Translate

Sunday, November 11, 2018

"The caravan folks are scapegoats for our protectionism and greed." The Rev John Smith


Resultado de imagen para Stewardship,
Mercy Not Sacrifice
          This is the time of year when most parishes begin their stewardship campaigns to fund the coming year’s ministry and programs.  In my parish the campaign began on All Saints Sunday when everyone renewed their baptismal vows.  Stewardship, or the biblical term tithing, flows out of a person’s commitment to Christ, the Church, and serving other human beings, especially those most in need.  It is part of basic spiritual health to be a good steward of everything God has given us:  our health, our time, and our treasure.
          Churches need significant amount of money to operate and fund their programing each year.  Since there are no “membership” fees, everything depends on free will giving by people, all of whom are at various stages in understanding what their commitment to Christ and their neighbor entails.  My last parish needed approximately $7500 a week to fulfill its mission and pay its bills.
           Fortunately, the scripture readings in November each year helped the preaching and teaching task during the stewardship season.  The culmination of our pledge campaign each year was on the last Sunday of church year, the Feast of Christ the King.  Everyone was encouraged to make their commitment for the coming year and “lay it before Christ” on that great feast.
          The readings for this Sunday are about the nature of sacrificial giving (readings from 1 Kings and the Letter to the Hebrews) and the Gospel underlines this with today’s story of the Widow’s mite, the poor widow who gave “everything she had to live on.”  These readings, if understood correctly, can be great stewardship readings.
          Jesus is standing with his disciples at the entrance to the Temple in Jerusalem.  Standing by are some Temple leaders as well, watching people as they enter the Temple and pay the required Temple tax.  Of course, the people who were wealthy put in large amounts they budgeted for, probably amounts that wouldn’t affect their life style much, while the poor put in smaller amounts.  Along comes a poor widow who pays her “tax” with two small coins, “everything she had to live on.”  Jesus, in teaching mode, points out that the richer folk gave out of their abundance (often to be seen as generous by others) while the widow gave everything she had.
          What a great stewardship story!  Let’s give everything we have to God- like the widow!  A great sermon message during the stewardship campaign!  NOT!
          For Jesus, the poor widow putting “everything she had to live on” was a damn shame.  Comfortable Scribes and other temple leaders fostered a system that crushed the poor.  They allowed and fostered “the devouring of widow’s houses.”  The widow is not an example of wonderful stewardship, but of the way “religious” people victimize the poor.  This is happening today, for example with all the talk about the “Caravan.”  The caravan folks are scapegoats for our protectionism and greed.
          The poor widow and likewise, the widow in the Elijah story in the book of Kings, are victims of famine and war.  We all know that more widows are being created every day and required to give everything they have to live on just to survive.  These widows are true prophets in our midst, pointing out what’s seriously wrong with the world.  Elijah murdered the 600 prophets of Ba’al because they offered pagan sacrifices to idols and lost the challenge of fire.  This bloody experience changed his thinking (repentance) so much that he was able, after his “great” victory, to join this humble widow preparing to fix one last meal for her son with the last bit of food she had.  Elijah, asks her to make a meal for him first, and then for herself and son.  Elijah tells her that she and her family will never run out of food and drink for her sacrifice.
          What is the meaning of these stories for us?  They’re about repentance, the changing of our thinking. Jesus never requires the sacrifice of “others,” like the widow, but rather the sacrifice of ourselves.  It’s never “let others do it,” but what can you or I do to help others, especially the poor in our midst, be secure in their life situations and have opportunities for betterment.  This I believe what Jesus, the Victim of all victims, wants to happen:  the end of requiring others to be sacrificed for our ends, and instead, our own free sacrificial giving on behalf of others.  Jesus, our Lord, gave us this example:  sacrifice yourselves, not others.  Show mercy.
This Sunday often falls on Veteran’s day when we remember the sacrifice of many for our country’s freedom.  We honor them with remembrance and prayer today.  Jesus’ own sacrifice goes a step further than even the ultimate sacrifice many Veterans paid.   Jesus died on the Cross, not only for the freedom of his own people, but also for his enemies, his mockers, and the apathetic who could even care less
All this in mind, the few moments we spend around the altar of God for the Eucharist gives us time to deepen our repentance and grow in mercy.  In return, we, like the widows, receive the Bread for Life that lasts forever.  
Amen!
John Smith+
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)

Monday, November 5, 2018

GODS CHILDREN: “Mortals” refer to people living in this world and not just the next world. The word “peoples” is not a typo, it is plural in the sacred text. John+

Resultado de imagen para All of Gods Children, photo?
Nationalism, Globalism, and the Wisdom of Catholicity
          As the mid-term elections take place next week in the United States, one of the terms highlighted by President Trump is the word “nationalism.”  For President Trump this describes the heart of his thought to “Make American Great Again,” and “Putting America First.”  Of course the word “nationalism” is a loaded word filled with connotations of “people who belong and those that don’t” and a process of “purifying” the nation from people who, for one reason or another are undesirable.
          President Trump, when criticized for using the word “nationalism,” defended himself by saying that for him the word is the opposite of “globalism,” where he feels the United States gets an overall bad “deal” economically.  But, the world is getting smaller, not larger, and the importance of working “globally” with an attitude of “give and take” is thought by many as the path now, and in the future.  However, the thought of a growing globalism grates against and feeds the President’s nationalist rhetoric.
          The problem with each of these “isms” is that they unabashedly consider some human beings more desirable, worthy, and productive than others. Those in power in charge of the national or global purse strings focus on bottom lines rather than people.  Those in power think borders must be strengthened and defended.  It is “us versus them.” The poor and undesirables, “them,” are left to fend for themselves.
          On this day that celebrates the Feast of All Saints we are pointed away from nationalism or globalism to a different direction:  the wisdom of catholicity.
          See, the home of God is among mortals.  He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them. (Rev.21)
          This describes the “catholicity” of God’s stance toward humankind- all humankind.  “Mortals” refer to people living in this world and not just the next world.  The word “peoples” is not a typo, it is plural in the sacred text.  All nations or people will one day experience God’s home.  Our call is to live a vision of seeing other human beings as God’s children, all brought into being by a truly loving father (“Father” as revealed by Jesus).  This is to take  the first step toward the wisdom of catholicity.  There is no need to think “us/them” or arm our borders.  People would enjoy living in their place of birth because they find opportunity there and the nearness of loved ones.  If the climate is too hot and water and other resources are lacking, those with resources would help those without them.  A culture based on death, needing to kill in order to protect what is yours would be replaced by a culture of life.  The fear of death would subside when a wisdom of catholicity is embraced.
          Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.  (Rev. 21)
          It was no accident that the word used to describe the church of God from its beginning was “catholic,” ekklesia katolike.  The present day “Catholic Church” and other Christian churches who retain “catholic” elements in their own denominations, are unfortunately, only a tarnished icon of God’s vision and wisdom and Jesus’ first followers.  The answer is not for everyone to be ”Roman Catholics” or Anglicans, but for everyone, within their beloved faith tradition, or lack of one, to seek the “wisdom” of catholicity.
          This wisdom of catholicity can’t take root in our thought processes and actions as long as, as the above verse highlights, fear of death remains the major problem for “mortals.”  The fear of death, from Genesis to the present day, has always led to violence:  kill others before they can kill you and/or take away your stuff. 
          The story of the raising of Lazarus, his “unbinding,” has one main purpose:  to free us from the fear of death and to show that the living God has nothing to do with death and everything to do with life.  This is why we celebrate “All Saints.”  Eternal life begins now and continues when we pass through the door of death to God’s presence.  Our faith allows us to face down the fear of death with courage and ultimate confidence in God’s forgiveness and power for life.
          Jesus left us with a simple ritual, the breaking of the bread:  I am the bread of life.  Do this in memory of me.  The Eucharist enshrines, if authorities allow it, the wisdom of catholicity.  Every time we celebrate the Eucharist everyone is offered this bread, everyone is fed, and all “peoples” participate in God vision, wisdom, love, and 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)

Sunday, October 28, 2018

"Each of us are in the process of gaining an understanding of who Jesus is, what his teaching and example mean for our world, and how we can follow him." John+

covered eyes of man wearing white and brown suit
Once Blind Now I See
When I was first ordained, it was the custom for the bishop to assign new priest to various chaplaincies.  Shortly after arriving in my first parish, I received a letter appointing me to be Chaplain to St. Margaret Guild for the Blind.  This assignment involved going to a hotel meeting room in downtown Seattle for the Guild meeting.  When I walked in the first time I was the only sighted person.  They all had adapted living with their blindness.  The meeting went on like any other meeting:  Call to order, minutes, old and new business, good of the order, and adjournment.  You can adapt to blindness, but I was so thankful I could see.
I thought of this early experience when I read the Gospel story of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar who cried out to Jesus and was healed.  Bartimaeus “recognized” who Jesus was and what he was about.  This story in Mark chapter 10 forms what is called an “inclusion” with another story of a blind person healed by Jesus in Bethsaida, Mark chapter 8.  In between these two stories Jesus is telling his disciples about his upcoming passion and death and they are having none of it.  Remember Jesus rebuking Peter saying Get behind me Satan! and the passage from last week when James and John are asking Jesus for special places in his kingdom? The disciples are as blind as these two blind people.  They don’t really see who Jesus is and what he is trying to do.
For some of the people in the Guild for the Blind their blindness was progressive.  At one time they could see, but then something happened and progressively they lost their physical sight completely.  But when we are talking in faith terms we might think in regaining our spiritual sight progressively.  Like the song Amazing Grace I once was lost, but now I’m found, blind, but now I see.  This ability to see who Jesus was and why he came among us was progressive for the disciples of Jesus as it is for us.
Each of us are in the process of gaining an understanding of who Jesus is, what his teaching and example mean for our world, and how we can follow him.  Sometimes we have help in this endeavor and sometimes we don’t have any help at all, instead we face opposition.
In the first story of healing, Mark 8:22, people bring the blind man to Jesus.  Jesus takes him a bit out of town, makes a mud out of spittle, puts it on the man’s eyes, and asks him what he sees.  I see people, but they look like trees, walking.  The man replies.  Jesus looks at the man, lays hands on him, and the man is able to see.  Progressive healing takes place.  Jesus tells the man to go home and keep his healing to himself.  Jesus can restore physical sight, but Jesus’ priority is that human beings see him and why the Father sent him into this broken and violent world.
In today’s passage, Mark 10:46, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar sitting by a road in Jericho where a Jesus’ disciples and a large crowd are passing by, cries out to Jesus using the title Son of David.  This shows the blind beggar has faith.  But in this case many in the crowd tell him to shut up, but he keeps on shouting out to Jesus.  Jesus calls on the crowd to bring the man to him.  This is the cool part.  The blind man jumps up, throws off his cloak (who knows if he’ll ever find it again, or someone take it, if he can’t see?), and comes to Jesus.  Jesus asks him what he would like for him to do. My teacher, let me see again.  Jesus acknowledges the man’s faith and immediately the blind man could see and began to follow Jesus on the way.
These stories are not just wonderful healing stories of Jesus as a powerful miracle worker.  This was not Mark’s intent, nor Jesus’ reason for healing.  These stories are put before us for our healing.  Like the blind men and the disciples, we need to regain our sight too.  Sometimes people help us and bring us to Jesus.  Other times, the “crowd” around us hinders our coming to Jesus.  They would have us “adapt” to our blindness and the world’s situation.  Some of us are progressively losing our vision of Jesus and why he came, others, thankfully, are regaining their vision of Jesus, sometimes progressively, and other times instantly.
The Holy Eucharist is a place where we can learn to see Jesus, learn from his teaching and example, and give thanks.  Here, we form a kind of Guild for the Blind.  We meet, hear God’s word, pray, and eat.  Jesus comes into focus.  Sometimes people help us get here, and sometimes people discourage us, asking us why can’t we just adapt to the way things are in the “real” world.  “Where is Jesus?” they ask.  They don’t see that Jesus is in us.  He really is.  
Amen!
John+
*The Anglican Church in Central America (Anglican Communion)

Sunday, October 21, 2018

" The suffering and wrath that fell on Jesus was of completely human origin and not from God. This was also the case for Oscar Romero." The Reverend John Smith

Imagen relacionada
Saint Oscar Romero and the Ransom Paid
          This past week Pope Francis declared Archbishop Oscar Romero a Saint of the Church.  St. Oscar is the first person from El Salvador to be made a saint.  He wasn’t made a saint because of any miraculous intercession on part, as is the usual case with saints, but because he was a martyr, killed by those “who hate the Faith” of the Church.  He was an outspoken critic of corruption and those who kept so many Salvadorans in poverty and victims of violence.  He was shot down while celebrating mass in a hospital chapel by a “death squad” sent by ultra-right wingers who wanted to keep their power and wealth and maintain the status quo.
          The scripture readings given us today are timely for thoughts about Oscar Romero.  He stood with Jesus in the tradition of the Suffering Servant described by Isaiah the Prophet.  Oscar Romero also stood with Jesus as a Priest of Melchizedek (melchi=my king, zedekah=righteousness) described in the Letter to the Hebrews:
          Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.  He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people.
          When James and John ask Jesus for special places in his Kingdom, Jesus asks them if they are prepared to drink the cup and be baptized as Jesus would be (the baptism of suffering).  James and John say they’re willing (although they really didn’t comprehend that Jesus was talking about giving their lives for him).  Jesus says they will drink the cup (of suffering) and be baptized (in martyrdom).  Historically, both did suffer martyrdom.  Oscar Romero is in very good company!
          But the last verse of today’s Gospel needs to be given special attention:
          For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.
          What is the meaning of give his life a ransom for many?
          Jesus gave his life as a ransom for many.  In other words, when Jesus died on the Cross he paid a ransom for all humankind to be saved from sin and make it possible for human beings to live in freedom and peace.  We get it.  Thank goodness Jesus paid the price.
          But what is harder to understand is to whom the ransom is paid.  Over the centuries the answer has evolved to say that the ransom was paid to God, Jesus’ Father, on our behalf, to atone for our sins.  Without Jesus paying the ransom for our sins we all would be condemned to eternal death.  Our loving God is also most “Just” so the ransom (Jesus’ death on the Cross) was required by God’s justice.  God’s justice, sadly, has to trump God’s love.
          This has been the basic understanding over the centuries, beginning with St. Anselm in the Middle Ages and given lots of reinforcement during the Protestant Reformation.  Our souls dangle over the fires of hell unless we embrace Jesus and the ransom he paid to a just and angry God a la Jonathan Edwards.
          But is this the case?  To who are ransoms paid?  Aren’t ransoms usually paid to bad guys who grab good folks and threaten them with death unless they, the bad guys, are paid off?  Is God the “Bad Guy” to whom the ransom is paid by Jesus?  Or rather, is the “bad guy” humanity itself in its violence and propensity for taking life?  Could a better understanding be that Jesus offered his life in ransom to the dark forces of evil that enslave humanity in order to free us all?  Wouldn’t it be better to understand that Jesus came to give his life to save us from the harm human beings do to other human beings and not save us from a punishing, blood thirsty God?  The suffering and wrath that fell on Jesus was of completely human origin and not from God.  This was also the case for Oscar Romero.
          The Holy Eucharist (thanksgiving) we offer to God is for God’s love for us in sending Jesus to teach and show us another way to live:   in Holy Communion with all people, God’s children, and the “Many” whose sins (greed, violence and the taking of life) Jesus died for.  This is the Good News of salvation we gather to celebrate, and praise God for, today.  
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, October 14, 2018

RESURRECTION LIFE: "Jesus is teaching that there is not a life 'out of this world,' that a person should aspire to, but a person will rise to a life in continuity with the way they lived during their life on this earth." John+

Resultado de imagen para resurrection, photo?
All Things are Possible with God
                   When I was studying theology in Rome we had the opportunity to travel several times in the course of the year.  My travel partner was my best friend David from Pittsburgh.  It was the time of a new “Pentecost” in the church called the Charismatic Movement.  The Spirit was blowing and bringing renewal to the Church and sending us out to boldly share the Gospel with the people we met in our travels.  We each carried a small New Testament in our pockets.  We called this our “Sword.”
          Though we were Catholic seminarians, the charismatic movement brought into the church much of the Protestant model or understanding of the Christian enterprise- believe in Jesus and live in such a way that you will be saved and go to heaven when you die.  So, if we found ourselves sharing the Gospel with some stranger, like the man who comes up to Jesus in today’s reading asking how he could “inherit eternal life,” we would pull out our “sword” and share scriptures to lay out for the person how to “get to heaven.”  For us at that time, and for most people, “eternal life” meant what happens to a person after they die- the “after life.”
          We would try to explain how eternal life is a free gift to the person who believes in Jesus and has a relationship with him.  We would encourage the man to make an act of faith, confess his sins to God, repent (change his thinking), and resolve to put his full trust in God.  Doing these things a person would be saved and go to heaven.  Jesus by his death on the Cross made this entry to heaven possible. That’s what David and I would do.  It was a four step process.  But Jesus doesn’t talk about a process or the fulfillment of certain requirements in order “to get into heaven.”  Instead, Jesus asks the man about the man’s keeping of the Commandments because they testify to how the man is living in the here and now.  (Interesting is the fact that Mark alone “adds” a commandment that is left out by Mathew and Luke in their parallel listing:  You shall not defraud.  Most people in ancient times thought the rich got their wealth by taking advantage of people, especially the poor.)  In other words, Jesus is teaching that there is not a life “out of this world,” that a person should aspire to, but a person will rise to a life in continuity with the way they lived during their life on this earth.  It’s not life , then death, but life, and then resurrection life.
          Jesus redirects the man to the one thing he lacks and can do now:  sell what he has and give the money to the poor and come follow him down the road.  But when he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
          I can relate to Jesus’ dialogue with the man.  I think we all can.  We’re kind of programed for “getting into heaven.”  We want to do what we can, at least the minimum, to get into heaven when we die, but Jesus says “Wait!  Follow me now, in this world, help make my kingdom a reality now on this earth.” Much of the time, like the man, I’ve got to take care of my stuff and go my own way instead of Jesus’.  This is sad, but very true.
          But there is something in this passage that can give us hope.  When the man tells Jesus that he’s been keeping the Commandments since his youth, Jesus, looking at him, loved him.  Jesus knew all of the man’s striving to be “good,” especially in the eyes of others.  Jesus knew that it would be difficult for him to leave everything and follow him, but Jesus seeing everything about him, warts and all, loved him
          Jesus loves us.  It is this tremendous love that transforms us, albeit slowly, into channels of peace and creators of change in this world.  With God all things are possible.  Jesus’ love brings us here to give thanks, Holy Eucharist, to God.  
Amen!
John+
         *The Anglican Church in Central America (Anglican Communion)