Journey From Broken Hearts to Hearts Burning With Hope

 

Text: Luke 24: 13- 35

 

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them,  but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

 

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

 

Message:

 

The story of Resurrection stated above is a story of our lives. We are people on a journey. But with all the comforts that we have in our lives, there is one thing that we lack. It is hope that eludes us. The two disciples walking towards Emmaus is like any of us. It shows the Monday morning blues. The despair that we have. The questions that we ask. What is the purpose of life? Where is God in all this? Does my life really matter?  Look at what one of the disciples say. “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” (Luke 24: 20). It is the story of broken hopes and broken hearts. It is our everyday talk. “We had hope. Now we feel cheated.” “Things are never going to change. We have to accept it.” “We have to live with this hurt. We cannot dream anymore.” “I wanted this job but now I have reached a dead end. I do not see purpose in my life.” There have been moments in my life where despair had a better share. Hope was just a very fancy word. The Lord that I worshipped looked very distant and far. Resurrection seemed just a story.

 

There is a very popular comic strip called “Finding Waldo” which is full of graphic images. The task of the reader is to find a character called ‘Waldo’. But the fun part is it is very difficult to find Waldo. In the first page Waldo is very prominent and we can recognize it with ease. But as the pages are flipped the task gets very difficult. Part of the difficulty in finding Waldo is that he is very ordinary looking. Last page is the toughest as the room is full of counterfeit Waldos which distract us. Finding the original Waldo is the ordeal. The popularity of this comic strip has led this to be a very popular video game and apps on phone. The creator of this series is Martin Handford. He says he developed it “So that children are curious of their surroundings and explore the wonder around them.” We saw that finding Waldo in the initial pages is relatively easy but when one flips page it gets tough. Similarly in midst of despair and heart break where one has given up hope finding the presence of God is next to impossible. Everything looks very meaningless. We feel cheated. No explanation of faith looks meaningful.

It is in the context of pain and despair Jesus joins the 2 disciples who were totally shattered at the brutal event of crucifixion of Jesus. In midst of their pain and confusion Jesus walks with them. But they cannot recognize who he is. The presence of God eludes them. Waldo is hidden. Jesus listens to their predicament. Offers them companionship and gives them an ear. Their story of brokenness is important to him. These disciples did hear about the resurrection of Jesus but their hearts were too clouded to believe it. Resurrection looks like a joke. An absurd one. After listening to their story, Jesus speaks. It is like he walks with them and helps them to look at the scriptures.He interprets the Bible and gives them hope.  He showed them the purpose of the suffering of Christ. He introduced the promise of God. He assured them that death and suffering will not have the last word. There is hope. Resurrection is real.  When he is about to walk past these disciples, they call him to stay with them. At the table Jesus blesses the bread and breaks it. After that he gives it to them and their eyes were opened. Now they recognize Jesus. It is in the simple act of breaking of the bread that resurrection becomes real to them. This subtle encounter with the Risen Christ who walked with them in their pain transformed their broken hearts to burning hearts.  “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” (vs 32) After that they travelled to Jerusalem to give this message of hope and Resurrection.

 

William Bausch a Catholic priest narrates one of his experiences when a daughter of a man with cancer called him to pray with her father. When Wiliam Bausch reached to see the man suffering from cancer he saw that this man was lying on the bed and there was an empty chair next to him. So Fr William seeing the empty chair asked “Were you expecting me?” The man replied “No, who are you?” “My Name is Fr. William Bausch, the new Priest at your parish. Seeing the chair I thought you were expecting me.” The man who was bedridden answered “O the Chair, please close the door.” The priest got curious and closed it. “You know Father I always kept asking my priest about how to pray. He gave me all the answers that I never understood. One day he gave me a book by a Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar. This book was about prayer. I started to read and when I reached the second page, I had to look up the dictionary six times. With that I gave up. I was really in despair. With the cancer I found no comfort. Then one of my friends Joel told me that prayer is something simple. He asked me to ‘Take a chair and sit on it. Place an empty chair in front of you. In faith see Jesus on that chair. Remember he told the disciples I’ll be with you always.. Speak to Jesus. Feel his presence.’ You know Father first I felt that the advice was stupid. But when I started talking to the empty chair I actually felt the presence of Jesus. I felt him in the midst of my pain. His wounds were healing me. I have a peace that is beyond my physical condition. I may die but now I have hope.” William Bausch was deeply moved by this encounter. He urged the man to continue his practice. After two days he got a call from the daughter informing that her father was dead. She said “I found my father leaning on a chair having a smile on his face when I found him dead.”

 

My dear friends the message of resurrection is that we have hope. Our circumstance may depress us. We may feel lost. But Jesus is walking with us in this journey. He is listening to our prayers and our frustrations. In simple acts like prayers, reading the Bible and worshipping we can encounter him. He is walking next to us, transforming our broken hearts to hearts burning with zeal. He wants us to spread this message of hope. Resurrection is here. We did not find Waldo. Waldo found us.  Happy Easter.

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati

Fix Your Eyes On Jesus

Text: Hebrews 12:2

 

Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Message

As a  child whenever we went out as a family to visit relatives I feasted upon the snacks served to the embarrassment of my mother. I saw to it that not even a trace of mixture or sweets remains. Seeing this continuing she took me to task. “The snacks served are not for you to sweep it clean as if you don’t get anything at home. Take only as much as you need.” But when was obedience part of childhood. Next time when we went for our family visit my mom gave me the ‘Statutory Warning’. The snacks were served. And I pounced as instincts dictated me. Had one hand full. Then the next and suddenly conscience pricked and like Peter looked at Jesus after  denying him, I looked at my mom and those eyes that did Kathakalli instructed me to put those snack back. I looked into her eyes and my hands involuntarily became loose. Down went the snack. Power of a look I say.  Next terrain was the church. My friends and I played cross and knots, gossiped endlessly and displayed our art on our sunday school books when the Priest gave sermon in full gusto. This annoyed my mother. And whenever we played or spoke I just gave a glance to see if she is looking and to my disappointment always she was busy rolling her eyes. When I look back in retrospect, looking at my mother’s eye helped me understand what it means to fix your eyes on Jesus. This fixing of my eye on my mother instructed me, disciplined me and it also exuded comfort and assurance. I remember when I was in standard 8 I had failed in the subject of Marathi and when I went home when I broke this news I looked into her eyes. But her eyes said “it is ok.” Try again. How comforting.

The author of Hebrews uses the  imagery of race. The church is made aware of the great cloud of witnesses that would inspire them to run the race by countering all the hurdles that come in the way. The Epistle is addressed to a church that is facing immense persecution and trouble.  Therefore the imagery of race becomes meaningful when the Icon of Jesus as the perfecter and pioneer of faith is used. In vs 2 the author asks the people to fix their eyes on Jesus. The participle aphorontes in Greek which means fixing the eye makes sense in a Greek Olympics where the athlete had to fix the eye on the image of the Greek God that was fixed at the end of the race. This helped the athletes to run so as to become like the God and imbibe divinity through their running. The icon of the Greek god propelled the athletes to overcome the cruelties of the terrain and the competitive attitude of the opponents. In this context the author uses the imagery of the crucified Jesus for them to continue their race and withstand the persecution of the context in order to transcend it.  In such a context the author formulates a response that shows them the possibility of a faith and presents to them a Christ who has taken the shame of the cross and endured it through absolute faith. The hostility and the shedding of the blood of Christ are emphasized for the people to relate to their everyday experiences. In the context of persecution the people had submissive attitudes that made them think low of themselves. Since Christ is what made the community possible, the author makes a self formation possible by presenting Christ as crucified and humiliated. This makes their experiences real and bearable. An imagery that helped them accept the reality of suffering.

