Sunday, March 28, 2021

Palm Sunday

 March 28, 2021

Palm Sunday

(Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 11:1-11)

Today with the whole of the Christian community we enter upon the final week of preparation for our yearly celebration of the Lord's death and resurrection. Since Ash Wednesday many of us have tried to read or listen attentively to God's word of life and mercy in Jesus Christ calling us once more to a renewal of our baptismal commitment. The renewal of that lifegiving stream within our hearts should flow anew into patterns of loving service in the midst of our sisters and brothers within the human family in a time when love is sorely needed. 

The readings of this day's liturgy seek to gather the weeks of our Lenten journey around the St. Mark passion narrative and the story of Jesus’ messianic entry into Jerusalem. These readings represent diverse traditions of celebrating the Sunday before Easter in the early church. 

The Roman tradition of the late 4th and early 5th centuries was to read the passion on this Sunday while the previous Sunday was called “Passion Sunday.” Passion Sunday started the period in which the church focused on the passion the week preceding the remembrance of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, known as the week of “Passion-Tide.” 

The Jerusalem tradition focused more in reenacting the day by day events of the last week of Christ’s life and thus centered its liturgy in the Palm Sunday procession on Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.

The medieval liturgical tradition, which we have inherited, sought to combine both traditions. Some branches of Christianity have taken a contemporary liturgical renewal which has continued the celebration of both traditions, but has placed renewed emphasis upon the reading of the passion as a central focus of today's liturgy of the word. 

In the Liberal Catholic world, we would normally have a liturgy and readings less focused on the gruesome aspects of the passion. Here at St. Francis, however, we normally tend to take a more traditional approach with the Passion-Tide week leading into Palm Sunday. This year, given Covid-19 and reduced attendance, I am going with simplified worship. 

On this Sunday, we read one of the synoptic gospels on the rotating basis while every year we read the passion according to the Saint John on Good Friday (depending on the service).

And so, today we read the passion according to Saint Mark so that the story of Jesus’ suffering and death will be a place where all individual and communal stories of pain, loss, suffering and death during the past year can find some meaning. For we are confronted each day with the tragedies of human suffering that seem to challenge the truth of God's love and providential care for us. The Christian response to human suffering is not so much a philosophically reasoned series of answers but an invitation to the kenosis, the self-emptying, of Jesus. (Philippians 2:7)

The St. Mark passion narrative does not ask us to choose suffering as suffering, but it does bid us to enter into Jesus' struggle to accept in faith the reality of suffering in human life. Jesus’ agony in the garden and His sense of abandonment by God on the cross reflect the truth of our own human experience. 

Paul says in Philippians that our attitude must be that of Christ who empties himself by obediently accepting death on the cross. Jesus’ obedient acceptance is not a passive surrender in the face of suffering, but an active and faith filled listening to His own role in God's plan of Salvation. Such listening obedience does not remove the human agony or the feeling of abandonment that are part of our experience of suffering. But in Christ’s self-emptying of obedience unto death, we are opened as women and men to the mystery of God's strange ways of loving us through suffering and death unto newness of life. 

God created us as human beings that we might have life and have it in abundance. In the self-emptying of Jesus’ passion, death and sin are conquered because they are taken into the mystery of God and transformed into new life. As we gather on this Sunday of the Passion around the word of God's gift of new life in Christ crucified and risen, we bring with it the mystery of our own experience of the passion during the past year as individuals, as a Christian community, and as members of the entire human family. Most suffering and tragedy make no sense to us, and we have often wondered where our loving God is when we are surrounded by pain and loss. 

Today's readings tell us that through self-emptying, the loving God in, with, and through Christ, is present amidst all our suffering so that we will have life in abundance. God’s self-emptying in Christ gathers all our experience of emptiness, nothingness, and meaninglessness in the face of suffering into the Cup of Jesus’ passion so that we may ever drink the Cup of new life and know that we do not suffer alone. 

This day let us allow our experience of suffering to flow into the mystery of the Cup of Christ’s passion. Let us eat of Christ’s body and drink of the Cup of Christ’s blood, believing that the mystery of His self-emptying by obediently accepting death on a cross will sustain us amidst the darkness of our own self-emptying and our own struggle to be obedient to God's plan of life through death. Come to the table of the cross and share in the victory of Christ by drinking new life greater than all the forces of suffering and death. May the stream of Christ’s gift of new life in our hearts flow into the compassionate service of our suffering sisters and brothers in our communities and in the entire human family.

Let us pray. 

At this difficult time for the Church, we ask for the faith to stand by Jesus and have the courage to publicly proclaim the Word of the Lord. We pray to the Lord.               

During this Holy Week, we pray for the grace to reflect on the Way of the Cross and on the sufferings which Christ endured out of love for us. We pray to the Lord.               

Lord, we pray for unity among all Christians and that during this Holy Week we who believe in you, who hope in you and who love you, will worship you in harmony and with the love which you demand of us. We pray to the Lord.           

We pray for all those who like Jesus carry a heavy cross because of poverty, homelessness, illness and bereavement. We pray also for those, who like Simon of Cyrene, help them in their moment of need. We pray to the Lord.             

As we reflect on the sacrifice which Jesus suffered on behalf of humanity, we pray that our society display that same love and commitment as we struggle to overcome the Covid-19 virus and restore the lives of so many to good health and normality. We pray to the Lord.  

For first responders, law enforcement, military and those in harm’s way: that the Lord be their strength and refuge and bless them as they serve our communities and country. We pray to the Lord.

We thank you, O Father, for the wonder of the life and its gifts you have bestowed on us and ask that you remain always responsive to our prayers. We pray to the Lord.

For those on our parish prayer list, that they may receive swift answers to their needs and 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.

Humble Jesus, who rides into our cities, who draws near to our lives, we, too, rise to greet you, to shout our hosannas, to feel life stir within us, to sense hope quickening in our hearts. For you are a great God, a compassionate ruler, a loving friend, a wise counselor. But deep in the distance, in some far corner of our being, we fear your arrival. For you gently offer us a choice, and to choose you means letting go of jealousies and resentments, our private wars against others and our timid acceptance of ourselves. Like the people of Jerusalem, we discover you are more than we first thought. Beyond loud hosannas, you ask our obedience and our worship. And we are learning, piece by piece, to turn that over to you. This is ever oh so difficult when we have a nation, not only fighting Covid-19, but also each other with acts of domestic terrorism, shootings and political fighting instead of governing. Send Your Holy Angels to help during these battles and help us overcome them.

This day, this week, move us into the deeper levels of ourselves. Let us feel again your pain of that last week. Let us touch our own wounds, trusting You. Easter is the sign of new hope for us. Amen.

God Love You +++

++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens

Pastor – St. Francis Chapel

San Diego, CA

Please help if you can, to keep our ministry alive and vibrant so that there is a place for the those needing respite from a troubled world! God Bless You +++

Monday, March 15, 2021

The Fourth Sunday of Lent

 March 14, 2021

The Fourth Sunday of Lent

Refreshment. Sunday

(Ephesians 2:4-10; John 6:4-15)

It's Sunday. The Sabbath. Day of rest. The Lord's Day.

Time for war.

Getting right in Jesus' face, he screeches, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?"

Hey buddy, it's the sabbath.

"Have you come to destroy us?"

Chill out, friend. This is our day of rest.

"I know who you are," he thunders, "the Holy One of God."

Okay. Time for war.

Jesus reprimands and rebukes the demon, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!" And the unclean spirit, convulsing the man and crying with a loud voice, comes popping out like a fumbled football. Jesus exudes such authority that even demons obey instantly. Jesus possesses such poise that even evil forces know that he is the Holy One of God. Jesus is pumped up with such power that even unclean spirits know that his arrival on the field marks the end of the Super Bowl for them, the end of their season of domination over men and women.

Jesus, in another words, takes control of the chaos. There's no doubt about the chaos today. Covid-19 and politics have been causing chaos for more than a year.

There's chaos in the synagogue, too. A man of uncertain comportment staggers into the synagogue like a streaker running across midfield of a football game. Jesus takes control. 

A conversion is a life-changing event, and whether you are talking about that conversion which first crafts you into a committed disciple of Jesus Christ, or the conversion which later calls you to reorder your priorities, you probably need to do two things. First, be quiet -- and listen to the authoritative voice of God. Second, "Come out of him" -- that is, break free, let go, get rid of something. Something's always got to give.

Be silent and come out of him. 

So often in prayer we ask for what we want. Jesus is waiting for us to ask Him what He wants for us!

When we follow the command of Jesus to be silent, we spread our branches to the sun and soak up the light of God's love, forgiveness and peace. When we hear God's still, small voice, we are like silkworms spinning the silk of a sanctified life. When we listen for the guidance of the Lord -- really listen, instead of telling the Almighty all about what we are convinced we need to achieve -- we rediscover that our most precious treasure is the God-breathed soul that each of us has from the very beginning of life, a soul that we really should remember to take with us into all the splendid surprises of each day.

Such insight requires a certain amount of simplicity ... and silence.

But hey, don't quit after you've found quiet. Jesus goes on to say, "Come out of him!" -- meaning break free, let go, get rid of something. Something's got to give if you're going to get to where Jesus wants you to go. That is what Lent is about; breaking free and letting go of something you do not need or hinders you from getting closer to God.

Nothing puts us in an "Onward, Christian Soldiers" mode faster than a threat to the health of the church. Our blood starts rushing, our wrath starts rising, and our passion starts to push us into a rampage of righteousness. But as natural as this burst of aggression is, it doesn't seem to be terribly Christ-centered. After all, our Lord is the one who broke tradition by breaking bread with sinners, who loved the one lost sheep as much as the 99 in the fold, and who came to call "not the righteous but sinners" (Mark 2:17).

Jesus commands, "Come out of him!" -- meaning break free, let go, get rid of something. Break free of the natural desire to beat your enemies into submission. Better to submit yourself to God, and to let your good works show the world the awesome power of the Christian life.

Let go of your craving for worldly success, a hunger for food that can never truly satisfy. Better to feast on Scripture and the still, small voice of God, and to let yourself be filled by the satisfaction of a sanctified life.

Get rid of the competitive spirit that forces people to end up as either winners or losers, the victors or the vanquished. Better to welcome the Holy Spirit, who wants everyone to win by discovering and accepting the salvation of our gracious God.

Something's got to give if you're going to get to where Jesus wants you to go. 

God Love You +++

++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens

Pastor – St. Francis Chapel

San Diego, CA

As we remain closed due to the Covid-19 virus, we see some hope around the corner. I encourage you to give what you can to help us keep the church alive, especially until we can open again and worship our God as Jesus dictated at the last supper! And so, we remain beggars. God Bless you all!

Sunday, March 7, 2021

The Third Sunday of Lent

 March 7, 2021

The Third Sunday of Lent

This past Wednesday, one of the readings assigned for the day was Matthew 20:17-28. As we read, we can picture the mother of St. James and St. John asking Jesus to bestow the most sacred positions in heaven by sitting on Jesus’ right and left in all of heavenly glory. Of course, who wouldn’t want to be seated on Jesus’ right or left? If we are being honest, most of us would, but we are far from worthy.

Then we read the Gospel for Thursday and in it, Jesus tells the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man was already living in seats of great status during his earthly life, and then is upset when he dies and seemingly goes to the fiery depths of Hell and he wants a drip of water to cool his tongue. We can’t have it both ways, but oh do we try.

Jesus goes on to ask if St. James and St. John if they are able to drink from the chalice He will drink. Of course, they both say they can, but it is apparent that they have no clue what Jesus is asking. None of His followers do until much later and in harsh manner. 

As Christians, we sometimes forget that the chalice is not a matter of temporal blessings or recognition, as much as we all would like it to be. To be great in the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus says, is to be a servant of all. To drink of the chalice is to embrace values that the world despises, like poverty of spirit. Humility, in other words. 

When we look around our world and its current state of things, it can be difficult to stay positive (as some of you who read my Facebook rants this past week can tell). Yet, in Christ, we indeed should be positive. Our trust should be in Him.

As I read the Gospel from Wednesday, my mind also wandered back in my thoughts of a couple periods in my life. Early on when I realized I was being called to be a priest, it was all very scary, overwhelming, and exciting all at the same time.

At first you get these grandiose ideas of the status being a priest brings. One time, while speaking to my spiritual advisor (the late Monsignor Richard Mouton) about entering seminary I asked him why he was not yet a bishop. He was a very holy man, loved by many, and he cared deeply about his flock. Very intelligent, but humble – very humble. He escorted the local bishop to the Vatican Council meetings in the 60’s. If anyone deserved it, in my mind anyway, it was him. His response has stayed with me all these years – “Robert,” he said in his thick accent, “one does not become a priest with aspirations to become a bishop. One becomes a priest to serve God and his people. To be a disciple of Christ. I do not want to be a bishop.” Thinking back on it, I suspect he had been asked to become a bishop and turned it down respectfully.  

After agreeing to seminary and going through the processes etc, as time went by I felt I was being called in a slightly different direction. My heart and soul was a Roman Catholic – at least liturgically - but I simply couldn’t ascent to some of the harsh and antiquated teachings on some important topics that remain important to this day. I just could not see me as a “black and white” type of clergy. Gray areas must be applied sometimes. So, some of Roman Catholic theology I felt was far out of date and harsh. (That’s a debate for another time.)

In the end, I still wanted to be ordained, but I could not vow to teach every single dogma exactly as I would have had to do as a Roman Catholic Priest, so my superiors were disappointed, even mad to some degree, but I believed in a far more compassionate and loving God. Also, I wanted to be with the real people. I wanted to be what is called, “a worker priest,” which simply means having a secular job while having an active ministry. I knew it would seem strange to some, a cop-out to others, the easy way to still others, and even a heretic to more. But, I felt that by being out in the secular world, I could learn about people better. To learn what made them sad and what made them happy. To get to know the “real” person they are. When they come into the church, they act in the manner they think is appropriate which sometimes camouflages the “real” person and what they are going through in their life. I wanted to help them in their everyday life by living in the muck along with them. 

I ended up being ordained as an Anglican Priest. I also knew I would always be second best in the vocation I felt God was calling me to. In a couple of years I found (or rather it found me) the Liberal Catholic Church and was incardinated into them. Independent Catholic denominations/churches have been around for a couple of centuries now, but Rome still labeled them as schismatic at best, and evil heretics at worst. However, I rationalized it to myself that many figures in Scripture were not always ones you would expect God to choose, and yet He did. Scriptures also had those chosen by God that were mistreated and maligned by others. So be it. This is what God wants. I can be a modern St. Vianney of Ars. – at least from the not being able to have the best seminary education and by working in less desirable areas. (I will have you know, St. Francis Chapel is hardly “less desirable.” They deserve better than I have given or could ever give!) I said, that’s fine. At least I will be around everyday normal people. It isn’t about me. It is about the Lord my God and the sheep He sends my way.

I know, Abbott Gentzsch, this sermon is too long already, so let me wind down. You’re the one who most wanted me for the next step I am about to speak.

Then years go by and I move to California, take over a small parish and in the years to come move up the ranks, so to speak. There was a need for a new bishop of our small denomination, and it seemed, everyone wanted me for that role. I thought (and still think) that I was not nearly worthy or cut out for it. Some would say that no one is worthy, but then I remember Monsignor Mouton, and I say there indeed are many who are worthy, just not me. In my many failures since, I have proven myself correct, but some still disagree, just as they did then.

So, what is my point to this self-deprecating story and missive? Sometimes we have to be humble. Sometimes we have to let others win. Sometimes we need to let others treat us poorly. Sometimes we have to do that which others refuse to do. Sometimes we have to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. Sometimes we have to drink from the chalice that Jesus drank from. 

As an example, there is a story of a high school student who went along with some people from a local church to complete some service hours for his school as part of his grade. On the way it was explained to him that they normally shake hands with the homeless that they serve, but he was not obligated to do so if it made him uncomfortable. However, when he saw the friendly interactions they had, especially people who had come to know them, he was moved to shake hands with all the people he was meeting.

What enabled that student to reach beyond the chasm that the rich man of the parable never considered bridging during his lifetime and was incapable of bridging in the afterlife? He was surrounded by witnesses. Two women who, in the name of Jesus, were embracing him in the faces of his beloved brothers and sisters, and those brothers and sisters themselves, who were welcoming his love.

Those people were touched by Jesus through the high schooler and the ladies from a church. The homeless people, feeling low in life and mistreated by many, like Lazarus in the parable, were made to feel worthy! I suppose in some ways, I feel like that high school student and have tried to make my ministry to be that example to others.

When you come up to the altar during Communion and approach the priest holding the chalice with precious Blood of Jesus and the ciborium with the Sacred Body of Christ, Jesus is asking us the same thing He asked St. James and St. John; “Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?” What is your response? 

We occasionally hear in the news of various bishops or priests calling to deny the Eucharist to various politicians, as one example, who voted differently than the Church says they should. In those instances, those clergymen are saying that someone is unworthy. But they are more unworthy, in my mind, than the person coming to Communion. The rich man who ignored his fellow man, was unworthy. However, most of us are not like the rich man and probably not even remotely wealthy. 

When we approach the communion rail and look up at the chalice, remember that the chalice is filled with Love! It is the chalice of the Sacred and Holy Blood of Christ given to you with His Body. Pure radical love. A love that cannot be matched on earth. But when we take the Body and Blood of Christ in us, we are reminded that we have drank form the chalice and must go into the world and love it just as Jesus did. He isn’t expecting us to seek the same fate at St. James and St. John; only that we share that radical love He gave us!

God Love You +++

++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens

Pastor – St. Francis Chapel

San Diego, CA

As we remain closed due to the Covid-19 virus, we see some hope around the corner. I encourage you to give what you can to help us keep the church alive, especially until we can open again and worship our God as Jesus dictated at the last supper! And so, we remain beggars. God Bless you all!