Tuesday, July 27, 2010


(This sermon was preached in the Gurukul Lutheran College, Chennai on June 27, 2010)

Luke 7:1-10
1.When Jesus had finished saying all this in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2.There a centurion's servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. 3.The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4.When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, "This man deserves to have you do this, 5.because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue." 6.So Jesus went with them.
He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: "Lord, don't trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. 7.That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8.For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and that one, 'Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it."
9.When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, "I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel." 10.Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.

1. Relationships should bring hope not just despair- Society at the time of the centurion can be gauged to have been divided into a master-slave dispensation. But there is a tension in the text as the centurion valued his slave a lot, which may not have been the usual relationship between a master and slave at the time. If this is converted into a news story it gains immediate news value as this news attains human interest because it is odd. Therefore one can say that the story of the centurion and his slave would have grabbed headlines during the time of Jesus. It is odd and sad that the relationships we get to see today are those which have no hope in them. But even though the story of the centurion and his slave is news worthy it is also one which brings about the sense of hope in an otherwise hope-less world. So despite it qualifying as news it instills in us a deep sense of hope. So we not only hope that something is going to happen in the story, but we get a foretaste of hope itself. But do we get to see similar stories of hope in the media or does the media reflect a largely cynical view of who we really are? Let us listen in to a news story about crimes against dalits.

A random sampling of headlines in mainstream Indian newspapers tells the story of dalits: "Dalit boy beaten to death for plucking flowers"; "Dalit tortured by cops for three days"; "Dalit 'witch' paraded naked in Bihar"; "Dalit killed in lock-up at Kurnool"; "7 Dalits burnt alive in caste clash"; "5 Dalits lynched in Haryana"; "Dalit woman gang-raped, paraded naked"; "Police egged on mob to lynch Dalits". Smita Narula, author of Broken People: Caste Violence Against India's "Untouchables" writes that "Dalits are not allowed to drink from the same wells, attend the same temples, wear shoes in the presence of an upper caste, or drink from the same cups in tea stalls."

By and large stories of violence and discrimination against dalits are not covered in the mainline media because it is not seen to have any news value. It is interesting that the centurion goes against accepted norms. His relationship with his slave is thus hope filled in every way. When we compare this with what happens now, the story of the persons who experienced hope through their relationship appears out of the passage.
2. Authority, its use and misuse- The use and misuse of authority is another key element in the passage. The centurion brings in another twist to the passage which already presents a surprise element. His friends stop Jesus’ entourage and pass on his message to Jesus. There is no need to come to his house he informs Jesus. Several questions may arise out of this twist. Did the centurion consider his house impure for Jesus to visit? Did he see no need for Jesus to come and meet his slave who was on his death bed? Therefore did he on second thoughts send a delegation to dissuade Jesus? But on the other hand we can also see a very positive meaning of authority and position emerging from the passage. We are used to an authority which seeks to perpetrate injustice and stand for the cause of a dominant community. But that does not mean that authority is a lost cause. The centurion rather proposes a true mandate for which authority should stand for, which is to seek out hope for the oppressed, who are diverse. We can say that the courage to state this may have come as an after thought but never the less it comes through in the form of a road block of Jesus. Jesus does not question this late development but rather affirms that authority becomes authority when used for the betterment of people. In a way Jesus is made speechless and he readily disengages and disbands his group which included some influential Jews who had recommended the centurion’s case to Jesus.

M.L. Brite, the secretary of Kodaikanal Public School has been accused of molesting a 14 year old girl student. A case has been registered against the 73 year old man. The school principal maintains that the girl’s parents had not complained to the school authorities. But this has been proved false. The police are on the look out for the absconding man. After the media reported the case, more girls have come forward complaining that the secretary of the school had sexually abused them. There have been protests from several corners that the authorities of the school are protecting the accused.

This is yet another case of how authority is misused in India today. Fortunately the CSI church through one of its pastor’s has been helping the girl concerned and is hoping that Mr. Brite will be held accountable for his actions and justice is implemented for the concerned girls of the school.
3. The word/intention/deed when meant for the good of another becomes the act of God by itself- This is the hope we have amidst the diversity we live in. The centurion expresses the hope of God which he sees in his diverse context. He overcomes his limitations and expresses his word of intention which is intertwined in the hope he felt. Jesus accepts his understanding and commends the centurion’s faith which he has not seen in anyone else. There is then no need for him to go to the house because the house lives in hope. This is the hope amidst diversity in a multi faith context. We usually over ride this hope by saying that we have to say the word and only then there will be hope and the saving grace. But this passage shows us again that hope is not limited to a certain religion or dispensation but to all who claim it.

Rehmatullah is a 60 year old Muslim man who was wrongly accused in one of the 1992 Mumbai riots cases. He married a Hindu woman Mutkamma and adopted his wife’s sister’s daughters when their parents died. His wife and he brought up the adopted daughters Deepa and Suman as Hindu’s and then got them married according to Hindu marriage rites. He and his wife never asked and forced them to convert to Islam but accepted them as they are.

Another story is from Bhagalpur, Bihar, where boys were always preferred over girls, as in the rest of India. But this changed when the village decided that whenever a girl child was born, the family would plant 10 tree saplings at the least and nurture the girl child and the trees. When the girls attained the age of marriage, the trees would pay for their wedding expenses. In one swift act of faith the village has managed to solve the problems of dowry, global warming and female foeticide. No girl has died in the village ever since. Every birth of a child now brings forth hope to the family, the village and the world.

Communicating hope amidst diversity. The challenges remain but multi- faith communities are showing us the way forward. They are bringing out the aspect of hope, which we have been searching for generations. Our relationships, use of authority and intentions and actions should all reflect this deep sense of hope amidst diversity. Amen.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The real world cup

(This meditation was preached in the Gurukul Lutheran Theological College chapel on June 30, 2010)

Luke 10: 25-28.
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

The football world cup 2010 is on in full swing and has reached the quarterfinal stage. People all over the world, including India are sitting glued in front of their television sets, even betting over the outcome of the matches. South Africa is being presented as a paradise on earth hosting a global event. But in the thrill, glamour and glitter of a sporting event we are being misled into believing that this event will unite countries and bring hope and opportunities to ordinary South Africans and others world wide.

The theme for this week is ‘Hope amidst diversity: Communicating hope in multi-faith Asia.’ Sport is definitely one way of communicating hope in an otherwise hope-less context. But are sporting events like the world cup the hope that we are waiting for? The song “Give me hope Joanna” by Eddy Grant was a protest against the South African regime which practised apartheid and racism. And yet a few years later South Africa is being projected as if all this has been wiped away from its land. But the truth is that 16 years after the abolishment of apartheid in South Africa racism still exists and the poorest of the poor remain the same. This world cup has seen a huge increase in women and child trafficking to satisfy the heavy demand for illegal sex. Several of the poor who lived near the gigantic stadiums built for the world cup, have been evicted from their homes and relocated to tin shacks. So even though the world cup is packaged as hope to many, what it really grants is satisfaction to a few. Football and sports do have a role in providing hope but grand events like the world cup end up perpetrating injustice against many. But this does not mean that local sports and games follow the same pattern. They form the ultimate launch pad for hope in small and local communities. The unofficial ‘Poor people’s world cup’ in South Africa is such an initiative involving thousands of people who won’t get a ticket to watch a game in their own country.

Luke 10:25-38 has Jesus asking a lawyer to recount what is written in the law regarding eternal life. He replies, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself. Those into sports will definitely know that the three things which a sportsperson needs are strength, a good mind and a large heart. But the completeness of this is attained only when we love our neighbour as ourselves and therefore the best sportspersons are also the ones who respect their opponents. Who is our neighbour is a relevant question in this discussion and the story of the Good Samaritan should be a model for us to follow. But in a world where we are divided by caste, class, religion, gender and race, are we willing to claim our neighbour? The problem we face today is that despite having a biblical mandate to love our neighbour, we go around this by limiting our neighbours to those in our own community, caste and race. Thus for hope to transpire we have to claim our neighbours.

The football world cup is being sold using theme songs and catchy tunes. The official world cup coca cola song by K’naan, and the song by Shakira have caught the imagination of people. An examination of the lyrics of Shakira's song suggests that nothing has changed. It seems that a war on the football field is happening and the players are supposed to fight till the finish, calling upon their God to help them. This way of presenting the world cup resembles the gladiator battles in Roman coliseums. People attended in large numbers and encouraged the gladiators to kill each other. This also helped the Roman emperors to detach the minds of the people from the real issues facing them. Advertisers are spending millions of dollars to package hope and freedom through their products. Sports and games, football included should not be a means of denying hope but reclaiming hope. This is the challenge before us. One should note that coca cola made K’naan rewrite parts of the song to fit their global need. The original song was much more like the Give me hope Joanna song. Are we then willing to see through this skewed concept of hope? Are we also willing to listen to alternative voices like the local version of the world cup song from Kerala?

Are we willing to realise the existence of hope, claim our neighbours and re-claim hope? We all know the Messi’s, the Kakka’s, the Forlan’s, the Lee Chung-yong’s, the Mueller’s, the Rooney’s, the Drogba’s, and the Khune’s. But do we know Senthil, Prabhakar, Binu, Shiju, Moa, Chinza, David, Ranbir, Sajish, Tasha, Nilu, Riya, Mona and Anushka? They are our neighbours who come together on the unclaimed football fields to re-claim hope. They are our true representatives of hope. Amen.

(Also see http://jerryachensworld.blogspot.com/2010/06/sport-and-religion-world-cup-challenge.html)
Picture courtesy http://www.radiotimes.com/news/2014-06-12/michael-palin-the-world-cup-shows-the-yawning-gap-between-brazils-very-rich-and-very-poor

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Interceding for hope and the prayer of hope

God of love, we pray for communities who have been denied the essence and the means to hope. We pray for those who have been marginalized from the main stream of life and whose existence itself is a day to day struggle. We ask your help for dalits, adivasis and tribals who are fighting for their land, rights and needs. As they lose hope in the system which is supposed to protect them, we plead you to intervene and restore the hope which is rightfully theirs. Lord, in the midst of diversity, grant us hope.

God of equality and respectfulness, we pray for the equality of women in this country. We pray that women may never be turned away and kept inside their homes because of their gender. May women of all castes and religions in this country be represented by their own candidates and may we discuss and implement a bill for women, which is just and equal for all the women of this land. Lord, in the midst of diversity, grant us hope.

God of nurture and care, we pray for our children. May they receive their right to full access to education, and may they never be forced out of their innocence at an age which is decided by someone else. Give us the insight and the will to keep and not destroy what they should see and experience. May their new thinking and ideas instill a new found hope in us. Lord, in the midst of diversity, grant us hope.

God of unity, we pray for our country which is diverse and rich in its culture, religion and thought. We pray for those who suffer for believing in their way of life. Let no woman, man or child be discriminated and crucified for choosing their belief or their orientation and how they want to live life in its fullness. May we see hope in ourselves and share this hope with our neighbouring countries and the people of Asia and the world. Offer us opportunities to hope in the midst of suffering. Lord, in the midst of diversity, grant us hope.

God of knowledge, we pray for different theological communities which are diverse groups of different Christian denominations. May we learn from each other and help one another in our journey of faith and hope. Let our classes and discussions be multi faceted and exciting. May we lean on each other at times of despair and comfort one another during testing times. Lord, in the midst of diversity, grant us hope.

The prayer of hope.
Our hope in earth and heaven, glory to your name. May your true message be proclaimed and followed, in diverse contexts and cultures. Give us the means and opportunities of coming together by way of community meals and fellowships. Forgive our acts against hope as we forgive those who act against situations of hope. Lead us not into exclusive cultures but make us more inclusive and accommodating. For yours are our lives, our existence and our work forever and ever. Amen.

(This is from a worship order prepared for Asia Communication Sunday which was held at Gurukul Lutheran Theological College, Chennai on 27-6-2010)