Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Thursday, April 10, 2014


Canon Bruce Woodcock,Canon Peter Ng, Prime Bishop Edward Malecdan and just me.

I am not preaching this Sunday; I am in Asia for bridge building meetings. So I penned what would have been my sermon this Palm Sunday.  – Fred Vergara.04.10.2014. Antipolo, Rizal, Philippines

Every Holy Week, we are reminded of Jesus’ words: “If you want to be my disciple, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me” (Luke 9:23).

The last time I preached about “taking up your cross,” I saw a lady lifting up her husband!

What is the cross? The cross to me is anyone or anything that crosses your path. It may be your family, your friend, your enemy. It may be your mission, your challenge, your purpose in life.
Oftentimes the cross is a problem to be solved or a burden to bear. To some, it is a health issue such as a debilitating disease; to others, it is a weight issue, such as obesity or anorexia.  To some, it is an economic issue like loss of a job or abject poverty; to others it is a life and death issue, like losing someone you love or being called for an IRS audit.

The cross is also a symbol of commitment and responsibility.

The cross of Jesus is the epitome of all crosses. Jesus was sent by the Father to take up the cross as a ransom for the sins of the whole world. It was a commitment hard to bear and a terrifying responsibility. Jesus as fully human agonized in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, take this cup away from me.” And as he prayed, tears and blood came out from his flesh. As fully divine, he resolved to obey the Father: “nevertheless, not my will but thy will done.” The rest is history. Our sins were washed away by the blood of Jesus. We are cleansed, forgiven, redeemed. We are given entrance to everlasting life.

The Good News about the Cross is that it is temporary. You do not carry the cross forever. There is a time when problems are solved; burdens are lifted and challenges are won. After crucifixion comes resurrection. Crying turns into laughter, sorrows turn into joy, and mourning and sighing flee away. Even the mountains and the hills break forth in singing and the trees of the fields clap their hands. The cross becomes a crown!

I believe the Church today is bearing the weight of the cross. In fact, not just one cross but three crosses. If we are able to carry these crosses the way Jesus carried His own cross, the Church will have a great future of a new resurrection:

The first cross of the Church is a crisis of faith. The Church is supposed to be a repository of faith once delivered to the saints, but ironically, there is so much lack of faith among many Christians. Oftentimes, they turn into skepticism, fear or unbelief. And what happens when there is lack of faith? Nothing happens!

We know the story of the Apostle Peter. He saw Jesus walking on water and he got excited. “Master, let me walk on water like you.”  And Jesus said, “Come.” Peter stepped on water in faith but when he saw the waves; he got frightened and began to sink.  And Jesus said, “O man of little faith!”

Christianity is not about fear. It is about faith. It is not about feeling secure, about taking precautions. It is about taking risks and engaging in adventure. Christianity is an adventure, an act of faith. Our parents Abraham and Sarah taught us about adventure. They obeyed God and traveled unknown lands looking for the city whose builder and maker is God--and God did not disappoint them. I left home at age 15 to escape rural poverty and since then my adventure in faith has led me to places beyond my childhood dreams.

The Church must venture into obedience to where God is leading anew. The old institutions which have outlived their usefulness must give way to the new explorations and new ways of understanding mission. In Christ there is newness and fullness of life.

The second cross of the Church is a crisis of hope. John Wesley said, “If you lose money, you lose nothing; if you lose your health, you lose something. But if you lose hope, you lose everything.” Hope is the virtue that makes a person stands up after every fall. A person of hope is one who does not get discouraged when things do not turn out successfully. The person of hope believes that success is a failure turned upside down. A hopeful person is one who continually hopes even when hope seems gone. He believes that the same sun that sets in the west will rise again on the east.
One of my colleagues said that when she attended a course in church leadership, many of the clergy in the class were talking “the church is dying, the church is dying, the church is dying.” She could not bear it any longer so she said, “if the Church is dying, then let it die!”

Yes, if the church has lost hope, let it die. A church with no hope is of no use for Christ. The Church which Christ blesses is the one that always hopes, always perseveres, always expects.

We, the Church are a people of hope; we preach hope; we live with hope, and even if we die, we shall die with hope. “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again”---that is Trisagion of the Church. The crucified Lord has risen. The Church of the Risen Lord is filled with hope.

The third and final Cross of the Church is a crisis of love. The world has a love deficit. It is not money that makes the world go round. It is not fame that makes the world go round. It is not power that makes the world go round. It is love that makes the world go round. If God removes His love from the world, its foundations will crumble. The reason why we are still standing is that God’s love is steadfast, enduring and immovable. .

During our recent Tour to Italy, we visited the ruins of Pompeii.  We learned that Pompeii was once a great and prosperous city in the first century A.D. In their prosperity and success, their love for God had grown cold. Their hedonistic values, selfish ambitions and utter disregard for the welfare of others made them lukewarm and cold for God. The city that lives for itself will die by itself. The volcano Mount Vesuvius erupted and the whole city was covered with six meters of lava. It was completely destroyed and lost from view for 1700 years. Today, its ruins tell the story of a generation who lost their love for God and for one another.

Today, as we prepare to enter the Holy Week, we must be reminded of the Cross of Christ. But the remembrance of this Cross will be meaningless until we learn to take up our own crosses---and deal with the crises of our faith, hope and love.

Let me end with the prayer of confession from the Sinfonia Oecumenic and adapted by the Episcopal Church in the Philippines’ Book of Common Prayer:
Confession: (Lord, we confess): We have committed ourselves to be one people in the Spirit of Christ---and we are still divided. We have committed ourselves to be a fellowship of pilgrims---but often we have refused to move and change. We have committed ourselves to be servants to the world---but we have turned away into our concerns and closed our eyes to the pain of others. Forgive us, O God, and help us to renew our commitment to love and to live out the hope to which we are called.
Assurance of Pardon: In Christ our hope is new every day and there is no condemnation. Rise up and live as free People of God! Amen.

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