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Of Revolutionaries and Prophets, a graduation message

I bring you greetings from Union Theological Seminary in Dasmarinas, Cavite. Let me just tell you a few things about Union. Union is 105 years old and was birthed by American Protestant missionaries. It is called union because it is the child of Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Disciples of Christ and Methodist traditions. In 1954, the Board of Trustees of Union elected the first Filipino president of the seminary, Benjamin I. Guansing. In the 1970s, the faculty was Filipinized and all the American missionary faculty were sent home. Guansing called UTS “the School of the Prophets.” He went on to purchase 97 hectares of land in Cavite, the home of heroes and revolutionaries. Last year, we celebrated our Jubilee in Cavite.

I have always taken pride in saying that UTS is the “School of the Prophets.” But a few days earlier, I realized that there is only one thing better than that. The better thing is to be called “the School of Revolutionaries.” And that is what you have here at Aglipay Central Theological Seminary. ACTS-IFI, in my mind right now, is the “the School of Revolutionaries.”

I cannot begin to tell you how honored I am to be in your presence today. I have studied your history as the first national church in the Philippines having proclaimed your separation from the Roman Catholic Church in 1902. We all know that it was an act of resistance against Spanish missionaries who mistreated Filipino priests and the government that executed our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal. I wish my church had that history. I am an ordained deacon of the United Methodist Church and, after over a hundred years in the Philippines, we are still under the American Church. Our bishops still receive dollars while many churches in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao are not able to fulfill the standard salary for pastors. This is what you have fought against in 1902. Inequality and colonization. And I know it has not and is not easy. You have triumphed a long time ago and birthed the Philippine Independent Church. We are still struggling to be that.

As I was working on my message for you today, I was intrigued by the titles given to your leaders. Particularly the title “Supreme” bishop. My friends and I laughed much about that. We talked about Pizza Hut’s super supreme pizza, Lucky Me Supreme Noodles, and the breakthrough black women singing group led by Diana Ross called “the Supremes.” Our discussion went on a more serious note when we talked about how the leader of the Katipunan, Andres Bonifacio, was called “Supremo” and how the babaylans, female priestesses, in some areas, then and now, are called “Suprema.” I can truly say now that there is not a better title for your bishop than “Supremo,” a title given to those who embody the aspirations and struggles of the Filipino masses. I often mention in my sermons an IFI Supremo by the name of Alberto Ramento whom I have heard several times say, “Go, serve God by serving the people.”

I have already talked about prophets, revolutionaries and supremos, but it is because I am am speaking to the graduating students and the community of ACTS-IFI. Even prophets, revolutionaries and supremos did not imagine they would be proclaimed as such. They were ordinary people not very different from our seminarians who, today, come to the end of another journey.

The theme of your graduation is from 1 Corinthians 7:17, which reads, “…let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you.” At first glance, it seems a very wise and simple message. However, if you read the succeeding verses and the remaining chapter, you will find that it talks about being circumcised and not being circumcised, being free and being a slave, remaining a virgin, staying unmarried or married, about having strong passions and about having self-control, about remarrying after a husband has died and remaining a widow. The text can be interpreted in at least two ways: First, protect the status quo and remain wherever you are because the Lord placed you there. Second, you can do whatever you want because whatever you want is the Lord’s will for you. Furthermore, it semed like Paul was not interested in the passions and partnerships of people which are vital for people to live meaningful and whole lives. I must tell you, I was a bit confused about what Paul really wanted to say to the people of Corinth. But I do know that church tradition interprets this as Paul’s theology of inclusiveness where everyone can come to serve God. Today, I trust that no one among you still consider your singleness, virginity, circumcision and these other social constructions as a standard for serving God. I believe there is a more relevant measurement or a higher calling for you who graduate today.

Contrary to what the text says, partnership and passion are vital elements that will determine the journey ahead. Partnership and passion are what makes priests. Better yet, partnership and passion is what nurtures prophets, revolutionaries and supremos.

First, partnership. When I talk about partnership, I am not talking about the kind where we talk about love, courtship and marriage. Pang-highschool lang yon. Bachelor of Theology na kayo e. A little bit of history. Let me go back to pre-colonial Philippines. Before the Spanish priests came, our natives had their own spirituality with their own rituals and value system. The babaylan, female native priestesses, were the cultural and spiritual leaders. They were midwives and healers, matchmakers and the one who solemnized unions, initiators of planting and harvest rituals, the diviners on whether they should go to war or make peace, the celebrator of community and group rituals, the one who connected the people and nature, with the Divine. More importantly, the babaylan, a female, had equal partnership with the male leaders. The panday was the economic leader and the datu was the political leader. The babaylan, the datu and the panday were equal partners. It was a partnership of males and females. It was a partnership of equals.

The last four statements are in the past tense. If we study our history, we will find that our native spirituality was replaced with Spanish catholicism. Consequently, the babaylan was replaced by the male Spanish priest. The most respected female leader in the community became a victim of persecution and was diminished in stature. In some provinces, the babaylans were demonized and depicted as manananggals or blood-sucking monsters. When the Philippine Independent Church was birthed in 1902, the priesthood was all male. The babaylans were not able to reclaim their spiritual leadership. Today, what is the status of female priests in the Philippine Independent Church? My question is not just about gender. It is also about class, race, age and all kinds of segregations and classifications that define some as the ‘center’ and the ‘first’ and diminish others as secondary or of less importance. The very root of domination is patriarchy, a legal, economic, political and cultural system that justifies the domination of the male head over the other members of the household: wives, concubines, children and slaves. And we can never truly promote a culture of partnership when we perpetuate a culture of patriarchy and domination.

Dear graduates, this is first principle I wish to share with you today – Partnership. As you go forward, seek to promote and live-out the principle of partnership in your personal relationships, in your congregations and communities. Riane Eisler, an educator and a sociologist, characterized two models very much evident in our families, churches and societies – the partnership model and the dominator model. The dominator model is the one that we seek to transform. A dominator system has –
1. Authoritarian structure with hierarchies of domination based on control and imposition;
2. Gives more importance to males over females;
3. Institutionalizes and jusifies the use of fear, violence and abuse;
4. Promotes masculine traits and activities, such as control and conquest of people and nature;
5. Promotes myths and stories honoring and sacralizing domination

These characteristics are evident in our society where there are human rights violations, extreme poverty and violence against women and children. It is also evident in our churches when males decide for the life and ministry of the church while women, youth and children’s voices and participation are kept at a minimum. It also very much in our families where women endure physical and emotional abuse, or are made to sacrifice their dreams and their very lives in the name of marriage and family. We speak of these not because I want us all to be rid of all structures in family, church and government. We speak of these because there is a better way. The way of partnership. The Partnership Model also has 5 characteristics. It has –
Egalitarian structures with hierarchies of actualization (based on power to and power with)‏;
Equal valuing of males and females;
Institutionalization of mutual honoring, respect and peaceful conflict resolution;
Valuing stereotypically “feminine” traits and activities, such as empathy, caring, nurturing;
Myths and stories sacralizing partnership

In our pre-colonial history, the babaylan stood shoulder to shoulder with the panday and the datu. We had a suprema along with the supremo. Partnership is possible. Partnership is a concrete expression of love and justice. And it is in partnership that we embody what it means to be created in the image of God and genuinely participate in the building of the kingdom of God or the reign of God.

The second element I feel is vital in pursuit of our wholeness as individuals and as a nation is passion.

In Mark 11: 15-19, Jesus went to the temple and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. The people were not allowed to offer the doves domesticated from their own farms and the coins normally used as currency. People were required to buy doves from the temple and to have their money changed before they can bring their sacrifices and offerings. He expressed anger and rejection for the temple leaders who wanted to make profit from the most ordinary people who came to worship God. Jesus was angry because he had a passion against corruption and greed.

In Mark 6: 30-44, Jesus was followed by a great crowd and he felt compassion for the people because they were like sheep without a shepherd, even when he wanted to have a moment for himself to eat and rest. When he saw them hungry, the disciples wanted to send them away but he said to the disciples, “Give them food.” He then asks how much food there was from the crowd. He takes them and breaks them, and shares them to all untill all were full and there was still much left. Jesus made sure that everyone hungry was full because he had a passion for justice.

In John 8, a woman who was allegedly caught in adultery was made to stand before Jesus and a group of people so that she might be stoned to death according to the Law. But Jesus said to them, if there is anyone among you who has committed no sin, cast the first stone. But no one did. Jesus then said to the woman, I do not condemn you but go and sin no more. Jesus was merciful and protected the woman because he had a passion for defending life and dignity.

Jesus lived his life with a passion for those who need God the most. And Jesus was killed because he lived his life with passion for for those who need God the most. Whenever we see children hungry and dirty; send another mother or father, sister or brother, to work like a slave in another country; see farmers asking for land to till; hear stories of women, indigenous peoples and homosexuals being marginalized and abused – we must know that the work of God and the Christ we follow is not finished. There is work to be done and we must continue it. We must imitate the passion of Christ.

In the movie “the Last Temptation of Christ,” when Jesus was crucified and was suffering, a girl came to the foot of the cross and said, “You have suffered enough, Jesus. God does not want you to be in pain. If you wish it, you can come down from the cross and leave all this pain and suffering behind.” And so Jesus comes down from the cross. He marries and fathers several children. He lives a relaxed existence. There was even a scene where Jesus was sitted under a coconut tree, drunk and bored. Jesus had no passion. He got old and at his deathbed, Jerusalem was burning and under siege. At this point in the movie, the disciples come into his room and expressed love for the messiah. They said, “We have been looking for you for a long time, Master. Where did you go?” But Judas has different tone. He says angrily to Jesus, “Traitor! You said you will die for our people.You abandoned us in our struggle for freedom. Look at you now, your death will mean nothing!” Jesus pointed to the young girl saying, “She said God does not want me to suffer.” To which Judas replied, “She is the devil!” And Jesus realized that he had been fooled and he had turned his back on his people and God. In the next scene, Jesus crawls to a hill and calls out to God, “Let me be your son again! Forgive me for turning my back on what you have called me to do.” Then, Jesus snaps out from the dream and finds himself crucified on the cross. His last words were, “It is finished.”

In the movie, this was Jesus’s greatest and last temptation – to seek the good and comfortable life instead of living his life passionately so that others may live. This is our temptation, too. We must serve God by serving the people with the same passion that Jesus did.

So I say to you, dear graduates, seek life-affirming partnerships for an egalitarian society and serve God and the people with the same passion of the Christ we follow. So that each of you may “lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you” – to be priests and prophets, revolutionaries and supremos.

Congratulations Aglipay Central Theological Seminary, “the School of Revolutionaries” for another graduation celebration! Congratulations to all our graduates, their families, loved ones and friends!

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2 thoughts on “Of Revolutionaries and Prophets, a graduation message”

  1. I wish I had delivered this sermon myself. You have set the Gospel as the bomb that shatters all forms of human enslavement, and exposed that the very basis of all these is human pride, hypocrisy and greed. The origin of all sinning is the desire to be perfectly and absolutely secure in one’s own being, so “to be on one’s own,” a perfectly legitimate desire of every human being is, ironically the seat of the most horrendous kind of sinning. Hence, it is not easy to extirpate it from human beings, who are under the divine mandate of taking care of themselves for which they are commanded “to subdue the earth.” The supreme value of American democracy is, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” which as you can see is merely a variant of the desire to be on one’s own. And for the American people, being the world’s premier superpower since the end of WWII, it is not easy to balance the legitimate claims of being on one’s own, on the one hand, and advancing one’s own interests tp the detriment of others, on the other.

    You offer a beautiful concluding illustration by citing a summary of the movie, “The Last Temptation of Christ,” where even the Christ is confronted by the either-or contained in the dynamics of doing what is good and proper that has the possibility of being sucked into the turbulence of sinning. The fact is, Jesus did not just see it as a vision, he actually lived through it. It is one of the most powerful sermon conclusions I have read, and how I wish I had heard it! You may already be aware of another story woven around Jesus’ crucifixion told by Fyodor Doesteovsky in his novel, Brothers Karamasov. It is told in one long chapter, The Grand Inquisitor, that presents a powerful dialogue between the Christ and the Inquisitor that essentially defines the essence of the Gospel. In case, you are not familiar with it, I would suggest that you and reflect on it. It may be more powerful than the message given by the Last Temptation of Christ.

    Thank you for this sermon. If I were given the chance, I would deliver it myself, of course, with the necessary acknowledgment to the one who inspired it.

    1. ‘The Last Temptation….” is one of my favorite movies. I guess because Jesus is so human there. I appreciate how a hero or a redeemer need not be perfect. (at the beginning of the movie, he is a carpenter who makes crosses for crucifixions.) But is one who takes sides and makes life and death decisions.

      I love how his love and desire for Magdalene are expressed in the movie. For me, a sexual and loving Jesus validates our sexuality. Add to that the idea that he loves a woman who is not a virgin and is a prostitute. (although nowhere in the text does it say that Mary was a prostitute.)

      Well, thank you so much for the continuing conversation. Although I admit that I feel very intimidated at times. You are Levi Oracion. Most of all, I am just happy to read of your affirmations and encouragement to continue writing.

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