Monday, July 19, 2010

Sunday Sermon

July 18, 2010

The Seventh Sunday after Trinity

Intent: Purity; A day of devotion to the Holy Spirit
Mary and Martha were not twins and yet invariably we think of them together, not unlike Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Frik and Frak, Bene and Mickey or whatever. You get the idea. It is impossible to think of one without the other, and yet one of the points of this great story is that they are two quite different individuals. It is this difference that gathers our attention toward them. And even as difficult as it is to not think of them together, it is equally as difficult not to choose between the two of them.
Mary and Martha are the most familiar set of sisters in the Bible. Both St. Luke and St. John describe them as friends of Jesus. Luke's story, though only four verses long, has been a complex source of inspiration, interpretation, and debate for centuries. John's story, which says the sisters had a brother named Lazarus, spans seventy verses. Though some earlier interpreters blended the person of Mary of Bethany with Mary Magdalene and the sinful woman of Luke, current scholars believe she was a different person. According to Luke, Martha was head of the household; she welcomed Jesus into her home. Mary was probably younger. Like most sisters, these two women had conflicts which emerged because of their different personalities, roles, and simply the fact that they were siblings.
Modern readers often regard Martha as a "homemaker" type of woman, concerned with household details. Some also view her as hospitable, a highly esteemed practice in Jesus' day. Mary often is seen as a more scholarly or spiritual woman, with a feminist personality. That she sat at Jesus' feet, means that she was his student or disciple
The story begins with Jesus and 72 of his male disciples entering a village where a woman named Martha lives and has a home. Luke tells us that Martha opens up her home to Jesus and his companions. When I read this passage of scripture I get the image of a house busy with people engaged in numerous conversations around the house. Martha is running about trying to figure out how everybody is going to get fed and coordinating the logistics of cooking for all the people.
Our natural sympathies are with Martha. We recognize her condition. The text gives a clear picture of her situation, and there is no reason to believe that Jesus was expected when he came to call. The text says that “she received him”, which may mean little more than that she opened the door to his knock. If that is so, then there was indeed much to be done, for hospitality was expected for any and every guest, and the more unexpected guest, the more lavish and bountiful hospitality ought to be. Any person can put out a good party when he has invited the guests and is prepared to entertain them; it is a special kind of person who can entertain the unexpected. Such hospitality is the hallmark of the Jewish home, were even that Passover a spare chair is left for Elijah, should he come to call and partake of the family’s meal. Hospitality in the East is not a casual affair, it is the ultimate act of civility, and a house that did not show fitting hospitality was ashamed and embarrassed.
Somewhere in a secluded corner the Lord Jesus Christ is calmly teaching a handful of people who are intently listening to His every word. Mary is sitting at His feet, very content and very settled. But, Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made and then at some point becomes irritated with her sister, Mary for sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to what he is saying instead of helping with all of the preparations that need to be made for this large group of men. And, although the text does not say so, I suspect that she was slightly irritated with Jesus as well.
What in the heck was Jesus thinking? Why didn’t he tell Mary to get up off her lazy you know what and get in there and help Martha? Is Jesus exalting Mary over Martha? Does he mean it is better to be contemplative than to be actively serving? That doesn’t exactly jive with some of the other stuff that he has said about being a servant! We too might be irritated when Jesus says to us to relax, as he seems to say to Martha. We want to be rewarded for our efforts, or at least we want a little sympathy for all the effort it takes to keep up this level of activity and anxiety. Does he not understand how difficult it is to be a sensible, sincere, and caring adult in these times?
Some suggest Jesus went against Jewish culture by teaching Mary, saying that women were forbidden to learn the Torah. I believe, as usual, Jesus was turning things upside down and inside out. Just like that, Jesus liberates Mary from her socially defined status of inferiority and marginalization. And by following Jesus, not only was Mary transformed, but the world she inhabited was transformed.
Remember, Jesus told us to seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. That’s what Mary did. She sought Jesus first. But Martha was concerned about ‘What shall we eat?’ or, ‘What shall we drink?’.
Martha is so put out by the situation that she goes to Jesus and says to him “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” And Jesus replies, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Jesus gently rebukes Martha for being "worried and distracted" by her many tasks and her resentment of Mary's behavior. Jesus tells her that she has lost her focus; she needs only one thing. And what is that one thing? The answer is in the story of the Good Samaritan, which as we read last week, precedes this one. Martha needs to focus on loving God and her neighbor as herself; to do this one thing is to choose the better part, to be a disciple of Jesus.
It is important to note in our text but Jesus does not deny the value of what Martha is or of what she is doing. He does not say to her that everything is all right and that there is nothing to do or to worry about. It is not that the work is unimportant; it is not that Jesus does not appreciate work, for he knows, as we do, that society would fall apart without the activity and anxiety of the Martha's of this world. No, he says to her, in essence, you have your priorities wrong. Your sister knows that she has something to learn from me; don't just do something, stand there, and listen to me.
At this point, someone usually teaches a lesson about how important it is not to get so busy that we forget to spend quiet, contemplative time with Jesus. And while I think that is a good lesson I have a feeling we may be missing the point of what Jesus is talking about.
You see, I think what has to be addressed is that both Jesus and Mary were committing a social taboo. Women could serve men, but it was inappropriate for them to join in with the guys the way that Mary was doing. Women weren’t supposed to be taught by Rabbis or sit in the room with a bunch of men discussing the Torah. So I think it would be a logical assumption to think the people hearing this story would have been much more shocked about Mary assuming the role of a religious disciple than her not helping in the kitchen…and that is what Jesus was referring to.

God used the story of two well-known women in the Bible, Martha and Mary, to demonstrate the type of relationship He wants with each of us. The two sisters had contrasting approaches to their walk with God, and thus got difference results. Martha was anxious and un-trusting. Mary got alone with God and worshipped at Jesus’ feet. Martha frantically rushes over to interrupt the intimate gathering. Everyone casually looks up at her as the Lord easily sets the record straight. Feeling compassion for Martha, He reassuringly says, “Martha, Martha … you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." After all, if Jesus could feed the 4,000 and 5,000, then certainly He could handle supper for a house full of people.
Sometimes we just forget how big our God is and we run around with what we shall call the “Martha Syndrome” trying to make everything just right when all we need to do is just Trust in the Lord with all of our heart and not rely on our own understanding.
God Love You +
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.

Monday, July 12, 2010

July 11, 2010

The Sixth Sunday after Trinity

Intent: Steadfast Service

“For I was hungry, and you gave me food, thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger, and you brought me home, naked, and you clothed me, sick and you cared for me, a prisoner, and you came to me.”
Our Gospel reading today speaks of the well known “Good Samaritan”. The parable of the Good Samaritan is the epitome of the verse I just read. The poor soul left on the side of the road after being attacked, fits into each of the descriptions Jesus’ names that we should help. Some would say, ‘yeah, except that of prisoner’. I would disagree. The stranger on the side of the road left beaten is a prisoner to his fate; the fate of being left for dead until the Good Samaritan arrives.
Today we live in a society with a strange mixture of material prosperity all the while we have a tremendous amount of inner and mental discontent. Inner discontent and unhappiness is caused by our trying to fit infinite into finite. As we get closer to the fire of our own desires, we feel the heat. As we get closer to infinite of that which we were made, our true joy begins to take over.
We live in a suspicious society today. We question the motives of everything and everyone. If we lost our cell phone or our wallet and someone were to find it, and they were to locate us, we may be asked by the finder, “How much is it worth to you?” Everything has a price, many would say. Most theologians would say that this finder of our wallet or phone is not a “Good Samaritan”. Some would disagree and say that they indeed are, because they found the item and offered it back to them. However, the key here is that a price was put on returning the found item.
Jesus wants us to see, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, that prices cannot and should not be placed on our love and charity for our fellow human beings. Material prosperity has become too much of the deciding factor in our lives. Today’s Gospel reading raises the question of love and how far we must go. Jesus tells us that we must go the distance, no matter how far and wide. A price cannot be placed on the acts of charity and grace in His name. Settling for some temporal security does not satisfy the soul. Our souls were not made for here; they were made for God.
Jesus’ huge commandment of love is not impossibly far beyond us, because his own life manifests for us how to live loving relationships with others. The underlying message of the Gospel today is the two great commandments of loving God and neighbor. Jesus is telling the lawyer in His presence, that we should give up personal gain for the good of another.
As humans, we tend to feel suffering a great deal. As we grow, we gain a greater capacity for pain and suffering. If we go to the dentist, and we feel that if he drills five minutes more, we would not be able to stand it any further. If he drills far enough, he may hit oil it would seem. Yet, we are still in the chair and he is still drilling far beyond where we thought he could go no further. Difficulties and pain seem to last forever. Pleasures, on the other hand, need so much more stimuli to help the pleasure last; because we have grown to want more and more.
The lawyer questions Jesus, with a very important question, but the lawyer is not really sincere in the question; he is only testing Jesus. Jesus, however, takes the question for what it is and answers it. Jesus gives the lawyer the all embracing answer that will help us inherit eternal life. We must love God and neighbor, and make these forms of love, our main focus in life. Oh, how scary it is when we think over our own lives and try to see where we have done this on a monthly, weekly or daily basis; fore we will find we really have not done so nearly enough.
Our challenge is to go the test of distance; to go as the Good Samaritan went. The Good Samaritan was obviously not a on a leisurely stroll. Most certainly he had an agenda and some place to be. He had objectives to accomplish with a time-frame to make. However, he stops and helps this wounded man. Whatever the reason for his trip may be, he puts it on hold to help this victim of pain and suffering. He uses his means of transportation and walks instead. He uses what supplies he has as first aid. He uses his hard earned currency. He uses his own self. His inconvenience becomes his pleasure.
To go the distance, has no limits, as Jesus himself illustrated in his own life. He loved us, even to the point of death for us. Our loving each other must too go this far. How so many of our service men and women do this every day in the various conflicts now going on in the world. Many lose their life, so that we may have all that we have here. They are scared, I am sure, but not to the point that they take the other side of the road. This kind of boundless love redefines who our neighbor really is and sets no limits on our time and care for others. Further, we show our love for God, when we go the distance for someone around us.
How ironic it may seem, that we gain eternal life by dying to our very self for the sake of another. The Samaritan, long perceived as a Non-Jew, and thus held by no specific standard or law, does not help the victim out of a sense of fulfilling a commandment obligation; he helps him out of pure loving compassion and mercy. It is only by going this far, that we can be examples to others. It is only by going this far, that we can live up to the commandments as they were laid out before us by our God.
Society today has lost the sense of biblical and religious obligation. Liturgical churches are dwindling in many areas, while non-denominational ones grow. This is good and bad. Good, that those who have chosen to leave a more traditional church have found a different church home. Bad, because we have lost the sense of obligation to rules and commandments. I do not mean to say that these other churches teach watered down Christianity, only that they do so in a non-formal way. Judaism, Catholicism and some mainline Protestant denominations still teach a specific way of worship; they still teach a specific way of living.
In society and church today, we need to become more aware of the value of keeping laws. We specify certain times of the year that we should attend mass. We specify certain acts of faith that we would do well to participate. We have various Sacraments that should be taken part of at some point in life or even daily or weekly. No church is perfect, as it is made up of humans. However, sometimes we simply cannot walk on the other side of the road. We must face our obstacles; we must face the fact that sometimes simply keeping laws and commandments isn’t enough. We need to learn that all our actions must be directed for the good of others.
Sometimes we simply need a wakeup call that tells us that all we have around us in this modern age is that of our making. We fool ourselves if we think any of what we have today is of any value to God. God could destroy it and create something millions of times better with the blink of an eye. We fool ourselves when we think that all of this is for us and that is what we have to live for. We were created for God. We owe it to Him to worship him continuously. We owe it to Him to assist in taking care of those around us. Sometimes it is not as detailed as helping a victim on the side of the road, so much as simply doing no harm in the first place. Unkind words, thoughts or actions.
Keeping laws promotes good order in any community. Doing good for others promotes right relationships in those same communities. Laws are something external to us that can be measured and defined concretely. Mercy and compassion are internal to us and can be measured only in terms of the good we actually do for others. We are called to do as the Samaritan in the parable – Let the law of love and compassion guide us and gain for us eternal life.
It is true that we are saved by virtue of Jesus’ Crucifixion and Resurrection, however Jesus calls us to lay down our lives for others, by being a living, breathing, and walking expression of love and compassion to those we meet. We are called to do good works continuously here on earth to continue the ministry of Christ to the world.
God Love You +
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor- St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Sunday Sermon

July 4, 2010

The Fifth Sunday after Trinity

(Independence Day)
Americans love to celebrate Independence Day; to flaunt their freedom before the whole world. Thomas Jefferson's bold assertion that each individual has an "inalienable right" to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" still sounds sweet to our freedom-loving ears. Would be nice if our legislatures would remember this on immigration topics. However, despite the imperfections and foibles of our political system, we still enjoy tremendous economic freedom, political freedom, religious freedom, personal freedom and communal freedom. But we must be careful that we don't define the freedoms we enjoy so much solely as "freedom from", forgetting that the real test of freedom's value is how we use our "freedom to."
Paul's caution to the Galatians likewise reminds us that sometimes our greatest liberation can be found in our commitments; in our freedoms to. There is our freedom to gather together for the benefit of others, our freedom to love and serve each other and our freedom to express our feelings, concerns, hopes and aspirations for our community, neighbors and friends. Remember that the same philosophers and statesmen who boldly announced this country's "Declaration of Independence" were also the ones who worked long and hard to craft our Constitution; a document that sculpts our freedom along the prescribed guidelines and responsibilities necessary to make freedom work….. Our freedom to govern, to serve, to defend, to protect, to honor and to be loyal.
The Fourth of July is a good time to celebrate the paradox at the center of the Christian faith; we are most free when we are most bonded. Through Jesus Christ's supreme example of freedom in service, we all become the most free when we bind ourselves to Christ. That is why Jesus has sometimes been called "omnipotence in bonds." He freely divested himself of his divinity so that he could make the ultimate sacrifice for our sake and for our freedom. We must take care not to confuse this freely offered liberty for license. The long list of what Paul calls in Galatians "fleshly works" is what results when we let our freedom to ... become freedom from.
Freedom to love becomes ... fornication. Freedom to worship becomes ... idolatry. Freedom to serve becomes ... factions. Freedom to inquire becomes ... enmity. Freedom to discuss becomes ... quarrels. Freedom to disagree becomes ... dissension. Freedom to thrive becomes ... envy. The political and personal freedoms we celebrate every Independence Day always remind us that with freedom comes responsibility. For our freedom to "work" we must be good citizens; we must vote, pay taxes, obey the laws, respect property, be loyal and keep the peace. The freedom we enjoy every day of our lives as Christians demands of us only two things; faithfulness and love. Despite the long list of fleshly "works" versus spiritual "fruits" Paul enumerates, he takes care to preface these itemizations with a single reminder: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself". When Thomas Jefferson listed the "pursuit of happiness" as one of humanity's "inalienable rights," perhaps he should have called it more accurately an "unattainable reach." Christ's mandate of freedom through service reveals that the only way to achieve happiness is to love and serve others. Pursuing happiness, focusing solely on the self and its personal pleasures will never bring genuine joy or the fulfilling happiness of peace. When we pursue happiness for the self, it is like looking for the ending point of a rainbow; as soon as you think you've reached its touch-down point, your perspective changes, and the rainbow's end has moved again. In modern psycho-speak, there is a tremendous amount of energy being focused on the whole issue of "self-esteem." Carl Rogers was among the first to popularize this view as he called for the need to "actualize the potential" of one's self through "unconditional self-regard." This psychologically based school of thought has even borrowed the short-form Torah that Paul cites and claims that Jesus' reminder to "love your neighbor as yourself" was essentially a mandate to focus on loving yourself. It is true that there is no place in Christian theology for self-hatred or self-persecution or self-disrespect. But loving ourselves was not the goal Jesus had in mind for us when he freely gave his life for our salvation. We can't hold out a hand to our neighbor when our arms are wrapped around ourselves. The love Christ calls us to be is agape love, a sacrificial love bonded to Christ, and therefore cannot be self-directed. Only when offering ourselves in sacrificial service for others will we run headlong into the "happiness" we thought we had to pursue. The movement of the Christian life is from self-centeredness to centeredness in self to centeredness in God.
Think about it for a moment, with some thoughts to help guide you…. When do you feel better about yourself? Do you feel better about yourself after a long, admittedly restful afternoon as a "couch potato" watching television or after a long, admittedly exhausting afternoon coaching a Little League game? Do you feel better about yourself after whipping up one of your favorite desserts in the kitchen or after delivering it to a shut-in member of your church? Do you feel better about yourself after a special "night on the town" or after an evening ladling out soup at a homeless shelter? J. Walter Cross of Bradenton, Florida, tells a story about the Christian apologist Joseph Parker who found himself listening to one of those infamous "self-made men" tell the story of how he became a "self-made man." After his presentation was over, the “self-made man” remarked to Dr. Parker, "What did you think of my story?" To which Dr. Parker replied, "My dear man, you have just relieved Almighty God of an enormous responsibility." Cross then goes on to observe: "Self-made persons are a truly powerful argument against the use of unskilled labor. Self-serving is an oxymoron! We are neither human enough, nor divine enough, to serve ourselves, and in the end, if that is what we use our gifts for, we will come up empty" (J. Walter Cross, "When One Plus One is More than Two"). A nine-year-old girl observed a friend at school shivering in the play yard during an especially cruel cold snap. Realizing that her friend didn't have the money to spend on a warmer coat, this little girl promptly promised to buy a coat for her. But when the little girl showed up at the local Goodwill outlet to make her purchase, she was surprised that the cost was more than she had anticipated. Nevertheless, she was determined to keep her word to her friend even though the coat ended up costing her every single coin she had saved up in her piggy bank. This splurge of her carefully saved funds caught her parents by surprise and caused them some concern. But when they questioned the wisdom of their daughter's actions, she defended herself by simply stating, "But I promised her, and she needed it!" Her parents were silenced and impressed by their daughter's free spirit with her money which had been driven by her bonded, sacrificial love for her friend, her "neighbor." By having identified freedom as Christ's gift to his followers, Paul now carefully defines just what kind of "freedom" this is and what it requires. Paul reveals that freedom in Christ is not a freedom toward the "self-indulgence" of licentiousness. Rather, the exercise of loving service is the truest mark and measure of Christian freedom. Paul directs the attention of his Galatian audience out of their self-absorption and reminds them that loving service is measured by one's response to the neighbor; not the self. Love, as demonstrated through service to others, is the fruit of Christian freedom.
Fruit cannot be brought about by any human endeavor. Farmers can plow, fertilize and tend -- but whether a crop succeeds in producing fruit is still the result of the divine gift of life. Likewise, it is through Christ's freely given sacrifice that those living in his spirit can expect the presence of the spirit's greatest fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We, therefore, are called to act upon them and with them in regard to our neighbor.

God Love You +
+The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.