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Monday, November 28, 2016

EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE FOR GOD: "Swords will become plowshares, spears will become pruning hooks, lambs will lay down with the wolves, Christians, Muslims, and Jews will picnic together, and the left and right wingers will sing in harmony..." John+



A New Beginning

            Every time we come to the start of a new church calendar I want to shout “Happy New Year!”  It is a whole new beginning of a new season, but also the possibility for each of us to grow deeper spiritually and follow Jesus more faithfully.

            Let us go up to the mountain of the Lord . . . teach us his ways . . . walk in his paths.

            The “mountain” of the Lord is the place of revelation where God speaks to us and makes known God’s will.  Like Moses and the prophets we go up the mountain and converse with God and receive direction.  Every time we gather for Holy Eucharist we go up the mountain of the Lord to hear his word, be fed, and sent out to be led by the Spirit.  Weekly, the Eucharist helps us as Paul in Romans exhorts us to “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”

            This is serious stuff.  God plays for keeps.  When we go up the mountain it’s not about feeling warm and fuzzy, but about getting real direction and help for living in the world as it is, especially dealing with its violence as Jesus and the saints and martyrs did.  On this First Sunday of Advent we focus, not on the first coming of the Son of Man (as we might think only a few weeks from our celebration of Christmas), but rather on the Second Coming of Christ.  In other words, we begin with a vision of the end.

            We live in the present day with the last day always in mind.  What is our present situation?  We are part of an empire, North America, following upon all the great empires of the world:  Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, Assyrian, and Roman.  We share the same characteristics as they did:  Accumulation of great wealth and resources (America has 20% of the world’s wealth and uses most of the world’s resources) and a military (America spends 48% of the world’s military expenditures) and an industrial complex needed to protect this wealth and resources.  We live in a vicious cycle of needing more and more resources to protect the more and more we accumulate.  Preservation of what we have is the greatest priority.  What was true for every one of the world’s great empires will be true of America’s as well.  (Think:  all the talk about “America first”)

            So the Gospel tells us we must keep a focus on the end of all things:  those who will be taken and those who will be left behind.  If you’re familiar with the very popular Left Behind series you’ll know how the story favors the American way of life (the good guys) in the final battle at the end (the evil protagonists will be vanquished).  God’s chosen will be “taken” up, raptured to heaven out of the fray, and the unredeemed will be left behind to suffer an eternal death.  But a broader understanding of Creation and God’s love for the world and its creatures reverses this thing.  Also, the Greek word for ”left behind”  aphiemi  means “to forgive.”  In other words, to be left behind might mean living forgiven in the Kingdom “on earth as in heaven.”  To be “taken” might mean to be swept up in the world’s violence, dreading the knock at the door by occupying forces and watching as loved ones are taken away in the darkness.
  
            So, to be left behind is not the worst thing that can happen to us!  When the world was destroyed by the Flood, Noah and his family were left behind to build a new society.  And, after all, If any one was ever left behind it was Jesus himself!  He wasn’t rescued or raptured out of the world’s violence.  He took everything that was thrown at him and still loved and forgave his persecutors and those who put him to death.  This allowed him to be raised to new life and offer resurrection life to his followers.  Don’t worry about being left behind, just be faithful to Jesus now even in the midst of suffering.  Swords will become plowshares, spears will become pruning hooks, lambs will lay down with the wolves, Christians, Muslims, and Jews will picnic together, and the left and right wingers will sing in harmony.  What seems as a very unrealistic vision of international and natural concord can happen as the Kingdom takes hold.  Everything is possible for God!

            So what did we hear on the mountain today?  How shall we live in such a way to foster the coming of God among us?  I’ll conclude by quoting the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. on March 31, 1968, the last Sunday before his death:

            It is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and non-violence.  It is either non-violence or non-existence . . . I believe today that there is a need for all people of good will to come with a massive act of conscience and say in the worlds of the old Negro Spiritual, “We ain’t goin’ to study war no more.”

Amen!

The Reverend John Smith
St. Alban


Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English) meets for mass every Sunday at 10:00 A.M. (see welcome letter at sidebar) at Casa Convento Concepcion, 4a Calle Oriente No. 41, Antigua, Guatemala.

The Reverend John Smith, Vicar

5235-6674 cell telephone (502 country code)

THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH WELCOMES EVERYONE 
           

Monday, November 21, 2016

"Each Sunday we gather to celebrate the Holy Eucharist and acknowledge Christ as the King of our lives and the whole world. We are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven" John+

Image result for Christ the King windows, photo?

Like no other King

We’ve arrived at the last Sunday of the Church Year, the Feast of Christ the King.  Everything culminates in the Truth that Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, who died on a cross as a criminal and who rose from the dead, is the King of Creation and reigns over every principality and power of this world.

            Christ as King is a different kind of king.  It’s important to remember how the office of king came into being.  Primitive peoples, in order to secure a good harvest or success in battle against their enemies, sought to win the approval of their god(s).  So they would choose a person (King) to be sacrificed to god- a chosen victim.  This person would “reign” until the appointed time for his execution, the date being determined by various rituals.  During this time, sometimes years, the chosen victim gained a lot of prestige and power.  This enabled the chosen one to secure a substitute and a continuing supply of other victims.  Eventually this chosen one, the king, came to preside over the entire sacrificial system of the tribe.  Rene Girard writes

            The king reigns only by virtue of his future death; he is no more or no less than a victim awaiting sacrifice, a condemned man about to be executed.

            Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe, was a King like no other.  He was a chosen victim to die for his people, yes, he could have side-stepped his fate, but instead offered himself, requiring no others to take his place.  Instead of participating in a system of sacrifice, he replaced it with a revelation of God’s love.  God no longer had to be appeased by multiple sacrifices and victim after victim.  Jesus Christ himself would be the victim, not to appease God, but to show the extent of a Father’s love for all of His children in the world.

            There is word that describes this kind of love:  agape.  Agape is God’s unexplainable love for all people, even in their sin and violence toward one another.  When, one by one, we come to realize this love, we are free to love in the same way.  When we are harmed we can let go of the desire for revenge and grasp the power of the Holy Spirit to forgive as Jesus did.  This is the message of the Gospel:  

We are freed to live as if God were King on earth.  Jesus, the Messiah King, redefines what it means to be a king, a leader, or person of power.  Christ as King is a completely different kind of king the world has ever known.

            The choice is ours.  We can either follow a “Caesar” type king (whose Pax Romana built on war and the terror caused by the new technology of the cross), or we can choose Jesus’ way.  We can, in Jeremiah’s prophecy, live as scattered sheep, with shepherds who look out only for themselves, or accept the just and righteous Shepherd God gave us in Jesus Christ.

            Each Sunday we gather to celebrate the Holy Eucharist and acknowledge Christ as the King of our lives and the whole world.  We are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven:

            May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. (Colossians 1:11)  Amen!

John+
St. Alban

Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English) 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 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

THE JESUS PARTY: "We know God’s love and justice will prevail in spite of the evil humans do to each other." The Reverend John Smith

The Reverend John Smith, Homily, November 13, 2016 The Jesus Party
The election in the United States is over. We have a new president. For many years I’ve urged my parishioners, who always represented many different political viewpoints, to pray and vote, and know that when they gather with their beloved party, they will find themselves in the minority of their party on some issues because of their faith in Jesus. For me, the Gospel of Jesus provides the best platform guiding us all to live together in peace, justice, and love with all of our brothers and sisters in this world. I’ve always thought of myself as a member of the Jesus party!
Saints are members of the Jesus Party. Last week, on the Feast of All Saints, I talked about the work of saints. To be a saint is to work in field of love and reconciliation. This is not easy work, most often a struggle, but always a labor of love. It is to do everything possible to foster the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God, where all people are loved and their dignity respected, in this world. The Kingdom is most present among the poor and powerless, those who are the victims of violence and greed, and who have no one to look after them and their rights except members of the Jesus Party.
As we come to the last weeks of the church’s liturgical year the scripture texts are taken from what is called apocalyptic literature which was popular in Jesus’ time and persists in our own day. For example, ISIS is looking for a decisive “apocalyptic” battle to take place between all those faithful to Islam (them) and all the unfaithful (infidels) on the plain of Dabiq. The word “apocalyptic” means revealing or unveiling of a great truth, namely, who is righteous or not, who’s good or evil. So, in today’s Gospel, when Jesus is looking at the Temple (with his disciples reveling in its beauty and adornment) and says that it will be destroyed and not a stone will be left upon stone, something is being unveiled or revealed to them. What is being revealed? In a word: violence. Violence is unveiled for what it is: entirely human in origin and not of God.
We like to keep the violence of the world “veiled.” Veiled, sacred violence (because we think we are doing God’s work against evil), has an air of respectability. It’s backed, so we think, by important moral and religious principles. Of course, when we witness random acts of violence, the kind we witness on TV or read about in the papers, everyone deplores it. This kind of violence is bad, because it doesn’t have the same respectability and “moral” backing supporting it as the “veiled” variety does.
We, like the disciples, are shocked when violence is unveiled as not having God’s approval. We’re afraid of what lies ahead if human beings continue to war, each side claiming God is on their side. Fear is our greatest enemy. But the prophets (like today’s Isaiah’s reading of a day coming when the lion will lay down with the lamb) tell us God will restore us and creation and the Gospel tells us God is with us (Emmanuel) always. This knowledge (revelation) enables us to live as if we know and see something the world doesn’t know or see. Violence is no longer veiled. We know God’s love and justice will prevail in spite of the evil humans do to each other.
So the real “election” is not every four years, but every day. We elect to live the platform of the Jesus Party. We don’t do very well living it out so we gather together to be forgiven for our failures, hear the message once again, get nourished with holy food, and get sent out into the world to try to live the life of our standard bearer Jesus again. He leads us!

Amen!

John+

Monday, November 7, 2016

ALL SAINTS SUNDAY: "World without end, Amen. God’s not going to end the world in conflagration, but we humans might." The Reverend John Smith

All-Saints.jpg
All Saints 2016

          “For All the Saints Who from Their Labors Rest” is the key descriptive hymn for the Feast of All Saints which we celebrate today.  I ask myself:  When this first line of the hymn speaks of “labors,” what labors are being referred to?

          Saints, canonized or not, work in the field of love:  feeding the hungry, wiping the tears of those who weep, standing by the weak and poor, those who are hated, defiled, reviled, and defamed because of the Son of Man (a figure referred to in Daniel who will come to receive an eternal Kingdom- Jesus used this title to refer to himself often in the Gospel). To take on Jesus’ teaching and practice is real work!  This is like the title of another hymn:  Come, Labor On.

          When you do the work of God it will never be destroyed.  When you work that the Kingdom of God become a reality it will never come to an end.  The Kingdom will continue to grow in this world until the Son of Man (Jesus) returns to claim it.  Until that day, we, and the saints before us, labor on.

          The Book of Daniel is part of what is called apocalyptic literature.  It is literature which speaks of crisis and how everything will end.  There are great battles and much suffering.  It always involves the great political and military powers of the world in conflict.  In the Book of Daniel, less than 200 years before Christ, there are four powers that be:  Babylon, Media, Persia, and Greece.  These powers threatened Israel and all that God was trying to do through his chosen people.  But God’s Kingdom would prevail in the end.

          The important thing to keep in mind (there is so much misunderstanding about this) is that all the battling, violence, and suffering that takes place in this world is completely human in origin.  The battles are not between God and humans (no contest!) or God’s allies (the good folks) and evil (the bad folks).  No, all the destruction and pain comes from sinful, human rivalry.  God gives all of us life and a beautiful creation to live in and enjoy.  All the saints knew this. The Kingdom of God, inaugurated by Jesus, and the saints, whose labors helped it take root among us, will never come to an end.

          So we’re not merely hanging around to see what’s going to happen with the powers of the world and their continued warring, or wait for the final battle to come, like Hollywood films or the Left Behind series describes.  Remember the way many prayers conclude:  World without end, Amen.  God’s not going to end the world in conflagration, but we humans might.

By our baptism we are saints too and we need to “labor on” by living Jesus’ example of love and peace in a sinful world.  We, like all the saints, are sinners too.  We are undergoing our own conversions to Jesus Christ.  That is why we gather each Sunday to confess our sins (to aid our conversion) and to be nourished by the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus who is present with us, in a tangible way, in the struggle.  The Good News is that rest will come.  But, until then, we have work to do:  loving, forgiving, sharing, and striving for peace without using violence.  No one said that this is easy.  This is the Cross which Jesus asked his disciples, you and me, to carry.  This is the work of saints.  Amen!   
John+
St. Alban
Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English) 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 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Reverend John Smith: " All our striving to impress God and others, including most of our daily routine, means nothing. "

Stained glass rendition of Zacchaeus receiving Jesus into his house.
"Zacchaeus receives Jesus", Church of the Good Shepherd, Jericho
A House Call

          I hear that some Doctors still make house calls in Guatemala.  Those days are long gone in the States.  Today, in the gospel story of Zacchaeus, we have perhaps a story of the greatest house call ever made:  Jesus, the Divine Physician, visits and brings a cure!

          Here’s what happens in the story.  Zacchaeus is a very unpopular tax collector.  In stature, he’s very short, but he wields a lot of power because the Roman Empire and its soldiers stand with him as he extorts money from his own people every day.

          He hears a crowd forming and talking about a man called Jesus coming into Jericho.  Zacchaeus has no idea who Jesus is, but he’s curious and wants to get a glimpse of the guy.  Trouble is, he’s very short and can’t get through to the front of the crowd to see.  The people in the crowd know Zacchaeus and hate his guts.  No one will move over or make way for him.  So he takes some initiative and climbs a sycamore tree to get a glimpse of this Jesus fellow.

          The next thing you know, Jesus looks up at Zacchaeus and tells him to come down from the tree.  “I’m going to eat and stay at your house tonight.”  Zacchaeus is taken aback by Jesus’ call to him.  So are the crowd, who, are surprised and annoyed at Jesus’ choosing of Zacchaeus for hospitality.  “Doesn’t he know that Zaccaheus is a sinner?”  They, like most crowds are full of judgment, who is good, who is bad, who is in, who is out, who deserves this, and who doesn’t deserve it, etc. The most popular guy in town that day chooses hospitality from the most unpopular person in town.

          When the feast begins, Zacchaeus makes the toast.  He want Jesus to know that all the bad things people have been saying about him aren’t the whole story.  He’s really not a bad person.  He’ll pay back any one he’s defrauded four fold.  This proves he’s really a good person.  Jesus should be impressed and pleased, but he’s not.  Jesus, doesn’t say “Well done.  Good for you!”  Instead Jesus simply says “Salvation has come to this house.”

          What does this all mean to us?

          Most of the time we think that the whole religious enterprise is about us taking the initiative with God and doing things that we think God and other people around us will give us points for, but in this story, we see all the initiative is with Jesus.  Yes, Zacchaeus climbs the tree out of curiosity, but it is Jesus who sees him and asks for hospitality.  Jesus goes to Zacchaeus’ house and when Zacchaeus makes a flattering toast to himself, Jesus deflates the whole experience by saying that He is the one bringing salvation and mercy to Zacchaeus who, by the way, really needs it.

          All our striving to impress God and others, including most of our daily routine, means nothing.  (To do a good work or reach out to the poor is truly wonderful and pleasing to God, but in the totality of the trivial pursuits of our daily life we remain completely in need of mercy.) Zacchaeus thinks, as we often do, he can win Jesus over by the promise of a quick turn-around conversion, but true conversion is a much longer process of learning to live in God’s mercy every day, letting God make a house call where we live.  Jesus has chosen to some among us right now and share a meal with us, we don’t have to do anything but receive God’s visitation and mercy in thanksgiving and love.  

Amen!
John+   
       
St. Alban
Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English) meets for mass every Sunday at 10:00 A.M. (see welcome letter at sidebar) at Casa Convento Concepcion, 4a Calle Oriente No. 41, Antigua, Guatemala.
The Reverend John Smith, Vicar

5235-6674 cell telephone (502 country code)

THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH WELCOMES EVERYONE 

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Jesus Prayer: " Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

Sermon October 23, 2016, a summary, The Reverend John Smith

The Way to Joy

This Sunday's Gospel is the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in the Temple. The Pharisee, a good and righteous man, prays to God, making a case for his personal righteousness. The Tax Collector prays from the back of the Temple, saying only "God, be merciful to me, a sinner." Jesus says that the Tax Collector went home righteous and not the Pharisee. Why? The Pharisee actually thnks he is "not like other people." He lives in a righteous, unrighteous, us them, good evil, dualistic world. The Tax Collector simply expresses his need for God's mercy and knows that everyone, including the Pharisee, needs this same mercy. He is one with all men and women in this need for God. He makes no judgments on other people, he is like everyone in need of God's forgiveness and love.

Do you remember reading in highschool j.d. salinger's Franny and Zoey? In the book is mentioned another book, the Way of the Pilgrim. The latter speaks of a young man's search for how to pray "unceasingly" as it says in Ist Thessalonians. A Russian holy man, teaches the young man the Jesus Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner. This prayer comes from the prayer of the Tax Collector in the Temple. Millions of people pray this prayer everyday. Rather than being depressing proclaiming our sinfulness, it leads to a deep peace and joy. You become one with all humanity in everyone's need for God love and mercy.

Jesus invites us not to wallow in our self-righteousness that cuts us off from other people and is full of striving, rivalry and worry over who's in or who's out, but to acknowledge our need for God, and everyone elses, even our enemies, and allow this truth to well up true joy within us. This is Good News!
Amen

John+


St. Alban
Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English) 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 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

SUNDAY PREVIEW - SPECIAL EDITION: Pray for all the people of Haiti as Hurricane Matthew descends upon them (and the TEC dioceses of Haiti, Dominican Republic and Cuba* - The Episcopal Church/Province IX)

Prayers of the People: The Very Beginning, 1st Sunday in the Season of Creation '16

For Sunday, October 9, 2016, Readings: In the Beginning* (©Mark Earey), Psalm 148, Sura 7:54 The Qu’ran**, Luke 17:11-19


In the Beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 
  In the empty void and crushing darkness, God spoke light into being. 
[Mark Earey]

 Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights...sun and moon...all you shining stars...Praise him heaven of heavens and you waters above the heavens...for he commanded, and they were created.
[Psalm 148:1, 3, 4]

 "Your Guardian - Lord, is God, Who created the heavens and the earth in six days...He created the sun, the moon, and the stars, (all) governed by laws under His command."  [Sura 7: 54, The Qu'ran]

 Then [Jesus] said, "Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" [Luke 17:18]

Welcome to the 
Season of Creation!

        The Season of Creation originated in the Anglican Church of South Africa in 2008 and is designed for us to explore our faith from a Creation perspective. We are to realize our place in the order of God’s creating and to see and act upon the need to care for our entire life-support system - the air we breathe, the water we drink, the soil in which we grow our crops - not merely humanity, but our total environment, as it pertains to ALL life. 
         From the early days of the Season of Creation at SsAM [www.SsAM.org], we established that “the primary aim of the events of the season is to enable adults and youth to celebrate and experience the inextricable link which binds together the destinies of all of God’s creatures.” It is a moment of pause to remind ourselves that God calls us to see “what great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions” and for us to renew our commitment to making real the biblical vision of the earth at unity with itself. It is a vision of human beings of all races, backgrounds and walks of life in local communities and among the nations of the earth, living together in love and peace with justice for all. "As disciples of Christ, we are called through our Baptismal Covenant, to be instruments for the healing of our broken world," and with a renewed commitment to personal and communal prayer and action.
         This year, as a special feature of our season, the Earth Charter[http://earthcharter.org/discover/the-earth-charter/] will form a special context or backdrop of our observance. It provides an opportunity for our parish and its individual members--including our youngest members -- to make specific personal and institutional commitments for the healing of our planet, and to join the movement of millions around the world who endorse and commit to its principles.
         The Earth Charter is a product of a decade-long, worldwide, cross-cultural dialogue on common goals and shared values. This project began as a United Nations initiative, but it was carried forward and completed by a global civil society initiative. It was finalized and launched as a people’s charter on 29 June, 2000 by the Earth Charter Commission, an independent international entity, in a ceremony at the Peace Palace, in The Hague. A global consensus statement of values and principles for a sustainable future, the Charter has at its core an ethic “of respect and care for the community of life as a whole in all its biological and cultural diversity…The Earth Charter adopted the concept of universal responsibility in part because it complements the idea of universal human rights. 
         We will use Biblical and other readings that pertain to the specific theme of each of the 7 weeks. The alternate readings used will follow the prayers on this page.  

         We begin the Season at the BeginningProfessor Wangari Maathai,*** 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner, describes the Book of Genesis as "the book for environmentalists." "If we had been created on Tuesday," she said, "There would have been nowhere for us to stand! God, with infinite wisdom, waited until the last day!"

Christina Brennan Lee 



LET US, GOD’S PEOPLE, PRAY:


*Province IX of TEC and the diocese of Cuba are in formation together