Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Tuesday, March 28, 2017




 (Editor’s Note: The following sermon was delivered by the Venerable Irene Maliaman Igmalis as Guest Preacher at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, 130 Jerusalem Avenue, Hicksville, New York 11801 last March 26, 2017. Based in Guam, the Rev. Irene M is Archdeacon of Micronesia which is currently under the Episcopal Diocese of Hawaii. Holy Trinity’ Hicksville in the Diocese of Long Island is a traditional parish emerging into an intercultural and multiracial church operating on a new vision of Revival, Evangelism and Discipleship.– Fred Vergara+)

The gospel lesson is a happy story with a tragic twist. A grand miracle happened. Jesus healed a man born blind. I imagine him dancing up and down and shouting: “I once was blind, but now I see.” One would expect that his family, neighbors and religious leaders share his joy and celebrate this wondrous healing. But the only person who is happy is the healed man. Not only are the neighbors and Pharisees unable to share his joy, they also had a hard time believing that the healed man was the same man they knew as the blind man before. As the story unfolds we glean that this unbelief come from the notion of the Jews esp. the Pharisees that if God were to show up, and if the miraculous healing were God’s work, the Pharisees would know for sure because they would recognize God’s way of doing things. In the mind of the Pharisee, God looks just like them, acts like them, thinks like them and follow their rules. They were certain that God is not present in this Jesus fellow because he healed during the Sabbath.  God would never heal on the Sabbath, they claim. Healing from God occurs only in prescribed ways and times and anything else cannot come from God. The Pharisees were blinded by their hard core adherence to their traditions and perceptions of what God does, and how God works and what God looks like. They could not think of God and God’s work outside of their preconceptions and rules. And so they drove the man out from the synagogue.

This passage reminds me of the Allegory of the cave by the 4th century philosopher Plato. Plato tells of prisoners chained inside a cave with their backs toward the entrance. All their lives, these prisoners can only see the wall in front of them. Unable to turn their heads all they could see are shadows on the wall. The prisoners name these shadows and discuss among themselves what these objects are. They see shadows of dogs, cats, and people walking and believe the shadows are real. One day a prisoner breaks out of his chain and went outside of the cave for the first time. Initially the light hurts his eyes and finds the new environment outside the cave disorienting. When told that the things around him are real and the shadows in the cave are just reflections, he cannot believe it. The shadows appeared much clearer and more real to him. But gradually his eyes adjust, and he was able to distinguish reflection from the real thing. He returns to the cave to share his discovery to the prisoners. The prisoners thought the journey outside the cave has made him stupid and blind and they started to laugh at him thinking him crazy. They violently resist any attempts of the freed prisoner to free them from their chains so they too can go outside and look and enjoy the beauty of the real world.


Plato used this story to make the point that most people are not just comfortable in their ignorance, they are also hostile to anyone who points it out. That is actually happened to the teacher of Plato, Socrates, who was imprisoned for disrupting the social order in Greece and corrupting the youth because of his philosophy.


I think that one of the ways we are blind to the new things God is doing in our midst is through stereotyping. Stereotyping is our tendency to define people and put them in certain categories or boxes for our convenience. In the gospel lesson, the neighbors of the healed man knew him only as “the blind man” and when he became a seeing man, they could not recognize him.


The past two weeks I was with 19 other women from the Episcopal Church as one of many Non-Government Organization participants to the United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW).  The UNCSW is the largest gathering of women around the globe to advocate for gender equality and empowerment of women. Women hold one half of the globe, yet they are often rendered invisible, nameless, and voiceless, by “blind” society which does not treat women as equal human beings with men and does not include women in the decision making tables. Let me cite to you some UN data about the marginalized and disadvantaged status of women:


·        For an equal work, women earn 23 cents lower than men to a dollar. The UNCSW calls this the 23% robbery. According to research the pay gap moved closer by 2 points only from 2004 to 2014, and at this rate, parity will be reached by 2059. As Patricia Arquette has pointed out, an ambassador to the UN, a lot of things have changed in the world i.e. cellphones, self-driving cars and yet, women still get paid lesser than men for an equal work.


·        Women are also over represented in the care economy otherwise known as domestic work which are mostly unpaid or underpaid. And because caregiving work is mostly done by women, and are not monetized, many women do not get the benefits of regular employees such as health insurance, pension or social security which also make them vulnerable. Many women stay in abusive relationships because they do not have economic means and social security.


·        Worldwide, 1 in 3 women experience sexual abuse mostly from their partners.


·        15 M girls are married off before the age of 18. This means every 2 seconds a girl is given away for marriage. But a marriage of a 10 years old girl to an adult man three times her age is not actually a marriage, it is legalized rape of a child. That is a lot of girls. And this will continue if it will not be stopped. (If you want to know more about the status of women in the world and the advocacy work of UN on this matter, google UN women).


Many people remain oblivious to the plight of women, pointing out that women’s status have improved a great deal. They trivialize and ridicule the advocacy for women’s rights as human rights. Indeed a lot have changed since women were allowed to vote, ordained as priests and bishops, became military generals and walked on the moon, but there are still many unnecessary barriers that prevent women from flourishing. There are traditions, stereotypes and norms that box women to certain roles in life.


The gospel makes the point that although we have eyes to see, there are things that blind us and prevent us from seeing even what is obvious. We all have blinders. These blinders draw lines around what is of God and not of God, or what women can and cannot do, or what men can and cannot do. It helps to be aware of our blinders and see beyond these so as not to remain in the dark.


Additionally, we learn that change is disruptive is therefore uncomfortable and painful as it challenges old models and old views of seeing things.


As we continue our journey this season of Lent, the gospel challenges us to come out of the darkness, come out from shadows of the past, of old images of ourselves, and of things that keep us in chains. Let us come out of the shadows of biases and stereotypes that degrade other people and that prevent us from celebrating the new things God continues to create in the world. And just like Jesus opened the eyes of the blind man that he might see, we pray that God opens our eyes, remove our blinders that we may see clearly as God sees. Amen.


I could end here, but just for emphasis, and also just for fun and for kicks in this cold morning, I invite you to stand and let us do a karate chop as our act of kicking open the prison doors that keep us in the dark. At the count of three, let us do the karate chop and shout “hee ya! Hee ya! Hee ya! three times. Amen.


Saturday, March 18, 2017



(Delivered by the Rev. Canon Dr. Winfred B. Vergara at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Hicksville, New York, 03/19/2017. Text: John 4:4-54)

It is amazing how wonderful things can happen even in the most mundane of places.
We live in an apartment building in Queens, New York and one of the places in our neighborhood I frequently hang out is the nearby Laundry Mat. New Yorkers live very busy lives and frenetic lifestyles. We seldom have time for socialization. So it is in the laundry mat where I meet my neighbors and have the opportunity to chat with them. Even Mayor De Blasio go to the Landry Mat.
In the Laundry Mat, you have the chance to meet and talk with men, women, and even children. From the time we load up our clothes to the washer, to the time we transfer them to the dryer and fold them up on the table, it’s a good couple of hours. I have had great conversations with people in the laundry mat, gained many friends and in some cases was successful inviting them to church.
During the time of Jesus, such places of meeting was not the Laundry Mat but the Well. It is still true in many rural areas in Asia and Africa where people do not have running water. In rural Philippines, for instance, it is common for men to carry two jugs of water suspended on a bamboo pole. In rural India or Africa, it is common to see women carry a jar of water on their heads.
Like my Laundry Mat, it is at the Well that people, especially women, come and meet. Such is the case of this Samaritan woman in the gospel today. There was nothing extraordinary with what she intended to do. She thought she would simply draw the water, fill her jar and then trudge back home. But at this ordinary well, she met a man who told her extraordinary things; or shall we say, she found extraordinary meanings to very ordinary things through an ordinary encounter with an extraordinary man.
The conversation she had with Jesus gave her tremendous insights into three W’s: Water, Worship and Witness.
We take water for granted, but we couldn’t survive without it. We drink it, bathe in it, swim in it. We nurture our plants with it and even put it in our cars. Most of us in the city, have no trouble obtaining it for we have steady, running water. We also have drinking fountains and bottled water and for those with money and luxurious houses, they even have Olympic size swimming pools.
But the well in biblical history has so much similarity to my Laundry Mat. Significant relationships started at the wells. Abraham’s servant found Rebekah at a well, and brought her home for Isaac. Jacob met Rachel at a well. Moses met his wife, Zipporah at the well.  And Jesus, taught his first woman evangelist at the well. The encounter began with Jesus asking the woman, “Will you give me a drink?,”
It seemed like an ordinary a request, but for the Samaritan woman, there was something strange. So she said, “Sir, you are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?”
The question gives an insight into the racial and cultural discrimination of that time. The puritanical Jews had nothing to do with the Samaritans, whom they called dogs. Although the Samaritans were direct descendants of the Joseph tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, the Jews believed they are mongrels, mixed-race people, a product of people living in Samaria and other peoples at the time of the conquest by Assyria. In other words, they were not pure Jews. A typical Jew would wake up in the morning and thank God saying, “O God, thank you that I am a Jew, not a Samaritan; a man and not a woman.”
So when Jesus asked water from a Samaritan woman, He actually broke the racial, ethnic, religious and gender barriers! The water by the well became the contact point by which God and human exchanged common needs. “Will you give me a drink?” became a profound request from the incarnate Son of God who would later utter on the cross, “I thirst.”
Then Jesus said to the woman: “Everyone who drinks this water will become thirsty again but whoever drinks the water I give, will never thirst again, because it will become a spring to eternal life.”
Jesus was speaking heavenly things but the woman was earthy: ”Sir, give me this water so I won’t be thirsty and don’t need to come here to draw from the well.”
“Go call your husband,” Jesus said and the woman replied, “I have no husband.”  And Jesus said, “Yes, you have had five husbands and the man you now have is not your husband,” Instead of being embarrassed, the woman marveled at Jesus for she believed He was a prophet.
The conversation then turned to worship. Between the Jews and the Samaritans, the point of contention was the place where God ought to be worshipped. To the Jews, it was in Mount Zion in Jerusalem where God ought to be worshipped; to the Samaritans, it was in Mount Gerizim in Shechem, Palestine. But Jesus again shattered the myth when He said: “Believe me, Woman, the time is coming when you will worship the Father, neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. The time is coming when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. God is Spirit and those who worship must worship in spirit and in truth!”
The English worship comes from two words, “worth” and “ship.” It means God is worthy of our worship. Last Thursday, one of my former acolytes in another church I once served, met a terrible accident. She was “brain dead” when we visited him at the hospital and the parents were greatly devastated. Shawn was only 11 years old; he was handsome, very smart and so much promise ahead of him. But he was cut off from life at this young age. Being my former acolyte, I felt so attached to Shawn and my heart was breaking as I saw the pain and agony that his mother and father were feeling. It is definitely an experience no one needs to go through. In our culture, children are supposed to bury their parents and not the other way around.
It reminds me of the difference between Praise and Worship. Praise is thanking God for what He has done and all the blessings He has given us. But there are times in our lives when misfortune knocks us down, when pain and misery almost crush us to the ground, when suffering becomes intolerable. When you are in this position, it is hard to praise God. It is at this point that worship takes over, because worship is thanking God for Who God is. God is worthy of our worship----in any circumstances we are in.  
The story of Job was a perfect illustration. Job was a righteous man and lived in total obedience to God. But one day, Satan said to God, “Job, your servant is righteous because you have given him everything: good family, wealth and fortune. Take them away and he will curse you.” God said, “do anything to him but just spare his life and we shall see.”
From that point on, God removed the wedge that covered Job. One after another, misfortune came to Job. He lost his cattle on a thousand hills, he lost his crops, he lost his family, and lastly he was afflicted with boils all over his body. All his friends expected Job to curse God and die but Job but Job, the paragon of patience and long-suffering, took off his robe, filled his body with ashes and knelt before the Lord, saying ”Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked I return to my Maker. The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Now, that is true worship! Blessing or no blessing, God is worshipped and adored.
The amazing encounter with Jesus transformed the woman into a witness to the Good News. All her life she was seeking for things that could not satisfy. Then she heard the Savior talked about the well that never runs dry, of the water that will spring into everlasting life. And she became the first woman evangelist, the bringer of the Good News to the Samaritans.
She went back to her community, the village in Samaria and told everyone about his amazing encounter----and many believed in her story.  If John the Baptist was the forerunner of Jesus to the Jews; then this unnamed Samaritan woman was the forerunner of the Jesus to the Samaritans. And when Jesus finally came to Samaria, the Samaritans urged him to stay longer and he stayed two days, teaching them and performing miracles they have never seen before, to the point that they finally said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now, we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” Amen

Tuesday, March 7, 2017


THE TEMPTATION (Matthew 4:1-11)
The Rev. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, 130 Jerusalem Avenue, Hicksville, NY 11801
March 5,2017- 1st Sunday of Lent

A man was circling the city block looking for a place to park. He drove around several times but could not find a spot. Finally, he gave up and decided to leave his car at the No Parking Zone. Before leaving, he wrote a note on the windshield with these words. “Dear Parking Officer, I circled this block many times but could not find a place to park. Now, I know I parked illegally but I must report to my boss or else I’ll be in trouble; so I hope you will find it in your heart to forgive me and not give me a ticket. After all, the Lord’s Prayer says, “Forgive us our trespasses.”

A couple of hours later, he came back and found a ticket on his car with these words. “Sir, I understand your predicament, but you see I also must perform my duty or else, I would also be in trouble. So I hope you will find it in your heart to understand. After all, the Lord’s Prayer says, “And lead us not into temptation.”

“Lead us not into temptation” is probably the part of the Lord’s Prayer that is hard to understand. “Forgive us our trespasses” is OK; after all God is a God of forgiveness. But lead us not into temptation? Why would God lead us into temptation? Isn’t temptation the work of the devil? Why would God lead us first into temptation and then deliver us from evil? What is the point of all this exercise?


It has been suggested that maybe one of the good subtitles for the Bible would be "The Book of Temptations." First, the Bible opens with the story of Adam and Eve being tempted to eat the forbidden fruit; then it proceeded to tell that Cain being tempted to kill his brother.

Then Noah being tempted; and Abraham being tempted; and Moses being tempted; and King David being tempted; and the prophets being tempted; and the Apostles being tempted…and now in this Gospel of Matthew, it is Jesus being tempted. Matthew’s narrative began by saying “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil" (Matthew 4:1).

What is the nature of temptation? Where does temptation happen?

First, temptation happens everywhere. It is possible you can run from temptation but you can’t hide. It is present in the city, it is present in the countryside, it is present in the air, it is present in the open air, it is present in a closed door. Here, in this gospel of Matthew, Jesus was tempted in the desert, a place of nothingness, a dry and arid place.

Second, temptation is a test of our will; how strong or how weak our will is. And oftentimes, the testing of our will happens when we are weakest and vulnerable. It seems that Satan knows our blind spot, our weak point, and that is where he would launch his attack. Judas was tempted on his weak point, money. As treasurer of the apostles, he was always counting the money. So he was tempted with 30 pieces of silver to betray his Lord.

Third, it seems that temptation is a way of helping us to make choices. God did not give us only one choice. God gave us two choices: life or death; light or darkness; good and evil. Temptation gives us a stress of making the hard or the right choice.

Making the right choice is not easy and the more choices you are presented, the harder it gets. When I was a child, when I sat on the breakfast table, I had only once choice of bread, we call pandesal, that was the only bread available. Nowadays, I had to make a choice from a white bread, a wheat bread, a rye bread, a corn bread, a sweet bread, a ginger bread, a croissant, a bagel or a doughnut.

So let us examine what kind of temptations Jesus experienced and what kind of choices did he make:

The first temptation of Jesus was this: “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

Now this temptation comes at a time when Jesus was vulnerable to eat bread. He had fasted for forty days and forty nights. Any ordinary human being would have perished by then. Satan was testing the identity of Jesus as the Son of God. If there is nothing impossible with God, then certainly Jesus can make loaves out of rocks. But would He make that choice?

Jesus did not yield to the temptation to materialism and instead uttered these spiritual words: “It is written; Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

By not yielding to this temptation, Jesus was establishing the identity that man is more than the beast. St. Teresa de Avila wrote, “Human beings are not material beings with spirits. Human beings are spiritual beings with bodies.” That’s what distinguishes us from the animals, from the birds and the bees, and the flowers and the trees. As the crown of God’s creation, we are firstly spiritual beings. We do not live by bread alone…someone said but also with butter and orange marmalade.

The second temptation of Jesus was about pride. While the first temptation was about his physical vulnerability, the second temptation was about his popularity. The devil took him to a high point on the temple and said, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down and the angels will lift you up so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” That would be a great sensational news! It is like superman falling from the air and being carried by invisible wings!

Again Jesus did not yield to that temptation and replied, “It is written: Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” By not yielding to the temptation of pride, arrogance or sensationalism, he underscored the virtue of humility.

The third temptation was about power. While the first temptation was about physical vulnerability, the second was about spiritual pride, the third temptation was about moral ascendancy. Can Jesus be corrupted by power? If power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, could He be tempted to accumulate more power? Is this not what every man wants: wealth, fortune, economic, social political power?

So the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world. “All this I would give you,” Satan said, “if you will bow down to worship me.”

But again, Jesus did not yield to the temptation. The choice of riches and power is at the expense of His loyalty to God, the Father. At this point, Jesus exercised His God-given authority by rebuking the devil a saying, “Away from me, Satan!  For it is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”

At this point, the devil left Him and the angels ministered to him. When you resist temptation, the tempter flees away!


First lesson is that we must establish our identity in Christ, the Son of God. By faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, we become adopted children of God. The Bible says, in John 1:12, “To as many have received Jesus, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God.” The word Christian can be divided into two words “Christ and Ian.” If you remove Christ from your life, then Christian becomes IAN- “I Am Nothing.”

Second lesson is that Jesus was tempted in every way as we are yet, He did not sin. He overcame temptation by making right choices. Every day of our life we make choices: our marriage, our job, our vocation, our health. The gift of “free will” is what makes us human. God did not make like robots who had no choice. Rather, God made us in His own image, so that we may use that freedom for good. But the choice is ours to make.

In 1973. the novel “The Exorcist” was made into a movie. It was a very scary movie. It tells the story a cute and innocent 12-year-old girl named Reagan. She was possessed by the devil, who took control of her body. Sometimes the body would have a terrible convulsion and at other time her head would spin. Her mother was an actress and an intellectual; she might have believed in God but was never religious. She considered demon possession as a product of a wild imagination. But as the situation of their daughter became worse, and after submitting her daughter to several unsuccessful psychiatric and medical treatments, she was forced to consult with a young Jesuit priest from Georgetown University, named Fr. Karras. Fr. Karras was himself experiencing a crisis of faith. Brought about by the loss of his own mother and the troubles happening in his ministry, he was beginning to doubt the existence of a loving God. Nevertheless, he arranged for an exorcist, an elderly priest, Fr. Merrin, played by Max von Sydow, to perform the exorcism.

The exorcism became a terrifying contest between the demon and the exorcist and it was in that contest that Fr. Damien saw that the devil was very powerful but that the power of God was far more superior than the power of the devil. It was in that deliverance ministry that the faith of Fr. Karras was restored and the healing of the girl Reagan happened. The devil was expelled and the good triumphed in the end.

It was a movie that generated so much controversy because of the portrayal of the devil possessing a child. When asked what was the role of the devil in this story, the author William Peter Blatty, said “In the age of unbelief, God can even use the devil to accomplish God’s purpose.” It was the deliverance from evil that faith was restored, first to Karras the priest, and then to Regan’s family.

In the final analysis, when temptation has overcome us and the testing of our faith reached to a point of us making the wrong choice, the is still the third lesson. So long as you hold on to that even a minutiae of the point of faith, God’s love is always there waiting for you, when we repent. Like the Prodigal Son returning home, the Father is there waiting. Or even like the thief on the Cross with Jesus, there is the promise, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”

Today, is the first Sunday of Lent: 40 days and 40 nights of opportunities for prayer, penitence and spiritual renewal. “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” Amen.