Sunday, July 28, 2019

July 28, 2019
The Sixth Sunday after Trinity
(Colossians 2:12-14; Luke 11:1-13)
If we really listen to what we are saying in the Lord's Prayer, we will no longer be able to "recite" it.
Let’s take a step back in time. The time is 1957. The place is Southside Elementary School. The scene is Miss Steele's second grade classroom. The school day is just beginning and students are putting away their books, settling into their desks, and whispering the latest news to nearby classmates. Talking is permitted until the tardy bell rings. The first bell signals that students can enter the building and make their way to the classrooms. The second bell means that you had better be in your desk and ready for prime time.
But first there is THE VOICE. THE VOICE comes to us over the intercom. THE VOICE belongs to the school principal, known only by name and never by sight (except by the unfortunate rule-breakers). It is THE VOICE that begins the daily routine. First, we stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, hand over heart, posture erect, facing the classroom flag. No sooner has "with liberty and justice for all" ceased its echo than we each would bow our head and recite in unison the Lord's Prayer. No one asks to leave the room; no one dares raise any objection; no one thinks twice about the appropriateness of this exercise.
Such was the culture in those latent days of innocence, especially in the Protestant South. The recitation of the Lord's Prayer was certainly not meant to offend anyone -- for whom could it have offended? Most of the people were either Baptist or Methodist with a few Presbyterians and Episcopalians thrown in for variety. There was a large Catholic church in our town, but no one recalls   knowing any Catholics. Jews were some historic people of the Old Testament, and one never even heard of Muslims. Since it was presumed that everyone was a Christian, who was there to object to the Lord's Prayer? Thus our secular educational experience and sectarian church experience was of one cloth -- a seamless cross-reference and mutual reinforcement.
What may arguably have been appropriate in an earlier era can just as arguably be seen as insensitively inappropriate today. The point here, however, is not to pick a fight with the tar baby of prayer in schools, but to evoke a memory of how many of us, early in our learning experience, encountered the Lord's Prayer.
In that earlier era, the Lord's Prayer, whether recited at school or at church, was for me just that -- a recitation -- a memorized script mumbled forth on cue. No thought as to its meaning, no reflection on its implication for my life, just a recitation. Its words were as familiar to all of us as those of the Pledge of Allegiance, but our understanding of it no more profound than our understanding, of liberty and justice for all, while knowing that the south was still unjustifiably segregated.
For many in the Boomer generation, this scenario is extremely familiar. Yet there are other ways to experience the Lord's Prayer. One is through the liturgy of worship. The scene goes something like this: Following an intercession for all of those present, the pastor says, " Instructed by the words of sacred Scripture and following the tradition of holy Church from of old, we now say:" and all of the congregants intone the words of the Lord's Prayer. Yet, even here, the prayer often comes forth as a memorized recitation rather than an expression of the heart. The only point of reflection is whether to recite the phrase "forgive us our debts," "forgive us our trespasses," or "forgive us our sins." I have heard of congregations where each phrase had its advocates and where the public recitation of the prayer was a theological battlefield as one group would try to "out-pray" the other. These competing theologies quickly gave way, however, to the desire by all not to be led into temptation.
Another way to encounter the Lord's Prayer is through a Bible study class. Here the Lord's Prayer becomes an object to be examined rather than a recitation to be memorized. In this setting one might learn of the intimate character of the term Abba, Father; the meaning of that strange word, "hallowed"; and the sorts of evil from which one ought to pray for deliverance. However it may have been learned, the truth remains that for many the prayer has been sent into semiretirement. It is no longer a liturgical component for worship, no longer an object of study, no longer a prayer with any meaningful relevance. Parents still insist that their children learn the prayer, but this is more out of cultural expediency than religious necessity -- more to prevent the embarrassment of ignorance, than to celebrate an element of faith. Hence why you have seen me add the responsorial prayers to the Mass, and the rosary and novenas to prior to the Mass over the years, all to help us to pray more.
Maybe it is time that the Lord's Prayer is dusted off and looked at again. With an attitude more seasoned; with eyes that have seen too much, yet want to see more; with a heart more tender and less rational, let's sit once again among these ancient words to hear them anew and afresh. In doing so, possibly something akin to what theologian Len Sweet would call a "faith-quake" will be experienced. The realization may come that in this prayer we had been standing on holy ground and did not have the good sense to remove our sandals. But more significantly, we might realize that the Lord's Prayer is a prayer we are not yet ready to pray.
In his book, The Lord and His Prayer, N.T. Wright points out that even though the word Abba is a word of intimacy, the real import of the idea of God as Father is to be found in an earlier reference. "The first occurrence in the Hebrew Bible of the idea of God as the Father comes when Moses marches in boldly to stand before Pharaoh, and says: "Thus says the Lord: Israel is my son, my firstborn. I said to you: Let my son go, that he may serve me.' (Exodus 4:22-23). For Israel to think of God as "Father,' then, was to hold on to the hope of liberty.... The very first words of the Lord's Prayer, therefore ... contains within it not just intimacy, but revolution."
To pray this prayer, therefore, indicates a desire to be set free from those ideas, those habits, and those attitudes that seek to hold us captive. The question is, "Are we at all certain that we want to be set free?" Our manner of behavior oftentimes belies our claim to faith. And having become comfortable in that behavior, seldom do we really want to undergo the discomfort associated with change.
I had to learn this. I allowed myself to fall out of the habit of daily structured prayer and lectio divina after moving here to California. I found my peace and spirituality slip away. I had to get back to my hour of prayer each morning, and evening breviary prayers to feel close my Lord again. Many say that our daily routine may not leave room for those things that nourish the soul, yet there is no willingness to make the hard choices that would be required to find space in our schedule for spiritual disciplines. We know that we are impatient, unforgiving, sarcastic or inattentive to those we love and who love us, and we really don't like being that way. But given the choice between exerting the energy to change or continuing to hurt others by our attitude, we too often choose the well-worn path of sameness. Or, to use Wright's analogy, we prefer to slave away in the house of the Pharaoh rather than embrace the implications of calling God "Father."
In short, we may need to be freed from our captivity to culture and comfort, but the haunting question is whether we want to be set free. If praying the Lord's Prayer -- if calling God "Father" -- is to acknowledge his liberating power and to confess our desire to participate in that liberating experience, then, maybe, the Lord's Prayer is a prayer that cannot yet be prayed.
In a past issue of Sojourners magazine, Stanley Hauerwas gives attention to another of the phrases in this prayer. Speaking of the petition, "Thy kingdom come," he reminds us that unlike earthly kingdoms with borders and boundaries, checkpoints and crossing guards, God's kingdom knows no boundaries.
Nationality? -- It doesn't matter.
Ethnicity? -- It doesn't matter.
Language? -- It doesn't matter.
Skin color? -- It doesn't matter.
Sexuality? -- It doesn’t matter.
Political affiliation? -- It doesn't matter.
Economic status? -- It doesn't matter.
Liberal? Conservative? -- It doesn't matter.
Theological position? -- It doesn't matter.
If this prayer is to be believed, Christians are bound by cords of grace to all persons who profess faith in Jesus as the Christ, for in God's kingdom there are no boundaries.
