Thursday, September 18, 2008

Atty. Joel Bodegon's Sermon


By: Joel L. Bodegon

Text: 2 Timothy 4:1-8

Naimbag a bigat yo amin, kakabsat ken Kristo! Good morning to all of you, sisters and brothers in Christ!

Today is an extraordinary day! For this morning, we join a very special person in celebrating a milestone in his life: his 50th year of ordination! May I request our celebrator, a man so dear to us and to whom we owe so much as church, Bishop Juan A. Marigza, to rise. Let us give him a round of hearty applause! Congratulations, Bishop Marigza, pastor and prophet!

Let us pray. Almighty and loving God, we thank you for this truly special occasion at which we give thanks and recognize the life and ministry of your faithful servant, Bishop Marigza. You have called him, and without any second thoughts, he had responded and accepted your call. He has run the race – and continues to – always keeping the faith all of his challenging, colorful and fulfilling 50 years as a minister. Bless him, we pray. Amen!


Let me thank Kuya Reuel for inviting me to be the speaker at this thanksgiving service. I am deeply honored, to say the least. In facet, my wife Sophie, who is our missionary with the United Evnagelical Mission (UEM) and now is with me on a short vacation from Germany, is just as excited to be here.

Kuya Reuel suggested that I use 2 Timothy 4:1-8 as a scriptural text. Verse 5 especially defines Bishop Marigza—his life and his life work.

But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.


May I invite you to reflect on these four injunctions from our text, not only to see how Bishop Marigza has lived them but, equally important, what they could mean to us now. Indeed, what does it mean for us to keep our heads in all situations, to endure hardship, to do the work of an evangelist, and to discharge all duties of our ministry?

To keep your head in all situations simply means “ABC---always be cool!” Rather than be jarred by people or circumstances, be cool for the world is in God’s hands. In any work of the ministry, keeping one’s head makes one alert to distractions, resistant to pressure, and strong when facing heavy responsibilities. Bishop Marigza kept his head about him especially from the time he became a Protestant at the tender age of 12 years in 1942 and answered the call to the ministry the following year. At a time of war, when many others were simply looking for themselves, Bishop Marigza, then just a teenager, decided that he was going to live his life for others.

He enrolled in the La Union Christian College and after earning an associate degree in theology, became the first Filipino pastor at UCCP-Lamut in Ifugao. In the post-war heydays, he graduated from the Union Theological Seminary with a bachelor’s degree in Theology in 1957, and soon after was ordained on this day, 50 years ago. Yes, Bishop Marigza focused on equipping himself for the work of a pastor.

These days when the ministry is least attractive to the best and brightest of our young people, Bishop Marigza’s response to the call challenges us parents and the youth alike. In the words of Paul, we are meant to be women and men of God, who reject the idols of profit and fame and instead pursue justice, faith, love, gentleness. Bishop Marigza has shown us how to be focused, to put God at the center of our lives and service.

To do the work of an evangelist. True to his call to the ministry, Bishop Marigza dedicated himself to evangelism. He did this as pastor of several local churches, including your church which he pastured continuously for 13 years from 1973 to 1986. Early on in the mid-60s, the Philippine Bible Society chose Rev. Johnny to be part of a group tasked to translate the Bible into Ilocano, and they successfully produced the Ilocano Bible, Naimbag a Damag Biblia.

Significantly, this group of translators was ecumenical. It was composed of two UCCP members (Rev. Johnny and educator Patricia Tayaban), two Catholics (a priest, Rev. Fr. Godofredo Albano, and Ilocano writer and novelist Peter La Julian), two Methodists (Dr. Noel Osborn and Rev. Anacleto Guerrero), and an Assemblies of God pastor (Rev. Gervacio Tovera). Since then, Bishop Marigza has been deeply involved as a leader in ecumenical groups such as the North Luzon Ecumenical Council, the Regional Ecumenical Council of the Cordillera, and the Ecumenical Bishop’s Forum. Cutting through the politics of the North, he helped pave the way for the covenant of unity between the UCCP and the Philippine Independent Church.

More than anything else, Bishop Marigza lived out the charge of Paul: “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.” His being your senior pastor with the longest continuous tenure is testimony enough of his commitment to Paul’s charge. We can only imagine the number of young people he has drawn to the ministry, the many people he brought into full membership in your church. Now think, if each of you, all priests by virtue of your Baptism, would just duplicate what he did, it would not be difficult to see how your church could grow further.

To endure hardships. Paul warns that everyone who wants to live a godly life in union with Christ Jesus will be persecuted. Bishop Marigza understood this only too well and accepted it – including its economics – without question.

Like most UCCP pastors, Rev. Marigza dedicated his life to the ministry without regard for monetary compensation. But he did more than that. He accepted the call to the episcopacy despite the fact that it meant reduction on salary by almost half and the removal of housing privileges. He also did not take advantage of his office as he even chose not to stay at the Bishop’s house although he led in the construction of the North Luzon Jurisdiction offices.

Like many of those who lived through the martial law years, Bishop Marigza was not spared the distress and agony resulting from repression. In 1984, his eldest daughter Mary Lou disappeared along with six others. The military initially denied having taken them into custody. For two harrowing weeks, Bishop Marigza and Mama Lou went from one military camp to another to locate their daughter. During that time, so many who were taken in by the military simply disappeared or were “salvaged”. The military eventually produced the seven, all with clear traces of torture on their bodies, but were not immediately released. They languished in jail for another 13 months.

The painful experience did not silence Bishop Marigza. Instead, he became a vocal critic of the martial law regime. With personal experiences such as this, it is no wonder that the UCCP leadership continues to protest militarization and development aggression. More than mere verbal protests, Bishop Marigza took concrete action. Among other things, he spearheaded the establishment of the Baguio chapters of such organizations as the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) and the broad-based North Luzon Human Rights Organization (NL-HRO). He took detainees, including Corazon Cortel, wife of late Conrado Balweg, under his own recognizance.

Here we see that despite his strong stance against martial laws, Bishop Marigza earned the respect of its enforcers. Such respect even translated to collaborative efforts. For instance, he joined the military in uprooting and burning marijuana plants in the hinterlands of Benguet. At the same time, he spoke strongly against destructive development projects as open-pit mining and the construction of the San Roque Dam.

Indeed, more than just through sermons, the Gospel is to be preached in our lives and in the way we relate with each other and with the world. Through his life, we see Bishop Marigza being rooted in community so that his message is properly set in context and understood. As persons called to preach the Good News, all of us also need to strive for rapport, comprehension, relevance and cooperation. In a world of unceasing trials we must put aside cynicism and indifferences, and instead hold on to the hope that is in us, the coming of God’s reign of which we became citizens when we made our confession of faith in Christ Jesus.

To discharge all the duties of your ministry. Ministry is a full-time job; sometimes even a package of full-time and odd jobs. You know that even at the time he was appointed to be part of the group that translated the Bible to Ilocano, Rev. Marigza was weekend pastor of various local churches in the Highland Conference. Yet it is not only the amount of work that sets him apart. It is the quality of his service.

Coming from the tradition of the United Brethren, Bishop Marigza stressed a Congregationalist polity which is Gospel – and not hierarchy-or personality-centered. Dr. Oscar Suarez, President of the Philippine Christian University, describes Bishop Marigza as “a man who had served faithfully without grandstanding. He humbly and quietly served.”

As a local church minister, he stressed active involvement of lay leaders and allowed creativity among the church staff. He assumed the episcopacy in 1986 – a time of great turbulence and church decline in the North Luzon Jurisdiction arising from months without a bishop. He arrested the decline and thereby turned the jurisdiction around. During that time and until now, he has employed his skills in conflict resolution and consensus building. Rev. Marma Urbano, who had served in the North Luzon Jurisdiction office, remembers how concerned Bishop Marigza was for the welfare of the church workers. Also, people sought and continued to seek him out for counseling.

Unlike many of us who cultivate our looks to impress others, Bishop Marigza simply has “the look of compassion etched on his face,” says Nic Primavera, son of a former staff member at the National Treasurer’s Office. For Nic, Bishop Marigza is a passionate believer who witnesses to God’s loving but occasionally tough transformative ways, “(transforming) creation into restored fellowship.”

For his part, Kuya Reuel recalls that “What he did was simply allow us young people to explore possibilities for spiritual growth in church, giving us leeway to develop our own programs… But with this freedom, he expected us to be responsible.” Bishop Marigza called family councils to discuss any problem anyone in the family encountered. Major decisions regarding a pastoral call or the episcopacy were on the family council agenda.

As your pastor and later as bishop, Bishop Marigza practiced what he preached. An advocate of responsible parenthood and population control, he kept himself to within the statutory limit of four kids (as set by our tax laws), well spaced from one another by at least two years. He worked with the Family Planning Organization of the Philippines and the Population Commission. For his civic involvement and advocacy for religious and human rights, the City of Baguio recently honored Bishop Marigza as one of its Most Outstanding Senior Citizens.

In the same way that Jesus and later Paul nurtured second liners as an essential part of their ministry, Bishop Marigza empowered younger church leaders, including myself during my first term as UCCP Chairman. He encouraged young people to become pastors, Christian educators and church workers. No less than two of his children, Kuya Reuel and Jan Fleming are now ordained ministers. Among the other young people he challenged in the ministry, Rev. Florence Mariano became the first woman conference minister of the Highland Conference.

Bishop Marigza has always been ready to serve and to go the distance. He was elected Bishop twice and when the incumbent Bishop for North Luzon resigned in 2004, he was recalled from retirement to serve the remainder of the term. It was only because of his poor health that he requested to be relieved in 2006. Until now he is mediating conflicts at the conference level, sometimes staying up with concerned parties till two in the morning.


Gagayyem ken kakabsat ken Kristo, Bishop Marigza is very much alive. Thank God for this! Our coming together today is not merely to deliver a laudatio to a man who, like Paul, has done well and long in the service of God and community. Let us also use this opportunity to see for ourselves how we lesser mortals are called to be priests by virtue of our Baptism and, by the same token, also evangelists.

Bishop Marigza has passed on the torch – and has passed the torch more than once—he continues to run the good race alongside us. The challenges that he faced over the last 50 years as an ordained pastor continue to haunt not only him, but also us.

We should go to him for advice on how to be true prophets these days when illegal arrests and summary executions are once again on the rise and a climate of fear is taking over, when our own pastors are being forcibly taken under cover of darkness, or some of them shot and killed in front of their families. We must go back to the UCCP’s declaration to provide sanctuary to civilians, especially those who survive terror raids and the militarization of communities. More than that, we must go back to Jesus’ own declaration of mission to make the blind see, the lame walk, and the oppressed set free.

This is a time to reflect on our church order. In these so-called post-denominational or even post-Christendom days, ordination itself is shrouded with many issues. There are discussions about the ordination of gays. Until now women in the Roman Catholic Church and a number of Protestant churches continue to fight for ordination. Not surprisingly, when you Google up the word, your get invitations to receive free instant ordination online.

Coming from the word “order”, ordination is a way of ordering the church by setting apart persons for specific service and how concentration as a bishop denotes servant leadership. Underlying all the debate is the essence of what it means to be a pastor. The role of the pastor is to lead the flock to green pastures and to the source of life-giving waters, and in these days, even to stand up against what causes drought and the drying of rivers and streams – indeed, to reject everything that leads to death.

Clearly this order is dynamic. And it is so because it is dialogical. If the ordained ministry is to represent the whole church, it should be collegial, meaning shared by clergy and laity. In our united and uniting church, this dynamism lies in the call to balance hierarchy with community. I am certain you have witnessed how our duly elected bishops and officers are continually challenged – both from within and outside the church – as they stand for the Gospel of peace and justice. Our church leaders therefore are not to ignore these challenges but to understand them, analyze their roots, and carefully work out their resolution. This process is not a one-way street. As much as the church leadership reaches out to the community, the community is prompted to respond and engage in active, positive and gainful dialogue.

This might be threatening to many, the laity and clergy alike. But it is only in grappling with the old that we might give birth to something new. Because, like it or not, the idea is not to preserve the leadership or even the church itself! The idea is to keep Christ’s Good News about the coming of a new Reign of God. In this light, the duties of the ministry are not conservative but transformative, not static but dynamic.

Paul left Timothy in Ephesus to oversee the young church there. Our last images of Timothy come from the most personal letters in the New Testament: Paul’s letters to Timothy in 1 and 2 Timothy. Paul wrote these letters as he was nearing the end of his life to encourage Timothy and give him needed direction. In 2 Timothy, we find Paul writing his final thoughts to Timothy, passing to him the torch of leadership, reminding him of what was truly important, and encouraging him in the faith. In this celebration of his 50th year of ordination, Bishop Marigza does the same. He passes on to us the torch of the ministry he has dedicated his whole life, the ministry of the Gospel, the ministry of transformation. How do we respond?


Let us pray. Dear God of Life and Ministry, we thank you for the paths that Bishop Juan Marigza has cleared for us. He is now passing on the torch of faith and leadership, reminding us of what is truly important and encouraging us to serve with courage and joy. May we be deemed faithful! Here we are, Lord, send us! Amen.

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