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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

WITH GRATITUDE and JOY: St. Alban Mission Episcopal (English) BLOG has received over 50 THOUSAND visitors as of today! Gracias a Dios!

Volcan de Fuego salutes us all!
A HAPPY ANNOUNCEMENT: Our St. Alban Mission Episcopal (English), Antigua, Guatemala, BLOG (right here), has TODAY registered over 50 thousand visitors...thank you to Fr. Ricardo, Fr. John, Bishop Armando, Elizabeth Bell (Senior Warden) and ALL of us who have joined together to advance the earlier two decades English worship outreach of St. Marks in Antigua...mil gracias, TODO! 

http://saintalbansantiguaguatemala.blogspot.com/

Sparkline 50051 visitors as of this moment!




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 EVERYONE (everyone means everyone)

Monday, January 25, 2016

THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME: ¨... he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.¨ The Rev John Smith



Eyes fixed on Jesus

Two weeks ago on the First Sunday of Epiphany:  The Baptism of the Lord, after Jesus is baptized, God's voice declares "You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased."  God's full attention was fixed on his Son.  And, by extension, when we are baptized God's full attention is given to us.  God says "You are my beloved daughter, you are my beloved son."  This is different than when we were growing up and our parents told us:  You better be good, God is watching you and will punish you if you do something bad.  Of course this was backed up every year at Christmas time with Santa Claus:  He knows when you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.
The truth is:  If we've been bad Santa gives us a lump of coal, but God gives us his forgiveness and steadfast love.  Realizing God's mercy, we really try to please God and pass this same mercy on to others.  Imagine a community of people who live in mercy with one another at all times and you have what St. Paul calls the Body of Christ.

But I want to get back to the idea that God lovingly watches us, because in the Gospel today after Jesus gives his first major speech in his hometown synagogue of Nazareth, he sits down and it says:  All eyes were fixed on him. Jesus.  He had just left behind the temptations in the desert and started his ministry and here was another temptation:  All eyes were fixed on him.  Right then and there he could have changed course.  He could have bathed in the adoration of the people forever:  All spoke well of him.  But he didn't crave their approval, but his Father's. 
And what was the program of his Father that he was sent to implement?  When he was asked to read that day in the synagogue he could have rolled the scroll (they were reading from Isaiah at that time, just like we read various books at certain times today, open to what ever part he chose.  This was like the President giving an Inaugural Address.  Jesus chose to quote from Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.

The Father is the "he" in the passage.  This is the program he sent Jesus, and, by extension, the program for all those baptized in the name of God: 

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

If you've ever thought:  Preachers just pick and choose what they want to preach on, whatever suits them, and sometimes I don't like what they're emphasizing!  Well, that's exactly what Jesus did!  What Jesus read was what he believed the Father wanted him to do.  This passage contained in a nut-shell his whole program:  not just the saving of souls, or getting to heaven, but a real world changing movement that would change people's lives in the here and now.

What is really interesting is that Jesus leaves out from this passage that was known very well to all the people in the synagogue that day and important phrase:

¨A day of vengeance of our God.¨
Isaiah prophesied a Day of Vengeance and Jesus chooses to leave it out!  It was right there in front of him.  Those paying attention who knew the passage would note the ommision.  But he had to.  Jesus knew there is no vengeance or getting even or pay-back in God's program of love and acceptance of every human being.  Isaiah, and most other people, would naturally think when the poor and oppressed get on top, they're going to sock-it to those who exploited and abused them.  But Jesus knew that retribution wasn't part of the deal.  In fact, vengeance, or however you want to call or rationalize it, mocks God's intent for relations between those God created and put on this earth.  

If God is the Father of all, then we all are brothers and sisters- no exceptions.
So far, so good.  Everybody liked the hometown boy made good.  He's one of us!  But their approval didn't last very long, maybe an hour or two.  When they realized that others, even their enemies, could also be objects of God's love and favor, they balked.  They tried to run Jesus out of town.  More on this next week!

So the Good News is:  If we're looking for people's approving eyes to be fixed on us, don't count on it lasting for very long.  Instead, let's keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. 

Jesus, and Jesus alone, will see us through.  

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 EVERYONE

Monday, January 18, 2016

"Ho kurios Jesus ...our emphasis on patriotism and nationalism must give way to a renewed living of our faith and focus on the example and teaching of Jesus...¨ The Reverend John Smith

Loyalty

Last week, the First Sunday after Epiphany, also known as the Baptism of the Lord, we renewed our Baptismal Covenant and the very real fact that each of us is a minister of the Lord.  Today we consider another covenant relationship, that of marriage.  Jesus, after calling his disciples, is invited to a wedding in Cana of Galilee.  Jesus' mother is there.  Wedding celebrations lasted some days.  All the guests, some traveling from distances, needed to be housed, fed, and given drink.  It was a shame if they ran out of anything, especially wine.

Jesus' mother saw that the wine ran out and believed her Son could do something to help.  Jesus tried to protest that  it wasn't time for him to do anything of the sort, but he submitted to his mother's request and changed the water in the huge jars used for ritual washing by the Jews into the finest wine the chief steward ever tasted.

I've used this text at weddings over the years.  I love the line in the story where it says:  You've saved the best wine until now.  And of course its Jesus' first "miracle" that manifests (Epiphany) he is of God.  But there is much more to this story than a miracle done on behalf of a newly married couple:  This Jesus is a good guy isn't he?  Taken with the other readings today it really opens the door to understanding the covenant we all have with God in Jesus. 

 Speaking to those who were coming out of exile in Babylon Isaiah prophesied:

You shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give.  You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.  You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married.  For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as a the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.

So what the Gospel of John and the Prophet Isaiah are talking about, as well Paul's Letter to the Corinthians, is really talking about our own individual (and corporate as the Body of Christ) marriage covenant with God which mirrors the tremendous love of the Holy Spirit between the Father and the Son.  What we see so often is that left to our own human resources, with the tendency to "look out for Number One," we often find ourselves in division and enmity, but human relationships that live in God's Spirit, mirrored by what we understand as the Trinity, continue forever in this Love.  Marriage unity, a very natural joining of two persons, is meant to begin and end in God.  This goes as well for all our human striving too:  leaving God out of the equation is a recipe for failure.  The word "religion" is made up of two parts:  "lig" as in ligament, holding together, and "re" meaning again.  In other words, religion means bringing, holding people together.  This can only be done in the context of God our Creator's Love.  Left, like I said before, to only human resources, bereft of God's Spirit of merciful love and reconciliation, religion can divide and be a source of sadness and death, rejected by many.  The problem is not with "religion" itself, but a practice of religion that has no place for the living God's mercy and love for all people, all God's children. (I spoke here about the recent decision of the Anglican Primates to censure the Episcopal Church for its developing rites for the blessing of same-sex marriages.

St. Paul takes us a step further in considering our virtual "marriage" with God in Jesus when he writes to the Corinthians:

I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says "Let Jesus be cursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit.

This means much more than dividing people into two groups, basically those who "curse" Jesus and those who "accept" Jesus' Lordship.  It's not so much about "words" as it is about real loyalty.  Satan knows the bible better than anybody and can say all the "right" words, but what really counts is actual loyalty and love for God, especially to the words and actions of Jesus.  Some who have never heard of Jesus follow his example and teaching in their daily lives.  On the other hand, it is possible to say all the right words, "Jesus is Lord," but shun its meaning and reject the way Jesus lived and what he taught.

Paul underlines this statement that "Jesus is Lord," as a cry of the followers of Christ, because in his day (and ours too!) there was another cry the vast majority of people took up.  In the Roman Empire of the day, the cry was "Ho kurios Caesar!" Caesar is Lord!  Instead "Ho kurios Jesus" became the rallying cry of Christians.  It was all about complete loyalty to Jesus, not Caesar.  That is why so many Christians were martyred, not for their religious beliefs, but for their loyalty to another King and their lack of patriotism and their unwillingness to pledge allegiance to Caesar.

When I first moved to Arizona, there was a governor, who often proclaimed that as arizonans and Americans we lived in a christian country.  When I discovered how prejudiced and isolationist he was, I was pretty embarrassed and hard-pressed to see anything "Christian" in what he said.  It seemed he had the "words" but no real loyalty to Jesus' teaching and example.  It is easy to "compartmentalize" our faith and separate it from our daily lives in the "polis" (political life of the city). 

I'll conclude by saying this is where I think God is trying to lead us as his people:  our emphasis on patriotism and nationalism must give way to a renewed living of our faith and focus on the example and teaching of Jesus which will always seek to gather together in unity all God's people, in love and shunning all violence, under the one banner "Jesus is Lord."  
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 EVERYONE   

Monday, January 11, 2016

WHO ARE THE MINISTERS OF THE CHURCH? ¨The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.¨ The Rev. John Smith


You are Mine
There was a kid I knew in high school by the name of Vince Ventimiglia.  It was big highschool, I guess I should say he was an acqaintance, not a close friend.  I always thought that Vince was an Italian Catholic, although I never saw him at my local parish.  One day, when I was in my first year of college, we ran into each other at a gas station.  He had a great smile when I greeted him and asked him what he was doing those days.  He replied:  I'm a minister!  This was a real shock to me, not because I thought he wasn't worthy or something (who is worthy anyway?), but because I had been in the seminary already two years and had another seven years to go!  (I was in the seminary nine years before I was ordained a priest, starting my senior year of high school, through four years of college, and then four years of theological studies.) I felt a tinge of jealousy too, when he said "I'm a minister," so confidently and I would have to wait so long to say the same.  As it turned out, Vince wasn't Catholic, but was a Jehovah's Witness.

The point I'm getting at is that we don't think of ourselves as ministers- we're not ordained.  The Catechism in the Prayer Book asks the question:  Who are the ministers of the Church?  And the answer is:  The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.  And where does our ministry, our being ministers begin?  It's at our Baptism and strengthened in our Confirmation.

Every year the First Sunday of Epiphany celebrates the Baptism of Jesus by John at the river Jordan.  What's the scene there?  If we were Stephen Spielberg making a movie we'd have hundreds of people down by the riverside, wading one by one toward John the Baptizer, confessing their sins out loud:  "I stole from a man, I'm an adulterer, I blasphemed against God, I killed a man, etc."  As John baptized one after another, the river water became dirtier and dirtier with people's sins.  Along comes Jesus, the sinless one, and he walks into the filthy water (metaphor) toward John and, after John's heart skips a beat and he hesitates, Jesus is baptized like all the others.  A dove descends on Jesus and a Voice declares "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."
  
It is right after his baptism that the Spirit drives Jesus into the desert where his call to ministry is tested (normal for a person to encounter disorientation, temptation, crisis of faith that the Evil One unleashes), begins his ministry of bringing good news to the world:  He will make it possible for everyone who believes in him to live a new life, to live each day with the Epiphany gift of the possibilility of a change of fortune free of the scapegoating ways of humankind.

It took many years before I realized that I could have said to Vince:   That's great!  I'm a minister too!

Just as Jesus began his ministry after his baptism, we too begin our ministry after our baptism.  As we read the Gospel today, it is important to realize that God says the same words over us:  You are my beloved, with you I am well pleased.  And, if it gnaws at us that we were baptized as an infant and didn't know what was going on, then our Confirmation at a more mature age can renew and reinforce the Holy Spirit's power in us.  And, if it's been a long time since our confirmation, then let today, as we renew our baptismal promises, be a new beginning to our ministry!  We've been ordained!  We have been chosen to serve the Lord!  Really!
  
We heard what Isaiah prophesied to the chosen people of his day, and by extension, to each one of us:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.  For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

In a moment we will renew the promises we took, or were taken for us, at our Baptism.  This brings us to the same state we were in at our baptism- a complete new beginning, forgiven everything, filled with the Holy Spirit.  Do not fear. God is with you.  You are a minister.  This is real, this is not a drill, this is NOW.  

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 EVERYONE   

Saturday, January 9, 2016

ANGLICAN PRIMATES GATHER at CANTERBURY CATHEDRAL: ¨“The difference between our societies and cultures, as well as the speed of cultural change in much of the global north, tempts us to divide as Christians: when the command of scripture, the prayer of Jesus, the tradition of the church and our theological understanding urges unity. A 21st-century Anglican family must have space for deep disagreement, and even mutual criticism, so long as we are faithful to the revelation of Jesus Christ, together...¨ Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury

Primates 2016

About Primates 2016

The Archbishop of Canterbury has invited all 37 Primates to Canterbury to reflect and pray together concerning the future of the Anglican Communion.

The gathering, to be held 11-16 January 2016, will be an opportunity for Primates to discuss key issues face to face. These will include a review of the structures of the Anglican Communion and deciding together their approach to the next Lambeth Conference.
The agenda will be set by common agreement, with all Primates encouraged to send in contributions. It is likely to include the issues of religiously-motivated violence, the protection of children and vulnerable adults, the environment and human sexuality.
Archbishop Foley Beach, the leader of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), will be present for part of the time.
Announcing the meeting in September 2015, Archbishop Justin Welby said: “I have suggested to all Primates that we need to consider recent developments but also look afresh at our ways of working as a Communion and especially as Primates, paying proper attention to developments in the past.
“Our way forward must respect the decisions of Lambeth 1998, and of the various Anglican Consultative Council and Primates' meetings since then. It must also be a way forward, guided by the absolute imperative for the church to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, to make disciples and to worship and live in holiness, and recognising that the way in which proclamation happens and the pressures on us vary greatly between Provinces. We each live in a different context.
“The difference between our societies and cultures, as well as the speed of cultural change in much of the global north, tempts us to divide as Christians: when the command of scripture, the prayer of Jesus, the tradition of the church and our theological understanding urges unity. A 21st-century Anglican family must have space for deep disagreement, and even mutual criticism, so long as we are faithful to the revelation of Jesus Christ, together.
“We have no Anglican Pope. Our authority as a church is dispersed, and is ultimately found in Scripture, properly interpreted. In that light I long for us to meet together under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and to seek to find a way of enabling ourselves to set a course which permits us to focus on serving and loving each other, and above all on the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ."

READ ALL ABOUT THE UPCOMING PRIMATES MEETING NEXT WEEK: http://www.primates2016.org/about/



Thursday, January 7, 2016

LIVE EPIPHANY: ¨Live the possibility of a change of fortune in your life and in the life of others. Most of all, with God's grace, be an Epiphany to others.¨ The Rev. John Smith

A Gift for You

The Second Sunday of Christmas is another "hinge" feast connecting the Christmas celebration with the next season of the Church's liturgical year:  Epiphany.  It was hard for the Lectionary planners to appoint just one Gospel to this Sunday.  There are three to choose from:  2 from Matthew and 1 from Lk.  Today we have one of the Matthew texts:  Out of Egypt I have called my Son.  Joseph was led to leave Bethlehem and flee to Egypt for safety.  Herod was going to find the child and kill him at all costs:  even if it meant that many innocents might die.  Today's Gospel recounts how, after Herod's death, Joseph leads Mary and the child back their homeland, setting up a household in Nazareth.

The selection from Luke's Gospel jumps ahead to when Jesus is 12 years old and accidentally gets left behind in the Temple where he impresses the Elders there with his questions and display of wisdom beyond his years.  This is the great "Finding of Jesus in the Temple" story.

Today's Gospel selection from Matthew follows the birth of the Child in the cave-stable and the three kings paying him homage with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  These are gifts for a King.

All of these readings are "epiphanies" or manifestations of who this Child is.  All of them include life situations where those led by God look beyond the ordinary and see the extraordinary.  It's not just about a time when "Three Kings of Orient Are" brought special gifts to a special child, but it's more:  God gives each one of us a gift too.  What is the gift?  The gift you and I are given is the very real possibility of a change of fortune in our lives.

Now I'm not preaching a "gospel of success" or anything like:  Follow Jesus and your life will be filled with riches and love!  No, I'm talking about something different.  Let me explain.  So often we get into a pattern of living (as comfortable as we can make it for ourselves) and are reticent to change it in any way.  Or we've lived with a chronic problem, of health maybe, and just accepted nothing can be done about it, or perhaps we've had bad-luck in relationships and think this is just the way things will always be for us.  It can be any pattern of life that we feel we have to accept and can't be made better.  We can't change our situation. (Actually, this can be true on family, community, or even national level as well.) 

That's just the way it is until faith activates in us.  God's action in our lives becomes real.  We have an Epiphany and the gift we receive is this:  that in all circumstances of (our) life God opens up the possibility of a change of fortune.

After years in exile in Babylon, used to their daily routine in captivity, Jeremiah the prophet comes along and says 

See I am going to bring them . . . gather them . . . among them the lame, blind, those with child and in labor, a great company . . . home.   
 
God is always doing something good and holy in our lives if we can open to it, be willing to do something different, let our ordinary way of thinking about our lives (exiled from God's Spirit) change into something extraordinary! We get off the duff of our pride and be willing to move, be led by something, Someone, to the possibility of a change of fortune.  As St. Paul puts in in Ephesians:    As you come to know him.  I.e., live with the "possibilities" God can place before you.

This is precisely what Joseph did.  He could have stayed right where he was.  Take his chances.  Stay in familiar territory with Mary and the Child.  But instead, opening to invitation and inspiration, he fled with them to Egypt.  They would be safe there, until further notice.  God is always acting in the world.  God knows us intimately, better than we know ourselves.  God will continue to guide and lead us to new possibilities.  After stepping out from our "infallible" patterns of living as good people, doing good, we will look back and see that God, who always has loved us no matter what, has led us to the deepest Joy.

Now, as our Epiphany life evolves (open to the possibility of change of fortune) there will be times of disorientation, even a faith crisis.  Crossing the Sinai desert to get to Egypt is not easy.  Returning to Jerusalem and wondering how you'll find your family home and life there is not easy.  You keep going.  You trust what God may be doing with you. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.  When you've been in darkness (without a sense, or not allowing a sense of God's guidance) suddenly coming into the light is blinding.  You have to part your fingers a little at a time.  This is normal.  God understands and compensates for this.  You're moving and God is in control.  For example, the three Magi, instead of returning to give an account of their experience to Herod, are led to go home by another way.  God thinks and leads in everything if we let God help us.

What's a good theme song for our Epiphany journey?  How about "Do you hear what I hear?"

Said the night wind to the little lamb, do you see what I see
Way up in the sky, little lamb, do you see what I see
A star, a star, dancing in the night With a tail as big as a kite With a tail as big as a kite
Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy,do you hear what I hear
Ringing through the sky, shepherd boy, do you hear what I hear
A song, a song, high above the trees With a voice as big as the sea With a voice as big as the sea
Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king, do you know what I know In your palace warm, mighty king, do you know what I know:  A Child, a Child shivers in the cold Let us bring Him silver and gold Let us bring Him silver and gold
Said the king to the people everywhere, listen to what I say Pray for peace, people everywhere! listen to what I say
The Child, the Child, sleeping in the night He will bring us goodness and light  He will bring us goodness and light
Live Epiphany.  Live the possibility of a change of fortune in your life and in the life of others.  Most of all, with God's grace, be an Epiphany to others.  

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 EVERYONE