Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Short Cuts & Easy Answers

Psalms 5, 6, * 10, 11; Amos 3:1-11; 2 Peter 1:12-21; Matthew 21:12-22

A full and rich Gospel selection from Matthew today. Jesus "cleanses" the temple courtyard. He heals the blind and the lame. Children cry out praises to him, which draws the attention and ire of the temple officials. Jesus responds to that ire by saying perhaps they need to listen to the truth coming from infants. And we have the story of the fig tree made to wither for its lack of fruit and the value Jesus places on faith. A lot to take in today.

One of the things that attracts attention is Jesus and the temple clearing: the money-changers and those who sold doves chased from the temple. These people traded in currency, allowing people to more easily fulfill their "obligations" around the temple tax and worship. Making things easier undermines the point of worship and the point of sacrificing something to God. The "first fruits" tagged for honor to God had been cheapened down to meaning nothing, and is behind Jesus' outrage at what is transpiring in the central house of worship for the people of Israel. This stark and strong reaction of Jesus is meant to highlight for us the importance of not looking for short cuts in our faith, in our understanding....to not settle for easy answers to the complexities and mysteries of our faith.

Struggling with, thinking about, studying, having conversations about, praying with others about God's ready involvement in our lives is part of what Jesus' cleansing of the temple courtyard should direct our attention. Short cuts and easy answers are not the way to a more full and rich faith-life.

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

Monday, November 28, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Cloaks & Branches & Hosannas

Psalms 1, 2, 3 * 4, 7; Amos 2:6-16; 2 Peter 1:1-11; Matthew 21:1-11

For the next three weeks we will be traveling with Jesus through Matthew's Passion narrative. In the fourth week of Advent we will be gifted the birth narratives of Jesus as presented by Luke. For now, we walk a challenging path, these first weeks of Advent.

Jesus enters Jerusalem today, riding a colt and/or a donkey, Matthew doesn't specify which one he is riding. Cloaks are spread on both animals and on the road in front of Jesus. Freshly cut branches, too, are placed on the ground, making for a grand and crunchy entrance, accompanying the sung Hosannas to the proclaimed king.

These praise-filled people disappear over the course of the Passion narrative, leaving Jesus to die on Calvary hill, accompanied by a faithful few. Excitement and expectation in this story lead to a resounding silence. What expectations have we established that have gone in a completely different direction? In hindsight, what should have been those expectations and how would have that changed landscape altered our life and our experiences?

Something hard, but important, to think on this first Monday, this first week of Advent.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Provincetown Harbor, 2006.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Last Day of the Church Year

Psalms 137:1-6(7-9), 144 * 104; Micah 7:11-20; 1 Peter 4:7-19; Matthew 20:29-34

We end our church calendar year today with a Gospel reading from Matthew. Jesus is headed toward Jerusalem and has just passed through Jericho. On leaving the town two blind individuals shout out their belief in Jesus' ability to help them. They persist through attempts at hushing them and Jesus stops and asks them what they want.

He asks them what they want. An auspicious reading as we enter Advent and the Holiday season. What do we want? World peace? The end of hunger and poverty and socio-economic and cultural inequality? Peace of mind and heart and soul? The end of loneliness? Cures for untreatable illnesses? A way out of difficult situations in which we find ourselves? A way forward in a challenging relationship? What would we ask for if presented with an opportunity to respond to Jesus asking us What do you want me to do for you?

The two outside of Jericho asked that their eyes be opened. For what do we need to have our eyes opened? What blinders can we remove through prayer, and asking God for help, so that we can see anew? How do we get fresh eyesight for a new church calendar year?

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: VTS, 2004, jfd+

Friday, November 25, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Even Them

Psalms 140, 142 * 141, 143:1-11(12); Isaiah 24:14-23; 1 Peter 3:13-4:6; Matthew 20:17-28

In Matthew's Gospel today, we have the twelve disciples acting "badly." Jesus tells them, again, about the coming Passion (the betrayal, trial, torture, death and resurrection) and immediately two of them come forward with their mother asking to be treated in a more special fashion then the ten others who have been traveling along with Jesus. Those other ten get pretty pissed off at these two seeking better treatment, and Jesus, quite gently, upbraids all of them for their self-centeredness, ending with what many believe is a thesis statement for the Gospel of Matthew: the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.

Matthew is showing that even those who had been closest to Jesus could fall victim to the "me, me, me" syndrome - thinking and caring more about our own aggrandizement than the betterment of the world around us. The whole of Jesus' ministry is an example of being self-less, not self-ish. Reaching out and caring for, correcting, leading by example are ways in which Jesus chose to live his life and live out his ministry.

What one thing can we do today that will emulate this self-less aspect of being the Body of Christ in the world today? We can start small, helping us to make the "-less" our habitual response as opposed to the "-ish" when we think about "self" and how we operate in the world.

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

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Thanksgiving Day, 2011

MP: Psalm 147; Deuteronomy 26:1-11; John 6:26-35
EP: Psalm 145; Joel 2:21-27; 1 Thess 5:12-24

Growing up, Thanksgiving was my mother's side of the family's turn, descending on our house for cocktails and a huge meal. 3:00 in the afternoon was the appointed arrival time and I can remember waking up to the sounds and smells of cooking coming from the kitchen, Mom and Dad being up early to start the prepartions: turkey in the oven early, pealing potatoes, cutting turnips (hard to do!), pealing onions, setting the table, cleaning the house, getting appetizers ready and the bar prepped, moving furniture around in the living room and dining room so everyone could fit. All this going on with the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade on in the background, phone calls from relatives unable to make the get-together but wanting to be there in spirit, and eventually the string of football games, in the background, that pervade this day.

A tremendous amount of food and work, all given in thanks, although it took me a long while to figure that out. Growing up, this day was all about family, and of course eating. Historically this day has its roots in traditions from early settlers of this country, and their thanksgiving for the success of their harvests. As we have matured, our understanding of those settlers' actions, and our own country's treatment of those who were here before us and were aggressively pushed out of our forbearers' way, has helped in making this holiday more about family then thanksgiving for harvest. In addition, our society and culture have moved beyond our agrarian past, allowing these traditions, like today's, to continue on, with different meanings for many.

Our faith journey can very much mirror this maturing of how we understand this national holiday. Many start their faith lives with a literalist understanding of our faith. Some never leave the seeming comfort of that simplistic approach. Many simply walk away because they believe, and have been told, that there is no other way to have faith and belief in our Triune God. Yet there is a far richer understanding, a deeper conversation that can alter how we see, appreciate and understand Scripture and our faith. Almost any kind of literalistic approach in life shutters us from deeper perceptions and meanings and these narrow understandings quite often lead to abusive treatment and the creation of barriers between people.

We can give thanksgiving for complexity, and the richness seeming contradictions give our lives and our faith. We can give thanksgiving for a God whose very complexity begs us to live into the richness of a life-long conversation with each other about these scriptural contradictions, with our Triune God right in the middle of all those discussions.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: P-Town Harbor, 2006, jfd+

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Teaching All Ages, Always

Psalms: (120), 121, 122, 123 * 124, 125, 126, (127); Nathum 1:1-13; 1 Peter 1:13-25; Matthew 19:13-22

In Matthew today, a number of little children are being brought to Jesus, the disciples try and chase them away, probably thinking to protect him, and Jesus tells them to let the little ones come to him. This is immediately followed by a young man asking how to be holy, even though he already keeps all the teachings Jesus tells him he must in order to be holy. Jesus then gives him more: to sell all his possessions, give them to the poor and then follow along after him. The young individual leaves Jesus' presence "grieving" because he has many possessions.

Jesus is good for all age groups, all generations, all genders. He is willing to teach his disciples (constantly), young children (always), young adults. Jesus gives life lessons on how to create the kingdom, here and now among us, which all individuals, no matter age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, income level, can benefit and learn. Today he teaches his disciples by word and example how to treat and be involved with children, their parents, each other and those seeking to be members. Children, he lays his hands on publicly and blesses; disciples, he says let them come, they will not be a bother to me; wealthy and religious minded, we are never done being asked to do and give more. We are never too old or too young to learn what it means to be one of his disciples.

No matter what "time zone" are we in, what can we learn from Jesus today?

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

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Daly Office Reflection: Care and Forgiveness

Psalms 107:33-43, 108:1-6(7-13) * 33; Isaiah 65:17-25; Revelation 22:14-21; Matthew 18:21-35

Yesterday, Jesus instructed his followers to care for a "child." This word in Greek can be translated as child, little one, young one. Many believe Matthew was using a wider definition than a youth when he wrote this Gospel, that he was saying Jesus' instruction was for people young/early in their faith journeys. With this in mind, what follows, Jesus talking about a lost sheep and the effort to find that lost one, offense given by a member of the community and actions involved in bringing them home, and the important words "where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them," make far more sense. (Notice the "I am" in the quoted phrase, I am being the Hebrew word for God.)

Today, Peter asks about forgiveness and Jesus says we must live in that state, be generous beyond our understanding in having a compassionate heart that bleeds forgiveness. Yesterday's selection from Matthew, and today's, are of one developing piece. We are to care for those new in the faith, patiently helping them develop, finding them when they are lost and rejoicing at their coming back into the fold, have a forgiving nature, and always remember that God is in the middle of all that we do when we are acting out our faith.

It is so important to step back, and look at the broader picture being given to us in our Gospels. To see the larger pattern of what Jesus is weaving for us is a vital part of our charge as being his Body in the world today. As we walk through this coming week, and approach the close of this church calendar year and enter a new one a week from tomorrow with the beginning of the Season of Advent, taking a step back and seeing the whole, and not just parts of our faith, can help each of us in caring for ourselves and others and appropriating for ourselves a nature of forgiveness.

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

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Unless You Change

Psalms 105:1-22 * 105:23-45; Maccabees 4:1-25; Revelation 21:22-22:5; Matthew 18:1-9

Who is the greatest in God's kingdom, the disciples asked Jesus in Matthew today. Jesus tells them that they must change, be child-like, be humble, unknowing, welcoming the seeker, not mis-directing people who are seeking. Probably the hardest of all of these is the first three words Jesus starts with: unless you change. Many times we want to change, be different, and yet we end up being the same, doing the same things.

Certainly the weight-loss industry has figured that out. Most studies show that when we lose weight, the majority of people end up putting the weight back on, and then some, in a rapid period of time after stopping the "program". Many of us revert back to our old habits, which caused the weight to be packed on in the first place. We change for a while, but then we stumble back to where we started, perhaps because we really didn't want to change in the first place.

Jesus tells us today that there will be stumbling blocks for us in the building of the kingdom. He says for stumbling blocks are bound to come. That does not mean those difficulties have to be our undoing. Persistence, creating a new way of living, prayer and belief in our own ability to actually be different, are all part of the complicated equation of actually living into change. One of the things Jesus is driving at today is the concept of community verses individuality. Perhaps not being concerned about whether we are better than the other, but instead seeing our efforts as part of a greater whole can make change easier: taking the ego, the I, out of the equation.

Change is possible. Being humble, welcoming and kingdom-focused are all possible. Not a foregone conclusion or easy, but they are in the cards for us should we desire to work with the hand we are dealt. Helping in the creation of this kingdom is worth that effort, for we are changing our piece of the world by that work.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Art: Four Fold Action, Panel Three: Broken, jfd+ 2008

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Our Mountains, Moved

Psalms 97, 99 (100) * 94, 95; Maccabees 3:25-41; John 21:1-8; Matthew 17:14-28

In Matthew today, Jesus cures an epileptic child and then tells the questioning disciples that due to their little faith, they were unable to perform this healing. He concludes by saying that with the faith the size of a mustard seed they can make mountains move, that "nothing will be impossible for you."

Now, I don't know how many of us have ever tried to will Mount McKinley out of our way, but if we had, we would have found that no matter how much faith we have, that beautiful heap of rock isn't going anywhere, soon. So, instead of looking at this teaching by Jesus literally, what might we consider a stand-in for this seemingly immoveable mountain? What in our life seems to be an impossible task, but through prayer and faith can actually be accomplished?

That's the thing about prayer and faith, impossible things become probable things. We can learn how to approach them with a different attitude, a new focus, a re-imagined and creative way of reaching a goal thought out of our grasp. We can, so often, decide that we do not want to even bother trying to explore new avenues, to find a way to an imagined goal that appears too hard to accomplish. This is understandable, as we are creatures of habit, because the familiar can make us feel as if we are secure, comfortable. But that feeling is quite often a self-delusion. By saying we can move mountains, one of the things Jesus is saying is that residing in our familiar security can box us in to not finding a way to do those things that seem impossible. It thwarts creativity and the movement of the Spirit in our lives.

How do we think outside the box today and move toward a goal that prior to the shift of our focus, seemed an impossibility?

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

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: And Then, Sometimes, Maybe, Not So Right

Psalms 87, 90 * 136; Maccabees 2:1-28; Revelation 20:1-6; Matthew 16:21-28

Yesterday, Peter gets it right. A few verses later, in today's Gospel selection, he steps in it, yet again and Jesus confronts him with his error. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes, stemming from a place of fear, we can get it wrong.

Jesus tells the disciples what awaits him at the end of the journey: his Passion and coming Resurrection. And Peter pulls him aside, saying, Hey, cut that out, we've just told you that we believe that you are the Messiah, and now you tell us this!? And Peter gets dressed down by Jesus for missing the change in course that Jesus' life and ministry means to the world. And the iconic words about taking up crosses, and gaining the whole world but losing life are spoken.

Peter is not tossed into the outer darkness for reacting to difficult news in a manner for which Jesus did not care. We know he continues on with Jesus and becomes the de facto leader of the apostles. Mistakes happen. We can learn from them, even when we have been publicly dressed down. We're all human, frail and faulty, and at the same time capable of amazing leaps of progress.

We need to remember to be patient with each other. Lovingly correcting one another when we stray, and at the same time being able to be embraced and move forward into the creation of this kingdom Jesus has prepared for all of us. Really good news this morning.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Art: Me @ 48, jfd+ 2009

Friday, November 11, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Right Answers

Psalm 8 * 91, 92; Maccabees 1:41-63; Revelation 19:11-16; Matthew 16:13-20

Sometimes in life we just get it right. We don't know from where our correct answer or attitude or response comes, but we know from somewhere deep within ourselves that this is just right. And hindsight proves us correct, making those instantaneous decisions all the more poignant.

Peter gets it right today. The Peter who so often in Scripture is portrayed as the lumbering, doddering and dense individual answers Jesus with ten words: You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God. And Jesus, in his response seems to be leaping for joy: You Got It! And then, of course, Jesus tells them to be quiet and not spread the news of this revelation. The latter is for another time, but Jesus' joy at Peter's gut response always makes me smile, for Peter, who has been with Jesus from very early on in his ministry and travels, gets it. Gets what Jesus is at some very personal level, spoken without deep thought or reflection: Peter just knows and says what he believes.

When I am painting or writing, if I over-think, or try to be too technical, when I am done and step back and look at what I have wrought, I usually find that I say: well it's good (or perhaps rotten), but it looks too labored over, not natural enough. For those pieces of art where I allow myself to simply "do it", get the image in my head on canvas or paper, allow that deep inner voice to direct my hand, eye, paint and brush choice, technique to utilize, just respond and do....when I step back, I have almost always been pleased with the result.

It seems that in this account of Peter's speaking a response to Jesus' question about his identity, Jesus is asking all of us to listen to and trust that deep seed of knowledge. To trust that God is in that gut-response, that natural-response. We can over-think later.

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

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Widening a Narrowed Vision

Psalms 78:1-39 * 78:40-72; Nehemiah 9:26-38; Revelation 18:9-20; Matthew 15:21-28

How often in life do we set a course for ourselves, put our blinders on, and keep going in the direction we believe is the appropriate one for us to be heading? When we do this, and we do not keep a wider view of the world as part of our journey, we can easily miss important things along the way.

Jesus isn't very nice today. He is dismissive and insulting to the Canaanite woman begging for him to help her daughter. His disciples are annoyed by her chasing after them, begging for help, as opposed to allowing her pleas to enter into their hearts. This strong woman does not allow this inappropriate behavior by Jesus, enabled by his disciples, to continue. She challenges Jesus, tearing off those blinders that he has set on his face, making him hear and see her. And he does. By stopping, enlarging his view, he is continuing the widening of his mission that is a developing story-line in Matthew.

Believing something so strongly is laudable and important, but not if we lose sight of the wider perspective of a world in need of our leadership, guidance, support and attention. Who are we going to pass by today because we are to pre-occupied with our own issues and dilemmas? Would it be possible for us, today, to stop for one of those many we chose to ignore and widen our perspective, and theirs, just a bit?

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: High Tide from Unit 2, 2006, jfd+

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Tempests Surrounding

Psalms 75, 76 *23, 27; Ezra 9:1-15; Revelation 17:1-14; Matthew 14:22-36

In our Gospel reading today we have Jesus caring for the five thousand, sending them on their way, telling the disciples to get in their boat and go ahead of him, and caring for himself by praying. And then, and then the walking on water and the calming of the disciples' fear and the raging storm takes place.

What if we were to think of this latter part of this portion of today's selection from Matthew's Gospel as metaphor. There is no one in this world who has not had some tumult in their life. Perhaps those tempests arise from unemployment or under-employment. Perhaps from a fracturing or ended relationship. Perhaps from sickness or the death of a loved one. Perhaps from loneliness or the sense that we have no one to care about us. Perhaps those rough waters arise from disagreements or arguments or unfaithfulness or betrayal. From wherever they arise, this account of Jesus in Matthew can be a basis from which we can find a way to live through those tempests.

By allowing Jesus and an intentional Christian community to be at the center of our lives, we can find a way to calm our fears and live a life that allows us to find a way through those raging seas. With Jesus' presence at the center of us, and the intentional community with whom we are sharing our lives there too, we can weather whatever storms rage around us. We can find a strong anchor to keep us safe and provide the necessary balance and strength to face all that comes our way.

This reading, that so many scoff at, is truly one that we should permit to inform how we approach all of life's situations that can rise up that seemingly try to frighten us and take us off our intended trajectory. Having trust in Jesus and the support of our intentional community can help us to deal with all that comes and find a way to calmer waters.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Welcoming a New Rector, 2011, jfd+

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Challenging Our Concerns

Psalms: (70), 71 * 74; Ezra 7:(1-10),11-26; Revelation 14:1-13; Matthew 14:1-12

"The king was grieved, yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he commanded it be given; he sent and had John beheaded in the prison."

Our lives can be so complex. Our emotions and what drives us to do what we do can be simple as well: complicated and at the same time, simple. John the Baptist had been criticizing Herod for sleeping with his brother's wife, so Herod had him thrown in prison. At a seemingly wild party, his mistress/sister-in-law had her daughter perform, what I am guessing was, a provocative dance for Herod and the assembled guests. In joyful exuberance, he congratulates her saying, "what can I grant you for such an arousing performance," and she, having been primed, asks for John's head. And then Matthew gives us the quoted text above where Herod's concerns lie with being embarrassed in front of the assembled crowd in regard to an oath given when, more than likely, he was not really "thinking with his brain."

What drives us when we are making decisions? How often does pride, concern about our position/standing/perception in society enter into that process? Which is more important, that place we occupy in the minds of others, or the value of another's well being? Easier to ask than to truly answer.......

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Creativity in Waiting, 2010, jfd+