Calling, Conviction, Clarity: Homily at “Train the Trainers” Event
(Commissioning of Ethnic Ministries Ambassadors)
Rev. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara 12.15.11 Los Angeles, California
In most of history, there are three factors that make up the recipe of a revolutionary change: common experience of pain, common vision of hope and the emergence of authentic leaders who embody their people’s pains and visions. In the Church, it is not the institution that can effect real change, but a group of Christians who are keenly sensitive to the cry of God’s people, and who, like Mary of the Magnificat, would earnestly respond to the will of God.
Some portions of these elements are present among us today, and I prophesy that someday, we shall effect this revolutionary change in our beloved Church. A Chinese proverb says, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” You as leaders from the four ethnic communities have just began to tie up the thongs of your sandals in order to march in the light of Christ, no longer behind, but alongside the enlightened members of the dominant culture---and effect, real change.
God is still in the business of renewing the face of the earth and rearranging the order of things. “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly. He has shown the strength of His arm, he has scattered the proud in their conceit.” I am certain that us, who come from the margins, are being called by God to announce repentance and change so that the structures of racism and injustice will be dismantled and the disparity that exists between and among peoples and cultures will cease to exist. Justice and equity will come together, harmony and diversity will kiss each other.
As a concluding remark to the many lessons that you have already learned these past three days, let me just say three things why I believe you can be part of change:
First, is your sense of calling: After observing you and listening to how you responded to the presentations of your Ethnic Missioners, I am now starting to believe that it was not us who called you and invited you, but God Himself through the Holy Spirit. For not only that you exhibit a sense of mission but you also demonstrate the gifts of the Spirit and even more possess the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness and self-control.
Second is your sense of conviction: I heard many of you expressing your passion for mission and your willingness to be used by God as bridges, conduits or broad bands of Christ’s ministry of reconciliation.
Thirdly and finally, is your sense of clarity. This is very important, because, I believe the Church today is losing, if not already lost her message. In this time of anxiety, volatility, uncertainty and complexity, the Church is experiencing a fog of mission and a sense of confusion.
I remember an event when the pope died and a conclave was called in the Vatican City in Rome to elect a new pope. Unlike the Episcopal Church’s General Convention where election of the Presiding Bishop is an open assembly, a conclave is a secret meeting where the cardinals are locked in a room and they retreat to their prayer cubicles, seek discernment from the almighty and cast their votes. The people gathered at St. Peter’s Square will know if the pope is elected or not elected through the smoke that comes out from the chimney of the Vatican. When a Pope is not elected, the cardinals would burn their ballots and a black smoke will come out. But when a pope is elected, they will put a certain chemical and a white smoke will appear. Now in this particular election, there was not enough chemical put and so the smoke that came out was neither black nor white but grey----and the people outside were confused.
I am inclined to say that much as you will be the “ambassadors of the Diversity, Social and Environmental Ministries of the Missions Department of the Episcopal Church,” you must have the clarity that your primary role as a Christians and as Episcopalians is to become an ambassador for Christ, Christ making His appeal through you and entrusted you with the ministry of reconciliation. We do not have a mission of our own; we are only entrusted to become instruments of Christ’s mission. We do not have a ministry of our own, we are only entrusted with the ministry of Christ, like baby-sitters of God’s own children.
Sam reminded us yesterday that when all is said and done, our real calling is the salvation of souls. John Wesley, the Anglican priest who founded the Methodist Church a century or so ago, once said to the clergy and lay leaders: ”You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore spend and be spent on it. It is not by doing this or doing that, but being a member of this organization or that society, but it is by saving as many souls as you can and to bring them up to that holiness without which we can not see the Lord.”
It is this clarity of your message, this sense of mission and this conviction of your calling that would make you as true ambassadors. And so it is proper for us, the four Ethnic Missioners, to now call you our colleagues and fellow missioners. Let our common calling be grounded by faith, let our conviction be sustained by hope and let the clarity of our message be shaped by love. Amen.