Sunday, September 29, 2019

September 29, 2019
St. Michael and All Angels Sunday
(Revelation 12:7-12; John 1:47-51)
Today I am doing one of my infamous “Bible Study Lessons.” I know; you are all thrilled beyond belief. Try to restrain yourselves! So, sit back and get out your toothpicks for those drooping eyelids!
War broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.
War broke out in heaven: At the mid-point of the great tribulation, God will turn the tide against Satan – first in heaven, then on earth. A battle will take place that will deny Satan access to heaven.
Michael and his angels: Some individuals and groups (such as the Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses) believe that Michael is actually Jesus. Generally, all other Christians teach this is wrong on every count.
Some say Michael must be Jesus, because he has his angels. But if Satan – a fallen angelic being – has his (own) angels, can’t Michael – an unfallen angelic being – have his (own) angels? The logical conclusion is that if Satan had “his” own angels, then it becomes obvious that there are other angels, and clearly by this passage, Michael appears to be the leader of these other angels.
Some say Michael must be Jesus, because his name means One like God. But if this were a title of Jesus, it could be argued against His deity, not for it – because it would say that Jesus is like God, not actually God. We know – and it is a firm doctrine of Christianity – that Jesus is indeed God in the representation as the Second Person of the Trinity.
Some say Michael must be Jesus, because he is called the archangel, which means leader or prince among the angels, and they say that only Jesus is the leader of the angels. But we know from Daniel 10:13, 10:20-21 that Michael is one angelic prince among others.
Daniel 10:12-13 reads: “Do not fear, Daniel,” he continued; “from the first day you made up your mind to acquire understanding and humble yourself before God, your prayer was heard. Because of it I started out, but the prince of the kingdom of Persia[e] stood in my way for twenty-one days, until finally Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me.” The one speaking is the Angel that had began to speak to Daniel at the beginning of the chapter. One might surmise that the angel is Daniel’s guardian angel.
Daniel 10:20-21 again confirms Michael’s status: “’Do you know,’ he asked, ‘why I have come to you? Soon I must fight the prince of Persia again. When I leave, the prince of Greece will come; but I shall tell you what is written in the book of truth. No one supports me against these except Michael, your prince, and in the first year of Darius the Mede I stood to strengthen him and be his refuge.’” (“Book of Truth” - a heavenly book in which future events are already recorded.)
Also, Paul refers to an archangel in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 in a way that presupposes other archangels. “For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first.” Keep in mind that Paul was a devout Jew and to make a statement about an angel as “archangel” is significant. It shows that even in ancient Judaic times, the believe in angels/archangels was a commonly held belief.
Some say that Michael must be Jesus, because Paul says that at the rapture, the Lord will call His people with the voice of an archangel. But Jesus can use an angel to call out for His people without being that angel, just as much as God can use a trumpet to sound out a call without being the trumpet.
Additionally, in Jude 9 we read; “Yet the archangel Michael, when he argued with the devil in a dispute over the body of Moses, did not venture to pronounce a reviling judgment upon him but said, “May the Lord rebuke you!”
Here we read that Michael would not rebuke or accuse Satan on His own authority, but only say “May the Lord rebuke you.” This shows that Michael isn’t Jesus, because Jesus often rebuked Satan and demons in His own authority (Matthew 17:18, Mark 1:25, 9:25, Luke 4:8, 4:35). Even though he cannot rebuke Satan on his own, being an Angel Prince, he does speak in the name of the Lord, much like a priest does when he is acting in persona Christi. Given that angels are higher than earth bound humans, we can be assured of Michael’s word being nearly equal to God, especially if he is speaking on God’s behalf just as when we read about Archangel Gabriel in the Nativity narratives.
Michael and his angels battled against the dragon; The dragon and its angels fought back: This is a dramatic scene of battle between good angels and bad angels.; faithful angels and fallen angels.
This is truly a battle between equals. The dragon represents Satan, and Satan is not the counterpart of God – God has no counterpart. If anyone, Satan is the counterpart of Michael, who seems to be the chief angel opposite this chief of fallen angels. Though, I suspect those angels still loyal to God are instilled with greater power from God. God would never allow Satan to win.
Why is the battle fought? In a previous scene of conflict between Michael and Satan (Jude 9), Satan wanted to prevent the resurrection and glorification of Moses, because he knew God had plans for the resurrected and glorified Moses (Luke 9:30-31). This is another occasion where Satan wants to get in the way of God’s plan for the end-times.
When is this battle fought? This battle occurs at the mid-point of the seven-year period, as described by Daniel.” At that time there shall arise Michael, the great prince, guardian of your people; It shall be a time unsurpassed in distress since the nation began until that time. At that time your people shall escape.” (Daniel 12:1)
How is this battle fought? We know this is a real fight; but is it a material or a spiritual battle? Our battle with Satan and his demons is spiritual, fought on the battleground of truth and deception, of fear and faith (Ephesians 6:12). In regard to material attacks against the believer, Satan and his demons were disarmed at the cross (Colossians 2:15). Satan can only win against us in this spiritual realm if we allow his entry into us. (Evil cannot enter your house or your person without being “invited” in.) Among angels, it is possible that there is a material battle to be fought in a way we can only imagine. In his classic work Paradise Lost, the great poet John Milton imagined this battle:
“Michael bid sound Th' Arch-Angel trumpet; through the vast of Heaven it sounded, and the faithful Armies rung Hosanna to the Highest: nor stood at gaze The adverse Legions, nor less hideous joyn'd the horrid shock: now storming furie rose, And clamour such as heard in Heav'n till now Was never, Arms on Armour clashing bray'd Horrible discord, and the madding wheeles of brazen Chariots rag'd; dire was the noise Of conflict; over head the dismal hiss Of fiery Darts in flaming volies flew, And flying vaulted either Host with fire. So, under fierie Cope together rush'd Both Battels maine, with ruinous assault and inextinguishable rage; all Heav'n Resounded, and had Earth bin then, all Earth Had to her Center shook.”
The dragon and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven: This shows us that up until this happens, Satan does have access to heaven, where he accuses God’s people before the throne (Job 1:6-12, Revelation 12:10).
It troubles some to think that Satan has access to heaven, but the Bible clearly says that while Satan appears on earth (Luke 4:1-13), and describes him as the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2), it also says that Satan has access to heaven, where he accuses God’s people before the throne (Job 1:6-12). However, there is no longer any place for him in heaven, so he lost access.
The huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth: This single verse uses many different titles for our spiritual enemy, including Dragon, serpent of old, the Devil, Satan, and he who deceives the whole world. These titles describe Satan as vicious, an accuser, an adversary, and a deceiver.
The term “Devil” is from the Greek diabolos, from the verb diaballo, which has the meaning of ‘defaming’ or ‘slandering.’ He is the master accuser of the brethren.”
The Bible describes four different falls of Satan. Revelation 12:9 describes the second of these four falls.
· From glorified to profane (Ezekiel 28:14-16).
· From having access to heaven (Job 1:12, 1 Kings 22:21, Zechariah 3:1) to restriction to the earth (Revelation 12).
· From the earth to bondage in the bottomless pit for 1,000 years (Revelation 20).
· From the pit to the lake of fire (Revelation 20).
Additionally, in Luke 10:18, Jesus said “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.”
Its angels were thrown down with it: This indicates that demonic spirits are indeed fallen angels, those who joined with Satan in His rebellion against God. These are “his angels,” those angels I mentioned earlier.
These angels are also the same as the third of the stars of heaven described in Revelation 12:4. Since Satan only drew a third of the stars of heaven, it means that two-thirds of the angels remained faithful to God. It’s comforting to know that faithful angels outnumber fallen angels two to one.
“Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
Now have salvation and power come, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Anointed. For the accuser of our brothers is cast out, who accuses them before our God day and night. They conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; love for life did not deter them from death. Therefore, rejoice, you heavens, and you who dwell in them. But woe to you, earth and sea, for the Devil has come down to you in great fury, for he knows he has but a short time.”
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: Whoever is behind this loud voice, it would seem to be some representative of redeemed humanity – not an angel or God – because the voice speaks of the accuser of our “brethren.”
For the accuser of our brothers is cast out, who accuses them before our God day and night: Satan’s work of accusing only ends here, when he is cast out from his access to heaven.
They conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; love for life did not deter them from death: This tells us three keys to the saint’s victory over Satan.
They conquered him by the blood of the Lamb: The blood overcomes Satan’s accusations. Those accusations mean nothing against us because Jesus has already paid the penalty our sins deserved. We may be even worse than Satan’s accusations, but we are still made righteous by the work of Jesus on the cross (Ephesians 1:7, Colossians 1:14, and Hebrews 9:14).
The blood of Jesus heals our troubled conscience, because we know that by His death our sin is atoned for (Hebrews 9:14).
It works because the work of Jesus on the cross for us is the ultimate demonstration of God’s love (Romans 5:8), and a constant remembrance of the blood of the Lamb assures us that every fear Satan whispers into our mind is a lie.
Therefore, we use the blood of the Lamb in spiritual warfare – not as a Christian “abracadabra,” as if chanting “The blood of Jesus, the blood of Jesus” could keep Satan away like garlic is said to keep away vampires. Rather, our understanding, our apprehension, our focus with the death of Jesus on the cross as our substitute wins the battle.
They conquered him … by the word of their testimony: The word of their testimony overcomes Satan’s deception. Knowing and remembering the work of God in their life protects them against Satan’s deceptions. As faithful witnesses, they have a testimony to bear – and because they know what they have seen and heard and experienced from God, they cannot be deceived by Satan’s lies telling them it isn’t true.
They conquered him … love for life did not deter them from death: Loving not their lives overcomes Satan’s violence. If they do not cling to their own earthly lives, then there really is no threat Satan can bring against them. If they believe to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21), then Satan’s violence against them be ineffectual.
The ancient Greek word for love here is agape, which speaks of a self-sacrificing, decision-based love. It is up to each one of us to choose: Will we love our lives to the death? Will our physical lives be the most precious thing to us, or will we find our life by losing it for Jesus? (Mark 8:35)
Therefore, rejoice, you heavens, and you who dwell in them. But woe to you, earth and sea, for the Devil has come down to you in great fury, for he knows he has but a short time; Satan may have deceived even himself into thinking that he has a chance, but because of Christ, he hasn’t a chance – well – in hell!
Let us pray.
That we understand that the devil is real, and thus we must always be diligent to not listen to his lies. We pray to the Lord.
That St. Michael, our Guardian Angels and the host of heaven deliver us from all evil, who turn to them with confidence and enable us by their gracious protection to serve God more and more faithfully every day. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for those who work for ecological justice and peace in the world, that they may inspire in others a love for creation and a reverential care for our common home on this earth. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for a Spirit of hope in our country and throughout the world and that all who are overwhelmed by life may find new reasons to live this day and be gifted with a vision of a better tomorrow. We pray to the Lord.
For our Jewish brothers and sisters, who celebrate the beginning of a new year this week. We pray to the Lord.
For the sick, that they, through the Archangel Raphael, be comforted and healed according to God’s will. We pray to the Lord.
For those who suffer from cancer, that Saint Peregrine, the patron saint of cancer patients, come to them in their suffering and be an advocate for their healing. We pray to the Lord
For those on our parish prayer list, that they may find consolation through Christ’s healing 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.
O, Creator past all telling, You have appointed from the treasure of your wisdom the hierarchies of angels, disposing them in wondrous order above the bright heavens, and have so beautifully set out all parts of the universe. You we call the true fount of wisdom and the noble origin of all things. Be pleased to shed on the darkness of mind in which we were born, the two-fold beam of your light and warmth to dispel our ignorance and sin. You make eloquent the tongues of children. Then instruct our speech and touch our lips with graciousness. Make us keen to understand, quick to learn, able to remember; make us delicate to interpret and ready to speak. Guide our going in and going forward; lead home our going forth. You are true God and true man, and live for ever and ever. Amen.
(Paraphrased from St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)

God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA

Sunday, September 22, 2019

September 22, 2019
The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity
(1 Timothy 2:1-8; Luke 16:1-13)
"I am telling the truth," says the apostle Paul, "I am not lying."
If only food companies had the same high standards. Unfortunately, they don't.
Have you ever picked up a package of Boneless Wyngz? That's a product spelled W-Y-N-G-Z. Despite the sound of the name, these chicken fritters contain "no wing meat."
There are no wings in Wyngz. Kind of surprising.
Such manipulation of the truth has a long history in the United States. Before the existence of the Food and Drug Administration, a bottle of ketchup could contain dyed pumpkin. Ground ginger might include pieces of tarred rope. Cans with the label "potted chicken" might be completely chicken-free.
So much for the good old days.
In 1906, the Pure Food and Drug Act established some standards for food safety. From that point on, poisonous, dirty or rotten ingredients were off limits in food production. The act also put an end to mislabeling, insisting that companies could not call something a particular food if it did not contain that food.
"I am telling the truth," said the apostle Paul, "I am not lying." As of 1906, cans of chicken have been required to do the same thing.
But producers of cheap imitation food didn't want to reveal their true ingredients, so they came up with a way around the rules. They decided to hint at what a food was like, without actually naming it. So when they invented an artificial pudding out of cornstarch, they called it Fruit Puddine.
No one could sue them, because they never claimed it was pudding.
These clever names may have been misleading, but they were entirely legal. In addition to Fruit Puddine, consumers snatched up an imitation grape juice called Grape Smack and a nearly fruit-free sugar-pectin mixture called Bred Spred.
Don't be misled by a jam jar full of Bred Spred. There's no jam in it.
Today, most people understand that these silly spellings are a way of saying, "This food is fake!" But oddly enough, a lot of people don't seem to care. They buy seafood spelled K-R-A-B, knowing that it isn't crab. People eat snacks with the label C-H-E-E-Z, not caring that it doesn't contain cheese. The cereal called Froot Loops -- spelled F-R-O-O-T -- remains popular, with virtually no one expecting it to be loops full of fruit.
When it comes to artificial food, labels often include artificial spellings. Truth doesn't seem to matter when consumers are in search of crabby, cheesy or fruity flavor.
The apostle Paul has a different agenda in his first letter to a young Christian named Timothy. Writing to this man whom he calls his "loyal child in the faith," Paul insists that God "desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." For Paul, salvation is not a quick fix for human hunger, a "bacon-flavored bit" that contains no actual bacon. Instead, real salvation is connected to the truth about Jesus Christ.
So what is Jesus made of, really? He's not an impostor, with a spelling such as J-E-E-Z-U-S.
Ingredient one: Mediator. Paul is determined to speak the truth about Jesus, the "one mediator between God and humankind." A mediator is someone who stands in the middle of two parties and tries to make peace between them. In order to achieve reconciliation, he must have a relationship with the two parties.
This is why the Apostles' Creed says that Jesus is God's "only Son" -- that is his relationship to God. And the creed also says that he is "our Lord" -- that is Christ's relationship to us.
Only Son. Our Lord. Jesus has a unique relationship with both God and humankind.
Standing between God and us, Jesus is able to do this work because he is trusted by both sides to be an effective mediator and pull us together. He knows that there is a huge gap between God's perfection and our imperfection, between God's power and our weakness, between God's holiness and our sinfulness, between God's graciousness and our selfishness. Only Jesus can stand between us. Only Jesus can bridge this gap. Remember that no man could actually see God and live – think Moses – well, we have Jesus in the middle to make us worthy to see God.
Ingredient two: Human. For Paul, Jesus is an authentic human, not an artificial product like Fruit Puddine or Bred Spred. The true humanity of Jesus helps him to identify with us and really help us in our struggles. The letter to the Hebrews says that Jesus is able to "sympathize with our weaknesses;" because "he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested."
The humanity of Jesus enables him to be with us in all of the difficulties we face. He is beside us, just as he was beside people for most of his earthly life.
The English priest Samuel Wells has written a book called A Nazareth Manifesto, in which he reminds us that Jesus spent most of his life in the town of Nazareth, simply living with people. The stories of the Gospels are focused mostly on the end of his life on earth, leaving out the years that he was simply "Immanuel," the name which means "God with us."
"Jesus is Immanuel before he is Savior," writes Wells. "By overcoming our isolation, Jesus saves us." So the second ingredient in the make-up of Jesus is that he is truly human, right beside us, sympathizing with our weaknesses and helping us when we are tested.
Ingredient three: Ransom. The apostle Paul understands that we are all captives to our sinfulness. We can try to change our ways, fix our mistakes and get ourselves on the right track, but our efforts are always going to fall short. In his letter to the Romans, Paul admits his own frustration when he says, "I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate."
Those words ring terribly true, don't they? We are slaves to sin and need to be rescued. Fortunately, says Paul, Jesus "gave himself a ransom for all." Jesus took personal action to buy us out of slavery. This ransom that Jesus offered was his own life through a crucifixion that was the worst possible way to die.
Fleming Rutledge, a retired Episcopal priest, says that "crucifixion was specifically designed to be the worst of the worst. It was so bad, good Roman citizens didn't discuss it in public." The death of Jesus was a ghastly sight. On the cross, says Rutledge, we see Jesus Christ "giving up not only his life but also his position as ruler of the universe and Lord of all that exists, suffering something degrading, dehumanizing and shameful." And why did he sacrifice everything? Why did he do it?
For our redemption. To be our ransom. Innocent Jesus died so that all of us could be rescued, forgiven and made right with God.
This Jesus is the real deal: Mediator. Human. Ransom. He's not a fake like Bred Spred, Fruit Puddine or the "cheese-flavored corn snacks" that go by the name of Cheez Doodles. Jesus is the one who offers us authentic salvation, saving us from sin and restoring us to a proper relationship with God.
How should we respond to this? Paul urges us to pray for everyone, since God "desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." We can talk with others about what we have discovered, following in the footsteps of Paul, who saw himself as "a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth." And we can "lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity," much as Jesus did when he lived with people in Nazareth.
Never underestimate the value of simply living with people and sharing their struggles. When Samuel Wells (mentioned above) was dean of Duke University Chapel, he led ministries in which people from the chapel did not try to reach out and save the poor. Instead, they "lived with their neighbors. They broke bread, chatted on the porch and at the bus stop with neighbors, and discovered the good that was already being done in the neighborhood."
According to Wells, the word “with” is the most important word in Christianity. Immanuel means God with us, and from his birth to his ascension Jesus saw his mission as being with us. Our challenge as Christians is to be with God and with each other in the same sort of way, sharing all of life's struggles and successes. This is what the real Jesus did, as "one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all."
Mediator. Human. Ransom.
Not Fruit Puddine, Grape Smack and Bred Spred.
When it comes to Jesus Christ, accept no imitations.
Let us pray.
That God’s abundant kindness will transform the hearts and minds of those who govern and legislate. We pray to the Lord.
That the concerns people have about money may never be greater than their readiness to welcome and cherish everyone we meet in the radical love of Jesus. We pray to the Lord.
For the Church, that through her the Good News of God’s love may be proclaimed to the poor and all in need of mercy. We pray to the Lord.
For the conversion of all those whose lives are dominated by envy, violence, or hatred. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week to be generous and faithful stewards of all we have been entrusted with. We pray to the Lord.
For those on our parish prayer list, that they may find consolation through Christ’s healing 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 and merciful God, we confess that, in a culture that places so much emphasis on external beauty, outward signs of success and "having it all together," we struggle to live from the inside out. We feel the pressure to look and act like something we are not, and all too often we succumb. We don our masks, pretend that things are fine when they are not, and keep our vulnerabilities hidden safely away. No wonder we feel ever more isolated and afraid, especially afraid that if the real truth about us were known, we would be rejected. O God, remind us again of the healing power of your love. Call us again into the light where truth and grace shine. Take our guilt, shame and fear and in their place renew us with your forgiveness and acceptance. For the sake of Christ, we pray. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA

Sunday, September 15, 2019

September 15, 2019
The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity
(1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10)
Today, as I sometimes do, I am deviating from the readings in my sermon. Given that our branch of Catholicism is on the more liberal branch of things, I get asked questions that sometimes inspires me to write something or create a sermon based on these interactions, and today is one of those days.
Without going into specifics that will make this sermon longer than it already is, I merely want to touch on a little bit of our theology on something that influences our view on more specific topics. Our views on sexuality and birth control as examples. We view these topics with far less restrictions than many churches do – even in these “modern” times.
It’s pretty common these days for people to dismiss Christians in general as inconsistent because “they follow some of the rules in the Bible and ignore others.” The challenge usually sounds something like this: “When the Bible talks about certain sexual behaviors as sin, you quote that; but when it says not to eat shellfish or that you should execute people for breaking the Sabbath, you just ignore it. Aren’t you just picking and choosing what suits you best?”
I’ve had this said, and utterances like it, to me a few times, and truthfully it carries a lot of weight, and not just from non-Christians. Many Christians have a hard time answering it … which is why we just secretly hope it never comes up.
God’s laws were given to help people love God with all their hearts and minds. Throughout Israel’s history, however, these laws had often been misquoted and misapplied. By Jesus’ time, religious leaders had turned the laws into a confusing mass of rules. (Some churches are still doing this.) When Jesus talked about a new way to understand God’s law, he was actually trying to bring people back to its original purpose. Jesus did not speak against the law itself but against the abuses and excesses to which it had been subjected (see John 1:17).
One of the most helpful ways to think about this is to look at the types of laws there are in the Old Testament. The 16th-century Reformer John Calvin saw that the NT seemed to treat the OT laws in three ways. There were Civil Laws, which governed the nation of Israel, encompassing not only behaviors, but also punishments for crimes. There were Ceremonial Laws about “clean” and “unclean” things, about various kinds of sacrifices, and other temple practices. And then there were the Moral Laws, which declared what God deemed right and wrong—the 10 Commandments, for instance.
For OT Israel, all three types of laws blended together. Breaking a civil or a ceremonial law was a moral problem; conversely, breaking a moral law had a civil (and often ceremonial) consequence. But they only went hand-in-hand because Israel was in a unique place historically, as both a nation and a worshiping community. “Separation of church and state” wasn’t one of their core tenets. That’s not the case for the Church today, so the way we view the Law would have to look different.
All of this helps explain what often seems contradictory about the NT view of the Law. On one hand, Jesus said the Law was perfect, that heaven and earth would pass away before the Law would fail (Matt 5:18). On the other hand, the Apostle Paul points out that those who are born again – reborn in the teachings of Christ - are actually released from the Law (Rom 7:1-6; Gal 3:25). As Jesus himself put it, he came to fulfill the Law (Matt 5:17).
What does it mean that Jesus fulfilled the Law? It means that every law pointed to him, and he completed everything they pointed to. Thinking of Jesus as the fulfillment of the Law helps us see why we keep some of the OT commands and “ignore” others.
The New Testament says that the Old Testament law was intended “to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24). The ritual laws of sacrifice teach us that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22) and point us to Jesus on the cross.
The Civil Laws, for instance, were set up so the nation of Israel could thrive. Jesus actually emerged from this nation, but he started a new Israel—a spiritual Israel, the Church. We’re no longer bound by the civil codes of Leviticus because God doesn’t have a nation-state on earth anymore. Of course, we may wisely look at some of the principles in Israel’s civil laws as we think of our own societal politics (principles about public health, caring for the poor, etc.), but the specific rules were all fulfilled in Jesus. There is no longer a nation-state of Israel. Now there is the kingdom of God.
The Ceremonial Laws illustrate for us God’s holiness, our unholiness, and what God would do about it. The entire sacrificial system should have ingrained into Israel’s minds just how large the gap was between sinful humanity and a perfect God—and just how costly it would be to bridge that gap. And as the book of Hebrews shows us, the sacrifices were all fulfilled in Jesus’ perfect life and death. If we accept Jesus, the ultimate sacrifice, we don’t need the lesser sacrifices anymore. In fact, it would actually be offensive to go back to them, because that would communicate that Jesus’ sacrifice wasn’t sufficient.
The Moral Laws are fulfilled in Jesus as well, in that he kept all of them perfectly, every day, always, for his entire life. But unlike the civil and ceremonial laws, which were more time-bound, these laws reflected God’s assessment of good and evil, right and wrong. They reflect God’s character, and since his character doesn’t change, his views on morality don’t either. In fact, whenever Jesus mentioned the moral laws, he either reaffirmed them or intensified them! To follow Jesus is to love what he loved, including the moral law.
Now, even though we still defend the moral laws of the Old Testament, we have to keep in mind that Jesus fulfilled it all. The Christian is not under obligation to keep the moral law as a way of earning her way to God. Instead, she is changed by the presence of God’s Spirit to desire to keep God’s laws. Because God isn’t just after obedience; he’s after a whole new kind of obedience, an obedience that comes from love and delight in God. Christians keep the moral commands, not because “it’s the law,” but because they love God and want to be like him.
There have always been groups of Christians who believe that in order to honor God’s authority in the Old Testament we must continue to obey the food laws and other ceremonial laws, lest we be found in disobedience. There is a good impulse in this and a profoundly bad impulse in this. The good impulse is the desire to obey God. There’s nothing wrong with that. That belongs to what it means to be a Christian. The bad impulse is the failure to obey Christ who teaches us how to obey God in regard to the Old Testament.
So, the good impulse starts, perhaps, with a text like Matthew 5:17–18. Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” And the good impulse puts the emphasis on every dot, every iota of the law standing until the earth passes away. And the bad impulse neglects the words, I have come “to fulfill them,” and the words, “until all is accomplished.”
In other words, the bad impulse fails to see in Jesus the kind of fulfillment and the kind of accomplishment of the Law and the Prophets that God always intended in the Old Testament as the consummation and the end of the ceremonial laws. So, the effort to hold on to the prohibition of eating pork is, in effect, a refusal to submit to God’s plan for the fulfillment of the Law in Jesus.
Let’s be specific now. Take the laws about foods in the Old Testament — unclean foods, which include pork. Jesus said something very specific about this in Mark 7:15–19. He said this:
“There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean. There is acknowledgement, however, that what one person deems “food” and that of another may be different.)
In other words, the prohibition of certain foods as unclean was a temporary part of God’s way of making Israel distant or distinct from the nations of the world. With the coming of Christ, dramatic changes take place in the way God governs his people, because we are no longer a political-ethnic people like the Jews were in Old Testament times, but a global people from every tribe and language and ethnicity and race.
So, the next time someone starts saying that you’re arbitrarily picking and choosing from the Bible, arm yourself with the civil/ceremonial/moral. You aren’t being arbitrary. You’re being faithful. You’re reading the Old Testament how the New Testament teaches you to. So, eat your shrimp without guilt, and don’t throw away your 10 Commandments just yet.
Let us pray.
That Church leaders everywhere will be inspired by today’s Gospel to seek the lost and bring them back into a living relationship with God and the Church. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for those who have lost loved ones. We pray particularly for those who have lost sons or daughters through death that they be comforted in the belief that they have been received into eternal life by a Father who loves them with an everlasting love. We pray to the Lord.                        
For peace in our hearts, that we may be motivated to find nonviolent ways to handle discord and disagreement and bring peace to our world and our neighborhoods. We pray to the Lord.
That those who are separated from family because of long-festering disagreements will come to their senses and seek reconciliation. We pray to the Lord.
That all Christians will follow the Golden Rule – the two great Commandments of Christ – that in so doing they fulfill all the requirements of God and the old Law. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for those who have lost their faith and belief in our God. We pray, Lord, that the Holy Spirit reveal to them the wonder of your creation, the joy of salvation and the hope for eternity that is found only in you. We pray to the Lord.                        
At this time of turmoil for politicians, we pray that our governments act with care and consideration and give priority to helping those who suffer from poverty, lack of insurance, deprivation, loss of employment, loss of home and loss of hope. We pray to the Lord.
For those on our parish prayer list, that they may find consolation through Christ’s healing 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.
Father God, we often struggle with right and wrong. Your Son came to, not only to show us an easier way, but to offer us salvation on the condition of faith. Help us to follow his commandments to love others and to love you, and to know that when do this, we will fulfill all laws that are pertinent and not concern ourselves with those which are not. God of mercy and love, you have always welcomed your people back no matter how far we have strayed. Listen to our prayers and bless us on our journey as we seek our home in you. We ask this and all our prayers through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ the Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA

Sunday, September 8, 2019

September 8, 2019
The Nativity of Our Lady
(Micah 5:1-3; Matthew 1:1-23)
The Catholic Church celebrates today the birth of the Our Lady Mary on its traditional fixed date of September 8, nine months after the December 8 celebration of her Immaculate Conception as the child of Saints Joachim and Anne.
The circumstances of the Virgin Mary's infancy and early life are not directly recorded in the Bible, but other documents and traditions describing the circumstances of her birth are cited by some of the earliest Christian writers from the first centuries of the Church.
These accounts, although not considered authoritative in the same manner as the Bible, outline some of the Church's traditional beliefs about the birth of Mary.
The Protoevangelium of James (also known as the Gospel of James), which was probably put into its final written form in the early second century, describes Mary's father Joachim as a wealthy member of one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Joachim was deeply grieved, along with his wife Anne, by their childlessness. “He called to mind Abraham,” the early Christian writing says, “that in the last day God gave him a son Isaac.”
Joachim and Anne began to devote themselves extensively and rigorously to prayer and fasting, initially wondering whether their inability to conceive a child might signify God's displeasure with them.
As it turned out, however, the couple were to be blessed even more abundantly than Abraham and Sarah, as an angel revealed to Anne when he appeared to her and prophesied that all generations would honor their future child: “The Lord has heard your prayer, and you shall conceive, and shall bring forth, and your seed shall be spoken of in all the world.”
For nine months, the soul of Mary had given form to her virginal body, and the hour of her happy birth approached. The prophecy of Isaias had come to pass. The root of Jesse, ten centuries removed, had sprouted a new branch. On this same branch in but a few years more would blossom the eternal Flower, the Incarnate Word.
After Mary's birth, according to the Protoevangelium of James, Anne “made a sanctuary” in the infant girl's room, and “allowed nothing common or unclean” on account of the special holiness of the child. The same writing records that when she was one year old, her father “made a great feast, and invited the priests, and the scribes, and the elders, and all the people of Israel.”
“And Joachim brought the child to the priests,” the account continues, “and they blessed her, saying: 'O God of our fathers, bless this child, and give her an everlasting name to be named in all generations' . . . And he brought her to the chief priests, and they blessed her, saying: 'O God most high, look upon this child, and bless her with the utmost blessing, which shall be for ever.'”
The protoevangelium goes on to describe how Mary's parents, along with the temple priests, subsequently decided that she would be offered to God as a consecrated Virgin for the rest of her life, and enter a chaste marriage with the carpenter Joseph.
According to certain traditions, however, no one in the small town of Nazareth where Saints Joachim and Anne lived paid heed to the new arrival. Although the blood of David flowed in her veins, her family had fallen from its ancient splendor.
Anne and Joachim had been childless for many years, but the Lord had at last answered their prayers. They saw their daughter Mary as the measure of His celestial goodness to them. Little did they suspect, however, the veritable treasures the Most High had instilled in the soul of their child. They could not have imagined the wonder of her Immaculate Conception. They did not realize that the Mother of the Redeemer lay in their loving arms.
The Jews of the time were plunged in discouragement. The voice of the prophets had not been heard for years. Having lost their political freedom, they believed Providence had abandoned them. It was then that the hidden work of infinite Mercy began to be accomplished in their midst.
This great mystery also teaches us never to lose heart. The Immaculate Mother came into the world at a time when the Jews had lost hope. Indeed, they thought all was lost. Let us reap the benefit of this lesson. We often become discouraged when, calling on heaven to assist us, our request is not immediately granted. Sometimes God waits until we are on the brink of the abyss before extending His hand of mercy. So, let us not become discouraged and cease praying! The Almighty will intervene at the very moment when we believe ourselves completely abandoned. If we have confidence—an unlimited supply of confidence—we will be greatly rewarded!
Saint Thomas of Villanova explained in a sermon that Mary is the heavenly dawn, not only for the world, but especially for each individual soul. He recalled the great truth taught by Catholic tradition that a soul imbued with devotion to the Blessed Virgin carries within it the sign of predestination. Do you firmly desire to be saved from final damnation? Then faithfully honor Mary. Do you wish to guarantee the salvation of those who are dear to you? Obtain from them the promise that they not fail to recite some prayer to Mary every day.
We know by Tradition, that Our Lady was born with the saving grace of our Lord, prior to his birth. She experienced in advance the saving grace we now receive from Christ due to his life, death and resurrection. We are washed clean, first because the Divine Lord willed that Joachim and Anne would be given a baby girl, but one that would be immaculately conceived, without the stain of Sin. Second, because Our Lady consented to be the mother of our God.
What joy we should have on this special day. For it was Our Lady who brought forth our salvation and became the Mother of all mankind. Amen.
Let us pray.
That the Church may fearlessly proclaim the Gospel committed to her by Mary’s Son. We pray to the Lord.
That those without faith may turn to the Lord who was born to save his people from their sins. We pray to the Lord.
That we will give all mothers love and respect. We pray to the Lord
That Mary’s prayers will bring back those who have fallen away from the
practice of their faith. We pray to the Lord.
That we may welcome Jesus in the Eucharist as God-with-us. We pray to the Lord.
For those on our parish prayer list, that they may find consolation through Christ’s healing 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.
Father, in this Eucharist your family rejoices, with blessed Mary, and Joachim and Anne, her parents. Father, help us to do your will even when it is difficult. Help us to be like Mary and respond YES to what He asks of us. Almighty and everlasting God, who stooped to raise fallen humanity through the child-bearing of blessed Mary: grant that we, who have seen your glory revealed in our human nature and your love made perfect in our weakness, may daily be renewed in your image and conformed to the pattern of your Son. Grant what we ask for in faith, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA

Sunday, September 1, 2019

September 1, 2019
The Eleventh Sunday after Trinity
Labor Day
(Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29; Luke 14:1, 7-14)
On a typical morning, most of us rise from our beds and shuffle into the bathroom.
It’s our first stop of the day.
Invariably, we’ll spend at least a few minutes glaring at ourselves in the mirror. It’s not usually a pretty sight, given what bed does to our hair and what minimal clothing can do to highlight our various body bulges and skin imperfections. Add to that some puffy eyes, a nick from shaving and a little toothpaste dribbling out the side of the mouth — well, it’s enough to make you look and feel like you just escaped from some kind of home for the deranged.
Things can quickly improve, however, when you shower, comb through that hair, slap on deodorant and put on appropriate clothing and maybe some makeup. That is, of course, until you grab your phone and open a social media app like Facebook or Snapchat or check the news for the latest celebrity gossip. There you notice all the smiling, perfectly airbrushed faces that confront you every day. Try as you might, no amount of man or woman sculpting will make you look like a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model or produce abs like that dude in the underwear ad that pops up in your feed.
You think about posting a selfie (who doesn’t these days?), but you’re worried that you’ll have to present the world with your regular face, which is no match for the beautiful people online or even your friend’s smiling pics from Aruba.
Not to worry — there’s an app for that! With a photo filter like Facetune or the editing features of Snapchat, you can do a little tweaking. Erase that mole, nip and tuck that spare tire, get a little creative around the eyes and voila! You have just put your best selfie self out into the world.
All is well … until you look in the mirror again. Then disconnect between your real self and your virtual self begins to sink in.
In the age of the selfie, medical professionals have identified a new phenomenon called “body dysmorphic disorder,” or Snapchat disorder, to put it more colloquially. As The Journal of the American Medical Association describes it: “The pervasiveness of these filtered images can take a toll on one’s self-esteem, make one feel inadequate for not looking a certain way in the real world, and may even act as a trigger for body dysmorphic disorder (BDD).”
Some people become so enamored with their virtual selves that they seek help, not from a psychologist but from a plastic surgeon who can help them look more like their altered selfies. According to the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, the number of patients seeking this kind of selfie-altering surgery increased by 13 percent between 2016 and 2017.
We live in a culture where getting real about ourselves is often a challenge. Altering our bodies to fit a vision of perfection can be damaging, but what happens when we do the same thing to our souls? If it’s possible to have a dysmorphic conflict between the real and virtual selves we present to the world, it follows that the ways in which we think and behave can have the same disconnect. We might sculpt our personalities and social postures to appeal to others and make us seem like more than we are, rather than being humble and realistic about our flaws and our human needs. When we have this kind of soul dysmorphia, it becomes easier to see others as inferior to our inflated and airbrushed selves.
Jesus, however, had a tendency to drop into people’s lives, cut through the airbrushed veneer and hold up a mirror to expose the true self. He did it not from a position of superiority (even though he was God in the flesh) but from the position of one who, despite his fully human and fully divine nature, was humble and always projected his authentic self. He was such a contrast to the other religious leaders of his day, who were all about keeping up appearances. At a Sabbath banquet in the home of one such leader, Jesus addressed the problem of soul dysmorphia and challenged the people around the table to get real about who they were and who God wanted them to be.
According to Luke, at the meal the Pharisees were “watching [Jesus] closely.” While it was expected that a virtuous host would invite a prominent teacher to dinner, it was clear that the host’s motives here were suspect. We know that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem and the cross and there would be plenty of prominent religious leaders who want to trip him up and find a way to get rid of him. Everything Jesus said would be analyzed and scrutinized, but time and again his words were consistent with his actions.
What we do not see in our Gospel reading today, because it is verses (2-6) that were in between our reading, is that at the meal was a man with dropsy — a condition that causes the body to swell from excess fluids. Clearly, this man’s selfie needed to be enhanced with some apps and filters! Every day, his mirror gave him the awful reality: He needed help and needed it soon! He was ill and getting worse.
Since it was the Sabbath, Jesus asked the elite around the table, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” Interestingly, the Pharisees were silent.
Jesus healed the man, sent him on his way, and then asked another question about pulling a child or an ox out of a well on the Sabbath. Again, they couldn’t answer.
Their silence is instructive. Jesus had baffled them and forced them to do some introspection. The Pharisees, like many people in Jesus’ day, were keeping up appearances, jostling for position in the eyes of God and the eyes of their fellow Jews. They were eager to put on a good face, showing how well they were keeping the law and maintaining their purity. If they had had an Instagram account, you can be certain they would have been constantly posting carefully staged and gauzy, halo-hazy shots of themselves engaging in acts of piety.
Seeing Jesus heal a man with an obvious problem that would make him unclean, and on the Sabbath no less, would offend their self-righteous sensibilities even though, as Pharisees, they may have technically agreed with Jesus’ assertion. If keeping up appearances is important, one must avoid potential embarrassment and the awkward moment. Better not post a picture of being bested by a homeless rabbi from Nazareth!
Jesus noticed a lot of jockeying for position at the table as different people vied for the place of honor. In response, he told a parable about a wedding banquet which, on the surface, seems to be a kind of Emily Post-style instruction on etiquette but, in reality, is much more.
That Jesus talked about a “wedding banquet” may indicate a larger agenda here. In different places in the Scriptures, the wedding banquet sometimes serves as a symbol for the coming kingdom of God, as it does here in Luke (Matthew 22:1-14; Revelation 19:6-9). Jesus seemed to be warning his fellow dinner guests that their striving for a place of honor at God’s table was a projection of their airbrushed image of themselves.
There are always more “distinguished” guests who have been invited, and you don’t want the embarrassment of being bumped to the other end of the table. Instead, the person who is real and honest with himself or herself will choose the lowest place and let the host set the agenda for who sits where. It’s the host, in this case God, who determines our status, for it is God who sees the real person behind the altered public veneer. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The second parable Jesus tells is directed at the host and, if we connect the two parables, Jesus seems to be defining who the more “distinguished” guests are who should have prominent places at the table. “When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors,” says Jesus. To do so was expected as part of a social transaction — you invite them and they have to invite you.
It’s the same kind of social contract we expect to execute in the selfie world — you click “like” on someone else’s fake portrait or news about themselves and you expect them to like your altered life as well. But Jesus urges the host, as he urges us, to instead elevate those who cannot reciprocate and to engage with those to whom our dysmorphic self-images don’t matter. It’s in relationship to the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind that our real self-image comes into focus. We learn that while we may not be in dire economic or physical circumstances, we too are poor, crippled, lame and blinded by self-interest and self-indulgence.
Our smartphone cameras have a toggle icon. Tap it and it switches from selfie view to world view. The image you see is either of yourself, or that which is beyond yourself.
Jesus wants us to toggle our lens so that what we see is everything beyond ourselves. When we turn from staring at ourselves to serving others we begin to get a good sense that God gives “likes” to those who are humble, honest and authentic about themselves and in their relationships to others. “blessed indeed will you be” in inviting them, says Jesus, “blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Many people suffering from Snapchat dysmorphia focus their whole lives on impressing their friends to the detriment of their own bodies and souls. Jesus reminds us that the most impressive people in God’s kingdom are those who take the humble position, who turn the focus away from self to others, and whose sole purpose is a soul and a life that is pleasing to God. It’s not about presenting a pious image but caring only about turning the spotlight on the image of God in others and in ourselves.
What makes for beautiful in the kingdom of God is humility, service and love for others. And what makes it even better is that no surgery required!
Let us pray. (Today in lieu of the normal responsorial prayers, I have a special one devoted to Labor day that I found online and I would like to share it with you.)
Good and gracious God, you told us from the very beginning that we would earn our bread by the sweat of our brow. We are interdependent in our laboring, Lord. We depend on the migrant workers who pick our lettuce and our strawberries, the nurses’ aides who empty bed pans, the teachers who form our children’s minds.
We thank you, Lord, for the gifts and talents you have given us that allow us to earn a living and contribute something positive to our world. We pray, dear Lord, for those who are without work. Sustain them — us — in your love. Help us to realize that we have worth as human beings, job or no job.
But that’s hard to get, Lord. Our society preaches to us that our worth comes from success. But our worth comes because you made us. We are your children, no matter what, job or no job. You love us and you call us to love and support each other. We pray for those who do the dirty work in our lives, those who break their backs for us, those who are cheated out of even a minimum wage, those who do not have to health care, those who cannot afford to send their kids to college.
Help us to bind together, Lord, as a community, as a nation because we depend on one another — the garbage collectors, the police, the stock people in our grocery stores, the truck drivers, the pilots, the 7-Eleven clerks, the ticket-takers on the turnpike, the plumbers, the accountants, the bank tellers, the landscapers, the lifeguards, those who clean our houses, the cooks, the waiters, the steel workers, the carpenters, the scientists and the writers.
Help us to realize this weekend how dependent we are on one another, Lord. We are one. We are family. We need each other. Let us give thanks for each other this Labor Day weekend. Help us to celebrate and give thanks for each other and appreciate the value, the dignity, the contribution that each one makes to keep our country, our cities, our lives going. And in tough times, help us remember the words of Jesus: Come to me all you who labor and are heavily burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, for my yoke is easy and my burden light (Matthew 11:28).
(Closing prayer is thanks to and adapted from Bob Traupman, and Xavier University’s website.
We must also keep in mind the victims, family and friends from yet another mass shooting in Odessa Texas. For the members of Temple Emanu-El in Del Cerro and the hate crime shooting, and the people in the path of hurricane Dorian. May our Lord grant all peace, love, comfort and desperately needed help. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA