Friday, June 29, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Peter and Paul (No Mary)

Balcony Garden, DC, 2011
MP: Psalm 66; Ezekiel 2:1-7; Acts 11:1-18
EP: Psalm 97, 138; Isaiah 49:1-6; Galatians 2:1-9

Peter and Paul have always struck me as two different kinds of bookends: both holding up the middle, but in differing ways, with equal weight. Peter being the kinda-person you would want to have a beer with, hang out and talk - someone to laugh and joke with and have a good time, and at that same time be able to learn something. Paul is different: stand-offish, officious, cranky, the kinda-person who in a different set of circumstances would have been the boarding school disciplinarian. Not really someone with whom you would want to casually hang out. Two different bookends who approached life and their ministry with the same objective, but with differing methods based on their own peculiar personalities.

Many times in life we can try to emulate people whom we respect. Emulate does not mean mimic, copy, be the same as. We are called to be ourselves, using the individualized gifts God gave us to further do the work the Spirit prods us toward. Fitting a narrow model, a particular mode of being is not how we should live as the Body of Christ in the world today. But instead, we should simply be ourselves...beautiful in our own right...perfect in our own imperfect way. And at the same time, emulating the one whose Body we are an individualized part.

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

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Of Needle Eyes and Camels

Stone Arch Bridge & Downtown Minneapolis, jfd+, 2011
Psalms 97, 99 (100) * 94 (95);  Numbers 16:20-35; Romans 4:1-12; Matthew 19:23-30

Jesus uses a phrase in talking about rich people and the kingdom of heaven that does not mean much to our present day culture. He says, "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." Today's Gospel lesson begins right after the rich young man has gone away crestfallen having been told by Jesus to sell all his possessions, give those proceeds to the poor and then follow him. Jesus doesn't say it is impossible, but "hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven"... Hard, not impossible...And then he talks about camels and the eye of the needle. Jesus is not talking about needle and thread here...

The ancient city of Jerusalem, before its destruction by the Romans around 70 AD, had numerous entrances. One of those entrances was called the eye of a needle, because it was low and narrow. For a camel to pass through this entrance to the Holy City, it would have to get on its knees,  and shuffle its way across the ground, and then upon squeezing through the entryway, labor back up onto its feet...A difficult and labor intensive task, but not impossible.

Jesus' "odd" reference in regard to rich people's entrance to the kingdom of God takes on different nuances when this cultural reference is understood. Difficult...hard work...not impossible is part of the message. 

This explanation is in no way meant to advocate the misbegotten and impossible to defend "prosperity Gospel" so many misguided individuals preach and advocate. Quite the opposite is the point of this reflection. For that rich young man to "be good," and enter into this kingdom Jesus is opening for all of us, he had some substantial work to do, for his possessions had taken possession of him. Quite frankly, his priorities are screwed up Jesus is saying, and although welcome in the kingdom, there is a cost involved in that entrance. Like the camel must struggle to get through that narrow and low gate, those blessed with wealth also have work to do: to not allow those possessions to skew the reality of how the world should actually work.

One of the things we are asked to explore by these Gospel verses is: what possesses us that is keeping us from being able to walk unhindered through the narrow and low door?

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

Monday, June 25, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Doing Good

Alley just in from a romp in the snow, 2011
Psalms 89:1-18 * 89:19-52; Numbers 16:1-19; Romans 3:21-31; Matthew 19:13-22

Jesus challenges an individual about the definition of the word "good" today. He defines that word mostly in the negative: we shall not murder, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness. He adds two positives: we are to honor our parents, and love our neighbors as ourselves. The individual Jesus is talking to shrugs those off saying, yup, I already do those...what else? Jesus than challenges him to sell all his possessions, give the money to the poor, and then come and follow. The questioner leaves dejected, being the owner of many things.

The things we own can take possession of us. Some can't consider the thought of moving because of the weight of all those things owned. "Down-sizing" seems an impossibility: what can we do with all these things we love? The interaction here is bigger than those considerations...What if we take a step back from literalism, and wonder what metaphor "possessions" might be for us?...

What is controlling us, possessing us, that is getting in our way of doing the right thing, doing what is good, as defined by Jesus? For Jesus sees that the individual with whom he is conversing is doing pretty well, but has been gifted with opportunities that allow further work to be done...

Priorities...what is important in life and what is not...these are the focus of Jesus' conversation with the individual with many possessions today. Are we ready to really address these true priorities? Our lives, and the world around us, will probably be very different if that were the case.

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

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: From the Mouths of Fish

A Study in Yellow & Black, 2011, jfd+
Psalms 78:1-39 * 78:40-72; Numbers 11:1-23; Romans 1:16-25; Matthew 17:22-27

Jesus has Peter go to the sea, throw in a line, and pull out a fish, open its mouth, and whal-la, a coin to pay the temple tax for Peter and Jesus. This story is often dismissed as silly, a child's tale, non-essential to the Gospel story. Perhaps it is something more.

Peter got defensive with the temple-tax-authorities, worried about how his master would be perceived: a scoff-law? A pauper? Arrogant? So, Peter says of course he pays what he is supposed to! And Jesus knows, and sends Peter on this seeming wild-goose-chase. 

Peter's livelihood before becoming Jesus' right-hand-person was as a fish-catcher. The people that knew Peter, also knew that this was a part of his background - he wasn't a refined, temple-trained, individual. He was a bit rough around the edges. The story of this interchange between Peter and Jesus plays off of that background and relationship. This story of a fish's mouth giving out temple-tax-coins is meant to remind us, to help us see, that we have all that we need to be a part of God's kingdom. We don't need to be fancifully attired, prim and proper, intellectual. God accepts us for who we are, loves us for who and what we are in life. Does this mean we are "stuck" where we find ourselves? No. We can do our best to try to change where we find ourselves, if we are unhappy, or abused, or down-on-our-luck. But that is for us, not for God, or to be a part of God's kingdom. God is with us whether we are looking for coins in the mouths of fishes, or use those coins as earrings. As always, Jesus is reminding us about priorities, and of what is important in life, and what is fluff.

We are asked in today's reading to consider, really evaluate, what is important and what is ornamental fluff. And to remember that God is with us, even when we are stuck in the fluff. 

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

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Independent Thinking

The Happy 90s, 2011, jfd+
Psalms: (70), 71 * 74; Ecclesiastes 11:1-8; Galatians 5:16-24; Matthew 16:13-20

Jesus asks the disciples surrounding him what the "people" out there around them are saying about him...Who those folks think that he is...and they tell him that people are saying that he is Elijah or John the Baptist reborn, or perhaps Jeremiah who has come back to them. Or, maybe, one of the other prophets come to set them straight. Interesting choices Matthew gives: Elijah, John the Baptist, Jeremiah. All of these are individuals who were substantially critical of the ruling classes, and of the people in general, proclaiming how they had lost their way, and that God's voice was present within their proclamations. So the people were getting the message that change needed to happen, but they were missing a piece of Jesus' message. If these folk truly believed Jesus to be one of these prophets reborn, then they also believed disaster was approaching, a disaster caused by God...

So Jesus asks his disciples "But who do you say that I am?"

Don't give me any of this missing-the-mark-group-think you are hearing from those other folk...who am I? Jesus, perhaps, is a bit put off by so many missing a key part of his teachings. Peter saves the day and is well rewarded by the Messiah whom he identifies. 

Group-think is a powerful elixir, a comforting tonic for us to swallow. It provides us with certainty that we are not alone. Jesus is asking us to think for ourselves, look at his teachings from our own experiences, and to join him in creating this kingdom that is so very different from the world in which we live. Isolating? From those uncomfortable with this kind of examination, yes. But we are never alone in this digging - for if we truly try to live out these principles Jesus sets forth, we have him, and all those who have gone before, and all those who are with us doing the same spade work to make this place we are gifted to live...better.

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

Monday, June 11, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: St. Barnabas

Journey Quint-tych (in progress), 2012, jfd+
MP: Psalms 14, 67; Ecclesiasticus 31:3-11; Acts 4:32-37
EP: Psalms 19, 146; Job 29:1-16; Acts 9:26-31

We celebrate Barnabas, a traveler with Paul, in Paul's early years as a disciple. Prior to traveling with Paul, Barnabas joined the growing community of Jesus followers by selling land that belonged to him, and giving the money earned from that sale to the apostles for their use. In our MP Acts reading, just prior to Barnabas' generous act, we hear a number of provocative phrases: no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common; there was not a needy person among them; (money) was distributed to each as any had need

Here was a community of believers, perhaps the first socialists, who believed in caring for each other. Who believed in Jesus' radical teachings of the proper use of wealth and possessions. These teachings are largely ignored by most Christians. Certainly in our country, the strong penchant for independence, and capitalism, and outright greed trump these teachings. These ideas of Jesus, and as practiced by this early community of faith, would be castigated by a vast swath of our political-class as anathema to the American way. I cannot help but wonder what Scripture these folks are reading when they profess to follow Jesus.

Where do we fall on the scale of the phrase from the movie Wall Street, and Gordon Gecko's statement, "greed is good" on the one hand, to the other exemplified by our Acts reading of people selling and sharing...The latter is unrealistic given today's environment and climate. A dream and a completely different understanding of how we interact with one another, perhaps? How do we move toward the Acts model, a community trying to live into the teachings of Jesus? Far more than challenging and quite difficult to think about.

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

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Depths As Opposed To Facades

A Rainbow @ St. Christopher's, 2012, jfd+
 Psalms 55 * 138, 139:1-17(18-23); Ecclesiastes 5:8-20; Galatians 3:23-4:11; Matthew 15:1-20

We see the very blunt Jesus in today's Gospel selection from Matthew. Some describe his behavior and directness as unseemly: so truthful that it is insulting and hurtful. Jesus has "had it" with facades, and rules and regulations that have nothing to do with living into God's kingdom. Rules that do not assist in creating the kingdom of God, but actually thwart its development. Human made rules, for selfish gain, as opposed to God-centered actions that help those in need, is partly the focus of Jesus' tirade at the Pharisees.

We all know people, or have read about them in the paper or seen them on the news, who talk a good game, but don't play in that game. Jesus is objecting to hypocrites and self-deceivers who wallow in traditions that take attention away from actually doing God's work in the world. Jesus wants depth of heart and soul and mind, leading to good and right action, and damn the niceties of not calling people on their crap.

His actions don't make friends or keep feathers from being unruffled (or perhaps plucked). But Jesus wants action, and a cultural change. And so should we. We can fool ourselves that we have all the time in the world to get things done, that things are okay the way they are, and we can make changes down the road. Jesus is arguing against that kind of attitude, because he knows us all too well. Accepting and acquiescing to behaviors that are unhealthy is never acceptable in Jesus' book: and shouldn't be in ours either. 

We will be making different kinds of friends following this challenging model. And yet, we will be building the kingdom  God has opened for all of us in the life and ministry of Jesus.

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

Friday, June 8, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: How Are We Saved

Postcard from NYC, '93, jfd+
Psalms 40, 54 * 51; Ecclesiastes 5:1-7; Galatians 3:15-22; Matthew 14:22-36

We have a long Gospel reading with lots happening within it today. Jesus departs from his disciples to go pray, they are in a boat. He finishes praying and it is evening, but the boat has been blown away from the shoreline, where they spend the night. Jesus comes to them in the morning "walking on the sea," which frightens all of them but Peter, who first has faith enough to try the feat for himself, and then, in the midst of the effort loses heart and says to Jesus, "Lord, save me!" And of course, Jesus does, castigating him and the others for their lack of faith. They arrive on the other side, and the people there bring out all their ill, injured and those needing healing: and all were healed.

Quite a lot going on today. When in our lives have we started something, jumped into something based on faith that we could do it, only to find our courage wane in the midst of the effort? What did we do when we found ourselves in this predicament? For what is this story of Jesus and Peter and the disciples a metaphor?

Believe, or not, this account of Jesus walking on the water, inspiring Peter to acts of bravery. Rationalize the account away, as we may...there are other ways to consider this story, not cast it aside, and, by not throwing it aside, perhaps chew on some nuggets of truth. As with so many Gospel accounts, we are asked to consider the questions, In what do we have faith? In what do we trust

Trust and faith are hard-fought-for in many of our experiences. We can be so disappointed by putting our trust and faith in people and groups that do not live up to our expectations. Jesus' interaction with Peter is different than those times in our lives. Jesus is inviting us to believe in him. To have faith in God's work in the world. To be open to new and unimaginable experiences. These new and unimagined experiences can take us away from the expectations we set for ourselves and others, and we thereby live into the unknown that is our work in creating the kingdom around us.

From what do we need to be saved? And do we have the courage and strength to put our hand out asking for God's help? This courageous action will take us in a completely different direction than any of our well-made-plans were taking us. Salvation comes in ways we cannot expect or see. This Gospel is asking us if we are ready for the unexpected.

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

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: When Bad Things Happen...

Awakening, 2010, jfd+
Psalms 119:49-72 * 49, (53); Ecclesiastes 3:1-15; Galatians 2:11-21; Matthew 14:1-12

What do we say when bad things happen to good people? In the Gospel selection for today, we have the brutal and senseless death of John the Baptist. A few friends of mine like to say when things like this happen around us, "Sh*t happens, then ya die." There is a fatalism in that point of view that I find it hard to buy into. 

Here is this individual, doing God's work, toiling selflessly, who is destroyed at the whim, and self-centered willfulness of a spoiled child and mother. Where is God in that? Where is God in the death of child, who falls off a slide and breaks her neck? Where is God in the actions of the hijackers of September 11th? 

All those examples are where we don't find God. Where there is an absence of God. Where, sometimes, bad things do just happen to good people. But where we find God is in our response to those occurrences that can so flummox us. 

Did John the Baptist deserve to die in the manner he did? No. Perhaps his death, which is a precursor to the one waiting for Jesus, was a catalyst for a deeper and more rich ministry practiced by Jesus. This story, and Jesus' response, can be a model for us, in how we react to tragedy: not blaming God, but picking up the pieces, responding in compassionate and forward-moving ways, and doing our best to make something good and lasting out of the bad.

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

Monday, June 4, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: The Kingdom of Heaven is

Provincetown Harbor, 2006. jfd+
Psalms 41, 52 * 44; Ecclesiastes 2:1-15; Galatians 1:1-17; Matthew 13:44-52

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, that when someone finds, that individual joyfully goes and sells everything to buy that field.

The kingdom of heaven is like a seller of pearls, that when a pearl of great value is found, everything is sold to acquire that pearl.

The kingdom of heaven is like a fishing net, where all are brought into the boat and than the good are put into baskets and the bad are tossed back into the sea.

The first two are examples of what Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like are similar, the last, not so much. When we see the kingdom of heaven, our whole world changes, Jesus says. To make that kingdom of heaven, we have to be "all in" - not partially, but all of us. There seems, in these allegories, these metaphors, to be an element of choice. The person finding treasure, the pearl seller finding the pearl of great value, had a choice whether to acquire the kingdom or not. But the acquisition is costly. Imagine selling would that change us?

Like so much of what Jesus says, he is telling us that our priorities need to be set in a particular way - focused on things other than material possessions. The kingdom of heaven is a place where those material comforts are not of importance, for we see and feel and become something very different. 

How do we become the "good" fish, the righteous who are saved? There is no one simple answer. Being able to try and live into this kingdom on which Jesus is focused, is one of the first steps. How we do that is up to each one of us, to find the path each of us creates. Will there be mis-steps and lost opportunities along the way? Absolutely. Are we charged with continuing our efforts. Yes. For once we see, feel, experience a taste of that kingdom, we really will not be able to help ourselves but want to be all in.

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

Friday, June 1, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Small Things

Magnolia Bloom outside National Cathedral
Psalms 31 * 35; Proverbs 23:19-21,29-24:2; 1 Timothy 5:17-22(23-25); Matthew 13:31-35

In today's readings we are gifted the parables of the mustard seed and the yeast in Matthew's Gospel. Small things prove to be mighty agents for growth and strengthening. 

Most of us can remember a small incident, something seemingly innocuous said to us, a deed done for or to us, something we observed someone else doing, something that had great influence over us...that nestled deep in our memories, our hearts, our souls, and reminded us to remember that small thing and to be guided by it in the future. 

Jesus' words, teachings, parables can be like those small things that bloom into something much larger than the lessons themselves. Those words, teachings, parables, can, like yeast, get into every fiber of our being and change how we act in the world, how we approach and love those we meet. There is some intentionality here too...but those agents (the seed, the yeast) can, and will, do their work, if we gently tend them and let them grow as they are designed to do. 

We are asked to let these teachings of Jesus take root, ferment within us. To let them grow and enter into each part of our being and thus change us. Like the mustard seed doesn't become a great shrub or tree overnight, nor the yeast leaven the flour immediately, these teachings of Jesus take time...but we have to allow them to be planted within us, placed within us, first, and gently tended. Can we allow that to happen to us? Can we, likewise, plant that seed, lay in that yeast, in others, and gently and patiently tend those too?

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