Sunday, November 25, 2018

November 25, 2018
The Sunday Next before Advent
(Daniel 7:13-14; John 18:33-37)
A good meal. A meaningful conversation. A lovely afternoon in the park. Perfect moments.

That’s what a man named Eugene O’Kelly began to seek after he was diagnosed with brain cancer. At age 53, he seemed to be in excellent health, traveling and working long hours as chairman and chief executive of a giant accounting firm. At one point in his skyrocketing career, he was so determined to impress a potential client that he tracked down the man’s travel schedule and booked the seat next to him on a flight to Australia. He chatted with the guy halfway around the world, landed the account, and then immediately hopped on a flight back to Manhattan.

But then a visit to his doctor revealed that he had an aggressive brain cancer that would kill him in 100 days.

So, what do you do when you receive such devastating news? “I had focused on building and planning for the future,” said Mr. O’Kelly. “Now I would have to learn the true value of the present.”

Being a goal-oriented, Type-A high achiever, he decided to write a book about his experience: Chasing Daylight: How My Forthcoming Death Transformed My Life. In his book, one learns that O’Kelly is a man of faith who gives us some tremendously valuable advice about preparing for the end of our days. He decides to “unwind” relationships with important people in his life, taking the time to have intentionally final conversations with those who have meant a great deal to him.

He also goes searching for “Perfect Moments” — times of lingering over a fine meal, enjoying a long and deep conversation, taking the time to soak up the beauty of nature over the course of an afternoon. “I marveled at how many Perfect Moments I was having now,” he writes in his memoir.

Eugene O’Kelly didn’t have much time, so he had to get it right. In many ways he did, turning ordinary experiences into Perfect Moments. Then he died, reports The New York Times, just as his doctors predicted.

The end is coming for every one of us, but so often we behave as though we are going to live forever. What does it mean for us to live with the end in mind, and learn the true value of the present?

Our Christian faith is full of reminders that life has a start and a finish, and it is grounded in the conviction that there is meaning in the movement of our existence from beginning to end.

For starters, our church year begins on the first Sunday of Advent, and then moves through celebrations of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus until we get to the last Sunday of the church year, which is today — The Sunday Next before Advent or also known as Christ the King Sunday.

Our Bible is not a random collection of ancient stories, but it moves in a meaningful way from the creation of the world in Genesis to the completion of God’s plan in Revelation. Even the story of our relationship with God has a purposeful progression to it, with God first speaking to us through Old Testament prophets, then coming to us in Jesus Christ, and finally living in us as the Holy Spirit. For Christians, life is never marked by endless cycles of random events — it always moves from start to finish, in accordance with the Master’s Plan.

So what can we say at the end of an awful year of gruesome news? Rapes, murders, wars, insurgencies, massacres, terrorist threats, natural disasters, and not to mention the political mayhem that have been constant headlines.

How do you find purposeful progression in a year marked by such a discouraging news cycle? How do you break out of day-to-day despair and catch sight of a Perfect Moment?

For us, as people of faith, the best way to clarify the present is to focus on the future.

That’s precisely what the Israelites did when they were living as exiles in Babylon roughly 600 years before the birth of Christ. Years before, they and their people had been beaten to a pulp by the Babylonians and either left for dead like a road-kill armadillo, or deported in chains to a new and strange land. Those who now survived in Babylon felt worse than a brown paper bag. They felt bad and sad. So bad and sad that Daniel and his comrades wonder what it means to stay true to the God of Israel in a place so far from the land of Israel, and they struggle to find joy and hope in a time of desperation and despair. “By the rivers of Babylon,” laments Psalm 137, “there we sat down and there we wept …. How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”

But Daniel discovers hope for the present by focusing on the end. Lying in bed in Babylon, he has a vision of God, an “Ancient One” who takes his place on a throne that is blazing with fiery flames. God’s clothing is as white as snow, the hair of his head is like pure wool, and a stream of fire flows out from his presence. The court around him sits in judgment, and the divine record books are opened (Daniel 7:9-10). This is what we would call an “apocalyptic vision” — an unveiling or revelation of God at the very end of time.

As you might expect, God quickly renders judgment on the empires of the world, destroying one and leaving the other three powerless (Daniel 7:11-12). But then Daniel sees “one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven.” A human being appears, and to this son of man God gives “dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him .… and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14).

For Daniel, and for all who have faith in God, this is a Perfect Moment.

And here is the point: God is working to bring order out of chaos and victory out of defeat.

No matter how much horror confronts us nightly on CBS, CNN, ABC, NBC, or FOX; no matter how some commentators on these stations can make us smile about our political and social follies; God is working with God’s people, as he did with Daniel, to ensure that his will is done “on earth, as it is in heaven.” It’s an enterprise that’s marching from heaven to earth and from the future to the present.

The exiles in Babylon might have understood Daniel’s son of man to be the angel Michael, since Michael does battle for Israel a little later in the book (Daniel 10). But Christians see in this text, Jesus as the Son of Man, the one who comes at the end of time as “King of kings and Lord of lords,” a rider on a white horse who judges in righteousness and makes war with evil (Revelation 19:11-16). He is “the ruler of the kings of the earth,” according to the book of Revelation. “He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail” (1:4-7).

The Israelite exile in Babylon, the first-century Christian oppressed by the Roman Empire, the 21st-century believer feeling overwhelmed by desperation and despair — for each the message has been and is the same: God is not disinterested. The forces of chaos and cruelty may take an occasional battle, but they cannot win the war, because the Lord of heaven and earth is alive and well and having an ongoing impact on human life. God’s son Jesus has come to us once, and he will come to us again, to wipe the tears from our eyes and establish a new heaven and a new earth. He comes to show us that God desires an everlasting relationship with us, one that cannot be disrupted by mourning or crying or pain … or even death itself (Revelation 21:1-4).

In the end, it’s all about relationships. Relationship with God, and relationship with one another. Eugene O’Kelly sensed this, which is why he spent so much time with friends and family in the last hundred days of his life. “Must the end of life be the worst part?” he wondered. “Can it be made the best?”

This is a good question for each of us, as we face the end of an exceptionally difficult year. Can this challenging time be the best of times? Can we learn the true value of the present, and find perfection in the mundane? Can we turn ordinary experiences into Perfect Moments — moments in which we see the hand of God at work?

Near the end, Eugene O’Kelly arranged times to “unwind” with people who had been important to him over the course of his life. These “unwindings” were intentionally final conversations, held at a house on Lake Tahoe and in Manhattan restaurants, but also in ordinary gardens, by rivers, and in the middle of Central Park. They were his time to experience friendship, frankness and fun, and he planned each one in order to make it as perfect as possible.

We can do the same. Whether we have brain cancer or not, whether we are having good days or not, we can do our best to have quality conversations with family members, friends, colleagues and neighbors. We can work on our relationship with God by regular worship during the season of Advent, and by serving others in the name of Christ. We can look to the future with confidence and anticipation, trusting that our Lord is involved in our lives in an active and ongoing way, always working for healing and restoration and peace.

If we do, we’ll marvel at how many Perfect Moments we can have right now.
Let us pray.
For those who were not able to share in the blessings of abundant food, family, and friends this Thanksgiving, those who are hungry, homeless, or alone, that God may comfort them. We pray to the Lord.
That we may be a sign of God’s loving care to all those in need, especially during the coming winter months when many people will find it difficult to stay warm. We pray to the Lord.
We remember in our prayers those who suffer because the ones they love have died. We pray that they may know the compassion of Christ, who wept with Mary and Martha at the death of Lazarus. We pray to the Lord.            
We pray for our police and all those in law enforcement that they have a commitment to truth, honesty and public service and act only to guard and defend those who rely on them for safety and justice. We pray to the Lord.  
For world leaders, for miracles of collaboration that they may see in the migrant and the refugee not a problem to be solved but brothers and sisters to be welcomed, respected and loved. We pray to the Lord.
That our lives may show that Christ rules our hearts. We pray to the Lord.
We remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.    
Jesus reminds us that our lives are finite and will one day come to an end. We pray for the wisdom to live each day as if it is our last and to treat all we meet as we would wish that we ourselves are met by God, our Father on our Day of Judgment.  Loving God, the Alpha and Omega, fill us with a greater desire to bring your kingdom to this Earth. Mold our hearts, sharpen our senses to hear your voice and fill us with your wisdom and grace. Help us create a world where truth and justice find a home. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Sunday, November 18, 2018

November 18, 2018
The Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Trinity
(Hebrews 10:11-25; Mark 13:24-32)
Fidget spinners. You've heard of them. They are one of the hottest toys of 2017. It was thus that I countered people should take one of our wooden pocket crosses to use when one feels the need to fidget.

The fidget spinner has generated controversy -- some schools ban them as a distraction. But over time, the fad will fade and fidget spinners will gather dust along with hula hoops, troll dolls, Beanie Babies and jelly bracelets.

Not that fads are limited to children. Adults are equally susceptible to fads. Two words: pet rocks. Over a short period in the mid-1970s, 1.5 million pet rocks were sold. These smooth stones were sold in cardboard boxes with a nest of straw and breathing holes. They were rocks! And sane, normal people -- teachers, lawyers, stock brokers -- went to work, and they had a pet rock on their desk. Go figure.
That’s okay. I have had the “fad” of collecting plush Mickey Mouse toys for years and haven’t stopped yet. When I die, they will not come with me, so one has to wonder why I “waste” my money. I guess I am like anyone else - human. I suppose it’s not a “fad” if I am the only one doing it.

Still more recently (within the last 20 years), these fads have come and most have gone: Razor Scooters, Livestrong wristbands, WWJD bracelets, Heelys, flash mobs, "Vote for Pedro" T-shirts, speed dating, cupcake stores, "Angry Birds," "Words with Friends," "Duck Dynasty," Tebowing, boy bands, Furby, oxygen bars, pogs, the "Macarena."  Well, okay, some of these still pop up occasionally.

Fads. All of these things. So what is a fad?

Dictionary definitions include: "An intense but short-lived fashion; craze; a temporary fashion, notion, manner of conduct, etc., especially one followed enthusiastically by a group."

All of which brings us to fads connected to the Bible, especially to passages describing the return of Christ. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus says that "the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in the clouds' with great power and glory."

Keep your eyes open, says the Bible. "when you see these things happening, know that he is near."

The apocalyptic elements of Scripture -- Daniel, Revelation and some of the words of Jesus -- have been seized by some theologians and preachers in an almost “faddish” fashion. We know from church history. The Anabaptists of the 1530s in M√ľnster, Germany. The Millerites of the early 1840s who took to the mountains by the thousands to await the return of Christ. The frenzy in the early 1970s that attended the publication of The Late Great Planet Earth. The Branch Davidians of 1993. The Left Behind books and movies. Y2K. And this list only scratches the surface of apocalyptic fever that has raged through the human community over the millennia. There are many who view our present state of the world is the beginning of the “End Times.”

More recently -- 2011 -- the "End Times" and the return of Christ caught the attention of the world. A radio preacher named Harold Camping studied the Bible and came to the conclusion that the world would end May 21, 2011. After sharing this prediction with his listeners, he used millions of dollars of their donations to put his message on 5,000 billboards. Camping estimated that 7 billion people would die.

May 21 came and went with no return of Christ. Camping's followers expressed astonishment and disappointment. Some denounced him as a false prophet. He amended the date to October 21, and the world still didn't end. But it didn't really matter -- the fad, the fever, had subsided.

Camping should have read verse 32: "But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."

Clearly, fads come and go, whether they involve fidget spinners or biblical prophecies. But the truth is, nothing really endures. Jesus himself said that absolutely everything will pass away, including "heaven and earth."

The question for us is this: What, then, will not fade and disappear? Everything will come and go. Except -- wait for it -- the word of God. Jesus says, "My words will not pass away." The word of the Lord is our solid foundation in an ever-changing world, so every day we need to "Watch, therefore; you do not know when the lord of the house is coming." (Mark 13:35)

Our challenge is to move from fad to foundation. As we approach the season of Advent, let's build our lives on something more solid than a pet rock.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus offers words that are foundational for the Christian life. Unfortunately, the gospel of Mark does not include this important set of teachings. Mark tells us that Jesus "went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee," (Mark 1:39) but then he skips over three chapters of teachings that appear in the Gospel of Matthew.

So Mark is not a big help when it comes to the words of Jesus. Better to turn to Matthew, in which Jesus says, "offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on [your] right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.  If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well.  Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles.  Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow." (Matthew 5:39-42)

Such words are difficult to hear and to follow. Jesus begins by saying, "You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,'" (Matthew 5:38) and this makes perfect sense to us. After all, we live with a justice system which generally follows the conventional wisdom that the punishment should fit the crime. It only seems fair to take "an eye for an eye."

But the immutable and eternal words of Jesus point to a different reality: God "makes his sun rise on the bad and the good." (Matthew 5:45) In this reality, everyone, evil and good, righteous and unrighteous, is a child of God. God loves all of his children and provides for them, whether they are saints or sinners.

Our job, as Christians, is not to follow fads that tend to lift some people up and bring others down. Instead, we are to try to love other people as God loves them, seeing the image of God in people who may look very ungodly to us. Drifting into sarcasm, Jesus asks, "For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same?" (Matthew 5:46). In other words, if you only love your friends and family members (and even that is hard sometimes!), what have you accomplished? Anyone can do that -- even the corrupt tax collectors of the Roman Empire.

"offer no resistance to one who is evil," says Jesus (Matthew 5:39). Jesus is not being soft on evildoers here, but is teaching that resistance can lead to an escalation of violence. Nelson Mandela took this approach in South Africa when he said, "If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner."

"hand him your cloak as well," says Jesus. "go with him for two miles" Matthew 5:40-41). Show your neighbors that you love them so much that you will literally give them the coat off your back. Demonstrate that you are seeing God so clearly in them that you will walk a great distance with them. Such generosity is not faddish; it's foundational.

Look an oppressive Roman soldier in the eye and see the image of God in him. Carry his gear farther than the law allows, so that he will be forced to see you as a person, not a pack animal. Make him so uncomfortable that he will have to wrestle his gear out of your hands and take it back to avoid breaking the law! The words of Jesus are foundational, and at times they can be funny.

"Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow," says Jesus. "love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:42, 44). In each of these commands, we are being challenged to see other people in a new light -- in the light of Jesus' words. As we walk in this way, we begin to see our neighbors as children of God, and as people who carry inside them the image of God.

None of this is easy, but it is the key to following the words that last forever. What Jesus says is never faddish. Instead, it is foundational for Christian living.

Fads, by definition, will fade. In fact, everything is doomed to disappear.

Everything except the words of Jesus. When everything else goes out of style, his teachings are worth keeping.
I want to leave you with one last thought. In the fall of 1939, C.S. Lewis gave a sermon at Oxford University where he taught.
As Lewis took his place behind the pulpit, Poland had just been invaded by the Nazis. The young men of Oxford were wondering what would become of them. Would their generation follow the example of the one that preceded them: so many of them pouring out their life-blood "on Flanders fields"?

Some were wondering whether the dire events splashed across the newspaper headlines were harbingers of the end of the world. Could Adolf Hitler be the antichrist?

What wisdom would this middle-aged professor share with those elite young scholars, many of whom would soon trade their academic gowns for army uniforms?
His response was in a sermon was titled, "Learning in War-Time."

"You would be surprised if you knew how soon one begins to feel the shortness of the tether," Lewis admitted, "of how many things, even in middle life, we have to say 'No time for that,' 'Too late now,' and 'Not for me.' But Nature herself forbids you to share that experience. A more Christian attitude, which can be attained at any age, is that of leaving futurity in God's hands. We may as well, for God will certainly retain it whether we leave it to him or not. Never, in peace or war, commit your virtue or your happiness to the future. Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment 'as to the Lord.' It is only our daily bread that we are encouraged to ask for. The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received."

--C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Essays
Might I suggest that as we go through life we take from C.S. Lewis a little of his wisdom as we attempt to live as our Lord commanded us to so do with one another. Fads come and go, but the Word of the Lord remains the same and forever.
Let us pray.
That we may have strength to resist unwholesome fads and to apply these longings toward God. We pray to the Lord.
For those who are enduring extreme hardships and have given up hope, that they may be comforted and that we will encourage them and help them to find hope in Christ. We pray to the Lord.
For those who are homeless and others who have insufficient protection from the cold, that they may be kept safe as winter weather approaches. We pray to the Lord.
For grace poured out and received among us; to stand with the poor, the immigrant, the vulnerable and the prisoner and to lead the many to justice. We pray to the Lord.
For all leaders and citizens; for the ability to listen to one another with genuine humility, to reach across the divisions in our midst and build consensus to promote the common good. We pray to the Lord.
During this Thanksgiving week, for grace to step beyond the duty of routine and the frenzy of busyness to cherish the many gifts that are ours, to be mindful of gratitude as a way of life. We pray to the Lord.
We remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
Father God, Jesus reminds us that our lives are finite and will one day come to an end. We pray for the wisdom to live each day as if it is our last and to treat all we meet as we would wish that we ourselves are met by you Father on our Day of Judgement. God, you show us the path of life, help us daily to choose to bring light to the darkness. May compassion define us and love guide us as we await that day and hour when time will no longer matter and all will be transformed in your eternal grace. We ask all these things through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Sunday, November 11, 2018

November 11, 2018
The Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Trinity
(Veterans Day)
(Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44)
To explain, I start with a lesson in metallurgy. Before 1982, the penny was made of copper. But that year, the cost of the copper required to create one penny rose above 1¢. So since 1982, the U.S. Mint coined pennies made primarily of zinc. The cost to produce them has continued to grow.
Legislation has been discussed about possibly eliminating Abe from our coinage altogether, but not with any level of seriousness. However, Australia, New Zealand and Canada have eliminated their pennies already.

At the crossroads of metallurgy and political legislation, companies began collecting pre-1982 pennies and melting them to resell the copper. Copper prices kept rising and scads of pennies disappeared. Business was booming.

Copper melting proved so lucrative that illicit activities sprung up. Thieves began stripping copper wire from construction sites and utility connections. A 122-year-old copper bell was even stolen from Saint Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco. The Mint had to produce enormous numbers of zinc pennies to offset the circulation deficit created by copper penny melters. So in 2007, laws were passed making penny melting illegal.

That's when the second penny industry emerged - penny hoarding. People stash pre-1982 pennies away, hoping for the rumored legislation that will do away with the 1¢ coin. At that point, penny melting would again be legal, so they think anyway.

At worst, these stashes of pennies are worth 1¢ each – or exactly what was paid to get them. Zero lost on the investment, if the Mint keeps the penny or the penny hoarder loses patience and cashes out.

For many of us, pennies are more purse-clutter than currency. You can't even find 1¢ gumball machines at grocery stores anymore, so what good are they? I guess we should all go to Disneyland and use them in the penny press machines!

But in this text from Mark 12, a penny was all that a widow had to live on. One penny. Well, the Greek words are lepta and kodrantes. Two lepta or coins worth less than a kodrantes or a penny. What she had was worth less than, let's say, a post-1982 penny.

In this passage, Jesus is teaching the people in the temple. As the religious leaders strolled about the courtyards, Jesus used them as a foil. Their garments were ornate -- a cultural sign of leisure and dignity. They expected formal public greetings -- the first-century equivalent of saluting an officer. They always looked for VIP seating. They maintained their status through the financial support of widows. They prayed publicly with pomp and eloquence. In short, they were consumed with external abundance. They wanted prominence and deference. They liked their standing in society and the comfort that came with it.

In like fashion, Jesus noticed the rich giving their huge offerings in the temple. Clearly the right hand knew what the left hand was doing, because Jesus could tell they were giving large amounts, even from across the room.

Then a widow came and put two copper coins into the offering. And after that, a penny hoarder came and traded the treasurer two zinc coins for them. Scholars believe that to be a scribal addition from about 2007 A.D.

Two coins were nothing compared to the sacks the rich had offered. In fact, our idiom "my 2 cents" probably draws from this story. We say, "I'll put in my 2 cents, for what it's worth."

Recall the adage, "See a penny, pick it up, and all day long you'll have good luck." Well good luck may not be worth 1¢ anymore. If you saw a coin on the sidewalk, would you pick it up if it were a quarter? A dime? A nickel? How about a penny? That creates a powerful comparison to this gospel reading. A couple of pennies -- that's what the widow gave when the temple passed the plate. Jesus commended her for giving what most of us would not stoop to pick up off of the sidewalk.

From the narrative of the widow and her pennies, several themes emerge that we should consider today.

Jewish religious leaders were religiously zealous in an increasingly pluralistic culture. However, it's possible they came to enjoy their position of power and privilege to such a degree that they lost a sense of religious and spiritual purpose. Jesus' indictment of them shows that they loved abundant status, abundant comfort and abundant deference from those around them. This story begs us to thoughtfully look for abundance in our lives. We must start from awareness, and then talk to God and others about what to do about the abundance we inevitably discover.

Pennies From Heaven is a 1936 film starring Bing Crosby (not to be confused with the 1981 Steve Martin film, which shares only the title). The film's story -- of flawed but well-meaning people trying to do the right thing and stick together amid adversity -- has been largely forgotten, but the title song, emblematic of the Depression Era, has endured as a jazz standard. Pennies From Heaven is also of historical significance because it was one of the first films in which an African-American -- jazz musician Louis Armstrong -- was given major billing. This was at the insistence of Crosby.

The song's lyrics reflect on how the pre-Depression world had forgotten how "the best things in life were absolutely free." Because no one appreciated marvels like the blue sky and the new moon, "it was planned" (presumably by God) "that they would vanish now and then."

You had to buy them back -- but with what?

"Pennies from heaven" is the answer:

That's what storms were made for
And you shouldn't be afraid for
Every time it rains, it rains,
Pennies from heaven.
Don't you know each cloud contains
Pennies from heaven?
You'll find your fortune's falling
All over town.
Be sure that your umbrella is upside down.

In the darkest days of the Depression, it was comforting to think that God might still send the occasional penny our way -- a small, but tangible blessing, symbolic of much more significant blessings yet to come.

The whole idea is reminiscent of a biblical story, that of the manna that sustained the Israelites in the wilderness. They couldn't hoard the stuff, because it would spoil. They had to depend on its daily arrival (with double portions graciously provided on the day before the Sabbath, so they wouldn't have to work picking it up).

If God's daily blessings are indeed waiting to be harvested, there's something to be said for "keeping your umbrella upside down."

Ironically, unclaimed pennies are far more likely to be discovered on the sidewalk these days than they were in the 1930s. Are we really so wealthy that we can afford to just pass them by, hoping for a hundred-dollar windfall instead? Or have we forgotten the simple wonder of finding happiness in the little things in life?

Mark wants us to see a deeper agenda than money we put in the offering plate; hence, his attention to comparisons. He wants us to see giving as a barometer of our internal devotion to God and God's kingdom.

As a parallel issue, consider Jesus' words on words: "It is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks" (Luke 6:45). How should we apply this -- avoid slander, stop cussing and don't gossip about others, or examine the heart's broken desires that give rise to these behaviors? Tend to the latter, and the former will change.

Giving is the same way. Giving is simply an external demonstration of internal brokenness or virtue.

The point here is not necessarily to give more. Maybe we need to give less and provide for family or radically reduce personal debt so we can give more, healthier and for a longer time. Maybe we do need to give more and give creatively. But those issues are secondary, not primary. What Jesus seeks is heart transformation. Become the widow. As someone once put it, "Change your money and it may change your heart. Change your heart and it will change your money."

The comparisons among the three "characters" of this passage are striking. The religious leaders and rich givers look great on the outside -- they possess the cultural appearance of importance and standing. But their heart conditions show their true appearance to be thin and wanting. In that light, they weren't much different from the Israel of the Prophets. "These people draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote" (Isaiah 29:13).

On the other hand, a widow was a cultural outcast in the first century. Widows shared a marginalized standing with lepers, the poor, tax collectors and prostitutes. Yet with a heart devoted fully to God, the widow has a lot to teach us. This nameless, penny-less woman without a family has become an historical metaphor for generosity, dependence, sacrifice and priority.

As we set our own values, priorities and lifestyle choices, we might remember God's words to Samuel: "For the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). We may look acceptable to society or even Christian subculture, but our attitudes are the reality. Our inner motivations. What we feel. What we think but don't dare say. These all trump the outward gestures that people may observe.

This appearance vs. reality paradigm comes all the way back to our penny hoarders. These devoted savers probably look like fools to many who scoff at the penny. But they are investing into their future -- a no-risk situation in hopes of a windfall.

Christians are not called to hoard pennies, but to give them away.
Let us pray.
We pray for true leadership in the world, for an end to hatred, an end to war, an end to intolerance and violence, that all God’s peoples can live their lives in peace and harmony.  We pray to the Lord.            
We pray for tolerance in our own country. We pray particularly for those who see the gospel as a threat to liberty that their eyes be opened to the love, the peace and humanity of Christ’s message. We pray to the Lord.
For our community, that the generosity of the widows in today’s readings may inspire us and that we in turn may be examples of self-sacrifice to others. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for our bishops and those in authority in our church that they may not be as the scribes in today’s gospel, seeking places of honour in our temporal world, but that they be true shepherds, humbly guiding the flocks which the Lord has entrusted to their care. We pray to the Lord.      
That those who have been elected to serve our nation, our state, and our community may respect the dignity of all their constituents, no matter their wealth, talents, or place in society. We pray to the Lord.
For all veterans, today on Veterans Day, who gave of themselves to serve our country. We pray to the Lord.
We remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
Father God, help us to realize that we can only truly love You by loving our neighbor, that without love of neighbor there is no love for You. We pray for the wisdom and understanding as to how we can live more fully this great commandment and be a shining example of Christ’s love in our daily lives. May we learn that the riches gifted us should be used for the benefit of those most in need, the poor, the hungry, the homeless. We pray for the wisdom to think less of ourselves and our unnecessary needs and luxuries and share what we have with the less fortunate of Gods children. We pray for the veterans who have sacrificed their lives for our safety. May those who have lost their lives live in peace eternal; and those who still live, find comfort and solace in Your love and our gratitude. Lastly, Dear Lord, help our newly elected officials truly work to legislate as the populace has called them to do, not in self-serving ways. We ask all these things through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA