Saturday, March 31, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: What We See

Psalm 137: 1-6(7-9), 144 * 42, 43; Exodus 10:22-11-8; 2 Cor 4:13-18; Mark 10:46-52

Jesus' sights are set on Jerusalem, and he is headed there in today's reading from Mark, passing through Jericho on the way. Upon leaving Jericho, a blind individual, sitting by the side of the road, starts yelling for mercy. Those around him tell him to hush, but Bartimaeus ignores them and keeps on shouting, Help me! Have mercy on me!. Jesus pauses and does have mercy upon him, calling him forward asking Bartimaeus what he wants. Barty responds My teacher, let me see again, and Jesus tells him your faith has made you well.

We can be so blinded to all that is around us, immune from the troubles, misfortunes, and down-right cruelty of the world that surrounds us. We all need to have Jesus' mercy thrust upon us, allowing our eyes to be truly opened and to follow him on the way. And to mimic his actions along the way.

The DO lectionary creators put the perfect reading for this last day before we enter into Holy Week. I pray that all of us may truly see, may truly follow Jesus on the way this coming week. Truly have our eyes opened to see, and be in, and help the building of this kingdom Jesus opens for each and every one of us.

In Holy Women, Holy Men we celebrate John Donne today, a great poet and preacher of the 17th Century. In that Collect we pray: Open our eyes to see, with your servant John Donne, that whatever has any being is a mirror in which we may behold you. A wonderful prayer to live into as we willingly follow Jesus on this Holy Week walk.

Copyright 2012, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Provincetown Harbor, 2007, jfd+

Friday, March 23, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: See the Kingdom

Psalms 95, 102 * 107:1-32; Exodus 2:1-22; 12:27-13:3; Mark 9:2-13

Yesterday's reading from Mark ended with the first verse of Chapter 9, where Jesus says to the disciples and the crowd surrounding them, Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.

And today, immediately following that verse, Jesus takes Peter, James and John up the mountain, and transfigures before them, is visited by Moses and Elijah, and a voice tells them to listen to Jesus, the Son. There are volumes written on the Transfiguration. Just as much attention is also paid to this verse 1 of Chapter 9 where Jesus announces the Kingdom God. Some say Mark was giving hope to the people to whom he was writing, a people under siege, who had lost almost everything they knew and cared about. Hope that Jesus was going to "return" in their lifetime.

I wonder if, and I do believe that Mark was doing something else. In his reporting on Jesus' life, it is so much about Jesus' swift and terse actions telling all those he encounters that a change is a-comin', the change is here. Get ready. Jesus is announcing his kingdom, The Kingdom of God, opened for all of us by his ministry, Passion, death and resurrection. We are in the Kingdom, now. And we can see the Kingdom, now. We have our own free will to do what we can, with all that we have, to see that kingdom made apparent to all.

Making the Kingdom of God readily apparent to all, living into this Kingdom, here, now, is how I read that verse preceding our Gospel account today. The harder question to answer is, how do we actually effectuate the making apparent of this Kingdom to a society and world tone-deaf to this actuality? A challenging one to noodle today.

Copyright 2012, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Alley charging, 2008.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Still Not Seeing

Psalm 101, 109:1-4(5-19) 20-30 * 119:121-144; Genesis 50:15-26; 1 Cor 12:1-11; Mark 8:11-26

We have been reading the story of Joseph since the first Monday in Lent. We conclude that story today, 14 chapters and four and half weeks later. It is an incredibly long story about one individual, for Scripture. A fairly well known one too, with a Broadway musical having been made from this story.

After Jacob dies in Egypt and is taken home, in our concluding verses today, Joseph's brothers start to worry that he will punish them for their act of betrayal many years before. They concoct a lie about Jacob telling them to tell Joseph to promise that he will treat them well. Joseph breaks down in tears, and the brothers, realizing Joseph has seen through their lies, break down as well and apologize, and all is well. They still did not see, nor understand, Joseph's heart and good will, even after he had treated them so well, cared for them, during the long years of famine.

In a similar way, the disciples in our passage from Mark today still do not understand what Jesus has been preaching/teaching. Jesus walks away from an argument with the Pharisees today and alludes to the Pharisees' teachings as yeast and something to stay away from, and the disciples start talking about bread. You can almost hear Jesus sigh in frustration: after all this time, after all the miracles, after all the lessons, still you don't see? You are still trying to be literal with me?

I wonder how frustrated Jesus would be with us - for all of us can act like his disciples at times, just being dense. All of us can act like Joseph's brothers, losing the big picture because of self-interest. The challenge today from these readings is for us to consider where we are being too narrow-minded, too narrowly focused, too literal. What is the bigger picture we are missing?

Copyright 2012, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Art: Station #7, jfd+, 2012

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: 12 Evils

Psalms 87, 90 * 136; Genesis 47:27-48:7; 1 Cor 10:1-13; Mark 7:1-23

"fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly" is the list of 12 evils that come from the heart, which Jesus provides to his disciples today. This list is given in explanation of Jesus' strong dressing-down of the Pharisees, who criticize the disciples, and through them Jesus, for not ritually washing their hands, and foods, and dishes, prior to eating. Jesus, in turn, tells them they are full of whoeey, as they allow parents to be disregarded, in violation of God's commandments, as well as "many things like this."

Jesus outrages the leaders further by saying anything, all foods, are clean and should be eaten as gifts from God. Jesus is breaking apart the rigid controls set in place by the leaders of Temple society over the generations. Rules, laid upon rules, which grew to occupy life, as opposed to paying attention to that which is really important is the focus of Jesus' attention in this passage. Rules can help govern, but they can also (and often are) used to circumvent things we ought to be doing.

Jesus' list of 12 evils emanating from within us is his response to these rules that don't address these baser instincts that can live within us. By paying attention to, and making all efforts not to violate these 12, we can all live without nano-second-controlling rules and regulations. Instead, we can be free and imaginative in creating the Kingdom Jesus proclaims. Difficult, but not impossible.

Copyright 2012, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: DC Garden-Terrace. 2011.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Rushing To....

Psalms 75, 76 * 23, 27; Genesis 43:16-34; 1 Cor 7:10-24; Mark 5:1-20

Jesus heals the howling and self-bruising demoniac, who was living among the tombs in the area the Gerasenes had settled, in Mark's Gospel today. Those poor swine, numbering 2000, get possessed by the legions within the individual and drown themselves after a wild rush down a steep bank leading to the sea. The townsfolk are perplexed, upset, afraid, and begged Jesus to leave. He complies, rejecting the healed individual's request to accompany him, instructing him, unusually for Mark, to go and proclaim the good news of God. The individual goes and proclaims the good news of Jesus.

Miracles and wondrous workings, and massive change to a society are things we read about in today's Gospel. Jesus up-ends a society's system; at the same time he saves an individual, not only from self-abuse, but from the abuse/mistreatment/neglect of the individual's own town-folk.

For what is this story a metaphor? What do we accept as "normal" behavior, and/or treatment, that we should not? What has our culture, in our rush for self-satisfaction, chosen to ignore, push aside, lock away? Who might be the demoniac, living on the outskirts of our awareness, needing healing, whose healing would up-end and forever change how we view and understand the world?

Good things to noodle on from this familiar story.

Copyright 2012, The Rev. John F. Dwyer, All Rights Reserved.
Photo: jfd's (lost) DC Garden, 2011.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: On Parables and Secrets

Psalms (70), 71 * 74; Genesis 42:29-38; 1 Cor 6:12-20; Mark 4:11-34

The Gospel of Mark is filled with the idea of secrets. Jesus doesn't want anyone to know what he is doing, outside of those with whom he has personal contact. The parables are a mystery to those who hear them: we hear today With many such parables he (Jesus) spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

Mark, the first of the Gospels, was written to, and for, a community that had just experienced the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, and were a community under siege from all sides. This explains the tone and tenor of a lot of what we hear. But if we were to take these parables, and the whole of Mark, as metaphor, and we think about this idea of parables and Jesus telling us things as we are able to hear, how would we view the world differently? How would we approach our lives differently?

Almost all of life is experiential, we learn things along the way, we grow and develop. We try out some things, like a suit of clothes, but as we grow and change that new and shiny suit slips to the back of our closet. So, I don't know if Mark and Jesus' parables are so much about "secrets" as about our continued and growing developmental understanding of the richness of God's kingdom all around us; a kingdom that we are meant to foster and nurture and assist in developing.

So, maybe, we don't understand scripture all that well. That doesn't mean we should stop trying.....

Copyright 2012, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Before the Wedding, Johnny & Bryan's DC Shindig, 2010.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Lent 2B

Genesis 17:1-7,15-16, Romans 4:13-25, Mark 8:31-38

Preached @ St. Christopher’s, Roseville, MN, 3/4/11

(A PDF of this sermon is available on St. Christopher's Website, which can be reached by clicking on the title "Lent 2b" which contains the imbedded link.)

In “Gareth and Lynette,” Tennyson wrote a story of a young man who had a vision that he was to join King Arthur’s circle of knights, to which his mother objected. She pulls out her arsenal of arguments against her son’s desire: bribery, promising to arrange hunts and sport and a bride - his age, saying he is too young – guilt, at leaving her alone. All of these being good reasons to try to keep her son from what she perceives as a harmful choice. But her son replies

O Mother, How can ye keep me tethered to you – Shame.

Man am I grown, a man’s work must I do.

Follow the deer? Follow the Christ, the King.

Live pure, speak true, right wrong, follow the King –

Else, what fore was I born?

Tennyson’s story is meant to evoke questions in us, two of which are: In what do we believe? In what do we have faith?

Good and challenging questions. Our Gospel reading from Mark today raises those same questions. In the verses just before ours today Jesus has been identified, by Peter, as the “Messiah.” And then we have the rebuking back and forth between Peter and Jesus, with Jesus then turning to the crowds around them and he talks to them about faith, belief and a re-focusing of our priorities. In what do we believe? In what do we have faith?

Peter was very much acting the part of the mother in Tennyson’s story: wanting and believing in his understanding of what “Messiah” means. Jesus, very much like the son in Tennyson’s tale, is following a path that he knows is right, is the correct one - one he invites us to, asking us to deny our self, take up our individual cross and follow him. Jesus is not talking about self-hatred, or our Lenten penchant to give something up (a/k/a denying ourselves something). Jesus is asking us to focus on what is really important in life. Jesus took up his individual cross and changed the world by carrying that individual cross. We are asked today to pick up our cross, and change the world. Jesus’ cross gave us redemption and love that is beyond measure. What is our cross, that picking that up, dropping those things that are truly unimportant, can change our world? In what do we believe? In what do we have faith?

Our Hebrew Testament reading of God’s renaming of Abraham and Sarah (from Abram and Sarai) is all about faith, and faithful living. Paul, in the portion of the letter to the Romans we hear, defines Abraham’s reward as being based on the righteousness of his faith, not Abraham’s adherence to the law. In what did Abraham believe? In what did he have faith?

Richard Rohr has written about Jesus’ three “P”s: power, prestige and possessions. Rohr says that over 90% of Jesus’ concerns and teachings were on the seduction of these three Ps: a seduction that takes us away from that which is really important in life. We all have seen examples of people who are hugely successful, having power, prestige and enormous possessions, and yet are unhappy, unsatisfied, unfulfilled - Truly living a life not worth anything. This is not a new phenomenon, as Jesus was preaching against this mind-set 2000 years ago. And we are hearing about it today. In what do we believe? In what do we have faith?

Steadfast faith…that is one of the things we ask for in our Collect today. Faith in what? Belief in what? Jesus asks a rhetorical question to the crowd: For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? The new Common English Bible translates that same verse as Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives? Why would people gain the whole world and lose themselves? Jesus is asking us to focus on that which is important in life…on the kind of life we are leading…to regularly ask the questions: in what do we believe? In what do we have faith?

A number of years ago, I was asked to sit in on an ecumenical conversation from a group visiting the United States from Northern Ireland, on a trip exploring how different denominations in the U.S. were addressing GLBT issues. In this group from Northern Ireland were: Presbyterians, Catholics, an Anglican priest, a Baptist minister, Unitarians, and a few others. The conversation was guarded and careful at first, but as it got going there were some surprises. The first truly negative comment about GLBT people came from the Anglican. This evoked a very strong response from the Baptist minister and the catholic lay individual, who voiced strong opposition to the Anglican priest’s opinions. Surprising, perhaps, and unexpected to have a Roman Catholic and a Baptist minister give full-throated support for full inclusion of people they felt were a minority, and being discriminated against. In what did those people believe? In what did they have faith?

Our Gospel and other readings, that ecumenical conversation, focus our attention on the possibilities of the in-breaking of God into our world. The retiring Suffragan Bishop of New York, Cathy Roskum, talking about this in-breaking of God into the world said: Supporting MDGs cannot just be about good works and charity and writing checks. Even working for justice does not cover it. But, true sharing of wealth and resources is the in-breaking of God’s realm: mountains of wealth are lowered and the deep valleys of poverty are raised to make the path level for the coming of God.

In what do we have faith? In what do we believe? Do we, here at St. Christopher’s believe our baptismal covenant vows in which we regularly promise to see Christ in the “other”, to seek and support justice and equality, to respect everyone’s dignity? How do we live out those vows? How do we support justice and equality and dignity if we remain silent on issues of the day that make inequality the norm? Where is our voice supporting and arguing for the marginalized? Does our silence make us complicit in acts and beliefs in which we do not agree? In what do we have faith? In what do we believe?

How can we act out our faith, as a community of faith, as the Body of Christ in Roseville today? Would Jesus stay silent when there was a substantive chance that a large swath of people were about to be marginalized: told they are less than those who view them as different? How should – how can our voice be heard?

Anytime there is an attempt to concretize into law prejudice, discrimination, inequality of a group thought of, by some, as different, we, as Christians, must rise up and voice our opposition, and actively work to halt those attempts. Our silence will be damning to us in the long run. We must act to show that discrimination, prejudice, inequality are the exact opposite of God’s in-breaking into the world. While Our actions in opposition to these attempted acts to legalize inequality and injustice can be that in-breaking of God into the world exemplifying the truth: ALL are welcome at God’s table for all the sacraments. ALL are equally loved.

Some will say this is too political – others not enough. It seems we are called by Jesus today to ask the hard questions and find a way to actively create a world where justice & equality for all is made palpable and real for all…..Is this something St. Christopher’s is willing to do? - Else, what-fore were we born?..... In what do we believe? In what do we have faith?

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

Art: Cross 23, (a/k/a "Jessica's") jfd+, 2011

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Enslaved

Psalms 55 * 138, 139:1-17(18-23); Genesis 41:1-13; 1Cor 4:1-7; Mark 2:23-3:6

We are only in the second chapter of Mark and the people who object to the actions and teachings of Jesus are already "conspiring to destroy him." Jesus allows his disciples to pick grain heads on the sabbath and heals an individual's withered hand, also on the sabbath - just pissing off the temple leaders.

We hear from Mark today that Jesus looked at these leaders, was angry and he was grieved. Grieved at their hardness of heart which was based upon their strict understanding of what was allowable and not allowable on the sabbath. The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath, Jesus says today.

These folks with whom Jesus was interacting were stuck, enslaved really, in their interpretation of the law: a human-made law, passed down through generations, based on a belief and understanding of what God desires for us. The sabbath was made for humankind... made for us to rest and remember. Not something mandated and meant to be burdensome.

This account we have today should help us examine that to which we are enslaved. To what are we wedded because we believe it is God's will? Are we putting God in a box by doing so? Are we giving more credence to our own biases and/or desires, than being open to the wideness that is God's grace and love?

Copyright 2012, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Christopher and Scott's Blessing Service, 2011.