Sunday, March 29, 2020

March 29, 2020
The Fifth Sunday of Lent
Passion Sunday
(Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45)
The greatest book of all time. An unforgettable story told by an incredibly gifted author. A few at the top of the list are:
~ In Search of Lost Time, by Marcel Proust, a recollection of the narrator’s childhood.
~ Ulysses, by James Joyce, the passage of a man through Dublin on an ordinary day in 1904.
~ Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes, the story of a retired man who becomes obsessed with chivalry.
~ The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, a chronicle of the Roaring 1920s.
~ One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, story of the rise and fall of the mythical town of Macondo
~ Moby Dick, by Herman Melville, the tale of Captain Ahab and his pursuit of a white whale.
Yes, these are great books to some people maybe, all of them. The top six, according to a website called “The Greatest Books,” which created a master list out of 122 other best-books lists. I have only read one of them on the list, so I would not be a good promoter of them.
But what is the most influential book of all time? Which story has had the greatest impact on human life?
The Yale Alumni Magazine recently published a list of books that have changed people’s lives, and you might be surprised by what they found. A Yale professor of military and naval history chose Winnie-the-Pooh, “because each of the animals has a distinctive personality.” He has found it to be an excellent guide for navigating life, classrooms and department meetings. Oddly curious.
A professor of World Christianity says that his life was changed by Helen Keller’s autobiography, The Story of My Life. The professor grew up in Africa and discovered her book in a trash dump. He remembers that he read with avid attention to “her testimony about knowledge as power.”

The director of the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History realizes that his life was changed by Jane Werner Watson’s Giant Golden Book of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Reptiles, published in 1960. Even if the science is now outdated, he says, the illustrations in the book “remain just as powerful as when they ignited in me a passion to understand the natural world.”
Winnie-the-Pooh. Helen Keller’s autobiography. A giant picture book of dinosaurs. These are books that have changed people’s lives.
We could add the Gospel of John to this list. John 3:16 alone, the verse that the reformer Martin Luther called “the gospel in a nutshell,” has transformed the lives of countless thousands of people. Then there’s the story of Jesus meeting a woman at a well, a story we read a couple of weeks ago — a story that has helped so many understand how cultural and ethnic relationships can be forged.
And, of course, today’s text tells the story of death, resurrection and belief — a story that has generated faith in the lives of millions. John’s account of Jesus, Martha and Lazarus — an account that does not appear in any of the other Gospels — has all the drama of the world’s greatest and most influential books.
John tells us that “a man was ill, Lazarus from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.” We can imagine Lazarus and his two sisters as vivid characters, as distinctive as Pooh, Piglet and Eeyore. In fact, let’s turn this sermon into a fun analogy - you might think of Lazarus as Pooh, friendly and spirit-filled. Mary is Piglet, intelligent but timid. And Martha is Eeyore, sardonic and pessimistic.
Eeyore and Piglet sent a message to Jesus, “Master, the one you love is ill.” They knew that Jesus loved upbeat and cheerful Lazarus, and they assumed that he would rush to his side.
But Jesus brushed their message aside, saying, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God.” And he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. While he was there, Lazarus died.
Eventually, Jesus traveled to Bethany and found that Lazarus had been lying dead in the tomb for four days. Martha left her house to meet Jesus in full Eeyore mode — glum and pessimistic. She probably said, “It’s all for naught.” Did she have her hands on her hips when she said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died”. But since Martha also had strong faith in Jesus, she went on to say, “But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”
Jesus responded to her, “Your brother will rise.” Martha / Eeyore said, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
But Jesus was determined to change her thinking about new life, so he announced, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
What a crisis for Eeyore, who was in the habit of saying, “Wish I could say yes, but I can’t.” Martha could see the facts around her: Lazarus was dead, his body rotting in the tomb, and he wasn’t scheduled to rise until the resurrection on the last day. But now Jesus was saying, “I am the resurrection and the life. Do you believe this?”
“Wish I could say yes,” she thought to herself. But instead of agreeing completely, she said, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.” And then she went home and reported to Piglet that Jesus was calling for her.
Mary jumped up and ran out to see Jesus, like Piglet feeling small and helpless in a crisis situation. When Mary came to Jesus and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said, “Lord, it is hard to be brave when you’re only a very small animal … if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” She sort of made the same statement as her sister, but the emotion was different, because when Jesus saw her weeping, he was disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He wasn’t moved when Martha confronted him, hands on hips. But now, he’s moved. He’s touched. He’s feeling something in his gut.
And then, suddenly, Jesus is crying. In public.
The Son of God, the Savior of the world, is crying. Lazarus was his Winnie-the-Pooh — his friendly, thoughtful, and spirit-filled friend. And now he was dead.
Christ (Christopher Robin) walked to the cave that served as the tomb of Lazarus and saw that it had a stone lying against it. “Take away the stone,” ordered Jesus. Eeyore said to him, “Lord, by now there will be a stench;
he has been dead for four days.” “It’ll never work.”
But Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” For Jesus, the key is believing — faith is the attitude that changes your life. What makes the Gospel of John a life-changing book is that it is a story about the power of belief.
~ “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (3:16).
~ “Very truly, I tell you,” said Jesus, “anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life” (5:24).
~ “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (6:35).
Anyone who believes may have eternal life. Anyone who believes has passed from death to life. Whoever believes in Jesus will never be thirsty.
The power of belief … of faith … of trust.
So, they took away the stone. Jesus lifted up a prayer, giving thanks that God had heard him. But he was really praying for the sake of the crowd, “that they may believe.” Then Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”
The man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said, “Untie him, and let him go.” Releasing him, they saw that Lazarus was alive and well — upbeat, cheerful, full of spirit. Pooh was back! And when the people in the area saw what Jesus had done, they “believe(d) in him.” Once again, the power of belief.
Later in the gospel of John, we learn that the chief priests were furious at Lazarus, “since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.”
When you look at a list of great books, you might wonder about their purpose. Ulysses talks about a man in Dublin. Why do we need to hear this? The Great Gatsby captures the spirit of the Roaring 1920s. But why was it written? And Moby Dick’s story of Captain Ahab and a white whale? Is it an adventure story or a whaling manual? What is its purpose?
No such question needs to be asked of the Gospel of John. The book was written “so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name” (20:31).
John changes our lives by inviting us to believe in Jesus, so that we may have life in his name.
The Gospel of John is a book that can change your life, because it tells the story of Jesus overcoming death. Do you believe it?
Let us Pray.
For those who, like Martha, are in mourning. May they be comforted by the words of Jesus, who assured Martha that he is ‘the resurrection of life. We pray to the Lord.
We remember those who, like Lazarus, have loved ones to interceded for them, and those who have no living friends and family to pray for them, may they rest in peace. We pray to the Lord.
For all who minister to the dying, that by their care, words and example they may bear witness that God has robbed death of its power. We pray to the Lord.
For those who are sick, especially those affected by the Coronavirus pandemic, that the healing power of the Lord of Life may be theirs. We pray to the Lord.
For all who are unable to stay home during this crisis, may God protect them in their serving the public, protect their family and friends and keep them healthy. We pray to the Lord.
For our physicians, nurses, research scientists and all healthcare workers, and for all who support them in their mission. 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 God, Creator of Life, you call us out of our dark places, offering us the grace of new life. When we see nothing but hopelessness, you surprise us with the breath of your spirit. Call us out of our complacency and routines, set us free from our self-imposed bonds, and fill us with your spirit of life, compassion and peace.
Most gracious and loving God, there are times in our lives when being extravagant is the only way we can express how profound and deep our love is. We know that our extravagance is wasteful. People are dying as we speak, dying for lack of basic needs, dying because of a terrible virus sweeping our country and our world. But Lord, we want to express the profoundness of our love, the depth of our thankfulness and our continuing desire for more of you. In so doing, help us all to follow the directives given us by the health community so that we can turn the tide of its spread. We know that you cry with all those lost from this virus, just as you wept for Lazarus. It is in this time, that we are like Martha and Mary, and so we ask you to help our faith just as we ask that you heal all who suffer in this time. We ask all this, Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, Ca

Monday, March 16, 2020

March 15, 2020
The Third Sunday of Lent
(Romans 5:1-2, 5-8; John 4:5-42)
Today’s Gospel lesson is one you have heard me speak of on a number of occasions, using it as an example of Jesus’ radical love. There is much to learn from Jesus’ example, as the whole of this passage speaks, subtly, of a paradox. This passage is one that is very important to those of us who consider ourselves as Liberal Catholics.
The first bit we need to be aware of is that although, Jews of the New Testament era did all they could to detour around Samaria, Jesus deliberately crossed the territory of a people widely regarded as spiritually and ethnically inferior. It dated back to the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722B.C. The victorious Assyrians deported twenty thousand, mostly upper-class Israelites, and replaced them with pagan settlers from Babylon, Syria, and several other nations. These foreigners introduced idols and intermarried with the people of Israel, creating an ethnically mixed population.
When the Jews of Judah returned from the Babylonian captivity and tried to rebuild Jerusalem, the temple, and the rest of their society, they met resistance from the Samaritans. The Jews looked down on their northern cousins’ mixed marriages and Idolatrous habits. The Samaritans looked to Mt. Gerizim rather than Jerusalem as the only true place of worship. The historic enmity between the two groups exploded when in 128B.C. the Jews destroyed the Samaritans’ temple at Mt. Gerizim, built nearly three hundred years earlier. By the time of Jesus, the hostility was so severe that the woman at the well was astonished that Jesus would even speak to her.
