Of 49ers and Jesus: There’s excitement in the urgency of a call

Third Sunday in Epiphany A 2012

(Mark 1:14-20)

The Rev. Leonard Oakes

In the name of God, the God of the 49ers and the God of New York Giants. Amen.

I thank you all for coming to Chuch today not only to pray for your favorite football team but to thank God that you are still given the chance to watch such a game. There’s a feeling of excitement in each and everyone of us.

The spy fiction thriller Bourne Legacy that stars Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton and directed by Tony Gilroy, is currently in the making in the fish port of Navotas in Central Philippines. In some of the clips showed on live TV, the one that caught my attention is the setting of the movie. The port of Navotas is not strange to my formation as a seminarian and indeed to what I am now as a priest.

Part of our seminary formation at St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary in Quezon City Philippines, is to leave our books and seminary walls and be immersed into the real life of the people outside seminary boundaries. I was assigned to live in a fisherman’s house near Novotas Fish port through the National Council of Churches in the Philippines. Some of these houses around the port of Navotas that time were built on bamboo stem about 10 feet above the black and filthy salty water of the bay. These houses were linked together with 3 feet alley of bamboo shoots just enough for two people to pass through. Animals also live in these houses and you can just imagine how it is under the open floor, yet I witnessed kids being allowed to swim in that bay. I was assigned to a fisherman with a wife and 3 little kids. We shared dinner with rice, a fish and mussels. This was the time when the red tide phenomenon was prevalent in Asia. But this family knows how to survive. It is cold at night as the cold bay wind blows through the space on the walls. At 11 o’clock before midnight, manong Rod, as he wanted to be called, would hop in to his boat and we headed to the heart of manila bay where fishing nets were set and regularly checked for catch at night time. Danger is very imminent in the lives of fishermen whenever they set in the middle of unpredictable weather as fishing is one of the world most perilous jobs. Luckily, we came home safe with our catch and some harvest of mussels. That experience converted my whole being and in how I perceived life of those in the margin.

During my review for the NCLEX board Examination in 2003, I found Pacifica bay to be the best place to read and internalize what I am reviewing. The presence of fishers passing by with a couple of 30 inches Stripe Bass enticed me to buy my fishing license, a rod and a line. I thought it was a good idea that while I am reading my reviewer book, I would plant my rod in the sand and wait for the line to move. Now, as the water comes and goes, you can never predict when it rises to a level. I saw the line moving and the rod moving as well, moving towards the water, it must be a big catch. As I dropped my book to run for my rod, a big wave was waiting and ready to tackle me like the 49’ers football defensive line. The next thing I saw was my rod being dragged into the deep. I have chosen to live than to save my rod.

In some other times, Jesus called his disciples to come out of their comfort zones and told them to pull away from the shore where they feel safe and to go out to the deep. To the deep where the waves might swamp the boat, to the deep, not to take a nap in the sunlight, but to let down their nets yet again.

In today’s Gospel however, Jesus changed his approach to his disciples. After learning how to catch real fish and became comfortable with that life, he drew them out of the water to find another way of fishing, this time for people. These fishermen were about to be converted into a higher level of fishing, a life away from their comfort zone yet once again. There is urgency in the calling of Jesus of his disciples as if to say, “Come, right now and leave your nets, your family and your homes. Let us not waste our time for the kingdom of God is imminent.”

The Gospel of Mark, distinct in many ways from the other synoptic gospels, has the message of urgency by using the words, “Immediately and at once” many times. The main focus of the gospel of Mark in Verse 15 is on the ministry of Jesus. For Mark, Jesus is the Gospel. First, Jesus calls the brothers Simon and Andrew; and soon thereafter, he called James and John, the sons of Zebedee. Ordinarily one would not expect commercial fishermen to leave their boats and their livelihood. Nor would the sons of Zebedee leave their father in the care of hired servants unless they were convinced that the person who called them had valid claim on their total lives. Jesus’ call to Andrew and Simon was, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people”. They were to turn their attention from fish to people- to round up a human catch in a metaphorical net. They were being asked to risk, dramatically and suddenly, everything, and turn their efforts to a completely new profession. Their call was to be fishers of souls- to pluck others out of their familiar lives and challenge them to the same life of faith and service they themselves led.

It was very interesting how Jesus would call disciples to follow him. It never says in the Gospels that Jesus’ disciples were chosen because of a special talent or insight, for any charismatic gift, for high moral fiber, or for exceptional I.Q. From the world’s point of view, according to the principles of astute planning, they have no administrative prowess to lend themselves to turning the world upside down. In fact, the Twelve are never portrayed as directors of communities, and the language of declining to wait on tables indicates a refusal to be involved in the local administration of a Christian group. Neither as a group, nor as individuals, are these Twelve portrayed as “running” a local church. What they all seem to share, however, is a willingness to rise to their feet when Jesus says, “Follow me.” At least when it comes to Simon and Andrew, James and John- Mark says that they abandon their nets and follow Jesus on the way. They apparently know nothing about Jesus. They have no idea where they will be going-or when, if ever, they will return. They just do it. They take on the disciplines of Jesus’ way and seem not to look back. But hard work and an ever-deepening understanding must lie behind their day to day dedication. The disciples’ willingness is only the first step. No one ever said that dedicated Christian ministry was easy, only essential. The call of the twelve by Jesus is not a generalized request for recruits to be answered like a “help wanted” ad from the classifieds. It is a particular summons that Jesus issues to specific individuals. They are asked to share intimately in his life, to carry on his work, and to represent the twelve tribes of the renewed Israel.

It is in this same pattern that we elect our members of our Bishop committees and the appointment of the different committees. It evolved through our willingness to rise on our feet when Jesus says, “Follow me”. There are greater tasks waiting ahead of us in spreading the Gospel of Christ. There is the feeling of excitement in the urgency of the call. One must be willing enough to sacrifice their time and talents without reservations or doubts of the calling we are asked to do. Each one of us must have our own conversion experience from what we normally do to a especial ministry our Lord Jesus Christ is calling us to do. The old ways has to be transformed into a new life in Christ. We all come from a different aspects of life, each of us has our own simple ways to serve God. Let us all gather them up together and we will be surprised how great it would be to serve God when all are put together as one.

It is our common goal that the year 2012 is Holy Child and St. Martin’s year of Service and spiritual conversion. Our health and wellness ministry is our calling to “Come and follow Jesus” by sharing the gifts of compassion and love to those who need us, the poor, the uninsured, the less fortunate and the unloved. Let us be followers of Christ first before we tell others to follow.

In our excitement to watch the 49ers championship game, may we always bear in heart and mind the more exciting call we have in Jesus.

Let me end by singing you John Denver’s “Follow me”

Follow me where I go, what I do and who I know. Make it part you to be a part of me. Follow me up and down, all the way, all around. Take my hand and say you follow me.”

 

EXPLORING FILIPINO-AMERICAN CHRISTIANITY

Symposium focuses on book by The Rev. Dr. Fred Vergara, Asian missioner of the Episcopal Church.

 

DALY CITY, Calif. –

“Like Milkfish in Brackish Water ” is the book and the motto of the Filipino American Christianity symposium to be led by Rev. Dr. Winfred Vergara, Missioner for Asiamerica Ministry with The Episcopal Church.

Clergy and lay leaders any religious affiliation serving or interested to learn about Filipino community building are welcome to participate in the event from 12 noon to 12 noon January 27-28 at Holy Child & St. Martin’s Episcopal Church here. The event will feature a presentation and open prayer rally. It will raise discussion about Vergara’s book and how it may help understand the Filipino American ministry. Dinner will be provided. The book’s introduction attempts to explain why the Filipino American Ministry deserve attention:

 “Filipinos are some of the earliest, largest, most educated and upwardly mobile immigrant groups to settle in America. There is a special relationship between the Philippines and the United States that dates back at the turn of the 20th century when America, still emerging as the world’s superpower, took Philippines under the shadow of its wings. Filipino American culture is unique in the sense of its interconnectedness. Philippine geography is in the Asia but its base culture and traditions are markedly multicultural, with dominant Spanish and North American influences,” said the introduction.

 The ministry is compared to “bangus” or the milkfish, which “survive in fresh water and in salty water but thrives best in brackish water.” “As servant of Christianity, Filam Ministry must learn from the ways of the milkfish. It must learn to take this ministry of “both and,” the gift of prophetic accommodation. Filam clergy and faithful must become a ministers of reconciliation, a ministry bestowed by the Master-Fisherman who wishes all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the Truth.”

“Rev. Vergara’s book talks about re-thinking and re-visioning of Filipino ministry in the context of multiethnic, multicultural American Church and Society,” said Rev. Leonard Oakes, pastor of Holy Child & St. Martin’s Episcopal Church. “Participants coming from distant places may be eligible for free hotel accommodations. Meals are free.”

 Holy Child & St. Martin’s Episcopal Church is on 777 Southgate Ave, Daly City, CA 94015. For more information,

contact: (650) 991-1560 or email revleonardoakes@gmail.com.

 This is an excerpt from Philippines News editorial Cherie M. Querol Moreno

 

The Episcopal AsiaMerica Ministries

in Partnership with the Episcopal Asian Ministry Council

and the Filipino Convocation

and in collaboration with Holy Child and St. Martin Episcopal Church

welcome you to

A BOOK FORUM & SYMPOSIUM ON FILIPINO AMERICAN MINISTRY

By the Rev. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara

Missioner for Asiamerica Ministry

January 27-28, 2012

Holy Child and St. Martin Episcopal Church

777 Southgate Avenue, Daly City, CA 94015

Contact Persons:

The Rev. Bayani Rico, President of EAM Council :                                                                            Email : rector_ascension@sbcglobal.net

The Rev. Leonard Oakes (650) 534-5831/email: RevLeonardOakes@gmail.com

 

SCHEDULE:

JANUARY 27:

NOON:     Check in

Lunch at 12:00 (for those arriving early at Holy Child and St. Martin Daly City)

1:45 P.M. – Session 1: Vision and Purpose of the Book

and Demographics of Filipino Americans (Introductory chapters)

2:45 P.M. – Break

3:00 P.M. – Session II: Philippine Religious History

4:00 P.M. – Break

4:15 P.M. – Session III: Filipino Culture and American Assimilation Process

5:15 P.M. – Open Forum; Announcement on Worship

5:45 P.M. – Break to prepare for Liturgical Service (Choir rehearsal)

6:15 P.M  – Word from Bishop Marc Andrus

6:30 P.M. – Filipino American Eucharist

7:30 P.M. – Dinner & Entertainment

 

JANUARY 28:

8:00 A.M. – Breakfast

8:45 A.M. – Session IV: How to do a Filipino American Ministry Probe

( ASilicon ValleyExample)

9:45 A.M. – Break

10:00 A.M. – Session V: “Seven Sneezes to Filipino American Revival”

11:00 A.M. – Break

11:15 A.M. – Quo Vadis: Where Do we Go from Here?

12:15 – Lunch and Safe Travel Back Home

 

 

 

Confirmation class at Holy Child and St. Martin

Dear all, I am posting a message from Jon Owens regarding our upcoming confirmation class this coming February. Please note that ages to be confirmed are 12 years old and older.

Please note that this is a 7 sundays class beginning February 5 and culminating on the 14th of April confirmation day at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Candidates will have to devote their days and times on these following dates:

 

Confirmation class

Are you wanting to be confirmed? Are you from another church and wish to officially join the Episcopal Church? Have you been away from the church and want to renew your commitment to God and the church? If so then please join our confirmation class.

This interactive class will be for ages 12 to adult. Each class will be after church from 12:30pm-2:30pm. Also there will be a confirmation retreat that will take place on a Saturday.

Please observe the following schedule as it is important to attend these in order to be confirmed:

Sunday Feb. 5- Baptism and Confirmation: Beginnings

Sunday Feb. 19- The Bible: Stories about Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Sunday Feb. 26- Knowing Our History

Sunday March 11- Faith: What Do We Believe?

Saturday March 17- (Time and place TBD): The Sacraments: Signs of

Grace- Spirituality: Created for Prayer What Is God Calling You to Do?

Sunday Apr. 1st- Worship: Responding to God’s Blessings

Sunday Apr. 8th- Navigating the Church: From Parish

Saturday Apr. 14th- Confirmation @ Grace Cathedral

Sunday Apr. 15th HCSM confirmation party

 

What is Jesus doing in the river Jordan?

First Sunday after Epiphany

Mark 1: 4-11

The Rev. Leonard Oakes

 

“What is Fr. Leonard doing singing and drinking with a bunch of sinners in the dark?” was the common comment I hear from some of my parishioners when I was assigned in a remote area north of Philippines.

Some people see things on a different perspective. It would be unholy for clergy to be mingling with people just having fun over a bottle of beer and wild animal meat (pulutan). I explained to them later that it is wise to listen and feel their stories rather than keeping distance from them. I had to go down under and bring Christ in their midst and raise them up from darkness to see the light. The next Sunday, these “sinners” were seen at church and the people’s eyes were opened saying, “Forgive us Father if we judged so fast.”

 Similarly, a man protested after hearing the Gospel read. “What is Jesus doing in the river Jordan being baptized by John?” “What is the Son of God doing in the river Jordan?” He is supposed to be sinless. Only sinners need to be baptized for repentance, get him out of there!”

 Some of us may join that protest worried about what people might think if Jesus submits to a baptism of repentance. Why on earth would Jesus go out into the wilderness to be baptized with this ritual cleansing of repentance? After all, if Jesus is who we say he is, the Son of God who was “in every way as we are, except without sin,”

 There are complex theological responses to these questions. We may well remember that each Gospel writer has his own way of sketching the life and works of Jesus. This particular passage in the Gospel of Mark sets the continuation of the writer’s attempt to parallel the differences of John the Baptist and Jesus. At the beginning of the Gospel of Mark, the writer presented to us an Old Testament passage of Isaiah crying in the wilderness to make straight the path of the Lord. Mark presented to us John the Baptist as the forerunner of Christ. He was not the messiah but someone mightier than him is coming. John baptizes with water but Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit. Today’s Gospel is a clear fulfillment of that voice in the wilderness. Jesus is the messiah, the Son of God.

 We may also find understanding of this event when in the words of St. Paul, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:19). To put it in another way: In everything that Jesus says and does, God is at work, showing us how closely and intimately God relates to human beings who do sin, and who do need to repent and turn again. Jesus stands in the Jordan River, just as he lay in the stable as a baby, just as he will hang on the cross of his death, because God is in Christ, identifying himself with us in every aspect of our births, lives and deaths, and in solidarity with us.

 On one baptismal occasion where the place of baptism was at a flowing river, a candidate was hesitant in being submerged into the water, he said, “No, No, I don’t want to be in the river.” The people thought that the candidate was possessed by evil spirits. Nevertheless, the minister asked, “Could you tell me why you don’t want to be baptized in the river?” The candidate answered, “There are leeches in the water.” “May mga linta sa tubig.”

Jesus did not hesitate to join the crowd of repentant sinners at the River Jordan who are repenting and returning to right relationship with God in the framework of covenant and law. No, Jesus does not need to repent. But, by showing his baptism by John, the Gospel-makers show Jesus doing what God in Christ always does” Stands by us, Stands with us, stands for us in our great need for repentance. Jesus would spend his earthly life in the midst of sinners, eating with them, drinking with them, talking with them, healing them, calling them. Why should his baptism be any different? Jesus went under the waters of the Jordan as the others had, under the waters his ancestors crossed after 40 years of wilderness wandering. Historic waters, yet they looked quite ordinary.

 That is the Good news of our salvation, and this is why the view of Jesus’ baptism includes a “Manifestation of God, Epiphany.” It is as though God is, indeed, so excited and joyful about Jesus’ first public act of solidarity with sinners; that God rips through the very fabric of creation with the authoritative word of God’s voice: “This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

 “Forgive me Lord if I was fast to judge,” said the man after his questionings was answered.

 Perhaps this teaches us something significant on this feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the baptism of the perfect servant in whom the Father is well pleased, and a baptism in which we all share.

 Baptism is about sharing, sharing the love, the joy and the light that we receive from God. Sharing the grace we enjoy to those who are deprived of having them; the poor, the unemployed, the homeless and the uninsured. We are bound to share the blessings of our Health and Wellness Ministry to the rest of the community. Such is the outward visible sign of the inward grace that we receive from God. Baptism is about sharing the stories of those who are lost and bringing them to light. Baptism is about sharing what we have long been hoarding, the love and compassion to others.

The beauty of this feast, which shows us that the Son of God was humble enough to be baptized by a human, compels us to consider the power of God’s love in us when we are willing to let go of being the center of attention, and the ones who try to make everything happen our way. This is not an easy way of life. But it is the Christian way of life. We need to be willing to immerse ourselves in what God wants for us. We are immersed in God’s life and in the Church. Jesus teaches us by his example to let go of those things which keep us from being the instruments of holiness and love that God wants us to be. Instead let us be humble enough to let go of all that clutters our life and our vision, and the we just might be able to pay enough attention to hear our heavenly Father tell us that indeed, he is “well pleased.”

 There is a story about a zoo that was trapping monkeys. The zoo trappers put out coconuts underneath a coconut tree, and these coconuts had holes drilled in them. The holes were about the size of a tightly squeezed fist of a monkey. The monkey would squeeze its hand through the hole and grab the white coconut inside. They would do the same thing with their other hand and their two feet. By doing so, their hand became larger and they could not withdraw or remove their hands through the coconut holes. The only way to become free was to “let go” To let go of the white coconut inside the shell. Similarly with us, the only way to emotional freedom in life is to “let go.” To let go of those things that hinder or prevent us from fully following Jesus. To let go of our prejudices and be immersed with Christ in that river Jordan experience. And alas, come out from the water following the voice of God, “With you I am well pleased.”  Let the presence of God in us shape our daily lives and heal us. The Spirit of Christ inside of us heals us, and therefore we gradually “let go”. Amen.