SUNDAY SERMON




SUNDAY SERMON

Gospel reading & Sermons for each Sunday Based on the Lectionary of the 

Syrian Orthodox Church




17 September 2017

posted 15 Sep 2017, 03:24 by C S Paul

17 September 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

First Sunday after Sleebo/ the Festival of Holy Cross 

Scripture reading for this Sunday

Mark 13:30-37New King James Version (NKJV)

30 Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. 

31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.

No One Knows the Day or Hour

32 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 

33 Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. 

34 It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. 

35 Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning— 

36 lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. 

37 And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!”

The Master of The House is Coming. Are You Ready?

by Fr. Alexander J. Kurien, Washington D.C.

There has been no shortage of end time predictions in our lifetime. California-based Family Radio host Harold Camping had his fun with predictions! Unlike most radio talk show hosts, he doesn't just predict game scores or celebrity hookups, but, Mr. Harold Camping predicts apocalypses. It's fair to say most people deserve a second chance, but considering that he has been wrong about the world ending before, it's shocking that people still believe him. In his book 1994, Camping applied numerology to the Bible and predicted that Christ would return between September 15 and 17 of 1994. When nothing happened Camping said he'd made a mistake in his calculations. He apparently hadn't considered the Book of Jeremiah. After recalculating, he decided the world is actually going to end in 2011. And some people BELIEVED him. No really, look! His followers dropped out of med school, leaving their wives and children, and spent all their savings to spread the world about The Rapture. Camping has gone as far as to claim that in 1988 God installed Satan as the leader of the Church in an effort to destroy it.

Televangelist, ex-Baptist minister and failed Republican candidate for the 1988 presidential election, Pat Robertson always has a prediction to make and commentary of the utmost insensitivity on any disaster that occurs. In 1980 he said on The 700 Club "I guarantee by the end of 1982 there is going to be a judgment on this world." He believed that as of 1980, the Anti-Christ was about 27 years old and that Armageddon would start in 1982 followed by 7 "nightmare years" of intense suffering. Which is awesome - I mean, the Biblical apocalypse is pretty epic. The "nightmare years" according to the book of revelations include 4 horsemen, Satan coming back to Earth, zombies, a dragon and some other stuff that would actually be pretty damn awesome to see in real life before dying a terrible, terrible death at the hands of some creature that would look like a main character from Hellraiser. Or maybe we'd just get the traditional Satan, who knows? Either way, it would be exciting.

In 1988 Edgar Whisenant published the rather faddish 88 Reasons Why the Rapture could be in 1988. I say rather faddish because we have history to look back upon. Whisenant based his predictions upon what he considered to be an accurate interpretation of the numbers and days named in the Old Testament coupled with significant Jewish celebrations that were prescribed by God for His people. From these Whisenant predicted that the pre-tribulation rapture of the Church would occur on Rosh Hashana 1988. He was so sure of his formula that he was quoted as saying,

Only if the Bible is in error am I wrong; and I say that to every preacher in town, and there were a king in this country and I could gamble with my life, I would stake my life on Rosh Hashana 88.

Religious broadcasting networks went so far as to interrupt their regular programming schedules to provide special instructions on preparing for the rapture. Of course, the hype quickly faded when the Lord did not return in 1988. Whisenant continued applying his mathematical shrewdness to the Scriptures, predicting the rapture again for 1989, 93, and 94, though with much less fanfare.

Through this Sunday's Gospel Lesson, Jesus is encouraging us to learn the parable from the fig tree. In the springtime, the branch of the fig tree becomes soft and tender because of the sap within. The swelling is a sign that the branch is about to put forth its leaves. In God's creation providence, this is a sign that summer is approaching. Similarly, when we in our lifetime saw these things happening, we should understand what was soon coming. In simple terms, these words are another reminder for us to watch for and recognize the signs of His coming. This would require that we rightly interpret what a sign really is. This is where the difficulty comes. We must not look at every catastrophic event on the world's stage as somehow ushering in that great day. We must not overreact to those predictions by people like a Camping, Whisenant, or a Pat Robertson that we do not watch at all. We are not to have an unhealthy interest in these things, but we are to be watchful because we are uncertain of the time of His return.

Given the certainty of the signs and the event that they point to, Jesus exhorts the Apostles, and us as well, to take heed, keep on the alert, for we do not know the time that has been appointed by the Father. Three times the exhortation is, Be alert! He then offered a parable to illustrate the urgency of the exhortation. In this story, authority was given to the servants, and every man was left to his work. The servant was commanded to watch for his return. The message here implies that each servant and every man was to work until the master's return, for he might come in the evening, or at midnight, or maybe at dawn at the cockcrowing, or in the morning. They would not know the time of His coming, so their work had to be done. The warning was that He might come and find them sleeping and their business undone. Only those who had their work done would find peace.

Here Jesus was stating that He would depart and leave the work of the ministry in the hands of His servants until His return. But when He would return He wanted to find us so doing His will. We are commanded to watch, but this does not mean that we should quit our jobs, or close our businesses, and go on a mountaintop and look into the Heavens for His return. The watching here refers to an attitude of heart, a heart that is ready to meet its Lord. A person with such a heart is doing the will of God and is promised blessing when the Lord returns. Noah left us a good example, for God warned Noah of the coming flood and commanded him to build an ark. The Word of God declares, in Hebrews 11:7, By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith. Here we see that after Noah was warned, he began to prepare the ark. Noah didn't know when God would send him into the ark, so he kept busy working. Noah had to be ready with the ark of God. Noah had respect and reverence for Gods judgment; this is what kept Noah working on the ark all those years. Only eight souls were ready for that day.

In Matthew 24:34-39 the Lord says - Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. When the flood came, it fell on those who were not ready. Only those who were obedient to God's will were saved.

Just as He called Noah to live in obedience to His will, so He has called us to live in obedience. He is calling us to live by faith in the midst of a perverse generation with the promise that the one who perseveres to the end will be saved (verse 13), just like in the days of Noah. Christ calls for a consistent faith. It is a call to live your life day-by-day, moment-by-moment centered on God, saturated with Christ, empowered and enabled by the Holy Spirit, in joyful obedience to the entirety of His Word. Look around you with everything happening in this world today, especially this past week. I lost a great friend in J. Christopher Stevens, the American ambassador to Libya, and three other Department Colleagues who were killed Tuesday during an attack on our diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya. I just returned from Andrews Air Force Base after receiving the remains of my colleagues from Benghazi. The emotions are running high an experience you want to avoid in our life-time. I ask you to pray for their souls and these families trying to comprehend this tragic event in their lives. Do you think the time is near? If you were asked today, could you say that you are exhibiting that consistent a faith and obedience? Are you watchful? Are you alert?

10 September 2017

posted 8 Sep 2017, 03:51 by C S Paul

10 September 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Fourth Sunday after Shunoyo/the Assumption of St. Mary 

Scripture reading for this Sunday

Mark 6:1-6New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus Rejected at Nazareth

Then He went out from there and came to His own country, and His disciples followed Him. 

And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue. And many hearing Him were astonished, saying, “Where did this Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands! 

Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?” So they were offended at Him.

But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house.” 

Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. 

And He marveled because of their unbelief. Then He went about the villages in a circuit, teaching.

"I Know That Boy"

by The Rev. J. Curtis Goforth, O.S.L.

The best man in my wedding, Greg, had this really eccentric grandmother. I never knew her real name, because everyone just called her Grandma. She was a real character. She lived with my friend’s family and every time I visited she would be watching the news or Chuck Norris in Walker, Texas Ranger. She was a lot of fun to talk to because she would always tell you about the way life used to be when she was growing up in Ohio. Grandma was convinced that everything bad that happened in the world was a result of “that dope” as she would frequently comment.

She never could get my name right either. She always called me Cletus and said that she would never forget that my name was Cletus because she knew a man named Cletus who used to bring her black walnuts and I looked like him. So, I just didn’t have the heart to tell her that my name was Curtis and not Cletus. And Greg and all our friends would even call me Cletus when we were around her. But I will never forget a conversation I had with her one day. She was watching Chuck Norris as usual, and during the commercials an advertisement came on for this show whose premise was that the Apollo 11 moon landing was all a big fake and that it was shot in a film studio somewhere. I made the comment that I thought that was just a silly show not worth watching. She got all upset and told me that the moon landing was the biggest hoax ever played on the world. I never saw grandma when she wasn’t in that wheelchair, but she got up out of her wheelchair to educate me on this so-called hoax!

Grandma went on to tell me how Neil Armstrong lived on the same street as her when he was growing up and that he went to school with her son. She said that he always used to get into trouble and was just good for nothing. She said “I know that boy and there ain’t no way he ever did anything good in his life!” At one point she made reference to that show Leave It To Beaver and said that he was just like that Eddie Haskell boy. To her dying day, she refused to believe that we landed on the moon or even went into space.

Well, I don’t know how you feel about Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 mission, but my friend’s grandmother’s ideas about it seem remarkably like those of the crowd in Jesus’ hometown when he came through. Our gospel lesson this morning is commonly called the rejection of Jesus at Nazareth. The folk who lived on the same street as this carpenter’s son just couldn’t believe that someone from their block could have done the wonders and signs that Jesus was reported to have been doing around the region.

It makes one think about that statement, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” The problem was that the people of Nazareth thought they already had Jesus figured out. They knew who he was, they knew his family, his brothers and sisters. But even more than knowing who his family was and what they did, they knew his place in society. He was a craftsman, not a nobleman. Jesus was a carpenter, not a rabbi; a lower class blue collar kind of guy, not a priestly learned teacher.

The Greek word used here that’s typically translated as “carpenter” is the word tekton and it was a blanket term for a craftsman who built something whether it was a table or a house or a cart. And on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the high society folks and 1 being the expendables or untouchables, tektons (carpenters) were about a three. So, Jesus wasn’t an expendable or an untouchable as the Hindu equivalent might be, but he was certainly well towards the bottom. Whereas, rabbis would have been about an 8 on that same scale. And here was Jesus the carpenter, going all around the region working miracles and teaching large crowds of thousands of people about God and the Kingdom of God, convincing many people that he might actually even be the Messiah himself. You can almost hear the crowds saying, “I know that boy and there ain’t no way he ever did anything good in his life!”

The people in Jesus’ hometown thought they had Jesus figured out already. They thought that they already knew him. They knew where he had come from, they knew what his place in life was, and they saw him acting like somebody from a different world, and it made them uncomfortable and Mark tells us it even offended them. As you hear this story you’re probably thinking to yourself, “If I had been there I would have certainly known who Jesus was and not rejected him.” But let me be the first to remind you that we do the same thing now.

Just like the people of Nazareth, we think we have Jesus figured out. We know who he is, what he did, what he taught. But the reality is that we don’t know squat about Jesus! Mark is constantly telling us stories about how the disciples didn’t know who Jesus was—and they were with him day and night for three years! If you remember back to our gospel lesson from a few weeks ago when Jesus stilled a storm on the Sea of Galilee the disciples are frightened by the storm but they are absolutely terrified after Jesus calms the storm, saying to one another, “Who then is this that even the wind and the sea obey him?” How is it that we think we know better than the disciples? At best we might spend a few hours out of the 168 hours in each week trying to get our hearts and minds around who Jesus is.

There’s something very troubling about this story, particularly verse 5, “And Jesus could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.” It seems as though Mark is saying that Jesus could have done so much more had the spiritual climate of Nazareth been more open to the real presence Jesus embodied there. Jesus wasn’t robbed of his powers by the unbelief in Nazareth, but he was limited by it. I can’t help but ask us all the question, “Are we doing something, anything, that might limit the power and kingdom of God in our own midst and in our town?” I hope we are not doing anything as individuals or as a church to limit the presence and power of God in our community.

That’s what the people of Nazareth were doing though. They put limits on Jesus. They tried to put him in a box. They said in their hearts that there was no way that the carpenter, the son of Mary could change the structure of the world. And, I want you to notice something else. The people of Nazareth call him the son of Mary, not the son of Joseph as would have been the cultural norm. And in so doing, they are actually insulting him and calling him illegitimate. It’s just one more example of how the people that thought they knew Jesus so well started putting limits on him and on what he could do.

As humans we are made constantly aware of our limitations. With each day that passes we seem to be made to feel more and more aware of just how limited we are. And we can’t help but direct those same feelings toward others as well. “I know that boy, and there ain’t no way he ever did anything good in his life.” My friend’s grandmother refused to believe that someone she knew could do something as miraculous as walk on the moon. The people of Nazareth refused to believe that a carpenter could one day be the savior of the world. We are good at putting limits on things, on people, and even on God.

But know this—God has put no limits on us. And just as he sent out his disciples long ago, so he sends you and me today to remind the world of his limitless love. I just hope that it’s enough to make you want to get out of your wheelchair. Amen.

27 August 2017

posted 25 Aug 2017, 23:14 by C S Paul

27 August 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Second Sunday after Shunoyo/the Assumption of St. Mary 

Scripture reading for this Sunday

Luke 11:9-20New King James Version (NKJV)

Keep Asking, Seeking, Knocking

“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 

10 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 

11 If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? 

12 Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?

13 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”

A House Divided Cannot Stand

14 And He was casting out a demon, and it was mute. So it was, when the demon had gone out, that the mute spoke; and the multitudes marveled. 

15 But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.”

16 Others, testing Him, sought from Him a sign from heaven. 

17 But He, knowing their thoughts, said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and a house divided against a house falls.

18 If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? Because you say I cast out demons by Beelzebub. 

19 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 

20 But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.

Meditation on Luke 11: 9 - 20

I find two important themes in this passage for us to consider today:

One: Search and will be found.

Two: A talk about the disintegration of communities.

Parallel to the first story is seen in Matthew 7:7. This saying is not connected in Matthew to the second saying seen in Luke (11:14-23). The gift of God is said to be just ‘good things’ according to Matthew (7:11) whereas according to Luke it is the Holy Spirit (11:13). Of course Holy Spirit is something good that comes from God. But I doubt that is what Matthew means here. It should be just something good in general. This saying is not seen in Mark. So it is from common source to Matthew and Luke.

Regarding the meaning of the saying, I do not think that it is a talk about our hard labour to get something good in our lives. Rather it reminds us of knowing what really want and what we need to do to get it in terms of doing our part of the job.

In Matt. 6:26, Jesus talks about the birds of the air that do not sow or reap, but are fed by God. But the birds have to look for where God has kept the food for them and also they have to eat it for themselves. No one else can do these things for them.

Yes you have to do your part of the job to get the blessing. The door is waiting to be knocked to open and the thing is waiting to be searched for you to have it. There was a call from God the father saying, “Here is my beloved Son ... listen to him” (Matt. 17:5). It was for the people to behold him. God cannot make them listen. There is a saying, ‘you can only lead the horse to the water, but cannot make it drink’. You cannot tell your students what they need to learn. You cannot make them taught. We need to do our job and no one can do it for us.

The second incident in Luke is a talk about the possible disintegration of communities and societies. This is given in the backdrop of Jew’s accusation of Jesus casting out demons with the help of demons.

