Tuesday, April 29, 2008
But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understand it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.
So many of my friends are so very competitive. If I do something, they want to do that thing better, or at least do it as well. This is true among children in a different way, when one has a talent or ability in one thing, a child who does not possess that same talent can fall into a deep funk over not being as good as their friend.
I love this passage from Matthew as Jesus is acknowledging that some of us are better then others in various works we do: and that is alright. We are all different, capable of different things. We hear this in a number of different places in the Gospels, but being human I think we need to be reminded of this frequently. This passage, if we listen to it and take it to heart, can take away jealousy and cravings for wanting to be better at something that we just aren't good at. This passage can allow us to live into our own gifts, whether they are a hundredfold or thirty. What a relief.
Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved
Monday, April 28, 2008
I guess it is human nature, at least in our American culture, to turn a blind eye to things around us. Whether it is on the macro scale, like the economy tanking or the fiasco going on in Iraq, or it is on a more micro scale, like our neighbor not being able to buy the necessary food to survive, or fill her car with gas to get to work, without increasing an already burdensome and crippling credit card debt; our society does (we do) turn a blind eye. We do not hear their cries for help.
I wonder which group we are in Jesus' parable today of the sown seeds and then his explanation of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven given to the disciples. Are we the crowd on the seashore looking adoringly at Jesus sitting in the boat just off the beach? The ones he says do not see, nor hear what he is saying. Or are we the disciples who come to him for explanation of the parable? Are we the ones seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand? Are we the people's whose heart has grown dull, and their ears hard of hearing. Or are we the blessed disciples that see and hear. There is good news here; yet in order to hear it, to see it, we need to get off the shoreline, looking at Jesus on the boat just off the beach, and join him and his disciples. Join him who is our Savior and act on what we see and hear, with clear eyes and unstopped ears.
None of us can individually alter the course of our culture. Each of us, acting in unison with the other, can. Small steps, little acts of kindness help us to hear and see and be blessed with the secrets of the kingdom of heaven. Wiping our eyes clean of our culture's malaise, clearing our ears of the wax that malaise instills is a step towards unlocking those secrets and walking into the loving embrace that Jesus offers each and every one of us.
Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Saturday, April 26, 2008
I went to a Washington Nationals game last night at their new stadium, which is about four blocks from where I live. They were playing the Chicago Cubs. It was a good game, with it being tied going into the bottom of the 9th. The Nats won in that inning with a home run, with two players on base. If a team is going to win or lose a game, that is an exciting way to do it.
I went with two good friends from seminary, one of them a die-hard Cubs fan. There were various questionable calls made by the umpires during the game, and at least to my Cubs-fan friend, they seemed to be skewed in favor of the home team Nats. Whether it was charging a Cubs player with an error for a similar screw up as a Nats player had just graced the game with the inning before, for which the Nats player had not been hit with an error, or the questionable call earlier in the game where the umpire called a ground-rule double because a Cubs hitter had hit a ball that bounced off a flower planter and bounced back into the field (the Cubs lost at least one run due to that call), all the decisions were based on established rules and interpretations of those rules by the officials charged with making those decisions. These players, the umpires and even the fans (on both sides of last nights competition) where following rules and regulations of the game: they were entering through the narrow gate so to speak.
And I don't mean the narrow gate the 40,000 people present at that game passed through to get into this grand and beautiful stadium, although that could be another metaphor for today's Gospel reading from Matthew. In fact, all sports (football, soccer, tennis, golf. basketball, rugby) have set rules and guidelines, a narrow gate that must be passed through, in order to participate.
Why is it then that people complain about "rules" in church-life? Is it because they are more onerous? Or is it because they are calling on us to live into these "rules" not for a limited time that is a baseball game, but each and every minute of our life. It is a way of life: The Way the first Christians called the lives and communities they were establishing.
The joy I saw at those witnessing the baseball game last night, as well as the intensity of the players, is something analogous to what we are called to in today's Gospel passage. A narrow gate which we must slip through in order to find heaven, where the intensity and joy felt will be unsurpassed.
Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Friday, April 25, 2008
My Mom and Dad each had two sisters, so I had four Aunts growing up. They lived in close proximity so we saw them frequently and I was blessed to get to know them, their husbands and children quite well. Although I loved all of them equally, each with their own very special personality, I am thinking of my Mom's oldest sister, Aunt Madeleine, today.
Aunt Madeleine was a blood and guts kind of person....the kind of person who told it like she saw it with not a lot of polish around those thoughts. She had various nicknames in the family, one being "top-sergeant", the other being "old blood and guts". You could always count on Aunt Madeleine to tell you what she thought, or get her spin and understanding of something that had happened in the past. Things were pretty cut and dry and orderly with Aunt Madeleine. She was also incredibly kind-hearted and would do anything for her loved ones that she could possibly do, without fanfare, she just was there when you needed her. She was also very smart, with one of her favorite past-times, besides reading, being finishing the New York Times crossword puzzle everyday, including the one I find impossible to work on....Sunday's.
Cut and dried....clear and concise....a good word-smith....loving and kind....No wonder I think of Aunt Madeleine on St. Mark's Day, for isn't that the gift we have in his Gospel.....blood and guts/cut and dried, clear and concise, a good word-smith, and loving and kind....with an abrupt and disconcerting ending that is made to order for the Gospel account he wrote of Jesus' life and ministry. The abrupt ending is meant to keep us off balance, to incorporate into our lives what this briefest of all Gospels has to say....to carry on the journey begun by Jesus and his disciples. Another similarity to Aunt Madeleine....her directness many times would put us off-balance, just as Mark's Gospel is intended to do....for in being off balance we can see things from a new perspective and not accept the status quo. Uncomfortable? Yes. Good for us? You bet.
Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
My friend Pat (not this person's real name) is a worrier. He worries about everything. Is it going to rain? Is it going to be too cold? Too hot? Will he be early? Late? Does so and so like him? Will the store be out of the ingredient needed for this cake he is making? Will he screw up making the cake and will he have to start over or buy one from the store for the party he is going to? If so, is that cake going to be any good?
Well, anyway, you get the picture....this worrying (and negativity) is self-propagating....each thought leading inexorably to the next worry. It is a state of being for Pat. We probably all know at least one person who has a penchant for this kind of drama....perhaps we participate in it ourselves too....Do these pants (shirt, sweater, skirt, blouse) make me look fat?
There is a self-absorption involved in this kind worry. A self-absorption that takes us out of the present, out of the world we live in, allows us to more easily ignore the world in which we live. Perhaps this is one of the things Jesus is talking about today when he tells us not to worry about clothes, or food, or drink. To not "worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today."
Jesus is instructing us to stay focused on creating the kingdom of God around us, here, now. To do our best to stay in the present and to trust God that we will be provided for....Not sit back and wait for God to provide, but to do the work we need to do, without worry....to follow where we know, deep in ourselves, that God is leading us. To reach out to the other, the stranger and not only assist them but to see Christ's face in their face, and to see Him in ourselves too.
First striving for the kingdom and placing tomorrow's worries for tomorrow calls for a great effort on our part to put aside self-absorption, self-concern, self-doubt and to trust....trust the one who created us, just as we are, and who loves us....even when we worry about whether these pants make us look fat.
Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
I like things....nice things. I own a nice home, have furnished it (at least I think) in a tasteful manner. Not too expensive, but not cheap either. I drive a ten year old luxury car, that I am quick to point out to people that I inherited and did not purchase. I like nice, comfortable clothes and good restaurants and good wine and beer. I have an addiction to shoes and I like bags of all sorts. One of the conundrums is that I do not get paid a salary commiserate with my tastes, and I am forced to be very careful with what I purchase, making my interest in shoes and bags more window shopping then anything else. On the other side of the coin, I do tithe 10% of my net cash income to the church and support other charities close to my heart as best I can. And then we have today's readings which bring forth conflicting feelings. I wrestle with the topics brought up in today's readings on a regular basis.
I strongly believe that we cannot serve both wealth and God, for wealth can and does become an idol to all of us. Having too much "stuff" absolutely can get in the way of experiencing, enjoying and even understanding life. Having stuff for the sake of stuff is never a healthy choice. To me there is a difference between serving wealth for wealth's sake, balanced against utilizing what gifts we have been given through our own labors and the grace of God and "doing the right thing" based on our own conscience and thoughtful choices. Moderation, and the joy that things can bring are an important balance within that equation.
Perhaps that is what Jesus is pushing us towards today: thoughtful self-examination in regard to all aspects of our life, in particular today, to "stuff", "things". Never easy, but nonetheless important.
Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All rights reserved.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
My friend Mark visited this past weekend. I haven't seen him in 11 months, and we have chatted on the phone on (maybe) 4 occasions over that time period. Yet when he arrived last Thursday it was like we had not been apart for 11 months, but 11 minutes. Just to be clear, we are friends, nothing more: he is as straight as a person can possibly be and, well, I'm pretty gay. Yet for some reason, we click as friends really well.