There are countless modern parallels to the Jewish-Samaritan conflict. Their animosity is mirrored whenever and wherever racial and ethnic barriers divide people. Jesus and the Apostles helped to show us that we need to break through these barriers, not build them up. Although, it is a world-wide problem, it has seen an increase here in the United States the past three years. This should concern us all. This is not the example of Jesus.
Although, the Jews of the New Testament era did all they could to detour around Samaria, Jesus took the “road less traveled.” He presents us an example we should emulate. Is this not what some religions, and even church denominations, do today by avoiding or excluding people of differing viewpoints, lifestyles, race or religion, just to name a few? They do, and this is part of the message Jesus is giving us in the Gospel today.
If we want to be citizens of the kingdom of God, we must learn to see past our own prejudices, eradicate those prejudices, and allow the Lord to reshape our minds and hearts. What prejudices do we harbor? Is it of people of color or of national origin outside of the United States? Is it gender or even someone who has had gender dysphoria and now considers themselves a gender that differs from their birth gender? Some people had a problem with the fact that we had a presidential candidate that was in a same-sex marriage; is that a prejudice we harbor? We can all think of someone or something. If Jesus were in his human form and on earth today, I suspect we would see him socializing with any of these I have mentioned. Any of those whom might be the social outcasts among various groups.
We have all seen articles in newspapers or magazines of some sort that has a headline that asks: “What’ wrong with this picture?” They don’t usually mean that it is a bad photo. They usually mean that someone is doing something so odd that it seems crazy. Like trying to “fix” a computer with a sledgehammer. So, in the picture presented to us in today’s Gospel, it would seem to have something “wrong” with it. Although, the picture that the Evangelist John paints for us may not seem odd or wrong to us, at the time, it would have definitely looked “wrong.”
Jesus was already known as a holy man, leading a movement to bring Israel and all peoples back to God. Of course, he is more than that, but we need to remember that at that time his followers only knew him as merely a holy man. That said, in that culture, devout Jewish men would not have allowed themselves to be caught alone with a woman, and if that was unavoidable, they certainly would not have entered into a conversation with them. The risk was too high; risk of impurity, risk of gossip, risk of being drawn into immorality. Yet, here is Jesus talking to this woman.
When Jesus struck up the conversation with a woman at Jacob’s well, the conversation quickly turned personal. This cultural background made it unusual for any male, let alone a rabbi, to talk seriously with a woman in public. However, as we know, this was Jesus’ way.
Notice also, that she was alone. No other women were with her. This woman came at a time when she was least likely to meet someone. As we learn a little later, she most probably came out alone because she was an out-cast in her own community. Women of that culture, being normally separated from the male gender, would come out very early to draw water, prior to the men getting up and out for their responsibilities. However, this woman was at the well at noon. This was probably because the other women of the town did not want to associate with her.
As we see, the conversation involves water. Jesus asks for a drink and she quickly questions how he a Jew would ask her, a Samaritan, for a drink of water. Of course, it is no secret that the area of travel Jesus had taken was desert and arid, so wanting a drink would be natural. However, when the woman questions him, he states that if she asked, he would have given her living water.
Here is another instance of misunderstanding Jesus. A that time, “living water” would have meant water from a stream or river, as opposed to that of a pool or well. John, throughout his Gospel, shows a Jesus who was constantly speaking on a heavenly level, while his listeners are understanding on an earthly level. Water from a stream or river was moving and more likely to be fresh and clean. However, we know that Jesus wasn’t speaking of physical water. He was referring to the living water of life! This new life he offers to anyone, including someone like this woman. Jesus could easily see her need; her thirst for forgiveness, acceptance, reconciliation and hope. Think of the parable of the lost sheep – he leaves the 99 to find the lost 1.
Jesus said to her, “Go call your husband and come back.” The woman answered and said to him, “I do not have a husband.” Jesus answered her, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.”
(Notice that when this woman discovers that Jesus knew all about her private life, she quickly changed the subject by saying: “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.” However, I don’t want to focus on her change of the subject, which is equally important, but on Jesus’ example he gives us today.)
This is where Jesus’ radical love starts to kick in. We know from the Ten Commandments and from Jesus in Matthew 19 that divorce is prohibited. Jesus makes that clear when asked in Matthew. Yet, here he is. What a great opportunity for Jesus to teach on the topic of divorce again, but he doesn’t. Might seem odd to many and even ignored by more conservatives who insist divorce is lifelong sin. But Jesus does not address the issue any further.
By this time Jesus’ Apostles arrive, and they are amazed that he is even talking to a woman. That’s her cue to exit stage right – can’t be around more men, don’t you know?! However, she clearly went to tell her family and townspeople. While Western culture tends to value individualism and independence, other cultures look to families or even larger social systems to make important decisions as a group. How the message is received is determined by family bonds and other relationships.
Now, this makes for another surprising point – that the townspeople, especially the men, even listen to her or believe her. Women were not to be listened to, because they were crazed gossipers! She could have sounded like a crazed lunatic, but they believed her!
However, as I stated at the beginning of this missive, this passage is one I frequently like to bring up in conversations. We know Jesus’ feeling on divorce, and yet here he is talking to a woman who had five previous husbands. Makes you wonder why. She’s either an ancient version of Elizabeth Taylor, or a harlot. But, in a male dominated culture, it can’t really be determined.
What makes it all the more interesting is that this passage appears at all. We know from Matthew that the Pharisees ask Jesus if it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife. Maybe they knew of the encounter at the well and wanted to know how Jesus felt. It was a test, of course. But was it a test to see if Jesus said it was perfectly fine, because they knew of his encounter at the well? Or was it to see if he would quote the law of Moses which would bring into question his interaction with the woman? We do not know. But, his answer is telling.
Given Jesus’ answer that divorce was a no-no, then here we get to see some of his radical love. Like the woman caught in adultery, he is now confronted with the woman at the well who was married five times previously. Yet, in both instances he does not condemn them; He loves them! He liberates them! I suspect both of these woman go on to be saints, maybe even one of the followers of Jesus.
Jacob’s Well, still exists and lies in the crypt of a modern Greek Orthodox church at Nablus in the West Bank.
Photina is the name the Orthodox tradition has given to the Samaritan woman. She is venerated as a martyr who was flayed alive and thrown down a well in Rome by the emperor Nero.
Lastly, we hear that the Samaritans came to believe in Jesus as the Christ. Some due to the woman’s testimony of Jesus’ ability to tell her all about her life – a miracle. More came to believe simply by hearing his word – no miracle necessary. Some of us need a miracle for our faith to be awakened; some of us do not, merely understanding Jesus’ word is enough.
So, why is this so important? It is important, because Jesus again shows us his radical love for all. He love wasn’t (and isn’t) prejudiced against anyone such as many of us are. No sin, no matter how large, will stop someone from being welcomed in his arms. He never shied away from being seen with anyone who may have been viewed as outcasts. Everyone falls short of the expectations Christ has for us, but he will never, ever turn anyone away.
In a world that struggles to accept those who are different from themselves, in a world where political parties seem to leave out certain people, in a world where churches still treat some as not meeting the “saintliness” they claim one must have, we have Jesus loving everyone and anyone. Jesus does not approve of our misogynist ways, our racist and xenophobic beliefs, our sexist ways, our denying the Sacraments to someone that doesn’t meet every line of some law/teaching, denials of the Sacraments children or divorced or unmarried parents, or any and every other prejudice and mistreatment we might hear or see everyday.
He wants us to love each other. Maybe we cannot understand each other sometimes, but we still must love them. Taking Jesus’ example of radical love, we are called to be a beacon of light to those made unwelcome elsewhere and show them that God loves them. We need to love radically. Lent is perfect time to examine our thoughts and actions to see if we too love radically, and if not, learn how by asking Jesus to show us how.
Let us pray.
That as we go through Lent, we pray that we listen Jesus’ words and are guided by the Spirit to live a life dedicated to love of God and love of neighbor. We pray to the Lord.        
Knowing that perfect love drives out all fear, we pray for that perfect love to strengthen and unite our human family, as we struggle to overcome the Coronavirus.  Grant to all who are now most at risk those gifts of courage and serenity and care for one another that will overcome this trial. We pray to the Lord.              
At Jacob’s Well the Samaritan woman begs Jesus – “Give me this water so that I may not be thirsty.” Let us pray for those in our world who thirst for their basic human rights and ask the Lord for the courage to play our part in supporting them and restoring their dignity. We pray to the Lord.            
As we reflect on our lives during Lent, let us renew our commitment to Christ and allow the waters of baptism transform the desert of our lives into a fruitful vineyard in which God’s love and mercy flourish. We pray to the Lord.              
We remember today our brothers and sisters in those in regions of the world where water is scarce and thirst is their daily experience. We pray for those agencies and those who support them who are working to give them access to this most essential human need. We pray to the Lord.              
We pray for a personal awareness of the goodness and generosity of the Father, who created us, who gives us every breath we breathe and who so generously nourishes us with the food and drink which his creation of land and sea provides. We pray to the Lord.
That our parish always be beacon of hope to those who less welcome elsewhere, for those who have been abused but need to feel the love of our Heavenly Father once again through worship. We pray to the Lord.
That we always remember, that even if we meet someone who may not appear to meet up to the standard of the Ten Commandments or some perceived sin, that we follow the two greatest commandments and love God and love our neighbor and leave judgment out of our minds and hearts in regard to others and show them the radical love of Jesus. 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 God, in all ages you have offered surprising and gracious provision for your people. Even though we grumble and doubt like the people of Israel, your love bounteously sustains us, like water from the rock, quenching our thirst and meeting our needs. We thank you that in Jesus Christ you come to refresh and renew us, as cool water refreshes those who are weary. Jesus offers us divine love as continuous as a spring, flowing with mercy. Help us, like the woman at the well, to accept his gift and joyfully tell others that he is our fountain of joy.
Dear God, you have called us from different walks of life. From our diverse backgrounds, you have weaved us into a family of faith and discipleship. We pray that even as you have accepted us as we are, we can learn even more how to accept and love others whose ways are different from our own.
As we open our hearts to you, show us the way to open our hearts to others. We pray, O God, that you would even challenge us to love all humankind — those we do not like and especially our “enemies.” In your presence here, O God, may we worship together without exclusion and rejoice together always. May we always treat others with the same radical love that your son, Jesus Christ treated all whom he met. We ask all these things through, Christ, our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA

Sunday, March 8, 2020

March 8, 2020
Second Sunday of Lent
(Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; Matthew 17:1-9)
Welcome to Harrington University. Also known as ... The University of San Moritz, University of Palmer’s Green and University of Devonshire ... among other names.
At Harrington, the campus is small, the class schedule very convenient (as in, no classes at all), and a Ph.D. will only take you 27 days and a few thousand dollars to earn. No transcript from a previous institution is necessary. Instead, you get full credit for your “life experience”!
And to think that some people are still paying off their college loans.
Harrington University is (or was, until it was shut down in 2003 by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and British authorities) a “diploma mill” — an online “university” selling bogus but authentic-looking-and-sounding bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. Rather than a tree-lined quad, Harrington’s “campus” was the residence of an American living in Romania with mail drops in the United Kingdom, printing services in Jerusalem, and banking options in Cyprus. By 2002, some 70,000 Harrington-Palmer’s Green-Devonshire degrees had been “granted” to online applicants, earning the operator more than $100 million.
Using e-mail spam, online advertising and even print advertising in mainstream media like USA Today, Time, Newsweek, Forbes and Money magazines, diploma mills like Harrington are an occasional phenomenon in our wired world. As jobs become more scarce and competition for them more fierce, many people are turning to quick, albeit illegitimate, ways to pad their résumés without the cost or hassle of actually going to class.
A May 2004 study by the U.S. General Accounting Office found 28 senior federal executives who claimed degrees from diploma mills, and 463 employees in eight federal agencies were hired or advanced in their jobs with bogus college degrees, some even billing taxpayers for their fake credentials.
Counterfeit colleges and universities make it easier to pull off the résumé charade because they provide fake diplomas and transcripts that often seem legitimate. With all this academic fakery going on, it’s become harder and harder for legitimate distance-learning institutions to maintain their reputations, and it’s also become more dangerous for people in need of professional services.
Sadly, even our seminary is treated like it is a “diploma mill” by student who come to us to study for the priesthood in hopes that they will be done in a very short time with some very easy courses. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Our expectation and mine is that a student who desires to be a priest will need to attend the seminary to completion. Compared to average seminaries, our seminary is actually quite easy, but alas some simply want to pay for a piece of paper and be ordained tomorrow. Not on my watch. Real priests need real study. If you are going to be a shepherd, you must learn how to be one and cause no harm to your flock.
But how do so many people get away with this chicanery? The answer is simple: No one seems to check them out, call the references, ask for the paperwork. Bottom line is that in this 21st-century culture, it can be fairly easy to fake who you are and make yourself look good to anyone — on paper at least.
What about if you’re applying for eternal salvation? If you’ve got holes and creative coursework in your spiritual résumé, you can bet they’ve been checked out thoroughly. Truth is, you can’t fake faith.
In Romans 4, Paul is using Abraham the Patriarch as a primary case in a study of God’s approach to human resources. Abraham was righteous, obedient to God, and had followed a straight career path from nomadic herder to “father of many nations.” His exploits, both vocational and spiritual, were well established and generally well done. If anyone had a résumé of solid credentials to “boast” about, says Paul, it was Abraham.
But it wasn’t his righteous résumé that made Abraham a prime candidate for the job of Patriarch of the faith. “If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about — but not before God,” says Paul.
In other words, even Abraham’s best work couldn’t match the quality standard of holiness set by God. No human résumé is impressive enough. Earlier in Romans, Paul puts it more clearly: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23). Instead, it was faith itself that was Abraham’s one and only true résumé builder. “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (4:3).
It’s belief in God’s ability to save us because of love, rather than belief in our own ability to measure up, that makes us “righteous” before God. To put it in human resource terms, in God’s world it’s who you know (Jesus Christ) not what you do that counts toward eternal employment as a citizen of the kingdom. Truth is, we’ve got nothing to boast about except the fact that God cared enough about us to forgive our fakery by providing the real deal of salvation through Jesus Christ.
Theologically speaking, we call this the doctrine of “justification by faith.”
In a world where Christian faith was being more and more characterized by lists of activities than deep faith, people like Luther, Calvin and Zwingli (sounds like a fake name!) shredded their own résumés and tacked up a different set of criteria on places like that door in Wittenberg. For them it was all about faith — sola fide, sola gratia — God’s grace offered freely to everyone regardless of their past history and cobbled together lists of deeds good and bad. Like Paul, they saw God’s grace as the ultimate qualification for righteousness, not our own feeble attempts at “faking it” as people we’re not.
The God who created us knows us intimately — no background check needed — and yet still seeks to love us, change us, employ us as God’s hands and feet in the world. None of us could or should make the cut, but as the old saying goes, “God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called.”
Yet, truth is, most of us feel like we have to have something to show God. We like hanging diplomas on the walls and showing off our degrees.
If we’re truly made righteous by faith, then our records should speak for themselves or, better, for Christ himself. What we believe, deep down, about ourselves and about God will determine our course of action and how we’ll spend our time, our resources, our lives in relationship to the world around us. Eventually, our resume of our life will be vindicated or vilified depending on what we believe and whether we live out that belief.
Lent is a good time of year to add spiritual diplomas to our resumes. Too many today are looking for the diploma mill route of experiencing Lent and preparing ourselves for Easter. Lent has become nothing more than an average day or an average week.
Yes, none of us likes the idea of thinking of our short-comings when it comes to liking up to the example of Christ. We cannot use the excuse that “He doesn’t know what it’s like to be human,” because he was! We simply want the easy way out.
Lent is a journey – a journey in which we accompany Jesus on his trek to Jerusalem where he fulfills the mystery of the Passion, Death and Resurrection. Our journey should remind us that a Christian Life is a way to take, not so much consistent with a law to observe as with the very Person of Christ, to encounter, to welcome and to follow.
We are called to follow, participate and learn at the school of Jesus, reviewing the events that brought salvation to us, but not as a mere commemoration, a remembrance of past events. By participating in the liturgical functions and actions of the church, Christ makes himself present through the power of the Holy Spirit thus making these saving events real for us.
We should make a Lenten journey and on this journey,  we should be careful to accept Christ’s invitation to follow him more decisively and consistently, renewing the grace and commitments of our baptism, to cast off the former person within us and put on Christ, in order to arrive at Easter renewed. Though it may not be an easy journey, it is one that can be powerful if we allow ourselves to set some time aside to journey with Jesus, just as he gave us 33 years that we may be saved. He put aside his divinity to become one of us.
Diploma mill e-mails usually qualify themselves by saying that the degrees offered are from “non-accredited” schools. Real academics know that accreditation is a big factor in determining a school’s reputation and what kinds of students will be enrolled. Accreditation means that a qualified body is overseeing the operation and setting high standards. Every college credit makes it to a student’s transcript the old-fashioned way: They earn it.
The good news for us is that, through Christ, God credits us with righteousness even if we can’t earn it. Faith, belief in God’s love for us and confidence in God’s saving grace, is the only qualification needed.
Let us pray.
Today we read how Jesus was transfigured and how the Apostles experienced a vision of the divine presence which awaits the faithful following the trials of this world. We pray today for the grace to remain steadfast in our faith and on our journey of Lent so that we are worthy of being in that transfigured presence. We pray to the Lord.
That this season of Lent will be a time of greater prayer and fervent devotion for us and for all the Church. We pray to the Lord.
That this Lent we will be faithful to fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, and to all the ways the Lord sanctifies us.
That we will be generous in our almsgiving and attentive to the poor. We pray to the Lord.
For those who are discouraged by temptation and failure. We pray to the Lord.
For the gift of faith and an appreciation of God’s mystery in our lives. We pray to the Lord.
For those who have been affected by the spread of coronavirus, for those who are sick from it, for those who died, and for all who are working to contain the outbreak. 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.
Holy Spirit, move in us today. Set our mind on things above, not on earthly things. Remove our pride and clear our distracted minds so that all we hear is your truth. Allow the Scriptures to be life-changing and to renew our desire for you. Help us to understand clearly the message of your Word. We want to know you more. Interrupt us, O God, with your presence. Intrude upon our preoccupation, our restlessness, our discontent and our boredom that we might center our hearts and minds on your Word as it is read and proclaimed. Gracious God, despite assurances that you are good and loving, despite the psalmist's reminder that you are the ever-watchful keeper of our lives, we still struggle to trust you. We find it difficult to hope in what is unseen, to believe in what we cannot prove, to take the leap of faith that walking with you requires. But Lord, how we want to believe! How we want to let go of our need to control, and rest instead in your ever-loving and gracious arms! Free us, we pray, to trust you this day, that we may walk with you as Abram did. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA

Thursday, March 5, 2020

March 1, 2020
First Sunday of Lent
(Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11)
One evening a while back in San Bernardino County, a car chase began about 6:30 p.m., coming to a conclusion about 90 minutes later.
The suspect in a car theft took off from Chino and led police on a chase that ended in Hawthorne. The erratic and meandering journey took officers to the Ventura Freeway, where the suspect vehicle sideswiped a Prius and nearly hit a tanker truck. After driving in the wrong direction, the thief pulled the car into the southbound lanes of the San Diego Freeway. There, the stolen vehicle was rammed once by a patrol car, but that did not deter this guy.
When he got into the Hawthorne area, having eluded capture for almost an hour and a half, a California Highway Patrol SUV executed a PIT maneuver, and game over. The car went sideways into a spin, and the driver was apprehended.
An increasing number of law enforcement agencies across the country are using the PIT maneuver as a way to bring car chases to safe conclusions. Using this tactic, an officer in pursuit uses their vehicle as a weapon to force a fleeing car to abruptly swivel sideways, thus going into a spin resulting in a loss of control by the driver. If this maneuver is initiated in an area where property and citizens are not at risk, it is a safe alternative to chasing a suspect into populated areas.
It might be unpleasant to use this as a metaphor for our relationship with God. But, in fact, it is a very common one, not only in the Bible, but in literature.
Notice that in the Bible, people are often running. They’re described as running away from God who, alternatively, is frequently depicted as wooing or chasing them.
Jonah is perhaps the best example. God’s hand is upon him, but Jonah is not comfortable with what God has in mind, and he tries to sneak away. He takes a compartment in the steerage of a ship hoping to hide out. You know the story.
The PIT maneuver in this case is the great fish which, by the way, was God’s idea. “But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah” (Jonah 1:17). Game over. And after three days, the leviathan, irritated by the pit in its stomach, spits Jonah onto a beach where he lies prostrate and in complete surrender to the will of God.
The psalmist David writes, “Where shall I go from your spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” (Psalm 139:7).
The Israelites are often depicted as people careening down a path to destruction. And in battle, they sometimes ran away, rather than standing their ground. (1 Samuel 17:8-11)
The prophet describes sheep as having a propensity to wander astray (Isaiah 53:6), and Jesus also refers to the shepherd who, although in possession of 99 sheep, sallies forth at great risk to himself to find the 100th lamb that’s run afield (Luke 15:1-7).
In that same chapter, Jesus tells the story of a young man who runs away from home. We know how that turns out.
It’s weird. Sometimes we mortals believe we can outrun and outmaneuver God.
The 19th-century poet, Francis Thompson, captures this in his 182-line poem, “Hound of Heaven,” published in 1893. One review says: “As the hound follows the hare, never ceasing in its running, ever drawing nearer in the chase, with unhurrying and unperturbed pace, so does God follow the fleeing soul by his Divine grace.
One person fitting this profile was, by her own admission, the 20th-century activist, Dorothy Day.
In his book about Day, Johann Cristoph Arnold writes, “Day felt the call to discipleship early in life (though only vaguely), but she first threw herself into other, ‘more important things.’ There was the lure of journalism school, and then politics. Then there was travel and a taste of the Roaring Twenties in New York City, Italy and Hollywood. There was also a novel, several film scripts, an abortion, a short-lived marriage and a baby daughter. Still it did not dawn on her that she was running from God, and that her yearning would never be stilled until she was obedient to him.
“Then came an unforgettable night in a Greenwich Village bar where her friend, playwright Eugene O’Neill, recited Francis Thompson’s ‘Hound of Heaven’ for her — a poem whose message left her reeling. It contains the verse:
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days
I fled Him, down the arches of the years
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
“Day experienced what can only be called a conversion. Leftist friends mocked her new interest in the Gospels: didn’t she of all people, a Communist, know that religion was just a crutch for the weak? But Dorothy dug in her heels. Jesus promised the new society of peace and justice they were all looking for, she said, and if the Christians they knew were soft-minded hypocrites, that was not Jesus’ fault. She was determined to give him a try.”
Dorothy Day, like King David, the prophet Jonah and others before her, was the object of God’s loving and persistent Pursuit Intervention Technique.
To review this analogy: When the police department engages a suspect in a car chase, they hope first that the vehicle will run out of gas. Failing that, they hope the suspect will have a change of heart. The suspects who flee clearly understand that the law takes a dim view of their behavior. Police officers in pursuit might try to get roadblocks into place. Failing that, officers may throw spike strips across the road.
When all means have been exhausted, the chief will authorize the PIT maneuver. The officer’s car now becomes the tool bringing the suspect’s surrender. The patrol car makes contact with the suspect’s rear fender and then pushes, sending the vehicle into a sideways spin and causing a loss of control.
Then, surrounded with no place to go, the runner emerges from the car with hands in the air, and then is usually told to kneel, and then may be asked to lie prostrate, whereupon he is cuffed and taken into custody.
This patience and reluctance by law enforcement is mirrored in the way God handles us during the chase. As Francis Thompson’s hound with the hare, God is relentless but unhurried, patient and yet passionate.
God begins by giving human beings free reign in the created world. But the rebellion is obvious and odious.
God provides in writing what humans should have known in their hearts: the “law.” The running continues.
God pursues.
God sends adversity, obstacles, defeats, wars and pestilence and still — after momentary repentance — the resistance and fleeing continues. I liken this to me personally, when for many years through until this past year, I finally returned to my practice of daily hour-long prayer. God pursued, sent, I believe, a lay-off from a great paying job just to get me to finally notice him on my tail.
God also sometimes sends prophets to be the voice of God, to remove any ambiguity they may have about God’s love and aspirations for the people of God. Through the prophets, God reminds us that — by all rights — God is the one who should be running away from the mess; it is the people who should be chasing after God who, in turn, would be justified in washing his hands of the whole affair.
And yet, were the people to truly seek God, God would be found: “When you search for me, you will find me. If you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord” (Jeremiah 29:13-14).
The Romans text explains how the PIT maneuver works.
The tool or vehicle is the cross. After providing the law, sending the prophets and exposing the people of God to disciplinary adversity, which failed to curb rebellion and disobedience, God uses the cross as a battering tool to send us spiraling into submission, hands in the air, on our knees and prostrate before him in complete surrender. That is what Lent should be for us.
Of course, the metaphor breaks down because, unlike the California Highway Patrol, God is not going to force us to get out of the car, hands in the air, kneel and surrender.
That thief on the run in the opening paragraphs? The CHP stopped him with a PIT maneuver, but they had to smash windows and send in a K-9 unit before that miscreant exited the car, knelt and surrendered.
God’s not going to force us to surrender. We may need to stop before the cross, but we might not kneel.
Yet, Paul explains why surrender is our best option.
He has already reminded us that “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (v. 8).
It’s the first Sunday of Lent.
If we’re ever going to start anew, is there a better time than now?
Maybe we should stop running.
Maybe we should reverse direction, and instead of driving the wrong way against traffic, turn our lives around and go in the right way with Jesus.
If we don’t sense the cross as an intervention technique, maybe God has other ones that will bring us to attention.
Today is a good day to put our hands up in surrender.
Today is a good day to get down on our knees.
This is the meaning of the cross: There can be no more running away.
Sometimes, it is not the cross that is the PIT maneuver that redirects our lives, but a traumatic, seismic event we experience.
Takeaway: When God uses a PIT maneuver, it is best to surrender.
Let us pray.
Like Jesus in the wilderness, we are all tempted to do wrong from time to time. We pray, Lord, for the strength to resist temptation and to always do what is right and to follow your commandments. We pray to the Lord.          
We pray for all those who keep the season of Lent. May their prayer and reflection, their fasting and almsgiving bring them renewal, reconciliation and closer unity with Christ, our Savior. We pray to the Lord.              
Lord, during this season of Lent, we pray that the sacrifices we make may show to you our love and our gratitude for the multitude of wonderful gifts and benefits you bestow on us in our daily lives. We pray to the Lord.
For the victims and for the families and friends affected by the shootings at Molson Coors Brewery: May they find peace and comfort in this troubling time and may we strive even more fervently for peace and an end to all violence in our city, country, and world. We pray to the Lord.
For those suffering from the coronavirus, that the sick may recover quickly and completely and for the medical researchers to find a medicine quickly that will eliminate the virus. 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.
Creative, passionate God, you delight to shape the world in beauty and harmony. You invite us to participate in the balance of creation. We grow in wisdom as our experience unfolds; we take good learning out of difficult situations yet also find our well-meant endeavors leading to unintended consequences. Too often we give in to temptation that disrupts the joyous, chaotic order of the universe. We cannot undo all our mistakes, but we can turn once more to the living presence of Jesus and find new ways to live and love each other and the earth. Help us each of us as we make our journey this Lent always remembering the passion of our Lord, your Son and the great gift he gives us in the coming Easter. We ask these things, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA