Sunday, January 27, 2019

January 27, 2019
The Third Sunday after Epiphany
(1 Corinthians 12:12-30; Luke 1:1-4, 4:14-21)
Facebook has two features called Disaster Maps and Safety Check. Do Christian churches as whole need to do a better job of targeting disasters and responding to them?
We have had a number of fires here in California, with last year’s being one of the most destructive. We have had catastrophic hurricanes over the years – among other disasters. Just for an opening to this sermon, a few years ago, we watched one unfold in real time on our television screens. Hurricane Katrina had just slammed into the Gulf Coast. Cameras mounted on helicopters showed the desperate plight of those caught in the floodwaters. Some had fled to their rooftops because there was nowhere else to go.
Words painted on bedsheets signaled their despair: “Send Help.”
In a massive disaster like Katrina, one of the greatest challenges for aid agencies is finding displaced people who need to be rescued. Ordinary phone lines are down, and the few cell towers still operating are overwhelmed with voice calls. It would take days for 911 operators to listen to and log thousands of individual distress calls. Even when voice calls do get through, the survivors placing them are often on the move. For rescue workers, knowing yesterday’s — or even the last hour’s — location is of little use.
But voice calls are not the only communications carried over cell towers. Many social-media users, such as Facebook customers, have their location services turned on. Without them even being aware of it, their mobile phones are constantly sending identifying signals to cell towers, and Facebook’s servers are triangulating their location. Often, those tiny pips of data get through when voice calls do not.
Realizing the value of their location data to rescue workers, Facebook’s Data For Good Division has implemented a service called Disaster Maps. During a disaster, Facebook aggregates the location data of all its customers near ground zero and reports overall trends to government agencies and NGOs coordinating the emergency response.
The National Guard needs to know where to deploy its big-wheeled rescue vehicles. Paramedics need to know where to position their rigs for the quickest response time. The Red Cross needs to plot the busiest crossroads to set up their mobile soup kitchens. Disaster Maps tells officials in disaster-response command centers where the largest migrations of survivors are headed.
Facebook has another feature called Safety Check that allows users to check in with friends and family to let them know they’ve reached a place of safety. Disaster Maps also incorporates aggregated Safety Check data, so rescuers can infer which locations on the map are safe — as reported by Facebook users in real time — and which are not.
These services are invaluable during hurricanes, fires, blizzards and the likes. What about spiritual and general interhuman disasters?
Embarking on his new ministry in the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus rolls out his own disaster map.
Reading from the Isaiah scroll, he declares that the Holy Spirit has anointed him “to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.” For these benighted children of God, his mission is to proclaim good news, announcing “the year of the Lord’s favor.”
It’s clear from the gospel record that throughout his ministry, Jesus is guided — as though by some spiritual homing beacon — to those who are in greatest need of his healing touch and loving words. Centuries before our smartphone era, he demonstrates an unerring awareness of where the hurting people are and what they most desperately need.
News about his powers and compassion spreads quickly by word of mouth, and it’s not long at all before crowds of desperate people, “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” are flocking to him (Matthew 9:36). Yet even after he’s become “Jesus Christ Superstar” in the eyes of the awestruck multitudes, he’s grounded enough to stop and speak personally with the woman who touches the fringe of his robe (8:44), and to call up words of encouragement to Zacchaeus, the hated tax collector who’s been forced by an angry mob to climb a tree to see him (19:5).
Our Lord is no mere collector of data. He’s a hands-on healer and helper, a spiritual — sometimes even material — first responder. His feeding of the 5,000 would have left even the most efficient Red Cross canteen operator standing slack-jawed in awe.
By his example, he calls us to become first responders, too. Remember his words to Peter in that miraculous scene on the seashore following his resurrection? After feeding his friends barbecued filet of fish — a disaster response Peter surely appreciated after emerging shivering from the surf — Jesus asks the burly fisherman a simple question. He repeats it three times for emphasis.
“Simon son of John, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”
“Then feed my lambs” (John 21:15).
As Jesus prepares to depart this earth, he knows his days of grilling fish will soon be over. But his mission to the lost and lonely, the homeless and the hurting, remains more vital and more urgent than ever.
“You’ve got to form your own disaster map, Peter,” we can almost hear him saying. “It’s not for you to wring your hands and bemoan the woes of the world, letting your response both begin and end with prayer. I need you to plot out where my needy children are huddling in despair, and then go find them and do exactly as I’ve done! Remember what I told you about the shepherd who left the 99 in the pasture to pull the one lost sheep out of the thicket? First, you need to know where to find that sheep. Then you need to go find it!”
The first response to a disaster is often a compassionate, rescuing response. Yet, after the floodwaters have subsided or the wildfire has burned itself out, another sort of response is called for: the preventive response.
It does little good to rebuild homes on a floodplain if the new homes are not raised up high enough to withstand the next flood. After the mine closes or the factory is boarded up in an economically depressed community, the first-response services of a food pantry may be much appreciated, but they’re not a permanent solution to hunger.
There’s a little parable attributed to Martin Luther King Jr. about a man who was relaxing beside a stream one day. He looked up and noticed a badly injured man floating down the water toward him. Of course he waded into the water and pulled the man out, bandaging his wounds.
Then another wounded man floated down to him, and then another.
It became apparent that some evil people upstream were beating and robbing these innocents and casting them into the stream.
What is the most faithful response to such evil? Martin asked his listeners. To keep on pulling the victims out of the water one by one and treating their wounds, or to hike upstream and fight the injustice?
Unlike Facebook’s Disaster Maps — which rightly assume that hurricanes and earthquakes are forces of nature beyond our control — there are some human disasters Christ’s church can and should directly address in the form of social action. This kind of disaster we can fight and sometimes even prevent.
Many of the great social-reform movements of past years have been spearheaded by Christian disciples.
The abolition of slavery is a notable example. Public-school history textbooks — all too often scrubbed of all religious content, but the abolitionist movement would never have succeeded were it not for people of faith. England’s William Wilberforce, who labored for decades to convince Parliament to ban slavery in the British Empire, was a devout evangelical Christian. So were the Quakers and others who operated Underground Railroad stations. So, too, was Presbyterian minister Elijah Parish Lovejoy who was murdered in Alton, Illinois, defending his printing press from a pro-slavery mob.
The early 20th-century Prohibition movement is often dismissed as ineffective because its constitutional ban on alcoholic beverages didn’t last, but in fact this deeply religious movement was concerned not with impeding anyone’s good time, but rather with the welfare of children and families whose lives were shattered by alcoholism. Although the outright ban on alcohol proved unsustainable — because it unintentionally boosted organized crime — it led to permanent awareness of alcoholism as a pressing public-health problem.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s own civil rights movement is the most notable example in recent memory of people of faith rallying to fight social ills. The recent resurgence of white-supremacy groups shows how much that work continues to be needed today. There is entirely too much hate in the world today and most people think they are not one of the ones spewing hate by rationalizing their actions which still very wrong, no matter how you rationalize it.
Another example of disaster the needs help and is exemplified by people of faith — especially those of the younger generation — are deeply engaged today in Earth care organizations that are courageously naming and fighting the causes of climate change. This is an area where we are fighting back against our own bad habits that are causing harm to our planet – it isn’t fake news – its factual news!
And sometimes our response as Christians to those affected by certain sorts of human disasters can only be to say, as our Lord so often did, “Your faith has made you well: now, go and sin no more.”
Another internet mapping resource many people use is Google Maps. Those who are not digital natives, who remember the old world of folding gas-station road maps, continue to be impressed by the way that Google Maps can zoom in, with just a few mouse-clicks, from a very large-scale view to a local perspective. I know I am amazed each time I use it.
Once the map is zoomed in to a given locality, it’s possible to switch over into Street View. That’s when Google Maps really shines. Because of its huge investment photographing nearly every street in the country, Street View makes it seem like we’re really there, approximating what we’re likely to see from our own car window.
But Google Maps isn’t always accurate. In 2010, a detachment of Nicaraguan troops crossed the San Juan River that separates their country from Costa Rica and planted the Nicaraguan flag on Calero Island. Under the leadership of Edén Pastora, who had once led guerrilla forces for the Sandinista revolutionaries, the Nicaraguan soldiers had been dredging their nation’s side of the river. Looking for a place to make camp, Pastora directed his soldiers to cross to Calero Island.
There was no intention to invade their neighbor. Pastora was relying on Google Maps, which clearly placed the island on the Nicaraguan side of the border.
The Costa Rican authorities were not amused. They dispatched security forces to the area to bolster their nation’s claims on the territory Pastora’s soldiers had accidentally invaded. Fortunately, after the Nicaraguans apologized, a serious international incident was averted.              
Disaster maps are fine, but if we’re to be faithful followers of Christ, we need to get to street view eventually, and not the one that appears on our computer screen, either. The real street view is indispensable, the one we can only obtain by going to the place of need and doing what we can to help.
Novelist and activist Elie Wiesel captures this prophetic imperative in these words from his December 10, 1986, acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize:
“As long as one dissident is in prison, our freedom will not be true. As long as one child is hungry, our life will be filled with anguish and shame. What all these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone; that we are not forgetting them; that when their voices are stifled we shall lend them ours; that while their freedom depends on ours, the quality of our freedom depends on theirs.”
The Spirit of the Lord is upon us. The Spirit of the Lord has anointed us to servant ministry. So, go. Follow the disaster map.
But when you get to the place of need, set your map aside, roll up your sleeves, get to work and labor as our Lord calls us to do.
Let us pray.
We pray for the wisdom, the understanding and commitment to be a true and active part of His body, promoting his Word in our daily lives and with our every action. We pray to the Lord.
As we come to the end of the Week of Prayer for Church Unity, we pray for unity among all Christians, and that the various churches and Christian communities in our country and in our parish may work in the service and love of God. We pray to the Lord.                  
We pray today for our schools, for the teachers and for the parents who support them. We pray particularly for our children that the Spirit bless them and bestow on them a true knowledge and love of God our Father. We pray to the Lord.                        
We pray for students of all ages, that they may grow in wisdom and that they bring that wisdom towards making their community a better place for all, particularly those in need.  We pray to the Lord.                      
We pray for wise, open and generous debate in our country about the role of religion in our schools. We pray to the Lord.      
Now that our legislative and executive branches of our government have come to an agreement to reopen the government, that God will give the members of Congress and the president insight and courage as they address the issues of violence, finances, and immigration without causing another shut down. We pray to the Lord.              
We bow our heads and 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, your servant St Paul emphasizes to us that together we are Christ’s body, His Church, but each of us have a different and important part of it. May we all be motivated to do our part and to use our gifts and map out a way to help others in their need. May the gift of gratitude increase in us, Lord, as we make these and the unspoken prayers of our hearts. Pour out your grace upon us all as we continue the mission of your Son in the world today, serving the needy, proclaiming the Good News, and bringing joy to all. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Sunday, January 20, 2019

January 20, 2019
The Second Sunday after Epiphany
(1 Corinthian 12:4-11; John 2:1-11)
A Michigan woman works at a 7-11. She loves her customers, her work and her fiancé. So she married him on the asphalt outside the 7-11 on 7/11 — July 11th — carrying her bouquet in a Super Big Gulp cup. At the reception, hot dogs and Slurpees were served at reduced prices.
In Washington state, a wedding was celebrated 18 stories up atop the Tacoma Narrows Suspension Bridge soaring over Puget Sound and high above the speeding traffic whizzing by down below. The happy twosome walked what may be the longest aisle in wedding history.
In Maine, one couple first met at their town transfer station — locally known as The Dump. He had just starting working there. She had just brought her first recyclables. They plan to be married where they met while standing in the bucket loader. Town folk have been donating returnable bottles to build a honeymoon fund. The couple is seeking ways to incorporate recycled objects into their wedding outfits. They can’t wait to say “I do” at The Dump.
It’s the Reno Syndrome. Vegas vows. After all, does it really matter where weddings take place — even if they are in exceptional or unconventional places?
Many mothers apparently don’t think so, especially one.
The wedding at Cana was not exceptional for its location. But there was a minor stir when the wine ran out and that’s when a Jewish mother intervened — Jesus’ mother.
And that’s when Jesus stepped out, of his humanity and into his divinity, changing mediocre water into vintage wine.
Don’t read too much into that statement — “Stepped out of his humanity and into his divinity.” No revision of the Nicene creed is intended.
The point is that the Gospel text itself tells us the intention of this miracle: “Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs at Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him.”
Truth be told, most weddings, as lovely as they are, are forgettable — except your own, and the ones on bridges, or at The Dump. Unforgettable weddings usually have an unpredictable facet — like a fainting bride, or a cold-footed no-show groom, or a bridesmaid who fell in the mud on the way in the door, or a smiling minister who repeatedly and confidently calls the bride and groom by the wrong names. (Fortunately, I don’t recall ever doing that, but I have used the wrong name during a baptism. Think rolling eyes emoji’s!)
Jesus, his mother and his friends attended an unforgettable wedding in Cana. People are still talking about this one.
Apparently it was just your typical, traditional wedding celebration with an average and pleasant reception — until the wine gave out. Customarily the better wine was served first at Galilean wedding receptions. This makes sense, when you think about it. You serve the good wine first, when the palate is fresh and expectant. After a few glasses, who cares? Both the guests and their taste buds are dull, and the cheap stuff can be brought out for the final slide into inebriation.
But to run out of wine before it is time — that was an unforgettable hospitality indiscretion that would have caused minor humiliation for the host if the problem was not hastily fixed. In short — it could have been a social disaster.
Picture a stressed-out host trying to find more wine while quietly badgering his servants. Picture the servants’ fear.
For whatever reason, Mary, Jesus’ mother, got involved in the wine problem. We don’t know why. Maybe it was the wedding of a relative. Maybe Mary thought that marriages were worth celebrating. We can almost hear Mary saying, “Don’t worry about it, I’ll talk to my son — he can fix anything.” We have here an ancient version of the Kent family of Smallville who have a teenage super-Clark around to help with the heavy lifting.
So Mary tells Jesus, “They’re out of wine.”
Jesus replies “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?” In other words, “Cry me a river,” or “Why don’t you tell that to someone who cares?”
There are ancient stories of Jesus’ youthful miracles written in a New Testament apocryphal gospel called The Arabic Gospel of the Infancy of the Savior. Some of the apocryphal stories in this gospel about the young Jesus aren’t too sweet. But there is one describing how Jesus, ever the dutiful son, helped in the family carpentry business. Every carpenter knows this rule: measure twice, cut once, because if a board’s cut too short you can’t stretch it to fit — not then, not now — unless Jesus is your son.
According to the Infancy Gospel, the young Jesus worked with his carpenter dad. Dad wasn’t too good a carpenter, so this gospel says (oral tradition says otherwise). Every time any product of their workshop was the wrong size — which apparently was fairly often — Joseph asked Jesus to fix it. Jesus, according to this apocryphal tale, would wave his hand over the finished piece, thus miraculously stretching it or shrinking it to the right size, satisfying his father and the customer. Even if this story or the others like it in the New Testament Apocrypha are mythology, it is reasonable to assume that Mary, his mother, knew he could fix things like no other son could; otherwise, she would never have suggested that Jesus fix the wine problem.
In a way, even though it was Jesus who performed this first public miracle, it was Mary who saved that wedding day. She led Jesus to it. Even though it appears Jesus was challenging Mary as his “hour had not yet come.” However, Jesus, fully respectful of his mother and in anticipation of his desire for his mother to become mother of us all, he submits to her request. Notice how Mary did not even respond to Jesus’ challenge, she merely tells the waiters to do as he says. She had the faith we need now! She knew he would give her what she asks!
His miracle was simple. Fill six large ceramic jars with water. Dip a cup. Take the cup to the wedding coordinator. Let him taste. Suddenly there were 120 to 180 gallons of excellent wine. That was no doubt enough wine for the rest of the reception.
Certainly the guests tasted the quality improvement. They speculated: “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.”
So what does all this mean?
It means that the wedding at Cana is where Jesus “revealed his glory,” and where the disciples first “believed in him.”
So what does all this mean to us?
It means that if Jesus can change water into wine, he can change us, too. This is a miracle of transformation.
Jesus can turn the sour into the sweet. Jesus can turn bitterness into peace. Jesus can turn hatred into love. Jesus can turn anger into joy.
The wedding at Cana is a metaphor for new, transformational beginnings. A lesson in faith. A lesson to always got to Mary with biggest and most difficult needs, because she will always tell her son to change whatever is our water into wine.
The great Catholic televangelist Archbishop Fulton Sheen used to tell this humorous story: One day the Lord says to St. Peter, "How are all these people getting into heaven?"

"Don't blame me Lord," St. Peter says, "Every time I close a door, your Mother opens a window!"
A trip to Reno not necessary. Vegas vows irrelevant.
Just ask Mary, she’ll get Jesus to take care of whatever it is. His disciples “believed in him.” So should we.
Let us pray.
We pray for all those preparing for marriage and ask the Lord that their love for each other be strengthened by the sacrament and that their marriage be blessed and fruitful. We pray to the Lord.
That all those especially chosen by Christ for the unique paths of holiness as priests, deacons or in the consecrated life, will heed our Blessed Mother’s counsel to do whatever He tells them in loving obedience. We pray to the Lord.
For all of us present in this Eucharistic assembly that encouraged by the Word of God we may live our lives in the spirit of godly fear and fraternal charity. We pray to the Lord.
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.
For our country as we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day; for an end to racism and division. We pray to the Lord.
For our President and Legislators that they will end the government shutdown. We pray to the Lord.
For the continued recovery and health of our Presiding Bishop Bekken and Abbot Gentzsch. We pray to the Lord.
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers. (Pause) We pray to the Lord.
God of wonders, at Cana in Galilee you revealed your glory in Jesus Christ and summoned all humanity to life in him. Show to your people gathered on this day your transforming power and give us a foretaste of the wine you keep for the age to come. Loving Father, sanctify us in Christ Jesus. You have called us to be holy. May we respond with all of our heart and soul. Lastly, help and motivate us to work toward brotherly love of all people of all nations, races, classes and cultures without prejudices of any kind. 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

Monday, January 14, 2019

January 13, 2019
The Baptism of Our Lord
(Acts 10:34-38; Luke 3:15-16, 21-22)
Billy Graham was once asked, “If Jesus was without sin, then why was He baptized by John the Baptist? I thought baptism was a sign of repentance and our faith, but Jesus didn't need to repent, did He?” His answer was the following:
“No, Jesus didn’t need to repent of his sins, because in all the history of the human race He alone was completely sinless. The reason is because He was God in human flesh, sent from heaven on that first Christmas to save us from our sins.
Why, then, did Jesus seek out John and be baptized by him in the Jordan River? The reason is because Jesus — who was the sinless Son of God — took upon Himself your sins and my sins, and the sins of the whole human race. Just as He didn’t have to die, so He didn’t have to be baptized — until He became the bearer of all our sins. This He did by coming to earth for us.
In other words, from the very beginning of His ministry Jesus demonstrated that He was the promised Messiah, and (in the words of John the Baptist) “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). His baptism was a sign of this great truth — and it was confirmed immediately by a voice from heaven declaring, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).”
Although, today many ask this same question, this question was raised by Christians already in the first century.
Jesus did not have the same motivation to be baptized as the people immediately ahead of him or behind him at the Jordan River; they were baptized as a sign of repentance. By being baptized, Jesus identified himself with sinful humanity. His prayer and the revelation of Father and Spirit tell us that Baptism unites us with the Trinity and makes us beloved children of God. In a sense, by being baptized, especially after the many John had already baptized, Jesus took the sins of those left in the water and those who had not yet, and took them upon himself to erase and eliminate them upon the cross.
Jesus was baptized to encourage his later followers to be baptized. That action began his public ministry; similarly, that act begins the new life of every follower of Jesus. Jesus’ baptism resembles in some ways the key visions of Old Testament prophets. The Jewish Christians for whom Matthew wrote would have made that connection readily.
Additionally, his baptism that he wanted us to follow in his example, was meant to illustrate the rebirth we would experience in our Baptisms. And further still, Jesus’ choice to be baptized prior to starting his ministry was to be a preeminent example of infant baptism at the start of their lives. Paul, who declared that we become children of God at the point of our baptism into Christ (Gal. 3:26-27). Jesus’ life on earth as God officially started with his baptism, just as our life in God starts with ours.
The baptism of Jesus Christ is one of the truly epochal events within the Gospel records. It is chronicled by the synoptic writers in a total of only ten verses (five in Matthew, three in Mark, and two in Luke), and yet it is pivotal in that it signals the commencement of the Lord’s preaching ministry.
One thing is certain. Jesus was not baptized by John in the vein of the prophet’s ordinary sphere of operation. John immersed folks who penitently confessed their sins, and the purpose of his baptism was “for the remission of sins.”
The preposition “for” (Greek, eis) means “to obtain.” The phrase may be rendered: “so that sins might be forgiven.”
Since Jesus had no sin, it is obvious that his immersion by John was of a unique sort. He did not approach John seeking pardon. Thus, except for the fact that Jesus’ baptism reflected a willingness to obey the Father, as does ours, there is little relationship between the Lord’s immersion and that required of all accountable people today.
From Matthew 3:15, in his argument to persuade John to administer baptism, Christ said: “thus it becomes [i.e., is proper] us to fulfill all righteousness.”
We cannot plumb the full depth of this abbreviated clause. One thing is certain though: it is an affirmation of the submissive disposition of the Lord Jesus to the Father’s will.
“Righteousness” is associated with the commands of God (Psa. 119:172). To fulfill righteousness, therefore, is to be obedient to The Lord God.
The life of Jesus is a commentary on what obedience is about. In Psalm 40, which is clearly messianic in its import, the submissive demeanor of Christ is prophetically set forth. Jesus, through David, a thousand years before his own birth, affirms:
“I delight to do thy will, O my God; Yea, thy law is in my heart” (Ps. 40:8).
It is one thing to begrudgingly go through a form of service. It is quite another to “delight” in doing the Father’s will.
Again, while some may have the elements of divine “law” in their heads, the issue is: Do we have, as did Jesus, the law in our hearts?
Christ demonstrated by his baptism, therefore, on the very first day of his public ministry, that he was committed to doing his Father’s will. In this regard, as in all others, he is our perfect model.
One cannot but wonder at what point, in his mental and physical maturation, the blessed Savior became aware of his ultimate destiny at Calvary. We know that by the age of twelve Jesus was cognizant of his unique status as the Son of God (Luke. 2:49). From the time of his infancy, Mary was privy to the dark shadows that loomed in her Son’s future (Luke. 2:35).
One thing seems clear. By the time he submitted to immersion at the hands of John, he knew of his appointment with the cross — and likely long before that.
It is commonly suggested by commentators that Christ was baptized in order to “solidify” himself with sinners, since he, by his death, would bear away the penalty for sin.
I want to finish up with another possible reason.
It is because of John’s message of baptism and separation from the corruption of Judaism that many scholars believe that John may have been part of a Jewish sect called the Essenes. The Essenes lived in the Judean desert wilderness, and they too believed that Judaism had become corrupt. To separate themselves from the corruption, they moved out into the wilderness to live, work, and worship in a holy community.
They were part of an ancient Jewish ascetic sect of the 2nd century BC–2nd century AD in Palestine, who lived in highly organized groups and held property in common. The Essenes are widely regarded as the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The writings of the Essenes sound similar to some of the things preached by John the Baptist, and their writings also contain instructions for the baptisms of people who join them. Archeologists have uncovered large baptismal pools where the Essenes would have undergone these ritual baptisms of separation.
But whether John was an Essene or not, the point that in the days of John, Jesus, Peter, Paul, and the early church, people knew what baptism meant. Not only did every religion in the area practice some form of baptism for various reasons and purposes, but within Judaism, baptisms were a central practice. They indicated a death to the past and a rising to a new life.
So, when Jesus came to be baptized by John in the Jordan, He was making a public declaration about which type of Judaism He thought was best. The baptism of Jesus was not so He could get forgiveness of sin, for, as we have already said, Jesus had not sinned. Nor was the baptism of Jesus for conversion, or to be saved, or to receive eternal life, or any such thing.
No, through baptism, Jesus was rejecting the corruption that had entered the religious and political spheres of Judaism, and was choosing to side with those who sought generosity, honesty, peace, and grace.
The baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan has nothing to do with repenting of sin or getting saved, but everything to do with making a public declaration about which side Jesus is on and what He will live His life for.
John was calling the people to turn away from the corruption, and be restored to a new life of faithful obedience to God, and Jesus responded to that call by getting baptized by John in the Jordan River. Jesus wanted to be fully immersed and identified in the values of the Kingdom of God that John was preaching.
The Lesson here? We should do nothing less.
Let us pray.
We pray for the parents and sponsors of the baptized, that they be mindful of their obligations to keep their children close to the message of Christ. We pray to the Lord.                      
We pray for the baptized throughout the world who suffer persecution for their beliefs, that God’s power and love may sustain them. We pray to the Lord.
For each of us here: that we may renew the commitment of our own baptism and live in God’s presence, trusting in his loving care. We pray to the Lord.              
We pray for those who are sick and unwell, particularly those with cancer and for those currently undergoing treatment. We pray for their recovery and that in their darkest moments the care of friends and neighbors may bring them hope and peace. We pray to the Lord.                        
For our legislators and president that through divine intervention they be inspired to do what is right, to work together, pass legislation that the constituents actually want, all in true bipartisanship – and most importantly, put our government employees back to work. We pray to the Lord.
For those on our parish prayer list: that they may feel the Father’s love through the efforts of our prayers and the help of caring professionals. We pray to the Lord.
We bow our heads and 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 as we celebrate the Baptism of your Son and our Lord, we are reminded that through our own baptism we become your children. We pray for the grace, wisdom and commitment to live the message of Christ and become living apostles proclaiming his love and goodness through word and example. We thank you, Lord, for the gift of our faith.  May we always be true to the commitments of our baptism. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.    
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Sunday, January 6, 2019

January 6, 2018
(Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12)
An Advent homily given by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger back in 1964 had these words: “I believe the real temptation for someone who is a Christian, as we experience it today, does not just consist in the theoretical question of whether God exists; or even the question of whether he is three in one; or even the question of whether Christ is God and man in one person. What really torments us today, what bothers us much more is the inefficacy of Christianity: after 2,000 years of Christian history, we can see nothing that might be a new reality in the world; rather, we find it sunk in the same old horrors, the same despair, and the same hopes as ever. And in our lives, too, we inevitably experience time and time again how Christian reality is powerless against all the other forces that influence us and make demands on us.” Here we are 54 years and few weeks later, and this statement couldn’t be more true now than it was then.
Society has less and less regard for religion. I wonder at times, however, if his thought is true in totality. What if we all knew without even an inkling of a doubt that Jesus did exist and is truly God? Would we have so many who have stepped away from church or not enter one at all? The day of Epiphany is a perfect day to explore this.
What is Epiphany? One dictionary says, “The manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi. The festival commemorating the Epiphany on January 6. A manifestation of a divine or supernatural being.” From a Christian point of view, these are all correct. So, can we have an epiphany? Did Jesus really exist? Obviously, I cannot do an entire expose’ today, so I will touch on a couple thoughts.
First, let’s explore what the Gospels have to say as to who Jesus is.  Some scholars claim that Jesus did not claim to be God. However, there are verses in the Gospels that prove this theory wrong. We will explore just a few.
“I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30)
 “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)
At this they exclaimed, “Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys your word will never taste death.  Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?” “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds. (John 8:52-53, 58-59)
“I and the Father are one. Again, his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me? We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” (John 10:30-33)
It is clear from these passages who Jesus claimed to be. Yet, this next passage is one in which some use to “prove” that Jesus did not claim to be God. However, even this attempt to prove Jesus didn’t claim to be God is wrong.
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life? Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.  You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’ ”Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. (Mark 10:17-22)
Okay, so first let’s tackle the “Why do you call me good?” “No one is good—except God alone” statements. Jesus is not claiming he isn’t God. This is a typical coy remark like many Jesus makes to test the faith of those whom he meets. He wants to know the man’s faith. He is challenging the man to see if he believes that Jesus is indeed the Christ. So, basically, Jesus is saying, “So, you know I am God, because you are calling me good! You know that only God is good, therefore by you calling me good, you thus must believe I am the Messiah!” Then after he makes his declaration about the goodness of God, he adds a command to follow him to the obligation to keep the Ten Commandments! In first-century Jewish context, this would have been very shocking.
Now, let’s go a step further. According to ancient Jewish tradition, before the Temple was destroyed in AD 70, the blood of the sacrifices used to be poured into a drain that flowed down the altar of sacrifice to merge with the spring water that flowed out the side of the mountain on which the Temple was built.
According to the Jewish Mishnah Middoth, “At the south-western corner [of the altar] there were two holes like two narrow nostrils by which the blood that was poured over the western base and the southern base used to run down and mingle in the water-channel and flow out into the brook Kidron (3:2).”
The Mishnah Middoth is somewhat of a double piece. Published at the end of the second century CE, the Mishnah is an edited record of the complex body of material known as oral Torah that was transmitted in the aftermath of the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. The Middoth is Jewish hermeneutics or biblical interpretation, methods or principles used to explicate the meaning of biblical words or passages to meet the demand of new situations. I explain this to you, merely to give some background for another statement by Jesus.
Now at the time Jesus lived, if you were approaching the Temple during the feast of Passover from the vantage point of the Kidron Valley, one would see a stream of blood and water flowing out of the side of the Temple Mount.
The Gospel of John and his emphasis on the blood and water flowing out of the side of Jesus suddenly become clearer when thought of in the context of the Temple and the blood and water mixing. This seemingly small detail about Jesus’ death reveals something very significant about who Jesus really is. He is not just the messianic son of God; he is the true Temple. He is the dwelling place of God on earth!
In Matthew 12:5-6, Jesus says, “Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests serving in the temple violate the sabbath and are innocent?  I say to you, something greater than the temple is here.” Anyone in the time of Jesus would have thought this blasphemous, for nothing could be greater than the Temple in which God dwelled! The only thing greater would be God himself in the flesh!
Now, what about historical?
Flavius Josephus was a Jewish politician, soldier, and historian who lived around AD 37-100. He was born in Jerusalem shortly after Christ’s crucifixion. As his father, Matthias, was a highly respected priest, Josephus was born into a family that would have been acutely aware of the early Jesus followers, a movement that would have been viewed as a threat to Judaism.
Scholars view Josephus as the single most important Jewish historian of the ancient world. Among his works, Josephus penned Antiquities of the Jews, to explain the Jewish people and their beliefs to the Romans, in an effort to reduce anti-Jewish bigotry.
Josephus writes about the death of James, at the instigation of the Jewish high priest Ananus. Josephus clearly labels James the brother of Jesus “who was called Christ.” By including these details, he offers us a clear, non-Christian attestation of the historicity of Jesus.
Cornelius Tacitus, another important Roman historian, lived approximately between AD 56 and 120. Modern historians view his Annals (which covers Roman emperors Augustus to Nero) to be the best source of information about this period in Roman history.
It is from Tacitus, that we know that Nero blamed a devastating fire that happened in Rome in AD 64 on Christians. Wrote Tacitus: “Therefore, to squelch the rumor, Nero created scapegoats and subjected to the most refined tortures those whom the common people call ‘Christians, Nero fastened the guilt ... on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of ... Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome.”
Notice, first, that Tacitus reports Christians derived their name from a historical person called Christus (from the Latin), or Christ. He is said to have "suffered the extreme penalty," obviously alluding to the Roman method of execution known as crucifixion.
Tacitus’ writing confirms the New Testament accounts that Tiberius and Pilate were in power when Jesus was crucified. Tacitus also points to the continued growth of Christianity in the years shortly after Jesus died, as reported in the New Testament book of Acts. His report clearly demonstrates the remarkable resolve of Jesus’ earliest followers, and the growth of the movement Jesus founded.
Professor Casey Elledge of Gustavus Adophus College holds this view of early non-Christian sources, including Tacitus, Josephus, and Seutonius:
“The testimonies of ancient historians offer strong evidence against a purely mythical reading of Jesus. In contrast to those who have denied the historical evidence of Jesus altogether, judging him merely to have been a mythological construct of early Christian thought, the testimonies of the ancient historians reveal how even those outside the early church regarded Jesus to have been a historical person. It remains difficult, therefore, if not impossible, to deny the historical existence of Jesus when the earliest Christians, Jewish and pagan evidence mention him.”
Another important source of evidence about Jesus and early Christianity can be found in the letters of Pliny the Younger to Emperor Trajan. Pliny was the Roman governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor. In one of his letters, dated around A.D. 112, he asks Trajan's advice about the appropriate way to conduct legal proceedings against those accused of being Christians. Pliny says that he needed to consult the emperor about this issue because a great multitude of every age, class, and sex stood accused of Christianity.
At one point in his letter, Pliny relates some of the information he has learned about these Christians:
They were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food – but food of an ordinary and innocent kind.
This passage provides us with several interesting insights into the beliefs and practices of early Christians. First, we see that Christians regularly met on a certain fixed day for worship. Second, their worship was directed to Christ, demonstrating that they firmly believed in His divinity. Furthermore, one scholar interprets Pliny's statement that hymns were sung to Christ, "as to a god", as a reference to the rather distinctive fact that, "unlike other gods who were worshipped, Christ was a person who had lived on earth." If this interpretation is correct, Pliny understood that Christians were worshipping an actual historical person as God! Of course, this agrees perfectly with the New Testament doctrine that Jesus was both God and man. Strikingly, there was never any debate in the ancient world about whether Jesus of Nazareth was a historical figure. In the earliest literature of the Jewish Rabbis, Jesus was denounced as the illegitimate child of Mary and a sorcerer. Among pagans, the satirist Lucian and philosopher Celsus dismissed Jesus as a scoundrel, but we know of no one in the ancient world who questioned whether Jesus lived.
There are a few clear references to Jesus in the Babylonian Talmud, a collection of Jewish rabbinical writings. In the case of the Talmud, the earliest period of compilation occurred between A.D. 70-200. The most significant reference to Jesus from this period states:
On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald ... cried, "He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy."
Let's examine this passage. You may have noticed that it refers to someone named "Yeshu." So why do we think this is Jesus? Actually, "Yeshu" (or "Yeshua") is how Jesus' name is pronounced in Hebrew. But what does the passage mean by saying that Jesus "was hanged"? Doesn't the New Testament say he was crucified? The term "hanged" can function as a synonym for "crucified." For instance, Galatians 3:13 declares that Christ was "hanged", and Luke 23:39 applies this term to the criminals who were crucified with Jesus. So, the Talmud declares that Jesus was crucified on the eve of Passover. But what of the cry of the herald that Jesus was to be stoned? This may simply indicate what the Jewish leaders were planning to do. If so, Roman involvement changed their plans!
The passage also tells us why Jesus was crucified. It claims He practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy! Since this accusation comes from a non-Christian source, we should not be too surprised if Jesus is described somewhat differently than in the New Testament.
Interestingly, both accusations have close parallels in the canonical gospels. For instance, the charge of sorcery is similar to the Pharisees' accusation that Jesus cast out demons "by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons." But notice this: such a charge tends to confirm the New Testament claim that Jesus performed miraculous feats. Apparently, Jesus' miracles were too well attested to deny. The only alternative was to ascribe them to sorcery! And, the charge of enticing Israel to apostasy parallels Luke's account of the Jewish leaders who accused Jesus of misleading the nation with his teaching. Such a charge tends to corroborate the New Testament record of Jesus' powerful teaching ministry. Thus, if read carefully, this passage from the Talmud confirms much of our knowledge about Jesus from the New Testament.
Now, one last set of thoughts and then you can make what you will of an “epiphany” for yourself.
While we can have more confidence in the martyrdoms of Apostles such as Peter, Paul and James the brother of John (and probably Thomas and Andrew), there is much less evidence for many of the others. This may come as a disappointment to some, but for the sake of the resurrection argument, it is not critical that we demonstrate that all of them died as martyrs. What is critical is their willingness to suffer for their faith and the lack of a contrary story that any of them recanted.
Historian Michael Licona writes in his book The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach: “After Jesus’ death, the disciples endured persecution, and a number of them experienced martyrdom. The strength of their conviction indicates that they were not just claiming Jesus had appeared to them after rising from the dead. They really believed it. They willingly endangered themselves by publicly proclaiming the risen Christ.”
Here are the key facts:
First, the Apostles were eyewitnesses of the risen Jesus. When a replacement was chosen for Judas, one necessary criterion was that the person had seen the risen Lord (Acts 1:21–22). Paul and James the brother of Jesus were also eyewitnesses (1 Cor. 15:3–8). Their convictions were not based on secondhand testimony, but from the belief that they had seen the resurrected Christ with their own eyes.
Second, early Christians were persecuted for their faith. John the Baptist was imprisoned and beheaded (Matt. 14:1–11). Jesus was crucified. Stephen was stoned to death after his witness before the Sanhedrin (Acts 6–8). And Herod Agrippa killed James the brother of John (Acts 12:12), which led to the departure of the rest of the Twelve from Jerusalem. The first statewide persecution of Christians was under Nero (AD 64), as reported by Tacitus (Annals 15.44:2–5). Although persecution was sporadic and local, from this point forward Christians could be arrested and killed for proclaiming the name of Jesus. And many of them were.
Third, the Apostles were willing to suffer for their faith. This is certainly true of Paul, who recounts the suffering he endured, which included being whipped, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, near starvation and in danger from various people and places (2 Cor. 6:4–9). Speaking for the Apostles, after being threatened by the religious leaders, Peter and John say, “For we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). The Apostles are then thrown in prison, beaten for their faith, but they continued to preach and teach the Gospel (Acts 5:17–42).
While the evidence of martyrdom is far better for some of the Apostles than others, the evidence for Peter is particularly strong. The earliest evidence is found in John 21:18–19, which was written about 30 years after Peter’s death. Other evidence for Peter’s martyrdom can be found in early church fathers such as Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Dionysius of Corinth, Irenaeus, Tertullian and more. The early, consistent and unanimous testimony is that Peter died as a martyr.
This does not prove that the resurrection is true. But it shows the depth of the Apostles’ convictions. They were not liars. They truly believed Jesus rose from the grave and they were willing to give their lives for it. One has to ask; would we be willing to be martyred for our beliefs today?
There is sufficient evidence to prove that Jesus existed. Apparently, he not only existed, but he must have been crucified and rose again to warrant his followers to willingly accept martyrdom. This far removed from the events of Jesus, I suppose, make it hard for people in modern times to have that much faith, but we are not, under normal circumstances, put to death for our beliefs, so we should have no fear in proclaiming them and practicing it. Maybe that is the epiphany we need.
Let us pray.
For a spiritual renewal and empowerment on our personal journeys of faith. We pray to the Lord.
We pray that the Spirit, who led the Wise Men to the side of the new-born Jesus, will guide us also so that we too can come to know and love Him. We pray to the Lord.                        
Just as the Wise Men sought Jesus and found him in a manger, we too can find Jesus in the Eucharist. We pray that we may have a full appreciation of that wonderful gift bestowed on us by our loving Savior. We pray to the Lord.
That we be granted the time and energy, the foresight and the wisdom to review how we each live our life – with our family, our friends, our community, our work and most importantly, with our God. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for all those in our country and community who long for meaning in their lives and that in this New Year of 2019 they may find that meaning in your divine love. We pray to the Lord.
For people of all faiths and of none, that in this New Year they may grow in peace and love. We pray to the Lord.
We bow our heads and 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, enlighten us, we pray, as we celebrate the manifestation of your Son to the world. May the splendor of your majesty shed its light upon our hearts, that we may pass through the shadows of this world and reach the brightness of our eternal home.   We ask that you make yourself known to those who do not know you; to those who struggle with doubt. As we anxiously await your kingdom, we ask all these things through your son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA