January 11, 2017
“Building Up of Itself in Love”
Bishop Ariel Cornelio P. Santos
This early in the year, I would like us to be reminded of our direction and theme for the year: Building Up Itself in Love. This phrase comes from Ephesians 4:11 – 16, “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the grown of the body for the building up of itself in love.”
Paraphrasing, “Equipping of the saints for the work of service until we all attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him from whom the whole body causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”
I want to bring out three points to ponder from this portion of Ephesians. One: saints do the work of service. We are saints. We, not just the Bishop, not just the Priests, not just the Deacons, does the work of service. We all are the saints and we do the work of service. We are saints by calling. If we are baptized, we are a saint. We are called by God to do mission work. The mission is the work of service, the work of ministry.
Are we involved in the work of ministry? Every one of us should be involved. We, the saints, do the work of ministry. Not everyone has the role; not everyone has the same work. The leadership equips the saints. This is their part; their ministry. Their ministry of equipping the saints is preparing the people for ministry as well. The equipping of the saints is until we all attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God.
Point number two: ministry is the way to grow in unity and in the knowledge of the Son of God. We do the work of service, and we don’t stop until we attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God in fullness. The word “until” means we go on doing the work of ministry. We cannot stand back and do nothing, pointing the finger and saying, “You are doing it wrong. You are not attaining unity because of this and that.” We cannot say this and not be involved in ministry and evaluate the situation. The way to grow in unity and in the knowledge of the Son of God in fullness is that we all do the work of service and ministry. All is each one of us doing the ministry.
Point number three: each one having the knowledge of the Son of God, then, the whole body grows and builds itself in love. What is the requirement? It is each one having a knowledge of the Son of God. Each one – no exception. We have our mission: each one of us is to know God and each one of us is to make Him known. Then, the whole body grows and builds itself up in love.
Brothers, sisters, Cathedral of the King – it is time to build. I am not just talking about a physical building. I believe that God coincided the acquisition of the property and the start of the building of the physical building with what is going on in the spiritual realm. It is no accident that the timing is now because God is teaching us something. God is using a physical construction of a building to teach us how to build His real building, the planting of the Lord in you and I, in the Cathedral of the King.
It is time to build and hopefully, having grown, now, we don’t labor in vain. Now, we don’t earn or produce an output and put our earnings into pockets with holes. We used to do this. We were obedient, but we were working in vain. I believe that our labor will be blessed and fruitful and peaceful. It is like renting something. I can only speak for the Church. We have rented for decades. Where is the money we spent on rent? It is in the pockets of the landlord. It is the past and it is no use crying over spilled milk, but I believe that from now on, what we produce as an output, what we offer to God will not be put in pockets with holes. It will go to the building of God.
I am talking about the physical building, but more so, of God’s planting where you and I are involved in this. From now on, I believe that we will build and see not just the physical building rise, but the building up of the body of Christ. This is if we have learned our lesson and we do it right. We do it right by building up itself in love. We may have done things before out of several different motives, but building will rise if we build in love. I believe that the reason for our history is so that we will learn to build in the right way – in love, and God has this perfect love.
Bishop Elmer Belmonte shared a prophecy for the Church: God wants us to have rest starting this year. God wants us to enter His rest. Our labors will be fruitful. Rest is not idleness, doing nothing, but it is working and not being anxious. We are working with joy. In the Parable of the Talents, the reward that the master gave to the faithful servants is entering into the joy of the master. The rest was more responsibility and more work, but it is not with more stress or anxiety, but fruitful labor. It is not a painful labor or vain labor, but fruitful labor which brings joy.
We are to build ourselves in love. The days of destroying one another are over. The days of pulling each other down are over. The first thing that the Patriarch emailed to me when he got back home from his trip here in Manila was, “The crisis is over.” I encourage you now: choose life; choose love; reject hate. Is this easier said? No, but we can choose. See the Christ in your brother and your sister. Turn a blind eye to the devil and see the Jesus in them because Jesus is at work in them. Don’t look at the imperfection in a brother or sister. Jesus is still working on them.
