Sunday, August 2, 2020

August 2, 2020

August 2, 2020
The Eighth Sunday after Trinity
(Romans 8:35, 37-39; Matthew 14:13-21)
http://www.stfrancisucc.org/donate.html
I wasn’t going to do a “traditional” sermon today, given we are still on shut down due to Covid-19, but I ran across some stories that I liked and felt like I wanted to twist it into a sermon anyway. Besides, in times like these, we need a little boost of faith in miracles.
A couple of years ago there was a headline that read: “Arkansas woman texted father’s number every day after he died; she got a response four years later”?
Although the headline sounded like an outreach from the other side of the grave, the actual story was far less sensational.
For four years, Chastity Patterson, of Newport, Arkansas, had been mourning the death of Jason Ligons, who, while not her biological father, had been so much like a father to her that she called him Dad.
After he died, Chastity continued to text his phone every day to update him about her life. While she didn’t expect a response, the daily texting was a way of dealing with her grief. In her message on October 25, the night before the fourth anniversary of Ligons’ death, she told about how she’d beaten cancer and hadn’t gotten sick since his passing. She also wrote about falling in love and having her heart broken, joking that Ligons “would have killed” the guy.
But then, something happened - she received a response.
It was not Ligons, but a man, identified only as Brad, who had been receiving her daily messages these past four years.
“I am not your father,” Brad texted, “but I have been getting all your messages for the past four years. ... I lost my daughter in a car wreck (in) August 2014 and your messages have kept me alive,” Brad said. “When you text me, I know it’s a message from God.”
Brad went on to say that he had read her messages for all that time but hadn’t texted her back for fear of breaking her heart.
Chastity posted the exchange to Facebook, saying, “Today was my sign that everything is okay and I can let him [Ligons] rest!” Her post was then shared more than 288,000 times and picked up by several media outlets.
How Brad came to receive Chastity’s messages is easily explained: I have read that when an individual surrenders a phone number, whether because of relocation, death or other reason, the company that supplied the phone service eventually reissues it to a new customer, sometimes as soon as 30 days after the number was discontinued.
After Chastity’s story went viral, she posted that she had shared the story to show friends and family “that there is a God and it might take four years, but he shows up right on time!”
While Chastity’s story was splashed out by several media outlets, few of the major national news organizations reported the story at all, which suggests that by some standards, it didn’t rise to the level of “news,” and there was no “miracle” involved. I suppose by some definitions of “miracle,” it may indeed not have been one, but surely God was indeed involved. 
And that brings us to the Scripture lesson for today — the well-known account of Jesus feeding more than 5,000 people with only five loaves of bread and two fish and ending up with 12 baskets of leftovers. This story appears in all four gospels, a sure sign that the early Christians had no doubt that what Jesus did that day was a miracle.
But now fast forward to the 19th century, when a Protestant Bible scholar named Heinrich Paulus examined the feeding the 5,000 story. Paulus was a rationalist, and as such, was skeptical that miracles occurred. He posited that what really happened was that in the spirit of the day, after Jesus blessed the meager amount of food on hand, the wealthier people in the crowd, who had arrived with packed picnic baskets, shared their food with those who had none.
(I do hope you weren’t drinking something and had a mouthful that you didn’t just now send it spraying across the room!)
People persuaded by Paulus say the real miracle was that the wealthy were inspired to share what they had.
Paulus, by the way, is the same guy who proposed the “swoon theory,” which speculates that Jesus did not actually die on the cross, but somehow survived his execution and proclaimed that he had risen from the dead. (I suppose it doesn’t matter that there were non-followers of Jesus who were witnesses and reported the actual death of Jesus, but as Trump say, fake news maybe.)
Of course, many of us have trouble reconciling miracles with reason. And that logic gap is likely what the news writer was counting on when he headlined Chastity’s story to sound spectacular.
But both the sensational headline and our natural skepticism miss the real story: that Chastity’s texts helped Brad deal with his grief following his daughter’s death, and that his reply to Chastity helped her put to rest her grief over Ligons’ death, and that both Chastity and Brad viewed the texts from the other as conveying a message from God.
Miracle stories like the feeding of the 5,000 and non-miracle stories like Chastity’s invite us to think about how God does work in our lives. Certainly God is not limited to interventions that cannot be explained by science or that go beyond the realm of reason. He can work through means we might label as coincidence or accident or serendipity or luck or natural processes or everyday happenings.
In Isaiah, we find God saying, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, ... For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (55:8-9). We minister folk often quote these words to emphasize how God can work through means that we humans don’t have available to us, and that is certainly a correct message to hear in these verses. But we shouldn't take them as if they are saying that God works only through extraordinary or miraculous means. God’s higher ways may, in some cases, operate through everyday things — through natural functions of life. Some Christians have observed that God uses means (or agents, tools or intermediaries) much more often than he intervenes in the laws of nature — with bright lights and all, such as he did with Paul on the road to Damascus.
This does not muddy the majesty of God's ways. In fact, it might be said that in sending Jesus as a human being, God was putting his majesty in an ordinary “container.”
Consider this true story from a book called Small Miracles: Carol Anderson was young widow whose husband died at 35. Bob Edwards was a young widower whose wife had been killed in a car accident at 29. Both had happy marriages, but after several lonely years the two surviving spouses met and got married. They got along well except for one thing — their differing opinions about how to handle their history. Bob wanted to explore it, to share it with Carol. He wanted to know about Carol’s first husband and tell her about his first wife. Carol, however, didn’t want to talk at all about their previous marriages; the pain from her loss was still too strong. “Why raise ghosts?” she said. But Bob felt that good memories should be preserved, not obliterated.
This issue hung between them for a long time, with Carol’s view prevailing, to Bob’s disappointment. But finally, after a few years, Carol felt secure enough to talk about the past and decided to show Bob some snapshots from her first marriage. Among the photos were pictures that Carol and her first husband had taken in France on their honeymoon. “Here we are at Lourdes,” Carol said, pointing to a photo taken at the famous healing shrine.
“You went to Lourdes?” Bob said, mildly interested. “So did we.”
“Well, I guess half the world goes to Lourdes,” Carol said. It was no big deal.
But then Bob asked to see the photo again. “Who’s that couple in the background?”
“I have no idea,” Carol said. “Just a couple who walked by and were caught by the shutter. I can see why you asked, though ... It does look as though they’re standing behind us, almost as if they’re posing, but that’s just an illusion.”
“That couple,” Bob said, “is me and my first wife.”
The matter for us to affirm today is raised both by the miracle story in the Scripture reading and by some natural occurrences that take on special meanings for us — in that we see the hand of God behind them. From the perspective of daily life, there’s not much value in arguing over whether miracles occur or whether there are rational explanations for the events that bring us meaning, healing, hope or lift us up. If we experience God as being in them, we are in touch with the miraculous.
Let’s say it like this: We encounter many serendipitous happenings in life for which there is no supernatural intervention overriding the laws of nature. But something occurs that is not ordinary, not usual and not what one would normally expect to happen. Maybe God did not provide an exception to Newton’s (or Einstein’s) laws of motion, but He may well have moved people to interact in ways that provided what was needed by someone in a particular situation.
In the case of Chastity and Brad, the miracle may have been that God moved both of them toward the mutual support and benefit that occurred.
And we can say this as well: Both Chastity and Brad were quick to see God’s fingerprints in their exchange. Skeptics might disagree, but some things take the eyes of faith to discern.
In this time of continued unease and a seemingly unending pandemic, there may be little acts of God happening. It may be hard to see them, especially in times of despair. But, remember our ways are not God’s ways. 
If you look, you may find God’s fingerprints all over the place. I prefer to look and see miracles, or at the very least, God’s involvement during this time. It keeps hope alive!
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
Services are canceled, but someone failed to tell them that to expenses that still need to be paid, and so we remain beggars. Donate if you can. May God richly bless you for it!
http://www.stfrancisucc.org/donate.html

Sunday, July 26, 2020

July 26, 2020
The Seventh Sunday after Trinity
(Romans 8:28-30; Matthew 13:44-52)
I am diverting from our Scripture readings again today for a short missive.
As we continue in our daily struggles during Covid-19 difficulties, we are being flooded with news that federal agents are on the streets of Portland. In a free speech and right to protest country, we are seeing suppression. Hmmm …. (After writing this sermon, riots have broke out in Portland. Peaceful protests are a constitutional right, however, riots are very counterproductive and I in no way encourage rioting.)
We shouldn’t even have to gather in protest if we are doing what Christians should be doing – loving one another (though, admittedly, this is not the sole reason for the protests, but it is certainly part of it). Why?
What do you see in the mirror when you look into one? Or when you look at water in a stream, or lake etc.? You see your reflection, of course. What if someone is perched over your shoulder while looking into a mirror or stream? You now see your face and the face of the other person.
Imagine if we could see the face of God. In Hebrew the word for face is panim. The im at the end indicates plural. So, the word face is not really face but faces. So, when one speaks of the face of God, especially in Hebrew, we would actually speak of faces of God!
A face is not the essence of a person, but merely the appearance of a person. It is how we know and recognize each other. When we see the face of God, we see Him via His panim …. Through His many faces. We see Him in His blessings, in His provisions, in every good thing that has blessed our life, in the love He wove into those who once cared for you, in every kindness shown to you in your time of need, in every good given to you by His people.
In their panim, the faces of these people, we see the face of God. As Mary of Magdala looked into the face of God but didn’t realize it was His face (John 20:15), so too have we looked into the face of God but didn’t realize it was His face. Or maybe I should say, we have forgotten that when we look at someone else, we are seeing one of the faces of God.
For blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God! We should be looking for the good, the holy, the beautiful and we will see the face of God.
When you allow your life to be used as a vessel of His love and your heart to be moved by His Spirit, then when people look at you, they will see the face of God.
How often have we looked at someone or encountered someone and failed to see our Lord in their face? How often have you passed a homeless beggar and felt disgusted and judged them as being on drugs, instead of someone needing help? How often have you encountered a same sex couple walking on the street holding hands and you thought that it was an “abomination,” instead of two people in love? How often have you had an interaction with a black person whose pants were so low that their underwear were showing and they spoke using grammar that you felt horrible and you allowed a discriminatory epithet come to mind, instead of merely seeing a fellow human who has had a less privileged upbringing than you, especially when there is a white kid down the block that dresses and speaks the same as the black person but you didn’t judge them the same way? You get the point.
We have all been created in the image of God and we should always remember this. We also need to always remember the radical love Jesus had toward anyone and everyone He encountered.
And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:40-46)
Now granted, some will say the examples I gave earlier would not immediately seem to apply here, but the thing we must remember is that Jesus really meant this for ALL people, not merely the disadvantaged. In our political climate, and with the additional complications we are seeing in public view, it is easy to get caught up in the rhetoric and lose sight of the fact that we are all equal in God’s eyes. We all hold an image that is part of the face(s) of God.
I would like to challenge everyone to find someone in your life (directly or indirectly) that troubles you or you seem to have difficulty accepting or associating with, and say some kind words, maybe strike up a conversation and even pray with them. You will both possibly gain a better awareness of each other and even build a valuable friendship from it. You never know, they may be wanting to connect with you as well!
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA
We are beggars - As some of you know, places of worship are closed again due to the uptick in the Covid-19 infections, so we see a decline in giving. If you are able, we ask you to consider helping.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

July 19, 2020
The Sixth Sunday after Trinity
(Wisdom 12:13, 16-19; Matthew 13:24-43)
As we once again are shut down due to escalating positive tests for Covid-19 here in California, and again I write for “virtual congregation,” and from reading the Gospel assigned to us today,  I thought of a topic that may seem to not match, but hey, I am weird. However, in the world we have currently, I think it is a good topic for us.
As I have done a couple times recently, I want you to picture a mental image. There is a large wheel shaped stone in a garden, roughly 8’ in diameter and a foot thick. The stone is one that could have been used to seal an entrance to a tomb many centuries ago. And so, I ask you to go to the stone and to try to move it. The stone doesn’t budge.
I tell you to try harder. You try again, but still nothing. I tell you, “just a little bit harder.” You push with all your strength and, finally, the stone rolled just a little.
What would this show you? Aside from you probably being a little bit out of shape?
You were trying to move an item at rest. A large item at rest. It takes a large amount of momentum. It requires a new action. In order to begin this momentum, it requires you to concentrate all of your strength into moving the stone just a few inches. That’s how physics works.
So, this is how you get a ball… errr a stone rolling, but what does this have to do with you and me? Basically, the same law of momentum applies in a spiritual realm as well. By moving the stone, you cause a change. A change in that you cause it to move and a change because by making it roll, it will thus be in a new location.
Change means new action, new motion, and a new momentum. Let’s face it, the universe is against change and against a change of momentum. Humans are no different. Some of us resist change even to an astronomical point of view. To make a change in our lives requires a great deal of power, energy, decision making, thought, focus and resolve – even to make small changes. The bigger the change, the bigger of an effort needed.
To make changes in our lives, or anything we may speak of, is to sometimes take small, but concerted, steps. And move from that step to the next. Moses’ first step after being called by God was to take off his sandals. The Apostles dropped their nets. Change takes steps. To be good Christians, we often need to change.
We are living in a time of various unrest. We have an epidemic going on, yet many carry on as if there is not. They will blatantly refuse to wear masks, nor follow social distancing or even use hand sanitizer. We have a large problem with racial discrimination – in fact, when we get right down to it, discrimination of many kinds, not just race. However, black lives have really suffered considerably. We have government officials that seem to think they know better than scientists and medical experts. Officials who even seem to push an agenda that is unhealthy. But, are we acting any better?
We must face the fact that our world, and thus our lives, require change. What is so hard about wearing a mask? Granted, they are not ascetically appealing, nor very comfortable, but our lives and the lives of others depend on it! Any of us could be asymptomatic and carry the virus and be spreading it around. We hear many say that it is their right to not wear a mask. However, it is my right to not want to get sick, and you are infringing on it by refusing to wear a mask around me! You do not have a right to cause harm to my person or anyone else! It is all of our rights to want to get back to some form of normalcy and live, but we cannot do so until we make a change.
Many, if not most, of us hate change. It isn’t fun. I have had 3 years of nothing but change, and not always good, but change all the same. If we all want to be free from wearing masks and practicing social distance, then we need to do both for as long as the medical professionals ask us to, or we will never be able to go back to any form of what was! If one does not care enough about their own life to wear a mask, we should at the very least care enough about others around us.
Like Moses with his sandals, and the Apostles with their nets, our Lord asks us all to change. The Holy Scriptures are full of God asking us to change. We may find it inconvenient, but in the end, our life is not our own. We are only here as long as the good Lord desires us to be, or given His allowance of our free will, as long as we allow ourselves to be here. Meaning, we need to take care of ourselves and each other if we expect to make it past the virus and systemic racism and other ills that plaque us.
We need to change. We need to all become good Samaritans and stop bucking the system. Stop trying to force your resistance down someone else’s throat, and put on the mask, be a good Samaritan, be a good neighbor regardless of race, creed, sexual preference or identity, political party, yada, yada, yada!
I dislike wearing a mask, but I wear one all the same. Some people simply rub me the wrong way, but they are still my neighbor and we are all creatures of God, not dirt we stomp our feet on. They still deserve your respect.
We must all change. We all must push on the stone wheel until we make it move. We all have our sins and addictions that do not get any better until we roll the stone. Let us all make a concerted effort to move the stone – to change for the better. Get rid of hate, intolerance, and resistance to masks. Not only for ourselves, but also for our neighbor.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA
We are beggars. If you are able to donate, please do, so that we may keep our small ministry alive!

