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)


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