Last Sunday after the Epiphany
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.