Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Sunday, January 18, 2015



(Sermon by The Rev. Dr. Winfred Fred Vergara. St. James Episcopal Church, Elmhurst, New York, 1/18/2015)

The Bible is like a love letter of God that never fades. That is the reason why no matter how many times we read it, how many times we teach it, and how many times we preach it, it always has a new and fresh message for us. 

II Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” Isaiah 40: 8 says, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of God will stand forever.”

I have in my hands a bible and a newspaper: The newspaper will become stale tomorrow but the Bible will remain fresh. If we must keep up with the daily news, we read the newspaper or watch TV. But if we must go through life, we must read the Bible. Joshua 1:8 says, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, you shall meditate on it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. Then you will make your way prosperous, and you will have good success. “

Reading from Scriptures, there are some immutable or unchanging laws that govern success. If your goal is to be happy, if your goal is to serve humanity, if your goal is for abundant life, you may like to pay attention to some of these laws.

The first law of success is the law of vocation. It means that God has a calling for each one of us. It is this calling or vocation that will make life worth living.  It is this vocation that will give us joy unspeakable. It is this vocation that will give us a sense of fulfillment.

Theologian Frederick Buechner defines vocation as the stage of your life “where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.” It is where your greatest passion in life, your fondest dream in life, your greatest imagination in life has met the greatest need of the world. What is your greatest passion? What is your greatest dream or imagination? Does the world need it?

Martin Luther King, Jr., whose legacy we celebrate today, must have truly fulfilled his vocation. As a preacher and leader of the Civil Rights Movement, King’s dream of equality, social justice and racial reconciliation has fired the imagination of the American people. Even if it is true that racism still exists; it is equally true that we are so much better than we were before. And for so long as we hold on the legacy of that MLK’s dream, there is hope that new prophets will rise up to the occasion.

Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church must have already found his true vocation. As a leader of 1.5 billion Catholics in the world, his recent visit to the Philippines inspired a large portion of his constituency. He has demonstrated an extraordinary compassion for the poor and the marginalized, a non-judgmental approach to gays and lesbians, an advocacy for women’s empowerment and an authentic openness to change---more than his predecessors. Surely, he is rising to the occasion and the charisma of his vocation. 

How do we receive or attain vocation? Sometimes we may seek it ourselves. Steve Jobs, who found his vocation as co-founder of Apple and inventor of the iPhone once said that we must continue to search and search for it “and never settle until we find it.”

Sometimes, we receive our vocation as a direct whisper from God. The boy acolyte  heard the voice of God calling him “Samuel, Samuel” in the middle of the night (1  Samuel 3:1-10). The young Nathaniel received his vocation when Jesus saw him under the tree (John 1:43-51). As a prophet, Samuel would thereafter be hearing greater words .  As an apostle, Nathaniel (or Bartholomew) would thereafter be seeing greater things.

So vocation can be received by hearing or by seeing. All we need to do is to be sensitive to the way in which God is speaking to us through the Spirit. And sometimes we need mentors. Samuel’s mentor was Eli and Nathaniel’s mentor was Philip.

The second law of success is the law of attraction.  This is another way of saying that we attract success by the way we conduct our lives. Some call this “success image.” If our minds think positive thoughts, our mouths speak positive words, and if our actions are geared towards the positive, then the outcome will also be positive.  Conversely, if our minds think negative thoughts, our mouths speak negative words and our actions are geared towards the negative, then the outcome will also be negative.

There is a Chinese saying which says, “If you can’t smile, then don’t keep shop.” If you are applying for a job as sales person, what is the first qualification? “A pleasing personality.” Why? Because nobody will buy your product if you’re grouchy and negative.

One of the things I learned in dealing with cancer is having a positive outlook even in suffering. The sportscaster Stuart Scott said, “You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and in the manner in which you live.” One of my doctors also said, “I could almost predict which of my patients will get well easily; it’s by the way they handle their sickness.”

And so when I was diagnosed with cancer, I did not sulk into the corner and asked why O why? Neither did I get angry with God nor blamed myself. Rather, I went into praying and reading God’s Word. And when you read God’s Word, when you listen to godly counsel, when you sing praises to God, you will get the right answer. And I did received this assurance through Psalm 117:18, “I shall not die but live to proclaim the deeds of the Lord.” 

I learned that “adversity in life is only an obstacle if you fail to see opportunity.” So instead of being bitter about having to go through radiation for 45 days (and the side- effects that I endure), I am using these days to speak about my experience and how I can inspire others.

Life is about making choices. In a world in which we live, we cannot really control what happens to us but we can control how we react to what happens to us. You are driving safely in the highway but someone, a drunk driver or a reckless driver suddenly comes. You cannot control what this driver would do but you can control how you react when he cuts you off.  You can choose to get mad, or you can choose to keep cool, be patient and even pray for that person. And more appropriately avoid and call the police to help save him and others.

So if you want success in life, attract success by your outlook in life. Think positive, speak positive and act positive.

The third law of success is the law of “give and take.” This is another way of saying that “If you want to have friends, be friendly; if you want to be accepted, accept others; if you want to be loved, be loving; and if you want to receive, give.”

Nature operates on the law of giving and receiving. Water in the river must continue to flow in order to be clean. If it does not flow, it will become stagnant. Blood in the body must continue to circulate in order to give life. If it does not circulate, it will coagulate and the body dies. The difference between the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee illustrates this point. The Dead Sea only receives water but does not give out water; the Sea of Galilee receives water and gives out water. The Dead Sea is dead but the Sea of Galilee is alive. Are you a Dead Sea or a Sea of Galilee?
Have you ever wondered why the other word for money is “currency?” It is probably because money is designed to circulate. If you keep money only for yourself, then it would be of no use. Like stagnant water, it will not flow, and it won’t flow back to you. That is the reason why Jesus says, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).  “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you give will be measure you get back" (Luke 6:38).

Do you remember the parable of the rich fool? (Luke 12:15-21) His farm yielded so much grain but instead of sharing his fortune to his neighbors, he built many barns to keep them all for himself.  He thought that once he had so much in store, he would then sit back and relax, eat, drink, be merry and enjoy his life. But that very night, when he thought that it was time to splurge, God came to take his life. He was not able to enjoy his fortune because he was thinking only of himself.

Recently an experiment was done in which a hundred people were given a hundred dollars each. They were made to choose whether to spend the money only for themselves or to share it with others. It turned out that those who shared it with others were so much happier than those who spent the money only for themselves.

So finally, how do you see your ultimate purpose in life?

The Dalai Lama says the ultimate purpose in life is to be happy---and he defined happiness as “being compassionate.” Not material things, though needed, that gives you ultimate happiness. Not achievement, though noble, that gives you ultimate happiness. What gives you ultimate happiness, the Dalai Lama said, is compassionate service to others. If you make a random act of kindness every day, you accumulate flowers of joy in your being.

One person defined JOY as Jesus first, Others next and You last. Maybe there’s a rhyme and reason for that, because no one is an island. Our success, our happiness, our joy are ultimately tied to the happiness of others. This makes me think about heaven. If I alone would go to heaven, minus my friends and family, would I really be happy in heaven? Think about that. That is the reason why Jesus commanded us to share the Gospel so that all will be saved and come to the knowledge of the Truth.

Yes, our ultimate happiness is found in our compassionate service to others in the name of Jesus who came, not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.

Today, I pray that God will call us anew and help us to release ourselves into the fullness of joy in service. Let us seek our true vocation; let us invite the positive and release the law of giving and receiving into our lives. Amen.

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