Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Friday, June 21, 2013


(Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves of Episcopal Diocese of El Camino Real and me preparing for the Opening Eucharist of EAM at Poolside Tent of Hyatt Regency, and welcoming new Bishop Andrew Ohata of the Diocese of Tokyo of Nippon Sei Ko Kai, Japan. The Opening Eucharist was attended by some 300 people (250+delegates and local EAM who joined the Eucharist)

(Opening Banquet L-R: Rev. Bruce Woodcock, Rev. Bayani Rico, EAM Council President; me, Angela Vergara, Angeline Cabanban, Rev. Joyce Parrymore of Livermore,California; Diversity Support Staff of  and Rev. Merry Chan Ong, rector of Church of our Saviour, Oakland.)

(Message of the Rev. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara, Missioner for Asiamerica Ministries of The Episcopal Church at the Opening Eucharist Celebrating the 40th Anniversary and Consultation of the Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries held in San Francisco, California last June 20, 2013)

I welcome you to the Consultation and 40th Anniversary of Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry. Please turn to the person next to you and say, “Happy Anniversary!” Thank you. Please be seated.

EAM Consultations always serve as my barometer to measure the mood of Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries. Nine years ago today, in June 2004, I was commissioned as the second missioner of EAM, right at this very hotel (Hyatt Regency in San Francisco.) It was a great and wonderful day, when then California Bishop Bill Swing, acting on behalf of then Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold,  anointed me for the task. Notably present on that day and attending the EAM Consultation for the first time, was then Bishop of Nevada, who two years later, in 2006, would become the first woman Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church, the Most Rev.  Katharine Jefferts Schori.

As I shared my hopes, visions and dreams, everything looked rosy and pregnant with possibilities. My wife and I sold our home in San Jose, California, left our parish and diocese, Holy Child Church in El Camino Real and moved to the Big Apple. The song I sang was “Start spreading the news; I’m leaving today, I wan’na be at 815, New York, New York.” (“815” is the insider language of The Episcopal Church Center to refer to its address, 815 Second Avenue, New York City.)

In my first year, I learned that our budget in The Episcopal Church Center was adequate for holding annual consultations. We also had some grant moneys to help start-up new missions and strengthen existing ones.  So during the 2005 Consultation in Seattle, Washington, I sang to the EAM clergy, “When you’re down and troubled, and you need a helping hand, and nothing, nothing is going right…you just call 815.”

In the succeeding years, we had consultations in Hawaii, in Los Angeles and for the first time, in Kaohsiung. We had a wonderful time of transnational networking as we savored the grand hospitality of the Diocese of Taiwan, the Asian frontier of Province 8. We jumpstarted, among others, the Korean Center for Mission in Los Angeles, with the Rev. Aidan Koh as director,  which developed a partnership with the Anglican Church in Korea, through Archbishop Paul Kim, a missionary exchange in some dioceses.

But in June 2009 Consultation in Florida, as we faced the worsening economy, the restructuring of The Episcopal Church, the cut in the budget and the moratorium on church wide conferences, I sang the song “Lean on me, when you’re not strong; don’t be afraid, I’ll help you carry on, for, it won’t be long when I’m gon’na need somebody to lean on.”
We adapted to the situation, cancelled annual consultations and decided to meet as Ethnic Convocations in order to economize. We also decided to meet less in person and more in teleconferencing. We altered the ways we do business, trying to do more with less. In lieu of EAM consultations, we participated in pan-ethnic and pan-cultural “New Community” and “Everyone Everywhere” conferences. Our youth participated more in the Episcopal Youth Event, our young adults in “Why Serve” and our leaders in various collaborative leadership and ministry training.
But I know, so many of you still long for the EAM Consultation which has not happened in the past three years and so this 40th anniversary of the EAM provided us with a strong reason to do it. 

Yet we know that times have changed and things are different. As the economy continues to slow down, unemployment continues to rise, and the church in general has declined, with many parishes and dioceses struggling, and our budget is too lean and too tight to afford this Consultation, my song is from the Beatle’s “Help! I need somebody help! And just anybody… help!”

So now, I pause to thank God for helping make this day possible. 

 I thank the EAM Council for their partnership in raising funds. For the first time in history, the EAM Council has ceased simply being the implementing arm of the Asiamerica Ministry Office at 815, which used to provide all of the funds. Today, Asiamerica Office and EAM Council have become full and equal partners in holding this Consultation and I thank the leadership of its president, Bayani Rico. I’ve never seen him play golf when he was alive, but I think it’s nice that one of your fund-raising is the Winston Ching Golf Tournament.

I thank the Church Pension Group for assisting us with some amount, through the EAM Council.
I thank the Youth & Faith Formation Office for giving us a partnership grant to help cover our expenses for the EAM youth and Young Adults program.

I thank Province VIII for providing scholarships to some of its delegates.

I thank the Diocese of California and Grace Cathedral for hosting this event along with the Dioceses of El Camino Real and Northern California.  I thank the Asian Commission of the Diocese of California for the legworks they’ve done in logistics and liturgy.

 I thank the Church Divinity School of the Pacific for donating giveaways.

 I thank my fellow Ethnic Missioners and all my colleagues in The Episcopal Church Center for sharing their time and expertise to lead workshops and assist in whatever ways to make this Consultation work.

I thank our overseas guests, especially the primates and bishops from Asia, for coming. In the past, we had some funds to partially assist in their travel, but today, we can only offer room and board. So we are grateful for their share of the burden and we are thankful for their love and support.
 I thank the Presiding Bishop (Bishop Katharine), the President of the house of Deputies (Gay Jennings), the Chief Operating Officer (Bishop Stacy), and the Director of Mission (Sam Mc Donald) for their inspiration, encouragement and support.

I thank you all who are here today. You honor us with your wonderful presence and patience in bearing with our logistical problems. Truly, it takes a whole “Episco-Village” to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries!

GOSPEL TEXT: LUKE 11:9-13                                        
In the midst of trials and challenges, not the least being financial, my mantra has always been: “Where God guides, God provides. God’s work, done in God’s way, in God’s time will never lack provision.” As people of faith, we must always believe that God answers our deepest needs, mends our broken hearts, wipes the tears from our eyes---and leads us to abundant life. Our gospel today reads: “Ask and it shall be given to you, seek and you shall find, knock and the door shall be opened unto you.”  

A poor, unmarried and blind man was praying and God said to him. “Ask of me only one thing and I will give it to you.” The man was torn in turmoil for he has many needs. If he asks for wealth only, what good would it be if he were blind and with no wife and children to share it with. If he asks for wife and children, what good would it be if he were poor and blind; and if he asks for sight, his heart would only be broken to see his wife and children wallow in poverty. So he set out into thinking and in moment of inspiration, he prayed to God: “Lord, I ask you of only one thing: Give me THE JOY ---of seeing my wife and children eating New York steak on a silver platter!”

Perhaps this was the kind of wise prayer expressed by the eight (8) Asian priests and one lay woman,  who gathered in San Francisco in June 1973: James Pun, vicar of True Sunshine, San Francisco; John Yamasaki, rector of St. Mary's, Los Angeles; Winston Ching, vicar of St. John's, San Francisco; Lincoln Eng, archdeacon of Diocese of Oregon; Tim Nakayama , vicar of St. Peter's, Seattle; Albany To, vicar of Church of Our Savior, New York; Victor Wei, vicar of Church of Our Saviour, Oakland; and Robert Tsu, vicar of St. Anselm's, Lafayette, California and Betty Lee, a laywoman leader of the Diocese of San Francisco. 

The nine disciples gathered for fellowship and decided to ask to ask of only one thing---a meager fund to develop a Newsletter that would connect the few Asian churches to one another. There is a Chinese proverb which says, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” That first step resulted in a resolution which was presented to the 64th General Convention held in Louisville, Kentucky on September 29-October 11, 1973.  As the resolution journeyed to the floor and presented by Convention deputy, John Yamasaki, it was finally worded as “Resolved, that the 64th General Convention calls for the establishment of Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry in order to deepen and strengthen the existing ministries of the Episcopal Church involved with Asian and Pacific Island peoples as well as to establish new ones.” 

The response of the General Convention was overwhelming. The resolution was unanimously adopted with an annual budget of $50,000 which at that time was quite substantial. At the initial organizational meeting of the EAM, again in San Francisco, Canon James Pun, the prime mover of the original request said and I quote: “I only asked for a bicycle; but they gave us a bus and hired a driver!”

The first driver of the EAM bus was the Rev. Dr. Winston Ching. He stayed in this job for 30 years, working the infrastructure with great diligence and wisdom. Today, we pause to honor his legacy and that of the pioneers of Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry. We are, today, standing on their shoulders. 

As the second bus driver, I endeavor not only to preserve the legacy but to be faithful and continue the vision even amidst the changes and chances both in American church and society. What began as a gathering by a handful of clergy forty years ago, has now become a conglomeration of around 150 churches and missions identified as the “EAM Network.”  Like answer to the prayer of the poor, unmarried and blind man, the grace of God is beyond what we can ever ask for or imagine. God is able to do exceedingly, according to the power working in us, even in our weakness.

And so today, as we celebrate the 40 years of God’s grace and blessing, we are again asking for wisdom as we gather in God’s name and in God’s presence. We need the wisdom of the past, the confidence of the present and the hope of the future.  I am happy that the theme of the Consultation aptly describes my own sentiment: “EAM at 40: Remember, Celebrate and Re-Envision God’s Mission.” We are not really that old. Some people even say, “Life begins at 40” So I am confident that EAM will not only survive but will continue to thrive in the 21st century and on to the next forty years or more!

I feel in my heart that the best legacy that Winston Ching and other pioneers of the EAM have left us, more than the foundational infrastructure of the EAM, is a word, just one word--“Asiamerica.” Nobody in these United States use the word “Asiamerica” but EAM.  In many circles, the word used is “Asian American,” but for us, we use the word Asiamerica. 

What is the meaning of Asiamerica? In origin, it was meant to be a two-pronged ministry: ministry to immigrants from Asia and to American citizens of Asian ancestry.  As EAM has evolved in history, it has now become a three-fold ministry: ministry to Asian immigrants, ministry to Asian Americans and ministry of building bridges to Asia. It is a cultural ministry, a cross-cultural ministry, a transcultural ministry. It is an ethnic ministry, a generational ministry, an ecumenical ministry. It is an immigrant ministry, a domestic ministry and a global ministry.

With this in mind, I would like ask, seek and knock for a three-fold vision. This Trinitarian vision is expressed in three acronyms: ARISE, AFIRE and ATONE.

1. ARISE –means “Asiamerica Research in Strategic Evangelization.” Episcopal Asiamerica ministry historically began not in 1973 but in 1873, (not 40 years ago but 140 years ago), when a Chinese lay worker named Ah Foo evangelized and built a church among the Chinese railroad workers in Carson City, Nevada. That self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating ministry was cut in the bud when the United States passed the Anti-Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Ah Foo and his congregation were among those who were driven out of this country after they had built the transcontinental railroad and mined the “Gam Saan,” the “gold mountain” of California. 

I therefore visualize ARISE to be a major research work of EAM to discover, analyze and interpret the relationship between hospitality and evangelism, between racial justice and church growth against the background of Asiamerica history. I visualize ARISE to unmask the destructive power of racism and colonialism that hindered the spread of the kingdom of God from the experience of early Asiamerica Christianity.

One of the living pioneers of the EAM, the Rev. Timothy Nakayama, is instrumental in bringing to the attention of the Anglican Church of Canada the injustice done to the Japanese Anglicans when the Diocese of New Westminster sold two Japanese churches while their congregations were in Internment camps. The Anglican Church of Canada very recently acknowledged “the error of our ways” and issued an apology to the Anglican Japanese Canadians and resolved to make amends and reconciliation.

I therefore visualize ARISE to make a corrective work on the history of racism against Asiamerica as embodied in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Anti-Miscegenation Laws against Filipino farmers in the 1930’s and the Japanese American Internment in 1940’s. 

2. AFIRE – means Asiamerica Fund for Immigrant Rights and Education. Our hearts must be is afire for God’s people suffering in the cold and hiding in the shadows because they are undocumented immigrants. Today, there is the issue of the comprehensive immigration bill that promises a path for their legalization and citizenship. Our Presiding Bishop has spoken many times on this issue but how are we as immigrant churches involving on this issue of our time?

 It is estimated there are 12 million undocumented immigrants in this country. The fact that there are over one million Asians among them is not the only reason why EAM should get involved. EAM should get involved because our ancestors have experienced being rebuffed in history and we owe it to their memory to stand in solidarity with all the marginalized, to be helpful to the undocumented, to be kind and hospitable to strangers, because we were once “strangers from different shores,” ourselves. 

I visualize AFIRE ministries to be developed in every parish, partnering with the Episcopal Migrations Ministries, with Public Policy Network and other agencies in transforming our EAM churches to become spiritual oases for strangers, and centers advocating for and providing services on immigrant rights, education and legalization.

3. ATONE – means Asiamerica Theological Online Network Exchange.  The word “atonement” means in the Old Testament as a “reparation from sin” and in the New Testament as “reconciliation.” But I like to see the image of atonement as “at-one-ment” or the character of being of one mind and one heart, despite our great diversity.

 I visualize ATONE to be a continuing dialogue and reconciliation with Asia and the global diaspora in the area of theology, mission and ministry.  

One of the exciting things that happened during my first year as missioner was when Margaret Larom, the former director of Anglican Global Relations and I had a conversation that led to the appointment of my colleague Peter Ng as the first Partnership Officer for Asia and the Pacific. It has further led to the strengthening of our Asian relations and the development of Asia-America Theological Exchange Forum. I visualize ATONE to be a continuation and expansion of this direction, using the tools of modern technology.

I visualize EAM to develop a virtual Asiamerica Theological Seminary-On Line that will continue to connect EAM with Asia and the Asian diaspora as well as other cultural and global communities. Some questions were recently asked of us: “Do we have to be Episcopalian to join EAM?” “Do we have to be Asian Americans to join EAM?”Is it possible for our congregations to join EAM even if we belong to other denominations?

Well, wouldn’t it be amazing if EAM can be of service to its neighbors to develop Anglican “AsiaCanada,” “AsiaBritania,” “AsiaEuropa” and “Asiafrica,” ministries  with and among the global Asian diaspora? It is estimated that the diverse and pluralistic peoples of Asian descent, comprise almost two-thirds of the world’s population. Don’t we have the mandate to reach the whole world with the message of the reign of God? Maybe we can do ATONE in partnership with seminaries like CDSP, EDS or Vancouver School of Theology---as we have done with our Doctor of Ministry program at Episcopal Divinity School.

Surely this vision is not as simple as asking for bicycle or a bus. But let me end from the words of President John F. Kennedy, when he launched the Space program of the United States on September 23, 1962. JFK said, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

In my flesh, I maybe out of my mind thinking these things I visualized can be accomplished in my tenure as missioner for Asiamerica Ministries. But visions and dreams, according to the scriptures, are not works of the flesh but the language of the Holy Spirit. Yet to calm your feelings, I still have another quote, from W. Clement Stone, who said, “Always aim for the moon for even if you if you miss it, you'll still be able to land among the stars!”

So ARISE, AFIRE and ATONE. Let this Trinitarian vision be the moon we aspire for; or let they be stars we shall land on. Let this vision or dream be the defining moment of Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries in our time. “Not by might, nor by power by My Spirit,” says the Lord .( Zechariah 4:6)

Now unto God who is able to do exceedingly more than we can ever think, hope or imagine, Thine be the glory and praise, dominion and splendor. Now and forever.  Amen.

 (Post Note: Strangely coinciding with my message is this arrival of the "supermoon," the largest full moon of 2013 that will light up the night sky this weekend, on Sunday, June 23, which is the Closing Eucharist of EAM at Grace Cathedral. "Arise, for your light has come and the glory of the Lord shall rise upon you.)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Women's Ministry: God is an Equal Opportunity Employer

Women's Ministry: Christ is an Equal Opportunity Employer
(Fred Vergara. St. James Episcopal Church, Elmhurst, New York. June 16, 2013)

Text Luke 7:36-8:3

Let me start with something funny:  A young man couldn’t decide which girl to marry. He liked one girl, but he really liked another one named Maria, too. He decided to ask his friend for advice. “How do you make important decisions?” he asked his friend. “Well, I go to church,” replied his friend. “Then I look up and pray and usually the answer just comes to me.” The young man decided to try just that. He went to church for the first time, looked up and asked, “who is the right one for me?” and the answer was written in gold above a stained-glass window--- “AVE MARIA.”

Let me read a portion of the Gospel this morning: “Soon afterwards, he (Jesus) went through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve (apostles) were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Suzanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.” (Luke 8:1-3)

In largely patriarchal and male-dominated societies like Palestine during the time of Jesus, women were looked upon as the weaker sex or as second class citizens and so this company that Jesus took (fishermen and newly-exorcised women) must have created scorn, ridicule and disdain from the scribes and the Pharisees---the teachers of the law and the upper class of the Jewish society.

The genesis of this male chauvinism or prejudice against women was in some way created and reinforced by some biblical stories where women are blamed for men’s mistakes. For instance, Eve was blamed for having been tempted by the devil to eat of the forbidden fruit. She then tempted her husband, Adam, to do the same and for that reason, they were both driven out of paradise.

I have one comment about this mythical version of creation story: As an Asian, I am convinced that paradise or Eden was not in Asia; and Adam and Eve were not Asians because if the apple was given by the snake, Adam would have eaten the apple first and cooked the snake as well. Alright, it’s a corny joke and it’s another story!

The other unpopular woman in Scripture is Delilah in the true story of Samson, one of the judges of ancient Israel. Samson had been given a supernatural strength: he wrestled with a lion and won, he defeated an entire army with just a jawbone of a donkey; and he destroyed a pagan temple with the strength of his bare hands. 

The secret of Samson’s strength nobody knew. Theologically his strength came from God but physically it was hidden in the locks of his hair. The longer his hair grew, the stronger Samson became. Samson would have been invincible if not for his weakness for beautiful women, and the Philistines, Israel’s enemies, learned about it. So they used the beautiful Delilah as a pawn to discover the secret of Samson’ strength. In this story, one wonders who really was the weaker sex. Samson, succumbed to the beauty of Delilah that in one moment of romance, worthy of a spy movie, he divulged his secret. It was all about his hairdo! Having known the secret, Delilah called a servant to cut off the hair of Samson while the guy was asleep. The Philistines came and subdued Samson who lost his hair, his strength and his power.

 I retell these stories because I find it strange that in some churches women are still looked upon with a sense of ambiguity: if they are strong, they are avoided  and if they are weak, they are made invisible. In some largely conservative churches, women are not allowed to minister like men. Despite their spiritual gifts and ministry skills, they are not eligible for ordination. They are not allowed to teach and to preach. Instead, they are expected only to be silent, to “pray, pay and obey” and to do the things that men want them to do, like serving coffee at men’s meetings!

I am glad that our church is not like that. In The Episcopal Church, the Presiding Bishop is a woman, the chair of the House of Deputies of the General Convention is a woman, there are many bishops who are women, many priests who are women, many deacons who are women. In this parish of St. James, the women are not silent. In the 12-member Bishop’s Committee, seven of them are women---and all of them are articulate!  In my former parish (St. Michael and All Angels in Seaford, Long Island) the whole leadership was from the women. When I started as Supply priest there, the Vestry were all women that I had to challenge the men to have some sort of” men’s liberation movement.” 

Well, my point is “serving the Lord is an equal opportunity ministry!” And that was precisely the message of Jesus to the Simon, the Pharisee who felt offended when Mary Magdalene, the woman of ill-repute was forgiven. The man just talked and talked but this woman served the Lord lavishly and sincerely. Let me read again the words of Jesus to Simon, the Pharisee: “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them up with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins which were many, have been forgiven.”

I remember a story from former Roman Catholic archbishop of Manila, Jaime Cardinal Sin. We came from the same province in the Philippines, so I know a number of stories about him. When he became cardinal of the Philippines, he was asked to change his name. “Sin" a Chinese name, whose meaning is not sin, but he replied, “Why should I change my name? It is because of sin that Christ came into the world.”  So he has this story of sin and forgiveness:

When he was bishop, he served as adviser to the nuns who were having a week-long retreat of prayer and fasting. One of the nuns came to him one afternoon and said, “Bishop, I saw Jesus!” Bishop Sin said, “Sister, how long have you not eaten?” Two days was the answer. “Oh sister, when your stomach is empty, you tend to see some apparitions. Go back there and continue your prayer.” The nun went back to pray but after a few hours, came to Bishop Sin again and said, “Bishop, I saw Jesus.” Bishop Sin said, “Okay, I ask you to break your fast for a moment; take a glass of milk and eat one piece of rice cake and then go back praying. And if you still see Jesus, this is what you should do: ask Jesus if he can remember my sins, from the time I was born, to the time I became a bishop.” So the nun took a glass of milk and ate a piece of rice cake and returned to praying. But after a couple of hours, she came back to Bishop Sin, and this time, she was  even more excited.  Sin said, “So you must have seen Jesus again!”  “O yes, Bishop I really saw him again.” Well, did you ask him about my question? "Yes, Bishop, I told Jesus that my bishop would not believe that I saw you,  unless and until you tell me what his sins are from the time he was born until he became a bishop.” Bishop Sin was curious now and even worried about what Jesus might have told the nun. “Okay, Sister, what exactly did Jesus say.” The nun smiled and said, “Bishop, this is what Jesus said: “What I have forgiven, I have forgotten.”

Brothers and sisters: the unbounded forgiveness of God is open to us all; the unconditional love of God is open to us all; the unmerited grace of God is open to us all. In the same manner, the call of God is open to us all, the ministry of God is open to us all, the work of God is open to us all.

Black and yellow, brown and white; male and female, straight and gay, the Lord looks at the heart and gives equal opportunity. Everyone who calls upon the Lord shall be saved, loved, forgiven and called upon to serve. Serving the Lord is an equal opportunity. Let not the Church deny any of God's children the privilege, the joy, and the responsibility of serving the Lord.

 Let me end from the words of St. Paul in his Letter to the Galatians (3:26-28): “For you are all  children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”Amen.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Sermon Tomorrow: Jesus Raises Dead Boy to Life

Fred Vergara, St. James Episcopal Church, Elmhurst, New York. June 9. 2013

Please remain standing as we declare our affirmation together in my Christian Tai-Chi: “I am a child of God; I believe in His Word. I breathe the Holy Spirit; I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I push out negative thoughts, I take in positive thoughts. I push out sickness, I take in good health. I push out poverty, I take in prosperity. I push out hatred, I take in love. I push out despair, I take in hope; I push out sadness I take in joy. And now, I will share the Good News to my friends, to my family, to my neighbor here and all over the world in Jesus Name. Amen.” Please be seated.

Let me start with something funny. There was this missionary who went to Africa to evangelize the natives. While he was in the jungle, he saw a lion. He ran but it seems that his speed was no match to that of the lion. So he decided to stop and pray. He knelt down and closed his eyes and prayed, “Lord, save me from the lion.” When he opened his eyes, he saw that the lion was also kneeling in front of him. So he shouted, “Praise the Lord, the lion is now Christianized!” The lion said, “Quiet, I also pray before eating.”

Let’s now open our Scriptures to read this gospel this morning. Luke 7:11-17. Jesus made a miracle of raising a dead boy to life. It seems that the making of miracles is normative to the ministry of Jesus. In fact, two-thirds of the New Testament is all about Jesus making miracles: healing the sick, opening the eyes of the blind, making the deaf to hear, multiplying the bread, and raising the dead. What is the purpose of making miracles? We all know that those who have been healed eventually got sick again and those who have been raised from the dead, eventually died.  All of us are mortals, formed of the earth. On this side of life, we are born, we grow old and we die. It is on the other side, in heaven,  that we  are born to eternal life. So what’s the reason for miracles? Well, there are at least three reasons why miracles happen.

First reason: Miracles happen as a response to human need. The Bible says in Matthew 7:7 -8“Ask and it shall be given to you; seek and you shall find; knock and the door shall be opened. For everyone who asks receives, everyone who seeks finds, and everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” So this miracle was simply a response of Jesus to the crying widow. This woman had already lost her husband. Now she just lost her son.  She was grieving, she was crying, she was praying for mercy. And Jesus, filled with compassion,  responded to her need. He touched the coffin and said to the dead, “Young man, get up!” The boy sat-up and began to speak, “Where am I? What’s going on?” Oh what a happy day that was! The funeral turned into a festival!

I am currently writing a new book with the title, “Where God guides, God provides.” It will record my experiences of  God responding to my need when I really needed it. One of these miracles happened in Singapore in 1981. I left my country, the Philippines, and ventured in Singapore for further studies.  I had a scholarship for tuition but I had only S$50 allowance for the whole semester. Actually, the S$50 was supposed to be for books but because our dormitory did not provide meals on weekends, I would spend that money for meals outside.   

Now my wife and I were newly married and she was left in Manila and she wanted me to come home for Christmas. I was in turmoil. I also wanted to come home but the round trip air fare was 1,000 Singapore dollars---and I simply did not have that money.  So I prayed, and while I was praying, I heard a voice saying, “Go.” I did know what to make up of that voice but I decided to go and take a walk.  I was thinking that maybe as I was walking, I might stumble upon S$1,000. I did not step on any money but I kept walking and it led me to St. Andrew’s Anglican Cathedral . 

As I was entering the church, the vicar (Canon Frank Lomax) met me and said, “Oh Father Fred, its good you came.  We have a worship service going on right now, but our guest speaker did not come. Will you take his place?” I was not really dressed up properly and I was not prepared but I took the pulpit and for some reason words just came forth from my mouth. After the service there was healing ministry and the vicar gave me my honorarium which was S$50. It was not exactly what I was praying for but I thanked him for it. But just as I was leaving the gate of the cathedral, a certain lady dressed in white, gave me an envelope. I took it thinking it was a thank you card. I went home to my dorm and opened it and lo and behold. Do you know what’s inside the envelope? Exactly S$1,000! God answered my need. When I came home to my wife the day before Christmas, it was a surprise! (Of course, it was not the end of the story for I would later became a priest in that cathedral).

Second reason: Miracles happen as platforms for evangelism. In a world of skepticism and unbelief, miracles break open the heart of the people to God.  St. Paul said the Jews demand signs and Greek seek wisdom. Miracles soften the hearts of stone and the minds of steel to understand that there is a God to whom nothing is impossible.  In this gospel, when the people saw that the boy was raised to life, they were so amazed and said, “A great prophet is here with us. God has made a visitation to his people.”

Do you remember the story of Jonah in the Old Testament?  Jonah was commissioned by God to tell the city of Nineveh to repent of their sins or else they would be destroyed.  Jonah, instead of obeying God, ran away from God.  He went down to Joppa and hid himself in a ship bound for Tarshish. In the middle of the ocean, there was a violent storm that threatened the safety of everyone. The captain and the crew cast lots on who among them was the jinx, the one responsible for the wrath of God which was about to happen---and the lot fell on Jonah. In order to calm the waters, he suggested that they threw him into the sea and they did! Be careful of what you ask for, you may get it. 

So Jonah fell into the water and a huge fish, maybe a killer whale swallowed him up. Inside the belly of the whale, Jonah had a change of heart and he said, “Okay, Lord, now I am really going to obey you this time.” The Lord, who is also God of the second chance, caused the whale to have indigestion and it vomited Jonah right into the shores of Nineveh. So Jonah preached, “People of Nineveh, repent or else you will be destroyed in forty days.” The result was  amazing: the whole city of Nineveh, from the highest to the lowest, from the king to the slaves, repented and turned to God! Do you know why they listened to Jonah? Of course, it was the power of God but there was another reason, and it was cultural. The people of Nineveh had a folk tale that the God who was coming was to be in the form of "half-man and half-fish."So when Jonah came out from the belly of the fish, they believed that he was truly a messenger of God!  God works in mysterious ways.

Third reason: Miracles are a demonstration that the power of God is greater than the power of the evil one. Jesus said in John 10:10 “The devil comes only to steal, kill and destroy. I come that you may have life and have it abundantly.” The word of God is Good News and the word of the Devil is bad news.  And so when the Word of God is preached, the Devil tries to prevent people from hearing it. Sometimes the devil would make you sleepy so you won’t hear the word.  I'm happy to see no one is asleep right now. 

Sometimes the devil would give people a demon of unbelief.  In Acts 13:4-12, St. Paul was in Paphos , Cyprus when they met a Jewish sorcerer named Elymas. His other name was "Bar-Jesus" for he sometimes disguised himself as Jesus. He was an agent of Satan so as Paul was explaining the word of God to the proconsul (a Roman governor) Sergius Paulus, Elymas kept on interrupting and preventing Paul from speaking up. Sensing that this man was evil, St. Paul looked at him straight to the eye and said, “You are a son of the devil. Will you stop perverting the ways of God? Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind and for a while unable to see the light.” Immediately mist and darkness came upon Elymas and he groped about seeking someone to lead him by the hand. When the proconsul and the people saw what had happened to Elymas, they believed in God.

Brothers and sisters, when you live and believe in God, do not be afraid of the evil one: the power that is within you is greater than the power that is in the world. Amen.