Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Saturday, February 22, 2014


 Fred Vergara. St. James' Episcopal Church, 84-07 Broadway, Elmhurst, NY 11373. February 23, 2014. Contemporary Worship Service 

The time is coming---indeed it is here now---when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way.” John 4:23 (New Living Translation)

My sermon today is about Praise and Worship. What is praise? What is worship? What is the difference between praise and worship? How do we worship in spirit and in truth?

There was a story of a man who wanted to buy a horse. It was quite an expensive horse so the man asked the owner why it costs so much. The owner said, “There’s something special about this horse. He is a religious horse. When you want the horse to run, you say “alleluia” and when you want it to stop you say “Amen.” So the man tested the horse. He mounted it and said, “alleluia,” and the horse ran. He got so excited so he said again “alleluia, alleluia” and the horse ran faster. He got even more excited that he shouted “alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!” The horse galloped and ran even faster. As they were nearing a cliff, the man wanted the horse to stop but he forgot the magic word. As the horse was about to fall off the cliff, he finally remembered just on time and said, “Amen!” They were just about a foot from the cliff. As the man realized how lucky he was, he looked up to high heaven and shouted, “Alleluia!”

PRAISE – is thanking God for what He has done for us and for what He is doing in our lives. One hymn of praise says ““Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation! O my soul, praise Him, for He is thy health and salvation! All ye who hear, now to His temple draw near; Praise Him in glad adoration.” Another one says, “From the rising of the sun, to the going down of the same, the Lord’s Name is to be praised.” (Check this video below for an example of a Praise Song)

The Bible asks us to praise the Lord at all times because there is power in praise. When you’re down, stressed out and troubles abound, instead of falling into depression, try praising God and your emotional climate will immediately change.  In the Book of Acts, chapter 16, Paul and Silas were unjustly arrested, tortured and imprisoned. Instead of sulking and feeling sorry for their fate, Paul and Silas praised God. They sang praise songs similar to what we have just sung, they were joyful in thanking God, and all of a sudden, there was an earthquake and the prison doors were broken and Paul and Silas were able to escape. 

When King David was in so much trouble and was regressing into self-pity and depression, he spoke to himself and said, “Why are you cast down, O my soul? Why are you so troubled? Praise God!”  He began to praise God, extolling the greatness of the Lord---and his depression vanished like a fog at the outburst of the sun.

Praise is oftentimes an outburst of our emotion that speaks of our gratefulness. When Jesus entered Jerusalem, he was met with emotional outpouring of praise. “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” The people spread palm branches and the children rejoiced and people clapped their hands in praising Jesus for the miracles that He has done. The Pharisees tried to prevent the people from praising God and Jesus said, “Do not prevent them from praising God; for if you do, even these stones will cry out.”

So what is the difference between praise and worship?
Praise is an outburst of an emotion that speaks of our gratitude. When someone does a good deed or makes an excellent performance, we offer our praise. If my sermon today is great, you will praise me. If it is bad, you will criticize me. In other words, praise is oftentimes dependent on how something has affected you. It is a grateful acknowledgement of the good things that someone has done for you. And because God has done so many wonderful works, and that God has given so many blessings, then God is worthy of our praise.

Worship on the other hand is not dependent on our emotions. Praise leads to worship but worship is not exactly the same as praise. Praise is thanking God for what God has done but worship is thanking God for who God is. The English word worship comes from two words “worth” and “ship.” In other words, God is worthy of our worship---whether or not God has done something worthy of praise. (Check this You-Tube video for an example of Worship Song)


The best example in the Bible about true worship is Job. Job was a God-fearing man; his heart is after God’s heart. He strives to be faithful and obedient to God and as a result he became wealthy and prosperous. What is noteworthy about Job as a rich man is that his character was impeccable and his family was exemplary. But one day, for some strange reason, Satan challenged God. He said that Job was righteous because he was given divine favor and protection. If God would take that protection away from him, Satan said, Job would curse God. 

Well, one by one, the riches of Job were gone. Then his wife died and his children died. Everything and everyone he held so dear were gone and he was left with nothing and no one. Then Job was afflicted with boils and sores all over his body. One by one, people came and challenged Job to curse God. Then his three friends—Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar-- also challenged the righteousness of Job and urged him to curse God and die.  What was Job’s response?  He tore his robe and shaved his head and he fell to the ground and worshipped and said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb; and naked I shall return. The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” 

The story of Job ended well, with his fortunes and family restored twice as much. But throughout all his trials, Job did not blame God, Job did not curse God, Job did not waver in his faith. Why? Because he has learned the meaning of worship. He has learned to worship God in spirit and in truth! 

Worship is not dependent on the blessings that you receive. You do not worship God simply because you are blessed with wealth, with power, with money, with good health, with long life, with a lovely wife and beautiful children. No, you worship God even though you are poor. You worship God even though you have no lovely wife or no handsome husband or girlfriend or boyfriend. You worship God even though you have no money, no power and not in good health. Worship is total surrender to the One who owns everything and who holds all things together.

In one of his many prayers, the founder of the holiness movement and the Methodist Church, John Wesley said: “Let me be full, let me be empty; let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and wholeheartedly release myself to you, O God!”

The Greek word for worship is prokoneo , which literally means to kiss like a dog licking its master’s hand. The Hebrew word for worship is shachah, which means to bow down or to prostrate in homage like a subject paying homage to a king. The culture of bowing is deeply ingrained in Japanese culture. It is called Ojigi and it has many meanings: as a sign of respect, as a sign of gratitude, as a sign of greeting, a sign of repentance and humility. It is also a sign of worship, like worshiping the Emperor.

In the worship of God, all of these things are true. We praise God, we thank God, we respect God, we adore God, we bless God, we glorify God, we humble ourselves before God.

The actions of praise are to clap our hands and to make a joyful noise unto the Lord. The action of worship, however, is to raise our hands in total surrender, to listen to the still small voice of the Spirit, to ojigi before the royalty of God's majesty, to  proskoneo on the "Ground of our Being," to bow in awe before the mysterium tremendum, the tremendous mystery, to shachah before the awesome holiness of the most high God!

"All to Jesus I surrender, all to Him I freely give
I will ever love and trust Him, in His presence daily live.
I surrender all, I surrender all
All to thee my blessed Savior, I surrender all." Amen.

Sunday, February 9, 2014


 (Sermon by the Rev. Dr. Fred Vergara, St. James Episcopal Church, Elmhurst, NY 2.9.14)

The gospel this morning says, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and hide it under a bowl. Instead they put it on a stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

Have you ever stopped to think that you are a star and you are meant to shine? Have you ever stopped to think that you are a child of God and are precious in His sight? Have you ever stopped to think that you are indeed a salt of the earth and light of the world? How can you let that light shine so that when people see you, and hear you, they may glorify God, your father in heaven?

First, you can be a light by standing for your faith.                                                                         Jesus said to his disciples, “whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge them before my Father” (Matthew 10:32).
There was an Christian lady who welcomes the sunrise every morning by praising God. She says, “Lord, thank you for giving me food, thank you for giving me clothing, thank you for giving me shelter. Thank you for everything you gave.”
Now her next door neighbor was an atheist and he watches her and taunt her. “Shut up, woman, there is no God and he is not the one who give you food, clothing and shelter.” Daily, this Christian lady opens the door and thank God and daily this atheist neighbor taunts her.
One day, the lady lost her job and fell on hard times to the point that she had no more money to buy food. But yet, she continues to open her door and pray, “Lord, please give me food.” The atheist said, “Shut up, woman, there is no God and he is not going to give you food.” For days, she opens the door and called on God and for days he shouted, ”there is no God.” One night, the atheist decided to play a trick on the woman. He bought a big basket of food, rice, fruits and vegetables and in the dark of the night, put the basket on the door of the woman’s home.
When she woke up the next morning, the Christian lady, saw the big basket full of food. She lifted up her hands, looked up to heaven and praised God, “Halleluiah, thank you, Lord for giving me this basket full of food!” The atheist shouted, “Aha, I got you there. It was not God who gave you that basket full of food. It was me!” The Christian lady, looked up to heaven again, and said, “Thank you Lord for commanding the devil to buy food for me!”

Second, you can be a light by standing for your dignity.                                                              Whoever you are, whatever you are, you are a Child of God. You are not defined by your race, you are not defined by your age, you are not defined by your ethnicity, you are not defined by your economic status, you are not defined by your culture. You are not defined by how you look, you are not defined by your color, you are not defined by your age.

You are defined by God who created you.  Brown and yellow, black and white, you are precious in the sight of God. You are created equal with all others. And no matter how small or short you are, you must stand tall, because you are standing on your dignity as a child of God.
There’s a story out of South Africa, from the last days of apartheid, about standing tall in spirit. Lindiwe Macozoma is a Christian. Like many black women of that country, she worked as a domestic helper in the homes of white South Africans. On her first day of work at her new job, her employer took her into the kitchen and gave her a little tour. She showed her the dishes and fine china for the family, and then she opened a cupboard way down below the sink and showed Lindiwe a set of old dishes, chipped and scratched from years of use. She said to her, “These are the dishes you are to use when you eat your meals.”
The next day, as she got ready to leave for work, Lindiwe took a plate setting of the most beautiful china from her own house, wrapped it up and carried it to work with her. When she got to work, she set a place for herself at the kitchen table. Her new boss came down the stairs. As Lindiwe describes it:
I could feel her eyes right in my back. And she was so surprised, she asked where these beautiful dishes came from. And I told her they were from my house. I told her that in my community, we don’t eat off old, broken dishes. We buy the nicest things because we don’t have much money and things must last for a long, long time. I thought she would be mad; but instead she told me. “Tomorrow, you do not have to bring your own dishes from your home. Instead, you can use the same dishes that my family are using.”.
To many others who heard her story, it was a small victory, but a victory nonetheless.

Do you also remember the story of the African American woman who refused to leave her seat on the bus? Her name is Rosa Parks, considered the mother of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement. In the 1950’s, there was racial segregation in the United States. The white people and the colored people could not sit in the same seats. The front seats were reserved for the white people and the back seats for the black people. When Rosa rode on the bus on December 1, 1955, she did not know that what she was doing would change the course of American history. She rode up the bus in Montgomery, Alabama and sat on the seat on the colored section. But alas, when the white section was filled up, there was another white person who came up. Now the driver by the name of James Blake, ordered Rosa to get further aback the bus and give her seat to the white man. Rosa refused to give up her seat, and she was arrested for violating the Alabama law of segregation. Her case became the rallying cry of the Civil rights movement championed by Martin Luther King, Jr. that finally gave way to racial equality.

Yes, like Rosa Parks, you can let your light shine by standing for your human dignity and respecting the dignity of others.

Third, you can be a light by standing for your dreams.                                                                      This month, February, we are celebrating Black History Month. Important to remember is the courage of Rosa Parks and the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr.  The “I have a dream speech” delivered on the steps of Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC on August 28, 1963 is one of the most acclaimed speeches in American history. Speaking to thousands of people gathered to celebrate the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation,  MLK, Jr. declared:

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal .” I have a dream that one day... sons of former slaves and sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood… I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of the skin but by the content  of their character.   I have a dream that one day…little black boys and black girls will be able to sit down with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers…I have a dream..that one day every valley will be lifted up, every mountain shall be made low and the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. I have a dream...”

MLK’s dream became the catalyst for the movement that transformed this nation---in removing the vestiges of slavery, in ending segregation, in challenging discrimination. Surely, there is still racism in this nation, as in any other nation. Surely, there is still racial discrimination in this nation, as in any other nation. Surely, there is still injustice and inequality in this nation, as in any other nation. But the dream of equality, the dream of reconciliation, the dream of harmony, continues---and for as long as the American people---black, white, Asian, Latino, native American---continue to cherish this dream, there is hope.

Personal Story: When my wife and I first came to the United States in 1986, I was a doctoral student at San Francisco Theological Seminary in California. I was the only Asian in the class of thirteen. I was the shortest. I was the smallest.  I was the poorest. My classmates were all white. They were tall, they were big, they were rich. But whenever I speak, they listened to me. I was mindful that whatever I say, whatever I do, it would reflect on the Filipinos, the Asian community, the people of color that I represented.

I learned later that Asians in America were called “FF” or “MM,” meaning “forever foreigners” or “model minority.” They were called “forever foreigners” because they were perceived as not melting into the American culture. We were called “model minority” because we do not make waves. We seldom complain, we seldom protest, we seldom raise our voices, we keep to ourselves. We excel in math, at least many of us,  because it does not require standing up and speaking out. We do not want to toot our own horn; we do not want to talk about our accomplishment, for fear of being called immodest. So we become invisible, being ignored and overlooked. We are content being called a silent, humble and meek model minority.

One day in the seminary, there was a large gathering of all faculty and students. This time there were many Asians, particularly Korean Presbyterians. The Koreans were students of seminaries and universities in Korea, while they were undergrads, but at their senior year, they came to the United States, so that when they graduate, they will have Diplomas made in the USA. At the gathering, there were white speakers and at the Open Forum, all the white students monopolized the discussion. They were very articulate. Although their ideas were jaded, they were aggressive, confident and expressive, so we who were foreign students, were clearly intimidated.

 I saw many Asians by the sidelines, wishing to speak, but they had no courage to stand up. With fear and trembling, I raised my hand. I was recognized and given the microphone. I took the microphone and with every breath of my being, expressed my thoughts and my views. I don’t remember what I said but there was a long applause! I was amazed, not by the applause but by the instant response of the Koreans, the other Asians and the other students of color. They also rose up, one after the other and expressed themselves!  And what brilliant ideas they had! When you muster the courage to find your voice, you help others to find their voices too.

Yes, stand up and express yourself!  One of my African-American friends later told me, “In this country, you don’t expect nobody to stand up for you; you stand up for yourself. Nobody will toot the horn for you; you toot your own horn. Stand up, stand up, and express yourself.” 

Marianne Williamson expressed it this way: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

You are the light of the world. Let your light shine by standing up for your faith, your dignity and your dreams. Express yourself! Amen.