Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Rogation Tuesday

  • Weekly/daily task planning at home.
  • Consulted substantively with the Archdeacon on a couple of ongoing administrative matters.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Consulted briefly with the Administrator on a pending matter.
  • Reviewed an annotated a credit card statement.
  • Handled a short stack of late-breaking emails.
  • Did major surgery on a Pentecost sermon text from many years ago, getting it ready for my visitation to Redeemer, Cairo.
  • Began to turn a developed outline of a Trinity Sunday homily into a rough draft.
  • Lunch at home. Leftover.
  • Devoted a large chunk of the afternoon to finishing the aforementioned Trinity Sunday homily (to be delivered, appropriately enough, at Trinity, Mt Vernon).
  • Lit votive candles in the rear of the cathedral nave, as is my wont when beginning the process of sermon preparation, so as to "cover" the whole endeavor with prayer--two candles, actually, for the Sunday after Trinity (celebrating Corpus Christi), where I am preaching for the rector's final Sunday at the Church of the Holy Communion in Charleston, SC as he retires, and one for the first Sunday in July, when I am preaching at St Stephen's Cathedral in Tabora, Tanzania, as a guest of their triennial diocesan synod.
  • Took a longish walk in a northerly and westerly direction from the office, during which I made extraordinary mental progress in conceiving and hatching the above-mentioned homilies. I finished the walk with a solid sense of direction for both of them, so clear in my mind that was able to quickly commit the thoughts to pixels when I returned to my office.
  • Headed out around 5:20 (offering EP in the car) in a southerly direction. Stopped in Litchfield for a drive-through KFC sandwich and arrived at St Andrew's, Edwardsville in time for a 7pm meeting with their Mission Leadership Team. Their priest-in-charge is retiring at the end of the year, so we had important transitional issues to discuss. Home around 10:15.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Another liturgical, musical, and pastoral feast, this time at Emmanuel, Champaign. So grateful to Mother Beth Maynard her fine leadership there. Lunch following liturgy at the inimitable Black Dog BBQ with Beth and her husband Mark Dirksen, along with Fr Gene and Reba Hall. Home around 2:45.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sermon for Easter VI

Emmanuel, Champaign--John 14:15-21, Acts 17:22-31, I Peter 3:13-22

Many of you know that I am not a cradle Episcopalian. I found Anglican Christianity and the Episcopal Church about 45 years ago, when I was in my early 20s. I was raised in a free-church evangelical tradition, as I suspect some of you were as well. In that environment, there was a pretty strong emphasis on the necessity of having a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ. ” So my attention was arrested recently when I saw a meme on Facebook with a quote from a theologian debunking that notion, saying that Christianity is not about having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. My first visceral response to this was to cringe in horror. I still do have an inner Evangelical, and while this inner Evangelical is duly constrained by my more overt Anglican Catholicism, he is nonetheless capable of raising his voice from time to time.

But, when I clicked on the link itself, I felt much better. It led me to a healthy explanation of the essentially communal nature of Christianity, that the Church is a “we” and an “us,” rather than merely a collection of “I” and “me.” Since this is a Sunday parish congregation and not a seminary class, I won’t use language like “ontological priority” … except, I just did! … and simply say that first there’s the Church, to which individual believers are then joined through baptism, rather than there first being individual believers who come together to form the Church. That might seem like splitting hairs, I suppose, but, when you stop to think about it, it’s really a very counter-cultural assertion, even subversive, perhaps. Modern and post-modern Americans are, if anything, hyper-individualistic. In our culture, everything is, in the end, personal.

This makes living as a traditional Christian challenging, because Christianity is, in essence, a communal affair. Notice the language our Prayer Book uses for the Nicene Creed, even in a Rite One context: “We believe … “ And this sense of communal identity, that believing and living as disciples of Jesus is something we do together, not in individual silos, goes right to the heart of our mission, much of which, as we see in our readings today, is apologetic in nature. Now, that word, “apologetic,” has kind of a peculiar definition in church-speak. It doesn’t mean we think our faith is anything we need to apologize for. Rather, it has to do with making a rational, reasonable, and persuasive defense for what we believe, putting it in a way that an open-minded person would find appealing, intriguing, worth looking into further.

This is exactly what St Peter is doing when he finds himself in Athens, around a bunch of people who are famous for their religious curiosity. He exploits that curiosity by pointing out that they even have a temple dedicated to “the unknown god,” the god they haven’t met yet. He tells them, “That’s the God I’m here to tell you about. I’m here to make the unknown God known!” That ingenious strategy didn’t automatically make them putty in his hands, but it certainly kept their interest enough to maintain the conversation.

Indeed, in his letter to a group of newly-baptized Christians, St Paul tells them to “always be prepared to make a defense” for the hope that lies within them as disciples of Jesus. We are all to be engaged, in one way or another, in the work of Christian apologetics. But it’s certainly not easy, not by any measure. In the language of both the gospel and epistles of St John, we are up against “the world,” which is the expression John uses to denote those who are not disciples of Jesus. And this is precisely where it gets sticky, because the world chooses to “receive” or “not receive” the gospel based on the behavior of those who are proclaiming it. In the eyes of the world—and, I would say, understandably and appropriately so—in the eyes of the world, actions speak more loudly than words. The world is quick to assign guilt by association. The misbehavior of some who profess to be Christians complicates the apologetic task for all.

Plus, there’s also the small matter of persecution in many parts of the world. It hasn’t yet come to overt persecution in our society, but our Christian sisters and brothers in many other countries risk their lives just by coming together for the Eucharist on the Lord’s Day, as we are doing at this moment. Persecution can put quite a damper on apologetics.

So we find Jesus in today’s liturgy speaking into our fear and anxiety over our apologetic task. We’re afraid we don’t have the presence of mind to exploit things like the temple to the unknown god the way Paul did in Athens. We’re afraid that we are not, in fact, prepared to give a plausible defense for our faith the way Peter encourages us to in his first epistle. Jesus comes to us today speaking “y’all” language. He’s not addressing his disciples as individuals, one by one, but as a community, gathered in his presence. He talks to them about something called a Paraclete, which is a Greek word that is not particularly easy to efficiently translate into English. If you look at various Bible translations, you’ll find “comforter,” “advocate,” counselor,” and “helper,” and even that probably doesn’t exhaust the possibilities. The most common interpretation of this passage from John’s gospel is that Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit, and he probably is. But—if you’ll allow me to make an adjective out of a noun—“parakletic” ministry is not limited to the Holy Spirit. Jesus is himself a paraclete; he says, “If you love me, keep my commandments, and I will send you another paraclete.”

It is “parakletic” ministry, then, whether we’re talking about the Holy Spirit, or one of the other Persons of the Trinity, or just God in general—it is parakletic ministry that resources us in our apologetic endeavors. The advocate, the comforter, the counselor, the helper—this is how our witness as disciples of Jesus to his resurrection, and to his lordship over heaven and earth, is made winsome and attractive and even compelling to those who are searching for deep meaning and purpose in their lives.

But here’s the catch: Everything about the Paraclete depends on our sticking together, being a community rather than just an aggregation of individuals. Jesus says, “keep my commandments.” To most English speakers, that sounds something like, “Obey the rules I lay down for you.” Well, not very many people like rules, particularly those in my Baby Boomer generation. That’s a pretty shaky start to engaging in the task of apologetics. But, according to those who know what they’re talking about with respect to New Testament Greek, “commandment” doesn’t so much mean “rule” as “word” or “words,” and might be best understood as an intense relationship of the community to God the Father, through God the Son, in the power of God the Holy Spirit. And sticking together, being in a communal relationship with God in Christ, not just a bunch of personal relationships with God in Christ, this is part of the “keeping” that Jesus has in mind when he says, “keep my commandments.” And this is not just for the sake of the individual Christians who succeed in sticking together; it’s for the sake of their mission, God’s own mission, which is the Church’s mission. In other words, stick together, and in your sticking together, “the world”—you remember the world, not naturally friendly territory for disciples of Jesus—stick together and the world will see God.

It is precisely through life in community that the Church is able to fulfill her mission of proclaiming the good news of God in Christ to the world. This is why fragmentation among Christians—the various “brand names” under which we operate—is so injurious to our mission, and why ecumenism, efforts toward full visible unity, is so vital. God the Son, whom we know as Jesus, God in human flesh—God the Son in his role as paraclete reveals God the Father to us through the mediation of the “other” paraclete, God the Holy Spirit.

And never are we closer to this nonstop transactional energy than when we are gathered at the altar for the celebration of the Eucharist. We offer ourselves, our souls and bodies, represented by bread and wine, to the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. God returns those gifts to us as God’s own life, the Body and Blood of the Son, made effective for us through the Spirit. And this is something we can only do together, not by our individual selves. Together, we have all we need to bear compelling witness to a broken world. Alleluia and Amen.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Saturday (St Alcuin)

Up and out in a relatively laid-back fashion, in time to show up at the office for the 10am regular meeting of the Commission on Ministry. I didn't have to be there, strictly speaking, but I nearly always find that there's some small contribution I can make that makes me really glad I came. The agenda was pretty light today, with a candidacy-level interview with someone headed toward being a deacon later this year. Afterward, I took the opportunity to do some check-in/catch-up work with one of the clerical members of the COM. The afternoon featured a good long walk, and some more work with data entry in Gnosis. (We now have most of the church musicians in the diocese in our database.) The evening saw me making the oh-so-familiar drive to Champaign, where I'm hunkered down at the Hilton Garden Inn ahead of tomorrow's visitation to Emmanuel.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Friday (St Dunstan)

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral around 8:45.
  • Spent the next hour or so prepared for the 10am Diocesan Council Eucharist as well as the meeting itself. We duly kep the lesser feast of St Dunstan.
  • Presided over the regular quarterly meeting of the Council. Yes, it was pretty mundane, and I realize people drove a long way for a meeting that was over in well under an hour. Yet, there is something salutary about voting to approve the minutes of the previous meeting and hearing a report from the Treasurer on diocesan finances. Those small things are part of the network of transparency and accountability that enable us to trust one another enough to pursue the mission of the church together. Driving to Springfield to vote Yes on accepting the Treasurer's report is, in its own way, an act of faithful discipleship.
  • Post-meeting, met briefly an informally with the Chancellor, the Archdeacon, and the Treasurer (in his capacity as Senior Warden at Christ the King, Normal).
  • Took some administrative steps in the direction of making the transition to having a Communications Coordinator on board.
  • Lunch from McD's, eaten at home.
  • Did a major chunk of liturgy planning and prep for the St Michael's Youth Conference.
  • Prayed the Glorious Mysteries of the rosary in the cathedral.
  • Reviewed my notes, organized my thoughts, and established a sense of direction toward the production of a book review that I owe The Living Church.
  • Worked on entering names and contact info for parish musicians into Gnosis. I'm getting the hang of it.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Entertained, along with Brenda, a candidate for a clergy vacancy in the diocese and his wife.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Thursday

  • Extended treadmill workout, which, because of some domestic exigencies, was tardy getting started.
  • After breakfast and task planning at home, I was in the office around 10:30. Both iterations of the Daily Office kind of fell through the cracks today.
  • Via phone and email, made some progress on hotel arrangements in Tabora, Tanzania. It's rather more complicated that accessing the Hilton Honors system (he said ruefully).
  • Made reservations (using said Hilton Honors system) for my personal accommodations during the St Michael's Youth Conference.
  • While on a roll, called and made dinner reservations for tomorrow evening, when we are entertaining a candidate for a vacant clergy position.
  • Used the phone once again to schedule an appointment with my primary care physician.
  • Home for lunch. Leftovers.
  • Caught up with some late-breaking emails.
  • Attended via email to a small matter pertaining to our relationship with the Diocese of Tabora.
  • Produced and posted this theological/pastoral reflection on the significance of the Dismissal in the celebration of the Eucharist. It's destiny involves the next edition of the Springfield Current.
  • Developed and presented an offer by email to the finalist in our search for a Communications Coordinator. She accepted and will be starting June 1. Details and formal announcement to follow.
  • Wrestled with the Gnosis for Nonprofits database system, in the ongoing attempt to actually put it to use. The effort was complicated by the fact that I use a Mac and need to use Windows-emulated software when accessing Gnosis. User unfamiliarity was the major culprit. Happy to report that significant progress was made.
  • Left for home around 5:45.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Wednesday

  • Task planning and Morning Prayer at home (while awaiting the arrival of an electrician for some minor work).
  • Personal devotions in the cathedral (Regina Coeli and intercessory prayer).
  • Reviewed and lightly tweaked the draft evaluation of the Dean of Nashotah House. Attached it to an email memo to the other members of the Board of Directors, in which I addressed a range of concerns that will be on our radar when we meet the week after next.
  • Took about a 25 minute walk in territory northwest of the office.
  • Processed a couple of late-arriving fairly urgent emails.
  • Set to the task of making hotel reservation in Tabora, Tanzania for the early July visit of a delegation from the diocese. This is not as simple as it sounds, as our host bishop recommends a change from where we stayed before, and it seemed prudent to do some internet sleuthing. Interrupted at various times by urgent emails.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Took a call from a lay leader in one of our Eucharistic Communities.
  • Consulted with some interested parties and made a decision re the hotel in Tabora. Left a message on their internet portal. We'll see what happens ... and when.
  • Pushed the ball down the field just a bit toward the hiring of a Communicator.
  • Attended to a small bit of different administrivia pertaining to the Tabora trip.
  • Took a brisk walk in brisk wind, north to Capitol Street, east to Eighth, then down past the Lincoln home to Cass, and back west, with some zigs and zags, to Second.
  • Turned my attention for the rest of the afternoon to my homily for Trinity Sunday (to be delivered, appropriately enough, at Trinity Church in Mt Vernon), building out the message statement I articulated last week into a fully-plotted outline.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.