Sunday, October 18, 2020

Sunday Sermon

 October 18, 2020

The Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity

(Isaiah 45:1, 4-6; Matthew 22:15-21)

There is at least one word in the English language that has the power to elect politicians to high office, finance battleships, cause economic hardship, and get you to pull hair out of your head – if you have any hair to pull. One word. Wars have been fought over this word, nations established, and people sent to jail for not taking heed when this word was spoken. The word is taxes!

We have all heard the saying, that are only two things that we can be certain of in life, and they are death and taxes. As Christians, we know that Jesus conquered the first. But what of the second odious one we face? The Gospel seems to indicate that we are on our own and that Jesus expects us to pay. “Render therefore to Cesar the things that are Cesar’s,” says Jesus, “and to God the things that are God’s.” Had Matthew who wrote this Gospel and happened to have been a tax collector, been whispering in Jesus’ ear?

One might ask, just who started these taxes anyway? I suspect since nearly the beginning of human inhabitants on the planet, there has been some sort of taxation. Of course, they were not part of God’s order of things. Nowhere in Genesis do we read “and God levied taxes on Adam and Eve, and He saw that it was good.” Nor was Moses given a tablet of stone with the inscription, “Thou shalt pay taxes.” Taxes were levied and taxes were collected, but from the beginning they were a human invention for the necessity of human rulers, the building of temporal roads (with lots of potholes) and aqueducts, and the financing of battles of the flesh, not of the spirit. We never could seem to get along, and one wonders why our nation is in turmoil?! Anyway, back to the topic ….

Yet, God has always required a rightful share for the work of God’s dominion. The first fruits of every harvest were set aside by the early people of Israel for the Lord. (Does God even need to eat?? If He doesn’t, I would say that He is missing out on all these great fruits He created.) Even a temple tax was established and gathered by the priests for the maintenance of the religion. (I bet you thought that was just a modern invention by priests?) Is all this why Jesus seems to support taxes?

Maybe it has something to do with His birth. As God would have it, seemingly not coincidental, the Savior of the world was born where He was born because of a decree issued by Cesar Augustus “that all the world should be taxed (Luke 2:1).” If God wanted to be certain to enter the world clearly at its center, there could be no better time than at the taking of a census for the purposes of taxation. (Of course, our government posits that it is for proper representation, but I think it is taxes! After all, they must play golf!) Joseph went to be enrolled with Mary, and thus obedient subjects of Roman rule place the Christ child’s birth where God ordained and the prophets of old have promised: in Bethlehem.

Our Gospel lesson picks up where the enrollment left off, with a conversation some thirty years later that all three of the synoptic gospels record, suggesting just how significant it was. On the surface, we have a simple story. A plan devised by the Pharisees and Herodians would trap the popular rabbi from galilee. (The collaboration of the Pharisees and Herodians – representing opposite political views [something we wouldn’t know about in the modern age, would we??!!] – reveals the extreme measures taken to eliminate Jesus.) Should Jesus advise paying taxes, many Jews would consider Him a collaborator to the Roman powers. But, non-payment would be dangerous, since followers of Herod would accuse Him of sedition.

With a coin, Jesus appears to foil His enemies on both sides. Taxes are for Cesar, but those imprinted with God’s image are for God. In one master stroke, Jesus is saved from both pious accusation and political self-incrimination.

But, for those who would hear it, the Man for Others is not interested in a crafty escape from the hands of His foes. He is mindful rather of their escape from the snares of this world. As our Lord reveals again and again in His life and words, His is not a preoccupation with self but with the life of His listener. He is forever waiting and watchful for the moments of grace when He can restore us to our rightful relationship with our Creator.

The master teacher does this skillfully wherever He finds us, revealing the eternal life that is ours in the simple things of each day’s journey, be it birds in the air, wandering sheep, or kernels of grain. He lifts them up and reveals their secrets, for in them are hidden all the answers we seek. He points to rocky soil, a city on a hill, or a fisherman’s net and tells us who we are or what we can become. And today, He does it with the Roman forged coin of a day’s wage.

“Show me the money of the tax,” He says. “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” “Cesar’s” they reply. “Render therefore Cesar the things that are Cesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Our Lord isn’t telling us what we already know, that our taxes ought to be paid. He is not telling us that payment to God is due. He is revealing to us who we are, what we are, and what can be with a coin. This is what we work for. We have come to believe that this coin is the measure of our value, the symbol of our worth.

But the true measure of value has to do with the likeness and inscription borne on our bodies and souls. As Cesar cast the denarius in his image, God has cast each of us in God’s image. All people, not merely those of specific criteria. As Cesar sends out as wage and calls back in tax, God also sends out the bearers of God’s likeness to be the golden coinage of a heavenly realm. But God also calls us back, demanding for God’s own self the sum of our lives.

Jesus is gatherer of this tax, God’s collector of souls stamped with the Divine image and inscribed with God’s name. Come to me, He says. By your following, you will find your true self. In My words I will show you the way to the One who has made you. On My cross I will settle your debts. Lost coins are we all, and in Jesus has God invited us back to the eternal treasury.

Let us pray.

Jesus reminds us of our obligation to pay our fair share to ensure we have good government and that those less well off in our country are properly cared for. We pray that all in our society be honest and responsible in their affairs and fairly meet their obligations as citizens. We pray to the Lord.

That we realize we aren’t “owners” of anything but merely “stewards” of the gifts God has given us. We pray to the Lord.

We pray that we, as followers of Christ, recognize that we are missionaries and must promote His message with friends, family and neighbors through our words and actions. We pray to the Lord.

That the church 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 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 receive swift answers to their needs and 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, you are deserving of the very best we have to offer -- the devotion of our hearts, the place of honor in our priorities and the first fruits of our labors. We enter this place and space of worship, asking you to be in our midst, to speak your message of love and mercy, conviction and challenge to us. We welcome your Spirit, knowing that in so doing, we abandon control and open ourselves in faith and trust to your purposes and plan, rather than our own. Come, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, we pray and may our worship be acceptable in your sight. 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

We are beggars – These turbulent times are economically difficult for many, and as such, non-profits see reductions of donations to keep ministries open. We ask, if you are able, to donate and help us keep our progressive voice active in our community. God Bless You +++


Sunday, October 11, 2020

Sunday Sermon

 October 11, 2020

The Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity

(Isaiah 25:6-10; Matthew 22:1-14)

Basically, in today's Gospel Jesus is retelling the parable of the vineyard but in the context of a wedding banquet. Why is He going over this again? Maybe He focus-grouped the vineyard parable and got some feedback about folks being put off by the concept of land ownership. Maybe Peter pulled Him aside and said, “Teacher, John's having a real hard time staying off the sauce. Can we maybe not talk so much about vineyards?” Or maybe we simply need to remember that He’s God and knows better than we do and we nick-pick readers should stop criticizing.

Have all those people who talk about Jesus being super-love-hippy-dippy-flower-power-buddy-Jesus ever read this parable? It's some really dark stuff. People get murdered in this one. Towns get destroyed. People are thrown out of parties. This isn't exactly Sunday school material.

The whole thing sounds a lot like Game of Thrones. And you just thought the parable of the vineyard was juicy?! This one has a feast, a king, a murder, burning whole towns, weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Just what is gnashing of teeth anyway?)

God-made the nation of Israel His chosen people, but they repeatedly rejected Him. Like the first folks invited to the wedding feast in the parable, the Israelites just couldn’t seem to be bothered with God's invitation. Maybe His mother needed to prod Him into making more wine.

We want to hear a nice story about God throwing the party open to everyone. We want to be ‘inclusive,’ to let everyone in. (Of course, I am using “inclusive” a little differently in this context, from that of how it is commonly used today.) We don't want to know about judgement on the wicked or about demanding standards of holiness or about weeping and gnashing of teeth. Some of us might have really enjoyed watching Game of Thrones, but we don’t seriously want that in reality. Doesn't the Bible say that God will wipe away every tear from every eye?

Yes, it does, but you have to see it in its proper setting to understand it. It doesn't mean that God will act like a soothing parent settling a child back to sleep after a nightmare. God wants us to be grown up, and part of being grown up is that we learn that actions have consequences, that moral choices matter, and that real human life isn't like a game of chess where even if we do badly the pieces get put back in the box at the end of the day and we can start again tomorrow. The great deep mystery of God's forgiveness isn't the same as saying that whatever we do isn't really important because it will all work out somehow.

The parable we hear today follows straight from a devastating story of the wicked tenant farmers from chapter 21 and rams the point home. Everyone would know what a story about a landowner with a vineyard was referring to. Equally everyone in Jesus' day would know the point of a story about a king throwing a party for his son. This story is about the coming of God's Kingdom and in particular the arrival of the Messiah. The people of Israel had been waiting for this for centuries.

Israel's leaders in Jesus' day, and the many people who followed them, were like guests invited to a wedding - God's wedding party, the party He was throwing for His Son. But they had refused. Galilee had refused, for the most part. Think back to Jesus’ sad warnings. Now Jerusalem was refusing the invitation is well. God is planning the great party for which they had waited so long. The Messiah was here, and they didn't want to know. They abused and killed the prophets who tried to tell them about it and the result was their city would be destroyed. (Think 70 A.D.)

But now for the good news - though it wasn't good news for the people who were originally invited. God was sending out new messengers to the ‘wrong’ parts of town to tell everyone and anyone to come to the party. (‘Wrong’ parts of town, at least as far as the Pharisees and scribes were concerned!) And they came in droves. We don't have to look far in Matthew's Gospel to see who they were. The tax collectors, the prostitutes, the riffraff, the nobodies, the blind, and the lame, the people who thought they've been forgotten. All the low-life type of people (at least according to self-proclaimed entitled people were concerned). They were thrilled that God's message was for them after all. Truly ‘inclusive’!

But there was a difference between this wide-open invitation and the message so many want to hear today. We want to hear that everyone is all right exactly as they are, that God loves us as we are, and doesn't want us to change. People often say this when they want to justify particular types of behavior, but the argument simply doesn't work. When the blind and lame came to Jesus, He didn't say, ‘You're all right as you are’. He healed them. They wouldn't have been satisfied with anything less. When the prostitutes and extortioners came to Jesus, he didn't say, ‘You’re all right as you are’. His love reached them where they were, but His love refused to let them stay as they were. Love wants the best for the beloved. Their lives were transformed, healed and changed.

Actually, nobody really believes that God wants everyoneto stay exactly as they are. God loves serial killers and child molesters; God loves ruthless and arrogant businessman; God loves manipulative mothers who damage their children's emotions for life. But the point of God's love is that He wants them to change. He hates what they are doing and the affect it has on everyone else and themselves, too. Ultimately, if He is a good God, He cannot allow this sort of behavior, and that sort of person, if they do not change, remain forever in the party He’s throwing for His Son.

That is the point of the end of this story, which is otherwise very puzzling. Of course, within the story itself it sounds quite arbitrary. Where did all these other guests get their wedding costumes from? If the servants just herded them in, how did they have time to change their clothes? Why should this one man be thrown out because he didn't have the right thing to wear? Isn't that just a sort of social exclusion that the Gospel rejects?

Yes, of course, at that level. But that's not how parables work. The point of the story is that Jesus is telling the truth, the truth that political and religious leaders often like to hide; the truth that God's Kingdom is a Kingdom in which love and Justice and truth and mercy and holiness reign unhindered. They are the clothes you need to wear for the wedding. And if you refuse to put them on, you are saying you don't want to stay at the party. That is the reality. If we don't have the courage to say so, we are deceiving ourselves, and everyone who listens.

So, the moral of the parable is simple. God loves everyone, even those we think He shouldn’t. He wants those who treat others poorly or in evil ways to stop and come to know His love. We are all invited to the banquet of His love, but we can’t live Game of Thrones style of living. We must live in the radical love of Jesus. Yes, we believe Jesus is a super-love-hippy-dippy-flower-power-buddy, but we can’t wear the clothes of rapists, murderers, arrogant businessmen, etc. We must wear clothes of mercy, compassion and love. Now Jesus, turn some water into wine already; we’re ready for the banquet! (Make mine root beer, please.)

Let us pray.

We pray for the grace to be always worthy of the invitation of the kingdom of God and enjoy life everlasting at the table of his heavenly banquet. We pray to the Lord.

We pray for those who reject the Word of God, that the goodness and wonder of our Loving Father be revealed to them. We pray to the Lord.

We pray for ourselves, that with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we may discern what particular mission God is inviting us to, as baptized members of the People of God. We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the vulnerable in our society, particularly the sick and the elderly who continue to experience fear, loneliness and isolation during this pandemic crisis. We pray that they receive the care, support and encouragement which they need to protect their health at this difficult period. We pray to the Lord.

We pray for all in our country, that they show consideration and care for themselves and for others and abide strictly by the guidelines which our governments and healthcare professionals recommend to defeat the very contagious Covid-19 virus at this time. We pray to the Lord.

For a greater respect for human life. For children who are neglected or abused. For all people who confront prejudice or racism every day. For a deeper concern for those who are marginalized by society. For those who identify as LGBTQ that they may be accepted and treated the same as those who are not. For the aged and the terminally ill. May we appreciate the dignity and sacredness of every part of human life. We pray to the Lord.

For an increase of vocations for our small denomination. We pray to the Lord.

For those on our parish prayer list, that they may receive swift answers to their needs and 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 our Father, strengthen our awareness and commitment to the mission which we have inherited through your gift of Baptism. Merciful Savior, the parable of the wedding banquet reminds us of your ever-gracious invitation to be part of your family, to receive the gift of your salvation, to respond to your call to follow you.

We confess that far too often we act like ungrateful guests. We allow other priorities to crowd you out. Our addiction to busyness leaves us no time to celebrate with you. We erect other gods that require our attention and loyalty. In our vain attempts to look "successful" we polish the veneer of our lives without attending to our deepest needs and longings, including our need and longing for you. Sometimes we get caught in Game of Thrones type of lives; help us to know that You are always beckoning us and will always welcome regardless of what we have done, because You love all your children and are ready to forgive us and lead us on a brighter path. Forgive us, we pray, and restore us to health and wholeness. May we always wear the clothes for the banquet of love. 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

We are beggars – These turbulent times are economically difficult for many, and as such, non-profits see reductions of donations to keep ministries open. We ask, if you are able, to donate and help us keep our progressive voice active in our community. God Bless You +++


Sunday, October 4, 2020

St. Francis Sunday

 October 4, 2020

St. Francis Sunday

(St. Michael and All Angels)

(Revelation 12:7-12; John 1:47-51)

St. Francis of Assisi is a familiar saint for most Catholics today. How he lived his life is a worthy example to emulate. He was a radical in his time and this certainly holds appeal for the modern Catholic. It is important to remember that St. Francis’ life was one that is in radical conformity and in deep union with the sacrificial life of Christ. His life was a faithful imitation of Christ, particularly, the crucified Christ. So much so, was this, that St. Francis was marked with the stigmata of Christ that he might emulate Him completely.

How do we, as modern Catholics, follow his example of radical conformity? Christ was central in St. Francis’ life. So, too, must we make Christ central in our lives. We must put our priorities in order. The radical imitation of Christ in our daily lives should compel us to make Christ as the root or the basis of all our many decisions, big and small, every day and every moment, whether it is in our personal, public or professional lives.

Therein lies a problem - today’s society has spoiled most of us into a life of comfort, shying away from any form of pain, or selfless sacrifice. St. Francis shows us in very concrete ways how to overcome this: by embracing poverty, practicing humility, and obedience to Jesus. We must cultivate a sense of detachment from worldly possessions and attachments that push Christ out of the center of our lives.

Let me put forth some thought provoking questions – questions that would certainly be in line with Francis’ love for all of creation – in his imitation of what I frequently call the radical love of Jesus.

Do we spend too much time on the internet, social media or TV that we neglect daily prayer time with God? Are we too busy or lazy (YES, I said it!) to honor the (Christian) Sabbath and go to Mass on Sundays? Are we too busy to do corporal and spiritual acts of mercy? Are we too wimpy or self-absorbed to offer our trials and transform them to redemptive suffering by uniting these inconveniences and trials to Christ?

St. Francis’ intense and intimate union with Christ fired his missionary zeal to evangelize and save souls. He was willing to face persecution and martyrdom to share the Good News to those who have not heard or accepted God’s salvation. How willing are we to go out of our comfort zones to invite someone to attend Mass with us or share our Catholic faith? Does our lives attract or repel others to know Christ more intimately? Do we witness our Catholic faith to others with humility, love and joy as St. Francis did? How willing are we to proclaim and defend our form of the Catholic faith even if it means facing ridicule and accusations of bigotry? St. Francis received Christ’s stigmata which he bore to his dying day. Do we bear the mark of Christ with how we lead our lives and with the choices we make in every aspect of our lives, whether in private or in public? Do we have the courage of St. Francis in bearing the stigmata, the mark of Christ in our lives, in the face of pain and rejection? Are we willing and do we take a stand on social issues today – especially that of our progressive views that would seem to be out of line with our more conservative Christian brothers and sisters and support those whom they prefer to “convert” rather than accept as a fully human Christian?

St. Francis is known for his love of nature. He saw nature as God’s creation that reveals Divine glory and beauty. Do we make use of God’s creation as a means to glorify God? Do we respect nature as God’s gift to be used responsibly and for the good of others? Or do we waste or take for granted the resources we have? Do we treat our God given body as a temple of the Holy Spirit?

As we try to answer these challenging questions with humility and honesty, we realize how difficult, and yes, truly radical, the imitation of Christ is. But as St. Francis has shown us by his example, the imitation of Christ is a daily commitment that is possible only with God’s grace. All we need to do is open our hearts and invite Him to fill it with His Divine Grace, so we, too, like St. Francis, can share the Good News and renew Christ’s Church, one soul at a time.

Early writings about St. Francis tells of one of his closest companions, Brother Leo, who would get discouraged at times. Brother Leo asked Francis to write something for him that would lift up his spirits.

When Brother Leo died, a small parchment was found in his habit and is preserved to this day in Assisi. Francis wrote:

May the Lord bless you and keep you.

May the Lord let his face shine on you and be gracious to you.

May the Lord show you his face and bring you peace.

The Lord bless you, Leo.

This blessing was so comforting to Leo because it reminded him of God’s presence in his life, and the peace that comes from that presence. This gift is for all of us, too.

Francis was known as the person who most patterned his life after that of Christ’s.

It was his joy to follow the poor and humble Christ. Francis was known to practice the virtue of poverty to a high degree, owning no property, living very simply, begging for his food, living among and caring for those who were ostracized from society. He treasured Holy Poverty and guarded it carefully because he wanted nothing to get in the way of the greatest possession of all – God.

Even though we are not called to follow his example to that extent, we, too, should never forget that God is and will always be our greatest possession.

Francis spent his life serving others after the example of Jesus, who said: “I have come to serve, not to be served.” He freely gave to those in need from whatever he had.

Every human life is a gift. Each of us is a gift. The world is a gift. ALL is a gift from the one primal source, God, the giver of all good gifts.

A way to honor his memory is to reach out to those in need with the gift of your time or treasure. To take on his spirit today is to see each individual you encounter as your brother or sister, with inherent dignity, created by God and deserving of your respect and loving concern.

Let us emulate St. Francis, the patron of our humble chapel, and show the radical love of Jesus as often as we can.

Before we move on to our responsorial prayers, let us recite together the Canticle of Creation which is attributed to St. Francis. (Copy is in your bulletin.)

Most High, all powerful, good Lord, Yours are the praises, the glory, the honour, and all blessing.

To You alone, Most High, do they belong, and no man is worthy to mention Your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and you give light through him.

And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendour! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars, in heaven you formed them clear and precious and beautiful.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind, and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather through which You give sustenance to Your creatures.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water, which is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom you light the night and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth, who sustains us and governs us and who produces varied fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.

Praised be You, my Lord, through those who give pardon for Your love, and bear infirmity and tribulation.

Blessed are those who endure in peace for by You, Most High, they shall be crowned.

Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whom no living man can escape.

Woe to those who die in mortal sin. Blessed are those who will find Your most holy will, for the second death shall do them no harm.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give Him thanks and serve Him with great humility.

Let us pray.

For the church and for world leaders. May we produce a rich, fruitful harvest of justice, compassion, mercy and forgiveness in the vineyard of this world. We pray to the Lord.

For all who have suffered rejection or violence. For those who have been hurt in any way by this pandemic and all who are depressed, suicidal or addicted. Heal our wounds; give us hope and courage. We pray to the Lord.

For a deeper spirit of gratitude for God’s many gifts. May we recognize in each other all that is truthful, just, honorable, pure, gracious and lovely. May we be people of peace. We pray to the Lord.

Instill in all people a greater respect for human life from the womb to the tomb. For an end to late term unnecessary abortion, the death penalty and all types of hatred and systemic prejudice. May we learn how to care more deeply for all human life, hear the cries of the poor, the homeless and the starving. Welcome immigrant families and children, and allow and listen to the protests of those treated unjustly. We pray to the Lord.

That we may emulate the example of St. Francis and care for all of God’s creation and greater tolerance of those different from us. We pray to the Lord.

For our government leaders who have become ill with Covid-19, that they recover promptly and have a new respect for dealing this horrible disease. We pray to the Lord.

For those on our parish prayer list, that they may receive swift answers to their needs and 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.

Amazing God of the universe, As St. Francis learned and Your Angels know, 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.

During this trying and challenging time, we ask that You be ever present with each of us and guide us with Your spirit, so that we do not lose hope. As we meander through life, give us direction and purpose. We ask all these things, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

God Love You +++

We are beggars – These turbulent times are economically difficult for many, and as such, non-profits see reductions of donations to keep ministries open. We ask, if you are able, to donate and help us keep our progressive voice active in our community. God Bless You +++