May I Have Your Attention Please (Response to Smartphones and iPads Phenomenon)

 

 

 

 Text: Numbers 6: 22-26

 

The Lord said to Moses,  “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:“ ‘“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you  and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”’

 

Message

Everything is now at the tip of our fingers. We can make calls, we can chat through Whatsapp, we can access facebook, we can Tweet, we can mail and blog. We live in the age of Smarphones. Without sounding preachy let me admit that my wife gets really irritated seeing how hooked on I am to the phone. Whenever she has something to say, I am engrossed in the phone. I argue that “I am listening. I can tell everything that you just told me.” Even if it is true is that enough? Wherever we go the technology has become so intrusive that even if we are physically present among our friends and relatives, we have become absent. We exist in a parallel world. We can’t hold a proper conversation with people in front of us. We are caught up in checking who liked our photos and status updates.  It is the peril of advancement in communication that we have failed in the basic art of communication. That is to pay attention to the person or the people in front of us. The biggest evidence of love is when we give attention to people. Our attention is indirectly saying that “You are very important to me. What you are saying matters a lot.” What an affirmation. So not paying attention gives the contrary message even if we intend or not.

 

The passage we have in front of us is a Priestly Blessing taught by God himself. It reveals one of the greatest truths that I love. God pays attention to us. Look at it. “The Lord turn his face toward you.”(vs 26).  John Ortberg says that turning your face toward someone is to give your wholehearted, undivided attention. It is a statement where God is saying to us “I have nothing else to do. I am fully available for you. You are important to me.” What is more fascinating is “The Lord make his face shine upon you.”(vs 24) How wonderful. This blessing says God will not only turn his face towards us, he will make it “shine” on us. The shining face is an image of delight, a joy that we cannot describe. Now how do we understand a “shining face”?

 

Let me explain. My father by far is the best listener that I have come across. When people talk to him, he is all attention. My wife Soji is very animated in her conversations. I happened to witness a conversation between my dad and her. She was narrating an incident of great joy  and I could see my  father’s face shine. He owns the happiness of the person speaking to him. He makes his listeners feel very special. (No wonder Soji keeps asking me “How come you are like this!!!”) That is what the blessing says. God is so much involved in us that his face shines on us. We are very special to Him.

 

He listens to our prayers. It is important to Him. We matter to Him. When I was a teenager, I had a doubt. My question and confusion was when there are so many people around us, how is it possible for God to pay attention to each and every prayer. I asked my mother this question. She told me a story. “Once there was a man called Henry. His life was full of problems and he felt that God is not answering his prayers. He kept asking ‘When there are so many people in this world how is it possible for God to pay attention to every prayer?’ Disturbed, he walked out of his home to stroll on the beach. It was night and darkness had filled his heart. He saw no hope. The sound of the waves was symbolic of the struggles within him. But in the darkness there was a little light. The light was moon. He kept walking the length and breadth of the beach. And suddenly like a child he realized that wherever he was going the moon was right on top of his head. He started to run, the moon was following him. When he stopped the moon stopped. When he walked the moon was travelling above with him. Henry then danced and jumped. “If there are a million people standing on this beach tonight, everyone would say that the moon is on top of their head. I have found my answer. Similarly when millions and millions pray to God, they feel his presence and find God with them.” This story may be too simple but it helped me a lot. Let us be clear on one thing. We are important to God. He pays attention to us.

 

If the God of the universe has time for his creation, time to pay attention to them, to celebrate with them, what excuse do we have? Let us regulate the technology that we have to enhance relationships. Let the gadgets that we have help us build bonds and not weaken or break them. Let us vow not to fidget with our phones in presence of another human being. Nothing is more insulting. Let us set our priorities. Let us overcome our addiction of indulging in ourselves. Let us thank God for turning His face to us. Let us be people who have experienced that joy. After communicating with God, the face of Moses shone. When we meet our friends are they seeing our face shining? Mostly our faces are blank. We have no joy. Let us take time to take the Bible and pray, so that we see the face of God shining on us. Let us keep our gadgets away and look into the eyes of the people in front of us. Let us enjoy the beauty of conversations and relationships that God created us for. May God Bless Us.

 

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati

Baptism: Confusions and Doubts Regarding Infant Baptism

 

 

I Corinthians10:1-6

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.

Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did.

Message

Many of us live in doubt whether our Baptism is valid as we do not proclaim our faith. This gives us the impression that maybe our church practice is wrong. How can an infant affirm his or her faith? He or she is not aware of what he is getting into, so the baptism is a meaningless ritual is the common argument. This is a common rationale to persuade many believers in adult baptism as the first baptism is neither biblical nor true. Historically this argument comes to the fore, thanks to the 16th century radical group called ‘Anabaptists’ which means ones who had rebaptised. Their argument was that one has to affirm his faith before baptism. This strand of argument is adopted by many Pentecostal and Neo-Pentecostal Churches. I am not questioning their position. But I debate that their argument is not tenable. We need to analyse the given text and understand its symbols and significance. This section is called “ Warnings from Israel’s History”. According to Rev. Dr. Abraham Kuruvilla, the Principal of Mar Thoma Theological Seminary, Kottayam, Baptism is not a graduation of faith as is presupposed in the arguments of Believers’ (Adult) Baptism. He contends that Baptism is the initiation into the ‘Salvation History’ and Eucharist is the edification in the journey of Salvation History. He elucidates this with the support of the above text. Here we see Paul’s Hermeneutics at work which is allegorical. He symbolizes the cloud that guided the Israelites in the wilderness and the Reed sea that they walked through as a process of Baptism. They were being initiated and guided into the journey towards ‘The Promised Land’. Spiritual food here is alluded to be the manna that Yahweh fed his people with. The drinking from the rock that is Christologically alluded reminds of the incident of Moses striking the rock with the rod from which people in their Journey drank water from. The manna and the water symbolize the Eucharist which edifies us in our journey as being part of ‘The Salvation History’. Verse 5 strikes the ultimate warning that even though the Israelites were initiated into the journey towards ‘The Promised Land’, “God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.” Though many started their journey very few made it to the promises land. Verse 6 explicitly states that this occurred as a warning for us that we may not fall into the trap of being assured of completing our journey. Baptism initiates us into the faith community where faith is not an individual or personal matter but is formed in the context of a community. During our first communion we own our Baptism and faith and are edified with the salvific memory of the death and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Abraham Kuruvilla illustrates that being initiated in the education system at the nursery level is not a graduation but an initiation. One is not guaranteed to finish his education process. One needs to review and work at it. So let us be clear that Baptism and Eucharist are important landmarks in our faith journey, but it has to be regarded as Initiation and edification respectively.

Note- the above are reflections of our Principal, Rev. Dr. Abraham Kuruvilla, and it is brought to flesh with my limited comprehension about the subject.

On the basis of the above thesis let us look into the biblical and theological basis of infant baptism.

 

Biblical And Theological Grounds For Infant Baptism-

The major confusion of the Mar Thoma Christians is directly related to the validity of Infant Baptism. The lack of clarity on this subject and the illusion that it is not biblically based has caused major concerns for the Mar Thomites who are succumbed to believe that this particular practice is not biblical. This is a challenge and an opportunity to clear certain misconceptions regarding this topic. We will first consider this historically. In the time of the Apostles we have direct evidence that 3 distinct families or households received Baptism; that is the household of Stephanas, Lydia and the Phillipian Jailor. The term household signifies infants and children included as well. Even in Acts 2: 38-39, it signifies clearly Child Baptism. Origen mentions that the “ Church has an order from the Apostles to give baptism to the infants.” At the Council of Cathage, A.D. 251, the question was asked that whether it was not necessary to postpone baptism of infants until the fourth day , when it was decided that “no person should be hindered from receiving baptism, especially infants and those newly born.” The fourth Century Archbishop of Milan, Ambrose, wrote on the subject of “ Infant Baptism in the time of the Apostles.” This also shows that infant Baptism was uniformly practiced by the Early Church. W.F. Flemington in The New Testament Doctrine of Baptism argues that baptism of infants is a thoroughly legitimate development of New Testament teaching, a practice in full accord with the mind of Christ. J. Jeremias , the New Testament scholar says that Colossians 2: 11,12 shows that Paul considered Baptism equivalent to Circumcision that opened the way for Christian parents to baptize their children. The Old Testament says that circumcision was practiced on the 8th Day, which admitted the child into the Jewish Church. Nowhere in the Bible are children treated outside the scope of blessing. As we have seen that Baptism is the seal of faith. Romans 4:2 says, ‘ And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of faith, which he had yet being uncircumcised.’ So there is a connection of circumcision to be ‘ seal of faith’ and baptism that is called a seal of faith which are tied to respective covenants. As in Gen 17: 11,12 that says “Circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that shall be the mark of the covenant between you and me. Throughout the ages, every male among you, when he is eight days old, shall be circumcised…”. So this is a ‘seal of faith’ and ‘token of covenant’. Circumcision then like baptism now fulfilled a double purpose. It is the seal of the believer’s faith and also the sign of God’s covenant.

So who is included in this covenant? The answer is found in Acts 2: 39 “ the promise is unto you and your children.” Let me quote from Dr. Wall’s “ History of Infant Baptism”( vol 1., p. 3) as follows ‘It is evident that the custom before Jesus’ time was to baptize as well as circumcise any proselyte that came over to them from nations. This was based on their belief that rest all were impure and not worthy to enter into a Covenant without a washing or baptism from their uncleanness and this was called baptizing unto Moses. If any such proselyte , who came over to the Jewish religion, and was baptized into it, had any infant children then born to him, they also were baptized and circumcised. The child’s inability to declare his faith was never looked on as a bar against his reception into the covenant.”

Bernard Manning in his book, “Why Not Abandon the Church”, summarizes beautifully about baptism. He says “In Baptism the main thing is not what men do, but what God has done. It is a sign that Christ claims all men as his own and He has redeemed them to a new way of life. That is why we baptize children and infants. The water of baptism declares that they are entitled to God’s mercies to men in the passion of Christ. Your own baptism ought then to mean much to you. It ought to mean all the more because it happened before you knew anything about it. Christ redeemed you on the Calvary without any thought or action on your part. He did not wait for any sign or confirmation on your part. Similarly we baptize a child and declare to the world in a solemn manner what God does for us without our merit and even without our knowledge. In Baptism, more plainly perhaps than anywhere else, God commends His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”

We have to realize that the objection to infant Baptism needs to be rooted to the cult group called the Anabaptists who gave importance to the profession of faith as an imperative for Baptism. This logic is reductionist and places the onus of faith on an individual. No faith is individual but it is a formation of the community that fosters faith. Infant baptism sets apart a child and he becomes part of the Body of Christ to be formed by the faith practices of the community and the God Parent is the representative of the community to ensure that the child is formed in faith. The family is the nucleus of this faith formation. So the corporate formation of faith has been given emphasis in infant Baptism.

Conclusion

As we have surveyed the theological basis of baptism and the rationale for infant baptism, we the ministers in formation need to engage deeply with the liturgical practices of baptism. I personally feel we need to pay a lot of attention in teaching this to the youths, sevika sanghams and prayer meetings in our parish assignments. I have observed the lack of clarity on this topic has made many of our church members vulnerable. We personally need to learn more about it to be convinced about our baptism and to relive and reaffirm the faith that was symbolized at our day of baptism. May God guide us.

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati

What If Prayers are Unanswered?

 

Text: Luke 22: 39-42

Then Jesus went out and made his way, as was [his] custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples too followed him.Coming to the place, he said to them, “Pray not to enter into [what will be a] trial [to you].” Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw and knelt down and began to pray, saying, “Father, if you will, take this cup away from me. Yet not my will, but yours be done!”

Message

In this passage we see Jesus struggling before crucifixion. He says an honest prayer, “Father, if you will, take this cup away from me. Yet not my will, but yours be done!” this shows the picture of Jesus’ sense of forsakenness and desperation. He expresses his will to be spared but adds with humility “Your will be done”. If we ask the conventional question was Jesus’ prayer answered, the answer is ‘No’.  So then at this point let us think together what is prayer.

I am sure that many of us in our lives have had a plethora of unanswered prayers. This leads us to questions like “What is the point?”, “Why should I Pray?”, “Is God really listening?”, “If God does not answers prayer, then why believe?” The frustration just builds up. These are all the questions that I have gone through. The problem lies in our belief that God is a Supermarket that dispenses our purchase lists. We are made to believe that if we have faith every prayer will be answered. But then let us look at unanswered prayers and meditate on it. Prayer is beyond our self interest. Unanswered prayers reveal the divine possibilities of God that we need to patiently wait for. This is called the spiritual ‘watching out’. This watching out in the ‘hour of darkness of the heart’ is the beginning of the process of aligning ourselves to the ‘Will of God’. Here we need to meditate on Jesus prayer to understand the sequence of prayer. Prayers are words that express our will. This prayer leads to meditation that is the period of watching and waiting and discerning the will of God. Meditation leads to the integration with the will of God, aligning ourselves to God’s purpose over human agendas. We no longer love God just because of his gifts of grace which make life comfortable. We begin to love God for His own sake. We are blissful in the selfless contemplation of His beauty. This leads to adoration that helps us to be silent and surrender our human will to God’s will.

We live in an age where results and proofs legitimize our faith. Our prayers have also become slaves of result that project the emptiness of human will. So God becomes God and worthy of our faith only if he does our will. This is the logic of a devotee. But we are called to be Disciples. “If someone wants to come after me, let him deny himself, and let him take up his cross daily,, and let him follow me. (Luke 9: 23) So we are called to be disciples and our prayers need the humility to be conformed to the will of God. Let me close with the story of Secret disciple of Jesus narrated by one of the best story tellers of our times, Anthony Demello.

The Secret disciple of Jesus used to follow Jesus wherever he went. When Jesus performed miracles he was there. When Jesus narrated a parable he was there. When Jesus was alone he was Jesus side. But the Pharisees of his time did not like what the secret disciple was doing. So they decided to confront him. The High Priest along with his followers cornered the secret disciple. “ O they say he is a wonder maker. They claim that fool called Jesus does miracles. Pray tell us what miracles did he do, that you follow him?” The disciple politely replied “ Sir we need to know what is a miracle is in that case. For some when God fulfills the will of man, he claims that God has done a miracle.” ( Popularly if we have prayed for a job or success in exams, or asked for healing of a friend we claim that God has done a miracle. When God fulfils human will we claim he has done a miracle.) Disciple continued “ But for me, when Man starts doing the will of God, a miracle takes place. I am trying to be that miracle.” My dear friends, Prayer is the initiation and our openness to do the will of God and be a miracle.

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati

Doubting Thomas, Wounded Christ!!!!!!!!!

 

Text: John 20: 24-29

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.’ A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them.

Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ 27 Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’ Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’

Message:

If one plays a game of ‘Word Association’, every name of a person we know evokes an adjective associated with that person. This inevitably is the label we give to that particular person. For example Musician Jakes, Suave Jennifer, Lousy Neena, Fatso David. I had a practice of saving the adjectives associated with people to my mobile, rather than their actual names. One of my friends was scandalized when he found out that his name was stored as ‘Prodigal’. Let me not get into explaining how much I struggled to give him a reasonable explanation. Similarly, in common usage, the name of disciple ‘Thomas’ is usually prefixed with ‘Doubting’. The reason for the label that has just stuck to Thomas is thanks to the text we have just read. Every label needs a reality check and so does the label of ‘Doubting Thomas’. When we read John 20: 1-8, we see that Peter and the other disciples see the Empty Tomb, but are confused and still do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus. Mary Magdalene, too saw Jesus in person, to believe. John 20: 19-23 shows that the disciples were sitting locked in a room fearing the Jews. The Jews had killed their leader and now their next aim would be his disciples, was the reason for their fear.  Jesus appears to the disciples to comfort them. Only then do they believe in the resurrection of Jesus. Thomas clearly was deprived of the comfort that others had. Like others, he too had witnessed the brutal death of Jesus. The basic foundation of his life was swept off and all the certitude of faith was in limbo. He was a wounded man. I think, he had a right to doubt. When other disciples said that Jesus appeared to them, he expressed the need to touch the wounds of Jesus to ascertain the veracity of the claims of the disciples. This is what we think is scandalous. This is why the black mark of ‘Doubt’ is on the forehead of Thomas. But is Doubt and Faith as antithetical as it seems? I still remember the time when I had delivered a sermon on Easter about the Resurrection of Jesus. I had a call that evening from a friend who I will leave unnamed. He explained to me the battle of divorce that he is having with his wife who is mentally ill. He can’t meet his daughter, he has lost everything he held close. And most of all he knows he can’t blame his wife as she is suffering from mental illness. He told me something that totally shook me. “I have been a very spiritual person, my parents are the most devout people that one could meet. It is not my wife’s fault. But why did such things happen to me. What meaning is there to life? If Christ has Risen, why do I have so much of pain and struggle? Sometimes I feel Jesus has been unfair to me. But I pray and I keep struggling with God.” There are many events in our lives that lead us to the doorsteps of doubt. Maybe, not all are as extreme as I have quoted. But is a doubt wrong? Is struggling with your faith a sin? Russian Novelist Dostoevsky says “It is not as a child that I believe and confess Christ. My hosanna is ‘born in the furnace of Doubt.’ ” Selwyn Hughes in Everyday With Jesus says “Being honest about your doubts is a healthy sign of a living faith”. I agree. I would rather be honest about my doubts than fake certainty and certitude.

 What is interesting in the text read above is that Jesus considers the doubt of Thomas ‘important’ and therefore appears to him not in private, but in front of those he expressed his doubt. He did not come down with fire of retribution and sword of anger for the lack of faith. The first words he said to Thomas were “Peace be with you.” Jesus then asked him to put his fingers in His hands, to touch His wounds. What is most significant about the body of Jesus Christ after resurrection? It is not a flawless Fair and Lovely body. It still has wounds of crucifixion. The resurrected body does not make us forget the cross. The wounds on Jesus’ body still points to the Cross. “There is no resurrection without the Cross.” The most fascinating aspect of this narrative is that“Jesus through His wounds heals the wounds of Thomas.” Jesus uses his brokenness to give Thomas the comfort and commission of Resurrection. In the Holy Communion, the Priest breaks the bread that symbolizes the broken body of Jesus. I always wondered, why even after resurrection the broken body of Jesus was remembered. The narrative of Thomas is an answer. The Resurrected body is a wounded and broken body that has space for our wounds and doubts. According to the Mar Thoma liturgy, before administering the Bread the priest says “The Holy Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, broken on the Cross for the forgiveness of sins, is given to you for the health of the body and soul.” When one goes to the Lord’s table weary and burdened with doubts and confusions, the broken bread is a reminder of the broken body of Christ that has resurrected and triumphed over all the odds in life. But, because of the routine hearing of these verses and ritual practice of receiving bread and wine, the profound meaning and application of Communion is lost. So may I urge you to meaningfully participate at the Lord’s Table understanding that God can accommodate you, in spite of your failings, struggles, doubts and confusions.

 Image

After Thomas was healed, he declared Christ as “My Lord and My God.” This is one of the biggest faith affirmations. The story of Thomas sums up our journey that starts with doubts, borders on denials but ends up with declaration of faith. From Emptiness of Doubt may God lead you to the Healing of your body and soul so as to be Witnesses for Him in declaration of faith through words and action.

 

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church, 

Guwahati

 

 

How to Respond to the Fall of Heroes???

 

Text: 1 Corinthians 10: 1-13

 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food  and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.  Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

Message:

Today this text was the passage when we read the “Our Daily Bread”. And it was titled ‘When Someone Falls’. And I told Soji how apt this passage is when the world is waking up to the fall of grace of Iconic Cyclist Lance Armstrong after his candid confessions to Oprah Winfrey. I read a tweet that said “He is a disgrace. He polluted the cleanest mode of travelling (cycling)’. There were many people who had seen him as an icon especially after his battle with cancer and ultimate survival. His foundation “Livestrong” and his autobiography “It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life” were a legacy that transcended sports to the realm of a symbol of hope and survival. For us in India he was more personal as he was an inspiration for our own cricket star “Yuvraj Singh” in battling cancer. We always get jolted when the people we idolize fall from grace. As I have said in an earlier meditation that these heroes help us to live a vicarious life which we aspire to but cant live. That is why when an icon falls, the fall is very very personal. I remember when I had finished my standard 12 in the year 2000, the news of the fall from grace of my personal icon came to the fore. The news of Hansie Cronje caught in match fixing was a very personal jolt for me. He was one person I admired both as a cricketer and a human being. I had a taken a vow that I will never follow cricket again. Obviously I did not live up to my oath. But it did hamper me in more ways than one.

