EPISCOPAL ADDRESS PHILIPPINE CENTRAL CONFERENCE 2012

UNITY: OUR SHARED RESPONSIBILITY
Text: Ephesians 2:1-16

THE EPISCOPAL ADDRESS TO THE 2012 SESSION OF THE
PHILIPPINE CENTRAL CONFERENCE

December 12-16, 2012
Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya

Grace to you and peace from our Lord Jesus Christ!

As I am set to retire this year, let me start by sharing with you my “Faith Journey.”

My Faith Journey

“My faith journey” is no different from the stories of many persons in the bible whom God have called, persons like Moses, Jonah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and many of you. Individuals who doubted, argued and questioned their calling. Theirs was a struggle. Like them, I struggled the first time I heard the call.

Figuratively, I had to be swallowed by a fish, like Jonah, before I could say “Yes” to the call.

When my wife and I were sent to our first church assignment, the Conference passed the hat to raise funds for our fare. We took a boat, whose maximum capacity is 60 people. I estimated, however, that there were almost 150 passengers in that trip. No one met as at the pier. We hired a tricycle that brought us to the church. No one was there. I climbed over the fence, opened the parsonage, and brought in our things. We then went to the market. When Dania was to pay the fish, we noticed that her bag was slashed and all our money was gone. That was how we started our ministry – no one from the church to meet us; no money in our pockets!

The struggle continues. Was I really called?

After serving some local churches, I asked for a study leave for me to pursue my medical studies. The Board of Ordained Ministry was hesitant to grant that leave. Its reason: it feared that if ever I became a physician, I will never go back to the ministry.

But somehow, I was given a chance. While I was at the city studying in a medical school, my wife was assigned in a very faraway town. There she opened a kindergarten class. Her monthly compensation was Ph 120.00. I had four children then, all toddlers. One got sick with whooping cough and had no medicine. The other with measles and almost died.

The struggle continues. Was I really called?

When I became a full-pledged physician my classmates at medical school by this time were now surgeons, internists, pathologists, hospital directors, pediatricians – all receiving no less than ten times of what I was receiving at Ph 10,000.00 a month! They taunt me with the question: “What are you doing, Leo? How can you survive with that salary with four children in college and still rent a house?

The struggle continues. Was l really called?

When someone in his “journey of faith” arrives at the episcopacy, will he continue to doubt the call? Even there, the struggle continues but the doubting now becomes a realization that the episcopacy is not a crowning glory but is a cross to bear.

The episcopacy itself is a journey!

It is not a place where absolute power dwells. Contrary to what many believe, the episcopacy is not full of power. As a bishop I cannot simply dictate what I want to happen. Everything that happens in the Church is by virtue of the actions of the legislative bodies – the General, the Central and the Annual Conferences. Only in appointment making can I make the decision, but even that is not absolute because it is a product of consultation. If I have any other power at all, it is the power of influence that comes from the testimony of my life.

It is a place where I must resist the temptation of letting financial and administrative activities become ends in themselves.

It is a place where I feel like a football, where people love to kick it again and again until it is deflated. But it is also place of inspiration and encouragement when someone appreciates me and says he/she prays for me!

The office of the bishop has always demanded enormous physical strength. Court cases, aside from exhausting the body also drain the mind and spirit.

Being in the episcopacy does not make one holier than a local pastor or a deaconess. Like any other, the bishop must somehow find time to cultivate and preserve his/her own soul.

It could also be a very lonely place. It is where important decisions are made. Many friends would give their advice and opinion. But I must seek not my friends’ desires, not even my own, but God’s will alone. In such moments I literally kneel down in prayer to seek His guidance and forget the friends’ ideas to their consternation! When such moments come, I feel very much alone, with God. A very lonely place to be!

Even in retirement the journey continues. But this journey is not only a personal journey. It is also a corporate one. It is the journey of the church, the body of Christ, where you and I belong through our baptism.

Philippine Central Conference Inter-Agency Summit

The Boards and Agencies of the PCC-UMC took a bold step to conduct a consultation and planning to come up with a common agenda to work with for the next quadrennium. This initiative was done during the Inter-Agency summit held on June 13-16, 2012 at the CCT – Tagaytay Retreat and Training Center, Tagaytay City. Quadrennial performance was assessed and the present structure and functions of PCC Boards and Agencies were revisited. The event made it possible to surface its perennial and challenging pressing issues and needs.

Armed with the tools and resources pooled together by the representatives in five workshop groups, the participants came up with a program aiming to realize a common vision. This piece of work has been made based on a shared vision for the PCC-UMC with vital congregations living out its faith by equipping leaders, ministry with the poor, environmental and social concerns, global health, nurture and discipleship, mission and evangelism. Anchored on the UMC’s quadrennial thrust to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, the Coordinating Council, has adapted a four-year program direction which was collectively done by the Boards and Agencies.

This piece of work will be “guideposts” in tracking down our mission. All of us feel that our ministries are wanting. This piece of work by the 2009-2012 Coordinating Council sets the direction of our mission in the next quadrennium. Implementing this program is our common responsibility.

Our Wesleyan Heritage

The torrents of forgetfulness and complacency are drowning the memories of our great Wesleyan tradition. It will be inevitable that the present generation may not be able to recall the strict discipline of our forebears by which they got the name “Methodist.” It is, therefore, incumbent upon us to make that discipline our own not only in memory but in deed. We must hold high the light of lives as a beacon for the youth of today and as a reminder to us – flame to rekindle in our hearts and minds the same zeal and fervour of saving people “from the wrath to come.” This will be the sword and shield against the onslaught of beguiling philosophies and ideologies slowly creeping into the minds of the present generation. We must continue to cultivate our rich Wesleyan heritage, our distinct contribution to the Christian faith.

Evangelism and socio-political involvement are both part of our Christian responsibility. John Wesley has always emphasized wholistic ministries: body and soul, evangelism and social action.

Evangelism

When we look at the other evangelical and charismatic churches we sometimes wonder why their growth is so rapid. One reason is their religious expression of choice is Pentecostal. And because Pentecostalism is growing, even in the midst of overall declining interest in Christianity as we see happening in the world today, suggests that people are still looking for something. They are crying out the question of old, “Is there a world from the Lord.” And the evidence right now says that the Pentecostals have the answer. They are the ones to whom the people flock. As a United Methodist sometimes I am dumbfounded when I see the growth that is taking place in the Pentecostal/ Charismatic Movement that is not taking place in our churches because the major tenets of Pentecostal Theology and Practice are nothing new to Methodism. Much of what we have come to associate with Pentecostalism was taken part and parcel from the teaching of John Wesley.

The emphasis on Holy Living – – – — – – – – – – — – – – – – – – – – John Wesley
The emphasis on prayer and fasting – – – – – – – – – – – – – – — John Wesley
The development of a spiritual accountability system whereby individuals meet regularly for prayer, bible study, and mutual encouragement – – – – – – John Wesley
The emphasis on missionary zeal – – – – – – – — – – – – – – – – John Wesley
The emphasis on the works of the Spirit – – – – – – – – – – – – John Wesley
The emphasis on sanctification – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – — – – John Wesley

All along it was the Methodist who had the key to real discipleship. It was the Methodist who had the key to church growth. It was he Methodist who knew how to help people experience God in meaningful ways for themselves. It was the Methodist who knew how to live out the dynamic prophetic role that spoke truth to power.

But somehow we became too educated. We became too enlightened. We wanted to be modern and contemporary. We mastered the Book of Discipline. We go to the Judicial Council. We go to civil courts. We blame each other. Our Wesleyan traits are slowly slipping away from us. And while these are happening to us, the Pentecostals are becoming everything that we used to be. They are becoming everything that we stood for.

Prophetic Role

A predicate of our social creed reads, “God in Spirit, revealed in Jesus Christ, calls us by grace to be renewed in the image of our Creator, that we may be one in divine love for the world.” Our Creed tells us of God’s wants, and God’s will. It commands our acceptance of His desires, and surrender to His will. It elicits our promise to make God’s reign visible in our homes, churches, communities, nations and the world.

“And so shall we.”

The life of Jesus Christ himself who, not only proclaimed the good news but in addition practiced it, as He healed the sick, fed the hungry, befriended the friendless, raised the dead and gave his life that others may live. Indeed, in John 20:21, He tells us “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” In short, he served because that is the will of his Father, and that is also his will that we do.

“And so shall we.”

The profession of our Christian faith is an oath to do just these. They are in the fields of, but not limited to the following social issues:

*Justice and the rule of Law

*Stewardship of wealth

*Rights of women and children

*Sanctity of the family

*Rights of ethnic, religious, and linguistic minorities

*Rights to safe and sound environment
– Sendong (one year now); Pablo (last week)
– August floods in Metro Manila
– Landslides in many parts of the country

*Issues on crimes against humanity like extra judicial killings and involuntary disappearances
– Father Fausto “Pops” Tentorio
– Maguindanao massacre (three years)
– Many other church workers

*Plight of O.C.W.s
– Annie Rose, sister of one of our deaconesses, who right now is still in prison in
Dubai, accused of a crime, she did not commit

*Issues on Health
– the case of the 43 health workers who have been illegally detained. I could
have been one of them for I do precisely what they were doing and was with
them before I became bishop
– Dengue
– HIV-AIDS

Distractions

Our evangelistic and prophetic roles have been distracted by our wrangling and quarrels. We are more concerned about issues that divide us rather than that which enable us to pursue our mission. For instance, in an Episcopal forum for prospective bishops one of the questions asked was, “What is your opinion about those who have left the United Methodist church?” If I were to respond to that question I would say, “That does not concern me at the moment. We have a more urgent responsibility to do ….”

– Until the last orphan and widow are no longer in distress ….

– Until the last hungry child is fed ….

– Until the last prisoner has been ministered to …

– Until Malaria and HIV/AIDS have been eradicated …

– Until the needs of the last OCW have been met …

– Until the last victim of human rights violations has been served justice …

– Until the last unsaved person comes kneeling with a contrite heart beneath the cross
of Jesus …

… then I am prepared to talk about that which divide us.”

Unity

The plan of God for presenting Jesus to the world depends upon our unity. When we, as the church of Jesus Christ stand divided, we are nothing but a nuisance, a distraction to the world around us, and are powerless. But when we stand as one, we become a transforming presence with power to alter history and change the world.

Paul has defined oneness that Jesus referred to as the reality between him and God when he prayed that we will be one. Paul has defined the oneness that when lived out fully will fullfil the SO THAT of Jesus prayer – “that the world may know that you sent me.” That the world may know the hope, promise, abundance and life that can only be found in Jesus.

When we live the reality of being one with Christ and with one another, it is then that we are at our best sharing what love can do. When we accept fully all that God offers us in Jesus and then allow the attitude of Jesus to own us – we become the church God has called us to be.

Unity is not the absence of disagreement. We must continue to engage in hard conversations as a church. We must continue to wrestle together with how we best live the mission to which we have been called. Unity is not achieved from being uniform in all aspects but rather by the combinations of parts.

But we must do that from our place of reality, the place we have in common – sinners forgiven through the grace of God, sisters and brothers seeking to live into the depths of discipleship with one another and people inviting others to know and experience God’s promise and claim upon their lives. People who orient our lives to Jesus Christ in every moment of every day. It is then that we will experience the true result of unity – an experience of God’s diversity in all it’s fullness and design.

We stand in a tradition with a deep and abiding sense of grace, because our God is rich in mercy. There is …

• God’s prevenient grace: that we are created in the image of God, every one of us, and that sin mars this image but never destroys it.

• God’s justifying grace: that we are saved by grace through faith, that the ground is level at the foot of the cross and e kneel there with open hands and hearts to receive the gift – even remembering the language of Paul in Galatians 2.20, “I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me, and the life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.”

• God’s sanctifying grace: once we have claimed a common dignity toward each other, and once we have embraced a common humility within ourselves, before God, we are moved to continue he journey, towards holiness, perfection, the restoration of the image of God. This holiness, we know, is personal, (not impersonal.) It is social, (not antisocial.)

At our worst we always want to divide the gift, as if we could, as if this were an option to create …

– a personal holiness camp and a social holiness club

– a right wing and a left wing

– a progressive group and a conservative group;

– a group who wants a worldwide church and a group who wants an autonomous church

– two groups of the same local church claiming in court ownership to church property

– two groups of the same local church worshipping one after the other because they cannot worship together

What if the fullness of the gospel is my own personal experience of a grace that saves me and takes me from the old life to the new life (Ephesians 2:8?) What if the fullness of gospel is my inescapable participation (Ephesians 2:14) in the breaking down of the dividing wall of hospitality that separates me from my brother and my sister?

This is more than “let’s just get along.” It is more than tolerance. It is more than inclusivity. It is the fullness of the gospel. It is the fullness of grace. It is the plea we make each time we say the epiclesis:

Make us one with Christ, one with each other and one in ministry to all the world.

Let us allow the prayer of Jesus to become our reality. “May they be one, SO that the world may know that you set me.” That is our shared responsibility.

Revive

On November 30, 2012 there was a National Revival Gathering at the Phil Sport Arena, Pasig City. At least 9,000 United Methodists from all over the country attended this event. It was a “heart warming” experience. It was a Pentecost experience for those who attended.

From 8:00 in the morning ’till 4:00 in the afternoon the participants were engaged in praise and worship; listened to speakers; and watched video clippings. There was a lot of singing provided by a 700 voice unity choir, an accomplished soloist, and the participants themselves. There was much prayer, and prayer, and more prayers! Participants prayed individually and silently. They prayed in groups. They shouted their prayers at the same time. As they raise their voices together it brings an atmosphere where the Holy Spirit hovers all over the place! The music and songs lifted our spirits right into the very presence of God! There was dancing and shouting the name of Jesus! Wounded and broken spirits were RENEWED; Strained relationships RESTORED. We will RELIVE our Wesleyan and Pentecostal traits.

There was revival. We are revived.

Revived. Shout with me, R-E-V-I-V-E-D. R-E-V-I-V-E-D. R-E-V-I-V-E-D.

Sail On

As a physician elected to the episcopacy, allow me to indulge in my prerogative as a practitioner of the healing arts to guide me in my pronouncements, as I step down as one of the captains of the ship.

Our church right now is suffering from occasions of cynicism, disunity and disharmony. Its capacity to respond to the challenges of the present time is refractory because idiosyncrasies and diverse viewpoints prevail over that which we should be doing as a church. Christianity teaches us to be like Christ – humble and loving. I know that petty differences in opinions and interests will be overshadowed by the mere fact that we all have accepted Jesus Christ as Saviour and heavenly parent. We are all brothers and sisters, and “citizens of heaven.”

I speak of a malignant disease that has evolved into a cancer of intrigues, factionalism, and discord. One need not be a physician to diagnose what ails our church. Friends, you are aware of these problems. The prescription is a bitter pill. One that may be difficult to swallow.

As bishops, we “are called to guard the faith, to seek the unity and to exercise the Discipline of the whole church.” I do not propose or boast that the bishops alone possess the ability to cure this malady that has befallen us. The task is a Herculean one – that which cannot be carried on the bishops’ shoulders alone. The affliction confronting our church cannot be left solely to the bishops. It is a shared responsibility of all those who bear the distinction of being called the “children of God,” and therefore, “peacemakers.” The bishops will be needing your assistance and sincere cooperation in this great endeavour. This heavy task laid upon their shoulders will no longer be called a burden if you share the load with them. Coupled with the blessing of the Holy Spirit’s presence that revives all of us, we will become the church again. Each one must paddle his/her own oar, contributing our talents and resources if need be to insure a safe journey towards recovery and healing! That which is beyond our power, God will complete! God will revive us!

“Revive” could yet be the first dose of a therapeutic regimen that would bring healing to our wounded and broken spirits, and restoration to our strained relationships.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we shout Revived, Revived. Revived…

… there is no holding back. With the new captains of the ship, you can now board the M/V United Methodist Church – Philippines, in its voyage into the new quadrennium. Cast off the rope that holds us to the harbor of shortcomings, cynicism, disunity, and fear of the future. We see strong headwinds of our hope unfurl our sails. Together we sail towards a new horizon of faith, expressed in love, and manifested in good works.

Onward, children of God! Sail on!

Bishop Leo Aranda Soriano

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