Tuesday, September 26, 2017

http:/Sorry, everyone for missing the past couple of weeks. I've been a little preoccupied with some personal dilemmas. Please keep me in your prayers! Here's this weeks sermon.
September 24, 2017
The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity
To help emergency workers deal with the emotional impact of their work. There were some firefighters in a room sitting in a circle. They're not too talkative. To help emergency workers deal with the emotional impact of their work, there is a psychologist and former firefighter there with them.

Then John tells his story. His squad had been called to the scene of a terrible traffic accident. One of the vehicles was a family sedan, but it was so badly mangled that you couldn't even tell what model it had been. It was obvious almost immediately that the parents, sitting in the two front seats and covered with blood, were dead.

There were two children in the back, and one of those was obviously beyond help as well. But the other child, a little girl of about 7, was sitting in the only corner of the car that was still relatively intact. Though not moving, she had no apparent injuries, and the firefighters sprang to work with high hopes. They were going to have to cut her out of the car, and so as not to injure her with their tools, John went around the other side of the vehicle, reached in across the mangled back seat and put his hand behind her head, gently drawing her away from the other door.

As he did so, however, he felt something, and the men on the opposite side saw it. A shard of metal was piercing her skull. The child was dead.

Of course, they still had to get her body out, and so for the next 20 minutes while his coworkers cut into the car, John remained where he was, holding in his hands this beautiful little girl, looking as if she were only asleep, her body still warm and the breath of life having fled her system only moments before.

Could you have done what John had to do and not be gripped by a sense of futility afterward?

This is not a story John could tell easily. The psychologist had worked around the circle. Some of the guys were talking, but not John. He'd just shake his head, declining to say anything. The man next to John gave a kind of shudder and said, "John had it really bad," and several of the others nodded their heads in agreement.

But then he talked, and told his story.

John and his fellow firefighters are among those who, when disasters occur, arrive to rescue the trapped, treat the wounded, retrieve the dead and eventually clean up the destruction. Sometimes, especially when survivors are found, the work can be rewarding, but more often, it's heartbreaking. Have you ever wondered what effect it has on rescue workers when they arrive to find there's no one they can save?

Let’s suppose there were a pill available that would erase the memory of that incident from your mind while leaving your other memories intact. Would you take it?

Let’s ponder that while we think about Paul's words to the Philippian Christians in the assigned passage. "Rejoice in the Lord always," Paul says, "Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." Do this, Paul says, "and the peace of God ... will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."

Sounds almost like "Don't worry, be happy," from the Bobby McFerrin song of the same name.

We doubt, however, that Paul intended his words to be taken in such a carefree and silly way as that song intended. Paul wasn't urging his readers to be mindlessly happy; he was telling them to "rejoice in the Lord," to be in touch with the One from whom real peace and well-being flows. When he spoke of letting our requests be known to God in prayer, he was not prescribing some kind of quick-fix formula or talking in prayer as a tool for feeling better; rather he was pointing his readers toward the One who hears our prayers and loves us. And when Paul talked of the peace of God, he wasn't referring to the state of being without concerns, but to the state of being in harmony with God and the order God has built into our world.
Nonetheless, given the awful things some of us have gone through and which continue to torture us each time we recall them and/or continue to live thru them, we might be excused for dismissing Paul's words here as too lightweight or too simplistic. We can even imagine a troubled Christian reading Paul's advice and responding, "That's all well and good for you to say 'Don't worry about anything' but anxiety is not something I can turn off with a switch. And don't tell me I just need to pray more, because I'm already praying daily. Yet the peace of God is eluding me." Sometimes, I know the feeling.

That gets at the problem with good advice, doesn't it? Probably most Christians would agree that Paul's counsel in these few verses is sound -- if you can actually put it into practice. But like much good advice, a certain mindset and emotional perspective must already be in place before you can really employ the advice to your benefit. John the firefighter needed to have some way to turn down the power of his memory of that fateful day when he held that little girl in his hands.

John's feelings weren't just a passing low. Possibly, coming on top of the other carnage he and his fellow firefighters had had to deal with, John was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is essentially a disease of memory. While PTSD is rooted in one or more actual traumatic incidents, the problem is that the memory of the trauma and the emotions associated with it stay fresh, repeatedly arising to impact the sufferer's present and future.

Earlier I asked if, under circumstances like John's, would you be willing to take a pill that would erase the painful memory. While such a pill isn't available yet, with the rate of science I am sure that it will be someday. We now know that remembering involves certain chemical changes in the brain, and recent tests with lab animals show promising results, where a drug can be given to erase specific targeted memories, leaving, as far as researchers can tell, the rest of the memory unaltered.

The promise of such a pill, however, wouldn't be limited to PTSD sufferers. There's hope that it could cure addiction, which is driven by the memory of what it felt like to be high. Possibly it also could be used to alleviate the condition where some sensory nerves continue to send pain signals even after an injury heals.

But beyond those uses, how many of us have something in our past that causes us to wince or feel a wave of shame or guilt whenever something happens to remind us of it? Might not we want to jettison such memories if we could by taking a pill?

But let's get back to current reality. At present, no such forget-it-all pill exists, and if one is eventually developed, it's not likely to be tomorrow. For now, we must still live with all our memories -- the pleasant and the unpleasant. We can't pick and choose. And even if we could, there are some reasons why maybe we shouldn't. For one thing, emotional pain is often instructive, and we learn from our mistakes, our hurts, our misadventures, our good-intentions gone awry and even our wrongdoings. But if we wipe out the memory of such things, we likely also eliminate what we have learned from them.
We should also think about how it is that God communicates with us. How many charities, helping agencies and church missions have been started because someone was able to feel someone else's pain and couldn't forget it? How many prayers for spiritual growth have been answered by God allowing us to walk through dark valleys? How many of us have gained the joy of forgiveness because we could not forget the shame of our sins? How many of us would still be putting ourselves in the place of God if we could not see where our selfishness got us?

No, in the end, it is probably better to take Paul seriously and rejoice in the Lord always, for who knows what spiritual gain may be waiting for us? (It may also help to remember that Paul wrote this testimony while in prison.) We may be unable to let our worries go, and we may not be able to stop remembering dark spots in our past, but we can rest in Paul's testimony that God really does hear our prayers. We can take comfort that there's something called the peace of God that guards our hearts and minds, even if at the moment it seems far from us.

Right before Paul says, "Don't worry about anything," he says, "The Lord is near." Paul may have been referring to the Lord's second coming. But he also experienced the nearness of Christ in his daily life, and we are best to hear this affirmation that way as well. When we can't forget our pains and shames, we can get some help with them from remembering that Christ was there with us when they were happening and is here with us now.

The other aspect I think Paul was trying to get at, is that even while we are in the muck; when life stinks and there is no other way to describe it, Jesus is right there with us. He is with us in those who care about us and are praying for and with us. It may not stop the pain or rectify the situation – at least immediately – but it’s Jesus’ way of trying to get through to us and let us know there is a plan. Paul did not stop believing while in the prison cell, and he wants us to know that we should not stop believing either.

The Lord is near to you, too.
Let us pray.
For the families and victims in the horrible earthquake in Mexico City that they find comfort, peace, shelter, hope and faith. We pray to the Lord. (Lord hear our prayer.)
That the Church will go forth toward those who are wounded and in need of an attentive ear, assistance, forgiveness, and love. We pray to the Lord.
That civil rulers will work to eliminate the structural causes of poverty and to promote the development of the poor. We pray to the Lord.
For the conversion of all those whose lives are dominated by envy, violence, or hatred. We pray to the Lord.
That those who are unemployed may be protected from discouragement and may find gainful employment. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week to conduct ourselves in a way worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We pray to the Lord.
For the wellbeing, healing and comfort of all our loved ones who are suffering from illness. We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, thank you for the countless proofs of Your gentleness. May we always praise Your name for its goodness and mercy. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca./www.stfrancisucc.org/donate.html

Sunday, September 10, 2017

September 10, 2017
The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity
"I owe, I owe, so off to work I go."

That sentiment, plastered on the cars of many people who will be stuck in rush-hour traffic on the way to work Monday, seems to resonate with the majority of American workers. For many, work is a drudgery one must endure, rather than a vocation one can embrace. Certainly, I can relate between the two!

According to a 2016 survey, just 49.6 percent of Americans are satisfied with their jobs, which is actually the highest that number has been since 2005. In an age when job hunting is highly competitive, just landing one is a big deal. According to the numbers, it seems that liking the job you land is icing on the cake.

So what's the biggest downer about going to work?

According to another recent survey, it's not about the money. In fact, wages appear well down the list of things that employees tend to gripe about. What really makes the workday a bummer for many is the fact that their employers don't listen to them, don't really know them and don't take their input seriously. Employees don't feel like they're invested in the company's mission and there's no sense of mutual benefit for employers and employees in determining goals and outcomes. In other words, employees don't feel as though they're part of a team -- they're only worker bees who do what's required. It's the kind of thing that makes an employee feel like an interchangeable part in a machine. You are what you produce.

And then there's the relative value of one employee to another. As job markets get tighter and competition for jobs heats up, it's easy for workers to look around the other cubicles and compare themselves to their co-workers. That recent graduate occupying the next cube might be making as much as you -- even though you have more experience -- or have the boss's ear in a way you never could. All of this doesn't seem fair at all.

And maybe that's what all this dissatisfaction is really about. We want what's coming to us, or at least what we perceive we are "owed" for our work in terms of influence, value and compensation. Maybe it's because that, for us Americans, it's all about fairness.

We want to be valued in a fair way, equal to the standards and rubrics applied to our co-workers, and we especially want those who write our reviews and sign our checks to appreciate us -- fairly.

A disgruntled worker reading the parable of today's Gospel would likely see it as typical of the way the system works. You grind out a full day's work and some Johnny-come-lately gets the same wage as you do for a fraction of the work. To read the parable that way, however, betrays some of the bias we have about ourselves and our relative worth in comparison to others.

What Jesus is trying to teach us, however, is that real value isn't determined by things like one's resume, one's paycheck or one's seniority on the job. In a theocratic economy, real value isn't found by climbing to the top of the corporate ladder, but by holding the ladder for others.

The context for this parable takes us back to chapter 19. In 19:16-22, a rich young man comes to Jesus seeking assurance of eternal life. He's been a good boy, obeying all the commandments. This alone should shoot him to the top of God's list of favorites.

But Jesus crushes his sense of self-worth when he challenges the young man to "be perfect" by selling his possessions, giving the money to the poor and only then following Jesus. It's an invitation to downward mobility but, ironically, it's often within that downward mobility that true satisfaction and worth are found.

Jesus turns to his disciples and gives them the lesson that it's hard for the rich to enter the kingdom because their worth is bound up in their possessions. A person might have the perfect spiritual resume, but until they are willing to be generous toward others, both physically and spiritually, then they will be outside the kingdom of heaven.

This troubles the disciples, who like many people in their day believed that wealth was a sign of God's blessing. Peter then pipes up with the obvious question, "Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?" Jesus assures him and the others that their dispossession of family, job, wealth and status won't go unrewarded. In order to be first in God's world, you have to be willing to be last.

So now we arrive at the story! To illustrate this point, Jesus tells the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. The harvest is ready and the landowner, serving as his own HR department, comes to the marketplace to do some hiring. He starts with the early birds who are likely the most eager workers and who probably have a good reputation for getting things done -- or they really need the money. They agree on a wage and he sends them into the vineyard.

Still more workers are needed, so the boss returns to the Manpower office at 9 a.m., and again at noon, again at 3 p.m. and still again at 5 p.m. (Usually, work stopped about 6 p.m.) This last lot seems to have been a day late and a dollar short, given that they hadn't yet been hired after standing around idle all day. The assumption that Jesus' hearers would have, as would we, is that the laborers would each be paid commensurate with the hours they worked. After all, that's only fair, right?

When it's time for the denarii to be distributed (laborers would be paid at the end of each day), the landowner calls the manager of the vineyard and tells him to start settling the payroll with the last group hired. The shocking tale of the pay stub, however, is that they received a huge check for just one hour of work!

This is exciting. You can imagine the murmur going through the line. If these ne'er-do-wells who were lucky to get hired at all, got this very generous amount for an hour of work, imagine what they will get for working three hours, six hours and nine hours!

Yet, as the other workers approach the paymaster, they hear disturbing news. Everyone, regardless of hours, is getting the same amount. Totally not fair!

So we can empathize with the early bird group who, having heard what the others were getting, expected to be paid more since they provided more relative value than the others.

What do they do? What would we do?

We would lodge a complaint, and they did as well. They filed their grievance with HR seeking redress. They saw their labor as being worth more than anyone else's, especially those who showed up last.

But the landowner reminds them that they're getting exactly what they agreed upon first thing in the morning. It's the employer's prerogative to give whatever wage he wants to the others. "Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?" he asks. "Or are you envious because I am generous?"

Thus, says Jesus, "the last will be first and the first will be last."

According to New Testament scholar Craig Keener, Jewish teachers used a similar parable to describe the day of God's judgment, but used it to make precisely the opposite point that Jesus was making. Israel, who had worked hard and been faithful for the long haul, would receive high wages while the Gentiles, who had come in much later, would receive little. Like the rich young man, many Jews believed that their spiritual resumes should give them priority status and a little extra for their faithful labor over time.

But Jesus reveals that God's economy doesn't work that way. God chooses to be generous and extend the same grace to the least and the last as God does to those who think they've earned it. In fact, in the next few verses, Jesus reveals just how far he will go to identify with the least and the last, giving himself over to both pious Jewish leaders and cruel Gentiles to die for them both.

The point of all this is that following Jesus is to join him in the path of downward mobility. It means giving up our resumes, spiritual and otherwise, and recognizing our own insufficiency and need for grace. It means laying aside our ambition for wealth and power and embracing a life of generosity, finding our satisfaction not in the wealth of our possessions but in the fewness of our wants. And it means understanding that our ultimate worth is found not in titles and power, but in service to others.

If we're really working for Jesus, then Christians should be among the most satisfied of workers, no matter what our earthly profession at which we toil on a daily basis. Whether we're digging ditches or leading a Fortune 500 company, our ultimate satisfaction is found in giving our lives away in the service of others.

What if we saw our jobs not as something to be endured, but as part of our vocation as followers of Jesus? What if we spent every day, not comparing ourselves to others, but doing all in our power to lift others up?
I bet, that those of you who have watched my video yesterday or today can see some intermingling of how we should view others! Seems to be the theme.

Jesus calls us to be part of a team that always needs our input, our investment and our best -- and all for the glory of the rule of God. Joining that team, no matter what our earthly profession, is the key to 100 percent satisfaction!
Let us pray.
That those who are living through and recovering from Hurricane Irma, may find help, comfort, shelter and help with needs during this troubling time. We pray to the Lord. (Lord hear our prayer.)
That those still recovering and rebuilding from hurricane Harvey be given hope, grace, patience and assistance in this time of need. We pray to the Lord.
That by participating in the sacraments and meditating on Scripture, Christians may become more aware of their mission to evangelize. We pray to the Lord.
For the conversion of the world from terrorism, malice, arrogance, and disbelief. We pray to the Lord.
That all may contribute to the common good and to the building of a society that places the human person at the center. We pray to the Lord.
For an increase of vocations to the priesthood to the consecrated life. We pray to the Lord.
For refugees and those exiled from their homeland; that they may be given welcome and shelter.
For the grace this week to love our neighbor as ourselves. We pray to the Lord.
For the family members of our church community, that they find healing, grace and peace. We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, in Your great mercy hear our prayers and hold us close. 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.

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Sunday, September 3, 2017

September 3, 2017
The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity


He has waded through sewers, peeled roadkill, moved houses, castrated horses, and cleaned up monumental septic explosions. He did the jobs that most of us couldn’t bear to do, although we know how important they are.

His name is Mike Rowe, and he’s the star of the Discovery Channel show called, Dirty Jobs. Though you can occasionally watch reruns, the show ended just a few years ago.

Rowe tried his hand at more than 165 of the dirtiest and most disgusting jobs one could possibly imagine. He served slop to pigs, removed bones from fish, hunted plagues of vermin, and sloshed around in sewers — sometimes vomiting on camera. He would get coached by the people who do these jobs for a living, and gets mocked by them as well.

But there’s something going on here that goes deeper than dirty hands. Mike Rowe has real curiosity about challenging jobs, and respect for the men and women who do them. The show sends a powerful message, such as dignity in hard work, expertise in unexpected places and deep satisfaction in tackling and finishing a tough job.

That’s a message we need to hear today.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Peter walks up to Jesus and says, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus answers, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”

Forgiveness. It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it. It’s not necessarily a “dirty job,” but it is a tough job. And, according to Jesus, they’ve got to do it again and again and again and again — seventy-seven times. To make matters worse, the word used by Jesus to describe this extravagant forgiveness can also be translated “seventy times seven,” which means 490 stinking times.

By comparison, sloshing around in a sewer doesn’t seem so bad.

Jesus is calling us to roll up our sleeves and do some very demanding work. In our justice-oriented world, we expect that insults are going to be followed by apologies and crimes are going to be followed by punishments, but Jesus turns this system upside down by saying, “Just forgive!” Notice that Jesus doesn’t even expect the sinner to repent or make amends. Forgive them, orders Jesus — “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” Maybe 490 times. The point is; your forgiveness should be beyond calculation.

Well, that stinks, doesn’t it? Enduring hundreds of hurts, and then offering hundreds of expressions of forgiveness. Sounds about as pleasant as what Mike Rowe goes through every week — getting seasick in eel boats, attacked by monkeys and lowered into storm drains.

It’s a dirty job.

Now some will object to this open-ended approach to forgiveness, saying that it turns Christians into doormats, fails to hold sinners accountable, and invites abusers to continue their abuse. They’ve got a point, and it’s hard to imagine that Jesus wants us to throw justice completely out the window. But still he says, “Forgive.” Not just seven times, but dozens or even hundreds of times. Jesus is saying that forgiveness is at the heart of life in the church — it creates a distinctively merciful community.

Why is this?

The parable of the unforgiving servant answers this question by revealing the reason we must offer forgiveness to one another. It has nothing to do with the pursuit of justice, and everything to do with the character of God. Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven “may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves.” So Jesus is saying that we can learn a little something about life in God’s kingdom by paying attention to a story about how this king deals with his debtors.

The king begins the reckoning by calling a debtor to appear before him. The man owes him 10,000 talents, which is an insanely large sum of money. A talent is the largest monetary unit of the day, equal to the wages of a manual laborer for 15 years. 10,000 talents would be the wages of 10,000 manual laborers, over the course of 15 years. By comparison, notes biblical scholar Eugene Boring, the annual tax income for all of the territories of Herod the Great was 900 talents per year. Ten thousand talents would exceed the taxes for all of the countries of Syria, Phoenicia, Judea and Samaria. (That’s a lot of coins! St. Francis could use some of those talents right now so we can stay open!)

So this man is more than knee-deep in debt. He’s over his head, drowning in red ink, sinking like a rock. Makes the sub-prime mortgage crisis a few years ago look like a problem with petty cash. (Sounds like your bishop! Geesh, so personal this Gospel reading is!)

The king orders the slave to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, so that a payment can be made. With nothing left to lose, the slave falls on his knees before the king and says, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” Surprisingly, the king shows pity and releases the slave, forgiving him the entire debt.

That’s the kind of God we have, says Jesus — a king who has mercy on us, and who forgives us our debts. It’s a dirty job, but we’ve got a God who will do it!

Now that’s a pleasant parable, but we haven’t reached the end. That freshly forgiven slave races out of the palace and comes upon a second slave who owes him a hundred denarii — 100 coins basically, each one equal to the daily wage for a laborer. This amount is a significant sum, for sure, but it’s positively microscopic compared to what the first slave owed the king. The first slave seizes the second slave by the throat and demands that he pay him what he owes. The second slave falls down and pleads with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.”

No way, says the first slave. Not gonna happen. He throws the second slave in prison until the whole debt is paid.

Here, the plot thickens. Almost as exciting as prime time television, isn’t it? When his fellow slaves see what has happened, they go ballistic — they run and give the king a full report. The king summons the first slave and says, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. You think that was easy for me? I had about as much fun as Mike Rowe performing a whale autopsy. Why didn’t you show mercy to your fellow slave, as I did to you?”

The slave is speechless. He could have hit Twitter running like Trump, but he didn’t. He had nothing to say; he knew he was caught.

Then, in his anger, the king hands him over to spread hot tar on the roof of a church in California, like in Dirty Jobs episode 110. And the slave is tortured by this work until he pays his entire debt. (Incidentally, we don’t need our roof tared, but we could use a new a/c and a little extra to pay the bills.)

The punch line? Jesus concludes with the words, “So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” There’s an unbreakable bond between the forgiveness of God and the forgiveness we are to offer one another, making it illogical and impossible for us to accept the mercy of the Lord and then refuse to extend mercy to others. Jesus summarizes this quite succinctly in his teaching of the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

Forgive us our debts — that’s what we ask of God. As we have forgiven our debtors — that’s what we offer our neighbors. In the divine economy of the kingdom of heaven, you can’t have one without the other.

Our Lord is a merciful God who is willing to do the dirty work of blotting out our transgressions, washing us from our iniquity, and cleansing us from our sin. That’s a job that would overwhelm a tough guy like Mike Rowe, even if he were walking around in a hazmat suit. But God is betting that we have been transformed by his forgiveness into the kind of people who can do the hard work of forgiving others. God knows that his mercy can have a surprising and wonderful effect — it can create a community of merciful people. We knew the rules and we broke them, yet God continues to offer His mercy and forgive us every – single - time! How crazy is that??!!

God came down to earth and put on human form in the person of Jesus – God humbled himself and became one of us dirty and sinful people; He took on our lowliness. Further still, God is willing to do the most disgusting of dirty jobs — the removal of our sin through his gift of forgiveness. All He asks is that we turn and do the same for others. Seven times. Seventy-seven times. Maybe even 490 times. Even every time!

There’s deep satisfaction in tackling and finishing a tough job.
Let us pray.
That those in civic authority will dedicate themselves to justice, peace, authentic freedom, and generous defense of the poor. We pray to the Lord. (Lord hear our prayer.)
Blessings on all students and teachers as they begin a new school year. We pray to the Lord.
That our parishes, animated by a missionary spirit, may be places where faith is communicated and charity is seen. We pray to the Lord.
For the sick, the hungry, orphans and widows, the homeless, those trapped sin, and those on the verge of despair; that God’s mercy will save them and that their struggles will be lessened. We pray to the Lord.
The grace this week to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus. We pray to the Lord.
We ask You, Lord, to heal the racial unrest that continues in our nation; help each of us to have humble, loving and welcoming hearts. We pray to the Lord.
For the sick family members of our parishioners - Don Kuchka, Barbara Koko and Pattie Maruszewski; that they find healing and peace. We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, You are our help. Your kindness is a greater good than life. May we bless You in our daily lives, always calling upon Your name. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Our first video introduction