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Sunday, July 30, 2017

THE GIFT OF DISCERNMENT: " With the Holy Spirit’s help we receive a different wisdom than the world around us. " The Reverend John Smith


Raphael ~ Angel of Healing
Everything Adds Up To Good

          After over 20 years in Coast Guard aviation and a short stint at the Boeing Company in Seattle, my father became a mail man.  Sometimes, especially around the holidays, his customers would leave little presents (or a bottle of booze- my father didn’t drink).  When he brought them home, my mom and I would have fun opening them and seeing what he received.  One time he received a really neat New Testament, “Good News for Modern Man.” It was a new translation, easy to understand, with great drawings.  Now, my mom and dad went to church every Sunday, but they never read the bible as such, so to make a long story short, this gift was given to me.  I was about 15 years old.

          My love affair with the bible started with that New Testament.  I found a high-lighter and started to mark favorite passages.  Today’s passage from Romans 8 was one of my first markings:

          We know that all things work together unto good for those who love God.

          The key word here is unto.  The passage doesn’t mean that if you have faith everything in your life will go smoothly, without experience of sadness and loss, but that with faith, everything that happens, the ups and downs of life, will add up to good.  Faith in God, love of God, will work everything unto good.  Faith is the only response that will conquer the evil we may face in life.

          Today’s Gospel is a good illustration of this.  This is the third week we encounter Jesus explaining the resistance that his Word will encounter in the world.  We’ve had the Parable of the Sower, the Parable of the Wheat and Weeds, and today the Parable of the Mustard Seed.  A quick review:  the Sower broadcasts seed liberally everywhere among all sorts and conditions of people and their “soil condition.”  Enemies sow a few weeds among the seeds and wheat and weeds are allowed to grow together until the harvest.  In today’s reading a mustard seed is sowed as well.  The mustard plant is a weed too, but it will grow into a great bush where the birds of the air can make their nests!

          What’s the sense of all this?  Let the wheat and weeds grow together and don’t pull out the weeds lest the good wheat be pulled out with it.  On top of all this- another “weed” is planted purposefully, from a mustard seed.  This “weed” is Jesus himself sowed as a “weed” in the world’s garden, with the “good and powerful” people, thinking they can rightly judge what is good and evil, wanting to root out this weed.  They used the Cross.

          With Jesus some convictions and understandings are turned on their head.  Things thought considered weeds can serve God’s purpose.  In ancient times, handicapped folks were considered, punished by God, ie., in the story of the man born blind (John 9) people asked, “Who sinned, this man or his parents?”  The handicapped were considered weeds to be pulled out of society.  God was a punisher of sin, a puller of weeds.  Jesus revealed the true nature of God as merciful and forgiving, patient, allowing those judged to be weeds of this world to grow.  The harvest will be plentiful in the end even if we think it won’t!

          With the Holy Spirit’s help we receive a different wisdom than  the world around us.  Like Soloman, we are given a gift of discernment so absolutely necessary for life in the world.  Soloman lived under the sacrificial logic of his time (remember the story of the two women claiming a child as their own).  Jesus came to reverse this sacrificial logic (people need to die in order for peace to happen).  Human reason and justice demands victims to be offered to God to fulfill God’s purposes in the world, but in Jesus the sacrificial logic was turned completely around.  Instead of our sacrificing to God, God sacrifices to humanity!  God allowed Jesus’ sacrifice for humanity and never requires that anyone die to please him.  Instead, so that we don’t persist in sacrificial logic, Jesus gave us, his disciples, the Holy Eucharist, enshrining forever God’s Sacrifice for humanity, to nourish us away from death into life! Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Everything will add up to good. 

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

Monday, July 24, 2017

GOD DOES HAVE OUR BACK: "Sadly, sometimes we are called to endure suffering for a greater good (causing less evil).." John+

violent-god-jesus-old-testament
Opposing Evil without Doing Evil

          One of the important questions of our time (and of all times really) is how we can oppose evil without causing more and greater evil.  If this is a perennial question then it is not surprising that Jesus would address it and shed some light and wisdom on it.  Such is the case with today’s Gospel of “The Wheat and the Darnel.”

          Today’s Gospel follows The Parable of the Sower we had last week. Then, we reflected that the primary focus shouldn’t be on the individual and the type of soil they provide for the seed of the Word of God, rather the focus should be on the Sower who indiscriminately sows seed everywhere on all human beings who find themselves in all kinds of soil conditions.  The Sower just keeps broadcasting the seed everywhere knowing that a good harvest will result in the end.

          But what about the darnel, the weeds, sown in the middle of the night by the enemy (the Evil One)?  The question is asked of the owner of the field, should we pull them up?  And what does the owner (God) say:  No.  For in pulling up the weeds you will also pull out some good wheat.  Let them grow together until the harvest. 

          This teaching of Jesus is perhaps the most important for our own time.  Yes, people are doing real evil in the world and we want to stop them, but what if trying to stop them we do even greater evil to good and innocent folks.  Two examples, of many, come to mind:  Pearl Harbor and September 11th.  The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor caused the deaths of over 2500 people, mostly military, and set in action a horrific war that caused many more casualties.  But to end all the evil done to us, we dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and caused the deaths of over 250,000
 people, mostly civilians.  On September 11th, 3500 people tragically lost their lives in the Twin Tower attacks in an hour and this set in motion a plan of revenge (based on inaccurate information and lies) that resulted in years of warfare and killed over 350,000 mostly innocent people, and the deaths and maiming of thousands of our own soldiers.  Doesn’t Jesus’ teaching of letting the weeds grow alongside the good wheat make sense?  This may be hard for us to hear and accept, but I now realize what Jesus means when he says “Let those with ears, hear.”

          The Evil One only has to sow a few weed seeds to mess things up and doesn’t have to do anything else.  Good people will do the rest.  In the effort to get rid of, or respond to the evil done in the world, good folks will do the work.  The problem is that this creates more evil in the world, more death, to the enjoyment of the clever Evil One, successful in causing more pain, suffering, and death than ever.

          We need Jesus’ wisdom to not try to root out evil in the conventional ways it has always been done:  An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.  This is not Jesus’ way at all.  But, many say, that statement is in the bible!  They take it out of context completely.  Jesus said

          You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer.  But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone want to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 

This is the wisdom of Jesus in the face of evil:  let the evildoer be shamed in front of everyone who will surround the victims with love and compassion.  People are always watching (especially today!!) so, if someone backhands you on the right cheek, offer the left for a regular punch.  If someone demands your coat, take off all your clothes, down to your underwear.  If someone forces you to go a mile, go two miles (a Roman soldier could force anyone to carry his heavy pack one mile) and let everyone see what a real wimp the soldier is.  Let the evildoers be shamed, but don’t cause more evil yourself by responding with hate and revenge.  This is a passive response.  A second response is more active:  “Let the weeds grow until the harvest.”  The Greek word for “let or permit” is aphete which comes from the same root as apheimi which means “forgive.” Real forgiveness and love of the perpetrator of violence puts us under God’s power and ultimate victory.

Sadly, sometimes we are called to endure suffering for a greater good (causing less evil).  The Good News is that God does have our back, just as he had Jesus’ back and raised him up after Jesus suffered evil.  Let’s conclude with St. Paul’s reflection from today’s second reading:

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. . . We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.  (Romans 8)

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

Sunday, July 16, 2017

THE PARABLE of the SOWER: "God’s Word is Love and meant for human being without distinction or merit, completely indiscriminate in its distribution." John+

God has a Green Thumb

          As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Is 55)

          In Arizona, driving down the freeway, there are big billboards pointing the way to a special tourist attraction called “The THING.”  I never went, but when I read the above passage from Isaiah (one of my favorite passages in the bible), I thought of the “thing” for which God sent his word.  I never saw the tourist THING, but I definitely want to see the “thing” that God will bring about in the world:  salvation.  The passage is a statement of complete confidence in the effectiveness of God’s Word to ultimately save the world.

          This passage is a profound backdrop for understanding today’s Gospel:  The Parable of the Sower.  Each of us has heard this Gospel many times.  The Sower goes out to sow his field and as he sows the seed (seed=Word of God), the seed falls on four types of soil:  exposed on the path, rocky ground, thorny, and good soil where it really bore fruit. 

Each of these “soil situations” describe the realities that people face in the world.  This understanding is relatively new for me and maybe for you too.  Usually, when we hear the Parable of the Sower, we put the emphasis on ourselves, asking “What kind of soil am I for God’s Word?” We hope that we are good soil, but we fear that we just be the soil on the path (exposed and shallow) where the seed gets eaten by the birds, or we might be the rocky ground (not much soil at all) where the seed doesn’t have a chance to grow.  Or, I bet most of us, think we’re more like the thorny soil, choking off growth of the Word within us by the “cares of the world and the lure of wealth.”  And of course there are those who provide a nice tilled soil for the Word, well fertilized by prayer, etc.

This is our usual interpretation of the parable:  very personal, and, if we’re honest, can create a bit of fear:  the odds are 3 types of soil to 1 to “make the grade” so to speak.  The odds are against us being good soil, and, really when we look at other people in the world, close by or where ever, the odds are really against most of them too.  After all, we think we’re nowhere near in as bad a condition as they are, in our humble opinion.

The main problem with this whole line of thinking is that it takes emphasis off of the main protagonist of the parable:  The Sower!  This is where we need to stay.  Yes, the conditions of soil are real and in life we find ourselves experiencing some or all of them, but this is not the point.  We need to focus on the Sower in the parable who represents our loving, merciful, indiscriminate Lord, who goes out to sow with his bag of seeds and just throws them everywhere, zillions of them, in every direction, all over!  The seeds of God’s Word fall everywhere, on all types and conditions of soil.  God’s Word is Love and meant for human being without distinction or merit, completely indiscriminate in its distribution.

The only downside in this very open and loving interpretation of the Parable is the human heart.  If, in our hearts, we see God as a judge or a God of violence, then it is easy to close ourselves off to Love.  Our hearts get hardened and the only way to survive (we think) is to put others under our judgment and violence to defend ourselves.

The Good News is that we don’t have to live this way, constantly judging ourselves and others.  Whatever the condition of our soil, or anyone else’s soil, for that matter, we know that God’s Word is trying to plant itself in every person and God’s Word is greater than any condition of soil it lands on.  Let the Holy Spirit, the wind or breeze of God, blow us to where we can grow.  The Holy Eucharist serves as the most powerful fertilizer in the world to bring nutrition and life into the most difficult situations we find ourselves.  Gathering here to listen to God’s Word we make it possible for our Sower Lord to do what he does best:  sow seeds that can grow in us and cause true joy to spring up in our hearts! God has a green thumb!

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

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Find relief in Jesus: "Does the world seem to be a hard place to live sometimes? Are people harsh with one another?" John+

comforting words

Struggling with Comforting Words

          Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

          These words of Jesus are perhaps the most comforting of the whole Gospel.  Jesus is talking to real people and offering them an alternative to the burdens that the world lays upon them.  We love hearing them, but deep down we struggle with their meaning.

          Let’s take inventory of the situation the vast majority of people find themselves by answering the following questions:  Do we often get weary of the demands of daily life?  Even if we have an abundance or lack of resources do we carry some heavy burdens (either trying to make ends meet or always trying to keep up with the Jones’s)?  Do we feel like yoked animals plowing a field, but wandering all over and directionless?  Does the world seem to be a hard place to live sometimes? Are people harsh with one another?

          If we answer “yes” to some or all of these questions, then Jesus is telling his disciples and us, his modern day disciples, that we need to come to him to find relief in carrying the heavy burdens that life presents to us.

          There’s a cute expression we sometimes hear these days.  “We need to have a ‘Come to Jesus’ meeting with someone.”  Doesn’t “Come to Jesus” in this phrase mean that someone must recognize a situation and respond- or else?  We’ve turned around the tone of Jesus’ invitation to come to him for help and relief from the way in which the world lives and made this “coming to Jesus” something heavy and burdensome.  Isn’t that true?

          If we want to make progress in really coming to Jesus perhaps we have to admit that we have some problems with the whole notion.  We honestly believe that to deal with people in the world with gentleness and humility is problematic.  Dealing with situations in this world takes strength and toughness.  A “milk toast” approach just won’t work.  We like to hear these comforting words of Jesus, but at the same time they disturb and scandalize us, offending our worldly sensibilities by their appearance of weakness.  How can we achieve our worldly goals and fulfill our desires if we hitch our dreams to Jesus’ wagon?

          Let me pay heavy taxes (most of which goes to buy weapons of mass destruction). Let me worry about whether my health care coverage will continue or not.  Let me worry about my job or need for one.  Let me worry about having enough to live on, or if I do have plenty of resources, getting all the things I want to have and then properly protect them from others.  How about the situation many find themselves in of wondering where their next meal is going to come from?  These are the heavy burdens of the world in which we live.  Is Jesus going to pay the bills or put food on the table or secure my next “must have,” or win the battle against terrorism? The world’s wisdom is that we must look out for ourselves, for Number One, “every man for himself.”

          When Jesus says to “come to me” he’s not saying that we won’t confront the heavy burdens the world lays on us.  There are always burdens that can be heavy or light.  “Come to me” refers to a special wisdom that is given to those who try to imitate Jesus, especially in his complete trust in his Father’s will, his gentleness and humility, and in his merciful and forgiving way with people.  Imitating Jesus, we don’t require more and more “defensive” weapons that threaten relationships and increase fear, and require heavy taxes to pay for them.  Instead, resources would be available for those unable to “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.”  There would be less tension between nations and people.  The belligerent would find themselves either isolated or won over. 
          This is the “yoke” Jesus offers us.  It’s not the yoke of a beast of burden, but an education in wisdom gained from following the right Master. (The original meaning of the word referred to a young man leaving his home and parents to join himself to a teacher.)  The Wisdom from above that Jesus incarnated here on earth always has non-violence, dialogue, and mercy as a foundation.  The word “gentle” (praus) in the Gospel and today’s first reading means to be non-violent.
          This teaching of Jesus is completely missed by the “wise and clever” of this world who should know better, but don’t.  Jesus’ teaching is revealed to “infants,” those who haven’t yet been “culturalized” by the world, who understand what he is talking about.  Here at the altar we step back from the everyday wisdom of the world, and repenting, choose a yoke that is easy and light, and, feeding on Jesus’ Body and Blood, receive Jesus’ wisdom and peace.  
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