Monday, July 6, 2020

July 5, 2020
The Fourth Sunday after Trinity
St. Junipero Serra
Independence Day
(Romans 8:9, 11-13; Matthew 11:25-30)
Today’s Gospel reading is one of my favorites – especially verses 28 thru 30. It is also a passage that we more progressive Catholics like to cite as Jesus’ response to religious conservatives. Sadly, these exact words of Jesus can certainly be applied still today. Too many groups and ministers apply heavy burdens that make it virtually impossible for some followers to live a day without feeling they have failed. It is also why many have left the church or not joined one at all!
What was it that Jesus was talking about? Some like to translate this as meaning that those of us who are burdened by the heavy load of life can come to Jesus who will help them with their burdened life; that He will help them with whatever troubles them. To go to Jesus and He will lighten your load and burdens and make your life better. Although this view isn’t wrong, because indeed Jesus does want us to seek Him when our life is in turmoil, it is not what this passage is actually saying. It’s one of those in context things.
What Jesus was speaking of here is for those who labor and are burdened: burdened by the law as expounded by the scribes and Pharisees. In place of the yoke of the law, complicated by scribal interpretation, Jesus invites the burdened to take the yoke of obedience to his word, under which they will find rest. The scribes and Pharisees would be, in my opinion, the conservatives of today.
We well know that there are many “laws,” especially in the Old Testament, that we simply do not follow in modern times. Though the reason for this is more difficult than can be explained in a mere sermon, the fact remains that some of these “laws” simply do not apply in our modern context. They have been made unnecessary in various ways and for various reasons, and also because Christ fulfilled the “laws.” One example would be from the book of Acts in which St. Peter hears a voice speak to him.
“The next day, while they were on their way and nearing the city, Peter went up to the roof terrace to pray at about noontime. He was hungry and wished to eat, and while they were making preparations he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something resembling a large sheet coming down, lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all the earth’s four-legged animals and reptiles and the birds of the sky. A voice said to him, “Get up, Peter. Slaughter and eat.” But Peter said, “Certainly not, sir. For never have I eaten anything profane and unclean.” The voice spoke to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you are not to call profane.” This happened three times, and then the object was taken up into the sky.” (Acts 10:9-16)
Now what does this mean? The vision is intended to prepare Peter to share the food of Cornelius’ household without qualms of conscience. The necessity of such instructions to Peter reveals that at first not even the Apostles fully grasped the implications of Jesus’ teaching on the law. The arrival of the Gentile emissaries with their account of the angelic apparition illuminates St. Peter’s vision: he is to be prepared to admit Gentiles, who were considered unclean like the animals of his vision, into the Christian community. The revelation of God’s choice of Israel to be the people of God did not mean he withheld the divine favor from other people.
As we know, there are many topics in the Scriptures that can be very divisive. Many items can be taken out of context. Many items can be twisted in any way someone wants them – to say what one wants them to say.
Some people church going Christians as inconsistent because “they follow some of the rules in the Bible and ignore others.” The challenge usually sounds something like this: “When the Bible talks about certain sexual behaviors as sin, you quote that; but when it says not to eat shellfish or that you should execute people for breaking the Sabbath, you just ignore it. Aren’t you just picking and choosing what suits you best?”
Many Christians have a hard time answering it. Which is why we just secretly hope it never comes up. Even I don’t like the question, because what I say in reply, I will always get the same response ….. but, doesn’t the bible say this ….. etc. However, it is always good to keep in mind that our branch of Catholicism has always taught “freedom of thought.” However, that is for another day ….
One of the most helpful ways to think about this is to look at the types of laws there are in the Old Testament. The 16th-century Reformer John Calvin saw that the NT seemed to treat the OT laws in three ways. There were Civil Laws, which governed the nation of Israel, encompassing not only behaviors, but also punishments for crimes. There were Ceremonial Laws about “clean” and “unclean” things, about various kinds of sacrifices, and other temple practices. And then there were the Moral Laws, which declared what God deemed right and wrong—the 10 Commandments, for instance.
For OT Israel, all three types of laws blended together. Breaking a civil or a ceremonial law was a moral problem; conversely, breaking a moral law had a civil (and often ceremonial) consequence. But they only went hand-in-hand because Israel was in a unique place historically, as both a nation and a worshiping community. “Separation of church and state” wasn’t one of their core tenets. That’s not the case for the Church today, so the way we view the Law would have to look different.
All of this helps explain what often seems contradictory about the NT view of the Law. On one hand, Jesus said the Law was perfect, that heaven and earth would pass away before the Law would fail (Matt 5:18). On the other hand, the Apostle Paul points out that those who are born again are actually released from the Law (Rom 7:1-6; Gal 3:25). As Jesus himself put it, he came to fulfill the Law (Matt 5:17).
What does it mean that Jesus fulfilled the Law? It means that every law pointed to him, and He completed everything they pointed to. Thinking of Jesus as the fulfillment of the Law helps us see why we keep some of the OT commands and “ignore” others.
The Civil Laws, for instance, were set up so the nation of Israel could thrive. Jesus actually emerged from this nation, but He started a new Israel—a spiritual Israel, the Church. We’re no longer bound by the civil codes of Leviticus because God doesn’t have a nation-state on earth anymore. (At least from the Christian perspective.) Of course, we may wisely look at some of the principles in Israel’s civil laws as we think of our own societal politics (principles about public health, caring for the poor, etc.), but the specific rules were all fulfilled in Jesus.
The Ceremonial Laws illustrate for us God’s holiness, our unholiness, and what God would do about it. The entire sacrificial system should have ingrained into Israel’s minds just how large the gap was between sinful humanity and a perfect God—and just how costly it would be to bridge that gap. And as the book of Hebrews shows us, the sacrifices were all fulfilled in Jesus’ perfect life and death. If we accept Jesus, the ultimate sacrifice, we don’t need the lesser sacrifices anymore. In fact, it would actually be offensive to go back to them, because that would communicate that Jesus’ sacrifice wasn’t sufficient.
The Moral Laws are fulfilled in Jesus as well, in that He kept all of them perfectly, every day, always, for His entire life. But unlike the civil and ceremonial laws, which were more time-bound, these laws reflected God’s assessment of good and evil, right and wrong. They reflect God’s character, and since His character doesn’t change, His views on morality don’t either. In fact, whenever Jesus mentioned the moral laws, He either reaffirmed them or intensified them! To follow Jesus is to love what He loved, including the moral law.
Now, even though we still defend the moral laws of the Old Testament, we have to keep in mind that Jesus fulfilled it all. The Christian is not under obligation to keep the moral law as a way of earning his or her way to God. Instead, we are changed by the presence of God’s Spirit to desire to keep God’s laws. Because God isn’t just after obedience; He’s after a whole new kind of obedience, an obedience that comes from love and delight in God. Christians keep the moral commands, not because “it’s the law,” but because they love God and want to be like Him.
So, His yoke would merely be the Golden Rule or the two greatest commandments. To love the Lord thy God with all your heart, mind and soul. And to love your neighbor as you do yourself. Following these commandments and following Jesus’ example in how He treated others during His ministry, and your burden is already lightened. No cagillion rules or laws to follow. Two simple laws and Jesus’ example.
Let us pray.
For the Church, that we may find ways to both preach the word and serve our neighbor, especially during this time of separation and crisis. We pray to the Lord.
For elected leaders, that they may serve with wisdom, compassion and humility all the people in their care. We pray to the Lord.
For an end to gun violence in our community and in our nation. We pray to the Lord.
For our diocese, that we may foster a missionary spirit and bring the message of the Gospel wherever we may go in the example of St. Junipero Serra. We pray to the Lord.
That, more and more, we will come to see the Lord Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life. We pray to the Lord.
For our nation, as we thank God for our national freedom this weekend, we pray for a deeper consciousness of the damage caused by systemic racism and the unwelcoming of immigrants seeking refuge. May American Christians be people of humility and openness. We pray to the Lord.
For all who are on the frontlines of this COVID-19 pandemic, especially our health care workers and first responders, for all who are unable to stay at home, but must work to provide for their families, may God continue to protect them and keep them in good health. 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.
You, gracious God, are love itself, and perfect love casts out fear. Come to us in merciful patience, we pray, to love us from fear to trust, from anger to grace, from doubt to faith. Love us from our self-centeredness to hearts that willingly give themselves in selfless sacrifice and service. Love us out of our scarcity to hearts overflowing with generosity. Love us from brokenness to wholeness, from resentments and forgiveness withheld to forgiveness freely offered just as it has been freely offered to us. Come to us, Lord, overwhelming us with your love that we might love as you first loved us.
Gracious God, we thank You for your promise to be with us and among us today as we worship You in a spirit of humility and holiness. We invite You to be our “true mirror,” to hold up before us Your Word in such a way that we see our true selves. Help us also to see in a new way the fullness of Your ineffable glory and transcendent grace and mercy. We await in the next hour Your word to us, that by it we may be empowered to live in the world, announcing Your rule of justice, reconciliation and peace. We await You in the loving of our neighbor and remembering that black lives do indeed matter. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Friend. Amen
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA

We are beggars.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

June 14, 2020
Corpus Christi
(1 Corinthians 10:16-17; John 6:51-58)
Today I am not doing a traditional sermon again. It has been a difficult week for me, but such is my life. However, let’s focus on something important.
I owe a big apology to my black brothers and sisters. Though I have never said anything publicly, I admit I often found the slogan “Black Live Matter” a bit offensive. However, I no longer do! It took something I saw online for me to straighten out my flawed thinking on the topic.
First, no, I never considered myself a racist, so that isn’t what I mean. Some very good friends over the years have been black. I was raised in a family where it was made clear that people are people regardless of their color, national or ethnic origin, social class, religion … anyway, you get the idea.
I was raised in my early years in a majority black neighborhood. As a child I was mugged once. The individual happened to be black. It was brand new watch my parents gave me. It was a Mickey Mouse watch. Needless to say I was devastated, but also scared to death to walk home from school for many months.
However, even with this incident, my view of black people did not change. My view of bad people who did bad things maybe, hahaha, but not of black people. I remember my mother telling some of the neighborhood kids (mostly Black teens) about what happened, and they tended to be very protective of me after that, because they respected my family. I was their white brother.
Anyway, to my point. Let’s put this into a similar perspective to what I saw online. I hope that anyone out there, who like me, used to say, but “All Lives Matter,” they may think twice about saying that again.
Let’s think for a second that there is a major fire and a number of homes are burned down. Obviously, that neighborhood (We will call it neighborhood “A”) is going to need some extra attention, support, monetary funds than they might normally get. Mind you, in this analogy, let’s assume that all neighborhoods get the same amount of attention, support, or monetary funds, or at the very least, appropriately distributed based on need. Yet, in this case, maybe smoke alarms and other preventive measures somehow got missed in being distributed to this neighborhood.
So, now that this neighborhood went through such a terrible loss, it now is going to need some major attention indeed! Extra resources are going to need to be distributed here, with less to the other neighborhoods for a while, so as they can rebuild. We also have to look to see how the smoke alarms and other measures somehow got missed and get that corrected. Train the ones who missed them, or whatever is needed.
So, obviously neighborhood “A” needs help right now, because something failed and we need to come together and fix it. We do this as a group, as a team, as a community – whatever way we can. Neighborhood “B” might have been suffering last year, and maybe neighborhood “Z” two years before that.
The point I am making here is this. Black Lives DO Matter. Of course, All Lives matter, but All Lives are not going through this right now – Black Lives are. They are the ones hurting and being treated as second class citizens right now. LGBTQ are sometimes the punching bags. Sometimes it is Hispanics or Islamic or Asian. You name it. But the Blacks are the one who need and deserve our attention right now.
However, we are a melting pot country. And frankly, most of us do not belong here, because we are on Native American soil. (They’re another punching bag!) It doesn’t matter who we are, the point is we are part of a country built on a wide range of people and we should really be past racism, but obviously we are not. And right now, Blacks seem to be in need of our attention and support. They are the neighborhood “A” that needs the extra attention.
It has nothing to do with the other neighborhoods not being important also right now. It merely means that they are not the ones being victimized currently. Blacks are.
Sadly, while there are various aspects of certain groups of people in America that have similar issues or have their neighborhood on fire, Blacks have had a constant struggle from the point they were forced to get on a boat and come here. There have been periods where maybe racism against Blacks may have not been as a prevalent topic as it has the past few years, but they shouldn’t have to fear their treatment or life. We shouldn’t have to keep coming back and fixing something that should be fixed by now. We fought and won their freedom, now let’s give it to them already.
So, right now, Black Lives DO Matter and they should matter to us all! They need our love and support right now. There will come a time when we need theirs. It is how life goes. So, like the parable of the Good Samaritan, let us not pass on the other side. Let us stop and make sure Black Lives Do Matter without exception.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA
We are beggars in great time of need. Please help!
http://www.stfrancisucc.org/donate.html

Sunday, May 31, 2020

May 31, 2020
Whitsunday/Pentecost
(Acts 2:1-11; John 20:19-23)
Nelson Mandela once said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.”
As I took a moment to read the lectionary readings assigned for today and as I read the passage from Acts, I could not help but think of the recent tragedies inflicted on our African American brethren recently. We have seen much in the news in regard to Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and George Floyd. Though these are merely three in a long line the past few years. And then there is Christian Cooper in Central Park with the woman who called the police on him, because he asked her to leash her dog (as required by posted signs). Fortunately, no police brutality there, but an obvious case of racism from the woman, who has since apologized.
Instead of hoping you take your Bible hidden somewhere and knock the dust off of it, and read the Epistle reading, let me simply put the reading here for you:
“When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. They were astounded, and in amazement they asked, ‘Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his native language? We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.’”
Now isn’t that interesting! Think about it. In John 14:15-31 Jesus makes it clear He will ask the Father to send the Holy Spirit to help us. Then again in John 16:7 and again in John 20:22. (You will have to dig out that Bible and knock the dust off of it for these.)
If Jesus sends the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit came to all these various ethnic people as stated in our reading from Acts, that tells me that not only is the Holy Spirit indiscriminate, but so is Jesus and God the Father whom both send the Holy Spirit. It is obvious, frankly, in my mind at least, that the lesson here is that NO ONE is less than anyone else in the eyes of God!
Racism is a grave sin and illness that this country is inflicted with. We are battling two fronts, with racism on one side and Covid-19 on the other. Neither of the two is being appropriately addressed by those with the political power to make these illnesses go away. In fact, I would say Covid-19 might be getting a slight better focus. However, it isn’t just politicians who are to blame. It isn’t even the police officers who seem to commit what they deem lawful, yet their actions are far from it. No, the blame falls squarely on each of us, especially those of us who are white. Yes, we are all the blame.
Studies show that racism persists in America:
People with “black-sounding names” had to send out 50 percent more job applications than people with “white-sounding names” to get a callback.
A black man is three times more likely to be searched at a traffic stop and six times more likely to go to jail than a white man.
If a black person kills a white person, he or she is twice as likely to receive the death sentence as a white person who kills a black person.
Blacks serve up to 20 percent more time in prison than white people for the same crimes.
Blacks are 38 percent more likely to be sentenced to death than white people for the same crimes.
Let me be clear, there is no room or place for racists in Christianity. There shouldn’t be in any religion or society as a whole.
The Spirit enables followers of Christ—people with beautiful Asian, black, brown, and white skin; with a range of immigration statuses; with different accents—to pursue mutual sacrificial love for one another in the power of the Spirit as the people of God. Christians must walk in love in the power of the Spirit as opposed to the lust of the flesh – which is doing that which is evil or sinful instead of the radical love that Jesus taught!
One way we do this is by loving our neighbor as we love ourselves, instead of taking advantage of our freedom to gratify our sinful desires or to serve the demonic forces of evil. As Paul writes in Galatians 5:13–14, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping with this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
This Spirit-empowered love can move willing Christians to speak against and to seek to defeat every form of racism and white supremacy with the supernatural weapon of the Gospel!
Racism is antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Those who willfully live to gratify the sinful desires of racism “will not inherit the kingdom of God” because they reveal they might be still enslaved to the present evil age and to its seductive powers, instead of being freely enslaved to love by the power of the Spirit as those redeemed by Christ and bound for the promised land of new creation.
In an age where racism is on the rise and police brutality and violence is going unchecked, we must stand for a change and not be afraid to hold the politicians and policing agencies accountable in these times. These individuals, in true democracy, work for you and me, not their own agendas. If they will not instill change in a system deeply flawed, then in November we must vote in those who will! Until then, let your voices be heard!
We also must be careful, to not allow ourselves to become like those who inflict pain, or cause violent social unrests like in Minneapolis. This type of action is counter to what Jesus would call us to do. Let us take as our example the great Martin Luther King Jr., who although his protests and speeches caused great potential danger to him and his family and eventually led to his assassination, he had the courage and bravery to protest against discrimination and promote love and truth through the act of Civil Disobedience. Let us be civil, but let us also protest injustice! I am well aware that there are those who feel that peaceful protests hasn’t worked, so maybe rioting is needed, but this is counterintuitive. Two wrongs do not make one right. “Socially destructive,” is how Martin Luther King Jr labeled riots. Violence will not end violence. Only peace, love and accountability will end violence!
I am confident that Jesus would hate racism. We can know this from His parable of the good Samaritan. We can no longer walk on the other side. We must be brave and speak out against hate of any kind!
We may not state it often, surely not enough, but within our denomination, we find racism and intolerance deeply sinful. Ethnicity, gender, gender identification, sexual orientation, marriage status, social status, creed, faith, or age are of no concern to us. What we are concerned with, and we all should be concerned with, is one’s walk with God by loving other’s in the example of the radical love of Jesus!
We claim to be a nation as a home of the free and the brave, yet freedom is still being fought. The voice of freedom and equality is a voice like that of our reading from Acts, it is understood by all – or it should be. Let your voices be heard unequivocally for an end to racism and law enforcement’s inappropriate use of force. Speak out and pray up!
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA

Sunday, May 24, 2020

May 24, 2020
Ascension Sunday
(Acts 1:1-11; Matthew 28:16-20)
Another week has passed. Another week of Covid-19 restrictions and concerns. Another week of many unemployed and worrying how long it will last and whether to chose mortgage over food.
We have been restricted to stay at home throughout the entirety of Easter, virtually as if we have yet to leave Lent. We never got to celebrate the great day of Resurrection, and here we are at the Ascension, which we also cannot celebrate. Another week with my feeble attempt at a short “sermon” to fill a little void. I am not good at these short exoteric sermons, however neither are any of us good at staying home, being ill or unemployed.
As some of you know, my episcopal coat of arms motto from a well-known poem reads, “And it was then I carried you.” It comes from the Footprints in the Sand poem. It postulates that when we look back over our life as if our life were a path of footprints in sand, that we remark to Christ that we sometimes only see one set of prints instead of two and we wonder why Jesus seemingly “abandoned” us during the worst periods of our life. And Jesus responds to correct us by telling us it wasn’t our singular footprints we look back and see, but His! He was carrying us!
We could look at life in Christ a little deeper – or maybe, differently is a better word, while still using the sand analogy.
Let’s assume for a moment that we are in the desert in Western California and I were to ask any one of you to look out over the plain of sand and dunes and asked you to start walking, but to be sure you walked in a straight line, for say, oh, maybe 5 minutes, whilst I stand still and do not move. After that 5-minute interval, I yell (or probably call you on your cell phone, a 5-minute walk could make it hard to hear a “yell”) to “stop!” Now I ask you to turn around and look.
Now, you were sure that you walked in a straight line but discovered that you veered considerably to the right. One could, I suppose, argue that as long as it was a straight line to the right, it was still a straight line, but let’s assume a straight line was directly forward of where I was standing while you walked. That said, you did not walk in a straight line, though you made a concerted effort to do so.
Now there is a little story or parable of king and three neighboring princes. The king issued a challenge to them, that whomever among them could, over a long journey of varying landscapes, walk a straight line to the king’s castle would have the right to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage.
So, the first prince starts out, looking to his right and to his left to ensure he did not veer off his course. However, like you, the further he got, the more off course he ended up.
The second prince determined to look down, to keep his eyes on his feet, making sure every step followed in the same path as the step before it. However, he too went off course.
Now the third prince started out and he neither looked to the left or to the right, nor did he look down upon his feet. But, at the end, it was discovered that he walked in a straight line. Everyone wanted to know how he did it, and he said, “All I did was look into the far distance to the light on the crown of the castle tower. I didn’t look at my path or the landscape to my right or left. I just kept my eyes on that light and kept pressing forward to that light until I arrived there.”
This, my friends, is the way to walk with God. We are called to walk a straight path to God. This can be a challenging journey over varying landscapes and changing circumstances of life. Sometimes, we have to pause and do our best to sometimes not focus on our circumstances or our walk. It is beneficial to fix our eyes on the destination, regardless of the surroundings, mountains, valleys, highs and lows, even regardless of our own walk and footsteps.
We should fix our eyes on the Eternal – on God – and press forward, always onward and closer to this goal. And when we do so, we will end up there – and straight will be our footprints in the sand, whether we see one set of prints or two.
Like the Apostles, now that Jesus has Ascended, our goal is to walk the path of His teachings and example. We want to follow a straight path to Him, and we find there are times we have veered to the right or left, and even sometimes ended up full circle. We can get frustrated at times, but in the end what must we do?
We must simply allow Jesus to carry us when we struggle along the path. The path is not always easy, but like the third prince, if we keep our eyes on the light – the light of Christ – we too shall make it.
This Covid-19 virus is one of those landscapes that is challenging our walk in the sand, but walk we must continue to do. We must never lose sight of the fact that we must still walk. It is hard, sometimes with a wall seemingly in the way, but this too we must go over.
Let us take some time this week to ask Our Blessed Lord to show us, not only our path, but that He is there by our side to carry us if we need. He never deserts us. Let us ask Him for an end to this terrible epidemic, that medical science will win the cause; that fewer and fewer unnecessary deaths will take place; that people will return to jobs and food on their plates. That on this Memorial Day those who have fought and died to defend our great nation, be remembered and rest in peace eternal.
Let us know, that although Our Blessed Lord has indeed Ascended, He is only away from our physical sight, but indeed nearer to us than when He walked the earth. By His Ascension, our salvation is assured.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel

Sunday, May 17, 2020

May 17, 2020
The Sixth Sunday of Easter
(Acts 8:5-8, 14-17; John 14:15-21)
Both passages before us today, speak of the Holy Spirit. Interesting, in a way, that we have these readings now and not as alternative readings for Pentecost Sunday in a couple of weeks. We are used to hearing the passages of the Holy Spirit coming like tongues of fire, but the Holy Spirit comes in whatever way God wishes.
How often we read these scripture passages and think to ourselves, “Oh, but the Holy Spirit wouldn’t come to me in this way – probably not even at all!” We all think these thoughts from time to time. I sometimes feel much like we have learned that St. Mother Teresa of Kolkata felt at times in her religious life. I too often feel as though God has left me, that He no longer comes to me or hears me. Many of us experience “dark nights of the soul.” Yet, time and again, our Lord senses this and sends us little reminders that He is indeed still there.
Sometimes, it isn’t so much that He has “left” us, as merely He is allowing – in fact – encouraging us to seek Him out. Sometimes, our free will gets in the way. Let me try an exoteric story of sorts to help.
Let’s say you are standing at the base of a very large mountain. This mountain has a very gradual ascent, with smaller interlocking mountains and several paths one could take to reach the peak or pinnacle. The endeavor is for you to reach this peak or pinnacle.
Naturally, seeing the many possible paths, it is a challenge to determine which path will lead to the peak if at all. Certainly, more than one path could possibly get you there with varying lengths of passage. Or, maybe only one path will lead there. But, you must first choose a path. God gives allows us our free will, so the challenge is to determine the appropriate path.
So, you chose a path and start walking. It appears to be getting dark and this path does not appear to be leading to the peak. So, you choose another path, and then another. Finally, you become disoriented and filled with anxiety so you call out for help for someone to lead you back down.
Once you arrive back down, you are discouraged because you didn’t get to the peak. You become frustrated because you did not know which path to take. Someone else comes along and asks if they can help and you explain your ordeal. The stranger explains why.
The stranger says you were far too focused on the which path to take, instead of choosing the paths up. He says you should have always choose the higher ground. Take a path that is ascending. When it stops ascending, switch to the path that is still ascending, and so forth. It rarely is one path, but a connection of many that leads to the top.
It can be the same with our walks with God! The pinnacle or peak of the mountain represents God’s calling in your life. His will and purpose for your life. You don’t need to know exactly which path, so long as you are always sure you are ascending. When you choose the higher ground, sometimes there are higher footsteps to take.
No matter where you started from; no matter where you are now, you will end up in the exact, specific, appointed and perfect will of God! The peak or pinnacle of God’s purpose in life.
Why? Because whether we feel it or not, the Holy Spirit is always with us. Jesus promised us this. Once we receive the Holy Spirit through our Baptism and Confirmations, the Holy Spirit is granted us. Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, will be with us until the end of the age.
The Holy Spirit will indeed come as God so wishes, as I said earlier. Whether it be in a friend, a co-worker, your pastor, a stranger or an email or message of some kind. The Holy Spirit will come!
We are living in a challenging and scary time. As the world’s religions joined Pope Francis’ call for all religions to join with the Roman Catholic Church to pray for the end of this pandemic this past Thursday, I too joined in prayer. Millions of people did the same. We do this, because of our faith in a healing God, in a loving and beneficent God.
He knows our sorrow. He knows our sorrow, because He came and died on the cross for us! He is with us now. And in His time, he will eradicate this evil from our lives. We must still follow the paths we have chosen, and if they are not leading to higher ground, we should change another path.
As we continue to celebrate Easter, as best as we can in current times, we are called to not lose faith; to not give up; and to know there is always light ahead no matter how dark the night of the soul is. The Holy Spirit will draw us out of that darkness so that we can resume our journey.
My prayers remain with us all during this time. Let us all take a moment to ask God to intervene in our time and set us free from this epidemic.
God Love You +++
The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA

Sunday, May 10, 2020

May 10, 2020
The Fifth Sunday of Easter
Mother’s Day
(Acts 6:1-7; John 14:1-12)
In the Talmud, the writings of the rabbis, there is inscribed a reference to a scarlet cord. At the time of the second Temple, on the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, a scarlet cord was tied to the Temple doors. When the requirements for the Day of Atonement were completed, it is said that the cord would turn from scarlet to white.
Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; Though they be red like crimson, they may become white as wool. (Isaiah 1:18)
It is said to have taken place every year. The phenomenon or miracle would occur every year to signify that the atonement had been completed and accepted.
The Talmud indicates that something changed in the first century AD. The cord abruptly stops changing. Certainly, this must have been unsettling. Had Adonai (God) stopped accepting their acts of atonement? Although this is where Jewish and Christian theology and thought take separate roads. I am sure that they thought that God had stopped accepting the acts of atonement for some reason, but they may have questioned why.
In human history, let’s face it, we have not always lived as God would want us to, and He would intervene in various ways. Often times He would send a prophet or leader that would help lead us back on the correct path. So, what was it this time that has caused Him to stop changing the cord from scarlet to white?
From a Christian perspective, we tend to believe it wasn’t because He stopped accepting the acts of atonement, but merely that they were no longer needed. The final atonement had been offered up. The final sacrifice for sin.
Now another interesting piece to this is when the cord stopped changing. The Talmud records it as being about 40 years before the destruction of the Temple. The Temple was destroyed in 70 AD. Therefore, the cord stopped changing about 30 AD! The same time frame Christians place Jesus’ death on the cross!
Jesus’ death on the cross was the final Atonement for all people. The book of Hebrews explains that we are no longer saved by the sacrifices of the Temple or the Day of Atonement, but by the death of Christ Jesus who took upon himself all of our sins – past, present and future!
So, as we continue to “celebrate” the Easter season, we do well to remember what our Savior did for all mankind. We “celebrate” this saving grace bestowed upon as we celebrate his resurrection – Easter.
As we continue to live through this horrible epidemic, there is seemingly no reason to feel joyful, at least not by human standards. There are so many people who are acquiring this virus, with far too many dying. We can pass blame, yet we are all responsible. Responsible for the spreading of the illness in our insistence to go outside or to not wear a mask or gather when we should not. None of us like being cooped up and restricted.
Yet, Easter calls us to joy. For those of us who have never come close to the kind of joy that the Apostles and all of Jesus’ followers had after his resurrection, there may be within us a pang of jealousy. What is it like to feel that way, so sure of our calling and our mission and our God, that nothing, not even threats of death, can steal our joy?
Part of the problem stems from our society’s view of happiness and joy. There’s the danger in thinking that they are the same; people of faith know that happiness is fine but fleeting. Inevitably, something comes along that makes us sad or mad.
But joy? That’s a different story. Joy comes from deep within and can’t be shaken by bad weather or traffic jams, even illness or work issues. Because joy is grounded in God, and God is never fleeting.
On this Mother’s Day during our Easter season, may we each find some joy in the resurrection of Christ by viewing him through our mothers who bore us. While many are unemployed and nervous for their next meal; while some may be ill and may be one of those particularly vulnerable to this virus causing serious harm; while others are concerned of this life as we have it now – let us try to find joy in Christ and his resurrection. Let us bless our mothers with a day of joy in a trying time, even if for a fleeting period.
This is a difficult time to be sure, let us each try to trust in our Lord and place our burdens at his feet, for he will indeed see and respond. Let us know that all through all this, there are front line workers who are doing those things that are meant to help us all. Help them to not fear as they put themselves in potential danger in so doing. These are angels sent from Jesus’ to help us during this time.
It is easy to give up and see no respite where we have difficulty seeing such. Let us take this fifth Sunday of Easter and do our best to place our trust in God and find some joy as we spend it with Him and our wonderful mothers. Let us find some joy in this difficult time. Our mothers bring us joy, and they are, like Our Lady Mary, and our Lord Jesus bringing love into the world.
God Love You +++

Sunday, April 26, 2020

April 26, 2020
Third Sunday of Easter
(Acts 2:14, 22-33; Luke 24:13-35)
The Jewish people have blessings for almost everything (actually so do Catholics, but bear with me), a blessing for food, for lighting candles, for special days, and for every day. And the most typical beginning for a Hebrew blessing are the words “Baruch Atah”.
Baruch Atah – Atah means “You.” The blessings are focused on the word You. One thing to learn from this is that one should not just relate to God as “He” (or “She” if you prefer). One should also relate to Him as Atah, You (notice the capitalization). We should relate to Him directly, personally, one on one, and heart to heart, not simply by speaking about Him, but speaking from your heart directly to Him! This is a big theological meaning behind Atah.
Any blessing, if we are to think about it, should start with God. God is first, everything else is second. Let that sink in a little. We certainly don’t live that way most of the time, do we? It is crucial to put God first. When we pray, we should try to not put our problems or requests first. This is difficult to do. I struggle with that – if we are honest, we all do. The focus and the beginning of the Hebrew blessing is the word Atah, You. The blessing is not me centered, but Atah-centered.
So, a life of blessing is an Atah-centered heart. Let go of yourself. Put Him first, His will first, His desires first, and His glory first. And to live an Atah-centered life, you must focus on the other atahs, on every other you in your life, putting them above yourself as well. It is a life of love that is the life of blessing. “Love the Lord your God … and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Now Baruch means to “bless” – you probably already figured that out, good for you! Therefore, you should not only live a You-centered life, but make it your specific aim to bless the You in your life. Make it the purpose of your life, above everything else, every other aim and purpose, to bless God! And then make it your purpose to bless every other you in your life.
Two simple words. Baruch and Atah. Make it your life’s purpose to Baruch your Atah. Bless your God!
This certainly seems easier said than done in a climate of social distancing. Often times we may find ourselves shaking our fist at God – our Atah. Not much Baruch for Atah sometimes. There is no easy prescription that I can give anyone during this trying time. But I can tell you, that God is certainly weeping with us.
Remember when Jesus arrived at the tomb of Lazarus? All those people weeping, and mourning moved Jesus – moved God to tears. It is no different now. He is weeping again!
Yes, God could certainly intervene and just make all of this disappear but doing so would be counterintuitive to His approach to human free will and our existence in the way we have lived. Are we at fault for the Covid-19 virus? I suspect that question can be answered and argued on both sides of the pews, but the answer is something only God knows.
One thing I am certain of, God is not punishing us. I really dislike hearing those who claim to be religious leaders claim this is some sort of punishment – especially as a punishment for a specific group of people! NO IT IS NOT! God doesn’t work that way. However, He has indeed allowed this virus to continue for reasons we may never be able to understand. Neither has He abandoned us.
I think, as heart wrenching as it is, God wants us to do some of this work ourselves, with a little helping hand from Him here and there. We must take what we know and what we are learning and apply it. But we must also accept that sometimes God wants to respond in ways like He did with Job. Sometimes we need to shake ourselves a little and see things we don’t often see and/or refuse to see. As God told Job, there are simply things our finite minds cannot comprehend. We simply do not know what He is doing behind the scenes.
The reality is, we do not know God’s intention in all this. But, we do know that He is certainly in it with us. He hasn’t deserted us. He is most certainly in all our first responders who are on the front lines of the battle with this terrible disease. They are focusing on all the other atahs in their (and our) lives. Even if we may not see it or know it, God is in this with us. God is working through all these magnificent people.
It may be hard to focus on being good at emulating our Jewish brothers and sisters and sending out our Baruch Atah’s right now, but I encourage you to try. He is hearing our prayers!
The difficult part of this is that indeed it is a horrible time, but God will make some good of it. It is up to each of us to help make that happen. There are so many wonderful stories out there about so many people who are focusing on other atahs! Many people are in great need as well as great distress, and it is up to us to be there for them in any way we can. God wants us to not push it off all on Him, but to take action ourselves as well. Sometimes that action is as simple as staying home.
It is my hope, that not only will all of you take action in whatever small way you can – considering the social distancing we must currently embrace – but to also remember how fragile life can be at times. Because it is fragile, we should all spend more time Baruching, our Atah. We need to remember who created us and who saves us.
We have lost some people to this terrible virus, and unfortunately still more will be lost, but with faith and understanding that God is working with those who can turn this around, these losses will soon end. Know, that those we have lost and grieve and mourn over, are in the bosom of God now. They are looking down on us and helping to inspire us to continue on.
It is my prayer and hope, that as soon as this ends, and it will end, that many will flock back to churches – especially those who have been away – and lift up some Baruch Atah’s, lift up some thanks, lift up some the worship that we may not have always been so good at. That we will remember all those on the front lines of this and remember them in special ways and especially in prayer.
We will all be grateful for being able to have communion and companionship with our fellow humans when this is over. Let’s not let this turn us all into digital people to the point we forsake human interaction, that we forsake our community of churches and thus God too. God created us to be social beings!
The economy, it will take time to recover, but it will also depend on our faith in what lies ahead. That, my friends, depends more on us than we realize. It depends on us having some faith in the great Atah also!
I am not the most eloquent speaker (or writer in this case of social distancing pastoral approach), nor would I be a success at being a motivational speaker, but know that my prayers do not cease. My life has been quite rotten the past three years, as some of you know, but it cannot compare to that which so many are going though now. Even so, it helped to awaken within me that I needed to get back to doing more Baruch Atah’s. Blessing God!
So, this week, I encourage – in fact I challenge – everyone to find something to be thankful for in the coming weeks ahead. Take some time to sit with God. No social distancing is required to sit with Him. Remember to say to Him – Baruch Atah! I Bless You, my God!
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA

Monday, April 20, 2020

April 19, 2020
Low Sunday/Divine Mercy Sunday
(Acts 2:42-47; John 20:19-31)
With our “isolation” going on, I decided since this isn’t a traditional sermon, in that there is no public Mass today, that I would be a bit different in my message approach. Think of this as somewhat a short story as well as something to make you ponder. Something to make you think deeper on something so simple. Maybe even motivation to spend some of your isolation time with a very important book.
A gentleman was holding in one hand a cloth bag and in the other a small shovel. He led another gentleman to a spot of soil that had been marked out for planting. He reached into the bag and placed in the other’s hand a sample of its contents.
“Seeds,” he said. “Potential miracles. Each one is filled with the potential for life, growth, blossoming, and fruitfulness. It’s all there in the seed—the plan, everything it will become, the plant, the flower, the tree. It’s all there inside the shell. Now what happens if the seed stays in the bag?” “Nothing. Nothing happens.”
“Exactly. All its potential stays unrealized. But if we take the seed and plant it in the soil, everything changes.
The seed becomes one with the earth. The shell opens up and the life inside the seed joins itself to the soil around it. It puts out roots and draws in life from the earth. The plan is activated, the promise unlocked, and the potential becomes reality.”
“So you’re going to plant the seeds?” the second gentleman asked.
“Yes,” he said, “but that’s not why I brought you here.” Reaching into his pocket, he took out a book and handed it to him. It was a Bible.
“What’s inside this?” he asked.
“The Word,” the second gentleman answered.
“Seeds,” he replied.
“The Word of God itself refers to the Word of God as a seed. The Bible is the container of many seeds. And every seed, every word is a potential miracle. And as is a seed, so is the Word of God. Each word has the potential to produce life, growth, blossoming, fruitfulness, and a miracle. It’s all there inside the seed, inside the Word.”
“But if the seed stays in the bag . . . ”
“If the Word stays on the pages and is never sown to life, then its life stays unlocked, unrealized. So the Word must be sown.”
“Sown to what soil?” the second gentleman asked.
“Sown into the soil of life,” he replied. “To the lives of others. And to the soil of your life. The seed must become one with the soil.
The Word must become one with your life. So you need to sow the Word into every situation of your life and let it become one with that soil—the soil of your heart, your thoughts, your emotions, your life.
For when the Word becomes one with your life, then its shell will break open, its plan will be activated, its promise unlocked, its life released, and its miracle begun.”
There are a couple of messages I wish to convey with this short story today.
First, some of you have either heard me say, or read in my sermons how much I love Lectio Divina. Latin, for Divine reading. Most specifically, Divine Reading of the Bible. I make it a point to try to do so every day. I absolutely love reading the Bible and meditating on the words.  I make it part of my hour-long morning prayer each day.
One can never get enough of Lectio Divina once one applies themselves to doing so. It is helpful to have a few different versions. Study versions are nice, because no two will give you the same commentary. There are a vast number of versions to choose from, though I admit, not all are of equal value.
When taking time to read the words, letting them sink in. There is great value in reading the before and after of the passage you have chosen, to learns its context. Knowing the background can be awakening. Even when not doing this, the words still can have an effect on you because of the wisdom you discover.
One can read the same passage numerous times in life, and yet the Holy Spirit could very well lead you to a different meaning some months or years later. Still yet, one might read it many times and not know what it is supposed to say to you until many addition times of reading it.
This is exactly part of the whole. You see, the Holy Spirit, or Holy Wisdom, if you prefer, will use the Sacred Scriptures to help you, instruct you, communicate with you and even motivate you!
As you continue to do this as a regular ritual, Lectio Divina will help you to be more spiritual and possibly even open you up to more mystical connections with our blessed Lord.
Second, we must always remember that the Bible is not about how heaven goes, but how to go to heaven! The Sacred Scriptures are like a guide book on a long journey. In this case, a long journey in the kingdom of God toward our Lord Christ and ultimately to heaven with the Most Holy Trinity.
To plant the seeds for a better life, not only here and now, but in the life to come, we must plant seeds. Through Lectio Divina, we can either be the seeds or the one who plants them. Either way, we must be part of the planting. The planting must happen and it must happen at all times in all places.
We are the trowel our Blessed Lord uses to make the small holes and trenches in the soil. The more closely we are joined to the Lord, the better our planting and seedlings. Always using our guide book, the Bible, as best as we can and as often as we can.
Know that the Scriptures have been twisted for evil or good. If we look at them all and look through a lens of love, we will grow in better understanding, even amongst those passages some commonly use as condemnation toward others. Remember Christ writing in the dirt when a woman caught in adultery was brought to him? Maybe he was writing out the sins of each of those people to weigh against that which they claimed she had. Certainly, we need to view the teachings within it to know right and wrong, but not to become smug and feel as though you are somehow chosen to point fingers, because we are not without sin, any more than those who chased this woman to Christ.
If we look at the Bible more as a love letter from God; as book on how to love as God loves. When the Scriptures are used as condemnation, God grieves. In Lectio Divina form of studying and meditating on its contents, with practice, we allow the Holy Spirit to speak to us. Seeds are planted in our souls to help us not only be helpers to others, but also have a closer relationship with God.
In Lectio Divina we allow our Blessed Lord to use that trowel and help us to be his beautiful creation. To learn to be true Christians – Christ-ians – In Christ.
So, during your isolation, take the Bible off the self, dust it off, open it up and do some Lectio Divina.
God Love You +++

Sunday, April 12, 2020

April 12, 2020
Easter Sunday
(Acts 10:34, 37-43; John 20:1-9)
With the combination of the epidemic and having acquired enough PTO time on the secular job, I was able to take some time off to properly celebrate Easter, by spending the Triduum in prayer and reflection.
Nothing is more soothing that sitting with our Lord and speaking back and forth.
Nothing is better that simply sitting in His presence and feeling the love and majesty pour out to all who will welcome Him.
Our Lord will not force Himself upon us. He will not beat down our door. He will stand at the door and patiently knock – for as long as it takes – until we invite Him in.
How sad it is that so many people no longer attend church services (not that anyone can do so currently due to public gatherings being restricted). Have they truly lost faith in the church, or is it merely excuses? Probably a little of both.
Christ established the church for us. He chose the Twelve – the Apostles – for a reason. To have a church. To have a place where we can all gather together and worship our Lord, to be in His presence and receive grace. He created it that we might have the Eucharist and Communion. Some would say these words are the same thing, but in reality, they are not. It isn’t so much about being part of our human manifestation of a “church,” but to be a church as Christ wills it.
In the book, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals it is put into
Eucharist is from the Greek eucharistein, meaning “thanksgiving.” Communion is from the Latin, meaning “union with.”
One of the church’s peculiar practices is communion, also called the Lord’s Supper or the Eucharist. The early Christians were accused of being cannibals because they talked of eating flesh and drinking blood together. It was a way of remembering, as Christ had asked them to remember him in this way.

“Re-member-ing” has to do with becoming something new, the body of Christ, in which we lose ourselves in something bigger than ourselves; we are re-membered into a new body.
Sadly, and ironically, the sharing of the Eucharist or communion table is both the most unifying and the most divisive practice in the Christian church. After all, sacrament is a “mystery,” so we don’t want to try to systematically analyze the practice of Holy Communion. What we want to do is invite you into the deepest part of this mystery. We are what we eat.
When we take the wine and bread and eat it, we are digesting Christ — or an even better way of understanding might be that we are made into a new creation as we are digested into the body of Christ. Performing the Eucharist with a community makes us into the body of Christ. As often as Christians take the common elements of bread and wine, they re-member themselves into -Jesus. In the Eucharist, we don’t just remember -Jesus in general; we remember his suffering. The bread is a broken body, and the wine is poured like shed blood. Both grain and grapes must be crushed and broken to become something new together. If you are what you eat, the Eucharist is indeed the act of uniting yourself with the one who lovingly suffered at the hands of his enemies. If you ritually cross yourself (like we Catholics do), you are stamping upon yourself the sign of the cross; you are identifying with -Jesus’ suffering love. Those who ingest and become one with the suffering body of Christ all together become the Body of Christ.
We pray as we take the elements that the Blood of -Jesus would run through our veins and that we would be digested into the body of Christ. The early church used to say, “God became man that we might become God.” Certainly, none of us is God alone, but all of us are God’s body together. God has chosen to have no hands but ours, no feet but ours. Maybe this is the greatest sacrament or mystery of our faith — that these broken pieces become one body.
As we all suffer through this epidemic, it may be a good time to reflect on our lives. Sometimes we may not love the church, but we want to love Christ. As some of you have heard me say before, and I take this from the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen, “if the church were perfect, none of us would be allowed in!” It is an imperfect organism to help us become closer to what Christ wanted us to be, even if some pastors fail us sometimes.
As Christians, Christ wanted us to go through life together. He wanted us to “commune” with one another. He wanted us to support and lift each other up. He wanted us to be nourished on His Body and Blood. A Body and Blood that can and does work miracles.
He didn’t want us to suffer through life on our own. In fact, He never said we wouldn’t suffer. The question isn’t whether we will suffer, because we definitely will. The question is to whom do we turn when we do suffer!
During this epidemic, we are all suffering in some way. We are being asked to stay socially distant – in an age of great technology, one would think that is easy, but we have all quickly discovered that we still need real human interaction. Some die hard tech geeks are ready to throw away their phones and be back into the world!
Some have gone so far as to question ‘where is God in all this?’
Let us remember that we are not the first to feel this way. On the first Holy Saturday 2,000 years ago, the Apostles, Mary his mother, the other Marys and disciples were all confused and deeply troubled. If this was indeed our Messiah, then why? “Why” indeed.
We are living in our own Holy Saturday this Easter. God has not forsaken us, nor is this epidemic some punishment. The world is such as it is due much to our own doing. What are we doing to the environment? Have we overused antibiotics? Many things may have contributed.
However, God has not abandoned us, but He indeed will use this. He can make good come out of evil. Maybe not exactly in ways we might like or expect, but good all the same.
God is indeed working in our lives. However, we know how the story ends. Amid confusion, anxiety, and waiting we may experience during our dark “Saturdays,” we can be assured that God is at work in the world, giving us hope of Sunday – the Resurrection of Easter morning – and a new life through Christ.
I encourage everyone to stay hopeful. I encourage everyone to pray. And when this is over, and it will indeed end, lead yourself back to our Blessed Lord. Rejoice in His saving grace. Our God is a God of the living. And we must all go forth and live – live for Christ.
I pray that everyone has a Blessed Easter. May you reflect on not being able to celebrate the day as we might like but know you soon can. The Lord will see us through this time of suffering. He never abandons us.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA

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