Sunday, April 23, 2017

April 23, 2017
Low Sunday
(First Sunday after Easter)
In Middle Eastern countries - especially in the Middle East - if you are to look up at some of the mountains, you would see a tomb or tombs. The type of tomb that people are buried in. This was relatively common in that time; there existed various grave plots, but more prominently, the dead were usually buried in a tomb in one of the mountains.                                                                                            
Tombs are a place of death. And something about them is amazing. They are the place in this world which is the most hopeless, the most depressing, the most sorrowful, the most despairing, and the most forbidden. And yet on this earth that is where something great begins. Redemption begins in a tomb.
Redemption begins. Faith begins. The Good News begins. The word of Christ the Messiah begins. Salvation begins. The Gospel begins. All this and more begins at a tomb. And who would’ve ever thought of such a thing? None of us here would think of starting our new life inside of a tomb; yet in many ways we all have.
The tomb is a place where our hopes, dreams, our life and everything ends. The tomb is a place of ending. But with God, the tomb known as the place of the end, actually becomes a great beginning.
The kingdom of God can work in unexpected ways as we’ve learned through Jesus Christ. With God, the journey does not so much go from life to death, as it does from death to life. The end is the beginning this case. And so, for any of us Christians to find our life, we must find our tomb - the tomb of Jesus Christ. We must go to a place symbolizing death for us to be able to find our life. We must go to Easter.
It is only when we come to the place of the end that we can actually find our new beginning. For it is in Christ, in the end of His life in the tomb, that we find a new beginning. It is in that tomb of hopelessness that we can find hope. It is in the place of sorrow that we find true joy. In the place of death that we are born again. So with God in a tomb we find our birth.
In the Old Testament times, as most of us know, there was a ritual in which a goat was chosen in a red thread was tied to its horn and was set free into the wilderness and called a scapegoat. This scapegoat took the sins of the Hebrews out into the wilderness. They were freed of their sins, because that scapegoat took them – all the people’s sin - out into the wilderness. And for them that was their new beginning each time this took place.
There’s something interesting, however, in Judaic history that lends credence to the story of Jesus - not intentionally mind you, but it is there. Let me explain a little.
In the holy Temple in Jerusalem, there were two partitions or barriers, if you will, to separate the holy from the unholy - or to put it another way - separating God from mankind. One of the partitions consisted of two massive doors of gold and these were the doors to the holy place. The doors separated the holy place from the temple courts. And then deeper inside was a very large veil or curtain called a parochet that separated the holy place from the holy of holies and through which only the high priest could enter on the day of atonement. The day of the scapegoat.
These two partitions would represent separating of each of us from God - the Chasm him between sinful and the most holy. And as I’ve talked recently in a couple of my sermons, the veil of the holy of holies was torn in two - torn in two from top to bottom - which as we learn could only be done by God himself for a human being could only tear it from bottom to top. It was far too large and high for a man to be able to tear it.
And all this may seem like interesting trivia to someone who’s in anthropology or history, but in reality, it’s important to us as Christians. The reason that is the case is something that is significantly implied by some things that happened. By the veil to the holy of holies being torn in two. This tearing of the veil implies the barrier that was between mankind and God was removed!
However, some might say that there’s still the second barrier; the two golden doors. These doors are a second witness to the barrier between mankind and God being removed. Let me explain it differently and show you the significance.
The holiest day on the Jewish calendar … is Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).  From the days of Aaron to AD 69 (with the exception being during the Babylonian captivity), the high priest would on this day cross over the veiled barrier and enter into the Holy of Holies and present the sacrifice on the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant in order to make atonement for the Jewish people (Leviticus 23:26-32; Leviticus 16; Exodus 30:9-10).
There are many legends about this most holy of days, including the one about the high priest having a rope around his waist.  According to the legend, the rope was used to pull the priest out if God judged him unworthy and struck him dead for his sins.  However, and regardless of the validity of the legend, the holiness of Yom Kippur required the priest/intercessor to face God with the people’s sin and allow the blood of the sacrifice to cover our errors and restore us to a right relationship with God ….  Sound like something or someone we know?
Interestingly enough, and according to Tractate Yoma 39B of the Talmud, two unique aspects of Yom Kippur observance ceased to occur around AD 30. First,  the inability to adequately select via lot the sacrificial goat for the Day of Atonement and secondly, the scarlet cord at the Temple never turned white as a sign of the forgiveness of sins.  But just what ceased to occur around that year?  What happened that would negate the necessity of another Yom Kippur sacrifice?  Jesus!
What is interesting is that there were two threads, and that their use had nothing to do with atonement. On Yom Kippur the Torah states that two goats are to be taken, one for a sacrifice to purify the tabernacle and a second to be sent into the wilderness. Tradition required one thread placed on the horns of the goat sent to the wilderness, and a second was placed around the neck of a second goat to be sacrificed in the temple. The use of the thread was not a requirement from the Tenach (Hebrew Bible) at all. It was done for a very practical reason. Since two goats were chosen for that day, and they needed to be identical, in order to know which was chosen to be sent to the wilderness and which was to be used for a sacrifice in the temple, threads were placed on them. This way one could not be mixed with the other after the process of choosing which was to be used for what purpose had been decided. One red thread was placed around the throat of the goat to be sacrificed, to show that it was to be slaughtered. The other was placed in an obvious place, to show it was to be taken out to the wilderness. The changing colors, was a miracle and not a requirement of atonement, either Biblically or Rabbinically.
When we look at these miracles we see every one of them has to do with the priests and their temple service. When the priests were righteous and led by a righteous High Priest they merited to have miracles occur for them. But, as they failed to fulfill their duties righteously and properly, they failed to have miracles performed for them. They were no longer worthy of them.

We see that all the miracles stopped during this 40 year period. What is so important about these 40 years? If one looks at the historical sources, like Josephus, we see that by that time Jerusalem looked worse then any decadent modern city, with random acts of violence being common.  Josephus describes the Sicarii, who used to mingle with the crowds and stab people with short knives killing them.  Those behind the lawlessness were the priestly class who had close relations with the Roman overlords.  Clearly no miracles could be performed for such people.
At the moment of Jesus’ death on the cross we are told the Temple veil separating the Holy of Holies from the people was torn in two from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51-53; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45).  This separation between God and mankind had been completed and/or realized with the death and resurrection of Jesus (Hebrews 9 and 10).
Jesus, while dying and living again during the spring feasts of Passover, Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits, is also our Yom Kippur sacrifice.  He offered the final sacrifice necessary for the forgiveness of sins.  He accomplished it all!
In the Talmud, the rabbis record that before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, a strange thing began to take place in the temple. The second barrier, large golden doors, began to open by themselves. The rabbis record that began to happen about 40 years before A.D. 70, which means A.D. 30. Which just happens to be the same time that Jesus died as the final atonement and thus remove the barrier between mankind and God.
The rabbis themselves bear witness concerning the removal of the second barrier, and thus, that at the time of Christ’s death, that which was separating God from mankind was removed and that the way to his presence is now open.
So, our holy Scriptures hint at something that the jewish rabbis of the time confirm. The veil was indeed torn, but they confirm something mysteriously left out of our Scriptures; that of the two gold doors opening miraculously on their own each year for 40 years. I need not explain the significance of “40” due to home many times God has required a period this long between events.
So, from our Christian perspective, we have been freed to approach God freely and without any further “sacrifice”, because Christ was the ultimate and last necessary sacrifice to free us all from our sins, inadequacies, failures and flaws. We no longer had to wait a year for our forgiveness; we merely go to the priest and ask our forgiveness from God, thru the priest.
God is always approachable. No longer do we need to wait until the “proper” time. No longer need we wait to approach God and receive the love and grace He has for each of us. Easter is our freedom; Easter is the opening of the tomb; Easter is the opening of the Holy of Holies that all may now enter – both now and in the life to come!
Let us pray.
Father God, on Easter morning we are reminded of the wonderful gift Your Son gave to each of us – freedom to approach You and freedom from our sins.
Help us to contemplate and absorb the importance of this. Thru You, miracles happen. Thru You, the miracle of Yom Kippur took place each year. Yet, at the time of Christ’s death, You changed they way a miracle took place. You wanted to show that Savior had indeed arrived, but was killed by the corrupt  authorities of the time. Further, You showed that a new priestly class was now given in the persons of the Apostles. During the 40 years after Jesus resurrection, the veils were torn and open, so that all may know that You have no barrios between us and You.
We thank You, oh Lord that You have given Yourself to us and that we need not go thru the veils to find You and receive Your grace. Help us all to know that we can approach You at anytime with out worry “red tape” keeping us from You.
Help us to continue on our Easter path and allow ourselves to be open to the nudging’s of the Holy Spirit, in subtle and not so subtle ways in which You are asking us to change and show the grace of the resurrection to others we meet. 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, April 16, 2017

April 16, 2017
Easter Sunday
Happy Easter everyone. I’m quite certain that after all the additional activities that we’ve had to participate in this morning some of you are probably hoping that I will be short winded instead of my usual long-winded. Well I’m not going to tell you you’re just going to have to sit on the cushions and get your “tusshies” comfortable. 
But seriously, it is a glorious day it should be. The remembrance of the resurrection of our Lord and the salvation that that means to us is a great day indeed. What we experienced this morning is almost like a pilgrimage of sorts, and rightly so. Our spiritual centers need to be mystically recharged each year and this is the perfect day to do it.
There is a deeply traditional pilgrimage almost all Americans feel pulled to make at least once in their lives - to America's new heartland, Disneyland or Disney World.As most of you know I tend to be somewhat of a Disney fanatic, so let’s explore today a little bit with a backdrop from Disney.

Disney's role in America's modern mythology is absolutely critical, even central. Increasingly the world sees Disney as the real symbol of America. Forget the Statue of Liberty, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights - America means Mickey Mouse. The recreational mecca called Disney World has now supplanted America's historical mecca called Washington, D.C., as the nation's most popular tourist site. Some now argue that Disneyland/World is the spirit of America, the nation's key sacred space, the bearer of the images that carry American meaning and mission.

Disney's mission statement is simple and straightforward: "Provide People Happiness." In its quest to meet this goal, Disney focuses all its energies in the realm of fantasy - convincing the whole country that to find happiness involves escaping reality.

When you visit the Disneyland, its central image is the Castle of Sleeping Beauty. Its graceful, soaring storybook towers and turrets preside over the rest of the theme park below. Yet unlike all the other attractions in this wonderland it is only a hollow shell - void of content. Except for a few novelty shops along the walkway that cuts through it, and winding passageways where the tale of Princess Aurora and the evil Maleficent is toldthis beautiful symbol of Disney's fantasy world come to life is empty. The attraction opened on July 17, 1955 with Disneyland Park. The castle’s design was based on the real Bavarian castle. Guests could not actually walk through the castle’s interior until 1957. The famed drawbridge has only been lowered twice—once at the opening of the park in 1955 and again in 1983 at the rededication of Fantasyland. Its sister castle resides in Hong Kong.

But its very emptiness is full of meaning. For that is precisely the function of Disneyland - to empty us of the harsh realities of life and render us unconscious to those things which are too hard to bear. That is part of the experience of Disney - to become "unconscious" of the real world and to enter a never-never land of fantasy and fakery. Fittingly Sleeping Beauty's Castle - a monument to a trance-like sleep - serves as the portal to this plane.

If Disney entices participants to fall asleep in order to escape life, the church's mission is to urge people to wake up - in order to experience an authentic and full existence. Easter is a revival call to all believers announcing the dawning of our new relationship with God through Jesus Christ. This is a radically new reality. The message of Easter wakes us, not just from a stuporing slumber, but also calls us forth from tombs of sin, bound in grave clothes of despair, to wear robes of righteousness and hope! Easter is not an empty Disney fantasy. Easter is the rousing, transforming power of God shaking each and every one of us awake to a life in Christ, a life eternal.

But how lackadaisical the church can be in the face of this miraculous gift. We would rather slumber on in a fog than be awakened to the promise of the future. Even this morning - Easter morning! - finds us sitting here to rejoice in the Good News with eyelids heavy and attentiveness droopy as a result of late night preparations and sunrise service celebrations as you pray I shut up soon.
What galvanizes and mobilizes us more - Sleeping Beauty's empty castle or Jesus Christ's empty tomb? The mission of the church then, is to make Jesus Christ as magical and mystical as Disney has made Mickey Mouse.
Easter is that time of year when many of us who may seem aimless and on a path to somewhere we don’t know, we need to be reminded that we are not alone. We are reminded that there is a purpose for each and every one of us. It’s that time of year where we awaken to a God who is not some sort of tyrant such as some think of from the Old Testament, but of a loving God that we see in the person of Jesus Christ who took our sins upon himself and nailed them to the cross through His Body. 
The Holy Spirit speaks to us like a symphony. Sometimes we don’t hear it; sometimes it’s faint and we are not sure what we’re hearing; and sometimes it’s very loud and clear. As the hymn that we will sing after this sermon tells us, when you near it, you can almost hear it. It’s like a symphony; just keep listening … And pretty soon you’ll start to figure out your part. Everyone plays a piece; and there are melodies in each one of us. When I am feeling out of place and wondering how I fit into this world, I listen to this hymn we will sing in a few moments. 
One of things that we are very proud of here at St. Francis, is the openness in which we carry out the Sacraments that our Lord Jesus Christ and the Churchinstituted. We are all different; and rightly so, and as such- just as the hymn says - in each of us is a melody. Each of us has a different melody; a different part to play, but through Christ every part is important.
Easter is that time year in which we need to keep listening. We need to keep listening to the nudging of the Holy Spirit. None of us are perfect. We are all flawed in some way. In some cases the world views us as flawed when in actuality we are not. We are just as God wants us to be. It is here at St. Francis that we remind everyone, that if you have sinned - if you come with true repentance in your heart - there is absolutely no sin that God will not forgive. 
The mercy of Jesus Christ is infinite. So, as were figuring out our part, we come here to church and we experience the Sacraments each and every one without limitation so long as we come with an earnest heart. It is Easter time when were reminded that race, nationality, gender,divorce, disfigured, ill, short, tall, thin, stout, sexual orientation – or Abbot Gentzsch’s buzzing hearing aid -nor any other thing that you could possibly add to this list will hinder the mercy and love of Jesus Christ.
As our mission statement says, “Love Christ, Keep His Commandments, Receive the Spirit. We merely need to do three things, and when we do those three things wholeheartedly and completely, we can feel confident that we are walking right with the Lord. Because the other thing that we very prominently like to say here at St. Francis is, Catholicism is not just a religion - it’s a way of life.” And the two most important commandments, as our Lord Jesus Christ taught us, is simply to love your neighbor as yourself and to love no other God but our God. We merely need to remember that our neighbor is every single one of the human inhabitants of this earth without exception.
And Christ doesn’t want you to stop your life merely for that, he only wants you to bring your Catholicism along with you - fore you are welcome as a guest in His house at any time. And this should be the message that the worldwide Church should have on this most glorious day.
And some of you may feel that the pomp and circumstance of the beginning of this Mass was all fluff and puff, but in reality it is far more than that. We need Easter and we need Easter to remember us. Christ died on the cross for every living creature, and we need to remember that and reawaken our spiritual sense with all that fluff and puff.

And so I say: Wake up, church! Christ is risen from the dead! Wake up to the power the risen Lord brings to your life. Wake up, church. Open up to the power of the Scriptures to speak to your life. As Jesus called Mary's name to finally stir her soul to consciousness, so Christ sends a personal wake-up call to each of us. Easter morning is an annual wake-up call addressed to Christ's own body, the Church. Body parts that have fallen asleep must be shaken back into circulation. If you are asleep or lounging about life, it is time to end your hibernation and get those tusshies” that are currently glued to your pew and get moving. Wake up, get up and sign up. Let's bring the whole world back to life!
There! I bet you thought I was going to make this twice as long as normal?! Ha. Happy Easter and don’t let it go to your head!
Let us Pray.
Father God, today we mark the magnificent and glorious resurrection of Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. We welcome the day with pomp and circumstance as we should, with renewal of heart, mind and spirit. 
Let us awaken today to Your great gift – that of our salvation and promise of our own resurrection – that You and Your Son gave us with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as we renewed our vows and beliefs. Let us not have empty shells as that of the Disney castle, but in the mimicking of Disney of knowing that in the Resurrection, we truly can be happy and leave “reality” aka: the world, behind and fill ourselves with Your saving grace.
I ask that You bless everyone this day, with You mighty grace, mercy and love. Be with the many homeless of the world, the many sick in the world, the many suffering from terrorism and/or war in the world. Fill the world with Your peace – the peace that only YOU can give; filled with that grace, mercy and love that Your Son showed us while He walked upon this earth. We ask all of this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

April 13, 2017
Holy/Maundy Thursday
If I were to ask each of you what was the actual last day of Christ’s life on earth, most of you probably would say Friday. And to some extent you would be correct. However, we need to take in consideration when days begin and end from the Hebrew perspective, and when we do so, it gives us some perspective on Holy Thursday. It may seem like “splitting hairs” as they say, but let’s be dramatic for a bit.
The Hebrew day always begins at sundown; the night before. As the sun set over Jerusalem, that’s when it all began; or better to say when it all started to end. Jesus’s last day began Thursday night.
And everything turned toward His suffering and death. It all began at sunset - the Passover and the Lamb. He then went out to the garden of Gethsemane where they arrested Him and brought Him to the High Priests. They put Him on trial and condemned Him to death.
At dawn they took Him to Pontius Pilate. He was then beaten, mocked, scourged, and led through the streets of Jerusalem to be nailed to the cross. He suffered in agony for hours and then said, “It is finished,” and died. They took down His body and laid it in a tomb. The sunset over Jerusalem, and the day was finished.
It all took place in that exact time, sunset to sunset.
Now if I asked you what is the “day of man” - as in mankind - you would probably be puzzled by the question. And so I could pose a question to you in this way, “What was the day when mankind was created?” And obviously you are all smart enough to figure it out, however you probably won’t think of the answer I’m looking for, because you don’t know where I’m headed with the conversation.
Mankind was created on the sixth day. God created everything in the heavens and on the earth on particular days, but mankind - as in Adam and Eve - was created on the sixth day. So going by our Gregorian calendar, Friday is the sixth day.
Thursday night at sundown, and with it ends on Friday night at sundown - from sundown to sundown, we have the sixth day.
So it all had to begin at sunset and last until the following sunset. God had accomplished it all on the sixth day, the day of mankind. So Jesus as God died for the sins of mankind, the guilt of mankind, and the fall of mankind. He did it all on the “day of man” to accomplish mankind’s redemption.
It was on the sixth day also that mankind was first given life. So now in Christ, the children of mankind can again be given life, again find life, as in the beginning - on the sixth day.
And so here we are on Maundy Thursday, where all the significant aspects of Holy Week begins at sundown - the signifying last day of our Lord. And so it is that we celebrate His last supper, and in some churches - washing the feet of someone just as Jesus did, and it is also the day in which the bishop of any given Catholic, Anglican or Episcopal diocese will bless the oils that will be used for the various sacraments within the church for the coming year.
On the night before his suffering, Jesus went to the garden of Gethsemane. There He surrendered His will and began to face His approaching sufferings and death. It was there, in the garden of Gethsemane, that the Temple guards came to arrest Him. Gethsemane is the place where His sufferings begin.
If we were to look at an oil press at that time; the time Jesus lived, we would see a very large stone object lying flat with a large stone wheel on top of it. The olives would be placed here on the top and the large wheel like stone would roll over them, crushing them. The crushing of the olives would release their oil. In Hebrew, the word for olive oil is shemen. And the word for press is gat. An oil press is a gat-shemen. And what does gat-shemen sound like?
Gethsemane is the oil press. And we might ask why it is the place where Christ’s sufferings began. Christ is the Messiah. And the word Messiah is linked to oil, olive oil, shemen. The term comes from the Hebrew verb meaning "to apply oil to," to anoint. In the Hebrew Bible, Israel's kings were sometimes called God's "messiah" -- God's anointed one.
Now for oil to be released there must be a crushing. Gethsemane, gat-shemen, is the olive press, the place where the crushing begins - first the crushing of His will, then the crushing of His life.
In the Scriptures, oil is linked to healing and joy, and, in its most sacred application, to anointing. Oil would be poured out to anoint kings and prophets. In our day, it would be used for ordaining of clergy, baptisms, anointing of the sick, just to name a few. So oil, in its highest symbolism, signifies the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is a visible sign for an invisible grace from God.
And so, if the crushing of olives in the olive press releases oil, then the crushing of Christ at Gethsemane, would be linked to healing, joy, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is in the crushing of Christ, in His death, which brings about healing, joy, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It all begins in the oil press, gat-shemen at Gethsemane. (It is very fitting that we discuss this on the day we bless the Sacred Oils for the Church.)
And so it is on this day and Good Friday, which we remember Christ’s suffering. As a Liberal Catholic Church, we don’t tend to focus so much on the suffering death of our Lord Christ, because we tend to focus more on the beatific vision of our Savior ascended Christ, hence why many of our crucifixes have the risen Christ or Christ the King on them within our parishes.
However, even in our rite, at this time of year, we are called to remember what Christ did for us. It is all fine and wonderful to get the warm and fuzzies about a risen Christ, but if we do not acknowledge, remember, and contemplate what Christ did for us, so that we can have the warm and fuzzies about our ascended Christ, then we are missing a great deal of the point of Christianity.
Let’s visualize this for a moment so that we may remember.
A man is struggling up a dirt path. He struggles, and is probably too weak from the scourging that happened earlier to adequately bear the massive wooden beam that is resting on His shoulders. He falls and catches himself, takes a breath, and stands up again to continue His trek. He only has a few hundred meters left.
It’s a lonely place - a rock outcropping with a vision of Jerusalem below.  Another tall beam is already in its place standing upright buried in the dirt. He knows that when He arrives, the soldiers will fix the beam currently upon His shoulders high up onto that other wooden beam already in place on the rock. They will nail Him to it, and He will die. He knows all this while He’s making his trek. Telling the women gathered to not weep for Him, but for themselves.
And He stumbles again, but this time He has not enough strength to upright himself. He tries to stand only to fall again. The blood from the wounds on His back are still flowing freely and heavily, and He can no longer move except to barely take a breath into His lungs. And so a soldier grabs someone, some passerby that we later learn is little bit more significant than just a “nobody,” and thrusts the beam upon him to carry. Then they dragged the Man who is on His knees to His feet and pull Him forward once again. And even without the weight of the beam He still has great difficulty walking. Some of the crowd goad and jeer while gawking at Him as He eventually stumbles on.
We all know that Jesus suffered a great deal. He was tortured so much that He was unable to carry the beam that might’ve weighed roughly 100 pounds. And it’s only approximately one third of a mile of a walk, but He still had little strength to carry it and it might’ve been a struggle for someone who had not even been tortured previously to carry it.
We can only imagine the pain that He must’ve suffered. And the way the blood from the beatings ran down His back and mixed with dust from the street as He walked – we can only imagine that also. The blood dried as it ran down His legs and became sticky, attracted dust and solidified into a mess.
We can barely even imagine thinking about the agony when soldiers placed 100 pound beam across that broken flesh, on exposed muscle and bone, making every step near death.
With all that suffering the He must’ve endured, it’s not hard to see Him struggling, and then falling and rising, and doing it all over again. It would be surprising to most of us how He carried the beam at all, much less walked.
And as we approach Easter, as Liberal Catholics, it certainly would be easy to simply skip this part of the Easter story, including Jesus as He is tortured and some of the most brutal of scenes. It’s so much easier to simply look another way, pass directly from His arrest and go straight to his resurrection three days later.
Yes it would be easy to do that, but the problem is, that’s not how it happened. Like it or not, our ascended Christ suffered that we might live! People want to pass over the story because it hurts. Brutality of His suffering is just something too hard to acknowledge, but yet it will raise our compassion, especially when we stop to think that all of this torture and agony that He suffered was for our sake.
So, sometimes His suffering becomes our guilt and shame, and we would much rather just ignore it and focus on his ascended beauty in the risen Christ. But the problem with avoiding this is this, when we try to avoid all that Jesus suffered; it is merely helping us avoid the fullness of what He took on himself for us. As Saint Peter said, “By His wounds you have been healed” (I Peter 2:24).
It is His wounds – the torture that He endured and aided in His death - that becomes a door to wholeness and fullness in this life and to the eternal life in the next. Without this struggle and torture, He would not have risen again. Without Jesus’ pain and ultimate death, there is no healing. Without the heavy, dark middle of this story, there is no hope.
Jesus suffered and died and rose again so the people might live with Him forever in a gloriously restored new heaven and new earth. This is our hope. But His suffering also offers hope right now, if we are willing to embrace our pain as He embraced His. We all are suffering with something currently - big or small - we still suffer.
Without a shadow of doubt the pain that Jesus experienced was beyond what most of His followers will possibly ever experience today, with the exception of some areas that terrorism against Christians still takes place. Some of us have physical maladies, some psychological, some with a loss that we grieve from, and the list continues. We try to lay these aside just as we lay aside the parts of the Easter story that is too painful.
But when we see Jesus in the complete Easter story, we see that He did not avoid the pain. In fact He even seemed to embrace it. He was God! He could have called down legions of Angels at any moment. He did not. He stayed while they tried Him, while they beat Him and abused Him, and He stayed when He was bloodied and weak, and they still made Him carry that massive beam for His own death up on that hill. The humiliation that must have been! He knew that no oil comes from olives that are not crushed, and so He willingly became crushed that His oil might flow for us.
And so today, in this sermon, I am forcing us to take a little bit of a look at what our blessed Lord experienced so that we have hope. In one of our creeds of our church, it states the belief that “all sons and daughters shall one day reach his feet however far they stray.” And though this may be all warm and fuzzy, we must remember that if it were not for the Easter story - the complete Easter story - we would not be able to say this creed with any confidence, because we would not have had a Lord who suffered Easter so that we might have that hope.
Let us pray.
Father God, it is on this night many years ago, when Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ entered into His trials preceding His crucifixion. We ask that You help us to properly remember these events as we participate in the Easter Tridium.
What our Blessed Lord experienced now through Good Friday is beyond our imaginings. Most of us will never come close to the suffering that He endured. As gruesome as some of these events were, we ask that You flood our minds with understanding and be open to the events that took place; fore it is only within this understanding that we can most worthily appreciate the salvation we now are able to participate in.
We are not nearly worthy enough to enter Your Kingdom, but in Your mercy and grace, You have made us all worthy and loved through Your Son, Jesus Christ. May we truly contemplate and meditate on these mysteries as we approach and celebrate the great feast of Easter. 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, April 9, 2017

April 9, 2017
Palm Sunday
In the book of Exodus 12:3, we would read how the Lord had commanded the Israelites to remember the Passover and to remember it starting on the 10th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan. Most Christians are not familiar with this particular month in the Jewish calendar. On the Hebrew calendar, it is the first month of the ecclesiastical year and the seventh month (eighth, in leap year) of the civil year. Nisan usually falls in March–April on the Gregorian calendar. This year, Passover starts tomorrow.
And so hundred 10th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan a lamb was chosen. For one of the most important biblical holy days would take place - the Passover. They were to take a lamb for each house. The 10th day the lamb was chosen and was offered up as a sacrifice.
So the 10th day of Nisan is the day of the lamb, the day of its choosing, of its being taken, and of its being identified with the house that would sacrifice it.
For us Christ the Messiah is the Passover lamb and therefore he is linked to the 10th of Nisan. So what we call Palm Sunday is in reality, the 10th of Nisan, the day of the lamb.
As the people of Jerusalem were leading the Passover lambs to their homes, Christ the Messiah was being led from the Mount of olives into the city gates. The bringing in of the Messiah to the city with palms and hosannas was actually the fulfillment of what had been commanded from ancient times, the bringing in of the lamb.
By the time Jesus enters Jerusalem just before the Passover, anticipation is thick. Many fellow pilgrims and locals have heard of this man and his miracles, like raising a dead man to life. A man who could do that could surely free them from their oppression; Maybe this at last was the Messiah.
Thousands of Jewish pilgrims poured into Jerusalem for the Passover. The 0.5 square mile city was busy with preparation, teeming with people arriving to celebrate the holiday that commemorated the Exodus, when God delivered his people from slavery in Egypt.
Every year Passover according to Mosaic law (Deuteronomy 16), the Jewish people came to the temple at Jerusalem to offer a Passover sacrifice, eat unleavened bread as their ancestors had before leaving Egypt and remember. This remembrance is not just of a past event, but a present reality and future hope. The Exodus story is the foundational one for the Jewish people; God saving his people, freeing them from their oppression and giving them a new identity as His chosen people. While the Exodus had already happened, first century Jews long for it to continue to happen; they would have celebrated God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt with an eye to how God would come to free them from Roman rule.
Jesus tells his disciples were to go, to untie a colt, and if they were asked about it, say, “The Lord has need of it.” Jesus’s choice of steed is deliberate and prophetic. First of all, he chooses to ride rather than walk into the city. This is only one of two references in the Gospels to Jesus riding anything. Second, He is not riding a war horse but a humble beast of burden. His contemporaries would’ve known the Zachariah passage well, and the Royal, Messianic expectations attached to it. At the beginning of one of the holy city’s most crowded, holy weeks, Jesus bursts onto the scene, enacting a Messianic passage.
This was not lost on the crowd. They lay out their cloaks as a makeshift red carpet and wave palm branches. Hundreds of years before, back in the days of Jezebel, Jehu received a similar response when his fellow Israelites learned he had just been anointed king. The men around him quickly covered the ground with their cloaks and announced Jehu king with a trumpet blast. In their more recent history, when Judas Maccabeus had defeated the Syrians and purified the Temple, the people greeted him by waving palm branches (2 Maccabees 10:1-9).
This crowd, gathered for the Passover in the early first century A.D., indicates what they understood and hoped for; Jesus as their liberating king. This is also evident in what they say: “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” While now, Sunday schools and Palm Sunday processions use “Hosanna!” as an expression of praise, the Hebrew word literally means “Save now!” Save us now - from Rome, from this continued state of exile; save us like God saved us from Egypt, like God saved our ancestors from the Philistines by the hand of David. The phrase “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” comes from Psalm 118. The Psalm is a triumphant one, celebrating God’s steadfast love, defeat of enemies and return from exile.
The Gospel of John points out that some of the crowd had followed Jesus from Bethany, where He and His disciples were staying, and spread the word about what Jesus had done; Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. This would have been more than utterly astounding to a first century Jew. In Ezekiel 37, the prophet Ezekiel had a vision of God bringing a whole valley of dry bones back to life. Bones, or anything dead for that matter, were unclean in the Mosaic law. Ezekiel’s vision is one that symbolizes God making dead Israel live, making the defiled clean and inaugurating a new era of Spirit filled life, forgiveness and return from exile.
When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, the prophetic words in Ezekiel no doubt came right to the mind the people at this time: “And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live and I will place you in your own land” (Ezekiel 37:13-14).
The crowd is hoping that Jesus is inaugurating this new era as the promised divine and just ruler who will finally free Israel of her oppressors and set the world to rights.
Expectation is deep; the crowd is excited, and Jesus has made His grand entrance. And just what does He do now? Mark 11:19 tells us He went and walked around the temple and then went back to nearby Bethany with the 12 disciples. He doesn’t storm into the Roman headquarters; he doesn’t gather rebel troops or even give a speech. He simply looks around the Temple and leaves. They probably asked, “What kind of messianic program is that?”
From His entrance on Sunday, Jesus constantly raises and disappoints the crowd’s expectations. He was clearly not the military victor many of them wanted. This is a king who rides a borrowed donkey, not a mighty war horse, clearly not intending to seize His throne - or His people’s liberation - by force.
So on the day when the Passover lamb was to be brought to the house, God brought the Lamb of God to his house, to Jerusalem, and to the temple. And just as the lambs of the 10th of Nisan had to be sacrificed on Passover by those who dwelt in the house, so too the Lamb of God would be sacrificed on the Passover by those who dwelt in Jerusalem. The Lamb of God had to come to the house of God so that the blessings of salvation could come. So, it is only when you bring a lamb home, when you bring him into the place where you actually live your life, when you bring him into every room, every closet, and every crevice, only then can the fullness of the blessings of salvation begin.
Let us pray.
Father God, on this day of great rejoicing, when we welcome our Lord Jesus Christ as our King and Savior, we also walk in the shadow of His cross. Hosanna we cry. Blessed are you who come in God’s name to save us. Hosanna.
Strengthen our faith on this palm Sunday so that when the time comes to carry the cross we might still call out to You with heartfelt praise. Give us the grace and the courage to follow You this holy week from death to resurrection, from darkness to the fullness of light.
Father, we come with hesitant steps and uncertain motives. To sweep out the corners were sin has accumulated, and uncover the ways we have strayed from Your truth. Exposed the empty and barren places where we don’t allow You to enter. Reveal our halfhearted struggles where we have been indifferent to the suffering of others. Nurture the faint stirrings of new life where your spirit has begun to grow. Let your healing like transformer us into the image of Your Son. For You alone can bring new life and make us whole.
Lastly father, let us enter the city of God today, and shout Hosanna to our King. Let us join the walk toward freedom, and follow Christ’s path to wholeness. Let our hearts ache for justice and mercy. And wait for peace and freedom. Let us turn our backs on the powers that grasp for control, and follow the One who brings life. Let us walk in solidarity with the abandoned and the oppressed, with the lonely and downhearted, with the refugees and immigrants, with those of different race or simply different lifestyles; and let us welcome the broken and the sick. Let us touch and see as Christ draws near, riding in triumph toward the cross.
We need you O Christ our Savior. Hosanna! Amen
God Love You +++
+The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

April 2, 2017
The Fifth Sunday in Lent
(Passion Sunday)
The ultimate wake-up call came to Georgia Lass courtesy of ... a toilet seat.

Georgia had been sleepwalking her way through life. An aimless college student who drove her family nuts with her cynicism and lack of motivation, she dropped out of school and reluctantly landed a job at a temp agency, and that only because of her mother’s ceaseless prodding.

Her life changed on a lunch break where, standing on the street, she’s instantly killed by a falling piece of the burned-up MIR Space Station ... the toilet seat.

End of story, right? Hardly.

Immediately following her fatal encounter with interstellar Soviet-era bathroom hardware, Georgia finds herself standing again on the street amid the gathering crowd. She doesn’t realize that she’s dead until a kindly man named Rube points out her remains (which are driven deep into the pavement) and tells her that she’s now a member of the Rube-led Pacific Northwest chapter of grim reapers — people who, like Georgia, died with unresolved issues and now must learn lessons that, for one reason or another, they failed to learn in life.

This quirky and darkly comic look at one possible version of life after death is the premise of Showtime’s series that ran in the early 2000’s called, Dead Like Me. Weaving its storylines through the interaction of the characters and their “victims,” the show asks some compelling questions about life and death: “What if death is not the end? What if it’s not even an escape from the issues that plagued us? What if it’s not a way to avoid accountability, but an opportunity to accept responsibility? What if it’s a wake-up call?”

A literary version of this theme is taken up by Mitch Albom, who published the novel The Five People You Meet in Heaven on the heels of his highly successful Tuesdays With Morrie. I highly recommend all of his books! In Five People, Eddie works at an amusement park in Jersey, but is killed by a malfunction of Freddy’s Free Fall. In heaven, Eddie meets five people who help him understand why what happened on earth — happened.

Georgia. Eddie. Now Lazarus.

Think of the story of Lazarus as a Dead Like Me prequel without the attendant grim reaper storyline.

When the story opens we learn that Lazarus, a friend to both Jesus and the disciples, had “fallen asleep,” his illness leading to death. Sleep was a common metaphor for death in Jewish texts and in Greek mythology where Sleep and Death were portrayed as twin brothers. Jesus tells his disciples that he will go to Bethany to “awaken Lazarus” but, being way too literal, the disciples think that sleeping is a good thing and that “if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.”

“Lazarus is dead,” Jesus has to tell them plainly. “I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him”. Jesus is going to not only wake up his death-sleeping friend, but also wake up his own disciples to the reality of resurrection power.

The rest of the story is a script right out of a Hollywood horror flick. Lazarus has been decomposing for four days — the odor of death is pervasive, and body fluids are spilling everywhere. Quite pleasant, I am sure!

Jesus arrives, weeps with and for the mourners, and then gets to work. (The actual Greek has Jesus as ‘angry’, in a good way, but that will have to be a sermon for another time.) Ordering the stone rolled away from the entrance of the tomb, he prays and then calls into the darkness, “Lazarus, come forth!” Out lurches this former corpse, wrapped in smelly linen.

But what’s the rest of the story? Imagine you’re Lazarus, just awakened, standing outside your own tomb looking at a stunned crowd of people who don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or run for the hills. What was it like for him to wake up to “life after life after death?”

In television’s Dead Like Me, Georgia gets another chance to do it right while still dead. In Five People, Eddie learns what life was all about while dead and in heaven. But in the gospel of John, Lazarus has a Real Death Experience, not a Near Death Experience, and lives to tell about it. He dies once, but is born twice — from both the womb and the tomb.

We can almost imagine what it would be like to have something like that happen in our time. Percival Everett’s novel, American Desert, is about a man named Ted Street, a UCLA professor whose life is a mess and who decides to take his own life by walking into the ocean. On the way, however, his life is cut even shorter than he intended when a traffic accident decapitates him. His head is reattached with thread by a mortician so that the body will look presentable.

Problem is, during the funeral, Ted wakes up and sits up in his coffin, sparking an instant riot among the funeral attendees that spills out into the street. Ted is dead — no pulse, no body heat, but he is now conscious and aware.

Not knowing what to do with his reanimated life, Ted goes home to his horrified and confused family. Soon, TV crews are parked on Ted’s front lawn, he’s an object of morbid curiosity by the government and by the scientific and medical communities, and feared as a minion of Satan by an obscure religious cult.

But the heart of the book is Ted’s new-found lease on life — after death. He reconnects with his estranged family and finds new value in getting a second chance at life, or at least something like it.

Is it surprising in an American culture as hedonistic and pleasure-seeking as it is, that there is some evidence that we’re not quite able to pull it off? We’re not quite able to escape our Puritan and pietistic background. There is still the residue of moral and ultimate accountability that rings true.

We live for ourselves, but now we’re asking ourselves if maybe there isn’t a second chance on the other side.

John 12 tells us that Lazarus, too, became an instant celebrity with the crowd and an instant pariah to the religious establishment. As Dan Rather would have said, he’s hotter than a Times Square Rolex. The grateful dead man walking was an animated testament to the power of Jesus — living, breathing evidence of the possibility of resurrection that the people of Israel were looking for to occur “at the last day.”

John 12:10-11 says, “But the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death also; because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and were believing in Jesus.” But that’s where we lose track of this dead man walking in the Scriptures.

Truth is that we don’t know exactly what Lazarus was like before and after he emerged from his tomb. Christian tradition goes a couple of different directions when it comes to the rest of the story. One tradition says that Lazarus, learning of the plot against him, fled to France where he became bishop of Marseilles and was later martyred.

Another, more reliable tradition, says that he and his sisters fled to Larnaca on the island of Cyprus, where he was later ordained by Paul and Barnabas and served for years as bishop and an example of the Christian life and hope of resurrection to the people there. He died (again) at age 60 and was buried in a sarcophagus with the inscription “The four-day Lazarus — friend of Christ.” His remains were removed to Constantinople in the year 890 by the Byzantine emperor who, in return, built a church in Larnaca that survives to this day.

Whatever happened, we imagine that Lazarus spent the rest of his second life devoted to telling others about the Christ who had given him life — not just raising him physically from the dead, but giving him a new life of purpose as well. He awoke to a new reality in Christ.

Here’s a thought: Characters like Georgia Lass, Ted Street and Lazarus pose a spiritually significant challenge to all of us — to view life through the lens of death; to look backward at life from its end point rather than always forward; to recognize that while death comes to us all, we should prepare for that death not by fearing it but by facing it.

To put it another way, we don’t have to sleepwalk through life and wait for death in order to wake up and smell the malodorous life we’ve left behind. We can have a second chance, an opportunity to die more than once — to die to self, as Paul put it — to put behind us an old life and awaken to a new one filled with new adventures, renewed relationships and ultimate purpose.

Lazarus’ physical death and resurrection put him on a different path toward living out his purpose as a follower of Christ. Our spiritual death, dying to ourselves and our sleepy, sinful way of life can do the same.

Think of it as joining the ranks of the “living dead” without the lurching, drooling, moaning and horrible makeup. No whacking over the head with a toilet seat required.

Instead of being Dead Like Me, we are Alive in Christ.
Let us pray.
Father God, during the season of Lent, You call us to give our own lives a second look. You ask us to take stock of what we have done and what we have failed to do. As is often explained, our life is merely on loan to us.
In today’s Gospel we read that Jesus’ close friend, Lazarus, has died and the message is sent to Jesus. When Jesus hears the message, He pronounces that Lazarus is merely sleeping. However, in that time frame, sleeping was used to indicate death, so those around Jesus did not understand. This is certainly no impediment for Jesus. As we know, Jesus raised from the dead others as well. The widow of Nain’s son – risen from the dead. Jairus’ daughter – risen from the dead. And now – Lazarus.
As we walk thru the final two weeks of Lent, help us, Dear Lord, to take that second look at our lives so that we too can see what we may have missed or could have done better. We all have regrets and bucket lists. Help us to die a little to ourselves, and be reborn a little to You. Give us the gentle push we need to not tarry on, but live life in haste so that when our time to join You comes, we may be ready for eternal life without any need to look back. Help us to know that Jesus is the life and truth of all of us, and as such, we too will be risen to life eternal. 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.