Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Friday, April 21, 2017


(Sermon by the Rev. Canon Dr. Winfred B. Vergara, Presiding Bishop’s Staff as Missioner for Asiamerica Ministries in the Episcopal Church & Priest-in-Charge of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, 130 Jerusalem Avenue, Hicksville, NY 11801. Easter Sunday, April 19, 2017)

Life is full of surprises. As Forrest Gump once said, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You’ll never know what’s inside until you open it.”

Early Sunday morning, the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene and Mary Salome went to the tomb of Jesus. They brought with them spices to anoint his body. He died on the cross last Friday and placed into the tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea. As the Tres Marias were walking towards the tomb, they said to one another, “Who will roll the stone away from the tomb?” But surprise of all surprises! When they arrived, the stone had already been rolled away, and the tomb was empty: Jesus has risen from the dead. Alleluia! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

The story of Easter is a story of faith, hope, love and life. It is a story of faith overcoming fear; hope overcoming despair; love overcoming hate---and life overcoming death. The essence of this message for us is captured in the gospel song which says, “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know, He holds the future. My life is worth living because He lives!”

On this Easter Sunday, I thank God for a new hope, a new life and a new spiritual awakening at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Hicksville. Our church is transforming from being an aging, declining and monochromatic church into a thriving multiracial, multicultural and multi-generational church. Our Program RED---Revival, Evangelism and Discipleship---is being blessed by God as we see our church becoming a better reflection of the diversity of our community.

I hope you would all get excited with this new life bursting forth in our Church. And I thank you from the bottom of my heart that you allowed me to be your leader in this task of revival. Many things are improving in our church and there is indeed a great hope that we shall not only survive but will prevail as a strong church, able to fund our ministries and become a light of Christ in Hicksville. Like the resurrection of Christ, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church will rise again! Alleluia.

Since this is my first Easter Sunday as your priest, I would like to preach on the vision of the Easter Church. By calling “Holy Trinity is an Easter Church,” I do not mean a people who come only during Easter. I mean a people who have come to understand that the resurrection of Jesus is the foundation of our faith. As St. Paul said in 1st Corinthians 15  “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is useless and our faith is futile. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of most people to be pitied. But indeed, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruit of those who have fallen asleep.”

So what is meant by an Easter Church? How do we live as an Easter Church?


So many best-selling books today tell us how you can get the most out of this world. That is not the essence of the Easter Church; that is not the essence of the resurrection.

The essence of the Easter Church is not how much you can get from this world but what you can give to this world. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.” Our resurrected life is not meant to be on the receiving end; our resurrected life is meant to be on the giving end.

Jesus said: “If you save your life, you will lose it. But if you lose your life for my sake and the Gospel, you will save it.” This must have been a very important lesson because it was written in the Bible five times.

So what really matters to God is not the duration of our life but the donation of our life. It’s not how long you have lived on earth but what difference did you make when you lived on earth. Methuselah was the oldest man in the Bible. He lived to be 969 years old but nothing much was spoken about him, other than that he was “the son of Enoch, the father of Lamech and the grandfather of Noah.” In contrast, Jesus lived to be only 33 years old but the whole Bible is devoted to Him, and the impact of His life and teachings reverberates from generation to generation.

We are all pilgrims on this world and prophets of a future not our own. What have you given from your life to make this world a better place than when you first saw it?

The Dead Sea versus the Sea of Galilee is an ever-present example of the difference between a receiving life and a giving life. The Dead Sea receives water but it does not give out water, so nothing lives in it. On the other hand, the Sea of Galilee receives water but also gives out water, so it is full of life and abundant of fish. The Easter Church is a giving Church!


When I was first called by the Vestry to be your priest-in-charge in June last year, they told me about their predicament. The church has been in decline: “We do not have enough money, the church roof is leaking, the steps to the church gate is shaky, there are many things that need repair and we do not have enough members and our attendance is low.” I asked your Senior Warden, Sandy Brunson: “And what do you expect from me?” She replied, “Can you make miracles?”

Well of course, my name is not Jesus Christ. My name is Fred Vergara. I do not make miracles but I know Who can make miracles. Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church and the Church is the Body of Christ. If the Body listens and follows the Head and if all the parts of the Body function, then miracles will happen.

Today, in less than a year we have together fixed our leaking roof, repaired our broken steps, repainted the ceiling and walls, fixed our classrooms, repainted our rectory---and we have sparkling new signage. Alleluia! Praise God who makes miracles in His time.

Yes, we have made a lot of progress, but we still have many things to do. We have yet to grow into maturity in Christ. And what is spiritual maturity? Spiritual maturity is when we no longer live for ourselves but for Christ and for His service. Spiritual maturity is when we no longer ask, “Does this church meet my needs?” but instead we ask, “Does this church challenge me enough to serve Christ and neighbors?”

One of the lessons of Maundy Thursday was when Jesus took a towel, knelt down and washed the disciples’ feet and saying, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give His life for many.” Christian leadership is not a profession; it is a vocation. A vocation is when your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need. Christianity is not a religion; it is a way of life lived in the service of God and neighbors.

So many local churches today are dying because the members are unwilling to serve. There are three kinds of church members common to many churches: 10% are those who makes things happen; 10% are those who criticize what happens; and 80% are those who watch things happen. Most Christians think and act as if Church is a spectator sport.

If the parts of the Body do not function as they should, then that Body will soon die. If we do not parish, we will perish. To borrow President John F. Kennedy in his challenge to Americans: “Ask not what you church can do for you, but ask what you can do for your church.” We are the Church, we are the Children, we are the Body of Christ!

I am happy that since I came to this church, there are already many members who have stepped up and asked me the question, “Father, what should I do? What task do you want me to do in church? Which area can I serve?” Now I am in trouble thinking where to assign them.


Mother Teresa, the diminutive saint who gave her life in service to the lepers, the poor and the oppressed in Calcutta, India once said: “Holy living consists in doing God’s work with a smile…Not all of us can do great things but all of us can do small things with great love.”

If you love what you are doing, it ceases to be work. It becomes a joy. If you truly love God and neighbor, God will show you the ministry reserved for you---and your life will be filled with joy.

And God is no respecter of persons. It does not matter who and what you are. God does not look at your outside appearance. God looks at your heart.

Actually, if you study the Bible very carefully, there is no excuse for anyone not to be able to do God’s work: Abraham was old, Jacob was insecure, Leah was unattractive, Joseph was child-abused, Moses stammered, Gideon was poor, Samson was henpecked, Rahab was immoral, David had an affair and Solomon had 300 wives and 700 ‘porcupines’ (concubines)!

 Elijah was suicidal, Jeremiah was depressed, Jonah was a deserter, Naomi was a widow, John the Baptist was eccentric, Peter was hot-tempered, Martha was a worrier, the Woman at the Well had seven failed marriages,  Zacchaeus was short, St. Paul had a thorn in the flesh and Timothy was shy and timid.

Now if God was able to make use of these “misfits,” would God not be able to make use of you? And you’re from New York---so what is your excuse?

If you live with love and not with hate, then God will never leave you nor forsake you, because God is Love. As the Latin song says, “Ubi caritas et amor; ubi caritas. Deus ibi est.” Where charity and love are, God is there.

Today, there are many hate groups existing in the world. And with the propensity of current world leaders to demonize their perceived enemies, the number of hate groups have multiplied.

In the United States alone, there are over 1,000 social organizations identified as “hate groups.” According to Wikipedia, “a hate group is a social group that advocates and practices hatred, hostility or violence towards members of another race, ethnicity, nation, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or any other designated sector of society.”

The Easter Church, the Body of Christ must never be counted as a “hate group.” If the light of Christ stops shining, it is no longer a church; if salt has lost its taste, it will become useless; If love flies out of the window and hate enters our door, then we’re no longer worthy to be called the Church of Christ.

In the final analysis, God is not so much interested in what we do as in what we are becoming:  Are we becoming a giving Church? Are we becoming a serving Church? Are we becoming a loving Church? In other words, are we becoming an Easter Church?

In answering this question, I remember an old story about a boy who came to his grandpa with a little bird hidden in his fist. He asked, “Grandpa, if you are wise would you be able to tell if the bird is dead or alive?” The old man thought for a moment. If he says it’s alive, then the boy will squeeze the bird to death. And if he says it’s dead, then the boy will just open his hand and the bird will fly. The old man looked with love at the boy and said, “Young man, the answer is in your hand.”
My friends: Is Holy Trinity in Hicksville becoming an Easter Church? Are we being challenged to give like Jesus? As we being challenged to serve like Jesus? Are being challenged to love like Jesus? The answer is in your hands---and your heart. Amen

Sunday, April 2, 2017



The Rev. Dr. Fred Vergara. Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Hicksville, New York. 04/02/2017)
The life of a Christian minister---and all of us are ministers by virtue of our baptism--- is like that of a roller coaster; one moment you are up, another moment you are down; up again, down again. Last Friday, I buried a 100 year-old church woman, Bernice Clock, who died a natural death ---and my heart was lifted. Yes, we can live that long. The following day, however, we had a funeral of an 11-year old, Shawn Handwerker, my former acolyte who died in an accident. My heart was broken because he had so much of life ahead of him. Died too soon.

As a priest, I minister to all sorts and conditions of people, and sometimes in their lowest and highest state. One moment I am down with people weeping at funerals or divorce and another moment rejoicing with people at baptism and weddings. In the afternoon, I may cry with a victim of human trafficking and in the evening I may lead a hilarious “Chicken Dance” among the immigrants.

There are times when my faith sinks down in the gutter especially when I see Christians backslide in their walk with God; and there are times when my faith rises up when someone repents and returns to the Lord. There was even a time that I thought I was able to raise the dead to life. It happened years ago when I was preaching in a large church. The attendance was great and the people were very responsive. I was reading the gospel about the raising of Lazarus and to make an emphasis, I shouted on the microphone, reading the words of Jesus, “Lazarus, come out!” From the basement of the church, down where their columbarium was located, there was a voice that said, “Yes, Father; I am coming out!” Well, that happened to be the janitor and his name was Lazarus!

Now this happens to be the gospel this morning and I don’t expect to shout it out. And I don’t expect to raise the dead down in our basement columbarium. But I hope however that this gospel will help lift up your spirits, revive your faith and give you enthusiasm to tell others of the Good News of Jesus, of Jesus who alone can truly answer our deepest needs, who alone can heal our broken hearts, who alone can truly wipe the tears from our eyes and who alone can raise the dead to life!

THE STORY OF LAZARUS                                                                                                                                                                          This is a beautiful story about friendship, about family, about the ministry. It appears from the Bible that this is a family of orphans: two sisters, Martha and Mary and a brother named Lazarus. Jesus had many friends and he had twelve apostles and seventy other disciples. But these siblings seemed to be the best friends of Jesus. Jesus was like a brother to them. When Jesus comes to their house, Martha would be too busy preparing a meal, Mary would sit down to listen to his stories and pour perfume on his feet and wipe it with her hair---and I don’t exactly know what Lazarus would be doing. He might have been playing with his Nintendo or fidgeting with his iPhone and doing Facebook or Twitter for all I know. It appears that the House of Martha has become a resting place for Jesus in their many journeys but I do not see Lazarus joining the preaching, healing and exorcism ministries of Jesus. It is possible that Lazarus had some health issues or had some disability but whatever his state was, it seems very clear that the disciples and the people in Bethany village believe that Jesus loved Lazarus like a brother. And so when Lazarus died, everyone was wondering what would Jesus do! How would he react?

These are some of the observations I get from the gospel:

1.   Jesus exhibited a non-anxious presence on the news about Lazarus’ death.

2.   Jesus cared so much about Lazarus that he wept.

3.   Jesus exercised his authority over death and restored the faith of the people of Bethany.



It was Thursday morning when Shawn had met an accident and was brought to the hospital. On Friday morning, I received the news from Millissa, his mother that his condition was very bad. Even though we live in Queens, I wanted to rush to Stony Brook Hospital in Suffolk to pray for healing but it so happened that the day before, my car which was parked in the sides street was hit by the snow plow of the Sanitation Truck and I brought it to the body shop for repair. So I called Fr. Henry and Fr. Isaias and the three of us traveled by Long Island Train from Woodside to Massapequa Station where Christine would pick us up and drive us to the hospital. There we learned that Shawn was already brain-dead when he reached the hospital and that he had already been given last rites by the deacon but that his heart was being kept beating by the respirator so that his organs can be harvested and donated. It was a terrible situation, and I could barely understand how such a young life can end just like that. And so the goal of my ministry in that situation was how to maintain a “non-anxious presence” so that Millissa and Rob, the shocked and grief-stricken parents, would be helped to find comfort and strength.

 It appeared that when Jesus heard that Lazarus was gravely ill, He did not panic. He did not rush; instead he completed his ministry and stayed around Judea for two more days. So when he finally returned to Bethany, Lazarus was already dead and he was in the tomb four days. Martha welcomed Jesus with the words, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”


It is amazing that the shortest verse in the Bible is also the most profound verse that explains the true humanity of Jesus. This verse is found in this gospel of John 11:35 and it says, “Jesus wept.” In this shortest verse, we see the clearest evidence that Jesus was fully God and fully human. And he has shown us the power of tears. In the Old Testament, we learned of a distant God who saw our tears and heard our cries; in the New Testament we saw a God who shed our tears and carried our sorrows---and by His stripes, we are healed.

When I was a child, my father who was a soldier, kind of prohibited me and my three other brothers from crying in public. “Boys and men don’t cry,” he said. In his military training, it seemed they considered that crying was only for the girls, so when my grandfather died, and my grandmother died, and even when my father died, I did not cry. Although I was bursting with grief inside, I tried to control my tears. My two sisters cried openly but we four brothers, were restraining ourselves from crying. So it was only when I became a seminarian and read in the Bible that Jesus wept that I discovered how healing, liberating and life-giving it was to cry.  When you are grieving, when you are in pain, when you are bearing your sorrow, it is natural and human and even Christ-like to cry. If Jesus wept, then it is okay to weep.

Weeping is not only a healthy release of pain and sorrow; it is also a sign of the gift of compassion. Someone once said that in Christian ministry, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” When Jesus wept, the Jews who had come to the village to mourn with Martha and Mary, said “See how he loved him! So he who could heal the sick, can he not also raise the dead?”

Compassion is the mark of a Christian leader. Compassion releases a spiritual power more than we can imagine. In the ordained ministry, if you do not have compassion, you better seek another profession, for you will not last long, because dealing with people in all sorts and conditions is not easy. You need compassion to endure frustrations. This was best expressed in a poem attributed to Mother Teresa that says:

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.  Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.  Be kind anyway. If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.  Succeed anyway. If you are honest and sincere, people may deceive you.  Be honest and sincere anyway. What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.  Create anyway. If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.  Be happy anyway. The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway. Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.  Give your best anyway. In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway.


Jesus said to Martha, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha replied, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” And Jesus answered, “I am the resurrection and the life. They who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 25).

Faith in the living God is the answer to our confounding longings. One of the hymns of Easter says, “Because He lives I can face to tomorrow; Because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know, I know He holds the future, and life is worth the living just because He lives.”

Yes, there is so much unpredictability about life. We do not know the future. But if we know Who holds the future, then don’t worry. Be happy. In this world, there will always be tribulations but be of good cheer, Jesus has overcome the world.