SUNDAY SERMON




SUNDAY SERMON

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

Syrian Orthodox Church




25 June 2017

posted by C S Paul

25 June 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Third Sunday after Pentecost

Scripture reading for this Sunday

John 6:35-46New King James Version (NKJV)

35 And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. 

36 But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. 

37 All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. 

38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 

39 This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. 

40 And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Rejected by His Own

41 The Jews then complained about Him, because He said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.” 

42 And they said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”

43 Jesus therefore answered and said to them, “Do not murmur among yourselves. 

44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. 

45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.

46 Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father.

Bread of Life

by Jose Kurian Puliyeril

Our Lord and Savior established the sacrament of Holy Eucharist for the continuation of His blessed master plan of salvation as well as for the confirmation of the salvation of the coming generations. By the grace of God, we have to meditate the verses spoken by our Lord at the time of the establishment of the Sacrament for the salvation of the faithful. First of all, our Lord introduces Himself as the bread of life. The people who are starving could only enjoy the taste, greatness and satisfaction after having the bread or what we call the food. Those who are spiritually hungry only could enjoy the taste and satisfaction of the Holy Eucharist, which is the real spiritual food. Though the Holy mystery, the body of our Lord looks like the worldly food, its greatness and uniqueness would be experienced by the ones who would partake it.

We must make it a point not to attend the sacrament only as onlookers. Whereas when we would participate the sacrament with proper spiritual preparation, devotion, expectation and prayer, we could also experience the difference. Our Lord promises "the ones who would partake from this bread and drink will never hunger or thirst."

"Whoever drink of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst, but the water I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up in to everlasting life" St. John 4:14. Again in St. John 7:37 we read: "If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink". And also in Revelations 22:17 we read, "And let him that is thirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life free". We will have to think well how long we could ignore the free promise of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In our Lord's version, God the Father is giving the faithful to Son the God. (See the 37 th verse) Immediately after this, our Lord exposes His precious and highly valuable promise. "Him that comes to me I will no wise cast out."

How many of us are so strictly following the above verse of our Lord and acknowledge it, though we have accepted our Lord as our Lord and God and we might attend the Holy Eucharist every week and accept the Holy Eucharist as and when possible? We will have to think about it so seriously. When we might have a worldly problem or when things might not end as we expected, or if we happen to be a patient or so, what would be our position? Would we be strong in our faith that our Lord God is sufficient for all our needs? Or would we lose all our hope? We turn to be people like who lost all their hope and faith. Where goes our faith and how our hope gets vanished? Why we lose our hope as we have meditated several times on the following verses from the Scriptures, including: "Behold, God will not cast away a perfect man, neither he help evil doers". (Job 8:20) and "Come now and let us reason together, says the Lord, though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If you be willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land" (Isaiah 1:18-19)

Now let us look at the 40 th verse of today's reading. "And this is the will of the one who sent me that everyone who sees the Son and believes on him may have everlasting life; and I shall raise him up at the last day." Where we have to see the Son? How we could see? We have to think about these and find out the answers for such small questions. Only because of the answers for these questions we often go to Church as congregation and attend the traditional prayers and the Sacraments.

In our daily lives we come across many who might question us. "What is the need to go to Church, Can't we pray anywhere we like, after all are we not praying to Lord God?" etc. This is the answer for such who advocate the sectarian teachings. Our Lord only taught us to believe him by seeing him. We have to look at the living and life giving body and blood of our Lord. When we look at His body and blood we could see Him. Our Church is strictly following the Holy Sacrament in lines with the instruction of our Lord and savior. But still we must think whether we could see our Lord God properly even though we attend the divine services regularly. Think whether we could realize our Lord properly. May God Almighty enable us all to attend the holiest worships with the full presence of our minds and bodies and to learn more about our God and to realize Him by tasting Him.

Now let us look at the 45th verse of today's reading. "It is written by the Prophets and they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that has heard, and has learned of the Father, comes unto me". How true are these verses? How much we have heard about our Savior and we have studied about His wonderful salvation mission. Are we attracted to Him by our Father in heaven? Think whether we could follow the teachings of our God. God promises in Isaiah 54:13 that our children will be advised by Jehovah and their peace will be great. May God enable us to accept God's instructions and advises on the spot. Let our and our future generations' minds be filled with the peace of God.

18 June 2017

posted 15 Jun 2017, 23:48 by C S Paul

18 June 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Second Sunday after Pentecost

Scripture reading for this Sunday

Matthew 10:34-11:1New King James Version (NKJV)

Christ Brings Division

34 “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. 

35 For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’;

36 and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’

37 He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 

38 And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 

39 He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.

A Cup of Cold Water

40 “He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. 

41 He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward.

42 And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.”

John the Baptist Sends Messengers to Jesus

11 Now it came to pass, when Jesus finished commanding His twelve disciples, that He departed from there to teach and to preach in their cities.

Devotional Thoughts Based on Matthew 10:34-39

by Richard Alan Jordan

Matthew 10:34-39 "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it."

This is one of the hard sayings of Jesus, and while often we might be tempted to go on to something else, there is much of great importance to be heard in this text. No one likes family strife, quarrels -- and at the same time everyone it seems desires peace. In the same way, no one likes to feel as though their life is out of control, so much has been written about how to get it back in control, how to take charge, and how to prioritize. And that’s where we need to begin.

If you notice that the days seem to move faster and faster. If it seems that you have more things to do, than you have hours to do them. Well the answer is time management, at least according to the world. Prioritize, put first things first, make a list and do things in order. Then you can regain control over your life. Then you will be able to respond to events, rather than have the events control you.

It sounds good. It sounds like something we can do. And that is why it is not from God. Listen to the Gospel: "Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it." It may be that you can be in control of your earthly existence, but the price you pay is the eternal life that is ours by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Being in control is a form of idolatry. It puts self at the center. It puts self in the place of God. And as a result, it is self that is thanked for daily bread, and for all things necessary. And when self is congratulated, on having done all things well, we have given to self the worship that is owed to God alone. Being in control is to live by sight, and not by faith. God has called us to live by faith.

What this means is that rather than trying to be in control, we abandon self and flee to the arms of God, we turn to God and ask him to guide and direct our life. We turn to God, thanking him for daily bread, and asking him for all things needed. We turn all of our life over to God, and by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, God gives us a new and everlasting life. And here is the important part, when we turn our life over to God, we can then hear and see His purpose for each day, and each day, by His grace, we will be able to do all that needs to be done.

You see, we know that we are worth more than many sparrows, we know that the hairs on our head are numbered, so we are called to trust and rely on our gracious heavenly father. And this is how the rest of the text fits in -- for when we trust in God and live by faith, those who would take the place of God get jealous. This often happens in families, for there is a mistaken notion that love means that you place those you love at the center of your life, and the your life revolves around them. Its a problem because this jealousy or covetousness is a form of idolatry that is rarely spoken of. It is rarely spoken of because we desire peace. And so it is that Jesus says, that he did not come to bring peace, but a sword. A sword divides, and in this case, it is the word of God that is our sword, that rightly divides the love of God and love of family. Its not a new teaching, it goes back to the beginning: Deu 6:6-7 "And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up."

You see, the unity and peace in families and in life start from peace with God. Peace with God comes by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. The division in families comes from sin, selfishness, covetousness and idolatry. The answer to these vexing sins is repentance, and trusting in the blood of Jesus Christ which is the forgiveness of sins. When people are jealous of our relationship with God, then the answer is to bring them to Christ and to faith. So the love of God always comes first, for it is what enables us to love and forgive our family, friends and neighbors.

Matthew 10:34-39 "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father ...

11 June 2017

posted 9 Jun 2017, 23:35 by C S Paul

11 June 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

First Sunday after Pentecost

Scripture reading for this Sunday

John 6:26-35New King James Version (NKJV)

26 Jesus answered them and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. 

27 Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.”

28 Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?”

29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”

30 Therefore they said to Him, “What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do? 

31 Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’

32 Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 

33 For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

34 Then they said to Him, “Lord, give us this bread always.”

35 And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.

Devotional Thoughts for the 1st Sunday after Pentecost

by Jose Kurian Puliyeril

Gospel Reading: St. John 6: 26-35

In the first verse of today's reading we find Him saying "verily verily, I say unto you, you seek me not because you saw the miracles but because you did eat of the loaves, and were filled". There is no need for the explanation of the circumstances when and where He told so, as we all are quite aware of it. When we go to the Church for the weekly services and on week days for the prayer, our Lord is repeating the same question to each and every one of us. But we are not hearing such a talk from our Lord, as most of us are not interested to listen to Him, where as we are always there to submit our long lists of personal needs. All our needs are often granted by our good Lord. But we do not consider it as a gift from God; instead we consider that they were granted due to our prayer. In such occasions are we not taking the credit due to God Almighty for ourselves? For the same reason our Lord is repeating the question which was asked to the Jews who followed Him long time back. When we would approach our God and His presence, let us make sure that we are not submitting the long lists of our personal needs, about which He is always aware and caring.

In Verse 27 we read, "Labor not for the meat that perishes but for the meat which endures unto everlasting life; which the Son of man shall give unto you: for Him God the Father has sealed." In the only prayer taught by our Lord, we are obliged to pray for the daily bread. We pray give us this day our daily bread. Many of us think that this is the daily food we need and hence when we pray in Malayalam, we say "Aaharam" instead of "appam". We must realize that Aaharam is food and Appam is the bread. We need not pray for our daily food, as it is His look out. He is well off and He could provide to the needy without a prayer for it. Let us realize that the daily food we consume is a perishable one. There is a very touching unique word in this verse, 'sealed'. God the Father has sealed the Son. What for? This is the symbol of the ownership, security and the destination. In Ezekiel 9:4 we read about a seal. In text books we find the seal of the author or the authorized publisher. God the Father sealed Lord Jesus to show the Father's ownership right on Him and to make us believe that the flesh is the only way to get into forgiveness and the everlasting life. When these two points are combined together we reach the destination of abiding in God Almighty. In Revelation 7:2 we read about "the seal of the living God". This seal indicates the freedom from destruction and promise to the reward of beyond words and explanations. We have to find the answer to the question why our Lord addressed Himself as the Son of man. The Cappadocian Fathers have interpreted the incarnation of Lord Jesus as "the incarnation of Son of God as Son of man to convert the sons of men as sons of God". St. Matthew 3:17, 17:5, St. Mark 1:11, St. Luke 3: 22, St. John 1: 33, 5: 37 vouch that He is the Son of God as we are confirmed by God the Father. Again in Acts 2:22 and 2 Peter 1; 17, it is confirmed by the Apostles that He is the Son of God.

When the listeners asked our Lord, "What shall we do that we might work the works of God" our Lord answered "This is the work of God that you believe on Him who He has sent". When we might listen some emotional sermons or so, we might also get emotional and offer our voluntary services for the work of God, saying 'You just tell me what I must do for His kingdom'. We often forget our Lord's words and teachings. He reminds us to believe in Him. Can we confess everyday before leaving our bed, "Lord I believe in you. You are my Lord, God and Savior"? We have to do in addition to leading a church life. The people of those days asked our Lord for a sign to believe Him. We are also not far from such people. We are indeed happy with the signs of miracles often claimed by the sectarian groups and we run after groups after groups to have a strong faith. Such people often ask "after all prayer is only there and what is the harm in attending a prayer". The agents of the sectarian groups often say "you just come and see what is happening there". When we hear this invitation, we often get privileged. We forget everything and follow them and as such we forsake the bread of heaven which promises everlasting life. Our Lord reminds in verse 33, "For the bread of God is he which comes down from heaven; and gives life unto the world".

When we would approach Him, let it be our aim and desire to gain more spiritual life in us. Let us believe that our Lord is the bread of life. Let us not forget that the one who goes near Him to partakes His bread and drink will never hunger or thirst. Such a situation is the perfect state of being in God and with God. Let us long for it always and labor for the everlasting life with God and in God Almighty.

4 June 2017

posted 3 Jun 2017, 21:53 by C S Paul

4 June 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Pentecost (Fiftieth day after Easter) Sunday School day

Scripture reading for this Sunday

John 15:1-14New King James Version (NKJV)

The True Vine

15 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 

Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 

You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 

If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 

If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will  ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 

By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.

Love and Joy Perfected

“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. 

10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.

11 “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. 

12 This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 

13 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. 

14 You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.

A Model Relationship

by HG Yuhanon Mor Meletius

A Meditation on Gospel Readings on Pentecost

There are four Gospel readings prescribed for the Sunday of Pentecost. The first one of course is for the H. Qurbono which is from St. John 15:1-14. The other three are for the kneeling and all of them from the Gospel according to St. John; first, 14:1-14, second 14:25-31 and third 16-1-15. Jesus after having had his last supper with his disciples, is trying to educate them of the things that they should be aware of in the days to come after his death.

Chapter 17 onwards Jesus addresses his Father and presents the disciples and with them all those who will come to him by the testimony of the disciples. So what is seen in these chapters can be said as his farewell message. Jesus through his words on the one hand, comforts the disciples and on the other, exhorts them to be strong to face future when he was not physically around. He also speaks about the gift of the Spirit which will enable them face future.

Taking all the four readings together, a theme is presented before the congregation by the Church. It can be put in one word, ‘relationship’; relationship between God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and with life of humans in relationship. From the kind of relationship exists between the Holy Trinity, Jesus derives a model for the human relationship. This is a unique kind of methodology. We humans derive models for our life in this world from Godhead and the relationship that exists within Godhead (H.G. Dr. Geevarghese Mar Osthathios Thirumeni has written so much about his). Christian faith in the Holy Trinity is not just a talk about some philosophical theory, rather it is the talk about a model, inspiration and guide for our lives in this world.

In the reading in John 15:1-14, Jesus talks about his relation with his Father and with us. This has consequence on our relation with God and on our Christ-centered lives. The principle that underlies all relationships is nothing but love. Where there is love in relationship there will be peace. When love governs relationships, peace would rule the arena. The world will not be ‘worldly’ any more.

Jesus is going to the Father and through that he on behalf of and as the first of all humans transcends the world. But for humans what Jesus achieved through his death and resurrection can be achieved in its fullness only in future. To make this future possibility a reality, one has to be in close relations with Jesus (‘abide in me’) and through him in his Father. If one is not in Jesus, that person is not with the Father, and if not with the Father, is out of relationship and fellowship. This means non existence of that person. As of now for us to be with Jesus can only be by the help and empowering of the Holy Spirit.

This is where Orthodox definition of sacrament becomes relevant. To us a sacrament is “Entering in to the presence of the Father through Jesus Christ, the Son of God in Holy Spirit”. Every act in our life need to be an act in this style and only then we will truly be sanctified or divinized. To this cause, Jesus had to go away. This has two implications; one, he had to go away to the cross and two, to go away beyond this material world.

One cannot cling on to the historical Jesus and be saved; because history is of the physical realm which cannot as such, unless transformed, enter in to eternity (1 Cor. 15:42-54). Hence we also need to go through a process of dying as Jesus did, that is die to the world and become spiritual people. For us it can be done even while we are in this world. We can die to the world and live to Christ even while we are in the world (Rom. 14:8). When we die to the world, we will also be renewed in Spirit. This is what Jesus was telling Nicodemus when he asked Jesus about eternal life. We need to constantly be dying or being washed and be filled or resurrected in Christ (in Spirit) by the Holy Spirit (John 3:5).

In the liturgy of Pentecost we are, liturgically taking on ourselves this process of dying and filling. When we kneel down, we try to put away what is to death or sin in us and when we rise up and sprinkled with water, we are renewed in Spirit. This can happen only in the context of a community and not in isolation as love can work only in between and not in self. Only when there is another than the one and only when the relationship between is guided by the principle of love this washing and filling will happen. This is why Jesus on another occasion, said “when two or three are gathered together, I am in their midst” (Matthew 18:20).

The word ‘together’ is very much important in this context. The narration in the Book of Acts of the Apostles about the event of Pentecost clearly says “When they were all with one accord …” (Acts 2:1) the Holy Spirit descended on them.

Holy Spirit works when we are at peace with one another and peace can prevail only when there is love which binds people together. The day of Pentecost, of course is the day of the renewal of the Holy Spirit today in our time. But it does not magically or automatically happen. It can happen only when we love each other and when we are at peace between one another. A world which is divided for all kinds of wrong reason, and a world guided by selfishness, greed and individualism, a world troubled by wars, hatred, in-fight and quarrels need to listen to the message of Pentecost.

We all look for progress and welfare in our lives and in our environment. We all ask, “what is the way out”? We ask how can have freedom, liberation and salvation happen and how can ‘I’ enjoy it for myself? The answer was already been given to Nicodemus saying, ‘die to the world and be filled with the empowering Spirit, set love as the principle that guides relationships, and peace be established every where. Just as the Father and the Son and the Spirit are one, let us be one with God and with one another. “Let us all rise up (from the valley of death and darkness) by the power of the Holy Spirit” and transform ourselves

28 May 2017

posted 27 May 2017, 03:32 by C S Paul

28 May 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Sunday before Pentecost (Sunday of the Monks)

Scripture reading for this Sunday

John 6:35-46New King James Version (NKJV)

35 And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. 

36 But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. 

37 All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. 

38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 

39 This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. 

40 And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Rejected by His Own

41 The Jews then complained about Him, because He said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.” 

42 And they said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”

43 Jesus therefore answered and said to them, “Do not murmur among yourselves. 

44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. 

45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.

46 Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father.

I am the Bread of Life

by Rev. Dr. V Kurian Thomas Valiyaparambil

Message:

There are several "I AM" statements of Jesus that are found in the gospel of St. John. They include:

1. I am the bread of Life which came down from heaven (6:35,41,51)
2. I am the light of the world (8:12; 9:5)
3. I am the door of the sheep (10:7,9)
4. I am the good shepherd (10:11,14)
5. I am the son of God (10:36)
6. I am the resurrection and the life (11:25)
7. I am the way, the truth, and the life (14:6)
8. I am the (true) vine (15:1,5)

Each one of the "I AM" statements represents a particular relationship of Jesus to the SPIRITUAL needs of men and women. Jesus is the LIGHT in the darkness, the GATE to security, and the SHEPHERD that guides. He is the WAY, the TRUTH and the LIFE. In every one of these we see that Jesus wants us to receive him, not for the gifts he can give us, but for what he can be to us. Right after the feeding of the 5 thousand, Jesus made the first of the recorded I AM statements.

This week we witness an important revelation of Jesus, "I am the Bread of Life. He who believes in me has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes from Heaven which a man can eat and not die. I am the living bread that comes down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh which I will give for the life of the world."

Jesus says the words he speaks of is about the spirit. It is the spirit that gives us the life, not the flesh. By faith we partake in Christ. Eating and drinking is the reception of God's grace by believing in Christ. Seeing and believing in Christ is equivalent to eating and drinking his flesh and body. Jesus underlines the necessity of feeding on him by faith to have eternal life. The Eucharist (Holy Qurbono) represents the communion of the believers in his body and blood. The Lord's supper signifies our participation in Christ by faith and the benefits of eternal life through him. Eucharist is the fulfillment of Jesus' sacrifice. Receiving his body and blood through Eucharist is absolutely necessary of salvation.

In this context, Jesus is referring to the spiritual needs of the people. It is the spiritual food that Jesus is offering instead of the physical food. The physical food will not satisfy our spiritual hunger. We need the spiritual food for eternity.

Jesus' words that he is the bread of life and the way to eternal life were not what the crowd that followed him wanted to hear. They wanted Jesus to provide them food the way Moses had provided manna. They wanted more of the feeding of the 5,000 type miracles. They wanted to satisfy their physical hunger. So they rebelled against him.

The reaction of the Jewish leaders to Jesus' claim made them also hostile to Jesus. These leaders were waiting for Jesus to say or do something they could jump on and ridicule him.

The Jewish leaders saw Jesus as a carpenter from Nazareth. They refused to listen to him with an open heart.

Jesus emphatically said, "He who believes in me will have everlasting life." Again Jesus said, "I am the bread of life," linking this statement with meeting man's everyday basic needs, hunger and thirst. Jesus said this could be permanently cured. When their forefathers ate manna in the wilderness, only their physical hunger was met. Jesus said the bread of life he provides is the spiritual food which is the word of God. Jesus offers himself as the bread of eternal life from heaven.

There are many people around us who are hungry for Jesus' words of hope and comfort. When we develop such a hunger, it would be satisfied. If we take the Bread of Life into our life, our lives can be restored to the true way of Christian spirit. Without the spiritual food, our soul will wither and die. In the satisfaction of that spiritual food, we will discover it is not "eternal youth" but "eternal life" that we are searching for. That moment will bring perfect contentment in our life.

21 May 2017

posted 20 May 2017, 00:04 by C S Paul

21 May 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Fourth Sunday after New Sunday

Luke 9:51-62New King James Version (NKJV)

A Samaritan Village Rejects the Savior

51 Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, 

52 and sent messengers before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. 

53 But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. 

54 And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?”

55 But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. 

56 For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them. And they went to another village.

The Cost of Discipleship

57 Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, “Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.”

58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”

59 Then He said to another, “Follow Me.”

But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”

60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.”

61 And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.”

62 But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Who Pays the Cost of Discipleship? 

A Sermon Based on Luke 9:51-62 for the Fourth Sunday After New Sunday 

by Rev. Andrew Eckert, Oklahoma

Jesus sets before you today the cost of discipleship. If you wish to follow after Him, what price can you expect?

In summary, there are two requirements for discipleship: First, give up any hope of a permanent home in this present world. Second, give up any family ties on this earth.

These are not easy requirements. A man who came to Jesus said, "Lord, I will follow You wherever You go." But Jesus replied, "The Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head," as if to say, "Do you think it is easy to follow Me? I am not going to a particular place where I will stop and live, and there put down roots. No, I wander the earth, and I will finally die a homeless Man. Are you ready for that kind of life?"

Why does Jesus make it so hard? He does not; not really. He does not want anyone to try to be a disciple without first seeing how difficult it is. It is not a hobby or an occasional pursuit. Always, Christ must be first for you.

If you follow the holy Son of Man, then this world, so full of sin, cannot be a permanent home for you. Your permanent dwelling awaits you in heaven. Here on earth, no place is your true home. Home is where the heart is, so your real home is in your Father's House in heaven. That temporary building that you call home is really only a halfway house, or a rest stop on the way to the real destination.

More than that, as Christ's disciple you must put Him before the whole world. He should be everything to you. What is this world compared to the Lord? What is His kingdom compared to the riches and comforts of this transitory earth?

But human hearts are so fickle. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. One moment your whole heart is yearning for Christ. The next moment, you are yearning for some earthly bauble or trinket. The flashy allure of gold and silver idols captures our eyes. These are not necessarily physical, but may be the love of a friend or the joy of security. But all love and all earthly safety must be set aside, and all your life put in constant danger for the sake of your Lord. Otherwise, you are not worthy of Him.

As I'm sure you are aware, in your heart you are not worthy of the Infinitely glorious Savior, the adorable Son of God. Although you must strive to count Him alone as your treasure, you must also confess that you have failed to do so. You have held idols in your heart that distract from true discipleship. If Christ counted those things against you, you would not only be unworthy, but you would be cast away into eternal fire that consumes forever in agony.

But He will not let that happen to you. He has already stopped it, and made you eternally safe in Him.

For this Lord, what would you not sacrifice? Surely all should be laid at His feet in humble offering.

Yet there are some things your flesh does not want to surrender. What about family? Would you be willing to sacrifice your family's love for Christ? Would you be willing to make yourself an outcast to the ones you love for Him?

If you follow the true faith, but your family does not, then there will be division between you. It may be very polite division, or not. It may be open hostility, or not.

In Muslim countries, if you converted to Christianity, your own family might put you to death. Probably, you will not face that much hostility. But who knows what the future of this nation may bring?

People want to think that Christ wants you to do anything and everything for your family. But He does not. You must not sacrifice your faith for your family. If the choice must be made, then you must even surrender your ties with them for the sake of your Lord.

May God never demand that of you! Yet you must be ready even now, or you are not worthy of Him. How hard it is to sacrifice the love of your family, which you can see, for the love of Christ, which is hidden!

May the Spirit give you strength to do what flesh cannot. For your flesh, like that of all men, is too easily swayed by earthly loves. Too easily, family can draw you away from worship, away from Bible Study, and thus away from Christ. What Christ demands is difficult, more than the flesh can achieve.

When a man came to Jesus, but wanted to delay his discipleship for the sake of his father's funeral, Christ rebuked him with harsh words. "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God." Whatever the exact situation of the man, the point is clear: The kingdom of God and the preaching of the word are more important than anything.

How harsh and difficult are the demands of Christ!

Another man wanted to go and bid farewell to his family. Christ said that no one who looks backward is fit for the kingdom. The man would be always thinking of those he left behind, and yearning for those he loved.

But who could blame these men if they failed to follow Christ? Could you or I have done better than them? I doubt it. The demands that Christ makes go beyond our strength. Yet that does not mean that you should simply ignore them. As a disciple, you must try and work with all your might for the Savior who gave His all for you.

Yet you will inevitably fail. The call of earthly loves, or the appeal of earthly comforts, will eventually get the better of you. For that is what it is to be a sinner. In your heart there cannot be perfect devotion for Christ until this sinful flesh is done away with in the new Creation. Until then, your discipleship must be flawed and weak.

Will Christ cast you away as you deserve? No, for He is compassionate and slow to anger. Although you should always be absolutely loyal to Him, and you are not, yet He is always, always absolutely loyal to you. Nothing can stop His devotion for you. His grace is never flawed or weak.

He is the One who fulfills all things for you, and has made you worthy by giving you His glory. So you are counted as a perfect disciple of your Lord. He left the perfect House of His Father to become homeless and penniless. He forsook all that earth could offer, and made Himself the lowest of the low, so that you are lifted up on high. He died a death where the consuming fire of His Father's wrath fell only upon Him, so that you will live on in unending comfort and majesty forever.

He made Himself an outcast in His family. Not only did His earthly brothers and sisters think that He was out of his mind, and tried to stop Him, but it was even worse than that. His own Father in heaven, who had loved Him from before the foundation of the world, also rejected His Son. Christ endured this ultimate family division upon the Cross, as the Father's rejection turned the sun in the sky dark as night, dark as the pit of hell. For you, Christ even endured this.

Christ never looked back to heaven, yearning to return instead of redeeming you. He kept on, straight and steady, as He set His face stubbornly, like rock, firm and unyielding, ever putting the mission of death and resurrection as the one and only goal of His life. He sacrificed all. He gave up all comfort, and embraced ultimate agony and torture.

To Jerusalem He went, to offer Himself as the price for you. He followed His Father's will without wavering, until He was received up again by His Father.

So you are not a disciple because you have done enough. You have never done enough for Christ. You are His disciple because He has made you one. He did not simply show you the right path and expect you to follow it. No, He walked the path for you, and when He was done, declared you His perfect disciple.

For ultimately, the cost of discipleship is not what you pay. It is what Christ has paid for you.

Therefore, look in faith to your true home, the New Jerusalem in glory. Look in faith to your new family, with the Church as your mother and Christ as your brother and God as your Father. Into this family you have been adopted, and into that household that lasts forever.

God keep you in this faith, even when worlds burn in fire, and the new creation is revealed. In His Name and to His glory. Amen.

14 May 2017

posted 12 May 2017, 03:39 by C S Paul   [ updated 12 May 2017, 04:36 ]

14 May 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Third Sunday after New Sunday (Fourth Sunday after Easter)

Scripture reading for this Sunday

Third Sunday after New Sunday

John 6:47-58New King James Version (NKJV)

47 Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. 

48 I am the bread of life. 

49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. 

50 This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. 

51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”

52 The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?”

53 Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. 

54 Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 

55 For My flesh is food indeed,[b] and My blood is drink indeed. 56 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. 

57 As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. 

58 This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.”

To Be Or Not To Be

by Walter W. Harms, Austin, TX

To live — what does that mean? We have come to an age when we think we almost know what it means to live. We perhaps more certainly know what it means not to live.

When the heart stops pumping, when the breathing ceases, when there is no response, we say, "This person is not living. He or she is dead. Not living."

Arguments about when life starts are more difficult. When does human life begin, that is when is life viable, able to survive on its own, is more problematic. Even more problematic is whether people with advanced Alzheimer’s disease, persons in comas, those who can no longer live or survive without the aid of machines of many kinds are really living.

But, of course, that is only the physical side of living. I don’t think there are many of us here, except for some of the very young, who have not experienced the feelings that Shakespeare expressed in the soliloquy from which the title of this message is taken. Wouldn’t it be better for us to be out of this misery? What kind of a life is this if we are filled with so many hurts, unsolved puzzles, heartaches, disappointments, troubles, anxieties, terrors?

Think of the Christians in southern Lebanon, right now. Can it be called living when at any moment shells may destroy all you have worked for, all you have gotten, and a style of life which will never ever be the same again, whether that is materially or mentally? What does it mean "to be"? To live? To have life?

For many of us it all too often appears that life is in the past, in the good old days of youth, vigor, waking up each morning filled with the juices of life, each day an adventure to be savored and enjoyed, and now…. Well, we won’t go into that.

