Sunday, December 23, 2012

Advent 4: Preparation

Advent Wreathe, Week 4
I have stayed quiet on this blog since the incident in CT. At first, I couldn't contain the sadness, the grief, the anger and write coherent, sensible things. Others were writing far more succinct and wonderful reflections. As the week progressed and I began to develop this sermon, it felt right to hold off posting here until this was done...So, the Advent 4 Sermon......

jfd+                                                                                                   Micah 5:2-5
Advent 4 C                                                                                     Hebrews 10:5-10
Preached @ St. Christopher’s, Roseville, 12/23/12                Luke 1:39-55

y friend, The Rev. Jessica Hitchcock wrote on Facebook this past week: “Just an observation: I am feeling fragile and easily annoyed today, yet I want to be kind and generous in spirit to my brothers and sisters that I meet along the way because this is a time when we especially are called to be kind to one another. I want to cut myself and others some slack but I don’t want off the hook. I want this bleary haze of “not again” to haunt and harass me because this is my sin, and I have some repentance to do.” Jessica is referring to her torn-desire: to be able to move on from the tragedy of what happened in Connecticut nine days ago, and then catching herself, knowing that letting it go only pushes the problem down the road. She is also owning-up to the fact, as we all must, that we all bear some measure of culpability for this tragedy…Jessica’s reflection is an example of Advent preparation and a living into the prayer that is our Collect: that we may create mansions of love within ourselves.

Jessica’s self reflection and honesty also mirrors what we hear Elizabeth and Mary say in our Gospel reading from Luke…What are we to make of the unlikely pregnancies of Mary and Elizabeth? How are we to make these hymns of self-reflective, joyous-wonder relevant to us today? We hear echoes of early Biblical stories of women and impossible births in the accounts of Elizabeth and Mary and they echo a resonance of real-life drama.

Marcus Borg describes these Christmas narratives as summaries of themes we hear throughout the Gospel of Luke. In these two birth narratives, we hear about the importance of the Holy Spirit, the significant role women play in Jesus’ life and ministry, the importance of women in the life and ministry of the church and new community forming around that new church, the concept of joy that permeates so much of the Gospel of Luke, and the importance of the oppressed and God’s interest in seeing justice done.

Elizabeth and Mary’s encounter with each other is really, at its root, about choice: Mary’s decision to find help and solace from Elizabeth; Elizabeth choosing to welcome and be joyous about a single young teenager’s pregnancy. Both choosing to be inspired by the Holy Spirit and Her urging to look within themselves and then express the joy and wonder and thanksgiving about the new and unexpected trajectory their lives have taken.

Elizabeth could have spurned her cousin, sent her away as shameful. She made a choice to protect this child…Now, no early teen likes to referred to as, (or considers themselves to be) a child…but they are: developmentally, psychologically, emotionally, experientially. Elizabeth did not abandon Mary, but did what she knew was right: help and protect and support Mary.

That small and just action by Elizabeth helped to change the world. I am sure that if Elizabeth had turned Mary away, God would have protected Mary in some other way…What about those 26 children in Connecticut…where was God on that terrible Friday? We are subjected to all kinds of trash-talking celebrity-preacher-types saying this tragedy is somehow God’s judgment come upon us. That is utter nonsense and lies. The God we believe in, have faith in, the God we know, does not act in this way. The God, resident in the babe in the manger, is not a vengeful, hate-spewing, bigoted and prejudiced God. Our God, the one resident in Jesus, is a God of love and hope and joy. God did not cause that troubled young man to buy a weapon and cause this grief and heartache and loss. Where we find God in this unholy mess is in the bravery of the teachers and administrators protecting those children. We see God in the outpouring of support for those who have suffered this unthinkable, unbearable loss. We find God in the love pouring out to those people who have lost such innocent loved ones.

And we find God in our own honesty that we bear some culpability in this loss. My friend Jessica’s self-reflective honesty about the warring desires of leaving the uncomfortable behind and moving on, juxtaposed against the knowledge that those kinds of actions are what helped cause this tragedy is a key component to our understanding how today’s Gospel is relevant to us right now.

We are charged as the living members of the Body of Christ to protect those who cannot protect themselves. Jesus says over and over again protect, care for, do not make children stumble. We have failed at this command. We have turned a blind eye to corporate lobbyists interested in turning profits for manufacturers of these weapons of destruction. We must hold accountable our elected officials who coddle and care more for the welfare of corporate interests, than the protection of children.

We have a choice, much like Elizabeth…The babe in Elizabeth’s womb, who is John the Baptist, leapt in her womb at the appearance of Mary. A more accurate translation of that word leapt is danced for joy. That baby danced for joy at the appearance of God in their midst, being reminiscent of David dancing like a fool before the ark of the Covenant on its way to its new home in the Holy Land. We…all of us…must dance with joy at God appearing in our midst as a babe…as a child. Dancing like fools for God…and following our charge to do our best to protect all children from threats: whether they be from guns or abuse or manipulation or enslavement or any kind of danger.

There are times in life when we are presented with choices. Our actions in response to this preventable tragedy in Connecticut will be very telling about our willingness to truly be Christ’s Body in this world today. Living into the un-comfortableness of our sin of not protecting children from harm is part of our journey to be genuine in the work necessary to see sane and safe and appropriate gun control in this country. I am not attacking responsible gun owners nor hunters. I do believe there is a difference between hunting, hobby-target-shooting on the one hand, and the ownership of automatic weapons capable of mass killings by the pull of one trigger, on the other.

Our harassment of ourselves for putting up with the status quo can spur us into taking action. Our smallest acts of love, like Elizabeth’s, can change the course of history, and bring hope and joy and peace. Our refusal to accept the gun laws as they currently exist can be part of our preparation this last Sunday of Advent…our preparation to see the world turned on end by the birth of God in a manger. We cannot let time assuage and soften the keen loss of these innocent lives nine days ago. We need to do all we can to make the loss of these innocent lives be the last ones lost because of the uncontrolled corporate interests of the gun-lobby. The protection of children, the right of a child to live, trumps anyone’s perceived right to own an instrument of such destruction. Our Gospel is one of love, demanding that we make choices that aid and protect children: these choices are stirred to right action by the mansions of love resident in our hearts.

Copyright © 2012, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: NOW, what do you say?

Window @ St. Luke in the Fields, NYC
Psalms 38 * 119:25-48; Isaiah 6:1-13; 2 Thess 1:1-12; John 7:53-8:11

The Pharisees and the scribes try to trap Jesus today, by bringing a woman they say has been caught in the act of adultery...the law says she must be stoned to death...NOW what are you going to do about this Jesus!?! We can almost hear the glee in their voices: we've got him now! But they don't. 

No one knows what Jesus may have been writing on the ground. Many, much brighter than I, have written and opined. I don't think that is the point of the story. An interesting side-note perhaps, but not the point. Instead of judgement, instead of selfish, self-centered righteousness, instead of rigidity and certainty, Jesus points to a loving, forgiving, present God who gives us second chances...and third and fourth and more...

That's the point of the story...that we keep trying to get it right, although, in all likelihood, we never will get it perfectly right...It is not the perfection, it is the effort and the intent behind that effort. Is the intent for self-aggrandizement and ego-boosting appeal? Or are we trying to make ourselves more like the image of God? This God whose birth we are preparing for in 13 days. 

It is not our place to judge those who have made mistakes if we are judging for some other purpose than to correct inappropriate/misguided behavior. A large question posed by Jesus' actions today is: what is the purpose of judgement? Punishment? Or Rehabilitation?

We reach for perfection and fall short almost always. We are called to continue the reaching, with the intent behind the effort being the creation of the kingdom all around us. Nothing else really matters.

Copyright 2012, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Daily Office Reflection:This Generation

Alley-Cat Comfortable in the Office, 2012
Psalms 26, 28 * 36, 39; Isaiah 5:13-17,24-25; 1 Thess 5:12-28; Luke 21:29-38

Jesus is at the end of his recorded public teachings in today's reading from Luke. Following this passage we enter the Passion narrative, beginning with the Passover supper. He is winding up his teachings today. Yesterday's frightening reading about the "end times" continue today with Jesus explaining the "signs" for which we are to look saying this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away... And then he continued preaching and teaching in the temple and praying each night on the Mount of Olives.

That generation did see the fulfillment of God's promises to the human race, with Jesus' Passion: his death, resurrection and Ascension...followed by the growth of the Jesus Movement continuing thereafter...even unto today...One of the things we so easily miss is that each generation gets to learn what it means to live into this kingdom Jesus' life and ministry and Passion opened for all of us. This generation, ours, may not "see" Jesus, but we get to discern how our lives can further the development of this kingdom, this fulfillment of God's promises, here and now among us. 

The Jesus Movement of which we are a part has always been counter-cultural...has always been controversial...when we have been too complacent and "safe" we need to be aware that we are not leading the way into this kingdom, but stagnating into obscurity. Each of us has our part to play...and as we approach the halfway point of the Advent Season, we are asked by today's reading from Luke to reflect upon whether we really are ready for that celebration of the changing of the world 14 days from today, and whether we are living into the counter-cultural Jesus Way, or blending into society.

Copyright 2012, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Endurance

Broken, 2008 (Panel 3 of Four Fold Action), jfd+
Psalms 20, 21:1-7(8-14) * 110:1-5(6-7), 116, 117; Isaiah 4:2-6; 1 Thess 4:13-18; Luke 21:5-19

A scary and frightening reading from Luke today, with the magnificent glory of the Temple being destroyed, and wars, and earthquakes, famines, plagues, and persecutions, betrayals and deaths being presaged by Jesus.

Volumes have been written giving voice to myriad explanations: some taking things literally, others metaphysically. We know that when Luke wrote this "orderly account" of the life of Jesus' ministry that the Temple was already destroyed. We know that there was a definitive split occurring between the Jesus Way and the temple-society. But, what does this mean for us today? For what are these words of Jesus a metaphor for us?

He ends these dire warnings with You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls. If we step back and try not to be literal, Jesus (Luke and his redactors) is (are) leading us to give thought to our lives, our circumstances, and how we live out the faith we profess. 

We are called to live into, have our realities shaped by Jesus' teachings - starting with the Sermon on the Plain (in Luke) and interpreting his parables told thereafter. To be strengthened by common worship and our sharing in the sacraments. Those weekly (or more) reminders can give us the fortitude to face the disbelief, and outright ignoring, that surrounds us in society. Discouragement is a natural by-product, a natural reaction to the acuteness of the ignorance to the message we believe central to our existence. Endurance, community, prayer, and the sure-knowledge of God's present love for us can help stave off the exhaustion.

This is hard work we are called upon to do...but not impossible nor impractical...just the right and proper thing on which to focus our efforts.

Copyright 2012, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Bamboozled

SW, Washington DC, 2009, jfd+
Psalm 18:1-20 * 18:21-50; Isaiah 2:12-22; 1 Thess 3:1-13; Luke 20:27-40

In yesterday's reading from Luke, Jesus flummoxed the chief priests and scribes when they attempted to trap him about paying taxes to the Roman occupiers. Looking at a coin with the emperor's likeness, he said "Then give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's."

Today, he does the same to the Sadducees responding to their nonsensical question about a woman marrying seven brothers. He talks about the God of the living, not the dead, for Abraham and Isaac and Jacob are alive to God. 

The responses Jesus has given stunned these folks to silence, but that did not stop their plotting against him. I am struck by the juxtaposition of these individuals' silence, and we, as Christians, remaining silent about the secularization of Nicholas, who we remember and honor today in Holy Women Holy Men. We (and I am speaking of the entirety of Western Christendom here) have done a very bad job allowing our children to be brought up with this idea of Santa Claus coming at Christmas. Almost all of us do this. Almost all of us have been bamboozled into letting Jesus be pushed out of this holiday - this holy day.

Yes, I am being Scrooge-like today. But, what would our world be like if we celebrated the birth of Jesus by feeding the poor, taking care of the widow and orphan, visiting those imprisoned, having our children not be lied out the Gospel we read and preach and study? Our silence has helped God's message to be silenced. And I am just as guilty of participating in this secularization of Jesus...of not providing a plausible alternative....It seems so big, so out of control....And yet, God's message of love still sounds all the louder, the cry of the infant and the joy at the birth is still resonant...all we have to do is look upon that infant and remember that a different kind of joy can encompass all of person at a time, this message of God's love for us can change the world.

Copyright 2012, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Purposeful Rejection

Four Fold Action, 2008, jfd+
Psalms 5, 6 * 10, 11; Isaiah 1:21-31; 1 Thess 2:1-12; Luke 20: 9-18

We can so easily become stuck...comfortable. And when that happens to us, we become resistant to any and all kind of change. The longer we stay in that comfortable the familiar...the more intransigent we get when alterations are suggested...when our faults are pointed out...when we are told that what we are doing may seem fine for us at present, but is really no good for tomorrow, for the next day. Anything that stays stagnant, unchanging, withers, dies and is forgotten.

We see this "comfort" argument in our government right now...on both sides of "the aisle". We can experience it in our homes, in particular around holiday times...We always "do" Christmas this way...the Christmas tree has to go there, it has always been there!...And we can experience that desire, need, and demand for comfort and familiarity in in our worship and church-land life...Jesus warns against that in today's parable of the absent vineyard owner and the sending of reminders of right-action, which reminders are ignored and abused.

We are called as followers of Jesus to be always morphing and changing and challenging expectations of comfort. In particular in this short Season of Advent we have just entered, we need to be aware of those actions in which we participate...those expectations of seasonal/holiday traditions...that can so blind us to our true calling.

Instead of falling into the trap of familiar customs and traditions, where in our community, in our neighborhood, can we help someone in need, a family perhaps, to experience the joy of God's love given to us so freely? How do we break the molds of traditions and comfort that bind us, and blind us to the message of Christ's birth?

Creating new what familiarity and comfort means by changing the lives of others, by opening our part of what we are called to by today's passage from Luke.

Copyright 2012, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Authority

Out of Focus, II, (unfinished) jfd+, 2012
Psalms 1, 2, 3 * 4, 7; Isaiah 1:10-20; 1 Thess 1:1-10; Luke 20:1-8

An individual who worked with me at one point in my life was an incredibly good actor. This person was able to make people feel (at least for a while) that she really cared about those folks with whom she was interacting. When she was away from those people, not a kind or nice word would pass from her lips when she would describe those interactions, or those individuals in passing. The inauthenticity was stunning, and challenging to know how to counteract the harm being caused. For harm was caused when her true nature came to be known. 

Inauthenticity and dishonest behavioral traits undermine true authority. Jesus knows, in Luke's Gospel today, that the scribes and priests challenging him are not able to interact with him with any degree of truthfulness. And he traps them in their own web of deceit, showing them how little authority they truly posses. 

Being honest and truly ourselves to those we meet is the only way to garner any kind of true authority in any of the relationships in our lives. This first Monday of our new church year, this first Monday of this short Advent Season, our scriptural readings push us to live into our true selves and be those honest brokers in the world, perhaps not making us the most popular kids on the block, but we will be the ones with all the true authority.

Copyright 2012, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Back Again

Out of Focus, I, jfd+  2012
Psalms 137:1-6(7-9), 144 * 104; Zechariah 14:12-27; Philippians 2:1-11; Luke 19:41-48

I have taken an extended break from writing on this blog, . I needed some time to reflect and think and recharge and find if this was something that was still an important part of my spiritual journey. And I have found over the last two months that even though I still read MP (most) everyday, those readings, that time spent with holy scripture, those precious and rare early morning moments where on occasion I felt the thin places of this earth present and palpable, were missing something, and did not stay with me throughout the day. The prayer and the centering quiet time, the milling thoughts and misplaced questions, remained somehow unfocused and I'm back.

Part of the excess of time I found in the morning was spent expressing myself in paints and sketches - some of which may appear in the upper right hand corner of these posts from time to time. My style and expressive qualities are morphing into something else than they have been in the past...and the stray thoughts that are placed here may do the same...It feels like I have been waiting for something...I don't know what, but something...Today being the last day of our church calendar year...our being on the very cusp of the precipice that is Advent and the dawn of a new church year, makes it appropriate that I am quasi-confessional in this post. For being out of focus, seeking something that is beyond ourselves, is part of what this seasonal change is asking us to risk opening ourselves to, and to which we can be seeking some resolution. 

Jesus is lamenting over the character that is Jerusalem in the Gospel of Luke in our reading today. Lamenting over its blindness, its myopia to his ministry and work and God's presence right there amongst them. An appropriate reading for this last day before we enter Advent. For what will we wait these next 24 days? What have we missed this past year that has been right in front of us the whole damn time? What in our life is lacking the love that awaits us, each of us, no matter what we think we may have done to not deserve it. Where are we out of focus and striving for something we cannot explain...Advent is a perfect time to patiently wait and explore those questions and the mysteries of God's embracing touch we so easily can ignore.

A blessed, holy, and enlightening Advent is my prayer and request and hope.
Copyright 2012, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Such Love

Cross 23, 2011, jfd+
Psalms 131, 132, 133 * 134, 135; Micah 3:1-8; Acts 24:1-23; Luke 7:36-50

The name variations in the Gospels, at times, does not seem vast. There are lots of Johns and James' and Judas' and Marys where it is hard to keep them all sorted out. We have a different Simon today from our usual Simon Peter. We have Simon the Pharisee inviting Jesus to his home to eat. Jesus perceives his critical thoughts about the "sinner" washing his feet with tears and using her hair as a towel to dry them. And Jesus teaches about faith and healing and forgiveness.

No one invited this woman, whose wanton sinfulness is not explained, but is obvious to the characters in this account. She came herself, attending to, loving Jesus, although she was acting in what would have been considered a scandalous and inappropriate manner. Simon the Pharisee, seemingly being appropriate, is proven otherwise by Jesus. Who's in? Who's out? How are we supposed to act?

There are times in our lives when our actions can come from a place deep within us - calling us to do something, say something, go somewhere that is unexpected. This woman attending to Jesus had a faith she may not have even known existed within her, but was brought up and out of her by her instantaneous decision to go and do something for Jesus. "Your faith has saved you, go in peace," Jesus says to her at the end.

Where is our faith taking us today? From what do we need to seek forgiveness? Healing? Jesus invites us to open ourselves to him, allowing our faith to save and heal and protect us...allowing us to go on in peace. Are we ready for that?

Copyright 2012, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: St Michael & All Angels

Eros (right-most panel), jfd, 2005
MP: Psalms 8, 148; Job 38:1-9; Hebrews 1:1-14;
EP: Psams 34, 150 or 104; Daniel 12:1-3 or 2 Kings 6:8-17; Mark 13:21-27 or Revelation 5:1-14

Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints, says this (in part) about this Feast Day:

The scriptural word "angel" (Greek: angelos) means, literally, a messenger. Messengers from God can be visible or invisible, and may assume human or non-human forms. Christians have always felt themselves to be attended by healthful spirits - swift, powerful, and enlightening. those beneficent spirits are often depicted in Christian art in human form, with wings to signify their swiftness and spacelessness, with swords to signify their power, and with dazzling raiment to signify their ability to enlighten. Unfortunately, this type of pictorial representation has led many to dismiss the angels as "just another mythical beast, like the unicorn, the griffin or the sphinx."

Of the many angels spoken of in the bible, only four are called by names; Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, and Raphael. The Archangel Michael is the powerful agent of God who wards off evil from God's people, and delivers peace to them at the end of this life's mortal struggle....

Messengers from God...something to think on today.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Tempting

Sunrise in PTown, jfd+ 2008
Psalms 119:97-120 * 81, 82; Esther 6:1-14 or Judith10:1-23; Acts 19:1-10; Luke 4:1-13

Jesus is identified by God yesterday, You are my Son, the Beloved; with whom I am well pleased. This happened after Jesus was baptized and was busy praying. Immediately following this we have today's selection from Luke, where Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, entered the wilderness for 40 days, being tempted while he was starving himself. Jesus battles back saying: we don't live by bread alone...worship and serve only God...don't test God, trust in God...

All of us are tempted, daily, by people and things that can (and do) distract us from truly being Christ's Body in the world: from "that person" over there causing us duress; to the siren call of the newest fall fashion; something to which we are addicted calling our name so strongly. Perhaps it is revenge for a perceived (or real) slight. Whatever takes our attention from creating this Kingdom Jesus opens for all us is that which we should put aside, move beyond or around. 

We live in a society, a world, where no matter the direction we look, there are temptations. It is how we respond to those provocations that can determine who we are, as the people of God. Sure, we all make mistakes. How we face those temptations the next time, and the time after that, is what we are asked to consider today.

God's loving embrace...the Holy Spirit's prodding, are ever-present to help us in those decisions. How will we respond today?

Copyright 2012, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Fairness

Lake Calhoun, 2012
Psalms 80 * 77 (79); Esther 4:4-17 or Judith 7:1-7,19-32; Acts 18:1-11; Luke 1:1-4,3:1-14

I decided to take some time off from this blog, kind of like a vacation, but more like a time of discernment, wondering and praying about the purpose of these reflections on the Daily Office I have been posting these past number of years. 

I have not come to any dramatic decisions in the last six weeks. I have missed this time of sitting with readings from the D.O. and jotting down stray thoughts that are stirred up in my by having read them. I found that the readings did not stay with me as long during the day, as they do when I have spent the short amount of time it takes to write one of these posts....and so, I begin again, hoping to throw thoughts to the wind of the web, with the prayer that the Holy Spirit do something with them for the benefit of her purposes. Perhaps her only purpose is to allow me to have these texts stay with me longer during the hubbub of the day, and that is sufficient. 

The adult John the Baptist is introduced to us in the Gospel of Luke today. After we read the heady prologue, John the B appears, threatening dire consequences as usual, droves come to be baptized, and many ask "but what (in all practicality) should we do differently in our lives?" He says:

  • (to the tax collector) Collect no more than the amount prescribed to you.
  • (to the soldier) Do not extort money from anyone by threats of false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.
  • (to the crowds) Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none, and whoever has food must do likewise.
Simple acts of kindness. Plain and ordinary fairness. Treatment of those who are less fortunate, down on their luck, mistreated by society, with generosity. A clear-eyed self-evaluation of what we actually need in life, and what is, quite simply, unnecessary fluff.

Such direct and simple steps we all could take that would make the world so different, such a better place. There are times when those steps can be felt as "useless"..."the problems are too big, why bother"...The bigger picture is important to keep in mind...but paying attention to the context in which we are blessed to be placed and doing something for those with whom we live can and does make a difference.

A good question to reflect on today: "how can I live into these instructions of John the B, to have a more clear-eyed understanding of fairness in the bubble of the world in which I presently roll around?"

Copyright 2012, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Shock Value

Wet Feet (In Progress), 2010, jfd+
Psalms 105:1-22; 105:23-45; Judges 14:1-19; Acts 6:15-7:16; John 4:27-42

Today, we have the second part of the account of Jesus and the Samaritans in John's Gospel. This story was meant to shock people, have us look at Jesus in different ways, and understand his mission and ministry in a new light. With the passage of time, that shock value has faded.

The Samaritans were a much maligned people, maligned by the ruling temple authorities. They were thought of as unclean, impure, to be avoided. Compounding the shock value of this story, Jesus is talking to a woman... alone...and a Samaritan at that.This would have caused the initial hearers of this Gospel to have their jaws drop open. 

Where the Samaritans resided was directly between two major areas. Most people would travel days out of their way to avoid coming in contact with these outcasts. Jesus took the direct route to his destination, taking him directly through "enemy" territory, bringing him into contact with this Samaritan woman.

One of the many things this account is meant to make us contemplate is whether or not we are taking a direct route in helping to create the kingdom Jesus opens for us, or if we are taking the long way around in order to avoid contact with undesirable and uncomfortable situations. Do we avoid going to certain places so that we do not have to encounter a particular individual who makes us uncomfortable?

God's kingdom is for everyone...those we like and those we would prefer to avoid. Our job is to welcome everyone, not exclude people by avoiding contact with them, ignoring them...At the same time, and as Jesus' interaction with the Samaritan woman illustrates, we are not called to be "patsies" and be bullied. Being direct with people about inappropriate behavior is not the same thing as being unwelcoming. Pointing out what is appropriate conduct is not the same thing as exclusionary avoidance.

Lots to think about in this Gospel of Jesus, the Samaritan woman, the Samaritan community and the well.

Copyright 2012, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Bookending

Johnny & Bryan's Wedding, 2010
Psalm 87, 90 & 136; Judges 9:22-25,50-57; Acts 4:32-5:11; John 2:13-25

The Gospel of John presents us with such a different Jesus, a different flow to the story of Jesus' life and ministry. Jesus marches into the narrative with authority and certainty of who he is and where he is going. The Gospel writer we call John bookends this long account: what happens toward the end, the things Jesus says and does, are mirrored toward the beginning.

Yesterday, we had the wedding feast in Cana (the first portion of Chapter 2), where water is turned into wine on Mary's request. That Chapter begins, strikingly, with the words "On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee..." This comes right after (at the close of Chapter 1) Jesus telling Nathanael that he (Nate) will see far greater things happen than Jesus telling him where he had been sitting under a fig tree. So, the "on the third day" reference stands out as something that does not flow with what has just gone before - the third day of what? John is setting forth the importance of "the great three days," the Passion that is to come later in the story, where at the beginning of that Passion narrative, Jesus has wine (and bread) become something else entirely.

In today's continuation of Chapter 2, Jesus cleans out the market place area of the temple. When challenged by temple authorities on this action, who demand a sign that gives Jesus authority, Jesus says "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." There are those three days again. There is no mystery in this Gospel, for the author tells us that his disciples understood this after he had been raised from the dead. A deliberate march, from Galilee to Jerusalem, back out again, and eventually back to Jerusalem. A deliberate life and ministry.

How are we supposed to mimic this kind of determination, this kind of deliberateness and certainty? This very high-Christological-Jesus makes him seemingly unapproachable, remote, challenging for us to make these accounts of Jesus relevant to the everyday hubbub of our lives. I find it helpful to remember the other Gospels in comparison to this one, combined with looking at the human elements the Gospel writer puts in these accounts of Jesus' ministry. He is a bit cranky with his mother when she asks him to do something about the lack of wine at the wedding...a typical child being unhappy with being told by a parent what to do, saying no at first, and then going ahead and doing the thing asked for....Jesus shows anger/temper in the temple in today's portion of Chapter 2 - a whip of cords, a raised voice. There's no teaching, just "zeal" and physicality at trying to right a wrong. This can be very balancing when set against the more remote-certainhood of John's Jesus.

A challenging and often misunderstood Gospel. Yet, it is one that continues to speak and guide and invite us to be in conversation with God. 

Copyright 2012, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Seeing...Knowing

St Christopher's, 2011, jfd+
Psalms (83) or 145 * 85, 86; Judges 8:22-33; Acts 4:1-12; John 1:43-51

There are times when we just know something. We don't have to be told...we just know. Trying to articulate why we know can be challenging, and can cause us to start to doubt, but that seed of knowing stays put, no matter how much we try to intellectualize it away.

We can know when we love someone. Not everyone has experienced love at first sight, of knowing this is the person, but those who have understand this un-intellectualized knowing. We know when we are being stared at...we just instinctively look. It is not (often) something we can make happen, but we just know.

In response to a question of where he is going, Jesus invites two of John's disciples to "come and see." He doesn't teach them, he doesn't preach at them. He shows them, and they know. This is the one. And off Andrew runs to get his brother Simon, who Jesus names Peter. 

One of the things we Episcopalians say, frequently, is that if you want to know what we believe, come and worship with us...come and see. We are what we pray. We try to live and be what we pray. Quite often, people will feel something during a service that makes them want to stay, to learn more...but they know, this is the place. With all its warts and humanness...this is the place. Seeing it helps make us know...I want to be a part of whatever is going on here. 

Understanding is a different thing all together. The knowing we hear about today is different from understanding. Living into that mystery is the challenging and hard part. Not losing that initial, yes, this is it, is the hard part. Today's Gospel is asking us to remember and stay with that initial knowing...reminding us to put up with the other "stuff" that comes along with intellectualizing...balancing that knowledge with the inner knowing.

Copyright 2012, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Who Are You?

Alley - in progress, jfd+ 2012
Psalms 78:1-39 * 78:40-72; Judges 7:1-18; Acts 3:1-11: John 1:19-28

John the Baptist is asked by the leaders of the Jewish community, Who are you? They are rather indignant and impatient, as John is baptizing and preaching, and criticizing the cultural structures that leadership had labored hard in creating. The undertone of their questions is: Well, you have some nerve sticking your nose in to these matters about which you have little understanding! John tells them they ain't seen nothin' yet! Wait until the one whom I am announcing makes an appearance

Who are you? We are asked this self defining question quite often in our lives. And we all may have differing answers for the audience to whom those answers are directed. I was recently filling out an application for a "church-appointed/elected position" and one of the questions was "how do you define yourself?"...another way of asking: Who are you to put your hat in the ring for this position? And my answer was along these lines: "I'm a rector (with all that entails), a son, a brother, a brother-in-law, an uncle, an artist, a writer, a friend, a lover of people, a child of God, a small part of the Body of Christ in the world today." I don't think I'll be appointed/elected to this position, but that question, "how do you define yourself?" (a/k/a "who are you?") has stayed with me. (To parishioners and friends in MN: I am NOT looking for a new call/job - this is a volunteer position within the larger church.)

How do we define ourselves when asked Who are you? How do we answer? Is being part of the living Body of Christ in our answer? Does the inclusion of our faith/belief system shape our answer? Does it depend on to whom we speaking? Good and challenging questions, requiring us to think about where our faith fits into our life.

Copyright 2012, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Do Not Be Afraid

Cross 21, 2009, jfd+
Psalms 69:1-23(24-30)31-38 * 73; Judges 5:1-18; Acts 2:1-21; Matthew 28:1-10

Do not be afraid, Jesus says to Mary Magdalene and one of the other Mary's that populates this narrative. He appears to them as they are rushing back to the others to tell what the angel at the tomb told them: Jesus is risen, do not be afraid.

Fear is such an innate part of all us. Some are better at hiding it than others. Some are better at "dealing with it" than others. But fear resides in us and manifests itself in a myriad of different ways: small and large, overwhelming and with minimal impact at different times in our lives. 

Being afraid can take many forms. We can be fearful of someone's reaction to some news we have to break to them. We can be fearful of having enough money to pay the mortgage or rent. We can have fear about having enough money to buy food so our family can eat something nutritious. We can be fearful of becoming unemployed. Of losing friends. Of being alone. Of dying.

Do not be afraid, Jesus says. The angel appearing to the Marys says it too. Fear can be a motivator to some, pushing us to do that which we think we cannot, for fear of what will happen if we don't.

Jesus, and that God-sent angel, is asking us to trust: the opposite of fear. To trust in God. To trust that no matter what happens, whether we become unemployed, or lose a friend, or cannot afford what we think we should be able to afford, or that we will that no matter what happens to us, we will be alright. That no matter what comes our way, because of the love we see exuding from Jesus to the Marys, (who are exemplars of us), no matter what happens, we will be okay. For God's love is greater than all our fears, and can, and does, bring us through all that we face in life.

Fear will always be with us, a part of us. Trust is something we have to work on quite a bit harder. But when we allow that trust to rule our lives, and not the fear, we are forever changed for the better.

Copyright 2012, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: A Pause, Not an End

SW, DC, 2010
Psalms: (70), 71 * 74; Judges 4:4-23; Acts 1:15-26; Matthew 27:55-66

A rich and diverse set of characters in Matthew's Gospel today: multiple Marys (Magdalene and James and John's mother and James and Joseph's mother), Joseph of Arimathea, Pilate, chief priests and Pharisees, a guard of soldiers. All of them, in different ways involved in, impacted by, the life that just ended on the Cross. 

A sad and confusing day for the Mary's and Joseph of Arimathea. A day of seeming success for the priests and Pharisees. A day like many others for Pilate, filled with bureaucratic work. A different sort of day for the soldiers sent to seal a tomb. But all revolving around this now dead person: the end game all of them thought. Different views, different lenses through which to see and experience these hours after Jesus' death on that Cross.

Initially, having a "Good Friday" moment in the middle of the summer seems odd and inappropriate. Yet, Holy Week is so rich and full and complex, revisiting it during the year is a good way to reflect upon different aspects of the Passion narrative that can get pushed aside because of the rush and pressure of that week. These different characters in our story today demand our contemplation. Each of them, with their own distinct viewpoint and experience and motivations, can draw us deeper into an understanding of what God was doing through the ministry and life and mortal death of Jesus. 

When have we been one of the Marys? Or Joseph? Or Pilate? Or the chief priests and Pharisees? Or the soldiers? When have we been involved in something that we thought was over and proved to be just the opposite: a new beginning? Are we able to, in that pause between stages/development, grow into the new life that comes from new beginnings? These are all reflections worth our time to consider.

Copyright 2012, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Betrayal and Repentance

Journey, Quint-tych, jfd+ 2012
Psalms 40, 54 * 51; Joshua 9:22-10:15; Romans 15:14-24; Matthew 27:1-10

Judas takes center stage in the ten verses we have today from Matthew. Jesus is handed over to Pilate, and Judas sees what he has done and he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders. He tells them he has sinned but they refuse to entertain anything from him. Judas tosses the coins on the floor, leaves and kills himself. The chief priests don't want anything to do with the money, as it was used for inappropriate purposes - but come to utilize it to buy a field in which foreigners can be buried.

Some jeer at the character Judas, others cheer at his demise. Others question how he could be so dense and selfish and petulant. But, aren't his character traits so very human, seen in every day occurrences in our world? People, all of us, make mistakes everyday. Some bigger than others. Some have consequences that seem impossible from which to come back. Yet, Judas repented and tried to stop that which could not be stopped. Could Judas have been forgiven? Isn't that one of the precepts and underpinnings of our faith...that all of us can be forgiven?

And, isn't Judas a foil for something greater that is about to happen in Matthew's account? Could Jesus' Passion have happened the way the writers of the Gospel intended (which are based so heavily on the prophetic writings of Hebrew Scripture) without this betrayal? I have often wondered if it is fair to cast stones at the character Judas. 

Haven't we all been, or known someone close to us, who has to some extent been Judas? Acted out the part of Judas?

