SUNDAY SERMON




SUNDAY SERMON

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

Syrian Orthodox Church




9 December 2018

posted 7 Dec 2018, 21:13 by C S Paul

9 December 2018

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Birth of John the Baptist 

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

Birth of John the Baptist

57 Now Elizabeth’s full time came for her to be delivered, and she brought forth a son. 58 When her neighbors and relatives heard how the Lord had shown great mercy to her, they rejoiced with her.

Circumcision of John the Baptist

59 So it was, on the eighth day, that they came to circumcise the child; and they would have called him by the name of his father, Zacharias. 

60 His mother answered and said, “No; he shall be called John.”

61 But they said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by this name.” 

62 So they made signs to his father—what he would have him called.

63 And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, “His name is John.” So they all marveled. 

64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God. 

65 Then fear came on all who dwelt around them; and all these sayings were discussed throughout all the hill country of Judea. 

66 And all those who heard them kept them in their hearts, saying, “What kind of child will this be?” And the hand of the Lord was with him.

Zacharias’ Prophecy

67 Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying:

68 “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, For He has visited and redeemed His people,

69 And has raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of His servant David,

70 As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, Who have been since the world began,

71 That we should be saved from our enemies And from the hand of all who hate us,

72 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers And to remember His holy covenant,

73 The oath which He swore to our father Abraham:

74 To grant us that we, Being delivered from the hand of our enemies, Might serve Him without fear,

75 In holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.

76 “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways,

77 To give knowledge of salvation to His people By the remission of their sins,

78 Through the tender mercy of our God, With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us;

79 To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace.”

80 So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.

Devotional thoughts for the Sunday of the birth of St. John the Baptist

by Jose Kurian Puliyeril

Reading: From the Gospel according to St. Luke 1: 57 – 80

The Holy Church is celebrating the Birthday of St. John the Baptist, who was born to Priest Zechariah and Elizabeth, at their old age as a gift and a special blessing, and mercy of God Almighty. St. John, the so-called forerunner of our Lord and Savior was blessed to identify and enjoy the presence of our Lord and His blessed mother, when our Lord as well as St. John were in the wombs of their mothers. We cannot find such a rare blessing in the entire Holy Bible or in the history. The birth of St. John was a real mystery and a miracle When Elizabeth gave birth to her son, her neighbors as well as her relatives realized the greatness in the birth as a great mercy of God Almighty. So they praised God. (Vs 58) The neighbors and relatives might have witnessed the events followed by the visit of St. Mary to the residence of Elizabeth. That might be the reason for them to react in the positive way and manner. If we were in their place what would have been our response? We might release certain funny comments instead of praising God.

In our lives how many blessings and mercies do we enjoy from God Almighty? Do we recognize them all as gifts and mercies of the loving God or are we counting them as the net results of our hard work? Let us take a decision that we would be ever and ever grateful to God Almighty for His mercies, blessings, care and love, in the future. On the 8th day the neighbors and the relatives reached there and named the infant as John. They did so, though against their tradition and practice, honoring God Almighty's will. (Refer St. Luke 1:13) The get together of relatives and neighbors during the baptism, and other sacraments and events in our homes are based on this Biblical incident. Those who assembled at the house are representatives of the Holy Church. We should not forget the truth that the Holy church is only empowered to administer the Sacraments.

In verse 64 we read " And his mouth was opened immediately and his tongue loosed, and he spoke and praised God". St. Luke describes that all these sayings were noised abroad, throughout all the hillside of Judea. (Vs. 65) But all those who were near Zechariah got fear. In verse 66 we read, "And all they that heard these laid them in their hearts." This is how St. Mary had stored so many incidents and events in her heart as mentioned in St. Luke 2: 19. The relatives and neighbors of Zechariah and Elizabeth exclaimed, "What manner of child shall be this". From the very moment they might have heard the conversations between Elizabeth and St. Mary, they might have been waiting with eagerness to see the new born. 

Their surprise might have doubled when they heard the name of the infant. See the next sentence in our reading. "And the hand of God was with him". The Holy Spirit in us is always giving us instructions and guidance to proceed in God's ways. And at seldom occasions only we do give priority for God's will and wish. Let us try to give top priority to God and His wish in every deal and everyday. In verse 67 we listen that Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and as a result he was able to deliver the prophecy. 

First he spoke about the arrival of our Lord Jesus. In verse 67 we read that our Lord's arrival was to "perform the mercy promised to our fathers." In Leviticus 26: 42 we could see to which fathers God had made the covenant. There we read, "I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac and also my covenant with Abraham". Priest Zechariah is claiming that our Lord Jesus incarnated to the holy covenant and the oath made with our father Abraham (verse 72) In Genesis 12: 3 and as well as in Hebrews 6:13 we could see the details of the oath made with Abraham, the father of all the faithful.

The rest of the prophecy of Priest Zechariah is very significant for us also. We have to take them seriously to enrich our spirituality. He advises everyone to serve the one who deliver us from all the enemies without fear. (see verse 74) In Romans 6: 18, St. Paul exhorts us about the freedom from sin and the one who makes us free. In Hebrews 9:14 we are cautioned likewise. We read "How much more shall the blood of Jesus who through the eternal spirit offered himself without spot to God purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God".

We might doubt how to serve God without fear. The answer is given by our Lord Jesus Himself in St. John 12: 26. "If any man serve me, let him follow me." Now let us think whether we could serve Him better Let us follow Him by obeying Him and accepting Him as our Lord, God and Savior.y the intercession of St. John the Baptist be a fort of protection for all of us especially our infants. May God bless us all.

2 December 2018

posted 30 Nov 2018, 20:34 by C S Paul   [ updated 30 Nov 2018, 20:50 ]

2 December 2018

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

St. Mary's visit to Elizabeth 

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

Evening

Morning

Before Holy Qurbana

Holy Qurbana

         

Luke 1:39-56 New King James Version (NKJV)

Mary Visits Elizabeth

39 Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, 

40 and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. 

41 And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 

42 Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 

43 But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 

44 For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 

45 Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”

The Song of Mary

46 And Mary said:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
   47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.   48 For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.   49 For He who is mighty has done great things for me,And holy is His name.   50 And His mercy is on those who fear Him From generation to generation.   51 He has shown strength with His arm;He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.   52 He has put down the mighty from their thrones,And exalted the lowly.   53 He has filled the hungry with good things,And the rich He has sent away empty.   54 He has helped His servant Israel,In remembrance of His mercy,   55 As He spoke to our fathers,To Abraham and to his seed forever.”

56 And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her house.

Great people are born first in the heart, not in the womb

by Very Rev. Dr. Yohannan Sankarathil Cor-Episcopa

Devotional Thoughts for Mary's Visit to Elizabeth

Mary visits Elizabeth.

The fifth Sunday in the new year of the Church calendar is set for the visit of St. Mary to Elizabeth. In these days of advent, we commemorate the meeting of the heaven and earth, the meeting of two righteous women, the meeting of the mother of God and the mother of His forerunner.

It would be appropriate to give a brief account of the history that leads to the incident.

Malachi, the last prophet in the Old Testament, lived around B.C. 425, prophesied the birth of John the Baptist and the coming of Jesus Christ. For 400 years after the prophesy of Malachi there was no message from God to the earth.

After 400 years, angel came with God's message to the priest Zachariah who was offering the incense in the Holy of Holies, a chance he got once in his lifetime, since there were 24 divisions and 20,000 priests in the Temple of Jerusalem, not far short of a 1000 priests in each division and within the division all the duties were allocated by lot. Zachariah belonged to the division of Abijah and his wife of the daughters of Aaron. They were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. The angel stood on the right side of the altar of incense, said unto him "fear not, Zachariah: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call him John."

After six months of the announcement to Zachariah, God sent the angel Gabriel to Mary, a virgin, who was betrothed to Joseph. And having come in, the angel said to her, "Hail, thou art highly favored, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women."

She was troubled at his saying. Again the angel said, "Fear not Mary: for thou hast found favor with God, thou shall conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shall call him Jesus, and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. And behold, thy cousin Elizabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth-month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing is impossible."

Mary said, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word," and the angel departed from her. Mary surrendered herself to God.

Mary arose, with haste traveled the long trip of about 55 miles north of Nazareth and went into the hill country into the city of Judah. When Mary entered the house and saluted Elizabeth, the babe leaped in Elizabeth's womb and was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Elizabeth spoke out with a loud voice, "Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb."

Mary said to Elizabeth (Lk: 1: 46-55) which is a song called 'the magnificat.'

Mary stayed three months with Elizabeth, may be until the birth of John The Baptist. Here we see the humility and dedication of St. Mary. Mary's heart and mind were saturated with the word of God, contained repeated echoes of Hanna's prayers, 1Samuel 1: 11, 2: 1- 10. The two righteous women, Mary and Elizabeth, both carrying a child each with God's promise, staying together in time of need, was a blessed time of their lives. Jesus received the honor 'my Lord' from Elizabeth even before he was born. Here we see the union of the heaven and the earth, Jesus Christ and John the Baptist.

Luke was a gentile, a unique distinction of being the only New Testament writer who was not a Jew. He was a physician by profession (Col. 4: 14). It has been said that a minister sees man at their best; a lawyer at their worst; a doctor as they are.

There is no happiness without hardship. Mary carried Jesus, became humble. A woman's beauty is her humility, purity of heart and good deeds; man's beauty is courage and good deeds. When we have God's grace with us, we will be humble, righteous, courageous, ready to help others, love our neighbor and fellow brethren; hence we can please God.

It was in God's house that God's message came to Zachariah. God's voice comes to those who listen to it. Isaiah 30: 21, whenever you turn to your right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice, 'this is way, walk ye in it.'

1. Zachariah and Mary listened the Devine Directions;

a) By still and small voice

b) In the midst of uncertainties, Isaiah 42: 16, 'I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them.'

2. God chose the lowly things of this world, and despised things, and things that are not, to multiply the things that are, 1 Cor: 1: 28.

He selects the weak instrument to strengthen the weakness. Zachariah and Mary were rewarded for their deep prayer. Great people are born first in the heart, not in the womb. St. Augustine, said about Jesus Christ, "St. Mary carried Jesus first in her heart, and then received Him in her womb, saying 'Lo, I'm the servant of Lord…….' "

May God Bless You.


25 November 2018

posted 24 Nov 2018, 03:49 by C S Paul

25 November 2018

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Annunciation to St. Mary, Mother of God.

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

Luke 1:26-38 New King James Version (NKJV)

Christ’s Birth Announced to Mary

26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 

27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 

28 And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”

29 But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. 

30 Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 

31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus

32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 

33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

34 Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”

35 And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. 

36 Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. 

37 For with God nothing will be impossible.”

38 Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

To See What the End Shall Be
A Meditation on the Annunciation to St. Mary

By: Msgr. Charles Pope, Archdiocese of Washington

In today's Gospel we step back to March 25, the feast of the Annunciation, an event all but hidden, but which changed the world.

