Saturday, July 30, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Declarations, Healings and Welcoming

Psalms 75, 76 * 23, 27; Samuel 5:22-6:11; Acts 17:16-34; Mark 8:1-10

We are just rushing along here in Mark these last three days. On Thursday Jesus declares all foods clean to eat. Yesterday Jesus heals a non-Israelite's daughter and heals a blind and mute individual. Today he feeds 4000 people. The declaring of all foods as ritually clean is one of those confusing things in our Scripture. For in Acts, and a few of Paul's letters, this argument continued with visions and inspirations for both Peter and Paul. If Jesus had already done this, why were his followers so thick as to have to reargue and re-discover the point? Perhaps this is symbolic of our having to learn and relearn and than learn again these simple (and hard to accomplish) life lessons of how we are to act in the world as Christ's Body.

The two healing stories yesterday are counter-balanced one against the other. First Jesus is quite rude to the woman seeking to have her daughter's health restored and than he is quite readily generous healing the deaf/mute individual. I cannot help but wonder if Jesus, being perhaps a bit cranky when the woman found him, got snappy with her and then, when she brought him up short for his rudeness, had a light turn on in his head about the scope of his ministry. We are witnessing in these two stories the expansion of Jesus' mission: a widening understanding of God's intended purpose.

And Jesus' care of the 4000 folks who had been with him out in the desert for three days, shows a compassionate and welcoming God. One who feeds and cares for those who come a-calling.

The juggernaut that is this Gospel of Mark is going along at a clip that is breath-taking. Our job is to see the larger picture at the same time as we study and contemplate and absorb the minutiae of Jesus' actions. We are called to mimic those things as best we can so we can move forward in the further establishment of the Jesus' Kingdom he opened for all us. We are called to be our own juggernaut of declarations and healings and compassionate and radical welcome.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: St. Anthony Falls, Minneapolis. MN, 2011

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Touching and Healing

Psalms 72 * 119:73-96; 2 Samuel 3:22-39; Acts 16:16-24; Mark 6:47-56

Our Gospel selection ends today with the crowd that surrounds Jesus and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed. So much of how we heal can and does involve being touched or touching something ourselves. The "laying on of hands' in the liturgical service of healing is representative of this by the individual reciting those healing prayers, placing hands on the person's head (or shoulders). A physical manifestation of a mysterious and holy moment.

We can be touched without any physical component being involved: my heart is touched....he's touched in the head, are phrases that come to mind. But, in all seriousness, we find comfort and can find healing when we are touched. A feeling of comfort, of grace can and does overtake us in those precious moments of a healing touch.

So much of healing can involve emotions: our physical nature is often closely tied to our psychological well being. With the exception of those who have an aversion to being touched, touching can and does help healing: a gentle hug, the holding of a loved one's hand. These are tangible reminders that we are not alone in times of difficulty. Those gentle reminders of having companionship on the way through times when healing is needed are an integral part of the process of coming back from a trauma, or simply accepting the position in which we find ourselves.

The importance and the symbiosis of healing and touch are modeled for us in today's Gospel. Something to keep in mind for ourselves and those we meet on the way today.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Allie, 2009, jfd+

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Prayer, Rest and Work

Psalms 61, 62 *68:1-20(21-23)24-36; 2 Samuel 3:6-21); Acts 16:6-15; Mark 6:30-46

We have Mark's accounting of the feeding of the 5000 today. Two side notes: this feeding of the 5000 is the only miracle story to appear in all four Gospels; and we are graced with Matthew's version this coming Sunday.

Today's Gospel begins with Jesus listening to the exhaustive and tiring and exhilarating work his apostles had just completed (having been sent out in this past Saturday's reading to teach, preach and heal). Jesus tells them they need to come with him to a quiet place to rest and re-coop their energy. "The best laid plans" as the saying goes. They try to get away but the crowds find them and instead of the much needed rest, they have to work. In fact, Jesus tells them "you give them something to eat" when they ask him what are we to do with these folks so late in the day. Jesus, of course, helps out; he takes, blesses, breaks and gives two fish and five barley loaves, that miraculously feed all those present. After this work is done, and the scraps collected to be used again later, Jesus goes up to the mountain to pray while his disciples go on to Bethsaida.

Doing God's work, creating the kingdom, is hard and challenging work. Even when we may want and need to rest, life and our ministry can get in the way of that planned respite. Jesus' actions today provide for us a model: we can plan, but we need to remember to be flexible too. Providing for people out of our abundance is part of the work we are called to accomplish on a daily basis. Knowing ourselves well enough to say, hey, I need a break, is also part of doing the work of the kingdom. Allowing that rest to be interrupted, although not optimal, is a part of the reality of our doing this work. Yet, remembering to center ourselves around prayer and thanksgiving is an important piece of finding that rest we all need at times.

So many people take vacation-time in late July and August. This model set for us by Jesus is a good one to keep in mind as we enter those gifts of respite: flexibility, prayer and rest.

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

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Pentecost 6-A

Preached @ St. Anne’s Damascus, MD, 7/24/11 - Matthew 13:31-33,44-52


he kingdom of heaven is like…..fill in the blank here, add your own metaphor, your own allegory here. Jesus says this phrase six times today!....The kingdom of heaven is like: a mustard seed, yeast in flour, hidden treasure, a fine quality pearl, a fishing net, things new and old. The kingdom of heaven is like….Matthew really wants us to focus on the kingdom of heaven today.

To put some order around these descriptors of the kingdom of heaven: these six examples of the kingdom of heaven are really in distinct groupings. We have the mustard seed and the yeast as the first of these groupings. This kingdom of heaven Jesus is pronouncing starts from the smallest of beginnings, like the mustard seed, or a small amount of yeast. This kingdom of heaven grows into something exponentially larger and influential and transformative. Mustard trees can provide shelter and shade while yeast aids in transforming bread from hard water biscuits into something soft and porous and spongy. Both the mustard seed and the yeast are little things. They are in fact allegories of the expansion of Christianity from a very small group of people to a world-wide phenomenon.

Then we come to the second grouping when Jesus says: The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field…and the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls and finding one pearl of great value……Jesus is saying that however we find the kingdom of heaven….however we discover the truth about God, that finding is worth everything we have. These two metaphors are not about the finding of these valuable things, but rather about the response to the finding: the response is what is emphasized, for the finding is meaningless if we do not respond.

And the last allegory has to do with the net bringing in every kind of fish. Notice the word every. It is the same word, in Greek, that has been used four times already in today’s Gospel, and translated as “all”. The mustard seed is the smallest of all (every) seeds we are told. The yeast leavened all of the bread (every grain of flour). All material things (everything) were sold to purchase the treasure and the pearl. All people (everyone) are caught in the net….We are to bring all into the net, everyone into the church. God can sort it out later. We are called to reach out to all, to everyone.

And the Gospel ends today with Jesus saying “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every (all) scribe(s) who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” This does not seem to go with what has gone before. This instruction actually adds a depth to what has gone before by making clear that Jesus never intended for us to forget what we know when we discover him. Jesus expects that we can see and utilize our knowledge in a new light and in a new way. Jesus’ intention here is not to impoverish life but to enrich our life.

From all of these examples it is obvious that the kingdom of heaven is not just one thing, but is in fact multiple things, a veritable cornucopia of possibilities and realities allowing for a multiplicity of experience to illumine God in our lives, God in our community, God in the world….. Look at how personal each one of these are, how they are singular in nature. The singular mustard seed, the single measure of yeast, the one treasure, the one pearl, the one net. It is through personal interactions, solitary things, that we can find the kingdom of heaven, these allegories are saying.

When I first returned to church, after a hiatus from organized religion, and started regularly attending what was to become my home parish in New York City, I was very cautious and quiet and observant. I kept my distance for a fairly good long while before immersing myself in the life and ministry of the parish. Although I felt a tug, a pull to investigate a life in ministry, I was cautious and slow to respond. One of the catalysts that pushed me to immerse myself into parish life was a simple personal invitation.

At coffee hour one Sunday, an event that took me a while to get up the nerve to walk into, I was standing drinking a paper cup of pretty bitter coffee and munching on a cookie. I had made a few acquaintances but really hadn’t “broken through” so to speak: I was still very much an outsider. One of those people I had previously met came up to me and said hi and we started chatting, about what I don’t remember, but undoubtedly something superficial. Then Sean looked at me and said, “Would you like to join Altar Guild? I think you would fit in quite nicely.” I told him I would think about his offer and let him know.

I did think about his offer and the next week told him “Sure, I’d love to join.” And that was the first step to becoming integrated into the life and ministry of the parish: a simple invitation to which I responded positively. That invitation can be compared to the mustard seed or the measure of yeast put into the flour: something small and seemingly insignificant that blossoms into something beyond expectations and fills and transforms a life. That invitation can be compared to a found treasure or the discovery of a valuable pearl….I responded by jumping at the opportunity and that response changed my life. That invitation can be compared to that fishing net: cast to catch all….even me. That invitation may be seemingly insignificant…..I know that invitation was not insignificant. Perhaps that invitation was insignificant to Sean, who asked me to join Altar Guild, but for me it was no small thing. That invitation was important: it was the mustard seed, the yeast, the treasure, the pearl, the net, all rolled into one.

And that story is an example of what this kingdom of heaven is like….The spiritual author The Rev. Barbara Crafton has said, “We are called by God one by one. But we do not live out that call alone. None of us can survive without the help of others. This is as true in the spiritual life as it is in the secular one. Our need for one another is absolute and breaks down barriers of language, culture and religion.” Being a part of this Body of Christ, part of an intentional Christian community, proves the juxtaposition of being individually called by God into a community of believers: individuals and community tied inextricably together.

Individually we are called by God to be part of a larger Body. Like this community has been called, this community that is small but can and does have a large impact.

· This community that can and does transform those to whom we come in contact.

· This community that is a treasure to behold, a community which is a pearl beyond loveliness whose luminescence can be and is sought out and seen far beyond our ten acres.

· This community that can accept all who get caught in our net by walking in our door, no matter who they are or from where they come.

· And this community that can and does understand where we have individually and corporately come from, and can see our past in a new light, utilizing our knowledge and skills in a new way to enrich our common life together……

An important reminder to be taken from today’s Gospel is that we can act as those allegories, being the singular event that changes someone’s life…Just as importantly we need to be open to those invitations extended to us and respond positively……Invite someone today to be a part of the kingdom of heaven, this piece, our piece of it…..and be open to someone inviting you to a deeper and richer experience in this piece of the kingdom.

The kingdom of heaven is not just one thing; the kingdom of heaven is a multiple of things, of which we are all an integral part. Amen.


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

Photo: Provincetown Harbor, 2005

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: On Taking Offense

Psalms 55 * 138, 139:1-17(18-23); 2 Samuel 1:1-10; Acts 15:22-35; Mark 6:1-13

Jesus returns to his hometown today and those who knew him before he began his ministry to the world "took offense at him." Once people get an idea in their head about us, it is a much harder challenge to have them think of us in a different way. And we, the ones that have changed (or been changed) can be as amazed, hurt even, as Jesus is today, at the hardness of people's set opinions.

This is one of the reasons newly minted priests are not (usually) provided with assignments to serve at the parish that raised them up: it is difficult for the parish to see and treat "parishioner Mary" as "Mother Mary." In a similar way, it is a pretty clear practice that when a priest leaves a parish, she/he does not return as a parishioner: it is unfair and unhealthy to succeeding clergy to have the former spiritual leader in and amongst the congregation they have both been called to serve.

Perhaps we are hard-wired to have these opinions and judgments we make about people become so firmly set. Perhaps it is just easier for us to not accept the new and changed individual, to not allow the mold we have set to be re-molded. These pre-set notions can and do get in the way of our living into the kingdom Jesus is establishing. In today's Gospel, Jesus' ability to do his work is severely hampered because of his hometown's "offense" at who and what he has become.

I wonder if we are being challenged today to put away our ability to be easily offended at change and live into the glory that new-birth, re-imagined, re-created self can reveal.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Calla-lily, 2010, jfd+

Friday, July 22, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: St. Mary Magdalene

MP: Psalm 116 Zephaniah 3:14-20, Mark 15:47-16:7
EP: Psalms 30, 149, Exodus 15:19-21. 2 Cor 1:3-7

Mary of Magdala has always held a strong attraction for me among the saints we remember who lived and knew Jesus. She is, in fact, one of my favorites, and probably the favorite, the one I mention and think about the most.

There is a tremendous amount of lore, and fiction, about her. Fiction, because we just do not know that much about her, and substantive life-stories about her have been generated through the ages which, for some, have grown to be fact. What we do know about her is that she is one of the few women mentioned in all four Gospels. She was with Jesus for much, if not all, of his ministry. She was one of the witnesses to his death. And is credited with being the first person to whom the risen Christ revealed his glory. She is (as Holy Women, Holy Men says) "the first messenger of the resurrection."

There is no doubt in my mind of her love, faithfulness and desire to attend to Jesus' needs while he walked among us as human. She recognized something in him that she wanted to be a part. A faithful and reliable companion on the way, not looking for, or taking, the limelight. She was someone who was simply wanting to serve something she understood, at some deep part of her, as greater than herself. A companion and witness on the way to the establishment of a new life, a new world order, a new way to operate in this world.

She will remain a mystery. A mystery upon whom all sorts of things will continue to be projected, including by me. And I think that is okay, for those projections can help us define that to which we aspire.

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

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Light We Take For Granted

Psalms 45 * 47, 48; 1 Samuel 25:1-22; Acts 14:1-18; Mark 4:21-34

The Gospel writer we call Mark is throwing a whole lot of "sayings of Jesus" at us right now. Our selection for today begins with the phrases Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lamp stand? A rhetorical question, one of the many Jesus is so fond of asking his disciples, and us. This idea of light is drawing my attention today.

I have recently relocated out of an urban area and into a far suburb, in the midst of farming country. Having spent in excess of a quarter of a century living in an urban environment, there are many things that are tangibly different about my life right now. One of those is the specter and type of light that permeates my life. In the urban areas where I have lived so much of my adult life, it never gets truly dark: there is always some light. But up here in the country, wow, it gets really dark when there is no moon, or it is covered by clouds.

