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Monday, September 28, 2015

THE REVEREND JOHN SMITH: ¨Holy Spirit. All are to be included unless they themselves take steps to exclude themselves. The church of Jesus will include all, sects usally will exclude most.¨



(Some opening remarks about the first reading from the Book of Esther.  This "novela" story shows how there has been a compromise between mercy and violence:  extend some mercy when it suits, but be open to taking revenge and do violence when it suits.  Jesus does away with this compromise and replaces it with total mercy.  Violence has no part in God who is Love.)


¨Be Peace¨

Last week I ended my sermon with an admonition of a wise Abbot to a young monk who wasn't gifted with any skill and felt very useless in his community:  Just keep yourself at peace and others will find peace just being near you.

Peace is elusive in our time and is not very easy to achieve, whether as individuals or communities or nations.  Just keeping yourself at peace is hard work:  letting go of our fears and prejudices, forgiving others over and over again, doing mercy to the poor, not striking back when we are hurt.  To do these things  is not easy, but it is what Jesus asks us as his followers:

Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.

Of course the immediate context for Jesus' words was talking to his disciples, who like us, had a difficult time understanding what Jesus was getting at, what his purpose for coming into the world was.  Peace is worth the sacrifice!

Jesus in the Gospel is talking about matters of life and death.  While the disciples discussed who was the greatest among themselves, or who was in and who was out of their fellowship, Jesus always had to wake them up to his basic message of merciful love and inclusion.
  
Today's Gospel begins with the disciple complaining that someone was going around casting out demons in Jesus' name.  "We tried to stop him, because he was not following us."  The disciples were attempting to keep the privilege of being Jesus' agents for themselves!  It's funny, but I bet the disciples themselves weren't doing many exorcisms, and so when they saw someone praying over people for healing in Jesus' name, they became very uptight.
  
Jesus responds to their nervousness and jealousy bascially by saying:  Who cares?  "Whoever is not against us is for us."  and don't "put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me."
  
Beginning his visit this week to the United States, Pope Francis talked about honoring people of "good will," wherever they come from, acting inclusively in ways of peace and healing for the well-being of the whole world. This is the work of the Holy Spirit:  All are to be included unless they themselves take steps to exclude themselves.  The church of Jesus will include all, sects usally will exclude most.

Jesus shocked his disciples by invoking the Sharia type law of his day:  If you say you're my follower and you scandalize people by your unfaithfulness, then let a rock be tied around your neck and be thrown into the sea.  And if your hand steals or does something against another, or your foot leads you down an evil path, or your eyes gaze covetously upon something that is not yours, cut the hand or foot off, or pluck out the offending eye.
 
Using these kinds of words and images, Jesus got his disciples attention.  Of course Jesus is not encouraging anyone to cut off any offending limb or organ.  He would be the one to subject himself to "cutting," torture, and death.  His message was:  If you don't find a way to follow my way to peace, and continue scandalizing others, especially the "little ones" of this world, you will continue to find yourselves heading into deeper cycles of violence and death.

The Pope in his speech on the White House lawn quoted Martin Luther King on the "Promisory Note" of freedom, long ignored, that needs to be to paid now, in our time.  Another quote from MLK that I like is when he said:  "It is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and non-violence.  It is either between non-violence or non-existence."

This is where Jesus tried to lead his disciples, and now, this is where the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope are trying to lead us and the world.  Speaking of "cutting:"  We are the branches grafted unto the Vine by our Baptism in Jesus and watered by his forgiveness and love.  The Holy Eucharist is the Fruit of the Vine that nourishes us (flour,salt,bit of sweetness and water), "salts" us to be people who bring the flavor of peace wherever we go.

Let us pray for the courage to not be scandalized, tripped up, away from the following of Jesus whose words and example can lead us to peace.  

Amen!
John+

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 YOU!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

THE REVEREND JOHN SMITH: ¨As a wise old Abbot said to a young monk who didn't know how or what to do as a monk: Just keep yourself at peace and others will find peace just being near you.¨


Rivalry or R&R?
I love to read messages on cars.  They say a lot about the owner.  For example there was a license plate that says "I B-E-E-L-V."  When you see one like that, you immediately think that the person believes in Jesus.  But right next to it was a bumper sticker that said:  God loves you, but I am his favorite.  Now perhaps we should take this as a joke the owner of the car is trying to make (maybe in reality he understand that as we've read in James recently, God doesn't play favorites), or, what if he is serious, thinking that God loves him more than the rest of us?

What I'm getting at here is that linked to this simple statement of faith "I believe," is a statement of favoritism, a subtle, or really not so subtle, introduction of rivalry between people:  God loves me more than you, really!

Look at the disciples!  Soon after Jesus tells them that he must suffer and be put to death (they hated to hear that) things get quiet and Jesus asks them what they have been arguing about.  (Jesus already can guess!).  The disciples have been discussing who is the greatest among them (Hey, we've got to be ready to take over when Jesus is no longer with us.)

Favoritism and rivalry is the situation of the whole world and its problems, but also these also infect the whole church.

So Jesus, sits down and gathers his disciples around him (like all teachers at that time did) and takes a small child to the center with him.  (Why's he doing that?  A child has no status at all!  In their experience, usually it was a victim, an accused, who is placed in the center of the circle, with fingers pointed, but instead Jesus puts a child there!)  Jesus is trying to neutralize the power of his disciple's envy and jealousy, which, of course, they think is their "Sacred" duty to be able to carry on and so forth.  But Jesus teaches them that he's not interested in what the "sacred" hopes of others are, but instead how to live humbly, without rivalry.  St. James got it when he writes:

If you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth.  Such wisdom does not come down from above (ie. sacred), but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish.  For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will be discorder and wickedness of every kind.
  
So what is the cure for this rivalry which so easily infects the world and the church?  It's the child! If you want to be first, make yourself last and serve others like this child!

Who ever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.

This is the cure for all our ills.  Not easy medicine to take, to be sure:  To leave hardness of heart, to accept life gratefully like a child, to let go of all our perogatives, anger, and rivalrous desires.  This is the cure Jesus gives the disciples and us.  It leads to the rest and relaxation we really are looking for, but most often don't admit or realize.

What does R&R feel like?

The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy . . . a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.
  
This is real R&R- what it feels and looks like.  But do we want it?  What if we're still feeling conflicted?

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from?  Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you?  You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder.  And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. . . you ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.

So what can we do?  We can ask and then patiently wait for God's will and influence to take over the situation.  The evil one tries to keep us unhappy about so many things, both small and great in our lives.  The goal is not to succumb to this influence of sadness and desire.  Don't play that game.  Rather, think and trust like children of Abba who loves us all and knows what we need and what is best for us!  Like a child, as James puts it.

Submit yourselves therefore to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

  This is great "Good News!"  Speaking for myself, I'm not there 100 per cent yet.  Maybe you might agree.  But I'm glad I'm here to celebrate the Holy Eucharist, to receive the Communion God gives me, and leave here forgiven, so I can try to experience the R&R, real rest and relaxation, and bring it to the world around me this week.  As a wise old Abbot said to a young monk who didn't know how or what to do as a monk:  Just keep yourself at peace and others will find peace just being near you. 

Amen!  
John+


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 YOU!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

A MESSAGE FROM THE VICAR: Looking for a Change of heart (repentance=netabiua=change of mind) John+

Dear Friends:

I hope everyone has had a good week.  In many ways our St. Alban community is like the twelve apostles.  The Holy Spirit is moving and will someday bring us to what is called the "tipping point" when our small community will grow, fruit of a new Pentecost!  Let's be faithful to the Spirit and try to gather faithfully each Sunday except when we are traveling or sick.  The scriptures for this Sunday are very rich in meaning for us and the world.  We are learning to be a Holy Communion.  Peace
 
This coming week if you would like to study the bible in community with the church, the Daily Lectionary has us reading:

In the Old Testament (really, the "Hebrew Bible") we're reading in 2 Kings chapters 4 to 11 Stories of Elisha the prophet.  These are important not just because they are great stories, but mostly because they are the stories Jesus would have grown up with.  The times were politically very dangerous.

In the New Testament we're reading (Sunday) Acts 9:10-31; and the rest of the week 1 Corinthians chapters 4 through 7  Paul writes the Corinthians in a lot of personal pain.  In so many ways the Corinthian church felt it had arrived in the Kingdom and had nothing else to learn.  They were on the verge of forgetting who brought the faith to them and was their teacher in Christ (Paul!).

In the Gospel we're reading (Sunday) Luke 3:7-18; and the rest of the week Matthew 5:21 to Matthew 6:24  The goal of a pious Jew's life was to fulfill Torah.  In Jesus' day the rabbis had distilled 613 commandments from the Torah given to Moses. It really wasn't too hard to keep these commandments because they helped a person live rightly before God all day and night.  the problem was, as Jesus tried to point out, that they were only the surface of living righteously before God, what was most important was in the heart, how they cared for one another and the least among them.

I hope these few thoughts are helpful.  Some might want to read all the passages, or you might choose to follow one or two strands of readings (ie., I think I'll focus on the Gospel readings, or, I want to study 2 Kings some more, or the New Testament letters, etc.)  

What we're after in bible study is not just more "knowledge" of the bible so we can feel good or proud of our accomplishment (remember Paul said that all this kind of knowledge "puffs up."), but what we're really after is what Jesus talked about a lot:  change of heart (repentance= metanoia= change of mind).

Hope to see you tomorrow!  In God's peace,  
John+  



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 YOU!

Monday, September 14, 2015

THE REVEREND JOHN SMITH: ¨Sacred violence, carrying a divine righteousness with it, is a very difficult cycle to break because it tied into each person's spiritual or religious pysche.¨

Homily - Padre John - Bringing the world to the Gospel: Witness the generous response to refugees; Queen Elizabeth and longest reign of all English monarchs, and the origin of "royalty" as sacrificial victim to appease the gods; the 9/11/01 tragedy and wars of revenge.


The Most Important Three Letter Word in the Bible It is a word represented by three Greek letters: delta, epsilon, iota= dei.  Dei means "it is necessary" or as our translation puts it, "must." 

Two days ago we remembered once again the tragic day, September 11, 2001.  So many people lost their lives on that day and we will never forget them:  the people working in the Twin Towers and all the responders who tried to save them.  We also have lived through 14 years of response to that day and the Sacred Violence it represented.

Sacred violence is the worst type of violence because when it is committed, it is always done in the name of one's god, with that god's full approval.  The force behind sacred violence is carried out with the greatest vengeance and hatred for the enemy who is deemed "god-less" and evil.  The irony of course is that the enemy thinks the exact same thing about the other side.  Sacred violence, carrying a divine righteousness with it, is a very difficult cycle to break because it tied into each person's spiritual or religious pysche.

As Jesus is traveling through Caesarea Philippi with his disciples, he decides to ask them who people say that he is.  They share all the opinions they've heard:  John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets.  After hearing all the opinions, Jesus asks his disciples, who they say he is.  Peter speaks up for them all and declares "You are the Messiah." (Of course, their understanding of Messiah at that time is different from our own.  They thought the Messiah who be a great national leader who would gather up a force and restore Israel to it proper place in the world free from Roman domination.)

Jesus shatters their view/hope for a Messiah when he goes on to tell them that the Son of Man (Daniel 7:13) must undergo suffering, be rejected by the Elders, Chief Priests, and scribes, and be killed, and to rise after three days.  This news is a lot for the disciples to swallow!  Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes the whole idea of a suffering Messiah (Isaiah and the suffering Servant songs).  Jesus rebukes Peter and all the disciples saying "Get behind me Satan!"

The disciples are not getting God's plan, but are looking at Jesus' enterprise from a completely human point of view.

But I don't want to get ahead of myself and miss something very important:  if fact, the most important three letter word in the Gospel.  It is a word represented by three Greek letters: delta, epsilon, iota= dei.  Is means "it is necessary" or as our translation puts it, "must."  Jesus shocks his disciples by saying that he, the Son of Man, as he liked to refer to himself, "must" suffer rejection by the leaders and people and be put to death.

Why is this the most important three letter word in the Gospel?  We need to ask ourselves:  Why did Jesus have to suffer and be killed?
  
From the beginning of human culture the answer to this question has always been that the leader or the king needed to die in order to appease the gods, to satisfy them, to pay for the sins of the people.  What usually happened, of course, was that the king-leader could put off his death by providing other people for the sacrificial offering.  As long as they were successful in procuring others for sacrifice they could keep their power and live.  This became the norm, and the sacrificial origin of kingship is mostly forgotten.

Following this deep-seated cultural reasoning, Jesus, the Son of Man, must die to appease his Father, for our sins.  To make God love us. That makes our God just like all the other gods of the nations who require human sacrifice in order to hold back their anger towards their wayward servants.

But Jesus didn't come among us to reveal a God that was like all the other gods, but rather, one completely different.  The people of Israel had much of the qualities of God correct (Almighty, Creator, etc.), but vengeance was not one of these qualities.  That's why Jesus came, to make this absolutely clear:  the true and living God, who Jesus called "Abba," is a God of total love and mercy.  As St. Paul states in the Letter to the Romans:  God died for us while we were still sinners.

The importance of this three letter word "dei," or "must," is for us, for the world.  The weight of the word "must" has to do with what is necessary for us to learn:  forgiveness, the kind of forgiveness Jesus showed on the Cross when he prayed,  "Father, forgive them."  The "must" has to do with God desiring to break  the cycle of sacred violence- violence done in the name of, and with the approval of, God.  This is why the Son of Man had to suffer and die and why Jesus told the disciples and all of us that we must take up this same Cross of forgiveness if we want to follow him.

The "must" of Jesus' suffering is not to be made out as something God (the Father) demanded, but rather the result of our own human fallen-ness, scandal, and need for scapegoats.  The "must" has to do with the lesson of forgiveness:  radical non-retaliation and refusal to revenge others for the harm they have done to us.  This kind of forgiveness has nothing to do with warm feelings, but takes every bit of courage we can muster as individuals, communities, and nations.  The Cross and Resurrection are at the center of all this.  This is how the cycle of sacred violence (9-11) can be broken, is being broken, will be broken, once and for all.

The one thing that is necessary is to embrace the teaching and example of Jesus Christ.  Not the "sweet syrupy Jesus," or the bible thumping "Jesus is going to send you to hell" that turns us off completely, or especially, the Jesus co-opted by so many to support violence so that "evil" can be erradicated.  The one thing necessary that we and world needs is for Jesus' followers to take up their Cross and show daily that Jesus' mercy and forgiveness are alive and well in our time.  

Amen! 
John+ 
  


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 YOU!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

HOSPITALITY WITH REWARDS AT THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION - YASMEEN IN EGYPT: ¨Syrians started coming here to get away from the violence in their country, I have to say people here have been impressed and humbled by how they have dealt with their misfortunes...¨

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for  thereby some have entertained angels unawares (Hebrews 13.2)

Did you see Yasmeen’s story on Facebook? She has kindly allowed me to reproduce it here:
I am British/Egyptian and currently live in Egypt. Here there are now hundreds of thousands of Syrians if not more. In the past years since the Syrians started coming here to get away from the violence in their country, I have to say people here have been impressed and humbled by how they have dealt with their misfortunes. They have been very industrious,working hard, starting small businesses and in general doing whatever they can to make a living instead of burdening society. They are well known for their cooking, especially their sweets, and many of them have opened small dessert shops and the less well-off sometimes sell their pastries ready-packaged to passers by.
Keep in mind that Egypt is a country with its own poverty problems already and we have thousands of beggars on the streets. Many of the Syrians who came could easily have joined in the throngs of people waiting for hand-outs. But they are proud, hard- working people who will not accept extra money you try to give them when buying things from them even. They want to work for what they have. They have rented the homes they are now living in too.
Before the Syrian crisis, I knew several Syrian people who are well-educated and well-travelled and some are even dual nationals. But they are very patriotic to their country and although they could have lived in western countries most chose to stay in Syria.
My point is that Syrians are only travelling to the west because they are desperate to survive. Not because they want the western way of life as some are accusing them. Their country was beautiful with breathtaking landscapes and a rich culture. Also, they are hardworking, skillful people who, if given a chance, will gladly work hard and add to society and the economy and not depend on aid.
“Like sugar in milk”

Thanks to Laura Sykes
Lay Anglicana, sidebar
and HERE:
http://www.layanglicana.org/blog/2015/09/09/milk-and-sugar/#comments




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 YOU!

Monday, September 7, 2015

THE REVEREND JOHN SMITH: ¨Do not rob the poor because they are poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate; for the Lord pleads their cause and despoils the life of those who despoil them.¨ Homily - Election Day - Guatemala, September 6th

FAVORITISM 
(In the Hebrew Bible there is much favoritism:  favorite people, sons, daughters, wives, etc., but with Jesus' coming among us and being the final interpreter of the Hebrew Bible, we see that God plays no favorites.)
One thing I like about our Eucharistic and Daily Office Lectionaries is that they force us to confront the Word of God in a systematic way that is not based on our own preferences and desires.  We consider three texts every Sunday that are not of our choosing.  This keeps alive a prophetic dimension to the whole enterprise of hearing God's word and benefiting from its wisdom for our lives.
For example, many preachers, after many years on the job, have favorites texts that they tend to choose to preach on over and over again, or, they have sermons and illustrations all ready to go for particular occasions or feast days.  I don't know about you, but I like "fresh" sermons (like Wendy's) that allows the readings for the day to enlighten our actual daily lives and all the happenings around us.)
Today is primary election day in the land.  The Vice-President of Guatemala has been arrested and the President has had his immunity from prosecution stripped away this week.  It's about the diverting of funds that could have gone into the government's coffers to pay, for example, educational needs and teachers pay and health care for those most in need of it.  I've heard for a long time and even more this summer about shortages in these two areas:  teachers who haven't been paid for months in rural areas, and lack of money for medicine and professional health providers, again, especially in rural areas.
So, if these funds have been diverted into the pockets of politicians instead of funding real needs of people and especially the poor, then isn't it prophetic to be given this particular text from Proverbs today:
A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver and gold. . . Do not rob the poor because they are poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate; for the Lord pleads their cause and despoils the life of those who despoil them.
(Nature of prophecy:  not predicting the future, but speaking God's wisdom to a present situation.)  

So isn't this is a prophetic text for us this morning who for a long time have witnessed this kind of despoiling?  Having resources is not a sin, but not understanding that both rich and poor are completely alike in their human dignity and creation by God, is.  If, like we see in certain politicians (and we can't exempt ourselves either, in our much smaller "political" realms), if there is a choice between either having a good name or enriching ourselves with silver and gold, wisdom would teach us to make a good name and not ill-gotten wealth, our top priority.

One of the qualities that constitutes a good name is to be regarded as one who shows no partiality or favoritism.  This mirrors in the believer God's own impartiality toward his creatures.  As James puts it:
My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?

Thinking of parish ministry, I can tell you that when you are worried about parish budgets and payroll and a wealthy looking visitor comes to consider joining the church, its a real temptation not to give that person extra attention and not pay too much attention to the poorer person in the pews.  As James goes on:

. . . have you made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?  . . . Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?
Where the Holy Spirit is trying to move us, I think, is away from cultural identities that base themselves on being over against others, like the un-holy communions we've been talking about the last few weeks.  Only Jesus, the Lamb of God, can gather us away from these un-holy communions based on partiality.  (check out 1 Corinthians chapter 11)  This is what we are trying to "grow into" as we come together for Holy Communion each Sunday.
The Gospel today has Jesus giving us examples, with some hurdles to be overcome, that must have helped form James' own convictions.  
Jesus and his disciples pass through the region of Tyre.  He takes shelter in a house there and is hoping no one will know where he is.  And this pagan woman, a Syro-phoenician, hears where Jesus is staying and goes to plead the case of her daughter troubled by an unclean spirit.  Jesus puts her off completely.  He insists he has come for the children (of Israel) and not for "dogs" of her kind!  (This is the first hurdle- Jesus' offensive response to the woman- not a very "sweet" Jesus!) But the woman has "staying faith" and tells Jesus that even dogs eat the scraps from the master's table!  Seeing her faith, even after offense, he assures her that her daughter is well.  Jesus is willing to offend if it might lead a person to real faith!  The pagan woman has faith and the sincere, law-abiding Pharisees (last weeks Gospel) don't have much!
In Jesus' time (and really persisting with, thank goodness, some few exceptions in our own) a person born with a physical disability was considered worthless, really, completely un-productive as far as society was concerned.  "They" bring Jesus a deaf man with a speach impediment.  (Might they be thinking:  Let's see what he can do with this guy!  This will be a barrel of laughs!)  To their chagrin, Jesus takes the man aside privately and heals him.  Things get very physical:  Jesus takes his spittle and puts it in the man's ears and then (this is the second hurdle I mentioned) spits on his fingers again and touches the man's tongue.  (Don't you think eewwwwww!)
So, what's happened here?  Two "zilchs" of society get Jesus' attention and healing help.  Jesus doesn't play favorites.  The word is prosopolampsia.  Setting yourself up as a judge of someone's outward appearance or reputation with no regard to their intinsic worth or dignity as a human being (the respect we promise to give in the Baptismal Covenant), but instead whose value is determined by the latest un-holy communion that we are part of at the moment.
But we are here for Holy Communion.  Jesus is in our midst.  The Holy Spirit is moving us to repentance (metanoia= meta (change) nous (thinking).  While voting is going on today as we are gathered here, we'll taste and learn what it's like to live in God's Kingdom.  

Thanks be to God!  
Amen!
John+


Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English) meets 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 YOU!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

THE REVEREND JOHN SMITH: ¨ All the scriptures today have to do with asking the question: Where is our heart?

(Starting off this Sunday I mentioned a method of bible study that is quite popular in some places.  It's called the "African Bible Study."  It started in Africa, at a meeting of Bishops there.  Each was given the same passage of scripture to read and reflect on, and then, share with their small group a verse that "jumped out" at them.  If I did it with today's Gospel the verse would be:  This people honors me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.  All the scriptures today have to do with asking the question:  

Where is our heart?  Are we in love with God like the Song of Songs metaphor of human love points to?  Do we carry on an inner dialogue with God?  If we do, don't think you're crazy, this is normal for a believer.)

Offensive Faith

(In the living out of our faith we will probably give offense to some, but this is necessary to bring them to faith.)

I'm writing this sermon after hearing of the shooting and killing of the TV reporter and her cameraman near Roanoke, Virginia.  It is definitely influencing my looking at the scriptures for this Sunday. 

When such a tragedy happens many ask themselves:  How could God allow this to happen.  I'm sure the family and fiancees of the murdered woman and man are asking this question, trying to find some sense out of the senselessness of it all.  When we can't figure out why something bad happened we tend to bring God into the picture. 

 Surely the Almighty's Will must play a part!

These questions have been around a long time.  Jame's, who we begin reading today dealt with this very problem of evil in his letter:

Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

What this means is that in God there is no darkness at all (1John) and no bad things ever come from God who is all Light.  Even when we are tempted to think so, there is no "shadowy" side to God's nature.

Yet that is precisely what lurks in that backs of our minds:  When tragedy strikes and people die that somehow it is God's will; or, God punishes people with sickness when they have done wrong; or, it is sometimes God's will that we take someone's life or destroy our enemies.  (Frank on Death Row)  All of this is because in our fears and anger we are tempted to project all our desires unto God, but really unto the false gods of our own making.

In another place in the Letter of James he writes:

No one whould say "I am being tempted by God."  For God cannot be tempted by evil and God tempts no one.  . . one is tempted by one's own desire, being lured and enticed by it.

Jesus died on the Cross because of our ungraciousness and violence and responded with absolutely no vengeance at all.  Jesus, unlike us, refused to fight the violence against him with violence.  He could have called upon his Father to send legions of angels to destroy his murderers, but he didn't.

Why?  James knew who God is, what God's true nature is.  And James also knew who we are.  As he put it:  We are the "first fruits of God's creatures," fruit in the sense of remaining on the vine of God's life in Jesus who leads and mirrors the truth about God to the whole world. (Priority: to read the Gospel to know Jesus)

Now we can't blame the Pharisees too much.  They didn't have the Gospels.  But they did have Jesus right in front of them!  They took offense at the actions of Jesus and his disciples, ie., not washing their hands before eating.  The way Jesus saw it, the Pharisees were substituing their religious human cultural laws for God's care for his creatures.  Most of all they did not like what they saw as Jesus' too easy forgiveness of sinners.  The Pharisees required that a person repent before receiving forgiveness.  
But Jesus forgave before repentance because forgiveness created the possibility of true repentance and change.

This is Jesus' way, so different from the world's ways, or most religious outlook.  The world and it's religious expression usually focus is on banning the outer corruptions and temptations people experience, like the use of alcohol, drugs, pornography, guns, etc., or banning from society those who are judged "rotten to the core" on the inside.  But as Jesus says in the Gospel today:

Listen to me, all of you, and understand:  there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.  For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come:  fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.

Here Jesus is not talking about certain "evil" people who do bad things, but instead about the "relationships" between people and the rivalrous and covetous desires that they have toward each other.  The list of failing above always include others.

The police found the shooter shortly after he murdered the reporter and cameraman and wounded the woman being interviewed.  His motive was vengeance on the TV station for being fired from his job at the station- to get even.  Again, not an "evil" person in himself, but one whose relationships were completely out of whack- full of the rivalry and covetousness we are talking about.

Instead of being offended by the Jesus we encounter in the Gospel, let us accept his teaching in faith, living each day in thankfulness to God and God's love for all people.  In other words, keep our hearts close to God.  

Amen!
John+


Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English) meets 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)

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