Monday, June 27, 2016

The Reverend John Smith: Don't look back. God, in Jesus, was calling people to new Life, a new way of living together, a whole new human culture, not focused on death, but on Life

"Don't look back"
My former parish in Tucson is in the final stage of selecting a new Rector. The Vestry has been interviewing a final candidate and will probably be reaching a decision soon. Everything is pretty secretive for a number of reasons: 1) the person is serving somewhere now and his/her parish doesn't know that they are in process of seeking a new position; 2) if they are not chosen and word got out this could have repercussions in their current parish; and 3) parishioners would be lining up, for or against, the selection of the Vestry. It's the Vestry that have to make the final decision, with the approval of the Bishop who has already weighed in, voting their conscience after much thought and prayer. This is how it works in the Episcopal Church.

Sometimes it's hard for me when I think my retiring and leaving (with Terri of course), has caused all this to come about and forced change on the people of the parish, whom I had come to love dearly. I get a real twinge inside at times, wondering if I did the right thing in leaving them, but then I read the Gospel today: No one who puts their hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.

Don't look back. God, in Jesus, was calling people to new Life, a new way of living together, a whole new human culture, not focused on death, but on Life. Like a farmer plowing a field picks out a tree on the other side of the field to plow a straight furrow, we go forward toward life. If the farmer always looked back, the furrow would wander all over the place. Jesus understood this so well. When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. There, in Jerusalem, waited the Cross. Jesus focused on his death so that we and the whole world might focus on Life. 

Jesus' entourage was passing by Samaria. He sends a couple of messengers to Samaria, for what exactly we don't know. The Jews, and that would include Jesus' disciples, didn't like, even hated Samaritans. The Samaritans were different, their ancestors didn't suffer the exile in Babylon, they inter-married with foreigners. So it's no surprise that the messengers come back with a negative report: don't even think of stopping in Samaria Jesus, those people don't like you. The disciples chime in: Do you want us to call down fire and destroy them all? (Remember Elijah and the Prophets of Ba'al?) The disciples still don't understand why Jesus came and his plan for Life and not more violence, terror, and death. Jesus rebukes them.
Our scriptures come down to us in various manuscripts and fragments. They all match up pretty well, but being hand copied, or maybe other reasons, a verse or two might be slightly changed or left out. Well there is one verse that is left out of today's Gospel as it is presented to us: part of verse 53. This has been called "The most important verse left out of the bible." (although in some ancient manuscripts and included in the KJV!!) It fills out the "Jesus rebuked them," that I just was talking about. Here it is:
But Jesus turned and rebuked them, and said, you do not know what spirit you are of, for the Son of Man has not come to destroy the lives of human beings but to serve them. Then they went on to another village.
Some good-hearted copyist, decided to not let the disciples seem so bad and off base, "cleaned the verse" up a bit, and we get the cleaned up verse today. This is revealing, because the thought persists today, that for certain good and holy reasons, God allows the destroying of human lives. This is a lie that the "other" spirit (lower case "s") spreads, quite successfully, I might add.

This is where St. Paul is at as well when he talks about freedom. If the freedom we talk about and hold up high is simply about pursuing a way of life which brings about selfishness and death in the world it is a sham. Paul says: Through love, make yourselves slaves of one another. Serving others in love makes a person truly free.

Today's Gospel ends with a person approaching Jesus saying: I will follow you wherever you go. (He doesn't know it yet, but Jesus is heading for the Cross. If he knew this he might not be so eager!) Jesus begins the persons indoctrination:

1) There is no "home" for people who accepts outsiders like Jesus does;
2) Jesus' goal is to replace the human culture of death with a new way of life;
3) A person who follows Jesus can't look back (even bury the dead), but must press on to create a new culture with the focus on Life (not eternal life after you die, but committed to Life here and now among the living).

With our discussion of Jesus' radical hospitality and Paul's awakening to the truth that we are who we are, not Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, Paul is starting to describe a new "universal" human being, with no built-in blocks to compassion, living in acceptance of every person's story, and willing to live a life of forgiveness and mercy toward all their fellows.

The Holy Eucharist, Word and Sacrament, nourishes us away from the death all around us and invites us to healing and new Life! Don't look Back.  (emphasis added/lr) 
The Reverend John Smith

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)


Thursday, June 23, 2016

RADICAL HOSPITALITY: "Almost all people, from their own religious, even non-religious, experience, struggle to practice radical hospitality, or think to do so would be impossible." John+

I Am What I Am
Last week we talked about "radical hospitality" * (sermon posted below) and how the refusal to embrace the "radical" in our hospitality can so easily be transformed into "hostility." The failure to practice radical hospitality keeps the world engaged in a constant cycle of escalating violence. We're not talking here of some kind of ethical ideal, but God's plan to save the world.

Practicing radical hospitality is not easy. It will be a struggle for most of us. It was a struggle for St. Paul as well. The Law of Torah and practice he grew up in didn't allow the practice of radical hospitality: acceptance of each person, openness to hear their story and dialogue, and forgiveness first before requiring change of behavior. Being a Jew meant embracing the whole Law which excluded all Gentiles.

Almost all people, from their own religious, even non-religious, experience, struggle to practice radical hospitality, or think to do so would be impossible. Only Jesus Christ, and the help of the Holy Spirit, makes living radical hospitality possible. Even Gandhi admitted this to his life-long Anglican priest friend.

For St. Paul, it was his own meeting with the Risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, that changed his mind (metanoia) and heart. Whatever would come, he would have to practice radical hospitality for the rest of his life. When he founded a church, he did it with the goal that all believers in Jesus would overcome all the social, linguistic, gender, and religious barriers they faced:

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

No longer. No longer. No longer. Three times he stresses that in Christ everything has changed and been turned on it's head. And further, for Paul, conversion to living a radical hospitality begins in Eucharistic hospitality and the fellowship that flows from hearing the Word and sharing the Body and Blood of the Lord.

Not practicing radical hospitality makes the world sick. In the Gospel today, Jesus and his disciples enter Gerasa. On the outskirts of the city there's a cemetery. In ancient times, cemeteries were where the mentally ill were banished. After a time, clothed "crazies" would be wandering around naked, often shouting and terrorizing the town, causing fear among the people. The people considered them possessed by demons and, unsuccessfully, tried to chain them down
Into this scenario comes Jesus. The Demoniac recognizes Jesus and realizes that something has to give. The demons cannot coexist with Jesus present. Jesus practices radical hospitality with the demons and enters a dialogue:

"What do you have to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you do not torment me?" (Jesus has begun exorcise the unclean spirit out)
"What is your name?" Jesus asks.
"Legion." (Singular word, but meaning many)
We heard the rest of the story. Jesus commands the unclean spirit into a herd of pigs who follow the leader of the swine over a cliff and falling to their death. Later the swineherds and townspeople find the man clothed and in his right mind. The man wants follow along with Jesus, but Jesus sends him back to his society.

I used to think that "Legion" were many evil spirits that possessed that poor man, but more and more, I've come to see that the "Legion of evil spirits" were the townspeople themselves that refused to practice radical hospitality with the man. He was banished as a "crazy" and was a constant source of fear for them. They could never come to grips with what caused him to act out. They could never imagine him as ever being innocent and free.
The story isn't about Jesus performing an act of vengeance in casting the evil spirits into the swine, but rather, if as suggested, Legion refers to the spirits of the townspeople, possessing the man, falling to their death, then you have an example of attempting to manage violence with violence leading to more and more death.

Jesus, like the man in the story, restores us to our right minds, clothed in the garments of salvation received at our Baptism. We're sent (thinking of the hymn "Just as I Am") from the Eucharist back into the everyday world, sometimes very crazy, to love and serve the Lord.  (emphasis added/LR)


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)


* Homily: "Radical Hospitality" June 12, 2016

Radical Hospitality
The term "Christianity" was never used for many centuries after the death and Resurrection of Jesus. If the word "Christian" was ever used, it was not by christians themselves, but by others to describe them as followers of Christ. The earliest descriptor of followers of Jesus was "People of The Way." This term, "The Way," attempted to describe the manner in which followers of Jesus lived in contrast to the "way" most others conducted their lives.
In today's culture, we invite people over whose company we enjoy. When they arrive we give them a hug, find a place for their coats, lead them to the hors' doerves, and offer them something to drink. Those are the basics of hospitality today. The basics of hospitality in Jesus' day were a little different: a guest was offered water to wash their feet, given a greeting kiss, and their head was annointed with fragrant oil.
In today's Gospel, Simon the host, offered none of this basic hospitality to Jesus, his guest. They were too busy watching him, to catch him in some perceived failure. They didn't have to wait very long. A woman of the night, a known sinner, comes up to Jesus and begins to wash his feet and dry them with her hair. Her approach to Jesus was completely unacceptable to Simon and the other guests, even though "this sinner woman" offered the basic hospitality the others failed to provide. Instead of providing basic hospitality to Jesus, Simon the Pharisee and his friends, offered a veiled hostility. This hostility was the fruit of their religious outlook formed by their interpretation of Torah.
But Jesus knew that the only way Torah is fulfilled is by love. The woman "sinner" fulfilled Torah and Simon and his like-minded friends didn't.
Christopher Higgins, the well-known atheist, claims that "religion poisons everything." Looking around the world today, he's probably right. But It's been that way from the beginning. Jesus came to redeem religion practice that provided hospitality to some and not to others who were different. Jesus practiced, and his followers after him, what is sometimes referred to as a radical hospitality offered to every human being even when they are different or rub us the wrong way. For Jesus, the "us and them," approach of religion needed to change. Subtle hostility and/or passive aggresiveness could neutralize the love he came to bring.
The Gospel reveals the core of radical hospitality which turns on its head normal religious practice of requiring repentance before offering forgiveness. Jesus,as we see in the Gospel today, offers the woman forgiveness first, then allows her the freedom to live a new life in a spirit of repentance. Diane Butler Bass has decribed religion in terms of Believing, Behaving, and Belonging, in that order. You believe the creed of your religion, follow its rules, and then you can belong. In contrast, Jesus put the emphasis on belonging, no questions asked. This is radical hospitality.
The breaking of the bread that Jesus left his followers to perform, the Holy Eucharist, is the Sacrament of radical hospitality. All are welcome, all can belong, all are invited to covenant with God in thanksgiving for life. The General Thanksgiving on pg. 101 of the Book of Common Prayer captures this spirit:
Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we your unworthy servants, give you humble thanks for all your goodness and loving kindness to us and to all whom you have made. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life, but above all for your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies, that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory throughout all ages. 


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

COMPASSION: "It's not easy to embrace living with compassion, especially toward those we don't like or who have harmed us. That's why Jesus taught us to love our enemies and do good to those who harm us." John+


My dad retired from the Coast Guard in 1959.  Because he had been in aviation and worked on planes, he got hired by the Boeing Company in Renton, Washington.  We rented an apartment on Mercer Island for a few months and then my parents bought a model home in Lake Hills, a new development near Bellevue, Washington.

Our new house was surrounded by new construction.  It was fun as a kid to play army in all the big holes and ditches.  I loved to sneak up close to watch the bulldozers.  In my 1959 mind they were the most powerful thing I had ever seen.  They could move anything in their path, nothing could stop those bulldozers! John+

In today's Gospel, Jesus approaches the city gate of Nain.  At the same time, a funeral procession was getting ready to leave the city.  A widow had lost her only son- her hope of life security was lying dead.  (A little background:  In those days, when someone died they were buried the same day.  A few men would pick up the body, place it on a stretcher, and begin to wander with the family through the village, people would join the procession and join in the wailing and mourning.)  You could describe the procession as having a snow-ball effect, but that would be too pleasant an image.  The funeral procession was more like a bulldozer:  a bulldozer of death gathering everything in its path.

Jesus meets this bulldozer of death at the city gate on Nain.  Death is bulldozing through the world and Jesus is the only one who can stop this procession of death in its tracks.  Like so many battles, it takes place at the city gates.  The majority see death having the upper hand in the battle.  Death always has the best weapons.  But Jesus' only weapon was compassion.  He had compassion on the woman.  Jesus goes over to the stretcher and brings the son back to life.  He gives the son to his mother.  For the widow, hope was restored.  The bulldozer of death that plows through the world, gathering up so many with it, is stopped dead in its tracks by a more powerful force:  compassion.

Last Sunday our reflection was on amazing faith.  Faith, not just a mental act or feeling, but activated, acted on.  What is our faith for, but to bring compassion to the world.  Compassion is the only weapon (poor word choice) that can stop the bulldozer of death which continues to terrorize the world.

It's not easy to embrace living with compassion, especially toward those we don't like or who have harmed us.  That's why Jesus taught us to love our enemies and do good to those who harm us.  The world hates this attitude, or, I might say act-titude.  To embrace compassion as Jesus is demonstrating in the Gospel, mean the collapse of so many beliefs we hold about right and wrong, retributive justice, and giving people what they deserve and not a penny more.  To live with compassion means the loss or collapse of our faith convictions (like Saul) that we feel are essential to our security, and joining the crowd with Jesus and embracing his commitment to life:  life in the face of death.

(After I wrote this, news of Muhammad Ali's death was announced.  He left the cultural Christianity of his youth and became a muslim.  He found the freedom there to live compassion and the courage to not allow a government to tell him who his enemies were and kill them.)

Jesus invites us in this Eucharist to leave the procession of death and join his procession of life.  The Bread we receive and the Wine we drink are the foods of compassion, Jesus' own life.  The Eucharist is the medicine that heals everything in us that prevents us from acting with compassion where the fear of death is everywhere.  I need this medicine.  Jesus people, armed only with compassion, can win the battle that is waging.  Life will conquer death.  (emphasis added size/color, Leonardo)


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)