My dear friends fixing our eyes on Jesus has two dimensions. One it comforts us to carry on in life when every situation militates against us. It gives us hope to carry on when everything seems lost. Recently one of my friend Abraham George cleared his C.A. examinations. He has been doing it for past 7 years. I really admire him for his tenacity and perseverance. There might have been so many voices that deterred him, there may be millions of self doubts as to the possibility of clearing the exams. When I spoke to him he said in a very emotional tone. “Every single day in the last 7 years I was living and dying. By God’s grace I have made it.” Abraham had fixed his eyes on Jesus to get to his goal. I know many friends who are pursuing some goal at this point of time. Please don’t give up on it. Fix your eyes on Jesus. Slowly but surely by the will of God you will reach there.

The second dimension  of Fixing the eyes is that of responsibility. This eyes disciplines us, helps us to correct our track in life. It helps us to accept our failures to move on. Nobody knew this more than Peter. Let us turn our Bibles to Luke 22: 60- 62

 Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.”  And he went outside and wept bitterly.

It says after Peter denied Jesus, Jesus looked straight at Peter. And then Peter went out and wept bitterly. Anthony DeMello in his book Song Of the Bird says that He wondered why did Peter cry after Jesus looked at Peter. What did Peter see in Jesus’ eyes? Anthony continued “While I was praying I started practicing the Early Church style of prayer where they raised their arms and looked to the sky as if looking into Jesus’ eye. I started it but after a month my heart was filled with guilt. I did not have the strength in me to lift my eyes and fix it on Jesus as I felt in his eye I would find him condemning me for the sins that I have done. I feared his judgment. So for 3 months I continued to pray this way. My soul was restless. I had no peace. And I told myself that tomorrow when I pray I will look into Jesus eye and face the consequences. I can’t live like this. I have to fix my eye on him. The next day when I raised my eye and looked into the Eye of Jesus, I saw in his eyes abundant love for me. I was expecting judgment and I would handle that. But in spite of everything the love was too much for me. I went out and wept bitterly. Then I realized what Peter that day saw in Jesus’ eye. That look restored the denying disciple to become the rock on which the church was to be built.”

Every time when we come to the Lord ’s Table we should be aware of the abundant love that has made us whole. It is a comfort to see love for us in Jesus eye. But let us not stop at that. We have a responsibility to measure up to that love. It calls to be like Jesus. Christian life is not just about being intoxicated by the Grace of God. It is also a life of responsibility where we are called to be healers, comforters, story tellers and beacon of hope in a world that is groaning with pain. My fellow pilgrims let us fix your eyes on Jesus. Amen

ImageRev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati

 

 

Stop. Stop. Stop. Let us ‘See’ the Burning Bush

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Text: Exodus 3: 1-6

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.”

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father,[a] the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

Message

Rev Abraham Varghese in his Documentary “Kick Kill Kinder” shows the impact of video games on youths and children. Apart from the violence it simulates and celebrates, the greatest impact of it is that children and youths have no excitement and wonder that makes life meaningful. The world of Virtual Reality is so spectacular and splendid that the world we live in fails to stimulate or excite. Everything is boring. In a recent survey done in Tokyo, Japan, Psychologist expressed shock that children under 12 have lost awe and wonder for everything. Even the prospect of travelling to the moon does not excite them. Similarly in a world of 24/7 News and Reality TV we have become numb to life. Nothing shocks us. Nothing excites us. Everything is normal. Nothing shakes us up. We have got used to people dying in bomb blasts. We are bored of the statistics of children dying of hunger. To shock us we need something more catastrophic.

In such a context we understand that Moses was out on a very mundane task of tending the flock. Burning bushes were a common feature then. It was everywhere. Moses could have easily missed it. But Moses slows down and says “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” This strange sight excited him. He was filled with wonder. This awe and wonder is the initiating point into his great ministry of liberating Israelites from slavery. Just for a moment imagine if Moses had missed the Burning Bush? Moses saw the Burning Bush. God spoke to him through this burning bush. God commissioned Moses to liberate Israelites at the Burning Bush. Seeing the Burning Bush was important.

Let us look at the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus is talking about Judgment. “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,  I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ (Matthew 25: 41-45)

In this passage the problem with people was that they did not see the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the sick and the prisoner. Funny part the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the sick and the prisoner were all  over the place. It was a routine sight. Nothing new or exciting. They got used to it. The pain and need of the people did not challenge them into action. The Judgment was on the excuse that they had eyes and they did not ‘See’.

Today we live in a world of spectacles. We are saturated with information and visuals. Nothing excites us. We have become apathetic to our neighbourhood. There are many burning bushes around us. But we do not bother to stop. We do not wait to see. We have become blind. Jesus commands us to slow down. He says “Take a break you who are in a mad rush. Slow down you who are determined by deadlines. Look around you who have eyes but do not see. Listen up, you who have ears but do not hear.” Let us stop for a while and ask ourselves, are we missing our Burning Bush. I will leave you with a parable that has helped me a lot. I have used it in many of my sermons as I feel it talks to all of us.

A young and successful executive was traveling down a neighborhood street, going a bit too fast in his new Jaguar. With music on and the glasses rolled up he was enjoying the bliss of speed. But suddenly  a brick smashed into the Jag’s side door! He slammed on the brakes and backed the Jag back to the spot where the brick had been thrown. The angry driver then jumped out of the car, grabbed the nearest kid and pushed him up against a parked car shouting, “What was that all about and who are you? Just what the heck are you doing? That’s a new car and that brick you threw is going to cost a lot of money. Why did you do it?” The young boy was apologetic. “Please, mister…please! I’m sorry but I didn’t know what else to do,” he pleaded. “I threw the brick because no one else would stop. I have been asking for help for the past two hours!” With tears dripping down his face and off his chin, the child pointed to a spot just around a parked car. “It’s my brother,” he said. “He rolled off and fell out of his wheelchair and I can’t lift him up.” Now sobbing, the boy asked the stunned executive, “Would you please help me get him back into his wheelchair? He’s hurt and he’s too heavy for me.” Moved beyond words, the driver tried to swallow the rapidly swelling lump in his throat. He hurriedly lifted the handicapped boy back into the wheelchair, then took out a linen handkerchief and nursed the fresh scrapes and cuts. A quick look told him everything was going to be okay. “Thank you and May God bless you,” the grateful child told the stranger. Too shook up for words, the man simply watched the boy push his wheelchair-bound brother down the sidewalk toward their home. It was a long, slow walk back to the Jaguar. The damage was very noticeable, but the driver never bothered to repair the dented side door. He kept the dent When the friends at office asked him why he was not repairing the dent, He answered.  “I need that dent to remind me not to go through life so fast that someone has to throw a brick at you to get your attention!”

John Ortberg, the author of ‘The Life You’ve Always Wanted’ says that when he went to his spiritual mentor for an advice to have a more meaningful and spiritual life. His mentor gave him just one advice. “Learn the Art of Slowing Down. Ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” Let us stop. Let us ‘See’ the Burning Bush.

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati

You Fool??? Did I Hear That Right???

 

Text: Luke 12: 13- 21

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?”  Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest.  He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

  “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain.  And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

  “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

  “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Message

Let me begin this with a contemporary parable that has given me a lot of perspective. A group of alumni, highly established in their careers, got together to visit their old university professor. Conversation soon turned into complaints about stress in work and life.Offering his guests coffee, the professor went to the kitchen and returned with a large pot of coffee and an assortment of cups – porcelain, plastic, glass, crystal, some plain looking, some expensive, some exquisite – telling them to help themselves to the coffee.When all the students had a cup of coffee in hand, the professor said: “If you noticed, all the nice looking expensive cups have been taken up, leaving behind the plain and cheap ones. While it is normal for you to want only the best for yourselves, that is the source of your problems and stress.

Be assured that the cup itself adds no quality to the coffee. In most cases it is just more expensive and in some cases even hides what we drink. What all of you really wanted was coffee, not the cup, but you consciously went for the best cups… And then you began eyeing each other’s cups.

Now consider this: Life is the coffee; the jobs, money and position in society are the cups. They are just tools to hold and contain Life, and the type of cup we have does not define, nor change the quality of life we live.

Keeping this parable in perspective let us look at our Biblical passage set in front of us. Jesus is asked to be an arbiter of a case where we have two brothers warring over an inheritance. In response to this request Jesus narrates the Parable of the Rich Fool. What exactly was wrong with this man? Was he a sinner? Did he abuse his wife? Did he cheat? I guess the answer is not that easy. It looks like he was a man who had a lot of things going well for him. He was focused on the harvest that had brought bonus to his life. He was a man who was building his riches on possessions. He was celebrating on the riches that he had. His future was secure. Life was a song. But then when everything is right God calls him a fool. Fool? Why? He was the man that the world would love to know. He would be the first one to be called to our parties. He would be one of those who we would request to inaugurate our establishments. He would be a very important person in our Church and Committee.

Many of us are very particular about our lifestyles. Many I know are very focused about their careers. The cars and phones we have, display our success. The locality in which we live is a testimony of the influence that we have. The home we have is the trophy of our dedication in pursuit of security and prestige. The Wedding receptions we hold shout out the clout we have. To get here we work 16 hours. Get into overtime. Get into loans after loans. We try to fit in. In this chase we have no time for God, for family and friends. In the name of doing it for family, one gets even more far from family. Husband has no time for wife and vice versa. Both have no time for children. No time for people around. Life is just a mad race to get somewhere. If one can identify with any of the above, God is saying to you“You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”  Now, that sounds rude! We are very used to seeing Jesus comforting us. But the truth is, He confronted many a people.  Now He is confronting you. He is asking you some very disturbing questions. Talmud the interpretation of the Torah(First 5 Books of the Bible) says “One should repent the previous day one is going to die.” Then the question is how one knows when we are going to die. The answer in it is “Live like today is your last day.” This is a parable that asks us to reset our priorities. Are we rich towards God? Are we investing in relation and people that have eternal value? Where do we stand?

I will end with a story. Once there was a clergy. He had a visitor from the United States. They were meeting for the first time. The man and his wife gifted the Clergy a gold coin. The Clergy refused. He said “I cannot accept this.” The woman said “Achen you have to.” Then she narrated a story. “When your mother Simoni was  teacher in Anjal (a small village in Kerala) we lived in your neighbourhood. Your mother was a very prayerful woman. She was available for everyone. I had finished by matriculation (10th grade) and wished to go for nursing. My family was very poor and had no source to help me accomplish my dream. But my parents approached your mother who was fondly called as Simoni Teacher. When my father expressed our predicament, this lady of 7 children did not think twice. She removed her gold locket and gave it to my father. It is because of that great gesture I could study further and become a nurse. That is how I got a Job in the U.S. Today I have come back to return that Gold Locket with gratitude to God and your mother..”  This Simoni teacher died in Anjal itself in 1961. But her deed lived on. She invested in people. She was rich toward God and her richness was the relationships that are eternal. Her witness was this Nurse who could live her dream because this Simoni teacher was ready to sacrifice her riches. My dear friends it is time to review our attitude towards God. It is time to examine our spirituality. Are we investing in people? Is our money, our possessions instrumental in realizing the dreams of students who do not have the means to do so? Are we people with a social conscience? May God help us to set our priorities. May we hear God saying “Good and faithful Servant…..”

P.S. Simoni teacher is my paternal Grand Mother. (My father lost his mother when he was 8 yrs old and the youngest of the siblings was 1 and a half years). The Clergy in the story is my uncle Rev Dr George Mathew, Kuttiyil, who has dedicated a Scholarship in the Mar Thoma Seminary in the name of Simoni Mathew to make her investment an eternal one. 

 Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati

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Jesus Calls Ordinary People To Do Extraordinary Works (Matthew 28: 16 – 20)

 

Text: Matthew 28: 16-20

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.  When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.  And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Message

In the field of education we have a phenomenon called the Pygmalion Effect. Before we explore what it means let us explore the myth of Pygmalion. It is said that Pygmalion was a Sculptor from Cyprus. He was not interested in any woman in his country and therefore delayed his marriage. Finally he decided to make a statue of a woman with all love and creativity. He invested all hopes and aspirations into it. Once when he kissed the statue, the lips became warm and the lifeless form breathed life. So the Pygmalion Effect challenges the grading of a student as intelligent, average or below average. It supposes that if we expect a student to do well despite his/her poor academic record, chances are great he/she will rise to our expectations. This approach is also useful for managers and team leaders who with their positive expectations and encouragements can transform their team to do wonders.

We are meditating the very well known passage which is popularly called as the Great Commission. Jesus commissions the 11 disciples on a mountain in Galilee. It is said that when they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted. When we look at the people we refer as disciples, their inconsistency strikes us the most. James and John said they wanted to be on Jesus’ left and right when he came in his glory. At Gethsemane, when Jesus asked Peter, James and John to pray along with him, they dozed off. During the crucifixion they all deserted him. Peter denied him thrice. When the news of his resurrection was around, they chose not to believe it. Even when fellow disciples said they saw Resurrected Christ, Thomas chose to doubt. To such a group of men with huge inconsistencies and failures, Jesus says “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus is investing his expectations on a band of so called ‘losers’. But by the help of the Trinity these 11 losers change and transform the history of the world. They rise up to the commission laid down by their Master. Not only that, he also assures his presence to the end of the age.

Personally when I look at myself and evaluate my call and commission, I am aware that with all my internal contradictions and failures, I do not fit the bill. When I was ordained and commissioned to the Northeast, the thought troubled me, whether I was ready for something so challenging. But I realized that God does not call perfect people to do His work. He makes imperfect people perfect in the journey of doing His will. He also assures us his presence and guidance.

My dear friends, we live in times where negativity has become order of the day. In this fast and competitive world, where 95 and 96 is also average, there seems to be no place for ordinary people. One of my friends doing M.B.A. confided that “This is a cruel world. You have to be extraordinary and different to be in the race. Ordinary people like me have no chance of survival.” We live in times where we need to prove our worth or else we are good for nothing. What does one do? Where does one go? What is the purpose of life? My dear friends this passage is a testimony where our Saviour used very ordinary people to do extra ordinary things. There will be many people who will question our worth and integrity. But take heart. Our creator has created us for a purpose; He has invested his expectation on us. He has called us to do great things. Are we ready to rise up to His expectations?

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Roshen George is from Vashi Mar Thoma Church. I happened to know Roshen through my association with Navjeevan Centre Mumbai where I volunteered for nearly 2 years. The imprint of Roshen in the lives of the Children of Navjeevan Centre is very unique and distinct. He initially volunteered to be a house brother at Navjeevan to mould the lives of the children. He also taught children maths and science. I realized his presence and guidance was an inspiration for children who were in search for role models. But who is Roshen? What is his past? After his twelth grade Roshen decided to do Engineering. After venturing into it he realized that he was not meant for it. He failed in many subjects, got back log after back log. His self esteem took a beating, he started to venture into the realm of addiction. He lost track of his life becoming a headache for his parents and a matter of ridicule and scorn for the people who knew him. He decided that he is no good and plunged into despair and depression. It is at this time that Rev Kurien George was the Director of Navjeevan Centre. He was renowned as a counselor par excellence. Roshen’s parent’s in their countless effort to help Roshen out, also approached Rev Kurien. Achen called Roshen to Navjeevan and Roshen too very reluctantly went tired of the many efforts of people to straighten him up. But when they first met, Reverend asked him what he is good at. This was a much unexpected question. He had come to believe he was good for nothing. But strangely he said he loves mathematics. Reverend assigned him the task of teaching math for the children of 9th and 10th statndard of Navjeevan Centre. He was not used to being given responsibilities. But he took this one up. He dedicated himself to teach the children. In the meanwhile Rev Kurien engaged with him and helped him to deal with his problems of addiction and failure. Through prayers, fellowship and new sense of responsibility, Roshen was slowly being transformed. Roshen confided with me “It is these children who have changed me, they taught me how to pray, I learnt the love of Jesus observing their life, and therefore I will live for these Children. I will help them in their faith journey.” This was not a momentary decision. Even today, Roshen is the mentor of the boys at the Halfway home of Navjeevan Centre at Vashi. He is a role model and a brother to them. A person who was deemed as a failure and a headache was touched by the Love of God. He was endowed with expectations that he lived up to. This ordinary man did extraordinary things because Rev Kurien used the Grace of Jesus to transform him. The transformed became the transformer. Remember, when people write you off and discard you as a failure, Jesus invests expectations on you, believes in you and transforms you. Are you ready to live up to it? 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati

Who Is Your ‘Onesimus’?

Text- Philemon: 8-16.

For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty,  yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love—and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus.  I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment.  Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me.  I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you.  I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel;  but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever,  no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

 Message

 Paul’s Letter to Philemon is a classic letter to a Christian who had a runaway slave. Philemon seems to be a very devout Christian, with lavish praises from Paul. But then the shift in the letter is vey disturbing and intriguing. It seems Philemon had a slave who ran away from him. Running away from a master was a crime worthy of imprisonment. Paul himself was imprisoned for reasons not mentioned here. This seems the contact point of Paul and Onesimus was the prison. We can assume that this slave had brought Philemon huge loss in his act of running away. This is where the appeal of Paul to accept Onesimus as a brother and not a slave becomes very important.

 

Let us analyse Philemon. He was a very zealous Christian but his slave was beyond the ambit of the Gospel or communion. He needed a Paul to remind him about the dignity of a slave. It was not in the stratification but the communion of Jesus that makes us all brothers and sisters in fellowship. Philemon thought that the gospel was only for people in the church and the slave at home was away from it. Probably he even did not recognize the personhood of Onesimus. It is at this point where  Paul reminds that Onesimus is a human worthy of being called a brother. We too are like Philemon. We need a Paul to remind us about the dignity of people around us. Let us look around and ask ourselves what are our attitudes towards our servants at home, peons at our work places, the auto rickshaw drivers, coolies et al, and we will find that our attitudes are abysmal, marred with suspicion and prejudice. It may have basis too. But Paul reminds us we have to rise above these prejudices and accept people and respect them as our brothers and sisters. We may answer that we do not mistreat them. That is true, we hardly ill-treat any of them. But the problem lies somewhere else. The problem is that these people have become invisible for us. We behave as if they do not exist. Ignoring the existence of the personhood of people is a sin comparable to no other.

 

 Let me quote a story illustrated by Stephen Covey in his book “Eighth Habit” which I have adapted to my convenience. “ In  a school a teacher declared to the Class 8 that the next day he would conduct a written quiz. The quiz would have a question paper with 20 questions. The students were all excited and surveyed encyclopedia, google, Wikipedia, etc. to do their best in the quiz. The day came. The teacher distributed the question papers. Their pen were in a ready, get, set, go… mode. The questions were tough but their preparations were great. Till the 19th question the sailing was smooth. But the 20th question was a stumbling block. Nobody knew the answer. One of the students stood up and asked “What kind of a question is this? Name the woman who helps in cleaning the premises of your school? Is that a question worthy of a quiz?” The teacher patiently replied. “Son, you know the name of the president of Belaruz. The name of the Fifa Player of the year comes to you as easy as breath, but the lady who has been cleaning the school premises seems invisible to you. When she walks around you don’t even acknowledge her. It’s a danger when we recognize and acknowledge people only on basis of labels and merits. We need to respect people as humans. Even if you have answered 19 questions, if u can’t answer the 20th one, my students you have failed the quiz of being good humans.”

 

 Let us ask who are the invisible people in our lives. Let us not wait for a Paul to write a letter to us to correct our perceptions. Let us recognize the Onesimus in our lives and reconcile with him or her. We are the people who love the idea of having mission fields in far off places taken care by somebody. But we need to recognize that mission fields are our daily living zones where we are to be witnesses of the love of God to all the people we come across. Let us not ask the question “who is my neighbor?” like the lawyer asked Jesus. (Luke 10:29). Who is your Onesimus?

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

GuwahatiImage

 

Out Of Our Comfort Zones

 

Text: Mark 10: 17- 22

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.  You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’ ”  He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.”  Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”  When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Message

Story of the rich fool is a popular whipping boy for most of our sermons and meditations. Was he so outrageous or at fault? Or is he like us? I think it is the latter. He is very much like us and is very comfortable in life. But he is confused. In such a background he must have heard of Jesus and his acts must have thrilled him. And seeing the wonder maker he was overwhelmed and fell on his knees saying  “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” But Jesus instead of answering his question directly tries to correct him by saying “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone” This actually is a very confusing statement but Jesus deemed it necessary to say so. Jesus saw the yearning and sparkle in his eyes that was full of awe and admiration. Jesus understood that the young man was Hero worshipping him.

We all have heroes that we look up to. Having a hero is very human. It gives us a meaning and cause to our lives. Rahul Dravid has been my hero for a long time now. Similarly I adore Raphael Nadal and Lionel  Messi. I am also a huge fan of Amitabh Bachchan. I recently read that the brand of the New Gen cricket star Virat Kohli’s brand is getting bigger day by day. The  heroes we have reflect who we are. They fulfill some of our desires that we cannot achieve. Their achievements give us a vicarious pleasure of living a parallel life through them. I have a friend who is very graceful when I criticize him but he goes violent and berserk when I condemn or make fun of the Master Blaster Sachin Tendulkar. I am sure many of us too have this compulsion to safeguard our heroes. It was tragic to read about the fall of an inspirational hero and 7 times Tour de France champion cyclist Lance Armstrong. The papers condemn him for having polluted the cleanest mode of transport.  Cycling. Heroes are not supposed to be fallible. They cannot cheat nor are they supposed to do wrong. If so they destroy a certain part of being that we anchored upon them.

So then the problem of depending on a hero is that it shifts the focus from us to the heroes that we worship. What they say, what they wear, what they do is important. Instead of realizing what we can do with our talents and potentials to transform the world around us, we are fixated on a vicarious alter being of us that just massages our egos. In the range of heroes Jesus too can be our hero. The stories of his majesty and his compassion place him on a pedestal that puts a gap between Him and us. Jesus today is used as an idol that justifies our living. When somebody marvels at our riches or our prosperity we like parrots affirm “It is all by His Grace. Praise the Lord”. Like the young man we too need a set formula to follow where in we can have the riches and as a bonus have eternal life too. For us good people are those who go to church, do all that is right and also people of great success. Sounds so much like the rich young man in the story. But Jesus shifts the focus from the blind Hero worship to a life focused on God. Discipleship is not saying “Praise the Lord” and sounding religious. Discipleship is faith that helps us to step out of our comfort zones. Faith transforms us from self obsession to the process of being a “Grain of wheat ready to die so that many can have life.” Faith is the sense of surrender where we can sell everything and give the money to the poor. And then follow Christ in transforming the world. It is a costly call. When I type this I am being convicted of my own hypocrisy.

I have a friend who is an Engineer by profession. His name is Sameer Pethe. I first met him when he was an engineering student participating in a debate module called Model United Nations. I was conducting the training sessions. He came across as a guy who was happy go lucky and just wanted a great job and a lot of money. I lost touch with him. When I met him he did have a great job that paid him well. But he was dissatisfied with life. Just earning money and being successful looked meaningless.  Struggling with all these questions he took a daring step. He joined an organization that helps in planned social intervention. This is way out of his comfort zone.A week back he came to a place called Morigaon in Assam that was mercilessly ruined by the floods. He is in a project that rehabilitates the flood affected people. The conditions he works under are rather risky. I felt very proud of him as he was ready to step out to transform the world around him. I have been in Assam during the flood and the riots and I fit the song that says “All the good things that nobody did.” Now to placate my conscience I will visit him this Tuesday, to gauge what exactly he is into.

ImageIn the end, my question to myself and those reading is just this. “Is Jesus our Hero that comforts us and keeps telling us I love you as you are. Be the way you are.” There is an aspect of truth in this. But this part is way too emphasized. If Jesus is our Lord and savior he demands us to step out of our comfort zones. He demands us to stop using him for self preservation and as a lucky charm. He calls us to follow him without clinging to our securities and comforts. Do we believe that faith helps us to be a blessing to others, to transform the society around us? Jesus does not call us to be successful. He calls us to be fruitful. Are we ready is the question.

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati