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

Syrian Orthodox Church

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posted by C S Paul

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

1 October 2017

posted 29 Sep 2017, 04:23 by C S Paul

1 October 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Third Sunday after Sleebo/ the Festival of Holy Cross 

Scripture reading for this Sunday

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

Jesus Is Lord of the Sabbath

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What Is Your Day 'On'?"

by Trey H. Little

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

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

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

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

Turn with me to Mark 2: 23-28.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

24 September 2017

posted 22 Sep 2017, 06:44 by C S Paul

24 September 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Second Sunday after Sleebo/ the Festival of Holy Cross 

Scripture reading for this Sunday

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

The Leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Distortions Called Yeast

by HG Yakob Mar Ireanios

Second Sunday following the Feast of the Holy Cross

Bible Reading: St. Mathew 16:5-12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

17 September 2017

posted 15 Sep 2017, 03:24 by C S Paul

17 September 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

First Sunday after Sleebo/ the Festival of Holy Cross 

Scripture reading for this Sunday

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

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

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

No One Knows the Day or Hour

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

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

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

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

36 lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 September 2017

posted 8 Sep 2017, 03:51 by C S Paul

10 September 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Fourth Sunday after Shunoyo/the Assumption of St. Mary 

Scripture reading for this Sunday

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

Jesus Rejected at Nazareth

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I Know That Boy"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

27 August 2017

posted 25 Aug 2017, 23:14 by C S Paul

27 August 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Second Sunday after Shunoyo/the Assumption of St. Mary 

Scripture reading for this Sunday

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

Keep Asking, Seeking, Knocking

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

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

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

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

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

A House Divided Cannot Stand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meditation on Luke 11: 9 - 20

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

One: Search and will be found.

Two: A talk about the disintegration of communities.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Divided House

Division can be of two types.

I. One that is inevitable and positive:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

II. There is a second kind of division.

This division is seen as something negative and destructive.

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

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

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

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

We in India today are facing such a situation.

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

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

We are divided.

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

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

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

Look at our Church for example.

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

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

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

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

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

Yes we need to distinguish between good and evil.

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

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

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

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

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

20 August 2017

posted 18 Aug 2017, 00:32 by C S Paul

20 August 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

First Sunday after Shunoyo/the Assumption of St. Mary 

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

Greatness Is Serving

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

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

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

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

39 They said to Him, “We are able.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friends, Servants and Slaves

by William Loader, Murdoch University, Australia

This story is almost bizarre, until we realize that it parodies that almost universal malady: the will to power. The irony bleeds before us as we hear the ambition of James and John and catch a glimpse of the crucifixion scene. Yes, they can drink the cup. Yes, they can share the baptism. They are the first of many witnesses to misunderstanding Jesus and the sacraments. They have got it so wrong.

Just when we are ready to join the other disciples in rebuking the brothers (10:41), Jesus summons them - and us (10:42). What follows is political comment in the broadest sense. Notice how people love exercising power over others! Jesus is identifying a system. People love power and people also tend to love the powerful. The greatest is the one who can dominate, the strongest, usually the father in the family and the king in the community.

At least James and John are honest about their intentions. They want power and they assume that that is also what Jesus wants. Even more worrying are those who are unaware that this is what drives them and hide it from themselves and others by fine and seductive words.

Why should we blame James and John? Are they not just wanting to be like God? Isn’t that the main thing about God - the king, the almighty, the father? It is rather odd if God is like that and if by contrast we are not to seek power. People’s gods are their gods. People’s gods are their models, their idols. It works both ways: people’s gods affect people’s values and people’s values create their gods. It is a mutually supportive system. We should not be surprised that James and John want to be powerful. Biblical tradition is rich with images of God in terms of such power.

Jesus is being deliberately subversive when he identifies the power system. He is not saying: leave the power to me, or even to God: you are slaves! That would reinforce the power system in which, for there to be powerful people, there have to be powerless and disempowered people. Much of the language of ‘serving God’ is tainted with the imagery of servitude towards a ruler, as much of the imagery of worship derives from royal courts (and vice versa). Mark is not presenting Jesus as wanting subservience. In fact he has Jesus says so directly: ‘The Son of Man did not come to be served’ (10:45)!

Being a servant and a slave is not about subservience to Jesus, but about joining him. John’s gospel even has Jesus declare that the disciples (and we) are to be his friends not his servants (15:15). This is not just task-related, as if it pertains to a particular mission and a particular time or role. Jesus’ comments in 10:43-44, which almost mirror those in 9:35, declare that this is about what it means to be a person, what it means to be great. We have to add: great - in the eyes of Jesus and in the eyes of God. Jesus espouses these values for himself!

Something very odd happens if we stop there and exempt God, but it is the most common assumption. We are to be like this; Jesus is like this. Is God like this, too? Surely not the almighty father, the king of creation? There is much in the Bible with which to rescue God from that fate. Yet when we examine the teaching of Jesus and the wisdom of the Church’s reflection on who he was, we find that this is, indeed, what he meant. At its simplest we can say: Jesus is just like God and God is just like Jesus. His idea of God as father and as king matched his lifestyle and mission: in his hands these were images less of power and more of compassion and caring. Jesus is not an exception in the life of God, an interim stunt, a temporary abnormality which we call grace; Jesus is not the exception, but ‘the rule’. Such a theology is almost unbearable - it survives with great difficulty. Images of power, triumph, defeat of foes, flood back to rescue God from such vulnerability - and soon we see Jesus pictured in full battle dress at his right hand.

Mark will confront us with the absurdity of this claim (by usual standards). In 10:45b he keeps us on track: ‘The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and give his life a ransom for many’. It is an image of liberation, redemption. Mark shows no interest in undressing the image or developing theories of transaction, cultic or otherwise. His focus is: this great one will give his life for others. We will see it: ‘king of the Jews’, wearing a crown of thorns, broken in self giving on a cross, drinking the cup, immersed in the baptism of suffering and death. That is where Mark’s journey takes us if we dare to follow.

In the meantime he contrasts Jesus’ determination not to waver with the disciples’ determination to win. Mark’s contrasts are extraordinary, almost irreverent. How could disciples so miss the point? Mark may well know more than meets the eye. Acts reports the murder of James in 44CE; some later traditions report that both met their death then. The fourth gospel makes a similarly ‘playful’ link between Peter’s naiveté and his real death (13:36; 21:18-19), perhaps in imitation of Mark.

Mark’s story thus meets his hearers at many levels. It is as though he invites them and us to find ourselves mirrored in these scenes. Out of the reality of history he creates a stage which extends into our reality and invites us to participate, to step into the story, to expose to ourselves our will to power, our lords and our gods and somehow in the process to disentangle ourselves, our ‘Lord’ and our God from the system. It is dangerous - because all who want power must exterminate sources of threat.

The story does not leave us insightfully limp, passive and weak - or pretending to be so. It empowers. Jesus was powerful. The liberation he lived did not require him to seek power for his own sake, but to own the power he had in compassion and in self giving. His call and example was not to avoid leadership, but to be and model a new kind of being, including being powerful and a leader. He came not to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.

13 August 2017

posted 11 Aug 2017, 22:38 by C S Paul

13 August 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

First Sunday after the Festival of Transfiguration 

Matthew 21:28-32New King James Version (NKJV)

The Parable of the Two Sons

28 “But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go, work today in my vineyard.’ 

29 He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went.

30 Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir,’ but he did not go. 

31 Which of the two did the will of his father?”

They said to Him, “The first.”

Jesus said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. 

32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him.

Devotional Thoughts for the First Sunday After Transfiguration

by Rev. Dr. Varghese M Daniel, PhD, Connecticut

We are continuing our liturgical journey from the celebration of Transfiguration of Christ to that of the Assumption of Mother Mary. In between these two feasts we celebrate two Sundays. Today is the first Sunday after the Transfiguration.

Jesus said this parable in the context where He saw the unbelief of the believer. Some Biblical scholars argue that the two kinds of sons represent the Gentiles and Jewish people. But some other scholars affirm that the two sons represent the Jewish community itself; representing the lay people who were associated with the Graeco-Roman world and the law keepers of Judaism. Nevertheless, it is notable that this is the only occasion where the phrase “tax collectors and prostitutes” is used in apostolic writings.

Jesus elucidates the paradox of ‘atheism of the theistic’ through this parable and reveals the complexity of human nature.

Three main points from this passage could be meaningful to meditate.

1. The Power of Positive Rethinking

The first son’s disrespect through his words was certainly an insult to his father. He might have responded so due to the thought of the probable discomfort which would arise if he follows the word of his father. However, when he rethinks about his instantaneous response he becomes willing to obey his father’s words. He repented about his response and found the value of genuine repentance.
Mar Jacob clearly depicts this value in a Bovooso: “The tears of a repentant are more valuable than diamonds”. (Tuesday Suthara Sheema Prayer). John the Baptist’s message was the same too. “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance (St. Mat:.3.8). That’s why the Fathers of the Church say “confession is a forgotten medicine.” Each opportunity to rethink and analyze the prior responses and decisions in our life could oil the machinery of our relationships with God and human. The genuine repentance, and the willingness to change to even a diametrically opposite view or to make a complete U-turn, if necessary, will help the person to steer his journey towards the right shore.

2. Nothingness of Peripheral Promises

Today we live in a world where we hear more promises with the absence of any in-depth passion towards the promise. Definitely these kind of promises fabricate a kind of contentment to the ears of the audience. However, when they see the nothingness of these peripheral promises, it definitely hurts their hearts rigorously and they identify the person’s dim-witted personality. He / she will lose the basic trust of the immediate people around him / her. This indeed applies to our relationship with God: Jesus noticeably stated “Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven" (St. Mt.7.21). In short, the real fruit of the peripheral promises is self-deception and nothingness.

3. The Greatness of Implemented Promises

Both sons are not true models for a true Christian life. The real Christian model is the right response with the willingness to implement the promise. This model is perfectly portrayed in the parable of the sower (St. Lk.8.8). Some seed fell on good soil; the soil responded pleasantly and nurtured without any delay. The quality and depth of the soil facilitated the growth of the seed to a fruitful tree. So a promise followed by its implementation inserts the quality of trustworthiness into one’s personality. This personality will not be double faced. This quality is an essential ingredient to a positive relationship with God and human. God himself shows this model in his relationship with the people of God. “Blessed be the Lord who has given rest to his people Israel, according to all that he promised. Not one word has failed of all his good promise, which he spoke by Moses his servant.” (I Kings: 8.56)

Without trust, words become the hollow sound of a wooden gong. With trust, words become life itself. -- John Harold

May God bless us to rethink if our words are insulting to anyone and to learn the nothingness of peripheral promises, and the greatness of implemented promises.

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