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Sunday, February 18, 2018

FOLLOW THE LEAD: "Because of his experience in the desert, Jesus came to know our struggles first hand in his own person and never condemned, but always came down on the side of forgiveness and mercy toward his fellow humans." The Reverend John Smith

Resultado de imagen para Real meaning of Lent, photo?
What Lent is Really For
Welcome to the First Sunday of Lent.  People have all kinds of notions about the season of Lent:  a time to give up favorite foods (chocolate cake) or pastimes (gambling), go on a diet, or do some nice things for others that you wouldn’t ordinarily do the rest of the year (except on Christmas).  Originally though, Lent was, and still is, a time of preparation for baptismal candidates, the final six weeks before their baptism at the Easter Vigil and, for the rest of the baptized community, it is a time to learn how to be better disciples of Jesus.
          The readings we have on the Sundays during Lent (in all three years) are all meant to deepen the process of conversion in the Candidates for Holy Baptism.  They serve this purpose well, but others have suggested (the Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer the most famous among them) that during Lent the Church should read and study the Sermon on the Mount, chapters 5-7 of Matthew’s Gospel, dividing it up over the six Sundays.  The argument goes:  these chapters are all about Jesus’ training of his disciples and the Lectionary most years doesn’t include these important chapters.
          Since other readings are appointed for us, maybe we could make a goal to read and reflect on Matthew 5-7 on our own as part of our Lenten discipline.
          Today in our reading from Genesis 9 we have the story of the Flood.  The story of the Flood is seen as an ante-type for baptism:  we go through the water, drown (die), and rise up to new life.  So the theme of baptism is right here in the first reading!  Great!  But both the baptismal candidate and the rest of the community have to go deeper into the dynamic of the story.  A few chapters earlier, Genesis 6, it says God looked at the world and all he saw was violence.  So here we can ask ourselves (like we did in the Abraham/Isaac story) what kind of a God we are trying to follow:  is it an angry, violent God that wants to destroy all  violent evildoers with more violence, or, a God of the rainbow who never wants to add violence, however justified (people may think), to existing violence.  Is the first God a human projection (like the bumper sticker:  Jesus is coming back soon and he’s going to be mad!) or is God (even when we wish he wasn’t) like a real peacemaker and when plan A doesn’t work, will try plan B, and so forth. 
          A person who would be a disciple of Jesus has to decide to leave the usual human entanglement with violence (especially violence done for “sacred” reasons) against “evil” violence and adopt God’s commitment to abstain from violence altogether.  Discipleship is hard and costly.  Overall, Christian history has been a huge failure in this regard.  The Rainbow God of Jesus suffered human violence and never declared revenge or asked his followers to do violence to the violent.
          We try to follow Jesus, who, after his baptism in the Jordan by John, was driven by the Spirit into the desert, filled with wild beasts, to be tempted by Satan.  His call as God’s Son was fully tested there. Would he use his power to end the struggle or learn from it to understand the human condition:  the temptation human beings have to fashion idols and worship falsehood which becomes the root cause of so much violence and sadness in the world.  Jesus stuck it out, didn’t waver, give in, or call for help. Because of his experience in the desert, Jesus came to know our struggles first hand in his own person and never condemned, but always came down on the side of forgiveness and mercy toward his fellow humans.  As disciples of Jesus we follow his lead.
          So we might want to diet during Lent and give up chocolate cake or ice cream, but I hope we will remember that Lent is much more than that.  It’s really about becoming a more committed disciple of Jesus Christ.  Like the German philosopher Fuerbach said:  Mann ist wass er isst.  Man is what he eats. It’s true.  When we gather together to hear God’s word, confess our sins, and take the Eucharistic bread with faith and devotion, we will become stronger disciples of Jesus.  This is what the world needs more than anything else.  
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

Sunday, February 11, 2018

SHINE JESUS SHINE: "... on the mountaintop and Jesus steps ahead and turns around and with him appear Moses and Elijah. " The Reverend John Smith

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Transfiguration:  Understanding the Contrast
          Today is the Last Sunday of Epiphany.  Lent starts Wednesday.  For the last Sunday in this season of light manifesting who Jesus is and his purpose for coming among us, we should end BIG.  So it’s no surprise that the lectionary gives us a mountaintop experience with dazzling light- the Transfiguration.
          Jesus takes his most important future leaders up the mountain:  Peter, James, and John.  They will be overseers (episcopoi) of the three most important centers of the Christ movement:  Jerusalem, Rome, and Antioch.  Jesus isn’t taking them on a nice mountain hike on a beautiful day, but is giving them this special time away to teach them something very, very important:  an experience that will make them rock solid in their faith through thick and thin, despite their human weakness and fear (think Peter’s denial).
          They arrive on the mountaintop and Jesus steps ahead and turns around and with him appear Moses and Elijah.  The three “Bigs” are all here!  Moses represents the Law (Torah), Elijah represents the Prophets, and Jesus himself.  All of a sudden Jesus begins to shine- only Jesus. (Shine Jesus Shine, as a favorite song of mine goes.)  Only Jesus shines with the Father’s glory.  Are Peter, James, and John getting the message? 
          Peter wants to enshrine the experience.  “Let me make three tents:  one for each of you.” (Peter wants to put off, as long as possible, the journey to Jerusalem.  He knows Jesus and the disciples will be in mortal danger there.)  The only answer Peter and the others get is a Voice out of a cloud:  This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!  After this epiphany, Elijah and Moses disappear, and only Jesus stands before them.  Listen to him! echoes in their ears.  Still in shock, having seen what God wanted them to see, it was time to go down the mountain and continue their journey to Jerusalem.  Jesus tells them not to tell anyone until he rises from the dead!  What!?
          Jesus brought the three up the mountain to teach them (and us) something very, very important. What is that?  We need to unpack the experience a bit. 
          We’ve all heard the Transfiguration story many times.  I’ve always thought and understood that Moses and Elijah were wonderful, positive figures alongside Jesus.  You have representation of the whole biblical story, the Law and the Prophets, Jesus, everything is covered, so to speak.  Most sermons I’ve heard or given have presented this story in a positive light (no pun intended).  But in recent years my study of this passage has changed focus, not on the wonderful, historical spectrum of the Law (Moses), the Prophets (Elijah), and the coming of Jesus, but rather on the contrast of Moses and Elijah withJesus.  The Voice from the cloud didn’t say “Listen to them,” but Listen to him!
          After the fall in Garden, it was every person for themselves (Cain killed Abel); Abraham is called, and in old age, Sarah and he have a son, Isaac.  When Abraham goes to sacrifice Isaac, God stops him; Moses comes forth and is given the Law, the centerpiece of which is a command not to kill. This Commandment was a necessary improvement!  But the Law becomes rationalized over time to mean: Don’t murder your neighbor, but you can kill your enemies.  Elijah comes along and confronts the prophets of Ba’al who sacrifice humans and animals to Ba’al all the time.  Elijah challenges them to a fire building contest and when the prophets of Ba’al lose, Elijah who railed against their abominable sacrifices, has them all butchered!
          St. Paul reflects on his experience of all this by basically saying that the Law and the Prophets were “hijacked by sin.”  Paul came to understand that Jesus came to end “sacred” violence:  the rationalization of the teaching of the Law and Prophets that continued to allow the victimization and killing of people in the name of God and/or to protect God-given values.  In stark contrast, Jesus taught love of enemies and freely presented himself to the “powers of this world” as a Victim to forgive sin.  Jesus was put to death on the Cross and was raised up in vindication of everything he lived and taught.  The heritage of Moses and Elijah came up short, with hands full of blood.  Don’t listen to them, Listen to Jesus!
          This is why we gather at the Eucharist:  to give thanks to God using Jesus’ own Substance and to hear his teaching and come to repentance:  the changing of our thinking to live more and more like Jesus:  a contrast to the world around us.  Contrast, contrast, contrast.  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

Monday, February 5, 2018

"Not one is missing. Every single human being is precious to God our Creator and no one is ever lost..." The Reverend John Smith

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Be Compassion Be Holy
          I still have the image in my mind of space shuttle Columbia exploding.  The crew, in which there was so much hope and excitement, were lost in an instant.  George W. Bush, president in 2003, went on the air to express our country’s sadness.  He found in his bible chapter 40 of Isaiah with its first line “Comfort ye my people.”  He read from that chapter the words we have in our first reading today:
          Lift up your eyes on high and see:  Who created these? He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because he is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing.
          Not one is missing.  Every single human being is precious to God our Creator and no one is ever lost.  I think this is what President Bush was trying to say to a nation stunned by tragedy and what Isaiah was trying to say to his people who were going through a long, hard exile where many died.
          The prophetic tradition was changing the way individuals were thought of.  Each individual person was valued for being created by God.  This changing view was not the case in practice.  Jesus was born into a culture where people found themselves on a spectrum where they were “holy” or “unclean” based on their closeness to the Temple.  The priests were first, the Pharisees and scribes next, and so forth.  If you were near the service of the Temple you were holy and the farther away from the Temple you were you were thought unclean.  Gentiles were the absolute furthest from the Temple and therefore unclean.
          Interestingly, Jesus “cleansed the Temple” when he visited Jerusalem the first time.  Jesus changed the notion of holiness completely:  Holiness wasn’t based on how close to the Holy of Holies a person was or served, but rather how much compassion for others one practiced.  This was a seismic shift in thought that challenged all the presuppositions of society and eventually got Jesus killed. 
From Jesus’ viewpoint, it was Institutions who harbored demons and were possessed by them, not so much an individual person.  (We like to scapegoat individual evildoers as having “demons” and give “hallowed” institutions a pass.)  In last week’s Gospel, when the person shouted at Jesus “Have you come to destroy us?  We know who you are- the holy one of God.”  The “us” was most probably the whole class of scribes who were authorized to teach the Law and kept the whole holiness/unclean ranking system going.  Jesus was disrupting this system and turning it on its head.  Jesus was/is the Holy One of God and the new Temple.  Those who practice compassion like he did are the real holy ones.
St. Paul was a good example of a person being liberated from the ranking system of the human culture around him to the compassionate culture of God.  The Gentiles joining the early Christian community had no qualms at all about eating meat that had been sacrificed on pagan altars.  Hey, it was good aged meat!  But doing this violated the consciences of their brothers and sisters who had been converted from Judaism.  What to do?  St. Paul, trying to live the new Gospel of compassion, asked the Gentile members to not eat meat sacrificed to idols if it offended the conscience of their brothers and sisters from a Jewish background.
Human culture would say “Just deal with it!”  Idols aren’t real anyway, it’s perfectly good food, and the Gentile conscience isn’t bothered by it.  Why not just eat it and let the others, whose conscience is troubled, come along?  After all, a person’s conscience is inviolable, isn’t it?  But Paul, moving into God’s culture, saw the argument differently.  Freedom of conscience is very important, even thought of as an absolute right by most, even today, but this “absolute” has to be tempered by the demands of agape, the sacrificial love that puts the other, and their conscience, first. 
As we gather together with other believers, we find ourselves like Paul, trying to move from the human culture norms deep in our DNA to live more and more in the baptismal Culture of God’s compassion.  The Holy Eucharist slowly helps us with this, letting God’s Word sink in, redeeming us, and slowly changing the institutions we are part of, from the inside out.  Come, Holy Spirit, come!  
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


Monday, January 22, 2018

IN THE WISDOM OF GOD: ".. we are called to gather at the Eucharist regularly to listen to the Gospel and break bread together on our knees." The Reverend John Smith

Resultado de imagen para The Kingdom of God, photo

Jesus’ First Sermon
“The time is fulfilled; the Kingdom of God is near, repent, and believe in the Gospel”
          
The Gospel of Mark is the earliest and shortest of the four Gospels.  It’s a great place to start to get a grasp of the Jesus tradition.  The Gospel of Mark has a very concise narrative that the gospels of Matthew and Luke build upon.  The above scripture, taken from this week’s gospel, are the first words of Jesus as he begins his public ministry after his baptism.
          
It’s hard for us to relate to the word “kingdom” in the passage.  We live in countries without kings and some resent the “male” power overtones in the word “kingdom.”  Some prefer the word “reign,” but that word doesn’t do much for our understanding either.  A word that we do understand much better is “culture.”  Maybe we should speak of the “Culture of God.”
          
The time is fulfilled; the Culture of God is now present among you, let your thinking change, and believe in the Gospel.
          
With Jesus coming among us, the culture of God is breaking into the human culture so woven into our DNA.  Our human culture is built upon the premise that some have to be sacrificed for the peace and tranquility of the majority and those in power.  Creation of victims, though unfortunate, is necessary and acceptable in human culture.
          
The culture of God, among us in the person of Jesus, doesn’t accept what we have been calling the “sacrificial mechanism.”  Jesus, God’s son, accepted the worst that the sacrificial mechanism and the “powers” could throw at him when he died on the Cross.  Through the self-sacrifice of those who hear the gospel and follow Jesus’ example, a new “God Culture” would take hold in the world for all time.
          
The Church is the “Community of Repentance” gathered regularly around the Eucharist like a yeast mixed into the dough of human culture to bring about a whole new culture of God.
          
Repentance, changing our thinking and making it congruent with Jesus' teaching, is not easy.  Like Jonah in today’s first reading, we tend to make idols out of our own convictions:  I’m not going to preach to those Ninevite idolators!  Let them experience shock and awe!  But, with God’s firm nudge, Jonah does end up bringing God’s message to Nineveh and they repent!  Jonah is not happy about it at all and persists in his un-repentance to the end.  Ironically, it is God who repents and decides not to punish Nineveh!
          
We are more like Jonah than we like to admit.  We profess faith in God, but hold fast to the idols of our own “convictions” and insulate those convictions by refusing to hear the teaching of Jesus in the Gospel and any challenge to our thinking- repentance.  That is why, in the wisdom of God, we are called to gather at the Eucharist regularly to listen to the Gospel and break bread together on our knees.  

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

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Sunday, January 21, 2018

San Andrés Itzapa - On the road with Deacon Phyllis Manoogian, Part 2: On site dental care thanks to "Buena Vista Ministerios" and "Niños Creadores de Historia "

Action and more action the visiting dental care team from Buena Vista Ministerios, Alabama, U.S.A.


Our tutoring center in San Andrés Itzapa ended 2017 on a busy note even if academic year 2018 wouldn’t begin until mid-January. An incredible dental team arrived from Alabama working with Buena Vista Ministerios. They used our school building to offer dental care to the people of the community. All people who wanted dental care were made welcome and treated.


Ready, set, "glow"
The staff of Niños Creadores de Historia (Children Creating History) did an awesome of organizing and preparing the site so the dentist and the team could walk in and get right to work.

We found our electrical power wasn’t strong enough to run the drill so the dentist couldn’t fill teeth until a generator arrived. It was delayed by problems with the truck. WE persisted.
"Healthier and Brighter" smiles in process
Members of 57 families were treated, about 30 had teeth extracted, a dozens have new fillings, and countless numbers got their teeth cleaned. Everyone left with a brand new toothbrush with instructions on how to use it most effectively.

"Countless numbers got their teeth cleaned"
Dental care doesn’t necessarily produce an immediate smile, but the eventual smiles will be brighter and healthier thanks to loving attention of the Buena Vista Ministerios Dental Team!
 
Phyllis+



The Reverend Phyllis Manoogian, Deacon
"Deacon Phyllis" Manoogian is the Missioner to Guatemala from The Episcopal Church diocese of California (San Francisco & area). Telephone 502 (country code) 49557313