Archives: Proper 23

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

Being Gratitude

Today I want to put two things together that might seem an odd match: healing and stewardship.

How do they fit together? Well, let’s turn to our gospel story from Luke and see what we can find out.

We read of ten lepers who band together and seek healing from Jesus.

The number ten in the Bible signifies completeness—think of the ten plagues of Egypt, the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb on the tenth day of the month, or the Ten Commandments.

So we could read the ten lepers as representing a complete picture of humankind.

That’s a bit jarring, isn’t it?

Even today, we would think of lepers as “the other,” someone different than we are.

We know that leprosy in the Bible could represent any number of different medical conditions, but these people were ostracized from society, driven out and forced to live in sub-standard, isolated conditions.

When we think of lepers in the Bible, we are likely to think, “Those poor people. That’s awful.”

We are not so likely to think, “That’s me. I’m a leper. I need healing.”

But that’s exactly where I want us to go. Continue reading

How to Fit Through the Eye of a Needle

This weekend is when I led the retreat for the undergraduate course I teach at the University of Indianapolis.

Last year it was kind of a big flop.

I have been a church nerd my entire life, and I often forget that not everyone else is.

“Go away in the woods and think about God in silence for two days? Sounds awesome!” I say.

That’s not what the undergrads said last year.

So the course I’m teaching is called Monasticism, New Monasticism, and Rule of Life.

For the retreat, I decided to have them live a day in the life of a monastic, praying the monastic offices in community, etc., according to the rule of St. Benedict that they had studied.

You can imagine the reaction of these college students when I told them they were going to be monks and nuns for a weekend. Continue reading

The Dog Ate God’s Homework

“The dog ate my homework.”

This familiar phrase is one of the most classic examples of avoiding responsibility for a stupid action. But it points to a very human trait that gets the better of all of us at one point or another.

There are various ways of describing it. There is a phrase that originated in Chinese culture that we now take for granted in English: saving face.

There are actions that are taken in order to save face, sometimes called cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face or shooting oneself in the foot.

The basic idea is that we, as human beings, will do almost anything to avoid admitting that we were wrong.

One of the greatest examples of this happening in my own family is a story my father tells of being taken along on a vacation with his aunt, uncle and cousins. They all grew up in Atlanta, and the big trip to Florida was planned amid much excitement.

It’s a fairly straight shoot from Atlanta to Florida, pretty much due East.

Uncle Frank would not admit he was going the wrong way until they crossed the Alabama border. Continue reading

Build a House Inside The Problem

Last week we talked about when Jesus was having a bad day.  Today we begin with the Israelites in the Book of Jeremiah, who are having a bad century.

Jeremiah is speaking to a people who have been utterly decimated by Babylon.  They have been invaded, lost the war, and been carted off to exile in a foreign land.

They have lost friends and family members in the siege of Jerusalem.  Their last memory of their homeland is of their beautiful temple lying in smoking ruins, fading slowly into the distance behind them as they are dragged away.

They are beaten, humiliated, devoid of hope.

Now Jeremiah writes to them, and he’s writing to everyone, from whomever is still alive among the leadership down to the common people: “These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.”

This is a people hurting and embittered.  They are desperate to hear that even now God is stirring up God’s wrath, ready to rain down fire and destruction on Babylon and rescue God’s beloved people to bring them home.

What they hear is totally shocking and jarring. Continue reading