When decisions confront us

First Sunday in Lent
February 17, 2013
The Rev. Leonard Oakes

At Yesterday’s Bishop Committee retreat, our master chef, Bill Boone and his wife Rhonda served us a sumptuous lunch and with all the sweet desserts. I say, when you are fed well, retreats will be successful.

But let me declare now, let fasting begin!! You may say, “What? I thought we started that on Ash Wednesday?” Well, we made a decision that we will extend it until this Sunday where we still get to give our love ones more sweet candies to eat for the last time before we enter into the 40 days and 40 nights fasting. We made a decision to even extend it more for another day to celebrate the Chinese New Year with a Banquet of meat and meat and carbs. The Shrove Tuesday wasn’t enough! We have asked God to be more understanding and forgiving to extend it for another day. Now we are resolved to really begin to observe the season of Fasting. But it is no longer 40 days and 40 nights minus the four days after Ash Wednesday which also excludes the 6 Sundays in Lent. But are we really serious about fasting? Is it really so hard to be on vacation from Adobo and beef and sacrifice our love of sweets just for this season of Lent? Are we finding it hard to pause for a moment for a prayer or just simply stopping by the street to offer a homeless the other half of your food or a bottle of water? Decisions are tough to make every time.

We make decisions every day. What time to wake up, what to eat for breakfast, what to wear, where to go, what to do, how much time you spend putting your make up, and these are all before we leave the house for the day. Decisions can be simple, but they can be complicated, tough, and uncertain.

You may have said to yourself to go to the mall just to have a glimpse of what you call, “Window shopping” and promised just like that. But you couldn’t resist to buy that lovely dress and you easily gave your credit card as the customer service swiped it against the card reader and gave you your receipt before you will change your mind. That dress that you bought will only be used two months from now and when that time comes, it doesn’t fit you or that it already out class or hindi na uso. So it is added to your squeezed pile of clothes.

There’s a similar story of a woman who had bought a new dress which was very expensive. Her husband asked why she had been so extravagant. She replied, “The Devil made me do it.” “Well,” the husband asked, “Why didn’t you say ‘Get behind me Satan!’” “I did,” explained the wife, “But he said it looked as good in back as it did in front.” So I bought it.”
We make decisions every day, but when we face tough decisions, how do we make them? What comes into play?

Sometimes we don’t want to make a decision, but are forced into action. We might find ourselves suffering and in pain. We might be asked to sacrifice something that we might not want to give up. What does God tell us about this?

We are given free will as a gift from God. Some may see it as a curse, but it may also be seen as an opportunity to listen and to be guided by God in our daily lives. Like in the garden of Eden with the serpent, we are given ample opportunity to eat the fruit that God warns us about. If we eat it we shall die. No pressure!

Sometimes we eat the fruit and must bear the consequences. Maybe one consequence is that we realize we’re naked. Yet God is with us when we make bad choices and when we make what we think is the right choice. Our decisions are opportunities, maybe to do the right thing and maybe we don’t know what is right.
What are tough decisions for you? How do you ask God to guide you? What signs do you seek to find the answer?

What lies in that open space between you and the moment of decision? Is it faith? Is it hopeful anticipation? Self-doubt? Pessimism and angst?

I made a decision for myself today to be moderate on what I take in to my mouth as well as what I say. I know that decisions and choices may go hand in hand. I need to decide if I will take care of my health now before it gets worst or will I procrastinate and continue doing my unhealthy habits and might not see my grand kids grow? I made a choice to be moderate on foods that are sweets and avoid salty and fatty foods that are not good for the heart. I know this may not always apply to everybody especially to those who may need what I don’t . When I tell myself to drink more water, it may not be alright for other people who have problems with kidney and circulations. When I tell myself to avoid carbs and sweets, others may need it. All we need then is a good knowledge about what we are embarking ourselves into in order to make wise decisions. I am resolved to walk the journey in Lent in moderation with every food that I take and being mindful to the needs of others.

When we started our health and ministry program, it didn’t happen sporadically but prayerfully , deliberately, with good intentions to help others understand in making their Heath decisions.

When we engaged ourselves to feed the people in the streets of San Francisco, we thought about the waste of foods that go in the garbage every time we have meals and reflect upon those in the world who have nothing for a week or months.

When we made a decision to get up this morning to come to church even if it is cold , and to let go of our blankets is the last thing we should ever do, we thought about giving thanks to God that we are still alive and that he has a purpose for us all to do.

It is hard to believe that people only remember God mostly when he is needed. We remember God when there’s a death, on wedding or baptism. Or when we lost our jobs or our house.

When at school, you flanked the test, you made a decision before that made you failed it. Then and only then that you realized you have to change your habits.

Lent is not totally about fasting but also being mindful of the needs of the body and those people around us who may not be able to have what we are enjoying and wasting. It is being mindful of the world we live in and those who live on it. Lent is a time to search our hearts and souls where we want to be and what we want to become. It is a time to prepare ourselves to journey with life and all there is before us, ever remembering that Our Lord will carry us through those rough and rugged roads in life until finally we will experience the wonderful gift of the Resurrection in Easter.

Within a year, we need to retreat from busyness of life and all the temptations therein and just simply be with God and meditate upon the words of Jesus Christ. It all leads us to Easter where we will be able to say, yes I made it through Christ who strengthens me.

Do you believe we can do it through Christ gives us strength? Let us all say, “I can do it through Christ who gives me strength .” Amen

Our dreams continue to evolve. Our story is emerging, constantly being transformed and renewed.

Last Sunday after the Epiphany
Exodus 34:29-35
Luke 9:28-36
The Rev. Leonard Oakes

Today is the last Sunday after Epiphany. We are now about to bury the alleluias and the flowers and hope to see them again on Easter. I said hope because we are not certain that after 40 days of fasting, we are still alive.

Today is also a designated time as World mission Sunday in the Episcopal Church. Mission as being “Sent out” to the community proclaiming our baptismal vows to “Seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself”

Year after year, we hear the story of Jesus being transfigured, and reflect upon it in many different meanings that are very relevant in our own experiences as individuals and community. The story is not only about the human experience touches the divine but also about witnessing to the reality of the needs of all of God’s creation.

The story of the mountaintop experience of Moses in the Old Testament, and Jesus in the New Testament seems embedded deep in the human heart.
There is something about high places that calls to us and draws us ever upward. Sometimes, we go to the mountaintop to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. We need a bit of distance from our every-day lives, we need to separate from even our loved ones for a time so that we can think deeply about our lives, our problems, our challenges, our hopes.

Moses and Jesus went up to a place with God to have a better vision on how to come up with a strategic approach to spread the kingdom of God here and now. We too go up to the mountaintop to get a sense of the larger picture. We go to the mountaintops of our lives so that we might see further, get a clearer sense of our boundaries, gain perspective on who we are and what we have done and what we hope to do. Part of vision is rising above the messy and distracting details to see the outermost limits of our lives and to fix our goal on our desired destination. And, of course, when we get to the mountaintop, we somehow feel closer to the divine and the holy. God may be present in all the world, but mountaintops make us feel that much closer to God.

But what more is there to learn in the readings other than a mere change of look or the sense of getting into a higher ground? After all, such experiences are really tested when we all have to come down and meet the reality of life. And how do we handle them and how do we get there?

Moses story did not end in the mountain, he went down to tell the people the story of the vision he saw as the way to the Promised Land.
Jesus story did not end in the transfiguration event; he went down to the people and told them a clear vision to go about in spreading the kingdom of God and to fulfill the promise in the resurrection. We too have our own story and I know another way to get there and let me tell you that you are always part of it; it is through proclaiming our own transfiguration story that will lead us all to the kingdom of God.

I was inspired by the Diocese of California’s vision on PRO/CLAIM where it says: “Through story we recollect moments of sacred insight, identify metaphors that disclose deeper truths, and shape narratives that point us toward the already and always-coming kingdom of God. Stories proclaim the extraordinary grace of Christian life in ordinary language.”

Stories are very powerful. Plato said, “Those who tell stories rule society.” Why? Because we love stories so much, our hearts open up to the storyteller. Now you may ask; why do stories have power over us?

There are three reason why:

First, stories mesmerize. They grab our attention. When you hear a good story, all of a sudden, you’re ushered into a different world. You enter a different universe. Why does this happen? Because stories don’t just teach the mind but touch the emotions.
Secondly, stories materialize. A message can be a nice theory floating in the air with no legs on the ground. But a story will make you see, hear, touch, taste, and smell your message.
Thridly, stories magnetize. A personal, touching story will bring the hearts of both the storyteller and the story-listener together like no other thing in the world! They say the shortest path between two hearts is a story.

Let me therefore begin to tell our story here at Holy Child and St Martin because I believe it will change the world:
Four years ago, we dreamed about transforming this Church to a place where people can find hope and Love. We were resolved that the only job in the world is to Love and be Loved. Together, we opened the opportunities to empower each and every one of us in the plentiful ways to serve God in our own simple ways and abilities. Our love is not confined in the four walls of this structure, we opened our doors where we don’t wait for people to come but rather we go out and reach out to those who are at home and in the streets who have been waiting for us to knock and hear our hellos. On our return, we came back together and share the wonderful feeling of what we heard from those whom we feed in the streets of San Francisco, the words, “Thank you, God bless you!” makes our world complete and that such words encouraged us to do some more.
We did not confine the Love of God to be just for ourselves, we shared them to the community around us. We were busy making connections with the different institutions who share the same vision of reaching out to the less fortunate in our society. Yes, those who have already been in the mountain top surely knows how to help a community like us so we too could be there and view a wider look on how to map the kingdom of God in this vineyard.
We are thankful that God has led to us wonderful institutions such as Seton Medical Center, Clinic By the Bay, Rota Care, San Mateo County Health, New Haven health and Hospice Care, Diocese of California, Episcopal Charities Services and Physicians for Ntional Health.  We thank groups such as Alliance for Community Empowerment, Philippine Association of University Women and Saturday Afternoon Club and many others who became part of our dreams. We thank our pledgers and all the donations that come as a miracle to continue the work at hand.

Our dream does not stop here; it continues to evolve. Our story is emerging, constantly being transformed and renewed. It is needing to be shared abroad so others will do it as well. I have a vision to share with you and I would like you to open your hearts and minds that everything is possible with God. I would like you to take a look at this map

(Map of Daly City and HCSM)

What do you see? Lean closer, What can’t you see on the ground that you can see in the air? We see a vision, an aerial vision of the wider vineyard of God in this community and we are just a tiny dot in the area. Imagine that if we reach all this houses with our brochures that contain the information of our program. Imagine that within 6 months we’ve gone to all these houses and institutions and meet people face to face. Imagine that about 50% of these residents know someone who might need our services and refer them to us, or that some of these residents are health professionals and are willing to volunteer to our program, what do you think will happen? Yes, that’s it; whatever is in your mind now will happen if you only believe. Believe and it will happen.

For many years biologists can’t explain how bumble bees can fly? It defies the law of gravity. Here’s a bee with big body and small tiny wings and is able to carry itself to a distance. So the scientists made a research. They first put all the baby bumble bees in one room with a group of insects that can not fly such as the cockroach and other winged insects. On another room, they placed a group of baby bumble bees with a grown up bumble bees such are their mothers and fathers who can fly and observe them for two weeks. Guess what? All the bumble bees that were placed with the other insects and roaches did not fly, but those with their parents were able to fly. Do you know why? Because when these baby bumble bees saw these grown ups flying, they start to believe they could also fly, so they fly. So is true with us when we believe that we can transform this community into a better place where we serve the love of God in everyone, that things that may be impossible become possible, with God’s help.

Now, I would like to talk to these newly elected officers of the Bishop Committee and the appointed delegates to the deanery and convention as well as the different chairs of our program. The rest of you may take a break and in due time come back.

My dear members of our team, you are called to witness the vows that were given to you in baptism. We need you to help us in proclaiming God’s plan by calling others to Christ.

We continue to bring people closer to God by knowing their stories, sharing our stories and merging our stories together.

I learned that in knowing someone’s story, it is important to hear their story before you share your story. Why? Because you need to know the person’s felt need.
Perhaps he needs healing. Perhaps  has a family concern that needed to be heard. Or perhaps she’s broken hearted. Or perhaps he’s angry with God for taking away the life of his only love?
There was this story about two pasengers on a plane. After introducing each other’s name, he asked her, “How is life treating you?” Instantly, tears welled up in the woman’s eyes and told him that a fire burned down his house. In the fire, she lost her husband and her only daughter. He didn’t say much because he didn’t know what to say. But he told her, “Can I pray for you?” he put his hand over her shoulder and asked God to comfort and strengthen her. It was a Divine appointment. God wanted him to meet that woman.
But what if he didn’t listen first? What if he told her, “Let me tell you my story. I have a complete family and we always communicate” Wouldn’t that be rubbing salt on his wound? It’s always important to know their story. Another way is to share what God has done in your life. It could be a before-and-after story. Or it could be an event where you saw the hand of God in your life. My important suggestion: Tell your story.
Don’t give the false impression that because God is in your life, your entire life is all sweet and perfect. Share your current struggles. Then, after sharing your story, invite him/her to journey together. Invite that person to regular coffee time with you, so you can continue to build the friendship. You can also invite him to your prayer gathering or volunteer to any of our programs at church.

Everybody may come back now.

What’s your story? What’s your experience of God?
How do you see yourself in this map? How do you see yourself as a part of the miraculous transformation of this community? God is inviting you to be part of the possibility. May God bless you all. Amen.

 

Holy Child and St. Martin Health and Wellness Clinic opens every Monday at 7:30 am to 12 noon; and Sunday at 12:30 PM to 5 PM.

Please contact (650) 991-1560 for any inquiry or email Persephone Gee, RN PHN, MS at persephonegee@mac.com; or Mariterie Adams, Admistrative Officer at MariterieAdams@gmail.com

“The Miraculous works of the Body Of Christ”

Third Sunday after Epiphany
Luke 4:14-21
1 Corinthians 12:22-25
The Rev. Leonard Oakes

“The Miraculous works of the Body of Christ”

Luke the evangelist is known to us as a physician, one who has the ability of understanding the physical needs of a person. In most of the readings in Luke, it highlights the Christ of mercy (one who reaches out to the poor, the outcasts, foreigners and women).

In the Gospel this morning, Luke tells us, that after Jesus was baptized by John, he was filled with the Holy Spirit and returned to Galilee and began to teach in the synagogue. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read the scroll of the prophet Isaiah where it is written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
In these few words we see in a nutshell how Jesus, in Luke, understands his mission in the world. “to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he began to say to them, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

It is not a coincidence that we started our year by reaching out to the poor, the uninsured and the less fortunate in our society through our health and wellness program.
It is not an accident that what we have dreamed together will be fulfilled in our own hearing, today.
So I have a statement to make today: Today, the spirit of The Lord is upon us, because he has anointed us to bring good news to the poor, to the less fortunate in our society. He has sent us to proclaim release to the captives from loneliness and anxieties and those who lost hope for a help are now ready to recover from years of blindness of the possibilities of attaining hope. We have come together to hallow this ground and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Yes, today, the word of The Lord has been fulfilled in our hearing because we are all filled with the power of the Spirit and the report of what we have started to bring to the community together quickly spread through all the surrounding county and community. Praise The Lord, you angels of His, in all His dominion, praise The Lord. This statement can not be a rhetoric for it all started when we dreamed together on how we can bring the kingdom of God here and now.

Let me walk you through on how we all came to this reality together. We all began with a prayer, a prayer that was promulgated by the words of Micah when he said, “What does The Lord require of you but to seek justice, to love mercy and walk humbly with God”

Our prayer was supplemented with our common goal of opening our doors where we don’t wait for people to come and enter but rather an invitation for us to go out and reach out to those who are living in the dark, to shed a little light of love that penetrates their homes, so that they too, will know that we care to make a difference, that the only duty we have in this world is to love and be loved.

Our prayers grew as the spirit of God slowly shines in our hearts to extend our compassion to all. Angels, one by one slowly emerge in our midst and the heart of many are moved and empowered. Together, we have made our connections with institutions that know the needs of the less fortunate. We have made our connections with people who like us, are compassionate and loving. And yet we continue to dream, we hold it as self evident that “To relieve the distressed is a duty incumbent on all good persons who are linked together by an indissoluble chain of sincere affection. To soothe the unhappy, to sympathize with their misfortunes, to compassionate with their miseries and to restore peace to their troubled minds, is the great aim we have in view. On this basis, we form our friendship and establish our connections.”

Yet we continue to dream. We dream that one day, the ministry that we started together and blessed by God Almighty, will flourish like a fresh seed that blooms like a fruitful tree where people can find love so overflowing.

We dream that when we subdue our passions and continuously improve our relationship together by overcoming all our differences and pride, we will get to where we are headed, where harmony and love are overflowing and our lights continue to shine so that God will be glorified.

Jesus surely knew his goals and he was resolved to meet them. So, we too, are resolved to continue to walk with this journey together and meet the goal God has set for us to do, that is to spread the message where the only job in the whole world is to love and be loved. It is our common goal that all the body of Christ will live in harmony to follow what God wants us to be.

Today is our annual meeting. We exercise our ministry in discerning leaders whom we deem fit to represent the members in the Bishop Committee and the appointment of key people in the different committee chairs. I would like to ask you all to be part in this miracle of love and service by prayers and participation. We are all in this together. We are all called as the body of Christ to move forward and aim at the realization of the kingdom of God in this vineyard.

There is a fable about every member of the community, including those who appear to be useless, are important after all. Once upon a time, the various parts of the body began complaining against the stomach. “Look at me,” says the hand, “I till the soil to plant the seeds, I harvest the crops, I prepare the food. All that the stomach ever does is lie there waiting to be fed. This is unfair.” The feet agreed, “Me too, I carry the heavy stomach around all day, I carry him to the farm to get food, I carry him to the river to get water, I even carry him up the palm tree to get palm wine, and all the stomach ever does is lie there and expect to get his ration of food, water and wine whenever he needs them. This is unfair.” The head, too complained how he carries all the heavy load from the farm and from the river, all to feed the stomach who does nothing to help. The parts of the body decided that this injustice must stop. To force the issue, they decided to embark on a protest action. They agreed to stop working and feeding the lazy stomach until the stomach learns to be a responsible citizen of the body. A whole day went by and the stomach was not given any food or water or wine. All that the stomach did was groan from time to time while the others taunted him. By the second day of starving the stomach, the head said that he was beginning to feel dizzy. By the third day, the hands reported that they were feeling weak, and the feet were wobbly and could not stand straight. Then it dawned on them that, much as they were visibly supporting the stomach, the stomach was also supporting them in a less obvious but equally important way. It dawned on them that by feeding the stomach they were feeding themselves without knowing it. So they called off their strike action and went back to work to feed the stomach. Their strength returned and together with the stomach they lived happily together after.

Each of us has a part in the grand plan of the Almighty God. Each of us is making a vital contribution, even those who appear to do nothing. Paul, in the 2nd reading, makes a similar point.

The members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable. Those members of the body that we think less honorable are clothed with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body.
There was a priest who had a very able and gifted man in his Parish. If you wanted anything done, and done well, give it to this man. One day the Priest called him and gave him another assignment. This man could not bear it any longer? “My Lord,” he said, “Am I the only person in the parish? Why must every work be given to me while there are some people there doing absolutely nothing? The wise priest said to him, “Would you want me to pray so that no one ever calls on you to do anything again?” The man got the point. He would not like to trade places with the less gifted members of the parish who could not complete an assignment. From then on he stopped complaining and was happy to put his talents to work for the common good.

Today the word of God challenges us to give up that secret pleasure we get by comparing ourselves with others and thinking that other people are inferior. No part of the human body is inferior. In the same way, no member of the church community should be regarded as inferior. God has given each one of us different gifts, different opportunities, different job descriptions in life. Our concern should be to try to be faithful to the grace that God gives us day by day. On the last day, God will tell us who did more than the other. And, oh, what a surprise that would be!
To all loving members, friends and supporters of Holy Child and St. Martin, open your hearts, minds and lips, for today, the Holy Spirit is upon us and the Glory of The Lord is being fulfilled in our hearing. Amen.