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Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Reverend John Smith: "Chaos will not last forever."

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The Sea Will Be No More
          These days when we think about the change in climate or the warming of our planet, one consideration that comes to mind early on is the rising level of the seas.  From an ecological perspective, the rising of the seas worldwide is caused by the warming and melting of the polar icecaps.  As the waters rise, more and more land is covered and lost- sometimes whole islands are inundated and their populations must move to high ground or leave altogether.   But when looked at from an anthropological/theological point of view, rising seas are troubling as well.  In the bible, starting from the first verses of the Book of Genesis, the “sea” is considered the place of chaos.  The Spirit, ruach, hovered over the water to bring some order to the chaos that was the sea.  In the Gospel, Jesus calmed the sea and was able to walk on troubled waters.  Rising seas, whether from ice melting or chaos in the world of human beings, are not good.
               Today’s reading from the Book of Revelation has an important sentence in it:  And the sea was no more.  Here the scripture is speaking about the human chaos the world was experiencing then and continues to experience on a daily basis, and will finally come to and end, when God’s creative power, the Holy Spirit, will bring about a “new heaven and a new earth.” As I write these words I have to remind myself I’m talking about this very real world in which you and I live every day, not some far off platonic “ideal” world that the fortunate among us might be able to escape to away from this world.  As the Spirit of God tries to bring order to this world and better the interactions of human beings with one another, the Evil one seeks to keep the world in expanding chaos.  It’s like the saying “things have get worse before they get better.”  But the Book of Revelation reveals God’s promise to us is “the sea will be no more.”  Chaos will not last forever.  Just as God created the earth from the chaos of the sea, so God is creating a new earth from the chaos around us, and you and I, and all of our brothers and sisters, have an important role to play in God’s creative plan.

                   In order to cooperate with God’s bringing about “a new heaven and a new earth” out of chaos, we need to undergo a “heart” operation.  In today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we see how God did a “heart” operation on Peter.  God, the Holy Spirit, knew that Peter, if he would be able to lead Jesus’ followers to be faithful, Peter himself would need a important change of heart.  Peter, and all those he led, were bound by rules of cleanliness:  some practices, animals, and people were clean, but others were not.  There were some animals you didn’t eat and some people you didn’t eat with, because they were unclean.  This began to change for Peter when he was given a vision of a giant cloth lowered from heaven with every possible type of animal creature on it, and a voice said “Kill and eat.”  Peter balked at the mere suggestion of this until he understood that what the vision was showing him was that nothing created by the Lord God was unclean in itself.  Un-cleanness was a human judgment and not God’s.  Peter, the leader of the disciples and others who would come to follow Jesus, must now consider all things and people from God’s point of view.  This is the true meaning of Catholicity:  God’s love and plan of salvation is universal.  No one or nothing on this earth should be called profane or impure.  God is the source of all being and every creature in their being is good.  Any effort to create “us/them” divisions among God’s creatures is not from God the Creator, but the creator of chaos.

               Jesus knew that he would be leaving his disciples and followers in a world where they would encounter chaos and division.  The culture where Jesus’ disciples lived and where we continue to live, attempts to build community by allowing victims to be sacrificed for peace, by capital punishment, killing our enemies, or keeping undesirables at bay.  Unfortunately, these attempts, may succeed for a time, but are doomed to fail.  They are not catholic or universal enough in their desire to save some, but not all.  The culture of the “New Earth” has a universal aspect built on the example of Jesus, the Forgiving Victim, who refused to retaliate against those forces of chaos that put him to death.  The “New Earth come down from Heaven” is inclusive of all people and never requires that some people be aligned against some of their fellow human beings.

               You’re probably thinking:  “How will this New Earth come about on this present earth with all its turmoil and chaos?”  Well the first thing I think we can do is to hold on to the promise “that the sea will be no more.”  Chaos will come to an end.  But on a day to day basis, we take to heart and live by Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel:  “A New Commandment I give to you:  Love one another.”  Interesting, Jesus gave this command to the eleven, after Judas had left to accomplish his betrayal.  Those who are intent upon doing evil will burn themselves out, as Judas did, while still remaining an object of God’s mercy:  Forgive them for they know not what they do.  God can use evil to bring about good.  Why didn’t a few of the disciples, after hearing Jesus’ command to love each other, immediately go after Judas and try to talk him out of what he was going to do?  Two thoughts:  Maybe if Judas hadn’t stopped his betrayal, at the urging of his fellows, it would have hardened him even more to God’s mercy; or, maybe when coming upon a time of trial it’s best to just stay in Jesus’ presence.

               We should end this reflection asking ourselves “If Jesus was giving a ‘new” commandment, then what was the “old” commandment?”  The “old” command was to love God and love neighbor, right?  Loving God and our neighbor is important and wonderful, unless we allow it to be twisted and intensify our dislike or hatred for those who believe differently than we do or those we don’t consider our neighbors.  Jesus sees right through that game!  The sea will be no more! 

Amen! 
John+ 




                  



Sunday, May 12, 2019

"Our faith in God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is the most comprehensive and reasonable faith that exists. " John+

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Lamb and Shepherd

               This coming January Terri and I will be going to Israel.  A visit to Israel has been first on Terri’s bucket list for a long time.  I first visited Israel in 1974 when I went there on tour with my Jesuit archeology professor.  I remember thinking to myself that I would love to live in Israel/Palestine.  The Bible writings come to us from the Holy Land:  the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament Letters, the Gospels, and the Book of Revelation.  Of all these writings, the Book of Revelation commands the most attention.  It’s an interpretive field day for fundamentalists and folks like Jehovah Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists who see in the Book of Revelation a description of the Second Coming of Christ ending in a violence apocalyptic battle.

               In this fundamentalist view, Christ will only come back when the Jewish people control all of the Holy Land by driving out the Palestinian Arabs who have lived there for centuries by building new Jewish settlements on the West Bank where most Palestinians live.  This feeds the Zionist (Israel for the Jews) agenda as well.   The fundamentalist view further teaches that there is no real need to deal with the effects of Global Warming because God gave the world’s resources for human beings to use and the end of the world will come before any real desperate ecological crisis.  This view or interpretation of the book of Revelation influences the politics of our day, especially in the United States.

               The Book of Revelation is the last book that was accepted in the Canon of Scripture.  Some of the early church Fathers didn’t want to include it at all, mainly, I think, because of its use of apocalyptic and symbolic language with the potential of misinterpretation, but it was included in the New Testament.  It is a wonderful book, but we don’t have to buy in to its futuristic interpretation that sees a “God given” outline for the violent end of the world.  (In one such interpretation, there will be a climactic battle of well-armed Christians against the forces of evil.)  Why?  The Book of Revelation for the most part, is about the early days of the severe persecution of the Church and the great numbers of martyrs (those clothed in “white robes”) who gave their lives for their faith during the first century.  It tells the story of how the people of God expected the “Lion of Judah” to come and defeat the Roman oppressors of the day, but when they looked for the Lion, they saw only the Lamb who was slain.  (Rev. 5)  In other words, those who were seeking the “Lion” to violently defeat their enemies, and restore Israel to greatness, instead were given a “Lamb” who was sacrificed by the powers of the world, all of whom are under the influence of Satan, the Prince of this world, who wishes the destruction of creation and human life whenever possible.  This wrongful interpretation of the Book of Revelation, unless corrected, plays into the Evil One’s game of wrecking havoc in the world:  Yes, the Lamb was slain for us, Christians believe, but will come back as the Lion of Judah to bring about violent judgment and punishment upon all evil doers.  This is wrong.  The Lamb will never be or act like a Lion.
               
When Jesus started his ministry after his baptism by John the Baptist, Jesus was described to John’s followers as the Lamb of God.  This was Jesus’ first title.   Jesus was never destined to be the Lion of Judah, a military conqueror, as many hoped, but instead he would be a Lamb offered in sacrifice for the salvation of the world.  The primary purpose for all lambs and animals in ancient times was for sacrifice.  Animal husbandry as we know it, for producing food, was always secondary.  Jesus referred to himself, in contrast to other leaders, as the Good Shepherd.  Jesus would not be like other shepherds, hired hands, who would run away when the sheep were attacked by thieves or require the sacrifice of other human beings for their own ends.  Jesus, like a lamb, would lay down his life for his sheep.  Jesus is both Lamb and Shepherd:  And when I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself.  Jesus sacrificed himself for all people, even those who don’t know him, or believe other revelations found in the world’s cultures.  For example, Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu, believed in Jesus and his teaching of never confronting evil with violence.
               
I am the Good Shepherd.  I know my sheep and my sheep know me. . . My sheep hear my voice.  I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.  No one will snatch them out of my hand.  What my Father has given me is greaterthan all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand.  The Father and I are one.
               
Our faith in God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is the most comprehensive and reasonable faith that exists.  God’s love revealed by Jesus Christ has as its object all people, of every belief system and culture, unbelievers, agnostics, atheists, and anti-theists:  everyone.  Jesus is the Good Shepherd who gave his life for all people.  As we pray in the Holy Eucharist:  This is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.  Whenever you drink it, do this for the remembrance of me.  That’s just what we do!  

Amen!
John+                




















Sunday, May 5, 2019

Friendship with Jesus is the starting place: "I call you my friends, because I have made known to you everything I have received from my Father." John+

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Rehabilitation
               On this third Sunday after Easter the scripture readings share more appearances of the risen Jesus, to the disciples and to Saul (Paul).  Jesus comes into the daily lives of people.  The disciples of Jesus have gone back to fishing to feed their families.  They are feeling much better after receiving Jesus’ forgiveness for their desertion at Calvary and receiving the Holy Spirit on Easter evening, but they still have to make a living, so it’s back to their boats.  They fish all night, but catch nothing.  As the sun comes up and the morning fog clears on the lake they see someone on the shore.  The stranger tells them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat.  Reluctantly they do so, and the catch of fish is tremendous!  Peter yells “It’s the Lord!” and jumps in the water and swims to shore.  The others follow.  When they get to the shore, Jesus has a fire going ready to broil some fresh fish for breakfast.  Life is good.
               After breakfast, Jesus takes Peter aside.  Peter, who is the leader of the disciples, needs some further rehabilitation.  Peter, though forgiven, is still weighed down by his three denials of knowing Jesus:  I don’t know the man.  Three times Jesus asks Peter “Do you love me?” The Greek text is very interesting here.  The first two times Jesus asks Do you love me? he uses the word agape for the word love.  (Remember the three Greek words for love:  agape/self sacrificial love, Jesus’ love in laying down his life for us; philos/the love of friendship, Philadelphia- the City of Brotherly love; and eros/the love of passion and desire to possess the other.)  When Peter answers that he does love Jesus he uses, not agape, but philos.  The third time Jesus asks Peter do you love me?  Jesus uses Peter’s word philos Jesus comes to where Peter is at in the relationship:  on the friendship level. 
               Meditative take away:  As we go about our daily lives (fishing) we go a lot further when we are aware of Jesus’ presence with us and respond to Jesus’ leadings.  Jesus wants to be present to us always, from breakfast throughout the day and night.  We can “go aside” with Jesus in our thoughts and prayers often, and Jesus will rehabilitate us in those areas of our lives where we need forgiveness or need to forgive someone and make a new start.  Jesus accepts us where we are at emotionally and spiritually, not forcing us to be something we are not.  Friendship with Jesus is just fine.  To be fair to Peter, who declared his “friendship love” for Jesus in the Gospel dialogue, Peter did end up actually living agape love for Jesus.  Peter was martyred for his faith and crucified upside down on a cross on the Gianiculum hill in Rome.  Who knows where our friendship love for Jesus will lead.  I call you my friends, because I have made known to you everything I have received from my Father.  Friendship with Jesus is a fantastic place to start.
               This Sunday we have another “rehabilitation” story:  the conversion of Saul.  Saul, a well-schooled Jew, is rounding up the followers of Jesus to kill them.  Today, from our point of view, Saul would be a terrorist- no kidding.  But with God, nothing is impossible, no one beyond change.  We have a very difficult time believing it, most people in the world don’t believe it either, but God can turn even terrorists around and make them instruments to spread the Gospel!  They just have to experience forgiveness for the evil they have done!  Saul, on his way to Damascus, Syria, meets Jesus on the road.  Saul doesn’t know who it is and loses his sight.  Jesus gives him instructions to go into the city, find an Ananias person and do what he tells him.  Ananias argues with the Lord:  This man is a terrorist!  Ananias reluctantly follows the Lord’s order and after three days of rehabilitation Saul, regains his sight and is baptized!  What a turnaround!  The next thing you know, Saul, now Paul, is proclaiming to everyone that Jesus is the Son of God.  This is the meaning of repentance:  changing our thinking toward God and desiring to do God’s will and not our own will.
               Let’s conclude with a most interesting question in the story of Paul’s conversion.  When Jesus meets Saul on the road, he doesn’t say “Saul, Saul, why don’t you believe in me,” but instead he says “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?  We today are content with believing in Jesus, but really, that’s the easy part.  What’s difficult is actually doing what God wants us to do, and stop doing what God doesn’t want us to do.  Saul could’ve said “I’m not doing anything to you.  I don’t even know you!”  Jesus identifies with his followers, the Church.  To persecute the Church is to persecute Jesus himself.  Many would like to keep Jesus and the Church separate (I believe in God, love Jesus, but I can’t stand the Church.), but they are inseparable.  The Church is the Body of Christ in the world, wounded, sinful, like Saul was, but still an instrument God uses:  a mystery of sinfulness and holiness at the same time.  The Church is always under attack from outside forces and from within by the scandals wrought by its own members and leaders at times, but as Jesus promised:  the gates of Hell shall never prevail against it.
               The Holy Eucharist is the highest prayer of the Church and the continuing Presence of the Risen Christ in our midst today.  Jesus gathers sinners around an altar, to hear the Gospel, become friends, share a meal together, experience rehabilitation, and be sent out to be Jesus’ presence in the 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

*The Anglican Church in Central America (Anglican Communion)
The Most Reverend Julio Murray, Archbishop and Primate, IARCA


The Rt. Rev Silvestre Romero, Bishop of Guatemala
The Right  Reverend Silvestre Romero, Bishop of Guatemala

Anglican Communion

*The Anglican Church in Central America (Anglican Communion)                  

Thursday, May 2, 2019

God is love: Greet and meet the "friendship project" team from Christ Church Episcopal, Tyler, Texas, TEC


Image may contain: 5 people, people smiling, people standing and indoor
Leesa James Lewis, Fr. David, Elizabeth Bell, Padre Miguel and William Lewis
BIENVENIDO: Elizabeth Bell, Senior Warden, Bishops Committee, St. Alban Mission, Antigua, Guatemala and Padre Miguel Salanic, rector, Santiago de Jerusalen, Chimaltenango, welcome Leesa James Lewis, Fr. David Luckenbach and William Lewis. The three travelers are visiting Antigua and Chimaltenango departments from Christ Episcopal Church, Tyler, Texas where Fr David is rector. https://www.christchurchtyler.org/pages/clergy-and-staff

As representatives of Christ Church Episcopal, TEC, they are looking forward to creating on-site/in-country "friendship projects" in the Sacatepequez, Chimaltenango area with the Episcopal diocese of Guatemala, IARCA.

Thanks be to God



Saint Alban Episcopal Mission

Antigua, Sacatepequez, Guatemala 

Anglican Communion

St. Alban Episcopal Mission, Antigua, Sacatepequez, Guatemala (Anglican Communion) 
Elizabeth Bell, Bishops Warden (English and Spanish) 
Executive Committee, St. Alban Episcopal Mission

Casa Convento Concepcion
10:00 a.m. each Sunday
The Episcopal Church Welcomes Everyone

Sunday, April 28, 2019

GOD IS LOVE: "The truth is, God sent his Son into the world to save it, yes, but it was Jesus’ being made a scapegoat and the violence of human beings that killed him" John+

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Cross and Resurrection
               On Easter Sunday we celebrated Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and talked about how the weight of what resurrection means is much more than our being able to “go to heaven” someday, but rather an impetus to “get to work” in spreading the Good News.  Today we learn what exactly that “work” is.
               Most Christians believe that God sent his Son to die for our sins.  Humankind’s accumulated sinfulness (idolatry and violence) from the first sin of Adam and Eve in the beginning and continuing into the future (even after us) is so great that in order for a just God to love and forgive us the only sacrifice God could accept was the death of his own Son upon the Cross.  Jesus “substituted” himself and took the punishment for us and saved us.  To clear the slate of the punishment due each one of us, God “required” the sacrifice of his Son on our behalf.  Because Jesus did, in fact, die on the Cross for us, our sins have been forgiven (if we accept Jesus as our Savior) and we can inherit heaven when we die.  For those who believe in Jesus, this is a done deal.  So many think.
               But, if Jesus died on the Cross for our sins and turned away God’s wrath and opened heaven’s gate to us once and for all, why do we need the Resurrection?  Couldn’t Jesus still be in the tomb?  After all, he accomplished salvation on the Cross and we have everything we need to be able to go to heaven when we die.  The Resurrection was God’s way of bringing Jesus back to life after a horrible death, very understandable, but isn’t it kind of superfluous for you and me?
               Let’s go back to the starting premise:  That God sent Jesus to die for our sins and to turn away God’s righteous wrath from us and make us lovable again.  In other words:  God, for the highest of reasons, put His Son in harm’s way and killed him. I say “for the highest of reasons” meaning our salvation, because to say “God killed Jesus” seems too harsh, but frankly this is what the theory of substitution atonement says.
               The truth is, God sent his Son into the world to save it, yes, but it was Jesus’ being made a scapegoat and the violence of human beings that killed him, not God.  God is love and doesn’t require the death of anyone.  God the Holy Spirit builds communion in this world by love, but the powerful, yielding to the influence of Satan’s temptation, seek to build their “communion” by getting people to unite against various scapegoats:  Individuals, groups, even entire nations, are made into scapegoats, in us-them fashion, to bolster and preserve the unity of whatever “base” that is important to them.
               Human beings killed Jesus, not God.  Jesus came into a violent world, took the brunt of its worst violence, and was raised up to new life by God in complete defeat of that very violence.   Heaven laughed and the earth rejoiced.  The Resurrection of Jesus means that the violence of this world will never have the last word.  
               When Jesus appeared to his disciples gathered for fear of the authorities and full of guilt for running away from their Lord, the first words of Jesus to them was “Peace be with you.”  The disciples were feeling so low and Jesus forgave them!  Jesus could have said “Let’s plan a retaliatory strike and make those SOB’s pay for what they did to me.”  This is where an “eye for an eye” sacrificial mentality would go.  Instead, Jesus breathed on them (an act of sharing his Spirit) and told them to get going and bring a spirit of forgiveness to the world.  This is real work- hard work- resurrection work.  Forgive even if you think people don’t deserve it- like the disciples themselves!  Forgive the violence encountered in this world and never add to it by retaliation!  Resurrection is God completely having our back as we take on this difficult task.  How many friends would you lose if you said “Let’s hold off and not bomb the hell out of those who did this to us.  Instead, let’s send food, building materials, and medical help to their people.”
               We are talking about these things on “Doubting Thomas Sunday.”  Thomas’ problem was not with believing that Jesus rose from the dead, but with the crucifixion itself.  How could God possibly allow Jesus to be crucified?  This was Thomas’ problem.  Thomas had to realize that it was not God who put the holes in Jesus’ hands, feet, and side, but human beings.  When Jesus showed him the wounds of crucifixion, Thomas made the highest act of faith in the whole bible:  My Lord and my God.  Jesus who had been crucified was alive before his eyes.  “Don’t retain sins, get out there and forgive.  If you my disciples don’t do it, no one will.”  Forgiveness is Resurrection work, nourished by the Bread of the Risen Christ.  Do this work of forgiveness in the world, and whoever you are, of whatever faith or non-faith you have, God will have your back.  In Jesus’ Name, 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

*The Anglican Church in Central America (Anglican Communion)
The Most Reverend Julio Murray, Archbishop and Primate, IARCA


The Rt. Rev Silvestre Romero, Bishop of Guatemala
The Right  Reverend Silvestre Romero, Bishop of Guatemala

Anglican Communion

*The Anglican Church in Central America (Anglican Communion)