Monday, May 24, 2010

Sunday Sermon

May 31, 2010

Whitsunday (Pentecost)

For elementary students, long division is their mathematical nightmare (assuming they even teach long division anymore). As long as the division is simple, they do well. But when it comes to large numbers, it is just too difficult. To top it all off, there is the quandary of the “remainder”. What in the world do you do with the remainder? Obviously 32 divided by 4 is easy. But what about 3209 divided by 5? There would be some left over .What do you do with it?

Let’s look at another quandary. Today we live in a society that is fascinated by many things. Most interestingly we are fascinated by the unknown and/or the charismatic elements of our faith. We love those action movies, like martial arts, The Matrix, Angels & Demons or even the new Legion movie that recently came out. We are fascinated by these movies and get caught up in the moment and wishing we could do those things. Now, I don’t mean killing people, of course, but being able to seemingly move effortlessly through the air; to move things using your mind without touching the item. Like Yoda or Darth Vader or Neo!

So, we have these remainders; and we have these “powers”. Let’s investigate this a bit.

We read in the Gospels, that Jesus is telling us that we should look at ourselves much like a vine. We need to remain in Jesus, so as we will be pruned and thus remain in the Father. In His ministry, we see Jesus do so many wondrous things, and He even tells His disciples that they too can do these many wondered things. Just like long division, our willingness to remain in Jesus is a stumbling block.

Faith to move mountains, as Jesus says ….. How about faith to walk on water? Many of us here today would be quick to state that we can’t do miracles. Many of us, when we are honest, would even admit that our faith doesn’t even dip into the realm of the charismatic to the point that we even sense a God given gift from the Holy Spirit. In 1 Corinthians we read that there are many varieties of gifts from the Holy Spirit. Yet, when pressed, a great majority of us would say we do not have any gifts at all………… Or do we?

The Gospel of John is a bit more metaphorical than the other Gospels. We come away from reading John’s Gospel that things are more Charismatic and Spiritual or “mystical” than the other Gospels seem to imply. The Gospel starts out with: “In the beginning was the Word…” etc. This has caused great confusion among those trying to understand its meaning. Word? “Words” are on paper. “Words” are those sounds we make when we speak. In the beginning was the Word? We have visions in our minds of the letters W.O.R.D floating in midair, like one of those childhood programs on television that attempted to teach us how to spell Life started with a “word”??? How bizarre.

Although, we have come to understand its representation, it is still a bit hard to get our fingers around (much less our brains). The reason is because of its metaphorical meaning. We struggle to believe what it means. But, the point of John’s Gospel isn’t so much a theological point of what “Word” is, so much as when we read it through, we discover John’s approach to Jesus’ life is more on the spiritual or “supernatural” plane. We are being taught the mystical and spiritual ends of God’s kingdom and workings.

John’s Gospel also tends to point to the Church and its ministry and importance on earth. There was a need to assure followers that the services of the “Church” would be ongoing. As we see by reading various passages within Scripture, the ministries that the “Church” was meant to provide were indispensable. The organization of the “Church” was needed to continue transmitting the Word and the Sacramental signs that the Lord had left to His followers. The “Church” was needed after Jesus ascended to help the followers to understand His ministry; to understand what He did for us and what it should mean to us.

The young Church was deeply aware that no one could come to the Father except through Christ. When Philip asks Jesus to “show us the Father..”, this question showed the Apostles continued to lack understanding; the same that we over 2,000 years later would find even harder to understand. They had Jesus right in front of them; we have to look at a picture and wonder if this is the true image of Him. Jesus makes it clear that He is in the Father and Father is in Him. To see Jesus’ is to see God. So for them then, and for us now, the energy for accomplishing great things comes from the belief in the person of Christ. The whole point was to give proof of unity that exists between the Father and the Son. “In the beginning was the Word…” Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

At the moment that Jesus is about to leave His disciples behind, He is concerned with the depth and clarity of their faith. Faith is the reality that will direct the Church; thus the Church must continue this role of Christ by showing all peoples to the Father. The Church is not identical to Christ, obviously, but it was Christ who willed that the Church come into existence and continues on in the work He began; to take His place on earth, so to speak. The Church is the instrument that Christ uses to reach and help His people. Therefore, the Church must also be the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

In John’s Gospel, we see the use of the word “knowledge”. The Hebrew form of the word to experience the object of the ‘knowledge’; something like feeling, touching, or sensing. The Hebrew form of this word is to have a concrete experience of God and to know Him through His works visibly seen. The Greek form, however, is what the Gospel of John uses most, which helps support the spiritual aspect that we are talking about today. The Greek form of ‘knowledge’ is more abstract, much like would be found in philosophical work. The Greek form means to contemplate something without an object and therefore form a concept of what it is, like a thought or air; they exist, but cannot be seen in the truest definition. The Hebrew mind of ‘knowledge’ means to experience the object and to enter into close relations with it. The Greek thinks of contemplating God who is changeless and apart from us and thus cannot be experienced in the sense that the Hebrew form means.

If we want to understand the Gospel of John, we must not distinguish too simplistically and undiscerningly between the two styles of knowing Christ, as would be the case of reading the first three Gospels and then reading John’s. Christ Himself wants us to know by means of the two forms of knowledge; by experiencing the concrete experiences and by seeing the works He does. And further, to sense or know in ways that cannot be seen with the naked eye; like cured cancer, an emotional conversion or even an extreme miracle. To hear them or read them is not the same as seeing or sensing them.

The Church, therefore, must continue to give the signs of Christ in order to make God visible and to enable mortals to experience Him. The Church must be at the disposal of human beings who will devote themselves to the ministry of Christ and/or the worship and belief in Christ, which includes the humbler services that sustain even the material life of the faithful. John seems to imply a new Church that is a new building and new city or new Jerusalem whereupon God dwells with mankind. Hence the Church is moving toward the ultimate Jerusalem and we are being called to go with her

As such, we come to a full circle in that we now look to what Jesus did for the Apostles and stated this would be to the end of the age. He breathed on them and said unto them, “…receive the Holy Spirit…what you bind on earth will be bound in heaven…” The Holy Spirit, hence, chooses individuals and gives them special gifts for the accomplishments of the tasks of the Church. The Church is a sign of all followers giving access to the Father. As the Church grows, each Christian is a living stone in that spiritual building.

We have become so accustomed to thinking of the Church as sinful on her human side, so much so, that our faith has become less lively. We have become too preoccupied with counting all the wrinkles, that we forget the beauty of the many good things she does; we forget all the miraculous activities that take place every day in our lives. Our criticism, no matter how or what we feel, should never be to the point that it encourages others to leave the church or to not even join in the first place. This is such a tough task in this age of modern communication. The one with the louder voice seems to give the prevalent picture. So sad that the Church suffers because of the few bad apples, all because those sounding the alarm have a bigger voice than those who know the greater majority of the Church does so much good in the world. However, I digress.

So, what has all of this jumble of information to do with Whitsunday?

First, we must “remain” in Jesus because this is the only way to be in a relationship with the Father. Our attachment to Jesus, our relationship with the Divine, is a choice of heart that is affirmed and confirmed not only in word and speech, but also in deed and truth. Further, to “remain” in Jesus, we must be willing to be pruned. Even so, pruning is both the problem and the solution. Pruning is a problem because it is painful and we humans avoid what causes us pain. Yet, however painful pruning may be, it is being done by a God whom we call Father. Only by this personal attachment to Jesus can we be in a personal relationship with the Father and receive all the pruning we need to bear fruit.

Second, we humans tend to gravitate toward the unknown, in an effort to discover what it is that makes the unknown so real. Some 36 plus miracles were performed by Jesus, as recorded the Gospels. We then read in the book of Acts and various Epistles the various miracles that took place through the Apostles. We hear of weeping statues, and/or statues that bleed. We hear of the miracles of Lourdes or answered prayers from devotions to various saints. We hear of people and Saints who experienced the Stigmata. We hear of visions and revelations. We hear of so many things that science simply cannot explain. Even amongst these things, we still lack faith and the drive to be Christians as Christ, and thus the Church, desires us to be. Things I’ve mentioned fascinate us. We desire to know them; to experience them. But, we lack the drive to be them.

I will not stand here and say that you most certainly will experience any of these things in your lifetime, but I will stand here and tell you that it is possible. The Holy Spirit came in the form of tongues of fire. Each Apostle received a gift from the Holy Spirit that day. Each Apostle handed this on to a successor, who did the same on down to today. Many a people touched by them, also received the Holy Spirit as it best suited them. Even here today, we can be touched by the Holy Spirit. All we have to do is be open to it and invite the Holy Spirit to come unto us.

The Church has always taught that each Priest receives a gift, and as a Bishop, tradition holds that he receives more gifts or powers to do God’s work. I am confident I have a gift or gifts given to me by the Holy Spirit, even though I have absolutely no clue what it or they may be. I too have tended to be closed-minded to believing it possible to the point that if I have a gift, I know not what it is. I have experienced answered prayer that I have given for someone. I have experienced “strange” phenomena due to prayers I have offered. I have been told that miracles of one nature, or another, that have been felt was due to my prayer. Was any of this due to me or the Lord choosing to work through me? I do not know. But I do know that like the Gospel of John implies, our God is a spiritual God, and in Him, all things are possible.

Whitsunday is the day we are called to faith. Called to faith, because we are asked to believe in something we virtually cannot see or feel. The coming of the Holy Spirit. The third person of the Trinity that no one can put a face to. We each have our own version of what God looks like. Most of us have virtually the same ideal of what Jesus looks like, but nothing is really even said or discussed about what the Holy Spirit looks like, except on two occasions. One of those days was when we visualize the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove after Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan. On this day, known as Whitsunday or Pentecost, we think of the Holy Spirit as tongues of fire. So we ask, "which is it?" That’s what faith brings us, folks. Some conundrums to help us understand that God is so infinite, that to put one title, one face to Him, would be limiting His omnipotence. So on this day, Whitsunday, we are called to believe in what our minds say is impossible. Not only are we called to believe in a God with many faces, but we are called in faith to believe in miracles. Every day is a miracle. Every day a miracle can happen. All we have to do is believe. All we have to do is have a little faith.

God Love You +

+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens

Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church

San Diego, Ca.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sunday Sermon

May 9, 2010

The Fifth Sunday after Easter

Mother’s Day

Do you recall the day you first learned to write in cursive? If you are anything like me, it is hard enough to remember what you ate for breakfast morning, much less when you learned something in school. You probably don’t remember when you learned to read either. You may remember the process; you might remember life in first grade when you were taught to read, or life in third grade when you were taught to write in cursive. But you don’t remember when reading and writing “happened.”

Not like learning to ride a bike. You’re either pedaling like crazy and keeping your balance, or you’re lying in a twisted heap with your ankles through the spokes. You might remember when you learned to ride a bike. The brain is a funny thing, because we tend to remember things like these instead of what one would think we should actually remember.

However, with cursive writing, the S had the bends in the right places, and the W rose and dropped wonderfully at the command of your tiny fingers clutching that big pencil. Then, beaming brightly, you unveiled the writing to your mother, who happily approved your advancing skills. It was a moment of victory to slant those letters precisely the way the teacher instructed and within the lines, too. Mastering cursive writing was one of those skills that marked a rite of passage; not only was your schoolteacher proud of you, better yet, writing in cursive clearly meant you were becoming grown up. Oh and how our mother’s knew how to make us feel so great about this big step.

But cursive writing and the teaching of cursive is on the way out. Rachel Konrad once wrote in The Denver Post, that cursive writing is gradually being deleted as more and more students rely on keyboards for communication. Text messaging, instant messenger, e-mail: These are the skills that students are relying upon, and with that reliance has come a steady decline in handwriting skills.

So, cursive writing is disappearing. One could say, so what? Isn’t digital communication better, easier and more efficient? Maybe, but easier and more efficient is not always better, especially when it comes to developing character and building relationships. The question is: What happens when you gradually begin to lose skills that were once used to build character and demonstrate that a person was maturing because she was able to master a skill through careful practice? It is not surprising that along with the gradual disappearance of cursive writing has gone the habit of letter writing; a habit often called an art. So the culture loses cursive writing and no one notices, because in its place is faster, easier and efficient. I, for one, have not hand-written a letter since I do not know when. So much easier to sit down at the computer and rada-tat-tat out a letter in that way as opposed to actually “writing” a letter. Can you imagine me hand-writing my sermons? Let’s not go there!

But while this modern god is wooing us night and day, Alan Wolfe, author of the Transformation of American Religion, comments that cursive writing is not the only thing that is gradually disappearing. A host of important religious concepts along with the moral practices that undergird them are also disappearing, and not only in secular culture but among many, if not most, congregations.

For example, over the last two generations, the notion of a Holy God whose love will not tolerate sin and to whom all lives are accountable has nearly disappeared. It has been replaced by a benign Being whose love winks at personal sins. This God is often described in the vaguely religious language of contemporary spirituality and defended by those who decry the punishing, grace-less God foisted upon the people by fearful religious institutions and the preachers who offer a poisonous brew of guilt and shame. And if that is not enough, there is a different perspective of the media pouncing on those few clergymen who have led a less than exemplarily life, thus causing those teetering on the edge as to whether to believe in religion or not, to decide that the Church is the last place to go to find God (or they blame God all-together for allowing the acts the clergy have committed as if God somehow condones them).

Against such a backdrop, who but the most fearful could possibly be against a God whose tolerance is so expansive that anyone can find a place regardless of moral habits? Hypocritical? Probably on both sides of the fence.

Sin itself is a concept that depends upon a biblical moral universe of duties and obligations where people are accountable to one another and answerable to God. The concept has disappeared, rendered hopelessly quaint or even tacky, a sign of poor taste in public conversation, replaced by personal choices whose consequences are measured by their effects on one’s sense of personal well-being, rather than a larger universe of moral obligations that have their foundation in a response to a righteous and just God. Even on this Mother’s Day, mothers are not treated as they once were or as they still should be.

As C.S. Lewis famously reminded readers in Mere Christianity, a fuzzy, tolerant God is a far distance from the God whose mercy and grace are amazingly profound for the simple reason that God despises immorality. Grace is meaningless when there is no sin to be forgiven. In the wake of this steady cultural trend to throw off oppressive moral codes, including those of institutional religion, people have also thrown off the notion of binding moral obligations that are nonnegotiable. We believe that whatever good we do, we do because we want to, not because we have any obligation to do it.

Under these conditions, where everything is optional, how shall Christians respond to the instructions of Jesus to keep his word? In his final conversation with the disciples, he repeatedly tells them that loving him and obeying his commandments belong together. Cutting against the grain, Jesus actually says that by our obedience we show our love for him. The very thing that many associate with feeling and personal choice — love — is what Jesus says his disciples are to do because he commands them to do it.

This is not simply a possible option among many options that we can keep when it’s convenient for our schedule. It’s a binding moral obligation for the followers of Jesus. Period. We humans attempt to create wiggle room where there is none to have.

But, there’s more: Jesus promises that the consequences of a life of obedience to love are peace, intimacy with God, and the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. In other words, according to Jesus, the path to human fulfillment — peace, meaning, and integrity — lies in a life of obedience to him made visible by our loving others, day in and day out.

This kind of life requires hard work and practice. You could call it Cursive Obedience. And it’s not something you remember learning to do. It doesn’t “happen.” It’s a learned process. It’s a life. It’s a lifestyle.

Remember how hard you had to work to learn to write in cursive? The purpose of all that practice was not just cruel punishment, but the ability to communicate well in writing. Without the practice, there is no fulfillment.

Likewise, to practice the commandment of Jesus in a cursory way, choosing if and when to obey him based upon our own inclinations, will never lead us to a deeper relationship with God where we know we will find that peace that is promised. We don’t like to link obedience to fulfillment; it seems graceless and stern. But in fact, those who live a life of obedience often testify to joy and peace. Love is neither easy, fast, nor efficient.

Annalena Tonelli was a humanitarian who spent her life working for human dignity and setting up tuberculosis centers in Kenya and Somalia. She was assassinated in October 2003 in Somalia, by rebels who objected to her work among the poor. She was once asked what gave her the motivation to devote her life to some of the poorest and sickest people on earth, especially over so long a time when most people give up in despair or exhaustion. What was it that enabled her to be so positive and even filled with gratitude? She rarely ever talked about her religious foundation, thinking that people would dismiss her, but on this occasion she spoke of the key to her sense of peace and fulfillment and named the reasons that others often fall away. She said:

“The reason that more people don’t feel this way (peaceful, joyful, and grateful) is that they don’t try hard enough. You have to give time, you have to be patient; and then year after year, you’ll see that what matters is only love. But if you are impatient because people are not grateful or you were full of limits, you will not be happy. You need time.”

You need time. But then, you’ll see that what matters is only love. And that is what Jesus said to his disciples, too. Keep my commandment, love through thick and thin, day by day, year after year, and you will know the peace of God. Love as our mothers loved us - unconditionally.

How do we obey Jesus’ commandment to love over a lifetime without becoming grim or simply falling away? After all, love is only easy on Hallmark cards; in actual life it can be quite demanding. On the one hand it is akin to the practice of learning to write in cursive or learning any other skill. You simply do it in faith.

It seems hard for most of us to have the integrity to keep our own word and promises faithfully. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus takes this one step further. “Whoever loves me will keep my word…”. Last Sunday, Jesus admonished us to love not on our own terms, but as he loves. This week he commands us to keep his word. If we have difficulty keeping our own word (and realistically we do), how in the world can we be successful in keeping Jesus’ word? To top this off, Jesus’ word was much more than what he said; it was also how he lived. Jesus’ words and life teach us the example to follow; a life of self-giving that leads to salvation. To keep his word, is to keep his love. Two commandments which are really one.

To keep his word, would seem to be a daunting task, and quite discouraging at times. However we are not left powerless. We are given the help of God’s own presence, known as the Holy Spirit. Jesus promises us a divine indwelling through which we are re-created as persons able to live and love as Jesus did. To be created new, means to share in the life of the risen Christ in a very real way. By doing this; by keeping his word, means we open our hearts and souls to his presence. And thus allow him to change us, and allow us to re-learn a cursive way of life. Just as our mother’s did not give up on us, neither does Jesus give up on us.

Jesus’ word is a promise of a new relationship with him and the heavenly Father, where God comes and dwells within us through the power of the Holy Spirit. Our Christian being is love that rests in the self-giving we are willing to offer. Keeping Jesus’ word ultimately means that we make the entire Gospel our own. This is no small task, but the reward, God’s indwelling that brings us new life, is not small either. By the gift of the Holy Spirit sent to us all from Jesus, we should know that we never have to feel like the whole task of living the Gospel falls on our shoulders alone.

What a wonderfully hopeful way to imagine discipleship over the long haul: with obedient delight offering our hearts to God day by day. This obedient delight, says Jesus will bring you the peace that this world can never give. God is always present, dwelling within us, to give us the strength we need to be faithful to Jesus’ commands. Just like using cursive writing all over again for the first time.

God Love You +

+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens

Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church

San Diego, Ca.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Sunday Sermon

May 2, 2010

The Fourth Sunday after Easter

Revelation 21 is a passage with familiar language. No more tears. No more death. No more pain. Comforting words for the grieving and tested. But the text also has rich and underexplored imagery. John is trying to give us a glimpse of paradise to come; and it isn’t necessarily fluffy clouds, angels and harps. It’s a bustling city. A New Jerusalem. But heaven can wait, or so we’re told. There’s a cultural connection to this text that’s also focused on the emerging city.

In Shanghai, the 2010 World Expo is being held, and the event theme is “Better City, Better Life.” Expo organizers didn’t realize it, but they just came up with today’s sermon idea.

According to their Web site, “In 1800, only two percent of the global population lived in cities, but by 1950, the figure had risen to 29 percent, and by 2000, almost half the world population had moved into cities. Despite all its glories, there is no denying that the city today, because of high-density living patterns, faces a series of challenges, such as spatial conflicts, cultural collisions, resource shortages and environment degeneration.”

Therefore they’ve penned an expo-gesis, if you will, that could be just as comfortable describing this week’s text as: “‘Better City, Better Life’ the common wish of the whole humankind for better living in future urban environments.” Implicit is Shanghai’s own commitment to green urban development and its status as a major economic and cultural center.

As many of you probably know, The World Expo was previously called the World Fair (or World’s Fair), the first of which was held in London’s Hyde Park in 1851. This year’s Shanghai Expo runs from early May through the end of October. The Expo’s lofty goals are to attract 200 participating countries and 70 million visitors.

Host nations often create elaborate buildings as flagships to their expansive fairgrounds. Most notable and iconic of these former World Fairs include the Eiffel Tower and Seattle’s Space Needle. In turn, participating countries construct Disney-esque pavilions to host, feed and educate the thousands of daily visitors. The whole thing is like international ‘show and tell’ on steroids.

In today’s information age, Expos are all about national branding. Countries put their best foot forward to send idealistic messages about who they are and where they’re headed.

“Better City, Better Life” certainly captures that vision. And the United States pavilion is a great example of both that concept and America’s branding for the future. The pavilion is built around four themes: sustainability, teamwork, health and the Chinese community in America. Schematics for the pavilion look like an Asian-influenced, rain forest-meets-city skyline-meets-rock concert.

The Shanghai Expo and St. John both envision the city similarly: no pain, no tears, full of beauty, no enmity between peoples. But Revelation chapters 21–22 expand the image of the new heaven and earth centered on the new city.

In chapter 21, starting with verse 2, we see that the new city is holy and it’s as intentional and lavish as a wedding-day bride. In verse 3, God will sit within this new city. Verse 11 tells us it radiates with splendor as the temple used to. Verse 12 has twelve gates are named for the 12 tribes with Angels stationed therein. Verse 14 tells us that the foundation stones were inscribed with the names of the twelve Apostles. And people think the Catholic Church is nuts, by insisting on the Apostolic Succession, when it is so apparent that Christ made them so important. Verse 23 tells us that God’s glory fills it with light, so we no longer need the sun; fore we have the Son of God. (Actually, there are a great number of references throughout Revelation about God being the light. Hence, where the Church gets all the references of God as light, verses the darkness, etc. But that is for another sermon.) We move to verse 26 where we see the wealth of the nations filling the city. And finally, we have the tree of life in the center of the city, so says chapter 22 verse 2.

So, now I ask, who wants to sign up to build this Expo pavilion? Although this city is glorious, isn’t it still a weird image for heaven? It’s such a counterintuitive choice. Cities are full of busyness, noise, chaos and crime. Isn’t the city the place where we assume humanity is at its worst? We might not remember to lock our doors in the suburbs or exurbs, but we sure do in the city.

So, we might ask why would God choose a city as the picture of sinless paradise? And what does it mean for us and for the church today?

The more obvious vision God could have sent St. John would have been of a garden. It all started in a garden, and it will eventually end in a garden redeemed. We see that, from the image of the Tree of Life being referenced to being placed in the center of the city. That’s a much more poetic ending and a much more heavenly locale, right?

Maybe. In Culture Making, author Andy Crouch suggests a natural progression from the garden to the city. It’s based on the “cultural mandate” that God gives Adam and Eve: Create and cultivate. In the words of Genesis 1:28, be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, subdue it, have dominion. Just as God brought order out of nothingness, humanity is to bring order out of created-ness.

Let’s look at some of Genesis which might be used to connect Eden to the Revelation City.

Genesis 1–2: God creates a world not yet tainted with sin. A paradise. A peaceful, heavenly garden. Adam and Eve are connected intimately with each other, with God and with their life purpose. They are given a mandate to expand culture; to create and cultivate.

Genesis 3: Adam and Eve give independence from God a try. The results are world-altering - literally. They’re disconnected from God. Their creation and cultivation are cursed and will now be frustrated. They’re removed from paradise and banished from the garden. They have free will. Oh my heavens, what has the world come too?! Which brings us to…..

Genesis 11: Misguided city-building. People are living out their cultural mandate but in human triumph and not divine worship; “us,” “we” and “ourselves” dominate the text. Genesis starts in a perfect garden, with connection to God, connection to each other and a call to divinely inspired culture creating. Ten chapters later, there’s aggressive independence from God and self-aggrandizing vocation in Babel.

Now a city starts to make real sense in Revelation 21. The city is the redemption of Babel and Eden. There’s dense human interconnectedness once again. The restored presence of the Lord is in its center. Created goods; “the glory and honor of the nations” are pouring into it as evidence of the goodness of human creation and cultivation. It’s a “Better City, Better Life” than Genesis 3 without a doubt.

So, now many of you are saying that this is all fine and wonderful, but so what. Okay, so let’s put it in a little perspective. Envisioning heaven as a garden would surely have honored God for his redemption and creative beauty. Everything will be restored to the way the Maker intended it.

But, envisioning heaven as a city honors us, as well. It’s God’s way of saying that the human project still is “very good”, to put it in Genesis words. God is saying that what we create can be good. Things are moving ahead to what is new and not just back to what was old. And we partner with God in ushering in that way.

Therefore, God’s “cultural mandate” still holds today. We’re still charged with creating and cultivating. Our jobs and our free-time pursuits are city-building. We’re to add to the glory and honor of the nations.

We please God by making beautiful art. Organizing complex data into understandable reports. Framing a house. Teaching our daughter to dress herself and tie her shoes. Teaching others.

As we order the world around us, we contribute to the New Jerusalem. General Maximus applied Revelation 21 well in The Gladiator: “Brothers … what we do in life echoes in eternity.”

So, if heaven looks like a redeemed city, and Christ-followers are to pursue God’s will on earth as it is in heaven, then how are we to be redeeming our cities now? Maybe we should be asking, “How could a church in your neighborhood best serve you, regardless of whether you ever wanted to visit it or not?” Given to our small congregation here, I tend to ask this question a lot. Apparently, we haven’t found the answer yet, but we plug along in faith.

Finally, we should view ourselves as the new city. We are the people that can usher the presence of God and deeper human interconnectedness into their worlds.

In The Good, Great Place, Ray Oldenburg argues that by suburbanizing, America has lost its value on locations that promote a casual, public life: caf├ęs, bookstores, pubs, the bygone soda foundation, etc. He calls these types of environments a “third place,” meaning environments that “host the regular, voluntary, informal and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals beyond the realms of home and work.”

Think of Norm walking into Cheers, the Friends gathering at Central Perk or your grandma and the bridge club spending all day at the hair salon together; or in my case, a day in Disneyland in the theme area known as New Orleans Square.

Starbucks was so impressed with the “third place” idea that it made it a corporate mission to become a third place for us all. After home and work, each local store wants to be the place where we hang out with each other. Oldenburg says we’ll have better cities and better lives if we re-establish these types of third places. Jesus would probably agree.

We can join him in redeeming the city by more actively engaging it with our Christian values as we see them in our small denomination.

God Love You +

+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens

Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church

San Diego, Ca