Tuesday, November 12, 2019

November 10, 2019
The Twenty-First Sunday after Trinity
(2 Thessalonians 2:13 – 3:5; Luke 20:27-38)
We are being bombarded in the media about the happenings in the White House. A constant back and forth of allegations, resignations, firings, quid pro quo’s, harassments, lies, fake news, denials, cover-ups, threats, and ad nauseam. Depending upon one’s point of view, party affiliation and a plethora of any number of things, we are challenged to find the truth. Of course, we are mostly challenge to either believe the current person in the oval office is either a lunatic, or merely a victim. Are the Democrats correct, or are the Republicans? It appears the country is divided and most of you already know my opinion.
Our modern situation isn’t really a lot different than what has been experienced since the creation of the world. In fact, we see in today’s Gospel reading, it can take place in many forms and topics. In the time of Jesus, there were a variation of Democrats and Republicans – in the religious world that is – the Sadducees and the Pharisees.
The Sadducees and Pharisees were the major sects in Judaism at the time of Jesus. We know that Jesus grew up in the ways and teachings of the Pharisees, so he is very familiar with the sect from the inside, much like one who works in the administration of the White House.
In Luke’s Gospel we’ve heard a lot about the Pharisees and most of it hasn’t been positive. They accuse Jesus of blasphemy, complain when he eats with sinners, and reproach him for breaking the law when he heals on the Sabbath. Jesus in turn paints the Pharisees as hypocrites and lovers of money. By contrast we read about the Sadducees only once. With this inequality of attention, it may come as a surprise that the Pharisees enjoyed the support of the common people, like fishermen and townspeople that Jesus spent most of his time with, while the aristocratic Sadducees weren’t popular.
The Sadducees don’t seem to take any notice of Jesus until the very end of his life when he is in Jerusalem where they are. They begin to worry that he will start a revolt against their own authority and against the Roman Empire. In the Gospel passage today, the Sadducees aren’t concerned about implications of marriage and the resurrection. Nope, that is all fake news! Their intent is to undermine Jesus’ message. They want to expose the improbably absurd notion of life after death.
The Sadducees pose a ridiculous scenario to Jesus in the hopes to trip him up. But Jesus cuts through the heart of the question about the resurrection of the dead. Do we really believe that God has authority over life and earth and the ability to bring life from death? Jesus is about to live his certainty in the resurrection by submitting to death. He knows, as he tells the Sadducees, that God is the God of the living – there is no death in him.
Theological sophistication is on display today when Jesus responds to the derogatory trick question about resurrection. While Jesus is in the Jerusalem temple after making his lengthy journey, he faces a question from a powerful party of religious leaders. The Sadducees did not accept resurrection, as they focused squarely on Mosaic Law, the first five books of the Bible. And in those books the word resurrection is not mentioned. Instead, it is a term more closely associated with the book of Daniel or even 2 Maccabees, which are not accepted by the Sadducees as authoritative.
So, the question the Sadducees pose to Jesus is meant to illustrate how ridiculous the concept of resurrection is. This is reminder that not all Jews of Jesus’ day had similar beliefs. There were differences in understanding and applying the Jewish faith, much as there are differences among Jews today – and apparently, Democrats and Republicans. For that matter there are differences among the different Catholic churches, and then again between Catholic and Protestant churches and Christians in general.
But the question allows Jesus the chance to correct their misunderstanding, using Mosaic Law, something they would have accepted as authoritative. Jesus’ words indicate there is no marriage in the afterlife, thereby undercutting the foundation of their question. His answer wasn’t meant to say that if your spouse dies and goes on to heaven and then you also die and go to heaven that your spouse will not longer want you or love you, because surely, they will. This answer wasn’t meant to touch on that, but on resurrection itself.
Jesus’ response was dealing with resurrection - that resurrection was not for all, but only for those deemed worthy. This reflects a common understanding at that time by those who believed in resurrection. They held that only the just were raised as a reward for their right conduct. In later centuries Christians wondered if the unjust would be raised also, if only to be punished eternally. But that is not the question that Jesus faced. For him, the question was a literal understanding of resurrection to such a degree that it involved marriage in the afterlife. Jesus continues his counterargument by citing Mosaic Law and the words of Moses, who spoke of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all of whom died centuries before Moses.
As God is the God of the living, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob must be alive. This is a clever twist on a familiar passage, and it demonstrates the theological sophistication of this Jew from the backwaters of Galilee. He was in Jerusalem now, arguing with the learned in the Temple. His audience was most likely growing, and after this encounter so too was the opposition he faced.
Jesus is not alone in believing in the resurrection of the dead. In 2 Maccabees 7 we hear the martyrdom of a mother and her seven sons. Rather than profane their ancestral beliefs, the brothers willingly submit to execution, each first stating complete trust that “the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever.” The question of resurrection is one that divided the two main Jewish religious groups of Jesus’ day, hence why the Sadducees asked him the question, knowing that his upbringing was Pharisaic. In his preaching and teaching Jesus seems to offer a challenge and an invitation to everyone he meets. He calls the tax collectors to repentance, the self-righteous to humility, and the complacent to continue to delve into the mystery of God.
Today’s Gospel is one of the few stories where we hear Jesus’ thoughts on the question of resurrection. Of course, one of the reasons it’s so interesting is that we know he will experience resurrection after a humiliating public death less than a week later. Though resurrection is a central element of the Christian faith, it continues to be debated through the centuries. Even St. Paul had issues with preaching the resurrection, as the longest chapter in any of his letters – 1 Corinthians 15 – deals entirely with the topic, while some of the pastoral letters indicate that other Christians continued to misunderstand resurrection. The Apostolic Fathers also address the issue, as do many others in every century including our own.
So, even as we struggle to grasp what is the truth in our day, we usually can all agree that we are Americans, even if we hold different political views. In the end, we choices to make – to choose truth or to choose fake. Throughout his ministry Jesus calls people away from boxes in which they have placed God. He preaches and reveals a God beyond human comprehension. In the Sadducees and the Pharisees, Jesus is talking to the religious people of his day, the ones who faithfully visited the Temple and studied in the synagogue. The ones that felt they had the most claim on Judaism of the time. There is a lesson here for us also. Like the Sadducees do we try to control God, or to claim that we understand who God is and what God can do? If so, Jesus tells us, “Look again.” This is called faith!
Let us pray.
In today’s gospel Jesus confirms that although the body may die, we ourselves are children of the resurrection, who become as angels, sons and daughters of our God. We pray that we never lose sight of our ultimate destination and the promise of eternal life in the glorious presence of the Father who loves us with an everlasting love. We pray to the Lord.
In this month of November, we remember our dead in a very special way. Let us today celebrate the lives of our beloved ones and members of our community who have departed this life and pray that they may enjoy the blessings of God’s compassion and love eternally. We pray to the Lord.                  
We pray for all those who have recently lost loved ones and are in mourning. We pray that they may find real hope and consolation in Christ’s promise of everlasting life and in that the spirit of their loved one is ever present in their lives. We pray to the Lord.                
We pray for those who are sick and unwell, particularly those with cancer and for those currently undergoing treatment. We pray for their recovery and that in their darkest moments the care of friends and neighbors may bring them hope and peace. We pray to the Lord.
That those elected to political office will serve their people with honesty, and in their policies show care for those deprived of justice. We pray to the Lord.
That the rectory be completed quickly, under budget, with honestly, integrity and according to plan. We pray to the Lord.
For all veterans, that they may know God’s presence in their hearts, be healed of trauma and painful memories, and be blessed with health and well-being. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace of sacrificial love, that we may be open to all the ways God calls us to lay down our lives in witness to the truth and in loving service of others. 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.
Father help us to show our love of thee by serving you and loving others with generous hearts and willing hands. Loving God, your Son taught us that you are God of the living and that for you, all are alive. Trusting in that hope, we ask you to care for all those who have died and listen to these prayers. God of everlasting life keep us hopeful in what lies beyond, while we struggle to live life fully each and every day. Help us to be people of faith and hope, who encourage those who have lost hope. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA
http://www.stfrancisucc.org/donate.html

Sunday, November 3, 2019

November 3, 2019
All Saints/All Souls Sunday
(Romans 5:5-11; John 6:37-40)
On the feast of All Saints the Church assigns the Beatitudes of the Gospel of Matthew. I sometimes wonder what a life of Christ would look like in a different age or culture, or from different perspectives. For this, we have the Saints. Each Saint takes as a keynote the life and mission of Jesus and transforms it into something of his or her own expression of the Christian life.
St. Francis of Assisi showed us how it was done in the thirteenth-century Italy. St. Ignatius of Loyola showed how this is done in Reformation Spain. Mother Teresa showed us how it was done in the late twentieth-century. Our task is do this in our own place and time.
The Gospel for All Saints begins with Jesus ascending the mountain, sitting down, and issuing these Beatitudes which comes across like an echo of the Sinai covenant when God issued the Law to Moses. It gives the feeling, to the reader, that Matthew is saying this teaching of Jesus is the new Law. In fact, chapters 5 through 7 are referred to as the Sermon on the Mount, opened by the Beatitudes. The three chapters could very well be considered the new “Law” to his followers.
These Beatitudes have a significant importance not only to All Saints Day, of which this reading is assigned, but also for All Souls day. The nine Beatitudes that Matthew gives us are translated as “Happy” as in “Happy are the poor in spirit.” These Beatitudes express a different way of approaching the world. The poor in spirit in Jesus’ day were certainly not considered “blessed” or “happy,” but for Jesus theirs was the kingdom of heaven. For Jesus those mourning would be comforted and the meek would inherit the earth. A reversal was in order to be brought by God himself. The kingdoms of this world do not alleviate all poverty and mourning. But God will! This doesn’t mean we don’t work to alleviate suffering, poverty, and the like, but it will happen once and for all with God himself as King.
As the Beatitudes are often considered a self-portrait of Jesus, we might apply them to ourselves as a modern variation of disciples. The disciples, like Jesus himself, are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. They are merciful, clean of heart, and peacemakers. Though God will bring about his kingdom in the end, that does not excuse us from doing the work of justice or bringing about peace.
The examples of the saints shows us what the Christian life, the self-portrait of Jesus, looks like throughout history.  We have many examples, from whom we should emulate, so as we live the Beatitudes in our time and place.
On All Saints, we celebrate those heroes of the faith who have gone before us as exemplars, and there are thousands. These are the ones who have been “officially” proclaimed by the Church as saints. But we know there are many more saints than those. Even St. Paul addressed his letters to the “saints” in the various locales to which he wrote. The meaning behind Paul’s usage of “saints” is that of one who is set apart for the service of God. Many of whom may have led exceptional lives in a service to God, but were not given the formal title of “Saint.”
Those who did not obtain a formal title are likely those members of our family who have gone before us in faith. Such as, our parents, grandparents, friends with all their siblings and extended families as well. Christianity is a faith that is passed down through storytelling, one person telling what God has done through Christ. Many stories are in the Bible, but after two thousand years we have many more stories of heroic figures of faith to tell. And these heroes of faith extend to those we have known and loved.
The Gospel reading today reminds us that Jesus does not reject anyone who comes to him. In our denomination we teach this without prejudice, because many churches will claim this, however they will inhibit the Eucharist from those they deem not worthy. (Think of the incident in the news this past week about Presidential Candidate Joe Biden being denied Communion by a priest, because of Biden’s view on abortion. Joe Biden would be welcomed to our altar! The Eucharist is not a tool or weapon to make the faithful toe a line or teaching. It is a gift and supernatural grace given to us freely!) Shy of you committing murder front and center here in the church before me while about to administer communion to you, I (we) presume nothing about your soul, nor will any race or other factor, make you unworthy in our eyes. And this, we believe, is how Christ viewed it. We teach in his example.
Nor does Jesus lose anything given to him. On the last day he will raise them up! This hope of eternal life and reconnecting with those we love who have gone before us is an essential element of Christian faith. We have this hope precisely because Jesus himself rose from the dead and promised he would do the same for those who come to him.
As the weather is turning cooler and we make a month and a half approach to winter, it seems an appropriate time to recall those who have gone before us. All lived lives of Christian hope built on the promise of Jesus to raise them up on the last day. This is our hope too, inspired by that same promise. And there will be Christians who will come after us who might be remembering us too. We are in a long line of those who believe in Jesus, the one sent by the Father. And with that belief comes eternal life. Our own personal death is not the end, and Jesus’ own death was not the end for him. Resurrection and new life await. This is not a restoration of the old, but something new and transformative when we will all be united in him, generations past and those still to come.
This is the Paschal mystery where dying leads to new life. One end leads to a beginning, and the tomb opens to the resurrection. With the Beatitudes as our new “Law” and guide from Jesus, we have hope. Happy are we who have hope. On these days of commemoration of all the Saints and the faithful departed, let us celebrate their lives by sharing stories of faith, enkindling in us that Christian Hope which inspires. When darkness and cold increase, our Christian hope in eternal life remains resilient and ever present.
Let us pray.
That the Church be a beacon of blessing within the darkness and chaos of the world. We pray to the Lord.
That all people will come to know the blessedness, happiness and beauty of living a life faithful to the beatitudes. We pray to the Lord.
That all those oppressed by grief and persecution may find hope and comfort. We pray to the Lord.
That all gathered here, inspired by the lives of the saints, might persevere in the life of faith. We pray to the Lord.
That strengthened by the faith of countless followers of Christ throughout the ages, the Church might grow in holiness and fidelity to the Lord’s will. We pray to the Lord.
That those grieving the loss of a loved one, especially those killed this week in the multiple shootings, may be comforted by the Lord of everlasting Life. 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.
Holy God, throughout the ages you have called holy men, women and children to live lives of peace, beauty, and blessing. Hear our prayers that we might answer your call to holiness within our own lives. Loving Father, we long to share the communion of charity that the Saints in heaven have with you. Make us holy, deepen our desire for sanctity, and let that desire govern everything we say and do. Further, God of eternal life, you desire to raise all souls to the abundance of heaven. Hear our prayers that we, and all people, might lead lives of holiness and peace. Most merciful Father help us to still and quiet ourselves, confident in your unfailing mercy. We ask all these things, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA USA