Saturday, May 31, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

MP: Psalm 72; Samuel 1:1-20; Hebrews 3:1-6
EP: Psalms 146, 147; Zechariah 2:10-13; John 3:25-30

Today we celebrate the pregnant Mary visiting her cousin Elizabeth, who is also pregnant, carrying who will become John the Baptist. Mary is recognized for who she is and whom she is carrying not only by Elizabeth but also by John, her unborn son, who dances for joy in her womb. Think about the fright Mary had been through, and how that warm welcome by her kin must have made her own heart sing for joy. This encounter is remembered in Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer by the inclusion in both services of the optional use of the Magnificat, which is Mary's song of praise and joy after Elizabeth's greeting.

We are given a wonderful gift in our MP lectionary with the inclusion of the story of the birth of Samuel to Hannah and Elkanah. A pencil sketch of this story: Elkanah had two wives, one barren (Hannah) and the other able to have children (Peninnah). Hannah was tortured by Peninnah because of her inability to have children, and although her husband loved her nonetheless, she still wanted a child. She goes to the synagogue to pray, meets the priest Eli, who first accuses her of being drunk and then supports her in her prayer. Hannah leaves and shortly thereafter conceives and Samuel is born.

After Hannah leaves the synagogue and goes home, before she becomes pregnant, we are told that her countenance was sad no longer. After prayer and a chat with a temple priest, she accepted her position in life and was then granted that for which she prayed. Isn't that a beautiful account? We see some of that acceptance and change in countenance in the story of Mary and Elizabeth. An acceptance of who and what we are, brings insight into the gifts we have already been given as well as an appreciation of those gifts yet to come, when they do arrive.

Let our countenance be sad no longer, and a song of joy and praise be given for those gifts we have all around us and those yet to come.

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

Friday, May 30, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Those Little Things

Psalms 31 * 35; Proverbs 23:19-21, 29-24:2; 1Timothy 5:17-22(23-25); Matthew 13:31-35

Last weekend was a home improvement weekend for me. I changed out one of the bedroom closets from a single hanging bar and shelf to one of those closet systems, with two levels of hanging and shelving. The most difficult part of the whole project was ripping out the old shelf and hanging bar (who uses two inch long nails instead of screws?). I also switched out three light fixtures: in the bedroom, the dining room and the kitchen. I disliked all of those from the moment I moved in, but it took almost a year for me to: 1) decide which new fixtures I wanted, and 2) to get around to actually doing the change. But they all look just wonderful and make the place more distinctively mine. Little things in life can make such a huge difference.

Certainly Jesus is not talking about switching out closet systems and light fixtures in his parable of the mustard seed today. But I think those projects of mine last weekend are analogous to what Jesus is driving at today. They were little things in the big picture of life that seem to have little to no immediate effect, but they really do because to me, they made (and make) me happy, and are non-injurious to anyone. We are asked to think about small things in life today that can bloom into gi-normous things. These things are easy to miss, but they encircle us all the time and we need to stay aware for their happening, because they can be those thin places in life where we can find God's presence in our lives more easily. And it is not only those small things in life that we do but also those small things in life that we do not do: the snappy comment we pass during a conversation that can be so injurious, that angry email we send that causes so much anguish upon receipt. Small things, seemingly innocuous things, are what can transform a person, transform a relationship, make real changes to the world we live in. Those small things......

Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Weeds

Psalms 37:1-18 * 37:19-42; Proverbs 21:30-22:6; 1 Timothy 4:1-16; Matthew 12:24-30

There is something satisfying about weeding a garden: making it pristine and beautiful, the bare earth between the plants and flowers saved from chocking weeds adds to the beatific scene. Seeing those same plants flourishing because of the effort to uproot unwanted and intruding neighbors provides a real sense of accomplishment as well.

Jesus warns us today that this kind of weeding is not always possible. Jesus is saying that there will always be those who compete with, try to sabotage, those who betray those of us who are making every effort to be the wheat in the kingdom of God and that there is nothing we can do about them except find a way to live with them without damaging the kingdom we are trying to build. This kind of deflates me as I want to pull out those chocking weeds that are in the way of effectuating the kingdom here and now. What today's Gospel reminds me of is that we are called to emulate the kingdom and do our best, and to leave to God the weeding. Turning over to God and trusting in God can be so challenging, but it is what we are reminded of today. I find that sometimes the mantra All will be well, all will be well repeated over and over again and combined with prayer, helps open new horizons of hope and confidence and inspiration and aids in my putting away the urge to yank those darn weeds out.

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

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Families of Choice

Psalms 38 * 119:25-48; Proverbs 17:1-20; 1Timothy 3:1-16; Matthew 12:43-50

There are times when we can say things that are not so tactful, and although very important to say and to truly hear, there is some inevitable fall-out, some hurt that is engendered because of those words. In today's Gospel account, Jesus says what must have been difficult words for his mother to have heard. When he is told that his mother and his brothers are at the door, he turns away from them and points to his disciples and says Who is my mother, and who are my brothers? Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother. I wonder if the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, wanted to smack him upside the head for saying that in front of her and his siblings.

Perhaps Mary understood what Jesus was doing here and could accept with equanimity this idea of a new family, a new community being made among them, and that still exists today. It would have been a normal human reaction for her to be hurt by these words, from a son she had birthed and raised and protected and loved. Perhaps that love was enough to shield her from the sting of these words.

In the gay and lesbian community, many people are rejected by their biological families: they can't go home for the holidays, or know that they will be remembered on their birthdays or other important life events. So they create their own families: families of choice with whom they can share those important life moments. Don't mistake families of choice for the over-used (and wrong) term life-style choice. For being gay is not a choice, it is how we are made by God who loves all of us just as we have been created. But from those rejections, families chosen are the ones to celebrate life with. This is not the same thing as what Jesus is talking about, but it is analogous to that. By joining a church community, we become an integral part of the Body of Christ and become siblings to one another, related to one another in a deep and mysterious way. A loving and caring community, a family, with all the good as well as the pain-in-the-neck stuff that goes along with being a family. What a blessing.

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

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Resilience and Resurrection

Psalms 26, 28 * 36, 39; Proverbs 15:16-33; 1Timothy 1:18-2:8; Matthew 12:33-42

What a beautiful holiday weekend we had here in DC. The weather could not have been better. The city was amazingly quiet (as long as you stayed away from the tourist areas and the "Rolling Thunder" motorcycle parades). I had a quiet, reflective, yet still busy weekend: home improvement projects and long walks along the river, interrupted by Sunday services and preaching and phone calls and emails with parishioners.

On Saturday I was in the car running some errands and was listening to NPR. A program was being aired about parents caring for their seriously injured veteran children, who have returned home from Iraq and Afghanistan very changed persons. It was an incredibly moving and disturbing piece of journalism, graphically describing injuries and limitations on the injured as well as addressing full-on the stress caused to the marriages of those parents who are now acting as nurses and caregivers and therapists. I was brought to tears listening to their stories of pain and loss as well as of their great strength and love. It was a different kind of Memorial Day Weekend story that focused on not those who have died in battle, but those who have been so badly injured that they are like dead, in regard to their pre-military life, and yet have been resurrected into a new and much more challenging life. A beautiful late spring/early summer day was balanced against these stories which themselves were a balance of loss and gain, of pain and love.

In today's Gospel reading Jesus is pretty pissed off at the Pharisees. He has pretty much had it with them and their myopic views and demands for signs. Much as Jonah was "resurrected" after three days in the belly of the whale (which is a hint of Jesus' resurrection three days after his brutal murder), Jesus is saying look around you, there are signs all around you. Those stories on NPR were sad, but their was also such great hope and love and optimism and strength and resilience in them: we just have to look to see them.

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

Monday, May 26, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: A Demeanor of Humbleness

Psalms 25 * 9, 15; Proverbs 10:1-12; 1 Timothy 1:1-17; Matthew 12:22-32

Our country is pretty well divided in half politically. Look at the recent presidential elections, all relatively VERY close contests. Look at the Democratic primary race with less then 1% point (of the popular vote) separating the two candidates. All indications are that the general election itself in November will be a real squeaker. The Episcopal Church is divided, not nearly as closely, but there is a very vocal minority who appear to receive much more press then their numbers should indicate as appropriate. Yet, if we look at the Anglican Communion itself, those numbers of dissenters certainly increases: not a majority by any shape of the imagination, but still a larger number then what exists in this country.

Why pair these two: presidential election candidates and those strident folk in the minority of The Episcopal Church? Both groups say they are following their hearts, following what they believe to be true, and some may actually be doing so. But deep down, it is all about power and control and authority and prestige. There is missing from these two groups a demeanor of humbleness. There is missing a focus on the One, True and Living God.

It is so easy to get distracted by bullies. But getting distracted allows one to enter the strong man's house and plunder his property. We need to aggressively fight those who have stolen church property, but not at the expense of humbly focusing on God and the kingdom we are called to emulate here and now.

In the long run, the will of God will endure and succeed. Perhaps one side will "win" the property dispute, but at what cost? God's time is not ours. Ours is far more limited. Being focused on Scripture and our work in the world is primary. A demeanor of humbleness, remaining focused on God's work, needs to be paramount and will lead to true success: whatever that may look like.

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

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Sunday's Sermon: Worrying

2 Pentecost (Proper 3) –Year A; Isaiah 49:8-16; 1 Cor 4:1-5; Matt 6:24-33. Preached at St. ThomasMay 25, 2008

Happy Memorial Day Weekend. The official start of summer: for some this weekend is marked by the opening of beach houses, or mountain cabins or homes by a lake, or the start of a weekend share at some resort. Some go on retreat. Some of us stay and enjoy the quiet beauty of the city. And our church calendar has gifted us with what appears to be a Gospel reading that falls into the stewardship model: asking us to consider how we utilize the gifts we have worked hard to achieve…and our attitude toward those material possessions. Today we are presented with an interesting triple-combination of: a holiday weekend where we are to remember those who have sacrificed their lives for our country; a holiday weekend which begins summer in most people’s minds; and a Gospel about wealth and choices.

In our Gospel today we have two sections that are tied together: one having to do with wealth and the second about our attitude. The Gospel begins today with the verses: No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. I am always brought up short when Jesus refers to slaves: he does so a lot today. Did you hear the first phrase: No one can serve two masters? Well, the Greek word utilized, translated as serve here, has been softened by our translators because that Greek word (doulas) is slave. It is the same word translated later in that same verse as slave. And this two verse section on wealth ends with You cannot serve God and wealth. Again, that word serve in the Greek is the word for slave (doulas). A more accurate translation of these two verses would be: No one can be a slave to two owners, as opposed to No one can serve two masters. And the last verse: You cannot be a slave to God and to material things, as opposed to You cannot serve God and wealth. A lot more direct, don’t you think? A lot more harsh, which is what brings me up short, that I find so startling.

Jesus is being pretty clear when he says we cannot be a slave to God and to material things. But a slave to God? Wow, that is a different way to think of things. Jesus is leading us to think about putting our trust in God and not in material possessions. We cannot allow material things to usurp, overtake all else, to enslave us. Jesus is not saying the possession of wealth, money and material things is evil, is sinful. Jesus is saying that with the possession of material things comes a tremendous responsibility: the proper usage of wealth, money, material things is what Jesus is demanding here.

And Jesus is making a clear connection between material possessions and the burden they can be to us: how they can cause us to worry, how they can enslave us. At one point in my life I collected lots of things and my home was just jam-packed with these collectibles: all of which I liked, none of which I really needed. At one point in that time period, I was thinking about moving, and then looked around at all this stuff and was nearly overwhelmed and paralyzed at the thought of packing it all up to move. When all was said and done, I got rid of almost all of those collectibles and my beloved antique furniture. Although initially saddening, almost immediately after getting rid of all that stuff I felt, somehow free: a freedom from the weight of all that stuff. I think Jesus is talking about this possession that material things can have over us and how much freer we can be without them.

And here is the strong link between these first two verses of the Gospel and the second part that has to do with responsibility and choices and our attitude toward these possessions. Did you hear the strong concern Jesus has for us worrying. That word is utilized six times in these 7 verses. Do not worry about….clothing…about food…tomorrow… can any of you by worrying add a single hour. Jesus is strongly forbidding a careworn, worried fear which takes all the joy out of life: a fear, and an attitude of worry that enslaves us.

My friend Joel (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 then have to start over or, God forbid, buy one from a store for party he is going to? If so, is that cake going to be any good? Will he drop the cake on the way to the party? Are these the right clothes to wear? Do they make me look fat? Is my hair stylish enough?

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 Joel. We probably all know at least one person who has a penchant for this kind of drama….perhaps we participate in it ourselves too…..But even if we do not worry to the extent Joel does, who among us today does not worry to some extent?

Jesus is saying here that there is a danger in worrying, a danger in the self-absorption involved in this kind of worry. This worry around possessions and this state of anxiety it causes, enslaves us to these possessions. This worry is a self-absorption that takes us out of the present, out of the world we live in, and allows us to more easily ignore the world in which we live by focusing inward.

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.

If we live each day as it comes, if we face each task as it is presented to us and do our level best, then the sum of all our days, when we reach the end, is bound to be good. That life will probably not be what we planned or envisioned, but it will be good, for we will have changed with our times. We will not be stuck in the past, clinging to material things that only impede our growth, that can enslave us and cause us worry. Jesus is telling us that worrying proves only one thing: that we do not trust God. This is a rather harsh truth to hear, a rather harsh condemnation: that we do not trust God when we worry. William Barclay said “Worry is worse then useless, it is often actively injurious.” Worry gets in the way and often times is used as a stalling technique to growth and change. Jesus is telling us today to put worry away because it is disabling. Jesus’ commandment today can bring peace and can also bring power to each one of us, enabling us to move forward with confidence breaking the enslavement brought on by worrying. And this seems almost to be an impossible task for us to achieve on our own.

Perhaps we need to think about life differently. Life is not based on things we acquire. It is okay to acquire things, but we cannot let these possessions overtake our life. Jesus is telling us to seek God’s kingdom above all else. The first part of today’s Gospel about being a slave to God and not to material possessions is not an attack on rich people: it is a warning about the seduction that material possessions can have on us and how that seduction can misdirect us away from being present, really present in the world. Jesus is calling for the proper usage of these possessions as well as an appropriate appreciation, an appropriate attitude about them. Likewise, this passage is also a warning to people who do not have a substantial amount of material possessions, warning not to idolize what they do not have…for again that distracts from God’s work in the world and our part in that work.

First striving for the kingdom and leaving tomorrow’s worries for tomorrow calls for a great effort on our part to put aside the enslavement of self-absorption, self-concern, self-doubt and to focus on the here and now, not worrying about the past or the future…and above all….to trust….trust the one who created us just as we are….and who does not forget us, remember that reference we heard in the Isaiah reading, God inscribing our names on his personal is that, how much confidence that gives us that God will not forget us and who loves us…This is a lifetime’s work, but through vigilant prayer and constant effort, this different way of thinking about life, about material possessions, about our relationship with God, can lead us to a place were the state of worry that we live with will be something in our past, as we awaken to the sure knowledge that we are taken care of, we are not forgotten and we are embraced by God’s love.


Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Being Inconspicuous

Psalms 20, 21:1-7(8-14) * 110:1-5(6-7), 116, 117; Proverbs 8:22-36; 3John 1-15; Matthew 12:15-21

Jesus left the area where the Pharisees were plotting to destroy him, but he didn't go into hiding, he had crowds following him and we are told he cured them all. Not something someone on the lamb would do, because those kind of healings, with those kind of crowds around a person, does not make one inconspicuous. And yet, Jesus orders them not to make him known. This inconsistency has always pricked at me, like an annoying pointy thread end on the inside of a shirt that keeps rubbing against you.

Is Jesus being truthful when he orders the folks he has healed to keep it quiet? That seems a bit silly, as these folks are naturally going to attract attention to themselves because they are now different then they were before. That difference would naturally raise questions by people they know, How'd you get better? people would naturally ask.

I have often wondered whether Jesus' humanity was such that although he knew the great works he had to do, he didn't particularly like the attention those great works brought his way. And I wonder if that is a model, that if adopted, would lessen some of the strife in our communities, in our towns and villages, in our cities, in our country, and in the world in general. We certainly have examples of an opposite model, where a self-aggrandizing individual can make a cult of personality form that is injurious to all who follow. Are we being called to do utilize the gifts we have been given in a quiet and self-effacing way, letting the glory rest in the proper place, which is with God and not ourselves?

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

Friday, May 23, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Giving Them the Ole Raspberry

Psalms 16, 17 * 22; Proverbs 8:1-20; 2John 1-13; Matthew 12:1-14

The disciples of Jesus are plucking the heads of grain on the sabbath as they walk along, and Jesus is criticized by the Pharisees for allowing them to do so on the sabbath. Jesus tells the Pharisees, basically, to pound sand. Jesus then goes into the synagogue and heals a man with a withered hand, again on the sabbath, much to the dismay of the Pharisees, who then go away to plot his demise.

These scenes almost seem like comic charactertures of real life. I imagine a stooped over individual watching Jesus like a hawk, ready to pounce on everything and anything he does: to criticize every seeming step out of bounds he makes. It is almost laughable. Except it isn't. Because we still have the thought-police, the belief-police, the theological-police around us today, telling us what is right and what is wrong and don't anyone dare think that God might exist outside of the tight confines of this little box that they have constructed.

When confronted by these narrow-minded individuals, it helps me to remember Jesus, with his disciples in the grain field and in the synagogue, on the sabbath, doing what is right, going beyond the narrow-box precepts espoused by the Pharisees, and living into what is God's love for us and the world around us. And then I give 'em (in my mind) a big old raspberry: PHTHHHTTT!

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

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: A Yoke?

Psalms 18:1-20 * 18:21-50; Proverbs 7:1-27; 1John 5:13-21; Matthew 11:25-30

Looking at life through a different lens then the one we are accustomed to, or that we have developed, is a remarkably difficult thing to accomplish. In particular it is difficult trying to capture the innocence and joy and newness of life that is such a part of watching a child see and explore something new. But that is what Jesus is asking us to do. To turn the lens through which we understand life and thereby gain a different view, a different understanding. Jesus offers us rest from our burdens and worries and offers us a yoke to put across our shoulders instead. In order for us to accept this yoke as gentle and restful as it is promised to be, a different understanding of the world, our place in it and how we act/react is a necessity. Is this possible? I don't know. But I think it is impossible without God's loving help.

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

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Truth or Pablum

Psalms 5, 6 *10, 11; Proverbs 4:1-27; 1John 4:4-21; Matthew 11:7-15

We have had just an incredibly rainy spring here in DC. Tons and tons of rain, which is good for the grass, shrubs, trees, flowers and plants. Last year we were concerned about months of dryness, with no rain and everything burning out, dying early. This year, the rain is spoiling: outdoor events, sidewalk cafe sitting; and (in particular for me) dog-walking. My Bernese Mountain dog doesn't like the rain and really hates puddles - making acrobatic leaps over them, leaving her master fumbling with the leash and the puddles in a not so pretty way. I am sitting watching the torrential rains pouring down onto the banks of the Potomac River, with my plants in their planting boxes on my terrace thoroughly soaked, and I wonder, how am I ever going to get this dog to poop in this weather? We've already tried earlier this morning, we've already been toweled off. I just have to face the fact that I'm going to be soggy and damp at church today. And Allie will be rather dank and odoriferous. Lovely.

And I think about Jesus talking to his disciples as John's walk away from him, and Jesus' question about what they were looking for when they went out to see the crazy man in the Jordan River. What did they expect: someone in soft luxurious robes? Someone who would provide them with pablum as opposed to truth?

We many times want what we want when we want it, and brook no argument to the contrary. That stubbornness and self-focus can only lead us to eventual unhappiness. For once we get what we want when we want it, we (more often then not) remain unhappy, unsatisfied. John the Baptist was the preamble to Jesus' message. One of the things Jesus is saying today is if we don't understand John's place, how will we ever understand his.

So I can wish all I want that the rain will stop so I can walk my dog in a more pleasant environment: I may want that right now. In reality, that isn't what is all about me at the present time. Rain is. Wishing cannot make it so. Truth is what truth is, not the pablum of wishful thinking. So it is time to slicker up, get damp (well really soaked is more like it) and then towel her and me off. It is just water after all.

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

Monday, May 19, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: What We Hear and See

Psalms 1, 2, 3 * 4, 7; Proverbs 3: 11-20; 1John 3:18-4:6; Matthew 11:1-6

Being away on family business the last few days, at a place where (believe it or not) there is no internet connectivity, forced me to remember how much for granted I take this "virtual" world of the internet. I remember clearly the pre-internet days and its slow and creeping development and interweaving into our lives over the past 20 years. The world has become much more visible, we can hear and see so much more: so much that we can easily become blind because of the vastness of information available. So much so, that I really question how "virtual" this world is....

John the Baptist, in prison, sends word to Jesus today asking him if he is the one. Jesus replies that John's messengers are to report back what they hear and see. There is great good in the world, but there is also great evil. There is much joy and success in the world, but there is also so much pain and unhappiness. What do we hear and see? Do we get overwhelmed by the big picture or do we get lost in the details? Or both of these at times? What do we chose to hear and see? What do chose to turn a deaf ear to and a blind eye? Do we have place of balance, where we can stand on the thin thread of our reality and truly understand what we hear and see? Pray for that place of balance in your life. I do everyday.

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

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Names

Psalms: (120), 121, 122, 123 * 124, 125, 126 (127); Ezekiel 33:21-33; 1 John 2:1-11; Matthew 9:35-10:4.

I am bad at remembering names. And I don't mean just with people I have only recently met, I mean with folks I have known a dozen years, two dozen years. Recently I was walking my dog Allie, (notice I got her name right), and I met another individual from the neighborhood who was walking her dog. The dogs met, sniffed, the owners watched the dogs and started small conversation, with one of the first questions being, What kind of breed is your dog. No problem there, I can answer that one, A Bernese Mountain dog I say proudly. Then Male or female? I respond, She's a female. I should know better by now, but then came the clincher.....What's her name? And I'm struck dumb..... Of course I know my own dog's name, I just cant dredge it up at that particular moment. I refer to it as brain freeze. I just completely shut down, and the more panicky I get, the more impossible it is for me to remember. I will sometimes throw out one of my deceased dogs names, as they seem to come to me more readily then Allie's name does. This is a cause for some embarrassment when I meet this individual again, and they call Allie by the wrong name....The name I gave them the last time we met.

Similar things can happen on the post-Eucharist handshake as folks are leaving worship. Or jist as worse, at coffee hour. This can be so frustrating as I know people's names, and I also know how important it is to call people by their name: to recognize them and to let them know you recognize them and know them. Praise you Jesus for name tags.....which not everyone wears!

Names are important. Matthew names the 12 disciples for us today: Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James, Thaddaeus, Simon, and Judas Iscariot. Names are important. Being known, recognized, is part of being in community together, being loved, just as God knows us, recognizes us and loves us. Someday I hope to figure out this "name thing". Until then, I will continue to struggle and hope people wear their name tags. But I have sure confidence that even while I fumble a name, God still knows that person, recognizes that person and loves that person.

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

Monday, May 12, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Normalcy

Psalms: 106:1-18 * 106:19-48; Ezekiel 33:1-11; 1John 1:1-10; Matthew 9:27-34

Easter fell very early this year: it could only have fallen earlier by one day in the church calendar. Which means everything else is earlier in the year too: like Pentecost and the season of Pentecost, which we are now in until Advent in December. My that seems like a long way off: half a year in fact. So much seems to be crammed into this first six months of the church calendar year: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, the Easter Season, Pentecost and now we are in the "deep green" season where the liturgical color (mostly) will stay unrelenting green. No more blues, whites, purples, and reds, except for high holy days, marriages, funerals, or ordinations.

We are settling into a kind of long normalcy in the church calendar. But are we? The church calendar mimics life to some extent, where we have these events in life, big, glorious and memorable, surrounded by "normalcy". But life is never really normal, no matter how much we may try to make it that way. And if we listen to our Gospel readings, none of them will allow us to accept normalcy as the norm. Just as the two blind men are told when they are healed: according to your faith, let it be done to you, so too our lives can and will be spectacularly normal, if we live into our faith and see the daily miracles that happen all around us. We can make the long normalcy of the Pentecost Season be extraordinary by our faith: by really seeing, with wide open eyes, the world around us. It will be astounding.

Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Unexpected

MP: Psalms 107:33-43, 108:1-6(7-13); Ezekiel 36:22-27; Ephesians 6:10-24; Matthew 9:18-26
EP: Psalm 33; Exodus 19:3-8a,16-20; 1Peter 2:4-10

Today is the last day of Eastertide. We enter Pentecost tomorrow with the bestowal of the Holy Spirit on the disciples. What a wonderful Gospel we are given for this last day of the Easter season: Jesus responding to one of his critics who is in need because of his dead daughter; and Jesus healing the woman who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years. She touched the hem of his cloak and he felt it and turned to her saying it was her faith that made her well.

Of course the 12 years of hemorrhages could (and probably are) a metaphor for the 12 tribes of Israel who themselves were hemorrhaging from their disbelief. And she was healed in an unexpected way. Just as the daughter of the synagogue's leader was likewise healed in an unexpected way. That's the thing: unexpected healing. The gift of a new life in which unexpected things happen. Isn't that what the Holy Spirit does for us? Heals, gives new life and with new life come unexpected things, surprising things, undreamed of things which we cannot and should not take for granted. We can be healed of all sorts of heartaches and physical ailments: but just not in the way we want them done. Those healings are God's to provide, we need just to recognize them in all their unexpectedness.

Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved

Friday, May 9, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: New Wine and Old Cloaks

Psalms 102 * 107:1-32; Jeremiah 31:27-34; Ephesians 5:1-20; Matthew 9:9-17

We're in mid-spring, and in DC things are just beyond full bloom. All the trees are fully in leaf and green and lush, with canopies of shade providing relief from the sun. Some trees are so full as to be like umbrellas protecting the one walking underneath (somewhat) from torrential rain - like what is pouring down from the sky this morning. And there is an analogy there to the new wine not being put into old wine skins, but into new wine skins; and the unshrunk cloth not being put on and old cloak, both of which we hear in our Gospel reading today. Just as we are reminded of our mortality every autumn when the leaves die and fall from the trees, we are likewise reminded of new birth with the coming of spring, and the spring rains: that we have been gifted new life in Jesus, a new wine in a new wine skin. We get to try again when we fall down, we get to put a weathered patch on our beaten cloak, mending the tear and moving on: perhaps a bit scarred but still fit for use. And when that cloak, that is our life does wear out, we have been promised a new cloak, a new life when this one ends, a better one which will not tear or wear out. But if we are reading this, we aren't there yet and must make the best of our new wine and our old cloak. With the knowledge of better yet to come, troubling things are not so overwhelming.

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

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: In-Between

Psalms 105:1-22 * 105:23-45; Zechariah 4:1-14; Ephesians 4:17-32; Matthew 9:1-8

We are in this (kind of) in-between time in our church calendar. Although we are still in the 50 days of Easter (and are until Pentecost this Sunday), we are also post-Ascension right now, with Jesus having ascended to heaven a week ago today. So Jesus is "gone", but the Holy Spirit is not yet here, gifted to us - at least in the church calendar. So we are in a kind of suspended state.... waiting with the apostles to receive the Holy Spirit on Sunday.

So I find today's Gospel reading from Matthew interesting. Jesus (once again) gets off another boat and is now in his hometown, where he is accused by scribes of blasphemy because he has healed a paralytic by saying "your sins are forgiven" as opposed to "get up and walk". What intrigues me is that at the end of today's passage the crowds were in awe because God had given such authority to human beings. Matthew is saying we have the ability to forgive sins and thereby heal people. We do. That's an awesome responsibility that I think we forget quite often.

In this in-between time, before we are reminded of the gift of the Holy Spirit (this Sunday), and after Jesus has bodily left us (a week ago), today's Gospel is a reminder that in Jesus' departure from the earth we are the ones in charge of the church, we are the one's empowered to love our neighbor as ourselves. We are going to be reminded of that again this Sunday when Jesus (in the Gospel of John) says that If any sins are forgiven they are forgiven, if they are retained, they are retained. An important part of our responsibility to love is reconciliation and a forgiveness of sins....of neighbors, friends, parishioners, family.....and of ourselves.

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

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: A Radical Reordering

Psalms 97, 99, (100) * 94, (95); 1Samuel 16:1-13a; Ephesians 3:14-21; Matthew 8:18-27

I have always found today's passage from Matthew a bit off-putting. Jesus appears a bit cranky today - when a scribe says he will follow him Jesus complains about not having a place to rest; when a disciple asks for some time to bury his father, Jesus tells him to let the dead bury themselves; when the disciples awaken him because of their fright of the roaring seas, Jesus rebukes them and the seas, and probably goes back to sleep. Looking through that lens, Jesus certainly appears to be a crank-head, which for me can be off-putting.

There are much deeper meanings behind these (almost) one-liners Matthew provides to us today. In regard to the scribe - Jesus doesn't trust them because of their literalist nature. Jesus really isn't rebuking the disciple who asks for time to bury his father, Jesus is saying that the disciple (and we the present day disciples) need to think of the world in a different way, in a re-ordered way - where the definition of family (father, mother, sister, brother) are widened to encompass those beyond our blood-lineage. Jesus' rebuke of the frightened disciples and the calming of the stormy seas are metaphors for how Jesus works in the world.

This may seem surprising but Jesus is following a model well-established by God, a small piece of which is seen in the reading from 1 Samuel today. God sends Samuel to anoint Saul's successor. As with most of the "heroes" of the Hebrew Testament, they are not the first born, which is how society normally orders succession. God usually picks the second or youngest to be first. Today Samuel looks at all of Jesse's sons brought before him, and God tells Samuel that none of them are his choice to succeed Saul. Jesse then admits he has another, youngest, son who is in the fields. David then appears and is anointed: a radical reordering of expectations.

Jesus commands the seas to calm and they do. The raging seas that can engulf us in the course of any given day can likewise be calmed if we can pay attention to, and look at life through a different lens: one that upsets the expected norms society thrusts upon us. God will be found by us in the most unexpected places in our lives: shall we look there?

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

Friday, May 2, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Come and See

MP: Psalm 119: 137-160; Job 12:1-12; John 1:43-51
EP: Psalm 139; Proverbs 4:7-18; John 12:20-26

The NYC parish that sponsored me for priesthood is one of the parishes that regularly participates in New York City's Gay Pride Parade. The parish always has a theme around which they structure the parish's involvement; usually taken from Scripture. One year the pride committee decided on a phrase from today's MP Gospel: Come and see. We were excited about this "find" and ran it up the chain of command to the rector asking if this would be acceptable as the parish's slogan. The phrase was rejected, because of the double entendre which the committee knew was there but thought would be okay.

The rector was still tender from the fall-out from the previous year's slogan which was: fruits of the spirit. Older gay and lesbian individuals in the parish were greatly offended by this choice as it reminded them of abuse hurled at them from years past when "fruit" was utilized as an insult. So the rector was understandably more attentive and careful of the choice of slogan for this succeeding year. He did not want to face the potential onslaught of criticism and anger that might have moved his way had he approved the phrase from John's Gospel. Although disappointing we moved on and found another Biblical phrase that passed muster.

I never hear this Gospel account without thinking of that incident. Come and see is such a powerful yet simple statement, made by Philip to bring in a new disciple. Throughout John's Gospel seeing is a constant theme. We heard a few weeks ago in Sunday's lectionary, which is much later in John's Gospel, how Philip wants to see the Father in order to believe, and Jesus responds that anyone who sees him sees the Father. Seeing, really seeing, is what Jesus is saying, and I think Philip, right after he was called by Jesus to join him today, was able, in that instant, to really see, although later on he has trouble seeing. Isn't that part of life? Where we can be clear eyed at one moment in life and murky eyed the next moment. We need to treasure those moments of clear eyed seeing and remember them in the murky times.

Can we really see with eyes unobstructed through our own self-imposed blinders? Can we invite people in to Come and see the Body of Christ as we are living it out in community and the world? Opening our eyes, we can and will see and can and must invite other to Come and see. Even if we see only for an instant.

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

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Ascension Day

Psalms 8, 47 * 24, 96; Daniel 7:9-14; Hebrews 2:5-28; Matthew 28:16-20

What to say on a feast day like today, one that is not "observed" as universally as some others. I wonder if that is because we find this idea of the resurrected Jesus being taken up, bodily, to heaven more difficult to believe, let alone understand, then some of the other miracle stories we have in the Gospels? I have some friends who have admitted to me that they are embarrassed by this strand of our faith and would rather pretend that it simply wasn't part of our belief system. Yet, this is rather difficult to turn a blind eye to, as we say every Sunday For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven.....

Do we just not say that last little part? Or is it so familiar that we don't even hear it, or acknowledge that we are saying it? This is a part of our faith. And so is the "great commission" that Jesus issues in Matthew's Gospel today. We are instructed to Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And then Jesus gives us some assurance that helps me get through each and every day: I am with you always to the end of the age. Isn't that the most remarkable thing to hear? Jesus is always with us, walking with us, with open and loving and supportive arms. With that knowledge, doubts can and do fade to unimportance.

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