Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sunday Sermon

August 26, 2012

The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

What are we to do? This week's biblical text is "brought to life" as much by the number it bears as by what it says. Read this text of rejection, John 6:66, one more time: "After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him."

The devastating nature of this message, coupled with the doomsday number it is assigned -- 666, the number of the Antichrist, the Mark of the Beast,  -- has made this text a flash point favorite for those trying to figure out Armageddon mathematics. At the doorstep of December 21st, the end of the Mayan calendar (and the world for those who believe the scare) there is an increased frenzy and fervor over anything smacking of an apocalyptic message or a secret numerological code.

It is time to ask the question: Is all this "Armageddon fever" really bringing us any closer to the presence of the Christ we profess to long for?

Let’s suppose you were driving and you noticed that the odometer on your car had just clicked over to 70,000 miles. The sense of accomplishment in this milestone, however, might be overshadowed by the fact that immediately, the vehicle's "needs maintenance" button on the dash also lights up. Undoubtedly, this was the manufacturer's way of getting the automobile's owner to bring the vehicle in for its regularly scheduled tune-up. But the glaring red beacon on the dash is genuinely disconcerting.

What if you didn't have the money or the time to put the car in the shop for a full day's inspection just then? What if the light coming on really had nothing to do with the odometer count? If the red light were just a programmed-in reminder, you could ignore it. Except for the fact that now that the "needs maintenance" light was already lit, how would you know if something else happened to the engine that really did require immediate attention and repair?

The apocalyptic odometer also comes with a warning light -- a recommendation for "maintenance." As one milestone closes and another begins to unfold, it is only fitting and wise that we examine our culture, our faith and the unique spirit that we are taking with us into the second millennium.

Our "maintenance needed" light also alerts us to the lurking reality of an environmental Armageddon. Ever-present AIDS, Ebola, flesh-eating bacteria, infectious microbes, global warming, ozone depletion, radioactive fallout, air pollution --form only a short list of the plagues that threaten us and the plethora of Armageddon scenarios. Is our end-time anxiety justified?

The majority of us think it is. According to a U.S. News & World Report poll a few years ago, nearly six in 10 Americans believe the world will end or be destroyed, and a third of those think it will happen within a few years or decades. In addition, this same poll found that 44 percent believe the world will face the Apocalypse, with true believers whisked off the planet and called into heaven. Almost half -- 49 percent -- said they believe there will be an antichrist. As the universe's odometer prepares to turn over, the increasing outbreaks of Armageddon anxiety demand that people of faith respond with messages of hope like never before.

But when there are as many doctrines of "last things" as there are people on this planet with opinions, how can we hope to offer any kind of a coherent voice of hope and wholeness to this world?

As stunningly widespread as the polls reveal our apocalyptic anxieties to be, they still reflect that for every naysayer, every doom-and-gloomer, there is another individual who is not so sure. Paradoxically, there is also a great deal of cultural optimism, a conviction that the dawn of a new insight, productivity and peace.

So what is it? Disaster and the end of everything? Or opportunity and a fresh start? Do Christians buy into the doomsday mentality and its accompanying spirit of apathy and inevitability? Or do we see all our problems solved by some new wisdom or insight that will greet us on the other side of the year when we have passed not only December 21
st, but into the new year?

A New Yorker cartoon portrays a scene from hell. "We see several pudgy, furry devils, with their three-pronged forks and pointed tails, driving throngs of hapless human sinners through the licking flames of the Inferno. Sitting on a hot rock observing the scene is a rather reflective gentleman, hand on his chin. He has been down under for some time and knows the scene. Obviously, he has just been quizzed by a rather dazed, innocent looking gentleman, about what it is like farther down into the scorching caverns. As a frowning devil looks over his shoulder at them, the long-term human resident of Hades tells the expectant, hopeful arrival,  "No, it's not going to be okay."

The world is desperate for "It's-going-to-be-okay" assurances. The politically correct thing to do is to say, "It's going to be okay." But it's not going to be okay. And sometimes it's the church's job to say to the culture, "Nope, there's bad news before there's good news: the bad news is, things are not going to be okay. The good news is, things can be okay.

The choice is yours. The choice is ours. The genuine biblical witness offers words of comfort and words of judgment with composure. Throughout the Bible, no matter how many particular eschatological (final or end-time) scenarios we may pick out, one message remains clear.

What the Bible does teach is that history is moving somewhere; that the one who brings justice will fulfill God's saving purpose in history.

"The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever" (Revelation 11:15).

"Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father ... so that God may be all in all" (1 Corinthians 15:24, 28).

In this week's gospel text, Jesus is deserted by "many of his disciples" because of his refusal to tell the people what they wanted to hear. His flesh and blood imagery was both too gutsy and too graphic, too fantastic and too unreal for a large portion of his Jewish audience. The great irony of this text is that the very message that reveals how we may personally experience the intimacy of God in our lives is the message that leads us to turn our backs on Jesus -- the one who is the divine gift of life.

For many, the mounting eschatological enthusiasm as December 21
st or any other end-time scenario approaches, has done exactly the same thing. Intoxicated by Satan's triple-six speculations and calculations, heady over the "what ifs" and "whens" that await us in the next day, week or year, we are beguiled by numbers, strategies and predictions. Instead of following Jesus, we follow the "last-times" headlines of world disasters, weather disasters, alien abductions, etc.

We can become so fixated on the Jesus who is to come that we do not see or hear the Jesus who is in the midst. Thus, doom-and-gloomers use the approaching end-times as an excuse to withdraw from this world, abandoning it to the powers of evil. Satan's triple-six gives us the greatest excuse not to know Christ and make Christ known for the times that God has given us. Is it really this number? Is this number really something to fear? Or is it that we simply must have some fascination of what the end will be like, if it even happens in our life-time or the next. I am not making light of the number or the belief in the existence of the Devil; only making the point that if we live our life looking over our shoulder or over the next hill in continuity, we are not really living life as Jesus was teaching.

A bishop was presiding over the Mass in a large cathedral. He sensed that the microphone wasn't working properly, and he was ready to begin the traditional "The Lord be with you," after which the congregation routinely responded, "And also with you."

He tapped the mike several times, but heard nothing. Then, as he thought he was speaking into a dead mike, he said, "There's something wrong with this blasted microphone." And the people responded, "And also with you."

Is there something wrong with us? What's our excuse for failing to be good Catholics and to make Christ alive today, in our family, our church, our community, our country, our world? In the history of the faith, we have never lacked for excuses.

What's our excuse? What will be our excuse in the year 2013? And then what will be our excuse in the year 2014? Will our apocalyptic anxieties cause us to "turn away," as some did in John 6:66?

Or will we remain standing with Peter? Will we continue to confess "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God". Will it be that belief and that message that take us into the new day, week or year?

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

Sunday Sermon



The Assumption of Our Lady is a doctrine that can be difficult for modern people to understand, particularly those of us who come from a Protestant background I suppose. But there are aspects of the teaching or its spiritual or mystical interpretation that should be of value to us all.

First some history. It was on November 1, 1950 that the Roman Pope Pius XII declared the doctrine of the bodily assumption of our Lady into heaven to be an "infallible" teaching for his denomination. That's rather late in the day for a new Christian teaching to pop up! It wasn't a new idea however, for the Assumption had been a widely-held tradition in both the Eastern and the Western branches of the Christian Church for well over a thousand years, in one form or another. It actually goes back to the Old Testament for Mary is not the first to have been “assumed” into heaven. First let me quote some Scripture:

  • Genesis 5:24: Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.
This is explained in
  • Hebrews 11:5: By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God.
  • 2 Kings 2:11-12: As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more.
This is explained in
  • 1 Maccabees 2:58 in the Apocrypha: Elijah, because of his great devotion to the Law, was taken up into heaven
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:17 describing the end of time: After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. [ Presumably, lots of people get Assumed here.]
In Revelation (12:1) one could contrast the story of the “woman” who was clothed with the sun compared with Rev. 6:9 where we see only the souls of the martyrs, their bodies remaining on material plane. If we say the “woman” is Mary then she exists on the material plane (body) also, just as does the sun.

Second, what about tradition?
  • In 2 Thess. 2:15 Paul instructs us to honor oral (not just written) tradition. Apostolic tradition says Mary was assumed into heaven. As proof of the early tradition regarding Mary--While claiming the bones of the saints was a common practice during early times (In fact, Churches stole the bones of Martyrs from one another.) but Mary’s bones were never claimed. This is because they were not available. Tradition said that Mary was taken up body and soul into heaven.

So Mary is not unique in being assumed into heaven and Tradition supports the idea, but does it matter to us as Christians?

The Liberal Catholic movement has the feast of the Assumption as one of our fairly few observances outside the regular sequence of Sundays. Where do we find this feast? It certainly wouldn't seem necessary to the faith of a Christian. But Origen of Alexandria reminded us that we should then look to the inner, spiritual meaning within the external events, if those physical events are either improbable or don’t seem to warrant the importance given to them, if they are to deserve that importance. That is the purpose of this sermon.

Let's review the standard doctrine: in the Western Catholic Churches it is usually taught that Mary, the mother of Our Lord Jesus, was in body and soul assumed after her death into heavenly glory. Contrast this with the Old Testament where death wasn’t necessary. This doctrine cannot be found in the very early Church, but it is present in some of the Gnostic writings of the 4th Century. It may have been condemned by the majority Church of the time as heresy. That would not be the first last time that a heresy passed into the main stream of the Faith. (Eternal torment/damnation for the "unsaved" is another teaching that doesn’t appear in the New Testament, then started outside the Church, and finally became the majority belief. For the first 500 years of Christianity Universalism, as taught in the Liberal Catholic Movement of which the Universal Catholic Church is a part, was the majority belief but outside influences and apparently the need to frighten the people in order to assert control took control--so we Universalists are probably now a minority position in Christianity. [Universalism is the belief that all will be united with God. As the song says, “There’s no need to be saved, No need to be afraid, Cause when it’s done, God takes everyone.”]

The Assumption of our Holy Lady Mary has long since passed into superstition for many Catholic faithful Indeed, if we concentrate on historical events, that can be real danger. But if we concentrate on the larger view, I think that there is hidden within the bible stories and early Christian traditions, truths that are universal. Therefore, what appears at first to be a miracle or a kind of strange, rather pointless, violation of natural law can, in fact, be a demonstration of something timeless. That is, the story and doctrine of the Assumption are a demonstration, either to the physic senses or in mystic vision, of something much broader than the events of a few individual lives thousand of years ago.

God as Absolute, the God who IS, is always ONE but God in manifestation is dual (while remaining a Trinity). That duality is illustrated by pairs such as spirit and matter force and form, and so on. In fact, every kind of duality we see about us in the created world is somehow traceable to this underlying duality at the heart of the cosmos itself That's pretty standard Christian doctrine. Jesus said, "I, if be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me." [John 12: 32] That is one of the ciphers that opens the door to understanding of the Assumption Problem for us. What is the "Assumption Problem?" The problem is that the standard teaching seems just a warm, fuzzy, superstition.

A second key to the problem is found when we conceive of the Blessed Mother as Mother of Us All. To give away the conclusion of this talk, the doctrine of the Assumption gives us positive assurance that, eventually, we will all be raised—that is assumed—into God's Being to become a self-conscious One with Him or, as St. Paul puts it, to be "made perfect."

Now, back to the dual nature of God. We have a tendency to think of God as male: at the extremes either as a vindictive war lord, or as a forgiving grandfather with a long, white beard, or, in the middle, as a loving Father who wants us to grow into perfection. Even this middle ground is limiting—as is anything that we can say about God. To examine the Assumption we need to approach God from another aspect: God is both male and female.

We must realize that our highest conception of Deity (in manifestation) combines all that is best in all the characteristics attributed to both sexes—though it goes beyond that of course. In Oriental religions this underlying masculinity-femininity behind the manifested world is openly acknowledged. In the Catholic tradition, the feminine aspect has found open recognition mostly in the veneration of the Blessed Lady Mary, although the Holy Spirit has also been described as feminine.

Let us list examples of the masculine and feminine aspects of Creation:
Masculine Feminine
Strength The great “sea” of primal
Wisdom Beauty
Scientific Direction Tenderness
Destroying and Chastising Compassion & Harmony

Remember that we are not saying in a literal sense that God is Strength and is Compassion [God is God!] but rather that manifestation is brought about by the interaction of powers that lie "behind" these qualities that we find in the world around us. As Bp. Wedgwood wrote, “Thus it is said that the energizing force or power of the Logos, the Divine Word, breathed life into the great Sea of Virgin Matter, initiating the whole process of creation of all the worlds. Whenever, at any level (physical spiritual, etc.), there is a perfect co-working between these two aspects of the divine, we have in manifestation an ‘image of eternity.’ At one level, Christ is born in Bethlehem; and at another, the ‘Christ- Child’ is born in our own hearts, and by this we participate in the divine manifestation.”

The supreme, visible, earthly example of this co-working of spirit and matter in Catholic tradition is the symbol of the Mother of Jesus; she is a living icon, as it were, of the union of a human body and soul with the Feminine Aspect of Deity. Her assumption into Heaven opens the mind and soul to the living experience of the perfection of all material forms. From Her arises that wisdom and peace that shall in time possess a glorified material world. For you see, the world is not evil: it is of God and is good.

Christ is the power and force within creation. He descends into matter and ascends by His own volition, by His own force; but Mary represents the negative aspect of the One God, she, having nursed all creation to the point where it is ready to reflect the Creator, is drawn up by the Creator's will. Mary is assumed into heaven, and so it is that at every level that we can imagine, matter is risen and glorified, through perfect co-working with directing Power.

And that's the truth of the Assumption!

In conclusion, let us all remember the words of Mary, and let them sound through every level of creation:


for it is necessary to voluntarily open our hearts to accept the power of the Word. When we fully submit to that power, in the spirit of our Lady, we will be freed from the prison of illusion, and we will understand those words which also sound through every level of creation:


for in us, matter and spirit will have formed their conjunction; our hearts will have come to rest in Him who has made us for Himself, and we ourselves will have made our contribution toward the assumption of all material creation into its true perfection and glory.

And thus, what was pointed to at ancient times and in one region of the world, will become for us a truth shining in our time and at every place through all our lives.

by Archbishop Bekken