He is back at his home base of operation and I am, once again, being swallowed back up with the insanity that can be, and is, parish life. I am struck by today's readings and a thread that wraps through them. In Leviticus today, God is continuing in his instructions to Moses of how Aaron is to lead the atonement of the people of Israel. This book of the Torah which has all to do with ritual purity and keeping the people of Israel separate and distinct from those that surrounded them, has in the passages presented today intricate maneuvers in how to accomplish that purity and that separateness, and still pray and be near to God. We have the image presented of Aaron taking the goat, holding his hands over them in a certain way, offering a prayer of confession, symbolically placing all the transgressions and sins on the goat, and then setting the goat free into the wilderness, outside of the camp, and then his own ritual washing and dressing and preparing himself to be presented and pray before the Holy. And in Matthew, we have Jesus telling us to keep it simple: we are taught The Lord's Prayer today. Ritual atonement and a simple yet deeply complex prayer. Sandwiched in between is the selection from First Thessalonians, which instructs us to keep our hearts open to God, to not be closed to God and to always be ready for the thief in the night that is Jesus.
I am thinking about my friend Mark and these passages because I have been feeling guilty about not keeping in better touch, making a more consistent effort to make time to have regular contact with him. But our connection is a strong one and I don't need to worry about "losing" this friendship. With that as an example, how much stronger is the connection that exists between God and me. That love, as much as I might think it is absent on some days, is never absent. Whether we feel the need for the ritual atonement of placing our sins on a goat and sending the creature into the desert, or really engaging in The Lord's Prayer, both are avenues to aid us in keeping our hearts open for this loving thief who will come to us, and in reality, is always with us.
Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Monday, April 21, 2008
In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust and will not be afraid, for what can flesh do to me? (Ps. 56:4)
So many of the Psalms revolve around misfortune and pain and suffering. Some ask where is God, this one does not. This one provides a clear belief and faith that God will protect us, that there is something beyond this world's injuries to which we can look forward.
So much of the Psalms seem to, quite honestly, be depressing: violence all around, unkindness to the psalmist, loss, desolation. But there are glimmers of hope, glimmers of a beauty and a love that is beyond our understanding. Life can, often times, be summed up by these difficult Psalms.....but what can flesh do to us if our focus is on God and doing what we are called upon to do? This is a difficult mindset in which to stay, but there can be a confidence and a joy afforded us when we step into this gift of a centered acknowledgment of God's loving embrace for us, when all around us turns to crap.
Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
Jesus says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” and then he says twice “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” These two utterances of Jesus basically sum up much of John’s Gospel: which revolves around the unity of God and Jesus. We are talking about the decisive revelation of God in the act of incarnation: the in-fleshing of God in human form. We are asked to believe Jesus when he says these things, yet even Thomas and Philip do not understand or believe: Thomas unsure of how to find Jesus when he goes away; and Philip wanting to be shown God the Father. These two, Thomas and Philip, have been with Jesus for three years and they still don’t understand.
We had Thomas doubting three weeks ago, wanting to put his fingers in Jesus’ hand wounds and his own hand in Jesus’ side wound: wanting to touch in order to believe. Thomas is joined this week in his difficulty in believing by Philip who just does not get this idea of Jesus being the Father and the Father being Jesus…And Jesus does not get angry or lose his patience at these doubts and requests. Jesus does not mock their doubt and their lack of understanding. Instead, Jesus responds, he explains as best he can. To Thomas’ question in regard to not knowing the way, Jesus replies that he is the way, he is the truth, that he is the life. To Phillip, Jesus reiterates that anyone who has seen him has seen God…. Jesus also gives Philip a different way to believe when he says “then believe me because of the works themselves.” Jesus continues by saying “Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do.”
When we think of “the works” of Jesus we many times think of miracles: healing the blind, making the lame walk or some other miracle of healing. We can also think of Jesus’ first miracle in the Gospel of John where he turns water into wine. Jesus says “Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do,” this can give hope to those of us who are wine lovers. Maybe we will be able to do things like that. But no, when we are out of merlot, we can wave our arms over a carafe of water all we want, eventually we will still have to go to the store and buy some more wine.
What are these works? What can those of us who believe or struggle to believe actually do? The works of God are many and varied. Jesus had his and we have ours. Once in a great while there is a healing that can only be described as a miracle, and everyone is taken aback by it. But, generally, healing and repair happen every day, and these too, are works of God that can aid in our belief.
Yet, there are other kinds of works that exhibit God’s hand in our world: where we act in certain ways that effectuate the kingdom’s happening now, here among us. In
Both of these strangers waited on the shore, keeping Marland company while he sat on his pickup truck’s roof. Help finally came by way of some boats that made a life-line, so to speak, to reach Marland and his pickup, bringing him to safety and a continuation of life that could have been snatched away that day. A seemingly small act of kindness by two strangers helped save a life. A miracle? Probably not. A work of God talked about in today’s Gospel? Possibly.
A completely different kind of work that exhibits God’s hand in our world occurred right here in our Guild Room about a month ago. An ecumenical group of clergy came over from
When the meeting was set up we had been told that two to four of the group would be coming to visit with us, while the others spread out to other churches and organizations. We were rather surprised when the entire delegation showed up at the meeting time. A smaller circle of chairs was quickly made into a rather large circle. For the next two hours we had an open and frank discussion that was quite remarkable to participate in. A number of surprising things that happened that day have stayed with me. One of those was the fact that the Anglican priest ended up not being an ally and did not participate in the discussion at all, but rather sat with his arms crossed, looking rather put out the entire time. The Baptist minister, who I first thought would be a cause for concern turned out to be the loveliest, loving and most caring man, who truly was looking for ways to be responsive to gay and lesbian couples who are part of his congregation back in Northern Ireland.
These people were here, at
“I am in the Father and the Father is in me” is such a personal statement being made by Jesus. This is personal, meant to get under our skin, like someone we love can get under our skin, become a part of us. Thomas and Philip where trying to understand this, and by asking questions they were trying to let these ideas of Jesus become personal for them too.
By engaging these points we are making them personal, letting them get under our skin. God can be found in these questions…Not completely understanding the Gospel accounts we hear is okay and delving into their meaning is what we are called to do. Having doubts is a natural and important part of that exploration. Look at how Jesus replied to Thomas and Philip today. He lovingly told them it was okay: no one needs to be ashamed of having doubts. This questioning is part of letting it get under our skin, making it personal and is part of doing God’s work. Some of the examples of God’s work show the works of God can be immediate, having immediate results as shown by Marland, his pickup truck and the creek. As we know, many works are slow, like that of the visiting ecumenical group. Neither of these types of work are magic in any way, shape, manner or form. All of these works are profoundly holy in the way all the works of God are holy: they take what happens here on earth and, in our response, they show us heaven.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Fletcher, a friend from seminary, invited me to an Integrity service at his church in Fredricksburg, VA last night. He had called a few months back asking that I come down and have a discussion with this group about my book, Those 7 References. This was the first such invitation I have received and I gladly took it, and I am very glad that I did.
There were about 30 souls present for Eucharist, then snacks and then a discussion. Most hadn't read the book, so what I had hoped would be a discussion, at least for the first part, turned more into me talking. What struck me so strongly as the evening progressed was how thirsty these folks are for good news, and how hurt these people have been from the abuse hurled at them based on a literal reading of these 7 passages in the Bible.
And I thought of those hurt people as I read today's Gospel in which we hear Jesus tell us to turn the other cheek when someone strikes us, and willingly walk a second mile and to give to any who asks, as well as to love our enemies and to pray for them. And these folks are doing just that. After they have been beat up in various church settings, they still come back to the Gospel, they are still drawn to Jesus, and to each other and the community that is church. What a gift to witness and to think about: to see the Gospel in action, without there actually being someone telling them to do so. They are just living it out and trying to understand why people hate them so, when they are just being themselves, as God has made them. What a great discussion. what a blessed setting. What a blessing to participate in. Thank you Fletcher.
Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer All Rights Reserved.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Jesus adds to our responsibilities as his followers today. Not only aren't we to murder, (which I don't think is all that difficult for most of us), but we aren't to be angry at anyone, or insult someone, or call someone a fool. He increases the responsibility beyond these when he tells us to go to those who have something against us and be reconciled with them: they don't come to us we go to them, no matter what, before approaching the altar to offer gifts. Wow. Wow. Wow. I think we forget about this one all the time.
Anger is an emotion, many times rooted in something valid: often times it can be irrational though. So I think Jesus is on to something here - pointing us towards constant self-reflection and analysis of our actions as well of the actions of those around us and instructing us to move al lour relationships to places of love and acceptance and understanding. All of our relationships. A very tall task, in particular reaching out to those who have something against us and being the ones called upon to attempt to bring reconciliation to the relationship. I foresee exhaustion and frustration, but that is the lesser part of our human nature making excuses for not doing this work. Hard work it is. Work we are called to do though. Daily.
Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer+ All rights reserved.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Jesus' discussion of the law and the commandments today bring forth an interesting comparison. He says that anyone who breaks the least of the commandments, and teaches someone else to break the least of the commandments will be called "least" in the kingdom. Compare that to the individual who "does" the commandments and teaches them, that person will be called "great" in the kingdom. I find the word "great" an interesting choice of words, for it is not "greatest", but "great".....meaning that in our community there will be those who are "great" and recognized for it, but recognized only to an appropriate point.
There is no limitation as to the number of people who can and will be called "great". It seems to me this in an invitation for each and everyone of us to fit into this category of great, into this community of individuals all of whom are great.
Human nanture being what it is though, won't someone want to be "greatest"? It seems to me that Jesus is reminding us here, by this simple choice of words, that there is only one "greatest", and it is not anyone of us. We can all be "great" in the kingdom, we can all be equal in the kingdom, great in the kingdom....Jesus sits in the midst of us as the greatest....and there is a beautiful and calming solace in that knowledge.
Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer, All rights reserved.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
I am a person who under-states things, who does not really like to draw attention to myself. This is just part of my introverted nature. One of those interesting dichotomies in life is that I have chosen careers throughout my life which have challenged me not to act in that manner: as a lawyer for 18 years, and now as a parish priest. Neither of these have made it easy to fade into the background or travel under the radar screen. This is an interesting tension that I cogitate on frequently.
Jesus instructs us today to not fade into the background or travel under the radar screen when it comes to being a Christian: in acting out our lives as examples for others to model. Jesus tells us to be that salty person who, by their very saltiness, draws attention to themselves and points people on the way. Jesus, through the metaphor of a city built on a hill, is telling us to stand out, to be a luminous presence to those who need to see this light, hear this good news, to be vane and out and loud and proud for Jesus.
This is so much easier said, and thought about, then done.
Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All rights reserved.
Monday, April 14, 2008
Our selection from Matthew today begins with Jesus seeing the crowds, and without explanation going up the mountain and sitting down. In Matthew, the passage just before our selection today has Jesus calling Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, as well and James and John to be his followers: and they go throughout Galilee teaching and healing and having huge throngs of people following him, coming to him, seeking him out. In Matthew generally, Jesus goes "up the mountain" when he needs to pray, or to be alone. One last bit of info: when Jesus sits down that means he is going to teach, as that is what the great rabbinic teachers do, they sit down amongst the people they have charge over and they speak/teach/make those followers think.
I can imagine Jesus, having just completed a strenuous circuit of healing and teaching, turning around, seeing more crowds, more people in need, and sighing....and going up the mountain. He didn't go alone this time, his newly appointed disciples were with him. He needed to rest from those efforts throughout Syria, but he also needed to tell his disciples some very important things: what are known as the beatitudes, which are part of today's lectionary reading.
In the midst of exhaustion, of not wanting to deal with the crowds, Jesus imparts truth about the kingdom: difficult truths to comprehend let alone make part of one's life, but truths none the less, spoken at a time of exhaustion. Important insights can be achieved even in the depths of tiredness, allowing for a different kind of rest to come to our soul.
Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer
Friday, April 11, 2008
I only met Bill and Joan once, after a service at St. Thomas' while I was still seminarian there. We barely had a conversation, nothing much beyond the initial pleasantries people give to each other when they share a mutual friend. Bill was (and still is to some extent) a primary mentor to our mutual friend and I feel like I know him and Joan quite well because of the stories shared with me by our mutual friend.
Bill is a retired priest who has been suffering from cancer for a number of years. The disease has returned with a vengeance and I learned early this morning that he is now under hospice care with (at the most) a few weeks to live. It is a very sad thing to watch someone slowly lose their life to a painful and debilitating disease.
Today is the anniversary of my father's death. He died on April 11, 1980: 27 years ago. That is a long time ago, but for me that day is one of those days that is seared into my memory: one I can recall with absolute clarity, as if the events happened yesterday. And on this anniversary of my Dad's passing, and on a day of the receipt of news of a dear friend's mentor/priest being on death's door, we are given Matthew's passing of the torch from John the Baptist to Jesus, where Jesus, in the land of the Gentiles, is proclaiming "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." Jesus being that presence, that kingdom.
Repent is one of those really charged words in our lexicon. In the Greek it means turn and return: turn away from what one is doing and return to God, or perhaps turn toward God and return to God. Both of these provide a more optimistic understanding of the word repent then is commonly associated with it. Both Bill and my Dad led lives full of God's grace. My Dad is in a better place now, after having suffered a horrible demise. Bill is close now to that everlasting and loving embrace that God provides to those who come home. Although very difficult for those who remain behind, who remain behind for a while only, there is a beauty to the knowledge that this separation is not forever: that we are all promised a better place.
Pray for Bill and Joan, as Bill moves on to that next place.
Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer
Thursday, April 10, 2008
We are given the passage today in Exodus where the 10 Commandments are passed down from Mt. Sinai in a rumble of thunder and lightning. And we have this great Psalm where in the first half we are given encouragement to not worry about what others do, but to do good instead. In Matthew today, Jesus is tormented and tested in the desert and then chases the tormentor away, being a living example of what the psalmist instructs us to do.
Do not be jealous of those who do wrong the psalmist says and then Do not fret yourself over the one who prospers, the one who succeeds in evil schemes. We are also told Put your trust in the Lord and do good and take delight in the Lord and you shall be given your heart's desire. We are asked today to put aside jealousy at those who "get ahead" in this material world by dishonest means. We are surrounded by this: the mortgage crisis and the corporations walking away with millions "earned", their executives untouched, while hundreds of thousands of individuals are losing their homes...losing their homes. Imagine how hard that is. Look around your home right now and then think, Wow, this is all gone. Imagine the absolute loss and devastation. It happens everyday and it is so unfair and so very hard not to get angry about it.
We are asked to put aside those feelings and be confident in our God, in our work doing what we know is the right thing to do. Taking whatever small steps we need to take to effectuate the coming of the kingdom. That confidence is a very difficult thing to hang on to some days. But hang on we must.
Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
God being transcendent and God being imminent are highlighted for us in today's lectionary readings. In Exodus we have God instructing Moses about how and where the people are to approach the mountain on which God has descended to talk with Moses: God is setting limits around the mountain thereby keeping it holy.
In Colossians Paul tells us For in him (Jesus) all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. God has moved closer, becoming intimate with us by taking human form. God is no long transcendent on the mountain, but imminent among us.
And in Matthew today, we have the adult Jesus taking center stage, coming to John the Baptist to be baptized by him in the Jordan River. God, fully in-fleshed in the human Jesus, being baptized by his cousin, in front of Pharisees and Sadducees and the other people come to see this wild man John the Baptist. There has been a substantial amount of reflection on the reasoning behind Jesus' actions, chief among them that Jesus was cleaning the Jordan River by being baptized, he was sanctifying it for all. There are many other theological reflections but this one intrigues me. We have this God who threatens his chosen people not to come close to the mountain or they will die morphing into this human who is immersed with us in the waters of baptism, immersed in all the humanness that life can throw at us. And I think we can think of God as both of these at different times in our lives, when it suits our purposes.
And I'm intrigued that by accident of calendar, we remember Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Lesser Feasts and Fasts today: who was this pacifist preacher turned plotter to take a human life: albeit a monstrous human, who himself is killed because of his participation in that plot.
I am given to wonder today: where am I treating God as transcendent in my life and where is God imminent. Isn't God always imminent?
Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
I stopped at the gas station on the way to the church yesterday. After I finished paying nearly a week's wages to fill up my tank and was waiting for the machine to spit out my receipt, a neatly dressed woman came over to me and said, Here Father, here is something for you to read, and God bless your congregation.
I usually make it a rule to either not take those kind of handouts (for they usually infuriate me) or simply take it and then toss it in the nearest garbage receptacle For some unknown reason, perhaps because I was not fully awake, I took the offered small pamphlet, thanked her, got my receipt from the machine and got in the car. Washington morning traffic being what it is, I had plenty of time in the car, listening to NPR and doing my best not be aggravated by the other imbeciles on the road, so I decided to glance at the leaflet that I had tossed on the passenger seat. It was one of those small little four page leaflets measuring the size of a small index card. On its cover was a picture of a US Coast Guard boat and the words "A choice to serve." I looked at the back cover next, where there was some continued writing from the inside of the pamphlet and noticed that this was a document prepared by a retired Sgt. Walter Smith of the USCG. Then I opened the pamphlet and learned that I was going to hell.
This pamphlet took snippets of phrases from different books of the Bible (Leviticus, Romans, Colossians, 1 Peter, 1 Thessalonian) and strung them together to prove the author's point. When I say snippets, I mean not even full sentences, with nothing put in context. And I thought, How sad. Surprisingly for me, I didn't get annoyed or aggravated or pissed off, I just felt a great sense of sadness for the individual who wrote this pamphlet, but also for the the folks who receive this pamphlet and unfortunately only see this as the whole of a Christian message.
