Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Friday, January 13, 2012

LEAPS OF FAITH: Knowing Jesus as Christ and God

LEAPS OF FAITH: Knowing Jesus as Christ and God
The Rev. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara

Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because  you have seen Me? Blessed are they whohave not seen and yet believe” John 20:26.

At a Sunday School class, the teacher asked, “Where is God?” All the kids, having been taught the previous Sundays about God’s omnipresence, replied “God is everywhere,” but Little Johnny said, “Maam, I know God is in the bathroom.” The teacher was curious and asked little Johnny why he said God was in the bathroom. Little Johnny told a story: one morning he heard his Mom and Dad arguing. Then his Mom cried and went inside the bathroom and locked it. His Dad followed behind, knocking and knocking. Then in exasperation, his Dad said, “My God, when are you going out of the bathroom?”

The apostles' belief in the resurrection of Jesus started as a tale and ended as a big leap of faith. They were not witnesses to the resurrection. They were not the first ones to see the empty tomb. They were hiding in closed doors for fear of the Jews; they were talking in whispers; they were communicating in signs. The cruel death of Jesus on the cross was lingering in their memories. They fear that they were going to be next. As it was in the past experience of Israel, when the colonial Roman government would massacre or imprison all those involved in political rebellions, they feared a crackdown on their movement.

But they began to believe in the stories of the women. Mary the mother, Joanna the mother of James and Mary Magdalene told them what had been spoken by the angels. “He is not here, he is risen.” And so they returned to prayer. And when they did, Jesus appeared.

 My friends, when things are hard to bear, when situations are difficult, when our lives are hanging by the thread, prayer changes things. By prayer, fear turns to courage; despair turns to hope and sorrow turns to joy, even imaginations become reality. In the words of the psalmist, “you gave me beauty for ashes, an oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. That we might be trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified.” Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am in the midst of them.”

From the closed door, suddenly Jesus stood among them and said, “Peace, be with you; as the Father has sent me, so I send you.” The words of Jesus were a revival message of their past commissions. When Jesus was with them in Galilee, Jesus taught them how to pray, how to heal, and how to preach the gospel. Then he sent them two by two in the villages and as they went the Holy Spirit performed miracles through their hands. They all forget about their power when they saw Jesus crucified. And so Jesus again said to them “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; but if you withhold their sins, they will be retained.”

Once upon a time, when people were still travelling across the ocean by steamship, there was a story of a poor passenger from London who went to the United States. He had a ticket with him but unfortunately, he did not know how to read and so he did not know what’s in the ticket. It took at least three days for the ship to arrive in New York from London and this passenger after a day without meal, was getting hungry. He saw that during breakfast, lunch and dinner, the other passengers were eating food in the dining room of the ship but he could only look at them with envy. Finally he summoned enough courage to ask the captain if he could have at least some of the leftover and the captain replied, “You have a ticket alright? Don’t you know that when you buy a ticket, the meals are already included?”

The apostles had tremendous power because they were anointed by Christ. But they did not know that when they are anointed by Jesus in the name of the Father, the Holy Spirit is also there. The Holy Spirit enables, empowers and equip them to witness to the life of the risen Christ. And so the appearance of Jesus was a ticket that entitles them to everything because all authority and power in heaven and on earth and under the earth, had been given to Jesus.

But Thomas, one of the apostles was not within them when Jesus appeared and when told of the story, Thomas replied, “Unless I see the mark of nails in his hand and put my finger on the mark of the nails, I would not believe.” Thomas was a typical Episcopalian; he is a man of rationality. He uses his head. For him, to see is to believe. It was at that moment that Jesus again appeared. And addressing directly to Thomas, Jesus said, “Put your finger on my hand and feel the mark; and put your hand upon my side where the spear of the Roman soldiers pierced; do not be faithless but believe.” At this point, Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” Thomas articulated the highest creedal affirmation ever. The other apostles confessed Jesus as Master, Teacher and Lord. Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God. But Thomas said, “My Lord and my God!” It is to Thomas that we first derived the concept of Jesus as “very God of very God.”

But Jesus said to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” There are therefore three leaps of faith that Thomas learned that day. First, you believe because others have told you about it; second you believe because you have seen it; and third, you believe because you really know it in spirit.

May you know Jesus as a living Reality of God through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, January 7, 2012


(Homily of the Rev. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara on Sunday, 01.08.2012at St. Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church, 2197 Jackson Avenue, Seaford, New York 11377. Bible Text :Mark 4:4-11)

“And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 4:4)

I have something to confess. When my wife and I moved here in New York eight years ago, I said to myself “No, I’m not going to adopt the frenetic lifestyle of New York City. I’m not going to run up the stairs to the subway train or run up and down the escalators in Grand Central; I’m not going to rush in Manhattan during non-rush hours; I’m not going to push people from my way; I’m not going to run the  red light. Like a good Californian that I was for 18 years, I am going to walk like a Californian. I am going to stroll along the byways; enjoy the sight of nature, stop and smell the flowers on my way. You know what? I lied to myself. Weekly, as I go to my office in Manhattan, I run up the stairs to catch Train #7 in Queens, run up the escalator in Grand Central, and push people on my way from the subway. I have become a New Yorker.

Life is difficult; wrote Scott Peck in his book, “The Road Less Traveled.” And we are not perfect as we should be. St. Paul reckoned it this way, “the evil that I do not want to do, I do; the good that I want to do, I do not do.Who shall deliver me from this life? Thanks be to God who gives me victory through Jesus Christ.,” 

For sure, St. Paul as a man of God and missionary beyond compare, had done so many good deeds but he had done so, as he had acknowledged, not on his own merit, but only by the grace of God, working through the Holy Spirit

That is exactly what John the Baptist was saying when he saw his first cousin, Jesus, coming to be baptized. John was a powerful speaker, a very interesting and articulate person. Had he lived in our times, he would have been given a Talk Show. He went into the desert and yet people followed him. They wanted to hear him talk. He went to the mountains and people climb to hear him preach. He went to the muddy river of Jordan and yet people want to be baptized there. Imagine what kind of TV reality show he would put up if he were with us today? But then here comes a man, more powerful than he was, and yet coming to be baptized by him. Here comes Jesus, his first cousin, whom he had recognized by his own prophetic gift, to be more powerful than he is, the thong of whose sandals, he was not even unworthy to untie. And John said to the people, “I baptize you with water but He who is coming, will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” John did not want to baptize Jesus but at Jesus’ insistence that they follow tradition, he did, and when Jesus emerged from the water, the Holy Spirit came down in the form of the dove and a voice was heard from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” The moment of baptism was the moment when the Holy Spirit enters the life of Jesus. And this is also the moment, when we are baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, that we too, become children of God. During our own baptism, the Holy Spirit readily enters and communes with our human spirit---and we begin to live a new life, a life lived in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Do you believe this? Yes, we do. Sunday after Sunday, we recite the Nicene Creed---“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, and together with the Father and the Son, He is worshipped and glorified.” But do we really believe it? Do the lives we lead and the relationships that we create really speak about the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives? Sometimes I listen with humility to my Pentecostal friend when he said, “You Episcopalians and Catholics, believe the Holy Spirit is resident in you; we, Pentecostals believe the Holy Spirit is not only resident in us, but we also president in us. In a sense, the Holy Spirit is really our presiding bishop.”

A story is told of a circus trapeze that walked on the tightrope attached from one end of the Niagara Falls to another. That would be from the U.S. side to the Canadian side. There was a large crowd admiring his courage and sense of balance. Then he said, “Do you believe that I can carry this log from the US side to the Canada side and back?” And people said, “Yes, we believe.” And so he carried the log and walked on the tightrope from the U.S. side to the Canadian side. And people applauded his achievement. Then he said to the crowd, “Do you believe I can carry another human being with me, from this end to the other while walking on the tight rope?” And the crowd again said, “Yes, we believe.” And the tightrope walker replied, “Then, if you really believe, may I ask for one volunteer?”  And the crowd was completely silent---no one volunteered.  Their level of belief is only head knowledge.

Faith in God sometimes requires from our lives a total dependence on the Holy Spirit. We walk by faith and not by sight. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Abraham left his country and his people and went to the land which God was showing him, not knowing where he was going. Instead of settling in a palace, he lived in tents because he was always ready to hear where God was leading him. Many men and women after him have gone through the same experience. Men and women, boys and girls, even families who walked in prayer and obedience to God and God did not disappoint them. God called them people of faith and even some of them, like Abraham, did not receive the promise, their lives spoke of adventure, of holy experience, of divine visions, because they were looking not for the cities and houses and jobs made by human hands. Rather, they were ultimately seeking for a city, with a strong foundation, whose builder and maker is God.

Perhaps it is symbolic that Jesus had to be born on the winter solstice, when the night was its darkest and the climate was at its coldest. Jesus was to come like a light in the dark, like the heat in the cold. He has come to ignite the fire of faith so that our weak bodies will be filled with energy, our despairing hearts will be filled with hope, and our fearful spirits will be filled with courage and strength. And here at his Baptism, Jesus received the anointing of the Holy Spirit. He will preach Good News to the poor, he will heal the sick, he will set free the oppressed, he will bind the wounded, he will inspire the broken hearted, he will bring peace to those who are troubled and he will bring the kingdom of God to those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Let me end my meditation with these words from the Gospel of John, “He was in the world and world was made by Him and yet the world knew Him not; He came to his own home and His own people received Him not; but to those who received Him, who believe in His name, He gave power to become children of God.”

Friends, by your baptism in Christ, you have received the adoption as children of God. You have been anointed by God in the power of the Holy Spirit. You have power to transform darkness into light. You have power to walk on the tightrope of your life. You have the power to triumph against all evil powers that threaten your existence. By the grace of God and by the power of the Holy Spirit, you will not only survive; you will prevail. You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you-- in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

CALLING, CONVICTION, CLARITY: Commissioning of Ethnic Ambassadors

Calling, Conviction and Clarity: Commissioning of the Ethnic Ambassadors 
Rev. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara 12.15.11 Los Angeles, California
Note: On December 12-15, 2011 the Ethnic Missioners of the Diversity Social and Environmental Ministries (DSE) of the Mission Department of the Episcopal Church gathered six leaders from each ethnic faith community of Asian, Black, Latino/Hispanic and Indigenous Ministries in Cathedral Retreat Center in Los Angeles, California. The ethnic leaders were to be trained as ministry trainers with and for their respective communities. Various workshops were given including Leadership, Discipleship, Communication, Power Dynamics, Life-Long Faith Formation, Church Structure and Technology.

The Ethnic Missioners are Sarah Eagle Heart, Angela Ifill, Anthony Guillen and Fred Vergara. We are grateful to the support and assistance of Ruth-Ann Collins of the Faith Formation and our DSE colleagues, Christopher Johnson and Michael Schut and we were blessed by the presence of inspiration of Sam McDonald, director of Mission. In the final day of the training, a Commissioning Liturgy was conducted by DSE and this homily was delivered. The following were commissioned as “Ethnic Ambassadors”:  

Asiamerica Ministries: Irene Tanabe, Bayani Rico, Ada Wong Nagata, Isaiah Joo, Ranjit Matthews and Minh-Hanh Nguyen
Black Ministries: Wanda Norris, Jemonde Taylor, Carole Pinkett, Freda Marie Brown and Arlette Benoit
Hispanic/Latino Ministries: Daniel Velez-Rivera, Christina Encinosa, Gladys Diaz, Nancy Frausto and Susan Moss
Indigenous Ministries: LaCinda Hardy, Elsie Dennis-Dofelmier, Martha Allen and Angela Haugen


In most of world history, there are three factors that make up the recipe of a people’s revolution: a common experience of pain, a common vision of hope and the emergence of authentic leaders who embody their people’s pains and visions. In the Church, I believe, that it is not the institution that can effect revolutionary change but a group of Christians working together, keenly sensitive to the cry of God’s people, and who, like Mary, the bearer of the Holy Child, 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, so to speak, in order to march in the light of Christ, no longer behind, but alongside the enlightened members of the dominant culture---and effect, real revolutionary change. You were trained and you will be trained, as trainers of leaders, present and future, in your ethnic communities to the end that we shall all be ambassadors of the Good News and servants of positive, revolutionary 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,” sang Mary of the Magnificat (Luke 1:52-53). God is flattening authority and distributing delegated power. 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 meet 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 why you can be part of a revolutionary 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. I observed that not only that you exhibit a sense of mission; you also demonstrated the various gifts of the Spirit and even more possess the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness and self-control. The Church is in need of leaders who balance giftedness of visions and dreams with Christian maturity.

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. The time of adversarial and competitive leadership is gone; the time for collegiality and collaboration has come.

Thirdly and finally, is your sense of clarity. This is very important because, I believe the church today is losing, if it has not already lost its message. In this time of anxiety, volatility and complexity, the Church, it seems to me, is experiencing a “fog of mission” or a sense of confusion about its reason for being.

I remember a story about a certain conclave called to elect a new pope to replace the one who died. Unlike the Episcopal Church’s General Convention where election of the Presiding Bishop is an open assembly, the Roman Catholic Conclave is a secret meeting of the College of Cardinals where the cardinals are locked and secluded in the Sistine Chapel. They would 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 through the smoke that comes out from the chimney of the Vatican. When a Pope is not elected, the ballots will be burned and a black smoke will come out. But when a pope is elected, a certain chemical will be poured upon the ballots 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 gray----and the people outside were confused. They did not know if they have a pope!

I am inclined to say that much as you will be the “ambassadors of the Ethnic Ministries in the Diversity, Social and Environmental team of the Department of Mission in the Episcopal Church,” you must have the clarity that your primary role as Christians and as Episcopalians is to be ambassadors for Christ, Christ making His appeal through you and entrusting you with the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). 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---that of reconciling the world to God and each other in Christ.

Sam (McDonald), our Mission Director, reminded us yesterday that when all is said and done, our main calling is primarily “the salvation of souls.” John Wesley, the 18th century Anglican priest and evangelist who co-founded the Methodist Church, along with his brother Charles, once said, “You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this work. And go always, not only to those that want you, but to those that want you most. Observe: It is not your business to preach so many times, and to take care of this or that society; but to save as many souls as you can; to bring them to repentance, and with all your power to build them up in holiness without which they cannot see the Lord.”

It is this clarity of your message, this sense of mission and your 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 common conviction be sustained by hope and let the clarity of our message be shaped by Christian love. Amen.