Archives: Proper 21

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

Banned Books, Banned People, Banned God

The Washington D.C. public library system has done a fabulous project this year for Banned Books Month.

They have constructed a scavenger hunt for banned books all around the city.

They’ve taken books banned by various jurisdictions over the years and put fake covers on them. These covers are plastered with labels that state the grounds for having banned them.

So for example, J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye has a cover that says “ANTI-WHITE,” because that is why it was banned in Columbus, Ohio in 1963.

A Separate Peace by John Knowles has a cover that reads “FILTHY TRASHY SEX NOVEL.”

Who wouldn’t want to read that?

It’s a fun project that draws attention to a serious issue. Censorship is alive and well all around the world today.

For centuries regimes, governments and dominant majorities have tried to maintain oppressive statuses quo by controlling what people read and see and hear.

And if they control what we read and see and hear, they can control what we think and do.

It’s very comfortable to place all blame and responsibility for censorship on some far-off blank-faced Big Brother figure we call “The System.”

But a dear clergy friend of mine asked me a painfully insightful question as we talked about the gospel lesson this week.

“Aren’t we censoring our own worlds all the time? Isn’t that what the rich man in the story was doing his whole life?” Continue reading

The Road to Heaven is Made of Band-aids and Duct Tape

I’ll admit that at first blush this gospel reading does not seem like “Good News” but instead “Confusing and Rather Alarming News.”

All of Jesus’ talk of cutting off hands and feet makes me a little edgy.

And by the time we get to the worm that never dies and the unquenchable fire, I’m squirming in my seat.

The bit about stumbling blocks brings back embarrassing memories.

I was an incurable klutz as a child.

Despite years of ballet lessons I continued to knock over lamps and crash into furniture until the immortal morning of the first day of my freshman year of high school when I opened the car door and promptly fell directly onto the ground in front of all my new classmates.

To add insult to injury later that same first day of high school—and I am not making this up—I fell over a rack of music stands in the hallway during passing period after fourth hour.

I went to lunch in tears, convinced I would be known for the rest of high school as that weird girl who falls all the time.

Luckily now I can hide my clumsiness most of the time but I still have the ability to wreak havoc both on my surroundings and my body.

Suffice it to say that if I took Jesus’ instructions literally about severing body parts every time they caused me to stumble I would be completely without extremities, missing my eyes, and probably bald since when I wore my hair long, I routinely shut it in car doors.

Those of us prone to tripping and falling get a little worried when the Christian life is described as a journey or path and Jesus himself is called the Way.

And yet who has ever walked the Christian path without stumbling? Continue reading

The Adventure of the Undergrad Weekend Monastics

Changing our minds.  That’s not something we look on favorably.

In politics, if someone changes his or her mind on an issue, that person is labeled with the unflattering term “flip-flopper.”

We equate changing our minds with being indecisive, weak, unable to plant ourselves on firm ground and stand up for what’s right.

I think all the bluster around changing our minds is probably covering up a deeper simple fear of change.

The chief priests and elders are certainly stuck there in our gospel story this morning.

They feel like they have to defend the integrity of their tradition and hierarchy against Jesus, a stranger who is coming in and offering the word of God  and healing people without permission from anyone.

They can’t change their minds in front of the crowd.

They can’t look weak and indecisive by admitting they were wrong about John the Baptist.

But they do end up looking weak as they fall neatly into their own trap that they had set for Jesus.

Jesus is recommending that we change our minds, and he tells us a parable about it.  We have the one son who says he’ll help but doesn’t, and the son who says he won’t help in the vineyard but changes his mind and goes and does it.

Everyone immediately understands which son did the will of his father.

“Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.’”

“You did not change your minds,” Jesus says.

You saw something great, but you did not allow it to act upon you and change your mind. Continue reading