Now while all of this may theoretically sound like an "Amen" line, on a practical level the "deacon's bench" falls strangely silent. Society and experience have conditioned us to see the one who is our theological or political mirror image more as an enemy than a kingdom-mate. It is much easier and, quite frankly, much more self-justifying to swashbuckle against a theological nemesis than it is to embrace the person as a brother or sister in the kingdom of God. After all, we have our honor to protect and the integrity of the faith to defend. Our theological heritage, no less than our pride, insists that there be no concourse between ourselves and those whose Christian beliefs do not conform to our own.
Yet, along comes this prayer with the petition for the kingdom of God to come on earth -- a boundless and boundaryless kingdom to be established, not just on terra firma (dry ground), but in our own backyard, no less. A kingdom in which there are no opposing camps. A kingdom in which those differences that would divide are less important than the One whose kingdom it is. A kingdom where disarmament is a prerequisite for entrance. And we are supposed to seriously pray for this? Are we ready for a truce? Are we ready to embrace that one whose differences we find objectionable? Are we really ready to pray this prayer?
There's another reason why one might find this prayer difficult to pray, and that reason is bound up in the phrase, "Give us each day our daily bread." The problem here is twofold. First, "bread" speaks of basic necessity, the bare minimum one needs in order to survive. Implied in this petition is a satisfaction with the mere basics of life, but, if truth be told, our satisfaction requires more than just bread. Many of us have worked hard to surround ourselves with creature comforts -- nice home, nice cars, recreational toys, lines of credit - okay, well some of us, but you see my point. Now while all of this does not comprise the sum total of happiness, it is nevertheless true that we have developed a rather strong attachment to these symbols of success. The simple lifestyle may be okay for some folks, but most Christians are just not there yet. So how does one pray for "daily bread" when what is really wanted is bread pudding?
But secondly, how does one pray for one's own daily bread when there are so many others with no bread? N.T. Wright is correct when he says, "It is impossible truly to pray for our daily bread, or for tomorrow's bread today, without being horribly aware of the millions who didn't have bread yesterday, don't have any today, and in human terms are unlikely to have any tomorrow either."
It seems to be a cheap grace to pray, "give US OUR bread" when I know where MY bread is coming from, but I leave it up to God to figure out where YOU will get YOUR bread. Of what value is it to pray for bread for the breadless, when there is an unwillingness to contribute seriously to hunger relief or to advocate changes in policies, both locally and internationally, that keep people impoverished and hungry? How can your needs be included in my prayer when I am unwilling to be an instrument of God's use to help meet your needs? If someone sees hunger or knows of hunger and chooses not to respond in some way that implicates them in hunger relief, then maybe this is a prayer that is not ready to be prayed.
Things were so much simpler in Miss Steele's second grade class. We could stand with our classmates and recite the Lord's Prayer with a sincerity that comes only from innocence, and feel good for having done so. But now we cannot claim innocence. Now we know that we’re still not ready for prime time. We know too much about God, about the world, about ourselves. We now understand this prayer too well -- or at least well enough to realize that this is one prayer we are not ready to pray.
But then our Master comes and says, "When you pray, say ..." and those gentle words are compelling. For out of our humanness and shortcomings, we cannot give up praying. We desperately need to pray, and so we begin, “Lord, make us able to pray your prayer!”
Let us pray.
That God will banish violence from our midst and defend us against every evil. We pray to the Lord.
That God will bless and strengthen all families in faith, hope, and love. We pray to the Lord.
For those facing difficult decisions or stressful problems, that God will give them help and serenity. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week to live with all humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another through Love. We pray to the Lord.
That those who suffer from hunger and poverty have their daily needs provided for. We pray to the Lord.
That all gathered here might persistently intercede for those on the outskirts and margins of our community. We pray to the Lord.
Lord, help us to understand that in our prayerful moments with you, we accept the importance of silence and of listening for your voice. We pray also for the gift of listening to others, so that we can bring love and peace to those in need of sympathy and understanding. We pray to the Lord.                  
Jesus advises those in need – Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. We pray today that those of us who are blessed with enough in our lives hear the cry of those in need and be generous in our response. We pray to the Lord.
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 God, you are indeed our Abba Father. We know this from time eternal. We rest in this assurance. May your name be honored, cherished and pronounced with great reverence at all times. May your kingdom indeed come and give us new life in you that we may be made to conform to our created image that you originally desired us to be. In so doing, we can be more conformed to your will; the most holy and pure will in all the universe. In so, doing, we too will be in the fullness of joy. We desire you to not only supply our mortal nourishment, but also the bread of spiritual nourishment, so that we can be one with you at all times. Guide us in our ways that we may not sin, but when we do, come to us as a loving Father in your mercy and help us to see our errors and become the children you created us to be by forgiving anyone who caused us distress. For as we ask to be forgiven, so must we forgive others. Help us to persevere against sin and evil and be strong against Satan and his followers. May the time of trials at the end of days be no longer needed by those of us who live in your love. We ask all these things through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA

Sunday, July 21, 2019

July 21, 2019
The Fifth Sunday after Trinity
(Colossians 1:24-28; Luke 10:38-42)
B.I.B.L.E. = Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth
Woody Allen once said that if Jesus could see what people have done in his name, he would “never stop throwing up!” I suspect he is correct.
Back in the 1980’s and 1990’s, churches, both Protestant and Catholic, were pushing quite heavily a neoconservative political ideology calling it “conservative family values” while giving little to no voice to biblical community values. It seems that we have come full circle to this again in our day.
These same groups seem to support war, torture, oppose environmental protection, encourage racism and serving the rich while not relieving the poor from poverty. They speak of big government as being evil, while they increase the national debt at the same time. Big corporations get the tax breaks that the poor should get. They see the potential immigrant as evil and must be stopped at all costs, while children waste away in squalor. While pushing to completely eradicate abortion, they ignore the people who are homeless or living in poverty.
They will say that the LGBTQ “agenda” damages families and undermines (heterosexual) marriage. What an irony to equate the LGBTQ people wanting equal rights and having won the right to marry that such somehow causes heterosexual marriages to crumple without any help from anyone claiming to be LGBTQ. (Incidentally, the Pew Research Center states that statistics of divorce show no noticeable increase since 2015 when the Supreme Court ruled same-sex couples have the right to marry. So much for ruining family values!)
Females are finding themselves being pushed beneath men once again, while men can’t seem to keep their hands off of women who are not their wives. Muslims are increasingly on the offensive from being the scapegoats to what anything that is wrong in our country, the same country in which they are a minority. All this they seem to push, or condone, with their silence while considering themselves the true “Christians.”
If Jesus were to come back today, what would he call these “Christians” that push these “values?” Are they the modern day Pharisee? Jesus associated with many a people who were the pariah of the day and even cured, healed and helped them. Yet, we are back to denying Communion to a person because of a vote they made to a cause that is outside of the desired “Christian” equation. Have these modern “Pharisees” lost touch with the world that is not within their four walls?
Part of our problem, I think anyway, is that we have been attempting to rise up since the fall of Adam. Keep in mind that nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures is there a theological treaties on “Original Sin.” Now, I am not arguing that the theological teaching of “Original Sin” is wrong or that it isn’t real, however what I am saying is, that the Hebrew Scriptures do not address it. Much like the doctrine of the Trinity is not directly addressed, but we know it true.
That said, since Adam, our Heavenly Father has been trying to get his people on the correct path. Whether it be through Abraham, Moses, or David, the Father has been trying to get us on a path. During this path, we have learned some things and adapted to others. Certainly the non-Jewish people had some influence on the Jewish Old Testament practices and beliefs.
All this leads to Jesus. The Son of God comes to us from paradise to try and straighten this out and he has to address his people and teach them in ways that correct all the straying from the path of righteousness up to his time. The Law of God has been handed down, rewritten, reinterpreted and adapted to the needs of God and man. Jesus comes to try and get them back on track. To help people to see the Law as not one of restrictions, but one of generosity. So, we rise from the fall of man to the pinnacle of a pyramid, if you will. The Law got a bit watered down here, and a bit too complicated there. Jesus wanted us to learn to focus on smaller scales - to focus on our brother.
Then after Jesus Ascends, we start another fall of sorts. We have many Church Fathers, Saints and even Popes who have tried to keep us at the pinnacle, but all we seem to do is fall down the pyramid on the other side. We go from Original Sin to heresy to sacrilege. Theology to philosophy and back again. Once again, we have made the rules so difficult that left on our own, instead of God’s grace, we would never make it into heaven. We are probably no better off than where we started from. From one extreme to another I suppose.
Brian McLaren, in his book, A New Kind of Christianity (a book I highly recommend) puts it this way:
“God’s [Elohim’s] story, it seems to me, unfolds as a kind of compassionate coming-of-age story. Imagine that a father has a daughter whom he loves with all his heart. When she comes of age, Dad gives her a beautiful sports car. Dad tells her to drive safely and stay in her lane, but soon she crashes into a tree and totals her vehicle. Dad gives her a stern lecture, and a few months later replaces the sports car with a modest economy car, more of a starter car, you might say. Then she takes her new vehicle car off-road and gets stuck in a muddy field. Dad pulls her out and requires her to take a driver’s ed class before she can drive again. She finishes the class and then a few weeks later she speeds around a corner, recklessly loses control, and drives herself into a river, and the economy car is totaled. At this point, Dad decides she isn’t ready for a car and gives her a bicycle instead. Then she crashes her bike into a tower and breaks her arm. God [Dad] again comes to the rescue and rushes her to the ER. In each case, what does the father do in response to his daughter’s foolishness? Disown her? Lock her in the dungeon? Condemn her to eternal conscious torment? Not even close!”
McLaren uses this story to talk about mankind in the Book of Genesis. I liken it to the whole human history. If you think about it, you will know I am correct. Let’s face it, we do it for our children; we do it for the drug addicts; we do it philandering husband etc. At least, a small few do. And our Heavenly Father does it for us. The greater majority would turn a blind eye; say tough luck, too bad; prison is the best place for you; you don’t belong in our country. Much like our parable from last week’s Gospel about the Jewish man beat and robbed and left on the side of the road and the Priest and Levite pass on the other side of the road. But not God. Not only do we not learn, but we don’t even try to follow his mercy with mercy to others. “You’re going to Hell if you don’t change!” they say. I am glad the neoconservatives are not God, because they would have everyone condemned to eternal torment by now.
Many would say that the Bible has an answer for everything, and indeed it does to some degree, but not in the manner in which they mean, because it does not have direct and explicit answers to many of today’s issues. Abortion, Communism, Socialism, systemic racism, climate change, genetic science, pornography, sexual orientation or just-war theory, just to name a short few of many. True, we can take some of what the Bible does teach and try to translate it into ways to help these topics, and we do, it’s called theology. However, the problem here is using passages that are so out of context that we end up condemning instead of helping - instead of loving.
McLaren likens this to reading the Bible as if it were a “constitution.” We can use the Bible to condemn or sanction anything imaginable. Since we seem to be in a flux in our country over real and imaginative enemies, let’s use the Bible to tell us what we should do about our real and/or perceived “enemies.”
First, we are told to love them. Matthew 5:44 - “But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you…”
We are told to do good towards them and not seek revenge. Romans 12:17-21 - “Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, on your part, live at peace with all. Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Rather, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.”
We are told to endure the suffering they bring to us and be an example towards them. 1 Peter 3:13-17 - “Now who is going to harm you if you are enthusiastic for what is good? But even if you should suffer because of righteousness, blessed are you. Do not be afraid or terrified with fear of them, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil.”
We are told to throw their children against the rocks. Psalm 137:9 - “Blessed the one who seizes your children and smashes them against the rock.” (The entire chapter must be read to understand the context of this one verse. But, that’s too much work, so off with the children! Ugh! I make a jest, but surely you get the point.)
We are told to hate them. Psalm 139:19 - “When you would destroy the wicked, O God, the bloodthirsty depart from me!” (Also must be read in its entire chapter for context.)
We are told to destroy them. Deuteronomy 7:1-6 - “When the Lord, your God, brings you into the land which you are about to enter to possess, and removes many nations before you—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and powerful than you and when the Lord, your God, gives them over to you and you defeat them, you shall put them under the ban. Make no covenant with them and do not be gracious to them. You shall not intermarry with them, neither giving your daughters to their sons nor taking their daughters for your sons. For they would turn your sons from following me to serving other gods, and then the anger of the Lord would flare up against you and he would quickly destroy you. But this is how you must deal with them: Tear down their altars, smash their sacred pillars, chop down their asherahs, and destroy their idols by fire. For you are a people holy to the Lord, your God; the Lord, your God, has chosen you from all the peoples on the face of the earth to be a people specially his own.”
We are told to call fire down onto them. 1 Kings 18:38-40 - “The Lord’s fire came down and devoured the burnt offering, wood, stones, and dust, and lapped up the water in the trench. Seeing this, all the people fell prostrate and said, “The Lord is God! The Lord is God!” Then Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal. Let none of them escape!” They seized them, and Elijah brought them down to the Wadi Kishon and there he slaughtered them.”
However, be careful because in Luke, we find condemnation for such kind of thinking. Luke 9:51-56 - “When the days for his being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem, and he sent messengers ahead of him. On the way they entered a Samaritan village to prepare for his reception there, but they would not welcome him because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?’ Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they journeyed to another village.”
There are a whole host of rules and laws on many topics. Yet, we need to keep in mind the context of which these writers wrote. They were writing for the people of their time, not for people 3,000 years and 4,000 miles removed from them. There were specific issues of their time that which God inspired them to write. Some of these issues are still prevalent and others not. Even the ones still prevalent have variables in modern time that were not then.
Also keep in mind that in Biblical eras, there was no “Bible.” In fact, the average person did not know how nor needed to know how to read. So, to McLaren’s point, the Bible we have was not written to be like a constitution, so much as a record of their understanding of God and his people. It is not even much of a history lesson, so much as a tool to guide God’s people. It has a lot of rules, but some really wouldn’t apply today, not that it stops the neo-conservatives from plucking one to use to suit their needs all the while ignoring another in the same paragraph.
Sadly, we are creeping into areas that we fought long and hard to change - the various social issues that we were making progress on, we are falling back into. Ideas such as anti-Semitism, chauvinism, homophobia, environmental havoc, apartheid, genocide, racism and maybe even witch burning. I wouldn’t put anything as too outlandish from the direction we seem to be headed.
The Bible is a great guide and it is our manuscript for what we believe, no doubt about that. But, it is not strictly meant to be used by churches to create doctrinal statements, so much as a textbook, of sorts, like we used in grade school and high school to prepare us for our lives ahead. It was meant more to give us a liberal arts style of learning of how to be people of God. We cannot apply all things literally, but neither can we live without its wisdom. To do so is to go down a road of demise. Demise of civilized humanity?
Let us review Job as an example. When you get to the later part of Job, what does God say? He says that what Job and his friends said was false and nonsense. But, wait a second here - isn’t the Bible completely and utterly inspired by God? And now God tells us that much of Job and his friend’s statements are false nonsense, what are we to think? Inspired does not mean written by the hand of God. It means that like anyone today, we receive inspiration to write or do something, but there are gray areas that we fill in with our human intellect and understanding of what we see and/or what we are proposing.
(We are not even certain how the writers of the Old Testament were inspired. The New Testament were witnesses - historical people who actually existed. Farther back in the Old Testament, however, it becomes a bit harder to ascertain who the writers were and how they were influenced. Here we rely on the oral Tradition handed done by the various Jewish leaders and Rabbis of old. We also relied on the Apostles of Jesus to hand down their understanding of the Jewish religion from that time.)
But, Job’s friends were quoting from Deuteronomy, someone will argue. So, to say that the first two-thirds of Job is nonsense, are we to say Deuteronomy is nonsense, or that God changed his mind, or that worse yet, there are two God’s? No, not hardly. Keep in mind that Job’s friends were doing the same we do today - picking verses out of large texts. Some of these texts were very probably used out of context, just as many are today, to justify the poor treatment of many groups of people.
As another example, we read in the Gospels that the “Jews” killed Jesus. Now I ask you - did the “Jews” literally kill Jesus? Did all the Jews in all of Jerusalem get together and vote on a ballot to kill this supposed God impersonator? Did all these supposed “Jews” carry Jesus to the cross and nail him on it? No! The Gospels used the term “Jews” as a representation of the High Priest, the members of the Sanhedrin, etc. These few men were responsible for convincing the powers to be - Pilate - that Jesus should be killed. Anti-Semitism has been a huge error and problem since this time as a classic example of reading the Bible and taking verses out of context. They say we should treat the Jews horribly because of what they did to our Lord! That is - I am sorry, but I must say it - down right idiotic! Yet, believe it or not, there are some who still push this errant view.
The Word of God is very much within the Scriptures, but we must be careful when we take a verse here and there and use it for our own intentions, because that might very well not be what was meant by the verse at all. As Catholics, we do not ascribe to the term “sola scriptura.” Scripture alone, ever since the reformers starting teaching this, it has gotten well-meaning people into difficult situations.
We Catholics do not believe the Bible was ever written, or intended to be used in this way. For that matter, I suspect most other non-Christian religions are similar, in that there is much theological background, understanding and oral Tradition that is handed down. Jewish and Christian faiths both have these. And even all these still will occasionally fall short. Did God answer all of Job’s questions? No. In fact, God asked Job a lot of questions without even providing the answers. To me, that tells us that God wants us to not only seek out the answers, but that he is less concerned with constitutional doctrine than he is with how we live out our lives with him and toward others.
However, all said, the Bible does not answer all questions we have, but it is a good collection of literary about God and his people and the interactions and conversations they have had. It is great library to help us get to the answers we need. Additionally, as you have heard me say before, the Bible is not about how Heaven goes - but about how to go to Heaven. It doesn’t have all the answers to all our questions, but it certainly is a good library to help. And don’t take what I say to the opposite extreme. The Bible is indeed a sacred collection and it is indeed the major force behind our faith. Never forget that. It does give us many rules and answers, when read correctly.
Suffice to say, we know the Scriptures were/are inspired by God, however we also need to accept the fact that human hands wrote them and sometimes the messiness of their lives had an influence on their outlook and thought process in regard to God. As an example, in some of the Old Testament passages we seem to see a God who loves violence and war. If human beings who produced those passages were violent in their own temperament of life, it is only natural that they would see God through that same lens. How many of these violent wars were really sanctioned by God versus how many were merely men who thought God wanted them to go to war and they, through good battle skills, fought and won? Does Nazi Germany and WW II mean God was mad at the Jews? Not even remotely.
Since Easter, and the announcement of my ascending to the chair of Presiding Bishop, I have been speaking a lot about a theme I want our denomination to have. A new way of believing, if you will or to use McLaren’s book title somewhat differently, a new kind of Catholicism. As we all know, we are part of the Liberal Catholic Rite Movement. Meaning, we are a Liberal Catholic Rite Church and thus we are Liberal Catholics. I want us to get past - and I want potential new members to get past - the “stigma” of the word Liberal. I want us to be progressive left leaning Liberals. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, I boldly believe that this is exactly what Christ has wanted for his followers all along. Why? Because of another phrase I have been pushing the past couple of months - the radical love of Jesus!
The radical love of Jesus is indeed liberal. I know that might cause scandal to some, but it should not. We see in the Gospels the people Jesus would associate with, the outcasts, sinners, tax collectors and non-Jews. He turned no one away and dealt with the worst of people with compassion, mercy and love. We as a church must do the same. We must build a new name for ourselves and radically love too. It doesn’t mean that we believe “anything goes,” but it does mean we learn to live in the radical love of Jesus. We are careful to not use scripture out of context and that we know there is more than sola scriptura.
To wind down, in McLaren’s book, he speaks about St. Paul. He speaks on how St. Paul taught that the church - the believers - were the body or embodiment of Christ. St. Paul says this in 1 Corinthians 12:31, “Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts. The Way of Love. But I shall show you a still more excellent way.” The speaking tongues or using of spiritual gifts; a radical concern for social justice or willingness to be martyred are all nothing without love. So, McLaren says that if St. Paul were here today, his letter might go something like this:
“Though I interpret the biblical text with state-of-the-art hermeneutics and preach sermons with flawless homiletics, though all my theologies are systematic, all my books, blogs, and podcasts scrupulously orthodox, and my books always best-sellers, without love I am static on a radio or an error message on a computer screen. Though I can show decadal church growth in the double digits and raise millions of dollars in building funds, though I have files full of testimonials from people saved, healed, delivered, and blessed through my ministry, without love I’m just another clever, two-bit purveyor of goods and services in religious-industrial complex. Though I have worldwide impact, traveling by private jet and broadcasting on cable, satellite, and the internet, though my budgets balance and my seminaries are bursting with beautiful and handsome valedictorians (all of whom are above average in every way), and though presidents invite me to the White House and consider me a “key person,” without love I am nothing.”
I will leave you with one last thought. I wrote this over a span of the week, but on Thursday morning during morning prayer, the Gospel reading for the day was from Matthew 11:28-30. I have always liked this passage. However, it can be applied to our branch of Catholicism specifically. It reads as follows: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
I like to think this particular passage is just as relevant today as it was when Jesus actually said it. As a Liberal Catholic church, our views on various teachings, dogma, etc. are a bit easier to swallow sometimes. The handed down oral explanation of this passage is broke down as follows.
Who labor and are burdened - are those who are burdened by the law as expounded by the scribes and Pharisees.
Take my yoke upon you - means in place of the yoke of the law, complicated by scribal interpretation, Jesus invites the burdened to take the yoke of obedience to his word, under which they will find rest.
For us, the modern equivalent, at least by some people’s estimation, these scribes and Pharisees would be neoconservative theologians, Roman Catholic bishops, or hellfire and brimstone Evangelical ministers. Not all, of course, but we could all name a few.
In some quadrants of the younger generation, they have left conservative branches of the church because of the modern day variation of the scribes and Pharisees. Although, they are certainly not the only generation, however. The point I am working toward is that some have left the Catholic Church as well as some Evangelical/Fundamentalist groups for teaching certain passages of Scripture in literal and absolute ways and or dogmas that are too restrictive. In our branch of Catholicism (Old Catholics, Liberal Catholics, etc. since the 1800’s), I feel we have taken Jesus’ example and focused more on the two greatest commandments. Our teachings and dogma tend to be derived from these. So, when we come across a passage of Scripture that seems like it would not apply either by Jesus’ example and/or the context it was written is not applicable for modern times, we teach it with what we believe is obedience to his word, not the yoke of the (old) law.
I like to think we Liberal Catholics don’t induce Theological Indigestion! There are just some theological topics that we tend to think are superfluous, and others more worthy of spending our energies on.
Therefore, like today’s Gospel, Jesus is telling us, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” Let us focus on our Blessed Lord - especially in receiving him in the Holy Eucharist - and we shall not veer too far from the path. Many a miracle has taken place in regard to the Holy Eucharist. Let us open our hearts, minds and souls to the beauty of Christ as we receive him at Holy Communion today and each time we can. You might be surprised what may happen to you one time or more!
Let us pray.
Jesus reminds us that too often we worry and fret about many things which really don’t matter. We pray that we be more like Mary and that we choose to listen to the word of Jesus and follow his ways rather than those of the material and selfish world. We pray to the Lord.
That societies all over the world support education opportunities for all of their people regardless of race, gender, class, or disability. We pray to the Lord.
That those overcome by burdens and anxieties hear the voice of the Lord inviting them to rest in his love. We pray to the Lord.
That all gathered here might find time everyday to listen in contemplative silence to Jesus and his life-giving word.  We pray to the Lord.
That all the fallen away Catholics, those who stopped practicing their faith, or those who merely feel the Church has not caught up with the times, that they find our humble chapel where our Traditional Liturgy with modern understanding of Christ can make them reconnect with God. We pray to the Lord.
For those who perished in the devastating arson fire at Kyoto Animation studio in Kyoto Japan. May they rest in the peace of our Lord Christ and may the family and friends of these victims find some comfort after this tragic incident. We pray to the Lord.
For all who seek comfort that the Holy Spirit will surround them with love, peace and answers to their prayers; 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.
Gracious God, you have chosen to dwell among us in unexpected, surprising ways, most especially in the person of your own Son, Jesus. Give us open and fearless hearts and minds that we may welcome you however and whenever you appear. Lord, the design of your universe is one of flux, ebb and flow, birth and death, spring- time slipping into summer with the same, quiet inevitability that children come of age. Let us not run away from change or cast an apprehensive eye on things just because they’re new to us or strange. Let us see that standing still can be the start of stagnation. Let us be thankful for the twists and turns that make each day full of adventure. When we long for something steadfast and familiar, remind us that in this whirling world there is always for sure one place of total steadiness — You, Lord. We ask all this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor - St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

July 14, 2019
The Fourth Sunday after Trinity
(Deuteronomy 30:10-14; Luke 10:25-37)
Ever left your cell phone on a bus? Your wallet in a store or restaurant? If you have, you probably can relationally remember the sense of panic.
For a lot of us, our cell phones are a microcosmic representation of our whole lives. Think about all the phone numbers and contact information, pictures, calendared appointments and text messages you have stored in there. Granted, if you back it up often on your computer or with your wireless carrier, it shouldn’t be a big deal. But, given the fact that many people are too busy to make a backup plan or find phone insurance too expensive, losing one’s phone is still the equivalent of leaving one’s life on a subway seat.
There is a story on the web of a Defense Department analyst who was on his way home when he inadvertently dropped his cell phone on a Washington, D.C., street. When he discovered that his electronic life was missing, he frantically began dialing the cell’s number from another phone. He didn’t even know what time it was because, like a lot of 21st-century people, he kept time with his phone rather than a watch.
Finally, a voice answered. “Yeah, I got your phone,” said the voice. “But what’s it worth to you?”
“Twenty bucks,” said the frantic owner. It was all the cash he had on him at the time. “My phone is my life,” he says. “If I’d needed to, I would have paid a lot more.”
What’s it worth to you? That’s certainly not the first thing you want to hear out of a “good” Samaritan. Many of us assume there’s a kind of unwritten agreement between losers and finders, and when we’re on the finding end we get a special kind of rush when we’re able to unite someone with their lost valuables. The gushing gratitude of the recipient is enough reward for most of us.
But, clearly, not all of us. Some people look at the misfortune of others as an opportunity to make a quick buck. Call them “bad Samaritans.”
Bad Samaritans are focused primarily on maximizing their reward or, in some sense, recouping something of what they believe society owes them. Take the case of Los Angeles-based writer Andrew Cohn, who was cleaning up after a backyard party and found a wallet on the ground with $40 in it. “I’d just spent $500 on the party,” says Cohn. “I figured the money was the girl’s contribution.” He kept the money and left the wallet, with ID and credit cards, on the ground.
How did Cohn justify his actions? Well, he says, “If you expect someone’s going to return your wallet with all the cash, you’re probably a little delusional.” Davy Rothbart, who edits a magazine called Found, which features photos of lost objects, agrees with Cohn. “Really good Samaritans, if they find a wallet, they return it intact,” he says. “Some people find a wallet, take the money, but return the important stuff. That’s not evil.”
So, what does that make someone such as Cohn — a semi-good Samaritan? And what if you find a wallet but really need the money right now; does that make it okay to keep it as long as you give back the “important” stuff? Is “finders-keepers” an ethical escape clause?
I’m guessing that most people sitting in church on Sunday would probably — one hopes — say “no” to all of the above. After all, we’ve been schooled in Scriptures such as the Ten Commandments and Deuteronomy 22:1-4, which instruct the Israelites on precisely what to do when they find a stray sheep or ox: You take it back to the owner with no expectation of, or provision for, any kind of reward. Whether it’s sheep or cell phones, demanding a reward from a vulnerable person is nothing less than extortion.
The lesson here would seem to be obvious, particularly when we compare the behavior of bad Samaritans to the good Samaritan in Jesus’ famous parable. When we read this passage a little more closely, however, we begin to see that the story has an even deeper dimension to it than just the ethics of helping. It really has to do with how we view people and, more specifically, whether we believe in the kindness of strangers.
Psychologists say that how you perceive strangers is a microcosm of how you perceive the world. If you believe that most people are intrinsically unethical and that they’d put the screws to you if given a chance, then you’re much more likely to put the screws to someone else if, say, you find a wallet or a cell phone or, as in Jesus’ story, if you find him or her battered on the side of the road. People who see strangers as outsiders, as enemies or as something less than themselves will default to treating them that way, rather than as equals, or, to use Jesus’ term, as “neighbors.” (It brings to mind our immigration rhetoric in our government these days.)
The key to this parable is thus the question that prompts it. A lawyer asks Jesus, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” This is a question about ultimate rewards. For a first-century Jew, “eternal life” meant the life of the age to come, the ultimate covenant blessing that was in store for God’s chosen people. The lawyer perceived himself to be a member of the covenant community who, like many of his people at the time, held clear ideas about who was within the covenant boundaries set by the Torah and who was outside — who were friends and who were strangers.
Jesus questions him about the Torah law, and the lawyer gives the right answer — the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:5, which was about love for God, and its companion piece from Leviticus 19:18 about loving one’s “neighbor” as oneself. The definition of neighbor is the sticking point for this lawyer, so he presses Jesus for a legal opinion. Luke says the lawyer wanted to “justify” himself, which is a way of saying he was concerned about defining his “neighbors” as follows: “My neighbor is a fellow Jew, i.e., someone who lives within the covenant boundaries of Judaism.”
Asking Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” was like saying, “You’re talking about our own people, right?” Like many of the people of Jesus’ day (even today), the lawyer apparently had big issues with strangers.
Jesus responds with this story, one that has become so familiar to us that we miss the scandalous implications of it for people such as the lawyer. A man is on his way down the wilderness road from Jerusalem to Jericho, which implies that he is a Jew, when he gets set upon by robbers who beat him and leave him for dead. A priest and a Levite, who should be obvious “neighbors” to their fellow Jew, both pass by on the opposite side of the road and refuse to help. The implication is they were on the same side, but exaggerated their lack of concern by crossing to the other side of the road to pass by. Maybe they had good reasons; for example, their involvement with a battered body might make them ritually unclean to work in the temple. Although Jesus doesn’t elaborate on their reasons for not wanting to get involved, the fact that these two are representatives of the Torah and its covenant rituals and boundaries is very significant. The priest and the Levite — and, by association, the Torah and the sacrificial system — fail to act in order to save one of their own.
Who does stop to help? A Samaritan, a stranger and an enemy of Israel. To most first-century Jews, “good Samaritan” would have been a laughable contradiction, as these half-breed people with their own temple were considered pariahs. However, this Samaritan stops, renders aid and takes care of the Jewish victim’s expenses. He does what the victim’s “own people” would not do for him.
Although we most often read and preach this story from the perspective of the Samaritan who helps, Jesus hammers home the point from the perspective of the victim in answering the lawyer’s question with a question of his own. “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers' victim?” The stunning answer was, of course, that the Jew in the ditch discovered that the Samaritan was his neighbor and that the others — those geographically, ethnically and religiously similar — were not.
“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” The lawyer’s question was the same as that of the rich young man in Luke 18:18-25, and Jesus’ answer is essentially the same: You must learn a new way to be God’s covenant people and a new way of understanding God’s kingdom. And, for starters, you must redefine your definition of “neighbor” to include the stranger and the outsider. Jesus would live that out by spending time with the outcasts and, interestingly, the tax collectors who made their living essentially by extortion! Following Jesus means we are called to “go and do likewise.” We are called to see others not as good or bad Samaritans but as people who deserve our presence and our help. We are to go into the world with the same radical love of Jesus!
God’s people are never to play “finders-keepers,” nor are they to see themselves as being more deserving or better than anyone else. When it comes to the kindness of strangers, we tend to get what we expect. If we’re kind and helpful to people we don’t know or who are in trouble, in every circumstance, then we’re more likely to see that kindness returned. Even if we don’t receive reciprocal care and help, we know that God has called us to love the stranger regardless. That’s what it means to be God’s people.
Things do have a way of coming back around to justice eventually. Take Andrew Cohn who found the wallet while cleaning up after a party, for example. A few hours after he replaced the now cash-poor wallet back on the ground, the owner knocked on his door. Cohn opened the door to find a drop-dead gorgeous woman standing on his porch. Although she was sad her money was gone, she was glad to have her wallet and credit cards back. She was so glad, thought Cohn, that maybe she’d agree to go out with him.
Problem is, he didn’t get her number, and a mutual friend wouldn’t give it to him. The friend’s reason? “You can’t ask out a girl if you just took her money.”
You think?
Maybe this guy will someday get a life, find eternal life and be a good neighbor.
Let us pray.
That the trend of increasing “bad neighbors” be reversed and outpaced by “good neighbors” in a world so desperately in need of them. We pray to the Lord.
That the Church and the media recognize and lift up the loving deeds of all people of good will. We pray to the Lord.
That we spread, teach and live in example of the radical love that Jesus showed to all, sinner and saint alike, and asks us each to now show toward all whom we meet. We pray to the Lord.
That God will help us recognize our neighbor in the refugee, the homeless person, and in the members of other cultures, and inspire us in responding to their needs. We pray to the Lord.
That wars and divisions cease as people look on each other with empathy. We pray to the Lord.
That the victims of crimes and all those who feel forgotten and abandoned experience the love of God and the care of their fellow human beings. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for the volunteers in our communities who commit themselves to the care and welfare of those who are less well off in our society – the sick, the poor, the homeless, the suicidal and the lonely. We pray to the Lord that he give them the energy and commitment to continue in this work and that he justly rewards them when he welcomes them into his kingdom. We pray to the Lord.                
We pray for those who misunderstand, misrepresent or are hostile to the church of Christ. We pray that they come to an understanding that Jesus requires just one commitment from his church, that they love one another and their neighbor as themselves, not to come expecting perfection amongst imperfect people. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for our priests, particularly those who suffer abuse and hostility. We pray that all who proclaim the message of Christ experience an end to prejudice and intolerance in our society. We pray to the Lord.
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.
Merciful God, throughout history you have showered your mercy upon your people. Help us to follow the example of the Good Samaritan in our struggles from day to day. Merciful Savior, daily we are given opportunities to be a good Samaritan — to show kindness, to express praise, to offer encouragement, to affirm the worth of our fellow human beings. And daily we fail to be the heart and hands of Jesus Christ. We avoid making eye contact with a homeless person, we are impatient with the slow movement of the elderly, we tune out the curious questions of young children. We make excuses for our rude driving, our short tempers and our self- indulgences. We fail to see that in doing these things, we are leaving those in need stranded along the roadside, refusing to reach out with compassion and bind their wounds. We stand convicted of our attitudes of self-importance and disregard. Forgive us, Lord, we pray, and remove our sin from us so we may walk in newness of life. Help us to be examples of the radical love of Jesus! 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, July 7, 2019

July 7, 2019
The Third Sunday after Trinity
(Galatians 6:14-18; Luke 10:1-12, 17-20)
How many people can play on a team? Baseball uses nine players on defense, and one at a time on offense, with the possibility of other players on base. But, teams are much larger than that. For example, it’s not enough to have only nine players. There needs to be more in case some are injured, or to give others a rest. A baseball team with only one pitcher will not win many games in a row. Teams need back-up players.
And what about football? Each team has eleven players on a field at a time. But there are offensive, defensive, and special teams squads. The players on a college football team sometimes number more than a hundred. In NFL, teams may have fifty-three players, but only forty-five can suit up for a game.
During the ministry of Jesus there were many on the team as well; crowds, disciples, Apostles, and a special few. In the Gospel of Matthew there are only twelve disciples, and there were also the twelve Apostles. (Most commonly, the Apostles were the “twelve” chosen by Jesus as his inner group, and disciples are those outside of that “twelve” who were followers of Jesus and even some of the Apostles after Jesus’ death. Some scholars have used the two terms interchangeably, but it is generally believed that while Jesus was alive they were differentiated as I just described.)
But Luke has a much more expansive view of discipleship. In fact, in Acts, he invents the feminine form of the word to mention Tabitha, a female disciple (9:36). And in today’s gospel we have the mission of the seventy-two! In Luke there were many, many disciples. Nearly anyone could be on the team! (However, some scholars hold that tradition of information handed down from the Apostles was that these seventy-two were the equivalent of today’s monks and priests. We may never know for certain.)
And this simple lesson Luke gives should give us great hope today. According to Luke, men, women, the Twelve, the seventy-two, and many more were in a special relationship with Jesus, chosen to follow and chosen also to be sent by him. In this gospel there were not such tight boundaries around who could or could not be a disciple. Instead, the situation seems to have been more fluid or dynamic. And that’s more likely a more accurate reflection of the situation around Jesus’ earthly ministry.
Aside from the story in Luke, we never hear of the seventy-two again. But surely these people were likely some of the early evangelizers after the Resurrection. It all gives us a brief inkling into the situation of the early Church. Though it might be easier to imagine the Twelve with Peter at the head, knowing who is “on the team” and who isn’t, today’s gospel reading invites us to consider a much more complex picture.
Many of us like to draw boundaries, establishing membership and determining limits. But life is not often like that. Our lived realities are much more complex, and maybe that is the reason we seek to create order. (Not to mention that we were created in the image of God, and He created order out of chaos! So, we are here trying to master our own version of that!)
The mission of the seventy-two gives us a peek into the greater discipleship ministry of Jesus. They go to the places Jesus intends to visit. We might ask ourselves who are the “seventy-two” today? And are we part of that large group sent to places where Jesus intends to visit? These seventy-two were critical to the ministry of Jesus. They prepared the way for him. In looking to a New Testament example of our call in life, there is something worthy of emulation here.
In last week’s gospel we heard of a Samaritan village that would not welcome Jesus because his final destination was Jerusalem. (How similar to the treatment of Israel from the rest of the Middle East in modern times!) And so, this week as well, Jesus’ disciples are sent ahead of Jesus to “every town and place he intended to visit.” Jesus acknowledges that they might find welcome or they might not, but everywhere they venture they are first to say, “Peace to this household.”
Much like John the Baptist at the beginning of Luke’s gospel, these seventy-two are to additionally proclaim, “The kingdom of God is at hand” and to call the people, communally and individually, to repentance. This account of the mission of the seventy-two reveals to us Jesus’ method in ministry. He calls other to help him in spreading the good news of God’s kingdom and he sends them to minister in pairs. The Christian mission is not to be undertaken as a solitary endeavor. If Jesus continually called on others to help him establish the kingdom of God, how much more do we, modern-day “disciples,” need to rely on co-laborers in ministry?
There is an urgency to the seventy-two’s task and because of this Jesus tells them to not be encumbered by material things. They are to bring “no money bag, no sack, no sandals” (can you imagine not having any of these today?!) and even more than that they are to “greet no one along the way.” It may seem odd that they are to greet no one along the way, but nothing must dissuade them from this mission, the mission of announcing the kingdom of God.
The people of that time were caught up in waiting for the kingdom of God to arrive. They longed for the time when there would be no more war, illness, hunger, oppression, hatred, or enmity, and would live in peace and abundance. The message to them and to us is that the kingdom is already here. All it requires is for us to claim our places as citizens of the kingdom of God. If only everyone would do so, as this world would be a far better place!
What would the world be like if we all truly believed the bold proclamation of Jesus that the kingdom of God is at hand? We are kingdom people and when we act as kingdom people, just as the saints throughout history have shown us, the kingdom breaks out all around us. The hungry are fed, the grieving are comforted, and building lasting peace becomes more important than preparing for war. This urgent message proclaimed by the disciples on the road to Jerusalem is passed on to us today. The kingdom of God is at hand, we must merely grasp it and live it.
Let us pray.
In today’s gospel Jesus tells the disciples he is sending them out like lambs among wolves. We likewise, as followers of Christ, so often face a hostile and uncaring world. We pray to the Spirit for the courage and strength to be loyal and true witnesses to Christ’s message by word and example. We pray to the Lord.  
For our United States: that God will guide us in achieving the ideals on which this nation was founded: respect for life, maintenance of liberty, and establishment of justice for all. We pray to the Lord.
For those who carry the Gospel in the face of danger: for missionaries, chaplains and Christians living under persecution. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace to embrace the cross: that we may accept the sufferings of body, mind and spirit that will transform us into new creations in Christ. 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.
God of abundance, you sent your Son Jesus to reveal to us the fullness of life in your kingdom. Hear our prayers that we might labor to build up the kingdom of God in all that we say and do. We ask these things through Christ, our Lord. God who nurtures and protects us, we ask you to be with us as we practice discipleship in our lives. Give us the courage to spread Jesus’ word by our words and actions, even though we do not know how we will be received. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor - St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA

Monday, July 1, 2019

June 30, 2019
The Second Sunday after Trinity
(Galatians 5:1, 13-18; Luke 9:51-62)
59 years ago, on July 4, 1960, the 50-star flag of the United States was flown for the first time in Philadelphia. The 50th star was added because Hawaii had been admitted as the 50th state only the year before.
We’ve now had 59 years of 50 stars.
That feels kind of neat and complete, doesn’t it? For years, there’s been talk of adding Puerto Rico as a 51st state, and debate tends to swirl around extreme political, economic and cultural issues.
As human beings, we like certain numbers. And this goes way back. Since ancient times, people have attached symbolic significance to numbers. For the Israelites, the number one signified uniqueness or undivided wholeness. The book of Deuteronomy says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord” (6:4).
Three is largely regarded as a divine number. When Abraham is visited by three mysterious men by the oaks of Mamre, he comes to realize that the Lord is visiting him (Genesis 18:1-15). Christians later affirm that God is a Trinity, one God in three persons.
The number seven signifies completeness and perfection. In ancient Israel, the great festivals lasted seven days, and every seventh year was a Sabbath year. Twelve is also seen as a number of completeness and perfection: Israel had 12 tribes, and Jesus had 12 disciples.
What did the apostles do after Judas betrayed Jesus and committed suicide? They quickly cast lots and selected Matthias to replace him (Acts 1:26). Eleven apostles just didn’t seem complete. Of course, in later years they added many more to the 12.
So here we are with 50 states and 50 stars — in the minds of some people, completeness and perfection. But life in America is never perfect and complete. When the Declaration of Independence was signed, its words described the beginning of a process, not the end. It was a Declaration of Incompleteness.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” wrote Thomas Jefferson, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The pursuit of happiness. That phrase alone shows us that our work is never finished.
On this Independence Day, 59 years after the addition of the 50th star, it’s appropriate for us, as Christians in America, to look at where we’ve been and where we’re going. Fifty-nine years ago, it wasn’t at all clear that “all men are created equal” because segregation was enforced in many parts of our country. Black men and women were treated as second-class citizens. It took a massive civil-rights movement to outlaw racial discrimination and move us closer to a society in which all people are accepted as equals.
