REVIVE US, O LORD: Revival, Evangelism, Discipleship
(The Rev. Canon Dr. Winfred B. Vergara. Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, 130 Jerusalem Ave. Hicksville, NY. 6/5/2016. This is the Rev. Vergara’s first sermon as part-time Revivalist/Priest-in-Charge of Holy Trinity Hicksville)
Today, I call for the revival of this Church. I have studied the history of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Hicksville, New York. Just like many other typical churches, it has experienced its golden years. It has experienced ups and downs. And like so many other declining churches of our time, it is now in need of a new revival.
Revival begins with prayer. So I would like to introduce to you a prayer with some action; a prayer I composed and called “The Christian Tai Chi.” I invite you to join and follow what I do and say:
I am a child of God; I stand on His holy word. I breathe the Holy Spirit. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I push out negative thoughts; I take in positive thoughts. I push out sickness; I take in good health. I push out poverty; I take in prosperity. I push out hate; I take in love. I push out despair; I take in hope. I push out sadness; I take in joy. And now, I will share the Good News to my family, to my friends, to my neighbors, here and all over the world. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
That is right. Revival begins with making the right choice. As people of the resurrection, we choose positive instead of negative, good instead of evil, light instead darkness, life instead of death. As people of the resurrection, we can even turn a negative into a positive.
Two days ago, Muhammad Ali died at age 74. I was a seminarian in 1975 when Ali defeated Joe Frazer in the “Thrilla in Manila,” to become the undisputed Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the world, for the third time. I remember the whole Philippines and the world stopped and stared at the television to see this guy who “floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee.” What made Ali so popular was that he combined boxing with poetry and comedy. Everybody loved Ali not only because he could box but also because he could dance and could speak in rhymes and reasons all at the same time.
At his death, we learned more about his life. His rise from a humble beginning as Cassius Clay to become one of the most admired Mohammad Ali began when, as a child, his bicycle was stolen. He vowed to box the person who stole it but someone said to him, you must first learn how to box. So at age 12, he began his boxing career that eventually catapulted him to become the greatest athlete of all time. He also became an icon of inspiration for those who love freedom, respect for dignity, struggle against racism and bigotry and the courage to fight for what you believe.
Some years ago, I was in Hong Kong and Macau for my Sabbatical. One of the things I did was to help bless the world famous “Lord Stow Egg Tart.” Everyday in Macau, thousands of egg tarts with darkened top, are packaged and sent to various parts of the world for export. I had quite a good taste of that delicious egg tart of Macau.
The discovery of “Lord Stow Egg Tart” was accidental, or shall we say providential. Mr. Andrew Stow who was an Anglican and his wife, Eileen, a Chinese were cooking the tart and they forgot to remove it from the oven so it was burnt. Instead of throwing them away, they ate some and they tasted so good. From then on, the egg tart with the burnt top, became the icon of the best egg tart in the world.
The life of Mohammad Ali and the story of Lord Stow Egg Tart are just a couple of examples of how we can turn negative into positive. In the Bible readings for today, there are two examples of revival and reawakening.
In the Old Testament, the prophet Elijah, with God’s help, turned the widow’s sorrow into joy when he raised her dead child to life. In the New Testament, Jesus turned a funeral into a celebration when he raised the dead man to life.
Because of the miracle, the widow came to believe that Elijah was a true prophet of God. Because of the miracle, the whole funeral party believed in God and the news of this miracle spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country. The miracle of turning negative into positive, of turning darkness into light, of turning death into life is an amazing work of God and breaks open the heart of the people to God. (1 Kings 17:17-24; Luke 7:11-17)
I’ll tell you something: There was a time that I thought I can also raise the dead. It happened in one of the churches I preached and I was reading the gospel about the raising of Lazarus from the dead. In order to make my point clear, I read the verse where Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb , “Lazarus, come out!” I spoke loudly at the microphone, which incidentally, was wired all over the building and I shouted, ”Lazarus, come out!” From the basement of the Church, there was a louder shout, “I’m coming out!” It was the janitor of the church and his name is Lazarus!
So as your new priest-in-charge, what is your expectation of me? I asked that question to the vestry, and Sandy our Sr. Warden, replied “a miracle.”
I read a book on parish revitalization and one comment says, “Parish Revitalization is one of the most difficult endeavors a priest can undertake. In fact the most common prescription is to simply close down and start a new one. It is easier to have a new baby than to raise the dead!”
Another comment says, “Revitalization is a full-time job and it takes between 4-7 years and the longer the decline, the longer the time for revitalization.”
I am a part-time priest and my contract is only for three years. How can I make it to revitalize Holy Trinity which has been in decline for many years?
Obviously, I can’t make a miracle; I can’t raise the dead; I can’t make this Church alive again. But I know God can! All things are possible with God. Without God, there is nothing we can do; but with God, greater things we can do.
So I prayed for a vision and God showed me the color RED. I closed my eyes and I sawRED. Why RED?
First, Red is the color of love. The poet Robert Burns wrote, “My love is like a red, red rose that newly sprung in June.” Love will help revitalize this Church. Jesus says, “they will know we are Christians by your love.”
Second, Red is the color of blood, the blood of Jesus which washes away our sins and cleanses our unrighteousness. The blood of Jesus protects us, so that the angel of death, will pass over our doors and life, instead of death shall come in.
Third, Red is the color of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, like flames of fire resting upon the apostles and empowering them for ministry. Prior to the Holy Spirit, Peter preached 3,000 sermons but converted only one, himself. But when the Holy Spirit came, Peter preached one sermon and he converted over 3,000 people.
Such is the power of RED. For the next three years, as your priest, pastor and teacher, I will help you know about the power of the color Red: love, blood and Pentecost.
But red is not just a color. RED is the acronym for three priorities that we shall address ourselves. RED means “Revival, Evangelism and Discipleship.”
For the next three years, we shall address ourselves towards Revival: reviving our faith in God who makes all things possible. Let us renew our love and commitment to Jesus Christ.
For the next three years, we shall address ourselves to Evangelism. We shall be a local branch of the new “Jesus Movement” which our new Presiding Bishop, The Most Rev. Michael Curry inaugurated, let us be evangelists, calling people to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. “Evangelism is a beggar telling other beggars where to find bread,” wrote D. T. Niles, an Asian (Sri Lankan) theologian.
So we shall evangelize in humility. We are evangelists by attraction. By the life that we lead, by the relationships we create and by the beauty of our building and solemnity of our worship, we shall attract people to our church.
For the next three years, we shall address ourselves into “making disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything God commanded” (Matthew 28:19). By evangelizing, we form a community of disciples for this and the future generations.
My friends, we owe it to the memory of our predecessors, particularly the Rev. Canon Dominic Cianella and Mother Joan Grimm Frazer (may their souls rest in peace) that we keep this Church alive, that we keep the legacy of those before us, alive and active in the mission of Jesus Christ in this world.
My friends at Holy Trinity Hicksville, these are exciting times. Let us move forward; let us move forward to see RED; to achieve RED. Let us pray that God will enable, equip and empower us in reviving this parish; in evangelizing the Hicksville community; and in making disciples among all nations. Alleluia! Thine the glory. Alleluia Amen. Alleuia, thine the glory. Revive us again. Yes, Lord, revive us again. Amen.