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Sunday, August 20, 2017

LIVING WITHOUT RESENTMENT: "..be aware at all times of how much God loves us, as individuals and community" The Reverend John Smith

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The Secret to Living without Resentment

          A couple of weeks ago the scriptures led us to describe God as a “pattern of desire.”  This might be a helpful way to think about God because as human beings we are a complex matrix of desires, mostly borrowed from those around us, in a kind of “Keep up with the Joneses” syndrome.  It is so difficult, as Soren Kierkegaard sermonized, “to will one thing.”  Kierkegaard defined holiness as “purity of heart to will one thing.”

          This “willing of one thing” is what we called bringing our desire into alignment with God’s desire.  What is that?  God’s most fundamental desire vis a vis the human race is to show mercy to all.  This is what Jesus came to do.  His will completely aligned with his Father’s will and hoped that all those who followed him would bring about a new outpouring of mercy in the world.  Yes, as followers of Jesus we have our daily duties and routine, but our basic 
manifestation in the world is showing mercy of God.

          It’s perhaps good to admit that those who have claimed to follow Jesus, baptized in the Name of mercy:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, have most often not shown God’s mercy toward and for all.  Instead, thinking that God’s fundamental role and desire is to judge, Jesus’ followers have embraced judgment over mercy.  This allows us to protect our interests and “purity” from the possible contamination that “mercy to/for all” would bring.

          This misunderstanding that God is concerned with judgment and purity over showing mercy leads to resentment toward any person or situation that doesn’t measure up to what we think are God’s standards.  The myriad resentments, large and small, build walls around us and prevent us from living in and sharing God’s mercy.

          The story of Joseph from Genesis illustrates better than any other, except perhaps Jesus’ own, the secret of living without resentment.  Joseph, the youngest of many brothers, favorite son of Jacob, was envied by his brothers who plotted against him and sold him into slavery.  Just think of the resentment that could grow in Joseph against his brothers as he was in the pit.  But ironically, Joseph rose from slavery to become the most powerful man in Egypt and his brothers, when a great famine spread in their land, needed to seek food in Egypt, and end up at the mercy of their unrecognized brother Joseph.  There’s much more to the story, but the main thing here is how much resentment Joseph could have toward his brothers.  He could easily turn down their requests but didn’t.  After testing their love for his father Jacob, he sends them off with what they needed without any show of resentment.

          What was Joseph’s secret?  Joseph knew God loved him and had a plan for his life.  This deep knowledge of being loved by God helped him recognize that neither his brothers nor anyone else that he might “justly” feel resentment were worth any negative energy or emotional involvement.  Joseph knew that God loved him and had shown him mercy, so he could share this mercy with those in need.

          In today’s Gospel, Jesus has interactions with the Pharisees and a Canaanite woman.  The Pharisees, pious and law abiding folks, take offense at Jesus’ comment on their dietary laws and points out that it’s not what goes into a man that is important, but what comes out of his heart.  Because the Pharisees didn’t lead from their hearts they were blind guides, full of resentment.  This is contrasted with the Canaanite woman, who has absolutely no status at all, begging Jesus to heal her daughter.  All eyes are on Jesus.  When he is hard on her, calling her people dogs, the crowd is probably inwardly agreeing and cheering.  But, unlike the Pharisees, the woman takes no offense, and persists in her request, knowing she has no status except what God has given her:  Even dogs eat the crumbs from the Master’s table.  The Pharisees are full of resentment and show no faith in God.  The woman has no resentment, she is who God made her, and demonstrates faith.  Her daughter is healed.

          The secret to living without resentment and becoming a conduit of mercy to others is to be aware at all times of how much God loves us, as individuals and community.  This awareness helps us understand that God’s love and mercy is for all and not just for us.  The Holy Eucharist is God’s pledge of love for us.  We are fed and nourished by God in the Holy Eucharist so that we might make God’s desire to bring mercy to the world real.  “Go in Peace to love and serve the Lord!”  

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
          
           
           
          

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

FEAST OF ST. MARY THE VIRGIN: "Mary died in the presence of all the Apostles, but that her tomb, when opened upon the request of St. Thomas, was found empty..." St. Juvenal


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Dear Friends:



    Greetings on the Feast of St. Mary the Virgin!


In the Roman Catholic world this day is
known as the Assumption of Mary.  In 1950 Pope Pius XII declared for the church what had been
believed by the faithful for many centuries, that Mary the mother of Jesus, at the time of her death
was taken body and soul into glory.  Her body, like Jesus, was placed in a tomb, but at the Council
of Chalcedon in 451, when the Emperor Marcion requested her remains be brought, the tomb was
found empty.  St. Juvenal, Bishop of Jerusalem at the time, replied to the request saying:

    "Mary died in the presence of all the Apostles, but that her tomb, when opened upon the request
of St. Thomas, was found empty; wherefrom the Apostles concluded that the body was taken up
to heaven."

    So that tradition, from those earliest days, spread throughout the church and the faithful believed
Mary was taken body and soul into heaven.  So Pope Pius XII declared this widespread belief
a Dogma of the Roman Catholic Church.

    This is kind of a big deal, but really it isn't.  Mary gets to be the first human being taken body
and soul to glory, but someday all those who love God and neighbor are destined to be body and soul
with God.  If this is to be the final result of a faithful life on earth, then it shouldn't be 
a surprise that Jesus' mother would be number one!

    Now what about Anglicans?  We don't declare Dogmas that all members of the church
must believe.  Anglicans take, I think, a more ancient path in proclaiming their beliefs:
Prayer is theology.  The words we profess in the Book of Common Prayer express our 
deepest beliefs.  For example, what is the Collect on the Feast of St. Mary the Virgin?  Does 
it express this faith of the church from of old concerning Mary?  Judge for
yourself:

    O God, you have taken to yourself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of
your incarnate Son:  Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, 
may share with her the glory of your eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ
our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God,
now and forever.  Amen.

    I love it! No dogma necessary.  It's in the prayer!  Prayer is theology!

The Reverend John Smith, Vicar
St. Alban Episcopal Mission
Antigua, Guatemala

Peace, love, joy,  John+

Monday, August 14, 2017

LOOK TO JESUS: "Whatever befalls us in life, God will try to lead us to greater and deeper faith." The Reverend John Smith

Fix your eyes on Jesus
Keeping Our Eyes Fixed on Jesus
          
“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.” Romans 10
          
One of my favorite writings in the New Testament is the Letter to the Hebrews.  The “Hebrews” referred to those Jews who were early converts to Christianity and came under some of the fiercest persecution in the early days of the church.  They had been faithful Jews who heard the Gospel and decided to follow Jesus and be baptized.
          
As long as they were practicing Jews in the Synagogue life went pretty well, but as soon as they began to follow Jesus and gather with his followers they encountered exclusion, isolation, and persecution by the synagogue and especially the Romans.  The Romans tolerated the Jews, but came to hate this new subversive group of Jesus’ followers.  The Hebrew convert lived with a decision:  should I return to the synagogue and escape persecution and death, or continue to follow Jesus?  Most continued to follow Jesus, but eventually many were rounded up and put to death by the Romans.  They provided a source of entertainment for the Roman crowds as the Christians were thrown to the lions, or experienced other forms of torture and death.
          
As a person was about to be sent to their death, their brother and sister Christians told him or her “Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.”  This phrase developed from the Letter to the Hebrews and strengthened many as they were martyred for their faith in Jesus and belief in the Resurrection.
          
Look to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
          
In today’s Gospel Jesus and the disciples have been with the crowds all day.  After the miracle of the loaves and fishes they tell the crowd to go home.  Jesus goes up the mountain to pray while the disciples get into a boat and go to the other side of the lake.  As evening came the winds came up and the seas became turbulent.  The boat was battered to and fro all night.  Early, the next morning, Jesus decides to join his disciples and walks toward them on the chaotic waters.  The disciples think they’re seeing a ghost and are full of fear.  Jesus calls and reassures them that it is him.  Peter, in order to be sure its Jesus asks to be bid to come to him on the water.  Jesus says “Come.”  Peter jumps in and begins to walk toward Jesus, but when he takes his eyes off of Jesus and looks down and the troubled water all around him, he begins to sink.  Peter cries out “Save me Lord!”  Jesus immediately reaches out his hand and catches Peter, and then only after Peter is secure, chides him for his lack of faith. “Why did you doubt?”
          
This story illustrates what “keeping eyes fixed on Jesus” means.  Sometimes the things we go through in life are difficult and frightening, we, or someone we love, are in danger.  If we focus on the deteriorating situation, the waves swirling about us, we will feel ourselves sinking beneath them.  As long as Peter kept his eyes fixed on Jesus he did fine, but when he looked down at the waves and doubted Jesus command to him, his fear caused him to sink.
          
We can relate very well to Peter.  In some of life’s critical moments, we start out with faith, hear Jesus’ word to “Come,” but after a few steps, we take our eyes off of Jesus and allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by our situation and allow fear and doubt to take over and we begin to sink.  When we cry for help, Jesus is right there, holding us up.  Jesus’ help is immediate and his love is unconditional.  Like with Peter, Jesus doesn’t chide us for our lack of faith andthen raise us up, Jesus forgives us for our lack of faith first, and then raises us up to a deeper more solid faith.  The passage ends with the disciples exclaiming “Truly you are the Son of God.”
          
Whatever befalls us in life, God will try to lead us to greater and deeper faith.  We live in a time when the “waters” around us are chaotic and make us fear for our lives (personal tragedies, leaders we feel might not have our best interests in mind, or geopolitical risks like North Korea, etc.).  These are times when we must “keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.”  We walk on troubled waters, but keep our focus on Jesus.  The Holy Eucharist we celebrate is a pledge and promise of Jesus’ nearness to us at all times and in all circumstances.  

Thank you 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, August 6, 2017

The Reverend John Smith: A prayer request commemorating Hiroshima and Nagasaki today.

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Father of us all, we remember that On this day 72 years ago the second atomic bomb fell over Nagasaki,Japan. The 1st nuclear bomb was deployed over Hiroshima, 3 days earlier ending world war 2. We pray for those who lost their lives, for the survivors especially those who lived with the horrendous consequences and trauma and their descendants. We pray for an end to all wars, holacausts,, genocides, armed rebellions, violence in any form in our world, streets or homes. We pray for those who serve our country at home or in distant lands, for the wounded in body or spirit & We give thanks for the healthy Heavenly Father, give us the strength and courage to see our enemies through christ's eyes. Let there be peace.

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Amen
Phyllis+

ABUNDANCE OR SCARCITY? "Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy. . . Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live." The prophet Isaiah

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Living in Scarcity or Abundance

          In our public lives we are programmed to live as if “there is not enough to go around, there’s no free lunch in this world, you have to grab what you can before they run out.”  We’ve all heard these statements being made around us and sometimes we’ve made them ourselves.  They represent a way of looking at the world with a mind-set of scarcity.  There’s never enough.  There’s a general disappointment with many aspects of life and the way things are that don’t match up to our expectations

          I said “public lives” above to distinguish this way of living from our “private lives” where, for example, when we give a dinner party there’s plenty of everything and we encourage our guests to have another drink, take second helpings, and so forth.

          How can we bring our private lives and bring them into congruence with our life in public.  How can we disengage from a worldview of scarcity and begin to live publicly and privately in abundance?  The only way to do this, I think, is with our faith in God.

          The Israelites in exile were suffering greatly and there was a scarcity of everything.  At the time of King David, 500 years earlier, they had lived with abundance, things were good and God’s favor was with them.  But now, after years of exile in Babylon, they questioned everything and couldn’t have everything they desired.  Or could they?  The prophet Isaiah, who lived with them through it all, had the task of changing their view of their situation:

          Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.  Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy. . . Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.

          As human beings we are a bundle of constant desires that for the most part (99%) generated by the desires of others around us (or advertisements on TV).  Well, the above quote from Isaiah shows that God can advertise too!  If human beings are a bundle of desires, then one way to think about God is as a “pattern of desires.”  How can we align our desiring for so many unconnected things that we can never get enough of due to scarcity, with God’s desire that enables us to live in abundance?

          I have come that they might have life and have it in abundance.

          The first step in living abundantly, right here and right now,  is to listen to God.  Prayer helps us align with God’s desires and gives us less time to worry about scarcity and “keeping up with the Joneses.” Prayer helps us count our blessings rather than lament the things we don’t have.  Prayer helps us realize in faith that God has our best interests at heart which is not always the case when we follow the desires of those around us.  God is the One who creates something out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo), a notion that is hard for us to believe.  God is committed to life, not death, and creates abundance to be shared by all.

          Today’s Gospel, the Feeding of the 5000, is the best illustration of this life movement from scarcity to abundance.  Jesus has been off alone in prayer, away from the crowd.  (Praying to his Father, aligning his desires with His)  Sure enough, the crowd with all their needs and hunger come and find where Jesus is.  Jesus tells his disciples his intention to feed the crowd.  The disciples, living with a world view of scarcity and limited resources, want to send the crowd away.  Jesus challenges them to feed the crowd.  Jesus’ disciples inventory what they have and place it before him.  Jesus has the crowd recline on the grass, takes the loaves and fishes, blesses them,breaks the bread and dried fish into pieces, and gives them to the crowd.  After everyone eats and is satisfied, the fragments are gathered up and fill 12 baskets.  Abundance!

          The same four actions of Jesus with the crowd happen with us each Sunday at Eucharist.  Jesus takes what we offer, blesses it, breaks it into pieces, and gives it out.  These are the four actions of Jesus in the feeding stories and the Last Supper in the Gospels and the four actions at every Eucharist we celebrate.  We slowly, but surely, with God’s help, move from the world economy of scarcity which breeds rivalry and all that flows from rivalry, to a world economy of abundance and sharing.  There is enough for everyone and plenty left over when we allow our desires to pattern God’s desires rather than other people’s desires.  Freedom, Joy, Peace can be ours!  Remember the title of the famous book “Think and Grow Rich” by Napolean Hill, our title becomes “Pray and Grow Rich” by Jesus Christ!  

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