Thursday, May 28, 2009

Daily Office Reflection: Go and Do Likewise

Psalm 105:1-22 * 105:23-45; Ezekiel 18:1-4,19-32; Hebrews 7:18-28; Luke 10:25-37

Jesus has a conversation with a lawyer today about how to inherit eternal life and who exactly is our neighbor. And Jesus gives an example of a man who is robbed and beaten and ignored by two priests but is helped by an individual who is a pariah to the society at that time, a Samaritan. The shocking nature of this tale is lost on most of us as we don't understand just how far outside the Jewish societal norms Samaritans were.

It is so easy to be that lawyer who was looking to justify himself to Jesus, while Jesus is telling us that it is not justification or words he is looking for from us. He is looking and expecting us to act, behave and live in a certain way, where we instinctually understand who our neighbor is: we don't have to ask, we just know. And we act, help, reach out to all those around us, or to those who we pass on the journey. Quite the task we are given today.

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

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Daily Office Reflection: Down the Mountain

Psalms 87, 90 * 136; Ezekiel 3:4-17; Hebrews 5:7-14; Luke 9:37-50

Today's passage is right after Luke's Transfiguration scene, and it begins today with Jesus and four of his disciples coming down off the mountain. Have you ever come down the side of a mountain, or even a steep hill?

I am out at a parish retreat in Shrine Mont, which is as far west in Virginia as you can go and not be in West Virginia. It is a retreat center owned and operated by the Diocese of Virginia and is nestled in a valley in the Shenandoah area. Driving in yesterday I came down a step and very windy road that even all but the craziest locals take slowly. Coming down from a mountain, or hill top, is dangerous and must be done with care. Doing so on foot adds a component of exhaustion I did not experience driving down into this valley, but Jesus must have as he came off of his mountain.

In our Gospel selection, we then have a fairly large number of themes strung together by Luke. At this retreat we are exploring baptism, and Jesus talks about welcoming children today, or little ones, depending on your translation from the Greek. Coming down a mountain and teaching about welcoming new ones to the flock, with a generosity of spirit and hope that can transform the world. What a nice way to think about baptism and outreach and evangelism.

Copyright 2009, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Daily Office Reflection: Ascension Day

Psalms 8, 47 * 24, 96; Ezekiel 1:1-14,24-28b; Hebrews 2:5-18; Matthew 28:16-20

There is an irreverent side of me that pops out on occasion, and this morning is one of those times it is popping up. Although today is an important day in our faith tradition, a song is running through my head on a continuous loop and perhaps if I share it, the song will go away. The first line is Up, up and away, in my beautiful, my beautiful balloon...... and the music goes on from there, and then I'm back to the first line again. 

It's actually kind of a fun picture to imagine, Jesus hopping into a hot air balloon, like the wizard of oz, and flying away. Not a religious image at all, but one that perhaps can illustrate why this Holy Day is such a hard one for so many people. Jesus ascends, bodily, to heaven today. We say it in our Creeds: who was crucified, died, rose and ascended to heaven..... We're at the ascension part today. And I think humor and odd images help people deal with parts of the faith that are so difficult to understand, or even yet imagine. 

We are given such wonderful parting words from Jesus today in Matthew: All authority has been given to him and he has called all of us to make disciples of all nations. ALL. He tells us how to baptize. And he tells us to remember that he is always with us. ALWAYS. Now there is something that takes that silly song out of my head.

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

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Daily Office Reflection: Worrying

MP: Psalm 119:97-120; Baruch 3:24-37; James 5:13-18; Luke 12:22-31
EP: Psalm 68:1-20; 2Kings 2:1-15; Revelation 5:1-14

In the Gospel of Luke this morning, the day before Ascension Day, Jesus talks about our incessant worrying over unnecessary things. He uses some form of that word, worry, four times in 8 verses. Don't worry about clothing, and food. Don't worry about inconsequential things. For me there are two phrases that jump out at me in this morning's Gospel lesson:
  • For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.
  • Strive for God's kingdom; and these things will be given to you as well.
I must confess: I do worry about what I wear, how I look, how people will perceive me from my attire and my body-type. I don't worry so much about food - I am particular about what I eat but I can go a remarkable amount of time without eating. But, then again, I have been blessed to never have been completely destitute and worried about not having any food with which to survive on. So my experience is narrow in that regard.

I also must confess that I enjoy watching the show Sex in the City. In fact, last night after work, I sat down and watched the movie version of the show on DVD. I was struck by the rampant materialism and how much fashion, clothes, hair style, body type, played a part in the characters' lives. One of the lines about living in NYC is: People come to NYC for Fun, Fashion and Love. A goodly portion of the movie (and the series) explores what friendship is and means, as well as the difference between sex and love and how they can be mistaken for one another and the ramifications from that confusion. It also has to do with very expensive fashion, from clothing, to shoes, to bags. And yet, even with all this focus on inconsequential aspects of life, the movie did focus on love and the real meaning of it. And my last confession of the morning is that the movie made me cry last night.

Even with all the worrying those characters went through, when they were able to let go of those concerns (intellectual, financial, material) and let love reign true, their lives became different and better than they were before. Striving for God's kingdom can be found in that love, in that trust in our deepest selves. In that trust that the love that God has for us and has planted at the very root of our being, can bring us to a place where the worrying over materialistic things can fade and the true meaning of what our lives should be focused on can come into clear focus.

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

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Daily Office Reflection: Asking, Searching, Knocking

Psalms 78(1-39) * 78(40-72); Deuteronomy 8:11-20; Luke 11:1-13

Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray today, teaching them The Lord's Prayer. after they ask him how they should pray. Following this he tells them quite explicitly that prayer isn't a one time thing, but a constant conversation, an ongoing conversation with God. 

I don't think this need for persistence is because God doesn't listen to us or purposefully ignores us. I think this persistence has more to do with our frailty and our penchant for asking for things that we don't really need, or perhaps asking for the impossible.

This ongoing dialogue with God is a regular reminder that we are not alone as we walk this journey and that another, more perfect than us, has walked it already and felt the same joys and griefs that we have felt.  Prayer can help us take this walk with more confidence.

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

Monday, May 18, 2009

Daily Office Reflection: Gaining the Whole World

Psalms 80 * 77, 79; Deuteronomy 8:1-10; James 1:1-15; Luke 9:18-27

What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?

Jesus is in private prayer and conversation with his disciples today and he asks them not only who people think that he is but who these, his closest followers, believe that he is. And they get it right. Then Jesus gives a prediction of his passion week and tells all of us what it takes to be a disciple of his: deny ourselves,take up our cross daily and follow him. To save our life we must lose it and by losing our life for Jesus we save it.

We are back to ordering our priorities around Jesus and the example he sets for us. At the root of this is love: love for God and love for our neighbors as we love ourselves. This is so dramatically simple and so impossibly hard to accomplish. 2000 years of history has shown this to be the case. That being said, this does not mean that we should stop trying, stop being involved, stop our efforts at deciphering what our individual crosses are that we need to take up daily and follow down the path Jesus is leading us. 

I think Jesus knew our limitations, and although dramatic breakthroughs can and do happen, small steps are what are called for here. If we can each take small steps toward carrying those individual crosses, we will be effectuating the creation of the kingdom of God Jesus announces today, and we will be gaining the whole world - a world we are helping to make.

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

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Daily Office Reflection: Not Everyone Says Yes

Psalms 75, 76 * 23, 27; Wisdom 19:1-8, 18-22; Romans 15:1-13; Luke 9:1-17

Jesus sends his 12 apostles out today having given them power and authority over demons, to cure diseases and to proclaim God's kingdom. He warns them that not everyone will welcome them and, although he doesn't say these exact words, he says not to worry about them (shake the dust from your feet as you leave).  

I struggle with this. I want everyone to come and be a part of effectuating the continued creation of God's kingdom Jesus ushers into the world. I want everyone to be a part of this joyous communal activity. And I know this is unrealistic and silly, but "want" and reality are often two very different things. 

Jesus doesn't say don't try, but he does make clear that  we are to keep moving on when the answer is no, we are to keep moving on to that next town and keep spreading the kingdom's creation. Not all will say yes. There will be disappointments. Perhaps that is one of the reasons I struggle with this idea: I don't like disappointments. But there it is in the Gospel, Jesus bursting my bubble again. How do you savor the victories if you don't have the disappointments to match them against?

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

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Daily Office Reflection: Wisdom is a She

Psalms 61, 62 * 68:1-20(21-23)24-36; Wisdom 10:1-4(5-12)13-21; Romans 12:1-21; Luke 8:1-15

One of the things that drives me crazy about our society, our culture and (in places) our church is the rampant misogyny that imbues so much of all of those aspects of life.  So much of our religious tradition is patriarchal. So many of our translations of the Bible feed the patriarchal understanding of God's work in the world and help to re-enforce the ugly misogyny that exists in society.

This morning's Wisdom reading is a welcome relief from that narrow view point. Let me preface this with the understanding that I have done no research or study of the book of Wisdom, so what I am saying here is from a surface reading of our text today. But to hear the arc of the story of God's work in the world from it's creation, through the wrongs and devastations caused by humans, and Wisdom's work, correcting those wrongs, being described in the feminine pronoun is a welcome voice that needs to be more widely heard and incorporated into our understanding of God and how the world works.

Luke today provides us with the names of three women who are traveling with Jesus and the twelve: Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Susanna. These devout members of Jesus' adopted family (as well as Wisdom being a woman) need to be remembered when those frustrations about misogyny raise their head. This is helpful.

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

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Daily Office Reflection: New Eyes

Psalms 56, 57, (58) * 64, 65; Wisdom 9:1,7-18; Colossians (3:18-4:1)2-18; Luke 7:36-50

I'm just back from six days off, and my first Sunday off in many months. I didn't go anywhere exciting or new or do anything fantastically memorable. I visited friends and family, read, took long walks with the dog, caught a nap almost every day and quietly prayed. I found that I was much more tired than I thought I was and am grateful for the quiet time away. I cannot say that I am fully refreshed, but I know I am not as exhausted. And I think I can now see the forest, despite the trees, while before I took a brief time off, I think I was only seeing the bugs on the bark of individual trees.

Perhaps this is the feeling the "sinful woman" in our Gospel reading felt when she saw Jesus sitting at the Pharisees table: this feeling of getting a glimpse of the bigger picture. This feeling of knowing that there is more to life than our individual and sometimes petty concerns that can overwhelm us allowing us to think of nothing else. Jesus' love and forgiveness of this individual, who got a glimpse of the bigger picture when she saw him, indicates to us the love and forgiveness awaiting for us. Not only awaiting for us and available for us, but is indicative of what we should do, how we should act toward those we meet.

I know this wider vision I have will not last and that I will get sucked into looking at the bugs on the bark of individual trees, forgetting about the forest. I hope and pray that I can more frequently and more  easily take that journey back to see the majesty of the forest in all its resplendent beauty. 

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

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Daily Office Reflection: What A World It Could Be

Psalms 119:49-72 * 49 (53); Wisdom 4:16-5:8 Colossians 1:24-2:7; Luke 6:27-38

We are given a picture of such a beautiful world by Jesus today. A world where we are bigger than our grievances, where we are bigger than our personal ambitions, where we are bigger than our greed. A world where we are always kind, generous, forgiving and altruistic. A world where we don't expect something to be given to us because of our actions. What a world this could be.

Realistically our human selves makes the existence of this world Jesus describes a bit problematic. If we look at the themes that run through scripture, greed v. generosity, forgiveness v. vengeance, hate v. love, we see that we have a ways to go. We see that we haven't changed, at our root, all that much. Sure society and culture and technology and knowledge have all increased, but our basic drives haven't. Jesus points us to that for which we should strive. What a world it could be.

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

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Daily Office Reflection: Prayer and Action

Psalms 45 * 47, 48; Wisdom 3:1-9; Colossians 1:15-23; Luke 6:12-26

Our Gospel is just chock full of information and action today. Jesus spends the whole night in prayer, calls his throngs of disciples together and picks and names 12 as apostles and then comes down from the mountain to teach this great crowd of disciples and and an even larger group of people, standing on a level place. This is the beginning of the "Sermon on the Plain" (as opposed to the Sermon on the Mount in other Gospels) and we are provided with Luke's blessings and woes.

A whole lot to contemplate and try to digest today. We have  a repeated pattern here: Jesus praying alone and then going forward to work and to teach and to lead. Prayer is a central part of Jesus' life and is essential to his ministry. He models for us a behavior that is vital for our own spiritual growth and development.

There are many times when prayer seems to be hard, meaningless even. Our expectations may be miscued if that is the case. Prayer can give us guidance, it can give us strength to face and do what we must. By making prayer a regular part of our daily existence, we are girding ourselves to face what will come. Will everything be perfect, peachy-keen? Probably not. But we will be better able to face and deal with whatever comes, knowing that we are never alone, having given ourselves a firm ground on which to stand.

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