Sunday, March 26, 2017

March 26, 2017
Refreshment Sunday (Fourth Sunday in Lent)
Today, as everyone most likely noticed, we had a long Gospel reading again – similar to last Sunday. And after such a long Gospel, I gave an even longer sermon last week. Well, you can relax. Although, today’s first paragraph from the Gospel in itself provokes a great deal of thought in me, I decided to save for a later time for my series of sermons I plan to do on the topic of suffering and the like. So, unless I get carried away, you’re getting a tiny break today.
Each one of us decides with what kind of spirit we will go through life: critical, complaining, condemnatory, or celebrating. We are all either the glass is half full or the glass is half empty type category of people.
John's story of the healed blind man's reception among his friends, family and the Pharisees suggests that there are four different ways to respond to life. We can be nit-pickers, wound-lickers, goodness-sakers or arm-wavers. Out of the same situation, considering the same circumstances, there can be four entirely different reactions.

Let’s start with Nit-Pickers: Anyone who has ever had a child come home from school with a note proclaiming that the notorious head louse has once again made an appearance knows all about the phrase "nit-picking." Each "nit," or tiny egg of the louse, must be meticulously combed, picked or pulled from the single strand of hair it is attached to. The fact that this procedure must be carried out on a squealing, enraged, probably embarrassed six-year-old only makes the task that much more unpleasant.

Unfortunately, many people have perfected the art of nit-picking so competently that they feel compelled to demonstrate their skill on every situation in their lives. Nit-pickers are always noting what is wrong with something and someone rather than what is right. They can't enjoy anything, especially anything that has a flaw in it. With little sense of humor these pickiness-people are always looking for spiritual or theological or moral "gotchas" to flaunt at others. The nit-pickers in John's story of the blind man's healing are the Pharisees at the first inquisition. Instead of rejoicing with the man at the miracle of regained sight, they can only focus on the possible Torah infringements that might have made it possible.

An accomplished nit-picker can burst any celebratory balloon. "The wedding was so beautiful; such a shame the groom couldn't have lost a few pounds for the occasion." "Congratulations on your new promotion. But you've still got an awful lot of the ladder to climb, don't you?" "The new sanctuary looks wonderful. Of course, we'll probably never grow enough to fill it or pay for it!" Deflating joy, tarnishing triumphs - that's what nit-pickers do best. Many of us fall into this category, and we may not even realize it until we make an intended effort to be sure we don’t.

Now Wound-Lickers: Remember getting a mosquito bite or a small scratch when you were a kid and then having to listen to your parents' repeated, "now don't pick at it." Of course, they had to keep telling you because there is something self-destructively fascinating about an open wound. We are drawn to it, we want to mess with it, re-examine it, and pull off the scab a little at a time to see how it is healing. But this fixation can easily lead to infection - even to death.

Veterinarians must go to ridiculous-looking extremes to discourage this self-destructive instinct in their patients. In dogs and cats, repetitive, damaging wound-licking can undo in a matter of minutes all the work a vet has put in on a patient for days. The last surgery Bene had, I insisted on wire stiches instead of staples or thread, just for this reason. Although, the incision was on his back this last time and he thus could not reach it, I was well aware of how Mickey would take matters in his own hands – err, paws. Good thing to, because he tried, or at least until his tongue did not like the wire. Sometimes we try to help where is not needed or even could be unnecessarily dangerous.

When the Pharisees call the healed man's parents as possible witnesses against his previous condition of blindness, they are being wound-lickers. They cannot leave the situation alone, but return to it, trying to expose some imagined wrongfulness. These Pharisees do not even realize that the wound they are re-opening is the gaping hole of their own ignorance and spiritual bankruptcy.

As for Goodness-sakers: Remember the old story about the mother who had to leave her two young children alone in the house for a few minutes? Before leaving, she sternly ordered the children, "Now don't put beans up your noses while I'm gone!" Left to their own devices it probably would have taken an eternity before those kids would have come up with such a bizarre idea, but since their mother had singled it out as an especially obnoxious act, the children were inspired. Of course, when their mother returned home, she found two children rolling around in pain with beans firmly stuffed up their noses.
There is a distinct category of people who inspire similar kinds of contrary behavior in most of us. These are the "goodness-sakers" - those self-appointed crusaders for the promotion of righteousness. They consider themselves - and let all the rest of us know it - to be super-spiritual. Historian H. G. Wells complained about people he called "the goodness-sakers." These were people who stood around saying, "For goodness sake, why doesn't somebody do something." Or "For goodness sake, look at what they're doing."

Few people can be as infuriating and sin-provoking as goodness-sakers. Smart-aleck remarks and visions of dirty tricks seem to float to the top of our minds all by themselves as we listen to the platitudes and puffed-up piety goodness-sakers blow at us. The Pharisees in John's story haughtily invoke their relationship to Moses as a sign of their spiritual superiority. The healed man, who had shown great self-control up to this point, is at last driven to jab back at these upright, up-tight self-appointed guardians of do-gooding. As usual with goodness-sakers, however, they don't even get the point of the sarcasm directed their way.

And finally Arm-Wavers: Thank heaven that besides the nit-pickers, wound-lickers and goodness-sakers there are also arm-wavers. These are the people that celebrate victories and lend support in times of defeat. Arm-wavers hoot and holler when their child's Little League team wins the big game - but they also give great hugs and "it's O.K." looks when the team loses 10 in a row. It's not that arm-wavers don't see all the imperfections in that hand-knit size 98 sweater or in life. It's just that they focus on all the beauty that surrounds the flaws instead of the flaws themselves.

It is amazing how arm-wavers are absent for so long from John's story of the healed blind man. Here is a stunning miracle - a man blind since birth suddenly given sight - and no one celebrates. His neighbors are doubtful; his parents are worried about the religious and legal ramifications, while the Pharisees find the whole episode threatening and foreboding. Not until the healed man himself finally realizes who Jesus is and what his presence means do we get the first sign of arm-waving. Indeed, when Jesus' identity finally sinks in, the man offers a full body-wave - he falls on his knees and worships the "Lord".
We can all fall into one or more of these categories. It is up to us to accept the real good in the world and not expect perfection in others. It is up to us to accept the blessings and good that happens without finding something wrong with it. Accept life’s graces as they come and be grateful for the little things in life, that when accepted, can be far greater than the hurts and failures we might have.
Let us pray.
Father God, we often have miracles, graces and little blessings in life, but we allow them to be over shadowed by what we can find wrong. Help us to look at life as You would have us to.
Father, we all fall into a category of “Nit-Pickers”, “Wound-Lickers”, “Goodness-Sakers” or “Arm-Wavers.” In and of themselves, none of us who fall into this category may think of ourselves as negative Nancy’s party crashers, but we often do this with mostly good intention. However, Father Your Son wanted us to learn that this is not how it should be. We should find happiness and goodness in big and small things.
We all make mistakes and we are all flawed. Helps us, dear Lord, to accept this, but to also try to find good in everything just as You did upon creation of the world. Healing on the Sabbath may seem bad, because it is perceived work. However, Your Son showed that not all should be considered work, and even if it might be work, we must be practical and realize some work has to be done for the betterment of mankind. If this were not so, then the miracle of the Eucharist would not be here for us each Sunday. However, You commanded it, so it is not work, but grace, goodness and blessing in its purest form. Through Christ our Lord, Amen
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

March 19, 2017
The Third Sunday in Lent
Today’s Gospel passage is one of my favorite passages. Over the years I have caught myself often quoting it using it as is an example for our branch of Catholicism. But given the events over the past year in the Roman Catholic Church, and especially three of its cardinals who seem to be causing the controversythe subjects on the matter of family, irregular families, irregular marriages, divorced and remarried members and the like, it has come to be a popular discussion topic in church circles. 
As you may know, Amoris Laetitia [The Joy of Love] is a post-synodal apostolic exhortation by Pope Francis. It was released in early 2016, and it follows the Synods on the Family held in 2014and 2015 by a number of cardinals within the church. This document, in essence, gives priests the ability to hear confessions from those who have gone through divorce and thus which may lead to them being allowed to go to communion again. But, I shall get into more of that later.
Some of us are well aware that within the Roman Catholic Church, when someone gets a divorce and then remarries, so doing essentially is an automatic excommunication from the church. And thus they are no longer allowed the sacraments. Of course the largest sacrament that seems to make the news on this topic is in regard to being allowed to go to communion. 
The premise being, of course as we all know, is that divorce is considered a mortal sin. It is deduced this by the fact that one of the Ten Commandments basically says that thou shall not commit adultery. Any time you divorce someone then remarry and have sexual relations with that new partner, you are committing a mortal sin. To be in a state of mortal sin and take communion is a horrible sacrilege. 
Further the church uses Matthew 19:3-9 as its basis, “Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?  So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.  I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery. This would certainly imply that Jesus is reinforcing this understanding of that particular commandment. No argument there. 
Now let’s look at today’s reading of the Gospel of John (4:5-42)
Let’s put it in perspective a little bit. If you were to look at geographical locations of the major players within Judaism during the time of Jesus, you would discover that you have Galilee; Samaria is located south of Galilee; and Judea is south of Samaria.
Samaritans believe they are Israelite descendants of the Northern Israelite tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, who survived the destruction of Samaria by the Assyrians in 722 BCE. There appears to be some discrepancy between those who remain faithful Jews and those who were split up into a different land and became known as the Samaritans as to what the real cause was. However, the eventual result was that the new settlers worshiped both the God of the land and the gods from the countries from which they came, and for our purposes became known as the Samaritans. 
Now, because of the separation, those who still refer to themselves as Jews, whenever they needed to get from Galilee to Judea, or Judea to Galilee, they would not travel through Samaria. They would not do so because it would be almost like desecrating themselves by coming in contact with these people and Samaria. One must keep in mind that the Jews adhered rather strenuously to the various holiness codes that are in the Hebrew Bible.
And so we read today that Jesus, instead of going around as most Jews would, chose to go through Samaria. This is significant for a couple of reasons. As we know Jesus was not afraid to be somewhat of a radical and thus would frequently speak and meet with those who were considered outcasts. And in his travel he comes across this well. And we are told it’s Jacob’s well. And the time is high noon. Almost sounds like a Western movie.
And we see that the disciples had gone into town to buy some food, which apparently had left Jesus on his own. And while he was at the well the Samaritan woman came to the well to draw water. And as Jesus is known for doing, he chooses a topic of conversation that would have some form of common denominator between He and the person he is speaking to. And so he starts up a conversation about needing a drink of water.She was coming to draw some water, and he must have been thirsty from his long trek. 
And we immediately see the prejudice between the two peoples. The woman immediately asked how is it that a Jew will ask a Samaritan for a drink of water? It’s just not something that is done! It would almost be like Donald Trump asking Barack Obama for help! 
And of course in Jesus’s usual way, he merely explains to the woman that if she knew who it was asking for this water that she would ask him for water that could come from the fountain of living water. She doesn’t appear to understand. She even becomes a little bit rude and mocks him by basically telling him that he doesn’t have a bucket, so what is he expecting to do, because surely he’s not going to share her bucket! Just where are you going to get this water?
But Jesus knows human carnal desires and tells her of the great experience one would have and get from the water that he would give. She still doesn’t quite get it but asks for some, thinking it would satisfy a normal thirst. It is quite apparent she has no clue what type of thirst Jesus is implying here.
So Jesus changes his approach. He says to her to go tell her husband. Now as we all know from reading this passage, we can tell that Jesus is very well aware of her situation, however he asks her to go tell her husband anyway knowing he would get a response that he needs. He knew her heart and everything about her. He was reminding her of her behavior and her life thus far, but in a delicate way. He approaches it much like a parent would when they’re trying to get their child to admit to doing something without actually telling the child that they already know what it is that they have done.
She responds she has no husband. This is just a scandal upon scandal. But Jesus doesn’t condemn her or belittle her; he continues in his delicate way and turns what she says into a truth. He doesn’t want her to be lying on top of the issue of how many husbands she has had, so he helps her out. And he tells her that she is spoken the truth and that she indeed has no husband, fore she has had five previous husbands, and is now living with a man who is not her husband. 
Now, the Samaritan woman, being caught in her horrible sin, does what most anyone else would do when they have been caught - she changes the topic. She changes the topic by saying I see that you are a prophet. And because you are prophet I want to know if we should worship on our mountain or should we worship in your Jerusalem?
Jesus basically says neither. Worship of the Father isn’t about whether it’s on a mountain or in Jerusalem; it’s about our understanding of who God is. That God is spirit and that we should worship in spirit and truth. God is everywhere; whether it be in our little chapel here or in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. And she tells him that she is aware that the Messiah will come and will tell them everything they need to know at that time.
So imagine how she must’ve felt when Jesus said, I am He!Let’s face it, if you are down at the local Albertson’s buying some bottled waterand some man came up to you and had a similar conversation with you as Jesus had with the Samaritan woman and then proceeded to tell you that he was the Messiah,and he had given you enough information to make you believe it- you would probably faint. What a spectacle it would be!
This encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman is actually very significant. So significant, because over the years I have felt it shows the true mercy of Jesus. It shows Jesus’ willingness to go beyond cultural norm and prejudices. Jesus complete understanding of the human condition. Even when it comes to breaking the laws the He as God made for us to follow. Jesus wants us to cross cultures and prejudices and minister with mercy.
Jesus’ disciples come back and basically are completely taken back that Jesus is a) talking to a woman and b) that it’s a Samaritan woman! But there are a few other significant things about this situation. We know she went back into town to tell others of her encounter with Jesus. But who does she go back into town to tell? She doesn’t go back in town to tell the gossiping women. No, she goes back and tells all the men!
Now course this is significant for a number of things. Some we know and some we surmise. First, we know that usually men will not take the word of a woman in this particular time in history. It was not right to listen to women in this cultural time. Secondly, we surmise she goes back to tell the men because there probably many of them are secret boyfriends. Now,granted I’m being somewhat sarcastic, but based on what we know of this story to some degree this is probably true. Instead of now leading these men into evil by sleeping with them, she leads them to good by bringing them to the Lord!
Also, wlater see that the men say to her that they now believe her after actually seeing him and listening to him, which is basically say they did not believe her at first. Why then did they follow her? Because she was the town harlot! 
We also know that she would not tell the women. We have learned that she does not have a very appropriate life. She is a sinful woman. The other women in town do not want to associate with her because of this and because she is an outcast. And this would explain why she was at the well at high noon. It’s the hottest time of the day in a very hot country. In that culture in that time, they would go to well either early in the morning or later in the evening and most often it was the women and they would normally go in a group. So the Samaritan woman was being ostracized, and she knew this. So she went to the men.
Now, as I was saying, this encounter of Jesus with Samaritan woman is very significant. I mentioned earlier the struggle the Roman Catholic Church is going through - or rather a few bishops and cardinals - over the recent exhortation for Pope Francis in the dealing with divorced members of the church. I think it is great that the Pope is telling the church to minister with mercy. Jesus tried telling his Apostles this two millennia ago. 
We all know the divorce is wrong, but we also know that no matter how wrong it may be, we know that as flawed humans, some of us are going to experience divorce. In some cases, divorce is very much warranted. 
The church over the years has always taught that you need to be sure that you’re ready for marriage before you enter into it. In many Catholic parishes if you want to be married in that particular church you normally would have to go through a six month period of marriage encounters to help prepare you for your marriage and with the expectation of you and your future spouse not living together prior to the actual marriage
Of course I’m not saying any of these things are necessarily wrong or bad because they have their value most certainly. We too have a program of something similar to a marriage encounter before a couple would normally be married by me. Marriage should be taken seriously. 
However, the Roman Catholic Church is the largest Christian denomination in the world, and as such it feels it has an obligation to protect the sanctity of marriage. Very noble and I will not fault with them for that. All the while almost every other Christian denomination has come to a point where they have learned to accept divorce as something relatively common in society today, and yet find value in ministering to these people still without making them miss out on the sacraments.They do not trivialize marriage and divorce; not at all. They merely know that divorce will happen, and we have a responsibility to help those who go thru it, or leave them at the curb. 
Divorce is a sad situation, yes. I don’t claim to have an answer to helping to decrease it, especially in the society we have today with the instant gratification of the internet. But I do feel that Pope Francis and most especially Jesus is trying to tell ussomething.
As I mentioned earlier Jesus did say the divorce was wrong. But we can see by his interaction with the Samaritan woman that Jesus is full of understanding and mercy. People are flawed. People are sinners. The church must do everything she can to help these people and hopefully steer them onto a life that will be less flawed and less sinful. Premarital encounters prior to marriage and counseling during are of great importance.
However, we also must keep in mind that that are various situations and circumstances within everyone’s life that are difficult to avoid and difficult to rectify. Divorces are going to happen. As such, the church needs to follow Jesus’s example and be there for them when that divorce does happen. Time in and time out, Jesus spoke of the laws, but also that we must minister to those who have not lived up to the ideal of those laws. 
The Sacraments were not created by the church or Jesus to be used as some sort of disciplinary tool to make sure everyone toes the line of every rule that may be out there. As we can see by Jesus’s treatment of this woman at the well, as well as, the woman caught in adultery earlier in Jesus’s ministry when the townspeople were chasing this adulterous woman to Jesus and basically asked Jesus if she is to be stoned as in accordance tothe law. And Jesus basically tells them, “You without any sin throw the first stone. And they all walk away. Jesus asks the woman if there is no one to condemn her, and when she says,no one sir. Jesus says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”
Jesus and his interaction with these two women isn’t to say that he agrees with divorce or that what they’ve done is right, but by helping them acknowledge their sinhe basically is saying that in and of itself their humiliation is enough and the lesson has been learned. 
Now, within our branch of Catholicism, we have never excommunicated anyone over divorce. I have always allowed and will continue to allow anyone who is divorced and even remarried to approach the Sacraments of the church. If they have a serious sin on their soul, of course I have an obligation to counsel them in the right direction first, but they will not be denied the hope and help that can only come from the Sacraments of the Church.
As an example, if a couple came to me to be married and one of them was previously divorced, I would sit down with that individual to be sure that they’re in the right frame of mind to be married once again and that this marriage will be one that will last. I would not be doing my job as a pastor if I didn’t.
I am not about to tell someone that they cannot have confessionand absolution because to their having been divorced and been remarried. The Sacrament of Reconciliation was made for such as this. Christ made it clear to his Apostles, “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 18:18) “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” (John 20:23)
Is not a divorce sin? And as such isn’t it one that should be confessed? And once confessed shouldn’t it be forgiven? The premise behind the Sacrament of Absolution for the church is that once one comes to you and confesses a sin - and they are truly sorry for committing a sin - as a priest I’m obligated to give them their absolution. And as such it should not be held. Now if the person were someone like Elizabeth Taylor and probably had been married a dozen times or something, that might be a different situation. But the average everyday individual who is going to walk into this chapel is not going to have that situation and they are not going to be like the Samaritan woman. Even if so, who am I to judge, as Pope Francis once said? It is for God to judge, not a priest, bishop or otherwise. We should counsel and correct, yes. But, never judge.That is the Universal Catholic Church. That is St. Francis. Ministering in the imitation of Christ.
And so this church will always minister with mercy. This church will always understand the human condition. This church will always welcome with open arms those people who are living in certain situations that might seem wrong or odd to other people. Jesus made it emphatically clear that we should not judge one another. That we should help one another. Medical science and psychiatric science have validated that there are certain life situations that are nearly unavoidable. And as such the churches need to learn to get with the times. 
I don’t mean to say that the church should base its teachings on how society lives, but that the church should emphasize its teachings in a manner that is in understanding with that which is very hard to change. If a woman divorced her husband because she was beaten every day of her life, I am hardly going to insist that she needed to stay in that marriage and that she somehow is now a sinful woman because she got a divorce from this obviously abusive man. And medical and psychiatric science would agree with me. 
I know this is a difficult topic for many and seems to be in contrast to what the Church has taught for a millennia, but Pope Francis feels otherwise, and frankly so do I. I am not advocating divorce, merely offering mercy to those who come to divorce because it became the only recourse they have in a troubled life. Absolutely no one should be happy in divorce, but neither should they be forced to wallow in self-hate and be in disgrace when one goes to the Church seeking help.
Let us follow Jesus’ example today, and remember that it is the Father’s job to judge; it is our job to treat everyone with mercy, love and respect following Jesus’ example. As Jesus said, “With God, all things are possible.” 
Let us pray.
Father God, You gave the laws to Moses for which we are to abide by in our living. The laws are broken down to how we treat each other and how we are revere You as our Holy God. 
In the span of our human lives, we in our flawed way of livingoften break those laws. Sometimes intentionally, but most often unintentionally. In living our lives, we often do not want to commit the sins that we commit. Yet, our impulses take over and our gratification of the moment rules the day. We look back, with despair, seeing the wreckage we have left behind wishing we could undo the wrong. You, however, offer Your open arms like that of the father of the prodigal son. 
Your Holy Church, using the words of Your Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, has instituted divine Sacraments for the betterment of Your people. One of these Sacraments, that of Reconciliation, is an instrument in which You bring us to You, through Your priests, to confess our sins and flaws and seek guidance in life.You showed the Israelites that they must make atonement for their sins, so You have done for us today.
Father, we ask that You bless all marriages. Fill them with love, respect and endurance to navigate the challenges that sometimes enter marriages. Empower Your priests to have words needed to help support marriages when challenges arise. And when marriages fail, as some do, give them Your peace and mercy that they so need when these marriages end. Help us all to be reconciled with You and Your Church, but most of all, let us reconcile our hearts after such a tragic event. We ask all this, through Your Son, our Lord. Amen. 
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.

Monday, March 13, 2017

March 12, 2017
The Second Sunday in Lent
Ever read the books of Leviticus and Numbers from the Bible? Laws, laws and more laws, right? Sounds like our government! Makes one wonder if it is safe at all to even get out of bed in the morning.
However, with Jesus we learn the old wheel of religious devotion now collapses and fits into the lives of those who have faith in Christ.
Inventing the wheel. The wheel is a terrific invention, one that has been incredibly popular since its debut 7,000 years ago. You'd think that an object, the essential characteristic of which is perfect roundness, could not be improved upon. If it's round, it's round. End of story.
Well, not quite. Not if you're Duncan Fitzsimons who decided he could invent a better wheel. Let’s start with his story and then see if there's a better way to be holy than the tried-and-true "keep the law, keep the law, keep the law."

From Sumerian carts to American cars, wheels have kept us moving forward. I think we all agree on that. They are critical to the operation of almost any form of transportation -- planes, trains, automobiles, bicycles and even unicycles.
By the way, do you know why unicyclists can always go longer than bicyclists?

Bicyclists are always two tired.

But wheels have a difficulty that has persisted over the years, despite the fact that they keep getting lighter, faster, stronger and sleeker. The problem?


Fold up a bicycle, and how small can you make it? The size of the wheel at best.

Same for wheelchairs. You might want to collapse a wheelchair and put it in an airplane's overhead bin, but you cannot do it. It doesn't get any smaller than the wheel.

At least, until now.

Designer Duncan Fitzsimons has reinvented the wheel by creating one that folds. A cycling enthusiast, he began by wanting to invent a smaller, foldable bicycle. Then, he realized that handicapped people would be helped by having wheelchairs that could collapse even smaller. The large, spoked wheels of bicycles and wheelchairs are almost universally cumbersome.

So Fitzsimons invented Morph Wheels, which fold from 24 inches wide to about half that size. These wheels are narrow enough to fit in the back of a taxi or in an airplane's overhead bin. They are made of glass-filled nylon and can be attached to any wheelchair with a quick-release axle. Just go to: and look for yourself.

After 7,000 years, the wheel has been reinvented. And we all said it couldn’t be done!

Now some might think that foldable wheels are frivolous, like the invention that comedian Steve Martin came up with a generation ago: foldable soup. Possibly you know of it, from his book Cruel Shoes: "First prepare the soup of your choice and pour it into a bowl. ... Then, with a knife cut the soup down the middle into halves, then quarters, and gently reassemble the soup into a cube. ... Place the little packet in your purse or inside coat pocket, and pack off to work."

Ridiculous, right? Well, you might feel the same way about foldable wheels until you find yourself on an airplane, in a wheelchair, staring at an overhead bin. Then you'll be glad that the wheel has been reinvented.

Then there is the round wheel of works-righteousness.

Let’s face it. We all want to travel on a highway of holiness, right? And we're accustomed to doing so by slapping on the round wheels of right-living as law-abiding observers of the righteous commandments of God. As we should. No problem there.

But Jesus comes into the picture and has a whole new idea. He folds this wheel in half. He does something radical. Doesn't get rid of the wheel, but gives us a whole new perspective on it.

For thousands of years, the term "righteousness" was associated with a list of “thou shall and thou shall nots” that people are supposed to do. Righteous people were men and women who did, or who tried to do, everything on the list.
"Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and your law is the truth" (Psalm 119:142). Proverbs tells us that "the righteous hate falsehood" (13:5), "the thoughts of the righteous are just" (12:5) and "the desire of the righteous ends only in good" (11:23).

Righteousness means doing the right things. When we behave in this way, promises Proverbs, everything "ends only in good."

In other words, we're riding to glory on the wheels of law and order snapped to an axle of obedience ... and the grind goes on: from law to righteousness and law to righteousness.

Problem is, we all experience an inner conflict between the law of God and the law of sin. Instead of doing good, we do evil. Instead of being righteous, we behave in ways that are unrighteous. In different chapters from that which we read today, his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul says, "There is no one who is righteous, not even one" (3:10). Looking inward, he confesses, "I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do" (7:18-19).

There must be a better way. And fortunately Paul finds it. He reinvents the wheel. The folded wheel of faith

Paul asks, "What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about". Paul is aware that many people saw the righteousness of Abraham in his works, in the things he did in obedience to God. The apostle James suggests that "our ancestor Abraham [was] justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar” (2:21). God stopped Abraham from sacrificing Isaac, after God saw Abraham’s faith in his willingness to sacrifice his son as God asked. How many of us would go as far as Abraham did if asked by God?

To be justified is to be declared righteous. And when looking at Abraham, you might think that his works are what justify him and make him a good guy.

But Paul grabs this old wheel and collapses it. He quotes the Scripture which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness" (v. 3, quoting Genesis 15:6). He sees that it was Abraham's faith that made him righteous, not his works.

This development is as shocking as the invention of the Morph Wheel. After years of assuming that Abraham was "justified by works", Paul discovers that he was justified through "the righteousness of faith". Suddenly righteousness can be gained by all who "share the faith of Abraham", even if they are not able to follow God's law to the letter. The cumbersome wheelchair of religious devotion now collapses and fits into the lives of all who have faith in Christ.

For Paul, this is not just wishful thinking. It is grounded in the solid foundation of Holy Scripture. "For the promise that Abraham would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or his descendants through the law," he explains, "but through the righteousness of faith".

Abraham had faith, and so can we. His willingness to believe is what makes him right with God.

Faith is the reinvented wheel that we all need to be riding. When we put our faith in Jesus, we are declared righteous by God. As Paul says to the Romans, "We hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law". This all is made possible by the God who has sent Jesus to make everything right in the world, beginning with our relationship with God.

God's life-giving victory is a great ride, one that connects us to God, Jesus and the people around us in a web of right relationships. It's a ride in which we take on the wheel called faith.

So what does it feel like to ride this reinvented wheel? Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun, says that faith "is beyond denominational purity, more than religious devotion, more than saintly rigor. Faith rests in the arms of God, trusts today and accepts tomorrow because faith knows that whatever the day, God is in it."

Faith is not about purity, devotion, rigor or law, law, law. Instead, it's a willingness to trust God and rest in God's arms. It's a decision to trust Jesus and walk behind him on the path of life. Faith is a willingness to lean on a power much greater than ourselves, and to trust that whatever lies ahead, "God is in it."

Abraham is an example of the "faith" wheel.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul tells us that Abraham put this kind of trust in God. "He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead," says Paul later in verse 19, "or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb". Instead, Abraham trusted God to be the one "who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist". And sure enough, God did what had been promised, and made Abraham "the father of many nations".

When we have this kind of faith, we're made right with God -- both now and eternally. We trust God to work through us, even when our bodies begin to fail us. We trust Jesus to lead us, even when we wander through a thicket of difficult moral choices in school or at work. We trust the Holy Spirit to uplift us, even when our careers disappoint us and our friends let us down.

Being righteous in these situations doesn't come from moral perfection. Instead, it's based on taking a ride on the wheel called faith.

So what do our lives look like when we're riding on this reinvented wheel? Building on last week’s sermon, the Protestant reformer Martin Luther said that "good works do not make a good man, but a good man does good works." He knew that only our faith in Jesus Christ could make us good in the eyes of God, but once we're right with God then our job is to go out and do the right things. So good Christians behave in ways that are compassionate, kind, humble, patient, loving and forgiving -- they do this not because they are naturally such wonderful people, but because Jesus has already forgiven them. "Forgive each other," says Paul to the Colossians; "just as the Lord has forgiven you" (3:13).

Compassion, kindness, humility, patience, love, forgiveness -- all of these qualities begin with Jesus, and they become ours when we trust in him.

The wheel of faithful living has been turning since the time of Abraham, and it was reinvented by Paul when he discovered that we're made righteous through faith. So let us trust God's Son Jesus, and roll into the future knowing that we're right with God and right with one another. If we wait until we are ready, we’ll be waiting the rest of our lives.
Let us pray.
Father God, many of us often leave Your Word wondering how can we keep all the “thou shall and thou shall nots” that we must do. Yet, You realized this and sent Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ to bring us our salvation first, then You sent Paul to help us see how through Christ, we can live through all the laws, laws, laws.
When we think of our bureaucratic states and governments, and think deep, we discover there are more laws than any human could possibly remember in a life-time. Lawyers and judges have to go back to earlier precedents and look up the laws to properly execute them. Yet, the average citizen such as all of us in this chapel, do not have an inkling about all those laws, yet we are law-abiding citizens by the state.
With this as our backdrop, help us Father to see that life in the kingdom of God is much the same. We know the basics, such as the Ten Commandments, and we know the rules of road, such as Jesus’ example to us, and by merely keeping these in mind as we treat each other, we are on the road to righteousness thru faith in Christ our Lord.
We ask You to help us reinvent our wheels that we may live a life full of righteousness and faith, in You, Your Son and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

March 5, 2017
First Sunday in Lent
If there's any more ubiquitous sound in the 21st century, it's hard to know what it would be. The clicking of a mouse and the tapping of the touch screen are the soundtracks of our daily lives. We get everything with a click -- from the news to ordering groceries to checking in with a distant friend. 

But while the Web has brought us ease of communication, it's also shouldered us with the burden of distraction. You can't read an online article, for example, without being bombarded with ads or worse, temptations to click on another article that may take you down a rabbit trail you never intended to follow.

Savvy Internet users call this "clickbait," which refers to any ad to lure us by posting sensational, salacious and seductive images and teasing headlines that tempt us to click on thempique your curiosity and suck you in. The headline usually doesn't deliver what it offers, and your "click" usually results in a bevy of more ads and useless information. 

For example, how about:

"Brady Bunch Secrets That Will Leave You Speechless."

"American Residents Born Between 1936 and 1966 Are in for a ..."

"What the 'Star Trek' Cast Looks Like Now Is Jaw-Dropping."

"21 Facts About the Amish Most People Don't Know." 

Click on any of those and you've burned an hour without even realizing it.

It's no wonder, then, that the devil himself is a master of clickbait. He's always trying to get people distracted from what really matters, he doesn't deliver on what he promises and he plays havoc with people who are driven by emotion rather than by faith. Biblically speaking, there's no greater example of how his clickbait strategy works than the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. The way he refused to click on it can teach us a lot about dealing with temptation in our own lives.

The way Matthew tells the story of Jesus is very Jewish. There are echoes of the Old Testament all the way through his gospel, and here in chapter 4 we hear it very clearly. Jesus goes into the desert for 40 days, which is emblematic of the 40 years that the Israelites spent wandering in the desert before entering the promised land, but even more a reminder of the 40 days Moses spent on Mount Sinai to receive God's commandments (Exodus 24:18). In spite of the fact that God was present with them in cloud and fire and in the tabernacle, the Israelites still wrestled with what it meant to be God's people and gave in to temptation. (In fact, that's what "Israel" means: one who "wrestles with God.")

Matthew sets the scene of Jesus' own temptation in the wilderness using this imagery, and the temptations of Jesus reflect the temptations of Israel in the desert. The devil shows up to offer Jesus some salacious shortcuts for his ministry, which will reflect the mission of Israel, beginning each one with "If you are the Son of God ..." The question is whether Jesus will click on any of the devil's bait. Let us look at the three temptations of Jesus in clickbait form.

Clickbait Headline 1: "Making bread out of stones? The shocking dietary revolution that will change your life!" 

The devil's first piece of clickbait is to get Jesus to use his power to transform stones into bread. That must have been a real temptation for one who was "famished" after 40 days without food, but it's an even bigger temptation when put into context.

Many Jews in Jesus' day were hoping for a new exodus out of their practical slavery under Roman occupation. They were looking for a messiah who looked a lot like a new version of Moses, complete with God's provision of manna from heaven. Turning stones into bread would be a sure sign for the people that the messiah they were looking for had finally arrived. Satan wants Jesus to conform to the people's expectations. Why not? We expect the same! We want God to conform to our ideals.

Of course, we know that Jesus was quite capable of pulling off this miraculous recipe there in the desert. He would turn water into wine; he could certainly turn stones into bread. Elementary. All four gospels report that he could feed 5,000-plus people with just five loaves of bread and two fish, which was a sign of God's provision throughout his ministry. In John's version of that particular story, the people wanted to "take him by force and make him king" because of this miraculous multiplication of bread, indicating that their vision of the Messiah was one who could give them the manna they wanted (John 6:1-15). But John also tells us that, in response, Jesus "withdrew again to the mountain by himself" rather than take the bait. 

Jesus understood, however, that this clickbait temptation was about focusing on the product rather than the source. The Israelites wandering in the desert eventually got sick of eating manna day after day and whined to go back to Egypt where the menu had more variety (Numbers 11:1-6). They ignored the fact that God was the one keeping them alive and leading them toward the Promised Land. Bread alone wasn't enough to keep the people satisfied after all. 

Jesus responded to the devil by quoting Moses' own warning to the people: "God humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Deuteronomy 8:3). Jesus was not dependent on his own ability to provide for himself and his people, but on God's provision and on God's promises. He knew that the devil's temptation was to produce a product rather than rely on the ultimate source from whom every good thing comes. Both he and his people needed more than a steady diet of bread -- they needed a steady diet of God and the Word to sustain them for the long haul. 

We're tempted to seek the quick and easy route to fill our empty bellies and empty souls. We fill up on products, both spiritual and material, that satisfy our need for a while. Jesus invites us to consider that the only thing that will truly satisfy us is the presence of God who supplies all that we need. That's the reason Jesus will later tell his disciples to pray for their "daily bread," and not for bread for a lifetime. When we feed on the Word of God and the Bread of Life, we are on a diet that brings health for eternity!

Clickbait Headline 2: "Man jumps from incredible height with no parachute. You won't believe what happens next!" 

The devil's second clickbait temptation was to get a kind of YouTube video of Jesus jumping off the pinnacle of the temple into the Kidron Valley with no net and no chute. The fall would have meant certain death, but the devil was certain that Jesus could land unscathed. 

Such a video would have gone viral instantly and ensured Jesus' celebrity status among all the people, not just the scraggly band of disciples and hangers-on who followed him around. The devil even tries to bait Jesus by using Scripture, quoting Psalm 91:11-12 to pump up the fact that God would provide an angelic safety net for the jump: "For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone".

But, like a lot of clickbait of the semi-religious variety, the devil uses Scripture out of context. Psalm 91:9-10 says that God's protection is for circumstances that befall his people and not for those who stupidly test God by taking foolish risks, especially when those risks are designed to impress others. "If you make the Most High your dwelling, even the LORD, who is my refuge, then no harm will befall you". 

In response to the devil's clickbait, Jesus cites Deuteronomy 6:16 which refers to Israel's testing of God in the wilderness by complaining about their lack of water: "Do not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah." Jesus says this right to the devil's face. "You want me to jump off this pinnacle? Not going to happen. Scripture says not to test God." 

Jesus had no doubts about the presence of God. He had nothing to prove. At the very beginning of his ministry, he was convinced he was following the will of the Father. Only hours or days before, he'd been baptized in the Jordan, and the heavens had opened and he had seen the "Spirit of God descending like a dove on him. And a voice from heaven said, 'This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased'". In fact, those words are the last words of chapter 3. Immediately after those words are spoken, Jesus is led by the same Spirit to the wilderness. 

Does the devil think that Jesus might not believe that the God, who was with him in the waters of baptism just hours ago, was no longer with him now? Does the devil think that Jesus might actually test God's faithfulness and presence by flinging himself off the temple pinnacle without a birdman suit, looking like a crazed flying squirrel?

We can't know what the devil thought, but we do know what Jesus thought. It was a stupid idea to think that God was not with him. 

The lesson here is we don't tempt God; we don't test God. We don't make our plans and expect God to bless them. We don't intentionally engage in risky behavior and expect God to protect us. We don't bend Scripture to suit our purposes -- a huge temptation with respect to political issues.

Clickbait Headline 3: "The secret to world domination. It's easier than you think!" 

Every time I read of the temptations of Christ, and I am left thinking, "All the kingdoms of the world" have never really belonged to the devil, but his final offer is to make Jesus the kind of ruler the devil could live with -- one who worships him. That kind of ruler is the kind of political and military leader the world normally expects -- one who exercises power to keep everything in line without needing God's help to do it. The devil offers Jesus the world as it is and as everyone expects it to be. All he needs to do is to "fall down and worship" the devil and his way of owning and manipulating human hearts. 

But Jesus is not interested in the world as it is and as everyone expects it to be. He will come out of the wilderness preaching the reign and rule of God on the earth. This is a quite different governing system than the devil's rule. As the second person of the Trinity, He knows what was created and wants to get it back to resembling that.

The devil's kingdom is a kingdom of darkness; God's is a kingdom of light. The devil's kingdom is all about domineering authority; God's kingdom is about servanthood. The devil's kingdom is about coercion, violence and bondage; God's kingdom is about peace. The devil's kingdom is about the "pleasure principle"; God's kingdom is about holiness and right living. The devil's kingdom is based on lies and deception; God's kingdom is about the truth, which sets us free. The devil's kingdom is a culture of death; God's kingdom is a culture of life.

Jesus said that it is the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers and the persecuted who will inherit this kingdom -- those who "worship the Lord God and serve only him". When we're tempted to click on things that promote the world as the devil wants it, Jesus reminds us to turn our attention to the reality of the kingdom and not the devil's fantasy world. Jesus already rules his kingdom and calls us to join him in making it a reality on earth as it is in heaven. 

Jesus refused to be drawn in by the devil's clickbait. Interestingly, the devil, rebuffed three times, leaves Jesus alone, probably returning to Dante's Ninth Circle of Hell where he might feel more at home.

In any event, as we go about our daily lives, there are plenty of pop-up temptations that cross our paths and our screens every day. Jesus invites us to turn our attention to the wilderness, to the Word and to his wisdom. They're the only ads that really deliver!
Let us pray.
Father God, as we begin the season of Lent, help us to not only prepare for the glorious season of Easter, of which this is a precursor to, but to also help us to better prepare for the myriad of distractions that are placed on our path in our regular as well as our spiritual paths.
As with the Israelites in the desert and Moses on Mount Sinai, Jesus too went through a period of 40. Although, as Your Son, He could not be tempted in the same way, however He is indeed tempted by Satan, the father of lies and not only overcomes this, but shows by example how we should lead our lives during temptation and how living by Your Word should be valued above all else.
During these weeks ahead, help us to know we do not live on bread alone, but on every Word of God. May the Holy Spirit keep us from the temptation to put You to the test, when we fully know all we need do is to pray and You WILL answer. And lastly, help us to be involved in the reality of life by knowing the true kingdom is the kingdom of God and not the fantasy world of the devil. 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.