Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Monday, December 29, 2014


(Sermon of Rev. Dr. Fred Vergara at St. Michael & All Angels, Seaford, Long Island 12/28/2014)

As we draw closer to the end of 2014, I wish to thank God for the wonderful blessings we received, including this time of being with you.  I also want to share with you my personal prayer for 2015. 

What will I pray for 2015?

Recently, I read on Facebook a funny prayer and it says, “Lord, for 2015 please give me a fat checkbook and a thin body…not like in 2014 that you mixed it up.” 

Sometimes we treat God as if He were Santa Claus, ”whose making a list a checking it twice, go’nna find out whose naughty or nice.” Or the Grinch who steals our joy away.

The fact of the matter is that God is neither Santa Claus nor the Grinch. God is active in our lives, but oftentimes He allows us to work in partnership with Him. In most things, it is divine-human cooperation. We do our part and God does His part. If we do our best, God will do the rest. Maybe if the guy who prayed funny only worked hard and saved enough, and exercised enough and had a balanced diet, he might have both a fat checkbook and a slim body.

The other day, I listened to Angelina Jolie being interviewed for her movie, “Unbroken.” It is the story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic athlete who joined the US Armed Forces during the Second World War and was captured by the Japanese after a plane crash in the Pacific Ocean. The movie, directed by Angelina, has become a box office hit, partly because it is very inspirational. It is a story of survival, resilience and redemption. It is a testimony to the power of the human will, to triumph against all odds, against all pain and suffering---and to live to tell the story.

After surviving a harrowing ordeal from his captors and returning to America, Zamperini had another war to fight----alcoholism. He also had to wrestle with his desire for revenge. Then he heard a gospel message from the evangelist Billy Graham which was the contact point for him to turn his life around. He went back to peace-time Japan and searched for his former captors and tormentors, not to avenge the past but to forgive each of them personally.

What was greatly significant was not only the movie but the making of the movie itself. It was the  result of connected prayers. Angelina Jolie who is a young and famous actress and Santorini, an aging veteran, were actually neighbors. He lived in Torrance, California which was just a few distance from Angelina’s parental home. As he was dying (he died a few months ago at age 97), he was wondering who was going to produce and direct his life story in a movie. At the same time, Angelina was praying that God would give her a movie project that would create a big impact to people’s lives.  

In narrating the events, Angelina said, “well, the answer (to my prayer) is just outside of my window.” God seems to be in the business of connecting the dots.

So what will I pray and what will you pray?

My first prayer is for family unity. I believe much of what is missing in the American family is unity. Although we have plenty of communication gadgets, we actually seldom communicate to one another. Do you as a family, have quality time together? Do you have a family dinner at least once a week where you are present with one another? Someone outrageously suggested that “maybe God took Steve Jobs early because he kept on inventing the iphone which takes away meaningful conversation among family members.” 

When children and parents meet, everyone is busy texting, tweeting or doing Facebook and seldom look at each other. Of course, I do not agree that was the reason why Steve Jobs of Apple died young, but it only illustrates the fact that no matter how modern our modes of communication are, we still need to have actual quality time together.

My second prayer is for church unity. Psalm 133 says, “Behold, how pleasant and how good it is; when brethren dwell in unity, for there the Lord commands the blessings, life forever more.” It says that unity is a pre-requisite for blessings. 
I am teaching Healing at church and healing is defined as “the restoration of the wholeness of mind, body and spirit.” Sickness is a disruption of the unity of the trinity, a breach or rupture of that holistic relationship. For instance, when you are wounded or when you have cancer in the body, it affects your mind and your spirit in a negative way. Disease is “dis-ease.” Healing is the restoration of that harmony. 

 St. Paul likened the Church to a Body: when one member suffers, all suffer together. That is the reason why unity is pre-requisite for blessings of Church Growth. If the Church is whole, it has a chance to grow. People would be attracted to the love and the fellowship that exist and they would like to belong to that church. But if there is division, if there is envy, malice, jealousy,  suspicion and distrust, there is no motivation for people to invite others to come.

Finally, my prayer is for the unity of our country.  St. Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 3: “First of all, then, I urge that prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all, for rulers and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and pleasing to God who desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.”

Lately, our nation and our city of New York have become embroiled in turmoil. There is a perception from the Black Community that they are being targeted by the police and are unfairly treated in the justice system. Once again, fifty years after the Civil Rights Movement, the age-old issue of racism, particularly white against black, rears its ugly head. 

 The death of African American Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida; Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; and Eric Gardner in Staten Island were blamed on white cops. A troubled black young man from Maryland, seeking to avenge,  traveled to New York and in an execution style ambush, pumped bullets on two cops: Rafael Ramos and Winjian Liu. The irony of it is that the two cops are not white: Ramos is Latino and Liu is Asian (Chinese). In the cycle of violence, there is neither rhyme nor reason.

Moreover, there is a breach or a chasm that exists between Mayor Bill De Blasio and the NYPD. In yesterday’s funeral of Ramos, hundreds of policemen turned their backs when the mayor spoke. Some sectors of the NYPD accused de Blasio of favoring the protesters over the cops. There is a distrust that exists in the city.

And so my prayer is for unity in all fronts: family, church and nation. This is a prayer for healing in our lives and in our community. When we pray in Jesus’ Name and by the power of the Holy Spirit, God the Father will hear. So let us pray:

Heavenly Father, you said in your word “If my people, 
who are called by my name, shall humble themselves and pray, 
and turn from their wicked ways, 
then you shall hear from heaven 
and will forgive their sins and heal their land “ (2 Chronicles 7:14). 

We pray for our families, our churches, and our nations. 
We pray for healing of our mind, body and spirit. 
We pray for healing of all relationships. 
We pray for unity so that the blessings of peace, love, joy and godly prosperity 
may be poured out over our land. 
This we pray in Jesus Name. Amen.

Thursday, December 25, 2014



(Rev. Dr. Winfred Vergara, St. James Episcopal Church, Elmhurst, New York, 12/25/2014)

 "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light."

“Darkness cannot be overcome by darkness; only light can.”

 They were shepherds watching their flocks by night. The night was dark and cold in Galilee.  And their eyes were heavy for sleep. Suddenly, a bright shining star appeared on the sky. It pointed to a place in Bethlehem, beckoning them to follow. And when they reached the place, there in a manger, was the Baby whose radiant face beams with heavenly light. They were captivated and so with their sheep. They knelt down and worshipped Jesus.

 They were kings and wise men from the East. Legends told them years ago that a Child King will be born and a star will point them the way. The star shone and they followed, westward leading, until they reached the little town of Bethlehem. There on the stable lies the King of kings and Lord of lords. They bowed down and worship Jesus, the Peace Child, and they offered gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

The message of Christmas is for all. At the birth of Jesus, the poor and the rich; the kings and the paupers; the East and West; the humans and the animals are one. As one carol says, “heaven and nature sing.” The message of the angels was, “Glory to God in the highest and peace to His people on earth.”

The spirit of Christmas comes as a gift of time. For a moment, the world pauses from its stresses and strains, from its conflicts and tumults, from its problems and worries .  Once a year, the joy that exudes from an innocent-looking child becomes a light that beckons everyone to turn their swords into plows and their spears into pruning hooks. Once a year, the love of God is rekindled in everyone’s hearts as we give and forgive. Once a year, the faith of God’s people is refreshed and renewed.
Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. His mercy never changes, his love never changes, and his compassion never changes. When we turn to Him in faith, He provides the spiritual answer to our deepest questions. And even if the answer is not to our satisfaction, He gives us comfort to live with it. God is good all the time.

At this Christmas season in this time and place, my prayer is for the unity of this city. Recent events seem to remind us that our country, the “United States” remains divided. The age-old problem of racism has resurfaced. The Black and White division seems to rear its ugly head once more. There is a certain feeling from the Black community that they have been targeted by the police and unjustly treated by the justice system. The shooting of Trayvor Martin by George Zimmerman in Florida; the shooting of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri; and the death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, have widened the racial divide---"black being killed by white."

In an extreme and irrational reaction, a black man from Maryland, came to New York and in an execution style ambush, killed two New York cops. Ironically, the two cops Raphael Ramos and Winjen Liu are not white. Ramos is Latino and Liu is Chinese. In the cycle of violence, there is neither rhyme nor reason. 

You know Ramos, Liu, Trayvor, Eric, Zimmerman, Wilson and the New York cops can be all members of this congregation. Here at St. James, we are a multiracial church, reflecting the growing diversity of this country. Many years ago and until the 1960’s, the pernicious racial segregation was a problem.  One of the early Filipinos in America recalled those days that whenever he went into the public toilets, he saw two signs for "Whites Only “and for "Blacks Only."He did not know what to do because he was neither black nor white but brown.

The Civil Rights movement of the 1960 paved the way for desegregation and some semblance of equality. But the sin of racism continues to rear its ugly head and creating deep seated suspicion and distrust. Almost 50 years ago, today, the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. for equality, justice and peace continues to elude us. 

But today, the American Society is no longer black and white. We are people from many colors, races, languages, ethnicities and cultures. The dynamics have changed and are changing. Here in New York, we have an opportunity to dream and to pray that God would weave us together into a tapestry of colors.  In the clinic where I am currently undergoing radiation therapy, I am fascinated by the racial and cultural composition of the staff: the medical director is Chinese; the oncologist is Russian; the administrator is Filipino; the technicians are Asians and Latinos; the nurse is African American; and the driver is Guyanese.

I used to tell them that whenever I am at the clinic, I also feel that I am at St. James Church. Yes, St. James is one of these churches that are a fulfillment of Martin Luther King’s dream that churches are not to be segregated. Not only that we have learned to co-exist as an interracial church; we are also experiencing ease in relating across cultures.

So we have an opportunity to radiate our light here in Elmhurst. The people of New York, despite its neon lights, are still walking in the darkness. It is the darkness of interracial fear, suspicion and mutual distrust. So let us let our light, the light of Christ, shine and shine brightly in our neighborhood and wherever God places us to be. As it was in Bethlehem, over 2,000 years ago, we must pray that the Light of Christ will shine anew in the context in which we find ourselves. 

Here at St. James, let our light point to Christ’s love as the final answer to racism and the fulfillment of our dream of justice, equality, racial harmony and oneness. Amen.

My wife, Agela ad I wish to thak you for your Christmas greetigs ad my birthday this day, Dec.25.  Oe letter is missig from my computer ad you kow what it is.

Sunday, December 21, 2014


(Sermon by the Rev. Canon Dr. Fred Vergara, St. James in Elmhurst, New York 12/20/2014)

The world’s a stage and we are like actors and actresses in a godly play. 

A few years ago, I took a course on acting at Stella Adler School in Manhattan. I guess it was one of my fantasies should I retire or lose my job, I would venture in Broadway or the movies. Actually, the course included voice lessons and I needed that in preaching. I often use my throat instead of my diaphragm and I needed to correct myself. 

The course on acting included “scene imagination” and a lot of memorization. When you are acting on stage, you also need to deal with stage fright. So it was not easy. I remember a friend of mine who was cast in a role of an extra. All he needed to do was to simply hold the saddle of the horse and when the rider says, “Sebastian, is the horse ready?” all he needed to say was “It is!” Well, there was nothing complicated about the role and not much memorization. But when the actual stage play happened, he was filled with fright. So when the rider asked, “Sebastian, is the horse ready?” He coyly said, “Is it?”

William Shakespeare, the most famous s playwright in history wrote that “all the world’s a stage and we are all like actors and actresses in a play. We have our entrances and we have our exits.” We play various roles: priest, husband, brother, sister, friend, son, daughter, employee, boss, rich man, poor man, beggar.

Sometimes and in some mysterious ways, we are cast in a very special role by God Himself. The casting is oftentimes a great privilege and at other times, a terrifying responsibility. That is the story of Mary, the young virgin from Nazareth. 

Thousands of years before Christ, the people of Israel heard a prophecy that a virgin would conceive and bear and son and he shall be called “Emmanuel, “ God-with us. (Isaiah 7:14). All over Israel, hundreds of young girls might have wished the prophecy would fall on them. But it fell on Mary. The bible account is summarized in this angelus: ”The angel of the Lord appeared unto Mary” and gave her the good news. 

The Luke version told of the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary and saying, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you.” Mary was perplexed by the greeting but Gabriel again said, “Do not be afraid, Mary for you have found favor with God. You will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.”Mary asked, “But how can this be since I am a Virgin?” Gabriel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; the child you bear will be holy and will be called the Son of God!’

Mary, whom scholars guesstimated to be between 12 to 15 years old said, without much thought, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.”
From the outset, this entrance into the stage play was amazing! Who would not want to be in Mary’s role? But wait a minute. There are some problems here:

First problem: Mary was engaged to Joseph, the carpenter. What would Joseph do if he found out that the innocent looking girl he was to marry was pregnant with child? 

Second problem: In the culture in which they lived, the punishment for adultery was death by stoning. In fact, in the culture of the Pharisaic Jews, the husband himself and the father of the woman, would lead or participate in the stoning of an adulterous bride. How could she ever explain in the context of a conservative patriarchal society that she was pregnant out of human wedlock but impregnated by Jehovah?

The Bible tells us that the angel dealt with Joseph, who upon knowing the truth, wanted to divorce her quietly.  Joseph was a good-natured man and would not want to lead or participate in the stoning of the woman he loved. The Bible tells us that in a dream, the angel  explained to Joseph the nature of Mary’s pregnancy and advise him, to take Mary as his wife and not to abandon her. At this point, Joseph was given a role in this godly play: to be foster father to Jesus, which incidentally, he did so well.

Ein Kerem, five miles from Jerusalem
 But the gossip mill in the village might be hard to handle and Joseph and Mary had to leave Nazareth to hide in the place of her cousin, Elizabeth in Ein Kerem, about five miles from Jerusalem. In Ein Kerem,  the traditional greetings are sung and when Elizabeth saw Mary, she sang as in Roman Catholic prayers,  “Hail, Mary full of grace; the Lord is with thee, blessed are thee amongst women and blessed is the fruit of your womb Jesus.” 

And Mary responded by singing the great Magnificat:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord! My  Spirit rejoices in God my Savior.  For he has looked with favor on his lowly servant and from this day, all generations will call me blessed. The Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his Name. He has mercy on those who fear him from every generation; he has shown the strength of this arm, he has brought down the proud and has lifted up the lowly.

So it was an amazing and wonderful story but with lots of twists and turns. The calling was a rare privilege but also a terrifying responsibility. At the birth of Jesus back Bethlehem of Nazareth, there was no room in the inn, so the baby had to share his crib with the animals. Three kings visited the baby and one of them gave the gift of gold, instantly making the poor baby so rich! Then King Herod, insecure about his kingship, started inquiring about this news about a baby king, and sought to kill him. The holy family again had to flee to Egypt, as Herod went about killing the baby boys on holy innocents’ day.  

At the death of Herod the Holy Family went back to Nazareth as the young Jesus assisted his father, Joseph in making furniture, particular the yokes of oxen. Meantime in the river Jordan, John was baptizing with water and proclaiming that the one who is coming, “whose sandals I am not worthy to untie,” was coming and will baptize believers with the Holy Spirit. In that instance Jesus appeared and as he was baptized with water, the heavens opened and the Holy spirit came upon him and the voice was heard in heaven, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.”

The then Spirit led Jesus to be tempted in the wilderness where he triumphed against all temptations known to human beings. And when he returned to the scene, with power, he went about Galilee healing the sick, opening the eyes of the blind, cleansing the lepers and liberating those oppressed by demons.

But the Pharisaic religious society rejected Jesus and accused him of blasphemy. They plotted to kill him. Finally, they were able to convince the Roman colonial government to sentence him for inciting a riot. Judas, one of the twelve apostles betrayed him; and Peter, his most senior apostle denied him. After torture, beatings and death march, he finally reached  Calvary where he was nailed to the cross between two thieves. 

And where was Mary in all these? She was there feeding Jesus when he was a suckling child, she was there teaching Jesus how to sing the Psalms, she was there coaxing Jesus to make miracles, like changing water into wine. And yes, she was there at the foot of the cross!

There is a portion in scripture that we seldom read when we talk of Mary, because this was about Mary’s suffering. It is found in Luke 2: verses 25-35 and let me read:

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:  Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”

Luke then tells us that Joseph and Mary marveled about these words from Simeon. But not only that, and listen to this very carefully. “Then Simeon blessed (Joseph and Mary) and said to Mary, Jesus’ mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

“A sword will pierce your own soul.”This grim prophecy was fulfilled on the cross. As the son suffered on the cross, the mother agonized at the foot of the cross. As the body of Jesus was pierced by the spear, so the soul of Mary was pierced by the sword. In the whole drama of human redemption, Mary became the theotokus, the bearer of God’s pain and glory. She acted excellently the godly play for our salvation. The blood of Jesus cleansed us from sin and his death opened to us the gate of eternal life, the mission of Jesus was accomplished and Mary became a holy accomplice. The piercing of her soul was the sacrificial part of her role as the bearer of God’s Son!

As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, let us thank Mary and remember all the mothers who likewise bear the joy, the pain, and finally the hope for their children’s glorification. Surely, the Almighty has done great things for Mary.  Blessed is she among women and blessed is the fruit of her womb, Jesus. Amen.

(Note: Sunday Worship at St. James Church, 84-07 Broadway, Elmhurst, NY 11373. 9:30 AM Chinese; 11:00 AM English; 1:30 P.M. Spanish. Call 718-592-2555 when in New York)