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.