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Last Sunday of Epiphany
The Rev. Leonard Oakes
After many years of being absent in Church services, a former member of the Altar Guild decided to visit her Parish for a Sunday Eucharist. Just before the service started, she entered the Church to her surprise how dry and less decorative the altar is. She started to express self pity that the church has not been decorated the way it was when she was the flower chair for the altar guild. She started singing this song, “Where have all the flowers gone, long time blooming, where have all the flowers gone, long time ago.” Upon hearing the song, the priest came out of his office and responded to the woman’s song by singing, “Gone to garden everyone…” Perplexed, the woman responded, “Oh when will they ever learn, oh when will they ever learn?” To which the priest calmly reminded the woman, “We are now in the season of Lent my sister.”
Today is the last Sunday of Epiphany. In our liturgical calendar, we are now moving to the season of Lent which begins on the day of Ash Wednesday. Lent is also the season which I call, “Flower break” for the Altar guild. They have been meticulous in their arrangement with the altar decors. Now we are moving to a simple and penitent mode where we begin to feel the sufferings, passion, and death story of our Lord Jesus Christ. It may seem odd that we are already hearing the passion of Christ when the feeling of Epiphany is just behind us. We’ve just learned the short story of how the season of Epiphany reminded us that Jesus crossed the border between heaven and earth for the sake of all families, languages, peoples, and nations. It reminded us that the Gospel work is about restoring relationships, with God and neighbor. It reminded us of Jesus giving us example after example of breaking down the walls of our differences. He eats with all sorts of officially unclean people, he talks to women, he touches dirty people, he meets with his enemies, and he invites everybody to the banquet. Now, He invites us to a deeper discernment on the meaning of these experiences in our lives by opening another door to more specific calls on listening, witnessing, and discerning in the revelation of his own mountain top experience.
A voice from the clouds says, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” These are God’s words at Jesus’ baptism, but the transfiguration story seems to suggest that there’s been an attention deficit in the meantime, as if that simple recommendation was not enough. There on the mountain, the voice adds a simple command….”Listen to him.”
Perhaps the story of the transfiguration is about witnessing. Witnessing that takes at least two forms: The obvious and more common one is telling the story of our experience as a people of God, enacting our story, making it as attractive as we possibly can; The perhaps less obvious way of witnessing is to listen to the other’s story, the neighbor’s story, the world story of today, listening for God’s presence, for Christ in the other. Listening, giving audience, paying attention, may be, after all, a most profoundly magnetic and winsome way of witnessing, listening for the “sound of gentle stillness.”
At our Friday 7 PM healing service here at church, we spent our time listening from the voice of God and each other. We sang songs inviting God’s presence in our midst and in our lives. After the anointing and prayer healing, we had our own mountain top experience with God.
“This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased; Listen to him.”
It is when we fail to listen to the voice of God that we fall to the pit of profound loneliness. There’s a saying around alcoholic anonymous circles that “boredom is a personal insult.” Whereas, to give ourselves unrestricted, unconditional audience, defines the difference between loneliness and truly creative isolation. As well with our neighbors must be our gift of audience, of truly listening without condition, without planning our next speech, opening from hostility to a true and welcome hospitality. We must offer such audience to God without condition, by opening up from mere illusions about God to attentive prayer, prayer as searching, inquiring of God to discern how God understands us and the ways in which he has imagined us to become.
Famous duo singers Simon and Garfunkel sang their poetic song, “Sound of Silence”. I used to sing this a lot in high school. Let me sing it to you. “And in the naked light I saw ten thousand people, maybe more.
People talking without speaking, people hearing without listening, people writing songs that voices never share and no one dared, disturb the sound of silence.”
Deafness comes in many forms: arrogance, pride, compulsive talking, indifferences, aloofness, and so much more through an obsession with always having to be right. The church is called to be a listening community, a community where the deaf can be healed. There is much in our corporate worship to hear great stories of our long family history and thoughtful prayers better than average hymns and of course, each other with mutual and peaceful greetings, exchanges, and catching up.
But our good liturgy also offers us moments in certain of its parts when we can simply be silent, listening, reflecting on what or who we have just heard or seen, surely awed by the majesty of the possibilities of access to God’s grace. We all come to church to listen to God’s words, to bring before him our uncertainties and heavy loads. When we enter to this sacred place, we do the sign of the cross in reverence to God’s presence. We kneel in silence, putting away all that disturbs us from focusing our attention to the voice of God. It is our mountain top experience when we withdraw ourselves from all the busy-ness in life and come to rest our peace before God. Then we hear music, a very soothing melody that regulates the beat of the heart and stills the wandering of the mind. Then we begin to smile and the feeling of being uplifted is revitalizing our souls, reviving our whole being. We begin to share the God given Spirit during peace, where we share our inward smile to each other. We share our common meal in the Eucharist and are charged to go out to the world to love and serve Christ among others. That is our mountain top experience. But of course we cannot deny the facts that the reality of this world is still out there, for Jesus, James, John and Peter came down from the mountain to face the reality of life where God wants them to be, where God wills Himself to be found. The prophet Isaiah once admonished us in one of his more provocative ways to “Seek the Lord while he wills to be found.” Thankfully, God was more gently gracious to those who waited for Jesus on the mount of transfiguration and for those who wait for him here when he said, “This is my son, the Beloved; Listen to him.”
Down below our mountain top experience is our challenge to seek out the transfigured Christ in the world. We are called to listen and to respond with a servant’s heart and in humility. We are called to listen when our brothers and sisters are suffering, when they are in need, when they are disenfranchised and subject to injustices, when life’s challenges seem to them too much to carry and there’s no one else seem to listen. Down below our mountain top experience is a world where lives are victimized by evil forces. It’s a world where humanity is denied. It is all because humanity failed to listen to the voice of God. Humanity wants to take over the place of God that brought chaos in this world. It is with this very reason that God Himself had to send his beloved son to feel our human experience and to reconcile us to our God. By His death on the cross, our sins are forgiven. By His resurrection, we are restored and now have a room in that heavenly kingdom where there’s no sorrow nor pain but life everlasting.
I therefore call upon you all my dear friends, to take a moment to slow down in the coming season of Lent and spend time with God, your family and yourself. Spend time to take a deep breath and relax your whole body and soul and enter into the mystery of God’s love in Jesus Christ, so that when Easter comes, we shall all rejoice for we were all redeemed by the love of God through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Sixth Sunday After Epiphany B
The Rev. Leonard Oakes
February 12, 2012
I see beautiful and handsome faces today. Look at those red dressess, they look gorgeous.
Those make ups and hair styles, they’re youthful!
Science and technology have changed the face of humanity today. What have been regarded as untreatable skin diseases can now make anyone back to their youthful look.
A story is told about a 50 year old woman who had a heart attack and was taken to the hospital. While on the operating table she had a near death experience. Seeing God she asked “Is my time up?”
God said, “No, you have another 40 years to live.”
Upon recovery, the woman decided to stay in the hospital and have a face-lift, liposuction, breast implants and a tummy tuck. She even had someone come in and …change her hair color and brighten her teeth! Since she had so much more time to live, she figured she might as well make the most of it. After her last operation, she was released from the hospital. While crossing the street on her way home, she was hit by an ambulance and proclaimed dead on the spot.
Arriving in front of God, she demanded, “I thought you said I had another 40 years? Why didn’t you pull me from out of the path of the ambulance?” God replied, “I didn’t recognize you”.
You see what I mean? Even God can’t recognize the handiwork of mankind caused by the advanced science.
It is very interesting to know that the disease leprosy has affected humanity for over 4, 000 years. Science and technology have changed a lot since the time of Elisha. Today, anyone who has skin disease and has the money may have an instant solution by visiting their dermatologist or plastic surgeon.
You see, during the time of Elisha, one of the remedies to cure leprosy is by going to the river Jordan, washed seven times and be cleansed. One could just imagine how the river would turn into after thousands of people washed themselves at the same time. I imagine that most of these people are travelers, who would venture to take weeks crossing a desert or mountain without water to clean their bodies, thus resulting to a skin disease. Try not taking a bath or shower for a week and you begin to feel itchy . (Amuyin mo nga yang katabi mo kung naligo?) Ask your neighbors if they took a shower this week? (Baka pabango lang yan) (Perfume). Today being Valentine’s Day, I’m sure all of you had your cleansing ritual.
During the time of Jesus, The leper who came to Jesus did something quite remarkable. He approached Jesus confidently and humbly, expecting that Jesus could and would heal him and make him whole again. Normally a leper would be stoned or at least warded off if he tried to come near a rabbi. Jesus not only grants the man his request, but he demonstrates the personal love, compassion, and tenderness of God in his physical touch. The medical knowledge of his day would have regarded such contact as grave risk for incurring infection. Jesus met the man’s misery with compassion and tender kindness. He communicated the love and mercy of God in a sign that spoke more expressively than words. He touched the man and made him clean – not only physically but spiritually as well. A process of transformation took place when Jesus said, “Be clean!”
It is in this context that we need to look at today’s Gospel reading and to take note of some of the details of what is said and done – both by the leper – and by Jesus.
First of all, we see the leper coming up to Jesus and falling on his knees before him. Lepers were not supposed to come that close to anyone during Jesus time. Then we hear the leper beg Jesus for something that at first hearing sounds like a plea for a physical healing – but is in fact much more than that. He says to Jesus, “If you choose, you can make me clean” In other words, “Jesus can restore him to normal human life if Jesus chooses” Jesus can bring him back into community, back into a normal relationship with other people; and be made acceptable to God.
“You can, if you want, restore my life and make me once again able to go anywhere I choose and not have everyone stare at me, everyone avoids me, everyone fears me, everyone talks about how unfortunate I am, if it is your will, it will be done.” As we see, Jesus breaks every rule about how one should protect oneself from someone with skin disease and reaches out his hand and touches the person and perhaps this is the first time that poor man has been touched in years.” And Jesus said “I am willing, be clean!” “immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured”
How about us here today? Are you willing? Are you willing to do what you can do. Are you willing to treat those whom others reject – those whom others fear- those whom others avoid – because of how they look or where they come from, or what disease they have as human beings who are worthy of being treated like all other human beings?
Are you willing to forgo judgments based on appearances, judgments about those who have AIDS, judgments about those who live in rags and sleep on the streets of our cities. Judgments about those who come from other nations, about those who are different in appearance and in background from us and see them as human, as people who are loved by God as much as you are loved by God, as people who need your touch and your word of love as much as you need the touch and the love of those who are near to you? Are you willing to be transformed?
Monica Pahulu had her experience of transformation when she allowed herself to join me in feeding the true homeless in San Francisco. Her eyes and conscience were awakened by the reality she witnessed and realized how blessed she is seeing there are those who have nothing, a hood, a shelter, food and water to clean themselves while she has everything.
Have you your own transformation? When you turn on the shower, the faucets, do you think about those who are deprived of it? When you serve the food in your plate and can’t finish them, do you think about those who are hungry? When you see a man in a dirty clothes and don’t have their looks your eyes are used to see, do you turn away without a smile and a word of greetings?
We can bring ourselves – and others – before Christ and pray for healing and pray for cleansing. We can treat one another as we would desire to be treated. We can love one another as God loves us. We can love one another as we love ourselves. We can love one another without fear. God was with Christ and gave him power over the most dreaded disease of his day. And God is with Christ still – to cleanse us and our world – and to make us part of one family,- to restore us fully to one another and to himself in life, in death, and in life beyond death.
In a moment from now, we will be witnessing an act of love to be offered to cancer patients who are deprived of hair due to chemotherapy and cancer cells. In your leaflets, you will find miraculous story of a Leighland Pailano who survived life at birth and now will offer back love to those who need them, those who lost their sense of security, self esteem, and compassion, by creating wigs from real human hair that is donated by caring individuals.
You may visit our website and click on the link to view Leighland’s profile link at LOCKS of LOVE Leighland
Let us love one another and be thankful to one another. Let that be our legacy to pass on to generations to come, for love extends beyond the boundless realm of eternity where the supreme architect of the universe forever presides.
So while you enjoy your chocolates and flowers, please remember the needs and wants of others.