What’s On Your Mind God? Why Oh Why?

 

Text: Job 2: 11- 3: 4

When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him.  When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads.  Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.

After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. He said:

“May the day of my birth perish,

 and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!’ That day—may it turn to darkness;

 may God above not care about it;

 may no light shine on it.

Message:

My wife and I have been deeply disturbed at the course of events that have taken place recently. Robinson Philip, member of my home parish, Immanuel Mar Thoma Church, Vishrantwadi, husband of Soji’s cousin and my church friend Tincy, passed away in a bike accident. This news literally shattered us. I just could not believe it’s true. How could God be so unfair was my first reaction. They have a 11 month old child who was the apple of their eyes. All the people who knew Tincy and know the wonderful person she is felt the pain as their own. Many of my friends asked me over Whatsapp and Facebook, “Why did God do this?” This was my question too. The pain of an unmerited suffering. Tincy had lost her mother and sister. She was finding great bliss in this marriage. I still remember the day when Robinson and Tincy came to wish me after my ordination. Robinson was very clear about his admiration for Tincy. He told us “I am very lucky to have married Tincy. With her in my life, I pray, I read the Bible and experience the joy of knowing God.” At that time Tincy blushed in embarrassment. Soji and I have enjoyed some good moments with them when we visited Pune. It pains us to think of Evan and Tincy. It is in this context that I read John Ortberg’s  ‘God Is Closer Than You Think’ and Philip Yancey’s “The Bible Jesus Read.”

Let us now look at the passage in front of us. I personally feel that the message of the book of Job has been lost in just reading chapter’s 1 and 2. Till here it is a story of a man who has lost his children, his property, his health and literally everything but still does not complain. What great faith. His statement “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there, The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1: 21) has given a lot of people strength to look at pain in a different light. Even when his wife asks him to Curse God and die, he continues his faith. Now enter the 3 friends of Job who heard the calamity of Job. Seeing Job the ones who came to console wept aloud. Job’s pain became their pain. Job 2: 13 is very powerful where it says ‘Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.’ Imagine sitting with someone saying nothing for seven days. These friends were mourning with Job. This is what Paul says in Romans 12: 15 “Mourn with Those who mourn….” Ortberg says Paul is not asking us to ‘find an explanation to give them why they are suffering’ or ‘Remind them everything is going to be ok, so they can stop crying now’. He asks us to cry with the ones who are crying. That is what the friends of Job did. They gave him the ‘Gift of Silence’. They were with him. I personally believe that being silent and available is the best way of being with the people who have suffered a loss. I remember delivering two sermons in the context of death. I am sure it did not comfort the mourners. What it did was, it deeply disturbed me. My words were hollow and the hope I was giving was shallow. ‘The best way to meditate God’s presence to someone who is suffering is to sit with them in silence.’ And now we turn to Chapter 3. Here Job breaks the silence. He says “God gives, God takes, Blessed be the name of God.’ Well that is not what he says. He says “May the day of my birth perish,  and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!’ That day—may it turn to darkness;  may God above not care about it; may no light shine on it.” (Job 3: 3-4). Shocking. He is actually cursing the life that he has. He is now complaining. If we read Job Chapter 3- 37, the major portion shows the complaints of Job. How is that possible? How can a faithful man complain? When one reads the Book of Psalms, we see that the Hebrew name of Psalms is Tehellim which means Praises but the single most largest category of Psalms is not that of Thanksgiving, but that of Complaining. There is no parallel to this in any other religion. Prophets complain to God, Lamentations as a book is full of complaints. Job complains in his desperation. God gives us that freedom. On the Cross Jesus also complains “My God, My God why have you forsaken me”. I am sure Tincy has a lot to complain and she should. That is her freedom. I too, am complaining. I have the right to. We do not believe in a God who is distant from his creation. We believe in a God who on the cross suffered with the creation.

 

What does his 3 friends along with the fourth one Elihu do? They assume to speak for God. They try to tell Job that he is suffering because of some hidden sin that he has not confessed and that is why a Just God has punished you. These friends are like the modern day Evangelists found on TV. When 2 Aeroplanes destroyed World Trade Centre on 9/11, the Tele-evengelists said that “God was punishing America for the sins of gays and lesbians.” When the recent Newtown Connecticut School shootout took place where many children lost their lives we had friends of Job raisng their voices through evangelists saying “One can expect such things if you drive God out of schools. How can he protect them?” I feel nothing is more violent than to pretend to be God. I met a man who had lost his son 3 months ago. He told me “People say ‘God gives trouble and pain to those whom he loves the most. He gives pain only to those who can handle the pain.’ They are just trying to console me. I can’t handle this pain’. In our best intentions we try to make sense by saying good words. But being with the people and praying is the most important thing.

With Tincy, Soji and I along with all the possible well-wishers and friends, grieve the death of Robinson. He was a wonderful human being, and he lives on through Evan and the memories of friendship that he has left behind. Tincy, we promise to be with you. We too do not understand why this happened. But we pray that Jesus who defeated death at the cross through Resurrection, will unite us to him again on that Beautiful shore. Amen.

P.S. Job is a Fabulous Book which deals with the issue of an innocent man suffering. I would urge you to read Job Chapter 38-41. It is simply beautiful.

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati

 

 

Stop. Stop. Stop. Let us ‘See’ the Burning Bush

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Text: Exodus 3: 1-6

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.”

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father,[a] the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

Message

Rev Abraham Varghese in his Documentary “Kick Kill Kinder” shows the impact of video games on youths and children. Apart from the violence it simulates and celebrates, the greatest impact of it is that children and youths have no excitement and wonder that makes life meaningful. The world of Virtual Reality is so spectacular and splendid that the world we live in fails to stimulate or excite. Everything is boring. In a recent survey done in Tokyo, Japan, Psychologist expressed shock that children under 12 have lost awe and wonder for everything. Even the prospect of travelling to the moon does not excite them. Similarly in a world of 24/7 News and Reality TV we have become numb to life. Nothing shocks us. Nothing excites us. Everything is normal. Nothing shakes us up. We have got used to people dying in bomb blasts. We are bored of the statistics of children dying of hunger. To shock us we need something more catastrophic.

In such a context we understand that Moses was out on a very mundane task of tending the flock. Burning bushes were a common feature then. It was everywhere. Moses could have easily missed it. But Moses slows down and says “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” This strange sight excited him. He was filled with wonder. This awe and wonder is the initiating point into his great ministry of liberating Israelites from slavery. Just for a moment imagine if Moses had missed the Burning Bush? Moses saw the Burning Bush. God spoke to him through this burning bush. God commissioned Moses to liberate Israelites at the Burning Bush. Seeing the Burning Bush was important.

Let us look at the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus is talking about Judgment. “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,  I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ (Matthew 25: 41-45)

In this passage the problem with people was that they did not see the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the sick and the prisoner. Funny part the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the sick and the prisoner were all  over the place. It was a routine sight. Nothing new or exciting. They got used to it. The pain and need of the people did not challenge them into action. The Judgment was on the excuse that they had eyes and they did not ‘See’.

Today we live in a world of spectacles. We are saturated with information and visuals. Nothing excites us. We have become apathetic to our neighbourhood. There are many burning bushes around us. But we do not bother to stop. We do not wait to see. We have become blind. Jesus commands us to slow down. He says “Take a break you who are in a mad rush. Slow down you who are determined by deadlines. Look around you who have eyes but do not see. Listen up, you who have ears but do not hear.” Let us stop for a while and ask ourselves, are we missing our Burning Bush. I will leave you with a parable that has helped me a lot. I have used it in many of my sermons as I feel it talks to all of us.

A young and successful executive was traveling down a neighborhood street, going a bit too fast in his new Jaguar. With music on and the glasses rolled up he was enjoying the bliss of speed. But suddenly  a brick smashed into the Jag’s side door! He slammed on the brakes and backed the Jag back to the spot where the brick had been thrown. The angry driver then jumped out of the car, grabbed the nearest kid and pushed him up against a parked car shouting, “What was that all about and who are you? Just what the heck are you doing? That’s a new car and that brick you threw is going to cost a lot of money. Why did you do it?” The young boy was apologetic. “Please, mister…please! I’m sorry but I didn’t know what else to do,” he pleaded. “I threw the brick because no one else would stop. I have been asking for help for the past two hours!” With tears dripping down his face and off his chin, the child pointed to a spot just around a parked car. “It’s my brother,” he said. “He rolled off and fell out of his wheelchair and I can’t lift him up.” Now sobbing, the boy asked the stunned executive, “Would you please help me get him back into his wheelchair? He’s hurt and he’s too heavy for me.” Moved beyond words, the driver tried to swallow the rapidly swelling lump in his throat. He hurriedly lifted the handicapped boy back into the wheelchair, then took out a linen handkerchief and nursed the fresh scrapes and cuts. A quick look told him everything was going to be okay. “Thank you and May God bless you,” the grateful child told the stranger. Too shook up for words, the man simply watched the boy push his wheelchair-bound brother down the sidewalk toward their home. It was a long, slow walk back to the Jaguar. The damage was very noticeable, but the driver never bothered to repair the dented side door. He kept the dent When the friends at office asked him why he was not repairing the dent, He answered.  “I need that dent to remind me not to go through life so fast that someone has to throw a brick at you to get your attention!”

John Ortberg, the author of ‘The Life You’ve Always Wanted’ says that when he went to his spiritual mentor for an advice to have a more meaningful and spiritual life. His mentor gave him just one advice. “Learn the Art of Slowing Down. Ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” Let us stop. Let us ‘See’ the Burning Bush.

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati

Sleeping With The Frogs

Text: Exodus 8: 8- 10a

Then Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron, and said, “Pray to the Lord to take away the frogs from me and my people, and I will let the people go to sacrifice to the Lord.” Moses said to Pharaoh, “Kindly tell me when I amto pray for you and for your officials and for your people, that the frogs maybe removed from you and your houses and be left only in the Nile.” And he said, “Tomorrow.”

Message

 

The biggest dread for me as a schoolboy was when the reports were distributed and parents were called. I consistently showed bringing low marks was an art that only few could manage. My mother tried to smile at the teachers who had nothing good to tell about me. My mother gave that look which would make time freeze and silence deafeningly unbearable. On our ride back somebody had to break the silence. And I took the initiative by saying “I will sincerely start studying from tomorrow. I will not keep things for the last moment.” But from experience mom knew that tomorrow was a comfortable land that I loved to live. Exams and semesters came and went but my trend to put things for tomorrow continued with some wonderful consistency. Reading John Ortberg’s “God is Closer Than You Think” I found I had a close associate who too lived in the mystical land called “Tomorrow.” Moses is challenging Pharaoh to free Israelites and God sends a series of plagues for Moses to have a bargain. And frogs were all over the land and the palace of Pharaoh was run over by frogs. What do Pharaoh’s magicians do? They create more frogs. How intelligent? It is here that Pharaoh summons Moses and Aaron to pray to the Lord to take away the frogs. He decides he has had enough with this nuisance. Moses obliges and asks him when  to do the needful. Pharaoh without a blink blurts out “Tomorrow.” Tomorrow? In all possibilities he has been sleeping with the frogs jumping all around. When he was about to take a second helping of food,the frogs jump out. Frogs rule the landscape. I am sure he was seeing frogs in his dream as well. And when the moment to deal with it is here where all the frogs will be gone, he waits. He waits for tomorrow. He settles for another night with the frogs for company.

We too are like Pharaoh. Instead of taking a decision or dealing with a problem, we would prefer to sleep with the frogs, hoping that miraculously the frogs will disappear tomorrow. Why do we do this? Why does the present moment elude us so much? Why don’t we deal the problem when we are faced with it? In psychology this is called motivated irrationality where people tolerate and maintain faulty behavioural patterns that will destroy their lives. It is the inability to deal with the moment that we encounter. The encounter of the Rich young man shows us this problem. He was meeting Jesus to know how to earn eternal life. He knew Eternal life is tomorrow. It is in the future. It is way distant from now. But Jesus asks him to sell everything that he has and follow Him. The rich young man was interested like us in the abstract attraction of tomorrow. But Jesus demanded he do something right now. Take a decision this moment. But the Young man wished to sleep another night with the frog. But the most important time is now. If you are having a problem with someone, the time to resolve it is now. If you have hurt someone and you know you are wrong, let us be honest. Passing of time will never heal the wounds. Gather the courage and say sorry now. If your life is going in the wrong direction and more often than not, you know it, the time to act upon it step by step is now. If you are contemplating on making a decision and this decision is big, the time to make the decision is right now. This very moment is God’s irreplaceable gift to you. This moment matters the most because this moment is where God is.If you are going to be with God, there is no need to wait for a perfect time or day. You must be with him now, in this moment. This is the day of reckoning. Today is the day to act. Therefore the Psalmist sings “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalms 118: 24). Jean Pierre de Caussade coins this very beautifully by calling it “The Sacrament of the Present Moment.”Sacrament is defined as “means of grace.” It is where ordinary objects like water in baptism and bread in Eucharist , becomes the vessel for the extraordinary, for the divine. Similarly Caussade says that each moment of our lives can be a sacrament, a vehicle for God’s love and power. “ The present moment holds infinite riches beyond your wildest dreams, but you will enjoy them to the extent of your faith and love. To discover God in the smallest and most ordinary things, as well as in the greatest, is to possess a rare and sublime faith.”

 In our busy lives even prayer is kept for tomorrow. Prayer is believed to be done when one has no other recourse and all the options are beyond us. But prayer is inviting God into the present moment to partner with us. As we move burdened with the enormity of a problem, believing that by delaying to act upon it, things will change ,is foolishness. Prayer is developing the patience where we listen to God telling us ““Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”(Matthew 11: 28- 30). But the invitation to do it is now. One always feels that growing closer to God is somewhere in the future. “When this phase will get over I will be at peace.” “When the children have grown I will have time tostudy the bible.” “Once I retire I will have more time for mission and Church activities.” And we continue to sleep with frogs in the night, always waiting for tomorrow.

Naveen Alex is the son of my favourite teacher in the Seminary, Rev Dr Alex Thomas. Naveen has had to deal with the horrors of ragging when he was a student in a college in Chennai. But he dealt with it very positively. After passing out he got a secure job. At the same time he used to take workshops for school children and guide them. Once when we were chatting he told me he was contemplating on quitting his job and do full time mentoring of children who need guidance, focus and direction in life. His focus was teenagers and therefore he formed a group called ‘TeensMAD’ (Teens Making ADifference). The next I knew was he had made the decision and followed his heart. He truly is making a difference as a Mentor, Resource Person and Animator. He is an inspiration for the childrean and youths alike.  When he was faced with a decision he did not wait for a secure time and security of tomorrow. He just took the plunge. I know it is not easy but encountering God in every moment is an act of surrender. We do not need to sleep with the frogs but by surrendering to God we can take our decisions in the present moment. The time to act is now.

More than a meditation, this was a dialogue with myself. I have problems with surrendering to God. I have problems making decision in the present moment. I would rather procrastinate it till it vanishes. Prayers always are the last resort for me. If this is the case with you also, join with me in the meaningful prayer of Charles de Foucauld.

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