Sermon on July 24, 2011

“If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Romans 8: 31-39

The Rev. Leonard Oakes

July 24, 2011

 

The book of Romans is called the greatest book or letter of the Apostle Paul. As the gospel of John is reputed to be the greatest of our four gospels, so the book of Romans is reputed to be the greatest of our fourteen epistles. John: the greatest of the gospels. Romans: the greatest of the epistles.

The book of Romans is the last letter that the Apostle Paul wrote. Paul was getting ready to travel as a missionary to Spain, and on the way to Spain, he was going to stop and visit the church in Rome which was the capitol of the Roman Empire. The book of Romans is an introduction of his theological ideas to the Christians living in Rome. You would have expected that Paul would have introduced himself to the Romans, but the focus of the book is not on Paul’s person but on Paul’s core theology.

When Paul writes this letter to the church in Rome, he was a mature, older and wise human being and Christian. Paul was about fifty-five to sixty years old. Paul was also a seasoned and veteran Christian. That is, this letter was not written immediately after his conversion on the road to Damascus where he sensed that he was struck by lightning. This letter was written almost thirty years after that conversion experience. Romans is his last letter and the summation of his theology.

The letter to the Romans is about ideas, not history. There is no history about Jesus in his letters. There are no parables of Jesus, narratives about Jesus, no passion stories about Good Friday, no resurrection stories about Easter Sunday. Similarly, there is no history about Paul’s own life in his letters. There are no stories about his beatings, his stoning, his conversion, his missionary trips, his time in prison. There is none of this. No history about Jesus. No history about himself. But just ideas. Ideas about Christ. Ideas about God. Ideas about Christ and ideas about God add up to the Gospel.

Having said that brief introduction of the letter, I now take you to the reading this morning.  Chapter 8 of the letter of Paul to the Romans is my favorite one. In it contains my favorite verse in the bible, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” I’ve used this verse several times during the year by trying to convey to you that God is on our side, his presence is always our strength in our walks together as a church in spreading God’s love and compassion toward each other and those whom we meet and serve.

Many Christians think that Romans 8 may be the finest chapter in the New Testament. It is thought as the floodgates below the highest dam in the world which have been opened, and the power of the water and the power of the Spirit of Christ come flowing through. Although each of the verse in today’s reading is of great significance, I would like to pass through some of the verses and reflect from them.

If you look at your bulletin and find the first reading in the letter to the Romans, I would like to draw your attention to verse 35. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”

Paul lists seven types of trauma that we think would normally separate us from the love of God. Trouble. We all have troubles with our bodies, our minds, our families, our jobs, our marriages. If you don’t have any troubles today, wait until tomorrow and you will have them. Then hardships: life is hard, very hard for all people sometime during their earthly life. Some people’s lives are nothing but hardships. When troubles compound with more troubles, life becomes a hardship. Then persecutions. The earliest Christians were persecuted first by Jews and then by Romans; for two thousand years, Christians have been persecuted at various times for their beliefs, including today. Famine: half of the population of the earth does not have enough food. Famine has always been part of our human condition. Nakedness is associated with famine. Nakedness refers to lack of clothing. Lack of clothing is another sign of poverty and lack of resources. Danger. We know that there are all kinds of dangers in this world of ours. Dangers are increased when there is lack of food and clothing, and a person has few resources for protection. Sword. This refers to war. History has always been filled with wars; human beings are warring animals. Can these tragedies separate us from the love of God? It is a rhetorical question: of course not. But sometimes people say “NO” but think otherwise?

Sometimes contemporary human conditions lead us to question the seeming absence of God. The big “C” for cancer has become prevalent in the world today. People die of cancer.  Liver cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, bone cancer, lung cancer. But can these separate us from the love of God? It is a rhetorical question. We know the answer. Can the massacre in Norway separate us from God, Can the wrath of nature separate us from the love of God? The answer is obvious. No. NO. NO. Can leukemia? Heart attacks? Car accidents? Starvation? Wars? AIDS? Depression? Suicide? Can any of these evil things separate us from the love of God? Of course not, we all answer to ourselves.

