Sunday, April 11, 2021

Low Sunday

 April 11, 2021

Low Sunday

(Second Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday)

(Acts 4:32-35; John 20:19-31)

In June 2017, Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg said that the social media platform with more than 2 billion users is like a church in that users feel part of "a more connected world." But is a virtual community known more for animal videos and political rants really a substitute for what the church is supposed to be? The book of Acts calls us to reconsider what a real church community looks like -- a community with a purpose.

American culture's retreat from traditional in-person social networks like civic groups, service clubs and even churches toward the more isolating kinds of entertainment and interaction made possible by technology.

Mark Zuckerberg founded the social media platform Facebook while a college sophomore at Harvard in 2004. Originally designed as a platform for college students to check one another out, Facebook is now a worldwide network of some 2 billion users who interact with many "friends," some of whom they have never met in person. What was originally a chance to connect and reconnect with new and old friends has morphed into a global phenomenon that purportedly shrinks the distance between people and gives them an opportunity to interact and share themselves with one another.

Studies show that for decades, membership in all kinds of groups has declined by as much as one-quarter. That's a lot of people who now need to find a sense of purpose and support somewhere else. For Zuckerberg, that somewhere else is Facebook, which he sees as a postmodern, post-traditional form of "church." "People who go to church are more likely to volunteer and give to charity," says Zuckerberg, "not just because they're religious, but because they're part of a community." I am not sure I would equate Facebook with being a church, but the later part is true.

Comparing a virtual church of billions of isolated individuals tapping on keyboards to the real thing will cause most church folk to laugh. But we have to ask the question: What is the church missing that would allow Zuckerberg and millions of others to want to substitute wading through political rants and vacation selfies for real interaction with a living, breathing, worshiping community? 

Maybe part of the answer is we need to reach back to the church's roots, and there's no better place to do that than by reading the book of Acts. Almost nobody worships or evangelizes alone in that book and all the interaction is face to face.

This is what the church does. While Facebook's innovation has had an amazing impact in the world by bringing us faces (of friends and family) right to our screen, the church allows us to experience faces -- the faces and lives of people in a community of faith, a community in which we act, serve and work together for the glory of God. We are physically able to share our pains and joys together.

From the very beginning of the book we learn that God, via the Holy Spirit, created this community called church not for the purpose of people merely checking one another out, but for introducing people to the good news of what God had done through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The very premise of the community was that God had come in person in Jesus and hadn't settled for sharing a tweet or posting our latest photos of making fools of ourselves. Jesus would form a real community of disciples, complete with their own quirks and flaws, and train them how to interact with others in order to bring them into God's kingdom. The Spirit empowered them for this work and, as a result, the community platform grew by leaps and bounds.

Immediately, this community began connecting in person around tables in their homes, in the temple and through sharing their goods with one another. In our reading, we get a more detailed window into how the community functioned, and it was a lot more about selfless service than selfies!

What we see in someone's Facebook profile is precisely what they want us to see and no more. Those vacation photos, pics of new cars and beautiful selfies are all designed in some way to show everyone else that we're doing quite well, thank you very much. For some people, the goal is to attract more "friends" and receive more "likes," which can make even the most mature adult begin acting like an insecure and self-obsessed seventh-grader. There's even evidence that using Facebook can cause depression in some who see the lives their "friends" present online as being much better than their own.

The church, on the other hand, was designed as a community where people focus on others more than themselves. It was created as a group centered on belief in the God who had saved them because they were all in the same situation -- they were all sinners in need of grace. They had no impression to manage because they were all outsiders to their culture. Instead, they were "of one heart and soul," completely focused on what God had done for them in Jesus. They modeled their lives after Him by voluntarily and sacrificially caring for others to the point of seeing their own personal possessions as being available to everyone else in the community.

At this point, someone might post a rant that this was an early form of communism or socialism, but rather than being compelled by an external force, the early church gave out of the internal resources of compassion made possible by the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Coupled with that deep sense of community was a central narrative that drove the church's action and mission. The church was centered on the story of the apostles' testimony that Jesus had risen from the dead, which had enabled them to receive God's grace in its fullness and compelled them to share that good news with the world. The story became the motivating and uniting factor in the church's life and work -- indeed, it's what made them a "church" in the first place. 

Facebook, on the other hand, has no overarching narrative other than the collective stories of its users and no authoritative testimony other than the individual's opinion and worldview. Facebook’s vision of community doesn't include a central focus other than the human desire for self-elevation, which ultimately leads us back to what the Bible calls "sin." Instead of a central narrative, the social media platform often presents a constant mishmash of personal stories, silly videos, and angry screeds that are designed to draw like-minded people to one's page, with a few exceptions, of course. Granted, many Facebook users enjoy the ability to stay in touch with family members who are elsewhere in the country, and if friends are posting angry political posts or other offensive ideas, they can be easily unfriended.

It was this need for community that led the early church to be generous with one another. As God had been generous with His grace in Jesus, so they would be generous with one another, believing that their lives were part of something much bigger than themselves. Luke says that there was "not a needy person among them" and that members of the church community sold property and gave the proceeds to the apostles to distribute to those who were in need. 

The early church's social platform was driven by generosity developed out of a sense of gratitude to God. People gave out of their scarcity so that others could have enough. Just as a few help me keep St. Francis’ lights on and the insurance paid!

It's interesting that Luke lifts out one name as an example from his description of the early church. A Levite from the island of Cyprus (from the priestly tribe) was named Joseph, but he received the nickname "Barnabas" from the apostles because he was constantly encouraging others in the community. This "son of encouragement" had sold a field and given the proceeds to the Apostles. He didn't need the real estate anymore because he was about to join another convert who underwent a name change (from Saul to Paul) and head out on a mission to spread the good news about Jesus Christ. The church viewed 

While Facebook has launched a revolution in the way people relate to one another in a technological age, it can never replace the church and its real life impact. This assumes, of course, that the church gets back to its primary message and "business" model! 

Maybe if we took seriously the way of community in the early church we wouldn't be competing with a virtual substitute. We can once again be people of the Book who share with others face to face! After all, the lesson isn’t about selling everything you own (which would not be as practical today) - it’s about being a community of faith and support. What can we do for others today?

Let us pray.

In today’s Gospel, we read how Thomas doubted the resurrection of the Lord until he himself could see the wounds in his hands and side. We pray to our Father in heaven that He bless us with faith and that we, without seeing Jesus’s wounds, would be firm in our belief and loyalty to Him. We pray to the Lord.               

That the Church will rededicate herself to living and proclaiming Christ’s compassion, love, mercy and forgiveness in all our dealings with our family, neighbors and particularly those who may have injured or offended us in the past. We pray to the Lord.  

That the sacrificial love of Jesus may inspire everyone to sacrifice some of themselves for anyone in need. We pray to the Lord.

We pray for our young people that they reap the positive benefits of social media while treating their fellow brothers and sisters with the respect and love which Christ has shown to us in His mission on earth. We pray to the Lord.

We pray that You will be with the friends and families of the 11 people shot and killed in our country this past week and those injured from these same shootings. We further pray that our legislators will be inspired and encouraged to create laws to protect people from those who should not carry guns and to eliminate assault weapons from the hands of the regular citizen. Senseless shootings must stop and we ask Your intervention. We pray to the Lord.

We pray that you will intercede in the genocide taking place in Ethiopia and protect the citizens from the atrocities taking place there. 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.

Father, as we reflect today on your great mercy, we thank you for the confidence and encouragement we have gained through the resurrections of our Lord, Jesus Christ. We pray that we sinners may be made worthy of your promise of salvation. Mighty God, with grateful hearts we welcome you on this Second Sunday of Easter, joyously repeating the ancient Christian greeting: "Christ is risen!" "He is risen indeed!" Accept now, we pray, our homage for the forgiveness and the promise of newness, in this life and beyond, which in Your amazing grace, You extend to us, through Him. 

Father God, as we go through our new week ahead, give us the courage and inspiration to live in the example of our community of believers who helped the Apostles, and do likewise in the various ways that today’s society affords us. 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

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 +++


Sunday, April 4, 2021

Easter 2021

 April 4, 2021

Easter Sunday

(Colossians 3:1-11; John 20:1-9)

She checks her social media around 10 times a day. Twitter and Facebook are her main sites, but she also looks at Google for news. Since the start of the pandemic, her habit has increased significantly.