So, tangibly, this pithy lesson from Jesus today about hiding light has taken on a different meaning for me then it has in the past. And that has gotten me thinking metaphorically: what do we take for granted in our lives? Once a change happens and those "things" are no longer a regular part of our life, do we find ourselves noticing the change, the loss of something that was always present? Moving beyond that, perhaps one of the concepts Jesus is pushing us toward is that light that belongs on the lamp stand could possibly be us, lighting the way for others to find the love we have discovered. Just as likely, that light could be, and is, God's love for each and every one of us.

We may think we are living in darkness, away from that light, perhaps not deserving of that light's love. But we are deserving of it and we are never far from it. That light cannot be hidden, no matter how many bushel baskets we pile on top to try and obscure its presence, or for how long we have taken that embrace for granted. It is there for us, no matter what. Picking up that lamp and holding it high is something to think about doing today.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Sunset in SW, 2010, MH Jarvis.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Tellin' Tales

Psalms 30, 32 * 42, 43; 1 Samuel 22:1-23; Acts 13:26-43; Mark 3:19b-35

People tell tales about other people all the time. Often times there is some small basis in fact about the story, but the centerpiece, and the most memorable part, is the exaggerated piece which bears no resemblance to reality. This is why gossip is so dangerous, so hurtful: its lack of foundation in accuracy.

Our Gospel begins and ends today with Jesus and his family. He has returned home and the crowds are running amok and are thickly packed together, being a perfect place for gossip to spread about the individual they have all come to see. His family hears from the midst of the crowd that "he has gone out of his mind" and believe what they have been told. They set out to get to him so that they can "restrain him."

Our Gospel ends with Jesus rebuking his mother, brothers and sisters who can't get into the place where he has been teaching and healing. He says, looking at the crowd near to him, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother." Jesus is no fool, he knows what his family has heard and come to believe about him. His rebuke is a wake up call to them: You know me better than these people to whom you are listening!! What is the matter with you?

Listening and participating in gossip, story-telling, about those whom we know (and those whom we don't) is harmful to everyone involved. It can lock us in a room, looking out a window, as opposed to actually participating in, enjoying and understanding the life and individuals bubbling all around us. This is certainly not the main point of our reading from Mark today, but it is a take-away on which everyone should reflect and incorporate into how we operate in the world.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: National Cathedral, 2006, jfd+

Friday, July 15, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: In The Wilderness

Psalms 31 * 35; 1 Samuel 21:1-15; Acts 13:13-25; Mark 3:7-19a

Often in life we can feel like we have been cast off to the wilderness, alone, forgotten, perhaps feeling persecuted. Cast off by society, because of something we did or due to circumstances beyond our control, it matter's not how we get to those wilderness places, but we all can find ourselves there at times, physically or metaphorically.

We are deep into the story of David, Jonathan and Saul in our Hebrew Testament reading. David is on the run from Saul's murderous intent, helped by Jonathan. He is running in the wilderness, away from that which is trying to harm him. David came in from the wilderness, appointed by God, through the prophet Samuel, as Saul's successor. He was the youngest son, a shepherd and physically was brought in from the wilderness to be anointed the coming king. He is now back in the wilderness, alone but for a few with him, trying to find safety. He will return to the wilderness again later in his story because of his betrayal of a trusted friend and advisor, Uriah, but that is later in the arc of the story.

In the Gospel of the Mark today we have Jesus first going to the sea and then to the mountains, where he "called to him those whom he wanted" and appointed his 12 apostles so he could send them "out to proclaim the message and to have authority....." Jesus often retreated to a quiet place, away from the crowds, to collect himself, pray and allow himself time to get ready for the next thing. There were times he would retreat to these wilderness places because of failure, or persecution, and sometimes simply to seek rest and renewed strength through prayer.

In the arc of the story that is our individual lives, we will have times of finding ourselves in the wilderness. Remembering these accounts of those who have gone before us, and survived in their own ways, can be useful in our staying faithful in those times. Remembering that although we may feel alone and forgotten, that is never the case. The love of God for each one of us can be palpably felt in those wilderness times if we only allow ourselves to be open to that embrace. Just as David and Jesus are in their own wilderness areas today, we know they come back from those experiences and accomplish unimaginable things. The same is true for each one of us.

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

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Raising The Roof

Psalms 26, 28 * 36, 39; 1 Samuel 19:1-18; Acts 12:1-17; Mark 2:1-12

I heard a sermon a long time ago by a terrific preacher, who used a popular song at that time to begin her reflections on this Gospel reading from Mark. She stood in the pulpit, put her arms in the air, with her palms facing upward and said, This Gospel gives a whole new meaning to Raising the Roof, while she pushed her palms toward the sky, bopping a bit to the beat of unheard music. It was one of those "church moments" where the congregation laughed and was simultaneously sucked into the message she was preaching. (Thank you, Anne, I have always tried to model what you so successfully do in the pulpit when I am preparing to preach.)

These dedicated friends of a paralyzed person were desperate to get him help, but the crowds were too large for them to carry the bier on which this individual lay through them. They got to the roof and dug through, lowering this individual to Jesus.....a very public act of faith on their part. Jesus heals their paralytic friend because of their faith, and the scribes (in their hearts) were upset at what they perceived as Jesus' blasphemy (a private, personal questioning). Jesus understood "in his spirit" what they were doing and rebukes them publicly by having the person lowered down to him get up, pick up his bier, and walk out.

When we see strong acts of faith, such as that of the friends of the paralytic, in which way do we act? Are we quietly pessimistic, even jaded perhaps? Jesus is modeling for us a behavior and reaction to which we all must aspire: reveling in the courage and ingenuity of friends trying to help someone in need. Would we, could we, raise the roof to let someone into our lives who needs and yearns to be part of what we have?

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

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Pentecost 4-A

Preached @ St. Anne’s, Damascus, MD 7/10/11, Matt 13:1-9,18-23


he Christian-author April Oursier Armstrong wrote “Christ told his parables in terms of things that never change in the barest fundamentals of living. And we can claim them for our own if we will make the effort to pierce the years with a little study, to breathe the clean air of the countryside and lift our eyes to the stars….In a city park in London, in the sprawling mechanized farms of the American Middle West, in a backyard garden of a window box, there is still a seed and a sower.” Armstrong is saying that when we are gifted one of these parables of Jesus, that for many of us are familiar, we can and must make the effort to have them be new to us, fresh to us, so that we may react like those to whom Jesus first told them. For these parables are meant to be heard, listened to and then for us to react.

We are at the beginning of Chapter 13 in Matthew’s Gospel today. This chapter is a major turning point in Jesus’ ministry. He has moved from the synagogue to the sea shore, from the city to the countryside. This move signals that Jesus has accepted his rejection: the rejection of the leaders of the community to which he had been initially sent, and the rejection of his family. And today’s parable, and the many that follow in this chapter all help establish the parameters of how Jesus is defining his new family, how Jesus is describing what this Kingdom he is founding looks like.

Parables are Jesus taking abstract ideas, theological concepts and making them real, palpable, by his using things that were common and known to the people with whom he was speaking. They are a teaching tool to help facilitate discussion, and from that give and take, leading us to find truth, by making each and every one of us think. These teaching tools, these parables are meant to lead us in exploring God’s sovereignty over us in conjunction with the importance of our involvement, our responsibility in building this kingdom Jesus establishes. You see, the word parable comes from a Greek verb which means to set things side by side: for us to compare, side by side, God’s sovereignty and our responsibility.

The first parable in Chapter 13, the sower of the seed on different types of ground, has many different interpretations, even though we are given an interpretation within our Gospel passage. We, as individuals, will hear this parable in different ways, depending on where our minds and hearts are currently ensconced. For example, the path, the rocky ground, the thorns, the good soil can equate to closed minds, a refusal to think things through, multi-taskers who are unable to concentrate and complete one thing, and an open and receptive mind.

One of the early church theologians, Jerome commented on this parable and was interested to point out all of the triplets in its formation. We have the triplets of the bad ground, the good ground and the overall interpretation of the parable, with all these having triplets within them. The bad ground being: path, rocky ground and thorns. The good ground, is bearing fruit: 100 fold, 60 fold and 30 fold. And the overall interpretation of the parable is: to first listen, second understand, and third bear good fruit. (Jerome was a Trinity kind of guy)

Overall, one of the things this parable is about is evangelism. This parable is meant to provide hope and encouragement in times of stagnation and lack of responsiveness to our efforts to grow the church. This parable is meant to point out that temporary set backs, temporary pessimism is a natural part of our lives as Christians and that ultimately we will be successful….. Just not perhaps in the exact manner we have planned.

If we think about this, Jesus was rejected by his own people, and the crowds that surrounded him were fickle and ultimately turned on him, yet the creation of God’s Kingdom still won out and will continue to win out. This parable is significant for us because it shows the road to the Kingdom is absolutely guaranteed, but also shows that the road is not straight or without its bumps and difficulties along the way. The parable clearly shows that we have choices and emphasizes the importance of our hearing this parable anew, understanding it anew, thereby leading us to right action.

Theoretically, that is all just a great explanation of the meaning behind this Gospel. But how does this parable really apply to each one of us?...... What if those different landing places for that sown seed are representative of different times in our lives? All of us, at some point along the way, have, and continue to, rotate through the four different kinds of soil Jesus uses in this parable. We can be that path with the birds eating the seed sown, because we refuse, for whatever reason, to listen, to be open-minded. We can be that rocky ground, when we respond with initial joyfulness and then drop the ball we have willingly accepted without thought of the consequences. We can be that thorn-filled soil, where the seed has started to take root, but we allow other parts of our life to take precedence. And, at times, we can be that fertile soil that produces amazing results for the kingdom Jesus is describing.

That rotation through those different soils reflects our differing responses to the Gospel, and is part of our being human. We strive for the good soil, but we all know we do not always make it there. This parable can provide us with solace that Jesus knows us so well, that we are granted a lifetime of opportunities to be that good soil, producing those surprisingly abundant yields at different times…. Even more importantly, we must remember that seeds sown, germinate quietly and unseen, below the surface of the ground. Those seeds are within us. We get to determine which ground they germinate in, producing unimaginably fruitful yields…... Leading a life based in prayer, founded on faith, rooted in the agape love of those in our intentional community, we can till that soil that is ourselves, fertilizing it and allowing ourselves to become that good soil: breaking up the path, pulling up the rocks and casting them aside, cutting down the thorns, leaving only the good soil to reap vast bounty.

That good soil is the true us….. the truest image of God we can become and in whose image we all have been made……... This takes work. It is a good work to take up. Amen.

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

Photo: SW, DC Waterfront, 2008, jfd+

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Immediacy

Psalms: 20, 21:1-7(8-14) * 110:1-5(6-7), 116, 117; 1 Samuel 17:31-49; Acts 11:1-18; Mark 1:14-28

Mark uses the word "immediately" quite often in this Gospel. "Amazed" and "Astounded" appear frequently too. They all have to do with the reaction to Jesus: people follow him immediately, do what he tells them to do immediately, they are amazed and astounded by what he says and accomplishes. Those choice of words are all part of the rush and whirlwind that is Mark's Gospel, and if we aren't paying attention, we can and do miss what is going on, not only in these accounts of Jesus' life, but in our world around us.

In the Hebrew Testament reading today, we have David getting ready to fight "the Philistine warrior" (colloquially known as Goliath). David knocks him down with a stone to the brow (we are spared, at least for today, David killing the Philistine with the Philistine's own sword and chopping off his head.) There is an urgency to this part of the story in First Kings: David's ascension and Saul's demise. And there is amazement and astonishment here too, as well as an immediacy in David's actions in his response to God's empowerment of him.

There are times in life when we feel an immediacy to act, a need to do Often, that is God pushing us to act, even when many around us think we are nuts for doing the things we know deep within ourselves we are called upon to do. This can be compared to the beauty and fragility of day-lilies, that bloom for a day, and are gone the next. We can miss their beauty if we aren't paying attention. Just as there are times in life we can miss opportunities because we aren't listening to, or paying attention to, that deep-rooted voice helping us to do that which is right.

One of the hard parts about this is tempering our impatience, knowing when it is truly God pushing us, and when it is our own self-motivated interests. Differentiating between those two is something only we can do: with practice, with thoughtful attention, by being truly honest with ourselves and through prayer.

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

Friday, July 8, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Mark's Good News Begins

Psalms 16, 17 * 22; 1 Samuel 17:17-30; Acts 10:34-48; Mark 1:1-13

There is something about Mark's Gospel that I find so appealing (most of the time). He is so "blood and guts," by which I mean: direct, to the point. He moves the narrative along at a quick pace, throwing out substantive details of Jesus' life and ministry in short and concise verses. In thirteen verses today we have the introduction of the Gospel, John the Baptist's introduction and preparation for Jesus, Jesus' appearance and baptism and identification as the Son, the Beloved, and his being driven into the wilderness being tempted and being tended by angels. That's just a whole ton of stuff to digest in one sitting.

I wonder if this manic-paced Gospel is appealing (again, most of the time) because it is so reflective of what our lives are so often like: hectic, swirling all around us, with life-altering events seeming to pass by in the blink of an eye. Like life, this Gospel is calling us to take it all in, and also to be reflective of what we have experienced and read. Many times, understanding comes over time, and sometimes it comes to us in a flash. We need to be open and sensitive to all forms of a deepening of our awareness of God in our lives. There are times when the waves of life crash over us, and other times when we can sit and be reflective as the waves of life lap at our feet. Allowing ourselves the room to experience both and still grow into our better selves, the clearer likeness of God, is an important part of each of our journeys.

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

Monday, July 4, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Independence Day

MP: Psalm 33; Ecclesiasticus 10:1-8, 12-18; James 5:7-10
EP: Psalm 107:1-32; Micah 4:1-5; Revelation 21:1-7

Happy 4th of July. Fireworks started around where I live a few nights ago, beginning a celebration of our country's movement toward individual freedom and civil rights. We are still struggling to figure out and define what all that means: the mess in Washington, DC and the stalemate in Minnesota are proof of that continuing struggle. We have plenty to celebrate today, for the majority of us Americans live a life that is far beyond comfortable, with amenities and privileges we take for granted. So to stop and remember how fortunate we are is a good thing.

Just as importantly, we should balance those thanksgivings with a clear-eyed look at what is left to be done: to remember those who live under the radar and don't share in the wealth and good fortune that so many of us are gifted. The stagnation in our government is symptomatic of a larger issue our society faces, an inability to communicate in a civil manner. We are moving to, and perhaps already live in, an "I gotta have my way" society. For some, the only way they believe they have been listened to, is if their opinions are the only ones that matter. Troubling to say the least for a government and a culture that was founded on representative government: where those elected are given the authority to act in the best interests of all those they represent, not just a favored few. Many of whom are the ones bank-rolling their election.

These are serious rumblings of a system out-of-whack. We all need to listen to and take heed of the words of wisdom in our Ecclesiasticus reading assigned for us today.
Do not get angry with your neighbor for every injury, and do not resort to acts of insolence. Arrogance is hateful to the Lord and to mortals, and injustice is outrageous to both. Sovereignty passes from nation to nation on account of injustice and insolence and wealth.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Art: Cherry Blossoms Triptych, 2010, jfd+

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Pentecost 3-A

Preached at St Anne’s, Damascus, MD, 7/3/11, Matt 11:16-19,25-30


magine for a moment lifting out a small piece of the stained glass window behind me, and holding it in your hand to study. That small shard of glass is fascinating to look at, the way the light reflects through, how those beautiful gradient colors can attract the eye….. Our Gospel selection today is like that magnificent shard of glass. The language is wondrous to behold and so very familiar. And like that shard of glass, the Gospel can give us an entirely new way of seeing our world.

Today’s Gospel selection is like our imagined single pane of stained glass: drawing our minds to some remarkable simple and surprisingly complex truths: that God loves all of us. Jesus loves all of us. The Holy Spirit is available and a part of all of us.

As remarkable and simple and complex and life altering as those basic truths are, there is much more in our Gospel today than those groundbreaking truisms. In order to appreciate that wider picture, we need to take that shard of stained glass we have been imagining, and return it to the window itself, and then take a step back and gaze at the window as a whole. We will see something different. Nothing that alters those radically important truths about love, but a deepening understanding of them, giving light to the nuance within.

Taken all on its own today, our Gospel reading seems a bit disjointed. First, we have Jesus criticizing “the crowd” and then referencing an idea of their not being aware of what is taking place around them. Then Jesus is praying and thanking God for “hiding these things” from intelligent people and allowing “infants to understand.” God is then acknowledged by Jesus as Father and the one who knows who Jesus truly is, and Jesus announces himself to be the Son of God. Our Gospel ends with the well known, and compassionate words, Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

To understand these seemingly incongruous themes in our Gospel story, we need to look at what transpired just prior to the beginning of our selection today. Jesus has been arguing with Pharisees, yet again, and getting nowhere. The Pharisees had been speaking about the people being called upon to carry the heavy yoke of the rules and regulations they prescribed in their writings on the Torah. These leaders of the synagogue taught that the people had to bear these heavy burdens…..with those burdens actually being equated to servitude. Jesus saw these human-made rules and regulations set down by these officials as unfair and unnecessary, and had told the Pharisees that exact opinion in no uncertain terms.

These are strong, emotional and dangerous interactions between Jesus and the Pharisees. The Pharisees have, in effect, cast Jesus out because he would not opt-into their legalistic and self-created moralistic view of how society should operate. And Jesus is plenty annoyed by their interaction with him. His “we played the flute for you and you did not dance” is meant to be a devastating and withering criticism of the Pharisees. This is why our Gospel today has Jesus thanking God for not revealing the truth to “these” – “these” being the Pharisees, but instead revealing the truth to “infants.” “Infants” here do not mean children. Jesus is referring to people who are not so filled with intellectual pride that they cannot see the truth that is right in front of them: that truth being the reality of who and what Jesus is to the world….. Jesus is renouncing any form of spiritual or religious or moral pride that gets in the way of faith and trust and a childlike heart, filled with humility. The ability to recognize Jesus is not based on obeying burdensome and wearying human-made rules and regulations, but an ability to be open and unpretentious to God’s revelation.

The human-made rules and regulations of the Pharisees, Jesus is saying, had become a burden, a “yoke” on the people. A yoke was an expertly crafted piece of farm equipment. If these yokes were not made correctly, and “to order” for a particular animal, the device would chafe the animal’s skin raw, eventually causing serious injury and making the animal useless. A correctly fitting yoke allows the oxen to be able to work with heavier loads: making the work “easy.” Tied to this is the practice that when animals were used with yokes, there were usually two of them, yoked together. Part of that practice was to put an older, more experienced animal with a younger, less mature one. Jesus is that older more mature animal to whom we are yoked when we take this yoke from Jesus, and learn from him. He is right there next us as we do the work of the kingdom.

Jesus takes the Pharisees heavy and burdensome rules and regulations and turns them on their head. Jesus says they do not, should not, lead to servitude. Jesus’ use of the word “easy” is his attempt to challenge the Pharisees, for the Greek word utilized (“chrestos”) is defined not only as “easy” but also “good” and “kind” and “well-fitting,” with Jesus right along side of us.

By inviting the weary and those carrying heavy burdens to come to him, Jesus is referring to those bogged down in the complex, human-made laws of the Pharisees, bogged down so much that they were unable to appropriately live their lives. Jesus is offering a better way, one where what a person is called to do will be tailor-made to that individual. (No one size fits all.) This personalized yoke that is central to our Gospel story, is tangible proof of how much Jesus loves and cares for each one of us.

“I will give you something that fits you”, Jesus says, and continues, “If you wear this yoke that I have made for you, I will give you rest.” “Rest” in Greek here has a different connotation than a life of ease and retirement. “Rest” as Jesus is using the term means doing away with artificial burdens and misinterpretations of the law, the things that actually get in the way of salvation. Rest, as Jesus uses it here, means that our putting on this personally fitted yoke will lead us to salvation.

All of this was radical when Jesus proclaimed it and this remains radical today. If understood in this way, we may ask the question: “Who are today’s Pharisees making rules and regulations about who can and should be part of a community?” I am not going to answer that question: I think the Gospel is calling each of us to explore that point and to ask questions. This Gospel does make me wonder about people who point to the Bible and then point to individuals and groups and say with certainty, “they are excluded from the kingdom.” Such certainty, in particular on this weekend where this country celebrates our independence and our inclusiveness, such certainty must be thought of as suspect, when this Gospel passage is read with the complexity and nuance and openness we have just explored.

I do not pretend to have answers. I do not believe our faith is really all about having easy answers. I do believe, and I have faith, that God can be found in the questions. I have faith and belief that Jesus is in the questions. I have faith the Holy Spirit is leading us through the questions toward the creation of the kingdom, here and now…..Wearing the yoke of Jesus makes the burden of our uncertainties easy; that yoke allows our questions to become opportunities for grace-filled moments…… Amen.


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

Art: At the Gloaming, 2011, jfd+

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Light in Dark Places

Psalms 137:1-6(7-9), 144 * 104; 1 Samuel 14:16-30; Acts 9:10-19a; Luke 23:32-43

There are times in life when we may think that things will never get better, that we will never see the light of a bright and happy day again. All of our readings today show us that we can find hope, even in dark times.

In First Samuel, Jonathan's eyes brighten when he unknowingly defies his father by eating some fresh honey following a long and difficult battle with the Philistines. Our writer of Acts provides the terror of Ananias in being called upon to cure another Saul from blindness: both find light and beauty in the midst of their terror by living into doing God's work in the world. Jesus is on the cross in today's selection from Luke. Yet even there, when the light of his human life is about to go out, he cares for a criminal who has been crucified next to him.

The lives of none of the people in these stories turned out exactly the way they had planned, and yet they were still able to make a marked difference in the world. In those dark moments we all have in life, we need to rely on prayer and the gift of Christ-in-the-other to help us find light that can guide us to safety and security. A safety and security that most of us never even imagined could exist: yet it does.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Art: Night Sky, 2008, panels 1, 2, & 3. jfd+

Friday, July 1, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Radical Changes

Psalms 140, 142 * 141, 143:1-11(12); 1 Samuel 13:19-14:15; Acts 9:1-9; Luke 23:26-31

Today in Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints, we remember Harriet Beecher Stowe who wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin. Stowe was concerned about the cruel and inhuman effects slavery had on those subjected to that status, and in particular the ruinous effects it had on families. Generally speaking, she was lauded in the north and much-hated in the south. Her work drew international attention to the anti-slavery movement which was one of the moving pieces of the complex puzzle that led up to the Civil War.

Our readings in the DO today are likewise turning point moments in the stories they are telling. In First Samuel, we have the introduction of the warrior Jonathan, Saul's son, who will (fairly soon) meet another warrior, David. We have a bloody battle in which Jonathan and his armor-bearer kill many Philistines. This is the slow turning point from Jonathan's disgraced father, King Saul, to a new generation of leaders. In our Acts reading, the murderously angry Paul is struck blind on his way to Damascus, radically altering his life's journey. And in Luke, Jesus in on the way to Calvary's hilltop when he stops to talk to the mourning "daughters of Jerusalem" who have been following him. We are in the midst of the biggest turning point of the Passion narrative.

Life is filled with moments that we do not realize can, and do, radically change us. Allowing ourselves to be moved in new directions by these changes and chances in life is an important part of our continual growth as the Body of Christ in the world today. Trying to fight against those growth filled events, many times, leads to heart ache and unpleasantness. Living into a changed landscape allows us to be change-agents ourselves, modeling Christ's life.

We probably won't be the most popular kids on the block, but we really aren't called to be that, are we?

The Collect for Harriet Beecher Stowe:
Gracious God, we thank you for the witness of Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose fiction inspired thousands with compassion for the shame and sufferings of enslaved peoples, and who enriched her writings with the cadences of The Book of Common Prayer. Help us, like her, to strive for your justice, that our eyes may see the glory of your Son, Jesus Christ, when he comes to reign with you and the Holy Spirit in reconciliation and peace, one God, now and always. Amen

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Anointing of Hands, 2007.