Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Years Sermon

December 30, 2012
Christmas Sunday
(New Year’s Day)
Isn’t it interesting what we humans hold as important? We marvel at the craziest things. Each New Year brings about so many personalities and resolutions that we know all too well will go unfulfilled. What can this New Year bring each of us and St. Francis? Will it take a stroke of genius or a miracle to fulfill the wishes? Or both? Does it even matter? Hmmm ….. Let’s see what our Gospel reading for today might tell us.
Healing the sick. Giving sight to the blind. Multiplying the food supply. Walking through walls. This is more than just genius at work.
Bobby Fischer was a teen chess prodigy and a social misfit.
Steve Martin is literally a comic genius, even if he hasn’t shown it lately. That arrow through his head went through a Mensa brain. 
Two-year-old Elise Tan Roberts, Mensa’s youngest member, can name 35 world capitals and identify three types of triangles. Wait a minute. There are three kinds of triangles?
Madonna and Shakira are both divas who make headlines on- and offstage. Or was that Lady Gaga …. But with confirmed IQs of 140, each of them just as easily could excel in the boardroom or courtroom. 
South Boston street-tough “Good” Will Hunting was “wicked smaaht” — just as competent in vector algebra as he was in a playground brawl.
All these figures are incredibly intelligent. But they’re just as colorful as they are clever. While we value intelligence, we really seem to enjoy people who are quirky smart.
Mental Floss magazine is committed to the quirky and smart in culture. It once chronicled “The New Einsteins” — geniuses who think outside the box to arrive at unimagined places:
~ MIT physics professor Marin Soljaãiç was tired of waking up in the middle of the night to the chirping of his cell phone’s low battery alarm. Our phones do everything else — why not plug themselves in as well? He invented “WiTricity,” the first step toward wireless electricity. Magnetic coils can resonate at a frequency that makes other coils across the room resonate. It’s wireless transmission of energy, similar to how a plucked guitar string makes its neighbors vibrate through harmonics.
~ An unnamed Doberman/border collie mix made the Einstein list by performing successful cancer surgery on its owner. The dog was obsessed with a mole on its owner’s leg, sniffing at it for months and eventually biting it off! The woman’s doctor later confirmed that the mole was cancerous and that her dog may have saved her life. Tumors release toxins, and it turns out that those toxins stink enough for a dog to smell them. Today, trained dogs have detected lung and breast cancer with almost 90 percent accuracy. 
~ Roland Fryer, an innovative yet controversial New Einstein, is making school cool. He created a program in New York that rewards classroom performance with cell phones full of minutes. Teachers and students use the phones to text about assignments, while celebrities send encouraging messages through the phone system. In Chicago, his program gives ninth-graders $50 for every “A” they make. These rewards are de-stigmatizing the inner-city notion that learning is uncool.
~ Now imagine the scene in a Harvard lecture hall where a 12-year-old is stunning Ph.D. economists with his understanding of free-market dynamics. Another genius at work?
However, closer to home, today we read how the boy Jesus astounds many.
The Passover festival in Luke 2 was like a Catholic Synod for us today. People came into Jerusalem from across the land. They shared meals stretching on for hours. Conversations focused on theology, culture and religious life. Sounds just like the mental flossing us Bishops do at a Synod! And just how many Angels actually sit on the head of a pin anyway? Hmmm…. 
As the annual event drew to a close, everyone headed out and traveled long distances home. Everyone but Jesus. His parents were a day away from Jerusalem before they realized their son was missing. 
Not exactly Einstein parenting, but far from parental neglect. Joseph and Mary’s clan would have been watching each other’s kids on the journey — not uncommon for how extended family worked in the ancient Near East.
As it turns out, the only people who actually were watching Jesus were all the best and brightest of Jerusalem’s religious leadership. The Passover conversations kept going on as a 12-year-old asked and answered difficult theological questions.
In the temple, Jesus, even as a 12-year-old, taught not only the elders of his own day but us as a postmodern culture today. If we read In Mark 1:27 or Matthew 7:29 he eventually taught with authority. 
UC-Berkeley chemical engineer Jay Keasling is one of the Mental Floss New Einsteins. He defines genius as someone who “is extremely bright, extremely creative, who thinks completely out of the box.” That’s the read on the prepubescent scholar. Jesus was a genius, and outside-the-box understanding would always mark his teaching ministry.
Mark uses interesting wordplay on exousia (authority) to call attention to the uniqueness and impact of Jesus’ teaching. Synagogue-goers were “astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes”.
Jesus had an actual authority that was different from those in the role of spiritual authority. His teaching was capable of more impact than theirs. He could forgive sins. He had rule and reign over evil spirits. It was authority under people, not over them. 
We can personalize the idea of the authority of Jesus’ teaching with spiritually formative questions to ourselves, such as:
• Why do I trust the authority of Jesus?
• What are the ways Jesus’ teachings have changed me in the last year?
• If not for Jesus’ authority over me, how would my choices look different this week?
• In what areas of my life am I not giving Jesus the authority he already has?
• In what ways have I not lived up to Jesus’ authority or trusted him enough to live as a better Christian? Catholic?
It’s important for us to pause and recognize Jesus’ authority in our lives. His teaching and authority should have already changed us dramatically and should be changing us right now. If we can’t point to those changes easily, perhaps we aren’t respecting his authority. Here is where New Year resolutions come in. Do we make them haphazardly – do we fail to ask Jesus to help us with them and invite his authority over them?
Then and now, Jesus didn’t teach to stun the crowds with new and outside-the-box ideas. He came to fulfill the law — to put flesh and blood onto words they had heard all their lives. To model a holistically fulfilling life. He came to change people. He wants to change us this New Year.
Jesus did the work of God. Mary was probably as embarrassed as she was shocked that her 12-year-old son went AWOL for a temple study leave. In response to her surprise, Jesus asked: “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
The Message paraphrases Jesus’ activity as “dealing with the things of my Father.” Or, as the KJV puts it: “I must be about my Father’s business.” Both of these translations demonstrate how Jesus was different from those around him.
Jesus was consumed by scriptural education. We know that because the religious leaders were amazed by his “understanding and his answers.” There are two different concepts. Jesus could answer questions posed by the temple rabbis. But he also showed understanding, which probably came from questions he posed.
In rabbinical education, little value was placed on simply possessing information about God and Scripture. Rabbis wanted to know if students had internalized, owned, wrestled with and understood information, and then even more importantly, did they live them out. This was demonstrated through questions, not answers. 
Could a student understand information enough to show wonder and musing about what he hadn’t learned yet? Could he demonstrate that he had reflected on the Subject of the subject at hand?
This 12-year-old boy didn’t just know about God. He knew God. Somehow in the education that was part of his divine-human experience, Jesus had personalized and internalized who God was.
This leads us to questions of our own again:
• What do Sunday sermons feel like to us: more information to acquire? Something we patiently wait through before kickoff that afternoon?
• Which is a more truthful expression for us: “I know about God” or “I know God”?
• Do we feel comfortable exploring questions about God? 
• Are we in touch with our doubts and disbelief? 
• Do we chase answers for questions we don’t have answers to? 
• Do our questions show the depth and hunger of our reflection about God?
• Do we open our Bibles for answers?
• Do we ask our pastor about questions we have so that we may live our faith?
Jesus said he “must” be in his Father’s house — dealing with the things of the Father — about his business. Mustn’t we, too? And how can we demonstrate that right now?
Jesus grew in wisdom and favor. Verse 52 is a beautiful summary that covers Jesus’ life from age 12 to about age 30: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.” 
As Jesus grew older, three things were true of him: He was smart, he was cool and he was loved. The Bible says he “increased in wisdom,” people liked him and God was pleased with him.
So, over time – over the last New Year’s, how are we doing: Getting smart? Getting cool? Getting loved? Although it’s hard to measure change over short periods of time, we can look back over the last five years and ask how we’ve changed.
• How has God made me wiser today than I was five years ago?
• How have I matured over the last five years?
• How has my reputation with nonbelievers changed?
• Is my reputation with my coworker’s better, worse or the same?
• How would my family say I’ve grown over the last five years?
• How have I expressed in my everyday life my Catholic Christian roots?
Christian therapist and author Henry Cloud offers a simple paradigm for understanding Christian growth. Growth = Grace + Truth + Time. The genius of Jesus is that he is full of grace and truth (John 1). Over time, we should be able to see Christ’s life and teachings changing us and causing us to grow. One year’s worth of New Year’s resolutions will never succeed on its own.
New Einsteins are discovering how to grow organs, cure plagues and help the blind see. These are seemingly monumental and unimaginable tasks. Jesus wants to accomplish much simpler things in us: deepening our souls and changing our lives. 
Are we giving him a chance to change our worlds? Will this New Year be better than last year? Better than five years ago? Will we be better at making our Catholic Faith a way of life, or just something we do on Sunday’s for an hour or so?
God Love You +
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.

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