Presided over the regular August meeting of the Diocesan Council. Took care of a few dangling odds and ends. I am now in Vacationland. So I'll be going dark in this location until September 14. See you then.
Friday, August 14, 2020
- Plowed through another (shorter than yesterday) stack of items needing a response from me--some short, some more substantial.
- Opened a sermon file (pray, paste readings into a document, read slowly and reflectively, make initial notes) on Proper 23 (October 11 in West Frankfort).
- Conceived and hatched my next-due post for the Covenant blog. Something on the process of sermon preparation. I'd say it's about 60% written.
- Did an Ignatian meditation on the daily office gospel reading.
- Caught up on some deferred reading. Save for tomorrow's Diocesan Council meeting, I am sufficiently caught up to be able to head into Vacationland right on schedule.
Thursday, August 13, 2020
In a pre-vacation radar-clearing effort, the main focus today was on burning through a hefty list of items that call for a response from me, most of them relatively short. Substantive phone check-in with Canon Evans. The biggest single accomplishment was the production of a developed outline from my homiletical message statement for Proper 22, preparing to preach at St Stephen's, Harrisburg on October 4.
Wednesday, August 12, 2020
- Took some notes I made last week and turned them into a draft sermon text for an ordination that is scheduled for my first day back from vacation, September 14, which, for all practical purposes, is "next week."
- Made significant progress planning the details of the synod Mass, which will take place in the cathedral in the evening of October 2, not open to the public, but live-streamed.
- Substantive phone conversation with a staff member of another diocese regarding a priest who has expressed an interest in coming to Springfield.
- Substantive phone conversation with the senior warden of one of our Eucharistic Communities concerning an emerging pastoral issue.
- Substantive phone conversation with a representative of the Church Pension Group, which is, I suppose, the first practical step in the process of retiring.
- All the usual late-arriving emails and texts.
Tuesday, August 11, 2020
- Created a Zoom meeting for Diocesan Council on Saturday and sent out the link.
- Responded to an email from the senior warden of one of our Eucharistic Communities.
- Dealt with an emergent administrative issue, hopefully in a dispositive way.
- Did the first bit of planning for the synod Mass (which will be closed and live-streamed from the cathedral). We will be observing the (unofficial for Episcopalians) feast of the Holy Guardian Angels on October 2.
- Made a pastoral check-in by phone with one of our priests.
- Substantive phone conversation with Canon Evans.
- Wrote and sent an Ad Clerum (letter to the clergy, this time only those is active parochial ministry), wherein I devolved the question of congregation singing to the local level, with certain restrictions.
Sunday, August 9, 2020
Tazewell Parish--Matthew 14:22-33, Jonah 2:1-9, Psalm 29
When I was a mere youth, and trying to master the art of throwing a baseball or playing ping-pong, I was taught that I could spin the ball different ways so as to make it behave unpredictably, and confuse my opponent. In my adulthood, of course, that notion of “spin control” has become a metaphor for the management of information so as to create a particular desired impression. With politicians and business leaders, spin control becomes second nature, as they seek to put raw, objective facts in the most favorable frame they can. But we all do it.
In a way, the discipline of “Christian apologetics”—the task of justifying the ways of God to people, explaining God’s often mysterious behavior in ways that make some sense to rational human beings—the discipline of Christian apologetics could be said to be a form of theological spin control. Christianity claims that Jesus makes God present to us. Christianity claims that, in Christ, the fundamental gap that separates us from God is bridged, and the path to perfect communion with God is opened. Christianity claims that the community of the church is like a well-built boat on the stormy seas of life, the ark of salvation that will deliver us safely to the distant shore for which we are bound.
This should be a source of comfort and peace, but, instead, our actual experience—both in the world and in the church—can often be rather chaotic and scary, like being in a boat in the middle of a storm, always just a moment away from capsizing and spilling its passengers into the abyss.
Water—the sea, the ocean—figures prominently both in our conscious awareness and in our subconscious imagination. We all spent nine months surrounded by water, and coming out of it was a traumatic experience. The depths of the sea represent our primordial fears, our deepest unspoken anxieties. For Jonah, being cast into the sea, from the comparative safety of a boat, was a sign of his being punished by God. From the belly of the fish that swallowed him, he prays
I am cast out from your presence; how shall I again look upon your holy temple? The waters closed in over me, the deep was round about me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me for ever.
These words of Jonah may have been in the minds, or even on the lips, of Jesus’ frightened disciples as their small craft, beaten by waves, negotiated the choppy Sea of Galilee on a windy night. And, to be honest, when taken figuratively, they represent the experience of a great many people—probably most people, at some point in their lives—who feel simply overwhelmed by life: drowning in grief, regret, shame, fear, and despair. So all this presents a monumental challenge to anyone involved in Christian apologetics. It leads any rational person to question Christianity’s claims. It sows seeds of doubt—doubt within ourselves, about our own spiritual experience, doubt about the life of the church, and about our witness in and to the world. What are we to make of this? What sort of “spin control” might we engage in to present the claims of the gospel in as attractive a light as possible?
The frightened disciples in that storm-tossed boat probably remembered, when they allowed themselves a stray thought, that, only a few hours earlier, Jesus had ministered to several thousand people on the beach, by feeding them from a mere five small loaves of bread and two fish. But that memory probably seemed pale and irrelevant to them as they faced the imminent prospect of having to do some serious treading of water. In a similar way, you and I “remember” Jesus. We’ve stored away, in the gray matter between our ears, a great deal of information about his life on this planet. We remember things he said—teachings, parables, words of comfort and compassion, words of challenge. We remember things he did—gestures of love and tenderness and courage, miracles of healing and mercy. But these memories of Jesus may seem a little sketchy to us, so distracted are we by the pressing concerns of work and career, relationships and family life, recreation and entertainment. Our relationship with Jesus can easily become like that of a long-married couple who are so caught up in the mundane mechanics of life that they forget why they ever got married.
But once in a while, usually without any warning or preparation, we actually do have something resembling a real experience of Jesus. It may be a spine tingle when the lights come on at the Easter Vigil, a healing for which there is no medically plausible explanation, or the dramatic turnaround of a life that had appeared to be lost—lost to alcohol or drugs or gambling or violence or some other compulsive behavior. And when this happens, ironically, our first response is not faith, but doubt. We are like the disciples on that boat when it becomes apparent that the mysterious figure walking toward them on top of the waves is none other than Jesus. They said, “Lord, if it’s really you…” Note the operative word there: “if.” If—the token of conditionality, the marker of doubt. We meet Jesus, who wants to rescue us from the mess we’re in, and the first thing we do is ask for his photo ID! We demand verification. “Lord, if it’s really you … do it again, and then I’ll believe.” In Peter’s case, it was “Lord, if it’s really you, let me walk out to you.” What Peter is saying, what we are saying, in effect, is “I’m seasick; get me out of this wretched boat; you’re there and I’m here, take me to where you are.”
We speak the truth when say this. It sounds like an expression of confidence. Our real attitude, however, is just the opposite. It’s grounded not in trust, but in lack of faith. Authentic faith, mature faith, trusts that God is no less present with His people in the midst of their trials, than at the end of their trials. So Peter’s request—“Lord, if it’s really you, let me come out to you”—is actually an instance of putting God to the test. Now, if we remember our Old Testament, putting God to the test is not usually thought of as a good thing! People got in serious trouble for putting God to the test. Jesus tells Peter, "O man of little faith, why did you doubt?" In other words, it wasn’t Peter’s “little faith” that caused him to sink, as we might easily suppose. We often assume that Peter’s mistake was in taking his eyes off of Jesus; that’s what caused him to sink. There may be a good lesson there; there’s something to be said for not taking our eyes off of Jesus. But I would suggest to you that it was not Peter’s “little faith” that caused him to sink; it was his “little faith” that caused him to leave the boat in the first place!
What this says to the apologetic project—the task of explaining the ways of God to doubting human minds and hearts—is to get in the boat, and stay in it! Yes, the seas will get rough from time to time, but the boat is the place in which Jesus will come to you, and when he comes to you, he brings his peace with him. Matthew tells us that, as soon as Jesus—and a very damp Peter—got into the boat, the wind ceased, and there was peace. So, we are to wait for Jesus in the boat. And in the symbolic vocabulary of the New Testament and Christian tradition, of course, the boat stands for the Church: the visible, organic, historical community that connects us, through 80 or so generations, to Peter and the other apostles who welcomed Jesus into their storm-tossed boat and experienced the peace that only he can bring. As topsy-turvy as our experience in the Church may be, she is still the “ark of salvation” and we need to stay on board. It never ceases to amaze me how, very often, when faithful church-going Christians sail into one of life’s storms—illness, family problems, work problems, or whatever—the first thing they do is quit coming to church. Just when they need it most, they quit coming to church. When we do this, we’re acting like Peter. We have “little faith.” We’re abandoning ship when that’s just the place Jesus wants us to be so he can bring us his peace. We need to stay on board. Jesus will find us here.
When the wind whips up the waves, and things get a little shaky, we can always take comfort from the words of Psalm 29:
The voice of the Lord is upon the waters;
the God of glory thunders; *
the Lord is upon the mighty waters.
The Lord sits enthroned above the flood; *
the Lord sits enthroned as King for evermore.
Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.
Saturday, August 8, 2020
- Attended the scheduled 75-minute webinar for clergy and laity of the diocese on how to think about mission in the current environment.
- Did the finish work on my homily for tomorrow.
- Dealt with a handful of late-arriving texts and emails.
- Otherwise, attended to domestic concerns.
Friday, August 7, 2020
Thursday, August 6, 2020
The big rocks:
- Attended a meeting of the diocesan Department of Finance, to work through some outstanding issues related to the draft 2021 operating budget that will be proposed to Council on the 15th.
- Prayed over, conceived, and hatched a homily for the ordination of Chris Simpson to the priesthood, set for September 14, the very day I get back into the saddle after vacation.
- Reached out to two potential guest presenters at what will be the virtual surrogate for the usual fall clergy conference. (I've already heard back from one of them--affirmatively).
- Attended to the usual running stream of emails, texts, and phone calls.
Wednesday, August 5, 2020
Tuesday, August 4, 2020
Sunday, August 2, 2020
St Andrew’s, Edwardsville --Matthew 14:13–21, Isaiah 55:1–5, Psalm 145: 8-9, 15-22
Not enough jobs, so we look for the economy to keep producing more. Not enough Personal Protective Equipment for healthcare personnel, so governors scheme covertly to raid the supplies of other countries before the neighboring state gets to them first. Not enough COVID-19 tests, so public officials talk about rationing and triage.
For multiple reasons, as members of the larger context of secular society, our default mentality is one of scarcity. Resources are always finite, and possession of them is always a zero-sum game. At the international level, wars get fought over access to finite energy resources. I’ve lived the majority of my adult life on the west coast, so I’m more than familiar with anxiety over the supply of water, and conflict over how the available water gets allocated. And, of course, human societies have fought one another over land since time out of mind. We are also well-conditioned to consider money a scarce commodity. Every public and private non-profit institution—local governments, schools, churches—and many commercial businesses as well, all seem to be constantly on the edge financially.
As people of faith, as disciples of Jesus, it’s extremely tempting to import this mentality into how we think of God and his dealings with us. We assume that God doles out just enough sustaining grace—just enough assistance, just enough help, just enough provision—for us to get by, but no more, because ... you know ... he doesn’t want to run out!
The miracle of the feeding of the multitude challenges our assumptions and invites us to think otherwise. This is one of only a very few incidents that is narrated in all four gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Today we heard Matthew’s version. Jesus, you know, tended to draw a crowd wherever he went, including, it seems, when he decided to head out to the boonies, to a location very far off the beaten path. These were spontaneous gatherings for the most part, so there was not very much by way of logistical support. On this occasion, Jesus spent an extended time doing some teaching, and the people gave him their rapt attention. Before anybody realized it, the time was heading toward evening, and the disciples got themselves into a mild panic about a few thousand hungry people who could at any moment become “hangry” people, and they didn’t want to deal with the consequences. So they started urging Jesus to cut it short and send the crowd away before things got out of hand.
Now, I can see Jesus doing this with a twinkle in his eye and a suppressed grin, but he responds to their apostolic anxiety with, “You give them something to eat.” To which they respond—somewhat apoplectically, I would imagine—“Say what? We’ve got a grand total of five small loves of bread and two whole tilapias. So tell us how this is going to work.” To which Jesus replies, “I’m on it.” And he just proceeds to start divvying-up the bread and the fish, and handing the pieces to the disciples to start passing around. He just keeps on doing this, and somehow there’s always another piece to break off until, before it runs out, the several thousand people who were gathered there in the countryside had all had enough to eat. They were satisfied—stuffed, actually, according the Greek verb that Matthew uses to relate the story. Stuffed.
But wait, there’s more. After everybody had eaten their fill, Matthew tells us that the disciples “took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over.” The baskets are not described, but I’ve always imagined them as bushel baskets with handles, about the size of a typical laundry basket. That’s a fair amount of bread scraps! The volume of the leftovers it itself a sign of the abundance embedded into the miracle itself.
This theme of abundance also turns up in this morning’s first reading from Isaiah: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” We’ve got so much water and wine and milk that we’re not even charging for it. No shortage of anything here! No fear of running out here! Just come and enjoy what you need. Satiate yourself. Stuff yourself!
Then there’s today’s selection from the Psalms, where we get words from the familiar table grace: “The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord, and you give them their food in due season. You open wide your hand and satisfy the needs of every living creature.” Curiously, the words “satisfy” in the Psalm translates the Hebrew word that’s the equivalent of the same Greek word that I told you has the connotation of “stuffed.” “You open wide your hand and stuff every living creature.” God’s provision is not stingy or rationed or triaged or meted out in modest amounts. Rather, it is replete with abundance. The inherent nature of God’s provision is that it is generous and full and overflowing. We may not experience it that way this side of the completion of our redemption; it is, to use a fancy theological term, an eschatological affirmation. In the celestial banquet, at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, we will know the abundance of God’s provision.
In the meantime, however, we have available to us a foretaste, a sneak preview of the fullness of joy that awaits us. We call it the Holy Eucharist. Allow me to draw your attention to four simple verbs that we find in Matthew’s narration of the feeding miracle: take, bless, break, and give. Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, he blessed them, he broke them, and he gave them to satisfy the hunger of the crowd.
The four verbs represent the essential action of the Eucharist. We take bread and wine, and set aside this bread and this wine for special, consecrated use. Then we bless it, at some length, in the Eucharistic Prayer. Next, we break the bread, symbolizing the broken body of Jesus on the cross, and the reality that bread cannot be shared and eaten unless it is first broken. Finally, the presider, standing very much in the place of Christ, the true host of the banquet, gives the bread to the people—“the Gifts of God for the People of God.”
In the last generation, most churches in the western rite moved their liturgical furniture around such that the presider can stand facing the congregation, in the position of a host at a banquet. The celebrant in this posture is understood to be an alter Christus—“another Christ,” or in persona Christi—“in the person of Christ.” This accentuates the character of the Eucharist as a foretaste—a premonition—of the sheer abundance of the messianic banquet. It’s a meal at which the food can never run out, because, as many pieces as the host may be broken into, as much as the wine may need to be diluted by water, everyone gets the same amount of the risen life of Christ. Even if we get merely a crumb of bread—or, under non-virus circumstances, a mere drop of wine—we are satisfied, we are stuffed.
My friends, God doesn’t participate in the scarcity economy. His love, and everything that goes with it, is lavishly generous. There’s plenty for everybody, and it won’t run out!
Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.
Saturday, August 1, 2020
- Taught a two-hour seminar in pastoral liturgy (the second of four) to about a dozen people.
- Packed for an overnight and headed south around 2pm.
- Arrived at the Diocesan Center about 3:45. Did the finish work on tomorrow's homily. Prayed the evening office in the cathedral. Took an aggressive 60-minute walk: south to South Grand, west to Walnut. north to Washington, back to Second and on down.
- Drove down to Litchfield, where I am encamped for the night at the Hampton Inn. Edwardsville in the morning.