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.

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