So what does the text above tell us? Paul is reminding the Church of Corinth of the fallings in the history of Israel. They were people journeying with Moses; God gave them the hope of a Promised Land and nourished them with Manna. But the people who began the journey fell midway in the desert. But this recounting of history had a purpose clearly stated in vs 6. “Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.” Paul is orienting us to the purpose and journey of our lives. In the Journey, God is not only interested in where we reach but who we become. He urges us that the heroes who fall are an example to us. It reminds us of our fallibility too. We are in a culture of competition where everyone believes winning is all that matters. Lance Armstrong epitomized that. In our daily lives let us stop for a while. Look at our lives. Don’t we too subscribe to the notion of “end justifies the means. Win at all costs. Nobody remembers who came second”.

The common response to Public failings is a head shaking in disbelief asking “How could he do that?” As David McCasland says “More helpful response would be the head that nods, ‘Yes, even I am capable of doing such a thing’, then bows in prayer for the one who has fallen.”

Whenever there are such failings of heroes and icons I remember what my parents taught me as a child. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12: 2. I live by that. There are examples that still give us hope. I have a friend Biren Subba who is a commando in the Indian Army. He is from Sikkim. He was my batchmate when I was doing my under graduation studies. Biren was a National Kickboxing Champion for two consecutive years (1999, 2000). He trained hard to defend his title in the year 2001. He was involved in 8 hours of rigorous practice for 6 months. As friends we wished him luck to go for a hat-trick. The competition was in Mumbai. It was supposed to be on for 2 weeks. But Biren returned to Pune within two days. My friends concluded that he had an early exit from the tourney. When we asked him about the proceedings of the tournament he replied “Every year the registration fee is Rs 1,500. But this year they made it Rs 5,000. There was a boy who had come to the tournament from my village in Sikkim. I had not seen him before. But he did not have the money to register. I know my place. When somebody goes for such a big tournament they have a lot of hopes.I did not want him to return home disappointed just because he did not have money. So I gave my money to him, as that was all that I had. I wished him luck.” He gave his chance to the boy from his land. A National Champion who had the magnanimity to let go his chance to win the glory for the third time is a story that has been part of my personal journey. I ask myself “Am I capable of that?” I need to grow to become somebody like that. That too is an example. Such stories point to the divinity in humanity and the potential we can achieve as humans. I fix my eyes on Jesus. Amen. 

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati

Paul What Were You Thinking? Pray Without Ceasing?

Text: Psalms 139: 1- 4, 23-24

O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

    you discern my thoughts from far away.

 You search out my path and my lying down,

    and are acquainted with all my ways.

 Even before a word is on my tongue,

    O Lord, you know it completely.

 

Search me, O God, and know my heart;

    test me and know my thoughts.

See if there is any wicked way in me,

    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Message:

Psalm 139 written by King David talks to us of a God who is inescapable. He is everywhere. He is a God with us. He is Emmanuel. Before we go further down that road let us take a break and find out if it is so in our lives. Is God so present in our lives? Do we actually believe that? Ok if we believe that do we live like that? Psalms 139: 4 says “Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.” That statement has a lot of implication for our times. Rev Jacob Thomas, whom we called JT, is one of the most dynamic speakers that I have come across. When I was a teen I heard his ever thought provoking talk in a Teen Camp where he asked us the question “What is that one word that comes to your tongue when you are angry?” There was a long silence. The silence prolonged. He broke it by saying “I am sure that it is not God Bless You.” And we roared in laughter. We understood what he meant. I am sure even the readers have guessed it. It is 4 letter magic word that starts with ‘F’. Acharya Osho has a very interesting analysis of how this word became so prominent. Fredrick Neitzche propounded the philosophical statement that “God is Dead.” When this statement became accepted in the American Culture, Sex was the next obsession that took over. So this 4 letter word displaced God from the conversations. So this word espoused all the various range of emotions. More than a bad word it became an adverb which defines various ranges of emotions like ecstasy, anger, frustration, beauty, irritation and curiosity. This seems to be a very apt analysis. This 4 letter word is indispensable to our conversations. It is splashed out in our mental landscapes. You have songs, movies, dialogues all splashed with these words. If one follows Facebook this word is used very liberally and extensively. ‘WTF’ has become part of our accepted cool dude lingo. Now why am I insisting so much on this word? It is not just a word but it displays our attitude. Unlike the Psalmist, we feel that God is Dead. We act like that. Or if not that radical, we have assigned God to private spaces of prayer, church and songs.

Apostle Paul completely believed in this Psalm. That’s why he exhorted the people of Thessalonica to “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17). He does not talk about taking some time to pray or an hour to pray or about the benefits of having a quiet time. He says something more radical. He says pray without ceasing. Now the question arises is that “How is it possible?”The answer we may come to is “It is impossible.” This is because of our understandings about prayer. We normally divide our daily life into thoughts about God and thoughts about people and events. Therefore we have assigned God a space and time where we converse with him and think Holy thoughts and say holy things. God is therefore removed from our daily life and events. But Paul reminds us that Prayer is an unceasing conversation with God. It means to think and live in the presence of God. It is the joyful affirmation that God knows our minds and our hearts and that nothing is hidden from Him. Prayer is the presentation of all thoughts divine and mundane, ugly and pervert, daydreams and night dreams to our God. When I write it I know how easy it is to write such wonderful sounding good thoughts. But in my personal experience this is far from easy. This is asking too much. There is a deep resistance to making ourselves so vulnerable, so totally unprotected. I indeed want to love God and worship Him, but I also want to keep a huge part of my inner corner for myself,where I can hide and think of my own secret thoughts, where I can nurture my hatred, where I can fan my lust and speak whatever I want to. And when I come to pray I select the thoughts carefully and make it sound very pious and lofty.My fear is, can God tolerate what goes in my heart and my mind. Can he handle my cruel fantasies, shameful dreams, inflated illusions and my deep seated selfishness?Sometimes we just want to hold on to these things.

Paul is asking me to get into a fearless conversation with my God where I bring my good and bad, ordinary and extraordinary, evil and divine thoughts and deeds to the Lord. From unceasing thoughts I am asked to move to unceasing prayers where the touch of God heals my deepest contradictions and pains. Only then can we pray along with David with confidence “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me,and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalms 139: 23, 24) But then when we come to this point, I am reminded of a conversation where my friend asked “How do we feel God in a world that is so brutal and nasty. In my workplace and in the market it is very difficult to feel the presence of God. And to pray unceasingly is so much tougher in such circumstances. It is easier to worry than to pray.” Whenever we say this or that is difficult i am reminded of the words of Dr P. C. Mathews, who is a personal mentor to me. He says “Who told you that Christian life is easy? Who told you that being a disciple is a cake walk?”

John Newton, was converted to Christianity when he was on the sea and a terrible storm broke out. He cried out to God and he was saved. But even after his conversion he continued the trade slave that he was involved in.  He traded many African slaves. He prayed everyday but he also traded slaves. He was inhuman in his dealings but never missed to read the bible and pray. He had a friend in John Wesley who showed him that his prayer life and his practices are contradictory. But John Newton kept resisting it. But once in midst of prayer he felt convicted of his ways. He quit his life of a slave trader and became a crusader against Slave trade. It is in midst of his struggles that he wrote one of the most immortal songs“Amazing grace, How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.” John Newton owned his wretchedness in the presence of the Lord and found that he was blind. He felt found by God and started seeing and feeling the presence of God.

In a world that denies the presence of God, we are called to‘Pray without ceasing.’ Prayer is a protest against the godlessness and the chaos of the world. Let us enter into a fearless, unceasing conversation with a God who searches our thoughts and minds and still loves us.

Let us close this meditation with a song that sums our life and journey as Christians.

 

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,

That saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see.

When we’ve been here ten thousand years

Bright shining as the sun.

We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise

Than when we’ve first begun.

 Amen.

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati

 

A Time To Let Go

 

Text: Luke 22: 14- 20

 

When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it[b] until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves;  for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

 

Message

 

As a child I remember the first time I went to the Circus. I was all excited to see the clowns, the lions, the tigers, the elephants, et al. But the time when my mouth was wide open with wonder was at the “Trapeze Act”. What is a Trapeze? A trapeze is a short horizontal bar hung by ropes or metal straps from a support. It is an aerial apparatus commonly found in circus performances. There are two set categories. The “Flyers” and the “Catchers.” The flyer climbs the steps, mounts the platform and grasps the trapeze that is suspended from the middle of the arena. The one doing this, leaps off the platform, holding the trapeze, swings through the air. While the catcher hangs from his knees on another trapeze, with his/her hands to reach out. The flyer has to let go the trapeze. She/he sails in midair with no support or connection. Some do a somersault or two. This act of letting go is a very risky one. The flyer has to completely trust the catcher to time accordingly and swing into action so that the catcher will hold the flyer. When I saw this, it was like “having my heart in my mouth” moment. Henri Nouwen a Dutch Catholic Priest interacted with trapeze artists. They said to him “The biggest challenge is to “let go” of the trapeze and trust that the catcher will hold before one descends to the ground. Letting go is an act of faith.

 

We saw Jesus having a great reception when he entered Jerusalem on a Donkey. He had the people on his side. In the passage set before us, we see Jesus at the table during the Passover. This is his final table fellowship with His disciples. John Ortberg says that table in Greek is called “Trapeza”. It is a time when Jesus like the flyers in Trapeze was about to “Let go” of his earthly life. He was walking towards the Cross. Jesus taught his disciples all through that meaning of life is not in clinging to certainties. Peter at Caesarea Philippi declared Jesus as Messiah but when Jesus spoke about suffering and cross that He had to endure, Peter took him to the side and rebuked him. Jesus harshly calls Peter “Get back Satan”. Peter wanted to cling on to Jesus. But Jesus taught life is to learn to ‘let go’ in faith. ‘Letting go’ is a challenge. “To let go” is the path of the cross. ‘To let go’ is to deny oneself and carry the cross and follow Jesus. Jesus lets go his life in Heaven and becomes a human. He lets go off his riches and was born in a manger. And now he is about to let go off his ministry and disciples. Before he lets his life go on the cross He prayed to the “Catcher”, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit.’ Passover meal celebrated the liberation of the Hebrew Slaves from Egypt. The meal reminded them of the deliverance of God. On the Passover table Jesus demonstrates His brokenness of the body and shedding of the blood through breaking the bread and distributing the wine. He made the “Letting go of the Cross” a memory to live by. Cross is a reality that needs to be inscribed in our lives. The Holy Communion is the reminder of the hope that if we ‘let go’ in faith, the ‘Catcher’ will hold us. 

 

We are burdened in life with regret. We are crippled by remorse. The sense of loss makes us bitter.  Despair makes us negative about all our experience. Revenge rules our mental landscapes. We see no hope. We cling on to all these things. Nurturing a sense of hurt is very difficult to let go. “To let go” our inferiority complex is very very difficult. If we hold on to it, we have an explanation for all the wrongs in our lives. If we let go, we have to have the faith that God is in control. It is easier to harbor hatred, revenge, guilt, feelings of hurt, than to let go. Strangely the negative things do give us a sense of control and letting them go makes us “helpless”. We have to have faith that God will hold us. He will not let us fall.

 

At an early age Sam lost his father due to an unfortunate circumstance. There were some people responsible for it. He grew up with hatred and a sense of revenge. But Sam was blessed with a devout mother who had faith in God and abandoned herself and her 4 children in the hands of God. She taught Sam the importance of faith and worship. When Sam became a youth the hatred deepened. The sense of revenge got louder. He was entrapped in the cage of regret, hatred and revenge. It affected his personality. He attended the worship and took part in the Holy Communion but he could never let go of his deep seated wounds. The only comfort was the love and prayer of his mother. Rev K.O. Philipose who was the Vicar of his church introduced him to the love and grace of Lord Jesus through his pastoral care. One day when he took part in the Holy Communion, Sam was moved by the words of Liturgy said by the priest before he administered the Holy Body and Blood. “The Holy Body and Holy Blood  of our Lord Jesus Christ, broken and shed on the cross for the forgiveness of sins, is given to you for the health of body and soul.” When he received the body and blood of Christ he remembers being moved beyond words. This encounter led him to experience the Cross and let go off his hatred, helplessness and revenge. It was this encounter that turned his life around where he let go and waited for God to catch him. It was this act of surrender that shaped his course of life. The brokenness of Jesus healed his deep seated wounds. The Blood of Christ washed his hatred and revenge. This story is the true story of my friend and mentor Rev Sam Koshy who is a blessed orator and Professor of Theology at the Mar Thoma Theological Seminary, Kottayam. My dear friends, the Holy Communion is not something magical. It is an invitation to ‘let go’ off our securities, insecurities, hatred, pain and revenge to increase our capacities to experience the Presence of God in our lives. 

 

Prayer: Lord forgive us.  We love to cling to our life and our circumstances. Train us to ‘let go’ to feel your presence and control in our lives. Amen

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati