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.