Sunday, January 26, 2020

January 26, 2020
The Third Sunday after Epiphany
(Isaiah 8:23 – 9:3; Matthew 4:12-23)
Before his death in 2011, Christopher Hitchens, the English-American author, columnist and literary critic, was renowned for his disbelief in God.

Called an atheist by some, Hitchens himself preferred the label "antitheist" -- meaning someone who not only is certain that God does not exist, but who actively opposes the very idea that God exists and those who support the idea. He first attracted widespread public attention through his blistering attacks on St. Mother Teresa saying: "Mother Teresa is less interested in helping the poor than in using them as an indefatigable source of wretchedness on which to fuel the expansion of her fundamentalist Roman Catholic beliefs.” Of her beatification in 2003 he said: “a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a fraud,” arguing that “even more will be poor and sick if her example is followed.”
Maybe he should tells us how he really felt!
In his book, Letters to a Young Contrarian, he wrote "I'm not even an atheist so much as I am an antitheist; I not only maintain that all religions are versions of the same untruth, but I hold that the influence of churches and the effect of religious belief is positively harmful." And his even more well-known book, one that reached No. 1 on The New York Times bestseller list in its third week, was titled God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

Thus, it caused quite a stir in the religious world when Christian author Larry Taunton, who spent some time with Hitchens in the latter's final months, published a book in which he speculated that the dying Hitchens was moving toward belief in God. The two men spent hours together traveling to scheduled debates between Hitchens and Christian speakers, and they talked as they traveled. Taunton doesn't claim that Hitchens actually converted, but based on those conversations, he does say that Hitchens seemed open to the possibility that Christianity was true.

And at least one Christian magazine, reviewing Taunton's book, declared that his comments about Hitchens offered hope that the famed disbeliever found salvation before he died.

But, alas, that apparently was not the case. Several of Hitchens' friends insist that his intellectual tolerance and largeness of heart made him open to discussion and honest consideration of others' views, but that he had no change of heart toward religious belief. And, even more tellingly, Hitchens' wife, Carol Blue, who was with him to the very end, stated that he did not have a late-life or deathbed conversion. "He lived by his principles until the end," she said. "To be honest, the subject of God didn't come up."

Whether or not Christopher Hitchens converted to Christianity before his death, there are people who have "seen the light" later in life and some even near the end of life. The most noted example of the latter is the dying thief on a cross next to the one on which Jesus was dying, who asked Jesus to remember him in the kingdom of God, to which Jesus responded, "Today you will be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:42-43).
One of our Acts of Faith in the Liberal Catholic world of things reads:
We believe that God is Love, and Power, and Truth, and Light; that perfect justice rules the world; that all His sons shall one day reach His feet, however far they stray. We hold the Fatherhood of God, the Brotherhood of man;
we know that we do serve Him best when best we serve our brother man.
So shall His blessing rest on us and peace for evermore. Amen.
Although, I do not believe in the literal sense, because we do have free will and God will not force himself upon us, therefore someone would need to make this conversion on their own. However, I do believe that God does grant anyone in this state to realize after death, once they see “the light” on the other side to actually make the conversion at that point. Call it purgatory or whatever, but sometimes we need something that smacks us in the face before we believe or change.

Our reading from Isaiah talks of a "people who walked in darkness" who "have seen a great light." Saying it again in slightly other words, the text adds, "those who lived in a land of deep darkness -- on them light has shined."

In the context of conversion, "darkness" is life without God; "light" is our life with God.

The apostle Paul is a case in point. Here's a guy who'd been actively persecuting Christians but who, on the road to Damascus and traveling for just that purpose, was overtaken by "light from heaven" that "flashed around him" (Acts 9:3). Although the "light" here sounds like literal illumination -- one that may have been responsible for Paul's sudden and temporary blindness -- it was also the opening salvo in a process that led to an inner enlightenment and a wholehearted commitment to follow Jesus.

Whatever the case, both the Isaiah text and Paul's Damascus-road experience speak of this light as something God turns on. This suggests that we should respond when such happens to us and not wait for the closing moments of our lives -- assuming our end is protracted and not sudden, and we are in our right minds at the time.

As Jesus puts it, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near" (Matthew 4:17), or as the Bible says elsewhere, "See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!" (2 Corinthians 6:2).

"Light" seems the right word for all of this, for the light that God turns on is a means for us to discern -- to "see" -- what is real and true.

But why does it take so long for that to happen for some of us? Perhaps we need to have enough life experience to become aware of the darkness before we grasp the need for the light.

It's significant that some people who have first come to Christ in full adulthood have done so while struggling with certain darkness in their lives. For example, Joy Davidman (d. 1960), an American poet and writer who eventually became the wife of C.S. Lewis, was initially an atheist. After her first marriage broke down, her resistance to God broke down: "For the first time my pride was forced to admit that I was not, after all, 'the master of my fate'... All my defenses -- all the walls of arrogance and cocksureness and self-love behind which I had hid from God -- went down momentarily -- and God came in."

Or consider Mortimer J. Adler (d. 2001), an American philosopher, educator and popular author, who was agnostic for most of his life and even described himself as a "pagan." During an illness, however, he sought solace in prayer and accepted God's grace. He professed his belief "not just in the God my reason so stoutly affirms ... but the God ... on whose grace and love I now joyfully rely."

Or think of Christopher Hitchens' brother Peter, who is an English journalist and author, and who is as well-known in the United Kingdom as his brother was here in the United States. He, too, was an unbeliever in his youth and early adulthood. In fact, he says that at age 15, he actually set fire to a Bible his parents had given him. But he explains that later, as he advanced in his career, he lost his faith in politics and his trust in ambition and he became fearfully aware of the inevitability of his own death. He says, "I was urgently in need of something else on which to build the rest of my life." Somehow, in that mood, he "rediscovered Christmas," which, he says, he had "pretended to dislike for many years," and he attended a carol service. He began to be aware of the light.

There can be more examples, but those are probably enough to point out how the darkness of our own struggles creates a place where we can become aware of the light of God. Certainly not everyone who chooses God and embraces Christ does so from a point of need or darkness, but many do, and it supports the truth of what Isaiah said so many centuries ago: "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness -- on them light has shined."

So, what's the point for those of us who are already walking in the light of God?

One takeaway is certainly that God has plenty of light for us as we face the troubles of life and even the routine of life and we should look for it.

Some theorize that it is possible that darkness will not always move people closer to the light of God. It can have the opposite effect. Some people seem to prefer to walk in darkness. Darkness can be a temptation even for Christians, a possibility that concerned both the apostles John and Paul (see 1 John1:6 and Ephesians 5).

On the other hand, it has been said that, the darkness is not always complete denial of God in their lives, but denial of God in certain parts of their lives.

It is also possible to walk out of the light of God, and we may do so even while continuing to attend church, thus celebrating the outer trappings of Christianity without experiencing the reality of God's transforming power. The light of God is real. We can't turn it back on ourselves -- that's God's doing -- but the testimony of Scripture is that God has already turned it on, to help us when we walk in darkness.

Another way of stating this, according to Rev. Dr. Howard Chapman of First Presbyterian Church in Marion, Iowa, is: "We don't hang on to God; God hangs on to us. Any conversion of any kind is the awareness of what God has already been doing in our lives. [We become] suddenly aware of the light that has always been there, to use this metaphor. God is always at work in our lives, even when we are unable to see it. God never gives up on us, even up to when we draw our last breath."

In the end, we followers of Jesus -- who is the light of the world -- can be reflectors of that light so that others may see it.
Let us pray.
As Simon Peter, Andrew, James and john answered Jesus’ call to follow him, may we too will proclaim the word of God in our daily lives. We pray to the Lord.
That we will all today will make a commitment to dispel darkness and to always seek the light of God and remain in it always. We pray to the Lord.
For those suffering from the Corona Virus in China and that the rest of the world will be spared from this epidemic. We pray to the Lord.
That during the impeachment process our senators will be awakened by the Holy Spirit to seek truth and true justice, and not blind faith in the person they are called to hold accountable to the Constitution and the American people. We pray to the Lord.
That as we continue our building and repairs a benefactor or benefactors will be led to our humble parish as we look to obtain the funding needed to finish the rectory and necessary repairs. 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.
God of light and love, we come with gratitude to this place of prayer. For family and friends and friends who are family, we offer you our thanks and praise. Especially do we thank you for those who show us your way through the light of their love. We offer our gratitude for our church family, present here for worship. And for those of our church family who worship from home, we ask for the comfort of your presence. In these moments of quietude, grant us the courage to so lose ourselves that we might truly find ourselves. Lead us in the way of truth that we might honestly see the gifts we have and then grant us the strength to share our gifts with others –– without delay. Might the light of your love so shine in our own lives that the dark times in the lives of others might be illuminated. And may this brilliance be a beacon of hope as evidenced by the life of your Son our Lord, Jesus the Christ. Amen
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, Ca

Sunday, January 19, 2020

January 19, 2020
The Second Sunday after Epiphany
(1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-34)
(Note to self: Read John 1:29-41)
For today’s sermon, has a blend of outside sources as well as my own for a creative touch.
Pick a destination.
After deciding how you’re going to get there, you then need to decide where you’re going to stay.
Now days, if you spend less than $100 per night at a hotel, you’re probably staying at a low-budget chain motel.
However, our modern times a traveler has options not available 20 years ago. In the sharing economy, we can find online platforms that connect us with people willing to share a room or an entire house, and usually at a price far below a commercial facility.
The leading disrupter of the hospitality industry is Airbnb. The company was conceived after its founders put an air mattress in their living room to offset the high cost of rent in San Francisco, effectively turning their apartment into a bed and breakfast. Airbnb is a shortened version of its original name,
Today, a little more than 10 years after its humble beginnings, Airbnb is valued at more than $30 billion, and has booked tens of millions of overnight stays for its hosts around the world.
Today, Jesus is asked, “Where are you staying?” Jesus says, “Come and see.”
Jesus extends an invitation to his new friends to check out where he’s staying!
So, what does Jesus’ guest house look like? It certainly is not his own house. Indications are that he was like many millennials today. He lived with his parents until he was 30.
Maybe he rented an Airbnb in Capernaum and it is to this house that he invites his new friends.
Or, maybe Mary and Joseph had a rental down by the sea. Probably not.
This is an unusual situation in which Jesus is the host.
Other times, he is the guest or he’s inviting himself to someone’s house (Zacchaeus). In Revelation, he’s knocking on the door, trying to wrangle a dinner invitation (3:20).
Here, as the host, he extends the invitation to “come and see.”
So, for fun, let’s explore a little about this.
If Jesus were the guest, what might it look like. What would that look like? First, there’s no problem with the wine. As long as we have a nice bottle of Perrier, Voss or Evian, Jesus can take care of the rest.
But we’d need to make sure there’s bread. And what about furniture? Do we eat on the floor? Foot-washing? “Uh, Jesus, generally we just try to wash our hands before the meal … with soap. But, certainly, if you would like to pass on this ritual, that is entirely your choice.”
And we’d want to find Grandma’s Bible, and dust it off and have it lying around casually on a table … with a bookmark in it, maybe even opened to John 3.
Put up a cross? Maybe. Could be touchy … bad taste? Hmmm…. Gaming consoles? Pull out that game about the Pharisees and Sadducees, called Broods of Vipers — the one with tombs full of dead people’s bones. Jesus might like to play that one.
Setting the table. Plate ware, silverware. Try to look the other way if he chooses to not use the silverware.
Conversation. What do we talk about? “Hey, did you catch that chariot race?” The weather? Or small talk? “So, you were born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth, eh?”
What to eat? Oh, you have some leftover fish (2?) and five slices of bread. Perfect! Wash it down with a nice merlot. And olives. Everything about olives. Olive oil. But avoid “virgin” or “extra virgin.” Maybe black out those words with a magic marker. Can’t be too careful. Maybe not necessary. Better to be safe.
Figs. Crackers and hummus. Falafel?
Would you play cards? Maybe not, given how he knows everything …
And would you pray? Do you even know the Lord’s Prayer? How awkward to have a brain cramp at the wrong time. You don’t want to sound like Sister Mary Clarence in Sister Act. “Bless us, oh Lord, and these thy gifts ... and, yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of no food, I shall fear no hunger. We want you to give us this day our daily bread ... and to the republic for which it stands ... by the power vested in me, I now pronounce us, ready to eat. Amen.”
What would you wear? Anything as long as it’s long and covers everything …
Now what, on the other hand, would we do if we were invited as a guest into Jesus’ home? Maybe we should research this.
In the gospels, Jesus is host three times. The first time is in this text before us today. He tells two of his future disciples to “come and see” where he’s staying.
The next time is when he tells his disciples to go prepare for then dine with Our Lord in what we now call the Last Supper. The first hosting experience was at the start of his ministry; the second, just before he died.
And finally, there is a post-resurrection scene in Galilee in which Jesus hosts a fish breakfast: “Jesus said to them, “Come, have breakfast.” And none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they realized it was the Lord.” (John 21:12).
So, Jesus is host three times: (1) When Jesus calls the disciples: (2) before Jesus lays down his life; and (3) before he leaves this earth.
First hosting experience (Capernaum): Key words: “Come and see.”
Second hosting experience (Last Supper): Key words: “Go and prepare.”
Third hosting experience (Galilee): Key words: “Come and dine (have breakfast).”
Come and see - When Jesus says to Peter and Andrew, “Come and see,” he establishes a motif for our ministry as Christians, and the message for the work of the church. It is an essentially inviting and welcoming ministry.
This is what the church does. It invites and it welcomes. This is who Christians are. They are inviting and welcoming. We don’t coerce; we commend. We don’t impose; we invite. We don’t wrestle and wrangle; we welcome. We don’t threaten; we tempt and tease. We don’t lampoon; we love.
The mission of the church and our responsibility as followers of Jesus is — not to tell people to go to the church down the street where they might be more comfortable; not to judge people as to their eternal destiny; not to judge them according to race, gender, political allegiances, sexual orientation, their taste in tattoos or music or what team they’re rooting for in the Super Bowl.
Jesus encourages us to follow his example as a host: Be inviting and welcoming. Three words. “Come and see.” This is all that we need to say to those who are seeking a deeper, more meaningful experience of life.
Go and prepare - As the Passover drew near, the disciples want to know what Jesus has planned. Jesus indicates that he will be the host of the Passover meal, but that he needs some help. So, he asks the disciples to help him with transportation and venue. He tells them to “Go and prepare.” And this is precisely what the disciples do: They find him a donkey and an upper room.
In Luke, his specific instructions are, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover” (22:8). In other words, not only are we to welcome others to the meal, we are asked to prepare the meal itself!
Jesus is the host. But we’re in the kitchen. Jesus has done the shopping. But we’re doing the cooking. We have the ingredients, but we have to prepare the meal.
Too often, the meal we invite others to sample is not too tasty. Perhaps it’s dry, under-cooked, over-cooked, stale, unfamiliar, odiferous, bland, over-salted or too spicy.
Jesus asks us to “Go and prepare.” This is an invitation to thoughtful consideration of what our guests will need and appreciate.
One interesting note: Jesus asks us to “Go and prepare,” and he also says that he, in turn, will “Go and prepare.” See John 14:3. He will go and prepare “a place for you.” It’s not exactly quid pro quo, but the implication is clear: “You go and prepare and I will go and prepare a place for you.” (Probably equally as clear as that someone in the White House!)
Come and dine - Finally, Jesus acts as host in Galilee when he invites his disciples to a fish breakfast. This call to “come and dine” is the logical, third step in the discipleship process. First, we invite; then we prepare the meal; and now, we call people to dinner — to sit down and partake of the fellowship and nutrients that will feed their souls and more.
It is the “and more” part that is interesting. It is well-known that many business deals are sealed over dinners. Meals are often occasions when planning, preparation, future-thinking, decisions and proposals are made.
It is no different here. Jesus is handing out jobs.
The most challenging interview is with Peter. As they’re munching on tilapia, Jesus asks Peter about his future employment plans. You know how this goes. After a brief period of confusion, Peter gets his commission. He will “feed the sheep and the lambs” and it will cost him his life.
Jesus invites us to have a meal with him. Not just the meal we know as the Eucharistic Meal. The meal we have with Jesus is, of course, a figurative one. It is to enter into an experience of closeness and union with the Lord so that we know his will for us and are strengthened to do it.            

In this study, we have taken a look at Jesus. He is more than an Airbnb host, of course. But no doubt when we invite people to come and see, go and prepare and come and dine, they are going to check the reviews. What are other people saying?
Five stars? Three stars? Or no stars? As the host, Jesus shows us how to be welcoming and how to prepare the meal. And, then, we seal the deal: We invite others to “come and dine.”
Let us pray.
In today’s gospel we hear from John the Baptist that he was inspired by God to proclaim to the world that Jesus was His Chosen One.   We pray that, by our words and actions, we too are committed and active witnesses for Jesus and his message of salvation. We pray to the Lord.    
That we as Christians will “Come and see;” “Go and prepare;” and “Come and dine” in our lives each day, so that we may be prepared that we might host Jesus in our fellow man. We pray to the lord.                  
We pray those for migrants, refugees and strangers who have sought a new beginning in our country that they may experience generosity, kindness and freedom to live among us as brothers and sisters. We pray to the Lord.                  
We pray for all those, particularly women and children, who have had to leave their homes because of domestic violence, that they may receive understanding, care, shelter and love in our community. We pray to the Lord.              
We remember today our homeless, those in temporary accommodation and those who sleep rough on our streets and doorways. We pray that the Irish people show generosity, kindness and support to them and that they have safe and warm shelter in these particularly cold and wet times. We pray to the Lord.                    
We pray for the elderly and particularly for those living alone, that they may experience care, security and community support in their homes. We pray to the Lord.                      
As we commence Christian Unity Week, we pray that we and those in all churches and Christian denominations be united in prayer and work for justice. We pray to the Lord.
That as we continue our building and repairs a benefactor or benefactors will be led to our humble parish as we look to obtain the funding needed to finish the rectory and necessary repairs. 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.
Gracious God, you have enriched and enlightened us by the revelation of your eternal Christ. Comfort us in our mortality and strengthen us to walk the path of your desire, so that by word and deed we may manifest the gracious news of your faithfulness and love.
Holy Father, Father of Christ who asked the disciples, “What are you looking for,” and who offered the invitation to “Come and See,” open our hearts to what you reveal and give us the courage to follow. By your Spirit aid us in our journey, so that like John, our words and deeds point to the Lamb of God. For those who are suffering, let us point to Christ through comfort. For those who are hungry, let us point to Christ through bread. For those in the grip of despair, let us point to Christ through hope.
Almighty God, whose Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, is the Light of the World: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped and obeyed to the ends of the earth. We pray all this in the name of Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

January 12, 2020
Baptism of Christ
(Acts 10:34-38; Matthew 3:13-17)
"Sometimes the dog is my favorite child -- not often, but sometimes she is."
So says Jill Smokler, a Chicago mother of three (not counting the dog), who admits she sometimes favors one child over another. Jill is at the forefront of a growing parenting trend: not being afraid to admit she sometimes has a favorite child.
For years, "I love you all equally" has been the instant response of parents, when asked by their children if one of them is the favorite. Now, some parents are daring to admit they were fibbing all along.
Partly responsible for this trend are psychologists like Ellen Weber Libby, author of The Favorite Child. Libby sees more problems arising out of parents covering up their favoritism, because they've been taught it's the right thing to do. "Favoritism doesn't have to be bad," she says. "It's what we do with it that makes it disastrous or productive."
Libby believes many parents have shifting inclinations toward favoring one child or another, over time. Being open about this isn't harmful, she teaches, because each child benefits from the extra affirmation at different times. In the end, everyone ends up with some positive memories.
Is this common sense -- or psychobabble?
Peter says, "God shows no partiality," and by that he means there's no favoritism, no preferential treatment. No one on this earth gets more love from God than any other person.
The Greek word translated "partiality" is uncommon. It renders a Hebrew idiom that literally means "God is not one who receives human faces." God doesn't just glance at our faces and make a snap judgment, as so many of us do with our neighbors. God doesn't stop with the externals. God looks deep within.
Think of the last time you were in a busy train or bus station, or at an airport. Remember the sea of faces surging toward you, displaying a variety of expressions, a range of emotions. Remember, also, the skin colors, the body types, the clothing, the hair styles, the tattoos.
The human mind is a remarkable calculating engine. It draws so many conclusions in the barest instant of time. It makes judgments we're scarcely aware of. Can you even recall a few of the judgments your mind made, based on those faces you observed there, in the station or airport? Did you not pigeonhole a good many of those faces, categorizing them as foreigner or native-born, rich or poor, lazy or hard-working, dangerous or benign?
If so, you did what Peter says God never does. You "received human faces." You made a multitude of judgments, based on very little information at all.
Something that's partial is fragmentary, a piece of the whole. Human love is partial in just that sense. So many mixed motives affect our love for other people. Self-interest creeps in, spoiling the selfless, altruistic love to which we aspire.
Let’s look at three examples.
Loving the lovable - Often, the only love we're able to manage is loving the lovable. That's a curious word, "lovable." Usually, when we say a person is lovable, we mean the person is attractive, pleasing, gifted in some way, so as to win the affection of others. By definition, a lovable person is not hard to love.
Does God call us only to love the lovable? Of course not! When Jesus says, "Love your neighbor as yourself," he doesn't add the codicil, "that is, if your neighbor happens to be lovable." What kind of love would that be? Pretty shallow! No, the sort of love Jesus is encouraging is not about being attracted to another, as a moth is drawn by a porch light. It is, rather, the sort of love that gets up and does what the other person needs, no matter how tough that may be.
Reciprocal love - Is all about gauging our love according to the possibility of receiving love in return. This is reciprocal love: "You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours."
Lots of human relationships are like that. It's a fine and helpful thing for two people to decide they're going to come together and meet each other's needs. Often we refer to this sort of love as a "partnership," highlighting the even exchange.
Yet, this, too, is only a partial love. What happens, for example, if one partner gets sick and is unable for a time to care for the partner's needs? Does the love-partnership fall apart at that point?
Some do. Plenty of couples have headed for separation or divorce out of a sense of unfairness, when one partner comes to believe the even exchange is no longer so even. The other partner is not holding up his or her end, is not doing enough. Any love that keeps score in such a way is only a partial love. It doesn't measure up to the ideal of selflessly caring for the other.
There are times and seasons, in some marriages, in some deep friendships, when one partner does end up carrying more of the weight of the relationship. That's not the way it's meant to be, of course, but sometimes it's just the way it is. The simple truth is that, if we're in a reciprocal relationship, there's always the temptation to engage in scorekeeping. But, Jesus teaches us that we should never keep score, no matter how unbalanced it mean be or seem.
Controlling love - We've all known people like that: a spouse or a parent or someone else. An element of control often makes its way into human relationships. In such relationships, love is offered for a time, free and clear, then abruptly snatched away. Afterwards, love is usually kept in storage, to be trundled out the next time the controlling lover has need of it.
Controlling love, too, falls short of the full measure of love, the biblical ideal. By and large, controlling love is not the sort of love we see God exercising in the Bible. You'd think it would be just that way, in the uneven power-relationship of an omnipotent God and a frail and flawed people. But it's not. The track of God's love for Israel -- several millennia long but still in effect -- has had some rocky interludes. Even on their epic journey through the wilderness, the people of Israel sometimes acted foolishly and disobediently. God had to dispatch the prophets, one by one, to call them back to faithfulness. Were God's love controlling them, that never would have happened. But God's love is never a controlling love. The Lord values human freedom, knowing full well there are going to be times -- lots of times, to be perfectly honest -- when we'll greedily snatch up that freedom, then go out and abuse it.
That's not how it is with God's love. The love God offers is utterly free -- in the sense that we are always free to accept or reject it. Yes, it's true that if we wander away from the fold, God will go after us, as a shepherd seeks the lost sheep. But God never prevents us from leaving. The gate to the sheepfold is always open.
So, if these are all partial forms of love, what does complete love look like?
Jesus gets at this when he teaches, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." Can there be a more difficult teaching than that? Think of a terrorist event like the Boston Marathon Bombing. Remember the fear and anger that riveted the nation that day, and in the days of the manhunt that followed. Remember the wild speculation in the news media about who had committed this outrage, what links they might have had to terrorist organizations, and -- most troubling -- whether similar bombings might soon follow, in a coordinated assault on American democracy?
Then, a teenager was discovered cowering under the cover of a boat up on blocks in someone's driveway. He was wounded and bleeding. He was an American kid -- yes, foreign-born, but he did most of his growing-up here. He seemed so normal. His school friends had no idea. By all accounts, he had come under the spell of his charismatic, but deeply troubled, big brother.
There's little doubt he was guilty of a crime against humanity. The law offers little mercy to one such as he. Life in prison, with no parole, is the very best he can hope for.
Does Jesus really expect us to love him? Does Jesus really expect us to be anything other than partial in our loving?
I want to share something that happened to me this past week, though I will mention no names. I was chatting with a friend from a different country. We have chatted now for well over a year as they have “followed” me on a couple different social media outlets. This person suddenly was upset one day because they discovered that I had “liked” a post of someone whom they had strong negative thoughts about, most especially because they thought the post I had “liked” of this other person was wrong for me as a priest to like. They felt I was enabling the person and what they perceived as wrong or sinful.
Now, I calmly explained my view on this. First, they had no first-hand knowledge of the person and the post they were criticizing.  This second person had also been a “follower” of me on a couple of social medias as well, but for a longer period than the first person. Thus, I knew of some background information about this second person that certainly had some bearing on the type of things this person might post. And I explain that to the first person. Additionally, I explained that, like Jesus, one must see the person and not just the sin. Regardless if the post was say a “NC-17” or not, (and, no it wasn’t X-rated), I still clicked “like” on the post as a show of support. In some instances, the more “likes” a person gets, helps with spreading their message, because some of these social media platforms will help spread their activity based on how many “likes” and “followers” they have. Word of mouth advertising, so to speak.
The were other comments made, but the point being that I explained that the radical love of Jesus excludes no one. Not the woman caught in adultery; not the women at the well; not the tax collector or the many others. Jesus sees past the sin and loves the person. We should also do the same. The problem with all the violence today is that we have too many like my first friend who finds anyone outside of their world view as being “other.” God is not partial of any of the nearly 7 billion inhabitants of the planet. We should learn to do the same.
Truth be told, we're all sinners, so he probably doesn't expect that much. Yet, he places the ideal of selfless love out there before us, all the same. He sets the bar high. This life of Christian discipleship is a matter of reaching onward and upward after his example, trying our best to live as he lives, to love as he loves.
One thing we can say about this divine adventure called love. When we're in relationship with Jesus, when we allow his love to flow into us, then flow outward again into our flawed and fragile human relationships, we become capable of a deeper and more faithful way of loving. In a very real sense, the love we extend to others, at our best, is not partial at all. It is the full and complete love of Christ, that comes to us as an unmerited gift and that overflows into the lives of our friends and family and neighbors -- and yes, sometimes even perfect strangers.
Let us pray.
Today, as we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord, we are reminded that through our own baptism we become children of God. We pray for the grace, wisdom and commitment to live the message of Christ and become living apostles, proclaiming his love and goodness through word and example. We pray to the Lord.                        
As we remember our baptism, may we be granted the time and energy, the foresight and the wisdom to review how we each live our life – with our family, our friends, our community, our work and most importantly, with our God. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for the baptized throughout the world who suffer persecution for their beliefs, that God’s power and love may sustain them. We pray to the Lord.
That we each will learn the radical love of Jesus and be more loving toward all we meet and encounter in our daily lives. We pray to the Lord.
For an end to hatred and violence: that a serious commitment to the work of peace and unity may pervade every corner of the world. We pray to the Lord.
That as we continue our building and repairs a benefactor or benefactors will be led to our humble parish as we look to obtain the funding needed to finish the rectory and necessary repairs. 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.
 Merciful Savior, like Peter, we desperately need a renewed understanding and experience of your love. Our heads know that you love impartially and unconditionally, and we are all too eager to receive that gift of love ourselves. Yet, we confess that we are stingy with your gracious gift when it comes to others, especially others who are unlike us. We want to place limits and boundaries around your love, to decide who is "in" and who is "out." We are afraid and appalled that we might be asked to love "them" in your name -- not from a distance but face-to-face, with hearts and lives fully engaged. We see the error of our ways, and we are sorry. But we also know we cannot change ourselves. Come, Holy Spirit, come, to cleanse and change us from the inside out. Help us to love without partiality and follow the example 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

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

January 5, 2020
Epiphany Sunday
New Year
(Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12)
The story of the Epiphany or the visitation of the Magi, is told only in Matthew. But like many other elements of the Nativity story, we’ve likely combined this in our mind with Luke’s story as well. So, it’s helpful to read this in the context of Matthew’s Gospel for he makes pertinent theological points. It is easy to read into the story, however, imagining that three kings bring the infant Jesus presents. But in reality, the number of Magi is not given. We typically imagine three because of the number of gifts they brought. Also, the three are thought of as “kings,” even though that word doesn’t appear either. Their identification as kings in later Christian writings is probably linked to Psalm 72:11, "May all kings fall down before him."
Their names are not found in Scripture either, although according to Western Church tradition, Balthasar is often represented as a king of Arabia, Melchior as a king of Persia, and Caspar (or Gaspar) as a king of India. These names apparently derive from a Greek manuscript probably composed in Alexandria around 500. Matthew’s choice of calling them “magi” would have been a class of Zoroastrian priests from Persia (modern day Iran). Magi is a Persian word, not a Greek word. Persian word used in a Greek written Gospel.
And though we likely imagine the infant Jesus, he is called a “child” in this passage which would imply he was older than an infant. Herod apparently had determined that the Magi had seen the star two years earlier. Consequently, Herod murdered all children from two years of age and under. This would imply that Jesus was about two years of age when the magi visited Him.
On the feast of the Nativity we read that Jesus was laid in a manger. The Greek word for “manger” is phatne which means “a box or crib where animals feed.” Consequently, we know that Jesus was born either in a cave or on the bottom floor of a building since it was the custom in those days to keep animals on the bottom floor at night when the temperature was cold. The house may have been built in front of a cave. This was common in Bethlehem.
Verse 11 states that Jesus was living in a “house.” This seems to reveal that Jesus’ parents had moved to a house. His parents had moved from the location of the manger to this house.
The gifts themselves represent royalty, and the Magi represent Gentiles. This tells us that the Gentiles come and worship Jesus, prefiguring the conclusion of the Gospel, when the risen Lord will give the commandment to go out to all nations (Gentiles) teaching them and baptizing them.
The story gives us many points to consider. As mentioned, one might be the fact that Gentiles (considered the “others”) come to worship Jesus. Herod needs to ask his advisers about the prophecy when those from Persia (Gentiles) are seeking out the child on their own. We, too, might be open to the others, those who come to the truth and to the person of Jesus on their own accord or by following their own stars. We know that by the end of the Gospel, this is Jesus’ intention too, that his teachings are not restricted to a few, but open to all. This is the same Gospel that will tell us that not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven. Instead, entry is only for those who do the will of the Father. And the will of the Father is that we act mercifully, much like the Magi of the Gospel today, and, of course as we learn later in Jesus’ life, by living in the radical love of Jesus.
The Magi in Today’s Gospel represent all those who are not part of the “in” crowd. These foreigners who do not know Jesus come to worship him before anyone else. They recognize in the signs of nature that something significant has happened, and they seek it out. Those who should know their own Scriptures missed something that Zoroastrian priests perceived.
The Magi undertake an extraordinary journey. Their two-year sojourn comes to its conclusion in Bethlehem, where they find the toddler Jesus with his mother. What was it about this child that led them to offer him their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh and to prostrate themselves in worship? As the first Gentile disciples of Christ, the Magi model radical trust in the God of creation who reveals his son to them through the light of a star.
In a way, the journey of the Magi is foretold in the first reading from the prophet Isaiah where the people of Israel are told, “Nations shall walk by your light.” Jesus, the light of the world, is revealed by the brightness of a star that leads foreigners to the land of Israel and to the Savior born there. In seeking to unite all people to himself, Jesus unifies those who were once separate. St. Paul proclaims in his letter to the Ephesians, “The Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise of Christ Jesus through the Gospel.”
In Christianity we are called to renounce the idea that the world is divided into “us” and “them.” All people are invited to walk in the light of the star of Bethlehem. While our journeys of faith might take us along different routes, the same God of creation, manifested to us in his Son, Jesus Christ, awaits us with arms stretched wide to gather the entire world to himself.
On this feast of Epiphany, we look to Jesus particularly as the manifestation and revelation of the living God. When we read the Gospel closely, we are given many details about this child who is sought by the Magi. The prophets proclaim that he will be both a ruler and a shepherd for the people of Israel. The star that leads these foreigners to Bethlehem shows us that he is for all people, not just those whose heritage he shares.
Through his humble birth Jesus enters into our reality, God become truly human. This is the king whom the Magi prostrate themselves before, a child at home in the small village of Bethlehem with his mother, Mary. The revelation of Christ to each of us is not a once-and-for-all event, but one that continues throughout our lives.
We can ask ourselves, too, what we might miss when the signs are right in front of our eyes. What is God doing in our midst? Is it something that others – foreigners, those not part of the “in” crowd – notice, but it escapes our attention? Let us die to our preconceived notions and surety in knowing the Lord and be open to what God has in store for us.
Along each step of the journey we take as Christians, we might formulate a different answer to the question echoing in our hearts from the one who cannot be contained or defined by human intellect: “Who do you say that I am?” Like the Magi may we continue to follow the stars in our lives that lead us closer and closer to Jesus’ divine presence within the holy and the ordinary. God is doing something new. There is an epiphany under way. May we have eyes to see and ears to hear.
Let us pray.
For all of us gathered here today, that we may seek to manifest Jesus, the light of the world, through lives well lived and love poured out. We pray to the Lord.
For members of diverse religions of our world, may respectful dialogue promote peace and harmony for all. We pray to the Lord.
For children worldwide, especially those caught in the crosshairs of violence and war, may they know protection and safety, and experience healing from trauma. We pray to the Lord.
That the light of Christ may bring consolation to all who are disenfranchised and have no permanent home. We pray to the Lord.
That the radiance of Christ brings awareness to all people of the plight of migrants and refugees.  May we understand the need for greater protection for all God’s children. We pray to the Lord.
That our American soldiers, who are once again thrown into an unnecessary war, be protected and that our leaders refrain from further attacks. We pray to the Lord.
That the light of Christ shine for all who are searching for God or meaning in life: that the Good News may become real to them and be a light that leads them to wholeness. We pray to the Lord.
That as we continue our building and repairs a benefactor or benefactors will be led to our humble parish as we look to obtain the funding needed to finish the rectory and necessary repairs. 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.    
God of all the worlds that are: Like the Magi coming from far away, we would see that guiding star. We would follow them while they follow its light to the manger. There lies the little boy whom you appointed as bearer of your compassion and redeemer of all who would acknowledge their need of redemption. May the brightness of your Son illumine our path as we strive to live as children of light. May your Word made flesh guide us through all the dark stretches and dark hours of our lives so that in your own good time, we may be welcomed, by your mercy, into the heavenly Jerusalem where there is no night, ever.
Merciful God, for many of us, today is a day of new beginnings -- a new year, a chance to start fresh, a time to "turn over a new leaf." We are buoyed by hopefulness and alive with the anticipation of what this new year might hold. Yet for many others, today is just another day of struggle and tomorrow will be more of the same. Chronic pain, addictions and relationship issues are no less abated because it is now 2020 and not 2019. Nor are sanctuaries, steady employment and financial resources any more abundant for the same reason. Lord, give us eyes to see our neighbors, to look beyond the safety and comfort of our own lives, in order to experience the uncertainty and fear that plague much of our world. Disquiet us with the scandal of injustice, inequity and human misery so that, following the example of Christ, our Savior, we might choose to suffer alongside those who suffer and become bearers of peace, comfort and hope. 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