Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Amateur Night

MP: Psalms 46, 48; Isaiah 26:1-9; 2 Cor 5:16-6:2; John 8:12-19
EP: Psalm 90; Isaiah 65:15b-25; Revelation 21:1-6

New Year's Eve has a reputation and a history of being "Amateur Night." There is this mythology that folks have to have a good time, have to drink, have to stay up to midnight. I've done my share of carousing and bar-hopping on this night and have always been amazed at the forced party-nature of so many people, fueled by the consumption of way too much alcohol. I much prefer to gather with a few friends, have a nice (late) dinner and share laughs than be out in the midst of drunks who have forced jovial spirits. 

Starting a New Year is nothing to ignore. There are such great possibilities, endless opportunities to grow and become our better selves and to meet God. Each and everyday offers us that opportunity.

Whatever is happening tonight, (not to date myself too much but, here goes)...... Be safe out there folks.

Happy New Year.
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Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: What Can Come From Patience

Psalms 20, 21:1-7(8-14) * 23, 27; Isaiah 25:1-9; Revelation 1:9-20; John 7:53-8:11

I often wonder why the lectionary-makers repeat readings so quickly sometimes. We had this Gospel reading from John during the second week of Advent, and here it is again. This is a great account of Jesus' forgiving nature and power and perhaps that message cannot be heard enough, in particular as we approach the New Year. 

We have Jesus  being confronted by Jewish officials dragging with them a woman they claim was caught in the very act of adultery. For those with more prurient minds this is a very titillating story, but I don't think that is the point. They approach Jesus while he is teaching the crowds that gathered around him in the temple. As the scribes drag this unfortunate person in front of Jesus, he crouched on the ground and began writing in the dirt. I wonder what he was writing. I wonder if he was hoping they would go away. I wonder if he was pissed off at these scribes. I wonder if he was pissed off at this woman who was caught and at what she was caught doing. I wonder if Jesus was wondering, well, where is the man she was doing the adultery with? Why isn't he here too

Jesus does his best to ignore them, but they pester on and he finally says to them that the one who is without sin should be the one to cast the first stone, and all disappear but the woman charged. Jesus could have ranted and raved: letting go of the frustrations that he must have felt at the arrogance of these officials, at their stupidity, at their malice toward him. He could have lectured and demeaned the woman who was brought before him. Jesus choose another direction: one of patience, one of calm reflection, one of allowing people to find their own answer to and path through difficult issues.

Who among us makes no mistakes? From where within us is our righteous indignation coming? Do we take the time to evaluate our actions, how we feel about a particular situation, before we act or react? These are some of the questions that come up for me from this Gospel passage today. 
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Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Thomas Becket

Psalms 18:1-20 * 18:21-50; Isaiah 12:1-6; Revelation 1:1-8; John 7:37-52

Jesus cites scripture today quoting "Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water." His credentials are then questioned because he is believed to come from Galilee, where he was raised, as opposed to Bethlehem, the birth city of King David. He lets people think what they want to think and doesn't challenge their arrogant sureness that they know all. All but Nicodemus, who was a Pharisee, but whose mind and heart started to change, that self-righteous sureness started to crumble, once he met Jesus.

We celebrate Thomas Becket's life and ministry today in Lesser Feasts and Fasts. He changed once he was raised to Archbishop of Canterbury. He changed from being King Henry II's buddy and pal to a challenger of the throne. Becket was a complicated man, as all people are, but he changed from doing the bidding of his friend and king to protecting what he was charged to protect: the church and the people who make the church what it is. 

Nicodemus the Pharisee questioned his and his fellow religious leaders' arrogant sureness of knowing what was "right." Thomas Becket changed from arrogant noble and sycophant to the powerful, to a defender of the church. Both of these individuals, through their faith, brought the living water that is Christ's love to those who needed to drink of that water. What are we so arrogantly sure about that we are blind to anything else? Does our arrogant surety block our ability to have faith?
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Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: St. John

MP: Psalms 97, 98; Proverbs 8:22-30; John 13:20-35
EP: Psalm 145; Isaiah 44:1-8; 1John 5:1-12

Today, two days after Christmas, is the Feast of St. John. Some have asked if he is my namesake. The answer is no. My father had a friend named John who died very young and I am named after him. That's not a bad reason to give someone a name. And it certainly fits into what we hear in John's Gospel today....Jesus gives a new commandment: that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

So simple, this instruction, and yet so very challenging. I am sure Jesus knew it would be a challenge for us to put love first when we are dealing with each other. There is no set way to achieve this status of love-first. We all have to find our own way of seeking a pathway to fulfill this new commandment. What a great Christmas gift to ourselves and to those around us if we can refocus our efforts in this direction. I don't think that there is a better gift available.
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Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: What's Next

MP: Psalms 28, 30; 2Chronicles 24:17-22; Acts 6:1-7.
EP: Psalm 118; Wisdom 4:7-15; Acts 7:59-8:8

Well, it's over. Let the post-holiday shopping madness begin! Even bigger discounts at the stores, even bigger and longer lines to get out of the store. I suppose those kinds of deals are hard to pass-up. But all that pushing and shoving and the disheveled nature of all the merchandise makes it all seem rather unappealing. 

I remember as a child waking up the day after Christmas and going downstairs to look at and play with the presents I opened the day before, also being aware of the debris left over from the family parties that had happened later on Christmas Day. I remember feeling a sense of let-down: all the excitement and build-up to Christmas and now it's over. So, what's next?

We are given a model for what's next by the Feast Day we have on the church calendar today. We celebrate the life and martyrdom of St. Stephen this day, the day after Christmas. Stephen is the first of the seven named individuals who were identified to assist the disciples in administrative tasks and other duties. These seven had hands laid on them, ordaining them, and it is from these seven individuals that the order of the deacon developed. Steven is quickly killed by the leaders of the synagogue after an inspired defense of Jesus Christ's ministry. 

Stephen knew what was next. I am not suggesting martyrdom for us. I am suggesting that there is more to the celebration of Christmas than presents and parties. What is next is our ability to live into, and assist in the continuing creation of, the kingdom that Christ which begins for us by his birth. Some will argue that this kingdom doesn't begin until after Christ is crucified. Others will argue that the kingdom will not come until Christ returns. Perhaps they are right. I think Jesus says often enough that his presence on earth opens the door to this new kingdom. We, as the Body of Christ at work in the world, are the ones charged with effectuating the continuing creation of this kingdom. That is what is next.
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Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Merry Christmas!

Psalms 2, 85 * 110:1-7, 132; Zechariah 2:10-23; 1John 4:7-10; John 3:31-36

Today is the day! Christ is born!

We had two amazing services last night. One at 5 which was geared towards children and adults with the heart of children, and then the 10 pm traditional Christmas Eve service, with hymns and choral performances. Delight and amazement and deep joy was not only in the air but in the faces, in the eyes of the parishioners there. We are gearing up for this morning's service where I am sure to see a similar sight.

What a wondrous thing we celebrate today: God taking human form to be with us, be among us, be one with us. I think about all those Christmas' past, all those Christmas' celebrated today, all those to come, and am awestruck. What an idea, what a thing to be part of, this web of spirit that ties all of us together.

Whether celebrating with family, friends, acquaintances, a mix of all of those, or alone, we are all tied to this mysterious idea and this mysterious love that is Christ, an infant in a manger, who changed the world as it was known. That same power resonates in the world, changing it as we breathe.  Merry Christmas.
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Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: It's Christmas Eve!

MP: Psalms 45, 46; Isaiah 35:1-10 Revelation 22:12-17,21; Luke 1:67-80
EP: Psalm 89:1-29; Isaiah 39:15b-2:1; Philippians 2:5-11

All the waiting is over tomorrow morning (or perhaps this evening). All the anticipation will reach its peak tomorrow morning (or perhaps this evening). The Advent Blue goes away and the Celebration White comes out! The creche scene has the baby placed in its manger...although the three kings are still a ways off.... And at home, the feasts are being prepared to be enjoyed, both tonight and tomorrow. The wrapping is done and awaits to be undone!

So much work, so much anticipation, so much of the secular meeting the religious in a clash that somehow can meld into a melodious rhythm. That meld takes some work in order for it to be melodious and not cacophonous. That meld can help make what can seem like a meaningless and empty time into a special and holy and tranquil and centering time. Special and holy and tranquil and centering because we celebrate tonight and tomorrow the birth of Jesus Christ, God among us, fully divine and fully human. We celebrate a mystery. We celebrate a love that is beyond our understanding. But a love nonetheless that God has for each and everyone of us. Each and everyone of us. Take that love, cherish it and push it out onto others who need to know about it. The easiest way to make that transfer is to love those you are with, to love those you meet. God is in the middle of those meetings, of those transfers of love, and that is centering. That is tranquil. That is holy. That is special. 

God's Peace be unto all of us.
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Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Zechariah's Awakening

Psalms 66, 67 * 116, 117; Isaiah 11:10-16; Revelation 20:11-21:8; Luke 1:5-23

Zechariah, the husband of Elizabeth, the parents of the soon-to-be conceived John (the Baptist), is told today by the angel Gabriel that his wife, in her old age, will conceive and bear a son, and they are to break with tradition and not name him after the father, Zechariah, but are to name him John.  Zechariah doesn't believe the angel and his ability to speak is taken away from him by Gabriel.

The next few scenes in Luke's Gospel do not include Zechariah. We move to Gabriel speaking to Elizabeth, and then Gabriel speaking to Mary, then Mary coming to see her cousin Elizabeth and John leaping in her womb at the sight of a pregnant Mary and the One whom she carries. Then John is born and Zechariah's tongue is loosened and he sings a song of praise and thanksgiving. This is one of the Canticles in our Daily Office, fittingly called The Song of Zechariah. (If you are looking for it, you will find it in the Book of Common Prayer, in the Morning Prayer devotion, Canticle 16. There are also numerous musical versions found in the Hymnal 1982.)

So often in life we experience some momentous event, something that changes us forever and we do not put words to the occasion. Zechariah does this for us, not only with the angel Gabriel, but after nine months of being mute, he has had time to reconsider what has happened and then bursts forth in praise. We shouldn't be bashful about expressing our joy at gifts given to us, at praising God for Blessing us with so many gifts. We shouldn't care about what the neighbor's might think. We have Zechariah's model to follow: where joy is not hidden but expressed fully.

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. On this eve of eve day, bring that bottled joy up to be shouted from the rooftops tomorrow or the next day. Let your joy be known, let your thanks be heard. We never know who needs to hear about our joy, who can be lifted from despair because we voiced our thanks, praise and joy. It's not just about us.
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Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Toleration

Psalms 40, 54 * 51; Isaiah 10:5-19; 2Peter 2:17-22; Matthew 11:2-15

I do not want to be "tolerated" because I have "chosen" to live a "lifestyle". Those words make my skin crawl and my stomach churn. Honestly they make me white-hot angry. For I have not "chosen" to live a "lifestyle". I was, quite simply, born gay. I was, quite simply, made this way by God. For anyone to simply "tolerate" another individual for being how they were created by God is sin: sin of the deepest kind. For if you simply "tolerate" a person, that means, deep down, you do not want to accept, know or love that individual. There is no greater sin.

There is a lot of chatter on television about the "gay community" being pissed off at the President-elect for his choice to lead the invocation at his inauguration. Some of these talking heads are saying it is hypocritical of the gay community to ask for "tolerance" and then turn around and try to exclude this individual. First, I, as a member of the gay community, am not asking anyone to "tolerate" me or anyone who is gay, lesbian or transgender. I am demanding equality, nothing more, nothing less.

These same talking heads applaud the President-elect's decision on grounds of diversity. The President-elect himself used that word to describe this political choice. Well, where are the anti-semites then? Where are the misogynists then? Where are the ku klux klan? Hate is hate. Anyone who preaches hatred, and for all his smarminess that is what this wealthy orator is preaching against gays and lesbians, should not be granted this kind of honor and international stage to further spread purposeful lies and deceit.

John the Baptist did not put up with this kind of hypocrisy. Neither did Jesus. Jesus says to the people today those in soft robes are not what the people came to see when they went looking for John the Baptist, when they have come looking for Jesus. This misguided, smooth-talking millionaire, in his mega-temple, is exactly the kind of individual Jesus warns us against.

Toleration be damned. I won't accept it.
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Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved. 

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: What Happens When Dreams Die?

Psalms 50, (59) * 60 or 33; Isaiah 9:18-10:4; 2Peter 2:10b-16; Matthew 3:1-12

When things happen in life and dreams die, life becomes more challenging. Keeping faith and in conversation with God can be even more challenging. 

People have different reactions when things begin to go sour. Some people get mad, some people fall into a depressed state that they have a hard time pulling themselves out of, some people act out, transposing those feelings of anger, annoyance, disappointment and sadness onto someone or something else. Some people pray harder for insight and grace and strength to bear what must be borne and find a path forward. We are all human and it is natural to have a mixture of different feelings and reactions when life takes a turn causing the stress of unexpected and unwanted change.

I tend to flow through all the various emotions one can have when things fall apart, but I do so (in not the healthiest of manners) by becoming quiet. My family and my close friends know this about me. People who don't know me all that well, most times, don't even notice that I am quieter than usual. It takes me some time to work my way through to get to a place of understanding and acceptance, all the time "functioning" in the world as best as I can. It is not really functioning well because a large part of my being is preoccupied with sorting through the emotions roiling on the inside. My prayer life is impacted as well: concentration, centering, reflection, all suffer. Those prayers do not stop though.

There is no set time for me when I come up for air, so to speak. So far in life, I always have. Although my prayer life suffers when dreams die and life-changes cause heartache, my prayer life also helps me through those darker times. I am reminded of this by today's Gospel reading in an odd way. Today we have John the Baptist's appearance in the Gospel of Matthew: a rather fire-breathing John at that. So much of our Gospel accounts revolve around the concept of surprise: God acting in surprising ways in the world, chief among them being Jesus. Jesus wasn't the conquering, warrior-like messiah that most people expected. He was something completed different. The dreams of many folks were dashed when that messiah image was altered by Jesus' appearance in the world. 

This last thought helps me in those times when dreams die: the surprise that is Jesus Christ. It is not a magical panacea that takes away all hurt, anger, frustration, disappointment or sadness. But it is a lifeline nonetheless. A very important lifeline.
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Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Humble Preparation

Psalms 119:49-72 * 49, (53); Isaiah 9:8-17; 2Peter 2:1-10a; Mark 1:1-8

We have, kind of, a jarring switch in Gospel readings today. Yesterday we were in the beginning of the Passion narrative as told by Luke: Jesus captured and tortured, and Peter denying Jesus three times and Jesus looking at Peter knowingly. Today we have switched to the beginning of the Gospel of Mark and the introduction of John the Baptist.

Jarring changes can be a good thing, keeping us off balance. With that unbalance can come fresh insight into something that is familiar, no longer new. This is one of the things Advent (and the readings we are provided) is meant to do for us: think about Christmas, a time of great societal and church-land conflict, a time that is so very familiar, and explore what Christmas means through a new lens.

I am struck today, in this familiar reading about John the Baptist, by his phrase: I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. In that time and place (when this Gospel was written) only the lowliest of servants would have untied a person's sandals...the lowliest, those counted as the least among them. John, who though living like a wild person in the wilderness, came from a family whose station in life was well above the servant/slave class, is humbling himself in the presence of God. He is saying to the authorities that surround him that he is lower then the lowest slave when it comes to Jesus. He is not worthy of the grace that is coming into the world. 

That humble preparation on John's part is a model for us in Advent and is a reminder of God's huge love for each and every one of us. God is taking human form, becoming one with creation, to know us in a different way and for us to know the divine in a different way. Advent can be a time of renewal for us, a time to see the world differently. What a nice way to enter into and prepare for Christmas.
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Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer, All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Errors Don't Have to Define Us

Psalms 45 * 47, 48; Isaiah 9:1-7; 2Peter 1:12-21; Luke 22:54-69

I am a perfectionist about most things. I also want things the way I want them. This doesn't mean I don't slack off on occasion or allow things to be other than I prefer. I do both of those....but that doesn't mean I'm not driven somewhat crazy by giving in, because I am. Perhaps that is why, when I make a mistake, do something inappropriate, say something embarrassing, those things stay with me. I am my own worse critic and have a (bad) tendency to beat up on myself for those errors. 

This is not the healthiest model. I understand that and know it is one of my (continuing) growing edges. To get myself out of that cycle of self-recrimination, I often times think of Peter, our bumbling and thick-headed disciple, on whom Jesus founded his church. Peter made lots of mistakes, said lots of inappropriate things, while he was following along after Jesus. Today's Gospel reading describes one of his most serious errors: denying Jesus three times, as was predicted, and then seeing Jesus look at him knowingly. We are given a glimpse of Peter's despair when we are told that he went out and wept bitterly

We know that Peter went on to lead the remnant of Jesus' disciples after the death, resurrection and ascension. We know Peter went on to lead the building of the church (along with others). We know Peter responded to the command from God, he received in a dream, about opening the doors of the church to the Gentiles. Peter did not allow his errors, his weaknesses, to define him. He did not dwell on them allowing himself to be overtaken by them. He allowed the wound to heal, instead of picking at the scab not allowing it to heal. He was, I'm sure, informed by his humanness, but he did not allow his mistakes to define him. This is part of becoming reconciled to God. We all make mistakes. God's love for us allows us to move beyond those errors. We may feel Jesus' eyes on us like Peter did, but those aren't eyes of judgement but one's of understanding and reconciliation. Don't dwell on things that could have gone better, learn from them and move on. Be informed by, not defined by, those things.
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Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Grief, Doubt & Strength

Psalms 41, 52 * 44; Isaiah 8:16-9:1; 1 Peter 1:1-11; Luke 22:39-53

There have been many times in my life when I have had to face a situation that I did not want to face, had to do something that I just plain and simple did not think I had the strength of will, spirit or gumption to complete. And somehow, from somewhere, that strength came and I was able to complete the dreaded assignment. Perhaps not perfectly completed, but completed as best as I could at that particular point in time.

I wonder if Jesus had a similar experience on the Mount of Olives just before he was taken captive. He is pleading with God to "remove this cup" from him. He is hoping to lean on the prayers of the disciples, who fail him because of their grief. And then he sees his tormentors approach, and from somewhere he gains the strength to face what he must, to do what he has been ordained to do. He also comes back to himself for he heals the wound of one of the soldiers who was sent to capture him. I believe he remembers who he is at that moment. 

From where did that strength come? It comes from God, and it is accessible because Jesus was being authentically Jesus. When we are in doubt, when we are in grief we can and we do find strength in prayer. In prayer we can and we do find our authentic selves, that kernel of love that God has for us and from which our love for the Body of Christ explodes. At our weakest and our most unsure we can be assured that we are not alone and that we do have the strength to put the grief and doubt aside and be our authentic selves, and do what we must.
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Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Coming Full Circle

Psalms 37:1-18 * 37:19-42; Isaiah 7:1-9; 2Thessalonians 2:1-12; Luke 22:1-13

We are coming around full circle in our Gospel readings! We are at the beginning of Luke's telling of the Last Supper, which we will be dwelling in for the next few days. The plot to kill Jesus gets some traction today with Judas taking money to assist in the seizing of Jesus. And we have Jesus telling Peter and John how to find a place for them to have their Passover meal.

It may seem strange that in Advent, a time of preparation for the coming of Jesus, we are reading in the Daily Office about the beginning of the end of the story. In actuality it is not so strange. We are preparing in Advent for the coming of God, the fully human and the fully divine, in the form of an infant, and that is a joyous thing to contemplate. But that is not what we are centered around each Sunday as a community of faithful people. We are centered around a common table, usually with a cross behind or hanging over that table. 

It is fitting then, that during Advent and this time of patient and reflective waiting, we also keep in mind the Eucharist and the Cross. We need to keep in mind the whole story. Similar to how we should interact in the world: paying attention to the detail, but not getting lost in that minutiae, instead keeping our eye on the bigger picture and moving toward the effectuating of the kingdom, here, now.
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Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Judgment

Psalms 38 * 119:25-48; Isaiah 6:1-13; 2Thessalonians 1:1-12; John 7:53-8:11

We like to point at others and say Look at that one! Look how bad that person is! There can be something satisfying and perhaps titillating about pointing to someone else's faults as opposed to trying to understand and correct our own. I think this penchant for looking at others as opposed to ourselves is just part of our human condition that we need to do our best to resist. After all, it is much easier to find fault with others and to judge them, than to do the hard work of examining ourselves.

The Gospel account we are given today is one of my all time favorites: of the woman caught in the act of adultery. Oh my, imagine the sweet vindication those Pharisees must have felt thinking they were going to trap Jesus with this sinful woman they were bringing to him. Can't you just see all of them salivating? Jesus doesn't rise to the bait, but points them to examine themselves before they judge another. He doesn't condemn her either when they leave but tells her to live a better life.

I try to remember this account when I am in the heat of annoyance or self-righteousness at some perceived (or even real) transgression in which I am immersed. From this account comes generosity of spirit and understanding of the human condition. A different understanding of righteousness and justice emanates from Jesus' treatment of this person. She was no longer the "adulterous woman" but an individual who has been asked to become a better person. 

I think of this account when I find myself getting angry at the self-righteous and hypocritical actions of former leaders in The Episcopal Church, who have such certainty that they know what the true and orthodox way is. As I think on this Gospel account, I find my anger ebbs and in its place comes a deep sadness, and pity, because these former leaders who have perpetrated such a deep betrayal of a sacred trust that was placed upon them, have proven themselves to be those Pharisees in today's Gospel account. Their certainty, and perhaps their own selfish ambition, have blinded them to Jesus' message. And that makes me sad, not particularly for them, but for those who they are misleading.

We can all be better people than we currently are. Having a community of loving and faithful people to assist us in that journey helps refocus the anger, refocus the sadness onto a consideration of the mystery we will celebrate in 15 days. This is not an easy thing to do. But judgment and condemnation are not for us to decide upon.
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Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Being Ready

Psalms 26, 28 * 36, 39; Isaiah 5:13-17,24-25; 1Thessalonians 5:12-28; Luke 21:29-38

A friend of mine asked me Why do we keep repeating these stories and themes and motifs over and over again in church? I get it already! I initially thought he was being facetious but to my surprise this was a serious question for him. 

In Advent we do hear similar accounts of Jesus' life repeated from the four Gospels. We also hear similar themes that run through different stories in Jesus' life as well as themes of readiness and preparation and hope and joy and repentance from the Hebrew readings and Epistle readings assigned in our lectionaries.

I found my friend's question challenging because I come at this from a different perspective. I don't think we can ever hear these stories enough, or have enough reminders about the kingdom God has created for us in sending his son, as a human, to live and teach and be among us: truly with us. I think we forget all too easily what a HUGE deal this is and we need to be constantly reminded. We have been doing this, as humans, for 2000 years, and we still need to recount these mysteries, for mysteries they are, difficult to understand they are. Simple seeming, yet profoundly difficult to decipher.

I responded to my friend that I disagreed with him that he gets it, and asked him to think about whether there were areas in his life that, perhaps, he might not be living into the kingdom's presence among us. This is a life long exploration, this journey we are all on together, making these accounts exciting and new each time we hear these familiar mysteries. I don't know if I will ever be ready or prepared or truly get it, but that doesn't keep me from trying.
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Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Brave in Scary Times

Psalms 25 * 9, 15; Isaiah 5:8-12,18-25; 1Thessalonians 5:1-11; Luke 21:20-28

I am not a big fan of scary movies. Even silly ones that are not well made I find problematic to watch. I get queasy and jumpy and uncomfortable when watching these - to much identification with the characters and their situations, I know: to much of an active imagination as well. But I literally jump in my seat when one of those silly movies do something unexpected. I carry those jumpy feelings with me, particularly when I am walking my dog late at night in the quiet and seemingly abandoned urban streets in which I reside.

When I read today's Gospel passage I get those same goose-bumpy feelings as I get when I am "forced" to watch a scary movie. Luke paints such a flamboyant picture of the end times: about desolation, and fleeing to the mountains, and vengeance, and woefulness, and violence, and celestial signs, and roaring seas, and people being afraid. We know that Luke wrote this Gospel after the fall of Jerusalem, so this is Jesus' foretelling of the fall of that great Jewish city to the pissed off Romans. But it is also something else. These scary elements, of a world gone mad, painted by Luke ends with believers standing up and raising their heads. There is hope here, for Jesus is our savior and we never need to be afraid. We can be brave in scary times, for all these earthly things we care about should not rule our life...being a part of the kingdom that Jesus is proclaiming is what should be the basis of our rule of life. Having that solid underpinning makes being brave in scary times much more do-able and bearable. Having that rule of life allows us to stand up and raise our heads.
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Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Giving

Psalms 16, 17 * 22; Isaiah 5:8-15; 1Thessalonians 4:1-12; Luke 20:41-21:4

Everyone knows people who like to show off, whether it is through their designer clothes, or ultra-luxurious car,  gi-normous home, or whatever extravagance that truly isn't necessary for good living. There is a desire within us to be noticed, to be known and that, perhaps, leads us to desire and be envied for what we have. 

With wealth, with possessions, come responsibilities. One of those is to not show off, not be ostentatious, but rather ensure that others benefit from the gift of our wealth. We perpetuate that base need to be recognized and envied for what we have, and what we can afford to give, by soliciting donations and name things for people. This has been a necessity in fundraising efforts, and one that has benefits to charitable organizations. I cannot help but wonder if anonymous giving would be more in line with what Jesus witnesses and talks about today. What is our intention? What is our affect and demeanor in the giving? For whom are we giving? Not easy questions to answer. They are important ones to address in order to live into the kingdom to which Jesus is pointing us.
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Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Lip Service

Psalms 18:1-20 * 18:21-50; Isaiah 2:12-22; 1Thessaolonians 3:1-15; Luke 20:27-40

The Sadducees become dumbfounded by Jesus' response to what they thought was another "trap" question about the resurrection. The only response they can muster to Jesus is to say that he has spoken well. What a cop-out on their part. Their prejudices and set beliefs ran so deep they could not see nor hear something new, something God was setting before them as truth. They were so doctrinally stuck, and perhaps so afraid of any change in the balance of power that Jesus represents, that they simply blocked him out by giving him a little pat on the head and saying, good boy, nice job, and then going on their way to plot his demise.

The Sadducees predicament is a common one among those who steep themselves in doctrine and belief-systems. Blinders are easily put on, a belief that you have to be right sets in because of the hours and hours of study done. Yet when something happens to call into question that doctinarianism that rules one's life, instead of refocusing on the doctrine to see if their is a flaw, or if God is pointing us to some different way to understand Scripture, the world, ourselves, many times the self-imposed belief walls cannot be breached, and God's voice is lost. By paying lip service to Jesus and not examining other possibilities, those scholars lost a dear opportunity to more closely interact with God.

This is not a safe or comforting thing Jesus is asking us to do, but that labor is part of being a Christian alive to a world infused with God found in surprising places. Don't be doctrinaire this Advent. Be alive to God's presence in the new, the unexpected.
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Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Constant Rejection

Psalms 5, 6 * 10, 11; Isaiah 1:21-31; 1Thessalonians 2:1-12; Luke 20:9-18

This parable we are given today in Luke, although another prediction of Jesus' death, is difficult in another way for me. For we face analogous rejection today. Perhaps this is the want of a Christian's life, to be fighting against the world around us, to be under-siege so often. Or at least, at times, that is how it feels. Quite honestly, this is an exhausting calling at times. 

And it is not only rejection from the people who ignore Christ's extended hand of love, there is strong rejection of whole classes of people within the world of Christendom: conflict with the "outside" world and conflict from "within". There are days were the discouragement at all of this brings the exhaustion level to such an increased state that it is hard to get up in the morning.

When I have those moments, I think about, and pray about, those folk who have found the church a place of peace, whose lives have been radically transformed by God's love, newly found in their lives. Remembrance of those eyes gets me out of bed and infuses me with a hope and a foundational belief (and a reminder) that the kingdom comes in God's time, not mine. I only have to keep working on this small piece of it.
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Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Advent Authority

Psalms 1, 2, 3 * 4, 7; Isaiah 1:10-20; 1Thessaolonians 1:1-10; Luke 20:1-8

We are in a new church year! In the Sunday lectionary we have switched from an emphasis on Matthew to an emphasis on Mark. In our Daily Office lectionary, we have not switched, in fact we are picking up right were we left off on Saturday: Jesus having made his entry into Jerusalem and is teaching and preaching in the temple. There is an interesting question raised in today's reading. Jesus is approached by the leaders of that temple asking him, basically, who the heck he thinks he is and who gave him permission to teach and preach! You can almost hear the harrumph! Jesus responds with a trap, remembering back to his cousin John's work of preparation, of baptism.

This is a good thing to think about in Advent: preparation. For in preparing ourselves for the birth of Christ, of God among us, we are giving ourselves the authority to experience Advent in new ways: in putting God's love for us first. If we make that the center of our dwellings these next four weeks, we will have an Advent Authority unlike the shallow materialism we are called to by the world around us.
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Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Ends

Psalms 137:1-6(7-9), 144 * 104; Zechariah 14:12-21; Philippians 2:1-11; Luke 19:41-48

Today is the last day of season after Pentecost. Today is also the last day of our Daily Office readings from Year Two. Tomorrow we begin Advent. In the Sunday lectionary we switch to "Year B" with a heavy emphasis on Mark. In the Daily Office lectionary we begin "Year One". Prayers, music, their are subtle shifts in emphasis tomorrow. But today, we are still "in" Pentecost: at the very last day of this season. We are at an end of sorts.

We hear about Jesus' sorrow as he enters Jerusalem in our Gospel reading today. Granted, Luke is writing after the destruction of Jerusalem and this passage is steeped in the foretelling of that loss. But this passage also dwells in this idea of being able to recognize something important before time runs out, before time ends. 

God's love for us goes unrecognized by so many people. We become blinded by and distracted with other events, other people, our own self-centeredness. Death-bed confessions, death-time realizations are so heartbreaking. They are because they are so unnecessary. We all make mistakes and missteps for reasons innumerable. Those errors do not have to get in our way. At the end, we can look back in joy at our lives when we have been steeped in and reveled in God's love for us, allowing that love to form and shape our lives.
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Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved. 

Friday, November 28, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Coming Full Circle

Psalms 140, 142 * 141, 143:1-12(13); Zechariah 14:1-11; Romans 15:7-13; Luke 19:28-40

A part of me thinks that we are given an odd choice of readings today, in particular our Gospel selection. For we have Jesus' triumphal entrance into Jerusalem, with rejoicing and praise and pomp and majesty, with of course, the underlying drumbeat of discontent from the pharisees. We are about to enter into the four weeks of Advent, the beginning of the journey, and we are being given the start of the end of the journey today.

But perhaps that is not odd. Perhaps we are coming around the circle to the starting point again. To get to that starting point we have to think about and journey through the end point. The two are inextricably linked and we shouldn't forget that point. God's love for us is as great at the beginning of the journey as it is at the end. We just have to be in and part of the circle to be on that journey and begin to understand the depth and grandeur of that love.
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Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Thanksgiving Day

MP: Psalm 147; Deuteronomy 26:1-11; John 6:26-35
EP: Psalm 145; Joel 2:21-27; 1Thessalonians 5:12-24

My contributions to today's feast are all done, in the fridge waiting to be delivered, some to be heated, some to be brought to room temperature, some to remain refrigerated. They all look delicious, and from my sampling during the prep time, they are.

The service leaflets are done, the music chosen, the alb freshly washed and pressed. We will have a few faithful people who will show up for our Thanksgiving Day service, it is not unlike the early morning service on Sunday. But numbers do not matter. The joy of praying, celebrating, giving thanksgiving to God together, knowing that our voices and prayers join millions of others floating in the ether, makes the celebration complete unto itself. 

There is so much to be thankful for this year. Suffice it to say: I am thankful to still be breathing and serving a community and a church that I love. 

Thanks be to God.
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Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Trying to See Who Jesus Was

Psalms 119:145-176 * 128, 129, 130; Zechariah 12:1-10; Ephesians 1:3-14; Luke 19:1-10

Here was this rich tax collector, considered a sinner by his community because of the manner in which he made money, who wanted to see Jesus. We are told he couldn't see Jesus because he was short in stature, so he had to climb a tree to watch Jesus pass him by. Jesus knows who Zacchaeus is, calls him out of the tree and invites himself, and perhaps  the hordes with him, to Zacchaeus' house. There is the usual grumbling about Jesus spending time with and going to the home of a sinner, which Zacchaeus hears and rebuts saying he has been honest in all his dealings but promises to give half his possessions away to the poor.

Something drew Zacchaeus to Jesus. I believe Zacchaeus already knew what he was supposed to do before he personally met Jesus, but nonetheless, up the tree he climbed in hopes of seeing this person to whom he was drawn. What tree do we need to climb in order to see what we should be doing?
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Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Close In

Psalms (120), 121,122, 123 * 124, 125, 126 (127); Zechariah 11:4-17; Corinthians 3:10-23; Luke 18:31-43

Many times in life when we are close in to something, or to someone, we cannot "see" what is going on, we cannot see the big picture. Similarly, when we are personally close to a person who is beautiful, handsome, etc, we can lose sight of that because we know the details of what is going on inside. 

They are near onto Jerusalem in today's Gospel reading and Jesus once again predicts his Passion, death and resurrection and no one gets it...no one sees it. They pass a blind man who yells out to be saved, to be shown mercy and when asked what he wants the man says Let me see again. Jesus grants him his desire saying Receive your sight, your faith has saved you. And praise and thanksgiving sets off through the crowd. They all are too close in. They all have their own expectations of what is going to happen when their savior reaches Jerusalem. 

What are we so close to that we can't really see it? What do we need to take a step back from to see the bigger picture, to see God at work in our speck of the world? God is here. Are we to close in to see?
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Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: That Narrow Hole

Psalms 106:1-18 * 106:19-48; Zechariah 10:1-12; Galatians 6:1-10; Luke 18:15-30

I am just awful at threading a needle. I always fumble and fumble with that silly and wobbly thread trying to make it go through that teeny tiny hole. I tried those loop-hole threading devices that only seem to make the frustration worse. I have tried a larger needle, which makes the treading easier but the sewing doesn't work so well with those big-honking needles. I have recently stumbled upon a neat little device that  claims it will make threading the needle easy (it was a give-away gift from an online purchase I made at a craft store). The instruction booklet is three pages long. A bit complicated for so simple an act as threading a needle.......

I have often wondered if those devices and my inability to use them properly and the frustration resultant therefrom is analogous to the making the kingdom of God Jesus talks about today. Jesus tells us we have to receive the kingdom as a child would. That innocence and openness and ability to see directly at the simple inner beauty of a thing is part of what I think Jesus is talking about. Trying to find other ways of doing something is often unnecessary if we simply do the direct and obvious approach, not complicate it or over-examine it, or over-theorize it. Simply accept. Not so simple, I know. About as simple as threading a needle for an older person with fumbly fingers and weakening eyesight.

Stripping away the complications we make for ourselves is one of the things Jesus is talking about today which will allow the kingdom of God to become an integral part of our lives. Stripping away those complications and opening ourselves to this mystery. Simply accepting helps us thread our way through that narrow hole, which isn't so narrow once we un-complicate things.
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Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Daily Office Lectionary: Clive's Day

Psalms 107:33-43, 108:1-6(7-11) * 33; Malachi 3:13-4:6; James 5:13-20; Luke 18:9-14

I never think of him as Clive. I do not think most people now-a-days do. Clive Staples Lewis, whose "day" it is today in Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2006, is known by the world as C. S. Lewis. This great author and brilliant mind moved from being Anglican to atheist in his teens, to a long sojourn back to the church and Christ that ended just before he turned 30. And a career that would change lives, a career that would burn images and Christian stories into hearts, began.

Most people I know have moved through a desert time, away from faith, away from the mystery, at some point in their lives. Some make it back, many do not. Some of the folks who don't make it back are like the Pharisee in our Gospel account today: certain of themselves and in themselves. Many who do make it back are like the tax collector in today's Gospel: knowing their imperfections and turning toward God's love, who welcomes us anyway. When Clive was older and writing about his movement from atheism to Christ, he wrote I know very well when, but hardly how, the final step was taken..... That is true for so many people I talk with: they know they have changed, they know they are changed, they know they are now Christ's own forever, but they don't understand how it happened. There is a humbleness of self and spirit in that admission: a wonderful one. God is in that moment, and every moment. Searching for the how is not the important part of that statement...accepting the turning is.
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Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved

Friday, November 21, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Persistence

Psalms 102 * 107:1-32; Malachi 3:1-12; James 5:7-11; Luke 18:1-8

God's love for us holds no bounds. We are granted this love whether we think we deserve it or not. One of the only analogies I can make to this, which pales in comparison but I think sheds light on this mystery, is the love a dog showers on its owner. I can have just the crappiest day in the world, and be in a pretty awful mood, and yet when my dog sees me, whether it has been 5 minutes or 5 hours, she is just thrilled to see me. The love that pours out of her, the joy at being in my presence is all that she wants (besides going for walks and being fed treats). 

God's love for us is like unto that, but beyond it! Jesus talks about the unjust judge and the pestering widow today. The unjust judge responds just to keep her quiet, not out of love. Jesus says that of course God will answer our prayers. The thing is, I don't think we always recognize God's answers. If we persistently keep ourselves open to God's love, our perspective changes and we can see things in a different light, where we can feel and know God's love for us, down to the very root of our being. Isn't that something.
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Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: "Look, here it is!"

Psalms 105:1-22 * 105:23-45; Malachi 2:1-16; James 4:13-5:6; Luke 17:20-37

It is a favorite of Hollywood movies as well as a favorite plot line for authors: people looking for what they think they need elsewhere, when all the time they had it right there with them. Folks can get easily distracted as well as not see things clearly when they have become familiar.

Jesus responds to a question about when the kingdom of God is coming and he replies: You cannot see its coming, people will try to misdirect you, but in reality "the kingdom of God is among you". He of course was referring to himself being amidst and among them. But what about us, here, now, some 2000 years later? Is that kingdom still among us? Certainly people have been misled by cults and self-centered folk....but that is not the kingdom of God. I think we create vignettes of the kingdom when we act as we should: when we are kind to those in need, when we visit and care for those who are sick, when we love and are open-hearted and open-minded and welcoming. There it is!
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Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Remembering What Is Important

Psalms 101, 109:1-4(5-19)20-30 * 119: 121-144; Malachi 1:1,6-14; James 3:13-4:12; Luke 17:11-19

Every time I look at CNN, or The New York Times, or The Washington Post, or some other media outlet, there is a story about employment lay-offs. 50,000+ from Citibank this week, small companies closing, stores shuddering....it can be mind-numbing. The National Cathedral announced a large lay-off of employees this morning and a shuddering of the beautiful and historic Cathedral College. Besides knowing that place very well, I also know a number of people who have been or are being laid off today.

Prior to being ordained I worked in NYC for many years and for different firms and corporations. I was laid off from a few jobs because of "down-sizing" so I understand the distress and pure terror that invades every part of one's life when they are going through something like this. Do I have enough money to pay my rent/mortgage? Can I make the car payment or the credit card payment? Can I afford Cobra or will I have to be uninsured until I can find employment? Will that new job give me insurance coverage? The blow to the ego and the demeaning nature of the job search process can just beat a person down.

One of the things that helped me as I struggled through times like this was to try and remember how fortunate I was to have health, family and friends who supported me, and most importantly God, who never left my side as I struggled to find employment. Prayer helps. If you are someone who is facing unemployment or are unemployed, pray. Reach out to those you know for support, care and love. Talk about it. If you know someone who is going through this, pray for them and be there for them....reach out to them in kindness and love. Responding in love aids in the creation of this kingdom we strive for. Remember what is important.

A Prayer for the Unemployed:
Heavenly God, we remember before you those who suffer want and anxiety from lack of work. Guide the people of this land so to use our public and private wealth that all may find suitable and fulfilling employment, and receive just payment for their labor, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

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Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Forgiveness and Thanklessness

Psalms 97, 99 (100) * 94 (95); Habakkuk 3:1-10(11-15)16-18; James 5:1-12; Luke 17:1-10

I like to thank someone when they do something special, or even when they just do a nice job at a normal assignment. I also like to be thanked when I do something special: it is just part of polite society. In a similar fashion, I try to forgive someone when it is called for in life. That one is harder to do and there are many times where I fail at it miserably. Jesus tells us to constantly forgive someone who turns to us and "repents". I wonder what he meant by that word, or if our translators got it wrong. For to repent means to change one's life, but the way Jesus talks about this individual he utilizes, the person keeps screwing up and then turning around and says "I repent" and we are told to forgive them each time. How is it a changed and transformed life if the person keeps screwing up? What a bother! Likewise Jesus seemingly tells us to expect no thanks for our work except to expect more work and that we are to accept our station in life and all that goes with that station without complaint or expectation. Again, what a bother!

Both of these seem to be difficult, if not impossible, orders from Jesus: this seemingly endless forgiveness and this seemingly endless thankless living. That is one way of looking at this reading from Luke. By looking at it only that way it is easy to see how people throw their hands up in the air and walk away from the Gospel in disgust and frustration. 

Jesus recognizes our humanness. He knows it personally, not only by being so closely associated with his disciples and followers, but because he was fully human too. He knows our innate penchant for being unforgiving, he knows our yearning to be thanked for the ordinary things we do. Jesus is telling us that the kingdom he is creating is different. Forgiveness is there for us. God's forgiveness of our foibles and sins is beyond our understanding, and we must model that. Jesus is saying that in this kingdom we won't need to be thanked because we will already know our work is appreciated: we will know it at such a deep level that those expectations will not be a part of us. 

Perhaps a bother now, but not when we make the kingdom present. A reordering or how we think about ourselves and others, an understanding of our humanness and our inter-connectivity is what we are pushed toward in our reading from Luke today. Not easy, but worth the bother.
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Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Winding Down

Psalms 89:1-18 * 89:19-52; Habakkuk 2:1-4,9-20; James 2:14-26; Luke 16:19-31

In church-land we are winding down our calendar year. We have one more Sunday in the Season of Pentecost and then the new church year begins the following Sunday with the First Sunday of Advent. We do things a mite early in church-land. This coming Sunday will be the Feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday of Pentecost and the ending week of Year Two in the Daily Office Lectionary, and the end of Year A for the Sunday lectionary. We are winding down in both lectionaries, getting ready for a shift, a change.

Perhaps that is why the readings seem so harsh...the lessons so pointed. It is almost as if the lectionary is saying, okay, you've had all year (Year A on Sunday, Year Two in the Daily Office) to get it....NOW we're going to clobber you over the head to make sure the message gets through.  I certainly feel that way with the offering from Luke today, and from James and from Habakkuk. Change....change.....change the way we operate, the way we think, the way we interact with the world. Be awake, pay attention to those in need. get ready! Instead of a soft entrance into Advent it seems like a very hard push into Advent, the season of preparing. So we're winding down the church calendar, but the readings are certainly ratcheting it up.
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Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Little Things

Psalms 87, 90 * 136; Joel 3:-17; James 2:1-13; Luke 16:10-17(18)

Small successes can often lead to larger ones. Baby steps lead to learning how to walk properly. To learn how to swim, one needs to get in the water and learn how to tread water. All of these positive statements have a reverse side to them, such as: Whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much, as Jesus tells us today. Little things can (and many times do) lead to big things. I think this is why my parents were always insistent about paying attention to little things: proper table manners at all times, politeness to elders, appropriate attire, learning how to save. Seemingly small things can shape a life. Small steps in the other direction can equally lead to shaping a life differently.

Little in life is irreversible, although there are somethings that can't be changed once they've begun. But little things lead to big things. Being aware of those little things can change a life.
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Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Sulking

Psalms (83) or 23, 27 * 85, 86; Joel 2:21-27; James 1:1-15; Luke 15:1-2,11-32

I have always been able to relate to the brother who remained at home, doing his duty as he saw it. Every time I read this parable of the son who was lost and is found, there is a kernel of anger that gets misdirected: to the father, to the returning brother, to Luke for telling this parable, to Jesus for siding with the "wrong" brother. What about me? I think. I have almost always been the one who does the right thing, performs the grunt tasks, makes sure things get done. I'm not the one who went out drinking and whoring around, wasting my money, making myself destitute because of the idiotic choices I have made. Self-righteousness can bubble up so naturally some times. 

I can relate to that stay-at-home brother going outside to sulk when the celebration is going on and then letting his father know he is insulted and hurt because of the joy felt for the raggedy-one who had all the fun. 

And right there is the rub, is the kernel of how I get the story wrong. Did that way-ward son really have fun in his drinking and whoring? Once he had finished using that money, and being used by it and the people around him, he was cast aside and he realized what he had lost. Not the money, but being treated like a human being, being loved as we are created to be loved and to love in return. And that love was always there for him to return to, just as it enveloped, at all times, the stay-at-home brother. 

There may be allure and excitement to the life the brother who left the homestead lived, but that luster disappears quickly and the emptiness of it becomes apparent, the danger of it is real. When I over-identify with the sulking brother, thinking about what I perhaps have missed, I try to think about the things I haven't missed by being the stick-with-it person. Resentment is an emotion that can bubble up, but it doesn't have to control our actions and decisions. Bringing a lost soul home is much more important.
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Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Blaming God

Psalms 78:1-39 * 78:40-72; Joel 1:1-15-2:2(3-11); Revelation 19:1-10; Luke 14:25-35

When bad things happen, a regular refrain that can be heard is "Why did God let this happen?" An acquaintance of mine, who has recently lost the majority of his lifetime's savings in the debacle on Wall Street, asked me that last week. "How could God have let this happen to me? What am I going to do now?"

We began reading the scary book of the prophet Joel yesterday. We finish the first chapter today and start on the second and I am struck by the language of loss, the language of pain and anguish, the language of sadness, the language that indicates that "the day of the Lord is coming....a day of darkness and gloom." I read these passages and I want to physically duck and hide as these kind of Biblical passages have been abused and misused for centuries by dooms day advocates.

Interestingly, this reading is paired with Jesus, on his walk to Jerusalem, turning to the crowd and telling them they must hate mother, father, sister, brother. They must give up possessions, pick up their cross and follow him. Follow him with nothing apparently, but themselves. 

I believe in the efficacy of prayer, of God in our lives in a palpable way. But God didn't cause or let happen the economic crisis that is sweeping the world. We did. Greed and avarice did. Have people been hurt by this crisis. Absolutely. And I think God can be found in how we respond to those people. I think God can be found in how we reorder our lives and re-find what is truly important. That is what Joel is talking about: a reordering or our priorities. And that is what Jesus is talking about too.
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Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: On Being Humble

Psalms 75, 76 * 23, 27; Ecclesiasticus 51:1-12; Revelation 18:1-14; Luke 14:1-11

I think it is human nature to want to be recognized, to want to be known, to want to remembered. I think this is true for people whether they are extroverts or introverts. There are many different methods of achieving, and degrees of attaining, this status of recognition . Jesus recognizes this innate longing in us today when he talks about being humble and taking the lower place at a banquet table until someone asks us to move to a more prominent place.

This can be very unfair to those of us who are not extraverted, who are self-aware enough to know that we don't belong "up there", who are more gracious and kind and not so self-aggrandizing. For the people who are full of themselves can take-over a group, overwhelm a party or gathering of people. We all know people like this, or have been at places where one person is dominating a conversation, gathering as much of the attention as they can to themselves. It can be very annoying when we allow a cult of personality to dominate a social gathering. It can destroy a sense of community. 

Perhaps in these kind of situations it is important for us to look around the room and draw in those who are more introverted, shy or naturally humble and exalt them, gently but firmly pushing those who hog the spotlight aside. Humbleness is an important part of being self-aware. Some people need to be regularly reminded of this fact. It can be  a difficult life lesson to learn. Teach it we must.
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Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: An Acceptance

Psalms 69:1-23 (24-30), 31-38 * 73; Ecclesiasticus 50:1, 11-24; Revelation 17:1-18; Luke 13:31-35

Jesus has been on quite the roller-coaster ride lately, caused by his attention to and knowledge of what is going to happen to him when he reaches Jerusalem. He's angry, he's sad, he's stressed out and today we see a more prophetic Jesus. Today he alludes to not only his death and resurrection three days later but the destruction of Jerusalem. 

It seems that Jesus is taking a step today, a step towards acceptance of what he has to do. Jesus is not done yet, he still has a tremendous amount of work to do before he walks into that city. Jesus has taken a step today to wrapping his head around what is to come. He is accepting who and what he is today in a very public way. 

What is it in our lives that we need to accept? What are we turning a blind eye to that we shouldn't, that we need to accept, publicly?
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Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Through That Narrow Door

Psalms (70), 71 * 74; Ecclesiasticus 44:1-15; Revelation 16:12-21; Luke 13:18-30

Jesus tells us today that the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, and yeast mixed into flour, and that the door into that Kingdom of God is narrow, and that some who are mistreated and are last will be first, and some who are exalted and are first will be last. A very rich reading today.

Usually these readings boost my spirits, lift my hopes. That is not the case today. The joy I felt at the election of our new president has soured a great deal over the last 24 hours. A lot of the same people who voted for Barack Obama in CA and FL also voted to discriminate against a whole class of people: a group to which I belong. There is a sickening irony in this fact and it is tremendously wounding: to me and to many people I know. 

Perhaps we, the ones who are discriminated against and reviled by so many, who have been and continue to be the punching bags and repository of people's transplanted emotions, are the ones who need to find a way to lead people away from hate, away from bigotry and to the Incarnate One. We celebrate the life and work of William Temple today whose faith was based on his belief in the Incarnation: God among us in the person of Jesus. Perhaps those mustard seeds and portions of yeast he sowed for social justice in his time will grow anew in this fight we must somehow find the strength to lead.

Discouragement is a natural byproduct of losing. It takes effort to find hope in the bitterness. It takes effort to lift one's spirits. As impossible as that may feel right now, we have no choice but to try and move on toward and through that narrow door where we find and are embraced by the Incarnate One whose invitation is open to all.... All.
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Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Set Free From This Bondage

Psalms 72 * 119:3-96; Ecclesiasticus 43:23-33; Revelation 16:1-11; Luke 13:10-17

What an historic moment we are living in right now. After months of uncertainty and doubt and concern for many people, the American people, in droves, stepped forward yesterday and made a change. We elected, to our highest and most powerful political office, the first non-white person, the first individual who is bi-racial, the first person from African descent to hold that esteemed office. For me, there is such a feeling of relief.

Our Gospel reading for The Daily Office provides us with a crippled woman who had suffered her ailment for 18 years. Jesus heals her, the temple officials get pissed off because he does this on a Sunday and Jesus replies that he has treated her appropriately, no matter the day, and that he has set her free from this bondage that has enslaved her. Perhaps that is some of the relief I feel, that we have been set free from a bondage that has ruled this country. Not the bondage of Republicans over Democrats, but the bondage that is the shameful history of slavery that still haunts parts of this country. Many of the commentators on television last night were talking about a post-racial world, a post-racial attitude among people of non-African heritage. That it did not matter to them that their candidate did not have the same color skin. I hope and pray that this is true. 

Standing in line to vote yesterday, there was an enormous pride and hopefulness expressed by the non-white voters that is incredibly inspiring. Perhaps this bondage that has held us captive, this shame that has gotten in the way of our country truly moving forward has, although never to be forgotten, has been set free from us allowing, for the first time, this deep wound that has festered for hundreds of years to begin healing. May God allow this healing to happen quickly.

A Prayer for the (new) President of the United States:
O Lord our Governor, whose glory is in all the world: We commend this nation to thy merciful care, that, being guided by thy Providence, we may dwell secure in thy peace. Grant to the President of the United States, and to all in authority, wisdom and strength to know and to do thy will. Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve this people in thy fear; through Jesus Christ our Lord who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.  (BCP, prayer 19)

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Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Exasperated

Psalms 56, 57, (58) * 64, 65; Ecclesiasticus 38:24-34; Revelation 14:1-13; Luke 11:49-59

I hope Jesus felt better when he finally got it off his chest. He has been obviously frustrated with the Pharisees, with the crowds around him and now he is a bit put-off by his disciples, who still just do not understand....but how could they? Jesus might well have been speaking a foreign language for all the sense he was making to them, and that barrier must have been causing him frustration until he finally says it aloud: I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! He is referring to his torture and murder on a cross to which he is headed in Jerusalem. And there, he admitted it, he's stressed out about having to do this incomprehensible thing. And he is still speaking as if in a foreign tongue to them, talking about a baptism that he has to undergo....The disciples are probably thinking...but didn't John already baptize him in the Jordan River? And I'm sure Jesus just throws his hands in the air in exasperation and turns his ire on the crowd asking them the rhetorical questions: How can you not know by now who you are following? How can you still be listening to those Pharisees?

I love how Luke gives Jesus these human emotions as he is on his way to perform a divine undertaking. I find Luke to be the Gospel writer who best exhibits Jesus as fully human and fully divine. Jesus may get exasperated, he may get fed up, he may say difficult things, but he also says loving things. He also shares table with outcasts. He also washes these impossibly dense disciples' feet. Being exasperated with our fellow humans, due to their not getting it, is a natural reaction, which Jesus models for us today. That exasperation does not stop him from continuing on this scary path he is trodding. Nor should the exasperation we can feel at times stop us.
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Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.