Sunday, October 2, 2016



(Sermon  by the Rev. Canon Dr. Winfred B. Vergara, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church,  130 Jerusalem Avenue, Hicksville, NY 11801. October 2, 2916)
A story is told of a missionary who went to Africa to evangelize the natives. While they were in the jungle, they met a hungry and ferocious mountain lion.  The African guides, being good runners, were able to escape but the missionary was a heavier he could not run as fast. So when he was about to be caught by the lion, he decided to drop to his knees, closed his eyes and prayed, “Lord, save me from the pangs of the lion.” For a minute, he expected the lion to ravage him but was not. When he opened his eyes, he saw that the lion was also kneeling in front of him. He got so excited and exclaimed, “Praise the Lord! Even the lion is now Christianized!” The lion roared and said, “Quiet! I also pray before eating!”

The saint we honor today may not have converted a lion but he was known to be a patron saint of the animals. St. Francis of Assisi is one of the most venerated religious figures in Christian history. He founded the men’s Order of Friars which would later be called the Franciscan Order; and the women’s Order of St. Claire. Of course, he is most remembered for his treatment of all creations as “brothers and sisters.”

Who is St. Francis and how what can we learn from his examples? There are three things we can remember of St. Francis: the rich who chose to be a beggar; the beggar who reformed the church; and the missionary who loved the whole creation.

A.    The rich who chose poverty

A few years ago, I saw the movie “Brother Sun and Sister Moon.” It was about the story of St. Francis and St. Claire. Then three years ago, my wife and I were privileged to travel to Italy and had a chance to visit Assisi where Francis was born and San Damiano Church which Francis repaired.

The early life of Francis was one of wealth and privilege. Born in 1181, he was one of the seven children of a rich and prosperous silk merchant Pietro di Bernardoni and Pica De Bourlemont, a noblewoman. He was first named Giovanni, a very common Italian name, in the absence of his father who happened to be in France when he was born. When his father returned to Italy, he started calling Giovanni as “Francesco,” which means the “Frenchman.”  His renaming of his son was in celebration of his commercial success and his fascination of France.

Francis became a soldier in 1202, as most men in those days had to go through. He joined a military expedition and was captured and taken prisoner. Upon obtaining his freedom, he returned to Assisi but became seriously ill. His imprisonment and illness combined to give him a spiritual crisis and a new vision of himself.  On one pilgrimage to Rome, he sat among the beggars and when he returned to Assisi, he began to exhibit strange attitude towards wealth and fortune.

In one of these accounts, he was selling silk and velvet for his father when a beggar came to him and asked for alms. Francis gave everything he had to the beggar. His rich friends chided him for his act of charity and his father scolded him in rage. Francis took off all his royal clothes and ran naked and from then on, lived the life of a beggar. He was a rich young man who renounced wealth and embraced poverty.

B.    A Repairer of the chapel, a restorer of the church

The man who became poor continued to experience  deep conversion.  One day while praying in an old, decrepit church in Giminiano, Francis  received a vision. He saw the icon of the crucified Christ telling him, “Francis, Francis, go and repair My House which was falling into ruins.” At first, Francis took this to mean the old church he was praying. So he campaigned to repair the church. Little did he know that the restoration of the chapel means the renewal of the Roman Catholic Church, from being a church for the rich with worldly wealth and power to being a Church for all people, with preferential option for the poor.

Francis adopted the simple rule, “to follow the teachings of our lord Jesus Christ and to walk in His footsteps.” That would become the mission statement of his Order. Soon many young men, including those who were rich like him, abandoned the life of wealth, power and privilege and devoted themselves to preaching on the streets in rags, denouncing worldly possessions.

One day in 1211, a young noblewoman by the name of Clare of Assisi heard the sermon of Francis and was touched by his message. Her cousin, Rufino, was also touched and together, they left her family’s palace and joined the band of Francis. Francis received her and that began the Order of the Poor Ladies or Poor Clares was born.

Francis appealed to Pope Innocent III to recognize their order. It was a dramatic meeting between Francis dressed as a beggar and Pope Innocent dressed in royal robes. The Pope had initial doubts and was hesitant to approve of the Order. But he saw Francis in a dream holding up the basilica and maybe moved by that vision, he granted license to what would later become the Franciscan Order. The Order of St. Francis and the Order of St. Claire would thereafter revolutionize the Roman Catholic Church with the spread of Christianity and their message of simplicity and love.

C.     The Missionary to the world and all creation

After the approval of the Roman Catholic Church, the Franciscan Order was now determined to bring the gospel to all God’s creatures even out of Italy.  He set out to Jerusalem and was shipwrecked by a storm. He sailed for Morocco but an illness broke off his journey to Spain. He went to Egypt during the 5th Crusade and crossed the Saracen lines and spoke with the Muslim Sultan, a successor of Saladin. According to some sources, the Sultan gave Francis permission to visit the sacred places in the Holy Land and to preach there. Later sources say that the Sultan secretly converted to Christianity and accepted a death-bed baptism as a result of his encounter with St. Francis.

The conversion of the Muslim Sultan was one of the greatest miracles of that time but greater things were still to come. The Order of St. Francis grew in an unprecedented pace more than any other Catholic Orders.  Francis called all creatures as brothers and sisters. He preached to the birds and the animals and legends say that the birds and animals would likewise treat him as their own brother, protector and friend.  It is said that he persuaded a wolf to stop attacking the village people if they feed him. The pact was made; the wolf was paraded by Francis before the people, the people  befriended the wolf, and the dogs made friends with the wolf and there was peace in the village and Francis blessed the wolf. His deep sense of brotherhood extended to all that he even referred to death as “sister death.”

Then on September 14, 1224 at the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, Francis received a stigmata, the gift of the five wounds of Christ, given him by the seraph, a six-winged angel on the cross. With this stigmata, he died on the evening of October 3, 1226 singing Psalm 142, which says in part, “When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you (Lord) who knows my way.”

The rich who became a poor man of Assisi has given us a lesson that peace is not only the absence of war, but the absence of any ruptured relationship and the peace that surpasses human understanding begins first in our hearts. The Prayer attributed to him says it all:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Sunday, August 21, 2016


(The Rev. Dr. Winfred Vergara, Holy Trinity, Hicksville, NY. 08/21/2016)

A story is told of a widow who fell on hard times. Being a Christian however, her condition did not cause her to lose her faith. Every morning, she goes to her balcony and praising God, she declares “Today, God will provide me with a bag of groceries.”

 Now she had a neighbor who was an atheist and every time she hears the woman declares her faith, he gets irritated. He shouts, “Woman, shut up! There is no God!”

 Despite this discouragement, the woman continued to confess her faith, and the atheist also continued to taunt that there is no God.

 One day, the atheist thought that he would pull a trick on the woman. So in the middle of the night, he bought a bag of groceries and unbeknown to the woman, he put the bag of groceries on her balcony.

 When the woman woke up, she saw the bag of groceries and she declared, “Thank you, O God for answering my prayer.” The atheist said, “Aha, I caught  you there. It was not God but me who brought that bag of groceries.”  The woman again said, “Thank you O God; you made the devil deliver the bag of groceries for me!”

 Our Gospel this morning speaks about a woman who had been suffering from some kind of rheumatoid arthritis for 18 years that she had become bent over. Jesus decided to heal the woman. But it happened on the Sabbath, the day of rest, and the leader of the synagogue got upset. He told Jesus to the hearing of the crowd, “There are six days of work and you ought to have healed her on those days but not on the Sabbath.” Apparently, he was engaging in demagoguery to sway the crowd against Jesus.

But Jesus replied, “You hypocrite! Do you not untie your ox or donkey on the Sabbath and lead it away to give it water? So why cannot this woman whom Satan bound for 18 long years, be set free on the Sabbath Day?”

The Bible says that “when Jesus said this, all his opponents were put to shame and the entire crowd rejoiced at the wonderful things that Jesus has done.”

 There are at least three fundamental principles on the healing ministry of Jesus:

First, Jesus heals in response to human needs. It is possible that for the last eighteen years, this woman had been from one physician to another. It is possible that for the last eighteen years there were many treatments promising cure but they were of no avail. She was now bent over. It is possible that she even had accepted that her sickness was incurable. But hope has come with Jesus who said, “the devil comes only to kill, steal and destroy; I come that you may have life and have it abundantly”(John10:10).

 One of the characteristics of Godly leaders is compassion or empathy; and one wonders if the so-called leader of the synagogue who criticized Jesus ever had compassion. He must have seen and known this woman. Maybe 18 years ago, she was pretty, slim and erect. Her body might be like coca cola body, 36-24-26. She might have looked like Kim Kardashian or Sofia Vergara or Miss Universe Pia Alonzo Worzbach. But her debilitating disease had steadily eroded her posture and destroyed her self-esteem. So now she is bent-over, her body was deformed, as if twisted by the devil. And Jesus looked at her with compassion.

By the way, the word “compassion” in Greek has the image of “being gripped in the intestine”; you become so empathetic to the suffering of others that you ache in your guts that you must help.

In the Bible, God was imaged as a compassionate God. He spoke to the Hebrew slaves, “I have heard your cries, I have seen your tears, I will come down to help.”

This godly compassion was imaged by Jesus when he saw the crowd: the homeless, the wetbacks, the undocumented immigrants, the marginalized in Judeo-Roman society. He was filled with compassion because “they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

So if you must be a godly leader, if you must be a healer, a pastor or a priest, you must have that gift of compassion. For this coming presidential elections, I do not want to say which candidate you should vote, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. But I should say, watch for them, get to know them from their words and from their policies, if there is compassion. If you vote for the most compassionate leader, you will not be disappointed, because compassion is of God!


Second principle in this gospel is the putting of higher value on human life. Every human being is created in the image of God and all lives---black, white, brown, yellow, red---matter. We are all precious in God’s sight.

So the value of human life is more than the rules and regulations that we created. The laws must always be enacted that protect human lives than diminish lives. The hypocritical leader of the synagogue brought out the letter of the law: “No work on Sabbath!” but Jesus brought out the spirit of the law:”Sabbath is made for man; not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27)

The letter of the law kills but the spirit of the law gives life!

One may argue that in the Greek cultural context, where the New Testament was written from, there is a separation between body and soul, that the body is less important than the soul, and that the flesh is at war with the spirit. We often say, our spirit is willing but our flesh is weak. But even St. Paul, who has in some instances, tried to create a wedge between the flesh and the spirit, ultimately found the trinity of human being as body, mind and spirit.

So while desiring a sound mind, we are to take care of our body because it is the temple of the Holy Spirit. I have recently enrolled in a gym and finding time to exercise, because I want to serve the Lord in the world, longer and healthier. The 3rd Letter of John began with the words, “I wish above all else that you may prosper and be of good health, even as your soul prospers.” We must desire a sound mind, a healthy body and a right spirit.


Third and final principle in this gospel is that healing is a platform for evangelism.  The rebuke of Jesus silenced the hypocrites but the rest of the people rejoiced in the wonderful works of God. The miracle of healing breaks open the heart of the people to God. The miracle makes them ready to receive the Good News. The Good News was validated and confirmed by the miracles, signs and wonders.

Today, we live in societies where there is much skepticism and unbelief. Churches are in decline as church going is at all-time low. Children and young people are hard to find.  It’s hard to recruit acolytes, choirs and singing groups.  Christian education classes are no longer popular.  Bible studies and prayer groups have waned. People have less time for prayer. People have less time for God.

So we are living in a new missionary age. Churches are in need of revival and communities are in need of spiritual awakening.

Here at Holy Trinity, we have started a Healing Service. We pray that God will fill us with compassion to pray for the sick; we pray that miracles, signs and wonders will fill our church. That people who come here may find welcome and friendship; that people who come here may find healing and renewal; that people who come here may see their lives transformed and their feelings inspired.

For ourselves, we pray that we will be faithful, available and teachable.. St. Paul said to Timothy: “Preach the word. Be urgent in season or out of season; convince, rebuke, exhort. Be unfailing in your witness. For the time is coming when people will no longer endure sound teaching. But having itching ears, they will turn away from the truth and turn to myths. But as for you, be faithful, endure sufferings, do the work of an evangelist.”

Yes we must evangelize and pray that God will break open the heart of this community to God by the miracles of healing and reconciliation. Amen.

Friday, August 19, 2016


By The Rev. Canon Dr. Winfred B. Vergara

In the Episcopal Church as in most mainline churches, baptism is the required entrance into the Christian faith. It is what makes you to be called “a Christian,” a follower of Christ. Baptism is done by the priest, and in case of emergency, can be done by any baptized. The formula for baptism is the administration of water, with the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Emergency baptism is done when a person is in danger of death. I have officiated emergency baptism in hospitals including one in the incubator. He was so tiny I used Q-Tip to wet his forehead. Nineteen years later he was 5’9” basketball player.

It is a practice that an emergency baptism be followed by a public celebration in the church, if possible. But because baptism, whether emergency or non-emergency is an “unrepeatable act,” we want to avoid any action that might be interpreted as “re-baptism.” For this reason, the rubric from the Book of Common Prayer states “that the Baptism should be recognized at a public celebration of the Sacrament…and the person baptized under emergency conditions together with the sponsors or godparents, taking part in everything, except the administration of the water” (Book of Common Prayrer, page 314).

Baptism is a sacrament, meaning “an outward or visible sign with an inward or spiritual grace.” Water is the outward sign and the inward grace or graces are:

1.      In baptism, we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection. This is aptly demonstrated in the baptism by immersion with the image that when a person is submerged in water, he virtually dies (drowned) with Christ and when he rises up from the water, he rises with Christ.


2.      In baptism, we become members of God’s family, the Body of Christ, the Church. In the Episcopal Church, the sacrament of baptism is the only requirement to partake of another sacrament, the sacrament of the Holy Communion. You need not wait for Confirmation, another traditional sacrament, in order to partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. I will talk about Confirmation later, but for now, it is sufficient for you to know that when you are baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), you may already partake of the Holy Communion.


3.      In baptism, we receive forgiveness of sins and new life in the Holy Spirit. In the baptismal covenant, the person being baptized renounces Satan or the Devil, the evil powers of this world and the sinful desires that draw him from God. After renunciation, he will be asked if he accept Jesus Christ as Savior and obey Him as Lord. Then he will sign on the Baptismal Covenant in which he recites the Apostle’s Creed and make vows to “persevere in resisting evil, proclaim the Good News of Christ, love neighbor, strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being.”

So baptism is a rite of passage: from death to life, from darkness to light, from old birth to new birth. Jesus said to the old Nicodemus, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh but that which is born of the Spirit is spirit”(John 3:6).  Upon baptism, you are “born again”, to begin a new life in Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit as an adopted child of God.

For this reason, St. Paul said, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20).

St. Peter also inspired the Christians with these words, “For you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).

Nowadays, many young people pride themselves with the words, “we are spiritual but not religious.” What they mean is that they believe in God and do good things but they do not want to belong to a church. What they do not realize is that the context of new birth is tied to baptism in Christ and membership in Christ’s Body, the Church. St. Teresa De Avila aptly said, “We are not material beings with spirits; we are spiritual beings with bodies.” She further said, “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”  

The example of Jesus is worthy of our emulation. He was God incarnate but he came to John in the Jordan river and asked to be baptized. John who said he was not worthy even to untie Jesus’ sandals, tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. And as soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Baptism sealed Jesus’ identity as the only begotten Son of God. Baptism in the name of the Holy Trinity will also seal our identity as adopted children of God and heirs of God’s eternal Kingdom.

The Rev. Canon Dr. Winfred B. Vergara is Missioner for Asiamerica Ministries of The Episcopal Church and on Sundays preaches at 10:00 A.M. at Holy Trinity Parish, 130 Jerusalem Avenue, Hicksville, NY 11801.

Sunday, July 24, 2016


 (The Rev. Cn. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara, delivered at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Hicksville, NY. July 24, 2016)

Prayer is not an easy task. The acolyte asked the priest, “Father, can you teach me how to pray?” The priest brought him to the river and pushed him into the water. Since he did not know how to swim, he struggled so hard and screamed, “Help, help!” The priest said, “My boy, that’s the way you should pray.”

But there are others who are smart when they pray. A Jewish rabbi had been praying to God: he was poor, he was blind and had no family. One night, God appeared to him in a dream and said, ”Ask me one thing, just one thing and I will give it to you.” The rabbi was bewildered:  If he asks for sight, what would it do if he is poor and has no family? If he asks for riches, what would it do if he was blind and has no family to share his riches? And if he asks for family, what would it do if they see him blind and poor?

So he agonized but after a few hours, he came back to God and prayed, “Lord, I ask you only one thing, give me the JOY of seeing my wife and children eating from the silver platter!” In one prayer, he was able to accomplish three needs.

There are also times when our prayer becomes almost impossible to give. A story is told of an Episcopal priest who was walking by the beach and picked up a bottle. When he opened it, a Genie appeared and said, “Master, ask me three things and I will give it to you.” The priest said, “let there be ordination of women.” The Genie said, “no problem, done.” The priest again said, “Genie, let there be ordination of the GLBT.” The Genie replied, “Done.” For the third wish, the Episcopal priest thought that he should pray beyond the church so he said, “Genie, let there be peace in the Middle East.” The Genie said, “Master, you know that has been a problem way back centuries, it’s hard for me to grant that.” The priest, having realized the consequential problems that accompanied the first two requests, decided to go back to the needs of the Church and said, “Genie, let there be harmony in the worldwide Anglican Communion.” The Genie said, “Master, can we go back to the Middle East?”

Prayer indeed must be hard and that is why the apostles asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.” They did not ask, “Lord, teach us to preach, teach us to teach, teach us to heal.” They said, ”Lord, teach us to pray.” The response of Jesus was to give them a sample prayer, a model prayer for us to follow. This prayer is what we call the “Our Father” of the “Lord’s Prayer.”

There are three elements in this prayer:  Prayer is relating with God; Prayer is seeking God’s will; Prayer is communicating with God.


The word that Jesus used in the Lord’s prayer is Abba  Father, which is an intimate way of addressing God. It is similar to the word Daddy or Papa. The ultimate goal of prayer is union with God. Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” St. Paul said, “It’s no longer I that liveth but Christ that liveth in me.”

Relationship with God begins with humility. 2nd Chronicles 7:14 says, “If my people, who are called by my name shall humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I shall hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and heal their land.”

Two men went to the temple to pray: one was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and said, “Lord, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ Jesus said, “I tell you that this man, the tax collector, rather than the Pharisee, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Jesus set the stage of this relationship when he said, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” In this relationship, God is holy and we are only on the way. God is sinless and have no need of our affirmation; we are sinful and in need of God’s redemption. Without God we can do nothing; but with God, we can do everything. Without God, some things are impossible; but with God, nothing is impossible.

In a manner of speaking, Trump is not the answer, but God is the answer. Trump alone cannot fix it; but Trump with God and with Hillary and the American people, we can do it.

Now what is the question?

B.   Prayer is Seeking God’s Will

The Lord’s Prayer says, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” In the final analysis, with all our fame and glory and honor, we are all immigrants on earth. Our ultimate citizenship is in heaven. The prophet Isaiah said, “All flesh are like grass and our glory are like flowers in the field. The grass withers, the flowers fall, only the Word of God stands forever.”

That bank accounts that we keep, will someday be on somebody’s hands; the mansions that we live, will someday be someone else’s property; the legacy we left may someday be buried in the dustbin of history. It’s like the sign I saw in the park, “take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints.”

That is why it is important that we pray in accord with the will of God. When we pray for riches, it is for a purpose. St. James wrote, “What causes conflicts and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from the passions at war within you? You crave what you do not have so you kill and covet, but are unable to obtain it. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask; you ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your own passions.”

The will of God is revealed in the Scriptures and that is why as Christians it is important that we read, hear and receive the Word of God. For instance, it is a general will of God that sickness are healed but there are instances that some sickness are not healed for God’s greater purpose. St. Paul, a mighty man of God, a healer, a missionary, evangelist and apostle had a sickness which he described as a “thorn in the flesh.” It sounds like malady that gives him constant aches and pains. Many times he asked the Lord to remove it but God impressed upon him that he was not healed to prevent him from being too conceited. In justifying God’s action or lack of action, St. Paul said, “God’s grace is sufficient for me.”

So praying for God’s will, in God’s name and in God’s presence is the key to answered prayers. “Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

God’s will is that we may live and that we may live in love. But we are not perfect; we are still under construction. So in our imperfection, we must learn to forgive because we all have the potential to fall.

A story is told of a nun who fasted and prayed and saw Jesus. She was so excited she went to her bishop and reported. The bishop won’t believe and thought that because the nun was hungry that she was seeing things. But the nun was insistent, so the Bishop said, “OK, I will believe you if you go back there and once you see Jesus you ask him if he knows how many sins I committed from childhood to my becoming a bishop.” So the nun went back at the corner to pray and then returned to the bishop. “Bishop, I saw Jesus again and I told him about your question.” So what was his answer? Did he remember my sins from childhood to my becoming a bishop? Bishop, this is what Jesus said: ”What I have forgiven, I have forgotten.”


In a sense, prayer is a language of the spirit. Our spirits commune with God’s Holy Spirit. Often we think of prayer as talking to God but in reality, prayer is more on listening to God. Someone defines prayer as ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication.

We begin by adoring God, Confessing our sins, then Thanking God and finally Supplication or submitting our petitions. We ask like children knowing that God will not give us a snake when we ask for fish, or a stone when we ask for bread. If earthly parents know how to give good gifts to their children, how much more will our heavenly father not give us the Holy Spirit?

But the image of prayer as ACTS are more of the activity of the mouth than that of the ears. God has given us two ears and one mouth; we should listen twice and speak once, not the other way around. Communicating with God is not just talking with God but listening to God. When we pray, we allow a period of silence to listen to the still small voice. If we have a keen sense of listening to God, we can hear the blade of grass grow, the squirrel’s heart beat and may discover the depth of the sound of silence.

Sermon Weekly shares this account:

“The late author Anthony de Mello tells the story of a temple built on an island. The temple contained a thousand bells ... big and small, fashioned by the finest craftsman in the world. When the wind blew or a storm raged, all the bells would peal out in a symphony that could send the heart of the hearer into rapture.”

“But over the centuries the island sank into the sea and, with it, the temple bells. An ancient legend said that the bells continued to peal out, ceaselessly, and could be heard by anyone who would listen. Inspired by this legend, a young man travelled thousands of miles, determined to hear those bells. He sat for days on the shore, facing the vanished island, and listened with all his might. But he was unable to hear the bells. He kept at his task for weeks. Each time he got disheartened he would listen to the village pundits, who spoke reverently of the mysterious legend. Then his heart would be aflame ... only to become discouraged when weeks of further effort yielded no results. Finally, he decided to give up the attempt. Perhaps he was not destined to hear the bells. Perhaps the legend was untrue. It was his final day, and he went to the shore to say goodbye to the sea and the sand and the wind and the coconut trees. He lay on the sand and, for the first time, really listened to the sound of the sea. It was the sound of silence. Soon he was so lost in that sound of silence that he was barely conscious of himself.”

“Then, in the depth of that silence, he heard it! The tinkle of a tiny bell, followed by another, and another, and another ... and soon every one of the thousand temple bells was pealing out in harmony, and his heart was rapt in joyous ecstasy.”

Prayer is relating with God; praying the will of God; and communicating with God----and more important of all, listening to God. Amen.

Sunday, July 17, 2016


(The Rev. Cn. Dr. Fred B. Vergara. Holy Trinity Episcopal church, Hicksville, NY. July 17, 2016)

A Pentecostal preacher was invited to preach in the Episcopal Church at the 10 AM Sunday Eucharist and he asked, “Father, how long can I preach?” The Episcopal priest replied, “Brother, you can preach as long as you want but at 11AM, we will be out of here.”

The acolyte asked the priest, “Father, how do we make holy water?” The priest replied, “We boil the hell out of it!”

The rector made an announcement, ”I have good news and bad news: the good news is we now have the money to repair our leaking roof; the bad news is the money is still in your pockets.”

I humor you today because our Scripture readings have good news and bad news.

In the Old Testament (Genesis 18:1-10), the Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre with good news and bad news. The good news is that Sarah, his 89 year old wife, would bear a son. The bad news is that Sodom and Gomorrah will be destroyed.

In the Gospel of Luke (38:42), Jesus visited the home Mary and Martha with good news and bad news. The good news is that Mary had chosen the better portion by sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to him; the bad news is that Martha became so distracted in her cooking and got irritated because she needed the help of Mary in the kitchen.

Now Jesus always loved to eat. He even ate and drank with sinners and tax collectors to the point that he and his disciples were branded by the Pharisees as gluttons and drunkards. Even at his death and resurrection, he instituted a memorial in the form of The Passover meal. The Holy Eucharist that we do every Sunday is a remembrance of his passion and death and a foretaste of the heavenly banquet prepared for us from the foundation of the world.

But here in this gospel, between the Martha  the Cook and Mary the Sunday Student, Jesus favored the student. I just don’t get it.

So I better preach from the Letter of Paul to the Colossians (1:15-28) and seek to understand why Jesus is the ”image of the invisible of the invisible God…in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”

For here in this passage from St. Paul, we get a glimpse of why Jesus is not just the messenger of God but God. Not just the Son of God but God, co-equal and one Being with the Father and the Holy Spirit in that enigmatic phrase, the Holy Trinity, from which our church was named. By sharing my thoughts on why Jesus is God, I hope just like St. Paul, the servant of the Gospel, it may help our church grow into maturity, into the full stature of the measure of Christ.


There is so much Greek thought in this Pauline letter and it is no wonder because St. Paul was the apostle to the Greeks and the Romans and you know that the most valuable gift we get from Greece is Greek philosophy. When I was in college, my favorite subject was philosophy and I was always fascinated at how Greek names sometimes jibe with their philosophies. For instance there is a Greek philosopher named Euripides and another named Eumenides. Euripides is the writer of tragedies and satires, ripping into pieces many of the heroes in Greek mythology. Eumenides, on the other hand is a character in Aeschylus tragedy which sort of synthesizes the opposites. As you know there are three progressions in reconciliation in Greek drama: thesis, antithesis and synthesis.

The reason why I remember these Greek names is that I imagine Euripides tearing a paper and Eumenides putting it back together. So you rip this, you mend this. Euripides, Eumenides!

Another example of reconciliation was this: Thesis- Plato said, “to do is to be;” Antithesis - Aristotle said, “to be is to do”; and Synthesis- Frank Sinatra said, “do be do be do.”


But the one philosopher who is most useful in helping us understand why Jesus is God is Danish philosopher named, Soren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard whose father was a Lutheran priest in Copenhagen, Denmark studied theology and developed the three levels of knowing Jesus as God.

1.     First Level is the “aesthetic level”; knowing Jesus as the image of God: In Colossians , St Paul declares:  “Jesus  is the image of the invisible God.”

The other word for image is Icon. Our church has icons; Iconography is one of the Christian arts. Icons are considered  “windows to the divine.” The statues of Jesus are icons that give us a window to his divinity. For instance, this icon of the crucified Jesus in our sanctuary gives us a window to his death and his rising again to life.

Another word for image and icon is model.  In arts, there are models: classical, neoclassical and modern. In cars, there are many models: Ford, Toyota, Mercedes Benz, what have you. Once we asked why fashion models are often thin, tall and lanky ladies and one couturier replied, “Because models do not represent themselves; they represent the clothes they wear. In other words, models serve as hangers!”

So when we are on the aesthetic level of knowing Jesus we know Jesus as representing God;  we admire his beauty, we are awed in our worship and praise. He is the model of the living God.

But models change. In our Baby-Boomer generation, the model of courtship is expressed in this song, “My love is deep as the sea that flows forever, you ask me when will it end? I tell you never.” Poetic, classical and expressive.  In today’s millennial generation, the model of courtship is expressed in this song: “Baby, baby, baby Oh.” Abstract, modern and hip hop. Maybe the reason why many churches are dying is because we are losing relevance in this generation. Our neighborhood has changed but our model of church has not.

2.     So the second level is the “ethical level”; knowing Jesus as the reality of God. It is the level of commitment and certainty. Once upon a time, you are searching for God. Where do you go? Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam? Then you came to Christianity:  Roman Catholic, Protestant, Episcopal, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist, Pentecostal, interdenominational, evangelical, charismatic, asthmatic, etc.. You become confused and studied Confucianism.

You’ve been to many models of God, many icons of the divine. You’ve shopped for so many churches and finally you came to the realization that Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life.” And like Martin Luther, you say: ”Here I stand, I can do no other.”

John the Baptist while in prison sent a word through his messengers to ask Jesus, “Are you He who is to come or shall we wait for another?” And Jesus replied, “Come and see: the blind receive their sight, lepers are cleansed, the Good News is preached to the poor, and blessed are those who take no offense at me.”

Philip asked Jesus: ”Lord, show us the Father and we shall be satisfied” and Jesus replied, “Have I not been with you too long and still you did not known me? If you have seen me, you have seen the Father. I and the Father are one.”

Thomas was not present when Jesus appeared to his disciples, so when told he rose from the dead, Thomas doubted: “Unless I see the mark of nails in his hands and touch his pierced side, I will not believe.” At that very moment, Jesus appeared: ”Thomas here am I, touch my hand and feel my side. Do not be faithless but believe.” Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!”

To know Jesus in the ethical level as the reality of God, is like the hymn, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found; was blind but now I see.”

Jesus is not just the image of the invisible God or a representation of His Father. He is not just one of the models of God. Jesus is God! Very God of very God! Jesus is not just a model of God: He is the reality of God.

3.     The third level is the “spiritual level,” to know Jesus as the experience of God.  In John 14:12, Jesus said:  Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, even greater things because I am going to the Father.” Acts 1:8 says, “And you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you shall be my witnesses from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria and to the ends of the world.”

To know Jesus in the spiritual level is to experience life in the spirit.  In the words of St. Paul, it’s no longer I that live but Christ that lives in me. Jesus is alive in my life, Jesus is alive in my work, Jesus is alive in my relationships. Mystics call it the Christ in me and the Christ in you.

When you know Jesus in the spiritual level, you also perform the things that he did and release the ministry he shared. The Book of Acts recorded what the apostles did after the resurrection. St. Peter, Mary and the other apostles established the Church in Jerusalem which became the center of Christianity in the early Church.

Paul was converted through the martyrdom of St. Stephen and both he and Barnabas and St. Luke traveled through the Greek and Roman world preaching the gospel and planting missionary churches. Antioch became the mission-sending center for the Gentile church. Miracles, signs and wonders accompany the preaching of the gospel.

In Acts 8, St. Philip was directed by the angels of the Lord to witness and to baptize an Ethiopian eunuch, who would latter start the Church in Ethiopia. Thomas went as far as Asia, preaching the gospel and planting churches in India. He was martyred in Madras and the Mar Thoma Church, which is in concordat relationship with the Episcopal Church, bears witness to the works of St. Thomas.

To know Jesus in the spiritual level is to experience the healing, the holiness, the miracles and the signs and wonders of what Christ has done.

Over forty years ago, I was a student in the Philippines radicalized by the communist movement. While I was not a member of the Communist Party, I virtually subscribed to its ideology. I became and student and taught socialism in the teach-ins, participated militant rallies against the Marcos administration.

God was not in my vocabulary.  Mao Tse Tung’s Red Book was my bible and I agreed with his idea that religion was an opium of the people.

Then martial law was declared in September 21, 1972 in the Philippines and the following months and years were marked with arrest and imprisonment of many militants and protesters. In the activist circle there were only three ways to survive:  US, UG and UJ -United States, Under Ground or U Join the Marcos regime.

So having no means to escape to the US, I have thought of going UG and together with a few friends  traveled to a place where we could be in contact with the New People’s Army. Fortunately or unfortunately, I got sick of pneumonia.

My sickness was so severe that my friends abandoned me in a house of an old couple, whom I would later know were Pentecostals.  They prayed for me. At that point of time, the communist ideology was not real to me, my Red Book was not real to me, my knowledge and my education were not real tome.

When you are in such a  point of need, when you have no one and nothing to hold on to, God becomes real.  I reached out for God and called on Jesus as this Pentecostal couple advised, and God met me at the point of my need. I was healed!

I was healed that I may tell this story: I was healed to tell the story that there is a  God who loves us, who cares for us, and who  will never leave us nor forsake us.

I was healed to tell the story that  even in the midst of a dangerous world like ours, there is a God who  will lead us into a place of safety, a beloved community where we can express love and be loved.

I was healed to tell the story that even in this generation when people fence each other out by hatred and prejudice, there is a God who calls us to love God and neighbor.

I was healed to tell the story even in this generation when some lost souls would fly a plane to destroy a building and massacre the people in it,  would drive a truck to kill a crowd, would detonate themselves and kill others as well, there is a God to whom we shall stand before in the Judgment Day.

I was healed to tell the story that there is a God who feels the pain for the sins of His people and that there is healing for their sin-sick souls.

I was healed to tell the story that even in the midst of this rapidly changing world, there is a God who never changes, who the same yesterday today and forever. That when He saved you before, He saves you now and He will save you forever.

 I was healed that I may tell that the fullness of this God is in Jesus. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  Yes, Jesus  is the image, the reality and the experience of  God. Amen.




Tuesday, July 5, 2016


(Sermon by The Rev. Canon Dr. Fred Vergara. Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, 130 Jerusalem Avenue, Hicksville, New York 11801, last July 3, 2016)

“The Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him…” (Luke 10:)
Jesus came with a mission: to save humankind from sin and to inaugurate the Kingdom of God. He accomplished that mission 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem. We are here today because of the success of that mission.

Indeed, God loves us so much that He “sent” His only begotten Son that whoever lives and believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). Jesus is the first Christian missionary; He was “sent” by the Father.

The gospel this morning gives us insight into the Jesus missionary strategy. Like Moses in the Old Testament who enlisted the twelve tribes of Israel and appointed 70 leaders to assist him in the Exodus, so Jesus also called twelve apostles and “appointed seventy others” as His disciples.

There are three elements in this missionary strategy: Partnership, Authority, and Faithfulness. Where there is partnership, where the mission is authorized by God and where there is faithfulness on the part of the missionaries, that mission will be accomplished. Let us look at how partnership, authority and faithfulness were at play in this scripture.

A. PARTNERSHIP: “After this, the Lord appointed 70 others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every place and town where he himself intended to go” (Luke 10:1)

Mission is not for lone rangers. Mission involves the community of faith. Jesus could certainly accomplish the mission by Himself; but by God’s grace, He has given honor to human beings when He enlisted them to be his partners.

One reason why I love “Holy Trinity” is because from the beginning it talks about partnership. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit worked together in partnership in creating the world, in redeeming the world and in sustaining the world. 

In Genesis 1:26, God said:  “Let us make man in our own image.” In Matthew 18:20, Jesus said to His disciples: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in their midst.”  As God is never alone in His work, we also are not alone in doing Jesus’ work. 

Christian ministry begins at baptism. The moment we get baptized, we immediately take part in the mission and ministry of Christ. That is why in the Episcopal Church even the children can take Holy Communion, once they are baptized. You do not have to wait for confirmation because baptism is the full entrance into membership in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. One becomes a partner in mission right after baptism!

Where do you find it? On page 304-305 of the Book of Common Prayer, we read our Baptismal Covenant. We affirm our faith by reciting the Apostles Creed and responding to the Baptismal Covenant in the following questions:

“Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers?” 

“Will you persevere in resisting evil and whenever you fall into sin repent and return to the Lord?“
“Will you proclaim by Word and example the Good News of God in Christ?” 

“Will you seek and serve Christ, loving your neighbor as yourself?” 

“Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” 

In each of these questions, we respond, “I will with God’s help.” Only after that Covenantal response, made either by the candidate of his parents and sponsors, will the person be baptized. By virtue of that baptism, that person becomes a minister. 

Yes, ministry begins at baptism! There are not three but four orders or ministry: lay, deacon, priest, bishop. All are ministers of God in Christ.

So ministry is the task of all of us. As a matter of fact, the ordained minister (deacon, priest or bishop) is only there primarily “to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry” (Ephesians 4:12). The word “saints” means all the baptized members, the “laos,” the people of God. 

That is why at the beginning of my term here, I asked all of you to take a look at the various ministries we have at Holy Trinity Church and to volunteer your gifts and talents to the “work of the ministry.” Whether it be an acolyte, choir member, greeter, usher in the sanctuary or coffee server in the hall or flyer distributor in the streets, you are working as a minister. Ministry is three-fold: ministry to God in worship; ministry to fellow Christians in fellowship; and ministry to the world in service to others.

B. AUTHORITY: Jesus told the 70, ”They who listen to you; listen to me. They, who reject you, reject me; and they who reject me reject the One who sent me” (Luke 10:16-17)

 Authority is stronger than power. A six-wheeler truck speeding at 80 miles per hour is thousand times powerful than the traffic officer but when this officer blow his whistle and raise his hand to put a stop to the truck, the truck will stop. Why? Because the Traffic Officer has the authority!

As missionaries, we have authority from Christ who sent us in the same manner that Jesus has authority from the Father. A missionary means being sent. When Jesus calls us, He empowers us for ministry.

The 70 were given authority by Jesus. By virtue of that authority, they can heal the sick, they can raise the dead, and they can tread on serpents. When we do the works that Jesus asked us to do, He gives us authority. The Great Commission of Jesus says, “Go ye therefore and make disciples of nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…and lo I am with you till the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19 ff.)

God promises that He will never leave us nor forsake us when we do His work. I have never worried about finances of the church because in my 38 years of ministry, I learned, in the word of the great missionary to China, Hudson Taylor, that “Where  God guides, God provides.” God’s work, done in God’s way and in God’s time, will never lack provision. The only thing we worry is if we do not do the work of God; but if we do the work of God, He will provide.

C. FAITHFULNESS: “The 70 reported with joy, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.’ Jesus replied, ‘Do not rejoice that the demons submit to you. But rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’” (Luke 10:17-20)

Mother Teresa once said, “God did not call us to be successful but God calls us to be faithful.” Because when you are faithful, you will have success. Success follows faithfulness. Success is never ending and  failure is never final, because in the end, God wins!

Faithfulness also means commitment. There was a story of a chicken and a pig looking for a job. They knocked door to door until they finally saw a restaurant which advertizes, “Wanted Ham and Egg.” The chicken was very excited but the pig was not. The chicken said to the pig, “Why you are not excited, my friend? This is now our chance to get a job.” The pig replied, “What this job asks of you is just a contribution; what it asks of me is real commitment.”

Commitment includes risk, sacrifice. There is a cost in commitment. There is a cost in faithfulness. Discipleship is costly. Yes, salvation is free but it is not cheap. It costs the life of Christ on the cross. The cross is the symbol of Christian commitment.

Hundreds of years ago, there were missionaries who went to China. They spread the gospel far and wide and the emperor, wanting to know their message assigned some spies to watch them and to report to him. After listening to the missionary preaching, the spies went back to the emperor and said, “These missionaries tell a crazy story. They tell about a man who came from the skies and was born in a manger. Then he made miracles like turning water into wine and multiplying bread and fish. Then he was rejected by his own people and they mocked him, spat upon him, tortured him and finally crucified him. Then after three days in a borrowed tomb, he rose from the dead and went back up to the skies.” 

After listening to the spies, the emperor said, “Let us therefore leave them alone. No Chinese in his right mind would ever believe such a crazy story.” Today, there are over 50 million Chinese who believe in Jesus Christ---and we owe it to the faithfulness of the missionaries.

In mission and ministry, we do our best, and God will do the rest. Amen.