“I’m a doom-scroller,” she admits to the Healthline website. Yes, this 26-year-old speech therapist confesses that she has a problem. Doom-scrolling is a new term used to describe the act of endlessly scrolling down news apps, Twitter, and social media, reading all the bad news. “The pandemic has exacerbated these habits in many ways,” says a New York psychologist, “including the fact that there is no shortage of doomsday news.”

If doom-scrolling is part of your daily routine, you are not alone. Twitter use has jumped 24 percent since the start of the pandemic last year, and Facebook is up 27 percent.

The problem with this habit is that it can lead to higher stress. We think that keeping up with the latest news will lessen our anxiety, but it increases it. Doom-scrolling is an “unsatisfying addiction,” says one clinical psychologist. Instead of making us feel safer, it raises our level of fear, anxiety and stress.

But we are not the first to experience this. Journalists admit that they have been doing it for years, and the three women who visited the tomb on Easter morning were some of the very first doom-scrollers.

Mark tells us that when the Sabbath was over, “Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint [Jesus]. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.”

What were they feeling? Doom and gloom. Their Messiah had been killed in a humiliating death on a cross. His body had been laid in a cave-like tomb, and a large stone had been rolled against the door. They were feeling grief over the death of Jesus, stress about the future, and anxiety about how they would remove the stone.

As they were walking along, they had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” Anxiety is a feeling of fear or apprehension about what is to come, and that’s exactly what the women were experiencing. Many of us have felt this way over the past year. Minute by minute, their mental health was eroding. But when they arrived, “they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back.”

Their doom-scrolling was met by an act of stone-rolling. Finally, some good news!

But as “they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.” They didn’t expect to see anyone, (other than their dead Messiah, of course) so they were startled. The man said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised.” Their doom-scrolling had been focusing on bad news, but the words of the young man gave them reason to hope.

Then the man told them to go “tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” The young man changed their focus from doom and gloom to a new possibility for the future. He promised them that Jesus was going ahead of them, and that they would see Him in Galilee.

So the women fled the tomb, filled with terror and amazement. Since negative emotions can be hard to overcome, Mark admits that “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Yes, the fear that had been gripping them was not easy to throw off. It took time. And what was true for them is also true for us.

You can turn off Twitter with the flip of a switch. But escaping doom and gloom is not always that simple.

Experts say that the solution to doom-scrolling is to break out of the “vicious cycle of negativity.” That’s the message for the women and for us, when we see large stones in our path and feel alarmed. The good news of Easter is that God has acted in our lives to break the cycle of negativity. We are invited today to see that the stone has already been rolled back, to believe that Jesus has been raised, and to focus on the future where our risen Lord is ahead of us and waiting for us.

And so, the stone is gone, the barrier has been broken down. Most of us have fears about the future, and we often focus on worst-case scenarios. This was what the women were doing as they approached the tomb, fixating on the enormous stone that they feared was going to block them from entering the tomb and anointing the body of Jesus.

However, fear is always worse than reality. “Our brains are crazy,” writes Tyler Tervooren in HuffPost. “Every day they lie to us about how terrible things are or how bad they’re going to be, but when we finally ignore the fear [we] realize everything’s pretty much okay, the world will keep turning, and we’re going to survive.”

Yes, the world will keep turning, and God will keep working. The women were so afraid of the stone that they never dreamed that God would take action to roll it away. Their brains were lying to them about how terrible things were and how bad things were going to be. But then God replaced their doom-scrolling with stone-rolling. (I bet that scared the posted guards! Must have, because they were no longer there!)

God will do the same for each of us. So, don’t let your brain convince you that the stone you fear will always stand in your way. Don’t let your brain lie to you. Since God is always at work, fear is worse than reality.

We need to open our eyes and see that Jesus is no longer dead. The young man in the tomb sensed that the women were not going to believe what he was saying, so he invited them to see for themselves. Jesus “is not here,” said the man. “Look, there is the place they laid him.”

Jesus is not here, dead in the tomb. See for yourself. Instead, He is alive in people who are showing His grace, His love, His forgiveness, His healing and His justice. Jesus is alive and well whenever a stranger is welcomed, a child is loved, a friend is forgiven, a patient is healed and an injustice is made right.

Resurrection is not stuck in history, but a reality at every time. The risen Christ, is saving and healing, here and now, and touching every place and time. Jesus comes into contact with human suffering whenever it is experienced. In the face of today’s racism and violence, Jesus suffers still, yet loves the more. 

Jesus is not dead in the tomb. Instead, He is found in His followers who act with justice, love and praise. Open your eyes, and see that Jesus is alive and well in you, and in the people around you.

We are challenged to look to the future, not to the past. Our risen Lord Jesus is not simply with us — He is ahead of us as the man told the women, always ahead of us, calling us into the future that He is preparing for us. Our job is to figure out where Jesus is leading us, and to follow Him there. Something we need to seek urgently in a time of sorrow and unknown.

Doom-scrolling traps us in a vicious cycle of negativity that fuels our anxiety. “Our minds are wired to look out for threats,” says Dr. Amelia Aldao, who specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy. “The more time we spend scrolling, the more we find those dangers, the more we get sucked into them, the more anxious we get.” But what if we replaced a vicious cycle with a virtuous cycle? What if we turned away from threats and looked for possibilities? This is what Jesus was doing by moving ahead of his disciples to Galilee, and what He is doing by going ahead of us today. Jesus is rolling away stones and calling us forward.

I like to think that my daily hour of prayer each day, mixed with Lectio Divina, is a way of setting my mind in a more positive set of thoughts. I have always recommended some form of daily structured prayer. You would be surprised how the Holy Spirit interacts with you!

Let’s move toward new possibilities for deeper connections with family members and friends, new possibilities for vital ministry and mission in the church, and new possibilities for justice and righteousness in our community and nation.

We don’t have to focus on doom and gloom. Not with the stone rolled away and our Lord calling us forward.

Let us pray.

That the joy of Easter will infuse the church with energy to proclaim God’s good news. We pray to the Lord.

That all nations of the world will act to protect the precious gift of life. We pray to the Lord.

That all for whom this Easter is not joyful will know they are not alone and will experience Christ’s compassionate presence. We pray to the Lord.

That all gathered here will be filled with the strength of Christ’s Spirit and will seek out creative ways to witness to the resurrection. We pray to the Lord.

That those who seek justice may find it in the transformation of hearts, minds, and our institutions. We pray to the Lord.

That we maintain the patience, vigilance, and understanding necessary to keep us safe during the pandemic, and for a speedy and equitable distribution of the vaccines. We pray to the Lord.

For all those who give of themselves so that others may be helped – doctor, nurse, healthcare worker, EMT, police officer, firefighter, grocer, trucker, store clerk, mail carrier, takeout cook, hospital and building cleaner, teacher, childcare worker, mental health professional, and countless others.  May they receive your protection as they serve. For those who have died and whose names are listed in this week’s church bulletin. May they celebrate everlasting life in Christ Jesus. We pray to the Lord.

We gather, O God, in your presence to rejoice in the light of the empty tomb. The stone has been rolled away, both from the mouth of the tomb and from the depths of our hearts. During this difficult time, we have been trying to live in the power of the risen Christ. We also have tried to grow daily in the presence of our risen Savior.

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.

Some of us, too, have suffered a long winter of the soul. We have struggled to breathe in the chill wind of adversity. We have been unable to grow anything in the barren fields of doubt and fear. We have trembled and shivered as we have struggled to sense the warmth of your love. We come to the empty tomb with an expectant hope in our hearts and the prayer of faith on our lips. We are confident that you are about to do a new thing, O God. We believe that the stone, which we struggle to move ourselves, is about to be blown out of its ruts. We look for an encounter with the risen Christ, and to that end we bow in worship, and worship in wonder, and wonder in faith, and have faith in you. We ask all these things, as we always do, through Christ, Your Son and our Lord. Amen.

Happy Easter! 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 +++