Category Archives: Sermons

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.

“Gather around the well of Christ” – The Rev. Leonard Oakes

Third Sunday in Lent

“Gather around the well of Christ”

John 4:5-42

The Rev. Leonard Oakes

The rhyme, “water, water everywhere, not a drop of rain” is true to all parts of the earth. Just a couple of years ago, California had been experiencing drought for more than five years. Farmers were losing their profit, prices of farm supplies have gone up, the governor declared to all Californians to conserve water or face fines. We all prayed for rain. Then the rain came down and the flood came up. Now, we are praying for the victims of flood in many parts of the region. Still, people with compassionate hearts continued their conversation on how to help these afflicted communities.

In other parts of the world, people have been experiencing drought for decades and they have been praying everyday. Rain did not come. But people around the world were moved by compassion and put together their resources to dig wells and build pumps to produce water. The prayers of the afflicted people were answered. By the grace of God, the hearts of the people were touched to give and extend their helping hands. They had their moments of compassionate conversation.

In other parts of the world, in the Philippines, the appointed DENR secretary ordered many mining industry to be closed due to improper management of their mining activities that resulted to the death of the people’s natural fauna and flora. The river and ocean have turned into orange or clayish color, marine and sea creatures are dying, Climate has changed into humid because of open pit mining that killed many trees fishes. The people are clamoring for Ecological and economic justice, and now, are having their moments of compassionate conversation to save the earth.

In Dakota’s standing rock Indian Reservation, people are protesting for the construction of pipelines that could possibly damage their water sources. Faith based communities and environmental activists are having their conversation with the local indigenous people to prevent this from happening amidst the pushing forces of the government to push through with the construction. This reminds me of a protests done in years past against a cellophil industry whose products have damaged the indigenous people’s water resources for their drinking and for their crops. The Indigenous leaders had their moments of conversation on how to save lives against big company profits. Indigenous children are safe again swimming in the river and irrigation waters.

All these stories I have just shared all happened on an intimate conversations surrounding the issues of water and life.

Today’s Gospel takes me back to my early life experience on a well. I remember those times when I played around our well with other kids doing hide and seek while they wait for their parents to fetch water? I remember of a public well when each member of the community made vigil to protect the well from any desecration because the well is our source of life. The Metaphor, “Don’t spit in the well where you drink from” was derived from this experience. Around the deep well, is a place where children play while their parents are lining up to fetch water. It is a place where stories of the day are heard and laughter sets the day for everyone. It is also a place where good counsels are whispered to those who are grieving. It is a place where you meet new friends. It is a place where you can find Jesus making conversation with families. I see that connection with the Gospel this morning. I would like us therefore to journey on the wonders of love set by our Lord Jesus Christ with the woman at the well. We will find out that Jesus broke every rule of old so that a new spirit of love will arise and make the things impossible become possible

At the outset, it is very important for us to understand that during the time of Jesus, Jews do not associate themselves with the Samaritans. Samaritans were traditionally enemies of the Jews. The Samaritans and Jews did not mix with each other nor intermarry with each other. Jews and Samaritans had different centers of worship. The Jews believed that the center of worship was in Jerusalem; the Samaritans believed that the center of worship on Mount Gerazim. Not only did Jews and Samaritans have no dealings with one another, even to accept a drink of water was the epitome of ritual uncleanness for a devout Jew. For a Jew to have any contact whatsoever with a sinful only made matters worse. No wonder the woman was startled when Jesus asked for a drink and the disciples horrified when they returned. To find Jesus deep in conversation with this woman while sipping water from her pitcher broke all their preconceived notions about the relations of Jews and Samaritans. You can just imagine how a Jew then would try to avoid talking to any one from Samaria. Just like when you try to avoid someone whom you have a grudge with, or someone whom you hate to even see their shadows or smell their presence. Wrinkles begin to show on your forehead, your heartbeats start to pound your heart walls, you become irritated then the feeling of hate will start your day. Do you remember any of that? Jesus broke the rule of non-association with sinners. He saw in this woman the opportunity to show the world that God is not contained in one tribe or one nation but rather God is the God of all nations and we are all His children. Jesus loved this woman at the well, and he wants us to love her as well. Jesus had compassion for  h e r    a n d  J e s u s  w a n t s  u s  t o have compassion for her as well. Jesus did not condemn her and Jesus doesn’t want us to condemn her either. Jesus wasn’t harsh with her. He didn’t put her down. He didn’t judge her. She would have been an easy mark being a an outcast. It would have been so easy for Jesus to condemn her, to reprimand her. From the first moment Jesus was with her, he sensed tenderness towards her. He didn’t seem upset by her behavior. Closely examine the story for today and you will not find one hint of condemnation of her, not one single word of criticism of her. Instead, Jesus sense her tenderness, knowing her personal tragedies. Jesus did not have that judgmental spirit to his personality. Jesus loved that woman.

You see, Love breaks every residue of evil within us, we only have to learn to open up with love then everything follows. And that is the way that Jesus feels about you and me as well. Jesus loves us in all of our sinfulness. You and I don’t need condemnation. What we need is living water. Jesus offered the woman what she really needed. She needed living water, not a condemnation. Jesus wanted to free her, forgive her, shape her life in a new direction and change her. Jesus wanted to offer this woman the living water. Jesus came into her private life and offered her the living water. And that is the way God works with you and me. A sign that God is active in our lives is when he comes into our personal lives. Jesus wants to get personal with you and me. Jesus wants to get into your private life and mine. You have a private and personal life which is contrary to the will of God. And Christ comes into our personal lives, not to embarrass us, not to judge us, not to be unkind or malicious to us. But Christ comes to free us and change us and offer us what we really need: living water. Many of us are thirsty on such living water, such love. Are you thirsty? Is there dryness anywhere in your life? Is there a part of your heart that has been burnt by the heat of someone else’s hate? Is there a part of your soul that you have failed to water and like a neglected house plant is brown and wilting. Is there a need in you for love, forgiveness, and acceptance? Do you ever thirst for something deeper and more meaningful in life? Come to the well. Meet Jesus there. He will give you living water. He will give us water that brings new life to the dead parts of our hearts and souls. Once we have drank of that water we will never thirst again for eternity. Jesus already knows you better than you know yourself. As with the woman at the well he can see the turmoil in our lives. He can see the pain of betrayal. Accept him and his gift of living water, new life, and eternal life. Like all the holy men and women we had in this Church, Thomasita Purganan, Dolores Cudiamat, Dolores Santos, Himaya Aurelio, Amparo Flores, Saniata De Santis, Elsie Martin, Maria Cappa, Carolyn Hahs, lilia lachica, Claudette Coleman, Edna lagunte, Carolyn Hahs, John Ryel, Leslie Odone, George Denison, Jim Adams, Dionisio Milanes and others who helped shape this Church. Let us continue to be faithful to our callings and serve God wherever the Holy Spirit takes us. Let the living water that is in our hearts flow like a river to those whom we meet, at a well, at a bus station, senior center, Convalescent homes, malls, at church and everywhere. May we all be drawn closer to God in our daily experiences and walks of life in this season of Lent by showing love, compassion and respect to one another. May we always be faithful to God in our quench for living water. May I invite you therefore to the well of the living where we all gather to the table of Christ and that may the Holy Communion we share quench our thirsty soul with the living water, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus’ Baptism – and Ours – The Rev. Rebecca Goldberg

The Baptism of our Lord

January 8, 2016

Isaiah 42:1-9, Psalm 29, Acts 10:34-43, Matthew 3:1-17

Jesus’ Baptism—And Ours

 

Imagine for a moment, what it would have been like to be on the dusty banks of the River Jordan the day of Jesus’ baptism.  Picture John, in his rather strange clothing, with the fire of a prophet in his eyes,  earnestly calling people to repent, and castigating those who presented themselves for baptism without demonstrating the desire to return to God, and live a life that witnesses to the fruit of the Spirit.  Powerful Pharisees and Sadducees came to the river, religious leaders of the community.  The wealthy and respectable of the towns and villages probably came.  And then lots of ordinary folks,  and the outcasts, those on the margins, the despised, the lepers, poor, women, widows. Who was this, they might have wondered, who is more powerful than John, this wondrous preacher? Who could it be that was going to baptize them with the Holy Spirit and with fire?  How is one baptized by the Holy Spirit?  They must have been filled with wonder and expectation and a bit of fear as well. I know I would have been afraid.

And how the crowd must have murmured in hushed voices when Jesus himself appeared at the river.  Could this be the Messiah who had been foretold?  What need did he have to be washed from sin, or to repent?  What was happening?  John himself seems reluctant to baptize him, protesting that instead he needed to be baptized by Jesus.  And then Jesus speaks those remarkable words—“Let it be so for now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness’  And then, as he is coming up from the waters of baptism, the heavens are opened and the Spirit descends like a dove and the voice from heaven proclaims Jesus as the beloved Son of God, with whom he is well pleased.  What are we to make of all of this?

Some form of this story appears in all four Gospels.  The account from Matthew is the only one in which John the Baptist and Jesus have a dialogue back and forth.  Like other stories in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Gospels, such as Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush, Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones, the transfiguration, and the calming of the storm, there are times when the boundaries between the physical world of time and space and the spiritual world are thin, and we glimpse the reality of the Holy that is at the heart of the universe.  We can sense that this is one of those times.  The gospel writer is telling his first century audience, and us, that Jesus is the one of whom John speaks, the promised One, the Messiah, who will restore us and reconcile us to God.  He is the one who the nations have longed for, God’s son, who will establish his reign, a reign that begins on earth and is fulfilled in heaven.

The story is full of wonderful imagery that would have had rich meaning for his audience–the heavens opening over the water is reminiscent of the mystery of creation, when God brought order out of the primordial chaos.  The appearance of the dove could be a reminder of the Flood, when the bird was sent out to look for dry land and was the herald of the receding waters and the restoration of the earth.  The voice coming from heaven is the voice of God that accompanied his people throughout history- through the wilderness on the journey from Egypt, the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, the voice that resounded in the hearts and minds of the prophets that comforted God’s people in exile, and restored their future.  In Jesus all the hopes of the people down the ages were being fulfilled.

Yet despite all the images of power and the anointing of God, we also see the wonder, the gift, and the grace of the humility of Jesus in his incarnation.  He did not need to undergo a baptism of repentance to return to God, as he was already completely and fully united to God. He did not need to be cleansed from sin.  Yet, he would be baptized to “fulfill all righteousness.” He didn’t flaunt his divine nature, or lord it over others.  When he took on our human flesh, he also subjected himself, out of love, to enter our experience, of temptation, of brokenness, of need. He identified himself with us in our weakness, and sought to share our experience. Out of obedience to God, he shared with us in the rite of baptism.  Look at this great love, this tenderness, this humility, and marvel at God’s great love for the world. His baptism not only shows forth his call from God, but also the great love God has for us, to enter fully into our human experience!

So what about us?  What does our baptism mean?  For many of us, it was a ritual that took place many years ago, when we were infants, and we probably don’t remember it. For some of us, it was a choice we made for ourselves as adults. The catechism of the Episcopal Church teaches that “Holy Baptism is the sacrament by which God adopts us as his children, and makes us members of Christ’s Body, the Church, and inheritors of the Kingdom of God.”  God in his graciousness offers us the gift of restored relationship with him through Christ.  What is required of us is that we turn to God in repentance and faith and “put our whole trust in his grace and love.”   This sacrament is for adults who can make a commitment to follow Christ, and for infants and children, who are welcomed into the family of God by those who promise to teach them the faith and nurture them in the way of Jesus.  So baptism is both the sacrament of God’s cleansing and transformation, as well as our response to the unconditional love that is offered to us.

Baptism is also our sharing in the mystery of Christ’s death and  ressurrection.  In Romans 6:3, Paul asks his hearers: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  That’s actually kind of scary, if you think about it! Baptism isn’t a cheerful ceremony where we are sprinkled with a bit of water and then there is a celebration afterward.  Baptism costs us our very life.  It is an immersion into the way of the Cross, the way Jesus walked, where the love of God is at the center of everything and we are willing to walk the way of sacrifice to live always in the way of love, justice, and mercy.  In baptism, the glorious mystery of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ becomes our mystery, our journey. In the waters of baptism we die to the old way of life where our own ego and its limited vision rule us, and enter into the spacious freedom of a life centered in Christ. In the waters of baptism, we share with Christ in his sacrificial life of love, service, compassion, and grace, and we are raised from sin and death into new and abundant life, both now, and in the world to come.

Finally, baptism is our commissioning to work as bearers of the Kingdom of God.  It is, in a sense, the ordination of every Christian to ministry.  Did you know that you are all ministers of the Gospel?  Those of us who have been ordained priests and deacons and stand up here in vestments aren’t the only, or the most important ministers of the Gospel.  You, the gathered people of God, are also called, as the priesthood of all believers, to share the good news of the Gospel with the world.  Without you, Christ can’t be known! You are the light of the world and the salt of the earth. That is your call in your baptism!  Look at Jacob, who is about to be baptized here today.  He is the newest minister in the body of Christ, and in a few minutes we will promise to raise him in the Christian faith and life and to support him in his ministry.  Friends, I also say to you that because of the covenant we made in baptism, we are to support and nurture each other in the Christian faith and life as we seek to grow in Christ and share the Gospel with the world.  For in baptism, we not only receive the grace of regeneration and renewal in Christ, we also commit ourselves to living the life he did, of “continuing in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and in the prayers,” to working for justice and human dignity, to care for each other and the earth, and to never forget our constant need of grace and forgivness. In baptism, we respond body, soul, heart, and  mind to Jesus’ invitation, come follow me.

So welcome into the household of God, Jacob!  Pray for us, too, and by your life may you reflect the glory and beauty of our Lord Jesus Christ forever. Amen.