Archives: Ordinary Time

1789: Idols and Identity

How do we communicate to ourselves and to the world who we are as a community?

As we think about this question, we notice an interesting intersection between our passage from Exodus and our use today of the 1789 Book of Common Prayer for our worship.

The 1789 BCP was the first prayerbook by Americans, for Americans.

Many of the founders of our republic were Anglicans, including George Washington, and they quickly realized that they needed ecclesiastical independence along with political independence. Church leaders began convening in 1785 to compile a new prayerbook.

The American Revolution had ended two years earlier, in 1783. The new nation was now at peace, but had to create its own economic and political stability.

The Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia would not convene until 1787, and the constitution would not be ratified and go into effect until 1789.

So for those who were involved or affected by all three events, it went in the following order: war, prayerbook, constitution. Interesting.

So what we have is a people in violent crisis, trying to escape from what to them was a foreign oppressor in Great Britain.

That’s a situation not unlike the Israelites in our Exodus text today.

They have been delivered from enslavement, but have found that their troubles are only beginning.

They need something to unify them, something to express their identity, something to say who they are now that they are free.

For American Anglicans, that was the new Book of Common Prayer, the very one we’re using today.

For Americans broadly, that was the U.S. Constitution.

For the Israelites, as we read last week, that was the 10 Commandments.

These are documents that express identity.

They are documents that prescribe behavior, and by doing so set up a set of aspirations of how we are to live together.

They say who we are by saying how we would like to behave.

But it’s more complicated than that. Continue reading

1928, 2017, 10

Today we’re starting our Historic Liturgies project at St. Francis.

We really started it last week with the 1979 prayerbook liturgy that we use every week, but that’s so familiar it doesn’t really count.

This is the first week we’ll really strike out to try something different with our 1928 prayerbook liturgy.

Next week we’ll do 1789, then 1662, and finally 1549, the first Book of Common Prayer compiled by Cranmer himself.

Robert and I have collaborated on this project, and we’ve had to shorten most of the liturgies a bit.

The older prayerbooks had long, long exhortations to communion. This goes back to the days when lay people were not used to receiving communion more than once or twice a year and had to be encouraged by the priest to come to the altar.

One bit we took out this week which I’ve since realized we really should have kept in, was the Decalogue.

The Decalogue is the recitation of the 10 Commandments in worship, and it used to be at the beginning of every service of Holy Communion.

This goes back to the days when most people were illiterate, and Cranmer and his associates hoped that hearing the 10 Commandments at the beginning of every service would help people learn and memorize them.

In the 1662 rubrics, the priest is instructed to “rehearse distinctly all the 10 Commandments,”—make sure they really hear it!

We took it out this week to shorten the service, but you’ll see we’ll have a chance to reflect on it anyway because it is our scripture today from Exodus.

A colleague told me this week of a fascinating interpretation of the 10 Commandments he read that I’d like to share with you. “At the Red Sea, God took the Israelites out of Egypt. At Mount Sinai, God took Egypt out of the Israelites.”

Wow! Isn’t that an interesting thought? Continue reading

What Are We Even Doing Here?

Do you know what the “canon within the canon” is?

When we talk about the “canon of scripture,” we simply mean the texts that we rely on as authoritative—the books that got picked to be in the Bible.

And the Bible is so large and complex that it is impossible to mentally hold the gist of every single chapter and verse. And so we have what we call “the canon within the canon.”

The canon within the canon is the scripture texts that speak to your heart with greatest depth.

They’re your favorites, the ones you come back to time and again, knowing they’ll have something new to say to you every time.

They’re the ones that come to your mind in times of darkness and times of joy, to give you strength and to express your exuberance in praise of God.

My canon within the canon contains some classics, like the Beatitudes (Blessed are the poor in spirit) and the Magnificat (My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord).

Many of the psalms are in my canon within the canon, and some bits of Isaiah, the gospels and the epistles.

But today’s passage from Philippians is one of my all time top five Bible texts.

It expresses to me everything I need to know about Jesus, and everything I need to know about what Jesus is asking me to do. Continue reading

Forgiveness at the Red Sea

I do love Peter. I always have.

He has rare moments of radiant faith, naming Jesus as the Christ, walking to Jesus on the water, and so forth.

But most of the time, he’s putting his foot in it.

He’s revealing, God love him, how very much he is not picking up what Jesus is putting down. And I 100% identify with him in that.

I’m always so grateful for Peter’s dumb moments, because they make me feel less alone in my own dumb moments.

So what is Peter’s mistake in our gospel lesson today?

He is trying to quantify grace.

He wants to know exactly how many times he is required to forgive fellow church-members.

Is seven times sufficient? I mean, forgiving someone seven times does seem adequate, even generous.

If we’re patient and compassionate with someone who has hurt us seven times, that would surely be more than enough to fulfill any requirements.

But that is exactly what is wrong with Peter’s approach.

Life in the church is not about fulfilling requirements.

It’s not about checking off boxes for how many times we forgive someone, how many times we care for someone in need, how many times we practice a virtue like gentleness or self-control.

And Jesus tells Peter that he’s in entirely the wrong frame of reference.

He says we must forgive seventy times seven times, which is really saying we must forgive an infinite number of times.

Because as we said, it’s not about keeping count.

If we’re still keeping count in our relationships, we’re sowing the seeds of their destruction.

Anyone who has been through a bad breakup knows this.

When you’re first in love, you forgive little faults and forgettings easily and joyfully.

But as the bloom wears off, you start to keep count in your mind—how many times they forget to take out the garbage, how many times they turn up the radio too loud, how many times you put away the dishes by yourself without help, how many times you pick their laundry up off the floor.

This kind of keeping count leads to keeping score.

You store up ammunition against your partner.

You fight dirty in arguments, bringing up old mistakes and transgressions in new conflicts.

When that happens, you know the break-up or divorce is not far away.

And it all started with keeping count. Continue reading

What Jesus Is Really Saying About Church Conflict

Church conflict is nothing new.

Sometimes people think there should be no conflict in church, as though by virtue of being Christians we can and should cover over all disagreements with niceness.

Jesus in his teaching in our gospel lesson today seems to proceed on the baseline assumption that conflict in Christian community is normal and natural, and should be dealt with honestly and with compassion.

As we all know, honesty and compassion are all too rarely the watchwords of our church conflicts.

Many times anger, hurt feelings, and lack of clear communication drive us toward either sweeping everything under the rug to keep the peace, or openly hostile entrenched positions that lead to explosions and people leaving the church permanently.

The result is either a Body of Christ pristine on the outside but riddled with the disease and rot of resentment on the inside, or an openly dismembered and bleeding Body of Christ hemorrhaging members and vitality.

There must be another way. Continue reading

Life and Death Are Not Opposites

We live our lives by signs and symbols.

When we see a red octagonal sign with white lettering on it, we know it means stop.

When we see a rectangle with a blue square covered in white stars adjacent to white and red horizontal stripes, we know it means America.

When we see the double golden arches, we know it means hamburgers of dubious quality.

But as people of faith, our understanding of the symbolic universe goes much deeper than public safety, patriotism, or advertising.

God communicates to us through signs and symbols.

And in our walk with Christ, God is through our prayer and service helping us take these symbols deeper into our hearts until we ourselves become living signs and symbols of God’s love.

That is the journey these two children, Austin and Carter, are beginning today with their baptism.

And what we discover very rapidly in the life of faith is that God’s symbols are often ambiguous.

The images we take to our hearts, that we know will change us if we are faithful to how they point to God, cut both ways.

That jumped out at me so dramatically as I thought about water this week.

The images of homes and people drowning in water in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey are at war with our beautiful sacrament of baptism that we celebrate today.

For the people of southeast Texas and Louisiana, right now water means death and loss and fear. For those of us celebrating baptism with joy, water means life and rebirth and hope.

How do we reconcile that juxtaposition? Continue reading

The Path of Totality

I regret to inform you that from the backyard of St. Francis In-The-Fields Episcopal Church in Zionsville, Indiana, the eclipse was a total bust.

I didn’t do any real prep for it, to tell you the truth. I didn’t buy any glasses, or even make one of those homemade cereal box viewers.

My parents’ house in Missouri was in the perfect spot to see the complete eclipse, and they and my sisters and all their kids were gathering to have a party for it. I guess I was bummed that I wouldn’t be a part of it and was kind of cranky about the whole thing.

But that morning I did look up when the 93% bit that would be visible in Indianapolis would come through, 2:28 p.m., and I dutifully went outside at 2:24 p.m.

I was mostly hoping to view the effects on the environment around me, since I wasn’t prepared to be able to see the eclipse itself.

I thought it might get dark, even drop a few degrees in temperature. I carefully watched shadows to look for changes, and tried to see if I got the heebie-jeebies.

Well, it was a total zero.

There were clouds coming across the sky the whole time, and even when the clouds dissipated briefly, nothing seemed to change.

It was like a normal partly cloudy day all the way through 2:28 p.m. Then I heard my phone ringing and had to run back inside—my boss needed me to check something on my calendar.

The whole thing was significantly underwhelming, to say the least.

But I am 100% in the minority in having had that result.

Everyone else I heard from had dramatic and even life-changing experiences.

One person burst into tears as it happened.

Others were flooded with joy and awe at the miraculous workings of the cosmos.

Many people, including a couple of members of my family, found themselves deeply unsettled and even disturbed by the eclipse.

Some animal part of their brains felt threatened by the most constant and unchanging part of nature, the sun that makes all life possible on our planet, going dark. My mom said she even got lightheaded.

I was fascinated by these accounts, and paradoxically found myself far more interested in the eclipse after it happened than I was before or during. I was so intrigued by these disparate reactions.

And as many people have commented, there also was something healing and hopeful about the unity briefly displayed in a nation so deeply divided.

Even if we went back to shouting at each other a day later, for one brief, dark moment, we all looked at the sky together and held our breath.

There was this narrow path that stretched across the U.S. where the eclipse was total. The sun would be 100% covered by the moon and completely blocked out.

This band was called “The Path of Totality.”

And as I heard the experiences of the people who witnessed it, the joy and fear and awe that washed over them, I realized that “The Path of Totality” is in fact a fantastic image for the gospel life—which Jesus in fact described as a narrow path, just like in the eclipse. Continue reading

Charlottesville: When Forgiveness Is a Trap

Today we’re going to talk about forgiveness. We’re going to talk about what it is and what it’s not.

We’re going to talk about when forgiveness is the combination of hard-won humility and the grace of the Holy Spirit, and when it’s abused as a pacifying and dominating tool to cover up legitimate grievance and sweep conflict under the rug.

We’re going to talk about it in scripture, in our own hearts and lives, and we’re going to talk about it in terms of what happened in Charlottesville.

In the gospels, Jesus talks about forgiveness constantly—on 41 separate occasions in Matthew, Mark, and Luke alone.

The word “forgiveness” appears 46 times in the Hebrew scriptures, and 18 times from Acts through Revelation.

It’s a really important topic in the Bible, and in fact, the very first mention of it in the scriptures is at the end of our incident in Genesis today, when Joseph forgives his brothers.

Joseph’s brothers had plotted to murder him, and only at the last minute were talked into selling him into slavery. They tried to ruin his life, and would have succeeded without God’s intervention.

There are some important parallels here in the historical relationship of White Americans to Black Americans.

So what enabled Joseph to forgive his brothers?

How do we untangle our complicated emotions around justice and peace, reform and reconciliation, when forgiveness is holy and life-giving and when it is a cop-out from conflict?

A big part of the problem is that the Church has told us our whole lives to forgive, but has really never explained how to do it.

“Just forgive,” we’re told. Well, how? Continue reading

Here Comes This Dreamer; Come Now, Let Us Kill Him

Even before the events in Charlottesville this weekend, my attention was snagged by the Genesis text , and I can’t let it go.

There’s something powerful and dark about it that is all too easy to let slide when we could let our attention be drawn by this week’s story of Jesus walking on the water or Paul’s beautiful quote, “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart.”

Genesis 37 is the story of seventeen-year-old Joseph, innocent, naïve, and oblivious to the toxic jealousy he has awakened in his brothers.

He dons his many-colored coat and eagerly sets out to join them with the flocks, unheeding or perhaps unware of how each bright thread reminds his brothers that they are second best.

Their father loves him the most, and they know it.

It’s not Joseph’s fault that Jacob has apparently failed to keep abreast of all the best parenting techniques on whatever passed for the mommy blogs in ancient Israel.

There is a deep history of complex father-son and brother-brother relationships in this family.

Joseph’s father Jacob feuded with his twin brother Esau, jealously conning him out of his birthright.

Joseph’s grandfather, Isaac, was almost murdered by his own father, Abraham, until the Angel of the Lord stayed his hand and provided the ram caught in the thicket for the sacrifice.

Blood means more than heredity in this family.

They seem to dance around shedding one another’s blood in cycles of conflict invested with deep and tangled emotion.

But today it looks like that in this generation, they will finally cross the line and kill one of their own.

“They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him.” Continue reading

Transfiguring Vocation

Today let’s talk about the nature of call.

When people use the word Vocation, you can practically hear the capital “V.”

There is an all-too-persistent notion in the church the vocation is strictly the realm of the ordained clergy.

That is not true! Why do people think that?

For one thing, it’s the legacy of a clericalism that created and reinforced a false specialness in the clergy and placed them above lay people.

I also suspect that for some folks, denying they have vocation can be a helpful way to escape discerning it.

When we do think about vocation as applying to all people, another trap we fall into is elevating it into some sweeping destiny that encompasses one’s whole life.

It’s a similar phenomenon to the One True Love™ school of thought in which there is One Perfect Person for you who will Make All Your Dreams Come True and you will live Happily Ever After. (This is a damaging and limiting paradigm for so many reasons, but that’s another sermon.)

So when we elevate vocation into a Sweeping Destiny of answering God’s call in a noble, heroic, world-saving way, a task that will remain constant and unchanging for an entire lifetime, we’re setting ourselves up for a lot of problems.

First of all, it ignores the potential for vocation to change and evolve over time.

What you are called to do at eighteen may not be the same thing you’re called to do at eighty.

In fact, in the vast majority of cases, it probably shouldn’t be or we need to start asking if you have really opened yourself up to growth over the last six decades.

Next, the Sweeping Destiny model of vocation puts a heck of a lot of pressure on the individual to get it right.

You’d better make sure you don’t have a headache or aren’t too caught up in speculating on your favorite TV show’s plot on the day you commit to your Vocation.

What if you get it wrong? What if you choose the wrong path? Will the Earth crash into the sun? Continue reading