When are we truly living? What does it mean to live?

We are here today because we have heard that this fellow, Jesus whoever he was to the people of his time, said such things that are either true or made up of smoke and mirrors. He said, "I have come that you might have life, and life to the full." He said, "I am the way, the truth and the life." He said, "Apart from me, you (you in the pew) can do nothing."

This Jesus and his statements are really radical as we find them in the reading from John for today. Now before you get too huffy and upset, we should at least examine what he said. Does what he say have some validity to it? And, oh yes, I want you to remember that famous word from a man called Paul, who wrote: "We live on the basis of faith (what we believe), and not on the facts of life." It is what we believe that forms the basis of almost all our behavior, our outlook on life, our actions. As a proverb from Togo says: "Wherever the heart is, the feet don’t hesitate to follow."

At first hearing, what he says it is almost nauseating. He says: "I am the bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eat of this bread he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." "I tell you the truth, unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you."

We have to eat his flesh in order to have life! The bread of life is his flesh, which he will give for the life of the world. "World" here means people, as in another earlier word from John: "God so loved the world." He loved and still loves the people of the world.

It is not a great surprise that this caused an almost violent argument among some the people who heard these words of Jesus. But perhaps, is he speaking metaphorically, like "you have to have me in your system, your head, your emotions, that part of us we call our spiritual life"?

Or perhaps, in its simplest form means: "without Jesus as front and center in all you do and are, you ain’t living; you’re stone cold dead, friends"?

Is that a shocking statement to us? Are we alive in any sense, without any presence of Jesus in our lives? Aren’t people "alive" doing great things, accomplishing great advances in science, medicine, the understanding of the human mind? How can Jesus say that without eating his flesh, we are not alive, do not have life? Isn’t it true that some of the finest moments in our experience had nothing whatever to do with Jesus?

Maybe we forget that the source of all life is in the Father, in Jesus, is Jesus. If our life now and what we hope will follow after this life depends on our relationship with the source of life, then Jesus is the living bread, which we must have "to be" and sustain life, just as "bread" is necessary for us to have any kind of physical life. Without Jesus, then we would "not to be."

As Jesus lives because of his Father, so we live because of our earthly father, but in a more real sense then our relationship with the "Father who is in heaven" is our source of life as well. Jesus is the one who conveys through his very fleshly body the life from his Father, the Father of all life, of life of all kinds.

The only kind of eating and drinking that goes on regularly in the church is the eating and drinking in the Blessed Sacrament of the Holy Supper. In this eating and drinking of bread and wine, we say we are eating and drinking the body and blood of Jesus himself. While we might be repulsed by those words of eating his flesh and drinking his blood, we need to be reminded he can take that which seems repulsive and make it into something good: the executioner’s cross becomes the precious symbol of our rescue from death, sinful humans who do the worst to fellow humans are turned into messengers of peace, love, and hope.

It is here where we begin "to be," to live, to find newness after the mold of sin has corroded our lives. At the altar is where we begin to eat and drink of the river of God’s pleasures which will be fully realized by us in a life where no evil ever darkens our lives. When we take Christ Jesus into every part of our body, then we know that though our flesh still urges us on to sin, our inner self, the real self has life in every fiber of our being because the Source of life, no, Life itself, Jesus is there.

Then the "to be" of our existence is realized. We have life, we have eternal life now. We will be raised by Jesus on the last day. We remain in Jesus and he is us. We will live through Jesus. Yes, again, we will live forever!

We are tempted to believe that this right now is all that is. We show that in our attempt to enjoy as much as possible while we are "alive."

We attempt to remain young, because old means the end. Even in retirement complexes, those with canes, walkers, and wheelchairs don’t want to be seen by those without these devices, because, well, they mean the lost of independence, and the end coming.

As we eat and drink Jesus in the Sacrament, I would hope that we enjoy life now because Jesus is with you every week. And the Blessed Sacrament received each week is to counter the world which says life with this religious claptrap isn’t where life really is. We need to know that "to be" is only when Jesus is in us, and it is always "not to be" when Jesus is not in us.

What will you believe? What will Jesus be to you: an ornament on the hood of your life, and the engine which give you power and movement?

To be or not to be, that is the question!

7 May 2017

posted 5 May 2017, 22:22 by C S Paul

7 May 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Second Sunday after New Sunday (Third Sunday after Easter)

Scripture reading for this Sunday

John 4:31-38New 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 then 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

(Source - Malankara World)

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?

30 April 2017

posted 28 Apr 2017, 22:20 by C S Paul

30 April 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

First Sunday after New Sunday 

John 21:1-14New 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.

Learning to Fish In a New Place

by The Rev. Dr. John Killinger

That's gorgeous, isn't it? The common interpretation is that it is about the power and majesty of Christ after the resurrection. Here he is in Galilee, by the lake where he often walked and talked with the disciples. They have fished all night, unsuccessfully -- it was before radar -- when Jesus calls out and tells them to throw the net on the other side of the boat. They do it and hit a bonanza -- 153 fish, we are told later. Jerome, one of the early commentators, said that was because there were 153 known varieties of fish in the world at that time. And, as the net was not broken by all those fish -- the writer later makes a point of that as well -- we can only suppose that it was a symbolic picture of Jesus and his disciples drawing the entire world into the net of God's great purpose.

That's the common interpretation.

Now let me suggest an uncommon one, but one I believe to be no less true. I am encouraged to suggest it by the fact that the Gospel of John is a deeply spiritual book filled with symbolic stories and actions, and even, in places, with symbolic characters.

Let's begin with the lake itself, the place where they were fishing. Lakes, in both fairy tales and sacred legends, are strange and symbolic places. Because they are often deep and hold secrets that can't be discerned from the surface, they are the residences of mystery. In Jungian psychology, they often represent the unconscious, the realm of our dreams and fantasies.

There is something dreamlike about this scene, isn't there? Halfway between night and day, with the first hint of dawn spreading pencil-like along the horizon. Patches of mist and fog rising from the water. The gentle noise of waves slapping against the boat or dripping from the nets. The deep sighs of the fishermen, whose muscles ache from the toil of the fruitless night. And then the Divine Stranger, standing on the shore and halloing to them through the mist, telling them they will catch something if they will lower their nets on the other side of the boat, the right side.

They had been fishing on the left side. We know a lot about left and right now, don't we? The left side of the brain is the calculating, orderly side, the side that analyzes, does figures, gives names to things. The right side is the dreaming side, the creative, artistic side, the side that responds to pictures and images, such as the one we are thinking about here.

Jesus had dealt with a lot of left-brained people in the Gospel. They were the legalists, the ones who thought the world was constructed by an accountant and everything could be got down in black and white. Maybe Jesus was saying to the disciples here that they were not to be like accountants, always trying to take the measure of things, they were to live and act out of their right brains, as visionaries and artists. They were to trust God and live nobly, generously, without counting the cost or stopping to dot their i's and cross their t's. If they would do that, they would always find their nets full, they would live in the overflow of grace and excitement.

But suppose there is something even more personal in the text, something for each one of us, that goes beyond the more obvious and general meaning. That would be a legitimate use of it, wouldn't it? Bruno Bettelheim spoke of "the uses of enchantment" -- the way even fairy stories serve deep and important purposes in our lives by helping us to know ourselves and interpret the messages life reveals to us. What if the story of the lake and the fishermen suggests something to us about our own stories, about the way we may have been fishing a long time without any luck, without catching any fish?

Some of us have, haven't we?

Some of us have been plodding along in our jobs week after week, year after year, with no sense of reward no feeling that we are getting anywhere.

Or we have been coming up with nothing in our personal relationships.

Or maybe we haven't been getting any return on our spiritual efforts. We have been praying or going to church or listening to religious programs -- or maybe all of the above -- and nothing has been happening, our nets have been coming up empty.

You see what I mean.

Barrenness.

Emptiness.

Nothing in the nets.

And we are tired, the way these fishermen were tired after fishing all night. We are tired of life, tired of trying. Nothing ever seems to happen for us. It happens for everybody else, but not for us. Our lives are empty and unfulfilled.

Aha! "Cast your net on the right side of the boat," says Jesus, "and you will be surprised what happens to you."

How could it? you say. I mean, who knows more about your life than you do? Don't you know how to do your own fishing? Besides, how could there be any fish that close to your boat on the other side, anyway, when you've been fishing where you have for so many years?

But what if he's right? What if there's something tremendous and exciting down there merely waiting for you if you make a little adjustment in where you're letting down your nets, in how you conceive of your existence? What if it's only a matter of learning to fish in a new place?

What might that mean, in your life?

Maybe a new job -- or a new way of doing the old one, a redefining of your position, a re-envisioning of its contours. Maybe a new relationship -- or some fresh ways of acting within the old ones, so that they get injected with passion again and you begin to laugh and sing and skip and look forward to being with the people in your life. Maybe a new church or synagogue -- or a different approach to spiritual life in the old one, so that everything looks different and throbs with beauty and meaning and vitality again.

I'm not saying which it ought to be, the new or the old. What I'm saying is that life, the lake, the unconscious, is filled with possibilities, that it is rich beyond all imagining, that God wants us to enjoy it, to revel in it, to be excited about it, as if it were Disneyland and the fireworks were going off all around us all the time. We weren't meant to go stale, to settle into mere routine, to lose the mystery and glamour and excitement of existence. And if we have gone stale and settled for less than the fireworks, then it is time we heard the Master calling from the edge of the lake, from the edge of our unconscious, and telling us to let the nets down in a new place.

I think of some friends who have heard this word and acted on it.

There's Jody, a lawyer friend in Los Angeles, who was so bored with her life as an attorney that one day she finally quit. When her savings were about to run out, she met a man who owned a puppet factory. He asked her if she would like to work for him. She tried it and was extremely happy. "At least now I know who the real puppets are," she said.

There's Steve, a minister friend who was burned out in the pastorate. Unable to go on as a minister, he became a stockbroker. I watched as his spirit returned. Now he ministers to people all over the country as they phone in to talk about their stocks. "There isn't much of a line," he says, "between people's pocketbooks and their souls." Steve is happy and feels worthwhile again.

Or there are Fred and Diane, a couple in mid-life who came to their pastor and said they wanted to get a divorce. She asked them why. "Because the kids are grown and we don't have anything together any more," they said. Their pastor was a wise and discerning woman. She helped them to see that the reason they didn't have anything was that they didn't know each other any more. She taught them to listen to one another and rediscover the mystery and intrigue in one another. To fish in a new place with one another. Six months later, they were off to Europe on a second honeymoon.

You see what I mean. The lake is deep. It has far richer resources than we usually imagine. It is never completely fished out, not for any of us. We only need to learn to readjust, to let our nets down in a new area, to rediscover the riches.

And when we do -- this is the point of the story from the Gospel -- when we do, when we pull up our nets full of fish again, then we suddenly realize the presence of the divine in our lives. Did you see that? It is after the fishermen let down their nets on the right side and pull them in teeming with fish -- wiggling and writhing with fish -- that they suddenly recognize Christ on the shore and realize there is a connection between him and what has happened. "It is the Lord!" exclaims young John. And then they can't wait to get to shore and visit with him.

I have watched it for a long time. This is the way real religion always works. It isn't something you generate inside yourself. It occurs whenever your nets, that have been empty, begin to come up full again; when life that was hard and narrow and grudging begins to be free and open and happy again. Then, like Peter in the story, you can't even wait for the boat to get to shore; you want to jump in and rush up to Christ and say, "Thank you, thank you, thank you!"

Or, in the words of Celia, in Shakespeare's As You Like It, you say, "Oh, wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful, and yet again wonderful, and, after that, out of all whooping!"


23 April 2017

posted 22 Apr 2017, 18:44 by C S Paul

23 April 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

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

John 20:19-31New 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, “Peacebe 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.

Must We See to Believe?

by Wyvetta Bullock

Do you believe in things you cannot see? Growing up in the 50's and 60's in the southern part of the United States, I learned the value of believing before seeing. In the face of being devalued and discriminated against, I believed that my neighbor and I were created equal. And in the midst of being told that I did not possess the academic capacity of my white counterparts, I believed that I could grow and matriculate through schools of higher learning.

Now, my early years seemed to be filled with contradictions about what was real and what was believed to be true. Another way of saying "believe to be true" is "to have faith in." Webster’s dictionary defines faith as, "firm belief in something for which there is no proof." In the 11th chapter of Hebrews faith is described as, "the assurance of things hoped for, the [evidence] or conviction of things not [yet] seen." The poet, William Wordsworth referred to faith as "passionate intuition." So, one could say that believing or having faith is trusting to the point of knowing.

Trusting something or someone outside ourselves is not always easy. Physicians tell us that if a child doesn't bond with a parent or guardian in the early months of its life, it will have difficulty trusting others as it develops. And, in fact, if trust is not established early in the development stages, a fracture may occur in the child's spirit and affect its personality for life. We live in an interdependent, connected universe. If we are going to live healthy productive lives, we have to learn to trust others and believe in something beyond ourselves.

My parents were people of faith and trust. They passed on to me the gift of faith for believing in what seems impossible. And, in fact, my brother and I were products of their personal faith for children, as they were older parents when we were born.

When you think about it, each one of us uses faith. We all believe in something. Whether it is ourselves, a holy other, or Murphy's Law, we trust in something. What we believe about ourselves and the world around us makes a difference. Anais Nin said, “We don't see things as they are, we see things as we are.” What you believe sets a course for your future and directs your daily activities. Consequently, when we believe only what we can see, we limit ourselves to a whole world of possibilities.

Quantum physicists say that our universe is connected across space and time with this wonderful, invisible web of energy. In other words, what we see is created from what we cannot see. And even more than that, our thoughts, our intentions affect this invisible world for either good or ill. Our ability to create and respond to creation is linked to our beliefs. Our world is really created from the inside out. What is in our heart produces what finally is in our hand. Jesus said it like this, "Out of the good treasure of the heart good is produced." What is seen comes from what is unseen.

In today's scientific and technological world we have plenty of evidence and empirical data to engage our senses. As a result, much of the activities of our daily life go on without thinking about how this things occur. Now, for example, the chair that I’m sitting on. I don’t test to see if it will hold me up. Chairs have proven to be reliable so I don’t have to test it. Based on my experience and the sensory evidence of seeing and touching, so I sit without fear and I trust that the chair will support me.

I also engage the invisible world of technology each day as I imagine most of you do. That is, I use a wireless telephone and computer without thinking about how the information is actually being passed through the atmosphere. Now, although, I can’t see the waves that carry my communications, I believe they are there because of my experience.

There are other areas of my life, however, for which scientific evidence and historical data fall short for providing me with what I need as a human being. When I engage the deeper questions of the purpose and meaning of life, when I face relationships that require reconciling, or when I struggle with life's tragedies, I need something greater than what the current circumstances offer. When situations arise that leave me speechless or that are just too horrific for my thoughts, I need more than what I can engage with my five physical senses. I need to believe and trust in things not yet seen.

There is a story about a pre-civil rights African American community in Florida. The story says that during times of political elections, this community would rent a voting machine and go through the voting process. Now, they knew that their votes would not be counted, but they voted anyway. When asked by members of the white community why they did this every year, they replied, "Oh, just practicing. Just practicing.”

Believing in what is not yet seen means we practice or behave as if it is already exists. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.” This is what leaders and visionaries do. They believe in something bigger than themselves and they begin to act as if it is so.

In reality, we all practice our faith everyday. As we live our lives, we live them based on what we believe about who we are, why we are here, and what the future holds. If we believe the future holds promise for a fulfilled life, we generally work and play with positive expectations. If we believe that the future will not be friendly, we generally live with fear.

Several years ago my congregation's choir planned a trip to Southern Africa. We are a mid-sized congregation in a neighborhood that has many economic and social challenges. When people heard about our plans, they laughed. They said, “You are too small, too poor to make such a trip. You’ll never raise the money for 40 people to travel two weeks in Africa." Well, the circumstances seemed too great to conquer and the obstacles too many to overcome. But we believed. We believed that God was with us in our desire to make this journey and we believed that with that vision would come provision. That with the dream would come the means. So we took the first step and began to raise funds. Not only did we raise enough for our journey, but we gave a tithe of what we raised to our sisters and brothers in Africa. Our faith and trust in God's faithfulness was not disappointed.

Given the everyday challenges and stresses of life, it is not always easy to imagine what has not been done before. Some things may seem so far beyond our reach that they may see laughable. Life's unexpected circumstances can sometimes be so overwhelming that they’re almost too much to bare!

In the 20th chapter of the Gospel according to Saint John, the disciples of Jesus were presented with the overwhelming circumstances of Jesus' death. Their hopes and dreams were crushed by his crucifixion. How could they make meaning out of what had just happened to Jesus? What had happened to the purpose of their 3 years of ministry with him? How could they imagine a friendly future? Their leader was dead and because of their relationship with him, they might be next.

Well, in the midst of their doubt and despair, Jesus entered the room where they are hiding. Jesus talked with them, showed them the nail prints in his hands and feet. The disciples rejoiced to see him. Their leader, indeed, was alive. One disciple, Thomas, was not present when Jesus appeared. When Thomas heard about it, he was not convinced. It all seemed too impossible! Thomas needed proof. Jesus came again to the place where the disciples were gathered when Thomas was present and he gave Thomas the proof that he sought. Thomas saw, touched, and believed.

Jesus' life, and death and resurrection is proof of God's love for world. It is the evidence of life out of death and the assurance that things thought to be impossible can become reality.

Blessed are those who face contradictions with God given confidence. Blessed are those who hear the facts, but trust the truth. Blessed are those who have not seen but yet come to believe.


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