Sunday, January 28, 2018

January 28, 2018
(2 Corinthians 1:18-22; Mark 2:1-12)
We’re moving too fast and making too much noise to perceive the gentle voice of God. With windows rolled up, stereos cranked and engines roaring, we have little chance of hearing anything ... but the sickening sound of a mortar-crusted missile.

A young and successful executive was traveling down a neighborhood street, going a bit too fast in his new Jaguar S-Type Sedan. Who could blame him, with his Jag boasting a 4.2-liter, 8-cylinder, 400-horsepower engine? He was watching for kids darting out from between parked cars, however, and slowed down when he thought he saw something.

As his car passed, no children appeared. Instead, a brick smashed into the Jag’s side door! He slammed on the brakes and spun the Jag back to the spot from where the brick had been thrown.

He jumped out of the car, grabbed a kid with a buzz cut and wearing tattered cargo pants and pushed him up against a parked car, shouting, “What was that all about and who are you? Just what the heck are you doing?”

Building up a head of steam, he went on. “That’s a new car and that brick you threw is going to cost a lot of money. Why did you do it?”

“Please - I’m sorry, I didn’t know what else to do,” pleaded the youngster. “I threw the brick because no one else would stop.” Tears were dripping down the boy’s chin as he pointed around the parked car. “It’s my brother,” he said. “He rolled off the curb and fell out of his wheelchair, and I can’t lift him up.” Sobbing, the boy asked the executive, “Would you please help me get him back into his wheelchair? He’s hurt and he’s too heavy for me.”

Deeply moved, the driver tried to swallow the rapidly swelling lump in his throat. He lifted the young man back into the wheelchair and took out his handkerchief and wiped the scrapes and cuts, checking to see that everything was going to be okay. “Thank you,” the grateful child said to him.

The man then watched the little boy push his brother down the sidewalk toward their home. It was a long walk back to his Jaguar ... a long, slow walk. He never did repair the side door. He kept the dent to remind him not to go through life so fast that someone has to throw a brick at you to get your attention.

God whispers in your soul and speaks to your heart. Sometimes when you don’t have time to listen, he has to throw a brick at you.

It’s your choice, each and every day: Listen to the whisper - or wait for the brick. The four friends in today’s gospel account heard the whisper, which is why they took the drastic action they did. They learned that a healer named Jesus was in the town of Capernaum, so they put a paralyzed friend on a mat and carried him to Jesus’ house. When they arrived, however, they found that the house was packed, and the crowd was spilling out into the street. There was simply no way that they could elbow their way inside, especially with the human load they were carrying. So they grabbed some bricks of their own to get the attention of the others. Climbing to the roof of the house, they punched a hole through the roof and lowered the paralyzed man down on his mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he proclaimed to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Then he said to the man, “Stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” And he stood up, picked up his mat and walked out through the front door, amazing everyone in the house.

God whispered in the souls of those four friends and spoke to their hearts. He inspired them to seek out Jesus, using whatever means necessary, and to trust him to heal their paralyzed friend. When the foursome dug through the roof, Jesus looked up at their dusty faces and saw their faith shining through.

Would he see the same in us?

Tragically, most of us are moving too fast and making too much noise to hear the gentle voice of God. Our windows are rolled up, our heaters are blowing, our Sirius/XM or Pandora players are cranked, our 400-horsepower engines are roaring, and we have little chance of hearing the whisper; little time to even pray a Rosary.

We don’t pay attention until we get hit by a brick. And then - when we do try to get involved with others, it can still fall short because our connection with the needy and marginalized is tangible at best. We touch the lepers, warns Miriam Adeney, “at arm’s length, without ever leaving the security of our own turf. Loving our neighbors means something more. It means being vulnerable. It means entering into their pain. When God in Jesus came to live among us, He shared our troubles and felt our hurts. Do we feel the pain of those in other countries?”

We will hear the whisper only when we are willing to feel the pain of our global neighbors. When we become vulnerable enough to share their troubles and feel their hurts, and then take actions that show that we love our neighbors every bit as much as we love ourselves. When we slow down and listen we may learn of the shooting that happened at 3 am this morning in Pennsylvania, or the shooting in Kentucky this past week; or when we become aware that in the first 28 days of this year that we have already had 13 fatalities and 75 injuries due to just gun violence alone; or that we have had 112 terrorist attacks somewhere in the world in the same number of days! Have we slowed down to notice this at all?
Our love is not just a warm and wonderful feeling, but must be revealed in concrete actions if it is going to reflect our Christian faith. For if “a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food,” observes the letter of James, “and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (James 2:15-17). Faith without works is dead, says James, and that’s why the foursome in Capernaum had to punch through the roof to get their paralyzed friend to the healer. The paralyzed man had been seeking help for what seemed forever, and finally four men listened. It was only when there was dust on their faces and dirt under their fingernails that Jesus looked up and saw their faith.

So what are you going to do to make your faith visible? The young executive in the Jag lifts the hurt boy back into his wheelchair, takes out his handkerchief and wipes the scrapes and cuts. That’s active faith. Another person spends a day each week reading and singing with patients on an Alzheimer’s unit. That’s visible faith. A family devotes a night on a regular basis to working at a local shelter for the homeless. That’s faith in action. An individual serves and acts as a caring presence in the life of someone who is feeling alienated from friends and from God. That’s faith you can see. Still another person meets fellow believers on international mission trips and works on issues of social justice. A priest dies saving some children from being killed in 1994 in Rwanda and the massacres there. That’s faith combined with works, in a vital and world-changing way.

The key is to listen for the whisper, and then act. To get up, get moving, get lifting, get carrying, get climbing and get digging ... whenever you hear the gentle voice of God calling you to do some work on behalf of others. Sure, there may be some barriers that separate you from Jesus, and from people around you. But like the fearless foursome of Capernaum, you can break through them.
We need to somehow instill in our generation and those to come, the message of Christ and that violence is not an end to a means – it is an end period. Our high tech world has left many of us insulated and indifferent to God and the message of love. We need to get people back in the pews and find ways of engaging the world without bombs and guns. Leaving the church or staying out of it is not working; if anything, it is making us insensitive to the world around us, much less what happens to us when are time to leave this earth arrives.

When you place the needs of the world in front of Jesus, amazing things can happen. The paralyzed can be healed. The hungry can be fed. The oppressed can be freed. The poor can be helped. Peace can break out, justice can be done, and hope can replace even the most desolate forms of despair.

It all starts with hearing the voice of God, and taking action. And, we need to be quick; before the next brick hits.
Let us pray.
That our society will be reenergized to seek Christ, love and peace in a world in such desolation of violence. That all people will seek healing from all hatred, division and intolerance throughout the world. We pray to the Lord. (Lord hear our prayer.)
For the families who lost loved ones in the shootings in Kentucky and Pennsylvania, that they be comforted in this horrible time; and the families of those who were injured in the same; that they will be motivated to help our young to be less exposed and influenced by the ever increasing violence in our nation. We pray to the Lord.
That the Church will stand before the world without stain or blemish, holy and obedient to God’s Word.  We pray to the Lord.
That our parish family will grow in faith, hope and love. We pray to the Lord.
That all Christians will turn down their distractions and allow themselves to listen for God to speak to their souls and hearts. We pray to the Lord.
For the poor, the sick, the homeless, and those who are hungry, or lonely, or unemployed; that the mercy of God will raise them up and answer their needs tangibly. We pray to the Lord.
That our legislators will take a compassionate stand for the refugees and the undocumented children who have come to our country seeking help. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week to be free of anxiety and full of trust in the Lord. We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, in You we take Refuge. In You we seek to learn to slow down and love our fellow humans. So many have left Your Church due to injustice, lack of compassion and unwillingness to understand and adapt to the new needs of the world 2,000 years removed from our Lord Christ; help them to know that they do need You and there are churches that still teach, love and live in the example of Your Son. Incline Your ear to us and save us from our own destructive actions. Be our fortress, our stronghold, our rock or refuge. 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, January 21, 2018

January 21, 2018
The Third Sunday after Epiphany
(1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20)
Who's the smartest person in the world?

You could make a case for Ken Jennings. He's the guy who won 74 consecutive matches on Jeopardy! and took home more than $2,500,000. You may be tempted to nominate Sheldon Cooper, the renowned physicist featured on The Big Bang Theory. True, he is smart. But he's a fictional character. Garry Kasparov is a name that's often brought up in discussions about smarts. He's the famous Russian chess player who, at the age of 22, became the world's youngest undisputed chess champion. Critics are quick to point out, however, that Kasparov was later beaten at chess by an IBM computer.

Dr. Jason Betts has developed the World Genius Directory, which he argues is the definitive ranking of the world's top minds. While other lists exist, Betts claims that his is the only one without a bias, allowing anyone in the world who thinks he or she might be among the smartest of the smart to submit her or his scores. And according to the World Genius Directory, the smartest person in the world is Dr. Evangelos Katsioulis, a 36-year-old Greek psychologist. His IQ score is 198. To put that into perspective, his score is 58 points higher than the ranking of "genius," almost double the score of your average human, and 23 points higher than Ken Jennings' paltry 175.

The bottom line is that, no matter how you rank them or whether or not you can name them, there are some incredibly smart people in this world. There always have been. And imagine how helpful it'd be to have a chorus of crazy-smart people at your disposal, say when it's time to craft the church budget or to do research for a sermon that's got you stumped. Access to world-class nerds would have major perks. I was tested upon entering seminary roughly 26 years ago, and I was so upset because I scored 6 points shy of Genius (140+)! (I wasn’t really upset; I was actually quite surprised!) However, that does not seem to translate into the smarts one may need as they go through life sometimes. I still have writers block for my sermons on a regular basis sometimes and still can’t seem to land a job. So much for IQ’s!

At this particular moment in Mark's Gospel we see Jesus in recruitment mode. He's actively drafting members of His team, a team that He knows will eventually be given the daunting task of igniting a spiritual movement that will spread around the globe and endure for millenniums. If you were Jesus, who would you pick to be members of this elite team?

If you were the Son of God, building a cohort of spiritual ninjas, wouldn't you choose the best of the best, the smartest of the smart? Wouldn't you hit up the World Genius Directory, find the biggest brain in Palestine, and recruit him to be in charge of logistics? Maybe you'd round out the team by finding the funniest guy you could, someone who could keep the tone light when ministry got hard, as well as the strongest dude in town for when ministry got dangerous? That's how most of us would build our crew. That's how Jesus should have gone about building his, if He was smart, at least that is what some of us might think; but we would be wrong. It goes back to the old adage that God looks at our heart, not the externals.
So, who does Jesus choose? He chooses the unqualified.

You may think it harsh to label Simon and Andrew, James and John as unqualified, but it's not. The details given to us by Mark make this point clear. These are young men. In a world where the life expectancy was low, James and John were old enough to be established in a trade, but still young enough to have their father, Zebedee, in the boat with them. In first-century Palestine, the ideal career for most young Hebrews was not to be taking over the family business but to be under the tutelage of a rabbi. The brightest of boys, those who had shined in Hebrew school and who stood out in their memorization of the Torah, would, upon completion, seek a rabbi, and, if they made the cut, they would spend the next few years tagging along as disciples.

So to be a young man, already embedded in the family trade, meant that, in all likelihood, you were not the cream of the crop in Hebrew school, and you did not have what it takes to run with the rabbis.
And Simon, we know was a married man and he admitted to being a sinful man and the Scriptures implied he was unlearned, however he was chosen to be the leader. Yet, he must not have been nearly as bad as some imply, because he wrote two epistles bearing his name.

Anyway, generally speaking these men were the leftovers, the kids who didn't get picked for kickball.

Jesus didn't cherry-pick the brightest kids from other rabbis and build a dream team. He didn't even take the normal route and allow the best and brightest to choose Him. Instead, Jesus went on a mission looking for the leftovers, seeking out the also-rans and He drafted them.

Why? Why would Jesus forsake the genius list and deliberately pursue those who belonged at the bottom of the list? The answer is this: Jesus chose simple and unaccomplished disciples to follow Him so that the love of God and the work of the kingdom would be undeniably evident in an unbelieving world.

In other words, these simple and unschooled tradesmen would become living, breathing object lessons on the depths of God's grace and the scope of God's power. No one would be able to say that they were privileged to walk with Jesus because of their résumés. No one would be able to say that the growth of the kingdom could be credited to their IQ. It was all God.

So take the post-resurrection events of Acts 4. We're with these same disciples, give or take. Given the keys to the mission by the resurrected Christ, these former fishermen are now boldly championing the expansion of God's kingdom. Brought before the Jerusalem council, they passionately and effectively proclaim the Gospel. The Jewish authorities are blown away -- not just by the content of their message -- but by the messengers themselves. Luke writes, "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus" (Acts 4:13). The earthshaking news of the Gospel being delivered through such unexpected vessels elicited an even greater awe of God and even clearer evidence of Jesus' power.

I mean, let’s look at this in a more familiar light. I often ask why God chose me? Hardly a genius, no matter what some test score says; not a scholar in any way. I have always worked in fields that did not require much education per se. I guess I was like a fisherman also, yet God choose me too. Me with my rebellious heart; with my secret struggles; with my lack of faith and long list of faults; I, who knows deep down that I am not worthy to tie God's shoes let alone be called God's child.

God chose me so that the world might look at me and see that God is indescribably merciful and incredibly powerful. I mean if He can choose me, certainly anyone can be chosen!

Why? The answer is found in the actions of the disciples. What do we see them doing the moment after Jesus comes and taps them on the shoulder? What do we see them doing when a rabbi comes and makes it clear that He wants them?

They dropped everything and followed. They dropped their nets. James and John left their dad! Why? Because when something you don't deserve but desperately want comes knocking at your door, you don't tell it to wait five minutes. You answer that door as fast as you can.

We're all disciples. We've each been given something we don't deserve but desperately need: an encounter with Christ. And our task each day is to see this life with Jesus as an undeserved invitation. It's an undeserved invitation to drop our plans and follow Him wherever He leads, knowing and trusting that wherever He takes us is better and more beautiful than whatever else we had planned.

So when Jesus calls me tomorrow morning to love someone I find annoying, I see it as a gift of grace and a chance for God's power to shine through my weakness. After all, I'm not the best at loving unlovable people. None of us are  sometimes. When Jesus calls us to invite a coworker to church, it's a gift of grace and a chance for God's power to shine through our weakness, since often we're not comfortable with that kind of thing. When Jesus calls us to follow Him into illness or endure a burden, it, too, is a gift of grace and a chance for God's power to shine in our weakness. It isn't easy to believe in God's goodness and the triumph of Christ when chemo is pumping through your veins; or you are out of a job; or being persecuted for your religious beliefs. Every day there is an opportunity, as a disciple, for the world to watch in astonishment as ordinary, schooled and unschooled, undeserving people live as examples of God's mercy and proof of God's power.

God didn't have to choose us, but God has chosen us. God doesn't have to use us, but God uses us anyway. And the end result is not just blessing for us and those God calls us to serve. The end result is glory for God's name.

Who is the smartest person in the world? Sure, the World Genius Directory claims to have an answer for you. But that's only if you define "smart" in terms of puzzle solving and IQ scores. Nothing, which I recall anyway, that was in my IQ test, has ever been anything I used regularly in life. I am sure whatever my mental skills were helped me, but solving equations was not something a priest needed. Maybe what makes one smart isn't your ability to give the right answer. Maybe what makes you smart is your ability to recognize a good thing when it comes your way. Plenty of "smart" people have passed on Jesus. But not James and John. Not Simon and Andrew. They got picked and then they gave up everything else. Sure, they may have been the leftovers in some eyes. But that decision Jesus made was indeed pure genius.
Let us pray.
That our government, which seemingly is torn by strife; that God may shine forth as a prophetic sign of unity and concord and instill in our government officials to do the same. We pray to the Lord. (Lord hear our prayer.)
That Christians, and other religious minorities in Asian countries, may be able to practice their faith in full freedom. We pray to the Lord.
That many young people will respond to Christ’s call to follow Him in the consecrated life and in the priesthood for the many generations to come. We pray to the Lord.
For those who experience anguish or sorrow in their lives; that the Lord will relieve their burdens and give them joy. We pray to the Lord.
That God will give us being and life, conserve us in existence, moving and attracting every being toward its own proper good according to its own nature and to provincial circumstances without ceasing. We pray to the Lord.
That those suffering from physical or spiritual pain that they may be healed. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week to be ever more ardent followers of Christ. We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, through the gift of your son a light has arisen in our lives. May we be true to that light. May we come to understand that regardless of our backgrounds, upbringing or education, we are called by You with a purpose in Your created world. We ask all this, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Still no luck on a new job. Keep the prayers coming. So horrible, but I place it all in God's hands.
January 14, 2015
Second Sunday after Epiphany
Baptism of our Lord
(1 John 5:1-9; Mark 1:7-11)
Feeling stressed? Congratulations. You are a typical American.

Over the last several decades, the United States has become the world champion in the stress category. According to the American Institute of Stress, stress-related illnesses cost the American economy $300 billion in medical bills and lost productivity every year. Forty-four percent of Americans feel more stress than they did five years ago, and one in five people experience "extreme stress," which includes symptoms like heart palpitations, shaking and depression. Three out of every four visits to the doctor are for stress-related ailments.

The numbers are shocking, especially given the fact that we live in a country that should have the least to be stressed about. We're relatively secure. We have a higher standard of living than most countries. We have better access to good medical care than the vast majority of other countries in the world. And yet many countries, places like Africa where basics like food, security and clean water are in short supply, report lower levels of stress than those of us who seem to have it all.

Theories abound as to why our stress is worse than so many others. Some say it's the economy and work-related stress. Others say our loss of community is to blame, as people spend more time with their eyes focused on screens rather than the faces of family and friends. Related to this is the mind-numbing amount of information we receive on a daily basis that causes us to fear threats that aren't even related to us. Put those together with the general American aversion to any negative feeling and you've got a stress-induced cocktail of anxiety.

So, how does one beat the specter of stress?

Well, the classic American answer is to buy your way out of it. In fact, there's now a whole industry that is focused on de-stressing your life while emptying your wallet.

Walk around the mall, for example, and you'll see opportunities:

- to purchase expensive massage chairs;

- to get a quick massage at a kiosk;

- to sign up for a yoga class at the local gym and contribute to what has become a $6-billion dollar industry while you strike a Child's Pose;

- to sip a relaxing drink. Instead of the amped-up stress jolt of a Red Bull or Monster energy drink, why not have a Just Chill or a Slow Cow (product of Canada) instead. (Yes, the last two are real drinks.)

Or, you can learn from Deepak Chopra, who is arguably the chief guru of stress management in American culture. Chopra, who claims he himself never has stress, sells millions of books and other devices -- all designed to help us relax. Take the Deepak Chopra Dream Weaver Light and Sound Mind Machine, for example. This $199 device is worn like a set of goggles, and uses a kaleidoscope of dream-like images and sounds to help you chill out. No wonder Chopra feels no stress. Sitting on a dreamy pile of easy money will do that to anyone.

The truth is, however, that, despite the billions of dollars we're spending on this stuff, you just can't buy peace. In a world that feels out of control, no amount of time spent tripping out in the Dream Weaver will ultimately make us feel better. Once the goggles come off, it's back to the reality that we live in a world that we can't conquer, no matter how much we spend.

The people to whom John was writing had every reason to be way more stressed than even we could imagine. While his audience isn't clearly identified at the beginning of the letter, the fledgling Christian churches of John's day were often harassed and persecuted. People were losing their livelihoods and their lives because of their association with the person and message of Jesus. At a minimum, they would have been ostracized by their pagan and Jewish neighbors for declaring a crucified Messiah as the Lord of the world.

But instead of rolling out the yoga mat, the early Christians actually thrived in the midst of stress and persecution. The first few centuries of Christianity saw it explode in numbers and influence to a point that, by the early fourth century, it was the dominant faith and worldview of the very Roman empire that had once sought the church's destruction.

How did Christians conquer the world, one might ask? The Apostle John gives us a clue, and he offers it free of charge!

John was no guru, but he was a witness to the life of Jesus. He shares how to live according to the pattern of Christ. For John, the way to peace didn't involve swiping a credit card to get what we need; rather, it involved remembering the gift that God has already given us.

"Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God," says John. If our ceaseless striving for security and solvency is the source of much of our stress, John reminds us that the one thing we really need is the one thing we can never buy or earn, and that's our status as children of God.

When we believe that Jesus is God's Son, it's that faith, and not our striving, that makes us part of his family. Every child of God who loves the parent, then, also loves the rest of his children. If isolation and overwork are the causes of much of our stress, John reminds us that God has brought us together by giving us the gift of Jesus Christ and offering us a whole new community in which we can both give and receive the love God has shared with us.

It's out of that love, then, that God gives us guidance about how to conquer the world and the stress that comes with it. "When we love God and obey his commandments," says John, it becomes the way in which we can love the other children of God. Obedience to God's commandments sounds, at first, like another burden about which to be stressed. Another rule to obey! Actually not, John, emphasizes that this obedience is what actually sets us free from worry and stress. By observing the two most important commandments as Jesus taught, will make our burdens lighter. For as Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 11:29)

In a world in which a fire hose of information bombards us constantly, obedience to God is the secret of a life of freedom. When we experience the gift of God's love and grace, it becomes the gift around which we orient our lives. We focus on what we have, rather than what we don't have. We focus on the present, rather than worrying about the future. We know that our future is secure in Christ.

John says, then, that the commandments of God are not "burdensome," but that it's through our obedience to God, in response to God's love, that God's children, in faith, "conquer the world." So, many of the de-stressing devices that people are buying today are all about escaping from the world. Take the Ostrich Pillow, for example. This is a pillow that fits over the head, leaving just a small opening for the mouth and nose, and puts the wearer into a head-in-the-sand kind of posture while a busy airport bustles around him. (You really should Google this. It's hilarious. Looks like some sort of martian head!)

The Bible, however, wants us to look up and see the world, not as a place from which to escape, but as a place to be claimed in victory. "Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God?"

When we believe that Jesus has already conquered the world, we have nothing to fear from it! No one can sell you that kind of peace!

Paul echoes John when he reminds the Roman church that nothing, not even the stress-inducing specters of hardship, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril or the threat of violence, can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. In fact, Paul says, "we are more than conquerors through him who loved us" (Romans 8:37). Peace is possible because the battle's already been won. Jesus himself declares it: "I have said this to you, so that in me you will have peace. In the world, you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!" (John 16:33).

Each of us deals with stress, (I can raise my hand to that!) but it need not be debilitating. A massage is nice, yoga is good (though a bit painful for those who are less stretchy), and we need opportunities to be quiet and meditate.

Ultimately, however, real stress relief comes from knowing that God loves us with an everlasting love, and that God has already conquered the world.

We've already been given the gift of peace -- and it's free of charge!
Let us pray.
That God will bless the March for Life in Washington D.C., this Friday, and that all will be converted to the Gospel of Life. We pray to the Lord. (Lord hear our prayer.)
For blessings on this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity; that all Christians may be one in faith, hope, and charity. We pray to the Lord.
That the Lord will raise up politicians capable of effective dialogue aimed at healing the deepest roots of the evils in our world. We pray to the Lord.
For our country as we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day; for an end to all racism, bigotry, and prejudice of any kind. We pray to the Lord.
That husbands and wives will be blessed with the grace to live their marriage with fidelity, holiness and joy. We pray to the Lord.
For those in our parish family and our personal families who are ill  or experiencing any form of struggle that they will feel the presence of the Lord. We pray to the Lord.
For all those who suffer from stress; that our Lord will take upon Himself their yoke and give His grace of comfort. We pray to the Lord.
For those who suffer from religious persecution; such as those members of the The Lampstand Church in china who this week their church demolished by the Chinese police. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week to live with greater desire for Jesus Christ. We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, sanctify us in Christ Jesus. You have called us to be holy. May we respond with all our heart and soul. We ask all these, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Sunday, January 7, 2018

January 7, 2018
(Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12)
Epiphany is that time of year when we get to say, “ah ha!” We say this, “ah ha”, maybe in a different manner than they did at Jesus’s birth, but, we still have an epiphany - and could have them almost every day of our lives – at least for those of us who stay open to Christ in our lives.
There are a few interesting points to our reading today. As we discussed for Christmas, the gifts the Magi brought to the Christ child, were and are unique. Those who offer gold, frankincense and myrrh show more in mystery then they offer in knowledge. Whether this visitation of the Magi took place or not, as some would argue, or whether it happened at some later time period as some others argue, I think misses the point. So, let us look at the passage merely as it is meant to be taken.
Gold proclaims Christ’ kingship and royal dignity. Gold is fitting for a king, a ruler, one with power and authority. Gold was also a symbol of divinity. This Child in the manger came to transform our perspective of wealth to treasure again the things of God. To treasure compassion, forgiveness, mercy, and peace; these are the coins of the realm of the newborn King.
Frankincense, of which its smoke represents divine majesty, is offered to adore the Christ child as our God. It comes from a small tree usually found in Arabia and parts of North Africa. Needless to say, somewhat hard to come by. It’s a hardened resin and the plant was used as medicine for many elements. Elements such as to stop bleeding and to heal wounds; it has been used as an antidote for poisons and a salve for bruises, ulcerations and even paralyzed limbs. And with this, the Christ child comes to restore and heal not just the physical ailments of those He will encounter in His Gospel journey, but to heal us of our fears and doubts; to bridge that which separates us from one another and from God.
Then we have myrrh which is an acknowledgment of His mortality as a human being; for God came to us in the Christ child as fully God and fully human. Myrrh was an expensive extract from the resin of a myrrh tree. It also was used as a medicine, but more prominently it was used in embalming the dead. During that period, only the royalty and the very wealthy were embalmed; myrrh, therefore, was a gift reserved for kings. The Christ child comes to re-create humanity in the life of God. Christ’s death will be the defeat of death; His cross will be His - and our – glory.
And so, the three gifts of the Magi are a gospel in themselves. They honored a child who is Himself a gift from God whose love is beyond our comprehension, whose goodness knows neither limit nor condition. Further still, the number of their offering bespeaks the Trinity, while there single devotion gives evidence of unity.
Something to consider here. The Magi, as best as we know, were most probably not Jews. They were Gentiles. Yet they come to worship Jesus. And because of this, it gives us a look into the future when Jesus tells His Apostles to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matt. 28:19) All nations - most obviously - would include the Gentiles - or the non-Jews. And so we see these Gentile Magi coming to worship Jesus, indeed - before Jesus himself makes the command to make disciples of all peoples. And thus, all peoples are coheirs with the Jews of the promises of God. We cannot limit God’s mercy. It knows no bounds, and it includes all.
At the time of Jesus’s birth, exiled Jews had just recently returned to Jerusalem - a Jerusalem that was in ruins. Somehow, the words of the prophet didn’t quite match up with the realities on the ground. But that didn’t stop these believers from rolling up their sleeves and working to bring about the glory that had been promised to them.
Also, how did the Magi recognize an earthshaking event in the humble stable with Joseph and Mary? Even the religious and political leaders of Israel missed the birth of the Messiah. So how could these pagan foreigners fall to their knees so readily, and offer such valuable treasures to this seemingly lowly child? Again, their expectations didn’t match up with what they found when they first laid eyes on the Holy Family. And although what they found is not what they expected, they understood there was much mystery and significance to how the Messiah chose to enter the world.
Today’s feast tells us that the glory of God can be present in the most hidden and unlikely people and situations. It tells us that God is there in the everyday rhythms of our lives. We should pray that He would give us eyes of faith to see Him and trusting hearts to build the kingdom with Him. The results would be another spectacular epiphany!
There is something very important that we should take from all this. We need on this Epiphany Sunday to experience another epiphany. We need to experience the epiphany of not only the Christ child coming incarnate, but in so, notice that He set the world on its head.
As we know from the book of Genesis, Adam was created in the image of God. However, that image was shattered and an became irreparably distorted image. And since Adam was meant to be the beginning of all humankind, the image of God in all of us was shattered and distorted. Since mankind inherited the broken image from Adam, all humans are broken and prone to sin. They are not judged for Adam’s sin however, because of his sin, we, Adam’s progeny, have all been born broken. Because of his sin, we all sin.
In the infinite riches of God’s working with His creation of humankind, He went through various steps to attempt to reconcile us in His image. Many prophets, kings, salvations, and destructions all came to pass, but nothing seemed to correct the distorted image. His image kept walking away from God instead of toward Him.
And so God decided the best way to resolve this once and for all was to join us down here in and on His creation. And so we have the Epiphany - Christ is born. And like the Magi, we too want to see the Christ. We want an encounter with the living Christ; or at least we should want to.
Let’s explore a little bit more about this “Magi” that came. The term “Magi” is a designation for Persian priestly lineage. It has also come to be known as that of a king or astrologer. But most commonly at that time, they were thought to have more than just human knowledge. Thus, why we see in some interpretations as the Magi being referred to as the “wise men.” They must’ve been wise, for in that time it was believed that a new star appeared at the time of a ruler’s birth. They travel far from their home - said to be from the east, hence the Orient - to see this great star and whom the star announced. To be able to determine all this from the alignment of a star or stars and where to go to follow the star(s) is pretty remarkable! They were wise enough to know someone far more important than some insignificant ruler was being heralded.
We too are called to be wise, and follow what the star announced. Having made their visit to the Christ child and given gifts, the Magi began their long and arduous journey home. This time, however, they return a different way from once they came. And while they altered their route to avoid going through Jerusalem again, it certainly wasn’t the only thing about the Magi that had changed. Returning home by another route is a metaphor for living a changed life, and by their vulnerability and letting this holy moment speak to their hearts, the Magi could make a clean break with some past practices and habits and head home changed and chastened, molded to the shape of Christ’s own triumph. This is how new life is created from old.
In our lives we also may choose to take another route in light of our effectiveness as Christians in a fragile world. We can decide to resist Herod in all his guises and go back home another way. We can resist all that kills childlike wonder, optimism, hope, imagination, play, creativity and adventure. We can also decide to pay close attention to all of life, including the silences, and to live less hurriedly and more openly and imaginatively so that we might catch sight of the shimmering star. Nearly everyone who encounters Jesus goes home another way. After they have met this Jesus they seem incapable - or certainly unwilling - to go back the same way they came.
God had to find a new way to reach His people. He needed us to take a different direction. He needed us to stop being so selfish and cruel. He needed us to clear up our image so that it would best reflect that of God in each of us. And so He came in the second person, as Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ came and changed the rules. By the time Jesus had come as man, the Jewish religion had 613 various laws and commandments. When Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:29), He was telling us that He understands that we could not live up to all these rules - especially if the teachers of the law made it more difficult than God may have intended. God gave us ten Commandments and man expanded them to 613.
There is no mercy or grace in rules, not even for one mistake. That’s why Jesus fulfilled all for us - so that it no longer has jurisdiction over us. In the law that once contained impossible demands – “Thou shalt not [this]…Thou shalt not [that]” actually becomes a promise that Christ fulfills in each of us.
But we must keep in mind that if we live our lives alone and independently - meaning away from the church in particular and Christ specifically - the promise is empty. Jesus laid the demand of the law to rest; it no longer has any power to accuse or command. Jesus is both the promise and its fulfillment! Trying to keep the law is actually a declaration of independence, a way of keeping control.
By keeping all the various laws, outside of the two that Jesus made clear we must follow, we are attempting to grant ourselves the power to judge others and to feel superior to them. We believe we are living to a higher standard than those we judge. Enforcing rules, especially in more subtle expressions like responsibility and expectation, is a vain attempt to create certainty out of uncertainty. And contrary to what we might think, God sometimes wants us to have a bit of uncertainty. Rules cannot bring freedom; they only have the power to accuse. By being uncertain, we rely more on the power of God.
Why did Jesus want to put away the rules and the laws you might ask? Let me put it to you this way. When we ask our children to do something like clean their room, what do you think would make us happier: if they cleaned the room because they loved us, or if they cleaned the room because they were afraid that we would punish them? Of course we want our children to do it because they love us, not out of some threat of punishment. Obedience under the shadow of threat is hardly obedience at all, but merely a compulsion. Christian obedience is devoid of threat and rooted in love, because this is what God truly wants.
How does God want us to live? Does He want us to live focusing on love or focusing on law? And this is the great message of Jesus Christ. This should be an epiphany for you on this Epiphany Sunday.
We are a different form of Catholic Church, to be sure. But, as I’ve said multiple times, we are merely Catholic without all the guilt. We teach a God who loves us. We teach of a God that is full of mercy and compassion. We teach of a God who is focused on us as His creation; as His image of Himself. And if we are to live up to that image without it being distorted, we must learn to love. When we have that epiphany of loving one another, we will fulfill all the laws - Jesus made that very clear.
And so this Sunday, I want everyone to leave here with an additional epiphany. The epiphany that there are so few rules, but so much opportunity. We come here today to worship God. We come here today to feel the Holy Spirit move through us - and I hope you actually try to open yourself to this happening to you. We come here today to take Christ within our self in the holy Eucharist.
When people ask me questions about coming to communion at our church, my usual response is that there are very few reasons I would ever deny anyone communion at our church. Why is that? First, because we minister in the example of Jesus Christ - we minister in mercy and love. Secondly, sometimes no matter how grievous of a sin you have, all the words of some lowly insignificant priest such as myself, will not change your attitude toward what you are doing, but Christ can change your attitude! We believe in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the holy Eucharist. And as such, when you come to communion, you take Christ within yourself. And by so doing, you are opening yourself up to a plethora of possibilities and even miracles. Even if you live in a sinful life, there is the Confiteor during mass with absolution the priest gives which will dissolve you of such. And if there remains still some inclination toward whatever attachment you may have to some sort of sin, by taking Christ within yourself, you are giving yourself a great and potent medicine.
So do not be afraid this Epiphany. Tell your friends and your relatives that Christ is born. Tell them there is a gift greater than gold, frankincense and myrrh to behold. And if they can’t find a church that will accept them and/or allow them to communion, you tell them about us. And they can come here and know Christ freely and receive Him where they may not feel comfortable receiving Him elsewhere. So tell your friends; tell your relatives; Christ is born and He will live in our sanctuary and the hearts of our members. You will find it amazing how often you can have some “ah ha” moments when you seek out the new born King!
Let us pray.
That the Church will be like the star of Epiphany, drawing the world to worship Jesus Christ. 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 the strength of mind and heart to defend our freedoms when they are threatened. We pray to the Lord.
That the observance of National Migration Week will move many to help the migrants of the world in their need. We pray to the Lord.
For those who face the hardships of life without the benefit of faith; that Christians will offer them compassion by helping and showing them the mercy and love of God in His son Jesus Christ. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week to surrender all selfish ways and follow the Way who is Christ. We pray to the Lord.
That those who struggle with the many perceived restrictions and laws listed in our Scriptures, and thus cause undue criticism, discrimination, and judgment toward others, may come to the realization of why God came amongst us so that we might learn to love instead of condemn. We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, may every nation on earth adore You. We thank You for Your faithfulness and steadfast love since the moment You created the universe. Thank You for the many ways You draw all of creation closer to You. Reveal to us how we might serve You, love You, and truly be Your hands and feet in our world. Forgive us for the many moments that we choose comfort over speaking against what is popular. Forgive us for the times when we let our need to be right supersede Your prophetic calling for us. Hear our petitions and, united with our Lady Mary, draw us close to Your Son, who is our Lord now and forever. Amen.
God Love You +++
 + The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor –St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA