Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Friday, June 26, 2015



Editor's Note: Guest blog is from the sermon preached on June 21, 2015- Christ Episcopal Church, La Crosse, WI by The Very Rev. Canon Patrick P. Augustine, D.Min. DD., Rector. Patrick and I have beginnings of friendship when he and I were youth delegates to the 5th Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Nairobi, Kenya in 1975, he from the Anglican Church of Pakistan and me from the Iglesia Filipina Independiente.  40 years passed and now we meet at the General Convention of The Episcopal Church. - Fred Vergara 

Patrick Augustine and Fred Vergara
At the New Community Festival at General Convention 2015
New Community Conference in 2013

“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” Psalm 133:1
“E PLURIBUS UNUM, one formed from many”

“We shall overcome”, a key anthem of the African-American Civil Rights Movement, has been sung over and over again for the last four days by both black and white people in Charleston, South Carolina.   

On Wednesday evening of June 18th at 8:00 p.m. Dylann Roof, a 21 year old white man, arrived at Emanuel African Methodist Church (AME) in Charleston and joined a Bible study with members of the congregation along with their Pastor Rev. Clementa Pinckney.  After sitting in the Bible Study for an hour he took out a gun and opened fire on the class killing nine members of this Black historic church.  In 1861, the force of racial conflict shaped this city’s commerce and inspired a slave revolt that sparked the guns that started the Civil War.  After the war African-Americans abandoned the white congregations where they had been forced to pray as slaves and created their own centers of worship, remaking the religious map of the South.  What emerged in those years after emancipation is what the African-American scholar W.E.B. Du Bois and others have described as the “first social institution fully controlled by black men in America.”[1]

Emanuel AME isn’t just another black church but the oldest black congregation since 1822 in the South.  This church has seen some very dark history of racial segregation and hatred.  The founding member of this church was a free black carpenter, Denmark Vesey, who preached a message of liberation and end to slavery.   He was executed.  The history of hatred and racial divide in America still continues as we have seen with the deaths of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Michael Brown in Ferguson and Walter Scott in North Charleston.  And again in the most recent news we hear of nine more deaths, this time in a House of Prayer in Charleston, South Carolina.

The evil manifestation of racism has appeared in the history of human beings for many centuries on our planet earth.  It has been practiced for many hundreds of years on the Indian sub-continent separating the higher caste and the untouchables.  Some Arabs are against the black Africans.  In Sudan the Arabs in the North have killed more than two million black Southern and Darfurian Sudanese and more than four million are refugees today.  Hitler’s Nazi Germany used their racial supremacy beliefs to exterminate more than six million Jews during the Second World War.  The massacre of Kurds and Armenians at the hands of Turks is one of the bloodiest human tragedies.
Racism is a complex issue and we need to talk about its ugliness on its many levels.  Racism is part of our human making.  From one generation to the next it is taught, learned, and then practiced.  My purpose from this pulpit is not to teach the history of racist white America.  

 I am sure all of you are aware of the wrongs of the past.  My purpose is to look at the present picture of our society where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said:
“We must face the sad fact that at eleven o’clock on Sunday morning
when we stand to sing ‘In Christ there is no East or West,’
we stand in the most segregated hour of America.”

America is known throughout the world as the great example of democracy, a light on the hill of equality, prosperity, and liberty; but, under this veneer, there is lot of pain with an ugly history of oppression, hatred and segregation.  The struggle of African Americans for racial justice has continued for over 300 hundred years, but resistance is found in our nation, which boasts of its provisions of “freedom and justice for all.”

The theological question to be asked here is, how do God’s people strive for justice and peace, for racial reconciliation among all people, and for respect for the dignity of every human being?  How would the Kingdom of God be realized on this earth, where “from every family, language, people and nation” people are gathered to “worship and praise, “ and “a Kingdom of priests to serve our God?”

I hear that testimony in the voices of those who lost nine loved ones at Emanuel AME last Wednesday as they answered hatred with forgiveness:

“You took something very precious away from me, said Nadine Collier, daughter of 70-year old Ethel Lance, her voice rising in anguish.  “ I will never talk to her again.  I will never be able to hold her again.  But I forgive you.  And have mercy on your soul.”

That is Gospel proclaimed even in the worst of human tragedy.  As one said that it was as if the Bible Study had never ended as one after another offered prayers, songs of hope raising their cries to God for mercy and healing.  These were people who were living out their baptismal vows.  We join them as their brothers and sisters that there may be healing for our racial divide. 

Our nation is living in multicultural communities.  Our cities and churches need to be in the forefront making serious assimilation.  Several years ago in the July 1994 I The Living Church I read an interview of four black Episcopal clergy.  The Rev. Robert E. Hood, professor of religion at Adelphi University, Garden City, New York wrote:

The question is whether blacks, particularly the young, gifted and imaginative, should be encouraged to enter the priesthood” at all.  He believes the incentives are not sufficient to attract these people to a profession where the “glass ceiling” is real.

In a baptized and Eucharistic community, racism has no place.  The early church after Pentecost had people of several races meeting in Jerusalem and they “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching, fellowship and in the breaking of bread and in prayers.”  Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 10: 16-17 said, “The bread which we break is it not the communion of the body of Christ?”  For we being many are one bread and one body; for we are all partakers of that one bread.”

As followers of Christ we confess that racism is an evil and destructive force everywhere, especially in the life of confessed Christians and the church.  The present reality is that we are a nation with many races and colors.  The Church has a mission to call our nation to repent “from all blindness of heart, from pride, vainglory, hypocrisy; from envy, hatred and malice; and from all want of charity.”[2]  We need to stand up against bigotry in all its forms and teach people to respect the dignity of all human beings.  How is Church responding to the issues of racism and opening its doors to welcome people of all colors among us.  I pray that at “eleven o’clock on Sunday morning” we will not be a segregated hour in America but a day of blessing, unity and witness of Christ love for all.  Churches will be in the forefront to build bridges, and provide a ministry of hospitality, and racial reconciliation among our communities.  There will be a dialogue and conversations around the table to heal our nation.  We must remember where there is little conversation, human life withers, and dies.

We can and must begin to live as though our baptism has meaning in our daily lives.  We can and must begin to teach our children by our example to believe the same.  If we truly believed that our salvation depended on accepting our common humanity and that is our baptism we accept our difference in Christ, I believe then we can sing with assurance and confidence as our prayer:

There is a balm in Gilead
to make the wounded whole,
there is a balm in Gilead
to heal the sin-sick soul.
Sometimes I feel discouraged
and think my work's in vain,
but then the Holy Spirit
revives my soul again. Refrain
2 If you cannot preach like Peter,
if you cannot pray like Paul,
you can tell the love of Jesus
and say, "He died for all." Refrain (Episcopal Hymnal 676)
Black American Spiritual -  Jermiah 8:22. “Is there no Gilead?”

[1] The New York Times: Steeped in Racial History, Charleston Ponders Its Future by Richard Fausset, June 19, 2015.
[2] Book of Common Prayer, The Great Litany, P. 149.

Monday, June 22, 2015


(The Rev. Dr. Winfred Vergara. St. John’s Episcopal Church,316 El Dorado Street, Stockton, California.6.21.2015)

It’s a joy for me to be with you again. It was sometime last year when we first came here for the Filipino Fiesta, honoring Father Justo Andres. Today, I am here for the Renewal Conference. Thank you for inviting me to preach on this Fathers' Sunday.

I learned also that today is the last day of the Rev. Anne Smith as your priest-in-charge. We would like to wish her God’s blessing as she concentrates on her other parish in Sacramento. Balancing life as a priest of two churches in two dioceses is not easy and I hope you all would give thanks to God for the ministry that Anne+ (with husband Keith and daughters Kate and Zoey) shared while she was with you.

As a missionary from Philippines to Singapore, to California, to New York for the last 37 years, I am no stranger to comings and goings. My wife and I have moved so many times in so many places and have experienced so many welcome and farewells.

I remember in 1986, after spending six years in Singapore as church planter and priest at St. Andrew’s Anglican Cathedral, we decided that it was time to move to the United States. At the Farewell Party, many lay people gave their testimonies and thanked us for the ministry we shared. Then it was time for the worship leader to introduce a hymn. Being a charismatic, he closed his eyes and in solemn voice, said “It was Jesus who brought Father Fred to us; and it is Jesus who is taking him away from us. So let us stand and sing his favorite song, ’What a friend we have in Jesus!”

In one sense, a priests or a missionary is like scaffolding. When the building is finished or when it is no longer necessary, or another scaffolding is needed, the former scaffolding is removed. As St. Paul wrote, “I planted; Apollos watered, but it is God who gives the growth.” So even as Anne departs as your P-I-C, you who remain here at St. John’s must continue to do the work that Jesus has called you to do.

THE GOSPEL (Mark 4:35-41)
This brings us to the gospel this morning. Jesus and the apostles rode in a boat and experienced a storm at sea. The winds and the waves were beating up the boat but Jesus was asleep. The apostles were terrified so they woke Jesus up. Jesus commanded the storm to be quiet and then rebuked his apostles for their lack of faith. 

Storms are a regular occurrence in this universe. I grew up on an island in the Philippines always visited by typhoons. Several times, I experienced storms while in a small boat at sea. And like the apostles of Jesus, I got terrified and rebuked for my lack of faith.

Storms are symbolic of trials and challenges in our life. The loss of a job, the death of a loved one, the breaking of a relationship, a life-threatening illness, a severe challenge in ministry, a seemingly-insurmountable problem: How do we deal with these storms in our lives?

Lesson 1: On the high plains of North America, there is a lesson to be learned by observing the behavior of cattle and buffalo when they are confronted with an impending storm. The herd of cattle will, as a group attempt to run away from the oncoming storm. Ranchers lose scores of cattle each year due to these futile attempts at flight. Despite the herd's best efforts, they could not outrun the storm. They bumped into each other in confusion or fall in the ravines and greater suffering occurs.

In contrast, a herd of buffalo seems to recognize instinctively that a crisis must be confronted head–on if it is to be survived. When storms pop up on the plains, the buffalo turn resolutely to face it, put their heads down (as in prayer), and walk through it. Many fewer buffalo die in storms than cattle. So the first advice seems to be: when the going gets tough, the tough gets going---forward.

Lesson 2: In the fertile soils of Asia, there grow many bamboos, pliant and pliable. When the winds blow, the bamboos bend down. While the strong and standing-proud Philippine mahogany would finally back down to the stronger typhoon, the humble bamboo bends down too low and would finally snap back after the storm. So the second advice seems to be: be patient, endure suffering for a while because the storm won’t last.

Bishop Chiu Ban-it, my former bishop in Singapore used to advice us clergy on how to handle stress. He said, “There are problems that can be solved in a day, others in a month, others in a year---and there are those which cannot be solved until kingdom come. If you just hang in there, you would outgrow these problems---and they will cease to be problems at all.”

Lesson 3: At the sea of Galilee, Jesus taught the apostles one valuable lesson. Take authority over the storm and command it to be still. St. Paul, the post-resurrection apostle, expressed, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Without God, there is nothing we can do. With God, there is nothing we cannot do!  

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11). We call things that are not yet as if they are. We live by faith and not by sight. In the economy of God, even the storms in our lives, has a purpose in making us a better people. God works in mysterious ways but in the end God works for the good of all who love Jesus. Suffering produces endurance and endurance character.
Late last year, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. It was a threatening storm in my life. In my family in the Philippines, my father died of lung cancer, my mother died of bone cancer, my oldest sister died of brain cancer and my younger sister died of breast cancer. My family medical history was not very encouraging.

But with God’s grace, I faced the problem head on and took authority on making choices. I underwent 44 days of radiation, followed every doctor’s advice, took every prescribed medication, drank every herbal tea my wife prepared. Prayers abounded from my family, colleagues, Church members and from my 4,000+ Facebook friends. Now as you see me, you may not recognize that I have just come out of that storm---or the storm got out of my life.  At the last blood test and MRI, all my vital organs are good and my psa level went down from 10 to 2---and I feel good!

As an “Easter People,” washed in baptism and redeemed by the blood of Jesus, we can triumph against the storms in our lives. Instead of being terrified by the waves, we can surf and ride above the waves. Instead of being paralyzed by the winds, we can soar like eagles and fly above the skies.

As people of faith, we are seated with Christ in the heavenly places, with God who is enthroned above the floods. Like the buffalos of America and the bamboos of Asia, we can look down the storm because we are above not beneath, the heads not the tails. We shall not only survive but will prevail ---because in Christ, we are more than conquerors. Amen.

Sunday, June 21, 2015


The Rev. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara, Holy Child Episcopal Church OF Milpitas & San Jose, California. June 19, 2015

Arturo & Angeles Dela Cruz with children and grandchildren

It is a great honor to be invited by Art and Angie to preach on their wedding anniversary. For many years now, my wife and I have been part of their lives and they of ours. Angeles was Senior Warden of Holy Child Church for many years. We have worked together, traveled the world together and very much became part of each other’s families. 

The Bible says in Psalm 23 says that when the Lord is your Shepherd, there will be three ladies following you: “Shirley (Surely), Goodness and Mercy.” In my ministry, both as founding priest of Holy Child Church and missioner in the Episcopal Church, there are three “angels” close to me: Angela, my wife; Angeline, my support staff; and Angeles, my Senior Warden. Friends at EAM would often refer to them Angie1, Angie2 and Angie3!

So what can I say to Art and Angie (the warden), for their wedding anniversary? What does a wedding anniversary mean?

First of all, an anniversary is a milestone. 
Today, we seldom see milestones. What we see are giant billboards that give us the distance from point A to point B. These billboards also tell us only what the next exit is and whether there are gasoline station, hotels and food courts in that exit.

But in the olden days, they were milestones by the highways. They tell us how far we have gone and how far we still have to go. So a marriage anniversary is a milestone. Now, we know how far Art & Angie have gone with their marriage: 50 years! Only God know how far they still have to go. But for now, let us thank God for these 50 years! 

50 years of  sunshines and sunsets, of laughter and tears, of trials and triumphs. 50 years of faith, hope and love. 50 years of fruitfulness: 3 children and 2 grandchildren. 50 years of walking with God and so many blessings to count. So let us wish to Art and Angie, Happy Golden Anniversary!

Secondly, an anniversary is a time of renewal
It is a time to refresh yourself with the vows you made 50 years ago. One day, my wife and I were watching the TV show, Family Feud and the TV host said, “We asked a hundred married couples how many times a day you say I love you to each other” and the number one answer was, “once a day.” And my wife, remarked, “I don’t believe it!”

Yes, for so many Asian couples, we seldom express ”I love you” in words but we say “I love you” in deeds, not just once, not just twice but many times a day. We mean love when we do the laundry even though it does not seem macho; we mean love in silence even when our mouths wants to yell; we mean love in deeds of kindness, patience, endurance and self-control. So Art, if you have not said “I love you” to Angie for the past 50 years, now is the time to say it---in words!

The poet T. S. Elliot said, “We shall never cease from exploring; and the end of all exploring is to return to the place where you started and know the place for the first time.”

Anniversary is a time to reflect on how you have grown together, what you have learned, how much more you are in love today than you were even on your wedding day. The presence of your children and grandchildren, of relatives and friends who are now aging, and the ever-widening circles of friendship add a special touch to your life.

You may not have the same youthful energy you had before but the presence of the unity candle reminds you of the special enduring bond of your marriage – the enduring light of your love that time and trials cannot diminish because of what you mean to one another and to each other as a family. By God’s grace, you have survived illnesses, overcame surgeries and triumphed against many dangers and perils in life---not just physical and emotional but spiritual. Your marriage not only survived but continue to prevail in a world where many marriages do not.

So let us revel on 50 years. 50 years means half century. People used to say, “life begins at 40.” Today, we say, “life begins at 50.” So, Angie and Art, today is the first day of the rest of your marriage. After this ceremony, please enjoy your 50th honeymoon and know it as if for the first time.

 Thirdly and finally, your anniversary is an opportunity for witness.
The gospel today says, “you are the light of the world…let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
There is no such thing as a perfect marriage. All of us who are married know that. But there is such thing as a perfect love,  the perfect love imparted by the greatest Lover (God); who gave the greatest Gift (His Son); and who made the greatest Promise (eternal Iife)!

This perfect love of God, unconditional and everlasting, has brought you together and given you grace to enjoy and endure, joy and sorrow, good hair days and bad hair days. Through all those times, from youthful years to middle age, to retirement days, God’s perfect love has been the glue that keeps you together, holding you both in the palm of His hands, and looking at you as apples of gold in a setting of silver.  We are all precious in God’s eyes and He has called us out of the darkness into his marvelous light, so that by this light, we may help overcome the darkness of this world.

So after having achieved so many things and have retired from your professions, let your marriage be your new vocation. Theologian Frederick Buechner wrote, “Vocation is where your greatest passion meets the world’s greatest need.” I would add, vocation is when what you are good at, will also give joy to the world. 

Art and Angie, you are good in so many things but most of all you are very good in marriage. May your vocation of marriage enable you to bear witness to God’s perfect love that people may see your good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven. Amen.