Monday, February 13, 2012

Sunday Sermon

February 12, 2012

Sexagesima Sunday

Ah, Valentine’s Day, a day full of symbols of love. The usual ones, of course, include hearts and flowers, little cupids and those flirty candy hearts with sayings such like “U R Hot” on them. Everywhere you go there are suggestions of the day. Even on the side of the road. Like most holidays now, it too has become commercialized.
But if you were in Rome today, you’d be doing your Valentine’s Day shopping at the hardware store, not the Hallmark store. In recent years, it’s been fashionable for young lovers in the Eternal City to take a romantic walk on the Ponte Milvio Bridge, where they profess their love by wrapping a chain around one of the lampposts, securing it with a lock and then throwing the key into the Tiber River. It symbolizes their eternal, undying, locked-together love, perhaps portending the day when both will adorn their lives with a marital “ball and chain,” as the unfortunate expression goes.
I understand that fueled by the popularity of Federico Moccia’s romantic novel titled I Want You, but in Italian, the practice became so popular that the lampposts were threatening to plunge themselves into the river because of the weight of all that hardware. Unlike the city of Florence, which banned the practice and promised to fine any moon-eyed couples who dared chain up public property, Rome took the more romantic approach and put iron posts linked by chains. Lovers may attach their bonds of love there as a kind of rattling monument to love itself.
But on this Valentine’s Day, we might muse as to whether a chain and lock are really the best symbol for a love relationship. Sure, there’s the whole idea of being permanently bonded, which is a good thing when it comes to marriage. But the image of a chain also implies some kind of slavery or prison from which you can’t escape. Pop music, for example, seems to see the chain as being more painful than romantic. In the 1988 hit “Chains of Love,” Erasure sang, about breaking the chains of love as a good thing. Not exactly what you want on a Valentine’s Day card.
But in this week’s epistle text, the apostle Paul seems to be echoing more Pat Boone than Ponte Milvio. “Now the Lord is Spirit,” writes Paul, “and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. For Paul, God isn’t about locking us up tight and throwing away the key but about using love as a liberating path to freedom — freedom to be all that we were created to be. Besides, we have to be careful here today …. After all, Koko has already made his trek up to the altar more than once and I am quite sure he isn’t looking for those kinds of chains again today. In other words, it isn’t chains we’re looking for — it’s Christ.
Paul goes about the challenging task of reinterpreting symbols from Israel’s past, namely the stone-inscribed law of Moses, as a kind of chain of love that could hold the covenant between God and Israel together only up to a point. Although the Law of Moses provided the boundaries for the covenant community, it had become a “ministry of condemnation” and, ultimately, “the ministry of death”. The bond of the old covenant had become rusty and broken through Israel’s disobedience, having lost the “glory” that had once shone brightly on the face of Moses. A new love letter from God was needed, one “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts”.
This “new covenant” came in the person of Christ, who taught that the kingdom of God was a revolution of love that would ultimately free the whole creation from slavery to sin and death. Jesus’ death and resurrection would usher in the “new creation”, the “permanent” glory that has come and is coming in Christ. It is this “hope” that enables those who are in Christ to “act with great boldness”.
The presence of God, the work of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit all result in transformation. Moses is transformed as he comes down the mountain with the law, his face reflecting God’s glory. Jesus’ glorious transfiguration on the mountain left the disciples stammering at the connection between Jesus and the towering figures of Moses and Elijah — a linkage between the old covenant and the new. Coming down the mountain, Jesus would begin his march toward the cross as the continuation of God’s great mission embodied by those two great Old Testament figures. No hearts, no chains, no silly little candy sentiments can compare to the symbol of the cross as the ultimate icon of love.
What Paul is expressing here is nothing less than God’s mission in the world — a mission that’s embodied by and finds its climax in Jesus. Thus, the “ministry of justification” isn’t simply a kind of theological valentine to a few individuals who have discovered the way to a distant heaven. Rather, it’s a proclamation of God’s plan of liberation for all of creation. In his book Justification, N.T. Wright says that “God had a single plan all along through which he intended to rescue the world and the human race, and this single plan was centered upon the call of Israel, a call which Paul saw coming to fruition in Israel’s representative, the Messiah.” The old covenant was necessary so the new covenant would build upon it as part of a missional plan of redemption.
Paul makes the point that God’s Spirit brings “freedom,” but what kind of freedom is it? Well, here’s where we have to recognize that while the old covenant has been replaced by the new covenant in Christ, it doesn’t mean we’re free to do whatever we want, whenever and wherever we want to do it. The new covenant still has moral, ethical and missional components to it that require our assent and our obedience as a response to God’s love and work on our behalf. But, in a counter-intuitive way, obedience is the foundation of freedom.
E. Stanley Jones, the great missionary to India in the first third of the 20th century, and author of The Christ of the Indian Road, put it this way: “The first thing in life is to obey, to find something, or rather someone, to whom you can give your final and absolute allegiance. Where do I bend the knee is the ultimate question. For everybody obeys — money sex, society, self. … But people do want and do need freedom. How do they get it? The aviator is free to fly, provided he obeys every moment the law of flying. Freedom through obedience. Then total freedom is through total obedience to the total order — the kingdom.”

To put it another way, the more we live into the mission of God, the more we engage the Spirit and allow him to work in us and through us, the more we are freed up to realize our true purpose as citizens of the kingdom and people of the new covenant.
God loves the whole world and calls us to love it with the same kind of sacrificial, joy-filled and transformational love that God has demonstrated from the beginning. God has set us free in Christ, and it’s up to us to use that freedom to participate with God in making the kingdom a reality “on earth as it is in heaven.”
So instead of heading out to an overpriced brunch with sweethearts, you might a statement this Valentine’s Day by skipping the candlelit dinner and giving the equivalent money to a soup kitchen or food pantry. Instead of trying to find the perfect gift for a sweetie, perhaps you can gift your time to someone who may be lonely on what is for many people the loneliest of days. While taking that romantic walk through the park, maybe you can pick up some trash or do a little creation care. It’s a great opportunity to break the chains of sentimentality and cultural obligation and instead getting serious about loving God’s good creation.

God Love You +

Now we have a special occasion. As all of you know, Koko has answered a calling to become a Deacon in Christ’s Church. This is neither a short process nor an easy one. Though, admittedly we are accelerating it into a one year process as opposed the usual four it sometimes takes.
Koko has been experiencing this freedom I have talked about today. He has been noticing the Holy Spirit working in his life. Since, joining us here at St. Francis he has managed to get his prayer life back in addition to hearing this calling. He has been able to experience the calming that comes from his surrender to God.
God has never said that following Him would make problems disappear or that life would necessarily be easier per se’, but He did say that we would receive the grace to accept the life we are given. Without my prayer life and faith in God, I frankly think I would have gave up on life years ago. During some of the more stressful times at work, some ask me how I am able to remain composed, even if obviously agitated. The gift of the Holy Spirit is how. The Holy Spirit will surround you with Angels of all kinds at all times if we simply remain in faith and keep the line of communication open to God.
Koko has experienced this and admitted that he is calmer even in times that might have sent him over the edge before. Troubles may remain, but our ability to accept and thus channel negative energies away become easier.
I hope that everyone will join me; join Koko in his path God has chosen for him over the next year. Every two months or so, he will be “ordained” to a new level until he reaches the office of Deacon Easter of 2013. He will need your support; he will need your prayers. I am joyful in what he is about to undertake. Our small denomination and church need many workers to support the many children of Christ.
Today he is to be ordained as a Cleric. A term that many probably have never heard of or have not heard of since prior to the 1960’s. Cleric was originally referred to as “Tonsure”.
Tonsure, is from the Latin tonsura, denoting the cutting of the hair as well as the shaven crown worn by clerics as a distinctive mark of their state.
The origin of the tonsure must probably be sought in the custom prevailing among the Romans of shaving the head of a slave. Confessors of the faith were in some cases treated in the same manner out of contempt and mockery. To proclaim themselves slaves of Christ monks at a very early date began to shave their heads. Toward the beginning of the sixth century clerics gradually adopted the custom of the monks, however in a modified form, not shaving the whole head, but leaving a narrow crown of hair. In this form the tonsure is still worn by members of some religious orders. Generally, however, it was greatly reduced in size until it now resembles a half-dollar coin. In some countries, where Catholics form a minority among a non-Catholic population, and in the United States, the tonsure is not worn.
In the beginning no special rite was employed for the bestowal of the first tonsure. When a man decided to devote himself to the service of God and was assigned to the personnel of a certain church, he began to wear the tonsure. In the course of time suitable ceremonies were developed for the adoption into the clerical state. For a long time these ceremonies formed part of the rite, by which the first minor order was conferred, and it was probably only in the eighth century that the bestowal of the first tonsure became a separate rite. The wearing of the tonsure was made obligatory for all clerics during the Middle Ages.
Tonsure is not an order, since no office and no spiritual power is conferred by it. It is a sacred rite, by which a layman is received into the clerical state, and the prerequisite for the reception of Holy Orders.
The word cleric is derived from the Greek kleros, which means portion or inheritance. The choice of the term is suggested by the words of God addressed to the tribe of Levi, by which the clerics were typified: "You shall possess nothing in their land; neither shall you have any portion among them. I am your portion and inheritance in the midst of the children of Israel" (Numb 18, 20). St. Jerome, commenting on the passage, thus interprets the word cleric: "They are called clerics, because they are the portion of the Lord and because the Lord is their portion." The Lord has chosen the clerics for His special service, and they have freely accepted the choice. In order to give themselves with wholehearted and undivided attention to the service of God, for "they that serve the altar partake with the altar. So also the Lord ordained that they who preach the Gospel should live by the Gospel" (1 Cor. 9, 13 f).
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.