SUNDAY SERMON




SUNDAY SERMON

Gospel reading & Sermons for each Sunday Based on the Lectionary of the 

Syrian Orthodox Church




26 March 2017

posted 24 Mar 2017, 22:39 by C S Paul

26 March 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Fifth Sunday of Great Lent (Kpiptho/Crippled Woman)

    • Evening
    • Morning
    • Before Holy Qurbana
      • Barazeera 51: 13 - 30
    • Holy Qurbana

Luke 13:10-17New King James Version (NKJV)

A Spirit of Infirmity

10 Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 

11 And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up. 

12 But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.” 13 And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.

14 But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, “There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day.”

15 The Lord then answered him and said, “Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? 

16 So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound—think of it—for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?” 

17 And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.

Set Free

by Dr. Randy L. Hyde

Gospel: St. Luke 13:10-17

If you are a reader of the comic strips, as I am, you will know that this week in Zack Hill, the mother in the strip has created a cliche jar. Every time someone in their household uses a cliche, he has to put a dollar in the jar. Well, here's my dollar. Are you ready?

Sometimes, the greatest life-changing experiences occur 
when you're in the right place at the right time.

It's happened to me, and I'm sure it has to you as well. As I give you a couple of examples from my life, you can feel free to insert your own memories into the conversation.

It was early spring of 1974 and I was leaving chapel at Southern Seminary to go to my next class. My New Testament exegesis professor, Frank Stagg, got in step with me and as we walked to the classroom together he asked me what I planned to do when I graduated at the end of the semester. At that point I really didn't know. I was debating whether to seek a church position somewhere or continue my schooling in further degree work. He told me about a young pastor named Bill Tuck at First Baptist in Bristol, Virginia. Bill was looking for an associate. Would I be interested? If so, Dr. Stagg would like to recommend me.

Looking back over the footsteps of my life, I can see how that changed everything for me. Everything. That conversation took me in a direction I would never have considered otherwise. And it happened just because of a short, but life-changing, conversation.

Here's another dollar.

Sometimes, the greatest life-changing experiences occur 
when you're in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This time it was the early fall of 1964. The Paragould Bulldogs were in the first half of their annual pre-season Red-White football game. I was playing cornerback on the defense when I saw Steve Brummett, quarterback for the offense, attempt an option play. Seeing the defensive end going for Steve, I knew instinctively that he would lateral the ball to the running back. I timed it perfectly, snatching the ball in mid-air. There was no one between me and the goal line. I took a few steps and just as I was hitting my full stride – running to glory, don't you know! – I encountered that part of the field that took a subtle but sudden slope designed to help with drainage. I was never touched by an opposing player, but I went down with my first knee injury, which would eventually result in surgery and end my football career, as well as my hopes for a college athletic scholarship.

Yet, looking back on what could be interpreted as a negative experience, I see how it led to the events that have shaped my life journey. What would have happened had my adolescent dreams been fulfilled? The chances are I might have gone to a different college, would never have met Janet... You get the picture, don't you? So, sometimes being in the wrong place at the wrong time can lead to the right things.

Have you thought of chance encounters, times when you were in the right or wrong place, that have shaped who you are and what you have done with your life? Well, consider the crippled woman in Luke's narrative we read earlier. There is no indication from the way Luke tells the story that she had come to the synagogue looking for healing. Nothing is said that would make us believe she had heard of Jesus or made a special point to be in the synagogue so she could see if the young Nazarene would perform a miracle in her life. She had just come for Bible study and worship. It was the Sabbath, after all, time to get up and go to church. It was what she did every week, not that it was easy for her to do, considering her physical condition. But she did it.

And as it turned out, she was in the right place at the right time. (Dollar in the jar.)

She knows the rules. Jesus knows the rules, too, as well as the synagogue leader who takes issue with what Jesus does for the woman. Miracles... and just about everybody believed in miracles in that day and time and place... miracles aren't performed on the Sabbath. Miracles come under the heading of “Labor” or “Work.” You didn't even cut your toe nails on the Sabbath (Jesus uses the example of watering one's ox or donkey), much less perform miracles. No, she was there just because she had decided to be in church. She just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and that put her in the presence – not to mention the healing, compassionate hands – of Christ.

I don't usually get to the point this early in my sermons, but this is as good a place as any. Things happen – good things, redemptive things, eternal things – when you find yourself in the presence of Christ.

In the case of the crippled woman, Jesus set her free from the physical bondage that kept her from experiencing life at its fullest. Jesus was more than willing to give her what she, and evidently no one else, could provide. Now, when she called on the name of God, she could lift her face to the heavens. Now, when she offered her gifts in the synagogue, she could do it herself and not have to ask someone else to do it for her. Now, she could stand upright before the One to whom she would then gratefully bow down. All because she was in the right place at the right time. The right place and the right time for all of us and any of us is when we are in the presence of Christ.

Or maybe we should say, when we are present to Christ.

Let's not ignore the third person in our story, the synagogue leader who takes issue with what Jesus has done. After all, he's in the presence of Christ as well. But there is a difference – a big difference – between being in Christ's presence and being present to Christ. I think we can safely surmise that his presence in the synagogue was largely due to its being his job. For this unnamed woman, it was her joy. There's a big, big difference, isn't there?

For him, religion was entitlement and something to be guarded carefully by the kind of rules that people like himself had developed. For her, it was a matter of grace and was something to be given away. Christ noticed the difference then and I can't help but believe he does so even now with you and me.

So here we are, every one of us, in the presence of that same Christ who reached out to this woman and brought healing. His presence to us is symbolized poignantly in the bread and the cup we will share in a few moments. As you eat and drink, I would encourage you to answer this question... Are you doing this because you are in the presence of Christ or because you are present to Christ? It might just make all the difference in whether you are set free from that which disables you. After all, this is the right place and the right time. (Dollar in the jar.)

Lord, if we are in your presence, we are in the right place at the right time. As we partake at your table, may we be present to you as well, for we know in faith that you are present to us. Free us from that which keeps us in bondage, and lead us to eternal life. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.

19 March 2017

posted 17 Mar 2017, 22:39 by C S Paul


19 March 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Fourth Sunday of Great Lent (Canaanite woman)

Scripture Reading for this Sunday

    • Evening
    • Morning
    • Before Holy Qurbana
    • Holy Qurbana

Gospel Reading - Matthew 15:21-31King James Version (KJV)

21 Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon.

22 And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.

23 But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.

24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

25 Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.

26 But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs.

27 And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table.

28 Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.

29 And Jesus departed from thence, and came nigh unto the sea of Galilee; and went up into a mountain, and sat down there.

30 And great multitudes came unto him, having with them those that were lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others, and cast them down at Jesus' feet; and he healed them:

31 Insomuch that the multitude wondered, when they saw the dumb to speak, the maimed to be whole, the lame to walk, and the blind to see: and they glorified the God of Israel.

Canaanite woman - A Mother's Love

by Rev. Fr. V.V. Paulose

"Dear Woman, your faith is great! Your request is granted." (Mathew 15:31)

We are what we are by the sheer love of our mothers.

A mother's love cannot be measured. Mothers are ready to go to any extent for the welfare of their children. That is the reason for St. Paul's advice - "Do not despise your mother when she is old" -(Colossians 3:20). The end result of all the hardships and sacrifices endured by a mother always bears good results.

Here, the Canaanite women is at her most depressed stage of life - a daughter terribly possessed by the demon. Finding no cure, she went to Jesus with great faith, hope, and love. With great anguish, she cried, "Lord help me." at the feet of Jesus . Jesus accepted her request and healed her daughter instantly by dismantling all the barricades put forth by the then Jewish society.

Jesus' salvation and healings for all are not limited to the Jews or the selected ones. Till then, the Jews had believed that Jesus was sent only for Israel. And they considered the gentiles are dogs not worthy to sit at the tables with them. Both these contentions was out rightly ruled out by Jesus by testing the needy woman for her faith and answering her. During her ordeal, her mind, eyes and heart were concerned about her daughter’s plight while expecting the healings from the mouth of her Lord and God – Jesus.

Her love for her daughter blinded her from shame, humiliations and arguments. A mother's love can cross any barrier - that is love indeed and faith in action. She was even ready to be considered as a dog taking food crumbs thrown out from the children’s table. What she needed was the healing of her daughter which was granted.

The faith, love and intercession for the needs of others are always answered by Jesus. He would like us to do so continually. A large crowed was brought to Jesus to be healed and he healed them all. Jesus still heals people who are suffering physically, emotionally and spiritually, and we can be the ones who brings suffering people to him like the Canaanite woman. Whom do you know that needs Christ’s healing touch ? You can bring them to Jesus through prayers or through explaining to them the reason for the hope that you have.

Jesus is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Those who are in Christ, are always with Christ and do the mission of intercession. "We are confident, I say and pleased rather to be absent from the body and present with the Lord" - (2 Corinthians 5:38). So we intercede the prayers of the departed saints just as we ask the prayer requests for living fellow-believers. This is God’s command and biblical, contrary is diabolical and not in compliance with the word of God. So with confidence, we should request prayers of the living saints and the saints with Jesus.

After the Japanese earthquake had subsided last year, rescuers saw a young woman’s dead body through the cracks of her ruined house. But her pose somehow seemed strange like she was kneeling over something. The collapsed house had crashed her back and her head. When they removed the debris, they saw a 3 month old little boy wrapped in a flowery blanket under his mothers dead body. Obviously, the woman had made an ultimate sacrifice in saving her son. Inside the blanket, there was a cell phone with a text message. It said," If you can survive, you must remember that I love you."

The Canaanite now says to us all, "If you are alive and healed, you must remember that I love you with all the shame and sacrifice and even at the verge of death and mockery "

So do not waste a day by not saying I love you to your parents and loved ones for you may not know when they will be gone. And bring all the prayer requests to Jesus. Let them be healed and delivered.

Be a mother like the Canaanite woman.



12 March 2017

posted 10 Mar 2017, 03:20 by C S Paul

12 March 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Third Sunday of Great Lent -  (Paralytic/Palsy Sunday)

Mark 2:1-12New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus Forgives and Heals a Paralytic

And again He entered Capernaum after some days, and it was heard that He was in the house. 

Immediately many gathered together, so that there was no longer room to receive them, not even near the door. And He preached the word to them. 

Then they came to Him, bringing a paralytic who was carried by four men. 

And when they could not come near Him because of the crowd, they uncovered the roof where He was. So when they had broken through, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying.

When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.”

And some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, 

“Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

But immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned thus within themselves, He said to them, “Why do you reason about these things in your hearts?

Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk’?

10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the paralytic, 

11 “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.”

12 Immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went out in the presence of them all, so that all were amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

Jesus Healing The Paralytic: Moving Beyond Our Paralyzed Selves

by Rev. Fr. Jerry Kurian Kodiattu

The story of Jesus healing the paralytic is quite a popular story. The intrigue in the story is increased by the adventurous four persons who help get the paralytic to the roof and then struggle to let him down so that Jesus would see him. The crowd that had surrounded Jesus is neutralized by this very creative way of approaching Jesus. It must have been quite a sight for people then. There are two things which come across to us in this passage. This helps us construct a spiritual basis for lent and takes us through a Lenten experience.

Taking the paralytic up and letting go would have been difficult for the four persons. It is like our talks and prayer to God. We are reluctant to pray and give our needs to God. The four men do the opposite of what we do. They know that they cannot get through the crowd. So they become enterprising and take the man up, only to let him down. After being enterprising and knowing that their enterprise works when Jesus takes notice, they are willing to let go of their friend into the hands of Jesus.

During lent are we willing to do the same? Are we willing to accept that lent is a time when we should not only take a commitment to those who are in need of our help? Are we after fulfilling our role, willing to pull back and see God working rather than expressing our over-powering ego and saying that we should then be given the honour of doing everything even when we know we are not skilled for that. Our preparation may make us feel that we can have easy access to God because we are closer to God in our own assessment. But we then understand that this is not the case. This is why we need to let go completely, lent or no lent. Letting go completely gives us uncertainty but coupled with faith and belief is the most important and beautiful thing in Christian faith.

Jesus heals the paralytic of his existence in the midst of people who look down upon him. Jesus says that his sins are healed. The healing is misleading because we think that sickness and sin are related. But this is confusing because sickness can't be related to sin. Rather what this shows is that it is not and if at all, sickness is a corporate responsibility and therefore cannot be pin pointed on one person. What Jesus does through asking him to get up and walk is to tell them that he is fixing their shortcoming instead of the paralytic's. Before that he says that your sins are forgiven.

This is what the scribes complain about. They bicker as to how and from where Jesus got the authority to forgive sins. But it could also mean that Jesus is offering something greater than healing when he says that your sins are forgiven. But this is opposed by the scribes by their bickering. The paralytic could then not have been linked to his personal sin but rather to the corporate sin that everyone was bound to. It could be that Jesus could have been offering him eternal life which would then give him the courage to get over his paralysis. The scribes deny this to him.

But, since the others there try to make that controversial, he says, 'get up, take your mat and walk.' This then brings to an end the way people are going to see him. But the sin of the community remains. The paralytic is given the strength to get up and walk. This was what was denied to him all these years and this is what he now gets through the intervention of Jesus. Even as the onlookers who criticize Jesus and the paralytic stay on, the man on the mat walks away.

Disability is something we like misinterpreting in lieu of the scripture. This becomes so serious that priesthood and lay participation is being done taking into consideration such a framework which, in terms of perfection, is the acceptable and unacceptable. Such a notion has dangerous ramifications on the real and true expressions of the church. This becomes a big sin during lent. Since lent is a time when we are trying to work on our shortcomings and sins, we then should also work on our concept of sin and who is sinning. Any setup which looks into disabled people as people who have in some way sinned is flawed. Jesus tries to go beyond the usual notion by saying that he, as the second person in the trinity, is capable of saying that the sin alleged and pinned on a particular person is being wiped out by him because he feels that this is unjust.

There is a feeling that lent is a time to become strong internally and spiritually. This internal strengthening sometimes also becomes a strengthening of moral attitudes in our culture. Moralizing like the scribes, brings about such comments like 'who is he to forgive sins' and 'by what authority is he doing it.' Churches fall into the trap of thinking that priests and church committees are in the business of saying what is and what is not sin when only God can judge in reality. This means that lent can become a time to be inspired by what Jesus did. He offers forgiveness for sins which have been alleged and labeled.

When Jesus tells the person 'to stand, take his mat and walk', what he may have meant is to tell the paralyzed person to not take this humiliation any more. Give it back to them. What better way than 'to stand up, take the mat and walk'. Jesus inspires the paralyzed person to walk and to walk away after all that the person has had to go through. There is no need to take this insult anymore.

Lent becomes an excellent time for discernment. This is a discernment to accompany those who have been marginalized and then discern and accept the role of God in bringing them to the main stream. The Lenten experience should help us towards this commitment of accompaniment, moving back and then accepting the will of God.

5 March 2017

posted 3 Mar 2017, 02:44 by C S Paul

5 March 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Second Sunday of Great Lent - Garbo Sunday (Lepers' Sunday)

Luke 5:12-16New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus Cleanses a Leper

12 And it happened when He was in a certain city, that behold, a man who was full of leprosy saw Jesus; and he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”

13 Then He put out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” Immediately the leprosy left him. 

14 And He charged him to tell no one, “But go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as a testimony to them, just as Moses commanded.”

15 However, the report went around concerning Him all the more; and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by Him of their infirmities. 

16 So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.

Devotional thoughts for Garbo Sunday

by Rev. Fr. George, Ireland

In the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the one true God forever and ever.
Amen+

We have come to yet another period of Lent. It is a time to re-dedicate ourselves before God and to seek healing from His mercy. Not just for our healing alone, but for the whole creation. The second Sunday of Great Lent, popularly known as `Garbo' is dedicated to pray for and ponder over the pathetic plight of the persons suffering of leprosy. It is in tandem with our Lord Jesus who was willing to heal the leper came to him. The reading passage meant for the meditation of this Sunday is the gospel according to St. Luke 5:12-16.

Leprosy was one of the most dreaded diseases of the time of Jesus Christ as there was no known cure for it. It brought great physical suffering as well as total banishment and isolation from society for it was considered to be highly contagious. Leprosy had a similar emotional impact and terror associated with it as AIDS does today. The priests monitored the disease, banishing lepers who were in a contagious stage to prevent the spread of infection and readmitting lepers whose disease was in remission. Lepers were considered untouchables because people feared contracting their disease. We see here a leper coming to Jesus with the staunch belief that Jesus Christ could heal every trace of the disease, though his condition was worse. Jesus is seen reaching out and touching the leper to heal him.

It is not that easy for a person, who miserably suffers the pain and agony, to have faith in God or to pursue a religious life. But here, from an environment of not having any scope of religious life, the leper who happens to see Jesus, hears the heavenly voice from a plain of faith. This was made possible by the magnanimity of Jesus. Christ, our Lord, felt compassion for the leper and His willingness made Him touch that marginalized one even without an iota of hesitation. There had been an element of revolution in that great act of Christ. It was not merely a physical touch but was a sheer sacramental one which brought about healing for that ailing person. Thus, that man who had been marginalized till then was brought into the mainstream of society. He was asked to convince the priest of his eligibility for the entry into the public life. From the bondage of physical suffering and social stigma, he was set free to enjoy the freedom of living like any other fellow being.

Even today there are many a people who still live in a state of untouchability. We may consider certain people who are diseased or disable to be untouchable or repulsive. This attitude has to change. We must not be afraid to reach out and touch them with God's love so that they may get a holistic healing. Here the sacrament of the anointing the sick has a vital role to play. The Bible says, "So they went out and preached that people should repent. And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick, and healed them" (St. Mark 6:13).

It is at this juncture that the vision and mission of our beloved Geevarghese Mar Osthathios Metropolitan, of blessed memory, has its pertinence. I must acknowledge here with a great sense of love and gratitude that it was he who initiated the philanthropic activities that are being done in the remote places like Yacharam and Kalahandi particularly for the betterment of lepers. The best tribute that we can pay to his grace is nothing but to offer ourselves willingly in undertaking the unaccomplished dreams of that great lover of humanity.

Are we ready to take up that responsibility (Liturgy after the Liturgy) and face the challenges posed before us? Let the beckoning voice of Jesus, our Lord, which revealed again through the sermons of Mar Osthathios, reverberate in our ears and inspire us. Let us emulate prayerfully the life of Jesus that had been recapitulated through the paradigmatic life of Mar Osthathios. As we mourn in memory of his grace and prepare ourselves for the passion of Christ and His resurrection, let us observe this holy Lent in all sincerity and seriousness by leading a simple and humble life. The heaven will rejoice, if we are able to share our resources like our prayer coated in love, knowledge, food, clothing, medicine, etc with our fellow beings. Let us fly to the door of salvation by being on the wings of Lent.


26 February 2017

posted 23 Feb 2017, 23:09 by C S Paul

26 February 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

First Sunday of Great Lent (Kothne Sunday) (Pethurtha of the Great Lent)

The Great Lent starts by commemorating the first miracle performed by Jesus i.e. turning water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana of Galilee. The Gospel reading for each Sunday of the Great Lent is about a miracle performed by Jesus.

Readings from the Scripture

John 2:1-11New King James Version (NKJV)

Water Turned to Wine

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 

Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. 

And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.”

Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.

Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece. 

Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 

And He said to them, “Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast.” And they took it. 

When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom. 

10 And he said to him, “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!”

11 This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.

Meditation on the Reading for Kothine Sunday (John 2:1-11)

by HG Yuhanon Mor Meletius

There are two major acts of Jesus in this chapter of John's Gospel. Both of them are in a way signs. The first is a sign of the fulfillment of his mission and the second is a sign of what happens when the fulfillment occurs. The first talks about the transformation and the second about casting out of all that is unwanted and evil. Both taken together become sign of the establishment of the Kingdom 'temple' abode- of God. When Jesus establishes the Kingdom of God through the shedding (of blood), the sharing (of body) and rejoicing (in resurrection), all the evil elements will be cast out and a cleansed and perfected Kingdom of God will be established.

It is in this context we are called to meditate on the word 'kairos' used in the passage prescribed for the day. This Greek word can be translated as 'appointed time (hour)'. The first response of Jesus to his mother regarding shortage of wine at the marriage feast was 'my time has not come'. But then he does what she had asked him to do. So we may assume that he was not referring to what specifically he did at that situation when he said 'my time has not come'. Here both 'my' and 'time' have to be read together. This is where our attention is drawn to John 17:1 where he says, 'Father my kariros has come ...'. With this we are assured that the time he was mentioning about was 'the appointed time to glorify the Father' and not to do what he did at the house of feast (there are instances too that support this presumption (eg. 5:25, 28; 7:30; 8:20 etc.).

Of course what was need at the feast-house had to be done. But that time was only a pre-taste of 'the time'- 'the time' to glorify the Father. What happens after Ch. 17 gives an idea of the process of mutual glorification. That is the cross, the tomb and the resurrection. In a symbolic way or in sign language we may say, 'being drawn from the well, poured in to the empty jar and drawn out for sharing and for immense joy and satisfaction'. Jesus was separated from the rest of his people as a servant of God, but to humans he was singled out as a criminal (water drawn from the well - Isa. 53:1-4). He was buried in the tomb like a lifeless dead body (water to wash feet in the jar), but when shared by the governor and others at the feast it was superb and fine wine to make them extremely pleased (at resurrection his disciples and the women at the tomb were astonished and were filled with joy). This was a time of glorification of the Son by the Father and consequently glorification of the Father too.

So 'the time (hour)' is the time of transformation. First self-transformation and then transforming others from despair to joy. We may remember that we are about to start a new season of transformation experience with Kothine Sunday. In Christ and in participation with his humanity, a humanity of all ages and all places, that was joined in incarnation with his Godhead, we also need to go through the same experience. We need to be separated from the rest as we were called out (Matt. 4:19; Rom. 1:6,7) by God (1 Pet. 2:9). Further we have to go through the dying or poured in to the jar/tomb experience (John 3:5; Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12).

Many of us interpret the trouble of being poured out as temptations we experience in life and talked about in the Lord's Prayer (Matt. 6: 9ff; Luke 11:2ff) and try to avoid them. Mind that these are two different things. Temptations come from outside, but pouring in to done by self. This is the suffering that we take up to take out the worldliness and that are evil, deadly and carnal in us (Rom. 7:4,5; 1 Cor. 3:3). It is a painful thing to take away the carnal in us. This is what is expected of us through our observance of the lent (see what happens in the case of Jesus himself. Of course it is given in the gospels as some external force came from outside to test him. But in every human, carving for livelihood, fame and power at any cost is there internally and do not have to come from outside).

Abstinence from certain food and from some daily routine is simply symbols of this suffering and hence is not final in itself. So we do not have to be too much proud when we say we have observed lent strictly. Unless it becomes a sign of our transformation experience, it is of no value, but something like following a prescription by a dietician or a medical doctor who is advising us of our health.

When the water came out of the jar the guests were happy and pleased. In turn when the Lord came out of the tomb the Father was glorified and the disciples and the ladies were pleased. The transformation, hence, is not aimed primarily for the glory or benefit or the wine or the transformed. We do not get transformed so that we will be better honored by others. Here a question may be raised. Why then in John 17:1 Jesus asked his Father to glorify him? The glorification of the Son was effected by strengthening him to face the suffering, death and the tomb. Again this glory helps the Son to be resurrected through which the Father shall be glorified. This shall be a matter of hope and joy for others. Our observance of the lent is, hence, for two purposes; for us to be transformed and for us to become a blessing for others as in the case of Abraham (Gen. 12:3).

Our commitment to the world God created and its growth to its fullness becomes our primary concern. Without self transformation no one can transform another. Without self transformation no one can make another person happy. Our mission in this world is to make others happy and for that we have to be transformed. Jesus' words testify this. He said, "I spoke this that your joy may be multiplied ..." (John 15:11; Rom. 12:2). His purpose in coming in to this world was to transform the world and everything in here including humans. Same is the purpose of us being born in to this world and being strengthened through observance of lent.

This strength is the glory our Lord gives us, and that is the glory with which we make our God glorified. Through our love towards others the world will know that we are a transformed lot (John 13:35). As said earlier, the wine's taste and fineness was not for the wine, rather was for the sake of those who tasted it. When everyone tastes the fineness of us, the disciples of Christ, who observe lent, the Kingdom of God shall be established. This is 'the time (kairos)' Jesus talked about and this is the 'time (hour)' we are waiting for in Parusia. This is the time we are trying to bring in through our observance of the lent. God be with us through this season of Great Lent and ever since.

19 February 2017

posted 17 Feb 2017, 21:12 by C S Paul   [ updated 17 Feb 2017, 21:38 ]

19 February 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Aneede - All the Departed Faithful

Readings from the Scripture

Luke 12:32-48New King James Version (NKJV)

32 “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 

33 Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. 

34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

The Faithful Servant and the Evil Servant

35 “Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning; 

36 and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. 

37 Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them. 

38 And if he should come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. 

39 But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. 

40 Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

41 Then Peter said to Him, “Lord, do You speak this parable only to us, or to all people?

42 And the Lord said, “Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his master will make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season? 

43 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 

44 Truly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all that he has. 

45 But if that servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and be drunk, 

46 the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers. 

47 And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. 

48 But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.

Sermon / Homily on The Sunday of the Departed

by Fr. Varghese M Daniel, PhD, Yale University

"Let us help and commemorate them. If Job's sons were purified by their father's sacrifice [Job l:5), why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them" (St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on First Corinthians 41:5 [A.D. 392]).

Before entering into the Great Lent, it is germane to remember our departed, those who feed the spiritual sustenance to our life. (Heb. 13:7) They nurtured and demonstrated the eminence of our spiritual lives. The readings (including St. Luke 12:32-48) of this Sunday transmit the following thoughts to our minds:

First, The visualization beyond horizon

Christian life mainly endeavors to obtain the life beyond death, which is one of the key teachings of the Bible and Jesus. (St. Jn.6, 1 Cor. 15) This visualization of eternal life inspires us to lead a life of virtue in this world. Jesus assured us that each of our human virtues is the manifestation of God's love. When we stretch out our hands to the needy in apposite time we will lay the bricks for our eternal home in the kingdom of God (St. Mt. 25:31-46). Jesus affirms this is the real treasure, which will remain forever. (This visualization of eternal life also will remind us constantly of the necessity to control the words (St. James. 3:1-12). Hence the words and deeds of our present life determine the ownership of our place beyond the horizon. A prayer for our departed in the Anaphora of Mar Osthathios and Mar Isaac embraces the beauty of the eternal home. This visualization has fueled the life of a believer.

Second, Eternal Readiness for Eternal life

"Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning." (Luke 12:35) This is a call for a persistent and a consistent way of earthly life.

Last week we heard that a car accident had taken 4 young lives in Chicago, all of them were in their early twenties. Just like any other youngsters in America, they expected a life span of 80-90 years. Nevertheless their lives were completed within a minute's time. Their car caught fire and all 4 youngsters of Indian origin died on the spot. They didn't get a chance even to think about the life after death at that particular moment. We all are continuing our journey in the shadow of death. There is no specific time for the preparation of eternal life. So the eternal readiness is a specific criterion for eternal life. (Luke 12:45-47)

Third, the departed are part of the non-departed Church

The Orthodox ecclesiology affirms the Biblical teachings unambiguously that the Church is the bride of our Lord Jesus (Eph. 5:22-33) and she is eternal as her bridegroom. Church includes the living and the departed (Eph. 2:20-22, Hebrew 12:22-24). Every believer who completes his / her life joins with a large community of believers. (Numbers.20:24, Heb. 12:1) In this departed state, the believers are not silent rather they are in communion with our Lord (Phil. 1:21, 23). This faith consoles and encourages us to pray for them and seek their prayers. They are continuing the same Church life even beyond the horizon. That's why St. Paul asks "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" and he affirms "thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!" (I Cor. 15:55-57)

Let us pray for our beloved departed, who have given blood and sweat to form our identity in this world before we enter into the Great Lent and remember the passion and glorious resurrection of our Lord.




12 February 2017

posted 10 Feb 2017, 23:14 by C S Paul

12 February 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Kohne - All Departed Clergy

Readings from the Scripture

Matthew 24:42-51New King James Version (NKJV)

42 Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. 

43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into.

44 Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

The Faithful Servant and the Evil Servant

45 “Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? 

46 Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. 

47 Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods. 

48 But if that evil servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ 

49 and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards, 

50 the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, 

51 and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Devotional Thoughts for Kohne - Remembering Our Spiritual Fathers

by Rev. Fr. Dr Varghese M Daniel, PhD, Yale University

We are blessed with two Sundays in between the 3 days lent and 50 days lent. As we approach the great lent, these two Sundays are dedicated to the reminiscence of our departed people. Therefore this Sunday we remember all our Spiritual Fathers who guide us in our spiritual journey. St. Paul reminds us "Remember your leaders, ('those who have gone before you') who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith." (Heb.13.7). Lent, fasting and prayer are the source of energy for our spiritual fathers and they have revealed that the same will motivate and inspire us in fulfilling and accomplishing a complete journey of life.

Gospel reading: St. Mathew. 24:42-51

This Gospel passage is the part of eschatological discourse (Second coming of Jesus Christ - Mt. 24 and 25) and it enlightens us on the characteristics and signs of His second coming. All the three Gospel readings of this Sunday (Evening, Morning and Qurbana) and the Pauline Epistle (IThes.4.11-5.11) reflects the teachings of Jesus pertaining to the second coming of Jesus Christ. These readings not only present to us the nature and conduct of a right servant of the Lord, but also play high relevance in remembering the day of our departed priests. This particular passage associates us to a servant who has been put in charge of the house while the master is away. We sing this unique passage in most of the Sundays in our liturgy (Yejamanan varumannerathu…). Two pertinent points to be noted here are:

1. Status of the Steward

"Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time?" (Vs.45)

According to modern medicine, consumption of proper food at a proper time is very significant, thereby assuring us of good health and mental supremacy. Hence the steward, who provides the appropriate food at the right time, has a vital role in an individual's life. The Steward must also be acquainted with the condition of the individual (pertaining to any imminent illnesses or ailments). Priests are called as Stewards to administrate the mysteries and offer spiritual food for the individual, who needs it at the right time. That's why we sing, Thannejamaanan thandivyareha... (O priest come in peace who by his right hand divides and gives to the holy mysteries of his master so that they may have life.)

It is essential for the steward to be inquisitive and to have a clear understanding of the spiritual condition of the individual, who are being placed under their care and also to be accessible to deliver the spiritual food. Trust and vigilance formulates the qualities of an eminent Steward. We could clearly distinguish these qualities in the stewardship in Abraham's servant (Eliezer? Gen.24:10) and Elisha's steward, Gehazi (2 Kings.5.20). One who was an example of trust and the other, one of mistrust. In the Old Testament readings (Numbers 20:23-29 and Deuteronomy 34.1-8, Deu.32.50) we also read the stories of Moses and Aaron. In spite of being great stewards of the Lord, their mistrust was taken into account by the Lord, which in turn prohibited them to enjoy the promise of the Lord. Often in our life, we may have been the recipient of these various admirable services of stewards (priests). However, very often we forget the service of our priests who have inspired us at different ages of our life. The priests and bishops who served in our Church, who blessed our marriage, who baptized us, who did the funeral services for our beloved ones, undoubtedly deserve to be remembered in our daily prayers.

2. State of the Steward

When we reflect upon the stewardship, it is important to consider the state of the stewards as well. Many people are feeble in the presence of food. If they fail to acquire the food which they like and to their liking, they are infuriated towards the steward. Some of them are indifferent and show restrictions, others tolerant, and many others swear by the stewards. This is also true in the spiritual atmosphere. Few years ago, a priest noticed one of his parishioners being drunk and abusive to others on the street. The following day, the same parishioner came to the Church seeking Holy Qurbana. The priest courageously mentioned to him, that he needed to seek confession before receiving the Holy Qurbana. Not only did the parishioner refuse confession, but instead started an allegation against the priest and even succeeded in expelling the priest from the parish. But the priest believed in the central verse of the Bible "It is better take refuge in the Lord than to trust in human" (Ps.118.8)

We, in general, expect stewards to always remain cheerful; irrespective of their mental or physical agony. We always assume stewards to be jovial and good-humored and fail to understand them, regardless of the fact that his child or wife may be ailing with a dreadful disease or they may be enduring an agonizing situation. When we remember our priests on this Sunday, we need to understand these Lord's stewards and their diligent services, before we turn into being their hurtful critics. Today's epistle also emphasizes this (Acts.20.28-38). Let us remember the services of all our Lord's stewards and pray for them to be present as faithful stewards in the second coming of Jesus Christ.


5 February 2017

posted 2 Feb 2017, 21:56 by C S Paul

5 February 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Fifth Sunday after Denho (Baptism of our Lord)

Readings from the Scripture

Mark 1:12-20New King James Version (NKJV)

Satan Tempts Jesus

12 Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. 

13 And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him.

Jesus Begins His Galilean Ministry

14 Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, 

15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

Four Fishermen Called as Disciples

16 And as He walked by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. 

17 Then Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” 

18 They immediately left their nets and followed Him.

19 When He had gone a little farther from there, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the boat mending their nets. 

20 And immediately He called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went after Him.

Devotional Thoughts for the 5th Sunday After Danaha

by Rev. Fr. M. K. Kuriakose, Philadelphia

Gospel Reading: Mark 1:12-20

The baptism of our Lord precedes this passage. The Holy Spirit descended on him and a declaration came from the Father, "he is beloved son in whom I am well pleased." In this post baptismal period the Lord is preparing for His ministry by retreating to the wilderness and soon after the return he selected his disciples. We can have a few thoughts from this passage:

1. Retreat for Empowerment:

Soon after the filling with the Holy Spirit, Jesus was led to the wilderness. This is very symbolic. The Holy Spirit was trying to guide the Lord to get into a tough discipline to equip Him for His ministry. Knowing well the kind of ministry that He is going to take up, Jesus obeys the Spirit to move into a place where there are no humans but animals and Satan. Virtually it was in the wilderness where material needs of a man such as food, shelter and help from other humans are not available. This training is typical because Jesus will face alone in the crowd experience during his ministry. Lack of food, lack of protection (among the wild animals, verse 13) and lack of care by other people. Normally this can terrify a normal person. The desert fathers in Egypt faced this situation. The present Patriarch Shenouda III spent six years in the wilderness in a cave that is seven miles away from the Syrian Monastery in the Egyptian wilderness. Living in a cave alone without proper food and protection, His Holiness gained power to overcome human weaknesses. Later he was elected as the Head of the Coptic Orthodox Church because people trusted his spirituality. We have such examples to emulate in our own times that the retreat of Jesus to wilderness was necessary to gain spiritual strength.

2. The Good News for Repentance:

The Lord begins his ministry with the most important message, "the Kingdom of God is near, and therefore, repent". This was the good news. John the Baptist already paved the way for this preaching of repentance. It was not easy to preach a sermon of repentance those days. John the Baptist was already put in prison for preaching repentance. Jesus was empowered to preach this good news to the people. It was a new message for the people to hear. For the Jewish community this message was a very relevant one. A community that has been too established with all rules and regulations, laws and observances and a paraphernalia of leadership at various levels. The Lord found that God was absent in them. Everything that came as rules of the religion did not care for the needs of the people. Therefore the Lord was very clear in his asking for the change of mind (metanoia) or repentance. People were amazed that Jesus made a lot of sense because the common man was under pressure with all the rules, regulations and traditional patterns of religious nuances. The people at the helm of spiritual affairs were not at all aware that they have gone away from God so much. That too in the name of God they did all the sins justifying their evil actions. Doesn't it remind us of our present time? Doesn't our present time reminds that we need true repentance today?

3. God call us to be "fishers of men":

In a popular sense this call of the Lord is very strange. In the modern age, people are waiting for a call to get a job, or to become rich or popular, and so on. Who would want to get a call to fish for people? This is the reason that the so-called people who are called to be fishers of men are a huge disappointment to the Christian world. Most of these fishers of men are all truly in the pursuit of fishing for their own well-being, position and authority. This is the main reason that we have so much problem within the Christian community itself that people who are seeking their own glory cannot earn people for Christ. The serious question of the present time to Christians Churches today is, why people are leaving the Church? If attracting people to the Lord is the primary duty of the Church, then many other priorities that we have today deserves rethinking. One of my Church History professors used to tell an example in the history class about the building of the Church. The scaffolding that is erected to build the Church on the foundation of Jesus Christ is constituted of the Church leaders including clergy with a view to build the Church. But often the scaffolding becomes the Church itself. The so-called leaders are seeking their own glory than the needs of the people who are to be built on Christ. Thus the work for the people is ignored and the work for the leaders becomes priority. We can see specific examples in today's Church life that the amount of time that we spend on defining the power and rights of the leaders through various disputes and court cases take bulk of our time instead of concentrating on the needs of the ordinary people. The scaffolding is becoming the Church. Ultimately what happens is that the work for the people is stagnant.

4. The Response of the Disciples:

It is amazing that the apostles right away obeyed the call and followed the Lord without any condition and leaving their kith and kin. There was no material attraction for any of the disciples to follow the Lord. Discipleship is a costly matter. In today's world no one is going to follow Christ if there is no good return. Some professional Christian speakers even fix their rates before venture out to preach to the people. Once a follower of Christ is motivated by material or worldly benefits, the entire call is corrupted. There the very mission is in turmoil. This has happened in many mainland Churches where ministers make financial conditions to work for God. It has come almost like a secular job now. This is the reason that the Malankara Orthodox Church mandated all the bishops to renounce their personal property as soon as they are elected to bishopric. The Church should take care of all their needs. There is no need of personal accounts, no bargain for salary, etc. In Christian discipleship, even ones own family is of secondary importance. Priority is always for the work of the Lord. The Lords promise is with us, "seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added onto you". Matt. 6:33. But who would believe the Lord? Those who believe will make difference for the Kingdom of God.


29 January 2017

posted 26 Jan 2017, 21:14 by C S Paul

29 January 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Fourth Sunday after Denho (Baptism of our Lord)

Readings from the Scripture

Evening

Morning

Before Holy Qurbana

Holy Qurbana

Mark 6:1-16New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus Rejected at Nazareth

6 : 1Then He went out from there and came to His own country, and His disciples followed Him. 

And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue. And many hearing Him were astonished, saying, “Where did this Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands! 

Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?” So they were offended at Him.

But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house.” 

Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. 

And He marveled because of their unbelief. Then He went about the villages in a circuit, teaching.

Sending Out the Twelve

And He called the twelve to Himself, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them power over unclean spirits. 

He commanded them to take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bag, no bread, no copper in their money belts— 

but to wear sandals, and not to put on two tunics.

10 Also He said to them, “In whatever place you enter a house, stay there till you depart from that place. 

11 And whoever will not receive you nor hear you, when you depart from there, shake off the dust under your feet as a testimony against them. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!”

12 So they went out and preached that people should repent. 

13 And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick, and healed them.

John the Baptist Beheaded

14 Now King Herod heard of Him, for His name had become well known. And he said, “John the Baptist is risen from the dead, and therefore these powers are at work in him.”

15 Others said, “It is Elijah.”

And others said, “It is the Prophet, or like one of the prophets.”

16 But when Herod heard, he said, “This is John, whom I beheaded; he has been raised from the dead!”

Our Faith in Christ Must Grow

by Deacon Matthew Thomas (Sujit)

Gospel Reading: St. Mark 6:1-6

Faith, just like human beings who possess it, is supposed to grow. When our faith stops growing, we also stop growing. The destiny of human beings is for us to grow to the statue of Christ (Ephesians 4:13). However our unbelief often prevents us from attaining this goal. We remain in a state of stunted growth.

The world’s oldest living organisms are found inside of salt deposits. In the January 2011 edition of GSA Today, the publication of the Geological Society of America a scientist has published his finding of a microbial community discovered in an ancient buried salt crystal. Salt crystals grow very quickly and imprison everything around it. This particular microbial community remained buried in a tiny bubble. Often we find ourselves individually and collectively in such a state – alive and buried but not growing.

The Gospel portion for this week narrates the work of Jesus in his hometown of Nazareth. According to St. Mark, Jesus was teaching inside the synagogue on Sabbath. Those who were gathered questioned among themselves about the character, teaching and work of Jesus. Jesus testifies that a prophet has no honor in his own country. According to St. Mark, “He could do no miracle there except that He laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He wondered at their unbelief” (St. Mark 6:5-6).

The behavior of those from Jesus’ hometown is quite similar to our own. Our unbelief stands in the way of Christ acting. The primary cause of this unbelief is that we do not truly know Christ. When we look with human eyes we are only able to see human things. The neighbors of Jesus could not see past his human parentage and neglected the truth that standing in front of them is the Son of God. As baptized Christians the eyes of our soul have been opened. Moses Bar Kepha (+903) stated, “The Eucharistic offering and Myron bring profit to those who no longer look with the physical eye at what can be seen, that is to say the bread and the wine, but who using the eyes of the soul, apprehend and perceive God the Word united to the bread and wine and to the oil of Myron.”

When people approached Jesus of Nazareth with faith that he was the Christ, others marveled at the wonders Christ performed. When people approached Jesus of Nazareth with unbelieving heart about the person of Christ, Christ marveled at their unbelief.

Our faith grows when we trust that Jesus is the Christ. To have faith means to place our trust in the person of Jesus. The Holy Gospel readings of the past few weeks and of the next coming weeks are focused on the beginning of Christ’s public ministry and invite us to think about person of Jesus and the Kingdom of God inaugurated by Him. In this season following the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, may the Holy Spirit continue to shower us with blessings in order 

22 January 2017

posted 20 Jan 2017, 02:48 by C S Paul

22 January 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Third Sunday after Denho (Baptism of our Lord)

Readings from the Scripture

John 3:1-12New King James Version (NKJV)

The New Birth

There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 

This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”

Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 

That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 

Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 

The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be?”

10 Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? 

11 Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. 

12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?

Born anew

by H.G.Yuhanon Mor Meletius

This incident talks about the dichotomy between Judaism and Christianity. This has been a theme in all the four Gospels and even in the Church in the early times (Matt. 5:17 f.).

Nicodemus stands as a representative of his religion. Of course this has been the religion of Jesus too. But while Jesus represented the change that God brings continuously in the world, Nicodemus represents the static religion. So there is a tension between the Old which is old all the time and the New which is continuously being renewed.

So the last verse in the section can be read first. Jewish religion with its static state has become one of worldly and Jesus represents the heavenly.

Nicodemus comes at night to see Jesus. John the Evangelist is very good in making use of symbols out of time and place. Nicodemus comes at night because he represents a community that is in darkness. We may recall the state that existed before the creation. Darkness was upon the face of the earth (Gen. 1:1). That was a time when God had not started working on the creation project of human environment. It was also a time of chaos (also due to uncontrolled water covering the face of the earth) and hence rather a time ripe (in the fullness of time – Luk. 2:6) for God to work. The same darkness has taken over the whole religion of Judaism. Now God in Jesus has started to create a new identity in it.

It was good that Nicodemus came to Jesus. He is ready to accept Jesus as someone from God seeing the works being done by Jesus. But the problem is that there have been so many people who have come from God and have done wondrous things. The Jews considered Jesus one among those great people of the Old Testament.

Nicodemus calling Jesus ‘Rabi’ is another sign for that. To Jews Jesus certainly exhibits the scholarly skills of a learned person and hence can be called a teacher or Rabi. But Jesus is not happy to see that his own religion is not ready to take things forward and see the ‘signs’ and interpret them on the basis of the message in their scripture and accept Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus knows that he is not just a Rabi. So he takes Nicodemus further and puts a challenge before him. Just being a Jew will not make one eligible to enter in to the Kingdom of God.

The word ‘anew’ points to the insufficiency of the existing state of affair. An utterly or complete renewal is required. It should be noted that this is not ‘born again’ as some would argue, it is ‘born anew’. The same person, but continuously and thoroughly being renewed.

The next question from Nicodemus exposes the insufficiency of Jewish religion in which Nicodemus is a teacher. But Jesus waits till later to spell this out (3:10).

A second good element in Nicodemus is that he wants to continue the dialogue. In other words, he is eager to go further and is not adamant on the exhaustibility of his religion. Hope about future is there in him. But the problem is that he is not sure how to achieve it. The sad fact is that even now he is not ready to accept Jesus as the Messiah. So Jesus talks about the inevitable.

There has been the purification rite of baptism in Judaism. There was the baptism of John too. A lot of Jews did consider John the Baptist as one from God. Now they consider Jesus also as one from God. But they have to go further and take the baptism of spirit.

Two things are to be noted here.

1, talk about entering the Kingdom of God in itself is also an invitation to enter in to the Kingdom.

2, Jesus himself is the Kingdom of God, because he is not simply one from God, rather he is God.

This the Jews have not yet understood. This is the work of the Baptism of the Spirit. No purification act of Jews is sufficient to make people eligible to enter in to the Kingdom. This, John the Baptist had already told them (Matt. 3:11). But the Jews never understood that.

So Jesus further explains it in verses 6 following. He compares born anew human with the wind (spirit). The question is not where it comes from or where it goes to, rather the question is how it relates to one. For Jews, Jesus was the son of Mary. So he, for them, can not have wisdom, can not be more than a person from God. To them he will end up as a man of God just as anyone else in the history of Judaism.

Two things can be noted here.

1, Jesus needs to be understood as someone beyond the normal ‘teacher from God'.

2, anyone born anew is one like Jesus. Any one born anew in Jesus shares the spirit with him.

Here we can recall the statement in the prayer of removal of crown in the sacrament of baptism in Orthodox Church found at the end of the liturgy. The priest calls the baptized one ‘a brother/ sister of the only Son of God’. The baptized one shares the spirit with Jesus.

To continue the meditation two things need to be said.

First, Nicodemus was the representative of the Jewish community when he came to Jesus. We need to ask whom do we represent when we approach Him with our requests and prayers?

Second, how do we respond to the whole question of born anew?

Regarding the first question, most of the time we represent just ourselves when we come to Jesus. We present our worries and our needs. It is not sin to do that. But to do only that is a sin.

The priest during Holy Qurbono, from one of the ‘Sedros’ would read and say ‘I beseech you Oh Lord, pardon and forgiveness for the whole creation’. The phrase ‘whole creation’ is to be taken special note of. Only when we represent the whole creation, or in the limited circle, our neighbor, we can come before our Lord meaningfully. Because born anew is possible only in the company and in the fellowship of our brother (recall the expression of Isaiah at the temple (“Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips – 6:5. Also see the Husoyo prayer of the priest which says, ‘pardon oh Lord my many, great and countless sins and the sins of all your faithful people’).

Newness was lost for Cain and following him a host of people as they were not mindful of their brothers. Nicodemus represented a community that had exclusive claims and was proud of its heritage, scriptures and law codes. But they could not see Messiah in Jesus because they lived in darkness. Seclusion from the rest of the world creates darkness, darkness creates lack of newness and lack of newness forbids entry in to Kingdom of God.

To answer the second question, we need to look in to our own community. What kind of a community do we have? A community which is proud of its St. Thomas heritage; its great liturgical and theological traditions; its great fathers and its rich culture. But when newness is missing, none of these would hold value. This is to be taken very seriously.

Of course the Orthodox Church understands Jesus’ statement about the ‘born anew of water and spirit’ as a reference to the sacrament of baptism in the Church. But Orthodox does not consider baptism as a one time event. It is a continuous process that is initiated in the act of washing in water and anointing by Holy Oil. Unless this washing and anointing happens continuously, just initiation would become meaningless.

This is where we have almost proved to be one like Nicodemus’ community. The very words ‘change’ or ‘new’ creates lot of restlessness and anxiety in us. The great prophet Isaiah says, ‘God creates a new heaven and a new earth’ (65:17). Again the author of the book of Revelations says, ‘Jesus makes everything new’ (21:5).

Are we new or old? Is our community a constantly being renewed community or a static one? To find an answer we may just ask our children how we are to them. They represent a new generation. How is our worship service to them? How is our community structure to them? Many times we misinterpret the term Orthodox and say things in our community can never be changed. Well that is what people of the Jewish community also argued. With a static community, entry in to the Kingdom becomes impossible according to Jesus (if that is authentic enough for us). Jesus was not talking to Nicodemus alone. He spoke that to Nicodemus once. But now he is telling us that every day. Any one listening?

A final word. Every act of salvation is an act of creation as seen in the Bible. This is where the meaning of the phrase ‘born anew’ lies. Before every act of salvation in the Old Testament we can see the presence of either darkness (creation of woman, flight from Egypt etc.) or water (Noah, crossing of Nile, crossing of Jordan etc.).

Same is the case in New Testament. The act of salvation in Jesus begins with a passing through the water in Jordan. At the climax, which is the crucifixion, we see darkness too. Nicodemus comes at night and there was darkness. That was a situation ripe for ‘born anew’.

Look at the world around us, at our community. Do we see troubles, problems, unrest, in-fight and other symbols of darkness and chaos in here? Consider the time ripe for being ‘born anew’. We need to come to the presence of Jesus Christ. Ask him questions, how can it happen to us? How can we do it? Do not be adamant saying what we have is enough and what we are now is just fine.

If there is no born anew, there is no Kingdom of God. Can we afford to lose the Kingdom of God?

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