Parallel texts can be seen in Matthew Ch. 12 and Mark Ch. 3. There are few differences between these three records. Mark records the story in an entirely different context. Jesus was with a large multitude and he had no time even to eat. Seeing this, his own people called him crazy. Matthew has blind and mute person healed by Jesus. The people called Jesus, ‘Son of David’ which is not seen in either Mark or Luke.

This is quite understandable considering the audience of Matthew which was primarily Jews. According to Matthew it was the Pharisees who accused Jesus.

For Mark it was the Scribes who did so. Luke has only ‘some of them’ implying part of the crowd. To Mark the statement about division comes as a parable from Jesus.

Luke v. 16 seems to be an interpolation which says, ‘some others asked for a sign from Jesus’. While some accused Jesus of casting out demons by demons some others asked for a sign. We can already see a division on this matter among the people.

Luke 11: 23 and Matthew 7:30 end with a statement “He who is not with me is against me and will be scattered”. Actually this is where the second passage ends. For some reason the lectionary did not consider this important to be included.

Matthew and Mark conclude the passage with a statement regarding ‘sin against the Holy Spirit’. Luke omitted it for unknown reason.

Let me today focus on the second part of the passage that talk about Jesus being accused of casting out demons by demons.

A Divided House

Division can be of two types.

I. One that is inevitable and positive:

There was division among the people and among the Jews regarding who Jesus was and what was he doing (John 7:43; 9:16 and in 10:19).

As a matter of fact Jesus came to this world to create a division according to Luke 12:51-53. (‘I have not come to set peace on earth rather division’)

This division is between good and evil, between those who accepted Jesus as God and those who did not.

Elimination and removal of evil from what is essentially good is the work of salvation.

It is elimination or burning out of impurities or parasites that were attached to something fundamentally good. This is what we see all through the history of humans with God.

Abraham leaving Haran was a division; the burning bush Moses witnessed was another division (the bush in flame was not consumed. But there was something symbolically being consumed, which is slavery in Egypt); Israel leaving Egypt yet another division; accepting Jesus for sure was yet another.

Those were means of re-instatement of the creation and hence something positive and good.

II. There is a second kind of division.

This division is seen as something negative and destructive.

This is what Jesus was talking about in this event under consideration.

A situation where things cannot be sorted out and a consensus or perfect understanding cannot be achieved becomes a reason for division.

Such a situation will put confusion and chaos in the community and will eventually lead to breaking down and perishing of it.

No caring person can allow this to happen. That will be self-destructive.

We in India today are facing such a situation.

The big question before our nation today is how to deal with the escalating corruption in our society?

All-party meetings, parties and Team Anna, government and civil society representatives all stand at different corners not agreeing on ways and means of sorting it out and trying to cast out this demon.

We are divided.

This unhealthy and destructive division prevails in all sections of our society, our families and even in every single person today.

People are becoming more and more confused that leads them to depression and further to breaking down of the self.

Integrity of personality, of family, of communities becomes a big challenge for us.

Look at our Church for example.

A Church divided in to two groups, the Jacobite and the Orthodox.

Both worship the same God, profess same faith, follow same tradition, share the same heritage, teach the same theology and worship using the same liturgy. There is absolutely nothing that divides us. Still we are divided. We have become a laughing stock in the midst of other people. Our financial and other resources are wasted on this division. Our young are going away from the fellowship; we are losing members to unhealthy new generation so called spiritual groups mushrooming in and around us.

We need to stand together, work together and march forward for the welfare and progress of the people.

Wedded husbands and wives are now standing in the veranda of court rooms waiting for them to be called to present their reasons for them to be separated or divided. Daily about a hundred divorce petitions are filed in family courts in Kerala with mutual consent. When they are separated, where will the children go and how healthy will they be emotionally in future? How will they experience God’s loving care through the parents and will learn to love others? Families are getting split away at an alarming rate. Still we claim that we are a developed community and are progressing.

No community, family or individual can stand when it is divided for the wrong reasons.

Yes we need to distinguish between good and evil.

Since evil has no essence and eternal existence, it has to go and a division with that goal will help world become a better place and will progress.

But we should not be divided to cast out demonic forces that parasite that sickens us. Also we should not use demonic forces to cast out demonic tendencies. That will be a matter for another sermon.

Be divided and take a definite stand for right and noble cause. But do not be divided in casting out demons and never use demonic forces to eliminate what is bad and unhealthy in us and around us.

Jesus who cast out demons with the power of God will help us to be united to eliminate bad influences and tendencies in and among us.

Cast out demons with the ‘figure of God’ and we will see the kingdom of God in our midst! Amen.


20 August 2017

posted 18 Aug 2017, 00:32 by C S Paul

20 August 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

First Sunday after Shunoyo/the Assumption of St. Mary 

Mark 10:35-45New King James Version (NKJV)

Greatness Is Serving

35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.”

36 And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?”

37 They said to Him, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.”

38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”

39 They said to Him, “We are able.”

So Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized; 

40 but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared.”

41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be greatly displeased with James and John. 

42 But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 

43 Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. 

44 And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. 

45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Friends, Servants and Slaves

by William Loader, Murdoch University, Australia

This story is almost bizarre, until we realize that it parodies that almost universal malady: the will to power. The irony bleeds before us as we hear the ambition of James and John and catch a glimpse of the crucifixion scene. Yes, they can drink the cup. Yes, they can share the baptism. They are the first of many witnesses to misunderstanding Jesus and the sacraments. They have got it so wrong.

Just when we are ready to join the other disciples in rebuking the brothers (10:41), Jesus summons them - and us (10:42). What follows is political comment in the broadest sense. Notice how people love exercising power over others! Jesus is identifying a system. People love power and people also tend to love the powerful. The greatest is the one who can dominate, the strongest, usually the father in the family and the king in the community.

At least James and John are honest about their intentions. They want power and they assume that that is also what Jesus wants. Even more worrying are those who are unaware that this is what drives them and hide it from themselves and others by fine and seductive words.

Why should we blame James and John? Are they not just wanting to be like God? Isn’t that the main thing about God - the king, the almighty, the father? It is rather odd if God is like that and if by contrast we are not to seek power. People’s gods are their gods. People’s gods are their models, their idols. It works both ways: people’s gods affect people’s values and people’s values create their gods. It is a mutually supportive system. We should not be surprised that James and John want to be powerful. Biblical tradition is rich with images of God in terms of such power.

Jesus is being deliberately subversive when he identifies the power system. He is not saying: leave the power to me, or even to God: you are slaves! That would reinforce the power system in which, for there to be powerful people, there have to be powerless and disempowered people. Much of the language of ‘serving God’ is tainted with the imagery of servitude towards a ruler, as much of the imagery of worship derives from royal courts (and vice versa). Mark is not presenting Jesus as wanting subservience. In fact he has Jesus says so directly: ‘The Son of Man did not come to be served’ (10:45)!

Being a servant and a slave is not about subservience to Jesus, but about joining him. John’s gospel even has Jesus declare that the disciples (and we) are to be his friends not his servants (15:15). This is not just task-related, as if it pertains to a particular mission and a particular time or role. Jesus’ comments in 10:43-44, which almost mirror those in 9:35, declare that this is about what it means to be a person, what it means to be great. We have to add: great - in the eyes of Jesus and in the eyes of God. Jesus espouses these values for himself!

