Sunday, December 23, 2012

Advent 4: Preparation

Advent Wreathe, Week 4
I have stayed quiet on this blog since the incident in CT. At first, I couldn't contain the sadness, the grief, the anger and write coherent, sensible things. Others were writing far more succinct and wonderful reflections. As the week progressed and I began to develop this sermon, it felt right to hold off posting here until this was done...So, the Advent 4 Sermon......

jfd+                                                                                                   Micah 5:2-5
Advent 4 C                                                                                     Hebrews 10:5-10
Preached @ St. Christopher’s, Roseville, 12/23/12                Luke 1:39-55

y friend, The Rev. Jessica Hitchcock wrote on Facebook this past week: “Just an observation: I am feeling fragile and easily annoyed today, yet I want to be kind and generous in spirit to my brothers and sisters that I meet along the way because this is a time when we especially are called to be kind to one another. I want to cut myself and others some slack but I don’t want off the hook. I want this bleary haze of “not again” to haunt and harass me because this is my sin, and I have some repentance to do.” Jessica is referring to her torn-desire: to be able to move on from the tragedy of what happened in Connecticut nine days ago, and then catching herself, knowing that letting it go only pushes the problem down the road. She is also owning-up to the fact, as we all must, that we all bear some measure of culpability for this tragedy…Jessica’s reflection is an example of Advent preparation and a living into the prayer that is our Collect: that we may create mansions of love within ourselves.

Jessica’s self reflection and honesty also mirrors what we hear Elizabeth and Mary say in our Gospel reading from Luke…What are we to make of the unlikely pregnancies of Mary and Elizabeth? How are we to make these hymns of self-reflective, joyous-wonder relevant to us today? We hear echoes of early Biblical stories of women and impossible births in the accounts of Elizabeth and Mary and they echo a resonance of real-life drama.

Marcus Borg describes these Christmas narratives as summaries of themes we hear throughout the Gospel of Luke. In these two birth narratives, we hear about the importance of the Holy Spirit, the significant role women play in Jesus’ life and ministry, the importance of women in the life and ministry of the church and new community forming around that new church, the concept of joy that permeates so much of the Gospel of Luke, and the importance of the oppressed and God’s interest in seeing justice done.

Elizabeth and Mary’s encounter with each other is really, at its root, about choice: Mary’s decision to find help and solace from Elizabeth; Elizabeth choosing to welcome and be joyous about a single young teenager’s pregnancy. Both choosing to be inspired by the Holy Spirit and Her urging to look within themselves and then express the joy and wonder and thanksgiving about the new and unexpected trajectory their lives have taken.

Elizabeth could have spurned her cousin, sent her away as shameful. She made a choice to protect this child…Now, no early teen likes to referred to as, (or considers themselves to be) a child…but they are: developmentally, psychologically, emotionally, experientially. Elizabeth did not abandon Mary, but did what she knew was right: help and protect and support Mary.

That small and just action by Elizabeth helped to change the world. I am sure that if Elizabeth had turned Mary away, God would have protected Mary in some other way…What about those 26 children in Connecticut…where was God on that terrible Friday? We are subjected to all kinds of trash-talking celebrity-preacher-types saying this tragedy is somehow God’s judgment come upon us. That is utter nonsense and lies. The God we believe in, have faith in, the God we know, does not act in this way. The God, resident in the babe in the manger, is not a vengeful, hate-spewing, bigoted and prejudiced God. Our God, the one resident in Jesus, is a God of love and hope and joy. God did not cause that troubled young man to buy a weapon and cause this grief and heartache and loss. Where we find God in this unholy mess is in the bravery of the teachers and administrators protecting those children. We see God in the outpouring of support for those who have suffered this unthinkable, unbearable loss. We find God in the love pouring out to those people who have lost such innocent loved ones.

And we find God in our own honesty that we bear some culpability in this loss. My friend Jessica’s self-reflective honesty about the warring desires of leaving the uncomfortable behind and moving on, juxtaposed against the knowledge that those kinds of actions are what helped cause this tragedy is a key component to our understanding how today’s Gospel is relevant to us right now.

We are charged as the living members of the Body of Christ to protect those who cannot protect themselves. Jesus says over and over again protect, care for, do not make children stumble. We have failed at this command. We have turned a blind eye to corporate lobbyists interested in turning profits for manufacturers of these weapons of destruction. We must hold accountable our elected officials who coddle and care more for the welfare of corporate interests, than the protection of children.

We have a choice, much like Elizabeth…The babe in Elizabeth’s womb, who is John the Baptist, leapt in her womb at the appearance of Mary. A more accurate translation of that word leapt is danced for joy. That baby danced for joy at the appearance of God in their midst, being reminiscent of David dancing like a fool before the ark of the Covenant on its way to its new home in the Holy Land. We…all of us…must dance with joy at God appearing in our midst as a babe…as a child. Dancing like fools for God…and following our charge to do our best to protect all children from threats: whether they be from guns or abuse or manipulation or enslavement or any kind of danger.

There are times in life when we are presented with choices. Our actions in response to this preventable tragedy in Connecticut will be very telling about our willingness to truly be Christ’s Body in this world today. Living into the un-comfortableness of our sin of not protecting children from harm is part of our journey to be genuine in the work necessary to see sane and safe and appropriate gun control in this country. I am not attacking responsible gun owners nor hunters. I do believe there is a difference between hunting, hobby-target-shooting on the one hand, and the ownership of automatic weapons capable of mass killings by the pull of one trigger, on the other.

Our harassment of ourselves for putting up with the status quo can spur us into taking action. Our smallest acts of love, like Elizabeth’s, can change the course of history, and bring hope and joy and peace. Our refusal to accept the gun laws as they currently exist can be part of our preparation this last Sunday of Advent…our preparation to see the world turned on end by the birth of God in a manger. We cannot let time assuage and soften the keen loss of these innocent lives nine days ago. We need to do all we can to make the loss of these innocent lives be the last ones lost because of the uncontrolled corporate interests of the gun-lobby. The protection of children, the right of a child to live, trumps anyone’s perceived right to own an instrument of such destruction. Our Gospel is one of love, demanding that we make choices that aid and protect children: these choices are stirred to right action by the mansions of love resident in our hearts.

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

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: NOW, what do you say?

Window @ St. Luke in the Fields, NYC
Psalms 38 * 119:25-48; Isaiah 6:1-13; 2 Thess 1:1-12; John 7:53-8:11

The Pharisees and the scribes try to trap Jesus today, by bringing a woman they say has been caught in the act of adultery...the law says she must be stoned to death...NOW what are you going to do about this Jesus!?! We can almost hear the glee in their voices: we've got him now! But they don't. 

No one knows what Jesus may have been writing on the ground. Many, much brighter than I, have written and opined. I don't think that is the point of the story. An interesting side-note perhaps, but not the point. Instead of judgement, instead of selfish, self-centered righteousness, instead of rigidity and certainty, Jesus points to a loving, forgiving, present God who gives us second chances...and third and fourth and more...

That's the point of the story...that we keep trying to get it right, although, in all likelihood, we never will get it perfectly right...It is not the perfection, it is the effort and the intent behind that effort. Is the intent for self-aggrandizement and ego-boosting appeal? Or are we trying to make ourselves more like the image of God? This God whose birth we are preparing for in 13 days. 

It is not our place to judge those who have made mistakes if we are judging for some other purpose than to correct inappropriate/misguided behavior. A large question posed by Jesus' actions today is: what is the purpose of judgement? Punishment? Or Rehabilitation?

We reach for perfection and fall short almost always. We are called to continue the reaching, with the intent behind the effort being the creation of the kingdom all around us. Nothing else really matters.

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

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Daily Office Reflection:This Generation

Alley-Cat Comfortable in the Office, 2012
Psalms 26, 28 * 36, 39; Isaiah 5:13-17,24-25; 1 Thess 5:12-28; Luke 21:29-38

Jesus is at the end of his recorded public teachings in today's reading from Luke. Following this passage we enter the Passion narrative, beginning with the Passover supper. He is winding up his teachings today. Yesterday's frightening reading about the "end times" continue today with Jesus explaining the "signs" for which we are to look saying this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away... And then he continued preaching and teaching in the temple and praying each night on the Mount of Olives.

That generation did see the fulfillment of God's promises to the human race, with Jesus' Passion: his death, resurrection and Ascension...followed by the growth of the Jesus Movement continuing thereafter...even unto today...One of the things we so easily miss is that each generation gets to learn what it means to live into this kingdom Jesus' life and ministry and Passion opened for all of us. This generation, ours, may not "see" Jesus, but we get to discern how our lives can further the development of this kingdom, this fulfillment of God's promises, here and now among us. 

The Jesus Movement of which we are a part has always been counter-cultural...has always been controversial...when we have been too complacent and "safe" we need to be aware that we are not leading the way into this kingdom, but stagnating into obscurity. Each of us has our part to play...and as we approach the halfway point of the Advent Season, we are asked by today's reading from Luke to reflect upon whether we really are ready for that celebration of the changing of the world 14 days from today, and whether we are living into the counter-cultural Jesus Way, or blending into society.

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

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Endurance

Broken, 2008 (Panel 3 of Four Fold Action), jfd+
Psalms 20, 21:1-7(8-14) * 110:1-5(6-7), 116, 117; Isaiah 4:2-6; 1 Thess 4:13-18; Luke 21:5-19

A scary and frightening reading from Luke today, with the magnificent glory of the Temple being destroyed, and wars, and earthquakes, famines, plagues, and persecutions, betrayals and deaths being presaged by Jesus.

Volumes have been written giving voice to myriad explanations: some taking things literally, others metaphysically. We know that when Luke wrote this "orderly account" of the life of Jesus' ministry that the Temple was already destroyed. We know that there was a definitive split occurring between the Jesus Way and the temple-society. But, what does this mean for us today? For what are these words of Jesus a metaphor for us?

He ends these dire warnings with You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls. If we step back and try not to be literal, Jesus (Luke and his redactors) is (are) leading us to give thought to our lives, our circumstances, and how we live out the faith we profess. 

We are called to live into, have our realities shaped by Jesus' teachings - starting with the Sermon on the Plain (in Luke) and interpreting his parables told thereafter. To be strengthened by common worship and our sharing in the sacraments. Those weekly (or more) reminders can give us the fortitude to face the disbelief, and outright ignoring, that surrounds us in society. Discouragement is a natural by-product, a natural reaction to the acuteness of the ignorance to the message we believe central to our existence. Endurance, community, prayer, and the sure-knowledge of God's present love for us can help stave off the exhaustion.

This is hard work we are called upon to do...but not impossible nor impractical...just the right and proper thing on which to focus our efforts.

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

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Bamboozled

SW, Washington DC, 2009, jfd+
Psalm 18:1-20 * 18:21-50; Isaiah 2:12-22; 1 Thess 3:1-13; Luke 20:27-40

In yesterday's reading from Luke, Jesus flummoxed the chief priests and scribes when they attempted to trap him about paying taxes to the Roman occupiers. Looking at a coin with the emperor's likeness, he said "Then give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's."

Today, he does the same to the Sadducees responding to their nonsensical question about a woman marrying seven brothers. He talks about the God of the living, not the dead, for Abraham and Isaac and Jacob are alive to God. 

The responses Jesus has given stunned these folks to silence, but that did not stop their plotting against him. I am struck by the juxtaposition of these individuals' silence, and we, as Christians, remaining silent about the secularization of Nicholas, who we remember and honor today in Holy Women Holy Men. We (and I am speaking of the entirety of Western Christendom here) have done a very bad job allowing our children to be brought up with this idea of Santa Claus coming at Christmas. Almost all of us do this. Almost all of us have been bamboozled into letting Jesus be pushed out of this holiday - this holy day.

Yes, I am being Scrooge-like today. But, what would our world be like if we celebrated the birth of Jesus by feeding the poor, taking care of the widow and orphan, visiting those imprisoned, having our children not be lied out the Gospel we read and preach and study? Our silence has helped God's message to be silenced. And I am just as guilty of participating in this secularization of Jesus...of not providing a plausible alternative....It seems so big, so out of control....And yet, God's message of love still sounds all the louder, the cry of the infant and the joy at the birth is still resonant...all we have to do is look upon that infant and remember that a different kind of joy can encompass all of person at a time, this message of God's love for us can change the world.

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

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Purposeful Rejection

Four Fold Action, 2008, jfd+
Psalms 5, 6 * 10, 11; Isaiah 1:21-31; 1 Thess 2:1-12; Luke 20: 9-18

We can so easily become stuck...comfortable. And when that happens to us, we become resistant to any and all kind of change. The longer we stay in that comfortable the familiar...the more intransigent we get when alterations are suggested...when our faults are pointed out...when we are told that what we are doing may seem fine for us at present, but is really no good for tomorrow, for the next day. Anything that stays stagnant, unchanging, withers, dies and is forgotten.

We see this "comfort" argument in our government right now...on both sides of "the aisle". We can experience it in our homes, in particular around holiday times...We always "do" Christmas this way...the Christmas tree has to go there, it has always been there!...And we can experience that desire, need, and demand for comfort and familiarity in in our worship and church-land life...Jesus warns against that in today's parable of the absent vineyard owner and the sending of reminders of right-action, which reminders are ignored and abused.

We are called as followers of Jesus to be always morphing and changing and challenging expectations of comfort. In particular in this short Season of Advent we have just entered, we need to be aware of those actions in which we participate...those expectations of seasonal/holiday traditions...that can so blind us to our true calling.

Instead of falling into the trap of familiar customs and traditions, where in our community, in our neighborhood, can we help someone in need, a family perhaps, to experience the joy of God's love given to us so freely? How do we break the molds of traditions and comfort that bind us, and blind us to the message of Christ's birth?

Creating new what familiarity and comfort means by changing the lives of others, by opening our part of what we are called to by today's passage from Luke.

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

Monday, December 3, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Authority

Out of Focus, II, (unfinished) jfd+, 2012
Psalms 1, 2, 3 * 4, 7; Isaiah 1:10-20; 1 Thess 1:1-10; Luke 20:1-8

An individual who worked with me at one point in my life was an incredibly good actor. This person was able to make people feel (at least for a while) that she really cared about those folks with whom she was interacting. When she was away from those people, not a kind or nice word would pass from her lips when she would describe those interactions, or those individuals in passing. The inauthenticity was stunning, and challenging to know how to counteract the harm being caused. For harm was caused when her true nature came to be known. 

Inauthenticity and dishonest behavioral traits undermine true authority. Jesus knows, in Luke's Gospel today, that the scribes and priests challenging him are not able to interact with him with any degree of truthfulness. And he traps them in their own web of deceit, showing them how little authority they truly posses. 

Being honest and truly ourselves to those we meet is the only way to garner any kind of true authority in any of the relationships in our lives. This first Monday of our new church year, this first Monday of this short Advent Season, our scriptural readings push us to live into our true selves and be those honest brokers in the world, perhaps not making us the most popular kids on the block, but we will be the ones with all the true authority.

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

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Daily Office Reflection: Back Again

Out of Focus, I, jfd+  2012
Psalms 137:1-6(7-9), 144 * 104; Zechariah 14:12-27; Philippians 2:1-11; Luke 19:41-48

I have taken an extended break from writing on this blog, . I needed some time to reflect and think and recharge and find if this was something that was still an important part of my spiritual journey. And I have found over the last two months that even though I still read MP (most) everyday, those readings, that time spent with holy scripture, those precious and rare early morning moments where on occasion I felt the thin places of this earth present and palpable, were missing something, and did not stay with me throughout the day. The prayer and the centering quiet time, the milling thoughts and misplaced questions, remained somehow unfocused and I'm back.

Part of the excess of time I found in the morning was spent expressing myself in paints and sketches - some of which may appear in the upper right hand corner of these posts from time to time. My style and expressive qualities are morphing into something else than they have been in the past...and the stray thoughts that are placed here may do the same...It feels like I have been waiting for something...I don't know what, but something...Today being the last day of our church calendar year...our being on the very cusp of the precipice that is Advent and the dawn of a new church year, makes it appropriate that I am quasi-confessional in this post. For being out of focus, seeking something that is beyond ourselves, is part of what this seasonal change is asking us to risk opening ourselves to, and to which we can be seeking some resolution. 

Jesus is lamenting over the character that is Jerusalem in the Gospel of Luke in our reading today. Lamenting over its blindness, its myopia to his ministry and work and God's presence right there amongst them. An appropriate reading for this last day before we enter Advent. For what will we wait these next 24 days? What have we missed this past year that has been right in front of us the whole damn time? What in our life is lacking the love that awaits us, each of us, no matter what we think we may have done to not deserve it. Where are we out of focus and striving for something we cannot explain...Advent is a perfect time to patiently wait and explore those questions and the mysteries of God's embracing touch we so easily can ignore.

A blessed, holy, and enlightening Advent is my prayer and request and hope.
Copyright 2012, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.