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Monday, September 26, 2016

SHARE. SHOW MERCY. GIVE: "Mind the Gap between your comfortable life and those who have no comfort at all.." The Rev. John Smith.

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Mind the Gap
        
I enjoy metro systems.  The one I’ve used the most is the one in London.  When the doors open and people are going into the train car, a recorded voice says Mind the Gap.  It’s reminding everybody to watch the gap between the platform and the car where there is just enough room for a foot to get caught and tragedy for a forgetful person.

        In the Gospel today, Jesus tells the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus.  This story is a mind the gap story, the most important such story of its kind.  The real world situation is about a Rich Man who had it made, so to speak, many times over, and a poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores.  At that time there weren’t nice doors, like we have in Antigua, that could be closed and no one could see in.  Instead there usually were large doors, maybe with a curtain, but open enough for someone to see in and see what was going on, especially during lavish dinners, etc.  A hungry guy like Lazarus could just look in and drool at the scrumptious fare being served.

        In order to get his point across, Jesus borrows a common folktale of the day about a poor man who dies and is taken to the bosom of Abraham where he finally finds comfort, and a rich guy who dies and is taken to Hades, a place of torment we would call hell.  This is another reversal of fate that Jesus often talks about.  The poor man, who struggled in life, finally finds true contentment, and the rich man who had everything, is left with nothing.

        The rich guy implores Abraham to allow Lazarus to dip his finger in water and touch his tongue to cool it from the flames.  Abraham declines, saying that there is achasm so great between Lazarus and the rich man that it simply is not possible.  The rich man then implores help for his brothers so they might change their ways and not end up like him.  Jesus explains that they already have Moses and the prophets and if they won’t listen to them, someone bringing a message from the dead, or someone rising from the dead won’t convince them or make a difference anyway.

        So what’s Jesus trying to get across by telling this story?  What he’s not trying to do is give us a description of the afterlife.  This disappoints many that hope for a hell where all the bad people, except themselves of course, will be sent.  No, this is a common folktale, kind of like Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, about a self-centered Scrooge who finally changes his ways.  Jesus is saying Mind the Gap between your comfortable life and those who have no comfort at all.  Share.  Show mercy. Give.  Close the gap, now, on this earth, make a difference in your own time.  After you die it will be too late.

        This is the Gospel speaking to income inequality which is so evident in our time.  This is the gap or chasm that matters right now.  Now, I don’t know exactly what will happen when we die, or what the reversal of fortunes will look like, but I know I’ve been warned to mind the gap so I don’t fall.  To know this now is Good News.  I/We have time to repent and change my ways while I/We have time.  

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, September 19, 2016

CAN WE RISK LOSING RESPECTABILITY TO FOLLOW JESUS: "Can we forgive those who hurt or attack us even when others around us think we are deluded, naïve, and foolish? " John+

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Crooked Jesus

          In the New Testament writings, of St. Paul and others, there are short, pithy statements of faith, called kerygma.  They are important because they give us a snapshot of the earliest faith convictions of those who lived closest to the time of Jesus.  In Paul’s Letter to Timothy today we have a great example:

          For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all—this was attested at the right time.

          Of course the attested at the right time refers to the Resurrection.  The resurrection of Jesus from the dead was the absolute confirmation of everything Jesus did and taught and was the pivotal point of human history.  The way followers of Jesus look at history was forever changed.

          When we study the history of human culture from the beginning of time, it seems to document a series of victories and defeats, winners and losers, victorious kings and rulers and defeated kings and rulers, and all their peoples with them.  The most important thing was to be on the winning side of history.

          The Resurrection of Jesus changed history by removing once and for all the notion that victory is all that really matters.  In Jesus, Son of the living God, we have a story of utter defeat and loss.  The crowds spurned his message of love, mercy, and forgiveness, and physically tortured him, mocked him with their tongues, and put him to death.  God raised him up, attesting at the right timethat the loss of everything, even life itself, could end in victory.  History’s cry- to the victor belongs the spoils, was no longer true:  those who lose everything for Jesus, even life itself, will experience victory!

          In today’s Gospel of the Dishonest Steward we have Jesus’ description of himself by the world around him, as a crook.  Yes, Jesus the Crook.  Jesus was seen by the rich and powerful {and those who looked up to them} as squandering their livelihood and possessions.  The Dishonest Steward {Jesus} was fired.  What does he do?  He calls all those who owe the rich guy and forgives their debts, cutting their bills in half.  The debtors {remember Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer- forgive our debtors} didn’t know that the Steward was fired, they think the Rich Master is great.  The Master’s reputation soars {honor was more important than money in those days}, and when the Master finds out he even praises the shrewd Steward!

          What does all this mean?  The Dishonest Steward {Jesus} had no right at all to forgive the debts owed the master.  What he did was completely out of line and completely unrespectable in the eyes of all those looking on.  What Jesus is teaching here, I think, is that respectability is what the world desires from people, but is not what God desires.  The world desires to be on the respectable side of the winners of this world.  Winning gives one respect.  Jesus doesn’t value respectability that comes from winning, money, or even moral uprightness.  All the ways the world keeps score mean nothing to Jesus.  What then is most important to Jesus?  Forgiveness.

          Forgive.  Forgive everything.  Forgive for any reason.  Forgive when it isn’t deserved.  Forgive when you have been hurt.  Forgive when it’s not even your issue.  There is no bad reason not to forgive.  You don’t have to forgive out of love, because you might not feel any love.  You don’t forgive because you don’t want the other to benefit from your forgiveness.  You might forgive because you remember that’s what we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, or you may forgive because you finally get Jesus’ message and want to conduit his bountiful mercy and love.  Whatever the reason, in good or bad faith, the message is FORGIVE.
 
          The world thought Jesus was a crook:  there wasn’t anything respectable about Jesus, he didn’t keep the Sabbath, he had table fellowship with other crooks, he died a criminal’s death, a complete loser.  The question for me, and perhaps for you too, is can we risk losing some of our respectability so we can follow Jesus?  Can we forgive those who hurt or attack us even when others around us think we are deluded, naïve, and foolish?  If so, the history of the world will finally change for the better!  

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, September 12, 2016

FATHER FORGIVE THEM..: "The whole enterprise of God is to find, one by one, each of us who are lost." John+

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September 11

        It’s been 15 years to that tragic day when the heavy jets slammed into the Twin Towers in New York.  Can you remember where you were?  I was getting ready to go to church and watched the horror unfold.  I had an 8am service with the children of our school and wondered what I would say to them.

        That day and the ensuing rescue efforts were the subject of all our daily prayers, but the hardest part of it all for me, during the aftermath, was listening to all the calls for revenge.  I was in Arizona and our senior Senator John McCain spoke for so many.  He said God have mercy on the souls of the men who did this, because we won’t.

        These words by Sen. McCain summarized the clarion call for revenge against any and all who could be blamed for this violence toward us- so called sacred violence because we knew God would approve it.  President Bush even used the word Crusade to describe our response.  God might show mercy, but we would show no mercy to those who attacked us.  All of this coupled with the shadow threat of weapons of mass destruction directed against us, gave us no choice but to respond with the full power of our armaments in shock and awe.

        The choices we make when we suffer the violence of other human beings are in great contrast to God’s choice when the ancestors of those same human beings brought about violence and ultimately death to Jesus.  God, in Jesus, chose forgiveness and mercy rather than revenge.  Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

        When we respond to violence with our own righteous violence and claim God’s approval we make God into an idol.  This is the great temptation always, as Moses found out when he came down the mountain after talking with God and found his people dancing around a Golden Calf worshipping it.  God becomes a god of our own creation.  We forget God who is love refuses to have anything to do with our human violence, only picking up what’s left of any human dignity left behind.

        The Apostle Paul was a prime example of how God picks up the pieces of our lives.  Paul was a perpetrator of violence against the early Christian community.  He was absolutely confident that God approved the rounding up of the members of this new sect and putting them to death.  But
I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he has judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence.  But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

        God deals with our ignorance with mercy and the gift of repentance:  the ability to change our thinking and bring our thinking and actions into alignment with Jesus’ own.  Like Paul, God has utmost patience with us!

        Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

        The root of repentance is a change in thinking and our actions that result in deep joy.  Today’s Gospel about the lost sheep and the lost coins teaches this.  Jesus is criticized by the Pharisees and Scribes for having table fellowship with sinners.  Jesus tells two stories about finding something that was lost.  If a man has a hundred sheep and one goes lost, does he leave the ninety-nine and go after the lost sheep? Or if you are a woman with ten valuable coins and lose one, do you sweep and search until you find the lost coin?  If you find it, you rejoice with all your friends and throw a party that will probably cost a lot more than the sheep and/or coin were worth.  If someone simply offered to replace the sheep and coin it wouldn’t be the same.  It’s finding the lost that brings the excitement and joy.
 
What is Jesus getting at here?  As human beings we live in what is called a sacrificial economy, where it’s ok to let one or some remain lost or be sacrificed for the good of the majority.  But Jesus teaches real joy is in the recovery of the lost.  You could give a sheep to the shepherd or a coin to the woman, but it would only be a sheep or coin.  No big deal.  But to find what was lost is a big deal and leads to rejoicing.  The whole enterprise of God is to find, one by one, each of us who are lost.

This way of thinking leads to Holy Communion. Rather than settling for an un-holy communion where in order to achieve justice someone must die.  Counter to what we usually think, God’s mercy is not directed to the group, but to the lost ones.  This is the Good News:  One is worth it.  It may be you or me.  

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, September 5, 2016

The Reverend John Smith: "POSSESSING AND CONTROLLING OTHERS IS A BLOCK TO FOLLOWING CHRIST..."

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Breaking Whole
        Last week the Gospel led us to the consideration of “traditional family values.”  We see Jesus deconstructing the way we usually think of family to make it broader and more inclusive.  Traditional family values upheld, for example, by the Pharisees, and historically, by other groups that seek to conserve tradition, most often end up excluding many from membership in the family.  If you are going to talk in terms of family, Jesus taught you can’t leave anyone out.  We are all brothers and sisters of our Father in heaven.

        Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life itself, cannot be my disciple.

        SAY WHAT?

This is Jesus’ deconstruction of the family I’m talking about.  Jesus scandalizes us as he breaks up our closely held notions about family,  so he can give us the notion back in a new, more loving way, based on mercy and forgiveness.  The English poet Yates put it this way:

Nothing can be sole or whole unless it has been rent.

Just as the Eucharistic bread must be broken in order to make us whole, representing Jesus’ broken body on the Cross, to be made whole in resurrection, so some of our strongest held notions or relationships need to be broken in order to be infused with new life.

Jeremiah took a crowd with him to the Potter’s shop.  When the potter started making a pot out of clay and it wasn’t turning out the way he wanted, he took the clay and reworked it into something more beautiful to his liking.  Jeremiah points out to the crowd, all Israelites, that God was doing the same with them.  God let them be exiled and broken so they could be formed and renewed as his God’s people.  

Can’t God do with you like the potter with his clay­.

Another good example is given us in Paul’s Letter to Philemon.  Onesimus, Philemon’s slave, has become a son to Paul while he was imprisoned.  Paul is sending Onesimus back to Philemon with his sincere thanks, and asking Philemon to take Onesimus back, no longer as a slave, but as a true brother in Christ.  This request of Paul is based on faith in Jesus Christ.  Paul chooses not to make an argument for ending slavery as such, but does insist that for followers of Christ, relationships are based on equality.

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3,27

        The Gospel ends with the admonition of Jesus to the crowd and his disciples. You cannot be my disciple unless you give up all your possessions.  All of the above is about the giving up of all our possessions in order to follow Christ.  Let God reshape us so we can be useful to God.  Give up the ownership we have over other human beings.  What we are to hate about our family members, slaves, etc., is our possessing of them!  Our possessing and controlling of those who we claim to love is a block to following Christ and really loving them. That’s where we get the saying love someone to death.  We squeeze the life out of the things and relationships we try to possess.  We must let others breathe, be themselves, live life, and see their relationship with us as a gift and never a possession.  Instead of clinging to others, we let go of them, and receive them back as a gift.

Jesus is teaching us about family, making it not something we possess, but a gift.  We can love our families into life and make them inclusive relationships where mercy, forgiveness, and acceptance of others are possible.  This is the liberating Good News that Jesus brings us!   (emphasis added lr)
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, August 29, 2016

"TRADITIONAL FAMILY" APPROVAL OF OTHERS: "Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."


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Who's Watching Who

My former parish in Tucson was located on a very busy street where thousands of cars passed every day.  The parish had what we called a "prophetic sign," about 6 x 8 feet facing that street.  Everyone passing by could see its message, but the message was one that was meant to also challenge our parishioners to live the Gospel.  The messages over the years were "It's a Sin to build a nuclear bomb," "Jesus was a refugee," "Either we are all God's children or no one is," "Cancel the debt of the poorest nations," "Overcome evil with Good," and currently the sign is focusing on the immigration issue:  "Welcome the Stranger."

Now, as I said, all of these prophetic messages were derived from our listening to Jesus in the Gospels.  The messages "bubbled up" from the church community and then the Rector of the parish made the final decision of what would be put on the sign.  If there is a common thread running through all the messages it would be that all the peoples of the earth make up one human family brought into being by our Father in heaven.  Jesus has revealed the Father to us, others might believe another revelation, but as followers of Jesus we can still see and accept everyone as our brothers and sisters.  Maybe someday everyone may realize this, but for us it is now.

One human family.  There has been a lot of talk these many years about "traditional family values" especially in the political arena.  Candidates, usually Christian, standing up for "traditional family values" often times win their elections.  But sometimes, followers of Jesus have a hard time with this kind of rhetoric about "family values."  Why is this?  It's probably because, deep down, we feel that so-called "traditional family values" exclude certain people, who don't make the cut, so to speak, and can't really belong to the family.  When you talk family, you can't exclude anyone, especially if you see God as Father of the human family!
  
You see, there is a gnawing sense, when you speak about "traditional family values," which sounds so wonderful, that some aren't included in the "family" they're talking about.  Excluded are those from other cultures who hold different values than the more dominant cultures we belong to, those who are judged to be outside a "traditional" mold, and/or who are different or judged morally dificient in some way.  Traditional family values can't deal with any sort of "strangeness."

Speaking of strangeness - The theme of welcoming the stranger is found throughout the bible and underlined today in our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews:

Let mutual love continue.  Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

This is part of the concluding verses of the Letter written to Jewish converts to Christianity, some of whom were frightened by growing persecution and the need to throw in their lot with strangers.  For them, their "traditional" family values were challenged to the limit.  They had to be reminded to love each other, excluding no one, and accept others/strangers as real brothers and sisters.  Following Jesus required a lot from them.  It's the same for us.  Jesus forces us to challenge our deeply held "traditional family values," with a much broader vision of the world.

This vision includes the willingness, for example, at a dinner party, to take "the last place" and be content, until we are "called up higher" by the host.  In "traditional family values," everyone kind of "knows" where certain people should sit.  The Pharisees of Jesus' day were the safe keepers of traditional "family" values.  They were always inviting Jesus into situations to see if he upheld their values, and, if he would uphold their same well-reasoned exclusions.  Jesus didn't.

Jesus saw how people tried to receive "glory" from the approval of others.  In the New Testament "glory" (doxa) in its root sense meant a person's reputation.  In a worldly sense we get our "glory," reputation, and recognition from others.  I like you and I like what you're doing.  Sounds good, and we like it, but Jesus offered an alternative way of receiving our "glory" and recognition:  from God.  Not from humans with their mutually reinforcing opinions of us, but from God, who by the way, actually has a bad reputation, being counted, in Jesus' case, with the "transgressors."  To really receive true "glory" you have to be prepared to lose the approval of others, not playing the victim, but being the victim!

So who is watching who?  The Pharisees think they are watching Jesus for some slip up, but at that dinner party, it is really Jesus watching them!  He witnesses the struggle of the guests to gain the approval and attention of others.  But, as he says, Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.  The Pharisees upheld the laws and rule of purity, based on ancient laws requiring sacrifice, and Jesus required that only one person be a victim, himself.  Jesus upheld only one rule:  the rule of love and compassion.

Jesus spoke of being in the world and not of the world.  The Good News Jesus brought frees us.  We can get our "I" from God and not the world and its opinions of us.  Jesus, counter to what many think, is suspect of what are called "traditional family values" unless everyone is included in the family.  Jesus, as we heard last week in the Gospel, came not to bring peace (as the world gives), but division (so the human family can reunite).  Jesus' way is true peace for us, living without fear of loss of reputation (doxa), seeing/treating everyone as a real brother or sister.  We've chosen to follow Jesus!  

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