Sunday, February 23, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On this coming Ash Wednesday, when we will be reminded that we are mortal, let us pause and reflect on our lives, remember where we are going and pray to the Father that we live a life that is worthy of the reward which He has promised to those who follow His way. We pray to the Lord.
That as we continue our building and repairs a benefactor or benefactors will be led to our humble parish as we look to obtain the funding needed to finish the rectory and necessary repairs. We pray to the Lord.
For those on our parish prayer list, that they may find consolation through Christ’s healing presence. We pray to the Lord.                  
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
Heavenly Father make us not so quick to desire revenge so that we can become quicker at forgiveness and humility. How we underestimate your compassion, Jesus. We are too easily convinced that you frown more than you smile, that our weakness and ignorance, our mistakes and sins, guarantee nothing but judgment from you. Yet, time and again, you show us that this picture is unworthy of you. After all, you said it — you didn’t come to judge but to save! And so, we thank you and celebrate you. Your compassion is limitless, and your love is unfailing. Your welcome is gracious and extravagant and all-inclusive. Your embrace is healing and transforming, and your commitment to us is costly and eternal. Maybe we will never really understand how you can be so totally for us, but maybe, as we learn to trust, and to lean into your love, we will find the peace and wholeness that you desire for us. And so we come, we worship and we open ourselves to your surprising compassion again. We ask all these things through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA
http://www.stfrancisucc.org/donate.html

Monday, February 17, 2020

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

Sunday, February 9, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In other words, the Pharisees.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 2, 2020

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

When we are tempted to respond in anger, grant us the patience to return anger with kindness. When we want to insist on our own way, grant us the grace to replace self-indulgence with unselfishness. When we are right at the expense of another's feelings, grant us the strength to be humble instead of right – to be silent instead insistent. When we are tempted to allow our families to be secondary to everything else we do, help us to rearrange our priorities.
When we are tempted to live out our lives at a hectic pace following our own agenda, grant us the wisdom to slow down and take time to hear what you would have us do. When we are tempted to take the easy way out ... to put desire over discipline ... to let someone else take a stand for peace and justice, remind us that the easy way is not the right way in the kingdom of God.
We ask all these things, through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA