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Sunday, October 1, 2017

NO RIVALRY-Jesus described his Father as one who “makes the sun shine and the rain fall on the just and the unjust.”

drops of rain
The Halftime Report

          Last Sunday I shared with you that we were in a “parables” section of Matthew’s Gospel where we would hear a different parable each week, for a total of four.  This week we would hear the third parable in the series, but I forgot that after the first two there was a kind of “halftime” before continuing on to consider the last two parables.

          Jesus has been making quite a stir with his parables thus far and has gotten some negative responses from the chief priests and elders of the temple.  Their question is "Where does Jesus get his authority from?"  If Jesus is going to teach that it is good to be merciful and encourage people to forgive others their debt (Parable of the Unforgiving Servant), and that those who work all day would be paid the same as those who worked only an hour or so (Parable of the Vineyard), this is troubling to those who abide by the Law.

          In each Parable, the Master, King, or Owner aren’t representing God, but are human beings directing the action.  They feel free to punish those failed to follow their example, say forgiveness of debt, etc., or accept their decision about how they paid their workers.  The punishment was very severe with no room for mercy.  The Parables show how "law abiding" human beings usually act toward one another, not how God acts toward people.

          But wait a minute.  Jesus was human like everyone else with the desires and intelligence like other people.  There was nothing special about him, no “halo” over his head or holy look.  Jesus was just a fully human being, but he taught a different message than the kings, masters, owners, chief priests, and elders did.  So, if everyone shares the same humanity with Jesus, what gives?

          What set Jesus apart was his message.  He talked about his Father as a real person of pure generosity.  Jesus described his Father as one who “makes the sun shine and the rain fall on the just and the unjust.”  There was a Spirit they shared where there was no rivalry between them at all.  Jesus always said things like “I do everything I see my Father do.”  All this was problematic for those who put primary emphasis on the Law and every “jot and tittle.”  It made anyone in a position of power very nervous.  Jesus carried himself with a power and an authority they couldn’t abide.

          Along with his message was the fact that Jesus spoke like the one human being in the world who could be fully imitated by others.  In Christian spiritual tradition this is/was called Imitatio Christi:  the Imitation of Christ.  Even in our own time where we value our individualism and the uniqueness of our personality, etc., sociologists would point out that as individuals we still mimic the desires, aspirations, and opinions of those around us.  What Jesus seems to be saying over and over again in the Gospel is that we can choose to imitate our fellow human beings in their multitude of rivalries or we can imitate him.

          This is a hard choice for us.  It is not easy to leave our loyalties and prejudices behind and embrace the imitation of Jesus.  In fact, some would say it is dangerous or impossible to do so.  Some people will walk all over and take advantage of you and might even crucify you.  St. Paul knew this when he said "to me to live is Christ," and wrote in Philippians:

          If there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, and sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete:  be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interest of others.

          When we take the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion it means that Jesus Christ lives in us and we in him.  Jesus, as we come to know him in the Gospel and prayer, is the one  we can confidently imitate and give our complete trust.

          Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much mush more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and work for his good pleasure.

The Halftime Report is over.  Let’s see what Jesus teaches in the next two parables.  
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

Anglican Communion

Sunday, September 24, 2017

GOD'S MORE: "We are living in heaven right here, right now, happy, forgiven, and free-forever. " The Reverend John Smith

Resultado de imagen para Gods generosity, photo?

What More Do We Want

          For four weeks we are in a section of parables in Matthew’s Gospel, one parable each week.  We began last week with the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant and reflected how the servant, having been completely forgiven his debt by the Master, chose to hold back forgiveness from a fellow servant who owed him a much smaller amount.  Instead of continuing in the heaven of God’s mercy and forgiveness, he decided to live in a place of judgment and strict repayment of debt: hell.  Heaven and hell are not places we “go to,” but where we live emotionally and spiritually right now.

          Our first reading today tells the story of Jonah.  (This same text is read on the afternoon of Yom Kippur by the Jews each year.)

Remember Jonah was sent by God to preach to the people of Nineveh.  Jonah didn’t want the task and when he rebelled, the ship he was on sank and he was swallowed by a whale and vomited up on the shore of Nineveh!  God’s way of saying:  Get to it!

Well Jonah preached and the people didn’t change.  The people of Nineveh continued in their evil ways.  Jonah basically said “OK, Lord, go ahead and destroy all those sinners like you planned.”  But, to Jonah’s great disappointment, when God decided not to destroy Nineveh. Jonah went off to have a great pout.  Sitting out in the hot desert God makes a nice shade tree grow over Jonah.  “Now that’s more like it,” Jonah thinks.  But the next day God makes the tree wither and die and Jonah complains about his situation.  God points out to Jonah that Jonah is more concerned about his own comfort than about all the people of Nineveh who would have lost their lives had God chosen to destroy them.  Clearly, Jonah, who God sent to bring a message to Nineveh, decided to live in judgment over others, in other words:  Hell.

During his “pity party” for himself Jonah had declared “It is better to die than to live.”  These words were spoken by Paul in Philippians today also, but there’s a big difference.  Jonah was suicidal in his self-pity, Paul on the other hand, was describing how, if necessary, he was willing to die for his faith.  In Jonah’s case, the condemnation of the people of Nineveh for idolatry led to Jonah’s bowing to the idolatry of his own self-righteousness and leads to his own self-condemnation. In the bible, when judgment is talked about, it is always self-judgment, leading to living in one’s own hell.

Today we have the second Parable in our series:  The Parable of the Vineyard.  Again, Jesus gives us the usual set of characters: a Master or King, the protagonist, and those who receive the action.  Often we think that the Master or King must represent God, but this is not the case.  Before this figure in the Greek text, Matthew puts the word anthropos or man, in other words “man Master” or “man King,” to show it is not God who is the actor. In the story it is not God acting on man, but rather man acting on man.

We’ve heard this story many times, a guy works all day and gets paid the same as a guy hired at the end of the day who only worked one hour.  This story grates on our sensibilities- it seems completely unfair!  The Master’s generosity is hard to take.  We’d almost like to start a protest rally against the Master:  Just pay for time worked!  We stand with the workers who bore the heat of the whole day and only received a fixed amount when they should have received more!  They are rightly envious, we think, of the last workers getting paid the same for less work.  But let’s think about it.  These guys, the early workers, started the day off happy:  We got a job, we can feed our families, so thankful, etc.  But at the end of the day they are angry and upset:  the Master could have paid them more.  Their envy leads to stinginess- with the Master’s money!  They chose to live in the hell of self-righteous judgment of the Master and their fellow workers.

The desire in us to have “more” is what the parable is all about.  Do we want to have “man’s more” or “God’s more?”  With God we have everything we need to live in peace and harmony, a debt-free life of “heaven” on earth. (Don’t we often say to each other when we see people who are very poor, sometimes living in shacks, “How happy they are!”) They are the “last” who are “first.”  When we seek “man’s more” we are always watching what others are doing, seriously concerned about getting our due, our fair share, or, If possible, maybe even a bigger share of the pie.  Never really content or happy, this is a life of “hell” on earth.

We gather to give thanks in Holy Eucharist for “God’s more.”  We have God’s love, everything we really need, a community who loves us and will share with us if there is something we lack.  We are living in heaven right here, right now, happy, forgiven, and free- forever.  

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

Anglican Communion

Monday, September 18, 2017

GOD'S WORD HELPS DEFINE CHRISTIAN LIFE: " Becoming a person that creates Mercy.." The Reverend John Smith

Imagen relacionada

Learning How to Live Debt Free Creating Mercy
Or Doubling Down on the Hell We Live In

          Today we celebrate Solis’ Baptism in Jesus Christ and her membership in Christ’s Church.  Every baptism is a chance for all of us to renew our own commitment to Jesus. 

          In the early days of the Church only adults were baptized.  They had come in contact with a local gathering of Jesus followers and heard the Gospel and decided to follow Jesus for the rest of their lives.  After a period of instruction in the faith, up to three years, they were baptized, usually on Easter Sunday. 

          The early theologians of the church reflected on the necessity of baptism and belonging to the Church for salvation.  The new life in the Holy Spirit was palpable and it didn’t take long for the parents in the community to request baptism for their children.  The episcopoi (overseers, bishops, apostles) agreed to allow the baptism of children if the parents would make a solemn promise to bring up their children in the Christian life.  This would be the greatest responsibility of their lives.  This morning we witnessed Kimberly take these promises for Solis.

          God’s Word we heard this morning helps define what the most important learning of Christian Life is:  Becoming a person that creates Mercy.  We raise our children, like Solis, to know God’s mercy and be able to create mercy toward others.  Let’s reflect on what we heard this morning:

1)    Joseph, so wronged and betrayed by his jealous brothers, thrown in a pit to die and then sold into slavery, shows them complete mercy, and, in their time of trial, gives them everything they need.  They had been so fearful of a harsh judgment by Joseph, but instead all they received was mercy.

2)    St Paul in Romans passes on his understanding of Jesus’ message:  Do not judge others.  If you think other people are in the wrong in your eyes and/or the eyes of God, keep your conviction on this matter to yourself.  Focus on the mercy God has shown you and what Christ has done for you.  This is how you show your true devotion to God:  not in being a (self) righteous judge of others, but instead creating mercy toward others at every turn of life.  It’s when people are recipients of mercy and not judgment that they may repent and change.

3)    Today’s Gospel of the Unforgiving servant underlines all of the above.  The Servant was given total forgiveness by the Master, who forgave all his debt, but when he came across a fellow servant in debt to him who couldn't pay, he had him thrown into debtor’s prison.  Confronted with a perfect opportunity to create mercy and to keep the mercy he had received flowing, he refused.

Heaven on earth is acknowledging the mercy each one of us have received by God and letting that mercy flow consistently to others, especially the ones in debt to us for any harm they have caused.  To do otherwise is to live in Hell:  a world that operates on judgment and insists on the strict repayment of debts.  The servant in the parable was invited into the heaven of God’s mercy, but he chose to go back to a world where debts are strictly kept.  Instead of choosing heaven, he doubled down on the hell he had been living in and suffered the consequences.

     When we talk about raising Solis in the Christian life we’re talking about her learning to create mercy.  Kimberly takes the main responsibility for this, but we share and support her and Solis in this task.  We want to be here for you.  The Church is really a school where we should be learning divine mercy.  Our grade point average is not very good, so we keep coming back to give thanks to God in Holy Eucharist, and we hope you and Solis will keep coming back too!  

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

Anglican Communion

Sunday, September 10, 2017

KEEPING THE FEAST: "Satan is working to destroy or neutralize community, but fortunately, each person has received the Holy Spirit and can deal with the weakness and sinfulness of each person in the community with unconditional love and forgiveness." John+

Resultado de imagen para Keeping the feast, photo?

Don’t hit the Snooze Button when the Alarm Rings

You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake up from sleep.  For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers.” (Romans 13)

          God’s Word in general, and the Gospel in particular, always come to us as a wake-up call.  Just like when you are still tired and warm and comfortable in bed, it’s easy to just hit the snooze button when the alarm goes off.  My new phone’s alarm allows you to hit the snooze button up to three times!  I guess after the third time it won’t bug you anymore.  The alarm program gives up and you can just go back to sleep.

          God knows we need our sleep, but there’s a time to wake up too.  God has a plan to save the world and those who believe in God have a major part to play.  The first “locus” of God’s action in the world is the local gathering of believers- the church.  The work of God’s salvation, bringing heaven to earth, would be much easier if the church were more “awake” to what God is trying to accomplish.

          Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy.  Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:14)

          Why would Paul feel the need to communicate this message to the community of believers in Rome?  Probably because they were “sleepy” and imitating those around them instead of living their faith and loving one another.  They were playing the game of “I’ll change my ways if you change your ways first.”  Individual desires (epithymia) were being put ahead of the community and living a life in the Spirit (pneuma).  A study of the Greek word epithymia (epi=over, thymos=wrath, violent movement of air, water, ground boiling up in smoke, eruption) can make us think of the hurricane we are watching wreak destruction where ever it goes.  As a dangerous storm develops in natural creation, it can also develop in the Christian community and impede the Holy Spirit’s ability to bring peace and salvation to the world.
          In today’s Gospel, Jesus points out that every person in the community must take responsibility for themselves.  Usually, we blame others for what’s wrong (skandalon= something small that trips us up) in the community.  Where we don’t find love, we refuse to put love.  Instead, each person must own their part in what is lacking, realize their own sinfulness, and put love into the community.  St. Augustine said about this, “Where you find no love, put love, and you will find love.” In the Old Covenant, under the Law, a person had to demonstrate repentance before they would receive forgiveness, but in the New Covenant of Jesus, unconditional love and forgiveness is given beforerepentance.  The reason for this is that unconditional love and forgiveness makes the possibility of true repentance real.
          This is a tremendous sea-change.  For Jesus, and his followers, things are different.  Jesus was aware that many of his followers would persist in living under the Old Covenant Law, but he taught that where he was acknowledged and even two or three gathered in his name, he would be in their midst.  Jesus’ presence brings about a “holy communion” where every follower takes responsibility to love their brothers and sisters unconditionally. In the Jesus community, when something is lacking in the community, no member can claim to be blameless and be a victim or scapegoat.  A person of faith is not scandalized by any kind of rivalry, envy, jealousy, resentment, or hatred that shows its ugly head in the community, rather it is to be expected.  Satan is working to destroy or neutralize community, but fortunately, each person has received the Holy Spirit and can deal with the weakness and sinfulness of each person in the community with unconditional love and forgiveness.  This is the way of the “Jesus people” as our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry likes to call us.
          Alleluia, Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us!  Christ is the Passover Lamb of the New Covenant.  We celebrate this Passover, not just once a year, but every Sunday.  The need for change from a sacrificial culture oriented to death, to a culture of unconditional love is crucial for bringing about God’s will “on earth as it is in heaven.”  It begins with us and every community gathered in Jesus’ name.  It’s time to wake up!  Let us keep the feast.  Alleluia!  
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

Anglican Communion