Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Friday, July 17, 2015


(The Rev. Canon Dr. Winfred B. Vergara. St. James Episcopal Church, Elmhurst, New York. July 12, 2015)

Texts: Amos 7:7-15; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6: 14-99

The gospel this morning tells us about one of the most important persons in the life of Jesus. His name is John the Baptist. Jesus said that there’s no other prophet greater than John the Baptist. What made John the Baptist the greatest prophet?

There are three reasons:
1.   He is not afraid to be alone.
2.   He does not mind being second fiddle.
3.   He “fears no one but God and hates nothing but sin.”

Being alone
First, close your eyes and imagine you are alone. Alone in the desert. Alone in the woods. Alone in the house. Alone in the church. (Silence)
Now open your eyes. How does it feel to be alone? How does it feel when you are the only one left behind because all the others have abandoned you? How does it feel that your voice is the only one against so many? Isn’t it scary to be alone?

How does it feel to be a minority? Have you experienced walking into a church where you are the only person of color? Have you felt welcomed and your minority opinion accepted? Conversely, if you are white, have you stayed long enough in a black church or Asian church or Latino church? I know some of my Anglo friends have problems with power and when their church is no longer a white majority, they begin to take flight. So that is why our church, St. James, is welcoming----because you can easily identify yourself with any races. We are a multiracial congregation.

But being alone is more than physical. Can you imagine walking into a church where your thoughts, ideas and opinions differ from all the rest? Would you not feel being marginalized and therefore decide to keep quiet and remain invisible?
The bible says of John the Baptist: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness---prepare a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, every mountain shall be made low and every hill be made plain.”

John was not afraid to be the only one even when everyone else has abandoned the truth. He will remain true to his mission, even amidst the discouragement and the resistance of those in power like Herod.

Being Second Fiddle
Second, I like you to close your eyes and imagine you are only second to your cousin. Your cousin is more beautiful, more intelligent and so much better than you. Are you able to accept that truth? (Silence)

Now open your eyes. How does it feel to be just second? Wouldn’t it be better to be number one?

Years ago in Singapore, there was a great emphasis on being Number 1 (Japan was then “Number 1.”) Parents, especially “Tiger Moms” emphasize to their kids to be “number one in school.”  One child turned out to be number two and he could not take it, he committed suicide! It’s hard to be second fiddle.

But there is something about being second fiddle. Leonard Bernstein, one of the most famous orchestra conductors was asked what was the hardest instrument to play? He replied without hesitation: “Second fiddle.” Bernstein added, “I can always get plenty of first violinists, but to find one who plays second violin with as much enthusiasm or second French horn or second flute, now that’s a problem. And yet if no one plays second, we have no harmony.” 

Yes, if everyone wants to be number one, there will be no harmony. It is would be a cacophony of an orchestra when musicians all want to be number one. Remember that Lucifer was once an angel with the most beautiful voice. It was said that when Lucifer moves there was music. But he did not content to be second to God, he wanted to be God and he wanted to usurp the authority of God. Thus Lucifer became a fallen angel and his name is Satan, the Devil.He was overcome by pride and self-delusion. Instead of worshipping God, he worshipped himself.

The Bible says of John, “I baptize you with water, but the one who is coming will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. He is more worthy than I am. In fact, I am not even worthy to untie his sandals. So I must decrease and he will increase!” 

John was content with being second fiddle to his cousin, Jesus of Nazareth.  He was older, he was physically stronger, he might even be bigger and taller than Jesus---but he was content of being second. And so there was harmony between him and the Lord. He was called the “forerunner,” the one who was sent to prepare the way of the Lord.
Fear No One But God; Hate Nothing But Sin
Now I want you to close your eyes for the last time and imagine you are facing the most powerful but corrupt politician. You are being asked to tell the truth but that truth may mean your death. (Silence)

Now open your eyes. Were you able to tell the truth? This is the ultimate test of a prophet. Because the prophet is bound to speak the truth, the truth that will set people free but also the truth that will bring down the high and the mighty.

The prophet Amos in the Old Testament was forbidden to prophecy in Bethel “for this is the king’s sanctuary, the temple of the kingdom.” He replied, “I am no prophet and no prophet’s son. I am but a lowly dresser or sycamore trees. But the Lion has roared so who can but hear? The Lord God has spoken, who can but speak?” 

Then Amos spoke God’s words to Israel: “I hate and despise your solemn worship if you only buy off the poor and sell the needy for shoes...so let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

The call of God’s prophets, as one theologian said, “is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.” To the poor and the oppressed, the words of the prophets are balms of healing and comfort. They are sources of inspiration and strength. To the mighty and the oppressors, the words of the prophets are sharp like a two-edged sword, cutting through the hearts and giving them great discomfort and fear.

That was John the Baptist. He feared no one but God and hated nothing but sin. His prophetic voice in the halls of power caused fear to King Herod and Herodias who were wallowing in sin.

So prophecy is not an easy task. John’s standing for the truth caused him to literally lose his head, from Herod’s wrath and Herodias’ manipulation. Herod’s fear of John was carried to his fear of Jesus. Herod became so insecure of his kingship that he became guilty of John’s murder and became a conspirator to the treachery, false judgment and execution of Jesus.

Because of his fear of losing his power, King Herod went down in history as evil. Whereas John the Baptist, because of his willingness to relinquish his power, became for us the paragon of the greatest prophet with the greatest virtues.

