Thursday, July 31, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Keeping Watch

Psalms (70), 71 * 74; Judges 4:4-23; Acts 1:15-26; Matthew 27:55-66

Growing up, whenever my family heard about someone dying, my Mom and Dad would immediately start to think about who else has died recently. Their superstition was that deaths always come in threes, and they would get busy counting to make sure there were no more coming. Many times they couldn't come up with two more names and they would look at each other, usually not say anything, and they would begin the wait.

I don't know about this "three" thing, but I do know from recent personal experience that illnesses seem to run in batches. We seem to have a rash of illnesses in groups associated with my life right now, and all of those people who are ill have families who are waiting, who are watching. Much like Mary Magdalene and the other Mary do in today's reading after Joseph of Arimathea places Jesus' dead body in his tomb. Their waiting proved to be a fruitful exercise, although they did not know or understand what resurrection would be like. They were simply there doing their duty, doing what was right.

Some of these families who are waiting and watching their loved ones who are ill will be rewarded with recovery and a re-engagement with life. Some will be rewarded by being able to be with and witness their loved one dying. And that is a different kind of reward, for both the family and the one who has passed on: for passed on they have. Passed on to a new life, a union with God to which we are all headed. Although sad for those still here, because they won't see and be with their loved one any longer, it is not a cold comfort to know those who have moved on are now in a better place. Their watch is now over. 

We can be assured that there will be others.

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

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Endings & Beginnings

Psalm 72 * 119:73-96; Judges 3:12-30; Acts 1:1-14; Matthew 27: 45-54

We have an interesting selection of readings in our lectionary today. In Judges we are at the beginning of the long spiral down for the people of Israel that is chronicled in this book. We are given the very beginning of Acts, where Jesus is with his disciples, post-resurrection and he gives his promise to the disciples of their receiving the Holy Spirit and then he ascends to Heaven. And in Matthew, Jesus dies on the cross today. Endings and beginnings all over the place.
Life is full of endings and beginnings: small and large, noticed and unnoticed. Each day begins and each day ends, and onward the cycle of life goes. It is so important that we not get stuck in a routine that allows us to ignore changes, to ignore endings and beginnings. These endings and beginnings allow us to appreciate life, which is far too short, whether we live 40 years or 100 years. Far too short to allow for ignoring what is all around us, the love that permeates all things and all of life. The readings today scream Wake up! Wake up to what is all around you, before it is too late and we don't awake in this world anymore, but in the one to come.
Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Come Down Now.

Psalms: 61, 62 * 68:1-20(21-23)24-36; Judges 2:1-5,11-23; Romans 16:17-27; Matthew 27:32-44

That was a refrain I heard a lot as a child. My Mom standing at the bottom of the stairs, yelling up to me in my room Come down now! Whether it was for dinner, or chores left undone, or simply to chase me out of the house for a few hours, that was a constant refrain of trying to extricate me from my room. I was usually reading or painting or day dreaming (this is pre-internet and pre-cable television days - dating myself, I know.....)

Jesus is taunted by that phrase in today's Gospel passage.  Passers-by as well as the chief priests yelled up to Jesus on that cross: You said you were King of Jews.....You saved others, save yourself....You said you would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, but you can't save yourself!...Come down now! And yet Jesus stays silent, bearing the weight of his cross, staying up there. I am certain that if he and God wanted to, he could have come down from that cross at any moment of his choosing...but he chose not to. Rather he chose to bear it, to complete the task set for him.

I have often wondered if some of those taunts weren't so much taunts as pleas for him to save himself and thereby his followers as well: come down now please, save yourself as you saved others.....don't leave us! All of us have faced situations (hopefully not as dire as Jesus' today) where we have had friends, family, acquaintances, ask us to halt from the course we have set, to put down the cross that we have taken up, to come down now from what we have taken up doing. I have found most of those requests come from a place of concern for my well-being, or at least their impression of what my well-being should look like. Jesus sets a different model for us today. We cannot answer the taunts or the pleas to Come down now if we are certain that the cross we are bearing, the hill we have agreed to climb, is what we have discerned to be what God wants us to bear, where God wants us to be. This can be a hard and lonely choice, and perhaps not always the right one, because, after all, none of us are the Messiah. But if we have that certainty, that knowledge deep within us, that what we are doing is the right thing, then we cannot Come down now. We can only do that when we are done.