Today's lectionary selection from Matthew has us listening to John the Baptist berating the Pharisees and Sadducees. There are some rather harsh images presented to us today by John (the winnowing fork, and chaff burned in unquenchable fire). I am surprised these weren't included in that pamphlet - although the author seemed pre-disposed to ignore the Gospels and only refer to the OT and Epistles. Today's passage from Matthew is an important part of the Gospel, preparing us for the adult Jesus' entrance onto center stage. Taken out of context, as this passage often is, it can be utilized in ways that ignore the bigger picture of Jesus' message of love and forgiveness and outreach. Certainly we can't ignore these kinds of passages, but they need to be always read with the larger canon in mind: so that leaflets like the one I received yesterday, can be put in their proper place.
Copyright 2008 John F. Dwyer
Monday, April 7, 2008
A long time homiletics professor told me once that she knew the folks who were involved in the putting together of the Daily Office lectionary. She remembers them commenting that there was no effort on their part in putting the readings together, in matching them up to give a cohesive message or picture or theme for any given day. She told me this in response to a line I used in a sermon once that marveled at how well the lectionary selections seem to dovetail together to provide just such a cohesive message: although there are many days when the opposite is also true. On days, like today, when there seems to be just such a cohesive message, bearing in mind her recollection of conversations had with the assemblers of our D.O. lectionary, I have to credit the work of the Holy Spirit.
Today in Exodus we have Moses' father-in-law telling him to chill out and delegate or he is going to kill himself from over-work, a suggestion to which Moses acquiesces. In 1 Peter, he delegates responsibility for the care of the growing flock of Christians to whom he is writing. And then we have the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew, the great genealogy of Jesus, a skipped chapter and then the beginning story of John the Baptist. I am struck by this genealogy (which is optional in the lectionary, but I would suggest reading it!). Here is this long line of Old Testament names, from stories plucked from throughout time, many of them great but all of them with very human and sordid deeds in their past: David, Solomon, Jacob, Judah, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and so many others. All of these folks had a limited part in the grand story of this canon that has been passed down through thousands of years for us to decipher, some larger parts then others. And I am reminded that we are called to remember that we cannot do it all, just as Moses is reminded by his father-in-law and Peter reminds the people to whom he was writing. This grand list of human beings setting forth the genealogy of our Savior, Jesus Christ, is a clear reminder that although we all have a part to play, it is not all up to us or all about us. We are called to do the best that we can with the short time that we have, and trust God to know that we have tried out best to assist in the establishing of the Kingdom. That is a Spirit filled cohesive message taken from today's lectionary pages and one I am particularly grateful for today.
Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer
Saturday, April 5, 2008
I have said these things to you, so that in me you may have peace. (John 16:30)
Life is so easy to get wrapped up into: all the petty but necessary things that we have to do in order to survive can overtake good intentions. I like to make a habit of calling my 80 year old mother every two days or so, to check in, find out how she is feeling and see if there is anything I can do for her. Well, this week got away from me and I didn't call at all from last Saturday until I heard from my brother yesterday (Friday) afternoon.
Mom had not been feeling very well, very tired and short of breath. I had noticed her tiredness a little over a week ago when I had been visiting her in CT: she was sleeping much more then was her custom. I mentioned that perhaps she should call the doctor. Her response was twofold: she had an appointment scheduled and she would wait for that (at the end of the month); and that she's 80 years old and entitled to sleep if she wanted to, thank you very much. So I left it alone, and then got wrapped up in work and life and neglected to call her this week.
She did call the doctor this week, went in for blood tests on Thursday, for an appointment with the doctor that had been moved forward a couple of weeks. The doctor called her on Friday around 1 PM and told her that she needed to go the the emergency room immediately as her blood work showed her red blood cell count to be almost non-existent and that he was fearful that she was going to have a heart attack. A 91 year old friend took her to the emergency room. My older brother was traveling from Boston to Princeton via Amtrak and did not complete his journey home, but went to the hospital to be with her. There is a blessing in that timing.
She will be undergoing tests today to determine where she may be bleeding, and why she is so very anemic. Prayers of strength and courage for her would be greatly appreciated.
I do find strength and solace in the belief that in Jesus we may have peace. That knowledge does lessen the worry, but does not wipe it away, nor does it take away the pointless guilt I feel having missed calling her this week.
Friday, April 4, 2008
Psalms 16, 17 * 134, 135; Exodus 16:22-36; 1 Peter 3:13-4:6; John 16:1-15
Truth-tellers are not always the most popular of people. Certainly our political leaders are deft at misleading, at dancing around points that might hurt their chances at re-election because they did not paint a rosy picture for the electorate to buy into. In our jargon we compliment people who can answer a question without offending someone: and that is a talent that is good to have...at times. But when it becomes an art form where there is little to no truth in what is being said, then there is a danger in this talent at softening a harsh reality which many times leads to purposeful misleading, if not outright lying.
We celebrate Martin Luther King in Lesser Feast and Fasts today, for he was murdered 40 years ago today by an assassins bullet while he was in Memphis, TN. He was a man who was elegant in his speech, and was a truth teller, unlike many today who have an ability for soaring rhetoric, with no substance and little truth or reality in their words. Martin Luther King was a truth-teller and paid the ultimate price for providing an unvarnished look at the world. Truth tellers don't hide or obfuscate facts making what they say, at times, hard to hear and can be pain-inducing.
Jesus says some difficult things today, which he acknowledges are hard for his disciples to hear, that cause them sorrow. He lets his disciples know he is causing them sorrow, but he has to do what is before him in order to get to the next phase of God's plan. Not everything in life is peaches and cream, just like not everything in life is a dark room without light. We can't have blinders on, and only look at one thing: we are pointedly told to see the whole picture today. We have an example in today's Gospel of truth-telling: sometimes things are difficult to hear, to live through, to experience, but there is joy in the morning, as Easter Sunday proves.
Thursday, April 3, 2008
The above link will take you to Amazon where my book is for sale. This is a work that takes a look at seven references to homosexuality through a canonical approach of hermeneutics. Looking at these passages utilizing this approach provides a different lens through which Scripture can be understood in today's day and age. I hope it provides a positive influence on the discussion that is ongoing in the Church.
The word friend is a real nuanced one. We call people friend who are acquaintances, people whom we have just met, all the way along the spectrum to people who know our deepest and most secret parts of ourselves.
We also call our pets our friends, in particular dogs who go by the title "man's best friend". And most dogs deserve that title as can be attested by the people who own and love them: they are loving and kind animals who just want to be loved and be with the individuals with whom they have bonded. I can attest to this personally. My new dog Allie, who I adopted 4 weeks ago has quickly bonded to me, although she still has nightmares that I believe are from her first 12 months of life where she was neglected and abused. I can be having the most dreadful of days and her greeting and love and playfulness and joy at seeing me can help put things into perspective and bring me out of a developing funk. This is an example of this rare thing called unconditional love that is so difficult for us to accept, mimic and accomplish.
The kind of friend Jesus is referring to in today's Gospel from John is not the acquaintance type, but is something much deeper. We know this because he addresses his disciples as "friends" immediately after ordering them to follow his "commandment" that "you love one another as I have loved you." He then talks about dying for his friends. That is an awesome thing to contemplate and a rare thing to understand, to say nothing about experience. But that is the nuance to the word friend in today's Gospel: and a deep and powerful nuance it is.
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Psalms 119:1-24 * Psalms 12, 13, 14
Spring feels like it is finally here. Although it hasn't been a harsh winter, it certainly feels like it has been a long one and I am ready for warmer, sunnier days where I can be outside more comfortably dressed. Nature certainly seems to be ready with flowers popping up, bushes blooming and trees budding all around us. In Washington, the Cherry Blossom Festival is in full swing, with throngs of people down along the tidal basin enjoying those fragile flowers.
Eastertide seems early this year, because it is, but there is something wonderful about Easter being so early - with these tangible elements of new life popping up all around us at the same time we are celebrating these 50 days of Easter and Jesus' resurrection from the dead. My balcony plantings are blooming as well, giving me an up-close and personal interaction with the wonders of nature in its early life after a long and quiescent winter.
Our OT lesson today continues the early sojourn of the Israelites after their escape from Egypt, and their beginning complaints about not having water or food enough to survive. Of course, God does provide water and food for them, a springing of life providing resurrection power to them to continue on their very long trek to the Promised Land. While the Gospel of John provides us with the image of Jesus being the true vine and we, his disciples, are the branches: for his disciples all of us are who call ourselves Christian. John reminds us that Jesus instructs us to keep his commandments - which Jesus reminds us often in Scripture has chief among them to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves. God provides and we are loved and told to abide in that love. And we in turn are to love, love completely and entirely, not exclusively but inclusively. A very tall order for us frail beings who find it hard to like people, let alone to love them.
Truly, signs of resurrection life can be found in this love we are given and are called to give, no matter how hard we find it to give.
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
This is my newly adopted Bernese Mountain dog, Allie. She is 16 months old. I adopted her three and a half weeks ago after she was returned to the breeder having been ill-treated and ignored. She is an absolute love, and has become the new "non-stipendiary associate" at the church office. She is training up nicely, although she still needs to learn table-manners. (Being a proud papa here!)