Keep Calm! Jesus is in the Boat

Mark 4: 35- 41

keep-calm-jesus-is-in-your-boat

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”  And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him.  A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.  But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”  He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Message:

Let me ask you a question. What is it that has helped you the most to draw closer to God. You may answer Sunday school teachers, priests, missionaries, parents and all of this is correct. As a child I remember that there was one thing over all else that drew me closer to God. Nothing else succeeded as much as it did. It is Mathematics. You read that right. The dread it instilled in me, the storm it created in my whole body is unparalleled. The prayers that Math exam elicited from me, I am sure heavens shook in awe of such honest prayers of despair. I can still feel the fear of Maths class. I was very consistent. I never ever knew the answer. But my teacher had a very bad habit. He always asked students to solve the problems on the board. Twice he picked me up and both counts, I wrote some fiction and prayed that the storm to pass but it never happened. I got some solid character certificates about my abilities from my esteemed teacher.  Now I had a friend who gave me a brilliant idea. He said “Sir always calls students who he is sure does not know the answer. When he asks ‘Who will solve the sum on the board?’ there are very few who raise their hand and he will never ask them. He will ask them who do not lift the hand. So next time buddy, even if you do not know the answer, raise your hand and do yourself a favor of being saved from the teacher’s fury.” It was a Eureka moment for me. The formula to calm the storm is now here. The next day comes and teacher walks in, takes the text book and writes a question on the board and boom is the question “Who will solve the problem?” And with full enthusiasm I lifted my hand and with glee I was sure ‘Salvation is here’. But then there was silence. As I was the only one to lift the hand and as storm has its way to blow in unexpected ways despite the best planning, he acknowledged me and with great honour and dignity invited me to fix the problem. I stood up with trembling feet and looked at my genius friend and gave a look like Jesus gave to Peter after Peter denied him. There were storm of bad words in my mind for my friend and at the same time the question to God “Do you really care for me, please save me.” Let me not tell you what happened after that. I took a very important decision that day, “Lord I promise to give up maths after 10th, please accept my sacrifice, yours truly.”

Well to cut that out, this passage always elicited in me the teacher-student relation among Jesus and his disciples. The disciples luckily were very bad students like me and always got scolding. I feel one with them. Well the location of the passage is Sea of Galilee and the people who have seen it say it is a joke to call it a sea. It is more of a lake as it is quite small. So Jesus and his disciples are crossing from Galilee to the other side which is the gentile area. Galilee is the known area. But we know that from Mark 5 that they are going to Decapolis which is gentile area. So they travel from Known to the unknown at Jesus’ behest. And then all of a sudden there is a storm. Fishermen in Sea of Galilee know one thing “No matter how much you try, you seldom can predict a storm.” There are storms that hit our life. Life is very uncertain. As a pastor I have seen parishioners who were healthy, suddenly being succumbed to cancer. Family is engulfed in a storm of emotions. A beloved dies in a road accident. Your job is in jeopardy. Family life is in deep turmoil. Life has hit rock bottom. You cannot predict a storm. Even worse is people think that these storms are punishment of God for the sins we have done. We see that with Jesus in the boat there was a storm that really scared and scarred the disciples. A friend said to me “Our family has always been very prayerful and regular to church and I wonder why this crisis broke upon us.” When we examine the Bible, time after resurrection of Jesus was not some magical shield on believers from all troubles. If anything, resurrection made the life of disciples more dangerous and vulnerable. So be sure. Life is uncertain and storms will surely hit us. Life sure is uncertain but if you know people who think that this crisis is God’s punishment for their sins, please correct them that such a thing is not biblical.

So we have established storms will hit us. Now it is important to know what you do before the storms hit. We see that when disciples were squeaky and miserable in the storm, Jesus was like some of my sermon listeners. I maybe giving the most fire evoking, thunder storm sermon, but their spiritual gift is to sleep through it and I feel like asking them “Don’t you care that I lost my sleep last night preparing this sermon?” Well the point is Jesus slept through the storm. What made him calm in midst of the storm? His deep communion with the Father. His retreat for prayers. For us, prayer is to cry out in midst of need and storm “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” But prayer is like Noah building the Ark in sunshine. Prayer does not avoid a storm but helps us to stay calm in midst of the storm. Let me be honest, I still struggle to have a disciplined prayer time. I am erratic in my spiritual disciplines. There is a legend about Tiger Woods. He was asked by an interviewer if he prays. He paused and said “I am not much spiritual, but my mother taught me a prayer when I was 3 years old and to date whenever possible, I try to pray that prayer” When I first read this, I was like “Wow.” How simple prayer is. We also tend to romanticize such things. But “Does Tiger Woods talk today like he used to talk when he was 3 years old? Does he wear the clothes of a 3 year old? Does he think and solve problems like a 3 year old?” The answer is no. We too tend to be infants in our prayer life by being undisciplined in our Bible Meditations and prayer routines. We still follow the lottery system of reading Bible by reading whatever portion we open to and dash a fast and furious prayer. Fr John Bartunek says that as Christians we are supposed to grow and develop our prayer life. Disciples did not ask “Lord, teach us to heal” or Teach us to give sermons” or “Teach us to speak in tongues.” But they sure asked “Lord, Teach us to pray. (Luke 11:1) We have to strive at perfecting our prayer practices so that we too can be calm in midst of the storm.

Jesus gets up from his slumber and says to the storm “Peace. Be still.” Jesus does care. He is in control. He not only calmed the nature’s fury but also calmed the storm raging inside the minds of the disciples. It is difficult to see the control of God when there are so many tragedies happening. Faith is to see the unseen. Let me tell you I am on shaky grounds writing this. My faith has to grow more and Jesus would definitely admonish me by saying “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Let me introduce you to Blessen Varughese who is the evangelist of Mumbai Diocese. Blessen was the VBS Director of Bethel Mar Thoma Church, Kolar Road, Bhopal. It was a privilege to see faith translated in action. Blessen who grew up in Vasai, Mumbai, as a child always harboured a dream to work in the villages. Many around thought this is just a phase. After doing B.Sc in Computer Science he joined Dhrama Jyothi VidyaPeet, Faridabad, seminary that is focused to equip evengelists in the context of North India. After his 4 years course in Bachelors in Divinity (that word does sound scary), it was time to make his dream come true. By God’s grace he was appointed as the Evangelist of Mumbai Diocese and incharge of Kharadi Mission which has 45 villages in its ambit. I remember Blessen posting on Fb “Dream is coming true”. Perfect story thus far. 2 months in the field and Dengue strikes. When he slowly recovered from it, Malaria comes knocking. There were voices all around saying “Don’t waste your life. Do something better.” When that was retreating to history typhoid makes its presence felt. And to top it all he had a very serious injury to his right eye which actually made well wishers more confident that this is the wrong choice. I was flabbergasted listening to the turmoil he faced in a matter of 6 monthsBut Blessen said “It was a very tough time.  It really raised a lot of questions in my life. But I felt the presence of God and I know God is in control.” I was dumbstruck.

Life is uncertain. Storms will hit us. How prepared are we for the storms? Are we growing in Christ? Christ is in our boat. He will still the storms. Our God is in control. Let us grow in our faith to believe “God will carry us through.”

Let me end this with the lyrics of my favorite sunday school action song. While you read it sing along and do the actions if you know.

With Jesus in my boat

I can Smile in the storm [3]

With Jesus in my boat I can

Smile in the storm when I’m sailing Home

When I’m sailing Home [2]

With Jesus in my boat I can Smile in the storm

when I’m sailing Home.

With Jesus in my boat I can Smile in the storm [3]

With Jesus in my boat I can Smile in the storm

when I’m sailing Home When I’m sailing Home [2]

With Jesus in my boat I can

Smile in the storm when I’m sailing Home.

Rev Merin Mathew

Bethel Mar Thoma Church

Kolar Road, Bhopal

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Give Me Some Sunshine, Give Me Some Rain

 John 21: 15-19

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.  Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”  Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

Message

In the movie 3 Idiots, we come across a character whose name is Joy Lobo. Joy who is pursuing engineering has a passion for machines.  In the final year he attempts to make a project out of a helicopter with wireless camera for his Engineering project. The principal Viru Sahastrabudhe mocks his idea and does not give him another chance or extension and also tells him that he won’t graduate that year. He pleads to no avail. Having hit the rock bottom he sings the melancholic song.

Give me some sunshine

Give me some rain

Give me another chance

I wanna grow up once again

We wish it had a better ending but the guy writes “I quit” and commits suicide. The feeling of being a failure is a huge burden to live by. The feeling of inadequacy and not being good enough is a constant battle that we struggle with.

Now when we read about Peter, we understand he too lived with the burden of being a failure. Failure of living up to his own expectations. I believe that when Peter said in Matthew 26:33″Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”, he truly believed that he will always stand by Jesus. But life keeps showing us that we just do not know ourselves enough. When Jesus said that Peter would deny Jesus, he was not predicting something unlikely. The point is, Jesus knew Peter more than Peter knew himself. That my friend is quite scary. Peter always portrayed himself way better than he actually was. This trait we share with him. If we look at our Facebook accounts and Instagram, we are out to portray the best version of ourselves. With funny posts, filtered photos and selfies, we too like Peter are trying to make ourselves believe in a version of ourselves that is too perfect. But the trouble is, we are not. We crack up and fail. Peter failed not once, not twice but thrice. Jesus knew this would happen. Peter more than denying Jesus, denied his own self-belief and confidence. Now before you walk with me to this passage, remember, this story is not just about Peter. There is a trace of  us in the story of Peter. Let us identify ourselves with the rockstar disciple, Peter.  Peter is swimming in his failure. And Jesus seeks him out. Now before anything let us ask, why did Peter deny Jesus? Is it that he did not love Jesus? He surely loved Jesus. But there was someone he loved more. It was himself. Peter denied Jesus out of fear of losing his life. It is love for self-preservation and the tendency of playing it safe that led Peter to deny Jesus. So here Jesus seeks our Peter. In the Middle Eastern culture and ethos, a thing you say three times you affirm it. Like in Islam, you say “Kabool hai” at wedding ceremony for 3 times and you have given your consent for marriage. In the Isaianic Vision, Angels say “Holy, Holy, Holy” affirming the holiness of God beyond doubt. The same logic applies when we affirm the Kauma “Daivame Nee Parishudhana Aagunnu”(Holy Art Thou O God) 3 times. It is an act of affirmation. By asking Peter “Do you love me more than these?” Jesus is giving Peter an opportunity to unbind himself from the 3 public denials. After every question he commanded to “Feed my lambs.” Take care of my sheep.” “Feed my sheep.” After every affirmation of Peter’s love, Jesus was commissioning him to look beyond himself. Love is shown not just in words, but in action. Get over your selfishness and live for others. Serve others. Take care of my sheep. It was a huge commissioning.

Now verse 18, 19 is an anticlimax to the story thus far. We like happy ending. And Jesus promised Peter a wonderful and prosperous life. But wait, Jesus gives a truly bad prediction. He is talking about Peter’s death. Thanks Jesus, you finally took your revenge, didn’t you? What exactly is he doing here? Now when Peter was just caught up with himself, being a master of his destiny, he set the agenda. He dressed and went wherever he wanted. Whenever Jesus tried to tell about his inevitable suffering and death, Peter tried to stop Jesus. It was not how he planned. Like Peter we wish to take Jesus where we want to go. And when Jesus refused to comply and was adamant to suffer and die, He denied Him. He did not want to lose control. You can continue to live like that and know what a miserable life that is. Jesus now in short says “Peter, you tried to save your life fearing death. But was that life worth living? Now let me tell you, you are going to die. Since that is sure, remember, I have conquered death through resurrection. So now live. You are not in control. I will take you to places you do not wish to go. You will dine with people you do not wish to dine with. You will do works that you would rather never do. You will offend people who you wish to please. “Follow me”. You will be like a candle that will give light, but in the process will die out by melting away. George Abraham

The underlying story of Peter is, you cannot live saving your skin. That is not living. Living is to think beyond ourselves and leading a meaningful life. I recently attended a Conference of National Council of Churches of India (NCCI) at Jabalpur. There I was really bored with the sessions as it was afternoon. And then the voice over the microphone said these words “Life of disability is one of tremendous possibilities.” Within a jiffy my sleep vanished and I looked up. What? Come again? Let me introduce you Mr George Abraham. Read on and I am sure you will jump out of your seats at the end of it all.

