Monday, December 10, 2018

December 9, 2018
The Second Sunday in Advent
(Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11; Luke 3:1-6)
Why is Luke every historian's favorite gospel? Why do we treat Luke's account of Jesus' birth as the "real one" -- the one it just wouldn't be Christmas without hearing? Even Charles Schulz used this one for Linus to recite!
Luke adds all those nice historical details that make the story come alive. Luke's wealth of names, places, dates and events animates the ancient world, making it seem less like "Scripture" and more like story time.
But do you think you might be comfortable with putting today's Gospel text into a bit more current historical context -- bringing Luke's setting a little closer to home? As an example:
In the second year of the administration of President Donald Trump, when Jerry Brown was governor of the state of California, Kevin Faulconer was mayor of San Diego, Ron Roberts was county supervisor in San Diego County fourth district, during the time when Dean Bekken was Presiding Bishop for the Universal Catholic Church, the Word of the Lord came to you and me! And you went out into your neighborhood, appeared before your city council, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Probably not for most of you, but at least it is easier to pronounce than all those names and places in Luke!
Suddenly the beginning of the Christmas story seem a bit too real, doesn't they? It's so much more comfortable and cozy to read Luke's version, to feel the life pulsing through ancient characters, to sit here safely in the 21st century and know that this has already happened, like Star Wars, "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..."
We don't want the Christmas story too up close and personal. Today's text is maybe most disturbing when we move it into our own place and time. It suddenly begins to dawn on us just how audacious was John the Baptist's mission and message.
Of course, we can comfort ourselves with the thought that the first-century world to which John the Baptist was called to reach and preach was a very different place from the postmodern world of today. But, when you get right down to it, was it really all that different? Luke describes it for us in traditional political terms we can all recognize. First-century civilization was organized into political entities. There were local boards, city officials, regional directors, territorial governors and heads of state. Existing organizationally separate from this political structure was a religious structure. The religious leaders thought they wielded considerable authority. Political leaders tended to let them alone until they threatened to interfere in something deemed important to the state. The two groups John the Baptist singles out, and those most reviled by the general population as needing behavior modification, are those the person in the street thought were always in their pockets (the "tax collectors") or on their backs (the "soldiers").
Ultimately, when you get right down to it, the first century wasn't all that different from the world we inhabit in the 21st century after all. But surely we can reassure ourselves that a raspy, rugged John the Baptist-type figure was needed in those days because it was a pre-Christian era, as yet untouched and unmoved by the Good News of the Gospel. That culture was organized around the worship of pagan gods or simply designed around the political and economic powers of those who were rich and powerful, those who lived by different rules and standards than common people, those with money and status who became themselves popular cult figures.
So, we have the Old World: Pre-Christian. The New World: Christian. So now the differences between centuries 1 and 21 are clear, right? Not really. The truth is that, like John the Baptist, we are all now living in a pre-Christian era.
Not "post-Christian," as often think. It's not a post-Christian era because "post" implies that Christianity was something we had so absorbed that it became part and parcel of popular culture. Can we look honestly at ourselves and our culture and claim it to be post-Christian? Did we ever make it "Christian" in the first place?
Let’s face it, as of 2010, the last “officially tabulated” count, Christianity was by far the world's largest religion, with an estimated 2.2 billion adherents, nearly a third (31 percent) of all 6.9 billion people on Earth," the Pew report says. "Islam was second, with 1.6 billion adherents, or 23 percent of the global population. So, not really “post-Christian”, but maybe close in some sectors. But, let’s think about this:
Who can look at the terrorists and gangs of empty-hearted youth that exist on violence and despair, and claim we are post-Christian?
 Who can look at the greed and gluttony of some corporate land-sharks, and claim we are post-Christian?
Who can look at the wealth and waste of a Beverly Hills standing next to the filth and poverty of a housing project in, say Ethiopian district, for example and claim we are post-Christian?
Who can look at the loneliness and hurt in the eyes and smells of those shut away in "nursing homes," and claim we are post-Christian?
Who can look at the way we steward our resources of air, land, water and fellow creatures, disbelieve in global warming and claim we are post-Christian?
And the list goes on?
The truth is, like John the Baptist, we are still living in a pre-Christian age. We have yet to be touched, transformed and fine-tuned into communities that are Christ's bodies. Facing this truth sets us free to do John the Baptist ministries. John's message is still the precise one this culture needs to hear proclaimed: "Prepare the way of the Lord."
Let’s think about this. Are you as willing to stand out in a crowd as was John the Baptist? Are you as willing to ruffle some feathers as was John the Baptist? Are you as willing to speak out against customs and conventions that defy the Lord's ways as was John the Baptist? Are you as willing to look odd or foolish for the sake of the Gospel as was John the Baptist? Are you just as willing to live life in "the Way," in "God's Way," as was John the Baptist? When we are honest, we all probably would answer, “no”, to these questions.
We may not be a post-Christian country, but we are a post-Resurrection people. In fact, this pre-Christian culture desperately needs a post-Resurrection people.
Of course, some things have indeed changed since John the Baptist urged the crowds who followed him to participate in a "baptism of repentance." Because Jesus entered into human life as a newborn baby, lived a human life as a simple man, and died a sacrificial death on the cross as our Lord and Savior, we can now offer a message of salvation accomplished, offer a baptism of not just repentance but of new life, and offer a hope and love that transcends all human experience.
That's why Advent is a season of preparation. Christmas is not just the celebration of the birth of a baby; it is the beginning of a nuclear chain of events that transforms human existence. Christmas is not just recognizing God's gift of the Incarnation -- it is also our acknowledgment of what this Incarnation now means for every man, woman and child.
The new word that will reach and preach to this old world is this:
"Christ is born, Christ is risen, Christ will come again."
Let me leave you with this. A Gen-Xer hungry for God wrote a poem that explains what this pre-Christian culture is looking for (Tim Celek and Dieter Zander, Inside the Soul of a New Generation).
Do you know, do you understand that you represent Jesus to me?
Do you know, do you understand that when you treat me with gentleness, it raises the question in my mind that maybe he is gentle, too?
Maybe he isn't someone who laughs when I am hurt.
Do you know, do you understand that when you listen to my questions and you don't laugh, I think, "What if Jesus is interested in me, too?"
Do you know, do you understand that when I hear you talk about arguments and conflict and scars from your past that I think, "Maybe I am just a regular person instead of a bad, no-good, little girl who deserves abuse?"
If you care, I think maybe he cares -- and then there's this flame of hope that burns inside of me, and for a while, I am afraid to breathe because it might go out.
Do you know, do you understand that your words are his words?
Your face, his face to someone like me?
Please be who you say you are. Please, God, don't let this be another trick. Please let this be real. Please.
Do you know, do you understand that you represent Jesus to me?
If you will represent Jesus to this postmodern culture, if you would speak this new Word to this old world, then you have to be willing to be all that this poem says you should!
Let us pray.
To take up the opportunities that this season of Advent brings to us, to slow down enough to hear the voice of God in our hearts. We pray to the Lord.
To simplify our lives where possible, to let go of things that prevent us from focusing upon the essence of this pre-Christmas season. We pray to the Lord.
For all who are sick, for those who find themselves forgotten, abandoned or without hope, that they may experience God’s tender care. We pray to the Lord.
For those who have lost hope because of poverty, injustice or violence and for the will to offer hope supported by workable solutions. We pray to the Lord.
For those who endeavor to provide hope to others: family members and friends, neighbors and co-workers, teachers and counselors, therapists and spiritual guides. We pray to the Lord.
For those who diminish hope through selfishness, incivility or cruelty and for a spirit of repentance when we have violated others’ hope. We pray to the Lord.
For forgiveness for all that we have done to harm the Earth for future generations. We pray to the Lord.
For the will to work for lasting care and sustainability for the planet, especially regarding the environment and weapons of mass destruction. We pray to the Lord.
For those among us who need loving support at this time and for those whose hope we seek to enliven through our parish ministries. We pray to the Lord.
We remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
Father God, help us to remember that we are still living in a pre-Christian era, because we have not gone out into the wilderness like John the Baptist, and we are even further from living in the example of Jesus in most of our lives. Because of this, Dear Lord, we need Your help in keeping ourselves focused on helping this world in any way we can to live as a post-Christian world.
In the world we live now, we have the tools and wisdom of Jesus to help convert the world to a place where those who are hungry are fed; those who starve for love are comforted; those who thin war and terrorism is the only answer to find peace in non-violence. We can only do this when we all become John the Baptists and become a voice crying out in the wilderness and prepare the way of the Lord! Amen.
God Love You +
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

December 2, 2018
First Sunday in Advent
(Jeremiah 33:14-16; Luke 21:25-28, 34-36)
Most of us look for meaning in the signs and events of daily life. We wonder how God might be acting in our lives – or if he is absent. Was this a chance meeting with an old friend, or part of something greater? Was it a coincidence that I was thinking of this person when I received a call from him or her? Did the inclement weather keep me at home so I was able to spend time with my family? Not only we, but generations of those who have gone before us, discerned meaning in the events of daily life. The ancient pagan Romans looked to the sky for omens, and read the entails of slaughtered chickens to discern how the gods were acting in the world.
The Gospel reading today gives readers signs that will accompany the end times, the coming of the Son of Man. But we would be mistaken if we took these passages literally. And it’s certainly true that hundreds if not thousands of people have done just that – looked for signs to be fulfilled literally.
So, where would we be without signs?

You probably don’t think about them that much, but you use them every day. They tell which streets are one-way, how fast you are allowed to drive, where to find a restroom (and which one is for your gender when you get there), when your favorite store is open, where to buy a meal, what dangerous areas to avoid, where to find a sale, and a zillion other things that are part of daily life.

Without signs, we’d be confused, unsure where we were, have no idea where to find our daily necessities and, a good bit of the time, actually lost. (Of course the adage goes that men don’t stop to ask directions – I tend to add that they do not read signs either!)

But what happens when signs give a mixed message or simply make no sense? That’s the case more often than you might suppose. Doug Lansky, author, columnist and occasional show host on the Discovery Channel, released a book containing photos of signs he and others have taken on travels around America and a number of other countries. Titled Signspotting, the book shows some signs that are unintentionally comical because they were composed by people for whom English was not their first language, such as a sign spotted in Thailand that reads, Of clouse, we spoke England! or the one on a clinic in China that announces the name of the institution in Chinese, but then translates it into English as Painful Treatment Center of Cancer. Or this one from Namibia: Toilet / Stay in Your Car.

Other signs shown in the book are from English-speaking countries and composed, we assume, by people who have spoken English all their lives, but the postings are laughable. Since I need a pick-er-up this week, here are several more examples:

• From Los Angeles, California: Caution: Blind Drivers Backing Out.

• From here in San Diego, California: Cruise Ships / Use Airport Exit.

• From Lake District, England: Barf Bed & Breakfast.

Some of the best, however, are those that send a mixed message, such as these:

• From Kanab, Utah: Six Mile Village / 3 miles.

• From Los Angeles, California: Antique Tables Made Daily!

• From Mill Valley, California: A sign reading Evacuation Route, with an arrow pointing straight ahead, but on the same post directly above it is another sign reading, Not a Through Street.

• From a portable sign in Racine, Wisconsin: Happy Easter! / We Rent Handguns.
• From Burleigh, Wisconsin: Reserved for Drive Thru Parking Only.

• From Mitchell, South Dakota: Safe Haven Small Animal Hospital / Hunters Welcome!

• From Maui, Hawaii: Bottomless Pit / 65 feet deep.

• From Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Walker’s Funeral Home / ATM Inside.

• From Pigeon Forge, Tennessee: Please Help Keep Boogertown Clean.

• From Warwick Castle, England: Torture Chamber / Unsuitable for Wheelchair Users.

Maybe one reason we enjoy the contradictory signs is because contradiction seems to be a characteristic of the more important signs in our lives, too.

Our Gospel reading has Jesus talking to his disciples about signs that will precede the return of the Son of Man to earth. He speaks of cosmic changes, signs in the sun, moon and stars, as well as distress among the nations and deep foreboding in the hearts of individuals.

But some of us might want to say, “Well, that’s fine that you can describe the signs and their meaning, Jesus, but I’m not having that kind certainty when I look at the world. It seems to me that we’ve got all kinds of cosmic changes (witness the hurricanes and devastating fires this year or the dire predictions about global warming that we’ve been hearing for several years now), and certainly there is no shortage of distress among nations today. And many of us are often filled with foreboding after listening to the evening news.”

But — and here’s our problem — in one form or another, this sort of stuff has been going on for centuries, so what do those signs mean, if anything, other than that life isn’t easy? Is Jesus about to come back or is what we are witnessing just the way things are in a world where good and evil battle it out?

One senior citizen remembers as a kid hearing a grown man commenting on world troubles in the news at that time and saying “We must be living in the end time!” But now that kid is an old man himself and the world is still going on. So the troubles back then weren’t signs of the end after all. My mother used to exclaim that the world was going to Hell in a hand-basket, and yet here we are and now I hear myself saying the same words. Apparently, we have forgotten the short-cuts or misread the signs.

Further, even this Gospel text itself is contradictory. Jesus’ comment about signs is part of a conversation with his followers. It began when some of them commented on the magnificent stones used in the building of the temple and Jesus responded by saying that the day would come when not one stone would be left standing. He was clearly predicting the demolition of the temple (which actually happened later that century, in A.D. 70) at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.

Jesus’ followers then ask what sign will signal the coming of that calamity, and Jesus answers by reeling off a list of troubles — false messiahs, wars and insurrections, earthquakes, famines, plagues and cosmic disturbances. But even before all of that, Jesus continues, his followers will experience persecution, which will also be a sign. In addition, Jerusalem will be surrounded by armies, Jesus says, but then we get to the passage we read today, and all at once Jesus is talking about these disturbing signs as signals that he is about to return to earth.

You can imagine his hearers’ sudden confusion. “Say what? I thought we were talking about the end of the temple and the city and now you’re speaking of the end of the world?”

And, of course, we know that did not happen in A.D. 70.

Finally, as if to cement the confusion, Jesus says to his hearers (in verse 32 which is not part of our reading today), “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.”

Okaaay. But which things? Well, the temple and city, but not the second coming, yet isn’t that what Jesus was saying?

Now it’s certainly possible that Luke, in recording this conversation, actually mashed a couple of different topics Jesus discussed together, but if that’s the case, then Luke was having the same kind of trouble we have in distinguishing a crisis near at hand from another one yet to come — trouble making sense of the signs. If we did not have trouble distinguishing crises, then we would not have times when we think, “We must be living in the final days” or “How can things get worse than they are now?” or “The world is going to hell in a hand-basket.”

Now here we are in the season of Advent. The word “advent” means “coming” or “arrival” and symbolizes both the era before Jesus came the first time, when people were waiting for the promised Messiah, and also our era before the Messiah comes again. And neither the people who lived before the first advent nor we who live before the second have proven very adept at reading the signs.

This is complicated by our trouble knowing what the New Testament’s words about the second coming even mean. The first Christians apparently took them quite literally, and many expected Christ to return within their generation.

But 2,000 years later, it’s hard for many to know quite what to make of Second-Coming talk. You can only stand gazing eagerly at the sky for so long with nothing happening before you start to feel ridiculous.

And so eventually, if you are a person of faith, you might conclude that maybe the second coming is not meant to be understood quite so factually but instead as a promise of God’s final victory and the full coming of his kingdom.

But even that is clouded by the ongoing march of time and the endless stream of troublesome happenings on the world stage. Those troubles could be read as signs (and sometimes are by some people), but once those troubles are past, they seem in retrospect to not have been signs after all, but simply events, and now part of history.

Yet we cannot dismiss the idea that some events are indeed also signs, and to miss a sign can mean to not be ready for what they portend.

Consider this example: World War II actually started on September 1, 1939, when Hitler’s army invaded Poland, but there was a warning sign before that. Hitler’s original plans called for the invasion to begin the preceding week, on August 26. In fact, he had 16 combat units in place and ready by that date. But then, the evening before the 26th, some last-minute developments — including Italy’s sudden decision not to help with the invasion — caused Hitler to put his plans on hold. He had word sent out by radio to all his units to come home, but communication technology being what it was in 1939, one unit didn’t get the message. Thus, at the stroke of midnight on the 26th, that unit entered Poland and captured a strategic mountain pass and railway, and took some Poles as prisoners. When that unit’s leader telephoned headquarters to report the victory, however, he was told of the change of plans. So he released his prisoners and led his unit home.

Naturally, this stumble should have alerted the Polish leaders that Germany was up to no good, but inexplicably, they let the incident pass without recognizing what it meant. Thus, when the Germans did invade Poland on September 1, the Poles were taken by complete surprise, and quickly succumbed. They were not ready.

That idea of not being ready can happen spiritually, too. An old poem by Lois Blanchard Eades titled “If Jesus Came to Your House” put the idea of Jesus’ return in a one-on-one setting.

It begins by asking what you’d want to do if Jesus suddenly announced he was coming to visit at your house for a few days. Would you be eager to see him or would you be busy hiding certain materials you’d be embarrassed for him to see? Would your family conversation be able to go on as before or would there have to be some coaxing of family members to clean up their act? Would you suddenly have to begin using a table grace? Would you take him with you all the places you had planned to go and would you want him to meet your closest friends? The poem ends by asking:

Would you be glad to have him stay forever on and on? Or would you sigh with great relief when he at last was gone?

That may be a bit too literal for some of us to make much out of, but it captures some of the anxiety that the idea of missing the signs suggests.

So in attempting to understand and interpret the events of our day, one hazard is that we’ll miss the signs altogether.

But a greater danger is that we’ll misread them. We can watch reports of great trouble in the news and look at the difficulties in our own lives and view them as signs that despair is warranted. There are facts that even in the broad sunlight are hard enough to take, but couple them with a midnight mood, when all our defenses are down, and they can lead us to lose hope. This is as it has seemed for me this past week.

It’d be a shame to do that because despair can cause us to miss the most important thing Jesus said in this whole passage. Remember that he was talking to those who were following him, and to them he said, “But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”

In other words, Jesus says that to read the world’s troubles only as omens of doom is to misread them. Instead, and against all conventional logic, we should see them as foreshadowing’s of our redemption, advance notices of God’s kingdom, in which, as followers of Jesus, we already hold citizenship.

Doom and gloom precede redemption and salvation.

And if that’s the case, then the world’s tribulations and our personal trials can be understood as reasons for us to remain faithful, hopeful and optimistic in the long view.

And the long view is what is called for. Harry Emerson Fosdick, tells of having a conversation with the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. Niebuhr was so convinced of the universal tendency for humans to abuse power that he was pessimistic about the possibility of society becoming moral. Still, he was not without ultimate hope in God and believed that individual acts could be conducted on a higher moral level than that of the society in which the individual lived. Fosdick, however, had more confidence in humankind’s ability to progress, and thus, he urged Niebuhr to be more optimistic.

Niebuhr responded, “If you will be pessimistic with me decade by decade, I will be optimistic with you aeon by aeon.”

That’s a hard position to take when we are in the midst of conflict, troubles and threat, for it calls for us to see the good news behind the bad news. But of course, Good News is what the Gospel of Jesus means. As Niebuhr put it elsewhere: “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love.”

Thus, if we believe Jesus, then we should not view Advent as merely a preparation season for Christmas. It is a time to remind ourselves not to misread the calamitous signs in our world as reasons to despair. Rather they are signals to stand up and raise our heads, because our redemption is drawing near.
Let us pray.
That the Church to be a beacon of hope in troubled times. We pray to the Lord.
That all people throughout the world dwell in safety and work for justice. We pray to the Lord.
That those who suffer from depression, anxiety, and mental illness might know the love and tender care of the God of hope. We pray to the Lord.
That each of us here might give up our daily anxieties so as to live more fully into God’s promise of peace.
That we be reminded that during Advent preparation should begin for Christmas. We pray that our preparation be a spiritual one and that our real joy be in celebrating the coming of Christ, our Savior. We pray to the Lord.                        
That the Lord grant us the time and energy, the foresight and the wisdom to review how we each live our life – with our family, our friends, our community, our work and most importantly, with our God. We pray to the Lord.
We remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers. We pray to the Lord.  
God of abounding love, you call us to live with you in holiness and peace. Grant our prayers that we might grow closer to you each day. Jesus said in today’s Gospel that we should always be awake, for we never know when our loving Father will call us to Him. We pray Lord that in our busy lives, we always remain alert and be prepared to listen to Your voice and carry out Your holy will. 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

Happy Advent, everyone!!

Sunday, November 25, 2018

November 25, 2018
The Sunday Next before Advent
(Daniel 7:13-14; John 18:33-37)
A good meal. A meaningful conversation. A lovely afternoon in the park. Perfect moments.

That’s what a man named Eugene O’Kelly began to seek after he was diagnosed with brain cancer. At age 53, he seemed to be in excellent health, traveling and working long hours as chairman and chief executive of a giant accounting firm. At one point in his skyrocketing career, he was so determined to impress a potential client that he tracked down the man’s travel schedule and booked the seat next to him on a flight to Australia. He chatted with the guy halfway around the world, landed the account, and then immediately hopped on a flight back to Manhattan.

But then a visit to his doctor revealed that he had an aggressive brain cancer that would kill him in 100 days.

So, what do you do when you receive such devastating news? “I had focused on building and planning for the future,” said Mr. O’Kelly. “Now I would have to learn the true value of the present.”

Being a goal-oriented, Type-A high achiever, he decided to write a book about his experience: Chasing Daylight: How My Forthcoming Death Transformed My Life. In his book, one learns that O’Kelly is a man of faith who gives us some tremendously valuable advice about preparing for the end of our days. He decides to “unwind” relationships with important people in his life, taking the time to have intentionally final conversations with those who have meant a great deal to him.

He also goes searching for “Perfect Moments” — times of lingering over a fine meal, enjoying a long and deep conversation, taking the time to soak up the beauty of nature over the course of an afternoon. “I marveled at how many Perfect Moments I was having now,” he writes in his memoir.

Eugene O’Kelly didn’t have much time, so he had to get it right. In many ways he did, turning ordinary experiences into Perfect Moments. Then he died, reports The New York Times, just as his doctors predicted.

The end is coming for every one of us, but so often we behave as though we are going to live forever. What does it mean for us to live with the end in mind, and learn the true value of the present?

Our Christian faith is full of reminders that life has a start and a finish, and it is grounded in the conviction that there is meaning in the movement of our existence from beginning to end.

For starters, our church year begins on the first Sunday of Advent, and then moves through celebrations of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus until we get to the last Sunday of the church year, which is today — The Sunday Next before Advent or also known as Christ the King Sunday.

Our Bible is not a random collection of ancient stories, but it moves in a meaningful way from the creation of the world in Genesis to the completion of God’s plan in Revelation. Even the story of our relationship with God has a purposeful progression to it, with God first speaking to us through Old Testament prophets, then coming to us in Jesus Christ, and finally living in us as the Holy Spirit. For Christians, life is never marked by endless cycles of random events — it always moves from start to finish, in accordance with the Master’s Plan.

So what can we say at the end of an awful year of gruesome news? Rapes, murders, wars, insurgencies, massacres, terrorist threats, natural disasters, and not to mention the political mayhem that have been constant headlines.

How do you find purposeful progression in a year marked by such a discouraging news cycle? How do you break out of day-to-day despair and catch sight of a Perfect Moment?

For us, as people of faith, the best way to clarify the present is to focus on the future.

That’s precisely what the Israelites did when they were living as exiles in Babylon roughly 600 years before the birth of Christ. Years before, they and their people had been beaten to a pulp by the Babylonians and either left for dead like a road-kill armadillo, or deported in chains to a new and strange land. Those who now survived in Babylon felt worse than a brown paper bag. They felt bad and sad. So bad and sad that Daniel and his comrades wonder what it means to stay true to the God of Israel in a place so far from the land of Israel, and they struggle to find joy and hope in a time of desperation and despair. “By the rivers of Babylon,” laments Psalm 137, “there we sat down and there we wept …. How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”

But Daniel discovers hope for the present by focusing on the end. Lying in bed in Babylon, he has a vision of God, an “Ancient One” who takes his place on a throne that is blazing with fiery flames. God’s clothing is as white as snow, the hair of his head is like pure wool, and a stream of fire flows out from his presence. The court around him sits in judgment, and the divine record books are opened (Daniel 7:9-10). This is what we would call an “apocalyptic vision” — an unveiling or revelation of God at the very end of time.

As you might expect, God quickly renders judgment on the empires of the world, destroying one and leaving the other three powerless (Daniel 7:11-12). But then Daniel sees “one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven.” A human being appears, and to this son of man God gives “dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him .… and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14).

For Daniel, and for all who have faith in God, this is a Perfect Moment.

And here is the point: God is working to bring order out of chaos and victory out of defeat.

No matter how much horror confronts us nightly on CBS, CNN, ABC, NBC, or FOX; no matter how some commentators on these stations can make us smile about our political and social follies; God is working with God’s people, as he did with Daniel, to ensure that his will is done “on earth, as it is in heaven.” It’s an enterprise that’s marching from heaven to earth and from the future to the present.

The exiles in Babylon might have understood Daniel’s son of man to be the angel Michael, since Michael does battle for Israel a little later in the book (Daniel 10). But Christians see in this text, Jesus as the Son of Man, the one who comes at the end of time as “King of kings and Lord of lords,” a rider on a white horse who judges in righteousness and makes war with evil (Revelation 19:11-16). He is “the ruler of the kings of the earth,” according to the book of Revelation. “He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail” (1:4-7).

The Israelite exile in Babylon, the first-century Christian oppressed by the Roman Empire, the 21st-century believer feeling overwhelmed by desperation and despair — for each the message has been and is the same: God is not disinterested. The forces of chaos and cruelty may take an occasional battle, but they cannot win the war, because the Lord of heaven and earth is alive and well and having an ongoing impact on human life. God’s son Jesus has come to us once, and he will come to us again, to wipe the tears from our eyes and establish a new heaven and a new earth. He comes to show us that God desires an everlasting relationship with us, one that cannot be disrupted by mourning or crying or pain … or even death itself (Revelation 21:1-4).

In the end, it’s all about relationships. Relationship with God, and relationship with one another. Eugene O’Kelly sensed this, which is why he spent so much time with friends and family in the last hundred days of his life. “Must the end of life be the worst part?” he wondered. “Can it be made the best?”

This is a good question for each of us, as we face the end of an exceptionally difficult year. Can this challenging time be the best of times? Can we learn the true value of the present, and find perfection in the mundane? Can we turn ordinary experiences into Perfect Moments — moments in which we see the hand of God at work?

Near the end, Eugene O’Kelly arranged times to “unwind” with people who had been important to him over the course of his life. These “unwindings” were intentionally final conversations, held at a house on Lake Tahoe and in Manhattan restaurants, but also in ordinary gardens, by rivers, and in the middle of Central Park. They were his time to experience friendship, frankness and fun, and he planned each one in order to make it as perfect as possible.

We can do the same. Whether we have brain cancer or not, whether we are having good days or not, we can do our best to have quality conversations with family members, friends, colleagues and neighbors. We can work on our relationship with God by regular worship during the season of Advent, and by serving others in the name of Christ. We can look to the future with confidence and anticipation, trusting that our Lord is involved in our lives in an active and ongoing way, always working for healing and restoration and peace.

If we do, we’ll marvel at how many Perfect Moments we can have right now.
Let us pray.
For those who were not able to share in the blessings of abundant food, family, and friends this Thanksgiving, those who are hungry, homeless, or alone, that God may comfort them. We pray to the Lord.
That we may be a sign of God’s loving care to all those in need, especially during the coming winter months when many people will find it difficult to stay warm. We pray to the Lord.
We remember in our prayers those who suffer because the ones they love have died. We pray that they may know the compassion of Christ, who wept with Mary and Martha at the death of Lazarus. We pray to the Lord.            
We pray for our police and all those in law enforcement that they have a commitment to truth, honesty and public service and act only to guard and defend those who rely on them for safety and justice. We pray to the Lord.  
For world leaders, for miracles of collaboration that they may see in the migrant and the refugee not a problem to be solved but brothers and sisters to be welcomed, respected and loved. We pray to the Lord.
That our lives may show that Christ rules our hearts. We pray to the Lord.
We remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.    
Jesus reminds us that our lives are finite and will one day come to an end. We pray for the wisdom to live each day as if it is our last and to treat all we meet as we would wish that we ourselves are met by God, our Father on our Day of Judgment.  Loving God, the Alpha and Omega, fill us with a greater desire to bring your kingdom to this Earth. Mold our hearts, sharpen our senses to hear your voice and fill us with your wisdom and grace. Help us create a world where truth and justice find a home. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Sunday, November 18, 2018

November 18, 2018
The Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Trinity
(Hebrews 10:11-25; Mark 13:24-32)
Fidget spinners. You've heard of them. They are one of the hottest toys of 2017. It was thus that I countered people should take one of our wooden pocket crosses to use when one feels the need to fidget.

