Thursday, March 23, 2017

Thursday (St Gregory the Illuminator)

  • Intended to complete my usual Thursday early morning workout, but my treadmill developed mechanical difficulties midcourse, so I had to add a supplementary afternoon walk.
  • After everything, at the office around 9:45. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Sent emails recruiting people to specific roles in the Chrism Mass.
  • Followed through with a couple of bits of administrivia--one related to Cursillo, one related to Nashotah.
  • Tended by email to some pressing personal/family business for about 25 minutes.
  • More attention to the Chrism Mass: selected the hymns and service music, purchasing three items from RiteSong in the process. Finished a rough draft of the service booklet.
  • Lunch from KFC, eaten at home.
  • Spoke by phone with the Dean of Nashotah House.
  • Spoke by phone (prearranged weeks ago) with a sociologist from Ithaca College in New York. It was an interview for a research project he's working on that looks to document how church communities are dealing with the changes in church and society around same-sex marriage.
  • Paid attention to some organizational details pertaining to our June/July visit to our companion diocese of Tabora (Tanzania).
  • Developed my next Lenten teaching series presentation to the "rough notes" stage, available for further development and refinement next week.
  • Walked laps around the interior of the cathedral for about 20 minutes to get to my 10,000 step goal.
  • Opened the file on sermon prep for Easter VI (May 21 at Emmanuel, Champaign)--said my prayers and took an initial pass at the readings, making a few tentative notes.
  • Evening Prayer in the office.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Wednesday (James DeKoven)

  • Usual AM routine. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Made preparations (which mostly consisted of identifying and printing out the readings) to preside and preach at the midday Mass.
  • Attended to a small bit of business related to the fall clergy conference (in November).
  • Refined the rough preparations I made last week for tonight's Lenten series presentation at the cathedral, and printed out my working notes.
  • Midday walk: Up Spring to Monroe, west to Walnut, down to Lawrence, and back to the ranch.
  • Began (hand-)writing notes to clergy and spouses with birthdays and anniversaries in April.
  • Celebrated and preached the midday Mass.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Spoke by phone with the secretary of the Nashotah House board ahead of next week's conference call board meeting.
  • Returned to the note-writing task, and finished it.
  • Gave a close look at the latest liturgy booklet draft for Saturday's ordination. It was AOK, and I printed out a copy and placed it in a ceremonial binder for my own use.
  • Spoke by phone with one of our rectors over an emerging strategic issue.
  • Made lodging arrangements for a trip to Cincinnati in May for a Forward Movement board meeting.
  • Inquired re lodging arrangements at Nashotah House for the May board meeting.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral, a bit on the early side.
  • Afternoon walk: East on Canedy to Fifth, up to Capital, over to Second, and back down. 
  • Wrestled with my personal and exegetical notes on the propers for Easter III (at St Bart's, Granite City) and distilled my simple declarative sentence message statement.
  • Read and replied to an Ember Day letter from one of our postulants.
  • Had supper with the cathedral folks and delivered my third Lenten series teaching presentation.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Tuesday (Thomas Ken)

  • Task planning for the day and for the week at home.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Devoted a chunk of time to various planning details for this year's Chrism Mass (the Saturday before Palm Sunday).
  • Registered for a conference that I thought I had already registered for. But I apparently hadn't.
  • Took care of a small bit of clergy deployment business.
  • Began working on a final working text for this Sunday's homily (Christ the King, Normal).
  • Took a brisk walk up Second to Capitol, over the Fifth, then down to Canedy and back to Second. My FitBit continues to be a motivating taskmaster.
  • Took a look at a draft of the liturgy booklet for this Saturday's ordination to the diaconate. Made a few tweaks.
  • Continued working on the sermon, and brought that task to completion.
  • Sat down with the chair of the Audit Committee to debrief on where we are with that work.
  • Lunch from Twyford's BBQ (pulled pork), eaten at home.
  • Attended to a handful of substantive items pertaining to our companion diocese relationship with Peru. They are suffering mightily from some torrential rainfall that is outside the parameters of their climate. Flooding, mudslides, and the like. The food supply is imperiled.
  • Reviewed next month's Sunday visitation schedule and made a few notes.
  • Afternoon walk: Canedy to Fifth, down to South Grand, back over to Second and up.
  • Further refined the draft Communications Officer job description. I believe we have it in (relatively) final form now.
  • Attended via email to some business pertaining to the Department of Mission.
  • Attended via email to some Living Church Foundation business.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Third Sunday in Lent

Here I am at coffee hour at St Christopher's in Rantoul, with Priest-in-Charge Fr Steve Thorp and Deacon Ann Alley. For the first time in any of my visits there, I think, I was considerably older than the median age, as several members of a Boy Scout troop that used to be sponsored by St Christopher's, and is currently led by parishioners, were in attendance.

Sermon for III Lent

St Christopher's, Rantoul--John 43:5-42, Exodus 17:1-7

I would suspect that most of you here are not so young that you can’t remember the three Indiana Jones movies from the 80s. Some time ago I found myself watching, on television, the last of the three, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  It's the one where Indiana Jones and his father join in the same search that lies behind the legend of King Arthur: the quest for the Holy Graal, the chalice used by our Lord at the Last Supper. The final approach to the cave where the Holy Graal had lain hidden for the past several centuries required the seeker to solve a complex riddle. Only by successfully solving this riddle could he avoid falling victim to a series of deadly booby-traps.

What a wonderful metaphor this is for the way most people—including most Christians—conceive of their relationship with God. Much of the time we behave as though God's grace—God's favor, God's benevolent disposition towards us—is like the Holy Graal—the object of a quest, the reward for solving a riddle. This is a false and dangerous misconception, but it is so deeply ingrained in the way we think and feel that, try as we might, we don't let go of it very easily. It’s the default mode of our imaginations, the way we're naturally inclined. 

There is, of course, a perversion of the gospel in the opposite direction. I don't think this tendency is as common as the one we've just been talking about, but it's equally dangerous. In this view, God's grace is not like the Holy Graal, a reward for great effort, but like the beads, doubloons, cups, and other trinkets that are thrown from a Mardi Gras float down in New Orleans. God doles out his grace whimsically and capriciously. If I happen to be standing where some of it falls, then “lucky me.” But I just have to take it when it comes; I can't plan on it or count on it.

The problem with either of these theologies is that they describe a God who isn't there when you need him! When adversity strikes—and let's face it, we live most our lives in some form, some degree, of adversity—when adversity strikes, we want to know where God is!  We need his grace and favor. But if God's grace and favor is something we need to jump through 99 hoops to earn, and we've only jumped through 98, we've got a problem. And if God's grace is just scattered randomly, we've also got a problem. 

We've got the same problem that the people of Israel had when they'd been in the desert for a little while, and the supply of water that they'd carried with them in their flight from slavery in Egypt began to give out. They were hot. They were thirsty. Their lips were beginning to crack. The children were starting to complain, and the sheep and goats were getting antsy. They were fearful, and they grumbled. One can certainly understand their feelings. Water is something so basic that we take it for granted ... until, that is, we have to do without it. Then we get real grumpy real fast.

Jesus walked into a Samaritan village one day and sent his disciples off to run some errands. It was warm, and he was tired and thirsty. He made his way over to a well, and asked the woman he saw there for a drink. Now, even if you didn't pay attention to this story when it was read from St John's gospel a few minutes ago, you probably noticed that it was long. And if you did pay attention, you noticed that it was complex, a conversation that changes directions several times. It's an incredibly rich narrative, a veritable goldmine of insight into the nature of the gospel and God's ways with humankind. And the bottom line of this rich and complex dialogue is that God's grace is as ubiquitous to our spirits as water is to our bodies. 

I love that word —“ubiquitous.” It's one of those words that was never on my high school English vocabulary lists, so I made it into adult life and earned two college degrees without ever really knowing what it meant. I finally looked it up! It means “ever-present,” something we're always running into, something that's so much a part of the fabric of our lives that we take it for granted.

Water is ubiquitous. Thirst is a powerful sensation, more powerful even than hunger, because we can survive without food a lot longer than we can without water. But when we're thirsty, water quenches that thirst completely and nothing quenches thirst like water. Water is basic. Spiritual thirst is also a powerful sensation, and the living water of God's grace is ubiquitously present to quench that thirst. 

Water is not only useful when we're thirsty, but also when we're dirty. It washes away that which is not permanently a part of us and exposes that which is. Sometimes it lets us know just how much dirt was there that we weren't even aware of. Have you ever used a carpet cleaner, and been horrified by the opaque blackness of the water when you dump it at the end of the job? I've thought, “I knew the carpet was dirty, but I really had no idea!” 

The living water of God's grace does the same thing. It not only washes our sins away, but it exposes them in the process, letting us know just how serious they are. In the course of their conversation, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman to go get her husband. She replies that she has no husband, and he says, “I know—you’ve had five husbands, but the man you're with now isn't one of them!” God's ubiquitous grace gently calls us to face and deal with those issues in our lives, those barriers of our own making, that are separating us from his love. 

Water also renews us emotionally. The people of Israel were not only thirsty and dirty in the desert. They were frightened and despondent. When Moses struck that rock with his staff, and streams of water gushed out of it, my bet is that they not only drank from it and washed themselves in it, but that they played in it, laughed in it, splashed around in it. The water from the rock raised their morale and lifted their spirits. It gave them the emotional strength to continue their journey. 

The living water of God's ubiquitous grace gives us the spiritual strength to continue our journeys. It renews our hope. It gives us the confidence that, even in the middle of our troubles, even in the midst of adversity, God is present, aware of our needs and faithful in meeting them.

Finally, water sustains our lives. You know, our bodies—all living things, for that matter— are mostly water, aren't they?  Compare in your mind's eye the relative sizes of a grape and a raisin, or a plum and a prune, and you'll see the difference that water makes. In order to sustain the life of the body, we need to drink water frequently and abundantly. The same applies to the life of the spirit. 

When the Samaritan woman went and told her friends and family about her conversation with Jesus, St John tells us that many of them “believed in him because of the woman's testimony...”. Eventually, they went right to the source and met Jesus himself, and their faith was confirmed: “...we have heard for ourselves,” they said, “and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.” They had tasted the living water for themselves, and they knew that it would be available frequently and abundantly to sustain their lives of faith not only on that day, but through all their days.

When we encounter Jesus, and recognize him as the source of our lives, we tap into the stream of God's ubiquitous grace of which the water from Moses' rock is a wonderful foreshadowing. Then we know God's grace to be not like the Holy Graal, something we must solve a riddle to get. We know God's favor to be not like Mardi Gras beads, something that we may, but probably will not, be lucky enough to be standing under when it falls. Rather, we know God's benevolent disposition towards us to be like water: ubiquitous, all around us, impossible to escape from. Then, when we enter the desert of adversity, whether it's the adversity of a flat tire or the adversity of a terminal illness, we will know that God has not abandoned us, and will be with us as we pass through it until we reach the oasis on the other side. And while we're there in the oasis of prosperity and peace, we'll know that that too is none other than the product of God's ubiquitous grace, the living water that quenches our thirst, exposes and rinses away our sin, lifts our spirits, and sustains our lives. We will know that, in adversity and in prosperity, our lives are hid with God in Christ, and that all will be well. Amen.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Saturday

Compulsive exercise in the morning. A dozen or so work-related tasks on the afternoon, the largest of which was the drafting of a 1500 work article about my Camino experience for a magazine focused on health issues in a church context.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Friday (St Patrick)

  • Task planning at home, Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Yet more consultation with the Archdeacon on insurance issues.
  • Phoned my doctor's office to arrange a prescription refill.
  • Read and responded to a couple of Ember Day letters from seminarians. Saw to a small bit of related administrative work.
  • Reworked an old sermon for Lent IV and repurposed it for use at Christ the King, Normal on the 26th.
  • Took a brisk constitutional down Spring Street, over to Second, and back up to the office. Spoke by phone to one of our clergy on an emerging pastoral/administrative issue while doing this. Yes ... synergy.
  • Attended briefly to another small administrative concern.
  • Began rough prep on my next Lenten teaching series presentation at the cathedral.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Finished the aforementioned Lenten teaching series work.
  • Conferred briefly with the Dean on a couple small matters.
  • Conferred briefly with the directress of the cathedral Altar Guild on a couple of small matters.
  • Spoke by phone once again with the priest I had talked to in the morning.
  • Took my homiletical message statement for Lent V and teased it out into a plotted outline from which I can create a draft text next week.
  • Took another brisk walk, this time west to Walnut, north to Edwards, back over the Second and down to the office. This Fitbit is making an exercise fiend out of me.
  • Friday prayer: Spent a "holy hour" (literally, more like a "holy 35 minutes") in silent prayer in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. While I was there, prayed the evening office, just a bit early.
  • Consulted commentaries on the readings for Easter III, in preparation for preaching at St Bartholomew's, Granite City on April 30.
  • Dashed off an email to a prospective candidate for a parish vacancy.