- Wrote my homily for the synod Mass on Friday,
- Drafted a sermon for Proper 23 (a week from this Sunday, in West Frankfort).
- Phone conversation with Canon Evans.
- Pastoral check-in by phone with one of our clergy.
My productive time today was pretty much consumed by this weekends 143rd annual synod of the diocese--in the morning by preparations for the Mass, the afternoon by writing my address. Also a bit of email traffic on the same general subject.
Presided and preached at the 0730 and 1000 liturgies at St Matthew's, Bloomington. Between services, met with the Senior Warden and chair of the Search Committee. I believe we are all on the same page and look forward to what God has in store for this fine group of disciples. Coffee hour isn't much a of thing these days (thank-you, COVID), so I was on the road a little past 1130 and home at 2:10. Dealt with a few ministry-related emails, but otherwise tended to domestic concerns, including a long walk with Brenda.
St Matthew’s, Bloomington--Philippians 2:1-13
In the late Stephen Covey’s classic book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Habit #2 is “Begin with the end in mind.” In other words, know where you want to go before you set out to go there. Make sure that what you’re doing is consistent with the goal of getting you to that destination.
I think most of us would agree, that’s pretty sound advice. So, how might we apply that advice to our lives as Christians in this world and in this life? What is the “end” for a Christian? What is the goal and purpose of our lives of faith and religious practice? Well, to put it succinctly, the “end” of the Christian life—that is, the goal and purpose of religious faith and practice—is perfect union with Christ, being perfectly conformed to the image of Christ, having what we do or say be instinctively, unself-consciously, what Jesus would do or say under the same circumstances, making Christ’s sufferings our own that we may also make his glory our own.
These are ambitious goals. These are challenging ends. We might well ask, then, what are the means toward those ends? The short answer is that grace is the means toward those ends—grace that comes only from God himself. And the means of grace are legion. Faith is the means of grace that makes all the other means of grace possible. Then there are the sacraments, which are effective signs—they transmit what they signify. Then there’s the community of the church—the fellowship of God’s people in worship, mutual care, service to the world, and study. Finally, there’s the discipline of emulating Christ. The question “What would Jesus do?” was a passing fad several years ago, almost a fashion statement. We might add to it the corollary question, what would Jesus be?” I’m not sure it’s always possible to answer those questions with any degree of certainty, but they are surely good questions to ask. The mere asking of them points us in the direction, at least, of an answer. Faith, the sacraments, the communion of the Church, the emulation of Christ—these are the primary and ordinary means of grace by which we grow more and more into his image, which is our “end” as Christians.
We do well to ask, next, what is the most important quality of Christ that we might strive to emulate?—and that answer is, I can say without any hesitation, humility. Listen again to these words from St Paul’s letter to the Philippians:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
Humility, of course, is related to the word “humus,” which is what composted vegetable matter eventually turns into. To be humble is to be low to the ground, close to the earth. St Paul also tells the Philippians
Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others
---this speaks of a capacity to be un-self-absorbed, reluctant to take credit, even when it is due, lack of selfish ambition, not calling attention to oneself. To be humble is to be focused in conversation more on others than oneself, yet not for the purpose of currying favor, because we know that the only opinion that ultimately counts is God’s and are therefore unconcerned about human approval.
Now, this is not to be confused with being shy or mousy or having a poor self image. A genuinely humble person can be as confident and outgoing and joyful as is humanly possible without compromising the quality of his or her humility one bit. Humility doesn’t necessarily comply with our stereotypes.
I would suggest that there are two distinct dimensions of humility that we do well to pay attention to. The first is un-self-conscious humility—that is, humility as an inlaid component of a person’s character. This is the sort of humility that doesn’t require intention or effort. This is really the best kind of humility and is what we should be aspiring to. But there’s a really thorny problem related to this dimension of humility, and it’s this: If you think you’re humble in this way, you’re automatically not, just by definition. The instant we think we’re humble, we’ve stopped being humble! So, if we ever truly are humble in this way, we won’t know it. Others might see it and think it and may even tell us, but we better hope they don’t, or else that we don’t believe them. Because if we believe them, then guess what?—we’ve stopped being humble. Of course, this means that there’s never any satisfying payoff of achievement (which, actually, would spoil the whole thing anyway!).