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

Monday, July 28, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: "Welcome All....."

Psalm 56, 57 (8) * 64, 65; Joshua 24:16-33; Romans 16:1-16; Matthew 27:24-31

I was driving through DC on Friday, running an errand. As I turned off Rhode Island Avenue onto North Capitol Street, I noticed a church parallel to the service road. It is a Roman Catholic Church named St. Martin's RC Church. I have passed it numerous times before, but something drew my attention to its front door. A banner hung above the main entrance. It is a large white banner with large black lettering, which says: WELCOME ALL SINNERS!

My initial reaction was to stop the car, go up and rip that stupid sign down. I didn't do this of course, as much as my fertile imagination dreamed up scenarios of my successfully doing so. 

This is not just a Roman Catholic thing, this approach to life from a negative space, it is rampant in the Protestant world as well, including parts of The Episcopal Church.  I think it is matter of where we start that is so important to how we perceive and understand our relationship to God, and through that relationship our understanding of the world. 

I won't quibble about the fact that as human beings we all have faults, we all (no matter our age or life experiences) have the ability to grow into being better people. Are some of those traits and foibles in us "sin"? Some most assuredly. But to dwell there seems a bit pathetic to me. By dwelling there it becomes, so easily, self-defeating and focused on self-abuse and self-castigation, and we lose the message that underlies what we read in Matthew today.

And that underlying message is one of an unquestionable love. A love that is open to everyone, no matter what we might think we have done that makes us unworthy. For NONE of us are unworthy: God's love is for all of us. Do we need to strive more towards the kingdom of heaven we hear Jesus preach about? Absolutely. But that striving is so much easier when we approach our relationship to God with God's love in the forefront of our efforts as opposed to the negative and self-defeating approach advocated by that banner above the church door.

Wherever you are on your walk with God, always remember that this unimaginable love is ours. Perhaps a large gallon of white paint to take out the last word on the sign would be sufficient, as opposed to ripping the whole thing down. How does WELCOME ALL sound?

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

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Not Alone

Psalms 55 * 138, 139:1-17(18-23); Joshua 23:1-16; Romans 15:25-33; Matthew 27:11-23

I find it hard to think of anything to say after such a strong passage from Matthew. Jesus stands mute. Pilate doesn't want to sentence him and tries to find a way out, but falls into his own trap. The crowd is whipped into a frenzy by priests and the elders who are scattered among the crowd. And Jesus stands quiet and alone. Except for three words, You say so, we don't hear anything from Jesus. 

In the face of the wrath of the crowd and the hatred of the religious leaders combined with his abandonment by his disciples, Jesus stands quiet and alone. Or seems to be. For even though he must have had numerous different human emotions raging through him at that moment (fear, anger, disappointment, sadness), he also knew something. He knew who he was, whose son he was. At 33 years old, he had three years of ministry under his belt. He knew what he had accomplished, and he had to have known, even though he was about to suffer and be hurt greatly, he must have known what was to come after the suffering. He must have known he was walking into the loving embrace of God. Perhaps that is what made his being quiet and alone more bearable for him.

When we are alone and feeling bereft, remembering that, in truth, we are not alone, that God is with us, God's love envelopes us, can help to alleviate those very difficult feelings and to move on in life.

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

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Fear and Confusion

Psalms 50 *(59), 60 or 66, 67; Joshua 9:3-21; Romans 15:1-13; Matthew 26:69-75

When something frightens me, or when I feel threatened, I tend to hunker down, go inward, put up walls around me. It is an instinctual response for me. I am more self-aware than I used to be, so I do recognize when I am going into "that mode" of operation and do my best to stop myself from completely shutting down my emotions. Professional therapy has helped me understand why I react in that manner and how to approach these situations in a more conscious and healthy manner.

Peter was acting out of a deep place of fear and confusion today. The man he named as Messiah and whom he has followed, leaving family and livelihood behind, just told him that betrayal and denial where in his future and then he sees him arrested and all the disciples and friends scattered away. Peter is alone, watching the man he loves be tortured, abused and denigrated. Peter had to be confused and deeply fearful when someone points at him and says he is one of Jesus' followers. Peter just reacted and lied and denied knowing Jesus: doing it two more times. Then the cock crows and Peter wakes up to what he has just done: lived into what he had been told he would do.

Peter was human, acting from a place of confusion and fear. An uneducated fisherman in a large city, witnessing the power brokers of that place flex their muscles in taking away the touch-stone of his existence. Perhaps this is some of the rationalization Peter did when he realized what he had just done, or perhaps he just felt like crap for betraying Jesus' trust, for being who Jesus knew him to be. Perhaps through this experience, Peter got to know and accept himself better. Perhaps this learning helped him become the rock on which Jesus founded his church. Perhaps this learning allowed him to be the leader he became for the fledgling church about to be born. Perhaps.

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

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Crowds and Mobs

Psalms 119:49-72; Joshua 8:30-35; Romans 14:13-23; Matthew 26:57-68

I was at a baseball game recently sitting out in the right field bleachers. It was a beautiful evening, the stadium was crowded, people were talking, watching the game, buying beer and sodas and pretzels and peanuts and hot dogs: most everyone just having a grand ole time.

Over in the center field bleachers there was a group of younger men who, throughout the evening, kept trying to get the crowd to "do the wave": where people raise their hands and jump out of their seat all around the particular tier of the ball park, making what appears to be a human tidal wave moving around the stadium. Try as they might they just couldn't get the "wave" going. The crowd just wasn't into it that evening.

A "crowd mentality" can be unpredictable: it can be infectiously fun but it can also be infectiously dangerous. When it is the latter the "crowd" usually becomes known as a "mob": something unruly and uncontrollable where conscious thought leaves and people begin to act in ways that are less then up to society's standards of decency.

We have just such a mob mentality develop at the end of today's Gospel reading where the crowd around the high priest, who has just rent his garments, are pushing on, spitting on, slapping and tormenting Jesus. They were whipped into a frenzy by his calm presence and demeanor and by the manipulation of them by the high priest Caiaphas. This crowd of people did develop into a mob.

Although I have never been caught up in a mob mentality, I have been in situations where great joy has permeated through a group, where those feelings of camaraderie are communally felt. The opposite of that kind of experience is what appears to have happened with Jesus when he was brought before Caiaphas. And I can't help but wonder, in what circumstances am I brought to a frenzy to do things that are not right, without thought. What circumstances are going on in today's world that requires us to take a step back and not get caught up in a mob mentality.

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

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Sweet Mary

MP: Psalm 116; Zephaniah 3:14-20; Mark 15:47-16:7
EP: Psalms 30, 149; Exodus 15:19-21; 2Corinthians 1:3-7

Today is the feast day of St. Mary Magdalene. There are many stories and theories about Mary that have developed through the centuries about this woman. From the Gospel accounts we know she was healed by Jesus early on in his ministry. After that healing she became one of Jesus' followers, ever present, one of the few to stay and witness his crucifixion and then one of the individuals to go to the tomb to first discover what would later be understood as his resurrection. She is also, in the Gospel of John, the first person to whom the resurrected Jesus makes himself known.

In the Orthodox Christian Church, their tradition places her on a par with the 11 apostles. Alas, our western tradition has not done that: our tradition co-opted to a much more misogynistic understanding and translation of the Scriptures. We do accord her this honor of giving her a saint's feast day, which is the minimum of the recognition that should be afforded her.

