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Sunday, December 17, 2017

BE JOYFUL: "The Bread we break is a Sacrament of Joy. Jesus Christ is present with us right here, right now." The Reverend John Smith

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Gaudete Sunday:  The Difference between Joy and Happiness
          
Advent used to be a lot like the season of Lent.  It was a penitential time to prepare by fasting and self-sacrifice for the feast of Christ’s birth.  Advent used to be longer, actually starting on the feast of St. Martin, November 11, and last until Christmas Day.  The church shortened Advent to four weeks: the four Sundays before Christmas.  Most no longer fast during this time (just think of all the Christmas parties during these weeks), but if we are more generous in our giving to the poor and most vulnerable, then we come close to the original spirit of Advent. 
          
When the Church invites us to a penitential season like Advent or Lent, it always puts in a Sunday of respite from the rigors of the season.  In Lent there is Laetare Sunday and in Advent there is Gaudete Sunday.  Gaudete Sunday means “rejoice” in Latin.  All the scriptures for this Sunday point to the meaning of joy.
          
In Isaiah 61 we hear declared a year of Jubilee:
          
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. . .
          
The poor, those in debt, and any downtrodden folks got a reprieve during the time of Jubilee.  When Jesus entered the synagogue in Luke 4 he rolled the scroll to this text from Isaiah.  What Jesus was saying by proclaiming this text was that he himself was Jubilee.  Jesus is true freedom and reprieve for all who have been beaten down by the powers of this world.  On the Cross, Jesus identified with all victims of power and prejudice in this world:  past, present, and future.
          
The end of the First Letter to the Thessalonians leaves the recipients there with the admonition to
          
Rejoice, pray unceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances.

.This admonition is raised by the writer to the level of “the Will of God."  These words were directed to the Christian community in Thessalonika just twenty years after Jesus’ death and Resurrection.  By extension, thanks to the time machine miracle of scripture and liturgy, it is directed to us as well!  It’s the earliest text we have in the New Testament.  This is definitely a saying to put on our bathroom mirror to look at first every morning.  Give thanks in all circumstances.  Our world economics operates on a basis of scarcity.  There’s not enough for everyone, sorry.  But God’s economics operates on abundance.  There’s plenty for everyone if we are willing to share

The theme of Joy is a little harder to see in the Gospel of John this morning.  John the Baptist is preaching and baptizing at the river Jordan and is called aside and questioned by the priests and Levites.  John declares that he is not the Messiah, but he is preparing people for his coming.  The Messiah’s coming will bring Jubilee, but first the Messiah will have to suffer violence and undergo death on the Cross.  (Christians have tried to make the violence of the Cross a unique, one of a kind event.  God the Father was willing to let his Son die to save us, so, we reason, we sometimes have to be willing to let our sons and daughters die to save us.  Jesus’ death on the Cross by the powers of his day was NOT unique, but like all other victims of violence down through time.  When the world does violence and puts people to death it is exactly what happened to Jesus himself!)

This leads to the question of the day:  What is the difference between joy and happiness?  The theologian and spiritual director Henri Nouwen (He was my retreat master once) said:

While happiness is dependent on external conditions, joy is “the experience of knowing you are unconditionally loved and that nothing – sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death – can take that love away.” Thus joy can be present even in the midst of sadness.

This has been one of my greatest convictions and it is always reinforced when we gather for the Holy Eucharist.  The Bread we break is a Sacrament of Joy.  Jesus Christ is present with us right here, right now.  

Be joyful, 
Alleluia!
John+

St. Alban

Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English, Anglican Communion) 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

Anglican Communion

Sunday, December 10, 2017

GOD WILL BRING FORGIVENESS: ".. This reverses our usual thought that repentance must come before forgiveness." The Reverend John Smith

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Why I Need to be Have Patience

          One of the early scandals to afflict the early Christian community was the delay of the Lord’s return.  Times were tough.  The Roman persecutions and the disdain of the Jewish leadership took their toll in lives.  The apocalyptic hope that the Lord would return and take vengeance on their enemies lingered with some of the early followers of Jesus.  It was hard to explain the delay of the Lord’s coming to their critics and detractors.

          We have the same problem today.  Many have given up the practice of their faith when they see so much violence in the world and scandal in the church.  Most want to believe in God (though polls say this number is dropping), but choose to do so without any active participation in the local Christian community.  People want results, and want to see that God is making right what is wrong with the world, but they see very little evidence of it.  There is a loss of patience with belief systems and so people comfort themselves, taking pleasure in material things.  The Epicurean philosophy of old rules the day:  Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may die.
          
Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

          These words were directed to those who were left behind in Jerusalem, while all the most talented were taken away in exile.  Life was hard in exile, but it was even worse for those who were left in Jerusalem.  After a “term” exiles were returning and things would be better for everyone.  The “comfort” Isaiah prophesied was more than the lessening of suffering, or doing away with it altogether, but instead a willingness to bear and share the burdens of one another and a promise that God would send a good shepherd to lead them to green pastures.

          Jesus is that Good Shepherd.  Jesus stepped into the stream of apocalyptic hope, that God would return and do violent justice to their enemies, acknowledged it, but led this thought in a different direction.  God, his Father, cared about all his children in this world.  When God returned he would identify and comfort all his children who have suffered the most from the powers of this world.  God would not be a vengeful God as people expected.  God would not add to the “sacred” violence that human beings do to one another, but rather identify and save all the victims of that violence.  When Jesus returns it will be as a true Prince of Peace, in contrast to the princes of this world, the Principalities and Powers, who have caused so much death and destruction to secure their goals.

          What we see in Jesus’ teaching is violence gradually purged from the notion of God’s return on Judgment Day.  Instead God will bring forgiveness of sin as a way to bring about repentance (a complete change of thinking) in humankind.  This reverses our usual thought that repentance must come before forgiveness.  Jesus taught the opposite.  When a human being realizes they have been forgiven all their sins, their tears of freedom and gladness wash away the stains of even long years of sin and un-repentance.

          This is the big difference between John the Baptist and Jesus:  John preached that a person must repent first or else face fiery judgment, but Jesus taught that forgiveness should come first as a first step and help make possible a sincere change heart in a person.  The “embarrassing” delay in Jesus’ return is a function of God’s patience.  God is most patient with us and forgives us over and over.  Why?  So that we might change our thinking (especially our desire to see God wreak vengeance upon our enemies) and be able to truly rejoice in the Lord when God returns to establish peace on the earth, either at the End of time, or our personal last day.  We don’t like delays, but often a delay is for our eternal benefit.

          This Second Sunday of Advent teaches us patience in the face of delay in the Lord’s coming.  God is patient with all people, in various stages of repentance or not, so they might experience the joy of repentance and change their lives.  The Lord we await is coming.  The Holy Eucharist is an experience of God with us in the here and now and a pledge that God will come and save us in good time.  

Come Lord Jesus!  
Amen!
         John+

St. Alban

Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English, Anglican Communion) 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

Anglican Communion

Sunday, December 3, 2017

WAKE UP - WAKE UP: "In Advent we are preparing for the First Coming of Christ who came among us as a tiny, vulnerable child. But we keep the Second Coming of Christ always in mind. " The Reverend John Smith

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A Human Being of Peace Coming From God

          Every year on this Sunday I want to shout “Happy New Year.” Today, as we begin a new year in the church, it can be a new beginning for each of us.  God forgives us our past failings and does not hold them against us.  When God forgives, God forgets, and allows us another chance to learn and follow God’s will.

          This year (B) we will be mostly concentrating on Mark’s Gospel, the earliest and shortest of our four Gospels.  Today’s Gospel is a hinge between the last Sunday of the year past, Christ the King coming to judge the nations (ethne) and the New Year we begin now.  We get Mark’s take on the Second Coming:

          In those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.  Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory.

          When Mark (remember he was like a secretary to Peter) wrote this the early community was suffering under Roman persecution.  They thought and hoped with all their might that their Lord might return soon and rescue them.  The skies were darkened from the smoke of Rome’s burnt earth policy.  Jesus stated the above in the apocalyptic language people understood, namely:  God would come and violently destroy their enemies.  This would be “Sacred violence” because it was violence (people thought) sanctioned by God (God is on our side and will wipe out our enemies).  Many Christians today use the Book of Revelation in the same way:  God will return and help us in our fight against evil and finally destroy all our enemies!

  This is in the same apocalyptic tradition of today’s Isaiah reading
          
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence—as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
          
When Jesus uses apocalyptic language that speaks of God’s return and violence over our (we always think we’re on the right side) enemies, he does so because that is the language people understood.  He starts there, but leads elsewhere.  Jesus does teach about the End, the last days (eschatology), but the big difference is that God will come to save and rescue us from our own human violence done to one another and it will be completely in a non-violent way.  God will not add to the violence that we already do to each other that we see every day in the news.  Furthermore, God will, and always has, identified with the victims of violence.  The key to everything is the Cross and the Resurrection that followed almost immediately after!
          
When we hear “the Son of Man coming on the clouds,” we should think:  A human being of peace is coming from God.  Jesus came to show us how a human being should live among other human beings:  taking care of the most vulnerable among us.  If the poor, the sick, the stranger, and the prisoner, are cared for, this will lead to peace and harmony and more blessings for everyone (including the ones who are called upon to share more because they have more).  This is what Jesus taught and the example he gave.  If the least vulnerable (the ones with plenty of resources who can isolate themselves from the most vulnerable) are the focus of a society, the result is a world of escalating violence, often “sacred” violence to protect what you have from others.  Jesus knew and taught this (think of the story of Lazarus longing for the scraps from the rich man’s table).
          
We gather here and break bread every Sunday as a school of faith.  We are trying to learn Jesus’ way of living and mirror it in our daily lives in this world.
          
Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.
          
In Advent we are preparing for the First Coming of Christ who came among us as a tiny, vulnerable child.  But we keep the Second Coming of Christ always in mind.  We get many calls to “Wake Up.”  Wake up and turn away from and have nothing to do with violence toward other human beings.  One of those “Wake Up” calls is today.  

Come Lord Jesus! 

 Amen!   
John+ 
         
St. Alban

Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English, Anglican Communion) 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

Anglican Communion

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Christ Criteria: "God has brought this world into being and set it up so that when the most vulnerable of its people are taken care of, the yield will be peace, happiness, and more and more blessings for all." The Rev. John Smith

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Christ the King 2017

          Today is the last Sunday of the church year that culminates in this Feast celebrating the coming of Christ the King who will judge the living and the dead at the End of the World.  What do we make of this Feast and what does it mean for the vast majority of people who don’t relate to “kings” in our daily lives?

          I think it is good to remember how ancient peoples chose a person to become a “king” in the first place.  Someone who stood out in the community, usually for a mix of physical and intellectual qualities, was chosen to be sacrificed to appease or ask the gods favor on behalf of the whole community.  This chosen sacrificial victim or “king” was given a time certain in the future to die.  The amount of time was determined by various means.  One tribe, for example, would wrap a cloth around the neck of the chosen one and would strangle the person while he or she tried to pull rocks out of a container.  The number of rocks the chosen one was able to grab in the struggle would determine how long the sentence of death would be extended.  Meanwhile, until that time was reached, the chosen one, the “King” would reign and enjoy the power and authority that comes with being chosen to save the tribe.

          This is where it gets even more interesting.  The King, having absolute power (supposedly for a limited time), starts to consolidate more and more power and as the time approaches for his demise, finds other victims to be sacrificed on his behalf.  In other words, the King stays in power by finding others to die.  The King had the power or life and death and no one can challenge him.

When we speak of Christ the King we are talking about a really different type of king.  He was shepherd who came to lay down his life for his sheep.  Jesus was truly a sacrificial victim, put to death by the powers of his time, who called him the “King of the Jews,” but he accepted his fate and never sought a way out or other victims to take his place.  Jesus didn’t call for an uprising to wreak vengeance upon those who put him to death.  This is why we consider Jesus Christ the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Kings are shepherds who lead and protect their people and also wield the power of judgment over their subjects.  This is the Gospel image we have today.

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate them (people) one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.

These verses have been interpreted in so many ways over the years.  The “sheep” are the saved and the “goats” are the damned.  This leads to so much us/them thinking.  Who is saved and who isn’t, and so forth.  One thing we know from studying shepherds is that when a shepherd moves a mixed flock from one place to another, he does have to separate the sheep from the goats to accomplish the task.  But the sheep and the goats still arrive at the same place!  So maybe our thinking that the “goats” are the condemned bad guys is misplaced.  Our individualistic way of thinking likes and individualistic interpretation:  I turned my life over to the Lord, so for sure I’m a sheep, and if you don’t, my friend, are unfortunately a goat!
But our passage speaks of the “nations” being gathered for judgment.  And the NRSV translation speaks of “people” (them) or other translations, “Gentiles.”  So while we have favored looking at this passage of judgment as having an individual interpretation, we can’t forget, as we tend to do, about whole “nations” coming under judgment.  When Christ comes again he will judge nations!
With this in mind, what are the criteria for judging the “nations,” and to a much lesser extent, “individuals?”  We usually judge a “nation” by four criteria:  Gross Domestic Product, Standard of Living, strength of the Economy, and strength of a nation’s military.  But Jesus, in speaking about the coming judgment of nations, uses different criteria:  How well a nation takes of the most vulnerable, namely the poor and sick, the immigrant, and the prisoner.  If a nation favors the least vulnerable of its people it will suffer serious consequences, especially escalating violence.
God has brought this world into being and set it up so that when the most vulnerable of its people are taken care of, the yield will be peace, happiness, and more and more blessings for all.  But, when the least vulnerable receive most of the attention and benefits there is a resulting lack of peace, happiness, and growing use of violence to secure peace and protect those benefits.

  I hope we celebrate this Feast and the Holy Eucharist, coming before Christ the King with a greater understanding of the real criteria Christ will use to judge the nations and our individual participation in the nations we belong to.  

Amen!
John+
St. Alban

Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English, Anglican Communion) 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

Anglican Communion