EAM CROSS

EAM CROSS
Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Friday, November 18, 2016

COMPASSIONATE EVANGELISM: A Non-Judgemental Approach to Sharing the Christian Faith


COMPASSIONATE EVANGELISM: A NON-JUDGMENTAL APPROACH TO SHARING OUR FAITH
(The Rev. Canon Dr. Winfred B. Vergara. Evangelism Summit. Dallas, TX. 11/18/2016)

INTRODUCTION:
I will begin with a testimony: I believe all of us, children of God, have been given spiritual gifts to be used for God’s glory. As priest in the Episcopal Church, I believe my gift-mix is pastor-missionary-evangelist. With God’s grace, I use this spiritual gift-mix when I pastor a church, plant a church, revive a church or grow a church.

In the national church level, I serve as Missioner for Asiamerica and Pacific Islanders Ministries. One of the new things we want to do is ANDREWS –a mentoring program for our diverse constituencies, the 7 ethnic convocations: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, South Asian, Southeast Asian and Pacific Islanders.

ANDREWS means “Asiamerica Network of Disciples, Revivalists, Evangelists, Witnesses and Saints.” I have a booklet for you to explain what it means.

In the local level, I serve as a very part-time revivalist of declining parishes. Three years ago, even as full-time missioner in the Episcopal Church, I was used by the Lord to revive a declining parish in Queens, New York. When I first came to St. James in Elmhurst, New York the average Sunday attendance was 20 and they had $93,000 deficit. The church was a candidate for closure as some churches had been. By God’s grace, I led the church to a revival and evangelism program. After my three-year contract, I left the church with 150 Sunday attendance, $43,000 surplus and a clear plan for continued development. Today, I am at Holy Trinity in Hicksville, Long Island addressing a program called RED-Revival, Evangelism, Discipleship.

One of my evangelism stories involved Seema. She came from a Hindu background, a Brahmin, the highest class in the Indian caste system. It was Christmas Eve of 2015. Seema and two other Hindu friends stopped by to listen to our Christmas pageant. After the midnight mass that followed, she stayed behind to ask me one question, “Father Fred, I listened to your sermon and I want to become a Christian. How do I become one?”

One thing I learned in India’s history was about Mahatma Gandhi. He was fascinated by Christianity but as a Hindu, he “could not put Christ on a solitary throne.” So I told Seema that I respect her religious background and make no judgment on the Hindu religion. As a Christian however, I told her I believe that Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life.” Then I shared with her a brief narrative on the life and person of Jesus Christ and prayed for her.  I gave her a copy of the Bible and gave some specific scriptures to meditate upon.

A month later, Seema came back and accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Together with a few  others, she joined the Baptism Class and learned the ”Baptismal Vows” in the Book of Common Prayer. I baptized her on Easter Sunday of 2016. She continues to be an active member in the Episcopal Church, even when I am no longer a priest in that congregation.

DUTY AND JOY:
As Christians, it is our bounden duty and joy to share our faith, to call people to repentance, and when they are receptive to our message, to lead them to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior.  But how many of us know how to share our faith and lead others to Christ?

Looking back to the conversion of Seema, I kept on wondering. What if she did not wait for me and asked an average church member the question, ”How do I accept Christ?.” What answer would they have said? I can only imagine one thing they would say to Seema: ”Let’s go to Father Fred.” This is because I have not taught them how to evangelize, I have not taught them how to share their faith, I have not taught them how to lead others to Christ.

Many of our typical Episcopalian members are “sacramentalized” but not evangelized. When asked, why are you a Christian, they respond with “I am a cradle Episcopalian; I was born a Christian.” Well, the fact that you were born in a garage does not make you a car. So even if your father and mother were Christians and you were baptized Episcopalian, these do not mean that you know your faith and consistently growing up into the full measure of the stature of Christ.

There are three imperatives in the Christian journey: “You must be born again;” “you must be filled with the Holy Spirit”; and “you must be a servant of the church.” This is a progressive step towards discipleship in Christ.

Christianity is a journey, a journey of relationship, a journey towards the ultimate destination, our union with God in Christ, the doctrine of atonement of "at-one-ment." In another way of saying, we are under construction. As Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said, ”God is not finished with me yet.” As we journey in faith, we beckon others to join us. Jesus said in his prayer for his disciples, “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:16)

SO HOW DO YOU SHARE YOUR FAITH?
First, you must develop compassion. Matthew 9:36-38 says: “When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

What is compassion? Compassion literally means “to suffer together.” In Greek, the word compassion gives the image of being gripped in the guts, in the intestines. Among emotion researchers, it is defined as “the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering.”

In India, there is a proverb that says, “You can never know what someone is carrying until she is bumped.” The image is a woman in a village carrying a jar on her head; you don’t know what’s inside, milk or water. Then there are children who were playing around and accidentally bumped the woman and the content of the jar spilled. Now everyone knows what she has been carrying.

Yes, we can know what burdens people carry but only in the context of interaction, of relationship. We can program our action but we cannot program our reaction. That is why we need to have compassion, not just empathy to understand their burdens they carry but also a desire to help carry that burden.

The poet George Elliot wrote, “If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heartbeat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.”

Today, how many of us feel the pains and heartaches of millions of undocumented immigrants who fear that anytime soon, there will be knocks on their doors and they would be rounded up and deported? The President-elect Donald Trump has made mass deportation as one of the hallmarks of his presidential campaign and now that he won, the stigma of his words cut deep into the hearts of this section of the population. Are they not the massa perditiones, the ochlos, the crowds whom the bible describes as “harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd?”.

How many of us feel the fear of their children, who were born here and who know no other country and yet being part of the threat to their survival? How many of us feel their dreams fading, their hopes dropping and their despair rising?

How many of feel the pains and heartaches of the Native Americans in Standing Rock, fighting for one of the few lands left to them. They are fighting and appealing for one basic commodity, water,  clear and clean water being threatened by the proposed oil pipeline. Their ancestors were the first peoples who lived here for thousands of years. Every one of us--- white, black, brown, yellow or what have you--- who come after are simply immigrants. They deserve our gratitude and respect and the remains of their ancestors buried in their land do not deserve the desecration. It is sacred ground, holy land.

How many of us feel the pains and heartaches of our neighbors: a single mother struggling to keep her children while working and going to school dreaming they could make it one day. A businessman so successful materially but empty of spiritual meaning; who surrounded himself with things money can buy but unable to find joy and satisfaction in what he does?

How many of us feel the pain and heartaches of dysfunctional family, whose relationships are ruptured by alcohol and drug addiction, unable to free themselves from the quagmire of poverty and destitution?

There is so much pain and so much heart aches in the world and there are people who constantly live in the shadow of oppression and despair. Our compassion should move us to share our faith and be creative with our desire to help.

As Christians, we believe the grace of God is sufficient. For somewhere in this universe there is a place where all the heartaches and pains of humanity are funneled into---and that place is the heart of God. And if our hearts are too small for God, God’s heart is too large for ours. Then that compassion of Christ would also move us to share our faith.

 Second, we must share our faith with humility. D.T. Niles, pastor and theologian from Sri Lanka wrote this famous definition of evangelism. “Evangelism is a beggar, telling another beggar where to find bread.”
In the economy of God, we are all sinners in God’s redeeming. If God takes his hand from my life, my lips will turn into clay.

Maya de Angelou, the poet laureate wrote:

When I say... "I am a Christian "I'm not shouting "I'm clean livin'." I'm whispering "I was lost,
Now I'm found and forgiven." When I say... "I am a Christian" I don't speak of this with pride. I'm confessing that I stumble and need Christ to be my guide.

When I say... "I am a Christian" I'm not trying to be strong. I'm professing that I'm weak  and need His strength to carry on. When I say... "I am a Christian “I’m not bragging of success. I’m admitting I have failed and need God to clean my mess.

When I say... "I am a Christian “I’m not claiming to be perfect, my flaws are far too visible
But, God believes I am worth it. When I say... "I am a Christian “I still feel the sting of pain. I have my share of heartaches so I call upon His name.

When I say... "I am a Christian “I’m not holier than thou, I'm just a simple sinner who received God's good grace, somehow!

Third, we must practice non-violence in our speech and actions.
The saying “stick and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.” That is not true. Violent words, vitriolic words, negative words can hurt our souls and crush our spirits.

In this country, we have free speech but we have taken them as license to bully, to insult, to discourage, and to break the spirits of others. The recent election was filled with vitriolic words, lying words, threatening words, insulting words, hate words, violent words. Their deleterious effects are still felt even today. We have heard of the increase of children being traumatized by the threats they heard on television.

Words have power and energy. They can inspire us, comfort us, and enliven us. Or they can hurt us, maim us, even kill us. We need to use our words to better the world, not make it more miserable. Even a simple “Good Morning” or “Thank You” can make someone feel like they are worth something.

I like the words from the Book of Proverbs 25;11 which say, ”Words aptly spoken are like apples of gold in a setting of silver.”

So, what comes out of your mouth?

Are you quick to make a rude remark?
Do your words fluctuate with your moods?
Do you defend what you like and attack things you don’t?
Are your words made up of gossip, negativity, and complaint?
Do you use words like loser, stupid, and idiot, imbecile?
Do your sentences end with a sneer and rolled eyes?


 We have the power to bless people or to curse.

The Book of James say,” The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.”  - James 3: 2-13

So if you want to be used by God as the bearer of the Good News, you must develop a "golden tongue." “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of them who bring Good News, Good News, announcing peace, proclaiming news of happiness, Our God reigns, our God reigns!”

Seek God for healing and forgiveness, and your heart will blossom with the love of Jesus Christ. Only when we truly walk in the Spirit of God, will our words reflect what is in God’s heart.

 EVANGELISM PRESENTATION OR LEADING OTHERS TO CHRIST
So having cleansed your heart with malice and wrong intentions, having rid your tongue from all manner of aggressive, judgmental and arrogant words, you are ready to become bearers of the Good News of salvation. This is evangelism with no value judgment of others but only with compassion, humility and graceful words.

I’m still in the process of working out a formula for faith sharing but from what I learned in the past, the following outline has worked. I call this the ABCDE. When a person has expressed a desire to become a Christian I help him or her to work through ABCDP (Accept, Believe, Confess, Decide, Pray):

  1. ACCEPT: Accept that there is a God who loves you and cares for you. He loved you so much that He gave His only begotten Son (John 3:16). This God is not a tribal God but a universal God. He has no partiality because He created all human beings unique but also equal before Him. Accept that you need God. St. Augustine said, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in human hearts that cannot be filled except by God Himself.” Jesus said "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; but apart from me, you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
  2. BELIEVE:  Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. In John 10:10 Jesus says, “I come to give you life and have it abundantly.” And in John 14:6, he says “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” In Acts 4:12, Peter declared: “Salvation is found in no one else, but in Jesus, and there is no other name under heaven given to men.” The name “Jesus” means Savior.
  3. CONFESS: Romans 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth that ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. The central affirmation of the Christian faith says: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” The resurrection is central to the Christian faith. Because Jesus lives again, we can face tomorrow.  If we confess our sins to God in the name of Jesus Christ, we will be forgiven and move on to live a transformed life.
  4. DECIDE: Make a decision that will transform your life by accepting Jesus Christ as Savior, Redeemer and Lord. Decide to be baptized in the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit and become a member of the Church, the Body of Christ in the world. Then talk to your priest or pastor about Baptism.
  5. PRAY: Lead the person to this prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for loving me so much. You gave Your Son Jesus Christ to suffer and die for me on the cross; and because He lives, I can face tomorrow. I confess that I have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and now desire to receive Jesus as Saviour and Lord. Give me your Holy Spirit to be with me forever and to guide me along the path of new life and growth. Lead me to a church that shall help me to grow in my faith. I freely give myself to your leading, O my God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 CONCLUDING REMARKS
Let me now conclude my presentation with at least three reminders about the nature of evangelism:

First, evangelism involves the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of persons. 
Ultimately, we are simply instruments in the hands of God. Evangelism, the proclamation of the Good News by words and deeds----and sometimes silence--- is a divine-human cooperation. God calls and we respond; God initiates and we follow; God leads and we act.

There was a story of a little boy who found a lot in his neighborhood. It was full of weeds, junks and garbage. He felt the call to clean it up, to cultivate it and to plant a rose garden. And he did it. In due time, the roses grew and the flowers bloom. As he stood there admiring the work of his hands, a priest came by and equally admiring, said: “Wow, Young man, look what God and you have done for this garden. It’s so beautiful!” The little boy replied, “Yes, Father; but you should have seen it when it was left to God alone.”

In Romans 10:14, the Bible says: “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” Brothers and sisters, we are entrusted with a holy task, to preach the Good News.

Secondly, the supremacy and uniqueness of Jesus Christ.
Christianity is inclusive but its claim is exclusive: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6). We must respect all religions and be sympathetic to other faiths but we must affirm what was handed down to us from generation to generation. Peter and John, in the face of persecution and threat of death, affirmed that “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

 As St. Paul to the people of Athens in his famous sermon in Aeropagus, “I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and examined your objects of worship, I even found an altar with the inscription: ‘To an unknown God.’ Therefore what you worship as something unknown, I now proclaim to you.”

St. Paul urges “that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all people, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

Thirdly and finally, Christ is the ultimate Reality, the final answer to our confounded longings. To illustrate my point let me tell you a couple of stories; one from rural Asia and the other one from urban America.
In Asia, there’s a popular folk tale of a loving mother, a widow, who lived with his only son. They lived as farmers in a typical agricultural village. Now her son had a face that, to use a figure of speech, “only a mother could love.” In other words, he was not attractive. Now he fell in love with a woman on the other side of the mountain, who said to him, “I would reciprocate your love if you can give me the heart of your mother.” Maybe it was just a figure of speech or that the woman was wicked but the man thought about it quite a lot. He was deeply and fatally infatuated and the fantasy that he can have this woman tormented him. And one day, in one moment of madness, he killed his mother, took her heart out and hurried to offer this heart to the object of his infatuation. He ran through the fields and rice paddies and accidentally stumbled upon a rock. The heart flung into the muddy field and he recovered it. As he was cleaning up the heart, blooded and muddied, the heart spoke, “My son, my son, are you hurt?”

The bible says that Christ did not wait for us to be good “but when we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” If I consider my own sinfulness and disobedience, my frailty, my weaknesses, my wretchedness and imperfections, I can not but thank Jesus who suffered and died for me on the cross. I cannot save myself. I need a Saviour and He is Jesus. This Jesus is what I proclaim to you.

Now I shift to another story in the setting of urban America. There was a new immigrant woman who was lucky enough to marry a rich businessman in Wall Street, New York.  After the wedding, he brought her to his plush apartment in Manhattan where they lived for quite a while.  Being a busy man, the husband would often come home very late and when he does, having had dinner meetings, he would simply go right to bed and sleep. This went on for quite a while so this young bride had been starving for physical affection. It was at this point that a youthful sexual fantasy invaded her mind. This is a fantasy that she can actualize because she had money, she was attractive and she had opportunity. So one night, while he husband was fast asleep, she slipped out of their room, got dressed and hurried to a nearby nightclub and indulged herself.  After a couple of hours, she went back to their apartment, slipped back to the cover of their blanket and she began to sob. She was crying quietly but so deeply. And her husband asked, “Honey, what’s wrong?”  And she replied, “Nothing…just nothing.”
My friends, the most empty feeling, my theological professor would say, ”the most difficult existential vacuum” is when you realize that what you thought was the ultimate, turns out to be nothing!

Yes my friends, Jesus alone is the Ultimate Reality, the Ultimate Answer, the Absolute of Absolutes. Jesus alone can truly answer our deepest needs, he alone can truly mend our broken hearts, he alone can truly wipe the tears from our eyes, and he alone can truly give us new and abundant lives. Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. In Him we live and move and have our being. If Christ takes His hand from my life, these lips shall turn into clay; if Jesus removes Himself from my Church, we shall be like the chicken who lost its head. We would circle around with much activity but in the end fall down and breathless and dead.
So our message to the world is, "turn, turn, to the Lord Jesus Christ. Turn to Him now with all of your heart!"
And the message to us, the Church, bearers of the Good News, is this 2nd Letter of St. Paul to Timothy, chapter 4:verses 1-4:

 “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, DO THE WORK OF AN EVANGELIST, fulfill your ministry.” Amen and Amen!

 

For more information, contact: wvergara@episcopalchurch.org

Monday, October 31, 2016

INTERCULTURAL CHURCH IN A MULTICULTURAL WORLD: EVANGELISM AND RECONCILIATION


INTERCULTURAL CHURCH IN A MULTICULTURAL WORLD

OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES IN EVANGELISM AND RECONCILIATION
(Keynote speech of the Rev. Canon Dr. Winfred B. Vergara at the 1st Intercultural Ministry Summit of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia held at Aquia Church, Stafford, Virginia, USA 10/29/2016)
 
 

We are standing on the threshold of the most revolutionary period of American history. America has become a truly multi-racial, multiracial and multicultural nation. Demographers project that by 2050, if the population trend continues there will no longer be a dominant majority and we shall all learn to live as a majority of minorities.

To many of us, this is a beautiful thing. A story is told of an extra-terrestrial bird that flew from outer space and landed in Virginia. The Native Americans welcomed the bird, the Anglo Americans studied the bird, the African Americans sang songs and played sports with the bird, the Hispanic/Latino Americans had a fiesta on the bird, and finally the Asian Americans cooked the bird!

A BEAUTIFUL THING
So it is a beautiful thing when we learn to live together as “e pluribus unum,” from many to one. The vision in the Book of Revelation, Chapter 7, verse 9 says, “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were…holding palm branches in their hands.” Peoples from many nations, tongues and cultures coming together holding palm branches is a vision of peace; part of the Kingdom of heaven, realized on earth.

We shall learn from each other, we shall be enriched by the sharing of our cultures and traditions. What a great celebration!
A TERRIFYING THING

But while this intercultural vision is a wonderful thing to some, to others it is a frightening scenario. According to Census projection, from 2010-2050, the Hispanic/Latino population will grow over 167%,  the Asians will grow 142%, the Blacks will grow 56% and the White will grow by only 1%.
So there is a fear on some members of the current dominant culture that the white men will no longer run the show, will no longer be in control. It is no wonder that this fear is being played up in the current political rhetoric: “let us build a great wall and close our borders, let us deport all the undocumented aliens, let us not welcome refugees anymore.”

 STATUE OF LIBERTY
My wife and I recently escorted our visitors to the Statue of Liberty. Believe it or not, I saw the Statue of Liberty crying. Why? Because beneath the Statue of Liberty is the poem by Emma Lazarus that says, "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" And now so many Americans want to put this poem into the dustbin of history. So the first time I saw the Statue of Liberty, it was like standing up proudly; recently she became depressed.

SO MY QUESTION TODAY IS HOW DO WE AS A CHURCH RESPOND TO THIS DEMOGRAPHIC REVOLUTION AND WHAT DOES THIS IMPLY THE WAY WE BELIEVE, AND THE WAY WE PROCLAIM AND LIVE OUT THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST?

HOW DO WE ENGAGE? IF CULTURES ARE “FINGERS OF GOD POINTING TO CHRIST,” AS ASIAN THEOLOGIAN KOSUKE KOYAMA WROTE, HOW DO WE BEAR WITNESS AS CHRISTIANS A MULTICULTURAL WORLD? AND DO WE BECOME AN INTERCULTURAL CHURCH?

In 2004, I wrote an article in the Witness Magazine entitled “From Billiard Balls to Salad Bowl. Towards an Intercultural Church in a Multicultural Society” In that article, I differentiated “Multicultural” from “Intercultural.” ( I REPRINTED COPIES OF THIS FOR YOU)

  • Multicultural is when mono-cultural and ethnic-specific congregations are allowed equal and separate existence but with neither intention nor vision for interaction. The image of “billiard balls spread on the table” comes to mind. In that pluralistic and multicultural setting, various racial-ethnic peoples exist independent of each other and having no desire for a larger community bonding – unless you hit one ball to strike another. There is a high level of tolerance for pockets of specific community organizations (i.e. Filipino associations, Greek organizations, Kenyan associations, etc.) and even local villages (e.g. Koreatown, Chinatown, Mexican barrio, kosher village, etc.) but there is no movement for a greater circle of friendship. The silent but accepted rules are “mind your own business,”   “live and let live,” and “don't ask, don't tell.”

In the context of a church, this image is true with a diocese where there are many ethnic congregations (including Anglo ethnic churches) but with no inter-church relationship. Every congregation is its own silo; there is no active reaching out to one another, no opportunity for communication; no common activities where members can get to know one another. St. Paul said that the church is a Body with many parts so “when one member suffers, all suffer together; when one member rejoices, all rejoice together.” In a multicultural diocese, the church is not one body with many parts but a “Body with many bodies.” When one member suffers, he suffers alone; when one member rejoices, he rejoices alone.

 Intercultural is when racial-ethnic, cultural, language and generational congregations (parishes and missions) do intentional “unity in diversity” in the context of a diocese which considers itself as the basic missionary unit of the church. The image of “salad bowl” comes to mind. In this image, there is a mixing up or a gathering of various and diverse cultures (colors) each retaining its own color and striving for unity and harmony like a rainbow in the sky. This is the ideal vision of a Christian church in a multicultural society, an avante garde of “a community of communities” where the values of equality, fairness, justice and solidarity are actualized by the people in the life they lead and in the relationship that they create.
 

SO WHAT IS AN INTERCULTURAL DIOCESE?

An “intercultural church” is a diocese where love and justice reign and where ethnic parishes and missions share common experiences of pain, common struggle and see a common vision of hope.

In an intercultural diocese, parishes develop “missionary partnerships” to plant a new ethnic, bicultural or multi-ethnic congregation and assist in the growth and development of smaller congregations. They do not consider their financial assistance to struggling congregations as a “dole out” or an “outreach” because they feel ownership of every congregation that declines or thrives. 

In an intercultural diocese, no one congregation claims sole ownership of a parish building (because every congregation is a mission outreach of the diocese).

In an intercultural diocese, parishes develop “missionary partnerships” to plant a new ethnic or intercultural congregation and assist in the growth and development of smaller congregations.

In an intercultural diocese, well-to-do parishes do not consider their financial assistance to struggling congregations as a “dole out” or an “outreach” because they feel ownership of every congregation that declines or thrives.

 In an intercultural diocese, the bishop is a healer, reconciler and enabler subordinates his natural bias his/her racial-ethnic heritage in order to become a bishop for all of God's people. Like the Greek concept of diakonia (someone who is sandwiched between the dust), the intercultural Bishop is in between God and God's peoples. What breaks his heart is racism in all its protean forms and what warms his heart is unconditional love being embraced by all. 

In an intercultural diocese, the Bishop is an arbiter of truth and a dispenser of justice. She speaks the truth in love and harmonizes the various opposites (yin and yang) so they complement each other, not competes against each other.  She learns and teaches new vocabulary like gotong-royong (Indonesian for “pulling heavy loads together”) and  A Luta Continua (Zaire/Portuguese for “continue the struggle”) when she rallies the clergy and faithful towards the intercultural vision.

 NOW I BELIEVE, YOUR VISION AS A DIOCESE IS TO BECOME AN INTERCULTURAL DIOCESE, NOT JUST A MULTICULTURAL DIOCESE. WHAT ARE REQUIRED OF LEADERS INVOLVED IN INTERCULTURAL CHURCH? 

The prophet Micah in the Old Testament told Israel, “He has showed you, O people, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.  

What are the virtues, the values of an Intercultural Church?

The first virtue of an Intercultural Church is hospitality.
Hospitality –In the Beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was hospitality.

The Hmong are jungle people in the mountains of Laos and China. They were nomadic and had no country of their own. During the Vietnam War, they became allies with the United States. When the War ended, they were marked for genocide by the Viet Cong. So they were repatriated to the United States as refugees, many of them in Minnesota. That was in the 70’s. Now many of them have become US citizens.  

Holy Apostles in St. Paul, Minnesota was a dying church. By demographic change, retirement and relocation, the church had declined. The vicar Bill Bulson was sent there basically to perform the last rites, to channel the remaining dozen members to other churches. But one Episcopalian who happened to befriend a Hmong, told him there was a Hmong tribe looking for a spiritual community. Bulson opened the doors of the church and the remnants of the Church opened the doors of their hearts. He thought there were only 50 people: it turned out there were 75 families, large families. On Pentecost Sunday of 2005, I was invited to preached at that church and join in welcoming the new Episcopalians. Standing room with hundreds of people! Indeed, the Hmong are among us!

On September of that year, I was invited again to preach at the Cathedral in Minneapolis. I was standing on tip toes with excitement (well, the pulpit was taller than me) as more than 300 Hmong adults were confirmed! It took three bishops and over three hours to lay hands on the confirmands. The Holy Spirit was moving mightily!

Ten years have passed and the Hmong Episcopalians have now produced seven ordained clergy---including a first Hmong female priest, Rev. Bao. They have become the first and largest Hmong congregation in the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Yes, hospitality is the key to reviving or re-peopling our declining parishes.

HUMILITY: These days are election fever days so allow me to give a political joke. Story is told that three weeks ago, Donald Trump, greatly bothered by the polls, went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York in the middle of the night and confessed to Timothy Cardinal Dolan. The Donald said, “Your Eminence, I can’t sleep, I can’t eat, I can’t tweet. Many people are saying---the Clinton campaign, the media, even some of my fellow Republicans---that I am a racist, a sexist, a misogynist. On top of it, they call me a bigot and a narcissist. And I don’t get it. Is it a sin if I think that I am the most amazing and wonderful person in the world? The Cardinal looked at him with love and said, “No Donald; it’s not a sin; it’s a mistake!”

So the second virtue of an Intercultural Church is Humility. D. T. Niles, a Sri Lankan theologian and pastor said, “Evangelism is a beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries adopted this Nestorian Cross, with lotus flower (symbol of Christ) at the center of the cross.

History tells us that during the persecution, the early Christians scattered from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria and to the ends of the world. St Thomas went as far as India and planted churches there until he was martyred in Madras in 52 AD. Another group of Christians known as the Nestorians went as far as China and adopted Chinese cultures, putting the Lotus symbolizing Christ in the middle of the cross.

Evangelism began at the foot of the Cross when Jesus said to the Romans, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” and to the repentant thief, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”

We are all flawed sinners in need of God’s redemption. If God takes His hand from my life, my lips will turn into clay.

COMPASSION: Now I hope I did not offend the Republicans with my Trump joke; but just be fair, I have also a Hillary joke for the democrats. Now a story is to be told that three powerful Christian women in the world prayed to their God about reconciliation.

England’s new Prime Minister Theresa May, being Anglican prayed: “God, when will you reconcile Great Britain back with all European nations? God said, “In 20 years.” And Prime Minister May sadly replied, “I may not be here by then.”

South Korea’s first female president Park Gyun-Hye, being Roman Catholic prayed: “God when will you reconcile North Korea and South Korea?” God said, “In 30 years.” And President Park sadly replied, “I may not be here by then.”

USA’s first female president Hillary Clinton (assuming she wins next week), being a Methodist, and realizing the magnitude of divisiveness and vitriols in the election process, also prayed: “Lord, when will you reconcile and reunite the peoples of the United States of America?” And God sadly replied, “I may not be here by then.”

Yes, whoever next week, Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton will have a gargantuan task of reuniting this divined states. That is why Christ will call the Church, His Body to become  “agents of reconciliation.”

St. Theresa De Avila wrote: “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are His body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

And for that, we need the third virtue of the intercultural Church, Compassion!

There is a saying in India that says, “No one knows what someone is carrying unless they are bumped.” The image is that of a woman in the typical village in India carrying a jar atop their heads. You don’t know what she is carrying, milk or water. Then there are children playing around and bumped on the woman and her jar spilled. Now you know what she’s carrying.

Yes, we can know what burdens people carry but only in the context of interaction, of relationship. We can program our action but we cannot program our reaction. That is why we need to have empathy, to have compassion and to nourish empathy in our hearts.

The poet George Elliot wrote, “If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.”

There is so much pain and so much heart aches in the world and there are people who constantly live in the shadow of use and abuse, of bullying and shaming, of oppression and suppression---and in some ways these dark shadows get into the limelight of the current political rhetoric.

There is so many reasons to despair, so many reasons to give up on humanity. When powerful adult leaders display their values we wonder if there is a good future for the next generation. We wonder if we still have many role models to follow. And when we see the intolerable human suffering, we wonder how long we stay as bridges over troubled waters. But as Christians, we believe the grace of God is sufficient, for somewhere in this universe there is a place where all the heartaches and pains of humanity are funneled into---and that place is the heart of God. And if our hearts are too small for God, God’s heart is too large for ours.

When Jesus saw the crowd, he was filled with compassion for they were like sheep without a shepherd and he taught his disciples many things. Miracles happened that broke opened their hearts to God and they responded by the quality of the lives they lead and the beauty of the relationship they made.

In the final analysis, we are evangelists of attraction, not confrontation. Mahatma Gandhi said, “If your rose garden is so fragrant and attractive, people will jump the fence to smell the roses.” Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said that the Jesus Movement means we are to be caught up with Jesus to the point that our lives would look like His.

For me this is the major challenge that we should address ourselves to—how to be more like Jesus in his passion for the lost and his compassion for the oppressed.

Grace is free but it is not cheap; Jesus paid the price with his own blood. And so when we address ourselves to human sin in all its protean forms, when we address ourselves to calling people to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, we must do so as a divine-human interaction. God calls, we respond. This world is worth saving because God so loves it He gave His only Son.

People who only believe in the “pie in the sky” and who care only for the “end times” may not do their part in climate change, in environmental stewardship. But we who are Anglicans or Episcopalians are “passionately cool” because we believe in the resurrection but also care for the here and now. We are a both/and people of God.

People who believe only in the spiritualist understanding of the kingdom of God would be passive audience in the political arena. But we who believe as Jesus said that the “kingdom is in our midst” know that participation in the political system is an integral part of faith, that fighting to change unjust structures and challenging structures of injustice is an integral part of peace---and that our mission as an Intercultural Church is “to reconcile all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us now and ever more. Amen.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

WOMAN AT THE WELL IN INDIA, GRACE, AND THE POLITICAL RHETORIC OF OUR TIME: A REFLECTION OF THE ASIAMERICAN MISSIONER AT EXECUTIVE COUNCIL MEETING OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH


WOMAN AT THE WELL IN INDIA, GRACE, AND THE POLITICAL RHETORIC OF OUR TIME: A REFLECTION OF THE ASIAMERICAN MISSIONER AT EXECUTIVE COUNCIL MEETING OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH
 (The Rev. Canon Dr. Winfred Vergara. New Jersey 10/21/2016)



All these years I tried to live with the thought that I cannot lighten anyone’s burden unless I bear the pressure in my own soul. My job as Missioner for Asiamerica and Pacific Islanders Ministries of the Episcopal Church has enabled me to engage with people in this country, across Asia and Pacific and even around the world and I am amazed at the grace of God. I have come face to face with God in people; I rejoiced with those who were honored and cried with those who were oppressed and I have transcended my presumption that simply because someone looks happy, that he or she is. For behind the smiles and the laughter is the human drama, that when the curtain falls, the comedian weeps, and deep within the mask of the warrior is a child.

In India, there is saying which says “You can never know what someone is carrying until she is bumped.” The image is a woman in a village carrying a jar on her head; you don’t know what’s inside, milk or water. Then there are children who were playing and accidentally bumped the woman and the content of the jar spilled. Now everyone knows what she has been carrying all along. 

Yes, we can know what burdens people carry but only in the context of interaction, of relationship. We can program our action but we cannot program our reaction. That is why we need to have empathy, to have compassion and to nourish it in our hearts.

The poet George Elliot wrote, “If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.”

There are so much pains and so much heart aches in the world and there are people who constantly live in the shadow of use and abuse, of bullying and shaming, of oppression and suppression---and in some ways these dark shadows get into the limelight of the current political rhetoric. 

There many reasons to despair, many reasons to give up on humanity, even on civility. When powerful adults display their misplaced values we wonder if there is a good future for the next generation. And when we see the sea of humanity in crises, such as those refugees of war and refuse of their countries, we wonder how long we stay as bridges over troubled waters. But as Christians, we believe the grace of God is sufficient, for somewhere in this universe there is a place where all the heartaches and pains of humanity are funneled into---and that place is the heart of God. And if our hearts are too small for God, God’s heart is too large for ours. 

When Jesus saw the crowd, he was filled with compassion for they were like sheep without a shepherd and he taught them many things. Miracles broke open their hearts to believe but we wonder if they were able to translate their compassion to the real world. 

I learned that as missioner, I can teach the skills of evangelism, pastoral care, revival and church growth but passion and compassion are more caught than taught. Like charisma, you either you have it or you don’t. For his age, some people wonder the kind of energy our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry exudes, especially when he is proclaiming the gospel. There is so much excitement, like standing on tip toes.  For me, this is the major challenge of the Jesus Movement that we should address ourselves to—how to be more like Jesus in his passion for the lost and his compassion for the oppressed, how this virus of empathy and love can be viral as the Korean pop Gangnam Style.

Grace is free but it is not cheap; Jesus paid the price with his own blood. And so when we address ourselves to human sin in all its protean forms, when we call people to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, we must do so as a divine-human interaction. God calls, we respond. This world is worth saving because God so loves it He gave His only Son. 

People who only believe in the “pie in the sky” and who care only for the “end times” may not do their part in climate change or get engaged in environmental stewardship. But we who are Anglicans or Episcopalians are “passionately cool” because not only that we believe in the resurrection but also care for the here and now. We are a both/and People of God. 

People who believe only in the spiritualist understanding of the kingdom of God would be passive audience in the political arena. But we who listened to what Jesus said, that the “kingdom is in your midst,” know that participation in the political system is an integral part of faith, that fighting to change unjust structures or challenging structures of injustice are an integral part of peace making.

Yes, the Jesus Movement ("Evangelism and Racial Reconciliation" as the Presiding Bishop so defined) is a spirituality in action, a theology of engagement. May we live out the Jesus Movement in the lives we lead and the relationships we create in our churches, in our homes, in our neighborhood. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us now and ever more. Amen