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.