Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Sunday, January 17, 2016


(The Rev. Canon Dr. Winfred B. Vergara. St. James’ Elmhurst.1/17/16)

It is amazing that the first miracle of Jesus, that of turning water into wine, happened at a marriage in Cana of Galilee. It may have been coincidental that the wine ran out during the wedding reception and Mother Mary had to tell his Son Jesus to save the day. It may have been coincidental that the wedding planners underestimated the party; that there are more wine drinkers than there are wine. 

But if we believe that nothing in this world happens for a reason, then there are at least three reasons why the first miracle of Jesus happened in the context of marriage.


Culture is defined as a sum total of human values, habits, beliefs, traditions and arts of a people or group of peoples. Japanese theologian Kosuke Koyama defines cultures as “fingers of God pointing to Christ.”

Culture in Galilee, as in most rural villages, are often characterized by five “f’s”---family, friends, food, festivals and faith---and wedding ceremony is one of the celebrations in which these five f’s converge.

This is the first reason why the first miracle of Jesus, that of turning water into wine, became significant. Can you imagine what kind of festival is that going to be if there was no wine? Unlike in Vegas, what happens in Cana would not stay in Cana. It would spread throughout Galilee and the bad news would be “The wedding feast ran out of wine--and it was a dry and boring festival!”

It turned out however, that Jesus, the Nazarene who would later become the Savior of the world would begin his salvific ministry by saving a family from utter embarrassment! Instead of the bad news, the Good News came out from Cana: “Some hosts serve the good wine first and then the bad; but in this festival, the finest wine was served at the end!” 

When Jesus is in your party, you expect a great celebration! Amen?

To be acquainted with one another is great, to be girlfriends and boyfriends is greater but to be husband and wife is the greatest, highest and deepest form of friendship. You can be close to your acquaintance, you can be closer to your friends, but you can only be closest and most intimate with your spouse.

In marriage, you share the deepest form of companionship. In marriage, you are called to “leave father and mother and be joined to your wife or husband and the two shall become one.” 

This leaving and cleaving has to do with far more than sexual or physical. Marriage is a spiritual union of husband and wife. The injunction in the marriage ceremony says, “for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish till death do us part.”

That is why marriage is not easy, and so many married couples which began as plain romance have ended up in divorce or separation because marriage is hard. 

Are you able to look beyond each other’s imperfections and complement each other’s inadequacies? Are you able to live together, day and night, knowing that you will always have things to work through? When you fight, as most couples do, are you able to let go and let God; to forgive and forget; to make up and start all over again?

In our refrigerator, there is a poster that says: “10 Rules for a Happy Marriage.” Let me read them to you:

1.     Never both angry at the same time
2.     Never yell at each other unless the house is on fire
3.     If one of you has to win an argument, let it be your mate
4.     If you have to criticize, do it lovingly
5.     Never bring up mistakes of the past
6.     Neglect the whole world but not each other
7.     Never go to sleep with an argument not settled
8.     At least once every day say one kind word or compliment to your mate
9.     When you have done something wrong, be brave to admit it and ask forgiveness
10.    (This is the one I life best!) It takes two to make a quarrel and the one in the wrong is the one who does the most talking!

We’ll these are great rules to live by but they are easier said than done. As human beings we are subject to human frailties. So in most instances, it is only by God’s grace that many marriages last.

Because of its intimacy, sacredness and mutuality marriage has become the symbol of the mystical union between Christ and His Church. St. Paul said, “Husband love your wife as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her.” “Wife, see to it that you respect your husband.”

In the analogy of heavenly marriage, Christ is the Groom and the Church is the Bride. And the value that binds Christ and the Church is love.

You know, as human beings, we are all imperfect. Even how much we try to do our best, we still make mistakes. We are all sinners. Even those who are considered saints, they were also sinners. St. Paul said, “The good that I want to do, I do not do; the bad that I do not want to do, I do.”  

The Book of Hebrews tells us that God is a God of love and mercy, more than a God of  judgment. If God is all judgment, who can stand? All of us will fall down; our feet will turn to clay. 

That is why we should not judge people lest we be judged. Instead of judgment or criticism, we should be generous with praise and encouragement because we are all imperfect human beings.

I am now married for 37 years and been a priest for 38 years. I find that marriage and priesthood are similar. They are a calling, a vocation. And the relationships that exist in marriage and in church are similar. Where mutual love, respect, generosity, patience, forgiveness exist in marriage that marriage will last. But if love flies off the window, that relationship will end.

I have been to churches where members are so loving and so appreciative of their priests and of one another. Where there is love, the church grows spiritually and in numbers.  I have also seen some churches where members are so critical, so disrespectful and so unappreciative of their priests and of one another.  In a church where there is no love, relationships do not last and the church declines and dies. You may have a beautiful building but if there is no love in that church, that church will become empty.

So whether in marriage or in church, the cord that binds people together is love. Money has nothing to do with it. It does not matter if the couple are rich or poor. They are happy if they love each other. The same is true with church. It also does not matter if the church is rich or poor; if they have a good building or just rent a hall. Where there is love, that church is happy and it will grow. This is because God is love and when people love, God is there. And if God is there, the Church is alive!

There was a story of a little boy who wanted to see God. So he packed food and drinks in his back pack and went on a journey. At the park, he saw an old woman staring at some pigeons. She looked hungry so he decided to share his sandwich. She gratefully accepted it and smiled at him. Her smile was so pretty that he wanted to see it again so he decided to share his root beer as well. They ate together at the park, smiling at each other. As the day wears on the boy decided it was time to go home but before he left, he turned around and gave the old woman a hug. She gave him her biggest smile ever.

At home, the boy’s mother was surprised to see the look of joy on his face. She asked, “Son, what did you do today that made you so happy?” He replied, “Mom, you won’t believe it but I had lunch with God! And you know what? She’s got the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen!”

Meanwhile, the old woman also returned home, radiant with joy. Her son, stunned at the look of her face, asked, “Mother, what did you do today that made you so happy?”  She replied, ”Son, you won’t believe it but I had lunch with God at the park. And you know what?  He’s so much younger than I expected.”

Is God in you? Yes, if love is in your heart. The Bible says, “God is love; and everyone who lives in love, lives in God and God is in him.”

A.    Let me pray first for all the married people who are here May I request all you who are married, to stand where you are. Even if your husband or wife is not with you, please stand. Everyone please close your eyes. Let us pray:
“Almighty God, who consecrated the covenant of marriage that in it is represented the spiritual unity between Christ and His Church; bless these married couples that they may so love, honor and cherish each other in faithfulness  and patience, in wisdom and true godliness, that their home maybe a haven of love and peace through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 431)

B.     And now, everybody please stand. Close your eyes and I will pray for the church.
“Almighty Father, whose blessed Son before his passion prayed that his disciples that they might be one, as you and he are one. Grant that your Church, being bound together in love, maybe united in One Body and One Spirit, that the world may believe in Him whom you have sent, your son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, one God now and forever. Amen.”(BCP 255)

Sunday, January 3, 2016


(The Rev. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara. St. James Episcopal Church,  Elmhurst, New York. 01/03/2016)

What is life going to be in 2016?  

In the Gregorian Calendar 2016 is a leap year: February will have 29 days instead 28. This happens every four years to account for the extra time that the earth orbits the sun. In other words, we shall have one more day to enjoy or to worry---whatever the case maybe.

In the Chinese Lunar Calendar, 2016 is the “Year of the Monkey.” According to Chinese Zodiac, this is a year of playfulness, opportunity, ingenuity, and inventiveness. So go and try new ways, be an entrepreneur. It is also a year of deception and trickery. So better watch out for clever politicians and sleek business persons. They may pull your leg in 2016!

There will be “fortune tellers” who will give you convincing human insights to the future and exciting predictions. The truth of the matter is, we do not know the future. The world holds so much mystery and life is always full of surprises and unpredictability.

So how do we journey into 2016?

First, what will happen to you begins with what happens inside you.
I’m talking about your faith, your hopes and dreams. The Bible says “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11). What is that assurance within you? What is it that you carry within you? As you journey externally, examine first your internal journey. Listen to this parable from “Your Sacred Self” by Dr. Dwayne Dyer:
 In a mother’s womb were two babies. Baby One: Do you believe in life after delivery? Baby Two: Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.
Baby One: Nonsense! There is no life after delivery. And if there is, what kind of life would that be?
Baby Two: I don’t know, but there will be more light there. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths. Maybe we’ll have other senses we’ve not yet known.”
Baby One: That’s absurd! Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. But the umbilical cord is so short. Life after delivery is to be logically excluded.”
Baby Two: Well I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here. Maybe we won’t need this umbilical cord anymore.
Baby One: Nonsense! And moreover if there is life out there, then why has no one has ever come back? Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere.
Baby Two: Well, I don’t know, but certainly we will meet Mother and she will take care of us.
Baby One: Mother? You actually believe in Mother? That’s laughable. If Mother exists then where is she now?
Baby Two: Mother is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of hers. It is in her that we live and move and have our being. Without her this world would not and could not exist.
Baby One: Well I don’t see her, so it is only logical that she doesn’t exist.
Baby Two: Sometimes, when I’m in silence and really try to listen, I can perceive Her presence, I can hear Her loving voice, calling me by name. Why don’t you try doing that and see what happen? 

The lesson we learn from this parable is that if we must face the future in faith, let us learn to let go and let God. Whatever we do here now is preparation for the future. Let us trek into with courage and Mother, The Force, God will be with us! So listen to the stirring within your soul and let your spirit commune with the Holy Spirit.

Second, what will happen to you is destined by the One who is above you.
Our destiny is already written in the heavenly book. God said: “For I know the plans I have for you…plans to give you a good hope and future” (Jeremiah 29:11).  St. Paul declared that God has “destined us for adoption as children through Jesus Christ.” But we must learn to commit our plans to God’s plan, our dreams to God’s dreams. We must learn to acknowledge God in all our ways and God will direct our paths.

This is true in the life of Joseph, the Dreamer. Joseph’s journey had twists and turns: sold as a slave by his envious brothers, falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife and imprisoned, became a sought-after interpreter of dreams and finally governor in Egypt. In all his sufferings, Joseph’s dream connected with God’s dream. He became an instrument in the salvation of his family and his people Israel.

This is true with the Holy Family. With the threat on the life of the Baby Jesus, Joseph and Mary fled from King Herod and became refugees in Egypt. They returned to Palestine and settled in Nazareth of Galilee when Herod passed away. This compelling image of the Holy Family as refugees continues to be played again and again in our modern world. Yes, I believe the plight of Syrian refugees seeking entry in the United States is within God’s divine plan. God continues to work in mysterious ways but in the end, God works for the good of those who love Him. 

In our world there are two words: the word of man and the word of God. The word of man will always die; but the word of God will never die. So if we are to act on the word of man based on fear, we will reject the refugees. But if we act on the Word of God based on compassion, we will offer the refugees our hospitality. No, we do not know the future but our security is anchored on our faith to know the One who holds the future.

Thirdly, what will happen to you will determined by how you integrate the
“Above You” into “Inside You.”
“Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Man proposes and God disposes. Responsibility is the part of the human; sovereignty is the part of the divine. We are authors of our prayer and God is the editor. There is a sense of human-divine cooperation. If we do our best, God will do the rest.

There was a piece of land filled with weeds and piles of dirt. A boy took interest in cleaning it up and cultivating it. Then he planted roses and in a few months, the once useless land became a beautiful rose garden. An old man passed by said, “Young man, what a beautiful garden you and God have made!” The boy replied, ”Indeed! But you should have seen it when it was left to God alone!” 

Human striving and God’s grace met at the Table of the Lord. The Holy Communion is an integration of the most fundamental human culture (eating and drinking) and the most lavish love and mercy (the sacrifice of his life). At the Holy Communion, man and God sat down at the table.  At Holy Communion, we have a face to face dinner conversation with God! Mortal Bread and Wine became the sacraments of divine reconciliation!

So our future on earth as in heaven is finally determined by how we integrate this divine grace into the graciousness of our own lives. Grace is offered to us free, but it is not cheap. It is a pearl of great price. We cannot just give it to the dogs or throw it to the pigs. We have to internalize God’s grace. This is another way of saying that if God is love, then we must love; if God is peace, then we must be a people of peace; if God is compassionate, we must be compassionate.

One of the divine values that we must integrate into our human lives is Christian service. The most compelling image that Jesus showed before the Last Supper was this: He took the towel, washed the apostles’ feet and said, “As I have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” Being a servant of God in the world integrates the love, peace, compassion and humility of God.

Conclusion: A Renewal of Covenant
As we begin this New Year 2016, let us renew this Covenant of Service in Jesus Christ. As in the Covenant made with Noah, Abraham and David in the Old Testament, a covenant is an agreement between God and God’s People.  The New Testament is also called a New Covenant between God and the Church, the New People of God.

This following Rite of Renewal of Covenant was started by John Wesley of the Holiness Movement in 1781 and it has been edited, adapted and updated time and again
Leader: And now let us bind ourselves with willing bonds to a Covenant of Service and take the yoke of Christ upon us. Christ has many services for us to be done. Some are easy; others, difficult. Some bring honor, others bring reproach; some are suitable to our natural inclinations and materials interests; others contrary to both. In some we may please God and please others; in others, we cannot please God except by denying ourselves. Yet the power to do all these things is given us in Christ who strengthens us. Therefore, let us make the covenant of God our own and give ourselves anew to Him trusting in his promises and relying on his grace.

ALL: Lord God, Holy Father, since you have called us through Christ to share in this gracious covenant, we take upon ourselves with joy, the yoke or obedience. And for of you, we will endeavor to seek and do your will. We are no longer our own but yours. 

Lord, I am no longer my own but yours
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will
Put me to doing, put me to suffering
Let me employed for your or laid aside for you; exalted for you or brought low for you. Let me be full, let me be empty; let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and wholeheartedly yield myself at your service.

And now glorious and blessed God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Thou art mine and I am thine. So be it. The covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.