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Monday, July 24, 2017

GOD DOES HAVE OUR BACK: "Sadly, sometimes we are called to endure suffering for a greater good (causing less evil).." John+

violent-god-jesus-old-testament
Opposing Evil without Doing Evil

          One of the important questions of our time (and of all times really) is how we can oppose evil without causing more and greater evil.  If this is a perennial question then it is not surprising that Jesus would address it and shed some light and wisdom on it.  Such is the case with today’s Gospel of “The Wheat and the Darnel.”

          Today’s Gospel follows The Parable of the Sower we had last week. Then, we reflected that the primary focus shouldn’t be on the individual and the type of soil they provide for the seed of the Word of God, rather the focus should be on the Sower who indiscriminately sows seed everywhere on all human beings who find themselves in all kinds of soil conditions.  The Sower just keeps broadcasting the seed everywhere knowing that a good harvest will result in the end.

          But what about the darnel, the weeds, sown in the middle of the night by the enemy (the Evil One)?  The question is asked of the owner of the field, should we pull them up?  And what does the owner (God) say:  No.  For in pulling up the weeds you will also pull out some good wheat.  Let them grow together until the harvest. 

          This teaching of Jesus is perhaps the most important for our own time.  Yes, people are doing real evil in the world and we want to stop them, but what if trying to stop them we do even greater evil to good and innocent folks.  Two examples, of many, come to mind:  Pearl Harbor and September 11th.  The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor caused the deaths of over 2500 people, mostly military, and set in action a horrific war that caused many more casualties.  But to end all the evil done to us, we dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and caused the deaths of over 250,000
 people, mostly civilians.  On September 11th, 3500 people tragically lost their lives in the Twin Tower attacks in an hour and this set in motion a plan of revenge (based on inaccurate information and lies) that resulted in years of warfare and killed over 350,000 mostly innocent people, and the deaths and maiming of thousands of our own soldiers.  Doesn’t Jesus’ teaching of letting the weeds grow alongside the good wheat make sense?  This may be hard for us to hear and accept, but I now realize what Jesus means when he says “Let those with ears, hear.”

          The Evil One only has to sow a few weed seeds to mess things up and doesn’t have to do anything else.  Good people will do the rest.  In the effort to get rid of, or respond to the evil done in the world, good folks will do the work.  The problem is that this creates more evil in the world, more death, to the enjoyment of the clever Evil One, successful in causing more pain, suffering, and death than ever.

          We need Jesus’ wisdom to not try to root out evil in the conventional ways it has always been done:  An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.  This is not Jesus’ way at all.  But, many say, that statement is in the bible!  They take it out of context completely.  Jesus said

          You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer.  But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone want to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 

This is the wisdom of Jesus in the face of evil:  let the evildoer be shamed in front of everyone who will surround the victims with love and compassion.  People are always watching (especially today!!) so, if someone backhands you on the right cheek, offer the left for a regular punch.  If someone demands your coat, take off all your clothes, down to your underwear.  If someone forces you to go a mile, go two miles (a Roman soldier could force anyone to carry his heavy pack one mile) and let everyone see what a real wimp the soldier is.  Let the evildoers be shamed, but don’t cause more evil yourself by responding with hate and revenge.  This is a passive response.  A second response is more active:  “Let the weeds grow until the harvest.”  The Greek word for “let or permit” is aphete which comes from the same root as apheimi which means “forgive.” Real forgiveness and love of the perpetrator of violence puts us under God’s power and ultimate victory.

Sadly, sometimes we are called to endure suffering for a greater good (causing less evil).  The Good News is that God does have our back, just as he had Jesus’ back and raised him up after Jesus suffered evil.  Let’s conclude with St. Paul’s reflection from today’s second reading:

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. . . We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.  (Romans 8)

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

Sunday, July 16, 2017

THE PARABLE of the SOWER: "God’s Word is Love and meant for human being without distinction or merit, completely indiscriminate in its distribution." John+

God has a Green Thumb

          As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Is 55)

          In Arizona, driving down the freeway, there are big billboards pointing the way to a special tourist attraction called “The THING.”  I never went, but when I read the above passage from Isaiah (one of my favorite passages in the bible), I thought of the “thing” for which God sent his word.  I never saw the tourist THING, but I definitely want to see the “thing” that God will bring about in the world:  salvation.  The passage is a statement of complete confidence in the effectiveness of God’s Word to ultimately save the world.

          This passage is a profound backdrop for understanding today’s Gospel:  The Parable of the Sower.  Each of us has heard this Gospel many times.  The Sower goes out to sow his field and as he sows the seed (seed=Word of God), the seed falls on four types of soil:  exposed on the path, rocky ground, thorny, and good soil where it really bore fruit. 

Each of these “soil situations” describe the realities that people face in the world.  This understanding is relatively new for me and maybe for you too.  Usually, when we hear the Parable of the Sower, we put the emphasis on ourselves, asking “What kind of soil am I for God’s Word?” We hope that we are good soil, but we fear that we just be the soil on the path (exposed and shallow) where the seed gets eaten by the birds, or we might be the rocky ground (not much soil at all) where the seed doesn’t have a chance to grow.  Or, I bet most of us, think we’re more like the thorny soil, choking off growth of the Word within us by the “cares of the world and the lure of wealth.”  And of course there are those who provide a nice tilled soil for the Word, well fertilized by prayer, etc.

This is our usual interpretation of the parable:  very personal, and, if we’re honest, can create a bit of fear:  the odds are 3 types of soil to 1 to “make the grade” so to speak.  The odds are against us being good soil, and, really when we look at other people in the world, close by or where ever, the odds are really against most of them too.  After all, we think we’re nowhere near in as bad a condition as they are, in our humble opinion.

The main problem with this whole line of thinking is that it takes emphasis off of the main protagonist of the parable:  The Sower!  This is where we need to stay.  Yes, the conditions of soil are real and in life we find ourselves experiencing some or all of them, but this is not the point.  We need to focus on the Sower in the parable who represents our loving, merciful, indiscriminate Lord, who goes out to sow with his bag of seeds and just throws them everywhere, zillions of them, in every direction, all over!  The seeds of God’s Word fall everywhere, on all types and conditions of soil.  God’s Word is Love and meant for human being without distinction or merit, completely indiscriminate in its distribution.

The only downside in this very open and loving interpretation of the Parable is the human heart.  If, in our hearts, we see God as a judge or a God of violence, then it is easy to close ourselves off to Love.  Our hearts get hardened and the only way to survive (we think) is to put others under our judgment and violence to defend ourselves.

The Good News is that we don’t have to live this way, constantly judging ourselves and others.  Whatever the condition of our soil, or anyone else’s soil, for that matter, we know that God’s Word is trying to plant itself in every person and God’s Word is greater than any condition of soil it lands on.  Let the Holy Spirit, the wind or breeze of God, blow us to where we can grow.  The Holy Eucharist serves as the most powerful fertilizer in the world to bring nutrition and life into the most difficult situations we find ourselves.  Gathering here to listen to God’s Word we make it possible for our Sower Lord to do what he does best:  sow seeds that can grow in us and cause true joy to spring up in our hearts! God has a green thumb!

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

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Find relief in Jesus: "Does the world seem to be a hard place to live sometimes? Are people harsh with one another?" John+

comforting words

Struggling with Comforting Words

          Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

          These words of Jesus are perhaps the most comforting of the whole Gospel.  Jesus is talking to real people and offering them an alternative to the burdens that the world lays upon them.  We love hearing them, but deep down we struggle with their meaning.

          Let’s take inventory of the situation the vast majority of people find themselves by answering the following questions:  Do we often get weary of the demands of daily life?  Even if we have an abundance or lack of resources do we carry some heavy burdens (either trying to make ends meet or always trying to keep up with the Jones’s)?  Do we feel like yoked animals plowing a field, but wandering all over and directionless?  Does the world seem to be a hard place to live sometimes? Are people harsh with one another?

          If we answer “yes” to some or all of these questions, then Jesus is telling his disciples and us, his modern day disciples, that we need to come to him to find relief in carrying the heavy burdens that life presents to us.

          There’s a cute expression we sometimes hear these days.  “We need to have a ‘Come to Jesus’ meeting with someone.”  Doesn’t “Come to Jesus” in this phrase mean that someone must recognize a situation and respond- or else?  We’ve turned around the tone of Jesus’ invitation to come to him for help and relief from the way in which the world lives and made this “coming to Jesus” something heavy and burdensome.  Isn’t that true?

          If we want to make progress in really coming to Jesus perhaps we have to admit that we have some problems with the whole notion.  We honestly believe that to deal with people in the world with gentleness and humility is problematic.  Dealing with situations in this world takes strength and toughness.  A “milk toast” approach just won’t work.  We like to hear these comforting words of Jesus, but at the same time they disturb and scandalize us, offending our worldly sensibilities by their appearance of weakness.  How can we achieve our worldly goals and fulfill our desires if we hitch our dreams to Jesus’ wagon?

          Let me pay heavy taxes (most of which goes to buy weapons of mass destruction). Let me worry about whether my health care coverage will continue or not.  Let me worry about my job or need for one.  Let me worry about having enough to live on, or if I do have plenty of resources, getting all the things I want to have and then properly protect them from others.  How about the situation many find themselves in of wondering where their next meal is going to come from?  These are the heavy burdens of the world in which we live.  Is Jesus going to pay the bills or put food on the table or secure my next “must have,” or win the battle against terrorism? The world’s wisdom is that we must look out for ourselves, for Number One, “every man for himself.”

          When Jesus says to “come to me” he’s not saying that we won’t confront the heavy burdens the world lays on us.  There are always burdens that can be heavy or light.  “Come to me” refers to a special wisdom that is given to those who try to imitate Jesus, especially in his complete trust in his Father’s will, his gentleness and humility, and in his merciful and forgiving way with people.  Imitating Jesus, we don’t require more and more “defensive” weapons that threaten relationships and increase fear, and require heavy taxes to pay for them.  Instead, resources would be available for those unable to “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.”  There would be less tension between nations and people.  The belligerent would find themselves either isolated or won over. 
          This is the “yoke” Jesus offers us.  It’s not the yoke of a beast of burden, but an education in wisdom gained from following the right Master. (The original meaning of the word referred to a young man leaving his home and parents to join himself to a teacher.)  The Wisdom from above that Jesus incarnated here on earth always has non-violence, dialogue, and mercy as a foundation.  The word “gentle” (praus) in the Gospel and today’s first reading means to be non-violent.
          This teaching of Jesus is completely missed by the “wise and clever” of this world who should know better, but don’t.  Jesus’ teaching is revealed to “infants,” those who haven’t yet been “culturalized” by the world, who understand what he is talking about.  Here at the altar we step back from the everyday wisdom of the world, and repenting, choose a yoke that is easy and light, and, feeding on Jesus’ Body and Blood, receive Jesus’ wisdom and peace.  
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


Sunday, July 2, 2017

God's Sacrifice for Us: "We acknowledge this tremendous Love and Sacrifice of God for us every time we celebrate the Holy Eucharist and receive the Body and Blood of the Lord. " John+

Image result for Holy Eucharist, photo?
Whose Voice Is It?

          One thing that I’ve been talking with you about for a long time is a theory that has found traction in the Christian church called “Substitutionary Atonement.”  SA is the idea that God sent Jesus his beloved Son to die for us and this dying would forgive our sins and make it possible for God to love us again.  Jesus “substituted” himself and received the punishment destined for us.  Christians could say:  God loves me, because He sent Jesus to die for my sin.

          Today’s reading from Genesis of Abraham’s sacrifice of his beloved son, Isaac, is one of the texts used to bolster this idea of SA.  In this story, one of the crucial stories of the Hebrew Bible (OT), Abraham hears a voice

Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.

Abraham does as the voice commands.  Abraham walks through his village with Isaac in his arms, knife in its sheaf, and heads up the mountain.  Today, people would call the cops and report such activity:  What is this man planning to do with his son?  But in Abraham’s day the scene would be considered serious, but completely normal.  A man, moved by his faith in God, could choose to sacrifice his child as an offering to the gods, for prosperity, a favor, or to atone for sin.  But upon arrival at the site of sacrifice and as Abraham is about to thrust the knife into Isaac, he hears another voice just in time

Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.

Isaac is saved.  Abraham heads down the mountain and through the town with his son.  This would have surprised everyone!  Coming down the mountain with his son would be considered “abnormal.”  Not the normal outcome.  “Didn’t he want to please the gods?  What’s up with this?”

For centuries, both of these voices seemed to be from the same holy Source:  God testing Abraham’s faith by telling him to sacrifice his only son, and then, at the last moment, telling him not to kill the boy.  But is this the case?  Closer study of the Hebrew text reveals the possibility of two voices in this text.  The voice that tells Abraham to sacrifice his son is elohim (the gods) and the voice that tells him not to harm the boy is Yahweh (Adonai).  Elohim is a plural word that refers to “gods” and also used to refer to God, but not usually in the same text with the holy name Yahweh.  There seems to be two “voices” here.

For centuries people had heard the voice of the gods calling for child sacrifice.  Abraham was clearly part of that culture.  Is would be easy for Abraham, called by God, to comply.  But the Voice of the living God, Yahweh, calls off the sacrifice.  Do you think God would put is called ones, Abraham and his children, through cruel tests like this? We’ve been led to think so.

(An aside here:  Our culture thinks it has left child and animal sacrifice in the past.  Pat on the back.  But have we?  We continue to misuse and destroy God’s Creation for our own ends and greed.  And don’t we continue to practice child sacrifice to the “gods” of our chosen transcendent values like freedom and the Constitution, sending our young people to be maimed or die in never-ending wars and conflicts.  These “gods” have enslaved us in the sin of violence while convincing us that we are free.  If we are going to be slaves, let it be to the Living God. Romans)

Mahatma Ghandi, friends with Anglican priest, Charles Andrew, told him

There are causes for which I would be prepared to die, but no cause I would be prepared to kill for.

Jesus’ death on the Cross, once and for all, reverses this sacrificial practice of appeasing the “gods,” by sacrificing himself, the Son of the living God, for us.  No longer must people offer sacrifice to please the “gods,” but God offers a Sacrifice for us!  We acknowledge this tremendous Love and Sacrifice of God for us every time we celebrate the Holy Eucharist and receive the Body and Blood of the Lord.  We are truly enabled to be free and live a Life in the Holy Spirit.  This is great and good news!!  

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