Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

MP: Psalm 72; 1 Samuel 1:1-20; Hebrews 3:1-6
EP: Psalms 146, 147; Zechariah 2:10-13; John 3:25-30

Today actually is an official Holy Day in the Church calendar. This is the day when we remember Mary visiting her cousin Elizabeth. Holy Women, Holy Men says: Elizabeth, who was then carrying John the Baptist, greeted Mary with the words, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb." Mary broke into the song of praise and thanksgiving which we call the Magnificat, "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord."

In this scene, the unborn John the Baptist, the prophet who prepares the way of the Lord, rejoices in the presence of him whose coming he is later to herald publicly to all Israel, for the Gospel records that when Mary's greeting came to her kinswoman's ears, the babe in Elizabeth's womb "leaped" for joy.

Leaped for joy is how the Greek word is translated for us. A better translation for that word is "danced." In the times when our Gospels were written, and before, when the Hebrew Scriptures were being written and re-written, dancing was an important part of worship, an important part of giving praise to God, an important way to signal and release joy from hearts over-full. So, the softening of the image of "dancing" to "leaping" is a significant one. For John the Baptist's dance, and Elizabeth's welcome of the unwed mother are important aspects in the story-arc of the recognition of Jesus as the Messiah. Just as King David danced, leading his troops, so does the unborn John dance for joy, praise and thanksgiving for God's work.

May we dance today with the joy of that knowledge that we all share: of God's undying love for each one of us, represented and carried in the womb of that unwed young woman.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer., All Rights Reserved.
Art: Cross No. 7, 2006, jfd+

Monday, May 30, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Memorial Day, 2011

Psalms 80 * 77 (79); Deuteronomy 8:1-10; James 1:1-15; Luke 9:18-27

We have a confluence of readings and remembrances this Memorial Day. We have James preaching about keeping a steady faith, enduring all that comes our way, never doubting. We have Jesus, just after healing Jairus' daughter (last Friday) and feeding the 5000 (on Saturday), resting with his 12 closest friends, and telling them about his impending torture, death and resurrection, after Peter identifies him as Messiah. And today, in Holy Women, Holy Men, we remember and honor Joan of Arc.

We've been fighting a war for almost ten years now: in Afghanistan, Iraq, back to Afghanistan and now Libya. More than twice as long than the Second World War. In September, we will mark the tenth anniversary of what can be considered a start of this different time in our lives. And through this past almost-decade, our voluntary military has been stalwartly and heroically living out their vows, living into their duty of protecting the rest of us. Many have lost their lives. Even more have been wounded in body, mind and spirit. And we remember and honor all their sacrifices today: those who did not lose faith, who held fast to their beliefs. These incredibly brave people are very much modern day "Joans": standing firm in their beliefs and acting on them bravely. Not everyone agrees with what their commanders have ordered or based those orders on, but that disagreement does not, should not, get in the way of honoring and remembering the sacrifices offered up for all of us.

Our Gospel selection today ends with Jesus telling his disciples "truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God." My prayer today is that all those we remember and honor this day may have found, or find, peace and comfort and truth in these words of our Saviour.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Fireworks on the Cape, 2006, jfd+

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Who Provided For Them Out of Their Resources

Psalms 61, 62 * 68:1-20(21-23)24-36; Wisdom 10:1-4(5-12)13-21; Romans 12:1-21; Luke 8:1-15

Our Gospel reading from Luke today begins with Jesus teaching and preaching in cities and villages. And then two peculiar verses follow before Jesus tells the parable of the sower. Those two verses say: The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources. The clause that is stuck on the end of the second verse, who provided for them out of their resources, attracted my attention today.

Who is providing for whom? Are Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Susanna providing for Jesus and the twelve out of their wealth and resources? Are the other unnamed women ("and many others") providing for Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Susanna and not Jesus and the twelve? Are all the women providing for Jesus and the twelve out of their resources? Each understanding provides a different nuance to the story, particularly because it comes just before Jesus telling the parable of the seed that fell on paths, and rocks, and among thorns and some into good soil.

Why am I making such a point about the placement and understanding of these two verses? For three reasons: first, to illustrate that our translation of this verse is just one of many such interpretations, some of whom twist the story in a different direction. I find it to be an example that is illustrative of the difficulty found in trying to read Scripture literally, for to do so we can lose the nuance and beauty of the larger picture.

And second, because no matter which group of women was acting in this way, they were doing what Jesus preaches and teaches about in making the Kingdom present to us here and now. Whoever they were, whichever group, or all of them, they were providing for those in need from their abundance, from their resources. The nuanced point is that a group who were considered second-class (at best), who had few rights of personhood as we understand them, were the ones lifting up the potential of what the kingdom can look like and presenting it to all of us as a model to emulate.

And lastly, these two verses can get lost in the wonder and study of the parable of the sower that immediately follows. They shouldn't get lost though. They illustrate what "good soil" looks like.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: The Trotter Bowl at VTS, 2004, by The Rev. Allen Pruitt

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Easter 5A

Preached at St. Luke’s, Bethesda, 5/22/11. John 14:1-14


he poet Langston Hughes wrote a short poem called “My People.” It goes like this: The night is beautiful, So, the face of my people….The stars are beautiful…..So the eyes of my people… Beautiful also, is the sun. Beautiful, also are the souls of my people….. This triptych of face, eyes and souls came to mind today when I read our Gospel passage with Jesus providing his own triptych when he says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” and then he says twice “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” These two utterances of Jesus basically sum up much of John’s Gospel: whose main theme centers on the unity of God and Jesus. Yet even Thomas and Philip do not understand or believe: Thomas is unsure of how to find Jesus when he goes away; and Philip wants to be shown God the Father. These two, Thomas and Philip, have been with Jesus for three years and they still don’t understand. And yet they yearn to understand, they yearn for a closeness to God.

Jesus does not get angry or lose his patience at Thomas and Philip’s doubts and requests. Jesus does not mock their doubt and their lack of understanding. Instead, Jesus responds, he explains as best he can. To Thomas’ question in regard to not knowing the way, Jesus replies that he is the way, he is the truth, that he is the life. To Phillip, Jesus reiterates that anyone who has seen him has seen God…. Jesus also gives Philip a different way to believe when he says “then believe me because of the works themselves.” Jesus continues by saying “Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do.” Something else these disciples yearn to do, just as many of us do, as well: these works.

When we think of “the works” of Jesus we many times think of miracles: healing the blind, making the lame walk or some other miracle of healing. We can also think of Jesus’ first miracle in the Gospel of John where he turns water into wine. Jesus says “Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do.” This promise can give hope to those of us who are wine lovers. Maybe we will be able to do things like that. But no, when we are out of Malbec, we can wave our arms over a carafe of water all we want, eventually we will still have to go to the store and buy some more wine.

What are these works to which Jesus refers? What can those of us who believe, or struggle to believe, actually do? The works of God are many and varied. Jesus had his and we have ours. Once in a great while there is a healing that can only be described as a miracle, and everyone is taken aback by it. But, generally, the works of God in which we are involved are different and can go, so easily, unobserved.

Yet, these acts, these works do exhibit God’s hand in our world: and these are where we act in certain ways that effectuate the kingdom’s happening now, here among us. In Logan County, Oklahoma recently, a 74 year old individual experienced just such an action. Marland was driving his pickup truck home, and went to cross the creek bed he had been crossing for 50 years without incident and his truck got swept away by flood-waters.

The flooding around the Mississippi has been severe these past few weeks, but Marland over in OK just did not expect the waters of his creek to be so deep, nor the current to be so strong, but wash him down stream it did. Some tree limbs that stopped him from swirling further down the river finally snagged his truck. He climbed on top of his truck (not bad for a 74 year old!). He thought about trying to swim to the shoreline, but was talked out of it by two passing strangers, who insisted that he wait for help. Each of these two strangers tried to reach Marland but couldn’t get close enough to the truck without the current almost washing them downstream.

Both of these strangers waited on the shore, keeping Marland company, while he sat on his pickup truck’s roof. Help finally came by way of some boats that made a life-line, so to speak, to reach Marland and his pickup, bringing him to safety and a continuation of life that could have been snatched away that day. A seemingly small act of kindness by two strangers helped save a life. A miracle? Probably not. A work of God talked about in today’s Gospel? Possibly. By staying with Marland, keeping him calm until help could come, these two anonymous individuals were performing God’s work in the world today in a personal way

“I am in the Father and the Father is in me” is such a personal statement being made by Jesus. This is personal, meant to get under our skin, like someone we love can get under our skin, become a part of us. Thomas and Philip where trying to understand this, and by asking questions they were trying to let these ideas of Jesus become personal for them too. It is part of their yearning to be God’s people in the world that we can feel so keenly at times. That yearning that we hear about in 1 Peter today. That yearning that led Stephen to become the first martyr of the new Church we hear about in our Acts reading.

By engaging these questions, by the simple act of actually asking the questions, we are making them personal, letting them get under our skin….. God can be found in these questions…Not completely understanding the Gospel accounts we hear is okay and delving into their meaning is what we are called to do. Having doubts is a natural and important part of that exploration. Look at how Jesus replied to Thomas and Philip today. He lovingly told them it was okay:….. no one needs to be ashamed of having doubts. This questioning is part of letting it get under our skin, making it personal and is part of doing God’s work….. Those questions are part of doing God’s work.

The results of God’s work can sometimes be immediate, having instant results as shown by the story of Marland, his pickup truck and the creek. As we know, most of God’s works are slow and harder to clearly identify. Neither of these types of work are magic in any way, shape, manner or form…... All of these works are profoundly holy in the way all the works of God are holy: they take our yearnings and what happens here on earth and, in our response, they give us a glimpse of heaven. As Langston Hughes said, our beautiful faces, our beautiful eyes, our beautiful souls yearn for God; and our actions make that yearning transform into the palpable presence of Jesus’ face seen in each other’s faces, eyes and souls. Amen.


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

Art: Cherry Blossoms, jfd+ 2010

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: What We Miss, Right in Front of Us

Psalms 55 * 138, 139:1-17(18-23); Wisdom 7:1-14; Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 7:18-28(29-30)31-35

Scripture can provide so many life lessons. Jesus has been healing people of diseases, plagues and spirits for some time now, and folks are flocking to him, but don't understand what he is teaching them. He points to John's ministry that preceded his own, and says, you missed what he was saying and doing too! So often in our lives we can get so busy that we miss that which is right in front of us. And that is where the grace and the gift of Wisdom enters the picture.

We are reading portions of the Book of Wisdom in the D/O right now. And we hear today: Therefore I pray, and understanding was given me; I called on God, and the spirit of wisdom came to me. I preferred her to scepters and thrones, and I account wealth as nothing in comparison with her. (As a side note, both the words "wisdom" and "spirit" are feminine in the original Hebrew, thus the "her" when referring to wisdom and spirit. This is one of the reasons why I say "she" instead of "he" in our Nicene Creed's 3rd paragraph when we refer to the Spirit's involvement in our lives....) Jesus says that the folks who went to John, and even those who are tagging along after him, are missing the point, not seeing that which is right in front of them. They are distracted by all those things that distract all of us from the message Jesus is bringing us. This happened to them, just as it readily happens to us, everyday.

This is one of the reasons why we pray, why we worship together as an intentional Christian community, to help remind us, as well as help us see, that which is truly important: and praying for wisdom from the Spirit to make right choices. Once again, Jesus is pointing us in the direction of re-ordering our lives and priorities based on those principles he has been teaching. This will always be a challenge, no matter who we are. The verse in Wisdom can help us remember a simple truth and assist us in this re-ordering: For no king has had a different beginning of existence; there is for all one entrance into life, and one way out.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo, SW Waterfront, jfd+ 2010

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Of Specks and Logs

Psalms 50 * (59), 60 or 114, 115; Wisdom 5:9-23; Colossians 2:8-23; Luke 6:39-49

Jesus, we are told at the beginning of today's Gospel selection, is telling his disciples "a parable." But what follows is a group of sayings, statements, that are more metaphorical in nature than parable-like. All these statements revolve around a theme of self-knowledge, self-evaluation, self-growth and self-worth, leading to the wisdom and the ability to grow the kingdom Jesus is announcing from a place of authenticity.

Jesus realizes that our human nature is such that we can have a penchant for taking the easier way (pointing at someone else's faults) than the more challenging path (understanding our motives, drives, desires). All of these one-liner-sayings Jesus throws at us today point to what happens when we travel in the world in this manner. The speck and the log, good trees and bad trees ability to bear the opposite type of fruit, figs and thorns, grapes and brambles, good hearts and unhealthy hearts, houses built on bedrock and those built on sand, are all pointing at this truth that if we do not do the necessary work to truthfully understand ourselves, and only then turn to help build the kingdom, our work will not be long-lasting.

This is a lifetime's journey and one we can never forget to keep walking along on, otherwise we become that person with a log obscuring our vision, trying to figure out how to fix that speck that is slightly blurring someone else's sight. Hard but necessary work that only leads us to a much better place.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Tulips @ VTS, 2007, jfd+

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: I Say To You That Listen

Psalms 119:49-72 * 49 (53); Wisdom 4:16-5:8; Colossians 1:24-2:7; Luke 6:27-38

Jesus continues talking to those folks who were waiting for him to come down from the mountain. He begins today's Gospel selection with the phrase "I say to you that listen....." I wonder how well we do listen to these teachings from Jesus.

We are just a little over two weeks out from the death of al-Queda's leader, Osama bin Laden. I commented on this blog the day after that event, and I am still, after regular reflection and prayer, conflicted about this country's actions. Our Gospel passage for today certainly adds to that feeling of conflict, for Jesus could not be clearer: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also...... How do we reconcile the killing of another human being, an enemy, someone who abhorred us, and these words from Jesus?

I am unsure how to look at these words as metaphor, or as allegory. I am certain that we, as a country, had to do something to lesson the threat that this man, and his organization, pose(d) to us. I am becoming more certain that I stand condemned because of that certainty. For Jesus says: Do not judge, and you will not be judged, do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven......for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.

There's more work to do.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Art: Purple Cross, 2006, jfd+

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Blessed

Psalms 45 * 47, 48; Wisdom 3:1-9; Colossians 1:15-23; Luke 6:12-26

Jesus calls the 12 apostles, from the throng of disciples following after him at the beginning of today's reading in Luke. He has, once again, tried to find a private place to pray, and, yet again, was foiled by his popularity. So instead of resting and praying, he appoints, and we hear the names of, the 12 who will assist him in leading the hordes following along behind him, seeking cures and solace and knowledge.

Right after appointing the 12, he comes off the mountain to the crowd waiting for him at its base and begins to teach. We are at the beginning of a large data-dump by Luke, or perhaps a nicer way to say that is Luke is providing a tremendous amount of "sayings by Jesus" in this Chapter. We started Jesus' ministry with stories of healing and are told that Jesus was teaching in the synagogues. Now we hear mention (generally) about healing, and Luke provides the actual teachings.

Jesus begins this rather long teaching section with the "Blessings and Woes." Blessed are: the poor, the hungry, the weeping, those who follow him & and are defamed, excluded and hated because they follow him. Woe to those who are: rich, satisfied, happy, thought well of. These are challenging words to hear, for who among us does not want to be, or isn't (at least partially), rich, not hungry, happy and well thought of? Who among us wants to be poor, hungry, sad and cast-out?

If we take a step back and look at these Blessings and Woes from a distance, and understand them as another of Jesus' attempts to turn the world on its head, what would we hear? This is not an exercise to lesson the shock value of these teachings, but one to try to come to some kind of understanding. Perhaps one of the things that can be gleaned from such an exercise, is to reflect on how easily it is to forget those who are poor, hungry and weeping when we are rich, well fed and enjoying ourselves. If we are blessed with one or more of Jesus' woes, to whom should we reach out today to engage in what we see as woes and Jesus sees as blessings? How do we breach that divide?

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Art: Cross #15, 2008, jfd+

Monday, May 16, 2011

Daily Office Reflection Ticking Off Those in Charge

Psalm 41, 52 * 44; Wisdom 1:16-2:11,21-24; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 6:1-11

I was listening to a podcast sermon recently and I heard the preacher say something along the lines of: "Jesus really liked to tick-off the Pharisees and Sadducees, and just about anyone in authority." This isn't an exact quote, but is the gist of the idea the preacher was making. I have heard others say things that are very similar. I am not sure I agree with this viewpoint. In the Gospels we never hear of Jesus gloating about his ability to flummox those leaders who were not pleased with his ministry. He simply did that which he thought was the right thing to do, and if the byproduct were others being annoyed, well that was their issue, not his.

Today's Gospel reading is an example of this point. The Pharisees are annoyed that the disciples, following along with Jesus on a Sabbath, pick some grain-heads, rub them together and eat them because they were hungry. These same leaders are said to be annoyed a week later when Jesus heals an individual with a withered hand, in the Synagogue, on the Sabbath. Jesus challenges these leaders, not out of spite, but by saying: Hey, they were hungry, enough already, and Come on folks, this person shouldn't have to wait to be healed, simply because it is our sanctioned day of rest. These Gospel stories do not show Jesus gloating, and any interpretation of Jesus' emotional motives are transposed by the creator of those emotions. There are examples of Jesus' emotions and motives in Scripture, but one-up-man-ship is not one of them.

