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Sunday, July 15, 2018

THE BEHEADING OF JOHN THE BAPTIST: "Childhood exploits are one thing, but adult life and death issues are another." The Reverend John Smith

Salome with the Head of John the Baptist-Caravaggio (1610).jpg
(The Beheading of John the Baptist, Caravaggio, 1610)
Following the Crowd
          I imagine there was a time in each of our lives when our parents taught us to be our own person and not to follow, or go along with, the “crowd.”  Usually this teaching was imparted after some failure on our part:  Like when some of my buddies asked me to join them to go “mooching” at our neighborhood grocery store. Mooching meant cruising the produce department and “sampling” grapes, strawberries, and other small fruits from the rack.  When I got home from “mooching” and couldn’t eat my lunch because I was “full,” my mother asked me why.  “I’m full from mooching, mom.”  She asked me what mooching was and I told her.  To put it mildly, she quickly and firmly set me straight and told me I shouldn’t follow the lead of my buddies in taking things and not paying for them.  Truth told, I can’t remember if it was I who led them!
          Crowds are powerful.  When a crowd is passionate about a certain path, direction, or action, good or bad, it is hard to stand apart.  When a significant group or crowd is passionate about something it is hard to sway them away from it and easier just to give in and follow them.  Satisfying the desire of the crowd at least brings about a semblance of peace- for a time.
          Childhood exploits are one thing, but adult life and death issues are another.  Such was the case with today’s gospel story of the beheading of John the Baptist.  Some background is in order. There was no love lost between Herod Antipas and his brother Philip.  Herod had seduced and married Philip’s wife, Herodias, the wrongness of which John vehemently opposed.  Herodias had a young daughter, Salome, now Herod’s step-daughter. Herodias had it in for John the Baptist who was being held in the palace jail.  John had denounced the marriage of Herod to Philip’s wife as sinfully incestuous.  Herod was torn:  there was something special about John’s message that seemed true and intrigued him, but at the same time John was publically damning to his image.  Bottom line: Herod subtly protected John, but Herodias wanted John dead.
          Herod has a birthday party with a group of his friends.  As entertainment, Herodias provides young Salome to dance for Herod and his friends.  I say “young Salome” because she is usually thought of as a fully developed teenage girl who knows how to perform a sexy dance, but the Greek word to describe Salome iskorasion which means young girl, probably just starting to go through puberty, maybe 11-12 years old and still very innocent.
          The dance of the young girl is still tremendously erotic.  Herod has Herodias, but really desires Salome.  All his party friends also desire this innocent one as well.  The passion builds.  At the conclusion of the dance, when the clapping is over, Herod’s passion reached its height.  In front of everyone, Herod promises to give Salome anything she wants, even half his kingdom.  Salome, a young girl, has no idea what this means or what to ask for so she runs to ask her mother, who tells her:  “Ask for the head of John the Baptist to be delivered on a plate right away.”  When Salome announces her decision to Herod and his friends, their passionate desire for Salome, passes to having the head of John the Baptist. Herod is trapped by his own words and unspoken passion and Herodias is happy to finally get rid of John the Baptist.
          The beheading of John the Baptist is an important story because it is so similar to the story of Jesus’ crucifixion.  There is aleader Pilate (Herod) even maybe a bit reluctant to use life and death power, there is a victim Jesus (John), and there is apassionate crowd yelling “crucify him” (or erotically moved by the dance of a young unattainable girl).
          What does this all mean?  Most of us look at Jesus death on the Cross as a unique event or death, but we have to ask ourselves: Does Jesus just desire us to focus on him and his death or does Jesus mean to show by his death that he is joining with victims of all times who have suffered under poor, cowardly leaders, egged on by crowds whipped up to passion fervor or people with grudges or prejudice?  Jesus was unique as Emmanuel, God with us, but his death was not unique at all.  Jesus’ death was like the deaths of scapegoated victims of all times.
          What is the Good News here?  The Church can help us discern the true prophets of our time, heed them, and protect them from scapegoating.  The Church’s track record has not always been good in this regard, but I think it is getting better in criticizing leaders and advocating for victims.  Let’s conclude listening to Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians from today’s lessons
          In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed In him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
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

*The Anglican Church in Central America (Anglican Communion)




Sunday, July 8, 2018

"Love, forgiveness, and faith are the most powerful agents in the world that bring healing and life." The Reverend John Smith

Resultado de imagen para Repentance and forgiveness photo?
Harry Potter and Power in Weakness
OK, I admit it:  Sometimes I’m slow to catch on to important happenings and trends.  Such was the case with the Harry Potter series of books.  I remember how the Head of our parochial school started to talk about Harry Potter to the children.  I heard what I considered weird names like Dumdledore and Voldemort, the Dark Lord, and discussions about magic spells and Harry’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. 
I’m afraid I dismissed the whole subject of Harry Potter’s exploits, for me anyway, as not having any relevance for those serious about their faith.  After I married Terri I watched the Harry Potter movies and began to understand that the series had more than just entertainment value, but perhaps some Gospel insight as well.
Harry, as the story goes, was The boy who lived.  His parents were wizards who were killed by The Dark Lord, Voldemort (trans: flight of death) when Harry was a baby.  Harry’s mother sacrificed her life to save Harry.  The struggle left a mark on Harry.  Harry goes to live with his non-wizard aunt and uncle who treat him poorly and lie to him about how his parents died.  Harry knows he is different and slowly discovers his powers and receives an invitation, with much opposition from aunt and uncle, to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
At Hogwarts Harry comes under the tutelage of Professor Dumbledore, the Head of School and a very good wizard.  Harry comes to know that his parents didn’t die in a car accident as he was told, but were killed by Voldemort, who would like to bring about Harry’s demise as well.  Voldemort seems all-powerful and wields the power of death.  Harry holds his power of wizardry lightly, and with Dumbledore’s encouragement, seeks to use it for the good of others.  He comes to appreciate the power of love, first shown him by his mother sacrifice, and decides to imitate her. Dubeldore teaches Harry to not be in awe of Voldemort’s power because he has a more powerful strength within himself. Voldemort can’t stand it that Harry lives committed to life and love.  In a crucial battle with Voldemort, Harry is taken to the point of death, but Harry gets up and his survival drains Voldemort completely and he finally succumbs to death himself.
I bring up Harry Potter because he exemplifies what Paul is talking about over and over in today’s second reading.  Paul talks about real power in weakness.  Like Jesus on the Cross, completely helpless and weak, God’s power is most present in weakness. When Paul feels most weak, he is strong in Christ.  Like we see in Harry Potter, there is a power within that is stronger than the powers without.
The world, of course, doesn’t see it that way.  The fear of death cause the Voldemort’s of this world to lash out and bring death to others.  We must kill them before they can kill us. Death is to be feared at all costs.  But Paul, and fictional character Harry Potter, came to learn that love casts out all fear and that love, and the forgiveness that empowers it, though appearing weak in the eyes of the world, is the power of God.  
Love, forgiveness, and faith are the most powerful agents in the world that bring healing and life.  This is the message of the prophets of the living God in this world, who, like Jesus the Prophet of prophets, will bring about their deaths, but at the same time unleashing the power of Resurrection.  As we embrace and live this message, with much opposition, we can live without hatred and fear and communicate life.  The power of God upholds us in our weakness.  This is really something to boast about!  
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

*The Anglican Church in Central America (Anglican Communion)

Sunday, July 1, 2018

THE INITIATIVE IS OURS: " In the course of a typical day we probably need multiple healings. Jesus is constantly near, passing by." John+

  Resultado de imagen para Jesus healings, photo?
No Winners or Losers
          When I was a young priest some people from the parish told me that a faith healer was coming to town and invited me to go with them to the event.  I could have begged out, but I decided to go to support my parishioner’s enthusiasm and excitement.  The preacher gave a fiery sermon which predicted that World War III would start in the Middle East by 1984 and it would be started by the Russians.  Then he dropped the hammer:  We didn’t have to worry about the war because we had enough nuclear bombs to kill “every Russian man, woman, and child, ten times over.  Praise God!”  We are winners.
          Then the healing part of the service began.  Everyone was called to have faith and then those who wished to receive healing, including my five parishioners, proceeded to the stage, to be “slayed in the spirit” where they would receive a quick hand on their forehead and a word by the preacher, would fall back into the arms of two big men and be laid down on the stage floor for a minute or two.
          After the service my parishioners seemed about the same as ever, excited about the event and their being “slain” by the spirit, but talking and carrying on as usual, perhaps with the thought:  I wish our church could be exciting like this!
          There were times when crowds gathered around Jesus and he healed many people, but Jesus never did healing services as such, especially to draw attention to him self.  In today’s Gospel Jesus is going somewhere with his disciples and a leader of the synagogue and a very rich man, Jairus, expresses confidence in Jesus and asks Jesus to come quickly to his house where his daughter is dying.  No amount of money can save his daughter. Jesus sees Jairus’ faith and goes with him toward his home.  As they go a crowd forms around them both, knowing how important Jairus was in the community and thinking:  of course Jesus would respond to such a powerful and rich man.  Jairus is a winner.
          Somewhere in the crowd a woman who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years, dirt poor for spending what little money she had on doctors hoping for a cure but only getting worse.  She is a perfect example of a loser.  She approaches Jesus and touches his garment and immediately is healed.  In a way, Jesus didn’t heal her.  The woman took the initiative in her own healing, Jesus provided the power!  Jesus pauses, probably scandalizing those around, especially when he listens to her story while receiving news that Jairus’ daughter has died.  Jesus addresses the woman as “Daughter.”  She is part of the family too, just as much as Jairus’ daughter.  The world divides people into winners and losers, those worthy of attention and those not worthy of attention.  For Jesus there are no winners and losers.
          In the course of a typical day we probably need multiple healings.  Jesus is constantly near, passing by.  We can reach out and touch him.  Our lives can be happier and filled with a real inner joy and peace.  Jesus’ power is always available.  The initiative is ours.  
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

*The Anglican Church in Central America (Anglican Communion)

Sunday, June 17, 2018

"All the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord."

Resultado de imagen para Heavenly, photos
Heavenly Stories and Earthly Meanings
          At the end of June I will celebrate 43 years of ordained ministry.  I’ve preached and shared the Gospel for the vast majority of the Sundays over that period.  Over the years my understanding of what Jesus was trying to teach the crowds and especially his disciples has evolved greatly.  I am more convinced than ever that Jesus is more interested in changing the way we relate to each other on earth as people and nations rather than giving us a formula for getting into heaven.
          An example of what I’m talking about can be seen in the Parable of the Mustard Seed in today’s Gospel.  Most preachers, including myself, have looked at Jesus’ use of parables to teach  down to earth stories with heavenly meanings.  But what I’m realizing is that parables are down to earth stories that people can relate to, but with real earthly meaning and not “out of this world” meaning.
          I use to think this parable of the Mustard Seed was solely about faith and the Kingdom of God filled with “heavenly” meaning.  I thought:  If anyone has a mustard seed (tiny) bit of faith that will be enough to get them into heaven with all the other folk like birds resting in the branches of the mustard seed scrub will be like the Kingdom of Heaven someday.  A good earthly parable based on people’s common experience of the mustard seed scrub that grows from the tiniest of seeds.  But is this all that Jesus is getting at?
          This parable was recorded by Mark (a young man who accompanied Peter and recorded Peter’s experience with Jesus) who was living in a small Christian community that was persecuted on two fronts by the power of the Temple leaders and the Roman state.  Given this situation, Jesus is telling this parable to describe a very difficult earthly reality not so much a heavenly one.  A community of Jesus, like Mark’s, will always find themselves up against the powers that be.  Of course the temptation for followers of Jesus will be to make peace with those powers (as happened with the Edict of Constantine in 313AD which made Christianity “legal”), get along, and focus more on “getting to heaven” rather than changing things on earth.
          The mustard scrub is a weed.  The great powers are like the great cedars (ie. Lebanon) talked about in the bible.  If small communities of Jesus followers are like  the growing branches of the mustard scrub they will always be subject to being pulled out like weeds or only allowed to grow as long as they don’t affect the landscapes of the powerful “cedars” of this world.  Jesus, continuing and fulfilling the prophetic tradition of Ezekiel in our first reading today could say
          All the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord.  I bring low the high tree, I make high the low tree; I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish.
          This is what the Parable of Mustard Seed is really about: followers of Jesus being a presence and nuisance vis a vis the powers of this world by living a ministry of reconciliation in a world thriving on conflict.
          Last night Terri and I watched The Pianist a movie of one Jewish man’s (The Pianist) survival in the Warsaw ghetto and incredible suffering under the Nazi's.  For people outside the ghetto it was business as usual (yes, some shortages due to war), but life carried on.  There are so many Ghettos today:  in Palestine and the West bank, in Syria, in Africa, in immigration centers where children are separated from their families, and in disaster shelters, Ghetto-like communities are being created every day. 
Followers of Jesus are considered weeds by the powers of this world, to be pulled out or tolerated at best.  But we are branches of the greatest of scrubs, which can never be completely pulled up.  We gather to pray that God’s will be done “on earth as in heaven.” We are nourished with spiritual food for strength to work with the Holy Spirit to make the “high trees low and the low trees high” and let people live free and without fear.  
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

*The Anglican Church in Central America (Anglican Communion)

Sunday, June 10, 2018

NEEDED! FORGIVENESS and MERCY: "Where human beings rebel against God’s will, enmity and strife continue" The Reverend John Smith

Who Is Satan?
Satan Casting Out Satan
          Today is the second Sunday in Ordinary Time.  Each week in Ordinary Time we are trying to understand how we can imitate Jesus in daily living.  Last week our learning involved learning to speak truth to power as Jesus did with the Pharisees.  The Pharisees put the “sacredness” of the Law over the real needs and suffering of people.  For Jesus, human beings, created by God, are sacred.  The Pharisees, and those in power down through time, forget this as they try to consolidate wealth and power by holding up “sacred” values and abusing others to uphold them.
          This Sunday gives us insight into why this is the case.  This time Jesus is being followed by the scribes who are attempting to demonize him.  The good works and healings Jesus is doing, they say, are not from God but from Beelzebul, the prince of demons. The scribes are saying that Jesus is crazy.  So Jesus speaks to them in parables or riddles.  If he is Satan, then how can Satan cast out Satan?
          How can Satan cast out Satan?  For years I have thought, like many preachers and listeners, this was a rhetorical question, begging the answer:  Of course Satan can’t cast out Satan.  Jesus is not of Satan, but of God, and Jesus can surely cast out demons!  But the key here is to remember that Jesus is talking in a riddle.  If this is a riddle to solve rather than a rhetorical question, then Jesus is explaining that Satan casting out Satan is something human culture has done from the beginning.  Jesus is sharing a key insight into the human culture that he wants to change and will even die to bring about.
          What Jesus knows is that our human culture since the Fall (the beginning), has always been a “house divided” so to speak.  One part of culture defining itself apart from another part considered less than human or evil.  From the beginning it’s been one great “blame game” of pointing the finger at the other:  Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and so forth.  Where is Satan?  Satan is in all the accusations.  Satan is the Accuser.  What Jesus is saying, if the riddle be solved, is that human culture is constantly caught up in Satan attempting to cast out Satan.  This will never be successful and will continue to feed a cycle of violence of human beings against other human beings.
          Jesus, in his teaching and example (and his future death and resurrection) is offering humankind an alternative way to live.  Jesus is saying “You can leave the old ways of human culture based on determining blame and scapegoating people(s) in order to find peace.  I offer you a Holy Communion.”
          Key to this Holy Communion is the example of the Forgiving Victim, Jesus himself.  The “new” element in human culture is forgiveness and mercy freely offered to all and made possible by the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Where this new culture is lived, it does work, and peace and well-being take root.  Where human beings rebel against God’s will, enmity and strife continue. We see this in today’s reading from 1 Samuel.  Samuel offers the people a choice to continue “under God,” but they demand a human king “like all the other people have.”  God’s people will have many more trials and lose more freedom under a human king.
          St. Paul understood that cultural change comes slowly and with opposition, but it will come.  Believers will draw endurance from Jesus’ resurrection and, one day, be raised with him.
          Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.  So we do not lose heart.
          So what is the learning for us today?  To resist our human cultures attempt to cast out Satan by Satan and instead inject into our culture the forgiveness and mercy offered by Jesus, the Forgiving Victim, and slowly, but surely, extend God’s culture of mercy in the world and celebrate thanksgiving (the Eucharist=thanksgiving) every step of the way.  
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

*The Anglican Church in Central America (Anglican Communion)