Thursday, December 29, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Framing

Psalms 18:1-20 * 18:21-50; 2 Samuel 23:13-17b; 2 John 1-13; John 2:1-11

The Gospel writer we call John has provided us with a work of art. This Gospel is structured, created, planned and arranged in such a manner so as to resemble a masterpiece painting. Each verse, each story, each interaction is a brush-stroke illuminating and creating a whole piece.

Today's brush work brings us to the story of Jesus attending a wedding in Cana, where his mother is present. She knows him so well, that he can seemingly brush her off rudely and yet she knows he will do what she asks. John begins this account with the phrase "on the third day"....a relatively important phrase in the life and ministry of Jesus. At the beginning of John's Gospel the importance of "the third day" is emphasized. John has framed the Gospel, at the beginning here and at the end, with the significance of this third day. An artful piece of craftsmanship.

But within that frame, we have a story of Jesus being so well known that he can brusquely cast off a suggestion from his beloved mother, and yet go and do this changing of water into wine, because he is so well known.....with John once again framing the importance of wine to the greater masterpiece he is painting....water into wine here, and wine into blood later.....

It is easy to get lost in these "frames", these bookends, John is creating for us. But there is an important metaphor in this story too. The "well-knowing" factor....Mary knows Jesus so well that she is confident that he will do the right thing even though he acts as if he will not. How often in life have we seen this play out? How often have we been the main character in this story, where we are asked to do something, or we know we must do something, act childishly about performing whatever that task is, and then, when no one is looking, go ahead and do it...... We are known so well...... God knows us so well that we are given the gift of Jesus to remind us of that which we already know.....we are to build this kingdom here and now.....we are to work night and day in making it so......and although we may be quarrelsome about doing so, we are known by God so very well, that there is a confidence-building-quality to this relationship that we can and will do the right thing when faced with the challenges in life.

On the third day.....water and wine.....being so well known and loved......Some good things to think on as we approach the end of our secular year.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo; The 35W Bridge, 2011, jfd+

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Fast Paced

MP: Psalms 97, 98; Proverbs 8:22-30; John 23:20-35
EP: Psalm 145; Isaiah 44:1-8; 1 John 5:1-12

With Christmas carols still ringing in our ears, our Daily Office readings take us, today and yesterday, to the end of Jesus' life and well past his departure from earth. Today we remember and celebrate St. John, yesterday, Stephen. John, thought of as "the one whom Jesus loved" and Stephen, one of the first seven deacons in the church and one of the first martyrs. Christmas carols and a babe in a barn two days ago, and a snippet of the Passion narrative today, and the story of the founding and formation of the church after Jesus' ascension, yesterday. The folks who selected our lectionary are certainly whip-sawing our attention away from the birth narratives.

Is that dramatic shift a signal of the lack of importance of Christmas? Is this shift meant to take us out of the sappiness that can come from romanticizing God's lowly birth and remind us of his challenging ministry and life and death? On what do we focus this time of year?

God's taking human form, and living and being among us, as one of us, is not to be sentimentalized, but rather should force us to evaluate our past year's activities and accomplishments in being the change agent we are called upon to be as the Body of Christ in the world today. That seems to be part of the intent of the lectionary builders: to shock us out of our sentimentality and remember the work of building the kingdom we are called upon to be doing on a daily basis.

Fast paced, yes. But so is life. And there is a lot to do.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Downtown Minneapolis from the Eastside, jfd+ 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Specially Touched

Psalms 80 * 146, 147; 2 Samuel 7:18-29; Galatians 3:1-14; Luke 1:57-66

We are not often gifted a full week for this 4th week of Advent. Because of that, we don't often hear the story of John's birth to Elizabeth and Zechariah. We hear about his conception quite often, but not his bodily arrival in the world. Zechariah is mute until he writes his assent to Elizabeth's choice of name for the child, and then he cannot stop praising God: which terrifies those neighbors who have come to see this miracle child born to a couple in their old age. And we hear all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, "What then will this child become?" For, indeed, the hand of God was with him.

What, indeed, became of that child? Those expectations placed on his tiny shoulders, those glances and whispers from neighbors as he wonder he ended up in the wilderness, unfashionably dressed, proclaiming the coming of the kingdom founded by his cousin. John was specially touched by God and he lived into that call, at a cost.

We are all specially touched by God in unique and individual ways. We do not all honor those gifts, all the time. Many times these gifts, talents even, cause us to stand out in ways that make us uncomfortable. Or perhaps we utilize these gifts for our own purposes as opposed to, for the greater good. John's birth story reminds us of the responsibility to live into our gifts given us, whatever they may be, and joyfully utilize them for the building of the kingdom, the opening of which we celebrate on the 25th.

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

Monday, December 19, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Fourth Candle Lit

Psalms 61, 62 * 112, 113; Zephaniah 3:14-20; Titus 1:1-16; Luke 1:1-25

The beginning of Luke's Gospel is so different from the others. And today we have the beginning sentence and than the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth and Gabriel's first appearance, this time to Zechariah in the temple sanctuary. Zechariah has trouble believing and is struck mute, but that doesn't stop God's plan for this couple: the announcement of their son, John, and his work of preparation.

A number of things to take note of in this story: the comparison of Zechariah's response to Gabriel, and Mary's, which comes tomorrow (and was yesterday's Gospel in church). We should also note how Gabriel describes John's work: With the spirit and power of Elijah he (John) will go before him, (Jesus) to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. Gabriel is saying that in order for us to be prepared for the Incarnation our hearts and our actions must be rightly directed. It is that complicated and simple, all this Advent work of preparation: whom do we love, for whom do we care? Ourselves or those to whom we are called to love and serve?

The last thing that strikes me this morning, is the long introductory (run-on) sentence Luke uses as preamble to this Gospel. He says he is providing an orderly account of things handed down from those who were actually eyewitnesses....So many people take these words, these "Gospel-truths", as literally coming from Jesus' mouth, written down contemporaneously with their being spoken. Here, at the beginning of this long and beautiful account of Jesus' life and ministry, we have the author saying "Hey, I've put this in an order that I think appropriate, from the stories past down to us and from my own research."

The "easy way" is to say Hey it's in the Gospel, the Bible says..... The better way is to read these holy texts with an understanding of their origins and build a conversation from that point.

A lot to take in this last week of Advent. All good and precious and loving work though.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: An Advent "Wreath", 2011, jfd+

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Hunger, Thirst, Strange, Naked, Sick, Imprisioned

Psalms 55 * 138, 139:1-17(18-21); Zechariah 8:9-17; Revelation 6:1-17; Matthew 25:31-46

The Gospel writer we call Matthew has Jesus say four times (!!) today that if we are to be true followers we need to dedicate our lives to feeding the hungry, making sure people are not thirsty, are not left alone to feel strange in a new environment, unclothed, uncared for when sick or forgotten in prison. Four times these "lesser thans" are cited as the focus of our mission and ministry. And it has to be said, we don't do a very good job about paying attention to these directives.

Our world would be such a different place were we to literally live into these instructions by Jesus. Our economic and sociological and cultural systems would be vastly changed. And because we live in a world (much like the one Jesus trod) that does not pay attention to the hungry, thirsty, lost, exposed, sick and imprisoned, these directions by Jesus as to what building the kingdom is like, seem impossible, and we can end up doing nothing because of the overwhelming nature of the job at hand.

If we looked at these individual groups, these outcasts of society, to which Jesus points as metaphors, what would that mean to our daily interaction with the world? Could all of these descriptors be considered a single metaphor for those who need to know the love that enters the world eight days hence, for which we have been preparing these past weeks of Advent? Are they hungry for this knowledge? Thirsty? A newcomer seeking to have that hunger and thirst quenched? Naked in their exposure to the desire to understand this belief that there is something more to life than the unfulfilling consumerism that surrounds us? Sick in their heart and life at the emptiness of much of our culture of selfishness? Imprisoned by that sickness?

What if we took today's Gospel account and thought about the joy and fulfillment we sing about on Christmas morning, and looked around at the newcomers present who are hungry, thirsty, naked, feeling strange and sick and imprisoned, and truly welcomed them? What kind of Christmas present would that be? Unwrap-able but joyous and fulfilling nonetheless. And a present that can be offered every day of the year.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: The Stone Arch Bridge, 2011, jfd+

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Are We Done Yet?

Psalms 119:49-72 * 49 (53); Zechariah 5:1-10; Revelation 4:1-8; Matthew 24:45-51

In our Gospel reading from Matthew this morning Jesus talks about being ready, about working and caring for those for whom we are responsible. He uses two examples: an individual who is "wise and faithful" and one who is "wicked." The wise and faithful one takes good and appropriate care, diligently working at the tasks at hand. The other, knowing the "master" is delayed, goofs off, mistreats people and purposefully hangs with the wrong crowd to have a good time. The latter will not be treated well in the end, Jesus says.

It seems that Jesus is being pretty simple and direct today. Continue in our work, the work of being the Body of Christ in the world today, building the kingdom Jesus opens for all of us. Be diligent and faithful and trustworthy. The rub is, the challenging part is, this work is never done. We are called to be doing this work constantly, always and everywhere. And the allure of the "drunkards" can be quite strong. We can easily ask: Aren't we done yet?

Jesus is being clear that we aren't ever done. And there can be, and there is, great joy in that knowledge, for the richness that imbues our life by this work of the kingdom far outweighs, by far outstrips, any of the transitory joys that hanging with the "drunkards" can bring.

For what are "drunkards" a metaphor in our individual worlds? What distracts us from our work being Christ's Body in this world?

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Stone Arch Bridge, 2011, jfd+

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: The Love of Many Will Grow Cold

Psalms 30, 32 * 42, 43; Haggai 2:1-9; Revelation 3:1-6; Matthew 24:1-14

A challenging reading in our Gospel selection from Matthew this morning. Jesus first predicts the utter destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. And then, in answer to the question "when," Jesus gives warnings about false leaders, and torture and death to believers, and rampant lawlessness causing the hearts of many to grow cold. He holds out a carrot, though, to those who persevere: salvation. He never directly answers the timing question.

Matthew was writing after the fall and destruction of Jerusalem, to a community under siege on all sides. They were living, what to them felt like (and was), an apocalyptic existence. The world as they knew and understood it had ended. What could their life be like without those familiar constructs around them?

We turn the midway-point-corner in Advent tomorrow. Today's reading is an excellent one on which to reflect what the Incarnation means to us, to our world. Jesus' presence here was meant to be, and continues to mean to be, apocalyptic: we are a people who must live, and be a model of, change.

And change scares almost everyone, particularly in church-land where everything that has been done must be repeated or "it's not my church anymore." The truth is, it was never our church: it was, is and will continue to always be, God's church. We are stewards for a short period of time.

We all can have a penchant for control and many times church is that place where we think we can place some structure around an unstructured life. If we are honest with ourselves, and with this concept of "church," than we can and should admit to ourselves that those control-mechanisms we are enforcing on an institution that is not ours, are actually strangling it, and are anathema to the definition of its existence. Those enforced structures are examples of our not being good stewards.

Jesus says that people's love will grow cold because of abounding lawlessness. For what is lawless a metaphor in our existence in our intentional communities? Could our resistance to change, and our insistence that all remain the same as it always has been, be lawlessness? Isn't the very nature of Jesus, of the Incarnation we are preparing for this Advent, the very definition of apocalyptic change? How do we let go of the comfort-of-the-familiar and live into the unknown of the future?

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

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Justice, Mercy, Faith v. Mint, Dill, Cummin

Psalms 37:1-18 * 37:19-42; Amos 9:1-10; Revelation 2:8-17; Matthew 23:13-26

"Woe to you, blind guides, who say, 'Whoever swears by the sanctuary is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by the oath.'"

"And you say, 'Whoever swears by the altar is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gift that is on the altar is bound by the oath.."

"Woe to you, for you tithe mint, dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith......You blind guides."

Jesus is in full-bore-attack-mode against the scribes and the Pharisees in today's selection from the Gospel of Matthew. In regard to the sanctuary gold, he says which is greater, the gold or that which makes the gold sacred. In regard to the altar he asks which is greater, the gift on the altar or that which makes the gift sacred. In regard to tithing, Jesus is demanding that we set our priorities in the correct order.

We can so easily become those blind guides because of the pressures of the world in which we live. Today's forceful reading is a sharp reminder to us that as the Body of Christ in the world today, we are called to dwell in that which is truly holy and sacred and not be distracted by, enticed by, made desirous for those things that are not holy and sacred in and of themselves. Today's reading from Matthew asks us to reflect on our priorities, our wants, our desires, and challenge ourselves about whether those are things that help in the kingdom's creation.

A hard lesson at this time of rampant consumerism rampaging all around us, getting ready for the celebration 17 days hence.

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

Monday, December 5, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: You Are Wrong

Psalms 25 * 9, 15; Amos 7:1-9; Revelation 1:1-8; Matthew 22:23-33
The Sadducees question Jesus about resurrection in today's Gospel selection from Mark. Jesus tells them plainly, and quite bluntly, that they are wrong. The Sadducees considered themselves the guardians of the law, the strict constructionists, so to speak. And Jesus tells them that they are trying to put God in a box, Scripture in a tidy little box, making both clear and understandable and simple. God and Scripture are none of those things.

In Holy Women, Holy Men today, we remember Clement of Alexandria, a 2nd Century theologian, thought to be a "liberal" because of his fight against Gnosticism, and his belief in non-literal interpretation of Scripture. Gnostics, generally speaking, believed there was secret knowledge about God and Jesus, available only to a few. Clement pointed out that they were seeking salvation from the world, while Jesus and Scripture is all about salvation of the world. Two very different theological constructs. The gnostics could be considered the Sadducees of their day.

Where are we falling into gnostic believes, seeking salvation from, as opposed to of the world? In this season of Advent, where we are seeking a quiet place in our heart for the love coming into the world in the form of a babe in a manger, where are we being too literal? Where do we need to be more open in our hearts, minds and souls, allowing that unfathomable love a place to enter?

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

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Daily Office Reflection: Hypocrites, Caught

Psalm 20, 21:1-7(8-14) * 110:1-5(6-7), 116, 117; Amos 5:18-27; Jude 17-25; Matthew 22:15-22

The Pharisees set out to trap Jesus, sending folks who work for them, along with representatives of the Roman hierarchy, to Jesus in our Gospel selection from Matthew today. They set themselves up for failure. Sending folks who work for them along with the hired guns of the Romans, and then ask if payment of taxes to the conquerers is okay, is a bit of a set up for not succeeding.

And Jesus sees the obvious, calls them hypocrites, quite deservedly, and then gives an answer worthy of volumes of reflection. Looking at a Roman coin with the depiction of the emperor emblazoned on it, Jesus says Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's. This simple statement sums up so much of what Jesus has been trying to teach in Matthew: a different world view of what is important, of what we should be focused on while living into being the Body of Christ in the world today.

In this season of Advent, as we prepare ourselves, once again, for the celebration of God coming among us as fully human and fully divine, on what are we focused? Are we caught up in something that would be better set aside? Are worried about "what to get (fill-in-the-blank)" as opposed to considering giving a gift that will actually last? What can we focus on this day that will bring the coming celebration of the Incarnation more relevant for us, more personal, more real.

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