But there’s another dimension of humility, which we might call intentional humility. Intentional humility is a strategy—a strategy appropriate for the majority of us to whom authentic, unself-conscious humility does not come easily or naturally. If we find ourselves in that category, then acting humble—intentionally doing and saying humble things, giving credit to others, avoiding the limelight, shunning personal publicity or self-promotion, taking the proverbial “lowest seat” in social situations, making anonymous gifts, and the like—acting humble, if we do it long enough, might actually lead to being humble. We act humble in the hope that it will eventually become so habitual that forethought will no longer be required. Now, we might be tempted to think of this as somehow hypocritical, disingenuous, lacking in authenticity. But I would suggest to you that it is not hypocrisy at all. Rather, it is the purest form of spiritual discipline. We act humble in order to become humble, and we wish to become humble because we want to emulate the character and behavior of our Lord Jesus Christ.
St Paul continues with the Philippians:
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
This sounds a little severe. I mean, who wants to do anything in “fear and trembling?” But, once again, we need to keep “the end” in mind, and by that, I mean not just the imitation of Christ, and not just being conformed to the image of Christ, but our very salvation!
Intentional humility is not particularly fun, but it brings us closer to Jesus by making us more like him, so we can share his “end” as well:
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Indulged in a "slow" morning. Then did the finish work on my homily for tomorrow at St Matthew's, Bloomington. Read an responded to an Ember Day letter. Corresponded with someone who is knocking on the door of the ordination process. Performed some routine personal organization maintenance. Packed for an overnight and hit the road southbound at 4:45. Camping out at the Doubletree in Bloomington ahead of tomorrow's visitation to St Matthew's.
Spent the morning building out my sermon outline for Proper 22 (a week from Sunday, in Harrisburg) into a rough draft. The major accomplishment of the afternoon was creating a pretty full draft, which will need only minor refining, of a liturgy sheet for the synod Mass a week from tonight. There will be only a skeleton crew in person, but it will be live-streamed. Also attended to a couple of pastoral issues by email, spoke by phone with one of our priests, took a substantial walk, and prayed the Luminous Mysteries of the rosary.
The morning and the first part of the afternoon were devoted to reading and responding to a slew of Ember Day letters from our postulants and candidates. What a great crop we have! There was also a good bit of email give-and-take about synod, and the fact that we're trying to pull it off virtually, and anticipate all potential snags, but the unknown is always ... unknown. Ran a personal errand and took a walk to round out the afternoon.
The big stuff:
Some smaller stuff:
There being no visitation on my calendar today (I had saved the date for a conference that, of course, ended up getting canceled), Brenda and I pew-sat at St Paul's in Riverside (the parish that gave us the Dallman family some years ago). Mostly attended to domestic concerns after that, save for some routine weekly and monthly personal organization chores.
Prepped for tomorrow's liturgy seminar ... open a sermon file on Proper 24 (October 18 at All Saints, Morton) ... long phone conversation with Canon Evans ... long phone conversation with a priest of the diocese ... shorter phone conversation with a colleague bishop ... routine periodic cleanup of my computer desktop ... Lectio Divina on tomorrow's daily office Old Testament reading.
The big chunk of the day (10-2:30) was dedicated to a tele-meeting of the House of Bishops, both in plenary and in "table groups." (I'm with the bishops of Spokane, South Dakota, and Southwestern Virginia, along with the retired bishops of Rhode Island and Arizona). The subject was how to respond, both personally and as pastors, to systemic racism. This was followed by a fairly brief telemedicine appointment, after which I *really* needed a walk. Before Evening Prayer and dinner, there was time to do some cosmetic surgery on a vintage sermon text for Proper 21, repurposing it for use at St Matthew's, Bloomington on the 27th.
The morning and early afternoon were devoted to burning through a *long* queue of email-generated tasks that had piled up to do my appropriate neglect of my diocesan email account during my vacation. Many of these were very short; others were more substantial. With that all cleared, I'm ready to attack an equally impressive collection of beefier items that need attention. Mid-to-late afternoon was dedicated to running the errands (haircut, groceries) that I couldn't get to yesterday because the events surrounding the ordination.
,,, aaaaannd we're back. Vacation did what it needed to do, and I'm very grateful. Spent most of the morning taming my diocesan email inbox, to which I have not been paying close attention for the last month or so. Most of them were converted into tasks, so my to-do list is bulging. Set off at 11am southward, hitting the Diocesan Center a little past 2:30. Caught up on various things with Canon Evans, gave him a tutorial on playing with hot wax to seal certificates, refined and printed my homily for tonight's ordination, and then headed back north to Trinity, Lincoln. At 5:30, we began the liturgy for the ordination of Dr Christopher Ben Simpson to the priesthood, as well is instituting him as rector of Trinity Church. It was a joyous, well-subscribed, and dutifully masked occasion. After mingling for a bit at the outdoor reception, I arrived back in my Chicago abode at 10:50.