Sunday, November 26, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In short, Jesus rules.

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 19, 2017

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

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

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

The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

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

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.

Confessions by Saint Augustine.

Let’s look at Lewis' book.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 12, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wealthy condo buyers are now prepping for the apocalypse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 5, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It all begins with belief.

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

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

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

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