Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: The Holy Innocents

MP: Psalms 2, 26; Isaiah 49:13-23; Matthew 18:1-14
EP: Psalms 19, 126; Isaiah 54:1-13; Mark 10:13-16

Today we remember those children that our tradition tells us were murdered by Herod "the Great" upon his learning of Jesus' birth. This day of remembrance is a hard one. The question that most readily comes to mind with this kind of horror is "Why would God let all those young children be killed?" This event from our tradition not only caused pain to those innocents, but deep loss and sorrow and horror to their families. Where is God in all of this type of loss?

The simplest and most direct answer is "I don't have a clue." But if we think a little bit about this, we might find a different approach. I don't think God caused those children to die. Just like I don't believe God caused, or allowed, the World Trade Center terrorist attacks to happen. I don't believe God caused or allowed all those suicides by gay teens because of the bullying to which they were subjected.

I think those incidents are examples of an absence of God. An absence, a turning away from God and a turning toward a baser human propensity for violence and intolerance and hatred. The Incarnation, this God taking human form, that is the root of our Christmas celebrations, is about God offering each and every one of us the opportunity and choice to turn away from actions and thoughts and a manner of life that is harmful. We are offered the choice of turning toward the innocence of a child in a manger, who is God Incarnate, here to provide a different way to interact in the world. A more difficult manner of life perhaps, but a sure-fire better one. A life-style choice that is centered on community, and love, and caring for all of God's children, no matter who they are: for God created all of us in our wild diversity in order to revel in those majestic differences.

The deeper, and perhaps more appropriately nuanced question in regard to today's remembrance is not "How could God let"..... but "How can we change people (and ourselves) and turn them toward that Godly-innocence found in a manger, thereby changing the world?" Jesus' presence here announces the kingdom, come here on earth, for all of us. Who can we invite into this kingdom today?

Copyright 2010, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: St. John, Apostle and Evangelist

MP: Psalms 97, 98; Proverbs 8:22-30; John 13:20-35
EP: Psalm 145; Isaiah 44:1-8; 1 John 5:1-12

The Apostle we remember today, John, who is credited with writing Revelation and at least one of the letters bearing his name, is one of those characters in Jesus' story that can provide such hope. Holy Women, Holy Men provides a fairly detailed accounting of John's appearance in the Gospels, and Acts and recounts the tradition of his long life in Ephesus and Patmos.

John provides hope because of his humanness. He and his brother James are recalled as "hot heads" with Jesus naming them thunderous. John is a constant companion with Jesus and Peter and is thought to have been Jesus' favorite: "the one whom he loved" and to whom Jesus entrusted the care of his mother, Mary. He then went on to spread the Gospel and be "revered" by individuals we recognize as "the Church Fathers": the apostles' successors scattered around the Mediterranean. John was there, was human (angry, loud-mouthed, loving, devoted). All those human emotions just ebbed out of him, and yet, Jesus loved him for that humanness and John made a huge contribution to our faith's enduring legacy....foibles and all.

Copyright 2010, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: Merry Christmas!

Psalms: 2, 85 * 110:1-5(6-7), 132; Zechariah 2:10-13; 1 John 4:7-16; John 3:31-36

A Blessed, Joyous, Wonder-filled and Merry Christmas! God's love for us, all of us, without exclusion or exception, is found in a manger today. That innocence and fragility and softness and warmness and love is breath-taking. Breathe anyway...let that love be known in you and through you to others.

Copyright 2010, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: St. Thomas The Apostle

MP: Psalms 23, 121; Job 42:1-6; 1 Peter 1:3-9
EP: Psalm 27; Isaiah 43:8-13; John 14:1-7

Today is the feast day of St. Thomas the Apostle. A terrific apostle to celebrate just before Christmas. Some snippets from Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating The Saints to explain why I believe this is a great placement of this feast day.

"Thomas appears to have been a thoughtful if rather literal-minded man, inclined to skepticism; but he was a staunch friend when his loyalty was once given. The expression "Doubting Thomas" which has become established in English usage, is not entirely fair to Thomas. He did not refuse belief: he wanted to believe, but did not dare, without further evidence. Because of his goodwill, Jesus gave him a sign, though Jesus had refused a sign to the Pharisees. His Lord's rebuke was well deserved: 'Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe'. The sign did not create faith, it merely released the faith which was in Thomas already.........Thomas' honest questioning and doubt, and Jesus' assuring response to him, have given many modern Christians courage to persist in faith, even when they are still doubting and questioning."

Skepticism, doubt, questioning, and yet faith persists..... Truly a grand saint to remember as we draw ever nearer to the mystery of the Incarnation.

The Collect for this feast day:
Everliving God, who strengthened your apostle Thomas with firm and certain faith in your Son's resurrection; Grant us so perfectly and without doubt to believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God, that our faith may never be found wanting in your sight; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Copyright 2010, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: 4th Week of Advent

Psalms 61, 62 * 112, 115; Isaiah 11:1-9; Rev 20:1-10; John 5:10-47

The 4th week of our Advent Season is one of those odd liturgical weeks. Odd, because sometimes it is one day long and on other years the week is five or six days long. This year we are blessed to have a longer Advent 4 week, with Christmas Eve falling on Friday. (BTW, this coming weekend is somewhat nightmarish for clergy - Friday = Christmas Eve, Saturday = Christmas Day, Sunday = 1st Sunday of Christmas..... A minimum of three different sermons, three different liturgies, etc. So keep your loyal clergy in your prayers as they prepare for the onslaught.)

Back to Advent 4..... I say these next four days are "gift" because we are given a bit more time to prepare for the celebration of the Divine becoming human. Prepare, because this basic tenet of our faith is part of the great mystery of God's interaction and participation in our daily lives. And beyond that, and more importantly there is an act of love here that is not comparable to anything else in our experience: also part of the mystery of our faith. So prepare we must, if we are to try to live into this mystery of the Incarnation we celebrate in five days.

So we should take a little time this last week of Advent and open ourselves to the mystery of God becoming fully human, and yet still retaining the full divinity. We can think on the beauty of that love that is available to all of us, as God has created us in all our wild diversity.

Copyright 2010, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: Facing Mistakes

Psalms 45, 47 * 48; Isaiah 9:1-7; 2 Peter 1:12-21; Luke 22:54-69

Peter denies Jesus three times in today's reading and then looks up, while he is in the midst of his third denial of knowing Jesus, and the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. What a dramatic set piece Luke paints for us today. Imagine the look on both of their faces, the realization setting into Peter's eyes and posture. How crushed at his own weakness, living into a prophesy foretold just a short while before.

We are challenged today to face that which we are denying. To rid ourselves of fantasies and live into the reality of our individual lives. And, as importantly, take the steps necessary to correct, make amends for, own up to, our mistakes. Those errors do not have to control our future; just as they did not ruin Peter's life, our lives can be vastly different if we take those necessary steps to face the reality that surrounds us.

A good Advent exercise.

Copyright 2010, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: Visiting the Passion

Psalms 41 52 * 44; Isaiah 8:16-9:1; 2 Peter 1:1-11; Luke 22:39-53

Having a portion of the Passion narrative during Advent seems a bit odd. After all, we are preparing for the coming into the world of the divine presence, the light shining in the darkness. And our reading today (and tomorrow) is about the start of the extinguishing of that human life. Odd and a bit disconcerting.