God whose focal presence had departed the Temple, just prior to the Babylonian invasion (cf Ez 10:18) and the loss of the Ark of the Covenant, now returns to the Ark of Mary's womb. The Glorious presence of God returns now to his people in an obscure town of less than three hundred, a town so small that no road went to it.

We are reading here of a pivotal moment in the history of mankind. God not only returns to his people but becomes one with them in the incarnation.

And at this moment we do well to consider four aspects of this pivotal moment. As we do so, we consider, not only Mary's glories, but also ours in a subordinate but real way. For Mary is the perfect disciple and typifies in a most excellent way the glories that God also wishes to bestow on us, in perhaps a different but still substantial way. Lets look at for aspects of this Gospel.

I. The RESPECT of God

The text says, The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth. To virgin betrothed to a man name Joseph and the virgin's name was Mary…Mary said "Behold I am the Handmaid of the Lord, May it be done to me according to your word."

Note that God asks of Mary her cooperation. Although the Angel Gabriel's words are not in the form of a question, that Mary considers this to be a request from God is clear from Mary's response. She says yes, and thus understands it as a request, not merely a statement of what shall be.

In this regard we see an important indicator of the respect of God for her freedom. Surely he has prepared her and equipped her with every good grace to say, yes, but in the end, her free "yes" is significant, and something that God looks for and respects. Otherwise, why send an angel at all? Why come through Mary at all? Why not simply appear suddenly as a full grown man and start to work? As it is, God wills to come through Mary (cf Gen 3:15) and seeks her "yes" in the place of Eve's "no."

And this respect for her free "yes" is also a respect God extends to us. Indeed we can see here how God's respect is in contrast to the devil, who shouts, is invasive, provocative and intrusive. Through cultural noise etc., he tempts and provokes. But God whispers and respectfully invites. He does not force our decision but summons us in love and awaits our answer.

In scripture we read of Jesus, Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Rev 3:20). Hence, though all powerful and able to coerce, God does not do so, he does not act violently or impose his will. He respects the freedom He Himself gave us, and invites us to cooperate in his plan for us.

Mary (and we) are thus respected by God in terms of our freedom.

II. The REGARD of God

Note in the text the great love of God, appreciation and regard extended to Mary through the Angel. The text says, Hail, Full of grace! The Lord is with you…Do not be afraid Mary. You have found favor with God...

As the great and glorious Angel, Gabriel comes to Mary, (and every angel is glorious) he must still, in an astonishing way acknowledge Mary's beauty, holiness, and perfection, by God's grace. Imagine an all glorious Archangel rendering a kind of debt of praise to a mere human being! And in so speaking this way He is speaking for God, of the deep love, appreciation and regard that God has for Mary, his greatest human work.

Indeed, we should never forget the Love and deep regard God has for Mary and also for us. Mary is surely God's masterpiece. But she is also the result of His grace and work.

In a less perfect way, but a still true manner, God also loves us and loves in us the perfection we will one day attain by his grace and mercy. A couple of texts come to mind:

I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness. (Jer 31:3)

Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…you are precious and honored in my sight, and..I love you. (Isaiah 43:1-3)

We are not good, and therefore God loves us. God loves us and therefore we are good, if we accept his love. Mary was, by a singular grace wholly open to God's love and perfection. But, if we are faithful, we too will one day become the man or woman God has always intended us to be.

God thus shows great regard for Mary (though Gabriel) and he also knows the glory we will one day share.

III. The RIDDLE in the middle

There remains the mysterious question of Mary: "How will this be since I do not know man?" Had she been thinking in merely biological terms she would would have known the obvious answer to the question: she and Joseph would conceive. But her question seems to suppose she had other notions about her future than regular marital relations.

Some hold that the question here is not really her question, but is rhetorically placed here by Luke so that the angel can inform us, the readers, that God alone is the true Father of this Son. But such a notion seems more made up by nervous moderns in an attempt to solve the mystery. Reducing a pivotal question like this to a mere literary device seems unbecoming.

Catholic tradition surely sees evidence here of the doctrine of Mary's perpetual virginity. To be sure many other questions are are raised by this resolution of the question: Why would two people get married and live as virgins?….Were such arrangements common at that time? (it would seem not). And so forth.

In the end Mary's question would surely seem to point to some expectation of Mary that she would "not know man" in some sense, going forward. But at any level we are not going to wholly satisfy our curiosity, and maybe it is none of our business.

One thing is sure, the Church teaches, without ambiguity that Mary remained ever virgin. That this question of hers indicates she was clear on this here, seems a reasonable conclusion, but there remains also a mystery that we must respect and understand, that it is none of our business, ultimately.

In this case, Protestants have some thinking to do. For Mary's question is not meaningless or naive, it is a true question, with a true context that ought to be respected as at least pointing to her virginity, even if it alone does not alone prove it. For more on this topic read here: New Theological Movement.

IV. The REASSURANCE of God

Mary is in the presence of an Archangel. This alone is frightening enough. But it is also true that her world is shifting quite dramatically. Hence her natural fear and anxiety is understandable. Thus Archangel Gabriel gives a number of reassurances to Mary: Do not be afraid Mary, For you have found favor with God…Behold you will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the most high, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end…"

In effect St Gabriel is saying to her that, however the details unfold, in the end there will be total victory, for she is to bear a Son who is the Son of the most High God and who will have a kingdom that will never end or be conquered. Hence, whatever her concerns, this all leads to victory.

Mary will need this reassurance for, to be clear, there ARE some difficult days ahead: the crisis of homelessness at birth, the flight to Egypt, Simeon's prophecy that a sword would pierce her heart, and the actual thrusting of that sword at the foot of the cross. This knowledge of ultimate victory is an important reassurance for her to hold close, and not forget.

So too for us. For we too have some difficult valleys to cross, some hills to climb. We must constantly keep in mind the end of the story, that Jesus is already the victor and that however our eyes my think that we are losing, in the end, total victory belongs to Jesus, and to us, if we stay with him. The end of the story is already declared: Jesus wins, overwhelmingly, and all his enemies are placed under his feet (e.g. Rev 20-22; 1 Cor 15:25-26; John 16:33 inter al.).

Consider this magnificent passage from Isaiah:

I am God there is no other. At the beginning I foretell the outcome; in advance, things not yet done. I say that my plan shall stand. I accomplish my every purpose. Yes, I have spoken, I will accomplish it; I have planned it and I will do it. Listen to me you fainthearted, you who seem far from the victory of justice: I am bringing on my justice, it is not far off, my salvation shall not tarry; I will put salvation within Zion, and give my glory to Israel (Isaiah 46:12ff).

If we were to memorize and internalize this passage so many of our fears and anxieties would flee, our trust would build and we would live victorious lives. It may at times seem that evil has the upper hand. Evil has its day, But God has the victory. No matter how dark it can seem, God has already won, only the news has not yet leaked out.

But in our hearts this truth and reassurance must be emblazoned. For, like Mary, we have difficult days in our future. All the more reason God's reassurance is essential for us. It got Mary through the Cross and it will get us through ours.

Hence, we have here a pivotal moment in History. God's presence returns to the human family. And it all happens so quietly, in a town of 300, so small that there was not even a road that went to Nazareth. Quietly, but clearly and powerfully, God has thrust the first blow at Satan's realm. Victory is sure.

I have it on the best authority that Mary sang this song after the Angel left: Done made my vow to the Lord and I never will turn back, I will go, I shall go to see the end shall be.

It occurs to me that Mary, at this time was not much older than the young ladies in this choir.


18 November 2018

posted 17 Nov 2018, 03:40 by C S Paul

18 November 2018

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Annunciation to Zachariah (Parents' day)

This Sunday is commemorated as the day when John the Baptist's birth was announced to Zachariah by Angel Gabriel. 

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday


Luke 1 New King James Version (NKJV)

Dedication to Theophilus

Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, 

just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, 

it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, 

that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.

John’s Birth Announced to Zacharias

There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 

And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 

But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years.

So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, 

according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. 

10 And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. 

11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 

12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.

13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 

14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 

15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 

16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 

17 He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

The Consequences of Unbelief

by Rev. Bryn MacPhail

Scripture: Luke 1:5-25

Because we know that God is love, and because we have read about the gentleness of Jesus, Christians sometimes forget that there are, in fact, consequences for our sins. What we often fail to understand is that God's love is not at odds with His judgment.

And the reason God's love is not at odds with His judgment is explained by the author of Hebrews, "(God) disciplines us", he writes, "for our own good, that we may share in His holiness", and, "to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness"(Heb.12:10, 11).

God disciplines us, not because He is a tyrant, but because He wants us to be holy. Those of you who are parents know what I am talking about. We discipline our children, not to exasperate them, but in order to protect them and to help them. Such is the case with God--His discipline is always aimed at accomplishing a holy purpose.

But let's be honest. Holy purpose or not, discipline is not pleasant. Discipline brings us sorrow, not joy. So, even though we regard the discipline of God as a good thing, it is not something we invite. I suspect we would all agree that we would rather grow in holiness by believing and obeying than by the means of God's correction and discipline.

That being the case, the discipline of Zacharias should serve as a helpful example to us. We want to avoid discipline, and we do so by trusting in, and following, the Word of God.

We learn, first of all--in verse 5, that Zacharias was a priest. Secondly, we learn in verse 6, that both he and his wife Elizabeth were considered "righteous in the sight of God". We infer then, that Zacharias was a genuine believer in God. And not simply a genuine believer, but Zacharias was also a well-instructed and upright man who Luke describes as "walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord"(v.6). In addition to that, Zacharias is described as being "advanced in years"(v.7), meaning that he was probably considered to be among the most experienced saints of his time.

This is important to remember because, very shortly, we will see Zacharias punished for his unbelief. This is important to remember because, since we know Zacharias was a genuine believer, he becomes for us a striking example of the pains a Christian may have to suffer as the result of unbelief.

Before Luke explains the priestly activity Zacharias was chosen to do, he includes some personal information when he reports that Zacharias and Elizabeth "had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years." This information will come into play in a few verses.

Verses 8 and 9 explain that it was the appointed time for a priest "to enter the temple of the Lord to burn incense." While there is nothing out of the ordinary about a priest burning incense in the temple, it was an extremely special occasion for the priest carrying out the task. You see, in those days, there were many priests and not enough sacred duties and so, as verse 9 tells us, lots were cast to see who would perform each function. Extrabiblical sources indicate that a priest could not offer incense more than once in his entire lifetime(Mishnah, Tamid 5:2), and some priests never did receive the privilege. Thus, when Zacharias offered incense in the temple, it was to be a very special occasion.

As you can tell by verse 11, this occasion became more special than Zacharias could have ever imagined. What ultimately made this day special was that "an angel of the Lord appeared to (Zacharias), standing to the right of the altar of incense."

After calming Zacharias down, the angel proceeded to give Zacharias the most extraordinary news of his life, "Zacharias . . . your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John"(v.13).

As Calvin and others have said, "it is hardly probable that Zacharias did, at that (particular) time, pray to obtain a son, of which he had despaired on account of his wife's advanced age". It is more likely that the angel was reporting that Zacharias' prayer for a child throughout his life was now being answered.

And how does Zacharias respond to this news? He says to the angel, "How shall I know this for certain? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years?"(v.18).

To us, perhaps, this seems like a reasonable question. But, as we'll soon see by the angel Gabriel's response, Zacharias' question was not appropriate. As Spurgeon has said, "because (Zacharias) was a venerable priest, one thoroughly schooled in sacred truth, a man who for many years instructed the people of Israel in the oracles of God, it became a crying evil for him to say, "How shall I know this?"".

Two things are present here that make Zacharias' question sinful. The first is that Zacharias doubted the promise of God. He makes reference to his age and to Elizabeth being beyond childbearing years. Zacharias doubts that what the angel is saying is physically possible. The second thing indication of unbelief is that Zacharias asks for a sign. He asks, "How shall I know this?".

Of course, those of you who know your Old Testament well, know that this is not the first time someone doubted a promise given to them from a heavenly source. And this is not the first time someone asked God for a sign. Abraham doubted that he could have a son in his advanced years, but he was not rebuked by God. Gideon asked God for a sign and was given one without any rebuke.

So what is the difference? Is God arbitrary? Is God inconsistent with how He deals with us? No, of course He isn't. The first thing we should recognize as we compare Abraham and Gideon with Zacharias is that we are only able to examine words. God, on the other hand, does not make His judgments simply on words. God does not discipline us solely by what we say because His eye is able to pierce the depths of our heart. We cannot see the spirit behind Zacharias' question, but God can--and on this basis, Zacharias is rebuked.

Keep in mind, also, that the thing the angel pronounced was the very thing Zacharias had been praying many years for. And even though the angel's promise was a distinct answer to his prayers, Zacharias still asked, "How shall I know this?".

If the promise of a child came as a surprise altogether, as it did to Mary, there would be excuse for Zacharias' doubt. But since the promise was a direct reply to his prayers, since the promise was a gracious answer to his intense requests, Zacharias' unbelieving question is regarded by God as sin.

Yet, even as I bring you this Scripture that shows the judgment of God on Zacharias' unbelief, I am aware that from time to time we too are guilty of this sin. For some of us, nothing would surprise us more than to actually receive a positive answer to some of our prayers. Though we believe in answered prayer, at times our faith is so weak that when the answer comes, we are astounded and amazed.

Since we too are often guilty of this unbelief, we should be sobered by the fact that Zacharias was physically disciplined for his unbelief. The angel answers Zacharias and says, "I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God; and I have been sent to speak to you, and to bring you this good news. And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which shall be fulfilled in their proper time"(v.19, 20).

Zacharias was made mute because he did not believe Gabriel's words. Moreover, Zacharias had the additional affliction of being made deaf at the same time. How do I know that he was deaf? Have a look at verse 62, "they made signs to his father, as to what he wanted (the child) called". If Zacharias had been able to hear there would have been no need to use signs; but he could not hear any more than he could speak. Zacharias was made both deaf and dumb because of his unbelief.

Put yourselves, for the moment, in Zacharias' shoes. We know what it is like to battle unbelief--don't we? We can surely identify with both Zacharias and the man who exclaimed, "I do believe; help my unbelief"(Mk. 9:24).

Think about what it would be like to be both deaf and dumb--not simply for a day, but for more than 9 months. Surely, this was painful discipline. Zacharias could no longer bless or instruct the people as their priest. Even worse, at the news of Elizabeth's pregnancy, Zacharias could not audibly rejoice with her.

All this because Zacharias doubted a promise from God. Look at the Bible in front of you. It has many promises from God--do you believe them? Or are you like many who believe some of the promises, but not all of the promises? It is a dangerous thing to harbour unbelief. It is a dangerous thing to doubt the veracity of God's Word. The difficulty is that we are little aware of how many Divine chastisements come upon us as a result of our unbelief.

We can be sure that we are disciplined by God for our unbelief because this is the consistent pattern of Scripture. When Jesus visited Nazareth, we are told that He did very few miracles because of the unbelief of the people (Mk. 6:5,6). A more striking example is found in Numbers 20:12 where we learn that the unbelief of Moses and Aaron was the direct reason for why God did not allow them or their entire generation to enter the Promised Land.

When we are unbelieving we cannot properly glorify God or enjoy Him. There can be no joy or comfort where there is doubt and unbelief. We must trust in God's promises if we are to glorify God. We see this in the book of Romans, where Abraham is described as glorifying God by "not wavering in unbelief" and by "growing strong in faith" (Rom. 4:20).

My prayer is that you could be described in these terms. As you read the Scriptures I pray that you would not waver in unbelief, and that you would grow in your faith in Christ.

By this, your joy is preserved and God's glory is displayed in us. Amen.


11 November 2018

posted 10 Nov 2018, 02:22 by C S Paul

11 November 2018

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Hoodhosh Eetho (Dedication) Sunday

The Sunday after Koodhosh Eetho is called Hoodhosh Eetho 

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

Luke 19:47-20:8 New King James Version (NKJV)

47 And He was teaching daily in the temple. But the chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people sought to destroy Him, 

48 and were unable to do anything; for all the people were very attentive to hear Him.

