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June 24 sermon of The Rev. Rebecca Goldberg: “Of hospitality, community and the way of Love”

Proper 7, June 24, 2018
1 Samuel 17 1a:4-11, 19-23, 32-49
Psalm 9:9-20, 2 Cor. 6:1-13, Mark 4:35-41

Of Hospitality, Community, and the Way of Love

I had almost finished writing the homily for this Sunday. As usual, I had carefully read the assigned scriptures, studied commentaries, prayed and reflected. And then I just deleted everything that I wrote, knowing I had to start over. For this week, I cannot keep silent, to keep silent would mean that I have failed in my call to preach the Gospel. This week I must speak about the moral crisis that is gripping our nation. And let me be clear that I am not trying to promote partisan politics and to say that there is one uniform Christian position on all issues. I don’t want to polarize or divide us any further. But when innocent children are being torn away from their parents, when people are being prosecuted simply for trying to cross the border to a better life, and when our leaders blatantly misuse Holy Scripture to justify their unjust actions, I, and we, must speak out. If we don’t speak out, if we don’t call our leaders to account, we are not living out our call as citizens, and as Christians.
I believe that a nation’s true greatness is measured by how it treats its most vulnerable—the poor, the ill, those on the margins, and vulnerable immigrants and their children. And in turning away the sojourner, the strangers who are our brothers and sisters, we are turning away our Lord himself.
For I believe this current crisis in our nation is about more than immigration. It is about a lack of hospitality, of compassion, of honoring the common humanity of our neighbors. It is about fear, division, and demonizing the other. It is about racism, sexism, and classism that keep us from building the beloved community together. And it is about putting the narrow interests of our country ahead of the common good for all the nations of the world. And what is most troubling, it is about professing Christians equating allegiance to country with allegiance to God.
First, the lack of hospitality. The inscription at the Statue of Liberty reads, in part, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door! We make a mockery of these words, which have been a beacon of hope to so many throughout our history, when we turn away and prosecute those who try to seek asylum here, and threaten to build walls and separate families. We make a mockery of these words when we ban people from traveling here because of their religious beliefs or the country of their origin. We make a mockery of these words when we speak of undocumented immigrants as thugs and criminals. How quick are we to forget that our ancestors took perilous journeys into the unknown to escape the same kind of persecution many of these asylum seekers are fleeing! How soon we forget!
No friends, as Christians, we are called to something higher, something far better. In Isaiah 56:7, we read “ These will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer, for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.” In Deuteronomy Chapter 10, we hear “God executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” And listen to this from Job 29:16, “I was a father to the needy, and I championed the cause of the stranger.” We are to have compassion on the stranger, the sojourner, our brother and sister in need. We are not to have hard hearts or turn away, but to show mercy and compassion, and to share of our abundance and bounty with those who are in need. And we are always to remember that Jesus said whatever we do to our brothers and sisters, we do to him.
Second, this moral crisis gripping our nation has to do with creating an environment in which racism; fear, division, and mistrust can grow and destroy the bonds of love and community. There are those who claim that our greatness lies in the past, and that we should go back to the days when we were a more homogenous, European-American society. But the beauty of the dream of a free self governing land that inspired our founders, is that it was bigger and better than they were, and at its heart, really transcends divisions of color, class, gender, or sexual orientation. They longed to establish a land where all people could flourish in freedom. I recently was walking through downtown San Francisco on the way to a church service. I heard English, Spanish, Tagalog, and Chinese spoken. I met African Americans, Latinos, Filipinos, Pacific Islanders, and Anglos as we passed each other on the sidewalks. I saw Sikhs with their turbans, Muslim women in hijabs, and later, an observant Jew wearing a kippah. Later that day, I was served in a clothing store by a young Indian woman in a sari. This friends, is what makes America great, this wonderful diversity and variety and celebration of life in all its beautiful difference. This is what makes America great, not some oppressive sameness in which only a few have a place at the table.
It is not easy to build commonality, community, in the midst of diversity of culture, of religious faith, of varied traditions. It is hard work, but it is our call, if we are to be a just, compassionate, and peaceful nation. And it is our call as Christians to model this path. We are told to love one another, as love is of God. It doesn’t mean we are to love people who look like us, worship like us, or have the same values. We are to love our neighbors, ALL of them. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul proclaims “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” It is hard work to build true, gracious community; it requires humility, a willingness to listen, and to ask for forgiveness, over and over again. It requires our leaders, and us, in the words of the prophet Micah, to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God. It requires our leaders, and us, in the words of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, to “understand God, the Trinity, as a community of love”, and that the power of that love can transform the world.
Finally, as Christians, our ultimate allegiance is to Jesus Christ and the way of the Cross, of sacrificial, overflowing love. We are to put the love and loyalty to God above loyalty to the state. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t love our country. I love my country, and my love for it makes me grieve for injustice and calls me to hold our leaders, and us accountable. We must always seek to live out the Gospel in our common life. And when the laws of our nation violate the call to love and respect the dignity of every human being, we are called to speak out.
And friends, don’t lose heart. Despite the meanness, the bigotry, the cruelty we may see around us, this can also be the shining hour for compassion, heroism, courage, and love. For all the horror we see of children being taken from their parents at the border, we see thousands upon thousands marching and holding solemn vigil in protest. Many, many people are donating money and effort to reunite families that have been torn apart. Across party lines, Democrats, Republicans, and others are calling for an end to the zero tolerance policies. People of all backgrounds are calling for an end to unjust immigration policies that discriminate against the poor and people of color. Take heart, for in the words of the song, we shall overcome. We are overcoming, and we shall overcome. We will walk hand and hand, and we will live in peace, someday, someday soon, by the grace of God. Someday, this country of ours that we love will once again live up to its promise, its ideals, and be a beacon of freedom and hope once more. So keep your eyes on the cross of Christ, love God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind, and fear not, go out into the world and share this marvelous good news. Proclaim it to friend, proclaim it to enemy, share it with the poor, with the powerful, and watch the miracle of the Resurrection happening once again in our midst. Amen.

“Of Dreams and Visions” The Rev. Leonard Oakes- June 3, 2018

In the name of the God of our dreams, the Father, The Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Good morning, dreamers!

Have you had a dream last night? What about the night before? Last week? Years ago? (Kindly ask your neighbor his/her dream?)
I’m pretty sure each one of us had a dream when we were young. Yet even now, we continue to dream.

When I was just a young boy, (not that I’ve grown so old now,) I used to dream a lot, awake or asleep. (Not that kind of dream that makes you smile now,) but a dream of hope and aspirations that one day, I will be like that person that I admire a lot, or be in that place that I wish I could live, or one of the stars that shines. I remember helping my dad in the farm planting rice under the heat of the sun. Every time I think about that farm, I remember eating with my brothers near the creek and taking a nap under a nipa hut where the wind blows and the songs of the birds and the sound of the water flowing will put me to rest. As I watch the grain start to form, and when it’s time for the harvest, I would pluck some heads of grain and whistle as I go. And when the harvest is done, my brothers and I would carry those 50 pounds per sack of palay on our shoulders. Usually about 100 sacks of them. Sweat runs through my cheeks as I grab a bottle of water to quench me. I don’t remember if we did the harvest on a sabbath day. What I remember is, the proceeds will help my brothers and sister college tuition fees, and to those of us who are in elementary and high schools. We would give a sack of palay rice to the Church as offering, and the rest will be our daily bread where we all get together in a table to give thanks to God for the many blessings we continue to receive. A couple of months later, the cycle for farming begins anew. Another dream comes along.
When I graduated high school, I wanted to be a nurse or a public speaker. But because I wasn’t certain of what my heart really wants, I took some general English and science subjects with a plan to pursue nursing and public administration. But somehow, somewhere I heard a voice calling me to “Come forward and stretch out my hands” I wasn’t sure whose voice that was? I didn’t know what it meant? I met with my parish priest Fr. Dario Palasi at Holy Angels Anglican Church in Pico La Trinidad Benguet, Philippines (who is now a rector in Queens New York) and confided with him about my dreams. He told me to join the Church Choir and have a time to pray for wisdom. There was a Deacon Intern there by the name of Harold Agustin (Who is a bishop now), who encouraged me to take the entrance test to Saint Andrew’s Theological Seminary in Quezon City Philippines. I passed the test but I never told my parents about it, until the month of June came where they received a letter from the seminary informing them that I passed the test and that God has called me to the ordained ministry. I still didn’t understand how all these things happened so quickly. A sudden change of course. It turned my dreams downside up. I thought about my dream as boy, and as a college student. I finally said to the Lord, “Lord, here I am, take my stretched hands and lead me according to your will.” Here I am now with you, still listening to the voice of God.

The young Samuel in the Old Testament reading may not understand all those dreams and voices he experienced, but they certainly led him to become a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.
The man in the synagogue with a withered hand in the Gospel reading this morning, listened to the calling of our Lord Jesus Christ who said, “Come forward and stretch out your hand” and his hand was restored to normalcy.

Samuel’s dream may be something else, but God has better plans for him.
The Man with the withered hand may have lost his hope to be well, but he listened to the call of Jesus Christ to come forward and he was healed.
I may not have pursued my nursing and public administrator right away, but God called me to pursue His mission first and yet God still granted me to become a nurse and a public administrator at the same time. There is no better place to be but in the house of God full of gratitude and service to render.

To our graduates, graduating students; To all students and dreamers like us, I know you have aspirations in life, you long for a better life, possessions. We long for peace, love and the way of compassion. I ask you not to hesitate to stretch forth your hands and listen to the voice of God. Don’t hesitate to say to the Lord, “Here I am, send me according to your will.”

May your dreams come true, and may the God of our dreams, The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be with you and guide you through. Amen.

Let me offer you this song to inspire you today and everyday.

Andy Williams:
To dream, the impossible dream, to fight the unbeatable foe,
to bear with unbearable sorrow, to run where the brave dare not go.
To right the unrightable wrong, and to love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary, to reach the unreachable star

REF: This is my quest to follow the star no matter how hopeless
No matter how far, to fight for the right without question or pause
To be willing to march, march into hell for that heavenly cause
And I know if I’ll only be true to this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm, when I’m laid to my rest

And the world will be better for this,
That one man scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To fight the unbeatable foe. To reach the unreachable star

Jesus Baptism and ours – The Rev. Rebecca Goldberg

The Baptism of Jesus
Sunday, January 7, 2017
Genesis 1:1-5, Psalm 29, Acts 19:1-7,
Mark 1:4-11

Jesus’ Baptism- and Ours

Imagine the scene in the wilderness as John the Baptist preached repentance. People streamed into the countryside and from Jerusalem to hear what this fiery, ascetic preacher had to say, and to be baptized as a sign of their turning back towards God. It was probably dusty, hot, and crowded, with animals milling about, with people surging forward to catch what John was saying, and to wait their turn to go under the cleansing waters. Then they heard these incredible words, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” What strange and marvelous words! Who could this be? What could it mean to be “baptized with the Holy Spirit?
Then Jesus appears at the Jordan River and presents himself to John for baptism. It might have seemed like the other baptisms before and after, and then, the heavens were torn and the Spirit came upon Jesus in the form of a dove. And as if that weren’t enough, there was the voice from heaven, saying, you are my Son, with you I am well pleased.” Have you wondered why Jesus had to be baptized? After all, he didn’t have anything to repent of! In his baptism, Jesus, in his humanity, identified with us and our need of repentance, and though he was without sin, he went through the rite in solidarity with us, and as a sign of humility and obedience to God. In his baptism, Jesus received confirmation of his call as the Messiah, the Anointed, the one who came to speak peace and life and hope and love to a world so greatly in need of grace. And our readings today are full of rich imagery from the Hebrew Scriptures about water and the Spirit of God moving over the face of the deep in creation, and of the presence and voice of God coming out of the cloud. It is interesting that the Spirit descends on Jesus in the form of a dove, which might have reminded the gospel writer’s audience of the dove that was sent out from the Ark after the great flood, and heralded the return of the dry land. In Jesus’ baptism, God acts in history to confirm Jesus’ call as the anointed one, the Christ who will save his people from their sins and give them the promised gift of the Holy Spirit.
So what about us? What does our own baptism mean? Do you remember your baptism? Many of us probably don’t, whether we squalled in protest as the water splashed on our heads, or we slept peacefully in a parent’s arms. I was a teenager when I was baptized, and I still remember what I wore, what the weather was like, and what the choir sang. I even remember what we ate at the coffee hour afterwards! I’ll remember that day with joy forever. But whether or not you remember it, your baptism was an occasion of great grace. The catechism of the Book of Common Prayer states that “the inward and spiritual grace in baptism is union with Christ in his death and resurrection, birth into God’s family, the Church, forgiveness of sins and new life in the Holy Spirit.” In this sacrament, we are made part of the family of God, in a bond that nothing can break. In this sacrament, we are cleansed and made whole and new. In this sacrament, God says to each and every one of us, you are my beloved child, with whom I am well pleased. That is your birthright as a Christian person. In your baptism your status as God’s beloved; a person of inherent worth, is sealed and confirmed forever. And in your baptism, you are called to share with Christ in his ministry of compassion, transformation, healing, and justice.
In our baptism, we also partake of Christ’s death and rising to new life. When we go under the waters we experience death to the old life in which our own ego and limited perspective reigned supreme, and then we rise to a glorious new life in which God lives in us, at our center, and teaches us to see the world with the eyes of Jesus. In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? He goes on to say “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” In our baptism, we follow where Christ has led the way, and mysteriously share in his passion, death, and resurrection. Our baptism is a sign of our humbly walking the pilgrim way of transformation, of dying to the old, limiting way of life that is centered on oneself, and learning to embrace a life of gratitude, service, and tender-hearted love for others. In our baptism, we indeed submit ourselves joyfully to following the way of the Cross, the way of humility, mercy, and grace. And in our baptism, we will share in Christ’s suffering again and again as our hearts are broken with love and compassion for the world.
Our baptism is not only a sign of God’s commitment to us, to cleanse us, forgive us, and make us his own, but of our commitment to follow Jesus in humility and joy. Being baptized is actually a really countercultural act, if you think about it. In our vows we promise to renounce Satan and his empty promises, and to trust Jesus Christ and his grace and love alone. We commit to being part of a community that breaks bread together, respects the dignity of every human being, and has a special mission and ministry with those who are on the margins. This often puts us in conflict with the norms of a culture that puts material wealth, possessions, power, and influence over human need. Witnessing to love and humility in a world of arrogance and indifference is what we are called to do as baptized Christians.
Finally, did you know that your baptism is your ordination as a minister in the Church? I’ll say that again. Your baptism is your ordination as a minister in the Church! You may think that the ministers in the church are the clergy, like Leonard and I, who have been to seminary and ordained to the priesthood by a bishop. But who are the ministers in Christ’s church? They are all the baptized people of God, lay and ordained, who serve the world in Jesus’ name. Did you know that you, and you, and you, all of you are ministers in the priesthood of all believers, the body of Christ? Your baptism sanctifies and empowers you to take your place in the body of Christ and share your God-given gifts with your brothers and sisters in the faith and in the wider world! Some people think that the really important “spiritual work of the church should be done by the clergy, with the lay people serving in subordinate roles. I know I speak for both of us when I say that we don’t believe that here at HCSM, and we encourage and affirm your God- given call to serve as spiritual leaders, alongside the clergy. We as your clergy partners in ministry are called to equip you, encourage you, and nurture you from the riches of the sacraments and the tradition as you travel the pilgrim way of service, compassion, and reconciliation. Priests and deacons are not called so much to minister to you as to minister with you and alongside you as we all share the Gospel in the world.
So friends in Christ, boldly live into your baptism, your adoption as beloved daughters and sons of the living God, and share with us in his ministry of reconciliation. Commend the faith that is in you, and don’t be afraid to share your truth with the world. Stand up as compassionate leaders in a world that has lost its way in the mire of fear and hate. In the midst of the clamor of voices that seek to demean and undermine the dignity of people, let your voice ring out in a declaration of the great value of each human soul, precious in the sight of God. Let your baptism into the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ give you the assurance of his triumph over darkness, destruction, and evil, and that nothing in all creation will ever separate us from his love. Amen.

Christmas Day 2017 Sermon – The Rev. Rebecca Goldberg

Christmas Day, December 25, 2017
Isaiah 9:2-7, Psalm 96, Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-20

Love Runs Wild at Christmas

Imagine, if you will, that Jesus’ entrance in our world had been announced to a King and his court. He would be born to much fanfare in a jeweled palace, with only the most prominent rulers, powerful religious leaders, and wealthy, influential people in attendance. All of this is only fitting for one called the Son of God, right? At his birth he would be laid in a royal bed that is richly adorned, and inlaid with gold and silver. Only those who were considered the respectable in society would then be invited to pay devout homage to the Savior. This is all only reverent, and proper, right?
Wrong, Wrong, thanks be to God wrong! Instead, God confounds the wisdom of the world and Jesus ‘ birth is announced to an unmarried, humble young woman who must travel long miles because there is no room in town, and who gives birth to her first born-son in a manger, a feeding trough for cattle, attended only by farm animals and despised shepherds! Yet the Scripture that we just read tells us that “the glory of the Lord shone around them”, and a multitude of angles praised God and gave him glory for the gift that had been given. God has taken the ordinary, the humble, the lowly, the poor, and used it as a means to show the world his grace, power, and love. This is the message of Christmas.
And what other great, glad tidings can we celebrate this Christmas? What other wonders can we declare? Let’s look again at the Collect for Christmas Day that we read together a few minutes ago. It says: “Almighty God, you have given your only begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born this day of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and forever, Amen. This collect proclaims that in Jesus Christ, God has shared our human nature and is forever joined to us in solidarity and love. It tells us that at Christmas, and indeed at all times, God is working in us to revitalize, renew and transform us, drawing us into a deeper relationship of love. And as a result of the new life that the Christ Child brings, we are empowered to live humbly, justly, and mercifully, going out into the world to make the peace and reconciliation of Christmas a living witness to the Kingdom of God.
First, then, Christmas is about God, in Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us, “taking our nature upon him”. God doesn’t descend mightily from on high and invade our planet in a dazzling display of power, but instead, quietly, peacefully comes to be with us, in love and humility embracing the limitations of human flesh to be in solidarity with us. In that holy Child, wrapped in swaddling clothes, whose tiny hands and feet speak to us of complete vulnerability, God shares deeply in what it means to be human. This is what brings salvation. It doesn’t come from trying to perfectly follow the commandments or live up to the expectations of a distant and austere God. Salvation comes near to us because God fully shares our human experience and heals and restores human nature. The gift of the Incarnation means that the Divine, the Holy of Holies, has taken on human flesh and hallowed our life, loving us healing us, and transforming us. Heaven and earth are forever joined and human nature is blessed and restored to its glory as a reflection of the image of God. This friends, is what we celebrate at Christmas.
Second, in our Collect for today, we ask God that “we may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit.” The gift of Jesus Christ at Christmas is for the salvation and restoration of the world, and also for the renewal and transformation of each individual heart. In Christ, God longs to be incarnate, nurtured, and cherished in each life. He comes to feed souls that are hungry for love, hope, and grace, and to quench the thirst of those souls that have become cracked, hard and dry. He comes to stir up compassion, grace, and a hunger for justice in hearts whose love may have grown cold and hardened into cynicism. This Christmas, I invite each of us to look deeply and honestly into our own hearts. Are we asking the Christ Child to draw us to himself, to renew us, to strengthen us, to give us the courage to love? What keeps us from gladly, joyfully, and with abandon, welcoming the Incarnate One and the Spirit into our hearts to do their redeeming work? Are we too busy doing all the things, many of them good things that need to be done, to take the time to listen in silence to the whisper of the Spirit? Are we holding on to anger at God, ourselves, or others for the hurts and suffering of the past? Or perhaps we have simply let hope die in us, too discouraged by events in our world or disappointments in our own lives to dare to believe in love again? Friends, the Good News is that God is there! Know, too that even if we have turned away in anger or fear, God has never turned away from us and loves us without measure, longing to welcome us home again. And Christmas means that Christ longs to live in our hearts and restore hope, joy and purpose to those who are weary and forlorn.
Finally, Christmas means that our God works in ways that are surprising, liberating, and that turn the established order of things upside down. Isaiah tells us that the people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light, that the yoke of the burden and the rod of the oppressor have been broken. In her Magnificent, Mary rejoices that God has lifted up the lowly and “scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.” In the Gospel we see that the Child is not born among the rich and powerful but among the humble poor, and the sometimes despised class of shepherds are the ones that praise and glorify God at Jesus’ birth. Throughout the record of history, our God is the God of the unexpected, stubbornly and tenaciously loving the rag-tag, rebellious, sinful, weak, yet strong, faithful and vibrant people of Israel and giving them a birthright as God’s people, a birthright that is a sign that all people belong to the royal priesthood, the holy nation. The message of Christmas is that grace, and light and mercy have been shed abroad in the world in a new and wonderful way, through the person of Jesus sharing our life and teaching us the ways of love. Christmas means that grace, peace and joy have the last world, and the deepest darkness has no chance against them.
Friends, I have seen so many signs of this hope and joy overcoming darkness, apathy, and indifference. In the news a few weeks back I read about the “layaway angels”, perfect strangers who have been coming into department stores and anonymously paying the layaway balance on toys and clothing for children so that their parents can provide gifts for their families. I was listening to the radio today and heard stories of people who lost their homes in the Sonoma county fires, One woman lost her home, and thought it would be a desolate Christmas. She said it was one of the best Christmases ever because “Christmas is not about the things, but the people.” A woman whose home was spared is opening it up for Christmas and inviting people who lost their homes to come and enjoy fellowship, food and cheer. She said “I have been so blessed and I realize now what Christmas really means- it means love and giving.” I hear about Muslims, Christians, and Jews gathering together during this holy season to learn about each other’s traditions and explore ways to work together for peace. The gift of Christ at Christmas is working its miracle of grace and peace in the hearts of people of every faith and culture. I see that grace overflowing here in your lives. People tirelessly work to serve the homeless poor through the Bread for the World, homeless shelter programs. You bring sandwiches and water to those who make their homes under the freeway bridges in San Francisco. You take time from busy lives to work in the Health and Wellness Center, and to make our church buildings hospitable and welcoming to the stranger and the poor who come here. And then you make late night trips to bring bread back to church to feed the hungry. You truly welcome the stranger here, and care for each other like family. I have been personally transformed and changed by the love that is given and shared here, and am so thankful to God for it!
I want to conclude with a quote from Madeleine Engle, the author of the book “The Irrational Season.” Of Christmas, she writes: ‘This is the irrational season, when love blooms bright and wild, had Mary been filled with reason, there’d have been no room for the child.” This is indeed the message of Christmas, love and grace that have run wild, out of control, filling the world with hope, healing and purpose. Merry Christmas everyone, and let your hearts, too, run wild with that amazing love. Amen.

“Render unto God the things that are God’s”

“Render unto God the Things That are God’s”
Matthew 22:15-22

The Rev. Leonard Oakes, Vicar

Who among you do not pay taxes to the government? We are all aware that if we fail to pay the government what is due to them, the amount can be compounded, worse is they take away all you have, and you may even go to prison for evading them. The Government need funds to defray expenses for its various programs.

With God, all He need from us is to love and be loved; know how to give thanks and recognize that He provides everything for you. Share what you have and glorify His name.

But the Pharisees came to Jesus with another plan and pretended to be asking a sincere question of faith. “Should we pay taxes to the Romans?” The question was a legitimate one. After all the Romans were unjust and their government enslaved people all over the world. Should God’s people support such a government?

But our wise friend Jesus knew this was a trap. If he said they should not pay the taxes, then they would go to the Romans and have him arrested for treason. If on the other hand he said they should pay taxes, they could use that against him. They could say that he did not have enough faith in God, or that he was little more than a tax collector in religious clothing.

Jesus used a reversed tactic and turned the question back on the questioners. “Show me the coin used to pay the tax.” It was a Roman coin with the name and image of the emperor on it. So, Jesus said, “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” He could have stopped there because he had answered the question. But he went on to say, “and render unto God the things that are God’s”
Could you repeat that after me: “Render unto God – the things that are God’s.” That is the main point! You see that is what these religious leaders were not doing. They were not giving God what was due to God. They were serving themselves and not the Almighty.

This being a stewardship awareness month, I am supposed to tell you that God is due one tenth of your income. In other words that you should tithe or regularly give 1/10th of the money you make to the church. That tenth or tithe belongs to God. Render unto God the tithe that is God’s!

But then this approach got me thinking. Did you know that the Pharisees tithed? In fact, they were probably the best tithers among God’s people. Jesus said that they even tithed herbal products of mint and dill and cumin. (Matthew 23:23). Does anyone here have an herb garden? Then why don’t you give a tenth of what you grow in to the church? What about your vegetable gardens? I love fresh corn and tomatoes! Elizabeth Reece shared with you fruits from her backyard last month. Yesterday, Lilibeth Cudiamat gave me a bag of persimmons she harvested from her backyard in Stockton. What about giving your time to other things that the church need without being asked? Bernard Dayrit and Alan Del Rosario were up in the ladder to clean the front window glasses. Malissa Mitchell and Marlene Ferrer were busy cleaning up in and out of the church in preparation for the health and wellness fair and Sunday service, while Becky Aquino and our health and wellness volunteers prepared lunch for the people. Mario Dayrit and Marlon Pailano consistently pick up bread from Lucky’s every Friday, Saturday and Sunday for this and every community, while Elois, Luz, Cherrie, Lois and Alicia pick up bread and pastries from Starbucks and Noah’s Bagel for the same. Janus and Francis come all the way from San Mateo and San Jose to give their time and talent to teach music to our children for free. Mr and Mrs Lagunte come all the way from Modesto for a two hour drive every Sunday to join us in thanking God in this community. Many of you share your kitchen and office supplies for church use. And many more that each of you give to glorify God including of course your pledges to keep the financial part of the Church going.

My point is the Pharisees were good tithers, and yet Jesus told them they still needed to render unto God the things that are God’s. So, Jesus was not talking about tithing. Don’t get me wrong. You should tithe, but ultimately this passage is not about something as meaningless as money. Coins and taxes are involved in the story, but in the end Jesus is talking about much more than mere money or governmental revenue. If we are to render unto God things that are God’s, we would give everything to God. Again, I am not talking about money! I am talking about giving our entire lives to God.

Last week, Rev. Rebecca reminded me that stewardship is not only about money, it is also about time, talent, and other resources our hearts could give to glorify God, including being alive and well!
I ask everybody to take a deep breath with me: In — and out. In — and out. God gave you that breath. Every single breath you take is a gift from God. So, every breath we take is due to God. We should use every breath to serve God. How many of you woke up this morning? Assuming I didn’t put you to sleep you should all have your hand raised, except if your shoulders are aching. God gave you this day. So, if we render unto God the things that are God’s, then this day should be dedicated to serving him. And tomorrow, when you wake up, that day will be a gift from God and it should be dedicated to God.

Stewardship is ultimately not about money. It is about giving your life to Christ. Ultimately how much you pledge to the church or give to the church next year will not change your standing before God. What would really make me happy is if everyone in this church vowed to render unto God every day and every breath to serve the Almighty. And I assume that if we all did give ourselves totally to God, it would influence many things, our participation in the life and work of the church, including our offerings.

Christian stewardship is about recognizing that everything we have is from God, including the ecology we live in and those who live around us. And as Christians we are called to seek to use everything we have and everything we are to serve God. That means our time, our talents – everything. We will be asking you to turn in an estimate of the money you will give to the church and we will use those figures to construct a budget for next year. But ultimately that doesn’t matter – that is just an administrative necessity. Ultimately what’s important is not how much money you give, but who you serve each day.

May we serve God with goodness of heart, with purity of intention and with love of virtues that make this world a better place to live in. Amen.

Sermon on the Feast of Saint Francis – Rev. Rebecca Goldberg

Feast of St. Francis
Sunday, October 8, 2017

Rev. Rebecca Goldberg, Associate Priest

Francis, Troubador of the Gospel

Francis, the poor man from Assisi, has captured the imaginations of modern people like no other saint. Whether we are Catholic or Protestant, Jew or Muslim, Buddhist, New Age practitioner, humanist or agnostic, we find he is universally admired, emulated, and looked to as an example. In popular culture, he is often considered the patron saint of nature, and the friend of animals. Scores of films have been made about him, and countless books have been written about his life and times. Environmentalists, rebels, and peace activists claim him as their own. Francis statues adorn gardens and backyards and churches. Cities are named after him. Yet Francis is so much more than a gentle patron saint of peace and nature and creation. For St. Francis did nothing less than challenge, purify, and transform the church of his time. Francis brought new life to a church that was becoming complacent and entrenched in the violence, darkness, and corruption of the time. Francis lived out the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the spirit of radical hospitality, reconciliation, and joy that lifted up multitudes of people, and helped them to know purpose and joy in their faith again. And he continues to inspire people today.
Francis was born in 1181, in medieval Assisi. The son of a prosperous silk merchant, he lived a life of ease and comfort as a young man, helping his father in his business by day and attending parties and social gatherings with his friends at night. He and his friends were often seen making merry and singing in the streets of Assisi, after indulging in food and drink and general mischief. Like most of the other young men of his time, he was enamored of the chivalrous tales of knights in armor wooing and winning fair maidens. There was romance in the life of the soldier, who went off to war and accomplished mighty feats in battle. So it no surprise that the youthful Francis enlisted in the army to seek to achieve glory through acts of valor.
God had another call for him however. Shortly after he enlisted, he became ill, and began to rethink the direction of his life. He began to question his former manner of living, and became disillusioned with the battlefield, the promises of glory, and the achievement of worldly power. Sad and confused, he made his way home to Assisi. There God drew him into the life of conversion through an encounter with a leper that forever changed him, and an experience at the church of San Damiano where Jesus implored him to “rebuild” his church. With the same fervor he entered into the life of merrymaking in the streets of Assisi with his friends, he now wholeheartedly served Jesus Christ and Lady Poverty. He gave all of his possessions back to his father and gave up his share of the family business. In a dramatic scene, he strips himself of all his clothing before his father and stands naked before the bishop and the people of the town, claiming his dependence on God alone. From that time forward, he became detached from the desire to gain worldly power or influence, and dedicated himself to following the Lord Jesus Christ in simplicity, humility and poverty, serving all people as brothers and sisters. He gathered together a band of like-minded people who went about the countryside preaching the love of God, the goodness of creation, and the need to live a life of radical simplicity and dependence on God alone. The men became the Friars Minor, and the women, under the leadership of Clare, also formed a religious community. By the time of Francis’s death in 1226, the order had grown and had developed a formal rule and recognition by the Pope. As the rule of the order became formalized and the community began to grow, Francis feared that the order would become too comfortable, too secure, and would lose sight of the virtues of poverty of spirit and simplicity. Before his death, he exhorted his followers not to forget the aims of the order—to proclaim the Gospel of Christ, to spread the spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood in the family of God, and to live simply. When he was dying, he asked to be laid down naked on the earth, a reminder of his mortality and return to the earth from which he came.
So what does Francis have to say to us today, so many centuries later, in a world so very different from medieval Assisi? Yet when we think about it, is our world really so different from that of Assisi in the late 12th century? I believe that both then and now, Francis shows us how as followers of Christ we are step out as bearers of peace and reconciliation between those who are at enmity. Both then, and now, Francis models a radical hospitality where all are welcomed as the family of God, lepers, the poor, the prosperous, the ill, sinners, saints, creatures of God, and the earth itself, which sustains us on our earthly journey. And both then and now, he calls us to embrace the way of the cross as the way of peace, joy, and transformation.
First, we are called to stand in the vulnerable place of being reconcilers in a sometimes hostile world. As part of his ministry of peacemaking, Francis journeyed at the height of the Crusades to meet the Islamic leader Sultan Malik-Al Kamil. He went on a mission of peace, to listen, to share the Gospel, and learn of the Sultan’s faith. At great danger to himself he journeyed across the battle lines to get there, and the two men met for a respectful, peaceful dialogue. Francis did not seek to overpower or convert him by force, only to share the faith that was in him and listen to the Sultan’s story. It is said that the two men left the meeting with great respect for each other. We, too, are called to be reconcilers and peacemakers, to stand in the courageous place of coming before our enemies bringing only hearts seeking to understand and heal, to listen, learn, and to be open to seeing the Holy in those we once feared. This is scary, and risky, and we can only do this by relying on Jesus, who goes behind us, before us, and within us.
Second, Francis calls us to live out the radical hospitality and welcome of God that are at the heart of the Gospel. He who had been so squeamish and fastidious by nature was enabled, by God’s grace, to embrace and kiss a leper, with no thought of the risk to his own health. He was moved with compassion and only saw the brother in Christ who was before him. From then on, Francis saw all people, and indeed, all of God’s creatures, as his sisters and brothers. Everyone was to be welcomed and embraced in the spirit of Jesus, our Lord and brother. He called all in his community to welcome the stranger, to embrace the leper, the poor, the outcast, for in doing so, we are welcoming the Lord Jesus himself. We, too, as the Body of Christ in the world, are called to offer his gracious welcome to all those who come to us, unconditionally, just as he loved us unconditionally and gave himself for us.
Finally, Francis so deeply identified with the Cross of Christ and took the grace and love he found there so deeply into his heart that he received the gift of the stigmata on his hands, feet and side. But even more miraculous than the physical, bodily marks was the joyful wounding he received in his devotion to Jesus and contemplation of the great love he showed for us in his passion and death. How could he not adore and worship a God who held nothing back, who loved us so much that he would even suffer death to draw us to himself? For Francis, walking in the way of the Cross meant sharing the compassion of the suffering Christ with all of his brothers and sisters. How, then can we take the gift of the Cross into our hearts and souls, and let its power teach us to love more deeply?
While I was reflecting on Francis this week, images of some of the more disturbing events of the past months, such as the bigotry and hate of Charlottesville and the wanton violence and death in Las Vegas last week, kept coming before my mind. Friends, our world is desperately in need of the message of St. Francis. We are living in divisive times, where people are being driven apart, rather than seeking to listen to each other and find common ground. Our culture glorifies violence as a solution to problems, and there is a disturbing lack of empathy in our relations with one another. It also seems as if we are losing our sense of belonging to a community, as more and more of us are living increasingly isolated, individualistic lives. We need each other; we need to seek to build loving, life-giving communities. We fail to do so at our peril, as we see from the events of the past weeks. And though it is important to work for legislation that seeks to stop violence, lasting change comes from transformed hearts.
Yet friends, don’t forget that nothing can ever separate us from the love of Christ. Despite the darkness, know that love, joy, peace, and truth will prevail. Never forget the hope that is in you. Take heart from the acts of courage and selfless love we saw from total strangers in the streets of Charlottesville and Las Vegas, from people who risked their own lives out of compassion and courage. Take heart from the example of Francis of Assisi, who taught us that perfect joy comes from being peacemakers and welcoming all people, and all God’s creatures, as bearers of the Holy One. Take heart from Jesus, whose cross conquered the power of evil and sin and death forever. Happy Francistide, everyone! May we, like Francis, be joyful troubadours of the Gospel. Amen.

All things are possible with God

Saving Baby Moses
Exodus 2:1-10; Rom 11:33-36; Mt 16:13-20
The Rev. Leonard B. Oakes
August 27, 2017

When I was a lad of 7, I attended a summer vacation bible school hosted by a local Baptist church in my elementary school classrooms.

I remember my VBS teacher using cardboard cartoons to illustrate the faces and places described in the Bible. One of the fascinating stories I heard is the story of the birth of Moses and how he was found, saved and adopted by the daughter of Pharaoh. At the end of the story, we all learned the song, “Baby Moses” “Ni ubing nga Moses, nagidda basket. Ti Diyos kinunana di ka agbuteng.” “Little baby Moses, lying in a bed. The Lord said to Moses Do not be afraid” That song still resonates in my ears today as it reminds me of Hope in God.

I now have a better understanding of the whole scenario behind the story.

You see, for hundreds of years, Israel had prospered and grew as a nation. In fact, they grew to the point that the Egyptians were afraid of them. “The Hebrews are growing fast in number! What will happen if they decide to rise up?” Was the concern they had in mind.
So, Pharaoh decided to impose some population control to take care of the “Hebrew problem.” Although the Pharaoh did not attempt to build a wall or threaten to deport the Hebrews, he however attempted to coerce the midwives of the Hebrews to kill the boys born to them. This would mean that the following generation would be born to Egyptian men by Hebrew women. The Hebrews as a people would be wiped out for coming generations and be absorbed into Egypt.

But it didn’t work! The midwives like Ziphrah and Puah were too brave and too smart. At great personal risk, they avoided carrying out Pharaoh’s orders. And God blessed them and the Hebrews continued to grow. So, Pharaoh took it a step farther. He ordered all the boys born to the Hebrews to be killed by throwing them in the Nile.

You see, innocent as he was, Moses was born under a death sentence. His crime was treason against Pharaoh by being born Hebrew and male. So, his family hid him strategically as they would.
But we all know that we cannot contain our children forever for they grow. And so the danger to being discovered grew larger as Moses grow in size. So, they decided to find a way to save Moses. They made a basket and put Moses in it. And ironically, they did what Pharaoh had said to do, they cast him in the Nile.
Moses’ sister kept an eye on him. Providentially the daughter of Pharaoh came and saw the baby in the basket. Her heart went out to him and she adopted him. Again, ironically his own mother ends up nursing him till he is weaned. Then he is brought to Pharaoh’s daughter to be her son. Pharaoh has said to cast all the boys in the Nile. And in the end the Nile became the means of Moses’ deliverance. It also placed him in the house of Pharaoh as a Prince of Egypt where he could eventually address the powers that oppressed his people and say, “Let my people go!”

It must have been tragic for Moses to remember that he once felt he seemed destined to drown in the Nile as many others in his generation did. He was a helpless baby condemned by a ruthless empire that was enslaving his nation of people. But Moses was destined to live and become a great chosen person of God, just like his forebears, Abraham and Sarah. These were a people who placed their faith in the God that made Egypt and the rest of the universe. This nation were the ones who began as a barren elderly couple believing in an impossible promise of many descendants. They had endured family troubles, persecutions, famine, and most recently 400 years of slavery. And God had made this hopeless band into a great nation.
Now, God was about to deliver them. A helpless people in a hopeless situation. Pharaoh was systematically killing off a generation of their sons. But some of these helpless hopeless people decided to save one boy. His family hid him and put him in an ark and watched him as he floated down the Nile. He was delivered from the death sentence imposed by Pharaoh, and eventually, after a long journey, was used by God to deliver the whole nation. God specializes in making the impossible, possible. God took a barren couple and made them a great nation. People like Abraham and Sarah. People like Jacob and making them people of faith. People like Moses, a child born under a death sentence an enemy of an Empire. Yet God delivered him and made him a great deliverer. God took Moses where he was, one baby boy among a generation sentenced to death. And God put him where he needed to be: in the court of Pharaoh as a Prince of Egypt. God not only delivered him but used him to deliver the whole nation of Israel. God can use a basket as an ark to bring deliverance. God can turn fear and hopelessness into a miracle of deliverance.

I believe that is so to us. God takes us where we are and put us where we needed to be. God not only will deliver us but will use us to deliver the rest of our people who are being threatened to be thrown and disappear. God can turn a basket story into a miracle of deliverance.

Sometimes our lives can be filled with basket stories. People can be caught in cycles of addiction or abuse or poverty. They can feel helpless and hopeless when our home security is at risk. Sometimes our financial situation or careers or family relationship can seem like a basket story. It comes to us in different forms that put us down and troubled. And if you stop and think about it, the whole human race is a basket story. We like to think we are masters of our own destiny, but we are really at the mercy of God and it is only by grace that we are saved. We are incapable of saving ourselves. We have offended the moral order of the universe and are too far gone. We are hopeless. But God specializes in hopeless cases and makes things impossible a possible. God took a basket case like Moses and made him a great deliverer. And God sent Jesus who became helpless and died on a cross the victim of an Empire. God delivered Moses through the Nile and God delivered Israel through the Red Sea and God delivered Jesus through his death on the cross. And as Jesus passed through death, he made a way for us through his death and resurrection to have true righteousness and hope. Jesus, who is the rock where Peter built his Church, has become the foundation of our Faith.

Let us therefore cast our hearts and souls in the ark of God’s grace and present ourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, and let God lead us where he wills us to be. Let the God of Abraham and Moses and Jesus bear us up. Let us Admit our dependence on God and acknowledge God’s power. God will deliver us from sin, from oppression, from the troubles and trials of life. God can give us hope and bear us up, just as he did to Moses when he was on the verge of trouble. Everything is possible with God, if we only trust in Him.

Stand up therefore my dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, and feel no reasons to be depressed or mocking yourself . For God has a purpose for you, even on the verge of your drowning, falling or losing it all. Put your trust to the Lord and God will lift you up to become a great person and a great deliverer.
Oh, people of God, let us all rise and sing, “Arise shine for the Light has come, and the glory of the Lord is risen, for the glory of the Lord is risen upon us.” (Repeat)
Amen.

“What the world needs now is peace”

Second Sunday of Easter

“What the world needs now is peace”

The Rev. Leonard Oakes

Today, the world celebrates  Earth day.

Alina Bradford of Live Science reports on the history of Earth Day:

“The first Earth Day was in 1970. When Sen Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, saw the damage done by a 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, was inspired to organize a national “teach-in” that focused on educating the public about the environment.

Nelson recruited Denis Hayes, a politically active recent graduate of Stanford University, as national coordinator, and persuaded U.S. Rep. Pete McCloskey of California to be co-chairman. With a staff of 85, they were able to rally 20 million people across the United States on April 20, 1970. Universities held protests, and people gathered in public areas to talk about the environment and find ways to defend the planet.

“Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they shared common values,” according to a history of Earth Day by the Earth Day Network, which was founded by the event’s organizers to promote environmental citizenship and action year-round.

Reflecting on the 10th anniversary of Earth Day, Nelson wrote in an article for EPA Journal, “It was on that day that Americans made it clear that they understood and were deeply concerned over the deterioration of our environment and the mindless dissipation of our resources.”

Earth Day continued to grow over the years. In 1990, it went global, and 200 million people in 141 countries participated in the event, according to the Earth Day Network.

Earth Day 2000 included 5,000 environmental groups and 184 countries. Hayes organized a campaign that focused on global warming and clean energy. “The world’s leaders in Kyoto, Japan, in late 1997, acknowledged the scientific fact that the leading cause of global warming is carbon emissions from fossil-fuel consumption, and that something must be done to address those rising emissions,” Hayes told National Geographic.

In 2010, for the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, 225,000 people gathered at the National Mall for a climate rally. Earth Day Network launched a campaign to plant 1 billion trees, which was achieved in 2012, according to the organization.

Last year on Earth Day, the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon asked world leaders to sign the Paris Climate agreement aimed at keeping planet warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.5 degrees Fahrenheit). (Then U.S president Barack Obama signed the treaty that day)

Today, more than 1 billion people across the globe participate in Earth Day activities, according to EDN. 

Although Earth Day has become mainstream, surveys show that environmentalism may be stumbling. According to recent Gallup polls, 42 percent of Americans believe that the dangers of climate change is exaggerated,  and less than half say that protection of the environment  should be given priority over energy production.

But Earth Day is still important because it reminds people to think about humanity’s values, the threats the planet faces and ways to help protect the environment, said Susan Clayton, a professor of psychology and environmental studies at The College of Wooster in Ohio.

According to a survey from device recycler ecoATM, 30 percent of those polled plant a tree for Earth Day, and 23 percent clean up a local park. About 47 percent of those polled associate Earth Day with recycling.

Here are some Earth Day ideas from people around the country:

 

  • “The first is to promote understanding of important environmental issues so that more people are aware of the critical actions we need to take to protect our environment. The second is to commit yourself to service on or around Earth Day — plant some trees, clean up a stream or help your local community garden.”
  • “Read your labels, and require transparency from your favorite brands. Make a pledge to keep water clean and accessible for years to come,”  “Commit to making an at-risk species your mascot, and become an advocate for that particular species.
  • “Take a walk in nature and simply appreciate it, plant a tree or a flower, pick up a discarded bottle and recycle it (even if it isn’t yours), turn off your printer for a day, power off your computer and take a tech break, go vegetarian for a day, use a certified natural skin-care product.
  • “A simple way that everyone can celebrate Earth Day to make the world a better place is to turn off the lights in their own homes and in their offices … not just sometimes, but all of the time,” “It may sound simple, but how many times have you left the lights on when you could be saving energy?”

 

Singer and song writer Dionne Warwick sang her wonderful song on what the world needs now: “What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of. What the world needs now is love, sweet love. No not just for some, oh, but just for every, every everyone. What the world needs now is love sweet love.”

My favorite singer and song writer, John Denver, an environment lover sings his “Flower that shattered the stone”

  1. The Earth is our mother just turning around With her trees in the forest and roots underground Our father above us who’s high is the wind Paint us a rainbow without any end

[Chorus] As the river runs freely the mountain does rise Let me touch with my fingers and see with my eyes In the hearts of the children of pure love still roams Like a bright star in heaven that lights our way home Like the flower that shattered the stone

Sparrows find freedom beholding the Sun In the engine and beauty we’re all joined in one I reach out before me and look to the sky

 

What the world and all that dwell in it, need now is Peace. Peace that knows no bound, peace that surpasses all understanding. The kind of peace our Lord and savior Jesus Christ said to his disciples who were terrified of what had just transcribed in their very eyes.

The Peace that Jesus Christ declared to his disciples gathered in a concealed room after his death, was the most important word his disciples desperately needed to hear in that very moment when the Jews were looking for them. His disciples still cannot understand all that had transcribed and been happening. They just witnessed the brutal and horrific death on the cross of their friend and Lord Jesus. They were doubtful of the reports given to them by the women who first witnessed that his body was nowhere to be found in the tomb, even the report that an angel appeared and told them that Jesus had resurrected from the dead. And now, for fear of the Jews, they locked themselves in a room, perhaps recalling and putting together all the pieces in the puzzle and understanding the meaning of all these events. Jesus appeared to them the first time and still had doubts. This time, he appeared again in the presence of Thomas who now said, “My Lord and my God,” when he saw the marks of Jesus wounds.

I don’t blame Thomas for I too had my own doubts of the love of God. I was looking for miracle to happen when my dad was hospitalized and that I wanted to see him and talk to him before anything happens. When my prayers didn’t happen how I wanted it, I began to say “Why?” and doubt on God’s saving grace. It was until I heard the sermon during his funeral when the Bishop said the words of the Prophet Isaiah, “My ways are not your ways, my thoughts are not your thoughts, says the Lord,” that I realized the true joy and abundant life that came out of that doubting experience of the saving embrace of God in the resurrection. It was in that experience that I received the Peace of Christ which passes all understanding, that peace that the world cannot give was brought by the source of all Peace, Jesus Christ himself.

I thank those who shared their life experiences reflecting on the 7 last words of Jesus on the Cross on Holy Week. There’s so much revelation and truth shared that a human experience can truly have, even that of doubting to get an answer from God. There have been times when we locked ourselves inside of us and ignore all that could possibly happen. Then, out of the sudden, Christ appears to us saying, “Peace be with you.”

Peace then is what the world needs now. Chaos is all around us. There are tensions everywhere and leaders are pushing each other into the limit, while the rest of the people in the world, especially those who have been there are terrified that they will again be brought into such experience. Young innocent children and old and tired bodies seniors are looking helpless thinking that the world have not learned from the past.

Peace is what refugees and victims of wars and violence in their countries of origin are desperately needed. They were forced to live in countries they are forced to adapt and yet meet resistance and apprehensions from the very peace loving country.

Peace is what our inner souls need when we cannot sleep thinking if are able to keep our roofs and able sustain our family when everything else seem to be unreachable and vain.  Peace is what our inner souls need when pain is all within us and seem to stay the rest of our lives. Peace is what our inner souls need when our lives are dependent on a machine that keeps us temporarily alive.

Last Friday, I shared the message to the members of the Bishop Committee that Deacon Tricia is experiencing her most difficult part of living under the help of an oxygen tank and antibiotics. Rev. Rebecca told me that Deacon Tricia said to her “goodbye.” I called Deacon Tricia right away and said, “I wouldn’t let you go without saying, “I love you and thank you for all the good deeds you imparted to every one of us at Holy Child and St Martin.” Then I said, “The Peace of Christ be with you.” She said, “Thank you” and we hanged up. The next day, Luz Mack texted me saying, “The doctors allowed Deacon Tricia to be airlifted back to San Francisco as her wish. Her oxygen level is better. She wants to sing during the April 29 concert. Deacon Tricia’s faith is always strong and positive in her resolves.

I have no doubt that our Lord Jesus Christ is always near Deacon Tricia, comforting her and keeping her faith high with God. She is at peace with God no matter what happens.

We all need that Peace and Love. The world needs that peace and love. Let us all be at peace and loving with each other, our family, our community, our nature friends around us, and the world. Let us turn to the person next and around us and make peace with each other, the peace that our Lord Jesus Christ wants us all to have. Amen.

“Blind, But Now I See” The Rev. Rebecca Goldberg

Fourth Sunday in Lent

March 26, 2017

1 Samuel 16:1-13, Psalm 23, Ephesians 5:8-14,

John 9:1:41

 

Blind, But Now I See

 

Imagine for a moment what it would be like to have been blind from birth, to sit in darkness, to need help with the basic activities of life.  You must beg to receive your daily bread. In the culture of the time, if you didn’t have any money, or family to care for you, you would have been destitute, outcast.  And then Jesus comes along to where you are sitting, without judging you and saying that sin somehow caused your condition.  He actually speaks to you. And then he asks you to do something strange.  He spits in the mud and makes a paste, spreads it on your eyes, and then asks you to go wash in the pool of Siloam.  And when you do, suddenly you can see! The beauty of colors, of sky, of earth, of animals, and especially human faces, the face of Jesus and your parents, fills you with joy and wonder.  It is overwhelming, and you feel quite overcome.  Who is this man, who can cure blindness?   Who is he?  You wonder, but your heart is singing, and somehow your intuition tells you he is from God.

There is so much packed into this story. Like the recent scripture passages we have heard over the past several weeks, the gospel writer is using the story as an opportunity to reveal the nature of Jesus.  As I have mentioned before, John’s gospel is filled with conversations that then become monologues with Jesus proclaiming his unity with the Father from before time, and his nature as the Son of God.  He uses “I am” a lot in this gospel, “I am the light of the world, I am the good shepherd, I am the bread of life, I am the door.”  The gospel is also a window into what was going on in the life of the early church at the time.  As the last gospel written, John was probably composed around the year 90 A.D, when the church was struggling with its identity and seeking to balance its roots in Jewish tradition with the universal call to share the Gospel with all people.  Believers began to suffer persecution for their faith, and were thrown out of their previous places of worship.  There is a lot of talk about darkness and light, those who do evil and who don’t believe, and there was probably the expectation the Jesus was going to come again soon in his glory.  And yet, while that expectation of his coming in glory was in the future, in John’s gospel, it is also being realized in the present, in the here and now.  Jesus is the light of the world now, the bread of the world now.  He is the resurrection and the life, now.  The dead are being raised, the blind are being given sight, the lame walk, and people are coming to believe, now.  Through his death and resurrection, Jesus is fulfilling God’s promise to reconcile the world to himself.

This is the setting for today’s passage, the backdrop for this story of grace and faith, of fear and doubt, of judgment and also of compassion, courage, and hospitality.  What did the story mean for those who heard it so many years ago, and what might it mean for us?  What does this story teach us about our relationship with God and with our brothers and sisters?

First of all, I think it teaches an important lesson about the mystery of illness and suffering.  In the beginning of today’s passage, the disciples see the blind man and asked Jesus who sinned, the man or his parents, to cause his distress?  In ancient times, people commonly believed that illness and infirmity were punishments for sin.  As if the person afflicted weren’t suffering enough, imagine what it would be like to believe it was because of some sin or shortcoming in his or her life!  Jesus refutes this and says the blindness is not the result of sin.  He says he was born blind “so God’s works might be revealed in him.” I don’t think that is to say God caused him to be blind so that he could heal him later, because that’s not the way of love. Suffering is not sent by God, but is an inevitable part of living as imperfect beings in an imperfect world, and God longs for us to have wholeness. Sometimes it comes through a physical cure, as in our story for today, other times not.  But God always brings healing to our deepest spirit.

Second, Jesus’ response to the blind man is deeply, radically compassionate and hospitable.  He invites people to be seen, loved, and included in community.  Many of the religious authorities of the time reduced religion to a set of beliefs and purity codes that were burdensome and kept people distant from God, rather than drawing them close, as Jesus’ Abba, the  Father, longed to do  They put rules ahead of human need.  Rules about what could be eaten and with whom and what could be done on the Sabbath missed the point of the great call to love God with all one’s heart, soul, and mind, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself.  Jesus is condemned because he healed the man on the Sabbath.  So the religious leaders consistently focus on the letter of the law, of following the rules, and miss out on grace.   For them, purity of observance is more important than purity of the heart that shows love and mercy.  At that time, and sadly, still in our own time, people who are disabled, suffer diseases, or mental illness are seen as invisible, unworthy.  Jesus will have none of that.  Not only was the blind man in the story able to see after his encounter with Jesus, he was seen, and valued, and cherished, and invited into relationship with the living God.  For us as Jesus’ followers there is no one who is beneath our notice or unworthy.  All are called to fellowship in the body of Christ.

Finally, this gospel juxtaposes physical and spiritual blindness. Physical blindness affects the body, the outward self, but spiritual blindness is a condition of the heart. Jesus rebukes the Pharisees and religious authorities because they condemn the blind man as a sinner, yet are oblivious to their own lack of charity, of compassion, and of living faith.  They have their own preconceived ideas of what God is like, and box the Divine in with a fixation on rules, doctrines, and purity laws, when they should be focusing on works of love and mercy.  They have their own beliefs of what the Messiah should be like and how he should behave, and they can’t let the scales fall from their eyes long enough, they can’t come before him in humility and not knowing long enough to see that when they are in the presence of Jesus they are in the Holy of Holies, the place where God dwells. They are in a place of spiritual blindness because they find the darkness more comfortable than the light of truth that shows them their need and dependence on God alone.

What about us?  What blinds us spiritually to the presence of God in our midst?  Is it a judgmental spirit that looks for faults in others instead of graciously overlooking their flaws and appreciating how special and unique they are, gifted and cherished by God?  Is it a heart that has forgotten how to sing, how to be grateful, to receive life as a gift?  I know that at times I can have a complaining spirit, and am asking God to help me to give thanks and be grateful.   Is it the tendency to live from a place of fear and mistrust, which keep us from seeing the face of Christ in our neighbors, all of them?

Friends, what keeps us struggling with spiritual blindness?  Is it the desire for wealth and influence and power?  Is it unhealed resentment and bitterness that casts a shadow and a dullness over our hearts so that we can’t enjoy a loving relationship with God or others?  Or is it our own desire, buried deep inside, to be our own gods, to direct our own destiny, rather than joyfully surrendering ourselves to God?  How is God inviting you to let Jesus touch the eyes of your heart and soul and fill you with his light and peace?           The English poet and and Anglican priest John Newton let Jesus touch the eyes of his heart. He lived much of his early life without direction or concern for the life of his soul.  He lived recklessly and aimlessly for himself, and became involved with the slave trade.  He finally came to a point in his life, where in his words; he “professed his full belief in Christ, and asked God to take control of his destiny.” He then went on to become a priest, a prolific writer of hymns, and a fierce foe of slavery.  God had healed the spiritual blindness and transformed him.  People all over the world sing “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.”

Blind, but now I see.  And yet even in our blindness and our darkness, God never abandons us.  In that wonderful Psalm, 139, we read that even the darkness is not dark to you, the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.  In John’s gospel we read that the light has shined in the darkness and the darkness has not comprehended it.  God is calling us to invite Jesus into our hearts anew this Lent, and to let his light be our light, his vision our vision.  May we all grow more and more in the brightness of the vision of our Lord Jesus Christ and his Kingdom. Amen.

Palm Sunday Sermon 2017

Palm Sunday Sermon

Rev. Leonard Oakes

April 9, 2017

“All glory laud and honor to thee redeemer king, to whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas ring…”

Today, we join Christians all over the world in celebrating the triumphant entry of Our Lord Jesus Christ to the Holy City of Jerusalem. We come together to take part of that victorious journey by re-enacting that victorious march on which Jesus Christ and his faithful followers have displayed before the powerful city of Jerusalem. We sing our hymns and waive our branches of palms proclaiming Christ as the King of kings. We have been preparing for this for days! We have set a time for God, ourselves, our families, and our community reflecting on these acts. The blessing of the palms is not an invocation of magic, rather, as with all blessings, it is a prayer that God will save us from all threats to our lives, our holiness and our salvation. These blessed palms become symbols. They become expression that stimulates faith, hope and love. With this, we began to sing, “Hosanna in the highest, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” We proclaim that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God.

 

But that is not all there is in the road to Jerusalem. That victorious entry also means the beginning of the painful experience our Lord Jesus had been preparing for. We suddenly change the mood from victory to the passion of Christ. That same road is what we have been preparing for as well during this season of Lent. We were given the choice to either walk with him or walk away and we know that walking away is never the answer to become a true follower of Christ. The road to Jerusalem also leads us to the cross and eventually to the Resurrection which is the final victory.

 

From the beginning of our liturgical celebration today, we were not mere spectators but participants of the grand procession with the blessed palms, the hymns of praises and eventually our sharing of the Passover meal and our mission to the world is itself a sermon. We have been resolved that it is our duty to proclaim the year of the Lord from this generation, to our children and our children’s children that this experience be a living experience we meet in our everyday lives; our everyday passion, our everyday victory. Our lord Jesus Christ in this very day did not call and teach disciples and followers to have audience in his painful sufferings and death. He knows the danger that is waiting for him in Jerusalem but he is not going there and wished to appeal to the nation solemnly gathered for the festival, to follow his way and so make possible the establishment of the kingdom so that they would either repent and follow its righteousness, or exhibit themselves as disobedient. But rather, he gathered them and led them to a destiny where they can be a witness of God’s saving grace an event that is going to take place in the resurrection. It is that same grace God gave his only Son to us. Humbled himself and became one of us that he may feel and live the life we have. He obediently followed the will of the father by lifting the lives of the less fortunate, the destitute, the lonely, and the persecuted. He prepared them about the coming event of his crucifixion in the place he was born and dearly loved, the city of Jerusalem. But he also assured them that on the third day he will rise again that the world may believe and that the world may be saved. With these, he simply taught his disciples to ride on an animal that is a symbol of quietness, not on a war horse, wave palm branches not missiles and guns and bombs; the songs of children not the cries of children from suffocations of nerve gas; How can children sing the hymn “All glory laud and honor to thee redeemer king, to whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas ring…”

 Jesus taught us of love and compassion, not hate and humiliation; of kindness and understanding, not bombing of churches and mosques or temples, not of trying to inflict more pain to anyone or nation already suffering from being dispersed around the world and losing their identity, yet being despised and not welcomed and loved. These refugees wanted to go back to their homeland because they experienced a lot of bully and rejection from other nations. But how can they go back when there’s so much danger and death waiting for them?

Yes, we must show our resistance to any aggression of war and power that lead to destruction and killing of people, children and the defenseless. But tooth against tooth will lead to more destructions of people than we originally intended to resolve. The world leaders have failed diplomatic solutions because of their own political and economic interests instead of the interests of peaceful resolutions. Why can’t we all lay down our weapons and peacefully march to Jerusalem? Jesus taught us to love one another as he has loved us. He peacefully marched to enter the dens of the lions, the powerful political and religious heads in Jerusalem, to show them that Love conquers all. The Love of God conquers our indifference, our selfishness, our hunger for power, if we only allow God to enter our hearts? It may not be easy as we are used to have and do, it can be painful and may even lead us to death.

Following Christ is not always a glorious experience, it can be painful and sacrificial even to the call of death. Such road is what our lord Jesus Christ would like us to follow. We too have our own roads to Jerusalem. It may be bumpy, rocky and even muddy. Our Journey may not be glorious but at least we chose the road that is essential to our faith as followers of Christ. God has assured us that in our struggles, he will always be with us. He will always be there for us like he was with Moses and Israel in their liberation from the bondage in Egypt; Like he was with Martin Luther King and the other civil rights leaders in their struggle for equality and brotherhood; like he was with mother Theresa of Calcutta on her compassion towards the poor, as he was with those who once lived and are living for the cause of the kingdom of God. God is with His Son Jesus and He is with us now.  

Whatever happens to our own transformed experience today in our reenactment of the triumphant entry of Jesus to Jerusalem, and his passion experiences, may we be made into who we truly are, the body of Christ, bread for each other and bread for the world. Let us gather more and more in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in the breaking of the bread and in our prayers for love, peace and unity of all God’s people.

Amidst all the uncertainties of the current events happening in the world, let us with steadfast love never cease to sing: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest.” And by doing so, let us not forget that all will lead us to the resurrection on Easter Sunday. Yes, to that powerful victory of the resurrection where the love of God is shown all powerful and loving. Oh blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest!!! Amen.