Archives: Proper 17

Jesus, The Beastie Boys, and Emily Post

When I was a teenager, I used to collect etiquette books. 

You could find me hunting them down in thrift shops and used book stores, and I scoured the library for more, books from the 1960s all the way back to the 1890s. 

All of them had rules, and I loved rules.  I’m probably letting you too far into my psyche by revealing this, but I am the original Goody Two-Shoes.  I never met a standard I didn’t love achieving or a rule I didn’t love following.  My older and younger sisters were the rebels and I was the good girl.  And when I finished following all the regular rules of home and school, I wanted more.  I didn’t just read Emily Post, I wanted to be her.

Of course, looking back, what I really wanted was a sense of security. 

As a teenager growing up in a conflicted environment, I wanted some way to make sense of it.  Those etiquette books spoke to me of a beautiful, refined world, where everyone always knew the right thing to say, where there was always an easily defined right thing to do, and people were kind and considerate. 

I imagined myself going to elegant parties in floor-length dresses and knowing the complex codes of when to drop a glove to catch a young man’s attention or flutter my fan to send a message across a crowded room.  When I got caught up in junior high mean girls scenarios, I could always go back to my etiquette books and imagine myself in a world where everyone was kind and everyone was polite.

So imagine my delight to find Jesus dedicating an entire set of teachings to etiquette at parties!  Jesus understands that there is a right way and a wrong way to do things in social interaction. 

But if Jesus wrote in to Emily Post, I’m not sure she would agree with his rules of etiquette. 

Continue reading

Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall

Listen to these three quotes and tell me which one is the most familiar to you.

“For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.”

“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.”

“Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”

I’m guessing that in that order, those quotes go from least familiar, to somewhat familiar, to very familiar.

That’s right, in order of importance, or at least exposure, a Disney movie takes number one, followed by the First Letter to the Corinthians, and then our text appointed for today, the Letter of James.

That verse from James captured my attention this week, and I’ve thought a lot about mirrors.

Human beings have always longed to know what they look like, how others see them.  The seeming magic of being able to see one’s reflection has led to myths connecting mirrors to the soul.

Different cultures have attached different superstitions to mirrors, for example that breaking one creates seven years of bad luck, or that all the mirrors in the house must be covered when someone dies so that the departing soul doesn’t get trapped in one by the Devil.  Vampires, the undead, supposedly lack a reflection in a mirror.

The ancient Greek myth of Narcissus tells the story of a beautiful youth who, upon glimpsing his own likeness in water, falls in love with his own reflection and wastes away to death.

Narcissus is where we get the modern psychological concept of narcissism, which is all too relevant in our current social and political climate. The ancient Greeks, as much as both they and the Romans loved mirrors, saw their dangers. 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

God’s Love Is Not Really Like You Think It Is

Margery Kempe, the great medieval English mystic, experienced God saying to her: “More pleasing to me than all your prayers, works, and penances is that you would believe I love you.”

That is what our scriptures are about today, exemplified first in our text from Song of Solomon, which is most frequently used at weddings.

This is only time in the entire 3-year cycle of the lectionary that we read the Song of Solomon in worship, the book of the Bible that’s basically an ode to erotic love.

It’s a text about raw passion for the Beloved, and it may seem somewhat distant from how we experience God.

But nothing could be farther from the truth.

The dual forces of Western puritanism and modern scientific cold skepticism have driven out much of the spectrum of love in our relationship with God.

We are only allowed to glimpse a formal, distant, dignified love for standing up in church, and maybe a little hint of the love of a parent for a child.

It turns out there’s a lot more to it than that. Continue reading

Beyond the Wilderness, The Burning Voice of God

The story of Moses and the burning bush has me riveted just as it always has.

It’s a rich image throughout art and movies, and we think of the great quotes of the story, such as God’s commandment to remove our shoes because we are on holy ground, and God naming Godself as the Great I AM.

But when we go back and read the story carefully, there’s always some little detail that we hadn’t seen before that opens up new insight into the story and its meanings.  That’s part of the richness of scripture.

The part that caught me this time around was the very first sentence: “Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.”

“He led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.”

That is one of the finest pieces of foreshadowing I have ever read.

Because it’s not just some literary device put in by a clever author.

God is helping Moses complete his mission before he’s even begun it.

Let me explain. Continue reading