Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Daily Office Reflection: A Different Road

Psalms 101, 109:1-4(5-19)20-30 * 119:121-144; 2 Kings 18:9-25; 1 Corinthians 8:1-23; Matthew 7:13-21

Today Jesus talks about: a hard road, a narrow gate, grapes and thorns, figs and thistles. He says not to listen to folks who point us toward an easy road or a wide gate into this kingdom he is announcing. Today is a wake up call. One that tells us we need to always be re-thinking what we are doing, how we are doing it, what our goals are and how those things align with Jesus' instructions.

Jesus is pointing us to a different way of thinking, a new way of interacting with each other and with the world. And he is saying that it is not easy. He is saying, as he often does, that there is a cost, a price, to being a part of this kingdom. But the taste of the fruit is worth the prick of the thistle, the stab of the thorn. The sore back from bending through the narrow gate and the callused feet from trodding the hard road are worth it for what waits on the other side of the gate, what is at the end of the road. We are different people when we are followers of Jesus, when we are intentional members of a community of believers. We are reminded of this fact by Jesus today.

Copyright 2009, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Daily Office Reflection: St. Michael & All Angels

MP: Psalms 8, 148; Job 38:1-7; Hebrews 1:1-14
EP: Psalms 34, 130 or 104; Daniel 12:1-5 or 2 Kings 6:8-17; Mark 13:21-27 or Revelation 5:1-14

What is there to write about angels? What is there is say about the one spoken of as the most powerful of all angels, Michael? Anytime I think of angels now the images from the movie Dogma come to mind. And although I like this movie, I think it has an undue influence on how I think about these mysterious beings.

Angels have taken a back seat in our culture, in our churches, even though many are named after them: we talk more about Saints more than we do angels. And our focus, as is appropriate, is centered on Jesus as opposed to these mysterious beings, angels.

In no uncertain terms I can say....that I don't know what I think about angels and the fierce St. Michael. My skepticism is great and deep. I do not discount the possibility (or probability) that the majesty and mystery that is God could have these beings surrounding us, this God who embodied Jesus and lived and loved among us. This God who can and does always surprise. Through the skepticism, staying open to God's loving surprises is something for which I continue to strive and something we are reminded of and called to by today's celebration.

Copyright 2009, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Daily Office Reflection: Closet Cleaning

Psalms 89:1-18 * 89:19-52; 2 Kings 17:24-41; 1 Corinthians 7:25-31; Matthew 6:25-34

I spent a part of this weekend cleaning out my closets, re-organizing, making piles of things to donate and things to toss. I found some clothes that all I could say to myself was What was I thinking? I couldn't, in all good conscience, put some of this stuff in the donation pile. I mean, who, who would wear that?

I wonder if the folks who put together our lectionary for the Daily Office purposefully placed today's reading from Matthew at a turn of the seasons. Do not worry about what your wear, Jesus says. And as usual, I am brought up short. There is so much more to life than clothing, than eating at the fashionable restaurants, worrying about truly inconsequential things.

Jesus, as always, is pointing us in a different direction than our human desires tend to send us; toward the kingdom of God he is announcing, he is proclaiming. Jesus is saying we need to strive first for the kingdom of God, toward something where our priorities are different. Where it won't matter what we eat, drink or wear because those things are truly inconsequential. A place where we won't have to worry about tomorrow. Granted, Jesus admits that Today's trouble is enough for today, meaning not everything is going to be perfect, nothing ever is. But that has never been the focus of what Jesus has been saying, this idea of no worries or perfection.

Centering ourselves around the concepts Jesus continually stresses is the focus: love, community, forgiveness, love. Having a different focus that centers us in God's close presence in our lives allows for a letting go of the inconsequential, allows for a real closet cleaning.

Copyright 2009, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Daily Office Reflection: Ohhh, Money

Psalms 87, 90 * 136; 2 Kings 11:1-20a; 1 Corinthians 7:10-24; Matthew 6:19-24

We have an oft heard Gospel reading today: one that makes many people roll their eyes. People roll their eyes not only because of the familiarity of these verses, but because of the seeming impossibility of Jesus' demands. And certainly these verses have been taken, not only literally, but to their extreme, making the eye roll all that much more easy.

What I think Jesus is talking about when he says You cannot serve God and wealth, is that money, wealth, has the power to overwhelm us. The desire to succeed, obtain material things, live in ways that are beyond our necessity, has a way of corrupting us, has a way of altering our priorities, skewing them and ultimately perverting them.

If we are focused on wealth, we are focused on ourselves. That selfishness narrows our focus away from that which Jesus is directing us: the building of the kingdom of God. That kingdom has at its root an unselfishness that is the polar opposite of what wealth represents. I do not believe Jesus is condemning all those who have wealth. I believe Jesus is asking, by saying what he does, what is our focus? What is our purpose in pursuing wealth? And what do we do with that wealth once we have attained it?

We have a slippery slope theory here. A slope, that we do not have to slide down, given the right focus, the right center for our existence.

Copyright 2009, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Daily Office Reflection: Conflicting Readings

Psalms 88 * 91, 92; 2 Kings 9:17-37; 1 Corinthians 7:1-9; Matthew 6:7-15

Reading all three of today's readings brings some confusion with them. In 2 Kings we have the end of the Ahab - Jezebel saga begun weeks ago in 1 Kings. We have death and destruction to many. Jezebel dies today, rather gruesomely, having been thrown from her towering room to the stones of the palace, spattering her blood on the walls, the horses trampling her and the dogs eating her, leaving only the palms of her hands, her skull and her feet as witness to her life. Gruesome.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul continues in his exclusionary, unforgiving nature. His own prejudices, his own self-righteousness continues, when today, he deigns to give his followers the right to respond to their God-given passions. He does demand monogamy, which is not a bad thing at all, and probably the only redeeming part of today's passage.

Then we have Jesus teaching his disciples to pray. Jesus is quite clear - and we understand that clarity as we say The Lord's Prayer in all of our Daily Offices and at the end of all our Eucharistic Prayers. Jesus says to: praise God in heaven; ask for the Kingdom to come; acknowledge God's will in our lives; ask for our daily bread; ask for forgiveness from God for our debts/sins; acknowledge that we must forgive those who are our debtors/who have sinned against us; and ask God to keep us from evil and temptation. Jesus ends these instructions with a dire warning: For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Forgiveness needs to be a center of our existence. This ties into Jesus' focus on love. Now, I do not profess a fondness for Jezebel and her treachery, nor do I espouse sexual impropriety that Paul rails against. But our Hebrew Testament and Epistle readings seem to be in sharp contrast and disagreement with Jesus' direction to be centered in forgiveness and I struggle with trying to reconcile them.

I am unsure if they are reconcilable, like so much in the Bible. Perhaps we are meant to wrestle with the inconsistencies and find a way through....Some fall on the side of Paul....I prefer listening to Jesus and fall in that direction. So much in our world, in our church, in our personal interactions with friends and families, would be better if more people listened to Jesus.

Copyright 2009, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Daily Office Reflection: Love

Psalms 119:97-120 * 81, 82; 2 Kings 6:1-23; 1 Corinthians 5:9-6:8; Matthew 5:38-48

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of God. Jesus is demanding a lot of us in these decrees he is setting forth these past few days. He seems to be setting the bar awfully high for us.

What strikes me this morning is this order that we are to love those who are enemies and pray for those who persecute us. What does it mean to love someone? What does it mean to love our enemies? Does it mean we have to like them? Agree with them?

If we read through our Outline of the Faith (commonly called the Catechism), we can find a rough definition of love, even though it is not defined anywhere specifically. We find that love surrounds most of the responses to the call and response of that Catechism. It is a way of being. A way of being in the world, interacting in the world, approaching everyday interactions. We hear in the Catechism about: a single loving God (p. 846, 862), the love of God (p. 846, 862), God is love (p. 849), we hold them in our love (p. 862), those whom we love (p. 862). There is no clear definition, it just is; it is just a way of being. A way of being like God: patient, understanding, appropriately chiding and cajoling and pushing, appreciating, praying for, hoping for, all of these encompass and help define what really is very difficult to define.

I get this idea of praying for those who persecute us - as that is something that is clear and requires a definitive act. I am not saying that I always like or succeed at this requirement, but I understand it a lot more clearly than this love thing. But I also know, quite clearly, when I don't like someone, when someone does something that offends me, or hurts me, or when I feel a hatred towards them. Perhaps that is the key to trying to define the undefinable. In those moments when my lesser self is raging on about some individual, perhaps that is when I need to take note, to pause, and look in the opposite direction. This is when I need to remember this directive from Jesus, Yet how do I find love for this person? I think it starts with prayer: prayer for understanding, prayer for healing, prayer for this other individual who has caused so much pain, an offering up to God, a turning over to God those things that I cannot change.

Centering in prayer allows that love that God has planted in all of us not only to take root, but to become the center of all that we do and all that we are and all that we can be. That is a good start to understanding the undefinable and ever-changing nature of love.

Copyright 2009, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Daily Office Reflection: A Completely Different World

Psalms 78:1-39 * 78:40-72; 2 Kings 5:19-27; 1 Corinthians 5:1-8; Matthew 5:27-37

Jesus is setting forth a very different view of the world today - a different way of being in the world for those who would be his followers. We are not even supposed to look at someone with lust, with desire. No divorce, except because of unfaithfulness. Tomorrow we will hear Jesus tell us that we are not to not respond to our enemies, to not seek revenge. A very different world indeed.

Our readings begin pretty easily with the end of the tale of Naaman and Elisha and Elisha's servant Gehazi, who acts wrongly and is punished for that transgression. The readings take a difficult turn with the verses from 1 Corinthians where the sainted Paul instructs his followers to reject, to ignore, to push out of the community those who have sinned (in this case a man who is "living" with his father's wife). Having had this verse put into action against me by certain conservative members of my seminary class, I have a particular heartache over this passage. And then we have Jesus telling us to put aside those human desires that get in the way of our making the kingdom happen, of our being a part of that kingdom.

Jesus is telling us to move away from our lesser selves and toward our better selves. This is a daily challenge, even a moment by moment challenge for many of us. But all three of these passages should not be taken in a literal manner, but as metaphor, as a hoped for goal to which we all need to strive. Challenging, yes. Impossible, maybe. A goal, absolutely: with God's help.

Copyright 2009, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Daily Office Reflection: An Open Kingdom

Psalms 75, 76 * 23, 27; 2 Kings 2:1-18; 1 Corinthians 4:1-7; Matthew 5:17-20

I used to find this passage from Matthew disturbing... threatening almost. That phrase whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same..... I found scary because, shoot, when haven't I broken one of the "least" of the commandments? When, by my actions, have I been an example of the wrong way to do things, thereby teaching others? "I'm up the creek without a paddle" I used to think. "There's no way back" I would think. I felt condemned by what Jesus said.

But there is a second part to that verse that scared the beeswax out of me.... Jesus ends that verse by saying about those he condemns that they will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.... And there is my salvation, there is my release valve.... those who break the least of those commandments are still in the kingdom of heaven. Still in, not excluded.

Who in this world hasn't broken "the least" of the commandments? Who hasn't modeled inappropriate behavior for others to mimic? Certainly we want to strive for better, but we are all also human and make mistakes. Part of the good news in today's Gospel selection is that we are still in the kingdom of heaven, even with our faults and mistakes and failures. This loving and forgiving God wants us in that kingdom, but also wants us to strive to do better.

Perhaps not so far up the creek as I thought.

Copyright 2009, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. Al Rights Reserved.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Daily Office Reflection: Letting Your Light Shine

Psalms 69:1-23(24-30)31-38 * 73; 2 Kings 1:2-17; 1 Corinthians 3:16-23; Matthew 5:11-16

There are people in this world who think the whole world revolves around them. Their egos are so large, their belief that they are god's gift to the world, their condescension towards anyone who would dare to disagree with their perceived self-perfection, are attitudes that drive me crazy, drive me to distraction.

Yet today's Gospel reading seems to give these kinds of behaviors free reign. We hear Jesus saying today: You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. But these words are not a license for self-aggrandizement, self-promotion. These are words that come after the Blessed part of the Beatitudes, where Jesus has said his followers will be persecuted and derided and yet still somehow be Blessed.

Part of that Blessedness is that by living into this new worldview, this new way of interacting in the world, we make ourselves different, we stand out because of the works and lightness that are generated by our different way of being. That light that will shine from us does not need our aid to be seen by others, but Jesus is telling us that we shouldn't purposefully try to hide the luminescence. By being in the world in that new way, we are not being egotistical self-aggrandizers, we are being followers of Christ.

Copyright 2009, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Daily Office Reflection: Comfort and Gifts

Psalms (70), 71 * 74; 1 Kings 22:29-45; 1 Corinthians 2:14-3:15; Matthew 3:1-10

We are beginning with the Beatitudes this morning, as provided to us by Matthew. Look at what Jesus equates:
Poor in spirit --- receive the kingdom of heaven
Mourners ------- receive comfort
Meek ------------ inherit the earth
Righteously thirsty and hungry -- filled
Merciful --------- receive mercy
Pure in heart --- will see God
Peacemakers --- called children of God
Persecuted for righteousness ---- the kingdom of heaven

Jesus is pointing us to a way of being, a way of interacting with the world, a way of acting toward each other. Jesus is saying, without equivocation that God's love for us never leaves us, that we are never alone, whether things are going "well" or whether things have turned to crap. The kingdom of heaven is ours if we can find a way to alter how we see the world, how we interact in the world, how we act toward each other. Not so hard? Ha! Many days, seemingly impossible. But in reality, what we are called to is a reordering of how we think about things, how we see the world. From this list it is obvious everything will not be wine and roses (that is if you like wine and roses), but through the good times and the not so good, the comfort and gifts God promises to us are ours for the taking. This kingdom is ours.

Copyright 2009, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Daily Office Reflection: Here We Go Again

Psalms 72 * 119:73-96; 1 Kings 22:1-28; 1 Corinthians 2:1-13; Matthew 4:18-25

We are given in today's Gospel reading Matthew's version of the calling of the first disciples: Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John. Each Gospel writer has their own emphasis, their own spin so to speak. These callings are familiar to many of us who have heard, read, studied these passages for years. How do we make this telling fresh? How do we make it real and bearing on today's world, on our life?

Jesus begins his very public ministry in today's Gospel reading. He calls the first four of his close disciples traveling with them throughout Galilee, preaching, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, healing, curing many diseases and pains. And the crowds respond to him, thronging to him, wanting to be near something new, something important, wanting a change to their existence and their understanding of the world.

We know what happens. When the hard work starts, when the flashy miracles become passe, when Jesus' words become clear to them that change doesn't just happen but must be worked on, the crowds start to thin and people start to criticize. This is a familiar theme in human history, and can even be seen in what is going on in Washington, DC currently: the angst around healthcare and other "changes" being worked on.

The majesty and mystery of today's Gospel is in this very human story, of the Divine come among us, as one of us, who clearly shows that we cannot remain as we are, how we interact with one another, and that there is hard work involved in effectuating that change. And that there will be regular, and fierce, opposition to efforts to make those changes necessary to further the proclamation of the kingdom. It's the way of the world. Being true followers of Jesus enables us to further that proclamation: to do that hard work.

Copyright 2009, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Daily Office Reflection: No Hiding

Psalms 61, 62 * 68:1-20(21-23)24-36; 1 Kings 21:17-29; 1 Corinthians 1:20-31; Matthew 4:12-17

In our Hebrew Testament readings this past week we are immersed in the story of Elijah. On Sunday Elijah was in hiding in the caves on Mount Horeb. God came to him and asked him what he was doing. If you haven't read this passage recently (and as it fell on a Sunday in our Daily Office lectionary it is easy to miss) go and read it - 1 Kings 19:8-21, for it puts in context today's Hebrew Testament reading. In Sunday's reading God came, but not in the mighty wind, nor in the earthquake, nor in the fire, but in the utter stillness and silence that enveloped and protected Elijah and gave him comfort and strength to go out and face what he must face: the fight against Ahab and Jezebel, the part of the story we start to read today.

We are gifted today with a reading from Matthew as well, where Jesus hears of John's arrest and Jesus "withdraws". But he doesn't withdraw for long. Although Matthew attributes Jesus' actions to fulfillment of Scripture, I can't help but wonder if Jesus needed some time to re-boot, to understand what had just happened to his cousin. He didn't stay hidden for long for he is soon out declaring to all who will listen that "the kingdom of heaven has come near."

There is no hiding in this world. Hiding doesn't get us anywhere. In particular, there is no hiding from God. When we are called to do something, when we are drawn by God to some action(s), God will always find us and lead us where we are intended to go. As both Elijah's path and Jesus' life indicate, that direction may not always be easy, but we are never alone, never unloved, never without God's presence.

Hearing that call is hard work. There is no clear and perfect proof that what we are hearing is actually God's call. Through prayer, through faith, through being open to God we need to trust and always be ready to not hide, but to respond to that call.

Copyright 2009, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.