Mary of Magdala certainly understood, and lived into what we hear from the prophet Zephaniah today: Do not fear...The Lord, your God, is in your midst...he will renew you in his love, he will exult over you with loud singing...And will save the lame and gather the outcast, and will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. Mary appears to have been an outcast before she met and was healed by Jesus. She recognized and altered her life because of that discernment and was a faithful witness, friend, companion and apostle of Jesus. I cannot help but think and hope and pray that the Church of England's decision to (finally) consecrate women as bishops of the Church is done with the model of Mary of Magdala in mind. A better model would be hard to find.

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

Monday, July 21, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Finding Our Way

Psalms 41, 52 * 44; Joshua 7:1-13; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 26: 36-46

We can be remarkably resourceful and strong sometimes and phenomenally weak at other times.  We can dig down and find the strength and courage to do miraculous things, and the next moment, just miss the point completely.

The disciples have done remarkable things whilst trekking around the countryside with Jesus. Chief among those remarkable things is their decision to leave home, family, livelihoods behind to follow Jesus. In today's Gospel we are in the Garden of Gethsemane where the group has just come from The Last Supper where very peculiar things had occurred: Jesus washing his followers' feet, the identification of the betrayer, the prediction of denial. And now the disciples see their master in great distress and they can't keep awake.

Jesus does not castigate them or berate them for their lack of fortitude. He accepts their behavior knowing he must blaze the trail ahead alone. He knows their weaknesses and knows they will face their own times of trial ahead, that they will face bravely and brilliantly, with moments of distraction and misdirection. I think that is part of being human. We find our way, lose it and find our way back. And we repeat this pattern over and over again, individually and corporately. Their are a number of great gifts in this cycle: one is that God's love for us is so great that it is always there for us when we find our way back; and two is the fact that finding our way back is a lot easier because we know of that great love.

Certainly we would prefer to remain undistracted and not misdirected. But if history and our basic human nature is any indicator, we will at some point find ourselves asleep in a garden when we should have been awake. Knowing that we will be forgiven our ineptness makes finding the way back a much easier journey.

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

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: The Four Movements

Psalms 30, 32 * 42, 43; Joshua 6:1-14; Romans 13:1-7; Matthew 26:26-35

In the Gospel reading today we have Jesus instituting the Eucharist, in which their are four distinct movements: taking, blessing, breaking, giving. Jesus took the bread, blessed the bread, broke the bread and then gave the bread.

Whenever we have a Eucharistic Celebration we say those same words during the Eucharistic Prayer, and we also actually act them out. The priest takes the bread, many times presented during an Offertory procession. During the Eucharistic Prayer the bread is blessed. After the Lord's Prayer the priest breaks the bread, many times accompanied by a Fraction Anthem. And then the bread is given to the people to share in the meal. In word and action we are mimicking The Last Supper, at each and every Eucharist. 

Shortly after I had first chatted with the rector of my sponsoring parish about this odd desire I felt, this tug to investigate ordination, I attended an instructed Eucharist. At this Eucharist the second lesson was a reading from Paul, where these words we hear in Matthew today are uttered. I was asked to read these words, and it was the first time I said them aloud: take, bless, break, give. I can still remember the chill that ran down my spine when I said those words. That same kind of unnerving chill (magnified a hundredfold) went through me when I was Celebrant at my first Eucharist.

These are important words. These are important actions. They are a recreation of that fateful last meal. They are, by word and by deed, signs that: Christ was here, Christ was killed, Christ rose from the dead and is with us still.

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

Friday, July 18, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Our Truthful Sub-Conscious

Psalms 31 * 35; Joshua 4:19-5:1,10-15; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 26:17-25

I have noticed that many people in times of stress will say things that are truthful, obvious and something they would not normally say given time to think. This seems to me to be the sub-conscious blurting out the truth, whether it is appropriate or not for those things to be said in that moment. 

A friend of mine had just started a new job and was extremely nervous. He was being introduced to numerous people, struggling to try and lodge people's names in his mind for the next time he bumped into them in the office corridor. One particular woman he was introduced to, named Irene Smith, had a large wart-like growth on her face. Looking at the wart, he tried to associate the growth with her name, thereby making Irene stick in his brain. He stuck out his hand and said nice to meet you Ms. Wart

I wonder if Judas had a similar brain-fart moment when he asked Jesus Surely not I, Rabbi, in today's Gospel. For we know he had already struck his deal with the Jewish leadership to betray Jesus. Why not just keep your mouth shut? I think, at least for those of us who are not ill psychologically, we want to tell the truth. There is an innate goodness in all of us and being truthful is part of that goodness. We see it all the time in children who can be so blatantly honest in their comments: no filter yet having been installed. This gets beat out of us by the proprieties of societal norms, and those urges to state the obvious get pushed down in our brain. But in times of stress, that desire to be honest can bubble up at socially uncomfortable times. Perhaps we need to pay attention to those moments, for truth can lead us to new places of hope and opportunity. Seeing things clearly, not through a lens of manufactured niceties, can help bring the kingdom to fruition, no matter how seemingly embarrassing those moments may be.

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

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Our Calling

Psalms 38 * 119:25-48; Joshua 3:1-13; Romans 11:25-36; Matthew 25:31-46

We are given a very clear definition of what we are called to do in this life in today's Gospel reading: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, care for the sick, visit those in prison. It's clear and it is fairly simple and yet after 2000 years many of us still stand condemned by these words: condemned for our lack of action on them (me chief among them).

I must be cranky this morning 'cause I don't think I have to say anything else.

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

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Going For It

Psalms 26, 28 * 36, 39; Joshua 2:15-24 Romans 13-24; Matthew 25:14-30

One talent in Jesus' time equated to (approximately) the life-time's earnings of a common person. So for a slave to be given five or two or even one talent would have been understood to the listeners of this parable as something unusual and an absolutely unheard of amount of money and responsibility given over to a slave. 

Two of these individuals were smart and savvy enough to double what they had been given. One buried his treasure and then returned it unchanged upon the master's return. This last is treated quite harshly by the master in the parable.

We all have gifts, some innate some learned. These gifts, these talents if you will, cannot be left untouched, unused. That is a great waste. Many of our churches have endowments that have been gifts. These too must be put to use: those endowments themselves being talents, being gifts. To insist on keeping the status quo out of fear of change, or loss, is not to be good stewards of the talents we have been gifted. In fact, those talents when they are unused get frittered away over time and become worthless because we don't go for it, go for the gold. We cannot sit and be melancholy about a past time, afraid to step into the future. Gifts, talents, resources must be used to further the kingdom's presence among us. Going for it is what this parable instructs us to do, as scary as the prospect of stepping out into the unknown is to all of us. 

We can plan for what is to come, but we don't really know what it will look like or be until we live into it. With God's help we will be able to at least double a lifetime's amount of gifts.

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

Monday, July 14, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Readiness

Psalms 25 * 9, 15; Joshua 2:1-14; Romans 11:1-12; Matthew 25:1-13

I got up late this morning....Well late for me.  I woke up around 5 AM and thought, nope, not yet, not getting out of bed yet and rolled over. I reawakened about 6:45 AM, which is late for me.... early for vast swaths of people, but late for me. When this happens, for the rest of the day, I know I will feel as if I am always running behind: late for something. This is a silly feeling for I have no appointments this morning, and Mondays are normally my "clean-up from the weekend day and plan for next Sunday day". The office is always a bit more quiet on a Monday (helped by the fact that the rector takes Mondays off). As I'm preaching this coming Sunday, I usually use today also as a research and thinking day of how I might like to "shape" my sermon. So there really is no reason to worry or feel that I am running late today....but I already feel that pressure building, as imaginary and self-imposed as it may be.

And the Gospel reading from today's Daily Office doesn't help much with that feeling of impending "lateness" as we are given the parable of the Kingdom of Heaven being like the 10 bridesmaids. Perhaps that early rising-always planning-watchfulness comes from a deep rooted desire to be ready. But ready for what? I am sure it is not being ready for Jesus' return...but a readiness to do what God calls me to do, whatever that may be, whatever I may discern that to be. No one likes to be (or even worse) look foolish: I know I don't want to be one of the foolish bridesmaids without enough lamp oil....but try as I might, there are days and times when I am exactly like them.

Being ready I think has a lot to do with finding an inner peace: a place where we can find the strength to be gentle with ourselves and with others. A place where we find that wick that can light the flame that illumines God's love for us, God's gentleness and patience with us: even when we get up late.

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

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Recognized Timing

Psalms 20, 21:1-7(8-14) *10:1-5(6-10), 116, 117; Deuteronomy 14:1-12; Romans 10:14-21; Matthew 24:32-51

There is some innate sense in all of us that we know when it is time to move on, and it is one of those pieces of information that we (many times) ignore. Sometimes we ignore it because we just don't want change at that particular moment in time. Sometimes we ignore that knowledge that it is time to move on because there is a part of us that likes what we are doing. Sometimes it is because we are wallowing in remembrances of good times past and are melancholic at the thought of actually leaving something behind that has already left us far behind. 

It can be a very hard thing to let go, to move on, to try something new. But if we don't allow ourselves these opportunities we will all stagnate and cease to grow as fully human persons. Much like Jesus tells us today to take a lesson from the fig tree and its fruit, we too must be vigilant to signs that the time has come for change because in reality, nothing stays the same in life. Everything is always evolving and moving. This reality can make life much more enjoyable to live then to sit stuck in a past, that is long since past.

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

Friday, July 11, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Endings

Psalms 16, 17 * 22; Deuteronomy 31:7-13,24-32:4; Romans 10:1-13; Matthew 24:15-31

All things in life come to an end: jobs, relationships, where we live, our favorite store or restaurant closing, a beloved automobile or watch stops working, and our own lives. Everything has a time span, a limit that is reached at some point.

We are in a seemingly rough patch of Matthew's Gospel right now. It's all about eschatology: the end times. This theological principle is steeped in ancient Jewish traditions and relies heavily on the Book of Daniel here. Matthew's original listeners would have known and understood this quite well. But what are we to make of this rather obtuse and (actually) pretty scary writing?

If we do not take this literally, but extrapolate out a bit, we can see that Matthew is making absolutely clear that Christ is the end of all things. That Christ is what we are all striving for in this life, and when we reach the end, which all of us will do at some point, the whole purpose of our life, all that we have been, all that we are, all that we could have been, is rolled up into the Christological concept that Christ is the center of all things. Christ is the means and the ends in life and is around whom we are called to focus our attention, focus our purpose and focus our work. 

In a secular and materialistic world, this is incredibly counter-cultural. Yet that is the model we are provided in all NT Scripture: Christ doing the unexpected, being with individuals who are not part of the mainstream culture. Christ is the beginning, the middle and the end for all of us.

Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Fending Off Cold

Psalms 18:1-20 * 18:21-50; Deuteronomy 3:18-28; Romans 9:19-33; Matthew 24:1-24

And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold.  

Jesus has just finished a fairly extensive and strong condemnation of the pharisees and scribes in the previous chapter and has just "left the building". His disciples catch up to him and instead of talking about what he just shouted at the the leaders of the temple, they point out to to him the aspects of the temple building itself. Jesus continues with the theme he had just been explicating to the pharisees and scribes, by predicting the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and then lists the aspects of "the end times".

Matthew wrote this Gospel after the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans, and their destruction of the temple. He was writing to a group of Jewish Christians much persecuted encouraging them to hang on to their faith during this time of persecution, famine, war, distrust and fragmentation of the faithful. I have read this passage innumerable times, but the verse And because of the increase in lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold never stood out for me before. What a simple yet true idea. 

When we face difficult times, and the world around us seems to be imploding, Jesus is warning us about a coldness of heart that can come overcome us. This is a natural, self-protective reaction we as human beings can have. Jesus instructs us to carry-on, to endeavor not to let that coldness take over who and what we are as his disciples, as the Body of Christ in the world today. For a coldness of heart takes us away from the "new" commandment Jesus gives us: to love our neighbor as ourselves. With a cold heart we cannot do this thing that is the center of who we are and from which all else blossoms and is a fitting end to his theme of cleaning the inside, not just polishing the outside. For to love is the hardest and easiest thing to do, and takes daily attention. 

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

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Mother Hen

Psalms 119:1-24 * 12, 13, 14; Deuteronomy 1:1-18; Romans 9:1-18; Matthew 23:27-39

My dog Allie was the runt of her mother's litter. She was the "last one out" so to speak: and by c-section at that. She was and is the smallest of the litter, weighing in at about 70 pounds right now, whilst her oldest brother Gus is 140 pounds (!!). It is hard to remember these beautiful and quite large creatures could fit in the palm of your hand a mere 18 months ago. 

Allie's mom is Frieda. This was her first litter and yet she knew, instinctively, what to do: how to guard them, protect them, clean them, feed them, nurture them, scold them (occasionally). I remember one time when there were a number of people at the rectory visiting with the very young puppies, which Frieda tolerated generously and very well, when the last person had left the kennel area where the puppies were corralled, Frieda went over and checked on each one. She almost appeared to be counting them, which she probably was. This motherly instinct was extremely touching to witness.

Frieda's care for her pups came to mind at the end of today's Gospel reading from Matthew. Jesus is continuing his harangue of the pharisees and scribes and predicts the destruction of Jerusalem today. But he ends with How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! We need to pay attention to the harangue that comes before this statement, yet this verse is a beautiful image of God's love and care for us. We see and hear about this image of God quite frequently in Scripture (a mother caring for her children, etc) and we are reminded today that we have to want to be under that wing: it is our choice. As hard as Jesus' words are today, there is this olive branch extended to us, reminding us of God's unwavering love for us: all we need do is waddle under the protective cover of that wing, and all will be well. Not what we expect or necessarily want, but it will be well.

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

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Cleaning

Psalms 5, 6 * 10, 11; Numbers 35:1-3,9-15,30-34; Romans 8:31-39; Matthew 23:13-26

I returned from vacation yesterday afternoon, spending the remainder of the day: unpacking, doing laundry, sorting through mail, watering dying plants and trying to fight a feeling of "let-down". When I have a particularly good vacation, it is always hard to come back to real-life, and this vacation just over was simply wonderful. (The picture here is a sunrise on the Provincetown flats, at low tide, taken from the terrace of the place I rent.) There is a big part of me that wants to go back there, right now, but I know that I can't: pastoral responsibilities keep me here, things I have agreed to accomplish keep me here and, of course,  the need to make money so I can afford to pamper myself and go there again next year keep me here.

One of the things I did whilst on vacation was stick to a decision to participate in a self-imposed "internet blackout". I didn't check emails (for either personal or St. Thomas'), I didn't read my favorite blogs or write on this one, I didn't read my newspapers and periodicals I have bookmarked. If I wanted news I watched TV (which I kept off most times) or bought a newspaper. I painted, biked, hiked, let my dog run free on the beach with other dogs, I read a lot, prayed a good deal and just let things go.

Jesus is tearing into the Pharisees today. One of things that jumps out of these verses for me is the need for us to take care of our insides before we can take care of others. My self-imposed internet blackout was part of that personal cleaning this vacation afforded me. I felt like I was on retreat, without the rigors of a retreat house (although those can be very nice too). I feel much refreshed and ready, although 10 days is really not enough time. Nevertheless, there are (no kidding) hundreds of emails to read through, and I think I am ready, I think I am sufficiently centered to face what comes, although you may catch me daydreaming about sunrises over water.

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