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Sunday, September 16, 2018

ALONG THE CAMINO with DEACON PHYLLIS: “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.” ― Charles Dickens

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Today (update - from last week), my guests,  the Reverend Susan and the Reverend Peter Champion (diocese of California/TEC) and I visited the refugee community where some 160 families, 603 people displaced by the June 3rd Volcan de Fuego eruption. 



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Several volunteer groups were there providing crafts and activities for the children, teaching women to weave bags and purses out of discarded/recycled materials (for resale).

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There is also a group of psychologists supporting everyone as they readjust and go forward from this unthinkable and unexpected tragedy.

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It was a lovely, joyful day! 

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As you enter you pass the memorial to the emergency first responders.

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Next we came upon the limited communal space. Meals are prepared off-site and delivered 3 times a day. The homes are wooden structures with floors. I’d estimate each family has a 15 x 20 foot space with what we would consider camping cots. Showers and toilets are in a separate building. 

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Juan, pictured with Susan showed us around. Isaac with Peter shows off the "pompous" he makes and sells - just an example of how the entrepreneurial spirit thrives as people who had little to begin with get back on their feet. 

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Alexandra, one of the psychologists has utterly charmed a baby boy. She and her group are creating woven purses and sharing their skills with camp residents. Ladies, you’re going to want one of these remarkable works of talent, tenacity, hope and Grace.


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Join us in Guatemala at the foot of the Volcan de Fuego where lives are being healed, nurtured and transformed.
The Reverend Phyllis Manoogian, Deacon
The Reverend Phyllis Manoogian, Deacon

Missioner to Guatemala from The Episcopal Church diocese of California (San Francisco & area). Telephone/Guatemala 502 (country code) 49557313


RADICAL NONRETALIATION: "No warm thoughts for those who do us harm are required, but a decision not to hurt them back." John+

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It is Necessary 

“Then Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo much suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

          
We gather this Sunday in the week of the 17th anniversary of the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon on September 11th 2001.  Reading the scriptures appointed for today in the light of that tragic day and the tremendous loss of life then, and the even greater loss of life that has followed for seventeen years to our own day, and sadly continues.
          The first thing people of faith ask themselves is how is God a part of all this?  Why doesn’t God do something to stop all the death and destruction?  Why doesn’t God take vengeance upon those who do us harm?
          These are all questions that have persisted since ancient times and continue to our day.  The basic answer we have come up with is this:  God expects us to take vengeance on our enemies.  We convince ourselves that in striking out violently against the violence done to us, or others, we are doing God’s will.  We look and find support for this in the earliest parts of the bible, forgetting that these accounts are human projections upon God.  And then, like a light bulb going on, we read the prophecy of Isaiah about the One coming who will be a Suffering Servant:
          I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.  The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced . . . he who vindicates me is near.
          This is a tremendous shift:  the willingness of a person who has complete trust in God to suffer violence rather than return it.  Such a person was Jesus Christ who we have come to know as the Suffering Servant Isaiah talked about. 
          Jesus’ disciples, and we, would-be disciples, were, and are, scandalized by this way of thinking.  The Cross scandalizes us as it did Peter.  If God sent Jesus to suffer and die for our sins, then God must approve of some “necessary” violence if done for good end.  But the God of love revealed by Jesus would never support the violence human beings do to one another.  Every human being receives the precious gift of life from God.  God can never support the taking the life of one of God’s children.  This way of thinking scandalizes us, but Jesus was willing to accept the disgrace of the Cross and look like a complete failure and loser to communicate this hard truth.  Blessed is he who is not scandalized in me.
          All suffering comes from human sources, not God.  James tells us in in the second reading:  it all starts with the human tongue.  The tongue can be a source of blessing and cursing.  BUT
          My brothers and sisters this ought not be so.
          The tongue, such a small organ, can start great fire that can scapegoat and enkindle violence against others, sadly, even in God’s name.  But look at the example of Jesus on the Cross:  Jesus forgave those who put him there even while they cursed him.  To not allow Jesus this freedom to give his life, so that we might stop taking each other’s lives, was to cooperate with Satan, not God.
Get behind me. Satan
          It comes down to understanding one little word in the Greek text:  dei, it is necessary or “must.”
          . . . the Son of Man must undergo great suffering . . . be rejected . . . and be killed.
          Most of us, hearing this text over the years, think in terms of God’s plan to have Jesus killed on our behalf, in order to forgive our sins and make us lovable to God, but the must/deiisn’t about God’s will at all.  It is about the sad human necessity to require the sacrifice of another to achieve our own ends.  Without a true awareness of who God is (God is Love. . . In God there is no darkness at all.) and the help of the Holy Spirit, human beings will continue to feel the need to take human life.
          So what are we to do?  So thinking back to 9/11, are we to try to work ourselves up to loving thoughts for those who have done us violence and harm? We are probably not going to arrive at those thoughts ever, or at least for a long time.  So what kind of forgiveness are we talking about?  One of the theologians I study defines forgiveness in this context as radical nonretaliation.
No warm thoughts for those who do us harm are required, but a decision not to hurt them back.  Granted, this is not easy, but I believe it is the way of Jesus, whose Body and Blood we will receive in a few moments.  It is necessary!  
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, September 9, 2018

"Jesus is in the process, with the help of the Holy Spirit, of forming his character within each one of us" The Reverend John Smith

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Everyone is Welcome at the Table
The goal of “Ordinary Time” in the liturgical year is the development of a Christian character that come from an imitation of Jesus himself as we come to know him in the Gospel and prayerful reflection on that knowledge.  The Gospel reveals the character of Jesus and what is important to him. In this endeavor we can’t be literalists, isolating some of Jesus’ statements out of context and then declaring “See, see, look what Jesus said!”
For example, in today’s Gospel of Mark, a pagan Gentile woman, a Syrophoenician, comes to Jesus to ask him to heal her little daughter of an unclean spirit.  Jesus answers her with a seemingly harsh tone and statement:
Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.
At first glance, it seems that Jesus is inferring that the Jews (the children) are his priority and not the Gentile “dogs” like the woman.  But the woman persists, claiming that even dogs eat the crumbs from the children’s table! Seeing the woman’s faith, Jesus heals the woman’s daughter.  This is one of the only times that Jesus concedes an argument in the scriptures- and to a Gentile woman!
The disciples and the crowd are watching this.  What do they observe? Jesus isn’t favoring his own people, he’s repudiating them for their lack of faith.  Instead, he finds the faith he is looking for from the most surprising source: a Gentile woman. Human beings define themselves and individuals and groups as over against others:  they are not us. Jesus refuses to play this game. Jesus wants to be all things to all people. All are his Father’s children, whether they know it or not. What counts is a person’s faith which allows Jesus to extend the benefits of the Kingdom to everyone who believes.
The Gospel selection concludes with people bringing Jesus a deaf and dumb man.  Jesus takes the man aside and “opens” the man’s ears by putting some spital on the man’s tongue and touching his ears and saying Ephphatha, “Be opened.”  In the scene Jesus risk being seen as a common pagan wonder worker of the day, but unlike them, he tells the astonished crowd to keep this to themselves.    Jesus didn’t want to have the reputation of a miracle worker.
Jesus didn’t play favorites between people.  It was never “us” versus “them” for Jesus. His grace or favor was activated by a person’s faith in him.  He did listen to those who were most oppressed by the system and the judgments and false distinctions of people.  Like the young woman who just won the Democratic primary congressional race in Massachusetts, a woman who with her family suffered great injustices over the years, was quoted as saying “Give the gain to those closest to the pain.”  This is precisely what Jesus did in practice.
Jesus is in the process, with the help of the Holy Spirit, of forming his character within each one of us,  One of the primary characteristics of Jesus’ character is enshrined in the Baptismal Covenant: The promise we make to respect the dignity of every human being.  Following from this promise is the holy truth that everyone is invited and welcomed at the Table. This is good news! 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, September 2, 2018

God's Mercy: "Jesus taught that forgiveness given first could engender change in a person."

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Learning to Fast from the Bread of Death
          This week we leave the discourse on the Bread of Life and we return to Mark’s Gospel chapter seven.  The eating of food is still before us as the Pharisees are critical of the way the disciples eat:  they don’t do the ritual washing of the hands up to the elbows required by the sacred tradition of the Jews.  This criticism of his disciples eating with unwashed hands allows Jesus to give a teaching about cleanliness and defilement.
          The Pharisees and scribes were for the most part good and law-abiding people.  They were definitely part of the “in” crowd of their day.  The only problem is that the “bread of death” was a steady part of their diet.  Their understanding of religion was based on sacrifice and the following of the Law.  They lived by the rules, and demanded others should too, if they wanted to be part of the community.  The keeping of the prescriptions of the Law was something easily visible and witnessed by everyone.  When they saw a transgression they took offense.  All of this was an “outside” reality, easily judged.  Love of neighbor was secondary.
          Jesus wished for people to change their diet from a sacrificial orientation and the judgment it brought with it, to one of considering others with mercy and acceptance: to feed on him as the Bread of Life.  To eat the Bread of Life helped a follower of Jesus to focus on, and be open to, “inside” reality, able to be judged by God alone.  So, when Jesus’ disciples didn’t wash before eating, it was easily seen and they offended the keepers of the Law and were considered defiled and unclean.
          Jesus taught that the outside reality was not as important as the inside reality.  The real criteria for cleanliness came from a person’s heart.  What flows out of a person’s heart is most important, and leads to outer actions either good or evil.  Jesus taught that to focus on the outside, judging who is in and who is out, even for “sacred” reasons, can lead good people astray.  What was most important was a person’s faith in Jesus and trying to take on his way of thinking and acting in daily living.
          What we are talking about here is the imitation of desires.  It is not a question of determining by human judgment who is good or evil, sinful or pure.  All human beings are created good and are the recipients of God’s pure graciousness.  As the Letter of James says today
          Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
          So even when a person sins they retain their created goodness and human dignity.  The problem is:  Human beings tend to mimic the desires of others rather than the desires of God.  Jesus came to change the focus of our desires.  This was extremely difficult for the Pharisees and scribes and, in a very real sense, for us today.  Human beings tend to focus on outside compliance and conformity to laws in order to determine if a person is good or not, legal or illegal, religious or a sinner.  But this is not the case.  What is judged as falling short is simply the following the desires of the various “crowds,” large or small, to which we belong.  Following the wrong crowd can take us away from God’s purpose and will.
          The Pharisees and scribes, pious and good people, mimicked one another’s desire:  compliance with the Law as the true following of God.   This resulted in honoring God with their lips, but not with their hearts.  They placed burden of the Law on others and wouldn’t help them carry it.  Jesus found this hypocritical.  In order to cover their sins and any and all shortcomings they celebrated a  Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, each year.  They chose an animal, called a scapegoat, and ritually placed all their sins on it and drove it out to the wilderness to die.  This outer ritual brought about no softening of the heart.  Society didn’t become more merciful to those most in need of mercy or forgiveness.  One of the things that angered the Pharisees most was that Jesus taught that true change of heart happens us when we forgive others before they show any sign of repentance.  The gracious showing of mercy and forgiveness before a person repented was unheard of in daily practice even though the prophets had spoken of God’s mercy and love constantly. Jesus taught that forgiveness given first could engender change in a person.
          We’ve crossed the mid-point of “Ordinary” time, a time when we focus on how to live the Gospel teaching of Jesus.  In these past weeks we focused on Jesus as the Bread of Life, and are learning, albeit slowly, to fast from the bread of death.  Every time we receive the Holy Eucharist a special alchemy takes place:  ingesting the Bread of Life, what we take in from others, even their imperfect desires and judgments, becomes purer, and the social atmosphere around us improves.  We can all breathe the Holy Spirit!  
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)

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

John Bell: 25 Years a CHAMP among CHAMPS - John Bell, is the founder and president of Educational Resources of Antigua Guatemala.

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Meet and greet some of our friends at "Casa 80"  Antigua, Guatemala

Dear Friends


Greetings from St. Albans!


Sometimes you see a good work taking place and just have to tell your friends about it. Such is the case with Casa 80 (Casa Ochenta) here in Antigua Guatemala.. Often we receive requests asking for help. The needs are so great everywhere near and far. How can we make a difference and make the most of our days? Sometimes we’re overwhelmed by our own issues. But I still want to tell you about Casa 80 in case you may consider it as a place in your giving.

Our friend and member of St. Alban, John Bell, is the founder and president of Educational Resources of Antigua Guatemala. John has lived and worked sacrificially in Guatemala for 25 years and has spent those years motivating young people to embrace their visions and find values to live by. They are people with special needs physically, emotionally, and spiritually. John provides scholarships and opportunities for vocational trainings. Fourteen young people live together in Casa 80. The able-bodied assist the disabled. A young couple with a new baby watches over the house and prepares meals. All are engaged in furthering their education. These are people we can lift up, offer hope, assuring them that they are God’s beloved creations, just like us.

Nowadays we pay bills directly from our bank accounts for many convenient reasons. Terri and I send small amounts, through our bank or Paypal to good works as we identify them. The amount is usually small $5-$25 monthly and it is our hope that over time, and added to the contributions of others, it will make a real difference to the recipients. Often we forget what we did because it becomes natural, without a second thought: When you give don’t let the left hand know what your right had is doing. It’s a joy, not a burden.
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We can do the same for Educational Resources of Antigua Guatemala with a cheerful heart. A young man who is also a member of St. Alban, Nazario, who lost both arms accidentally by a machine at younger age did a great job on the link below. He is a university student studying Computer Technology.

Would you please consider this prayerfully and act as you are able
Donation Button and Facebook links are below. All contributions are tax deductible in the U.S. Thanks! Checks made payable and mailed to:


Educational Resources 
PO Box 133 
Coventry, RI 02816

Love in Jesus, John+ and Terri too 

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St. Alban Episcopal/Anglican Mission, Antigua, Guatemala, Episcopal diocese of Guatemala, IARCA
(Anglican Communion)

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Bread of Life VISION: "Human beings no longer had to be scapegoated and killed in order to find peace" The Reverend John Smith

A Difficult Teaching
          This Sunday we hear the fifth and final excerpt from Chapter six of John’s Gospel.  This chapter is called the Bread of Life because Jesus refers to himself as the Bread of Life and the Bread come down from heaven five times.  In order to provide context to Jesus’ assertions on being the Bread of Life for the life of the world, we’ve talked about the “bread of death.”  If Jesus has come among us as the Bread of Life it must be because the world has been eating another bread:  the bread of death.
          The difference between these two “breads” couldn’t be greater.  The world and its human culture has been eating the bread of death from the earliest times after the Fall.  A culture of sacrifice developed which required, at the order of the most powerful, that human beings had to be sacrificed, enemies needed to be conquered, in order to find a lasting peace.  This kind of peace never took root.  Those in power and control, with the people surrounding them, feasted on this “bread of death.”  This was just the way things worked in the real world.  Scarcity was/is everywhere so you needed to get as much as you could and protect at all cost what you had.
          Into this same “real” world Jesus was incarnated.  What we have been talking about these past five weeks in Chapter six, and really the whole Gospel, is that Jesus came to bring a different Bread for the world to feast on (this bread is celebrated and memorialized in the Holy Eucharist).  Jesus offered himself on the Cross and rose from the dead to empower this new Bread and change the “menu” for the world’s insatiable appetite.  Human beings no longer had to be scapegoated and killed in order to find peace.  Everyone would enjoy real peace and this Bread could be multiplied and shared in abundance.  The hungry and poor would be truly satisfied and everyone would benefit.
          This is a beautiful vision, but it hasn’t become part of day to day reality.  How come?  St. Paul in the Letter to the Ephesians explained the difficulty:
          For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
          What Paul is saying to the Ephesians and to all of us is that there is a struggle going on for the “menu” of the world.  The bread of death continues to appeal to the palate of the world, due not to individual corrupt and power-hungry leaders (blood and flesh), but to whole institutions under the control of spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places, ie. Satan or the Devil (diablos= the one who holds a person in scandal).  Most people think that if we can just remove one corrupt leader after another the problem would be solved, but because of the evil present in the institutions themselves, one corrupt leader will be replaced by another (to be) corrupted leader.  Thus, the struggle will go on for a long time, perhaps even until Jesus’ return, so put on the armor of God. 
          Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to . . . stand firm.  Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness.  As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.  With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  Pray in the Spirit . . .
          All people are created good by God, even the bad guys.  We are all caught up in institutions, some hallowed by us, but continue to be under the influence of forces counter to God.  Even the Church itself, especially after Constantine, gave in to, and claimed an imperial culture, but Jesus’ message and example in the Gospel still continues  
          Jesus’ teaching is difficult.  Many of his disciples and listeners left his following scandalized by his criticism of their “sacred” institutions and the sinfulness of the leaders within them.  What can we do?  We can confess our sins, put on the armor of God, and feast on the Bread of Life.
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)