Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: Free Indeed

Psalms 26, 28 * 36, 39; Job 12:1, 13:3-17,21-27; Acts 12:1-17; John 8:33-47

Habits can bind us. Desires can try and control us. Things we want can possess us. Jesus is, in part, referring to these concepts when he says Very truly I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household, the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

Being a part of this movement Jesus is establishing means we have to realign our priorities, our desires, our focus. Much like the two saints we remember in Holy Women, Holy Men today: Aiden and Cuthbert. These two early evangelists, spreading the truth of Jesus to those in northern England in the Seventh Century, were focused on helping the less fortunate in their world.

We are pushed by Jesus today to think differently about our lives, our habits, desires and about those things we want, but do not need. We are reminded today that our focus should not be on those things but on the wider issues that are so easy to overlook and ignore. Who can we help today? Which poor person, which widow, which orphan, which person in distress, which sick person can we reach out to today and make a difference in their life? Where can we put our resources today that will help make the kingdom happen all around us through those efforts?

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

Sunday, August 29, 2010

14th Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 17C

Preached @ St. Barnabas, Temple Hills, MD, 8/29/10

The beginning of today’s Gospel selection tips us off that Jesus is heading to hostile ground, as right after we are told Jesus was on his way to a leader of the Pharisees for a Sabbath meal, we are told that they were watching him closely. Jesus returns better than he gets by observing them and then gives a two part lecture: one to the guests, about humility, and one to the host, demanding that a self-examination take place about the motives behind generosity. True humility and what motivates us to be generous are themes we are given to consider this summer day. And they are intertwined.

Both of these points by Jesus, on true humility and true generosity, are polar opposites of how the world works. The social behavior of both guests and hosts to which Jesus pointed two thousand years ago still exist today…. We have all heard sermons demeaning and devaluing our cultural standards. Devaluing and threatening does not get us anywhere. But trying to look at life and the world around us with clear eyes, evaluating and taking appropriate corrective action, is not so much devaluing and threatening, as honest evaluation and assessment of how we are doing in our efforts to be the Body of Christ in the world today.

Jesus talks about the humility of guests at a banquet and the motivation of hosts. We all know feigned humility when we see it. When Jesus instructs the guests at the dinner to sit down in the lowest place, Jesus is not instructing us to feign humility as a strategy for recognition. On the contrary, Jesus is saying that humility is a manner of life, a true “life-style choice”. Taking the low seat because one is humble is one thing, taking it as a way to move up is quite another. Humility is a quality of life open to persons who know their worth is not measured by recognition from their peers but by the certainty that God has accepted and loves them: and all else falls away.

Jesus’ guidance to the host of the party about who should be invited: the poor, crippled, lame and blind (as opposed to friend, brother/sister, relative or rich neighbors) focuses on the theme of self-examination in regard to our motives for doing things. Jesus instructs us not to invite people so that we may incur a return favor or receive something in return. Jesus is telling us to do the work, expecting and wanting nothing in return. If that isn’t opposed to our cultural milieu, very little else is. But it was as opposite the culture two thousand years ago when Jesus first said this, as it is today. We are still trying to get what Jesus is telling us, and that is okay. But we have to continue trying to get it.

One of the truths Jesus is trying to get us to hear when he tells us not to sit at the place of honor is that true honor is not gained by seizing prominence. It must be given to us. The Greek word translated here as “honor” (doxa) is usually translated in a different way. It is usually translated when we see it in other places in the Gospel as “glory”. And this is a particular kind of glory. Any time this Greek word is used it is God giving the glory. This glory is truly a glory only God can give. The particular usage of this word by Luke signals a significant hint that Jesus is talking about something other than who gets to sit at the head table and invited to the feast, as Jesus then says, in the future tense: you will be honored, you will be blessed.

Jesus saw meal-time as an opportunity for inclusion and fellowship. The Pharisees saw meal-time as a self-propagating and self-aggrandizing time. What Jesus is emphasizing here is that God does the blessing. God does the praising, the honoring. God gives the glory.

The challenge of today’s Gospel is the challenge of trying to free ourselves from our culture’s pull to power and esteem. God does not care about the glitter of our guest list. If this Gospel is to be believed then God looks to see that we have practiced the generosity and inclusiveness and love of the kingdom in our daily social relationships. The Gospel, in very stark terms, is setting social recognition up against recognition of God’s favor. The Gospel is challenging us to look at what we do, how we act and our reasons behind those actions.

How do we find this humility? If we are blessed to have found it, how do we stay humble? Perhaps we can remember that no matter how much we know, there is always more to learn. When we start to get a bit large for our britches, perhaps we can think about perfection. I am a golfer, a pretty poor one at that. But even if I was not a duffer with an unimaginably large handicap, all I would have to do is look at the professional golfers to re-orient my understanding of my prowess.

Jesus is clear, if we give to receive something in return we are not living into the kingdom he is announcing and we are missing his point about humility. Jesus is pointing us to a different mindset: giving with no thought of what we get in return. This is a “God-giving” mind-set. Think about God’s love and the oft-heard scriptural citation: God so loved the world that God gave us Jesus, the only Son…..

Jesus is pointing us to a humility that is a way of life…. a reversal of how the world has operated. Jesus is pointing us to a world where the first are last and the last are first. A world where the poor, the crippled the lame and the blind are no longer excluded… excluded from the priesthood, excluded from the kingdom, but are the invited and honored and glorified guests.

God’s blessings onto us come from our finding and incorporating this humility into the very core of our being. The glory is not ours to find. The honor is not ours to achieve. That glory and honor is bestowed by God onto us by this change of mind-set, by being God-giving in all we do.

We all are a work in progress….always. Our Gospel challenges us to remember that we, as Christians, are supposed to be different. We are challenged to set and show a different manner of being that exemplifies the God-giving humility from which glory is bestowed, without that reward being sought…. Challenging…. Life-altering…. We won’t be the most popular person on the block, but that isn’t what we are called to by Jesus. A work in progress we certainly are: we just need to keep cracking at this and we will see the kingdom forming all around us.


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

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: Light and Darkness

Psalms 20, 21:1-7(8-14) * 110:1-5(6-7), 116, 117; Job 9:1; 10:1-9,16-22; Acts 11:1-18; John 8:12-20

There are infrequent times when our readings seem to align with each other. Today is one of those days where there is a commonality among these disparate books of our Holy Scripture: a thread that I want to follow.

We are reading Job and are in the midst of the back and forth between Job and his visitors. We have another three weeks, or so, of jumping our way through this Book. Today Job is asking to be left alone, to be allowed to die, to go to a place of "deep darkness" as he feels that God has abandoned him for an unknown and unexplainable reason. Job is remembering back to a brighter time in his life where he was successful, with a family and loved ones surrounding him: a time that Job is thinking about as light-filled.

In Acts today, we have the end of the story of Peter going to Joppa with Gentiles and then accepting them as part of this burgeoning Christian community growing up all around him. The folks in Jerusalem are unhappy with Peter until Peter explains his thrice seen vision of the blanket and the visit to Joppa of an angel from God. And Peter says "If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?" Peter's eyes are opened to a broader understanding of God's loving embrace.

In the Gospel from John, Jesus today says "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life." After-which Jesus is, yet again, rejected by the Pharisees.

This imagery of darkness and light, seeing and unseeing, being exclusive and inclusive, surround these readings. This light that we are a part of as the Body of Christ in the world can dispel the darkest moments we have to live through. I am not saying this is an easy thing to accomplish, or will completely dispel those difficult times we all encounter. But knowing that this light is a part of our lives, having this firm belief, can help us through those dark times we each have in life, and allow us to not only remember the light but walk into it and embrace it.

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

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: In Plain Sight

Psalms 119:1-24 * 12, 13, 14; Job 6:1, 7:1-21; Acts 10:1-16; John 7:1-13

Jesus refuses to go up to the festival with his brothers in today's Gospel reading. But he follows along "in secret". He observes and listens to those arguing about his ministry. The Gospel writer tells us everyone was looking for him, but no one recognized him. Perhaps he was hiding, but I think it is more likely that people did not see him because he was not preaching or teaching or healing.

I wonder how often we truly see each other. I mean, truly see: see through the facades and masks so many of us wear. One of the things that strikes me about today's Gospel reading is how easy it is to not see, to overlook something that is right there in front of us. And I think we are called to not only take off our masks, but also endeavor to see through the facades of others.

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

Monday, August 23, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: Literally Minded

Psalms: 1, 2, 3 * 4, 7; Job 4:1;5:1-11,17-21,26-27; Acts 9:19b-31; John 6:52-59

Jesus is talking about his true followers eating his flesh and drinking his blood and living forever. And the folks he is speaking with are taking him, as so many do, literally. Besides the cannibalistic yukkyness of thinking about this literally, and putting aside the popular and current trendiness of vampirism, I believe these words by Jesus, and this concept that is so much a part of our worship experience, should be remembered and utilized when Scripture is jury-picked and selectively and literally presented.

So much of what we believe is based on metaphor. So much of how Jesus taught, and still teaches us, is through parables and metaphors, with no clear and direct answer. Many times in life we want simple and direct, and that is, probably, in response to a world that is anything but simple and direct. The people Jesus is talking to in today's Gospel reading are taking the easy route, the direct and literal approach. But that is not where Jesus is leading us. The complex and beautiful and difficult world in which we all reside is reflected in Jesus' method of teaching. We should respect that by not trying to simplify the beauty and complexity of Scripture.

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

Friday, August 20, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: Anyone

Psalms 140, 142 * 141, 143:1-11(12); Job 2:1-13; Acts 9:1-9; John 6:27-40

I am just back from a week in the NY/CT area, visiting family and friends. (I am starting to think of this time of transitional unemployment as an enforced vacation.) One of the events I attended in NYC was the 50th Anniversary celebration of a friend's ordination to the priesthood. There was an elaborate Eucharist with con-celebrants from Australia and England in attendance as well as two retired bishops. I would not be a priest if it were not for the support, care and kindness of this wonderful man whose ministry we celebrated this past Sunday.

Edgar's growth during his time as a priest these past 50 years is a remarkable example of courage and leadership and determination. His life's work of aiding and welcoming all who came in the doors of the churches in which he served is an example of a living out of the Gospel we hear about today: Anyone who comes to me I will never drive away. Edgar's growth into advocating the ordination of women as priests and bishops and of gay and lesbian people too, cost him: cost him people he thought were friends, the respect of associates and peers. But that did not stop him from living out Jesus' teachings.

Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty, Jesus says today. Whoever.....Anyone...... This is a common and repeated teaching of Jesus.... he says it over and over again. And I cannot help but wonder why we, as a people, as a church, so often are blinded by prejudice, Why we succumb to those base human desires of building walls and excluding those who are different. Jesus' teachings on that are clear. What else is clear is the truth that there is a cost: Jesus' life and ministry are proof of that. Edgar's life and ministry are too. But that cost is part of the deal we accept when we walk into that loving and open embrace of God's love. Being exclusionary is just plain wrong and is deeply sinful.

We all need to push back when we come face to face with this type of behavior.

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

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: On The Journey

Psalms 107:33-43, 108:1-6(7-13) * 33; Judges 16:1-14; Acts 7:30-43; John 5:1-18

There is a theme that jumps out at me from these three readings assigned for today. In John's Gospel Jesus heals the sick man by the Beth-zatha pool. He does so on the Sabbath. But we are told that there were many invalids lying there: blind, lame and paralyzed. Many lying there. So much hurt, so much pain, so much loneliness is evoked by this description. And yet Jesus does help, does heal one of them.

In our Judges reading we are coming close to the end of the saga of Samson, who is having some fun with Delilah, who is trying to betray him. In Acts, Stephen is on trial and is in the midst of his very long narrative, doing his best to persuade and prove Jesus as the fulfillment of all that had gone before him. And lastly, today we celebrate (in Holy Women Holy Men) the life and martyrdom of Jonathan Myrick Daniels, who was murdered in Selma, Alabama saving the life of Ruby Sales.

Jesus is on his journey to the Cross and Resurrection and Ascension. Samson is on his journey, having already done great deeds, but is starting to falter. Stephen is on his journey to being the first martyr recognized by the Church. Jonathan Daniels was on a journey to help stop rampant racism, saving the life of a young African American woman (who I have had the privilege of meeting at the church I used to serve at). All of these people on a journey that is all too short and yet they made a substantive and palpable difference to the world they were journeying through. It is, perhaps, easy to get bogged down in the sorrow and loss and pain. These individuals are clear reminders that we are all on the journey, together, and that we are called to make that mark in the world around us, while we have the gifts and the time to do so. All of these individuals are reminders that we need to reach out to those who cross our path and help them as best as we can. And that has to be enough to lift any possible cloud of sadness that might try to envelope us. For there is joy and wonderment to be found in these small moments.

Reach out to someone today and lend them your hand of love and the grace of your assistance.

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

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: A Spring of Gushing Water

Psalms: 101, 109:1-4(5-19)20-30 * 119:121-144; Judges 13:15-24; Acts 6:1-15; John 4:1-26

We have the first half of the story of Jesus at the well with the Samaritan woman. There is wonderful imagery in these verses. The scene is set with a reminder that this land is steeped in the history of the Jewish people, with land given to Joseph by Jacob and Jesus resting at Jacob's well. And then a Samaritan woman (a person with two strikes against her, her ethnicity and her gender) is spoken to by Jesus: give me water And then Jesus turns the tables and describes water that provides eternal life saying: Everyone who drinks of this water (from Jacob's well) will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life. And then after talking about the woman's storied past, he describes God in different terms: God as spirit, God is spirit. God not needing to be only worshipped at the holy city Jerusalem anymore. And because God is spirit, all must worship in spirit and truth.

Such wonderful imagery and metaphors in usage in these verses. In particular I am taken this morning with this beautiful image of an unrelenting spring, gushing water forward - a steady, strong reliable source of strength, of life, of inspiration not only for us but for those whom we come in contact who yearn forr that same source of centering power. Power to change the world, one person at a time. And that makes me smile this morning.

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

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: Of God

Psalms: 97, 99, (100) * 94, (95); Judges 13:1-15; Acts 5:27-52; John 3:22-36

We have Peter and the apostles being questioned in Acts today concerning their spreading the news of Jesus the Messiah. Responding to Peter, a Pharisee gets up and speaks, picking up on a theme that we hear throughout Scripture. The Pharisee says in trying to refute Peter's message .... because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them and you will find yourselves actually fighting God..... The apostles were then brought back in and flogged and told to stop. They of course don't stop and continue to preach, teach and proclaim the good news of Jesus the Messiah.

So much of our lives are driven by things of human origin, and through the course of history we have seen how they have failed. There are things that are "of God" which we have seen survive through the ages. We know many of those things that are "of God" but we still, often, yearn and chase after those things that are of human origin. Today's reading from Acts reminds us that God's time is not our time and, as hard as it is for us to understand, there are moments when we will have to face and endure difficult times. The apostles today are flogged for their beliefs and their refusal to give up on this thing that is "of God".

So it is not all peaches and cream (or strawberries and chocolates if you prefer). We will face loss, we will not be the most popular person on the block, but if we are doing those things that are "of God" than those other inconveniences, injuries, hurts and losses do become more bearable.

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

Monday, August 9, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: Flesh and Spirit

Psalms 89:1-18 * 89:19-52; Judges 12:1-7; Acts 5:12-26; John 3:1-21

It is really warm and humid here in DC right now. But what can one expect when we live in a former swamp and it is August. I give thanks for being fortunate enough to have central air conditioning.

When I was growing up in the '60s we did not have air conditioning. July and August in the suburbs of NYC had (and still has) similar humid weather to what we are living through in DC right now. I can remember going to sleep, laying on the bed, with no blanket or sheet covering me and being extremely warm, but not unbearably uncomfortable. We, as humans, can adapt and survive to a tremendous amount more than we give ourselves credit.

Although I am now pretty spoiled I know I could re-adapt to non-air conditioned conditions. Although my flesh might initially be uncomfortable, that discomfort would not inhibit my spirit. In reading in John's Gospel today about Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus (the individual who at the end of this Gospel claims Jesus' tortured and dead body, cleans it, wraps it and places it in his own tomb) we hear Jesus say What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. We can get so distracted by and focused on "flesh" things that we forget about how much more influential Spirit can be in our lives. We are amazing beings, and can handle so much more that is thrown at us than we often believe. The Spirit to do those things that are right, to not let our human foibles get in the way, is something I am going to continue to ponder today.

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

Sunday, August 8, 2010

11th Sunday After Pentecost: Those Right Things

Isaiah 1:1,10-20, Hebrews 11:1-3,8-16, Luke 12: 32-40
Preached @ St. Barnabas’ Church, Temple Hills MD, 8/8/10

Our Collect for today sums up today’s Scriptural readings in a very concise manner. Listen to the Collect again: Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will…… These readings we have today can strike at a very soft spot within our human psyches. Our Scripture readings are meant to remind us of a need to be ever vigilant about some of our base-human-propensities.

In our Gospel, Jesus is teaching his disciples something challenging, threatening almost. When we are threatened, we as humans want to hold tight-to whatever it is that we have. Jesus is telling his disciples not to have fear: fear of death nor fear and anxiety about possessions. These two seemingly disparate ideas are actually quite tied together. Jesus says that we should not fear either of these, death or the loss of possessions because God’s treasure is what we should be focused on. Jesus is talking about an expectation of living into the kingdom that he is announcing. As part of our Christian existence, our lives should be centered on this expectation of living into the kingdom, being ever watchful and attentive.

This redirection of our efforts that Jesus points us toward can make us anxious. This call by Jesus for us to sell our possessions and give alms is very provocative. Think about this directive by Jesus…take a moment and think about selling all we have…provocative to say the least. This call by Jesus to rid ourselves of possessions and give generously in almsgiving is something deeply rooted in rabbinic teaching and literature and would have been very familiar to his disciples: perhaps not so much to us. And being provocative can make it something we chose to ignore. But just because something is provocative, or makes us squirm a bit, does not mean it should be ignored.

Like so many things Jesus says, perhaps taking this statement metaphorically as opposed to literally would be helpful. Most of us have possessions we do not need and yet we still hold on to them. Jesus is instructing his disciples, and us, as the Body of Christ in the world today, to actually live into the values and precepts of our faith by ridding ourselves of things unnecessary.

There is an ancient Roman proverb, which says that money, and possessions are like seawater, the more you drink the thirstier you become. For many people, the more possessions we have the harder it is to let go of any of them. In particular in these very difficult economic times, hoarding, holding on to what we have, is a basic human instinct….more than an instinct, there is and can be a real need too. We are called today to seek the balance between what we need, really need, and what is superfluous.

This Gospel we have has two distinct tracks, one clear, one less so. The Gospel clearly has to do with being ready for Jesus’ second coming and our being ready for his arrival. The second, and less clear is how our actions can make us God centered, ready to accept God as intimately a part of our individual lives. This Gospel has to do with finishing tasks yet to be completed….the Gospel is directing us to do those things that are right and not letting “other things”, possessions for example, get in our way of the creation of the kingdom Jesus is proclaiming.

But how do we know what is the right thing to do? We are gifted with a possible answer in our reading from Isaiah today. The prophet Isaiah is quite clear, in fact always doing what is right is defined for us in these verses. Isaiah begins by condemning the ritualistic public worship being practiced by God’s people: the sacrifice of animals, the burning of the blood and fat of rams and bulls and lambs and goats. Now Isaiah is not condemning public and communal worship: he is saying that if that is all there is, if that is all we as a people do, well that is not enough. Isaiah than clearly says: Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean…cease to do evil, learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.

Think about our Collect: grant us the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, and our asking God to enable us to do them. Jesus recognized how hard this is for us. Isaiah recognizes how difficult this can be. The writers of our ancient Collect also recognize this basic fact about our humanness. This is hard. But think about those simple instructions Isaiah gives: seeking justice, rescuing the oppressed, defending the orphan, pleading for the widow…..pretty straightforward instructions for us to follow… to guide us in doing that which is right.

The billionaires, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates have founded an organization called “The Giving Pledge” where 59 billionaires so far, have publically pledged to give at least 50% of their wealth to charities. Warren Buffet has gone further, with a pledge that by the time he dies he will have given away 99% of his wealth. In a letter to the public Buffet says some things that tie directly to what we hear in Scripture today. He says:

Some material things make my life more enjoyable; many, however, do not. I like having an expensive private plane, but owning a half-dozen homes would be a burden. Too often, a vast collection of possessions ends up possessing its owner …. The reaction of my family and me to our extraordinary good fortune is not guilt, but rather gratitude. Were we to use more than 1% of my claim checks on ourselves, neither our happiness nor our well-being would be enhanced. In contrast, that remaining 99% can have a huge effect on the health and welfare of others. (Now that is a different definition of tithing!)

This is a great public start by industry leaders who have made substantive amounts of money in their lives, and is an attempt to improve and alleviate the suffering in our society and world. This is a good model for us in thinking about possessions, almsgiving and doing that which is right. God recognizes that we are human with all our human abilities of procrastination and rationalization. Jesus’ life on earth proves to us God understands these proclivities of ours, but that does not stop us from being pushed and urged to continue to try to live into these instructions Jesus gives us in furthering the kingdom’s creation. Perhaps we may feel it is too late, that there isn’t time, or perhaps we mistakenly believe we do not deserve God’s all embracing love. Think about the ending of our reading from Isaiah: even though the prophet has been hollering at his audience about their own sinfulness he reminds them:

though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land.

By these words we are reminded that there is always a way back, a way into the kingdom. We are reminded that seeking justice, rescuing the oppressed, defending the orphan, pleading for the widow should be used as exemplars for our doing that which is right…. and that it is never, ever too late to start. That is our challenge today….to take our collective worship here and that love that we know through our faith that God has for all us… take that out into the unknown future and be enabled to always do those things that are right. We cannot change everything that is wrong in the world around us, but we can and we must act, to make this kingdom God has gifted to us a reality. We need to, without anxiety or worry, rid ourselves of those things in life that get in our way of calmly reaching out to help those we encounter on our journey and make a difference to those individuals. That is making the kingdom a reality, here and now. A provocative challenge we are given today. And one we are all capable of effectuating….God’s speed.


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

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: Zeal and Sacrifice

Psalms 87, 90 * 136; Judges 9:22-25,50-57; Acts 4:32-5:11; John 2:13-25

The Gospel writer John moves the cleansing of the Temple by Jesus to the very beginning of his telling of the life and ministry of Jesus. It is an interesting and important placement of this account of Jesus showing deep emotion and love for God's house and what transpires therein.

To briefly set the scene: in the forecourt of the Temple money-changers made their living (who charged for their service of moving money from one currency to another). Also in that courtyard area were people selling "sacrifices": cattle, sheep and doves we are told. These sacrifices would then be given to the priests by the purchasers as an offering to God in the inner sanctuary. (This is a rough telling of how this worked - it was more involved with more money changing hands than actual praying going on.) So Jesus walked into this market place of commerce and greed and reacted very strongly.

You see, people were supposed to be offering sacrifices, something meaningful and from their personal selves and wealth and heart. The act was meant to mean something and to not be easy. What Jesus witnessed was pro-forma acts of worship surrounded by an economic system taking advantage of those rituals, all cheapening the idea of sacrifice. And in John's Gospel, Jesus knows from the get-go where he is headed and the sacrifice demanded of his humanity: in fact Jesus references his death and resurrection right after his chasing the blasphemers from the Temple.

Jesus acted with a sense of righteousness and zeal, trying to wake the people up. Jesus is saying God doesn't want pro-forma, unmeaningful acts. God wants our sacrifice to be just that, something meaningful and true and hard. I think this is why this is one of my favorite Gospel accounts, for it is a tangible reminder of what we, as the Body of Christ in the world today, should be trying to emulate. We won't make many friends, but we will be assisting in the making of the kingdom.

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

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: Come and See

Psalms 119:97-120 * 81, 82; Judges 7:19-8:12; Acts 3:12-26; John 1:29-41

John's Gospel is structured so differently than the other three. It is different theologically, in how it is organized and structured and it has a different sense of spirituality. As an example, we are told today about Jesus' baptism, but second hand, through John's recollection.

Jesus passes by John twice in today's Gospel with John pointing out the Lamb of God is walking by: look! Two of John's disciples do look and see something, and high-tail it after Jesus who turns to ask them What are you looking for? Instead of answering Jesus, probably because the didn't know what to say, they asked him where he was staying and Jesus invites them to Come and see. They do follow along and know what they have found and then introduce Simon (Peter) to Jesus.

I believe that these folks knew something deep within themselves when they met Jesus. Many of us have met someone who we know, deep down within that they are something special, something different. They possess something we want. A calmness, a sureness that we want to encompass into our being. There is a centeredness and confidence that does not come off as arrogance or condescension. How do we find that? Where does that peace come from? There is no silver bullet that can provide a magical answer....for it is not magical....it is a gift from God which we all can attain....all in our own unique and different ways. Prayer is a starting place. Volunteering to help the needy is another. Being a part of an intentional community is a third. Being present, truly present for someone who needs that gift is a fourth. Just being our true and holy selves, honestly accepting those around us and taking them into our lives with love and gentleness is a fifth. Can you think of one to add?

Jesus' invitation to Come and See is meant for us too. It is meant for everyone. And from our affirmative response to that invitation that centeredness we yearn for begins.

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

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Daily Office Reflection: Giving Credit

Psalms 78:1-39 * 78:40-72; Judges 7:1-18; Acts 31-11; John 1:19-28

The three readings set out for us today have a common theme among them: knowing to whom credit should be given. (For the liturgical nazis out there I know there is a fourth, but it is not conveniently set forth in my Contemporary Office Book, {what I utilize each morning to read Morning Prayer} so you'll just have to get over yourselves.)

In Judges we have "the Lord" reducing the size of Gideon's army from 32,000 to 300. The reason given for this action is Israel would only take the credit away from me (the Lord) saying 'My own hand has delivered me'. The battle is just about to start at the end of today's reading. We need to stay tuned for the conclusion. Notice that by reducing the number of Gideon's army makes the task ahead look impossible, and certainly much harder, and yet Gideon believes and pursues the objective.

In Acts we have Peter and John walking along, this is right after Peter's long speech about the life and work of Jesus being the fulfillment of the prophets, and they come across a man unable to walk because of ankle and feet problems who was begging for alms at the Beautiful Gate. And Peter heals him with these words: I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk. And the man does so. This is done in Jesus' name, not Peter's or John's. And in the Gospel of John, which we started reading yesterday, John points elsewhere, not to himself, not only for the authority he claims in baptizing but also for who is coming.

These three accounts remind us that although we each have many and varying gifts to share, they are not for our glory. We do the work, using those gifts and talents as we may and can, always knowing that the glory in the result needs to lie elsewhere. These stories remind us that "it is not all about us", but is about pointing to God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. Sure we can enjoy and revel in our successes and victories, like Gideon will do, like the man who was lame and made whole did. In that merriment and joy, we need to remember to not only give thanks to the One to whom credit needs to be given, but to remind others that the picture is bigger than the narrow lens we may be looking through. Achievement after hard work should be reveled in, but always in that reveling we need to point to the One who made it possible.

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