Sunday, May 27, 2012
May 27, 2012 Whitsunday (Pentecost) Today, let’s talk health …… Well, sort of. If you want better health, you’ve got to hop on a bike and pedal like crazy, go to the gym and get a personal trainer to push you to your limits, get on the trails and run like crazy, or any other myriad of things to get that body into shape. And if you want stronger faith? …… Do the very same thing. No, this is not the end of the sermon. Grant Harrison had a brainstorm one day, as he was working at the Innovation Center at the Humana health-benefits company in Louisville. The Innovation Center is a think tank, so Harrison was … thinking. It was dawning on him that health-insurance companies need to change, that they can’t focus solely on health-policy reform (which seems to be all insurance companies care about these days). Then the light bulb went on: Humana had to become “a health-creation company”! Not health insurance. Health creation! And the goal had to be “to make fun things healthy.” But how to do it? Harrison thought of bicycles and how they could become a healthy way for people to commute to work. A large percentage of people who drive to work, live less than five miles away. Harrison thought they could be doing this on a bike. If somebody starts commuting this way, within a year, he or she will have lost 13 pounds on average he concluded. Plus, “when you get people on two wheels, you unlock this feeling of being a kid again.” The church is sometimes seen as a divine insurance company, providing protection against spiritual disaster and eternal damnation. You’ve probably seen the church sign that says, “The way some people live, they ought to obtain eternal fire insurance.” Sometimes that is more factual than we think. But shouldn’t the church be in the faith-creation business? When the risen Jesus appears to his followers in the gospel of John, he doesn’t ask them to take out an insurance policy to provide protection in the afterlife. Instead, he says, “Peace be with you,” “I send you,” “Receive the Holy Spirit,” “Forgive sins” and “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Jesus comes back from the dead to do the work of faith creation so his followers will move forward as strong, healthy and vigorous disciples. He doesn’t give them a bicycle, but a faith-cycle, if you will, and sends them out, to make believers of all nations. But just what exactly does this spiritual cycle look like? The first thing to see is that this cycle has a sturdy frame. The disciples are scared to death on Easter evening, hiding behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews,” and when Jesus pops in among them unannounced he says, “Peace be with you”. He immediately assures them that they are safe and secure in his presence and that their world is no longer in danger of falling apart. When he gives them his peace, the disciples feel a sense of health and wholeness that has been missing since his death, and John tells us they rejoice when they see the Lord. The peace of Christ is a sturdy frame that the disciples can lean on and trust, knowing that it can hold them up as they cross any terrain. It was true for them then, and it’s true for us today. But Jesus doesn’t let them stand around admiring the cycle. He says to them, “As the father has sent me, so I send you”. Jesus pushes them out on what we would call today “a mission” — a word that comes from the Latin missio, which means “to send.” The faith-cycle that Jesus is creating for them is not meant to stand still. It comes equipped with strong wheels and knobby tires so the disciples can travel to the ends of the earth on their mission from God. The disciples know they’re going to have to mount up and ride this proverbial bike, and it will not be an easy road to ride. Of course, pedaling is hard work, so Jesus breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. He literally inspires them by putting the Spirit into them; to “inspire” means to “breathe into” or to “put spirit into.” Jesus fills his followers with divine energy and insight so they will move forward with God’s own power and guidance within them. While competitive cyclists today might get strength from a PowerBar, these followers of Christ receive their power directly from the Holy Spirit of God. Then Jesus points to the handlebars on their cycle and says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained”. Forgiveness is the course that these disciples are challenged to ride, as difficult as the path may be. Here’s an example: In the winter of 1993, theologian Miroslav Volf finished a lecture on embracing enemies and was asked, “But can you embrace a ãetnik?” At that time, the Serbian fighters who were called ãetnik had been doing violence in Volf’s native country, raping women, burning down churches, destroying cities and herding people into concentration camps. He had just argued that we ought to embrace our enemies as God has embraced us in Christ, so the question was concrete, penetrating and personal: Can he embrace a ãetnik — the ultimate other, the evil other? “What would justify the embrace?” wondered Volf. “Where would I draw the strength for it? What would it do to my identity as a human being and as a Croat?” It took him a while to answer, but he knew immediately what he wanted to say. “No, I cannot,” he answered, “but as a follower of Christ I think I should be able to.” That’s the direction Jesus challenged the disciples to travel: toward forgiveness, toward reconciliation, toward embracing our enemies as God has embraced us in Christ. It’s a rocky road and terribly difficult to travel, but as followers of Jesus it’s the course we should be pursuing. After all, Jesus says, “If you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses”. That is a hard road to travel sometimes, but as followers of Christ, it is something we are called to do. So Jesus presents his followers with this shiny new cycle and encourages them to ride it hard so they can experience some life-changing faith creation. But one of the disciples, Thomas, is out of the room when Jesus makes his presentation. He doesn’t believe what the others tell him about Jesus’ return and says, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe”. For Thomas, this talk of resurrection and faith-cycling seems pretty wobbly. He wants proof. He wants that cycle to have its training wheels installed first! One week later, the disciples are gathered again, and this time Thomas is in the house. Jesus pops in and offers them his peace, which is the sturdy frame of his faith-cycle. Then, in a manner of speaking, Jesus says to Thomas, “I know you want some training wheels before you will hop on this bike.” What he really says is, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe”. Thomas receives the proof he needs and answers, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus removes the training wheels from the cycle and says to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe”. That’s where we find ourselves standing today: in front of a faith-cycle without training wheels. Our challenge is to ride on two wheels, with nothing but faith that Jesus will keep us from falling. We cannot put our finger in the hands of Jesus, or our hand in his side. We cannot take the place of Thomas and see the risen Jesus face to face. Or can we? In the final judgment of Matthew 25, Jesus says, “Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (vv. 34-35). The message of this passage is that we welcome Jesus our king whenever we welcome a stranger, and that our place in God’s eternal kingdom is connected to the place we make in our own lives for those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, in prison or a stranger to us; and as we have seen by Jesus’ example, even those who may be considered outcasts of the community to others. So if you want to see the risen Jesus, welcome a stranger. If you want to experience some real faith creation, show hospitality to people in need. This is a workout that will move you from doubt to faith and make you a stronger, healthier and a more vigorous Christian. God Love You + + The Most Rev. Robert Winzens Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
Posted by brother r at 2:01 PM
Monday, May 21, 2012
May 20, 2012 Ascension Sunday We celebrate today the Ascension of our Lord into Heaven. Imagine the wonderment among the Apostles when they saw Christ, risen from the dead, now ascending above the clouds. Their astonishment was so great that they stood, staring, not knowing what to do until angels were sent to them, reminding them that they needed to get on with the tremendous task that the Lord had entrusted to them. The solemn festival of the Ascension directs our attention to the Risen Lord. At the same time, the Ascension reminds us that the risen Lord's saving work on Earth continues now through his disciples, whom he sends “into the world to proclaim the gospel.” There was something very right about the Apostles’ original reaction. Perhaps, those disciples were even tempted to feel abandoned in some way. Christ had been with them, and had guided them for so long. Would they have to get along without him? The Ascension is not an abandonment of the disciples by Jesus but a way for Jesus to be present in a new way, continuing the saving mission given him by the Father. The double consequence of this festival of the Ascension is Jesus entering into glory and us taking up his mission as our own. We, too, must take some time to reflect on, and marvel at, the mystery of our Lord’s ascension into heaven. We can have trouble celebrating the Ascension when we get all tangled up in the mechanics of the event. The “how’s” have a way of binding us to God's truth. The story of Jesus and Nicodemus is a case in point. Nicodemus came down with a severe case of the “how’s.” How can I enter the womb again? How can I be born anew when I am a senior citizen? Being so concerned with mechanics can happen to us on Ascension Sunday. If “How” is our primary concern, the Ascension is only a fantastic feat, or cosmic trick. To dwell on how the Ascension happened will only turn it into a biblical sideshow, complete with wires and Mirrors. We could speculate forever on what happened and never figure it out. Yet we are not supposed to figure it out. Where to be drawn into what the Ascension meant for the disciples and what it means for us. Jesus himself gave them the answer to this doubt, for he promised that he would be with them always. Moreover, he also promised that he would send the Holy Spirit to guide them. Yet, when confronted with the lack of Christ’s visible presence among them, the disciples found themselves not knowing what to do, except to stare up at the sky and remain in that mysterious moment. What they soon realized, after the Holy Spirit had come upon them, and helped them to grasp the meaning of what Jesus had taught them, was that our Lord had to ascend into Heaven to complete his Paschal Mystery. The Ascension is about endings and beginnings. It is about joy and hope. Earthly ministry of Jesus had ended. He had taken up the cup prepared for him as he suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried. The time had now come for him to return to the Heavenly Father and take his place at the right hand of God. We know this is true, but why the dramatic exit? Ultimately, God only knows; maybe has something to do with finality. The dramatic parting proclaims in a vivid way that Jesus' time with us in human form is over. Sweat does this departure mean? Is "out of sight, out of mind,” what it mean? No. How about “absence makes the heart grow fonder”? No, that won't work either. Neither cliché fits. Jesus is not “out of sight, out of mind,” is not his absence but his profound presence that makes our hearts grow fonder. Humanity was estranged from God by sin. Left to ourselves, we were helpless. We could never bridge the infinite chasm between God, our creator, whom we had grievously offended, and ourselves, his lowly and sinful creatures. Only God could save us, but only a man like us could act on behalf of humanity. When Christ became man, born of the Virgin Mary, he made our salvation possible. The Son of God became the Son of Man, fully divine and fully human. Jesus Christ chose to unite God and man in himself. From the moment of his Incarnation, we see our Lord setting things right, restoring humanity to the dignity that we had lost, and even elevating us beyond our original state. God became man so that man might be able to live with God forever in heaven. The Ascension is a fulfillment of the divine plan for salvation that continues throughout the world for all peoples and all times. The Ascension is a transfer saving ministry from Jesus to us. But this transfer does not mean we are on our own. No, disciples minister in Jesus' name, they minister with Jesus' power and life, and they always look to Jesus to live in preach effectively. The Ascension signals the beginning of the reign of Christ. Jesus has left the boundaries of time and space and is taken his place with God. The Ascension is not something to cry over, but rather something to cause joy. As Jesus told the disciples in John's Gospel, “it is better for you that I go to the Father.” He is now the great intercessor described in the book of Hebrews. He is above all and in all. All is now his life: life, death, defeat, victory, sorrow and joy. Now nothing, as St. Paul tells us, can separate us from his love. The Ascension means he is with us in the most profound sense. He is with us when we gather, two or three in his name. He is with this in Word proclaimed, is with this in bread shared and wine poured. Is with this as Savior for he is able to save those who approach God through him. The Ascension is no time for tears. In Luke's gospel, we are told the disciples went away to Jerusalem, not to hold a funeral, but to raise a few toasts! This is why we too are gathered together. We are not here to hold a memorial service for someone who is absent, nor are we here to sit and reflect upon the vacuum created by his exit. No, we are here to celebrate. It's a party of sorts. The church calls it a feast, which means a celebration. A feast in honor of the crucified, risen and ascended as the Christ who is with us to the end of age. In his Ascension, then, Christ brings the human to the divine. What is earthly is intimately wedded to what is heavenly. The King who first came down from heaven, who died, and who rose to life again, has returned. Jesus Christ returns triumphantly to heaven, carrying with him his sacred humanity, to take his seat at the right hand of the Father. When Christ ascended into heaven, he took humanity with him. Where he has gone, we hope to follow, for he has gone to prepare a place for us. What signs accompanied believers today? The most amazing aspect of this gospel is that Jesus’ disciples are able to work fantastic wonders like picking up snakes, drinking poison and surviving, or healing the sick. Jesus’ glorious presents to us and within us makes us the very sign of the gospel, of belief and new life. We are the sign of the risen Lord's presence! We are to sign of the continuation of his saving mission. We are to sign of risen life in our world today. We are to sign of belief, of the gospel being preached, not only in what we say, but also in the way we live. We are to sign of the visible power of the gospel at work transforming us and our world. Jesus’ Ascension is a pledge that he has not abandoned humanity but instead is present to us in a new, glorified way as we take up his work of salvation. We must look only to the glorified, ascended Christ for our power to preach and for the risen life that strengthens us for this saving mission. We must look only to the glorified Christ so we can be worthy of the call we have received. We, then, are not only those who receive the gift of salvation but we also are the very signs by which salvation is announced and God's reign continues to be inaugurated throughout the whole world. We look to glorified, ascended Christ as we wait for the promise of the Father to be baptized with the Holy Spirit. It would be daunting for us to think that we alone continue Jesus’ mission after his ascension. But not so. The gospel assures us that the Lord works with us. What dignity is now ours! We are given the gifts to walk in the footsteps of Jesus on this earth, assured that we too will one day ascend to share in his glory. May we always be mindful of the dignity to which Christ has raised us. We live not for any earthly measure of happiness or success, but for eternal life with God. We are citizens, not of this world, but of heaven. May we keep our eyes fixed on Christ, our Lord, who sits at the right hand of God the Father, and, may we join him one day. We have every reason to be joyful and full of thanks, just as the disciples were on that very first Ascension Day. This Ascension Sunday is a feast, a time to make Eucharist, a time to give thanks. This day, as always, we had the joyful opportunity of approaching the throne of grace to receive mercy and favor. So come, let us feast! God Love You + + The Most Rev. Robert Winzens Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church San Diego, Ca.
Posted by brother r at 11:31 AM
Sunday, May 6, 2012
May 6, 2012The Fourth Sunday after EasterBaptismAfter briefly flirting with church attendance, one TV sitcom character chalks up his experience as generally beneficial because "I finally learned what that guy in the end zone holding up the big card that says 'John 3:16' on it is talking about!" (For those who are unfamiliar with the passage, it reads as follows: “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might have eternal life.”) It may come as a big surprise to long-time churchgoers, steeped in a biblical, Christian experience, accustomed to hearing religious-sounding words and seeing religious-looking symbols, that we now live in a genuinely post-Christian culture, or what some call the pre-Christian culture. Our society is defined far more by all those people who have no clue as to what that guy in the end zone is trying to say than it is by those recognizing the citation of a biblical chapter and verse. A pre-Christian culture does not mean that there is a lack of spiritual interest or a slacking of spiritual hunger. On the contrary, this postmodern, pre-Christian age has awakened to the fact that it is spiritually starving -- and the hunger pains are leading to a frantic feeding frenzy. Without the table of tradition to offer them nourishment, spiritual seekers have embarked on a smorgasbord of what they hope will be soul-satisfying samples. My research into some possible venues for our Third Order we are attempting to create, has led me to discover much on our pre-Christian spiritual culture. There is a renewed interest in prayer and the state of the spirit in healing and health issues. Native American, Indian, Asian, Eastern European as well as Jewish and Christian Kabbalah traditions have been grafted into the middle of suburban American culture in order to try to inject new depth and meaning into our daily existence. Nature and a new eco-spirituality attempt to reconnect our human spirit to the environment it lives in. Of course, Wicca, New-Age and various Occult methods are sometime applied. Astro-physicists, genetic researchers and computer scientists studying artificial intelligence are increasingly introducing spiritual questions into their technological studies.Today we have a Baptism in addition to all I have mentioned above. We have some parent and God-Parents here today to baptize a child in an age where many no longer bother or have a church who will not allow them to bother. In many ways the Church has failed to keep up. In other manners, society has simply drifted due to the modern ability to learn something in a matter of seconds on the web. It only takes an atheist or a disgruntled church goer a few second to convert someone now-a-days. To turn this tide, Twenty-first-century Christians need to take Philip's evangelical style and enthusiasm to heart. Instead of standing around trying to determine if we should wade into all this haphazard spiritual seeking, let us stride right into the middle of the stream, confident in the strength of our own spiritual tradition. Like Philip, we should not hesitate to go where the spirit sends us, no matter how unlikely the territory or how odd its inhabitants. As much as all of you may need to hear this, I too need to listen to my own words on those days when I question if I can reach people on the search for God in the plethora of manners in which they search. The Ethiopian eunuch embodies a classic model of a spiritual seeker. In fact, by following the same rules of engagement Philip demonstrates in today's Acts text, we can reach out to our postmodern, pre-Christian, the "desperately-seeking-God" culture that is in such soul pain. The first reality Philip accepted was that no matter how spiritually hungry seekers may be, they are not going to come to Christ by themselves. They need an escort, a guide, a messenger. The Great Commission is the mandate, not of religious professionals, but of all believers. Every single one of us is called to "do the work of an evangelist." Faith in Jesus does not come about "naturally." The story of Christ's life and ministry, his crucifixion for our sakes and his resurrection from the dead cannot be discerned simply by gazing at the mountaintops or praying at a river's edge. Christ requires our witness, the excited retelling of the story from one generation to the next, in order for the Good News of the gospel to be heard. One of the great truths of Christianity is its "scandal of particularity." Christians dare to declare that one man, one event, one time, one place made a difference for all eternity. That is why every Christian must be a voice, telling the story, passing the peace along. We are all escorts for a tumbling culture that has lost all sense of spiritual direction. Philip willingly wandered out into the middle of a barren desert roadway in order to offer the greatest words of guidance any traveler could ever hope to hear -- that Jesus Christ is the Way. When Philip saw the Ethiopian eunuch's chariot approaching, he ran after the traveler. Philip didn't expect the Ethiopian to stop and ask him if he wanted a lift. He didn't complain that he didn't have a horse to ride alongside. He simply did what he could with what he had. He used his own two legs to catch up to him. We had better get used to change, for in postmodern culture, it's the only thing that's not changing. Does anyone need to have it pointed out that the future is hardly sauntering along? Indeed, the nature of change itself has changed. Change is no longer incremental, but exponential. The invention of the microchip has had a greater impact on this planet than the invention of fire. The speed of a microprocessing chip reveals the rate of change and development. Increasingly our very lives are being forced to move along with that same kind of speed. If we want to reach out and capture the attention of the spiritual seekers in this age, then Christians also must learn to "run alongside" the fast-paced chariot of postmodern life. After Philip catches up to the Ethiopian's chariot, he doesn't insist that the man stop so that they can have a quiet talk. Instead, he earns himself a seat aboard that fast-moving vehicle by speaking to the eunuch about that which is obviously of most immediate concern to him. The eunuch is reading from Isaiah, obviously musing about the contents of that scroll. Philip doesn't begin by asking the eunuch the state of his soul or what kind of life he is living. Instead he focuses on the matter squarely before this man -- the contents of the scroll: "Do you understand what you are reading?" We must be willing to meet all people on spiritual quests at the point of their own individual concerns and needs. The church's witness will only reach postmodern seekers if it sits alongside them and fearlessly steps into the world they must live in every day. For some, this may mean feeding their stomachs before attempting to feed their souls. For some, this might mean offering a physical space of peace and quiet before revealing to them the peace of Christ. For some, this might mean an offering of human warmth and loving concern before sharing the joy of God's ultimate love and salvation through Christ. We must master a variety of evangelisms: individual evangelism, cell evangelism, social evangelism, niche evangelism, justice evangelism, etc. No matter what tack Philip might have considered the best in order to address the Isaiah text the eunuch was reading, he let the seeker ask his own questions and answered those first. The eunuch asks about whom the prophet was speaking, himself or someone else -- a question that might not seem to point to a personal lesson on salvation. But Philip lets the eunuch ask his own questions and direct the course of the conversation so that he will feel the answer he receives is genuinely directed toward him. Likewise, a 21st-century Christian must deal with the agenda spiritual seekers bring to the table. Christian tradition from an earlier, more confident age declared that "all roads lead to Christ." Can't we have the same confidence in our faith that no matter how theologically challenging or scientifically stated, eventually all questions can find their resolution in the gospel news? In many ways, I think so. This culture is in the midst of a huge "God Rush", not to be confused by the Gold Rush of history. One high-fashion magazine in the world even goes so far as to say that anyone who is anybody, (i.e., a "star") has a new addition to his or her entourage. Along with the requisite agent, accountant, lawyer, chauffeur and bodyguard, there is now a sixth person: a spiritual guide. But like earlier "gold rushes" in American history, there is a lot of "fool's gold" out there. Counterfeit spiritualties abound. While all questions can lead to Christ, all roads don't lead to God. When Philip shared "the good news about Jesus", Philip let the eunuch know that the real God in his own personal God rush, the only real gold in the hills and vales of his own life, was the God of Israel, who revealed the essence of who God is in Jesus, the Christ. Philip "Good Newsed" the eunuch with the message of God's love through Jesus. We here today are called to do no less than Philip did. When the opportunity presents itself, and you will know when it does, just run up next to the carriage and rest will fall into place.God Love You ++ The Most Rev. Robert WinzensPastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic ChurchSan Diego, Ca.
Posted by brother r at 5:37 PM