Magalak kayong lagi sa Panginoon. Muli kong sasabihin: Magalak kayo. Makilala sana ng lahat ng tao ang inyong kahinahunan. Ang Panginoon ay malapit nang dumating. Huwag kayong mabalisa sa anumang bagay, sa halip ay idulog ninyo sa Diyos ang inyong mga kahilingan tungkol sa lahat ng mga bagay, sa pamamagitan ng panalangin at pagsamong may pasasalamat. At ang kapayapaan ng Diyos, na higit pa sa kaya nating maunawaan, ang magbabantay sa inyong mga puso at mga pag-iisip sa pamamagitan ni Cristo Jesus.
Kahuli-hulihan, mga kapatid, anumang bagay na totoo, anumang bagay na kagalang-galang, anumang bagay na matuwid, anumang bagay na malinis, anumang bagay na kanais-nais, anumang bagay na kahanga-hanga, kung may anumang kahusayan, at kung may karapat-dapat parangalan, ang mga bagay na ito ang isipin ninyo. Ang mga bagay na inyong natutuhan o tinanggap at narinig o nakita sa akin ay patuloy ninyong isagawa; at ang Diyos ng kapayapaan ay sasainyo.Scripture Reading
Philipos 4:4-9 (FSV)
So today I chose to preach on and use the lectionary passage from the letter of Paul to the Philippians.
The letters of Paul were written to specific Christian communities addressing specific issues, questions, and challenges in those churches two thousand years ago. So, originally speaking, the letters of Paul were not written for you and me. Nakiki-maritest lang tayo sa Bible. Paul wrote it for the church community in Rome, hence, “The Letter of Paul to the Romans.”
The Christians in Corinth, the fellow believers in Thessalonica, those disciples who settled in Galatia, and the followers of Jesus sa letter na ito, living in the city of Philippi, as emerging communities who identify themselves with a Jewish rebel. (Jesus was a Jewish rebel, kasi rebels lang ang pinapako sa krus.) They identify themselves with him. They have their fair share of challenges and struggles within and outside of their communities, and they were a minority of minorities.
They believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God and the anointed one, and therefore it is subversive to the Roman Empire and the emperor. The titles: “Son of God,” “Anointed One,” and “Liberator” are titles of the emperor. And hindi lang sa Roman Empire. It was a blasphemy to their parent religion, to the Jewish religion. It was blasphemy to their parent Jewish religion and religious leaders. Enemies of both the Temple and the Empire.
And, constantly, they were maligned and persecuted- the early Christians.
Si Pablo nga, nang sinusulat niya itong sulat niyang ito, particularly this Letter to the Philippians, siya ay nakakulong. He was writing this in prison. Hindi sinabi kung saan, pero he declares in his letter that he is in prison. At nagpapasalamat siya sa church in Philippi for sending him financial support and other provisions for his needs while he is in prison.
Maraming problema ang early Christian communities inside their community and outside.
Kahit happy si Paul sa church of Philippi, at kahit may kakayanan ang church of Philippi na magpadala ng tulong kay Paul, they are still under the Roman Empire. They are still a community considered as blasphemers and enemies of the “Pax Romana” – The Roman Peace. “Peace” that is based on injustice and oppression. Peace that is based on violence and colonial domination.
They are not just a minority. They are a persecuted community of people who insist and persist in the name of Jesus Christ, a peasant Jew from Judea Palaestina, whom they claim and proclaim as the Son of God, despite being crucified by the Romans. They insist to believe, to be identified with a crucified rebel.
We also have a lot of problems today, both as LGBTQIA+ Christians, as Filipino citizens, and as humans in general. We have the problem of massive corruption in our government. Corruption of the money, or the blood-and-sweat-earned tax money of the people. Ang lumulobong utang ng Pilipinas at mabilis na pagtaas ng presyo ng mga bilihin. Climate change, environmental destruction, and also the violence at this very moment in Palestine, in the land of Jesus and the Abrahamic faiths. The violence in Palestine brought about by apartheid and illegal occupation.
Bilang Open Table MCC, tayo ay nag-i-insist na Christian din tayo, kahit sabi nila hindi raw pwede, we are also considered as blasphemers and abomination by the mainstream temples of today. Tayo ay isang minority within a minority.
We are discriminated against, not only as LGBTQIA+ people, but also as Christians. Kasi nga, for them, hindi ka pwedeng maging Christian at LGBTQIA+ at the same time. Not only that. Bilang bakla, lesbian, o trans na Christian na naniniwala sa katarungan at pagkakapantay-pantay, kapag nagsimula kang magtanong tungkol sa iba’t ibang kaapihan, korapsyon, at kawalan ng katarungan sa paligid mo, tulad noong panahon ni Hesus, tatawagin kang kalaban ng kapayapaan at kalaban ng bayan. Eh, nagtatanong ka lang naman tungkol sa pera ng bayan.
On top of all of that, all of those external challenges that we have as a community, we have challenges sa ating sarili, internally sa Open Table MCC, just like the first Christians. We have real and practical challenges on how we sustain organize, and finance our church community. How we create and sustain programs that transform and continue to transform hearts and minds according to the life, teachings, and the Spirit of the same Jesus Christ, contextualized in today’s realities.
Paano natin gagawin at isu-sustain ang lahat ng iyan? How do you do so many things for our internal ministry here… and for external advocacies? How do we do all these things?
Hindi madali at hindi mura ang transforming hearts, lives, and histories. Not then, during the time of early Christians, where they literally had to pay for their lives. (Hopefully, we do not need to do that.) And it is not cheap today.
It takes every beat of energy and time, intelligence and skills, money and people, patience and attention, sacrifice and life itself, the same way Jesus and the early Christians did. The very reason Paul had seven authentic letters to Churches is primarily because of their respective internal and external challenges and struggles. There are so many challenges and problems that surround us and are among us. But as Pope Francis said, echoing the words and ideas of Paul in the Letter to the Philippians: Joy is a mark of a true Christian. Ang kagalakan ay isang marka ng isang tunay na Kristiyano. No matter the situation.
Bakit? And this is the secret of the early Christians. Sa dami ng mga problema, pagsubok, at pang-aapi, the only true and constant joy for them is in God.
There are historical accounts of Christians being burned in the streets of Rome. They were heard singing. Singing praise to God. There are also accounts claiming they were singing while being fed to the lions. Rejoicing. Can you imagine that?
This bewildered, amazed a lot of Roman authorities and the wider Roman public. Bakit mamamatay na in the most terrible way, masaya pa rin at nagre-rejoice ang mga Kristiyano? They wanted that same joy! They wanted the joy, that even in the face of death, you can have that joy. Kaya lumago ang Simbahan noon.
So, sa atin ngayon, bilang Filipino LGBTQIA+ Christians, we can borrow the words of Paul to the Christians of Philippi, and apply it to our situation today.
Let us reclaim our joy in the Lord. We have to be intentional sa celebrations. Kung hindi, mababaliw tayong lahat, and we will fall into fatalism and despair. Let us reclaim joy and rejoicing. Hindi masama at hindi mali ang paminsan-minsan ay magsaya ang community para humugot ng panibagong lakas at pag-asa. Upang magpatuloy. Let us reclaim and rejoicing even in the face of so many troubles.
The Christian joy is not individual. Christian Joy is collective. Communal. Yes, you can do some things na para mapasaya ka as an individual. Mapasaya mo ‘yong sarili mo. But at the same time, meaningful joy ang makabuluhan na galak na nagbibigay lakas at pag-asa is something we can only experience and sustain when we are together.
Look for your tribe. Look for your people. (It doesn’t have to be MCC.) The people where you can share this joy, and create and sustain this joy. Look for them while knowing that they are also looking for you. Because true and meaningful joy is only possible when shared with others, with your chosen family. If your family will not be happy with you. Because true joy is relational, dynamic, interactive.
Magsaya tayo sa ating kabaklaan na nagpupuri at nagpapasalamat sa Panginoon. Amen? Let our queerness be the source of creative joy for the Lord and the Lord manifested and expressed through our queerness here today and with each other.
“Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.”
Certainly we need to be firm. Kailangan nating firm tayo, kailangan nating fierce tayo. Hindi tayo patatalo. Hindi tayo paaapi. Ang bakla, ang lesbian, ang trans ay dapat matapang. We have to be fierce, pero hindi kailangang always and everywhere bitchesa mode mga bakla. Bukod sa Joy in the Lord we have to reclaim our gentleness. Be strong and firm on the outside, be soft in the inside. Reclaim our gentleness.
There is a time and a situation to be fierce and to let out the spirit of mother Elektra. But there is also a time and situation to be a Mother Blanca: gentle, nurturing, patient, calm, especially with each other as LGBTQIA+ sisters, brothers, and siblings. As queer mothers, fathers, and parents.
“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be known to God.”
I don’t think Paul is saying do not worry in the real sense of not worrying if there’s really something to be worried about. But I think what Paul is saying is that with all of our worries and problems we face internally and externally, sa valid and concrete na mga situation, we should bring this up to the Lord. Hindi sinasabing ‘wag kayong mag-worry. Ang sinasabi niya sa lahat ng worries niyo, iakyat niyo sa Panginoon.
I think, both in my personal life and in my years of experience in Open Table MCC. I wouldn’t say hindi ako nag-wo-worry. Nakailang beses na naman akong nag-worry. Pero kalmado rin akong tao eh. I almost always shown a disposition of patience, calmness, and an attitude of prayer, and also an attitude of what can we do with the situation.
If you can solve the problem, why worry. If you cannot solve the problem, why waste time worrying, if there’s no way to solve it at the moment. Do what you can with what you have and in whatever way possible. Buddhist teaching: nothing is permanent. Every situation moves to change.
“And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
If you entrust your worries and problems to God, and it doesn’t mean wala kayong gagawin ha? May gagawin pa rin kayo. If you entrust your worries and problems to God, there is a certain degree or amount of peace and calmness that seems to defy the natural tendency to be angry or agitated. To be depressed and despairing. Because when we make decisions and take actions based on fear, worry, and anger, and usually when we do so, we decide and act in haste. Such decisions and actions are, often times, not the correct ones.
Bring all your concerns to God and find your peace and trusting God’s movement. From the peace that comes from prayer and trust you can calm yourself. Think logically and therefore decide and act more intentionally and carefully.
Lastly our passage today says: “finally, beloved– whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there’s any excellence and if there’s anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Everything begins with the ordering or not ordering of the mind, and the inner conversations that you have in your mind. Everything begins with that. What we think about eventually becomes reality in our bodies and in our lives. What we think about will manifest in our actions and therefore will manifest in our relationships and interactions. And this is not just Paul, this is found in almost every religion and spiritual tradition. Every mystic of every spiritual tradition has spoken about this for thousands of years. What you think, you become. What you think, your world becomes. Therefore Paul encourages the community in Philippi, both individually and as a community. Think about what is true. And honorable. Think about what is just, and pure. What is pleasing and commendable. Think about these things. So that these things may guide you and manifest among you as a community.
Hindi tayo perfectionists. Ang church na ito ay hindi perfectionist. Pero may pagkakaiba ang pagiging perfectionist at ang imperfect church that tries to be the best that it can. Marami na tayong external and internal challenges. The best thing we can do is to be intentional and fully aware. Thinking of the things that will indeed make our community as a safe space for all. Think of, and be intentional of the things that will help us to efficiently and effectively proclaimed God’s love. Think of and be intentional with our participation to the wider work of justice in our country in the world. In whatever little and limited way we can. As a uniquely LGBTQI+ Christian church.
Our passage from the letter of Paul ends with this. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. And the God of peace will be with you. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me or in us.
We have lived the dark ages. We have lived difficult times of this church. Do the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen. So that the God of peace be with us as Open Table MCC.
The letters of Paul are not intentionally for each of us. But indeed, with careful interpretation, we can find resonance and parallels. We can borrow his words. And hopefully in those words the spirit of God that spoke to them and to Paul can and will also speak to us today in the many challenges we have. As Filipinos, as LGBTQIA+, as straight allies, as students.
From Joseph to the Church in Annapolis, whom I love and long for: Rejoice in the Lord always. Uulitin ko, magalak at magsaya kayo sa panginoon. Do not worry. Wag kayong mataranta mga accla. But in everything, by prayer and supplication, may kasamang pagpapasalamat. Sa mga maliliit nating mga wins. Ipagkatiwala n’yo ang inyong mga itanong, agam-agam, takot, at mga pangangailangan sa mapagmahal nating diyos. At dahil doon, nawa magsikalma kayong lahat. Kumalma kayo mga beks, the peace of God that is with you, and that other Christians will never understand, guard your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ. At sa puno’t dulo ng lahat ng ito at sa mga nakakalokang mga bagay at kaganapan sa ating paligid at sa simbahang ito. Iyong paniigin sa inyong mga isip at diwa ang mga bagay na totoo at marangal. Mga bagay na dalisay. Mga bagay na kasiya-siya, mga bagay na pakak at pasok sa banga, mga ate. Lahat ng mga bagay na mahusay, matalino, maganda at magaling. Lahat ng mga bagay na worth the title and the crown. Isipin n’yo at isabuhay ang mga bagay na ito. Push lang ng push sa mga bagay na inyong na-learn at na-receive. Mga bagay na inyong na-sight at na-marites sa akin, and the God of Peace ay sumainyong lahat, mga accla.