Instead, the Pharisees and Sadducees being ticked-off is more about them, than about the ministry of Jesus. He is showing them, teaching them, that there are more important things in life than human-made rules. Feeding the hungry, helping those in need, takes precedence over human-made regulations. God intends and wants us to rest, but not at the expense of those for whom we are called to care.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Blessing, 2011, Forman-Snyder Wedding

Easter 4A

Preached @ Grace Church, Georgetown, 5/15/11, John 10:1-10


e all know when we are doing something wrong. For almost all of us, except for those who suffer from some psychological deficit, we have an inner voice, or perhaps we think of it as a feeling deep within us that twinges and let’s us know, “Hey, there is something odd about what we are about to do.” And there are times in life when we choose not to listen, not pay attention and go full steam ahead. Afterwards, when we have had time to think, to reflect on what we had done, we can rationalize our way through having done the incorrect thing, or we can admit that we goofed. That voice, that twinge of feeling deep within us, is one of the things Jesus is talking about today in John’s Gospel: our ability to hear Jesus, to know Jesus, to follow Jesus.

All of our Easter Season Gospel selections this year have revolved around our ability to have faith in Jesus, recognize Jesus, hear and follow Jesus. The Sunday after the Feast of the Resurrection we had the accounts of Jesus appearing to the disciples and then a week later to Thomas. Neither the apostles nor Thomas believed until they saw the wounds. That account is about doubt, but more so about how we, as faithful Christians, come to believe, grow into our faith. And last week we were given the account of Jesus meeting two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They did not recognize Jesus until he performed the four-fold Eucharistic actions we do every Sunday: take, bless, break, give. And this week, we have Jesus describing himself as not only the shepherd, but the gate to the pasture, the gate to the Kingdom. He refers to himself as the gate five times in today’s Gospel passage.

These metaphors in John’s Gospel today, of the shepherd and the gate, go hand in hand with one another. The shepherd provides the image of God and the patient and constant care God has for us, even when we wander away from the fold. The image of the gate being an entry point into this pasture, this kingdom, gives us a sense of security and peacefulness into which God intends for us all to live. That phrase Jesus uses toward the end of our passage today “Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture” is a common and ancient Hebrew phrase: will come in and go out and find pasture. Jesus is talking about safety and peace and security and serenity provided by the gate that he embodies. And the final words to us by Jesus, that we “may have life and have it abundantly,” is Jesus’ usage of a Greek term that translates as a life that is vital and purpose-driven and spirit-filled…..These are very powerful images, powerful metaphors we are given to explore today.

These metaphors, these images that Jesus provides, which we are told were not understood, are referred to as a “figure of speech.” What that Greek word translated as “figure of speech” literally means is “proverb” and sometimes “parable”. So, Jesus’ voice, calling each of us by name to lead us to the kingdom….that voice that is known to each of us, can be thought of as a proverb, a parable. This intimacy to which Jesus refers, our knowing his voice, his knowing our individual names, is bringing us down the path of faith, of belief, of how we recognize Jesus’ involvement in our individual lives.

And Jesus uses the “I AM” phrase twice today. Remember that Jesus’ use of the I AM phrase is deeply offensive to the Pharisees and Sadducees, because of God’s saying to Moses “I AM who I AM.” Jesus is adopting God’s name for himself when he says “I am the gate for the sheep” and once again “I am the gate”…..very powerful images. This joining of the shepherd, the voice, and the gate, the entryway into the kingdom, are critical to the message we are called to consider in today’s Gospel selection.

One of those issues we are drawn to reflect upon is the question of whose voice do we listen to? If you believe the end-of–the-world folks who have descended upon this city and so many others, Jesus is coming to see us in six days: on 5/21/11. Now, I do not know much about these folks and their beliefs, and perhaps in six days I will rue my gentle mocking of their beliefs (but I think not), and yet are we to listen to them? Have they, somehow, figured out God’s intended purpose? I often wonder how those kind of extreme beliefs can take such strong root. It says a lot about a person to be able to stand in the middle of a large metropolitan area with a sign saying “Jesus is coming on May 21st” and withstand the taunting, or just as bad, the non-seeing ignoring to which these folks are regularly subjected. To whom have they listened? To whom do we listen?

How would we recognize Jesus, if perchance he arrives this coming Saturday, the 21st? How do we recognize Jesus today? If we accept the metaphor that we are all sheep, with this deep seated, this buried understanding that we will hear Jesus call us by name and then follow him into and out of this safe haven of a pasture….what does that mean for us, as a community of believers? How do we exist in a world, in a community, where we are all sheep waiting for Jesus to call us and lead us?

There is a developing theme this Easter Season of our ability “to come to believe” (as we heard two weeks ago), to recognize Jesus in sharing the four-fold Eucharistic action of taking, blessing, breaking and giving bread with each other. And we, as Jesus’ sheep, entering the kingdom through this belief and recognition of Jesus, become a community that dwells in love for one another rooted in that belief and recognition of Jesus and seeing Jesus in each other. We see Jesus in each other’s kindness. We hear Jesus in that voice inside our head directing us to right action, and chiding us for those times when we make a misstep. We feel the real presence of Jesus when we are joyfully living in our intentional Christian communities, reaching out to those who need, and who do not yet know that they need to be a part of this new life to which we all are a part.

This abundant life to which we are invited, this life that is in no way dull or disappointing, this life that instead is filled with vitality and purposefulness and the palpable presence of the Spirit, is available to all of us. We just need to tilt our head, listen to that sane, small voice….respond to the urge, that nudge, that tweak, to do that which is the right thing, and share it with our fellow community members. What if that voice, that nudge is Jesus’ calling us by name? Some deep-rooted, deeply implanted trigger given each of us by God, to help us step forward into this Kingdom, not away from it…..Our Gospel today is telling us to listen for the voice that calls us, be open to that nudge that prods us….to the Kingdom. Where those 5/21 “end-of-the-worlders” have missed the mark, is that we, as the body of Christ in the world today already see Jesus, know of the real presence of Jesus in our world, that Jesus is present in each of our lives….we see Jesus in each other’s actions and our own….in our listening to that sane small voice….in our responding to that Spirit-filled nudge….that voice, that nudge that is steeped in love and is a deep-rooted part of who we all are as people created in God’s image….And for that we can be eternally grateful.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Trust and Faith

Psalms: 30, 32 * 42, 43; Daniel 6:18-28; 3 John 1-15; Luke 5:27-39

Blogger, host for this site, was down the last couple of days. It was in "read-only" mode, no entries, comments and the like could be entered. So today's D/O reflection, although primarily focused on the readings assigned for this Saturday of 3 Easter in Year One, will also reference some earlier passages we had this week.

In Luke today Jesus calls Levi, who becomes Matthew, and eats at his home with other tax collectors, ticking-off the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus seems to so-like-to-do-that: upset the status quo, pinch the rigid beliefs of the ruling class. Jesus says to them that he has been sent to cure not the righteous, but those who have gone astray. What the scribes and Pharisees don't ever get is the fact that everyone, including them, including all of us, go astray from time to time and need to be brought back to the common table of lost ones, to be greeted and welcomed and loved by Jesus once again.

One of the ways we all go astray at times is by not trusting in God, losing faith that, even when things seem to be going to hell-in-a-hand-basket, God is still present with us, supporting us through those trials. In yesterday's reading from Luke, that trust is given two examples: with the leper begging Jesus to be healed, and the friends of the paralytic who, physically, raise-the-roof so that their friend can be touched and healed by Jesus.

This theme of trust and faith is exemplified throughout the story we finish reading today in the Hebrew Testament: that of Daniel. Daniel's faith, his trust in God's love and care for him, never leaves him. Even when, as in today's ending story, he has been thrown into a den of lions overnight, and survived. What a metaphor for life as we know it.

There is an obvious resonance in this story of Daniel to the resurrection, of the king sealing the tomb to prevent Daniel from escaping. This story of trust and faith in God's close involvement in our lives, paired with our Gospel readings of the last few days, are stories that can strengthen us and carry with us always. In particular, in those very dark times of the soul when all seems lost. We can and will come out the other side of those difficult times. Perhaps not as we wished. We will be absolutely changed. But perhaps that is part of the point of these stories: our rules and regulations and expectations cannot bind the work of the Living God. Those bindings we create can become an aid to our straying from trust and faith. As our EP Psalm says: "Put your trust in God, for I will yet give thanks to the One, who is the help of my countenance, and my God."

We will stray. We will have times when we wander away. We will face challenging and difficult times in our lives. Jesus reminds us today that his assignment from God is to always be there at that table to welcome us back, and remind us that we were never alone on the journey.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: SW Waterfront in Late Spring, 2011, jfd+

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Authority

Psalms 38 * 119:25-48; Daniel 5:1-12; 1 John 5:1-12; Luke 4:38-44

We have been given substantive examples of living with authority, walking with authority, acting with authority in the last few days of our readings in the Daily Office. Yesterday, Jesus, with "authority and power" expelled and silenced a demon in Capernaum. Today he entered Simon's house and cures Simon's mother as well as multitudes of people who appear at Simon's door.

We have been reading the story of Daniel in our Hebrew Testament reading for the last two weeks. Daniel is an example of someone speaking with, walking with, acting with authority. Living under the authority of God, surrendering to that authority, and in turn having the courage, strength, fortitude to live that authority out loud.

At the end of today's reading from Luke, the people of Capernaum try to prevent Jesus from leaving their town. They wanted more of that authority in which they could bask. Jesus says no, that he must continue to spread the word, showcase his authority, in the very heart of the authority-structure in which he was operating.

Both Daniel and Jesus are speaking truth to the power brokers they were presented with in life, making almost everyone uncomfortable. All of us, who are part of living out being the Body of Christ in the world today, are called to do the same. We are called to follow Jesus' lead, to mimic the model the story of Daniel provides for us....to accept the authority that God has for and over us, and in turn find that well of fortitude that resides in all of us, to live with our own authority, to speak truth to whatever power-structure we find ourselves encountering, no matter how awkward or uncomfortable those encounters can make us feel. We are never alone in those truth-telling sessions, the risen Christ is with us, helping us plant the seeds for the furtherance of the Kingdom's growth.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved
Photo: Window in St. Luke in the Fields, NYC.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Spirit-Filled Movement

Psalms 25 * 9, 15; Daniel 4:19-27; 1 John 3:19-4:6; Luke 4:14-30

The power of the Spirit is filling Jesus leading him to do daring and challenging things. On Saturday this Spirit-filled-Jesus went into the desert for 40 days, where you-know-who was a pest to him. He leaves the desert and this same power chases him to his hometown region of Galilee. When he finally reaches his hometown of Nazareth, after having done a great deal of teaching in the surrounding area, he sits down to teach them as well. He announces that Scripture has been fulfilled in him.

The first reaction of the townsfolk is one of amazement, which quickly turns to doubt and questioning about who this home-town boy thinks that he is - after-all they know his father, mother and brothers! Jesus then, still with this crazy-induced Spirit energy compares these folks who are chastising him to those God ignored in other times: when God favored the widow and the foreign leper over the chosen people. Pretty daring stuff. And of course the towns people try to throw him off a cliff, but he melted away "and went on his way."

One of the things we are to take away from today's reading is that when we are graced with being Spirit-filled, we should not anticipate an easy time of it.....for to be filled with the power of the Spirit makes us daring and confrontational and truth-tellers and challengers-of-the-norm that surrounds us......and does not make us the most popular person on the block. To "be like Jesus" is to challenge the status quo and to push for life as it should be, not as it is. Exciting, yes. Dangerous, possibly. As it must be, absolutely.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: P-Town Flats, 2007, jfd+

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: John Tells Us How

Psalms: 18:1-20 * 18:21-50; Daniel 2:31-49; 1 John 2:18-29; Luke 3:1-14

We have rolled back in time with today's Gospel reading from Luke. John the Baptist has been called by God to prepare the playing field for Jesus' arrival. At times I can find this bouncing around in Jesus' life (after resurrection, pre-crucifixion, before he enters the narrative) somewhat disconcerting. Be that as it may, at the end of our reading from Luke today, after John has hollered at those to whom he was called to minister, he sets out the broad outline of how we, as the Body of Christ in the world today, should act. He shows us the way.

The crowd surrounding him ask what they should do so that the ax doesn't fall at the root of their tree. John tells them to share clothing and food with those who are in need. The tax collectors and the soldiers ask the same thing of John. And he tells them, take only what is duly theirs, don't defraud, don't cheat, be satisfied with what they have earned. It is remarkable how simple and straightforward John's instructions are for finding the path to righteousness. They track with the Commandments set down by God eons in the past.

Take care of the poor, don't defraud, cheat, lie, and be content with what we have achieved. The last is the hardest. How many of us are ever "satisfied"? We always want more. I fall victim to this all the time. But not always getting it right is why we live in a community of like minded believers. We support each other, we help each other stand up and try again when we stray from this fairly straightforward path. We are given these readings year after year on purpose, to remind us that we not only can do better, try again, but that God's all embracing and welcoming love is beckoning us down that road.

We should try and be satisfied this Easter Season. We should give from our abundance to those who are in need. We should live our lives with authenticity and integrity. How hard is that? Pretty damn hard. But we should keep cracking at it.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Provincetown Harbor, 2005, jfd+

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Joy Made Complete

Psalms 5, 6 * 10, 11; Daniel 2:1-16; 1John 1-11; John 17:12-19

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus is continuing his farewell to his disciples allowing them to hear his prayer (his talk) to God. Jesus says that while he has been with them, he has protected them, but he is on his way to join God, leaving this earthly realm. And he says: and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. Jesus, through this prayer is saying we all have the opportunity for joy in this world, joy in our life.

This is a different kind of joy and celebration than what has spread around our country the last 36 hours. The exuberant
and seemingly spontaneous pouring of people into the streets to celebrate the news of Osama bin Laden's being killed by American forces is not the kind of joy to which Jesus is referring for completeness.

There is a part of me that is glad that this individual who has been the root of so much evil in our lives is dead. There is a part of me that is proud of our political leaders for sticking with the chase to a successful end.

There is another part of me that is very disturbed by the crowds, rejoicing in the streets. Not only is it unseemly, but this behavior is in direct contradiction of how Jesus says we are to operate in the world. After Jesus prays that his joy be made complete in his followers, he says: I have given them your (God's) word and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world.....

This is where Christian leaders, priests, theologians get into trouble with people in general. We all should look at the kind of event that has produced such momentary joy and question whether this is the kind of behavior to which Jesus was directing us. Yes, this man was perverted and caused devastation in his wake. Perhaps there was no choice but to kill him in the situation that presented itself during the raid to capture him. But I can't help but wonder if the joyous celebrations in the streets are not similar to the crowds, who earlier had been rejoicing at Jesus' arrival, soon thereafter screamed for his death. Any time mass hysteria, group-think takes over, there is cause for concern about whether we are straying from how we are called to operate in the world. Not a popular sentiment, but one that needs reflection.

Yes this man, this deranged sociopath needed to be captured and made to be no longer a factor in the world. But we should not rejoice. The kind of joy emanating from these actions does not lead us to living out Jesus' instructions to us. The kind of joy that is made complete cannot be found in these types of celebrations.

A Prayer for our Enemies (BCP, page 816)
O God of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth; deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A Prayer for Peace (BCP, page 815)
Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of Peace, as children of one God; to whom be dominion and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Close-up: Orange Rose, Billy Ball & Alstrameria.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Defining Eternal Life

Psalms: 1, 2, 3 * 4, 7; Daniel 1:1-21; 1 John 1:1-10; John 17:1-11

We have a part of Jesus' long goodbye to his disciples in today's selection from the Gospel of John. In these verses Jesus is talking, praying, to God. He, at times, seems a bit defensive: I have done everything you have sent me to do; I have made your name (God's) known to those you sent me. And, Jesus says something that intrigues me: "And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ who you have sent."

That is just a fascinating verse. The key to unlock the door to eternal life is.....knowledge of God and knowledge of Jesus Christ. Gosh, how simple is that.....and how complicated. Here, toward the end of the Gospel of John, we are given the definition of eternal life. It seems that Jesus is driving us toward this notion that the Kingdom that is opened by his presence and ministry on earth, a replica of which can be created here and now, is available to any and all who accept this knowledge of God and Jesus. And we, those trying to figure this out, are the ones who spread the joy of this news of eternal life.

This is a different kind of life than that which we are used to living. And although Jesus makes our being able to grasp and attain eternal life so simple, and in a way it is so simple....it is also tremendously difficult and confusing.....And yet, we have been gifted the key this morning. A good verse to noodle today and with which to start this Second Week of Easter.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Flowering Dogwood @ VTS, 2007, jfd+