Tuesday, May 23, 2017

LISTENING TO THE HOLY SPIRIT: "The Holy Spirit is seen by many as the feminine aspect of the triune God. I wanted to be extremely careful not to trivialize the Holy Spirit, but she serves as my/our invisible advisor, companion, support, conscience. .." Phyllis+

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Acts 17:22-31
1 Peter 3:13-22
John 14:15-21
Psalm 66:7-18

Where two or three gather .  .  .

Attendance at St Alban’s varies from a handful to a roomful, this past Sunday a handful of us gathered to worship and pray to our Heavenly Father.  I was grateful for all who contributed to the study of the readings.  I was coming off a 24 hour stomach bug that had interfered with my final polish and practice of the day’s homily so to be able to discuss rather than preach was a gift.  We agreed none of us were singers outside of the shower so we passed on the planned hymns, but i have to say we sounded pretty tuneful as we shared a few verses of “This Little Light of Mine.” 

We reviewed each of the readings.  I offered a few thoughts and each of the worshippers contributed their thoughts and some of their personal history.  In particular we spent much time on the First Peter reading who offers blessings to those who suffer for their believes, for righteousness’ sake.  We talked about those persecuted for their Christian faith in modern times, mostly perpetrated by those who take their Islam to a radicalized extreme, misrepresenting the tenet of Muslim faith.  But we recalled the terror that rained down in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Charleston, SC in June, 2015 at the hands of a white supremacist and more recently the vandalized Jewish cemeteries in St. Louis, NYC, and Philadelphia.  Terrorism can come from a variety of sources.  OpenDoors  USA reports each month 322 Christians are killed for their faith, 214 churches or properties are destroyed, and there are 722 acts of violence.  While we feel this suffering when it falls comes close to home, countries that experience the most dire consequences as a result of their Christian faith are Somalia, North Korea, Sudan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Iran and Iraq.

The gospel offers the great gift of the Advocate Jesus left us as he prepared to return to his Father.  I told the story of my childhood imaginary friend, Jeannie, who provided me with companionship, comfort, and sometimes her services as scapegoat. The Holy Spirit is seen by many as the feminine aspect of the triune God.  I wanted to be extremely careful not to trivialize the Holy Spirit, but she serves as my/our invisible advisor, companion, support, conscience.  She speaks to us though sometimes our listening is not as keen as her message.  Each of us shared what the Holy Spirit means to us in our lives and guides our steps.  As our discussion progressed, we came back to the two laws we’ve been given:

Love your God with all your soul, all your heart, all your mind, all your strength.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
We all agreed love is what it all boils down to.

It seems like the glow of our beautiful worship had yet to dim before we were confronted by another example of terrorism, almost a test of will we walk the walk or just talk the talk.  A bomb planted in a venue where teens, tweens and many even younger gathered to celebrate a pop idol.  The first concert for many, accompanied by parents or loved ones who had purchased the tickets as a holiday gift, the bombing seems especially reprehensible.  An act of terrorism perpetrated by suspected radicalized member/s of the Islamic faith determined to promote their misinterpretation by destroying others.  I remember a bumper sticker I saw somewhere, “Love your neighbors, ALL your neighbors.”  How tempted I am to pick and chose which neighbors I will love, which ones are entitled to my love, but that’s not what the Bible tells us, over and over again.  Not only are we told to love our neighbors, but to pray for our enemies.  It’s days like these that really puts our claim to be part of in the words of our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry refers to as “The Episcopal Branch of The Jesus Movement” to the test.  I ask for your prayers for the victims of the Manchester bombing, their families and loved ones, the first responders, medical staff, and caregivers; as well as those behind this heinous act and all whose lives they touch.

Pray for Peace

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.

Deacon Phyllis Moonogian

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

UPCOMING ELECTION FOR THE BISHOP OF GUATEMALA: "So what we are saying is we believe in a holy, universal church handed down through a continuous line of Bishops dating back to Peter himself." Phyllis+

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Today’s gospel comes from the book of John, the most lyrical of all the gospels.  While Matthew, Mark, and Luke chronicle the Last Supper as the end of Jesus’ ministry on earth, John doesn’t.   He gives us this great farewell, Jesus last attempt to summarize his ministry and our faith and as usual the disciples ask for him to “take us, show us.”  What patience Jesus displays!  Time is running out, he’s trying to prepare them for what is to come, and they’re asking the same things again.  Through the traumatic events on the horizon, he is preparing them to step out in faith, girding them with knowledge and assurance that he and the Father are one and are their constant companions..  We’ve heard this reading at funerals.  It’s intended to assure mourners the one we have lost goes to that proverbial better place, that there is a mansion prepared for them, a place in God’s heart where there is no pain nor sadness.  I wonder if those who have lost someone dear to them, a partner or a child, absorb this any better than the disciples did.

Our first reading from Acts talks of Stephan’s stoning.  Let’s backtrack a bit and get a fuller picture of just who Stephan was.  We first meet Stephan in Acts 6.  The disciples have their hands full with preaching, healing, and generally sharing the Good News of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.  The Hellenistic community, the people of Greek origin are complaining they’re not getting their fair share of the goods distributed to the needy, the widows, the orphans.  something has to be done so the disciples appoint 7 others to fulfill this ministry.  First among these is Stephen and this is the birth of the order of Deacons.  Apparently Stephen is more than a conduit of goods and he is brought before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Supreme Council who could hear cases and impose the death penalty.  Stephen’s words had gotten him in trouble and almost rescued him with his appeal to the Sanhedrin in Acts 7 as he related the history of the Israeli prophets starting with Moses and also presented God as not just confined to a Temple, a radical thought at the time.  He’s doing well, at least according to our modern reading until his concluding paragraph:
“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always oppose the holy Spirit; you are just like your ancestors.  Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They put to death those who foretold the coming of the righteous one, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become. You received the law as transmitted by angels, but you did not observe it. 

Now our reading today picks up the history.  Obviously Stephen won no one over with these words.  He was taken out and stoned.  In the throes of his agony he gets a glimpse of heaven, Christ on the right hand of God.  Like his savior he prays that God forgives his persecutors.  A quiet character at Stephen’s death, one we will see again on the road to Damascus, is Saul, later to become Paul, demonstrating his persecution of the early Christians.  Stephen, as the first deacon holds a special place in my faith and as the first martyr holds an important place in Christian tradition.

First Peter speaks of our  yearning for God’s love and word, like an infant yearns for his mother’s milk.  We quench this thirst each time we come to God’s table and drink of the cup of Salvation.  It is such a blessing to be allowed to offer that chalice to you.  To watch you approach humbly, with love and see you cup your hands reverently around that bowl.  We share a prayer, “the blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.”  You drink, “Aaaah men!”  

Peter again presents the image of Christ as the cornerstone of our faith, of our lives.  The stone the builder has rejected is now the one that holds all others together and he challenges us.  What kind of stone are you?  Are you a stumbling block, an obstacle or are a valuable part of the temple of faith.  Do you cause others to trip or stub their toe in matters of faith or are you part of a sturdy wall that demonstrates strength and love and one they can lean on when times are tough?

Peter is my favorite disciple.  What endears Peter the saint to me is his complete humanity, his veritable feet of clay.  In his humanity, he messes up.  Repeatedly.  He and the others fall asleep in Gethemene after Jesus tells them to watch with him.  Repeatedly.  While Jesus is on trial, he waits in the patio and denies being a follower of our savior.  Repeatedly.  And yet he is the rock on which the church is built.  He  preaches and ultimately becomes the Bishop of Rome, some call him the first Pope.

Soon we recite the Nicene Creed and affirm “we believe in the holy catholic and apostolic church,”   Small c catholic means universal church.  Our church is characterized by Apostolic succession.
Michael Ramsey, an English Anglican bishop and the Archbishop of Canterbury during the 1960’s and early ’70’s, described three definitions of "apostolic succession":

One bishop succeeding another in the same see meant that there was a continuity of teaching: "while the Church as a whole is the vessel into which the truth is poured, the Bishops are an important organ in carrying out this task".
The bishops were also successors of the apostles in that "the functions they performed of preaching, governing and ordaining were the same as the Apostles had performed".
It is also used to signify that "grace is transmitted from the Apostles by each generation of bishops through the imposition of hands”.

So what we are saying is we believe in a holy, universal church handed down through a continuous line of Bishops dating back to Peter himself.

This sounds so simple and yet it created profound challenges when the American colonies established their independence.  Anything British was looked at askance and part of the Church of England prayers declared loyalty to the Monarch.  Not happening!  Neither from the position of independence recently won or from the stance of separation of church and state established in the emerging country.  Although prospective Bishops were willing to travel to England to be consecrated, the required Oath of Allegiance to the Monarch precluded their consecration.  In 1784 the Reverend Samuel Seabury was consecrated in the Scotland Episcopal Church and America had her first Bishop and the apostolic succession was established in the new country. 

Later this month there will be an election to chose the next Bishop of Guatemala.  Today Rev. Neli Miranda, a candidate for that honor is worshipping with us and will share a few words.  Several weeks ago Rev. Ramon Orvalle visited.  There are 3 other candidates.  St. Alban’s as a mission is entitled to a voting delegate, but they must have their church membership in the rolls of the Diocese of Guatemala.  Father John is visiting family and cannot attend, since my church membership remains with the Diocese of California, I cannot vote.  If we want to be represented in this important election, we must select delegates.  I suspect the pool to chose from is small.  This election will set the tone for the future of the Episcopal Church in this country.



(Following the homily Father Ricardo Frohmader shared some history of the Bishops of Guatemala and discussed the upcoming election.  He expressed his confidence in Rev. Neli as a prospective Bishop.  The deadline for submitting delegates’ names to participate in the Convention and election has apparently been extended and Father Frohmader encouraged St. Alban’s to send a delegate to the Convention.)

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)


Monday, May 8, 2017

HOPEFULLY WE GET THE PICTURE: "Muslims, Hindus, and others don’t have to become Christians. Jesus died for all." The Reverend John Smith

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Life in the Spirit

          They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers . . . All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.

          The testimony to Jesus’ resurrection and the descent of the Holy Spirit had a strong and tangible effect upon the earliest followers of Jesus, and everyone who joined them, in living a life in the Spirit.  They were deeply devoted to the teaching handed down by the Apostles (at first oral traditions that became the Gospels and the NT Letters) and came together regularly to break bread and pray.  They believed with all their heart that Jesus was in their midst.

          Out of respect for Jesus, they refused to give way to the rivalry and negative behaviors present in the society around them.  They were different.  They expressed thankfulness for everything and exuded a simple, yet profound, joy.

          It wasn’t always easy to live in the Spirit.  Life in the world tempted them away from the spirit of Jesus’ love and self-sacrifice with rivalries, jealousy, blaming, finger pointing, and scapegoating.  They were surrounded at all times by a sacrificial system that created scarcity and discord.  In Baptism they had chosen the abundant life that Jesus had promised when he said:  I have come that they might have life and have it in abundance.

          The First Letter of Peter brings up the problem of suffering, especially suffering unjustly, for Jesus’ community.  When they had to endure pain or were beaten for their beliefs they were to be patient in suffering as Jesus was.  A community of the Holy Spirit is tested from within and without.  Today, we look down upon passive non-violence, “just take it,” when we are wronged.  Are we required to just to take abuse and not respond?  Today we prefer non-violent resistance.  However these two approaches pan out, the key to any approach to right wrongs is non-violence.  As followers, we must mirror Jesus himself in this regard.  We suffer patientlyand don’t strike back.  Eventually the violent and the troublemakers will destroy themselves.

          We can do all this because we are sheep of the Good Shepherd and Jesus knows each of us intimately.  We are his sheep.  Not in the sense of blindly following (people think sheep are dumb), but in a sacrificial aspect.  Background for today’s Gospel is Ezekiel chapter 34.  The Kings of Israel were false shepherds.  They fed themselves and could care less about the needs of their people.  The more proximate context is the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem.  The shepherds would bring their flocks to the gate where they would drop off their flock, get paid, and the sheep would be led to the slaughter.  They were hired hands.  Jesus calls himself the ‘Good” Shepherd because he went through the Gate with the sheep and was slaughtered with and for his sheep.  He gave his life for the sheep.  That’s us.  We don’t follow Jesus blindly or dumbly, but with eyes wide open we know that following him will lead to our demise one day, but Jesus will always be with us.  Furthermore, Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin(violence) of the world.

          The bandits and thieves are those revolutionaries who, fully living in the sacrificial system, point fingers at others, and just create more and more victims.

          Hopefully we get the picture:  Jesus the Good Shepherd brings people together.  Jesus is the Gate that leads to abundant life for all people brought into life and who live in sincerely and love their neighbors.  Muslims, Hindus, and others don’t have to become Christians.  Jesus died for all.  When I am lifted up I will draw all to myself.
          Jesus death on the Cross, his Resurrection from the dead, and sending of the Spirit to his followers is meant to benefit all people of any race or nation.  We who are baptized are called to minister the benefits of Jesus’ saving love to every human being.  We are shepherds. To accomplish this down through time, God has called us to live a life in the Spirit in community where we are nourished by the Bread of Jesus’ continued Presence among us to be shepherds for those around us, laying down our lives for them, whenever necessary, and bringing the Kingdom of Heaven down to earth.

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)


Monday, May 1, 2017

THE MYSTERY OF THE EUCHARIST: "the Risen Jesus alive in our midst through the tangibles of bread and wine" John+

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Dead Man Talking

          Most of us have seen or heard of the movie “Dead Man Walking” of 1995 starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn.  It was based on a true story of a man, Matthew Poncelet, executed for murder and a Roman Catholic religious, Sr. Helen Prejean, who reached out to the inmate helping with his last appeal and also visiting with the families of the victims.  When Poncelet leaves the holding cell and is led to the death chamber, accompanied by Sr. Helen, the cry is heard “Dead man walking.”

          When I studied this familiar Gospel story of the disciples on their way to Emmaus I thought of this movie.  In a very real sense when the Risen Jesus joins the two on the road and begins to talk to them it’s like a dead man talking.  The two disciples are completely demoralized and hopeless.  They had put so much hope in Jesus.  At first they had been curious about his cause and sympathetic to it, but with his execution they were completely disenchanted and disappointed.  They had to get out of Jerusalem and Emmaus
seemed as good a place as any, so they headed down the road.

          Unknown to them, Jesus, joins them.  They share their utter disappointment.  Jesus draws them out and begins to open what must have been familiar scriptures to them.

          Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

          This is really important for me and something I’ve been sharing with you from the beginning of my time here in Antigua:  Jesus, as we come to know him in the Gospels, is the interpreter of all scripture.  That’s why the church is beginning to re-read the Gospels and focus on Jesus’ example and teaching.  The most important texts of the Hebrew Scriptures find their highest interpretation in the revelation of the Word made Flesh, Jesus.

          For those disciples on their way to Emmaus Jesus was a dead man.  They heard rumors that he might be alive still, but that possibility was so out of their range of experience, Jesus might as well be dead.  So unbeknownst to them a dead man was walking and talking to them.

          I think this Emmaus gospel story is the most important for us in the time we’re living.  For all practical purposes, Jesus, great person that he was, is dead to us.  We might pick up some good, loving insights from the accounts of his life and teaching in the Gospels and the rest of the bible, but that’s about it.  Jesus died and rose, but again so far out of the range of our experience, that it’s not really compelling.  Sometimes something that Jesus taught might support one or more of our deeply held values.  That’s great, but to a point.  We reserve the right to not follow a teaching of Jesus if it is unrealistic or asks us to do something we disagree with, for example, to love our enemies, or not to retaliate with force.  Again, in a very real sense, Jesus is dead to us, but he is still walking along with us unrecognized.
          This was the experience of the disciples as well.  They did love however, the way Jesus made sense of the scriptures.  Maybe a Messiah could be put to death for some purpose and come back to life.  They didn’t want their time with this “stranger” to end.  They offer the stranger table fellowship so they could continue to listen to him.  When he reached for the bread and offered it to them, they recognized him.  It was the way he broke the bread and gave it to them.  When they took the bread from him, he disappeared.  They were flabbergasted, they had the bread and the cup, but he was still with them!  Jesus wasn’t dead, but he was still alive!

          This, my friends, is the mystery of the Eucharist:  the Risen Jesus alive in our midst through the tangibles of bread and wine.  At the Holy Eucharist we experience the presence of the Lord who teaches us in the Gospels and other scriptures, helping us, living in the present, to restructure our imagination of how heaven is coming to earth, and be sent out in the power of the Holy Spirit to make it happen.

          This is where it all begins at the Eucharist, being fed and nourished by God’s Word.  If you think and live as if Jesus is dead, even though believing he was perhaps the finest of men, there will be no great desire to gather here and receive Holy Communion.  There are always seemingly more pressing things to do, better ways to spend time, or other obstacles that “keep you away.”  But if you believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and not just a dead man talking to us through an old book, you’ll be here.  Why?  Because they recognized him in the breaking of the bread.  

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)