Saturday, May 26, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: The Anonymous Faithful

At the Gloaming, 2011, jfd+
MP: Psalms 107:33-43, 108:1-6(7-13); Ezekiel 36:22-27; Ephesians 6:10-24; Matthew 9:18-26

Eve of Pentecost: Psalm 33; Exodus 19:3-8a,16-20; 1 Peter 2:4-10

There are three anonymous people in Matthew's Gospel who are gifted healing from Jesus in today's MP reading. A leader of the synagogue has a healing of sorts: the individual comes and begs for a child's healing. This individual, who was part of the societal structure Jesus was working against, came to the one who could help, more than likely becoming alienated from the leadership. On his way to this leader's home, Jesus heals an anonymous woman, whose faith has led her to just touch the fringe of Jesus' garment, and Jesus saying nine simple words that heal her: Take heart daughter, your faith has made you well. And Jesus heals the leader's daughter, who also remains anonymous.

I can't help but wonder if we are the anonymous ones who are healed in miraculous and simple ways all the time. If we, who struggle with our faith, our belief, our actions to be the Body of Christ in the world today, aren't the ones whom Jesus touches. We all, at one point in our lives, may have been the leader, the woman, the daughter, each healed differently...but healed nonetheless.

I also wonder if we, acting as the Body of Christ in the world today, can by our faithful actions, be a pale-mirror-image of that kind of healing to all those anonymous people we, who are anonymous ourselves, might be able to heal because of those actions, based on who we are.

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

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Just Go

Psalms 101, 109:1-4(5-19)20-30 * 119:121-144; Isaiah 4:2-6; Epheisans 4:1-16; Matthew 8:28-34
DC Balcony Garden

Jesus is having a number of ups and downs in the last few days of our readings from Matthew. On Saturday, he healed the leper on his way down from teaching up on the mountain. On Monday, he heals the Centurion's slave (from a distance) and then heals Peter's mother and any, and all, who come to Peter's doorway. Yesterday he has a bit of a spat with a scribe and lectures a disciple about priorities of ministry. He then gets in a boat to escape the large crowds to 'go to the other side' and a wind storm comes up while is is sleeping, terrifying his companions, who wake him from much needed rest. And he's a little cranky..."you of little faith"....but he calms the seas to deadness anyway, and the disciples are flummoxed, although probably thankful too.

Than we come to today, where he gets off that boat and is greeted by two individuals banned from town because of the "demons" that possess them. Jesus heals them both, doing as the demons ask and sending those spirits into a herd of swine, who hurtle down a hill and drown themselves. The folks in charge of the swine run off to town to tell what happened, and the townsfolk come out and beg Jesus to just go away.

There is just a whole lot to take in from Chapter 8 in Matthew. But what strikes me today, highlighted by today's encounter, is the authority and certainty Jesus carries. He heals the leper, the Centurion's slave, Peter's mother, all who come-a-callin', calms the nerves of his frightened disciples, cures two individuals with one word ("Go!"), and is still unwanted, misunderstood. (It is understood that this is part of the arc-of-the-story Matthew is creating, and yet...)

How often in life do we feel misunderstood when we are trying to do God's work in the world? How do we react when that misunderstanding leads to treatment that is unappreciative, or worse? Do we stop what we are doing? Or perhaps get sullen and stubborn? Or do we continue doing God's work, being that integral part of the Body of Christ in the world today?

The armor Jesus has on around him is constantly under strain...and he gets a bit testy at times....just like we can. But he still keeps going. And as hard as that can be at times, that is what we are called upon to do as well...just go and do the good work we are called to do, creating the kingdom Jesus opens for all of us. Understanding can come later.

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

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Being Made Clean

Psalms 87, 90 * 136; Numbers 11:16-17,24-29; Ephesians 2:11-22, Matthew 7:28-8:4
Kurant & Citron @ Fire Island, 1999, jfd+

Jesus heals a leper today as he came down from the mountain where he had been teaching the crowds. That teaching ended with yesterday's reading that contained the metaphor about building a house on rock as opposed to on sandy soil, and what happens to that structure when inclement weather strikes. As Jesus is coming down the mountain a leper, an individual shunned and banned from the community, begs to be made clean, to be made whole, saying if you so choose, you can heal me.

Jesus does heal the individual, telling him to not tell anyone, but ironically, to go and show the leaders that wholeness and "cleanness" has been restored. This leper, this individual who had been cast-out, is brought back in. Notice the humble nature of this person's request. It is not a demand. It is not an expectation. There is a turning-over-of-the-will to God in this encounter.

As Jesus used a metaphor in wrapping up all of his teachings on the mountain when he ended with the rocky-sandy soil descriptor, about what is this encounter with the leper a metaphor for us? We can ask, based on this reading, a number of questions:

  • from where have we been cast out?
  • about what are we ashamed?
  • from whom are we in need of forgiveness?
  • are we too arrogant in our understanding of how the world works and our place here?
  • on what are our priorities set?
  • are we able to find the humility in ourselves to really ask God for something we think cannot be given or granted, and accept what comes?
  • who needs our forgiveness and do we have the humility to really grant it?
Challenging questions from such a brief incident in scripture.

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

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Unanswered Questions

MP: Psalm 119:97-120; Leviticus 26:27-42; Ephesians 1:1-10; Matthew 2:1-15
Implements of Creation, 2011, jfd+ 
EP: (Eve of the Ascension) 2 Kings 2:1-15; Revelation 5:1-14

Jesus "puts-it-to" the Pharisees in our short MP reading from Matthew today. He asks them a theological question about scripture and how God works in the world: where and from whom does the Messiah come? They answer from the text-book they understand: David. And then Jesus causes them to be speechless by asking how that is possible, since David refers to the Messiah as his Lord.

This may not seem all that important, but it is a real turning point in Jesus' relationship (contentious as it was) with the Pharisees. Jesus is continuing to undercut the known and long understood presumptions of how God operates in the world, of how God works in this world. Pushing to the forefront the idea that not all questions are going to be answered, that things are not as black and white as the religious leaders kept insisting that they were (and are). 

Jesus is saying, quite simply and in a direct manner here, that God will surprise us, in particular when we think we have all the answers. By being so very "book-smart" the Pharisees were creating their own understanding of how God works. One of the things Jesus is saying today is that the starkness and one dimensional nature of a black and white understanding of scripture leaves out all the areas of gray in which God actually operates.

We are being challenged today to live into the gray, and allow ourselves the gift and grace of uncertainty in which to find God in the unanswered questions.

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

Monday, May 14, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Perceiving, Hearing, With Open Hearts

Psalms 80 * 77 (79); Leviticus 25: 35-55; Colossians 1:9-14; Matthew 13:1-6
Wet Feet, 2010, jfd+

We continue in today's passage from Matthew with the interiority theme, and the idea of secrecy that are so pervasive in this Gospel. 

The parable of the sower is familiar, and being so can go unheard. There is irony in that because so much of this passage has to do with perceiving what see and understanding what we hear, and allowing ourselves the opportunity for all those things heard and seen to change our heart. As Jesus says: we should not have dulled hearts, or clogged ears, or closed eyes, so that we may see, and hear, and understand with our heart, and turn.... 

Jesus is asking for honesty today (and throughout these recent Daily Office readings). Honest perception. Honest evaluation. No facades can remain standing in front of looking, hearing and "hearting". Jesus is not demanding that we be always perfect: for none of us ever will be perfect in all things, to all people, or to ourselves. Jesus is demanding honesty. From the realizations that come from honesty, we can and do find a place where our hearts are changed, our ability to perceive what is around us is clearer, and we hear what people are saying far more acutely. 

Taking time today to perceive, truly hear, and let our hearts be changed is what we are called to strive for in this passage. Can we do "all of it" at once? Unlikely. Can we make a start today? Yes. Can we continue this open-ended work? Absolutely.

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

Friday, May 11, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Unblocked Sight

Psalm 106:1-18 * 106:19-48; Leviticus 23:1-22; 2 Thess 2:1-17; Matthew 7:1-12
Cherry Blossoms in Washington, DC. 2009, jfd+

So much of what we have been reading in Matthew is focused on our having right intentions, being "pure" on our insides: our thoughts, prayers, motivations. This is, partly, the  background for why Matthew has Jesus telling us not to judge others, and that how we treat others is what will be returned to us, and the danger of having our blocked sight be the lens through which we do those judgments (which end up being anything but just). Jesus than says that what we ask will be given, the door will be opened, because God's love and care for us is so great, that, of course, our wishes will be granted....Well, not all our wishes. Matthew throws in an oft overlooked phrase: God will give good things to those who ask. And what are good things?

If we are focused on ourselves, and not doing the work Jesus instructs us to do in our daily lives, how can we truly see? How can we know for what to ask?

In Holy Women, Holy Men today we remember and honor Frances Perkins, a tireless worker for social justice issues during the early and mid-20th Century industrialization and urbanization of America. All of her work was rooted in her Episcopal faith and her inner spiritual-prayer-life that blossomed into fruit of advocating for those affected by unjust labor laws. Her dozen years as U.S. Secretary of Labor during Franklin Roosevelt's presidency is an example of "good things" for which to ask, based on right motivations: focusing on the poor, the oppressed.

Our Gospel selection ends today with the verse In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets...A "golden rule" so to speak...We are directed to have a different focus in our lives, and that needs to start by the interior work we all are called upon to do: cleaning our own house before we can truly focus on others' homes. How can we know for what to ask if our priorities and sight are askew?

Kinda tough stuff today. But good nonetheless.

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

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Perfect Love

Psalms 72, 119:73-96; Leviticus 19:1-18; 1 Thess 5:12-28; Matthew 6:19-24

I went to bed last night quite disheartened. The result of the voting in North Carolina on an amendment that is hatefully discriminatory has made me quite saddened. Awakening this morning, that mood has not changed much, for I live in a state that will be voting on a similarly biased amendment this coming November. 

Reading our Daily Office lessons this morning a number of things have struck me. Upon opening my Office book and finding (remembering) that we are suffering through Leviticus, I groaned. But the verses provided today highlight how abusive scripture-dipping can be (this is the art of pulling verses out of context from holy writ that can bolster one side of an argument). In Leviticus today we hear that it is an abomination to eat food on the third day after it has been offered up as sacrifice: an abomination subject to severe punishment - being cast out from the people. We also hear that the edges of all our harvested lands must be left for the poor and the foreigners. We hear that we shall not curse or revile our neighbors, we shall not defame them, or render unjust judgments, treating all alike, rich and poor. We are not to profit from war, or bear grudges, but are to love our neighbors as ourselves. How often are these passages weighed against the other passages so often used from Leviticus?

In the letter to the Thessalonians today, we hear how we are to act toward and amongst each other: in a loving and caring way, patient and kind. And our snippet from Matthew warns about the perils of having wealth, and the importance of having an inner-purity that shines out of us, infecting those we meet with the love we know that God has for each one of us. 

And today, in Holy Women, Holy Men, we celebrate the life and ministry of Gregory of Nazianzus, a 4th Century theologian and bishop who led a life that defended the basic truths of our faith from those who would have stripped it of the beauty that lies within. A fight he did not always cherish, and that had personal costs - and yet a path he was willing to follow.

A part of me understands completely why people walk away from "church." I understand why people can look with suspicion at those of us who wear a collar or profess themselves servants of our loving God. Scripture and religion have been used throughout the ages for wrongful purposes, like the result in the North Carolina amendment vote, and the one brewing here in Minnesota exemplifies. Walking away is understandable.

But as a people of faith, with the understanding that there are no simple answers to all of these questions, walking away is not an option. Standing up for the truth of God's abiding love for all of us, refusing to allow voices of abusive intolerance to be the only "religious" voices heard, is the harder road we are called to travel. Ensuring that God's perfect love, a seed of which lies within all of us, is understood, and talked about, and broadcast is part of our mission as Christ's Body in the world today.

Prayer helps gird up our wounded souls. Active, personal engagement is another salve for damaged hearts. Remembering to love those who are being discriminated against by these awful amendments, reaching out to them and letting them know that they are one of God's beloved, is yet another method of healing. Being a voice that counters the hate, although exhausting at times, is also an absolute necessity.

We need to keep those hurt and wounded and angry hearts and souls in our prayers today, and tomorrow, and the next. 

The simple answer is to move away from the hate state to a place where love and equality are enshrined in law. But that is a capitulation to discrimination. We are a better people than that. We are called to be better, and to teach, and to love.

Copyright 2012, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved
Photo: Matt & Brett's Blessing of their Civil Marriage.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Matthew's Secrets

Psalms 56, 57, 58 * 64, 65; Leviticus 16:1-19; 1 Thess 4:13-18; Matthew 6:1-6,16-18

The Gospel of Matthew is full of "secrets." Or at least it is seemingly that way. In today's selection from Matthew, we have Jesus talking about appropriate ways to pray and to be pious, and it can be interpreted to center around this pervasive idea of God's secrecy and the hiding of things.

As with most things scriptural, relying on the literal understanding of these verses misses the larger point: the more important point. We all know people whose piety is grandiose in style: and more often then not, false. It is done all for show, and perhaps for fraudulent purposes: to enrich those participating in the show, as opposed to living out the mission and ministry to which Jesus is calling each of us.

Jesus is saying in this passage that if we are truly getting his message, and living into this way of being, we interact with the world in a different manner. We don't need to look dismal when we fast, for it is not a burden to do something for God about which we have passion. 

We are asked today to think about "fasting," and "giving alms," and "praying," as metaphors of how we operate within the world. What is behind those acts? What, within us, is driving us to "do" those things? Are they for us alone? For show? For God?....Are they (and other things like them) a step toward our being different on the inside, in how we view the world and operate within it? 

Jesus is asking us to truly look within and understand why we are doing things, acting in the manner we are acting. Are those things we are doing helping us in the building of the kingdom? If they are not, than why are we doing them?

Copyright 2012, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: The former Chapel at VTS.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Perfection

Psalms 55 8 138, 139:1-17(18-23); Exodus 40: 18-38; Thess 4:1-12; Matthew 5:38-48

Jesus does a whole lot of good for the therapeutic community today. He tells those he is speaking to to be perfect, like God. To turn the other cheek to all aggressors in our lives.  To give to everyone who asks something of us.  Not only are we to love our neighbor unequivocally, but we are to love our enemies and pray for them and for all that persecute us. Jesus reminds us that even those folks are God's creation, too.  So, folks who read this with a literal lens many times find themselves in the therapist's chair trying to understand why they feel like such a failure in life when they fall short of this extraordinarily challenging instruction from Jesus.

So what are we to make of this reading, that comes right after Jesus telling us to be true to the goodness within ourselves? How are we supposed to live into this command? We pass by people all the time who ask for things: usually money. Realistically how are we supposed to give to everyone? Would we have anything left to survive on for ourselves?

At the church in which I serve, our youth confirmation class was asked during Advent to write our prayers of the people. They asked if we could pray for our enemies? And that, of course, was included in those prayers...and have continued since as the last thing the deacon bids: "We pray for our enemies and for those who wish to do us harm."

When we started this, a number of people told me they were uncomfortable with this...But, we have kept this bidding as this is a weekly reminder of our trying to live into this unattainable perfection to which we are directed today. This is a perfect way in which we can be given the grace of uncomfortableness in church...for if we are not uncomfortable at times, than we are not being challenged and we can all too easily fall into complacency - something that should never happen in church...or our spiritual lives...or our lives, period.

Jesus is trying to unsettle us today. He is asking us to really look at what we are doing, how we are living, and evaluate if we are truly doing all we can to create this kingdom he opens for us. So I pray for myself and for all those around me, to be given the gift of being unsettled, allowing all of us to have fresh eyes to look at our ministry and mission to the world.

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

Friday, May 4, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Being Real

Psalms 40, 54 *51; Exodus  34:18-35; 1 Thess 3:1-13; Matthew 5:27-37

In yesterday's Gospel from Matthew we heard Jesus say that if someone is angry, or thinks "bad" things about someone else, that person is "in trouble" with God. Today we hear Jesus say (something made famous by former President Jimmy Carter) that if a person has lust in their heart, they have already committed adultery. Jesus also says If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away...

Jesus is not asking all of us to maim ourselves: we'd be a people without eyes and hands if that were the case. Jesus is asking us to be true. True in what we say, how we act, how we feel. There is no falseness or masks or facades allowed. We need to be who we are and let the world know who we are: good people. And if we are not acting out our goodness, then we need to pause and alter our behavior. 

Jesus is demanding that we be our best, inside and all things that we do...We are called to be "real" in all things, to all people...including ourselves. Putting the mirror up to ourselves and really being honest is the first step toward living into this instruction of Jesus. This "real living" is setting the model for those around us to emulate, thereby engaging God's word with our actions and more readily assisting the building of this Kingdom Jesus opens for all of us.

A tall task for us today...but one that can be started in the privacy of our own home by looking in the mirror and truly understanding the goodness that is within us, and then sharing that love with those around us.

Copyright 2012, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Ordination Moment.