Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Friday, July 17, 2015


(The Rev. Canon Dr. Winfred B. Vergara. St. James Episcopal Church, Elmhurst, New York. July 12, 2015)

Texts: Amos 7:7-15; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6: 14-99

The gospel this morning tells us about one of the most important persons in the life of Jesus. His name is John the Baptist. Jesus said that there’s no other prophet greater than John the Baptist. What made John the Baptist the greatest prophet?

There are three reasons:
1.   He is not afraid to be alone.
2.   He does not mind being second fiddle.
3.   He “fears no one but God and hates nothing but sin.”

Being alone
First, close your eyes and imagine you are alone. Alone in the desert. Alone in the woods. Alone in the house. Alone in the church. (Silence)
Now open your eyes. How does it feel to be alone? How does it feel when you are the only one left behind because all the others have abandoned you? How does it feel that your voice is the only one against so many? Isn’t it scary to be alone?

How does it feel to be a minority? Have you experienced walking into a church where you are the only person of color? Have you felt welcomed and your minority opinion accepted? Conversely, if you are white, have you stayed long enough in a black church or Asian church or Latino church? I know some of my Anglo friends have problems with power and when their church is no longer a white majority, they begin to take flight. So that is why our church, St. James, is welcoming----because you can easily identify yourself with any races. We are a multiracial congregation.

But being alone is more than physical. Can you imagine walking into a church where your thoughts, ideas and opinions differ from all the rest? Would you not feel being marginalized and therefore decide to keep quiet and remain invisible?
The bible says of John the Baptist: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness---prepare a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, every mountain shall be made low and every hill be made plain.”

John was not afraid to be the only one even when everyone else has abandoned the truth. He will remain true to his mission, even amidst the discouragement and the resistance of those in power like Herod.

Being Second Fiddle
Second, I like you to close your eyes and imagine you are only second to your cousin. Your cousin is more beautiful, more intelligent and so much better than you. Are you able to accept that truth? (Silence)

Now open your eyes. How does it feel to be just second? Wouldn’t it be better to be number one?

Years ago in Singapore, there was a great emphasis on being Number 1 (Japan was then “Number 1.”) Parents, especially “Tiger Moms” emphasize to their kids to be “number one in school.”  One child turned out to be number two and he could not take it, he committed suicide! It’s hard to be second fiddle.

But there is something about being second fiddle. Leonard Bernstein, one of the most famous orchestra conductors was asked what was the hardest instrument to play? He replied without hesitation: “Second fiddle.” Bernstein added, “I can always get plenty of first violinists, but to find one who plays second violin with as much enthusiasm or second French horn or second flute, now that’s a problem. And yet if no one plays second, we have no harmony.” 

Yes, if everyone wants to be number one, there will be no harmony. It is would be a cacophony of an orchestra when musicians all want to be number one. Remember that Lucifer was once an angel with the most beautiful voice. It was said that when Lucifer moves there was music. But he did not content to be second to God, he wanted to be God and he wanted to usurp the authority of God. Thus Lucifer became a fallen angel and his name is Satan, the Devil.He was overcome by pride and self-delusion. Instead of worshipping God, he worshipped himself.

The Bible says of John, “I baptize you with water, but the one who is coming will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. He is more worthy than I am. In fact, I am not even worthy to untie his sandals. So I must decrease and he will increase!” 

John was content with being second fiddle to his cousin, Jesus of Nazareth.  He was older, he was physically stronger, he might even be bigger and taller than Jesus---but he was content of being second. And so there was harmony between him and the Lord. He was called the “forerunner,” the one who was sent to prepare the way of the Lord.
Fear No One But God; Hate Nothing But Sin
Now I want you to close your eyes for the last time and imagine you are facing the most powerful but corrupt politician. You are being asked to tell the truth but that truth may mean your death. (Silence)

Now open your eyes. Were you able to tell the truth? This is the ultimate test of a prophet. Because the prophet is bound to speak the truth, the truth that will set people free but also the truth that will bring down the high and the mighty.

The prophet Amos in the Old Testament was forbidden to prophecy in Bethel “for this is the king’s sanctuary, the temple of the kingdom.” He replied, “I am no prophet and no prophet’s son. I am but a lowly dresser or sycamore trees. But the Lion has roared so who can but hear? The Lord God has spoken, who can but speak?” 

Then Amos spoke God’s words to Israel: “I hate and despise your solemn worship if you only buy off the poor and sell the needy for shoes...so let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

The call of God’s prophets, as one theologian said, “is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.” To the poor and the oppressed, the words of the prophets are balms of healing and comfort. They are sources of inspiration and strength. To the mighty and the oppressors, the words of the prophets are sharp like a two-edged sword, cutting through the hearts and giving them great discomfort and fear.

That was John the Baptist. He feared no one but God and hated nothing but sin. His prophetic voice in the halls of power caused fear to King Herod and Herodias who were wallowing in sin.

So prophecy is not an easy task. John’s standing for the truth caused him to literally lose his head, from Herod’s wrath and Herodias’ manipulation. Herod’s fear of John was carried to his fear of Jesus. Herod became so insecure of his kingship that he became guilty of John’s murder and became a conspirator to the treachery, false judgment and execution of Jesus.

Because of his fear of losing his power, King Herod went down in history as evil. Whereas John the Baptist, because of his willingness to relinquish his power, became for us the paragon of the greatest prophet with the greatest virtues.

He was not afraid to stand alone; he did not mind being second fiddle; he feared no one but God and hated nothing but sin. That is John the Baptist, the greatest prophet who ever lived. Amen.

Friday, July 3, 2015


Fred Vergara
(At the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, Salt Lake City, Utah. July 1, 2015)

Hiram Hisanori Kano

We, Asiamericans are eager to participate in this dialogue on race. But while it is true that American racism has been identified as a black and white divide, we want to frame it in the context of pluralism and diversity because our world is becoming more multiracial, multi-religious and multicultural. Asians too have been damaged by American racism.

When I first came to this country in 1986, I heard that Asians are the “model minority” and I was flattered. I learned later that it is not really because we “excel in Math and are hard-working” but it is because we generally we do not make waves. We live and work quietly and seldom raise our voices in the streets and in the halls of power even when we experience injustice.

The reason for this is not because Asians are generally passive or shy but because we have been rebuffed in American history. 

In 1882, after they have worked the transcontinental railroads and the mining industry, the Chinese pioneers were rebuffed by the Chinese Exclusion Act which deported them back to China.

 In the 1930’s, while working the farms in California and the canneries in Alaska, the Filipino men were rebuffed by the Miscegenation law which prohibited them from marrying and so many of them aged and died as bachelors. 

In 1942, during the Second World War, after they had become U.S. citizens, the Japanese Americans were rebuffed by the Internment Act which banished them in far away and remote places away from their own homes.

Shortly after “9/11” many South Asians (Hindus or Sheiks) who had been wearing turbans had to hide for fear of being identified as enemies in relation of Osama Bin Laden. In Fremont, California for instance many South Asian homes had to have American flags and signs saying “We are Americans” because of the threat against their lives.

The sad fact in this racism against Asiamericans is that it is not found in most American history books, and if they are, it is simply as footnotes. With regards to overt or covert racism, we are shamed and the way we react is to stay in the margins and remain invisible. 

But we cannot continue to remain voiceless and invisible forever. Asians compose 2/3 of the world’s population and here in the United States, Asian Americans have the fastest growth rate---second only to the Latinos. As more of us see new opportunities, it won’t be long when we would fully get involved in the mainstream American Church and Society. 

That is why we are glad that the General Convention of the Episcopal Church this year had approved the name of the Rev. Hiram Hisanori Kano to be included in the Episcopal Church Calendar of “Holy Women, Holy Men.” We are grateful to the Diocese of Nebraska for sponsoring the resolution.

Father Kano was a noted agriculturist and bold advocate for immigrant farmers in the 1930’s who became the first Japanese to be ordained priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska. During the Second World War, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 which called or the internment of Japanese Americans. 

Along with over 100,000 Americans of Japanese descent, Father Kano was incarcerated in the infamous Internment Camps. What is remarkable in his attitude was that he used adversity as an opportunity to proclaim the gospel not only to his fellow internees but also to the German prisoners of war. He treated the five internment camps not as prisons but as mission fields and was appreciated as a pastor even by Anglo American G.I. deserter-prisoners. His message was a self-transcending Christian love, a deep-rooted faith in the goodness of human beings, and a positive hope for racial reconciliation. He taught his fellow Japanese internees about American citizenship and the ideals of e pluribus unum (many to one) and treating German POW's as fellow children of God.

In the eleven years I serve as Asiamerica Missioner in the Episcopal Church, I have seen many sea-changes in The Episcopal Church's approach to mission and ministry. In a peculiar combination of pastoral-enterprise and sophia-wisdom, we ventured into pathways which no other catholic church or province in the worldwide Anglican Communion has trod. In 2003, we elected the first openly-gay bishop, Bishop Gene Robinson; in 2006, we elected the first woman presiding bishop, The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori; and in this 2015 General Convention, we made another history by electing the first African American as the next presiding bishop, Bishop Michael Curry.

In a remarkable serendipity, this 78 General Convention also approved “same sex” marriage at about the same time that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld marriage equality and ruled that "same sex marriage" is legal and constitutional. Indeed this Episcopal Church is  la iglesia catolica that is also ecclesia reformata semper reformanda, the reformed church that never ceases to reform. 

With regards to race and gender advocacy, the Episcopal Church has become an avant garde. But there are still many things to do in the task of mainstreaming the marginalized. 

In the history of the Episcopal Church, there has not yet been any Asian invited to preach at the General Convention and it is our prayer that one day the Convention will also hear an Asiamerican voice. That is why we are glad that today, in the presence of The Most Rev. Nathaniel Uematsu, Archbishop on Nippon Sei Ko kai and Primate of Japan and (Cyrus Kano, the 94-year old son of Hisanori), the Eucharist was held in honor of Father  Kano.
The loud and hopeful sounds of the Taiko drums in the Convention Eucharist this morning signify the beats of our hearts, our yearning and passion to participate fully in the building of God’s reign in America. The sounds of our gongs and our drums signify our desire to share our talents in the proclamation of the gospel of love, justice and reconciliation for the glory of God and the growth of God’s Church.

The Rev. Canon Dr. Winfred Vergara is missioner for Asiamerica Ministries of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS), The Episcopal Church. He can be contacted at wvergara@episcopalchurch.org. or Facebook: Fred Vergara.

Friday, June 26, 2015



Editor's Note: Guest blog is from the sermon preached on June 21, 2015- Christ Episcopal Church, La Crosse, WI by The Very Rev. Canon Patrick P. Augustine, D.Min. DD., Rector. Patrick and I have beginnings of friendship when he and I were youth delegates to the 5th Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Nairobi, Kenya in 1975, he from the Anglican Church of Pakistan and me from the Iglesia Filipina Independiente.  40 years passed and now we meet at the General Convention of The Episcopal Church. - Fred Vergara 

Patrick Augustine and Fred Vergara
At the New Community Festival at General Convention 2015
New Community Conference in 2013

“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” Psalm 133:1
“E PLURIBUS UNUM, one formed from many”

“We shall overcome”, a key anthem of the African-American Civil Rights Movement, has been sung over and over again for the last four days by both black and white people in Charleston, South Carolina.   

On Wednesday evening of June 18th at 8:00 p.m. Dylann Roof, a 21 year old white man, arrived at Emanuel African Methodist Church (AME) in Charleston and joined a Bible study with members of the congregation along with their Pastor Rev. Clementa Pinckney.  After sitting in the Bible Study for an hour he took out a gun and opened fire on the class killing nine members of this Black historic church.  In 1861, the force of racial conflict shaped this city’s commerce and inspired a slave revolt that sparked the guns that started the Civil War.  After the war African-Americans abandoned the white congregations where they had been forced to pray as slaves and created their own centers of worship, remaking the religious map of the South.  What emerged in those years after emancipation is what the African-American scholar W.E.B. Du Bois and others have described as the “first social institution fully controlled by black men in America.”[1]

Emanuel AME isn’t just another black church but the oldest black congregation since 1822 in the South.  This church has seen some very dark history of racial segregation and hatred.  The founding member of this church was a free black carpenter, Denmark Vesey, who preached a message of liberation and end to slavery.   He was executed.  The history of hatred and racial divide in America still continues as we have seen with the deaths of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Michael Brown in Ferguson and Walter Scott in North Charleston.  And again in the most recent news we hear of nine more deaths, this time in a House of Prayer in Charleston, South Carolina.

The evil manifestation of racism has appeared in the history of human beings for many centuries on our planet earth.  It has been practiced for many hundreds of years on the Indian sub-continent separating the higher caste and the untouchables.  Some Arabs are against the black Africans.  In Sudan the Arabs in the North have killed more than two million black Southern and Darfurian Sudanese and more than four million are refugees today.  Hitler’s Nazi Germany used their racial supremacy beliefs to exterminate more than six million Jews during the Second World War.  The massacre of Kurds and Armenians at the hands of Turks is one of the bloodiest human tragedies.
Racism is a complex issue and we need to talk about its ugliness on its many levels.  Racism is part of our human making.  From one generation to the next it is taught, learned, and then practiced.  My purpose from this pulpit is not to teach the history of racist white America.  

 I am sure all of you are aware of the wrongs of the past.  My purpose is to look at the present picture of our society where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said:
“We must face the sad fact that at eleven o’clock on Sunday morning
when we stand to sing ‘In Christ there is no East or West,’
we stand in the most segregated hour of America.”

America is known throughout the world as the great example of democracy, a light on the hill of equality, prosperity, and liberty; but, under this veneer, there is lot of pain with an ugly history of oppression, hatred and segregation.  The struggle of African Americans for racial justice has continued for over 300 hundred years, but resistance is found in our nation, which boasts of its provisions of “freedom and justice for all.”

The theological question to be asked here is, how do God’s people strive for justice and peace, for racial reconciliation among all people, and for respect for the dignity of every human being?  How would the Kingdom of God be realized on this earth, where “from every family, language, people and nation” people are gathered to “worship and praise, “ and “a Kingdom of priests to serve our God?”

I hear that testimony in the voices of those who lost nine loved ones at Emanuel AME last Wednesday as they answered hatred with forgiveness:

“You took something very precious away from me, said Nadine Collier, daughter of 70-year old Ethel Lance, her voice rising in anguish.  “ I will never talk to her again.  I will never be able to hold her again.  But I forgive you.  And have mercy on your soul.”

That is Gospel proclaimed even in the worst of human tragedy.  As one said that it was as if the Bible Study had never ended as one after another offered prayers, songs of hope raising their cries to God for mercy and healing.  These were people who were living out their baptismal vows.  We join them as their brothers and sisters that there may be healing for our racial divide. 

Our nation is living in multicultural communities.  Our cities and churches need to be in the forefront making serious assimilation.  Several years ago in the July 1994 I The Living Church I read an interview of four black Episcopal clergy.  The Rev. Robert E. Hood, professor of religion at Adelphi University, Garden City, New York wrote:

The question is whether blacks, particularly the young, gifted and imaginative, should be encouraged to enter the priesthood” at all.  He believes the incentives are not sufficient to attract these people to a profession where the “glass ceiling” is real.

In a baptized and Eucharistic community, racism has no place.  The early church after Pentecost had people of several races meeting in Jerusalem and they “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching, fellowship and in the breaking of bread and in prayers.”  Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 10: 16-17 said, “The bread which we break is it not the communion of the body of Christ?”  For we being many are one bread and one body; for we are all partakers of that one bread.”

As followers of Christ we confess that racism is an evil and destructive force everywhere, especially in the life of confessed Christians and the church.  The present reality is that we are a nation with many races and colors.  The Church has a mission to call our nation to repent “from all blindness of heart, from pride, vainglory, hypocrisy; from envy, hatred and malice; and from all want of charity.”[2]  We need to stand up against bigotry in all its forms and teach people to respect the dignity of all human beings.  How is Church responding to the issues of racism and opening its doors to welcome people of all colors among us.  I pray that at “eleven o’clock on Sunday morning” we will not be a segregated hour in America but a day of blessing, unity and witness of Christ love for all.  Churches will be in the forefront to build bridges, and provide a ministry of hospitality, and racial reconciliation among our communities.  There will be a dialogue and conversations around the table to heal our nation.  We must remember where there is little conversation, human life withers, and dies.

We can and must begin to live as though our baptism has meaning in our daily lives.  We can and must begin to teach our children by our example to believe the same.  If we truly believed that our salvation depended on accepting our common humanity and that is our baptism we accept our difference in Christ, I believe then we can sing with assurance and confidence as our prayer:

There is a balm in Gilead
to make the wounded whole,
there is a balm in Gilead
to heal the sin-sick soul.
Sometimes I feel discouraged
and think my work's in vain,
but then the Holy Spirit
revives my soul again. Refrain
2 If you cannot preach like Peter,
if you cannot pray like Paul,
you can tell the love of Jesus
and say, "He died for all." Refrain (Episcopal Hymnal 676)
Black American Spiritual -  Jermiah 8:22. “Is there no Gilead?”

[1] The New York Times: Steeped in Racial History, Charleston Ponders Its Future by Richard Fausset, June 19, 2015.
[2] Book of Common Prayer, The Great Litany, P. 149.