Kurieeleison- Lord Have Mercy

 

TEXT: Mark 10: 46-52

They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”  So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.  Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.”  Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

Message: 

In the book of Mark, Jesus giving sight to Bartimaeus is the last miracle. Jeffery John in the book ‘Meaning in the Miracles’ says this miracle is the climax that contrasts spiritual blindness of the disciples  with the physical blindness of Bartimaeus. Mark 10: 17- 31 is about the Rich Young Man and 10: 35-45 is about the request of James and John who wanted to sit at the right and left of Christ when he would come in His glory. The Rich man wanted the Kingdom of God as a bonus, or as an add on to the existing privileges and status that he has. Mark 10: 32-34 Jesus predicts his death and resurrection but James and John ignoring the aspect of suffering wanted high places when Jesus came in glory. Without the experience of Cross, they wanted to embrace resurrection and all the benefits attached to it. Previously in Mark 8: 32, Peter too refused to accept the way of the cross. In such a context a Blind man who was known as Son of Timaeus (Bar in Aramaic means Son) was on the wayside, dispossessed and without any identity. Mark 11:1-11 is the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, the climax of His Messiahship being recognized. But before that, the cry of Bartimaeus declares the messiahship of Jesus. Mark shows the irony that Disciples of sight did not see what a Blind man perceived. He was crying out in desperation “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Michael Marshal says that in Greek KuriosImage which means Lord and Eleeo- which means mercy was used and this cry of Bartimaeus was adopted in the liturgy by the Church which we now use, “Kurie-eleison”. After being rebuked by the crowd, we see Jesus heeding his cry and calls him. At that time Bartimaeus rises up and throws off his cloak which some scholars believe allude to baptism. His healing was a foretaste of resurrection and the giving up o cloak was “putting off” the old life for the new. Bartimaeus said he wanted to see and his faith heals him by the words of Jesus. In vs 52 Jesus tells him to “Go”, but having received sight, He follows Jesus on the road. He becomes the model disciple who is ready to journey with Jesus to the Cross.

 

Reflections:

This lent we need to look into our Spiritual blindness. In a very consumer world, Jesus has become a product that ensures we prosper. He has become a commodity that ensures good luck. We are in many ways like the rich young man. In our spiritual journey, being followers of Christ unfortunately is about succeeding in life and reaching places so that we may be counted among the high and mighty. We are not blind, but we refuse to see the path of the Cross that Jesus invited us to. There is no cure to the blindness where one refuses to see. Let us accept that we are Christians with our “conditions apply” policy and this has alienated us from the Way of the Cross without which there is no Resurrection. So when we join in our liturgy saying “Kurie-eleison Kurie-eleison Kurie-eleison”, let us have the same sense of desperation that Bartimaeus had. Let us recognize our blindness compounded with the strong desire to “See”. When we hear Jesus call let us own our Baptism by reliving it. Let us rise, “put off our cloak” of pretence and hypocrisy. Jesus will make us a new creation. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come.” (2 Cor: 5: 17). Once we are healed and ready to see, it is time to focus on the Cross. Let us resolve to follow Jesus.

Annama Mammen, an 18 year old woman accepted Christ and wanted to go for gospel work. But her parents opposed her zeal. So without telling them, she left home and reached Andhra Pradesh to work as a missionary. There she did not know the language, had no support and fell ill. She had tuberculosis. In such a moment of crisis she receives the letter of her mother in which she writes “Dear Annamma, please come home. We are all waiting for you. We can do gospel work here. Why you want to suffer there in an unknown land. We love you very much.” After reading the letter to her mother Annamma was in a fix. She did not know what to do. With all the suffering and pain, she was tempted to go back. She prayed and decided to work in the place that she was. In such a moment she wrote the classic malayalm song that is found in the Mar Thoma Kristeeya Kirtenam, song number 235 Lokamaam Gambheera  Vaaridhiyil. She resolved that she is not going to compromise but will journey ahead looking at the cross, she will keep fighting for Jesus. She will forsake her life for her savior to the last breath of her life. Week after week we too sing this song “Yatra Cheyum Njaan Krooshe Noki.” Hope the next time we sing the song we remember the sacrifice of Annamma Mammen and sing the song and live according to the spirit with which she wrote. Are we ready to journey looking at the cross? Are we ready to follow Jesus like Bartimaeus did? May God lead us in His way.

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati

 

 

Kingdom of God Is Like A Mustard Seed

Text: Matthew 13: 31- 32

 

 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

 

Message

 

Let us start with a riddle.

What is stronger than God,

More Evil than the Devil,

Poor Have it,

Rich do not know about it,

If you eat it, you will die

 

When I first heard this riddle I scratched my head. All possible foolish answers came to my mind. I was clueless. But when I heard the answer I cringed even further. The answer of the riddle is “Nothing.” That is the beauty of a riddle that profound truth is communicated in the simplest means. Jesus also used parables in this fashion where the divine truths were communicated using simple examples from nature. In the passage set in front of us we have Jesus talking about the Kingdom of God. As many theologians point out that the word Kingdom was a stumbling block for the listeners of Jesus. It always evoked the grandiosity of the Royal legacy of Israel under King David and Solomon. It also evoked grand images of huge facades that were symbolic of the Roman Empire. So if Jesus said that Kingdom of heaven is like “Cedars of Lebanon” (The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; Ps 92: 12) he would just be playing into the imagery of grandiosity. But here Jesus says that Kingdom of God is like a tiny mustard seed. In Galilee the mustard seed was seen more as a weed. The Rabbis forbade people from planting mustard seeds in their garden as once it was planted it took over the garden leaving no place for other plants. It grows up to 8- 10 feet. Once the sower sows mustard seeds, he loses control over it.

 

Now is that what the Kingdom of God like? I guess yes. When people of faith do small acts with great love, the Holy Spirit provides growth beyond the imagination of human comprehension. I have a friend in Dubai who has an anonymous group who gather together to pray and serve the will of God. They wish to be an anonymous group that supports God’s work and mission with prayers and monetary contributions. If they come to know the need of a particular village or place, they will pray about it and come together to contribute for the cause and wish to remain anonymous in the whole process. When I came to know about their work I really believed the statement that I read recently. “Let the photos on Facebook of great charity not fool you. Greatest work of love is going on hidden far away from the gaze of the world of Facebook by people who are anonymous.”

 

More than the growth aspect, the emphasis is that this becomes a tree where birds come and take rest. Kingdom of God is where all people are welcome. It is where over the needs of the self, the need of my neighbor takes prime importance. To illustrate this let me tell you a very common story.

 

There are different versions but one story goes something like this. Once upon a time there was a mother whose son became ill and died. The mother was a wreck because of her grief. Unable to face living with the heavy burden of sadness, in desperation she went to a wise man.

The wise man listened sympathetically, thought for a moment and said.

“I think the answer to your problem will be a special kind of mustard seed. What you must do is this.

Find some home where they have not known the grief of the death of a loved one, then collect a mustard seed from the garden and bring it back to me. I will then show you how to deal with your grief.”

Strange advice the woman thought….but on the other hand….. he is known to be a wise man, so she set off on this unusual quest.

The first house she chose was that of a rich family, a huge house with large well-kept grounds. She explained her quest to the woman who answered the door. Is this by any chance a house where there has been no such grief as the grief I have experienced in losing my son? The woman who had opened the door, burst into tears. “You couldn’t have come to a worse place. Grief? Let me tell you about grief.” And she began to explain the total tragedy her family had suffered over recent months.

The woman who had lost her son listened, amazed that someone so rich might have encountered such a disaster. On the other hand she thought to herself, perhaps my experience makes me the sort of person who might understand. So she stayed a while, counselled the sad rich woman, then when the rich woman appeared able to cope a little better, off she went on her journey again.

I think you may have already guessed. The next house was exactly the same. A nice house on the outside yet another real story of unhappy experiences – and once again she left but only after helping as best she could. And then on to the next, again a house visited by grief – and the next.

But here is the curious consequence. Gradually – imperceptibly she became more and more focused on the task of helping others and more and more forgetful of her own unhappiness.

She had started with a quest for a seed – a mustard seed and her journey brought her to the point where though her grief was still there as a memory – something else was growing in its place. She started becoming a tree where the birds could come and take rest. Even the smallest wounds in our lives can heal the pain of people if we submit ourselves to God who works in mysterious ways.  

 

Growth is the hallmark of a Christian life. Paul articulates this beautifully in Ephesians 4: 15 ‘Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.’ Growth is painful and at the same time unpredictable and sometimes undesirable. But growth at times does not seem the focus of Christians. Bill Peddie illustrates this in a very beautiful fashion. He talks about Bonsai Christians. “You probably know that a bonsai tree is a miniature version of a larger tree which is deliberately altered by cutting or tying its tap root so that it can be a small, decorative addition to a cultivated garden, rather than the tree nature intended it to be. In terms of Christians I guess the tap root is the one that allows direct contact with the main teachings of Jesus. A bonsai Christian then is one that would prefer to function without the challenge. Given a call to mission, the bonsai Christian would prefer to return to the comfort of the familiar music and listening to familiar prayer. The bonsai Christian will seek the setting of the rich wooded pews, the carved Church furniture, the sonorous organ, – or perhaps seek the modern entertainment style worship of the large crowd and technologically savvy preacher who knows how to work the crowd. A religion perhaps that pampers and comforts has an attraction for the bonsai Christian rather one than challenges and even provokes. Yet is this really what we are born for?”

 

So the Challenge my dear friends is to be either a small mustard seed that has the possibility to grow and become a shelter for many or to be like a Bonsai plant that lives for just ornamental purposes. Let us critically examine our life and identify whether we have been ‘Bonsai Christians’ or people who did small things with great love. 

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati

 

 

Who Defines Us?

Text: Luke 6: 27- 31

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.  Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.  Do to others as you would have them do to you.

 Message

Before we go into the message let me share a story narrated by a gentleman David J. Pollay that will set the tone for the message.

“. I hopped in a taxi, and we took off for Grand Central Station.  We were driving in the right lane when, all of a sudden, a black car jumped out of a parking space right in front of us. My taxi driver slammed on his brakes, skidded, and missed the other car by mere inches! The driver of the other car, the guy who almost caused a big accident, whipped his head around and started yelling bad words at us.  My taxi driver just smiled and waved at the guy.  And I mean, he was actually friendly! So, I asked him, “Why did you just do that? This guy almost ruined your car and could’ve sent us to the hospital!” And this is when my taxi driver told me about what I now call, “The Law of Garbage Trucks.” “Many people are like Garbage Trucks. They run around full of garbage, full of frustration, full of anger, and full of disappointment. As their garbage piles up, they need a place to dump it, and if you let them, they’ll dump it on you.  When someone wants to dump on you, don’t take it personally. Instead, just smile, wave, wish them well, and move on. You’ll be happier because you did.” Wow.  That really got me thinking about how often do I let Garbage Trucks run right over me? AND, how often do I then take their garbage and spread it onto other people: at work, at home, on the streets?  It was that day I resolved, “I’m not going to do it anymore.” Since then, I have started to see Garbage Trucks everywhere.  Just as the kid in the Sixth Sense movie said, “I see dead people,” I can now say, “I see Garbage Trucks.” 🙂 I see the load they’re carrying … I see them coming to drop it off.  And like my Taxi Driver, I don’t make it a personal thing; I just smile, wave, wish them well, and I move on.”

Now this story is a very inspiring one and is in sync with the Bible passage set before us. But before we go any further let us imagine that we are sitting in Church and announcement is going on. One of your friends is sitting just behind you and kicks you for fun. What would be your first reaction and the first word on your tongue? I know my answer and I do not want to reveal too much here. What Jesus is saying in the passage has been a huge stumbling block for many believers. Having faith is abstract but practicing the above said is very very difficult. So how is this ever going to be possible? For that we need to look at Jesus himself. Jesus loved his enemies and blessed those who cursed him. He prayed for his oppressors on the Cross. Reading the Bible one thing stands out when you study the life of Jesus. Jesus was deeply aware of who he was. “I Know who I am. I testify for myself.” (John 8: 18) If I ask myself ‘Who am I?’ on a plain surface it is easy to answer but I seriously do not know the answer yet. Therefore people and circumstances define me. If somebody is rude to me I just react and get back being ruder. But the other person has defined me and my behavior. If the circumstance is favorable I am in a good mood but if it is hostile I change accordingly. So the power to define my behavior and attitude does not rest with me but other people and circumstances define me.

Jesus was deeply aware of His identity and his mission in life. Therefore what people told about him did not define his behavior. “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ (Luke 7: 24). If I had such an accusation against me I would have tried my best to prove otherwise and get my reputation on track. “Loving your enemies” is a choice that we have as people of faith to set ourselves free from hatred of people that defines us. I have a choice to love. But it is a tougher choice. Growing with God is a practice that we will perfect. With all our blemishes and shines, by the grace of God we will be comfortable in our own skin. Experience of the deep love of God and the knowledge of being “His Beloved” will enable us to say along with Soren Kierkegaard  “ Now with God’s help, I shall become myself.” I still remember that when I did my first session of counseling in Navjeevan way back in 2005, the children started to run at the very sight of me. They did not like this dude who thought he knew what their problem was. These children just avoided me and hardly tried to talk. This was deeply upsetting. I felt very angry and thought “I have come all the way to understand their problem and they are not even ready to talk to me?” One day when I was all upset Moni Achen, the then  director of Navjeevan understood my predicament and told me “You cannot compel anyone to love you. You as a counselor, remind them of their past that they would love to forget. Therefore they do not like you. You have to give them that freedom. All you can do is, you can choose to love them.” That made complete sense.

These days I am reading the book “ The Long Walk to Freedom” by Nelson Mandela. His life is a complete inspiration. As a man of faith who truly believed in Biblical justice he sacrificed his life for the people of South Africa. The Apartheid Government of South Africa made all the possible inhuman laws to deprive the Africans of the basic human dignity. In pursuit of the freedom of his people to live like humans, Mandela was imprisoned in Robben Island for 27 long years of his life. The best part of his youth was snuffed out by the Afrikaaner government. In his release in 1990 he strove for a multi-racial platform and was elected the President of South Africa in 1994. There were many in the African National Congress who wanted to eliminate the opponents who oppressed them on the basis of color. There was a worldwide fear of a Civil strife. But once he came to power he formed a Government of National Unity. He set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission where the white oppressors confessed of their wrongs in court and the black oppressed hugged them and reconciled. This move of “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” was hugely a success because of the life and message of Mandela. After losing the best part of his life he had every right to be bitter with his opponents. He was in a position to settle scores and take revenge. But his example of reconciliation and forgiveness became the foundation for a South Africa that was just being born. Nelson Mandela stands out as a shining example of practicing Jesus commands where hatred did not define his actions. He defined the situation with love and forgiveness. These days where he is struggling with life and death, I sincerely pray that Nelson Mandela’s life inspires us to make a choice between liberating power of love and the imprisoning trap of hatred. I pray like him we choose the former. Amen

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati

 

 

 

 

Geese In The Barnyard

Text: Mark 8: 27 – 33

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Message

In the passage that we are going to meditate we are with the disciples at Caesarea Philippi when Jesus asks them the most important question. “Who do you say I am?” I can picture Peter being the smartest boy in the classroom who always has his hand raised up to give the answer. “You are the Messiah” is his prompt reply.  It is a high point in his life as a Disciple to be the first one to Declare Jesus as the Messiah. But before we wait too long, Jesus tells the disciples that His journey to the Cross is through suffering, rejection, death and finally rejection. This was not appealing to Peter who took Jesus to his side and rebuked him. He could not imagine his Messiah being so vulnerable and weak. He did not imagine suffering, rejection and death the ideal for the Lord he was following. He had much more spectacular expectations from his Messiah. And how did Jesus respond? “Get behind me Satan” “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”  Peter like most of us was ready to have a Messiah and declare him as one but wanted to follow him in his own terms. Being a disciple to a Messiah who was a Superman was great. He healed, He walked on water, He taught with authority. But a Messiah who was going to suffer, was going to be killed was not to the liking of Peter.

Recently the movie “Man of Steel” the Superman movie was released. I did not watch it yet but there was an article that said that this Superman was designed on a Jesus archetype. It feasts on a savior complex of us where we need a savior who cushions us from all sufferings and the fear of death. It has increased our obsession as people of faith to be more and more obsessed with ourselves. We want a Superman who will fulfill all our needs and keep us safe. But in act of faith we seldom think of sacrificing or suffering for Christ.  So lofty ideals of sacrifice, loving your neighbor, purposeful living, Feeling the presence of God, are more matters that sound good in sermons or books. Let us also remember that even though our faith practices has made us self centred, we still love to hear the great stories of people with faith, who sacrificed and laid their life for the Lord. We become all emotional and content to live this vicarious life. Soren Kierkegaard explains this phenomenon in a beautiful parable. It goes like this.

“A certain flock of geese lived together in a barnyard with high walls around it.  Because the corn was good and the barnyard was secure, these geese would never take a risk to fly beyond the barns. One day a philosopher goose came among them. He was a very good philosopher and every week they listened quietly and attentively to his learned discourses. ‘My fellow travellers on the way of life,’ he would say, ‘can  you seriously imagine that this barnyard, with great high walls around it, is all there is to existence? I tell you, there is another and a greater world outside, a world of which we are only dimly aware. Our forefathers knew of this outside world. For did they not stretch their wings and fly across the trackless wastes of desert and ocean, of green valley and wooded hill? But alas, here we remain in this barnyard, our wings folded and tucked into our sides, as we are content to puddle in the mud, never lifting our eyes to the heavens which should be our home.”

