Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: Myopia

Psalms 119:145-176 * 128, 129, 130; Numbers 22:41-23:12; Romans 7:13-25; Matthew 21:33-46

I got a wonderful surprise walking out the door at 6:00 this morning taking Allie for her morning constitution. The temperature has dropped at least 2o degrees, with a beautiful and refreshing wind out of the west. The humidity and heat that has been sitting over the former swamp that is Washington DC for the last two weeks has broken. I have all my windows open, and the air and breeze feels so refreshing this morning.

I am not usually bothered by heat and humidity, and much prefer it to cold and freezing temperatures, but I have noticed that I was a bit crankier these past few weeks, a bit more on edge. Now I recognize that this isn't only a weather induced state, as my employment situation has provided me with some reasons for being a bit off-balance. But I have noticed how the weather not only had an effect on me, but also on the intentional Christian community with whom I serve, as well as the residents of this city. Everyone was a bit on edge, more narrowly focused on themselves and allowing those feelings to control how they live in the world: closed down, unseeing, self-centered.

I think those reactions to heat and humidity we have been living through in this area are analogous to the Balaam saga we have been reading in Numbers and to the parable Jesus tells the chief priests and the elders in today's reading from Matthew. The Balaam - donkey story (which we read yesterday) is partly about being so self-absorbed as to miss God's voice and actions and our opportunities to respond that are all around us. Jesus' parable about the fenced in vineyard and the workers' reaction to the owners' managers and son is similar in point.

This glorious breeze I am enjoying this morning is a tangible reminder about how closed-down we can become when we let ourselves be distracted from being open to the Holy Spirit's work in the world around us. This wind that has wiped away the humidity can be a palpable example of God always reminding us that, although we may make mistakes, we may get myopic and selfish, it is never too late to step out and do our part in building the kingdom, here and now.

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

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: St. Peter and St. Paul

MP: Psalm 66; Ezekiel 2:1-7; Acts 11:1-18
EP: Psalms 97, 138; Isaiah 49:1-6; Galatians 2:1-9

This is a wonderful feast day with readings for The Daily Office which are critical under-pinnings of our faith and of our mission as a Church. Throughout history the members of the Church universal have argued about mighty things and petty ones. Our EP reading from Galatians provide an example of an argument amongst the early leaders of this Church. Our MP reading from Acts also exhibits this mindset of argument. Both resolve though in ways that are faithful to the prophetic words we hear in Isaiah: I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.

As humans, many of us like to argue. Many of us like to win, to be right, and we utilize those wins and that right-seemingness as proof that our lives matter, that we are making a difference. Those ambitions and drivers can blind us and mis-direct us. Peter was dead-set against moving beyond the mission to the circumcised until his vision we hear about in our Acts reading today which ends with Who was I that I could hinder God? Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, tells of his argument with the leaders in Jerusalem about his continuing mission to those outside the 12 tribes of Israel and how some of those leaders rejected him, yet others reached out the right hand of fellowship, agreeing to missions focused on different groups, but all with the same underlining mission.

God made us as we are, with many of us contentious and unruly and (at times) tiresome. Our reading from Ezekiel points out to us that God does not get tired of reminding us of our primary agenda when we get contentious and rebellious. And although it is alluring at times of exhaustion to give up, close down, that is not what we are called upon to do. What we are called to do, unrelentingly, is to offer God's loving embrace to all we encounter, to reach out to those in need, whoever they are, wherever they are, and provide them with food, and shelter, and clothing, and companionship, and a community to which they are invited to be a part, and we are to offer them love. Not an easy assignment. Nor a quick one to accomplish. But together we can walk that path and do what we can.

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

Friday, June 25, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: Through the Noise

Psalms 102 * 107:1-32; Numbers 20:1-13; Romans 5:12-21; Matthew 20:29-34

There are times, when I am in a large crowd of people out on the street, and I get overwhelmed by the noise, the sounds, the constant distractions of so many different things going on at the same time. I can find it hard to focus on one individual, or stay a-tuned to the thing I am supposed to be doing. So today's Gospel account of Jesus hearing two blind individuals on the side of the road yelling out to him for help, while he is surrounded by "a large crowd", resounds with me. I marvel at the fact that Jesus could actually hear and notice their pleas for mercy and aid, as well as reach out to them, show his great compassion and heal them, all amidst the noise and tumult around him.

I do not know if I will ever have the ability to not become overwhelmed at times. I do know, however, that today's Gospel reading brings me great comfort. This Gospel explicitly shows me that I don't have to worry about that inability because we have a loving God who does not get overwhelmed and will reach out and help those who yearn for that loving embrace and healing. That is a great thought to carry through the day!

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

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: Holy Women, Holy Men

The Nativity of John the Baptist
MP: Psalms 82, 98; Malachi 3:1-5; John 3:22-30
EP: Psalm 80; Malachi 4:1-6; Matthew 11:2-19

The readings set forth above are, as usual, The Daily Office readings assigned for today, which is the feast of John the Baptist's birth. Instead of reflecting on one or all of those readings today, I am taken this morning with the new book Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints, which was waiting for me on my arrival home from church yesterday evening.

This is the General Convention 2009 sanctioned revision o Lesser Feasts and Fasts. Holy Women, Holy Men contains a bit over 100 additional individuals whose lives have shown the movement of the Holy Spirit. whose impact changed these people and the world and time in which they lived. I am very excited about this updated addition to our lectionary cycle and will continue my habit of incorporating the prayers for these individuals in my Rule of Life and in the weekday Eucharist.

The Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold, retired Presiding Bishop, wrote a Foreword, part of which states: "Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints seeks to expand the worshiping community's awareness of the communion of saints, and to give increased expression to the many and diverse was in which Christ, through the agency of the Holy Sprit, has been present in the lives of men and women across the ages, just as Christ continues to be present in our own day. Faced with circumstances most often very different from our own, these courageous souls bore witness to Christ's death-defying love, in service, in holiness of life, and in challenge to existing practices and perspectives within both the Church and society.....The men and women commemorated in the Calendar are not simply examples of faithfulness to inspire us: they are active in their love and prayer. They are companions to the Spirit able to support and encourage us as we seek to be faithful in our own day."

I commend this book to you.

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

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: Human Fairness vs. God's Generosity

Psalms 101,109:1-4(5-19)20-30 * 119:121-144; Numbers 16:36-50; Romans 4:13-25; Matthew 20:1-16

Our Gospel reading for today ALWAYS gets to me. I have heard and read this description of the Kingdom of Heaven un-countable times and I am invariably brought up short by it.

A part of my living in this world is looking for fairness and treating people fairly. And Jesus' tale of the landowner hiring workers for the vineyard throughout the day, yet paying the one who worked only one hour the same as one who toiled all day just causes me to squirm. How, in God's Name, I want to ask Jesus, is THAT fair! When I get to the part of the story where those who had worked all day in the scorching heat are talking amongst themselves and complaining, I always find myself agreeing with them....and then those words that stop me short: I chose to give to this last the same as I give to you......are you envious because I am generous?

Jesus tells us over and over again that God's ways, God's time, is not the same as our human petty greed. Jesus says over and over again the Kingdom of God/Heaven is something different. And that God's generosity, God's love, is far beyond our ability to many preachers focus on vengeance and sinfulness - but Jesus points us to a loving God who is so generous as to astound and confound us. Perhaps Jesus, by describing the Kingdom of Heaven with this generous-landowning-winemaker is instructing us to re-think our priorities and understandings of fairness. Perhaps I should be happy that those who find God's love later than I are equally welcome in that generous and loving embrace God holds open for all of us. Perhaps it is not such a bad thing to be brought up short early in the morning.

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

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: Defining the Kingdom

Psalms 97, 99, (100) * 94 (95); Numbers 16:20-35; Romans 4:3-12; Matthew 19:23-30

Our Gospel reading for today may seem to pop out of thin air, if we haven't been reading what has been transpiring just prior. For if we just look at today's reading, Jesus appears to have a real problem with people of means, of wealth. But if we take today's reading in conjunction with yesterday's reading (and Saturday's as well), we will see Jesus painting a picture of what the Kingdom of God is like.

Today we hear the oft heard it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. And then he goes on to explain about people being appropriately focused on things that are important, and not transient things that fade. Yesterday, the first part of Chapter 19, Jesus points out the innocence of little children and how their approach to life is what we must mimic to be a part of the kingdom of God, followed by a conversation with a righteous and rich man who has followed all the laws and rules and yet wants to know how to ensure eternal life for himself. And Jesus tells him he should sell all that he owns and give it to the poor and then follow him. It is following this man's sad walk away that Jesus talks about the difficulty of wealth and the kingdom. In Saturday's reading Jesus berates the nit-picking Pharisees about Moses' permission concerning divorce. Jesus talks about the importance of fidelity and commitment and being focused, once again, on that which is important.

I honestly believe that Jesus did not "have it in for" people with wealth. He points to the truth that those of us of means can be at great risk for losing our way because of that wealth: being consumed by our humanness of wanting more, caring for our possessions more than we care for those who need our help. These last few days of readings have all been about being focused in the correct direction, and not getting lost: in the weeds of minutiae; in the caring of things over people; in the intolerance of difference. Scripture is directing us to evaluate what grabs our focus and attention and determine whether we are building the kingdom or undermining it.

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

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: Who Are Our Pharisees and Sadducees?

Psalms: 72 *119:73-96; Ecclesiastes 9:11-18; Galatians 5:1-15; Matthew 16:1-12

The disciples are their dim selves in our Gospel reading from Matthew, and Jesus is more than a little exasperated by that dimness. He is very clear with them about what he means when he says Beware the yeast of the Pharisees and is about their teaching and their closed-mindedness and their strict adherence to rules and their inability to change.

It is our human condition to look for comfort and familiarity. That understanding of life can infect the church and inhibit the church's ability to grow and respond to God's voice in the world. We have the biggest change agent in history, Jesus, as the leader of of our church, and whose name we bear when we say we are Christian. And yet one of the most constant refrains we hear in church is We don't do things that way because we have always done them this way. Who are the Pharisees and Sadducees today? Is it us?

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

Monday, June 7, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: Persistence in the Face of Not-So-Niceness

Psalms 56, 57 (58) * 64, 65; Ecclesiastes 7:1-14; Galatians 4:12-20; Matthew 15:21-28

We have a pretty unfriendly Jesus this morning, and cranky disciples too boot. He and the disciples have just left Gennesaret where they were, rather unpolitely, requested to leave the district after healing the naked demoniac who lived in the cemetery. These folks did not welcome Jesus, nor respond to his curing of one of their own, which may have set him a bit on edge, and certainly would have done so to his disciples. So, perhaps this was the mood they were in when another individual from "outside the fold" comes a-hollerin for help.

She was persistent. Jesus ignored her but she kept on following and yelling at him to help, so much so that the disciples ask him to do something about her. He turns to her and is pretty insulting, comparing her and all non-Jews to dogs. She remains undeterred and says "well even dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table!" That retort seems to bring Jesus up short and he grants this woman's wish, to heal her daughter.

There are so many times in life when things can seem not to be going our way.I think one of the beauties of today's rather difficult Gospel reading is the reminder that we cannot, nor should we ever consider giving up. Prayer is an integral part of not giving up. Being unafraid to ask for help from those who can give us that help is another part of not giving up. Being proactive about finding that help we may need is also a part of not giving up. We may hope for and pray that we don't have to expend that energy and that the help will appear magically. The reality is we need to be persistent in the face of difficulty. We may not get the exact thing we want, but we will get what we need.

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

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: Sharing a Meal

Psalms 50 * (59), 60 or 8, 84; Ecclesiastes 3:16-4:3; Galatians 3:1-14; Matthew 14:13-21

When I was growing up, a priest gave a sermon on this particular miracle event we have in our Gospel reading today. The gist of that sermon was that the miracle of the feeding of the 5000 was not some abbra-cadabbra moment but something for more important. The miracle was that Jesus got all those people to sit down in small groups and share. This priest talked about how it was customary for people, in that time and place, to have little pouches (in today's parlance a fanny-pack) in which they carried pieces of dried fish and dried bread. By having all those people sit down in small groups and open up their fanny-packs and pull out their food and offer it to their neighbors, who they did not know, this the priest said was the miracle. An opening of their hearts, one to the other, recognizing the need of your neighbor sitting right next them. Not only recognizing that need but doing something about it.

This burst my child's imaginative understanding of this story, and I remember leaving somewhat disillusioned and ill-at-ease (although as a child I probably would have said "I was feeling yucky".) Yet that sermon and explanation of this miracle story has always stayed with me, has always come back to me whenever I read one of the versions of the feeding of the 5000.

Aren't Jesus' parables supposed to make us uneasy? Aren't they supposed to put us on edge? Aren't they supposed to make us feel like we are perilously balancing ourselves on the abyss of self-understanding and responsibility, not only for our own actions but for those around us? Are we ready to trust what will happen if we allow that abyss to be our world?

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

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: To Whom We Listen

Psalms 45 * 47, 48; Ecclesiastes 2:16-26; Galatians 1:18-2:10; Matthew 13:53-58

We reach the end of Jesus visiting his hometown today, where just prior we heard about healings giving way to arguments with the Pharisees, leading to Jesus talking to his disciples about what "the kingdom of God is like". Jesus tries to teach in his hometown synagogue but the folks there took offense at him. After all, they knew him from a child - who was he to teach them?

So often in life that trite phrase "familiarity breeds contempt" proves true. We see that phrase play out in today's Gospel reading. So often in life we are looking for that "new thing" to follow, to lead us someplace exciting and new. Having a fresh set of eyes on something has great value, many times. But, what about those whom we get to know well, do we listen to them still? I think what happens today in our Gospel exemplifies the need for being able to be balanced in our consideration of ideas: are we high-tailing it after a new fad simply because we bored with the old? Are we discounting what someone has to say because we think we know them and what they are going to say? Are we able to listen and not be reactive? Can we see the gifts that are right in front of us?

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