George Abraham was born on 31st October 1958 to his parents Mr. M.G. Abraham and Mrs Susheela Abraham. George at the age of 10 months had meningitis which caused permanent damage to his optic nerve making him visually impaired. But his parents took a very bold decision regarding his schooling. They sent him to mainstream school. This had its share of challenges, but his parents read out text book to him and equipped him for the same. George says “My mother is a very prayerful person and her faith always helped me to overcome the many challenges and loneliness I felt in the growing stage. Her faith that God will equip my child against all odds gave me confidence. It is from my father that I inherited the love for Maths.” In 1972, when he wanted to do Maths, the combination of physics and chemistry with his visual impairment was a problem. But he persisted and graduated with Maths from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi.  He did his Masters in Operation Research and entered into the field of Advertisement. His academic pursuits along with his career in advertising was enough to make his story an extraordinary one.

In 1989, he along with his wife Rupa visited a School for the blind in New Delhi. He was deeply saddened by the condition of the life of the visually impaired children. Inferiority complex , poor body  language and low ambitions is what he saw in these children. This was a turning point in his life.  That is the time he realized the impact of the revolutionary decision taken by his parents to send him to mainstream school. Now he had an option to feel lucky and move on in life. George says “I felt the encounter of God to use resources for the visually impaired children. It became a passion and mission. Every Blind and Visually impaired person has a right to live a fulfilling life. I took a tough decision to quit my job and dedicated myself to improve the quality of living of people with blindness and low eye sight.

Sports is an integral part of a human being and people with disability are always kept away from it. George being a cricket enthusiast always wished even visually impaired could play cricket. Therefore in 1992, he organized the first National Cricket Tournament for the Blind where he wrote to 200 schools to participate and 20 responded with participation. George roped in Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev for the tournament to give visisbility and also called the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to give away prizes. A dream was shaping beautifully. In 1996 to give momentum to Cricket for the blind he founded the Association for Cricket for the Blind in India (ACBI). That very year he initiated the setting up the World Blind Cricket Council (WBCC). This led to the first World Cup for the Blind in New Delhi in 1998 where George played a stellar role in organizing and co-ordinating 7 countries that participated. This was a huge achievement which was unthinkable and now the World Cup is part of the Cricketing calendar.

The question still remained how to impact ordinary people who are visually impaired? It was during the run up to the cup, that George says he discovered that the “real problem was not the blindness but the mindset of the other people and the blind people themselves, to the disability. Everyone, including the blind, believed they just couldn’t lead normal lives. I wanted to change that,”. In 2002, George established the SCORE Foundation, a non-profit organization. The focus of SCORE was to be the information and mentoring centre for the visually impaired. Lack of information and good guidance is what makes blind people settle for mediocre lives believes George. Score launched Project Eyeway as a single- stop knowledge resource for people living with blindness and low vision. Today Eyeway comprises the website http://www.eyeway.org, a weekly radio programme ‘Yea Hai Roshni Ka Karwan’ which is broadcast from 30 cities in India, the Eyeway helpdesk, the Eyeway news SMS service, the Eyeway Talking Book service and the Eyeway training service programme. The impact of his endeavor can be gauged by just one case.

A few years ago, George received a call from a man who lived in Bhopal. He was in his late 20s and was losing his vision at an alarming speed. He had quit his job and returned to his parents, resigned to a life of darkness. “He had heard our radio show and wanted to know what he could do. We convinced him that he could take on home-based assignments to begin with, so that he felt useful. But after a few months, he called back to say while he was earning money, his social life was in doldrums. While his friends went out and partied, he sat at home. His parents refused to let him out alone, lest a car run him over. We spoke to them but they refused, saying they didn’t want to lose their son to a pothole, a ditch or a rash driver. Luckily a few weeks later, we did a radio show with a blind man who had overcome similar odds and was now working in a senior position in a bank. The young man was excited. He wanted us to talk to his parents again. This time, they agreed to let him venture out close by, with a cane in hand, provided they followed him at a distance. This continued for a while. When both the young man and his parents had gained enough confidence, we convinced him to apply for a job. He landed a really cool job at TCS and first moved to Kolkata and is now based in Bangalore. Recently we spoke again and he said now he hopes to fall in love soon and get married! It is stories like these that I live for,” says Abraham.

When George ended the conversation, he said “My faith in the Living God instilled by my parents has kept me strong. Support of my wife has been integral in all the aspects of my life. I believe that we are blessed and are called to be a blessing. That is biblical faith to me, where fear of the unknown is conquered by faith. Do pray that we can reach more and more people who yearn to be independent and want to live a fulfilling life.”

 

P.S. George is married to his wife Rupa and is blessed with two daughters, Neha and Tara. He is a fabulous orator and a motivational speaker. Please visit a module by SCORE where George wishes to equip blind children to have a winner attitude from young age. Check this out and support it. https://www.ketto.org/scorefoundation

Rev Merin Mathew

Bethel Mar Thoma Church

Kolar Road, Bhopal

 

Ship Is Safest at the Port But That Is Not What It Is Built For (Parable of Talents)

Matthew 25: 14- 30

“For it will be as when a man going on a journey called his servants and entrusted to them his property; to one he gave five talents,[a] to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them; and he made five talents more. So also, he who had the two talents made two talents more.  But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them.  And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’  His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.’  And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’  His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.’  He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’  But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have not winnowed?  Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.  So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents.  For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’

Message

At the age of 6, my parents spotted that I was very interested in playing the drum on anything and everything that i got. I did not discriminate between a table, mother’s head, books, bible. So my optimistic parents thought they had discoverd a rare talent.  So when I was in class 4 my parents took me to be enrolled to learn Tabla. The teacher said I was too small and I had to wait for a year. I started with great gusto. My parents bought a tabla. I became a phenomenon as there were few who knew how to go about it. I appeared the first exam and got decent marks. And then I found that my friends who played guitar and how better it was than tabla. Within months I abandoned it to great dismay of my parents and it took me 5 years for my parents to recover from that set back and finally after my 10th, they bought a guitar. I enrolled for a guitar class. I started out with great promise. For 3 months or so, I was at it. But I was interested in short cuts. Impress my friends and I was also an adolescent, so guitar did impress girls. Now tabla and guitar feature in my resumes of failed ventures. I tried convincing my mom that my actual calling was the keyboard and if you know my mom well, you could have guessed what was her reply.  Today if you go to my home, The tabla and guitar is displayed with great honor which so well displays the squandered talent that I just did not invest enough. And my parents and my wife do not spare a moment to make me realize how silly I have been to squander it so. So this parable actually evokes a lot of guilt in me when I read it and therefore I keep avoiding it but as David said in Psalms 51 “My sin is always before me…”

Let us return to the text. One talent was equivalent to 15 years of a laborers salary. It was a huge amount and therefore the man in the parable is leaving a fortune with these servants of his. To one he gives 5. Another one gets 2 and the last one gets 1. Now we will concentrate on the servant who got 1 talent and how he responded to it. What are the 3 things that led to his attitude to maintain the status quo of 1 talent. He did not ACT upon it. Based on the word ACT, we will use it as an acronym for our meditation.

Appreciation– Now I am assuming that the first thing that made the servant to do nothing about the given talent is that he fell into the trap of comparison. He saw that others got 5 and 2 respectively and he just had to settle with 1. Mind you, that 1 itself is of much great value. We too live life like this comparing it with our siblings, friends, neighbours, never appreciating of what we have. We live in constant complain of the little that we have, the unattractive looks, the old fashioned mobile, the not so stylish bike. There is a story of a man who was very dissatisfied with his house and was looking out for better plots to build a far beeter house. He called his real estate agent or realtor and told him to put an advertisement for the house. The realtor prepared an ad for the local newspaper and before publishing it, read it out to the owner. It read as follows, “Beautiful house, scenic location, surrounded with trees, streams flowing by, birds chirping, peace and beauty intermingles. In short, your dream house.” The owner asked the ad to be read once again. He asked “Have you written this about my house?” He went out and looked around his house and came back and said “I have changed my mind. I will not sell as this is exactly the house that I was planning to buy.”

This is exactly how we live. We live in such deep sense of discontentment that we fail to appreciate or value what we have.

Commitment- We see the 3rd servant hid the talent in the ground. In the rabbinic law, hiding money in the ground is lawful and if the money is lost, the owner cannot accuse nor have a case against the servant. So the servant here was playing it safe. He did not want to take any risk. More and more I see, I feel I too have fallen into this trap of playing it safe. There is no deep commitment. You just want to wade off trouble and therefore are safe in our own made bubble. Investing the talent needed commitment and risk. As illustrated before in my case, I was interested in the adulation that music would bring but I had no commitment to invest in it. No way that I would suffer for it because I had no commitment. We all search for short cuts but as Nietzsche of all the things said one thing right. “If you want to master something you need to take a long walk of obedience in the same direction.” As the saying goes “Ships is safest at the port. But that is not what the ship is built for.” There is risk involved. There is pain. There are hours of boredom and loneliness. But commitment will take us to the promised land.

Thankfulness– The appropriate word here would be gratitude, but then in the scheme of the acronym ACT, it would make no sense. Look at the view the 3rd servant had about his master. ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow;so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ (Matthew 25: 24-25). We live in times where complaining and projecting our inadequacies onto others is a fad. The servant is projecting his shortcoming onto his master to have a reason for himself to wriggle out of the chance he squandered. We always are in search of a scapegoat. If anything goes wrong, the first thing we try to do is not to solve the problem, but to find whom to blame. Eugene Peterson says very well, “ As Christians we have a Saviour, we do not need scapegoats.” Gratitude is a way of seeing where other see impossible written all over, gratitude opens a small opportunity to look at things differently. Sometimes we view God as the servant. We feel he is unfair, does not care about us. But if we practice the art of gratitude, our attitude towards life will change.

Let me conclude. The man with one talent had an “I cannot attitude.” This affects a lot of us. Apart from my debacle in music there was another tragedy waiting to happen. I chose Arts as my field after 10th, not because I loved science less but because I hated maths more. My history teacher heard me speak in one of her class and asked me to join the debating team. So in 1999 I started to debate for my college. I kept going for one debate after another. In the beginning I was all sound and fury and no content. I thought public speaking is about shaking people up by top of the voice gestures. It took me 10 debates to realize, that this trick is a bad formula. I observed people, saw tv, invested my time. Kept going for one debate after the other, but to no avail. Every time I got over with one debate, the sheer disappointment of failing took a week to recover. I was like Ravindra Jadeja who was given chances without any merit. And also there were not many people vying for that spot. But honestly the story of Abraham Lincoln and his 29 losses played on my mind. I started becoming superstitious. I started wearing a shirt which I thought brought me luck. I used a particular illustration which I believed would help me get the awaited. People were charitable in letting me know that I was good. And once  we had a competition with only 4 teams. This was my chance as I thought, with such less participation, this is mine. I was praying aloud doing all things I believed that would fetch me the award. But when the result was announced, it was the same old story. I did not make it to the podium. To top it all I met a judge who said “You were phenomenal.” I wanted to ask him, “Why dint I win?” I did not ask. So when I was appearing for my 29th debate I thought, I am Abraham Lincoln, but after the debate I knew I did not need to wait for the result as I had badly stuttered through the speech. I honestly had nothing better to do and therefore I tried. On 1st February 2002 when I heard my name for the first prize for another debate I was sure, there was some other Merin Mathew along. I had accepted the fact that I was never going to win. But it took me 32 debates and 3 years of frustration to get there. My parents hardly bothered about the losing and they encouraged me to keep trying. Mrs Vimala Menon, had some high hopes and perseverance. I am glad at least here I did not quit. When I became a trainer for debates, all I told my friends who struggled, if I can, anybody can. Appreciate what you have. Be committed to God and the purpose he has set before you. Be thankful for all the little and small that you have in life. God who took 5 loaves and 2 fish to feed a multitude will use the little that you have for His glory.

PS: This was a Sermon delivered on 5th July 2015 at Bethel Mar Thoma Church, Bhopal for Students’ Dedication Day.

Rev Merin Mathew

Bethel Mar Thoma Church

Kolar Road, Bhopalship

Are You Ready… To Be Pentecosted?

Acts 2: 1-21

 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome  (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”  Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!  No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

“‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
 I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

Message

Two boys join the army and are really looking forward to the challenging life of army men. But first day of the training drill broke all their illusion of what they thought would be a glamorous life. With the exercises and drills, the punishments and never ending runs made the two very very sad.  By now they were just surviving the days at the training camp. Matthew and Deepak are the boys in the story. Half dead with exhaustion, Mathew mourns to Deepak “What a horrible life this is. We are treated like machines. I want to go home.” Deepak says nothing but just agrees with a desperate sigh. And then Deepak tells Matt, “Let’s bunk the training session tomorrow. Let us go out and just have fun.”  Matthew was not sure of the idea but was too desperate for a break and therefore played along. Early in the morning the duo sneaked out of the camp with fabulous precision and both hi- fived each other for the accomplishment that they achieved. Initially after achieving temporary freedom, they now did not know what to do. New to the city, they just were clueless. After roaming around aimlessly they finally settled to enter into a beer bar. Along with the snacks they kept ordering their drinks trying to numb themselves from the daily routine of meaninglessness. After around they lost count of the drinks, it dawned to them that they had to sneak back to the camp. Matt after paying the bills, along with Deepak found it hard to stand on their feet. They helped each other from falling. And The Captain of the platoon who was strolling in the market area happened to recognize the drama outside the beer bar and spotted the two ruffians who had escaped from his camp. He in an intimidating pose stood in front of the duo. Matt thought not recognizing who stood in front of him blurted out “Hi mate, can you help us to get to the Army camp near cantonment?” The captain with an added baritone said “Do you know who I am?” Matt looks very perplexed and started crying and said “Oh dear God, we are in deep trouble, we do not know where to go and this man does not know who he is”

This may be a humorous illustration but it profoundly talks of the two problems that we face. The problem of identity and the problem of finding a purpose in life. We are not sure about our purpose in life and we keep struggling to figure out who we are. We need timely reminders and affirmations to help us align with our purpose and identity. When we examine the passage in front of us, we have 120 witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection. They have seen Jesus ascension to heaven and are asked to wait for the Holy Spirit that He would pour upon them. As they waited, the Holy Spirit came upon them like blowing wind and tongues of fire rested upon them. I am guessing that these 120 people were together to feel secure in each other’s company as they were  hiding themselves from the Roman officials and the Jews. In the meanwhile they elected Matthias as the 12th disciple to feel more powerful, but we do not hear anything of what Matthias did in history. So they were a bunch of clueless people and it is here the Holy Spirit engulfs them. The wind signifies the breath that God breathed into Adam, signifying life(Gen 2:7). And tongues of fire are to set them ablaze on their mission to be witnesses of the resurrected Christ. The wind reminded the people who they are. They have life breathed in them By God and in God and his resurrection is their new identity brought about by the gift of the Holy Spirit. The fire reminds them what the purpose in life is and that is to be witnesses of the resurrection of Christ till the end of the earth.

The people just wanted to be confined in the comforts of the upper room and be safe. They are happy to know ‘Christ is Risen’ and remain quiet and calm. But the Holy Spirit does not heed to their plans. It overflows in other tongues. When they wished to keep the resurrection of Jesus a secret of their exclusive society, Holy Spirit enabled them to speak in tongues intelligible to the many Jews from different nations. When it was clear to the Jews what was being declared, they tried to suppress the voices of the 120 by dismissing them as drunk and stupid people. Jews certainly did not want to hear about the Resurrected Christ as it would mess up their lives and make it extremely uncomfortable. It is here Peter steps in and declares with the help of Holy Spirit that these voices are not to be dismissed. He gives a bold witness to the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ and how by the promise of Scripture, Holy Spirit is at work. The verses 36 and 37 are the climax. “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

When the people heard this, they were cut toNew Life English Medium School the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Peter boldly declares Jesus as Lord and Messiah and also convicts them that they crucified him. But the response of the hearers is what formed the new community. Holy Spirit made them vulnerable in heart  and they asked in desperation “Brothers, what shall we do?”

This is what opened up to the formation of a new community where people were ready to realize their mistakes and were ready to ask “What should we do?” Do we have those pricking of the heart and we ask “What should we do?” Pentecost reminds us that we are in the Grand story of the Life, Death, Resurrection and Coming again of Jesus Christ. Toughest part is to be witnesses to his resurrection which is denied in all quarters. Holy Spirit strengthens us to realize that our identity lies in the love of Jesus Christ and we should do what Jesus did. The New Community, the church is to do what Jesus did. What he said, we should say. If you look at the story of Jesus in Gospel of Luke and the Story of Church in Acts of Apostles, it is very similar. Just study the parallels of Birth of Jesus and Birth of Church. Luke tries to show that how Jesus lived (as depicted in Gospel of Luke), same way his followers tried to live in Acts of the Apostles. In Gospel of Luke, He fed, he loved, he cared , he preached. In Acts of Apostles, they fed, they loved, they cared, the preached. Was it easy? No. But the people found that their identity lies in who Jesus is. And what do they do? They  did what Jesus did. If you realize this and Holy Spirit takes hold of you, you are officially pentecosted. (Red Alarm, Sirens ringing)

Let me end this meditation by a story of a couple that really inspired me. When I called the protagonist of the story, he was very reluctant to share about his experiences as he felt he was not worthy enough to be written  about  “Achen, I have done nothing. Please do not embarrass me.” So with that warning in mind I venture to introduce you to the couple Mr .P.O. Mathew and his wife Annie.  Mr P.O. Mathew, who is the 5th of the siblings hails from Pallipad. After his education he joined as a professor at Chengannur Christian College and he married his wife Annie who was teaching at Bishop’s Moore College in Mavelikara. In 1968 after being newly married, Mr P.O. Mathew got an opportunity to go to Nigeria as a teacher. He along with his wife worked as teachers in Nigeria for a period of 17 years. After they came back to India the couple joined the Mar Thoma Academy in Tiruvalla, where Mr Mathew was the Principal for 9 years and were well settled in Tiruvalla.  The story thus far is a normal one. Life is secure. Their children have settled. So one would not expect any twist or turn at this stage of the script. No, but the story is not over. In the year 2000 there was a strange request that came the couple’s way. Dr Johny, who was at Christian Hospital, Bisam Cuttack, Orissa, requested P.O. Mathew to help them out with a School of the Hospital as it was not in a good shape. Initially Mr Mathew dismissed it but Dr Johny was insistent. “I was scared to uproot from my settled life but there was a voice that wanted to give this a shot. Therefore on the insistence of Dr Johny I visited the hospital at Bissam Cuttack. The place I found was very backward but I was impressed by the work and witness of the Hospital. The hospital was the vision and labour of Dr Elizabeth Madson, who set up the hospital knowing about the death of women in the village due to the lack of medical facilities. It is the inspired witness of Late Dr Elizabeth Madson that evolved into a 200 bed Hospital called the Christian Hospital. After visiting, we did not have clarity and did not see the sense in uprooting our life but felt the prompting of the Spirit. So I thought of asking the then Metropolitan Most Rev Dr Philipose Mar Chrysostom who was the President of Mar Thoma Academy where I was the Principal. I was sure that the Metropolitan would not relieve me. After initial enquiry and after hearing about Dr Johny, Thirumeni said that the work is credible and gave me the permission to go. I honestly did not expect it. When Thirumeni gave the permission, I knew this was God’s plan and we reluctantly thought of giving it a shot. We decided to go for 2 years in the month of June in 2000. Slowly but surely we could put a system in the New Life English Medium School with 530 students from the village nearby, where Annie was the Head Mistress and I was the Principal. We went for 2 years but remained there for 15 years. We were away from our family, relatives, people and church but God used us. I truly believe I did nothing extraordinary, but realized God was leading us. Initially all the events made no sense to us and the people around. But God used us in ways that we could never imagine and to dear God we are grateful. We have nothing to boast or to put forward. I remember my brother telling me that when I was about to be born there were huge complications. They said we will save the mother and the child will die. After my birth, Doctor said, I will live for 7 days. Achen, today this man who was supposed to live for just 7 days is 72 years, you have called me on my birthday (12th May 2016). Mysterious are God’s ways”

I truly believe Mr P.O. Mathew and his wife Annie were Pentecosted. The couple found their identity in Christ Jesus and the purpose in life was to be the witnesses of His resurrection, whether we like it or not. The Holy Spirit is not what we acquire. Holy Spirit takes hold of us and brings us out of our secure and calculated life. We do not find a purpose. The purpose finds us.  I am reminded that one day one of our member entered in an absent minded way with helmet on. I chuckled. But then I realized, church sure is a very dangerous place. You better sit with helmets  and seat belts on. Because God will not settle for your small plans. He will Pentecost you and that will mightily cost you. So are you ready to be pentecosted?

 

P.S. The Church celebrates the Feast of Pentecost, 50 days after Easter which signifies the Gift of Holy Spirit promised by Jesus Christ and also the Birth of the Church

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Bethel Mar Thoma Church

Kolar Road, Bhopal