Sunday, April 8, 2018

April 8, 2018
First Sunday after Easter
(Low Sunday)
(Acts 4:32 – 35; John 20:19-31)
“Hey Dad, what if I jumped out of the car while it was moving? What would happen?”

“Hey Mom, what if I stuck my tongue in the socket?”

“What if I only drank root beer floats for meals?”

Sometimes we might think kids sometimes ask the most off the wall questions. But are they really that off the wall?

What if the Moon Didn’t Exist? But that’s not a kid’s question, it’s an astronomy book.

University of Maine science professor Neil Comins stumbled onto a teaching device from considering, or perhaps enduring, his son’s numerous “what-if” questions. He was convinced that science educators were stuck in a rut: always looking at their world from the same tired perspectives. He began to ask how “what-if” questions could become the catalyst for scientific discovery in his classroom. The result was Solon, and a number of other speculative what-if worlds.

Solon is a planet exactly like Earth but without the moon. Solon would have smaller ocean tides since the moon accounts for most high and low tides. No more tide pools of starfish and sea anemone for curious children to gaze into on coastal vacations.

The moon also affects the speed at which Earth rotates, so Solon would be a planet of 8-hour days instead of 24-hour days. That means we would all be three times as old and sleep one-third as many hours each night. The upside is that a workday would be from One to Four instead of Nine to Five.

Solon would be a world of regular 100 mph winds and horrifically more destructive tornadoes and hurricanes. We could forget about living or playing in any outdoor environments and we’d be reduced to pre-historic cave-dwelling for survival.

But truth be told according to Comins’ moonless model, Solon would not be a planet that could support any complex life forms. So overall, the moon seems to be working well for us and perhaps God was onto something when he spoke its existence into the Genesis void.

But beyond scientific education, “what- if” speculation is also the driving force of pop-culture curiosity. What if Jesus actually fathered a child? (Da Vinci Code) What if aliens invade Earth (E.T., Alien, War of the Worlds).
Consider the “what ifs” that make up our escapist adult thought patterns. What if I married the wrong person? What if I never went back to that horrible job? What if I never became a parent to these children? What if I hit the lottery?

In fact, one of the only places that “what if” isn’t a normal part of processing and engagement is the church: “What if God didn’t exist?” We shouldn’t ask that question here!

We’ve not always handled our outside inquisitors, our faith-teetering skeptics and our wearied doubters with gracious elegance and honest engagement.

So what if Jesus stayed in the ground after Easter?

That wasn’t just a “what if” for the disciples. That was their soul-shattered reality. Jesus was indeed God in the flesh raised from the dead, but for the first three days after the tomb they had no way of knowing. They found themselves suddenly living in a moonless Earth, of sorts.

We have to stop and put ourselves into their experience. These were confused faith-misfits who appeared to be totally wrong about the King of the new kingdom. Their rabbi was dead, and now they feared what could happen to them. They gave up careers and family to follow Him. Imagine all the haunting “what-if” questions they thought of, based on what they had seen and heard for the last three years.

To summarize their world in one word, it would be “doubt.” So how does God engage his skeptics or those whose faith is lacking?

Jesus meets with them behind closed doors. But in that room, what did the 10 disciples experience? Their world-ending fear was turned back into the joy they had hoped in. Their secluded gathering is turned into a powerful commissioning. Their despair was turned into the tangible presence of the eternal Lord and the empowering Holy Spirit.

In short, they had a religious experience.

But only 10 of them had that experience. One of the 12 may have never believed in the Christ and killed himself. Another of the 12, Thomas, was still an outsider to the Christ the 10 had experienced. He was still locked in the tomb of doubts. He was dwelling in his pre-historic cave.

What was the experience of Thomas? Was he so distraught that he just needed to be alone? Was he bitter and hardened because all he had learned of Jesus seemed a lie? Was he confused because he had to redefine all the supernatural as merely psychological phenomena? The text doesn’t tell us, but this is what our Thomases today tell us.

Their prayers seem to bounce off of the ceiling. They don’t know how to relate to an invisible God. Life is hard so God hardly seems loving. They are beset with disbelief as they watch hypocritical church leaders ensconced in scandal. Pain is a problem, dinosaurs have evolved, and the supernatural is unnatural.

So when the 10 report on what they had just experienced, Thomas felt skepticism and doubt — Thomas had not had the same religious experiences that the other 10 did. Their experience seemed foreign. Well-intentioned but not well evidenced.

Thomas is tactile and needed tangible proof, and he’s merely expressing sentiments that countless pilgrims after him will echo. Jesus appeared to Paul, why doesn’t he appear to me? God spoke audibly to Moses, so why don’t I get a burning bush? God gave Gideon a wet fleece, so why won’t he tell me his will for my life?

We read that when Jesus did return to visit the disciples it was a week later. What was that week like for Thomas? Again, we can only conjecture, but maybe he was feeling the same things many who doubt in our churches feel — alienation from friends, not just alienation from what they believed. Those in doubt need community, but tend to avoid it. It’s like people who get laid off and no longer easily pal around at happy hour with those still gainfully employed by the company. It’s like alcoholics who, rightly, cut distance from the old party crowd. After all, their community holds dearly to things they are questioning and wrestling with.

As Jesus returns to engage his last doubting disciple, he appears as dramatically as he did when he met with the 10. He offers the same ironic words “Peace be with you” to Thomas who is miles away from peace at that point. And further understanding what Thomas needs, while Thomas stands there thinking this is some kind of cruel joke, He provides tactile evidence of himself as living and risen.

As we encounter those who doubt, we remember that God knows their needs more than we do. Maybe He is testing and strengthening them through their exploration. Maybe they need to lay down their idol god or their ideal god in favor of the Real God. In any case, God knows best what they need and God is working their doubt, like all things, for their good (Romans 8:28). Therefore, there is no better way to partner with people in their doubt than to pray that in His kindness God would address their deepest needs and make known the ways He is shaping them through their questioning.

But go back and notice what Jesus doesn’t do in the face of one doubting him. Punish. Ignore. Shame. Patronize. Marginalize. He doesn’t do any of that and never will.

Unfortunately, we Christians often eat our own when it comes to doubts. When people question God, we act more like Job’s friends than Jesus’ friends. We tend to toss our apologetics or trite “let go and let God” fideisms at people. We celebrate those who are “put together” and don’t question God instead of those who are honestly engaging him. We accidentally create sterile operating rooms of faith where questions are disease that must be avoided like contamination.

But God reaches out to those of questioning faith.

Remember the storm story in Matthew’s gospel? (8:23-27). A storm comes up quickly on the lake, and the little boat in which the disciples and Jesus are sailing suddenly is swamped by a mini-tsunami. Jesus is sleeping; the disciples are not. So they awaken Jesus, and Jesus says, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?”

You wish Jesus hadn’t said that. That he could’ve been more gracious, that he didn’t have to be tough as well as tender. No one likes to get rousted out of a nice nap. Maybe he got up on the wrong side of the boat or something.

But he said it. However, notice what Jesus didn’t say.

He didn’t say, “Hey, you people of little faith, come back to me sometime when your faith is strong, when you really believe, and then I might try to help you out.” Then, Jesus grabs his pillow and pounds it into a good sleeping shape, and goes back to his nap.

He didn’t say that.

Instead, after reminding them that they had room to grow in their faith journey, he immediately came to their rescue. He “rebuked the winds.”

Jesus rebukes the winds, we don’t. We can’t make having faith a good work. Thomas doesn’t “achieve” a coming to faith. Faith is something the risen Christ brings to Thomas.

Jesus gave Thomas the help he needed even when he was in a “what-if?” mode. Even though Thomas was wondering “What if Jesus is still in the tomb?” Jesus still was willing to meet him in the vortex where faith and doubt intersect.

Today many stand in the legacy of Thomas, who in the words of fellow doubter Philip Yancey, are reaching for the Invisible God: “How do you sustain a relationship with God, a being so different from any other, imperceptible by the five senses?”

But as was the case with Thomas, when the Way, the Truth and the Life engages the doubter, Christian reality prevails. “My Lord and my God” he cried.

Can we embrace, dignify, and journey with those inside and outside of the church who have doubts of the risen Christ? If so we will strengthen the blessed that Jesus spoke of: “those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Let us pray.
That all persons who are plagued with doubt or weak faith, that they will seek out the Lord God and ask that He show Himself to them in a way that will erase their doubt in the same way as it did with St. Thomas. We pray to the Lord.
That, on this Divine Mercy Sunday, also known as Low Sunday, the Church will rededicate herself to living and proclaiming Christ’s mercy in all things and all lives. We pray to the Lord.
That leaders of governments will work to ensure that all people can live in full and unrestricted freedom. We pray to the Lord.
That the life of every human person, from conception to natural death, will be enshrined and protected in our laws. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week to face the trials and difficulties of life with the confidence and certainty that come from the Resurrection. We pray to the Lord.
That all peoples of the world, and especially our government leaders, will work toward more peace and an end to violence and bloodshed. We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, the Resurrection of Your Son gives us a new birth to a living hope. In our times of doubt, confusion, or ignorance, may we seek to be filled with the truth and the light of the Risen Christ; never being afraid to approach You in prayer and to invoke Your name during these types of difficult times. We ask that this Easter season be filled with joy and in that joy that each and every one will come to know Christ as their Lord and Savior and experience His nondiscriminatory mercy. We ask all these things Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

April 1, 2018
Easter Sunday
(Colossians 3:1-11; John 20:1- 9)
Today’s Gospel reading speaks of Mary Magdalene arriving alone at the tomb of Jesus, yet the other Gospels speak of additional women arriving at the scene. Mary Magdalene appears in all four, the others seem to appear in the other three in some form. Is it safe to say that a few actually showed up, or is John’s Gospel an April Fools’ joke? No, merely a writer’s perspective. Two were actual Apostles, and two were writing what they learned second hand from Peter and Paul.
Today is April Fools' Day. It is also Easter Sunday. This unusual conjunction of dates cannot go without comment.

It is unusual. Since 1700, Easter has fallen on April 1 only 11 times! The last time Christians celebrated Easter April 1 was in 1956 -- more than 60 years ago when the world was so unlike the world and culture we inhabit today.

Although Easter falls on April Fools' Day again in 2029 and 2040, it will then not be observed April 1 for another 68 years -- 2108. And then another wait of 62 years ... 2170. I don’t think I will be around to see it in another 68 years, but who knows; it is April Fools day.

Some call it a holiday, although there is nowhere in the world the day is observed officially. You don't get to stay home and hide in the basement for a day, or take a picnic in the park. But in the western world, some version of April Fools' Day exists and merriment ensues.

Typically, a prank is played on a hapless soul who's forgotten about the perils of April 1. When the prank is completed and the “fool” humiliated, the perpetrator then yells "April fool!" As an example, there's the caramelized onion prank. Dip apple-sized onions in caramel, poke a stick in them, and serve them to office workers (or a boss!) who think they're biting into an apple.

Or, cut an outline of a large bug, something that might be an inch or two long, and affix it to the inside of your spouse's lampshade. When the lamp is turned on, the silhouette of the bug appears suddenly, freaking out your victim.

The BBC once broadcast a short documentary in a current affairs series purporting to show Swiss farmers picking freshly grown spaghetti in what they called the Swiss Spaghetti Harvest. The BBC was later flooded with requests to purchase a spaghetti plant, forcing them to declare the film a hoax on the news the next day. April fools!

Today is Easter. This is one of the highest and most holy days of the Christian calendar. As holy days go, it doesn't get holier than this. And since it is April 1, we have to ask: "Who, after all, is the April fool?"

A whole slew of candidates come to mind. I suppose the women who went to the tomb and found it empty on this day two millennia ago might fear an April Fools’ joke on them, had the day been designated as it is now. They run to the tomb, wondering who will move the stone away, and arrive to find it already moved.
Jesus was truly dead, and the tomb and stone are reminders of such. He didn’t merely pass out on the cross to play an April Fools’ joke on us all three days later. Or did he?

What about Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator? Was this an April Fools’ joke on him? He was the one who cowered in the face of certain religious potentates who said that failing to deal harshly with a treasonous villain like Jesus would not be viewed favorably by Rome. He is the one who washed his hands of the whole affair. He permitted the execution, and not only permitted it, but allowed it to happen in the name of the emperor.

Then, it's Easter and Jesus is risen! Sorry, Pilate! April fools!

Maybe the Apostles are the April fools. There's no doubt that many of the Apostles felt foolish as the crucifixion approached. They had given up their jobs for this Jesus. They had left their homes and families to follow this man on his peripatetic journeys up and down Palestine. Yes, they had been witness to some phenomenal events, stuff they could not then, and could not now explain. They had pinned their hopes and their futures to a man they believed would liberate them. And now he was being led away as a lamb to the slaughter.

So the disciples went home. They abandoned him, betrayed him and wanted to forget him. And now it's Easter morning and Jesus is risen! Guess it is April fools on them also!

How about Annas, the high priest, and his toady son-in-law, Caiaphas – was it April Fools on them? Annas is a dark, malevolent figure in this Holy Week drama, something akin to Grand Moff Tarkin or Emperor Palpatine of Star Wars. He has had enough. He has corrupted witnesses, falsified evidence, placed a mole inside of Jesus' inner circle, tracked the movements of this radical insurgent and bided his time. But now, with Passover approaching, he must make sure Jesus is dead and buried and quickly! He pulls the strings. He plays Pontius Pilate like a West Virginia fiddler. He gets what he wants.

But now, Annas, it's Easter morning and Jesus is risen! I guess it is April fools for you also!

Maybe the April fools are the soldiers guarding the tomb. You have to feel for these fellows. They're simply cogs in the Roman industrial military complex. They've got guard duty in a cemetery. They must've been caught drinking grog and playing dice, or maybe they inadvertently allowed a prisoner to escape their custody. So now, as humiliating punishment, they've been sent to the tombs to guard dead people! Haha! They are good, decent chaps. Ordinary, common, following orders. Guarding a dead person. Bet the teasing was brutal in the pub last night!

And now, it's Easter morning and Jesus is risen! I guess you didn’t see or hear the young men dressed in white come to free your dead prisoner, so it is April Fools for you also!

Or, the April fool is Peter, the commercial fisherman. Oh, Peter started out enthusiastically, no doubt. He defended his rabbi right and left. He was the one who identified Jesus as the "Christ, the Son of the living God." He swore never to abandon his Lord. He even drew a sword against a cohort of Roman security forces, and nearly decapitated one of them, but his swing was errant and deprived the solider of only his ear, not his head.

But then, Peter loses faith faster than a rock sinks in water. When Jesus at last is captured and led away, he denies he ever knew the man. And the person who said he would never leave Jesus, leaves. What a fool!

And now, Peter, it's Easter morning and Jesus is risen! April fools!

Is Thomas the April fool, the one with a Ph.D. from Jerusalem Institute of Technology? Oh, Thomas thought he was so smart. He prided himself on his knowledge of the visible world. He delighted in understanding how things worked. He was a curious fellow, believing there's a natural explanation for everything. When Jesus talked about going "to prepare a place" for them, it was this scholarly fellow Thomas who asked, "We do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" (John 14:5). When his colleagues asserted that Jesus was alive, it was Thomas, ever the academic and scientist, who demanded to see the evidence. "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe" (John 20:25).

And now, Thomas, it's Easter morning and Jesus is risen! So, April fools on you too!

However, we must be honest, the greatest of fools are all of us. Certainly, much of the world believes we're crackers, completely foolish souls who need Jesus and religion as some sort of emotional crutch. It's likely that a fair percentage of the general population, who -- although identifying themselves as religious -- think that we committed followers of Jesus take things too seriously. We who love Jesus, who follow his teachings, who obey his word, are regarded by many as the fools. The April fools.

But maybe there's another sense in which we're the Easter fools. We're fools when we claim to believe, but behave as though we don't. We affirm a belief in the resurrection of Christ. We declare that "He is risen!" But we live as though Jesus were still in the tomb, cold and decaying. We affirm our belief with our lips but do not confess Jesus as Lord with our lives.

So why bother? We are indeed fools. And now, friends, it's Easter morning and Jesus is risen! April fools!

However, the biggest April fool is not Pontius Pilate, not the disciples, not Annas the high priest, not Peter, not Thomas and not you or any of us. Why? The greatest April fool is Jesus Christ himself. He is the Fool of Easter. He is the Trickster as it were. He is the one who called the devil's bluff in the greatest jest of all time.

Even during his ministry, he acted in foolish ways, according to most contemporary observers. He eschewed a comfortable lifestyle. For friends he had tax collectors, hookers, lepers, fishermen, the poor, the needy and he even spoke to a woman at the well who had more husbands than Elizabeth Taylor. There was not a CEO among his inner circle. He shunted aside angel investors, and instead told them to give away their wealth and follow him. He knew that there is power in being a somebody, but there is truth in being a nobody. He opted for the truth because he knew that power emerges from truth. He chose weakness instead of strength, vulnerability instead of aggressiveness, truth instead of practicality, honesty instead of influence. He stuck his fingers in the eyes of religious authorities and often seemed to deliberately bait those who had the power to kill him.

And then they did. But death could not hold him. The grave could not contain him.

On Easter Fools' Day, "God made foolish the wisdom of the world" (1 Corinthians 1:20). Jesus was God's Fool, "a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks," whereby God reconciled the world to himself (1 Corinthians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 5:18).

Today, Jesus is alive! -- he who "for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2). It was Jesus who "emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness, and being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death -- even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:6-8).

Pretty foolish, it would seem. But this is not the end of the story.

"Therefore, God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, ... and every tongue should confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:9-11).
Death had no hold on the author of life. The tombstone could not seal God’s Son. Like the women finding the empty tomb, we are amazed and yet we should not be. After all, Jesus on more than one occasion predicted this would happen, and yet the Apostles were still astonished.

On this Easter Fools' Sunday, maybe this is what we have an opportunity to do: As fools for Christ, as God's fools, we might consider in humble reverence reaffirming our allegiance to the one who pulled off the greatest jest in history. Maybe we might reaffirm our belief that Jesus is Lord. We need to expect that God will do exactly as he said he would. That’s Easter.

Quite simple, actually.

Just a quiet reaffirmation that goes like this: "Lord Jesus, many people might not think it's the smartest thing in the world to follow you. In fact, they may think I'm crazy, and that you yourself were something of a lunatic. But I have just enough foolish faith to believe that you pulled it off, that you conquered death and brought life and light to the darkened world. So I recommit my life to you -- to be your fool, as it were, to live for you, and to seek support in that company of fools we call the church. Amen."
Let us pray.
That the Church may manifest in concrete ways the truth of Christ’s triumph over death. We pray to the Lord.
That oppression, prejudice, slavery, hatred, and injustice of every sort may be put to death through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We pray to the Lord.
That Christ risen from the dead will bless our country and free us from fear and falsehood. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace to be faithful in living our Catholic faith, especially through fidelity to Sunday Mass and the sacraments. We pray to the Lord.
That the event of Easter will deeply change our lives, renewing our families and blessing us with the new beginning we need. We pray to the Lord.
As always, we pray for those members of our parish who are ill, and our family members and friends who are ill, that the Lord will bless them with peace and heal their infirmities. We pray to the Lord.
That violence as a means to the end, will be eradicated from human nature. We pray to the Lord.
Eternal God, through Your awesome life-giving power, You gave Your Son the victory over sin and death. In our celebration this Easter season, may Your Holy Spirit be with us so that we can better appreciate the wonder what You have done for us. You have given us new life in baptism; may our hearts except all the faith, hope and love You long to give Your children. Deepen our bonds with one another and with You as we sing in joyful praise and thanksgiving. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA