SUNDAY SERMON




SUNDAY SERMON

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

Syrian Orthodox Church




21 October 2018

posted 19 Oct 2018, 23:14 by C S Paul

21 October 2018

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Sixth Sunday after Sleebo/ the Feast of Holy Cross

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

Luke 18:18-27 New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus Counsels the Rich Young Ruler

18 Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

19 So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. 

20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’ 

21 And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.”

22 So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

23 But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich.

With God All Things Are Possible

24 And when Jesus saw that he became very sorrowful, He said, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! 

25 For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

26 And those who heard it said, “Who then can be saved?”

27 But He said, “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.”

Forsaking Everything and Following Christ

by Very Rev. Dr. P. S. Samuel Cor-Episcopa, NY

A rich young ruler approaches Jesus asking Him “What shall I do to inherit Eternal Life?

The Gospel portions for Sunday reading is from St. Luke 18:18-27 for Holy Qurbana, St.Mathew,19:13-26 for Evening prayer and St.Mark.10:17-27, for Morning prayer. All these portions give the same incident/story of the rich young man. There are only slight variations. But the theme is the same based on the above question.

Mathew and Mark say, a young man, approached Jesus; Luke says, ”a certain ruler”, a rich Pharisee. We see a similar story in St. John. Here it is an old rich Pharisee, Nicodemus coming to Jesus in the night asking the same question. Here our Lord’s answer is slightly different at first sight. Again in the sixth Chapter of St. John, there is another way which our Lord gives us to inherit eternal life. (Jn. Ch 6: discourse on the Bread of life) These are specific ways by which we may inherit Eternal life; by sacramental life, of Baptism or new Birth and H. Qurbana participation and by forsaking everything and following Christ.

In today's reading, the last means is clearly emphasized. The young man’s question is, how do I inherit eternal life? Or how am I to be saved? Or how do I go to heaven? This is an ever present quest. All humans have asked this question in many ways. All religions focus on this vital question and our Lord gives one suggestion and leaves it to the individual or the community to make the choice and the decision. Here the suggestion or answer given is to this particular young man and in his special circumstances. We are expected to learn from this instance and direct our lives accordingly. Our Lord’s prescription is “Observe the ten Commandments.” Remember, in another place our Lord mentions the essence of these Commandments ( Mark 12:29-31. “Love God and love your neighbor.”), neighbor here means our fellow human beings.

Now, what do we mean by love? Love is divine. God is love. “God so loved the world, He gave----" Love implies “giving”, not withholding any thing. Or not keeping anything to oneself. It means sacrificial giving. This is what Mother Theresa said, “give, until it hurts.” Look at Jesus commending the widow who gave all she had to the Lord. It really hurt her, but she did not hold back. This is sacrificial love. We all give from our abundance, we give tithes, a tenth of what we have been given by God and we think we are doing something great! Godly love implies much more and expects and even demands much more.

Now look at the rich young man. Jesus demanded something from this young fellow, which he did not demand from the old rich man Nicodemus! May be God expects different things from different people, depending on their circumstances and values. Now look at the answer he gives to Jesus “From my childhood I have observed all the commandments." It is true that he was practicing virtue. He was a ‘good man’ very careful about all the prescribed observances and hence he was proud to be a practicing Jewish leader.

He is not the only one feeling proud about observances. We all are. Real Orthodox Christians,church goers, living what we believe to be virtuous lives. But Jesus looked at him. The evangelist says, Jesus loved him.

We see in the gospels many occasions when Jesus looked at people. These have been turning points in peoples’ lives. There were instances when His look turned out to be when he felt compassion. He joined them in their suffering and suffered with them and healed them. Or wept with them. On other occasions like when he was being questioned in the High Priest’s palace, His penetrating look shook Peter and helped him to repent and be saved from destruction.

This time Jesus looked at him (the rich ruler) with love. It was a sort of X- ray, scanning him deep into his own life and self. Jesus found a spot, a dark spot in him which betrayed him. Our Lord, the eternal physician, diagnosed his malady that kept him away from possessing eternal life. The young man’s idolatry. He had another god. He was worshipping ‘mammon’, wealth, riches, with which God had blessed him.

Jesus told him, young man “You lack one thing, Go and sell what you have, distribute the proceeds to the poor” ( the sick, the homeless, the orphans, the marginalized, the hungry, the poorest of the poor) “and come and follow me.”

This was too much for him. He was quite comfortable in his belief that he was leading a good life. The words were thunder in his ears. Lightning flashed before his eyes. It shattered his peace and hope. His pretest that he loved God and his fellow beings by observing the Law as he understood it, became a nightmare for him. His inner self was exposed and he without saying a word, felt ashamed, left Jesus and the possibility of inheriting heaven.

The disciples and other followers wondered at the sight of a loveable rich ruler, a good man, moving away from the Light into the Darkness with all his riches intact, like a dead man walking, by his own tragic choice. He was a very rich man and did not want to part with his wealth. So he went away feeling sorry. And Jesus watched him go.

This is a powerful story. Let us take a few moments to ponder. He was a ‘good man’ by worldly standards. But Jesus found him wanting. He could not be helped.

Are we any different from that likable rich man? We are all ‘good’. We don’t kill, we don’t steal, we love God and our neighbors. We are virtuous, we go to church, we receive Holy Qurbana, we pray and we fast and we give alms.

What do we lack?

Turn around and shine the search light into our own hearts, and see our true selves, who we really are.

I remember a mortal incident that took place in our village, when I was about ten years old. There was a prominent rich man, well respected by the villagers, an excellent swimmer and an expert in traveling in tiny canoes (very tiny wooden dug out boats). He could stand up on one leg in the boat and row with the other leg and travel long distances in water. One day during the flood season, with water levels very high, he decided to go to the market in his tiny boat. As usual he was standing and rowing with one foot. Almost in the middle of the way his boat turned up side down and he fell in the water. He tried to swim with one hand, roared aloud and sank to the bottom. People came out to see what was happening. Nobody could swim so far and rescue him. The next day when some swimmers dived down and lifted his dead body, they found that he was clutching his money bag tucked in his “mady thump” and keeping his folded umbrella in his armpit! No wonder he could not swim and save himself.

This is what we all are, and what we all do, not only as individuals, but collectively as communities and churches. We hold on to our possessions, land, institutions and beautiful old church buildings, some times at our own peril and never consider alternatives, never listen to the voice of God in us and out side, and never come to terms or compromise and live, but hold on to them, sink into darkness and die. Even Jesus would not help us as He did not help this young man whom He liked and loved so much, though the man was self righteous, selfish, traditional, orthodox and hypocritical.

Let us beware, listen and perceive what God tells us and give heed, turn around and follow Him and abide with Him, and that is Eternal life and salvation. God bless.




14 October 2018

posted 12 Oct 2018, 08:55 by C S Paul

14 October 2018

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Fifth Sunday after Sleebo/ the Feast of Holy Cross

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

Matthew 23:1-12 New King James Version (NKJV)

Woe to the Scribes and Pharisees

23 Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, 

saying:“The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 

Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. 

For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. 

But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. 

They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, 

greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’ 

But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. 

Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 

10 And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. 

11 But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. 

12 And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

Being Righteous and Humble Before God

by Rev. Fr. K. K. John, Philadelphia

Summary:

Scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Obey what they teach but not do what they do, for they do not do what they teach. They burden the people instead of helping and show outward piety and yet love prominent seats in the feasts and respect from others.

Christ’s follower should be a different model. Christ is the only teacher and God in heaven is the only Father. All followers are brethren, that is, equal. Greatest among them shall become their servant. Self-exaltation leads to humiliation and humility exalt.

1. Moses’ seat (Al Kursiyod Moose Yiseb):

Moses’ seat was, in fact, an unrefined jungle stone. Truly, Moses did not virtually sit upon a throne as that of King David or Solomon. Israelites were fighting with Amalekites. Moses stretched his hands up during the fight so that Israel would win. When he held his hands down, Israel would fail. When “Moses hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur (supported and lifted) stayed his hands, the one on the one side and the other on the other side,” Ex 17:12.

Practically, what other than a stone could have been his throne in the wilderness? Jesus Christ had high regard for priesthood. Seat of Moses is reverentially called, ‘Throne of Moses.’ Contemporary concept of throne has nothing to do with it. There was a special chair in synagogues assigned only to chief rabbi that was known as Moses’ seat. Rabbis used to teach sitting on a raised seat. This meant that High priests derived their authority from Moses. They claimed that priesthood had divine origin and unbroken succession from Moses. Authority of Moses was non contestable to the Jews.

Jesus did not conceive obliteration of priesthood. He criticized the priests with intent to correct the errors that crept in the system, correctly interpreted the law, pointed out the areas of failure and suggested restitution. “Do not think that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill,” Mat 5:17. Prophets also criticized the priests e.g., Ish 28:7, Jer 2:8, Ez 22:26, Hos 4:4-6, Mal 2:6. That was total condemnation, not of the system but the evil attitude of the priests. Many Jewish priests converted to Christianity and continued as ordinary members, in the early church, Acts 6:7. We ought to think of the present predicament, if priesthood is blameless today?

2. Jesus said to obey what they taught!

The reason is obvious. The Pharisees taught the Law of Moses. The gist of Moses’ Law is to love the Lord God with full heart, soul and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself, Mat 22:37-40. The purpose of the law was to liberate man from sinful/burdensome life to a higher realm of righteousness. Pharisees and scribes, by their own traditions, converted Judaism into a religion of ostentation. One can understand on a peripheral reading of Decalogue that God’s commandments, do's and don’ts are in simple language so that ordinary people could easily grasp it. But the Rabbis made them complex by self-interpretations. They created a fence around the Law denying access to the ordinary, which is the case even today.

But the Law is wholesome and necessary. Jesus forbade his followers from breaking or teaching less of it. In today’s culture, especially in America, the word ‘obedience’ lost its meaning. Faithful does not obey the priest; the priest does not obey the bishop; the bishops does not obey the code of conduct or cannon; children do not obey parents; pupil does not obey teacher; and so on. Moral authority of parents, teachers and priests is at stake as a result of neglect of moral code of conduct and the result is a chaotic society. Here is the relevance of Jesus’ admonition to obey the God’s commandments. Disobedience cost paradise to Adam; Kingdom to Saul; salvation to humanity and woe to Jonah.

3. Jesus said, not do what they do.

Outwardly, they were very keen to follow the Law, which said to wear portions of law in their person as a sign and as a memorial, Ex 13 and Deut 6. But they were not content with the size and added more to it so that people would see and respect them. This was due to spiritual pride. “Pride is denial of God, and invention of the devil, the despising of men, the mother of condemnation, the offspring of praise, a sign of sterility, flight from Divine assistance, the precursor of madness, the cause of falls, a foothold for satanic possession, a source of anger, a door of hypocrisy, the support of demons, the guardian of sins, the patron of pitilessness, the rejection of compassion, a bitter inquisitor, and inhuman judge, an opponent of God, a root of blasphemy,” St. John Climacus.

Another problem was hypocrisy. They publicly preached virtuous matters but lived in sin privately. Thus Pharisees and scribes fell short of the righteousness expected of them. So Jesus admonished His disciples to exceed their righteousness, Mat 5:20.

Most of us are yet to take note that spiritual pride is more heinous than material pride and stumbling in the way of salvation. Religious hierarchy is consumed in spiritual pride, which God detests and judges. St Paul taught, ‘you do not preach what you cannot practice.’ In other words, practice what you preach, 1C 9:27. “It is better to allow our lives to speak for us than our words. God did not bear the cross only two thousand years ago. He bears it today, and he dies and is resurrected from day to day. It would be a poor comfort to the world if it had to depend on a historical God who died two thousand years ago. Do not, then, preach the God of history, but show him as he lives today through you.” Mahatma Gandhi.

4. Calling Rabbi and Father:

Do not be called Rabbi for you have only one teacher who is Christ, v8. You do not call anyone on earth father for you have only one father who is in heaven, v9. Some new-found-theologians and mushroom groups who call themselves pastors and church are very fond of these verses. They profusely twist, misinterpret and quote these verses to establish that clergies should not be honored as father or teacher. They are comfortable with ‘achen’ but not Rev. Father! We call priests fathers because they baptize and regeneration takes place in baptism.

Firstly, these verses do not oppose honoring those who deserve respect. In Aramaic (Syriac) language, vernacular of our Lord, there are distinct words for father. “Abo” is base form to mean father. Its derivative, “Abohe” denotes biological father, in the worldly sense. “Abohotho” is another derivation to mean spiritual father, bishop, abbot, etc. in the ecclesiastical sense, Syriac Dictionary by Paine Smith. Elisha called Elijah father, 2K 2:12. The rich man cried out in the hell, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me,” Luke 16:24. Abraham called him ‘son,’ v25. St Paul claimed spiritual father-ship of Corinthians, 1Cor 4:15, Col 3:21.

5. Rabbi literally means, ‘my great one.’

It became a technical name for teacher at the time of Jesus. Thus the teachers had an elevated feeling for themselves. Jesus is pointing to the sting of their inner pride. So was the case with the word, father. Rabbis interpreted that biological father gives life in the physical sense but the teacher gives eternal life and so they deserve more respect. Jesus called Nicodemus, teacher of Israel, John 3:10. Church in Antioch called Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manaen and Saul as teacher, Acts 13:1. Christ appointed teachers in the Church, Eph 4:11. Christ appointed Paul a teacher, 2Tim 1:11.

Humility:

Self-absorbed Pharisees and scribes, devoid of humility, expected highest honor from others and exalted themselves above God. They were happy only with adjectives prefixed to their names, “Abba or Rabbi.” What Jesus condemned was not the title itself but the presumptuous claims the titles implied, says Dummelow. Jesus cautioned the followers that they should not think themselves equal to God or Jesus. Discipleship demands subjection to Lord.

However, looking at the present spiteful scenario in Christendom, one would doubt if the present hierarchy is in any way different from the Rabbis of Jesus’ time. For example, we address the Patriarch, “His holiness, Moran Mor Ignatius.” Does this not remind us Pharisees? ‘Moran’ means Lord (Lord-God). Are these titles biblically appropriate to address human beings? I think not. The loathsome Pharisees and scribes were better off than most of us!

“Blessed is he who humbles himself in all things, for he will be exalted in all. For a man who for God’s sake humbles himself, and thinks meanly of himself, is glorified by God. The man who hungers and thirsts for God's sake, God will make him drunk with His good things. And he who goes naked for God's sake is clad by Him in a robe of incorruption and glory. And he who becomes poor for His sake is consoled with His true riches,” St. Isaac the Syrian.

“Avoid arrogance, quarrel and pride while dealing in Church matters; instead, let your humility shine before others. Those who place their trust in God, and satisfy the people are blessed,” Parumala thirumeni. We extol Parumala thirumeni but do not heed to his admonition.

Bible honors David not for his might as king but for his humility to acknowledge, repent and confess his sins before prophet Nathan and walk righteously thereafter before the awesome majesty of God. Cardinal message of today’s gospel is, being righteous and humble before God and men, is Christian virtue, no matter how big the position, is.


7 October 2018

posted 5 Oct 2018, 21:27 by C S Paul

7 October 2018

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Fourth Sunday after Sleebo/ the Feast of Holy Cross

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

Luke 16:13-18 New King James Version (NKJV)

13 “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”

The Law, the Prophets, and the Kingdom

14 Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him. 

15 And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

16 “The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it.

17 And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail.

18 “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery.

"Jesus: Challenge to the Comfortable"

by Father Patrick Brennan

In the landmark work, Re-discovering the Parables, Scripture scholar Joachim Jeremias teaches us that the parables of Jesus take us to the core of the mind, the vision, of Jesus, as to what life in God's Reign is like. Some parables and parabolic images and actions of Jesus are quite consoling and comforting, like the parable of the Prodigal Son, which reveals God's great mercy toward sinners. But other instances of Jesus's parabolic ministry are quite disturbing, calling us to radical life change and repentance, warning us that we may be missing the point of life; warning us that in the eyes of God, opportunities for us to get on the right and moral course of life might be running out.

In the 16th and 17th chapters of Luke's gospel we have examples of some of Jesus's hard sayings, sometimes hard to understand, sometimes hard to live. Luke 16:1-13 tells the story of the rich man's dishonest manager, who is dismissed for squandering the rich man's money. This shrewd manager contemplates his fate after he is let go on how will he survive. He decides to create friends for himself among his master's debtors by lessening the debt that they owe the master. When the rich man notices how shrewd the manager has been, he commends him for his shrewdness. Jesus concludes the parable by saying the children of this age are shrewder dealing with this generation than are the children of the light.

Jesus wants us to be children of the light, but he seems to want us to develop some of the shrewdness of the children of this age. Translated for our day, I believe Jesus would like to see us take some of the skill, effort, time, and determination that we give to work, and apply it to life in the Reign of God, or living a spiritual life. He is not encouraging us to become dishonest like the manager, rather to become entrepreneurial about what really matters in life. Let us take a moment to assess what dynamics we use for success at work that we might apply to our spirituality.

Most of us who work, have jobs, are responsible to some higher authority. My work is ministry, but there is certainly a hierarchy of authority that I am responsible to in my work. What if the Reign of God became as important to us as our jobs? We would become much more deliberate and intentional about discerning what might be God's will for us in specific situations. God is our ultimate higher authority. As Eugene Kennedy recently wrote, God, through Jesus, invites us, not, to popular "soft spirituality," but rather to discipleship. True discipleship can be tough and demanding. We are called to lives of self-sacrificial love, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, reconciliation, charity and justice. We have an authority, higher than our bosses, that we need to attend to—to conform to—and that is God.

People who are successful in their jobs set goals. They are pro-active and imaginative in setting and then acting on those goals. What if we applied some of our goal energy to life in the Reign of God? Then, we would be pro-actively setting reasonable goals for ourselves about attitude and behavior changes that we might better live Jesus's vision of the Reign of God. We would set goals to deepen and improve our relationship with God and with others. We would set goals to take better care of our bodies, our souls, our minds and ourselves.

People who are good at what they do at work have a discipline. They know how to manage time, energy, and effort well. When we are growing in the Reign of God, we apply some of that sense of discipline of time, energy, and effort to realities like: prayer, growth in knowledge of Scripture, ministry, a sense of service in our jobs, helping God's Reign to emerge in our homes, and in the world.

At work, we are evaluated. If we become more serious about the Reign of God, we would evaluate ourselves more regularly regarding the quality of our discipleship. We might even be daring enough to ask someone else to evaluate us. And, as we do at work, we would use the results of the evaluation to re-shape our efforts in the future, in this case, life in the Reign of God, living as disciples.

Successful people at work are focused on results: concrete, tangible indicators that reveal that we are selling the product, advancing the cause of the business. It would be good if we looked at results, or fruit, in our spiritual lives too. If we are serious about the spiritual life, we ought to be growing in integrity, our sense of morality and conscience; we ought to be more loving at home; we ought to be more concerned about mercy, compassion; and justice; we ought to be closer to God through prayerfulness. How are our results when it comes to spirituality and spiritual growth?

Career-minded people are focused on advancement at work. Truly spiritual people are likewise focused on advancement. But spiritual growth cannot be understood through any image or metaphor that speaks of ascendancy, like climbing a ladder of success. No, spiritual growth is better understood as an ever-deepening spiral inward into the mysteries of God, love, self, and life.

During the development of many of our careers, we have sought out mentors, other people whom we have allowed to companion us, offering us their experience and wisdom, helping us find our way on the job. Many experts in the spiritual life would say that as spiritual people we need mentoring also, people who will help us grow in the skills of spiritual living, call us to deeper conversion, help us to discern ethically and in terms of God's unique call to each of us. These mentors can be trained spiritual directors, confessors, pastors, pastoral ministers, or Christian friends. A unique kind of mentoring takes place in small, Christian communities, as people of faith gather on a regular basis to pray, break open Scripture, experience communion with each other, and reach out to serve each other, the larger faith community, and the world.

Many of us have sought out seminars, certificate programs, advanced degrees, institutes, different forms of continuing education to help us grow in our professional or occupational fields. Faith demands that ongoing kind of learning and formation too. Unfortunately, many people cease religious education somewhere around eighth grade. Faith formation should be occasional and life-long, rather than regular and terminal. Often in parishes, the same small group of people take advantage of the parish's opportunities for growth in faith. When was the last time you took time to be fed, to nurture, to re-educate the spiritual dimension of your life?

Successful workers imagine and work outside the box. They are innovative, seeing, developing new ways, more helpful ways, more effective ways of doing things. One interpretation of the parable that we began with is this: the owner of the resources, the rich man, the master, is God. God is pleased when the manager, all of us, begins to be shrewd about helping those with few resources to share more in God's abundance. We are to be shrewd stewards of God's creation, shrewd about mercy and justice.

This parable closes with a clear statement: we cannot serve God and mammon, or property. God needs to be the center of our lives. All resources are to be seen as God's; and as stewards, we are to see that as many as possible share in God's resources.

The imperative in Jesus's perspective for us is to be serious about charity, and beyond charity about justice, or addressing and changing the systems that lock people in patterns of injustice as is further emphasized in another parable in Luke 16:19-31: the parable about Dives and Lazarus. Lazarus, who suffered in this life, is blessed with the first place in the heavenly banquet; but the rich man, who really has no name, ends up in a place of torment. He had known of Lazarus's plight and did nothing to help him. This parable of reversal warns us against sins of omission, but specifically the sins of omission that we are to be most watchful about are those through which we sin against charity and justice.

These hard, challenging sayings of Jesus continue in Luke 17, in which Jesus tells us that we are to do all that is expected of us and then say to ourselves: we did what was expected of us; we are worthless slaves. The emphasis in this parable is: the need to purify our motivation in all that we do. Our motivation is not to be profit, recognition, power; nor should we engage in self pity when we have done something for others. Rather, we are called to service of brothers and sisters in all that we do. The phrase "worthless slave" often does not sit well with us. The English does not capture well the connotations conveyed by the Greek version of the adjective. The ancient Greek reads "to whom nothing is owed." We need to keep in mind here that slaves did not have the plight in Jesus's time that slaves did during American slavery. Often slaves in Jesus's time were parts of the household, protected and cared for. In this hard saying Jesus is calling us to a holy realism: when we serve, which is what people in the Reign of God do, we are to see ourselves as parts of God's household, protected and cared for, to whom nothing is owed, and of whom one thing is expected: service to others.

Jesus, that great source of comfort, is also a great source of challenge to us where we are too comfortable. In Luke 16 and 17 he encourages us to give some of the same energy we give to work to the Kingdom, especially works of mercy and justice; He warns against sins of omission, especially in the area of mercy and justice. And he calls us to a holy realism about ourselves as servants in the family of God.

Imagine the negative energy, within each of us, amidst all of us, that could be diminished if we lived the wisdom of these three hard sayings of Jesus.


30 September 2018

posted 29 Sep 2018, 08:40 by C S Paul

30 September 2018

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Third Sunday after Sleebo/ the Feast of Holy Cross

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

Mark 2:23-28 New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus Is Lord of the Sabbath

23 Now it happened that He went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; and as they went His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain. 

24 And the Pharisees said to Him, “Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”

25 But He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him: 

26 how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?”

27 And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. 

28 Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.”

"What Is Your Day 'On'?"

by Trey H. Little

Have you ever heard the saying: “It is easier to preach ten sermons than it is to live one”?

As a preacher, I can attest to the fact that there is a lot of truth to that statement. However, I can also say that I honestly attempt to practice what I preach. You see, contrary to what some think about us preachers—it is not our goal to stand in a pulpit and pontificate about all the things our parishioners are not doing right—or should I say, not living out. But instead, it is our responsibility to proclaim the Word of God and trust the Holy Spirit will do the convicting in all of our hearts.

That’s why I love this quote that is taped here on the pulpit that says, “It would be best for a preacher to fall and break his neck as he mounts the pulpit if he is not going to be the first to follow God in living his own message” (John Calvin).

As we prepare to hear God’s word this morning—I want to confess that this ONE sermon may be the most difficult for me to live out—and my hunch is it may be for you as well. But I will also say that I think this ONE sermon may be one of the most important sermons we should strive to live out. I will attempt to explain.

Turn with me to Mark 2: 23-28.

Every year, our church is asked to fill out various forms whose information is supposed to assist the Presbytery to determine how churches are doing in regards to membership, baptisms, financial giving, missions, etc. There are also a couple of forms that directly address the pastor. One of which I was personally asked to fill out. As I was filling it out a few questions in particular caught my eye. In fact, every year these same questions always get my attention. The questions are: “Did you use all of your study leave?” “Did you use all of your allotted vacation time?” And, “What is your day off?”

At least one reason why they want to know the answers to these questions is because they want to know if pastors are taking care of themselves. The Presbytery requires that all clergy have a minimum of 4 weeks of vacation and 2 weeks of study leave. But also, they expect each pastor to have a designated “day off” each week.

I answered the questions this way: “Did you use all of your study leave? “Yes, I used it for a Doctorate class in August.” “Did you use all of your allotted vacation time?” Again, I answered “Yes.” But to the question, “What is your day off?” I simply wrote: “Friday”—and then put a smiley face—a sarcastic reminder of what a joke my “day off” really is. You see, although I am supposed to take a day off every week; although the Session has approved me taking a day off every week I just don’t do a very good job of it.

I have come to the conclusion that there are a few reasons for this. First, it seems like there is always something that I could be doing here at the church—or at least I think there is. Second, there is always someone I could be visiting. Third, unless I have something very specific planned to do—I don’t do well just “resting.” Finally, what’s the big deal if I don’t take my day off—it’s not like I am breaking the law or anything!

In our sermon text this morning—the Pharisees felt justified to accuse Jesus and His disciples of breaking the Sabbath law. By design, the Sabbath was to be a day of rest; a day that was very significant in the Jewish tradition. And the Pharisees were real sticklers for the observance of the Sabbath as well as obsessive compulsive with various interpretations. The Pharisees were very interested in the outward observance of their understanding of the law. And somehow, down through the years, their understanding of the Sabbath law caused a shift from a day of rest to a day of stress. And the Pharisees were quick to point the finger, as was the case in our text this morning—according to the law; it was unlawful to harvest on the Sabbath.

A quick look at the Old Testament will remind us of the origin of the law. Exodus 20 says, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work…” It goes on to say, “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

The Lord established a Sabbath “day.” Not a Sabbath “hour.” The Sabbath is not simply about going to church—although I think that worship should be a part of the Sabbath day. But I think the Sabbath—in its most literal translation—is to be a day of rest; a day when we not only rest in the Lord but also a day when we rest from the pressures of work. The Sabbath day should be a day when we reflect on the many blessings in our lives rather than stressing over our many obligations. The Sabbath should be a day when we recognize God’s importance rather than assuming our own importance.

It seems to me that one of the reasons we struggle with observing the Sabbath is because we place way too much importance on ourselves. If I don’t work every day—how will it get done? If I take a day of rest each week then I will just be that much further behind when I go back to work. If I don’t make myself available to my customers 24/7 then they may think I don’t care. If they don’t see me working at the church then they may think I really DO ONLY work one day per week.

Friends, I believe God established the Sabbath day in order that we might rest in His importance. I believe that when we truly honor the Sabbath—when we faithfully observe a day off—we are exhibiting one of the most tangible acts of faithfulness to our Lord. We are obeying His law not our law. We are trusting in His will for our lives not our own. We are expressing our confidence in His power not our own. We are recognizing that if we are not right with Him then there is no way we can get anything else right.

If the Lord came to you today and asked, “What is your day off?” How would you respond? Would it be something like, “Sunday—followed by a little smiley face?”

Friends, we all need rest! It doesn’t matter if you are 4 years old or 64 years old—we all need rest. My daughter Layne is down in Galveston this weekend on a youth retreat—guess what the name of the retreat is—“Spring Sabbath.” I can’t wait to hear about and see the impact the rest made in her life.

I want to encourage us to re-think the Sabbath in our lives. Since we seem to struggle with these words “day off” then I want to suggest that we try the words “day on.” Let the Sabbath be a day ON which we rest in the Lord. Let it be a day ON which we surrender everything to the Lord. It is the day ON which we pray. It is a day ON which we cherish the laughter of our children. It is a day ON which we humble ourselves before our Lord and reflect on His gracious provision in our lives. It is a day ON which we don’t have to please everyone—just The One!

Jesus said: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even on the Sabbath.”

Do you believe this? If so, then are your actions embodying your belief?

You see, if you think about it, the Sabbath is a gift from God—and any gift from God should be enjoyed now—not later. Because when that day comes—the day ON which the Lord calls us home to be with Him—I don’t think our first words to Him will be: "I sure wish I had just one more day to work.” Nor do I think we will say, “I sure wish I would have spent less time in worship of you.” Instead, I think we will say things such as, “I wish I had taken more long walks with my spouse;" "I wish I had gone fishing more with my kids;" "I wish I had stopped more along the way to listen to You.” In short, “I wish I would have had more “days on.”

I close with this story about some American explorers who went to Africa. They employed some native guides. The first day they rushed to cover as much distance as possible. They did the same thing on the second, third, and every day. On the seventh day they noticed the guides sitting under a tree. "Come on," they shouted, "Let's go." One of the guides replied, "We no go today. We rest today to let our souls catch up with our bodies" (Source Unknown).

“What is your day ON?” That day ON which you will make time for your soul to catch up with your body—trust me, if we do not make the time, both will cease to live.

“What is your day ON? Quite frankly—it’s a question we all need to answer—myself included! But I am convinced, when we can answer that question consistently each week—I think we will begin to see a lot more smiling faces.

AMEN.


23 September 2018

posted 21 Sep 2018, 03:38 by C S Paul   [ updated 22 Sep 2018, 22:37 ]

23 September 2018

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Second Sunday after Sleebo/ the Feast of Holy Cross

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

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

The Leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees

Now when His disciples had come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread. 

Then Jesus said to them, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.”

And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “It is because we have taken no bread.”

But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “O you of little faith, why do you reason among yourselves because you have brought no bread?

Do you not yet understand, or remember the five loaves of the five thousand and how many baskets you took up? 

10 Nor the seven loaves of the four thousand and how many large baskets you took up? 

11 How is it you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread?—but to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

12 Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the [d]doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Distortions Called Yeast

by HG Yakob Mar Ireanios

"God made human beings straight forward, but they have devised many schemes." Eccl. 7:29

Scheming has assumed the proportions of a dignified art! What has been created good and straightforward degenerates into downright corruption and immorality. The 'fall' has been so grave that the ground of separation between good and evil is getting thinner and thinner with the passage of time, whether it is the Delhi Commonwealth Games, Cricket match fixing scandal or the rhetoric over the danger of climate change. Corruption becomes sweeter, since "stolen water is sweet and bread eaten in secret is pleasant." (Proverbs 9:17)

Jesus warns us against the big hoax played on us by the powers that be including autocratic administrations, ideologies, Glittering advertisements from multi-national companies and some Faith movements as well which 'rule the roost today. The Lord names them as " yeast" perhaps referring to the style of their functioning and the seductive techniques they apply to entice as many as possible.

The Pharisees and Sadducees are proverbially the "goodie-goodie" people of the times. They appear as the protectors of the "Law" and guarding everything towards the welfare of all! Yet they are the real cancers, eating in the vitals of whatever is good and virtuous. Yeast seemingly is small in quantity, but slowly it works in secret, affecting and seducing maximum minds as possible. As explained by him, effacing the misunderstanding of the disciples, yeast here refers to false teachings. The Pharisees and Sadducees were religious leaders and were learned; however, their teaching techniques were relatively limited as against the options open for teachers today. As thinking persons, it is our duty to "scan" the voluminous 'literature' on religion, commerce, ideologies, trade relationships etc. to identify their essential value. The advertisement industry cajoles us to take in magic formulae, with little discernment.

In life, one confronts situations clear or otherwise, the Lord counsels us to take everything with a pinch of salt. Many people learn the lesson "all that glitters is not gold" the hard way; sometimes only after losing their money, prestige and good name!

In the field of religion, especially, there is a lot of yeast making the rounds. We have around us spiritual "gurus" promising Shanti and Nirvana and what not. There are Christian sects which seem to sell an apparent euphoria over "miracles" to attract credulous people to their fold. These faith groups are advocating worldly prosperity and other worldly 'salvation' through means of easy access. The tribe of Pharisees were demanding Jesus to perform a miracle, and this demand brought them condemnation from Him. Real faith is not to be thus commercialized. God men of our times, Christian or otherwise, claim to perform miracles, and thus a culture of real or fake miracles is "tom-tomed' as the cornerstone of a life of faith. Thus people are duped to believe that miracle is greater than faith itself!

The process of education has numerous possibilities in grooming and directing human thinking and convictions. The Bible says that it is God who teaches all. So human teachers are instruments in the divine hands. Teaching of any hue has to acknowledge this obligation and show a sense of responsibility. No teacher is perfect except the Divine Teacher. Pharisees and Sadducees were teachers as well. So they could influence the life and thinking of the people. Hence the warning from the Lord!

16 September 2018

posted 14 Sep 2018, 22:28 by C S Paul

16 September 2018

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

First Sunday after Sleebo/ the Feast of Holy Cross

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

Mark 13:30-37 New King James Version (NKJV)

30 Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. 

31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.

No One Knows the Day or Hour

32 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 

33 Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. 

34 It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the door keeper to watch. 

35 Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning— 

36 lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. 

37 And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!”

The Master of The House is Coming. Are You Ready?

by Fr. Alexander J. Kurien, Washington D.C.

There has been no shortage of end time predictions in our lifetime. California-based Family Radio host Harold Camping had his fun with predictions! Unlike most radio talk show hosts, he doesn't just predict game scores or celebrity hookups, but, Mr. Harold Camping predicts apocalypses. It's fair to say most people deserve a second chance, but considering that he has been wrong about the world ending before, it's shocking that people still believe him. In his book 1994, Camping applied numerology to the Bible and predicted that Christ would return between September 15 and 17 of 1994. When nothing happened Camping said he'd made a mistake in his calculations. He apparently hadn't considered the Book of Jeremiah. After recalculating, he decided the world is actually going to end in 2011. And some people BELIEVED him. No really, look! His followers dropped out of med school, leaving their wives and children, and spent all their savings to spread the world about The Rapture. Camping has gone as far as to claim that in 1988 God installed Satan as the leader of the Church in an effort to destroy it.

Televangelist, ex-Baptist minister and failed Republican candidate for the 1988 presidential election, Pat Robertson always has a prediction to make and commentary of the utmost insensitivity on any disaster that occurs. In 1980 he said on The 700 Club "I guarantee by the end of 1982 there is going to be a judgment on this world." He believed that as of 1980, the Anti-Christ was about 27 years old and that Armageddon would start in 1982 followed by 7 "nightmare years" of intense suffering. Which is awesome - I mean, the Biblical apocalypse is pretty epic. The "nightmare years" according to the book of revelations include 4 horsemen, Satan coming back to Earth, zombies, a dragon and some other stuff that would actually be pretty damn awesome to see in real life before dying a terrible, terrible death at the hands of some creature that would look like a main character from Hellraiser. Or maybe we'd just get the traditional Satan, who knows? Either way, it would be exciting.

In 1988 Edgar Whisenant published the rather faddish 88 Reasons Why the Rapture could be in 1988. I say rather faddish because we have history to look back upon. Whisenant based his predictions upon what he considered to be an accurate interpretation of the numbers and days named in the Old Testament coupled with significant Jewish celebrations that were prescribed by God for His people. From these Whisenant predicted that the pre-tribulation rapture of the Church would occur on Rosh Hashana 1988. He was so sure of his formula that he was quoted as saying,

Only if the Bible is in error am I wrong; and I say that to every preacher in town, and there were a king in this country and I could gamble with my life, I would stake my life on Rosh Hashana 88.

Religious broadcasting networks went so far as to interrupt their regular programming schedules to provide special instructions on preparing for the rapture. Of course, the hype quickly faded when the Lord did not return in 1988. Whisenant continued applying his mathematical shrewdness to the Scriptures, predicting the rapture again for 1989, 93, and 94, though with much less fanfare.

Through this Sunday's Gospel Lesson, Jesus is encouraging us to learn the parable from the fig tree. In the springtime, the branch of the fig tree becomes soft and tender because of the sap within. The swelling is a sign that the branch is about to put forth its leaves. In God's creation providence, this is a sign that summer is approaching. Similarly, when we in our lifetime saw these things happening, we should understand what was soon coming. In simple terms, these words are another reminder for us to watch for and recognize the signs of His coming. This would require that we rightly interpret what a sign really is. This is where the difficulty comes. We must not look at every catastrophic event on the world's stage as somehow ushering in that great day. We must not overreact to those predictions by people like a Camping, Whisenant, or a Pat Robertson that we do not watch at all. We are not to have an unhealthy interest in these things, but we are to be watchful because we are uncertain of the time of His return.

Given the certainty of the signs and the event that they point to, Jesus exhorts the Apostles, and us as well, to take heed, keep on the alert, for we do not know the time that has been appointed by the Father. Three times the exhortation is, Be alert! He then offered a parable to illustrate the urgency of the exhortation. In this story, authority was given to the servants, and every man was left to his work. The servant was commanded to watch for his return. The message here implies that each servant and every man was to work until the master's return, for he might come in the evening, or at midnight, or maybe at dawn at the cockcrowing, or in the morning. They would not know the time of His coming, so their work had to be done. The warning was that He might come and find them sleeping and their business undone. Only those who had their work done would find peace.

Here Jesus was stating that He would depart and leave the work of the ministry in the hands of His servants until His return. But when He would return He wanted to find us so doing His will. We are commanded to watch, but this does not mean that we should quit our jobs, or close our businesses, and go on a mountaintop and look into the Heavens for His return. The watching here refers to an attitude of heart, a heart that is ready to meet its Lord. A person with such a heart is doing the will of God and is promised blessing when the Lord returns. Noah left us a good example, for God warned Noah of the coming flood and commanded him to build an ark. The Word of God declares, in Hebrews 11:7, By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith. Here we see that after Noah was warned, he began to prepare the ark. Noah didn't know when God would send him into the ark, so he kept busy working. Noah had to be ready with the ark of God. Noah had respect and reverence for Gods judgment; this is what kept Noah working on the ark all those years. Only eight souls were ready for that day.

In Matthew 24:34-39 the Lord says - Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. When the flood came, it fell on those who were not ready. Only those who were obedient to God's will were saved.

Just as He called Noah to live in obedience to His will, so He has called us to live in obedience. He is calling us to live by faith in the midst of a perverse generation with the promise that the one who perseveres to the end will be saved (verse 13), just like in the days of Noah. Christ calls for a consistent faith. It is a call to live your life day-by-day, moment-by-moment centered on God, saturated with Christ, empowered and enabled by the Holy Spirit, in joyful obedience to the entirety of His Word. Look around you with everything happening in this world today, especially this past week. I lost a great friend in J. Christopher Stevens, the American ambassador to Libya, and three other Department Colleagues who were killed Tuesday during an attack on our diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya. I just returned from Andrews Air Force Base after receiving the remains of my colleagues from Benghazi. The emotions are running high an experience you want to avoid in our life-time. I ask you to pray for their souls and these families trying to comprehend this tragic event in their lives. Do you think the time is near? If you were asked today, could you say that you are exhibiting that consistent a faith and obedience? Are you watchful? Are you alert?

9 September 2018

posted 7 Sep 2018, 22:53 by C S Paul

9 September 2018

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

4th. Sunday after Assumption of St. Mary (Shunoyo)

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

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

Jesus Rejected at Nazareth

Then 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.

"I Know That Boy"

by The Rev. J. Curtis Goforth, O.S.L.

The best man in my wedding, Greg, had this really eccentric grandmother. I never knew her real name, because everyone just called her Grandma. She was a real character. She lived with my friend’s family and every time I visited she would be watching the news or Chuck Norris in Walker, Texas Ranger. She was a lot of fun to talk to because she would always tell you about the way life used to be when she was growing up in Ohio. Grandma was convinced that everything bad that happened in the world was a result of “that dope” as she would frequently comment.

She never could get my name right either. She always called me Cletus and said that she would never forget that my name was Cletus because she knew a man named Cletus who used to bring her black walnuts and I looked like him. So, I just didn’t have the heart to tell her that my name was Curtis and not Cletus. And Greg and all our friends would even call me Cletus when we were around her. But I will never forget a conversation I had with her one day. She was watching Chuck Norris as usual, and during the commercials an advertisement came on for this show whose premise was that the Apollo 11 moon landing was all a big fake and that it was shot in a film studio somewhere. I made the comment that I thought that was just a silly show not worth watching. She got all upset and told me that the moon landing was the biggest hoax ever played on the world. I never saw grandma when she wasn’t in that wheelchair, but she got up out of her wheelchair to educate me on this so-called hoax!

Grandma went on to tell me how Neil Armstrong lived on the same street as her when he was growing up and that he went to school with her son. She said that he always used to get into trouble and was just good for nothing. She said “I know that boy and there ain’t no way he ever did anything good in his life!” At one point she made reference to that show Leave It To Beaver and said that he was just like that Eddie Haskell boy. To her dying day, she refused to believe that we landed on the moon or even went into space.

Well, I don’t know how you feel about Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 mission, but my friend’s grandmother’s ideas about it seem remarkably like those of the crowd in Jesus’ hometown when he came through. Our gospel lesson this morning is commonly called the rejection of Jesus at Nazareth. The folk who lived on the same street as this carpenter’s son just couldn’t believe that someone from their block could have done the wonders and signs that Jesus was reported to have been doing around the region.

It makes one think about that statement, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” The problem was that the people of Nazareth thought they already had Jesus figured out. They knew who he was, they knew his family, his brothers and sisters. But even more than knowing who his family was and what they did, they knew his place in society. He was a craftsman, not a nobleman. Jesus was a carpenter, not a rabbi; a lower class blue collar kind of guy, not a priestly learned teacher.

The Greek word used here that’s typically translated as “carpenter” is the word tekton and it was a blanket term for a craftsman who built something whether it was a table or a house or a cart. And on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the high society folks and 1 being the expendables or untouchables, tektons (carpenters) were about a three. So, Jesus wasn’t an expendable or an untouchable as the Hindu equivalent might be, but he was certainly well towards the bottom. Whereas, rabbis would have been about an 8 on that same scale. And here was Jesus the carpenter, going all around the region working miracles and teaching large crowds of thousands of people about God and the Kingdom of God, convincing many people that he might actually even be the Messiah himself. You can almost hear the crowds saying, “I know that boy and there ain’t no way he ever did anything good in his life!”

The people in Jesus’ hometown thought they had Jesus figured out already. They thought that they already knew him. They knew where he had come from, they knew what his place in life was, and they saw him acting like somebody from a different world, and it made them uncomfortable and Mark tells us it even offended them. As you hear this story you’re probably thinking to yourself, “If I had been there I would have certainly known who Jesus was and not rejected him.” But let me be the first to remind you that we do the same thing now.

Just like the people of Nazareth, we think we have Jesus figured out. We know who he is, what he did, what he taught. But the reality is that we don’t know squat about Jesus! Mark is constantly telling us stories about how the disciples didn’t know who Jesus was—and they were with him day and night for three years! If you remember back to our gospel lesson from a few weeks ago when Jesus stilled a storm on the Sea of Galilee the disciples are frightened by the storm but they are absolutely terrified after Jesus calms the storm, saying to one another, “Who then is this that even the wind and the sea obey him?” How is it that we think we know better than the disciples? At best we might spend a few hours out of the 168 hours in each week trying to get our hearts and minds around who Jesus is.

There’s something very troubling about this story, particularly verse 5, “And Jesus could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.” It seems as though Mark is saying that Jesus could have done so much more had the spiritual climate of Nazareth been more open to the real presence Jesus embodied there. Jesus wasn’t robbed of his powers by the unbelief in Nazareth, but he was limited by it. I can’t help but ask us all the question, “Are we doing something, anything, that might limit the power and kingdom of God in our own midst and in our town?” I hope we are not doing anything as individuals or as a church to limit the presence and power of God in our community.

That’s what the people of Nazareth were doing though. They put limits on Jesus. They tried to put him in a box. They said in their hearts that there was no way that the carpenter, the son of Mary could change the structure of the world. And, I want you to notice something else. The people of Nazareth call him the son of Mary, not the son of Joseph as would have been the cultural norm. And in so doing, they are actually insulting him and calling him illegitimate. It’s just one more example of how the people that thought they knew Jesus so well started putting limits on him and on what he could do.

As humans we are made constantly aware of our limitations. With each day that passes we seem to be made to feel more and more aware of just how limited we are. And we can’t help but direct those same feelings toward others as well. “I know that boy, and there ain’t no way he ever did anything good in his life.” My friend’s grandmother refused to believe that someone she knew could do something as miraculous as walk on the moon. The people of Nazareth refused to believe that a carpenter could one day be the savior of the world. We are good at putting limits on things, on people, and even on God.

But know this—God has put no limits on us. And just as he sent out his disciples long ago, so he sends you and me today to remind the world of his limitless love. I just hope that it’s enough to make you want to get out of your wheelchair. Amen.

2 September 2018

posted 31 Aug 2018, 23:15 by C S Paul

2 September 2018

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

3rd. Sunday after Assumption (Shunoyo)

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

Matthew 17:22-27 New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus Again Predicts His Death and Resurrection

22 Now while they were staying in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men, 

23 and they will kill Him, and the third day He will be raised up.” And they were exceedingly sorrowful.

Peter and His Master Pay Their Taxes

24 When they had come to Capernaum, those who received the temple tax came to Peter and said, “Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax?”

25 He said, “Yes.”

And when he had come into the house, Jesus anticipated him, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?”

26 Peter said to Him, “From strangers.”

Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. 

27 Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for Me and you.”

The Temple Tax Issue

by Rev. Dr. V Kurian Thomas, Valiyaparambil

Message:

Jesus and his disciples were in Capernaum, Peter's home town. There the tax collectors came to Peter. They then asked Peter, "Doesn't your teacher pay the tax?". This was the tax collected for the upkeep of the Jerusalem temple. The money was used to support all the temple services.

This question from the tax collectors was probably a test to see how supportive was Jesus to the Temple services. Peter answered, "Yes." When he and Jesus were in the house away from the tax collectors, Jesus asked Peter, "What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of earth collect taxes, from their sons or from strangers?" There are kings on earth who run their kingdoms with money raised from taxes. Their taxes are collected not from the king's children, but from the rest of the citizens. The analogy pictures God as the king and the temple services as the running of the kingdom. This makes a comparison between king's sons and strangers.

Peter answers, "From strangers." That is, kings collect taxes from citizens who are not part of the royal family. Jesus said to Peter, "That's right, then the sons are exempt from taxes." Jesus says to Peter, "So that we don't want to offend them, give it to them for you and me." Jesus is the Lord of the temple, therefore did not owe tax. Jesus took this opportunity to teach what ought to be practically the right thing to do to avoid embarrassments. Jesus said, "So that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw a hook, and take the first fish that comes up. When you open its mouth, you will find a coin. Take that and give it to them for your sake and mine."

In this example, Jesus shows us how to deal with a situation where we are conflicted with and don't know what to do. Regardless of what the right answer may be, do the thing that is necessary to avoid embarrassments. Sometimes the 'right' is less important than to maintain good relationships with others. It is not necessary to force our right on others when we know it will only damage our reputation or relationships in someone else's eyes.


26 August 2018

posted 24 Aug 2018, 23:37 by C S Paul

26 August 2018

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

2nd. Sunday after Assumption (Shunoyo)

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

Luke 11:9-20 New King James Version (NKJV)

Keep Asking, Seeking, Knocking

“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 

10 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 

11 If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? 

12 Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? 

13 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”

A House Divided Cannot Stand

14 And He was casting out a demon, and it was mute. So it was, when the demon had gone out, that the mute spoke; and the multitudes marveled. 

15 But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.”

16 Others, testing Him, sought from Him a sign from heaven. 

17 But He, knowing their thoughts, said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and a house divided against a house falls. 

18 If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? Because you say I cast out demons by Beelzebub. 

19 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 

20 But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.

Meditation on Luke 11: 9 - 20

by HG Dr Yuhanon Mor Meletius

I find two important themes in this passage for us to consider today:

One: Search and will be found.

Two: A talk about the disintegration of communities.

Parallel to the first story is seen in Matthew 7:7. This saying is not connected in Matthew to the second saying seen in Luke (11:14-23). The gift of God is said to be just ‘good things’ according to Matthew (7:11) whereas according to Luke it is the Holy Spirit (11:13). Of course Holy Spirit is something good that comes from God. But I doubt that is what Matthew means here. It should be just something good in general. This saying is not seen in Mark. So it is from common source to Matthew and Luke.

Regarding the meaning of the saying, I do not think that it is a talk about our hard labour to get something good in our lives. Rather it reminds us of knowing what really want and what we need to do to get it in terms of doing our part of the job.

In Matt. 6:26, Jesus talks about the birds of the air that do not sow or reap, but are fed by God. But the birds have to look for where God has kept the food for them and also they have to eat it for themselves. No one else can do these things for them.

Yes you have to do your part of the job to get the blessing. The door is waiting to be knocked to open and the thing is waiting to be searched for you to have it. There was a call from God the father saying, “Here is my beloved Son ... listen to him” (Matt. 17:5). It was for the people to behold him. God cannot make them listen. There is a saying, ‘you can only lead the horse to the water, but cannot make it drink’. You cannot tell your students what they need to learn. You cannot make them taught. We need to do our job and no one can do it for us.

The second incident in Luke is a talk about the possible disintegration of communities and societies. This is given in the backdrop of Jew’s accusation of Jesus casting out demons with the help of demons.

Parallel texts can be seen in Matthew Ch. 12 and Mark Ch. 3. There are few differences between these three records. Mark records the story in an entirely different context. Jesus was with a large multitude and he had no time even to eat. Seeing this, his own people called him crazy. Matthew has blind and mute person healed by Jesus. The people called Jesus, ‘Son of David’ which is not seen in either Mark or Luke.

This is quite understandable considering the audience of Matthew which was primarily Jews. According to Matthew it was the Pharisees who accused Jesus.

For Mark it was the Scribes who did so. Luke has only ‘some of them’ implying part of the crowd. To Mark the statement about division comes as a parable from Jesus.

Luke v. 16 seems to be an interpolation which says, ‘some others asked for a sign from Jesus’. While some accused Jesus of casting out demons by demons some others asked for a sign. We can already see a division on this matter among the people.

Luke 11: 23 and Matthew 7:30 end with a statement “He who is not with me is against me and will be scattered”. Actually this is where the second passage ends. For some reason the lectionary did not consider this important to be included.

Matthew and Mark conclude the passage with a statement regarding ‘sin against the Holy Spirit’. Luke omitted it for unknown reason.

Let me today focus on the second part of the passage that talk about Jesus being accused of casting out demons by demons.

A Divided House

Division can be of two types.

I. One that is inevitable and positive:

There was division among the people and among the Jews regarding who Jesus was and what was he doing (John 7:43; 9:16 and in 10:19).

As a matter of fact Jesus came to this world to create a division according to Luke 12:51-53. (‘I have not come to set peace on earth rather division’)

This division is between good and evil, between those who accepted Jesus as God and those who did not.

Elimination and removal of evil from what is essentially good is the work of salvation.

It is elimination or burning out of impurities or parasites that were attached to something fundamentally good. This is what we see all through the history of humans with God.

Abraham leaving Haran was a division; the burning bush Moses witnessed was another division (the bush in flame was not consumed. But there was something symbolically being consumed, which is slavery in Egypt); Israel leaving Egypt yet another division; accepting Jesus for sure was yet another.

Those were means of re-instatement of the creation and hence something positive and good.

II. There is a second kind of division.

This division is seen as something negative and destructive.

This is what Jesus was talking about in this event under consideration.

A situation where things cannot be sorted out and a consensus or perfect understanding cannot be achieved becomes a reason for division.

Such a situation will put confusion and chaos in the community and will eventually lead to breaking down and perishing of it.

No caring person can allow this to happen. That will be self-destructive.

We in India today are facing such a situation.

The big question before our nation today is how to deal with the escalating corruption in our society?

All-party meetings, parties and Team Anna, government and civil society representatives all stand at different corners not agreeing on ways and means of sorting it out and trying to cast out this demon.

We are divided.

This unhealthy and destructive division prevails in all sections of our society, our families and even in every single person today.

People are becoming more and more confused that leads them to depression and further to breaking down of the self.

Integrity of personality, of family, of communities becomes a big challenge for us.

Look at our Church for example.

A Church divided in to two groups, the Jacobite and the Orthodox.

Both worship the same God, profess same faith, follow same tradition, share the same heritage, teach the same theology and worship using the same liturgy. There is absolutely nothing that divides us. Still we are divided. We have become a laughing stock in the midst of other people. Our financial and other resources are wasted on this division. Our young are going away from the fellowship; we are losing members to unhealthy new generation so called spiritual groups mushrooming in and around us.

We need to stand together, work together and march forward for the welfare and progress of the people.

Wedded husbands and wives are now standing in the veranda of court rooms waiting for them to be called to present their reasons for them to be separated or divided. Daily about a hundred divorce petitions are filed in family courts in Kerala with mutual consent. When they are separated, where will the children go and how healthy will they be emotionally in future? How will they experience God’s loving care through the parents and will learn to love others? Families are getting split away at an alarming rate. Still we claim that we are a developed community and are progressing.

No community, family or individual can stand when it is divided for the wrong reasons.

Yes we need to distinguish between good and evil.

Since evil has no essence and eternal existence, it has to go and a division with that goal will help world become a better place and will progress.

But we should not be divided to cast out demonic forces that parasite that sickens us. Also we should not use demonic forces to cast out demonic tendencies. That will be a matter for another sermon.

Be divided and take a definite stand for right and noble cause. But do not be divided in casting out demons and never use demonic forces to eliminate what is bad and unhealthy in us and around us.

Jesus who cast out demons with the power of God will help us to be united to eliminate bad influences and tendencies in and among us.

Cast out demons with the ‘figure of God’ and we will see the kingdom of God in our midst! Amen.


19 August 2018

posted 18 Aug 2018, 00:22 by C S Paul

19 August 2018

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

1st Sunday after Assumption (Shunoyo)

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

Mark 10:35-45 New King James Version (NKJV)

Greatness Is Serving

35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.”

36 And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?”

37 They said to Him, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.”

38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”

39 They said to Him, “We are able.”

So Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized; 

40 but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared.”

41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be greatly displeased with James and John. 

42 But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 

43 Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. 

44 And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. 

45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Ambitions - Yours and Jesus'

by Walter Harms, Austin, TX

Has someone ever asked you: Will you say, "yes" to what I am going to ask? Perhaps it was a child, maybe your wife, your husband--a friend who asked you that question.

We almost sense that something is that we don't know about. Or, this is going to be something I'm not sure about. It was about like that when James and John, the two sons of Zebedee asked: Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask! Wow! What were they up to anyway?

Well, it was a pretty good case of simply being ambitious. They wanted place of honor, of control, of authority when Jesus took over and became what he really is: the King of the universe, or, well, at least Palestine, the land that rightfully for so many reasons belonged to God's people, Israel.

It was a pure-d case of ambition. They wanted to be ahead of others, the other disciples, the followers of Jesus. They wanted position above the others, positions of control at the right and left of Jesus. They were going to be his right hand (and left hand) men.

You see they believed that Jesus truly was the Christ, the Messiah, the promised One who was going to be King and sit on the throne of David (as God had promised David). He would get rid of the enemy, the Romans. He would be fair, honest, restoring all the injustices that were taking place. He would be what they were looking forward to. They believed, so why not be in there, in the lead, ahead of others?

The other disciples were indignant, indignant that those two schemers had gotten ahead of them, pulled a fast one on them. Perhaps they had thought of it, perhaps not, makes no difference, those two were rascals, opportunists, just waiting to catch Jesus alone.

It is pretty easy to see that ambition creates a lot of tension in whatever situation it is found. The American plan is to get ahead! Ahead of what? Ahead of others! Be that financially, socially, on the corporate ladder or whatever ladder is around. It takes place in family, where someone always wants to be ahead of the others. That can be physically--stronger than the others, brighter than the others, more advanced in skills than others.

We plan in our lives to get ahead, that is whatever we think "ahead" is. I thought for a while that I should like to be a District official of the church, going around everywhere, observing, helping, being a critic, in general, being a mucka-mucka in the church. Well, no way for that to happen to this abrasive, caustic fellow that I am. I always had to watch out that with all the success that I found coming to the church where I served, I would not boast about how far out this church was above others. Generally all that created was what the ten disciples of Jesus felt--indignation, resentfulness, envy, and picking faults.

Now Jesus had ambitions also. He had the ambition of laying down his life for others. His goal, his purpose, his mission was not to be recognized as the great person that he was. It was not to surround himself with those who would reflect on his greatness as a healer, miracle worker, preacher, teacher, and he was all of that and much more. His ambition was to give up his life, use it up and finally die to give it in service to others. He had spoken about just that in the words that are right before the Gospel for today.

Because they wanted what they thought was best, and the other ten of these so called disciples of his thought the same, Jesus had a confab with them.

He told them about CEOs, about rulers of those who are not his people, of high officials of every kind. Their method of management is to exercise power and authority over people. They control others; they get them to do what they want. Others are to serve them and follow their orders, regardless.

The first job for which I was paid, I was fired from. I had asked for a 10 cents an hour raise, from 40 to 50 cents an hour. The who fired me had the authority not to pay 50 cents an hour. He could find plenty of persons willing to take 40 cents an hour. The reason teachers are feared is because they have the almost absolute power to fail a student, and I have recently been a teacher in the position to do that. Tried to make myself loving, but.... with all the rules laid out, I felt that the student was the one who would make or break himself in the class I taught. From very early on, I studied the teachers, professors, and instructors I had. I found out what they wanted, and I gave it to them, because they had control, authority, the tyranny to make or break me. I was, I must say quite successful at doing that, even in the Seminary.

Jesus' word on that: NOT SO WITH YOU! Not so with us! The "us" refers to those who are followers of Jesus. "Us" is those in the church, who call themselves by the name of the Anointed One of God, Jesus the Christ!

If you have ambition in the church, if you want to be great, then you must be a servant to the others in the church, and in the community. A servant, no, that's too mild, a slave of all!!!!

The greatest in the church are the servants, those who care for others, help others, and do what needs to be done for them. The greatest is the one who prepares and cleans up after others. The one who gets no recognition for doing that which needs to be done.

So often, well, pretty often I suppose, two things take place in the church. One, people complain that they are never thanked for their service. Well, as Jesus put it why should you be thanked for doing what is expected of you?

Two, is that some people do all the work in the church. You know the rule, 20% of the people do 80% of the work and giving, and 80% do 20% of the work and giving. The result is burn-out and a great reluctance to ever do anything in the church again.

I know a Sunday School teacher who taught for 50 years! Wow! Great, you say. Sure, now try to recruit a person to take that servant's place! You want a job that is going to last that long?

Sometimes, we distance ourselves from being servants to others. We have so much going on ourselves, that we do not even see the work, or worse, we do not want to commit to be a servant.

We do not want to become like our Savior, the Son of Man who did not come to be served, but to give his life as a ransom for many. Jesus did not come for accolades, for praise, for glory (his glory is the cross!), for honor, for high position. In fact, it goes something like this. He humbled himself, this King of the universe, this One and Only Son of the only God and became obedient, an obedient servant to his heavenly Father, obedient to death, even death on the cross.

Now catch this: therefore, God has highly exalted him and given him a name that is above every other name. At the name of Jesus, every knee will bow, humble himself, herself and have to confess either happily or reluctantly that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God his Father.

This is the day we honor St. James, the Apostle and Martyr. He did indeed drink the cup that Jesus had to. But in quite another way, he was baptized into this Jesus and he drank from all the goodness Jesus won for him on the cross and through the empty tomb.

And how about you and me, we are here today? What will the Savior's word be to us? For us who have been servants, the word of God will be: come, blessed of God, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world, for I was in hunger, I was thirsty, I was naked, I was cold, I was in prison and you, by being a servant did it to me!

Now what is your ambition, as a child of God by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ through faith in him? Amen.


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