Empowered to Bring Christ to Our Nation
(Sermon delivered during the 111th Founders Day Sunday Worship Service)
We, of SUHS Class of 1962, are thankful for this privilege of serving in serving in today?s Founders Day Sunday Worship Service as part of our 50th anniversary or golden jubilee celebration. Speaking of jubilees, I am reminded of a story I got via the Internet the other day. This was about a 60th anniversary high school reunion. At the reunion party, this man says to his former classmate: ?You know, when we were in high school, I was secretly in love with you. So now, I wish to ask you to marry me.? And she says, ?Yes, I will marry you.? The problem was that when he woke up the next day, he could not remember if her answer had been yes or no. So finally he calls her up and says, ?I know last night I asked you to marry me, but I cannot remember if your answer was yes or no.? And she replies, ?Of course, absolutely, I said yes, I will marry you. But it is good that you called, because I cannot remember who was the one who asked me.?
Friends, when David and Laura Hibbard opened a school in Dumaguete on Aug. 28, 1901, funded by Horace B. Silliman, a Presbyterian philanthropist of Cohoes, New York, it aimed to educate our youth at a time of widespread ignorance. It also sought to bring Jesus Christ, via the Holy Bible, to our shores. Thus, Bible learning is integral to a Silliman education. (On this occasion, we of class 62 fondly remember our Bible teacher: Leonora Udarbe).
In 1904, Dr. Hibbard and Silliman Institute (SI) Pastor Walter McIntire got a young preacher from Cebu to bring the gospel directly to the masses of the people of Dumaguete and Negros Or. in the Cebuano language. His name was Angel Sotto. The historical marker our Class ?62 unveiled the other day at Silliman Hall as our Jubilee donation to our university says that the hall?s first floor was the first Protestant Church in the Philippines. Sotto was the first to preach in Cebuano in that hall. Later, inspired by Dr. Hibbard, Sotto founded several Protestant churches in the Visayas and Mindanao. In Dumaguete and nearby towns, SI students oftentimes assisted him. To me, Dr. Hibbard and Rev. Sotto were the pioneer-preachers who brought the Gospel, in English and Cebuano, respectively, to our part of the country.
Our people?s champion Manny Pacquiao has helped make Bible reading fashionable today. We welcome the rise of Bible reading nowadays. But just a bit of history, 111 years ago and shortly thereafter, preaching the Bible was not fun in the Philippines. It was dangerous work. Let me re-tell the story, still heard in Dapitan-Dipolog area, that Dr. Hibbard originally preferred to found Silliman in Dapitan, Zamboanga province, the scenic historic town of Rizal?s exile. But a hostile crowd, instigated by their Spanish priest, sad to say, angrily drove him away. Dumaguete and Gov. Demetrio Larena proved more receptive to Hibbard and his new Bible-based faith. And so here now stands Silliman U. Indeed, Rev. Sotto?s public rallies were stoned in Sibulan, Tanjay, Guihulngan, etc. In Santander, Cebu, the Spanish priest there personally led in hacking to death a Protestant believer in 1907. In Calbayog, Samar, a Protestant pastor miraculously survived a bolo attack in 1933. Indeed, in braving stones and hatred, Rev. Sotto and colleagues, including the brothers Restituto and Enrique Malahay, with moral support from Silliman Institute, actualized the practice of religious freedom in our region. The Malahay brothers of Guihulngan, who later became pastors, were two of the original 15 SI students. They were pillars in the building of Protestantism in Negros Oriental.
WHY THIS OLD HOSTILITY against Bible preaching? We don?t want to criticize any religion in our era of ecumenism. But Henry H. Halley, in his Bible Handbook, names at least nine popes who forbade the reading of Bible. Of course this is no longer true today. And Thank God, the relationship between Roman Catholics and Protestants in the Philippines is very harmonious now.
THE REFORMATION; THE NEW WORLD; THE PHILIPPINES
The widespread reading and preaching of the Bible started with the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s. Martin Luther and fellow reformers began the Bible?s translation into other languages. Luther translated the Bible into his native German. On pain of death, they preached Christ in Europe – to the common people. Indeed, in the difficult struggle to establish the new faith, quoting the Bible became the ?fighting? means for drawing converts from the existing religion. THEN FROM EUROPE, the Plymouth Pilgrims and other early settlers brought Bible-based Christianity to America in the 1600s. Having fled persecution, torture and death in the Old World, most brought basic religious freedom and the Bible to the new world. The New England colonies, for a while, were called ?The Bible Commonwealths.? LET US MOVE on the Philippines, 1898. The declaration of Philippine independence by President Aguinaldo, the end of Spanish rule, and the coming of America mean the separation of church and state and the birth of religious freedom and Bible-reading in the Philippine islands. Starting 1899, U.S. missionaries, among them Dr. Hibbard, brought Bible-based Christianity to our islands. To me, the founding of Silliman in 1901 was part of God?s plan- vis-à-vis his ?3-Act Drama.?
ACTS I, II, III OF GOD?S ?DRAMA?
What is God?s 3-Act ?Drama?? Let me give my layman?s humble opinion. Act I was the Old Testament expectation of a Messiah coming through Abraham and the house of David. ACT II is the New Testament story of how the Messiah came, taught us love and true values in life, and sacrificed his body and blood that whosoever believes in him ?shall not perish but have eternal life.? His church thereafter spread his word to Roman Asia, then Europe, the America and beyond. But the final act, ACT III, is still to come. This is Jesus? return as the Messiah who finally reigns. All Christians-Roman Catholics, Greek Catholics, Protestants, et al- believe in this. The Nicene Creed affirms it and hymns like ?How Great Thou Art? acclaim it. [?When Christ shall come with shouts of acclamation and take me home??]
In the Pentecost story, the Holy Spirit descended as a tongue of fire upon the apostles, empowering them to preach the Gospel with courage and fortitude to Jews and Gentiles. They would face dungeon, fire and sword. Some years ago, my wife, our daughter and I visited the ruins of ancient Hierapolis in Turkey. We stood at the relics of a Byzantine Church- the burial site of the apostle Philip after his martyrdom. It is located near an ancient amphitheatre. Philip?s crucifixion epitomized the sacrifices our Fathers endured to spread Christ?s gospel. Of course the greatest preacher of Christ to the nations was Paul. We were also blessed with the chance to visit his birthplace in Tarsus [Turkey] and his tomb in Rome. He had faced beheading with great courage. And like Philip and Paul, I believe the Holy Spirit gave courage and resolve to Martin Luther and fellow reformers, to preachers in early America, to missionaries like David Hibbard, and pastors like Angel Sotto and the Malahay brothers to bring Christ to the nations for us.
BRINGING CHRIST TO THE NATIONS
Why is bringing Christ to nations important? In Matt 24:14: we read, ?This gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.? The whole world is to be given a chance to know Jesus and accept his salvation, before the end comes. All four Gospels carry this ?Great Commission? to the apostles. And in Matthew 24 and 25, Jesus talks about great tribulation, the end of the world, and his return. He gave this lengthy prophecy only on the last 3 days of his life. They are among his most significant words in relation to our time. Many books have been written on the subject, some you also may have read- like David Pawson?s When Jesus Returns (1995), Dr. K. Philopose? s The Imminent Return of Jesus Christ (2007), Mark Hitchcock?s 2012: The Bible and the End of the World (2009) and The Great Tribulation: Past or Future? By Thomas Ice and Kenneth L. Genty Jr. (1999).
Reading about tribulation brings me back to April 22, 2001. We stood near Mt. Ararat, close to the Turkish-Iranian border. We stood by formation said to mark Noah?s ark where it landed after the Great Flood. It was an awesome feeling. Imagine, the Bible says this was where, out of perhaps a million people, only eight had survived. From here Noah and family descended to sire the re-genesis of humanity. And a year before, at the Dead Sea, in Israel, on April 22, 2000 we swam/floated near the site of Sodom and Gomorrah. Mt. Ararat and the Dead Sea- bear an important reminder for us all: there may be great tribulation but the righteous like Noah and Lot can be saved.
In my humble opinion, more important than speculating about doomsday, omens, punishment and tribulations, is preparing our souls for Jesus? return. In Like 21: 34-36 Jesus warns us against vice and worrying about livelihood. These could make us unprepared for the Son of Man. Being sinners who have fallen short of God?s glory, can we be counted among the righteous whom Jesus and his angels will collect upon his return? We need to re-learn lessons from Jesus? parables of: The Ten Virgins, The Talents and the Sheep and the Goats. Do we have sufficient faith just as the virgins needed reserve oil for meeting the bridegroom? Are we using God?s gifts wisely, as in the parable of the Talents? Are we sharing ourselves with the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the sick and the imprisoned- even if these are at least of our brethren- as in the Parable of the Sheep and Goats? Allow me to say, we have assisted OFWs in prison in Istanbul, in hospital in Oman, aboard a stranded ship in the Mediterranean, in earthquake-hit Haiti in the Caribbean. But we cannot say we had helped them enough as Jesus would have wanted us. God help us help others.
WHAT SILLIMAN IS ABOUT
And so, to me, this challenge to be prepared, and help our nation prepare for Christ?s return, is what Silliman has been all about. Beyond education, excellence and other worthy goals, Silliman is about bringing Christ to this nation. Silliman means the faith of our fathers living still. The founding of Silliman in 1901 was no mere decision of a Presbyterian board. It was part of God?s plan. He has empowered Silliman as an instrument to help prepare this nation for Christ?s return at a future date he alone knows. Indeed, the Silliman motto, via, veritas, vita, from John 14:6- ?I am the way, the truth and life, no one comes to the Father except through me?- gains greater meaning in the context of Jesus? second coming.
But bringing the Bible to any nation is not enough. As a youth, in Sunday School at the Dumaguete UCCP, we thought we were the fastest in finding verses in the Bible. Name the book, chapter and verse no. I could find it anywhere in the Bible in 10-15 seconds. Would you understand ?HoJoAOJonMiNaHaZepHaZecMa?? Probably not. But it was the pneumonic wording I used to memorize the exact order of the 12 minor prophets of the Old Testament, from Hosea to Malachi. But that was then. We have long realized that more than a mechanical mastery of the Bible, more than good grades in Bible classes, more than quoting Bible verses, is imbibing the meaning of the Bible into our subconscious. The Bible is to be absorbed to transform ourselves and others to prepare for Jesus? return. Of the thousands of Jesus? teachings, I say two would suffice to transform ourselves and revolutionize this planet, if applied: (1) love your enemies, do good to those who hate you (Luke 6:27-28); (2) For what does profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul? (Mark 8:36). The first means transforming our hearts to achieve complete peace with neighbor and the world [no hatred, conflict, wars]. The second means transforming our minds to realize that the real priority is NOT MATERIAL, BUT SPIRITUAL [no greed, theft, graft, corruption]. Love and spirituality: these two are essentials to prepare our souls for Jesus? return.
We are glad that in our country, the Bible is at least being freely read, without fear, by all Christians. As Sillimanians living in this new era of Bible reading, are we ready to join with all Christians of our nation- Roman Catholics, Protestants, ?born agains? and others- in helping each other- in helping each other imbibe the Bible to try to transform ourselves and play our role in God?s 3-act drama? And so I believe that throughout the past 111 years, through the trials and tribulations of running this university, from Dr. David Hibbard to Dr. Ben S. Malayang III, the Holy Spirit has so empowered its leaders, its Bible teachers, its Divinity-School and other alumni, and the pastors of this church- to bring Christ to our nation.
LET US PRAY: Our heavenly Father, help us realize you had a purpose for THE FOUNDING of this university. You built it so that all who pass therein MAY KNOW JESUS and thus, when transformed, help prepare themselves and others for his return. Empower us, Spirit of the Living God, to imbibe Christ, apply our faith to help others, and hopefully be worthy of your compassion and grace when He comes. In Jesus? name we pray. Amen.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR :
Mac Arthur F. Corsino
Bachelor of Science in Education (major in History and English) (1966); Master of Arts in Education (1972);
Dr. Corsino is a retired Ambassador of the Philippines to Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica. He obtained his post-graduate degree in political science in 1977 from the Northern Illinois University and took advanced studies as fellow at the Center for International Affairs at Harvard University. In 2009, he received the Outstanding Sillimanian Award in the field of Foreign Service.