Monday, October 24, 2016

The Jesus Prayer: " Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

Sermon October 23, 2016, a summary, The Reverend John Smith

The Way to Joy

This Sunday's Gospel is the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in the Temple. The Pharisee, a good and righteous man, prays to God, making a case for his personal righteousness. The Tax Collector prays from the back of the Temple, saying only "God, be merciful to me, a sinner." Jesus says that the Tax Collector went home righteous and not the Pharisee. Why? The Pharisee actually thnks he is "not like other people." He lives in a righteous, unrighteous, us them, good evil, dualistic world. The Tax Collector simply expresses his need for God's mercy and knows that everyone, including the Pharisee, needs this same mercy. He is one with all men and women in this need for God. He makes no judgments on other people, he is like everyone in need of God's forgiveness and love.

Do you remember reading in highschool j.d. salinger's Franny and Zoey? In the book is mentioned another book, the Way of the Pilgrim. The latter speaks of a young man's search for how to pray "unceasingly" as it says in Ist Thessalonians. A Russian holy man, teaches the young man the Jesus Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner. This prayer comes from the prayer of the Tax Collector in the Temple. Millions of people pray this prayer everyday. Rather than being depressing proclaiming our sinfulness, it leads to a deep peace and joy. You become one with all humanity in everyone's need for God love and mercy.

Jesus invites us not to wallow in our self-righteousness that cuts us off from other people and is full of striving, rivalry and worry over who's in or who's out, but to acknowledge our need for God, and everyone elses, even our enemies, and allow this truth to well up true joy within us. This is Good News!


St. Alban
Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English) meets for mass every Sunday at 10:00 A.M. (see welcome letter at sidebar) at Casa Convento Concepcion, 4a Calle Oriente No. 41, Antigua, Guatemala.
The Reverend John Smith, Vicar

5235-6674 cell telephone (502 country code)


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

SUNDAY PREVIEW - SPECIAL EDITION: Pray for all the people of Haiti as Hurricane Matthew descends upon them (and the TEC dioceses of Haiti, Dominican Republic and Cuba* - The Episcopal Church/Province IX)

Prayers of the People: The Very Beginning, 1st Sunday in the Season of Creation '16

For Sunday, October 9, 2016, Readings: In the Beginning* (©Mark Earey), Psalm 148, Sura 7:54 The Qu’ran**, Luke 17:11-19

In the Beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 
  In the empty void and crushing darkness, God spoke light into being. 
[Mark Earey]

 Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights...sun and moon...all you shining stars...Praise him heaven of heavens and you waters above the heavens...for he commanded, and they were created.
[Psalm 148:1, 3, 4]

 "Your Guardian - Lord, is God, Who created the heavens and the earth in six days...He created the sun, the moon, and the stars, (all) governed by laws under His command."  [Sura 7: 54, The Qu'ran]

 Then [Jesus] said, "Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" [Luke 17:18]

Welcome to the 
Season of Creation!

        The Season of Creation originated in the Anglican Church of South Africa in 2008 and is designed for us to explore our faith from a Creation perspective. We are to realize our place in the order of God’s creating and to see and act upon the need to care for our entire life-support system - the air we breathe, the water we drink, the soil in which we grow our crops - not merely humanity, but our total environment, as it pertains to ALL life. 
         From the early days of the Season of Creation at SsAM [], we established that “the primary aim of the events of the season is to enable adults and youth to celebrate and experience the inextricable link which binds together the destinies of all of God’s creatures.” It is a moment of pause to remind ourselves that God calls us to see “what great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions” and for us to renew our commitment to making real the biblical vision of the earth at unity with itself. It is a vision of human beings of all races, backgrounds and walks of life in local communities and among the nations of the earth, living together in love and peace with justice for all. "As disciples of Christ, we are called through our Baptismal Covenant, to be instruments for the healing of our broken world," and with a renewed commitment to personal and communal prayer and action.
         This year, as a special feature of our season, the Earth Charter[] will form a special context or backdrop of our observance. It provides an opportunity for our parish and its individual members--including our youngest members -- to make specific personal and institutional commitments for the healing of our planet, and to join the movement of millions around the world who endorse and commit to its principles.
         The Earth Charter is a product of a decade-long, worldwide, cross-cultural dialogue on common goals and shared values. This project began as a United Nations initiative, but it was carried forward and completed by a global civil society initiative. It was finalized and launched as a people’s charter on 29 June, 2000 by the Earth Charter Commission, an independent international entity, in a ceremony at the Peace Palace, in The Hague. A global consensus statement of values and principles for a sustainable future, the Charter has at its core an ethic “of respect and care for the community of life as a whole in all its biological and cultural diversity…The Earth Charter adopted the concept of universal responsibility in part because it complements the idea of universal human rights. 
         We will use Biblical and other readings that pertain to the specific theme of each of the 7 weeks. The alternate readings used will follow the prayers on this page.  

         We begin the Season at the BeginningProfessor Wangari Maathai,*** 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner, describes the Book of Genesis as "the book for environmentalists." "If we had been created on Tuesday," she said, "There would have been nowhere for us to stand! God, with infinite wisdom, waited until the last day!"

Christina Brennan Lee 


*Province IX of TEC and the diocese of Cuba are in formation together

Sunday, October 2, 2016

REKINDLE THE GIFT OF GOD: "God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and love and of self-discipline." The Reverend John Smith

Quality or Quantity?

        I think I like quality.  For example, if I wanted to buy a rug, I would like to buy a hand-made oriental or Guatemalan rug than buy a factory-made rug from Walmart.  Of course, some might say that if you have to cover a cold floor to keep your feet warm, and you don’t have much money, buy the Walmart rug.

        Many folks like quantity.  They like to have plenty of something, like money, extra things, lots of stuff.  If have one or two of something is good, three or four or more of the same thing is better!  This is probably the ordinary human experience.

        How do these reflections apply to faith?  In the Gospel today, Jesus’ disciples ask him increase our faith!  They want more faith.  They are quantifying faith.  The most common statement I’ve heard people say is I wish I had more faith.  This is what the disciples are really saying.

        Jesus surprises them by saying it’s not that they need more faith, but to use the faith they have even it is as small as a mustard seed.  Using just the faith they have they could command a mulberry tree, with its vast root system, to be uprooted and be planted in the sea.  Even a small amount of faith can do this!  Jesus definitely puts his emphasis on the quality of faith over the quantity of faith.  But what does that mean for us who usually talk in terms of needing more of something?  What is Jesus getting at?

        When we have even a mustard seed of faith we can live in a way that defies ordinary human experience.  For example:

-Violence strikes us, and instead of responding with righteous violence in holy revenge, we try to uncover the complaint against us and repent;

-Our resources are limited and we feel we have a right to keep what is ours, but we share generously any way;

-God seems to be absent in all the violence, and we can’t see the Kingdom taking root in the world, but we trust and live a life of thankfulness.

In other words, we are fools for Christ’s sake and live a life that defies ordinary human experience:  When most people value the strong, powerful, and wealthy, we refuse to sacrifice the weak, the powerless, and poor.  That’s just what we do with our faith, even if it’s only like a mustard seed!

        Faith allows us to live in the Truth that sets us free.  This is the vision that Habakkuk is talking about:

        Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise . . . The wicked surround the righteous—therefore judgment comes forth perverted . . . Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. 

        Daily life moves fast, we’re running here and there, we have faith, the Truth is there, in big letters, but we can miss it as we run by, mimicking the ordinary human response of the world around us to life’s challenges and tragedies and never truly experiencing freedom.

        When Timothy, a person of faith who had shed many tears in his following of Christ, was tempted to give up, Paul exhorted him

        For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and love and of self-discipline.

        You have faith.  I have faith.  No one has perfect faith.  What the Church has always believed is that when we are gathered together, especially at the Holy Eucharist, the community gathered has a fullness of faith.  This is a school of faith where we learn a way of living in the Spirit which defies ordinary human experience.  We learn to repent, forgive, show mercy, to give to others, and love everyone as a sister or brother of the one Father, Source of life and Truth.  
St. Alban
Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English) meets for mass every Sunday at 10:00 A.M. (see welcome letter at sidebar) at Casa Convento Concepcion, 4a Calle Oriente No. 41, Antigua, Guatemala.
The Reverend John Smith, Vicar

5235-6674 cell telephone (502 country code)


Monday, September 26, 2016

SHARE. SHOW MERCY. GIVE: "Mind the Gap between your comfortable life and those who have no comfort at all.." The Rev. John Smith.

Image result for "Mind the Gap" metro warning, photo?
Mind the Gap
I enjoy metro systems.  The one I’ve used the most is the one in London.  When the doors open and people are going into the train car, a recorded voice says Mind the Gap.  It’s reminding everybody to watch the gap between the platform and the car where there is just enough room for a foot to get caught and tragedy for a forgetful person.

        In the Gospel today, Jesus tells the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus.  This story is a mind the gap story, the most important such story of its kind.  The real world situation is about a Rich Man who had it made, so to speak, many times over, and a poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores.  At that time there weren’t nice doors, like we have in Antigua, that could be closed and no one could see in.  Instead there usually were large doors, maybe with a curtain, but open enough for someone to see in and see what was going on, especially during lavish dinners, etc.  A hungry guy like Lazarus could just look in and drool at the scrumptious fare being served.

