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Monday, January 16, 2017

WHERE JESUS IS: "..in a world that is slow in “getting the point” of Jesus’ coming, we can love, forgive, and show mercy, because we “get it...” The Reverend John Smith

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Unpack Your Bag and Stay
I bet many, if not all of us, have hit our fingers or thumb when we’ve tried to hammer a nail and missed.  It hurts!  This very human experience goes back to the beginning of time.
      
          “Hammer” is a very important word in the bible.  In Greek, the word hamartia is the word for sin.  The root meaning of hamartia is “missing the mark.” When we “miss the mark” and hit our thumb or finger, we hurt ourselves, “ouch!”  Sin doesn’t hurt God at all, or make God mad at us, it hurts us!  It’s more like a parent saddened when they watch their child get hurt.

          Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

With our understanding of hamartia, or sin, we could translate John the Baptist’s words as “This is the Lamb of God who will help the world not miss the point.”

          What is the “point” that the world had been missing or needed saving from?  I would say this:  

God loves every human being as a son or daughter, there is no need for rivalry or the killing of one another in order to live in peace.  This is the point human beings have missing from the beginning.  

In order to rediscover paradise we don’t have to use violence, require death, sacrifice, or find a scapegoat to blame for our trouble or insecurity.  The “Lamb of God” will take away once and for all time this sin.

          When John calls Jesus the “Lamb of God,” he is using a commonly understood sacrificial term or title.  Lambs were sacrificed all the time.  They replaced “human” sacrifice in the sacrificial system of the time.  Think the story of Abraham and Isaac, when the angel stayed Abraham’s sword that would sacrifice Isaac and told him to sacrifice an animal instead.  God was starting to make the point then- the system that saw the necessary sacrifice of human beings was flawed!

          But human culture continued to “miss the point.”  People continue to sacrifice human beings, created by God, to attempt to win God’s favor or for their own ends.  Striving to rid themselves of evil, they created even more evil.  Sin, hamartia, continued to reign.  This is the “sin” that the Lamb of God offered himself to forgive.

          This is very important.  Jesus, the Lamb of God, offered, emptied himself of God-head, freely, to show humanity from the inside (as one of us), a way to live free of a sacrificial system that required that some be sacrificed so that “evil” might be destroyed.  Jesus showed that real evil can only be eliminated by forgiveness, mercy, and love. 

          This is not easy to understand.  It is so easy to continue to miss the point.  Why?  Because we think that Jesus’ death as Lamb was required by God to turn God’s anger from us and restore his love for us.  (11th Century Doctrine of Atonement) This is not the case! God always loved us (created children) and the world God created.  It was/is humankind that continues to live in a sacrificial system that requires the pointing of the finger, acts of war, “sacred” violence, and destruction of creation.  Jesus’ blood, his death on the cross, was not to change God’s thinking about us (God always loves all his children, however wayward), but to change our thinking about God (a Lover, not waiting to punish us).

          When John’s disciples ask Jesus “Where do you live?” the word is menein or “abide.”  They are thinking of a house or structure here Jesus lived or “unpacked his bags” and stayed.  Jesus says “Come and see.”  This is kind of a joke.  They would keep following Jesus, but they would never come to a physical house!  Jesus was inviting them, and us, to “abide” in him, unpack our bags (what a good feeling that is), mentally and spiritually, saved from “missing the point,” hamartia, or sin.  Even in a world that is slow in “getting the point” of Jesus’ coming, we can love, forgive, and show mercy, because we “get it,” we’ve unpacked our bags where Jesus is, and embrace life, being fed by his Word and Sacrament.  

Amen!

John+
St. Alban


Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English, Anglican Communion) 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)

THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH WELCOMES EVERYONE

Monday, January 9, 2017

THE VOICE OF GOD: "You are my beloved son, you are my beloved daughter. We go into the world, not perfect, but loved!" The Reverend John Smith

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Getting a Hearing Aid

          I suspect that every wife, in the course of years of marriage, says to her husband:  I think you need a hearing aid.  It happened to me.  Terri said that I should get my hearing checked.  I put her off until one day, on my own, I saw a Beltone office in our local shopping center and went in.  The nice lady tech said she had an opening for a free hearing check right then.  I sat down in the booth and took the test. When the test was over she gave me the results, plotted out on the form of a banana.  If your hearing was good, all the dots would be within the banana.  All my dots were!  I got the results in writing to show Terri.  She wouldn’t believe it!

          I thought of that story when I read the Gospel for today, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.  Jesus gets in line with the multitude at the Jordan River to be baptized by John the Baptist.  Finally it’s his turn to approach John to be “drowned” in the water.  But John senses that the one in front of him doesn’t really need to be baptized by him and it should be the other way around.  Jesus should baptize him!  Jesus insists that John continue because this would be the way “to fulfill all righteousness.”  Jesus went under in all that spiritually polluted water and was baptized.

          When someone is baptized and comes up from under the water it is thought that they enter life from a completely fresh perspective:  They have died with Christ and risen to new life in him.   All their sins are forgiven once and for all.  They no longer have a righteousness of their own, having to prove to others that they really are good people, instead they receive a righteousness from God.  From then on, the approval that counts in life is not from other people, but from God!  As God’s voice said to Jesus after his baptism “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased,” this same voice says to each one “You are my beloved daughter, my beloved son, in you I am well pleased.”

          This is what God says over every person in this world. “You are my beloved son, you are my beloved daughter.”  The thing about being baptized is that the rite of baptism makes very clear.  Go therefore into the whole world and baptize them in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  It’s God’s intention that every human being come into the world hear and realize that God is a parent to them with total, unconditional love.

          That’s why I started talking about needing a hearing aid.  We might not need one from Beltone (Terri still thinks I need one!), but we do need one to hear God as a loving parent who loves us unconditionally.  Why is important to have this Gospel hearing aid?  Because most people, unfortunately even many baptized Christians, don’t hear or think of God as a loving parent of everyone in the human family.  Even if it is clear that God is a loving, forgiving parent to us, extending this to every human being, even those who we think are our enemies, is very difficult.

          This is where “to fulfill all righteousness” comes in.  “Righteousness” as something to be or strive for was very important in ancient times.  It is today too, but we don’t like to use that old and religious word.  We prefer words like “cool,” “popular,” “powerful,” “rich,” “famous,” “beautiful,” and even “holy.” These words are used to describe righteousness bestowed by our human culture upon a deserving few.  The loud approval of others we seek and strive for, drowns out the Voice of God that pronounces every child come into the world a beloved son or daughter and surrounds them with unconditional love, or, as Peter finally realized, with God’s help, “No one is profane or impure.”

          Baptism is a resurrection sacrament that introduces a person into a whole new social order.  No longer is it us vs. them.  No longer is it necessary to have enemies or scapegoats.  In Jesus’ death and resurrection we see that (he) the victim is innocent and hated without cause.  God’s justice and righteousness is nothing like human justice and righteousness.  Projecting our human righteousness upon God is idolatry, making God into our own image, and not letting God be who God really is: a loving Parent who unconditionally loves all his/her children.

          This is the hearing aid I need:  to hear the Voice of God as a loving Parent and not a judge who wants to take away my freedom.  Each time when I listen to the Gospel and receive Holy Communion let us hear this Voice clearly say:  You are my beloved son, you are my beloved daughter.  We go into the world, not perfect, but loved!  
Amen!
John+
St. Alban


Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English, Anglican Communion) 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)

THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH WELCOMES EVERYONE

Monday, January 2, 2017

IN JESUS HOLY NAME: " to embrace ordinary folk with the love of God, especially the poor and those oppressed by injustice or disease. If we do this, whatever may come during the New Year, it will be a very good year! The Reverend John Smith


The Holy Name of Jesus

          If we added up all the real questions we ask people over the course of a certain amount of time, the number one question I think would be “What’s your name?”  It’s our way of being friendly and showing interest in the other person and also fulfills a curiosity we have.  Sometimes the question shows sympathy and caring when asked of a child or someone going through a hard time.  Sometime the question “What’s your name?” is demanded of us or asked in anger, like when we’ve done something wrong, or, when I was confronted by the school bully and his friends.  When I told them, over and over, my name was “John Smith” they didn’t believe me.  Frustrated, they left.  Thank God!

          Humans value names.  The importance of names comes, in great part from the religious heritage of the three Abrahamic faiths.  God created Adam out of the earth, adamah.  Abram’s name was changed by God to Abraham, which means Father of a people in Hebrew.  Moses at the Burning Bush, in the course of his dialogue with God, asks God to reveal his name.  God’s name was Yahweh (Yhwh) which means I am Who I Am.  God is the verb “to be” and the foundation/source of all being, every created thing or person.

          Those were just some examples from the Hebrew bible.  In the New Testament we all remember how Saul, the great persecutor of the early followers of Jesus, upon his conversion, God arranged that his name would be changed to Paul.  And Simon the fisherman, when he confessed his faith in the Messiah, Jesus changed his name to Petra which means Rock.  Peter would be the  Rock foundation upon which Jesus would build his church.  Names sometimes describe a person’s purpose or give a new identity.

          Then we come to the Holy Name of Jesus we are thinking about today and the first day of every year.  In the course of the Christmas story, the angel Gabriel revealed to Mary that the baby she would conceive would be called Jeshua which means one who saves.  Mary and Joseph didn’t have to consider names like most parents do, but accepted in faith the name God communicated through the angel for the child.

          The saving name of Jesus remains close to all believers.  St. Paul in Philippians calls the name of Jesus the “name above all names.”  Prayers and hymns focus on the name of Jesus and the power and dominance it contains.  Do you remember the hymn:  There is power, power, power, wonder working power, in the Name, in the Name?  In the course of time, however, the focus on the power of Jesus’ name, has led to a kind of holy competition between faiths, with Christianity being “superior” and “above” all other religions.  But that this very passage with Paul’s testimony about the “name above all names” should lead to thoughts of Christianity’s superiority or dominance over other religions, is sad.  Rather it should lead to love for and service to the world and all its religions.  Why? The whole passage is about humility, about Jesus’ emptying himself out in a saving act and witness for the world!

          I grew up always thinking that Christianity and my Roman Catholicism was the truest and the best of all religions.  I’m glad that I’m joined to Christ in baptism, and it’s taken a while, but I’ve learned from Jesus that the greatest among you is the one who serves, not being served The Holy Name of Jesus reminds us that, as he came to serve and save the world, so should we.  This is the “truth” that Jesus came to bring an be an example for us all.

          Jesus was born in a stable, his parents were very ordinary people, lowly, often despised, shepherds were the first to know of his birth and be changed forever by the experience.  The Apostles were the most ordinary of folk.  So were Mary Magdalen, Zaccheus, and so many others, like us, ordinary people in need of saving.  We were baptized with ordinary water in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!

          So on the first day of every year, the church gives us this special day of the Holy Name to refocus us for the year ahead on what’s really important: to embrace ordinary folk with the love of God, especially the poor and those oppressed by injustice or disease.  If we do this, whatever may come during the New Year, it will be a very good year!  In Jesus’ Holy Name.  

Amen! 
John+ 

St. Alban


Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English, Anglican Communion) 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)

THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH WELCOMES EVERYONE

Monday, December 26, 2016

"God is with us and God’s Kingdom is slowly taking hold on earth, while facing tremendous opposition from those who, for power, greed, fear and hatred, cause them to foster violence, vengeance, and war." The Reverend John Smith

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Out of Darkness

          The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined. (Isaiah 9:2ff)

          In the beautiful passage above, read almost every year at Christmas, we hear that a people walking in darkness have seen a great light, and that great light is shining upon their land which is experiencing deep darkness.  This is what Isaiah and the Jews were living through in their day:  political power struggles, violence all around, and complete disregard for the sacredness of life.  The “light” shining on them in their darkness was the hope given the people in the prophetic word inspired by God and transmitted by Isaiah himself.

          For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.  For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire.  For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  His authority shall grow continually and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom.

          Isaiah was inspired by God to give this prophecy in a time when God’s people needed hope.  The Jews of Isaiah’s time needed to hear this message, and as it is read today to us, it is a word that we need to hear as well.

          We have an advantage over the people of Isaiah’s day, however, because Christ has come among us already, his authority has grown and is growing as we speak.  God is with us and God’s Kingdom is slowly taking hold on earth, while facing tremendous opposition from those who, for power, greed, fear and hatred, cause them to foster violence, vengeance, and war.  Isaiah knew, as I hope we do, that death was completely foreign to God and a Son would come to show us the way to life.

          What we celebrate at Christmas is that God is human.  Walter Wink, a New Testament scholar and peace activist, gave a talk and said

          God is human.  The great error of humanity is to believe that it is human.  We are only fragmentally human, brokenly human.  We see glimpses of our humanness, we can only dream of what a more human existence and political order would look like, but we have not yet arrived at true humanness.  Only God is human, and we are made in God’s image and likeness- which is to say, we are capable of becoming human.  We are human “becoming” more than “being.”

          The purpose of the Incarnation, God taking on our human flesh, is to show us how to be, really and truly, human.  What we see in Aleppo, in the Christmas market in Germany, violence done to people in so many places in our world and behind closed doors, is less than human not worthy of our creation in God’s image and likeness.  Trying to keep peace by killing all opposition is less than human.  The Child, whose coming we celebrate today, will show us how to be human.

          “In those days” Rome was the center of the world and the Emperor was called “Son of God.”  The Census wasn’t just to keep good records and statistics, but was a way to exert power and control.  Joseph had to register in Bethlehem, a tiny village, a true no-where land.  This is where the Savior of the World was born: in a stable with animals, because there was no room in the Inn.  The Messiah was the pushed out, excluded, ignored.  No place in the great city of Rome, among his own in Israel, in Nazareth, in Bethelem at the Inn.  Only the stable with the animals received him.

          The only ones that took notice were shepherds.  These guys weren’t like the pretty figures in our crèche scenes.  The shepherds were socially outcast group, like a bunch of bikers rolling into town on their Harley’s.  People barred their doors when the shepherds came near!  But these shepherds were the ones who noticed something great happening in all of creation and paid attention even though they were terrified.  The angel told these tough guys not to be afraid.  These despised shepherds were the first recipients of the Good News!

          The Child was wrapped in swaddling clothes like all the children were in that day.  The swaddling clothes shaped the child physically.  The culture that we are born into shapes us.  It was no different for Jesus.  He would be shaped by the culture of his day.
          Jesus was place in a manger, a feeding trough for animals.  Interestingly, like the two guys in Emmaus, we meet Jesus in a meal too!

          So the Christmas message that’s getting through to me today is this:  Let go of fear. Hold on to Hope. Know God is acting. Look for God especially where people are weak, excluded, ignored.  Stand with them.  Always remember God might be using the ones we are most afraid of to reveal Good News.  God will use our culture to shape us and help us to become human.  God is present where eating takes place.  God is with us.  

Amen! 
John+

  
St. Alban

Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English, Anglican Communion) 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)

THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH WELCOMES EVERYONE
         

Monday, December 19, 2016

RESPOND TO THE GRACE: "The only way to true and lasting joy is to attune ourselves to God’s deep desires planted deep in the heart by actual grace given to every person who comes into this world." The Reverend John Smith


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The Reverend John Smith, Sermon December 18, 2016:
Peaceful Critical Indifference

I entitled this sermon “Peaceful Critical Indifference,” borrowing a phrase coined by theologian James Allison to describe Isaiah’s prophetic recommendation to the people of his day. Early Isaiah’s time was full of turmoil, with lots of political wrangling between the powers around the royal court, vying for people’s support. Isaiah’s prophetic inspiration was that there was a power coming among them so much more powerful than any earthly power, a new Davidic King, who would restore Israel to prominence. Later Isaiah’s vision became even clearer: Emmanuel, God with us, would come among us and be nothing like any other god that humans ever believed in. Believing in this true and living God, in Person, would enable believers to live in this world with peaceful critical indifference, because they came to know the One ultimately in control of their destiny.

This “head” knowledge of God’s ultimate control over creation and history was not enough, however. The believer had to trust his/her everyday life in all its aspects to this Power, revealed in powerlessness and given flesh by a humble young virgin. The whole story from beginning to end was wrought in weakness and impropriety. 

Let me explain. Today’s Gospel story relates the struggle Joseph had in taking Mary as his wife. Joseph was a righteous man, and righteous men don’t like being caught in questionable moral dilemmas like being engaged to a woman who gets pregnant during the betrothal. It wasn’t me! Joseph is told in a dream to not be afraid of taking Mary to wife. God was in control. The Holy Spirit was acting. Don’t worry about your self-righteousness: cooperate and trust God’s plan. God is doing something very special with this child. God writes straight with crooked lines! (Matthew’s 1:1-17 Geneology links 42 men from Abraham to Jesus and includes the names of 4 mothers in the whole hereditary line: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba “wife of Uriah.” All these women were Gentiles whom men had taken up with and contributed to God’s plan to bring Jesus into the world. In addition to being Gentiles, there was sexual impropriety and questionable morals among these women and the men involved with them. God’s ways in this world are messy, irregular, and often scandalous!) Mary and Joseph’s story was no different. What is the main takeaway from all this? In a word: inclusion. God’s loving actions that culminate in Jesus’ birth are meant for people everywhere, of every nation, religion, or race. The story of Messiah’s coming is extended to all. God loves you even if you don’t believe, care, or a great sinner!
That’s a wonderful message, but it gets even better! What if, like Joseph, we learn to trust the leading of the Spirit, or, in the words of St Paul, let the Spirit bring about in us “the obedience of faith?” Just as Jesus, after his baptism, was led by the Spirit his whole life, what about us? What does this look and feel like? It is bringing our most often conflicting desires in alignment with God’s own loving desire for all of Creation.

The operative word here is “obedience.” This is not a very popular idea in a time when individuality is foremost. We like to follow our own desires. Our desires though, tend to line up with or mimic the desires of others. Following our desires (really other’s desires), never results in lasting happiness. The only way to true and lasting joy is to attune ourselves to God’s deep desires planted deep in the heart by actual grace given to every person who comes into this world. Responding to this actual grace helps a person follow the desire of the Creator whose love contains all peoples desires and can bring them all into harmony.

This is very Good News. This is the world’s destiny. Political powers will come and go, but we can live peacefully, critically caring for real people, especially the suffering and poor (Mt 25!!), indifferent to all the political ups, downs, and turns of life knowing God is in control. Desire God’s desires. They are within us and all people. 

Amen!
John+
 
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)

THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH WELCOMES EVERYONE