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.

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