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Monday, January 30, 2017

MICAH: "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God." John+

Alternative Facts and Jesus

          .  We are seeing in recent days a struggle over truth:  what is or is not a fact is a matter of interpretation.  Pictures can lie.  Something can be true because you believe it to be true and you have “alternative facts” to back it up.  I suspect this way of looking at reality from your desired perspective is not new.  The struggle for truth has been around for a long time.  We too, have our own alternative facts when it suits us.

What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.  (Micah)

The powerful leaders of Israel proclaimed their version of truth boldly, so much so that they found themselves in constant conflict and war with their neighbors.  To gain God’s favor they cranked up the sacrificial system of their day.  They felt good about doing away with human sacrifice, but didn’t acknowledge that the “firstborn” of many families were being sacrificed in war.  They favored the sacrifice of animals and grain in burnt offerings and a haze of smoke lingered over the cities.  The people most out of favor with God were the poor who didn’t have the wherewithal to participate in the sacrifices.  Disfavored, they could be completely forgotten by those who had power and wealth.
Micah, at threat of his own life, loudly proclaimed that a right relationship with God didn’t rely upon this sacrificial system (which only made the rich richer anyway) and would never rid Israel of its problems of war and poverty.  Micah insisted that the only way Israel could do that is by doing justice (mishpat) and practicing loving kindness (chesed).  When the weakest and poorest are forgotten and left behind, the ills of the community continue.  To be on the right side of God requires an attitude of humility, doing justice, and showing mercy and kindness, especially to the poor.
Micah, tried to bring God’s word to Israel, but wasn’t successful.  The exile in Babylon followed, the rich and capable were led off first by their captives, resulting in total loss and great suffering.  But like all the prophets before and after, Micah prepared the soil and planted a seed.  In our own day, Micah is quoted more than ever.
Now it’s important to note that the Exile was not a punishment by God, but a consequence of years of living lies bolstered by “alternative facts” that ignored reality and the cries of the poor.  The Exile was perpetrated by humans over against other humans.  God is not needed to punish anyone (even though we think so), human beings can punish themselves just fine, thank you.
Jesus, sent by the Father, came like a new Moses.  Jesus went up the mountain to teach how to live and value people in a whole new way.  Jesus taught how to live and value people in a way that had never been before.  In the same tradition as Moses and the prophets, Jesus went far beyond them.  In the Beatitudes, Jesus taught a whole new way of being human and experience unity as a human family, not over against others, excluding them, but respecting their dignity as children of his Father.
As Paul put it, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.  Weakness is made strong by forgiveness and love.  It is no surprise that the people most comfortable with Jesus’ message were the prostitutes and tax collectors!  It was precisely the people of no importance who were suited to be signs of God’s new creation, re-creating people from the inside out.  These “sinners” would be first in the Kingdom of Heaven that God wanted to bring about on earth.
Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.
No longer is religion about offering sacrifices to win God’s favor.  Those sacrifices were external and didn’t really change a person’s heart.  Change of heart and thinking (repentance, metanoia) would make heaven on earth possible.  The goal of “getting to heaven” that was the emphasis behind the sacrificial system, was no longer valid.  Now, to please God is to help bring about heaven on earth by living God’s values here and now.  Personal achievement, so valued in our time, is only meaningful when all God’s children participate, and no one is left out.  Alternative Facts and Jesus
          .  We are seeing in recent days a struggle over truth:  what is or is not a fact is a matter of interpretation.  Pictures can lie.  Something can be true because you believe it to be true and you have “alternative facts” to back it up.  I suspect this way of looking at reality from your desired perspective is not new.  The struggle for truth has been around for a long time.  We too, have our own alternative facts when it suits us.

What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.  (Micah)

The powerful leaders of Israel proclaimed their version of truth boldly, so much so that they found themselves in constant conflict and war with their neighbors.  To gain God’s favor they cranked up the sacrificial system of their day.  They felt good about doing away with human sacrifice, but didn’t acknowledge that the “firstborn” of many families were being sacrificed in war.  They favored the sacrifice of animals and grain in burnt offerings and a haze of smoke lingered over the cities.  The people most out of favor with God were the poor who didn’t have the wherewithal to participate in the sacrifices.  Disfavored, they could be completely forgotten by those who had power and wealth.
Micah, at threat of his own life, loudly proclaimed that a right relationship with God didn’t rely upon this sacrificial system (which only made the rich richer anyway) and would never rid Israel of its problems of war and poverty.  Micah insisted that the only way Israel could do that is by doing justice (mishpat) and practicing loving kindness (chesed).  When the weakest and poorest are forgotten and left behind, the ills of the community continue.  To be on the right side of God requires an attitude of humility, doing justice, and showing mercy and kindness, especially to the poor.
Micah, tried to bring God’s word to Israel, but wasn’t successful.  The exile in Babylon followed, the rich and capable were led off first by their captives, resulting in total loss and great suffering.  But like all the prophets before and after, Micah prepared the soil and planted a seed.  In our own day, Micah is quoted more than ever.
Now it’s important to note that the Exile was not a punishment by God, but a consequence of years of living lies bolstered by “alternative facts” that ignored reality and the cries of the poor.  The Exile was perpetrated by humans over against other humans.  God is not needed to punish anyone (even though we think so), human beings can punish themselves just fine, thank you.
Jesus, sent by the Father, came like a new Moses.  Jesus went up the mountain to teach how to live and value people in a whole new way.  Jesus taught how to live and value people in a way that had never been before.  In the same tradition as Moses and the prophets, Jesus went far beyond them.  In the Beatitudes, Jesus taught a whole new way of being human and experience unity as a human family, not over against others, excluding them, but respecting their dignity as children of his Father.
As Paul put it, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.  Weakness is made strong by forgiveness and love.  It is no surprise that the people most comfortable with Jesus’ message were the prostitutes and tax collectors!  It was precisely the people of no importance who were suited to be signs of God’s new creation, re-creating people from the inside out.  These “sinners” would be first in the Kingdom of Heaven that God wanted to bring about on earth.
Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.
No longer is religion about offering sacrifices to win God’s favor.  Those sacrifices were external and didn’t really change a person’s heart.  Change of heart and thinking (repentance, metanoia) would make heaven on earth possible.  The goal of “getting to heaven” that was the emphasis behind the sacrificial system, was no longer valid.  Now, to please God is to help bring about heaven on earth by living God’s values here and now.  Personal achievement, so valued in our time, is only meaningful when all God’s children participate, and no one is left out.  That is the meaning of the Beatitudes: the truly blessed ones are those not with power or resources, but the people most feared or despised by them.
Today we celebrate the one Sacrifice to end all sacrifices.  We have to be careful that we don’t foster the continuance of the sacrificial system.  The Lord’s Supper is open to all, offered for all people (themany), and will forgive the sins of all.  The Body and Blood we receive is a means of letting God change us, committing ourselves to doing justice and living in loving kindness toward all, trying to do God’s will, never giving up, until God’s kingdom come.  Amen!
Today we celebrate the one Sacrifice to end all sacrifices.  We have to be careful that we don’t foster the continuance of the sacrificial system.  The Lord’s Supper is open to all, offered for all people (themany), and will forgive the sins of all.  The Body and Blood we receive is a means of letting God change us, committing ourselves to doing justice and living in loving kindness toward all, trying to do God’s will, never giving up, until God’s kingdom come.  
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

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

"The Eucharist orients us to Life and away from the world’s focus on death. We receive the Eucharist regularly to bring us face to face with Jesus the Light of the World." John+

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Time Compression

          Time is a human construct that helps us order our lives.  It was easy to come by watching the sunrise and sunset and calling it “day” and organizing the days into weeks, months, and years.  We are able to “look back” on the past and wait for the “future” in dread or hope.

          God, the foundation of our being, exists outside of time.  Our human time constructs, present, past, and future, while helpful to us, don’t matter so much to God.  God, revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are Life and Love, are simply present in every moment.  Our time constructs have beginnings and ends.  We tend to rejoice at beginnings:  birth, weddings, careers, etc.  We tend to saddened by endings:  of friendships, relationships, and most especially, death.  Human beings, tend to focus on ends and try to delay them as much as possible, become more and more oriented toward death.

          Our faith helps us leave our natural orientation to death and enter into God’s ever-Presence with us at every moment.  In God, time is compressed, we are there in the God event whatever it is.  So when Isaiah prophesies and says:

          The people who walked in darkness have seen great light.
Time compression is going on.  Today’s Gospel quotes this verse in Isaiah.  In our darkness a great light shines.  

The human heart involved in, and moved by, violence (the very next verse is “the trampling warriors and clothes stained in blood”), can be trained away from darkness by coming into the light (Think time compression:  Christ, the Light of the World. The “Light” is some experience of forgiveness that orients a person away from death to Life.  The greatest sadness is when people don’t realize that it’s dark, like living in northern Alaska where its dark for 20 hours a day, and considering this “normal.”

          Jesus, in calling his disciples and teaching them to call others, is forming an alternative community oriented to Life and Love and away from darkness and focus on death.  Jesus did this calling of disciples directly after his desert temptations where Satan tempted Jesus to forsake his mission on behalf of Life for the power and glory of this world that always comes to an end.  Jesus survived Satan’s temptations and could then start this new community, the Church, oriented to Life and Love from its roots, but as a divine/human reality, susceptible to Satan’s temptations to turn away from Life to death.

          That’s why Jesus, at the Last Supper with his disciples, took bread and said “This is my Body” and took the last cup of wine and said “This is my Blood.  Do this in memory of me.”  The word for memory here is anamnesis.  It has a special meaning.  It is an example, par excellence, of time compression.  Shortly after the supper Jesus was arrested, tried, and put to death on the cross.  His body and blood were poured out for us.  Time compression:  the bread and wine become the Body and Blood.  For us the anamnesis is not just a historical remembering of a past event, but a “being there” (Heidegger’s dasein),not in a kind of holy time machine, where you leave one era and go to another, but instead the event becomes actually present.  This is all made possible by the absolute conquering of death by Jesus’ Resurrection.  The Risen Jesus, Life itself, is with us in the sacramental moment.  This is the food that feeds the alternative community we belong to.  This is why the Eucharistic Presence is Real and vital and why we should not take it for granted.  The Eucharist orients us to Life and away from the world’s focus on death.  We receive the Eucharist regularly to bring us face to face with Jesus the Light of the World. The Light we see in the darkness! It is the greatest Gift imaginable!  And it is Jesus who gives it to us, right here, right now!  

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, January 16, 2017

WHERE JESUS IS: "..in a world that is slow in “getting the point” of Jesus’ coming, we can love, forgive, and show mercy, because we “get it...” The Reverend John Smith

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Unpack Your Bag and Stay
I bet many, if not all of us, have hit our fingers or thumb when we’ve tried to hammer a nail and missed.  It hurts!  This very human experience goes back to the beginning of time.
      
          “Hammer” is a very important word in the bible.  In Greek, the word hamartia is the word for sin.  The root meaning of hamartia is “missing the mark.” When we “miss the mark” and hit our thumb or finger, we hurt ourselves, “ouch!”  Sin doesn’t hurt God at all, or make God mad at us, it hurts us!  It’s more like a parent saddened when they watch their child get hurt.

          Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

With our understanding of hamartia, or sin, we could translate John the Baptist’s words as “This is the Lamb of God who will help the world not miss the point.”

          What is the “point” that the world had been missing or needed saving from?  I would say this:  

God loves every human being as a son or daughter, there is no need for rivalry or the killing of one another in order to live in peace.  This is the point human beings have missing from the beginning.  

In order to rediscover paradise we don’t have to use violence, require death, sacrifice, or find a scapegoat to blame for our trouble or insecurity.  The “Lamb of God” will take away once and for all time this sin.

          When John calls Jesus the “Lamb of God,” he is using a commonly understood sacrificial term or title.  Lambs were sacrificed all the time.  They replaced “human” sacrifice in the sacrificial system of the time.  Think the story of Abraham and Isaac, when the angel stayed Abraham’s sword that would sacrifice Isaac and told him to sacrifice an animal instead.  God was starting to make the point then- the system that saw the necessary sacrifice of human beings was flawed!

          But human culture continued to “miss the point.”  People continue to sacrifice human beings, created by God, to attempt to win God’s favor or for their own ends.  Striving to rid themselves of evil, they created even more evil.  Sin, hamartia, continued to reign.  This is the “sin” that the Lamb of God offered himself to forgive.

          This is very important.  Jesus, the Lamb of God, offered, emptied himself of God-head, freely, to show humanity from the inside (as one of us), a way to live free of a sacrificial system that required that some be sacrificed so that “evil” might be destroyed.  Jesus showed that real evil can only be eliminated by forgiveness, mercy, and love. 

          This is not easy to understand.  It is so easy to continue to miss the point.  Why?  Because we think that Jesus’ death as Lamb was required by God to turn God’s anger from us and restore his love for us.  (11th Century Doctrine of Atonement) This is not the case! God always loved us (created children) and the world God created.  It was/is humankind that continues to live in a sacrificial system that requires the pointing of the finger, acts of war, “sacred” violence, and destruction of creation.  Jesus’ blood, his death on the cross, was not to change God’s thinking about us (God always loves all his children, however wayward), but to change our thinking about God (a Lover, not waiting to punish us).

          When John’s disciples ask Jesus “Where do you live?” the word is menein or “abide.”  They are thinking of a house or structure here Jesus lived or “unpacked his bags” and stayed.  Jesus says “Come and see.”  This is kind of a joke.  They would keep following Jesus, but they would never come to a physical house!  Jesus was inviting them, and us, to “abide” in him, unpack our bags (what a good feeling that is), mentally and spiritually, saved from “missing the point,” hamartia, or sin.  Even in a world that is slow in “getting the point” of Jesus’ coming, we can love, forgive, and show mercy, because we “get it,” we’ve unpacked our bags where Jesus is, and embrace life, being fed by his Word and Sacrament.  

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, January 9, 2017

THE VOICE OF GOD: "You are my beloved son, you are my beloved daughter. We go into the world, not perfect, but loved!" The Reverend John Smith

Image result for voice of God, photo?

Getting a Hearing Aid

          I suspect that every wife, in the course of years of marriage, says to her husband:  I think you need a hearing aid.  It happened to me.  Terri said that I should get my hearing checked.  I put her off until one day, on my own, I saw a Beltone office in our local shopping center and went in.  The nice lady tech said she had an opening for a free hearing check right then.  I sat down in the booth and took the test. When the test was over she gave me the results, plotted out on the form of a banana.  If your hearing was good, all the dots would be within the banana.  All my dots were!  I got the results in writing to show Terri.  She wouldn’t believe it!

          I thought of that story when I read the Gospel for today, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.  Jesus gets in line with the multitude at the Jordan River to be baptized by John the Baptist.  Finally it’s his turn to approach John to be “drowned” in the water.  But John senses that the one in front of him doesn’t really need to be baptized by him and it should be the other way around.  Jesus should baptize him!  Jesus insists that John continue because this would be the way “to fulfill all righteousness.”  Jesus went under in all that spiritually polluted water and was baptized.

          When someone is baptized and comes up from under the water it is thought that they enter life from a completely fresh perspective:  They have died with Christ and risen to new life in him.   All their sins are forgiven once and for all.  They no longer have a righteousness of their own, having to prove to others that they really are good people, instead they receive a righteousness from God.  From then on, the approval that counts in life is not from other people, but from God!  As God’s voice said to Jesus after his baptism “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased,” this same voice says to each one “You are my beloved daughter, my beloved son, in you I am well pleased.”

          This is what God says over every person in this world. “You are my beloved son, you are my beloved daughter.”  The thing about being baptized is that the rite of baptism makes very clear.  Go therefore into the whole world and baptize them in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  It’s God’s intention that every human being come into the world hear and realize that God is a parent to them with total, unconditional love.

          That’s why I started talking about needing a hearing aid.  We might not need one from Beltone (Terri still thinks I need one!), but we do need one to hear God as a loving parent who loves us unconditionally.  Why is important to have this Gospel hearing aid?  Because most people, unfortunately even many baptized Christians, don’t hear or think of God as a loving parent of everyone in the human family.  Even if it is clear that God is a loving, forgiving parent to us, extending this to every human being, even those who we think are our enemies, is very difficult.

          This is where “to fulfill all righteousness” comes in.  “Righteousness” as something to be or strive for was very important in ancient times.  It is today too, but we don’t like to use that old and religious word.  We prefer words like “cool,” “popular,” “powerful,” “rich,” “famous,” “beautiful,” and even “holy.” These words are used to describe righteousness bestowed by our human culture upon a deserving few.  The loud approval of others we seek and strive for, drowns out the Voice of God that pronounces every child come into the world a beloved son or daughter and surrounds them with unconditional love, or, as Peter finally realized, with God’s help, “No one is profane or impure.”

          Baptism is a resurrection sacrament that introduces a person into a whole new social order.  No longer is it us vs. them.  No longer is it necessary to have enemies or scapegoats.  In Jesus’ death and resurrection we see that (he) the victim is innocent and hated without cause.  God’s justice and righteousness is nothing like human justice and righteousness.  Projecting our human righteousness upon God is idolatry, making God into our own image, and not letting God be who God really is: a loving Parent who unconditionally loves all his/her children.

          This is the hearing aid I need:  to hear the Voice of God as a loving Parent and not a judge who wants to take away my freedom.  Each time when I listen to the Gospel and receive Holy Communion let us hear this Voice clearly say:  You are my beloved son, you are my beloved daughter.  We go into the world, not perfect, but loved!  
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, January 2, 2017

IN JESUS HOLY NAME: " to embrace ordinary folk with the love of God, especially the poor and those oppressed by injustice or disease. If we do this, whatever may come during the New Year, it will be a very good year! The Reverend John Smith


The Holy Name of Jesus

          If we added up all the real questions we ask people over the course of a certain amount of time, the number one question I think would be “What’s your name?”  It’s our way of being friendly and showing interest in the other person and also fulfills a curiosity we have.  Sometimes the question shows sympathy and caring when asked of a child or someone going through a hard time.  Sometime the question “What’s your name?” is demanded of us or asked in anger, like when we’ve done something wrong, or, when I was confronted by the school bully and his friends.  When I told them, over and over, my name was “John Smith” they didn’t believe me.  Frustrated, they left.  Thank God!

          Humans value names.  The importance of names comes, in great part from the religious heritage of the three Abrahamic faiths.  God created Adam out of the earth, adamah.  Abram’s name was changed by God to Abraham, which means Father of a people in Hebrew.  Moses at the Burning Bush, in the course of his dialogue with God, asks God to reveal his name.  God’s name was Yahweh (Yhwh) which means I am Who I Am.  God is the verb “to be” and the foundation/source of all being, every created thing or person.

          Those were just some examples from the Hebrew bible.  In the New Testament we all remember how Saul, the great persecutor of the early followers of Jesus, upon his conversion, God arranged that his name would be changed to Paul.  And Simon the fisherman, when he confessed his faith in the Messiah, Jesus changed his name to Petra which means Rock.  Peter would be the  Rock foundation upon which Jesus would build his church.  Names sometimes describe a person’s purpose or give a new identity.

          Then we come to the Holy Name of Jesus we are thinking about today and the first day of every year.  In the course of the Christmas story, the angel Gabriel revealed to Mary that the baby she would conceive would be called Jeshua which means one who saves.  Mary and Joseph didn’t have to consider names like most parents do, but accepted in faith the name God communicated through the angel for the child.

          The saving name of Jesus remains close to all believers.  St. Paul in Philippians calls the name of Jesus the “name above all names.”  Prayers and hymns focus on the name of Jesus and the power and dominance it contains.  Do you remember the hymn:  There is power, power, power, wonder working power, in the Name, in the Name?  In the course of time, however, the focus on the power of Jesus’ name, has led to a kind of holy competition between faiths, with Christianity being “superior” and “above” all other religions.  But that this very passage with Paul’s testimony about the “name above all names” should lead to thoughts of Christianity’s superiority or dominance over other religions, is sad.  Rather it should lead to love for and service to the world and all its religions.  Why? The whole passage is about humility, about Jesus’ emptying himself out in a saving act and witness for the world!

          I grew up always thinking that Christianity and my Roman Catholicism was the truest and the best of all religions.  I’m glad that I’m joined to Christ in baptism, and it’s taken a while, but I’ve learned from Jesus that the greatest among you is the one who serves, not being served The Holy Name of Jesus reminds us that, as he came to serve and save the world, so should we.  This is the “truth” that Jesus came to bring an be an example for us all.

          Jesus was born in a stable, his parents were very ordinary people, lowly, often despised, shepherds were the first to know of his birth and be changed forever by the experience.  The Apostles were the most ordinary of folk.  So were Mary Magdalen, Zaccheus, and so many others, like us, ordinary people in need of saving.  We were baptized with ordinary water in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!

          So on the first day of every year, the church gives us this special day of the Holy Name to refocus us for the year ahead on what’s really important: to embrace ordinary folk with the love of God, especially the poor and those oppressed by injustice or disease.  If we do this, whatever may come during the New Year, it will be a very good year!  In Jesus’ Holy Name.  

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