By Prof. Cleonico Y. Fontelo, Vice President for Finance and Administration

(Sermon delivered at the Silliman University Church on June 23, 2013.)

 Text: Genesis 15:1

My Faith tells me that we are Protected.  Yes, protected by God Almighty and this protection is a fift of faith.

A story was told about a boy and his father. One fine early morning, they went out fishing.  It was a plan that took months to realize. It was postponed several times. The boy’s excitement was piling up, and so was his initial disappointment.

Their boat stayed in the middle of the ocean, with the waves swaying it to the sides. Together, they witnessed the sunrise, felt the cold breeze on their faces, and enjoyed the utter serenity of the skies and the reflection on the silky sea.

The boy asked: “Dad, can we do this often?”

“Sure, Son!” the father replied.

The father then recalled those times when he and his father would fish together early in the morning every weekend. He spoke of the abundance of the sea, the freshness of the air, and the simplicity of life.

“It’s great that you are enjoying this time with me, Son,” the father said.

The boy asked again: “Dad, will I someday lose the chance to enjoy everything that I am seeing now with you?  Can I do the same thing when I become a father like you and Lolo?”

These questions from a little boy leads us to reflect on our ability to make real and protect the kind of life that we all want for our children, that we all want for ourselves. Times have changed, indeed, that even the simplest of things in life have become the most expensive to possess and to enjoy.

Genesis Chapter 15 Verse 1 reminds us: “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying: ‘Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.’”

We ponder on this in great faith. The Lord will forever be with us, keeping his arms around us to shield us from the evils that lurk. But as He embraces us, ours is the choice to embrace Him back. Ours is the choice to shield ourselves from threats to our self, to our family, to others, and to the greater community. Ours is the choice to mirror how much of an instrument we are in the pursuit of a Christian ministry.

Oftentimes when we talk of protection, our minds wander into the concept of defense. It is about us bracing for a calamity, for a financial breakdown, for destruction, for hurt, for pain. It is a picture of us as the oppressed or the victim. Hardly does the word protection, in relation to ourselves, consider us as the perpetrator. We rarely hand down a “guilty” verdict on ourselves.

The boy in the story depicts that innate curiosity within us to uncover to what extent we can protect ourselves from our own actions. His were innocent questions that manifested misgivings about how much of what he had at that point he could continue to enjoy and pass on to the generation succeeding him.

Being protected, nowadays, is much a decision that we have to make.  Let us look around us and see for ourselves what we have done so far to ensure our safety. Paradoxically, our greatest enemy is ourselves.

It has been observed that sufferings and testing happen even to Christians.  Why?  St. Peter has this to say (I Peter 1:6-8).”  This is no accident – it happens to prove your faith, to see if this is genuine, for even gold must be purified.  A child of God shares the sufferings and trials that are common to mankind.  It is when one’s faith is tested that it is deepened and strengthened.”  The prophet Malachi (Malachi 3:3) says “The Lord shall purify men and purge them as gold and silver.”

However there is a respite.  Addressing His followers, as recorded in Matt: 11:28, the Lord says “Come, all of you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”

This is protection as a gift of faith.

We need to accept that we are the world that we live in. From the criminalities that abound, the question of ethics and morality, the issues of climate change and rapid environmental degradation – they and many more reflect the extent to which we manage ourselves and create a nurturing community. How we make use of what we are, blessed with natural resource, family time, and food and shelter is a continuing narration of the story of creation.

Protection is a decision, rather than a reaction. I say this as we need to come to terms with ourselves in understanding that we are equally oppressors as we are victims; that we are equally the cause of the problem as we hold the solution; that we are very much the antagonist as we are the protagonist.

When we watch the news on TV about houses and lives being lost to flash floods, we lash rage at illegal logging activities and the abject ineffectiveness of government agencies to keep the residents safe. But only when we actually experience or witness these ravages are we able to reflect on how much we can protect ourselves. Hardly do we internalize our own involvement in the situation. Rarely do we ask ourselves: “What have I done?”

When typhoon Sendong hit us in December 2011, some of us may have guessed what could have caused. We knew what could have prevented it. So after it happened, coastal and river clean-ups were made here and there. Our drainage system was improved and the canals were cleared of all the trash that clogged them up. Months after, what happened? It was business as usual for us. We were back to our old practice.

After the magnitude 6.9 earthquake in February 2012, we realized more the value of family. Phone lines were busy. Facebook was flooded with posts inquiring about the whereabouts and the safety of loved ones and friends. And families were reunited. Perhaps months earlier, before the earthquake, what transpired was the complete opposite — Each was minding his or her own business, with communication lines left open only for emergency.   Hardly any call of concern for others.

Oftentimes we neglect that which is important when they are still visible and accessible to us. It is only when we start losing them, or when we start pondering on the thought of separation, that we become alarmed and we start to acknowledge our potential weakness.

Bottom-line: When we consider how to protect ourselves, we need to start with a better understanding of the “who” and the “what” that matter to us. We need to realize that decisions that we make do not only reflect our inherent values and principles, but they, too, define the course of events today and beyond. And that the same events affect not us alone but also the people that we live with, we care for, and seek to share God’s blessings with.

In this day and age, protection tends to be more a reaction. It is when threats become apparent,, or have already materialized, when we act and devise a plan of action. We somehow lose sight of the essentials of preparedness. Most of the time, we are caught off-guard. In times of trials, a good number question God and choose to forget those times when blessings came knocking at the doorsteps.

But as a Christian community, we need to affirm our faith. Protection is making a decision on a lifelong commitment. It is making a decision on the kind of life that you want to live and lead. It is a decision to appreciate the wholeness of God’s creation, and locate one’s role in it. It is a decision where the ability to foresee what is ahead is not a gift of foresight but a reward of faith. It is a decision that develops resilience, an active ownership of a responsibility as a steward of God’s creation, and a continuing desire to be a protection for others, inasmuch as you are one for yourself.

Indeed, we come together as a congregation, as a Christian community like that child that offers to his father humility for enlightenment. While innocent of what comes ahead of us, we mature in faith. We seek answers to our questions and find them in our commitment as stewards of his creation. 

Let us all pray that together, we find ourselves in the middle of the ocean, on a boat, on a fine early morning, collectively enjoying God’s bounties and forever grateful for the gift of what we can still make use of and enhance today for the benefit of our generation and those to come. Amen.