Monday, September 27, 2010

Sunday Sermon

September 26, 2010

The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity

The Incardination of Jose Francisco Pereira

The Reception of the Order of St. George of Cappadocia
Today’s sermon will not be one of those inspiring ones, or even a Hell Fire and Brimstone type of sermons. No, today we have an educational sermon. Today is a milestone of significance for our young denomination. Today we receive within to our fold, not only a new Priest, but also a new Religious Order. The Order of St. George of Cappadocia, which Br. Frank has worked painstakingly to get off the ground. My sermon today will take on the topic of Religious Orders and what they mean to the world today. Some of us clergy folk may think we need no such introduction, but I tell you, that you would be surprised.
So, just what is a “Religious Order”? Some out there would say that the whole title, “Religious Order” is odd at best. “So,” they may ask, “Just what is ordering of religion?” Some of us know that the term has nothing to do with ordering religion at all. Most religions are ordered enough, or ordered around enough, as the case may be. We would explain to them saying something like, “No, I mean she is a Religious Sister”. And of course, they would reply, “Yes, of course we know she is religious. We see her praying all the time!” Of course, this discourse could go one for some time, with each rolling their eyes at the other, with one side thinking it is all just a play on words.
The term “religious” can be defined in many ways, but we will look at three. First, the one most people equate to the term, is that it is an adjective describing a person or person who outwardly show their devotion and beliefs faithfully to a deity. One would say that the little old lady that never misses Mass, who frequently is seen fingering her rosary, sitting in front of the Reserved Sacrament, or simply known for living her faith and is always pious and proper. However, that is not exactly what we mean here, but it is somewhat related. Second, it could also be termed as in a “religious institution” such as a church, or maybe even soup kitchens, etc. The third use of the term, is the usage that applies to our current situation on this very day.
Other religions and denominations have priests, nuns and monks, but most people usually equate them to the Catholic Church. “Religious orders”, as they are called, are groups of men and women in which they practice a particular form of spiritual life. All Catholic Christendom has some form of religious orders. Many of them are celibate communities, in which the members join with the intention of staying in this state for life. Some “disappear” into a convent, an abbey or monastery for life. “Sounds too much like prison”, some would say. A few are referred to as “secular” communities, or better put, those who do not live a secluded life or cloistered convents, or the “prisons”.
So, what is “religious” for our context today? Simply put, a noun. “A ‘noun’?” some may say, with one of their eyebrows contorted beyond normal human composure. Yes, a “noun”. You see, these men and women that devote themselves to a community of prayer and service, sometimes raising their own food and animals, and making food products to sell; others run schools, hospitals or some other form of social service; some do extensive research all day, 365 days of the year, searching for God; many are involved in one of the local parish churches in some fashion; or any number of an endless list of duties – these are “Religious”, with a capital “R”. Hence the proper grammar, that Frank is not only religious, but he is also a Religious.
There are usually two different types of religious life; active and contemplative. Active religious members are characterized by their work in the world. Contemplative are those who have chosen a life of solitude, silence, prayer and penance. The contemplative tradition goes all the way back to the second century Church movement called the Mothers and Fathers of the Desert. The contemplative religious also come under the heading of Monasticism, in which the practices can go further, as in vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, complete separation from society and personal sanctification. Yes, and the old use of flagellation, not commonly used anymore, that was exaggerated in Dan Brown’s, The Da Vinci Code. (We won’t get into that today!) They also can wear distinctive clothing, as we are used to seeing among monks and nuns (or would be if they were required to wear them anymore).
They come under many styles and observances, such as: Benedictines, Cartusians, Cistercians, Trappists, Basilians, Augustinians, Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites and Jesuits, to name only a few. As can be seen from the names, many of them take their names from the saint that originally held that name. St. Augustine, St. Benedict, St. Francis, etcetera. Some saints were Religious who belonged to one of the aforementioned groups, but has of yet had a Religious Order named after them, such as St. Therese of the Child Jesus or St. Padre Pio closer to our time.
Many would question why these “orders” are needed or why one would join one. Some wonder what they do all day and bemuse that they simply sit through the day doing nothing but praying. “How can they do nothing but pray all day? There cannot possibly be anything that needs that much prayer?”
You would be surprised. However, the whole world is their prayer. They unceasingly pray for themselves; that they will live a very holy life and keep themselves separated from the sin and muck of the world, all in hopes of insuring their passage into heaven when it comes for them. They pray for the Church, regardless of whether you view the Church as the people that make up the worship services, or the hierarchy that seemingly make up the rules of what being a Catholic means, they pray for it unreservedly. However, we all need their prayers. They pray for the world, that it may know Jesus and live a righteous life. And they pray some more. Powerful prayers they are. Never underestimate the power of prayer. However, as we have seen, they do more than just pray.
Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta often said that even the smallest of things you do, must all be done out of love, as the drop is one more to fill the ocean. Without those drops, even the vast oceans would go dry. It never rains here, so I understand. Few can deny the good she did in the world; even though her diaries confessed of “dark nights of her soul”. Frankly, few saints in the world have not experienced those times, though it would appear that Mother Teresa experienced it far more, and yet still did so much good in the world. It’s a lot more than just prayer! It is a whole lot of faith!
So, some say, “Now I know what monks and nuns are!” Be careful, because it isn’t quite that simple. There is always a monkey wrench or something to make the cake go flat. You see, there are monks, yes, but some prefer to be call “brothers” instead of monks. Traditionally, Monks are really those who live a solitary life of prayer and contemplation in seclusion. Brothers traditionally are those who are active in the world working in schools, hospitals, and the like. Nuns, like monks are traditionally cloistered, and Sisters are active in the world. Notice, I have said ‘traditionally’ a few times. The roles of monks and brothers, and nuns and sisters have become blurred to some degree in modern society, with their titles and roles being mixed interchangeably. Today, some monks are also priests. Anything to make the already confusing topic more confusing!
And what of this “order” business. “Just what is an ‘order’?” An Order is not a command from a general or commander. An order is not your wish-list you give to a waitress at a restaurant. An order is not even the list that you write down on paper in a specific sequence that makes it orderly. It is not even one of the Ten Commandments. All these are true to some extent, but they do not define a Religious Order. A Religious Order, to put it simply, is merely a term used to denote a ‘community’ that lives a prescribed life. Not a life where you live on the prescriptions you get from your doctor either. The prescribed life is what we discussed earlier; where they work and/or how they practice their Religious life. As examples; The Order of Benedictines, or the Order of St. Francis. So, in this case “Religious” is a noun; a person. An Order, is also a noun, it is the community or belief structure within the church in which the men and women of the Church work.
So here we are today, sitting here listing to another one of my boring sermons and still trying to put it all together. Well, like anything in the Catholic world of Christianity, there are hours of explanations that can be given or scripted in a sermon. Suffice to say, they have an important role in the object of the Church.
Frank has come to us, asking to be Incardinated. (“Another one of those confusing terms!”, some may be saying about now.) Frank was previously ordained in the Latin or Roman Rite, as a Priest. When Frank approached me originally about the concept of the Order of St. George of Cappadocia joining the Universal Catholic Church, the discussion presented itself as that of him wanting to be a Brother in this Religious Order, with myself as the Bishop Protector. As time went by, and conversations ensued, it became apparent that Frank was not just a layman looking to become a brother or monk, but actually a Priest who was seeking a role in ministry once again, even if he had never completely left it. He humbly never mentioned he was a Priest, it simply became apparent. As it became obvious, I indicated to him that I would not only grant his request to allow the OSGC to function under our church umbrella, as it were, but that I would also Incardinate him as a Priest within our church. Heaven knows what I am getting myself in to, but we shall see!
Incardination is an overly complicated term for a simple process. By Incardinating Frank, it means he will become an active priest for our church without the need of being “ordained”, because he has already been ordained by a church authority that is Apostolically Valid. (Yes, I know; another difficult term.) Simply put; our heritage is from the Roman Catholic Church, so we would be hard pressed to say they do not validly ordain men to the priesthood. When the founding fathers of this denomination were Roman Catholic Bishops back in the early 1900’s.
So, today we get a Religious Order, a new Brother and a (not so) new Priest all in one lightning bolt…… Oops, you fell asleep and missed it.

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

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sunday Sermon

September 19, 2010

The Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity
Hypocrisy! And so we begin the second in my little series regarding why people do not go to church and my rebuttles to the thoughts. Of course, I haven’t the faintest idea why anyone would want to miss my sermons. Maybe we should interrupt regular programming and show them on television …. During the Super Bowl!
Anyway, back to hypocrisy…..
It’s perhaps the single biggest reason people say they don’t go to church. In fact, according to UnChristian, a book based on surveys done by the Barna Research Group, among people with no religious affiliation in the 16- to 29-year-old bracket, 85 percent say one reason they don’t go to church is because Christians are hypocritical. And it’s such an easy dodge. One word: hypocrisy. When asked, folks simply respond, “Everybody there is a hypocrite and always judging me.”
Now, who is judging who here, is what I ask? They apparently have not come to our church; we are just full of self-confessed imperfects!
If you’re looking for a group of people who always live up to their highest values and who never say one thing and do another, you’ll need to look elsewhere — though we doubt you’ll find a group of any sort totally free of inconsistency anywhere on this planet.
But although it can be a healthy thing to acknowledge the contradictions between our profession of faith and our daily actions, it’s also useful to qualify our confession a bit. In the New Testament, the only time Jesus hurled the charge of hypocrisy was when people were doing something deliberately to appear outwardly different from what they were inwardly. For example, in St. Matthew’s Gospel, he spoke about people who gave to charity “so that they may be praised by others”. Likewise, he spoke against those who “love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others”. He also chided the scribes and Pharisees for putting on appearances, saying, “For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth”. Jesus called all of those people hypocrites, and the Greek word that’s translated “hypocrite” actually means “actor” or “stage player.”
How many church attendees do you suppose get up on Sunday morning and think, “I’m going to go to church so I can pretend to be righteous and appear to be holy”? No, when we church people admit to being hypocrites, we aren’t usually confessing to playacting. More often, we mean that we failed to follow through on our good intentions or that we can still see the gap between the people we feel called to be and the people we actually are. But we aren’t trying to deceive anybody; we’re seeing where we still need to work to bring our behavior up to the level of what we really believe. To get some perspective on this, there was a poll conducted by Homiletics magazine of its readers, all of whom are involved in ministry in one way or another, to ask when they’d heard the complaint that Christians are hypocritical. The results were revealing. While they’d all heard the hypocrisy charge from people outside the church, they had almost never heard anybody who was leaving a congregation say they were doing so because of hypocrites. More often, those folks explained their decision to depart in terms of what they perceived as somebody’s failing: The congregation was too insensitive or didn’t have enough activities for kids, the theology was different from their own, the sermons were boring, they didn’t like the new pastor (or his/her sexual orientation) or they had a small issue that was never addressed, which, after a lengthy period of festering, had become an irreparable riff. Some of these actually sound very familiar. One colleague told of losing a member because he was disappointed that the pastor hadn’t attended a family member’s wake. The pastor also had someone leave because of not feeling “fed” by the sermons, but hadn’t had even one person say he or she was leaving because of hypocrisy in the church. Another team member said he’d heard the hypocrisy charge a couple of times from spouses of active members, “probably to try to scare me off. My response is, ‘Always room for one more.’ The topic usually changes to weather or sports.” After everyone had responded, one team member wrote, “The perception of the nonaffiliated [about hypocrisy in the church] makes me think that it may fall mainly into the category of ecclesial myth, which is not to say it isn’t a real perception but that perceptions aren’t necessarily the same as realities.”
It appears, then, that when somebody is outside the church and has no intention of coming in, it’s easy for him or her to say it’s because of hypocrisy in the church. And because there are some gaps between our best intentions and our follow-through, the person can no doubt find an example of inconsistency in the behavior of a Christian. But church insiders are more likely to see those gaps differently. In other words, if you really get involved with members of a congregation, you are less likely to see problems in the church in terms of hypocrisy and more in terms of human failure. And when you’re talking about human failure, it’s easier to include yourself in that category. In fact, many people stay in the church because, though they recognize imperfections among both fellow attendees and themselves, they also see it’s a place where we’re called higher. And if you pay attention in church, you’ll often see people who are working very hard to follow Jesus faithfully.
Thus, one good reason to come to church is because it puts us in company with other people who also see that gap between their profession and practice, and care enough to want to narrow it. In church, we find people who aren’t that different from ourselves and who are on faith journeys similar to ours.
Of course, the church has its share of wing nuts and disordered personalities here and there and even real hypocrites. But those terms don’t describe the general population of those who go to church. For most of the people we meet there, a description Jesus gave in our reading is more on point.
That text includes Jesus’ parable of the dishonest manager, a guy who’s such an outright rascal that we would never point to him as a model churchgoer. We can’t call him a hypocrite because he isn’t playacting at anything, and he doesn’t appear worried that he isn’t living up to a call from God. He’s simply looking out for his own hide, and he’s quite straightforward about it. Still, his employer, whom the manager is cheating out of expected income, can’t help but be impressed by the manager’s resourcefulness. We can imagine the employer speaking to a friend about the incident, saying, “That guy cost me a bundle, but you’ve got to hand it to him for his shrewdness. If only he’d put that kind of effort into the work I hired him for.” Yes, we can admire his cleverness, but we don’t go to church hoping to find people like him as Christian models. As Jesus draws out the implications of that parable, he says, “[W]hoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.” Clear enough. That fits the manager in the parable, so part of the point is “Don’t be like him.” But Jesus also states the application positively: “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much,” and in those words is the description of most of the people we actually meet in church — people who are working hard at being consistent in their approach to both minor and major matters. Sure, even the most sincere Christians don’t always hit that mark. Nonetheless, it is good for our souls to be among people who keep striving to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.
• It is good for our souls to be among people who accept responsibilities in the church — sometimes thankless and difficult ones — and show up week after week to fulfill them. • It is good for our souls to be among people who quietly go about their business on the days between church services and do their best to be faithful, honest and caring, whatever their duties are. • It is good for our souls to be among people who respond with unwarranted kindness to someone in need who unexpectedly happens across their path. Here’s an example. It’s a true story, but we’ll allow the pastor who tells it to remain unnamed: “I stopped at the local library one day to pick up a book I wanted. Afterward, as I was driving out of the parking lot, a filthy, scraggly man in ragged clothes pushing a shopping cart filled with what looked to be nothing but junk shambled across the lot exit. As I waited for him to complete his passage, the front wheels of his cart caught on a crack in the pavement and tipped over. I heard some glass shatter as the contents spilled out. This mishap occurred right in the middle of the exit, so there was no way I could get out of the lot until the man picked up his stuff and moved on. But clearly, that wasn’t going to happen quickly because he seemed to be in a kind of daze and was moving as if he didn’t quite know what to do. So I sat there in my car, drumming my fingers impatiently on the steering wheel, getting more annoyed by the second. “Just then, however, the young woman who was in a car behind me got out and walked past my car to where the man was. In sharp contrast to him, she was nicely dressed, well groomed and appeared to be in full command of her faculties. I wasn’t close enough to tell, but I was pretty certain she smelled a whole lot better than he did, too. “As I watched, she bent down and began helping this poor man put his items back into his cart, and she continued until everything was loaded. She then helped him get his cart past the crack in the pavement, and he resumed his shuffle down the street. “I have to tell you that never in my life have I felt more like the Levite and the priest who passed by on the other side while the good Samaritan, in the form of this young woman, helped the downtrodden guy at the roadside. And here’s the irony: The book I had come to the library to get was one I wanted to consult for a sermon I was working on. But in that parking lot, I saw a much better sermon played out in front of me.”
We don’t know if that young woman was a church person. But anyone seeing her being “faithful in a very little” could reasonably conclude she’s someone who can be trusted to be “faithful also in much.” That example is more dramatic than most, but coming to church puts us in the company of some people who are working at being as faithful in little things as they are being faithful in big ones. And that can inspire us to continue working at that as well. If being faithful in a little thing can have that kind of effect, consider what effect being faithful in a big thing can have. Consider the grandfather of one of the five Amish girls shot to death in their Pennsylvania schoolhouse in 2006 by a gunman, who also seriously wounded five other girls. Standing next to the body of one of the victims, this grieving Christian turned to some Amish boys and said, “We must not think evil of this man.” There’s not a much bigger thing to be faithful about than forgiving the murderer of a loved one, so don’t you think that man can be trusted in little things, too? In fact, in his application of the parable of the dishonest manager, Jesus gave us a good description of what the Christian life should be: working at being faithful in little things so we can also be faithful in big things. Back in 1889, John Hunter, a Scottish Congregational pastor, penned a few lines about the gap between the Christian profession and practice, which he later published as a hymn. What’s encouraging about his treatment of the subject, however, is that it isn’t about a guilt trip but about continuing to follow the light of Jesus. His hymn is “Dear Jesus, in Whose Life I See”: Dear Jesus, in whose life I see
all that I would, but fail to be, let thy clear light forever shine, to shame and guide this life of mine. Though what I dream and what I do in all my weak days are always two, help me, oppressed by things undone, O thou whose deeds and dreams were one!
That’s what Jesus does for us, and we come to church to keep our eyes on that light. But in church, we also find people much like ourselves, in whom we see glimmers of that light as we work together at being faithful in things both small and great. Sometimes the light of Jesus shows so strongly through their actions that it both shames and guides us.
God Love You +
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Sunday Sermon

September 12, 2010

The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

(Nativity of Our Lady)
Very briefly, sense the Nativity of Mary’s feast day landed on Tuesday, I wanted to take a moment to give us moment of reflection on her. I debated for some time this week whether to celebrate her day or to celebrate a day with a higher octive in our Liberal Catholic Rite that we use, by celebrating a day of devotion to the Holy Spirit. I chose to make the prominent celebration that of the Holy Spirit. We all know that God, who created us, create Mary as well, and that she would be perfectly happy sharing the day with the Holy Spirit. In modern time, most churches simply skip her feast, because it landed on a weekday.
The Feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary has been celebrated in the Church at least since the 8th Century. The Church's calendar observes the birthdays of only two saints: Saint John the Baptist (June 24), and Mary, Mother of Jesus.
John the Baptist is considered especially sanctified even before his birth. His birth to Elizabeth and Zachariah is foretold in the first chapter of Luke, and it is also recorded that Elizabeth felt the infant John "leap in her womb" when Mary approached her soon after the Annunciation.
The birth of Mary was also miraculous. She was conceived without sin as a special grace because God had selected her to become the mother of His Son (the feast of her Immaculate Conception is celebrated on December 8). The dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, though generally believed throughout the Church for many centuries, was formally declared by Pope Pius IX in 1854.
There is nothing contained in Scripture about the birth of Mary or her parentage, though Joseph's lineage is given in the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. The names of Mary's parents, Joachim and Anna, appear in the apocryphal "Gospel of James", a book dating from the 2nd Century AD, not part of the authentic canon of Scripture. According to this account, Joachim and Anna were also beyond the years of child-bearing, but prayed and fasted that God would grant their desire for a child.
In celebrating the nativity of Mary, Christians anticipate the Incarnation and birth of her Divine Son, and give honor to the mother of Our Lord and Savior.

“What’s in it for me?” “I don’t need to go to Mass to get close to God.” “I had a bad experience with the Church.” “I don’t get anything out of Mass.” I don’t have the time.” “I’m a sinner. I don’t deserve to be at Mass.” Hmmmm
An old cartoon from the pen of Joe McKeever shows a lakefront shop named Anglin’ Sam’s that rents rowboats labeled “Little Green Chapels.” Out front, Anglin’ Sam himself is holding one of his green rowboats upright, with its stern resting on the ground and its bow pointed toward the sky. In that position, the boat does look a bit like the arch of a chapel, and Sam is explaining to a potential customer that the boats are “for those who prefer to do their worshiping on the lake.”
The cartoon, of course, is a potshot at the explanations people sometimes give for spending Sunday morning fishing, golfing, going out for a leisurely breakfast or even sleeping in instead of attending church. The heart of that argument is “I don’t need to go to church because I can worship God by myself.” (Translation: “Who needs to get up, get dressed, drive in, be harangued and then be asked to pay for the experience?”) Pastors typically respond to such explanations as if they are excuses or rationalizations. We point out, for example, that while it’s true you can worship God alone, most people who make that argument, don’t actually spend their alone time worshiping. When they’re climbing a mountain, walking on a golf course, sitting by a stream or lying home in bed, chances are pretty good they aren’t thinking about God at all. And even if they are, we all know, it isn’t quite the same. In fact, all arguments about why you should attend church have validity. The problem is that they sometimes have an undertone of either desperation or ambition. We pastors have a vested interest in not only the survival of the churches we serve but also their growth. In that case (and that is the case in many places across America today) our arguments about why people should attend church can sound self-serving. But are they really? Both worrying about survival and having the ambition to lead a growing congregation might make us sympathetic to the chaplain who accompanied a volunteer militia led by Benjamin Franklin back in 1756. To defend the Pennsylvania colony against Indian attacks, Franklin led his recruits in to the building of a fort in the Blue Mountain region. Once established inside the wall, the chaplain — “a zealous Presbyterian,” as Franklin called him in his autobiography — complained that few of the men were showing up for his worship services. Franklin, ever the practical man, solved that problem by putting the chaplain in charge of the daily ration of rum. Franklin told the preacher, “It is, perhaps, below the dignity of your profession to act as steward of the rum, but if you were only to distribute it out after prayers, you would have them all about you.” The chaplain accepted that duty, and Franklin reports that thereafter, “never were prayers more generally and more punctually attended.” That solved the attendance problem, but we might wonder just how much good those prayers did the soldiers under the circumstances. It’s better to remember that we all benefit from participation in church life. A faith community provides instruction, support, feedback and accountability. It brings order to our lives. Attending worship is an important way of putting the events of our lives in helpful perspective. In support of the benefits argument, the preacher might trot out that hoary old illustration about the longtime church member who had always attended regularly but then suddenly stopped coming. After a few weeks, the pastor decided he’d better make a visit. He went to the man’s home and found him alone, sitting in front of a blazing fire. The parishioner invited the pastor in and directed him to a comfortable chair near the fire. After an initial greeting, the two sat in silence, watching the roaring fire dance over the logs. Then the pastor took the fire tongs and picked up a brightly burning ember, which he then placed to one side of the hearth by itself. That lone ember’s flame began to flicker and eventually died. Soon it was a cold, gray coal, with no life or warmth whatsoever. Then the pastor picked up that coal with the tongs, and placed it back into the middle of the fire. Within seconds, it began to glow, with light and warmth, ignited by the flames around it. As the pastor rose to leave, the parishioner said, “Thank you for the sermon, Pastor. I’ll be back in church next Sunday.” Who knows if that incident ever really happened, but the truth it presents is plain enough: Our individual faith gives off more light and warmth when kindred believers support it. Someone once asked a woman who faithfully attended church why she did so. Her only response was “because God said so.” For her, that settled it, but actually, it isn’t easy to make that argument from the Bible. Nowhere in Scripture does God say, “Go to church every Sunday.” Granted, the Bible has many texts in which God tells the Israelites to worship him. Consider these: ~ In 2 Kings 17:35-36, God says: “You shall not worship other gods or bow yourselves to them or serve them or sacrifice to them, but you shall worship the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt with great power and with an outstretched arm; you shall bow yourselves to him, and to him you shall sacrifice.” But those verses are really talking about the ancient sacrificial system, which was something different from how we worship God in church. ~ In the fourth commandment, God said, “Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy,” but Sabbath-keeping is something larger than attendance at a public worship service. It is the devotion of a whole day every week to God and the life of the spirit. It includes lifestyle changes for that day and special family practices designed to remind one of one’s covenant with God. But the gospels document Jesus as one who sometimes broke the Sabbath rules, doing such things as healing people on that day. As he put it, “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). ~ If we count Sunday as the Christian equivalent of the Jewish Sabbath, there are important examples in the Bible for us about attending worship. Luke tells us it was Jesus’ custom to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath day (Luke 4:16), and Acts reports that Paul had a similar custom (Acts 17:2). ~ Some of the first members of the early church apparently worshiped daily. Acts reports, “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple ... praising God ...” (Acts 2:46-47). ~ The closest reference to a command to attend Christian worship comes not from God but from the writer to the Hebrews, who said, “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another ... ” (Hebrews 10:24-25). Taken together, all those things give us a biblical basis for attending church, but none quite in the way that woman put it with her “because God said so” response.
Yet she likely had it right. And maybe the best place to see that is from a text not usually thought of as referring to church attendance: Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep in today’s gospel lectionary reading. The shepherd has 100 sheep, but when one wanders off, the shepherd leaves the 99 (presumably somewhere safe), and searches for the lost one until he finds it. And when he does, he brings it back to the flock and then asks his friends and neighbors to rejoice with him. According to the text, Jesus told this parable in response to some Pharisees and scribes who were grumbling because Jesus was welcoming known sinners to listen to him. In fact, he was even eating with them. So in the parable, the shepherd can be viewed as a stand-in for Jesus. And what does he do when the sheep wanders off? He hunts it down and brings it back to the flock. While finding the sheep was of some benefit to the shepherd, it was of even more benefit to the sheep, which, had it stayed apart from the flock, probably would have become a mutton-chop dinner for a wolf or lion. Can we draw from this parable something of God’s perspective on our church attendance? Perhaps the main reason to be present in the flock that is the church is simply because that’s the place to which the Divine Shepherd drags wandering sheep. In the parable, the shepherd does nothing for the sheep beyond bringing it back to the flock. Of course, the sheep is only an animal, so the shepherd cannot seek a commitment from the ovine creature that it will obey the shepherd henceforth and not wander off again. But it’s a parable, and so if the wayward sheep represents sinners, there are human applications. Yet the only one Jesus makes is that the return of the sheep to the flock qualifies as “repentance.” This is where today’s Gospel reading continues in the perennial story of the Prodigal Son. And maybe that’s the point. Although we can enumerate benefits to our faith from being in church, the main reason for being here isn’t for the benefits but because it’s where God wants us to be. Yes, shepherds do go out after strays, but most of the work shepherds do with sheep is while they’re in the flock, and most congregational flocks are nourishing locations where God can work with us. We can talk about why we should attend church in terms of the church’s survival or of the benefits we receive from being there, but it’s enough to notice that when we wander off and Jesus comes looking for us, he will likely push us toward a flock, toward a community, toward a place of safety, sustenance and nurture. And when we get there, there will be joy in heaven. “Just so, I tell you,” said Jesus, “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
However, it is not as easily said as that. Nor are you getting off the hook that easy. For three additional weeks, with maybe a brief hiatus for Michaelmass, we shall explore this topic. I have oodles of information to throw at you, so don’t even think you will get a break with a short sermon!
Seriously though, we shall continue this exploration for three additional weeks. We shall explore some sound reasoning’s for why we should attend church. Obviously, I hope those who attend Mass on Sunday’s will benefit from it. However, given we also have a presence on the web, I hope that it may benefit those who are not attending with us each Sunday, or any service on Sunday’s for that matter; so as hopefully we can all appreciate more the positive benefits to genuine worship on Sundays. And if, as we go along, I touch a nerve or a heart, I hope it will bring greater appreciation and devotion to our Blessed Lord.
God Love You +
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.