SUNDAY SERMON




SUNDAY SERMON

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

Syrian Orthodox Church

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24 February 2019

posted 21 Feb 2019, 23:13 by C S Paul   [ updated 21 Feb 2019, 23:14 ]


24 February 2019

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church 

Aneede - All the Departed Faithful

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

Luke 12:32-48 New King James Version (NKJV)

32 “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 

33 Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. 

34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

The Faithful Servant and the Evil Servant

35 “Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning; 

36 and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. 

37 Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them. 

38 And if he should come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. 

39 But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. 

40 Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

41 Then Peter said to Him, “Lord, do You speak this parable only to us, or to all people?

42 And the Lord said, “Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his master will make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season? 

43 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 

44 Truly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all that he has.

45 But if that servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and be drunk,

46 the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him,and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers. 

47 And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. 

48 But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.

Sermon / Homily on The Sunday of the Departed

by Fr. Varghese M Daniel, PhD, Yale University

"Let us help and commemorate them. If Job's sons were purified by their father's sacrifice [Job l:5), why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them"
(St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on First Corinthians 41:5 [A.D. 392]).

Before entering into the Great Lent, it is germane to remember our departed, those who feed the spiritual sustenance to our life. (Heb. 13:7) They nurtured and demonstrated the eminence of our spiritual lives. The readings (including St. Luke 12:32-48) of this Sunday transmit the following thoughts to our minds:

First, The visualization beyond horizon

Christian life mainly endeavors to obtain the life beyond death, which is one of the key teachings of the Bible and Jesus. (St. Jn.6, 1 Cor. 15) This visualization of eternal life inspires us to lead a life of virtue in this world. Jesus assured us that each of our human virtues is the manifestation of God's love. When we stretch out our hands to the needy in apposite time we will lay the bricks for our eternal home in the kingdom of God (St. Mt. 25:31-46). Jesus affirms this is the real treasure, which will remain forever. (This visualization of eternal life also will remind us constantly of the necessity to control the words (St. James. 3:1-12). Hence the words and deeds of our present life determine the ownership of our place beyond the horizon. A prayer for our departed in the Anaphora of Mar Osthathios and Mar Isaac embraces the beauty of the eternal home. This visualization has fueled the life of a believer.

Second, Eternal Readiness for Eternal life

"Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning." (Luke 12:35) This is a call for a persistent and a consistent way of earthly life.

Last week we heard that a car accident had taken 4 young lives in Chicago, all of them were in their early twenties. Just like any other youngsters in America, they expected a life span of 80-90 years. Nevertheless their lives were completed within a minute's time. Their car caught fire and all 4 youngsters of Indian origin died on the spot. They didn't get a chance even to think about the life after death at that particular moment. We all are continuing our journey in the shadow of death. There is no specific time for the preparation of eternal life. So the eternal readiness is a specific criterion for eternal life. (Luke 12:45-47)

Third, the departed are part of the non-departed Church

The Orthodox ecclesiology affirms the Biblical teachings unambiguously that the Church is the bride of our Lord Jesus (Eph. 5:22-33) and she is eternal as her bridegroom. Church includes the living and the departed (Eph. 2:20-22, Hebrew 12:22-24). Every believer who completes his / her life joins with a large community of believers. (Numbers.20:24, Heb. 12:1) In this departed state, the believers are not silent rather they are in communion with our Lord (Phil. 1:21, 23). This faith consoles and encourages us to pray for them and seek their prayers. They are continuing the same Church life even beyond the horizon. That's why St. Paul asks "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" and he affirms "thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!" (I Cor. 15:55-57)

Let us pray for our beloved departed, who have given blood and sweat to form our identity in this world before we enter into the Great Lent and remember the passion and glorious resurrection of our Lord.



17 February 2019

posted 15 Feb 2019, 21:52 by C S Paul


17 February 2019

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church 

Kohne - All Departed Clergy

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

Matthew 24:42-51 New King James Version (NKJV)

42 Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. 

43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into.

44 Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

The Faithful Servant and the Evil Servant

45 “Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? 

46 Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. 

47 Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods. 

48 But if that evil servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ 

49 and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards, 

50 the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, 

51 and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Devotional Thoughts for Kohne - Remembering Our Spiritual Fathers

by Rev. Fr. Dr Varghese M Daniel, PhD, Yale University

We are blessed with two Sundays in between the 3 days lent and 50 days lent. As we approach the great lent, these two Sundays are dedicated to the reminiscence of our departed people. Therefore this Sunday we remember all our Spiritual Fathers who guide us in our spiritual journey. St. Paul reminds us "Remember your leaders, ('those who have gone before you') who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith." (Heb.13.7). Lent, fasting and prayer are the source of energy for our spiritual fathers and they have revealed that the same will motivate and inspire us in fulfilling and accomplishing a complete journey of life.

Gospel reading: St. Mathew. 24:42-51

This Gospel passage is the part of eschatological discourse (Second coming of Jesus Christ - Mt. 24 and 25) and it enlightens us on the characteristics and signs of His second coming. All the three Gospel readings of this Sunday (Evening, Morning and Qurbana) and the Pauline Epistle (IThes.4.11-5.11) reflects the teachings of Jesus pertaining to the second coming of Jesus Christ. These readings not only present to us the nature and conduct of a right servant of the Lord, but also play high relevance in remembering the day of our departed priests. This particular passage associates us to a servant who has been put in charge of the house while the master is away. We sing this unique passage in most of the Sundays in our liturgy (Yejamanan varumannerathu…). Two pertinent points to be noted here are:

1. Status of the Steward

"Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time?" (Vs.45)

According to modern medicine, consumption of proper food at a proper time is very significant, thereby assuring us of good health and mental supremacy. Hence the steward, who provides the appropriate food at the right time, has a vital role in an individual's life. The Steward must also be acquainted with the condition of the individual (pertaining to any imminent illnesses or ailments). Priests are called as Stewards to administrate the mysteries and offer spiritual food for the individual, who needs it at the right time. That's why we sing, Thannejamaanan thandivyareha... (O priest come in peace who by his right hand divides and gives to the holy mysteries of his master so that they may have life.)

It is essential for the steward to be inquisitive and to have a clear understanding of the spiritual condition of the individual, who are being placed under their care and also to be accessible to deliver the spiritual food. Trust and vigilance formulates the qualities of an eminent Steward. We could clearly distinguish these qualities in the stewardship in Abraham's servant (Eliezer? Gen.24:10) and Elisha's steward, Gehazi (2 Kings.5.20). One who was an example of trust and the other, one of mistrust. In the Old Testament readings (Numbers 20:23-29 and Deuteronomy 34.1-8, Deu.32.50) we also read the stories of Moses and Aaron. In spite of being great stewards of the Lord, their mistrust was taken into account by the Lord, which in turn prohibited them to enjoy the promise of the Lord. Often in our life, we may have been the recipient of these various admirable services of stewards (priests). However, very often we forget the service of our priests who have inspired us at different ages of our life. The priests and bishops who served in our Church, who blessed our marriage, who baptized us, who did the funeral services for our beloved ones, undoubtedly deserve to be remembered in our daily prayers.