I do believe that we all can be forgiven for whatever sin we may commit. We won't be able to stop the consequences or repercussions of those actions, but God's forgiveness is present for each one of us. Of that, I am quite sure. Forgiveness and stopping consequences are two very different things.

Copyright 2012, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: A Great Thanksgiving

Four Fold Action, jfd+ 2008
Psalms 30, 32 * 42, 43; Joshua 6:1-14; Romans 13:1-7; Matthew 26:26-35

Mathew provides us today with the central action of our Eucharistic Prayers (our Great Thanksgiving Prayers) in today's Gospel selection. 

Jesus is at the table with his friends. The one who is betraying him has left the table already. Mirroring what he did at the mass-feedings, Jesus performs the four fold action that encompasses the Eucharist. Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." 

He then tells them this is their last meal, and they sing "the hymn" together (unspecified hymn @ that). Then they go to the Mount of Olives where he says all will abandon him, Peter refutes that, Jesus tells him no, three times will Peter abandon him that night. Peter says no again, And so said all the disciples

Such bitter sweetness in these nine verses. The beauty of the central action of our worship, surrounded by the very human and painful unfulfilled-optimistic-hopefulness of Peter and all the disciples, balanced by what we know comes later - - resurrection. Every time we pray A Great Thanksgiving prayer, this poignancy is present, and has the ability to transform us from our own unfulfilled-optimistic-hopefulness, into a piece of the kingdom-creating-people to which we are called. 

Verses from Psalms 42 & 43, assigned today, can assist us in making those grace-filled moments a more permanent part of our lives:
As the deer longs for the water-brooks,
so longs my soul for you, O God.

My soul is athirst for God, athirst for the living God;
when shall I come to appear before the presence of God?

Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul?
Why are you so disquieted within me?

Put your trust in God;
for I will yet give thanks to the One,
who is the help of my countenance, and my God.

Send out your light and your truth, that they may lead me,
and bring me to your holy hill
and to your dwelling

That I may go the altar of God
to the God of my joy and gladness,
and on the harp I will give thanks to you, O God my God.


Copyright 2012, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Two More Days

Garden Terrace, DC, 2011
Psalms 37:1-18 * 37:19-42; Joshua 3:14-4:7; Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 26:1-16

Jesus tells his disciples they have him for two more days, and then his Passion will begin. They don't get it. Plotters gather to capture Jesus, he is anointed, by an unnamed woman, with expensive oil from an alabaster jar, his disciples complain about waste, and Judas offers his soul up for thirty pieces of silver.

Today's "action" in this Gospel from Matthew takes place in the home of Simon the leper. With so much going on in these sixteen verses, this little piece of the story tableau can be easily overlooked. Jesus and his followers are in Bethany and are taking dinner in a lepers house...Two days before he is to be "handed over" and he has chosen to spend time with a outcast/unclean/spurned from society individual. And his disciples are cranky over "waste" of good oil. Two days left.

Where in our lives are we misdirecting our energy, and in that misdirection not understanding the urgency of the work we are called upon to do, in the relatively brief period of time we have to accomplish those things? How are we, today, helping to create the Kingdom Jesus opens for us? How are we utilizing the "two days" we have left?

Copyright 2012, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Being Good and Trustworthy

St Christopher's, Lit. 2012, jfd+
Psalms 26, 28 * 36, 39; Joshua 2:15-24; Romans 11:13-24; Matthew 25:14-30

Matthew provides us today with Jesus' description of the Kingdom in the account of the 5-2-1 talents given by a departing landowner to three slaves. Putting aside the offensiveness that the word "slave" can cause, this is a fascinating and thought-provoking story.

Upon the owner's return, "after a long time," the slaves are summoned. The first to speak, the one given 5 talents, has doubled their value and the owner is pleased. The second slave, having been given 2 talents, also doubled what had been given, again pleasing the owner. The last, having been given one, returned exactly what had been given. The owner is not well pleased.

This last slave says that the owner is known as harsh, taking things not personally owned (a thief, perhaps?), doing things with the possessions of others, all of which makes this third slave fearful. The talent was buried in the ground, un-used, un-utilized to be returned as it had been given.

This owner in this parable is thought of by most interpreters as God. One of the ways this story can be understood, is that this third person, who did not utilize the talent given, had the wrong understanding of God. Thinking of God as a harsh and cruel thief, using and abusing creation is the wrong way to consider how God operates in the world. There is a lack of joy, understanding, compassion and self-awareness in this last person's understanding of the gifts given. They aren't for personal use. They aren't to be hidden, buried. The gifts we are given can and will multiply by our using them to create the Kingdom Christ opens for all of us. They will also make us understand, and be a more integral part of, that Kingdom, helping us to focus on truly understanding what it means to be good and trustworthy.

This individual who refused to use, share, develop the gifts, the talent, freely given, mis-perceived the nature of that gift, and the one who gave it. Wicked thoughts, slanderous motives, selfish desires are no where in God's plan for this Kingdom. We are directed by this story of the 5-2-1 talents given to be actively engaged in using and sharing all our gifts and talents and abilities that have been freely and lovingly given to us. 

That sharing is why we have been gifted them.

Copyright 2012, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.