Sunday, June 26, 2016

June 26, 2016
The Fifth Sunday after Trinity
Atheists are all the rage these days. Seems like I have a conversation with one at least once a week lately. Most of us have seen them displayed at Barnes and Noble, caught a morning-show interview with them or heard them referenced at Starbucks between friends grateful to have discovered champions for their skepticism.

• Richard Dawkin’s The God Delusion has sold 3 million copies, spending a year on the New York Times Best Seller List.

• Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great became a number-one New York Times Best Seller.

• Bill Maher’s film Religulous was the highest-grossing documentary of 2008.

New Atheism is hot right now … and lucrative. It also has encouraged a common-ground ecumenical response. Muslims, Christians and Jews are standing together.

In the litany of interfaith responses, Rabbi David Wolpe’s tends to stand out. He’s known as a beloved but controversial leader in the Jewish community. Named Newsweek’s “#1 Pulpit Rabbi in America,” he’s spiced up his temple by holding Friday night “rock ’n’ roll” services, and even at one point inviting Will and Grace producer David Kohan to preach and questioning the historicity of the exodus … at the Passover service!

Wolpe’s book Why Faith Matters is his response to the new atheism movement. He feels their discussion of religion has completely missed the positive benefits of religion. He cites the apologetic power of religion’s gifts to society: interdependent community, a sense of social responsibility, a commitment to charity, believing in something larger than oneself, promoting healthy personal boundaries and submitting to a “higher power.”

In essence, these are God’s ways of demonstrating God’s self through the followers of God. We have the power to be a strong argument. To be apologetics of virtue

It isn’t the first time a beloved and controversial Jewish rabbi has lent his insights to Christians.

In a story of inadequacy relatable to many clergy, Wolpe tells of being called to the hospital bedside of an elderly woman to offer final prayers for the dying. He took her comatose hand but felt like a fraud. Who was he to shepherd a soul to the edge of the next world? Dutifully, he proceeded to pray familiar words anyway, letting their power carry him.

Talking to his wife about it afterward, Wolpe confessed his feelings of inadequacy. “You’re right,” she said. “You’re unworthy. Anyone would be unworthy doing such a thing. That’s okay, though. It’s not you doing it. It’s being done through you.”

Wolpe writes, “That was a pivotal moment for me. Suddenly it became clear to me that we bring light into this world not as a source but as a prism — it comes through us. As electricity requires a conduit, so spirit moves through human beings to touch others in crucial moments. As soon as I stepped out of my own way, the prayer felt real. I could believe in blessing when I felt that it did not depend on me.”

Novelist Edith Wharton put the same idea this way: “There are two ways of spreading light, to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”

What does this have to do with Galatians 5? Galatians 5 raises the light or prism, candle or mirror question. “But there’s no light reference here,” one might say. But really there is.

The fruits of the flesh or the Spirit are set up in a larger context in which Paul is dealing with the influence of Judaizers in Galatia who insist on adding law to grace. Reminding the Galatians of their freedom from the law, he asks them to use the holiness encouraged by the law for each other. In living by the Spirit, they are to be slaves to one another, embodying the grand intent of the law, which is neighbor-loving.

The “fruit” or the result of living in the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and so on, and these latter qualities are the very things that mirror the light of God into the lives of others.

We could rename these qualities the flames of the Spirit. Not the fruit of the Spirit, but the flames of the Spirit. We can’t be the candle. Christ is the candle. But, we can be — we must be — the mirrors.

Most light metaphors fall into two categories. One, Christ is likened to light — “the people living in darkness have seen a great light” (Isaiah 9 or see John 1). And two, his followers are light — “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5). The metaphor of a candle and a mirror encompasses both.

As our reading today says, Christ has set us free, and ultimately he is the light of the world that we all reflect. But when God changes us — when we are led by the Spirit and produce fruit demonstrating that — then we reflect that light in the same way that a mirror does candlelight.

The reading clearly recognizes that God’s Spirit is the one doing work in us. There’s no doubt who the light source is. God’s Spirit is the candle.

That means the response of the Christian is to polish up the mirror. Clean up the smudges and the water spots. Make it a bright reflector of God.

Can we be mirrors in darkness?

The most powerful apologetic for Christianity is the changed lives of its adherents and the way they love their neighbors through their transformation.

We’re God’s first option on evangelism. It’s a consistent biblical theme: 

• Genesis 12: All nations will be blessed by Abraham’s family obeying God.

• Matthew 5:16: Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and praise your God.

• 1 Peter 2:12: Live lives that silence the false accusations of pagans.

Plato was once told that a man in the city had been spreading slanderous charges against him. Plato’s answer: “I will live in such a way that no one will believe what he says.”

What if we took his example, the scriptural example, and Wolpe’s virtue apologetic seriously and committed ourselves to winning the hearts of God’s skeptics by living better lives right in front of them?

Wolpe tells of a season where he lost his faith, bolstered by the writings of an “old atheist,” Bertrand Russell. A graphic Holocaust documentary introduced him to “evil and a world without God’s protection.” Russell became a logical, witty guide to a world that was merely the product of blind forces.

Wolpe was enamored with the philosopher until he began reading biographical works that showed how depraved Russell’s life was: four broken marriages, alienated from his children, unabashed about his infidelity.

Despite Russell’s brilliant mind, the fruit of his philosophy made a far more compelling argument. Claiming “it was better to be Russell’s reader than his wife or child,” Wolpe stumbled back into faith through the apologetic of virtue.

Haven’t we all met the Christian who’s so compelling to us that his or her presence inspires our faith? And haven’t we also met that sister or brother whose words, actions or attitudes cause us to literally doubt our faith?

There’s no problem with the Candle. 

It’s the mirror that needs polishing. 

We aren’t the source of light, but the prism. Not the candle, but the mirror.

As long as there are neighbors and family members who don’t know Jesus, and as long as a new crop of atheists find God-bashing a fashionable and profitable thing to do, let’s just reflect Christ. Let us be the virtuous apologetic.
One last thing. Our reading today states something very plainly – Faith in Christ is not a long list of laws, but it doesn’t mean we are free to do whatever we want either. We are called to live in love – to live unselfishly. Though we are indeed saved by faith, not deeds – our deeds should show our faith in the ways we treat one another.
Let us pray.
Father God, although some aspects of the Mosaic Law was fulfilled and thus no longer necessary for our salvation, because of faith in Christ we are now brought that salvation. However, help us to know that it does not mean that we stand able to do anything our hearts desire. Living in faith and following Your Son means we must still behave in the example He put forth and by believing in Him, we are called to better love and serve Him when we serve our fellow mankind.
Dear Lord helps each of us here today to be a better mirror of Christ in the world. Let us be filled with courage to live in the fruit of the Spirit which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; for against such things there is no law. We ask this, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

June 19, 2016
The Fourth Sunday after Trinity

This was a topic I wasn’t going to preach on today. The news, media, blogs, etc. have all discussed it to finite degree. I just didn’t think it would be necessary. However, I was wrong. I have been asked so many questions and asked for my thoughts on the matter so many times and given severity of the topic, I decided maybe I should. I will try to make it short, but you all know how I sometimes get onto a rant. I couldn’t possibly put all my thoughts together in such a short time anyway, so, here is my feeble attempt.
By now, we have all heard of the tragic events in Orlando. It would seem the terror took place prior to most of us being in this chapel last Sunday. I had not heard anything of it until late Sunday night. I guess I do not turn on the news or log into Facebook often enough to know the events that happen outside of our city.
It was horrific news, to be sure. It never ceases to amaze me how this country seems to be spiraling out of control with shootings. Many are quick to point out that it is the “Islamics”. And by so doing, we are classifying a group of people into a lump implying they are all the same. So much hate in the world. So much hate.
Did you know Christians are overzealous prudish fanatics that don’t do anything fun and only want to kill “Islamics?” Well, that is how Christians are viewed by non-Christians in various parts of the world. Would it be true? I imagine there are a couple here and there, but hardly all of us.
That’s okay; did you know all priests are child molesters? Yup! Every one of us! I apparently, missed that memo too.
My point is, it only takes 2% of a given demographic and population to ruin it for the other 98%.
In the Quran, some argue that the second half of the book is more militant in direction. Yes, that would be relatively true, because at the time that Mohamad wrote this section; his tribe was in war with his own people. So, of course it reflects this, but it cannot be taken as a whole or out of context.
Infidels, as mentioned in the Quran, were specific enemies who have long been dead. A call for Jihad was not a general direction toward invaders in general, but of invaders who threated a Muslim home in particular. Killings of innocents and self have always been prohibited by true Islamic teaching. 
Like the bible, interpretation is what makes the difference between a saint and a savage. As an example, we read in Psalm 137:9, “How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones against the rock.” Does this mean any of us in the Christian world run out with our first born and throw them against the rocks? Of course not. Everything is about context.
            “If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or your daughter or the wife you embrace or your friend who is as your own soul entices you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which neither you nor your fathers have known, some of the gods of the peoples who are around you, whether near you or far off from you, from the one end of the earth to the other, you shall not yield to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him, nor shall you conceal him. But you shall kill him. Your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. You shall stone him to death with stones, because he sought to draw you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Deuteronomy 13:6-10) This passage is from our Christian Bible. Are we any different or better than that of Islam?
There are some idiot pastors out there – yes, I said idiot! – who are saying this whole thing is a punishment from God towards the gays in that night club! According to one pastor, "The good news is that there's 50 less pedophiles in this world, because, you know these homosexuals are a bunch of disgusting perverts and pedophiles."
Ooookay then! I wish he would tell us how he really feels. (No, I am not telling you who said it, but suffice to say, he wasn’t alone.) These are the jokers that give a bad name to Christianity and certainly do not teach the same Jesus I know.
Apparently, they need to go back to Bible school and relearn who and what God is. In the person of Jesus Christ, violence is never advocated. It only goes to show that even we Christians have some people out there who are radical and do not form the whole. Maybe we do not carry out as many terrorist acts in the modern age, but a few hundred years ago we did. We are not guilt free.
Can you hear Jesus crying and weeping over the grave crime that has happened here? Can you just hear Him weep for all His children? I can. In my soul and my own tears or sorrow.
Of course, this begs the question of how and why God allows evil in the world, of which I mentioned to you all a few weeks back, I would be doing a series of sermons on said topic later this year - early next. Free-will comes into play here, but it will take more time than one sermon to explain, so I will stay on topic. However, for the moment we have to trust in God’s providence and His desire to allow humans the freedom to choose Him freely. Problem is some people get in the way of those who are not choosing Him and get caught in the acts of terrorism they perpetrate.
And so, today, on Father’s Day, we have many who will not be celebrating with smiles, but with tears. Father’s do not know sexuality, race, nationality, religion or social classes. No, fathers only know them as their children. Someone’s child has been taken away from them in a very cruel way.
As a country, we cannot agree on what it will take to achieve peace. We all have our ideas and we are sometimes very vocal about them. We cannot agree on how we should stop the innocents from dying in these horrific ways. Facebook is loaded with people’s opinions on what will stop the seemingly non-stop murderous rampages that have been taking place. Given all the theories and information being found about this man who committed this heinous crime, we can’t even agree on what caused him to carry out such an act.
One source says that 125 additional people have died since the Orlando shootings due to guns. We can’t even agree on who or when someone should be able to possess a gun (or what type), but certainly there is a problem here!
However, there are some things we can and should be able to agree on in this time of need. We have to be a voice to those around us – to be good Christians and examples to others. We do not have to agree on theology, but we can agree on the mercy and love of God. We can agree that Jesus calls all of humanity to love one another – even in disagreement.
We need to be advocates that know anger which leads to violence, is never an appropriate response. In fact, even verbal violence is wrong. We all get caught in that trap. We should be people of peace who renounce violence of any kind.
We need to remember that we live in a civilized world and we are civilized people and should act as such and never have a lack of respect for people different from ourselves -- whether because of political affiliation, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, religion, or handicap. Hate is a very negative and harmful emotion that needs to be checked in us all from time to time. I despise some four lettered words, and “hate” is one of them. We all should.
It will serve us well to know that to proactively initiate an act of kindness to someone who's radically different from us will bless both the giver and the receiver. Remember that Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:43-45). Never does Jesus say to harm or kill your enemies.
We would all do well to let God be the judge of other people and stop presuming we know the mind and heart of God in these matters. We should learn to work peacefully with people who may hold opinions and positions quite different from our own. Sometimes, compromise is better for the greater good.
Let’s face it; our life here on earth will never perfectly fit into our vision of what it should be. We can be obstacles against this in our own right. Our view point, frankly, is merely our own and not necessarily what others may ascribe to.
Today, Jesus still weeps with the many family and friends of those lost on that terrible day. Jesus wept and said, "Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes" (Luke 19:42.)
Oh, how true. Many seek vengeance, but that is not the answer and it will only make for more violence. Vengeance is mine, said the Lord (Deuteronomy 32:35).
We do not know the mind of the man who did this. We have many ideas from the many resources we have today in which we have information at our fingertips, but regardless, he is now gone too. He is in the Lord’s hands to deal with as He sees fit; may He have mercy on his soul. We do well now to be instruments of comfort and instruments of change.
This country does need some change. No matter how small of a group we are, we can still be an instrument of change. Let's stop doing whatever might be hurtful and start doing whatever might be healing. Let's do it now.
"The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.’The Lord is my portion,' says my soul, 'therefore I will hope in him'" (Lamentations 3:22-24).
Now, instead of a prayer like one I normally give, I have here the list of names of those who died that horrible day and I ask that our Lord to grant peace eternal unto them. Though I will not read them out loud, let us all offer a moment of silence for each of these souls remembered here today. My heart and prayers go out to all these families this day. And may fathers everywhere cherish their children, whomever or whatever they may be.
Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34
Stanley Almodovar III, 23
Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20
Juan Ramon Guerroro, 22
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22
Luis S. Vielma, 22
Kimberly Morris, 37
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30
Darryl Roman Burt II, 29
Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32
Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21
Anthony Luis Laureano Disla, 25
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35
Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50
Amanda Alvear, 25
Martin Benitez Torres, 33
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37
Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25
Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31
Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26
Enrique L. Rios Jr., 25
Miguel Angel Honorato, 30
Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40
Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32
Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19
Cory James Connell, 21
Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37
Luis Daniel Conde, 39
Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33
Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25
Jerald Arthur Wright, 31
Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25
Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25
Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24
Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27
Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33
Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49
Yilmary Rodriguez Sulivan, 24
Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32
Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28
Frank Hernandez, 27
Paul Terrell Henry, 41
Antonio Davon Brown, 29
Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24
Akyra Monet Murray, 18
Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25
Let us remember the additional 125 people gunned down this week, as well as little Lane Graves taken by an alligator at the Disney World resort. May they all be in paradise with Jesus this day.
God Love You +
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church

San Diego, Ca.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

June 12, 2016
The Third Sunday after Trinity
The alarm clock failed. The dog threw up. The kids couldn't find their shoes. Finally, you're out the door, armed with a iced coffeein the travel mug and the car phone on speaker. 

Meeting begins in 30 minutes? Commute takes 40 minutes? Speed limit remains 55? No problem.

Hang a left to glide casually into the carpool lane set aside for cars with two or more passengers. You hope maybe nobody will notice that it's just you and the radio. Accelerate to about 70. Gotta love these commuter lanes! Even if the law's out in full force, the price of a ticket is worth every dime. Hundred bucks for shaving 15 minutes off the clock? A great deal, especially considering the half-dozen times nobody caught you. A cost-effective no-brainer.

In our time-crunched, multitasking world, drivers who are ordinarily law-abiding citizens are increasingly disregarding the rules of the road. Speeding tickets and HOV violations have basically become the cost of doing business. The same people who would argue that shoplifting a roll of Life Savers is a crime will slide through red lights and roll through stop signs without the slightest pang of civic-minded guilt. Gotta keep moving.Can't spare a minute.

The consequence for a don't-have-time-to-follow-the-rules-of-the-road culture is an occasional ticket. So what? Society has come to regard ticketed drivers not as criminals but as victims of overzealous law enforcement.

Need to double-park to pick up a quick package? Scoot into a handicapped spot to drop off a colleague? Nothing personal. Just a time-saving tactic. And who can argue with saving time? 

Jesus grew up in a culture with more legal codes to throw at people than a state trooper waiting for an out-of-state city slicker on a rural back road. Flip through the pages of Leviticus and Deuteronomy for a colorful sample of infractions. Often, the most serious offenses demanded the most serious penalties. 

Many of the Jews of Jesus' day were serious Jews who took their lives and their law seriously. Then comes Jesus, who plucked grain on the Sabbath and consorted with an array of unclean people from lepers to bleeding women. And he did it without remorse, to the utter infuriation of first-century law enforcement officials. 

Jesus himself refrained from imposing the stiff penalties of the law upon others, choosing instead to pass out warning tickets with a grace so foreign to the culture that people staggered away from his presence with a mixture of bewildered relief and evangelical zeal. Once he even charged a law-abiding citizen to sell all he had and give it to the poor. Jesus let the sinners go with a word of encouragement, but challenged those who followed all the rules to make a dramatic detour. 

All of which brings us to a few observations: The church has a history of being legalistic. We enjoy the idea that there's some sort of litmus test for Christian spirituality. A moral or political line is drawn in the sand; step over it and you've stepped out of communion with the Christ Body.

Unfortunately, these notions change over the years. Yesterday's heresy is today's orthodoxy, and, this being true, we tend to trivialize sin. For starters, we don't call it sin; we refer, instead, to our mistakes, shortcomings and failures. We regard ourselves as morally challenged, perhaps, but not sinners. Mistakes were made, but nothing that can't be fixed - by us.

The trivialization of sin results in a meaningless - or absence of - confession of sin. No point in confessing what we not only consider venial and unimportant, but scarcely sin anyway. Granted, we may read a printed prayer in unison as a part of the liturgy, but we're not likely to wrestle much with the spirit-crushing, soul-wrenching reality of our sin.

Of course, the functional equivalent of the confessor today is our therapist who is likely to blame the mess we've made of things on some dysfunction or as-yet-unnamed syndrome. We prefer the jargon of psychobabble or medical language because it sounds reassuringly guilt-free. We rely on the latest pharmaceutical product because popping a pill is an easier fix than plodding through penance, or even popping a prayer. 

By now we've learned that it's not sin at all: it's a hereditary predisposition, a chemical imbalance or temporary insanity. 

Then the apostle Paul weighs in. He seems to lend some weight to the antinomian argument: "No one will be justified by the works of the law". If following the rules of the road will not get us to our destination, then why bother at all? Paul, of course, is writing to Gentiles who were - from a Jewish standpoint - natural-born sinners, and to Jews who prided themselves on their connections: The rules of the road would save them. Or so they thought.

Paul sees us as humans in need of salvation, and in this text he talks about transcending our humanness through Christ Jesus. Life is not merely a journey simply traveled by obeying the obvious rules of the road. Life is meant to showcase the grace of Christ to a world filled with people who are terrified of detours, people abandoned on the side of the road, people who have been dented and crushed by repeated hits, people sputtering along with very little fuel left to keep them moving forward. Maybe our business is something more than getting ahead. Maybe our business involves something higher. Maybe we are called to help others along their journey too, in the great hope that we will all end up in the presence of the living God.

The cost of doing business in our 21st century world involves making daily decisions which have us choosing between the legal and the illegal, the ethical and the unethical, the graceful and the sinful.

Paul's point is that from the standpoint of the law, we try to see what we can get away with.

But from the standpoint of grace, we try to see what we can give away. In the first case, we function out of an ethic of duty and obligation; in the second, we work out of an ethic of love.

Where does the power for this ruleless living come from? It comes from our total identification with Christ in his suffering. "I have been crucified with Christ," Paul writes, "and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me."

This life is a life of faith, he goes on to explain. Faith renders the breaking of petty laws, and pursuing petty and self-serving agendas unnecessary. 

In other words, the cost of doing business has changed. 

It's no longer sin but sacrifice; no longer folly, but faith to follow the rules.
Let us pray.
Father God, help us to understand that all rules, that of society and that of religious, have been set in place as a system to not only keep order and civility, but to ensure that we all live in a life of love and care for God and others. 
When we learn to live as Jesus taught, we will discover that no rules are necessary when we follow the two commandments He most often spoke of – to love the Lord God with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our minds; and to love our neighbor as ourselves. When we do this, we fulfill all that God – and society – need.
Often times in our hustle and bustle world, we “slide” through our stop signs of life giving no thought to the potential consequence other than that of our own self-centered will to get to where we want in life faster. Help us to learn better patience and obedience to Your will and to the speed at which You desire our lives to move.
Lastly, Father, help us to know that when we do fail to love You or others by our actions that fail this directive or in following smaller laws, that we are not called to come to You out of fear and do extreme acts of penance. You are a God of mercy and do not require extreme acts of penance as much as our willingness to learn from the failure and thus go about life in better imitation of Your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. We ask all this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +
The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.