Friday, September 30, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Healings

Psalms: 102 * 107:1-32; 2 Kings 19:1-20; 1 Corinthians 9:16-27; Matthew 8:1-17

Jesus is just healing everyone he comes across today. A leper, the centurion's servant, Peter's mother, and all those who were brought to him while he stayed at Peter's house. Healing stories. What are we to take away from these? How do we get healed?

All of us need healing at times. Many of us refuse to admit that fact to others, or perhaps even to ourselves. The kind of healing Jesus is involved with today is not only from physical disease or deformity, but also incapacity because of our emotional and spiritual state of being. Perhaps those are as important, if not more important than the physical healing we focus on so often. What is causing spiritual or emotional illness in our lives? How do we address those types of incapacities?

In our complicated and very busy lives, we can so easily not pay attention to these spiritual and emotional crisis' to the detriment of our well being. Talking to a professional....making an appointment with a spiritual advisor or counselor.....talking to a trusted friend.....praying....offering our talent to those who need assistance....are just a few of the ways of seeking healing of our emotional and spiritual selves.

How are we in need of healing? How do we start to be healed?

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Sunrise on the Provincetown Flats, jfd+ 2008

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: St Michael & All Angels

MP: Psalms 8, 148; Job 38:1-7; Hebrews 1:1-14
EP: Psalms 24, 150 or 104; Daniel 12:1-3 or 2 Kings 6:8-17; Mark 13:21-27 or Revelation 5:1-14

Holy Women, Holy Men tells us about today's feast day, saying in part: Of the many angels spoken of in the Bible, only four are called by name: Michael, Gabriel, Uriel and Raphael. The Archangel Michael is the powerful agent of God who wards off evil from God's people and delivers peace to them at the end of this life's mortal struggle. "Michaelmas," as his feast is called in England, has long been one of the popular celebrations of the Christian Year in many parts of the world.

Our MP reading from Job has God saying "out of the whirlwind: 'Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?' " And our MP selection from Hebrews has the phrase utilized in a number of our Eucharistic Prayers: "in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son." Our EP reading contains Jesus' warning in Mark to not be taken in by false prophets warning of "the end" for Jesus has already told us all we need to know.

As we live "in these last days" and so many of us "darken counsel by words without knowledge" perhaps we are called upon today to reflect on our own motivations for doing the things that we are doing. Are we helping to create God's Kingdom Jesus opens for us by his life's ministry, mission and sacrifice? How are we utilizing the fleeting time we have been gifted here? Whose purposes are we serving?

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Jason & Brett's Reception, 2011.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: The Lord's Prayer

Psalms 88 * 91, 92; 2 Kings 9:17-37; 1 Corinthians 7:1-9; Matthew 6:7-15

Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray today in the selection from Matthew's Gospel by teaching them The Lord's Prayer. This prayer that is said by rote by so many of us who are Christian. Said by rote, but not unthinkingly is the hope. Although unthinkingly is not an impossibility. For many of us this prayer is so familiar that we may, at times, not hear the words, or think about what we are praying. Anything as familiar as this prayer can become just words, because of that deep familiarity. This is one of the reasons I like to alternate between saying the "traditional" and the "contemporary" versions of this prayer: we need to pause and think what we are attention.

The structure of this prayer that Jesus gives to us is fodder for reflection. Jesus tells us to: acknowledge God, praise God, ask that God's kingdom be made real and present to us, ask that God's will be made manifest around us, ask God for food, ask that God forgive us as we must forgive others, ask God to keep us from wrong decisions. In Matthew's version of this prayer we are to forgive our debtors and forgive those who trespass against us. Forgiveness arises twice in this short prayer provided by Matthew.

Jesus knows us so well: how easy it is for us not to forgive. But by its emphasis today, forgiveness is obviously a key piece to our being an integral part of this body of Christ in the world today. The lack of forgiveness can get in the way of everything else we try to accomplish. It can be a block to the love that we are to have for each other.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Scott and Christopher's Wedding, 2011.
(Thanks Christopher for posting some pictures!)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: St Matthew

MP: Psalm 119:41-64; Isaiah 8:11-20; Romans 10:1-15
EP: Psalms 19, 112; Job 28:12-28; Matthew 13:44-52

Matthew (Levi) is mentioned in three of our Gospels: Mark, Luke and Matthew. Holy Women, Holy Men also informs us that most scholars do not believe the apostle Matthew is the author of the book bearing his name.

