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

Syrian Orthodox Church

5 April 2020

posted by C S Paul   [ updated ]

5 April 2020

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church 

Hosanna/Palm Sunday

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

John 12:12-19 New King James Version (NKJV)

The Triumphal Entry

12 The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, 

13 took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out:

‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’
The King of Israel!”

14 Then Jesus, when He had found a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written:

15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion;Behold, your King is coming,
Sitting on a donkey’s colt.”

16 His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him.

17 Therefore the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of his tomb and raised him from the dead, bore witness. 

18 For this reason the people also met Him, because they heard that He had done this sign. 

19 The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, “You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him!”

Palm Sunday and What Jesus' Passion Means to Us

by Fr. Andrew

Christ arrives a king triumphant today and dies as a criminal on Friday. Christ is honored with palm branches today and crowned with thorns on Friday. Christ is adored with singing today and mocked with jeers on Friday. Christ is borne in victoriously on the foal of an ass today and bears the burden of the cross on Friday.

Our Christian faith isn't about an emotion or feeling, it isn't about priests or people we like, and it isn't about a guarantee of smooth sailing. It is about the fact of this week: God became man so that he could share in our life and even our death. In Jesus Christ, God has experienced the worst of human pain and suffering so that we are not alone in ours.

A priest friend of mine describes hell as "looking at your problems, your pain, your sin, your sufferings, your life, and wondering 'What am I going to do?' Heaven is looking at the difficulties of your life and praying, 'My God, what can you do for me? Look and see the cross in our suffering, to see confession in our sins, to see the resurrection in your pain."

When you are lost, when your loves are cold and gone, when you are alone - where is God? When your dreams and hopes come tumbling down, where is God? When you are gripped by pain, lost in sin, despairing innocence, drowning in shame, where was God?

He was on the cross. All along, He was on the cross. You are not abandoned, you are not alone, you are not alone. My God was on the cross.

29 March 2020

posted 27 Mar 2020, 23:35 by C S Paul

29 March 2020

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church 

Sixth Sunday of Great Lent (Samiyo/ The Blind Man's Sunday)

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

John 9 New King James Version (NKJV)

A Man Born Blind Receives Sight

Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. 

4 must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. 

As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

When He had said these things, He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva; and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay. 

And He said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which is translated, Sent). So he went and washed, and came back seeing.

Therefore the neighbors and those who previously had seen that he was blind said, “Is not this he who sat and begged?”

Some said, “This is he.” Others said, “He is like him.”

He said, “I am he.

10 Therefore they said to him, “How were your eyes opened?”

11 He answered and said, “A Man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed, and I received sight.”

12 Then they said to him, “Where is He?”

He said, “I do not know.”

The Pharisees Excommunicate the Healed Man

13 They brought him who formerly was blind to the Pharisees. 14 Now it was a Sabbath when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes. 

15 Then the Pharisees also asked him again how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.”

16 Therefore some of the Pharisees said, “This Man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.” Others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them.

17 They said to the blind man again, “What do you say about Him because He opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.”

18 But the Jews did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind and received his sight, until they called the parents of him who had received his sight. 

19 And they asked them, saying, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?”

20 His parents answered them and said, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 

21 but by what means he now sees we do not know, or who opened his eyes we do not know. He is of age; ask him. He will speak for himself.” 

22 His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had agreed already that if anyone confessed that He was Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue. 

23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

24 So they again called the man who was blind, and said to him, “Give God the glory! We know that this Man is a sinner.”

25 He answered and said, “Whether He is a sinner or not I do not know. One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see.”

26 Then they said to him again, “What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?”

27 He answered them, “I told you already, and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become His disciples?”

28 Then they reviled him and said, “You are His disciple, but we are Moses’ disciples. 

29 We know that God spoke to Moses; as for this fellow, we do not know where He is from.”

30 The man answered and said to them, “Why, this is a marvelous thing, that you do not know where He is from; yet He has opened my eyes! 

31 Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him. 

32 Since the world began it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes of one who was born blind. 

33 If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing.”

34 They answered and said to him, “You were completely born in sins, and are you teaching us?” And they cast him out.

True Vision and True Blindness

35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when He had found him, He said to him, “Do you believe in the Son of God?”

36 He answered and said, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?”

37 And Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you.”

38 Then he said, “Lord, I believe!” And he worshiped Him.

39 And Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.”

40 Then some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these words, and said to Him, “Are we blind also?”

41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains.

Devotional Thoughts for Sixth Sunday of the Holy Lent - Blind Man's Sunday

by HG Yohanon Mor Policarpos

The Evengelion reading for the sixth Sunday of the Holy Lent is from the 9th chapter of the Gospel according to St. John. In this chapter we read about the miracle where-in, Jesus restores the sight of a Blind Man. As per the teachings of our Church Fathers - Miracle could be explained as an act against the rules of nature, by the creator of nature. We read of only seven miracles in the gospel of St. John. In the concluding verse of the gospel, St John states that.. 'there are so many other things which Jesus did… I suppose that even the world itself should not contain the books that should be written'. The miracles point us to the Kingdom of God, and the living experience there. This calls for the transformation of our lives.

In this chapter we read of Jesus healing a man who was blind from his birth and the explanations there after. When we closely read though this chapter we note that the message is conveyed in a very dramatic style. The chapter starts with addressing the point on who was at fault for the man to be born blind - whether it was the man himself or his parents. Jesus answered, 'Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him'. Likewise, we should also be able to bear the trials and sufferings that we have in our life, for the glorification of God. St. Mary, Jesus' disciples and many of our Church fathers have undergone many sufferings for the glorification of God. That doesn't mean that all trials and suffering are for the His glorification. In 2 Corinthians chapter 12 verse 6 onwards, we read of St. Paul praying over his suffering, and further down we read of St. Paul hearing of an assurance.. 'My grace is sufficient for thee'. St. Paul concludes the thorn was given to keep himself from becoming conceited. At times our Lord uses such sufferings as a warning, so that we look back and take corrective measures on our paths and shortfalls. Especially, while we pass through the Holy Lent period, with a heart of repentance, we should be able to win the unification with God though the Holy Confession and the Holy Communion. While we review the readings of the gospel readings of the Holy Lent, we come across the various aspects of prayers

1. In our prayers, we should try to emulate the model of St. Mary, who intervened and interceded for the wedding family, even without their request.

2. We see the Leper appealing directly, like the way we read of King David… 'Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving kindness'. David pleads for mercy purely relying on the loving kindness of God, not on his merits. The Leper also prays.. 'Lord, if you will, you can make me clean'.

3. We read of Jesus healing the paralytic, seeing the faith of the men who carried the man. Through this miracle, Jesus teaches us of the importance of interceding as a society or group. This has a definite positive impact. Let us put this into practice during this Holy Lent. For we have the promise… 'Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them'.

4. Through the miracle of healing the Canaanite woman's daughter we get to know the importance and results of continued and persistent prayers.

5. The significance of regular Church attendance, and daily prayers is conveyed though the healing of the crippled woman. She was present at the Synagogue, while Jesus was teaching. She does not ask or plead for healing.

6. The significance of this Sunday is also the glorification of God. Many a cases, our prayers and ministry exalt ourselves. This is what is expected of us. This is not pleasing to God.

Let all our efforts be, to live, pray and strive for the glorification of God.

22 March 2020

posted 21 Mar 2020, 07:57 by C S Paul

22 March 2020

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church 

Fifth Sunday of Great Lent (Kpiptho/Crippled Woman)

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

Luke 13:10-17 New King James Version (NKJV)

A Spirit of Infirmity

10 Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 

11 And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up. 

12 But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.” 

13 And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.

14 But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, “There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day.”

15 The Lord then answered him and said, “Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? 

16 So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound—think of it—for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?” 

17 And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.

Bent and Broken: Sermon on Luke 13:10-17

by Rev. Dr. Luke Bouman, Valparaiso University

Bent and Broken

When you sit opposite from Lorena, you don't notice that there is anything amiss. She is a spry and sparkling example of 86 years old at its best, when seated. She sits up, looks you in the eye, and makes casual conversation with a rapier wit on almost any topic. She picks up her teacup and scones like there is no difference between the two of you. Nothing is out of place..., that is, until she stands up.

It is then that the 86 years seem to drop on her body like a heavy weight, born about the shoulders, crushing weight bearing down upon her small, and now frail looking body. Deterioration of the spine, the result of years of degenerative disease, has taken its toll and it leaves Lorena bent and broken. As she stands, the sparkle is gone out of her eyes and the breath is drawn, less with casual ease, and more with intense labor. You wish it were possible to attach a string to her head, like a marionette puppet, and pull her up straight. But her body is taught, not limp, gripped with pain, bent in agony.

Yet, without complaint she labors to the door, opens it and lets you out. You know, more often than not, that she will now take some medication that will ease her pain, but dull her eyes to a different state of glaze, not with pain, but into that gentle oblivion that will soon have her resting and sleeping for the duration of the dose. Doctors can treat Lorena, but they cannot cure what bends her to the point of breaking.

I think of Lorena as I read this text for today, wondering if her future is my future. I think of her and pray for her, body and soul. I also, truth be known, say a little prayer of sorts for myself, thankful that I am not bent and broken like that. But in the moment that I say this prayer, I know that it betrays a lie. Closer to the truth is that I am thankful that my bent and broken nature is not visible to any but the most trained of eyes, perhaps visible only to the eyes of God.

I came across this language in, of all places, the science fiction writings of C. S. Lewis. The author of such diverse works as Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, and The Chronicles of Narnia also wrote a trilogy of science fiction works, though little known. In them he tries to describe what Sin is, to beings who do not know. The word his hero finally settles on is "bent." By bent, I take Lewis to mean, misshapen, not the way we were made to be, and not fit for our intended purpose. We are all of us, bent: some, like the woman in our Gospel for today and Lorena, literally bent over, the rest of us, simply out of shape, not as God intended.

Bound and Set Free

The difficulty with this is that in Luke's telling of this story the woman is not only "bent over" but also "bound." In fact the major language of Jesus' action for the woman is "untying." As I looked through the Greek text for this sermon, I was struck by the use of this very common word. It was, in fact, the first verb that I learned to conjugate in New Testament Greek class: "to loose" or untie. Here it shows up several times: Jesus "sets the woman free" in verse 12, in verse 15 he reminds his critics that they also "untie" their cattle so they can drink on the Sabbath, in verse 16, Jesus reminds us that he has just "freed" (older versions say, "loosed") the woman from her bond.

Of course, modern politically correct forces will talk about how words like "bondage" and "slavery" carry baggage that we don't want to address, but no one told Jesus or Luke to be politically correct. Here they identify the problem, the root of the woman's bent shape, as a bondage. But as the story continues, you find that the woman is not the only one impacted. The ruler of the Synagogue is also enslaved, and by the same force, though the symptoms might look different: one visibly bent, the other with a spirit misshapen by a false sense of religious piety and obligation.

We notice that the woman was set free by Jesus, but what of the leader of the Synagogue? Was he also set free by Jesus' words? We can all see the weight of a spirit of illness that might weigh a woman down. We all recognize the demons of addiction that drown people in their own desperate search for relief from life's pains. We might understand the dark lords of depression that ensnare us in a quagmire of shame and self loathing. But what can we do about the spirits of personal piety for religious justification? Do we know these demons enough to see the weight of their pride bending us out of shape, making of us creatures that seek to have God and God's laws serve us rather than the opposite? Are those of us weighed down and bent by the hidden demons of "right doctrine" or "clean living" also set free by Jesus?

The answer is yes! The woman does not come to Jesus to seek healing? He seeks her out and calls her over. He sets her free because he chooses for her to be free. In Jesus, God is doing all of that for all of humanity. God does not wait for us to come to some understanding of our bent shapes. God joins us in the very depths of our possession. God, in Christ Jesus, takes on the full weight of our Sin and experiences our "bent-ness" on the cross. And God renders its power meaningless over us, even when we still seem more intent on holding on to it. Even though the ruler of this Synagogue is shamed by Jesus for the moment, will he recognize in due time that the woman's liberation on the Sabbath is his liberation as well? Luke does not tell us, we are left to ponder.

The Liberating Day

All of this comes back to the question of what the Sabbath day is for? Of course there are many and varied answers. We have Sabbath by God's command, as a day of rest. St. Augustine added to that answer when he prayed, "Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee, O Lord." Perhaps it is out of longing for God that we have the Sabbath. My Lutheran roots suggest to me that my Sabbath rest involves something more, something deeper than just being in God. God does something for me on the Sabbath. God meets me and transforms me on the Sabbath. In this context, I'd like to be so bold as to suggest that God unties me, God sets me free.

Our worship services, especially with resources that have been developed in the last 50 years, help us to understand just that. We begin, whether with confession or a thanksgiving, in the waters of our Baptism. It is here that God's liberating word first comes to us and here that our weekly journey reconnects us to that word. In joy we gather and sing with other Christians also once bound, still bound, in need of being loosed. We drink from the sweet cup of God's liberating word, read and spoken as by Christ himself. We speak of our commitment to the world and its healing in prayer as we begin to feel the weight bending our lives lifted from our shoulders. We rejoice at the table as we experience the Living Word coming into us bodily, giving us a foretaste of the feast of freedom that is to come. We are blessed as finally, set free by the Word, we are set loose on the world, where the liberation we have experienced becomes the liberation we practice.

And underneath it all, surrounding it all, infused in it all is God, the God of freeing, life-giving Grace. God meets us in worship, frees us from the weight of our Sin, and then binds us together with others, a community unleashed (dare I say "loosed) upon the world. Now lest we become too giddy with our new found freedom, we need to be reminded that we will be back again. In a week's time we will need God's "loosing" yet again, from the weights and fetters of our Sin. It will be that way always until God's kingdom finally comes among us fully in Christ. But at least we have gained a glimpse of what God is up to with the Sabbath. We taste, we see, we are touched and transformed by the boundless love and grace of God. The result is wholeness, however fleeting for now, as the foretaste of the cosmic wholeness that God has promised to all creation in the fullness of time.

What joy is found in this experience. We are now free for one more thing: honesty. We can be honest about how we are bent and broken. We can be honest about the bondage that enslaves us. We no longer have to hide. We are free to welcome the Christ who comes, sees us, like the woman, weighed down, and bids us come and be made whole.

For Lorena, for the ruler of the synagogue, for me, even so, Lord Jesus, quickly come.

15 March 2020

posted 13 Mar 2020, 07:55 by C S Paul

15 March 2020

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church 

Fourth Sunday of Great Lent (Canaanite woman)

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

Matthew 15:21-31 King James Version (KJV)

21 Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon.

22 And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.

23 But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.

24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

25 Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.

26 But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs.

27 And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table.

28 Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.

29 And Jesus departed from thence, and came nigh unto the sea of Galilee; and went up into a mountain, and sat down there.

30 And great multitudes came unto him, having with them those that were lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others, and cast them down at Jesus' feet; and he healed them:

31 Insomuch that the multitude wondered, when they saw the dumb to speak, the maimed to be whole, the lame to walk, and the blind to see: and they glorified the God of Israel.

Faith of the Canaanite Woman

by Fr. Andrew

What can we say about the faith of the Canaanite woman?

As a Canaanite woman she is a lower class citizen in two ways: she is a woman and comes from a backward people. There is very little hope for a person like this - few people, if any, treat her with respect. This might seem forward to us today in our world of information and telephones, but even today, in India and China, baby girls are being aborted simply because they are girls, and many people struggle to be accepted because of their country of origin.

Yet despite the odds stacked against her, she pushes toward the front the crowd, probably struggling against the various villagers telling her to be still, quiet, and to keep her thoughts to herself. Soon she cries out "Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon." What a personal revelation, instead of protecting herself, puffing herself up, she reveals her weakness! Her daughter, her dear one is afflicted by a demon.

Jesus' refusal isn't callous, cold, or cruel, but a statement of his mission at that time. The Canaanite woman pushes herself forward. Jesus' response may seem cruel, but it is a description of his mission to the People of Israel that precedes his mission to the rest of the world after his Resurrection. He uses an analogy and says "It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs."

Her response is beautiful. We might be put off, we might protest and walk away- but her faith endures and she says, "Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters." And then our Lord heals the woman's daughter.

So what is our lesson today? What can we say about our faith?

There are many people and politicians who say that faith should be private. Maybe even some of us here believe that our faith should not influence the rest of our lives. None of us doubt that our faith should be personal: intensely touching everything that makes us who we are, just like this Canaanite woman. But what if that Canaanite woman had kept her faith silent and private? What if she had separated her faith from her outward life? This spring and this lenten season is a new beginning. What miracle, what justice does our Lord look to accomplish through your personal and public faith?

    8 March 2020

    posted 6 Mar 2020, 07:37 by C S Paul

    8 March 2020

    Scripture reading and Sermon

    Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church 

    Third Sunday of Great Lent (Paralytic/Palsy Sunday)

    Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

    Mark 2:1-12 New King James Version (NKJV)

    Jesus Forgives and Heals a Paralytic

    And again He entered Capernaum after some days, and it was heard that He was in the house. 

    2 immediately many gathered together, so that there was no longer room to receive them, not even near the door. And He preached the word to them. 

    Then they came to Him, bringing a paralytic who was carried by four men. 

    And when they could not come near Him because of the crowd, they uncovered the roof where He was. So when they had broken through, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying.

    When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.”

    And some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts,

     “Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

    But immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned thus within themselves, He said to them, “Why do you reason about these things in your hearts? 

    Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk’? 

    10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the paralytic, 

    11 “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” 

    12 Immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went out in the presence of them all, so that all were amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

     Be A Source of Transformation

    by Rev. Fr. Paulose V V

    Gospel: St. Mark 2: 1-12

    Jesus Heals a Paralyzed Man

    "He got up, took his mat and walked in full view of them all." (Mark 2:12)

    Can we be the homes of transforming the paralyzed into healthy?

    This happened at the house of Peter at Capernaum. The house of Peter is the meeting, resting, residing and welcoming place for Jesus in his mission. When Jesus was in Peter's home, a paralytic man was brought by 4 people on a mat and lowered in front of Jesus by digging a hole through the roof because of the crowd. Seeing their faith Jesus said to the paralytic man:
    "My child, your sins are forgiven." "Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home."
    The man got up, took his mat and walked away in full view of them all.

    The prayer I hear most often from the people is, "Jesus, don't put me on bed more than one day as paralytic and make others to nurse. Before that, please call me to your kingdom." This cry comes after seeing the callous attitude of dumping the bed-ridden and the ill treatment they receive from those who nurse them.

    Paralyses are in different forms. It may be like the hardened heart of insensitivity of the sins like Pharaoh, the Egyptian King, at the time of Moses. Or it can come in the form of the physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional non-reaction to the real needs of the living beings.

    In a house-warming ceremony, Narayanan from Bombay, was explaining to me how Jesus was put on trial by the Pharisees by bringing immoral women to be stoned as per their law. Jesus told them those who have not sinned should stone her first. Everyone laid their stones and went away one by one due to pricking of their conscious of their sins and the resultant paralysis. Narayanan told me that they needed a Jesus to convince them of their sins. Here is Narayanan, a Hindu, to kindle my consciousness about the real meaning and the context of my sins. Jesus says, "And when He comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God's righteousness, and of the coming judgment." (John 16:8) Wherever Jesus stayed or visited, he became the transforming source of life giving spring to the individuals in those houses and their guests. He quenched the paralytic needs of the thirsty.

    Those who are empowered, as Peter, to cater to the needs of the real thirsty human beings even at the cost of lost-house-roofs are in dearth demand. Empowerment of filling the spirit of God needs the faith, willingness to meet the cost, mind of sacrifice and labor, welcoming those who practice His word and those who always put Jesus first in their daily life. Then even the dead man will walk. Where there is Christianity in practice there will not be any paralytic. All will walk in front of others.

    Thankachen and family came to Chennai in the early 1960's for the treatment of their son Peter, who was partially deaf and dumb at birth. This lovely God fearing family was always receptive to God, his people and its works. The treatment was prolonged so they had decided to do something for their living that they knew - to help the people to alleviate their sorrows by providing jobs to the unemployed. They opened a tailoring shop that specialized in making Bra in the name of "Angel Foam." The company became bigger and bigger with addition of a number of manufacturing units to meet the demand. They expanded to manufacturing the elastic needed for the Bra. It employs more than 1000 employees. It became one of the best quality bra companies in India.

    Whoever knocks at their door for employment are given jobs. They were trained and given wages more than any other company pays. They support most of the ecclesiastical orders of Christian churches and their charities in Chennai and other parts of India liberally. To everyone who visits them, they open the flood gates of love in person, kind, and cash. Nobody returns from their home empty handed.

    Peter, the son is healed, married and has a child. After the demise of Thankachen, Omana, the beloved wife, is at the helm of the company. She is supported and assisted by daughter Bobby and son Peter. Theirs is really a house of Peter for the paralytic to stand, pick the mat and go home not as they came but transformed for good.

    Let us make our homes and churches the house of St. Peter at Capernaum with empowerment to do the miracles of making the man to stand straight and live a healthy and happy vibrant life.

    "Any one who believes in me may come and drink!" For the scriptures declare, "Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.''(John 7:38)

    1 March 2020

    posted 29 Feb 2020, 06:47 by C S Paul

    1 March 2020

    Scripture reading and Sermon

    Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church 

    Second Sunday of Great Lent (Lepers' Sunday)

    Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday



    Before Holy Qurbana

    Holy Qurbana

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

    Jesus Cleanses a Leper

    12 And it happened when He was in a certain city, that behold, a man who was full of leprosy saw Jesus; and he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”

    13 Then He put out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” Immediately the leprosy left him. 

    14 And He charged him to tell no one, “But go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as a testimony to them, just as Moses commanded.”

    15 However, the report went around concerning Him all the more; and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by Him of their infirmities. 

    16 So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.

    Luke 4:40-41 New King James Version (NKJV)

    Many Healed After Sabbath Sunset

    40 When the sun was setting, all those who had any that were sick with various diseases brought them to Him; and He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them. 

    41 And demons also came out of many, crying out and saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of God!”

    And He, rebuking them, did not allow them to [b]speak, for they knew that He was the Christ.

    Devotional Thoughts on The Sunday of the Lepers

    By Rev. Dr. Joy Pyngolil, Florida

    The second Sunday of the great lent, in our lectionary is labeled as “the Sunday of the lepers”. It must be based on the Gospel reading of that Sunday. The Gospel reading for that Sunday is taken from the Gospel according to St. Luke Chapter 5, verses 12-16 and also from Chapter 4: 40-41. For the vespers we read from the Gospel according to St. Mark Chapter 1. The morning Gospel lesson is from St. Mark Chapter 9: 14-29. In all these readings, we come across the healing ministry of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ manifested himself to be the great healer for the sick and sinful humanity which was afflicted by internal and external forces of evil spirit. Healing of the Leper is the main story of the day.

    Why did church select to name this Sunday as Leper’s Sunday? Of all defilements mentioned in the Old Testament (61 of them), leprosy was only second to death in seriousness. People feared leprosy and hated lepers. (Today, leprosy is almost eradicated in the world according to WHO reports). A leper had no association with the regular community (Leviticus 13: 45-46). On a regular day, according to Jewish practices, a leper had to be at least 6 feet away from a normal person and on a windy day, the distance was 150 feet. A leper had to live alone or in a colony of lepers, not even within his own family. A leper was an outcast according to Indian varnasramadhrama. A leper was an outcast. Jesus Christ normalized the outcasts. In the church there is no discrimination between the sinful sick and the holy innocent. The church’s ministry extends mostly to the sick and suffering.

    A leper was abandoned by family, ostracized by society and was condemned by religion. That was the system within which Jesus Christ lived and completed His earthly mission. Let us examine the incident further;

    Jesus was accessible even to the outcasts. Gospel writers, three of them, recorded that a leper came very close to Jesus, knelt before him and said “Lord, if you chose, you can make me clean”. The leprosy of the Old Testament was no way equal to modern day leprosy but any scar or ailment on skin was considered as leprosy; priests excommunicated many, certifying them as lepers. It was a means of social cleaning. Leprosy certification like possession by evil spirit was a cause for excommunication. It was a forerunner of barbaric witch hunt of the European Christianity, label, condemn and kill, by religious forces. The abandonment by family, society and religion was too hard for the leper that he decided to brake all established social barriers and approached his savior who he felt can make him clean. He did not wait for approval from anyone but went directly to get his case heard. He made his plea heard and it was granted. When you are in intense pain take it to the Lord he will heal you. Then Jesus told him, I choose, be healed, and now to go to the priests and get de-certified. He asked them to be normalized. Sickness is not a reason for seclusion. Sickness does not equal to sinfulness.

    Jesus Christ broke the traditional norms of established religious system that interfered with the normal life of individuals. Jesus Christ stretched his hand and touched him and made him clean. No Rabbi, no ordinary Pharisees, even a family member in his right mind will ever try to be in the presence of a leper. Now here comes a teacher who wants to bring about wholeness and salvation to the outcasts. Jesus gave the message, “Rabbi’s, you need to change your systemic mistakes. You have to think outside the box. You are building walls around people and alienate people in the name or sin and sickness. “ It is God’s will to restore humans to their original state of innocence. Societal norm may be perverted in many situations. Slavery exists even today in many communities. A Christian has to stand up for the rights of the poor and suffering created by the unjust societal norms. Fights happen in the name of religion; a Christian should always stand on his ground as peace makers. A Christian cannot fight to protect established system, but think outside the box. Would Jesus encourage religious fights today?

    Jesus convinced the system. After touching him and assuring him cleanliness, Jesus sent him to the priest for verification. It was a willful act from our Savior. Jesus who addressed the system watchers as “blind guides” wanted them to see that the person whom they labeled and segregated was as clean as themselves with a simple touch or an understanding word. It was a message to the egotistical leaders who like popularity, that real honor or popularity stays not with the titles but with real understanding of human suffering. A caring touch and consoling word will give reassurance and self-confidence to a wavering soul.

    As a church and as Christians we need to examine ourselves: Are we accessible to the poor and needy? Are we building up walls around us? Do we label people? Do we perpetuate systemic vices in any way in the name of tradition, culture and societal norms and exclude people from communion? Are we in a position to take a stand in the changing political, economic, and social systems in the world? Do we support a political system that widens the gap between the rich and the poor? Does the church support corporate mergers and mega stores in traditional societies, like India? Will there be a church which will be the voice of the voiceless Dalits? Let us find answers to the above questions in the light of Jesus’ bold actions that brought about religious and social changes. The unchanging Jesus Christ expects continuous changes from his followers. Let us rename the Leper’s Sunday to “Make me Clean Sunday”. Let His spirit guide us to witness Him in our community by becoming a dynamic church making perpetual changes.

    23 February 2020

    posted 20 Feb 2020, 22:57 by C S Paul

    23 February 2020

    Scripture reading and Sermon

    Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church 

    First Sunday of Great Lent (Kothne Sunday) (Pethurtha of the Great Lent)

    The Great Lent starts by commemorating the first miracle performed by Jesus i.e. turning water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana of Galilee. The Gospel reading for each Sunday of the Great Lent is about a miracle performed by Jesus.

    Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

    John 2:1-11 New King James Version (NKJV)

    Water Turned to Wine

    On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 

    Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. 

    And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.”

    Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.”

    His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.

    Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece. 

    Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 

    And He said to them, “Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast.” And they took it. 

    When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom. 

    10 And he said to him, “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!”

    11 This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.

    Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, John 2:1-11

    by David Ewart

    This story is the first self-revelation by Jesus in John.

    In John, these sort of actions - changing water into wine, for example - are not "miracles" - they are SIGNS. John does NOT want us to look at them; he wants us to look at what they point to. It is a complete mis-reading of this text to respond, "Wow! I wonder HOW he did that?" John wants us to respond, "Wow! I wonder WHO did that?" Wasting time discussing the sign is like going to a fabulous restaurant and spending the evening talking about the menu instead of enjoying the feast. (Click here to read my brief note giving an Introduction to John.)

    Verses 1 and 2. "On the third day," is the first of two "on the third day's" that book-end John's telling us about Jesus.

    The phrasing, "the mother of Jesus was there" at the wedding, and that "Jesus and his disciples had also been invited," suggests that his mother was there to help the women of the hosting household with the wedding preparations, and Jesus and his disciples were there as guests.

    Assisting, being invited, and attending a wedding were social obligations that established / maintained / demonstrated one's social status and honour. Jesus, his mother, and his disciples are all there because of some existing family or neighborly relationship.

    Verses 3 and 4. "When the wine ran out ..." is not a comment on unusually heavy drinking at the wedding. It indicates that the host either has a shameful lack of friends who were socially obliged to bring sufficient wine as gifts (one of whom would have been Jesus). Or the host's friends have shamed themselves - and the host - by failing to provide sufficient wine.

    Jesus' mother attempts to discretely redress this by speaking directly to Jesus. However, such an approach would break social taboos against women speaking to men in public places - especially since the topic is a woman's social responsibility - serving the food. The comment is certainly a challenge to Jesus' honor. And Jesus, at least initially, rebuffs her. (And remember that this "third day" is not that second "third day" which is indeed the time when Jesus' hour comes.)

    Malina (pages 67-68, see footnote below) makes note of a pattern that appears in John.

    Unlike Matthew, Mark, and Luke where Jesus almost always only takes action at the request of others; John is almost always the reverse - it is Jesus who initiates. And when others do make requests:

    Jesus' response is always one of delaying reluctance, followed by compliance, and then conflict with hostile Judeans.
    Page 67

    We see this pattern 4 times: here (see Verses 13 and following); John 4:46 to 5:1 and 5:18; John 7:2-10; and lastly, the raising of Lazarus, John 11:1-8.

    There is no explanation given in John for this pattern.

    Malina speculates, "Perhaps John uses this pattern to inform members of his (John's) group how to deal with their relatives and other natural in-group persons." (Page 68.)

    My speculation is that it has more to do with Jesus' reluctance to perform signs for those who request them- and that it is precisely the performing of signs that increases Jesus' public profile and honor which bring him into conflict with the authorities.

    Verses 5 to 10. Notice that the "sign" is "performed" in completely natural, normal actions. But it is "performed" at the direction of Jesus - as ordinary people do ordinary things that follow Jesus' commands. Nothing "magic" is said or done by Jesus.

    The sign is also performed in plain sight but totally unobserved: Jars are filled with water, a sample is drawn out, the sample is tasted and found to be wine.

    But since this is a sign and not a miracle, the point is not, "Wow! How did that happen?" The point is, "Wow! Who did that?" Which is precisely the point John makes in Verse 11:

    Jesus did this, the first of his signs, ... and revealed his glory, and his disciples believed (into) him.

    As Malina comments:

    In this Gospel (of John), a sign is something that reveals who Jesus really is. Jesus' signs are self-disclosures that provoke interpersonal affectionate adherence.
    Page 69.

    "Revealed his glory" means revealed Jesus' honor / his status with God. It demonstrates Jesus' loyalty to his followers - his commitment to them. And invokes a reciprocal commitment by them to Jesus.

    As John himself says in John 20:31, his goal in writing down this sign is not that we should be amazed, or even that we should believe in Jesus. Rather his goal is that we should bond with Jesus / abide in Jesus - and receive for ourselves the life that is in Jesus. John's goal is that "seeing" will lead to life in all its abundance.

    16 February 2020

    posted 14 Feb 2020, 06:55 by C S Paul

    16 February 2020

    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.

    "A Gospel for Hard Times"

    by Dr. John Killinger

    Theologian Karl Barth once said that preachers ought to preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. He understood the strange relationship between the Word of God and the word of the day—that they are bound together in such a way that one always interprets the other. That's certainly true of what we've learned about the Bible lately from the headlines about our faltering economy.

    Suddenly we realize a lot more about the Gospel of Luke in particular because it repeatedly casts human salvation in terms of how we deal with money and property. Again and again, Luke framed his portrait of Jesus in such a way as to illustrate Jesus' sympathy with the poor and his disgust with wealthy people who didn't display any concern for them. Look at these well known stories. Five in a row, beginning in the twelfth chapter of Luke. And five, you know, was a sacred number in the Bible.

    First, the story of a rich man who had such a bumper crop one year that he decided to pull down his barns and build greater ones to store it in. No thought for the poor. Only for himself and what he had. And God said, "You fool! Tonight you'll have a coronary. Then who will enjoy your crops?"

    Second, the story of the rich man who wore purple—a sign of wealth—and dined sumptuously. I like that phrase, don't you? He dined sumptuously. Meanwhile, there was a poor beggar who sat outside his gate, begging for alms. And every day the rich man rode by and didn't bother to throw the poor man a bone. Nothing. The rich man died—notice a pattern?—and went to Hades, the vague, shadowy underground. If it were shown in a theater, this is where the dry ice would be released and fog would rise over the stage. And who did the man call for when he found himself in this predicament? The beggar! He had seen him after all. "Send Lazarus," he said, "and let him bring me some water to slake my thirst." And what did God say? Sorry, mister, you flubbed your rub. You had your chance to be good to the poor man and you missed it. Too bad!

    Third story, the wealthy ruler who came to Jesus and asked how to be saved. Jesus said he surely knew the answer to that. Everybody knew it. It had to do with keeping the law. "Oh," said the man, "I've always done that. But there's still this ache in my heart, something that isn't satisfied." "Oh, that?" said Jesus. "Yes, I know what you mean. Go and sell everything you have and give the money to the poor and come follow me." But the man couldn't do it, could he? Luke says he went away sad because he had great possessions. He had too much to give it away. So he didn't become one of Jesus' disciples. He missed everything because he thought he had everything and the truth was that it had him.

    Fourth story, Zacchaeus the tax collector. A little man who climbed a tree to see Jesus when Jesus entered Jericho. Despised by his fellow Jews because he worked for the Romans and handled coins with Caesar's inscription on them proclaiming Caesar a god. A social pariah, an outcast. But Jesus singled him out and went home to eat with him. What a big day it was for Zacchaeus! He was so changed by it that he said, "Lord, I'm going to give half of everything I have to the poor. Not a fourth. Not a third. Half. And if I have taken anything from anybody I shouldn't have, I'll repay that person four hundred percent." Wow! What did Jesus say? "This day has salvation come to this man and his house." Salvation had to do with his attitude toward money and property.

    And five, the story of a poor widow who dropped two tiny coins into the temple treasury. They were called lepta. Coins so worthless that they didn't even have an inscription on them. Nobody bothered to counterfeit them because they weren't worth it. "I tell you," said Jesus, "this woman has given more than all the others—all the rich people who like to be seen as heavy donors —because she gave all she had." And then he said she went down to her house justified—saved—because of how much she loved God. Not the others, but this poor woman.

    Do you feel the impact of these stories for the time we're living in? When the home foreclosure rate is the highest in history. When one in every ten adults can't find work. When many have to choose between eating and taking their medicine. When a million families a year are forced into bankruptcy because they can't pay their debts to doctors and hospitals and credit card companies.

    What do these stories mean today? What do they say about our salvation as a nation and as individuals?

    I'll tell you what they say. They say your salvation doesn't depend on which church you attend or how clean a record you have or how many Hail Marys you say in a day. Your salvation—your soul's well being—depends on what you are doing with what you have, with your income and your bank account and your home and anything else you have. It depends on how much you love others and are willing to help them when they are in the kind of need many are in today.

    Oh, I know you have to keep something back for a rainy day and you don't want to touch your 401(k) and you have to be sure your family has all they need. But if the Bible is true, you might be forfeiting your right to spend eternity with God by sheltering everything you can for yourself and your family when there are others who desperately need your help. Is that too harsh a thing to say? I didn't say it. The Bible did.

    Let me tell you two more stories. Modern stories this time. One was told by an English theologian, Herbert Farmer, on himself. He had been having a long busy day and came home exhausted. He put on the kettle and being English, he made a pot of tea, and had just sat down to enjoy his tea when the doorbell rang. He went to the door, where he found a poor, nearly blind woman with very thick glasses being led about by her son, a thin, pasty-faced boy of about twelve. They were going house to house selling something. Dr. Farmer cut short a tale of domestic woe by saying he wasn't interested. The boy said to his mother, "Come away, mum," and he led her out the sidewalk. As he paused at the end of the walk to close the gate, his eyes met Farmer's, and Farmer said he had never before seen a look of purer hatred than he saw in that boy's eyes. Turning back into his house, he no longer wanted his tea. Instead, he fell on his knees by the sofa and cried, "Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner!"

    The second of these two stories. A tall, late-middle-aged gay man, a friend of mine named John was on his way to work in the PR office where he was employed. It was Monday morning. Having been challenged in the Sunday sermon to remember the poor, John began his day that Monday by going into a McDonald's restaurant and buying five breakfasts, each in a colorful sack, and going back out onto the sidewalk. A homeless man came along. John greeted him with a sack of breakfast and said "God bless you." The man looked in the sack, smelled the aroma of hot sausage and eggs and coffee, and instantly threw his arms around John and hugged him. They stood there for a minute, on Fifth Avenue near 34th Street, locked in an embrace. Then the man let go and John wheeled around, feeling better than he had felt in months, and began looking for another homeless person to give a breakfast to.

    My question for you is this: Which of those two persons would you rather be? The one who failed to answer somebody else's need and then collapsed in remorse, or John, who went out to find people he could help? I don't have to tell you which one Jesus would have blessed.

    About the Author

    Dr. John Killinger taught at Vanderbilt, Princeton, the University of Chicago; and he’s written more than seventy books, including his latest called If Christians Were Really Christian.

    9 February 2020

    posted 10 Feb 2020, 06:53 by C S Paul

    9 February 2020

    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.

    "Down in a Hole"

    by The Rev. J. Curtis Goforth

    I love a good story. Stories remind us of who we are, of where we came from, of where we’re going. Stories can shape us and re-shape us. We read stories to our children each night before bed. Stories teach us lessons; right from wrong, wise from foolish. I love a good story. Well, as a preacher, I’ve learned to tell stories too. But most of all, I’ve learned to listen out for stories. Every Wednesday morning since I’ve been in the ministry, I’ve had a chance to meet with a group of other clergy around me to study the stories of Jesus and to talk about our sermons for that week, and yes, to tell some of our own stories.

    And I want to share one with you this morning that heard a few years back. I don’t know any of the names of these folks involved and that really isn’t important anyway, but I want you to know that this story is true. We were all sitting down at the table to begin our weekly study session, and one of my colleagues said that he just had to tell us something that happened to him earlier in the week. He said that one of his parishioners called him and told him that he needed to come over to his house right away because he wanted to make a donation to the church. Somewhat taken aback the pastor told his parishioner to simply put it in an envelope and place it in the offering plate during worship on Sunday like everybody always does. But the man insisted that he come over to his house right away because, as he put it, “I got about $50,000.00 cash sitting on my dining room table that I want to give to the church, but I don’t think it will fit in one of those little envelopes or those wooden plates!”

    My friend told him he would be there in a matter of seconds. If you’re pondering making a similar gift to the church, you just let me know and I’ll be there in a matter of seconds too. So when he entered the dining room, scattered there on the table were some muddy mason jars and some very old bills of various denominations. This guy had hidden away over $50,000 in mason jars in his back yard. I think he had a slight mistrust of banks. As they unscrewed the lids of these muddy jars, it became apparent that some of it had been in those jars for twenty years or more, and unfortunately the lids were not rust-proof. Some of the jar lids had rusted out and water had gotten to the bills, rendering the serial numbers unreadable and the bank couldn’t accept them. The man had over $60,000 buried down in a hole in the back yard, but several thousand of it had rotted away and recycled itself. But, my friend was still happy to accept on behalf of his church such a generous gift–even if it had been buried in mason jars for twenty years. He told us that it wasn’t every day that you got to walk into a bank and tell the person at the desk that you needed some help carrying in all the cash in your trunk. What a wonderful picture of generosity and fear all wrapped up in the same person! That’s an awesome story, huh?

    Well, Jesus was quite fond of telling stories too, and he tells us one quite similar to my friend’s story this morning in Matthew’s gospel. We are told of a wealthy master who went away and gave his money to his three servants to oversee until he returned. The first servant was given five talents, the second servant was given two talents, and the third was given one talent. And we know how the story ends. The two servants given the most doubled what they started with, but the servant with one talent went off and buried down in a hole in some mason jars because he was afraid of his master and he didn’t trust Bank of Israel, I suppose. It didn’t turn out so well for him, did it?

    So, what are we to make of this story? What does it have to say to you and me today? Well, like the rest of the Bible, it is important for us to figure out first what it meant to Matthew’s original audience, and then and only then can we figure out how it might apply to us. And guess what, it turns out that the historical context of this story isn’t that different from our world today. The economic systems of the ancient near east were volatile and unpredictable; making some rich and making others paupers. The story also reminds us that there was a lot of fear at play, especially with regards to jobs and money. All of this collides in the person of the third servant given the one talent. The markets were unpredictable and unstable, the servant was fearful of losing money and maybe even his job. So he makes the move that most economic commentators say the people of the world are making today by buying US Treasury bonds at almost no interest—hiding what he was entrusted with in the ground, the only safe place where he wouldn’t risk losing it. We would call this servant prudent, cautious, fiscally responsible, judicious, practical, careful. But the master in this story calls him none of those terms; instead he calls him “wicked and lazy.”

    I can’t help but wonder what the master’s response would have been if one of those first two servants had told them that they had invested the money as wisely as possible but that they lost some or all of it. We’re not told how long the master was away, but it must have been a while. I spoke with one of my friends who manages about half a billion dollars with First Bank. He is in charge of approving all the loans that come through their bank, and I called him up to get a banker’s perspective on all this. Keep in mind, that the Greek word “talanton” which is our word “talent” in this story was the equivalent of someone’s life savings. It’s unfortunate that the translators of the King Jimmy Bible didn’t translate this word any better. We think of the word talent in terms of some rude, British guy judging a singing competition on television. Talents are gifts or abilities we have. But the word talent here in the Bible this morning means a brick of gold that weighed about 85 lbs. The eight total talents entrusted to the servants would have been like all the money Bernie Madoff handled. And my friend the banker told me about the rule of 72. He said that he thought the master must have been away for about 15 years because if the first two servants got a 5% yield on their investment than it would take them 14.5 years to double their money. Regardless, he said, those first two took some huge risks with their investments. What does any of this matter to what Jesus is telling us, you might ask yourself? Well, it matters a lot.

    You see, not only do we have to figure out what the story would have meant in Jesus’ time, we also have to look and see the bigger context of where the story is told. And as it turns out, this story is one of four parables in chapters 24 and 25 of Matthew that all deal in one way or another with the return of the master, or what we might call “the second coming of Jesus.” Matthew’s gospel is written to folks about fifty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. They are fearful about all kinds of stuff. The Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans after a Jewish revolt in 70 A.D., about ten years before Matthew’s gospel was written down. Their world was in turmoil. They wanted to know when Jesus was going to come back and set it all straight, like he had promised. Yet things looked bleak for them. Many of the apostles of Jesus had died, none of them from natural causes or old age. When was their master going to come back and settle accounts?

    Matthew puts together for us these four stories to consider as an answer to that question. He recounts Jesus’ stories about ten bridesmaids, five foolish and five wise, all waiting for the coming of the bridegroom. Only half of them had acted appropriately in making sure they had enough oil for their lamps if the bridegroom was slow in coming to them. The ones who weren’t prepared were left in the dark and the door to the banquet was shut.

    He tells the story of a slave that was put in charge of a master’s household and who thought his master wouldn’t return any time soon and did whatever he wanted; beating the other slaves, drinking all his master’s wine, throwing parties for himself and his friends while not giving the other slaves a fair portion of food. When his master returned and caught that slave unaware, he cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites, where there was weeping and gnashing of teeth.

    He tells the story of a fig tree. He tells the story of Noah. He tells the story of the thief in the night. He tells the story of three servants entrusted with a lot of money—our story this morning. All of these stories are there as an answer to the question and the problem of Jesus being delayed in coming back and what the appropriate action is for us in that between time.

    So, how are the followers of Jesus supposed to act while we wait on his return? Are we to be scared of our master? Well, this story Jesus tells gives us the picture of a master generous enough to entrust his servants with riches beyond imagination and to invite them to enter into the joy of their master. It is the unfaithful servant that chooses to enter into the fear of his master. The fearful servant is not the one we are called to act like. There is no place for fear in the Christian life.

    But aren’t we supposed to be cautious and responsible with what our master has entrusted us with? My banker friend told me that most people just don’t realize how extremely risky it can be to invest your money in something that could double it in a situation like the first two servants in our story. He said that maybe one tenth of the time it will pay off, and nine tenths of the time you’d probably lose it all in such a risky investment. He said the only time he’s seen people invest in something that risky is when they have an absolute love for something. He said that love is the only thing that will make a person invest in something like that even when he advises them against it with all that he has.

    One of my favorite authors is C.S. Lewis. As I read his books in high school, I found myself more and more drawn to the place where I am today. So be careful if you read them. But he says this about love:

    To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket safe, dark, motionless, airless it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is hell. (C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves [New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1960], p. 169.)

    When is Jesus coming back? I don’t know. But I do know this, if you have any 85 lb. bricks of gold lying around, you better grab a shovel and invest them in something you love. And, if you need some help carrying it, I’ll be there in a matter of seconds. Amen.

    2 February 2020

    posted 2 Feb 2020, 04:09 by C S Paul

    2 February 2020

    Scripture reading and Sermon

    Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church 

    Mayaltho (Entry of our Lord into the temple)

    February 2nd is celebrated as the day when infant Jesus was presented in the temple.
    Also called the day of the old aged. Feast of St. Simon and St. Hanna.

    Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

    Luke 2:36-40 New King James Version (NKJV)

    Anna Bears Witness to the Redeemer

    36 Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; 

    37 and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. 

    38 And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.

    The Family Returns to Nazareth

    39 So when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. 

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

    Old Simeon and Anna

    by Rick Brand

    "What in the world are we going to do with those two old people? They are always here. They know more about what goes on in this place than anybody else, and yet they never seem satisfied. They go through the motions and they participate in the service, and yet it never seems to be enough. It is like they keep waiting for something special to happen. Yom Kippur isn't enough to cleanse their sins, they act like what they want is that burning coal on the lips like Isaiah. The choir sings magnificently and they are pleased but you still get the feeling the only think that would make them really happy is to hear the angels themselves sing. What is wrong with them? They just never seem to be satisfied with anything!"

    Ah, so you have met Old Simeon and Anna. Nobody knows for sure how long either one of them has been here. Somebody has said that Anna has been here more than 84 years, but nobody knows if they are counting from when she became a widow or from when she became a woman. But they are harmless. They won't bother you any. Although I will confess that sometimes it does get to be a little unnerving to have them wandering around mumbling that stuff about longing and hoping for the consolation of Israel all the time. You and I could repeat old Anna's prayer ourselves because all she is ever talking about is praying for the coming of the redemption of God's people.

    I used to resent them and the way they always were hanging around and sharing in the worship and then, is you suggest, kind of throwing a wet blanket on all of our successes. Just when we had one of the largest and best days in the temple, there would be Simeon and Anna still with that look in their eyes and that longing in their hearts for that something more that you and I would never be able to give them. And over the years it has slowly begun to dawn on me that they are best that all our devotion could produce.

    You see that young family over there bringing that young boy here to be dedicated? If you were to ask them why they are bringing their child to the temple, they would tell you in order that He might grow up according to the Law, that he might be shaped and nurtured according to the traditions of God, that he might become one of the children of God, that he might have his life structured and sustained by the Word and Promises of God. They might not say it that way, but that is why they come and Old Simeon and Anna are the best the system produces.

    You may find that hard to believe but the one thing that makes it so is the very thing that disturbs you the most. Old Simeon and Anna have lived all their lives waiting on the promise of God to bring about the redemption of His people. That one hope, that one vision, that one dream, has been the center of their entire lives. They have refused to settle for anything less. No matter how close it might have been, no matter how helpful it was, no matter how powerful it is, no matter who told them something, they have focused their lives on the coming of the consolation of Israel. They have been waiting the coming of God's act to bring His Kingdom on Earth.

    The most remarkable thing about them is that they have been able to participate in the Temple, to be nurtured in the Torah, to be fed by the traditions and the prophets, to be immersed in the benefits of all that we as priest and prophets are able to do and yet still to know that nothing we have been able to do was enough to satisfy. You said it well, Nothing we ever do satisfies them, for nothing we do is God's act to bring in His kingdom. All we are ever doing is preparing, bearing witness to, pointing in that direction.

    But they have never rejected the Torah, the Temple, the liturgy, the prophets. They have had that wisdom to be able to see through all that we do without rejecting what we do, because somehow they know that every miracle needs some kind of support system, every moment of ecstasy has to have some kind of routine way of expression, the way the great passion of love has to have an ordinary kind of marriage ceremony to express it. Old Simeon and Anna have been able to know that there was so much that the temple, the rituals, and the routine can do, but only so much and yet they have not rejected us because we could not do everything.

    In your brief career as priest surely you have seen those who come to the Temple expecting all of our rituals and Law and prophets to give them God, to put God in their mouth, to make things right with God and when they discover that all we can ever do is point them in a direction, we can clear away some trash that gets in the way, we can show them where and how God has been at work in the past so that they might be prepared to see Him in the future when they discover that is all we can do, they drop out and quit. Simeon and Anna never quit. And yet never in all their years were they willing to settle for what they could have. They have lived always awaiting, looking longing for that moment when God moves in their lives.

    Don't you know lawyers who are out there who once had a great passion for justice, for truth, for doing the right, who over and over again discover that the law could not and did not give justice, truth or the right. That all the law could ever give was some poorly worked out compromises between self-interests.

    Slowly they gave up that passion for justice, and decided to settle for the law and now all they do is offer to be the best legal adviser around. They no longer are alive with a flame of righteousness, they have settled for being legally correct. Why hold out for justice when you know you will never be able to achieve it? Why not simply settle for what can be done and do what is legal?

    Doctors, who began with a great passion for helping and healing and giving life, and life more abundant, have discovered that all the science they know can really only give longevity to body functions and so they have made that their passion. They just keep people alive as long as possible without much regard to life. Teachers, who began excited about learning, curiosity, and sharing, slowly realized that what they wanted to do couldn't be done in the context of where they teach so they settle for presenting the information and keeping discipline and even that is not easy.

    Old Simeon and Anna are the best our religion can produce because they have not rejected the ritual, the temple, the Torah because it could not give them what they wanted and they have never compromised and agreed to settle for only what the system could offer. They have found that worship and the temple were able to keep alive and burning in them the deep flame of expectancy. The Law did not fulfill that hope, but it did keep that flame alive, and they refuse to accept and be contented with any second best. They would not abandon the hope for the best to be satisfied with something less.

    It has taken me a long time to realize it but Old Simeon and Anna are the finest example of our Jewish piety. They are awake to, eager for, zealous for the coming of God's truth, God's peace, God's justice, gifts which no human effort can achieve, which none of our sacrifices, none of our social programs can make happen. Wherever and whatever we do, we are simply being the channels through which God's gifts of love, peace, justice, and grace are passed on. Old Simeon and Anna know that so I have a lot more patience with them after all these years.

    All of which makes their reaction to that baby seem so strange and mysterious. They start singing and praying and shouting as if they had seen what they were waiting for. A child, a gift of God to that family, and they suddenly have a contentment that they had never found before. Both of them act now like they could die tonight because they have finally seen what they were waiting for. They don't seem to be preoccupied with wanting to be here to see all the wonderful things that would happen, having seen that child, Whom they declare is the act of God to redeem His people. Just having seen it is all they ever wanted. They are as happy as the baby at the mother's breast.

    And it is strange how as they saw that child they realize for the first time, that if God comes to bring His redemption -- the consolation of Israel -- it will have to be the consolation of the gentiles as well. That if God moves in history to save the Jews, that salvation will have to involve the whole world, all creation. That God cannot hide His light under a bushel, that He who comes as light to the Jew will be light to all who look upon him, to all who know they live in darkness and are hungry for a light. The one who comes as God to redeem will be making redemption possible for all who desire redemption. Old Simeon and Anna begin talking radical changes in their old expectations and hopes from the moment they see the child. Their happiness at seeing him was deep enough even to be happiness despite the realization that this child -- this Messiah -- will not be a child of undiminished joy.

    Funny how the moment they see the child it suddenly dawns on them that wherever the light comes it will have a divisive effect. The act of God's grace has a way of dividing those who are ready for that grace from those who do not want it and think they do not need it. The act of God's love is an intrusive love which comes in this child and is either welcomed or resented. At the moment when Old Simeon and Anna are singing and rejoicing they immediately start talking about the pain, the suffering, the burden of sacrifice the child will have and his followers will have as they offer goodness and mercy in a world which often prefers its darkness.

    Funny, one kind of thought that Old Simeon and Anna were so set in their ways that they were going to die looking and longing for the Messiah. Now they are acting like teenagers and claim they have seen what they have been waiting for in a baby. That one glimpse at that baby filled their understanding of the grace of God with a universal note it seldom had before and it put a tear of pain and sorrow in that Messiah that most of us had never considered.

    Ah, it is time for the service, let us do what we know while we wait to see what happens.

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