Ruth: No Ghar Wapasi

Ruth 1: 1-18

 

In the days when the judges ruled,there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion.They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.

Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.

Naomi and Ruth Return to Bethlehem

When Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah. Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.”

Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud  and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.”

But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands?Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons— would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!”

At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-lawgoodbye, but Ruth clung to her.

 “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”

But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.  Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”  When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.

Message

 

Ghar Wapsi (returning home) has become a very contentious religio-political issue in India. Some fringe outfits have assumed that like the wayward prodigal son left the divine fold of Hinduism, many converted to other religions and it is time they return home, but unlike the father in the parable who gently waits for the return for the ghar wapsi, the so called defenders of faith of Hindutva want to microwave this process of ghar wapsi by the year 2021. Returning home is a very important theme in the bible too and home as a metaphor holds the narrative of the Word of God. Abraham left his home and land in wake of the call God gave him promising him a nation and an offspring. Adam and Eve had a home that they were evicted from. Homelessness is a state of humanity and Revelations 21 perfectly sums up the home coming of humanity with the New Heavens and the New Earth which we look forward to. But today the protagonist of our meditation is one who refused to do a ‘Ghar Wapsi.’ It is her story that we will pursue a little longer.

Broken dreams and miscalculations and heart break sets the tone for the plot. We normally jump right to get to Naomi, Ruth and Orpah, but that misses the thrust of the narrative. As Hebrew names in the original language added texture to the story, let us see what a Hebrew reading man gets that we miss. Bethlehem means “House of Bread”. So there was famine in the House of Bread and this man Elimelech which means “My God is King” and his wife Naomi which means “pleasant” have no bread to eat in the house of bread. Paul E Miller puts it succinctly when he says Elimelech decides that “I am my God and King” and decides to make life pleasant (Naomi) for a while by travelling to Moab which is a split of “Mo” which means “who” and “ab” which means “father”. So leaving the land of God, the question the new land poses them is “Who is your daddy?” It is important to note that the initial plan was to be there for a while, but they remained there. They had sons there called “Mahlon” and ‘Kilion” which means “Sick” and “Frail” respectively. That is like naming your child as ‘Jaundice’ and “Malaria”. Who does that? Straying a bit, there was an interesting case in New Zealand where parents named their girl child “Tulala does the Hulala from Hawaii”. I kid you not and the court took the custody of the child from the parents as the parents condemned their child to life time of mockery and disdain. If there were such laws in Moab, sure Elimelech and Naomi would be deported to Bethlehem and the story would go no further. Now Elimelech to avoid death left Bethlehem. But the sad part is, even in a land of plenty, he died. Not only that, his sons who married Moabite women, also died. The city of dreams turns into a nightmare.

From verse 7 we see that the three women are leaving Moab to travel down to Judah. But from vs 8, a sudden realization dawns on Naomi and she urges her daughters-in-law to return back to their mothers’ home. She ends the sentence with ‘May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.’ (vs 9) So she is requesting Ruth and Orpah for a ‘Ghar Wapsi’, so that they have future with another husband and their life flourishes. So the thrust is “Look after yourself. Do not walk with a living dead like me. Look for a future. Get back to the security of a home that awaits you.” L’Oreal has a slogan that says “I’m worth it”. Naomi says “I’m not worth it”. I have nothing to offer. So with logic of “First take care of yourself”, Naomi persuades Ruth and Orpah. But both persist that, no matter what, they will still follow. At times we find following the path of faith very tough and the wordly logic of compromise and do all to take care of yourself is very lucrative and we would like to return to the house of addictions, pleasure and vices because “I’m worth it.” Ruth and Orpah keep walking with Naomi.

But Naomi does not give up. From vs 11- 13 she graphically describes that she has nothing to offer by saying that even if she marries and have twins, will they wait for the twins to grow to get married? She proves that there is no hope with her. They are walking towards a dead end. Nothing good will come out of this. Orpah is persuaded by this logic. When it dawned upon her there is no future here she realizes “I’m worth it” She kisses her mom-in-law and does a ghar wapsi. Buth Ruth persists. She says even if there is no future, still I will follow. This is a tough call in faith where we give up when we see there is no future. We do this in the relations that we invest. If I am getting nothing out of it, let me quit. This Church has nothing for me. Let me quit.

Naomi does the last trick to persuade Ruth. When all failed to deter her, Naomi tries to apply peer pressure by saying “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.” (vs 15) This is where I will certainly fall. I would love to stand for my beliefs and convictions, but I need people around to hold on to. I do not like the loneliness of being right and alone. I am way to people pleaser for that. But Ruth responds with a classic poem of commitment.

“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” (Vs 16b and 17). Ruth sees nothing ahead of her. Still she “I will follow”. Naomi promises her that future is dead and there is no life. Ruth says “Still I will follow”. Naomi says “Even your sister in law has gone to make a life. Ruth answers “Though no one joins me, still I will follow.” If we just pause and think who is called the father of faith, boom comes the answer. “Abraham”. Abraham had to leave his home and land to a land shown by God. But there was a promise of offspring and a nation. In the story of Ruth, there is no call from God and no promise. Just the sure assurance of Naomi, that all will be bitter. I guess the faith shown by Ruth to leave her land and her house is far greater adventure than that of Abraham. So if anybody asks you, “Who is the mother of faith?” do not think twice. The answer is “Ruth”.

What quality does Ruth portray? The main theme of the book of Ruth is the Hebrew word ‘Hesed’. I am sorry; I have done a lot of ‘show-off’ of my shallow Hebrew skills. I promise this is the last. I love this word! The only problem is that there is no real good English equivalent for it. Probably the best is “God’s loyal covenant-keeping love for His people.” Some translations call it “loving kindness” or “mercy” or “kindness” or “steadfast love.” It is most often mentioned with God as the subject and His people or humanity as the object . Humans also can also show “hesed” to one another. It is found 246 times in the OT and 127 times in the Psalms. It is found in 5% of Psalms (read Psalm 136 for a psalm full of them), 4% in Jonah and Ruth comes next with 3%. Someone has defined it as “the consistent, ever-faithful, relentless, constantly-pursuing, lavish, extravagant, unrestrained, furious love of our Father God.  Hesed shows up everywhere in Ruth and in looking at it in light of the New Testament, we know it is God’s hesed that is shown in Jesus Christ and keeps us in Him. So Hesed love is a love that is way too deep. It does not see what I can get from this relationship. It is a deep seated love with commitment. I will like to illustrate and end this meditation with one of my favourite story that I learnt in school. It was a Marathi lesson and let me remind you I was extremely bad at the subject failing in it with the consistency of Rohit Sharma. So if I remember this Marathi lesson, it is because of the sheer brilliance of the story. The story goes like this

There is a boy Dinu of age 9,whose father is a doctor and mother is a homemaker. One day his mother asks him to buy some groceries from the nearby shop. He goes and tells “Uncle give me 2kg Rice, 1 kg salt, 2 kg sugar and 500 grams coffee.” The shopkeeper heeds to his demands and gives Dinu what he has requested for. Dinu promptly gives the money. He collects the groceries and the change and gets ready to run home. But the shopkeeper calls him “Hey Dinu, take your bill along.” Dinu sees a bill for the first time and gets confused about what it is. But in the abandon of childhood he forgets about it. Then when he sits in his father’s clinic, he sees that his father too gives a bill to his patient. That is when it strikes to Dinu and he asks his Father “What is a Bill?” His father takes an old bill and shows him

Consultation Charge- Rs 200

House Visit- Rs 100

Medicines- Rs 200

Total – Rs 500

His father explains that, Bill shows the services one gives and the service charge is the amount one charges. Dinu gets very excited. He goes home and decides to make a bill for all the service rendered to his mother.

Buying Groceries- Rs 25

Helping in Cleaning the House- Rs 20

Helping in carrying water from Bathroom to Toilet- Rs 5

Helping in starting Scooter- Rs 8

Total Cost- Rs 58

With Discount – Rs 55

After preparing the ingenious bill, he excitedly goes to his mother and gives to her. She looks at it and smiles and says. “Dinu, go to sleep, tomorrow morning I will give you the full amount.” When Dinu got up in the morning he saw the bill on the table and some money. He got excited and counted that there was Rs 55 and then thought it was his bill. But it was another bill from his mother and it went like this.

Having borne you 9 months in my womb- Rs 0

Sleepless nights I spent when you had fever- Rs 0

When you had jaundice, even I ate salt less food- Rs 0

When something hurt you, tears were in my eyes- Rs 0

Total Amount with Discount Rs 0

Dinu took the bill and cried hugging his mother. I am sure he was beautifully introduced to the understanding of Hesed. Ruth in following Naomi and refusing a Ghar Wapsi shows ‘Hesed’ which is seen in the life of Jesus as well. May God help us to follow God with hesed and invest in our relationships with the spirit of Hesed. God bless us all.

Rev Merin Mathew

Bethel Mar Thoma Church

Kolar Road, Bhopal

Whats In a Name?

Genesis 4: 1-16

Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.” Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.
Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”
Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”
But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

Message

The question that I dread the most is ‘What is your Name?’ When I say Merin, the questioner has an expression that is difficult to understand which is quickly followed by ‘Isn’t that a girl’s name?’ Phew. Every church that I have gone I have had the honour of parents coming to me and saying with a smile “Ente magalude perum Merin aa” (Even our daughter’s name is Merin) I try to smile, but I have not made peace with it, please pray for me, my brethren. My mind then goes to the time when my parents chose a name for me. My mother wanted the name Melvin, but my dad vetoed her to give me this name ‘Merin.’ Since it is dad who gave the name I have not dared to ask him ‘Why, Why?’ So then I Googled ‘Merin’ and in one obscure place where it said “Merin comes from the Hebrew word ‘Mero’ which can mean happiness as well as restlessness.” Well it is true that I am happy and make others restless. So with the name having a meaning I have some consolation. Shakespeare definitely had no idea when he said “What is in a name?” Well a lot buddy, a lot. In today’s passage I will be laying special emphasis on the names of the characters we come across and therefore you had to bear with the personal rant or trivia. Hope my father won’t read this.

Name and its Meaning
The story of Cain and Abel is a very popular one and the narrative has many dimensions, textures and layers. Gen. 4:1 starts with the scene of human procreation where Eve after giving birth to Cain says “I have created man with the help of the Lord.” The word “Qanah” in Hebrew is translated as created and the noun form of “Qanah” is Cain. So here we see the name given by Eve to her first born Cain embodies creation in his name and also he is the seed of the man, formed out of Adamah which means soil in Hebrew. Cain becomes the tiller of the soil like his father as Gen 4:2 b says “…… and Cain worked the soil.” So he is called to carry forward the divine commission given to man in Gen. 2: 15 to and keep the soil. The name Abel comes from the Hebrew word ‘Habel’ which means ‘breath’ or ‘vapor’. Genesis 2:7 says Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. So meaning of Abel signifies the divine breath that God breathed while creating Adam out of Adamah. So we all see the interconnection of names to the process of creation.

How Do We Worship?
In Gen. 4.3 we see Worship being introduced for the first time in the Bible. Abel’s offering as a shepherd is accepted but the produce of the ground of Cain is rejected. Now the question arises why is the offerings of Abel accepted and that of Cain rejected. I remember reading a story where the Sunday School teacher asks the same question “Why was Abel’s offering accepted and Cain’s rejected.” Many attempted to answer. But there was a smarty who raised his hand to declare that he had the answer to the most treasured secret of all times. He blurted, “Teacher the answer is very simple. God is a Non-Vegetarian and therefore he loved the meat given by Abel and Cain was foolish to offer vegetarian stuff to God.” Well that is as far as the child’s logic goes. Worship is not just what you bring in your hand but what you carry in your heart. Look at the construction of the sentence. ‘The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.’ (Genesis 4: 4b-5a) ‘Abel and offering’ and ‘Cain and his offering’. When we go to worship it is we as a person that God is interested in, more than what we have to offer. So why do you go to worship? Is it because out of social pressure, parental pressure, social security, claims of tradition or just because you have no other option? If we see, Cain too participated and offered the offerings but Robin Koshy says “Cain’s sin was religious tokenism. He is doing religious stuff, but his heart is away from the Lord.” This could be our case too. We have become used to the pattern of our worship. We routinely chant, sing songs, make sign of the cross, do our confession, received the Holy bread and Holy wine week after week that the meaning of the worship and its purpose is lost on us. What prophet Isaiah says is applicable to Cain as well as us. The Lord says:
“These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught. (Isaiah 29: 13)

Why Envy?
Because of God’s favor on Abel, we see an introduction of a very common human emotion that Cain emotes. It is called envy. Paul Tripp defines this very beautifully as follows. “Envy is always idolatrous. It attaches spiritual contentment to physical things and experiences rather than to relationship with God. Envy is a false gospel. Envy says you are worthy and deserving. The cross says you’re unworthy but graced with what you don’t deserve. Envy always breaks the two Great Commands. I envy because I love something more than I love God. In envy I fail to love you as I should. As a believer, envy is always vertical; you cannot be envious without questioning the goodness, wisdom and faithfulness of God. Envy is the product of self-righteousness. You think you’re better, so you can’t deal with a person having what you deserve but don’t enjoy.” Like Cain we experience envy in our life where we feel cheated when friends in college or workplace get recognition, better grades or social standing than we have. This envy creates tension in our healthy relationships and friendships. Researchers from Humboldt University and from Darmstadt’s Technical University of Germany did a study to find the ever increasing phenomenon called ‘Facebook envy’. They found that men put self-promotional stuff on their timeline while women portrayed their good looks and displayed their social lives. This has created envy among users who perceive that their so called Facebook friend is having a better life than he/she has. Such things may look trivial to us but God is confronting Cain by saying “……sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (vs 7). Here God shows the hidden nature of envy in particular and sin in general. If you are envious of others like I am, God is warning us that sin is crouching at our door, if we are not careful, it will rule over our lives and ruin it like it did with Cain..

In the Mar Thoma Liturgy of Holy Matrimony, there is a prayer that says ‘May God save you from Lethal Envy’ (Kolunna asuyiya). Envy kills relationships, purpose and the very esence of life. This envy drives Cain to murder his brother with whom he shared the womb. When God asks him he manifests another nature of sin, that is denial. He asks the famous question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (vs 9) As seen earlier he was the tiller ( obed) and keeper( shomer) of the soil( adamah), so that means he is the keeper of all that is a product of the soil. Abel, the seed of Adam, is a product of the soil and therefore protecting and keeping Abel was the divine vocation of Cain. So the question ‘Am I my brother’s keeper” is a denial of this divine vocation. Cain whose name and vocation embodies creation and life paradoxically symbolizes death and destruction. In denial of his Divine vocation, God’s punishment is a sense of poetic justice. Cain is alienated from the soil that defined his being. If he is not the keeper of his brother, a product of the soil, then he is not the keeper of the soil too. He is cursed that his tilling of the ground will bring no yields. This alienation from the soil and embodiment of violence furthers the narrative logic of Yahweh repenting about his creation that He willed and saw “It was good”.

Is there hope?
So the question arises where is the hope in this tragic narrative? Hope is interlaced and subtle. . Gen. 4:16 says that “Cain went from the presence of the Lord.” While in Gen. 6:9 says “Noah walked with God”. Here we see the portrayal of Noah as the anti-type of Cain as intentional. The name Noah means “Out of the soil that the lord has cursed, this one will bring us relief from our work and toil of our hands.” (Gen. 5:29) after Cain was alienated from the soil the next man who established a relationship with soil and celebrated it is Noah, as it is said “Noah, a man of the soil, was first to plant a vineyard” (Gen. 9:20). Noah, whose ark became the symbol of continuity of creation after the destructive flood, was the keeper of every species of bird and animal. He also became the keeper of soil as seen, and he can be seen as an Ecological ideal with whom God makes a covenant, promising the sustenance of life and creation.

Finally we see that two characters ‘Cain’ and ‘Noah’ embodied very positive elements in their name. But how do we evaluate them? Cain lived contrary to his name and calling and Noah embodied all the virtues that his name meant. God has named each one of us and gifted us this life with a purpose and a vocation. Are we living a life furthering creation and salvation or living a life away from the presence of God, deeply indulging in ourselves by compromising our relationship with God, our neighbours and creation? What is in a name? Well, a lot.

Rev Merin Mathew
Bethel Mar Thoma Church
Kolar Road, Bhopalname

Bulaava Aaya Hai

Genesis 12: 1-9

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

 “I will make you into a great nation,     and I will bless you; I will make your name great,     and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you,     and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth     will be blessed through you.”

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran.  He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.

Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.”So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.

 From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Aion the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.

Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.

 

Message:

I do not know how many of you all have seen the movie ‘Shawshank Redemption.’ If you have not, please do. The narrative revolves around the prison set up at Shawshank and the two central characters are ‘Andy Dufresne’ a banker who was wrongly implicated in his wife’s murder and Ellis ‘Red’ Redding who was caught for murder as a teen and is a veteran at the state prison. There is a certain difference of attitude in the way the two approach life. Red is more practical and accepts life as it is, saying ‘Hope is a very dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.’ Prison is all he sees and there is no place for hope. Andy a co- prisoner begs to differ in his attitude, saying ‘Hope is a good thing, may be the best thing, and no good thing ever dies.’ He saw something beyond the confines of the prison, vision beyond  the securities of the wall.

 

It is here in this context we read about Abram where God calls him to a promise for which he has to leave all visible securities of ‘country, people and household to the ‘unseen’ land and promise of being a great nation. But this looks absurd as when we read this promise comes in a context of impossibility. ‘Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.’ (Genesis 11: 30) It is into this barrenness and hopeless situation that God’s call breaks through to Abram. In situations in life where the world along with ‘Red’ says lets be practical. Things are going to be the same way. Are we going to be an ‘Andy’ and hear Jesus say “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (John 20: 29b). Hope is dangerous. It just makes us restless where we are compelled to keep journeying towards our goal.

 

Now Abram was from Ur which is Babylon. Genesis Chapter 11 talks of the judgment of God on Tower of Babel which also is in Babylon. So the promise of God to Abram is a reverse to the human intention of people who tried to build ‘Babel’. “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” Genesis 11: 4. While the people wanted to be secure in one place God challenges Abram to ‘Go’ out. People of Babel wanted ‘Make a name for ourselves’ while God promised ‘I will make your name great’. And how he was going to do that? He was not just going to Bless Abram but he was going to make him a blessing. The people of Babel believed that life is all about self preservation while God challenges Abram that life is a journey where God will lead. To illustrate this let me use something that has been doing the rounds on Facebook. It talks about the difference between ‘Dogs’ and ‘Cats’. Dog says ‘“You pet me, you feed me, you shelter me, you love me, You must be God.” A cat says, “You pet me, you feed me, you shelter me, you love me, I must be God.’ Did you know based on this premise there is a book called ‘Cat and Dog Theology’ by Bob Sjorgen. He says that there is a ‘Cat’ in all of us that wants to be served by God and people, who enjoys security and has a sense of entitlement. A Dog is driven by gratitude and therefore gives himself fully to his master. God calls us not to be a reservoir of blessing to be kept within us, but calls us to be a channel of blessings.

 

Verse 4 says ‘So Abram went…’ Before we dwell on this, let me put you a riddle.

Question: There were once three frogs on a log. One of them made a decision to jump out. How many were left? 

Most likely the answer that you have come up with is two. That is maths. But Anthony DeMello gives a different answer.

 “There are still three frogs on a log, he only made a decision, he took no action!” When God told Abram to Go, he just did not decide to follow suit. He actually went. He was ready to journey the unfamiliar terrain. Many camps have dedication sessions where the participants decide to follow Jesus. But the question is, is there action to the intentions. When Jesus called his disciples, the woman at the well put down her bucket. Peter dropped his net. Matthew got up from his tax collector’s chair. Abraham loaded up the camel. He went…..

 

Now when Abram came to Canaan where God led him was there a hammock waiting for him to lie down where servants played soothing music and fed Abram and his mates with endless grapes and wine? Well, no. It was not as he had expected it to be. VS 6 says ‘…At that time the Canaanites were in the land.’ So he had left his land to amidst hostile people? What kind of a deal is that? And there God gives a twist “To your offspring I will give this land.” He is part of a call where the end result or fruit he will not see. Why would anybody like to be part of a future where we cannot see immediate results? But it is here that Abram builds an altar to the Lord. While the people of Babel tried to build a tower for themselves, Abram builds an altar to the Lord.

 

The new place is nothing what Abram expected it to be. So what does building the altar signify?  Abraham’s building of the altar represents his saying: “I’m accepting a promise, understanding that this is different than what I thought it was going to be, but it’s also something that I believe God can bring to pass. I trust You, Lord, that You will make it work.”

 

Altar signifies that ‘It is not about me’. Altar declares that ‘It is all about You, Lord.’ We may not build physical Altars. But this maybe the time to pause and realize the presence of God by building an Altar that ‘alters’ the course of our lives where we journey from being just consumers of blessings to being a Blessing. And God said ‘And you will be a blessing.’

 

Let me end my meditation with one of my favourite songs by Matt Redman ‘The Heart of Worship.’ Sing along.

 

When the music fades and all has slipped away and I simply come.

Longing just to be something that’s of worth that will bless Your heart.

 

I’ll bring You more than a song, for a song in itself is not what You have required.

You search much deeper within, through the way things appear, Your looking into my heart.

 

I’m coming back to the heart of worship and its all about You, its all about You, Jesus.

I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it when its all about You, its all about You, Jesus.

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Bethel Mar Thoma Church

Kolar Road, Bhopal

 

‘Are You Rich Towards God?’

Luke 12: 13- 21

Image

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

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

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

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

Message

While a man was polishing his new car, his 6 yr old son picked up a stone and scratched lines on the side of the car. In anger, the man took the child’s hand and hit it many times; not realizing he was using a wrench

At the hospital, the child lost all his fingers due to multiple fractures. When the child saw his father…..with painful eyes he asked, ‘Dad when will my fingers grow back?’ The man was so hurt and speechless; he went back to his car and kicked it a lot of times. Devastated by his own actions. Sitting in front of that car he looked at the scratches; the child had written

‘LOVE YOU DAD’.

The next day that man committed suicide.

The story tries to point to the fact that “Things are to be used and people are to be loved. But the problem in today’s world is that, People are used and things are loved”

This definitely is a very sad and revolting story. But it helps us enter into the heart of this parable where we have made space for possessions and displaced God and relationships. Jesus is dragged into a feud between two brothers. The man in this passage is the younger brother as the elder brother gets the inheritance. The younger brother wants Jesus to be on his side which is clear by his demand  “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” (vs 13). This man represents our certain tendencies of prayers where we want Jesus to do just as we demand. Jesus refuses to be such an arbiter and then turns the conversation in a different direction.” Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” (vs 15). I will like to pause for a minute before we go ahead.

J.P.S Uberoi is a sociologist who says that a product has 3 lives;

a) Machine Life,

b) Market Life,

c) Vogue Life.

Machine life is the intended life that the machine will sustain till it crashes out. Market life is the sustainability in the market and vogue life depends on the trend that is around. Today we are all defined by our possessions like cars, bikes, ipads and mobile phones. A mobile phone has a machine life of 10 years, a market life of 7 years but the vogue life today is just a matter of 1 and half years. In the search for the latest and the best, the vogue life will soon reduce to 6 months on an average. Vogue life depends on the desire to acquire consumer goods and to be updated and to be cool. So when you get a Samsung Galaxy Ace, in 6 months’ time, you feel you need a Samsung Note 3. In another 6 months you go for the best iPhone 5s or whatever. So what has happened, he says, is we have made our life a set of junk yard where the outdated goods is worthy of a museum or an addition to the ever increasing waste on this earth. And it is on these very temporary goods that we stake our life and prestige on. Jesus at the outset warns that no goods or possessions will satisfy you. All it will do is increase your appetite for it which is never ending.

Now let us come to the parable where there is a rich man who had a very good harvest. And there he has a dilemma what to do with it. How to preserve it? He wants to tear down and build a bigger barn. Church father Ambrose says, that a better way to preserve the abundance of his harvest was to put it in the mouth of the poor. Well, the rich man thought otherwise! Storing the grains in bigger barns gave him the right to celebrate So when this rich man had achieved his bounty and had come of age what does he have? To whom will he give his success speech? Where are the village elders, family, friends, cousins, wife, and children? When the prodigal son came, even he had the whole village celebrating his arrival.  But this man has only himself to talk with. He and his loneliness (Mai aur meri Tanhai aksar ye baate kiya karte hai types) celebrate his imagined barn and real abundance. He believes that all you need in life is yourself and a whole lot of possession to keep you happy. It is here that God thunders him with those words “You fool.” He is shattering the myth of being self-sufficient. The word ‘fool’ used in the text is translated from the original Greek word aphron.Phron in greek means spirit. Spirit signifies life. So aphron means being spiritless. In a way it talks about being dead.  The man with his wealth has bought a mansion, barn, possessions and whole lot of ‘loneliness’.  Even before the question of death that God poses him, God says “You are a living dead.” Don’t we know a whole lot of people who could be called ‘living dead’.  We could be one of them. The real meaning of the question that God poses is this, “When your life is demanded of you who will get what you have accumulated? You have no one. You have invested in things and driven away people out of your life. Can you carry the goods to your tomb? What use will it be?

My friend this parable is for you and me. In a race to get ahead in life we have invested heavily in accumulating materials and possessions. Like the rich man we forgot that this life and its beauty is a gift from God.  Living in relation with God and loving your family, friends, and neighbor is the only treasure that we are left with. There is a very important part in the Mar Thoma Liturgy for the Funeral that says, “Itha nammude avasanam engil dhanwanmar thangalude dhanathine kurichu ahangarikyunnathu enthinnu?” (If this is our end why should the rich take pride in the riches?)

Well, if you see the question is left unanswered in the parable. Because it is to be answered by the hearers and readers. So the questions my friend is ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ What is your answer?

The ending verse is, “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” (vs 21)

What does it mean to be rich towards God?. Let me introduce you to Rev. Kurien George who is a prophetic voice of the Church. He is the former director of Navjeevan Centre, Mumbai. As a director, Achen at times used to polish the shoes of the children of Navjeevan to demonstrate the attitude of Jesus where he washes the feet of his disciples. Recently he put up an FB update.  Let me quote some part of it;

“Mr. A has four children ( Age: girl-17, boys- 15, 11 & 9). His wife was diagnosed with cancer and has undergone treatment at Trivandrum. Her present condition is not known as she has not been for a check up for sometime. Mr. A does not own a house and lives in rented accommodation. He has been asked to vacate by the 31st of this month. He has nowhere to go. He is not very able to manage his own affairs. He drinks if someone offers him –this may be once in six months (may be to forget his crisis). He has no social support from his community.”

Now after that he adds his intervention;

“ I have been supporting him for the last few years by providing him employment and also giving him some financial help every once in a while. He looks emaciated and underweight. A year back he came to me at night saying that there was no food and I sent him sufficient provisions for a few days. Last two years during the lean season I bought him provisions for three months as he did not get a regular job anywhere, this was in addition to giving him some odd jobs at my home. Three months back I realized that he would not survive on what I gave him and also to have some accountability I put him on a monthly salary of rupees ten thousand. He came to me the yesterday and wept as he had not eaten anything since the previous night and his wife could not walk as she had a wound on her feet. I took her to the hospital at night and got her leg cleaned and dressed up. After this I bought him six packets of bread and a bottle of jam. I asked him what were his plans for food today and he said that the family was surviving on the food I bought him yesterday. I plan to give him his salary in advance to enable him to buy provisions. I also told him to ensure that the minimum requirements for the month should be bought and kept so that this crisis is not repeated.

He ends his update with this uncomfortable question;

Why does not the gospel filter down to give life to the persons who are living in these kinds of situations?

We have pulpits and altars (secure places for good homilies and emotional deliveries) but Jesus walked the streets of life and saw the pain face to face. I know that there will not be many takers for my posting, as I have seen from my past experiences but I do hope that for those who do read them you may just start thinking that the time is running short for our ivory tower Christianity. He said, “I was hungry you gave me food…” He said “ If someone asks for you to go one mile go two, if someone asks you for your coat give him your cloak as well..”

In my conversation, Achen said that he plans to sell some part of his property to help this man. He with his life has proved what it is to live the gospel and to be rich towards God. He poses a challenge to us. Are you ready to invest in people by living out the gospel? I do not know what my answer is. We all have to give our own answers. 

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati

 

 

Breaking Your Neighbour’s Balloon and Saving Yours (Maundy Thursday)


Luke 22: 14- 30

When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”

After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you.  For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

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.”

In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!” They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.

A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.  But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.  For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.  You are those who have stood by me in my trials.  And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me,  so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Message:

One of the childhood games that Sunday school competitions introduced me to is the ‘Breaking of balloons’. What does one need to do? The elders used to fill air in the balloon, tie it with strings and then the extended part of the string used to be tied to the ankle of the child. The rule of the game is very simple. Save your balloon and break the balloon of your fellow competitor. Whoever is good at breaking other balloons and saving your own balloon is the winner. “Break other and save yourself and you will be the winner.”

Now while you ponder over that tiny trivia let us look at the passage set before us. The context of this passage is Jesus and disciples celebrating the Passover. Please read Exodus 12 to know the detailed version of how and why a Passover was being celebrated. Passover was celebrating the liberative act of God, where the Israelites were rescued with an out stretched arm of God from the clutches of Pharaoh. So in the background of this celebration which is about liberation, Jesus takes the bread and breaks it. My friend Rev Eapen Mathew points out that in normal practice, it was just to dip the bread. But breaking shows a new act. It foreshadows the crucifixion of Jesus. Eucharist emphasizes two aspects, one of Christ being broken and Christ shedding his blood for us on the cross. This great love of being broken and shedding is the key part of the remembrance of Christ. Christ’s love compelled him to be broken.

But if you read verse 24 the disciples seem to be playing the game of “Breaking the balloons”. They had a dispute of who is greatest among them. To prove that they had to break others balloons and save theirs. We too are like the disciples. Getting ahead of others is very important. What I did during the game, may be, defines who I really am. I did not go to break the balloons. I am a nice guy. All I tried was to save my balloon. I kept running away. Protecting my balloon was important. So taking no risks, playing safe defines me. But some want to get ahead and the only option is to break others balloon. Only then will you be great and safe.  Jesus said to them, there is a change in rule, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.  But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.  For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22: 25- 27)

Jesus demonstrates the idea of not caring for your balloon. He says “Like me be ready to be broken.” It is here we should understand his act of washing the disciples’ feet. After this act he said “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (John 13: 34). It is from this verse that we get the word Maundy Thursday. Maundy is derived from the Latin word ‘Mandatum’ which means a command. The command is to love one another. Eucharist is the time where we remember the costly love of our Lord who was ready to be broken for us. How did this change history? Sociologist Rodney Stark says that the reason for Jesus Movement was the response of Jesus’ disciples to the sick and the downtrodden.  In the Roman Empire, the normal response to any epidemic or plague was to leave the one with the disease out in the open to die. This way they could assure that they would live. Greek Historian Thucydides wrote “At the first onset of the disease, they pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treated unburied corpses as dirt, hoping thereby to avert the spread and contagion of the fatal disease.” But what did the disciples of Jesus do. Dionysius a third century Bishop of Alexandria writes “In the wake of plague, heedless of the danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need, and ministering to them in Christ. And they embraced all those who were thrown away as their own. There was a heavy loss of life as these followers were infected by the disease. In a way they voluntarily embraced the disease of their neighbours and lost their lives serving others.” It is noteworthy to read the comments of Emperor Julian the Apostate who was an opponent of Christians. He scolded his priests of the Roman cult saying “When the people who are poor where neglected by you priests, the impious Galileans (That is how he called Christians) devoted their lives to them. The impious Galileans not only serve their own poor but ours too. They are ready to die for all those ruffians that we don’t care for.” The followers of Christ did not break any balloons, but were ready to be broken and shed.

The ‘Mandatum’ is to love. Eucharist reminds us to be broken. It reminds us of the great love that did so for us. I remember the movie ‘Untouchables’ with Kevin Cosner in the lead. It is about the mafia gangs in the US that ran bootlegging after US put a ban on Alcohol. The brilliant Robert De Niro plays the role of the Mafia king Al Capone. There is one scene where Al Capone is watching an Opera of some tragedy. He is moved by the tragedy and the music. He is shown as crying bucket full. In midst of this comes an aide informing him about his adversary. And in midst of the tears he instructs his aide to kill the adversary. The paradox or the irony cannot be missed in this scene. During the Eucharist we too try to observe the rituals with tears and reverence. We may not be as pronounced as Al Capone in this scene, but Eucharist asks us to be broken, to love for the other, but ain’t we busy saving our own balloons? Eucharist does not touch us beyond the boundaries of the church.  When we come to the Lord’s Table may we be touched beyond the mere emotions. May our love be manifested with actions of compassion and solidarity.

Let us sing one verse of the Song below

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We will work with each other, we will work side by side,

We will work with each other, we will work side by side,

And we’ll guard each one’s dignity and save each one’s pride.

Chorus

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,

Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love. (2)

 

 

 

Thought to Ponder:

Do people know we are Christians by our Love? Are  we are not more defined by what we hate?

 

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrain Church

Guwahati

 

 

 

Ab Ki Baar: Caesar Aint The Boss Yaar

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Matthew 22: 15- 22

Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax[a] to Caesar or not?”

But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.

Message

Lok Sabha Elections 2014 has done a lot of things to us. On Facebook and on Twitter all we seem to talk about is politics. We have jokes of ‘Ab Ki Baar, Modi Nahi hai Bachelaar’, we have jokes on the cough of Kejriwal and the Amul Baby image of Rahul Gandhi. We have staunch supporters of each group trying to prove a point to the other. We have new words in the dictionary like ‘Aaptards and Moditards’. I have witnessed close friends fighting over their political preferences and getting more personal than ever. Sometimes friends have asked political questions based on my preferences which will be more to trap me than to elicit an answer or my opinion. Even I have done this and have branded people who oppose my views as those who have no conscience or courage to face the truth. I guess we are yet not mature enough to handle the social media where we can level out the issues facing the country and fight with passion for the truth we believe without getting abusive or trapping the other so that we win by making the point.

Guess this phenomenon is not a recent one. In the text that we just read that Pharisees and Herodians approach Jesus. Pharisees believed that Temple tax was the most important tax and paying tax to Caesar was a sin of the highest proportion. There were Pharisees who did not carry the Roman coin as it was believed to be a blasphemy. Herodians were in association with the Romans and supported the tax system of Caesar. As we know Rome had captured the land of Israel which the people of Israel detested very much. Now it is interesting that the Pharisees to trap Jesus, sent their disciples with the Herodians. And they ask the million dollar question.  Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?” (vs 17). So then this is a trap where any answer would put Jesus in trouble, and then that was the real idea than having his opinion. But Jesus went on to display some parable out here by asking for a coin to one of them. By the rule of the Pharisees we can guess they did not have any coin as it was a sin, so it must be the Herodians who carried the denarius. Holding the denarius in hand he asked them “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” (vs 20). These guys were smart,they answered “Caesar”. And then came the final bit that nailed it. “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (vs 21). Now that looks pretty ambiguous to say the least. It seems to have pacified both.

Now when Jesus asked whose image and inscription is there on the coin the obvious answer was ‘Caesar’. And therefore Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. “Give to God what is God’s”, surely begs for a logic. Who has the image of God? Genesis 1; 27 says “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” So if we are created in the image of God, what does it mean to “Give God what is God’s”?

Back in school, we learned about pie graphs in maths. Talking about maths itself makes me remember my affinity to the figure ‘zero’ when it came to marks. And guess what zero is also a circle.  A circle represents the whole. Slices of the circle, whether large or small, represent portions of the whole. These slices are often shown in vivid colors. A pie graph can indicate how a budget is divided. It can indicate the breakdown of a population according to age or race or sex. A pie graph can convey many kinds of information in a way that is simple to understand.

 You and I may experience life as we live it now in terms of a pie graph. The single self we are is served up in several slices. One slice may be for work, another for school, another for family. There may be slices for church and recreation and community service. Still other slices represent meals and sleep. Together such slices as these make up the pie which is our life here based on our choices and priorities.

My pie chart would read like this, 20% sleep, 20% reading, 30% Facebook, 10% family, 10% food and 10 % well what is 10%? O ya. God it is.

We have divided ourselves in so many pies. My wife sure wishes that 30% would be family instead of Facebook.( I am sure she contests the figure of 30%. She would say it is all I do. Well you know that’s not true)

 “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.” With this reply, Jesus raises the debate to a higher level. What is at stake is more than tax payments, more than even the rule of Rome. It is not Caesar who is in control, it is God who is in control. Jesus says that God is not just a slice of your pie. You are made in His image. The circle belongs to him. When you give him, you give yourself to him, rather than putting a mere 10% consolation prize of a pie for him. Jesus says God has the complete claim over you. He gives shape to your scattered pies. It is in the Circle of the presence of God that give meaning, purpose and shape to the ‘pies’ of our lives.

This is what Paul urges us when he says “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” (Romans 12: 1-2). We are to offer ourselves ‘wholly and completely’ to God and not just a pie of our time and talent. Rev Charles Hoffacker says something profound. “In life we all get burnt out handling our jobs, family and children that we complain we have no time for ourselves. That is because we depend heavily on our resources. ‘Give to God what is God’s’ means giving yourself to God where God is the source of electricity and we just transmit this electricity to the people and the tasks that we are involved in. We are not the source. God, the creator is the source. Giving our all to God is easier said than done?

Let me leave you with a very silly illustration. According to one story, a much loved king had a terrible ailment of the heart and was in need of a heart transplant.  There was a great concern throughout his kingdom.  Everyone gathered outside the royal castle. Outside the royal balcony there were a sea of people who heard the minister declare that the king needs a heart transplant. Hearing this the people started screaming and waving their hands.  “Take my heart, King, take my heart!”

Well, the king was overwhelmed at the love of the people. But he just needed one heart and here every one was ready to give. So how would he pick that one person? An idea popped into his head.  He asked everyone to please be quiet for a few minutes and he told them his plan.  He would throw down a feather and whoever the feather landed on, the king would take their heart for the transplant.  The beloved king then threw the feather out over the people and watched it drift back and forth.  Everyone was still screaming and waving their hands, “Take my heart, King,” but with one difference:  they were leaning their heads back and blowing the feather back into the air.  “Take my heart, King (blow), Take my heart (blow).”

 

We too try to believe that we are giving ourselves fully to God by saying “Take my Heart Lord”. But all we really like to do is give a ‘pie’ of our time and energy to God by confining him to Sundays and prayer times saying even more loudly “Take my heart Lord (Blow), Take my heart Lord (Blow)”. Well hear Jesus say this once again “God does not need your pie, he is the circle that gives meaning to your life.”

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati

 

 

 

Hosanna “Lord, Save Us From Our Self-Love”


Text: Matthew 21: 1-11

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,“Tell the daughter of Zion,Look, your king is coming to you,humble, and mounted on a donkey and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee

 

Message

Matt Redman is an English Christian Worship leader. He mentions of a time when he was just entertaining and not worshipping. People came and thanked him and he felt this was not worship. He consulted his pastor. His pastor said that they would try a season to do away with the sound system and the guitars. He said “let people come to the Church with their voices and prayers to worship Jesus.” Let Jesus be the focus. The pastor reminded “Let us be producers of Worship and not just consumers.” After a season devoid of guitars and sound system the Church set their focus on following and worshipping Jesus. It is in such a background Redman composed one of the most amazing and meaningful songs “When the Music fades..”. For those who are unfamiliar with the song here is a snippet.

‘When the music fades, all is stripped away, and I simply come / Longing just to bring something that’s of worth that will bless your heart… / I’m coming back to the heart of worship, and it’s all about You, Jesus.’

When we look at the text we see a juncture in Jesus ministry where he was at the zenith of popularity. People were crowding to see Jesus enter Jerusalem where they spread their cloaks to welcome Jesus coming riding on a Donkey. They were all shouting Hosanna. Hosanna means save us now. Save us from what? If we were to be in place of the people in Jerusalem, if we said Hosanna, what would it mean? Save us from what?

The people who gathered to welcome Jesus were not welcoming the Son of God. He was a political Messiah who they thought would save Israelites from the strong hold of Roman Imperialism. The background of this event was Passover which celebrated Israel’s freedom from Egypt and the clutches of Pharaoh. In such a context, the freedom from Roman Imperialism was envisaged.  The crowd followed a Miracle Maker. He was doing wonders. He is a superstar. They will benefit if he continues. Jesus was their hero who assured them security and hope. When one reads John Chapter 6, we see a prelude to this. When Jesus feeds the Five thousand people throng to make him the king. But when Jesus sits down and teaches his ways we have people deserting him one by one. At this day when people sing Hosanna, the whole city is with him. He has men and woman on his side. But when we fast forward it to the Calvary we see Jesus lonely on the Cross. Where did the people go? Where did the people who removed their cloak and spread it on the ground to welcome Jesus go?

Philip Yancey says that our journey of faith is divided into 3 stages. A)Childhood, B)Adulthood and C)Parenthood.

He says that in our faith journey we develop a childlike faith. We have wonder in our eyes. We have faith and we expect that all things will be fine. God will take care of us and he will protect us. This innocence of the faith is very important. It is this faith that keeps us going. We believe in miracles. But this faith focuses on what good can God do to me? What am I receiving? I am the most important entity.

Adulthood of faith is when we are not convinced about many things. We doubt some understandings of faith. We rebel. We question. We are not satisfied with the answers. We have doubts. We have genuine questions about existence of God. We are not sure if our faith makes sense at all. This is an important part of faith journey. There is space for doubt in our journey of faith. I remember my own rebellions where I questioned the need for church, the need for faith, the need for liturgy. There were times when I found the worship so boring that inside the worship order I kept another book so that I could read it. I strictly do not advocate this but my period of rebellion and questioning were very maturely handled by my parents.

Parenthood is that stage in faith when the focus is not I. I grow to get over my self-obsession. I learn that life is all about giving. My parents always sacrificed for me, they had sleepless nights when I was ill, they had confusions about my choices. But their prayer was that I do things pleasing to the Lord.” My child should have what I did not have and my child should grow like I never could” is the wish of a parent. Parent stage of faith is when we practice what Jesus asked ““If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”(Luke 9: 23) I remember that when I was struggling with all my doubts and questions I encountered a special man. I was so obsessed with my act of rebellion that I did not see any hope. I met Dax Mathews at Kamshet Mission Field, which is popularly known as Lonavala Mission. Dax embodies a life of sacrifice and faith. Before joining Maharashtra Village Mission, he was helping tribal communities with livelihood issues by teaching them different techniques of agriculture. He realized that denying oneself and taking up the Cross means to serve people more disadvantaged than us. A person who grew up in urban background went to the villages of Maharashtra and lived with minimum comforts. His only aim was to serve people. Dax does not speak much. He looks very ordinary. But his actions and his convictions have helped me to understand that Faith is about giving, it is about sacrificing and displacing myself from the pedestal of life. Dax today is doing his Bachelors in Divinity from Dharmajyothi Vidyapeeth. His teachers and classmates alike bear witness to the uniqueness of his conviction and passion for mission.

Now to the question where did the people go who sang ‘Hosanna.’ Well they quit as the road to the cross is about denying ourselves. They went away sad like the Rich young man who loved eternal life but could not sell his riches. We also want to follow Christ as long as we get something and how good if we could just avoid the cross. We want Christianity without the Cross.

As a Child, I first saw the game of lemon and spoon in Sunday school. I loved it. In normal athletics I never failed to come last. So here was my sure road to success. Lemon and spoon was slow and I knew I could make it. The race was about to begin. The whistle blew. We with the spoon in our mouth and lemon on top of it, started to race towards the finishing line. As I had hoped I was the first one to reach the mark. I must have done celebrations that could put Usain Bolt to shame. But the man at the finishing line seemed to ignore me. He told me to stand aside. I thought to myself, this man does not know how to appreciate a winner. But before I could start rejoicing again, the Sunday school teacher announced the name of the winners and she forgot to take my name. Or so I thought. I am sure you must have guessed it. I was the first one to reach. But my spoon had no lemon. In my craze to come first i ran fast but had lost the the most important thing. I had lost the lemon

We live in a time where getting ahead of others is important. Success is about getting ahead of others. Religion is about gaining divine favour. Where more than serving others it is more important to know who will go to heaven, who is born again and who is the chosen one. We have finished the race. But we have lost the lemon.

Hosanna “Lord Save us from our Self-love”. Amen

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati