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Monday, February 29, 2016

GIVE UP THE NEED TO CREATE OTHER VICTIMS: "It's Lent. The only thing that can and will break our romance with death is the Cross." The Reverend John Smith

Moment of impact: the south tower is hit

S--- Happens

As Jesus makes his way to Jerusalem from Galilee, people want to give the Jesus the latest news and it is not good:  The Romans (Pontius Pilate) have been mixing the blood of Galileans in their sacrifices.  Jesus' comeback counters the moral implications behind the report.  Those who suffer are guilty of some offense.  But Jesus tells them, the Galileans who suffered and were murdered by the Romans were no greater sinners than the Galileans who didn't suffer that fate.  Jesus knew that when bad things happen people seek a moral explanation- someone must be blamed and put at fault:  Sinful people, Pilate, someone.

So Jesus brings up the collapse of the tower of Siloam where 18 people died.  (This sounds like the recent collapse of the building in Taiwan from poor building methods.) Jesus doesn't try to put the blame on anyone-- like the bumper sticker:  S--- Happens.  Do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.

The repentance Jesus is speaking about has to do with their and our thinking about death.  Human culture is fascinated with death.  Death must be avoided at all costs.  This way of thinking about death, the emotion and fear it generates in us, cause us to do things that just brings about more death and destruction.

Terri and I recently watched a movie on Netflix called the "World Trade Towers."  The scenes in the movie were full of death and destruction:  so many workers in the towers going about their daily tasks trapped by the attack and so many heroic first responders trying to get people out of the towers as quickly as  possible, but getting trapped themselves.  There was a time when it was too dangerous for the rescue effort to continue.  A US Marine decided to go to New York to help in the effort.  No one looks better than a sharp-looking Marine in battle fatigues.  When the search for survivors is called off for being too dangerous, this brave Marine walks through the barriers and continues the search for survivors.  A few others join him.  The Marine's efforts are rewarded when he finds two Port Authority police officers trapped still alive.  The audience is filled with relief and pride as the officers are extricated from the ruble and reunited with their waiting families.

The most significant scene in the movie for me was when the camera was directed on the Marine again after the rescue.  He says to the camera:  We will avenge all this.  The film ends with pictures of the surviving officers with their families and what they did after 9/11 (retired) and when it comes to the Marine it said that he did two tours of service in the Iraq war.  Ironically of course, avenging 9/11 by attacking Iraq (no Iraqis flew the planes into the towers, but Saudi nationals) brought about the deaths of over 350,000 mostly innocent people and the number continues to increase in the war's aftermath and spread.

Where our human culture sees death, death, and more death and requires death to be avenged, Jesus sees only life, life, and more life.  When we say:  Look how many have died, what are we going to do about it?  Jesus don't you care- help us get even!  If you can't do something about terrorism, we will do something about it in your Name!

We can't say it out loud, but Jesus scandalizes and disappoints us.  Death and violence is all around us and Jesus doesn't seem to care.  Why is this?  Jesus knows our fascination with death doesn't come from him- in the Resurrection Jesus conquered death once for all- he lives still.  The fascination and all desire to avenge death come through the enemy of life- Satan.  When we see death- Jesus sees only life.  What is most important for Jesus and where he puts his emphasis and teaching is on our reaction to events.  He offers us a change of desire away from revenge for death and tragedy to mercy, forgivenss, and love.  Jesus came to take away our romantic fascination with death and instead show us how to live.  We are caught up not in what others think or their calls for revenge, instead finding our identity in following Jesus' path to life.  If we are going to boast, we boast in the Lord.

It's Lent.  The only thing that can and will break our romance with death is the Cross.  Jesus becomes a victim of our human culture, enamored with death, so that we might give up the need to create other victims.  We find ourselves like the fig tree in the Gospel.  It's not bearing fruit as it should.  The owner of the tree wants it to be cut down.  But Jesus is the gardener who pleads for more time.  Let me dig around it, fertilize it, give me a year to see if it will bear fruit (remembering that a thousand years in God's time is a day). 

Some people see God more like the owner of the tree.  If there's no fruit- cut it down.  Sadly, some Christians believe in that kind of God.
  
Jesus, the perfect revelation of the Father and interpreter of the Scriptures, is different.  He pleads for more time for us to bear fruit and learn to live free from the fear of death.  Every time we gather as a community for the Eucharist, the Risen, ever-living Jesus, is in our midst leading us away from death to Life.  Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again! 

Amen!

  

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)

Monday, February 22, 2016

THE WORK OF SATAN? ¨Thousands forced to flee from their homes caused by the *Powers of this world* destroying everything in their way for their own ends.¨ The Rev. John Smith.

The Fox and the Hen
One of the tools that a follower of Jesus needs to have in his or her tool box is the ability to discern spirits.  This is a very practical gift of the Holy Spirit given to each of us at baptism.  But this gift needs to be nourished with prayer and reflection and put into practice.  Almost everything that happens in the world about us in our day (and really in the past and in into the future) has a spirit that can be discerned.  The Holy Spirit, for example, never "scatters" anyone.  When people are scattered from war, famine, or other distress, the cause is never the Holy Spirit.  Where people are gathered, received, and welcomed in love and generosity, most likely the Spirit is there, and not just in Christian circles only, because the Holy Spirit of God "blows" or operates where it wills.
We discern this "gathering" happening in the scriptures appointed for today.  God promised Abraham to be the father of a multitude, but Abraham didn't think it could happen, because he didn't have a proper heir.  God would provide an heir.  Abraham had to trust God.  God took Abraham outside to look at the stars:  your descendants will be like those stars.  And he believed the Lord.  Thus, the "gathering" of a people for God took place.

Paul writes to the Philippians:

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.  For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears.  Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is their shame.

Here we see the discernment between "gathering," or a joining with, a work of the Spirit of Christ, and a "scattering" due to destruction, "belly" greed, and shameful vainglory.  Do you discern these movements in our world today?  I do.  I.e. Thousands forced to flee from their homes caused by the "Powers of this world," destroying everything in their way for their own ends.  This was a common experience of people when the armies of Rome conquered and divided the people in their path.  This is the work of Satan, operating hidden in the bowels of human culture, creating victims in order to bring about "peace."

We forget, when it suits us, how connected we all are.  I learned this week about an Aspen forest in Utah.  This forest is made up of 47,000 Aspen trees that are very much alike and they have discovered that they all come from "one" single root system.  In the same way, as human beings created by God, we appear to each other as individuals, but God knows, we are much more interconnected than we think.

This interconnectedness is what Jesus knew in his day and what I'm sure he knows in our day as well.  In the Gospel today, Jesus is heading to Jerusalem slowly and deliberately  His disciples want him to go in another direction because they have heard  Herod wants to kill him.  He calls Herod a "fox," because he scatters the "chicks," or the children of God.  And then, in one of the most beautiful feminine images in the scriptures, Jesus calls himself a "hen."

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

Jesus laments because he is unable to protect those he loves because they choose to continue in their victimizing ways.  All Jesus can do is open his arms to all who will gather with him.  This is the work of the Holy Spirit:  gathering, never scattering.  In John 11 Jesus says I have come to gather into one the scattered children of God.  This "gathering" is what Jesus and the Holy Spirit are about.  This is a most important way of discernment then and now.  Bridges to help gather or walls to divide.

But, we might object, Herod, and others like him, down through time do some "gathering" too.  The old way of gathering before Jesus was by uniting people against common enemies, by sacrificing some for the good of others, by finding scapegoats to be blamed, scattered, and gotten rid of, leaving the "good" people in peace.  But the peace doesn't last for long.  That's why Jesus taught a new way to gathering people together, a non-sacrificial, non-victimizing way.  Not by expelling the ones we don't want to gather with, but by forgiving them.  Where you see this going on, you see the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Most people hoped for Jesus to be the Lion of Judah that the prophets said would come.  To their great disappointment, Jesus describes himself as a "hen."  This didn't inspire great confidence in his followers, the "chicks."  But Jesus is saying that if a fox like Herod wants to kill the baby chicks, he will have to kill himself, the hen, first.  Jesus will allow himself to be the Victim so others need not be victimized.  All the gods of Rome and the peoples fostered and inspired the victimization of others.  Jesus and his Father and the Holy Spirit come down are completely different.  Thank God for this!  This is Good News!  

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 

(everyone means everyone)

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

GOD WANTS ONLY OUR LOVE FOR ONE ANOTHER: ¨We are called to live out the faith of Christ toward everyone- especially the ones called our enemies.¨ The Rev. John Smith

Who is Savior?

This week, on Ash Wednesday, we began a forty day journey to Easter (40, because Sundays don't count as fast days).  It's a special time in our year to focus on our life of prayer, how we share with others what we've given by God, and how we can better control our appetites rather than be controlled by them.  The forty days mirror the forty days that Jesus spent in the desert tempted by Satan to either be faithful to his purpose on earth or not.  So Lent for us can be a similar time to reflect on our lives and confront the many temptations that seek to turn us away or neutralize our following of Jesus, the ashes reminding us of our mortality and the fact that we can practices faithfulness for a limited time.

The key Lenten word is "repent."  The word comes from the Greek word metanoia meaning change (meta) of mind (nous).  When the call is made to "Repent" it's all about looking at our thought processes that govern our actions and changing our ways to bring them into conformity with the Gospel.  On Ash Wednesday 8 of the St. Alban community received ashes at La Merced.  We got in line to receive our ashes from a lay minister who imposed ashes on each of us saying:  Repent and believe in the Gospel!

Last week I talked about two important questions:  Why did Jesus die? and Why did Jesus live?  Most of us could answer the first question:  Jesus died to save us from our sins and allow us to go to heaven when we die.  This is not a hard one to answer.  The second question "Why did Jesus live?" is more difficult.  The answer to this question is more communal, less individualistic, in nature:  Jesus lived to show us how to live with all of our brothers and sisters in this world in such a way that God's kingdom of love, peace, mercy, and justice can come "on earth as it is in heaven."

The scriptures today lead us to another important question:  What is more important- What we do or what we believe?  For sure, since the Protestant Reformation at least, the importance has been put on right belief or orthodoxy.  As the reformers tried to define themselves apart from the Catholic church the emphasis was put on belief or faith over works.  Faith in Christ gets you to heaven, not works or prayers that gain indulgences from God, etc.
  
It all comes down to a decision. a wonderful decision really, Do you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior?  We make this decision every time we renew our baptismal promises.  But it sets up a divide between those who make this decision, profess this belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior, and all those who haven't, or make it in a different religious context.

If we say what we believe is more important than what we do (how we live), and that faith in Christ is the doorway to salvation, very subtly, it is like we've the savior.  I said it, so I'm saved.  You didn't say it, so sorry, you're not saved.  Everything revolves around the decision an individual make.  If they make it, they are saved.  Who's the Savior here?  If it depends on my decision, I save myself.  I'm the savior.  That why it perhaps better to change (as it can be in the original language) it to the "Faith of Christ."  In other words, when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we are baptized into the faith of Christ.  Jesus is the Savior of all humankind.  We are faithful witnesses to Jesus.  Jesus was faithful to vocation his Father gave him (that's what the temptations in the desert are all about!), and when the Risen Jesus returned to the Father, he sent us a helper, the Holy Spirit, to enable us to live a new life.  Jesus is the only Savior and his salvation is offered to everyone, based more on what they do and how they live with their sisters and brothers in this world, and not upon their "correct" belief.

What this means, and what Lent allows us to do, is change our way of thinking about those who believe differently than we do.  It opens up the whole world to the love of Jesus through us his followers.  We don't want any of our brothers and sisters to be hurt or killed.  All are God's children.  We are called to live out the faith of Christ toward everyone- especially the ones called our enemies.  God wants only our love for one another:  See how those Christians love one another.

Satan wants something else for us.  We can have power, popularity, and privilege if we serve Satan.  This was Jesus' temptation and is ours as well:  to be deflected from our vocation as God's sons and daughters.  Satan loves it when we make our own personal faith more important than the faith of Christ.  Satan (not the power of an individual or super human, but a power rooted in human communal life that attempts to divide and conquer) loves it when we refuse to bring the first fruits of our life and labor to be used for God's purposes in the world and instead hold on to it tightly for ourselves.

So how do we hear today's scripture from St. Paul?

 The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart. (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.

So you might think that this beautiful passage is calling for:  a personal decision for Christ.  But remember the context of this testimony that "Jesus is Lord."  This was a confession in front of those persecuting and putting believers in Jesus to death,  Christians refused to confess, as all were required to, Caesar as Lord.  When the lions or the sword awaited you, you had to hold firmly to your belief that God raised Jesus from the dead and would do the same for you.  God, in Jesus, was the only Savior of the world, not Caesar Augustus.

Isn't it true that when we think of Lent we think of giving something up:  desserts, liquor, chocolate, etc.  "I'm going to lose 15 pounds."  But do we see how self-centered and individualistic this is?  Maybe instead of "giving up something," we "take on something."  We can take on something or share something on behalf of others that is faithful to our call as baptized believers of Jesus Christ.  We can tell the Gospel Story of Jesus as "a word of faith on our lips" in practice!  

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 

(everyone means everyone)
 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

A CHANGING CULTURE: ¨What about God?¨

Opinon!

THE EVERYDAY WORLD IN THE AMERICAS IS CHANGING 

(much like U.S. America is changing, thanks Elizabeth Kaeton+
http://howwegather.org/


¨Among millennials, who are loosely defined as those aged 18-34 in 2015, only the elders remember life
before the internet.7 We were all under 21 when the Twin Towers went down in 2001, and we came

of age through the Great Recession and bank bailouts of 2008. Whereas our older siblings distrust
big institutions, millennials assume that the model must change or die. Whereas our parents bucked
authority, millennials assume that impractical idealism is just as disappointing. And whereas our
grandparents pursued the American Dream, millennials assume that success is more like Choose Your
Own Adventure.


These generalities are crude and rife with exceptions, but they set the stage for some assumptions made
by organizational leaders in this report. For instance, they assume that for institutions to work, they must
become values-led, sustainable networks; that for idealism to work, it must yield measurable and scalable
results; that for success to work, it must affect some kind of transformation, beginning with the inner life
of the individual and radiating out to touch the world.
What does it mean to touch the world in 2015? This is a moment when Brené Brown’s TED Talks
on vulnerability and Taylor Swift’s random acts of kindness go viral. It’s a moment when virtual
interconnectivity is more immediate than the ‘real’ world, so that an American millennial feels more
comfortable setting up a Kiva loan to a farmer in Kenya than bringing chicken soup to a neighbor.
Is it possible to harness these new tools of global engagement to deepen our everyday experience of
community as well?


The innovators in our report say yes, not just possible, but necessary. They speak to millennials as
friends, offering positive and practical advice through clean and personable websites. They encourage
an ethos of care for self and others and a mindset of abundance. They argue, explicitly or implicitly, that
each person is a change maker with the opportunity—if not the responsibility—to make change for the
better. And making change means making connection, both broadly in the world and deeply at home.

Overwhelmingly, these organizations use secular language while mirroring many of the functions
fulfilled by religious community. Examples include fellowship, personal reflection, pilgrimage, aesthetic
discipline, liturgy, confession, and worship. Toge
ther, these groups encourage friendship, promoteoge

neighborhood welfare, and spread messages for the betterment of individuals and society
This analysis may be uncomfortable for some of the organizations mapped in this study. Many leaders
are resistant to any public use of spiritual or religious language about their work, even when those
words are important for them personally and are used by their constituents. We invite them to consider
themselves as part of an exciting cultural shift.
Whether it is the November Project running stadium steps
or the Harry Potter Alliance campaigning for Fair Trade chocolate, these organizations are making life
more meaningful for young people. By examining their work through the themes outlined here, we hope
to open a conversation about how such disparate groups might come together to contribute to the wellbeing
and spiritual growth of the rising generation.¨


(color emphasis added by Leonardo Ricardo)

please read it all:

America is changing.

Millennials are less religiously affiliated than ever before. Churches are just one of many institutional
casualties of the internet age in which young people are both more globally connected and more locally
isolated than ever before.
Against this bleak backdrop, a hopeful landscape is emerging. Millennials are flocking to a host of new
organizations that deepen community in ways that are powerful, surprising, and perhaps even religious.
After two years of noticing this happen, we’re sharing our findings in order to start a conversation.
Primarily, we’re speaking to three groups of people:


● Those leading the organizations mentioned in this report and others like them
● Those interested in supporting such organizations and their growth
● Those interested in America’s changing religious landscape


There are dozens of organizations from which we could choose to illustrate what’s happening. We’ve
chosen ten. Each epitomizes a combination of six themes that we see again and again:

Executive Summary

Community Personal
transformation


Social
transformation


Purpose
finding


Creativity Accountability

These organizations have a shared ethos. To try to understand it, we map out their ancestry, sibling
projects, and cousins in corporate America. Lastly, because we care about the efficacy and longevity of
this work, we close the report with a few considerations for the organizations and others invested in their
success:


● Who are we serving?
● How are we leading?
● What about God?


We hope that these organizations begin to see themselves as part of a broader cultural shift toward deeper
community. By consciously coming together, we think they could form the DNA of a fruitful movement
for personal spiritual growth and social transformation. We invite you to join us in considering how
millennials are changing the way we gather.
Thank you for reading, and please let us know what you think!


Angie & Casper


http://howwegather.org/

Thanks to Elizabeth Kaeton+

Monday, February 8, 2016

LISTEN TO JESUS: ¨...let us err on the side of love, mercy, and forgiveness toward all our sisters and brothers.¨ The Rev. John Smith

Why did Jesus Live?

I can't believe that we've come to the Last Sunday of Epiphany already!  This Epiphany is four Sundays shorter than usual because of the early date of Easter this year, but the Last Sunday of Epiphany is always the same:  The account of Jesus' Transfiguration on the mountain before Peter, James, and John, who would be the "Pillars" of the early Christian communities. 
 
The Transfiguration is an "epiphany" or manifestation of who Jesus is par excellence.  The three disciples, and all of us by receiving the story, get a glimpse of the "glory" of the Lord.  When we think of seeing "glory," we imagine things shining and lots of light.  The story gives us that.  (Also the Moses story of his face "shining" coming down the mountain after meeting with God, so much so that he put a veil over his face, except when teaching the people.  The word for "shining" KRN can also be used to make the word "horn." That's why Michelangelo's famous statue of Moses has horns coming out of his head- like beams of light.)

But when it comes down to it, what is a person's "glory" if not a person's reputation:  Who the person really is from the inside out.  Whatever happened on that mountain confirmed for those disciples who Jesus really was.  "This is my Son, my Chosen; Listen to Him.  They would never forget it, even when the going got rough and his reputation was smeared and mocked by the people and the political powers turned against him.

Alongside the transfigured Jesus appear two greats:  Moses and Elijah.  For many years I thought they appeared with Jesus simply as representatives of the Old Covenant, as members of a holy fraternity, so to speak.  But in these past few years, I've been thinking that Moses and Elijah, great as they were in the role they played, weren't cut from the same cloth as Jesus.  In other words they appear with Jesus more as a contrast to Him than they are like him.  When the Voice says to the three disciples "Listen to Him," God really means it:  God wants his disciples to Listen to Jesus.  He's the One to really listen to.  He's different from Moses who in anger broke the Tablets of the Law when his people were dancing around the Golden Calf: a god of their own making, breaking the First of the Commandments.  Moses blew it and he knew it.  Remember how he wasn't able to lead the People into the Promised Land?  Joshua was given the task.  And Elijah heard the Word of the Lord, but not perfectly, when after God helped him win the fire contest with the prophets of Ba'al, he had them all put to death.  Idolatry and violence happened on their watch.
  
I couldn't believe it when one of the candidates, a professed Christian, was asked during a recent debate what he would do about ISIS.  He answered, "I would carpet bomb their cities."  When asked about all the people who would be killed, including woman and children, he shrugged his shoulders and said something like:  Too bad, it has to be done.

Jesus, whom we follow, is cut from a different cloth.  He refused to victimize others, and instead allowed himself to become a victim for the good of all men and woman, the "many," as we will pray in the Eucharistic prayer in a few minutes.

There is a "sea change" going on in Christianity today.  Most of our belief as Christians has centered around the question:  Why did Jesus die?  We know the answer to that question:  Jesus died on the Cross to save us from our sins.  His death on our behalf turned away God's anger from us.  We're forgiven and will be able to go to heaven when we die.  Jesus left us a moral compass to keep us on this track to heaven.  Morality, living righteously, figures in very heavily.  Woe to the immoral among us!

But the tide is coming in and another question, seldom focused on, is growing in importance:  Why did Jesus live?  This is the "sea change" question we are slowing beginning to ask.  Did Jesus come to foster a narrow morality, where it's easy for some to judge who are sinners and saved and who are not?  Or did Jesus, by his example, teach us to love one another and live in mercy and forgiveness with every human being, yes, even if some need more mercy and forgiveness than others? Like an old prayer:

Oh my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of your mercy.

The question "Why did Jesus die?" is important, but it tempts us to focus on our "getting to heaven" and rationalizing our own acceptable moral living, and condemning, often with violence and without mercy, those who hurt us and fall under our judgement as enemies.  This keeps the cycle of violence, which really is the sin Jesus came to save us from, the sin that put him to death, going.  This is exactly the opposite of what Jesus taught his followers.  This is why the other question "Why did Jesus live?" is even more important than ever.  For example, one of the Gospels that we usually hear during Epiphany has Jesus' teaching:

Love your enemies and do good to those who persecute you. Would Jesus condone his followers doing violence against their enemies?  You attack us and we will smash you!

When St. Paul talks about the "veil" of Moses in the context of the early Christian community in his day, he's talking about a "veil of ignorance" which is lifted when a person believes in the Lord Jesus, a faith modeled after the virtues of Christ's life.  This is what Paul means by being "in Christ," not so much a mystical state (as we've often thought), but more an "Imitatio Christi," an imitation and following of Jesus' example that will bring about the Kingdom "on earth as it is in heaven."

There are so many voices calling out to us these days.  It is so easy to get caught up with the voices of the crowds, especially when they are reacting in fear and self interest.  There are leaders in our day who claim to hear the Word of the Lord, but like Moses and Elijah, not with perfect hearing.  So the take away for me, and hopefully each of us, the Good News this Sunday of the Transfiguration, is to "Listen to Jesus."   Listen carefully to Jesus in the Gospels and discern Jesus' and the Father's will.  We too, like Moses and Elijah, will not hear perfectly, but let us err on the side of love, mercy, and forgiveness toward all our sisters and brothers.  This is why Jesus lived.  

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 

(everyone means everyone)

Monday, February 1, 2016

I AM THE LORD YOUR GOD: But what if the "god" we believe in is a god of our own making? The Rev. John Smith



Note:  If we have problems with some of the Ten Commandments, we usually can "check-off" our living of the First Commandment:  I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me.  But what if the "god" we believe in is a god of our own making?  This "god" agrees with all of our opinions and fears, judgments of who is in and who is out, who is good, who is evil, etc.  This "god" allows us to have enemies to shun or destroy and "blesses" our refusal to reconcile with those who have hurt us.  This "god of our own making" requires no faith.  This "faith" may profess belief in Jesus, but subtly ignores his example and teaching.  This is why the Gospel is so important, because it allows all of our thoughts and actions to come into its light.  This takes real faith!  John+

Enemies to Friends

Terri and I enjoy watching some popular TV programs that focus on discovering talent.  Our favorites are The Voice and  America's Got Talent.  In each of these programs, you have a panel of stars that can perceive in a particular contestant a potential for greatness that surprises the person themselves.  Week by week, as they stay in the competition, the panel and audience see the artist develop more and more.  All along this process the artist/contestant witnesses to the fact that they never thought this development possible!

God is like an impresario who sees that each one of us has what it takes to be useful to God even before we realize it ourselves!  Like young Jeremiah, who didn't believe he could articulate the message of God to his people, hears Gods words to him:

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations. 
In other words, God says to Jeremiah:  

Don't make excuses.  Go to the people where I send you.  Speak whatever I command you to speak and don't be afraid of them.  I am with you to deliver you.

Like the young contestants, God saw in Jeremiah potential  that Jeremiah never knew he was capable of of.  It's the same for us!  We spend a lot of time deploring our knowledge of God, but that's not the important thing.  What's important is that God knows us, just as we are, worts and all, and sees out potential usefulness to God in our surroundings and the world.  St. Paul agrees and puts it like this:

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.  Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I am fully known.

The only god we can know fully is the god of our own making.  This god is the god that agrees with our view of reality, our judgments upon the world and people living in it:  Who's good and who's evil.  We love this god of our own creation and are comfortable living with this god.  This god allows us to have enemies and find scapegoats to blame for the world's problems.

But worshiping at the altar of this god, whom we can see clearly, takes no real faith and makes us enemies of the true God. To believe in a God we can only now see "dimly," takes faith, trusting Jesus' revelation in the Gospel of his Father and the Holy Spirit of Love.  What is important is not that we can claim we "know" God, but that God knows us!

All of this forms a backdrop to the Gospel today from Luke chapter 4.  Last week we got the first part of the story:  

Jesus returns to his hometown and was asked to read in the Synagogue.  He is handed the scroll of Isaiah and he finds the part where it says:  the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has annointed me, to bring good news to the poor . . . etc.  So, returning to his hometown, at the very beginning of his ministry,  he uses this passage from Isaiah to outline his whole program and purpose for coming.  The people in the synagogue loved the whole presentation, but when he sat down like teachers do, with everyone's eyes fixed on him, Jesus went on:  Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.  It says the people were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.  Is not this Joseph's son?  Jesus senses some doubts arising in their minds.  They have their knowledge of God and maybe what this young rabbi is emphasizing might not jive with their understanding.  Jesus, knowing this, says "Doubtless you will quote to me the proverb:  Doctor, cure yourself."  In other words:  We don't need to be healed by you.  Heal yourself.

So Jesus breaks the tension by mentioning two of their favorites:  Elijah and Elisha.  Yes, tell us those stories!  Tell us about when Elijah murdered the prophets of Ba'al when they lost the fire contest!  But instead of the stories they wanted to hear, Jesus tells them how each of the prophets were sent by God to help and heal the lost:  people who were not the "saved" of God- a poor pagan widow and a General of an enemy army!  This is outrageous, they wouldn't stand for this any longer!  So, in the length of a church service, the people's approval of the hometown boy made good, turned to scorn and hatred.  And they got up and drove Jesus out of town, wanting to kill him by hurling him over a cliff, but the passage ends by saying "He passed through the midst of them and went on his way." Whew!

So let's wrap this up with a question:  

If Jesus came among us to die for our sins and rise from the dead, why couldn't he have been murdered there and then?  Hurled off that cliff.  God could still raise him up.  Why wait and have to go all the way to Good Friday and the Cross?  The answer to this question lies in Jesus having more time to teach and give us the example of his life.  This was necessary for the disciples and many others to become credible witnesses of Jesus' life and death and, later, his Resurrection.  When he appeared to the disciples and many others in his risen state, they knew him before when he walked, talked, taught, and healed.  They saw how he dealt mercifully with sinners and how he loved and forgave his enemies.  All of this took time to experience and witness.  It was for all of our benefit that Jesus passed through the angry crowd that day!

The Good News is that the living God in Jesus knows each of us intimately and loves us just the way we are.  Like with Jeremiah, God understands our fears, doubts, and feelings of inadequacy, but believes in our tremendous potential to be God's witnesses in the world.   We can leave behind the gods of our own making, which makes us enemies of God, and let God transform us from enemies to friends.  Jesus said to those gathered around the table, the same table that we are gathered around this morning:  

I call you friends, because I have made known to you everything I learned from my Father.  

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 

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