two weeks ago, that our only chance of being “continually given to good works” is if the grace of God “always precede(s) and follow(s) us,” and that such grace is available to us even now, in this celebration of the Eucharist.” Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Saturday (St Willibrord)

Packed for an overnight and hit the road southbound at 1105am. Arrived at the Hampton Inn in Carbondale at 4:40pm. Did the finish work on tomorrow's homily at St Andrew's (grateful to find a "business" area with a printer). Headed to the home of a parishioner for a small, physically-distanced, get-together. 

Friday, November 6, 2020

Friday (William Temple)

After a scheduled video chat with a priest outside the diocese seeking my counsel on some personal discernment matters, and assaying my workload, I channeled Ferris Bueller for the rest of the morning and joined a contingent from our building, including our visiting California relatives, on an expedition to a Lake Michigan beach on an unseasonably beautiful November morning. Though I will "pay" for this indulgence next week in the form of deferred tasks, the mental health benefits made it a wise decision. After lunch, I buckled down some, creating Zoom meetings for next week's clergy conference and emailing all the registrants with the links, reviewing the completed search profile of one of our communities in transition and reaching out to a potential candidate, and contacting the leadership of one of our other parishes in transition to set up a time for me to meet with their MLT. Also did an Ignatian meditation on today's daily office gospel reading.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Thursday

 

  • Did a deep exegetical dive into the readings for II Advent (preaching at St Christopher's, Rantoul). I was particularly gratified by the chance to get into the famous "Comfort ye ... " passage from Isaiah 40.
  • I promised the new editor of The Anglican Digest some time ago to supply some potential content, using "vintage" materials. So I spent a good chunk of time digging around my own electronic archives, curated some material, and sent it along.
  • Issued a license to a retired priest who is canonically resident elsewhere but physically resident within the bounds of the diocese.
  • Attended to various lesser matters--several email exchanges with the Canon-to-the-Ordinary and the Communications Coordinator, and other sundry items.
  • Still frequently diverted from "duties" by the post-election madness.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Wednesday

 

  • Attended the regular weekly meeting of the Province V bishops. There was much anxiety and hand-wringing about the election.
  • Dealt with a backlog of emails on a range of issues--some quickly and others needing more sustained attention.
  • Opened a sermon file on Advent II (St Christopher's, Rantoul).
  • Did all this while moving in and out of paying attention to visiting relatives and the continuing unfolding of election returns.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Tuesday (Richard Hooker)

After the usual morning routine, my first priority was to vote. I'm relieved to be able to say that, since my first election in 1972, I have yet to wait in line to exercise my franchise, and that streak continued today. The rest of the morning was consumed by responding to emails from the last couple of days that required some careful thought and/or close attention. After lunch, following a scheduled phone conversation with a priest of the diocese, and an unscheduled phone conversation with Canon Evans, I turned my attention to building out my developed homiletical outline for this Sunday (St Andrew's, Carbondale) into a rough draft. After a walk with Brenda on an unseasonably gorgeous November afternoon, it was time to head to O'Hare to retrieve Brenda's sister and her husband from California, who are visiting for the next week. Spend the evening hanging out with them, with election returns playing in the background. 

Sunday, November 1, 2020

All Saints

As a result of not paying attention to the calendar, and getting confused about the service time, I made it to Carlinville only just in thee nick of time for a relatively on-time start to the regular 0915 celebration of the Eucharist at St Paul's. Presided and preached and enjoyed some brief distanced visiting with folks afterward. (May I say that I now officially miss a "normal" coffee hour?) With a stop back at the office in Springfield to clean up a few loose ends, I was home at 4:20.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Saturday (Eve of All Hallows)

Up and out of my office encampment and across the alley to offer Morning Prayer at 0730, then to Hardee's for some breakfast. After a bit of email, it was time to get ready for Fr Gus Franklin's funeral Mass at 11:00. Lots of details whenever there's a liturgy that is not completely routine. Fortunately, funerals are not quite "routine" in my experience. Everything went smoothly, and we gave Fr Gus a good sendoff. A nice luncheon reception followed (with appropriate precautions) next door at the Inn at 835. Then it was time to take Bishop Ackerman to the airport for his flight back to DFW. Back at office, I did the finish work on tomorrow's homily. Can't deny that I was dragging more than a little by then. Seeing people (even through masks) that I don't often see was a really welcome thing (I *literally* "don't get out much"). But I am still an introvert, and the whole experience was taxing. There was enough daylight for a substantial walk, so I took advantage. Prayed the evening office, then went out to feed myself, Most of the evening was spent organizing and stowing yesterdays "vestment bonanza." The cathedral is housing most of them. Some are eventually headed to the chapel at Toddhall. It was a full day.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Friday

Attended to some domestic matters related to my being away for 52 hours. Headed south at 11am, arriving at the Diocesan Center about 3.5 hours later. Unloaded the boxes of vestments that I had picked up at Nashotah House yesterday. Checked in with Canon Evans on a few things. Headed to the airport and retrieved Bishop Keith Ackerman, who is preaching at Fr Gus Franklin's funeral tomorrow at 11am. Got him checked in at the Inn at 835, then headed to the southwest side of town for a haircut. Prayed the evening office in the cathedral, then enjoyed cauliflower crust pizza from Pie's the Limit with Bishop Ackerman, as we spaced ourselves generously in the rotunda. Afterward, spent some time beginning to inventory the vestments. It's quite a treasure trove, as several unexpected bonuses were thrown in.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Thursday (James Hannington & Companions)

The morning and part of the afternoon were consumed by a trip up to Nashotah House to take "delivery" on some vestments that I bought for diocesan use several months ago (they're no longer considered fashionable by Nashotah, but I love them!), but never received because of the onset of the pandemic. Now they're in my car for a trip to Springfield tomorrow. The rest of the day, including well into the evening, with a break for dinner, was devoted to my next-due post on the Covenant blog, in which I try to interpret and put into some context the veery unsettling news of the resignation of the Bishop of Albany. Sorting this out is of more than marginal significance for a diocese like Springfield.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Ss Simon & Jude

Two long Zoom meetings: one of a group of five Communion Partner bishops and five ACNA bishops, under the auspices of the General Secretary of the Anglican Communion, to discern together possible paths toward greater trust and communion; the other a (more pleasant) meeting of the "Class of 2011" bishops and spouses. Between those meetings, I worked on my next-due post for the Covenant blog, in which I will contribute to the collective effort to "interpret" the announced resignation of the Bishop of Albany and the events that led up to it. This writing project will occupy much of the next several days.