SUNDAY SERMON




SUNDAY SERMON

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

Syrian Orthodox Church




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?

15 January 2017

posted 13 Jan 2017, 03:18 by C S Paul

15 January 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Second Sunday after Denho (Baptism of our Lord)

Readings from the Scripture

Evening

John 1:43-51New King James Version (NKJV)

Philip and Nathanael

43 The following day Jesus wanted to go to Galilee, and He found Philip and said to him, “Follow Me.” 

44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 

45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

46 And Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!”

48 Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?”

Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”

49 Nathanael answered and said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

50 Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 

51 And He said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Devotional Thoughts for 2nd Sunday after Theophany/The Baptism of our Lord

by Rev. Dr. Mathew C. Chacko, New Brunswick

Gospel: St. John 1: 43-51

1. "We Found Him!" – He found them first, then they found him!

What did they do with him? They found others for Jesus.

As followers of the Law and the Prophets, Andrew, Peter, Philip and Nathaniel knew that the Messiah has come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. They were privileged to know and to accept Jesus as their Rabbi (e.g. John 1: 38).

Jesus first called Andrew, the younger brother of Simon Peter. Andrew was a disciple of John and when John testified that Jesus was the Lamb of God, Andrew followed Jesus [John 1: 40].

Andrew went home and [found] convinced his brother Peter that Jesus, who called him to be his disciple, was indeed the Messiah, the King of Israel and Son of God. And they spread the word around. Philip a neighbor of Andrew and Peter heard about Jesus from Andrew and Peter. They all followed Jesus and spread the Good News o his birth, death, resurrection and His continued presence around the universe. Thus our forefathers and mothers heard it and accepted it and gave it to us! Praise be to His Name!

2. "We found Him!" – "Did He find us?" Of course, he did What did we do with him?

We the "St. Thomas Christians - Nazranees" were privileged to hear the life-giving Gospel of Jesus Christ from one of his dear apostles Thomas the Twin, immediately after Pentecost and the Church continues to witness to this day. Perhaps, we need to examine the nature of our witness and resolve to move away from negative witnessing to more positive.

God can raise men and women from among us to accept the Gospel truly and show it forth in their words and actions. This is the time we pray for that.

I met an elderly St. Thomas Christian in one of our families a couple of months ago. She came close to me after the House Blessing service in one of our families and started talking about her younger son who is a priest in the Syro-Malabar Church. Having been raised in an Orthodox family, she was married to a Syro-Malabar Catholic Christian. Her first child, oldest daughter became a nun and through her influence this young man became a priest. She was so happy about her life. At this point she is living in North America with her youngest son. The short communication I had with her stays vivid in my mind reminding me of the joy she has as a Christian. The same scenario is there in many an Orthodox family. May the experience of our "We Found Him" continue to witness to the light of Christ, shown forth through the martyrdom of our dear apostle?

3. "We Found Him" What are we doing with him?

This is a question for all that have been touched by the Lord, lay and clergy alike to answer. A lot of good things are happening in our communities, but the general atmosphere of litigation and the after effects of it is destroying our witness on a daily basis. Some thing has to be done to end all this mess and to put us all on the serious business of true Christian living and witnessing.

4. "He found me!" "I Found Him Too!" What did I do with Him?

Fifty four Years ago, while I was at the beginning of my college education, 1st year Seminary at Bishop’s College, Calcutta – age 22, I had a vision where I saw Christ on the Cross and the last two lines of the Hymn, When I survey the wondrous Cross, "Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all". Tears rolled down my eyes and I truly believe that it was when I received an inner call to serve Christ and His Church. I did surrender myself to Him. I thank Him for calling me to serve Him and His Church, as unworthy as I am.

However, the outer call came to me years ago, in 1950 on Ascension Eve at the Old Seminary, Kottayam. His Holiness Baselius Geevarghese II, of blessed memory, after the Evening Prayers called me and my father who were there for Vespers and proclaim that he was going to ordain me a minor order deacon the next day – Ascension 1950. We have never met His Holiness. His Holiness may have heard me singing like a bird, along with the priests and the deacons, the Wednesday Evening Prayers, beginning with Lek Nesh Kashap – [yachikkunnu], of course in Syriac. I knew it all by heart [?] for I was blessed to learn them from Fr. E. Mathews [our present Catholicos at Othara for a year!]. We accepted the call and asked permission from His Holiness to come back the following Saturday night and be ordained that Sunday, the Sunday before Pentecost. As His Holiness directed us, we went to Pathanapuram and got the blessings of Mar Thomas Dionysius, our Diocesan Metropolitan. And we did return as promised and I was ordained "Korooyo" by His Holiness on June 22nd 1950 at the Old seminary, Kottayam. I was 18 years old then.

Thanks to God’s mercies, this vision is clear in my heart and mind to this day and at the final stage of my life, I am laboring to establish a worshipping community that has been given to me by providence. I serve gladly this community of young couples and their children, a group of about 150 individuals presently and counting. The presence and participation of the visiting parents is a real blessing to us all. I ask the prayers of the readers that I be faithful to the vision to serve faithfully the Lord and his people.

Am I faithful to Him? I try hard. Perhaps, I should try harder! I pray for His continued mercies on me and the people who work diligently with me. We have 50 under the age of 18 and I see them as 50 families in 20-30 years. Their witness will be the asset and contribution of this worshipping community to the Church at large and for this local worshipping community. Now that you are reading this, kindly pray for us. The best part I like in our Liturgy is when the priest at the parting blessing asking for the congregation’s prayers. May I, a weak and sinful servant, receive grace and mercy through your prayers!

8 January 2017

posted 6 Jan 2017, 02:06 by C S Paul

8 January 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

First Sunday after Denho (Baptism of our Lord)

Bible Readings For New Year (January 1) - Circumcision of our Lord, Feast of St. Basil and St. Gregory

Readings from the Scripture

Evening

Morning

Before Holy Qurbana

Holy Qurbana

Matthew 4:12-22New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus Begins His Galilean Ministry

12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee. 

13 And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, 

14 that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying:

15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles:
16 The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light,And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.”

17 From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Four Fishermen Called as Disciples

18 And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. 

19 Then He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 

20 They immediately left their nets and followed Him.

21 Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. He called them, 

22 and immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him

Follow Me

by Rev. Fr. Dr. V Kurian Thomas, Valiyaparambil

The central core purpose of Christian life is outlined in these verses: Evangelize, Incorporate, and Disciple. Jesus says, go therefore and make disciples of all nations; evangelize with the strength of the gospel and teach the world about the kingdom of God; and follow me, I will make you fishers of men.

As Jesus was walking by the sea of Galilee, he saw two brother casting a net into the sea. They were fisherman. Jesus said to the, "Follow me, and I Will make you fishers of men."

In order to understand this command, we need to look at the following questions.

(1) What does it mean to follow Jesus?

'Follow me' is an invitation to the believer for services. The decision to follow Jesus is not a simple task. It is to set aside one's personal goals and pleasures in order to embrace the purposes for which God created us. The purpose is to know God in a personal way and make disciples by teaching them Christ's commandments. To follow Christ means to give up personal affections, goals and priorities.

When Jesus called Peter and Andrew, their goal was to become successful fishermen. In asking them to forsake their goal, Jesus commanded them to follow him and would make them fishers of men's souls.

(2) How does one become fishers of men?

When Jesus told Peter to cast his nets on the other side of the boat, then Peter said "Master, we have fished all night and caught nothing." But when they used the very effective method of using the light of Jesus, fish were attracted to it.

(3) How to fish for Christ?

Jesus uses an effective method to draw people to himself. Apostle John quotes Jesus in 8:12, "I am the light of the world, he who follows me shall not walk in darkness but in the light of life."

Just as the fish is attracted to the light of the disciples, God wants people to be attracted to his light shining through the disciples. The light of every believer is the presence of Jesus in their lives. Paul says in Corinthians 4:6-7, "For it is God who commanded light to shine out of darkness and who has shown in their hearts to give the lights of the glory of God."

(4) What does it require to follow Jesus?

It is a call that requires complete and immediate attachment to God. Peter and Andrew "left their nets." James and John left their father. The requirement for following Jesus are not the same for everyone. Basically it is the willingness to exchange their affections, goals and priorities in life.

Peter was a disciple who actually left everything to follow Jesus. However, he failed Jesus by denying him on the night of Jesus' arrest. A few days later, Peter with some of his disciples decided to go for fishing. They got out to do the fishing but couldn't catch a single fish. Jesus calls them from the shore and ends up performing a miracle by filling their nets with fish. After they have enjoyed a fish breakfast together, Jesus comes up to Peter and asks, "Do you love me more than these fish, nets, and the bread?

All of us can also imagine Jesus asking us the same question. Jesus may mention our family, all our assets, cash, position, career and all that. Do we love Jesus more than all our possessions?

Jesus wants us to respond something like, "Yes, Lord. I love you more than all my possessions. And I want to prove it with my actions. I am prepared to follow you, for I am your disciple.

1 January 2017

posted 29 Dec 2016, 23:27 by C S Paul

1 January 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

1st Sunday after Yeldo

Bible Readings For New Year (January 1) - Circumcision of our Lord, Feast of St. Basil and St. Gregory

Readings from the Scripture

Devotional Thoughts for the Celebration of the Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus

by Rev. Dr. V Kurian Thomas, Valiyaparambil

Scripture: John 15:9-17

This Sunday is New Year's day. According to our liturgical calendar, the first day of the year is the celebration of the Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus. It is a Christian celebration in accordance with Jewish tradition which is eight days after the birth and is the occasion when the child is formally given his name. The custom was practiced to keep up with the Jewish law which then was that all males shall be circumcised eight days after his birth when the child is formally given his name. Thus Jesus fulfilled the law to show descent to the flesh of Abraham. He was, as St Paul says, "made under the law", that is, submitted to the Mosaic tradition in order to fulfill all justice. He endured this human humiliation to bear the sins of the world which he had taken upon himself.

The second chapter of Luke records the circumcision of Jesus. When eight days were completed for the circumcising the child, his name was called Jesus, which was so named by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. Luke 2:21)

After the 1st century, the issue of circumcision was resolved and the non-Jewish Christians were not obliged to be circumcised. Apostle St. Paul was a leading proponent of this position. Circumcision soon became rare since that time in the Christian world.

Today's Gospel reading is from John 15:9-17.

Gospel: "9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit - fruit that will last - and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other." (John 15:9-17)

Theme: How to dwell in Jesus' love for a joyful life?

Message:

Paul Dore was a well known German painting artist who lived in the 19th century. He was known for illustrating many paintings of spiritual art. He said once that 'you have to love the object to be able to truly do justice to your work. The more you love the object, you would do more justice to it.'

Something similar is true of our Christian life. If we love Jesus more, we will serve him better; We will follow his ways; and we will obey his commandments. The stronger our love for Jesus, the greater our fellowship with him will be. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus then would direct our life. From his love, we will abide by obeying his will upon us.

Our love for God will strengthen his will upon us. For this, we have to encourage God's love to enter in us. In order to achieve that, we must cheerfully obey God's Commandments. When we increasingly experience God's love by obeying God's commandments, we will then realize the joy of God's presence in us. The Holy Spirit will fill us with joy and happiness that cannot be expressed in any words.

Bible's most important scripture, John 3:16 tells us, 'For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.'

Just before going to the cross, Jesus took the opportunity to instruct his disciples and said to them, "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you that my joy is in you and that your joy may be complete."

Two things Jesus has told them: "Obey my commands" and "remain in my love." These commands are given for the simple reason that we might have complete joy in God's presence. The first command is Obedience. Obedience results in joy. The purpose is not to limit the freedom so that to make our life miserable. The opposite is true. Obedience to God is the path to joy. By obeying the commands, we find significance and purpose in our life. Joy is a product of obedience to Jesus. The purpose of Jesus' teaching is is to experience his love, thereby experience his joy. It was for giving us a life full of joy. Jesus is the source our joy. Jesus' joy came through his obedience to his Father's will. The command to obey his will results in our joy. Jesus had great joy in pleasing his Father's will. Jesus wants to share that joy with us. It is a gift of Jesus that he plans to give to his obedient disciples. It is simply more than human joy. It is the joy of knowing Jesus. It is the joy of knowing his love. It is an echo of God's life within us.

The joy that Jesus offers is not worldly pleasure, but is spiritual happiness. Worldly pleasure is dependent on circumstances. Spiritual joy is inward and is not affected by one's environment. Pleasure is a changing phenomenon. The joy from Jesus is full and everlasting. It is grounded in Jesus. It is the sacrificial giving of ourselves. It focuses on the needs of others.

Dwelling in Christ means living by his words. Living by his words leads to communion with Jesus which will make us fruitful and prove that we are true disciples of Christ. Love of Jesus leads to obedience to Christ. This love unites and strengthens our relationship with Jesus. The resulting relationship will produce joy in us.

25 December 2016

posted 23 Dec 2016, 03:52 by C S Paul

25 December 2016

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Yeldo / Incarnation of our Lord (Christmas) (December 25)

Readings from the Scripture

Luke 2:1-20New King James Version (NKJV)

Christ Born of Mary

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 

This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. 

So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.

Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 

to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife,who was with child. 

So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. 

And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Glory in the Highest

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 

And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 

10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 

11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 

12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

          14 “Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” 

16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 

17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 

18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 

19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. 

20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.

Meditation for Christmas

by an Orthodox Christian monk

Let us reflect on some of the words from the gospels which the Church has brought to our attention during this feast.

The shepherds said one to another, 'Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.' Let us, too, go even to Bethlehem In spins, let us climb that hill 'unto the hills, from whence cometh my help'. Climbing up to Bethlehem implies an effort; but shall we let such a great occasion slip by?

'Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child' It is no longer Caesar Augustus, but the King of kings who decrees that 'all the world should be taxed... every one into his own city'. Each person must declare sincerely which city he has chose, to which group he allies himself. Some will choose Rome; others Athens. Shall I choose riches, or power, or intelligence? No. Those cities are not for me. I shall not even choose Jerusalem, the place where God manifests his glory. During my earthly life, I wish to be a citizen of Bethlehem, and to have that humility and that poverty as my share; with Mary, with Joseph and with Jesus, I would like my name to be enrolled in that little town which may be despised or ignored by men, but is so great before God.

'Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy ... unto you is born this day a Savior...' The birth of Jesus at Bethlehem is not a far-distant historical event which is of no concern to me. And, if it does concern me, it is not merely because I am a member of the great human collectivity. The message of Christmas is not addressed to humanity in general, it is addressed to each person in particular. It reaches each soul in a way that is unique and exceptional. This joy is announced to me in a different way than to any one else; it is to me and for me that a Savior is born. Let us recognize the Nativity of Christ as a very personal gift. Let us receive this gift with faith and thankfulness.

'And lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was'. The Magi followed the LIGHT which was given to them faithfully: being obedient to this light, they were led by it to the child. If I try to be faithful to the full measure of light that God has given me, if I have the courage to leave all to follow the star, if I decide to be true and obedient to my conscience (whatever may happen), and ready to 'bear witness of the Light... that was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world', the divine light will not fail, in spite of my ignorance, to lead me - not in any abstract way, but through all the concrete circumstances of life, and whenever it is needed - right up to the Child in whom I have placed all my hope.

'And she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him in swaddling CLOTHES, and laid him in a mange; because there was no room for them in the inn'. This birth in a manger declares that Jesus wants to be counted among the poorest, among the most humble; he will be found among the disinherited, the sick, the prisoners, the sinners. I would rather be poor with Jesus than be rich without Jesus. I prefer to be in a cave with Jesus, Mary and Joseph than in the inn where there is no room for them. Then, too, we must accept the fact that, for those who love Jesus, there is no place in this world. 'The Son of man hath not where to lay his head'.

'And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes....' I seek a God and Lord, and I find a tiny child. The message of Christmas is a message of childhood: 'Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein'. God does not ask us to renounce the adult knowledge and discretion needed to accomplish our earthly tasks, but, in our relations with him, he wants us to return to the trusting simplicity of a child. The child has faith in his father; he walks hand in hand with him; he knows that his father will lead him where he needs to go, he knows that his father will protect him, feed and shelter him; he allows himself to be led by his father, eyes shut without the least anxiety. When he speaks to his father, he does not try to use any complicated formula, he says quite simply and affectionately what he wants to say. And this is what the little child of Bethlehem symbolizes for us. Furthermore, Jesus' childhood is more than a model to be imitated; it is one of those mysteries of the Savior's life which, although they are historical and transitory, also have an eternal reality; Christmas is a favorable time at which to honor the mystery of Jesus' childhood.

'They saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshiped mm: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.' Like the Magi, we offer our treasures and we offer the little child the most precious things we have. In spirit we offer gold, the sign of Jesus' sovereignty over all riches and all created things, a sign also of our own detachment from earthly goods. In spirit we offer incense, the sign of adoration, for Jesus is not only the king of the universe, he is our God. We offer in spirit myrrh, the spice with which we honor in advance the death and burial of Jesus and through which too, is represented our own renunciation of bodily pleasures. Lord Jesus, accept my offering.

'And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen...' Lord Jesus, before we leave Bethlehem, or come to the end of this feast of the Nativity, allow us to see something of what the shepherds saw, to hear something of what they heard, and to receive in our hearts the message which is preached to us from the manger.

'Ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.' The feast of Christmas is the feast of the mystical Body, for it is through the Incarnation that men have become members of Christ. Whatever theological interpretation we give to this great spiritual and patristic affirmation of our incorporation into Christ, we must believe that with the Incarnation, an ineffable union- that passes all understanding- began, in human flesh, between Jesus Christ and men. Beyond the particular historical event which took place at Bethlehem and through which the Son of God took on a visible human body, another event took place that concerns the whole human race: God, in becoming incarnate, in some way weds and assumes the human nature which we all share and creases between himself and us a relationship which, without its ever ceasing to be that between the Creator and his creature, is also that between the body and its members. There is union without confusion. Christmas allows us to become most deeply conscious of what is our true nature, human nature, re GENERATED by Jesus Christ.

'And the Word was made flesh'. These words summarize and express the feast of Christmas perfectly. If we give them their full meaning, we will understand that they do not only concern the mystery by which the Son and Word of the Father became man: this formula also carries an implication of a moral and practical order. Our flesh is often a source of temptation and sin to us. May the Word of God therefore become flesh in us, may it enter into our body. May the power of this Word (for there can be no question of its being an Incarnation in substance) pass from the exterior to the interior, and so, into our bodies; then the law of the Spirit will prevail over the law of the flesh. Christmas will have a true meaning for us only if our own flesh becomes transformed, changed and ruled by the Word made flesh.

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