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.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: The End of the World As We Know It

 Psalms 16, 17 * 22; Deut 31:7-13,24-32:4; Romans 10:1-13; Matthew 24: 15-31
"Oiling of Hands"

A Blessing Moment

In Matthew, we have end of the world, frightening images presented to us by Jesus. Just prior to yesterday's beginning of this oration by Jesus, he had left the temple where he had his final confrontation with the scribes and Pharisees. He leaves that holy place and the disciples don't get his mood, and point out to him the beauty and wonders of that central temple. Jesus talks to them about "the end times," of which our sixteen verses today are a part.

Scholars have written volumes on this passage. Many point to these verses as Matthew giving his readers solace about the destruction of the Temple they so dearly loved, and showing how Jesus predicted the event. Some say Matthew and his readers truly believed Jesus was coming again to them in their lifetime, saving them from the torment in which many lived. A few "prophetic" people today will cite these verses (and other apocalyptic language from other books of the Bible) as justification for their belief that the end is nigh.

What do we take as metaphor? Analogy? What do we take literally? How can we 21st Century Christians understand and learn something from this passage and not dismiss it out of hand? Jesus is, in this Gospel passage, on the precipice of his Passion: the torture, execution, burial and resurrection that will transform the world.

If we try to personalize these verses, this apocalyptic discourse by Jesus, what event(s) in our lives, and those in our immediate circle, or event(s) that we have participated in, have altered our reality and understanding of the world? How have those "world-changing" events in our lives changed our perceptions and how we interact and live in this world?

How can we take those personal experiences that have so moved and changed us, and give similar opportunities to those who have not experienced this life-altering love that is the center of our belief and faith?

These verses, yesterday, today, and tomorrow are not meant to frighten us, but to entice us to share our  experiences and change the world of others.

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

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: On Justice and Mercy and Faith

SW, DC, 2010, jfd+
Psalm 5, 6 * 10, 11; Numbers 35:1-3,9-15,30-34; Romans 8:31-39; Matthew 23:13-26

Jesus is taking a big verbal swing at the scribes and Pharisees in our Gospel selection from Matthew today. He calls them hypocrites, and children of hell, and blind guides, and blind fools. Strong words - but deserved in Jesus' mind because of their innate refusal to change.

They (the scribes and Pharisees) were more interested in the world they created than looking at the world around them and focusing on "the weightier matters...justice and mercy and faith." They were more interested in how they looked, than what they actually did.

The triennial General Convention of The Episcopal Church is past its mid-mark as this is written. Delegations from every diocese are present and working hard on rules and laws and word-smithing. Concerns about money and structure abound in blog postings. My hope and prayer is that the forest is not lost because of the focus on trees. My hope and prayer is that we are not straining out gnats and being forced to swallow a camel. My hope and prayer is that the focus will remain on Jesus and on his directions to all of us to live the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. To not worry so much about "how" we look (for making sausage is never pretty), but be shiny and clean and Jesus-centered on the "inside" allowing our work to shine all on its own.

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

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Disingenuinness

From the Rough, jfd+ 2010
Psalms 137:1-6(7-9), 144 * 104; Numbers 24:12-25; Romans 8:18-25; Matthew 22:23-40

Jesus' interactions with the Pharisees and their minions shows him to be the direct opposite of who and what the leadership had become. For the last few days in our reading from Matthew the Pharisees have been trying to trip Jesus up...trap him. Jesus has been teaching about the kingdom of God, and how different that kingdom is (and ours can be) if they (and we) would just listen. Instead of listening and living into the kingdom, they plot to get rid of him, because he is challenging the way things have "always" been. Jesus, of course, does not fall for their lack of genuineness and ends today's session with a teaching about love.

So many people model the plotting of the Pharisees and not the direct nature of Jesus, as a way to live in our world. We have to get to "B", but we can't let anyone know that is where we are headed from where we now stand at "A", so we will go left, right, turn around, jump up and down, spin and spin, and eventually get to "B". Jesus' model is far more direct...and can make us much more vulnerable. Unless people trust us, see us for who and what we are, that love-thing Jesus preaches about all the time is difficult to attain. Being genuine, vulnerable, truthful is how Jesus is directing us to live in the world.

Fraught with danger today...but worth the risk.

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

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Rigidity & Stubbornness

Provincetown Harbor, jfd+
Psalms: (120), 121, 122, 123 * 124, 125, 126, (127); Numbers 22:21-38; Romans 7:1-12; Matthew 21:23-32

The chief priests and elders approach Jesus who is teaching in the temple, just after he has cleansed the market place. They are pretty much put-out by his actions and demand to know by what authority he is acting. He doesn't answer directly, asking them, in turn, about John's authority, to which they fudge an answer, and he tells them, because of their dishonesty they can chew sand as opposed to get an answer out of him. But he then asks them about a father and two sons - one who says no to a request and then changes his mind, and the other who says yes but does not do the requested action. Jesus castigates these leaders for not recognizing John as an agent of God, even after others so blatantly did recognize him. Jesus is also saying to these leaders of society, You are repeating history here, as you refused to acknowledge John's authority, so too, you are being stiff-necked about seeing what I am doing.

We do not have to look far in our own lives, society, and culture to see repeated history because of an insistence on trying to keep things the same, the way they have "always" been done. Rigidity to change can, and does, put blinders on us.

Jesus is not doing the things he is doing just for change-sake.  Change for changes sake is not at all the direction Jesus is heading. Nor is he directing us to act in this manner. But looking at our surroundings and society and culture and system in which we live, and truly evaluating whether that life-system is creatively enabling the kingdom's presence among us, is what we are supposed to be doing on a regular basis. If the system is stuck, because we have made ourselves comfortable, and is not progressively creating this kingdom, than change must happen to jump start those necessary actions.

If we have become comfortable, Jesus is saying, than perhaps we have stopped looking and evaluating. Comfortable is nice...but that is not the life Jesus is calling us to live.

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

Monday, July 2, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Of Moved Mountains & Withered Fig Trees

Psalms 106:1-18 * 106:19-48; Numbers 22:1-21; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 21:12-22

A big, complicated, and audacious Gospel selection from Matthew today. Jesus rips apart the temple market, argues with the temple authorities, curses and causes a fig tree to wither, and tells his amazed disciples to not doubt - have faith and whatever asked in prayer will be received.

This entire account is symbolic and metaphoric of so much, and is one of those Gospel accounts that can cause tremendous heartache. Jesus' temple cleansing is symbolic of his death and resurrection: the old and set ways of doing things will, and must, be changed. The fig tree, bearing no fruit, is symbolic of all those things in life that have started and stopped, tried and been unsuccessful, gifts given that have not been utilized. And the moving of mountains is metaphor of all those teachings Jesus has given in the 20 chapters preceding the one we are reading today. If we take to heart those things Jesus teaches, things that seem impossible, are impossible, become do-able - what we ask for, need, desire will be different than those things we ask for, need or desire now. Our priorities, and understanding of what is important, changes when we truly work toward making God's Kingdom a reality now.

Literalism kills the Gospel, shuts out God from these holy words. These accounts are meant to challenge our perceptions and our understandings of how the world should work, skewing and helping us refocus on that which is truly important.

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