Sunday, November 13, 2016

November 13, 2016
The Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Trinity
This election produced a result that most everyone agrees was nothing short of an amazing political upset. Half the country is elated; the other half discouraged. Either you are generally pleased with the outcome, mortified by the result or ambivalent about the whole thing. 
This doesn't matter.
What matters is that we're citizens and/or residents of thiscountry, with a different agenda and different mission. We can’t undo everything, nor can we redo everything.
Our duty now is the same as it has been during the Obama Administration; it is the vision articulated by the prophet Micah: To do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8).
In that sense, this election changes nothing.
Finally -- however we voted -- we must remember and put into practice our theology which transcends human and artificial labels. "As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; [there is no longer Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative] for all of you are one in Christ Jesus " (Galatians 3:27-28)
With the apostle Paul, we need "to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:1-3).
Some have expressed a view that this election as some “sign” of the end times or that the Anti-Christ has taken over our country like some think prophets have foretold. Although, I admit our new President does not seem to espouse Catholic Christian views on some topics and I suppose the election results could be viewed in this way depending on one’s convictions, but let’s not read more into it than it is. Both candidates could fill this description in some way, and yet both are still fellow human beings doing what they think to be right.
It reminds me of a sad, frustrating, frighteningly story. Two young men were arrested for arranging with a big-time drug trafficker to import cocaine into their community. The 22-year-olds would become the drug's main dealers, selling coke to all the teenagers they could interest in, and then addict to, that potent pleasure drug. Because this deal crossed state lines, it was the FBI who finally moved in and made the arrests, breaking up the alliance between the locals and their out-of-state supplier, cutting off the drug supply to the teens of that community.

What was so shocking about this otherwise all too common story? What brought this drug story prominent play on network news? The community was Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The two young men arrested were members of the Amish community. The teenaged customers cut off from their drug supply were young Amish boys. 

The parents of all these young people were like every parent: stunned to think such a thing could happen in their community, shocked that such a drug tragedy could involve their own children. But this story shakes all parents. For if the lure and danger of drugs could infiltrate the cloistered, close-knit community that the Amish have intentionally built up as a bulwark against the sins and seductions of the 20th, now 21st-century world, what chance do any of the rest of us have at keeping our own families, schools and communities safe?

Maybe the most disturbing and insidious part of this story for the Amish community was that this betrayal came at the hands of two of their own. It was not outsiders but insiders who jeopardized their youths' safety and compromised the moral standards of their tradition. The betrayal came from within. 

Part of Amish culture allows young men between the ages of 16 and 24 to take a few breaks from the strict rules and regulations of their otherwise microscopically legislated lives. The community intentionally schedules events known as "hoedowns" as "time-out" moments. These are unchaperoned events where young people can carouse a bit, sowing a few behavioral wild oats before baptism as adults and while still remaining within the supposedly safe confines of their community.

It was exactly at this time when nobody was watching, which means that everyone was trusting, that the betrayal occurred. Along with the Amish community itself, we are all appalled at the depth of betrayal this act entailed.

Some of the severest cultural penalties have always been reserved for those who commit the most intimate acts of betrayal. Some form of taboo and punishment against adultery and incest, the two greatest forms of personal betrayal, are found in nearly every human civilization. The capital crime of treason, the ultimate form of communal betrayal, is likewise understood by nearly all cultures. While all of us admit to various shortcomings and sins of varying degrees, those who fall into these special categories of "betrayers" are still considered the ultimate "power sinners."

There is no vitriol like that reserved for a spouse who has violated vows and broken the covenant of marriage. How many divorced individuals do you know who can speak fondly of an ex-spouse who left them for another?

There is no revulsion like that reserved for men or women who sexually abuse their own children. Even in the toughest, most violence-filled cell blocks of our prisons, the child molester is seen as the lowest of the low and is often singled out for jailhouse "justice."
There is no repugnance like that reserved for traitors who betray their country, their homeland, for money, power or sheer spite. Even in these days of bloodless civility and bored cynicism, treason remains a crime where even the nonviolent white-collar "spy" can be sentenced to death. There is no greater infamy, no greater insult, than to be branded "a Judas."

There was a reason early Christians did some things

• left secret signs (the fish) to mark safe places to worship or seek a night's refuge

• wrote secret messages (in the languages of their hymns and liturgies) to communicate with other Christians. (The Twelve Days of Christmas carol being a prominent example.)

It was a dangerous world in which to be a Christian. The political winds of tolerance and intolerance blew hot and cold depending upon the whims of the emperor, the mood of the regional rulers, the fanaticism of local synagogue officials or the tempers of the marketplace crowds. 

But the greatest threats to the small, struggling Christian communities were internal. Early Christians who suffered martyrdom were often turned in by insiders. The names of Christians were given to the officials by these "informers." To make matters worse, these "informers" also coldly recommended what kinds of tests could be given to see whether someone was really a Christian. 

Insider-informers knew that a true Christian would 1) never curse Christ, 2) never pray to Roman gods, and 3) never offer wine and incense to the emperor's statue. If any accused Christian willingly participated in all three of these, he/she was set free.

Jesus' words in Luke's gospel lesson this morning gives a chilling message. We can expect to be betrayed and to suffer at the hands of those we know the best and love the most. 

Jesus' words crumble the safe confines of the place we call church. Jesus' words remind us that some of the harshest criticism, some of the most unpleasant treatment, some of the most hurtful persecution disciples of Jesus will face is from within our own families, among our closest friends, even from our brothers and sisters in the church.

There is an old saying: "The perversion of the best yields the worst." Within the body of Christ, we experience the greatest intimacy, the greatest compassion, the greatest encouragement. But it is also within the body of Christ that we can experience the greatest hurt, the greatest pain, the greatest betrayal. 

As every family knows, you can't have one without the other. There is a high price to community: It's called vulnerability. 

Surely not in the church, you say. The body of Christ is supposed to be different. We aren't like the world. We've been redeemed. I’ve had one of my most horrible weeks of life this week – As a Bishop or Christian, we would like to think we should be insulated from such things, but we are not. 

So you think you're better than Jesus? If our Lord and Savior suffered pain and betrayal at the hands of his closest friends - and all 12 of the disciples betrayed him, not just Judas - do you think you're better than our Lord? Each one of the disciples was a double agent. You think you're better than Peter, than John, than Thomas, than James? We are not. 

This is what is certain in life: Sometimes, the people you love the most will hurt you the most. 

Get over it. 

Get ready. 

Get help.

Get whatever you need to deal with it. But, unfortunately, that's the price of love. 

The church is filled with people like you and me - people struggling to do right, but people often falling down, failing miserably, messing up. This does not even factor into consideration the 10 percent of the population that are afflicted with major personality disorders. The church gets at least its share of them. And so, our presidential candidates – whomever you may have supported or not – are no different than we. Stuff happens. 

Baptist consultant Bob Dale (in "Trouble Makers," Vital Ministry) talks about the presence and sometimes prevalence of "power sinning" in the church of Jesus Christ. He divides "power sinning" into five types. All of us are prone to one or more of these forms of control. 

Dale argues that some power sinners exert control by consistent work. These are the workaholics who dominate others by their sheer conscientiousness. If they don't get their way, they go away and you pay. These people live by a credo of works-righteousness that has little understanding of grace. 

A second group controls by attention. These are the people who love the spotlight, crave applause, and need constant approval and center stage. Give it to them, and everything is fine. Criticize something they do, or shine the spotlight on someone else, and woe is you. (I liken this one to Trump.)

The third type of power sinners are those who control by working the crowd. These are the resident politicians. Confident, poised, together, they are experts in creating power centers around themselves and mobilizing others to action. Once crossed, you have a riot on your hands. (This one reminds me of Hillary.)

Fourth, there are some power sinners in the church who control by fog. These people are natural downers. Mainly pessimists and passive-aggressive types, this type of power sinner finds ways to "fog up" every issue, stall or delay any movement, and derail anything that conflicts with their agenda. (Reminds me of Congress! LOL

Finally, some betraying power sinners control by care. These are the people self-sacrificing to the point of deference and dependency. They smother you with attention until you acquiesce to their desires and demands.
But, don’t we all fall into one or more of these criteria? Yes, we do. 

We could mention many other types of people who in their own way "persecute the saints" not to speak of betraying them. Isn't it true: Many times we treat each other worse than the world treats us? Jesus said: "They will set upon you and persecute you." They is sometimes us.

But Luke's gospel refuses to let this prophetic word end without a ring of hopefulness and ultimate triumph. Jesus' final words call us to faithfulness in the face of life's challenges and torments. We can count on this when we live in community: We will be rejected. We will be betrayed. We will be treated cruelly. 

But you can also count on this: God is with you. God's grace will be sufficient. Our souls will not be imperiled by the assaults we suffer at the hands of enemies and friends so long as we lean on Jesus. God will never abandon us; even when it may seem He has. Christ's love can never be taken from us. We can be "more than conquerors, through him who loved us."

Bernie Siegel, in his book How to Live Between Office Visits, states flatly: "The only thing that is going to save people and save the world is if we forgive and love each other. And then healing can come. It doesn't mean that I have to like everything that you have done. But not to forgive means that there are things that I can't forgive myself for either. Everything is forgivable once one understands why people are the way they are." Can we apply this to our candidates of this year? We need to, whether we feel comfortable in so doing or not.

Siegel then goes on to quote Jesus: "In the Bible we are told that Jesus said to a man who was paralyzed, 'Your sins are forgiven.' Jesus knew that the important point was to heal your life, because a life can be healed, even without a cured disease. Someone with cerebral palsy or paraplegia or cancer or AIDS can still exist in the context of a healed life."

In the movie, Good Will Hunting, Will Hunting is a young man who, although he's an uneducated mathematical intellectualwhose genius exceeds that of the professors of MIT, is anything but good. Instead, he is beset with personal problems, many of them caused by a childhood home environment of abuse and betrayal. Will goes through therapists like a hot knife through butter until he meets the psychologist played by Robin Williams. In the breakthrough scene, Will Hunting's therapist gets in his face and repeats like a mantra the words which for bad Will Hunting, provide healing from the wounds of betrayal and move him to a new identity: good Will Hunting. The words? "It's not your fault; it's not your fault." 

Betrayal is not our fault. We will face betrayal and misunderstanding from all quarters, within and without the faith community. To be betrayed is by definition to be a victim. 

But Jesus refuses to let us be victims for long: He advises us not to worry about how we are going to defend ourselves (Luke 21:14), and goes on to promise that not a hair of our heads will perish and that by our "endurance" we will gain our souls (21:18-19).

Our identities are transformed by the presence and power of Christ. And, oh how hard it is to feel this!

Once betrayed, now blessed. 

Once a victim, now victorious. 

Once conquered, now conquerors. 

Once lost, now found. 

Once imprisoned, now set free.

Once weak, now empowered. 

With our new identities, we are now able to move beyond betrayal to be empowered agents of blessing to a world still reeling from blows of betrayal and the sting of sin. We can be hunters of good will.
Let Us Pray.
Father God, we do indeed live in troubled time, but not because a mere election. We live in troubled times because of human failure, betrayal misunderstanding, and plain old sin. None of us are right and yet all of us are. Same sins; different age.
Lord, we ask You to help us to overcome the world, by filling us with Your Spirit that we may feel Your grace, comfort and love in a world so lacking and troubled. Help us not to blame our presidential candidates for our world, but to know it has taken more than one to afflict this world and it will take more than one to restore it – in fact it will take more of One; it will take Your providential care of Your creation.
Lord, as You fill us with Your Spirit, help us each to lift each other up and give communal support to one another, without passing judgment, and with whole heart to the needs at hand. Open the hearts and minds of Your people that they may hear the real solution to ills, and not a rhetoric solution. Help us to reshape our world in the image that You once created it to be. Let us always remember, that regardless of our convictions, race, religion and more, that You are the creator of all mankind and as such, we must treat each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. We ask all this thru Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca