Sunday, May 8, 2011

Sunday Sermon

May 8, 2011

The Second Sunday after Easter

Mother’s Day

First, I wanted to say just a few words on a topic hovering over us today. As most of you know, Osama Bin Laden was shot and killed by our Navy SEAL group. Many have asked me over the past week, how I feel about it and what I think others should feel about it.
I think we need to keep in mind that we are first and foremost imperfect human beings that are going to have varying views on this topic. There will be those who are jubilating over Bin Laden’s death. There will be those who have no strong emotion one way or another. There will also be those who are angered by the whole thing. And further still, there are those who struggle internally with their mixed emotions. They probably feel some sense of joy, while yet at the same time, some sense of remorse for feeling joy.
All of these emotions are normal. Nothing any pastor says today will really mean a hill of beans in the end result. We could say things to help those who are remorseful to help them feel better. We could try to temper the anger. We could help bring some Christian light to the joy (if one feels the joy is wrong or misdirected). However, I only want to say that all of these emotions are normal, and for each of us to reflect for a moment on our own personal emotions over the issue and realize that as imperfect beings we are going to have those emotions, regardless whether we think these emotions are good or bad.
As Christians, we have teachings from Jesus that seems to take us away from the vengeful God perceived in the Old Testament Scriptures. This is true. We must understand, however, that Jesus did not leave us with teachings on every possible life scenario. The Church has always taught reservedly that a country, and thus the world, has the right and obligation to protect her citizens. If we take the message from the Old Testament Scriptures, this is very true. If we look to Jesus, we have a less clear message. However, the Church, believing that the Holy Spirit guides her, has taught that even Jesus was not a passivist to the point that nations could not or should not defend and protect her people. Jesus did say however, that “those who live by the sword, shall die by the sword.” Unfortunately, this is one of those situations.
All this said, Christians do well to not be over jubilant over Bin Laden’s death. There is reason for some gladness that the insidious proponent of terroristic evil is now eliminated, yes. However, with that comes the feeling as though one has committed a sin in thinking this. Even Jesus made it clear that we should not feel sorrowful over elimination of evil. And finally, we should not get over burdened with feeling that this death is overly evil or sinful either. All peoples have a right to defend life against one who seems to not value life as highly. Do not over burden yourself with shame for what you feel your country has done. Evil has to be stopped …. Sometimes in unpleasant ways. With all this said, I would like to offer a prayer.
Almighty and Merciful God, this week a foe has fallen-and admittedly we have rejoiced.

This enemy was not just our enemy, but also a threat to those of his own religious faith, and to his countrymen. Disavowed, and condemned by many national states in the world. Thousands of men, women and children have perished, suffering horrible deaths, because of the diabolical planning of this foe.

So, we celebrated.

We whooped and hollered. We waved flags. We danced in lower Manhattan. We sang our national anthem. And we did so spontaneously - as with the joy of the thirsty drinking cool water, the joy of the hungry sated with food, the joy of the sorrowful now comforted in their mourning. In those first hours following the news, it was as though we rose off the ash pit, anointed ourselves with the "oil of gladness" and donned "the garments of praise instead of a spirit of despair."

And if in the dancing, the waving and the singing there was anything unseemly, we confess our sin, for our motives are seldom pure and who can know our hearts, but you, O God? The death of any living soul is sobering. But we ask you not to consider us blameworthy, to remember our humanity, to remember our natural love of country, to remember our basic sense of decency, to remember our empathy with the thousands of families whose loved ones perished ten years ago, and to have mercy upon us, for you "O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness."

May our national leaders and the community of nations move forward from this moment to not only defend the innocent from the minds of destruction and the architects of annihilation, but to refocus our national will to protect the weak, and - in the words of the ancient prophet-to rise up against "those who make unjust laws, against those who deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed, and from those who make widows their prey and robbing the fatherless."

May we reconsider again what it means to "act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God."

Loving God, a foe has fallen. We have rejoiced. But we acknowledge that wickedness abounds and that we must stay ever vigilant. Empower us now to return to our duty to "preach good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom to the captives, to comfort those who mourn and to provide for those who grieve."

Heavenly Father, we ask all this in the name of Jesus, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen

Now that we are done with that late breaking news, we now rejoin our regularly scheduled program …. Err … sermon from the beginning.
Text messages may look like gibberish, but we shouldn’t dismiss this new form of discourse. Peter’s message at Pentecost was short and on point.
Dad@hvn, ur spshl. we want wot u want &urth2b like hvn. giv us food & 4giv r sins lyk we 4giv uvaz. don test us! sAv us! bcos we kno ur boss, ur tuf & ur cool 4 eva! k?’

Got it?

For the uninitiated among us, this probably looks like a new form of transliterated Near Eastern hieroglyphics. For the younger demographic, however, this one’s a no-brainer.

It’s the Lord’s Prayer — or at least a shorthand and post modernized version of it. This particular version by York College (U.K.) student Matthew Campbell won a contest put on by the online Christian magazine
Ship of Fools in which entrants were encouraged to update the oft-repeated prayer to read in 160 characters or less — the length of a mobile phone text message.

Here’s the “literal” translation of the prayer Jesus taught us, err, texted us: “Dad in heaven, you are special. We want what you want and earth to be like heaven. Give us food and forgive our sins like we forgive others. Don’t test us! Save us! Because we know you are boss, you are tough and you are cool forever. Okay?”

It gives me chills, but in a good way. Somehow, I imagine Jesus being willing to text the prayer just this way, simply to get our attention. Further, God is the bomb, so why not say it with a modern feel!

Welcome to the world of Generation Txt, where the English language, like most everything else in the realm of communication, has been reduced to the smallest of parts.

Text or “instant” messaging is rapidly overtaking e-mail and voice as the primary means of communication among adults in many areas of the world. Users can type a quick, shorthand message and instantly fire it off to a friend or coworker’s cell phone or PDA — no need to wait for the phone to ring. It also enables the sender to know whether the other person is online at a given moment, using indicators that flash or play sounds when the other person logs on or off and so many things I will be forever too inept to figure out!

A survey by Internet giant AOL shows that 59 percent of American Internet users are “texting” each other, with the largest number of those being in the 13-21 age bracket (90 percent of them use it). As with most youth culture trends, text messaging has brought a new and, for some, disturbing transformation of the language.

Take, for example, an essay handed in by a 13-year-old Scottish student describing her summer vacation that was texted beyond recognition by her teacher.

Her teacher was not amused. “I could not believe what I was seeing. The page was
riddled with hieroglyphics, many of which I simply could not translate.” Others, like the publisher of a new dictionary, have decried similar shorthand writing as a “degree of crisis” among university students, indicating a serious decline in the proper use of spelling and grammar.

But perhaps the grammatically correct among us should pause a moment before we trash this new quick-set and thumb-twitch language. The messages are getting through, and for some young adults, like those who text into the advice forum “Text Talk,” it’s providing a new voice and a way to ask for help. Text Talk offers information on a wide range of issues, including counseling, housing, substance abuse and careers with a guaranteed immediate response.

The text service has been in operation in Wolverhampton, U.K., since January and has already helped 200 young people, many of them boys.

It’s interesting that an apparent de-evolution in language is actually enabling more people, particularly young people, to communicate better and more often. While the rest of us may not be able to type that fast with our thumbs, there is hope that we can crack the code. New Web sites like can translate the IM hieroglyphics into traditional English or vice versa.

In the post-resurrection experience of the disciples/apostles, the world was being turned upside down. And the first sign of it was that people were hearing and seeing things they couldn’t understand.

When I was writing this sermon, I was drawn back to a book that Ramon had lent me to read. It speaks of the Holy Spirit being the light; or the truth to the world. The advent of the Holy Spirit was — as it were — the beginning of instant messaging. Jesus had given them a heads-up about this — that the Spirit would translate and disseminate Jesus’ message to and through them: “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you”.

Now, as this new matrix begins to unfold, Peter, speaking boldly and using language far beyond his own previous skill and capacity, texts a sermon straight from the Holy Spirit and the Hebrew Scriptures — a wi fi, fired up translation of Israel’s history into “His-story” — the story of salvation through the death and resurrection of Christ. “Therefore the entire house of Israel knows with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified”. Peter’s proclamation of Jesus as the Christ was short, to the point, and tremendously effective: God has made Jesus Lord and Christ.

In a message that’s tighter than some rock star’s jeans, you get an impression real quick:

Peter: God has made Jesus Lord and Christ.

People: What shall we do?

Peter: Repent.

As with any txt tlk, the message itself can be fleshed out.

Peter argues to the crowd gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost celebrations that God is the agent of all the changes being seen here. He notes, in the text prior to today’s reading, that it’s the same God who had spoken through the prophets, Joel, in particular.

It was God who worked miracles by empowering Jesus to do them.

It was God who delivered Jesus into the hands of his enemies.

It was God who then raised Jesus from the dead.

It was God who made the covenant with David.

It was God who gave the promised Holy Spirit who has now been “poured out” among us.

Moreover, God made Jesus Lord.

It’s a word that was typically not associated with messianic promises, but reserved for God himself. God revealed Jesus to be God, or Lord.

And it was God who made Jesus the Christ, or Messiah.

God. God. God. That’s powerful text.

And disturbing text. The response of the people is quick and brief: “What shall we do?”

It is an appropriate response for all of us. If it is God who gave Jesus power to work miracles, and who delivered Jesus into the hands of his enemies, and raised him from the dead, and who promised us and delivered to us the Holy Spirit, what other question is there for us except, “What shall we do?”

Do we continue to live as though God does not exist? Do we stumble through life in pursuit of earthly pleasures and possessions as though the most important thing is to die with more toys than anyone else? Do we try to shoulder the burdens and responsibilities of life as though there is not a divine Presence to help us with those burdens? Do we live as though we are alone in the universe?

What shall we do? The short answer is “repent.” Change. Turn about. Turn around. Stop going in one direction and go in another. Do an about-face. The fruit of that repentance is that we receive the Holy Spirit who mediates the presence of God in our lives. The Holy Spirit acts for us like the IM piece of the Trinity — the power and word and activity of God given to us in a moment in order to clearly communicate the truth and good news of Christ.

Peter also makes it clear that this movement of the Spirit is going to be widely broadcast across generational and national borders, making this language of good news available to everyone. The disciples were now set to translate the story of Jesus for the rest of the world. They did it in a world where walking was the primary mode of transportation and messaging consisted of rolls of parchment and months-long mail service. We can do it in a world that has become progressively smaller because of technology that enables us to transmit a thought in less than a heartbeat.

In other words, we are hard-wired to use the gift of the Holy Spirit himself and the gifts of the Spirit within us to mass communicate the love of God through Christ to a world where nearly everyone is in reach.

But the core message is simple: God has made Jesus Lord and Christ. In response, we repent — and begin a new life text-messaging, or life-messaging the Good News to others.

And one more thing ….. How about text messaging your mothers today; whether on earth or in heaven, and wish them a Happy Mother’s day and let them know how much you love them and are grateful for all they have done for you – most especially – giving you birth! (That probably would be one of those smiling emoticons with little hearts fluttering in the air.)
God Love You+
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.