Something very odd happens if we stop there and exempt God, but it is the most common assumption. We are to be like this; Jesus is like this. Is God like this, too? Surely not the almighty father, the king of creation? There is much in the Bible with which to rescue God from that fate. Yet when we examine the teaching of Jesus and the wisdom of the Church’s reflection on who he was, we find that this is, indeed, what he meant. At its simplest we can say: Jesus is just like God and God is just like Jesus. His idea of God as father and as king matched his lifestyle and mission: in his hands these were images less of power and more of compassion and caring. Jesus is not an exception in the life of God, an interim stunt, a temporary abnormality which we call grace; Jesus is not the exception, but ‘the rule’. Such a theology is almost unbearable - it survives with great difficulty. Images of power, triumph, defeat of foes, flood back to rescue God from such vulnerability - and soon we see Jesus pictured in full battle dress at his right hand.

Mark will confront us with the absurdity of this claim (by usual standards). In 10:45b he keeps us on track: ‘The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and give his life a ransom for many’. It is an image of liberation, redemption. Mark shows no interest in undressing the image or developing theories of transaction, cultic or otherwise. His focus is: this great one will give his life for others. We will see it: ‘king of the Jews’, wearing a crown of thorns, broken in self giving on a cross, drinking the cup, immersed in the baptism of suffering and death. That is where Mark’s journey takes us if we dare to follow.

In the meantime he contrasts Jesus’ determination not to waver with the disciples’ determination to win. Mark’s contrasts are extraordinary, almost irreverent. How could disciples so miss the point? Mark may well know more than meets the eye. Acts reports the murder of James in 44CE; some later traditions report that both met their death then. The fourth gospel makes a similarly ‘playful’ link between Peter’s naiveté and his real death (13:36; 21:18-19), perhaps in imitation of Mark.

Mark’s story thus meets his hearers at many levels. It is as though he invites them and us to find ourselves mirrored in these scenes. Out of the reality of history he creates a stage which extends into our reality and invites us to participate, to step into the story, to expose to ourselves our will to power, our lords and our gods and somehow in the process to disentangle ourselves, our ‘Lord’ and our God from the system. It is dangerous - because all who want power must exterminate sources of threat.

The story does not leave us insightfully limp, passive and weak - or pretending to be so. It empowers. Jesus was powerful. The liberation he lived did not require him to seek power for his own sake, but to own the power he had in compassion and in self giving. His call and example was not to avoid leadership, but to be and model a new kind of being, including being powerful and a leader. He came not to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.

13 August 2017

posted 11 Aug 2017, 22:38 by C S Paul

13 August 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

First Sunday after the Festival of Transfiguration 

Matthew 21:28-32New King James Version (NKJV)

The Parable of the Two Sons

28 “But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go, work today in my vineyard.’ 

29 He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went.

30 Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir,’ but he did not go. 

31 Which of the two did the will of his father?”

They said to Him, “The first.”

Jesus said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. 

32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him.

Devotional Thoughts for the First Sunday After Transfiguration

by Rev. Dr. Varghese M Daniel, PhD, Connecticut

We are continuing our liturgical journey from the celebration of Transfiguration of Christ to that of the Assumption of Mother Mary. In between these two feasts we celebrate two Sundays. Today is the first Sunday after the Transfiguration.

Jesus said this parable in the context where He saw the unbelief of the believer. Some Biblical scholars argue that the two kinds of sons represent the Gentiles and Jewish people. But some other scholars affirm that the two sons represent the Jewish community itself; representing the lay people who were associated with the Graeco-Roman world and the law keepers of Judaism. Nevertheless, it is notable that this is the only occasion where the phrase “tax collectors and prostitutes” is used in apostolic writings.

Jesus elucidates the paradox of ‘atheism of the theistic’ through this parable and reveals the complexity of human nature.

Three main points from this passage could be meaningful to meditate.

1. The Power of Positive Rethinking

The first son’s disrespect through his words was certainly an insult to his father. He might have responded so due to the thought of the probable discomfort which would arise if he follows the word of his father. However, when he rethinks about his instantaneous response he becomes willing to obey his father’s words. He repented about his response and found the value of genuine repentance.
Mar Jacob clearly depicts this value in a Bovooso: “The tears of a repentant are more valuable than diamonds”. (Tuesday Suthara Sheema Prayer). John the Baptist’s message was the same too. “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance (St. Mat:.3.8). That’s why the Fathers of the Church say “confession is a forgotten medicine.” Each opportunity to rethink and analyze the prior responses and decisions in our life could oil the machinery of our relationships with God and human. The genuine repentance, and the willingness to change to even a diametrically opposite view or to make a complete U-turn, if necessary, will help the person to steer his journey towards the right shore.

2. Nothingness of Peripheral Promises

Today we live in a world where we hear more promises with the absence of any in-depth passion towards the promise. Definitely these kind of promises fabricate a kind of contentment to the ears of the audience. However, when they see the nothingness of these peripheral promises, it definitely hurts their hearts rigorously and they identify the person’s dim-witted personality. He / she will lose the basic trust of the immediate people around him / her. This indeed applies to our relationship with God: Jesus noticeably stated “Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven" (St. Mt.7.21). In short, the real fruit of the peripheral promises is self-deception and nothingness.

3. The Greatness of Implemented Promises

Both sons are not true models for a true Christian life. The real Christian model is the right response with the willingness to implement the promise. This model is perfectly portrayed in the parable of the sower (St. Lk.8.8). Some seed fell on good soil; the soil responded pleasantly and nurtured without any delay. The quality and depth of the soil facilitated the growth of the seed to a fruitful tree. So a promise followed by its implementation inserts the quality of trustworthiness into one’s personality. This personality will not be double faced. This quality is an essential ingredient to a positive relationship with God and human. God himself shows this model in his relationship with the people of God. “Blessed be the Lord who has given rest to his people Israel, according to all that he promised. Not one word has failed of all his good promise, which he spoke by Moses his servant.” (I Kings: 8.56)

Without trust, words become the hollow sound of a wooden gong. With trust, words become life itself. -- John Harold

May God bless us to rethink if our words are insulting to anyone and to learn the nothingness of peripheral promises, and the greatness of implemented promises.

6 August 2017

posted 4 Aug 2017, 04:43 by C S Paul

6 August 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

The Festival of Transfiguration/Koodaara Perunnal 

Scripture reading for this Sunday

Luke 9:27-36New King James Version (NKJV)

27 But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the kingdom of God.”

Jesus Transfigured on the Mount

28 Now it came to pass, about eight days after these sayings, that He took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 

29 As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening. 

30 And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, 

31 who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 

32 But Peter and those with him were heavy with sleep; and when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him. 

33 Then it happened, as they were parting from Him, that Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said.

34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were fearful as they entered the cloud. 

35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” 

36 When the voice had ceased, Jesus was found alone. But they kept quiet, and told no one in those days any of the things they had seen.

Jesus is the Promised Messiah

by Fr. Tommy Lane

What a grace for Peter and James and John to see Jesus transfigured. They got a preview of the glory of Jesus risen from the dead and his glory in heaven. It was also a preview of the glory we all hope to share in heaven. This was a very special grace for Peter and James and John.

It was not the only special grace Jesus shared with Peter, James and John. Earlier in the Gospel (Mark and Luke) we read that Jesus only allowed Peter and James and John with him into the house of the synagogue official whose daughter he raised up again (Mark 5:37; Luke 8:51). Later, when Jesus was teaching in the temple, Peter and James and John asked Jesus a question privately and he gave them more teaching (Mark 13:3). In Gethsemane, Jesus took Peter, James and John aside from the others to be near him during his agony (Mark 14:33). So Peter, James and John received many special graces from Jesus.

Just before receiving this special grace of seeing Jesus transfigured, Jesus told his disciples that he must suffer greatly, be rejected by the elders, chief priests and scribes, be killed and rise after three days (Matt 16:21; Mark 8:31; Luke 9:22). How did they react? Peter (in Matt and Mark) rebuked Jesus for saying this (Matt 16:22; Mark 8:32) and Jesus responded, "Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do." (Matt 16:23; Mark 8:33) The disciples had to learn that Jesus was not exactly the type of Messiah that they were expecting. Instead of being a Messiah to liberate Palestine from Roman domination he told them he would be a suffering Messiah and would be executed. What a shock! That was surely a bit much to take. Immediately following this we read that Peter, James and John saw Jesus transfigured (Matt 17:1-9; Mark 9:2-10; Luke 9:28-36). How they needed this grace now. They had left everything to follow Jesus and he had just told them he would be killed. They needed reassurance, and Jesus did not let them down. They received a huge grace now on the mountain as they saw Jesus transfigured.

Moses and Elijah also appeared and spoke with Jesus. Moses received the Law from God on Mount Sinai and Elijah could be regarded as the greatest of the prophets, certainly here he is a representative of the prophets during Jesus' transfiguration. So we have the Law and the Prophets, as the Old Testament was often called, with Jesus on the mountain. The Old Testament was pointing forward to Jesus as we heard in that beautiful prophecy of Jesus in our first reading from Dan 7. Now two great figures of the Old Testament, Moses and Elijah, appeared on the mountain with Jesus transfigured, to confirm that Jesus is indeed the expected Messiah. In the opening prayer today we heard,

"God our Father,
in the transfigured glory of Christ your Son,
you strengthen our faith
by confirming the witness of your prophets…"

The Father spoke from heaven and said, "This is my beloved Son. Listen to him." So the Old Testament and the Father in heaven are now confirming that Jesus is indeed the expected Messiah. Although Jesus had just shocked them by telling them he must suffer and die, this is, in fact, the plan of God for Jesus.

The Father said, "Listen to him." In other words, "Do not be scandalized at the teaching of my son Jesus about his forthcoming Passion, death and resurrection." As our preface today says,

"He revealed his glory to his disciples
To strengthen them for the scandal of the cross."

Will they listen to Jesus? Will they stand by Jesus as he goes to his Passion and death? We know the story. Peter denied Jesus in the courtyard of the high priest and James, like the rest of the disciples, abandoned Jesus. Only John listened to Jesus and was not scandalized by the passion and death of Jesus. In John's Gospel we read that John went right into the courtyard of the high priest while Jesus was being tried and went all the way to the cross of Jesus with the women. When the crunch came between Holy Thursday night and the first appearance of Jesus on Easter Sunday, Peter and James did not listen, they abandoned Jesus. Their abandonment of Jesus was only temporary, while John remained faithful right during Jesus' Passion. Later all three of them, Peter, James and John became great witnesses to Jesus. Peter became the first Pope and bishop of Rome. James was executed in Jerusalem by King Herod for witnessing to Jesus (Acts 12:2) and John authored the Fourth Gospel, the Gospel of John. So the three disciples did listen to Jesus although two of them were temporarily unfaithful during the Passion of Jesus.

Perhaps we are disappointed that Peter and James did not listen to Jesus, did not remain faithful to Jesus, during the time he most needed them. They had seen Jesus transfigured, they heard the command of the Father to listen to Jesus, they had been with Jesus for other intimate moments like the raising of the girl to life again but they were scandalized by the Passion of Jesus. But why should we be disappointed with them? We also have experienced and met Jesus in many ways and sometimes we too let him down.

We meet Jesus in a most intimate way every time we receive him in the Eucharist. It is the time when we are closest to Jesus.

We meet Jesus in the Scriptures as they touch our hearts. Jesus speaks to us now when we read the Scriptures. The Scriptures are not just about the life of Jesus; in the Scriptures Jesus also speaks to us about our lives and in them we meet Jesus as he speaks to us about our lives.

We meet Jesus in a very special way in all the sacraments.

We have seen Jesus in great people like Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa.

But just as Peter and James needed to know after Jesus' resurrection that he did not hold their abandonment of him against them, we need to be reconciled to Jesus often. We need to meet Jesus in the Sacrament of Reconciliation often because there are times when we do not listen to Jesus, times when we deny Jesus, not in the courtyard of the high priest in Jerusalem, but maybe sometimes in our families, or perhaps where we work, or maybe in our communities. We do not have to be conquered or governed by our weaknesses or sinfulness. Just as Peter, James and John received the special grace of seeing Jesus transfigured and received many other graces from Jesus, we too have received many graces from Jesus to help us become the great people he has called us to be and to witness to him wherever life demands.

The appearance of Moses and Elijah during the transfiguration, and the Father saying "This is my beloved Son" confirms that Jesus is indeed the expected Messiah. The Father commanded, "Listen to him." John is a model disciple; he was faithful to Jesus to the end. Peter and James for a short while did not listen to Jesus, but just as Peter, James and John became great witnesses to Jesus, we too can become great witnesses to Jesus.

30 July 2017

posted 28 Jul 2017, 03:57 by C S Paul

30 July 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Scripture reading for this Sunday

Mark 8:1-10New King James Version (NKJV)

Feeding the Four Thousand

In those days, the multitude being very great and having nothing to eat, Jesus called His disciples to Him and said to them, 

“I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat. 

And if I send them away hungry to their own houses, they will faint on the way; for some of them have come from afar.”

Then His disciples answered Him, “How can one satisfy these people with bread here in the wilderness?”

He asked them, “How many loaves do you have?”

And they said, “Seven.”

So He commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground. And He took the seven loaves and gave thanks, broke them and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and they set them before the multitude. 

They also had a few small fish; and having blessed them, He said to set them also before them. 

So they ate and were filled, and they took up seven large baskets of leftover fragments. 

Now those who had eaten were about four thousand. And He sent them away, 

10 immediately got into the boat with His disciples, and came to the region of Dalmanutha.

Jesus Expands Our Small Vision to His Limitless Vision

by Fr. Tommy Lane

Earlier I explained that we interrupt our reading of Mark for six Sundays to read John 6 - the Eucharistic Chapter - and explained that the multiplication of the loaves and fish anticipates the miracle of the Eucharist

Can you imagine how the disciples must have felt when Jesus gave the instruction for the people to sit down in the Gospel today? (John 6:10) Did they feel like saying, "Lord healing the sick is one thing but feeding five thousand men and several thousand women and children with just five loaves and two fish is asking for the impossible?" Did they think that if Jesus failed to feed the crowds they would all look like fools? We can see that they obviously had worries because Andrew said to Jesus, "what is five loaves and two fish between so many?" (John 6:9) Did they feel like saying to Jesus, "Jesus, don’t be stupid." The disciples had one vision of the situation and Jesus had a different vision of the situation. The disciples were putting a limit on what to expect, but Jesus had no limits. There is a tension between the expectation of the disciples and the expectation of Jesus. The disciples’ vision was small but the vision of Jesus was limitless.

It hasn’t changed much since then. Our vision and expectations are often small but Jesus’ vision and expectations for us are without limits. And if we try to expand our vision to be more like the vision of Jesus the world says to us, "You are stupid." The world says "you are stupid to want to become a priest, you are stupid to want to become a nun, you are stupid to have one more child, you are stupid to join a prayer group, you are stupid to spend so much time in prayer." And the world is right according to its own standards and vision, but the vision and standards of the western world are very often not the vision of Jesus. According to the mind of the world, following Jesus is irrational. So to follow Jesus in our world now you have to lose something; maybe you have to lose some respect for yourself to follow Jesus now. When Mary said "Yes" to the angel Gabriel she lost respect for herself; in the eyes of the world she was a loser, but in fact she became the winner. If we decide not to lose something for Jesus and follow the ways of the world, then we will really end up losers in the end.

In our Gospel Jesus is not the only one with a big vision. The other person with a big vision is the small boy who had the loaves and fish. The thinking of the world now is, "What is in it for me?" or "What will I get out of it?" or "The more I receive the more I will be blessed." That is the attitude which is destroying our western society. If the small boy had that attitude and did not give his five loaves and two fish to Jesus there would have been no miracle. But because of his generosity a great miracle took place. That little boy shows us that when we give we receive. The vision of the world is often small and narrow but the vision of Jesus is without limits.

In the very early days after Pentecost there was a cripple begging at one of the entrances to the Temple in Jerusalem (Acts 3). When he saw Peter and John going into the Temple he begged from them. Peter and John said, "Look at us." The cripple was then obviously hoping to get some money from them. Peter said, "I have neither silver nor gold, but I will give you what I have: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, walk!" (Acts 3:6) Then Peter took him by the hand and helped him up. Instantly his feet and ankles became firm, and he jumped up and praised God. That beggar had a small vision for himself but Peter had a wonderful vision of where his life should be. In a sense we could say that the cripple was asking for pennies but God was offering him millions. Are you putting limits on yourself while God has a more wonderful vision for you?

As Paul preached the Gospel he encountered a similar problem. People had a narrow vision of Paul and his ministry but Paul’s vision was wide. This is what he wrote in 2 Cor 6:8-10,

"taken for imposters and yet we are genuine…said to be dying and yet we are here alive, scourged but not executed; in pain yet always full of joy; poor and making many people rich; having nothing and yet owning everything."

We can ask ourselves, "What is our vision of ourselves and the world?" Do we take our vision of ourselves from the world or from Jesus? God help us if we take our vision of ourselves from the world. The only way to see yourself is to see yourself as Jesus sees you.

The miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish was preparing for an even greater miracle where Jesus would expand our vision even more. The multiplication of the loaves and fish was preparing for the miracle of the Eucharist. To human eyes in the Eucharist one sees bread and wine but with the eyes of faith we see the Body and Blood of Jesus. Again according to the world it is irrational and stupid to believe in transubstantiation, that the bread really changes into the body of Jesus and the wine really changes into the blood of Jesus. But following Jesus does not entail looking at Jesus with the vision of the world. Following Jesus means looking at Jesus with the eyes of faith, with the faith of Mary who accepted the impossible from the angel Gabriel and responded, "Let it be done to me according to your word." (Luke 1:38) We do not allow our vision of ourselves to be tainted and contaminated by the world but we take our vision of ourselves and our possibilities from Jesus.

23 July 2017

posted 22 Jul 2017, 19:35 by C S Paul

23 July 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Scripture reading for this Sunday

Mark 3:20-30New King James Version (NKJV)

A House Divided Cannot Stand

20 Then the multitude came together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. 

21 But when His own people heard about this,they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, “He is out of His mind.”

22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebub,” and, “By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons.”

23 So He called them to Himself and said to them in parables: “How can Satan cast out Satan? 

24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 

25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 

26 And if Satan has risen up against himself, and is divided, he cannot stand, but has an end. 

27 No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. And then he will plunder his house.

The Unpardonable Sin

28 “Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; 

29 but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation”— 

30 because they said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

Devotional Thoughts for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

by Rev. Fr. Geevarghese Erakkath

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

The real knowledge about God is the essential factor for the spiritual growth of earthly man. It will make him realize the limitations in life and conscious of his sins. This leads him to depend on the grace of God. Through our daily prayers and reading the Holy Bible, attending the liturgy and constant participation in the Holy Communion we could familiarize with and understand that the healing touch and casting out of demons by Jesus are from heavenly power.

Here in the gospel according to St. Mark, Jesus healed a man who had a withered hand, in the Synagogue. He touched and cured those who came from all over Galilee and beyond the territory. He appointed twelve disciples to share and follow after him the ministry of preaching, healing and casting out demons. He did all these things with Godly authority and power where as the scribes from Jerusalem together with the Herodians said “ He has Beelzebub and by the ruler of the demons he cast out the demons”. Jesus disproved the argument with a parable. The parable of a house divided. An important principle is laid down here. An organization or an institution standing against its own interest will be lead to destruction. ‘ United we stand divided we fall’ is a famous saying. The most effective way to destroy a mighty empire is to saw the seeds of an internal conflict.

Jesus said that the sin of acquisition against the Son of God and all the unworthiness of Man would be forgiven. He made a warning that the denial of the beauty of moral values, ignoring the goodness of others (Jesus’ healing) accepting the limitations of our own, the negligence of hearing the voice of God are all blasphemies against the Holy Spirit. ‘ He who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness but is subject to eternal condemnation’. It was the worst habit of the Jewish hypocrites as Jesus called them to envy at the goodness of others. They try to misapprehend the holy deeds of the savior. It is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which is a sin that does not deserve forgiveness.

Here St. Mark symbolically depicted the liberation proclamation by Jesus from the demonic bondage to total humanity. The regained soul of every man can enjoy the characteristic spirit of the original creation through the salvation work of our savior. At this time, let me pray to God Almighty to enter the house of my mind with the help of the spiritual strength I attained so far, to bind the satanic thoughts in it and cast out every evil. I may enjoy the peace of mind where God dwells.

16 July 2017

posted 14 Jul 2017, 23:20 by C S Paul

16 July 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Scripture reading for this Sunday

Feeding the Four Thousand

32 Now Jesus called His disciples to Himself and said, “I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat. And I do not want to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.”

33 Then His disciples said to Him, “Where could we get enough bread in the wilderness to fill such a great multitude?”

34 Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?”

And they said, “Seven, and a few little fish.”

35 So He commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground. 

36 And He took the seven loaves and the fish and gave thanks, broke them and gave them to His disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitude. 

37 So they all ate and were filled, and they took up seven large baskets full of the fragments that were left. 

38 Now those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children. 

39 And He sent away the multitude, got into the boat, and came to the region of Magdala.

Devotional thoughts for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

by Fr. Dr. P. S. Samuel ChorEpiscopos

Meditation for 6th Sunday after Pentecost

The Gospel portion for this Sunday is taken from St. Matthew 15:32-39.

32 Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days, and have nothing to eat; and I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way. 33 And the disciples said to him, Where are we to get bread enough in the desert to feed so great a crowd? 34 And Jesus said to them, How many loaves have you? They said, Seven, and a few small fish. 35 And commanding the crowd to sit down on the ground, 36 he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 37 And they all ate and were satisfied; and they took up seven baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 38 Those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children. 39 And sending away the crowds, he got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan.

The topic is the feeding of the four Thousand or the messianic banquet of the Gentiles. This is also found in St. Mark 8:1-9. Last Sunday the reading was on Feeding of the five thousand. This event is found in all the four Gospels, while feeding of the four thousand is found only in Mathew and Mark. The theme of both events is the same. God miraculously feeds His people.

The Church is repeating these readings as it did with those on the post- resurrection appearances of Our Lord, which occurred on the “first day of the week, or the eighth day”, that is, on Sundays with the ‘breaking of the Bread’. The Church wants to emphasize the fact that the death of Christ, and his resurrection and ascension do not remove him away from us, but that he is an ever present reality and is with us, when we remember him in the ‘breaking of the Bread’, the Eucharist.

There is confusion among some people that the feeding of the four thousand is another version of the feeding of the five thousand. It is clear that this is not so. The five thousand were fed in the land of the Jews (Bethsaida) while the other occurs in the land of the Gentiles (Decapolis). More over both Mathew and Mark set the stage for this miracle after the healing of many gentiles and especially the healing of the daughter of the Cannanite woman (in Mathew), as it appears, after humiliatingly testing her and her people, the Gentiles. Feeding the people in the wilderness is a messianic sign “preparing a table in the wilderness” by God. Feeding of the five thousand is indicative of God feeding the Israelites with manna from heaven through Moses. Here is some one greater than Moses, the Son of God, feeding all God’s people, the Jews and the Gentiles.

The Eucharistic implication of both the miracles is clear, and the Fathers affirm this. All gospel writers except John narrate the institution of the Eucharist. St. John purposely leaves this out and gives the “washing of the disciples’ feet” instead. Why did the beloved disciple, who knew the mind of Jesus more than any other disciple, do this way? John discusses the Eucharist in his sixth chapter using the feeding of the fivethousand as a background for his discourse. For St. John, the disciple of love, humility, love of one’s brother , service to humanity (Jesus came down to serve and to die for the people) are as important as the reception of the sacrament (Christ). St. Paul complained about the rich Corinthians because they ate the meal rather selfishly. John the evangelist saw the need of reminding us that the Eucharist is related to the poor, the hungry of this world. The foundation of our commitment/service to the world is the Holy Eucharist. This is our body. And so John reminds us what Jesus said. “You call me Lord, and indeed I am. But if I wash your feet, then wash one another’s.” Feed the poor, feed the world.

Now let as look at the scripture portion in more detail. Jesus was with the people in a “deserted place.” He was preaching and healing. The people continued to stay with him absorbed in his teaching; they did not go away to find food or other necessities. Jesus knew their needs, and so he took the initiative to provide for them. He felt compassion on them. Com-passion is suffering with those who suffer. To put oneself in the other person’s place and to accept that person’s suffering as his own. This is divine and is prompted by the caring and love one feels for others. God is most Compassionate. He so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son to this world. As Jesus has told Philip, “he who has seen me has seen the Father.” Jesus sheds tears any time when we suffer as he did at the tomb of Lazarus. So naturally he wants the disciples to give food to the crowd, because if he sends them away unfed, they will faint on the way and perish. It is love that exudes compassion. We see that through out his ministry Jesus was moved with compassion and he did heal, feed and comfort, to alleviate the sufferings of others. What about us? Most often we look away and pass by, don’t we?

He asked the disciples to feed the crowd. The disciples got panicky. They felt overwhelmed. Our Lord says, do not worry, bring me what you have. And they brought seven loaves and a few fish, such a small quantity, for the large crowd. We often wonder and say, how, on earth can we feed all the poor in the world? He tells us to start with the people around us, take the first step, feed the poor neighbor, and don’t over-feed your child when the neighbor’s child, your brother’s child, is starving. The community of the faithful has this responsibility. Is not Jesus reminding us of our responsibility to others? Sunday after Sunday we piously go to communion but easily forget the poor, the suffering, the homeless and the orphans of the world. Give them food and shelter. This is the Lord’s command. Be compassionate, remember the needy, pray and provide for them and then the Lord will be pleased with us.

Remember Prophet Elijah reassuring the widow of Zarephath, when she told the prophet that she had only a tiny quantity of morsel just to make a cake for her and her son. “Make a small one for me” says Elijah, and she did and that did wonders (1 Kings 17:10-16).The jar of meal was not spent, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD which he spoke by Elijah. (1 Kings 17:16) Aren’t we often worried that we have very little reserves, for the education of our children, for paying the mortgage for the car and the house, for doing so many things including investing for the future, where is the money to give to the Church or to the poor? Read verse 16. God will provide , He will multiply and provide for us as well as for the poor and the needy if we are willing to share a little of what we have and entrust it with Christ in prayer.

The disciples brought what they had and Christ “took it, gave thanks (eucharistia), blessed it, broke it and gave it” to them to distribute to the people. The God who created the world from “nothing” multiplied it so that all the people, four thousand men and much more women and children, ate and were satisfied and they praised God for this miraculous feeding. This is the Lord’s banquet. It is His Table. Who does provide the bread for the banquet? The people. The women or men who cook it at home and bring it to be offered. He takes it and makes it His own, and invites all to come and participate. All the people have table fellowship with Him and with one another. He provides food for the people through His disciples ‘the shepherds who divide the word of truth’. This is the mission of the Assembly of God, the Church. Yet, at present, many among the people go unfed and hungry. Though provided, many willfully ignore the gift and perish on the way. The Eucharistic implication is quite clear. Every time we assemble in the church for Eucharistic celebration, this is what is happening. The people provide the fruit of their labor, the bread and the wine He takes their offering, He gives thanks, He blesses it, He breaks it , He gives it to the disciples and they distribute it to the people. Christ does all this through the Holy Spirit by transforming the gifts, making them the Body of Christ, and he himself (the Bread of Heaven) is being distributed to the faithful by His disciples (bishops and priests). So compassion leads to communion. Com-union, is entering into an intimate and inseparable union with the Lord. As St. John says, He abides in us and we in Him, leading us away from suffering and death, to life abundant and to life eternal. Every time the Holy Eucharist is celebrated this whole process is reenacted. Nowadays in our Church the people do not know where the bread comes from. Achen or some one makes it and brings it to the church. The people have no idea that it is their offering! Anaphora means offering or lifting up. The priest recites the Eucharistic prayers. He breaks it. We really don’t think what it means to be broken. Those who have seen the “Passion of the Christ” will definitely understand. With out braking (dying) there is no life.

We know that U.S.A is a prosperous Nation. Why? They spend their money rather than keep it in the Bank! What is the use of money or wealth when it is not spent for us and for others? Only when the bread is broken can we be fed with it.. The priest gives it to the faithful. This is communion, receiving the Qurbana. So we repeat what Christ did every time we celebrate the Eucharist, without thinking and realizing the real implication and our own part in it. Jesus feeds us and we are asked to feed others. May God bless us all, May He feed us unto eternal life. AMEN.

9 July 2017

posted 6 Jul 2017, 22:54 by C S Paul   [ updated 6 Jul 2017, 23:17 ]

9 July 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Scripture reading for this Sunday

Luke 9:10-17New King James Version (NKJV)

Feeding the Five Thousand

10 And the apostles, when they had returned, told Him all that they had done. Then He took them and went aside privately into a deserted place belonging to the city called Bethsaida. 

11 But when the multitudes knew it, they followed Him; and He received them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who had need of healing. 

12 When the day began to wear away, the twelve came and said to Him, “Send the multitude away, that they may go into the surrounding towns and country, and lodge and get provisions; for we are in a deserted place here.”

13 But He said to them, “You give them something to eat.”

And they said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless we go and buy food for all these people.” 

14 For there were about five thousand men.

Then He said to His disciples, “Make them sit down in groups of fifty.” 

15 And they did so, and made them all sit down.

16 Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the multitude. 

17 So they all ate and were filled, and twelve baskets of the leftover fragments were taken up by them.

Feeding Five Thousand

by John Stevenson

Of all of the miracles which are recorded during the ministry of Jesus, only one is described in all four gospel accounts. It is the one which we find in this chapter - the feeding of the five thousand.

This was an especially significant miracle. It was significant because it involved the most number of people. It had the most eye-witnesses. It also had the most volume. The only other miracle that ever came close to it was the turning of water into wine. Bread to the multitude; wine to the wedding guests. Bread and wine - He still offers it to us.

The setting for the story took place in a time of retreat - a time when Jesus was seeking to get away from it all.

WITHDRAWAL TO BETHSAIDA

And when the apostles returned, they gave an account to Him of all that they had done. And taking them with Him, He withdrew by Himself to a city called Bethsaida. (Luke 9:10).

Bethsaida was a small town located on the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Its name was appropriate for a group of fishermen - it meant "house of fishing." It was home to Simon, Andrew and Philip (John 1:44).

It had been a time of great activity. There was a growing intensity to the ministry of Jesus that reached its culmination as He sent the Twelve out on a short-term mission trip.

Now they are back. They have done a good job and they are tired. And so, Jesus determines to take them away from the crowds. They go home to Bethsaida so that they can recharge.

Have you ever suffered from burn-out? You can come to the point when you are tired and just can’t get the emotional energy to go on. At such a time, you need to find a place to which you can withdraw. You will find Jesus waiting for you there.

MINISTRY TO THE MULTITUDES

But the multitudes were aware of this and followed Him; and welcoming them, He began speaking to them about the kingdom of God and curing those who had need of healing. (Luke 9:11).

It was one thing for Jesus and His disciples to make plans to get away from it all. It was another thing to accomplish it. They got away from the crowds, but the crowds did not get away from them.

Jesus could have gotten angry at the multitude. After all, they were intruding at a time when they were not wanted. The office was closed and Jesus and His disciples were going on vacation. Couldn't they make an appointment? Instead, the reaction of Jesus was one of welcome. He saw their needs and He felt for them. He cared.

The Christ event is the evidence that God cares. He did not stand aloof from humanity. He became involved. He was involved in the discipleship of the Twelve. And He will be involved in a ministry to the masses.

THE INSTRUCTIONS OF JESUS

And the day began to decline, and the twelve came and said to Him, "Send the multitude away, that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside and find lodging and get something to eat; for here we are in a desolate place."

But He said to them, "You give them something to eat!" And they said, "We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless perhaps we go and buy food for all these people." For there were about five thousand men. (Luke 9:12-14a).

Imagine the scene. Jesus and His disciples have long since left the crowded cities and have made their way to the eastern shores of the Sea of Galilee. They were followed by the crowds, so instead of spending the day in rest and relaxation, Jesus and His disciples have a day of teaching.

Now at the end of the day, the disciples are tired and hungry. And they aren’t the only ones. The people are getting hungry as well. And so they come to Jesus with a suggestion. It is that He send the multitude away to surrounding areas where they will be able to purchase food.

The plan of the disciples is entitled: "Every man for himself." But Jesus has another plan. He says to them, "You feed them."

This was an impossible request. I can picture their consternation. They assemble all of their possible resources and they come up with five loaves of bread and two small fish. We know from the other gospel accounts that even this was provided by someone else and had not originally been theirs. How can they possibly hope to feed this multitude? There are no nearby grocery stores and they haven’t got the money in any case. After all, Jesus had told them back in verse 3 not to take any money for their journeys and they had taken Him at His word.

This was an impossible situation. But Jesus has the answers to those kinds of situations. He is trying to teach you something in the midst of your impossible situation. And it is in the understanding of that lesson that impossible situations become bearable.

What is your situation? No matter what it is, don't forget to look for the lesson. Listen for the instructions of the Christ. Listen, because Jesus has the answers to the questions that trouble you.

You see, this situation did not come about by mere chance. It was brought about purposefully. It was brought about to manifest the power of God. The same is true of your situation.

There is a lesson here. It is that a lack of the means to do something is not necessarily proof that God does not want us to do attempt that thing. Having only a little food is no justification for sending the crowd away hungry. Having only a little money is no excuse for not helping the poor. You look to serve God with what you DO have and then watch Him provide for that service.

THE MIRACLE PROVIDED

And He said to His disciples, "Have them recline to eat in groups of about fifty each." 15 And they did so, and had them all recline. 16 And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed them, and broke them, and kept giving them to the disciples to set before the multitude. (Luke 9:14b-16).

The grass is green. The sun is low in the sky. The cool breeze is blowing off the Sea of Galilee. The disciples are quietly obedient in organizing the people into groups of 50's and 100's. They may have been weak in faith, but they still OBEYED. And as a result, God will do something wonderful.

Having problems believing? Have a difficult time in the faith department? Welcome to the crowd. There is a lesson here for you. It is a lesson for when you find it difficult to believe. When you are having trouble believing, obey anyway. Obey as though you believe, and eventually you will find strength for your faith.

The disciples obeyed the words of Jesus. He has them divide the people into workable groups. There is a prayer of blessing.

I cannot help but think that the disciples were peeking during the prayer to see where the delivery trucks were going to come from. And yet, when the miracle takes place, we are struck by its simplicity. The heavens did not open. Trumpets did not sound. We are not told how Jesus did it.

We simply read that the disciples begin to disperse the food. And there is more food.

And still more. And people are getting seconds. And there is still more.

It isn’t that Christianity has been tried and failed, it is that it hasn't been tried.

Are you...

afraid? His courage is sufficient for you.

alone? His presence is sufficient for you.

in sin? His grace is sufficient for you.

in need? His abundance is sufficient for you.

Notice also that this food was conveyed to the multitude through the agency of the disciples. Once again, men were the method used by the Master. He didn’t have to do it that way. He could have fed them all Himself. Manna could have rained from heaven. Or it could have all just appeared in the laps of the people. But instead, it was the disciples who distributed the food.

This was a part of their training in ministry. They had recently gone out and had been preaching and teaching and healing the sick. But now they are learning that they can only be effective as they are being supplied by Jesus.

There is a lesson here for us, too. God wants to feed a world that is spiritually hungry and He wants to do it through US. He has the resources, but He desires our involvement. It is not our ABILITY that He desires, but our AVAILABILITY.

The Lord teaches us to trust Him by commanding us to do that which is beyond our means to do.

God delights in using the little that we have to do great things. He uses the shepherd staff of Moses to divide the Red Sea and to conquer the Pharaoh of Egypt. He uses the little stone in the sling of David to bring down Goliath. He whittles down Gideon’s army to a little band of 300 to defeat the hosts of Midian. And He is ready to use your little things, too.

THE EVIDENCE OF ABUNDANCE

And they all ate and were satisfied; and the broken pieces which they had left over were picked up, twelve baskets full. (Luke 9:17).

When it is all over, the disciples begin cleaning up. Twelve disciples. Twelve full baskets of food. One for each disciple. Do you see the lesson? It is a lesson in abundance. Jesus is not just sufficient for our needs. He is ABUNDANTLY SUFFICIENT.

The reason that the disciples are assigned this cleanup duty is so that they will learn this lesson. They had wondered earlier where they would get enough food to feed the multitude when there was barely enough food to feed themselves. They may have thought, "If we give what we have to everyone else, then we will have to go hungry." Instead of going hungry, each disciple will end up with a load of food.

The disciples were being taught a lesson. It is the same lesson that we need to learn. It is the lesson that Jesus is sufficient for our needs.

The story is told of Dr. David Livingston, the famous missionary-explorer to Africa having a medical condition which required a regular diet of milk. He kept a goat which supplied the necessary milk. Dr. Livingston was praying one morning and he told the Lord, "Everything I have is Yours, Lord."

I’ve been a Christian long enough to know that when you tell God something like that, He is going to bring something into your life to test that resolve. Livingston was visited that same week by the tribal chief and he noticed that the chief was eyeing his goat. Desiring to show God's love, he took the goat and gave it to the chief. In return, the chief presented him with the staff which he was carrying.

Later that day, Livingston confided in one of his friends, "I don’t know why I was so stupid as to give my goat away. All I have to show for it is this stupid stick." His friend replied, "You don’t understand. That isn’t just a stick; it is a scepter. You no longer own one goat. Now you own all the goats in the village."

When we come to the Lord in faith, giving Him our lives, we find that He has given us a scepter in return. And we have been walking around, thinking that it was just a stick.

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