        In order to get his point across, Jesus borrows a common folktale of the day about a poor man who dies and is taken to the bosom of Abraham where he finally finds comfort, and a rich guy who dies and is taken to Hades, a place of torment we would call hell.  This is another reversal of fate that Jesus often talks about.  The poor man, who struggled in life, finally finds true contentment, and the rich man who had everything, is left with nothing.

        The rich guy implores Abraham to allow Lazarus to dip his finger in water and touch his tongue to cool it from the flames.  Abraham declines, saying that there is achasm so great between Lazarus and the rich man that it simply is not possible.  The rich man then implores help for his brothers so they might change their ways and not end up like him.  Jesus explains that they already have Moses and the prophets and if they won’t listen to them, someone bringing a message from the dead, or someone rising from the dead won’t convince them or make a difference anyway.

        So what’s Jesus trying to get across by telling this story?  What he’s not trying to do is give us a description of the afterlife.  This disappoints many that hope for a hell where all the bad people, except themselves of course, will be sent.  No, this is a common folktale, kind of like Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, about a self-centered Scrooge who finally changes his ways.  Jesus is saying Mind the Gap between your comfortable life and those who have no comfort at all.  Share.  Show mercy. Give.  Close the gap, now, on this earth, make a difference in your own time.  After you die it will be too late.

        This is the Gospel speaking to income inequality which is so evident in our time.  This is the gap or chasm that matters right now.  Now, I don’t know exactly what will happen when we die, or what the reversal of fortunes will look like, but I know I’ve been warned to mind the gap so I don’t fall.  To know this now is Good News.  I/We have time to repent and change my ways while I/We have time.  

St. Alban
Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English) meets for mass every Sunday at 10:00 A.M. (see welcome letter at sidebar) at Casa Convento Concepcion, 4a Calle Oriente No. 41, Antigua, Guatemala.
The Reverend John Smith, Vicar

5235-6674 cell telephone (502 country code)


Monday, September 19, 2016

CAN WE RISK LOSING RESPECTABILITY TO FOLLOW JESUS: "Can we forgive those who hurt or attack us even when others around us think we are deluded, naïve, and foolish? " John+

Crooked Jesus

          In the New Testament writings, of St. Paul and others, there are short, pithy statements of faith, called kerygma.  They are important because they give us a snapshot of the earliest faith convictions of those who lived closest to the time of Jesus.  In Paul’s Letter to Timothy today we have a great example:

          For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all—this was attested at the right time.

          Of course the attested at the right time refers to the Resurrection.  The resurrection of Jesus from the dead was the absolute confirmation of everything Jesus did and taught and was the pivotal point of human history.  The way followers of Jesus look at history was forever changed.

          When we study the history of human culture from the beginning of time, it seems to document a series of victories and defeats, winners and losers, victorious kings and rulers and defeated kings and rulers, and all their peoples with them.  The most important thing was to be on the winning side of history.

          The Resurrection of Jesus changed history by removing once and for all the notion that victory is all that really matters.  In Jesus, Son of the living God, we have a story of utter defeat and loss.  The crowds spurned his message of love, mercy, and forgiveness, and physically tortured him, mocked him with their tongues, and put him to death.  God raised him up, attesting at the right timethat the loss of everything, even life itself, could end in victory.  History’s cry- to the victor belongs the spoils, was no longer true:  those who lose everything for Jesus, even life itself, will experience victory!

          In today’s Gospel of the Dishonest Steward we have Jesus’ description of himself by the world around him, as a crook.  Yes, Jesus the Crook.  Jesus was seen by the rich and powerful {and those who looked up to them} as squandering their livelihood and possessions.  The Dishonest Steward {Jesus} was fired.  What does he do?  He calls all those who owe the rich guy and forgives their debts, cutting their bills in half.  The debtors {remember Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer- forgive our debtors} didn’t know that the Steward was fired, they think the Rich Master is great.  The Master’s reputation soars {honor was more important than money in those days}, and when the Master finds out he even praises the shrewd Steward!

          What does all this mean?  The Dishonest Steward {Jesus} had no right at all to forgive the debts owed the master.  What he did was completely out of line and completely unrespectable in the eyes of all those looking on.  What Jesus is teaching here, I think, is that respectability is what the world desires from people, but is not what God desires.  The world desires to be on the respectable side of the winners of this world.  Winning gives one respect.  Jesus doesn’t value respectability that comes from winning, money, or even moral uprightness.  All the ways the world keeps score mean nothing to Jesus.  What then is most important to Jesus?  Forgiveness.

          Forgive.  Forgive everything.  Forgive for any reason.  Forgive when it isn’t deserved.  Forgive when you have been hurt.  Forgive when it’s not even your issue.  There is no bad reason not to forgive.  You don’t have to forgive out of love, because you might not feel any love.  You don’t forgive because you don’t want the other to benefit from your forgiveness.  You might forgive because you remember that’s what we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, or you may forgive because you finally get Jesus’ message and want to conduit his bountiful mercy and love.  Whatever the reason, in good or bad faith, the message is FORGIVE.
          The world thought Jesus was a crook:  there wasn’t anything respectable about Jesus, he didn’t keep the Sabbath, he had table fellowship with other crooks, he died a criminal’s death, a complete loser.  The question for me, and perhaps for you too, is can we risk losing some of our respectability so we can follow Jesus?  Can we forgive those who hurt or attack us even when others around us think we are deluded, naïve, and foolish?  If so, the history of the world will finally change for the better!  


St. Alban
Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English) meets for mass every Sunday at 10:00 A.M. (see welcome letter at sidebar) at Casa Convento Concepcion, 4a Calle Oriente No. 41, Antigua, Guatemala.
The Reverend John Smith, Vicar

5235-6674 cell telephone (502 country code)


Monday, September 12, 2016

FATHER FORGIVE THEM..: "The whole enterprise of God is to find, one by one, each of us who are lost." John+

Image result for photos september 11 2001
September 11

        It’s been 15 years to that tragic day when the heavy jets slammed into the Twin Towers in New York.  Can you remember where you were?  I was getting ready to go to church and watched the horror unfold.  I had an 8am service with the children of our school and wondered what I would say to them.

        That day and the ensuing rescue efforts were the subject of all our daily prayers, but the hardest part of it all for me, during the aftermath, was listening to all the calls for revenge.  I was in Arizona and our senior Senator John McCain spoke for so many.  He said God have mercy on the souls of the men who did this, because we won’t.

        These words by Sen. McCain summarized the clarion call for revenge against any and all who could be blamed for this violence toward us- so called sacred violence because we knew God would approve it.  President Bush even used the word Crusade to describe our response.  God might show mercy, but we would show no mercy to those who attacked us.  All of this coupled with the shadow threat of weapons of mass destruction directed against us, gave us no choice but to respond with the full power of our armaments in shock and awe.

        The choices we make when we suffer the violence of other human beings are in great contrast to God’s choice when the ancestors of those same human beings brought about violence and ultimately death to Jesus.  God, in Jesus, chose forgiveness and mercy rather than revenge.  Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

        When we respond to violence with our own righteous violence and claim God’s approval we make God into an idol.  This is the great temptation always, as Moses found out when he came down the mountain after talking with God and found his people dancing around a Golden Calf worshipping it.  God becomes a god of our own creation.  We forget God who is love refuses to have anything to do with our human violence, only picking up what’s left of any human dignity left behind.

        The Apostle Paul was a prime example of how God picks up the pieces of our lives.  Paul was a perpetrator of violence against the early Christian community.  He was absolutely confident that God approved the rounding up of the members of this new sect and putting them to death.  But
I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he has judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence.  But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

        God deals with our ignorance with mercy and the gift of repentance:  the ability to change our thinking and bring our thinking and actions into alignment with Jesus’ own.  Like Paul, God has utmost patience with us!

        Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

        The root of repentance is a change in thinking and our actions that result in deep joy.  Today’s Gospel about the lost sheep and the lost coins teaches this.  Jesus is criticized by the Pharisees and Scribes for having table fellowship with sinners.  Jesus tells two stories about finding something that was lost.  If a man has a hundred sheep and one goes lost, does he leave the ninety-nine and go after the lost sheep? Or if you are a woman with ten valuable coins and lose one, do you sweep and search until you find the lost coin?  If you find it, you rejoice with all your friends and throw a party that will probably cost a lot more than the sheep and/or coin were worth.  If someone simply offered to replace the sheep and coin it wouldn’t be the same.  It’s finding the lost that brings the excitement and joy.
What is Jesus getting at here?  As human beings we live in what is called a sacrificial economy, where it’s ok to let one or some remain lost or be sacrificed for the good of the majority.  But Jesus teaches real joy is in the recovery of the lost.  You could give a sheep to the shepherd or a coin to the woman, but it would only be a sheep or coin.  No big deal.  But to find what was lost is a big deal and leads to rejoicing.  The whole enterprise of God is to find, one by one, each of us who are lost.

This way of thinking leads to Holy Communion. Rather than settling for an un-holy communion where in order to achieve justice someone must die.  Counter to what we usually think, God’s mercy is not directed to the group, but to the lost ones.  This is the Good News:  One is worth it.  It may be you or me.  


St. Alban
Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English) meets for mass every Sunday at 10:00 A.M. (see welcome letter at sidebar) at Casa Convento Concepcion, 4a Calle Oriente No. 41, Antigua, Guatemala.
The Reverend John Smith, Vicar

5235-6674 cell telephone (502 country code)