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

Syrian Orthodox Church

22 April 2018

posted 21 Apr 2018, 07:20 by C S Paul

22 April 2018

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Second Sunday after New Sunday (Third Sunday after Easter)

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

John 4:31-38 New King James Version (NKJV)

31 In the meantime His disciples urged Him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.”

32 But He said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.”

33 Therefore the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought Him anything to eat?”

34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work. 

35 Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and hen comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! 

36 And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. 

37 For in this the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 

38 I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors.”

The Fields Ripe for Harvest

Jesus at last sees a harvest. This is clear now from his experience with the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well. From her testimony gather many believers, and they are on their way to see him. In the passage following the one quoted above, we learn that many Samaritans believe, not just because of the woman's testimony but because they hear him preach and teach, and they believe for themselves.

Jesus begins to instruct his disciples in the way of his work, and what sustains him. "I have food to eat that you do not know about." His food is to do the will of the one who sent him and to complete his work. Jesus is working for a goal, for a harvest, and the work itself sustains him, gives him spirit and energy, and propels him forward. Jesus then teaches his disciples that they must do the same work, although they will reap what they do not sow. So, we have an allusion here in the readings to the parable quoted in the section from Mark yesterday, of the sower whose seed scatters everywhere, but takes root and gives yield only in the good and deep soil. Jesus is already marking to his disciples the ripeness of the field, the reaping that is happening even as the sower continues to sow. In the Samaritan believers, the reaping is already happening so that reaper and sower rejoice together.

The passage continues:

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman's testimony, 'He told me everything I have ever done.' So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there for two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, 'It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.'

Jesus' harvest among the Samaritans is their faith and understanding of his identity, and this he calls the fruit for eternal life, the fields ripe for harvesting. These outsiders shall be among the first fruits of the harvest, once again teaching us that a sincere heart and sincere faith are the things which qualify us for this harvest and this eternal life. As I think about this scene and these early believers, I wonder how it applies to us today. Do we reap? What do we reap, for whom the word was sown long ago, for whom these stories are now thousands of years old? I also ponder on the allusions to harvest which tell us not simply about faith, but harken to the idea of judgment and Jesus' messianic mission, and give us echoes of the apocalyptic understanding of what is transpiring and what is underway.

In these early believers, an important pattern is laid down, the rules of the past are broken, and expectations shattered. These outsiders are not the ones to whom the earlier laborers - the prophets - were sent. The teacher breaks apart our assumptions and understanding to reveal the new. What new do I await and expect now? Do my eyes need to be opened to something new today?

15 April 2018

posted 14 Apr 2018, 08:57 by C S Paul

15 April 2018

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

First Sunday after New Sunday

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

John 21:1-14 New King James Version (NKJV)

Breakfast by the Sea

21 After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and in this way He showed Himself: 

Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. 

Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.”

They said to him, “We are going with you also.” They went out and immediately got into the boat, and that night they caught nothing. 

But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 

Then Jesus said to them, “Children, have you any food?”

They answered Him, “No.”

And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some. So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish.

Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment (for he had removed it), and plunged into the sea. 

But the other disciples came in the little boat (for they were not far from land, but about two hundred cubits), dragging the net with fish. 

Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread. 

10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.”

11 Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish, one hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not broken. 

12 Jesus said to them, “Come and eat breakfast.” Yet none of the disciples dared ask Him, “Who are You?”—knowing that it was the Lord. 

13 Jesus then came and took the bread and gave it to them, and likewise the fish.

14 This is now the third time Jesus showed Himself to His disciples after He was raised from the dead.

Jesus and the Miraculous Catch of Fish

by Rev. Dr. Mathew C. Chacko

Gospel Reading: John 21:1-14

Christ is Risen!

The Resurrection appearances of Jesus are the continuing meditation of the Church during Sundays after Easter. They had basically one purpose: to confirm the faith of the disciples in Jesus as the Savior and Lord and to strengthen them in their faith as their Savior and their trust in him as their Lord and Master. These in turn were to prepare them as his witnesses and to make them his apostles.

It could have been interesting, and perhaps amusing, if Jesus appeared to Pontius Pilate, the chief priests Annas or Ciaphus, or even Herod, the King. But he did not.

He appeared to his own only. For the believers, the day of Resurrection of Jesus was the beginning of a new age. St. Augustine writes, "The day of resurrection is the eschatological, eighth day, which ushers in the new creation represented by the new week, --- the first day of the new era of salvation" [ACCS Commentary on LUKE, p. 373.] This extra ordinary event, a complete contrast of the experience on the Friday previous to that, turned their perception of reality so drastically that they saw Jesus in an entirely different way. The apostle to India, Thomas, doubted the veracity of the Resurrection and vowed that he would not believe unless he himself saw Jesus and felt his nail-pierced hands and his wounded side. The Savior appears to the disciples at the next Eucharistic assembly and asks Thomas to see and touch and believe. Those who doubt the doubter's authenticity as an apostle of Jesus should open their mind's eyes at the appearance of Jesus just for Thomas, as it were. The trauma that the disciples were going through at his mockery trial is not hard to understand if you are a believer. Those who truly experience the Resurrection of Jesus by faith only can understand the eleven disciples' struggle at this point of their spiritual journey. However, Thomas believed and confessed and perhaps took his rightful place along with the ten, who were there when Jesus first appeared to them as a group.

In the doubts of the disciples is born the foundation of our faith. St. Leo explains: "Their 'seeing' instructed us, their 'hearing' informed us, their 'touching' strengthened us. Let us give thanks for the divine plan and the necessary 'slowness' of the holy fathers. They 'doubted' so that we need not doubt." Ibid., p. 376.

St. Luke narrates the story of the appearance of Jesus to his disciples where he had dealt with their doubts, not in the same way, but in similar fashion. See Luke 24: 36-42. 36. As they were saying this, Jesus himself stood among them. 37. But they were startled and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit. 38. And he said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do questions arise in your hearts? 39. See my hands and feet, it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has no flesh and bones as you see that I have" 41. And while they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered, "Have you anything here to eat?" 42. They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43. And he took it and ate before them.

This passage resembles the account given in today's reading, but not same instance, but another rendering of Jesus' Resurrection encounter. Not only Thomas had doubts and questions, but all of them in various degrees intensity. Even John may have his own doubts and questions. John does, however, recognizes the Lord faster, because he was in tuned with the Master closer than any one else. It seems to be a slow process for the disciples to accept Jesus' Resurrection appearances as real and authentic and that Jesus is alive again!

The miracle that we see here in this story has several aspects. The heavy catch, the net not being torn, and the visitor with fireplace and fish on it. Where did he get the fire and the fish? The Creator, once confined to this earth's condition, while he was walking on this earth, of using the created things, now is creating out of nothing.

How much the disciples at this point have pondered about these events and understood their significance is beyond our understanding. These Resurrection appearances of Jesus, however, have instilled in them a faith and a hope helping them recall and confirm everything that Jesus spoke to them, while he was with them.

What are the lessons we can learn from today's Gospel?

1. We all like miracles. We expect miracles. We pray for miracles. Miracles do happen everyday in our lives. Some times we may not even notice them. We may call them coincidences. But miracles, when they do take place in our lives, they should open our inner eyes, spiritual eyes in better terms, so that we recognize our Lord in the midst of it and make our recommitment in our trust and obedience to him and his Word.

2. Many of us are still fishing, doing our older job of making money, position and power though we have accepted to follow Jesus in our ways of thought, word and behavior, and to continue his mission of calling people to be Christ's ambassadors. This is not a predicament of the lay folk, but sadly, it is the case with most of us clergy. While writing this I am not putting myself above lay or clergy who go fishing always and every where. I am examining myself to know for sure what I am doing with the Lord's call to be his servant and a fellow servant for and with others in the ministry.

3. It is unfortunate that our priests have to go fishing to earn a living. Ministry has become a secondary or part time job and the priests cannot do justice to their main calling, serving God and His people. It is a job that requires 24/7 commitment. But how can they do it? It is encouraging to see dedicated and brilliant young men who are born and raised in this country, aspiring to be priests in our Church. Perhaps, now is the time that we find ways in which these deacons and future priests can serve as full-time pastors.

4. Enticing people by promising miracles is a way of fishing which some "Churches" and perhaps most Churches are utilizing today. I remember one time that an honorable person in our Church promising prayers on peoples' behalf for ever if they contribute a one time offering of thousand dollars. He was assuring the prayers of a community that has taken upon itself intercessory prayer. This is leading people away from a trusting relationship with God. A miracle is a sign according to St. John, the apostle, and the purpose of it is to manifest the glory of God and thereby a call to commitment or recommitment to trust and obedience. People go to shrines of saints expecting a miracle. That is OK as long as they know that the ultimate source is God and the saints are reflecting God's mercy and grace. We need to teach the use of miracles in their lives.

In summary, as the disciples were strengthened in their faith and commitment to following the Lord and dedicating themselves in his mission by these Resurrection appearance and the accompanied miracles, may we too through our worship together recommit ourselves to following him.

Indeed, He is Risen.
Praise the Lord.

8 April 2018

posted 7 Apr 2018, 07:23 by C S Paul

8 April 2018

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

New Sunday (Sunday after Easter) (The Sunday of the Youth)

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

John 20:19-31 New King James Version (NKJV)

The Apostles Commissioned

19 Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 

20 When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.

21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 

22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 

23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Seeing and Believing

24 Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 

25 The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”

So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”

26 And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” 27 Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”

28 And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

That You May Believe

30 And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; 

31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.

The Everlasting Breath of Jesus

by the Rev. Dr. John Killinger

Fifty years ago religious pundits said Christianity was dying. Harvey Cox wrote in The Secular City that we had entered a new era, when people were learning to live without religion.

But look at the events of the last few years. The remarkable controversy over Mel Gibson's movie The Passion of the Christ. The unflagging popularity of Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code, based on an old notion that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and they had a child together, and that Mary and the child escaped to France and became the center of a vast secret cult. The incredible success of the Left Behind stories, that have sold more than 40,000,000 copies and helped set the stage for what some journalists are calling the “rapture mentality” of right-wing America.

What has happened? The power and creativity of the Christian faith obviously aren't dead. They're enjoying one of the most remarkable resurgence anybody could have imagined. Why is that? What's the secret of Christianity's enduring dynamism?

Maybe it all goes back to something the Fourth Gospel, the Gospel of John, says occurred in the upper room in Jerusalem. The disciples gathered there after the crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus suddenly appeared in their midst, even though the doors were locked. He greeted them with the customary greeting “Shalom” and showed them the wounds in his hands and side. He told them he was sending them out just as his Father had sent him. And then he did a very odd thing. The Bible says “he breathed on them.”

What was that about? Our word “inspiration,” you know, comes from the old Latin words in spirare, “to breathe into.” Jesus was inspiring the disciples by breathing his own breath into them. It's a wonder this didn't become a sacrament of the church, because it set into motion one of the most powerful forces the human spirit has ever known. Jesus breathed on the disciples and started a revolution of creativity that has never stopped.

It formed the early church, which by the fourth century became the most powerful influence in the world. It shaped the art and thought of the Middle Ages. It led to the founding of the great universities. Our culture in America grew out of the Christian Reformation. Even when the world began to look more secular, the basic impetuses of art and education and medicine and philanthropy all came from Christianity. The creativity Jesus released in that little room in Jerusalem when he breathed on his disciples shaped and reshaped the world for centuries.

We can't imagine our culture without it. The great cathedrals, our legal and judicial systems, our whole understanding of morality, our arts, Dante, Shakespeare, Bach, Mozart, the modern university system, the healing professions, social services, the idea of a United Nations, world service organizations – none of them would have happened without the enduring breath of Christ.

And that heritage keeps being renewed. This is why there's a resurgence of religious interest in our own time. The creative power is still there. It's still at work in our lives and culture.

You've probably heard the phrase “Caesar's breath.” It is science's way of reminding us that energy never dies or disappears. The molecules of Caesar's breath, 2,000 years ago, are still in our atmosphere today. They have scattered around the globe and we are breathing them with every breath we take. Christ's breath is still alive too. The breath he breathed into the disciples that day in the upper room – the spirit and power of God – is still circulating. And it is far more powerful than Caesar's breath. It's the reminder that God, whose spirit hovered over the face of the deep at creation, was still making the world through Christ and is still working on it today.

Where is that spirit operating now? What will its new manifestations be? That's the trick, isn't it, to try to see it, to anticipate it, before it happens. To guess which way the power of God is going.

I will tell you one thing. If the past is any guide, the Spirit of God will manifest itself in such creative ways that we'll be totally surprised. It will be something we probably never guessed or expected. I've been studying it for a long time, and I will tell you what I think. I can't be sure. Nobody can. But I will tell you what I think.

I think, with the new globalism produced by electronic communications and modern travel and the erosion of old economic and political barriers, that a hundred years from now we shall see a Christianity vastly transformed by its openness to other religions and its desire to relate to them in the quest for a new and higher form of spirituality.

I know that idea is threatening to a lot of people. That's why fundamentalism is so strong in our country. People are scared of the unknown. They cling desperately to what they regard as the great pillars of their own faith and believe the world will come to an end if those pillars are threatened in any way. That's why the Left Behind books are so popular. They convince frightened believers that the world is about to come to an end because their old religious culture is under siege.

And it isn't just in our country. There's a brand of fundamentalism in almost every religion in the world right now. That's why Islamic fundamentalists have been so successful in rallying Muslim fanatics against America. They too are afraid of the collapse of the only culture they have known.

But this frightening time we are in is a great creative opportunity, and the inspiration breathed into the apostles all those centuries ago is still alive today, and it will respond to the opportunity by forging a new Christianity for a new age. It will produce new understandings of the world, and new theologies and ethics, and new forms of worship and devotion, and new societies for advancing all of these.

Henry Kissinger, the former Secretary of State who has become one of the world's leading oracles, said recently in The Washington Post that we are all too shortsighted. While we are focusing our attention on the Middle East and our troubles with al Queda and the terrorists, something of much greater significance is occurring. It has to do with Asia, which Kissinger says is becoming the next great focus of manufacturing and economic power in the world, and which will soon rearrange all our perspectives of who we are and what it means to be members of the world order.

Suppose he is right. Already Buddhism and Hinduism and other Asian religions are becoming popular in the West. What will the ascendancy of the East do to alter the playing field for Christianity? My guess is that Christianity is up to it – that the creative power that has been there from the beginning, since that day when Jesus breathed on the disciples, will prove itself as strong as ever. Nothing will look the same after the revolution. But the spirit of Christ will still be there, shaping a new world for our children and their children and their children after them.

I remember a delightful little white-haired lady I used to visit in one of my parishes. Her name was Deanne Gwaltney. I sometimes teased Deanne about having a man’s name, and told her I had once been a dean too, but had given it up for a worse job, being a preacher. I once asked Deanne, who was then in her eighties, how she felt about all the change taking place in the world around us. “Oh, I don’t worry about it at all,” she said with a twinkle in her eye. “You know, God has always managed to bring the best out of the worst, and somehow I don’t think God will fail us now!”

About the Author:

The Rev. Dr. JOHN KILLINGER has been pastor of seven churches, a teacher at seven colleges and is the author of seventy books and counting, including his newest, called 'Hidden Mark: Exploring Christianity’s Heretical Gospel'

1 April 2018

posted 30 Mar 2018, 07:56 by C S Paul

1 April 2018

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Easter Sunday

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday 

Mark 16:1-8 New King James Version (NKJV)

He Is Risen

16 Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the motherof James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. 

Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. 

And they said among themselves, “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” 

But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away—for it was very large. 

And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.

But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. 

But go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.”

So they went out quickly[a] and fled from the tomb, for they trembled and were amazed. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Devotional Thoughts for Easter - (Holy Pascha, Kyamtho)

by H.G Yakob Mar Irenaios

HE IS RISEN! Gleams at Easter Morn

Easter or `Kyamtho' marking the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the celebration of life over death, good over evil and hope over the ruinous clouds of disappointment. It seems as though the entire flow of history had been pointing to and waiting for the grand events of far reaching consequences for the whole creation ? the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Usually young children (and some older ones too!) are confused over this issue; why was a decent, sincere and sinless man, who only wanted to serve others, put to death through violent `death-engine' of the cross. Was it that the Jews were so senseless and, and were more cruel than their fellow beings else where? The fact of the matter is that evil is always up in arms against the gleams of good and will continue to be so. This is the ever current situation in individuals, communities and social institutions. No one could be spared from this! The cruelty of Jews could as well be the story of any people of any age and clime. It is fruitful to listen to the explanation offered by theologians that all humans of all generations are responsible for the cruelty that is exposed through Jews.

People may be remorseful of their role in this cruelty, yet the fact lingers that humans are generally not much concerned about the terrible consequences of sin and disorder that mar the integrity and freedom of creation. They are not generally disturbed about the unjust structures, exploitation of man and nature and the pollution of the environment and the human mind. The sins of humanity had reached such enormous proportions that only a divine intervention could save the situation. The divine scheme of redemption was not an after thought following the Fall of man. Instead provision was made in the divine mind for such a terrible emergency even before the beginning of the world.

The great salvation is freely granted to us by God, at the expense of the passion and death of Jesus Christ. Because of this we need to be grateful to God for enabling us, unworthy humans, to share in the great victory and salvation won for us by Jesus Christ. It is this sense of gratitude that gives a new momentum, sense of direction and meaning to our lives.

Easter is as well the feast of reconciliation ? between God and man, between man and man and also between man and nature.

Ultimately, there is light at the end of this smoke filled tunnel; and `hope springs eternal in human breast'. It is the hope of new vision and new dedication for a cause that is convincing and thus it points to transformed relationships. Life makes sense where it is selfless and service oriented where unjust structures are demolished. Easter tells us that death is not a dead end, but a portal leading to something better and brighter. The resurrection of Jesus is our assurance in this.

Renewal and transformation effected by God is the true "Good News" of Easter that resounds in our ears through our colorful worship and festivities. May the light from the empty Tomb of the Risen Savior greet us as we say unison: HE IS RISEN, INDEED HE IS!

25 March 2018

posted 24 Mar 2018, 01:32 by C S Paul   [ updated 30 Mar 2018, 07:48 ]

25 March 2018

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Annunciation to St. Mary (25th March)  / Hosanna/Palm Sunday

We celebrate the Feast of Annunciation to St. Mary twice a year. On the 3rd Sunday after Koodhosh Eetho and on March 25th. Holy Eucharist must be celebrated on this day even if it comes during the Great Lent, during the Passion Week or on Good Friday. (The Holy Eucharist is not celebrated during the Great Lent days except all Saturdays and Sundays, Wednesday of Mid Lent, 40th Friday, and Maundy Thur sday during the Passion week.)

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday 

Annunciation to St. Mary (25th March)

Holy Qurbana

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!”

"The donkey owner's story-a narrative sermon"

by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, & 
Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society's South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

St. Mark 11:1- 11

Hello everyone, or as we say in the Promised Land, shalom! I want you to put your imagination to work today. Imagine that you have travelled in a time machine back to the first Palm Sunday. My name is Eli ben Judah. The Gospels do not mention me by name. I'm the owner of that donkey colt Jesus road into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. I'll be your host and tour guide. Here is my story.

I remember it well, the day I met Jesus. What a day that was! He came to my stable at Bethphage, near Jerusalem, several weeks before Palm Sunday. The day started out with its usual routines, as any other day. You know: get up at four, dress, pray the morning prayer thanking God for another day, the gift of life, and every other blessing, start the fire, fry some fish, warm up the bread, give thanks to the LORD for our food, eat breakfast, go out into the stable to feed and water the donkeys, and open the stable doors for business—hoping and praying for customers to rent my donkeys.

A few minutes after I opened the stable doors, along came Jesus. I still remember seeing him walking towards me. I've never met a person like him before. He walked with dignity and confidence. His body and face were so radiant that I was almost blinded by such an intense light. His light poured into me, as if it were healing and cleansing me completely. The light seemed to be burning away all that was hurtful and destructive in me. His eyes were so loving and penetrating—I felt he could see right into my whole being and that he knew everything about me. He knew all of the details of my life, from birth right up to the present. I thought of our ancestor Moses, before the burning bush, and Elijah, when God spoke to him with the sound of sheer silence. The holiness of Jesus' presence before me was so intense that I fell to my knees and lowered my face to the dust. Who was I, a humble, ordinary donkey owner to be worthy enough to be in the presence of Jesus?

Even though I had never met him before, I knew, as he came closer, that he was the most perfect, holy person that I'd ever encountered in my life. Like Moses after the burning bush, and Elijah after hearing God's still small voice, I was never the same again. The day I met Jesus, my whole life has changed. Before that time, I went to synagogue on the festival days, and prayed the daily prayers without expecting much from the LORD. Life was pretty humdrum, and I liked it that way. After that day everything changed. Since then, I have found a new purpose for living. Now I want to tell everyone about Jesus and follow his way and his teachings.

Back to that day, when I was down on my knees, face to the earth, Jesus spoke. He called me by my name, and said: "Shalom, Eli ben Judah, donkey owner. Please rise, I have something to ask of you."

So, I jumped up on my feet and was full of curiosity, wondering what he wanted from me. Before I was able to speak he addressed me again, saying: "I am going to need your help in a few weeks' time. I'll be entering Jerusalem then, and I need one of your colt donkeys—they have to be strong enough for me to sit on and ride into the city. I shall do this in fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey." Listen up now Eli, here's what will happen. Two of my disciples, James and John, will come here and untie the colt standing by your door. You and a few of your neighbours will see them, and will ask the following question: "What are you doing, untying the colt?" James and John will provide you with this password answer: ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.' Do you think you can remember all of that?"

I was, at first breathless, so surprised, I didn't know what to say. The prophecy from Zechariah finally sunk in, I realised it was referring to the Messiah. Could this Jesus be our Messiah? After a few moments of silence to collect my thoughts, I blurted out: "You mean to say that you're, um, the Messiah?!" I asked with excitement and expectation.

Jesus answered with certainty in his voice, "I am he." Then he commanded me to keep it a secret, saying: "Don't you dare tell a soul till after my crucifixion and resurrection—then you can go out and tell the whole world."

Rather confused I asked him: "What do you mean crucifixion and resurrection? You aren't going to die like a criminal and then rise from death. I mean, if you're the Messiah and all, aren't you supposed to deliver us Jews from the tyranny of the Roman occupation and govern our nation with perfect peace and justice?"

Jesus answered me, "No Eli, that's not my destiny. I'm the Messiah not only of the Jewish people, but of all nations and peoples. My destiny, in fulfillment of our scriptures, is to suffer and die on the cross to atone, once and for all, for the sins of humankind. Three days later God our heavenly Father shall raise me from the dead. Do you believe me?"

I struggled to understand these hard and sorrowful words, and then replied, "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief. Please stay with me for lunch, you can tell me more."

However, Jesus told me, "No, Eli, I must keep going to the next village, and the next, and the next after that. I've got plenty of work to do before I enter Jerusalem in a few weeks. Remember; keep this conversation a secret until after my crucifixion and resurrection. Don't forget what I told you about James and John. Shalom Eli, see you in a few weeks."

What a day! me, Eli ben Judah of all people, a humble donkey owner, meeting the Messiah! I believed Jesus, and yet, I struggled with what I had been taught by the rabbis. How could Jesus be the Messiah riding on a donkey? How could he be a suffering Messiah? Would God our Father really raise him from the dead three days after his crucifixion? Would his death on a cross truly atone for my sins and your sins, and everyone else's sins, once and for all time? Questions, questions, questions. Yet, Jesus' presence was so holy, so pure, so enlightening. How could I keep such an encounter with the Messiah to myself? I had to tell everyone, I couldn't help it! So, that's what I did. I told every single person in our village: "I've met the Messiah, his name is Jesus!" Most of them didn't believe me, they thought I ate too many nuts and became one. J

The days and weeks passed. Finally the day came. True to Jesus' words, James and John showed up when I was speaking with a few neighbours outside the house. They untied the colt. Folks asked them what they were doing and they provided the password answer—exactly as Jesus had planned it all. The neighbours who were with me then realised that I had been telling the truth. So, all of us followed along with James and John, because we love parades and this one was very special. Jesus our Messiah entered triumphantly, riding on a colt donkey with the crowd cheering him on, crying, "Hosanna!" which means "save us, save us soon." Hosanna is a shout of praise, as well as a plea for help. We praised our Messiah Jesus, shared fully in the joy, waving our palm branches as he rode that little donkey, the animal symbolizing humility and peace—and that day shall come when he rules us all in perfect peace.

Well, that's my story folks. You can time travel back now to Grace Lutheran Church in Medicine Hat. Go in Christ's peace. And, like me, tell everyone you meet the Good News of Jesus our Messiah. Shalom! Amen.

18 March 2018

posted 17 Mar 2018, 10:04 by C S Paul

18 March 2018

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Sixth Sunday in Great Lent (Samiyo/ The Blind Man)

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. 

I 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.

11 March 2018

posted 9 Mar 2018, 03:23 by C S Paul

11 March 2018

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.

4 March 2018

posted 1 Mar 2018, 22:39 by C S Paul   [ updated 1 Mar 2018, 22:40 ]

4 March 2018

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

    • Evening
    • Morning
    • Before Holy Qurbana
    • Holy Qurbana

Matthew 15:21-31 New King James Version (NKJV)

A Gentile Shows Her Faith

21 Then Jesus went out from there and departed to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 

22 And behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed.”

23 But He answered her not a word.

And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she cries out after us.”

24 But He answered and said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

25 Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, help me!”

26 But He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.”

27 And she said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”

28 Then Jesus answered and said to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

Jesus Heals Great Multitudes

29 Jesus departed from there, skirted the Sea of Galilee, and went up on the mountain and sat down there. 

30 Then great multitudes came to Him, having with them the lame, blind, mute, maimed, and many others; and they laid them down at Jesus’ feet, and He healed them. 

31 So the multitude marveled when they saw the mute speaking, the maimed made whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing; and they glorified the God of Israel.

Healing of the Cananite Woman's Daughter

by Rev. Dn. Philip Mathew

By now, we have been reminded that the gospels for the Sundays of Great Lent tell stories of various miracles of healing, and connections have been made between these healings and our own need for healing. On the fourth Sunday of Great Lent, holy Church offers for our consideration the story of the healing of a Canaanite woman's daughter (Mt. 15.21-28). Seeking the deliverance of her daughter from the oppression of demons, she boldly sought out Christ, addressing him: "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed" (v. 22). The condition for any healing is revealed in this statement: she knew what the problem was, how serious it was, and what needed to happen in order for it to improve.

She wasn't too proud or ashamed to admit the problem in front of others, but laid it out honestly before Jesus, his disciples, and possibly the other bystanders. For a woman -- a pagan, Gentile woman at that -- to boldly address a Jew like this required guts, for she was challenging the social structures and ideas of her time. As a Canaanite, it was probably scandalous to her own people for her to address a Jewish man as "Lord" and "Son of David", implicitly showing her acceptance of the faith of the Jews as opposed to their own gods. She should have first sought the help of her own gods, priests, and people to deal with the issue, and if her daughter was still possessed by demons, she should've just accepted her fate, quit complaining, and been "a good little girl". What gave her the right to do anything more, to think outside the box, to get creative in looking for solutions? Her own people probably gave up on her in disgust.

Her seeking out of Jesus was also scandalous to the disciples and other Jews, who wanted nothing to do with pagan Gentiles, male or female. They could care less what happened to "those others". If this lady's daughter was demon-possessed, it was probably her own fault and she deserved it. Why should she bother them with her problems and pretend as if she had the same faith as them to get what she wanted? It was, therefore, easy for the disciples to urge Jesus to "send her away" (v. 23), to get rid of her. She annoyed them, and she was a challenge to their preconceived ideas and way of life, and needed to be eliminated so that "normal" life could go on. Even Jesus is silent, answering her "not a word" (v. 23). It seemed like the whole world was against her. 

At this point, the average person would take the hint and disappear, suffering quietly on one's own, and the whole world would be happy not to have to deal with her problem, and with the problem she herself became to them. But that's not what the Canaanite woman does. In the face of all this opposition, she becomes even more insistent on being heard and being healed. Christ repudiates her three times, once by silence, and twice by increasingly antagonistic statements. She responds three times, first by continuing her pleas, then by being more direct and to the point--"Lord, help me!" (v. 25)--and finally by being bold enough to answer him back in a way that at once matches the force of his last statement while humbling herself even further. And Christ, seeing her faith, praises it publicly before Jews and Gentiles, and from a distance casts out the demons oppressing her daughter. 

After this, we never hear from the woman again. Jesus doesn't call her to follow him, and she doesn't become a public disciple of Jesus as other women did. The Jews are not convinced by Jesus' testimony to accept her as one of their own. The Canaanites are probably furious that this lady left their fold and found healing from someone else and have possibly shunned her. She probably paid a heavy price for seeking healing for her daughter, a heavy price that she (and her daughter) likely paid until death: the penalty of isolation, of prejudgment, misunderstanding, and condemnation, of abandonment, and so on. If she had simply accepted her fate and been "a good girl", no one would've had a problem with her--they may even have felt compassion for her. But she sought healing above all. Why? 

Those whom our Lord healed had one thing in common: they knew exactly what was wrong with them. There was, for them, no shame in admitting they had a problem, identifying it, facing it, and accepting their need for help in order to recover and become whole again. Even when society ganged up against them to keep them down and prevent them from being healed so that it didn't upset their social structures or preconceived notions of "what life is like", they had the courage to step forward and seek their healing even more boldly because they knew that, in their current condition, they were broken. 

Whatever anyone else had to say about their life, they knew no one else could understand what was wrong with them the way they themselves could, living it from the inside; they knew something was horribly wrong and needed to be fixed. By becoming whole again, they were becoming who God created them to be, and in so doing (or rather, in so being), their lives would be improved. And if their lives were improved, they could become vehicles for healing and helping others. But even if they were shunned or ignored, the very fact that they were restored to some degree to the condition God intended for them was enough for them to keep going, cooperating with God and living life hand in hand with him. Healing wasn't the answer to all their problems--in fact, it often brought other problems--but it was the solution to the one problem which prevented them from realizing their "infinite potentiality".

The stories of healing we hear during the Sundays of Great Lent are a challenge to our complacency. They urge us to consider in these days of prayer and reflection where and to what degree we are broken and in need of healing, but not only that. They also challenge us to be bold, be creative, be daring, be courageous, and be with Jesus in seeking healing and restoration, no matter what the cost, because the stakes are too high. 

25 February 2018

posted 23 Feb 2018, 07:57 by C S Paul

25 February 2018

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. 

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!”

My Children, Your Sins are Forgiven, Rise, You are No Longer Paralyzed!

by Rev. Fr. Alexander J. Kurien

There is very little debate surrounding the authorship of the Gospel of Mark, which was written in around A.D. 65. Mark was the nephew of Barnabas and the son of a wealthy woman whose home was used as a meeting place for the early church. Mark's Gospel is the most important of the gospels because it provides an eyewitness account to the life of Christ, and likely the basis for the other synoptic gospels that contain 90% of the content of the gospel of Mark. Mark's Gospel gets straight to the point, by skipping the birth, the first 30 years of Jesus, and beginning at his ministry in Galilee. Capernaum means the, "city of comfort" for which it is named appropriately, because in Jesus' time, there lived some wealthy residents. This is the first place Jesus starts His ministry (Mathew 4:17). The city is located on the northwest side of the Sea of Galilee next to Cana where he turned the water into wine. Fishing was very important to the town and tax collectors used to sit on the side of the highway to tax the merchants and residents who came and went. Capernaum was the hotbed of society. It was like the New York of Judea, where people from all over Israel went into Capernaum.

I can only imagine a paralyzed person, the hero of this story, living in ancient Israel. Most probably, he was a beggar, with no families to care for. It appears to be clear that this was the way his life would have been until his death. He did not have a lot of options for change. But one day you begin to hear stories - there's a new holy man wandering the backwoods of Israel, and he is healing people right and left. Lepers are being cleansed, the lame are walking, and the blind are seeing, people with demons are having them exorcised. At first, you are skeptical, just a rumor, nothing more. But after a while the stories keep coming, and you begin to think, what have I got to lose? So you get together with some buddies of yours and talk it over, and they agree that, yeah, this is worth checking out; and they pick you up on your mat and set out to find the holy man.

Your friends look at the crowd and they pick you up and run around the edge of the crowd to the backside of the house. They haul you up on the roof, begin digging a hole in it and rig a rope to lower you down into the room. There he is - the holy man himself! He turns and sees you, and you're thinking, yes, yes, finally I will be able to walk! Finally I will be healed! He looks at you and smiles, and he raises his hand and say, "My son... your sins are forgiven." If physically able, I could picture this man lying there, raising his hand and saying, "Um, excuse me sir; I think you may have mixed up my paperwork. I didn't come here with a sin problem."

The overall purpose of the passage was to show that Jesus is the Messiah, and that the Jews were wrong to reject him. He proves His divinity through the forgiveness of sins, which is only an act that God can do. He came to heal the sin sick soul. He used their wisdom of sin and disease against them. Ultimately there was no excuse for their disbelief. The scribes themselves taught that the Messiah would come to forgive sins (Micah 7:14-20). They should have been expecting Christ. Instead of recognizing the prophecy, they accused Jesus of Blasphemy (Mathew 4:12- 17, Isaiah 9:1, 2). They stood in judgment of God.

According to early tradition, disease was perceived to be an indicator of unforgiving sin. A belief derived from the sacrificial system; if the sacrifice was blemished it was not pure enough to offer as atonement for sin. So, a diseased animal could not cleanse sin. What ever caused the sin makes you unclean or blemished. Thus, a diseased person was enduring a punishment or consequence to sin. Children could suffer from the disease from the sin of their parents, such as the death of the baby born to David and Beersheba. Also, the commandment, "…visiting the iniquities of your father to the third and forth generation," echoes this sentiment.

As you know, theologically, disease is a kin to death. Sin entered this world and the result was Death, whereby we die slowly from birth. As a result of sin, we exchanged immortality for Death. When Jesus says "your sins are forgiven you" and the result is healing, the presupposition is that disease, the result of death, is caused by sin. Death is the curse of sin. God implemented the curse; Jesus' salvation plan reversed the curse. Uncompassionate scribes saw sin as a weakness that someone brought on himself or herself. They judge the man who is diseased. The debt of sin that man has belongs to God. This thinking is where Jesus chooses to meet the scribes in their minds when he says to the paralytic man, "Your sins are forgiven you."

Immediately following our passage of scripture in verses 13-17 we find the theme reiterated. In verse 17 Christ tells the Scribes and Pharisees, "They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." Jesus was using their wisdom of the scripture as their folly because of their hypocrisy and rejection of the fulfillment of the prophecies, within Him. Their knowledge and wisdom bred self-righteousness and hypocrisy, which resulted in their rejection of God's prophetic fulfillment in Jesus Christ. In other words now they would have to subject themselves to the authority of Jesus Christ in order to be healed and saved, which indicates their requirement to repent from sin, sin that they were not willing to admit that they had. To accept healing in way that Jesus presented it as forgiveness of sin, would be to accept that He indeed was the Christ. Jesus knowing their thoughts calls them out by exposing their evil thoughts and intentions, When He says, "Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Your sins be forgiven you; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins… (Mark 2:9, 10).

Mark 2:1-12 serves as a model of faith, a warning against doubt, a lesson of spiritual discernment, and a testimony of the power of the Savior to change lives, heal, forgive sins and grant eternal life. From this passage we can glean many lessons that are applicable for the Christian today. As a model of faith this passage teaches us that when we have trouble, problems, or circumstances, we are to bring them to Jesus. The biblical truth illuminated in this passage is that the Jesus who forgives our sins is able and has the compassion to heal your circumstances. It teaches us that it pleases the Lord when we diligently seek the Lord and intercede on behalf of a friend or loved one. Our faith in Christ can result in the salvation of our neighbor. We must allow the word of God to permeate our hearts and transform us toward Christ-likeness, and to be under the authority of Christ and His Holy Spirit. Often times we can mistake the knowledge of righteousness as the change of character we need to be able do right.

However when the circumstances arise, true character prevails. We must be careful not to exchange religiosity and doctrine for genuine relationship with God and a Christ-like character, as the basis for our study of God's word. Thus, we must display the fruits of Christ-like character, not the mere knowledge of scripture.

We love our status in society and could not humble ourselves to believe the Gospel message of repentance of remittance of sins, we are often not ready when Christ Jesus says, "your, sins are forgiven you." The paralytic man not only walks away with is bed as a testimony of his healing, but also as a result of his encounter with Christ, he walks away with eternal life. We also should be ready when Jesus comes. We too are living in the days of the fulfillment of prophecy, and discerning the times we should be ready to receive Jesus when he comes again to receive our reward of eternal life. As we prepare ourselves for the remembrance of His death on the Cross and the Resurrection, let us remove the Scribes and Pharisees -like "know-it all and self-righteous" believes and accept that we are also crippled and paralyzed with our sinful living and sin sick soul, leading towards eventual death. Are you leading an unhappy family life, where you no longer want to run home after work? Are you experiencing unhappy times with your spouse and children? You have no good memories to look back after years of living in this earthly tent? Are you miserable going to church and your work? You, your siblings, and your friends are not in speaking terms? Then, you may be experiencing the sin sick dying soul. I am certain that you just do not want to live and die being a paralytic or crippled. Imagine yourself like the paralytic, lying on your mat, hearing Jesus say, "Child, your sins are forgiven. Your old life, the good of it and the bad of it, is done. Now get up, pick up your mat, and walk out that door to discover what your new life is like."

18 February 2018

posted 16 Feb 2018, 02:48 by C S Paul

18 February 2018

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Second Sunday of Great Lent (Garbo Sunday or Lepers' Sunday)

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

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.

Devotional thoughts for Garbo Sunday

by Rev. Fr. George, Ireland

Gospel: St. Luke 5: 12-16, 4: 40-41

In the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the one true God forever and ever.

We have come to yet another period of Lent. It is a time to re-dedicate ourselves before God and to seek healing from His mercy. Not just for our healing alone, but for the whole creation. The second Sunday of Great Lent, popularly known as `Garbo' is dedicated to pray for and ponder over the pathetic plight of the persons suffering of leprosy. It is in tandem with our Lord Jesus who was willing to heal the leper came to him. The reading passage meant for the meditation of this Sunday is the gospel according to St. Luke 5:12-16.

Leprosy was one of the most dreaded diseases of the time of Jesus Christ as there was no known cure for it. It brought great physical suffering as well as total banishment and isolation from society for it was considered to be highly contagious. Leprosy had a similar emotional impact and terror associated with it as AIDS does today. The priests monitored the disease, banishing lepers who were in a contagious stage to prevent the spread of infection and readmitting lepers whose disease was in remission. Lepers were considered untouchables because people feared contracting their disease. We see here a leper coming to Jesus with the staunch belief that Jesus Christ could heal every trace of the disease, though his condition was worse. Jesus is seen reaching out and touching the leper to heal him.

It is not that easy for a person, who miserably suffers the pain and agony, to have faith in God or to pursue a religious life. But here, from an environment of not having any scope of religious life, the leper who happens to see Jesus, hears the heavenly voice from a plain of faith. This was made possible by the magnanimity of Jesus. Christ, our Lord, felt compassion for the leper and His willingness made Him touch that marginalized one even without an iota of hesitation. There had been an element of revolution in that great act of Christ. It was not merely a physical touch but was a sheer sacramental one which brought about healing for that ailing person. Thus, that man who had been marginalized till then was brought into the mainstream of society. He was asked to convince the priest of his eligibility for the entry into the public life. From the bondage of physical suffering and social stigma, he was set free to enjoy the freedom of living like any other fellow being.

Even today there are many a people who still live in a state of untouchability. We may consider certain people who are diseased or disable to be untouchable or repulsive. This attitude has to change. We must not be afraid to reach out and touch them with God's love so that they may get a holistic healing. Here the sacrament of the anointing the sick has a vital role to play. The Bible says, "So they went out and preached that people should repent. And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick, and healed them" (St. Mark 6:13).

It is at this juncture that the vision and mission of our beloved Geevarghese Mar Osthathios Metropolitan, of blessed memory, has its pertinence. I must acknowledge here with a great sense of love and gratitude that it was he who initiated the philanthropic activities that are being done in the remote places like Yacharam and Kalahandi particularly for the betterment of lepers. The best tribute that we can pay to his grace is nothing but to offer ourselves willingly in undertaking the unaccomplished dreams of that great lover of humanity.

Are we ready to take up that responsibility (Liturgy after the Liturgy) and face the challenges posed before us? Let the beckoning voice of Jesus, our Lord, which revealed again through the sermons of Mar Osthathios, reverberate in our ears and inspire us. Let us emulate prayerfully the life of Jesus that had been recapitulated through the paradigmatic life of Mar Osthathios. As we mourn in memory of his grace and prepare ourselves for the passion of Christ and His resurrection, let us observe this holy Lent in all sincerity and seriousness by leading a simple and humble life. The heaven will rejoice, if we are able to share our resources like our prayer coated in love, knowledge, food, clothing, medicine, etc with our fellow beings. Let us fly to the door of salvation by being on the wings of Lent.

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