Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Saturday, August 10, 2013


FAITH – Fred Vergara. St. James. 8.11.13
Texts: Genesis 15:1-6; Hebrews 11:1-3. 8-16; Luke 12:32-40
The Church is a community of faith. As Christians we are called to live by faith. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” But what is faith?

Three ministers (a Roman Catholic, a Reformed and an Episcopalian) died and went to heaven.  That day Peter was on vacation so Lord Jesus himself found it convenient to meet them at the Pearly Gate. Upon seeing them Jesus decided to give them an entrance exam, to see if they have really learned the faith. If their answer is good, Jesus will press the green button and the pearly gate will open. If their answer is bad, Jesus will press the red button and they will fall down to earth until they learn more about faith.

So first came the Roman Catholic and Jesus asked him “Monsenor, who do you say that I am?” Now in the Roman Catholic Church, their authority on faith is tradition, which is embodied by the Pope. This is called in Latin as magisterium. When the Pope speaks ex cathedra (from the chair), he is supposed to be infallible.  So the monsenor said, “According to the Pope…” This did not please Jesus so before he finished speaking, Jesus pressed the red button and down fell the monsenor back to earth.

Next came the pastor of the Reformed Church and Jesus asked him the same question, “Pastor, who you say that I am?” Now the Reformed Church originated from Martin Luther, the German priest who nailed 95 theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg Castle refuting the traditions and indulgences of the Roman Catholic Church. Their authority is the Bible. While the Roman Catholic says, “Sola Papa,” (the pope alone), the Reformed Church believes “Sola Biblia” (only the Bible).  So in answer to Jesus’ question, the Reformed pastor said, “According to the Bible…” This also did not please Jesus, so before he finished speaking, Jesus pressed the red button and down, fell the pastor back to earth.

Finally, it was the turn of the Episcopal priest.  By the way, I was born and grew up in the Roman Catholic Church; and I took my doctorate in a Reformed Seminary, but I chose to be an Episcopalian because it is a “balanced church.” The Episcopal Church is both Catholic and Reformed. It is a bridge church; its theology is called “via media” or the middle way. The authority on faith is called the "three legged stool" of Scripture, Tradition and Reason. That is why, the Episcopal Church prides itself of being a “thinking person’s religion.” So when Jesus asked him, “Reverend Doctor, who do you say that I am?” Immediately the Episcopal priest looked up and said, “I think you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

O Jesus was so pleased, he pressed the green button. The Pearly Gates opened and the angels sang the halleluiah chorus. But as he walked on the streets paved with gold, the Episcopalian turned back and said, ““On the other hand…” Jesus pressed the red button and the Episcopal priest fell down, just like the rest!

1.So this is the first meaning of faith: faith is beyond reason. Faith includes knowledge of Scripture, respect of tradition and use of reason but faith is more than that. It is a certainty of something which is yet to be. Hebrews 11 defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

The reason why I am standing up here to preach, and not down there, is that I am visualizing that the church is full and that I am preaching to 300 people. Three months ago, when I first came to this church, the average Sunday attendance was 25 people. I visualize that the number would double and I think that has been achieved, thanks to God.  I also learned that the averaged Sunday Offering was something like $150 a week and I visualize that it will double; and for the past weeks our Sunday offering has even tripled.

Now, I visualize that there will be 150 Pledging Members who will commit themselves to supporting the church by their generosity. I have written about how these 150 members will pledge and offer their gifts:

25 Pledgers of $200 + a month  ($50+ per week)  
50 Pledgers 100+ a month ($25+ per week)
75 Pledgers of $50+ a month ($12.50+ per week)   
(I left a blank for others like us who pledge a certain percentage of our incomes.)
300 Sunday attendance and 150 Pledging Units! From a 25-member congregation three months ago; with $150 averaged weekly offertory? One member said, “Father Fred, that is a very tall order!”  We’ve never done it that way before!

2. That is the second meaning of faith: faith operates through visions and dreams.  Visions and dreams are the language of the Holy Spirit. In these last days, God declares, “I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh: the young shall see visions, the old shall dream dreams.”

In the Old Testament, God told Abraham that he will be a father to many children. Abraham was 90 years old and his wife,  Sarah was 80 years old, so he could hardly believe. So God took Abraham by the hand and in the middle of a dark night, told Abraham to look up. Looking up is the symbol of faith. When you look up, you look to God for help. The Book of psalm says, “I look up to the hills from whence my help comes, my help comes from the lord who made heaven and earth.” When you look up, you seek the things eternal.

So Abraham looked up and God said, “Can you count the stars, Abraham?” He said, “No, Lord, I can’t count the stars.” Then God said, “As countless as the stars in the sky, so shall your descendants be.” And Abraham believed. Faith comes from seeing what God sees and not being afraid to face the future.

3.  This is the third meaning of faith: faith is the ability to confront and overcome fear. The opposite of faith is not doubt but fear. The apostle Thomas doubted Jesus but his doubts unlocked so many mysteries of faith about His Master.  But Judas feared Jesus. He was afraid that Jesus would discover his true intention, the mask that he put on, the kiss of his betrayal.  The Bible says that fear is the beginning of wisdom but that kind of fear is different. The fear of God that the Bible says is “reverential awe.”The fear that faith overcomes is the negative, paralyzing and debilitating fear.

 Jesus did not teach that we fear God (in the negative sense) but rather that we love God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind and with all our strength---and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus came to give us life and to have it abundantly (John 10:10).

I believe that the greatest regret in one’s life is not being able to live life to the full. Some glory in their material treasures which are here today and gone tomorrow. Others get stuck in the bottomless pit of anger and resentment and worries.  They could not get out of their depression because they focused too much on themselves and their delicate egos. They save their lives to lose them rather than lose their lives to save them.

I also believe that the greatest sin is not pride or lust but fear.  You do not risk because you are afraid to fail; you do not give because you are afraid to lack; you do not love because you are afraid to get hurt.  You are afraid to be yourself, unable to express yourself for fear of being criticized, being embarrassed, being vulnerable. But this is the Good News: Jesus said, “Be not afraid.” As light overcomes darkness, faith overcomes fear.

Faith is an adventure to the road less traveled, an experience of unspeakable joy, an expression of amazing love and a celebration of life in all its fullness. So have no fear. Don’t just say, “take care.” Also say, “take risks” and live life to the full. Sing like nobody’s hearing; dance like nobody’s watching; smile like a new-born baby and live like this is the first day of the rest of your life!

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