A reviled tax collector, who leaves everything behind when Jesus asks that he follow him, but first Jesus asks to be fed and entertained in his home. Today we remember a follower of Jesus, whom a whole community of believers are named in the early rise of the Church: the Matthean community. These folks are believed to have been an early community of mostly Jewish-Christians, trying to find their way in this new kingdom/world established by Jesus. They saw bright and colorful lights in a darkened sky in the teachings of Jesus, as passed down to the community bearing Matthew's name.

We know very little about this apostle, whose name is so a part of our tradition. And perhaps that is appropriate: for "it" is truly not about him, but the one whom he left everything to follow. Perhaps one of the things we are asked to consider today is which is more important, bearing and witnessing to Jesus' life, mission and ministry, or ensuring that our name and works are remembered.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Art: Night Sky, 2009, jfd+

Monday, September 19, 2011

Pentecost 14 A

Preached @ St. Christopher’s Ep. Ch., Roseville, MN, 9/18/11, Matthew 20:1-16


e have a provocative Gospel reading today. One that shakes up many of our understandings of fairness and justice and one that does not provide us with any easy answers. This parable Jesus tells, of who we might name as the unfair landowner, does not tell us what to do. This parable leaves us hanging, with tension in the air, over….what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

This parable may prove offensive to many of us because it challenges our understanding of fairness. What comes just prior to this selection can provide a deeper and richer understanding of Jesus’ message, but does not lessen the sting of this parable. Jesus has finished having a conversation with “the rich young man” whom he challenges at the end to sell all his possessions and give them to the poor and then follow him. That young individual goes away crest fallen and Jesus than has a conversation with Peter who asks Jesus, well then who can get into the kingdom of heaven? Jesus’ first response is to tell Peter that their reward will be great because they have left home and hearth and everything to follow him. But then Jesus tells Peter and the disciples this parable of what the kingdom of heaven is like. (Jesus gives and then he twists what he has given to make us look at the world differently.)

Notice, the kingdom of heaven is like this landowner. Jesus is not saying that God is the landowner. Jesus is saying something quite different: the kingdom of heaven is like unto this landowner. Jesus has just told Peter and the disciples that their reward will be great in heaven and then tells the parable we hear today that changes and challenges and reverses all our known values about fairness and justice. What is he doing here?Truly, this difficult parable is about resentment we feel at others who have received the same grace we have been gifted to receive. This is a difficult value system in which to live….Nevertheless, it is ours.

We have heard similar parables by Jesus: think about the prodigal son and the father’s joy upon his return, and the elder brothers resentment…..there are very close similarities to our parable today. Obviously, there is an important message we are supposed to take away from these challenging stories Jesus keeps airing. The Hebrew scholar C. G. Montefiore refers to this parable of the landowner and his hiring practices as “one of the greatest and most glorious of all.” He said this because he believed the parable contains very deep truths about God and God’s relationship with all of us.

If we study this parable closely we see that this landowner is going out into the market place area to hire people standing around. In the time and place that Jesus would have been telling this parable, the market place was the area for those who were unemployed to bring the tools of their trades and wait to be called upon to work. This scene is evocative of what I have seen out on the East Coast. Being new to this area of the world, I do not know if the same happens here. At Home Depots and similar-type stores, Latinos gather and stand around in the HD parking lots, waiting to be hired by contractors and homeowners. (Sound similar?) Toward the end of the day, the ones who have not been blessed with a wave of the hand to jump in the back of some contractor’s truck and do some work are pretty desperate and start approaching anyone getting out of a car asking if help is needed.

That market place scene in our Gospel, and as made more relevant today by the Home Depot parking lot market place, highlight one of the take-aways from today’s parable, which can be thought of as God’s compassion. Jesus is talking about the basic and natural right for everyone to work. The basic and natural right that everyone should be paid for that work, and is highlighting the tragedy of unemployment.

From those highlights, those natural rights, Jesus is leading us to understand that there are no special honors for those of us who come in first, for those of us who excel. Coming in first, excelling are reward unto themselves, and they go no further. They are, to use the words from our Collect today, earthly things that pass away. They are not things that are heavenly because they do not endure and we should not hold them fast. (Heidi Klum and Project Runway: “One day you’re in, and the next day, you’re out.)

This is a very different value system Jesus is setting out in this rough parable. We cannot be envious or jealous or made to be angry by this parable, as natural as those responses probably are for us. We are not to work for the reward, Jesus is saying, but work for the joy of doing God’s work in serving others. That joy in doing that work can bring an understanding of God’s grace….that grace is always surprising and is always unexpected. All of these parables tell us that. (Pause)

We can become so easily disillusioned if we are working for rewards sought and focusing on what others receive, as seen in those workers who were hired first in the parable. If we look closely at this Gospel passage, we will find that the last workers weren’t promised any pay, while all the groups before had been promised to be treated fairly. The last group just went to work, glad for the opportunity, the chance to work. Perhaps this parable is instructing us to go out like that landlord and find workers to help establish the kingdom of heaven amongst us. Perhaps this parable is reminding us that working to establish the kingdom is the reward in its own right and we should expect nothing else. Perhaps this parable is asking us to go out into the world and invite people to come be workers here at St. Christopher’s: workers of the kingdom of heaven, creating that kingdom by our work and those invitations for others to join.

In this very strange kingdom of heaven our parable describes, everyone matters: even the powerless, those with seemingly few skills and those who seem to get in our way. Children matter in this kingdom. Adults of all shapes, sizes and skillsets matter in this kingdom of heaven. The poor matter in this kingdom of heaven. Everyone….every single person matters.

And God’s equal treatment of all people can plain and simply make us angry: “We’re smart and wealthy and talented and skilled and been at this for decades, why should “they” be treated the same as me?” This equal-grace-of-God can be greatly distressing…..Specialized skillsets and hard work absolutely matter. But Jesus is saying they do not matter more than the humanity and dignity of every human being. Jesus is showcasing God’s abundance, God’s abundant love….there is no scarcity here….There is no scarcity in the kingdom of Heaven.

We can see why Jesus was so very unpopular, for he treated everyone as worthy, everyone as equal. He sought out those who, by society’s standards, were not equal. Jesus played no favorites….everyone is equal….Who in our community do we treat as less than equal to us? Who can we help out of the tragedy of unemployment and mimic this landlord in creating the kingdom of heaven? Who do we need to reach out to, and ensure they know that they matter….to us….and to God? Amen.


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

Photo: Laying on of hands, 2007.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Do and Teach

Psalms 75, 76 * 23, 27; 2 Kings 2:1-18; 1 Cor 4:1-7; Matthew 5:17-20

There is an old adage Do as I say, not as I do. This is one of the attitudes about which Jesus was always arguing with the Pharisees and the scribes. They lived one way and asked others to live and do things they refused to do themselves. Jesus is making clear to those same folks today that although he appeared to be a radical change agent, what he was doing was living into God's laws, fulfilling God's laws. From the point of view of the power brokers of that time and place, Jesus was looked at as changing everything, when in fact he was just doing what they were supposed to have been doing all along. We're early on in the Gospel of Matthew, the really big changes come later on in the story.

Jesus says today that whoever does them (lives out the commandments) and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Do and teach Jesus is instructing us. Live into what Jesus teaches and than teach those precepts to others: spread the word by deed, action and teaching. It is easy to fall into habits that allow the old adage of telling people what to do and not do those same things ourselves become part of our daily routine.

Thoughtfully (and prayerfully) altering how we walk through this world is one of the take-aways from today's Gospel selection.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Art: Wet Feet (in progress), 2010, jfd+

Friday, September 16, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Saltiness and Lightness

Psalms 69:1-23(24-30)31-38 * 73; 2 Kings 1:2-17; 1 Cor 5:16-23; Matthew 5:12-16

We are in our second day of Matthew's blessings and woes....still in the blessings, which to many of us sound like woes. Jesus says we are blessed when we: are reviled, and persecuted, and have evil done against us for false reasons, and accused of terrible things because of Jesus' name. Woohoo, sounds like blessing, doesn't it. Jesus goes on to say that our reward comes later, like the persecuted prophets before us. He then goes on to say that we are to be the truth tellers to the world by being like salt, and like a bright light that cannot be extinguished.

Salt, when used correctly, can enhance and bring out flavors that would have remained hidden. In a similar manner, light takes away shadows, preventing things that might be hidden from staying that way. We are that salt that brings out the true nature of people, allows them to live into this kingdom Jesus has created for us. We are that light that can illuminate hidden places where the kingdom needs to be experienced by those living in those shadows.

As it was in Jesus' time, and through the centuries between now and then, this can be a dangerous and challenging way to interact in the world. Dangerous and challenging because we continue to be called to model a way of operating in the world that runs counter to how our culture, our society,trundles on. We need to point out that there are poor people, starving people, individuals treated incorrectly because of where they are from, or what they look like, or because they are "different" from "the norm". We are to be the salt that brings about awareness of those less fortunate and forgotten and mistreated by society. We are to turn the attention of society to these areas that need assistance and fair treatment and find ways to help those less fortunate.

Blessings, yes. Difficult, yes. As part of the Body of Christ, being salty and bringing light is who we are to be. The rewards are not only in heaven, they are seeing the change, no matter how small, wrought in the world by our saltiness and light.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Art: Textured Cross, jfd+, 2009

Monday, September 12, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Temptations and Exhaustion

Psalms 56, 57 (58) * 64, 65; 1 Kings 21:1-16; 1 Cor 1:1-19; Matthew 4:1-11

Jesus, after his baptism, has been out alone and fasting for forty days. In Matthew's version that we have today, we can be led to believe that "the tempter" came to Jesus at the end of that long fast and time alone. Not during, but at the end, as Matthew says He fasted forty days and nights, and afterward he was famished. The tempter came and said to him...... When Jesus was tired, hungry, probably cranky as all get out, temptation and wrongful desires come upon him.

If we look at this account from our own perspectives, is it not almost always the case that we make our worse decisions when we are tired or hungry and/or cranky? It can be challenging to allow our better selves to be in the forefront of our operating in the world when we are in a state of exhaustion. Yet this account of Jesus battling temptations shows us an avenue we can follow. Jesus had spent forty days fasting, alone, praying: preparing himself for his ministry. That basis is a model for us. Having a prayer-life, knowing that God's love for us is firm and unshakeable, can, and will, help us in those times when we are leaning toward doing something that we know, deep within ourselves, is not the appropriate thing to do.

When we are tired, hungry, not at our best, prayer and thoughtful pauses prior to making decisions is a way to prevent ourselves from having regrets the next day.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Christ Church, Capitol Hill, jfd+, 2011

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Pentecost 13 A - September 11, 2011

Preached @ St. Christopher’s E.C., Roseville, MN, 9/11/11, Matt 18:21-35

Ten years ago today was a beautiful Tuesday morning in New York City. I had gotten up at my usual early time, walked the dogs, gone to the gym, said Morning Prayer, had a quick breakfast and had left home a bit earlier than usual so I could go vote in the primary elections that were taking place that day. I arrived at work in downtown Manhattan at the usual time, approximately 7:45 AM or so. I was sitting in my office, doing I don’t know what, when I noticed something floating down past my windows. Looking, I saw it was bits of paper, and I thought “It’s too early for a ticker tape parade up Broadway.” Being a bit confused I looked again and noticed that most of the papers were either burning, or singed. Logging onto CNN on my computer I learned that the newscasters were surmising a small plane had struck the north tower of the WTC. I remember them showing a picture of a sizeable hole in the north side of that north tower. A very short while later, my staff and I heard the roar of the second plane and the crash and thunderous noise it made when it struck the south tower. We not only heard, but could actually feel the impact in our office. We were two blocks away and on the tenth floor of an office tower. Looking down at the street, we could see people running, hordes and hordes of people running: it reminded me of one of those bad Asian horror films of people running in the streets trying to escape the terrors of whatever beast was chasing them.

That was the beginning of a long morning where each moment will be forever etched in my memory. It is one of those times in life that has not faded, and probably won’t fade: one that I can call up details, as if it were yesterday and not ten years ago, today…..And by the working of the Holy Spirit we are provided a Gospel passage that may prove challenging for many of us….How do we forgive the trauma, loss and horrors of that day?.....How do we forgive?

Our Gospel selection for today is challenging and can be easily misinterpreted. Peter is once again given the role of foil to Jesus’ wisdom when he begins our passage today by asking Jesus how many times we must forgive, seven? Peter was being clever here, because the ancient and historic rabbinic teachings instructed to forgive three times: Peter more than doubled that teaching. And Jesus says no, not seven but 77, and then he launches into the story of the king and the slaves

This story of the king who forgives the slave a debt of 10,000 talents and that same slave’s inability to forgive a debt of 100 denari is one that needs some explanation in order to bring understanding and relevance to our ears. 1 talent was roughly equivalent to 15 years’ wages for the average worker. So this king’s forgiveness would equate to 150,000 years’ worth of wages being forgiven. That is quite a debt for the king to forgive this slave. 1 denari was roughly equivalent to 1 days’ wage. So this no longer indebted slave refused to forgive 100 days of wages. 100 days vs. 150,000 years worth of wages is the unbalanced scale the first hearers of this Gospel would have understood upon hearing Jesus tell this story…

Who does the king represent? God? Or us? If it is God, this makes the end of the story troublesome, because that forgiving king turns vicious when he learns of the forgiven slave’s actions, and that viciousness seems to run counter to the point at which Jesus is driving. But if the king is representative of us, all of us, then the king’s actions bring to light something different. The story illustrates and instructs us to pay heed to the importance of having a forgiving nature, a forgiving heart. The story also highlights how bad the lack of forgiveness truly can be, for us and for those for whom we refuse to grant forgiveness. This story is telling us to not be like the forgiven servant, but also to not imitate the king’s anger, for the king never really forgave the servant. We cannot forgive someone and retain resentment in our hearts….that lingering suspicion and dislike can so poison our relationships with one another.

Jesus is doing something remarkable today and something not at all popular in the culture of our nation. Jesus is pointing us away from revenge, away from resentment and the holding of grudges and toward a forgiving nature: which is the nature of God. Jesus is pointing us to have an unlimited forgiving nature, which is the nature of God. Today’s Gospel gives us a seemingly impossible challenge: to emulate God in this forgiving nature.

How can we effectuate that kind of attitude and mindset today? How does this forgiving nature we are called to embody have any relevance to us here at St. Christopher’s this September 11th…..this tenth anniversary of those terrorist attacks? How does this have anything to do with St. Christopher’s opening day festivities, this first day of our program year…..this first Sunday of your new rector’s tenure?

Over the past ten years, this anniversary has become to me like a funeral. For something important was lost that day ten years ago, and I’m not referring to the thousands of lives taken from us that morning. And funerals, in most people’s psyche’s and understandings can be sad, morose occasions. But in our Episcopal lives, we know that funerals are actually celebrations. The rubric found on page 507 of our BCP says (in part): The liturgy for the dead is an Easter liturgy. It finds all its meaning in the resurrection….The liturgy, therefore is characterized by joy….This joy, however, does not make human grief unchristian. The very love we have for each other in Christ brings deep sorrow when we are parted by death….So, while we rejoice that one we love has entered into the nearer presence or our Lord, we sorrow in sympathy with those who mourn. That statement provides a guideline for the richness and complexity that this anniversary can be for us, and can and does provide guidance in regard to this forgiving nature we are called to embody.

A question that always arises is, How is any of this fair? This idea of fairness is not the right focus because God’s love is basically unfair by our standards…..for it is for everyone, available to everyone. And it is from that basic, life-altering place, that we can begin to live into and embody a forgiving nature as a rooted-center to how we approach and interact in the world. Think about the talents and denari imbalance and the unfairness of the nature espoused by the servant character. St. Augustine opined that Jesus is referring to an unlimited amount of forgiveness by his choice of the number 77. Augustine pointed to the genealogy of Jesus in Luke; there being 77 generations listed going back to the creation stories. Augustine’s belief was that Matthew picked this number so as to prove the point that all generations have been forgiven through Jesus.

We are instructed by Jesus today to live into the unbalanced nature of forgiveness. We are to fall on the side of the 150,000 years, not the 100 days….we are to strive to forgive all the way back through every generation, not just three or seven times. This is an astounding thing to be asked to do.

Throughout all of scripture we find imbalance and unfairness, as we define those principles…. God’s definitions are far different. What we are called to today is an acknowledgement that God’s forgiveness, God’s forgiving nature outstrips every act we are called upon to forgive. An acceptance of that principle can allow us to upend our tangled-selves and straighten into a forgiving nature that controls who and what we are as a people and control how we operate in the world.…..Not at all easy…In particular when we are immersed in a national day of remembrance for acts that seem unforgiveable. But for God, and as demonstrated by Jesus today, nothing is unforgiveable. For us? The simple truth is we have our marching orders today….to approach the world with God’s forgiving nature imbuing all that we do.

The crashing discordance that may seem to be this anniversary of 9/11, the joyous celebration of the beginning of St. Christopher’s program year, and the grateful acknowledgment that a new rector has appeared here at St. Christopher’s, are really not disharmonious. Similar to the celebratory nature of a funeral, today can and does embody the richness that is our lives as the Body of Christ in the world today. There is the deep sadness and confusion of what occurred ten years ago, mixed with the joy of new life, a new year with new leadership. Anxiety and joy mixed together, as they always are in life. All rooted in love: love of this holy place, love of each other, love of God and God’s love for us…. and the knowledge of resurrection moments all around us. Jesus is showcasing for us in this story of the king and slaves that forgiveness brings about resurrection moments in our lives. And from that place of love and joy and excitement and unsettledness, we can find the strength to forgive, embody a forgiving nature that is transformative to each of us individually, as a community and will be transformative to all those we encounter. Amen.


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

Art: Orange and Silver Cross, 2008, jfd+

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Get Up

Psalms 50 * 59, 60 or 93, 96; 1 Kings 18:1-19; Philippians 2:12-30; Matthew 2:13-23

We have Joseph getting up and going today. First he flees Herod's jealous wrath going to Egypt. Then, again following the instructions he receives in a dream, he gets up and takes his family to Nazareth. Joseph is told to "get up" twice today, and we are told he "got up" and followed what he believed were God's instructions to him. In between Joseph's moving his family back and forth we have the awful story of Herod's murder of all children under the age of two in and around Bethlehem. A lot of action in these ten verses today.

Many of us have had feelings that we need to do something, a prodding, an urge perhaps. There are times when we act without rational thought, based solely on a knowledge that is hard to articulate, but that we know deep within ourselves is the right thing to do. Some of my friends call that our subconscious telling us what our waking minds refuse to recognize. And when my friends say this to me, I do not disagree. I have pointed out on occasion that, perhaps, that subconscious is God's Holy Spirit inside us, that seed of knowledge from which our better selves emanate. Some of those friends will usually roll their eyes at me when I say that, but my twist on their view is as valid as their twist.

However we view those times in our lives when we have felt a need to do something, not responding can often have disastrous consequences. Today's Gospel account from Matthew is asking us to listen and pay attention to those deep-seated voices telling us to do something we know is right....and get up and go.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Art: Station Crosses, 1-6, 2007, jfd+

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: The End Brings A Beginning

Psalms: 45 *47, 48; 1 Kings 16:23-34; Philippians 1:12-30; Mark 16:1-8(9-20)

We have the last verses of Mark's Gospel as part of our DO reading today. There are two endings here: verses 1-8 and verses 9-20. The first are believed by most Biblical scholars to be the true ending of Mark's Gospel, as it was originally intended. The latter eleven verses are considered addendum written sometime many years later by a transcriber of the Gospel. These two endings are different. The verses 1 through 8 are written in the same style as the rest of this Gospel, ending with Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome being told of Jesus' resurrection and his waiting over in Galilee, and their amazement and terror and fear causing them to flee and say nothing to anyone. A much more terse and open-ended conclusion to this Gospel than verses 9-20 provide.

All endings bring their own form of amazement and fear and terror when we face them. All endings bring about change. But all endings also lead to something new. With Labor Day weekend just behind us, many people have children heading back (or off for the first time) to school: ending summer vacation and beginning a new chapter in their life. Universities kick into high gear after Labor Day, bringing an end to one way of doing work and beginning a new one. Many corporations switch from summer flexible hours to the regular work-a-day hours. Churches switch from summer-vacation-mode to full-on program year activities. All of these, endings and beginnings that can and do bring their own forms of amazement and fear and terror with them.

That's how life runs so often: cycling through endings into beginnings. How do we define these times in our life? How do we mark them? With whom do we celebrate or mourn these passings and beginnings? Amazement is a good descriptor from which we can analyze these changes and chances and opportunities that constantly surround us. What has just ended for us and what is beginning this week? How can we be amazed?

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Art: At The Gloaming, 2011, jfd+

Monday, September 5, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Watching Women

Psalms 41, 52 * 44; 1 kings 13:1-10; Philippians 1:1-1; Mark 15:40-47

My father was the middle child, having an older sister and a younger sister. The sisters were 12 years apart in age, but were inseparable friends through most of their lives. My father would say the "The Dolly Sisters are here," when they would show up on our doorstep, unannounced, for a visit and a cup of tea, after a day of shopping. Normally during those visits, one or both of their husbands, or children, would call and ask when they were coming home (this is before the age of cell phones and constant communication.) My aunts were lovely, and fun, and were not only hard workers, but also faithful, loving and were observant. (I do miss them.)

I thought of "the Dolly Sisters" today when reading the appointed selection from Mark's Gospel. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and Joses, and Salome, have watched the crucifixion and death of their beloved Jesus. The three of them follow Joseph of Arimathea when he claims the body and takes those holy remains to his new tomb, and they watch him secure that resting place with a stone. Faithful, watching women who have been with Jesus for much of his ministry, performing their own ministry amidst and among the apostles and disciples.

There is an interesting poetic justice that we have the account of these watching women fall on Labor Day, here in the United States. This holiday when we celebrate and honor our unions and all those who labor/work. Our reading today is a reminder that there are many different kinds of "work" and we must remember to praise and honor all those who labor for us, who watch us, and watch over us.

Taking things for granted is part of our human condition. Today is a day to not allow that part of us to go unchecked. Take time today to thank someone (or everyone) who labors and watches over us: for their care and love makes us who we are.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Day Lilies, 2010, jfd+

Friday, September 2, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Come Down

Psalms: 31 * 35; 1 Kings 11:26-43; James 4:13-5:6; Mark 15:22-32

We are gifted today with a portion of Mark's version of Jesus' crucifixion. The passing crowd taunts the near-naked Jesus with "Come down!" The chief priests not only jibe Jesus with "Come down" but begin their bullying by saying "He saved others, but cannot save himself." They knew he was saving people and yet still sought to kill him.

The terrible irony of the chief priests' taunts is that Jesus was continuing to save people by choosing to be crucified. He could have gotten out of this situation had he wanted to, but he did not. The people passing by, and the chief priests saw a powerless individual who they had been afraid of, caught and humiliated and dying. They believed they had won.

We know that Jesus did come down, did save himself, and the world, in the process. We have the literal and expected juxtaposed against the surprising and unexpected. And the latter is how God operates in the world: then and now. One of the things we are meant to contemplate and consider today is how, when we are confronted with an impossible situation, can we be that unexpected and surprising catalyst that changes everything. For that is what we are called to: upend the status quo and make the Kingdom Jesus opens for all of us, more of a reality than it currently is in our lives. We are called to be vulnerable and naked; and from a place of seeming powerlessness, alter the course of the world. Where can we begin that work today?

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Art: Station #7, 2006, jfd+