Monday, August 29, 2016

"TRADITIONAL FAMILY" APPROVAL OF OTHERS: "Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."

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Who's Watching Who

My former parish in Tucson was located on a very busy street where thousands of cars passed every day.  The parish had what we called a "prophetic sign," about 6 x 8 feet facing that street.  Everyone passing by could see its message, but the message was one that was meant to also challenge our parishioners to live the Gospel.  The messages over the years were "It's a Sin to build a nuclear bomb," "Jesus was a refugee," "Either we are all God's children or no one is," "Cancel the debt of the poorest nations," "Overcome evil with Good," and currently the sign is focusing on the immigration issue:  "Welcome the Stranger."

Now, as I said, all of these prophetic messages were derived from our listening to Jesus in the Gospels.  The messages "bubbled up" from the church community and then the Rector of the parish made the final decision of what would be put on the sign.  If there is a common thread running through all the messages it would be that all the peoples of the earth make up one human family brought into being by our Father in heaven.  Jesus has revealed the Father to us, others might believe another revelation, but as followers of Jesus we can still see and accept everyone as our brothers and sisters.  Maybe someday everyone may realize this, but for us it is now.

One human family.  There has been a lot of talk these many years about "traditional family values" especially in the political arena.  Candidates, usually Christian, standing up for "traditional family values" often times win their elections.  But sometimes, followers of Jesus have a hard time with this kind of rhetoric about "family values."  Why is this?  It's probably because, deep down, we feel that so-called "traditional family values" exclude certain people, who don't make the cut, so to speak, and can't really belong to the family.  When you talk family, you can't exclude anyone, especially if you see God as Father of the human family!
You see, there is a gnawing sense, when you speak about "traditional family values," which sounds so wonderful, that some aren't included in the "family" they're talking about.  Excluded are those from other cultures who hold different values than the more dominant cultures we belong to, those who are judged to be outside a "traditional" mold, and/or who are different or judged morally dificient in some way.  Traditional family values can't deal with any sort of "strangeness."

Speaking of strangeness - The theme of welcoming the stranger is found throughout the bible and underlined today in our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews:

Let mutual love continue.  Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

This is part of the concluding verses of the Letter written to Jewish converts to Christianity, some of whom were frightened by growing persecution and the need to throw in their lot with strangers.  For them, their "traditional" family values were challenged to the limit.  They had to be reminded to love each other, excluding no one, and accept others/strangers as real brothers and sisters.  Following Jesus required a lot from them.  It's the same for us.  Jesus forces us to challenge our deeply held "traditional family values," with a much broader vision of the world.

This vision includes the willingness, for example, at a dinner party, to take "the last place" and be content, until we are "called up higher" by the host.  In "traditional family values," everyone kind of "knows" where certain people should sit.  The Pharisees of Jesus' day were the safe keepers of traditional "family" values.  They were always inviting Jesus into situations to see if he upheld their values, and, if he would uphold their same well-reasoned exclusions.  Jesus didn't.

Jesus saw how people tried to receive "glory" from the approval of others.  In the New Testament "glory" (doxa) in its root sense meant a person's reputation.  In a worldly sense we get our "glory," reputation, and recognition from others.  I like you and I like what you're doing.  Sounds good, and we like it, but Jesus offered an alternative way of receiving our "glory" and recognition:  from God.  Not from humans with their mutually reinforcing opinions of us, but from God, who by the way, actually has a bad reputation, being counted, in Jesus' case, with the "transgressors."  To really receive true "glory" you have to be prepared to lose the approval of others, not playing the victim, but being the victim!

So who is watching who?  The Pharisees think they are watching Jesus for some slip up, but at that dinner party, it is really Jesus watching them!  He witnesses the struggle of the guests to gain the approval and attention of others.  But, as he says, Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.  The Pharisees upheld the laws and rule of purity, based on ancient laws requiring sacrifice, and Jesus required that only one person be a victim, himself.  Jesus upheld only one rule:  the rule of love and compassion.

Jesus spoke of being in the world and not of the world.  The Good News Jesus brought frees us.  We can get our "I" from God and not the world and its opinions of us.  Jesus, counter to what many think, is suspect of what are called "traditional family values" unless everyone is included in the family.  Jesus, as we heard last week in the Gospel, came not to bring peace (as the world gives), but division (so the human family can reunite).  Jesus' way is true peace for us, living without fear of loss of reputation (doxa), seeing/treating everyone as a real brother or sister.  We've chosen to follow Jesus!  

St. Alban
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, August 22, 2016

GOD RESTED ON THE SABBATH BUT NEVER STOPPED CARING FOR PEOPLE ON ANY DAY: ".. people and their needs matter anytime, anywhere." John+

Ask me about Jesus Rectangle Sticker
Of Bumper Stickers and Praise
I love to read bumper stickers.  There was one I read not long ago in the States that stated:  

Jesus is coming back soon and he's gonna be mad!  When Jesus returns (soon a la the Book of Revelation), he will bring judgement upon individuals whose behavior is sinful and condemned in the bible.  They are fairly easily identified by their fellow religionists, Jesus knows who they are, and when he returns they will receive God's wrath.  John+   
This is pretty common view of many christians, and other religions in their own terms, share this view as well:  God is coming to judge individuals accused by some religionists of behaving in a way that has made them out of favor with God.
Like the woman in the Gospel today.  He has been hunched over for 18 years.  Her physical affliction was proof to the leaders of the synagogue that she had fallen out of God's favor morally.  But the Gospel says what caused her affliction was a "spirit."  Was she possessed by an evil spirit or did the "spirit" have another source?  Could it be the "spirit" came from people around her all her life, supported by their religious leaders, that pointed the finger at her, speaking evil about her, and burdening her with a yoke of constant accusation.  (Not possession by the devil, but a human spirit influenced by Satan)   No wonder she couldn't stand up straight!

I imagine Jesus was well-versed in the prophecy of Isaiah we just heard, speaking to some very religious people:

If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.

When Jesus was teaching in that synagogue and saw a woman come in all hunched over, he took action.  Jesus called her over and freed her.  She stood up straight for the first time in 18 years and began praising God!  For her, praising God was a natural thing to do.  She had probably been talking to God about her situation for years and her prayers were answered.  She could go about in her world as a regular human being with respect and dignity.  Praise God!
Jesus, of course, was criticized for doing what he did.  It was the Sabbath and no work was to be done on the Sabbath- it was a day of rest.  But the ones critical of Jesus didn't really understand the Sabbath:  

God rested on the Sabbath, yes, as the Creation story goes, but never for a nano second did God stop caring for people, especially those most in need of mercy, Sabbath or any other day.  Jesus did many healings on the Sabbath, probably to make this very point: 

...people and their needs matter anytime, anywhere.

Jesus, angry at his critics, calls them hypocrites.  They had so codified the Sabbath regulations to even include the tying or untying of knots that bound their animals.  The rules allowed them to untie a knot or two and lead an animal to water, but would let them unbind an afflicted human being.  They spent a lot of time doing godly things, but they were godless in their heart.  This was the source of Jesus' anger.

Jesus brought a huge shift in outlook:  don't worry so much about what God is going to do to the ones you think are evil (wrath of an angry God, apocalyptic view), worry about satanic human violence done to other human beings (human wrath, eschatological view).  

Make the Sabbath day a day of delight.  Don't think about yourself, think about others.  Make it a day for the healing of creation!  Stand up and praise God!

St. Alban
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, August 15, 2016

JESUS OFFERS US A WAY TO TRUE PEACE: "He eliminates the us-them mentality and introduces the world to his Father, revealing everyone as brothers and sisters in one human family..." John+

Pick Your Peace

One of my favorite TV shows growing up was "I Love Lucy."  The show revolved around a couple, Ricki and Lucy Ricardo, and their neighbors, Fred and Ethel Mertz.  Ricki was a Cuban-born band leader and Lucy was his loving wife.  Ricki was famous and always was in the spotlight.  Lucy wanted to share some of spotlight with Ricki so she would cook up various ways to get on the show and invariably mess things up.  When he got home he would be furious with Lucy and always say with his thick Cuban accent "Lucy, you've got a lot of "splaining" to do!"

I thought of this "splaining" when I read the Gospel for this week:
I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!  I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!  Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division!

Is this permission for Christians to act in "sacred violence" against evil.  Some Christians think so.  But one of the key themes of the Gospel I've been sharing for some time now is that God (and Jesus) never sanctions violence of any kind, or the taking of God-given human life, and that the "wrath" of God is always of human origin, projected on God, who is "on our side."  As human beings we have evolved to an "us-them" way of looking at everything and sought peace by eliminating the "them" that cause our fear, disturbs our way of life, individually, or, writ large, threatens our "national" interests or security.

So how do we "splain" Jesus words today:  Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No . . . rather division!  Doesn't this uphold the us-them vision that I've been talking about which, I believe,  is so far from the will of God?  And, to make things more complicated, Luke's word "division" is a replacement for the earlier parallel text of Mathew which uses the word "sword."  Mathew's Jesus says:  Don't think I have come to bring peace to the earth, but rather a "sword."

One of Jesus' most loved titles is "Prince of Peace," but, reading these texts, he seems like anything but a Prince of Peace.  How can we "splain" these texts of Luke and Matthew?  Think of other texts.  Like when they went to arrest Jesus in the garden and Peter slashed at the Chief Priest's guard, Jesus told him "Put away the sword.  Those who live by the sword will die by the sword."  And how about the text from John "Peace I give to you.  My peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives peace, do I give to you."

These seem like direct contradictions:  I've come not to bring peace, but division on earth, and my peace I give to you, my peace I leave with you.
To resolve these contradictions it's important to remember that Jesus talks about his way to peace by forgiveness and love and the world's way to peace that requires the suffering and death of some in order to achieve peace and prosperity for the many.  The world seeks to achieve peace by maintaining a strong "us" over against a weaker "them."  Jesus comes among us and offers us a different way to true peace.  He eliminates the us-them mentality and introduces the world to his Father, revealing everyone as brothers and sisters in one human family.  If the world accepts Jesus' way it will find a true and lasting peace, if it refuses Jesus' way, then, and this is what I think Jesus is saying, it will continue to use the sword and experience division,  even at the most basic familial level:  father against son and mother against daughter, and so forth.  Refusal to love and forgive leaves us to our own devices, always having to find someone to blame and scapegoat, put our sin on, and drive away to experience a false and temporary peace.

The Gospel ends with a description of our situation:

You hypocrites!  You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

Violence, lack of salvation where it counts:  here on this earth.  We must pick our peace.  If we find we've been living ans supporting the world's vision of peace, then we must extricate ourselves from this vision and choose Jesus' way to peace, knowing for a while it might cause division.  Where is the Good News in all this?  Maybe it's this:  Right now, if we choose to love and forgive, refuse to live in the category of us vs. them, and refuse to participate in a culture that exalts death over life, we will, yes, with suffering for a time, experience new Life.  And we will be part of God's Kingdom where no one is forgotten or required to suffer for the "peace" of the strong and powerful.  Jesus Christ on the Cross has made this possible and revealed the way of the world.  Jesus has made what's seemingly impossible true peace, absolutely possible.
Every time we gather at the Holy Eucharist, the open table fellowship we  experience reinforces our choice of Jesus' way to true and lasting peace and the last days of violence.  The eucharist is a pledge of God's faithfulness and love to create and accomplish this true peace we desire. 
(emphasis added/lr) 

St. Alban
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, August 8, 2016

FAITH AND TREASURE: "..Each person is asked to think about where their treasure is and what they really treasure in life." John+

"Faith and Treasure"
After twenty one years in the Coast Guard, a short stint working for The Boeing Aircraft Company, my dad became a mail man. He loved walking his mail route and meeting his customers along the way. I think he was well liked and occasionally he would receive a present or two. When he got home he would show my mom and me what he got. One time is was a new translation of the New Testament called "Good News for Modern Man." It was really neat, with cartoon-like drawings throughout, and it was easy to read. My dad, who went to church every Sunday with my mom and me, knew all the bible stories, but he really didn't "read" the bible, so guess what, he gave it to me.

I treasured that New Testament. I got a hi-lighter and started to mark my favorite texts. One of the first ones I hi-lighted was the line that begins our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews today:

Now faith is the assurance if things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Wow! This was the first definition of faith that I had ever heard. It made sense to me. Faith was living day to day prayfully with the assurance of the things Jesus promised me and living with this conviction even when I don't see the road ahead clearly. We can trust completely and loving God and believing God loves us is enough.

We're going to be reading from the Letter to the Hebrews for a few weeks so it might be good to understand the context of this Letter, or, as it might be, a long sermon. It was written to the first converts or followers of Jesus, almost all Jews. Their hearts had been opened to Jesus' message of love and mercy and to a whole new relationship with God as a loving Father. As they moved away from the synagogue they began to experience real persecution for their new, expanded beliefs. As practising Jews they had been outsiders, but now as followers of Jesus, they were on the outside. For the first time they feared for their lives and considered going back to the synagogue. Many of those who didn't go back were led to their deaths and were told:

Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. They couldn't see the Risen Jesus, but they clung to the assurances they were given with courageous conviction.

The whole Letter to the Hebrews seeks to build up the faith of those who came to believe in Jesus and can help us in our own trials that we go through today. Abraham in our Genesis reading today had to trust God completely. It was not easy to leave his own country and go where God was sending him. He and Sarah were way beyond child bearing age, and when God promised to make him the father of a multitude, he had to dig down deep to trust God's promise with conviction.
With this understanding in mind, I'm always eager to read the Gospel and see what Jesus is saying to his disciples, the crowds, and by extension, to all of us:

Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give alms. Make purses for yourself that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

This last part of the verse I underlined as well: 

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. These words come here in Luke's Gospel, and the same words are in Matthew's Gospel in the Sermon on the Mount. There is only one difference in the Greek text: the word "your." In Matthew's Gospel the "your" is singular and in Luke's Gospel it is plural. I love these little differences. It shows how each writer uses the saying of Jesus in different contexts. The singular use in the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus addressing each individual present. Each person is asked to think about where their treasure is and what they really treasure in life. What do they think about Jesus who is speaking to them? Will Jesus be their treasure or not?
Luke's use of the plural of "y'all" is more political. Where's y'alls treasure? What do value in y'alls society? Are y'all taking care of each other? Are y'all with more of the world's goods sharing with those who don't have the basic necessities? Are y'all just saving more for yourselves and building bigger barns for all your stuff like the guy I told you about before?

Where's y'alls treasure? In the early church, as in some places even today, deacons (the early Roman church had seven deacons) were in charge of the church's assets and treasure. In the early times, rumors started that the church (because believers did sell their possessions and gave them to the church) was very rich and had a lot of gold, etc. The Roman Emperor, Valerian, I think, demanded that Lawrence, the Deacon of Rome, bring him all the church's treasure. Valerian couldn't wait to see what he would get. Finally Lawrence arrived and the palace doors were opened. Valerian was expecting carts of gold and other valuables, but instead, surrounding Lawrence was a huge crowd of Rome's poorest citizens, quite a rag tag bunch. "Explain yourself," the Emperor demanded of Lawrence. Lawrence, looking around him, simply said: "Emperor, these are the treasures of the church."

As we listen to Jesus in the Gospel, he is always trying to perform heart operations on us. Where is our treasure? Lawrence got it right. Many don't want to hear the Gospel, it's too hard and challenges our values and the convictions we develop "talking to ourselves" and hardly ever, "talk to God" except in crisis, or when we want something from God real bad. If we move in the Lawrence's direction, treasuring the poor all around us, we'll have treasure in heaven, right here on earth!

(That "Good News for Modern Man" was the first New Testament I ever had (we had a huge family bible of course, but it was so heavy and hard to read, it mostly collected dust). I think my dad thought that I would make use of it. It probably was instrumental in my call to be a priest. That paperback New Testament was a treasure that pointed the way to where true treasure is found!
(emphasis added/lr)
St. Alban
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, August 1, 2016

"Looking out for Number One" : Life in dialogue with self or Life in dialogue with God? John+

Confession of a Workaholic
(Years ago, I was asked to give a bible study on one of the Wisdom books of the Hebrew Bible.  I chose the book of Ecclesiastes, or Qoheleth in Hebrew.  The word means "Teacher" or "Preacher."  The book sums up the thoughts of a King (retired?), probably delivered to a group of young men, with the thought of passing on life wisdom to them.  He basically tells them that so much of their life will be striving after power, wealth, and control and that all of this is vanity.  I borrowed the title for the study and this sermon from an article in a scripture journal.)  John+

While Terri and I were in Costa Rica for a few days this week, we managed to watch all the prime-time speeches of the Democratic Convention.  When Barack Obama gave his speech, I found myself thinking of the words of "The Preacher," Ecclesiastes, when he says:

I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after the wind.  I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me-- and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish?  Yet they will be the master of all which I have toiled and use my wisdom under the sun.  This also is vanity.

Now, President Obama, would never say this openly, but I think the thought probably crossed his mind:  

I'm leaving all my work and worry to Hillary or Donald, and what if Donald is elected?  Everything I've accomplished will have been in vane!

This is what the holy writer is getting at:  

a person works so hard, for so long, accumulating power and money and control, and in the end has to leave it in the hands of others!  All this striving is vanity and a puff of wind.

St. Paul is on the same wavelength and puts it another way:

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with God.  When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

What is this all about?  Life is full of things to do, places to see, people to interact with.  God knows this.  But God also calls us, as we talked about recently, to dialogue or prayer while we live our lives and not just talk to ourselves.  This is the problem of the rich man in the Gospel today.  He is in dialogue only with himself, "Looking out for Number One," as the book title says.  He even addresses himself as pysche or Soul.  God, the source of all blessing, is not present to the man's psychological awareness. 
I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry."

The rich man has pulled down some very serviceable barns and built bigger ones to store all his goods.  But just when he thinks he has it all made in the shade, the God he doesn't really know, or care to know, calls out to him:

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You Fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you.  And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?

Unfortunately, only death will snap this fellow out of his complacency and self-delusion.  The rich man has many treasures, but they will all pass away and be given to others.  He is not rich toward God which is the only treasure that lasts and Who is ultimately in control.

Today's scripture message builds on the teaching of last week on prayer:

  Prayer is nothing more than frequent solitary converse with One who we know loves us.  (St. Teresa of Avila)  The rich man talked only to himself (which is unfortunately the case for most people) and shunned dialogue with the Creator who brought him into being and blessed him with the abundance he enjoyed.  What good if he had everything only to leave it all in death?  He wanted to create his own Paradise, but Paradise is experiencing an inner dialogue with God now that lasts forever.  This is our life "hidden with God" as Paul puts it, content with our daily bread.

So it comes down to this:  

Life in dialogue with self or Life in dialogue with God?  

Working and worrying our tails off to have an abundance or gratefully enjoying the abundance God has already given us and sharing with others?  Do we want to live in a state of almost constant vexation or experience Paradise here and now, accepting the Good News of Jesus Christ? (emphasis added/lr)

St. Alban
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)