SUNDAY SERMON




SUNDAY SERMON

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

Syrian Orthodox Church




10 December 2017

posted 8 Dec 2017, 03:47 by C S Paul

10 December 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Birth of John the Baptist (Children's day)

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

Evening

Morning

Before Holy Qurbana

Holy Qurbana

Luke 1:57-80New King James Version (NKJV)

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[a] 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.

The Music of Christmas

by Mike Pohlman, Bellingham, WA

I love Christmas music. Of course, not all Christmas music is created equal. Each year I find myself migrating toward Christmas music that points me to the heart of the season. I love music that sings about God and his Christ—music that reminds me that there is a Redeemer, Jesus Christ God's own Son.

One of my favorite songs comes from the Gospel of Luke. Zachariah's prophecy is lyrical theology at its best. In this hymn of hope we are reminded of what is most profound about Christmas.

Of course, Zachariah wasn't always singing. For a time he was mute because he doubted the promise of God to provide for him and Elizabeth a son—the one who would "turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God" (Luke 1:16). But once John was born Zachariah got his voice back and the first thing he did was offer praise to God for providing salvation: "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people …" (Luke 1:68).

Zachariah's Song is made up of two long sentences with the first praising God for providing salvation (Luke 1:68-75) and the second summarizing the role of his son as the one who would prepare the way for the Lord (Luke 1:76-79).

Zachariah could not help but sing over the fulfillment of God's promise of salvation in a coming Redeemer. In a burst of exultation, Zachariah announces that God has "raised up a horn of salvation" in keeping with the words "he spoke by the mouth of the prophets from of old" (Luke 1:69-70). Indeed, all the promises of God find their "Yes" in Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 1:20).

Not only is Zachariah's prophecy intended to show us the faithfulness of God, but also his mercy. This salvation is according to the "tender mercy of our God" (Luke 1:78). Even as Zachariah is summarizing the role his son John would play in preparing the way for the Lord, he cannot take his focus off God and the absolute mercy it is that he would provide a Savior. For Zachariah the purpose of the birth of Jesus Christ is to display the mercy of God (Luke 1:72). And what a mercy it is that sinners like us can find forgiveness of our sins and, in Christ, serve God "without fear, in holiness and righteousness all our days" (Luke 1:74-75).

And we must not miss the beautiful imagery Zachariah uses in predicting the coming of Christ into the world. He relates the appearing of our salvation to a majestic "sunrise … from on high" (Luke 1:78). The purpose of light is to banish darkness and this is exactly what Jesus, the Light of the world, does. As Zachariah sings, Jesus will "give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death" (Luke 1:79).

Oh how our hearts should break this Christmas for loved ones that remain in the "shadow of death." Apart from Christ we "walk in gloom" (Isa. 59:9) and hate the light (John 3:20). We duck and hide and position ourselves in every way imaginable trying, in vain, to avoid the One with whom we must give account (Heb. 4:13). Our sin is so all-consuming that the apostle can simply call us "darkness" (Eph. 5:8). And tragically this Christmas people dear to us are replaying in their hearts Mozart's "Requiem" instead of Zachariah's hymn of hope.

But this Christmas can be different.

The Gospel is the good news that there is a way for sinners to come out of the shadow of death and enter into God's "marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9). Jesus promises his followers that they "will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12). This is the truth that put songs in the heart of Elizabeth, Mary, Zachariah, and Simeon. This is the news that infuriated Herod, brought Magi from the east and caused the angels to sing, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"

Peace. Heavenly peace. This is how Zachariah concludes his song. The salvation of the Lord will "guide our feet into the way of peace." Of course, this is no ordinary peace. This is the peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:7). This is the peace of Christ and received by faith.

Unfortunately I don't think we will see Zachariah's hymn as a "Top Song" at iTunes any time soon. However, this is a song infinitely more valuable than anything we will ever see featured there and a song worth singing not just this Christmas, but for all eternity.


3 December 2017

posted 1 Dec 2017, 07:36 by C S Paul

3 December 2017

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 1:39-56New 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 isshe 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.”

Faith-filled Women

by Robert Austell

When was the last time you had a meaningful conversation with someone? Maybe I'm off-track here, but my guess is that for most of us, those are few and far between.

There's a lot of, "Hi, how ya doing?" and "Fine, just fine; how ‘bout you?"

There's some, "Good to see you, hope you and your family are well" and "Yep, yep, same to you."

There might even be that sticking the toe in the deep end and waiting for a warmer day line, "We need to get together sometime" and "Yeah, let's do that." Even if we dare to do it, though, sometimes that getting together is just more of the shallow same.

If this seems to be a strange topic to pick up from this text, let me explain why it's on my mind. I realize this is the mother of our Lord and her cousin, both of whom are miraculously pregnant and have heard angels speak. I also realize this is holy Scripture, which doesn't tend to record trivial banter at the water cooler. Nonetheless, I was struck and convicted by the depth and character of the conversation recorded in this text.

I want to look with you at the content of what Elizabeth had to say and then what Mary had to say, then challenge ourselves to step it up a notch… to risk a move towards spiritual depth in our conversations and relationships. Christmas is the perfect time to take this on, as it is natural to think and speak of Jesus and God's involvement in our lives. Let's look first at Elizabeth…

Elizabeth: "You are Blessed!"

When Mary first came to visit, Elizabeth exclaimed, "You are blessed!" We are given more of the details surrounding that exclamation. Elizabeth's baby "leaped" inside her; Elizabeth was filled with God's Holy Spirit; and she recognized the miraculous work God was doing in Mary's life, preparing to bring Jesus into the world.

Elizabeth's baby with Zacharias was a miracle. They were old and she had never been able to get pregnant. Mary's baby was a miracle, conceived without a man by the will of God. An angel had spoken to both couples, describing great things that God was doing. Elizabeth's baby was promised to be the last great prophet of the Messiah, and Mary's baby was to be that Messiah. Both couples received those promises and believed.

It might be easy to think, these two women were so full of faith and in the middle of what God was doing that of course they said deep and holy things. Plus, this was to be recorded and passed on to future generations.

But, consider this: God is still at work in the lives of human beings. No, Jesus is not being born into the world again. But, as we talk about often, God is not hiding in Heaven, but is active here and now, seeking and saving the lost, broken-hearted, lonely, and afraid. And God's promise, just as sure as to those women, is to use people like you and me, who will listen and obey His Word, to accomplish that mission.

We have just as much reason as Elizabeth to speak of what God is doing, particularly as we see it in another person's life. That person might be a Christian friend who may or may not feel close to God. Sometimes we serve as "eyes and ears" for each other, when the other is struggling to hear God. Rather than, "How's it going?" and "Fine, fine; how ‘bout you?" (never actually answering that question), this text challenges us to speak deeply into one another's life. "Hey, what can I pray about in your life?" "How ARE you doing? … and looking for, asking for more than, "Fine, fine."

And if that other person is a friend who doesn't know Christ, you may well be the one God would use to speak of life and hope and truth. Several friends came to the play last weekend and saw something unfamiliar in the faith depicted there. They want to know more. You may have a friend who needs faith and hope. Will you be an Elizabeth to them and speak of what God is doing in their life?

And it's not just about struggles. Elizabeth affirmed Mary's own trusting faith. She encouraged her. When was the last time you encouraged someone's faith? It doesn't come naturally. Yet this week I tried to do this (working on the sermon usually prompts good behavior!). Someone did something for me that reminded me of Jesus, and a day or two after the fact, I decided to tell them and thank them for that. Will you look for opportunities to be an Elizabeth and encourage faithful decisions others make? The Lord knows we need that kind of encouragement!

Mary: "God is good!"

Let's look at Mary. Her response to Elizabeth is famous. Many songs and hymns have been written about this, and we've heard one today. Whether Elizabeth's greeting elicited this response or whether Mary was prone to outbursts of praising God, she chose in this case to worship and praise God in the presence of her cousin and friend. In essence, she exclaimed, "God is good!" She described God's great deeds and kind regard for her; she described God's promises and faithfulness; and she held up God's goodness."

Mary is talking to God, but she is doing so in the presence of another. In terms of application for us, if being like Elizabeth means speaking of what God is doing in another person's life; being like Mary means speaking of what God is doing in our own life, though Mary goes on to speak far more broadly about what God is doing for the whole world.

This reminds me of the "TEA evangelism" we talked about on Wednesday nights several years ago. Evangelism isn't about conversion or changing someone's mind; it's about telling the story of God… what God is doing. It is hearing the other person's story, sharing my story, and pointing to God's story. Mary and Elizabeth were not in need of conversion – they were both women of strong faith. But they were practicing real evangelism – declaring what God was up to in both their lives and in the world. It was an act of worship, and it's the kind of conversation that should happen frequently with Christians.

In short, Elizabeth said, "Mary – God is surely doing something in your life right now… it's plain to see!" And Mary responded, "Yes, He is… and it's even bigger than me… let me tell you and praise God for it!"

Time and Depth

Many of us will be with family in the next few days. Many of us will see friends this week and next for New Year's. All year long, we interact with friends and loved ones, both Christian and not. In every case, it is such an easy route to put off substantial conversation until a later time, or never dip beneath the surface or near the deep end at all.

Hear the challenge of God's Word: you are part of God's story, and that story is Good News in a time when we all need some good news. It doesn't really take training or skill to go deeper; it takes time and intention. But taking time and choosing such conversation shows love and compassion. It is a reflection of faith and it is an act of obedience as well as love.

Be an Elizabeth – ask what God is doing or affirm what God is doing in another's life.

Be a Mary – share what God is doing and look for the connections between your own story and God's greater story.

Faith isn't a private, internal thing to be hoarded or hidden away. Like love, it is meant to be talked about, shared, and used to build up the faith of others that God is alive and well and active right here and now.

Let's start talking! Amen.


26 November 2017

posted 24 Nov 2017, 22:15 by C S Paul

26 November 2017

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

Evening

Morning

Before Holy Qurbana

Holy Qurbana

Luke 1:26-38New 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.

Devotional Thoughts for Sunday of Annunciation to St. Mary

by Rev. Fr. Happy Jacob, N Yorkshire

From the early time itself the Blessed Virgin Mary, because of her virtues and her Pre eminent role in Gods plan for the salvation of the mankind, held a distinct position of admiration and love among the Christians.

Several prophecies of the Old Testament foretold the incarnation of the Son of God and the blessed woman who would become a channel for the salvation of mankind. In Genesis 3:15, "I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head and you will strike his heel."

In Isaiah 7:14: "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel."

"Elizabeth is in the sixth month of her pregnancy. God sent Gabriel to the town of Nazareth. He came to Mary and said, greetings, favored one! Lord is with you. Do not afraid, for you have found favor with God. Her name itself means favored one (exalted). And now you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. Mary said to him how can this be, since I am a virgin. The angel said, for nothing will be impossible with God. Then she answered, here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." St Luke 1:26-38

The conception of Jesus in the womb of Virgin Mary was preternatural, i.e.: with out a natural explanation.Lk1 :35 The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the most high will over shadow you. Thus we are informed that the virginal conception of the Jesus was the creative act of God Almighty.

God gives His grace upon all who believes in Him. The new era of salvation begins with the conception in the womb of Mary. Mary knows she is having some thing beyond human capability. She was full of grace because she trusted that what God said was true and would be fulfilled. She was willing and eager to do gods will; even it seemed difficult. When God commands he also gives the help, strength and means to respond.

What ever it was that went through her mind; she came to the place of submission. That is the challenge before every one of us too .Like Mary who bears the Son of God, we also change ourselves to bear God.

When we pray the Nicene Creed we state our confession on this great mystery.

"Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Virgin Mary Mother of God by the Holy Ghost and became man and was crucified for us in….." .

Every time God gives us Grace, he expects us to respond with the same willingness and obedience and trust that St Mary did. Along with this we have to learn the Pauline thought in Phil 2:5-11. "God send his only begotten son to the world to save the sinful world." This passage encouraging us as Christian men and women to be like Jesus. Verse 5. Let the same mind be in you that was in Jesus Christ.

19 November 2017

posted 17 Nov 2017, 22:09 by C S Paul

19 November 2017

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

There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.

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

And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years.

And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course,

According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.

10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.

11 And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord 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 unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.

14 And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.

15 For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb.

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

17 And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, 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.

18 And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.

19 And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings.

20 And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.

21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple.

22 And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless.

23 And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house.

24 And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying,

25 Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.

Doubting Believers

by Rev. Fr. M. D. Varghese Konniyoor

Gospel Reading: St. Luke.1.1-25

The Gospel readings on the Sundays leading up to Christmas help to prepare the background and context of Christmas. The birth of St. John, the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus Christ is also the preparatory event for the birth of our Lord. God had selected a dedicated priestly couple to give birth and to nurture that child. However, the doubtfulness of that priest, the punishment for that doubt and the faith that was strengthened through that punishment, form the theme of this week's Gospel reading.

I would like to present a few thoughts from this passage to engage our attention.

1. Mutual support and care:

The lack of support in times of need is one of the greatest shortcomings in today's world. It is said about Elizabeth and Zechariah – "They both lived good lives in God's sight and obeyed fully all the Lords laws and commandments". Elizabeth was barren. Yet in Zechariah, we see a husband who did not abandon his wife because of her shortcomings. On the other hand, in Elizabeth we see a woman who was the wife of a priest but did not blame God or her husband's services to God for her shortcomings. Their mutual support and care is very evident here.

The lack of a support system is evident in families and individuals these days. In the past, both families and individuals had the support of parents, grandparents, relatives, friends, the church and their communities. The increasing number of suicides these days can be attributed to the lack of this support system. When a wife, husband, children, teachers and the community are able to come together and provide mutual support to understand each other's problems, the individual is able to overcome problems faced in life. Each of us should be able to become a unit of this support system.

2. The unbelief of a believer:

Here we see a man who should have been firm in his faith and lead people towards this faith had momentarily given priority to his logical thinking. He momentarily forgot about the powerful miracles in his history that gave elderly Abraham and Sarah a son and also produced water from a rock. He was not supposed to do that.

Gabriel (man of God) was not able to bear this unbelief. The unbelief of a believer is not acceptable in the eyes of God.

In today's world it may be fairly accurate to say that there are more religious atheists than ever before. The shifting of churches to shopping centers is an indication of the Christian's hollowness. This indicates a priority for the temple of materialism rather than the temple of God. Which of these is our centre of worship? In some critical stages of our lives, God extends his helping hand. Does the thought cross our mind about whether we should take his hand? Each believer should have in his or her life, the ability to `taste and see that the Lord is good'.

3. Unity in prayer:

Today's lifestyle is one that promotes individualistic thinking and personal space. This type of thinking is visible in all aspects of life like social, economic, political, cultural etc. This has now even affected families. Today we can even see a situation where a son may sit upstairs and email his mother to bring his meals up. Even is spiritual life, instead of family prayers, there is a tendency to move towards individual prayers or even a prayer-less life due to lack of time.

Zechariah, the priest, and the congregation are praying to God in unison. "According to the custom followed by the priest, he was chosen by lot to burn incense on the altar. So he went into the temple of the lord while the crowd of people outside prayed during the hour when the incense was burned" (St. Luke 1:11).

The fruits of Zechariah's and the community's prayer are shared by both parties. A childless couple was blessed with a baby (among all humans born from a woman, there was no one greater than him - Luke 7:28). The community got a prophet of justice.

Just like individual prayers are necessary, so too are community prayers necessary. A community that joins in prayer with the priest, is what the world needs today. Do we pray for those priests and high-priests that offer our sacrifices before God? Believers need to pray that their priests be given strength and guidance to overcome the many stresses and anxieties that fill their life. When a priest prays for the community and the community prays for the priest, the fruits of 'unity of prayer' can be experienced by all.

From this Gospel reading, may God our Father fill us with strong faith, mutual love and a mentality of prayer for each other.

12 November 2017

posted 10 Nov 2017, 04:23 by C S Paul

12 November 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Hoodhosh Eetho (Dedication) Sunday. The Sunday after Koodhosh Eetho

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

Evening

Morning

Before Holy Qurbana

Holy Qurbana

Luke 19:47-20:8New 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.

5 November 2017

posted 3 Nov 2017, 08:47 by C S Paul

5 November 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Koodhosh Eetho (Sanctification) Sunday

The Sunday that comes on or 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

Evening

Morning

Before Holy Qurbana

The Wicked Are Slain

27 And Jesus went out, and his disciples, into the towns of Caesarea Philippi: and by the way he asked his disciples, saying unto them, Whom do men say that I am?

28 And they answered, John the Baptist; but some say, Elias; and others, One of the prophets.

29 And he saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Peter answereth and saith unto him, Thou art the Christ.

30 And he charged them that they should tell no man of him.

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

32 And he spake that saying openly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him.

33 But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be 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.


29 October 2017

posted 27 Oct 2017, 03:44 by C S Paul   [ updated 27 Oct 2017, 03:59 ]

29 October 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Seventh Sunday after Sleebo/ the Festival of Holy Cross

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

Matthew 5:21-26King James Version (KJV)

21 Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:

22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

23 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;

24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.

25 Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.

26 Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.

 Progressive Involvement

by John Petty

You have heard that it was said to the ones living long ago, "You will not murder," and whoever might murder is subject to the judgment. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother (or sister) is subject to the judgment. And whoever might say to his brother (or sister), "you empty-head," is subject to the Sanhedrin, but whoever might say, "you fool," is subject into the hell-fire. If, then, you might offer your gift upon the altar and there might remember that your brother (or sister) has something against you, leave there your gift before the altar and go first to be reconciled to your brother (or sister) and then come offer your gift. You agree with your adversary quickly, as long as whoever is with him on the way, lest the adversary deliver you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you will surely not go out from there until you might give over the last farthing.

You have heard that it was said, "You will not commit adultery." But I say to you that anyone seeing a woman in order to desire her is now committing adultery in his heart. But if your right eye might cause you to stumble, take it out and throw (it) from you, for it is profitable for you that one of your members might perish and not (that) your whole body might be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw (it) from you, for it is profitable for you that one of your members might perish, and not your whole body be gone into hell. But it has been said, whoever might release his wife, let him give her a divorce. But I say to you that anyone releasing his wife, except of word of illicit sex, does adultery to her, and whoever might marry the one released is being adulterous.

Again, you have heard it was said to the ones living long ago, "Do not swear falsely, but you will give to the Lord your oaths." But I say to you, do not swear at all, not by heaven, for it is a throne of God, nor by the earth, for it is a footstool of his feet, nor by Jerusalem, for it is a city of the great king, nor might you swear by your head, for you are not able to make one hair white or black. But let your word be "yes, yes, no, no." But whatever is more than these is out of the evil one.

Background and situation:

The section is a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount. Thus far, Jesus has spoken the prologue, the Beatitudes. He then began his first major speech in Matthew with the proclamation of his listeners as salt and light and proclaimed the fulfillment of prophesy and the law. The law remains in full force "until all has come to be," a reference to the death and resurrection of Jesus which brings the New Creation.

The major source seems to be Q with some Special Matthew worked in, and with a couple of bank shots off Mark. Matthew 5: 25-26 has a parallel in Luke 12: 58 while 28-29 seem to have come out of Mark 9: 43-48. Matthew 5: 27-28 has a connection to Luke 16:18, Mark 10:2-4 and 11-12.

Living in the New Community:

Having announced the good news and the kingdom of heaven having broken in (4:23-24), Jesus proclaims the guiding precepts of that kingdom in the Beatitudes (5:1-12), and announces that his followers are to be "salt" and "light" in the world.

Then follow six instances in which Jesus announces new interpretations of the law--indeed, some would say, changes the law. He will teach in regard to anger, sexuality, divorce, oaths, retaliation, and hatred of enemies. Our lection includes the first four of these examples.

In some cases, Jesus will deepen or expand the law. This would be the case when he says "not only this, but more" which he does in regard to anger and adultery. In some cases, Jesus' teaching is more "not this, but that," as in divorce, for example, or in the swearing of oaths.

The first issue is in regard to murder. Jesus underlines the ancient provenance of the law by noting that it had been said tois archaiois--to the ancient ones, the first ones. Every definition of Torah, whether broad or narrow, includes it.

Murder sent a person to judgment. Now, even anger does. Judgment (krisei), however, should not be considered completely negative. Judgment is in the hands of God who delivers a person from the corruption of sin. Judgment is for our benefit. It purges and purifies. Because we are so attached to our sins--indeed, love our sins to the point that they become a part of us--we experience their purging as painful at first, but then liberating.

It seems that as Jesus diminishes the offenses, the penalty goes up. Murder and anger get you judgment, but simply calling someone "raka"--a Hebrew word of contempt--can get you sent to the Sanhedrin. (Given what we will later learn of the Sanhedrin, this cannot be a positive development.) Then, simply calling someone a "fool" (more) will get you burnt up in Gehenna, Jerusalem's garbage dump. Murder someone and you're judged? Call them a fool and you get complete annihilation?

In the new reality announced by Jesus, the old categories are being scrambled. Jesus is saying that life in the kingdom is marked not only by a different way of living, but a different understanding of life entirely. The New Community is not a "new and improved" old community. Rather, it is a reconciled and beloved community in which all people are treated with dignity, not with contempt ("raka"), and with affirmation, not deprecation ("you fool"). The New Community has better things to do than be occupied with issues of anger--or, as we shall soon see, lust.

The exhortation to be reconciled to your brother or sister before bringing your gifts to the altar is the liturgical rationale for "passing the peace" before the eucharist. The "passing of the peace" reminds us that Jesus' teaching is actually to be done by real people, and, frankly, it is a judgment if it is only done pro forma--that is, going through the motions without really being reconciled.

The insertion of the exhortation to avoid prison if at all possible seems odd and many commentaries skip right over it. "You come to terms quickly with your accuser," says Jesus--the word "accuser" is antidikos, i.e. "anti-justice." The sentence is emphatic--the eimi-verb is in the imperative, and also second person plural, i.e. "you-all."

Not only is this an example of reconciliation in a very practical way, it also sounds like solid instruction to those who are involved in an anti-establishment movement. Spin whatever yarn you need to, but don't wind up in jail because you'll never get out until you give up everything. In fact, if possible, make your deal while someone else is present. You may need a witness. This is good advice for a resistance movement in a nation governed by Imperial Rome.

The second issue Jesus mentions is adultery and lust. This time, Jesus does not, for some reason, say that the prohibition on adultery was said to "the ancient ones" even though it clearly was. As with murder, every interpretation of Torah would include a prohibition against adultery.

"Anyone seeing a woman in order to desire her is now committing adultery in his heart," says Jesus. "Seeing" for the purpose of "desire" is not seeing a woman as a person but as an object. Again, the kingdom of heaven is about the dignity and affirmation of others, not using them for one's own purposes.

The exhortation to pluck out an eye or cut off your hand is hyperbole, of course. Taken literally, nearly all the men would be eye-less, and, if surveys of the prevalence of masturbation are accurate, 90% of men and 70% of women would be hand-less. (Matthew is re-working Mark 9: 43-48 to place it in a sexual context.)

Jesus' teaching about divorce in verse 32 is virtually identical in Luke 16:18 and Mark 10:11-12. In Luke and Mark, there are no exceptions. Matthew, however, adds an exception for porneias. Porneias refers to virtually any act of "illicit sex" and is not identical with adultery. (When Matthew wants to speak of adultery, he uses moicheuo.)

J.P. Meier and Robert Smith make the case that porneias refers to incestuous unions, or marriages within certain degrees of genetic affinity. These were quite common in the ancient world. If it's not really a legal union to begin with, then it's not really a divorce to break it up.

In any case, the New Community is not to be one where women are passed around. The New Community is, again, about dignity and affirmation of others, whether married or single, and it should be safe for both.

Again, "to the ones living long ago," it was said not to swear falsely. The Torah allowed for oaths, even prescribed them in some cases, but Jesus said not to swear "at all." People can get quite inventive with oaths, which is why Jesus goes on at some length condemning them--none by heaven, none by earth, none by Jerusalem, and none even from your own sweet little head. If our thoughts can't change the color of even one of our hairs, what's the point?

Oath-swearing is for people who don't trust each other, as if underlining our cheap words with a patina of piety might make them more believable. Oaths actually serve to underline doubt, not certainty. In the New Community, there is no need for such oaths because reconciled people speak the truth to each other and live in trust with each other. 


22 October 2017

posted 21 Oct 2017, 09:44 by C S Paul   [ updated 27 Oct 2017, 04:01 ]

22 October 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Sixth Sunday after Sleebo/ the Festival of Holy Cross

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

Luke 18:18-27New 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.


15 October 2017

posted 14 Oct 2017, 07:45 by C S Paul

15 October 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Fifth Sunday after Sleebo/ the Festival of Holy Cross

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

Matthew 23:1-12New 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.

First Thoughts on Matthew 23:1-12

by William Loader, Murdoch University, Australia

This is the chapter of woes. It represents a massive expansion of what Mark brings in 12:37-40. Mark 12 then ends with the account of the widow and her generous meager offering to the temple. She stands in contrast to the scribes and Pharisees against whom the woes have been spoken and who rip off widows and the vulnerable. Matthew omits the story of the widow. The result is that the woes against the scribes and Pharisees in chapter 23 lead directly to the prediction of God's judgement on the temple and Jerusalem in chapter 24. In the chapter of woes Matthew has expanded Mark with a large block of material drawn from Q (found also in Luke 11:39-52). Matthew's rule of exposition is that there is no room for smugness. Each of these charges may be just as applicable to the Christian community at some stage and history supports him.

It begins with an extraordinary statement about the scribes and Pharisees. They 'sit on Moses' seat' (23:2). That means they exercise authority for the administration of the Law in the broader social context where Matthew and his communities live, somewhere probably in the area of Galilee or southern Syria. There were not many places where this would have been the case, but it was so here in the late first century and the dominant group in Judaism by that time were the Pharisees. Galilee became their power base not long after the destruction of the temple and from there their influence spread. So Matthew's own situation is being reflected in this opening verse. A few other things are worth noting. The authority of Moses is not doubted; the Law, enshrined in Scripture, abides. Matthew and his community believe that, really, they should be the ones sitting there, but, until that is the case, the Law and its interpreters is to be respected.

A distinction then emerges in relation to the authority of those sitting on Moses' seat. Do what they say, not what they do (23:3) . People may need to say this of us at times, but here more blatant hypocrisy is envisaged. There is then another distinction which emerges. These interpreters of scripture also impose unrealistic burdens on people and offer no help to them to fulfil them (23:4). This appears to contradict the exhortation that one should do whatever they say, but the distinction being made is probably in relation to finer points. It is the difference between: here is the Law and this is what it should mean for you in detail. Matthew disputes the latter.

Matthew's whole approach to scripture is to interpret it on the basis of the love commands. Compassion and love dictate the way Scripture should apply, not a kind of legalistic bureaucracy which assumes God is a control freak. When God is our big ego writ large, then people will be abused in the name of purity or holiness or obedience. In every generation we can find examples of destructiveness done in the name of Scripture or even by means of Scripture. The challenges of chapter 23 have a way of coming home to roost.

Verses 5-7 take up the charges found in Mark 12:37-39. People bent on power surround themselves with the trappings of power, which are often designed to reinforce their claim. What we wear, where we sit, how we are greeted - these are elements of the persona we want people to see and respect. Behind it is often a frail yearning for love which has been met by such compensatory strategies. Abuse of others is frequently the result of exploiting others to meet our own stifled needs. The abuse may be as apparently harmless as captivating congregations with our preaching, framing our communities so that we are constantly affirmed, developing dependency on us among other needy people. Sometimes our garments (and what we do and where we sit) may serve the opposite: to remind ourselves and others that we are here to fulfill a task and are not pretending that we are doing it because we have arrived. If so, we will need to be straight about that. We are beggars telling other beggars where to find bread and occasionally it will help other beggars find the way if we wear a red cross, so to speak.

Matthew follows his principle of no elitism by directing similar warnings in 8-12 to the disciples. There is no place for either sitting back in smug judgement of others nor for imagining that being a follower of Jesus automatically protects us from falling into the very patterns we abhor in them. Matthew is very grounded. He hears the word of Jesus for his generation and it has abiding worth. So we, too, are to avoid playing games with titles. It appears that 'rabbi' first became a title of honour in the period when Matthew was writing, so the mention of 'rabbi' is particularly apt. 'Father' and 'teacher' are some of the options; we have plenty more.

If you are in ministry primarily to compensate for a low sense of your own importance, think again. Don't dive into depression and use the thought to put yourself down even further. Believe the importance God affirms in you. Consume it in the eucharist so it becomes part of your being. The more you do so and remain conscious of what you are doing and not doing, the less you will be fussed by the titles and all they symbolise and the less you will stand in succession to the kind of behaviour attacked here. The badges you might have to wear and titles you might have to carry will, like the vestments, be able to serve their true purpose: aids, if needed, to recognising roles and functions.

It is simply not so that Matthew is kidding the disciples that there is no self interest involved in leadership and so fostering the big lie that goes for piety according to which there is no self interest in what we do - a lie which often has disastrous consequences, especially when we are left with our real self interest ignored which is therefore likely to make itself felt subversively. Matthew's Jesus invites the disciples to think about greatness and what it mean to be lifted up. That is the clear motivation in 23:11-12. We want to be great; we want to do well. We want to be what God made us to be. We want to do what God wants us to do. We want to be so connected with God that what we want and what God wants become one. God wants us to be great. God wants us to rise up.

When we move towards seeing God's interests and our best interests and the best interests of others, when we get in touch with God's being as love, when we see that this is not a distraction from life but being truly in touch with life and the life giver, then we will take a big breath and dive. Let us be great in love. The magic is that here true self interest, God's interests, the world's best interests come together as one. It also means that we can stop playing games to conjure up alternative systems of worth where others are made to serve our distorted notion of self interest and where God and spirituality become a powerful weapon in our arsenal. Perhaps seeing all this first in a setting of ministry - the way Matthew leads us - will help us see that the same kinds of issues confront our hearers as much as ourselves as preachers.

8 October 2017

posted 6 Oct 2017, 07:24 by C S Paul

8 October 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Fourth Sunday after Sleebo/ the Festival of Holy Cross

Luke 16:13-18New 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.

The Mammon of Unrighteousness

by David J. Stewart

This is quite an interesting Scripture, which perplexes many students new to the Bible. At first glance, it doesn't appear to make sense. Why would God want us to become friends with anything unrighteous? To understand this Scripture, first realize that the term "mammon" simply means money. The phrase "mammon of unrighteousness" is referring to the world's money, i.e., the money of this unrighteous world. Money in itself is not evil, it is man's love for money that is the root of all evil (1st Timothy 6:10). Here's an excellent explanation of Luke 16:1-13, by the mighty preacher, J. Vernon McGee. These words of wisdom are so important for Christians today...

And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods [Luke 16:1].

This is the story of a rich man and his unjust steward. A steward is a man who has charge of another man’s goods. Abraham had a steward, you remember, who had charge of all his possessions. It was Abraham’s steward who went on a trip to Haran to find a bride for Abraham’s son Isaac. David had stewards, mentioned in 1 Chronicles 28:1. David’s stewards had charge over all of the king’s possessions, including his children. Paul tells us, "Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful" (1 Cor. 4:2).

The steward in this parable would correspond to the president of a corporation. He had charge of this rich man’s goods. He was guilty of malfeasance in office and misappropriation of funds. He was like the bank president who absconds with bank funds. The unjust steward wasted the goods of his master.

And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward [Luke 16:2].

The day of reckoning had come for this man. He had to give an account. Now since he had the signet ring of his master and was the paymaster, instead of drawing up a financial statement, he decided to use the law of the world which is self-preservation.

Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed [Luke 16:3].

This man had soft hands and felt he could not be a common laborer. And he was ashamed to beg. It makes you smile to read this verse—the man may have been ashamed to beg, but he was not ashamed to steal! Unfortunately, there are a lot of people like that today.

I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses [Luke 16:4].

This man did not repent; he had no regret or remorse for his actions. This man was crooked—called clever by the world’s standards. He had no training for other work, and his age was probably against him. He was too proud to beg, but he was not ashamed to be dishonest.

So he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord?

And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty [Luke 16:5–6].

The steward was asking, "How much do you owe my master?" This man owed his master one hundred barrels of oil. "Well," the steward said, "oil is about one dollar a barrel now. I will tell you what we will do. We will let you have it for fifty cents a barrel." The man only had to pay half of what he owed.

Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore [Luke 16:7].

I do not know why he did not give this fellow the same discount that he gave the other fellow, but this man had to pay eighty cents on the dollar. The unjust steward is just as big a crook at the end as he was at the beginning of his career.

He is not being punished.

And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light [Luke 16:8].

This is a shocking statement. Who made it? The lord of the steward, meaning his employer, the rich man. Apparently this man got rich using the same kind of principles that his unjust steward used. He tells him he has done wisely. In what way? According to the principles of the world. This is the world that hates Christ. It makes its own rules. The law of the world is "dog eat dog." The worldly lord commended his worldly steward for his worldly wisdom according to his worldly dealings.

The Lord Jesus said, "For the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light." That is, the children of this world, of this age, use their money more wisely than do the children of light.

And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations [Luke 16:9].

The most shocking and startling statement of all concerns the relationship of the believer to the "mammon of unrighteousness." What is the "mammon of unrighteousness?" It is riches, money. Money is not evil in itself; money is amoral. It is the love of money that is the root of all evil. For believers money is to be spiritual. Our Lord said that we should lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven. We should be wise in the way we use our money. Then when we "fail" or come to the end of life, we will be welcomed into heaven.

He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.

If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?

And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own? [Luke 16:10–12].

We are stewards of that which is material. We own nothing as believers. We are responsible to God for how we use His goods. He says that the men of this world are wiser than the children of light in their stewardship. For years I was pastor of a church in downtown Los Angeles which was near the financial district. Through the years I watched many of the men go into a broker’s office and watch the fluctuation of the stock market. They would sit down in the morning and figure out what they were going to do. They would not invest in any stock unless they thought it was going to go up in value, or they would play the market. A Christian man once told me that he had made his money by playing the stock market. For this reason he would not accept an office in the church—I do not know how he reconciled to himself the fact that he was a church member. He was clever at making money.

How many Christians today are smart in the use of the mammon of unrighteousness—money? Do they use it to gather spiritual wealth? God will hold you responsible for the misuse of the material wealth He gives you. I personally know of a program that is run just for the self-interest of one individual. In another organization ninety percent of what is given to that program supports a tremendous overhead that keeps men driving Cadillac automobiles. That means you would have to give one hundred dollars to get ten dollars to the poor folk they are telling you about. There is something wrong with the way Christians give their money. This would not happen if Christians were as smart as the men of the world. How smart are you, Christian friend, in money matters? Are you using your money to see that the Word of God reaches those who need it?

In the parable of the unjust steward the Lord Jesus is saying, "Do you think God is going to trust you with heavenly riches if you are not using properly that which He has given you on earth?" Money is a spiritual matter. You are responsible not only for giving it, but for investing it where it will yield the highest dividends in folk reached for Christ.

No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon [Luke 16:13].

What are you doing with your money? Are you making money? If you are, what are you doing with it? This is a pertinent question. Are you using it for the things of the world? If you are, you are serving mammon; that is your master. Are you serving God or mammon? You cannot serve them both.

Source: Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Luke 16:1-13

Jesus said in Luke 16:9, "And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations." The best interpretation of this Scripture is found by comparing It with Matthew 6:19-20, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal." The implication in Luke 16:9 is clear--we should lay up for ourselves treasures in Heaven, by using what we have to serve the Lord now. This life is short, and the riches of this world (i.e., the mammon of unrighteousness) cannot go with us when we die. We would be wise to use this world's resources to lay up treasures in Heaven.

Just as the unjust steward couldn't take any of the rich man's wealth with him, neither can we take anything out of this wicked world. But the unjust steward was wise, and made use of the rich man's goods, to secure him a better place in the future when the rich man kicked him out. Jesus is saying that we should do the same thing, but in a good way. We can't take this sinful world's wealth with us when we die, but we can use it to lay up treasures in Heaven.

"And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations." — Luke 16:9


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