Monday, January 31, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Ya Ain't Seen Nuthin' Yet

Psalms 56, 57, (58) * 64, 65; Isaiah 51:17-23; Galatians 4:1-11; Mark 7:24-37

Mark tells us today that the people around Jesus "were astounded beyond measure...." He had just healed a deaf individual who had a speech impediment. Prior to this, and without the knowledge of those who were amazed, he had healed a Syrophoenician woman's daughter, from a distance: something even more amazing than what those folks saw who witnessed the deaf individual's cure.

I think the pairing of these two healing stories is making a point about our human nature. We jump to conclusions quickly. We can make definitive statements about people and incidents, believing that what we have witnessed and experienced sums up the entirety of a person or situation. We, in general, want simple and direct answers, because they are easier to put into a box and stop thinking about them. All we need to do is to look around, think about what is going on in our world, in both the secular and religious realms, and we can see the truth of this human condition of ours.

In the pairing of these two stories Mark is readying the hearer for what is to come. If those folks were amazed at the healing of the deaf individual without knowledge of the prior miracle, how are they going to react to the mysteries involved in the Passion, death, resurrection and ascension?

Going for the simple and direct can be comforting, but in almost all cases there is more there for us to chew on and digest. Mark is leading us to be open to and ready for the deeper mysteries, the more nuanced aspects of our life as the Body of Christ in the world today.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Hardened Hearts

Psalms 40, 54 * 51; Isaiah 50:1-11; Galatians 3:15-22; Mark 6:47-56

Mark tells us today that the disciples did not understand either what happened with the loaves and the fishes, nor why the wind ceased on the sea upon Jesus entering their boat, because "their hearts were hardened." Isn't that condition, a rock hard heart, the cause of so much angst, agony and antipathy in our world? How do we defrost our hearts? To what (or to whom) is our heart hardened?

One of the messages we hear throughout Jesus' ministry is this concept, this emotion, this ideal, this amorphous thing termed love. But if our hearts are hardened, how do we love? How do love our neighbor? How do we love ourself if our heart is hardened?

There is no set way, no one method, no particular formula we can all follow to unthaw frozen hearts, whether our own or those whom we meet. Wouldn't life be simpler and more beautiful if there was? Here, take this pill, or do this exercise and your heart will be like mine and the world will be a better place! If wishing and praying would make it so.....

Yet, perhaps there are some simple steps, fairly easy things we can do to start that process of defrosting some hardened part of us that is preventing us from reaching our potential of being full members of the Body of Christ in the world today, of aiding in the creation of the kingdom, here and now.....Reaching out to an elderly neighbor, who sits alone a good portion of their life....Forgiving someone, really giving up a grudge we have against someone who wronged us....letting go of worry about tomorrow and concentrating on this moment....volunteering an hour of our time at a food bank, or homeless shelter, or a children's hospital, or a nursing home....calling a friend we haven't spoken to in a long time just to check in.... Anyone of these can start a healing process that feeds on itself. We gain as much, if not more, than the recipients of our acts.

Try one today, and another tomorrow. See if there is a start of a thaw......

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: To Whom Do We Listen?

Psalms 119:49-72 * 49, (53); Isaiah 49:1-12; Galatians 2:11-21; Mark 6:13-29

"....for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he he liked to listed to him." This is a portion of Mark's telling of the death of John the Baptist. It is striking to hear this lesson of being perplexed and yet still liking to hear what is being said....wanting to be in that person's company.

And yet Herod lets his pride get in the way. He is worried about what his guests might think. He is embarrassed at his association with a prophet who has been maligned. He allows his hubris to get the better of him by allowing his prior oath control, permitting what he knows should not happen to happen. And John the Baptist's head ends up on a platter.

We have all been in a place in our lives where we have done something that we know we should not have done, and yet we did it anyway. We did not listen to our better angels, for whatever reason. Today's tale of John's demise is a cautionary tale for us. John challenged Herod and Herod knew flummoxed him a bit.....and yet he liked to be allowed to think along the lines John made him think.....He was drawn to it.

Perhaps some of the things this Gospel account is driving us to consider today are... Where today can we pay attention to that unruly Holy Spirit kicking us in the fanny, directing our attention and interest to something that causes us to be perplexed? Where are we being challenged to grow out of our hubris, embarrassment and pride? Who (or what) is making us feel challenged about how we interact in the world? Where today can we apply as metaphor Herod's tortured acquiescence to his lesser self?

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: This Is What I Do

Psalms 41, 52 * 44: Isaiah 48:1-11; Galatians:1:1-17; Mark 5:21-43

We are gifted in Mark today the two healing stories of Jarius' 12 year old daughter and the hemorragic woman. They are remarkable accounts of Jesus' care and love for those who reach out to him. At the end of today's Gospel section we hear that there was great joy and amazement at the girl's arising and that Jesus orders all those present to remain silent and told them "to give her something to eat."

I am struck by the ending of this Gospel story. It is almost as if Jesus is saying, Enough already, get over it, this is what I do And for God's-sake will someone get this poor child something to eat? This is what Jesus does, without desired fanfare or attention. As the Nike ad goes: Just Do It. Jesus is setting a model for us to follow in our work as the Body of Christ in the world today. He is also asking us to reflect on our motives and our actions in doing those things that make the kingdom's presence felt, here and now.

In Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints, we remember today the Ordination of Florence Li Tim-Oi. She was the first woman ordained a priest in the Anglican world. This magnificent act was done by Bishop Ronald Hall of Hong Kong, during the occupation of Hong Kong in World War II. After the war, the Bishop's actions raised quite a ruckus and his response was to always treat Florence Li Tim-Oi as a priest, and ask her to act out her ordination responsibilities to that order. He was saying, in a manner of speaking, This is what she does, get over it.

We are challenged today to look at our lives and reflect on what it is we are called upon to do, own that (or those) thing(s) and get on with the work of building the kingdom without fanfare and trumpets announcing our work. We are asked today to think about shrugging our shoulders and approaching those responsibilities with an attitude of This is what I do. This is a good way to begin the week.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Epiphany II: Let It Shine

Preached at St. Mary Magdalene, Wheaton, MD, 1/16/11

John 1:29-42


hat are you looking for? These five words, formed into a question, are the first words Jesus utters in the Gospel of John. This Gospel that can be so misunderstood. This Gospel that has been mis-used as a weapon and as a basis for hate and prejudice. This is a Gospel that is so unlike the other three Gospels. What are you looking for? Jesus asks the two disciples of John who are trailing after him.

What are you looking for? is asked in many contexts. When we walk into a store, a helpful salesperson can ask this question (hoping for a commission on the sale). On-line dating services ask this question: what are you looking for in the person you seek? Job hunters are asked by human resources personnel all the time What are you looking for….in your career? How would we answer this question if the Incarnate One was to turn to us and ask “What are you looking for?”

John the Baptist has identified Jesus twice as “the Lamb of God”. Two days in a row Jesus has walked by John and John points to him and says: Look….look at him – he is the one for whom I have been preparing all of you! And the second time John does this, two of his disciples take off after Jesus to see what this is all about. And when Jesus asks them What are you looking for? they respond Where are you staying? Now, that is kind of an odd question to ask. Perhaps they were flummoxed by Jesus’ query. But Jesus isn’t turned off by this peculiar question and says “Come and see.”

This is a remarkable response by Jesus: Come and see. The next three words Jesus utters in John’s Gospel is an invitation: come and see. The first words are a question: What are you looking for? Followed by an open invitation: come and see. We are invited today to explore a metaphor for the Church in these eight words. The wider church-universal and this parish, St. Mary Magdalene, Wheaton Parish are given this invitation to reflect on the question What are you looking for? and the open-ended invitation: come and see.

This is a wonderful opportunity, during Epiphany and at the beginning of a new calendar year, to dwell on this topic of what we are looking for from our church experience. After-all, we have all chosen to voluntarily be here….to be part of this intentional community. So if we twist the question Jesus asks just a tad bit, and ask ourselves What am I looking for by coming to St Mary Magdalene today? we will be taking this Gospel account and making it personal to each one of us. Take a moment, and ask yourself this question, thinking about an answer: What am I looking for by coming to St. Mary Magdalene today? I am not going to ask anyone to tell me their personal answers, so be honest with yourselves. Close your eyes and give a ponder to an answer.(Pause…..)

What happens to that private answer we each just came up with if we twist the question just a little bit more. How would we answer that question if a newcomer to St. Mary Magdalene’s asked us why we are here, what you are looking for by being a member of this intentional Christian community. Would the answer to that question you just answered to yourself change? Close your eyes and think about that for a moment. (pause)

Now, the last part of this exercise I want to explore with you is to ask, if we were to invite a newcomer, or a stranger on the street, or a friend at a cocktail party, to Come and See us at St. Mary Magdalene, what would we be showing them? To what would we be inviting them? Can we, each of us, articulate what those newcomers, or strangers, or friends, would be coming to see? Close your eyes and think how you would evangelize for St. Mary Magdalene. (pause)

John the Baptist’s main purpose in the Gospel of John is to point to Jesus, to witness, to evangelize for the light that has come into the world. Being able to do that work of evangelism is part of the beginning work of our faith. Being able to come up with an answer to the question What are you looking for? and not being embarrassed about telling people about the wonders of being a part of an intentional Christian community, is not only the beginning part of growing our faith, but is aiding in this congregation’s continued growth, development and joyous spreading of the Good News of Jesus Christ. This congregation will be a light to the world (as our Collect says). This Congregation will emulate the difficult task Isaiah talks about: we will be light to the nations proclaiming God’s salvation come among us. We will be living into the instructions in Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians showing those newcomers, strangers and friends that we have been enriched in speech and knowledge of every-kind and have been gifted deep spiritual gifts.

Come and See is an invitation for us to share in discipleship…..Come, see, follow, look, are all active verbs, not passive. They are active, symbolizing and emphasizing the truth that discipleship equates to active ministry. Part of that active ministry is being able to articulate why we are part of, yearn to grow into, this Body of Christ in the world today. Inviting people to Come and See, warmly welcoming the newcomer, embracing the change that embodies growth, are all components of an answer to Jesus’ question.

We can all be like John the Baptist, pointing and saying: Look, look!!! There is the Lamb of God! This community is a part of that Body of Christ, that Lamb of God present in the world today, witnessing to the world today about God’s saving and real presence. And we get to say

- I am an integral and joyful part of that Body too!

- I am an tool of the light bringing the love of Jesus to everyone I encounter!

- Come and See what this loving, intentional, growth-filled and joyous community is

all about!

- Come be a light to the nations!

Each of us can be part of

- filling the emptiness in someone’s life

- giving solace to those who are lonely or broken

- bring that joyous light to the world

by articulating Why we are here and inviting people to come and see. We just have to do it in our own words….. And all will be well….. And this place will thrive!


Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Stuck

Psalms 20, 21:1-7(8-14) * 110:1-5(6-7), 116, 117; Isaiah 43:1-13; Ephesians 3:14-21; Mark 2:23-3:6

Today, we have language that soars to the heavens in the Ephesians passage. There is substantive disagreement by scholars, who are much smarter than I, whether Paul or one of his faithful followers was the actual author of this letter. Passages like today's makes me think that those who believe this is not written by Paul are correct. I am no great fan of Paul's. Most of the controversies in Church history, and today, stem from an over-emphasis on Paul's (and his followers') writings as opposed to what Jesus says and does.

Today we are given the unusual circumstance where both the Epistle reading and the Gospel reading dovetail nicely. Jesus is highlighting today the Pharisees being stuck in the letters of their laws, in the minutiae of human-made rules, and thereby losing the bigger picture of what their focus should be in life. They shouldn't be concerned about whether or not Jesus' disciples picked some grain to eat on the Sabbath, or whether he (Jesus) helps someone in need on the Sabbath. Their focus is directed incorrectly, Jesus is saying. They have lost the bigger picture.

Here are the verses from Ephesians:
I pray that, according to the riches of God's glory, God may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through God's Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to God, who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.

Jesus' focus today, as well as this portion of Ephesians, is pointing us to be "rooted and grounded in love" so that the Spirit can guide us to do that which we should and must to help those we are called to serve. Life is not about being stuck, or lost, in rules and regulations, but through the love that we know God has for each one of us, from the strength we are given by that overwhelming love, we can have the endurance to change the world, one kind act at a time.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Hunting

Psalms 119:1-24 * 12, 13, 14; Isaiah 41:1-16; Ephesians 2:1-10; Mark 1:29-45

Jesus heals Simon and Andrew's Mom and many in their hometown. On the next morning, before dawn, he leaves the house to find a quiet place to pray. Simon and Andrew get up and are panicked, not knowing where this peculiar guy is they just found who has done such miraculous things and they "hunted for him". Isn't that an odd word for the Gospel writer to utilize....hunt? They of course find him and want him to return to their village and Jesus says, no, we have to move other people can hunt for him as well.

What do we hunt for in life?

In Holy Women Holy Men, we remember Aelred, the Abbot of Rievaulx, who died in 1167 and was a prolific author. In one of his works he talked about friendship, writing:

There are four qualities which characterize a friend: loyalty, right intention, discretion and patience. Right intention seeks for nothing other than God and natural good. Discretion brings understanding of what is done on a friend's behalf, and ability to know when to correct faults. Patience enables one to be justly rebuked, or to bear adversity on another's behalf. Loyalty guards and protects the friend, in good or bitter times.
It seems to me that many hunt friendship, but don't really know what that relationship means. Aelred's definition is a good one to think on, and incorporate into our relationship-understandings, and perhaps will help focus the hunt. Part of Aelred's definition incorporates an unspoken spiritual side to friendship: a deep well of compassion and emotion and understanding.....and a love that transcends the petty and is rooted in something far more mysterious.

Happy hunting.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Where To Start

Psalms 1, 2, 3 * 4, 7; Isaiah 40:12-23; Ephesians 1:1-14; Mark 1:1-13

Where do we start after a weekend like the one that we have just collectively experienced? The attempted assassination of a member of Congress and the murder of innocent bystanders and the gunshot injuries to others has captured the attention of our nation, and the world. Whether the individual in custody was influenced by the sharp political rhetoric that has permeated our national discourse has yet to be definitively established. At a minimum I believe the inappropriate tone and tenor of that discourse has exasperated a climate of intolerance that permeates so much of our lives and could not have helped.

So where do we begin? Perhaps we begin like the Gospel writer we call Mark does: with directness, clarity, succinctness and an over-riding pervasive faith that drives all that we do and say. There are times when these qualities of Mark's Gospel make it a challenging one to appreciate. On days like today, I think the forthrightness of Mark is what can help us through these days of confusion and frustration and anger and sadness. Reading the action-oriented beginning of Mark's Gospel can help focus our priorities and our prayers.

Keep all the victims of the mass shooting in Tucson in the forefront of your prayers and thoughts. May God's love and comfort envelop all those who grieve, mourn or are in pain.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Epiphany

Psalms 46, 97 * 96, 100; Isaiah 52:7-10; Rev 21:22-27; Matthew 12: 14-21

Webster's Dictionary defines epiphany as a sudden realization or understanding. The word comes from Greek roots, with the Greek word meaning manifestation of power. They both fit this feast day we celebrate today. The three Gentile kings are remembered today as reaching the Incarnate God child's side and they present him with gifts. I hope those who are attending services today are gifted with gold thuribles scenting the air with the pungency of frankincense.

Christmas is over today and Epiphanytide begins. This time-flexible season where we explore God's power in the manifestation of Jesus' ministry. Where we are gifted the opportunity to have those sudden realizations about God's loving presence in our life. Where a blinding light of understanding can change how we see and operate in the world.

May this season be epiphanic to all who wonder about the joy of God's love which God has for each one of us.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: This Continuum

MP: Psalms 2, 110:1-5(6-7); Joshua 1:1-9; Hebrews 11:32-12:2; John 15:1-16
EP: Psalms 29, 98; Isaiah 66:18-23; Romans 15:7-13

I am so excited by the richness of today's readings! We have the baton being passed to Joshua, after Moses' death (which I have always found quite sad, Moses' not being allowed into the Promised Land). Hebrews is up next with a brief listing of prophets and their amazing work, followed by the majestic words 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..... And then John says Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. For EP we begin with Isaiah telling us God's promise of gathering all nations and tongues and that God will make new heavens and the new earth....... ending with a part of the letter to the Romans saying May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the peace of the Holy Spirit.

This continuum of faith we are all on is wound through all of these readings. The hard truth of Moses not seeing the final fruits of his life's work tells us to be joyful in what we can and do accomplish, knowing that our efforts will be carried on by those who follow us. Hebrews does the same, showing the works of the prophets who have gone before and urging us to carry on that torch of faith, passing it to those who have yet to start the race. John is telling us that our work is never done, and that although pruning may be painful, more fruit comes from those efforts. Isaiah and Paul's letter to Rome give voice to our hope that there is a joy in this building of Jesus' kingdom, one bit at a time, and none of our efforts are ever lost.

This journey we are all on, although perhaps tedious and seemingly pointless at times, is really something much different. We are all part of something much larger, stretching back beyond our understanding and forward to something we will never see, in our human lives. But being a willing part of this ancient continuum, sharing the joy of God's embrace with those we are gifted to have part of our journey, is, and must be, enough.

On this last day of the Christmas Season, as we embark into Epiphany with tomorrow's celebration, these readings give voice to how we should think about and remember these sacred (and short) 12 days. Happy Christmas-tide.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Ask

Psalms 85, 87 * 89:1-29; Exodus 3:1-12; Hebrews 11:23-31; John 14:6-14

In today's Gospel reading from John, we have Jesus bucking up the flagging faith of both Thomas and Philip in saying: I will do whatever you ask in my name.....and.... If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

The old adage, "be careful what you ask for because you just might get it" comes to mind when thinking about these promises Jesus is making. But how do we explain all those unanswered prayers all of us have offered up in times of heartache and loss and terror? How are we to explain the seeming-silence of Jesus to the suffering of so many in our world in light of these promises we read today?

I wish there was a pat and easy answer, but there is not. Part of a way to look at this issue is by deeply considering the mystery of our faith that we all live into by naming ourselves Christian. Another portion is the mystery of the Incarnation we celebrate this Christmas Season, of God becoming fully human and walking and being among and with us. Part of the answer comes from the reality and truth of the old Stones song: You can't always get what you want. Part of the answer comes from our belief that so much of what we have in our Gospels are not to be taken literally, but analogously, metaphorically. Part of the answer comes from our faith that Christ died for each one of us, was resurrected and ascended to heaven, showing us, in part, that we may not get exactly that which we ask for or want, when we want, but better things will happen: we just need to ask and be open to those differing perspectives and understandings that result from that ask.

So ask in Jesus' name today. And be open to the surprise that comes.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: The Gate to an Abundant Life

Psalms 68 * 72; Genesis 28:10-22; Hebrews 11:13-22; John 10:7-17

Having Jesus invite everyone through the gate that he establishes which leads to an abundant life is a hopeful reading for this third day of a new calendar year: hopeful and welcoming. Jesus puts no boundaries on this invitation to join his fold except to follow his voice and lead as good shepherd.

Those in this world who try to limit access to this abundant life by setting criteria for entrance based on human-made regulations are proven wrong and shown to be hypocritical by today's reading from John. All are welcome into Jesus' pasture and will find an abundance on which to live. Does an abundant life mean there will be no disagreements? No, I don't believe Jesus is leading us to some homogenous pasture. Abundance means vibrancy and energy and diversity and life-fulfilling potential that can surround and embody and enrich all of our days. What a vision that is for us to incorporate into our day today.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: The Holy Name

Psalms 103 * 148; Genesis 17:1-12a, 15-16; Col 2:6-12; John 16:23b-30

I have lived in urban areas for most of my adult life, and I find myself missing the verve and life-beat of urban settings when I am away from them for any span of time. This does not mean that I don't yearn for quiet and solitude: those are (perhaps) harder to find in an urban oasis, but not impossible.

One of the reasons I get up early (besides habit) is to enjoy the quiet of city-life: in particular on Saturday and Sunday and Holiday mornings. Very few people are up and about early on weekend mornings, in particular after a "big-night" like last night. And the energy of all those thousands of souls sleeping all around is present, juxtaposed against the quiet of the morning.

Today I was walking Allie down by the Washington Inlet (an offshoot of where the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers join together). There was a thin sheet of ice covering the water. A mist was rising from the river and from the Haines Point golf course across the inlet. And there was a noise: not from cars or planes or people chatting. There was a clicking sound pervading the area, emanating from the middle of the inlet. Hundreds of birds were resting on that thin coat of ice and the noise that I was surrounded by was coming from their movements and pecking on that thin coat of ice....quiet and nature carrying on in the midst of urban energy.

On this first day of a new calendar year, when we celebrate and commemorate Jesus' naming (and circumcision {ouch}), remembering the wonders of God's creations all around us, finding some moments before the football games take over our awareness to appreciate the gift of life and the love that surrounds us, is a grand way to enter into a New Year. Resolutions are not necessary, for we only break those as quickly as we can say them. Acknowledging the love God has for all of us and the gift of Jesus' life and ministry for us to model, is enough for the start of these 365 days.

May wonders and joy and love and curiosity imbue this year, no matter our station or circumstances. Happy New Year.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.