Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Sunday, August 7, 2011


 ‘O Lord, thou hast put salt in my mouth that I may thirst for thee.’ So fill us now with wisdom and understanding and may the words from my lips and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable to thee, O God, our Creator, Sustainer and Sanctifier. Amen.
Texts: Daniel 7:9-10; 13-14; II Peter 1:16-19; Luke 9:28-36
Fact is sometimes stranger than fiction and reality is harsher than imagination.
A story is told of a man looking for a job in New York City. With the current economic recession, the only job he was able to find was in the Zoo. The job? Pretending that he was a monkey! All he had to do was to put on a monkey costume, swing from tree to tree, eat bananas and peanuts and he will be paid a minimum wage. So that’s what he did. One Saturday, a group of kids visited the zoo and despite the warning not to feed the animals, they insisted on feeding the monkey with so many bananas and peanuts. So he got sick in his stomach and as he swung from tree to tree, he felt dizzy and fell into the lions’ den. He was so scared especially when one of the lions was coming straight towards him. So he began to scream and shout “Help, help.”   The lion, roared and said, “Buddy, if you don’t shut up, we’ll both lose our job.”
The story of the transfiguration of Jesus illustrates to us that fact is stranger than fiction and reality is harsher than imagination. The apostle, Peter, in his epistle swore that this was not a cleverly devised myth but an event he witnessed personally.
In this story Jesus was transfigured before the eyes of his disciples, Peter, James and John. In their sight, Jesus’ face shone like the sun and his raiment turned dazzling white like snow. It was like the vision of the prophet Daniel in the Old Testament about the appearance of the One on whom dominion and kingship and glory are given, the One who was to come into the world. Not only that the three disciples saw Jesus transfigured; they also Moses and Elijah, an allusion that Jesus was to be the fulfillment of both the law and the prophets.
The sight was too wonderful to behold that Peter, unable to control himself, offered that they all stay in the mountain and he would build three shrines: one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah. Resurrection has come on top of the mountain so why should they go down to the valley and into the City of Jerusalem where Jesus would undergo rejection, suffering and death? Like a person who has fast-forwarded a vide tape of a movie and got a glimpse of its ending, Peter wanted to freeze the experience of elation and not go through the whole mess, the twists and turns in the drama of human redemption. In other words, Peter wanted a religion without sacrifice; gain without pain; resurrection without crucifixion.
Undoubtedly, many of us are like Peter. We preach it is wonderful to be Christians but we will not go to all the trouble of proving that creed in the life that we lead and in the relationships that we create. In one recent survey in America, it was revealed that the ratio of divorces are practically the same for those who profess to be Christians and those who do not. And the ratio of broken families between liberal Christians and evangelical Christians are the same. It is hard to build community and even harder to maintain it because we do not have the patience to listen to one another and to deal with conflicts in humane and Christian way. The Anglican Communion is breaking because we, who profess to be joined by the “bonds of affection” can be as proud, arrogant, unforgiving and intolerant of one another. Even as we pray the Lord’s Prayer and remember His intercession that (we) “may be one… so the world may believe,” we hold on tenaciously to our theology of self-preservation than put our trust in God who “holds all things together.” As one old country song says, “Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die,” not the least to die to ourselves and our built-in resistance to the unpredictable movement of the Spirit. 
In many churches, not the least among those which we know, many young people would prefer to be in the pubs and the bars and the night clubs because they sensed more genuineness, honesty and transparency in those secular fellowships. They coached their quest as “spiritual but not religious.” Among the adults, the secular world provides a stiff competition on Sundays as bargain sales and sports and great TV programs are offered. Among the new immigrants, despite their hunger for spiritual comfort, they are attracted working on Sundays because the pay is higher. The value of offering our bodies as “living sacrifices” has lost its appeal in the contemporary church where consumerism and the concept of the good life has been paganized.
So Jesus said to Peter. “Let us linger no more on the top of the mountain. Let us go down to the valley and to the city; for there I shall be rejected, I shall be mocked, I shall be spat upon, I shall be beaten up, I shall be crucified;  I shall die---and on the third day, I shall rise again.”  It was a summon for self-transcendence and self-sacrifice; it was a call to go down from the fictionalized ideals of a life without stress; a challenge to immerse and embrace the world with all its thorns and thistles. It was a call to take up the cross.  
Perhaps what we (the Church) need today is a new transfiguration. We need to die from our self-fulfilling prophecy and self-preserving theology so that we may rise again and live genuinely as an authentic Christian community, a community of self-transcending faith, hope and love, the community of the crucified and risen Son.
The concluding remark from the Transfiguration Story was a voice from heaven, “This is my Son, my Beloved, listen to Him.” Indeed, there is no true religion without sacrifice; no gain without pain; no resurrection without crucifixion. The fact is stranger than fiction and the reality is hasher than imagination. May we listen afresh to the Voice. Amen.

Homily of the Rev. Dr. Winfred Vergara, Asian American missioner of the Episcopal Church Center,
815 Second Avenue
, New York, NY 10017 delivered at St. John’s Anglican Church,  Notting Hill, in the Anglican Diocese of London on August 7, 2011.
Notting Hill is famous as the title of the book whose author, Richrd Curtis, lives just across the church. The book was made into a movie starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts.
The vicar in this beautiful and culturally diverse St. John's Church is the Revd. Dr. William Taylor and they host the London Filipino Chaplaincy coordinated by Rev. Salvador Tellen from the Iglesia Filipina Independiente.

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