Philippines Virtual Pilgrimage Reflection: Celebrating the Spirit of Love and Hope as One Family Moving Together in Discipleship and Stewardship of God’s Common Home

Philippines Virtual Pilgrimage Reflection: Celebrating the Spirit of Love and Hope as One Family Moving Together in Discipleship and Stewardship of God’s Common Home

From the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, published Feb. 13, 2022

“Nothing can separate us from the love of God.” (Romans 8: 38-39) I remember this scripture passage in the keynote presentation of Rev. Derek Duncan, Area Executive for Asia and the Pacific of the Global Ministries of UCC-USA and Christian Church Disciples during the Centennial Celebration of Silliman University Divinity School in August 2021. In the past, the Global Ministries program sends people from USA to the Philippines to exchange experiences with our church leaders, members and partner institutions.  In this time of COVID-19, Rev. Duncan talked about holding a Virtual Pilgrimage to the Philippines. This plan is now realized from February 1-10, 2022.  There were six sessions on the theme, “The Fruit of Justice is Rooted in Faith.” Each day there is a particular topic.  Day 1 is Orientation Session; Day 2 is  about the faith and life of the church: UCCP National Ministries and COVID Response; Day 3 is about theological education and partner seminaries, Filipino Theology and Student Panel; Day 4 is an introduction to Filipino Culture, Cultural Experience, Cooking Demonstration and Fellowship; Day 5 is about Mindanao and Context of Cultural and Political Conflict – Voices of Haran CenterVoices, NCCP, ECUVoice, ICHRP Public Witness; and Day 6 is Debriefing Session.

UCCP Cosmopolitan Church and UCCP Paradahan who received support from the Global Ministries were invited to participate in the Introduction to Filipino Culture.  People from the USA and our own church members (from UCCP Cosmopolitan Church: Elder Gloria Saluberes, Sister Alice Mata, LM Erlinda N. Senturias and the Ministerial Team and from UCCP Paradahan: Amie Bedrijo, Mariel A. Villacortes, Jaquiline Ordinario Galvez) cooked adobos in their respective places, engaged in conversation about adobo and other food that are uniquely Filipino. The conversation centered on access to food as an issue of faith and justice by Filipinos and praying together in support of one another. One of those present was a Filipino American, Ai Calalo from Portland, Oregon and a member of the Foundation for Philippine Progress, Inc. She made a powerpoint presentation drawing from her desire for all Filipinos to have access to their land and basic needs. This organization works on the principle that: “Every Filipino deserves a full life.”   The Foundation is dedicated to empower and engage communities in programs and projects in the Philippines. Melva Victorino shared the growing of rice in Terraces built by indigenous peoples in the Cordillera Region.

Rev. Derek Duncan asked us about our church programs and we cited the Bible Distribution and Feeding Program for Street Dwellers in Malate and Ermita Area by the Board of Evangelism and Mission of UCCP Cosmopolitan Church.  We also shared SINAG- A Virtual Christmas Concert, which was supported by the Global Ministries. The virtual concert provided not only virtual music from UCCP Cosmopolitan Church and Manila Concert Choir but also very moving testimonies of five people who went through the experience of COVID-19. Despite all the challenges, there is a ray of hope.  UCCP Paradahan has a community pantry program program in partnership with Calvary Presbyterian Church, Wilmington, Los Angeles through the Senior Pastor, Rev. Emmanuel Orendain. But LM Erlinda N. Senturias added that it is not enough to do palliative solutions. We need to analyze the social structures that bring about health and food crises and poverty of the people.  Corruption needs to be addressed and Christian Education and Nurture of the church people that deals with developing moral values consistent with our faith and understanding how blessings and woes are experienced by our communities.

Being part of the virtual pilgrimage made us realize that we belong to ONE FAMILY OF GOD, a bigger community of faith. The simple sharing of how we cook adobo and talk about food made us realize that discipleship and stewardship of God’s common home are very important in our Christian life. This includes sharing actual experiences of our faith and our struggles for justice.

In the lectionary for Sunday, February 13, Jesus chose his twelve disciples whom he named as apostles. A disciple is a student or learner while an apostle is a messenger or one who is sent. Apostles were primarily people who had met and followed Jesus during his life and were called by him to spread the gospel. Apostle Paul, however was not an original follower of Jesus but he was called and sent by our Lord Jesus Christ to do mission to the Gentiles not only in Jerusalem and contiguous areas such as Damascus but also in Rome and several places in Greece. The gospel of Matthew ends with  the Great Commission to do God’s mission.

The Year 2022 ushered us with a call to journey together with our Lord Jesus Christ towards bringing about the acceptable year of the Lord, the year of the Jubilee, which I elucidated in my sermon of 30 January, based on Luke 4: 19-30. In what direction should we as one Family of God move together? February as Membership Renewal Month is an opportune time to examine our ways. We are called to discipleship, which means to learn more about Christ, to lead a life of prayer and Bible Study, to be active in our church community and in our community-at-large and to trust enough to leave things that are not important in bringing about the Kingdom of God.

This election year we will be faced with many choices that can help lay the foundation for transformation in our society.  But it comes with much prayer and connection with God as Jesus himself spent long hours of prayer even as he served the needs of the people who came for healing and learning more about his teachings and preaching about the way towards the fullness of life.

Our faith is anchored on the Risen Christ. As Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth,“Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.”  We are also called to be good stewards of God’s common home (oikos) for we do not live for ourselves alone. We are in the midst of God’s creation and we can learn from Creation as God is also revealed as the owner of the whole universe and all that we are and have. 

Celebrating the Spirit of love and hope as one family means moving together in discipleship and stewardship of God’s common home or oikos. It is about nurturing our spiritual lives and not just feeding ourselves with good food. Prophet Jeremiah and the book of Psalm 1 reminds us to put our trust in God just like a “tree planted by water, sending out roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit in its season.”

Indeed, we have experienced periods of droughts, floods, diseases like COVID and other illnesses, joblessness, loss of homes for those hit by typhoon Odette, uncertainties, depressions and anxieties and many other challenges in our lives.  Our faith and the Spirit of Love and Hope that we find in Christ make us acknowledge that God is our Refuge and Strength, our SINAG – the ray of light that gives us endless possibilities for as the psalmist sang,  “the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”

Following and trusting our Lord brings blessings when we obey the ethical principle of Jesus.  There are two versions of the beatitude. In Luke, we read the  sermon on the plain, a shortened version from the sermon on the mount in the gospel of Matthew:  “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.  “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. (Luke 6: 21-23)

But Jesus also gave this warning:  “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.  “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:24-26)

The Spirit of Love and Hope as one Family depends on the choices we make daily. When we follow Christ we become salt and light and we experience the power that comes from God.  May we be empowered to choose the way that brings blessings to our lives and not those that would lead us to experience woes or perdition. God calls us to fullness of life where faith, justice and ethical principles meet together. We are called to lead lives that struggles to bring the Kingdom of God even in the here and now.  The rest of the blessings will follow until we are resurrected with Christ in the end. Come, Sisters and Brothers, let us celebrate the Spirit of Love and Hope.