2. State of the Steward

When we reflect upon the stewardship, it is important to consider the state of the stewards as well. Many people are feeble in the presence of food. If they fail to acquire the food which they like and to their liking, they are infuriated towards the steward. Some of them are indifferent and show restrictions, others tolerant, and many others swear by the stewards. This is also true in the spiritual atmosphere. Few years ago, a priest noticed one of his parishioners being drunk and abusive to others on the street. The following day, the same parishioner came to the Church seeking Holy Qurbana. The priest courageously mentioned to him, that he needed to seek confession before receiving the Holy Qurbana. Not only did the parishioner refuse confession, but instead started an allegation against the priest and even succeeded in expelling the priest from the parish. But the priest believed in the central verse of the Bible "It is better take refuge in the Lord than to trust in human" (Ps.118.8)

We, in general, expect stewards to always remain cheerful; irrespective of their mental or physical agony. We always assume stewards to be jovial and good-humored and fail to understand them, regardless of the fact that his child or wife may be ailing with a dreadful disease or they may be enduring an agonizing situation. When we remember our priests on this Sunday, we need to understand these Lord's stewards and their diligent services, before we turn into being their hurtful critics. Today's epistle also emphasizes this (Acts.20.28-38). Let us remember the services of all our Lord's stewards and pray for them to be present as faithful stewards in the second coming of Jesus Christ.


10 February 2019

posted 7 Feb 2019, 21:25 by C S Paul

10 February 2019

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church 

Fifth Sunday after Denho (Baptism of our Lord)

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

    • Evening
      • St. Matthew 11: 1-15
    • Morning
      • St. Luke 5:1-11
    • Before Holy Qurbana
      • Genesis 9: 12-17
      • Psalms 29: 1-11
      • Isaiah 41: 8-20
    • Holy Qurbana
      • Acts9: 10 - 21
      • II Corinthians 4: 1-6
      • St. Mark 1:12-20

St.Mark 1:12-20 New King James Version (NKJV)

1And immediately the spirit driveth him into the wilderness.

13 And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him.

14 Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God,

15 And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.

16 Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.

17 And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.

18 And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him.

19 And when he had gone a little farther thence, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets.

20 And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him.

Devotional Thoughts for the 5th Sunday After Danaha

by Rev. Fr. M. K. Kuriakose, Philadelphia

Gospel Reading: Mark 1:12-20

The baptism of our Lord precedes this passage. The Holy Spirit descended on him and a declaration came from the Father, "he is beloved son in whom I am well pleased." In this post baptismal period the Lord is preparing for His ministry by retreating to the wilderness and soon after the return he selected his disciples. We can have a few thoughts from this passage:

1. Retreat for Empowerment:

Soon after the filling with the Holy Spirit, Jesus was led to the wilderness. This is very symbolic. The Holy Spirit was trying to guide the Lord to get into a tough discipline to equip Him for His ministry. Knowing well the kind of ministry that He is going to take up, Jesus obeys the Spirit to move into a place where there are no humans but animals and Satan. Virtually it was in the wilderness where material needs of a man such as food, shelter and help from other humans are not available. This training is typical because Jesus will face alone in the crowd experience during his ministry. Lack of food, lack of protection (among the wild animals, verse 13) and lack of care by other people. Normally this can terrify a normal person. The desert fathers in Egypt faced this situation. The present Patriarch Shenouda III spent six years in the wilderness in a cave that is seven miles away from the Syrian Monastery in the Egyptian wilderness. Living in a cave alone without proper food and protection, His Holiness gained power to overcome human weaknesses. Later he was elected as the Head of the Coptic Orthodox Church because people trusted his spirituality. We have such examples to emulate in our own times that the retreat of Jesus to wilderness was necessary to gain spiritual strength.

2. The Good News for Repentance:

The Lord begins his ministry with the most important message, "the Kingdom of God is near, and therefore, repent". This was the good news. John the Baptist already paved the way for this preaching of repentance. It was not easy to preach a sermon of repentance those days. John the Baptist was already put in prison for preaching repentance. Jesus was empowered to preach this good news to the people. It was a new message for the people to hear. For the Jewish community this message was a very relevant one. A community that has been too established with all rules and regulations, laws and observances and a paraphernalia of leadership at various levels. The Lord found that God was absent in them. Everything that came as rules of the religion did not care for the needs of the people. Therefore the Lord was very clear in his asking for the change of mind (metanoia) or repentance. People were amazed that Jesus made a lot of sense because the common man was under pressure with all the rules, regulations and traditional patterns of religious nuances. The people at the helm of spiritual affairs were not at all aware that they have gone away from God so much. That too in the name of God they did all the sins justifying their evil actions. Doesn't it remind us of our present time? Doesn't our present time reminds that we need true repentance today?

3. God call us to be "fishers of men":

In a popular sense this call of the Lord is very strange. In the modern age, people are waiting for a call to get a job, or to become rich or popular, and so on. Who would want to get a call to fish for people? This is the reason that the so-called people who are called to be fishers of men are a huge disappointment to the Christian world. Most of these fishers of men are all truly in the pursuit of fishing for their own well-being, position and authority. This is the main reason that we have so much problem within the Christian community itself that people who are seeking their own glory cannot earn people for Christ. The serious question of the present time to Christians Churches today is, why people are leaving the Church? If attracting people to the Lord is the primary duty of the Church, then many other priorities that we have today deserves rethinking. One of my Church History professors used to tell an example in the history class about the building of the Church. The scaffolding that is erected to build the Church on the foundation of Jesus Christ is constituted of the Church leaders including clergy with a view to build the Church. But often the scaffolding becomes the Church itself. The so-called leaders are seeking their own glory than the needs of the people who are to be built on Christ. Thus the work for the people is ignored and the work for the leaders becomes priority. We can see specific examples in today's Church life that the amount of time that we spend on defining the power and rights of the leaders through various disputes and court cases take bulk of our time instead of concentrating on the needs of the ordinary people. The scaffolding is becoming the Church. Ultimately what happens is that the work for the people is stagnant.

4. The Response of the Disciples:

It is amazing that the apostles right away obeyed the call and followed the Lord without any condition and leaving their kith and kin. There was no material attraction for any of the disciples to follow the Lord. Discipleship is a costly matter. In today's world no one is going to follow Christ if there is no good return. Some professional Christian speakers even fix their rates before venture out to preach to the people. Once a follower of Christ is motivated by material or worldly benefits, the entire call is corrupted. There the very mission is in turmoil. This has happened in many mainland Churches where ministers make financial conditions to work for God. It has come almost like a secular job now. This is the reason that the Malankara Orthodox Church mandated all the bishops to renounce their personal property as soon as they are elected to bishopric. The Church should take care of all their needs. There is no need of personal accounts, no bargain for salary, etc. In Christian discipleship, even ones own family is of secondary importance. Priority is always for the work of the Lord. The Lords promise is with us, "seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added onto you". Matt. 6:33. But who would believe the Lord? Those who believe will make difference for the Kingdom of God.

3 February 2019

posted 2 Feb 2019, 04:02 by C S Paul


3 February 2019

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church 

Fourth Sunday after Denho (Baptism of our Lord)

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

Mark 6:1-16 New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus Rejected at Nazareth

6:1 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 didthis Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands! 

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

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

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

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

Sending Out the Twelve

And He called the twelve to Himself, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them power over unclean spirits. 

He commanded them to take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bag, no bread, no copper in theirmoney belts— but to wear sandals, and not to put on two tunics.

10 Also He said to them, “In whatever place you enter a house, stay there till you depart from that place. 

11 And whoever will not receive you nor hear you, when you depart from there, shake off the dust under your feet as a testimony against them. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!”

12 So they went out and preached that people should repent. 

13 And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick, and healed them.

John the Baptist Beheaded

14 Now King Herod heard of Him, for His name had become well known. And he said, “John the Baptist is risen from the dead, and therefore these powers are at work in him.”

15 Others said, “It is Elijah.”

And others said, “It is the Prophet, or like one of the prophets.”

16 But when Herod heard, he said, “This is John, whom I beheaded; he has been raised from the dead!”

Strength Through Weakness - A Lesson on Humility

by Rev. John Duncan

Humility can be a source of tremendous strength. There's a kind of sobriety and restraint in so many people of my dad's generation, a kind of wisdom about how to move forward in life. Dad couldn't get too full of himself because he'd seen the evil people can do. He frequently said, "There, but for the grace of God, go I."

If you can get your heart around that, you stop kidding yourself about human nature. But you want to do right, to be constructive, even in the face of opposition. You keep doing what is right and good though others may disappoint, betray their values, be selfish or wicked. You know it's all you can do.

If you are full of yourself, you get too wounded – too angry when things go wrong. But it doesn't have to be that way. If you know how people can be, then you plan more wisely, and you aren't shocked when things go wrong or people disappoint, but you stay open to being delighted, to being proud of people when they come through, when they live up to their ideals, when they show good faith and great commitment.

St. Paul struggled with this. Here he was a great apostle, starting churches in quite a number of cities around the empire, nurturing them. A man who had incredible visions, and through whom wonderful things were done. Paul found that he was vulnerable to inflation. He was tormented when he couldn't soar. And yet he discovered that his high times were not the best times. The good times were the ones when, in spite of his every error, in spite of all opposition, Christ shone through.

Paul matured enough to discover that it wasn't the greatness of Paul he wanted, it was to be a disciple, a part of the wonder of Christ. The love that entered ordinary lives when Paul was able to let it – that was his greatest joy. "Whenever I am weak, then I am strong." We have to learn to get over ourselves, get out of God's way.

That is only possible when the focus in on God and not ourselves. That is humility.

Humility is a practice, a kind of realism, a wisdom that knows that for all we'd like to do, and all we'd like to say, there is a greater power at work. It works in us a kind of sobriety and restraint.

Jesus began to gather disciples, to preach and to heal and to form communities of people who loved and forgave one another and expected God to act. And he came to his hometown, to Nazareth, to the synagogue. I'll bet he had some hopes for what would happen there in his hometown. But instead he was met with stubborn opposition. What could this kid teach us – God isn't up to anything – this is the carpenter's kid. Who does he think he is? And they wouldn't listen.

Jesus was astonished by their disbelief. Why would they close their hearts? I wonder what that felt like? Another part of our humanity he wasn't afraid to share. But he doesn't recoil: Instead he turns and says to the disciples, "You need to experience this, too. Go out, two by two, not like we usually do as a traveling event, just two by two with nothing to insulate you, and preach and heal and where you are welcomed, enjoy, but where you are not, just face up to it, you were not welcomed."

You can't discover what you stand for until you speak justice, listen to the response, think it over and respond some more. Until you speak forgiveness, listen to the response, think it over and speak again. You can't be a disciple unless you get rejected once in a while and get received with joy once in a while. If they are going to learn wisdom, they need to know something of human nature. They've got to get used to being received with joy and not take it personally – to be opposed with malice and not take it personally. And not be destroyed by it. It isn't about them, it's about God at work, and when you know that you have strength to carry on.

I've been thinking about what makes this nation great, and how to strengthen and preserve that. And I recently heard a program about Reinhold Niebuhr, pastor and theologian of 20th century America, one of the great public intellectuals of that time. Liberals and conservatives alike claim Niebuhr. He was an original. A pastor of the German Evangelical Church, then a professor at Union Theological Seminary, he started out a pacifist, a socialist, an opponent of the factories exploiting workers and of the Klu Klux Klan which was strong in Detroit when he began to preach there. He came to condemn communism, and became a strong influence on Martin Luther King, Jr. He opposed Vietnam but argued that nuclear weapons were a necessary deterrent for his time.

What Niebuhr became known for was what he called "Christian Realism". Holding to Christian ideals in public policy, working hard to do what was just and right – but without naivety. Knowing how frail is human nature, and planning policy with that in mind. Wanting all the best things, but working toward them with a certain sobriety. He quipped, "I think there ought to be a club in which preachers and journalists could come together and have the sentimentalism of the one matched with the cynicism of the other. That ought to bring them pretty close to the truth." And another, "Goodness, armed with power, is corrupted; and pure love without power is destroyed." Some of you have been waiting for his most famous lines:

God, grant me the serenity to 
Accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Niebuhr captures for me in his engagement with so many public intellectuals that humility I saw in my dad, a sadness that human nature is frail, a delight that love is possible, and a willingness to move forward into the future steadily, without too many illusions, but with trust that God will find a way.

The arc of justice is long, and any good thing takes much time, and much love and faith.

But there is tremendous staying-power in humility. If you keep your eyes on Christ, you can know the world is a difficult place, and yet invest yourself in goodness.



27January 2019

posted 25 Jan 2019, 02:31 by C S Paul


27January 2019

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church 

Third Sunday after Denho (Baptism of our Lord)

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

John 3:1-12 New King James Version (NKJV)

The New Birth

There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 

This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”

Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born [a]again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 

That which is born of the flesh isflesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 

Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 

The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be?”

10 Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? 

11 Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. 

12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?

Born anew

by H.G.Yuhanon Mor Meletius

This incident talks about the dichotomy between Judaism and Christianity. This has been a theme in all the four Gospels and even in the Church in the early times (Matt. 5:17 f.).

Nicodemus stands as a representative of his religion. Of course this has been the religion of Jesus too. But while Jesus represented the change that God brings continuously in the world, Nicodemus represents the static religion. So there is a tension between the Old which is old all the time and the New which is continuously being renewed.

So the last verse in the section can be read first. Jewish religion with its static state has become one of worldly and Jesus represents the heavenly.

Nicodemus comes at night to see Jesus. John the Evangelist is very good in making use of symbols out of time and place. Nicodemus comes at night because he represents a community that is in darkness. We may recall the state that existed before the creation. Darkness was upon the face of the earth (Gen. 1:1). That was a time when God had not started working on the creation project of human environment. It was also a time of chaos (also due to uncontrolled water covering the face of the earth) and hence rather a time ripe (in the fullness of time – Luk. 2:6) for God to work. The same darkness has taken over the whole religion of Judaism. Now God in Jesus has started to create a new identity in it.

It was good that Nicodemus came to Jesus. He is ready to accept Jesus as someone from God seeing the works being done by Jesus. But the problem is that there have been so many people who have come from God and have done wondrous things. The Jews considered Jesus one among those great people of the Old Testament.

Nicodemus calling Jesus ‘Rabi’ is another sign for that. To Jews Jesus certainly exhibits the scholarly skills of a learned person and hence can be called a teacher or Rabi. But Jesus is not happy to see that his own religion is not ready to take things forward and see the ‘signs’ and interpret them on the basis of the message in their scripture and accept Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus knows that he is not just a Rabi. So he takes Nicodemus further and puts a challenge before him. Just being a Jew will not make one eligible to enter in to the Kingdom of God.

The word ‘anew’ points to the insufficiency of the existing state of affair. An utterly or complete renewal is required. It should be noted that this is not ‘born again’ as some would argue, it is ‘born anew’. The same person, but continuously and thoroughly being renewed.

The next question from Nicodemus exposes the insufficiency of Jewish religion in which Nicodemus is a teacher. But Jesus waits till later to spell this out (3:10).

A second good element in Nicodemus is that he wants to continue the dialogue. In other words, he is eager to go further and is not adamant on the exhaustibility of his religion. Hope about future is there in him. But the problem is that he is not sure how to achieve it. The sad fact is that even now he is not ready to accept Jesus as the Messiah. So Jesus talks about the inevitable.

There has been the purification rite of baptism in Judaism. There was the baptism of John too. A lot of Jews did consider John the Baptist as one from God. Now they consider Jesus also as one from God. But they have to go further and take the baptism of spirit.

Two things are to be noted here.

1, talk about entering the Kingdom of God in itself is also an invitation to enter in to the Kingdom.

2, Jesus himself is the Kingdom of God, because he is not simply one from God, rather he is God.

This the Jews have not yet understood. This is the work of the Baptism of the Spirit. No purification act of Jews is sufficient to make people eligible to enter in to the Kingdom. This, John the Baptist had already told them (Matt. 3:11). But the Jews never understood that.

So Jesus further explains it in verses 6 following. He compares born anew human with the wind (spirit). The question is not where it comes from or where it goes to, rather the question is how it relates to one. For Jews, Jesus was the son of Mary. So he, for them, can not have wisdom, can not be more than a person from God. To them he will end up as a man of God just as anyone else in the history of Judaism.

Two things can be noted here.

1, Jesus needs to be understood as someone beyond the normal ‘teacher from God'.

2, anyone born anew is one like Jesus. Any one born anew in Jesus shares the spirit with him.

Here we can recall the statement in the prayer of removal of crown in the sacrament of baptism in Orthodox Church found at the end of the liturgy. The priest calls the baptized one ‘a brother/ sister of the only Son of God’. The baptized one shares the spirit with Jesus.

To continue the meditation two things need to be said.

First, Nicodemus was the representative of the Jewish community when he came to Jesus. We need to ask whom do we represent when we approach Him with our requests and prayers?

Second, how do we respond to the whole question of born anew?

Regarding the first question, most of the time we represent just ourselves when we come to Jesus. We present our worries and our needs. It is not sin to do that. But to do only that is a sin.

The priest during Holy Qurbono, from one of the ‘Sedros’ would read and say ‘I beseech you Oh Lord, pardon and forgiveness for the whole creation’. The phrase ‘whole creation’ is to be taken special note of. Only when we represent the whole creation, or in the limited circle, our neighbor, we can come before our Lord meaningfully. Because born anew is possible only in the company and in the fellowship of our brother (recall the expression of Isaiah at the temple (“Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips – 6:5. Also see the Husoyo prayer of the priest which says, ‘pardon oh Lord my many, great and countless sins and the sins of all your faithful people’).

Newness was lost for Cain and following him a host of people as they were not mindful of their brothers. Nicodemus represented a community that had exclusive claims and was proud of its heritage, scriptures and law codes. But they could not see Messiah in Jesus because they lived in darkness. Seclusion from the rest of the world creates darkness, darkness creates lack of newness and lack of newness forbids entry in to Kingdom of God.

To answer the second question, we need to look in to our own community. What kind of a community do we have? A community which is proud of its St. Thomas heritage; its great liturgical and theological traditions; its great fathers and its rich culture. But when newness is missing, none of these would hold value. This is to be taken very seriously.

Of course the Orthodox Church understands Jesus’ statement about the ‘born anew of water and spirit’ as a reference to the sacrament of baptism in the Church. But Orthodox does not consider baptism as a one time event. It is a continuous process that is initiated in the act of washing in water and anointing by Holy Oil. Unless this washing and anointing happens continuously, just initiation would become meaningless.

This is where we have almost proved to be one like Nicodemus’ community. The very words ‘change’ or ‘new’ creates lot of restlessness and anxiety in us. The great prophet Isaiah says, ‘God creates a new heaven and a new earth’ (65:17). Again the author of the book of Revelations says, ‘Jesus makes everything new’ (21:5).

Are we new or old? Is our community a constantly being renewed community or a static one? To find an answer we may just ask our children how we are to them. They represent a new generation. How is our worship service to them? How is our community structure to them? Many times we misinterpret the term Orthodox and say things in our community can never be changed. Well that is what people of the Jewish community also argued. With a static community, entry in to the Kingdom becomes impossible according to Jesus (if that is authentic enough for us). Jesus was not talking to Nicodemus alone. He spoke that to Nicodemus once. But now he is telling us that every day. Any one listening?

A final word. Every act of salvation is an act of creation as seen in the Bible. This is where the meaning of the phrase ‘born anew’ lies. Before every act of salvation in the Old Testament we can see the presence of either darkness (creation of woman, flight from Egypt etc.) or water (Noah, crossing of Nile, crossing of Jordan etc.).

Same is the case in New Testament. The act of salvation in Jesus begins with a passing through the water in Jordan. At the climax, which is the crucifixion, we see darkness too. Nicodemus comes at night and there was darkness. That was a situation ripe for ‘born anew’.

Look at the world around us, at our community. Do we see troubles, problems, unrest, in-fight and other symbols of darkness and chaos in here? Consider the time ripe for being ‘born anew’. We need to come to the presence of Jesus Christ. Ask him questions, how can it happen to us? How can we do it? Do not be adamant saying what we have is enough and what we are now is just fine.

If there is no born anew, there is no Kingdom of God. Can we afford to lose the Kingdom of God?


20 January 2019

posted 19 Jan 2019, 02:39 by C S Paul   [ updated 19 Jan 2019, 02:50 ]

20 January 2019

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church 

 Second Sunday after Denho (Baptism of our Lord)

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday


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

Philip and Nathanael

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

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

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

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

Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Anointed One

by Beth Scibienski

Why did these men decide to follow Jesus? It seems so sudden. One day they were John's disciples; the next day they were Jesus' disciples. It seems sudden except they were clearly looking or waiting or searching for the Messiah. Andrew says to his brother, "We found the Messiah." Messiah - the anointed one.

Two other times in the Hebrew scriptures we find the term Messiah applied. David was the Messiah. King Cyrus was the Messiah. And again, the people of Israel are looking for the Messiah. The anointed one.

Andrew and an unnamed disciple of John leave John and follow Jesus. Why didn't John follow too? Or maybe he did and he's wrapped in the "they." Andrew and the unnamed one, Peter and then Philip and then Nathanael. They were all on alert for the Messiah and upon hearing he is found, they responded to the words, "Come and see."

Come where? See what? We who have read beyond this passage can say they were in for a life-altering, mind-blowing, bumpy, rough, exhilarating journey with this Anointed One.

I'll be honest, I read and enjoyed Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth I mention it because the author does such a good job describing the world in which Jesus lived. The political, social climate of the world where these Jewish men search for and find the Anointed One. These men wanted a regime change. They wanted freedom from occupation. They wanted to overthrow the government for very practical, tangible, human reasons. Their world was unsafe and unjust. But this is the argument for why these men followed Jesus in perhaps Mark's gospel or Luke's gospel. But what about this fourth gospel? What is the literary reason in John's gospel? In other words, what motivation is this fourth gospel writer giving for these men to search for the Anointed One? And when they allegedly found him in the beginning of this story, why did they follow him?

I guess I have more questions than answers at this point of this gospel. As it should be. We're only at the beginning after all. And if I am to do any justice in preaching it or teaching it or following its strand through this narrative lectionary, I want to stay in this chapter. I don't want to read chapter 19 into chapter 1. That's not how we read a book. (Unless you're the type of person who reads the last page... just in case.)

The creative force of the universe has come to earth, wrapped itself in the flesh of a human named Jesus. A distant cousin was looking for the Anointed On, waiting for God to once again wrap an anointing around a human. The etymology of the English word "anoint" comes from the verb to smear on. It makes me smile a bit thinking of Jesus as a human with God smeared on him. The smear of the Spirit soaking into the fiber of his being, claiming him in a unique way, for a unique purpose.

I've found the one who is smeared with God. Are you the one who is smeared with God? And Jesus says, "Come and see." You know what... when I put it that way, I'm in. I want to see what God is up to.

13 January 2019

posted 11 Jan 2019, 21:37 by C S Paul   [ updated 11 Jan 2019, 21:38 ]


13 January 2019

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church 

First Sunday after Denho (Baptism of our Lord)

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

Evening

Morning

Before Holy Qurbana

Holy Qurbana

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

Jesus Begins His Galilean Ministry

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

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

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

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

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

Four Fishermen Called as Disciples

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

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

20 They immediately left their nets and followed Him.

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

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

Turn Your Life Around

by Rev. Fr V.V.Paulose

Sermon for the First Sunday after Denaha

Gospel Reading: Mathew 4:12-22

Why are you avoiding and losing the eternal bliss that is knocking at your door?

"Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the kingdom of Heaven is near." (Mathew 4:7)

Repentance is the core message in the Bible. We are not destined to live in unhappiness. Happiness is the birthright of all human beings. Once it was snatched from the hands of Adam and Eve at the Garden of Eden, the place for eternal bliss and joy by the Devil, the father of darkness, which led to tears, sins and eternal death. From that moment onwards, our eternal Father is in search of fugitives who seek happiness and is never tired of it. He is still carrying the pot of bliss ever ready to give it to the seekers of happiness.

He is calling us to change our present unhealthy and unhappy way of life and to follow the way of Jesus' life, a life of abundance that He had brought. Repent the life inflicting sins in the way of your life, it may be small or great, like a simple lie to your partner, the money you spend for drinks and the grave sin like unfaithfulness to your partner.

Cain was angry with God, himself, and his brother Abel when God did not accept his gift. So God asked him, "Why are you so angry and why do you look so dejected?" (Genesis 4:6). God explained, suggested and gave him the chance to correct his mistake. Jesus told Cain, "Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master." (Genesis 4:7). But, instead of turning away from the sinful life, he closed the door of repentance. Instead of turning to Christ, he closed the door at Jesus. Then, out of anger and frustration, he went outside and killed his brother. Once and for all, Cain lost the joy, beauty, and dignity of life.

How do you react when someone suggests you that you are not living a good life? Do you move to correct the mistake or deny that you need to correct it? The next time someone suggests that you are wrong, take an honest look at yourself and choose God's way instead of the Devil's way.

Nina, a bright, intelligent and beautiful girl of 17 got admission for computer engineering in a reputed college in a metropolitan city. She was mesmerized and got swayed by the new atmosphere in the college. She started dating attractive boys and lost all interest in studying. When the parents found out that she had crossed all possible limits, they even warned her with dire consequences, but all was in vain. She failed in all the subjects for the first two years. She became depressed and lost all interests in life, and even started hating her parents. At last, the prayers, counseling and help from her relatives convinced her that she was wrong and she repented. She discontinued her studies in that college and joined another college away from the city to forget her past and start afresh. She is doing well and is one of the best students in the college. Now, she seeks advice from her parents and relatives when required. She even takes tuitions to pay her fees and is also a good counselor for the young, even in spiritual matters.

There is no short cut or quick fix for happiness when living a bad life, a full turnaround is the only solution for your salvation and eternal happiness. Jesus is standing here, with a smiling loving face and saying through His scriptures, "Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the kingdom of heaven is near."

6 January 2019

posted 4 Jan 2019, 21:26 by C S Paul

6 January 2019

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church 

Denho - Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ (6th January) 

This festival is called Danaha in Syriac meaning 'Dawn'. Also called Epiphany or Theophany.

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

Evening

Morning

Before Holy Qurbana

Holy Qurbana

Blessing of the Water

Luke 3:7-22 New King James Version (NKJV)

John Preaches to the People

Then he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 

Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. 

And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 So the people asked him, saying, “What shall we do then?”

11 He answered and said to them, “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.”

12 Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?”

13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than what is appointed for you.”

14 Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?”

So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.”

15 Now as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Christ or not, 

16 John answered, saying to all, “I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 

17 His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.”

18 And with many other exhortations he preached to the people. 

19 But Herod the tetrarch, being rebuked by him concerning Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done, 

20 also added this, above all, that he shut John up in prison.

John Baptizes Jesus

21 When all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized; and while He prayed, the heaven was opened. 

22 And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.”

Why Jesus was Baptized?

by Rev. Fr. K. K. John

The name Snanam: Sanskrit word. It does not convey the exactness of the original Mamodeeso or snanam. Snanam in Sanskrit means, Thechukuli: “Na Snanam Na vilepanam.”

There are two snanams:

1 Baptism of John:

Baptism of John is known as Baptism of repentance, Mt 3:2, Mk 1:4. This was for remission of sins. It was symbolic because, Kumran Manual of discipline says, ‘Mere ablution cannot cleanse but submission of soul to God’s ordinances.’ However it pointed towards Christ.

Jesus was sinless by birth and by deeds and hence repentance baptism was not required.

2 Christian Baptism:

Christian Baptism was instituted after resurrection. This is also called Baptism of the Holy Spirit. This is done in the name of Trinity; Father, Son, H Spirit.

Being one in the Trinity, Jesus had no need to undergo that, which is done in the name of Trinity. “Na kuriyal nishphalam karma” that is: no work without purpose.

Then why he went in for baptizing? There are four reasons:

1. Christ’s Baptism was to reveal Himself as Son of God to Israel. Until then he led a private life.

2. The only purpose of John’s baptism was to publicly testify Jesus as Christ, the anointed, before commencement of public ministry. He came to bear witness to light, Jn 1:8. “I did not know him, but that he should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water, 1:31. He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the spirit descending and remaining on him this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God,” v 33-34.

3. To fulfill righteousness, “Adyacharyathwam kaikondaharon…Yohannan karthavinnum….

Mat 3:14-15 sheds light as to why Jesus subjected himself to baptism.

When Jesus came to be baptized, John tried to prevent him saying, “I need to be baptized by you and now are you coming to me? But Jesus said to him. Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness”. Then he allowed him.

What righteousness is that Jesus talked about? Righteousness is nonnegotiable attribute of God. God cannot do anything repugnant to His own quality. He does not abrogate what he already laid down. Thus God is said as unchangeable, “Same yesterday, today and forever” Heb 13:8.

1 God gave laws through Moses. After Moses’ death God did not give new law but affirmed it to Joshua: Josh 1:7, “Be strong and very courageous to do according to all the law which Moses my servant commanded you; turn not from it to the right or to the left.”

2 Lazarus and the wealthy: Abraham says, people have to obey the laws of Moses, Luke 16:29.

God gave Priesthood to Moses, Aaron and to his sons forever, Ex 28, v1, 41, 29:442. It was imperative that righteous God not violate rather fulfill the conditions of the law, which He had laid. Thus the priesthood once given to the Levite tribe had to be taken back through and by a Levite only. John bequeathed priesthood according to Levite tribe.

Law required 20 years of age for army service Num 1:3 and 30 years to initiate temple services, Numbers, 4:2. Remember, Jesus was 30 years when he went into Jordan, the age according to law to initiate temple service. What happened here was shifting/transfer of Levite priesthood, which was only for Israelites and became redundant, passed into eternal priesthood through Jesus Christ, which was then given to all humanity through Apostles.

4. by entering into the waters of Jordan God purified the whole element of water, which suffered defilement by the fall of man and reverted it to the original status, says Gregory of Nazianzes.

30 December 2018

posted 28 Dec 2018, 21:40 by C S Paul   [ updated 4 Jan 2019, 21:27 ]

30 December 2018

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

First Sunday after Yeldo (Christmas)

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

First Sunday after Yeldo (Christmas)

Luke 2:40-52 New King James Version (NKJV)

40 And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.

The Boy Jesus Amazes the Scholars

41 His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 

42 And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. 

43 When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it;

44 but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. 

45 So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him. 

46 Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. 

47 And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. 

48 So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.”

49 And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must beabout My Father’s business?” 

50 But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them.

Jesus Advances in Wisdom and Favor

51 Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart. 

52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

Learning from Our Children

by Peter Woods, I Am Listening

Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, "Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety." He said to them, "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?" But they did not understand what he said to them.

Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.

I have often been heard to say that being a parent for the past 25 years has taught me more about God’s relationship with humankind, than all the theology books I have read. So when I have the privilege of this Lukan window into the world of Mary and Joseph’s parenting of Jesus, I am delighted to see that they had to learn similar lessons to mine.

It was the Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran, in The Prophet, who first alerted me to the fact that, "Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They came through you but not from you and though they are with you yet they belong not to you."

Over the past twenty five years I have learnt the truth of this saying as I have not tried to be my sons’, controller, dictator, policeman, moralist, publicist nor garbage disposal unit.

In fact learning to be, not the perfect parent, just the Good Enough Parent, is what taught me so much about God’s parenting.

Mary and Joseph begin their school of Good Enough parenting, by learning the following lessons.

• Children are never really lost.

• Children find their true home despite us.

Children are never really lost, they are just on their own path.

There is a parable for me in the way that Mary and Joseph set off back home and travel a whole day with the assumption that Jesus is tagging along.

I feel their discovery of his absence viscerally, for as a parent I know how it is to wake up to the fact that my children are under no obligation to follow the path that I have chosen for myself. I remember the awakening to how I simply assumed that they, and every other rational being on the planet should emulate my path, my values and my way of looking at the world.

I also resonate with the shame, blame-game that Mary tries to lay on Jesus when he is found in the temple. Even down to the way she tries to triangulate Joseph onto her side of the power play!

"Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety."

Such a familiar scene. Or is my family the only one who played those games?

Remember the old relationship training adage, "Never assume. It only makes an ASS of U and ME!"

Please don’t hear me suggesting that parenting does not involve the formation of young lives. Of course it does! What I am suggesting from the lesson of Mary and Joseph, however, is that this formation must be done with deep respect and discernment for the destiny that our children’s Heavenly Parent has for them.

Chances are, that their destiny will be different from our own and may even be radically different from the plans that we may have made for our children.

I have had too many counselling conversations with distraught, damaged and depressed adults and adolescents who have been made to feel less than adequate for having "let their parents down".

To any of us who may feel that way, let me remind us that in this passage Jesus also "let his parents down", and not too gently either.

Can we begin to pray to be "let down" from our lofty delusions of how perfect and conforming our children should be?

They may not need to follow us back to Nazareth. It doesn’t mean they are lost. They are simply finding their own destined home, often closer to God’s heart than we are!

Which is really the core of the second lesson the Holy Family learnt.

Children find their true home despite us.

I have never been able to get my head around the notion of predestination. The idea that God has it all planned and determined from before our birth is offensive and mechanistic for me. Parenting has taught me the impossibility of predestination.

The amazing grace of a relationship with children who are not forced nor manipulated into loving one as the parent, and who do it nonetheless is one of the most profound human experiences. I hope I am never in a relationship where I feel I have to love someone simply because I was told, or required or determined to do so. Such a relationship would be an experience of deep oppression.

Yet, having said that I also know that despite the twists and vagaries of this precious human existence, there is a deep perfection at the heart of the created order. I know it sounds contradictory to human freedom and self determination. I also know that I cannot say it to another human being.

For example to say to my friend who is getting divorced as I write this, or to a congregation member who is grieving deeply years after their child was killed in an accident; "It’s all perfect", would be scandalous and rude.

Yet somehow when I look at my own life, the past, the present, the pain the joy, the mistakes the success. In all of these I can say, in faith and with reference to my own life alone, "It’s all perfect"

It’s a faith response. It’s a chosen way of viewing my reality. It gives me deep peace.

Is it predestination?

Dear Lord, No!

It is integration.

Mary and Joseph, despite their mistaken assumptions, errors of judgement and anxiety, could also come away from the temple encounter with Jesus with a sense of deep peace, knowing that it was all perfect.

Parenting has taught me to trust the universal and unconditional providence of God, even when terrible and traumatic events tear at my sanity.

It’s all comes home to God.

Didn’t I know that we all need to be in our Father’s house?

23 December 2018

posted 22 Dec 2018, 02:39 by C S Paul   [ updated 22 Dec 2018, 02:40 ]

23 December 2018

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Sunday before Christmas

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

The Genealogy of Jesus Christ

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham:

Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot Judah and his brothers. 

Judah begot Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez begot Hezron, and Hezron begot Ram. 

Ram begot Amminadab, Amminadab begot Nahshon, and Nahshon begot Salmon. 

Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab, Boaz begot Obed by Ruth, Obed begot Jesse, 

and Jesse begot David the king.

David the king begot Solomon by her who had been the wife of Uriah. 

Solomon begot Rehoboam, Rehoboam begot Abijah, and Abijah begot Asa. 

Asa begot Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat begot Joram, and Joram begot Uzziah. 

Uzziah begot Jotham, Jotham begot Ahaz, and Ahaz begot Hezekiah. 

10 Hezekiah begot Manasseh, Manasseh begot Amon, and Amon begot Josiah. 

11 Josiah begot Jeconiah and his brothers about the time they were carried away to Babylon.

12 And after they were brought to Babylon, Jeconiah begot Shealtiel, and Shealtiel begot Zerubbabel. 

13 Zerubbabel begot Abiud, Abiud begot Eliakim, and Eliakim begot Azor. 

14 Azor begot Zadok, Zadok begot Achim, and Achim begot Eliud. 

15 Eliud begot Eleazar, Eleazar begot Matthan, and Matthan begot Jacob. 

16 And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ.

17 So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, from David until the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ are fourteen generations.

Women, Gentiles, & Jesus, Oh My! (Sermon on Matthew 1:1-17)

by devriesj.wordpress.com

My guess is that very few of us have ever heard a sermon on a genealogy. Although I’m still on the younger side, I know I never have. In fact, there almost seems to be a part of us that shies away from genealogies as much as possible. I mean, when was the last time you actually read the book of Numbers for example. And if you’re like me, you tend to skip the genealogies of Genesis – and Matthew – to get to the things that are more interesting and exciting. For whatever reason, over the years we’ve come to see these parts of Scripture as mostly pointless filler that seems to have virtually no value for us today. They may have been important to the people 2,000 or 4,000 years ago, but to us it’s just a big waste of time.

My prayer is that this morning I can change your opinion a little – at least of Matthew’s genealogy.

In the way of introduction there are a few things to keep in mind as we look at this text. First off, we absolutely cannot underestimate the fact that each of the four gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – are written from a particular perspective. This might make some of you uneasy to think about. When each author sat down to write his gospel, he did so with the intention of making a point. In other words, the gospels are not simply relaying the cold, hard facts of Jesus’ life and teachings. That’s why the gospels sometimes put the same story in different places or present slightly different versions of an event. There was something in the life of the author or early church that necessitated the author to write what he did. We then discover clues to what that thing was and it helps us understand what we’re reading better.

That also doesn’t mean that Scripture contradicts itself or that you can’t trust what you read. Ultimately all it means is that each author is looking at the events from a different angle and we get the most complete picture of Jesus when we put all the gospels together. The gospels are best understood not as biographies of Jesus’ life, but as interpretations of Jesus’ life.

All of that just to be able to say that Matthew has a point beyond just telling his readers what Jesus did.

Matthew was a missionary. I don’t mean that in the sense he went oversees proclaiming the good news of the cross – although he probably did. He was a missionary in the sense that, over and above any of the other gospel writers, he recognized the full scope of God’s plan. And throughout this gospel, we see him emphasizing that scope over and over again. But it starts here in chapter 1…with a genealogy.

A few thousand years ago genealogies were a way to prove a person’s “pedigree.” In other words, the best way to prove that someone was who they said they were was to present a genealogy, tracing that person’s lineage from the distant past to the present day. It was well-known in Jesus’ day that the messiah would be from the tribe of Benjamin, a descendant of David. One of the defining characteristics of Matthew is he was a wonderful apologist – he made more references to the OT and offered more proof of the validity of Jesus than any of the other three. And so in that sense, it’s completely expected that he would include a genealogy in his gospel.

However, Matthew does something very unexpected in his genealogy: he includes five women. A person’s lineage – their inclusion into a particular tribe – was always determined by their father. If you were to go through the other genealogies of the Bible what you would find is that women are never listed in any kind of prominent role. But here, Matthew lists five. One would be shocking enough to his Jewish readers – but five was darn near blasphemy. For Jews of the day, just the inclusion of five women would have been enough to cause them to stop reading and discount everything else Matthew said.

But Matthew goes even further; you see, four of these five women aren’t even Jewish. Two are Canaanites, one is Moabite, and the fourth is Hittite. Jews were very particular about preserving their purity as a people. And here’s Matthew – the great missionary apologist who uses the sacred Scriptures more than any other gospel writer – demonstrating his audacity to suggest that the long-promised messiah, sent to deliver God’s people – the Jews – from the tyranny of evil is not a pure-blood Israelite himself! For Jews of that time, this was the worst kind of heresy.

But nevertheless, Matthew does it and he does it for a reason – there is a method to his madness. And all these little details that we are so quick to skim over and pay virtually no attention to are serving a higher purpose of emphasizing Matthew’s over-all message: Jesus and good news of the cross is available to everyone.

Let’s take a few minutes to review what the five women Matthew refers to did. Each of these women are featured rather prominently in the OT and the history of Israel; they each play a role in getting the Jewish people and religion to where it was during Jesus’ earthly ministry. But more importantly, they all filled a significant role in God’s bigger plan of salvation.

The first woman Matthew mentions is Tamar. I think it would be fair to say that Tamar was a desperate woman who knew Jewish customs and sought to uphold them. Tamar was married to Judah’s first son. That son died, and according to custom Tamar was married to the second son, who also died. Judah, wanting to spare the only son he had left, told Tamar to live as a widow who will be married to his third son at a later date. Although she obliged, Tamar was rather irritated by this request and the delay in marrying her to Judah’s youngest son.

Then one day, Tamar hears that Judah is on his way to a near-by town, she decides to take matters into her own hands. Desperate people do desperate things; and out of desperation, Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute. She then went out and sat beside the road and waited for Judah. When Judah saw her, he hired her services and Tamar became pregnant. Without a doubt, Tamar acted in violation to God’s law, but in Genesis 38, it’s Judah who is held responsible for refusing to give Tamar to his youngest son.

Jewish tradition views Tamar as anything but honorable. But it’s through her “sin” that God continued to work out his plan of salvation.

The second woman is Rahab. Rahab is probably more familiar to us than Tamar. Whereas Tamar merely disguised herself as a prostitute, Rahab actually was a prostitute. Prostitutes were not by any means respected members of society; they were frequently abused, dehumanized, and kept away from any religious observances. Virtually every culture to ever exist has viewed prostitution as the lowliest of occupations – the level of uncleanliness just one step above lepers.

Rahab lived in Jericho, a Canaanite city. When Joshua sent spies into Jericho before one of the goofiest battles in the Bible, Rahab took the spies in and hosted them as they scoped things out. In exchange, the spies promised that she and her family would be spared because of her kindness and recognition of Israel’s God. What is so striking about her story is that, in the midst of an ethnic cleansing, she is welcomed into the covenant community on the basis of faith. But that doesn’t mean that she was considered an equal; because she was a prostitute and a Canaanite, she was still considered an second-rate citizen.

The third woman is Ruth. In the Jewish version of the OT, the book of Ruth immediately follows Proverbs 31. This suggests that for Jews, Ruth is seen as a real-life example of the “wife of noble character” described in Proverbs 31. Generally speaking, we all have a positive view of Ruth. She was from the land of Moab who, after becoming widowed, committed herself to the nation and religion of her mother-in-law Naomi. The step of faith required to make such a commitment is virtually unprecedented. While her mid-night tryst in the hay-barn with Boaz is suspicious, Matthew is most likely bringing attention to her because she was a Gentile.

The most infamous in Matthew’s genealogy is “Uriah’s wife.“ Matthew’s personal view of this woman is so low that he doesn’t even give her a name. But his reader’s knew very well who he was referring to: Bathsheba. This is an interesting twist to the story of David and Bathsheba. We typically consider David to be the guilty one in this story; but Matthew seems to implicate Bathsheba.

Here’s the thing, during David’s time, modesty was given a tremendous amount of attention. People seldom bathed for the simple reason that they seldom had the opportunity to do so and still maintain their modesty. At the same time, the building of a typical village in that part of the world were often built within feet of each – usually only 10-15 feet apart. Ken Bailey – and expert on middle eastern culture – suggests Matthew’s low view of Bathsheba is because Bathsheba knew what she was doing. Bathsheba wasn’t a prostitute like Rahab trying to make a living; she was actively seeking to entice David into an affair. For Matthew, Bathsheba represents the worst sort of impropriety, putting her own lusts and desires before her modesty and pulling the greatest king down with her. Her sin is seen as so severe that she doesn’t even deserve to have her name mentioned…and yet she’s still included in Jesus’ genealogy.

The fifth woman is Jesus’ mother, Mary – someone whom I’m sure we are all very familiar with, and who seems to defy the pattern left by the others. She was also the only Jewish woman listed.

If we want to get at the heart of what Matthew is going after, we have to try to understand how his original readers would have reacted to this passage. The ancient Jews believed that women were saved on the basis of their relationship to their husbands. Gentiles were rarely saved and even then, were never considered full members of Israel.

Matthew has a habit of speaking very positively of Gentiles throughout his gospel. Only Matthew includes the story of the magi coming to worship Jesus; the magi were Gentiles. Matthew tells about Jesus’ many encounters with Canaanite women and Roman centuries, holding them up as examples of faith. On several occasions in Matthew, we read about Jesus sending his disciples out to preach the good news. This sending out culminates with the Great Commission where Jesus specifically sends us out to the entire world, not just Judea. There is a pattern of Matthew focusing on groups that traditional Jews considered to be unclean, unworthy, and incapable of being in good standing with God. The Jews preached a very narrow gospel in which only a select few were lucky enough to receive salvation.

By highlighting both women and Gentiles – even one woman who was considered so bad as to remain un-named – Matthew is forcing his readers to accept the fact that eternal life is available to everyone. I’m sure every one of us feels a sense of comfort in that; no matter what we have done or how bad we’ve been, God’s grace is abundant for every single person here. The power of the cross is not for only a certain type of person; it’s not for Americans only or Protestants or Republicans or straights. Rather we can find the Spirit at work in the hearts of every single people group, in every community, in every country, throughout the entire world. And that is truly something to praise God for!

Women, Gentiles, and Jesus – oh my! For first century Jews it was inconceivable that salvation would be so freely given to so many unclean. But it’s exactly that point that makes the gospel so great. Jesus came to save them, he came to save you, and he came to save those that we may consider unworthy here in Tacoma. For that we can always confidently sing “Blessed assurance! Jesus is MINE!”

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