The geese thought this was very fine lecturing. ‘How poetical,’ they thought. ‘How profoundly existential. What a flawless summary of the mystery of existence.’ Often the philosopher spoke of the advantages of flight, calling on the geese to be what they were. After all, they had wings, he pointed out. What were wings for, but to fly with? Often he reflected on the beauty and the wonder of life outside the barnyard, and the freedom of the skies.

And every week the geese were uplifted, inspired, moved by the philosopher’s message. They hung on his every word. They devoted hours, weeks, months to a thoroughgoing analysis and critical evaluation of his doctrines. They produced learned treatises on the ethical and spiritual implications of flight. All this they did. But one thing they never did. They did not fly! For the corn was good, and the barnyard was secure!”

We are very secure in the World of Malls and Online stores. It all cushions us from all realities of life. We draw great security from the things that we can buy and own. It gives us stability and calmness. This is the reason why retail therapy is catching on. So as long as I grow more and more selfish and self- obsessed, things will keep falling in place. I do not have to worry about anything. My biggest worry is “I now have iPhone 4, when will I Buy the next.” Or “This particular car is my dream, when will it be mine”. We are conditioned to believe that these are very essential to our life and circumstances. We will keep rationalizing with ourselves and at the same time feel very happy to read the verse ‘Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’ (Matthew 16: 24). As a Church we have a huge cloud of witness that have laid down their life, sacrificed and became heroes of faith. They denied themselves and took up the cross to follow Jesus. Today these heroes make us feel proud. We own them. We feel all emotional that they are part of our tradition. We may also trace our ancestry to them. But we will not fly. For the corn is good and the barnyard is secure. The living presence of Christ that moves people to action, to lay their lives down for God and their neighbor is now lost.

As a child the song that I ridiculed the most was the classic Malayalam song “Ennod Ulla Nin Sarva nanmaggal Kay”. This is song No 67 in our Kristhiya Keerthanam. Whenever there is any material or familial fulfillment like a House is bought or at the time of the Girl about to leave for the wedding this song is ritually sung. It is a song that articulates thanks giving in the best possible manner. One day when I was talking to my friend Rev Abraham Thomas, who is the Youth Chaplain of Bangalore, he told me the story of a man of faith, P.V. Thommi. He was an evangelist who ministered to the villages in Kunamgullam, in Kerala. He was a great witness. Because of his preaching and works, many people came to faith. One day the epidemic of plague broke out in one of the villages. Many well-wishers advised him to leave the village and run for security as the epidemic was fast catching up. But Thommi said that “I have thus far preached about love. Now is the time to practice it. I am going nowhere. I am going to serve my people in this time of crisis.” With his relentless work,  exhaustion caught up with the 38 year old Thommi. He too became the victim of plague. He had a choice of running for security. But he decided to deny himself and carry the cross.  Holding his 5 year old daughter close to him he sang this song which is credited to him “Ennod ulla Nin sarva nanmagal.” He looked into the eyes of death and suffering and sang a song of gratitude and hope. Because for Thommi after the suffering and death, there is the resurrection that Jesus has promised. The song writer of Classics like “Innu pagal Muzhuvan”, “Enth athisheyamme Daivathin Sneham” wrote his ever beautiful song “Ennod ullla Nin sarva nanmagalkay” on his death bed. The faith in Jesus challenges us to embrace suffering and death in our stride so that we can fly in the hope of resurrection.

 

Like Peter we too wish to be secure in faith declarations. That is important. But when we are faced with real choices in life to practice faith, we run for security and comfort. There is too much of noise around us but if there is silence we can hear Jesus rebuking us “Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati

 

 

 

 

 

What Is Your Name?

Genesis 32: 24-31.

Image

Bible Portion

And Jacob was left on his own, and a man struggled with him till dawn broke.  He realized that he could not win, so he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was dislocated as he struggled with him.  He said, “Let me go, for the dawn has broken.” He said, “I shall not let you go, unless you bless me.”  He said to him, “What is your name?” and he replied, “Jacob.”  He said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”  So Jacob asked, “Tell me please your name.” He said, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.  So Jacob named that place Peniel, because “I have seen God face to face and yet my life was rescued.”

Devotion

The passage starts with the words “And Jacob was left on his own”. When Jacob was on his own he gets into a struggle with a man until the dawn broke. Even in this struggle where Jacob gets his hip dislocated he demands to be blessed. Jacob is a character who would go to any extent to win a blessing. If he did not get it, he would steal it. Point blank he was asked the question “What is your name?” this was God asking Jacob his name? Dint he know it? God is asking him “Who are you, what is your name, what is your past?” Jacob who had cheated his father and deceived his brother had to be reconciled to God. He had to own up his past. He had to say his name is Jacob, he had to accept that he had cheated his father. He had out of greed stolen the right of his elder brother.  And then God changes his name, reconciles his past and gives him a new identity as Israel. He realizes God’s presence to name the place Peniel that reflects the grace of God in his life, that with all his shameful past, he is still alive. He is a new man. Man transformed by God. After God names him, he repents and goes and reconciles with his brother Esau in Genesis chapter 33. He gets first straight with God, and then with his brother.

Are we not like Jacob? Are we not on the run, fleeing from God and ourselves? We are like him, we want everything for ourselves, no matter what the cost. We are struggling with God. He asks you and me, “What is your name?” “Who are you?” “What is your past?” in the presence of God we need to own up our name, who we actually are, What is our past. This is the act of Confession. Coming as you are in front of the Lord. Repenting and accepting yourself owning up the shameful acts we do, the hypocritical lives we live and greed we have, to urge we have to fulfill all our needs even at the cost of our brothers, sisters and friends. God gives you a new name, makes you a new being, transforms your identity. Friends, it is important to come in the presence of the Lord and say “Lord I am wrong. I am leading a very shameful life. I am hiding from myself. I am fooling You O Lord. Forgive me”. Let the Lord heal you. You will have to discern his forgiveness and grace. Do not hide yourself. Come out and own up.

If one notices the Mar Thoma liturgy, we see that after the sermon we have the Sacrament of confession. In that confession we begin by saying “I confess that I have sinned against you, O Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in thought, word and deed. I am sorry with all my heart for these my sins……” He forgives those who truly repent, He gives them a new name. He calls them His children. And like Jacob after being forgiven by God and transformed by God went to reconcile with his brother. In the same way after the sacrament of confession, the second part of the service begins with the act of Kiss of Peace which indicates reconciliation with your brothers and sisters. Your confession is not just a hollow act, it has to be manifested in action, and you have to be a witness to the people around you. People will have to see the Peace of God in you.

One of my favorite hymns is “Amazing grace” written by a gentleman in 1779 by the name of John Newton. John Newton used to be a Sailor who used to sell young boys from Africa as slaves for huge profit in England. The lives of young boys from Africa were a matter of profit to him and he earned immensely. But there was guilt. This man that he sold was created in the image Of God. But he avoided heeding that voice. Then one day when he was alone in the sea and had a near death experience. He discerned the grace of the Lord and repented, owning up his sins. After this he wrote the beautiful hymn “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I am found, was blind but now I see.” He not only repented but also reconciled with his brothers who he sold for his profit as slaves. John Newton later became a priest and he crusaded against slavery and slave trade. He too got right with his Creator and reconciled himself to his brothers.

God is asking you “What is your name?” What is your answer?

Rev Merin Mathew
Mar Thoma Syrian Church
Guwahati

What’s On Your Mind God? Why Oh Why?

 

Text: Job 2: 11- 3: 4

When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him.  When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads.  Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.

After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. He said:

“May the day of my birth perish,

 and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!’ That day—may it turn to darkness;

 may God above not care about it;

 may no light shine on it.

Message:

My wife and I have been deeply disturbed at the course of events that have taken place recently. Robinson Philip, member of my home parish, Immanuel Mar Thoma Church, Vishrantwadi, husband of Soji’s cousin and my church friend Tincy, passed away in a bike accident. This news literally shattered us. I just could not believe it’s true. How could God be so unfair was my first reaction. They have a 11 month old child who was the apple of their eyes. All the people who knew Tincy and know the wonderful person she is felt the pain as their own. Many of my friends asked me over Whatsapp and Facebook, “Why did God do this?” This was my question too. The pain of an unmerited suffering. Tincy had lost her mother and sister. She was finding great bliss in this marriage. I still remember the day when Robinson and Tincy came to wish me after my ordination. Robinson was very clear about his admiration for Tincy. He told us “I am very lucky to have married Tincy. With her in my life, I pray, I read the Bible and experience the joy of knowing God.” At that time Tincy blushed in embarrassment. Soji and I have enjoyed some good moments with them when we visited Pune. It pains us to think of Evan and Tincy. It is in this context that I read John Ortberg’s  ‘God Is Closer Than You Think’ and Philip Yancey’s “The Bible Jesus Read.”

Let us now look at the passage in front of us. I personally feel that the message of the book of Job has been lost in just reading chapter’s 1 and 2. Till here it is a story of a man who has lost his children, his property, his health and literally everything but still does not complain. What great faith. His statement “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there, The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1: 21) has given a lot of people strength to look at pain in a different light. Even when his wife asks him to Curse God and die, he continues his faith. Now enter the 3 friends of Job who heard the calamity of Job. Seeing Job the ones who came to console wept aloud. Job’s pain became their pain. Job 2: 13 is very powerful where it says ‘Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.’ Imagine sitting with someone saying nothing for seven days. These friends were mourning with Job. This is what Paul says in Romans 12: 15 “Mourn with Those who mourn….” Ortberg says Paul is not asking us to ‘find an explanation to give them why they are suffering’ or ‘Remind them everything is going to be ok, so they can stop crying now’. He asks us to cry with the ones who are crying. That is what the friends of Job did. They gave him the ‘Gift of Silence’. They were with him. I personally believe that being silent and available is the best way of being with the people who have suffered a loss. I remember delivering two sermons in the context of death. I am sure it did not comfort the mourners. What it did was, it deeply disturbed me. My words were hollow and the hope I was giving was shallow. ‘The best way to meditate God’s presence to someone who is suffering is to sit with them in silence.’ And now we turn to Chapter 3. Here Job breaks the silence. He says “God gives, God takes, Blessed be the name of God.’ Well that is not what he says. He says “May the day of my birth perish,  and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!’ That day—may it turn to darkness;  may God above not care about it; may no light shine on it.” (Job 3: 3-4). Shocking. He is actually cursing the life that he has. He is now complaining. If we read Job Chapter 3- 37, the major portion shows the complaints of Job. How is that possible? How can a faithful man complain? When one reads the Book of Psalms, we see that the Hebrew name of Psalms is Tehellim which means Praises but the single most largest category of Psalms is not that of Thanksgiving, but that of Complaining. There is no parallel to this in any other religion. Prophets complain to God, Lamentations as a book is full of complaints. Job complains in his desperation. God gives us that freedom. On the Cross Jesus also complains “My God, My God why have you forsaken me”. I am sure Tincy has a lot to complain and she should. That is her freedom. I too, am complaining. I have the right to. We do not believe in a God who is distant from his creation. We believe in a God who on the cross suffered with the creation.

 

What does his 3 friends along with the fourth one Elihu do? They assume to speak for God. They try to tell Job that he is suffering because of some hidden sin that he has not confessed and that is why a Just God has punished you. These friends are like the modern day Evangelists found on TV. When 2 Aeroplanes destroyed World Trade Centre on 9/11, the Tele-evengelists said that “God was punishing America for the sins of gays and lesbians.” When the recent Newtown Connecticut School shootout took place where many children lost their lives we had friends of Job raisng their voices through evangelists saying “One can expect such things if you drive God out of schools. How can he protect them?” I feel nothing is more violent than to pretend to be God. I met a man who had lost his son 3 months ago. He told me “People say ‘God gives trouble and pain to those whom he loves the most. He gives pain only to those who can handle the pain.’ They are just trying to console me. I can’t handle this pain’. In our best intentions we try to make sense by saying good words. But being with the people and praying is the most important thing.

With Tincy, Soji and I along with all the possible well-wishers and friends, grieve the death of Robinson. He was a wonderful human being, and he lives on through Evan and the memories of friendship that he has left behind. Tincy, we promise to be with you. We too do not understand why this happened. But we pray that Jesus who defeated death at the cross through Resurrection, will unite us to him again on that Beautiful shore. Amen.

P.S. Job is a Fabulous Book which deals with the issue of an innocent man suffering. I would urge you to read Job Chapter 38-41. It is simply beautiful.

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati

 

 

Wake Up and Stand: Bethel is here

 

Text: Genesis 28: 10- 22

 

Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.  And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring;  and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring.  Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”  Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel; but the name of the city was Luz at the first.  Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear,  so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that you give me I will surely give one-tenth to you.”

Message

Jacob was on the run. After cheating his brother Esau, he was fleeing from his home as his mother was afraid that Esau would kill him. He had conned his father Isaac. Home was not a place that he could be at. He had to escape from the person he was turning out to be. Running away from his parents and sibling. Running away from home.  He comes to a place called Luz. Here he takes a break to rest in the night. Luz means separateness. This was Jacob’s situation. He was separate from the home that was his comfort and distant from all the people who gave meaning to his life. This is alienation of the worst kind. In this night of separateness he sleeps with a stony pillow. He is a man on the roadside. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. (vs. 12). It was indeed a strange dream. This dream has inspired many imaginations. There is a very popular song that goes like this.

“We are climbing Jacob’s ladder

 Ev’ry rung goes higher, higher

 Makes the climbing harder, harder

 Life’s a journey on this ladder…”  

So what was it. Was Jacob climbing the ladder? Was this his “Stairways to Heaven?” Was he climbing to reach out to God? No. No. No. This ladder was for God to reach out to him. God climbed down. Vs 13 says ‘And the Lord stood beside him…..’ Standing beside Jacob God gives this rogue a promise. “….. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (vs 15). What did Jacob merit to receive such a promise? Was he meditating or on fast to have an encounter with God? No. That is Grace where God encounters you when you least expect it. He encounters you in the most unlikely places. Jacob wakes up to the  realization of this grace “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!”(vs 16). He says that God is in this place but he was not aware of it. So waking up is getting over the sleep of living as if God does not exist. Waking up is being aware of the presence of God. Waking up is being aware of the Grace that He gives. An insignificant land is now the gate of Heaven. Luz now is transformed to be Bethel- The House of God. Jacob met God in the most ordinary of ordinary situation. He felt his presence and grace. Fearing his brother Jacob runs away from his house and finds himself at the ‘House of God’. In Chapter 33 we see Jacob taking the step to reconcile with Esau.  When Jacob meets Esau he says “For to see your face is like seeing the face of God” (Gen 33: 10). When one discerns the presence of God in the most ordinary place like Luz and calls it Bethel, he can easily see the face of God in any body. Jacob could see the face of God in a brother who had turned out to be his enemy.

We need to discern our Bethel. The beauty of the Gospel of Matthew is that in Chapter 1: 7 we see the promise of Emmanuel God with us and ends with the promise “……I am with you always to the end of the age.  (Matthew 28: 20) Do we discern the presence of God. Do we believe in his promise? When you are on the run “God is with you”. When you are escaping from yourself “God is with you”. When you did something wrong you acted as if God was not around. God was still with you. God being with us is not just a comfort, it is also a responsibility. Discerning the presence of God helps us to have a Bethel in every situation of life. It calls us to be supremely aware of the work that we undertake. God encounters us.

L’Arche day care centre is a place for mentally challenged children. The Founder of this place is Jean Vanier. This center has a great bank of volunteers who dedicate 6 months or a year being with the mentally challenged children and elders. The volunteers are youths who have taken break from their hectic work schedules. Many had become numb because of the routine in their work. Some of the volunteers were burdened with academics and therefore decided to volunteer.  But the common phenomenon was that volunteers used to come and volunteers used to go. No one stayed back. This upset one of the inmates of the Centre. His name was Michael. Michael went to Jean Vanier and said “If the volunteers love us so much, why do they leave us and go?” Jean Vanier replied “Michael these are not people who have come to give you some help. These are people who need help. They have come to you. In their work places and lifestyles they had forgotten to be humans. In the pressures of academics these people had forgotten to laugh. In your company they learnt how to laugh. How to be present in the moment. You taught them the importance of human touch. You helped them feel the presence of God. This is their Bethel. When they are healed they go. You are like Jesus who commissions them to live a meaningful life in the world so that they encounter God in every situation. You are commissioning them back to their work places where they will be no more machines but humans living in the presence of God”

There are many of my friends who are in jobs that give them no joy. There are some into academic courses that are nothing but a drag. They feel distant from God, parents and all possible relations. Story of Jacob is a promise that God is around you. You are not aware of it. Your Bethel is just around you. As the mystic Brother Lawrence says “When I look at the tree I realize why I am so frustrated. I am chasing my happiness. I am dependent on myself. The tree has life because it is rooted in something other than itself and something way deeper than itself.” Being rooted in God is realizing the Presence of God. Being rooted in the other is realizing the importance of relation. Let us wake up. Let us discern the presence of God. God is with us to the end of ages. Amen.

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati