Sunday, May 19, 2019

May 19, 2019
The Fifth Sunday of Easter
(Revelation 21:1-5; John 13:31-35)
Today’s Gospel is very timely actually. One of my goals as the new Presiding Bishop for our denomination is to not be afraid to show ourselves as progressives - to be the Traditional church that we are with a modern understanding of Christ. To show the Radical love of Jesus to everyone. There are many ways to do this, I suppose, but I will try to illustrate a little today.
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Two full-face photos: One of Tom Cruise, and one of Lady Gaga. How do you tell these two celebrities apart?

You’re thinking, “Don’t be silly! Nobody’d ever take those two for look-alikes.”

Well — for most of us. But for some, about 2.5% of people in the United States, distinguishing faces is difficult if not impossible. These people suffer from a documented disorder called prosopagnosia, but because that’s such a mouthful, it is often referred to as “face blindness.”

Cecilia Burman, who lives in Stockholm, is one such sufferer. She can barely describe her mother’s face and struggles even to pick out her own face in photos. She continually loses friends because when they encounter Cecilia on the street, she doesn’t recognize them, and so she ignores them. They conclude that she’s stuck up or too self-centered to say hello, but in fact, they look like strangers to her. Prosopagnosiacs can see eyes, noses and mouths as well as anybody else can, but somehow they lack the ability to recognize a set of facial features when they next see them.

People with mild forms of face blindness do manage to memorize a limited number of faces, much like the rest of us might learn to distinguish one rock from another, but those with the more severe forms can’t do even that. Gaylen Howard, homemaker in Boulder, Colorado, says that when she is standing in front of a mirror in a crowded restroom, she has to contort her face to pick out which one is her. One of Howard’s family members, also afflicted with face blindness, could not distinguish between the faces of Elvis Presley and Brooke Shields.

Until a few years ago, face blindness was thought to be extremely rare. Only about 100 cases had been documented worldwide, and most of those were thought to be the result of brain injury. The disorder was not even named until 1947 when Joachim Bodamer, a German neurologist, called the condition prosopagnosia from two Greek terms: prosopon meaning “face,” and agnosia meaning “non-knowledge.” Bodamer had encountered the condition in three people, including a 24-year-old man who suffered a bullet wound to the head and lost his ability to recognize faces, including his own.

In July of last year, however, a team of German researchers released the results of a study they’d undertaken, and their investigations revealed that the condition is much more common than previously thought. Based on their studies, it is likely that there are more than five million people with this condition in the United States alone.
There is no known cure, but most learn certain coping mechanisms. Many can distinguish people they know by looking at things like hairstyle, body shape or gait, or by listening to their voice. To avoid appearing to snub friends, some sufferers try to look as though they are lost in thought while walking. Others act friendly either toward everyone or toward no one.

If you spend even a few minutes thinking about how different your life would be if you could not remember faces, you’ll understand that prosopagnosiacs deal with significant problems every day.

Certainly face blindness was unknown as a diagnosis in the first century, but the New Testament has an actual example of it. On the first Easter, two followers of Jesus were walking on the road to Emmaus when Jesus joined them, but according to Luke, “their eyes were kept from recognizing him” (Luke 24:16). Only later, when he broke bread before them, did they realize that it was Jesus who was with them.

Of course, they were seeing the resurrected Jesus for the first time, so maybe that accounts for their temporary face blindness.

But even before the resurrection, when Jesus was among his followers, he alluded to a kind of recognition problem that the world could have for which Christians are responsible. In his conversation with his disciples at the Last Supper, Jesus told them that he loved them and that they should love one another. In fact, he called that a “new commandment.” In one way, it wasn’t new at all, for centuries before, the concept was articulated in Leviticus: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). Yet there was a newness about what Jesus said, for he intended that his followers’ love for each other should be a plain feature of their identity.

Thus he said, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Although in other places, Jesus talked about loving neighbors and even loving enemies, here he is saying that acting compassionately toward fellow believers is the way that people outside the church will know that they are his disciples.

That’s a positive way to state it, but consider the flip side. Jesus implies that it’s possible for Christians to live in the world without being recognized as Christians. To bring it right to our own day, Jesus’ new command means that if the world can know we are Christians by our love for one another, the world can also fail to recognize us as Christians if we don’t love one another. The world can have face blindness when it comes to distinguishing disciples from everyone else.

Francis Schaeffer, a theologian and pastor from the last century, in a small book titled The Mark of the Christian, argued that if we don’t have love for one another, the world has every right to conclude that we’re not Christians, not disciples and that we know nothing about God. Their conclusion might be in error, but they’re reaching the conclusion quite logically. He wrote, “Love — and the unity it attests to — is the mark Christ gave Christians to wear before the world. Only with this mark may the world know that Christians are indeed Christians and that Jesus was sent by the Father.”

Now right off, there are a few things that contribute to this face blindness.

The first is that the practice of loving one another is not limited to Christians. Unquestionably, there are people who claim no allegiance to Jesus who nonetheless behave lovingly toward colleagues, friends, coworkers, family members, social group buddies and other groups of which they are a part, as well as to strangers in need. And many more in the world at large at least hold loving one another as an ideal and even give it lip service.

So there’s some difficulty distinguishing Christians from others by their love because we live in a society that honors love for one another even if it does not always practice it.

Another reason for the world’s face blindness about Christians is that we ourselves don’t always grasp the depth of love Jesus was calling for among his followers. Loving enemies, of course, is desperately difficult, and loving neighbors is often hard work, so it would seem that by comparison, merely loving our fellow church members should be a snap.

In some ways, however, that is harder. Doing something compassionate for someone on the other side of the planet or reaching out to a person we see only occasionally doesn’t require great emotional investment. But when it comes to members of our spiritual community, people whom we see up close and interact with frequently, it can be a different story. Just think how hard it can be simply to give the benefit of the doubt to certain members of our families who march to the beat of their own drummers.

One pastor tells of taking a team from his church in Ohio to work on homes of low-income families in a financially depressed part of eastern Kentucky. While they were fixing one home, a minister who pastored a nearby church stopped by and thanked the Ohio team for the work they were doing in his community. Then, in private conversation with the pastor, he mentioned that some members of his own church also wanted to participate in work camps to help others, but he’d found that he had to take them somewhere other than their home area. “Around here,” he said, “everybody knows everybody else. When I propose fixing up the homes of some of our neighbors, people are reluctant, saying that that person doesn’t deserve it or doesn’t really need the help. But if I take them where they don’t know anybody, my folks will pitch right in and work hard.”

Sometimes it’s devilishly hard to really love those close at hand. We tend to judge those we know - sometimes more than those we don’t.

Yet another reason for the world’s difficulty recognizing Christians by their love for one another is that Jesus set the bar very high for relationships within the church. He said, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

Earlier that evening, Jesus had given one demonstration about what he meant by loving one another when he had humbly washed the feet of each of his followers. That alone should give us pause when claiming to love one another, but there’s even more reason to realize the seriousness of this new command from Jesus when we remember that the fullest expression of Jesus’ love for his disciples was his laying down his life for them. So we are to love one another that fully. Wow. The radical Love of Jesus!

Of course, today, not many of us are required to actually die for our fellow believers, and foot washing isn’t needed either, unless we do it as part of a religious ritual. So what does loving one another within the church look like?

Francis Schaeffer, whom I mentioned earlier, wrote specifically about how else loving one another should play out in the church. He talked about our willingness to apologize to one another, especially when we have been mistaken or failed to help or support one of our fellow Christians. Likewise, he said that having a forgiving spirit and being willing to make peace with those within the church who have hurt us is a fulfilling of Jesus’ command. Schaeffer also wrote about how Christians who disagree with one another should deal with differences by first, spending time in prayer about the issue, and then approaching the other person in a spirit of non-belligerence, with the goal being not to win the argument, but to solve the problem or to merely understand the other point of view. Sometimes, we should remember, that possibly neither side is completely correct. Sometimes, it isn’t about who is right or wrong, but in how we treat one another and learn to accept different views.
In short, what Schaeffer was talking about was an “observable oneness” within the Christian community, something the world beyond the church can see.

One other way we can get a handle on what it means to love one another within the church fellowship is to consider to what lengths we are willing to go for each other. Sometimes parents learn something about going to the limit when one of their children gets into serious trouble. We’ve known of parents who went to extraordinary lengths to help one of their offspring, far beyond what they’d ever do for themselves. Parents who normally are quiet and unassuming have called in personal favors, exhausted their bank accounts, pleaded with judges, appealed to teachers, prostrated themselves before authorities and accepted humiliation to try to help their kid in difficulty. As outsiders to those situations, we may sometimes wonder if the young person in question deserves such love, but it is hard to fault the parents who are trying to move heaven and Earth to save their child.

We can understand that, of course, when it is parents assisting their own child. But Jesus’ remark suggests that it is a hallmark of Christians that they do things like that for one another, people to whom they have no other connection than a common belief in Jesus Christ. Even to helping those we disagree or consider as enemies without any expectation of reciprocation. The radical love of Jesus.

We cannot explain ahead of time what it will mean to be Christ-like in every relationship with other believers. Relationships and human nature are complex things, and situations we could never have anticipated arise. But Jesus’ new command gives us not only a place to start but also a spirit in which to act and a goal — unity — toward which to move.

As we internalize this command and put it into practice, we go a long way toward dispelling the face blindness of those on the outside, and we enable them to see the features of Christ in the church he has called us to be.

They will know we are Christians because of our love for one another. The radical love of Jesus, means love literally ALL people. Let us go forth and carry out this commandment of Christ!
Let us pray.
For the Church, that we may be a sign of God’s love for us by the love we show to each other and the service we provide for our neighbor. We pray to the Lord.
That barriers between peoples may be overcome, opening the doors of empathy and compassion to those of other cultures and backgrounds, for God’s dwelling is with the whole human race. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for love in the world, for an end to hatred, an end to war, an end to violence, that God’s peoples can live their lives in peace and harmony. We pray to the Lord.                  
We pray for a Spirit of justice in the world; that the needy, the exploited, the abused, and the victims of war may know freedom, relief from oppression, and dignity as daughters and sons of God. We pray to the Lord                    
We ask God to bestow on us the wisdom and insight to care for the earth and to preserve His gifts of water, land and climate for ourselves and the good of those who come after us. We pray to the Lord.
For those on our parish prayer list; that they may find healing, hope, grace and long awaited answers to their prayers through Christ’s presence. We pray to the Lord.
We bow our heads and 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 of all, out of love for the human race you sent your Son to sacrifice himself for us. In his living example, we see Jesus loving those whom were perceived as unlovable; we see him love those who were sinners, adulterers, unclean, Roman soldier slaves, gentiles - even those who disagreed with him, and so many more. In his life, Jesus showed us the utterly radical form of love that many of us find difficult to emulate. Help us to love one another as you have loved us and grant the prayers we make out of that love, through Christ, our Risen Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor - St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Sunday, May 12, 2019

May 12, 2019
The Fourth Sunday of Easter
(Revelation 7:9, 14-17; John 10:27-30)
If you can, try to remember how you felt when you heard the news about each of the following events:
• The massacre of 28 at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut in December of 2012;
• The killing of 17 students and staff and the wounding of 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida in February 2018;
• The slaying of 10 people at Santa Fe High School, in Santa Fe, Texas in May 2018;
• The gunning down of 11 people and wounding 6 others at Tree of Life Synagogue, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania , in October 2018;
• The killing of 13 and the wounding of 12 others at a bar in Thousand Oaks, California, in November 2018;
• The killing of 1 and injury of 3 at the Chabad synagogue, in Poway, California last month.
• The killing of 1 and injuring or 8 others at the STEM School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado this past Tuesday.
There are many, many others in between that I could mention, but obviously there are so many that we would need all day to list them. I merely picked some that came to mind. A great majority were shootings. We could also talk of the churches in Louisiana that we set on fire. The hate and evil that is running ramped in our country is astonishing. It seems like we are no longer a civilized nation.
If you’re like most people, you experienced a sense of deep shock and dismay on hearing the news of the first of those events. But unless you were personally connected to a victim of one of the subsequent tragedies, it’s likely that each one had progressively less emotional impact on you. In fact, by the time the last of these was reported, your reaction may have been little more than a sad shake of the head and a weary utterance of, “Oh, no. Not again.” And you probably turned your attention away from the news much more quickly than you did after Sandy Hook.
That isn’t surprising. We’ve lived through 9/11. We frequently hear body counts from terrorist activity. By way of television and the Internet, we’ve witnessed such awful stuff that our shock threshold has been raised. Now when we hear of such tragedies as the most recent slaughter of innocents, our reaction is more controlled – or is it numbed disbelief?
Following the Virginia Tech shootings some years ago, columnist Daniel Henninger, wrote in the Wall Street Journal, and commented on this growing numbness to bad news. He said that “it may be that as a nation we’ve reached tilt with tragedy. ‘Tilt’ is the famous metaphor drawn from the old pinball machines, which shut down if one banged on them too hard. Pinballs could survive plenty of random shocks to the system. But there were limits. Of late, we have been banged on hard.” Later in the same column, he wrote, “Our capacity for shock at genuine violence has been recalibrated.”
When tragedies become commonplace, it just isn’t humanly possible for us who are at a distance from them to experience the same level of emotional distress as those who are close at hand. And our lessened reaction has nothing to do with not caring or a lack of empathy. It’s that we have a survival function that causes us to become protective of our emotional energy. We cannot continue to dump it out day after day on extreme events and have any left for daily living.
And so a kind of numbness creeps in, and to some degree, it needs to. It’s a defense mechanism that keeps us from reaching our personal tilt point.
That said, such numbness also gives us a jaded view of life, a pervasive pessimism that whispers to us that the cards really are stacked against us, and that no matter how much we think we’ve organized our lives, the forces of chaos and destruction will ultimately prevail.
We hear some of those whispers after almost every one of these shootings. Some commentator says the incident should reignite the debate about gun control, but those of us who’ve been around awhile find ourselves thinking something such as, “Yeah, this latest tragedy might cause some debate, but even if some changes are made, it won’t make the kind of difference we need. People who are determined to kill others will always find a way to do so.” But do you hear in that admission deep pessimism — that nothing could have prevented it, or something like it — that neither arming everybody nor disarming everybody would make much difference?
I wonder, at times, if we have taken this whole “Second Amendment” thing a bit too far. I don’t think our fore-fathers were intending people to just go wild-west and start killing people just because they don’t like them. Yet, we can’t seem to get anywhere on this topic.
That’s a fatalism we don’t wish to surrender to, but it nibbles at the edge of our minds when we contemplate awful things. Fully developed, it can cause us to doubt God’s existence, or at least his goodness.
Against all that, there’s the vision that John of Patmos had of the eternal age to come, where a multitude of people — so great it cannot be counted — with representatives from every nation, tribe, peoples and language group, stand worshiping before the throne of the Lamb of God. And they cry out good news: “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:10) When John seeks to know who these people of this multitude are, he is told, “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
In the context of John’s time, the “great distress” likely referred to the bitter experiences — the bad news — that befell the followers of Jesus at the onset of the Jerusalem war in A.D. 66. But we can read it in our own context and apply it to the bad-news distresses of our own time. In contrast to the pessimism that first-century distress might have engendered, however, this Revelation passage sees the brightness, the good news, beyond it. These people, who have come through that great distress faithfully, “will not hunger or thirst anymore, nor will the sun or any heat strike them. For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water.... ” (vv. 16-17). They are the ones who were numbed by the battering of bad news in their day, but in the realm to come, they are “un-numbed.” In fact, they have no need for defensive numbing, because “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (v. 17).
But what about us? If this passage is to fit into our existence somewhere, it has to be read as belonging to some future that we cannot see and can only, like John, envision. And then we can only hold on to that vision with the most slender of threads, those of promise and hope, and maybe even wish.
However, the multitude in Revelation sees this brightness because they are gathered around the throne of God in worship together. Maybe, in that time to come, that throne is the place where they get their questions about life answered. But what John’s vision shows us is that in that place of worship, they jointly perceive what they need to know, that the Lamb is their shepherd.
As we live on this side of eternity, what we need to know is that God is still here in this life, that he hasn’t left us, that he is our shepherd, too. And corporate worship can bring us that assurance; it can give us a glimpse of the divine perspective.
It’s significant that we don’t go to church for private devotions. We go there as part of a congregation, and we get some of the uplift we need from fellow worshipers.
Following the shootings, some schools reacted by holding a convocation, by creating a place for people to come together and talk about God. In an essay on Foxnews.com after one tragedy, religion correspondent Lauren Green wrote, “So where is God? He is in the prayer vigils. He is in the rivers of tears flowing from everyone affected. He is in the community coming together to offer support to the families. He is at work in the love and strength people are offering each other. God is with us.”
We shouldn’t discount the power of corporate worship to help us when numbing news bombards us. A study by a Harvard researcher, in conjunction with a UC San Diego researcher, gives us some evidence in that direction. In 2003, this pair gained access to some old papers found in a storeroom in Framingham, Massachusetts. They were the handwritten records of 5,124 male and female subjects from a heart study done in that community in 1948, looking for risk factors for heart trouble. It wasn’t so much the heart information that caught the attention of the latter-day researchers, but rather some clerical information on the forms. The original Framingham researchers had noted each participant’s close friends, colleagues and family members simply so that if the participant moved away, the researchers could contact the friends to locate the participant.
Looking at that information, the 2003 researchers realized it could be transformed into a detailed map of the human relationships of those folks. Two-thirds of the adults in Framingham had been included in the first phase of the study, and their children and grandchildren had participated in subsequent phases. Thus, almost the entire social network of the community was chronicled in these old records. It took nearly five years to input all that data into a computer format, but once that was done, the current researchers were able to construct detailed diagrams of the social networks of the Framingham residents. As they began tracking those people as an interconnected network rather than as a mass of individuals, they discovered that the social networks influenced the behavior of the people involved, even as the participants spread out over a larger geographic area.
Because the study had kept track of the subjects’ weight, the current researchers first analyzed obesity trends. They found that in 1948, fewer than 10 percent of the residents were obese. By 1985, 18 percent were, and today, 40 percent are. That equates with national trends, but looking at it from the social-network angle, the researchers realized that while the whole group discovered fast food at the same time, the social-network effect was what caused obesity to begin to spread, almost like a virus. In other words, when your friends change their eating habits, it’s likely that you will, too.
They found a similar trajectory with smoking. In the early ’70s, 65 percent of Framingham residents between the ages of 40 and 49 smoked regularly. But by 2001, only 22 percent did. The researchers found that friends and family had a positive influence, and that people quit together.
Both eating habits and smoking are behaviors, but the researchers went further and found that such things as happiness are also influenced by our social networks. Because the original study asked people to describe their moods, the latter research showed that essentially, happy people have happy friends and unhappy people have unhappy friends. In other words, gloom is contagious, but so is joy.
It doesn’t take much thought to apply that same dynamic to people who worship together. One thing that helps us maintain hope when soul-numbing bad news is all around us is that we’re coming before God in company with others who share that hope.
So it’s no wonder that in the eternal age to come, those gathered around God’s throne aren’t described one by one but as an uncountable multitude. They grew to be so many because they were already following Jesus in company with each other when they were on this side of eternity.
There have been enough awful tragedies caused by somebody with a grudge, or paranoia or evil in his heart, or a desire to get even or whatever, that we assume similar things will continue to happen from time to time in some place in our society. Evil is real, sin rages in people’s hearts, madness descends, despair begets chaos.
Further, there’s no guarantee that we or our loved ones might not someday be among the victims.
But standing here among the people of God, in the place of worship, we can sense the truth: that good is stronger than evil, that there is something — something — that cannot be taken from us because God has given it to us. And furthermore, we together know that nothing — nothing — can separate us from the love of God.
It’s that knowledge that helps us not tilt when bad things happen.
Let us pray.
We pray that in our daily lives we are never far from Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness so that we can reap the reward of eternal life which he so clearly promises. May we embrace the “radical love of Jesus” by emulating His example! We pray to the Lord.
For all Mothers and for those who have shown us a mother’s love: that God will grace them with every gift, bless them with health, happiness, peace and joy of heart. We pray to the Lord.
For healing and justice for those harmed by violence, abuse or neglect, especially those in the shooting in Highland Ranch Colorado: that they may be embraced by the peace and love of Christ. We pray to the Lord.
For all who mourn the death of a loved one, may they find comfort in the joy of Jesus’ Resurrection. We pray to the Lord.
For those on our parish prayer list; that they may find consolation through Christ’s healing presence. We pray to the Lord.
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, you call each of us to serve you with faithfulness and joy. Hear our prayers, and bring us to the joy that never ends. God of Mercy, Good Shepherd, may those whom you have called to the Christian life be ever true believers in your Son and the power of his Resurrection. Loving God, you cared so much for us, your children, that you sent your Son to us to be our shepherd. Listen to the prayers of your flock, and grant them through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA
http://www.stfrancisucc.org/donate.html

Sunday, May 5, 2019

May 5, 2019
The Third Sunday of Easter
(Acts 5:27-32, 40-41; John 21:1-19)
Turn on your TV at any given time of the day, and there's a pretty good chance you'll find a rerun of Law and Order (or some other courtroom procedural drama) somewhere on a back channel of your cable feed. It was on the air for 20 years, so its popularity makes it a popular rerun show. In fact, if aliens are really out there in the universe somehow getting our television signals, we wouldn't fault them for thinking that we're primarily a race of cops and lawyers who spend most of their time interviewing or cross-examining witnesses.
We've watched so much courtroom TV that we're all well-versed in the lingo. Without Law and Order, we might not know what "exculpatory evidence" means, or what constitutes an especially "heinous" crime. We wouldn't know what it means to "badger" a witness. We wouldn't know when a witness is testifying to "hearsay" conversations. We're so used to hearing phrases like this that we might think we really know how to navigate a courtroom ourselves using as our legal mentors lawyers from movies and television. On television, cases are wrapped up in about an hour, and stunning confessions are revealed from the witness stand.
If it were only that simple, but court is rarely like that. It's far more boring and repetitive, and a lot of the arguing takes place behind closed doors where deals are cut. Rarely do you get that line from the movie: A Few good Men: "You can't handle the truth!" moment from a witness. In fact, when witnesses do appear in court, they often fail to answer the attorney's questions altogether. Witnesses can be so notoriously unable or unwilling to answer the question that there's a whole lexicon of phrases that lawyers (both TV lawyers and real attorneys) use to request the judge to force the witness to give a definitive response.
"Objection! Non-responsive!" is the line used by a lawyer when a witness is ducking the question.
And there are plenty of ways to duck a question with a non-answer. Answering a question with a question, for example, may be fine for the classroom, but it's lousy in the courtroom.
Q: Were you with the defendant on the night in question?
A: Where else would I be?
You can also describe what you would normally do in a situation without saying what you actually did.
Q: Did you lock the door that night?
A: I normally do.
Q: But did you actually lock it?
Whether it's intentional or unintentional, humans tend to try to find loopholes or evade the question when confronted with direct questions that might incriminate their behavior.
Our gospel today contains a very interesting transcript of an "interrogation" in which the respondent seems to be ducking the question. We're referring, of course, to Jesus' questioning of Peter on a beach on the Sea of Galilee several days after the resurrection. Still reeling from the whole crucifixion drama and from Jesus' appearance to them in Jerusalem, Peter and a few of the other disciples decided, the resurrection notwithstanding, to head back to Galilee where they intended to resume their old lives. They were going to get back into their fishing business, Fish-R-Us Incorporated.
These disciples knew a lot about fishing, but their ability to bring in a catch that day was about as successful as their ability to stick with Jesus during his trial and crucifixion. Peter, the leader of the group, had denied Jesus three times, just as Jesus had predicted, and was, no doubt, stunned when the risen Lord showed up. The sudden appearance of the Lord he had betrayed must have shamed him greatly -- hence his desire to get away, and go back to fishing.
But like a diligent SDPD detective, Jesus was not about to let Peter get away without an interview. The risen Christ stood on the shore early in the morning, inviting the disciples to try a different fishing strategy. He had instructed them for some three years on how to fish for people, and now he was telling them how to fish for fish, although, at this point, they did not recognize him. When the nets suddenly became full, they realized that the figure on the shore was actually their Lord. Seeing Jesus, Peter jumped in the water and swam the 100 yards to shore while the others brought in the fish. Jesus proposed a breakfast meeting of fish and bread, and they ate it together, the disciples not daring to ask, "Who are you?"
After breakfast, it was time for Jesus to take a deposition. So he asks some questions. Peter was called to the witness stand for examination first. Knowing his own guilt, he begins to duck the questions.
"Simon, son of John," Jesus asks, "do you love me more than these?"
It's interesting that Jesus uses Peter's original name and not the one he had given to the disciple previously -- Cephas or Peter, the rock (1:42). It was almost as though Jesus was acting like a lawyer, trying to get the witness to focus from the beginning: "Let's go over your story again."
Peter's answer, however, is non-responsive. He doesn't really answer the question directly per se, but speaks to the questioner's previous knowledge. It's a classic dodge -- describing expected procedures. "Do you love me even more than the rest of these guys?" asks Jesus.
"Sure," Peter seems to be saying, "that's the expectation. I know you have always expected me to do everything better than the rest! That's why you named me Rocky and all that."
But Peter's answer is a non-answer. It's love that's expected, not necessarily offered sincerely. Peter is cautious here because he knows his previous actions the night Jesus died revealed how apparently shallow and superficial his love for Jesus really was.
Let me give you some inside info on the narrative here: A lot has been made of the fact that there are two different Greek words for "love" being used in this courtroom transcript. Jesus is using the stronger word agape, while Peter is using the word phileo, which is more akin to friendship. A lot of scholars now downplay this contrast, because those two words are used interchangeably throughout John's gospel. More important than the use of different words for love is the fact that Jesus asks essentially the same question three times in order to get the witness to answer. As Peter denied Jesus three times to engage in his act of cowardice and betrayal, so will Jesus take three opportunities to restore him as a true disciple who, not only confesses his love for Jesus, but acts on it as well.
"Feed my lambs," Jesus responds to Peter's weak first confession. In other words, Jesus is calling Peter to demonstrate his love by caring for the people whom Jesus cared for. It's an echo of Jesus' instruction to his disciples earlier in the gospel: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you" (15:12). Love for Jesus is always love that is lived out in relationship with Jesus and with others. Like Peter, we cannot answer with a definitive yes to Jesus' question unless we're living out his love in our relationships with others, even with those who may be our enemies.
So, Jesus asks a second time: "Simon, son of John, do you love me?"
This time, Peter gives a definitive "Yes, Lord," but qualifies it again by putting the onus on the questioner: "You know that I love you." We can almost hear Jesus say, "Objection! Calls for speculation!"
Peter makes an assumption of Jesus' knowledge, but Jesus is after a real demonstration of that love. "Tend my sheep," he commands. Show me how much you love me by being a good shepherd, and following up on your bold promises from before. Be willing to really sacrifice yourself on behalf of them and on behalf of me. That's real love. "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends" (15:13).
It's one thing to be a "witness" to Jesus with our words, and quite another to put those words in action. The call to follow Jesus is a call to self-sacrifice -- to give ourselves on behalf of others. Previously, Peter had bailed out when given the chance to stick with his friend all the way to the cross, despite his bravado in saying to Jesus, "I will lay down my life for you" (13:37). Now, he was getting a second chance to carry through on his commitment. We may not be called to die for Jesus, as Peter did, and as many are doing today, but we are all called to "tend his sheep" in ways that may cost us our reputation, our comfort and our resources. This is real love -- laying down our lives and our agendas for Christ and his people.
Jesus asks a third time: "Simon, son of John, do you love me?"
Peter attempts one more time to dodge the question. By now he is "hurt" by this line of questioning, so he offers an argument -- another way that witnesses in court are non-responsive. Like a frustrated Colonel Jessup argues with the attorney in A Few Good Men, Peter fires back, "You want answers? You know everything, Jesus!"
Jesus responds with the truth, and Peter has a hard time handling it, as would we. Jesus tells Peter that he will, indeed, die for the sheep; die for being a disciple. The non-responsive Peter would eventually give the ultimate response to his Lord by offering up his life in authentic love.
And so, Peter steps down from the stand and steps out as a true disciple -- forgiven, restored and made new by love. Ever since, disciples of Jesus have been confronted with the same questions: "Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?" If you do, you will feed and tend his sheep. There's no way to dodge that inquiry. We can't deflect that responsibility on someone else (another classic non-responsive answer). Even Peter attempts this by pointing to "the disciple whom Jesus loved" and asking, "Lord, what about him?" (v. 21).
But the question is being asked of us. We will either demonstrate our love for Jesus through our love and care for others, or we will perjure ourselves before the ultimate Judge. Jesus said as much in Matthew 25 -- our words of love for Jesus must be matched by our actions on behalf of others.
If we've been failing on that account, however, we know that the one who judges us is also the one who is ready to forgive and restore us, just as Jesus forgave and restored Peter. We can begin again and become responsive disciples who can really handle the truth!
Let us pray.
For immigrants, whose traditions from their native cultures enrich the tapestry of the nations they now call home; that they may always be made to feel welcome in their adopted country. We pray to the Lord.  
For all those involved in the fishing industry, that they may act responsibly in their work, caring for the habitats in which they operate. We pray to the Lord
For our parish community, that in our words and actions we may be faithful witnesses to the Easter miracle. We pray to the Lord
When Jesus asks Peter three times, do you love me, he is also asking that question of us. We pray that our commitment to Jesus as a way of life be a true, a strong and a lasting one. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for all those in our church, men and women, ordained and lay, who have been called to the role of shepherd, that they may follow closely the example of Christ and bear witness to His goodness. We pray to the Lord.
We pray that the Holy Spirit enlighten the leaders of our Church and show them the way to ensure the continuance of sacramental life in our parishes and the future parishes to come. We pray to the Lord.
For government leaders: that they may act with integrity and truthfulness, working together for the peace and common good of all, and not for their own self-interest. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for the victims of the mass shooting at UNC Charlotte. May the deceased rest in peace eternal and may the friends and families left behind be showered with love and comfort in this difficult time. May those who were injured, heal quickly and completely of both physical and emotional injuries. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for the people of Venezuela that peace and harmony be restored to them and that all may benefit from the richness of resources which our Creator has bestowed on their country. We pray to the Lord.
For those on our parish prayer list: that may they draw strength, consolation, and healing by turning to Mary, who intercedes for us. We pray to the Lord.
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.                        
Loving Father, as we present you our petitions, may we also declare to you our love. Keep us faithful throughout life. Almighty God, you have sent your Son and the Holy Spirit to us to redeem us, to sanctify us, to show your great love for us, help us to feel and sense this in all we see and do. O Loving God, and let our people forever find joy in the new life you give us. Listen to the prayers of your people and grant them according to your will, through Christ, our Risen Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ + The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Sunday, April 28, 2019

April 28, 2019
Low Sunday/Divine Mercy Sunday
(Acts 5:12-16; John 20:19-31)
Dominique Saponari, has a certificate in her bedroom that proclaims that the child has sent her binky to Binky Land.
It was a long time coming. When she was 5, Dominique had to visit the orthodontist who announced that she had a serious overbite caused by sucking on a pacifier which molded her teeth around the binky and pushed the teeth forward and upward.
Her mother came up with a book idea that her brother followed up on. The 10-page book, The Story of Binky Land, written by William Post, chronicles the adventures of Binky Bonnie and Binky Bob and offers parents cool ways to nudge their child to a binky-free life.
Not all dentists are binky Nazis. They argue that the comfort and emotional security gained far outweigh the potential dental problems.
But there are other problems with pacifiers. They can get lost and cause an emotional disturbance — or tantrum — until they’re found.
They can be unsafe if the parts are not attached properly. Some binkies can be choking hazards.
They can get dirty and should be cleaned regularly.
All of which makes us wonder about the pacifiers we adults are using in our spiritual lives — that is, those things that make us feel peaceful, calm, safe and comforted. The stuff we cling to for security, especially when our faith is under duress.
The Gospel of John says following Jesus’ death, the disciples were huddled together behind locked doors, rigid with fear that the powers who crucified Jesus would put an end to them, too. For some reason, Thomas was not with them. Maybe they drew straws to see who would go to the market and Thomas got the short straw. Maybe he got tired of being cooped up with 10 fearful men in a small house, waiting for a clue of what to do next. Whatever the reason, Thomas was absent. Poor timing. Like the guy stargazing who bends to tie his shoe at the very moment a meteor blazes across the sky.
Thomas returns and is immediately confronted by his companions, who declare they have seen the Lord. Who among us would not respond like Thomas, “Sure, you saw the Lord. Riiiiight, and what else happened while I was at the market?”
“No, no, you don’t understand,” they cried, “our Lord, Jesus, revealed himself to us. He is risen!” Thomas offered a deal, “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.” Without this kind of evidence, Thomas was an unbeliever.
Have you ever had the experience of being on the outside looking in? When the whole group, except you, knows something you probably ought to know? It happens to kids all the time. Caught in the position of not knowing what you think you need to know, you have two options: pretend that you know — fake it — with the hope that you catch on real soon; the other option, a bit more risky, is to call time out, stop the motion long enough for you to ask questions, challenge the process or do what you need to do to get on board. Of course, another option is simply to give up and go home, choosing to remain on the outside.
Thomas was confronted with an empty tomb and the claims of a risen Lord Jesus, as we are every Sunday. His initial response earned him the name “Doubting Thomas.” His response may not be all that different from our response.
For the Apostle Thomas, the scientific rationalist, the binky was empirical evidence.
Many of us are fascinated by scientific research that would seem to authenticate the claims of Scripture. Why else spend the millions of dollars that have been spent to search for Noah’s ark on Mt. Ararat in present-day Turkey? Granted, there is a valid archaeological interest there, but would the discovery of the ark really make our faith any stronger than it is right now? And if so, what does that say about our faith?
Years ago, many people were disappointed when carbon dating proved that the Shroud of Turin, thought to be the cloth that Jesus’ body was draped in after he was crucified, was only 800-some years old, not 2,000. Though, new and different testing places it from 300 BC to 400 AD.
More recently, the reputed ossuary of James the brother of Jesus caused a similar debate. Some argue that this is indisputable evidence of Jesus’ family. Other scholars are now saying, however, that the box is a fake.
From an archaeological standpoint, it matters. But does it matter from a faith perspective? Is our faith stronger or weaker when such things happen?
Some stumble in their life of faith, as did Thomas, because the empirical evidence is lacking. There is no proof for the existence of God, and there’s a lot that happens in the world that would seem to argue against a loving and powerful God. Thomas said he would remain an unbeliever. What do we say?
Others grab the pacifier of cultural respectability. Any faith journey that calls for a life of radical discipleship, a life that pits us against the world, that risks the ridicule of the chattering classes is not a life for us. We want our faith to be neat, clean, tidy, respectable and non-confrontational.
Some of us move on steadily in a life of faith, while for others faith is a lifelong struggle with doubt. Your neighbors may speak of an access to faith that seems unassailable, but you find yourself unconvinced, skeptical, saying the words but doubting their truth. One’s academic training, professional expertise and life experience conspire to demand something solid to counter the doubt that refuses to go away.
The fact is, if you care enough to wonder, to question, to struggle for an authentic profession of faith, you may well be on the path to a life grounded in honest reliance upon God alone. Because for many, doubt may be the necessary step on the road to faith. Take Dorothy Day, for example.
Dorothy Day, the late founder of the Catholic Worker, described her inability to pray as she was coming to faith. Whenever she knelt, she would be overcome by doubt and shame — “Do I really believe? Whom am I praying to?” “Is prayer for the lonely and religion for the weak?”
But once while walking to the village to get her mail, she found herself praying again, this time out of a deep sense of thankfulness. Encouraged, she continued on, against her doubts. No matter how dull the day, how long the walk seemed or how sluggish she felt at the beginning, the words of thanksgiving that she prayed began slowly to move into her heart and shape her conscience in faith. She came to faith through doubt and eventually gave up her doubts as freely as a child drops her pacifier.
While we can condemn Thomas for much, we can applaud him for his intellectual integrity. He was honest, refusing to pretend to believe something that he really didn’t. He knew the claims being made about Jesus were of ultimate significance, and he cared enough to articulate his doubt, to challenge his friends.
This is a man who spent three years of his life as a disciple of Jesus. He was the one who dared to ask questions when he didn’t understand. Hounded by doubt, he nevertheless stayed the course. Tradition has it that he was the first missionary to India.
Where did his search lead him? Where will ours lead us? His willingness to follow his question led him to faith, true and abiding faith that was formed in the depths of doubt. In other words, when he encountered the risen Lord Jesus, Thomas says, “My Lord and my God!”
But Jesus’ implication is that he missed out on a greater blessing. The blessing is greater when we can come to faith when all the contrary signs suggest that such a faith is foolish.
In an age which demands solid evidence for everything, Thomas is certainly our brother. Authentic faith — binky-free living — is often born from a dance with doubt. This faith is a faith that rests finally on what cannot be seen but only believed. Sooner or later, we must drop the things that we rely on for security, but actually keep us from relying on God.
Here is the word of the Lord addressed to us in a postmodern, post-Christian age of technology: Blessed are they who do not see — but believe.
Let us pray.
For the shooting victims and their families and friends at the Congregation Chabad, near here in Poway California. May the deceased shooting victim rest in the arms of Adonai, and may the family and friends be comforted. May the injured recover quickly and completely and find comfort and love in this tragic time. We pray to the Lord.
That all peoples will be inspired to eradicate hate in whatever form, so that all peoples may live peacefully and with great tolerance, especially in our beloved nation. We pray to the Lord.
We pray to our Father in heaven that he bless us with faith and that we, without seeing Jesus’s wounds, would be firm in our belief and loyalty to Him. We pray to the Lord.
On today, Divine Mercy Sunday, let us renew our commitment to compassion, love, mercy and forgiveness in all our dealings with our family, neighbors and particularly those who may have injured or offended us in the past. We pray to the Lord.
For those whose faith has been shaken or has been overtaken by doubt, that they may see the Risen Lord in our community and in the way that we treat one another. We pray to the Lord.
For those who are sick, suffering, abandoned and without hope, that the God of mercy may bring them to wholeness. We pray to the Lord.
For those who have passed on into eternal life, may experience the fullness of love. We pray to the Lord.
For those on our parish prayer list, that they may find resolution and comfort through our prayers and God’s grace. We pray to the Lord.  
We bow our heads and 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 divine mercy, look upon your people with favor in times of trouble, in times of need. Father, may our celebration of these Easter mysteries help us on our pilgrimage.  By your mercy, may we come to share in the resurrection. Most of all, dear Father, hear our pleas for an end to hatred, intolerance and bloodshed, which seem to be increasing. Help us to know how to end hate and learn to be tolerant of different views, lifestyles and religions. Listen to the prayers we make today and grant our needs in the name of Jesus, our Risen Lord. Amen.
God Love You +
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Sunday, April 21, 2019

April 21, 2019
Easter Sunday
Installation of The Most Rev. Robert Winzens as Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Universal Catholic Church and Archbishop of the Province of the Untied States
(For Sri Lanka and the eight bombings at 3 churches and 3 hotels, killing 207 and over 560 injured.)
(Acts 10:34, 37-43; John 20:1-18)
"Angel gear" is what New Zealand lorry-drivers call coming down the mountains with the engine off and no brakes. On Easter morning all Christians should put themselves in "angel gear," turning off all our mechanistic doubts and refusing to put the brakes on the faith and hope that Easter morning should represent for each of us.
A lot of non-Christians have no problem agreeing that this first-century Jesus of Nazareth was a gifted leader, a provocative teacher, a prophet and a powerful moral figure that the world should emulate. But on this morning, Jesus' secular well-wishers and the church's members must part company. This morning we celebrate a mystery and a miracle - the greatest miracle and mystery ever known: Christ is Risen!
Then why do we so often crack that cornerstone and undermine its stability? Why do we doubt the miracle of Easter morning? Why do we diminish the mystery with all our explanations? Why do we come up with such silliness as the notion that the resurrection was something that happened in the minds of the disciples rather than the body of Jesus? We falsely flatter ourselves when we rationalize our doubts and dissembling’s as part of our 20th-century- critical-scientific-rationalistic heritage.
Let's not fool ourselves - the resurrection of Jesus from the dead was just as hard on the faith of first century believers as it is on ours. Death has been around for a long time - first-century folk knew its face just as well as we do. In fact, they saw it more closely and intimately and frequently than do we in our hospitalized, sterilized, death-denying attempt to avoid the whole topic.
We envy those who actually saw the resurrected Jesus before the ascension. We imagine it was much easier for them to believe. But while it is true that none of us had the honor of actually bumping into Jesus in the flesh on the way to church this morning, it is also true that none of us helped pull his lifeless body off the cross on Friday evening. None of us carried his heavy, limp, blood-stained form into a barren tomb and wrapped it in a shroud. For those who had known the living, laughing, loving Jesus, there was no doubt that he was stone-cold dead. Believing that he could be truly alive again - not just some spiritual apparition, but a warm, living being - was an enormous act of faith for the first disciples.
We also know that all but one Apostle was martyred for the faith (John being the only one not). For these men to refuse to recant their beliefs in Jesus, it would, after all, imply he must have really existed, was crucified and resurrected for them to willingly die! I certainly wouldn’t willing die for someone I did not think was God!
When the news of Jesus' resurrection, the rumor of an empty tomb, began to circulate, the Roman and synagogue authorities got nervous. Having taken enormous effort to post guards so that Jesus' body could not be stolen, these officials now used these same guards to start spreading a rumor that body-snatching was exactly what had happened. The possibility that a genuine miracle had taken place was too threatening, too incredible for those who had opposed Jesus and put him to death.
They did an excellent job spreading doubt, however, for that rumor still circulates today. There are lots of church members who confess faith in Christ yet continue to suspect that the chief priests and leaders probably had the story straight. For these Christians the concept behind a risen Christ is perfectly acceptable, but the reality of an actual resurrection is just too outlandish to take literally.
We expect life and death to follow a certain set of rules and to meet certain rational criteria. Therefore we scramble around trying to find alternative explanations for the empty tomb. Maybe the guards did fall asleep and some well-meaning disciples did come to take the body. Maybe Jesus wasn't really dead - only drugged, or in a coma, or hypnotized - and he came out of it and escaped the tomb. Maybe this was all part of an elaborate plan to prove Jesus' messianic nature.
However, we also know that the Roman Guards put to guard the tomb would have suffered the penalty of death for falling asleep or failing to properly guard the tomb – that was the Roman way. So, for the fictitious reports that the body was stolen, suddenly loses credibility.
But maybe, just maybe, all our doubts are wrong!
The resurrection, as rock group U2's Bono puts it, was when "the universe exploded in one man's life." Easter is our spiritual supernova. We must experience it as the true miracle it is without trying to make it fit our expectations and, especially, our limitations. When we refuse to let the miracle be miraculous, when we try to crimp it and cramp it to fit our style, we find ourselves distorting everything that made up Jesus' life and ministry on earth. It is time to let the mystery shine.
The resurrection is where Christians start speaking a different language from everyone else - the language of miracle, the litany of faith. Accepting, believing, celebrating Jesus'' resurrection as the living Christ is the cornerstone that holds the Church together. If Christ be not raised, Paul said, then your faith is in vain.
We all have doubts, to be sure, however let's quit analyzing Easter. Instead of looking for human explanations for the open tomb, let's look with awe at that mighty angel perched in front of it. Let us be so convinced of his presence that we see the misty vapors of angel breath billowing from his mouth as he tells the wondering women what has happened to Jesus. Then we must walk with bold faithfulness through the tomb's opened doorway, look at its empty, uninhabited space and shout the miracle: "He is Risen!"
Do you see the angel's breath this morning?
No? Then maybe you need to get into angel gear.
Let us pray.
Easter is Light – – May each of us carry the Light of Easter in our homes, communities and the wider world. We pray to the Lord.
Easter is Hope – – Our hope is in the Risen Christ. May we recognize that He is with us in all our daily tasks. We pray to the Lord.
Easter is Commitment – – As we renew our Baptismal promises, we pray to the Lord that He give us the grace to strengthen our commitment to Him and the faith we profess. We pray to the Lord.
Easter is the Gift of Life – – In rising from the dead, Jesus has given us life. We pray that, in our country and throughout the world, God’s gift of life be treasured by all and that all life (including animals), from conception to death, be respected and protected. We pray to the Lord.
Easter is Joy – through Jesus’ Resurrection we are filled with joy and confidence in the promise of life everlasting. May we share this joy with family, friends and all in our congregation today to whom we wish the happiness of Easter. We pray to the Lord.
For the citizens and Christians in Sri Lanka, that the souls lost in the bombing may rest in peace eternal, for the quick and complete recovery to the injured, for the loved ones of those who have lost loved ones that they may find comfort, and for the terrorists that commit such heinous crimes that they learn tolerance and love for all peoples. We pray to the Lord.
That peace and joy may permeate the world, especially in countries, cities, and neighborhoods that suffer violence and war, as do the lands where Jesus walked. We pray to the Lord.
That it may please Thee, O Lord, to bless this our Brother, His Excellency Robert Winzens elected to the Office of Archbishop and the Office of Presiding Bishop, and Primate of the Universal Catholic Church, granting him to think and do always such things as are right, that so he may duly execute the Sacred Office to which thou hast called him. We pray to the Lord.
For those on our parish prayer list, that they may find resolution and comfort through our prayers and God’s grace. We pray to the Lord.  
We bow our heads and 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 of life, you raised your Son from the dead and gave us all a share in the promise of new life with him. We thank you, Father, that we are born anew and set free to live with the dignity of your beloved children. Help us in our unbelief, so that we do not doubt and question your life, death and resurrection that we celebrate today. Give us faith in you. Give us hope in a world torn by so much evil and malice. Help us to not fear in professing you in our lives. Supplant miracles in each of us present today, that our faith may be strengthened, our belief emboldened, and our spirit lifted even unto experiencing you in the Blessed Sacrament this morning. Hear the prayers we offer today and grant them through your Son, our risen Lord. Amen.
A Blessed Easter to you all!
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Friday, April 19, 2019

April 18, 2019
Maundy (Holy) Thursday
(1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-15)
First, let us take a moment to offer our prayers for the people of Paris and the devastation of Notre Dame Cathedral on Monday. 850+ year old piece of history and faith has been severely damaged. Today the cathedral would have been very busy with the Paschal Triduum but is now silenced and somber. My prayers are with those in Paris and the church this night at the beginning of this most Holy Season.
______________________________________________________________________________
Let’s re-imagine the days leading up to Good Friday. Let’s suggest for just a moment that Jesus didn’t intend to die — at least not yet. Let’s speculate that on this Maundy Thursday, while Jesus is still the one sent “to save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21), on this night he needs more time; he needs a few more months of amazing miracles and moving messages to let the world know that without a doubt he is the “Messiah, the Son of the Living God,” as Peter put it (Matthew 16:16).

What if, on this night, rather than gathering together his disciples to serve them and to say “goodbye,” Jesus had gathered them together to devise a plan and plot a route to safety. Where could Jesus go without being killed for saying things such as “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9), or “I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” (v. 10). Where could Jesus and his friends flee, still telling those around him that he’s the Savior and yet, for a little bit longer, be guaranteed a safe haven? Anywhere?

Some places are safer than others, not just for Jesus but for all of us. Some time ago, University of South Carolina scientists gathered decades of death-related data to determine where people were most at risk of falling victim to an unforeseen trip to the afterlife. Their study didn’t track the likelihood of death by crucifixion. Rather, the group created a county-by-county map of the United States, measuring the risk of hazard-related deaths due to natural events such as floods, earthquakes or extreme weather. Some dubbed it “The Death Map.” Although death will find each one of us some day, regardless of ZIP code, according to their findings, you might want to avoid certain areas of the country if you’re looking to extend your days — or, at the very least, to enjoy low insurance premiums – if that even exists any longer.

For example, hazard mortality is most prominent in the South, where scorching summer heat, hurricanes, tornadoes and flooding along the Gulf Coast are all a reality. Even in the Midwest, where residents like to think of life as safer and saner than in the coastal areas, there’s a significant chance of a hazard-related death, as people experience the combination of blistering hot summers, dangerous winter roads and Wizard of Oz-style twisters.

Surprisingly, according to the research, one place we should all consider moving to in order to avoid an untimely demise is Southern California. With its temperate climate, the area actually carries a lower-than-normal risk of a crazy, weather- or natural-disaster-related death. That is, when it isn’t on fire or being rattled by an earthquake. Go figure.

But back to Jesus. Where on a first-century map would he need to hide out in order to best avoid the “hazard” of being persecuted? “They persecuted me,” Jesus said. “They hated me without a cause” (John 15:20, 25). Where would Jesus be least likely to die for doing his thing?

Jerusalem had already proven to be no friend to Jesus. The center of Jewish spiritual life, it was filled with rabbis, other religious folk, Sadducees and Pharisees who each had an opinion about Jesus, none of it good. Jerusalem had a short fuse for guys such as Jesus, especially when they were successful in gathering a crowd. It was just a matter of time before things in the Holy City got crazy for Jesus and his crew, and on this Thursday, things were starting to boil over.

Nazareth seems like a natural, safe spot. After all, this was Jesus’ hometown. This was where he played as a boy and learned the carpentry trade as a young man. Nazareth was home to family and friends who knew him simply as “Jesus the son of Joseph” and the firstborn of Mary. Certainly, he and the disciples could continue the ministry there, free from threats and with incredible effectiveness, right?

Maybe, but going home can be difficult. Just ask the small-town boy who’s made it as a big-city lawyer or the little girl who’s gone to college, earned a degree and has now seen as much of the world as Mom and Dad. When Doctor Smith heads home to New Hampshire, she’s still little Sarah to some, and when the father of five visits his folks back in Iowa, to Mom and Dad he’s just one of the boys. Many times when we go home, people around us struggle to see just who we’ve become because they’re most comfortable with who we used to be.

Early in his ministry, Jesus experienced just this. Reading from the Scriptures in the synagogue at Nazareth, he publicly proclaimed that he was, in fact, the long-awaited Redeemer of God’s people promised by the prophet Isaiah (Luke 4:16-29; Isaiah 61:1-2). Yet even with Jesus’ “home-synagogue advantage,” the crowd didn’t react kindly. Jesus was driven out of the town to the edge of a cliff, where his own people attempted to kill him. Jesus was right on when he said, “No prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown” (Luke 4:24).

Like many people today who encounter Jesus, the folks in Nazareth didn’t want to deal with his claims that “this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). They wanted the Jesus who was just a good boy all grown up; a good man who made his folks proud. Not a “miracle-working” Jesus or a “one-and-only Messiah” Jesus, but a hometown boy who lived an honorable life. That’s it. Anything else is uncomfortable. So that means Nazareth is a “no.”

Northwest of Nazareth some 40 miles was the region of Caesarea Philippi. It was a part of the world known for its wild worship of pagan gods and goddesses. In Caesarea Philippi, worship of anything in any manner was fair game. Here, Jesus and the disciples would be just one crazy cult among many others. Certainly such an open, accepting place would be the perfect place for Jesus to set up shop, right?

But here’s the thing: Those tolerant folks who embrace the “all-roads-lead-to-the-same-God” language, and whose mantra, indeed, is the virtue of tolerance, are often the same people who are incredibly intolerant of those who argue that, no, Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). And Jesus’ message — while laden with love and acceptance of all — was certainly narrow, not broad, when discussing how one “comes to the Father.”

In fact, midway through his ministry, Jesus brought the disciples to Caesarea Philippi, to the epicenter of pagan worship, and it was there that Peter confessed that Jesus was, in fact, the Messiah (Mark 8:29). Later, Jesus turned to what was a crowd likely gathered to worship false gods promising fertility and pleasure and shouted these words, “For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:36-38).

As a general rule, people who’ve already found a god they enjoy don’t take it well when others tell them they’ve gotten it all wrong. This means that if Jesus were to have a hazard-free home in Caesarea Philippi, he’d likely have to become some kind of “all-paths” Jesus, or a “big-boat” Jesus or an “it doesn’t matter who or what or how you worship” kind of Jesus. He’d have to become someone other than the Jesus we see boldly teaching and preaching and healing in the gospels in order to avoid being persecuted and “hated” as he was now. So much for Caesarea Philippi.

The truth is that no matter where Jesus went with his message, at some point he would be met with hostility. Regardless of where he might go on a map, conflict with people who would refuse to confess him as Christ was inevitable. Then and now.

There are those who want a human Jesus, not a divine Jesus. There are those who’d rather have a Jesus made in their own image, a Jesus who allows them to keep worshiping their own gods. There are those who want a Jesus who’s just a good teacher of truth and not the ultimate embodiment of it. There will always be those who’d rather kill Jesus and stay comfortable than bow to him and be transformed.

Knowing this, Jesus has gathered the disciples together in the upper room to say goodbye. Jesus is determined not to avoid this conflict by skipping to some “safer” town but to confront it and to crush it. That’s how you deal with people who refuse to see the real you. You don’t run from them — at least not when you’re Jesus. No, you stay faithful, you stick to the truth and in the end you lovingly but boldly prove them wrong.

For Jesus that meant hiding out not in some “hazard-free zone” but rather right in the heart of the action, in Jerusalem proper, and ultimately heading to a cross.

It was there, on the cross, where the conflict between who Jesus claimed to be and who the world wanted him to be came to a head. It was there, as the world killed a man people thought was a lunatic and a liar, that Jesus initiated his reign as Lord, shedding blood for their sin and procuring their future in the Father’s family. And when those who killed him were confident they’d proven him wrong, three days later Jesus would quietly but confidently come back, assuring the world that everything he said was true.

On this night, however, Peter, sensing some serious trouble and not knowing what was in store or how necessary it was, urged Jesus to take him along for the journey. Jesus responded by saying, “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterward” (John 13:36). It was necessary for Jesus to confront this on his own. But very soon, Peter’s time to confront it would come, as would ours.

After Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, after Easter Morning and the reality of a resurrected Savior who’s confronted his accusers and proven himself victorious, it’s no longer Jesus’ turn to die. It’s ours. It’s our turn to take that message to different points on the map. We’re to take it to our friends, to our children and to our community. Some of those destinations will welcome the message of Jesus. Most will meet it with at least a little hostility and the potential for hazard. Just ask Peter. Church history, from the likes of Tertullian and Origen, tells us that he would follow in Christ’s footsteps. In Rome, while sharing the message of repentance and trust in a resurrected Savior, Peter himself would succumb to crucifixion (see John 21:18-19).

It’s our turn to die.

We are not only to willingly run to the conflict around us, but, first and foremost, we are to confront the conflict within us. We must confess that we, too, desire a Jesus other than the one we’re given in the gospels. We, too, desire a Jesus who meets our needs and lets us love other gods rather than a Jesus who rules our lives, drives us to repentance and forgives our sin. We must face the fact that often the person who presents the greatest hostility to Jesus in our life is we ourselves. And, in response, each day we are the ones who need to die — to our earthly desires, our weird and wicked ways — so the reality of Christ and the truth of Christ might live in us and be shown through us (1 Corinthians 15:31).

For Jesus and for his followers, there’s no hiding out in hazard-free zones or finding the safest place to live. Instead, he and we head right into the action with the unfiltered message of forgiveness found in God’s Son.

But tonight, on Maundy Thursday, it’s time for foot washings, a final meal and a few goodbyes. It’s safe now. It’s quiet now. But once Jesus’ disciples leave this room, for each one the confrontation will begin.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Monday, April 15, 2019

April 14, 2019
(Palm Sunday)
(Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 22:14 – 23:56)
The people who crucified Jesus did not know what they were doing.
Although they attempted to anger him, Jesus responded with forgiveness.
Although they mocked him with a sign that said, "King of the Jews," Jesus showed that he was the king of all God's people, the Messiah.
Although they challenged him to save himself, he saved the criminal next to him.
So we hear from our gospel reading from Luke today.
Jesus turned evil into good. And he continues to do the same today.
As we all know, a group of terrorists known as ISIS, terrorizes many people and many countries. There are multiple incidents one could list, but I will use one from about 4 years ago to illustrate today.
On February 12, 2015, 21 Coptic Christians were executed by Islamic State terrorists on a Libyan beach. Called the Copts, this group is the largest Christian community in the Middle East, and one of the oldest in the world. They trace their church back to Saint Mark, who introduced Christianity in Alexandria, Egypt, just a few years after the death and resurrection of Jesus.
These Coptic Christians were taken hostage and executed because of their faith in Jesus Christ. The Islamic State, also known as ISIS, released a video of the killings titled, "A Message Signed with Blood to the Nations of the Cross." ISIS clearly wanted to send a message to Christians around the world, to residents of what they call "the Nations of the Cross."
But like the people who killed Jesus, they did not know what they were doing. Instead of weakening the Christian faith, they strengthened it.
The 21 men who were murdered were working on a construction job as tradesmen. All were Egyptians except for one. A young African man from Ghana. A Greek Orthodox bishop said that the executioners demanded that each hostage identify his religion. Under threat of death, they could have denied that they were Christians. But instead, each of the Christians declared their trust in Jesus. Maintaining their faith in the face of evil, each man was beheaded.
The bishop, named Demetrios of Mokissos, describes this crime as "a grotesque example of the violence Christians face daily in Libya, Iraq, Syria and anywhere that ISIS prosecutes its murderous campaign against anyone it deems an infidel." But as horrible as these executions were, the story has an unexpected and maybe even a little inspirational ending.
The young African man who was with the Egyptians was not a Christian when he was captured. But when the ISIS terrorists challenged him to declare his faith, he replied: "Their God is my God."
What a statement! How many of us would have the courage to say those words if we were in his situation? "Their God is my God."
After hearing those words, the terrorists killed him. But in that moment, the young man became a Christian. Jesus said to him, as he said to the man on the next cross, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."
Bishop Demetrios concludes, "The ISIS murderers seek to demoralize Christians with acts like the slaughter on a Libyan beach. Instead they stir our wonder at the courage and devotion inspired by God's love." The terrorists who killed that young man did not know what they were doing.
On this Sunday, we are confronted by a king who dies on a cross. Instead of saving himself, Jesus saves others. Rather than crying out in anger, he forgives the people who kill him. Both then and now, Jesus brings good out of evil.
What a difference it makes when people see Christ as their king, even though that king is hanging on a cross. The criminal next to Jesus did this when he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." The young African man on the Libyan beach did this when he pointed to the Coptic Christians and said, "Their God is my God."
Both the criminal and the young African man saw Christ as king. They grasped his power and trusted him to save them. In the face of death, they put their complete faith in a crucified Lord.
Such stories stir our wonder. But they also leave us with a question: Are we living our Christian faith in such a way that people will look to us and say, "Their God is my God"? The challenge for us is to speak in ways that reveal authentic faith and act in ways that show real courage and devotion. Only when people are inspired by what Christians say and do will they be willing to accept Christ as their king.
Jesus continues to turn evil into good on Libyan beaches and in American cities. Sometimes the evil is human violence, which falls under the category of moral evil -- evil that is done by a sinful human being. But there is another category called natural evil, which is often attached to painful experiences that cannot be blamed on any person. Unlike the killing of Coptic Christians, this category of evil does not directly involve human choices and is usually the result of a natural process. Cancer, genetic defects, tornadoes, earthquakes -- these can be described as natural evil, because they arise out of nature and cause tremendous suffering. Although, I do not personally care for the term “natural evil” that is term applied by theologians for bad things that happen naturally. But, that is a topic for another time.
Fortunately, Christ has power over all forms of evil, moral or natural. And more often than not, he fights evil through people who follow him with courage and devotion.
Rodger Nishioka is a Presbyterian seminary professor and Christian educator who is convinced that actions speak louder than words, and that Christian service provides new ways of knowing Jesus today. "Words are lovely," he says, "but in the 21st century, when we have rhetoric everywhere, maybe people are paying attention to how you and I live, to what we do."
Nishioka tells the story of a young couple who moved from New Jersey to Iowa to start their careers. They visited a couple of churches but didn't join a congregation. Then the wife discovered that she had Stage 4 breast cancer and was terrified. She entered the hospital for surgery, and was visited by the pastor of one of the churches they had attended.
Once home, the young wife received a visit from one of the women of the church. She brought a casserole and said that she and her fellow church members had been praying for the woman and her husband. The wife thanked her and asked how much she owed her for the casserole. The woman said, "Sweetheart, this is free." They talked for a while, and then the church woman helped by cleaning the house.
Next day, there was another knock on the door. This time it was a man from the church bringing another dinner. The young wife offered to pay him, and he said, "No, this is free. This is what we do." Then he offered to fix her screen door, and he went out and got his tools and fixed it.
The congregation brought a meal to this couple every day for six months. The two had so much in their freezer that they invited people from their workplaces to a meal at their house. Their colleagues asked, "Where did you get this food?"
They replied, "It comes from our church." Note the pronoun: Our church.
Their colleagues then asked, "What church do you go to?"
What made the difference was actions, not words -- how Christians were living and what Christians were doing. In this Iowa community, young adults were looking at authentic Christian devotion and saying: Their God is my God. And once again, Jesus the King was bringing good out of evil and life out of death. We here at St. Francis have done similar acts of kindness for others – some instances even to help myself personally when I needed help. This is what we are called to do.
However, such stories stir our wonder. And although, we seem to do this to some degree in our small little parish, I wonder if someone on the internet reading this sermon will be motivated to make our God their God and help others in Jesus’ name.
Nishioka, continues "Maybe in the 21st century, folks are looking for a group of believers who act for the glory of God." Not for themselves, but for the glory of God. Not for themselves, but for Jesus.
Believers like the Coptic Christians on the Libyan beach. And like the men and women of the Iowa church.
All of us are challenged to take actions that will cause people to look at us and say, "Their God is my God."
Finding ways to help the homeless on cold winter nights so that they will not die on the streets of hypothermia.
Mentoring teenagers who are trying to figure out who they are, and what they are supposed to do with their lives.
Building medical clinics in developing countries, so that lives will not be lost to AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.
Taking the time to teach children the stories of Jesus, and show them the love of Jesus.
Fighting the cancers of racism and prejudice by building relationships with neighbors of different races and nationalities, all of whom carry within them the image of God.
Evil comes in many forms, both moral evil and natural evil. Some is delivered by sinful people, while some is the result of the spread of cancerous cells. But Jesus has the power to overcome it all, and to bring life out of death in every time and place and situation. Our mission is to act in ways that show that we are willing to follow Jesus with courage and devotion. We can do more than simply putting cloaks on the ground for him or waving palm branches, we can help him in our fellow humans in need.

If we act as followers of Christ, Jesus will remember us and welcome us into his kingdom. And for some people around us, our God will become their God.
Let us pray.
For all of God’s holy Church, that we may be a visible sign to others as we follow the way of the cross in the world today. We pray to the Lord.
For peace in areas of the world beset by war, hostility, and conflict, especially in the lands where Jesus walked. We pray to the Lord.
For those who are in prison, that they may find comfort in the Lord and not lose hope. We pray to the Lord.
That Jesus’ reliance on God through his passion and death may be a model for us in our trials and suffering. We pray to the Lord.
For those who feel abandoned, who feel they have no one to turn to, that they may realize that they can always turn to God and that God will never abandon them. We pray to the Lord.
During this Holy Week, we pray for the grace to reflect on the Way of the Cross and on the sufferings which Christ endured out of love for us. We pray to the Lord.
Lord, we pray for unity among all Christians and that during this Holy Week those who believe in you, who hope in you and who love you, will worship you in harmony and with the love you so richly deserve. We pray to the Lord.
For the members and churches in Louisiana that were burned due to an arsonist who targeted these churches which were African American churches. First, may God guide all peoples to stop racial bigotry; secondly, for these churches to find comfort and help as they rebuild their houses of worship. May love win over hate in this horrendous crime. We pray to the Lord.
For our government leaders to realize that the immigration crisis should be viewed as a humanitarian crisis and offer proper help to these people fleeing in hopes of finding a better life.
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
Lord Almighty and ever-loving God, we present our prayers to you today. Your will guided your Son while he was with us here on earth. May we accept your will as your answer to our needs. We ask this through your Son, Jesus Christ, who is our Lord and Savior for ever and ever. Amen
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Sunday, April 7, 2019

April 7, 2019
The Fifth Sunday in Lent
(Philippians 3:8-14; John 8:1-11)
On Thursday I read an article in the newspaper about a new law imposed in the far-east country of Brunei. In it, it said: “A harsh new criminal law in Brunei — which includes death by stoning for sex between men or for adultery, and amputation of limbs for theft — went into effect on Wednesday, despite an international outcry from other countries, rights groups, celebrities and students.
Brunei, a tiny monarchy on the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia, based its new penal code on Shariah, Islamic law based on the Quran and other writings, though interpretations of Shariah can vary widely.”
Well, today’s Gospel reading couldn’t be timed better.
Now as many of you know, I have always been a fan of the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen. He was popular Catholic radio personality, televangelist, writer (73 books) and retreat giver, among many other noted accomplishments. He was especially popular in the 30’s through the 60’s. Before Protestant televangelists like Oral Roberts, Pat Robertson, Jim baker, Joel Osteen, and many others, Archbishop Sheen had already become successful in this genre.
His show, scheduled in a primetime slot on Tuesday nights at 8:00 p.m., was not expected to challenge the ratings giants at the time of Milton Berle and Frank Sinatra, but did surprisingly well. Berle, known to many early television viewers as "Uncle Miltie" and for using ancient vaudeville material, joked about Sheen, "He uses old material, too", and observed that "if I'm going to be eased off the top by anyone, it's better that I lose to the One for whom Bishop Sheen is speaking." Sheen responded in jest that maybe people should start calling him "Uncle Fultie".
The Roman Catholic Church is in the process of his canonization to sainthood and is the first of three levels heading toward this goal. However, I already refer to him as St. Fulton Sheen, fore in my mind, he is.
In his retreats, on radio and television and his books, there is a sermon he gave that has just as an imperative message today as it did then. I have always enjoyed this sermon, and so, today, instead of something crafted as my own, I will read this sermon Archbishop Sheen gave on the topic of today’s Gospel.
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The day after the attempted arrest, a scene took place in which Innocence refused to condemn a sinner. The dilemma of justice and mercy was involved—a dilemma that lay at the heart of the Incarnation. If God is merciful, shall He not forgive sinners? If God is just, shall He not punish them or force them to make amends for their crimes? Being all holy, He must hate sin, otherwise He would not be Goodness. But being all merciful, should He not, like a kind of grandfather, be indifferent to the children smashing the commandments? Somehow or other, His death on the Cross and Resurrection were involved in the answer to this dilemma.
The night before this scene took place, Sacred Scripture reveals one of the most vivid contrasts in all literature; and it is done in two sentences. Our Lord had been teaching all day in the temple; when night came, the Gospel speaks first of Our Lord’s enemies who had been tantalizing and haranguing Him:
And they went back each to his own house.
(JOHN 7:53)
But of Our Lord it is simply said:
Jesus meanwhile went to the Mount of Olives.
(JOHN 8:1)
Among all those who were in the temple—friends or foes—there was not one without a house, except Our Lord. Truly He said of Himself:
Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air their resting places; The Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.
(LUKE 9:58)
In all Jerusalem, He probably was the only homeless and houseless man. While men went to their houses to take counsel with their fellow men, He went to the Mount of Olives to consult not with flesh and blood, but with His Father. He knew that in a short time this Garden would be a sacred retreat where He would sweat large drops of blood in His terrible conflict with the powers of evil. During the night, He slept Eastern-fashion on the green turf under ancient olive trees so twisted and gnarled in their passion of growth as to foreshadow the tortuous Passion that would be His own.
The season was the Feast of Tabernacles, which brought not only a vast concourse of people from all over the world but also produced general excitement, much prayer, and some relaxation. It was only natural that it should degenerate into an occasional case, here and there, of license and immorality. Such had evidently happened. For early the next morning, as Our Lord appeared at the temple and began to teach, the Scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman who had been found committing adultery. So set were they on their barren controversy with the Messiah that they did not scruple to use a woman’s shame to score a point. Apparently, there was no question about her guilt. The indelicate, almost indecent way in which the men told the story, reveals that the facts could not be challenged. They said:
Master, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery.
(JOHN 8:4)
Caught in the act! What sneaking, spying, and rottenness are hidden in their words! The accusers brought her into the midst of the crowd while Our Blessed Lord was teaching. The “holier than thou” men who had caught her in the act were very anxious that she should be publicly paraded, even to the point of interrupting the discourse of Our Blessed Lord. Human nature is base when it headlines and parades crimes of others before their fellow men. The pot thinks it is clean if it calls the kettle black. Some faces are never so [happy] as when regaling a scandal, which the generous heart would cover and the devout heart pray over. The more base and corrupt a man, the more ready is he to charge crimes to others. Those who want credit for good character foolishly believe that the best way to get it is to denounce others. Vicious people like a monopoly on their vices, and when they find others with the same vices, they condemn them with an intensity that the good never feel. All one has to do to learn the faults of men is to listen to their favorite charges against others. In those days there were no scandal columns (gossip magazines, or opinion columns in newspapers, etc.), but there were scandalmongers. Dragging her into full view of the crowd was their way of dragging her into publicity. The hooting throng pushed her forward, the woman hid her face in her hands and pulled her veil over her head to shield her shame. As they dragged their trembling prisoner, exposed before the curious eyes of men to the bitterest degradation that any Eastern woman could suffer, they said to Our Blessed Lord with feigned humility:
Master, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Moses in his law, prescribed that such persons should be stoned to death; what of Thee? What is Thy sentence?
(JOHN 8:4, 5)
They were right in saying that the Law of Moses ordered stoning for adultery. Our Lord instinctively discerned their mock respect in calling Him “Master” He knew that it was merely a cloak for their own sinister designs. On the one hand, His soul shrank from the spectacle before Him; for He had taught the sanctity of marriage, and this woman had violated it. On the other hand, He knew that the Scribes and Pharisees saw in the incident nothing but a chance of tripping Him in His speech. He knew they were ready to use her as the passive instrument of their own hatred against Him—not because they were morally indignant at a sin, nor vigilant of the rights of God, but only to provoke the people against Him.
A double trick was hidden in presenting her to Our Blessed Lord. First of all, because of the conflict between the Jews and the Romans. The Romans, who were the conquerors of the country, had reserved to themselves the right to put anyone to death. But there was another side; the Law of Moses was that a woman who had been taken in adultery should be stoned. Here was the dilemma in which they put Him: If Our Blessed Lord let the woman off without the death penalty, He would be disobeying the Law of Moses; but if He respected the Law of Moses, and said that she should be stoned because of adultery, then He would be encouraging the breaking of the Roman law. In either case He would be caught. The people would oppose Him for violating the Mosaic Law, while the Roman courts would charge Him with violating their law. He was either a heretic to Moses or a traitor to the Romans.
There was still another trick in their question. Either He would have to condemn the woman, or release her. If He condemned her, they would say He was not merciful; but He called Himself merciful. He had taken dinner with publicans and sinners, He allowed a common woman to wash His feet at dinner; should He condemn her, He could no longer say that He was a “friend of sinners.” Did He not say?
That is what the Son of Man has come for, to search out and save what was lost.
(LUKE 19:10)
On the other hand, if He released her, then He would be acting in contradiction to the Sacred Law of Moses, which He had come to fulfill. Did He not say?
Do not think that I have come to set aside the Law and the Prophets; I have not come to set them aside, but to bring them to perfection.
(MATTHEW 5:17)
Since He said He was God, the Law of Moses must have come from Him. If He disobeyed that Law, He was negating His own Divinity. Hence their questions, “Moses in his Law prescribed that such persons should be stoned to death; what of Thee? What is Thy sentence?”
It would be a hard question for a mere man to solve, but He was God as well as man. He Who had already reconciled justice and mercy in His Incarnation now applied it further as He leaned over and wrote something on the ground—it is the only time (that we know of from Scripture) in the life of Our Blessed Lord that He ever wrote. What He wrote, no man knows. The Gospel simply says:
Jesus bent down and began writing on the ground with His finger.
(JOHN 8:6)
They had invoked the Law of Moses. So would He! Whence did the Law of Moses come? Who wrote it? Whose finger? The Book of Exodus answers:
With that, Moses came down from the mountain, carrying in his hand the two tablets of the law, with writing on either side, God’s workmanship; a Divine hand had traced the characters they bore.
(EXODUS 32:15–15)
They reminded Him of the Law! He in turn reminded them that He had written the Law! The same finger, in a symbolical sense, which was now writing in the tablets of stone of the temple floor, also wrote on the tablets of stone on Sinai! Had they eyes to see the Giver of the Law of Moses standing before them? But they were so bent on ensnaring Him in His speech that they ignored the writing and kept on hurling questions; so sure were they that they had trapped Him.
When He found that they continued to question Him, He looked up and said to them, whichever of you is free from sin shall cast the first stone at her. Then He bent down again, and went on writing on the ground.
(JOHN 8:7, 8)
Moses had written on stone his Law of death against unchastity. Our Lord would not destroy the Mosaic Law, but perfect it by enunciating a higher Law: none but the pure may judge! He was summoning a new jury; only the innocent may condemn! He looked from the Law to conscience, and from the judgment of men to the judgment of God. Those who have guilt on their souls must withhold judgment.
A rusty old shield one day prayed, “O sun, illumine me” and the sun answered, “First, polish yourself.” Should, therefore, this woman be judged by men who were guilty? It was a solemn affirmation that only the sinless have a right to judge. If on this earth there is anybody really innocent, it will be found that his mercy is stronger than his justice. True it is that a judge on the bench may very often condemn a criminal for a crime of which he himself is guilty; but in his official capacity he acts in God’s name, not in his own. These self-constituted accusers were no fit subjects to defend or execute the Mosaic Law. Our Blessed Lord was putting in one sentence what He had already said in the Sermon on the Mount.
Do not judge others, or you yourselves will be judged. As you have judged, so you will be judged, by the same rule; award shall be made you as you have made award, in the same measure. How is it that thou canst see the speck of dust which is in thy brother’s eye, and art not aware of the beam which is in thy own? By what right wilt thou say to thy brother, wait, let me rid thy eye of that speck, when there is a beam all the while in thy own? Thou hypocrite, take the beam out thy own eye first, and so thou shalt have clear sight to rid thy brother’s of the speck.
(MATTHEW 7:1–1)
As He wrote on the ground, the Scribes and the Pharisees had stones in their hands ready to execute judgment. One would reach to his neighbor’s hand, take out his stone, weigh both in his own hand to see which was the heavier, and give the lighter one back, that he might cast the heavier one at the woman. Some of these men had kept themselves from her vice, because they had other vices. Some are exempt from certain vices simply because of the presence of other vices. Just as one disease is cured by another disease, so one vice often excludes another vice; the alcoholic may not be the thief, though he is often a liar; and the thief, like Judas Iscariot, may not necessarily be the adulterer, though the movies always paint Judas that way. There are many people who sin by pride, by avarice, by the craving for power, and think that they are virtuous simply because these sins in modern society bear the note of respectability. The respectable sins are the more odious, for Our Lord said that they make men like “whitened sepulchers, outside clean, inside full of dead men’s bones.” The baser sins of the poor create public burdens, such as social service and prisons, and are frowned upon; but the respectable sins, such as corruption in high public office, disloyalty to country, teaching of evil in universities, are excused, ignored or even praised as virtues.
Our Lord here implied that He even regarded the respectable sins as more odious than those which society reproved. He never condemned those whom society condemned, for they had already been condemned. But He did condemn those who sinned and who denied that they were sinners.
He now looked up at each in turn, beginning with the eldest; it was one of those calm penetrating looks which anticipate the last judgment.
And they began to go out one by one, beginning with the eldest.
(JOHN 8:9)
Perhaps the older they were, the more they had sinned. He did not condemn them; rather he made them condemn themselves. Perhaps He looked up at one old man, and his conscience glowed with the word “thief”—and he dropped his stone and fled. A still younger one saw his conscience charge him as “murderer”, and he left; one by one they left until only one young man was left. As the Savior gazed at this last survivor, it could have been “adulterer” that his conscience charged him; he dropped his stone and fled. No one was left!
But why did He stoop over and write again? Since they appealed to the Mosaic Law; so would He reappeal. Moses broke the first tablets on which the finger of God had written, when he found his people adoring the golden calf. So God wrote a second tablet of stone, and this was brought into the Ark of the Covenant, where it was put on the mercy seat and sprinkled with innocent blood. Such would be the way the Law of Moses would be brought to perfection by the sprinkling with Blood—the Blood of the Lamb.
By defending the woman, Christ proved Himself a friend of sinners, but only of those who admitted that they were sinners. He had to go to the social outcasts to find bigness of heart and unmeasured generosity which, according to Him, constituted the very essence of love. Though they were sinners, their love lifted them above the self-wise and the self-sufficient, who never bent their knees in prayer for pardon. He came to put a harlot above a Pharisee, a penitent robber above a High Priest, and a prodigal son above his exemplary brother. To all the phonies and fakers who would say that they could not join the Church because His Church was not holy enough, He would ask, “How holy must the Church be before you will enter into it?” If the Church were as holy as they wanted it to be, they would never be allowed into it! In every other religion under the sun, in every Eastern religion from Buddhism to Confucianism, there must always be some purification before one can commune with God. But Our Blessed Lord brought a religion where the admission of sin is the condition of coming to Him. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are ill.”
He looked up to the woman, who was standing alone, and asked her:
Woman where are thy accusers? Has no one condemned thee?
(JOHN 8:11)
The Mosaic Law required two witnesses to a crime before sentence could be carried out; they were even to assist in executing sentence. But these so-called defenders of the Mosaic Law were no longer present to bear witness. Notice, Our Blessed Lord called her “woman.” There were many other names that He might have given her; but He made her stand for all the women of the world who had aspirations for cleanliness and holiness in union with Him. There was a touch of playful irony in His first question. “Woman, where are they?” He was drawing attention to the fact that she was alone! He had excluded her accusers. In that solitariness He asked:
Has no one condemned thee?
She answered:
No one, Lord.
If there was no one to cast the stone, neither would He. She who came to Him as a Judge, found Him a Savior. The accusers called Him “Master” she called Him, not “Sir,” but “Lord,” as if to recognize that she was standing here in the presence of Someone Who was infinitely superior to herself. And her faith in Him was justified, for He turned to her and said:
I will not condemn thee either. Go and do not sin again henceforward.
(JOHN 8:11)
But why would He not condemn her? Because He would be condemned for her. Innocence would not condemn, because Innocence would suffer for the guilty. Justice would be saved, for He would pay the debt of her sins; mercy would be saved, for the merits of His death would apply to her soul. Justice is first, then mercy; first the satisfaction, then the pardon. Our Lord really was the only One in that crowd who had the right to take up the stone to execute judgment against her, because He was without sin. On the other hand, He did not make light of sin, for He assumed its burden. Forgiveness cost something and the full price would be paid on the hill of the three Crosses where justice would be satisfied and mercy extended. It was this release from the slavery of sin that He called the beautiful name of freedom.
Why then, if it is the Son Who makes you free men, you will have freedom in earnest.
(JOHN 8:36)
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One final word of my own. Real people make mistakes. Real people are flawed. This isn’t to be characterized as justification for those who commit evil, but it is meant as a reminder that none of us are perfect in the eyes of God. There are most certainly various things that should never happen; murder, pedophilia, terrorism, adultery and the like. In a world that seems intent on imposing extreme views on others, when Christ’s actions and words show a far more merciful reaction, we would do well to show a Progressive Christian perspective that is very justified in the example of Christ. We need to love like God loves – fully and unconditionally – always.
As an example, clergy folk, like myself, are sometimes expected to be perfect, but we are not nearly as perfect as others want us to be, nor can we be, because we are flawed and human also. Hopefully, we are better and more holy in ways that we should be. I try to be. So, in closing, we all need to be better Christians and remember how Christ treated those caught in sin and do the same toward those in our lives. The words of ++Fulton Sheen are so poignant and worth repeating an additional time:
To all the phonies and fakers who would say that they could not join the Church because His Church was not holy enough, He would ask, “How holy must the Church be before you will enter into it?” If the Church were as holy as they wanted it to be, they would never be allowed into it!
This is why Christ instituted the Church in the first place; because we all need to become holy and in the Church is sort of how we do it!
Let us pray.
In today’s gospel Jesus lays out a challenge to us when he says “If there is one of you who has not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her”. We pray for the grace to be kind and charitable to our friends and neighbors, to not condemn others and to recognize, that as Christians, God is our only judge. We pray to the Lord.                        
We pray for the grace to forgive those who we think have wronged us, our family or our friends and for a permanent spirit of reconciliation in our daily lives. We pray to the Lord.                        
We pray for an end to intolerance in the world and in our own country. We pray particularly for a recognition that we are all the created wonder of our loving God and Father. We pray to the Lord.                        
On this Fifth Sunday of Lent, we pray for all those engaged in penitential exercises and works of charity, that their commitment, sacrifices and good intentions be recognized and rewarded by the Lord. We pray to the Lord.    
We pray that all peoples will take on a spirit of life, that all terrorism and killing of others will be replaced with respect, love, and tolerance. We pray to the Lord.
That we all Christians remember that if the Church were only for the holy, not one of us would be allowed in it, and for those who no longer attend church, may come back in full realization there is always a church that will be welcoming and fulfilling and that Christ is calling you. We pray to the Lord.                
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
Merciful God, we know that we are all sinners. Help us to be compassionate toward one another and to remember that you are always ready to offer us forgiveness and new life. God of love and mercy, you sent your only Son to us to redeem us from our sins. Look with mercy upon us now as we pray for all those in need. We ask all this through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA USA