The fidget spinner has generated controversy -- some schools ban them as a distraction. But over time, the fad will fade and fidget spinners will gather dust along with hula hoops, troll dolls, Beanie Babies and jelly bracelets.

Not that fads are limited to children. Adults are equally susceptible to fads. Two words: pet rocks. Over a short period in the mid-1970s, 1.5 million pet rocks were sold. These smooth stones were sold in cardboard boxes with a nest of straw and breathing holes. They were rocks! And sane, normal people -- teachers, lawyers, stock brokers -- went to work, and they had a pet rock on their desk. Go figure.
That’s okay. I have had the “fad” of collecting plush Mickey Mouse toys for years and haven’t stopped yet. When I die, they will not come with me, so one has to wonder why I “waste” my money. I guess I am like anyone else - human. I suppose it’s not a “fad” if I am the only one doing it.

Still more recently (within the last 20 years), these fads have come and most have gone: Razor Scooters, Livestrong wristbands, WWJD bracelets, Heelys, flash mobs, "Vote for Pedro" T-shirts, speed dating, cupcake stores, "Angry Birds," "Words with Friends," "Duck Dynasty," Tebowing, boy bands, Furby, oxygen bars, pogs, the "Macarena."  Well, okay, some of these still pop up occasionally.

Fads. All of these things. So what is a fad?

Dictionary definitions include: "An intense but short-lived fashion; craze; a temporary fashion, notion, manner of conduct, etc., especially one followed enthusiastically by a group."

All of which brings us to fads connected to the Bible, especially to passages describing the return of Christ. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus says that "the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in the clouds' with great power and glory."

Keep your eyes open, says the Bible. "when you see these things happening, know that he is near."

The apocalyptic elements of Scripture -- Daniel, Revelation and some of the words of Jesus -- have been seized by some theologians and preachers in an almost “faddish” fashion. We know from church history. The Anabaptists of the 1530s in M√ľnster, Germany. The Millerites of the early 1840s who took to the mountains by the thousands to await the return of Christ. The frenzy in the early 1970s that attended the publication of The Late Great Planet Earth. The Branch Davidians of 1993. The Left Behind books and movies. Y2K. And this list only scratches the surface of apocalyptic fever that has raged through the human community over the millennia. There are many who view our present state of the world is the beginning of the “End Times.”

More recently -- 2011 -- the "End Times" and the return of Christ caught the attention of the world. A radio preacher named Harold Camping studied the Bible and came to the conclusion that the world would end May 21, 2011. After sharing this prediction with his listeners, he used millions of dollars of their donations to put his message on 5,000 billboards. Camping estimated that 7 billion people would die.

May 21 came and went with no return of Christ. Camping's followers expressed astonishment and disappointment. Some denounced him as a false prophet. He amended the date to October 21, and the world still didn't end. But it didn't really matter -- the fad, the fever, had subsided.

Camping should have read verse 32: "But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."

Clearly, fads come and go, whether they involve fidget spinners or biblical prophecies. But the truth is, nothing really endures. Jesus himself said that absolutely everything will pass away, including "heaven and earth."

The question for us is this: What, then, will not fade and disappear? Everything will come and go. Except -- wait for it -- the word of God. Jesus says, "My words will not pass away." The word of the Lord is our solid foundation in an ever-changing world, so every day we need to "Watch, therefore; you do not know when the lord of the house is coming." (Mark 13:35)

Our challenge is to move from fad to foundation. As we approach the season of Advent, let's build our lives on something more solid than a pet rock.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus offers words that are foundational for the Christian life. Unfortunately, the gospel of Mark does not include this important set of teachings. Mark tells us that Jesus "went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee," (Mark 1:39) but then he skips over three chapters of teachings that appear in the Gospel of Matthew.

So Mark is not a big help when it comes to the words of Jesus. Better to turn to Matthew, in which Jesus says, "offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on [your] right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.  If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well.  Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles.  Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow." (Matthew 5:39-42)

Such words are difficult to hear and to follow. Jesus begins by saying, "You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,'" (Matthew 5:38) and this makes perfect sense to us. After all, we live with a justice system which generally follows the conventional wisdom that the punishment should fit the crime. It only seems fair to take "an eye for an eye."

But the immutable and eternal words of Jesus point to a different reality: God "makes his sun rise on the bad and the good." (Matthew 5:45) In this reality, everyone, evil and good, righteous and unrighteous, is a child of God. God loves all of his children and provides for them, whether they are saints or sinners.

Our job, as Christians, is not to follow fads that tend to lift some people up and bring others down. Instead, we are to try to love other people as God loves them, seeing the image of God in people who may look very ungodly to us. Drifting into sarcasm, Jesus asks, "For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same?" (Matthew 5:46). In other words, if you only love your friends and family members (and even that is hard sometimes!), what have you accomplished? Anyone can do that -- even the corrupt tax collectors of the Roman Empire.

"offer no resistance to one who is evil," says Jesus (Matthew 5:39). Jesus is not being soft on evildoers here, but is teaching that resistance can lead to an escalation of violence. Nelson Mandela took this approach in South Africa when he said, "If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner."

"hand him your cloak as well," says Jesus. "go with him for two miles" Matthew 5:40-41). Show your neighbors that you love them so much that you will literally give them the coat off your back. Demonstrate that you are seeing God so clearly in them that you will walk a great distance with them. Such generosity is not faddish; it's foundational.

Look an oppressive Roman soldier in the eye and see the image of God in him. Carry his gear farther than the law allows, so that he will be forced to see you as a person, not a pack animal. Make him so uncomfortable that he will have to wrestle his gear out of your hands and take it back to avoid breaking the law! The words of Jesus are foundational, and at times they can be funny.

"Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow," says Jesus. "love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:42, 44). In each of these commands, we are being challenged to see other people in a new light -- in the light of Jesus' words. As we walk in this way, we begin to see our neighbors as children of God, and as people who carry inside them the image of God.

None of this is easy, but it is the key to following the words that last forever. What Jesus says is never faddish. Instead, it is foundational for Christian living.

Fads, by definition, will fade. In fact, everything is doomed to disappear.

Everything except the words of Jesus. When everything else goes out of style, his teachings are worth keeping.
I want to leave you with one last thought. In the fall of 1939, C.S. Lewis gave a sermon at Oxford University where he taught.
As Lewis took his place behind the pulpit, Poland had just been invaded by the Nazis. The young men of Oxford were wondering what would become of them. Would their generation follow the example of the one that preceded them: so many of them pouring out their life-blood "on Flanders fields"?

Some were wondering whether the dire events splashed across the newspaper headlines were harbingers of the end of the world. Could Adolf Hitler be the antichrist?

What wisdom would this middle-aged professor share with those elite young scholars, many of whom would soon trade their academic gowns for army uniforms?
His response was in a sermon was titled, "Learning in War-Time."

"You would be surprised if you knew how soon one begins to feel the shortness of the tether," Lewis admitted, "of how many things, even in middle life, we have to say 'No time for that,' 'Too late now,' and 'Not for me.' But Nature herself forbids you to share that experience. A more Christian attitude, which can be attained at any age, is that of leaving futurity in God's hands. We may as well, for God will certainly retain it whether we leave it to him or not. Never, in peace or war, commit your virtue or your happiness to the future. Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment 'as to the Lord.' It is only our daily bread that we are encouraged to ask for. The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received."

--C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Essays
Might I suggest that as we go through life we take from C.S. Lewis a little of his wisdom as we attempt to live as our Lord commanded us to so do with one another. Fads come and go, but the Word of the Lord remains the same and forever.
Let us pray.
That we may have strength to resist unwholesome fads and to apply these longings toward God. We pray to the Lord.
For those who are enduring extreme hardships and have given up hope, that they may be comforted and that we will encourage them and help them to find hope in Christ. We pray to the Lord.
For those who are homeless and others who have insufficient protection from the cold, that they may be kept safe as winter weather approaches. We pray to the Lord.
For grace poured out and received among us; to stand with the poor, the immigrant, the vulnerable and the prisoner and to lead the many to justice. We pray to the Lord.
For all leaders and citizens; for the ability to listen to one another with genuine humility, to reach across the divisions in our midst and build consensus to promote the common good. We pray to the Lord.
During this Thanksgiving week, for grace to step beyond the duty of routine and the frenzy of busyness to cherish the many gifts that are ours, to be mindful of gratitude as a way of life. We pray to the Lord.
We remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
Father God, Jesus reminds us that our lives are finite and will one day come to an end. We pray for the wisdom to live each day as if it is our last and to treat all we meet as we would wish that we ourselves are met by you Father on our Day of Judgement. God, you show us the path of life, help us daily to choose to bring light to the darkness. May compassion define us and love guide us as we await that day and hour when time will no longer matter and all will be transformed in your eternal grace. We ask all these things through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Sunday, November 11, 2018

November 11, 2018
The Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Trinity
(Veterans Day)
(Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44)
To explain, I start with a lesson in metallurgy. Before 1982, the penny was made of copper. But that year, the cost of the copper required to create one penny rose above 1¢. So since 1982, the U.S. Mint coined pennies made primarily of zinc. The cost to produce them has continued to grow.
Legislation has been discussed about possibly eliminating Abe from our coinage altogether, but not with any level of seriousness. However, Australia, New Zealand and Canada have eliminated their pennies already.

At the crossroads of metallurgy and political legislation, companies began collecting pre-1982 pennies and melting them to resell the copper. Copper prices kept rising and scads of pennies disappeared. Business was booming.

Copper melting proved so lucrative that illicit activities sprung up. Thieves began stripping copper wire from construction sites and utility connections. A 122-year-old copper bell was even stolen from Saint Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco. The Mint had to produce enormous numbers of zinc pennies to offset the circulation deficit created by copper penny melters. So in 2007, laws were passed making penny melting illegal.

That's when the second penny industry emerged - penny hoarding. People stash pre-1982 pennies away, hoping for the rumored legislation that will do away with the 1¢ coin. At that point, penny melting would again be legal, so they think anyway.

At worst, these stashes of pennies are worth 1¢ each – or exactly what was paid to get them. Zero lost on the investment, if the Mint keeps the penny or the penny hoarder loses patience and cashes out.

For many of us, pennies are more purse-clutter than currency. You can't even find 1¢ gumball machines at grocery stores anymore, so what good are they? I guess we should all go to Disneyland and use them in the penny press machines!

But in this text from Mark 12, a penny was all that a widow had to live on. One penny. Well, the Greek words are lepta and kodrantes. Two lepta or coins worth less than a kodrantes or a penny. What she had was worth less than, let's say, a post-1982 penny.

In this passage, Jesus is teaching the people in the temple. As the religious leaders strolled about the courtyards, Jesus used them as a foil. Their garments were ornate -- a cultural sign of leisure and dignity. They expected formal public greetings -- the first-century equivalent of saluting an officer. They always looked for VIP seating. They maintained their status through the financial support of widows. They prayed publicly with pomp and eloquence. In short, they were consumed with external abundance. They wanted prominence and deference. They liked their standing in society and the comfort that came with it.

In like fashion, Jesus noticed the rich giving their huge offerings in the temple. Clearly the right hand knew what the left hand was doing, because Jesus could tell they were giving large amounts, even from across the room.

Then a widow came and put two copper coins into the offering. And after that, a penny hoarder came and traded the treasurer two zinc coins for them. Scholars believe that to be a scribal addition from about 2007 A.D.

Two coins were nothing compared to the sacks the rich had offered. In fact, our idiom "my 2 cents" probably draws from this story. We say, "I'll put in my 2 cents, for what it's worth."

Recall the adage, "See a penny, pick it up, and all day long you'll have good luck." Well good luck may not be worth 1¢ anymore. If you saw a coin on the sidewalk, would you pick it up if it were a quarter? A dime? A nickel? How about a penny? That creates a powerful comparison to this gospel reading. A couple of pennies -- that's what the widow gave when the temple passed the plate. Jesus commended her for giving what most of us would not stoop to pick up off of the sidewalk.

From the narrative of the widow and her pennies, several themes emerge that we should consider today.

Jewish religious leaders were religiously zealous in an increasingly pluralistic culture. However, it's possible they came to enjoy their position of power and privilege to such a degree that they lost a sense of religious and spiritual purpose. Jesus' indictment of them shows that they loved abundant status, abundant comfort and abundant deference from those around them. This story begs us to thoughtfully look for abundance in our lives. We must start from awareness, and then talk to God and others about what to do about the abundance we inevitably discover.

Pennies From Heaven is a 1936 film starring Bing Crosby (not to be confused with the 1981 Steve Martin film, which shares only the title). The film's story -- of flawed but well-meaning people trying to do the right thing and stick together amid adversity -- has been largely forgotten, but the title song, emblematic of the Depression Era, has endured as a jazz standard. Pennies From Heaven is also of historical significance because it was one of the first films in which an African-American -- jazz musician Louis Armstrong -- was given major billing. This was at the insistence of Crosby.

The song's lyrics reflect on how the pre-Depression world had forgotten how "the best things in life were absolutely free." Because no one appreciated marvels like the blue sky and the new moon, "it was planned" (presumably by God) "that they would vanish now and then."

You had to buy them back -- but with what?

"Pennies from heaven" is the answer:

That's what storms were made for
And you shouldn't be afraid for
Every time it rains, it rains,
Pennies from heaven.
Don't you know each cloud contains
Pennies from heaven?
You'll find your fortune's falling
All over town.
Be sure that your umbrella is upside down.

In the darkest days of the Depression, it was comforting to think that God might still send the occasional penny our way -- a small, but tangible blessing, symbolic of much more significant blessings yet to come.

The whole idea is reminiscent of a biblical story, that of the manna that sustained the Israelites in the wilderness. They couldn't hoard the stuff, because it would spoil. They had to depend on its daily arrival (with double portions graciously provided on the day before the Sabbath, so they wouldn't have to work picking it up).

If God's daily blessings are indeed waiting to be harvested, there's something to be said for "keeping your umbrella upside down."

Ironically, unclaimed pennies are far more likely to be discovered on the sidewalk these days than they were in the 1930s. Are we really so wealthy that we can afford to just pass them by, hoping for a hundred-dollar windfall instead? Or have we forgotten the simple wonder of finding happiness in the little things in life?

Mark wants us to see a deeper agenda than money we put in the offering plate; hence, his attention to comparisons. He wants us to see giving as a barometer of our internal devotion to God and God's kingdom.

As a parallel issue, consider Jesus' words on words: "It is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks" (Luke 6:45). How should we apply this -- avoid slander, stop cussing and don't gossip about others, or examine the heart's broken desires that give rise to these behaviors? Tend to the latter, and the former will change.

Giving is the same way. Giving is simply an external demonstration of internal brokenness or virtue.

The point here is not necessarily to give more. Maybe we need to give less and provide for family or radically reduce personal debt so we can give more, healthier and for a longer time. Maybe we do need to give more and give creatively. But those issues are secondary, not primary. What Jesus seeks is heart transformation. Become the widow. As someone once put it, "Change your money and it may change your heart. Change your heart and it will change your money."

The comparisons among the three "characters" of this passage are striking. The religious leaders and rich givers look great on the outside -- they possess the cultural appearance of importance and standing. But their heart conditions show their true appearance to be thin and wanting. In that light, they weren't much different from the Israel of the Prophets. "These people draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote" (Isaiah 29:13).

On the other hand, a widow was a cultural outcast in the first century. Widows shared a marginalized standing with lepers, the poor, tax collectors and prostitutes. Yet with a heart devoted fully to God, the widow has a lot to teach us. This nameless, penny-less woman without a family has become an historical metaphor for generosity, dependence, sacrifice and priority.

As we set our own values, priorities and lifestyle choices, we might remember God's words to Samuel: "For the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). We may look acceptable to society or even Christian subculture, but our attitudes are the reality. Our inner motivations. What we feel. What we think but don't dare say. These all trump the outward gestures that people may observe.

This appearance vs. reality paradigm comes all the way back to our penny hoarders. These devoted savers probably look like fools to many who scoff at the penny. But they are investing into their future -- a no-risk situation in hopes of a windfall.

Christians are not called to hoard pennies, but to give them away.
Let us pray.
We pray for true leadership in the world, for an end to hatred, an end to war, an end to intolerance and violence, that all God’s peoples can live their lives in peace and harmony.  We pray to the Lord.            
We pray for tolerance in our own country. We pray particularly for those who see the gospel as a threat to liberty that their eyes be opened to the love, the peace and humanity of Christ’s message. We pray to the Lord.
For our community, that the generosity of the widows in today’s readings may inspire us and that we in turn may be examples of self-sacrifice to others. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for our bishops and those in authority in our church that they may not be as the scribes in today’s gospel, seeking places of honour in our temporal world, but that they be true shepherds, humbly guiding the flocks which the Lord has entrusted to their care. We pray to the Lord.      
That those who have been elected to serve our nation, our state, and our community may respect the dignity of all their constituents, no matter their wealth, talents, or place in society. We pray to the Lord.
For all veterans, today on Veterans Day, who gave of themselves to serve our country. We pray to the Lord.
We remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
Father God, help us to realize that we can only truly love You by loving our neighbor, that without love of neighbor there is no love for You. We pray for the wisdom and understanding as to how we can live more fully this great commandment and be a shining example of Christ’s love in our daily lives. May we learn that the riches gifted us should be used for the benefit of those most in need, the poor, the hungry, the homeless. We pray for the wisdom to think less of ourselves and our unnecessary needs and luxuries and share what we have with the less fortunate of Gods children. We pray for the veterans who have sacrificed their lives for our safety. May those who have lost their lives live in peace eternal; and those who still live, find comfort and solace in Your love and our gratitude. Lastly, Dear Lord, help our newly elected officials truly work to legislate as the populace has called them to do, not in self-serving ways. We ask all these things through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Monday, October 15, 2018

October 14, 2018
The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity
(Hebrews 4:12-13; Mark 10:17-30)
Lip balm is apparently addictive to some.

Are you constantly licking your lips? Do you look for an excuse to buy a bundle of balm? Do you need a Chap Stick fix?

If so, you may be addicted to lip balm. Time to consider joining "Lip Balm Anonymous" and join thousands of others in a protest to "Ban the Balm!"
Maybe your addiction is more conventional: nicotine, drugs, food, sex, videos, gambling. Maybe you're a confessed chocoholic. Maybe it's shopping.

Maybe - you're one of an estimated 6 million with a virtual addiction. Your relationships with your spouse, your employer, your friends have broken down because your addictive personality has driven you into chat rooms and all manner of cyber-deviancy.

In an addiction afflicted society, there is no shortage of possibilities. New addictions are popping up every day, each with its own weekly church-basement support group and "Anonymous" organization.

Addiction has even visited television. Some years back I used to watch a program on MTV, called, Real World which seemed to kick-start reality programs. The series stumbled on to a case of addiction one year. The show presented (or “presents” if the show is still on the air – I stopped watching it years ago) what happens when you put seven young strangers under one roof for four months. What occurs is real, and to everyone's surprise - pushing the ratings to an all-time high – one year there was a real-time alcohol addiction of one of the students, Ruthie Alcaide.

In one episode she falls down drunk in a disco, throws up half-naked in the shower, and has her stomach pumped in an ambulance. Other scenes show her drinking at home, then at a club and later being carried by a bouncer. A promotional spot for the program shows her lashing out at cast members who urged her to check into rehab.

No way would you confuse this with a rerun of Happy Days.

MTV producers at the time said the show offers valuable lessons on the dark side of alcohol, and one executive observed that "if you saw what was happening to Ruthie, it would be very hard to think that alcoholism or excessive drinking is glorious."

Addiction. It's a crippling affliction. Addictions keep you focused on one thing, while other important – even more important possibly – things that one should be focused on. In our Gospel today, Jesus sees it in a rich man who is looking to inherit eternal life. Although the man is obsessed with the law - and confident that he has kept the commandments against murder, adultery, stealing and fraud - he has an even stronger obsession that Jesus tries to diagnose and treat with his challenge: "Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me" (Mark 10:21).

He can't do it.

But just exactly what is his addiction? We're likely to conclude that he's hooked on wealth. He can't let it go. It controls him. It is his master.

And if we say this, we are wrong.

The man's a model citizen, a promise keeper and a truth seeker. He doesn't use his wealth to oppress the poor. He doesn't go on a phony TV show and pick a wife out of a lineup of gold-diggers. He doesn't squander his money on immoral pursuits.

It's hard to see how money is his addiction, because let's face it: Addictions are usually destructive. On a certain level they are irrational, they make no sense, and there is no good reason to have them. But money, in and of itself, is not necessarily destructive, irrational or insane - in fact, a steady cash flow can help to irrigate good fruits throughout the world. In the first century, it was assumed that wealth actually made possible the performance of religious duties, for Jews wealth was viewed as a blessing from God for being a faithful believer - that is why the disciples are "perplexed" at Jesus' words.
So it's hard to pinpoint money as a necessarily dangerous addictive substance. But if it isn't money, what is it? Clearly, there's something here that has the rich man hooked.

When we find ourselves powerless over drugs or alcohol, it is in our best interest to get rid of the addiction. When showing self-destructive behaviors and impulse-control problems, it is a rational course of action to seek out treatment and support. But for the rich man to sell everything he owns and give to the poor – that seems irrational.

How would you respond if called upon to give up your material possessions? You'd balk, as any of us would probably. After all, is it wrong to have money to feed and shelter our families, to put our children or grandchildren through college, to pay our tithes and offerings to the church? Having resources doesn't necessarily mean that our possessions are our masters or that we suffer from a consumerist addiction affliction. Having many things and/or wealth that allows for such a life, in and of itself is not necessarily bad. However, do these things occupy all of our time; do we obsess over having them and getting more? Does having possessions become our master – our god?

In this case, Jesus finds the hot button. The call is clear: Give up what defines your life, and follow me. In this case, it clearly was the man's toys and playthings, the possessions he had managed to scrape together. He became addicted to his belongings with little room for being a faithful follower. His belongings took up all his time. Jesus challenges the man to make an exchange: drop what limits him in exchange for what frees him - opens him up to a wider and more meaningful life. Jesus didn’t ask him to stop being wealthy - merely to stop using the wealth in ways that restricted him from God. The wealthy man needed to use the money for good and in ways that still allowed him to make his faith the most important aspect of his life.
He wasn’t making endowments to the San Diego Zoo or for a new wing at Mercy Hospital.  This is Jesus’ statement to the man. The man needed to remember his responsibility to his neighbor. Was he being a good steward with the gift of wealth, or was he wasting it? It just wasn’t as fun to endow a million dollars to the homeless shelter, because it didn’t satisfy his addiction of having all and everything for himself. The homeless shelter wasn’t something he owned, controlled and was able to enjoy.

The rich guy can't make the exchange Jesus asked of him. But Ruthie Alcaide of Real World could. The addiction in her case was clearly destructive. When she was asked how she felt about going into rehab, she said: "I did it for one reason and one reason only: to find out from the 'experts' if I was an alcoholic or not. After laying it all down on the table and all is said and done, they said I had a 'potential' to be one, but they also said, 'most college students have a potential.' I don't crave alcohol. I enjoy it."

And that's precisely the danger of addictions. They're so enjoyable. It's a struggle to be rid of them.

Maybe you're addiction-free. You don't struggle as a Christian with the hard-core addictions of alcohol, food, tobacco, sex, drugs or the Internet. Yet, is it possible you cling to addictions less visible but just as insidious? Pride, ambition and work can be home-wreckers and life-destroyers, too. And they can all keep you from enjoying the plentitude of God's blessing.

In any case, Jesus' advice is the same: Break away from what defines and limits you outside of your relationship to me as my disciple. Only then will you be free.

If there is such a dependency, Jesus advises that we give it up. "Dump it, drop it, ditch it," Jesus says, "and follow me."
Let us pray.
That leaders of nations may learn to value wisdom over riches and use that wisdom to make decisions that benefit all of the people entrusted to their care. We pray to the Lord.
For the poor, for those who cannot afford what most of us take for granted, that they may know the generosity of God’s people. We pray to the Lord.
For those who have renounced wealth in order to dedicate themselves in service of the Lord, especially religious sisters. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for our young people that, in the midst of the conflicting messages they receive, they may discover the truth and wonder of true love and compassion as shown to us in the life and teaching of Jesus. We pray to the Lord.
In our prayers today we remember the survivors of Hurricane Michael and all those who have suffered loss of family, friends and homes as a result. We pray also for those volunteers and emergency workers who have risked life and limb to provide medical care, food and shelter for those in distress. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for those on the margins of our society, the poor, the homeless, the hungry and the mentally ill, that their needs for love, care and understanding be remembered and remedied. We pray to the Lord.  
We remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
All-powerful God, all things are possible for you. We are powerless without you and so we turn to you in our inadequacy. Hear our prayers and look kindly on us in your mercy. Jesus challenges us to detach ourselves from the pursuit of money and material things. We pray for the wisdom to see our own lives, and the lives of those less fortunate, as Christ would see them and to live in the spirit of his message of love and generosity.  O God, through these prayers we seek wisdom and prudence; we seek freedom from the things of this world that constrain us from responding fully to your call to come and follow you.  We ask that you respond to our pleas knowing our failings but offering us what we need to inherit eternal life. We make our prayers through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Sunday, September 9, 2018

September 9, 2018
The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity
(James 2:1-5; Mark 7:31-37)
Friends. Who needs 'em?

Some argue that friends are the latest casualty of the lifestyle wars as we struggle to balance the full-time demands of career and family. With spouse, mortgage, kids, schedules, work and travel, or any plethora of other responsibilities, there doesn't seem to be room for anything else. Something's got to give. Friends seem expendable, so friends are the first to go.

A New York Internet executive once said, he's too busy, and friends are a luxury he can no longer afford. With a wife, a young daughter and a busy job, "I'm already at 120 percent, there really is no room for anyone else." No big deal. About twice a year, when he can't handle the guilt anymore, he sits down and answers neglected e-mails from a half-dozen pals he hasn't seen in ages: "Sorry I stink as a friend," he begins.

Or ... maybe it is a big deal. Recent research tells us what we've long suspected: friends are important. That's why so many organizations use the word "friend" in their name: Friends of the Sea Otter, Friends of Libraries, Friends of Israel, Friends of Freedom, Friends of the Environment, Friends of the Earth, Friends of the Ocean, Friends of Japan and the list goes on.

The medical community says, the value of friendships is dramatically underscored. Fewer friends lead to higher stress and a shorter life. In a study of 2,800 men and women over the age of 65, those with more friends had a lower risk of health problems, and they recovered faster when they did develop them. A Yale University study of 10,000 seniors showed that having friends reduced the risk of death by about 50 percent over a five-year period. Friends can help you reduce stress, improve the quality of your life, live longer, get a better job, expand your business, improve your marriage and derive more joy from your life.

There is value to having friends over the long term.

What is intriguing is the notion that our friends will come and go throughout life, and that this is absolutely normal. Dr. Jan Yager, in her book, Friendshifts, argues that it is very rare for a person to have a friend for a lifetime. Instead, we tend to shift our friends as our own needs and circumstances themselves shift.

Typically, adults today have one or two "best" friends, four to six "close" friends, and 10 to 20 "casual" friends. But let's be honest: Even these numbers seem high. Healthy friendships take time just to get going, up to three years according to some experts. Then they require nurturing and attentive planning.

But just when the friendships are in place, they vanish, victims of some new component in the social equation: new job, new school, new baby, new spouse, whatever.

The bottom line is that we not only don't have as many friends as we used to, but we're going to lose the ones we have. But that's okay. We will pick up new friends in a cyclical pattern of friend shifting that will continue for the rest of our lives.

Author James Allen takes the discussion to another level. Christians tend to exaggerate their claims of friendship. We've got the friendliest church in the world, but we'll walk right by the stranger in the narthex. We love one another, but we're just as likely as the next guy to badmouth a brother, or scandalize a sister.

We say we'd never stoop to the behavior of the nearsighted usher in today's text, but we forget that the church has a shady past. For example, the church must never forget its complicity in promoting slavery and segregation and in resisting their demise. Have we forgotten that there were plenty of Christians who had their hands on the ropes when they were stringing up a black man, leaving him swaying in the wind from an oak tree during the 1930s? (See the explosive book on this subject edited by James Allen, Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America.)

But that was then; this is now, we say. True. But James argues that it is not enough to assert love and friendship. There must be signs of this friendship or else both the friendship and the faith are dead. Partiality is not a sign. Withholding forgiveness is not a sign. Refusing to feed and clothe the hungry and homeless is not a sign.

Moreover, James makes it clear that we can't be an enemy to our friends (neighbors) and still be a friend of God. To be a FaithFriend of God, we've got to keep faith with our friends.

And therein lies the lesson. We must keep faith with our friends. If we don't, we have neither faith nor friends. James is adamant. There must be signs. Friendship - whether with our neighbor or with God - requires faithship which requires workship and results in worship.

So who is our friend? Our friend is our neighbor. Who is our neighbor? See the Parable of the Good Samaritan. What does it mean to keep faith with our neighbor? Consider the following:

Shifra Penzias, a rabbi, tells of her great-aunt, Sussie, who rode a bus home on a snowy evening in Munich of Nazi Germany. Suddenly, SS storm troopers stopped the coach and began examining the identification papers of the passengers. Most were annoyed but a few were terrified. Jews were being told to leave the bus and get into the truck around the corner.

Sussie watched from her seat in the rear as the soldiers systematically worked their way down the aisle. She began to tremble, tears streaming down her face. When the man next to her noticed that she was crying, he politely asked her why.

"I don't have the papers you have. I am a Jew. They're going to take me."

The man exploded with disgust. He began to curse and scream at her. "You stupid (expletive)," he roared. "I can't stand being near you!"

The SS men asked what all the yelling was about.

"Damn her," the man shouted angrily. "My wife has forgotten her papers again! I'm so fed up. She always does this!"

The soldiers laughed and moved on.

Sussie never saw the man again. She never even knew his name.

If we must keep faith with our friends, we must also keep faith with God. This is one friendship that need not shift. If it does, it is not God who is doing the shifting. James describes our fidelity to God as a faith that is "active." It was characteristic, he says, of Abraham the patriarch, and Rahab the prostitute. They both, when push came to shove, kept faith with God.

The result: Abraham was called a "friend of God."

God may be omnipotent, impassible and transcendent. Wholly Other. Beyond Knowing. The I AM THAT I AM. But God seems to need, or value the friendship of his creatures. It's what he was after in the Garden of Eden, it's what he sought in Abraham. It's what he wants in us.

God wants - needs - friends who will keep faith with him.

No shifting allowed.
Let us pray.
That we do not take for granted our friendships and other relationships, by nurturing them and not allowing them to drift away. We pray to the Lord.
For the Church, that God will heal our deafness so that we may hear God’s invitations to service and recognize the cry of those who are suffering. We pray to the Lord.
For a spirit of listening, that God will free us from the noise that blocks our ability to hear the Word of God and the distractions that obscure the hopes that God has placed within our hearts. We pray to the Lord.
For a spirit of compassion, that God will help immigrants and refugees establish new lives and experience justice and respect in their new homeland. We pray to the Lord.
For a spirit of welcome and hospitality in our parish, that all who join us for worship, community or service may experience the love of Christ and a warm welcome. We pray to the Lord.
That as our nation recalls the attacks of September 11, we may renew our gratitude for the liberty we enjoy in America, under God. We pray to the Lord.
That those who are suffering may receive God’s peace and those who have died may be welcomed into God’s heavenly kingdom. We pray to the Lord.
We remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
God our Father, we offer you our prayers.  Merciful God, you open the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf. Open our eyes to your truth and our ears to your word and grant us the courage to proclaim the Good News throughout our world. May we always cherish and stay close to those whom we call friends and loved ones in our lives, knowing that in so doing, we are loving you. 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

Monday, August 6, 2018

August 5, 2018
The Tenth Sunday after Trinity
(Ephesians 4:17-24; John 6:24-35)
A guest in a posh hotel’s restaurant called the headwaiter over one morning and placed his order.
“I’d like one egg undercooked so it’s runny and one egg overcooked so it’s tough and hard to eat,” he said. “And I’d also like grilled bacon that’s a bit on the cold side, burnt toast, butter straight from the freezer so it’s impossible to spread and a pot of very weak, lukewarm coffee.”
“That’s a complicated order, sir,” said the bewildered waiter. “It might be quite difficult.”
The guest replied sarcastically, “It can’t be that difficult — that’s exactly what you brought me yesterday!”
We’ve all probably had situations in which we might have wanted to do what this quest did, but most likely wouldn’t have done so. We can be particular about our food, when we get right down to it.
Are you crazy for cheese curls? Passionate about popcorn? Nuts about nuts?
What you snack on says a lot about who you are.
Alan Hirsch is the neurological director of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago. Some years back, he had 800 volunteers take personality tests and then asked them to name their favorite snacks. The results were astounding. People who share a personality type choose the same snack 95 percent of the time.
Lovers of cheese curls have a high sense of morals and ethics.
People with a passion for popcorn are the take-charge type.
Folks who are nutty for nuts are even-tempered, easy to get along with and highly empathetic.
While this link might sound like a stretch, Hirsch says it makes perfect sense — biologically. “Food preferences reside in the olfactory lobe,” he says, “the same part of the brain where the personality resides.”
You are what you munch. Gives some truth to the old adage “you are what you eat!”
Jesus runs into some serious snack lovers in the text we’ve looked at the past two Sundays. As the story begins, a large crowd is following him because of the signs that he’s doing for the sick. He feeds this crowd of 5,000 with five barley loaves and two fish, and then he withdraws to a mountain because “they were about to come and take him by force to make him king.”
That evening, the disciples set out for the town of Capernaum by boat, and Jesus catches up with them by walking on the water. The next day, the crowd follows him to Capernaum, and Jesus says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled.”
In other words, “You have the munchies.”
So what does this particular craving say about the people of the crowd? They’re enthusiasts — people whose basic desire is to be satisfied and content, to have their needs met. Afraid of being deprived, they want more than anything to maintain their happiness, avoid missing out on worthwhile experiences and keep themselves excited and occupied.
Enthusiasts look for Jesus — why? Because they ate their fill of the loaves.
But there’s a problem with this personality type. “Do not work for the food that perishes,” warns Jesus, “but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” The barley loaves that Jesus used to feed the 5,000 are “food that perishes,” and he tells the people that they shouldn’t focus their enthusiasm on this kind of bread. Instead, they should work for the food that endures for eternal life.
In a nutshell — or one whole loaf — this verse captures the reason that Jesus has such mixed feelings about performing amazing miracles. Any loaves that he multiplies are going to be eaten, and then the people will still be hungry the next day. Any water that he turns into wine is going to be consumed, and then the wedding guests will still want more. Any paralytic that he heals is going to become old and then become crippled again. Any dead child that he raises to new life is going to grow up and then die of natural causes.
Miracles are tricky because they make a big impression and then disappear. In most cases, they don’t last forever.
Jesus doesn’t want us to feast on a steady diet of miracles because these amazing works don’t provide complete nutrition in themselves. They’re the cheese curls, popcorn and potato chips of Christian living — a tasty snack for someone who already has faith, but not a life-changing meal for a nonbeliever.
It’s true — you can look it up. A little later in the same gospel, the Jewish opponents of Jesus are preparing to stone him. “I have shown you many good works from the Father,” says Jesus. “For which of these are you going to stone me?” His opponents answer, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.”
No collection of miracles, all by itself, is going to turn a hater of Jesus into a disciple.
This is why Jesus turns the attention of the enthusiastic crowd from miraculous munchies to “the food that endures for eternal life.” Work for this food, says Jesus, the food “which the Son of Man will give you.” Then the hungry people ask, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” And Jesus answers, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.”
This is the work of God — that you believe in Jesus, whom God has sent.
Believe in Jesus. The bread of God. The bread of life. Living bread. The body of Christ.
That’s good eating.
The problem is, Jesus can be difficult to swallow. We gag on his hard sayings and tough teachings. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
Jesus can stick in our throats, no doubt about it.
He would be so much easier to digest if he said, “Love your friends, do good to those who like you, bless those who compliment you, pray for those who help you.” Yes, if Jesus said these things, he would be feeding us spiritual candy bars, doughnuts and french fries — food that isn’t bad in moderation but can hurt us if we overeat it.
And Jesus certainly doesn’t let us snack on the tasty morsels of sin that are always sitting so deliciously in front of us. He won’t let us say, “Well, I’ll taste a little revenge, just this once,” or “I’ll have a helping of unfaithfulness, but just a spoonful” or “I’ll have some of that irresistible gossip-mongering, just a mouthful, but no more.” “I will be just a little negative and disrespectful to my fellow man, but only to a few.”
To all of this, Jesus says, “No. Put down the spoon and walk away.” In an ethical and moral Christian life, some of this stuff we want to feast on is just bad for us. It will cripple us or even kill us. And Jesus knows it.
Jesus wants to feed us the good stuff, the food that endures for eternal life.
So how do we become better eaters? The people of the crowd say to Jesus, “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?” They fail to see that Jesus has already given them a sign of his power and glory by multiplying the loaves and fishes. Instead, they review the history of God’s work in their lives by saying, “Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”
Jesus cannot believe that they’re missing the good food that’s standing right in front of them. He shakes his head and says, “I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
I’m the bread of God, says Jesus. The good stuff. Part of a perfectly balanced spiritual diet that gives new and everlasting life. Yes, the law was given through Moses, just like the manna that was given to the people of Israel in the wilderness. But now grace and truth are coming through Jesus Christ, the bread of God.
Slowly, slowly, the lights begin to come on. The people are starting to get it, so they say, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
We shouldn’t be surprised at this. It’s always a challenge to improve eating habits — to turn away from spiritual junk food and turn toward the food that endures for eternal life. Jesus invites us to refocus our attention and see him as “the true bread from heaven,” the one who comes down from heaven to give life to the world. He also invites us to believe in him and trust him to fill us with his grace and his truth.
Seeing and believing. These are the actions that enable us to connect with Jesus in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, when we come to the table to eat the meal that he has prepared. We see the bread that is broken for us, an outward and visible sign of Jesus’ inward, invisible grace. We believe that Jesus is present with us, offering his grace and his truth, his forgiveness and his strength.
This is the good stuff. The food that endures for eternal life.
If we’ve been given a warning about bad food today, then we need to hear some words of encouragement and instruction about good food as well. “I am the bread of life,” says Jesus to the crowd, and to each of us. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Let us pray.
We pray today for our brothers and sisters throughout the world who are bodily and spiritually hungry, that through the inspiration of Jesus and the generosity and example of Christians, they have food on their tables and love of the Lord in their hearts. We pray to the Lord.
We remember today all those who died this week in the California wildfires and those survivors who are recovering in hospital and for those who lost their homes. We pray also for their families that the Lord console them in their loss and sorrow.  We pray to the Lord.
For those who have become discouraged in the face of hardship, that they may know Jesus’ loving care of those in need. We pray to the Lord.
For those who have wandered away from the practice of the faith, that they will be gifted with a new and deeper love of Jesus. We pray to the Lord.
For the sick and those who struggle in mind, body or spirit, that they be touched by the healing love of Christ. We pray to the Lord.
We remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.    
O God, source of all that gives life and hope, you responded to the hunger of your chosen people with manna in the desert. Listen to our needs here today and grant them according to your will. We pray for the grace to be always receptive of that invitation and that we enjoy life everlasting at the table of His heavenly banquet. Blessed are we who see ourselves in the suffering and injustices of this world, and who work to alleviate others’ pain. We entrust these petitions and those we hold in our hearts to God, confident that God will answer our prayers and give us the strength, wisdom and resources we need to respond to our world’s needs. This we ask, through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor - St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Monday, July 23, 2018

July 22, 2018
The Eighth Sunday after Trinity
(Ephesians 2:11-18; Mark 6:30-34)
New Jersey. Drought-resistant wheat seeds. The Trojan Horse. The World Wide Web. Human freedom. Penicillin. A green bike. Jesus Christ.
What do the items in this list, as diverse as they are, have in common? All are gifts. Maybe the greatest gifts in history.
New Jersey was given as a present in 1665 by the Duke of York to two royalists, Sir George Carteret and Lord Berkeley. Fortunately, the territory did not remain in their hands; it reverted to the English crown in 1702, and later became part of the United States. If the land had not been returned, the descendants of Carteret and Berkeley would now be in control of nearly nine million people and a half-trillion-dollar economy. Not to mention Princeton University, the New York Giants, the New Jersey Turnpike.
Another great gift was much smaller, but was equally significant. A man named Norman Borlaug developed tiny wheat seeds that were resistant to drought and disease. These seeds were planted across Latin America and South Asia, and ended up feeding more than one billion people. They also put many poor countries on the road to self-reliance.
Clearly, good things come in small packages.
Another significant gift was The Trojan Horse. Well, maybe it was not such a terrific present for the Trojans, since Greek soldiers hid inside the horse and then conquered the city of Troy. But the destruction of Troy led to the foundation of Rome and the Roman Empire, which had a profound effect on Western civilization.
How about the present given to the world by Tim Berners-Lee? Tim Berners-who, you might ask? He gave us the World Wide Web, choosing to make it a public good instead of a personal cash cow. The benefits to people around the world have been tremendous.
The idea of human freedom. This has been America's gift to the world, from Thomas Jefferson to Abraham Lincoln to Martin Luther King, Jr. Freedom for all people has always been the guiding light of our foreign policy. When we are true to ourselves, freedom is what America is all about.
And freedom is what Jesus Christ is all about -- and he is the greatest "gift of all" (John 3:16). He is our God-and-neighbor connector, our peacemaker and our wall-breaker. He becomes for us the cornerstone of a spiritual house, one that serves as a home for us all.
The Apostle Paul knows Christ's worth, which he describes in lavish detail in his letter to the Ephesians. Writing to a group of Christians who had grown up as Gentiles -- people outside the Jewish community of faith -- he reminds them that they were once "separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world."
What did it feel like to be a Gentile in Ephesus? Hard to say. Archeology tells us only so much about what life was like for residents of this Roman city on the sun-baked coast of Asia Minor, which is modern-day Turkey. But as we read the letter to the Ephesians, we can imagine what they were going through, feeling hopeless and cut off from God. Paul says they feel like aliens. We know what it is like to be alienated -- removed, withdrawn and estranged from a community and from God.
Today, alienation can be caused by too much of a reliance on technology. Sherry Turkle, a professor at MIT, believes that social media can isolate us and cause us a lot of harm. She has written a book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, and in it she talks about how we have so many opportunities to communicate today, using emails, texts, instant messages, Facebook messages, Twitter messages, phone calls and Skype.
Such light-speed communication is great for making links. Which is good. This is not an anti-tech rant. But, unfortunately, as we get bombarded by messages and make hurried responses, the content of our conversations gets dumbed down. Conversation with depth and meaning -- the kind of thing that connects us as humans -- often gets lost. We find ourselves linked by technology, but, sometimes, we also (as a consequence) feel alienated, estranged from community and from God.
Alone. Cut off. Isolated. Even in the middle of a bustling city.
This was how the Ephesians were feeling, almost 2,000 years before the invention of the Internet. But fortunately their lives were transformed by the gift of Jesus, who became their God-and-neighbor-connector. Paul tells them that their alienation is over, for "now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ." Through the death of Jesus we are forgiven and restored to right relationships with God and our neighbors.
The cross is a symbol of connectedness. The sacrifice of Jesus brings separated parties together, and the cross itself serves as a symbol of this victory. Just look at the structure of the cross: The vertical beam is a symbol of the new connection between people and God, and the horizontal beam points to the connection between people, Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, one to another. Through Christ, those who were "far off" and separated by sin have been "brought near" and united through forgiveness.
In the first-century Herodian temple where the Jews worshiped, there was a series of courts separated by gated walls. Each court moved progressively closer to the Holy of Holies. The first gate was the gate of the Gentiles, and you could walk around in that court if you were a God-fearing Gentile.
If you were a Jewish woman who was ceremonially clean according to Jewish law, you could enter the next gate and go into an inner court. Beyond that lay the gate to the innermost court, where only Jewish men who were ceremonially clean could go without fear of death.
And then came the gate for the Temple Priests, and so forth.
Several years ago, archaeologists found an inscription in the wall of the outermost court, the court of the Gentiles. It read, "Whoever is captured past this point will have himself to blame for his subsequent death."
That's some pretty hostile language. But hostility is exactly what existed between Jew and Gentile for centuries.
Christ is our peace-maker and our wall-breaker, says Paul, that Christ in his flesh has made both groups into one. Christ makes peace between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, between black Americans and white Americans, between Baby Boomers and Millennials, between immigrants and the native-born, breaking down "the dividing wall” that creates the hostility between us.
Hostility between different groups leads to separation, but walls break down when we identify ourselves primarily as Christians, as disciples of Christ and members of his body. Today, on campuses across the United States, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (an Evangelical Christian group made up of differing Protestant denominations) is trying to become more racially and ethnically inclusive. Members are stressing racial reconciliation in large-group meetings for praise and worship, small-group Bible studies, and summer camps for leadership training. Their focus is not on political correctness, but on the Bible: Leaders point to Jesus' prayer in John 17 that his followers would all be one, and to Paul's words in Ephesians about Christ breaking down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile.
Racial reconciliation is now part of the training for campus staff, with the goal that it will become part of ongoing small-group meetings. The objective, according to Paul Fuller, an InterVarsity vice president and director of multiethnic ministries, is "to create witnessing communities on campus that are growing in love for every ethnicity."
Growing in love. Not just for our own ethnic group, but for every ethnicity. That comes only from seeing Christ as our peacemaker and wall-breaker.
Paul tells us that Jesus is also the cornerstone of a spiritual house, one that serves as a home for us all. "Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit." What a gift this is!
In this house, we have access "in one Spirit" to God the Father. In this house, we "are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God." In this house, we know that we are resting on something solid, "on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone."
We live in an uncertain world, in which generous gifts can be taken away, such as when the gift of New Jersey suddenly reverted to the royal family. We live in a dangerous world, in which gifts such as The Trojan Horse turn out to be curses in disguise. We live in an ambiguous world, in which innovations such as the World Wide Web can be used to disseminate both digital treasures and digital trash.
None of this is true with the greatest gift of all time, Jesus Christ. He connects us to God and neighbor, makes peace, breaks walls and offers us an eternal home with God. Jesus is the gift that keeps on giving, as we grow in love for God and neighbor as members of his spiritual household.
I encourage you to hold on to this gift. It will maintain its value forever.
Let us pray.
Father of all mankind, have compassion for all of your flock and open our eyes to the message of the true shepherd. We pray to the Lord.  
For refugees, immigrants, the poor and oppressed: that God may lead all to places of welcome and safety. We pray to the Lord.  
For a strengthening of all families: that God will heal divisions and draw family members into deeper bonds of love. We pray to the Lord.
For those who are homeless or without friends, that they will feel the warm touch of a loving community. We pray to the Lord.
For all peoples, that we all will be instruments in helping to end all discord, divisions and hostilities among all peoples of the earth. For victims of discrimination and victims of gun violence; that mankind make a commitment to address the complex problems of poverty and injustice. We pray to the Lord.
For families who live with addiction, for those who struggle with mental illness or depression, for all among us who are sick. We pray to the Lord.
For nations who are at war, and all places of conflict in our world; for all of us that we find the will to imitate the love of Christ Jesus who breaks down walls of division and preaches peace to all people. We pray to the Lord.
For those who died in this week’s Duck Boat accident, that they be brought to God in peace eternal, and for those families and friends left behind that they find comfort in this horrible tragedy. We pray to the Lord.
We remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
Father God, Shepherd of souls, we trust in your promise to care for all of your flock and so we surrender our prayers to you, both spoken and unspoken, with trust that you hear us and fill our every need. In a world sorely in need of your peace and begging for right relationship with all peoples, we ask you to make us instruments of your compassion and grace. May we bear witness to your love with the witness of our lives. We ask this through Christ our Lord, your Son. Amen
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA