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.