Sunday, March 29, 2020

March 29, 2020
The Fifth Sunday of Lent
Passion Sunday
(Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45)
The greatest book of all time. An unforgettable story told by an incredibly gifted author. A few at the top of the list are:
~ In Search of Lost Time, by Marcel Proust, a recollection of the narrator’s childhood.
~ Ulysses, by James Joyce, the passage of a man through Dublin on an ordinary day in 1904.
~ Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes, the story of a retired man who becomes obsessed with chivalry.
~ The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, a chronicle of the Roaring 1920s.
~ One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, story of the rise and fall of the mythical town of Macondo
~ Moby Dick, by Herman Melville, the tale of Captain Ahab and his pursuit of a white whale.
Yes, these are great books to some people maybe, all of them. The top six, according to a website called “The Greatest Books,” which created a master list out of 122 other best-books lists. I have only read one of them on the list, so I would not be a good promoter of them.
But what is the most influential book of all time? Which story has had the greatest impact on human life?
The Yale Alumni Magazine recently published a list of books that have changed people’s lives, and you might be surprised by what they found. A Yale professor of military and naval history chose Winnie-the-Pooh, “because each of the animals has a distinctive personality.” He has found it to be an excellent guide for navigating life, classrooms and department meetings. Oddly curious.
A professor of World Christianity says that his life was changed by Helen Keller’s autobiography, The Story of My Life. The professor grew up in Africa and discovered her book in a trash dump. He remembers that he read with avid attention to “her testimony about knowledge as power.”

The director of the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History realizes that his life was changed by Jane Werner Watson’s Giant Golden Book of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Reptiles, published in 1960. Even if the science is now outdated, he says, the illustrations in the book “remain just as powerful as when they ignited in me a passion to understand the natural world.”
Winnie-the-Pooh. Helen Keller’s autobiography. A giant picture book of dinosaurs. These are books that have changed people’s lives.
We could add the Gospel of John to this list. John 3:16 alone, the verse that the reformer Martin Luther called “the gospel in a nutshell,” has transformed the lives of countless thousands of people. Then there’s the story of Jesus meeting a woman at a well, a story we read a couple of weeks ago — a story that has helped so many understand how cultural and ethnic relationships can be forged.
And, of course, today’s text tells the story of death, resurrection and belief — a story that has generated faith in the lives of millions. John’s account of Jesus, Martha and Lazarus — an account that does not appear in any of the other Gospels — has all the drama of the world’s greatest and most influential books.
John tells us that “a man was ill, Lazarus from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.” We can imagine Lazarus and his two sisters as vivid characters, as distinctive as Pooh, Piglet and Eeyore. In fact, let’s turn this sermon into a fun analogy - you might think of Lazarus as Pooh, friendly and spirit-filled. Mary is Piglet, intelligent but timid. And Martha is Eeyore, sardonic and pessimistic.
Eeyore and Piglet sent a message to Jesus, “Master, the one you love is ill.” They knew that Jesus loved upbeat and cheerful Lazarus, and they assumed that he would rush to his side.
But Jesus brushed their message aside, saying, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God.” And he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. While he was there, Lazarus died.
Eventually, Jesus traveled to Bethany and found that Lazarus had been lying dead in the tomb for four days. Martha left her house to meet Jesus in full Eeyore mode — glum and pessimistic. She probably said, “It’s all for naught.” Did she have her hands on her hips when she said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died”. But since Martha also had strong faith in Jesus, she went on to say, “But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”
Jesus responded to her, “Your brother will rise.” Martha / Eeyore said, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
But Jesus was determined to change her thinking about new life, so he announced, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
What a crisis for Eeyore, who was in the habit of saying, “Wish I could say yes, but I can’t.” Martha could see the facts around her: Lazarus was dead, his body rotting in the tomb, and he wasn’t scheduled to rise until the resurrection on the last day. But now Jesus was saying, “I am the resurrection and the life. Do you believe this?”
“Wish I could say yes,” she thought to herself. But instead of agreeing completely, she said, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.” And then she went home and reported to Piglet that Jesus was calling for her.
Mary jumped up and ran out to see Jesus, like Piglet feeling small and helpless in a crisis situation. When Mary came to Jesus and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said, “Lord, it is hard to be brave when you’re only a very small animal … if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” She sort of made the same statement as her sister, but the emotion was different, because when Jesus saw her weeping, he was disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He wasn’t moved when Martha confronted him, hands on hips. But now, he’s moved. He’s touched. He’s feeling something in his gut.
And then, suddenly, Jesus is crying. In public.
The Son of God, the Savior of the world, is crying. Lazarus was his Winnie-the-Pooh — his friendly, thoughtful, and spirit-filled friend. And now he was dead.
Christ (Christopher Robin) walked to the cave that served as the tomb of Lazarus and saw that it had a stone lying against it. “Take away the stone,” ordered Jesus. Eeyore said to him, “Lord, by now there will be a stench;
he has been dead for four days.” “It’ll never work.”
But Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” For Jesus, the key is believing — faith is the attitude that changes your life. What makes the Gospel of John a life-changing book is that it is a story about the power of belief.
~ “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (3:16).
~ “Very truly, I tell you,” said Jesus, “anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life” (5:24).
~ “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (6:35).
Anyone who believes may have eternal life. Anyone who believes has passed from death to life. Whoever believes in Jesus will never be thirsty.
The power of belief … of faith … of trust.
So, they took away the stone. Jesus lifted up a prayer, giving thanks that God had heard him. But he was really praying for the sake of the crowd, “that they may believe.” Then Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”
The man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said, “Untie him, and let him go.” Releasing him, they saw that Lazarus was alive and well — upbeat, cheerful, full of spirit. Pooh was back! And when the people in the area saw what Jesus had done, they “believe(d) in him.” Once again, the power of belief.
Later in the gospel of John, we learn that the chief priests were furious at Lazarus, “since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.”
When you look at a list of great books, you might wonder about their purpose. Ulysses talks about a man in Dublin. Why do we need to hear this? The Great Gatsby captures the spirit of the Roaring 1920s. But why was it written? And Moby Dick’s story of Captain Ahab and a white whale? Is it an adventure story or a whaling manual? What is its purpose?
No such question needs to be asked of the Gospel of John. The book was written “so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name” (20:31).
John changes our lives by inviting us to believe in Jesus, so that we may have life in his name.
The Gospel of John is a book that can change your life, because it tells the story of Jesus overcoming death. Do you believe it?
Let us Pray.
For those who, like Martha, are in mourning. May they be comforted by the words of Jesus, who assured Martha that he is ‘the resurrection of life. We pray to the Lord.
We remember those who, like Lazarus, have loved ones to interceded for them, and those who have no living friends and family to pray for them, may they rest in peace. We pray to the Lord.
For all who minister to the dying, that by their care, words and example they may bear witness that God has robbed death of its power. We pray to the Lord.
For those who are sick, especially those affected by the Coronavirus pandemic, that the healing power of the Lord of Life may be theirs. We pray to the Lord.
For all who are unable to stay home during this crisis, may God protect them in their serving the public, protect their family and friends and keep them healthy. We pray to the Lord.
For our physicians, nurses, research scientists and all healthcare workers, and for all who support them in their mission. 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, Creator of Life, you call us out of our dark places, offering us the grace of new life. When we see nothing but hopelessness, you surprise us with the breath of your spirit. Call us out of our complacency and routines, set us free from our self-imposed bonds, and fill us with your spirit of life, compassion and peace.
Most gracious and loving God, there are times in our lives when being extravagant is the only way we can express how profound and deep our love is. We know that our extravagance is wasteful. People are dying as we speak, dying for lack of basic needs, dying because of a terrible virus sweeping our country and our world. But Lord, we want to express the profoundness of our love, the depth of our thankfulness and our continuing desire for more of you. In so doing, help us all to follow the directives given us by the health community so that we can turn the tide of its spread. We know that you cry with all those lost from this virus, just as you wept for Lazarus. It is in this time, that we are like Martha and Mary, and so we ask you to help our faith just as we ask that you heal all who suffer in this time. We ask all this, Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, Ca

Monday, March 16, 2020

March 15, 2020
The Third Sunday of Lent
(Romans 5:1-2, 5-8; John 4:5-42)
Today’s Gospel lesson is one you have heard me speak of on a number of occasions, using it as an example of Jesus’ radical love. There is much to learn from Jesus’ example, as the whole of this passage speaks, subtly, of a paradox. This passage is one that is very important to those of us who consider ourselves as Liberal Catholics.
The first bit we need to be aware of is that although, Jews of the New Testament era did all they could to detour around Samaria, Jesus deliberately crossed the territory of a people widely regarded as spiritually and ethnically inferior. It dated back to the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722B.C. The victorious Assyrians deported twenty thousand, mostly upper-class Israelites, and replaced them with pagan settlers from Babylon, Syria, and several other nations. These foreigners introduced idols and intermarried with the people of Israel, creating an ethnically mixed population.
When the Jews of Judah returned from the Babylonian captivity and tried to rebuild Jerusalem, the temple, and the rest of their society, they met resistance from the Samaritans. The Jews looked down on their northern cousins’ mixed marriages and Idolatrous habits. The Samaritans looked to Mt. Gerizim rather than Jerusalem as the only true place of worship. The historic enmity between the two groups exploded when in 128B.C. the Jews destroyed the Samaritans’ temple at Mt. Gerizim, built nearly three hundred years earlier. By the time of Jesus, the hostility was so severe that the woman at the well was astonished that Jesus would even speak to her.
There are countless modern parallels to the Jewish-Samaritan conflict. Their animosity is mirrored whenever and wherever racial and ethnic barriers divide people. Jesus and the Apostles helped to show us that we need to break through these barriers, not build them up. Although, it is a world-wide problem, it has seen an increase here in the United States the past three years. This should concern us all. This is not the example of Jesus.
Although, the Jews of the New Testament era did all they could to detour around Samaria, Jesus took the “road less traveled.” He presents us an example we should emulate. Is this not what some religions, and even church denominations, do today by avoiding or excluding people of differing viewpoints, lifestyles, race or religion, just to name a few? They do, and this is part of the message Jesus is giving us in the Gospel today.
If we want to be citizens of the kingdom of God, we must learn to see past our own prejudices, eradicate those prejudices, and allow the Lord to reshape our minds and hearts. What prejudices do we harbor? Is it of people of color or of national origin outside of the United States? Is it gender or even someone who has had gender dysphoria and now considers themselves a gender that differs from their birth gender? Some people had a problem with the fact that we had a presidential candidate that was in a same-sex marriage; is that a prejudice we harbor? We can all think of someone or something. If Jesus were in his human form and on earth today, I suspect we would see him socializing with any of these I have mentioned. Any of those whom might be the social outcasts among various groups.
We have all seen articles in newspapers or magazines of some sort that has a headline that asks: “What’ wrong with this picture?” They don’t usually mean that it is a bad photo. They usually mean that someone is doing something so odd that it seems crazy. Like trying to “fix” a computer with a sledgehammer. So, in the picture presented to us in today’s Gospel, it would seem to have something “wrong” with it. Although, the picture that the Evangelist John paints for us may not seem odd or wrong to us, at the time, it would have definitely looked “wrong.”
Jesus was already known as a holy man, leading a movement to bring Israel and all peoples back to God. Of course, he is more than that, but we need to remember that at that time his followers only knew him as merely a holy man. That said, in that culture, devout Jewish men would not have allowed themselves to be caught alone with a woman, and if that was unavoidable, they certainly would not have entered into a conversation with them. The risk was too high; risk of impurity, risk of gossip, risk of being drawn into immorality. Yet, here is Jesus talking to this woman.
When Jesus struck up the conversation with a woman at Jacob’s well, the conversation quickly turned personal. This cultural background made it unusual for any male, let alone a rabbi, to talk seriously with a woman in public. However, as we know, this was Jesus’ way.
Notice also, that she was alone. No other women were with her. This woman came at a time when she was least likely to meet someone. As we learn a little later, she most probably came out alone because she was an out-cast in her own community. Women of that culture, being normally separated from the male gender, would come out very early to draw water, prior to the men getting up and out for their responsibilities. However, this woman was at the well at noon. This was probably because the other women of the town did not want to associate with her.
As we see, the conversation involves water. Jesus asks for a drink and she quickly questions how he a Jew would ask her, a Samaritan, for a drink of water. Of course, it is no secret that the area of travel Jesus had taken was desert and arid, so wanting a drink would be natural. However, when the woman questions him, he states that if she asked, he would have given her living water.
Here is another instance of misunderstanding Jesus. A that time, “living water” would have meant water from a stream or river, as opposed to that of a pool or well. John, throughout his Gospel, shows a Jesus who was constantly speaking on a heavenly level, while his listeners are understanding on an earthly level. Water from a stream or river was moving and more likely to be fresh and clean. However, we know that Jesus wasn’t speaking of physical water. He was referring to the living water of life! This new life he offers to anyone, including someone like this woman. Jesus could easily see her need; her thirst for forgiveness, acceptance, reconciliation and hope. Think of the parable of the lost sheep – he leaves the 99 to find the lost 1.
Jesus said to her, “Go call your husband and come back.” The woman answered and said to him, “I do not have a husband.” Jesus answered her, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.”
(Notice that when this woman discovers that Jesus knew all about her private life, she quickly changed the subject by saying: “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.” However, I don’t want to focus on her change of the subject, which is equally important, but on Jesus’ example he gives us today.)
This is where Jesus’ radical love starts to kick in. We know from the Ten Commandments and from Jesus in Matthew 19 that divorce is prohibited. Jesus makes that clear when asked in Matthew. Yet, here he is. What a great opportunity for Jesus to teach on the topic of divorce again, but he doesn’t. Might seem odd to many and even ignored by more conservatives who insist divorce is lifelong sin. But Jesus does not address the issue any further.
By this time Jesus’ Apostles arrive, and they are amazed that he is even talking to a woman. That’s her cue to exit stage right – can’t be around more men, don’t you know?! However, she clearly went to tell her family and townspeople. While Western culture tends to value individualism and independence, other cultures look to families or even larger social systems to make important decisions as a group. How the message is received is determined by family bonds and other relationships.
Now, this makes for another surprising point – that the townspeople, especially the men, even listen to her or believe her. Women were not to be listened to, because they were crazed gossipers! She could have sounded like a crazed lunatic, but they believed her!
However, as I stated at the beginning of this missive, this passage is one I frequently like to bring up in conversations. We know Jesus’ feeling on divorce, and yet here he is talking to a woman who had five previous husbands. Makes you wonder why. She’s either an ancient version of Elizabeth Taylor, or a harlot. But, in a male dominated culture, it can’t really be determined.
What makes it all the more interesting is that this passage appears at all. We know from Matthew that the Pharisees ask Jesus if it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife. Maybe they knew of the encounter at the well and wanted to know how Jesus felt. It was a test, of course. But was it a test to see if Jesus said it was perfectly fine, because they knew of his encounter at the well? Or was it to see if he would quote the law of Moses which would bring into question his interaction with the woman? We do not know. But, his answer is telling.
Given Jesus’ answer that divorce was a no-no, then here we get to see some of his radical love. Like the woman caught in adultery, he is now confronted with the woman at the well who was married five times previously. Yet, in both instances he does not condemn them; He loves them! He liberates them! I suspect both of these woman go on to be saints, maybe even one of the followers of Jesus.
Jacob’s Well, still exists and lies in the crypt of a modern Greek Orthodox church at Nablus in the West Bank.
Photina is the name the Orthodox tradition has given to the Samaritan woman. She is venerated as a martyr who was flayed alive and thrown down a well in Rome by the emperor Nero.
Lastly, we hear that the Samaritans came to believe in Jesus as the Christ. Some due to the woman’s testimony of Jesus’ ability to tell her all about her life – a miracle. More came to believe simply by hearing his word – no miracle necessary. Some of us need a miracle for our faith to be awakened; some of us do not, merely understanding Jesus’ word is enough.
So, why is this so important? It is important, because Jesus again shows us his radical love for all. He love wasn’t (and isn’t) prejudiced against anyone such as many of us are. No sin, no matter how large, will stop someone from being welcomed in his arms. He never shied away from being seen with anyone who may have been viewed as outcasts. Everyone falls short of the expectations Christ has for us, but he will never, ever turn anyone away.
In a world that struggles to accept those who are different from themselves, in a world where political parties seem to leave out certain people, in a world where churches still treat some as not meeting the “saintliness” they claim one must have, we have Jesus loving everyone and anyone. Jesus does not approve of our misogynist ways, our racist and xenophobic beliefs, our sexist ways, our denying the Sacraments to someone that doesn’t meet every line of some law/teaching, denials of the Sacraments children or divorced or unmarried parents, or any and every other prejudice and mistreatment we might hear or see everyday.
He wants us to love each other. Maybe we cannot understand each other sometimes, but we still must love them. Taking Jesus’ example of radical love, we are called to be a beacon of light to those made unwelcome elsewhere and show them that God loves them. We need to love radically. Lent is perfect time to examine our thoughts and actions to see if we too love radically, and if not, learn how by asking Jesus to show us how.
Let us pray.
That as we go through Lent, we pray that we listen Jesus’ words and are guided by the Spirit to live a life dedicated to love of God and love of neighbor. We pray to the Lord.        
Knowing that perfect love drives out all fear, we pray for that perfect love to strengthen and unite our human family, as we struggle to overcome the Coronavirus.  Grant to all who are now most at risk those gifts of courage and serenity and care for one another that will overcome this trial. We pray to the Lord.              
At Jacob’s Well the Samaritan woman begs Jesus – “Give me this water so that I may not be thirsty.” Let us pray for those in our world who thirst for their basic human rights and ask the Lord for the courage to play our part in supporting them and restoring their dignity. We pray to the Lord.            
As we reflect on our lives during Lent, let us renew our commitment to Christ and allow the waters of baptism transform the desert of our lives into a fruitful vineyard in which God’s love and mercy flourish. We pray to the Lord.              
We remember today our brothers and sisters in those in regions of the world where water is scarce and thirst is their daily experience. We pray for those agencies and those who support them who are working to give them access to this most essential human need. We pray to the Lord.              
We pray for a personal awareness of the goodness and generosity of the Father, who created us, who gives us every breath we breathe and who so generously nourishes us with the food and drink which his creation of land and sea provides. We pray to the Lord.
That our parish always be beacon of hope to those who less welcome elsewhere, for those who have been abused but need to feel the love of our Heavenly Father once again through worship. We pray to the Lord.
That we always remember, that even if we meet someone who may not appear to meet up to the standard of the Ten Commandments or some perceived sin, that we follow the two greatest commandments and love God and love our neighbor and leave judgment out of our minds and hearts in regard to others and show them the radical love of Jesus. 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.
O God, in all ages you have offered surprising and gracious provision for your people. Even though we grumble and doubt like the people of Israel, your love bounteously sustains us, like water from the rock, quenching our thirst and meeting our needs. We thank you that in Jesus Christ you come to refresh and renew us, as cool water refreshes those who are weary. Jesus offers us divine love as continuous as a spring, flowing with mercy. Help us, like the woman at the well, to accept his gift and joyfully tell others that he is our fountain of joy.
Dear God, you have called us from different walks of life. From our diverse backgrounds, you have weaved us into a family of faith and discipleship. We pray that even as you have accepted us as we are, we can learn even more how to accept and love others whose ways are different from our own.
As we open our hearts to you, show us the way to open our hearts to others. We pray, O God, that you would even challenge us to love all humankind — those we do not like and especially our “enemies.” In your presence here, O God, may we worship together without exclusion and rejoice together always. May we always treat others with the same radical love that your son, Jesus Christ treated all whom he met. 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
http://www.stfrancisucc.org/donate.html

Sunday, March 8, 2020

March 8, 2020
Second Sunday of Lent
(Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; Matthew 17:1-9)
Welcome to Harrington University. Also known as ... The University of San Moritz, University of Palmer’s Green and University of Devonshire ... among other names.
At Harrington, the campus is small, the class schedule very convenient (as in, no classes at all), and a Ph.D. will only take you 27 days and a few thousand dollars to earn. No transcript from a previous institution is necessary. Instead, you get full credit for your “life experience”!
And to think that some people are still paying off their college loans.
Harrington University is (or was, until it was shut down in 2003 by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and British authorities) a “diploma mill” — an online “university” selling bogus but authentic-looking-and-sounding bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. Rather than a tree-lined quad, Harrington’s “campus” was the residence of an American living in Romania with mail drops in the United Kingdom, printing services in Jerusalem, and banking options in Cyprus. By 2002, some 70,000 Harrington-Palmer’s Green-Devonshire degrees had been “granted” to online applicants, earning the operator more than $100 million.
Using e-mail spam, online advertising and even print advertising in mainstream media like USA Today, Time, Newsweek, Forbes and Money magazines, diploma mills like Harrington are an occasional phenomenon in our wired world. As jobs become more scarce and competition for them more fierce, many people are turning to quick, albeit illegitimate, ways to pad their résumés without the cost or hassle of actually going to class.
A May 2004 study by the U.S. General Accounting Office found 28 senior federal executives who claimed degrees from diploma mills, and 463 employees in eight federal agencies were hired or advanced in their jobs with bogus college degrees, some even billing taxpayers for their fake credentials.
Counterfeit colleges and universities make it easier to pull off the résumé charade because they provide fake diplomas and transcripts that often seem legitimate. With all this academic fakery going on, it’s become harder and harder for legitimate distance-learning institutions to maintain their reputations, and it’s also become more dangerous for people in need of professional services.
Sadly, even our seminary is treated like it is a “diploma mill” by student who come to us to study for the priesthood in hopes that they will be done in a very short time with some very easy courses. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Our expectation and mine is that a student who desires to be a priest will need to attend the seminary to completion. Compared to average seminaries, our seminary is actually quite easy, but alas some simply want to pay for a piece of paper and be ordained tomorrow. Not on my watch. Real priests need real study. If you are going to be a shepherd, you must learn how to be one and cause no harm to your flock.
But how do so many people get away with this chicanery? The answer is simple: No one seems to check them out, call the references, ask for the paperwork. Bottom line is that in this 21st-century culture, it can be fairly easy to fake who you are and make yourself look good to anyone — on paper at least.
What about if you’re applying for eternal salvation? If you’ve got holes and creative coursework in your spiritual résumé, you can bet they’ve been checked out thoroughly. Truth is, you can’t fake faith.
In Romans 4, Paul is using Abraham the Patriarch as a primary case in a study of God’s approach to human resources. Abraham was righteous, obedient to God, and had followed a straight career path from nomadic herder to “father of many nations.” His exploits, both vocational and spiritual, were well established and generally well done. If anyone had a résumé of solid credentials to “boast” about, says Paul, it was Abraham.
But it wasn’t his righteous résumé that made Abraham a prime candidate for the job of Patriarch of the faith. “If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about — but not before God,” says Paul.
In other words, even Abraham’s best work couldn’t match the quality standard of holiness set by God. No human résumé is impressive enough. Earlier in Romans, Paul puts it more clearly: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23). Instead, it was faith itself that was Abraham’s one and only true résumé builder. “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (4:3).
It’s belief in God’s ability to save us because of love, rather than belief in our own ability to measure up, that makes us “righteous” before God. To put it in human resource terms, in God’s world it’s who you know (Jesus Christ) not what you do that counts toward eternal employment as a citizen of the kingdom. Truth is, we’ve got nothing to boast about except the fact that God cared enough about us to forgive our fakery by providing the real deal of salvation through Jesus Christ.
Theologically speaking, we call this the doctrine of “justification by faith.”
In a world where Christian faith was being more and more characterized by lists of activities than deep faith, people like Luther, Calvin and Zwingli (sounds like a fake name!) shredded their own résumés and tacked up a different set of criteria on places like that door in Wittenberg. For them it was all about faith — sola fide, sola gratia — God’s grace offered freely to everyone regardless of their past history and cobbled together lists of deeds good and bad. Like Paul, they saw God’s grace as the ultimate qualification for righteousness, not our own feeble attempts at “faking it” as people we’re not.
The God who created us knows us intimately — no background check needed — and yet still seeks to love us, change us, employ us as God’s hands and feet in the world. None of us could or should make the cut, but as the old saying goes, “God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called.”
Yet, truth is, most of us feel like we have to have something to show God. We like hanging diplomas on the walls and showing off our degrees.
If we’re truly made righteous by faith, then our records should speak for themselves or, better, for Christ himself. What we believe, deep down, about ourselves and about God will determine our course of action and how we’ll spend our time, our resources, our lives in relationship to the world around us. Eventually, our resume of our life will be vindicated or vilified depending on what we believe and whether we live out that belief.
Lent is a good time of year to add spiritual diplomas to our resumes. Too many today are looking for the diploma mill route of experiencing Lent and preparing ourselves for Easter. Lent has become nothing more than an average day or an average week.
Yes, none of us likes the idea of thinking of our short-comings when it comes to liking up to the example of Christ. We cannot use the excuse that “He doesn’t know what it’s like to be human,” because he was! We simply want the easy way out.
Lent is a journey – a journey in which we accompany Jesus on his trek to Jerusalem where he fulfills the mystery of the Passion, Death and Resurrection. Our journey should remind us that a Christian Life is a way to take, not so much consistent with a law to observe as with the very Person of Christ, to encounter, to welcome and to follow.
We are called to follow, participate and learn at the school of Jesus, reviewing the events that brought salvation to us, but not as a mere commemoration, a remembrance of past events. By participating in the liturgical functions and actions of the church, Christ makes himself present through the power of the Holy Spirit thus making these saving events real for us.
We should make a Lenten journey and on this journey,  we should be careful to accept Christ’s invitation to follow him more decisively and consistently, renewing the grace and commitments of our baptism, to cast off the former person within us and put on Christ, in order to arrive at Easter renewed. Though it may not be an easy journey, it is one that can be powerful if we allow ourselves to set some time aside to journey with Jesus, just as he gave us 33 years that we may be saved. He put aside his divinity to become one of us.
Diploma mill e-mails usually qualify themselves by saying that the degrees offered are from “non-accredited” schools. Real academics know that accreditation is a big factor in determining a school’s reputation and what kinds of students will be enrolled. Accreditation means that a qualified body is overseeing the operation and setting high standards. Every college credit makes it to a student’s transcript the old-fashioned way: They earn it.
The good news for us is that, through Christ, God credits us with righteousness even if we can’t earn it. Faith, belief in God’s love for us and confidence in God’s saving grace, is the only qualification needed.
Let us pray.
Today we read how Jesus was transfigured and how the Apostles experienced a vision of the divine presence which awaits the faithful following the trials of this world. We pray today for the grace to remain steadfast in our faith and on our journey of Lent so that we are worthy of being in that transfigured presence. We pray to the Lord.
That this season of Lent will be a time of greater prayer and fervent devotion for us and for all the Church. We pray to the Lord.
That this Lent we will be faithful to fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, and to all the ways the Lord sanctifies us.
That we will be generous in our almsgiving and attentive to the poor. We pray to the Lord.
For those who are discouraged by temptation and failure. We pray to the Lord.
For the gift of faith and an appreciation of God’s mystery in our lives. We pray to the Lord.
For those who have been affected by the spread of coronavirus, for those who are sick from it, for those who died, and for all who are working to contain the outbreak. We pray to the Lord.
That as we continue our building and repairs a benefactor or benefactors will be led to our humble parish as we look to obtain the funding needed to finish the rectory and necessary repairs. 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 Spirit, move in us today. Set our mind on things above, not on earthly things. Remove our pride and clear our distracted minds so that all we hear is your truth. Allow the Scriptures to be life-changing and to renew our desire for you. Help us to understand clearly the message of your Word. We want to know you more. Interrupt us, O God, with your presence. Intrude upon our preoccupation, our restlessness, our discontent and our boredom that we might center our hearts and minds on your Word as it is read and proclaimed. Gracious God, despite assurances that you are good and loving, despite the psalmist's reminder that you are the ever-watchful keeper of our lives, we still struggle to trust you. We find it difficult to hope in what is unseen, to believe in what we cannot prove, to take the leap of faith that walking with you requires. But Lord, how we want to believe! How we want to let go of our need to control, and rest instead in your ever-loving and gracious arms! Free us, we pray, to trust you this day, that we may walk with you as Abram did. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA
http://www.stfrancisucc.org/donate.html

Thursday, March 5, 2020

March 1, 2020
First Sunday of Lent
(Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11)
One evening a while back in San Bernardino County, a car chase began about 6:30 p.m., coming to a conclusion about 90 minutes later.
The suspect in a car theft took off from Chino and led police on a chase that ended in Hawthorne. The erratic and meandering journey took officers to the Ventura Freeway, where the suspect vehicle sideswiped a Prius and nearly hit a tanker truck. After driving in the wrong direction, the thief pulled the car into the southbound lanes of the San Diego Freeway. There, the stolen vehicle was rammed once by a patrol car, but that did not deter this guy.
When he got into the Hawthorne area, having eluded capture for almost an hour and a half, a California Highway Patrol SUV executed a PIT maneuver, and game over. The car went sideways into a spin, and the driver was apprehended.
An increasing number of law enforcement agencies across the country are using the PIT maneuver as a way to bring car chases to safe conclusions. Using this tactic, an officer in pursuit uses their vehicle as a weapon to force a fleeing car to abruptly swivel sideways, thus going into a spin resulting in a loss of control by the driver. If this maneuver is initiated in an area where property and citizens are not at risk, it is a safe alternative to chasing a suspect into populated areas.
It might be unpleasant to use this as a metaphor for our relationship with God. But, in fact, it is a very common one, not only in the Bible, but in literature.
Notice that in the Bible, people are often running. They’re described as running away from God who, alternatively, is frequently depicted as wooing or chasing them.
Jonah is perhaps the best example. God’s hand is upon him, but Jonah is not comfortable with what God has in mind, and he tries to sneak away. He takes a compartment in the steerage of a ship hoping to hide out. You know the story.
The PIT maneuver in this case is the great fish which, by the way, was God’s idea. “But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah” (Jonah 1:17). Game over. And after three days, the leviathan, irritated by the pit in its stomach, spits Jonah onto a beach where he lies prostrate and in complete surrender to the will of God.
The psalmist David writes, “Where shall I go from your spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” (Psalm 139:7).
The Israelites are often depicted as people careening down a path to destruction. And in battle, they sometimes ran away, rather than standing their ground. (1 Samuel 17:8-11)
The prophet describes sheep as having a propensity to wander astray (Isaiah 53:6), and Jesus also refers to the shepherd who, although in possession of 99 sheep, sallies forth at great risk to himself to find the 100th lamb that’s run afield (Luke 15:1-7).
In that same chapter, Jesus tells the story of a young man who runs away from home. We know how that turns out.
It’s weird. Sometimes we mortals believe we can outrun and outmaneuver God.
The 19th-century poet, Francis Thompson, captures this in his 182-line poem, “Hound of Heaven,” published in 1893. One review says: “As the hound follows the hare, never ceasing in its running, ever drawing nearer in the chase, with unhurrying and unperturbed pace, so does God follow the fleeing soul by his Divine grace.
One person fitting this profile was, by her own admission, the 20th-century activist, Dorothy Day.
In his book about Day, Johann Cristoph Arnold writes, “Day felt the call to discipleship early in life (though only vaguely), but she first threw herself into other, ‘more important things.’ There was the lure of journalism school, and then politics. Then there was travel and a taste of the Roaring Twenties in New York City, Italy and Hollywood. There was also a novel, several film scripts, an abortion, a short-lived marriage and a baby daughter. Still it did not dawn on her that she was running from God, and that her yearning would never be stilled until she was obedient to him.
“Then came an unforgettable night in a Greenwich Village bar where her friend, playwright Eugene O’Neill, recited Francis Thompson’s ‘Hound of Heaven’ for her — a poem whose message left her reeling. It contains the verse:
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days
I fled Him, down the arches of the years
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
“Day experienced what can only be called a conversion. Leftist friends mocked her new interest in the Gospels: didn’t she of all people, a Communist, know that religion was just a crutch for the weak? But Dorothy dug in her heels. Jesus promised the new society of peace and justice they were all looking for, she said, and if the Christians they knew were soft-minded hypocrites, that was not Jesus’ fault. She was determined to give him a try.”
Dorothy Day, like King David, the prophet Jonah and others before her, was the object of God’s loving and persistent Pursuit Intervention Technique.
To review this analogy: When the police department engages a suspect in a car chase, they hope first that the vehicle will run out of gas. Failing that, they hope the suspect will have a change of heart. The suspects who flee clearly understand that the law takes a dim view of their behavior. Police officers in pursuit might try to get roadblocks into place. Failing that, officers may throw spike strips across the road.
When all means have been exhausted, the chief will authorize the PIT maneuver. The officer’s car now becomes the tool bringing the suspect’s surrender. The patrol car makes contact with the suspect’s rear fender and then pushes, sending the vehicle into a sideways spin and causing a loss of control.
Then, surrounded with no place to go, the runner emerges from the car with hands in the air, and then is usually told to kneel, and then may be asked to lie prostrate, whereupon he is cuffed and taken into custody.
This patience and reluctance by law enforcement is mirrored in the way God handles us during the chase. As Francis Thompson’s hound with the hare, God is relentless but unhurried, patient and yet passionate.
God begins by giving human beings free reign in the created world. But the rebellion is obvious and odious.
God provides in writing what humans should have known in their hearts: the “law.” The running continues.
God pursues.
God sends adversity, obstacles, defeats, wars and pestilence and still — after momentary repentance — the resistance and fleeing continues. I liken this to me personally, when for many years through until this past year, I finally returned to my practice of daily hour-long prayer. God pursued, sent, I believe, a lay-off from a great paying job just to get me to finally notice him on my tail.
God also sometimes sends prophets to be the voice of God, to remove any ambiguity they may have about God’s love and aspirations for the people of God. Through the prophets, God reminds us that — by all rights — God is the one who should be running away from the mess; it is the people who should be chasing after God who, in turn, would be justified in washing his hands of the whole affair.
And yet, were the people to truly seek God, God would be found: “When you search for me, you will find me. If you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord” (Jeremiah 29:13-14).
The Romans text explains how the PIT maneuver works.
The tool or vehicle is the cross. After providing the law, sending the prophets and exposing the people of God to disciplinary adversity, which failed to curb rebellion and disobedience, God uses the cross as a battering tool to send us spiraling into submission, hands in the air, on our knees and prostrate before him in complete surrender. That is what Lent should be for us.
Of course, the metaphor breaks down because, unlike the California Highway Patrol, God is not going to force us to get out of the car, hands in the air, kneel and surrender.
That thief on the run in the opening paragraphs? The CHP stopped him with a PIT maneuver, but they had to smash windows and send in a K-9 unit before that miscreant exited the car, knelt and surrendered.
God’s not going to force us to surrender. We may need to stop before the cross, but we might not kneel.
Yet, Paul explains why surrender is our best option.
He has already reminded us that “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (v. 8).
It’s the first Sunday of Lent.
If we’re ever going to start anew, is there a better time than now?
Maybe we should stop running.
Maybe we should reverse direction, and instead of driving the wrong way against traffic, turn our lives around and go in the right way with Jesus.
If we don’t sense the cross as an intervention technique, maybe God has other ones that will bring us to attention.
Today is a good day to put our hands up in surrender.
Today is a good day to get down on our knees.
This is the meaning of the cross: There can be no more running away.
Sometimes, it is not the cross that is the PIT maneuver that redirects our lives, but a traumatic, seismic event we experience.
Takeaway: When God uses a PIT maneuver, it is best to surrender.
Let us pray.
Like Jesus in the wilderness, we are all tempted to do wrong from time to time. We pray, Lord, for the strength to resist temptation and to always do what is right and to follow your commandments. We pray to the Lord.          
We pray for all those who keep the season of Lent. May their prayer and reflection, their fasting and almsgiving bring them renewal, reconciliation and closer unity with Christ, our Savior. We pray to the Lord.              
Lord, during this season of Lent, we pray that the sacrifices we make may show to you our love and our gratitude for the multitude of wonderful gifts and benefits you bestow on us in our daily lives. We pray to the Lord.
For the victims and for the families and friends affected by the shootings at Molson Coors Brewery: May they find peace and comfort in this troubling time and may we strive even more fervently for peace and an end to all violence in our city, country, and world. We pray to the Lord.
For those suffering from the coronavirus, that the sick may recover quickly and completely and for the medical researchers to find a medicine quickly that will eliminate the virus. 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.
Creative, passionate God, you delight to shape the world in beauty and harmony. You invite us to participate in the balance of creation. We grow in wisdom as our experience unfolds; we take good learning out of difficult situations yet also find our well-meant endeavors leading to unintended consequences. Too often we give in to temptation that disrupts the joyous, chaotic order of the universe. We cannot undo all our mistakes, but we can turn once more to the living presence of Jesus and find new ways to live and love each other and the earth. Help us each of us as we make our journey this Lent always remembering the passion of our Lord, your Son and the great gift he gives us in the coming Easter. We ask these things, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

February 26, 2020
Ash Wednesday
(Joel 2:12-18; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18)
We live in a "throwaway" culture. We throw away just about everything.
Not that we haven't noticed. We've been using this expression since LIFE magazine published an article in 1955 about a new phenomenon that emerged in the prosperity of the 1950s. "Throwaway Living" the article was called.
Instead of blowing our noses using washable handkerchiefs (as did our eco-friendly grandmothers and grandfathers), we use tissues and throw them away. (I still carry a handkerchief – I get weird stares now and again.)
We diaper babies' bottoms, and then throw them away -- the diapers, not the bottoms. We buy a pair of shoes and throw them away. We buy water packaged in plastic bottles, drink the water -- and throw the bottles away. (Probably just as well, because apparently the plastic bottles leach harmful chemicals. And they still manufacture them why?)
Almost everything we purchase comes in what many call excessive packaging which ... is thrown away. We buy small and large appliances and when they break down we buy new ones and throw away the old ones. We buy TVs and throw them away.
In an era long past, small shops existed to repair items that consumers were then loath to throw away. Used to be that a small repair shop could provide a modest income. You could get your TVs, toasters, radios and irons repaired for a small charge and they were good to go.
The archetype for such small businesses is Emmett's Fix-It Shop in the fictional town of Mayberry, North Carolina, as depicted on the 1960s television series "The Andy Griffith Show." Emmett Clark fixed clocks, lamps, radios and more. Usually, a TV merely needed a new tube. Tubes are long gone – at least I assume they are, because the thickness of TV’s today, I don’t see how one could fit. Thus, these shops, for the most part, have disappeared.
This is why an organization called Repair http://xn--caf-dma.org/ is so interesting.
Repair Cafés are free meeting places and they're all about repairing things (together). At a Repair Café, you'll find tools and materials to help you make any repairs you need on clothes, furniture, electrical appliances, bicycles, crockery, and even toys. You'll also find expert volunteers with repair skills in all kinds of fields.
According to their website, "Visitors bring their broken items from home. Together with the specialists they start making their repairs in the Repair Café. It's an ongoing learning process. If you have nothing to repair, you can enjoy a cup of tea or coffee. Or you can lend a hand with someone else's repair job. You can also get inspired at the reading table -- by leafing through books on repairs and DIY. There are over 1,300 Repair Cafés worldwide.
Interesting as that may be, we throw away more than clocks, lamps, bottles and diapers these days.
We also throw away friendships, values, traditions, manners, decency and common sense. Some might say that we too often throw away our souls in pursuit of some elusive dream we hold dear. We cast aside the spiritual component of our lives thinking, possibly, that we will focus on spirituality later.
Then, one morning, we wake up wondering who we are and where we've been and where our life has taken us. "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans," according to Beatles John Lennon.
Whatever you want to call it, we sense down deep that something is wrong. Something is broken. Something is in desperate need of fixing.
Let’s take King David from the Old Testament as an example. A small snipet from our longer form of the Asperges (Psalm 121) for our mass in the Antiphon has a piece of Psalm 51 which is said to have been written by King David. King David is broken. (Read Psalm 51:1-17)
In this psalm, we see David taking his sorry soul to God's repair café.
David -- this towering and impressive figure of the Old Testament, the greatest king in Israel's history, the monarch who reigned at the height of Israel's glory -- had developed a throwaway mentality.
He threw away the laws of God. He threw away the sanctity of the marriage bond. He threw away his self-respect. He threw away a woman's honor and reputation. He threw away a man's life -- the husband, Uriah. He recklessly threw away and abandoned the person God called him to be, the person the ancient Samuel had anointed when David was but a lad tending sheep, writing poems and playing the lyre.
Here in Psalm 51 is a man ruined, a man whose life is in tatters, a man who is utterly lost. His spirit is broken. His soul is wounded. He is sick and distressed.
He's been given a diagnosis. He knows the disease. He knows who he really is. It's not pretty. And it nauseates him.
He lied. He raped the neighbor lady. He ordered the murder of her husband. He tried to cover up the crime. To say he abused his authority and position is a gross understatement. (Sounds like someone else we know in our very own country!)
He needs relief. He is in a downward spiral of destruction. He needs redemption. He needs something! He needs to be fixed, and so he goes to God, the Great Fixer, the Great Repairer of Souls, the Great Weaver of Broken Threads.
Our Epistle today from Joel says, “Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.”
God is in the repair business.
David knows a lot about God, and right now the most important thing he knows about God is that God doesn't throw away things. He knows that "For gracious and merciful is he (God), slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.” That's why David can pray, "Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me" (Psalm 51:11).
God will not cast us away from the divine presence. When we feel far from God, it is not because God has moved. We're the ones who have moved. It could be because we have had a "throwaway God," a God to whom we listen when it's convenient, a God to whom we pray only when in distress, a God who has become largely irrelevant because we really don't apply the knowledge of God to our day-to-day lives. So many people are throwing away God when they should seeking Him. We blame the Church, and thus God, when we shouldn’t do either. Blame a person if you must, but not God.
God does not cast us away. God repairs and redeems. "For I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal, declares the LORD" (Jeremiah 30:17).
"I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten" (Joel 2:25-26).
There are many more I could choose, but the point has been made. I frequently turn to the Scriptures when I am in a state of needing to be thrown away myself.
But I need – we all need - repair. This is what God does. We should take our sorry souls to God's Repair Café because God knows how to make things new!
What does a repair job cost? The cost of a repair job at God's Fix-It Shop?
Nothing really. But you do need to know that something's broken. There's no point stopping by God's Repair Café just to say, "Hey, I'm good," and then go on your way.
Notice David's attitude. He knows he needs some treatment. Submitting to treatment is also important. David asks for specific remedies.  He wants the mercy treatment and some blotting done. He also asks for a wash and cleansing session. He wants to do a purge. He wants the complete restoration treatment.
Finally, he wants a new heart, which is the key part of the treatment. The old heart, the old engine, the old nature -- whatever you call it -- is beyond repair. David asks for a replacement. "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me" (v. 10).
If there is a cost, this is it: acknowledging that we need help, and accepting the help that is offered. Let's remember that David's remorse was all about his own brokenness, not someone else's.
God is in the repair business; we're not. At least, we are not asked to go around fixing people. This is dangerous stuff. People stay in abusive relationships believing they can fix the abuser. No, they can't.
Some people think other people need to be "fixed." What they really mean is that they disapprove of their behavior. We are not the judge, only God is.
Some people don't want to be fixed, don't need to be fixed and certainly not by any of us!
Going to God's Repair Café is personal. This is about our recognition of our own brokenness -- not someone else's.
We begin our observance of Lent with Ash Wednesday. This is a day of penitence, and this is a penitential season. The Psalm I read is a penitential Psalm. This service can be considered a sort of Repair Café experience. We come together to do our private business with God, but we do so together, with the support and encouragement of others.
We say our Confiteor together. We get blessed and cleansed by virtue of the priest pronouncing the absolution that comes from God and God alone. God forgives and forgets. We are the ones that remember and torture ourselves. God has made the repairs. After our ashes have lain the sins to the grave, we now go forth in the season of Lent and accept our repair and go forth attempting to not break again.

God is a great healer. There is nothing and no one God cannot restore. Let us remember this during our journey through Lent!
God of our lives, out of the dust of creation you have formed us and given us life. May these ashes not only be a sign of our repentance and death, but reminders that by your gift of grace in Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, we are granted life forever with you. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA

Sunday, February 23, 2020

February 23, 2020
 Quinquagesima
(1 Corinthians 3:16-23; Matthew 5:38-48)
It's a standard movie plot: A vulnerable hero is wronged or hurt by some sinister person or force. He or she gains strength from their anger at the injustice and sets out to get revenge. In the end, the villain is vanquished, justice is done and the credits roll.

Revenge fantasies are so common in the movie industry that they have become a genre of their own. Liam Neeson is always looking to use his particular "set of skills" to avenge the kidnapping of a family member in the Taken movies. Who can forget Carrie, based on the famous Stephen King novel, in which a bullied high school girl gets her revenge?

Revenge is the plot of nearly every Quentin Tarantino movie, and it's no coincidence that one of the most popular film franchises has to do with The Avengers. We love the idea of retributive justice. It appeals to our sense of fairness and the idea that everyone finally gets what they deserve.

Some psychologists suggest that these revenge fantasies are actually good for us. They're products of an often overlooked emotion called "embitterment" -- a feeling produced by victimization coupled with the desire to fight back. Because the person feels helpless, however, it leads to fantasies of revenge or aggression. Psychologists think that these accompanying revenge fantasies actually serve as buffers against the negative feelings associated with victimization, which is why people love revenge movies. We don't have to actually do anything vengeful; it's the feeling of justice that counts.

We've all had these fantasies, albeit on a smaller scale - one would hope at least. You imagine getting back at the person who cuts you off on the road, for example. You might envision an elaborate plan of retribution on a boss who unjustly reprimanded or fired you. You may harbor plans of revenge over the actions of an ex-spouse. Maybe you're just thinking of tapping out a snarky retort to that person who heckled you on social media. Point is, we tend to run to revenge fantasies whenever we sense an injustice has been done.

Jesus warned us, however, that even harboring such fantasies can give birth to actions - bad decisions - which, in turn, can lead to our own destruction. In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reframes the retributive justice of the law of Moses and calls his disciples to turn from "embitterment" to embodiment of the way of the kingdom of God.

"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,'" says Jesus, pointing to the law of Moses and its judicial system. Unrestrained revenge was ruled out by the law codes of many other ancient Near Eastern cultures, and the commandment of God was already designed to limit retributive justice to the severity of the crime committed.

But rather than merely restating a law that gives the plaintiff the right to ensure that the offender gets at least what he or she deserves, Jesus overrules even that law for his disciples. For Jesus, it wasn't just about limiting revenge; it was about rejecting any kind of retaliatory violence. Jesus wanted his disciples to reject the revenge fantasy in favor of the redemption factor for both the offended and the offender.

Revenge is all about making ourselves feel better and superior to the one who hurts us. Jesus, however, calls his disciples to lean into the hard work of redemption through suffering love. Disciples of Jesus aren't to go about asserting their personal rights when affronted, but instead, they are to respond in terms of the good and needs of the other, even when that other commits evil against them. Radical love indeed!

The examples of Matthew 5:39-42 would make for a very different kind of movie than we're used to. In a Tarantino movie, for example, a backhanded slap across the right cheek would warrant an epic beat down in return. That kind of slap was an ultimate insult in Jesus' day -- a forceful dismissal of one's personhood. But rather than retaliating, Jesus urges his disciples to "turn the other" cheek also. Almost as if we would turn the other cheek, point to it and ask, “May I have another, please?”

If you are "losing your shirt" in a court case, the standard movie response would be to find some hotshot lawyer to turn the tables on your accuser or, failing that, to set about ruining them in some other way. Jesus tells his disciples, however, to "give your cloak as well," meaning that they should prefer the shame of being naked to getting revenge.

Some argue that these commandments of Jesus actually turn his disciples into doormats for evil people who will take advantage of them. Standing there and just taking whatever it is that our enemies dish out is a sign of weakness. We're culturally conditioned to fight for our rights. No wonder that Jesus' approach seems unrealistic and even dysfunctional to many. Humility is difficult.

But rather than seeing these actions as signs of weakness, Jesus asserts that they're positions of strength. The way that Jesus confronts evil is not through violence, but through nonviolent resistance that will confound, shame and disarm the aggressor. Jesus' commandments are thus a foreshadowing of his own actions on the cross and of the kind of cross-bearing discipleship that is required of his followers. We do not trust in our own abilities to set things right, in other words. Instead, we trust in God's ultimate justice.

It's that knowledge of God's justice that enables us to follow the command of Jesus to "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." For Jesus, this kind of love resembles the love of the Father and makes us look more like his children. God's provision of life is available to the evil and unrighteous as well as the good and the righteous.

Ultimately, however, judgment is God's prerogative and we can hardly claim to be better than the other person when we're just as big a sinner. Bigger sinner sometimes! So, Jesus says we need to love people, especially our enemies - because it doesn't take much moral force to love a friend, now does it?

So, Jesus asks us to do something counterintuitive: love those unlikely to be loved. Love the poor, love your enemy, love the co-worker, love the conservative, love the liberal, love the person least like you.

This is the love of God. And if this love is extended to us, who are we to not extend it to others - even those who have sinned against us?

It's not that God is soft on evil. God will ultimately avenge the evil in this world. But unlike the swift vengeance laid out in a two-hour movie or in our own revenge fantasies, Scripture tells us that God is a slow avenger -- "slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love" as attested in multiple biblical texts (Exodus 34:6; Psalm 86:5, 15; Joel 2:13; Nahum 1:3, among others). God's slowness is not weakness, but a sign of perfect love. God withholds wrath so that all people will repent and return. If God gives us that chance, God will give it to our enemies as well, because, well, from their perspective, we are the enemy!

So, revenge is never up to us. As Paul explains to the congregation in Rome, "Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.' No, 'if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:17-21).

Bottom line is that we are not to dish out to offenders what they deserve. For, indeed, this is not how God has dealt with us. Instead, we're to be the embodiment of Christ in forgiving and loving them.

We don't deal with evil by indulging in revenge fantasies, but by living the vision of God's offer of love and redemption to all. Jesus demonstrated this all the way to the cross, refusing to take revenge and, instead, offering his forgiveness and love to those who nailed him there. He overcame evil with suffering love; he overcame evil with good.

Next time you watch a movie, ask yourself how this situation might have been handled differently by a disciple of Jesus. What would happen if the hero chose vision over violence? Redemption over revenge? And then take it down to a personal level: Who are the people in your life over whom you fantasize about revenge? How would the situation be different -- how would you be different and your enemy be different -- if you chose perfect love instead?

This is the kind of action hero that Jesus is looking for. A challenge for each of us this week. Think of someone who you feel has wronged you or that you dislike, and say something good about them behind their back and only that.
Let us pray.
Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. In this way we will be children of the Father. As we reflect on these words, we pray for the grace to make our peace with all and to answer the Lord’s call to love Him and love our neighbor. We pray to the Lord.
On this day when Jesus calls on all his followers to love their enemies, we pray for an end to war, violence and murder in our country and throughout the world. We pray to the Lord.              
We pray for those who are struggling with addictions. We pray that they find the courage and support to overcome their affliction and renew their lives. We pray to the Lord.          
We pray for families where addictions or intemperance are causing pain and hardships that the Lord give them the patience, the energy and the spiritual support to live through their difficulties. We pray to the Lord.          
We pray for our young people that they be given guidance in their lives and an understanding of the dangers of drugs and excessive drinking. We pray to the Lord.              

On this coming Ash Wednesday, when we will be reminded that we are mortal, let us pause and reflect on our lives, remember where we are going and pray to the Father that we live a life that is worthy of the reward which He has promised to those who follow His way. We pray to the Lord.
That as we continue our building and repairs a benefactor or benefactors will be led to our humble parish as we look to obtain the funding needed to finish the rectory and necessary repairs. 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.
Heavenly Father make us not so quick to desire revenge so that we can become quicker at forgiveness and humility. How we underestimate your compassion, Jesus. We are too easily convinced that you frown more than you smile, that our weakness and ignorance, our mistakes and sins, guarantee nothing but judgment from you. Yet, time and again, you show us that this picture is unworthy of you. After all, you said it — you didn’t come to judge but to save! And so, we thank you and celebrate you. Your compassion is limitless, and your love is unfailing. Your welcome is gracious and extravagant and all-inclusive. Your embrace is healing and transforming, and your commitment to us is costly and eternal. Maybe we will never really understand how you can be so totally for us, but maybe, as we learn to trust, and to lean into your love, we will find the peace and wholeness that you desire for us. And so we come, we worship and we open ourselves to your surprising compassion again. 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
http://www.stfrancisucc.org/donate.html

Monday, February 17, 2020

February 16, 2020
Sexagesima
(Sirach 15:15-20; Matthew 5:17-37)
A child was asked to clean his room before he could go out to play. He replied, “What’s the least I have to do?” He wondered if making the bed would count or if the floor had to be clean too. Do his clean clothes need to be put away, or only left in the laundry bin and tucked away in his closet? What about under the bed? Would that be checked, and would it have to be clean? The exasperated father wondered when the child would want a clean room for his own sake and not simply because the father had asked. Such an attitude on the part of the child is similar in what’s on display in today’s Gospel.
This week we continue our journey toward Lent with another reading from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Jesus challenges his followers to not only follow the letter of the law, but to fully embrace its spirit. Jesus warns against pernicious effects of anger, dishonesty, and adultery. Within these attitudes we find the seeds that, if left to grow, blossom into bitter fruit of harm and destruction, and the breakdown of relationships where people are used, discarded, and duped instead of cherished.
To those people who want to be right with God, but wonder what is the minimum required to achieve that relationship, Jesus has the answer. Jesus takes certain aspects of the Law of Moses and expands them. Rather than command not to kill, Jesus says, do not grow angry. Rather than a command to not commit adultery, Jesus says not to look at another in lust. In other words, the Mosaic Law is not simply the bare minimum we need to do to be right with God. Instead, we need to go above and beyond the letter of the Law if we are to be followers of Christ. Merely fulfilling the minimum is not enough.
When Jesus responds in this way, we may crave to return to the minimum. How can we keep ourselves from getting angry, which is a natural human response to perceived injustice? The standard that Jesus sets may seem impossible to realize. The statement about plucking out one’s eye is certainly hyperbole and recognized as such in the early church. The standard established by Jesus fulfills the law rather than abolishing it. Jesus’ teaching goes to the heart of the matter. His advice to let “yes” mean “yes” and “no” mean “no” is a clear statement to that effect.
So, when we want to ask, “What’s the least I can do?” we may need to reconsider the question. When we desire a relationship with Christ for its own sake, and not simply because we’ve been somehow coerced, a life of faith flows naturally. Simply following the rules (Mosaic Law) is not the right reason. We should no longer count the minimum but instead live in a relationship of trust, fidelity, and love.
Keep in mind that Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) He wasn’t intending to make the laws harder, because the Pharisees already did that, as we know from Jesus calling them hypocrites.
“….and one of them [a scholar of the law] tested him by asking, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”  He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and the first commandment.  The second is like it; You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:35-40) It all comes down to loving our neighbor and God, and in so doing, we fulfill the Law.
Living our lives as followers of Jesus means that we follow a standard different from the world’s standard. Jesus’ injunction not to look on another with adulterous lust, or with anger, is a prime indication of that. In the ancient world (and even in the modern), it can seem easier to cover up the other or remove the other. But Jesus response goes to the heart of a person. His response is not to cover up the temptation, but to challenge the person not to look on another with lust. Jesus places the responsibility on the individual, not on the object of temptation or anger.
Our Epistle reading today from Sirach highlights the complete freedom of human beings in their relationship with God. Though God desires good for us and all others, he does not compel us to do that which is right. Instead we are given the choice of whether to follow the commandments that lead to life or to reject them. In the Gospel reading this choice if broken down even further. Are we interested in the bare minimum required from the Laws laid forth in the ten Commandments? If, therefore, we get through life without committing anything against these Laws, have we lived up to our full potential?
Jesus’ words call us to embrace a different way; a way of perfection and virtue. It’s not easy, but it is worth it. And our Lord is always ready to forgive and help us start anew. As we draw closer to Lent, consider Jesus’ warnings. Where has these actions crept into our own lives and how might this year’s Lenten practices of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer lead us closer to Christ?
As we come forward for the Eucharist today, ask Jesus to work especially in you to help you with any struggle you are going through and to show you how he is active in your life with his yoke that is lighter.
Let us pray.
Jesus reminds us that our priority as Christians is forgiveness and love of neighbor. We pray for the grace to forgive those who have wronged us and for a spirit of reconciliation among feuding families and neighbors. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for all those suffering from the Corona Virus flu in China and that the rest of the world be spared from this very dangerous epidemic. 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 the dignity  they have earned as daughters and sons of God. We pray to the Lord.
That as we continue our building and repairs a benefactor or benefactors will be led to our humble parish as we look to obtain the funding needed to finish the rectory and necessary repairs. 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.
Gracious God, we thank you for the high calling in Christ Jesus to be your people. We praise you for the privilege of embodying your life of love, forgiveness and justice to the world. We gladly receive the responsibility to live up to who you have called us to be, and thankful for the opportunity to respond to your mercy in our lives. Arouse within us, we pray, such joy in serving you and others, such compassion for the friendless and downcast, and such empathic indignation at the plight of the abused, exploited and stigmatized that we cannot remain silent, will not remain uninvolved and will not accept life as usual. Convict us in our comfort, and inspire us to a new vision of what it means to bear witness to your kingdom and to salt this world with the Good News of Jesus Christ. We ask all these prayers through 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, February 9, 2020

February 9, 2020
Septuagesima
(Isaiah 58:7-10; 5:13-16)
When it comes to righteousness, the Pharisees are tough to beat.

Jesus knows that these Jewish leaders are passionate about the law of God. Supportive of synagogues and schools. Attentive to purity rules and regulations. Focused on the resurrection, with a powerful hunger for heavenly rewards.

The Pharisees are the spiritual superstars of their day, exerting an enormous amount of peer pressure on the people around them. "I tell you," says Jesus, "unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (v. 20).

Jesus says that our righteousness has to exceed that of the Pharisees. Not just match it, but surpass it. How are we supposed to respond to this?

Peer pressure is a powerful force in our lives, and it can both help us and hurt us. Peer pressure can help us by inspiring us to do the right thing. Sit next to a good student in class, and her study habits can rub off on you. Watch your neighbors install solar panels on their roof, and you might be motivated to do the same thing.

But peer pressure can also hurt us. This happens when we are exposed to our very best peers and find ourselves becoming discouraged about ourselves. Their pressure might even cause us to quit. Of course, there is also peers who do not do right things and thus can also lead followers down the wrong path.
A 104-year-old woman was once asked by a reporter, "What do you think is the best thing about being 104?" She replied, quite simply, "No peer pressure."

Todd Rogers is a professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. He has studied the peer pressure that comes from people who are a little better than us, as well as the pressure that comes from people who are way better than us.

In other words, the Pharisees.

Says Rogers, "When you are compared to people who are doing a little better than you, it can be really motivating." Someone who is conserving energy might inspire you to use less energy, and someone who is voting might motivate you to vote. But peer pressure turns negative when you are compared to people who are unattainably better than you. If you decide to train for a 5K race with an Olympic distance runner, for example, you are not going to be inspired. You are going to be really intimidated and probably drop out.

Rogers studied more than 5,000 students in a massive open online course. As part of the course, the students graded each other's work and learned from each other. What Rogers discovered was that ordinary students became far more likely to quit the course when they were paired with the best students. The ordinary students grading top-quality papers assumed that everyone in the group was brilliant and this made them feel inferior.

This is exactly the effect of the Pharisees on the people around them.

Remember what Paul said about his own accomplishments as a Pharisee? "If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more," he wrote to the Philippians. "Circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee" (Philippians 3:4-5). Paul was a top-performing Pharisee, unattainably better than many of the people around him. You can understand why his peers would feel inferior and want to quit.

But Jesus is not trying to make people give up when he says, "unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (v. 20). The Pharisees might be better than anyone else in terms of following religious rules and regulations, but Jesus has a new approach to righteousness that is not based on rigorous law-keeping. Instead, he wants his followers to be salt of the earth and light of the world, fulfilling the law in new ways -- as he does.

As Christians, we don't have to feel peer pressure from the Pharisees. Our righteousness comes about in a whole new way, one that avoids faulty assumptions about who are the top performers. Even Paul, the spiritual superstar who had tremendous confidence in himself, came to see that his achievements as a Pharisee were really losses "because of Christ" (Philippians 3:7).
So, what do righteous people look like?

They look like salt. Jesus says that they are "the salt of the earth." In the ancient world, salt was a valuable commodity used for sacrifice, purification, seasoning and preservation. Christians are to play all of these roles in the world and are to remain salty by staying true to their mission and avoiding contamination. "If salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?" asks Jesus. It cannot, of course. Contaminated salt "is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot."

Note that Jesus doesn't say, "Try to be the salt of the earth."

He doesn't say, "It might be good for you to catch some classes at Salt and Light University to learn how to be salt."

He doesn't say, "Go to the rabbi and elders and have them lay hands on you to beseech God to grant you saltiness."

He doesn't say, "Take 30 minutes every morning to meditate and try to reach, and to be in touch with, your inner saltiness." Of course, he does want us to pray and meditate, but that is not what he is trying to teach here.

His comment is quite straightforward. "You are the salt of the earth. This is what and who you are. Don't forget it." His statement is not a command but a description. Too often, we're afraid that we're not "salty" enough, and when we get agitated like that, we're essentially making this all about ourselves instead of about Jesus. Whatever Jesus actually had in mind when he said, "You are the salt of the earth," we know that salt as an element has no value to itself. It's not about making salt better salt. Salt is salt. The value of salt is in its application to other things.

No wonder Jesus calls us "salt." We exist for others.

They look like light -- lighthouses, spotlights, flashlights, lamps, candles in the darkness. Jesus says, "You are the light of the world." Once again, being light does not involve sitting through a college class, reading literature on the subject or meditating about it. Jesus' statement is a description, not a command.

And, like salt, light does not exist for its own benefit, but for the benefit of everything it illuminates. Light provides warmth and energy to the world around it, and encourages life and growth. We do the very same thing when we act as the light of the world, and when we reflect the light of Christ to others.

"No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket," says Jesus, "but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house." Our righteousness as Christians depends on doing whatever we can to be lights to each other and to the world around us. We are to be open and honest instead of hiding in the dark. To offer other people warmth and encouragement instead of being cold and discouraging. Sometimes people need a shoulder to lean on and emotional support as opposed to words meant to encourage them to stay positive in a seemingly impossible situation. To be an energy source for others, so that together we can advance the mission of Christ in the world.

"Let your light shine before others," says Jesus, "so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven." Our challenge is to shine as a Christian community so that others will see what a life of love and faithfulness looks like. In a world of self-righteousness, we can be an example of Christ-righteousness -- right relationship, that is, with God and neighbor.

There is so much darkness all around us, so much loneliness and isolation. Righteous Christians can truly be a light to the world -- beacons of peace and reconciliation in a world that is so often full of conflict. If we perform such good works, people will see them, says Jesus. Then they will "give glory to your Father in heaven."

The Pharisees may have been the spiritual superstars of their day, but their righteousness was rooted in rules and regulations. Jesus respected their passion for the law, but criticized their failure to put it into action. He encouraged his followers to do what the Pharisees "teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach."

That said, the Pharisees were, no doubt, good people. They were not necessarily cruel, heartless or unpleasant. But, when all was said and done, they were trying to be good for the wrong reasons, and Jesus could not lift up the Pharisees as the norm for righteousness. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" he said. "For you tithe mint, dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith."

The Pharisees of the Bible cannot be our role models for righteousness, because they neglected the justice, mercy and faith that are part of a right relationship with God and neighbor. Nor can the 21st-century Pharisees who are alive and well in the church today, people who make other Christians feel unworthy through an excessive focus on religious rules and regulations.

We have only one role model for righteousness: Jesus Christ, the one who invites us to be salt and light. The one of radical love. He offers us the very best peer pressure, that which inspires us to rise to the challenge of advancing his mission in the world. As salt, we can talk with openness and honesty about who we are as Christians. As light, we can bring warmth and energy to the world around us.

You might say, "Well, if the Pharisees were the superstars of peer pressure, and that's a bad thing, what about Jesus? He was without sin, and yet you say that he is our 'role model for righteousness'."

Yes. The difference between the Pharisees' righteousness and the righteousness of Jesus is that one must work for the former, while the righteousness of the latter is a free gift. See Philippians 3 where Paul makes this clear. Paul wants to be "found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith."

No peer pressure. We need never worry about whether we're righteous enough. Worrying is what the Pharisees did. We're righteous enough and then some. When we put our faith in Jesus, when we take his example of radical love for all, then our righteousness is the righteousness of Jesus.

That's a righteousness that even a Pharisee would envy.
Let us pray.
Jesus reminds us that as Christians we are the light of the world and exhorts us through good works to shine that light in the sight of men that others may follow. We pray for the grace and wisdom to follow His word and with our charitable works bring glory to our Father in heaven. We pray to the Lord.
For God’s holy church, that in serving the homeless, poor, and the oppressed it may live up to Jesus’ call to be salt and light for the world. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for our young people that they be not distracted by the false lights of a superficial life but recognize that the true light can only be found through the example and words of Christ, our loving Savior. We pray to the Lord.
This Tuesday is the internationally recognized World Day of the Sick.   Let us pray for all those who are sick in body, mind and soul, particularly those in our own parish and country. We pray to the Lord.
For leaders of nations, may they work for the end of social and economic inequality based on race, gender, sexual orientation and religion. We pray to the Lord.
On this St Valentine’s week, we pray for all those who are in loving relationships, that they remember that their love for each other is a reflection of God’s love for us. We pray to the Lord.
That as we continue our building and repairs a benefactor or benefactors will be led to our humble parish as we look to obtain the funding needed to finish the rectory and necessary repairs. 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.
Merciful God, you call us to be salt and light and to live as your righteous, holy people. We want to, Lord, but we fall short! We confess that there is good and bad, light and dark within our own hearts. We want to do what is right, but our fears and anxieties lead us to self-protection rather than vulnerability, to hoarding rather than freely sharing, to self-righteousness rather than compassion. Forgive us, O God. Restore us by your mercy that having received the gift of your infinite love, we might turn to our neighbor and give your love away. For the sake of Christ, we pray. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA
http://www.stfrancisucc.org/donate.html

Sunday, February 2, 2020

February 2, 2020
The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
(The Presentation of the Lord)
(1 Corinthians 1:26-31; Matthew 5:1-12)
Acne for Dummies is only one of more than 350 titles in the For Dummies series. The books first hit the bookshelves in the 1990s when — with the increasing use of personal computers and the advent of the World Wide Web — people suddenly were feeling very stupid, even about things as banal as acne.
If, however, you want to push deeper into specialized subjects, you enroll in higher education. Your first year in the classroom — whether real or virtual — is likely to be awash with 101 classes such as French 101, English 101, Psychology 101, History 101 or Biology 101. You cannot take French 201 until you have completed French 101.
This numbering system was developed in the first part of the 1900s to make it easier for students to transfer from one college to another. If you took English 101 at Kent State, you were given credit when you transferred to Ohio State so that you could take English 201.
The “101” designation quickly became a part of the public consciousness and conversation. In a comedy routine, a young Woody Allen joked in the early 1960s, “I took all the abstract philosophy courses in college, like truth and beauty, advanced truth and beauty, intermediate truth, introduction to God, Death 101.”
So, what if we approached the study of religious faith in the same way? What, for example, would a course in Judaism 101 look like? It could be an in-depth study of the Ten Commandments. If we were to take Buddhism 101, however, the course might focus on the Fourfold Truths, followed by the Eightfold Path to enlightenment. Islam 101 would no doubt dig into the “Five Pillars of Islam.”
Lutherans (LCMS) have a study series published by Concordia Publishing house called Lutheranism 101, including one for kids. In seminary, perhaps you’d take Calvinism 101. You might also face Soteriology 101 (doctrine of salvation) or Church History 101.
So now we look at the Beatitudes. You could think of the Sermon on the Mount as Christianity 101, and the Beatitudes is where the course begins. They articulate the core principles of the faith.
Jesus took his seminary on the road. He unfailingly kept his lessons simple. When Jesus is asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” he responds with the Shema — a foundational statement of Hebrew faith: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind.”
He then adds, “The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” — simple, memorable and foundational.
The Beatitudes are simple, memorable and foundational core competencies, the knowledge of which is critical for mastering what it means to be a Christian. The structure is formulaic and familiar to most of Jesus’ hearers as advice for “the good life.” The repetition of makarios (Greek, which means “happy,” “satisfied” or “blessed”) was what his listeners expected, but as was typical of Jesus’ teaching, he was actually turning “common wisdom” on its head.
As Matthew suggests with the phrase “the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus is not describing life in the ordinary world in which sinful humanity seems to be in charge, but life in the emerging kingdom where God is sovereign. This is the New World in which those who mourn are comforted; where those who are meek receive their inheritance; where those who seek the kingdom of God find their quest fulfilled.
This Kingdom of God is a reality that shatters the conventional limitations of space and time. It is the realm of the already, of the here-and-now, and of the not-yet. Paul describes it, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we shall see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully” (1 Corinthians 13:12). The kingdom of God is already here; it has always been here, manifested in God’s very act of creation. It is the reality that we, like the disciples, experience in the presence of Jesus Christ as eternity is unfurled among us.
The kingdom of God lies at the core of the Christian Hope — the hope that the kingdom we now see only partially and hesitantly will ultimately be fully realized. Matthew’s gospel presents the Beatitudes as an exposition of this hope. They are the ABCs of the Christian Faith — “Christianity 101.”
In his description of life within the kingdom of God, Matthew seems to address three questions
First, who are those who find the kingdom of God? Matthew lifts up “the poor in spirit” and “those who mourn” as its recipients. While the poor have always had a special place within Judaism, Matthew adds, “in spirit,” driving this idea to its spiritual depth. The kingdom is reserved for those who have left behind their arrogance and ego, or who have the spirit of the poor. They understand the poor. They connect with the poor. They do not prance and preen as if they were worthy of praise, but have accepted that they are utterly dependent upon the grace and mercy of a loving God.
Further, “those who mourn” are not simply those who grieve over departed loved ones, but those who are heartbroken over a humanity that has turned its back upon the very one who gives and sustains its life. Therefore, they mourn. These mourners are the ones who have ordered their priorities correctly — those whose vision is clear. They can see both rebellious humanity and the kingdom of God emerging in its midst. That emergence is both their hope and their comfort.
Second, what is it that these seekers find? Embracing the kingdom with newly opened eyes, they find the answers to the questions with which they began their quest.
“The meek” are those who are freed from undue pride and arrogance and will “inherit the earth”. This is not a promise of free real estate, but a promise that the meek will participate in a “new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1) in the eschatological kingdom of God. The definition of “meek,” as we typically understand it, does not encourage admiration. Meekness rhymes with “weakness,” and that’s what many think it means. The meek are those without enough backbone to stand up for themselves. That’s not the meaning of the word as used here by Matthew.
Greek philosophers such as Aristotle were fond of describing ethical living as a mean, or mid-point, between two extremes. On the one extreme was wild and uncontrolled anger; on the other was a total lack of anger, a spineless resignation. In between was righteous anger, the middle way, or the golden mean, as it was sometimes called. Aristotle used a form of this very same word translated here as “meekness” to describe a life lived in perfect balance.
Those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness” are filled. For Matthew, this righteousness is far more than a matter of personal piety. It is the quest for a kingdom in which all humanity is deemed righteous, when the sinful and disgraceful human condition has finally been overcome. The quest for righteousness is one that can only be satisfied when the kingdom is fully present in all its glory.
The “merciful” are those who regard all others with empathy and compassion, because like themselves, all humanity is in dire need of God’s kingdom. They will receive the compassion they so freely give.
“The pure in heart” are those who in the eschatological kingdom are ultimately purged of ego and self-pride — those who embody singleness of purpose. Those are the only ones who will be able to see God.
“The peacemakers for they will be called children of God.” Again, this beatitude draws its power from the unfolding of God’s kingdom. In the world of the here-and-now, peacemakers may be reviled, but in refusing to divide the world’s people into the binary categories of “us and them,” of “friends and foes,” they are proclaiming the kingdom’s presence. The world may reject them now, but God will claim peacemakers as his own.
And third, what price does the kingdom demand? In his classic work, The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (German pastor and theologian who was executed by the Nazis) cautioned that “when Christ calls a man, he bids him ‘come and die.’” Matthew would certainly agree. His addition of verse 9 (blessed are the peacemakers), which is not found in Luke’s gospel, may have been influenced by the Christian community’s refusal to fight alongside the Jews in their 60-70 A.D. war against Rome. Thus verses 10 and 11 describe people who “persecute,” “revile you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely” — a gripping description of consequences his fellow Jerusalem Christians may have experienced in those perilous days.
The Romans ultimately prevailed in that war, and the Jewish Christians suffered grievously alongside their non-Christian Jewish neighbors.
This tragedy raises an obvious question: Is it worth it? Is it worth risking everything that the world values in the service of a kingdom that is not fully here? As he shares this vision of the kingdom of God and its promises, Matthew’s answer is an unequivocal “Yes!” Even as Bonhoeffer reminded us that “when Christ calls a man, he bids him ‘come and die.’” We must die to this life, and live in the life of the kingdom of God.
There is a story of an elderly Methodist bishop in which he glanced over the line of ordination candidates at an annual conference meeting in Corpus Christi, Texas. He warned them that he was about to ask the “historical” Wesleyan questions long required of such aspirants. First on the list was this: “Are you going on to perfection?”
When he faced a row of avoided eyes and hesitant responses, the irritated churchman snapped, “Well, if you are not going on to perfection, where are you going?”
The bishop’s question is a good one: Where are you going? The kingdom is alive and well in our midst. Its promise defines who we are as servants of Jesus Christ. It is at the core of Christian hope and faith. In the spirit of Bonhoeffer, it’s a call to decide.
These, then, are the Beatitudes: “Christianity 101 — an Introduction to kingdom-living.” They flow from the lips of Jesus himself and the life of the first-century church, and bring us to the core of the Christian life and hope.
Let us pray.
In today’s gospel Jesus advises us how to live a true Christian life when he gives us the beatitudes. We pray that the Holy Spirit bestow on us the wisdom, strength and perseverance to follow his advice and guidance. We pray to the Lord.                      
We pray for those who hunger and work for justice throughout the world, that their efforts may bring fruit and that all prisoners of conscience be set free. We pray to the Lord.                    
We pray for all peacemakers. We pray particularly for world leaders that they work together for an end to war, that God’s peoples can live their lives in peace and harmony. We pray to the Lord.                      
We pray for those who are persecuted for their faith and religious beliefs. We pray particularly that those who have a passionate belief in their own faith should respect the rights of others to follow their conscience and to live out their own response to the love of God who created us all. We pray to the Lord.                      
We pray for those who mourn, that they be comforted by the assurance that their loved ones are in the arms of a merciful and loving Father. We pray to the Lord.
We continue to pray for our legislative branch of government that they get past partisanship and look at the facts with full awareness of the precedence this will hold for our future and to ensure no one is above the law. We pray to the Lord.
That as we continue our building and repairs a benefactor or benefactors will be led to our humble parish as we look to obtain the funding needed to finish the rectory and necessary repairs. 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.
God of grace, we come together in prayer with thanksgiving for our health and this day of life. That we are able to hear the wind whistling through the trees ... see the rain which brings new growth ... and feel the warmth of the sun on our faces, we offer you our thanks and praise. Let us use the gifts you have given us wisely that we might hear the plea of others and respond accordingly; that we might see the needs of our neighbor and act compassionately; that we might feel the pain of another's loss and empathize in silence. Help us to be ever more attuned to the life of Jesus. Free us from the temptations that confront us in the busyness of our every day. Help us to never judge others by their mistakes.

When we are tempted to respond in anger, grant us the patience to return anger with kindness. When we want to insist on our own way, grant us the grace to replace self-indulgence with unselfishness. When we are right at the expense of another's feelings, grant us the strength to be humble instead of right – to be silent instead insistent. When we are tempted to allow our families to be secondary to everything else we do, help us to rearrange our priorities.
When we are tempted to live out our lives at a hectic pace following our own agenda, grant us the wisdom to slow down and take time to hear what you would have us do. When we are tempted to take the easy way out ... to put desire over discipline ... to let someone else take a stand for peace and justice, remind us that the easy way is not the right way in the kingdom of God.
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