Happy Easter? Think Twice Before You Wish

Matthew 28: 1-10

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.  Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him.  Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Message

When I was in Seminary, we had a practical assignment at The Leprosy Mission at Madurai, run by Christian Doctors. Along with me was Binu Cherian (now Rev Binu Cherian). After a long journey we reached the destination from Kottayam, Kerala. The first day we were asked to take rest. Next day the first task assigned to us was the medical dressing of the wounds of the patients with Leprosy. I had read many books about heroes who served patients with Leprosy and was really looking forward to this adventure. There was a nurse assigned to us to show how to do it. I volunteered to go first and whooshhhh. I just could not bear the sight of the wounds and almost blanked out. I just could not bring myself to even touch with gloves. I just gave up and in came Binu. He was shaky but could manage to do his best. I was so annoyed with myself that I took a week to bring myself to even get to start doing my basic job and that too with a lot of reluctance. But Binu Cherian who is by nature a very caring and nurturing person had become adept in the process. This incident always reminds me of the disciples who kept away from the site of crucifixion and the suffering of Jesus. About Peter we read that during the trial of Jesus, he maintained a distance and eventually denied any association with Jesus. Disciples did not know how to handle pain and always tried to distance from any sufferings. Rev Binu always reminds me of people who do not avoid serving or uncomfortable situations like stated before. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary dared to walk to the tomb to apply spices on the mutilated and wounded dead body of Christ. They are ready to revisit the ordeal and  pain that they saw on Friday when Jesus died a brutal death. The women teach us an important lesson in life. We are living in a generation where the brutality, blood, gory violence and mayhem are very much the order of the day in movies, television and videogames. But in reality, we are terribly ill equipped to face the harsh realities of life and try to avoid it by indulging into entertainment, excessive food, alcohol, sex and everything that helps us to be anesthetized from our surroundings.

When the women were walking towards the tomb Mark 16: 3 says that the women asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” Looking at the insurmountable odds in front of them the women did not budge. When the odds are stacked high there is an Earthquake that shakes the world as they know it. Dead person can be embalmed as far as they know. But the Angel brings an earthquake in the lives of the women where they see the stone being rolled away. Angel informs “ He is not here, He is Risen” The tomb could not contain Him. Our God cannot be preserved with spices as he is not where we expect him to be. He goes ahead of us in Galilee. The women had to inform the disciples to follow him to Galilee which was 130 kms away from Jerusalem. Why Galilee? What does this all mean? Can you hear any of the disciples saying “Wow, all is going according to plan how Jesus said”. No.

Remember Jesus is calling the disciples to Galilee, the spot of their ministry which is away from the power centres of Jerusalem. Jesus is calling disciples to travel 130 kms further to engage in the ordinary situations of life. Remember, if Jesus had died and if that was the end of the story, it sure would be tragic. But disciples could get back to their life as usual. They could live a normal life, doing things for themselves. But this resurrection actually brought an earthquake in their life. It would not leave them as ordinary as they wanted to be. Their life from now on had become dangerous as they became the practitioners of resurrection in a culture and society that declared death and destruction. Jesus did not call them to live in a secluded place away from civilization. But called them for commission to ordinary place like Galilee, to involve in the lives of people and give them something that nobody can take away. What is that? Some say it is the most dangerous thing in the world. There is a saying in Malayalam that says “Aana kodathalum, asha kodukalle” (roughly translated it means, it is OKhe is risen if you give elephant but do not give anyone hope). The hope of resurrection is a very risky business. So when we say “Happy Easter” remember, the day of resurrection was a day of great joy and great fear. Resurrection of our Lord said “No force in the world can arrest our Lord in a tomb. He is not where people expect him to be. He goes ahead of us. Following him is risky and very stupid. Are you stupid enough to follow him to Galilee?

Let me introduce you to my batch mate and friend who I respect a lot, Rev Nebu Varghese. Right from our seminary days, Nebu marked himself as a person of few words and a great living witness. Nebu as of  today is the missionary of a Mission called the Tibetan Border Mission of the Mar Thoma Church. This project is work of education and health in Munshiyari in Uttarakhand. It is far too away from the power centres and metropolitan and cosmopolitan cities. The travel in itself is an adventure. His wife Christina and Nebu have worked for last 4 years in this really remote village where extreme cold is the order of the day along with constant shortage of electricity. With the team of evangelists they are doing their best to add new dimensions to the village life out there. Remember, for any emergency, they need to travel 14 hours on long winding roads. Even to buy basic stuff like vegetables this is the case. In spite of all the odds he is entering into the 5th year of his ministry there even when everyone of his well wishers and family members advised him to take a transfer. His wife Christina and Nebu, both feel that their work and vision that God has assigned them, is far from over.  Let me tell you Nebu is a person who detests anything written about him or in no way does he find what he is doing very heroic. He is just concerned about people and how the lives of the people can be bettered. There is one statement that he made that struck me like a thunder bolt. “ Christina and myself have seen the awesome work of God. I used to believe slogans like ‘God is sufficient’ but I have tasted it and know it is true. One needs to get out our comfort zones to see where God is leading us” I can admire such people but can I risk my life and make my life dangerous for spreading the news of resurrection?

Before wishing anyone Happy Easter, please think twice. Resurrection makes life risky, uncomfortable and very dangerous. Embrace it at your own risk.

P.S.

To contact Rev Nebu Varghese and find out more about Tibetan Border Mission Field of the Mar Thoma Church, you can mail him : nebuothara@yahoo.co.in

You can call him on : 7533965556

Also this link could be useful to get to know about Tibetan Border Mission Field: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1286463004713710.1073742073.226203707406317&type=3&uploaded=14

Rev Merin Mathew

Bethel Mar Thoma Church

Kolar Road, Bhopal

Mera Parmeshwar Chor Hai

Luke 23:39-43

 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him,saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Message

“Hello Rev Merin, how are you?” This was a phone call from an unknown number and whose voice I just could not manage to place. So I tried to act as if I know who this is. “I am fine. How are you?” I have highlighted the ‘How are you’ because I was just hoping the person across would reveal who it is and end the game of “Guess who?” But the person continued “So you remember who I am?” I was wondering if it was Malayalam Superstar Suresh Gopi as his favourite one liner is “Orme undo ee mukham? ” (Do you remember this face). Jokes apart this was not funny at all. “You do not remember right? You have forgotten us.” And this person disconnected the call. I was dumb founded. How irrational this person was? Why was he so offended? What is there to be so offended?

To be remembered is the basic need of all human beings. Our life is a consistent struggle to be remembered. When we are remembered it means we matter, we belong, we exist. There is life, presence and relationship in being remembered. Being remembered is to affirm of our wholeness. Remember is Re-membering. When you remember a person you say, you are a member of my life, you are connected to me, you are part of my story. And if you do not remember, the exact opposite is what happens. The person feels dis-membered, disconnected from your life and concludes that they are no more part of our stories and not members of our lives. That really hurts, there is an isolation that other person feels in being dis-membered.

The scene at Calvary with Jesus hanging on the cross with 2 thieves on both of his side has caught my imagination. Leonard Sweet at Maramon Convention said that the picture of Calvary is not that Jesus is alone on the cross. The scene at Calvary is the picture of 3 Crosses. Let us hear the prayer of one of the Thieves “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23: 42) The thief wants to be remembered. That is his prayer.

We have to now connect some dots. In Luke chapter 22 we see Jesus having Passover with his disciples.  And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22: 19) What was Jesus saying here? He was saying, I am giving you my body by being broken for you. Jesus is asking his disciples to “Do this in remembrance of me”. Jesus wants to be Re-membered in the story and lives of the disciples. Jesus wants to be part of our stories and wants us to be part of his body. So the Holy Communion is allowing Jesus to be re-membered in our lives, to invade our lives. Are you ready to re-member Jesus in your lives?

Is this always possible?  After the Passover meal Jesus is arrested and let us see what one of his disciples does.  Now when they had kindled a fire in the midst of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. 56And a certain servant girl, seeing him as he sat by the fire, looked intently at him and said, “This man was also with Him.”But he denied Him, saying, “Woman, I do not know Him.”And after a little while another saw him and said, “You also are of them.”But Peter said, “Man, I am not!”Then after about an hour had passed, another confidently affirmed, saying, “Surely this fellow also was with Him, for he is a Galilean.”But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are saying!” (Luke 22: 55-60).

Peter is denying him? So what? Peter is dis-membering Jesus from his life by saying “I am not with him, I am not a member of his group.” Out of fear, Peter wants to forget that he is a member of Jesus’ group, a follower. Peter does not want to be part of Jesus’ body as he knows He is headed toward the Cross. We too wish to forget that we are members of Jesus’ body. It is dangerous. It is inconvenient. It is boring and we do not want Jesus to be part of our lives. We want Jesus to leave us alone in some aspects of our lives. We too deny like Peter.

