Saturday, July 30, 2011
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Sunday, July 24, 2011
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
Friday, July 22, 2011
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Saturday, July 16, 2011
Friday, July 15, 2011
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.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Sunday, July 10, 2011
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
Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved
Photo: SW, DC Waterfront, 2008, jfd+
Photo: SW, DC Waterfront, 2008, jfd+
Saturday, July 9, 2011
Friday, July 8, 2011
Monday, July 4, 2011
Sunday, July 3, 2011
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+