He was not afraid to stand alone; he did not mind being second fiddle; he feared no one but God and hated nothing but sin. That is John the Baptist, the greatest prophet who ever lived. Amen.

Friday, July 3, 2015


Fred Vergara
(At the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, Salt Lake City, Utah. July 1, 2015)

Hiram Hisanori Kano

We, Asiamericans are eager to participate in this dialogue on race. But while it is true that American racism has been identified as a black and white divide, we want to frame it in the context of pluralism and diversity because our world is becoming more multiracial, multi-religious and multicultural. Asians too have been damaged by American racism.

When I first came to this country in 1986, I heard that Asians are the “model minority” and I was flattered. I learned later that it is not really because we “excel in Math and are hard-working” but it is because we generally we do not make waves. We live and work quietly and seldom raise our voices in the streets and in the halls of power even when we experience injustice.

The reason for this is not because Asians are generally passive or shy but because we have been rebuffed in American history. 

In 1882, after they have worked the transcontinental railroads and the mining industry, the Chinese pioneers were rebuffed by the Chinese Exclusion Act which deported them back to China.

 In the 1930’s, while working the farms in California and the canneries in Alaska, the Filipino men were rebuffed by the Miscegenation law which prohibited them from marrying and so many of them aged and died as bachelors. 

In 1942, during the Second World War, after they had become U.S. citizens, the Japanese Americans were rebuffed by the Internment Act which banished them in far away and remote places away from their own homes.

Shortly after “9/11” many South Asians (Hindus or Sheiks) who had been wearing turbans had to hide for fear of being identified as enemies in relation of Osama Bin Laden. In Fremont, California for instance many South Asian homes had to have American flags and signs saying “We are Americans” because of the threat against their lives.

The sad fact in this racism against Asiamericans is that it is not found in most American history books, and if they are, it is simply as footnotes. With regards to overt or covert racism, we are shamed and the way we react is to stay in the margins and remain invisible. 

But we cannot continue to remain voiceless and invisible forever. Asians compose 2/3 of the world’s population and here in the United States, Asian Americans have the fastest growth rate---second only to the Latinos. As more of us see new opportunities, it won’t be long when we would fully get involved in the mainstream American Church and Society. 

That is why we are glad that the General Convention of the Episcopal Church this year had approved the name of the Rev. Hiram Hisanori Kano to be included in the Episcopal Church Calendar of “Holy Women, Holy Men.” We are grateful to the Diocese of Nebraska for sponsoring the resolution.

Father Kano was a noted agriculturist and bold advocate for immigrant farmers in the 1930’s who became the first Japanese to be ordained priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska. During the Second World War, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 which called or the internment of Japanese Americans. 

Along with over 100,000 Americans of Japanese descent, Father Kano was incarcerated in the infamous Internment Camps. What is remarkable in his attitude was that he used adversity as an opportunity to proclaim the gospel not only to his fellow internees but also to the German prisoners of war. He treated the five internment camps not as prisons but as mission fields and was appreciated as a pastor even by Anglo American G.I. deserter-prisoners. His message was a self-transcending Christian love, a deep-rooted faith in the goodness of human beings, and a positive hope for racial reconciliation. He taught his fellow Japanese internees about American citizenship and the ideals of e pluribus unum (many to one) and treating German POW's as fellow children of God.

In the eleven years I serve as Asiamerica Missioner in the Episcopal Church, I have seen many sea-changes in The Episcopal Church's approach to mission and ministry. In a peculiar combination of pastoral-enterprise and sophia-wisdom, we ventured into pathways which no other catholic church or province in the worldwide Anglican Communion has trod. In 2003, we elected the first openly-gay bishop, Bishop Gene Robinson; in 2006, we elected the first woman presiding bishop, The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori; and in this 2015 General Convention, we made another history by electing the first African American as the next presiding bishop, Bishop Michael Curry.

In a remarkable serendipity, this 78 General Convention also approved “same sex” marriage at about the same time that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld marriage equality and ruled that "same sex marriage" is legal and constitutional. Indeed this Episcopal Church is  la iglesia catolica that is also ecclesia reformata semper reformanda, the reformed church that never ceases to reform. 

With regards to race and gender advocacy, the Episcopal Church has become an avant garde. But there are still many things to do in the task of mainstreaming the marginalized. 

In the history of the Episcopal Church, there has not yet been any Asian invited to preach at the General Convention and it is our prayer that one day the Convention will also hear an Asiamerican voice. That is why we are glad that today, in the presence of The Most Rev. Nathaniel Uematsu, Archbishop on Nippon Sei Ko kai and Primate of Japan and (Cyrus Kano, the 94-year old son of Hisanori), the Eucharist was held in honor of Father  Kano.
The loud and hopeful sounds of the Taiko drums in the Convention Eucharist this morning signify the beats of our hearts, our yearning and passion to participate fully in the building of God’s reign in America. The sounds of our gongs and our drums signify our desire to share our talents in the proclamation of the gospel of love, justice and reconciliation for the glory of God and the growth of God’s Church.

The Rev. Canon Dr. Winfred Vergara is missioner for Asiamerica Ministries of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS), The Episcopal Church. He can be contacted at wvergara@episcopalchurch.org. or Facebook: Fred Vergara.