Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Monday, October 14, 2013


(Youth Sunday at St.James Episcopal Church, 84-07 Broadway, NY 11373. 10.13.2013.)

Today being Youth Sunday, I would like to preach, not from the lectionary reading but from a special word of the Lord that I want to share with the youth. Philippians 3:14:”My friends, I do not consider myself perfect. But one thing I do, forgetting what is behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me.”

In this world, there are two kinds of people: the losers and the winners. The losers go through life missing the mark, not fulfilling the potentials that God has given them. The winners go through life hitting the mark, always trying to fulfill God’s will. The losers when they try and fail, they get stuck in depression and regret. The winner, when they try and fail, they always rise up. The losers always think that failure is final; the winners always think that “success is never-ending and failure is never final.”

As children of God, we are made to become winners. What are the ways of the winners? Let me share seven points on what it takes to become a winner. You know I often use a three-point sermon, because they say, three points are what most adults can remember. But since I am addressing myself especially to young people, I believe they can remember these seven points.

  1. Walk with faith
The first step to become a winner is to walk with faith. How do you walk with faith? Do you walk like this (stoop down in defeat)? Or like this (look up and ahead)? When you walk with faith, you raise your head, you look confident, you look up. When I was a child, I learned the song “
“Walk with faith in your heart and you'll never walk alone For with faith in your heart, the world is yours to own; you never will grieve If in him, you believe and Walk with faith in your heart.”

When you walk with faith in your heart, you are not alone. God is there with you. And even when you walk through the storm in your life, you can hold you head up high. You will not be afraid of the dark because the light of Christ dispels the darkness. So walk with faith in your heart.

 2.Imitate Jesus
Thomas A’ Kempis, the mystical writer who wrote “Imitation of Christ” says that Christ is the perfect image of humanity. If you must have an American idol, let it be Jesus. The bible tells we are created in the image of God but that image was darkened because of sin. It is like seeing your face in a broken glass. Jesus is the clear mirror of our souls. Each one of us is unique so do not compare yourself with others. If you always compare yourself with others, you will either feel inferior because there are others better than you or you will feel superior because you think you are better than the others. But if you imitate Jesus, you will never fail. Jesus is the supreme example of faith, hope and love.

3. Nothing is impossible. You must always be positive and always use positive words. But if you must say a negative word, it is this “nothing is impossible.” The bible clearly says that there is nothing impossible to those who believe. Do you know who were the first persons to climb to the top of Mount Everest? There were two of them: Edmund Hillary from New Zealand and Tensing Norgay from Nepal.

Mount Everest is the highest mountain in the world standing 29,035 feet or 8,850 miles. Everest has long been considered unclimbable. Many climbers had attempted to do it and many lost their lives trying. Climbing Mount Everest is extremely dangerous. Besides the freezing weather (which puts climbers at risk for extreme frostbite) and the obvious potential for long falls from cliffs and into deep crevasses, climbers of Mount Everest suffer from the effects of the extreme high altitude, often called "mountain sickness."

But Hillary and Norgay had a dream. They rehearsed it in their minds day and night. Finally, after years of dreaming and planning and rehearsing their strength, and seven weeks of climbing, Hillary and Norgay became the first persons to ever reach the summit of Mount Everest. Nothing is impossible!

4. Never give up
Whatever happens, never give up on life. Hold on to your dreams. The best is yet to be. In the bible, Jesus told this story of about a single mother who was appealed to the judge to pardon her teenage son. Jesus used this parable to illustrate “unceasing prayer.” If you have a noble dream, pursue that dream, never give-up until it becomes yours. As a person, you are defined not on how many times you fall but on how many times you rise up after every fall. Look at this illustration. The guy below quit at the wrong moment. Had he tried the pick one more time, he would have hit the jackpot. Winners do not quit; they persevere.

5. Excel in everything you do
Excellence is not necessarily perfection. Excellence is doing the best that you have. That is what St. Paul is saying, “I have not been made perfect, but I press on toward the upward call.” Hillary was asked, what made him believe he can conquer Mount Everest and he said, “That mountain is tall, very tall, but it cannot grow taller. I am strong and I can even get stronger.”

6. Resist temptations
When you rise to success there will be some temptations in your life. Jesus was tempted like any human being was, yet he did not sin. What are the temptations in your life? Someone said the sin of youth is passion, the sin of adults is pride, and the sin of the old is prejudice. Since you are like my children, let me say frankly what are some of the possible temptations you may encounter in your life. I would name three: sex, drugs and pride.

a. Sex One temptation concerns sex. If you’re unable to control your passion, you may end up in unplanned pregnancy. When I was in college, we had a jingle which says, “What a waste, what a waste, the student today; the parents think she’s okay but actually she’s playing sneaky.” It tells the story of young girl who came to the university to study Medicine. Her parents hoped she will come home someday as an MD (Medical Doctor); it became an MD but it meant “marriage degree.” 

b. Drugs- Education is very expensive and so if you study from your parents’ income, do not to spend it on vices like drugs, cigarettes or alcohol. Do not be tempted by the lifestyle of others who want new and fast cars. Learn to live simply and not live beyond your parents’ means.

c. Pride – When you are in your parents’ home and not yet an adult, you are under their authority. You should know what time you expected to be home, what kind of company you should keep, what kind of dresses you should wear, what kind of boyfriend or girlfriend you should go with. Do not be overcome by pride that you do not listen to your parents’ advice. The Book of Proverb says, “An obedient child is a joy to his parents but a stupid son brings grief.” 

7. Serve the Lord
Finally, whatever you do, do it as if serving the Lord. The prophet Joshua said, “Choose you this day whom you will serve; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”  When I was a child, my dream was to become a bus driver. I wanted to transport people from place to place. Then at high school, I wanted to become a teacher. In college, I wanted to write and be a newsman. I indeed became a journalist. But when I became a priest, I seem to have fulfilled my youthful dreams. As a priest, I would sometimes transport people to church; I teach and I write. God works in mysterious ways to fulfill the desires of our hearts.

Let me conclude this sermon with a parable about the pencil:

The Pencil Maker took the pencil aside, just before putting him into the box and said:” "Before I send you out into the world, there are five things you need to know to become the best pencil you can be."

"One, you will be able to do many great things, but only if you allow yourself to be held in someone’s hand."

"Two, you will experience a painful sharpening from time to time, but you'll need it to become a pointed pencil."

"Three, with an eraser, you will be able to correct any mistakes you might make."

"Four, remember the most important part of you is what's inside."

"Five, on every paper you are used on, you must leave your mark. No matter what the condition, you must continue to write. Remember these five things and you will be a great pencil that you can be."

The pencil understood and promised to remember, and went into the box with purpose in its heart. 

Dear ones, each of you has a purpose in your heart. Fulfill that God-given purpose. Learn from the ways of the pencil, learn from the ways of the winners:

Walk with faith.
 Imitate Christ.
Nothing is impossible.
Never give up.
Excel in everything you do.
Resist temptation.
Serve God.
Be winners!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

MICROCHIP FAITH: How to develop a Positive Mental Attitude

MICROCHIP FAITH: How to develop a Positive Mental Attitude
(Rev. Dr. Fred Vergara. Sermon at St James Church, Elmhurst, New York. 10/15/2013. Text: Luke 17:5-10)

Let me start with something funny: Three men died and went to heaven.  St Peter met them at the Pearly Gates and gave them instruction. “Gentlemen, here in heaven you are free to do what you want except one thing, do not step on a duck. Whatever you do, don’t ever step on a duck.” Well, they discovered that there are many ducks in heaven and it was very difficult not to step on one. They go quack, quack, quack and multiply rapidly. So the first man stepped on a duck. “What did I tell you not to do; Peter said, I told you not to step on a duck.” And with a click of his finger, the man was chained to a very ugly woman, the ugliest woman he has ever seen in his life. The second man was a bit careful but in one unguarded moment, he stepped on a duck. Again Peter said, “Didn’t I warn you not to step on a duck?” so in an instant, he was also chained to a very ugly woman he had ever seen in his life. The third man was very careful; he has avoided stepping on a duck for almost three years. But one day, all of a sudden, he found himself chained to a very beautiful and gorgeous woman he had ever seen in his life. So he thanked God and said, “What have I done to deserve such a beautiful reward?” The beautiful and gorgeous lady said, “I don’t know what you have done; but for me, I stepped on a duck!” (Note. this is a joke and too far removed from the biblical image of heaven. Fred)

Faith---our subject matter for today is faith. Jesus said in this gospel, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘be uprooted and planted in the sea’ and it will obey you” (Luke 17:6) The mustard seed is the smallest seed there is but when it is planted it becomes big tree where the birds can rest and build their nests.  

Jesus was speaking to the Jews in the 1st century Palestine and so his imagery is agricultural. He was explaining the power of faith. But if He were preaching in the 21st century America, his imagery will change. Maybe he would look at one of the smallest element in the computer age, which is the microchip. The microchip is essential to the working of an electronic devise for it carries many integrated circuits. It is a very tiny element on a semiconductor plate (like silicon) but it has potential power in infinitesimal degree. So if he were speaking to his disciples in Silicon Valley (Santa Clara County, California), Jesus would be saying, “if you have faith as small as a microchip, you can say to this rocket ship in NASA, ‘fly me to the moon and let me play among the stars’---and it will be done for you.”

Faith is a gift or a virtue so essential to our lives. As St. Paul said in 1st Corinthians 13, faith is one of these three gifts (along with hope and love) that will remain. Faith is the opposite of fear; it is the opposite of doubt; the opposite of indecision. As people of God, we are called to live by faith, meaning to live with boldness and courage and even risk. As people of God, we are called to increase our faith, to use our faith, to develop our faith.  How do we develop our faith?

1.       First step to develop your faith is to change your thinking. The Bible says, “Do not be conformed to the values of the world but be transformed by the renewal of your minds.”  It means that in life, we must always have a positive mental attitude. Whatever is true, whatever is good, whatever is excellent, whatever is worthy of praise, these are the things that we must always think. Push out negative thoughts, pull in positive thoughts. Do not fill your mind with worries and fears but it with faith, hope and love. Someone said that you will know you are a pessimist or an optimist by simply looking at the doughnut. If your eyes always focus on the hole of the doughnut, then you are a pessimist. You will always find problems to worry about, you will always find people who are difficult to deal with, and you will always find something to be fearful about. And so you will not try because you are afraid to fail, you will not risk because you always see danger.  Even before you do something, you already failed because your mind says, “I can’t do it” even before you try. So renew your mind; ask God to give you a faith even as small as a microchip. Be not afraid. Failure is success turned inside out. If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. Failure is never final. You are defined not on how you fall but on how you stand up after every fall.

2.       The second step to develop faith is to change your words.  Words have power. Two ladies were diagnosed with advanced stage of breast cancer and both were given prognoses to live for three months. The first one said, “I am going to die” and she died after three weeks; the other one said, “I am going to live forever.” She did not live forever, because she is not immortal but her words have given her the inner strength to cooperate with the healing process and so she went into remission and got healed.

When I was in school, we had a classmate who had a sickness called hypochondria or hypochondriasis. An individual suffering from hypochondriasis is known as a hypochondriac. Hypochondriacs become unduly alarmed about any physical symptoms they detect, no matter how minor the symptom may be. They are convinced that they have or are about to be diagnosed with a serious illness. So when someone tells him, “Oh you look sick,” and then he will get sick. One time I saw a rash on his skin and I pointed it to him and he got so upset that he might get cancer of the skin, and we went to the doctor.  Our school physician who already knew his sickness, just gave him an injection of distilled water (I think), and said, “You’re OK now” and then he got well immediately.

So words have power. One of our songs says, “Give thanks with a grateful heart. Give thanks to the Holy One. Give thanks because He’s given Jesus Christ, His Son…And now let the weak say I am strong, let the poor say I am rich, because of what the Lord has done for us. Give thanks.” So let your words speak peace, speak healing, speak joy, speak beauty, speak inspiration, speak encouragement, speak life. I like the words from Proverbs 25:11 “Words aptly spoken are like apples of gold in a setting of silver.”

3.       The third and final step to develop faith is to change your attitude. The great Winston Churchill once said that “attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” Ronald Dahl also wrote, which I paraphrase:

“If a person has ugly attitude, it begins to show on the face. And when that person has ugly attitude every day, every week, every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until it gets so ugly you can hardly bear to look at it. A person who has good attitude cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good attitude they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.” Now, would you prefer to be ugly or lovely? The choice is yours.

My favorite ice-skater, Scott Hamilton has suffered testicular cancer, pituitary gland cancer, and brain aneurysm and survived them all. As a result of these many trials, he lost a full vision of his right eye and was reckoned be disabled. Yet this is what he said:” the only disability in life is a bad attitude.” One of his best friends, Brad Paisley said, “Scott is a hero to me in the way he handles adversity and his positive outlook in life, no matter the circumstances.”

The moral of the story of faith is “change your attitude and you will change yourself and you will change the world.”  Here at St. James, we are engaged in changing things. We are engage in changing the future of this church. Once it was in decline and now we are being revived; we are experiencing a revival because we are changing our thoughts, our words and our attitudes. 

Our goal for 2014 is to have 300 Sunday attendance and 150 pledging units. I tested this vision among some members. One adult said to me, “Father Fred, from 25 to 300? That is very ambitious!” I asked one youth, and she said, “Father Fred; that’s ambitious but not very ambitious.” I think I will talk with more young people. Anyway, I am gauging the faith-level of the congregation and I’m glad that none said the negative seven last works: “We’ve never done it that way before.”  Yes, when I arrived last April this year, the average attendance was 25 but today we already have 90 or so.  Nothing is impossible with faith. Let us have it, even as small as a microchip. Amen.