Galatians 2:19-20 (NRSV)
For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Letter of Joseph to the Church in Mandaluyong:
To the fabulous, creative, faithful and persevering Church of Open Table in Mandaluyong, Greetings of peace and goodwill to you all. From Joseph, your sibling and co-worker in Christ Jesus. I want to first say and affirm the joy and gratitude I have, knowing and seeing that Open Table Church, a priesthood of all believers, have sustained itself while I am physically away. This is a testament that indeed we share in our ministry; that God works in and through you all. I rejoice and thank God for your perseverance and resiliency with the challenges of church growth and care.
I also recognize and greet with peace and love, those who are new to our Church community. I hope each of you continue to abound in grace in our community and remain true to the joy of our diverse yet shared faith.
The Apostle Paul wrote six authentic letters to the Churches and 1 authentic letter to a specific person, Philemon. He wrote from a distance and another city for mostly a Christian community in another City. He wrote to respond on circumstances in those churches; He wrote to provide both guidance and rebuke, both encouragement and discipline, both hope and caution, all within and compelled by his burning passion for love and ministry. After his example to I write and speak in this letter.
Also, I do not write by my own authority for I have none by my own. I am only your pastor, only because God calls me through the calling of the Church. I write and speak by your authority; the authority that God has bestowed to the Church-community as a whole. With that authority that belongs to the congregation do I speak in the name of Christ who calls all of us into service. Let me start by asking questions.
Whether you are new or have been with MCC for a long time, please think carefully of the following questions… What is “Church” and who is the “Church”? Why do we gather and meet? What is the purpose of this assembly?
To the new people in Open Table, why did you seek out an affirming “Church”? There are other LGBT organizations and support groups out there, equally supporting, caring and fun? What is your purpose or reason why you gather with this particular Church community? Why Church?
What is your main thing or reason to be in and part of this Church?
So what is your main thing? Why are you here for so long? Why are you here as a new person? Why are you a returning MCCer?
Do we not gather because we are primarily persons of faith, specifically faith in Jesus Christ? What does faith mean? Faith is not merely agreeing to a list of doctrinal and theological beliefs. Faith means commitment to what we believe. Faith as properly understood and translated is “commitment”. Credo means “I give my heart to”. Faith in Jesus Christ means commitment to Jesus Christ, for this is who we are, followers of Jesus despite our imperfections. It is to Christ we give our hearts and giving our hearts to him means giving ourselves to who Christ is and his work in the world.
Well, you may say that your purpose is to find a safe space for acceptance of who you are as an LGBTQI+ person… but there are other LGBT organizations and support groups out there. Some of them have better facilities and programming, especially the one nearest us. So why MCC for acceptance? Also if what you seek and what you have found in Open Table MCC is acceptance and support, do you not have the equal responsibility to accept, love, care and forgive your LGBTQI+ sister, brother and sibling in this community of faith?
Rev. Troy Perry, the founder of our Church often preached about “The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing.” and what is the main thing as a Church community? We can quote two verses that centers our main thing:
Micah 6:8 – “To do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly before God”
Luke 4:18-19 – “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Furthermore, Jesus tells us in the gospel of Matthew chapter 25 that those who follow God are those who feed the hungry and the thirsty, those who clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, visit the sick and those in prison.
Let us keep the main thing, the main thing.
In matters of Community life Jesus and the Gospel writers, and indeed the apostle Paul (who himself admits his own imperfection) tells us many things especially regarding our relationship with each other as siblings in Christ.
Jesus says to love your enemy and to do good and pray for those who persecute you. He says to give without record and to give twice as much to those in need without expecting anything in return. He tells us to be a good neighbor like the Samaritan to someone whom we normally will despise and consider as enemy. To his followers, he tells them to forgive 70x7x7. Jesus says, when you are aggrieved to one another, to settle the matter with the other person directly and in a proper way. He even goes to say that before you go to the temple to offer your sacrifice to God, you must settle your grievance with your neighbor.
We acknowledge that all of us in MCC including myself, and indeed any Church or human organization are all imperfect and broken. These imperfections in all of us does manifest themselves every so often whether we are aware of them or not. From time to time, we will hurt, disappoint and act out. God knows how many times I myself said or did something stupid or uncalled for in my 10 years of membership in MCC and even as a Pastor for the last 3 years. All of us does and all of us will. A recognition of this in each one of us gives us a reason to be more forgiving and understanding of one another as well as the willingness to admit our own faults. It is precisely of our imperfection and woundedness and our tendency to wound others that compels our hearts to seek out God’s healing grace and anointing in one of the most unique Churches in the world, MCC. A recognition of our shared brokenness should also give us the recognition of God’s gift of grace towards each person. But we forget, don’t we?
I want to remind everyone that we are not enemies to one another in MCC even if there will be times that we will disagree; Even when there are times we have knowing or unknowingly offended each other. We are not enemies with each other. We are family and we are in relationship with each other. like with any family or relationship who have tensions and disagreements from time to time, we learn to “kiss and make-up” knowing clearly that we are bound and united by love; and not just any love but Christ’s love, Agape.
When asked what is the greatest commandment Jesus says, love God and love neighbor as self – but more than that is to give all you have and to come and follow him. Finally, in the gospel of John, Jesus gives us a single commandment and that is love one another the way that he has loved us.
My sisters and brothers, siblings in Christ, as we continue to grow in numbers and hopefully in faith, let us keep the main thing, the main thing.
A recurring truth in the letters of Paul is the truth that a follower of Jesus is someone who has died with Christ through faith. Having Died with Christ and rose with him, Christ lives in and through us and if this holds true in our lives, hearts and minds, and in our assembly then Christ transcends and overcomes our conflicts, disagreements, tensions and selfishness; If Christ lives in us and through us, by his grace, we are able to rise above our woundedness and brokenness together and with each other.
This is not to say that we will no longer have times and moments of disagreements, of pettiness, dramas, conflicts and tensions but because we are in the constancy of Christ love, such things are minimized and mitigated. And when they do happen, the true test of Christ’s love in our lives is our ability to communicate appropriately avoiding slander and gossip and practicing both forgiveness and confession – because we will be both offender and offended in different times and situations.
Speaking of gossip, as this is also a tendency of every person and every human, I will address this in our community in the appropriate time and when I am already there with you.
Such is the nature and difficulty of inclusion in diversity and indeed the very nature of human togetherness in the midst of human differences – that we will be at odds with each other one way or another – but Jesus, the prophets and Paul gives us an example and some wise words on how our differences and our imperfections should be overcome by our mutual love and shared calling to serve. Unity in diversity is difficult only because of how much potential, hope and profound joy it offers to our lives and the world.
I too have had my challenges as a follower of Jesus and indeed as a Pastor. I have had my moments when I forgot who I am and what I am called to do; There were times my words and actions did not reflect Christ’s love despite my perseverance; There were times that I was simply stupid and did a stupid thing. Yet in those times the measure of grace was whether I was willing to admit my mistake and to bring myself before the grace of Christ no matter how difficult it is to apologize and make amends. Like the apostle Paul who admits the contradiction of his own sinfulness and the grace of Christ in his life, he nonetheless spoke with firm boldness. In the same manner do I speak with such boldness and firmness to you all as your brother, sibling or parent in Christ, and as your pastor.
I also want to firmly say that MCC is not like any Church you have ever been to or will go to here in the Philippines because of what its beliefs, practices, struggles and the very people who compose it. There are elements and things that are similar or parallel with other traditions or churches but we are not them. MCC, specifically, Open Table MCC and with me as its Pastor will definitely and surely challenge anything and everything you have ever learned or you think you know about Church, theology, doctrine and practice. If you are not open and willing to learn, unlearn and relearn things with an ounce of trust and doubt side by side, then you can be very sure that so many things in this Church will offend you and challenge you. Remember that growth and maturing is a difficult process of learning, unlearning and relearning. If you are unwilling, then Open Table MCC will be very difficult for you.
Whether we are new in MCC or someone who has been with MCC for 10 or 20 years, or a returning one, let us be reminded constantly that in everything we think and say, and in every conflict, tension or problem we face as a Church and as individuals, to always remember why we are Church, who we follow and what he requires of us; to be reminded that Christ lives in and through us. There is so much good and hopeful joy in the beautiful diversity of our Church, I encourage each one of you to focus on those things; they are the fruits of the Spirit.
Let us keep the main thing, the main thing – Troy Perry says.
Still on the matter of Church life, my leadership program is almost over. This was a program that I sought the approval and wisdom of the whole Church back in 2018 who then encouraged me to go and participate in. This program to some extent has reminded me of many important lessons in leadership and community organizing and also gave greater clarity. This is no vacation as most Filipinos with think by default. Admittedly, I did took time to see a few places when time and budget allows, but it is no less stressful not only because of the requirements and deadlines of the program but also my continued oversight in the life and operations of the Church. I came to be borderline depression at one point because of the stress while being away from family, friends and our Church. But I am okay now and doing better. While here, I also processed the last requirements of my ordination which in itself had its challenges. I took a psychological assessment that proves I am “crazy” enough to be approved for ordination in MCC. After all who is normal enough to desire this kind of vocation of being a pastor of queens, divas and all sorts of colorful individuals? I am glad to say, the Ordination Panel has approved of my ordination unanimously.
In the months that I have been physically away, the board have had to be responsible with the Church including some Pastoral functions. They also had to lead through a sudden and unexpected influx of new people and Church growth without the pastor. Going into 4 months of the work, it certainly takes a toll on them and on their spirits. Not to mention that Jack also had an unexpected and serious health concern from which he is still recovering from. I ask for your continued and sincere prayers for them, namely Chris, Sean, Jack and Kuya Mike Mia, I also ask for your understanding and patience for any limitations or incidence on their part. I ask that you encourage them, comfort them and appreciate them not just in words but in concrete ways of care and love. I also want to express my utmost appreciation to those who work with them, in particular Josh who have been most helpful and Ralph who continue to support Christopher, our administrator, especially for our online presence, and who also preached. For Dan who is delivering this message and Jonas who preached. For kuya Vince and Kuya Oliver who show care and give wisdom to those who need them. For everyone who has helped in any manner or way, thank you. To everyone who has contributed financially to our Church small or big – especially Eric and Chay, Sherwin, Ryan and David, thank you. All that we do and give are for God and people. Not for ourselves or anyone in particular; May we always remember that our generous actions and giving, hopefully, are an expression of the Christ who lives in and through us.
Keep the main thing, the main thing, and the main thing is to love one another as Christ has loved us.
I end this letter with a quote again from the Apostle Paul who had to deal with all the complexities and challenges of the 6 or more Churches during his time:
“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus”
I will be with you all shortly and hope that all things will work out. I love you with the same love that Paul had for the churches, bold, firm and with much passion. May Christ who loves you and lives in you, keep you all united in the fullness of his enduring love. May his peace and goodwill through the working of the Spirit flow so generously in each of your lives. To God, through Christ, whom we love and serve, all glory and praise.