Monday, November 28, 2016

November 27, 2016
Advent Sunday
Many of us have our own special Christmas memories. Don’t we wish that we could have “been there” as they say, and seen the scene of the first Christmas? I sure do. It was then that God came in the birth of Jesus to visit and redeem His people. It was there that God entered history to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. To save us!
For me, one of my many memories is of the Miracle on 34th. Street. I never tire of the movie. Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Natalie Wood and Edmund Gwenn tell the story of Santa Claus, if you will. It captures the spirit of Christmas if anything does. Anytime I see the excitement in a child’s eye at Christmas time, I no longer doubt Santa Claus. Neither did the real St. Nicholas have any doubts in the birth of Christ.
There, through a little boy born in a stable, God’s will, God’s idea, God’s intention, God’s Word, God’s purpose and God’s love became flesh and blood and came to live among us. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16) This is the miracle of Christmas.
As we begin a new Church year on this day, I will not be focusing on the readings we have, but I hope to reflect a bit this Advent in a special way to help us awaken within us the Holy Spirit and gain some true devotion for the season. We’ll call it an Advent Study, much like Bible study, but on a shorter topic. In all of the hustle and bustle at this time of year, we tend to lose focus of the real meaning of the season. Yes, we hear those who say “Jesus is the reason for the season”, but let’s face it; there is a growing segment of the population who are celebrating the holiday with little to no religious connotation to it with the exception of some of their decorations.
Advent is a time to help us prepare and be in the right spirit. Let’s start with a little story I read that will help set the mood for the first week of Advent.
His name was Joey. Joey was nine years old and in the fourth grade. He was so excited because his teacher, Miss Thompson, had chosen him to be in the annual Christmas Play. Joey was going to be one of the Christmas Angels, and he was more than a little nervous, because he had a speaking part in the play, and memorizing lines was not his strong suit. He had only one line, but Miss Thompson told him that it was one of the most important lines in the whole story.
Joey was to play the Angel of Christmas, and at the most dramatic moment in the pageant, he was to say, “Behold, I bring you tidings of great joy.” This was a problem for Joey, because he didn’t know what those words meant. He had never in his whole life said the word behold, and the words glad tidings were also not to be found anywhere in his nine-year-old vocabulary.
Miss Thompson sensed Joey’s frustration, and she said to him, “Joey, simply imagine that you have just heard the most wonderful news, and you have run to tell your friends all about it. That’s what ‘Behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy’ means.” Joey took in her explanation and he went to work. Finally, he mastered the line, and he could say it with dramatic flair and boldness, “Behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy!”
And when the night of the big performance came, Joey was ready. At least, he was ready until the curtains opened and he saw all those people out there, and then there were those bright spotlights shining directly in his face. Joey got a classic case of stage fright and his mind went completely blank. For the life of him, he could not remember what Miss Thompson had told him about running to tell his friends some wonderful news, so when it came time for his line, instead of saying, “Behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy!” Joey blurted out, “Boy, oh boy, do I have good news for you!” The audience laughed loudly and gave Joey a standing ovation.
Joey’s got the words all wrong, but got the spirit right. Christmas does have good news for us; incredible news, the greatest news the world has ever heard.
Christmas has some wonderful lessons to teach us. We see, for example, in the first chapter of Luke, a scene where Mary, the expecting mother of Jesus, has gone for a visit with her cousin Elizabeth, who is also expecting a child. Elizabeth, although quite old to be having a baby, will soon miraculously deliver a baby boy who will grow up to be John the Baptist. The forerunner who will prepare the way of the Lord Jesus Christ. God blessed both Mary and Elizabeth with miracle births and He will bless the world with the miracle of Christmas. We might notice that God first sends his Angel to Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah, then to Mary and Joseph and then to the shepherds. And in each case the Angel basically says, “Boy oh boy, do I have good news for you!”
There are three significant things further. First, let’s look at Mary. Mary had a strong, unflinching and unwavering faith. Like the song asks; did she really comprehend who her baby boy was? Did she realize what her Son would do in the world and for the world, the miracles He would perform, or the good news He would bring? Did she know that He would be the perfect Lamb? Did she know that the child sleeping in her arms was the great I Am?
There is much to learn from Mary. She has so much she can teach us about real faith. When we see her beautifully portrayed in Christmas pageants and on Christmas Cards, Nativity scenes and even postage stamps, she looks so serene and lovely making the whole matter seem so simple and easy.
However, let us think realistically for a moment. Consider what Mary went through.  The whispers behind her back. The finger pointing. The false accusations. The raised eyebrows. The questions. The gossip. The criticism. The family pressures. The crude jokes. The cruel laughter. The poverty. The heavy taxes. The journey back to Joseph’s place of birth all because of a census all the while she should not have been traveling in such a manner. The birth in a stable, with no doctor, midwife, no medicine and no anesthetic. (Sounds like something right out of a secular job!) She had nothing but faith in God.
Mary was a teenage girl from a poor family who lived in an obscure village, which was under the rule of a despised foreign power. Then one day, out of the blue, an Angel came to her with a message from God, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High.” And all of this was going to happen without Mary being intimate with a man!
Now be honest; would you have believed that? An Angel! An Angel of God of all things, comes to you and tells you that message. The remarkable thing is that Mary did. That’s real faith! She is willing to hear God’s word, obey God’s will, and entrust her future to God’s hands. How would she explain this? How would she explain this to her parents? How would she tell Joseph? They were legally betrothed. They had not yet consummated their marriage, but they were considered as good as married, and in those days when you became formally engaged as they were, the only way you could be separated was through divorce. Doesn’t sound like any of the debates about marriage we have in this day and age, now does it? The government had nothing to do with it back then. How could she tell Joseph that she was going to have a baby? How would he handle it? What would the neighbors say? Fortunately for her, they did not have telephones or television then.
The whole thing was a tough situation. Any one of us in this room would probably have told God to find someone else for the job. Not Mary. She did not know what was ahead of her and her Son, but her answer to the Angel was a model of faith, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.” She basically said, Lord I trust you completely, so your will be done!
Secondly, when Mary goes to visit Elizabeth, it is very heartwarming to see how Elizabeth responds. No jealousy, no skepticism, no cynicism or suspicious questions. Just a loving affirmation with positive reinforcement. We all need someone like that.
We all need positive reinforcement and that is one of the many great messages of Christmas. God, through the gift of the Christ child, reaches out to us with love and encouragement and affirmation. He wants us to live in the spirit as Elizabeth did. God wants us to celebrate one another and to give one another the positive reinforcement, love and encouragement we need.
Let’s put into perspective. Some years ago at a university in the Midwest, some students in a psychology class were studying the power of positive reinforcement, the impact it has on a person when you give encouragement, and the debilitating effect that comes when positive reinforcement is withheld. The psychology professor was called out of the room for a few moments one day. Now, leaving psychology students alone even for a few minutes is risky business, as the professor soon found out. The students decided to have some fun with the professor and, at the same time, to test his theories about positive reinforcement.
The professor had the habit of pacing back and forth across the front of the classroom as he lectured. So the students decided, without the professor’s knowledge, to try an experiment on him. Every time the professor moved toward the radiator in the classroom, they would give him dramatic positive reinforcement. They would say, “Yes! All right! Amen!” They would applaud and smile and nod and take notes like crazy. With verbal expression and body language they affirmed and encouraged him as he walked toward the radiator.
But when he moved away from the radiator, the students would do the opposite. They would moan and groan and yawn and stretch and put their pencils down. They would look out the window and nod off as though they were about to fall asleep, and they would look and act as if they were bored to tears. Now, they never told the professor what they were doing, and he never figured it out. But by the end of the week, he was giving his entire lecture sitting on the radiator!
We all need positive reinforcement, and this is one of the great messages of Christmas. God, through the gift of the Christ Child, reaches out to us with love and encouragement and affirmation, and he wants us to live in that spirit, as Elizabeth did. God wants us to celebrate one another and to give one another the positive reinforcement, love, and encouragement we all need.
Lastly today we think about the gracious, loving, forgiving, seeking, and saving action of God. This is the good news of Christmas! God will not give up on us. God will not desert us. God will not let us go. God comes to where we are, looking for us with His amazing grace and His sacrificial, redemptive love.
Let’s look at a true story to illustrate. In 1989 an earthquake hit Armenia, and over 25,000 people lost their lives. One area hit especially hard had an elementary school in it. After the tremors had stopped, a father of one of the students raced to the school to check on his son. When the father arrived on the scene, he was stunned to see that the school building had been leveled. Looking at the mass of stones and rubble, he remembered a promise he had made to his little boy, Arman. He had told him, “No matter what happens, Arman, I’ll always be there for you.” Remembering his promise, he found the area closest to his son’s classroom and began to pull back the rocks. Others had also come, and they said to the man, “It’s too late. You know they are all gone. No one could survive that! You can’t help them now.” Even a policeman urged him to give up and go home.
But that father refused to quit. For eight hours, then sixteen, then thirty-two, and then thirty-six hours, he continued to dig through the rubble. His hands were raw and his energy gone, but he would not give up. Finally, after thirty-eight wrenching hours, he pulled back a boulder, and he heard voices. He recognized his son’s voice. He called out to him, “Arman! Arman!” and a voice answered him, “Dad, it’s me!” And then the boy said, “I told the other kids not to worry. I told them you would come save us because you promised, ‘No matter what, I’ll always be there for you.’ I knew you would never give up.”
This is the good news of Christmas. God comes into the rubble of our lives and seeks us out and saves us. We see the miracle of Christmas in the faith of Mary and the encouragement of Elizabeth, but most of all, we see it in the saving action of God.
Begin observing Advent this year, by reflecting on the tidings of great joy that arrive each Christmas. Think about how you are transformed by the birth of Jesus. Do you have some joy in your everyday life? Further, think about the good news of our Savior’s birth each day this week, and see if you can recognize ways that you can share the message with others.
Let us pray.
Father God, help us to have faith like Mary. Although everyone’s life is somewhat different, each of us go through trials and tribulations that challenge our faith. During these times, Lord, let us feel Your loving presence ever the more so that we do not lose hope. Help us to trust that You have a plan and it will all work out in the way that is best for those who trust in You.
Help us to offer more support and reinforcement to those in our life so that, they too, can feel the warmth of Your love flowing thru each of us to others. Help us to always trust that You will always be there for us. No matter the situation, good or bad, You are always there alongside of us.
Lastly, we thank You for miracles, and for being able to share the good news of Jesus with others. Help us grow in faith and in love. Prepare our hearts for the birth of Jesus, that we may experience the joy and blessings of Christmas. We ask all this, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

November 20, 2016
The Sunday Next before Advent
(Colossians 1:11-20)
Brace yourselves: Christmas is coming.

Today is the Sunday before Black Friday, which seems to take a lessor importance in this secular world, and so our newspapers, mailboxes and inboxes will be crammed with wonderful ads luring us toward the hottest sales, gadgets and toys of the year.

I am going to pile on with the “presents bad, Jesus good” routine here, but be aware that during the next few days, the pre-Christmas advertising will be over the top. Retail desperately wants to define our holiday desires.

Families are especially targeted, what with poor little Jimmy and Jamie living an incomplete life without this year’s must-have Christmas toys. Every year the toy changes, but many of us remember the biggest hits of the past.

Barbie, Mr. Potato Head, Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs are deep in the archives of history.

The hot toys of the ’60s were Spirograph, G.I. Joe, Lite-Brite and Hot Wheels race cars.

In the ’70s, LEGOS and Star Wars figures left all other toys in the dust, while Barbie continued to dominate the little-girl market. Video games appeared in 1977, as the Atari 2600 left kids — and parents — fixated on Video Pong, Breakout and Pitfall.

The ’80s brought us the Rubik’s Cube, Cabbage Patch Kids, Transformers and Pound Puppies.

The’90s offered GameBoys, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Pok√©mon and Beanie Babies. But Tickle Me Elmo dominated the decade. Maybe you remember the hysteria when stores ran out of stock of Furbies.

In the new millennium, the Wii, Xbox and PlayStation video-game systems took over the Christmas market. But aluminum scooters, Dora the Explorer, Harry Potter and Elmo-Doing-Anything-Depending-on-the-Year made nondigital splashes.

They were simple days when all we wanted for Christmas was — cash!

But today, hockey players would blush at the brutality with which parents go after “this year’s hot Christmas toy” for junior. It seems as though every year a parent brawl at Toys “R” Us makes headlines. Remember the reports of parents trampling each other or offering $1,000 bribes to get a Cabbage Patch Kid? The Tickle Me Elmo rage created mob scenes reminiscent of Depression-era bank runs.

Can you begin to imagine a world where parents showed equal passion to secure emotional well-being and spiritual development for their kids? “My bad!” for even mentioning it.

Although Christmas is still a month out and Advent a week away, Black Friday advertising will be pushing the concept of Christmas gifts — good and bad ones – right now. Three weeks ago, actually! So this is a great time to allow Scripture to bring us some balance.

Instead of merely developing our Christmas wish-lists, what about focusing on a Christ-wish list?

Note that I didn’t say, “Rather than making a Christmas wish-list.” We aren’t bashing Christmas giving here, although that might be an appropriate topic another time. For this week’s reading, we’re suggesting we develop a Christ-wish list. And the gifts we might hope to receive can be found right here in Colossians 1.

The Gift of Strength

“May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power”. God offers an ongoing gift that accompanies us in living out our lives here and now: his power making us strong. God will strengthen us in places of our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9) and in our inner lives (Ephesians 3:16).

God wants us engaged with and dependent on him when anxiety, depression, stress, doubt, frustration, cynicism and bitterness – all which pose a war against who he wants us to be.

God’s invisible power brings us interior strength. We believe it’s available to us by faith so we might experience it in tangible reality.

U2’s Bono shared a line in the song “Moment of Surrender” that has been his spiritual mantra for years: “vision over visibility.” It’s an insistence on looking past what you can see and into what could be — what you believe to be true.

That’s Christianity. But more specifically, it’s the way toward being made strong with God’s power.

The Gift of Patience

“May you be prepared to endure everything with patience”.

Control freaks will recoil at this idea, but the reality is that we have no idea what’s coming next in life. Sadly, lottery winning has ridiculous odds, and surprise parties happen only once or twice. That means the unexpected is almost always bad news.

Cancer in a loved one. Being laid off from work. Getting sideswiped and injured in a car accident. Being betrayed by a trusted friend.

We never plan for these times, so we’re rarely prepared for them. The only thing we can bring to the table at that point is the character we’ve developed beforehand.

That’s why Paul prays that we’d be prepared to endure everything with patience and with virtue that can weather the unexpected. It’s a God-granted gift we partner in cultivating, and it carries us through the unforeseen.

To walk life’s trials in a way that honors God is like navigating a balance beam. Both sides have easy drop-offs. Complaining. Hopelessness. Anger. Self-absorption. But staying upright and making it requires the balance of godly patience, of which many of us struggle to have.

The Gift of Joyful Gratitude

“Joyfully giving thanks to the Father”.

Joy and gratitude, like patience, are more developed attitudes than momentary emotions. Emotions come from our brains, but these attitudes have been forged from our souls.

Paul is seeing fruit slowly born in the Colossians over time. But it’s almost as if he has an inkling. It’s gone well thus far, but things could go array. He’s seen too much persecution and warfare against other churches.

Paul wants to call out a godly attitude in them that can combat the difficulties of the spiritual life. So he prays that their joyful gratitude toward God would expand — for what he’s already done and what we’ll need him for down the line.

If asked, is there a single Christian who wouldn’t wish to be more joyful? More grateful toward God? Experience the depth of these attitudes from a soul level?

So let’s join Paul in praying for these qualities. Let’s learn to live out of our hearts. Let’s strive far more toward a joyful and grateful soul than we do toward bringing joy to the kids with the Elmo-Transforms-Into-Harry-Potter doll.

By the way, whatever the toy of choice is this year, it’ll be on eBay for $600 this Saturday.

After verse 12, Paul leaves his prayer wish-list for the saints and starts waxing Christological. But if we look at the implications of these Christ descriptions, they point us toward many other things to ask God for.

The Gift of the Giver

“He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything”.

Here’s something we should long for: a surprise gift. That rare gift you receive that you didn’t know to ask for but was exactly what you wanted.

Christ possesses the first place in everything. He is priority one.

Borrowing a liberating idea from Os Guinness’ The Call, we only ever live life before “an audience of One.” That means we owe no allegiance to other forces or public opinions — the boss, the neighbors, the hot trends, the magazine images of beauty, the people we feel the pressure to impress, the must-have Christmas gifts.

From a whole of lives, we don’t answer to them. They don’t define us. They can’t change our souls.

We answer only to Christ the firstborn. Our lives are a play acted before an audience of One. And then we realize that the Giver of all the above-mentioned gifts has given himself as the Gift: “Through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things”.

Reconciliation. The complex Greek word carries the idea of restoring things completely. After an original state of harmony has been corrupted, reconciliation brings it back.

God was pleased to do this. And “all things” means no person or story is outside of the hope of change. No situation is too irreparable for God.

With all that Paul wishes for Christians and everything else we find in this Christ-text to encourage our own prayers, maybe this is atop the list: Coming into Advent and the Christmas season, we can know, experience and extend the reconciliation of Jesus Christ. Is there anything better to ask for?
Let us pray.
Father God, as we approach one of the most Holy seasons of the year, help us to draw the season into better moments of strength, patience, joyful gratitude, giving the gift of the Giver.
Our life will now be drawn into a secular celebration of a Holy time and we will be wildly distracted and pulled by so many things. Let us take the better part and sit at the feet of Your Son and listen to Him who is to come into this world in resurgence in a month’s time. We are so busy preparing things in our houses, that we have forgotten the better part.
Father, as this season approaches, we ask that You help us surrender our moments of anxiety, depression, stress, doubt, frustration, cynicism and bitterness. We fully know that none of which we can surrender by mere thought, but only in placing our trust in Christ our Lord, who will send the Holy Spirit to guide us in all things with greater strength, patience, joyful gratitude and in being a gift of the Giver. We ask all this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

November 13, 2016
The Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Trinity
This election produced a result that most everyone agrees was nothing short of an amazing political upset. Half the country is elated; the other half discouraged. Either you are generally pleased with the outcome, mortified by the result or ambivalent about the whole thing. 
This doesn't matter.
What matters is that we're citizens and/or residents of thiscountry, with a different agenda and different mission. We can’t undo everything, nor can we redo everything.
Our duty now is the same as it has been during the Obama Administration; it is the vision articulated by the prophet Micah: To do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8).
In that sense, this election changes nothing.
Finally -- however we voted -- we must remember and put into practice our theology which transcends human and artificial labels. "As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; [there is no longer Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative] for all of you are one in Christ Jesus " (Galatians 3:27-28)
With the apostle Paul, we need "to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:1-3).
Some have expressed a view that this election as some “sign” of the end times or that the Anti-Christ has taken over our country like some think prophets have foretold. Although, I admit our new President does not seem to espouse Catholic Christian views on some topics and I suppose the election results could be viewed in this way depending on one’s convictions, but let’s not read more into it than it is. Both candidates could fill this description in some way, and yet both are still fellow human beings doing what they think to be right.
It reminds me of a sad, frustrating, frighteningly story. Two young men were arrested for arranging with a big-time drug trafficker to import cocaine into their community. The 22-year-olds would become the drug's main dealers, selling coke to all the teenagers they could interest in, and then addict to, that potent pleasure drug. Because this deal crossed state lines, it was the FBI who finally moved in and made the arrests, breaking up the alliance between the locals and their out-of-state supplier, cutting off the drug supply to the teens of that community.

What was so shocking about this otherwise all too common story? What brought this drug story prominent play on network news? The community was Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The two young men arrested were members of the Amish community. The teenaged customers cut off from their drug supply were young Amish boys. 

The parents of all these young people were like every parent: stunned to think such a thing could happen in their community, shocked that such a drug tragedy could involve their own children. But this story shakes all parents. For if the lure and danger of drugs could infiltrate the cloistered, close-knit community that the Amish have intentionally built up as a bulwark against the sins and seductions of the 20th, now 21st-century world, what chance do any of the rest of us have at keeping our own families, schools and communities safe?

Maybe the most disturbing and insidious part of this story for the Amish community was that this betrayal came at the hands of two of their own. It was not outsiders but insiders who jeopardized their youths' safety and compromised the moral standards of their tradition. The betrayal came from within. 

Part of Amish culture allows young men between the ages of 16 and 24 to take a few breaks from the strict rules and regulations of their otherwise microscopically legislated lives. The community intentionally schedules events known as "hoedowns" as "time-out" moments. These are unchaperoned events where young people can carouse a bit, sowing a few behavioral wild oats before baptism as adults and while still remaining within the supposedly safe confines of their community.

It was exactly at this time when nobody was watching, which means that everyone was trusting, that the betrayal occurred. Along with the Amish community itself, we are all appalled at the depth of betrayal this act entailed.

Some of the severest cultural penalties have always been reserved for those who commit the most intimate acts of betrayal. Some form of taboo and punishment against adultery and incest, the two greatest forms of personal betrayal, are found in nearly every human civilization. The capital crime of treason, the ultimate form of communal betrayal, is likewise understood by nearly all cultures. While all of us admit to various shortcomings and sins of varying degrees, those who fall into these special categories of "betrayers" are still considered the ultimate "power sinners."

There is no vitriol like that reserved for a spouse who has violated vows and broken the covenant of marriage. How many divorced individuals do you know who can speak fondly of an ex-spouse who left them for another?

There is no revulsion like that reserved for men or women who sexually abuse their own children. Even in the toughest, most violence-filled cell blocks of our prisons, the child molester is seen as the lowest of the low and is often singled out for jailhouse "justice."
There is no repugnance like that reserved for traitors who betray their country, their homeland, for money, power or sheer spite. Even in these days of bloodless civility and bored cynicism, treason remains a crime where even the nonviolent white-collar "spy" can be sentenced to death. There is no greater infamy, no greater insult, than to be branded "a Judas."

There was a reason early Christians did some things

• left secret signs (the fish) to mark safe places to worship or seek a night's refuge

• wrote secret messages (in the languages of their hymns and liturgies) to communicate with other Christians. (The Twelve Days of Christmas carol being a prominent example.)

It was a dangerous world in which to be a Christian. The political winds of tolerance and intolerance blew hot and cold depending upon the whims of the emperor, the mood of the regional rulers, the fanaticism of local synagogue officials or the tempers of the marketplace crowds. 

But the greatest threats to the small, struggling Christian communities were internal. Early Christians who suffered martyrdom were often turned in by insiders. The names of Christians were given to the officials by these "informers." To make matters worse, these "informers" also coldly recommended what kinds of tests could be given to see whether someone was really a Christian. 

Insider-informers knew that a true Christian would 1) never curse Christ, 2) never pray to Roman gods, and 3) never offer wine and incense to the emperor's statue. If any accused Christian willingly participated in all three of these, he/she was set free.

Jesus' words in Luke's gospel lesson this morning gives a chilling message. We can expect to be betrayed and to suffer at the hands of those we know the best and love the most. 

Jesus' words crumble the safe confines of the place we call church. Jesus' words remind us that some of the harshest criticism, some of the most unpleasant treatment, some of the most hurtful persecution disciples of Jesus will face is from within our own families, among our closest friends, even from our brothers and sisters in the church.

There is an old saying: "The perversion of the best yields the worst." Within the body of Christ, we experience the greatest intimacy, the greatest compassion, the greatest encouragement. But it is also within the body of Christ that we can experience the greatest hurt, the greatest pain, the greatest betrayal. 

As every family knows, you can't have one without the other. There is a high price to community: It's called vulnerability. 

Surely not in the church, you say. The body of Christ is supposed to be different. We aren't like the world. We've been redeemed. I’ve had one of my most horrible weeks of life this week – As a Bishop or Christian, we would like to think we should be insulated from such things, but we are not. 

So you think you're better than Jesus? If our Lord and Savior suffered pain and betrayal at the hands of his closest friends - and all 12 of the disciples betrayed him, not just Judas - do you think you're better than our Lord? Each one of the disciples was a double agent. You think you're better than Peter, than John, than Thomas, than James? We are not. 

This is what is certain in life: Sometimes, the people you love the most will hurt you the most. 

Get over it. 

Get ready. 

Get help.

Get whatever you need to deal with it. But, unfortunately, that's the price of love. 

The church is filled with people like you and me - people struggling to do right, but people often falling down, failing miserably, messing up. This does not even factor into consideration the 10 percent of the population that are afflicted with major personality disorders. The church gets at least its share of them. And so, our presidential candidates – whomever you may have supported or not – are no different than we. Stuff happens. 

Baptist consultant Bob Dale (in "Trouble Makers," Vital Ministry) talks about the presence and sometimes prevalence of "power sinning" in the church of Jesus Christ. He divides "power sinning" into five types. All of us are prone to one or more of these forms of control. 

Dale argues that some power sinners exert control by consistent work. These are the workaholics who dominate others by their sheer conscientiousness. If they don't get their way, they go away and you pay. These people live by a credo of works-righteousness that has little understanding of grace. 

A second group controls by attention. These are the people who love the spotlight, crave applause, and need constant approval and center stage. Give it to them, and everything is fine. Criticize something they do, or shine the spotlight on someone else, and woe is you. (I liken this one to Trump.)

The third type of power sinners are those who control by working the crowd. These are the resident politicians. Confident, poised, together, they are experts in creating power centers around themselves and mobilizing others to action. Once crossed, you have a riot on your hands. (This one reminds me of Hillary.)

Fourth, there are some power sinners in the church who control by fog. These people are natural downers. Mainly pessimists and passive-aggressive types, this type of power sinner finds ways to "fog up" every issue, stall or delay any movement, and derail anything that conflicts with their agenda. (Reminds me of Congress! LOL

Finally, some betraying power sinners control by care. These are the people self-sacrificing to the point of deference and dependency. They smother you with attention until you acquiesce to their desires and demands.
But, don’t we all fall into one or more of these criteria? Yes, we do. 

We could mention many other types of people who in their own way "persecute the saints" not to speak of betraying them. Isn't it true: Many times we treat each other worse than the world treats us? Jesus said: "They will set upon you and persecute you." They is sometimes us.

But Luke's gospel refuses to let this prophetic word end without a ring of hopefulness and ultimate triumph. Jesus' final words call us to faithfulness in the face of life's challenges and torments. We can count on this when we live in community: We will be rejected. We will be betrayed. We will be treated cruelly. 

But you can also count on this: God is with you. God's grace will be sufficient. Our souls will not be imperiled by the assaults we suffer at the hands of enemies and friends so long as we lean on Jesus. God will never abandon us; even when it may seem He has. Christ's love can never be taken from us. We can be "more than conquerors, through him who loved us."

Bernie Siegel, in his book How to Live Between Office Visits, states flatly: "The only thing that is going to save people and save the world is if we forgive and love each other. And then healing can come. It doesn't mean that I have to like everything that you have done. But not to forgive means that there are things that I can't forgive myself for either. Everything is forgivable once one understands why people are the way they are." Can we apply this to our candidates of this year? We need to, whether we feel comfortable in so doing or not.

Siegel then goes on to quote Jesus: "In the Bible we are told that Jesus said to a man who was paralyzed, 'Your sins are forgiven.' Jesus knew that the important point was to heal your life, because a life can be healed, even without a cured disease. Someone with cerebral palsy or paraplegia or cancer or AIDS can still exist in the context of a healed life."

In the movie, Good Will Hunting, Will Hunting is a young man who, although he's an uneducated mathematical intellectualwhose genius exceeds that of the professors of MIT, is anything but good. Instead, he is beset with personal problems, many of them caused by a childhood home environment of abuse and betrayal. Will goes through therapists like a hot knife through butter until he meets the psychologist played by Robin Williams. In the breakthrough scene, Will Hunting's therapist gets in his face and repeats like a mantra the words which for bad Will Hunting, provide healing from the wounds of betrayal and move him to a new identity: good Will Hunting. The words? "It's not your fault; it's not your fault." 

Betrayal is not our fault. We will face betrayal and misunderstanding from all quarters, within and without the faith community. To be betrayed is by definition to be a victim. 

But Jesus refuses to let us be victims for long: He advises us not to worry about how we are going to defend ourselves (Luke 21:14), and goes on to promise that not a hair of our heads will perish and that by our "endurance" we will gain our souls (21:18-19).

Our identities are transformed by the presence and power of Christ. And, oh how hard it is to feel this!

Once betrayed, now blessed. 

Once a victim, now victorious. 

Once conquered, now conquerors. 

Once lost, now found. 

Once imprisoned, now set free.

Once weak, now empowered. 

With our new identities, we are now able to move beyond betrayal to be empowered agents of blessing to a world still reeling from blows of betrayal and the sting of sin. We can be hunters of good will.
Let Us Pray.
Father God, we do indeed live in troubled time, but not because a mere election. We live in troubled times because of human failure, betrayal misunderstanding, and plain old sin. None of us are right and yet all of us are. Same sins; different age.
Lord, we ask You to help us to overcome the world, by filling us with Your Spirit that we may feel Your grace, comfort and love in a world so lacking and troubled. Help us not to blame our presidential candidates for our world, but to know it has taken more than one to afflict this world and it will take more than one to restore it – in fact it will take more of One; it will take Your providential care of Your creation.
Lord, as You fill us with Your Spirit, help us each to lift each other up and give communal support to one another, without passing judgment, and with whole heart to the needs at hand. Open the hearts and minds of Your people that they may hear the real solution to ills, and not a rhetoric solution. Help us to reshape our world in the image that You once created it to be. Let us always remember, that regardless of our convictions, race, religion and more, that You are the creator of all mankind and as such, we must treat each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. We ask all this thru Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

November 6, 2016
All Saints/Souls Sunday
Marriage is messy. In Fact, life is messy, so no surprise there. But, let's be clear; marriage is also beautiful and fun and a deeply fulfilling gift from God.

Still, let's be honest. A great marriage takes work, compromise, patience and forgiveness, and a whole lot more. It's a playground for mistakes to be made that create lasting wounds, betrayals that bruise the soul and for levels of intimacy that bring great blessings but also great burdens.

And why shouldn't it be? Think about it. Marriage is an institution handcrafted by God for broken people. It connects two individuals and fuses them together as one within an equally crazy world. The goal, of course, is to create a union that, despite its baggage, is better together than apart. And a vast majority of the time it is; these two people meet deep needs, share great joy and create much beauty.

But along the way, our individualistic natures unavoidably collide, and often, while trying to sanctify one another, we end up sinning against each other, and then it gets, as I said, messy. Or at least interesting.

Sometimes the end result is not just messiness, but straight up disaster. For example, The Atlantic magazine recently asked the question, "What was the world's worst marriage?" A slate of authors, a television producer and some well-known lawyers joined together to compile a list of the messiest marriages in history. Among them were Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, whose intense personalities made for a volatile combination, one which drove them to the altar in marriage and then to the courtroom in divorce, not once but twice.

What such list would be complete without Henry VIII? He wound his way through six different wives, using his power to abuse and oppress each one, and to execute two (Boleyn and Howard). Maybe, darkest of all is the marriage of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, known as the Canadian serial-killing spouses. They proved that marriage can serve as the greatest of enablers, bringing out the worst - or, in their case, the evil in each other. Missing from the list were pop singer Britney Spears and Jason Alexander. They famously showed the world that marriage can get messy in a matter of moments. The two filed for divorce just 55 hours after getting hitched in Vegas. Did someone mention Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries?

But despite the chaos that's inevitable and the craziness that can occur, marriage is still an essential and beautiful part of God's created order. At its most basic level, marriage, with all its complications, exists to carry us through, to help us survive and thrive as a people in a world of even greater chaos and complications. Marriage exists to meet certain needs today through spouse and family -- needs that will be unknown in God's future and coming reign. But until that day, it remains essential. This is precisely the point that Jesus makes in today's text: He's asked a question about marriage in the resurrection, and his reply pretty much says, "Hey, no marriage in heaven; better to work on your marriage in this life than to worry about a marriage in the next one." And thus, we're going to focus on marriage in the here and now in our approach today.

That said, let's remember that not all are called to marriage. Some people may not be in a marriage for several different reasons. Even the apostle Paul suggested that it might be better, if possible, to remain in a state of singleness. But since Jesus is asked to comment about marriage, today we're talking about marriage.

Let’s explore some background to our Gospel reading today. Jesus is approached by the Sadducees with a theological riddle. In an attempt to see where he stood on the idea of a literal resurrection from the dead - which they did not believe in - the Sadducees presented Jesus with a truly complicated scenario: seven dead brothers and one wife inherited between them. Since all would be raised to life in the kingdom to come to whom would this extremely unlucky widow be married?

The Sadducees were hoping that the conundrum they posed would demonstrate that the idea of a resurrection was sort of ludicrous.

Jesus responds by saying, "The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage." In other words, Jesus says, "Look, don't use marriage in this world to disprove God's promises about the next one. Marriage is a gift for today, meeting needs that will be filled in different ways tomorrow."

In his response, Jesus not only affirms and gives us a glimpse of a future life, but he upholds the importance of marriage as an eschatological placeholder, which helps us navigate our current struggles and appreciate the coming glory.

Let's look at just some examples. First, marriage was made for life and death. In this world life is fragile. It begins with babies that are breakable, beautiful and absolutely dependent. They need one parent to feed them, the other to burp them, and two committed, complementary adults creating a playground of growth and safety and joy for them. Likewise, as we get older, moms and dads become like their children once were. They become breakable, dependent and desperately in need of the nurture and the comfort that a spouse can provide. It comes in the form of trips to the doctor's office with hands held, sitting by each other's side when one enters an assisted-living facility and making sure their best friend maintains their dignity even as their body begins to bend toward the grave.

Marriage provides a cradle for the beautiful fragility of human life.

However, in the age to come, the burden of death and the fragility of life will be gone. Jesus promises in our future life that we "cannot die anymore." You'll no longer need to be reminded to take your meds, helped up the stairs or encouraged through cancer treatments. The cradle that marriage provides for our fragile human lives will be retired by bodies that are raised imperishable to enjoy an eternal existence.

Another example is, in this life, marriage is made for oneness and companionship. Sure, we can experience this in our relationships with friends and extended family. But when spouses play together, work together, argue together, parent together, study Scripture together, share a bed together and forgive together - well, over the course of decades, that's what you call intimacy. Our need to be deeply known, to have our weaknesses balanced and shored up by another's complementary strengths - it's all there.

The record for the longest marriage in history belongs to Daniel and Susan Bakeman. Until Susan's death in 1863, the couple enjoyed 91 years and 12 days of married life. Think about it: almost a century of sharing, connecting and being vulnerable with one person! Sure, they must have experienced hundreds of messy marriage moments, but one could bet that after year 75 or 80 years of marriage, Susan and Daniel could read one another's minds and finish each other's sentences. And yet even that level of oneness pales in comparison to what we'll experience in the kingdom to come. In this age, marriage helps fill the gap that separates us from our Creator, whom now we see, feel and know in part. As Paul said, "For now we see in a mirror dimly," but someday we will see, experience and be satisfied by God, "face to face" (1 Corinthians 13:12).

It's difficult for us to grasp what that sense of wholeness in God's presence will be like. But again, marriage gives us the best glimpse. Do you know that moment when you're cuddling on the couch, with the one you love and all seems right in the world? A sense of satisfaction fills your heart, a smile creeps across your face and you think to yourself, "If I could just press record on this feeling, this moment, then I would replay it over and over. I'd live in it forever." Have you been there? I just had that feeling this past week as I was on my Disney Cruise to the Caribbean. I didn’t want it to end, but end it did all too fast. Perhaps that is a faint fragrance of the fulfillment we'll know in Christ.

In this life, marriage exists for promise-making and promise-keeping. In this broken world, instability and uncertainty rule the day. Sin drives us all to love ourselves more than our neighbor, and the world is a cauldron of boiling unpredictability. Marriage offers something radically different. It offers the possibility of two selfish people making promises of selflessness, stability, fidelity and endurance. It begins at the altar with grand promises to "love and cherish" until death, but gets lived out in a million little promises to "take out the trash," to "call me when you get there" and to "pick up milk." Sure, marriage partners don't always succeed, but their constant pursuit of the ideal and their willingness to be accountable creates a safe haven of relative security in a world where there's no such thing as a sure thing.

But even this is but a glimpse of a greater reality that God will one day usher into being. In our future life, promises themselves will be obsolete. It's hard to grasp, but someday there will be a new creation. Imagine a world where there's an unshakeable love with no hint of an underlying worship of self; a world where, as "children of God," we enjoy unquestionable protection, providence and care. As we know from 1 Corinthians, faith and hope - the substance of promises - will pass away and only love will remain.

But until that world exists, marriage offers an opportunity for us to practice the habits and experience the benefits of promise-making and promise-keeping.

Yes, marriage can be complicated. Yes, marriage can be messy. Yes, marriage is not perfect. Given the people who enter it and the world that requires it, how could it not be? And sure, sometimes we make a mockery of it. Take Glynn "Scotty" Wolfe for example. He holds the record as the world's most married man. In his 89 years, he was married to 29 different women.

But for all those who abuse it, there are billions more who are blessed by it and desperately need it. Because until marriage is, as Jesus predicted, made wonderfully obsolete, it is a wonderful opportunity for blessing and happiness, offering to us today the greatest glimpse of the satisfaction, the wholeness and the stability we will experience in full, through Christ, in the future.
Let us pray.
Father God, we humans are peculiar creatures. We are not merely satisfied to have You as our eternal companion, we desire attachments to other human beings. We desire acts of companionship, love, affection, support and many other things that You supplied for us in other human beings. When You created the earth as we know it, You said it was not good for us to be alone, and thus after Adam, You created further human beings so that we may fulfill the needs of each other.
We ask, that until our earthly existence is taken so that we may be with You in perfect harmony and as we go about our daily lives, that You help us to find the companionship in whatever form our individualities need and desire. It is true that we should not be alone, and so we ask that You ever provide us each that which we need to live and love life to its fullest.
Lastly, Dear Lord, for those who have companionship in marriage or even in general companionship, that You bless those unions peace, fidelity, care and love from now until life eternal. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.