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