Sunday, June 23, 2019

June 23, 2019
Corpus Christi
(1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Luke 9:11-17)
Some of us are squeamish when it comes to the sight or even the mention of blood. Blood is one of the main themes of the feast we celebrate this morning. There is blood in the prayers we offer for this Mass, and before our celebration is through there will be blood in the chalice on the altar.
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, AKA Corpus Christi. But, it not just Corpus Christi—the Body of Christ—but Corpus et Sanguis Christi, the Body and the Blood of Christ.
This is significant, because of a common thread we find running throughout the Old Testament is that of blood. To shed the blood of another carried the most severe of penalties; and the offering of blood as a sacrifice became a regular part of worship and faith of Israel. For the Jewish people especially, blood was considered to be a sacred sign of life itself (Leviticus 17:11, 14).
God makes a covenant with the people of Israel, the Ten Commandments. The people agree, not once but twice, to follow that covenant, to obey the commandments of God. And as an outward sign of this covenant between them, Moses pours blood first over the altar (since it was God who initiated that covenant), and then he sprinkles the rest on the people saying: This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you (Exodus 24:8).
Sacrifice and the shedding of blood was a sign that would be repeated over and over again as the people of Israel renewed the covenant God had made with them. They would offer the sacrifice of bulls, of goats, and of lambs, as an outward sign of their fidelity to God.
But why so much sacrifice? Why the shedding of so much blood? It is only with the coming of Jesus Christ that we begin to see that the entire Old Covenant (and all of the sacrifices and shedding of blood that took place for the renewal of that covenant) was really just a preparation for the one sacrifice of Christ and for the shedding of His blood on the cross.
But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that have come to be, passing through the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made by hands, that is, not belonging to this creation, he entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:11-12)
It is the blood of Christ and His sacrifice that renews us and gives us new life. It is the blood of Christ freely offered on our behalf that obtains for us the forgiveness of sins. As Archbishop Fulton Sheen puts it, “The higher the life, the more precious the blood. When you come to the life of Christ, who sheds His blood, you get the total remission of sin.”
That is what God was preparing the people of Israel for. That is what He was preparing each of us for: the New Covenant written in the blood of Christ. Today, and at every Mass, we renew that covenant as we hear again the words of Christ from the Gospel, when takes bread and says: “This is my body”
Then he takes the cup and says: “This is my blood.”
We are here today to offer the one eternal sacrifice of Christ to the Father; then here from this altar we will receive the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Do we believe that? Do we ever doubt that the body and blood of Christ are truly made present here in this Church at every Mass? It is not an easy thing to grasp. In fact, without faith, it is impossible.
There is a story about a very devout and holy German priest in the year 1263 named Peter of Prague. His greatest struggle as a priest was that he could not believe Christ was truly present in the consecrated host.
He decided to make a pilgrimage to Rome, asking for the grace of God to help him with his constant doubts about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. On his way to Rome he stopped in the small Italian City of Bolsena, where he celebrated Mass in the Church of St. Christina.
In the middle of that Mass, immediately after he had spoken the words of consecration (This is my body . . . this is the cup of my blood . . .), blood began to seep from the consecrated host and trickled down his hands and onto the altar. Obviously, he was a bit shaken up by that experience. He interrupted the Mass and asked those present what he should do.
Pope Urban IV, the pope at that time, was only one city away, in Orvieto. And so they brought Fr. Peter to that city, where the pope listened to him and began to investigate all that had happened.
One year after that event, Pope Urban IV instituted a feast honoring the Sacred Body and Blood of Christ. He called it Corpus Christi, and it is the feast we are celebrating today.
Miracles happen. We know and believe that as people of faith. Some of us, in our own lifetime, may witness events like the Eucharistic Miracle at Bolsena.
But the greatest miracle that has ever happened in the history of the world occurred when God became a man, and suffered and died on the cross to bring us home to heaven. Nothing greater than that has ever happened in this world.
And to make sure we would never forget it, in order to remain with us always, even until the end of the world, He gave us Himself as an everlasting memorial of His suffering and death. He gave us Himself—body and blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist—so that we might renew this covenant of love He has made with us.
Archbishop Sheen was once asked this question: "Bishop Sheen, you have inspired millions of people all over the world. Who inspired you? Was it a Pope?"
Bishop Sheen responded that it was not a Pope, a cardinal, another bishop, or even a priest or a nun. It was a little Chinese girl of eleven years of age. He explained that when the Communists took over China, they imprisoned a priest in his own rectory near the Church. After they locked him up in his own house, the priest was horrified to look out of his window and see the Communists proceed into the Church, where they went into the sanctuary and broke into the tabernacle. In an act of hateful desecration, they took the ciborium and threw it on the floor with all of the Sacred Hosts spilling out. The priest knew exactly how many Hosts were in the ciborium: thirty-two.
When the Communists left, they either did not notice, or didn't pay any attention to a small girl praying in the back of the Church who saw everything that had happened. That night the little girl came back. Slipping past the guard at the priest's house, she went inside the Church. There she made a holy hour of prayer, an act of love to make up for the act of hatred.
After her holy hour she went into the sanctuary, knelt down, bent over and with her tongue received Jesus in Holy Communion, (since it was not permissible for laymen to touch the Sacred Host with their hands.)
The little girl continued to come back each night to make her holy hour and receive Jesus in Holy Communion on her tongue. On the thirty-second night, after she had consumed the last and thirty-second host, she accidentally made a noise and woke the guard who was sleeping. He ran after her, caught her, and beat her to death with the butt of his rifle. This act of heroic martyrdom was witnessed by the priest as he watched grief-stricken from his bedroom window.
When Bishop Sheen heard the story he was so inspired that he promised God he would make a holy hour of prayer before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament everyday of his life. If this frail, little child could give testimony and witness to the world concerning the real and wonderful Presence of her Savior in the Blessed Sacrament, then the Bishop was absolutely bound by all that was right and true, to do the same. His sole desire from then on was to bring the world to the burning Heart of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
The little girl showed what true courage and zeal really is; how faith could overcome all fear, how true love for Jesus in the Eucharist must transcend life itself. What is hidden in the Sacred Host is the glory of His love. The sun in the sky is symbolic of the Son of God in the Blessed Sacrament. This is why most monstrances are in the form of a sunburst. As the sun is the natural source of all energy, the Blessed Sacrament is the supernatural source of all grace and love. The Blessed Sacrament is JESUS, the Light of the world.
Let us pray.
That in uniting Christ’s Body and Blood with ours in the Eucharist we are strengthened in our faith and love of God and neighbor. We pray to the Lord.                    
On this great Feast Day, we are reminded that we are the Body of Christ. We pray that in our daily lives, in our every moment, we be aware of this great privilege and act with the same goodness, integrity, honesty and love which Jesus himself would bestow on others. We pray to the Lord.                      
In today’s Gospel we read how Jesus had compassion on the multitudes that were hungry and without shelter. We pray for those throughout the world who are hungry, homeless and persecuted that, through Christian charity, their needs for shelter, love, care and understanding be remembered and remedied. We pray to the Lord.                
We pray for a greater awareness of the threat to our world of climate change and ask the Lord to forgive our destruction of his wonderful creation. We pray also that all governments take immediate actions to avoid the worst impacts of this crisis in a just and sustainable way. We pray to the Lord.                  
At this time when there is an increasing incidence of racist and xenophobic attacks on the most vulnerable of Gods children in our society, we pray for a rejection of racism, intolerance and sectarianism. We pray to the Lord.
That our lawmakers will awake to the violent atrocities within our country and pass legislation to curb gun violence. We pray to the Lord.                      
And for all who seek comfort, that they may find it in God’s healing word; and that God may hear the intentions found in our parish prayer list. 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.
We thank you, Father, for the precious gift of the Eucharist, through which we receive your Son. Compassionate God, open our eyes to the miracles around us. Help us see your refreshing care in the changing seasons. Help us see in the breaking of bread your great love for us. Help us know in our lifting of the cup your tender forgiveness. Open our eyes to see that all are welcome at your table, for your love reconciles differences and your mercy celebrates diversity. In songs and prayers of this day and in the simple gifts of bread and cup, may we catch a glimpse of heaven. Through the real presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, may all of our brothers and sisters commit to ending violence and murders. Help us in our struggle to love all peoples, that we may see you in everyone.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA

Sunday, June 16, 2019

June 16, 2019
Trinity Sunday
(Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15)
How would you like to have yourself explained/ A panel of experts consisting of a physiologist, a psychologist and a spiritual master could be convened to determine once and for all who you are. At the end of a three year study the panel could issue an exhaustive report with bar graphs and pie charts and statistics, detailing everything down to your biochemical make-up. A news conference would be called and a panel of distinguished experts would announce with absolute certainty: this is john (or Jane); nothing more can be known about him (or her).
The very idea of being able to explain fully an individual human being is, of course, ridiculous. Having a complete list of facts about someone - even if it is possible to compile - does not lead to a complete understanding of the person at his or her depths. At best, such a list pervades a snapshot of the person at a certain moment in time. Interesting facts? Yes. A full revelation of the human person? No.
No matter how one puts it, the Christian belief in the Holy Trinity is a difficult teaching to get one’s mind around. The Athanasian Creed, written around the fifth century, puts it this way: “We worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance.”
Well, that just clears everything up, doesn’t it??!! We now have a full understanding of the Trinity. Our lives are now complete.
One of the paradoxes of our Catholic faith is that its foundational element, belief in the Trinity, the flour to the bread of Catholicism, cannot be understood through human reason. The mysteriousness of the Trinity, however, hasn’t stopped the church from spending centuries examining and clarifying its doctrine. The core elements of the Trinity are described in no uncertain terms: God is only one, but exists in three distinct persons. The divine persons do not share one divinity but are each wholly and entirely God, existing in relationship with one another.
We almost exclusively refer to these three persons of the Trinity as “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” but we also know that God is without gender. One might ask, is it possible to think of the three persons in any other way?
Since it can’t be deduced through logic, the nature of the Trinity is only known through revelation by God, mainly through the life and words of Jesus. Jesus refers to God as Father, telling his followers that “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).  At the Last Supper, Jesus tells the Apostles that though he is leaving them his Father will send the Holy Spirit to teach and guide them. It is largely through Jesus, therefore, that we have come to know the three persons of the Trinity as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Using these names to name the ineffable has both benefits and disadvantages. The merit of naming the persons of the Trinity is the merit of naming anything: A name encapsulates meaning. Father connotes a creator and transcendent authority with the loving and tender care of a parent. Son implies “begotten,” or coming forth from, and Spirit suggests pervasiveness, something that has an origin but is uncontainable.  Each of these names tells us something about the nature of each person of the Trinity while highlighting their intimate relationships.
The disadvantage of naming the persons of the Trinity is that names can limit our understanding of God. God, who transcends the human distinction between the sexes, is no more a Father than a Mother. Jesus is the Son of God, but the point of the incarnation is less about God becoming a man, and more about God loving us so much that God decided to walk among us as a human. Given the sociopolitical culture of the time, maybe it was pragmatic of God to come as a man, but the message of the incarnation would remain the same if God’s daughter had been born in Bethlehem.
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Mother, Child, and Breath of God; Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier; no matter the particular names you choose, the core message of the Trinity remains unchanging. God is God, relational in nature, manifested in three distinct ways, and an example of perfect communion.
That said, there are two exaggerations typically made by preachers on Trinity Sunday.
The first mistake overemphasizes the mysterious nature of the Trinity as incomprehensible to human understanding. How can we make sense of three persons in one God? We can’t, so it’s a mystery. Three doesn’t normally equal one. But we’re talking about God, so don’t worry about it.
The second mistake is that of the ethical rationalist who bypasses the doctrine of the Trinity to obtain a truth accessible to reason. The Trinitarian profession shows us that God is an eternal communion of love. The Trinity is a symbol of the communion that each of us is called to. Why worry about an underlying reality or substance, as opposed to attributes or to that which lacks substance?
Yes, it’s impossible for us to fully comprehend God. Yes, we’re called to a radical love revealed by the Trinitarian communion. But both these approaches to the doctrine of Trinity bypass divine revelation. It is only within the very proclamation of the Gospels, the proclamation of Jesus Christ as Son of the Father, that we can answer the question, “Why the Trinity?”
In the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks to his disciples about a truth that they are unable to bear at the time. It is a truth that they cannot yet understand. Jesus promises that the Spirit will come. It is the Spirit that will initiate the disciples into the fullness of this truth. He does not speak as an autonomous agent. The Spirit speaks only of what the Spirit has heard.
Where has the Spirit heard these things? From the Son, for the Spirit is a gift of the Son. The Spirit also has heard these things from the Father, for the Father and the Son possess all things in common.
Jesus’ words are puzzling. Maybe, it’s the doctrine of the Trinity — the very word that the disciples could not hear at the time — that can make sense of Jesus’ words.
The Father and the Son are not two gods. The Son is not the quasi-god in relationship to the Father. All that the Son has and is has been received from the Father. He is “God from God, light from light, true God from true God,” as we recite in the Nicene Creed.
In this eternal difference, there is the presence of a gift. The Father has given all to the Son outside of time. The Son has given all to the Father outside of time. In Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, we encounter this eternal love of the Father and the Son.
But what does an eternal gift of love look like in God? Such love is eternally fruitful and creative. It is the love of the Spirit, a love that is the eternal fruit of the self-giving love of the Father and the Son.
The doctrine of the Trinity, therefore, is the promise that women and men are initiated through the Spirit into a love that is not self-created. It is begotten: a love from the Father and the Son. It is the radical claim that God is love, a love that created, redeemed and now sanctifies the entire created order.
The fullness of the Trinity is revealed on the cross. There, we see the Son who has fulfilled his mission of love to the Father, who loved humanity to send the Son. There, we see the Son breathe the Spirit to renew creation.
In teaching his disciples about the Holy Spirit, Jesus did not use technical theological language, but rather stories and parables that expressed the truth in a more immediate way. When he spoke about the Father and Spirit, he always used relational terms that underscored the essential Trinitarian truth: God is love. The essential meaning of the Trinity is an outpouring of love that gives birth to creation and that extends the offer of eternal life to all mankind.
The best way for anyone to come to knowledge of the reality of the Holy Trinity is to act upon the words and deeds of Christ: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. … The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name - he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” (John 14:23, 26)
Let us pray.
On this Holy Trinity Sunday, we reflect on the mystery of God —   the Father who creates, the Son who redeems and the Holy Spirit who sanctifies. We pray for the grace to appreciate the gifts of the Trinity:   three persons, one God, without end. We pray to the Lord.            
Jesus tells us that he has much to share with us and that this will be revealed to us through the Holy Spirit. We pray that in our lives, in our thoughts, in everything we do, we open our hearts and our minds to the Spirit so that the message of Christ be the light that guides us in our every action. We pray to the Lord.                  
We pray for those who have difficulty in accepting the invitation of Jesus to be open to the Spirit and to live by his message. We pray that the Lord look kindly on them and, through his Holy Spirit, bestow on them the great gift of faith.   We pray to the Lord.  
That the love which is the Trinity may strengthen and renew each of us and deepen our love for one another. We pray to the Lord.
For all fathers and stepfathers; grandfathers and godfathers; for all men who serve and nurture young people; for their strength and tenderness, courage and wisdom, generosity and faithfulness. We pray to the Lord.
For unity with God in each of our hearts: for openness to God’s love; that we may allow God to bring us into the life of the Trinity and to deepen a relationship with us. We pray to the Lord.
For those who are ill and have asked for our prayers. May they find comfort in the healing touch of God and by the loving care of family and friends. We pray to the Lord.
And for all who seek comfort, that they may find it in God’s healing word; and that God may hear the intentions found in our parish prayer list. 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, you sent your Word to bring us truth and your Spirit to make us holy. Through them we come to know the mystery of your life. Help us to worship you, one God in three persons, by proclaiming and living our faith in you. Gracious God, pour the Spirit of love into our hearts that we may be united to Christ and to each other in the bond of peace. Triune God, you revealed yourself to your people through your wisdom, truth, and love. You have taken delight in the human race and poured out your love into our hearts. Hear the prayers of those you love and grant them in your holy name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor - St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA

Monday, June 10, 2019

June 9, 2019
(Acts 2:1-11; John 20:19-23)
One of the unintended consequences of the electronics revolution -- the smartphones we carry around with us (and even before that, our CD and record players) -- is that communal singing is on the wane.
There was a time when the heart of many social gatherings was a sing-along around a piano. There was a corpus of common tunes most everybody knew -- folk songs, show tunes and even the occasional hymn. Singing ability didn't much matter. Your voice melded with everyone else's. In common singing, there was unity.
Nowadays, songfests are few and far between. Everybody has their own music now, their own personal mix. Not to mention, that no one can afford pianos anymore - well, real ones anyway.
Still, there remain a few common tunes in America's repertoire. The national anthem is one.  "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" might be another: the anthem of the seventh-inning stretch. Even more familiar is a little ditty we've all known since we were kids: "Happy Birthday to You," or, as it is more commonly called, "Happy Birthday."
Four simple lines, three of them exactly the same. It just may be the most universally recognized song in the world. Although it began here in the United States, it's spread to many other countries, and has been translated into a host of languages.
One thing you may not know about "Happy Birthday to You" is that we actually know who composed it. Mildred Hill and her sister Patty, a Kentucky kindergarten teacher, published the tune in 1893.
Originally, it was attached to different lyrics, titled "Good Morning to All." The sisters intended it as a cheery way to start the school day.
Early in the 20th century, someone thought up the "Happy Birthday" version. It became an instant classic.
Until 2015, the song was under copyright. The copyright holder was Warner/Chappell Music. It bought the rights from the original publisher.
Warner/Chappell knew it had a cash cow, but the company also knew that cow wouldn't keep giving milk forever. When the "Good Morning to All" copyright finally expired, Warner/Chappell renewed it, based on the date "Happy Birthday to You" had first appeared in print.
It was a slick legal move, resetting the copyright-expiration clock for a few more years. It enabled Warner/Chappell to keep on raking in the royalties from anyone who used the song in a commercial setting: film studios, radio and TV stations, other music companies -- and restaurants.
Yes, restaurants. Did you ever wonder why the staff in certain chain restaurants never sing "Happy Birthday", at least, that is until the past few years? Instead, they serenade party groups with some no-name happy-clappy ditty, a poor imitation of the original. This is because Warner/Chappell was never far away, figuratively speaking. Their bill collectors were standing off to the side, palms outstretched, eager to accept a hefty annual licensing fee from the big restaurant chains, one for each of their locations. To avoid such tolls, the restaurant franchises bailed out of the "Happy Birthday" copyright game altogether, and wrote up their own birthday songs instead.
The music company's sweetheart deal abruptly ended on September 22, 2015 when Judge George H. King of the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles invalidated its copyright filing. The two songs were different, the judge explained: Warner/Chappell should never have been permitted to transfer its expiring "Good Morning to All" copyright to the newer birthday version.
Since then, "Happy Birthday" belongs to the ages. It's in the public domain.
Pentecost is the day the church of Jesus Christ entered the public domain, and it's today that we can also say to the church, "Happy birthday to you!"
Until Jesus' little band of disciples experienced the descending dove, the tongues of fire and the babble of ecstatic voices, they weren't ready for prime time. Their faith was proprietary and private. After those remarkable events, though, their old song suddenly became new.
Pentecost is a big celebration of the Christian year, but it runs far behind Christmas and Easter in popularity. In the case of the other two holidays, secular culture has embraced the religious feast, manufacturing its own cheap knock-offs. There's secular Christmas, with its blatant consumerism and vague ethic of doing something nice for someone you already love. As for secular Easter, it's nothing more than a rite of spring.
No one has trouble finding decorations and greeting cards for secular Christmas or secular Easter. Many of them feature the familiar mascots of the holidays, Santa and the Easter Bunny. Those symbolic figures have high name-recognition, even among people who've never darkened a church door.
Certain things you never, ever see in relation to Pentecost. Have you ever seen a rack of Pentecost cards in a drugstore? Have you ever savored a special candy that commemorates the holiday? Have you ever baked Pentecost cookies? Will the church ever issue a call to "Keep the Holy Spirit in Pentecost"?
Not likely. It's not a problem. Nobody's trying to hijack the rights to this holiday. Pentecost is ours alone.
The Pentecost miracle could easily not have happened at all! After Jesus' crucifixion, the disciples scattered like roaches scurrying to the four corners of a room when the lights go on. They didn't go far, though, and the good news of Easter gathered them once again, to enjoy a few brief weeks of wonder in the presence of their risen Lord.
After the ascension, what next? That experience made a mighty satisfying bookend for their years of wandering the countryside. Who would have blamed them if they'd simply turned around and returned home after all that? Were it not for the miracle of Pentecost, the church might never have come to be.
The disciples would have returned home, as Bilbo Baggins returns to Bag End at the conclusion of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, to smoke their pipes, to savor commodious second breakfasts in good hobbit fashion and to spin their remarkable adventure yarn until their neighbors grew tired of hearing it. Had that occurred, the gospel message would have remained under copyright: a quirky tale that meant a great deal to them, but would have had little impact on anyone else.
Without Pentecost, more than a few of them would have come, eventually, to regard the ascension as something like a high-school graduation. You know how it goes at such a rite of passage: You sign each other's yearbooks, vow undying friendship and embrace one another. You say, yes, we've got to get together over the summer, let's do it -- and then, don't do it at all.
With Pentecost, the church celebrates it year after year. The church says we need to get together, and each year, some of us do. As more and more people leave the church, it is that time of year that we ask the Holy Spirit to breathe over us again, so that we help others to find their way back.
Let us pray.
On this Pentecost Sunday, when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, we humbly beseech our Father that we, too, be blessed with the wisdom of the Spirit, so that we may grow in love of God and neighbor. We pray to the Lord.
That we may reach out to all who are burdened by illness, poverty, disasters or violence and show the face of God to them through our compassion and attention. We pray to the Lord.
That we may place our time, energy, and gifts at the service of others, helping them to carry their burdens and discover God’s love for them. We pray to the Lord.
That the Spirit of Christ will enable us to forgive all who have injured us and guide us in reconciling our broken relationships. We pray to the Lord.
That all who are overwhelmed by the troubles of life may find in us advocates who stand by their side. We pray to the Lord.
That in this month known among the LGBTQ community as “Pride Month” that we stand together in solidarity with them as they continue to fight for equality in our country and the world. May we help them within the church where some are exposed to bible abuse with passages that have been erroneously interpreted against them. We pray to the Lord.
That the peace the Holy Spirit brings may comfort all those in need of healing—physical, mental, or emotional—helping them to overcome the hardships they suffer. We pray to the Lord.
And for all who seek comfort, that they may find it in God’s healing word; and that God may hear the intentions found in our parish prayer list. 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.
Holy God, the promise of Pentecost is the promise of power — the power to be peacemakers in a world torn by violence; the power to forgive our own guilt and the guilt of others; the power to be courageous in the face of danger; the power to offer hope and joy in the midst of pain and suffering. Embolden us, we pray, to testify to your presence in the world, to exemplify your love for all humanity and to open our hearts to being radically changed by your Spirit. Loving God, fill us with your spirit as you fill us with your life. Give us breath to praise you to the ends of the earth. Give us courage to love as radically as your Son Jesus did - so radically, that we do so especially this month that as our LGBTQ brothers and sisters celebrate their lives, we will celebrate it with them with open hearts and open minds. We ask all these things, through Christ our lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor - St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA

Sunday, June 2, 2019

June 2, 2019
Ascension Sunday
(Acts 1:1-11; Luke 24:46-53)
I will use one of my favorite analogies today. Imagine the typical scene: You're late for work at your office on the 10th floor of that generic building and you jump into an open elevator, only to find that the doors aren't closing fast enough for you so that you can get on with your business. After all, you want to get the day over with. So, you jab at the "close door" button four or five times and, after a slight delay, the doors ease closed, leaving you satisfied that you have exerted masterful control over the recalcitrant machine.
You get to the meeting, and you realize that someone has forgotten that the month of May can still be chilly in these parts and has left the air conditioning on. You get up from your chair and adjust the thermostat, believing that you have saved the poor administrative assistants from chattering teeth.
At lunchtime, you decide to take a walk around the park across the street so you put on your special rocker-ized shoes that are supposed to tone your calves and quads and glutes while you walk. Most people don’t even wear them due to doctors saying they are no good, but you’re not convinced. So, off you go. You think of it as double-dipping in the fitness department. On your way back, however, you get stuck at a crosswalk where the light is against you. No problem, you think to yourself. There's a push button there on a post that you can push in order to make the light change and allow you to cross. You jab at it a few times, just to be sure that it registered, and even though it takes a minute or so, the "Walk" sign changes and you go merrily on your way, once again believing that you have mastered the traffic pattern of the city with the push of a button.
When the day ends, you get back in the elevator, close the doors again with your magic finger, go to the parking garage, get in your car and head home, where you can't wait to watch, ironically, The Office on your high-definition TV. You settle into your easy chair, flip on the remote and marvel at just how crystal clear Scranton, Penn., looks on the screen. Later, you go to bed secure in the knowledge that you have successfully negotiated another day because all the things that should have worked for you actually did.
Or at least you think they did.
See, all those things you thought you were doing, causing, controlling, you really weren't.
You've heard of the "placebo effect" in medicine, where doctors in a study give a control group of patients useless sugar pills but tell them they are painkillers, and the patients' brains convince them that they're the real deal and they begin to feel better. Well, the truth is that the placebo effect isn't just for medicine anymore. Indeed, every day we're encountering things that convince our brains that they should work, but actually don't.
That "close door" button in the elevator, for example, isn't actually there for you to push. It only works when a key is inserted in the elevator panel by a firefighter or maintenance worker. Push it all you want, but the door will close when it's programmed to do so every time. Ever since the Americans with Disabilities Act, the doors wait a little longer to close no matter what. Manufacturers could put a sign on the button saying something to that effect, but that's a hassle. It's easier to let the public believe they are the masters of elevator control. Masters of the world rejoice!
That thermostat on your office wall is very likely a dummy that actually controls nothing. Think about it: What would the cost of heating and cooling be if every individual in the building had access to the real thermostat! That dummy thermostat is there to give workers the illusion of control; the thinking being that if you believe you've set the thermostat higher, you'll actually feel warmer even though the real temperature remains the same.
Your tushy-toning shoes? A USA Today article quoted a doctor calling the shoe manufacturers' claims "utter nonsense," and the Federal Trade Commission ordered one shoe manufacturer to pay out $25 million in refunds to consumers for false advertising. Even so, there are still plenty of people who claim that the shoes work, or at least they think they do. Well, they were as exciting to wear as 6” stiletto’s in the mud.
The "walk" button on the street corner might actually work, though doubtful. In New York City, for example, all the buttons have been deactivated because they've been replaced by automatic timers. That doesn't stop people from continuing to jab them incessantly in hopes of beating the traffic.
And the technology that makes your TV HD may be real, but people who buy an HDTV and don't realize you need special hookups for it don't seem to know the difference. Just telling people they have HD is enough for them to believe the picture is sharper.
The bottom line is that there are a lot of things that look like they should work, but really don't. Their purpose is to get us believing that we're in control while, actually, something or someone else is -- someone who has a bigger picture in mind than our own personal need to get something done. While it's sometimes done under dubious circumstances, often we need to be managed this way for our own ultimate good and the good of others.
At the end of Luke's gospel, the risen Jesus seems to recognize that his disciples might be feeling that they're now ready to start pushing buttons and take over his mission. All through the gospels we see the disciples believing that they have it all figured out, jostling with each other for position, vying for who would be the greatest, and thinking that being associated with Jesus would get them recognized by others. They had lived with Jesus for three years, saw the miracles, heard the teachings, and a few even saw him transfigured before them. They had watched him die on a cross, and yet now there he was standing before them. They'd been to the ultimate school of discipleship and now had their practical undergraduate degrees in mission. They're ready to launch. Everything is lined up for a mission that should work.
And yet, Jesus knows their senses of control, the way they know how to walk, their spiritual thermostats, and their analog worldviews just aren't ready yet. He reviews with them how his death and resurrection is the climax of the whole biblical story (Luke 24:44) and opens their minds to understand the Scriptures (v. 45). He tells them that, yes, they will be heading out on a mission to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins to "all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem." They now know how it all works, and yet there's still one thing missing.
"You are witnesses of these things," says Jesus. " And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high." Heading straight to the mission field should work, but it won't -- not unless you wait for "power from on high."
Interestingly, many of the dummy devices out there on the street are designed to satisfy our sense of always being in a hurry by giving us the illusion of control. Jesus, on the other hand, tells his disciples right upfront that being in a hurry will get them nowhere. The only power you have, the only control you will ever exert, comes from being empowered and controlled by the Holy Spirit. That's the only way the mission is going to work. The disciples had the undergrad diploma, but they need the master's degree.
A lot of Christians move through life believing that there are shortcuts to faith and success in mission. Churches are always trying to push the right buttons by mashing away repeatedly at things like marketing campaigns and mission strategies, and four principles for this and five steps to that. But everything we try will be inert and useless unless it's invested with the power of the Spirit. Mission isn't about being in a hurry or about being efficient and in control; it's about waiting in prayer and fasting, solitude and silence, worship and studying the Scriptures.

That's the only way discipleship works. It's about God's plan, God's timing, God's method and God's mission. Everything else is a programmatic placebo.
It's simple. Kids getting married, for example, are well-advised to stop, look and listen. Google "100 questions to ask before getting married" and you'll get tons of suggestions as to things couples should ask themselves before taking this huge, life-changing, paradigmatic relational shift. Why should not the church or Christians be advised to act the same way?
Here is another list that replicates some of the above. It comes to us, via the Intentional Living website:
1. The MISSION question: Does this decision support my life mission?
2. The VISION question: Will this decision move me toward a life goal or toward solving a problem?
3. The INTEGRITY question: Will this decision affect any commitment or vow I have made?
4. God's REVEALED WORD question: Does the Bible speak to this decision or a potential consequence?
5. The COMMON SENSE question: Do the results of this decision make sense?
6. The OTHERS FIRST question: How will others be affected by this decision?
7. The LEGAL question: Is it legal?
8. The COST question: What will this decision cost me?
9. The MOTIVE question: What do I get out of this decision?
10. The TIMING question: Is this the best time to make this decision?
11. The KNOWLEDGE question: Do I have enough information to make this decision?
12.The COMMITMENT question: Do I plan to commit to my decision?
Sometimes, our joy comes not in pushing buttons, moving forward recklessly confident that God will baptize our wonderful plans, but in waiting. Luke goes on to tell us that after Jesus ascended, the disciples "returned to Jerusalem with great joy" -- joy in waiting. They were "continually in the temple blessing God," which isn't a passive kind of waiting, but the active waiting of worship. Luke continues the story in the book of Acts, where we find the disciples still waiting when the Spirit descends and powers them up for the work of mission (Acts 2).
Truth is that we can mash all the buttons we want, but ultimately it's the Spirit who lifts us up, gives the "walk" sign, strengthens our steps, warms us with grace and sharpens our vision.
Let us pray.
We pray for the victims, families and officers in the horrible shooting in Virginia Beach, Virginia. May the deceased victims rest in peace eternal and be comforted by the Holy Spirit and may the families and friends left behind find comfort and be visited by our Lord Christ in this time when sorrow is great. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for an end to bullying in our schools, our workplaces and on our streets. We pray that the Holy Spirit be ever present in our society reminding us that we are all children of the same God and when we offend others, we offend the Christ who died for love of us. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for the grace and wisdom to welcome the Holy Spirit into our owns hearts and lives, so that we too can experience the peace and love of Christ. We pray to the Lord.                      
We pray that the message of Christ be brought to all nations of the world, so that a spirit of truth, goodness and love guide all its peoples to peace, integrity and care of the weak, the sick, the hungry and the homeless. We pray to the Lord.                        
We pray for all those who have committed their lives, both at home and abroad, to communicating the word of God. We pray to the Lord.                        
We pray for responsible use of the internet and social media, so that our digital communications be a tool to spread truth and happiness, love and respect, inclusion and encounter rather than falsehood, exclusion, unhappiness and alienation. We pray to the Lord.                        
For the courage to listen to the needs of the unchurched and for the creativity to imagine new ways to communicate with them. We pray to the Lord.
That as we continue to renovate our church building and grounds, we dedicate these works to the Holy Spirit in the hope that all who come here will find a pleasant atmosphere in which to worship. We pray to the Lord.
For those on our parish prayer list; that they may find healing, hope, grace and long awaited answers to their prayers through Christ’s presence. 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.                        
Holy God, one of Jesus' final earthly acts before he ascended to be with you was to open the minds of his followers so they might understand the Scriptures. He wanted them to know how his life and ministry had fulfilled everything that was written about him. We, too, desire to understand your word to us. We want to know the meaning of your life and death to our daily experiences. We ask for wisdom and understanding as this sacred text is read and proclaimed. Speak to us, we pray, the message of life and hope and faith. Instruct us in the way you would have us go. Lastly, dear and loving God, help us in our ways, that violence and mass shootings will cease. Too many lives, Lord, too many lives are wasted in senseless violence. May those in anger find the help they need, so that bloodshed may end. We ask all these things, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor - St. Francis Chapel UCC
San Diego, CA