Are You Ready… To Be Pentecosted?

Acts 2: 1-21

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

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

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

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

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

Message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Bethel Mar Thoma Church

Kolar Road, Bhopal

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Daiva Suthar: Children of God (Understanding Trinity)

Text:Romans 8: 12- 17

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 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. And by him we cry, “Abba,Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 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.

Message

This passage shows the Trinitarian nature of God. Trinity is a very important doctrine, so let me emphasize it before I concentrate on the passage above. There is always trouble in understanding the Trinity. Trinity emphasizes that God is one in three persons. That sounds like a paradox. The Infinity of God is beyond our understanding. But in the Three persons, God reveals three aspects of God-head, so that we can comprehend him. Bishop Kalistose Ware in his book The Orthodox Way explains the 3 Aspects or Persons in the following manner:

A) God Who is Beyond Us. God said to Moses, “I am who I am.[a] This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3: 14) This answer will help us understand that Moses here was trying to make God more tangible for the people. He wanted to accommodate God in the concepts of humans. But God cannot be domesticated or accommodated in our boxes of thoughts. “I am That I Am” can also be translated from Hebrew as “I Will Be Who I Will Be”. It points to a Dynamic God who is on the move and beyond our grasp. There are many things in our life that makes no sense to us. Many things is beyond our reach. We did not decide to be born on our own terms choosing our parents. We do not even choose our death. It is beyond us. When everything is fine in our lives something disturbing happens and we just do not know what the meaning of this is. There are so many aspects of our planning that has gone for a toss. We have to have the humility to accept that “God is beyond us and our understandings”. This is not a very comforting thought for a control freak generation like us. But accepting this reality helps us to open ourselves to many realities in lives. It helps us to fight against our patterned thinking and minds filled with hatred.

B) God Who is With Us. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. (John 1: 14 a). This passage like Matthew 1: 17 shows Emmanuel: God with us. Humans always struggle with uncertainties and change. If God Beyond us helps us to accept this reality, God who is with us helps us to deal with this reality. God has given assurance that he is always with us. God who suffers with us, who cries with us, who celebrates with us. In a world where we see purposelessness written writ all over the place, God who is with us gives meaning and purpose to our life.  Viktor Frankl says that “in the madness of the concentration camp where humans became beasts, the God who was with me helped me to carry on. I was not alone. I had hope. Friends we live in times where feeling lonely and alienated is very easy. With the boom in technology and communication one realizes that this does not assure fellowship and brotherhood but has pushed people to depression and acute loneliness. Let us remember that we are not alone. We have a God who is travelling with us. We are not alone.

 

C) God who is Within us: Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own. ( 1 Corinthians 6: 19.) Philip Yancey says that on the day of the Pentecost, the Holy Spirit took residence in our flawed and sinful human body. Holy Spirit lives within us. It is the Holy Spirit that helps us discern the presence of God in world that denies the very existence of God. There are moments in life that devastate us. We do not know what to do. We do not know what to pray for. We doubt ourselves. In such a moment the verse that gives me comfort and assurance is “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” (Romans 8: 26)

Well with that let us focus on the passage before us. Paul is talking about our slavery to flesh. We are slaves of our desires and think only of ourselves. This leads to a slavery of self-gratification where fellowship and relationship is just a means to fulfill our desires. It is here where Paul reminds us that by the Spirit of God we become the Children of God. “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.And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” ( Romans 8: 15). The Holy Spirit has called us to be Sons and Daughters of God. It has called us to be in relationship and in perpetual love. My mentor Rev Sunny George says that the chant before the Holy Qurbana “Daiva Suthar……” conveys this meaning of adoption. “Daiva Suthar Naam Aayiduvaan, Jeevigalayi Nadanapol”. It says of the work of the Holy Spirit that has called us from our state of beastly nature (Jeevigalayi) to the possibility and grace of being the Children of God (Daiva Suthar).

After the Delhi rape case, Cousin of my wife, Vanessa updated on facebook as follows “Well the World did not end on 21st December 2012. So what? Humanity ended long ago. We live in times where calling humans as beasts is an insult to the beasts. It is in such times Paul reminds us that the Holy Spirit has transformed us to be Children of God. This is just not a word of comfort. It is a call to be responsible human beings.

Yesterday when I was travelling in the train I happened to see the movie Schindler’s List. I was so moved by this movie of a man who was a Nazi official. He was a German industrialist who exploited the German invasion of Poland. He used the opportunities in Krakow by employing Jews in an enamel ware factory. He made a fortune out of sheer ambition. He bribed and looted people to get away in his business. His only reason to employ Jews was nothing noble. Jewish labour cost less. He was a favorite of the Nazi SS and was their frequent guest. While witnessing a 1943 raid on the Kraków Ghetto, where soldiers were used to round up the inhabitants for shipment to the concentration camp at Płaszów, Schindler was appalled by the murder of many of the Jews who had been working for him. This encounter changed him. He now tried to save the Jews who worked for him. He bribed and used his influence to get his work done. In the context of war he had to shut down the Factory of enamel ware. He therefore schemed to start an Ammunition factory where he had a list of Jews typed by his assistant Ishaq Stern. He listed 1, 100 Jews and they became part of his factory. Wives, children, and even persons with disability were shown to be necessary mechanics and metalworkers. His factory was a place where Jews were treated with utmost dignity, they were allowed to pray and follow the Sabbath. What was the most moving part of the movie was when in the end Schindler had to escape he cries as he believes he could have saved more Jews. He says “If I had sold my car I could have saved 10 more Jews”. Oskar Schindler died as a penniless man but solely responsible for the survival of a generation of Jews called the Schindler Jews.

We live in times where we see no hope. But the Holy Spirit calls us to be “Daiva Suthar”. It is a comfort but moreover it is a commission and a responsibility to realize the Kingdom of God. As it is said “Today we do not need successful people. We need people who are comforters, healers, story tellers and prophets.” May Triune God lead us on.

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati