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Monday, March 20, 2017

WHO ARE WE IN GOD? "God blesses us, not for ourselves, but to be a blessing for others." The Reverend John Smith

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Have a Drink

          Our Lenten journey prepares us for Easter and renewal of our commitment to Jesus, and, in the case of our Candidate, for Holy Baptism.  So far through Lent we’ve talked about “desire” and how easy it is for our desires to become distorted, so that everything in our experience comes down to an “us vs. them.” The woman gave it to me to eat.  The blame game begins.  Last week our theme was “call,” coming from the story of the call of Abraham and Sarah.  They were comfortably “us” in their familiar place and God called them to leave there and go to a place, they didn’t know, God would show them.  In other words, they would be a perpetual “them,” but doing so, they would become a blessing for future generations.  God blesses us, not for ourselves, but to be a blessing for others.

          This week we learn “how” to be a blessing.  The people in the desert were angry from hunger and thirst.  They demanded that Moses do something.  Moses, afraid for his life, cried out to God for help.  God, somewhat annoyed with Moses, showed him a rock to strike that would provide water for the people to drink.  The immediate crisis was handled.  Upshot of the story:  Moses didn’t realize who he was and who God was either. 

          This story points to the theme of “Who am I?”  Now most of us know pretty well “who we are.”  But the real question is “who we are in God?”  And of course it matters what kind of God we are talking about as well.

          Let’s start with God first.  Is God living water flowing inside us?  Do we experience God as merciful love?  Or is God a god of wrath, someone to fear?  These are important questions we’ve got to get clear and it’s not easy.  While wanting to believe that God is love, our reading of the bible makes us think that God exists to punish the sinner.  Sinners will incur God’s “wrath.”  This idea is helped along by translations like the text from Romans today:

          But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ die for us.  Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.

          Jesus saves us from the “wrath of God.”  This really gets to me because “of God” is not in the Greek text at all.  Even scholarly translators (a lot smarter than I am) put something in the text that isn’t there!  The idea is that Jesus saves us from “wrath.”  This is the translation.  There’s a tendency for human beings to attribute “wrath,” all the bad that goes on in the world, to God, even when all “wrath” is caused only by human beings!  It is this human caused wrath, or sin, that Jesus came to save us from, not God’s disgust and hatred for us as children of God!  God is Love.  God is a loving parent to all his children, praying like every parent that the child will find their way, and merciful when they lose their way.  This is who God is!

          I should hesitate using the word “God” because in our time it is easily co-opted by all religions.  We talk about God like God is right in our pocket, under our control.  Karl Rahner, a great theologian of the last century, said we should all agree not to use the word “God” for fifty years and instead refer to God as “the Holy Mystery.”  Doing so, might slow us down from co-opting “God” for our own interests and prejudices which encourages us to contribute to suffering (wrath) claiming it is necessary to protect ourselves.  God does not send people to hell, humans do.

          What about us?  Who are we in God?  Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well.  She’s there at mid-day when it’s the hottest and nobody draws water at that time.  She’s a them with three strikes against her:  She’s a woman, a Samaritan (hated by Jews as half-breeds and unfaithful), and morally bankrupt, because she’s had five husbands and is living with a guy that she’s not married to.  Jesus knows her inside out.  If anyone could warrant the “wrath” of God, it’s her.  What does Jesus do? He talks to her, something a Jewish man wouldn’t do. He offers her, not wrath or condemnation, but the merciful, living water of Holy Mystery.  She is worth it.  What her townspeople could/would never give her, Jesus gives her:  love, forgiveness, and self-worth.

          Jesus meets you and I today, just like he met that woman.  Each of us have strikes against us like she did (although we’ve for the most part successfully protected ourselves from the judgment of others), but Jesus loves and accepts us as we are, frees us, heals us, and gives us a new identity.  We aren’t defined by what people think, Jesus knows us best and invites us to drink daily the living water of friendship with him.  Have a drink!   

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
       

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Reverend John Smith: "We are blessed, not as a personal possession, to the exclusion of others, but as a blessing to others."

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Blessed to be a Blessing

          The First Sunday of Lent we talked about “desire” and how this is a gift from God, but a gift that can become distorted when our desires foster rivalry and division which can lead to violence, divorce, or war.  From the beginning of time, distorted desire has created a dualism of “us vs. them,” good vs. bad, and all the blaming and scapegoating that goes with it.
 
          This was our first Lenten lesson as we enrolled our Candidate for Holy Baptism.  Jesus refused to let his desire to do his Father’s will be distorted by Satan’s temptations.  He was famished by hunger, his physical well-being threatened, and he allowed himself to remain completely powerless in the face of this testing.  Doing so, Jesus was able to stand alongside people down through time that experience the same struggles and temptations.  We prayed that our Candidate would be given Jesus’ strength as she approached Baptism.

          This Sunday the teaching centers on the “Call” of God. Our world is fully entrenched in an “us/them” dualism fostering division, blame, and scapegoating.  Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit (Adam blames Eve:  The woman gave it to me to eat), and one of their two offspring, Cain, murders his brother Abel, out of anger and jealousy over God’s favor.  Cain founds the first city and endows it with his spirit.

          Something must be done.  God calls Abraham and Sarah to leave Ur, their familiar home city, where they were, in terms of “us/them,” clearly “us.”  God promised that he would lead them to a new country, but in leaving their old homeland, they would never be “us” again, instead they would be forever outsiders, bringing blessing to others. The blessing Abraham and Sarah received from God was to be a source of blessing for others.  God was attempting to do away with the destructive dualisms people had lived with from the beginning. Abraham and Sarah were old and had to trust God’s promise to enable them to bring about offspring without knowing how it would be done or work out.  Abraham and Sarah surrendered in love and trust to God without complete knowledge of what the future would bring or the ultimate success of their part in God’s enterprise.

          Learning to live without thinking dualistically is what Jesus’ dialogue with Nicodemus in the Gospel.
 
          Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again/ from above.
 
The Greek word that translates “born again or born from above” is anothen.  Yes, it can mean “born again,” and that’s what the King James Version translated it.  Nicodemus takes it literally and asks Jesus about how a person could enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born again.  But Jesus meant the second meaning (as the NRSV translates it) “born from above.”  In other words, a new birth in thinking and way of relating to others brought about by the Holy Spirit (the need to be born of water and Spirit).  As God began with Abraham and Sarah, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are doing with Nicodemus, the disciples, and anyone who would listen (obey):  breaking down the “Us/Them” dualism which is based on exclusion(they are not of us) to thinking always of “We” based on inclusion.  God is our Father, the Father of all, as Jesus taught, making everyone brothers and sisters.  No one excluded.  This is what it means to be “born from above.”
 
Being “born from above” comes out of contemplative thinking (Rohr), willing to suspend judgment about differences, us/them thinking, and live in the light of oneness with God’s creation and all humanity.  (I’m thinking of how much division has been caused by “born again” thinking)

          For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might saved through him. (John 3:16-17)

          Most of the time we think of “eternal life” (zoe aionios) in this passage as meaning when we die and go to heaven.  But the Jews never, and Jesus as a Jew, never thought or taught it meant “getting out of this world” as we have come to think.  For them “Eternal Life” meant living now, in this age, here and now, in an extraordinary relationship, friendship, with God, begun now, and continuing forever.  As the Gospel continues, Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world, but to offer all people this relationship with him, beginning with repentance (radical change of thinking) from an “us/them” divisive way of living, and instead seeing all people as related to his Father and as our brothers and sisters.  Eternal life starts here, not when we die.  This is how Jesus saves the world:  by more and more people repenting, being bornfrom above, refusing to live in us/them categories, living in mercy and forgiveness, and loving God with all their hearts and their neighbors as themselves.  We are blessed, not as a personal possession, to the exclusion of others, but as a blessing to others.  

Amen! 
John+0

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
 

Monday, March 6, 2017

THE REVEREND JOHN SMITH: "I am weak, but Thou art strong. I need Jesus to find equilibrium amid all the temptations, desires, supposedly for my own good, all around me. I need Lent, a new springtime in my life, where I can get back on the track of my baptismal call. "

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Desires, Desires, and more Desires

          I’ve always thought that desires make the world go around and that’s basically a very good thing.  Desire is something God put in us “when we were knit together in our mother’s womb.”  We’re born with desires and they can be a powerful impetus for good in our lives.

          This First Sunday of Lent addresses the very real problems that can arise when our desires become distorted in some way.  I say distorted because, as far as our desires go, they are always directed toward an end that we think is good and pleasant.  Even a bad guy who does something deemed evil is acting toward a perceived good.  No one sets out to do “evil,” but instead to do something in their own interest and good.

          I’m talking about “desire” because that is a keyword in our Genesis reading today:

          So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and the tree was to be desired (chamad) to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate.

          We always desire something we think will be good for us, not evil, but that which we desire doesn’t always lead to a happy outcome or freedom.  Sometimes our “good” desires foster rivalry and division.  Interesting, in the Ten Commandments, the same word is used in the “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods, wife, etc.” is the same word in Hebrew (chamad).

          Bottom line, we need to be true to ourselves and the God who brought us into being.  Because some of the good things we desire might not be good for us, we need discernment or the help of God to find our way.  This is not easy because we are subject to temptation.  Just as Satan (representing the angels that rebelled against God) tempted Adam and Eve with something good (to be like God, knowing good and evil), so we can be tempted as well.  Our temptations don’t come from slithery creatures, but from the crowd.  We like the approval of others.  We like what others have.  We will do violence, if necessary to have it, him, or her.  We will go to war, if we need to, to protect our “interests” or desires.  Of course, in the desire to be free, we end up creating so much suffering and in endless bondage.

          Jesus came to free us from the bondage of our distorted desires.  We look at Jesus in his temptations:
He was famished.  The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread” . . . the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,” and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone’ . . . Again the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”

What would we do if we were tempted like Jesus, instead of by the devil, but the crowd yelling “Go ahead, make some bread for you and us, we will protect you, nothing will hurt you, we’ll make you famous and powerful.”  Wanting what they want for me I would probably stuff myself, check with my insurance guy to see if I was covered for falls, and grab all the power I could get.  But, by not doing what I was called to do, I’d find myself in chains.

I am weak, but Thou art strong.  I need Jesus to find equilibrium amid all the temptations, desires, supposedly for my own good, all around me.  I need Lent, a new springtime in my life, where I can get back on the track of my baptismal call.
Remember the message last week on Mount Transfiguration:  Listen to him!  Then three days later ashes were placed on our heads as a sign of repentance- our willingness to change our thinking and actions and make them more congruent with Jesus’ way of living and looking at things.  Lent is all about realizing Jesus’ tremendous love.  Jesus refused to turn the stones into bread and relieve his hunger so he could identify with every person in this world who is hungry.  Even though he had the Angels Insurance Plan which covered everything with no deductibles, Jesus didn’t jump from the pinnacle of the Temple so he could be one with all those in any emotional and physical distress.  And Jesus, offered all the power and kingdoms of this world, refused to kneel before Satan so he could stand alongside the powerless people of this world who depend on him alone.  Jesus did this to show his love for every person, especially the hungry, those suffering emotionally or physically, and those who have no power or status in this world.  Jesus did it and with his help, so can we.  This is our time to grow.  

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

Monday, February 20, 2017

HOLY WEEK in ANTIGUA, GUATEMALA - HISTORY and PREVIEW: Congratulations - Elizabeth Bell

ANOTHER BRILLIANT and HISTORIC ANTIGUA REVIEW by OUR DEAR FRIEND and EPISCOPALIAN, Elizabeth Bell - Felicidades! 
Bilingual Spanish/English edition, Elizabeth Bell, Antigua Tours
La Antigua Guatemala with Estuardo Fajardo Franco.
En Cuaresma y Semana Santa La Antigua Guatemala los espera.
Foto/Luis Toribio

Elizabeth Bell, Senior Warden St.Alban Executive Committee and Founder/President of Antigua Tours


THE LORD OUR GOD: “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall do them no wrong. The stranger that sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him or her as yourself; for you were strangers


Homily - February 19, 2017
The Reverend John Smith, Vicar, St. Alban Episcopal Mission, Antigua, Guatemala
The Way to Peace 

One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is how all of us sincerely pray for peace in the world all the time, but lasting peace never comes. Could it be we need to do something different, change our thinking (conversion, repentance), in order to achieve someday (maybe not in our lifetime) what we pray for? I believe Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel is the way to finding real peace in this world?
The nature of conversion to Jesus is that it comes about one person at a time. Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me. You and I, listening to the Gospel week by week, reading and studying the scriptures on our own, must decide individually to take Jesus’ teaching to heart. While we find ourselves as part of the church, the decision is our own. Like last week in the reading from Deuteronomy: I have set before you life and death. Choose life that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God and obeying his commandments. We would like everyone to join us in our individual decision to follow Jesus. We would like to find comfort in numbers, but remain alone in our decision. “Do you desire to be baptized?” This is not asked of a group, but of the baptismal candidate individually.

I have decided to follow Jesus, though none go with me, still I will follow.
The readings for this Seventh Sunday of Epiphany, especially Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel, are perhaps the most important for achieving a true and lasting peace in this world. It’s been said that this teaching of Jesus is his most radical, demanding, and truthful of all his teaching. Each person hearing this teaching must decide to change their thinking in order to follow Jesus. This is the individual conversion I’ve been talking about. Let’s listen to what Jesus taught again:
“You have heard it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. You have heard it was said, “You shall love your *neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”

Jesus is saying: Change the rules the world lives by and live a different way! If the world says take an eye for an eye. Don’t do it. If someone hits you on one cheek, offer the other. If someone sues you, give them more than they ask. If someone needs to borrow from you, don’t refuse- do what you can. And then comes the really hard teaching. It is commonly accepted in the world that you should love you neighbor and hate your enemy. This has been an understanding from the beginning of time—until this teaching of Jesus: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. This makes you a child of your Father in heaven.

What Jesus is saying is “Blow up the world’s modus operandi. Make your own rules. In a world where people like to go along with the crowd, live differently. Follow me. Find peace. Help bring about my Kingdom someday by changing the way you live now!
Following Jesus is the way to a true, just, and lasting peace in the world and fostering Kingdom come. He really means it when he says Love your enemies. Refuse to see anyone as an enemy. Disarm the enemy who sees you as an enemy by forgiveness; foregoing revenge, retaliation, and retribution. Don’t add fuel to the fires of violence and wars in the world. Without fuel, evil will be itself out. Boundless love is the only way to true freedom and the defeat of the Evil One.
It’s imperative to pray that each one of us, and all of our brothers and sisters in the church, hear, accept, and live this teaching of Jesus today, especially because of the way we determine the date of Easter each year, the Seventh Sunday of Epiphany and this particular Gospel comes up only one time in seven years or so. The Common Lectionary is wonderful: we read almost the whole bible in three years, but unfortunately this Gospel, the core of Jesus’ teaching and important for Christian living and the salvation of the world, is heard so seldom. If we take this teaching to heart, as hard as it is to do, overtime it will lead the whole world to peace. Let it begin with you and me! Amen!
*To most people “neighbor” means kin. Leviticus 19 “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Does the writer mean “kin?” Some verses later the writer expands the meaning of neighbor saying: “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall do them no wrong. The stranger that sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him or her as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. 

I am the Lord your God.

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