And it is here that we see the thief at the Cross who has a life broken in regret, in pain, in contradictions, revenge, sin and remorse. He is a dis-membered person. He asks Jesus to Re-member him. Jesus promises him “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23: 43). Jesus says “You will be ‘with me’ (joining the dots) in Paradise. Jesus keeps saying to us that we who are alienated from ourselves and our Creator, Jesus through the Cross has re-membered us into the eternal story of God. It is such a beautiful thing that Jesus says, that we will never be forgotten. Not because of who we are. We will be remembered, because of “Whose we are”. That is Paradise.  My dear friends Jesus promises to Remember you. You are important to him. “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! (Isaiah 49: 15)

At an early age Sam lost his father due to an unfortunate circumstance. There were some people responsible for it. He grew up with hatred and a sense of revenge. But Sam was blessed with a devout mother who had faith in God and abandoned herself and her 4 children in the hands of God. She taught Sam the importance of faith and worship. When Sam became a youth the hatred deepened surrounding the death of his father. The sense of revenge got louder. He was entrapped in the cage of regret, hatred and revenge. It affected his personality. He attended the worship and took part in the Holy Communion but he could never let go of his deep seated wounds. The only comfort was the love and prayer of his mother. Rev K.O. Philipose who was the Vicar of his church introduced him to the love and grace of Lord Jesus through his pastoral care. One day when he took part in the Holy Communion, Sam was moved by the words of Liturgy said by the priest before he administered the Holy Body and Blood. “The Holy Body and Holy Blood  of our Lord Jesus Christ, broken and shed on the cross for the forgiveness of sins, is given to you for the health of body and soul.” When he received the body and blood of Christ he remembers being moved beyond words. This encounter led him to experience the Cross and his fragmented body of hate, revenge, anger and self pity was re-membered into the beautiful promise of Jesus. His hatred had forced him to forget the promise and offer of Jesus. But the Broken Body of Christ and Blood poured out  on Calvary saw his life being invaded by Jesus with his wonderful promise of being remembered.  It was this encounter that turned his life around where he let go and waited for God to catch him. It was this act of surrender that shaped his course of life. This story is the true story of my friend and mentor Rev Sam who is currently the Vicar of Kuwait Mar Thoma Church.

Leonard Sweet Says the story is of the Thief on the left, the thief on the right and the thief in the middle. What? Jesus also is a thief who robbed from us our shame, our guilt, our regrets and pain. He has robbed us from the world that easily forgets and dismembers us. Jesus is the Holy Thief who 3-crosses re-members us. We are his Beloved and being remembered by him, we are eternally alive in Paradise.

Rev Merin Mathew

Bethel Mar Thoma Church

Kolar Road, Bhopal

“O Jesus, Why You Cry?”: Invisible Refugees of Our Land

Luke 19: 41-44
And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying,“Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
Message
In my final year in Seminary, I was assigned Ebenezer Mar Thoma Church, Valankara for my practical assignment. When I was preaching, I saw 5 boys entering the church. I could make out they were labourers and did not follow Malayalam. So to ensure they too understood my sermon, I started to mix Malayalam with Hindi for the benefit of these boys who would barely be 19 or 20 years. After the Church was over, 4 of them left while one boy remained and I caught hold of him. He introduced himself as Ranjit and he had a very heavy Bengali accent to his Hindi. I asked him “Are you from Kolkata” to which he said, “No, Durgapur”. I was curious to know why Ranjit was here in Kerala. To which he replied, “My father died working in a construction site in Bokaro. He left back a huge amount of debt. One of my village friend was working in Kerala. Therefore, after 12th exam I boarded the train to Kerala. I have joined B.A. in a college where attendance is not compulsory. Every march I go and give exam. Last year, I could not afford to go.” Then how did he come to the church. “We go to a Roman Catholic Church. My mother was very insistent that I should go to a nearby church every Sunday, and this was the most nearby church that I could find.”
The passage in front of us is immediately after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. With all the cheering, praises, celebrations and music, the melancholic twist to the story now we have in the passage is shocking to say the least. Jesus on the cross shows his helplessness in his cry “My God My God, why have you forsaken me”. As it was from Psalms 22, some say, it could be Jesus chanting this Psalm on the Cross which was a Jewish practice. So in the deepest of pains when Jesus does not cry on the Cross, it is heartening to know he weeps looking at Jerusalem, a place which is devoid of peace and justice. 33 Ad is when Jesus saw Jerusalem and wept over it. Jerusalem was a place of religious arrogance, bigotry, ethnic pride, crushing of poor, gross injustice. Jerusalem means Shalom, peace, wholeness, but the city was fragmented and fractured and in huge turmoil. History says that 70 AD Romans ransacked Jerusalem and completely destroyed it. The message of Jesus’ Kingdom of God, Salvation, loving enemies, loving neighbours, God who embraces everyone was thrown to the wind. While people all over the place were rejoicing and dancing, Jesus could see and hear what others refused to see. The utter inhuman city that Jerusalem had turned out to be. I am a person who finds tears very uncomfortable. My mother used to cry and pray when she especially prayed for me. I found that very stupid and kept telling my mother, “Ithrem enthu karayan ulle” (What is there so much to cry). I guess only a parent would understand that. So to understand Jesus’ tears, the picture is that of a very concerned parent over the children he loves. While most of us in our sermons and thoughts focus much on the physical pain on the cross. “Passion of Christ” a Hollywood movie by Mel Gibson is a hit with everyone as it shows the gory extreme of the physical abuse. But the passion of Christ is the pain that he finds fit to weep over. In our spaces, do we share his tears? As his disciples, are we moved to compassion what disturbs and moves us?
Along with many of my friends, I too was disturbed at the many images that emerged in the huge refugee crisis in Europe and how desperate people were and how the dead body of a Aylan Kurdi, a 4 year old Syrian boy, caught our imagination. There were many sermons and poems written about it. But the larger question is, does that fall in our sphere of influence? Such global issues are very important, but it should trigger to the question, what can I do in my sphere of influence in a similar problem. Now here is my struggle. I have lived in Kerala for 4 years in Seminary. 3 Years I Lived in Northeast of India, basically in Guwahati. The power centres of the Mar Thoma Church that I belong to, is in Kerala. When I first travelled from Guwahati to Kerala by train, a 64 hours long journey if your train is on time, I was just bothered of how boring this journey would be. So after a day of sleeping, eating and talking, despite my wife discouraging, I took a trip to the nearby compartments, just to kill the time. From A.C. compartment, I entered into the Sleeper Compartment and I could not believe my eyes. Till the toilet, this compartment was filled. I thought it was the unreserved compartment. It was not. I asked the Ticket Collector, how many were there in the compartment and he said, roughly 400. In a 72 berth compartment, you had 400 people crammed together. I had enough and I came back to the comfort of A.C. compartment and ordered food. The waiter of the pantry said The man of the pantry told me “Sir that food is not for people like you. It is not cooked that well. We give it to the labourers in the sleeper compartment. Why don’t you order something different?” I was shocked at the gross distinction that was being made of humans. It is then I realized that the people in the sleeper compartment was filled with labourers who out of desperation leave their homeland and find work in Kerala where the labour charge is twice as much as in Assam or Bengal. Now please consider some statistics to get the enormity of the problem. A study conducted by Gulati Institute of Finance and Centre for Development Studies (C.D.S), Trivandrum estimate that the labourers from West Bengal, Bihar and Assam total upto 35 lakhs in Kerala even though the Government sources estimate it to 20 Lakhs of people. The age group of the labourers is roughly 16-30 on an average. In the year annually the arrival rate of these labourers was 2.5 lakhs which now has increased to 4 lakhs roughly. The reason for this huge exodus is the boom in the construction of flats in Kerala for the last 15 years. So, a good number is involved in construction sites and some are employed in hotels. Now it is observed that there are some who have lived for 15 years in Kerala and whop alos know Malayalam, but do not have a bank account, or any other facilities which a citizen is entitled to. They live in inhuman conditions in dingy places. Places where only 7 to 8 people can maximum live, 30 to 40 people live together. They live a completely dehumanized life. What is interesting is, a very labour law aware state like Kerala is totally blind to the plight of these people who are living like refugees. There is no one to voice their plight or to highlight their woes. The only narrative thjat is heard everywhere is “Because of these Bengalis and Biharis, there is crime and degradation everywhere in Kerala.” The irony is, there are many labour camps that Malayalees live in, in Dubai, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, etc. There are many protests and cries that highlight the plight and angst of these malayalees in the “Gulf”, but the humans in the backyard from Assam, Bengal and Bihar are just a nuisance. The Mar Thoma Church has many mission fields all over India. There is a lot of appeal for working in other states and opening new mission field. I am only happy about it. But what is the mission of the Church to the 35 lakhs labourers? People who are living a dehumanized life with no proper housing, hygiene or dignity. I am sure Jesus is weeping at our insensitivity where we have abandoned the agenda of Justice and Peace, the Kingdom Values. Jesus is deeply moved and cries a river of compassion on the plight of his children who are having unparalleled suffering. As Church is the Body of Christ, are we pained by what drove Jesus to tears? Are we as individuals moved to action?
Let me introduce you to my friend Abraham P Kurien (Biju), who is a member of Ebenezer Mar Thoma Church, Vikaspuri. Biju has undertaken a Day Care /Retirement home for the aged called Abraham’s OOR in Mallapally, Kerala. The construction he has undertaken is done from 90% scrap of old buildings and the principle is to concentrate on simple aesthetics rather than the gory concrete constructions. There are many labourers from Assam, Bengal and Bihar who are engaged in the construction of his project. After being exposed to the realities of his labourers where they have no savings even after 13 years in Kerala and having dingy living conditions, he along with like minded friends of his has undertaken to do something about the construction workers’ condition. He has started to get Aadhar Cards for them which help them to get a bank account. They undertake to equip a labourer to be a sub contractor and a sub contractor to be contractor. He said “Every month along with the construction workers and my age parents, we cook together. We have a lot of fun and exchange and eat together where we feel like a big family. Initially it was not easy for us to associate with them and they too kept the distance. But the model of Jesus in dining together breaks many barriers and prejudices.”
When Israelites were slaves in Egypt, God said to Moses “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.”(Exodus 3: 7). We have a God who sees the misery and hears the cries of these labourers and a Saviour who weeps over their plight. Are we moved by the tears of our Lord?
P.S. To know more about Abraham P Kurien’s unique project for the aged Abraham’s OOR please log on to www.abrahamsoor.com. The statistics provided in this meditation is provided by Abraham in our telephonic conversation as he did his research to do something more concrete about it. He yearns to collaborate with like minded people to do something concrete about the Invisible Refugees
Rev Merin Mathew
Bethel Mar Thoma Church
Kolar Road, Bhopal

Kerala Labourers

Sun Raha Hai Na Tu…

1 Kings 19: 11-12
And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper
Message:
Anyone following me on FB sure knows that I am a sports buff. As the T20 World Cup 2016 is going on, I am reminded of a World Cup match that I saw in 2003. This was the Semi Final Match between Australia and Sri Lanka at Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Australia was batting with gusto and the destruction man Adam Gilchrist was on song. Aravinda De Silva was bowling his second ball to Adam Gilchrist, which he tried to hit but it was caught by the wicket keeper Kumar Sangakara and there was a huge appeal. The umpire said no, not out and the appeal was about to fizzle off when the unbelievable happened. Adam Gilchrist started walking to the pavilion. The Sri Lankan players could not believe it. The most destructive batsman was not given out but walks out. What really happened? Adam Gilchrist says “ I knew I had a thick edge to the ball”Catch it! Catch it!” I heard. I stood and turned to see that [Kumar] Sangakkara had it. I knew I was out. It was so obvious.
Then, to see the umpire shaking his head, meaning, “Not out”, gave me the strangest feeling. I don’t recall what my exact thoughts were, but somewhere in the back of my mind, all that history from the Ashes series was swirling around. Michael Vaughan, Nasser Hussain and other batsmen, both in my team and against us, who did not walk out even when they were out disturbed me and I wanted to know what would I do in moments like these. I had spent all summer wondering if it was possible to take ownership of these incidents and still be successful. I had wondered what I would do. I was about to find out.
The voice in my head was emphatic.
Go.
Walk.
And I did.
It was a really weird sensation to go against the grain of what 99 per cent of cricketers do these days, and what we’ve been doing for our whole careers. I was annoyed because I felt like I was batting well and had the chance to lay the foundation for a big team score – and it was me taking that away from myself. But I could not ignore the voice that told me walk, you are out.”
This story may look very silly for those who read it. But I witnessed this live and it changed the outlook of my life. As a youth it became very clear to me that there is a whisper of God that does not blast on your face like a wind. Neither does God shake your world like an Earthquake to prove a point./ He intervenes in your life through a gentle whisper, and you should be able to discern that voice and heed to it. Strangely Adam Gilchrist made a Biblical truth more clear than any sermon or advice.
Adam Gilchrist
I think that statement is a starting point for us today. I believe today the air is saturated with voices that we keep hearing. Voices that say “You are important because you have money.” “You are ugly because you are fat.” “You are useless as you have done nothing significant yet.” “You need to prove your worth. Ordinary people like you cannot survive.” “This world is favorable to the young. Old people have no place here.” “Morality has no place in the market. The mantra is to compromise and move forward.” These voices are like the powerful wind, the earthquake and the fire. All three forces that we see in the text in front of us have a very devastating effect. It is powerful and it compels our attention. These voices of spectacular effect drown out all other voices. These voices are everywhere that we go. We cannot escape them. It is common logic that the voices we hear are the voices we replicate. We are not just victims of such voices stated above. We are the perpetrators of the said voices. These voices determine our relationships. These voices determine our understanding of community and family. These voices help us decide who is worthy to be called a human and who is not. It dictates our every part of life. These voices also end up in deciding who we are. We are always at the mercy of outside voices that sets conditions based on our utility. One is judged on the basis of being productive. That is the rule of the market.
The more we believe in such voices the more absurd our life becomes. We become an emotional wreck and competition looks like the only way to survive. It is interesting that the word ‘absurd’ is derived from the Latin word ‘surdus’ which means being deaf. So we are deaf to what? “After the fire came a gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19: 12b). That gentle whisper was the voice of God. This voice says to us “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29: 11) or “This is my Son/ Daughter, the Beloved,[a] with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17). But are we listening to such voices or are we turning deaf to it? The word ‘obedient’ has its roots in the Latin word ‘audiere’, which means to listen. Being obedient to God is to listen to his voice that is a gentle whisper. Listening to God is a discipline that we need to cultivate in the midst of the noise that we live in. The identity of Jesus’ followers are those who listen to his voice.“My sheep listen to my voice, I know them and they follow me.” (John 10: 27).
Prayer is that discipline that helps us listen to the gentle whispers of our God. As Henri Nouwen says “The toughest thing to do is, is to pray. Because the moment I remain silent I hear all the voices of the world that make me feel worthless. The silence makes me restless and to overcome it I start to talk to God. But I have to learn to listen to the gentle whispers of my Lord.” There are some voices that lead to death and destruction and some voices that lead to life and eternity. We are called to discern the voice of God that calls us “Beloved.” And when we listen to this voice, we spread this voice around us. We become a blessing to the people we work with and meet. Instead of gossiping, criticizing and spreading negative words, we become a blessing wherever we go. That is our calling and purpose of our life.
How to become a blessing? How to cut the chain of negative sequence? Let me end by telling you a story of my mentor Rev Dr Moni Mathew. During my internship with Navjeevan Centre, Mumbai, Rev Dr Moni was the director. Navjeevan is a Rehabilitation centre for children of commercial sex workers. It is a community living project for Children run by the Mar Thoma Church. We had a review session with the director. I had a feedback to give. I said “The children are not responsible about keeping their homes clean. Having surveyed their house (System where there will be 19-22 children per house with cooking facilities along with house parents), I find children have no sense of hygiene and their toilets and bathrooms are very filthy. Children are very irresponsible.” With the avalanche of my theatrics, Moni Achen just looked and said nothing. I was unsure as what steps would be taken. I was feeling let down by his response. After all I had given an Oscar winning performance in bashing the children up. Hope they who are now on Facebook, do not read this. All forgotten, next day all groggy eyed, I look out. I see Rev Moni walk out of the Farm house with a bucket, bathroom brushes, and some bottles. I was wondering what he was up to. I asked “What are you doing Achen?” He said “Let us clean the toilets of the children, I have some phenyl and acid, join me.” I was like “What?” But I did not dare to ask. He enters the house and starts cleaning the toilet to the utter shock of all the children. We all joined in the cleaning. With 6 hours, along with the Children and the director, all the toilets of 8 houses were cleaned and children all joined to the tune of a carnival.” No huge sermons of responsibility and no fire of wrath because of irresponsibility. An example where he got working and this picture I am sure remained with the children more than any other reprimand or sermon.
This example has become part of the “Gentle Whisper of God.” Whenever I am facing a situation where I judge people or condemn them, the image narrated above works as a gentle whisper of God. In our daily lives let us hear the gentle whispers of God to combat the negative voices and actions that surround and engulf.
Rev Merin Mathew
Bethel Mar Thoma Church
Kolar Road, Bhopal

Who Is Your ‘Onesimus’?

Who Is Your ‘Onesimus’?

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GeethaPhilemon: 8-20.

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.  So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self.  Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.

 

Message-.

 

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 the invisible people in our lives are.

 

Now, how many reading this note has written postal letters? As some of my cousins were far away in Kerala and when there were no emails, facebook, Whatsapp,  to be in touch and when phone calls were strictly to be spoken for 3 minutes maximum, Inland letters were the only way to be in touch. My cousin Rev Mathews George was the best at writing letters and I was very lousy at replying it. During my seminary days, I used to wait eagerly for the letter of my mother who used to give all the details of our home and used to assure her prayers for my seminary studies. The personal touch of a postal letter cannot be recaptured. Of all the letters Paul has written, letter of Philemon is the most personal one in my reckoning.  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 very 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. Prison seems to be the contact point of Paul and Onesimus. 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 here that 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.

The meaning of Onesimus is useful. But Philemon considered him useless. The idea of seeing people in the binary or category of useful and useless itself is demeaning. Onesimus has incurred heavy loss to Philemon and Onesimus sure was in no position to repay him. This part of the letter is the climax and the zenith in verses 18 and 19 If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self.” Boooom. Did you hear that? This letter is just not about platitudes. Just not free advice. Paul is ready to vouch for Onesimus by saying all the debts Onesimus has incurred, Charge that to my account. Paul is saying, I stand for him, I take the guarantee. Charge that to my account. It sounds like a blackmail or arm-twisting tactic. But he is doing it for a brother he found in prison and who is no more a slave but a son of Christ. When we keep saying Jesus died for the debts of my sin, it is just platitudes as we do not understand the magnitude of the cost. Paul knows it and brings into action by being ready to pay a debt for someone who can never pay the debt. I do not know about you, I am deeply moved by the passion with which Paul ends the letter. If I may say, I see his eyes pop out when he is writing it with intensity. What a wonderful letter

 

There is a ragged lady who kept coming to our Church in Bhopal. After the service, I kept ignoring her and behaved as if she does not exist. But she kept persisting. I used to give her token amounts of Rs 5 and 10 just to shoo her off. But still she kept coming. One day I told her “Amma, baar baar math aaya karo.” She went away with a sad countenance. But she came again. The day she came, I was reading a book my Paul Miller who said, if we look at people how Jesus saw them, we would enter into their lives and stories. I thought of giving it a try. I called the lady that I kept calling ‘Bai’. I asked her what is her story. Her husband was an alcoholic and used to abuse her and he died in a road accident long back. She had a wonderful son who looked after her very well. She conducted his marriage with whatever resources she had. He had two adorable daughters. Life was very peaceful. Son used to work in a construction site and died in a freak accident. Her life came crashing down. Within a year the wife of her son ran away with another man, leaving the daughters with “Bai”. Her name is Geetha. She said “Beta, I do not want anything. These two granddaughters are the reason why I am alive. Their need to go to school is what keeps me working and also asking for help.” I felt overwhelmingly guilty at how I treated her. With the story of her life she was no more a nuisance but a human being with great resolve. And whenever we offer her money now for the education of her granddaughters, she showers us with a lot of blessings that we earnestly need. One day she came saying “Tomorrow is Makarsankranti, and I have to make Laddoos of Til for my bacchas.” I smiled at her and said, I will give but when you make, we also want some Laddoos for us.” I meant it as a joke. But she came next day with 6 laddoos. Soji and I were competing to hog it as the taste was awesome. Now she wants us to come to her juggi (hut) so that we can have lunch with her and her granddaughters. All she really asks is “Please pray for Priya and Swathi”

(Irony of the story is Geetha the real person in front of me, needed a “Paul Miller” -{Paul again} the author who I have never heard or seen, to knock some sense into my head to consider the lady with worth and dignity. This story is a testimony of the Persistence of Geetha and her triumph)
Rev Merin Mathew
Bethel Mar Thoma Church
Kolar Road, Bhopal