Sunday, July 27, 2014

Notes from the Parish Office

Please note:

Next Thursday, July 31st and Friday, August 1 ~ the School and Parish Offices will be closed. There will be no entrance to the parking lots during that time as re-surfacing will be taking place. Will re-open in time for Saturday and Sunday services. Thank you for your patience and consideration in this much needed project. 

Do not forget your chance to "Jump back into the 50's and 60's" with dinner at Little Anthony's Diner on THURSDAY, JULY 31 AT 6:30 PM. Sign-up sheets are located in the back of church. Parish Life invites you to a great evening of fun and fellowship!

Stay cool! 


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Casa Maria Reminder for Friday, 7/25/14

Casa Maria sandwich making is this Friday, July 25th at St Michael's Parish Center, 602 N. Wilmot. Kitchen opens at 5 PM; come anytime after that!

School's out! It's a GREAT time to bring children to a family friendly Community Service event. WE NEED YOUR HELP! EXTRA EGGS PLEASE! Bring friends!

Please bring 2 or 3 dozen peeled eggs. We don't get extra eggs from the School students in the summer. We need medium sized boxes for transporting the lunches. Fruit boxes from Costco or banana boxes are ideal.

Come join the fun!  Experience the satisfaction that comes from helping others!

NEXT CASA MARIA: FRIDAY AUGUST 22nd. Mark your calendars for 2014! Casa Maria is every 4 weeks...

July 25th
Aug 22nd
Sept 19th
Oct 17th
Nov 14th
Dec 12th

Monday, July 21, 2014

New Sermons Page on St. Michael's Website

The Sermons page on the St. Michael and All Angels website has been fully updated! It now features five recent sermons by Father Smith, with more to follow soon. Each entry includes a list of the day's readings, and at least one picture that relates to the sermon.

Here is the most recent sermon. Click on the link above to read them all!


Don’t Weed the Garden
A Sermon for Sunday, July 20th, 2014
By Father John R. Smith

Lesson:  Genesis 28: 10 – 19a                                   
Psalm 139: 1-11 / 22-23
Epistle: Romans 8: 12 - 25
The Holy Gospel: Matthew 13: 24 – 30, 36 - 43

When I was a teenager, my mom kept pretty good tabs on me.  When, during the summer, it looked like I was getting bored or antsy with lots of time on my hands, she would say:  “John, go weed the garden.”  Living in the northwest with lots of rain everything grew fast including the weeds.  There were always plenty of weeds in the garden and flower beds.  It had to be done.

I dreaded hearing my mom’s request for me to pull weeds.  I wish I knew today’s Gospel passage where Jesus says to let the weeds grow and don’t pull them out lest the good plants be uprooted with them (which did happen!) so I could show it to my mother and get out of having to pull weeds all the time!

Actually, Jesus is addressing a problem in his day which we continue to have in our own time:  How do you resist evil without adding the evil of your own violent preventative actions and make things worse than they were?  In other words, Jesus is saying that we will multiply evil when we try to identify evil and weed it out.

Why is this?  Because Jesus knows we are not good at identifying evil because we are sinners too.  Like Pogo says:  We have met the enemy and it is us.  As human beings we tend to put everything into an “us” vs. “them” type of life scenario where real people get hurt or killed.

Conventional human judgment says “Let's get the bad guys and teach them a lesson.”  But we do so without any proportion to our human “justice.”  For example:  After 9/11 there was a lot of comparison to the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.  On that tragic day there were 2500+ casualties, mostly sailors and soldiers, but when we dropped the atom bomb on Nagasaki and Hiroshima we caused over 250,000 casualties, mostly all civilians.  And 9/11’s 3500+ dead led to a war that estimates 350,000 were killed, the majority civilians.  And in the current conflict in Gaza and Israel, Palestinian casualties are over 200 and so far only 1 Israeli has been killed.  We are not good at pulling weeds.  The more we weed the more the landscape is destroyed.

The Million Dollar question is:  How can we oppose evil without creating more evil and bloodshed and becoming evil ourselves in the process?

Jesus lived and taught an alternative to our conventional human wisdom.  When the slaves in the story ask the Master if they should pull up the weeds sown by the enemy, he replies,

“No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.  Let both of them grow together until the harvest.”
The word for “let” in the Greek text is aphiemi which can mean “permit”, “let”, or “allow.”  It’s in the command “do this” form.    But the greatest thing for me is that the word aphiemi is the word in Greek for forgiveness, in the sense of “let off the hook!”

For Jesus, the real enemy is Satan, who attempts to sucker us into conflict and to end up creating more and more woe in the world.  Jesus is saying “Don’t fall into that trap.  Step back from the sadness and look how to bring mercy to the perpetrator who has a complaint against you.  What is the complaint?  How can you answer it and make things better?

Vincent van Gogh Harvest in Provence of Wheat Field with Sheaves, c.1888All this said, we still have to deal with Jesus’ words about collecting the weeds at harvest and throwing them into the furnace of fire where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  Doesn’t sound much like forgiveness, does it?  We can go in a couple of directions on this:  Jesus could be saying “Leave all Judgment and punishment to me and my Father.  Wait till we get our hands on the evildoers,” (Jesus’ listeners might like this best because it gives a nod to the conventional wisdom to eliminate the bad guys) or, Jesus is saying that the Kingdom he and the Angels are trying to bring about on the earth will be unsuccessfully up-rooted like weeds by those looking to get rid of them by putting Jesus (The Weed) to death on the Cross.  Jesus himself will suffer the furnace of fire in his passion and death.  Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. were modern day examples of persons willing to suffer violence themselves before they would afflict others with violence.

I wish we could judge rightly, but we are not God.  God is love.  In God there is no darkness at all.  God makes the sun shine on the good and bad alike.  God makes rain to fall on the just and unjust.  God is removed completely from the realm of our human judgment or human morality, our judging or condemning human beings as evil.

So what do we do?  Patiently resist evil, forgive, try not to increase the evil sown in the world by anything we do create even more suffering.  Doing this, we will groan with creation’s labor pains for the Kingdom to finally come.  St Paul shares this groaning experience with us:

We, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.  For in hope we were saved.  Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what is seen?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
This is the experience of the follower of Jesus in the world:  groaning for the Kingdom of peace and justice while being joyful in hope that “Thy Kingdom come” will be a reality in this world.

In sum, I think we can be more useful to God in our patience than in trying to pull up everything we think is a weed.  Don’t we sometimes say:  Is that a weed?  It looks like a flower!  God is the Master Gardener.  Let us cooperate with God’s plan as Jesus teaches us. 


Friday, July 18, 2014

An Update from Ila in Guatemala

Guatemala team volunteers at a training session in Arizona
Dear folks,
I meant this as an internal document for Guatemala Project team members, but it reveals so much about the nature of the Project that I decided to forward it to others.  Use as you see fit.
Ila, coordinator, St. Michael's Guatemala Project

-----Forwarded Message-----
From: Ila Abernathy
Sent: Jul 18, 2014 8:20 AM

Greetings to all.  Team 3, make sure you get to the detail on first few days at the end. 

I will be working at the CPR-Sierra office most of today but will check e-mail at least once, and again this evening and tomorrow through noon.  In the afternoon I'm moving to the apartment of a friend and won't have Wi-Fi access, but Team 3, don't despair. I'll check at an internet café sometime Sunday, and I'm returning to Casa SAn Jose either late Sunday or very early Monday, in time to get any late messages, plane schedule changes, etc.

Team 3, now that RN Sarah Roberts is back in Tucson (I hope), you may be able to route some questions to her.  If you talk to someone who has been here only once and the info differs from what's on your "what to bring" info, believe the sheet or ask Sarah, as needs for each community are different.  Try not to overwhelm Sarah, though.  We are going to miss her, as it's really nice to have two of us who already know the communities we visit.

Followup on selected patients  (team 3, these are the dramatic ones, but do read to understand better what we do)

Magdalena, the little girl in Pal who needs an echocardiogram:  Equipo member Diego says he will wait a few months and then reapproach the family gently, after they have gotten over the shock of the death of Magdalena's cousin, also Magdalena, following surgery in the capital.

Nicolas, the youngster with cleft lip and palate in Caba who is long overdue for surgery (now between 9 and 13 years old):  His adult brother, who was to accompany him and Team 2 from Caba to Nebaj for initial contact at the hospital, called Pedro and said that the alcalde auxiliar (local mayor) called a community work day, and he had to show up (this is particularly important in a divided community like Caba / Caba La Laguna, so one side doesn't badmouth the other for not working).  He plans to bring young Nicolas to Nebaj to meet some of Team 3 at the hospital Monday, July 28.  This messes up our schedule but is essential.  Team 3, Nicolas has never left Caba, which is approached only by really muddy footpaths.  He has never even see a car, bus, or truck, or as may people as he will encounter.  This first visit is in part so he will begin to experience "El Pueblo."  The Project pays transportation for him and his brother.

Genaro, the tiny 9-year-old from Tesorito with sky-high temp who looked so very sick, whom we sent to Patulul with health worker for dengue and malaria tests at the Centro de Salud:  Antonio says he is better but didn't know the test results.  I told him we wanted to know, without implying that, as lead health person, he should have asked.  Will broach that later, in our final meeting, as either disease would be a public health concern for the entire community.  We need to lean on the Tesorito workers a wee bit, though pushing isn't an effective technique.

Francisco, the young man from Nuevo Amanecer with what was almost certainly tubercular swelling and lumps on his neck, received a positive diagnosis and has been sent home with meds and counseling.  Nicholas Chel, our friend who does HIV and TB control at the Nebaj hospital, has arranged followup through the Centro de Salud in Chajul.

Nicolas Chel also reported that his nephew, son of Magdalena, who owns the little comedor near the hotel where we get the good, cheap breakfasts, fell from the third level of their house and landed on his head.  He is in intensive care at Hospital Roosevelt, following surgery.  Magdalena, of course, is here as well.  I will try to make contact tomorrow, but I don't know when!  Magdalena naturally is very worried.

Dr. Pust, even before he came here, said the Project was about relationships, and that was the experience he was hoping for, for the med students.  I guess we proved it.  And that makes it doubly good that Heinrich and Sara L. reported such a rewarding experience working with Equipo de Salud member Gustavo in Area Santa Clara.  Also shows how important accompaniment and followup are.

TEAM 3, come prepared for a busy first few days.

We will be 5 in the Capital.  RN Lisa Brennan, from the Bay Area, will join us in Nebaj July 26.  We may do some "getting acquainted" exercises at the hotel that night, since it's the first time we will all be together.

Mon. July 21.  I am meeting planes at 1:11 and 9:25 p.m.  You will reimburse me for cab fare when you change money.  The luck early arrivals will be able to eat, relax, and change money Monday.

Tue. July 22.  Breakfast at Casa San Jose and quick orientation on how to navigate the city safely, and other such topics.  Money changing for those who haven't  We'll choose a "tesorero" for your group donations ($30 additional for those who brought supplies, $50 for those who didn't).  I can give you a donor tax note for this money, which we will use for extraordinary travel and extra meds and supplies we lack.  Lisa can add hers, and the application fee, when we see her in Nebaj.  Apart from this, everyone pays his / her own way -- hospedaje, meals, etc.  Casa San Jose is Q75 (about $10) per night.  Doubles with private bath where we stay in Nebaj are Q120, which at Q60 each comes roughly to $7.80 per person per night.  Single rooms are slightly more.

Lunch at Chikach ("big basket" in Quiche), 1 p.m., where two folk from the ecumenical group CEDEPCA will meet us to give in-country social-political updates and talk a bit about their work.  If there is time, some might want to visit the CEDEPCA offices, which are not too far away from Chikach, after lunch.

Evening -- Light supper, on your own, or we might decide to bring something back to the Casa to eat together.  Then a massive meds sort as we prepare to leave, final breakdown on stuff you will carry.  We can leave some stuff at Casa, without charge. 

Wednesday July 23  -- Travel to finca Union Victoria, San Miguel Pochuta, Chimaltenango (and no, we don't go through Chimaltenango -- it's south to Cocales, then up to Patulul and Pochuta), where lead health worker Pedro Bernal will be waiting for us.  He was adamant that Team 3 visit his community, because Kelly put him and Domingo up when they visited us in Tucson, and he wants her to see where he lives.  Transportation there, and to Nebaj on July 26, still pending, as there are multiple options.  We will almost certainly NOT depend upon public transportation to move from Pochuta to Nebaj.  More when you arrive.

A word to all:  None of us gets used to our full potential; it's just the nature of the work.  But we learn a lot, both from one another and from the people with whom we are working.

Ila (as always, a little more than a day late and a lot more than a dollar short)

Friday, July 04, 2014

Sermon: Whose Voice Is It?

Whose Voice is It? 
A Sermon by Fr. John R. Smith, June 29, 2014.

I have two special joys this week. First joy was Terri and my fourth wedding anniversary Thursday and thankfulness for so many of you who celebrated with us that day four years ago. My second joy is that today is the 39th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood on the feast of SS Peter and Paul June 29th, 1975. I am so thankful for the gift of priesthood and all the people that I've been privileged to minister and who have also ministered to me!

Except when I've been on vacation, or another clergy has taken a turn, for 39 years I've given a sermon almost every week. In recent years the preaching task has taken on a greater urgency. I understand more clearly that the words of Jesus and his example in the Gospel are so vital for us and the world right now. Like today's Gospel: Jesus gives us the basics for reaping a heavenly reward:
  • offer a cup of cold water to a child or thirsty person (a man who had come for food asked if he could have a cup of water!);
  • welcome a righteous person;
  • welcome a prophet;
  • welcome one who comes in Jesus’ name.

Doing these things create a new atmosphere in the world and usher in the Kingdom of God (heaven) here and now.

So, most often, my focus in preaching is usually on the Gospel and Jesus' actions. But today I'm led to consider one of the most important texts in the Hebrew Bible that over two billion people (Jews, Muslims, and Christians) look to: The Sacrifice of Isaac. Muslims call it the "Sacrifice of Ishmael." Christians see Jesus pre-figured in this text when, after the climatic part of the scene is over, and the boy Isaac is spared, he asks his father Abraham: "The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" Isn't it interesting that we call Jesus "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world?"

Some background: In the ancient near east child sacrifice was a common practice. The gods required child sacrifice in order to earn their favor and help in all aspects of life. So to see a father taking a young son up the mountain with a knife tied to his waist and a bundle of fire wood would not be surprising at all. It happened often. What would be surprising is to see Abraham and the boy returning to the village! People would ask themselves: Why did God stop him from sacrificing his son?

Rembrandt's depiction of Abraham and Isaac
Now, of course, we are happy God stopped Abraham just in the nick of time. The very thought of child sacrifice turns us off completely, sickens us. Most sermons on this story, even a few of my own, focus on Abraham's faith in willing to go all the way, even sacrificing his son, if necessary, to obey God. But this interpretation begs the question (not mentioned usually) of what kind of God do we worship in Jesus? Do we believe in a God who would ever ask us or expect us to kill another human being? I think not! Or, do we have a God that requires us to pass one test after another, even to being willing to sacrifice our own flesh and blood, and then who says ok, you passed the test? Is faith about one test after test from God after another, or, and this is crucial, does our faith help us to find out who God truly is and what God really wants from us? I think so!

Jesus revealed to us a heavenly Father who would never ask us to kill another person as a test of our faith- to prove our love. But In ancient cultures, 4000 years ago, the world was filled with people who believed in their heart of hearts that God wanted them to kill other people to obey and please God. Didn't God give the word to Abraham in our first reading this morning?

"God tested Abraham. . . and said. . .Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you."

Based on what I've just shared with you, was this the command of the living and true God? A clue is in the Hebrew text. "God" here translates the Hebrew word "elohim" that means God, yes, but is also plural. It can also refer to the "gods of the nations," the gods everyone was afraid of and wanted to appease. What if Abraham, a man of his culture, heard one of these "false gods" commanding him, like so many others of his day, to sacrifice his son? Like I said, child sacrifice to appease the gods was very common. But, when Abraham is ready to thrust the knife into Isaac, at the very last moment, the text says "The angel of the Lord called from heaven" and commanded him to "stop!" The "Lord" in this text is not translated by "elohim="the gods," but rather the word Yahweh, the living and true God who created the heavens and the earth.

So there are two competing "voices" in the text. One "god" voice saying "Take your son Isaac and sacrifice him for me." Or another "God" voice that cries out "Abraham, Abraham!" Don't do it! Stop the killing, stop the bloodshed. Don't sacrifice human beings for the "gods." If you must sacrifice something- take a ram. God has a different plan!

Years later the psalmist of Ps. 40 sings out at vs. 6: Sacrifice and offering you do not desire, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.

It's all about tuning our ears to the true voice of God. Abraham had to learn it and so do we. Think about it. Would the true God ever ask us to sacrifice our sons and daughters? We shouldn't answer to quickly in the negative. As much as we abhor the whole notion of child sacrifice and look back upon ancient, primitive cultures with disdain, we still in our day, practice a very real form of child sacrifice, believing God telling us to send our sons and daughters to be sacrificed for our god-like and god-given freedoms our nation holds dear. We speak in very religious tones about "harm's way." Sacred truths must be defended even if it takes the lives of our sons and daughters.

So whose voice are we listening to? Is it the voice of the "gods" of the nations, or the voice of the Lord God, whose angel stayed Abraham's hand. God got Abraham's attention and stopped the killing. What would it be like if two billion people in this world, who look to Abraham as their father, heard the voice of the true God and stopped killing each other? What kind of world would we have? What would happen? Abraham, at this key point of his life, discerned what kind of God had called him and stopped listening to the false gods. Abraham heard the Voice of the true God who creates life and never sanctions killing. I believe we can do the same, with God's help. Amen.