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Monday, April 24, 2017

THE POWER TO FORGIVE OTHERS: "Only forgiveness begins a process that makes peace possible, retaliation simply keeps the cycle of violence going."

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Get Over It and Get Out There

          The disciples were in absolute shock after Jesus was executed.  They fled and hid away.  Thomas couldn’t stand to be with them.  Jesus was executed for being anti-religion.  He broke the Law.  A real Messiah would never submit to the kind of death Jesus suffered. They were ashamed of their involvement with him.  Their Lord and Master didn’t fit the script.  Jesus was supposed to free them his people from oppression and violence.  Instead, he died from it.  They were confused and each one felt debilitated by guilt.

          I don’t know about you, but if I saw that group again I would read them the riot act.  But instead, when Jesus appeared to them, the first thing he said was Peace be with you:  Total and complete forgiveness.  And when Thomas finally rejoined the other disciples who saw the Lord first, he demanded to see Jesus’ wounds before he would believe.  The Risen Jesus showed Thomas the wounds of his hands, feet, and side.  Thomas then made the greatest acclamation of faith in the Gospels:  My Lord and my God!

          This scene is very important.  At the time John’s Gospel was coming together there were two very strong currents flowing among the early believers:  Docetism and Gnosticism.  Docetism was the thought that because Jesus was God he only “appeared” to die on the Cross.  It was just a “show” of God’s love.  Gnosticism was similar to Docetism, but different.  The only “real” world was the spiritual world.  The material world around us is evil and God could have no part of it.  It was only an illusion.  Since Jesus was God and spiritual, he could have nothing to do with the evil material world.  Jesus, as God’s Son, most spiritual, couldn’t have anything to do with the material world and death on a cross.  But, on the contrary, Jesus didn’t hide the fact that he physically suffered and died when he showed Thomas his wounds.  What Thomas doubted was not the resurrection and that Jesus came back from the dead, but that he died by execution.  I won’t believe until I see the wounds.

          Jesus said Peace be with you two times, not to calm the disciples fears or take away their anxieties, but to forgive them and send them out in the power of the Holy Spirit.  As the Father sent me, so I send you.  Their mission was to bring forgiveness and teach forgiveness to the people of this world.  The “retain” part was not about judging who was going to “go to heaven” or who was “going to hell,” but aboutthe urgency of getting about the task of forgiveness.  God wants to spread forgiveness in the world and the Evil One says “Are you really sure you want to forgive those SOB’s?

          Jesus “breathed on them.” Breath communicated the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete.  The Paraclete is the one who is “called alongside,” para (alongside) kletos (called).  The main role of the Holy Spirit, aka, the Paraclete, is to stand alongside of victims, those who suffer violence caused by the powerful in this world.  Jesus didn’t bestow the Holy Spirit upon them to make them feel better, all warm and fuzzy, but to do the work of standing up to the victimizers of this world who scapegoat the powerless for their own ends. And forgive them.

          The power of Jesus’ Resurrection is forgiveness.  So often, “faith in God” is thought to be about believing that God will support us in defending our “God-given” precious values at all costs against the evil and bad people who are our enemies.  The violence, destruction, and death we cause our enemies are “sacred” because God backs us up.  Many believe this is having “faith in God.”  Not believing for an instant that God would have us forgive our enemies or, God forbid, love them.

          When Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection, he didn’t gather them to make a plan for getting even with those who called for his death and the officials who actually gave the order to put him to death.  Instead, he forgave the disciples who abandoned him, forgave them, and gave them the power to forgive others and ordered them to get about it.  Only forgiveness begins a process that makes peace possible, retaliation simply keeps the cycle of violence going. 

          On this Second Sunday of Easter we learn that faith in God is not easy.  Real faith in God means believing that the violence of this world can be eliminated only by forgiveness and non-violence.  This is faith in God!  The Holy Spirit stands with those who practice this faith.  Our belief in the Resurrection of Jesus takes away our fear.  We have already died with Christ in Holy Baptism.  We have been forgiven and can forgive others.  We can get over our fear and guilt and get on with forgiving.  

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, April 17, 2017

"Jesus went through suffering and death and rose from the dead to bring heaven to earth, and so God’s will be done here. Earth is important. Earth is not a place to escape from, but a place to take care of and nurture."... "Everyone and everything is to be valued and cared for." The Reverend John Smith

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Fix Your Minds

Go into the whole world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

          This is the Great Commission given by Jesus to the Church.  The Church, an assembly of people called out, finds its deepest purpose in bringing others into relationship with God in Jesus Christ.  By the Grace of the Holy Spirit, the St. Alban community has brought Jenny Christofferson into the Church of God and a relationship with Jesus Christ.  This is a great joy for us who also renew our commitment to Jesus with Jenny on this Easter Sunday.

          I’ve entitled this sermon “Fix Your Mind,” inspired by the Colossians reading because it can have a double meaning:  Fix your mind on the things that are above, and, “fix your mind” meaning repent and change our thinking about some important things.

          In the reading from Acts this morning we have a great example of what I’m talking about.  Peter is struggling to change his own thinking.  Even though Peter had been with Jesus for some years and been a witness to the Risen Jesus, his thinking was still fixated on worldly distinctions:  what was profane and what was holy, who was pure and who was impure, what foods were clean and what foods were unclean, etc. Peter’s mind was set on distinctions that people make in this world and not from the viewpoint of heaven.

          How can heaven come to earth, as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, if we persist in making these judgments and distinctions?  To think from “above,” a heavenly viewpoint, is to learn how not to call anyone profane or impure.  In God there are no impure or profane people.  All people are children of the Father.  Human beings declared Jesus guilty and executed him, and, at that very instant God declared Jesus innocent and raised him from the dead.
 
With the Resurrection of Jesus a new culture is being established. Death, and the fear that flows from death, that skews all human interaction, is conquered once and for all.  There is a new basis for people gathering together, not depending on having common enemies or pitting one group against another.  Jesus, the victim hated without cause, forgave his executioners, and gave us an example to live by.  Forgiveness of enemies is now possible.

Fix your mind on the things that are above for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

We know that our human culture still has a long way to go before God’s heavenly culture takes root in this world.  It remains “hidden with Christ in God.” We get a glimpse of heaven coming to earth whenever we experience new life, light, joy, peace, reconciliation, and love.  Every baptism, like Jenny’s today, brings us into that experience. Jenny, and we who renewed our commitment to Jesus, are not seeking to “go” to heaven, but with the help of the Holy Spirit, bring heaven’s ways to the earth.

          Jesus, who we follow, died forgiving all those who put him on the cross, and when he rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples, he called for no retaliation.  Jesus went through suffering and death and rose from the dead to bring heaven to earth, and so God’s will be done here.  Earth is important.  Earth is not a place to escape from, but a place to take care of and nurture.  It’s where our bodies will rest until the resurrection of the dead.  To devalue the earth, not taking care of it or its resources, is to make the earth a victim of the sacrificial system that uses people and resources, not for the common good, but to be scapegoated and exploited for the few.  Everyone and everything is to be valued and cared for.  The Resurrection of Jesus and our own baptism into his death and resurrection in Him makes this possible.  Our minds fixed on things above, this new culture, hidden in Christ, can fix our minds here and now, and lead us to 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, April 16, 2017

Monday, April 10, 2017

THE WISDOM OF PALM SUNDAY: "Receiving God’s mercy, we become merciful to everyone, even forgiving our enemies..." The Reverend John Smith


A donkey rests on the shoulder ...
Mission Impossible:  Following the Crowd and Jesus

          The Palm Sunday liturgy has two parts:  Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem and the Passion account.  The principal supporting actors to Jesus are the crowds.  Both crowds are made up of large numbers of normal town folk, who, when shouting and acting as one, have tremendous political power.

          At Jesus’ entrance to Jerusalem, seated humbly on a donkey rather than a war horse, he is enthusiastically welcomed by the crowd.  They wave olive branches and palms and shout messianic titles.  Everything they do underlines the importance of this one’s coming to Jerusalem.  The crowd has a clear sense that this Jesus plays a crucial role in their salvation.  Things couldn’t be better.

          Less than a week later, everything changes.  The crowd seeing the opposition of their leaders to Jesus, change their tune dramatically.  The shouts of “Hosanna” change to “Crucify him!”

          Scholars have put forth many theories to help explain the change.  The most prominent theories focus on disappointment.  The crowd thought that Jesus would exercise a power to overthrow the corrupt leadership that ruled them and lead them against their enemies, but when it seemed that Jesus would not use his power in this way, they jumped from the “ship of hope,” so to speak, to float down stream in their pragmatic need to “get along” with the powers that be.

          Fundamental to this crowd behavior is that people in crowds always follow the prevailing winds of the majority of people in the crowd.  Individuals, who on their own might have a different view of things, still tend to follow the crowd.  They refuse to stand out alone separate from the crowd.  After all, they surmise, the crowd’s view might be the right one at the time. 

          So, in a matter of days, the crowd shouts to a reluctant leadership, for Jesus’ crucifixion.  At that point in time, Jesus was the scapegoat whose demise would make everyone feel better- at least for that moment.  Then what?

          This is a good study for us.  We are part of crowds and their behaviors.  The majority view of the crowds that we are part of, shape our thoughts and behaviors as well.  But we are called to be different.

          Followers of Jesus, seek to extract themselves from the psychology of crowds and the prevailing thought of the crowd.  This will always be, when noticed, an unpopular place to stand.  No one knew this better than Paul, when he writes, Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.  Crowds are all around us, begging us to join in their judgments of the moment, but we are called to stand, like Jesus, apart, not swayed by the emotion of the crowd or their current positions, for they are always fickle and changing.

          The Church is a gathering of those who have been called out of the crowd, ekklesia, to follow Jesus and learn to have his mind.  The Church is not a crowd, liable to sway this way or that, pragmatically with the current winds.  The Holy Spirit is the “wind” the Church follows.  The Church is always about life, always sees the potential of life, and refuses to have anything to do with death.  Crowds, unlike the Church, deal in necessary “sacred death” and sacrifice.  The crowd reacts mainly from fear:  Isn’t it expedient that one man die, than all the people perish?

          We seek, guided by the Gospel, to have Jesus’ mind.  Like him and unlike the crowd, the only sacrifice we require is our own.  We try to stand apart from the crowd in their cheers and jeers.  We resist actively and non-violently to the machinations of the crowds we find ourselves in.  When we fail to do so, we confess and ask God’s forgiveness.  Receiving God’s mercy, we become merciful to everyone, even forgiving our enemies.  This is the wisdom of Palm Sunday.  We can’t live without it.    (emphasis added - LR)

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, April 2, 2017

JESUS' MIRACLES: "..intended to change the orientation of our hearts from death to life." The Reverend John Smith



Orientation

          Ezekiel’s vision of the Dry Bones coming together and taking on flesh and new life has always been a favorite of mine and many in the church. (Think song: ‘dem bones, ‘dem bones, gonna rise again)  The scene is a great foreshadowing of the Resurrection when, like Jesus, all the bones of the dead will be recipients of New bodies and death will be no more!  This is fantastic, almost romantic, when we think of all of our departed loved ones.

          But this vision is not so romantic when understood to describe child sacrifice practiced in Jerusalem just a few years before the Babylonian Exile.  Why Children? A child is the most vulnerable and valuable offering we can make to God, they thought. The moral decay indicated by this “pagan” practice by a people of faith, in their holy city, explains how easily it was for them to be conquered and taken away as slaves to Babylon.  Both Ezekiel, and Jeremiah before him, prophesied and warned their people against this practice and denial of their faith in the living God.  But they, like us, were deeply committed to a sacrificial system, which endures to our own day:  we continue to sacrifice our young for sacred purpose.

          This, in St. Paul’s way of speaking, is to live in the flesh.  In the first verse of our reading from Romans he sets up a verb-less spiritual equation:  mind on flesh, death; mind on Spirit, life and peace.  We can exist in either mind-set. It’s a free choice.  Paul knew the choice so well.  When he persecuted the new followers of Jesus it wasn’t because of outright hatred.  He was just following what he knew to be the way Jews should be to disruptors of their faith.  After his conversion Paul realized how easy it is for religious folks trying to do something good and ending up fostering evil.

          In today’s Gospel, Jesus is notified of the death of his friend Lazarus.  It took Jesus a couple of days to process the news and get his equilibrium.  He was criticized for his delay.  Don’t you care!!  He dreaded his arrival.  When he got there, all he saw was a hopeless crowd, symbolized by the crying and wailing of the Jews gathered at Lazarus’ tomb (the majority were probably paid mourners), all of this made Jesus damn angry!  Our popular English translations (NIV and NRSV) don’t help us understand Jesus’ real anger, translating the Greek words for anger and absolute indignation, as “greatly disturbed” and “deeply moved,” trying to underline Jesus’ compassionate nature.  I’m sorry, but the Greek words express outright anger, yes, that his friend lay in death, the crowd carrying on like death was the worst thing that could happen to someone, and no hint of God’s view of death as simply a door to new life.  They had completely forgotten the vision of Ezekiel:  God will bring life from dry bones!

          Jesus’ anger subsided.  He would show them something of the glory of God.  God brings life out of death.  Jesus calls Lazarus’ name and orders him to come out.  Lazarus is resuscitated and comes out bound with burial wrappings.  “Unbind him and let him go!” Jesus orders.  His friend would die one day, but not on Jesus’ watch!  Jesus would offer up his own life to someday end a sacrificial system and a culture enamored with death.  Why? Why? Why?

          The answer:  To break our cultural fascination with death and orient humankind to life.  The raising of Lazarus (really a resuscitation, Lazarus would die someday) was a miracle.  But when Jesus did a miracle, he didn’t do it to win the cheers and admiration of the onlookers (which usually happened), but rather to win over and change human hearts.  Jesus’ miracles are intended to change the orientation of our hearts from death to life.
          This is why hearing the Gospel is so important:  it has the power to change our hearts and orient them away from death to new life, not when we die, but right now.  The power is our faith in the Resurrection of Jesus which overcomes the “necessary losses” (book title) we encounter in life.  The Baptism in Christ that Jenny will experience on Easter Sunday and we will experience as we renew our Baptismal Covenant with her, centers us, once for all in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We drown/die with Christ in the water of Baptism and rise to New Life forever.  Every Sunday for the rest of our lives celebrates the Resurrection, the conquering of every fear.  We are totally oriented to life.  It’s simple:  Mind on flesh, death; Mind on Spirit, life and peace.  

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
         

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

MY HOUSE SHALL BE A HOUSE OF PRAYER FOR ALL PEOPLE: "Think “us” in terms of seeing all people as our brothers and sisters in God, our Father’s family." John+

The Nature of Sin

          Somehow, probably in the Dark Ages, the church lost sight of the true nature of sin.  As the church grew rapidly, especially in the West, there were no seminaries to train clergy, so the clergy for the most part weren’t well-educated.  Most spiritual direction took place in the confessional dealing with a person’s struggle with their “sins.”  In Ireland during the 800’s books were developed to help the clergy determine the proper penances for particular sins.  The list of sins was comprehensive (cursing, adultery, stealing, etc., on and on).  Each sin had its own penance.

          The focus on individuals and their sins remained for centuries, and even persists in our own day, with penances becoming lighter, ie. Say three Our Fathers and three Hail Mary’s as we like to joke.  With liturgical reform this is beginning to change.  Most Christians now confess Forgive what we have done and what we have failed to do.  This is good because it moves us from a “my sins are a private matter between me and my God” to a “my sins and failings have an effect on other people.”

          We see this movement from persisting from ancient times: thinking of sin as an individual “defect,” moral (last weeks Woman at the well) or physical, to actions that effect society.  Jesus’ encounter with the man born blind (a physical defect) brings this out.  They all ask Jesus Who sinned, this man or his parents?  They wanted to see if Jesus would mimic the answer of the culture he was born into where blindness was a defect, a sin that needed explanation and a cause.  Jesus’ disciples and the Pharisees were programmed to think this way.  In a way, we too still think this way, although we pat ourselves on the back because we no longer think of blindness and so ma other physical “defects” as rooted in sin.

          In today’s Gospel the dialogue goes back and forth between Jesus and the Pharisees over the nature of sin.  Someone must take the blame for the man’s blindness and his defect of nature.  Is he or his parents responsible?  The man says that he was always blind, but now he can see.  This should be a wonderful thing, except Jesus did it on the Sabbath.  The Pharisees say that no “work” is to be done on the Sabbath.  God rested on the Sabbath.  Jesus retorts that My Father is always working.  Creation is not finished ever.

          It seems an uphill battle for Jesus.  Blindness is a great sin, but not physical blindness, rather spiritual blindness.  The Pharisees, leaders who claim to see, who expel sinners, all those with defects, from the Temple, and alone judge who are worthy to belong, are the blind ones.  In contrast, Jesus gathers sinners into community and doesn’t expel anyone.  Understanding Jesus’ new Way is to move from darkness to light, from blindness to real sight.  But, to be clear, It was/is easy for Jesus to heal a person from blindness, but very difficult to heal a whole culture from its blindness. 

This story of the “Man born blind from birth” is a story that points out a cultural blindness which leads to real sin, the sin of expulsion, driving undesirables away, painting them as different, illegals, unwelcome sinners in our midst that should and must be banished.  Jesus knows that our human society has been blind from its birth.  Jesus, God’s own Son, allowed himself to be expelled from this world by the powerful leaders who claimed to “see,” but were blinder than bats.

          We who are baptized followers of Jesus have the same struggles his first disciples had.  We are members of a culture which exerts a powerful influence on us to expel people to protect our “interests.”  Mostly out of fear, we feel more like excluding than including, protecting the “us” from the “them.”  The church, part of this human culture, at times has shared and continues to share the same struggle. Jesus called sinners to gather with him and didn’t exclude them like the Pharisees.  The Holy Spirit is slowly changing us, helping us repent, change our thinking, healing our blindness, and opening up our eyes to Jesus’ vision for the world.  We need to prepare ourselves, for this will be a long drawn out process.  Our hope is that, just as surely as we believe Jesus was raised from the dead, we will let our fears go and open to God’s love.  Our belief in the Resurrection of Jesus does this!

          A theology professor once told his students:  If you want to see what it was like to live in the age of the great Cathedrals, look at the great hospitals today.  The great Cathedrals were symbols of people’s love for God and the centrality of God in life.  The great hospitals, even with all the good they do, are symbols of our cultures fear of death and the absolute necessity we require of delaying death as long as possible.

          Jesus wants to lead us out of the fear of death into the love of God.  Build a cathedral for God in your heart and let God’s love be there for all people (My house shall be a house of prayer for all people).  Think “us” in terms of seeing all people as our brothers and sisters in God, our Father’s family.  Scapegoating, pointing the finger, expelling, are the Capital sins of our time.  On this Fourth Sunday of Lent we learn to live and love others in God and be truly free from sin.  

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