Then the overpowering words in verse 37 on top of page five of you bulletin, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

“In all of these terrible situations, we are more than conquerors.” More than champions, more than victors, more than prizewinners. In this entire crisis in life, we are more than conquerors through Jesus Christ who strengthens us.

 In Romans 8, when the power of the Spirit of Christ is unleashed like waters released through the floodgates of the highest dam in the world, there is power of our lives to be victorious, strong, successful, even in the face of starvation, hunger, poverty, hardship, dangers, and war.

 And so today, we say, “I am not allowing another problem, another circumstances, or another person to keep me from giving God praise. I’m going to bless the Lord at all times.” Recognize that our problems are real and at times life is extremely difficult. But after you get through this problem, after you overcome this challenge, there will always be another challenge to overcome.  There’ll be something else to deal with. If you are waiting for all of your problems to go away you will miss the joy of living. Move ahead and aim for the better.

Focus, is the reason why I play golf every Tuesday, direction is another. That is the same reason we come every Sunday, to have a sense of direction in life with God being with us.

The apostle Paul had all sorts of difficulties, all kinds of challenges. But he said, “In all these things we are more than conquerors.” Notice, he didn’t say, “When these difficulties are done, I’m going to be happy.” No, he said, “In the middle of this adversity, I’m going to enjoy my life anyway.”

Get in a habit of smiling on purpose. Check your posture. Make sure you stand up tall, put your shoulders back, and hold your head up high. You are a child of the Most High God. You are not supposed to go around slumped over, feeling sloppy, weak, inferior, and thinking that you’re unattractive and you are hopeless or useless. “We are ambassadors of Christ.” That means you represent Almighty God. Represent Him well. Even many good, godly people have gotten into a bad habit of slumping and looking down. When you do that, subconsciously you are communicating a lack of confidence, a lack of self-esteem. You need to put your shoulders back, hold your head up high, and communicate strength, determination, and confidence. Subconsciously, you’re saying, I’m proud of who I am. I know I’m made in the image of Almighty God. I know I am the apple of God’s eye.

At the end of the day, we say, “The Sunday service is done. It is time for me to go home, kick up my feet, relax, drink a glass of red wine, and let the gospel go to work on my soul and pray it does to the souls of those who heard the good news in Christ. Amen.

“Mindanao: The Land of Promise?” A forum

You are cordially invited
to a forum on:
 
“Mindanao: The Land of Promise?”
Sponsored by the  National Ecumenical  Forum  for  Filipino  Concerns  (NEFFCON)
 
Special Guests :
Sr.  Milagros Gimeno, m.a.
& Sr.Esperanza  Clapano,  m.a
(Missionaries  of the  Assumption)
 
Convenors , Initiatives  for Peace  in  Mindanao(INPEACE)
Date :     July 14,  2011, Thursday
Time : 6:00 – 8:00 PM
 
Place  : Holy Child and St. Martin Episcopal Church
 

For more info, please contact  Neffcon thru:  Rev. Wilson de Ocera  @ 415-902-6046  /
Kiko Carcellar @ 925-413-5199
 
 
ABOUT OUR GUESTS
 
Sister Mila Gimeno and Sister Esperanza Clapano, religious sisters of the Missionaries of the Assumption in Davao City, Philippines, are in town to share with us their deep spiritual life and witness amidst the loads of issues that peoples in Mindanao and in the Philippines face. They have decided to meaningfully spend their six-month sabbatical leave here in the U.S. and in Canada to build interest and seek advocates among peoples in the U.S. (Filipinos and non-Filipinos) for Mindanao and Philippine issues.
 
Sister Esperanza is the founder of the Missionaries of the Assumption’s ASHRAM Community, a center for contemplation, wellness, and alternative healing. She is one of the founders of the Sisters’ Association in Mindanao (SAMIN), an association which fought the Marcos Dictatorship and promotes justice and peace work through sisters’ participation in mobilizations, political education, and immersion with the basic sectors in
Philippine society. Sister Esper also leads local struggles in her retreat farm in Mintal to protect water resources of communities threatened by what is touted as the world’s biggest wakeboarding facility.
Sister Mila is one of the leading advocates of transformative education in the Philippines. She held various administrative positions in Assumption schools in the Davao region and has been on the board of Education Forum (now Educators’ Forum for Development). She has devoted years of mission work among indigenous peoples and pioneered community-based health apostolates. Her efforts have led to the establishment
of literacy-numeracy schools following alternative, Creation-centered, and indigenous pedagogy graduating hundreds of Lumad children otherwise not served by government’s formal educational system. She has also pioneered the first community-based hospital in one of Davao’s hinterland districts. She is a convenor of the Initiatives for Peace in Mindanao (INPEACE).
777 Southgate Avenue, Daly City, California 94015

July 4th Independence Day

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30/ Romans 7:15-25a

HCSM July 3, 2011

The Rev. Leonard Oakes

What a gorgeous day to celebrate life!!!

Let me first say thank you for the blessings you have given me and my family in celebrating my 40th birthday. Today also marks the day God blessed us with a full time ministry of a Vicar!! This, I will forever remember, for this is a sign that God continues to bless us in this place with love, compassion and service to each other.  I will also forever remember this day, for you did not only raise me but you also made me feel younger. What else could I ask for more?

With that, I would like to serenade you with a song. I love it when John Lennon from the Beatles sings this song:

When I get older losing my hair, Many years from now,
Will you still be sending me a valentine, Birthday greetings bottle of wine?                     

If I’d been out,  till quarter to three, Would you lock the door,
Will you still need me, will you still feed me, When I’m sixty-four?

I could be handy mending a fuse, When your lights have gone.
You can knit a sweater by the fireside, Sunday mornings go for a ride.

Doing the garden, digging the weeds, Who could ask for more?                                              Will you still need me, will you still feed me, When I’m sixty-four? Hoo!

Will you indeed still need me when I’m sixty four? Well, you better be, I lost many hair this far.

A high school friend of mine found me on Facebook and remarked, “Leonard, what happened to your hair?” I replied, “I don’t know, I just found myself responding to a call from God, and here is the result.”

But let me draw your attention to a greater celebration we are having today. I am not celebrating this great occasion alone, for it is also the birthday of this great nation and I am pleased to join you my fellow citizens and friends here in this place, in celebrating Independence Day.

Every year on the 4th of July, we gather with family and friends to commemorate the anniversary of the signing of our Declaration of Independence. With vision and courage, our Forefathers stated with one accord to the world: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” These concepts fundamentally changed the course of human history and we have an obligation to do by passing this moment in history to our children, grandchildren and all those who come in this great country to embrace her beauty and freedom. This holiday is not made for us to forget the sacrifices of this great nation that transformed the world of what was July 4, 1776. A great country was born, and a new idea sent forth to all mankind: Freedom, not by the good graces of government, but as the legacy of every individual. Equality, not as a theory of philosophers but by the design of the great architect of the universe.  Natural rights, not for the few, not even for a fortunate many, but for all people in all place, in all times.

We are the living legacy of freedom. We now live through another period of profound and historic change: change in the way we work, the way we live, the way we relate to one another and to the rest of the world. Indisputably, the gifts of Independence continue to light our path into the challenges and possibilities of the future. We must continue to reaffirm the spirit of independence daily amidst the challenges of the signs of time, amidst the uncertainties of economic resurrection in this great nation, amidst the Stressful life of the unemployed, homeless and those who are about to lose their homes, security and family. For there is yet a hope when we turn to God who calls us, “Come unto me, those who are heavily laden, and I will give you rest.”

Just how many of you whose problems are sapping your energies and giving you a hell of an experience? How many of you are victims of domestic violence sometime in your life and you still can’t get through those painful memories.  Who among us are living in fear that we are soon going to fall into the pit of diabetic coma, of heart attack or the devastating cancer. What about those who are threatened to sell all their properties and are just holding at the edge of double bladed knife? Do you know anyone who live in isolation longing to be loved?

Things are real, things have changed, and things are becoming inevitable. When people are on the verge of losing their ropes, who do we turn to? God. Yes, we turn to God. Why only now? Why only when we need God? We have placed him in a safe box, locked him there and would only open it when we needed Him. We become ourselves alone, independent of God. We become gods and begin to fall into the pit of oblivion.

Do you think America is falling into that pit? Where we are slowly losing our grip with the rope that connects us with God? My fellow people of God, it is never too late, there is yet a hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease. If we cut down those that hinder us from doing the will of God, we shall sprout again as a nation.

The Epistle to the Romans tells us that God does not disqualify us merely because we don’t perform perfectly. Paul said, “The things I know I should do, I don’t. The things I know I shouldn’t do, I end up doing.” Remember those times? We do the opposites. We are not perfect. We make mistakes or wrong choices but we don’t stumble in trying to condemn ourselves. You’ve got to shield yourself from listening to the accusing voice. Believe God is working on you that you are growing, learning, and becoming a better person. That accusing voice will come to you and tell you, “You lost your temper with that woman.” Learn to say, “That’s alright, I will do better this time.”  “Well, what about that failure you did few months ago in your family relationship?” Say, “That’s past, I’m blessed by God’s mercy, I am renewed and I refuse to look back with bad past, I am resolved to move forward.” When we have this kind of drive in life, we can pass the temptation of that accusing voice. You are establishing a shield to get rid of that voice and not able to control you at all times.

Our Lord Jesus Christ offers rest, if we will come to him. Jesus in effect, is saying that he can wipe away our tears, can heal the wounds in our hearts, can banish the fears in our souls, can revive our passion for life. Of course, the rest which Jesus offers is not exemption from the fierce battles in life, not the absence of struggles and strife. It is the recharging of our vitality and strength, and the rekindling of our determination so that we may continue to fight the good fight and run the race. It is the refreshment and relief from the weariness, so that we may carry on our appointed tasks.

And so if we are to honor God’s invitation, let us make this worship a hollowed time for the re-consecration of our life, and resolve, with God’s help, to forgive those who have hurt our feelings; to forsake our own wicked ways and evil thoughts. We should incline our ears to the marching order of the Lord, and face the crises of our age with courage and confidence, believing that they who obey His bidding will never know the pang of failure. 

When you wake up in the  morning, please don’t say, “Hay buhay, trabaho na naman” “Oh life, work again” don’t start your day with negative thoughts. Instead, stretch out those muscles and with confidence say, “Thank you Lord for the new day and new life and thank you for accepting me just as I am. I rest my day to you, please give me strength and courage to do the things that are pleasing in your sight and may this nation be transformed beginning with me.” Amen.

 

Our Family, Our Future /Domestic Violence Seminar

OUR FAMILY, OUR FUTURE / DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SEMINAR

June 25, 2011, Holy Child and St. Martin Daly City.

Delivered by Kumare Nellie Hizon, Vice Chair, SF Archdiocesan Pastoral Council

The God we believe in is a God of love, of life, and of hope.

 From the beginning, God seeks to share bliss and perfect joy with human beings, and that is the Divine plan.  We are even created in His own image.  Scriptures have always shown us the love of the Father.  We have not seen the Father, but we know Him through His only Son, Jesus.  This relationship is the first and primary concept of our understanding of a family.  It is where God, where love resides.

 Regretfully, what separates us from experiencing this Divine love, from knowing God more deeply, is caused by our own failing.  By its very nature, this failing, the incorrect choice of action, is what brings its own disconcerting state, sorrow and pain, not that God willed it for us.  God does not prescribe punishment, or exact violence.  Neither anyone should.

 Then when humanity failed, the Father sent His Son to bring us back to Him.

 In Edna’s testimony, when her own mother failed to show love, several people stepped up to be her family: aunts, uncles, neighbors, her husband, moved to bring love and healing to her hurting and wounded being.  Family extends beyond our own homes.

 The Church, for many of us, is a big part of our family.  It is where we learn what Jesus taught us (Jn 15:9): “...As the Father loves me, so I also love you…”  The Lord Jesus reiterated His new commandment (Jn 15:12): “…Love one another as I love you…”

 This love is based on mutual respect, mutual understanding, and mutual devotion.  This is the model that describes true relationship.  This is the foundation of all relationships.  Every faith culture that I know instructs this.  There is no violence or abuse component in expressing one’s love.

 Everyone deserves to be safe and to live without fear.  As the Church teachings emphasize the dignity of human person, we could bring the dark secret of violence into the light of the Gospel truth.  We could bring love back to our families when there is pain, abuse and violence.

 How can we, as parishioners, believers, and churchgoers, help? 

  1. Be a good, engaged listener, with empathy and without any judgment.
  •  Among the reasons many are uncomfortable getting involved in domestic abuse and violence, is that, we do not know what to say, or what to do.  
  •  Know that if issues are technical, such as a need for medical, legal, or security assistance, we may refer them to resources/agencies that are available.  It is important to have information where they can be directed.  Several of them are in the hall downstairs today:  Seton Medical Center, Kaiser Permanente, Health Plan of San Mateo, Bay Area Legal Aid…
  •  Or, if you are receiving personal information, be a good listener, be sensitive, and let them know that help is available.  You may say something like:
  •  I will listen to what you have to say.
  • I will let you know where you can turn for help.
  • God does not hate you or want you to live this way.
  • Your job is to decide what will help you, and when, and how to act.
  •  Note that as we listen, we do not blame the victim, we assume nothing.
  • We treat information received as confidential, and that helps build trust and safety.
  • We may search for resource materials to help us respond to disclosures.
  •  It helps to have policies for prevention and intervention.  Let us establish protocols and procedures for addressing family concerns and issues.
  1. Another way is to be engaged in and informed of ongoing activities providing assistance:

 In 2008, USCCB surveyed all dioceses to learn about programs and activities undertaken to address domestic violence.  Some of those activities include:

  •  Providing links to community resources (e.g. safe houses, counseling)
  • Setting up informational display
  • Conducting educational forum
  • Organizing a day of reflection for survivors
  • Holding Interdenominational prayer service
  • Integrating in religious education curriculum information to educate children and youth in “right relationships” and what to do when something isn’t right in a relationship
  • Maintaining a garden at a local shelter as they teach healthy relationship concepts through discussion and activities.

 In addition, we can be certain that various churches and faith groups have similar activities and programs, like the Health and Wellness Program at this Episcopal Church, and those of the Catholic Charities, St. Vincent de Paul Society, among others.

 1. As a church group, promote activities and informational sessions within your parish: 

  • Provide/host trainings for pastoral ministers (in addition to clergy) which help create support ministries.
  • Encourage youth group activities that will discuss healthy relationships.
  • Organize committees on parenting that provide ongoing leadership and oversight, as well as guidance to couples, parents, and caregivers.
  • Develop ways to help survivors and children after leaving the shelter.

 The faith community is a vital lifeline for giving hope, saving lives, preventing abuse, building safe and healthy relationships, homes and communities.  We are members of one big human family, and we can make a difference in the world if we work together.

 As often as we can, remind ourselves, and everyone that we are made to God’s image and likeness, created to share the bliss and perfect joy of God’s abounding love.  He wills and finds a Way for us to be home.

 I am proud to say that I was involved in this annual spring event, Our Family, Our Future, when ALLICE first presented it five years ago, upon the directive of the Most Rev. George Niederauer, who had just become the Archbishop of San Francisco.

 Today I am elated to see the movement for healthy families grow and welcomed by the Episcopal Church.  I am happy to invite Mariterie Adams, president of Holy Child & St. Martin Episcopal Church Women, to enunciate the wellness program of this caring faith community.