Yet, Advent is really about preparing ourselves for endings and the beginning of something(s) new. With that in mind, perhaps dwelling for a time in a portion of the Passion story is not so unusual. This is a sharp reminder to us of Advent's purpose, and the kind of preparation we should be focusing on, other than gift buying and holiday parties. Although those are important too, perhaps today's reading can remind us that for a short time today we can think about, pray about, what we should end in our lives to better enable us to live into the new-found kingdom Jesus is bringing into the world. What can we wrap up and leave at the base of a manger and move on from? Anger at someone? Sadness because of some loss we have suffered? Resentment at our predicament or position in life? What grief, anxiety or trouble can we wrap into a present and give to God as an ending this Advent. These wrapped gifts of our own passions can help ready ourselves for the new that is coming.....

Copyright 2010, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: When Once You Have Turned Back

Psalms 30, 32 * 42, 43; Isaiah 8:1-15; 2 Thess 3:6-18; Luke 22:31-38

I have read this passage many multiples of times, and yet, as so often happens with Scripture, something new popped out for me this morning. Jesus is talking to Simon Peter and before Jesus bluntly tells him that Peter will deny Jesus three times before sunrise, Jesus tells Simon that he has been praying for him. Praying that his "faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, may strengthen your brothers." Peter doesn't get it, and so Jesus has to be more blunt and tells him about the thrice denials coming a few hours away.

"When once you have turned back...." is just jumping off the page at me today. How often in life this saying has been proven true. That we do not hear or see messages or signals that are right in front of us and head in the wrong direction. We are too distracted by other "things" in our lives. And even though this can be distressing, this lack of being cognizant enough to "get it" the first time around, Jesus is saying, there is a way back. There is forgiveness and love available to all of us: even when we think ourselves silly or incompetent for missing that which, with hindsight, we can see clearly.

These next two weeks of our Advent Season can be well utilized in trying to recognize those things in our lives, our relationships, our trajectory, that may be taking us down an unhealthy path. When we recognize those things, and when once we have turned back, we know there can and will be welcome and love and support and a new life open and available for all of us, all through the gaze and the presence of a babe in a manger.

Copyright 2010, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: Take, Bless, Break, Give

Psalms 31 * 35; Isaiah 7:10-25; 2 Thess 2:13-3:5; Luke 22: 14-30

In today's Gospel selection Jesus provides us with his third telling of "the four-fold action," which we utilize in our Eucharistic prayers. He takes (1), blesses (gives thanks){2}, breaks (3) and gives (4) the bread to his disciples who are sharing his last (and Passover) meal with him. The first two times Jesus provides this "four-fold action" are during the two feedings of the multitudes who had been flocking to see and hear him over the course of his ministry.

We hear these words and witness and participate in these actions every time we participate in (or attend) a Eucharistic service. It is easy for us to take for granted, lose the impact of these words we hear so often. Remembering that they come from this very tender and personal and painful place of Jesus at table with his friends for the last time can help make each and every Eucharist far more rich.

Interestingly, we are given this reading in the middle of our Advent Season. I wonder if we could think of the Incarnation, about which we are preparing in this Season, in terms of this "four fold" mystery: of "taking," "blessing (giving thanks)," "breaking," and "giving." God takes human life and form in the Incarnation, in the person of Jesus. By living a human life, in all of its glories and difficulties, God is giving thanks for (blessing) our humanness. With God's dying for us on the Cross, God breaks open a living kingdom. By God's resurrection, we are given the ability to chose a new life. All of this starting with that for which we prepare and will celebrate fifteen days from today: the Incarnation, of God taking human form and living and dying with us leading us to newness in all aspects of life.

No wonder we need time to prepare.

Copyright 2010, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: On Being Human

Psalms 38 * 119:25-48; Isaiah 6:1-13; 2 Thess 1:1-12; John 7:53-8:11

The scribes and the Pharisees bring a woman "caught in the very act of committing adultery" to Jesus asking him what they should do with her.

I am struck this morning by this woman. Think for a moment about what this event must have been like for her. She is caught having sex, in the "very act" of sex. She must have been married as she is accused of adultery, so imagine her embarrassment, her shame at the public airing of her sexual transgression in the temple, to this itinerant rabbi, who is not paying attention to her or the scribes and Pharisees, and who is drawing something on the ground. She must have been confused as well, for she had gotten herself caught up in the political scheming of the scribes and Pharisees and their plotting against Jesus.

Jesus looks at her, looks at those accusing her and says "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." Imagine her terror, her fright during that wait to feel the first stone strike her body. And this itinerant rabbi goes back to sketching in the sand at his feet, ignoring her and all those around her. I wonder who she looked at: the scribes and Pharisees around her? Jesus who is ignoring her? Did she keep her eyes closed?

And no stones hit her. And then Jesus stands up and asks her "Where are they?" And she sees that they are gone. What did she think about this man who the scribes and Pharisees asked if they should stone her to death? And then Jesus says that he will not condemn her either, but that she should live a better life from this point forward. Is there shock from this woman? Delight and wonder? Numbness and exhaustion from the ordeal? Sheer joy at the reprieve? We are not told, as so often happens in these Gospel accounts of Jesus' actions.

Jesus is showing human compassion today. Jesus is admitting his own humanness today by not casting the first stone. Jesus is teaching us about caring for those who make mistakes. Jesus is showing us a forgiveness and a loving kindness that we are called to emulate.

And isn't this story one of waiting and anticipation and self-examination and one with a surprise ending? Isn't this just what Advent is all about?

Copyright 2010. The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: This Generation

Psalms 26, 28 * 36, 39; Isaiah 5:13-17,24-25; 1 Thess 5;12-28; Luke 21:29-38

Oh my. Jesus says today this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life.... No wonder those early, first (and second) generation Christians were expecting the end of the world. Jesus says it right here! It's a-gonna happen before this generation passes away! Gird up your loins, folks, cause it's all ending!

I have been referring this Advent to Jesus teaching and preaching in metaphors. What if, what if "this generation" is metaphor? What if, the passing away of heaven and earth are metaphor and not to be taken literally? What if Jesus was not only speaking metaphorically but also analogously and descriptively and imaginatively?

What would it be like to think of Jesus' words, when he speaks of "this generation" as our generation? What would it be like for us to imagine that Jesus is speaking to the ages and saying to each and every generation through these past 2000 years, Hey, this kingdom is open for you! This kingdom that I am proclaiming is available to you, and you, and you! This world can and will radically change, will pass away and be a new thing, my kingdom! A kingdom where we will not be weighed down by the changes and chances of life, where the temptations of dissipation and drunkenness will not trap us.

Looking at Jesus' words in this manner makes them far more difficult to dismiss. For by looking at them as current and relevant today, we are challenged to live into the idea, this Advent Season, of "these last days" as being today, with a new heaven and a new earth available and readily within our grasp. Oh my.

Copyright 2010, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: Apocalyptic Metaphors, Perhaps? (AMPs)

Psalms: 25 * 9, 15; Isaiah 5:8-12,18-23; 1 Thess 5:1-11; Luke 21:20-28

The REM song, which goes, "it's the end of the world as we know it, it's the end of the world as we know it, it's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine....." is running through my head this morning. This has been caused by our reading from Luke where Jesus is continuing (from Saturday) his prophesies about the end of Jerusalem and the world, announcing the coming of the Son of Man "in a cloud with power and great glory". I am either going to have to listen to the entirety of the song soon (to try to chase it from my mind) or listen to something else, as this kind of repeated refrain dominating the back of my mind tends to drive me a bit nuts.

But both this song and Jesus' words have got me thinking. This passage, and others like them, are ones that many people have taken literally. Much hurt and heartache, and deaths, can be drawn right back to these verses. Most of the early, and first, Christians believed Jesus was going to be coming again in judgement during their lifetimes. But what if Jesus was talking to the ages in a vast metaphor when he was describing these cataclysmic events? So much of what he says is not literal, but is metaphor. Literal is so much easier to understand (and manipulate people with) while metaphor takes a lot more work to synthesis.

Jesus knows what awaits him in Jerusalem.....and beyond. He knows he is walking to his great Passion....his suffering, trial, death by execution.....and his resurrection and ascension. He knows that he is living in his end times, in his last days. And what if Jesus is saying, with these graphic metaphors, that no matter how much crap we may have to face in our life, he has been there before, has walked through it, suffered it and has come out the other side, triumphant. Different than he was and still present for us to lean on. Perhaps he is saying that no matter how dark our depression may be, no matter how dim our hopes may be, no matter how lonely we may feel, no matter how inappropriately me may believe we have acted, no matter what.... Jesus is there for us....is here for us......that we are never alone, no matter how much we may have convinced ourselves that we are. All we need do is "stand up and raise (y)our heads, because (y)our redemption is drawing near."

Jesus is fessing up that life can really suck sometimes. He is saying he not only knows it from personal experience and from what he has seen and witnessed, but because of what he is voluntarily walking toward. He is fessing up that we can bear these crosses, not only because he already has, but because he is walking with us, and that when we come to that other side of the crap, we will be different, evolved, more mature and confident and better than we ever thought possible as we live in and into this kingdom Jesus opens and invites us into joining.

This Monday of the 2nd week of Advent, this time of patient waiting and self-examination and readying for apocalyptic change, these readings from Luke about end times can help us better prepare for the gift that we celebrate 19 days from today.

Copyright 2010, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: The Worth of Copper

Psalms 16, 17 * 18; Isaiah 3:8-15; 1 Thess 4:1-12; Luke 20:41-21:4

Copper is worth so much money now-a-days. Copper wiring, copper pipes are items regularly stolen from construction sites (and elsewhere) because of its value to people who trade in that commodity. Our pennies now have more zinc in them than copper because of the cost involved in utilizing copper in the production of our one cent coin. So the ending of today's Gospel, with the poor widow giving two coppers as gift to the treasury, perhaps, does not ring with as much authority as it might if copper were looked at as nearly worthless, as it was 2000 years ago.

Wealth, abundance, scarcity are all matters of perception, but also of the heart....of our true intentionality. Jesus is watching what is going on around the Temple and sees great wealth and abundance, a sense of self- satisfaction and self-indulgence that he finds disgusting. And then he sees this quiet, poor widow put in all she had to serve the greater good. To that widow, those copper coins where not proof of the scarcity of her wealth, they were palpable, tangible and concrete parts of her abundant life, her deep generosity. She was "all-in" as they say in cards. The worth of those copper pennies to her was something far different than the giving of those who had more and who gave less.

Where within ourselves and our lives can we reach to, gain an understanding and give to others so that we are "all-in" aiding in the creation of this Kingdom Jesus proclaims by the usage of this copper coin metaphor? Jesus is not just talking about money here. Those copper coins are a metaphor for a richer understanding of the wealth and abundance we have in our lives. Those coins are representative of how we can operate in the world, not from a place of scarcity, or lamenting what we do not have, but from a place of graceful thanksgiving for what we do have......and a generosity of spirit and heart allowing us to share that wealth with all those around us.....pushing all those coins to the center of the table.

What a gift this reading is for this Holiday Season.....for this Advent Season.

Copyright 2010, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: Like Angels

Psalm 18:1-20 * 18:21-50; Isaiah 2:12-22; 1 Thess 3:1-13; Luke 20:27-40

Yesterday was World AIDS Day. A day to remember, to reflect, to cry, to reach out in support, to be angry.....all of those emotions and actions (and more) can encompass this day to not forget that a deadly disease remains among us. It is a day to fight against complacency and to draw national and international attention that this epidemic is not over.

Falling at the beginning of the "Holiday Season" is a good time for WAD to exist. All the stores have their holiday decorations up (and have for some weeks now), with many having ethereal angels hanging gracefully, blowing their horns. Stores have logos like "Believe" or "Give". Having become a much more secular holiday than a Eucharist to celebrate the divine becoming human, these angels are much safer-secular representation of this season.

And yet, Jesus talks about the resurrection being like an age where things are so very different, where we will be like angels and are children of God. Now that is not a secular image. The imagery of being like angels and being children of God makes those secular angels into something else for me. Each and every one of them are a representation of someone who has died from AIDS or is living with HIV or AIDS. Each of those secular angels can be like a candle glowing ever-steadily as a reminder of those we have lost and those who live on. For they are like unto angels and are children of God.

Light a candle in your heart today, remembering someone you know who died of AIDS. Light a candle in your heart today, naming it for someone who is living with HIV or AIDS. If you think you do not know a person who falls into one of those two categories, than light a candle in your heart to support those who have died or who are blessed to be living on. Light another candle in your heart to remember that this disease is still present and a great risk to all of us. By doing so, we not only remember and honor these folks who are like angels and children of God, but we are saying that we too are like angels and children of God, all standing in solidarity together.

Copyright 2010, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: Just Waiting

Psalms 119:1-24 * 12, 13, 14; Isaiah 2:1-11; 1 Thess 2:13-20; Luke 20:19-26

We are in the middle of the first week of Advent. Advent being a time of waiting and preparation (among other things), we are gifted a reading from Luke that is about waiting and enlightenment and a clear-eyed shocking view of the world.

Jesus has flummoxed, yet again, the scribes and chief priests and they send spies to try and trap him into some mistake that will damage his growing ministry. They are unsuccessful today (although they try to be crafty) in pushing Jesus into a corner over payment of secular taxes. Jesus' response of give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's, foil that attempt. This simple statement also sums up one of the key ideas of Jesus' message in Luke: a new orientation of how we operate in the world must be adopted. And those crafty spies, and the scribes and chief priests, must sit back and wait some more.

Waiting can be so very hard. Waiting for Advent to be over and Christmas to be here....waiting for the birth of a child.....waiting for medication to cure an illness....waiting for a phone operator to take you off hold.....waiting for the tide to come in....for the seasons to change....for the rain to stop......for unemployment to be over.

I begin today, this first of December, my fifth month of unemployment. Today is day 123 of waiting while I continue my quest for a new call. I have been doing all that I know how to do to chase after a new cure, a place to serve. Although there has been much effort (and heartache) on my part these past 12o-odd days, this has also been a substantive and substantial time of waiting. If not the most difficult time in my life, this period ranks up there with one or two other life-altering times in my life. "Hard" does not begin to describe what these last months have been like for me. I pray each morning for the patience and the strength and the incite to continue to do that which I must to keep on searching. Most days, most, that prayer-life helps.... those daily devotions become a solid place in which, not only can I rest, but I can hope and trust that in time all will be well. I usually gain a broader perspective from exercising this Rule of Life of immersing myself in Morning Prayer and this discipline has helped see me through to this point. I do believe that I operate in the world differently than how I did before this experience.

Not only is Advent a time of waiting and preparation, but also a time of reflection and introspection. Part of my personal introspection brings me to reciting, regularly, a list of things about which I am grateful: the years of practice that has made this Rule of Life so much a part of who I am; the friends who remember to check in; the gift of their time; the love and support of family; the opportunity to supply ("substitute-priest") are just a few of my regular litany.

So I continue to wait in Advent. Waiting is so simple and so very hard.....just like the rest of life can be.....I do, personally, ask for your prayers of support and strength and love as I continue to explore this gift of time of unemployment during this Advent season. I also ask that we remember in our daily prayers all those who are unemployed or underemployed, particularly in this Advent (and Holiday) Season.

Copyright 2010, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: Life's Juxtaposition

Psalms: (120), 121, 122, 123 * 124, 125, 126, (127); Zechariah 11:4-17; 1 Cor 3:10-23; Luke 18:31-43

Life can have so many ups and downs, highs and lows. Perhaps to really appreciate life in all the richness that envelopes us we need those distinctions, those sharp contrasts....Perhaps.

Today Jesus tells his twelve apostles, privately, that he is headed toward Jerusalem and his brutal torture and death and his resurrection. They do not get it. They continue their long walk to that holy city and just outside of Jericho they find a blind individual begging, who begs that Jesus have mercy. This is done not once, but repeatedly, annoying the apostles who tell him to quiet down! Jesus says, none of that and asks this blind person "What do you want of me?" and "To see again" is the response. Jesus provides sight saying faith is the saving factor and there is much rejoicing and celebrating and "glorifying of God" that ensues.

The juxtaposition of Jesus alerting his close followers about what is lying ahead of them on this journey to Jerusalem, and their not understanding, set against the healing of the blind beggar and the resultant and immediate joy, is a sharp contrast for us to think about. Jesus was fully divine, but also fully human. I cannot imagine Jesus not feeling some sharp pang of loneliness after he tells his apostles about the coming Passion. And this is immediately followed by joy and celebration at sight being restored to an unknown individual they bump into along the road. Highs and lows.....ups and downs.

As we move ever closer to Thanksgiving Day, with some being gifted with celebrating with families and friends this juxtaposition of life will be all around us. There will be great joy and great heartache for many of us. From the mundane menace of traveling to the abundant joy that can come from seeing people we love and haven't been with for a long time. If we are blessed with those kind of occasions, we need to always remember in our prayers those who do not have that richness in their lives. We must reach out to those folks to embrace and give a moment or two of "a high" that can come from interpersonal interaction, or simply being remembered. A far deeper richness will be gifted to us for that effort.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Copyright 2010, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: The Last Week of the Year

Psalms 106:1-18 * 106:19-48; Zechariah 10:1-12; Galatians 6:1-10; Luke 18:15-30

We are in the last week of the church calendar year. Yesterday we celebrated "Christ the King" Sunday and next weekend we begin Advent. We begin this ending week with a Gospel selection from Luke that appropriately challenges us and aids in our Advent preparation. This Gospel is also quite appropriate for this last week of the Season after Pentecost. This selection from Luke is a wonderful collection of "Endings and Beginnings".

Jesus takes some corrective action with his disciples who were preventing people from bringing their children to him. And then Jesus has a conversation with a wealthy ruler about how to gain entrance into the kingdom Jesus is proclaiming. And this concludes with Jesus bucking up his disciples who worry that they will not be able to meet the standards Jesus sets forth for entrance.

Although he provides some stern warnings and sets high standards that seem impossible to reach, Jesus also lets us know that God is in the midst of all of that work. That even though what he is saying may seem impossible, because of God's intimate involvement, nothing is impossible. Jesus, in 15 verses this morning, is demanding a re-ordering of how society operates, of how we operate in the world. Not only putting children first, caring for the poor, being faithful and honest and respectful, but also taking our gifts and talents and wealth and focusing them on others and not on ourselves. Jesus is directing us to use those things as tools to respond to the challenges of the world. Jesus is talking about the ending of a way of life and a beginning of a new way of life.

Jesus is demanding that we recognize, this last week of the Pentecost Season, that his coming into the world has changed how the world is to operate, and how his followers are to interact in that changed world. Impossible seeming, yes....an as yet unrealized dream, perhaps.....something to continue to strive for knowing God is in the middle of all of this? Absolutely.

Copyright 2o10, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: Presumed Knowledge

Psalms 107:33-43, 108:1-6(7-13) * 33; Malachi 3:13-4:6; James 5:13-20; Luke 18:9-14

I went to see the late show of the new Harry Potter movie last night (getting out of the movie and arriving home far later than is usual for me: actually quite a treat!) I went with some very dear and wonderful people, having a late dinner (at least for me) prior to joining the craziness of the "line for a seat" which is different from the line for a ticket. The whole evening was a memorable, enjoyable and fun time.

Now I am a HP fan, having read all the books (more than once) and having seen all the movies on or near their release dates. It is an amazing franchise and yet, during the two and a half hour saga of Part I of the final chapter of this epic story, there was a tremendous amount of information that was presumed to be understood by the director and script adapters. If I had not been quite familiar with the last book (and the preceding ones as well) I would have been pretty lost in the story (although I probably would have enjoyed the picture just for its cinematography and special effects.)

And I cannot help but wonder this morning if we, as members of "church-land", do not too often do a similar thing: presume people have knowledge and understand the back story to that which we are involved. Take for example our Gospel reading from Luke today where we have Jesus comparing the haughtie-taughtie, self-centered and obnoxious Pharisee and the repentant tax collector. The message of Jesus' parable can be simple and direct if we take these verses on their own, and perhaps that is sufficient for a time. The clarity of understanding changes when we look at the broad scope of the Chapter we are reading and becomes even more rich when we take a further step back and look at the section Luke has put together. That understanding can become mind-blowing when we look at the bigger arc of the entirety of the Gospel.

The Episcopal Church can, and does, do a good job offering information and teachings about the back-story and the over-all story about which we have centered our lives. We can pace ourselves in our learnings, but learn we are called to do.....teach we are called to do. No matter how much we think we know, there is always something further on which to reflect. We never want to be like that self-important Pharisee in today's Gospel, but rather like the tax collector who knows this ongoing conversation with God that is scripture-study, is just that, a conversation with God, who opens deeper understandings as we let go of what we presume to know, and thereby learn new things.

We should always remember, and be humbled by, this conversation with God never presuming that we know all there is to know. Never presuming that everyone knows what we know. But instead always being open to new knowledge that is revealed to us as we do that necessary work of talking about Scripture, being open to God's presence, guidance and loving nudge toward the uncomfortable.

Copyright 2010, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: Prayer and Full Hearts

Psalms 102 * 107:1-12; Malachi 3:1-12; James 5:7-12; Luke 18:1-8

We are promised something beautiful in today's Gospel reading from Luke. Well, I guess it is really more than a promise. We have an assurance of God's love, God's justice, God's presence in our lives. Jesus provides this to us in the form of this story of the so called "unjust judge."

This individual has a jaundiced reputation, and proves that reputation by saying out loud "Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone....." We may know people who profess this kind of attitude: a jaded view of the world and themselves. And yet, in Jesus' story this judge ends up doing what is right, for the wrong reasons, but still does the right thing for the widow. And Jesus says, See, even if this dork-of-an-individual can do that which is right, how much more will God do for us if we keep the faith, and pray with full and rich hearts?

God's love for us is so overwhelmingly present, that our hearts should be full day and night, enriching our prayers and our interactions with the world. Yet Jesus knows our human nature and ends today Gospel account asking if we will keep our faith, acknowledge this basic fact of our beliefs, and remember that God does grant us justice. God's love is there for all of us, no matter who we are, what we have done, or how unworthy we may believe ourselves. No one is unworthy. God's justice, God's love, God's embrace stands ready for all. And that knowledge should warm our hearts and enliven our prayers and quicken the steps on our journeys.

Copyright 2010, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: Real Evidence Ignored

Psalms 89:1-18 * 89:19-52; Habakkuk 2:1-4,9-20; James 2:14-26; Luke 16:19-31

Jesus tells the Pharisees today the story of the rich man (know colloquially as Dives, because of the early translation of "rich man" in the Vulgate Bible) and Lazarus (not the same one who is Jesus' friend and brother of Martha and Mary {couldn't they have picked other names?}). This is the reversal of fortune story where the rich man who lived lavishly ends up in torment after his death, while Lazarus, who was poor and sick and hungry and diseased in life, lies in contentment on the chest of Abraham after his death. The rich man begs for help which is denied him. He asks that word be sent to his family so that they do not suffer the same fate as him. Abraham replies that he and others did not listen to the prophets sent before, and they will not listen to someone they know has risen from the dead.

This is a complex story with a number of messages and meanings contained within the telling. What strikes me the sharpest today is Jesus saying the evidence has been right in front of our eyes all along, and we chose to look past those truths. We rationalize, argue, exclude people who are different from ourselves, ignore (or have become so inured to their presence) that we walk past those homeless and hungry who need our help. Jesus is pointing us to the facts that not only is God's love for us all around us in palpable ways, but so are the needs of this world palpably around us and are easily ignored.

What more does God have to do for us to make us open our eyes, Jesus is saying. This is a good question, even unto today.

Copyright 2010, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: More On Possessions

Psalms 88 * 91, 92; Joel 2:28-3:8; James 1:16-27; Luke 16:1-9

Today's Gospel reading from Luke is remarkably challenging. The parable goes by a number of different descriptors: "the dishonest manager", "the shrewd manager" to name just two. I think this Gospel message is one that has a refined and, perhaps, more subtle point than many other parables Jesus tells. This parable certainly is one that can make one sit and ponder for a while.

The use of wealth and possessions is one of the most common themes in the Gospel of Luke (and in the Book of Acts as well). What we do with possessions once we obtain them, what they mean to us, how we utilize the gift of wealth we obtain, the purpose to our pursuing wealth, these are some of Luke's concentration in regard to possessions and wealth. Today a wealthy person learns that a manager has been less than honest in running this individual's businesses and tells the manager that unemployment is fast approaching. The manager than starts cutting deals with people who have debts of money and possessions owed the wealthy individual. The owner finds out about the manager's shenanigans and commends those acts. Huh?

It would seem that Jesus is saying to us in this rather obscure parable that utilizing our possessions and wealth to secure our future is more important than utilizing those same things for pleasure and satisfaction today. But what future?

Chapter 16 is all about possessions and wealth, and we are fast approaching the story of the wealthy man and Lazarus, where the future Jesus is pointing us to becomes completely clear. (This is the story of the sharp reversal of fortunes between the poor and sick Lazarus and the wealthy and selfish individual.) The refined and more subtle point of this parable, it seems to me, is that worldly possessions and wealth will not help us gain the promise and treasures of heaven if we do not use them for purposes other than our own selfish gain and comfort. Not a very capitalist minded sentiment, I know, but it is where I come out on this particular Gospel reading, at this particular point in time. I am not saying this is the only way to read this Gospel, but it is mine this morning. Good for noodling this reading is!

Copyright 2010, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: Such Joy

Psalms 119:97-120 * 81, 82; Joel 2:12-19; Revelation 19:11-21; Luke 15:1-10

Jesus tells the Pharisees and the scribes, because of their grumbling about his spending so much time with tax collectors and sinners, two stories: about the joy of finding a lost sheep, and the joy of finding a lost silver coin. And he says Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. And he also says Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

A fairly devote friend of mine complained to me about this passage, and his belief that these were unfair statements by Jesus. He said (and I paraphrase here): Why wouldn't the angels of God rejoice over his daily and regular work for the creation of kingdom? Why should the one who had acted so badly and then turns around get all the attention? A part of me understands his feelings and reaction to this passage. We all want and desire to know that we can create that kind of reaction from the angels of God that the passage ascribes to them over the founding of the lost sheep and the lost coin. What about us who are working so hard at not being "the lost" needing to be found? Shouldn't there be joy for us too?

I was at first struck at the similarity of my friend's question to the feelings (the grumbling) attributed to the Pharisees and the scribes. And I asked my friend if he saw that similarity. Although he did not like having that pointed out to him, to his credit he did see the parallel of the two.

We need to remember that Luke calls these two stories Jesus parables. So instead of taking them literally, what if we looked at them and saw a way to imagine that we are those angels of God rejoicing at the coin that was lost and found. What if we are the ones being joyous in heaven at the one "sinner" who repents. We are all sinners, at some point or another, that's just part of being human. But being part of this intentional community that is the Body of Christ in the world today, allows us to be joyous when one of us finds our way back, or when a new person joins our ranks. We live in that joy. We are that joy. We represent that joy to others who need to know it. And we are welcomed joyfully back in when we stray, when we are lost.

There is such remarkable hope in today's passage. Such joy.

Copyright 2010, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, November 8, 2010

All Saints Day

Preached @ Mary Magdalene Church, Silver Spring, MD, 11/7/10 Luke 6:20-31

We celebrate All Saints’ Day today. Our prayers, the lessons and the Gospel, (the music), all reflect this feast day’s importance to the Church. Who are these saints we honor today? This feast day goes back to the late 300s AD. Yes, that is 1700 years ago and it was established to celebrate all the Christian saints, known and unknown. What exactly does a person have to do to become a saint, known or unknown?

Honoring saints is a great thing, and the Episcopal Church does this all the time. There is a new book that replaces Lesser Feasts and Fasts that is called Holy Women, Holy Men, Celebrating the Saints. This book is most often used as a resource for weekday Mass. All these folks in these books are “known saints”.

The words we have from Jesus today let us know whom Jesus identifies as saints. Jesus runs the gamut in this portion of the Sermon on the Plain. Jesus tells people they will be blessed when they: hunger; are weeping, are hated, excluded, cursed; are struck, stolen from, abused. Each one of Jesus’ challenges today seemingly takes us away from normal societal constructs of how we act and asks us to act in a different way. Jesus is picking up on a familiar theme, namely if we bend our heart and our will to gain worldly things, we will probably receive worldly things, but we will not receive those things eternal. Jesus is asking us whether or not we are choosing the easy path or a path of sacrifice. An easy path, Jesus is saying, can yield immediate profit and fleeting joy by the world’s standards; while a life of sacrifice will yield a greater common good, and a delayed and different kind of joy. Most of the known saints took themselves out of the cultural milieu that surrounded them and took this path of sacrifice Jesus espouses. Our hope, faith and belief is that their lives of sacrifice yielded a greater common good not only to those who lived with them but to all of us who have followed them in the faith. Our hope, faith and belief is also that they not only experienced a different kind of joy during their life but are also now experiencing that final joy to which we are all headed.

Yet when Jesus finishes telling us about these blessings and woes, when he is done listing them, he immediately follows with a command that we are to love our enemies. Jesus is striking at a base human condition, a base human response with this instruction. It is very hard to love those who hate us, dislike us for whatever reason. Perhaps these folks don’t like us because of the pigment of our skin, or our religious beliefs, or to whom we are married or partnered. It is hard to love someone who is cursing at you, or who castigates you for simply being who you are. I think this is a natural human response…. not to love someone who curses you. But simply because something is a natural human response does not mean that we should blindly follow that impulse….The interesting thing about this demand by Jesus, “to love our enemies”, is the choice of words utilized in the original writing of this Gospel.

In ancient Greek, there are three words used for love: eros, phileo, and agape. Eros is a passionate love while phileo is love for family, friends. Neither of these words were chosen by Luke for this passage. Instead Luke has Jesus use agape, which of course is more complicated to define either eros or phileo. Agape is seen as an unselfish love, a spiritual love, as opposed to one of passion. William Barclay defined agape as “an active feeling of benevolence towards other people. Agape means that no matter what others do to us, we will never allow ourselves to desire anything but their highest good and we will with all deliberation go out of our way to be good and kind to them.” In early translations of the Bible, this word agape was often translated as “charity”. I think in our current understanding of the word charity, the true meaning of agape is distorted; we should not think of agape as charity. It seems to me that agape is an unselfish love, modeled for us by Jesus. Agape is actively and willfully working for the betterment of others, no matter whom they are. Whether they are striking out against us, or robbing us or hating us, Jesus is commanding us to seek some way to reach them, to change them, to allow them to see the world through different lenses. {This very peculiar kind of Christian love, this agape, is referred to by St Paul in Corinthians and Colossians as the greatest of all theological virtues.}

This agape is a matter of will. It is an active state of being, demanding we do something. Agape is not a matter of emotions, but is a matter of our willing to be benevolent, and trying to bring about the highest good for all we meet, including our enemy: we are called upon to be “good and kind to them”. And Jesus makes that clear by the last line of the Gospel we hear today where he sums up all that he has said before by saying: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Here we have an ancient “golden rule”: do to others as you would have them do to you. A form of this saying can be found in pre-Christian writing: in Homer, Seneca, Tobit, Philo and many other places. That does not mean Jesus didn’t say it or co-opt it. Simply because this life rule existed before Jesus, does not mean by his utilizing it that it is anything less then “Gospel” in importance. By living into this golden rule, we are being imitators of God’s kindness to the world, God’s love, God’s agape, God’s benevolence to the world. Jesus is demanding that we will ourselves to do good: that we do not return in kind treatment that is offensive. Jesus is demanding that we do what we are called to do: live into an agape relationship with everyone. Although this is an act of will, we require God’s help to turn against our nature and live into this way of agape. With God’s help, with that benevolent grace we can will ourselves to do this. Prayer helps here and so does being open to that little nudge inside of ourselves that let’s us know, when we are acting out against someone, that perhaps we are doing something we should not. Perhaps that is God’s voice pushing us to our better selves…. to our agape life.

And I think this is where we find our unknown saints on this feast of All Saints’. We celebrate saints, known and unknown today. I think the unknown saints can be, and are us: when we live into the agape life, into that life where we show our true and better selves to others. That is partly what we hear in Ephesians today when we are reminded that we have “set our hope on Christ.” The author of Ephesians reminds the reader that we already have “love towards all the saints.” Agape is used here for the word love and this phrase is said in the present tense, thereby referring to saints surrounding us, the Body of Christ in the world today.

We celebrate today those known saints who modeled a life for us based on Jesus’ teachings. We also celebrate all those unknown saints who lived and live an anonymous agape life…. and we also celebrate ourselves as we struggle to be our better selves. We celebrate God’s agape love for us, and our efforts to be better individuals, by our own act of a grace-inspired will to live into the agape love we have for each other and even for our enemies. We are not perfect, but God is saying to us today that we are perfectible. Through the grace of God and our own will, we can be in an agape relationship with the world allowing ourselves, willing ourselves, to be that unselfish, benevolent presence in the world….modeling Christ for all to see.


Copyright 2o1o, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: Such Small Things

Psalms (70), 71 * 74; Ecclesiasticus 44:1-15; Revelation 16:12-21; Luke 13:18-30

Jesus asks today: What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? (he also asks the same thing in a different way: To what should I compare the kingdom of God?) And he answers by saying this Kingdom is like a mustard seed that grows into a tree in which birds take rest and make nests. He also answers his own question by saying this Kingdom is like yeast mixed into a large quantity of flour and then given time to leaven.

This Kingdom Jesus is describing takes time to grow, to germinate. Certainly there is an event that starts the Kingdom's growth: the sowing of the mustard seed, the mixing of the yeast with the flour. And then time and nurture allows this Kingdom to sprout up and do what it is meant to do.

These are such small events, the sowing of this tiny seed, the mixing of a small amount of yeast with flour, and yet this is what Jesus tells us the kingdom of God is like. What small act can we do today to aid in the creation of this Kingdom all around us?

Copyright 2o10, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: All The Saints

MP: Psalms 111, 112; Esdras 2:42-47; Hebrews 11:32-12:2
EP: Psalms 148, 150; Wisdom 5:1-5,14-16; Revelation 21:1-4,22-22:5

Today is a "Principal Feast Day" in The Episcopal Church, one of the seven so identified. All Saints is also one of the four days on which our Book of Common Prayer recommends baptisms take place. So it is a big deal. And the good news is that it is also moveable, with the following Sunday being designated as a place for the commemoration to be observed.

Tomorrow is the day which commemorates "All the Faithful Departed", a day of observation that disappeared in the Reformation because of the abuses around money associated with saying Masses for the dead. I like the idea of lumping today's feast day together with all those forgotten and un-named believers that have gone before us: sustaining the faith through their quiet and deliberate efforts. Saints take all forms, shapes and sizes: they are not only the ones who died heroically and dramatically. Saints are also those people who come into our lives at just the right moment, say or do something that is seemingly small and inconsequential, but alter our lives in such a way that our trajectory is forever changed. We may not remember all these saints who have done this for us, but that does not make them any less saintly.

I cannot say it any better than the verses we are gifted from Hebrews today at the beginning of chapter 12:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,
let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely,
and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,
looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith,
who for the sake of the joy that was set before him
endured the cross,
disregarding its shame,
and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

We are never alone, although we may feel that way at times. Not only is God, and that majestic love, always surrounding us, but we have so great a cloud of witnesses accompanying us on our journey: through all those rough patches, as well as all the wonderful ones. So, on this All Saints Day, we should not only be on the look out for those saints who come into our lives, but remember that we can be that saint for someone else too.

Copyright 2010, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: Cleaning the Insides

Psalms 119:49-72 * 49 (53); Ecclesiasticus 28:14-26; Revelation 12:1-6; Luke 11:37-52

Jesus says today: Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? And after castigating the Pharisees he goes after the lawyers who are sitting around the table to which he was invited.

There are times when I am cleaning my home, vacuuming, polishing, dusting, where I do what is euphemistically called "a lick and a promise". That's where I do not do as thorough a job cleaning as I might, just polishing up the outside so to speak (no one is going to look inside that bowl on that shelf and notice all that dust, right?.....) Sometimes this is because of the exigencies of time and at other times it is caused by a degree of laziness, of which I am not proud. If we extrapolate this idea a bit, we get to where Jesus is going.

Today's Gospel selection is along similar lines of yesterday's, where Jesus is talking about the light of faith shining in and that light then shining forth. Jesus goes further today, using the metaphor of cup and bowl cleaning to drive an important point home. This kingdom Jesus is proclaiming is not one based on shallowness. This kingdom is not one where false facades will be able to stand. Jesus is saying that, much like the light of his word entering our eye and bouncing off the clean walls of souls and then emanating back out to attract others, so the work that we do, the justice that we aid in occurring in the world must come from a place of integrity: a place of realness within us.

We all know of and have met phonies in this world: people who we know are not authentic. Perhaps, at times, we have acted this way. Jesus is calling us to a deeper place of existence, a truer attitude of interaction in the world. At times, not something easy to achieve, but a target on which we all should be focused.

Copyright 2010, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: Shining Eyes

Psalms 45 * 47, 48; Ecclesiasticus 24:1-12; Revelation 11:14-19; Luke 11:27-36

Jesus seems to be a bit ticked off today. He calls the crowds that are building around him an evil generation. Yesterday he healed an individual who had been a mute and Jesus was called an agent of the devil. So he finishes speaking yesterday and at the beginning of today's Gospel account a crowd-member blesses Jesus' Mom and Jesus in turn says: well instead, the individual who is blessed listens and acts on the things I am saying and doing! (Once again, Jesus' sainted Mom is used by Jesus for him to make a point.) Jesus says that even the people of Nineveh got Jonas' message, but the folks he is dealing with are just dim-witted at not recognizing the power and presence of the Almighty in this Kingdom of God Jesus is establishing.

And then Jesus uses the metaphor of the lit lamp being used for its purpose, not hidden in the basement. He says our eyes are like that lamp, not only letting the light in (his light) but also our eyes shine forth the great Good News that infects all of us when we are members of this Kingdom. And if we believe we have some darkness within us, when we let this light that Jesus is to us, in to those dark places, that light can and will withstand and overtake all our pettiness, our anger, our dislikes, our sinfulness. The light that is our faith gets into those cob-webbed corners and sweeps that nastiness away and then rebounds off those cleaned spaces and shines out of us: we can't help or resist that from occurring.

This cob-web cleaning process, this light quelling the darkness, is not a one time event in our lives. We need to practice allowing the light to shine in, so that it can rebound and shine forth, bringing others into the fold of the kingdom.

Copyright 2010, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: Then the Kingdom of God Has Come Near You

Psalms 41, 52 * 44; Ecclesiasticus 19:4-17; Revelation 11:1-14; Luke 11:14-26

On Friday October 22nd, 2010, in the mid-afternoon, the chapel at Virginia Theological Seminary caught fire and was destroyed. The picture to the right is taken from the Aspinwall tower, looking down at the remains of the chapel, and was taken by a current student. The community of VTS and all of the alumni around the world mourn the loss of this space that was an integral part of each member of that community's formation.

I attended chapel services in that space for the three years I attended that institution. Initially it was daily Morning Prayer, and Eucharist once a week on Wednesdays. Durning my tenure, the chapel became an even greater hub of activity with Daily Eucharist being offered at noon, and MP and EP also being offered daily. And although I am saddened at the physical loss of this space, God is present still. That space offered a place of sanctuary for many, a quiet place to pray as well as a community-filled space during services that allowed each member to not only worship together but hold each other up. A place of learning, a place of thoughtful sermons, a place of history, both personal and public.

But all things human-made fade. Sometimes slowly but oft-times with a sharpness that can bring us all up short. God's presence was palpably present in that chapel. God's presence was also clearly present elsewhere on that campus and in the world. God's presence remains. Yes, those Tiffany windows cannot be replaced, but God's touch on each of us who were graced to feel that thin place where the Spirit is so palpable, know that God cannot be limited. Jesus proclaims again today that with his healing, which is from God, then the Kingdom of God has come to you. Bricks and mortar cannot limit this kingdom.

New bricks, mortar, plaster, glass will replace that burned chapel. In the meantime, we all can remember that God's Kingdom has come to us, is near unto us, and there is plenty of work to do.

Copyright 2010, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: So Simple

Psalms 37:1-18 * 37:19-42; Ecclesiasticus 10:1-18; Revelation 9:1-12; Luke 10:25-37

There is testing and justifying going on in today's Gospel selection, much like what happens regularly in our daily lives. People often test: others and themselves. Just as often we justify our actions, whether out of a sense of insecurity, defensiveness or some other reason. Jesus does not let the perpetrator of these actions get away with them. He asks about basic rules and then tells a story and asks a question to which there is only one answer: the one who helped, the surprising character, lives according to the precepts of the kingdom Jesus is announcing. And then Jesus tells us the simple truth: Go and do likewise. Go and help, respond to those who cross our path.

I think we can fall into justification and testing because we do not follow these instructions as well as we might. We can so easily get absorbed into the grind of our daily lives, our over-filled schedules, our "other" commitments, perhaps our self-absorption in the woes that can afflict us, that we turn a blind eye to those in need. Or, perhaps, we write a check to a favorite charity or cause and think that is enough to respond to Jesus' instructions. The parable Jesus gives us today clearly indicates that we are being self-delusional to think that just giving money is enough: our individual response and actual personal involvement is just as important.

We are reminded today that when someone in need crosses our path, no matter how busy we are, our call is to reach out and help. So simple.....and so hard to live in to.

Copyright 2010, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: Faithful Friends

Psalms 26, 28 * 36, 39; Ecclesiasticus 6:5-17; Revelation 7:9-17; Luke 10:1-16

Luke has Jesus send "the seventy" out to evangelize and spread the news of God's kingdom come near in today's selection. Jesus warns these travelers that not all will accept them or kindly welcome them. He gives them pretty explicit instructions about how to react to rejection: wiping them, and their very existence, from their consciences, leaving no tangible reminder of them on their person, down to the very dust of the town. When we pair this with the reading from Ecclesiasticus, which focuses on the fickleness of human beings and the rarity of true friends, we are given a lot to ka-noodle.

If we think about how long ago Ecclesiasticus was assembled, and look at the wisdom and truth found in these 12 verses, I can't help but wonder at how constant our human condition can be. I believe in redemption and that people can change. I believe in doing what I can to be a part of that change. Yet these words from Ecclesiasticus give me pause.... and at the same time delight. For even though they provide a rather caustic (and accurate) assessment of people's actions and reactions, they also provide this hope:

Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter:
whoever finds one has found a treasure.
Faithful friends are beyond price,
no amount can balance their worth.
Faithful friends are life-saving medicine;

Uncommon and yet not impossible to find, true friends are just this. Just as Jesus warns his early evangelists about rejection, so too today we are reminded that when we are gifted those rare finds of faithful friends, cherishing them, recognizing those moments and relishing them, help make our work of building this kingdom Jesus calls us to, that richer an experience.

Copyright 2010, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: St. Luke the Evangelist

MP: Psalm 103, Ezekiel 47:1-12; Luke 1:1-4
EP: Psalms 67, 96; Isaiah 52:7-10; Acts 1:1-8

Many, many, many moons ago, before I joined The Episcopal Church, and during a period of "un-churchedness", while I was living in NYC, a friend of mine invited me to attend church with him. He told me he had found this great church not far from where I was living and that I should come with him some Sunday. I knew where this church was as I had walked by it on a daily basis on the way to the subway, but had never paid much attention to it.

After a number of invitations by Frank, I finally said yes, okay, I'll go. We arrived on this particular Sunday, and discovered that it was "the feast day" for that particular parish and that they were going to have a luncheon after the service to celebrate. I had not been in a church for quite a while, and knew nothing about The Episcopals. Yet, when the entrance bell sounded, and the organ started, and the choir began leading the entrance hymn, and the thurifer began swinging the thurible filling that space with smoke and smells making the morning light coming in through the windows defuse in interesting and different ways, I felt something twist within me, like that swirling smoke. I knew there was something there for me; I knew, without really knowing until years later, that I was home. That something that was missing in my life need no longer be missing.

The name of the church was St. Luke in the Fields and today is somewhat of an anniversary for me as we celebrate Luke's feast day. Holy Women, Holy Men tells us today that Luke's "Gospel is not a full biography (of Jesus) - none of the Gospels are - but a history of salvation." I was given the gift of salvation all those many years ago on that beautiful Sunday morning. A morning that I remember as if it was yesterday. For me it was a very slow change, a creeping under the skin of this mysterious working of the Holy Spirit, altering my perceptions and understandings of the world and God's workings within it.

I think many of us can look back and see a moment when something changed within us, something started us on a different path in our journeys. Mine was a seemingly small thing that took many years to mature and radically shift my life. But today is an anniversary of sorts for me, and a glorious one at that. I have a tremendous amount to be grateful for today, not the least of which is finding a place and a group of people that helped nurture a small (and what I thought of at the time as a lost) seed of faith into something far stronger and larger. Happy St. Luke's Day.

Copyright 2010, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: National Coming Out Day

Psalms 1, 2, 3, *4, 7; Micah 7:1-7; Acts 26:1-23; Luke 8:26-39

It is not often that the Gospel reading matches an "event day". An "event day" you might ask, how is Columbus Day also an event? Well, today is not only Columbus Day, with many (most?) people in the nation's capital off work, but today is also National Coming Out Day. An important day for those of us who are out to stand up and support those who are taking those first steps out into authenticity. Steps into a world that is still frighteningly a place of intolerance and bullying. Yet still, steps people do and must take.

Jesus heals the naked-cemetery-dwelling-legion filled-demoniac in today's Gospel selection from Luke. The people from Gerasene are frightened by this turn of events and ask Jesus to leave their area. The individual Jesus healed begged to accompany Jesus on his travels, but Jesus says no, as you were content to be by my side after I healed you, and were so frightened of me just before I healed you, remember that contentment and go spread the word of the peace that you feel having been healed.

It must have been a hard life for that healed demoniac while he proclaimed the greatness of God to those who asked Jesus to leave the area. Leave because Jesus had healed those legions that had tortured this individual for so long. Hiding in the closet is like having those legions of personalities inside, never allowing the true light of who you are shine forth. But God made us all, just as we are: gay, lesbian, straight, bi, transgendered. As hard as being ourselves can be, we must always be who we are, as God made us. To do otherwise is living a lie and not giving the gift that is ourselves to the world.

Is this still dangerous? It shouldn't be, but yes it is. We need look no further than today's New York Times and see a candidate for governor of that great state expressing neanderthal-like ideas in regard to sexuality. Just as Jesus healed and affirmed and supported those he healed allowing their true selves to truly shine, we need to support and encourage and love those who are coming out, who have come out, and tell the world that God loves all of us, in all of our wild diversity. And in the same breath, and by our example, tell those who profit from bigotry and hatred that they must stop.

A small step in fighting bigotry and hatred is not accepting the use of terms like "alternate lifestyle choice" for people who are gay. These types of derogatory terms should never be acquiesced to: I do not live alternate to my fellow humans, nor is my sexuality a "lifestyle", nor is it a choice. I am quite simply, a human being who God made gay. This is just a fact.

Copyright 2010, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo courtesy of ("borrowed from") The Louie Stewart Collection.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: Emanating Light

Psalms 137:1-6(7-9); 144 * 104; Micah 5:1-4,10-15; Acts 25:13-27; Luke 8:16-25

We have a huge amount of information thrown at us this morning by Luke. First we have Jesus saying that our light should not and cannot be hid, followed by his saying that nothing will stay secret and that we need to listen carefully for more will be given to us, but woe unto those who think they have some things for even those things will be taken away. His Mom and siblings show up, and he diss-es them. And then Jesus takes the disciples on a boat ride in a storm and he calms the raging seas and criticizes his companions lack of faith. Kind of information overload today, like a large dog charging you on an empty beach with her forgetting that she isn't a tiny puppy anymore.

We need to remember that yesterday Jesus told the parable of the seed falling on four different kinds of ground and saying to his disciples that they are the repositories of the secrets. Followed today with his saying that secrets are not going to remain hidden. There is a seeming contradiction in those verses. With the plethora of information dumped on us this morning, this issue of a shining light and revealed secrets is the one that tweaks my curiosity.

I was raised being told not to draw attention to myself. I know I was told other things contradictory to that as well, but for whatever reason, that message of keeping attention off of me took root and has informed a great deal of my interactions with the world. I am a lawyer by training and practice and a priest by choice and training and calling. Both of these professions run counter to that informed root of how I operate in the world. Contradictions abound this morning. I have been fairly successful in both of these areas (with the usual highs and lows associated with any career choice or job). And yet, I have never tried, or liked, to put myself on stage, front and center. I have always made my focus the message, letting the light from the message be the thing that shines. Allowing the argument in regard to the law be the shiny object of attention; letting God's holy word shine through my attempts at explaining them. Look at this, not me...... look over there. And I think this is one of the things Jesus is pointing us toward today: the light of God's love for us is going to shine and our attempts to hide it will not succeed.

I firmly believe that light will shine, and our efforts to fuel the light are always welcomed and encouraged. Our efforts are about that fueling, not about our own ego.

Copyright 2010, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.