Sunday, January 19, 2020

Divine Presence: " Jesus calls us to stop and not to think only of ourselves but to open our minds, our hearts and our hands to this world." Neli+

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Jesus the Lamb of God John. 1, 29-42
Second Sunday after the Epiphany
Rev. Neli Miranda

Just some days ago, on January 6, we celebrated the Epiphany, the manifestation of God to all peoples.  That day we received God among us through the baby Jesus, a poor newborn, lying on a manger. This image surprises us and challenges our human ideas about divinity and grandeur, because the manifestation of God is given in the poverty of a stable, not in a royal palace; not in power and richness but in smallness, in the midst of labor pains, in the simplicity of life, on the edge of poverty. Thus, the Divine Presence is always in our midst surprising our senses and challenging our patterns of thinking.
This Second Sunday after the Epiphany, the manifestation of God comes to us through a singular image: “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! – proclaims John the Baptist (1, 29).  A lamb? Such a contrasting image to our traditional messianic expectations!

Jesus grew up in Nazareth, a small and unimportant city in the region of Galilee. His father was an artisan, a carpenter, and maybe Jesus´ life began with doing some carpentry work. St. Luke testifies also that the young Jesus “increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor” (2, 52). It is great to know that Jesus did not increase in the arts of wars, neither in knowledge of weapons, nor in richness…

This is the one, of whom John the Baptist testifies today: “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him… This is the Son of God!” (1, 32 – 34). John had witnessed an Epiphany when Jesus came to him to be baptized. Therefore, he knew well whom Jesus was and introduced him to his disciples, using a very provocative image: Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

Among the Jews, the lamb was a living image with a great religious significance.  In the Old Testament, we read of the paschal lamb, whose blood saved the Israelites from death (Exodus 12); also, about the lamb sacrificed every day in the morning at the temple of Jerusalem for the sins of the people (Exodus 29, 39). The prophet Isaiah also speaks about the suffering servant who is “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” and who “bore the sin of many" (Isaiah 53, 7 - 12). Finally, the book of Revelation tells us about the victorious lamb: “Worthy is the lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (5, 12).  Therefore, these biblical images of the lamb directly brings us the idea of purity, innocence, obedience, humility, service, gentleness, sweetness, peace, sacrifice, death, healing, redemption, forgiveness and victory.  

These meanings speak to us about Jesus as the Son of God, not as a cultic victim but as the Lamb of God through whom God enters our history and offers us reconciliation and salvation. In this way, Jesus reveals himself not as a traditional, powerful and warrior king but as one who comes to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many (Matthew 20, 28). So, in the midst of a world ruled by the cruelty of the Roman Emperor and Herod, and the oppression of the local Jews authorities, Jesus the Son of God emerged as a peaceful lamb.

By this unconventional introduction, John the Baptist guided his disciples to Jesus, the Lamb of God.  With these “expectations”, they began to follow Jesus. They had nothing ensured except their own death. Nevertheless, they embraced the ministry of the Lamb of God among the people. Jesus taught them a new way of life: leaving behind a life based on self-centered and embracing a life based on self-giving. Thus, they found a new way of living, a new way to save this sick world by reconciliation and sacrificial love.

Jesus´s community learned from the image of the lamb. They did not seek for wealth, power or positions as rulers but strived to be servers, healers, peacemakers, and to bring God to the people.  Indeed, their way of living stood in stark contrast to the brutal and inhumane ways of living among them. As a result, many of them were slaughtered as lambs for the prevailing system.  Nevertheless, Life is more powerful than death and their sacrificial service bore fruit to this world.

The image of Jesus as the Lamb of God is not very popular or attractive to many Christian traditions. Thus, this image has been transformed into the image of Jesus as a king, a warrior, a ruler, a conqueror, a military, a murder of pagans… So, Jesus´ community has struggled during the centuries to maintain alive her faith in the Jesus who comes to transform and save this world without any violence.

Jesus was not a perpetrator of violence but a victim of the violent system that daily slaughter the innocents. Still, he emerged victorious from death. For Life is the response of God to this system of death. And, while this system continues slaughtering the innocents, The Epiphany of God will continue coming through a fragile child, or, through the tender image of a lamb, to remind us of the original essence with which we were created of God.

Jesus as the Lamb of God calls us to change our traditional patterns of thinking that lead us to seek for power, material wealth, fame, etc. Rather, Jesus calls us to stand in solidarity with the innocents and the suffering of this world.  Jesus calls us to stop and not to think only of ourselves but to open our minds, our hearts and our hands to this world.

This time we are called to embody the Lamb of God in the midst of our world. Our world today needs salvation; needs more peace than war, more love than hate, more innocence than evil, more tenderness than cruelty, more reconciliation, healing, solidarity, service, humility, etc. Thus, we are called to live as lambs of God bringing peace and reconciliation on this sin sick world.

May the Divine Presence who comes to us in the simplicity of life bless us abundantly; May the Divine Presence inspire and encourage our ministry among the innocents and the suffering of this world!  (color emphasis lr)


The Reverend Neli Miranda Lopez 

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.

Parking inside on the convent back grounds

Sunday, January 5, 2020

KEEPING EMMANUEL ALIVE: "May Emmanuel who lies in our arms, fill and inspire us with the glorious presence of God." Neli+

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Second Sunday after Christmas
 Matthew 2:13 – 15, 19-23. January 5th 2019

The Rev. Neli Miranda

Christmas season consists of only 12 days; however, these days are enough to leave us infused with life, joy and hope. This holy time reminds us of the continuous presence of God in our human history, for the birth of Jesus did not happen in a different sphere than human. He was born among us, in the midst of our history.  Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men and all of the people involved in the first Christmas were real people like us, living a historical situation, a hard situation by the way. There, God became flesh in a fragile and tender baby and entered in our midst. So, Jesus lived as one of us facing the daily struggles for survival. 
Jesus and his parents lived in a world where the evil rulers threatened life every day. Particularly, Jesus was born under threat of death from King Herod.  In this way, while Mary and Joseph were delighted with their baby and the glorious events they had witnessed, they also were aware of the harsh reality they faced. And very soon, they faced the threat of death.
Herod was made king of Judea by the rulers of the Roman Empire. He was known by his evil and cruel actions among the Jews and his own family. He ruled with such tyranny that eliminated any sign of hope in the midst of the people. He was so paranoid that he assassinated his own spouses, children, family members and anyone who threatened his power. Therefore, the good news about Emmanuel the new king, brought by the wise men, inflamed his paranoia. Then, a conspiracy against Life began. Herod intended to extinguish peoples´ hope. He conspired against Emmanuel, against God.  In his perverse persecution, he ordered the execution of all male children under two years old in Bethlehem. His cruelty and perversity left a trail of death and pain.  
Joseph, who had been warned in dreams about this threat, fled to Egypt with Mary and their baby, so Herod´s evil did not reach them.  Although, we today rejoice that Jesus and his family escaped from that massacre, we are aware of all the innocent boys who were murdered that day and the great pain their parents suffered. This sad account reminds us of another evil ruler, Pharaoh in the Old Testament. He commanded to kill all Hebrew baby boys in order to extinguish the Hebrew people.
Matthew´s accounts about the massacre of the innocents in Bethlehem portraits what happens to children in our current world. There are more and more children suffering today than we could perhaps bear. Many suffer from hunger, rape, wars, and diseases. On this side of the world, we know of many children at the borders who are torn from their parents arms and then caged. Many of them have died in those conditions. So, the successors of Herod continue slaughtering many innocents today.  And, when the innocents are slaughtered, so is our hope.
Pharaoh and Herod´s evil presence have been present throughout our human history. They threaten our lives, our children and our hope. Their hunger for power make them blind and they are not able to see the presence of Life among the peoples. They do not recognize Emmanuel, the fragile Life who grows up among us as does our hope.  We can not and shall not let them succeed in taking away our hope.
Even in the difficult situation, Mary and Joseph kept their faith. More than any, they knew about the presence of God in the world. They were custodians of Life, and her presence encouraged them to fulfill their commitment. Although they escaped from the power of Herod, they had to face migration. Even though people have the right to migrate, Joseph, Mary and Jesus were forced to migrate for the lack of security in their own land. Their migration was not voluntary.   Matthew does not tell us anything about the hard trip to Egypt but we can imagine that migrant family exposed to many dangers. It is not hard to imagine Mary and Joseph with their little boy crossing the borders from Israel to Egypt. We are so glad that the Egyptians migrations policies were not so hard, otherwise, Joseph and Mary would have been deported to Israel, the baby Jesus would have been put in a cage, where he could have died. 
God is with us in the reality of life. God is with us, even in the darkest times. And this migrant family found God´s presence and power when the powers of this world squeezed them and tried to destroy their life and hope.  Joseph and Mary trusted in the God of Life and worked so hard to take care of Emmanuel, the presence of Life in the world. And, for sure they had some hopeful people surrounding and supporting them during their journey.  Finally, Matthew says that when Herod died, the migrant family came back to their land and made their home in a town called Nazareth. 
Today, we live in a world where Herod´s practices are more common than we can imagine. We live in a world with little respect for life, for nature, for human beings and their rights.  We live in a world where the innocents are massacred. We live in a world where many people are forced to migrate and suffer. But, we also live in a world where God continuously migrates through a baby, Emmanuel. We live in a world where Emmanuel is born every second, so we live in hope because God is with us. 
This Christmas places Emmanuel in our arms.  How will we take care of Emmanuel? How will we keep Emmanuel alive? For Herod continues threatening his and her life.
The tenderness of Emmanuel in our arms calls us to sing lullabies to our children, to dance and dream with them. In this way, we are inspired to work every day to create a safe and happy world for our children and for ourselves.
At the end of Christmas we long for the ever presence of Emmanuel in our hearts and in the midst of this violence-ridden world. May Life conquer death and violence, may hope conquer adversity and disappointment, and may joy conquer sadness. May Emmanuel who lies in our arms, fill and inspire us with the glorious presence of God." (color emphasis lr)
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.

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Saturday, January 4, 2020

ST.ALBAN/ANTIGUA NEWS: The Reverend Neli Miranda Lopez - On the road supplementing school supplies at San Bartolome parish in rural Quiche!

PURE JOY at San Bartolome parish, Chucalibal village, near Chichicastenango, El Quiché, Guatemala. Padre Tomas Calel is the priest at San Bartolome and his congregation received the Reverend Neli Miranda, Priest-in-charge, St.Alban/Antigua delivering school supplies last Friday. This is St. Albans 5th year offering help with school supplies and the 4th year the Reverend Neli Miranda Lopez has been a part of the delivery team to the rural area. These much needed supplies (the school year in Guatemala starts next week) were donated by our generous friend, and former member of the St. Alban/Antigua congregation, who now lives in Texas, Jeanne Shepherd. Mil gracias Jeanne! (photos thanks to Octavious Miranda, son of Neli+)

Please join St.Alban Mission, Antigua, Sacatepequez, Guatemala as we continue to offer support to our rural parishes throughout Guatemala.

Contact the Reverend Neli Miranda Lopez, Priest-in-charge, (502) 5832 3159, cell telephone 502 is country code or on facebookfor personal or group visits to Episcopal/Anglican parishes near the Antigua, area.  We will be glad to help you partner with help/volunteer projects in the diocese of Guatemala, IARCA, Anglican Communion. Many rural parish missions need, will cherish and will greatly value your participation in our mutual participation at Church and our everyday life in Guatemala.
The Reverend Neli Miranda, Priest in Charge, English or Español

Sunday, December 22, 2019

EMMANUEL - The Baby of Hope : "We hope, this Christmas, to hold Emmanuel in our arms. We hope to hold all the girls and boys of our time, their tenderness, innocence and their dreams for a happy world" The Rev Neli Miranda

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Fourth Sunday of Advent – Year A
St. Matthew 1:18-25
Rev. Neli Miranda

The fourth Sunday of Advent resonates today with wonderful news: God is with us!
Traditional images of God speak to us of an Almighty God, the all-powerful, the omnipotent, the omnipresent, and the supreme and so on... but St. Matthew presents God to us by the fragile image of a newborn baby. Moreover, he tells us that this baby comes in the midst of pain, doubts, anxiety and potential risk of death. Matthew says that Joseph and Mary are in the midst of adversity as they wait for their firstborn baby.
This account in Matthew comes from Joseph´s perspective, from his experiences and feelings… Joseph was perturbed by the fact that Mary the young woman engaged to him was found pregnant. That would have been great news but they were not yet fully married. In the midst of this very delicate situation, Matthew remarked the fact: “She, [Mary] was found to be with a child from the Holy Spirit.” (1:18).
By this time, Mary who had received God´s visitation presumably had told Joseph: “I am pregnant and my child is from the Holy Spirit.” No wonder this situation disturbed Joseph. He originally found it hard to understand God´s actions and divine language. However, Matthew remarks that he was “a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace.” According to the Law Joseph had at least two options: expose Mary to public trial and a potential punishment or divorce/dismiss her. He opted to dismiss her quietly avoiding public humiliation to Mary. 
Should he have explored other options? For despite his “wise or righteous decision”, Mary had been condemned to poverty if not death and so her baby.  Maybe Joseph was not totally pleased with his decision and began to feel mixed emotions.
In the context of such distress and uncertainty, God came to meet Joseph in a dream. And he was told “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” (1:20). He was asked to do something even more radical than his quiet dismissal of Mary. He was called to change his “righteous mind” and follow Life´s voice. He was called not to follow the law but God´s voice. And, once again, Joseph was reminded that the child conceived in Mary was from the Holy Spirit. Mary had conceived by the Ruah, the divine presence, the breath of Life. Therefore, this child was a child of God, not of the virility displayed by the patriarchal domination with which the people are oppressed. 
Thus, God called Joseph to a great work, to take care of the miracle of Life. Moreover, he was honored to name the baby, Jesus. The name Jesus comes from the Hebrew and means “Savior” or “God saves”. And, the first one saved was Joseph. So, he broke up with his own prejudices and male stereotypes, received the baby in his bosom, and took care of the presence of God in the world. 
In his account, Matthew beautifully intertwined the birth of Jesus with the birth of Emmanuel, a child born in the eighth century BCE.  His birth was prophesized by Isaiah (as we read today in the Old Testament lesson). This is a baby boy named Emmanuel, which means “God with us”, and his birth was a sign from God to Ahaz, a king of Judah. Thus, Emmanuel in Isaiah´s prophecy is the baby to come but also hope of liberation for the people who suffered domination and oppression from foreign rulers and from their own king. In this context, Emmanuel was a child of Life and Hope.
Isaiah and Matthew reminds us that the Messiah, the One sent by God is not a powerful, charismatic and military person, but a fragile child. Both prophesized that God comes to us in the fragility, tenderness and weakness of a child who needs loving parents, who needs care. 
So, Matthew renewed the hope of Isaiah and his people, and proclaimed Jesus as Emmanuel in the midst of the first century, a time of suffering and despair when people needed the good news of Emmanuel, “God with us”. This proclamation of Emmanuel has resounded through the centuries.
 Every year, Christmas season revives Isaiah´s and Matthew´s proclamation of Emmanuel, the baby of hope who is coming to us. Today, this proclamation inspires our Christian spirituality and encourages us to prepare ourselves to receive Emanuel among us. In this way, Mary and Joseph are not simply Christmas characters we see wherever we go during this season.  They are us, flesh and blood people in the midst of despair. They are those desperate parents today, who look for a roof, for tortillas and frijoles for their children.
 Today, we embody Mary and Joseph waiting for the birth of Emmanuel in our midst. May God visit and give us a dream as Joseph had, so we can receive wisdom and courage to receive Emmanuel in our bosom. May we, like Mary, receive the visitation of God, so we can be filled and inspired by the Holy Spirit to give birth Emmanuel to our world.
We hope, this Christmas, to hold Emmanuel in our arms. We hope to hold all the girls and boys of our time, their tenderness, innocence and their dreams for a happy world.  We hope to see and proclaim Emmanuel in our time.
May the hope of Emmanuel be always with us!

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.

Parking inside on the convent back grounds

Monday, December 16, 2019

A challenge for ALL: "...when the oppressiveness of the world seems overwhelming, when we wonder if Christ is present, or if God is really working, let us look to the margins to find the true presence of God." The Reverend David Hope-Tringali

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Like last week, our Gospel begins with John the Baptist. John serves as a powerful metaphor for the advent season, pointing the way to the Messiah, giving us a glimpse of what is to come, yet forcing us to be present in the moment of waiting that we experience so profoundly in advent. Unlike last week, however, where we found John preaching, teaching, and baptizing, gathering crowds in the wilderness and calling people to repentance, this week we join John in prison. Like every other Biblical prophet before him, John preached the truth, which upset and threatened the powers of his time and got him into trouble.

Despite being in prison, though, we get the idea that John is keeping up on Jesus’ work out in the world and he sends a few of his disciples to ask Jesus “are you the one?” “Are you the one we have been waiting for, or are we to wait for another?” At first glance, I find it a bit confusing that John would be asking Jesus such a question. In Matthew’s Gospel, we witness John baptizing Jesus, we know John was present when the Holy Spirit descended upon Christ and when God proclaimed “This is my Son, with whom I am most pleased.” In this regard, John knows that Jesus is the Son of God.

At the same time, John’s feelings are also understandable. Many sects of Judaism, like the Zealots of whom Judas Iscariot was a part of, believed that the Messiah would liberate the Jewish people, overthrow the Roman empire, and finally set them free from the control of outside powers and nations. Yet, at this point in Matthew’s Gospel, John is still in prison, Rome still rules over the Jewish people, and the empire has no end in sight. As John looks out at the world through his prison window, the end of an age and the radical change and transformation of society promised through the coming of the Messiah does not seem to be happening. So John sends his disciples to ask Jesus directly “are you the one we have been waiting for, or is there another yet to come?”

Often times, I feel as though we struggle with the same problem. Many of us gathered here grew up Christian, went to church every Sunday and spent time in Sunday school learning that Jesus loves us and everyone else around us. We grew up steeped in the beliefs that Christ came, died, was raised from the dead and is still with us, that Christ will eventually come again. We were promised that our Messiah would return and make things right in the world.

However, like John, when we look around at the world today, through our twenty-four hour constant media coverage and in our social media feeds, we see a world in shambles. Here in Guatemala we see crippling poverty and fear of gang violence forcing people to flee their homes in search of a better life up north only to be ripped apart from their families and locked in cages by a country once known as the “land of the free and home of the brave.” We see our world literally on fire as the Amazon rain forest, southern California, and parts of Africa suffer under raging infernos. We see violence everywhere in the form of war, rising white supremacy, and school shootings. At times, the presence of evil is almost palpable. In the face of all of this, we find ourselves wondering “where is our redeemer? Where is the one who will save us from all of this?”

It is in this regard that I can empathize with John, however, Jesus’ answer to John’s question leaves little room for argument. To answer John’s question, Jesus quotes scripture, specifically, parts of our reading from Isaiah today. Jesus tells them that the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed of their condition, the deaf can hear once more, the dead are raised and the poor receive good news! Jesus reminds John’s disciples that he is doing exactly what the prophets of old said he would do.

More importantly, within this answer, Jesus reveals to us exactly how God works in the world. As advent comes to an end and Christmas draws near, we do well to remember that Jesus was born to poor teenage parents in a dirty barn, rather than to a rich, royal family. He was forced to flee is home for fear of violence rather than having a comfortable and safe childhood. And he was eventually murdered by the ruling elite, who trembled at how his message would affect the status quo. God could have been born rich and noble, instead God was made flesh on the margins. Then, in the form of Jesus Christ, God healed on the margins, brought good news on the margins and died on the margins. Jesus never planned on flying in like Superman to destroy the Roman Empire by force as some might have expected because Jesus never planned on liberating people through violence.

From jail, this was difficult for John to perceive. He could not see Jesus building a foundation of love and forgiveness at a grassroots level with those who were suffering the most. John could not see from his jailcell that Jesus’ message would inspire millions, that his soft power would eventually “topple” Rome in the most unexpected of ways, ending the age of human emperors claiming divine superiority over the people they ruled and moving us forward to a new era of history. Jesus’ work of love and liberation was subversive and infectious in a way that no empire in the past 2000 years has ever been able to snuff it out. Even during Jesus’ time, when the powers at hand were so threatened by the Word of God that they crucified Jesus Christ, God proved through Christ’s resurrection that the light and love of God cannot be killed by the fear and evil of humankind.

So, this week, my challenge for all of you is this – when the oppressiveness of the world seems overwhelming, when we wonder if Christ is present, or if God is really working, let us look to the margins to find the true presence of God. For even here in Antigua, I have seen Christ hard at work. I have seen Christ in the form of a poor Mayan woman who had to take her child to Herman Pedro and, upon meeting other patients who could not provide food for themselves, took it upon herself to cook for each and every one of them. I have seen Christ in the form of a young man in Jocotenengo, who, upon seeing young boys suffer in lives of violence and drugs, took up the responsibility against all odds to open a school for these struggling youth and now works to spread his message on a global stage. I have seen Christ in the form of a local restaurant owner who, every evening, makes fresh sandwiches to deliver to the homeless to ensure that they have a healthy meal before the go to sleep. I have seen Christ in the form of a woman who, at a young age, gave up a comfortable life with a wealthy family to provide a home for orphaned children near Mixco. I have seen Christ in countless others around us locally and globally who remind us that Christ lives and works through us, that Christ is a light that shines in the darkness, a light that no darkness can overcome. 


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.

Parking inside on the convent back grounds