Embraced by God’s Love

Embraced by God’s Love

The Rev. Leonard B. Oakes

 May 20, 2012

 

There have been great celebrations of 50th anniversaries I and my wife Haidee have attended this week. Last night, I had the honor to do the invocation for the 50th Golden anniversary of The Philippine Association of University Women USA at the Holiday Inn in South San Francisco. Some of the members and past presidents, as well as founders of this association are members of this Church.

As much as I wouldn’t like to mention, it’s one of those moments where I had to spread my time to accommodate the requests of others. Haidee and I had to sneak out from that celebration to attend another 50th anniversary, this time it was a wedding anniversary of a fraternal brother at the Armenian Cultural Center at Brotherhood Way in San Francisco. Mrs. Alice Bulos, a well prominent symbol of Filipino leadership in the Bay Area, would agree that she had done the same several times to show support to all that would be honored with her presence. Mrs. Bulos added that her husband had to be wherever she was and be visible to the community. I am thankful that Haidee is always there when she is available to be present.

Today however, it may not be a 50th anniversary celebration that I and Haidee celebrate with you, but a 40th day after Easter which we otherwise call “Ascension Day”

For the past seven weeks we have been celebrating the most joyous season of the Church liturgical year. The Easter season has filled us with immense joy and profound hope. The Lord has truly risen.

Today, we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord into Heaven. The risen and glorified Jesus physically returns to the Father. We await with joyful expectation his return in glory. Where he has gone, we hope to follow. Our ultimate goal is to get to heaven where our Lord Jesus promised to prepare a place for us.

What is Heaven? Heaven has been defined for us in the Catechism of the Episcopal Church with these words: “eternal life in our enjoyment of God.”

In the Gospels, Jesus speaks of this mystery through images. He calls it the kingdom, a place of life, light and peace. He refers to it as a wedding feast, the Father’s house, the heavenly Jerusalem and paradise.

Saint Paul tells us that “no eye has seen, nor ear has heard, nor the heart of man conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2: 9). And Saint John tells us that in Heaven “we shall see him as he really is” (1 John 3: 2).

Life confined to the boundaries of time and space without the promise of eternal life would be cruel and unbearable to live. Without the certainty of an eternal paradise, the trials and tribulations of this present life would have no meaning and purpose.

The judgments of time will be corrected by the judgments of eternity. The injustices of this world will be replaced by the justice of the world to come. The tears shed now, will be replaced by the joy lived forever in eternal life.

This past week was also a difficult week for some of our members. The Aquino family bears the burden of the loss of their brother Noli Aquino, whom we have been praying for some time. To Becky and the rest of the Aquino family, please accept our deep condolences. We are here as a shoulder to lean on, a hand to reach out. We will walk with your sorrow and try to bring joy, the joy our Lord Jesus Christ has shared to us.

Another soul just passed, Luz De Leon, the sister of Mila Abuda and the mother of Wilma De Leon, whom we have been praying for, also passed due to old age. At the viewing, Monsignor Ponferrada, a retired Roman Catholic Priest, asked me to share memories and thoughts before the family and their relatives. I shared about dying as a gradual diminishing and final vanishing over the horizon of life. When we watch a sailboat leaving a port and moving toward the horizon, it becomes smaller and smaller until we can no longer see it. But we must trust that someone is standing on a faraway shore seeing that same sailboat become larger and larger until it reaches its new harbor. Death is a painful loss. When we return to our homes after a burial, our hearts are in grief. But when we think about the One standing at the other shore eagerly waiting to welcome our beloved brother or sister into a new home, a smile can break through our tears. That is the greatest miracle, the greatest consolation that we receive from our loving God. Love transcends beyond the grave. Jesus Christ had to ascend to heaven to prepare us a place and look forward in welcoming us when our time comes to meet God.

 

In the word of Archbishop Desmond Tutu during an interview on mission on the 21th century held at Washington National Cathedral, he pointed out, “Jesus said, not that there will be joy in heaven but rather there is greater love in heaven and if Jesus be lifted up, he draws not some but all will be drawn to God’s incredible embrace.”

The martyrs throughout the history of the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church were able to sustain unbearable trials precisely because they were certain of a place called Heaven. They were able to persevere and resist sin because their love for the next life was greater than their love for this present life.

There is a Heaven and we need to get there. There is a Hell, and we need to do everything that we can to avoid the possibility of losing our immortal soul. Our number one priority is to get to Heaven. Ascension is about our destiny. It says that we are destined to a life beyond the one which we now enjoy. We are destined to be with God in a union which cannot be destroyed by death.

Ascension is about our present world. It calls us Christians to continue the mission of Christ on earth. Christ’s mission was not just to give us hope for the future, but to change the quality of life here and now, so that we can begin to experience already now the riches of eternal life to come.

Ascension is about ending and beginnings. On the day of his ascension, Christ’s personal ministry on earth ended, but the operation of the Holy Spirit in his followers to continue his ministry began. Once the liturgical celebration of the feast of ascension is over, our work of witnessing to whatever we believe in Christ has to begin. We come to church to praise God, to hear his word and to eat his bread. But we don’t stand here all day looking up to heaven. We leave this place to witness to Christ in the world. Christ has no one else except us, to continue his mission. As Teresa of Avila would put it; “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours; yours are the eyes through which he is to look out to the world with compassion; yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good, and yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now.”

As Easter leaves us, let us wholeheartedly welcome Pentecost when we celebrate the 50th day of the coming of the Holy Spirit, our counselor and advocate. May you all be blessed and hold each other dearly in these days to come. Amen.

Thank God for mothers

In our Mother’s eyes

I see beautiful mothers and ladies today!! Happy Mother’s day!!  Thank God for mothers like you. You are the best gift God has ever made. Adam wouldn’t have made it through without you. God knows best what the world needs. Behind every good leader is a great mother.

I know you spent much time in front of your mirror today just so you would look good in the face of God and your family here at HCSM. But let me be the first to tell you that you are beautiful inside and out and because of your love for your family and all, we thank you.

Three men were asked the question, “What is it in a woman that you look for?” The first said, “Well, I look at the beauty of the face.” The other said, “I look at the body shape” But the third man said, “I look at my wife first if she is looking.”

In today’s Gospel Jesus says, “As the Father has loved me so I have loved you” (John 15:9) and he says “This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12) Here Jesus is talking of a very special kind of love, love that does not think of oneself but sacrifices for the sake of the other. To make sure we would not confuse this very special type of love with other types of love, which often are more lust than love, the writers of the New Testament used a very special word to describe the love of Jesus for us and the love of God for us. They said Jesus loved us with agape love. That is love that does not think of oneself but sacrifices for the sake of the other.

We are all products of this love.

A young girl came home sobbing one day. Her mom was cooking their favorite dinner while her dad was watching the news. Mom immediately noticed her sobbing; she rushed to her and gently hugged her and whispered, “What’s the matter baby?”

“Benedict said I’m a product of habit.” She replied.

“I don’t understand?” said the mom.

“He said our older brother Marvin was a product of curiosity because you and dad were curious about how to make a baby. He said he was a product of love because you became PRO in making a baby. But he said I am a product of habit and so is my little brothers and sister. Since you are pro, it became a habit for you to make babies.” Then she cried more and louder.

Her mom replied, “You are all products of love dear. God gave you to us as a wonderful gift and we will take care and love you so that you will also do the same when you have your own family.”

The father who was sitting at the corner heard all this conversation, lowered his glasses and giggled, “Hi hi hi.”

We are all products of Love. Thanks to all mothers who understand us. Mothers are always there for us in sickness and in health. When we need something, we don’t always go to dad because he refers us to mom anyway. “Dad, I need money for my project.” Dad would say, “Ask mom.” I wonder why my kids don’t come to me for asking. They knew I will say, “Ask mom.”

Mother knows best. In our mother’s eyes, we are the best gift God ever gave. She’s always there when needed. She loves us no matter what. She would sacrifice everything: our food, shelter, clothing, school.

At the age of 5, I remember my mom carrying me on her back crossing a knee high flooded street from home to her mini store at a nearby elementary school. She was the most popular woman in our town. I watched her make great friendship with every customer she had. Her understanding and good connection with all the teachers and school personnel made her loved by all. When it is not busy at store, she would show me her varicose veins on both of her calves and say, “See the sacrifices that I have to go through just so your brothers and sister would go to school and that we have food to eat?”

That story still lingers in my heart. Of course I would ask her later in life if the reason why I have these varicose veins in my calves is because I made similar sacrifices or would that be the inheritance I got from her?

I learned all my good traits from my mother. The not so good ones, I confess, I did it my way.

I remember in high school when I slept at a friend’s house without telling my parents. They got so worried that they spent the whole night searching for me. That following morning, I went home and saw my dad with a 2×2 wood and whacked my behind. The first person I ran to was my mom. Mom would defend me from the doom of that 2×2 wood and my angry dad. “Usto daytan, bay-am ta kasauk isuna” “That’s alright dad, let me talk to our son,” She would tell my dad. She then hugged me and said, “We love you. We don’t want anything bad to happen to you.” She would also try to explain why sometimes we had to be whacked, to remind us of our wrong doings. That incident always reminds me of the importance of connection and the sense of belongingness, but most of all, of an understanding mother.

All of the mothers here have your own story in raising children and keeping a family. Life in America and the rest of the first world countries is different from the rest of the world. Here in America, it is very imperative to plan for everything: Number of kids to raise is sometimes limited to two or three. It is hard to raise kids when both of parents are working and you don’t have an extended relative to help you when you’re not home. Haidee and I had to work different hours just so one of us will stay home with our first child Joshua. We only see each other on weekends on our days off from work.  We were fortunate to have our mom Hilaria, who would be there to fill our absence. In the Philippines, close family ties and the availability of a family member is present. Here in America, some of our mothers have to work two jobs to keep them a shelter and a food to eat. You have to have a car if you live in a place where there’s no bus or Bart to take you to work on time. At the end of the month, there’s nothing left in your bank because it is just enough to pay all the expenses according to your budget. Sometimes our children don’t get that. They don’t understand their parent’s sacrifices until they are in that same kind of situation.

My dear mothers in God, as I always tell you, I may not fully know what you are going through in your life, but let me tell you that I will walk that way with you if you will let me. I will keep you company in prayer until we both see what life has in wait for us. And as we walk I will remind you that we have many twists and turns in life that are common. We’ve been through this many times and in many changes. We’ve learned our lessons and we have the wisdom to think it through, the courage to do what must be done, the faith to know that there is love at the end of our rope. We may not know what is yet to happen, but we do know that we are not alone. We can walk together. We can walk with God by our side.

Let me say these again to all mothers, grandmothers and those who take the role of a mother, thank you!! We love you and will care for you just as you cared for us.

Let me read you a wonderful song sung by Celine Dion: “Because you loved me” While listening to this song, I ask you to remember your mother or grandmother, passed or still alive. Keep the loving memory in your hearts.

For all those times you stood by me. For all the truth that you made me see
For all the joy you brought to my life. For all the wrong that you made right
For every dream you made come true. For all the love I found in you
I’ll be forever thankful mother. You’re the one who held me up
Never let me fall. You’re the one who saw me through, through it all
You were my strength when I was weak. You were my voice when I couldn’t speak
You were my eyes when I couldn’t see. You saw the best there was in me
Lifted me up when I couldn’t reach. You gave me faith ‘coz you believed
I’m everything I am because you loved me
You gave me wings and made me fly. You touched my hand I could touch the sky
I lost my faith, you gave it back to me. You said no star was out of reach
You stood by me and I stood tall. I had your love I had it all
I’m grateful for each day you gave me. Maybe I don’t know that much
But I know this much is true, I was blessed because I was loved by you

You were always there for me, the tender wind that carried me
A light in the dark shining your love into my life. You’ve been my inspiration
Through the lies you were the truth. My world is a better place because of you

Amen.

Stay connected with our lifeline, Jesus the Vine

5th Sunday of Easter

 (Acts 9:26-31 I Jn 3:18-24 Jn 15:1-8)

The Rev. Leonard B. Oakes

May 6, 2012

 

Let me ask you this question today:

“What does it mean to connect yourself to another person — to link your success or failure to another person’s passions, fears, strengths, and weaknesses?

That is the miracle that happened yesterday with our delegates at the equipping the beloved community deanery day at Trinity Episcopal Church in Menlo Park. We felt connected with the rest of the beloved community in this part of God’s vineyard. We shared our passions, fears, strengths and weaknesses to draw from others the living spirit of God in us and be able to bloom again and be fruitful. We are now connected with the web of God’s love which is our lifeline. We are now woven, along with others, to the web of strength and leadership.

That is what a beloved community is all about. It a relationship between two or many people or groups in which one person or group seeks to influence and be influenced with the vision, values, attitudes, or behaviors of each other.

Leadership requires followers — someone who chooses to be influenced. Leaders cannot lead unless followers choose to follow. Like it or not, we are tied together. We are a team; we are the beloved community; we need each other. It is a relationship with God leading us and us following his calls. And in every relationship both persons influence and are influenced by each other. Sometimes we exercise leadership; sometimes we follow. Leadership connects us.” Leaders and followers are connected to each other. Each delegate added to a team brings his or her knowledge, skills, experience, and interests to the group. That is the primary advantage of the beloved community where teams tie into the same web. The web is our lifeline that will take us to our destination. Cutting our lifeline would lead to the collapse of our vision and leadership. Let the line be secured well so that others may also cross over to reach their goals.

The diversity of our connectedness is not confined in the Peninsula deanery alone; it extends to the wider Diocesan spectrum.

Holy Child and St. Martin delegates were all scattered like good seeds in the rich leadership seminars conducted in that same day of Cinco De Mayo in the Diocese of California. Our delegates to the Treasurer and administrator seminar at Grace Cathedral also made their web of connections among those whom they established interactions. On that same day, other members of this great Church attended the Faith and Science seminar with Ruth Hoppin in Daly City. We are now linking ourselves with others who are tied with us with the same web of strength and leadership. We are beginning to bear fruit because we remain in our lifeline who is Jesus Christ our true vine.

At yesterday’s beloved community gathering, the delegates had a wonderful and meaningful liturgical celebration where each was provided a ribbon in different colors representing grape fruits. Each one wrote down on it their hopes and visions and had them tied to a barren trees that were then transformed into a beautiful vine trees. Such was a beautiful picture of a bright beloved community.

 In the gospels, we find many analogies of the Christian life. No single one can give us an adequate picture. Like any good teacher, Jesus uses many examples to get across his point. This parable of the vine is a particularly apt one. Jesus says: “I am the true vine and my Father is the vinedresser…I am the vine; you are the branches”.

Now looking at things from this angle, it seems that Jesus has the more passive role and we have to do a lot more of the work. He is the vine who feeds and nourishes us, the branches. And our job is to bear much fruit. We can do that only if we remain in Christ.

If you want to be what God wants you to be it is necessary to abide in Him. The phrase, “Remain in me” is repeatedly used in today’s gospel. It simply means stay hooked up, stay connected and maintains communication. Some of us use the dial up modem to connect to internet. Sometimes we get connected, sometimes we don’t, and sometimes our connection is a bit slow, sometimes we get booted off altogether. Comcast Network says that if we had cable, we’d be connected all the time, faster, able to do a lot more. Jesus is stressing that He wants the same kind of connection for us.

Matthew Burt of Christ Episcopal Church in Portola Valley presented to us the importance of getting connected through social media by means of facebook, email, newsletter, church signs, phone and others and uses that as a means to communicate the love of God. The Rev. Matthew Dutton-Gillett of Trinity Episcopal Church in Menlo Park recognized that out of his 600 members, only 200+ are regular church goers. It is very important to stay spiritually connected and those who are connected need to reach out to those who, somehow, have been disconnected due to many reasons.

The conditions to live united to Christ are clear. We live in him, by keeping God’s word continually in our mind and making it the guide of our actions; by maintaining a prayer life; by receiving the sacraments that draw out his grace; by avoiding all sins and yielding to the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Above all, we abide in Christ by being united with one another as a community of love. There can be no such thing as a lonely Christian in a loving community. Our love for one another has to be real. “Children, let us love not in word or speech but indeed and truth” (I Jn 3:18). We are called to be the fruit and drink especially of the lonely, the ill, the poor in our neighborhood and communities. We are meant to be sources of nourishment that revive the spirits, feed the hopes and enliven the bodies of others.

The pains of life are not signs of being cut away from Christ; on the contrary they are indications of the opposite. Because we are united to Christ like branches, God will prune us to promote growth of the branches. If we remain in Christ both in good times and bad, we will enjoy much peace and consolation as the members of the early church did: “The church was at peace and enjoyed the increased consolation of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 9:31). If we remain in Christ we will find joy in him, not the superficial joy of prosperity suggested by slick television commercials, but a joy that comes from the fulfillment of one’s potentials. Therefore try always to be connected to Jesus.

I always say to you that the end of the Eucharist is the beginning of service. I ask you therefore that before you leave the church today, find someone and talk about what you heard and witnessed today. Reflect upon the words of Christ who said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. If we remain in Christ, we shall bear much fruit.”

Call someone today, someone who didn’t make it today in our community service. Say hello to them. Ask how they are doing and if they need prayers, say a prayer for them or pay a visit. Let us keep each other connected. Let us be fruitful in our relationships, not only in good times but also in times where we needed each other the most. Amen.