Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Lord's Day (III Pentecost)

Greeting the morning in the brand new Hampton Inn in Alton, it was a short drive to Trinity Chapel for their regular 0815am liturgy. Attendance was north of 30, which was very good by local standards. Then it was down the hill for the 1030am Mass at St Paul's. There was one adult confirmand, who promptly repaired to the choir loft and rendered a beautiful solo anthem at the offertory. Spirits seem to be good in the parish under the leadership of Mother Cindy Sever. After hanging around coffee hour for a bit, I hit the road south on I-55 back to Toddhall. (It's about a 45 minute drive at full interstate speeds.) I was a couple of hours early for the Cursillo closing Mass, so I found a comfortable seat and an internet connection and got some work done--principally, finishing my next post for the Covenant blog. I then presided and preached at a 0400pm votive Mass of the Holy Spirit. In many places, the Cursillo movement has run its course, but not yet, I'm pleased to say, in the Diocese of Springfield. There were 12 energized cursillistas, a large and hard-working team, and great progress away from the cultural accoutrements of the 1970s that threatened to fossilize the movement. Back on the road at 0525 and home by 0715.

Sermon for III Pentecost (Proper 7)

Alton Parish--Matthew 10:24-34, Jeremiah 20:7-13

When I turned 18, the age of legal adulthood, our country was deeply involved in armed conflict in Vietnam. Now I’m 65, a point where I can no longer plausibly call myself middle-aged, and U.S. forces are regularly deployed overseas and placed in harm’s way. There has hardly been a time between my youth and my old age in which we have not been at war in some way or another. And it has always been controversial. Vietnam certainly was, and our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention Syria and Somalia and other places, has been a source of deep domestic conflict. We would have to look just a few years before I was born to find a war that virtually everybody could get behind as a just cause, unquestionably worthy of the spilt blood of our armed forces.

Indeed, in retrospect, and having recently observed the 73rd anniversary of the invasion of Normandy, the just-ness of our campaign against Adolf Hitler and Nazism seems to increase as time goes by. There is something about a worthy and noble cause that inspires the human spirit to rise to extraordinary levels of commitment and sacrifice. Among those who are bound to that cause, a feeling of closeness and kinship develops. Courageous and eloquent words get written and spoken—think of the moving speeches of Churchill and Roosevelt. People keep their eyes on the prize, and are moved to endure all manner of deprivation and hardship for the sake of that vision.

And it’s not only war, thank God, that can produce this sort of behavior. A political campaign can have the same effect on people. Those involved in the same educational or career path can experience their common calling as a holy mission, a response to a divine vocation.

The notion of being called by God—whether it’s a nation or a church or an individual or whatever—the notion of being God’s chosen instrument for a particular purpose at a particular time—whether it’s saving the world from Hitler, or ridding a schoolyard of drug-traffickers, or teaching a Sunday School class—the idea of vocation or calling stirs us in the deepest recesses of our souls. And as I said, the urge to follow such a calling is compelling, virtually irresistible, even when doing so entails great personal cost. Think of all the people who voluntarily enlisted in the armed forces right after 9-11.

The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah certainly had this experience. Like most young men of his time, he did not grow up with the ambition of being a prophet of the Lord. But the word of the Lord came to him one day, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you; before you came to birth I consecrated you: I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah protested that he was too young and inexperienced to take on such important work, but the Lord would not take No for an answer: “Do not say, ‘I am only a child,’ for you must go to all to whom I send you and say whatever I command you.” So Jeremiah had his call, his vocation, his mission from God, and he went about his work with zeal and with enthusiasm.

The original readers of St Matthew’s gospel are certainly also among this number.
They were, for the most part, Jewish Christians. They had been brought up to expect a Messiah, a Savior and Deliverer. And they were convinced that they had found this Messiah in Jesus. It is in Matthew’s gospel that we find the vocation, the calling, of these early believers. It is known as the Great Commission, and is now understood as the general marching order for the whole church: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

There comes a time, however, in every war, in every political campaign, in every educational or career path, when the going gets tough. Communication miscues and logistical foul-ups produce battlefield setbacks. Scandals and dirty politics and just plain failure to get your message across convincingly translates into grim news from the opinion pollsters. Educational and career plans are short-circuited by romance or childbirth or just “life” in general.

Jeremiah ended up publicly humiliated, his prophetic words rejected. He was even thrown to the bottom of a well and abandoned there until his friends rescued him several days later. Churches and Christian ministries inevitably run into difficult times, and the temptation is strong to abandon a sense of mission and adopt a survivalist mentality— whatever will “keep the doors open,” maintain the viability of the institution. Maintenance is valued ahead of mission.

Then, just when it seems like things could not possibly get worse, they do. The going gets tougher. The military command and control structure disintegrates,
and the battlefield turns to chaos. The polls close, the ballots are counted, and the cause loses, plain and simple. The semester grades arrive, or the annual performance review happens, and what was once a promising career reveals itself to be just a square peg in a round hole.

That must be how Jeremiah felt as his prophetic ministry— a ministry of communicating not-so-good news which irritated just about everybody, including the king—that must be how Jeremiah felt as his prophetic ministry got going. He thought of quitting and finding another career, but he couldn’t. Being a prophet was his vocation, his calling. Listen to his words in the arresting translation of the Revised English Bible: “You have duped me, Lord, and I have been your dupe; you have outwitted me and prevailed. ... Whenever I said, ‘I shall not call it to mind or speak in his name again,’ then his word became imprisoned within me like a fire burning in my heart. I was weary with holding it under and could endure no more.”

“You have duped me, Lord.”

How about that?

The Jerusalem Bible says, “You have seduced me.” The annals of church history are littered with the names of individual Christians, and groups of Christians, who could give the very same testimony, those who could say they have been duped and seduced by the Lord into a ministry no one his or her right mind would have chosen.

Perhaps there are some of you who can identify with this experience. Matthew’s Jewish Christians certainly could. They had been brought up as devout Jews, and wanted to remain devout Jews. But the leaders of the Jewish religious establishment did not share their conviction about Jesus being the long-expected Messiah, and made it increasingly difficult for Jewish Christians to remain part of Jewish national and cultural and religious life. By the eighth decade of the first century, it had turned into full-blown persecution. These Christians were suffering ostracism, deprivation, and death at the hands of their own countrymen. But here’s the deal: They believed in their cause. They believed they had a divine vocation. They believed they were on a mission from God. So they counted the cost, and kept the faith. And they found out what the neon sign in front of scores of skid row missions once proclaimed (you don’t see it so much anymore): Jesus saves.

Jesus saves.

The gospel of Matthew was written for a people tempted to surrender,
to give up the cause. In a nutshell, the message is this: “Things look bad, but God knows better. In the end, God wins.” Or, as Matthew records Jesus putting it:
“Even the hairs on your head are numbered. Fear not … [E]veryone who acknowledges me before men I will also acknowledge before my father who is in heaven.” In other words, God never abandons those who pursue the mission to which he has called them. There will be moments when it feels as though he has done exactly that. It is uncomfortable and lonely at the bottom of a well. It is uncomfortable in the smoke of battle, especially when it’s evident that you’re on the losing side. It is uncomfortable, for that matter, nailed to a cross. Jesus knows that. He himself cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

But we have both the sign and the seal of his assurance that appearances can deceive, that one battle does not a war make, that we will be rescued from the bottom of the well, that the cross is not the last word. The sign of this promise is found in the words of today’s gospel reading: “Do not fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” The seal of this promise is found in the event of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead, which is the reason we are here today, the reason Christians have gathered to celebrate the Eucharist on over ten thousand consecutive Sundays. God never abandons those who pursue the mission to which he has called them.

Staying faithful to mission—not surrendering to discouragement, despair, or dysfunction, not settling merely for survival or maintenance—this is not only a way to stay close to God, it is the only way to stay close to God. And it is certainly ample cause for giving thanks in this celebration of the Eucharist. Amen.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Nativity of St John the Baptist

  • Out the door and on the road at 6:50am. Arrived at Toddhall a little over two hours later.
  • Presented the Sacraments rollo at Diocese of Springfield Cursillo XXXV.
  • Celebrated (and preached) Mass for the feast day with the Cursillo weekend community.
  • After lunch at Toddhall, headed north on I-255 toward Alton, where I checked in at the Hampton Inn around 2:15. 
  • Got some rest, worked on my next Covenant article, and continued to fiddle with technology in the wake of IQTell's announced shutdown. (For those who are interested, it looks like I'm on a glidepath toward a combination of the Newton email client and the task app Todoist.
  • Met for dinner with the Rector and Mission Leadership Team of the Episcopal Parish of Alton. Had an after-meeting with the Rector and Wardens.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Friday