Jesus’ Authority Questioned

20 Now it happened on one of those days, as He taught the people in the temple and preached the gospel, that the chief priests and the scribes, together with the elders, confronted Him 

and spoke to Him, saying, “Tell us, by what authority are You doing these things? Or who is he who gave You this authority?”

But He answered and said to them, “I also will ask you one thing, and answer Me: 

The baptism of John—was it from heaven or from men?”

And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 

But if we say, ‘From men,’ all the people will stone us, for they are persuaded that John was a prophet.” 

So they answered that they did not know where it was from.

And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

Dedication of Body, Mind and Spirit

by Fr. John Samuel, London

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand”. John 10:26-29

Discerning the voice of the dearest ones..... It is a higher spiritual realm, easy to understand, but difficult to get into it. Think of a husband coming to his home very late night and knocks at the door. “Who is that?“, the voice was heard from inside. On all a sudden, the man recognized his wife’s voice without any introduction and the reply was also quite simple and quick, “It’s me”!!. Immediately she opened the door for him.

What an answer!! Despite the odd time, without any sort of introduction they could realize each other just with an utterance of a few words which did not have any introductions. This is inexplicable because this is an experience. Realizing the voice of the Lord with inner senses is similar to this.

There is another miracle in the world which has surprised me; discernment of a mother with her own child. The child cries for whatever he/she needs. He/she has only one response, crying. When it feels for sleeping, it cries; when it is hungry, it cries; when it is in demand for something, it cries. But the mother discerns his/her desires. How does that happen? It is the spiritual interlink of the mother and the child. The child blindly believes its mother and is completely dedicated her.

After Koodhosh Eetho Sunday, the church enters to the Hoodhosh eetho Sunday.

Hoodhosh denotes Dedication and Eetho means church.

Hoodhosh is therefore, the dedication of the church. Dedication of the church is observed after the purification of the church. Offerings are purified first, and then dedicated. This is a universal religious principle. In broad sense, this denotes to the dedication of the whole church itself. The purified church is dedicated as a pure offering to the Lord to prepare herself for partaking in the celebration of the Holy Nativity.

Absolute dedication takes us to absolute protection. Lord assures that no one can snatch His sheep out His Father’s hand. Although the flock are on the direction and discipline of the shepherd, only a few sheep recognise the voice of their shepherd. Once it is discerned, they feel comforted and relieved.

Ask the Perfect Guru to receive the dedicated body mind and soul. The Perfect Guru is the possibility in our inner-selves. We may have to set apart some time for searching the perfect Guru in you. He may be sleeping, unconscious or even dead. Wake Him up and be enlightened.

Discerning the voice of the Lord has another meaningful dimension. This is an absolute mingling with the Creator. We might have heard of people who mingle with the nature. Even some people have misunderstood that taking only the vegetarian food is the major evidence of being with nature (Do not forget that the spokesman of vegetarian food is Hitler!!). Realizing the inner self is the evidence of being with the nature and thereby discerning the ‘touch’ of the Creator.

The earth hides innumerable facts than the revealed ones. We may be able to measure the number of rivers. But who will measure the springs on the earth? Who can know how far the roots of a small plant have gone under the earth? Who can measure that? But our inner self has immense resources and potentialities with mysteries. Explore them, from the river to the spring, from the fruits to the roots. It is our task, the divine one.


4 November 2018

posted 2 Nov 2018, 22:50 by C S Paul   [ updated 2 Nov 2018, 22:50 ]


4 November 2018

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Koodosh E'atho - Sanctification of Church

The Sunday that comes on of after October 30th is called Koodhosh Eetho (Sanctification of Church) Sunday. It is the beginning of the church calendar.

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

Mark 8:27-33 New King James Version (NKJV)

Peter Confesses Jesus as the Christ

27 Now Jesus and His disciples went out to the towns of Caesarea Philippi; and on the road He asked His disciples, saying to them, “Who do men say that I am?”

28 So they answered, “John the Baptist; but some say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.”

29 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

Peter answered and said to Him, “You are the Christ.”

30 Then He strictly warned them that they should tell no one about Him.

Jesus Predicts His Death and Resurrection

31 And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 

32 He spoke this word openly. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. 

33 But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”

Meditation for Koodos Itho Sunday And the Memorial Feast of 

Mor Gregorios of Parumala

by HG Yuhanon Mor Meletius, Trichur

November 2nd is a very important day in the life of the members of our church. That is the day we observe the death anniversary of Saint Mar Gregorios of Paumala. This day also happens to be the first day of the year, the Khoodos Itho Sunday according to our liturgical calendar.

The text for the day comes from St. Matthew 16:13-23. This passage talks about God's revelation to Peter about who Jesus was and Peter's confession. Jesus further tells Peter that this Messianic secret should not be shared with any one. The reason being people will not understand what is exactly meant by the title "Son of God." On the one hand the very idea of God having a Son is quite unfamiliar and blasphemous to the Jewish community and any talk about that would invite untimely opposition and controversy. Jesus wanted to save this till the end of His earthly life.

Then again the term Messiah which God revealed to Peter and that Peter spelt out was a title which could be misunderstood by people for another reason. People in fact were waiting for a Messiah to come and save them from the Romans. Further they had a different notion about the personality of Messiah. Most of them were expecting a political authority who will liberate Israel from Rome. Some of them were expecting a priestly Messiah. But they were few in number and most of them were in the Jewish monasteries. So Jesus wanted to keep the revealed truth about Him just for among the disciples.

Jesus had an entirely different idea about Himself and His mission as the Son of God and Messiah. He considered Himself as "the Suffering Servant," Isaiah (in chapters 41 ff.) talked about, who would lay His life for the sake of others. He wanted His life to be one for others. He said, "Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and lay His life for many as a ransom" (Matt. 20:28). So He wanted to live His life for others.

When Jesus asked His disciples to "Do this in remembrance of Me" (Luke 22:19) it includes the command that we should do things Jesus did and the purpose He served. The Last Supper contains all the saving work Jesus did for our sake. So as Christians we need to do the work He did, not to die but to live a life for others.

Parumala Mar Gregorios Thirumeni lived the life of a true Christian. He lived his life for his flock. That is the reason we consider him a saint. Because he considered his life as a life for others, we come before him for intercession on our behalf.

The supplication St. Mary put before Jesus clearly tells us of the way of every saint before our Lord. She said, "they have no wine" (John 2:3). She was not concerned of her need, rather of the need of others. Parumala Thirumeni lived such a caring life and we know that well enough. We come before him as his devotees and his flock or children. When he presents us before our Lord he, like St. Mary did, asks us to "do just as He wants you to do" (John 2:5). Parumala thirumeni will be asking us to follow his life in this world because that is what our Lord asks us to do. He said, "I give a new commandment, you love one another" (John 13:34). What is required of us as Christians is to be caring for others.

There are two reasons we are to be caring, one because our Lord has asked us to, and two because our saint lived such a life and we are to follow him as his children. He cares for us and we need to care for others. We come and present various prayers for intercession before Parumala Thirumeni, for our own needs, the needs of our children, for the situation prevailing, for our families, for the things that worries us, regarding what we hope to have in our lives, about our financial crises, about our health concerns and about so many other things.

My question today is, "have we ever presented before the saint that he may request God to make us a caring person?" We pray for our children that they may be successful in education, in career, in their family life etc. Have we ever prayed that he may pray that God will make them caring children of God? Of course we may have, that they care for their parents and relatives. But just as Thirumeni did, or as our Lord did, to be a caring person for every one he or she may meet. If we do that, on the one hand Thirumeni will be much happier about us and on a second note the world will be a better place for every one to live in.

When we stand in Parumala at the holy tomb of Parumala Mar Gregorios Thirumeni or where ever we may live and seek his intercession this year, can this be one of our prayers? "Thirumeni please pray for me that God may make me/ my husband, my wife/ my son/ my daughter/ my brother/my sister ... a caring a person not just for me, but for God's whole creation! Can this be a challenge this year for us to spread. Many of us spread the "ice bucket challenge". Some in Kerala made "one tree challenge". I challenge all of you to make an intercession before Parumala Thirumeni at his tomb, or at their own homes or anywhere they like, that he may pray to God that one of that person's relative or friend may take this challenge.


28 October 2018

posted 26 Oct 2018, 22:25 by C S Paul

28 October 2018

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Seventh Sunday after Sleebo/ the Feast of Holy Cross

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday


Matthew 5:21-26 New King James Version (NKJV)

Murder Begins in the Heart

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ 

22 But I say to you thatwhoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.

23 Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 

24 leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 

25 Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. 

26 Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.

If God Were Truly In Charge

by John Jewell

"Why does it have to be like this?"

The woman's grief was heavy -- thick. You could feel it as she spoke through her tears. We were walking away from the graveside of her 25 year old son who had been killed in a hunting accident. Her eldest daughter had been killed by a drunk driver two years earlier. The remaining daughter had moved back home with her two young children a month earlier when her husband disappeared with his new found "soul mate". With a large mortgage and no employment, she had no choice but to move back home with her mother.

Is it any wonder she asked, "Why does it have to be like this?"

Certainly you -- or someone very close to you has asked the same question in one form or another. Why is there anger -- and cheating -- and violence -- and hatred? And how about stupidity? Drunk driving is just plain stupid! Why do people have to die because other people are so stupid as to attempt control of a 2000 pound missile while incapacitated?

The answer to why things are the way they are is rather amazing. The reason things are the way they are is that God made the incredible decision to place something as precious as human life into the hands of humans!

As pastors, we hear the woman's question in this form, "Why couldn't an all powerful God have created a perfect world without all this pain and anguish?"

The answer to that, of course, is, "God did create a perfect world. The problem is -- if you read the bible, the perfect world which was created lasted for about two and a half pages."

Why?

Because God made the unthinkable decision to place the world and human life into the hands of humans!

Stay with me now. Here's the key to understanding why things are the way they are and how they can be the way God wants them to be. "God has placed the world and human life into the hands of humans so that they might place them back into the hands of God!"

If God were truly in charge, if we could embrace the love of God for us -- and love God back -- and extend that love to others -- the world would be a different place. Idealistic? Yes! Radical? Absolutely! Possible? It might not look like it, but God really does break through in surrendered, committed, individual lives here and there. And when that happens there is at least a temporary outbreak of the kingdom of God!

And you know something people -- perhaps we need God to fill our hearts with courage and expectation so that we can embrace the fact that Jesus Christ has indeed called us to a radical way of living! If we will allow ourselves to be confronted by the Spirit of God in the words of Jesus in the reading from Matthew, we can discover that when broken hearted people ask, "Why does it have to be this way?" we can honestly answer, "It doesn't !" But... there is a certain transformation that needs to take place if we are to "get there from here" as they say. Our scripture readings point to three factors that can help. We might talk about these three factors in terms of: 
1) Beyond the Law - Hitting the Wall, 
2) Loving God Means Life, and 
3) Grace for the Power to Change.

1. Beyond the Law - Hitting the Wall

In Jesus day, a good, religious, God fearing person, would do all they could to keep the law of Moses and even the interpretation of those laws by rabbis which were held in high regard. The Pharisees almost made a profession of strict law keeping. They felt that if everyone would strictly observe religious law, the world would be a better place. And as true as that sentiment might be -- it simply didn't work! Jesus, on more than one occasion, pointed out that the law keepers of his day usually missed the point of God's law. In fact, Mark tells us Jesus became angry at a group of Pharisees who were more concerned about the details of law keeping than they were about the hurt and anguish of a crippled man as he writes, "He {Jesus} looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart..." [Mark 3:5]

In the reading from Matthew, Jesus says in effect, "Look... do you think the Pharisees and scribes take the law seriously... that they are religious? Let me tell you something, you've got to do way better then the Pharisees and all the outwardly religious folks you know or you will never know what it is like to live in a world where God is truly in charge!"

Then he launched into six examples of how he wanted his followers to do better than the Pharisees. Six examples that would leave them standing speechless! And if we listen closely, they will leave us speechless. Listen:

1. "Call someone a fool and you'll go to hell!"
2. "If you look at a woman with lust in your heart, you've committed adultery... you would be better off to rip out your eye!"
3. "The ancients allowed men to divorce -- I say, NO DIVORCE!"
4. "Don't take any oaths -- you shouldn't have to -- if you love God, your word is good!"
5. "Forget about getting even with people, if someone hits you on the right cheek -- offer him the other cheek!"
6. "If this isn't sinking in, try this -- love your enemies and pray for those who use you!"

"Is he serious?" No doubt they wondered. I can relate -- can't you? Can you imagine the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the United States (Canada, England etc.) declare that as a Christian, he was going to base his policies on Jesus' words in Matthew 5:44 "...I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you..." ? He would be sent to "sick bay" and then likely given an "Honorable Discharge - Special Circumstances."

What's your reaction to Jesus' words? I have to confess that I share in some of the "jaw dropping" that must have taken place that day. But, just in case people began to look for "wiggle room", Jesus drove home the last nail.

"Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

This should be sufficient to cause us to hit the wall in a spiritual sense!. This is all God wants from you. Perfection! In other words Jesus takes the discussion way beyond law keeping. We have to do much more than simply keep a few religious laws and observe a few religious practices. We are confronted with the reality that a power beyond us will have to take charge!

2. Loving God Means Life

The fact that God has placed the world and human life back into the hands of human beings sounds like a rather far fetched idea -- to say nothing of risky, but there is a central principle of relationships in this. Without the ability to choose, there can be no real love. I can love you only if there is a choice. Even God's love comes as the result of a choice. Moses explained to Israel, "The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples..." [Deut. 7:7 NASB] The lectionary reading from Deuteronomy makes it clear that to love God is to choose God and to choose to live in the ways God sets out for us. This choice is so powerful and so determinative of the outcome of our lives that Moses can say this is literally a "life and death" choice. To choose to love God is to choose life!¹

The most amazing "love choice" God ever made is the one almost every Christian person who has ever lived can recite, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." [John 3:16 NASB] Accordingly, the greatest choice a human being can make is to return that amazing love. Jesus says exactly that in Matthew 22:37 "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind."

In our reading from Deuteronomy, Moses said, "Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you..." [Deut. 30:19-20] It is when we choose to trust the Son that we have life instead of death. However, this love relationship with God is something we can also choose to turn away from. Moses warms the people that if they turn their hearts away from God, they will perish."

We are faced with a problem. Jesus' words are all but impossible to keep and the love for God Moses enjoins seems beyond the reach of most of us. So -- where to from here?

3. Grace for the Power to Change

How can we ever come close to honoring -- much less practicing Jesus' words? What is the power that can help us change?

Perhaps the words of Paul in the epistle reading can help. Here's a rephrasing of what he said to the Corinthian church. (And trust me... the church at Corinth was a very earthy, messed up bunch! ² ) "I couldn't really talk to you in spiritual terms because you are so earthbound. You are so hooked into this world that you don't 'get it' when it comes to spiritual things. We can talk all we want, but only God can really bring about spiritual growth."

In order to make any spiritual gains, we will need to be open to the fullness of the love of God in our lives.

Wait now! Don't let that slip by too quickly. Think about this with me. [Take this slowly and give a few seconds for folk to reflect on what you are saying.]

Are you aware of the depth of God's love for you? Have you allowed the fullness of the love of Christ to penetrate your soul?

It is only the deep love and grace of God that can give us the power to see the world and the people in our lives with spiritual eyes. It is the love of God that brings sufficient healing to the pain and anguish of our lives -- and allows us to let the "perfect" love of God come through our lives for others.

To be perfect -- as God is perfect, is not so much a matter of keeping the law of God as it is embracing the love of God. Once you have embraced the love of God you can let it go -- to others.

This takes us back to the woman's original question. "Why does it have to be like this?" The answer is, "It doesn't!"

If you will open your life up to the fullness of God's love for you, and if you will allow your life to be filled with love for God -- then you will gain the courage to live for God in the tiny corner of the planet that is yours. Perhaps others of us will do the same and this healing love will touch someone near by. Perhaps a few changed lives will touch other lives. And God willing -- one less person will die at the hands of a drunk driver -- and perhaps one more family will stay together. One life at a time, we can make a difference. One candle at a time, we can light the darkness.

Can you and I be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect? Certainly not -- but we can allow a perfect God more room in our imperfect lives. Then we will catch at least a glimpse of what it would be like if God were truly in charge! 


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.


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