Main Aisa Kyu Hoon, Mai Jaisa Hoon, Mai Vaisa Kyu Hoon?

Romans 7:15-25

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law;  but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

Message

As an intern Psychiatric social worker (yes, I am cool you see), I was assigned a Halfway Home called Chaitanya for the mentally ill. Every morning I had to start a session where basic skills like combing hair, brushing teeth, how to shave, buttoning up shirt, saying good morning was instilled. Due to the mental illness, their basic skills broke down and Halfway home is a place that tries to integrate people with mental illness into the society where they can live their lives in the best possible way. So one day after the routine after saying bye, when I was about to leave, Mr Vivek, one of the inmates, met me at the door. He said “Sir, I appreciate your inputs on a daily basis. It is very helpful. But you are a man of double standards.” I looked at him with disbelief and my mouth wide open could have swallowed an elephant. He continued “You tell us to be hygienic by shaving, but look at your ugly beard and you tell that we should always be pleasant and greet each other. But when we come for lunch you never greet us and you always look sad and unpleasant. You should smile and moreover practice what you preach.”

The above incident punctured my ego beyond recognition and also reminds us what Paul so wonderfully says. We have set of ideals that we preach, believe and want to live by, but keep failing. I have lived with my inner struggles all my life. Some struggles keep nagging me.

I have asked myself about my personal life and the civil wars going on in me seems to be raging every day. I have come up with the following observations about it. I do want to be more spiritual. Honest, I am a priest. I am supposed to be a spiritual leader. I do want to pray and have a closer walk with God. I want to have a deeper interior life with God. When I wake up in the morning, I want to be able to sit down and pray, read the Bible. When I go about my meditations, I want to concentrate on my prayers and not have so many random thoughts that come wiggling in between my sentences of prayers. What do I do? I want to lead my worship with utmost sincerity without bothering about my voice and presentation. But my thoughts are distracted and my focus is on myself than on God.  I do put a lot of effort into my sermon, but it is more to please people than to deliver the powerful word of God. I want to do what is right. I actually demand my youths and parish members to pray and read the bible daily. But do I do it? That which I want to do, I confess to you, I don’t do.

Throughout my life, I have wanted to live a simpler life style, as a means of identifying with the poor and the oppressed of the world. To have compassion on people who are poor and deprived. But when I see them that compassion evaporates and I have devised new justifications to hold on to my “hard earned money”.  And I find myself accumulating more books and goodies around the house. And my practice of giving is far from being consistent. It fluctuates according to my whims.  I want to do what I perceive to be right, to do what I perceive is God’s will for our lives, but do I do it? No. What is wrong with me?

I want to live a life not ruled by gadgets and social media. But the opposite is true. I always need a phone to fidget with. Either the laptop or my mobile is always a necessity. I need to message someone on Whatsapp or keep updating inane nonsense on Facebook. And also I lecture on how these things are ruining our lives and therefore one should regulate the use. But is that what I do? No, not at all. Even though I know it is wrong I keep indulging.

Jimmie Carter, when he was President of the United States and also the most famous Bible teacher in the Baptist church, made the front page of TIME magazine by confessing he still had feelings of lust, even though happily married. He didn’t want to have such feelings. Neither do I, as I believe one should not objectify women. But I nonetheless do have feelings of lust. What do I do?

So I come to the conclusion that I am not a worthy person.  I must not be a very good Christian. Worse still I am a horrible priest. I must be a weak Christian. I must be a compromising Christian. I must be a sinful, imperfect Christian. What is wrong with me? Why are there so many contradictions living inside me. What kind of a man is this that lives inside of me? These are the ramblings of my mind.

We all know that the man who wrote Romans 7 was the Apostle Paul. Here he was at the very high point of his life. Fifty-five to sixty-five years old; a mature Christian; he had been a Christian for some twenty to twenty-five years. Here was the Apostle Paul who prayed fervently, who worked mighty miracles, who wrote numerous letters to the churches. Here was Paul who spoke courageously before governments, kings, and rulers. Here was Paul who was tossed into prison, beaten and stoned. Here was Paul, the most mature person of the Christ-centered life, at the high point of his Christian journey.  In contemporary scenario it would be like Lionel Messi, the winner of 5th Ballon d’Or saying “I do not know how to play football. I am learning to play it. Similarly Paul says, “I don’t get it. I do the things that I hate. And the very things that I want to do, I don’t do. That which I don’t want to do, I do. What is wrong with me? What a wretched person?”

And then it begins to dawn on us that one of the marks of a mature Christian is the awareness of this struggle with evil in our lives. To be  honest about this civil war within us shows our confidence in our living relation with our Lord. It is to struggle with evil until our day of dying. We all struggle. We all say to ourselves, “O wretched person that I am.”

So is Paul giving us an excuse to live a wayward life? We see that the very depressing chapter 7 ends with “Thanks be to God- through Jesus Christ our Lord..” (vs 25a). What does that mean? The Chapter 7 makes us ready for the glorious promises of Chapter 8. Let us see what it is

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again;rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[a] And by him we cry, “Abba,[b] Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:15-17)

Paul reminds us of our identity as Children of God. It is the Holy Spirit that has brought us to adoption and calls us into a relation with our God where we call him, “Abba Father”. We are like the prodigal son who keeps leaving the Home of the father and the communion. But Spirit helps us to confess and come to our senses and return to our Lord who reaches out with outstretched arms to receive us. Paul reminds us our thirst for Grace.

I remember a time when I was struggling to make a decision to go for ministry. Many people knew I had dedicated my life for ordained ministry and here suddenly I was backtracking. I must admit I had lost my focus; I questioned my capability and my commitment and was very confused. The struggle was very harrowing and my reservations for ordained ministry had become very vocal. Some of it was a defense mechanism to wriggle out of the situation. This created a lot of tension in my life. But I must highlight the role of my parents who were very disappointed at my wavering decisions. But in spite of that I can’t forget the confrontation with my parents which I thought would be very ugly. But my dad always surprised me and still surprises me. He precisely said these words when I was feeling the worst about myself, “Mon, we are proud that you are our son. We see that you are struggling. We are with you in whatever decision you make. We wish you take the right decision. We love you and as parents we will support you the best that we can.” Tears still well up when I remember those words. In the scorching heat of loneliness the word “Mon (malayalam for son)” was like the waters of the streams that gushed into my soul. I am sure God is daily calling us “Mon/Mol” when He sees our endless struggle. He promises us that His grace will fill the vacuum of our hearts. Like the Samaritan woman who wanted to know which mountain to scale in her effort to please God. Jesus reminded her, “Lady, forget about the mountain and concentrate on the fountain that is available inside you through the Spirit.”

Baptism affirms our identity as Daughters and Sons of God and at Holy Communion, Christ calls us to His table as a loving mother calls her children to have food at the dinner table. In Mar Thoma Liturgy the procession for Holy Communion starts with liturgical song “Daiva Suthar Naam Aai Iduvan, Jeevikal aayi nadanapol…”. The song is a call for all the confused and burdened people who were condemned to beastly (jeevikal) living because of our struggle with sin. But Christ has called us as his children (Daiva Suthar), where he offers His body and blood to nourish our parched souls.

Rev Merin Mathew

Bethel Mar Thoma Church,

Kolar Road, Bhopal

 

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romans7-15

Magnificat: The Daring Vision of Mary (On The Occasion of 15 Days Lent Remembering the Life and Dedication of Mary)

 

Text: Luke 1: 46- 55

And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me– holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.”

Message:

“From the Silence of Chaos God breathed the Music of Creation”. When we look at Mary’s life we know that the proclamation of Gabriel plunged her life into utter silence of chaos. Her calculations in life had gone topsy turvy. Dreams shattered and confusions multiplied. But in the midst of all this she surrendered herself to the Mystery of God by saying “I am the Lord’s Servant. May everything you have said about to me come true.” This opening up to the possibilities of God transforms her Silence of Chaos to Music of Creation. In such a background let us explore two dimensions of the beautiful song of Mary.

The initial part of the song “Harks about Amazing Grace of God”. “For he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me– holy is his name.” (Luke 1: 47-49). Mary aware of the responsibility that she has been called to, is also aware of her inadequacy in being an instrument for God. Being profoundly aware of God’s grace prepares us to be open to the possibilities of God. In a conversation with my fellow batch mate and Asst. Vicar of St. Thomas Mar Thoma Church, Karol Bagh, Rev Jijo Varghese narrated to me a fascinating story. Alex Haley is the Author of the colossal work “Roots” which traces 12 generation of his slaves ancestors that were traded from Africa to America in the 15th century. Journalists interviewed him at his office. They dealt with the pain of being Black and the success of the Book “Roots”. In the office one of the Journalist saw many photos gracing the walls of his office. But there was one odd photo frame that stood out. Journalist out of curiosity asked “Dear Alex I can understand the family photos and the photos of your personal glory but the one photo where a turtle on top of a fence post beats me. What is the significance of this photo?” Haley poignantly replied “ In times of such personal glory where my book is doing so well this photo reminds me of a profound truth. This turtle definitely has not climbed on the fence post, there is somebody who has placed it up there. When I look book this photo reminds me that it is not by merit that I have reached here. The grace of God, prayers of my family and encouragement of people have placed me here. This gives me perspective.” Like Mary let us be aware of our humble state from which God has lifted and placed us to do His will. God has placed us not in a position of privilege but in a place of responsibility to be his instrument, to be his witness.

The second half of the song is a “Melody of a new dream, a new vision, a new beginning.” From vs 51 Mary Sings of a New future. This song portrays that God has already brought down rulers from the throne and lifted up the humble as a thing of the past. We should remember when she sang this song Herod was still on the throne. Threat of Herod later drives her as a refugee to Egypt along with Joseph and baby Jesus. So here she was singing in faith of a new future and a new possibility where the humble will be lifted up while the Herods of the world will be dethroned. She sings of a time when the hungry will be filled and the rich sent away empty handed. Mary lived in the context of Roman imperialism where the power is all that mattered. There were many like her who were hungry, who were just statistics in the Roman Census. With all the negativity surrounding, she saw a vision of new beginnings, new possibilities and new hopes. Today we live in times of Breaking News that has numbed our senses. News of scandals, riots, sexual abuses, scams and wars have made it impossible to believe that we can make a difference. The brutality of mankind has today deprived us of any hope. Slowly we have started to believe that “Nothing is going to Change. There is no hope.” We seem to have given up. In such a context let me introduce you to the Third blessing of the Mar Thoma Liturgy.” MAY THE GRACE AND MERCY OF THE HOLY AND GLORIOUS TRINITY, + UNCREATED, SELF-EXISTENT, + ETERNAL, ADORABLE AND ONE IN ESSENCE, BE WITH YOU ALL + FOR EVER.” Rev Eappen Varghese, the Professor of Church History at Mar Thoma Theological Seminary, Kottayam says that the “ Glorious, Holy, Uncreated, Self Existent, Eternal, Adorable, One in Essence quality of the Trinity is contrasted with the World that is Unholy, Created, Dependent and Fragile.” So the Third Blessing points to the beyond element that helps us to rise over the negativity, cynicism and pessimism that surrounds our times. The Third Blessing is a Blessing and a responsibility to dream of a new future. When the world says there is no hope, we are called to be the messengers of hope. This dream may look baseless and illogical. But one needs the madness to believe in God and the future that he holds. Can there be a world where there will be no war? A Nuclear Free world? A world free from human trafficking? A world free of discrimination, prejudices and stereotypes? A world where there will be no caste discrimination? World free of Gender discrimination? World that embraces the disabled, the deviants and the marginalized?

If the above is foolishness I am a follower of a fool who was the Son of the Woman who sang the Song. He in his foolishness preached in his sermon like this:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.

Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5: 3-12)

On the Occasion of 15 Days Lent where we remember the life and dedication of Mary, Mother of Jesus, let us too “Hark about the Amazing Grace of God” and hum the “Melody of a New Dream, a New Vision, a New Beginning”. Mary calls us to be foolish enough to believe that the grace of God is sufficient for us to dream, to have a vision. In my First year in seminary I remember meeting an incredible person called Dayabai.I was mermerised by her attire and her gait that was in complete identification with the tribal people that she works with. Her front tooth is broken and her face is wrinkled. Interacting with her we found out that her name was Mercy Mathew and her house is in Pala. She dedicated her life to be a Nun and she became one. Later she realized that she was a misfit and left that path. She took up studies in Social Work and was challenged beyond comparison.After imbibing knowledge from universities, Mercy travelled to Madhya Pradesh to become a part of the adivasis there. Initially it was pretty difficult for her to gel with them. For that Dayabai turned herself into a Goondur local. She changed her dressing style, her eating habits, her language; she even worked on every small detail like the way she walks, talks, sits, stands etc.

For five years she stayed at the house of the Sarpanch of Goondur, until the adivasis themselves built a house for her. She taught them, built wells, hand pumps, schools and all the other necessities that the Goondur clan weren’t aware of. She went out into the public to give them a taste of knowledge and power, to teach them how to live and let live. Dayabai conducted street-plays, satyagrahas, speeches, taught them to sing, dance etc. No weather scared her, no one cared for her, but Dayabai shouted aloud the teachings of Jesus Christ.

The day that changed Mercy to Dayabai was when she saw a nine-year-old boy killing a chick. She spoke to this boy for a long time inquiring why he did the brutal act, what affected him so much? Apparently, this boy witnessed the brutal death of his mother and sisters. He hid behind a basket and did all he could to stay silent. His silence resulted in the death of his family. Mercy realised that he was simply the tip of an iceberg. 


The same day, she saw an advertisement for volunteers to Calcutta to help refugees from Bangladesh. She didn’t think twice before venturing out to do just what her heart told her to. There she took care of people with small pox, chicken pox, dengue and even more contagious diseases.

Dayabai, from then on, worked for Goondur and till date, has been fighting for them. She lives alone but with nature and a dog and a cat to keep her company. She cultivates oranges, blue berries, papaya, spinach, gram, peas, and almost all types of vegetables possible. She breeds hen, horses and cows in her very own land. The words that had the deepest impact on me were her words “Every time i partake in the Eucharist, I am reminded of the broken body and blood shed by my Jesus. This inspires me to be his disciple and to be ready for any sacrifice for the fight for justice and rights of his people.” Like Mary, Dayabai too is foolish enough to think that in midst of all the chaos and mayhem of the world by the grace and empowering of God, we too can dispel the forces of darkness. May this lent help us introspect our life of discipleship and may we be foolish enough to believe that the existing reality of the present world is not the final truth. There is hope and we need to strive for the world that is filled with justice, mercy and peace that our Lord preached and announced its arrival by Imagecalling it the ‘Kingdom of God.’

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati

Facebook Confessions and the Thirst for Grace

Text: Luke 19: 1-9

He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham.

 

Message

 

For the past one week I have witnessed the mushrooming of  ‘Campus Confessions’ on Facebook where groups linked to schools and universities have an opportunity to be anonymous and confess anything possible. I saw one group that invited in this way “You have a dark secret? You want to get it out of your system. You have come to the right place. Confess as much as you like without being known.” This trend has alarmed the police, college and school administration alike. But it is a big rage among the teenagers and youths. The reports of ‘Times of India ‘says that this trend is here to stay which and has helped Facebook to get an edge over Tumblr. Psychologists say that it is a very urgent need for people to have a forum for Catharsis. These pages of campus confessions give opportunity to people to remain hidden. But why do people have the urge to confess? Counselors say that the human heart can’t deal with the guilt of secret shame. Such forums give them the comfort of confessing their guilt with a guarantee of not being judged. They crave to confess their hidden aspect of the self.

 

In this context we see Luke introducing a person who preferred being hidden. In a place called Jericho he tells us about a Tax Collector called Zacchaeus . The story of the short man Zachy was my favorite story as a kid. A cartoon illustration of Zachhaeus climbing the Sycamore tree is still fresh in my mind. To understand why Zachy loved to hide we need to learn a bit of the background of Israel. John Ortberg says that there were few professions in Israel that were considered immoral. They were Gamblers with Dice, Usurers, Pigeon Trainers (as Pigeon racing was a form of gambling) and Tax collectors. Now why the Tax collectors profession was considered immoral? One would know that Israel was under Roman Imperialism and extracting money out of their colony was a main stay of Roman system. One of the historical document has an edict which says “Do not appoint Roman tax Collectors. Let Barbarians be the tax Collectors.” Let me divert a bit before we go further. How did the word Barbarian come to be used? Kancha Iliah a dalit Scholar says that Greeks and Romans were the first to invent the technology of shaving. Therefore if one looks at any Greek or Roman Statue, the alpha male is one who is “Clean Shave Gillette” look. Since only Romans had the access to the technology of shaving only they had the clean shave privilege but the people of the Countries under their imperial rule had long flowing beard. Now in latin “Barba” means beard. So Barbarians simply mean people with beard. So technically I am a Barbarian. How Nice. Well it is the politics of the language that associated barbarians with being uncivilized.

 

Coming back to the point is that Barbarian Zachy was a Tax Collector who was also seen as an agent of the Romans. Zachy was despised as a traitor by society at large. A devout Israelite would not let the hem of their robe to be touched by a tax collector. One can say that Zacchaeus with his short physical frame thought that only money could bring him prominence and security. He was good at it and also that he must have been totally corrupt by fleecing people. The money is there, he was the chief tax collector, he had huge power. But then why did this man want to see Jesus? John Ortberg says that he was intrigued by Jesus as this Jesus had a Tax Collector as a Disciple (we are talking about Matthew). That was a huge message for this person who was a social scum. He did not want to be seen in public. But he also did not want to miss meeting this Rabbi who has a man from his profession as a disciple. His urge to be hidden was so deep that he wanted to see Jesus from a distance and therefore he climbed the tree. He did not want to face people along with Jesus, whom Zacchaeus had cheated. Jesus comes closer to the tree and Zacchaeus gets a closer look. But when he is looking at Jesus, Jesus looks at him. He stops. Guess what? Jesus not only calls him, He also knows his name. He calls out  “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” (vs 6) The people are shocked that Jesus calls out a corrupt traitor who is a tax collector. Vs 7 says that people walking with Jesus are unhappy and start to grumble that he is going to dine with a sinner. How can Jesus do that? Does he not know his background? What is funny is, the people who were walking with Jesus were more spiritual that Jesus was. I feel that people in the church reject people that Jesus would accept. It seems we are more spiritual than Him.

 

Zacchaeus knows that his life does not measure up to have a communion with Jesus. But he now encounters Grace that he never has seen . He was a misfit till now. Lived in guilt and always felt literally and metaphorically short in front of people. When he encounters grace, his hidden aspects of the soul are touched. His hidden sinfulness becomes exposed in front of Jesus who comes to his home without any preconditions. Coming home and dining made him feel accepted. The power of grace opened his heart that he not only confessed his sins but also was ready to pay back four times the amount to those he had defrauded. According to law he just had to pay back 20 percent. His repentance produced generosity which was hidden due to his guilt. He realized he was blind in his urge to become rich and therefore decided to give half of his possessions to the poor. We can see all the people who with reluctance accompanied Jesus to a fraud tax collectors home. When Zacchaeus said all this they might have wished that Jesus sees through the fake claims of a tax collector who can never be honest. But they get scandalized hearing Jesus say “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham.” (vs 9) Salvation? Son of Abraham? They had too much to take for a day. But Zacchaeus because of the Grace received from Jesus Christ, was healed and received forgiveness and transformed his life of hiddenness to walk with Jesus. He received salvation.

 

Today as followers of Christ we have become too judgmental in our approach. We have become more pious and Spiritual than Jesus. Our Church is restricted to the Believers. There are many inside and outside the church that need the grace to come out of their hidden ways of life. But we have chosen to be judgmental so as to exclude them.

 

I will end the meditation with the famous Story of Ernest Hemingway that sums up the urgent need for grace and forgiveness. In his short story “Capital of the World”, Ernest Hemingway tells about a Spanish father who wanted to be reconciled with his runaway son. The despairing father missed his son so much that he placed an advertisement in the local newspaper. The advertisement read simply, “Paco, meet me at the Hotel Montana at noon on Tuesday. All is forgiven! Love, Papa.”  The father drove down and was anxious whether his son Paco would meet him. He was not sure. With a million thoughts, the Father reaches the Hotel. But the father was shocked at what he saw. There were eight hundred young men named Paco waiting for their forgiving fathers! Paco is a very common name in Spain.

 

We all long to be forgiven and experience grace. Confession here is when Jesus has taken the initiative to reach out to us. To give communion to us. He accepts us the way we are.  We do not need to remain hidden. His Grace transforms us. He has reached out to us so that we can reach out to many spreading Grace, Forgiveness and Reconciliation.

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

GuwahatiImage