But are we there yet? Not quite. We are seeing discrimination increase as of late, instead of decrease.
We need to add a few more stars to the flag on this Independence Day — stars that have nothing to do with the addition of new states. The first star to add is equality.
Notice how theological the Declaration of Independence is on this point: “all men are created equal.” It doesn’t say born equal — it says created equal. Creation requires a divine Creator, and as Christians we believe that “God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). It seems we have forgotten that all our races originated from the two God originally created. We are all distantly related in some way.
This anniversary is the perfect day to look at ourselves as people created in the image of God, with tremendous intellectual, spiritual and relational gifts. Psalm 8 tells us that the Lord has made human beings “a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor” (8:5).
That’s who we are, according to Scripture. A little lower than God, crowned with glory and honor. And that’s who our neighbors are as well: the brother and sister who are descendants of an American slave, the working-class family from El Salvador across the street, the single mom with three kids in the grocery store, the unwanted child in need of adoption, the wealthy attorney with a broken marriage and a drinking problem, the same sex couple on the next block whose house has been egged a few times, the father and daughter who drowned at our southern border. It’s time to break out of our categories and caricatures and begin to see each other as equals — as brothers and sisters, created in the image of God.
Only then can we reach out to each other with love and compassion and understanding, accepting each other as the Lord accepts each one of us.
This anniversary is also the day to focus on a life of service to God. The Declaration of Independence describes life as an unalienable right, but as Christians we believe that God has given us life so we can give it back to him. In Luke 20, Jesus illustrates this point quite clearly when a group of spies come to him, sent by the Jewish chief priests and scribes. They’re trying to trap him and hand him over to the authority of the Roman governor. They ask Jesus, “Teacher, we know that you are right in what you say and teach, and you show deference to no one, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”
Jesus perceives their craftiness, realizing that a “yes” answer will get him in trouble with the Jews and a “no” answer will put him in hot water with the Romans. So he says, “Show me a denarius.” (Jesus is pretty crafty himself, revealing that even these pious Jews carry Roman coins!)
“Whose head and whose title does it bear?” asks Jesus. They say, “The emperor’s.” So Jesus says to them, “Then give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Luke 20:20-25).
On one level, Jesus is giving a simple “separation of church and state” answer, which would certainly please Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence and the Statute for Religious Freedom. Jesus is saying that we are to give to the state the things that belong to the state, including our fair share of taxes and other obligations of citizenship. Once we’ve taken care of the state’s business, we can give to God the things that belong to God. This is an important separation, keeping the state out of the church’s business and the church out of the state’s. (Which is why I try to refrain from speaking about our president - difficult to be sure!)
But on a deeper level, Jesus is saying that the emperor’s money is hardly worthy of consideration. It’s as though he’s stating, “The denarius belongs to the emperor, so give it to him. It means nothing to God!” What really matters is that we give ourselves completely to God — heart, mind and spirit. Just as the image of the emperor is stamped on the Roman coin, the image of God is stamped on each one of us. When we give ourselves to God, we are giving to God the things that are God’s.
We do this whenever we use our intellectual, spiritual and relational gifts to advance God’s work in the world. Helping a low-income family develop a budget, praying for the sick and the suffering at a service of healing, gathering a small group for Bible study or a mission project — all these are ways of giving our life to God. We aren’t our own; we are the Lord’s. God has given us life so we can give it back to God.
This Fourth of July is also the day to concentrate on liberty and on the freedom we have as Christians. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were anxious to escape from the tyranny of the king of Great Britain, but our bondage today is to another tyrant — human sinfulness. In John 8, Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” (8:34). We understand how sin can trap us because we’ve discovered how gambling makes us want to gamble more, whether we win or lose. We’ve found that drinking problems tend to get worse instead of better until we discover that we’re powerless over alcohol and need professional help. We’ve come to see how cheating gets easier and easier until we get caught. And then we’re trapped. As humans, all of us have our addictions - some good, but many bad.
But there is a way out. “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples,” says Jesus, “and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (8:31-32). Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. When we follow him, we gain freedom from sin and a new, abundant life. “If the Son makes you free,” promises Jesus, “you will be free indeed” (8:36).
Each of us needs forgiveness. Each of us needs independence from slavery to sin. The good news is that we gain this freedom when we put our trust in Christ and follow him in faith.
Independence Day is also the day to recommit ourselves to the pursuit of happiness — for ourselves and for all of our fellow citizens. As Christians, we know that happiness isn’t an isolated and individual experience. Instead, it comes from being part of a community in which God’s abundant goodness is shared and enjoyed by all. In his first letter, Peter gives this practical advice to the Christian community of his day: “As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:16-17).
Peter wants us to live as free people but warns us about using our Declaration of Independence as a permission slip to do evil. Putting what’s good for us ahead of what’s good for all simply isn’t a Christian option. We are called to honor everyone, love the family of believers, fear God and honor the emperor. Advancing ourselves while abusing others simply doesn’t fit this equation.
Equality. Service to God. Christian freedom. Pursuing happiness in community. The addition of these stars will certainly create an awkward 54-star flag, which isn’t going to be anyone’s idea of a complete and perfect banner for our country. But unless we focus on these goals, we’re going to find ourselves living in an increasingly segregated, self-serving, sin-saturated and self-centered society.
We should add these new stars and move a little closer to becoming a nation where all of God’s children can enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Completeness and perfection will never be captured by flags but will be found only in a relationship with the One who has created us and called us to be his own.
We’ll continue to declare our incompleteness until we are one with the one Lord God. This is a union that will happen beyond the stars …
And the stripes.
Let us pray.
In today’s gospel Jesus makes it clear that he asks more from us than half-hearted commitment. Let us today listen to his call and make a new resolution to join him in our every action and see him in everyone we meet. We pray to the Lord.                        
For our country, as we celebrate Independence Day later this week, that we may realize our dependence on God and on each other and our call to care for the poor and disenfranchised. We pray to the Lord.
For those who are bound up in cycles of violence and abuse, that they will be set free through our efforts. We pray to the Lord.
At this time of political turmoil throughout the world, we pray that those entrusted with government are ever mindful of their responsibilities and work for the benefit of all their people and not their personal designs. We pray to the Lord.                      
We pray for those volunteers working with the poor and the sick throughout the world. We pray particularly for those involved in fighting the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We pray that the world hears their appeals for help and that the spread of this disease be brought under control. 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 God, we your people come to you this day fully aware that we need your presence and your help in our lives, yet aware as well that we often fail to stop and turn to you for that help. We get caught up in the troubles and the turmoil of daily living; we become busy with the goals that we have set for ourselves and those that come to us from our work and our families and our friends. We strive to be loving, we seek joy and peace, we desire to be gentle and patient and kind, to show goodness, and to have self-control; and yet these things all too often elude us. Help us, Lord, to root ourselves more deeply in you; to seek your will for our lives; to stop and listen for your voice when we are troubled; to fully rely on you when we strive to do what is right; to remember you and trust in you when we are assaulted; to meditate on your goodness and your gracious will when we begin each day; so that we can truly commit to Equality, Service to God, Christian freedom, Pursuing happiness in community on this national holiday. We ask all these things through Christ our Lord.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor - St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA