Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy New Year, everyone!
December 31, 2017
Christmas Sunday
The Holy Family
New Year
(Gal. 3: 23-29, 4: 4-7; Luke 2: 22-40)
Our Gospel reading today concludes with some fairly innocuous sounding words: “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” How many of us imagine Jesus as a toddler, or as a young boy? Would he have had to ask questions? To learn? Certainly so, Jesus was fully human. To be so meant He had to learn. He grew and became strong. He reached maturity. He was not a divine puppet on the human stage, but He was a real human being, born into a family, and raised to maturity. What do we make of it all?
"Jesus is having a moment in literary fiction."

That's what Paula Cocozza, a feature writer for the British newspaper The Guardian said sometime back. She was commenting on the number of recent novels about Jesus. And, don't assume the authors are Christians. Many are nonbelievers. A couple who are Jewish. And some are hard to define in terms of faith.

The word "novel" is important here, for it communicates that these books are fiction, or more precisely, historical fiction, but that means that, while the subject was a real person, the authors exercised artistic license. In fact, you can't avoid using license if your goal is to write about any of the times in Jesus' life that the Gospels don't cover (which are most of them).

In terms of storytelling, our Scripture reading for today, for example, is little more than a vignette from Jesus' infancy -- an important vignette, to be sure -- but a vignette nonetheless. In the next scene, Jesus is 12, and in the one after that, he's a grown man. The very vignette nature of today's reading tends to make us notice how many unreported periods there are in Jesus' history, especially when it concludes with a statement intended to move us quickly over those gaps: "The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.”

Further still, even the records we do have about Jesus from the Gospels leave quite a few holes, as well as numerous questions, about the chronology of reported events. Beginning in the 19th century, there have been at least three scholarly "quests" for the historical Jesus -- with the most recent starting in 1992 -- but none of them brought scholars and historians to a consensus historical portrait of the man from Nazareth.

So these gaps become prime real estate for fiction writers.

The trouble is, we may not like or agree with what the novelists envision Mary's son doing in these periods not covered by the Gospels. For example, Cocozza says that in a book by Colm Tóibín's, Jesus "comes across as an annoying figure with a loud voice and weird clothes who takes up too much pavement space -- a sort of first-century hipster." (Now we understand where the stage play, Jesus Christ, Superstar came from!) In a novel by Deepak Chopra, Jesus spends his teenage and young adult years searching for enlightenment and discovering principles of Eastern philosophy. Some other novels about Jesus portray scenes that seem more in keeping with the Gospel pictures of Him, but even then, the action comes from the writer's imagination, not history.

Some of us who follow Jesus would like to know more about what Jesus did during the so-called silent years of His life. That's not going to happen, but maybe there's a message for us. Mark Twain once said, "It ain't the parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me; it is the parts that I do understand.” We might adapt that line of thought to say, "It ain't the missing parts of Jesus' story that bother me; it is the parts that aren't missing."

At least one Christian writer -- Wayne Jackson -- considers the gaps intentional on God's part. Jackson writes, "This silence of the New Testament records, however, represents no accidental breach in the biblical account. The gap is there by design. The New Testament narratives were purposefully constructed to present only such information regarding Jesus as was relevant to the unfolding plan of redemption. What the holy lad did in the carpenter's shop was wholly beyond the scope of divine intention."

Well, maybe. But Jackson does point us away from the gaps and toward what is reported. And in the case of the text before us, what's reported is that two pious Israelites (presumably, steeped in the Holy Scriptures) recognize in the infant Jesus the presence of "the Lord's Messiah.” These two, Simeon and Anna, were noteworthy for their righteousness and devotion to God. When Simeon takes Jesus into his arms, he realizes that he is literally -- literally -- holding God's salvation. When Anna sees Jesus, she knows she is looking at the "redemption of Jerusalem.”
(As a brief side note, it is significant that Luke includes this story of the prophetess. How many women prophets do we recall from the Old Testament? There are often men (Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, etc.). Yet, for Luke, not even Simeon is called a prophet. Instead Anna is a prophetess, foreshadowing the quality women enjoy in the ideal Christian life. The book, the Mystical City of God, by Venerable Mary of Agreda, who received a divine revelation about Our Lady Mary’s life, does have a little bit of information of Jesus’s life outside of the Gospels also.)
As some of us may be aware, there are some apocryphal books that speak of Jesus’ childhood, most prominently the Gospel of Thomas. However, these books were never accepted in the canon; and some were not found until recently. Therefore, their reliability of facts has been questioned even amongst those of us who might view them in a more open mind. I will say that the Gospel of Thomas’s view of Jesus’s childhood is interesting however.

So the takeaway for us today is that, before spending a lot of energy on the parts of Jesus' bio that we don't have, we should read ourselves into the parts of Jesus' story that we do have.

We aren't Israelites, but like them, we need to be saved from the things that separate us from God and others. If we can't literally hold salvation in our arms, we can hold it in our hearts. If we aren't looking for the redemption of Jerusalem per se, we're looking for the redemption of the parts of our lives that aren't working. And Jesus, the Bible tells us, is salvation and redemption for us.

But the lesson for ourselves is that the gaps in Jesus' story do leave room for our imagination to work, and the imagination can be a channel through which we interact with the living Christ. St. Ignatius Loyola, of the late medieval period, taught people to use imagination as a means to "enter into the vision of God" -- that is, to see things from God's perspective. He asked people to picture God looking down on our turbulent world and to imagine God's concern for us. Then picture God, he said, intervening by sending Jesus to us.

Another way Loyola advised using imagination is to place ourselves within a story from the Gospels. The Jesuit, David L. Fleming, gives this example: "Jesus is speaking to a blind man at the side of the road. We feel the hot Mediterranean sun beating down. We smell the dust kicked up by the passersby. We feel the itchy clothing we're wearing, the sweat rolling down our brow, a rumble of hunger. We see the desperation in the blind man's face and hear the wail of hope in his words. We note the irritation of the disciples. Above all, we watch Jesus -- the way he walks, his gestures, the look in his eyes, the expression on his face. We hear him speak the words that are recorded in the gospel. We go on to imagine other words he might have spoken and other deeds he might have done."
Fleming goes on to explain that for these exercises of imagination, Loyola "chooses scenes of Jesus acting rather than Jesus teaching or telling parables. He wants us to see Jesus interacting with others, Jesus making decisions, Jesus moving about, Jesus ministering. He doesn't want us to think about Jesus. He wants us to experience him. He wants Jesus to fill our senses. He wants us to meet him."

Fleming adds that imaginative prayer "teaches us things about Jesus that we would not learn through Scripture study or theological reflection. It allows the person of Christ to penetrate into places that the intellect does not touch. It brings Jesus into our hearts. It engages our feelings."
Frankly, I would agree with this view of discerning Christ. After all, I am constantly saying that our church ministers in the example of Jesus. Sometimes, that means taking cues from His actions, inactions, words or even unspoken words to help guide us in our life path.

It reminds me of a popular phrase from a couple of decades ago, but which should still be used today; the WWJD question -- What would Jesus do? In those cases, we may be applying our imagination to Jesus for purposes of deciding a course of action rather than for experiencing him per se, but to reach a decision, we usually have to picture Jesus, not in some Gospel-story setting, but in our setting, and look for Jesus in the gaps.

Likewise, whenever we say we should be more "Christ-like," we are, in effect, advising the use of our imagination for spiritual purposes -- to decide how Jesus would behave wearing our shoes, and then emulate that. And we can ask God to guide our imagination in that endeavor.

We stand here at the end of a year, ready to start the next calendar. What will the year ahead be like? We can't know in advance, but we can imagine already how Jesus will be with us in our ongoing story.

Even in its gaps.
Let us pray.
That the family of the Church will be strengthened, purified, and renewed through the grace of Christ’s Body and Blood. We pray to the Lord. (Lord hear our prayer.)
For those charged with protecting society; that they will build a world in which family life is revered, protected, and promoted. We pray to the Lord.
For the universal respect of all human beings; that the culture of life will transform every human heart and instill in every one an understanding that we are all God’s creatures regardless of our differences. We pray to the Lord.
For blessings on our families; that the love, the unity, and the self-donation of the Holy Family will overflow to all families and make them truly happy. We pray to the Lord.
That families, especially those who suffer, may find in the Birth of Jesus a sign of certain hope. May the message of the Nativity live within them and go before them. We pray to the Lord.
For family members who are alienated or estranged; that the unfailing power of the mercy of Jesus will reunite and reconcile loved ones. We pray to the Lord.
As always, we pray for those who are sick; May the healing Archangel Raphael be at their side during this special time of the Church. We pray to the Lord.
That the New Year which we begin tomorrow will be a prosperous, healthy, safe, and faith filled year for everyone. We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, bless us with Your love, which is the bond of perfection. Let the peace of Your Christ control the hearts we offer to You with thankful prayer. Here the prayers and the aspirations of all Your faithful servants, and let this coming year be a year of rejoicing with less sadness, sickness, poverty, loneliness, and unemployment. We ask all this Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Sorry everyone, I was a bit busy yesterday and did not a get a chance to upload my Christmas sermon. Here it is!
December 24, 2017
Mass at Midnight
(Isaiah 9:1-7; Luke 2:1-14)
(As, I have sat down and proof-read this a few dozen times and added things, it became obvious I should preface this sermon. As many of you heard me say at one time or another - and for those of you who have not – the Church as always taught that the sermon or a homily is meant to be many things. But, whatever it is actually meant to be at any given time, it is believed that the Holy Spirit works through the minister giving the said sermon or homily to be sure that the message that the Holy Spirit wants us to receive is actually given. That said, as I have been sitting down for three or four days writing this, it became increasingly obvious that this Christmas message is as much meant for me as it is meant for each and every one of you. I had so many other ideas I wanted to use, but apparently the Holy Spirit had other ideas. So, if I have to pause as I relate some of this, I hope you will understand why. Just as you need reminders; so do Priests!)
Sometimes life throws a lot at you and there are many challenges, disappointments, letdowns and a plethora of other things that just don’t seem like anything wants to go right sometimes. And our minds will wander a little bit and we allow ourselves to think that God has no earthly idea what we are going through. But actually we would be wrong.
God knows very well what it’s like to be human; because He’s been there. He’s been here. Because of Bethlehem, He’s experienced everything that can be experienced as a human being. So does He know what it’s like to suffer? Does He know what it’s like to go without food for 2 days; for 10 days; 40 days? Did God ever have a migraine headache as if his head was crowned with thorns? Does God know anything about thirst - and a thirst that would come from the want of blood? Does God know anything about those who are brought into the accident wards of hospitals – does He know anything about bleeding sores? Does He know what it is like to live under a totalitarian state – or what it is to be pursued by spies? Does God know anything about friends who betray you or blister you with false kisses? Does God know anything about these things? Yes! God came into all the muck and mud of this world! He went thru them and conquered them all.

Jesus didn’t tell us to clean up before you come in to meet Him; He said “Come in and I will clean you up!”
Christmas presents from Santa are great, but the perpetual presence of Christ – that’s life changing. And that’s just what He did, He brought His presence to us. He is Emmanuelle, which means ‘God with us.’ God is always near us. Always for us. Always in us. We may forget Him, but He will never forget us. When He called Himself Emmanuelle, which means, ‘God with us,’ He did not just say, God made us. Or God thinks of us. Or God above us. He said God with us.
Bethlehem was just the beginning. Jesus promised a repeat performance. It will not be silent night this time though. The skies will open, trumpets will blast, and a new kingdom will begin. He will empty the tombs and melt the winter of death. He will wipe away all tears. “Be gone, sorrow, sickness, wheelchairs, and cancer! No more screams of fear or nights of horror. Death itself will die. Life will reign! The manger we see tonight invites us, even dares us, to believe the best is yet to come. And it could be on any day; not necessarily December 25th.
Why do we punch elevator buttons more than once? Why do we love the front seat of a bus and the backseat of a church? Why do we pierce holes in our bodies and hang jewelry from them? Why do we ask for instructions and then argue with the person who gave them? And just what is the purpose of a necktie?  There are so many examples like these, that the list would go on for miles. Let’s face it, rational behavior is just not one of our trademarks, but it is certainly one of God’s.
People have always wondered about the image of God. Societies have speculated. Tribes have cogitated. And we’ve reached a variety of conclusions. God has been depicted as a golden calf and a violent wind and an angry volcano. He wears wings, breathes fire, eats infants, and demands penance. We fancy God as ferocious, magical, fickle and maniacal. A God to be avoided, dreaded, and appeased. But never in mankind’s wildest imaginations did we consider that God would enter the world as an infant!
And why did He come to us in this way? He wants us to know that He understands us. He wants us to know that He understands how we feel and that He has faced what you face. “For we have not a high priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but one that hath been in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore draw near with boldness unto the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy, and may find grace to help us in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)
And because we know that He understands, we should also know that we can boldly go to Him. Because of Bethlehem’s miracle, we can answer some fundamental questions. “Does God care if I’m sad?” Look at the tear streaked face of Jesus as He stands near Lazarus’s tomb. “Does God notice when I’m afraid?” Note the resolve in the eyes of Jesus as He marches through the storm to rescue His friends. “Does God know if I am ignored or rejected?” Find the answer in the compassionate eyes of Christ as He stands to defend the adulterous woman. Jesus radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God! (Hebrews 1:3)
Jesus came with tears too. He knows the burden of a broken heart. He knows the sorrow this life can bring. He could have come as a shining light or a voice in the clouds, but He came as a person. He came as a little baby in Bethlehem. Does God understand you? The answer, my friends, is in Bethlehem.
Gaze where Mary gazed. Look into God’s face and be assured. If the King of all creation was willing to enter the world of animals and shepherds in swaddling clothes, and lay in our trough that animals slobber in; don’t you think He’s willing to enter yours?
Only God saves. If we could save ourselves, why would we need a Savior? Why would God put Himself in Bethlehem? Jesus did not enter the world to help us save ourselves. He entered the world to save us from ourselves.
Let’s think of the story of a young girl. As much as she tried to keep a good attitude it was not easy. She was far from home, miles from family and her own bed. She has spent the last few days on crowded roads, enduring the winter chill. Money was scarce. Friends were nowhere near. A warm bed and a hot meal? The prospects were slim.
Ask her which was worse, the pain in her heart or the pain in her back, and she’d be hard-pressed to make a choice.
Her heart ached for her family. She felt estranged from them. Under normal circumstances they would have been thrilled to learn of her pregnancy. But pregnant before the wedding? With her conservative family and her bizarre explanation? And you have to tell the man she was to marry that she was carrying a child who wasn’t his? It was a miracle he still married her. And another miracle was what she needed that night.
She envisioned giving birth at home; mom holding one hand, aunt on the other. A midwife, doting relatives, Joseph, and a crowd of neighbors outside the door. Maybe if they all could have experienced the birth of her firstborn together, then they would believe her story.
But in spite of the chaos, Christ came. Through a scandalous pregnancy, and imposed census, an untimely trip, and an overcrowded inn, God triumphed in Mary’s story.
God is making a point. Chaos cannot keep Christ out of this world. The Messiah was born, not because of His ancestors, but in spite of them. Tamar was abandoned. Ruth was an immigrant, and Rahab was a harlot. David was an adulterer. Solomon a philanderer. The family tree of Jesus is gnarled and crooked, to say the least. Some of the kings were bloodthirsty and godless. Yet God had promised that Jesus would come, and so He did.
Christ came! In spite of sin and scandal, Christ came. In spite of racism and sexism, Christ came. Though the people forgot God, Christ came. In spite of, and out of, the pandemonium, Christ came. The surprise pregnancy, the sudden census, the long road from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Unpleasant and difficult, yet they resulted in the world’s greatest miracle.
Many people today - even this night- sometimes find it hard to hold it together. Everything inside you and every voice around you says, “Get out. Get angry. Get drunk. Get high.” But we cannot listen to those voices. Further still, we cannot face a crisis if we will not face God first. We need to not worry about anything; instead, we should pray about everything. Tell God our needs, always remembering to say thank you for His answers – even if it was not the answer we hoped for. If we do this, we will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will keep your thoughts and your hearts quiet and at rest as you trust in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7)
You are never too old, too messed up, or to warn out. Elijah was depressed. God still came to him. Abraham was old. God still led him. Moses was long retired. God still called him. Jonah was on the run. God still used him. Jacob cheated his family. God still had a place for him. Peter betrayed Christ, Paul persecuted Christ, Thomas doubted Christ, but each learned it was not too late for Christ.
You were counting on your marriage to carry you, deliver you, entertain you, and fulfill you. But it didn’t. You were counting on that retirement to carry you, deliver you, entertain you, and fulfill you. But it didn’t. You were counting on that education to carry you, deliver you, entertain you, and to fill you. But it didn’t. You were counting on that body to carry you, deliver you, entertain you, and fulfill you. But it hasn’t. Worship might not be the word you use to describe your passion, yet the term fits. Anytime we trust an object or activity to give us life and meaning, we worship it.
When we make good things the ultimate things, we set ourselves up for disappointment. If we depend on a career or relationship to give our lives meaning, what happens when retirement comes or the relationship ends? The list of imposter gods includes sex, food, money, alcohol, success and influence. In the correct dosage and context, these can be wonderful gifts from God. But they are dismal substitutes for God. To worship them is to be satisfied, then brokenhearted. Infatuated, then discouraged. Enthralled, then angry.
It’s never too late to come to Christ for help. Your stack of sins is never too high. Your list of failures is never too long. The knock at the door of your heart? That’s Jesus. He’s asking you to let Him in this Christmas.
Worship God, who can store the universe in His pocket and the oceans in an eyedropper. Are you ashamed? Worship Jesus, whose love never fades. Are you  bereaved? Open your heart to your Shepherd. He will lead you through the valley of sorrow. Do you feel small? A few moments in front of the throne of your living King will evaporate any sense of insignificance. A little worship works wonders.
Back in the 80s there was a popular country song called, “Always on my mind.” The singer tells his sweetheart that even though he seldom expressed his feelings through words or actions, she was always on his mind. Frankly I’m not sure where the writer of those lyrics learned the secret of romance, but he obviously did not consult women (or even men). No sweetheart would accept the excuse. “You never told me, never gave me flowers, kind words, or complements, but I was always on your mind? Yeah, right.”
God doesn’t buy it either. He wants to hear our affection. It is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks, and when the mouth is silent, the heart is in question. Do you love God? Then let Him know. Tell Him! Out loud. In public. Unashamed. Let there be jubilation, celebration, and festivity!
Christmas and giftgiving. The two have always been associated with each other for good reason. The Magi gave Jesus the gifts of gold for a king, frankincense for a priest, and myrrh for His burial. The shepherds gave Jesus the gift of their time and belief. Mary gave Jesus the gift of her womb. The offerings seem practical. The wise men’s treasures could be used to fund the families escape to Egypt. The shepherd’s visitation would keep the family company. Mary’s womb would protect the growing child. But there is one gift that might appear to be a bit curious; the Angels gift of worship:
 “And suddenly there was with the Angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men in whom He is well pleased.
And it came to pass, when the Angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing that is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.” (Luke 2:13-15)
The presence of Christ deserves an abundant chorus. Every generation has its share of “Jesus, yes; church, no” type of Christians. For a variety of reasons they turn away from church attendance. They do so at a great loss. Something happens in corporate worship that does not happen in private worship. When you see my face in the sanctuary and I hear your voice and the chorus of responses and singing, we are mutually edified. Granted, every congregational worship is somewhat imperfect. We sing off key. Our attendance tends to wander. But, something powerful happens when we worship together just like the Angels of the heavenly host.
People see signs of God every day. Sunsets to steal the breath. Newborns that bring tears. Migrating geese that stir a smile. But to all who see these signs draw near to God? Usually no. Many are content simply to see the signs. They do not realize the riches of God are intended to turn us toward Him.
God uses every possible means to communicate with you. The wonders of nature call to you. The promises and prophecies of Scripture speak to you. God Himself reaches out to you. He wants to help you find your way home.
Christmas celebrates God breaking through to our world. In a feeding stall of all places. He will not leave us in the dark. He is the pursuer, the teacher. He won’t sit back while we miss out. So, He entered our world. He send signals and messages of hope and life. He cracks the shell of our world and invites us to peek into His.
As you worship Jesus, be grateful. He will lead you home. Who knows? Maybe before Jesus comes again, we will discover why men don’t ask for directions. Then we can pursue the other great question a life: why do women apply makeup while driving?
Christmas is a season to be looking. Looking for the snow if it’s cold, mistletoe if he’s dense, instructions if some assembly is required.
Looking for red-nose lights you’re young, headlights if you’re a grandma, insights if you’re a preacher. ‘Tis the season to be looking. There is nothing to be ashamed by this.
The first Christmas was marked by “lookers” also. Joseph looking for lodging. Mary looked into the face of Jesus. A thousand Angels looked upon the King. The Wise Men looked at the star.
The Second Advent will include the sudden, personal, visible, bodily return of Christ. Jesus promised, “I will come again.” Hebrews declared, “Christ … will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”
What is to happen next and what we hope for, is for what God promised: a new heaven and a new earth where justice reigns. (2 Peter 3:13) History is not an endless succession of meaningless cycles but a directed movement toward a great event. God has a timeline. And because of Bethlehem, we have an idea where we stand on it.
The Apostle John said, “My dear children, these are the last days.” (1 John 2:18) We enjoy the fruit of the first coming but anticipate the glory of the second. We refuse to believe that this present world is the sum total of human existence. We celebrate the first Advent to whet our appetites for the second.
If you knew Jesus was coming tomorrow, what would you do today? Live in such a way that you would not have to change your plans. Live always in the expectation the Christ is about to come.
Hollywood would recast the Christmas story. Joseph’s collar is way too blue. Mary is green from inexperience. The couple star power doesn’t match the bill. Two obscure. Two simple. The story warrants some headliners. A square-jawed Joseph. We can think of a Hollywood superstar for him. And Mary needs a beauty mark and glistening teeth. A plethora of female actresses come the mind. And what about the shepherds? Do they sing? There is any number of Grammy award winning popular musical artists available.
A civilized person would sanitize it. No person, however poor, should be born in a cow stall. Hay on the floor. Animals on the hay. Don’t place the baby in the feed trough; the donkey’s nose has been there. Don’t wrap the newborn in rags. They smell like sheep. Speaking of smells, watch where you step.
A good public relations firm would move the birth to a big city. See what Roman palaces they might rent, what Greek villas they could lease. The Son of God deserves a royal entry. Less peasant, more pizzazz. Out with the heads of sheep, and in with the heads of state. Should we tickertape this event? Probably so. And so Hollywood would recast the Christmas story.
However, God made so little of His Son’s coming. He didn’t even circle the date on the calendar. Ancient Christmases bounced from date to date before landing on December 25. Some early leaders favor dates in March. For centuries the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrated Christmas on January 6, and some branches still do. Only in the fourth century did the Church choose December 25 as a date to celebrate Jesus’ coming. We make bigger deals out of lesser things. So how could this be? No exact date of birth? No hoopla at his birth. Is this a mistake? Or is this exactly the message?
Maybe your life resembles a Bethlehem stable. I know mine does. Crude in some spots, spelling others. Not much glamour. Not always neat. People in your circle remind you of stable animals: grazing like sheep, stubborn like donkeys, in that cow in the corner looks a lot like the fellow next door.
You, like Joseph, knocked on the innkeeper’s door. But you were too late. Or too old, sick, dull, damaged, poor, or peculiar. You know the sound of the slamming door, as it seems I have so often heard lately. So here you are in the grotto, always on the outskirts of activity, it seems.
But it really comes down to one thing: God loves us. The story of Christmas is a story of God’s relentless love for us.
Let Him love you. If God was willing to wrap Himself in rags and drink from his human mother’s breast, then all questions about his love for you should be off the table.
The moment Mary touched God’s face is the moment God made His case: there is no place He will not go. If He is willing to be born in the barnyard, then expect Him to be at work anywhere – bars, bedrooms, boardrooms, in brothels. No places too common. No person is too hardened. No distance is too far. There is no person He cannot reach. There is no limit to His love.
When Christ was born, so was our hope!
Let us pray.
For our presiding Bishop and all bishops, that their life, teaching, preaching, and pastoral care will proclaim the saving Event of the Incarnation to all. We pray to the Lord. (Lord hear our prayer.)
For our country and those who lead it; that true freedom and justice may reign. We pray to the Lord.
For lasting peace throughout the world; that the coming of the Prince of Peace will put an end to all enmity and division, and unify the peoples of the world. We pray to the Lord.
For families; that the graces of Christmas will draw family members together in lasting bonds of love. We pray to the Lord.
For the poor, the homeless, the unemployed, and refugees; that Jesus Christ, who came into the world is one who was destitute and marginalized, Will love and rescue them. We pray to the Lord.
That our parish in parish family will grow abundantly in the coming year; May the projects that we plan come to fruition for the glory of His Name. We pray to the Lord.
That all peoples this Christmas will seek out Bethlehem in the Divine Babe and come to a personal relationship with Christ. We pray to the Lord.
That all Christians will be serious in responding to the universal call to holiness by living their faith with great fervor. We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, darkness is forever changed because of the Birth of Light; Jesus Christ your son. Take all the darkness of our lives and replace it with the radiance of our new born Savior that we have encountered in Bethlehem this night. 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

Sunday, December 17, 2017

December 17, 2017
The Third Sunday of Advent
(Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11; John 1:6-8, 19-28)
In the beginning, the children hurriedly open wide a wardrobe door to quickly hide inside from the curiosity seekers who’ve come to view the imposing professor’s odd, old house.

It is not an ordinary wardrobe with an ordinary inside. Beyond the long fur coats that smell of mothballs, beyond the place where the back of the wardrobe should be and is not, is a land of destiny for Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy.

They had come to live at the odd old house to escape the Nazi bombing of London. Unexpectedly, through the back of the wardrobe, they enter another world, a world bewitched, where winter never stops and Christmas never comes; a world where animals talk and plot, where nymphs and fauns live oppressed under the power of an evil witch turned Queen who turns her enemies into stone statues, and where redemption eventually may come for all from The Lion, Aslan, who is a kind and fierce Lion, and who isn’t tame at all.

There are horrors and hags, wars and betrayals, dangers and honors. It is a world whose future is balanced on the lives of these four unsuspecting, bewildered children, who must find inside himself or herself courage and, through faith in The Lion Aslan, the will to succeed, for should they fail, they will die. Should they fail, that entire world will remain in the icy fingers of the coldhearted Queen, a land in winter, forever.

This is the world of Narnia, a land created hundreds of years before by Aslan The Lion. It is Narnia, a world envisioned and created by C.S. Lewis, Christian and author, in his Chronicles of Narnia. His first book in the acclaimed series, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, was first published in 1950.

Narnia, as we enter it, is a land of bad news, of endless cold and endless snow. Spies are everywhere. It is hard for the honest people of Narnia and for their visitors to know whom to trust, and not to trust, even among members in their own families. The self-proclaimed Queen, who wickedly rules the land, knows of the ancient prophecy about four human children — two sons of Adam, and two daughters of Eve — who will come into Narnia to free the land forever from her icy grip, and who will then sit upon the thrones of the abandoned castle by the sea.

It is terrifying and horrible to be oppressed by the White Queen and to be living in Narnia where goodness is denigrated, and evil elevated. The good and captive people of Narnia, who live in justifiable fear of the White Witch and of her spies and multitude of minions, hope for the prophesied day when Aslan is again abroad in the land and when the two kings and two queens will come. The faithful people of Narnia hope for Aslan’s expected gift, the long promised liberation from evil and the anticipated gladness that liberation will bring.

When Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy arrive to fulfill the prophesy, the White Queen quickly plots their deaths. Only Aslan the Lion can save them, and only those four — the two sons of Adam, and the two daughters of Eve — with Aslan’s help, can save Narnia from the evil that blankets and chills the land.

Although The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is a fantasy book set in a fantasyland, it allegorically tells the story of our Christian faith. Unlike Narnia, where Christmas never comes, for us Christmas comes once a year, not because of Jesus’ birth, not because of His life that He spent preaching the good news, not because of His death, but because of His resurrection when He became the Good News itself.

The key allegorical piece involves Aslan. Insert Jesus for Aslan and you get an idea of C.S. Lewis’ Christological perspective.

Jesus, the Great Lion of the Lord, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, who comes to us proclaiming the good news to set us free. What Aslan does, the Messiah does.

Both Jesus and Aslan bind up the brokenhearted, proclaiming liberty to the captives, releasing the prisoners, and proclaiming a time of favor. They come to break the power of evil rampant in the land, and for those good creatures with sadness in their hearts, and for those who mourn — they give joy. They come loving justice and hating wrongdoing. They also come forgiving those who repent.

The good news Aslan brought was, first of all, merely the power of his presence when he returned to Narnia after a long absence, and there were joyous rumors that he was abroad in the land. As when Jesus preached in His hometown temple, proclaiming in His reading of the prophet Isaiah that He was there to announce the good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, a release of the prisoners and a time of favor, what joy there was throughout the land. The people heard and saw Him, and felt the power of God come through Him, and they had hope that He was indeed the one to set them free.

That hope is our hope — that Jesus sets us free; it is the hope of the people of Narnia for Aslan, that he will set them free; it is the hope of all people in Christ who are brokenhearted, who are held captive literally or figuratively, who are prisoners in jails, or at work, or in relationships, or in their bodies through illness. Jesus comes and we are set free when we hear and live the good news of salvation. Aslan comes and the people rejoice, and willingly do battle, sacrificing themselves for the liberty of others, and are set free from their captivity.

Similar to Jesus, Aslan — because of the sin of one in this case (Edmund), rather than the sins of many as in the case of Jesus — willingly gives himself over as a sacrifice for atonement. It is through his selfless gift of his life, and humiliation at the hands of the witch and her hags, apes and evil dwarves, that Aslan gains the new power necessary to fulfill his destiny and free all of Narnia. It was through the selfless gift of Jesus on the cross that He gained the power to fulfill His destiny as the Son of God, and to give us the grace of salvation as children of God.

Jesus has the power to melt a frozen heart. In Narnia, the presence of Aslan melts winter away, allowing spring and new life to return. Wherever Aslan walks, springtime follows. Streams melt and brooks gurgle. In his resurrection, with his breath, Aslan frees fauns, dwarves, a lion, a giant and a host of woodland creatures who were held captive, turned into stone statues by the White Queen. Our hearts, which may have been turned to stone by life, by pressures, by stress, or illness, or rejection, or loss, can be made free by the breath of God, freed by the good news of Christ.

In the end, the children return home to England, by the same doorway they used to enter Narnia. Just like Jesus is the gate of our faith, the doorway to heaven, Aslan is the door of liberation for all of Narnia. The door of the wardrobe is the way the children entered Narnia, through which they were called by Aslan. It is the doorway through which they were called to a new life, where they face moral challenges, and challenges of faith and courage.

Jesus, our doorway, says, “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with Me” (Revelation 3:20). And that is the best news of all — that there is a doorway into a new world for all of us, through which we are all called, and that doorway, that gateway, is Christ. “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate,” says Jesus (John 10:7). On the other side of the door isn’t a fantasy world invented by an author, but the real world of faith — the world of heaven, here and now, and eternally.

Should we heed His call, should we heed the knocking on the door of our souls by Jesus, who is Himself the door, and if we dare open the door, and enter into the unknown, then we, too, shall be set free and that is better than good news; it is the best news of all.
Let us pray.
That the Church will be zealous in bringing good news to the poor, healing to the brokenhearted, and liberty to captives. We pray to the Lord. (Lord hear our prayer.)
That the elderly, sustained by families and Christian communities, may apply their wisdom and experience to spreading the faith and forming the new generations. We pray to the Lord.
For those who experience any kind of hardship or sorrow during the holidays; that the Father’s compassion will provide for them in every way. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week to be free from anxiety and to be generous in showing kindness. We pray to the Lord.
That the many factions, hostilities and uprisings throughout  the world may find peace and a genuine understanding of cohabitation of the earth. We pray to the Lord.
For those who are sick amongst our parishioners and family members that they may find healing and peace in the Lord. We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, may Your peace that surpasses all understanding ever guard our hearts and minds. May this season of Advent - a season of preparation for the coming of Your Son - be a true season of peace, understanding and a newfound love for our brethren. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
 + The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic
San Diego, CA

Sunday, December 10, 2017

December 10, 2017
The Second Sunday of Advent
(Isaiah 40:1-11, Mark 1:1-8)
Ever try to take a 2-year-old on a straight-ahead, purposive walk? It just doesn't happen. Children that age have an entirely different agenda. If you don’t believe me, merely take a day and go to Disneyland and you will see for yourself. For a 2-year-old, there is no sense of accomplishment with leaving point A in order to arrive at point B. The only reason for even venturing out the door is the prospect of the journey -- no, the meander -- that takes place between point A and point B.

When you are 2, the world is still a new and fascinating place. Every stone deserves investigation, every mud puddle beckons, and every creepy, crawly creature must be scrutinized and subjected to awe, or torture, or screams of delight and horror. In fact, when you are 2, the only possible reason for finally arriving at point B is so that now the trek back to point A can begin.

Naturalist and eco-theologian Jim Corbett has targeted this philosophy of travel of the 2-year-old in his book Goatwalking. Having rather more knowledge of goats than toddlers, Corbett focuses on the round-about, over- and-under, onto boulders and under blackberries wanderings that these sure-footed, independent little animals conduct in their daily travels.

Goatwalking, as Corbett calls it, is a mode of journeying that doesn't so much traverse the countryside as caress it. Without all their skills and attention focused on a destination, goatwalkers have the ability to feel the contours of the land under their feet and allow the earth itself to set their path.

"Goatwalking" is obviously not an activity solely available to goats and 2-year-olds. Corbett encourages all of us to try this form of travel periodically. He calls goatwalking a form of "errantry." While we usually think of errantry as the journeys of medieval Knights of the Round Table, Corbett makes the term both accessible and alluring for post moderns. Errantry, he declares, means sallying out beyond society's established ways, living "according to one's inner leading.”

There aren't a lot of goatwalkers, individuals involved in errantry, these days. Especially at Christmas. If Christians of the past were notorious for the exercise of piety known as the Stations of the Cross, Christians of today struggle to know what the Stations of the Cross even are.

Whereas in the former (usually conducted during Lent), Christians would make pilgrimages to 14 sites where their souls could be refreshed and renewed as they contemplated the sacrifices of Christ, in the latter (usually at its peak activity during Advent) Christians make pilgrimages to 14 or so malls and shops where they contemplate doohickeys, gazingus pins and other perishable objects.

Christmas has become an annual rite of shopping mall tours, online shop binging and a number of other imaginable activities that have little really to do with the real Christmas. Christmas has become an annual round of clutter parties, clutter schedules, clutter jobs and clutter motives. Clutter afflicts our lives as never before. Our spirits have become chained to the Way of the hustle-bustle, not the Way of the Cross or the Way of the Christ Child.

Maybe it is time we, like John, listen to another beckoning voice, a different drummer. Goatwalking is a way of life for all who would live by communion and not by possession.

John the Baptist was a classic goatwalker. Clad in his camel's hair robe, living and preaching out in the wilderness, eating things most of us would get the willies just stepping on, John was definitely listening to the directives of an inner voice. While everyone around him was dancing to the beat of an establishment sound (or listening to no drummer at all), John turned up the volume on that different drum.

The power of John's witness -- both his own personality and the truth of the message he preached -- was so great that people left the well-worn city streets and village squares to seek him out. Pulled along by the flow of John's spiritual forces, these crowds goatwalked their way to this solitary voice in the wilderness, not knowing what to expect, yet filled with an inexplicable hope and anticipation.

Goatwalking has always been a favorite way of encountering the God of the Bible. The Hebrews spent 40 years goatwalking, or maybe "goat-bumbling" is a better way of putting it, as they tried to discover the path that would lead them into a faithful relationship with God. God has regularly chosen goatwalkers to be divine mouthpieces. Some of the oddest, most independent and unpredictable people are found among the prophets. It should come as no surprise to us then that it was to "professional" goatwalkers -- the goatherds and shepherds camped out with their wandering flocks in the middle of nowhere -- that the announcement of Jesus' birth was first proclaimed. The first people on the scene in Bethlehem, to worship and praise the tiny newborn king, were these simple, scruffy social zeros -- the goatwalkers.

Would these same ordinary peasants have been tuned in to the miraculous message that came to them from the heavens that night if they had been attending a long-range planning session, or worrying about their mortgages, or trying to make their herd animals look spiffier than anyone else's. It seems doubtful.
As Christmas fast approaches, we may all be helped by consciously taking some time to slow our steps and broaden our horizons to try to see if we too can goatwalk into Bethlehem this year.

A successful goatwalk requires three things of us -- to do nothing, go nowhere and lose hold.

Doing nothing really means allowing yourself to fully awaken to the present. Consider each moment a God-filled increment, and feel it in your soul. Open yourself to Christ being born in you this year.

Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes and the grass grows by itself.

Go nowhere means letting yourself sit more than walk; reap more than sow; take what God offers rather than what you can grab. Goatwalkers involved in going nowhere find a wealth of riches in the blessings of health, sun, rain and soil. Find a sense of place this Christmas. Become a placed rather than a displaced person.

Lose hold gives goatwalkers the freedom to stop trying to take charge of their lives and allows God to take over. The truth is, the most beautiful   and meaningful things in life are never things we can hold on to anyway.

Ever hear anyone after an especially beautiful anthem say, "Wouldn't it be wonderful if for just a moment we could hold on to it?" But while we can hear the music, sing the music, dance the music, we cannot hold the music.
So throw away your compass, your cellular phone, your iPad. Give up those Stations of the hustle and bustle. Pull on your camel- hair coat, grab a baggie full of locusts and goatwalk your way to Bethlehem.

You can set out on any path you choose. For whether you reach it or not depends on your sense of everything but direction.
Let us pray.
That Christ may guide the minds of those who govern so as to promote the common good according to His will. We pray to the Lord. (Lord hear our prayer.)
That our Lord will work closely with the governing factions in Israel and the unrest that was caused by our president’s new declaration in regard to their capital. May peace and diplomacy be the guiding force. We pray to the Lord.
For our parish community; that God who has begun the good work of drawing us together in faith will continue to perfect it this Advent. We pray to the Lord.
That love within families will increase in knowledge of what is truly good and valuable. We pray to the Lord.
For the poor, the sick, the homeless, the unemployed, the addicted, the lonely, and those who mourn; that Jesus will come close to them and use us as agents of His mercy. We pray to the Lord.
We especially pray for those who live in the areas of the catastrophic fires in our state; may they find comfort, shelter, ample resources, and experience great mercy from all those whom they meet in this time of their struggle. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for the horses and the wildlife that also are struggling through these fires; we ask that they find safety and compassionate humans to help them in their time of need. We pray to the Lord.
That the Holy Spirit will endue the United States and North Korea with patience and a greater understanding towards peace between our two countries. We pray to the Lord.
A special remembrance for this anniversary of those who lost their lives in Pearl Harbor during the second world war; may their bravery always be remembered and cherished. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week to have hope and live lives that glorify God. We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, we await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Keep us faithful and true to You this Advent. Hear our pleas and grant us Your grace and mercy in this special season of the Church year. Through Christ our Lord. Amen
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Happy Advent Everyone!
December 3, 2017
Advent Sunday
(1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:13-37)
Keep awake.

That’s one way to summarize the last lecture of Randy Pausch, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Pausch delivered his final lecture in September 2007, after he had been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. He showed a love of life and an approach to death that many people have found inspiring, and his lecture has turned into a phenomenon, viewed by millions on television and on the Internet. He went on to write a best-selling book with columnist Jeffrey Zaslow titled The Last Lecture, a book about love, courage and saying goodbye.

On Friday, July 25, 2008, Pausch succumbed to cancer at the age of 47.

He expected maybe 150 people to attend his last lecture. After all, it was a warm September day, and he assumed that people would have better things to do than attend a final lesson from a dying computer science professor in his 40s. He bet a friend $50 that he would never fill the 400-seat auditorium.

Well, Pausch lost that bet. The room was packed, and when he arrived on stage, he received a standing ovation. He motioned the audience of students and colleagues to sit down. “Make me earn it,” he said.

According to Zaslow, Randy hardly mentioned his cancer in the course of his 70-minute lecture. Instead, he took everyone on a rollicking and riveting journey through the lessons of his life. He talked about the importance of childhood dreams, and the stamina needed to overcome obstacles. “Brick walls are there for a reason,” he insisted, showing slides of the rejection letters he had received over the years. “They let us prove how badly we want things.”

He pushed his audience to show patience toward others, saying, “Wait long enough, and people will surprise and impress you.” He celebrated his mentors and his students with an open heart, and revealed the depth of his love for his family.

Keep awake. That’s what Randy seemed to be saying as he invited his audience to rethink their ambitions and find new ways to look at other people’s flaws and abilities. Keep awake to what is truly important in life.

After the lecture, Randy’s only plan was to spend his remaining days with his family. But a video of his talk began to spread like a virus across the Web. Randy was soon receiving e-mails from people around the world, telling him that his lecture had inspired them to spend more time with loved ones, quit pitying themselves, and even resist suicidal urges. Terminally ill people were inspired to embrace their own goodbyes, and have fun with every day they had left.

His last lecture really woke people up. Keep awake. That’s what Randy Pausch says to us, and what Jesus says as well.

The Last Lecture of Jesus Christ, given to the disciples only hours from his execution, is found in today’s reading. Of course it wasn’t a lecture and he wasn’t in a classroom, although, in those days, “classrooms” and “lectures” were rare. Conversations on a walk were more the rule perhaps.

Still, it’s not a stretch to think of these words of Jesus as his last thoughts, his last “lecture” in which he challenges the disciples to keep awake for his second coming, an earth-shaking event which will occur at an undetermined time after his death, resurrection and ascension. He promises that he will return as the Son of Man, coming in clouds with “great power and glory” to gather his people from the ends of the earth, and bring them into his kingdom. The danger is that the disciples will miss what really matters, distracted by the many assorted demands and details of day-to-day life. So Jesus says to them, “Keep awake.”

We face the same challenge as we enter the season of Advent, and begin our march through the wild weeks of decorating, shopping, partying and concert-attending that lie ahead. Jesus is going to be coming to us soon — maybe not in an earth-shaking second coming, but in a personal arrival that’s every bit as important to each one of us. He’ll be coming to speak to us in words of Scripture that have eternal power —“Heaven and earth will pass away,” says Jesus, “but my words will not pass away.” He’ll be coming to gather his people into a community that knows his everlasting salvation, a community stretching “from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” He’ll be coming to see if we are alert and ready for his arrival, living in a way that is focused on his will and his way.

The challenge for us is to “keep awake” — awake for the coming of the Lord during this Advent season.

So how do we do this? We begin by listening carefully to the words of Jesus, words that can be hard to hear in the middle of the noise of the holidays. Randy Pausch took time to leave specific words of advice for his children, saying, “If I could give three words of advice, they would be, ‘Tell the truth.’ If I got three more words, I’d add, ‘All the time.’”

These are good words, but even better are the words of Jesus. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” We are called to self-denial, even in this season of rich foods and expensive gifts. “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all,” says Jesus. Glory and power are to be found in service to others, even as we focus on the fun and festivity of the holidays. “Truly I tell you,” promises Jesus, “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” This emphasis on childlike faith is an important antidote to the ever-increasing complexity of this season, in which we always seem to schedule more, do more, try more, buy more.

Receive Jesus, with childlike faith. In a very few words, that’s what Advent is all about.

It’s also important for us to remain connected to the community that Jesus intends to gather when he returns. Christian faith is a team sport, not an individual activity, so it’s critically important for us to continue to get together for worship, service, fellowship and fun. Randy Pausch continued to stay connected to friends throughout his illness — they joked around and made fun of each other, even in the face of death.
In an over-scheduled holiday season, it’s tempting to skip worship and head to the mall, or choose a special concert over a routine small group meeting. But Jesus wants us to remain connected in community, where we will be awake to his arrival. “You do not know when the master of the house will come,” he predicts, “in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.”

Remain connected, in community. That’s the best position to be in, if you want to meet Jesus Christ.
Finally, it’s important for us to be alert and ready for his arrival, living in a way that is in line with Christ’s will and way. “I am maintaining my clear-eyed sense of the inevitable,” says Randy Pausch. “I’m living like I’m dying. But at the same time, I’m very much living like I’m still living.”

Randy was wide awake, with a clear-eyed sense of the inevitable. We should be the same, living every day as though it were our last day on earth, doing our best to trust Jesus and love God and neighbor. Fact is, we don’t know when our lives will end, just as we don’t know the timing of Christ’s second coming. The best approach is to be alert to Christ’s will, living each day with faith and love and a spirit of service.

“What I say to you I say to all,” says Jesus: “Keep awake.” These words come to us from the Last Lecture of Jesus Christ, like a message in a bottle that has traveled through the centuries to remind us of what really matters.

How to prepare for Advent? Receive Jesus, with childlike faith. Remain connected, in community. Live every day as though it were your last day on earth, in line with Christ’s will and way.

That’s the lecture of a lifetime. Class dismissed.
Let us pray.
That this Advent will be for the Church a faith filled journey toward the horizon of hope. We pray to the Lord. (Lord hear our prayer.)
For an end to warfare; that weapons will be dismantled to become instruments of peace. We pray to the Lord.
For the renewal of our parish during this new liturgical year. We pray to the Lord.
That the season of Advent will be an occasion for deeper personal encounter with Jesus Christ. We pray to the Lord.
That in this time of active vigilance we will show special concern for the poor, the sick, the grieving, and those in dire need. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week to intensify our preparation for the coming of the Lord. We pray to the Lord.
That those who are suffering from illness or affliction during the season of Advent, that they be granted healing, peace, and comfort in this preparatory season of the year - in hopes that they too will rejoice in the Nativity. We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, during this holy season of Advent, keep us watchful and alert. Fill our hearts with expectation so that, through the hope and tenderness of Christmas, we may shake off our indifference. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Sunday, November 26, 2017

November 26, 2017
Sunday next before Advent
This Sunday, I decided I wanted to do a sermon on being thankful, instead of using the scripture readings for today as inspiration. It was a tough Thanksgiving for me this year, given all that I have lost with a future that seems bleak without a course change. I even stumbled giving grace at the Thanksgiving meal this year, because of my inner emotions of seemingly more troubles than blessings lately. However, even I can find reasons to be thankful.
It was Thanksgiving week, last week. Time to count your blessings.

If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep ... you are richer than 75 percent of this world of ours.

If you have money in the bank, cash in your wallet and spare change in a dish someplace ... you are among the top 8 percent of the Earth's wealthiest people.

If you woke up this morning with more health than illness ... you are more fortunate than the million who will not survive this week.

If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture or the pangs of starvation ... you are ahead of 500 million people in the world.

If you can attend this worship service, or any other religion-related meeting, without fear of harassment, arrest, torture or death ... you are fortunate. Billions of people in the world cannot.

It's not hard for us to count our blessings, is it? Most of us could quickly and easily jot down a rather lengthy list, including thanks for family, for friends, for food, for clothing, for cars, for a home, for a job, for health, for freedom, for opportunity, and so on.

But think about this. If we follow this logic, then it means that if we lack these things, we cannot give thanks. We can count our blessings only if we have stuff to count. However, the apostle Paul encourages us to give thanks for nothing. In fact, he offers us the example of his own thanksgiving for nothing at all - not one physical, material, tangible thing.

Instead, Paul gives constant thanks for things which are not things: Faith in the Lord Jesus, love toward the saints, a spirit of wisdom and revelation, the riches of God's glorious inheritance and the immeasurable greatness of God's power (Ephesians 1:15-19). None of these blessings can be seen, touched, purchased or possessed - like food, clothing, cars, boats or homes. And yet, they are the very greatest gifts we could ever receive. To give thanks for the nontangibles, or in the vortex of violence, despair and suffering is what Scripture calls praise. To give praise. Praise is the recognition that it is all about God and not about me.

In the classic book The Little Prince, the fox character is saying goodbye to the little prince, and as he leaves he says, "And now here's my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."

"What is essential is invisible to the eye," the little prince repeats, so that he will be sure to remember. This fox's insight is right in line with what the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians: "We look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:18).

It is the unseen that is eternal. What is essential is invisible to the eye.

This approach to Thanksgiving runs counter to conventional wisdom, and it refuses to fall into step with the swarm of shoppers who surged into shopping malls this past Friday to begin the Christmas buying binge. "Black Friday," they call it - the biggest shopping day of the year. It's not black because it's bad, according to merchants, but because they count on it to turn the red in their books to black. They should call it "Green Friday," the color of money. Actually, I prefer Hell Friday. I guess I am just grumpy not wanting to go into that madness type shopper.

But ponder the perspective of the apostle Paul. He doesn't give thanks for gold jewelry, Game Cubes, leather jackets, personal care products, computer games and Blu-ray movies. He refuses to focus his gaze on the things that can be seen, because he knows that these things are temporary.

Instead, he looks only at the essential and eternal things that are invisible to the eye. When he counts his blessings, he lists absolutely nothing you can buy, and nothing you can own - only faith, love, a spirit of wisdom, a spirit of revelation, God's inheritance, God's power.

Paul first gives thanks for faith and love. "I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints," he reports, "and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you" (Ephesians 1:15). Paul knows that the sign of true success is not a Lexus, or a house in the Hamptons, or a job with a six-figure salary. Instead, success is being a person who trusts Christ completely, and who loves neighbors consistently. We must be living crosses. We should live out of the vertical and horizontal dimensions of life - a vertical relationship with Jesus, combined with a horizontal relationship with neighbor - is the key to a perfectly balanced and fulfilling life.

Paul also gives thanks for a spirit of wisdom and revelation (Ephesians 1:17), which he prays will come out of our ever-expanding relationship with God through Christ. This spirit of wisdom opens our eyes to what God is planning for us, and it helps us to see that there is nothing richer or more valuable than a life in communion with God, both today and in the life to come. It is with this spirit of wisdom and revelation that we can finally grasp the riches of God's glorious inheritance (Ephesians 1:18), a heavenly inheritance far more valuable than stocks or bonds or savings accounts or real estate.

The final invisible item that Paul wants us to appreciate is the immeasurable greatness of God's power, a power that has raised Jesus Christ from the dead and seated him in the heavenly places. This power has put Jesus in a place of ultimate authority, far above every earthly ruler, not only in this age but also in the age to come, so that everything on earth is now under the soles of his sandals (Ephesians 1:19-22).

In short, Jesus rules.

But the best part is this: God's amazing power is at work in those of us who believe, and this power is experienced as we take part in the life of the body of Christ, that body of believers known as the Christian church (Ephesians 1:19, 23). It doesn't really matter how much wealth or power or prestige or personnel or inventory or square footage we control in this world, because our greatest influence comes through our work as disciples of Christ.

So, what can we all be thankful for – myself included? It is as followers of Jesus that we experience the divine life and power of God that fills all things.
It is as followers of Jesus that we are able to endure incredible hardship and overcome enormous personal obstacles. If this were not true, I would not have made it this year. It is as followers of Jesus that we are able to share the love and grace and hope and peace and forgiveness of our Lord. It is as followers of Jesus that we are able to step out in mission and share the Gospel in both our words and our deeds.

None of these is a "thing," in a material sense. But whether we are rich or poor, homeowners or homeless, working or unemployed, we have access to an amazing set of essential, eternal, unseen treasures.

I can also say, that I am thankful for a great congregation of members who are not only my flock, but are my friends; who have traded roles somewhat this year, and been there for me as I am supposed to be for them!
However, as Christians, we can honestly say to God: Thanks for everything.
Let us pray.
That the Church will always be a place of mercy freely given, where everyone is encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel. We pray to the Lord. (Lord hear our prayer.)
That our president and his administration will abide by the Gospel of life in every act of governance. We pray to the Lord.
For world leaders; that they will see their power as a sharing in the authority of God, and that it will be reflected in the way they govern. We pray to the Lord.
For those caught in addictions; that our Lord Christ will liberate them. We pray to the Lord.
For an end to all intolerance and prejudice, so that we may truly become one nation under God. We pray to the Lord
For victims of tyranny, persecution, oppression or racism; that the justice of Christ will rid the world of every trace of hatred. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week to surrender ourselves in obedience to the Kingdom of God. We pray to the Lord.
That the wealth of our nation will be used to care for the poorest in our midst. We pray to the Lord.
For our families and friends; that their celebration of Thanksgiving this past week will be put into continuance and also an occasion of reunion, renewed love, and lasting grace amongst all. We pray to the Lord.
That all families torn apart by divorce, greed, grudges, or abuse will find reconciliation and peace in Jesus Christ. We pray to the Lord.
And as always, O Lord, that you be with our family and friends who suffer from illness. We pray to the Lord.
Heavenly Father, fill our hearts with gratitude today as we recall all that You have given us. Keep us ever thankful and generous in your holy service. Renew our obedience and faithfulness and be pleased with the prayers that we offer. Dispel the ignorance that we have to the many peoples in our cities, states, nations, and the entire world who suffer in some form and seek help while many of us simply walk on by. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Sunday, November 19, 2017

November 19, 2017
The Twenty-Third Sunday after Trinity
(I Thessalonians 5:16-27, [John 12:44-50])
Religious books are big business. In the United States, sales revenue has recently been around $500 million per year.

About 50 million religious books are sold each year, both fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary. But with so many books to choose from, how do you know which ones have value? Which ones are bad, which ones are good and which ones are great? What would you say is the best Christian book of all time?

Now, although the Bible is still the all-time biggest seller in books overall, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship tried to figure this out a few years ago. Their Emerging Scholars Network had a "Best Christian Book of All Time Tournament," and the final four turned out to be:

The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.

Confessions by Saint Augustine.

Let’s look at Lewis' book.

Mere Christianity was published for the first time 65 years ago, in 1952. Oddly enough, it wasn't even written as a book. During the darkest days of World War II, Lewis prepared four sets of radio talks on basic Christianity, and these evolved into the book Mere Christianity. Since 1952, the book's popularity has grown, and between 2001 and 2016, it sold 3.5 million copies in English alone. On top of this, it has been translated into at least 36 languages.

So why is Mere Christianity one of the best Christian books of all time? According to church historian George Marsden, Lewis "was determined to present only the timeless truths of Christianity rather than the latest theological or cultural fashions." The book is his attempt to explain and defend "the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times."

Timeless truths. Basic beliefs. Common convictions. Mere Christianity.

In his first letter to the Thessalonians, the apostle Paul is trying to do the same.

He is determined to present timeless truths, and to explain and defend the common ground of the Christian faith. Paul is not interested in creating a distinctively Thessalonian Christian; instead, he wants to help people to be merely Christian. He knows that such Christians will be "sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."

So what are the timeless truths that Paul presents? He begins with three imperatives: "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances." Such orders strike us as odd and out-of-touch with the painful realities of our lives -- illnesses, breakups, failures and job losses. We would understand if Paul said "rejoice often" ... "pray regularly" ... and "give thanks whenever good things happen." But instead he says that we are to rejoice, pray and give thanks constantly, without regard to the difficulties of our lives. Seems like a perfect reading for the week of Thanksgiving!

Paul takes this tack because he is focused much more on God and on Jesus than he is on himself. His eyes are on the culture of heaven, not on the ways of the world. Rejoicing, praying and giving thanks are important because they are "the will of God in Christ Jesus for you," Paul says. Since there is nothing or no one more important than "God in Christ Jesus," and nothing more true than the facts that "God in Christ Jesus" has created us and redeemed us, then following the guidance "God in Christ Jesus" is at the very center of the Christian life.

In Mere Christianity, Lewis offers a similar perspective. He stands aside and points toward God rather than toward himself. He doesn't say "look at me," notes Marsden, but instead he says "look at that." Lewis guides us from unbelief to faith, pointing to "the time-tested beauty of God's love in Jesus Christ."

By opening ourselves to God's love in Jesus, we are able to love one another. By trusting God to be at work in every situation, we are able to "rejoice always, pray without ceasing [and] give thanks in all circumstances." All of this comes from God, who instills in us the ability to love and rejoice and pray and give thanks. "When you teach a child writing," says Lewis, "you hold its hand while it forms the letters: that is, it forms the letters because you are forming them." The same is true for God -- we love because God loves, and God "holds our hand while we do it."

Being focused more on God and Jesus than on ourselves, and trusting God to work through us -- that's the first step in being "merely" Christian. It requires leaning more on divine power than on human power, more on the Lord than on ourselves. "Give up yourself," writes Lewis, "and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day ... and you will find eternal life." As Jesus himself said, "Those who lose their life for my sake will find it" (Matthew 10:39).

The next timeless truth Paul gives concerns Christian behavior: "Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil." A person who is "merely" Christian is open to the power of the Spirit of God, blowing where it will and doing the work of transformation. Lewis is clear that "becoming Christian isn't an improvement but a transformation, like a [regular] horse becoming a Pegasus."

Sometime back, in the magazine Leadership Journal, Gordon MacDonald wrote an article on "How to spot a transformed Christian." These folks don't look different from the general population, but they do have characteristics that are signs of inner changes. One of the most important is a passion for reconciliation.

"They bring people together," writes MacDonald. "They hate war, violence, contentiousness, division caused by race, economics, gender and ideology. They believe that being peaceable and making peace trumps all other efforts in one's lifetime."

Transformed Christians "do not despise the words of prophets" - prophets such as Zechariah, who says, "These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another, render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace" (8:16). Transformed Christians follow the apostle Paul in holding fast to what is good and abstaining from evil.

On campuses across the United States, the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship is stressing racial reconciliation in large-group meetings for praise and worship, small-group Bible studies and summer camps for leader training. Their focus is not on political correctness, but on the words of the Bible. Leaders point to Jesus' prayer in John 17 that his followers would all be one, and to the description in Ephesians 2 of Christ breaking down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile.

People who are "merely" Christian tend to behave in a particular way. Instead of quenching the Spirit, they let it fill them and transform them. Rather than tumbling into evil, they hold fast to what is good. Listening to the words of the prophets, they work for peace and reconciliation. All of this prepares them well for "the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."

The Advent season is right around the corner and there is no better time to focus on the coming of Jesus. His arrival at Christmas gives us a chance to "rejoice always, pray without ceasing [and] give thanks in all circumstances." His life of love and service shows us how to "hold fast to what is good [and] abstain from every form of evil." Best of all, we don't have to do this by our own power, because the God "who calls [us] is faithful, and he will do this."

With the help of God, we can be "merely" Christian. And that's the best type of Christian to be.
Let us pray.
That the Church will stand before the world without stain or blemish, always staying holy and obedient to God’s word. We pray to the Lord. (Lord hear our prayer.)
That Christians in all areas of the world, bearing witness to the Gospel in word and deed, may promote dialogue, peace, and mutual understanding, especially with those of other religions. We pray to the Lord.
For an end to terrorism and for the blessings of peace throughout the world. We pray to the Lord.
Four Christian husbands and wives; that the Lord will give them the graces they need to live in faith the Sacrament of Matrimony. We pray to the Lord.
For the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the sick, the aged, the lonely, the grieving, those who are out of work, those who are facing financial difficulties, and those who have no one to pray for them; that God will raise them up and answer their needs. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week to remain sober and alert, attentive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We pray to the Lord.
That in all ways and all situations we may all find reasons to rejoice and give thanks. We pray to the Lord.
That we as Catholics may devoutly adhere to precept and practice in our faith journey without allowing in any form of discouragement to cloud our path. We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, our souls rejoice and abide in confidence because You will never abandon us. Keep us always strong in faith. 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

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Here is this week's sermon, everyone. I hope you gain some inspiration from it. Please remember me and and St. Francis in your prayers and St. Francis with your donations so we can become a more vibrant community with the openness that we preach! Donation link is below and I will share the post separately as well.

November 12, 2017
The Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity
Reading about the secret files on the JFK shooting and the jockeying back and forth with North Korea over nuclear arms has reminded me of emergency preparedness.

Back in 1961, President John F. Kennedy spoke about the possibility of nuclear war, calling for the stocking of "fallout shelters in case of attack." These bunkers -- equipped with food, water, first-aid kits and other minimum essentials for survival -- were designed to protect families from an apocalyptic war.

But the year 1961 was not the first time that people spoke of the world coming to an end. The book of Revelation is sometimes called "Apocalypse" because it speaks of the uncovering of God's plan for the climax of human history. Apocalypse is a Greek word which sounds awfully scary, but it simply means "uncovering" or "revelation."

The apostle Paul did his own bit of uncovering in his first letter to the Thessalonians, probably the earliest of his numerous letters to the Christians of the Mediterranean region. Paul had to flee the Greek city of Thessalonica because of persecution, and he wrote his letters to the Thessalonians to prepare them for the return of Jesus Christ.

You "know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night," he says to them. The "day of the Lord" was the moment that Christ would return to act as judge over the world, bringing God's work to completion. "When they say, 'There is peace and security,'" warns Paul, "then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape!"

Sudden destruction! Labor pains! No escape! These are apocalyptic images nearly as frightening as nuclear war.

Fortunately, Paul gives his followers guidance on how to prepare for the end. His first letter to the Thessalonians is a kind of guidebook on emergency preparedness, and it is one that we need to read today. It is more pertinent than ever, because many Americans are already doing their own kind of prepping.

Yes, that's right. Many people today are prepping for the apocalypse. And some of them aren't focusing on the minimum essentials for survival. They're not the kind of rugged survivalists who define "running water" as a nearby stream.

Searching for a possible replacement home for me in the event we sell our land next door, I have discovered that luxury bunkers are trending. High-end shelters are very hot right now. Sales of units costing more than $500,000 have increased 700 percent in one year! One model includes "a gym, a workshop, a rec room, a greenhouse and a car depot." Clients include Hollywood actors, sports stars, bankers and businesspeople. Bill Gates is rumored to have bunkers under his houses in Washington State and California.

Also popular today are entire survival communities. A 700-acre development in Texas will include "a hotel, an athletic center, a golf course and polo fields." The community is slated to have 600 condominiums, each with a waterfront view. But here is the emergency preparedness part: "90 percent of each unit will be underground, armed security personnel will guard a wall surrounding the community, and there will be helipads for coming and going."

Wealthy condo buyers are now prepping for the apocalypse.

This luxury-bunker trend includes "not just a couple of fringe groups," says Jeff Schlegelmilch, an expert in disaster preparedness at Columbia University. No, "there is real money behind it -- hundreds of millions of dollars." Lots of people are motivated by anxieties about nuclear war or civil unrest. Others fear climate change, disease, terrorism or extremism from the far-left and far-right. Survivalists now include liberals, right along with conservatives. We are a military city, so it should concern us as well. Sadly, San Diego could be a target.

All of which leads to the question: How should we be prepping during these perilous days? In the face of the "day of the Lord," the apostle Paul does not recommend building a bunker with a gym, a workshop, a rec room, a greenhouse and a car depot. Instead, he wants us to be "preppers" who "put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation." In difficult times, Paul certainly wants us to be safe, but he doesn't suggest that we seek the protection of a walled compound patrolled by armed security personnel.

Instead, he recommends a suit made of faith, hope and love.

These qualities are gifts of God that will endure until the very end of time, until we see God face to face. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul says that "faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love."

When God gives us a suit of armor, he wants it to be made of the most durable materials available. That is why he chooses faith, hope and love. A Presbyterian pastor named Jeff Krehbiel was wearing this equipment as he served churches in New York City, Wilmington and Washington, D.C. For 30 years, he did urban ministry and community organizing, always showing deep faith in God and in the people around him. With a passion for biblical story-telling, Jeff led worship services that were full of creative and interactive experiences.

Instead of retreating into a bunker, Jeff lived with hope. He worked hard to change the world around him, moving it slowly and surely toward the kingdom of God. And through it all, he always had a lot of love -- love for his church members, his colleagues and the residents of the city around him. Jeff wore the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet he had the hope of salvation. This equipment helped him through many perilous situations.

But then one day, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. In a message to his friends, he wrote that his cancer made him sad but not depressed, and he thanked everyone for their support. He said, "I am floating on the buoyancy of God's love." Within two months he was dead, but he reached the end of his life completely wrapped in faith, hope and love.

Paul knows that we are all going to die, and that no preparations can save us. For this reason, he challenges us to step out into the world with confidence, determined to live by our Christian values. Paul says that we are "children of light and children of the day," people who leave the darkness of underground bunkers and go into the brightness of the world to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

In his book Strength to Love, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." When we live by our values, we shine light into dark places and put love in the place of hate.

In apocalyptic times, we are not supposed to hide in a bunker. That's a defensive posture, one that is usually adopted by people motivated by old anxieties such as nuclear war and civil unrest. Instead, we are to take the offense, bravely going out into the world to show active faith, hope and love.

Every Christmas, a local police department puts its faith into action. According to The Virginian-Pilot (December 23, 2014), a single mother was driving with her children when she saw blue lights flashing in her rear-view mirror. She pulled over, fearing that she would get a ticket. The police officer walked up and asked, "How many kids are in the car?" She answered, "Three."

Returning to his patrol car, the officer gathered an armful of gifts, which he proceeded to put in her trunk. "This can't be happening to me," she thought to herself. "Merry Christmas," said the officer.

"Why did you stop me?" she asked, after thanking him.

"Each year the police department tries to find ways to give back to our community," said the officer. "We just step out in faith and give where we think there may be a need." Instead of taking a defensive posture, these police are going on the offense -- showing their faith and hope and love.

Our challenge is always to build up instead of building down. Yes, it is tempting to dig a hole in the ground and construct a luxury bunker -- especially when we fear climate change, disease, terrorism or extremism. But Paul challenges us to "encourage one another and build up each other." He could have dug himself a hole when he was facing persecution in Thessalonica, but he didn't. He chose to build up his friends instead of building down into the ground.

In numerous letters to his fellow Christians, Paul says that building up means "speaking the truth in love," instead of avoiding difficult topics (Ephesians 4:15). Encouraging one another means that we "please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor" (Romans 15:2). Instead of focusing on our own talents and abilities, we should see that God is working through members of the entire Christian community. "There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit," says Paul, "and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord" (1 Corinthians 12:4-5).

Faith, hope and love are tough prescriptions for modern day folk. During my crisis this year and as it continues, some have questioned my actions. It is because many today do not put their faith, hope and love out there today. How many of us really, truly have faith that God will answer our needs and be the one who carries us? We know the poem footprints in the sand. As difficult as it is right now for me, I am looking over my shoulder and looking for those sets of footprints. Sometimes, I only see one set – that is when the Lord is carrying me. I have to believe this – it is my motto on my coat of arms – it is my protection outside of a bunker.
Jesus does not want us to prep for the apocalypse by hiding in a bunker. Instead, he wants us to put our various gifts to use in ways that are far more constructive and lasting. So let's step out into the light and encourage one another to serve our world with faith, hope and love. I – We – do not know what tomorrow will bring, but we can be certain Jesus will be there with us.

There is no better way to prepare for the "day of the Lord" -- today and every day.
Let us pray.
That, through the Church’s faithful announcement of the Gospel, God’s Word may give full meaning to pain and suffering. We pray to the Lord. (Lord hear our prayer.)
That the wisdom of God will guide and direct all those who govern. We pray to the Lord.
For police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, servicemen and women, and all those who risk their lives for us; that God will bless them and keep them safe. We pray to the Lord.
For an increase of vocations to the priesthood and to consecrated life. We pray to the Lord.
For widows and orphans; that the Lord will protect them and grant them friendship and relief. We pray to the Lord.
That the people of God may put forth the right energy into helping all those of our fellow humanity who are in desperate need for faith, hope, and love. We pray to the Lord.
For our family members and friends who suffer from illness; that the healing Archangel Raphael will visit them in this their time of need and grant them healing and peace. We pray to the Lord.
That those who have committed or plan to commit violent crimes or acts of terrorism; that they to find faith, hope, and love; and a greater understanding of their obligation to our Lord and thus to our fellow mankind. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week to live our lives in faithful devotion to the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ. We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, secure justice for the oppressed, give food to the hungry, set captives free, and raise up those who are bowed down. For You are the God that we seek; for You are what our flesh and soul thirsts - like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water. And thus we gaze toward You in the sanctuary to see Your power and Your glory - for Your kindness is a greater good than life. 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, November 5, 2017

November 5, 2017
All Saints and All Souls Sunday
What if Jesus said, "I am the peach of life"? Not the bread -- the peach?

"I am the peach of life, from Xi Wang-mu's garden. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."

The communion services in churches around the world would be forever changed. Instead of squares of bread, we'd be eating slices of peaches. Of course, the breaking of the bread would be a bit of a problem physically with a peach.

But peaches have a connection to eternal life, at least in China. The peaches grown in the garden of the goddess Xi Wang-mu are an example of godly gastronomy. 

According to Chinese mythology, the gods are nourished by a steady diet of special peaches that take thousands of years to ripen. Called "the peaches of immortality," they come from Xi Wang-mu's garden, and give long life to anyone who eats them -- in fact, 3,000 years from a single peach. The goddess was famous for serving these peaches to her guests, who would then become immortal.

One time, the trickster god Monkey devoured an entire crop in one year. As punishment, he was expelled from heaven and sentenced to a lifetime of stone fruit. Bad Monkey. 

But Jesus doesn't say, "I am the peach of life." Instead, He asserts, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.The person who eats this bread is promised endless satisfaction -- freedom from hunger and thirst -- and life everlasting.

But not everyone believes what Jesus says. Some people listening to Him on the shore of the Sea of Galilee are very skeptical -- much as we are when we hear the myth of the Chinese peaches of immortality.

In particular, the Jews complain about Jesus because He said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven." They know that he's the son of Joseph and Mary, a couple of regular Galileans that they know personally. With the two of them as his parents, they wonder how he can say, "I have come down from heaven.

Good question. If the 10-year-old daughter of your next-door neighbor claims, "I have come down from heaven," you're going to assume that she has an active imagination. If the 30-year-old daughter of a neighbor says, "I have come down from heaven," you might recommend a visit to a mental health professional.She's not peaches. She's bananas.

The Jews in this passage aren't necessarily opponents of Jesus. No evidence that they're as antagonistic as the religious authorities who plan to kill Him and hand Him over to the Romans for crucifixion. These Jews are merely confused and concerned.

Maybe Jesus has been spending time with the Gentiles. After all, Galilee was a multicultural place, sometimes referred to as "Galilee of the Gentiles" (Matthew 4:15). As a resident of this region, Jesus might have heard about the Greek gods who ate sweet ambrosia, a heavenly food consumed on Mount Olympus. Some scholars think that ambrosia was honey, while others speculate that it was psychoactive mushrooms. But whatever it was, it bestowed immortality on whoever consumed it just like those wonderfully bready peaches.

But Jesus doesn't say, "I am ambrosia." Instead, He claims, "I am the bread of life." He goes on to say, "Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. This is the first clue to understanding what He's talking about: Belief is the key to receiving the benefits of the bread of life. Immortality does not come to those who eat peaches from Xi Wang-mu's garden, to those who get their hands on some sweet ambrosia or to those who grab a loaf of pumpernickel. Instead, eternal life comes from putting faith in Jesus Christ. It's not about the bread. It's about the belief.

Just a few centuries after Jesus said "I am the bread of life," Saint Augustine preached about the connection between faith and the bread of life. In a sermon on Holy Communion, he says, "What you see is the bread and the chalice; that is what your own eyes report to you. But what your faith obliges you to accept is that the bread is the body of Christ and the chalice the blood of Christ."

With your eyes you see bread, of course. But with your faith you receive the body of Christ.

So Jesus is inviting us to believe in Him and to receive the eternal life that He offers us. "I am the bread of life," He says to the Jews by the Sea of Galilee. "Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. The ancient Israelites ate the bread that God gave them, but it was physical bread -- the kind that you can see with your eyes and taste in your mouth.

In contrast, Jesus offers the gift of himself -- living bread. "This is the bread that comes down from heaven," he explains, "so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” So, the second clue that Jesus offers is that living bread is not bread at all -- it's a living person. He does not want the Jews to get stuck on the idea of physical bread, even though they know the amazing story of manna in the wilderness.Don't get distracted, says Jesus. Remember: Belief is the key. And if you want to see living bread, look to me.

"Whoever eats of this bread will live forever," promises Jesus; "and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. Jesus wants us to believe in Him and to take Him into ourselves, much as we would eat a piece of bread, digest it and incorporate it into our bodies. Jesus invites us to trust that he is the living bread that has come down from heaven -- bread that is broken in communion, just as Christ's body is broken on the cross. 

These words echo earlier lines from the gospel of John, when "the Word became flesh and lived among us, and when "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.

Bread. Flesh. Life of the world. Love for the world. The bread that Jesus gives for the life of the world is nothing less than his very own flesh.

There are many stories about heavenly beings and food, but most of them involve the gods taking something instead of giving something. In China, the trickster god Monkey devoured an entire crop of the peaches of immortality. In the Australian outback, a gluttonous god named Luma-luma took more food than his fair share at local feasts. He was shunned for this behavior, but then went too far. After raiding a mortuary for a snack, the tribesmen banded together and drove him into the sea.

But Jesus is all about giving, not takingAnd so, this is the third clue for us to see. The bread that he gives for the life of the world is his very own flesh -- the body of Christ, broken for us. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.

It all begins with belief.

We then discover that living bread is not bread at all. Instead, the bread of life is a flesh-and-blood person. In Jesus we see God at work, offering people the nourishment they need for life. He teaches, preaches, heals, helps, forgives and guides. He's our most fundamental spiritual food group, the one who speaks, according to his disciple Peter, "the words of eternal life.Without this bread, our souls will surely starve.

Finally, Jesus is all about giving, not taking. We see Him offering his welcome to tax collectors, his healing to lepers, his blessing to children, his forgiveness to sinners and a feast of fish and bread to thousands of hungry people. As his disciples, we're challenged to take the same actions by showing hospitality to the strangers at our doors, supporting medical missions to underserved communities, helping children to feel welcome in worship, offering forgiveness to the people who hurt us and feeding the hungry families who are living all around us.

Believe. Look to Jesus. Give. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.

That's a menu for eternal life. That is our message on this All Saints and All Souls Sunday – That all who have gone before us are actually still alive – They are in their mansions in heaven enjoying all there is to offer, all the while helping to keep watch all those of us left behind. 
Let us pray.
That the church will be fervent and diligent in proclaiming the Gospel of the Lord. We pray to the Lord. (Lord hear our prayer.)
That those who hold public office will imitate the goodness of God, who secures justice and the rights of all the oppressed. We pray to the Lord
For blessings on all our nation’s veterans, and for the protection of those who serve our country’s military. We pray to the Lord. 
For the relief of those around the world who are victims of war, human trafficking, drug running, and slave labor. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week to be humble in our dealings with others. We pray to the Lord
For those victims this week who have died or been seriously injured by various shootings and terrorist attacks; that they might be protected and healed and demand that the world’s governments will come together and find a way to end these atrocious acts. We pray to the Lord.
For the many people who use their constitutional right to have guns to kill other people senselessly, that our own government will come to the realization that something more needs to be done to protect her citizens than blanketly allow every person to have a gun simply because do not have proper statutes in place to protect the general public from those who intend great harm on their neighbor. We pray to the Lord. 
That the various terrorist and/or religious fanatics will come to a better understanding of what our Creator wants and learn not to kill innocent people to merely get their message across or to somehow fulfill their belief of doing something in faith. We pray to the Lord.
For all the souls who have gone on to heaven before us that they may be peace and rest and in the glorious happiness of your kingdom. We pray to the Lord.
Please hear our prayer for the 4 shooting deaths here in the USA since last Sunday and  for the 26 others who were wounded in the same shootings. And be beg You, dear Lord, hear us and help the world to better brotherly love is severely lacking as shown in the 115 deaths from terrorist attacks throughout the world and the 119 injured. We especially pray for the 8 killed and 12 injured in the attack on New York City this week. We pray to the Lord.
Heavenly father, help us know the shortness of our life that we may gain wisdom of heart. Help us to know that all humanity is bound together by the common mortality in which Christ Jesus came to share. With us He died, so that in Him we might rise to everlasting life. Let us learn from those who have gone before us how to live well so that we may die well, and let us accompany them on their journey with our love and prayer. We ask all this through Christ our Lord. Amen