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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

MY HOUSE SHALL BE A HOUSE OF PRAYER FOR ALL PEOPLE: "Think “us” in terms of seeing all people as our brothers and sisters in God, our Father’s family." John+

The Nature of Sin

          Somehow, probably in the Dark Ages, the church lost sight of the true nature of sin.  As the church grew rapidly, especially in the West, there were no seminaries to train clergy, so the clergy for the most part weren’t well-educated.  Most spiritual direction took place in the confessional dealing with a person’s struggle with their “sins.”  In Ireland during the 800’s books were developed to help the clergy determine the proper penances for particular sins.  The list of sins was comprehensive (cursing, adultery, stealing, etc., on and on).  Each sin had its own penance.

          The focus on individuals and their sins remained for centuries, and even persists in our own day, with penances becoming lighter, ie. Say three Our Fathers and three Hail Mary’s as we like to joke.  With liturgical reform this is beginning to change.  Most Christians now confess Forgive what we have done and what we have failed to do.  This is good because it moves us from a “my sins are a private matter between me and my God” to a “my sins and failings have an effect on other people.”

          We see this movement from persisting from ancient times: thinking of sin as an individual “defect,” moral (last weeks Woman at the well) or physical, to actions that effect society.  Jesus’ encounter with the man born blind (a physical defect) brings this out.  They all ask Jesus Who sinned, this man or his parents?  They wanted to see if Jesus would mimic the answer of the culture he was born into where blindness was a defect, a sin that needed explanation and a cause.  Jesus’ disciples and the Pharisees were programmed to think this way.  In a way, we too still think this way, although we pat ourselves on the back because we no longer think of blindness and so ma other physical “defects” as rooted in sin.

          In today’s Gospel the dialogue goes back and forth between Jesus and the Pharisees over the nature of sin.  Someone must take the blame for the man’s blindness and his defect of nature.  Is he or his parents responsible?  The man says that he was always blind, but now he can see.  This should be a wonderful thing, except Jesus did it on the Sabbath.  The Pharisees say that no “work” is to be done on the Sabbath.  God rested on the Sabbath.  Jesus retorts that My Father is always working.  Creation is not finished ever.

          It seems an uphill battle for Jesus.  Blindness is a great sin, but not physical blindness, rather spiritual blindness.  The Pharisees, leaders who claim to see, who expel sinners, all those with defects, from the Temple, and alone judge who are worthy to belong, are the blind ones.  In contrast, Jesus gathers sinners into community and doesn’t expel anyone.  Understanding Jesus’ new Way is to move from darkness to light, from blindness to real sight.  But, to be clear, It was/is easy for Jesus to heal a person from blindness, but very difficult to heal a whole culture from its blindness. 

This story of the “Man born blind from birth” is a story that points out a cultural blindness which leads to real sin, the sin of expulsion, driving undesirables away, painting them as different, illegals, unwelcome sinners in our midst that should and must be banished.  Jesus knows that our human society has been blind from its birth.  Jesus, God’s own Son, allowed himself to be expelled from this world by the powerful leaders who claimed to “see,” but were blinder than bats.

          We who are baptized followers of Jesus have the same struggles his first disciples had.  We are members of a culture which exerts a powerful influence on us to expel people to protect our “interests.”  Mostly out of fear, we feel more like excluding than including, protecting the “us” from the “them.”  The church, part of this human culture, at times has shared and continues to share the same struggle. Jesus called sinners to gather with him and didn’t exclude them like the Pharisees.  The Holy Spirit is slowly changing us, helping us repent, change our thinking, healing our blindness, and opening up our eyes to Jesus’ vision for the world.  We need to prepare ourselves, for this will be a long drawn out process.  Our hope is that, just as surely as we believe Jesus was raised from the dead, we will let our fears go and open to God’s love.  Our belief in the Resurrection of Jesus does this!

          A theology professor once told his students:  If you want to see what it was like to live in the age of the great Cathedrals, look at the great hospitals today.  The great Cathedrals were symbols of people’s love for God and the centrality of God in life.  The great hospitals, even with all the good they do, are symbols of our cultures fear of death and the absolute necessity we require of delaying death as long as possible.

          Jesus wants to lead us out of the fear of death into the love of God.  Build a cathedral for God in your heart and let God’s love be there for all people (My house shall be a house of prayer for all people).  Think “us” in terms of seeing all people as our brothers and sisters in God, our Father’s family.  Scapegoating, pointing the finger, expelling, are the Capital sins of our time.  On this Fourth Sunday of Lent we learn to live and love others in God and be truly free from sin.  

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, March 20, 2017

WHO ARE WE IN GOD? "God blesses us, not for ourselves, but to be a blessing for others." The Reverend John Smith

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Have a Drink

          Our Lenten journey prepares us for Easter and renewal of our commitment to Jesus, and, in the case of our Candidate, for Holy Baptism.  So far through Lent we’ve talked about “desire” and how easy it is for our desires to become distorted, so that everything in our experience comes down to an “us vs. them.” The woman gave it to me to eat.  The blame game begins.  Last week our theme was “call,” coming from the story of the call of Abraham and Sarah.  They were comfortably “us” in their familiar place and God called them to leave there and go to a place, they didn’t know, God would show them.  In other words, they would be a perpetual “them,” but doing so, they would become a blessing for future generations.  God blesses us, not for ourselves, but to be a blessing for others.

          This week we learn “how” to be a blessing.  The people in the desert were angry from hunger and thirst.  They demanded that Moses do something.  Moses, afraid for his life, cried out to God for help.  God, somewhat annoyed with Moses, showed him a rock to strike that would provide water for the people to drink.  The immediate crisis was handled.  Upshot of the story:  Moses didn’t realize who he was and who God was either. 

          This story points to the theme of “Who am I?”  Now most of us know pretty well “who we are.”  But the real question is “who we are in God?”  And of course it matters what kind of God we are talking about as well.

          Let’s start with God first.  Is God living water flowing inside us?  Do we experience God as merciful love?  Or is God a god of wrath, someone to fear?  These are important questions we’ve got to get clear and it’s not easy.  While wanting to believe that God is love, our reading of the bible makes us think that God exists to punish the sinner.  Sinners will incur God’s “wrath.”  This idea is helped along by translations like the text from Romans today:

          But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ die for us.  Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.

          Jesus saves us from the “wrath of God.”  This really gets to me because “of God” is not in the Greek text at all.  Even scholarly translators (a lot smarter than I am) put something in the text that isn’t there!  The idea is that Jesus saves us from “wrath.”  This is the translation.  There’s a tendency for human beings to attribute “wrath,” all the bad that goes on in the world, to God, even when all “wrath” is caused only by human beings!  It is this human caused wrath, or sin, that Jesus came to save us from, not God’s disgust and hatred for us as children of God!  God is Love.  God is a loving parent to all his children, praying like every parent that the child will find their way, and merciful when they lose their way.  This is who God is!

          I should hesitate using the word “God” because in our time it is easily co-opted by all religions.  We talk about God like God is right in our pocket, under our control.  Karl Rahner, a great theologian of the last century, said we should all agree not to use the word “God” for fifty years and instead refer to God as “the Holy Mystery.”  Doing so, might slow us down from co-opting “God” for our own interests and prejudices which encourages us to contribute to suffering (wrath) claiming it is necessary to protect ourselves.  God does not send people to hell, humans do.

          What about us?  Who are we in God?  Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well.  She’s there at mid-day when it’s the hottest and nobody draws water at that time.  She’s a them with three strikes against her:  She’s a woman, a Samaritan (hated by Jews as half-breeds and unfaithful), and morally bankrupt, because she’s had five husbands and is living with a guy that she’s not married to.  Jesus knows her inside out.  If anyone could warrant the “wrath” of God, it’s her.  What does Jesus do? He talks to her, something a Jewish man wouldn’t do. He offers her, not wrath or condemnation, but the merciful, living water of Holy Mystery.  She is worth it.  What her townspeople could/would never give her, Jesus gives her:  love, forgiveness, and self-worth.

          Jesus meets you and I today, just like he met that woman.  Each of us have strikes against us like she did (although we’ve for the most part successfully protected ourselves from the judgment of others), but Jesus loves and accepts us as we are, frees us, heals us, and gives us a new identity.  We aren’t defined by what people think, Jesus knows us best and invites us to drink daily the living water of friendship with him.  Have a drink!   

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, March 14, 2017

The Reverend John Smith: "We are blessed, not as a personal possession, to the exclusion of others, but as a blessing to others."

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Blessed to be a Blessing

          The First Sunday of Lent we talked about “desire” and how this is a gift from God, but a gift that can become distorted when our desires foster rivalry and division which can lead to violence, divorce, or war.  From the beginning of time, distorted desire has created a dualism of “us vs. them,” good vs. bad, and all the blaming and scapegoating that goes with it.
 
          This was our first Lenten lesson as we enrolled our Candidate for Holy Baptism.  Jesus refused to let his desire to do his Father’s will be distorted by Satan’s temptations.  He was famished by hunger, his physical well-being threatened, and he allowed himself to remain completely powerless in the face of this testing.  Doing so, Jesus was able to stand alongside people down through time that experience the same struggles and temptations.  We prayed that our Candidate would be given Jesus’ strength as she approached Baptism.

          This Sunday the teaching centers on the “Call” of God. Our world is fully entrenched in an “us/them” dualism fostering division, blame, and scapegoating.  Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit (Adam blames Eve:  The woman gave it to me to eat), and one of their two offspring, Cain, murders his brother Abel, out of anger and jealousy over God’s favor.  Cain founds the first city and endows it with his spirit.

          Something must be done.  God calls Abraham and Sarah to leave Ur, their familiar home city, where they were, in terms of “us/them,” clearly “us.”  God promised that he would lead them to a new country, but in leaving their old homeland, they would never be “us” again, instead they would be forever outsiders, bringing blessing to others. The blessing Abraham and Sarah received from God was to be a source of blessing for others.  God was attempting to do away with the destructive dualisms people had lived with from the beginning. Abraham and Sarah were old and had to trust God’s promise to enable them to bring about offspring without knowing how it would be done or work out.  Abraham and Sarah surrendered in love and trust to God without complete knowledge of what the future would bring or the ultimate success of their part in God’s enterprise.

          Learning to live without thinking dualistically is what Jesus’ dialogue with Nicodemus in the Gospel.
 
          Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again/ from above.
 
The Greek word that translates “born again or born from above” is anothen.  Yes, it can mean “born again,” and that’s what the King James Version translated it.  Nicodemus takes it literally and asks Jesus about how a person could enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born again.  But Jesus meant the second meaning (as the NRSV translates it) “born from above.”  In other words, a new birth in thinking and way of relating to others brought about by the Holy Spirit (the need to be born of water and Spirit).  As God began with Abraham and Sarah, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are doing with Nicodemus, the disciples, and anyone who would listen (obey):  breaking down the “Us/Them” dualism which is based on exclusion(they are not of us) to thinking always of “We” based on inclusion.  God is our Father, the Father of all, as Jesus taught, making everyone brothers and sisters.  No one excluded.  This is what it means to be “born from above.”
 
Being “born from above” comes out of contemplative thinking (Rohr), willing to suspend judgment about differences, us/them thinking, and live in the light of oneness with God’s creation and all humanity.  (I’m thinking of how much division has been caused by “born again” thinking)

          For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might saved through him. (John 3:16-17)

          Most of the time we think of “eternal life” (zoe aionios) in this passage as meaning when we die and go to heaven.  But the Jews never, and Jesus as a Jew, never thought or taught it meant “getting out of this world” as we have come to think.  For them “Eternal Life” meant living now, in this age, here and now, in an extraordinary relationship, friendship, with God, begun now, and continuing forever.  As the Gospel continues, Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world, but to offer all people this relationship with him, beginning with repentance (radical change of thinking) from an “us/them” divisive way of living, and instead seeing all people as related to his Father and as our brothers and sisters.  Eternal life starts here, not when we die.  This is how Jesus saves the world:  by more and more people repenting, being bornfrom above, refusing to live in us/them categories, living in mercy and forgiveness, and loving God with all their hearts and their neighbors as themselves.  We are blessed, not as a personal possession, to the exclusion of others, but as a blessing to others.  

Amen! 
John+0

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, March 6, 2017

THE REVEREND JOHN SMITH: "I am weak, but Thou art strong. I need Jesus to find equilibrium amid all the temptations, desires, supposedly for my own good, all around me. I need Lent, a new springtime in my life, where I can get back on the track of my baptismal call. "

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Desires, Desires, and more Desires

          I’ve always thought that desires make the world go around and that’s basically a very good thing.  Desire is something God put in us “when we were knit together in our mother’s womb.”  We’re born with desires and they can be a powerful impetus for good in our lives.

          This First Sunday of Lent addresses the very real problems that can arise when our desires become distorted in some way.  I say distorted because, as far as our desires go, they are always directed toward an end that we think is good and pleasant.  Even a bad guy who does something deemed evil is acting toward a perceived good.  No one sets out to do “evil,” but instead to do something in their own interest and good.

          I’m talking about “desire” because that is a keyword in our Genesis reading today:

          So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and the tree was to be desired (chamad) to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate.

          We always desire something we think will be good for us, not evil, but that which we desire doesn’t always lead to a happy outcome or freedom.  Sometimes our “good” desires foster rivalry and division.  Interesting, in the Ten Commandments, the same word is used in the “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods, wife, etc.” is the same word in Hebrew (chamad).

          Bottom line, we need to be true to ourselves and the God who brought us into being.  Because some of the good things we desire might not be good for us, we need discernment or the help of God to find our way.  This is not easy because we are subject to temptation.  Just as Satan (representing the angels that rebelled against God) tempted Adam and Eve with something good (to be like God, knowing good and evil), so we can be tempted as well.  Our temptations don’t come from slithery creatures, but from the crowd.  We like the approval of others.  We like what others have.  We will do violence, if necessary to have it, him, or her.  We will go to war, if we need to, to protect our “interests” or desires.  Of course, in the desire to be free, we end up creating so much suffering and in endless bondage.

          Jesus came to free us from the bondage of our distorted desires.  We look at Jesus in his temptations:
He was famished.  The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread” . . . the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,” and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone’ . . . Again the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”

What would we do if we were tempted like Jesus, instead of by the devil, but the crowd yelling “Go ahead, make some bread for you and us, we will protect you, nothing will hurt you, we’ll make you famous and powerful.”  Wanting what they want for me I would probably stuff myself, check with my insurance guy to see if I was covered for falls, and grab all the power I could get.  But, by not doing what I was called to do, I’d find myself in chains.

I am weak, but Thou art strong.  I need Jesus to find equilibrium amid all the temptations, desires, supposedly for my own good, all around me.  I need Lent, a new springtime in my life, where I can get back on the track of my baptismal call.
Remember the message last week on Mount Transfiguration:  Listen to him!  Then three days later ashes were placed on our heads as a sign of repentance- our willingness to change our thinking and actions and make them more congruent with Jesus’ way of living and looking at things.  Lent is all about realizing Jesus’ tremendous love.  Jesus refused to turn the stones into bread and relieve his hunger so he could identify with every person in this world who is hungry.  Even though he had the Angels Insurance Plan which covered everything with no deductibles, Jesus didn’t jump from the pinnacle of the Temple so he could be one with all those in any emotional and physical distress.  And Jesus, offered all the power and kingdoms of this world, refused to kneel before Satan so he could stand alongside the powerless people of this world who depend on him alone.  Jesus did this to show his love for every person, especially the hungry, those suffering emotionally or physically, and those who have no power or status in this world.  Jesus did it and with his help, so can we.  This is our time to grow.  

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