  • Struggled again with planning software. Maybe on a glide path to a solution. Trying it out.
  • Substantive scheduled phone conversation with the Dean of Nashotah House.
  • Reviewed and commented on bulletin drafts for my visitation to Alton Parish this weekend.
  • Arranged for an onsite visit to the workplace (a faith-based nonprofit) at which one of our diaconal postulants is the Executive Director.
  • Refined, edited, and printed my homily for July 2, which will be delivered, God willing, in St Stephen's Cathedral, Tabora, Tanzania, on the occasion of the Diocese of Tabora's triennial synod.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Caught up on my diary blogging from yesterday.
  • Dealt with some more Nashotah-related business.
  • Got started on developing the rough sketch of my next post on the Covenant blog.
  • Made air travel arrangements to attend the September meeting of the House of Bishops in Fairbanks, Alaska. The American Airlines website was uncooperative, so I have to do this by phone. Not as easy as it used to be.
  • As a Friday prayer practice, spent some time with the Hymnal 194o at the bench of the cathedral organ. Quite a spiritually rich time, actually.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Dispensed with a slew of late-arriving emails.
  • Returned a phone call from a priest outside the diocese who is seeking some pastoral care.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Thursday (St Alban)

  • On the treadmill from 6:30 until 8:00.
  • Began task planning after cleaning up, which was complicated immeasurably by the news the previous day that the web-based integrated personal organization software I've been using for email, task planning, and contacts is ceasing operation at the end of next month. So a lot of my time was devoted to researching potential replacements. Life is challenging enough without this sort of infrastructure snafu.
  • Logged on 15 minutes late to an 8:30 conference call board meeting of the Society of King Charles the Martyr. Took myself off the call at 10:10, and it wasn't even finished yet!
  • Met with Paige for a bit over some routine concerns about her workflow.
  • Messed around looking for software.
  • Signed and sealed the certificates for this evening's diaconal ordinations.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • More software searching.
  • Accompanied Brenda to a 2:30pm doctor's appointment.
  • Got home just in time to leave again at 4:15, headed toward Champaign.
  • Arrived at Emmanuel at 5:45, ahead of a 6pm liturgy rehearsa.
  • Ordained Alan and Diana Wakabayashi to the transitional diaconate. They are headed to St Luke's, Gladstone, NJ to serve their curacy.
  • Home at 10:45. The pace of travel is starting to get to me, but there will be no respite for a couple of weeks yet.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Wednesday

Back home, which seems pretty exotic after all the travel I've been doing. It will be short-lived, however, as a trip to Tanzania looms next week.
  • Morning Prayer and task planning for what's left of the week at home. Learned the disconcerting news that my primary personal organization software (IQTell) is going out of business the end of next month. This is a significant blow, as there's nothing quite like it.
  • Accompanied Brenda on a visit to her primary care physician.
  • Back at home, sent a lay leader three of my sermons to use on Sunday's when his Eucharistic Community's priest will be on vacation.
  • Met with a handyman over of a couple of projects we need taken care of at home.
  • In at the office around 10:45, in time to get settled in and meet at 11:00 with Jason and Lisa Cerezo, who currently publish the Current and manage our website, along with Sue and Paige, to begin handing off their duties to Paige. It seems to have been a successful meeting.
  • Ducked out before the meeting was fully over to begin preparing to preside and preach the midday cathedral Mass. Had an substantive exchange with the Dean on another matter while doing so.
  • Presided and preached at said Mass.
  • Stopped by HyVee for some Chinese food (apparently they were voted the "best Chinese restaurant in Springfield for 2017." Go figure. At it at home.
  • Back in the office, puttered around a bit looking for alternatives to IQTell. This can get pretty time-consuming, but I know myself well enough to know that I will obsess on it until there is a new homeostasis.
  • Refined, edited, and printed my homily for this Sunday, to be delivered at the Episcopal Parish of Alton.
  • Checked in briefly with Sue and Paige as they were paying for and downloading the Adobe software Paige will need for the Current.
  • Dealt with some personal/family health insurance details.
  • Dealt with some details pertaining to the next House of Bishops meeting, which will be in September, in Alaska.
  • Messed around a bit more looking for productivity software.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Lord's Day (II Pentecost/Corpus Christi)

Up and out of the Hampton Inn in time to be at the Church of the Holy Communion at 9:30, an hour ahead of the day's single scheduled Mass. It was my honor to preach on the occasion of Fr Dow Sanderson concluding his 18-year tenure as rector of that historic parish. We then took part in the gala luncheon, at which Sanderson was lovingly "roasted." It was after 2:00pm by the time we left, and a nap was desperately needed. After napping, Brenda and I did a little walking around the area, a little more resting back in our room, and then joined Fr Andy and Nancy Mead for dinner at a nearby seafood restaurant. Fr Mead is a friend from mutual service on the Nashotah House board, and I've been eager to meet Nancy because of our mutual interest in walking, at which she has a much more impressive résumé than I do. Tomorrow we're going to take an "us" day and enjoy the area before flying home on Tuesday.