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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

"..the Church is the only institution that continues to testify to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and tries to orient the world away from violence toward the love of God." The Reverend John Smith

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A Perfect Invisible or Imperfect Visible Church
          This Seventh Sunday of Easter finds itself between the Feasts of the Ascension and Pentecost and focuses on the visible and apostolic nature of the Church.  Most people believe that Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples, was the beginning of the Church, but a real case can be made that the Ascension of Jesus was the beginning of the Church.  How so?
          It was never the risen Jesus’ intention to remain in this world. Jesus loved this world and came to save it from its focus on violence and death and refocus the world on the precious gift of life.  This is what he lived and taught his disciples.  They didn’t always get the message, but the task was for them to figure it out, live it and preach it.  Jesus would return to his Father, get out of the way, and let his disciples have a go at it with the help of the Holy Spirit he gave them and would continue to give them until he came again.
          When the risen Jesus ascended, he blessed his disciples one last time while he was on this earth, and then departed from them. The disciples went back to Jerusalem full of joy.  Jesus had entrusted them with carrying on his ministry and the purpose of his coming into the world.  In a real sense the Church began when Jesus ascended.  The ones he had “called out” (ekklesia=church) were left behind to figure out how to proceed from there.  We’re talking about something (the church) manifestly visible and, at the same time, human, and prone to weakness and sin.
          The Church is a mystery of holiness and human weakness. The sinfulness of the Church, manifest in history over and over again, led some to conclude that the “real” Church must be invisible:  made up of those, known to God alone, who have been most faithful to God.  God knows who these individuals were and are and they form the “true” Church of Christ.  But the principle of the Incarnation, God’s Son taking on our human nature and flesh, would point us to something very visible, not invisible.  Jesus, in his humanity, didn’t appear different from other men.  There was no “holy shine” around his head.  Jesus looked like everyone else and was thought to be prone to weakness like everyone else.  He was even accused of being a sinner because of the people he hung out with during his life.
          So while an Invisible Church sounds better when the weakness and sin of the Church down through history is calculated, I think a visible Church, warts and all, is closer to the truth.  Those eleven joy-filled disciples and their friends heading back to Jerusalem were not perfect by any means, but they were chosen by Jesus who promised the Holy Spirit to help them with the task before them.  A very “visible” enterprise was begun.
          Something special about this enterprise was that it was to be a new Israel.  Israel consisted of twelve tribes and Jesus had called twelve to follow him at the beginning.  When Judas Iscariot left the twelve it left a vacancy.  The Apostles brought before them two candidates, both of whom had been around from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, heard his teaching, and most importantly, witnessed in person the Risen Jesus.  This last requirement was most important, the person chosen needed to be able to testify to the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  As St. Paul put it:  If Christ is not risen from the dead our faith is in vain.
          So after prayer for the Holy Spirit’s guidance, Matthias was chosen by lot to fill out the vacant spot.  Matthias would join the rest of the Apostles (disciples called to leadership and commissioned by Jesus).  This apostolic group would have the task of continuing the process of bringing about change of heart and thinking that Jesus before and after the resurrection set in motion. Their task would always be the discovery and creation of God’s mercy in the new Church and in the world.  Even mistakes made due to their own weakness and sins would help them, and not really hinder them in this, because receiving forgiveness and mercy over and over again themselves would help them bring the message of God’s mercy to others.
          Jesus prayed that these apostles/disciples would be sanctified in truth.  If they were perfect they wouldn’t need Jesus’ prayer, but they weren’t.  They would not be removed from the world, but sent into the world, and, with the Spirit’s help, not be of the world.
          To be a member of a very visible, and, at times, sinful Church is not easy.  In history the human beings who make up the Church have made many mistakes and, at times, not lived up to Jesus’ Gospel message of mercy, love, and peace.  But the Church is the only institution that continues to testify to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and tries to orient the world away from violence toward the love of God.  As Peter asked Jesus:   To whom shall we go?  You alone have the words of everlasting life.  We can ask the same question of the Body of Christ, the Church, today.  

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, May 6, 2018

The Holy Spirit seeks to defend victims: " When life is taken away, except for natural causes, victims are created. " The Rev. John Smith

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Many Acquaintances Few Friends
          As I might have told you, my father was in the Coast Guard, so up to, and including high school, I went to a different school every two years.  This put me in the position of being the new kid in school at least every two years.  This was not easy and I went through that kind of sick feeling regularly.  I did, however, learn to meet my fellow students, and people in general, easily enough.
          I remember coming home from school in those “new kid” days and proclaiming to my mom “I made five new friends at school today.”  She would look at me with a little smile and say “Johnny, remember that you will have many acquaintances, but few friends.”
          It has always been interesting to me that Jesus called his disciples, the more they came to understood his mission, “friends” and nothis “servants.” We receive this offer to be friends of Jesus when we are baptized.  We move from being only acquainted with God and God's purpose to being real friends. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.  There seems to be two basic categories of human beings:  those who become friends of God (of any religion really) and those who remain acquaintances of God.  Both of these groups of people are loved by God as children, even if some of these acquaintances become enemies of God and his creatures. Even while we were still sinners Jesus died for us (Romans).  God still loves them, but they don’t know it yet!  Hence, we are given the admonition by Jesus to love our neighbor and love our enemy.
          The key thing in all this is realizing that life is a gift from God, not to be ended by human beings.  When life is taken away, except for natural causes, victims are created.  This brings us to consider the role of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, is called the Paraclete and/or the Advocate.  Both of these names describe the same task.  The “paraclete” means one “called alongside” to defend victims and the Advocate means the same. The Holy Spirit seeks to defend victims.  God the Holy Spirit is always on the side of those whose lives are, or being taken away. The Holy Spirit, under either name, seeks to gather testimony to prove the innocence of the victim before the tribunals of this world:  nations, courts, or even public opinion.  Furthermore, it follows that a person baptized in the Holy Spirit  is to be a witness (martyr-marturion) for the sacrificial victims of this world.  The Holy Spirit helps us do this.
          Satan, the Prince of this World, is like a dishonest prosecutor.  Satan is the accuser who attempts to elicit testimony to establish the guilt of victims, often who only found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Unfortunately, sometimes human beings are happy to work with Satan and take God’s role as judge and jury upon themselves.
          When Jesus talks about the highest love shown by laying down one’s life, and we who are his friends should lay down our lives for others, it doesn’t mean only to lay down our lives for other friends (that’s wonderful), but it is an invitation to lay down our lives for those who are not yet Jesus’ friends!  It is an invitation to friends of God, who know why Jesus came to save the world, to do what Jesus did, give his life for the life of the world.  He gave his life for those who weren’t his friends! If we are Jesus’ friends, this is why we are given the Holy Spirit:  to help us do this difficult task.
          All of the above is to make joy complete in us.  We start off thinking God wants only servants, but Jesus invites us to be friends. God chose us, with all of our weakness and temptation to turn away, to be friends!  We are called out, ekklesia (ek=out and kletos=called) as church to gather to together and be fed with Word and Sacrament, to learn to love one another, and let the Holy Spirit help us advocate for all victims.  We can ask for anything we need to do this- we just have to ask!  As we gather for the Holy Eucharist we celebrate our friendship with God and are called, confident, and full of joy!  Amen! Alleluia!  (emphasis added lr)
 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)

Monday, April 30, 2018

"God is not a punisher and bringer of wrath (humans do those things to each other)," The Reverend John Smith

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Water is thicker than Blood
          Today’s readings start with the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch.  The Eunuch was a pious guy, enamored with the Jewish religion, and was heading back home after Passover to the Royal Court of Candace, Queen of Ethiopia.  He was in charge of her treasury, so money was not a problem for him, but what was a problem was, that despite his good job, he really didn’t fit in anywhere because of his abnormal sexuality. Deep down he was looking for somewhere to belong.  He felt “cut off” from people.  At a rest stop the Eunuch is reading Isaiah about a messiah who also would be “cut off” and suffer and be put to death.
          When Philip comes along on his first mission, he finds the Eunuch and explains to him that it is Jesus that Isaiah is talking about.  Jesus is the one cut off by his own people and the powerful and was put to death, but Jesus rose from the dead! We can rise too, now, and when we die.  All people can understand God differently:  God is not a punisher and bringer of wrath (humans do those things to each other), but God has a father’s total love for all his children, whether they know him or not!
          Hearing all this and how you can be part of it all, the Eunuch asked Philip to baptize him.  The “man” who could never have a family now has one forever.  Boy will he spread the word wherever he goes!  He’s a new branch on the Vine who is Jesus Christ!
          The Eunuch’s story is really our story too.  Not in the dismembering of our sexual organs of course, but we, like the Eunuch, constantly confront stories of sadness everyday just like the Eunuch did when he read the suffering servant messiah story of Isaiah.  Many people are in the same situation today, cut off, isolated from others, no desire to belong anywhere in our time of individualistic, “every person for themselves,” “everyone’s out to get you” attitudes.  The Holy Spirit has a hard time getting through these attitudes of ours. If we’re hungry for the Spirit as the Eunuch was the Spirit can get through and guide us to living in peace and joy.
          Here are some thoughts I ran across from Brian McLaren on moving in the Spirit:
--when you wake up in the morning, before you get out of bed, take a moment to open your heart to the Holy Spirit;
--ask God the Spirit to help you step by step through the day, in everything that happens;
--check in with the Spirit at least hourly through the day;
--when you’re stalled, waiting, or have a free moment, offer yourself to God and say “Here I am, Lord;”
--if you ever sense that another spirit is filling you up or directing you to anger, fear, prejudice, lust, greed, anxiety, pride, inferiority, or rivalry . . . STOP acknowledge your missteps, re-surrender to the Holy Spirit, INHALE forgiveness and START AGAIN!
          Stay close to the community, receive the Bread of Life, you have a special family gathered around the altar.  The slogan everyone knows is Blood is thicker than water, but like the Eunuch in Acts found out when he was baptized, Water is thicker than blood.  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, April 15, 2018

"Can we, followers of Jesus, help the “nations” develop an atmosphere of forgiveness, even toward perpetrators of terror, where terror and violence, even our own “sacred” violence, can be seen taking all of us away from our goal of justice and peace." John+



A Message for all the Nations
          This week we have seen another example of human violence against other human beings in the use of chemical weapons on innocent civilians in Syria.  President Trump has put out a warning that we will punish the perpetrators of this act with our own military response.  This response will, if it occurs, cause more loss of human life.  While aimed at military targets, our response will most certainly bring death to innocent folk nearby.  What’s more, Russia has said that if the United States carries out this threat, it will target U.S. military installations.  The world will experience once again death, death, and more death.
          The message of Jesus is completely different.  Jesus’ resurrection, the most unique event in human history, can, for a world (or even just the Christian world) that lives it, will bring about life, life, and more life.
          Today we have Luke’s account of the risen Jesus’ appearance to the disciples.  It’s similar to John’s account we read last Sunday.  At first the disciples think they’re seeing a ghost, so Jesus shows them his wounds- it’s really him!  They experience a mix of joy and disbelief.  Jesus asks for something to eat and they give him a piece of fish, and he eats it in front of them!
          Jesus doesn’t have a long time before he must ascend to his Father.  He opens their mind to understand the scriptures, passages about a Messiah that would come and suffer and rise from the dead.  They heard this all before, but it didn’t sink in!  Then comes a final and crucial message:  Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
          People repent (change their minds) when they believe they are truly forgiven their wrongdoing a sense a Holy Spirit is present.  A movement away from death and more death to life and more life can begin.  Political scheming and threats cannot replace a sincere dialogue where the Holy Spirit can work to bring about peace.
          Today we have the second of Peter’s five sermons in the Acts of the Apostles.  Peter, present at Jesus’ appearance to the disciples, preached the message of repentance and forgiveness he received from Jesus.  When Peter heals a crippled man, everyone knew, a crowd of “Israelites” forms.  The power for this healing is not Peter’s own, but because the God of their Fathers glorified Jesus and raised him from the dead.  Jesus is the Author of Life with God at the beginning of creation.  Even though the “crowd” and those in power, killed Jesus, it was out of ignorance.  Forgiveness is available to everyone who repents.  We’ve got to remember this is not the fearful, “I don’t know him” Peter, but a person who experienced full forgiveness from Jesus for his denial and was filled with the Holy Spirit. 
These early sermons of Peter are so pure and close to the Giver of the message, Jesus, crucified and rose from the dead.  Jesus experienced human suffering in all its forms:  emotional, psychological, and physical.  The healing of the crippled man was a sign of our own healing and that of the world around us when the power of Resurrection is acknowledged.
We think it’s too late in world history for us to unleash forgiveness upon those who do evil in this world instead of weapons.  But it is not.  Fyodor Dostoevsky, in The Brothers Karamazov, has Father Zosima give this spiritual exhortation:
What seems to be evil in you is purified by the mere fact of having noticed it . . . At the moment when you see with terror that, in spite of your efforts, not only have you not drawn closer to your goal, but you have drawn further away from it, at that moment, I warn you beforehand, you will reach your goal, and you will see above you the mysterious power of the Lord, who, unbeknownst to you, has guided you with love.
Can we, followers of Jesus, help the “nations” develop an atmosphere of forgiveness, even toward perpetrators of terror, where terror and violence, even our own “sacred” violence, can be seen taking all of us away from our goal of justice and peace.  Only then can the mysterious power of the Lord be released and God’s love experienced.  The Holy Eucharist we celebrate seeks to bring about this atmosphere by gathering us to acknowledge our failures and sin, feeding us with Jesus’ own risen life, and sending us out in the world guided by his love, to accomplish, with the Holy Spirit’s help, God’s deepest purpose in this world.  
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)