Many of us, those who have been in the Church in the late 80’s, have been attracted to this utopian community. It looked like heaven where you walk in this community, you see a song leader that looked and sounded like an angel. All was just perfect, and it was like heaven on earth. Somebody speaks like they had the voice of God. On a Sunday, you started counting the days until it is Sunday again so that you could be in heaven again. Then, one day in the Garden of Eden, the fall happens and you said, “It is not such a perfect world after all. They are human after all.” It is either you can let your dreams shatter or accept the fact that we are still in the process of being perfected. We still make mistakes, but the good news is that after discovering reality, we accept it. Love is accepting the yet imperfect and still committing to love the imperfections.
Let me address the wrong idea of what salvation is. Do you believe that God forgives our sins? Do you believe that Jesus paid the debt of our sins? If God is a forgiving God, then why would Jesus have to pay a debt on our behalf? Forgiveness is contrary to repayment. If a person owes me a big amount, then he comes to me and says, “Forgive me, I can’t pay. I don’t have that kind of money to pay you. I know that I spent it, but I don’t know how to get it back. There is no way that I can pay you.” I would say, “Okay, I forgive you, but I need to be paid.” Is this forgiveness? If I am paid, maybe it is called justice for me. It is more questionable if I say, “Okay, I am paid, but he still needs to be punished.” The person says, “I am too frail to be punished, and it may kill me.” Somebody volunteers to be punished for him. What happens is I get paid, that somebody gets punished, so where do we put forgiveness in this scenario? Forgiveness is nowhere here. Forgiveness means that one doesn’t have to pay or to be punished.
Justice is not forgiveness, but I am not saying that it is wrong. If justice is served, it doesn’t involve forgiveness. If I bid time for stealing money, and I go to jail for five years and I bid time for five years, and I still could not pay the person from whom I stole from, where is justice for him? I may have been punished, justice may have been meted out to me, but does he get his justice? No, he is still the victim. Justice for him is getting his money back, but if he gets his money back, and he still want me punished, we may both have been meted justice, but where is forgiveness? This doesn’t make sense for me. You couldn’t have both forgiveness and repayment. You either have one or the other.
I don’t know how we can say that Jesus paid it all and at the same time, God forgives. Some teach that God’s wrath was poured out on His Son because God’s wrath was upon us because here He was, creating a perfect Garden of Eden where everything was very good, and then man sinned. Before he sinned, God told him, “Don’t eat of that one tree because the day you eat of it, you will die.”
It is like a father who says to his child, “Don’t play with that plastic bag. Don’t put it over your head because it might kill you.” The child does it anyway. Thankfully, it did not kill him. How do you think the father would react? Do you think the father would say, “I told you not to put it over your head. It did not kill you, but I said that you would die. The bag did not kill you, I will because you have to die because you sinned. I am mad at you.” The father would be thankful that the son did not die, but is it not a threat from God when He said, “Don’t eat of the fruit.” It was a warning. It was for the sake of His children.
Think of sin as a disease or sickness. God said to Adam to not eat of the fruit of that one tree because it will make him sick. It is poison. Adam still does so he got sick. It may not have killed it instantly, but he is poisoned and that poison may someday develop in something deadly in him and it may kill him. Sin, when it is full grown, gives birth to death. You don’t want HIV because one day, HIV will become Aids in its full blown stage and Aids will kill you.
We who are on this side of the fall are not born in God’s wrath. We simply are born sick, with a disease. God realizes that man is helpless, and he cannot cure himself and he is dying; and so, He has to do something about it because a man can’t. He sends Jesus, His Son, who is healthy and He says, “I will take your sickness upon Me. I will take away your sin.” Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world from man and He takes it upon Himself. This sickness killed Jesus, but He is the Lord of life and death upon encounter with Him also died.
Jesus took away our sins and He killed death. It is not because God is angry at us, and His wrath was transferred from Him to His Son. Some would teach that God’s anger was poured on Jesus on the cross. No, it is not God angry at us and Jesus appeased His anger on our behalf. God the Father and God the Son are One. They are both love. It was God’s initiative to send Jesus, His Son. God is not mad at us. God so loved the world that He sent His Son. This is His love – seeing the imperfect, seeing the sinful, and yet, embracing them. In fact, He was taking the blow on their behalf. This is what love is. God took our disease upon Himself and it killed Him. He would rather die than we dying. He gave His life for the life of the world.
We say, “If Jesus took our sickness, why are we still dying?” We may still be sick, but each of us, because Jesus is in us, is getting better. This is because Jesus overcame death and He is the cure for the poisonous sickness that we have. Every time we partake of the Eucharist, we are being healed. Every time we hear of His Word, and we meditate on it and apply it, we are being healed. We are being perfected, but we are in the process. We are not yet perfect and this is the reality I would like for us to accept. We are on our way to perfection because God is with us.
Let us understand. Don’t be disenchanted. Don’t be disappointed because this perfect community that you saw at first, you realized that it is not so perfect after all because it is still on its way. In building up each other, love is accepting each one in the state they are. It is not condoning their weakness, but accepting as they are just like how the father of the prodigal son kissed him. The father kissed his son profusely who smelled. It is not because he loves the smell of pigs, but because he accepted his son just as he was.
A drug addict asked a pastor, “Do I have to quit smoking marijuana before God accepts me? The pastor said, “No, you don’t understand.” The man said, “I am a junkie. I am a drug addict. Do I need to clean myself up first before God receives and loves me? The pastor said, “No.” The man continued, “You don’t understand.” He took out a stick of marijuana and asked, “Do I need to quit smoking this stick before God can love me?” For the third time the pastor said, “No!” The drug addict, “I don’t think I understand.”
Don’t misunderstand the answer of the pastor that is it okay to continue. The question was, “Do I need to clean up myself before God accepts me?” God accepts us the way we are. He doesn’t want us to stay in our condition, but He would accept us right where we are and we will start working on it.
May we have this heart too. We are to accept each other as they are. When the religious leaders brought the woman caught in the act of adultery, Jesus didn’t say, “I don’t condemn you. I accept you. I don’t judge you. Go back to prostitution.” Jesus said, “Sin no more, but I accept you nonetheless.” This is commitment. This is love.
Attached to accepting one another is to work with one another and help each other in our weaknesses. Will we commit to this? Christ being over these doesn’t mean that we are now perfect. I want to think that it now means that we have learned from our experiences, grown in love because then we can start building productively. There is this statement, “A smooth sea never made skilled sailors.” We went through rough seas, but that was meant to make us skillful, to season us.
I would like to share again the story of a little boy who saw a caterpillar struggling out of its cocoon. The boy had pity on the caterpillar so he thought of helping it by getting it out of its cocoon. The boy cuts the cocoon to release the caterpillar, but in so doing, the caterpillar’s wings did not fully develop. A scientist explained it that the process of the caterpillar struggling out of its cocoon secretes certain fluids in its body which are needed to develop its wings. Actually, the boy was not merciful but cruel because he did not allow the caterpillar to go through the struggle which was needed for its growth for it to soar high and reach higher heights.
Our experiences are like caterpillars struggling out of its cocoon. They are meant to make us stronger and for us to develop something in us that we would need to soar above circumstances and situations which before we could not overcome. This is so that we will be able to build in love.
We sing this song in Epiphany, “God in Man Made Manifest” where it says, “Manifest in making whole Palsied limbs and fainting soul…Manifest in gracious will,
Ever bringing good from ill.” In a gospel story, Jesus went to Peter’s house and He healed Peter’s in-law. The whole city came to Him and He healed them all. But He told His disciples the day after, “I need to go to these other cities where there are ills because I am to bring good to ill. I am to cause everything to turn to good.”
This is Jesus’ mission and this is what we are called to participate in. We look for something to correct. We look for something ugly that we could make beautiful. We look for a problem that can be solved. We look for conflict so that we could bring peace to it. We are looking for hopelessness so that we can bring the hope of God. We look for hatred so that we can bring God’s love.
As St. Francis said, “Where there is injury, let us bring pardon. Where there is hopelessness, let us bring hope. Where there is hate, let us bring love.” It’s not seeking for ourselves, but seeking to give to others. This is love and this is how we build. From now on, let us be slow in taking offense, but quick in hearing and trying to understand. In understanding, let us not forget that our brothers and our sisters, just like us, are yet imperfect, but they are being perfected.
“Equipping the saints” in other translations is “perfecting the saints.” Jesus, in Epiphany, manifested Himself to the world. He manifested Himself in the fullness of time. The fullness of time was when it was dark, and Jesus let His light shine. Now, we are called to also manifest our being sons of God, children of God.
“Arise, shine, for the your light has come. The glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” When we are able to do this, we are ready to start building in love because the time is now! It is time to build in love and we are to build ourselves in love because this is the way it has always been in the kingdom of our God.