Thursday, December 25, 2014

Hear the Magi, Christmas is a time to search and discern well!

St. Matthew 2:1-12
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men[a] from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising,[b] and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah[c] was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd[d] my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men[e] and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising,[f] until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped,[g] they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Christmas is a time when we come together in a rushed time of holidays, get together, shopping, exchanging gifts and making and buying cakes. The lent comes to an end with a lavish spread shared between family. It is a celebration befitting a kingly and grand occasion and the birth of Christ is indeed lavishly and joyfully remembered. But what does Christmas symbolize? It does among many things symbolize the realization and search of spirituality by the Magi (wise people) and takes us back to the time when the Magi and King Herod looked at the same birth in two different ways.

The Magi followed the star and thought of the great one as being naturally in the palace and kingdom and may have been misled into thinking that Herod would know about the whereabouts of the child Jesus? It might have been natural for them to think that the child would be in a palace. But they are not helped by Herod as the birth is news for him as well. He is shocked that someone else could come to question his authority and his stranglehold on the people. Rather than being happy about the news, he is worried and he calls his advisors to know what this is all about. They confirm his worst fears and he thinks about what to do in the light of a new challenger to his unquestioned rule.

He does what he thinks best and that is to make the Magi spy on his behalf. He outsources the spy work that would have been done by his own army, to the wise people. Either this was a horrible short sight from his part or he was so confident that the Magi would be faithful to his power and arrogance that he left the job with them. His own wise men also fail him because they did not inform him about this before he came to know through the Magi. The Magi follow the star, see the baby, offer their gifts and go their way. This passage speaks to us in a big way in a time like Christmas.

One, the wise people come to the palace because they are misled like many of us that spirituality and prosperity are interlinked. They expect the baby in the palace and perhaps stop trusting the star. It was natural, like it is for all of us to trust the leader that we have and expect good things to come from the leader. Why would one expect anything else? But this is not what happens. To the contrary the leader is the opposite of what they think. He is scared and challenged by the news of the birth of the Messiah and a ruler other than himself, even if it was for the good of all. Power, position and authority don’t mean truth and sincerity. Our society teaches us to overly depend on positions and people in places of authority so blindly that we finally end up being like the wise people who went to Herod trusting him. They did what we would do today.

Two, listen to your voice which may sometimes be the opposite of what people in authority say. The Magi fall into the trap laid by Herod and they go to see the baby as spies of Herod, without being aware of it themselves. They also fulfill the official duty of representing the authorities, although they originally come of their own accord. But after they see, pay homage to and give the baby the gifts they had brought, they make a very important decision. That is to not listen to Herod and instead go their own way. Till here Herod has everything covered. But the wise people trust the voice of God which comes to them and question authority and the role given to them and move on. Even though they were law abiding citizens, they listen to a higher voice which tells them to stand for truth rather than authority laced with abuse of power and corrupt practices. This nice group of people pulls of a coup without making a bone of it.

So let this Christmas be a time of two things. We should be able to search to see where the Messiah is. We should also bring ourselves to a position of accepting that the Messiah is in a place we least expect. We should also be able to discern for ourselves and go against the official point of view of being spies for people in authority and have the courage to being followers of the light which will lead us to our own paths and our own decisions. Amen.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

St.Joseph: Powering us to a higher spiritual realm

St. Matthew 1:18-25
18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah[a] took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son;[b] and he named him Jesus.

The passage talks about the seldom revealed and exalted Joseph, husband of Mother Mary and father to Jesus. Joseph in comparison with local culture and customs is the man who takes a step back so that the woman he is betrothed to can take a step forward. Today, in all probability he would be referred to as the weak husband who does not speak and remains powerless in front of his wife. Yet Joseph’s powerlessness becomes Mother Mary’s and our power. That he chose not to express his power and his position makes him someone who took the route of equitable spirituality, meaning spirituality for all with special emphasis on exaltation of the vulnerable.

Mary was vulnerable in the position that she was in. She had nothing to let go off. But Joseph could let go of many things and it is this letting go which we can indeed learn from. Joseph lets go of his ego, his manliness, his position of future husband and plan maker. He leaves everything so that God’s will be done on earth. Only those with power and some leverage can let go and become powerless. In terms of countries of the world, it is pointless to expect a country like Nepal to let go of what they have in comparison to the USA. It is only when someone with power lets go that it becomes sacrifice. Joseph here sacrifices and it is a sacrifice which will in our society be looked upon as weakness and the act of a spineless man.

Mary had nothing much to let go off. Joseph on the other hand had something to let go. He was respected, he had status in the eyes of the general public, he had a reasonable amount of money and he had age on his side as signs of a man who had much more than the woman he was betrothed to. His reaction on knowing about the pregnancy of Mary was decent and even unexpected. He was already being a gentleman. But God wanted more. It was not just to be a gentleman but to let go of everything which defined who he was. That was what God wanted of him.

Spirituality is easy to define when everything is from our perspective. It is our God, our church, our family, our blessing and everything is in the singular with the emphasis on I, me and myself. Spirituality becomes more complex when it has to be shared and the challenge is for those of us who are in positions of power to devolve ourselves of the power we have and share it with others.

1. Powerful to power-us- situations where one has to be powerless are criticized especially when people with no power have to further give up what they have. In family, church and societal contexts there should become a guiding principle where we can share power. Individual spirituality then becomes equitable spirituality where everyone is treated the same way and everyone has access to the grace of God. Joseph is powerful in comparison with Mary and yet when the angel tells him about Jesus, the baby who is to be born and is to save people from their sins, he turns this equation around. Immanuel, meaning God is with us leads Joseph to change his situation of power which was individual and unidirectional into power-us and not powerless. When husbands treat their wife’s with respect and give opportunities to them, society sees it as loss of power for the husband. But rather than being loss of power it is sharing of power.

2. Godless to God is with us- we are always expectant of great things in our life. This expectation also goes to the extent of hoping that God be with us, and Immanuel becomes a great hope of God being with us. But our life becomes a sign of us forgetting the immense role of God in our lives. We move away from God and move onto our own thoughts which exclude others from the grace of God. Our acts end up being Godless acts of selfishness and greed which take away the essence of spirituality from us. The understanding that God is with us should also bring us to the understanding that we have become power-us, meaning that we have to work with God and do acts of Godliness in our lives. This brings upon great responsibility in our lives and will allow us to look at things from the perspective of God and God’s willingness to power-us. Amen.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Let God’s grace empower us to speak up

St. Luke 1:57-80
57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.
59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. 60 But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” 61 They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” 62 Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. 63 He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.
Zechariah’s Prophecy
67 Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:
68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
69 He has raised up a mighty savior[a] for us
in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us 74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
78 By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon[b] us,
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
80 The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.

Elizabeth and Zechariah rejoice along with others on Elizabeth giving birth to a child. The people rejoice with them as well. But then they come to the point of having to make a critical decision. They have to name the baby. Those present naturally think it is going to be Zechariah, coming from the father and meaning “God remembers.” But to everyone’s surprise Elizabeth says that the baby’s name should be John which means “God is gracious.” The remembrance changes into the grace of God.

The onus immediately rests with Zechariah and he asks for a writing tablet. He could have written his own name giving importance to himself. But instead he writes John, giving all importance to God and God’s justice. “Unfortunately we sometimes write for ourselves. We should be able to transcend this and write for the benefit of others and for the rightful justice of others.”1 Zechariah was aware of what the angel told him but I don’t think that fear lead him to say what he did. Instead he does what he thinks is just and right. He writes perhaps what is the most important thing that he has ever written in his life.

Zechariah is aware of the justice people are yearning for. This can come only through God and acts of people who are close to God. Dec 2nd and 3rd commemorated thirty years of the worst industrial incident that took place in Bhopal. Thousands were killed and lakhs of people were maimed for life. Even today, children are suffering the after effects of the pollution which was brought about by corporate greed. But many have forgotten that Bhopal ever happened and others feel that they don’t live in Bhopal and so need not worry about it.

Elizabeth and Zechariah may not have had personal difficulties and problems. But the problems of others become their problems and the birth of a child to them becomes also their crusade against injustice. Zechariah regains his voice and prophesies
“By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon[b] us,
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

How meaningful a hope is this for people who have been suffering from human made calamities? Zechariah does not just speak to those who were there but offers hope to us, that darkness will indeed turn to light and things will turn around.

In the advent it is easy to get caught up with the spirit of the Christmas season with the gifts and festivities. For children the Christmas father, St. Nicholas becomes an unavoidable presence during carol rounds and celebrations. But how can we become like Zechariah and Elizabeth whose happiness was in bringing happiness to others? The grace of God or God is gracious was an onus to speak up and write for the justice and well being of others. This indeed gives others hope during the Christmas season. It is not anymore to suggest that this is our festival of remembering the birth of Jesus but to say that Jesus will open our mouths from slumber and inaction and make us strong and energetic however young or old we are.

It is not just to say that we remember, and this season is a festival of remembrance but to say that this is a time which tells us that God is gracious. Our gracious God will make us rise and prophecy like Zechariah did. We will be able to say that people who are made to suffer in darkness will indeed see light through the grace of God and the collective goodness of God’s people who come forward to work for God. May God be gracious and may we be graceful to use God’s grace for the betterment of humanity. Amen.


Picture courtesy

Monday, December 1, 2014

Let’s make this world a better place

St. Luke 1:39-56

39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be[a] a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
Mary’s Song of Praise

46 And Mary[b] said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

56 And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

Mary goes to meet Elizabeth. Mary’s presence itself makes a difference and the baby in the womb of Elizabeth leaps with joy. Our presence should ignite and make happy those who see us. A Christian should bring happiness by his/her presence and this happiness is possible only with the presence of the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth feels the joy of life in her womb when Mother Mary comes. The ordinary woman Mary who becomes extra ordinary with the acceptance of God in her life, gives hope and life to others and especially in this instance to her cousin Elizabeth.

Mary goes into a trance of happiness and speaks God’s revelation to her. She talks of the sense and art of giving. When we keep whatever is with us, in our own hands, it does not lead to any happiness but rather to tensions. On the other hand when we are willing to give, we bring about the opportunity to renew ourselves and strengthen ourselves even more. It is not by giving that we weaken ourselves but by keeping and not giving that we weaken ourselves beyond repair.

In Mother Mary’s case this is made clear by God. God gives to Mary out of God’s immense riches. God does not keep to God’s self but rather wants God’s will to be done through her, a poor young lady. If God would have been like us and hardened God’s mind, Mary would never have been chosen. Both Elizabeth and Mother Mary realize this. Elizabeth proclaims “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and she then makes this proclamation. Mother Mary carries on from Elizabeth when she realizes for herself and says “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.”

Mother Mary then makes the most important song of praise or magnificat. She says
“His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.”

St. Mary through this suggests a turn of events where the strong will become weak because they have never emptied themselves and chosen to be weak by themselves. The biblical notion of the weak becoming the strong is lost on some people. Mother Mary reminds us that her elevation suggests the bringing down of the proud, powerful and rich. Instead the mercy of God will be on those who need it and this will lift the lowly and fill the hungry with good things.

Mother Mary shows us two important things. The will to come down and help from a position of power is very theological and Godly. It does not suggest defeat but to the contrary points to victory. God chooses a young and ordinary woman to exalt not just Mother Mary but the thinking and wish of God’s self. No one loses in the church by coming down from a position of power and offering ourselves to work for God. That is not foolishness but it is newness.

Secondly, those who exalt themselves will be humbled, whereas those who humble themselves will be exalted. A lot of people work very hard for the church but once riches come in they tend to forget the church and the needs of the church. But feeding the poor and ensuring that the poor change their status and become rich one day is the responsibility of all. This parity has to be attained in significant ways. It is interesting that Mary on being exalted by God and praised by Elizabeth does not hold on to the peak of achievement, rather she talks of the lowly and the hungry and sings hope for the lowly and the poor. Such is the inspiration we receive from Mother Mary. It is not anymore to say that I can lay back and live my life but to say that I am an object in the hands of God through which God is going to do God’s will on earth.

Are we capable of following the model of St. Mary? She forms the inspiration not just for Elizabeth but also for the baby in her womb. The baby gets a sense of the Holy Spirit inside Mother Mary and wakes up to the fact that the world is going to be a better place. This is the better place that St. Mary sings about. Let us join hands together to make this world a better place. Amen.

Excerpts from the sermon preached in St.Ignatius JSO church, K. R. Puram, Bangalore on November 30, 2014.
Picture courtesy

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Kiss of Love: Looking beyond choreographed acts of love

To be or not to be can be translated as to be in communion or not to be in communion. There are several ways for people to be in communion with each other. Mere presence, an online like, touching of the hand, hugs and even a kiss in some cultures are all ways of seeking and being in communion. Participating in each other’s lives is definitely Christian and needs to be encouraged in all possible ways. No one prevents children from playing with each other and expressing their love towards one another. But forced acts of love are not freedom acts but choreographed acts.

The kiss of love in Kochi, Kerala had a reason of being an act against moral guardians in society. It was a protest and a sign of defiance against what was perceived as being against one’s freedom. The famed café in which couples got together and the morality groups which came together to teach the couples a lesson all lead to triggering a response by a part of society in Kerala. This has also created a chain effect with other cities including Bangalore picking up the kiss. But what is the real issue about and how should be engage with the act of kissing in public?

For starters, is it right for any group or religious institution to judge couples and women in particular? Freedom is the same for everyone and wearing a religious symbol does not give one person or group more freedom than the other. What religious groups can do is to give a religious undertaking of what is right and wrong and allow people to decide what they want to do. Any other violent expression of one’s religion is an infringement upon the rights of another person and also misinterpretation of the peace and love within one’s own religion.

What should be discussed before the kiss of love? The kiss of infringement and humiliation in public should precede the kiss of love. Why can’t religious heads and societal leaders make public statements that men who force themselves upon women in buses, public spaces, educational institutions and even religious sites are doing wrong and will be taken to task by the religious heads and societal leaders themselves? Why can’t women and men be offered the security of being safe on the roads and public spaces? Why shouldn’t the bodies of women belong to them and not be open to male gaze and insult? Why isn’t it that leaders don’t come forward when acts of violence and discrimination are followed against women in society?

Is kissing such a bad thing and who can one kiss? One can kiss one’s family, friends and in some cultures a kiss is a public gesture of greeting one another. Why do we make it into something else? In St. Luke 7: 36-50, a woman cries onto Jesus’ feet, wipes it with her hair, kisses his feet and puts expensive perfume on it. Jesus in St. John 13 washes his disciples’ feet. Bishops today wash and kiss the feet of altar boys and priests during Passion Week suggesting that kissing as such is not wrong. It is the opening up of an individual to the realization of how small one is and how one should wash and kiss the feet of others to bring about humility and love as two important Christian factors in one’s existence on earth.

But what is the kiss of love becoming? There is a lot of promise in the kiss of love. The promise lies in humility and love. But the kiss of love is being limited to a media choreographed event which turns into a security nightmare for the law enforcing agencies. There are so many people serving and loving humanity, kissing the very core of human suffering and expressing God’s love. But what is the kiss of love doing? It is protesting, defying and fighting. There is a street fight between the guardians of morality and the guardians of love. The media loves a story and the stage is set for Romeo and Juliet and their saga of love being denied and buried.

So kissing is good. But it is good when it is done for suffering humanity and when it leads to humility and the expression of Godly love. Any other kissing can be done in the privacy of one’s own room with one’s own partner. Public kissing cannot be exclusive and for a select few. It has to go much beyond that. But public kissing cannot be the infringement of the rights to one’s own body either. One cannot force oneself on a girl or woman in secret and then come and preach about morality in public.

What does the law say? Section 294 of the Indian Penal Code states that “whoever, to the annoyance of others, a) does any obscene act in any public place, or b) sings, recites or utters any obscene songs, ballad or word, in or near any public place, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three months, or with fine, or with both.” Outraging the modesty of a woman comes in Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code. It says “Assault or criminal force to a woman with intent to outrage her modesty.—Whoever assaults or uses criminal force to any woman, intending to outrage or knowing it to be likely that he will thereby outrage her modesty, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.” Both laws leave much to be desired in them and many a time it depends on how it is interpreted and used. It was interesting to note that in Kochi while on the one hand couples got together, on the other hand sections of the bystanders were insulting and hurling obscenities against the women present. Who then was breaking the law?

Jumping on to the road should be done for totally different reasons. When modesty is questioned and women are prevented from leaving their houses no one says anything. Those who stay at home and have to make do with domestic violence are silenced from many quarters. This then calls for religions to do what they are called to do and that is to express God’s love in its manifold ways. If this is not done, love will be hijacked by other institutions and used for a dramatic effect, moving away completely from the actual meaning and need for love. Let’s love and move on.

Today is the International Day For the Elimination of Violence against Women.
You are invited to orange your neighbourhood.

Picture courtesy

Monday, November 24, 2014

The ordinary can make the impossible possible

St. Luke 1:26-38
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”[a] 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”[b] 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born[c] will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Mother Mary is seen as ‘the’ most important personality who can lead us to God in the church and is second only to Jesus, the son of God whom she bears in her womb. Her position in the church is indeed one of importance and significance. But was she always the confident, saintly and even powerful Mother Mary as she is seen today? St. Luke throws light on a young, innocent, and ordinary Mary, whom the angel Gabriel visits. She is not the established Mother Mary but the naïve Mary.

But where is this leading us to? It leads us to two powerful images from the passage which will be of use to us as individuals and will lead to the benefit of the church and society of which we are part of. First, Mary was an ordinary girl who was chosen by God to do the extra ordinary. It is true that Mother Mary is extra ordinary for us today and we intercede to the extra ordinary St. Mary. But Mother Mary was also an ordinary girl who thought ordinary things and lived an ordinary life. Her ordinariness makes her an attractive prospect for God, because God wanted to commit the extra ordinary through her. Many of us think we are ordinary and therefore of no importance to our families, work places and churches. But isn’t it the reverse? Doesn’t our ordinariness qualify us to be God’s workers?

We all know that Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. Today when we look at the light bulb we marvel at the great Thomas Edison. But we don’t think of that the fact that he failed 1000 or even 10,000 times before perfecting the light bulb. The Colonel who invented the formulae of Kentucky Fried Chicken went to 600 odd shops with his mix before being accepted in one. Bill Gates failed with his startup company but then went on to be one of the richest men in the world. The founder of Sheenlac Industries in Chennai, Mr. John Peter, worked a small job in the Indian Railways. J.K. Rowling the popular children’s novel writer battled depression, suicidal tendencies and poverty before becoming successful. What all this suggests is that no one is born extra ordinary, but is made extra ordinary by God. Hard work and the will to submit one’s ordinariness before God becomes more important than anything else.

Mother Mary is perplexed with the arrival of the angel and his referring to her as the favoured one. In church and society, we also feel perplexed and over awed by the situation and the work at hand. We feel that we are not extra ordinary and have no special powers and resources to help. But more than anything else, ordinariness becomes the key element for God to perform wonders. So our ordinary selves can do extra ordinary things for the church and for society.
Second, the angel tells Mary that she will bear a son and he should be named Jesus and that Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived. He then adds that “Nothing is impossible for God”. Faith becomes an integral part of our existence in church. It is not to believe in our own talents but to believe that God is capable of doing any amount of goodness and there can never be a limit to this. The church and society needs many workers who can do God’s work and God’s will. But we always step back saying I am not fit for it. The story of Mother Mary shows that there is no question of being ‘fit for the role’ but rather it is important to ‘fit into the role.’ We don’t need to be extra ordinary, extra rich or extra influential but we need to be ordinary people who are willing to heed to God’s plan to do extra ordinary things for God.

Mother Mary should be a source of inspiration for us. More than thinking of her favoured status, her blessing due to the angel visiting her and her selection by God, she starts to think of God’s unlimited possibilities and capabilities. Her fear moves out and a serene and steady confidence in God comes into her mind. It would benefit us and the church and society if we could offer our ordinary selves to God, so that God works God’s extra ordinary self. It would help the church if we stop thinking of our favoured statuses and instead look at the limitless possibilities that God offers us. Amen.

(Excerpts from the sermon preached in St. Ignatius JSO Church, K.R. Puram, Bangalore, yesterday.)
Picture courtesy

Monday, November 17, 2014

Finding our voice

St. Luke 1: 5-25
5 In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. 7 But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.

8 Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. 10 Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. 11 Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. 16 He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” 18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” 19 The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”

21 Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. 22 When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. 23 When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

24 After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, 25 “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”

The problem for many of us is that we are perennially unhappy. The unhappiness is due to several factors which could be related to aspirations, needs, and wants that lie unfulfilled. The stress and the hard work takes a toll on our bodies and saps out every bit of energy from us. The only place of relaxation and de-stressing is the church and one day a week becomes an essential ritual in the lives of all.

The service, bible readings and sermon all help us to get back on track in our lives. There may be grief, personal problems, work related pressures, family issues which pose serious questions in our mind. The church gives us answers to some of our questions and makes us relax. We get a feeling that God is with us and when God is with us, who can be against us? The element of faith comes to the maximum during service. But what if someone truly tested our faith? Zechariah was a priest and he was serving the Lord’s altar. A priest is fully aware of faith and trust in God. But when the angel sees him and tells him the good news that is going to happen in their family, he does not believe it because he feels his wife is too old to conceive. The angel then tells him that Zechariah will not speak till what he has informed him will happen. Zechariah loses his voice because for a moment he can’t comprehend God’s voice which came through the angel.

Many of us have lost our voices because we are not prepared to comprehend what God can do in our lives. Our faith ceases the minute we leave church almost to suggest that it will be better not to leave at all. We live two lives, one in church and one at home. Others may have multiple lives. In the process we lose the voice that God has given us. Zechariah got an opportunity to comprehend God’s voice because he became mute and had time to think. This thought process comes out later when he writes and gives his son’s name as John.

Zechariah and Elizabeth are seen as ideal parents. Parents in church should be mindful to listen to the voice of God in church and replicate that voice wherever they go. There need not be multiple lives and multiple behaviours, where parents say one thing in church and another at home. If that happens, the children will grow up being psychologically confused and will have personality disorders when they grow up. Finding one’s voice (which is God given) and proudly expressing it everywhere is what we all need to strive for.

Children on the other hand will feel that they can take advantage of their parents because their parents have flaws. Accordingly children will start disrespecting their parents and will pay scant attention to them. But have you heard of children divorcing their parents or parents divorcing their children? Divorce rates are alarmingly high in Kerala but they are legal. There is no legal standing for annulling the relationship between parents and children and between siblings. This is life long and this is God given. It is a bond which cannot be broken.

Finding one’s voice, finding one’s parents voice (meaning knowing what they have done for us) and finding one’s children's/s voice (meaning what they are doing in their lives) is an important aspect of our spirituality and our lives. Priest Zechariah lost his voice but it was to prepare for finding it. We should also be prayerfully silent, seeking God’s plan for justice, peace and love and then use our voice to accomplish it. Amen.

(Excerpts from a sermon preached at the St. Ignatius JSO Church, K.R. Puram, Bangalore.)
Picture credit

Monday, November 10, 2014

My Father's hand

St. John 10:22-30
22 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah,[a] tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand.[b] 30 The Father and I are one.”

Hoodosh Eetho is a time of dedication. We dedicate ourselves as the church is dedicated to Christ. As we travel a week into the liturgical new year of our church we have to look at how we can dedicate ourselves to the church and to Christ just as the church is dedicated to God. We are programmed to dedicate ourselves to our job as that gives us our income and money. Even as the bible asks us to choose between God and mammon or God and money, we have rededicated ourselves time and again to our jobs and to our bosses at work instead of dedicating ourselves to the service of the church and humanity.

I remember my father very fondly. He was a constant and near presence in my life that when I lost him, I lost my world with him. Regaining that was a constant struggle. Just as our mother offers love and care to us, our father is also a picture of support and hope. I used to wait everyday at home knowing that my father had some surprise in store for me. A small toy, a bit of chocolate, and if nothing else a warm hug. My father’s hand was a hand I could trust, I could hold, knowing fully well that the hand would not forsake me.

The father symbolism used by Jesus in St. John 10:22-30 is a symbolism of authority and trust. Jesus tells the Jews that his sheep were given to him by God the Father. Jesus knows the sheep and the sheep know him. The sheep who follow Jesus are promised eternal life and protection by Jesus. Jesus says “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.” Jesus is so sure about his followers and his commitment to them is ever abiding. There is no doubt and no fear. Jesus commits himself as a leader and as God to his followers because he is sure of the commitment of his father to him.

Can we on church dedication Sunday dedicate ourselves to God and to our church. There can be no second thoughts as the commitment of God to us is hundred percent. It is not like a boss who is more concerned about his own promotion and deadlines. Rather it is a God who promises us an imperishable life, safe in his hands and safe from any danger.

Shall we then dedicate our lives to our God and to our church? Shall we feel safe in the hands of our father God and in the hands of Jesus because he tells us so? What a nice feeling it is to submit ourselves like a child in the hands of our father, knowing that our small hands and lives will be safe in the hand of our (my) father, our (my) father’s hand! Amen.

(Picture courtesy

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

St. Gregorios: An inspiration for education

Koodosh Etho is the beginning of the liturgical calendar of the church. Koodosh Etho is the sanctification of the church. The bible passage read on Sunday, St. Matthew 16:13-23 brings St. Peter into the picture. This is one of the passages in the bible where the prominence of St. Peter is mentioned. Jesus says clearly “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Peter is given the authority by Jesus because Peter makes a faith proclamation. “You are the Messiah. The son of the living God.” Jesus tells him that he has got this from God the father and not of his own accord.

The church is a faith community where we pray and say every day that Jesus is the Messiah. But the Messiah came to earth so that we would be saved. Here is where Peter gets it wrong. He tries to tell Jesus that Jesus will not suffer. Can a church exist without suffering? Can we live our lives without suffering? Jesus rebukes and tells Peter clearly to get behind him and listen to him.

Koodosh Etho is a time to begin afresh by sanctifying ourselves. The test we have to undertake is a test of fire. But fire purifies and sanctifies. Jesus is telling us that we will also have to suffer but after suffering comes glory. At this time the church and we its members also have to undergo the test of fire and faith.

St. Gregorios is the first proclaimed Indian saint of the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church. He was consecrated bishop at the very young age of 28 and died at the age of 54 in 1902. What can be one thing we can learn from the blessed thirumeni today? St. Gregorios was known for his simple life style and deep faith. But he understood the need for education in our society. I quote “In the late 1890s many educational institutions were started by the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Church under the initiative and guidance of Parumala Kochu Thirumeni. St.Thomas School at Mulanthuruthy, St. Ignatius School at Kunnamkulam (named after his mentor the Patriarch of Antioch Mor Ignatius Peter IV), the Syrian English School (now known as 'MGM High School') at Thiruvalla, etc., were some of the well known schools of the Church at that time.”

An interesting piece of information for the St. Ignatius church members is “In 1899 Aug 15th (M.E- 1st Chingam, 1075), an 'Aan Pallikoodam' (Boy's School) was started by Parumala Thirumeni near the ancient Arthat St.Mary's Church, Kunnamkulam and was named after the Patriarch 'Mor Ignatius Peter III'. It was on the insistence of our Kochu Thirumeni, the title name of the Patriarch of Antioch, "St.Ignatius" was given to the new school.” Now we are prayerfully submitting ourselves to build a school building and Community Education Centre called St. Ignatius as well. We are laying the foundation stone during the festival of St. Gregorios. Isn’t this more than mere coincidence?

We are following the foot steps of our blessed Saint Gregorios and we are also seeking intercession from our church saint St. Ignatius Elias III. Let us pray that we may be shown the right path and will be helped by the intercession of both our beloved saints. May God bless us all.

( E mail sermon for the St. Ignatius JSO Church, K. R. Puram members.)

Photo credit:

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Don’t lock me in the toilet: skit

Politician- We will make toilets for women in public places and give money for you to construct toilets in your houses.

Girl- Sir, will I get a job?

Politician- I am giving you a toilet. Why do you need a job?

(Politicians supporters take him away.)

Girl and her friend- I don’t know why they only talk about toilets.

Friend- It is for us no?

Girl- Yes, that is true. But going out to the field is the only time I get to come out of the house. With a toilet inside that will also come to an end.

Friend- But having a toilet inside the house will be so nice. I am going to tell my husband to build a toilet soon.

Girl- I also like having a toilet at home. But I also want the freedom of going out without anyone staring at me and trying to molest me. I also want to be treated with respect. Just because we live in the village, does it mean we are fools?

Friend- Yes, that is true.

Boy on the road- Hi sweety. Let’s go for a movie.

Girl and friend get annoyed.
Friend- Look at that shameless boy. Who does he think he is? It must be better in the cities. I wish I could go there with my family.

Girl- All this happens in the cities too. And there are toilets in the city houses. I don’t think toilets will make our lives better. Will we get more freedom and respect?

Friend- But the government is saying that constructing toilets is more important than constructing temples and churches. Is it true?

Girl- I would say that having the freedom to go to toilets, temples and churches by ourselves is the need of the hour. Will anyone provide that?

Friend- Sshh. Our village leader is coming.

Leader- How are you girls? Did you hear? The government is going to build toilets for you. You must be so happy. (Saying this he tries to hold the cheek of the girl.)

(She gets irritated and says.)
Girl- I would like a laptop and an internet connection than a toilet. Will your government give me that?

Leader- What will you do with a laptop, you village girl? Keep it at your head to sleep? ( ha ha ha)

Girl- No. I would like to use it to write letters to government officials to come and see what is happening in our village. We have to walk so much to get water, there is no regular electricity and all you can think of is a toilet. How will I put water into the toilet after using it?

Leader- Don’t talk such things girl. You are a young village girl. Be quiet and go home.

Girl- I will go home but I won’t keep quiet. And don’t call me village girl. I am an educated girl.

Friend- Come lets go. Don’t get into a fight with our leader.

Girl- We will go. But remember leader, “I want a laptop so that I can get my freedom and my toilet. Don’t think that you can lock us inside the toilet!!!”

(Picture credit

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

I am who I am: Low waist (waste) jeans: skit

I don’t want to fit into the expectations of society. My father wants me to be a doctor, my mother wants me to be an engineer, my uncles want me to be a real estate broker and my aunties want me to be a politician. I hate and despise each and everyone one of these suggestions. I want to be a pastor. But my pastor tells me that I am not cut out for it and that I am a new generation punk. He thinks that I will make a better software engineer who can work in shorts with google.

How I wish I would be accepted just as I am instead of being what others want me to be. (He looks around but finds that everyone is seated and looks the same. Everyone wants to be the same person and no one seems to be interested.) How I wish that one of you would get up and tell me that I can be accepted the way I am.

(This is when one of the girl’s get up and come to him. She says that he looks cool and different.)

Girl- Yo man. You look nice and cool.

Boy- Yes but coolness is not getting me anywhere. I won’t be accepted into my church like this. No one wants someone like me. People keep staring at me and ask why my pant is so low below the waist. Some times I get the feeling they are staring at my underwear.

Girl- I like the way you look. And I wouldn’t mind having a pastor wearing low waist jeans.

Boy- Hmm. My pastor says that I wear low waist jeans and am a waste in life too. The double meaning is not much of a joke when you look at it from my side.

Girl- Ha ha. I like that. Waste guy with low waist. Your pastor has a nice sense of humour.

Boy- See, even you are making fun of me.

Girls- No. Seriously. I would love to have a cool pastor like you and I am sure that many here would also like that.

Boy- You are saying all this to make me feel good isn’t it.

Girl- No, I am saying this from my heart. I would like to be your congregation member. And from the look of it several here would also like to be.

Boy- (Looking at the audience.) It doesn’t look like anyone here is interested in me.

(Music starts. People from different corners of the hall get up one by one to the choreographed music titled “Ain’t no mountain high enough”. The boy and girl also join in with the others. Slowly, one by one, everyone sits. A girl and boy come and hug the boy at the end.)

Girl- See what I told you. Who said you are strange and odd? Who said no one likes you? Who said that people are going to make fun of you and reject you as a pastor? Many young people here like you. I am sure that many others will also like you. More than anything else, God loves you and is willing to go the extra mile for you. There is no mountain high or valley low for God. Just call God and God will be there for you.

Boy- This is so cool. I never thought anyone would dance for me. I even thought that God would feel like the pastor, thinking that I am a low waist waste. Now I know that God wants me, just as I am and just as freaky as I look. Praise God.

(Characters played by Yajenla, BD II and Prazwal Jasper, BD II. Skit done during the Youth worship for Sunday evening worship in UTC on October 19, 2014.)

Monday, October 20, 2014

Worship for the young at heart

United Theological College, Bangalore
Sunday evening worship order, October 19, 2014

(The worship has been modeled as a youth worship. This reflects in the songs, its style, skits, sermon and over all model of worship.)

Call to worship
Ensemble with electric guitar and drums.

Let’s do this now
The power of the youth is manifested in a young son of God, who fought and died young and stood for the expression of raw humanity. O Jesus, our all, help make us do this worship now. Create in us the energy to groove, move and woo. Let everything be for your glory and name. Bless our raw and untapped potential dear Lord and make us the instruments of your cause and truth. Amen.

Listen to the name of the Lord
Song 1

Truth never lies: Bible reading 1. (Can we have an amen for the Lord. Amen. Amen. Amen.)

Song 2

For your eyes only: Bible reading 2. (Praise be to God. Amen. Praise be to God. Amen.)

I can feel it Lord: Bible reading 3. (Yes Jesus. You are our Lord. You are our Lord.)

Thank you Jesus
Loving Jesus, you are our all. Whenever we have fallen, you have held us up. Whenever we cried, you dried our tears. Whenever we were thrown out you received us into your presence. We thank you and we praise your name. You have accepted us, renewed us and kept us from falling. We appreciate your closeness and your interest in us. Keep us close to you that we may never stray away and lose ourselves. Let all glory be yours. Amen.

Skit: I am who I am: Low waist (waste) jeans


Jesus matters and the spirit spatters
Let’s hold each other’s hands and pray with and to God. We have been kept away and kept far. We have been told to be quiet. We come to you Lord Jesus and pour out our minds to you. Lead us well and help us to speak when it matters. Let not our thoughts be insulated by conventions and instead allow us to express ourselves in your name and with your spirit. Keep us awake and strong. May we be the change that you wish to see in the world. Have mercy on us O Lord.

Lord Jesus you gave up your life for us. Help us to be selfless and loving. There are many who need our hugs and love. There are many who are crying in a corner and wish to be included. Help us to stop being selfish and start looking at the needs of others. If you could give your young life for us, help us to offer our young lives to you and your glory. Have mercy on us O Lord.

Holy spirit, fill us with goodness and love. Fill us with your will to work and care. Make us spirit filled and worthy of the name of your spirit. Fill us O Spirit with your fire and intensity. We pray for all the young and old in this world. We pray for true understanding and above all we pray for the need to sacrifice ourselves for those who are suffering. We pray for the youth in India and all over the world. We pray for those who are being illegally held, trafficked, violated, murdered and stifled. Help us to rise in anger and become your agents for fighting against unjust structures in the world. Have mercy on us O Lord.

We pray for UTC O Lord. We pray for accommodation for all, good education and molding by your spirit. We pray for all those who are living the dream of theological learning in UTC, both staff and students. We pray for those who are working hard to provide a good life for the others in the community. We pray that your spirit of youth and change overcome us and help us to be different in every way, just as you yourself were. We pray for those who have passed away and those who are down with sickness. Have mercy on us O Lord.

Yes, we admit
We admit Lord Jesus of silence when we were supposed to speak for others. We admit Holy Spirit of indifference when we were supposed to take a stand. We admit God of unwillingness to pray when others asked us for our prayers. We admit that we have fallen from your grace. Amen.

God is love
Look at each other. Feel each other’s presence. Isn’t there a need to accept our sins? Haven’t we all let down the person next to us in some way or the other? God is aware of our naughtiness and our conspiracies. But Christ Jesus came that we may live, and live life abundantly. Let’s mend our ways and accept God’s love in fullness. Amen. (Hold each other’s hands.)

We believe
We believe in God who created everyone young and hoped that youthfulness would remain in our hearts and minds. We believe in our friend and Lord Jesus Christ who gave his youth for us so that we may have youth and energy in our lives. We believe in the Spirit who gives us the spirit of redeeming youthfulness even when we are tired. We believe in Mary who believed despite being young and vulnerable. We believe in the apostles who followed and were inspired by a young Jesus who sought revolutionary changes in society. We believe in one coming together, where we believe in one God, one Jesus and one Spirit. We believe that a youthful response to God’s call will lead us to deeper understanding and unity in the church. Amen.

A young Lord’s prayer
Our God who are in our midst, glory be to your name. Your world be ours, your will be ours, here and there. Give us today good cheer, proper understanding and food for sustenance and forgive us as we are supposed to forgive those in our lives. Save us from evil thoughts and have us with you always. For we are yours, now and always. Amen.

Yo dude, go in peace

We are not perfect but all is never lost. Christ Jesus is ever young and ever living inside us, the Holy Spirit is ever refreshing us and God is ever a comforting mother and father to us. There is a lot to journey and a lot to look forward to. Go peacefully, go joyfully and go youthfully, refreshed and regained. May God bless you. Amen.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Something about Mary: The worship order

Leader: In the name of God and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one true God.
People: Glory be to God; and may God’s grace and mercy be upon us for ever. Amen.
Leader: Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, by whose glory, the heaven and the earth are filled; Hosanna in the highest.
People: Blessed is God who has come, and is to come in the name of the Lord; glory be to God in the highest.

Leader: Holy art Thou, O God.
Holy art Thou, Almighty;
Holy art Thou, Immortal;
+ Crucified for us, have mercy on us. (Thrice)

Leader: Lord, have mercy upon us,
People: Lord, be kind and have mercy;
Lord, accept our prayers and worship and have mercy on us.
Leader: Glory be to Thee, O God;
People: Glory be to Thee, O creator;
Glory be to Thee, O Christ, the King who does pity sinners, Thy servants.

The Lord's Prayer
Leader: Our God, who art in Heaven,
People: Hallowed be Thy name. Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread: and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one; for Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Hail Mary
Leader: Hail Mary, full of grace,
People: Our Lord is with Thee. Blessed art Thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of Thy womb, our Lord, Jesus Christ. O Virgin Saint Mary, O Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at all times, and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Opening prayer
Gracious God, we come into your presence knowing fully well that we are imperfect in our thoughts, actions and deeds. Accept us into your presence and give us the assurance of your timely interventions and grace. We come together as a community of the living and the departed and give praise and thanks to you now and forever. Amen.

Hymn: For the beauty of the earth

1. For the beauty of the earth,
for the glory of the skies,
for the love which from our birth
over and around us lies;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

2. For the beauty of each hour
of the day and of the night,
hill and vale, and tree and flower,
sun and moon, and stars of light;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

3. For the joy of ear and eye,
for the heart and mind's delight,
for the mystic harmony,
linking sense to sound and sight;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

4. For the joy of human love,
brother, sister, parent, child,
friends on earth and friends above,
for all gentle thoughts and mild;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

5. For thy church, that evermore
lifteth holy hands above,
offering up on every shore
her pure sacrifice of love;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

6. For thyself, best Gift Divine,
to the world so freely given,
for that great, great love of thine,
peace on earth, and joy in heaven:
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

Bible reading: Luke 1:26-38

Skit based on an adaptation of Luke 1:26-38

Sermon: Something about Mary

Special song: MTh I

Intercessory prayers
God of our forefathers and foremothers, we seek your soothing intervention in our lives. Help us to overcome fear, be steadfast in our faith in you and build our devotion to you, O God, through the intercession of St. Mary and all your blessed saints. May those close to you be an inspiration to us so that we may also strive to be close to you by emulating your acts of love and sacrifice. Help us to be modest in our personal ambitions but enthusiastic to help others and the community in which we live in. Kyrie eleison. (Sung by the choir)

Lord Jesus, you have guided the UTC community in various ways. Educators, administrators, learners, workers, individuals and families have all benefited from this theological college. We pray that you grace the grounds of this institution by your mercy and care and that we may continue to serve the church, society, our country, the world and its people and God’s creation. We are in need of buildings, equipments, people, ideas and concerted team work from all corners. Help us to work for the present and future of the UTC while cherishing those gone by and those who contributed immensely. We pray for our principal, his team of teaching and administrative staff, maintenance and care giving staff, the students and all family members. We remember with great affection all the contributors to the college and pray that they think and act for the welfare of the college in their own different ways. Kyrie eleison.

Liberating God, your sense of justice and peace is what we need in a world being torn apart by hatred and conflict. People are dying in the thousands in Iraq and Syria, children and women along with men are trying to rebuild their homes and dreams in Palestine, the Ebola virus is wrecking havoc in parts of Africa creating fear in the minds of people, the government is struggling to put up a plan of action in Jammu and Kashmir post floods and grieving families in Bihar are trying to make sense of why death came during a festival and celebration. God we pray that we may ultimately work for life and life in abundance. Let there be no untimely death and instead life and love. Kyrie eleison.

Living God, we ask for your healing touch for those in our community and outside who are afflicted with body ailments and diseases. We seek timely and effective medical care and wise decisions by medical care givers that those in pain may recover and continue with their lives. Let us pause for a moment and remember all those in college and in our families, friend and church circles. Let us remember their names and pray for them. Kyrie eleison
Resurrected God, we pray for all the departed in UTC. We pray that our teachers, colleagues, student friends, parents, siblings, extended family members and friends be in the warm and comforting presence and lap of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. May they have comfort in the heavenly paradise and may we meet and share happiness with them during the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us spend a couple of minutes remembering those close to us who are no more but who nevertheless live in the assurance of the resurrected Christ. May the peace of God that passes all understanding be with those who are grieving on losing a loved one. Kyrie eleison.

Confession (Together)
God our family, friend and spirit, we bow our heads knowing fully well that we have been lethargic in reaching out to our brothers and sisters and knowing their needs and acting accordingly. At times we have wanted to but were prevented from doing good and performing acts of empathy and solidarity. We haven’t been able to make credible voices in favour of the poor and those at the margins. Others have yearned for a look, a handshake, a smile and a hug. But we looked away and wore a grim face and feared touching others. Help us to help ourselves and by that to be of help to others. Those gone by have provided inspiration for us. May we and our departed bare our souls and selves before you O God. Amen.

Assurance of pardon
Leader: We have been called as servants of God to offer solace to the poor, the hungry and those who feel guilty because of having too much of anything. We have been sent to the villages, gullies, cities and houses to preach forgiveness and love to all. We join others in ministry and in the service of our Lord Jesus Christ, in offering God’s pardon and peace of mind to all those who have truly come and confessed through words, gestures, and prayers. Amen.

Closing hymn: Abide with me

1. Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.
2. Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see—
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.
3. I need Thy presence every passing hour;
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.
4. I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.
5. Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Closing prayer and benediction
Leader: In the ending there is a beginning, at the close there is hope of the start, in sending there is the assurance of the presence of God and in soberness there is the smile of another day, another time and another service. We go away only to assemble again as a faith community, seeking each other’s presence, understanding and prayer. Go in peace, go with your heads held high, disperse knowing that we are praying for you, as you pray for us, and preach love to those you come across. May the friendship and love of God our all, the mercy and grace of our teacher Jesus Christ and the togetherness and fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us and our dearly departed now and forever more. Amen.

(Sections of the worship order used for the Sunday evening worship in UTC on October 5, 2014.)

Pictures courtesy Mr. Calvin Sushith Ambler.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Something about Mary: The sermon

Luke 1:26-38
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”[a] 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”[b] 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born[c] will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Ecumenism has not died dear friends. Today’s worship is an effort to say that ecumenism still lives and we need it more than ever before. Misunderstanding of cultures, beliefs and systems are not inter-religious problems but inter-denominational, ecumenical problems. We need to sort out issues between ourselves inside the church before commenting on other aspects of religion and society.

So what is a Syrian Orthodox priest doing in UTC? Can the CSI and CNI come to a common understanding with the Pentecostal, Orthodox, Catholic, Baptist and Presbyterian churches? Is there something more than Jesus that we can look up to for a common ground? This Sunday, these are some questions we can try to answer.

Luke 1:26-38 explains the announcement of angel Gabriel to Mary that she is going to give birth to Jesus. Mary is quite astounded and taken aback by the announcement but Gabriel reassures her. The skit that we saw took a different look at the passage and shows how Mary fears domestication as that which cannot fulfill what Gabriel announces to her. Mary’s status of a virgin is also her curse and she tries to make sense of what is happening.

“Something about Mary” is an effort to make sense of Gabriel’s announcement to Mary and how she responds to it. It is also an effort to see how Mother Mary offers a chance for unity between churches which can in turn keep the ecumenical flame burning.

Some of the traditional ways of looking at the passage is to point out the obedience of Mary, her virginity and thereby holiness and her special place in the church. While the churches belonging to the Orthodox and Catholic families have given St. Mary the status of ‘Theotokos’, the mother of God, others have questioned her virginity and her status as mother of God and also her status as someone who has to be venerated.

Our present struggles involve looking at other religions and our acceptance of them. My concern is to look within Christianity and identify common grounding through inspired reading of the Bible. Our readings are inspired and led by the Holy Spirit and one should not doubt that.

The read passage offers us hope that there is something about Mary that could bring us together. It’s not just the procession or the chanting but the inspiration of Mary’s self that offers us life in its fullness.

1. Jo dhar ghaya samjo mar gaya- This is a dialogue in the iconic Hindi movie “Sholay” in which Amjad Khan playing Gabbar Singh delivers the eternally famous dialogue to his accomplices after shooting three of them. It just means that those who get scared or have fear in them will die then and there. Mary is scared of all that could happen by this visit of Gabriel. She is perplexed. One cannot blame her. She must have thought of the stories of spirits visiting people and what came about from these visits. She must have also thought of what was this character Gabriel hanging around for and trying to do by calling her the ‘favoured one’?

What was indeed going to happen? Was her freedom going to end? Would she be cornered into submission? The relationship between churches also borders around fear. Will I become less holy or pure if I mingle with other churches, will my people flock to other churches if I appear cozy with them, are others and their practises non-Christian and non-spiritual? Fear plays an important spoiler in ecumenical relations. Mary was also bordering around fear. The fear of losing familiar ground must have weighed heavily on her mind. Gabriel was telling things strange and unheard of. Would Mary be a victim to non-religious things? Mary being a Jew was doing something sacrilegious. She did what no other person would have the courage to do. She was becoming anti-religious from within the religion she stood in and anti-societal inside the society she was part of. She was scared but she overcame fear.

Mary’s reaction which overcomes the understanding “Jo dhar gaya, samjo mar gaya” not only defeats death for her but ensures life and salvation for all people as well. Mother Mary then becomes the symbolism of life by overcoming fear and death. She becomes the bearer of the son of God not by submission but by overcoming fear. This is a good model to follow for ecumenism as well. We don’t just submit to each other but we overcome the fear of one another and favour life through the birth of Christ in each of us.

2. Aathi kya Khandala? Virginity is not conformity.
Luke 1: 26-38 is misunderstood in several respects and Mother Mary is made out into a subservient, submissive, conformist by many. Elizabeth Johnson in her book “Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints” makes the observation that several women writers have said that Mary has let down women by being a conformist and allowing Christian writers to make her the correct woman figure over and against Eve, because Mary reflects obedience over Eve’s disobedience. But this is far from the truth. Mary, as pointed out in the skit is not submissive but instead tries to prevent Gabriel from having his say. The biblical writer must have written it in a way to suggest that Mary is showcasing and questioning domestication and using virginity as an anti thesis to submission. It is not submission but questioning. It is not the oppression of women but the expression of women.

The 1998 Hindi movie “Ghulam” starring Aamir Khan and Rani Mukherjee was a runaway hit and had a very popular song “Aathi kya Khandala”. Khandala is a hill station and a place which is popular among the youth. The song has a young man telling the girl that they will go to Khandala and have fun.
Aey, Kya Bolti Tu
Aey, Kya Mein Bolun
Sun, Suna,
Aati Kya Khandala
Kya,Karoon, Aake Mein Khandala,
Arey Ghoomenge Phirenge Nachenge Gaaenge
Aish Karenge Aur Kya
Aey, Kya Bolti Tu
Aey, Kya Mein Bolun
But just because a girl goes there does not mean that she is morally worse than the boy who accompanied her. This pick up line “Aathi kya Khandala” was used and is still used by eve teasers and molestors on the road. An sms which went around much after the release of the movie was about a girl who had covered her face while entering the bus. An elderly man asks her “Aathi kya Khandala?” She replies “Papa, ye mein hoo” meaning father this is me your daughter.
Angel Gabriel is of course not asking Mary to go to Khandala with him. But Mary must have been petrified of having someone like him next to her, suggesting she is going to give birth to a child. Her reply that she is a virgin or that she is domesticated should be seen in two ways. One is to suggest that the angel should leave her alone and that she has nothing to do with men but is rather independent. Two is to suggest that how can a domesticated woman like her give birth to the son of the most high when she is domesticated by a patriarchal, male centric society? How can such good come out of her when she is part of the corrupt structure?

The church sees both in bits and pieces- Mary’s independence more than her virginity was at one point of time looked at as independence from the system. So the church identified with such independence. Many women in academic discourse call Mary as a domesticated saint. This means that she has been accepted, elevated and used by a patriarchal church leadership and this essentially means that she is of no use to women. But on the other hand Mary is also questioning domestication and the skewed connotation of virginity. Mary refuses to get into the patriarchal “Aathi kya Khandala” enquiry and instead deals with the angel, writer and the church on her own terms. Joseph’s role even though small is very significant. He acts as the perfect decoy in the story, making people look at him and in the process Mary gets her space and freedom.

Non-Catholic and non-Orthodox churches need not write off Mother Mary as a domesticated saint. The church may have domesticated Mary to an extent but Mary has not allowed herself to be domesticated. Taking Mariology seriously can bring churches closer to tackle the problems posed by patriarchy and kierarchy, which is power centred. Having various church festivals in an ecumenical setting helps us to realize that we are not domesticated virgins but rather children of God, inspired by the life of saints like Mother Mary.

In my church the eight day lent from Sep 1-8 is commemorated to celebrate the nativity of St. Mary. But this is not an official church lent. Yet hundreds of thousands of people, especially women observe this lent and identify with Mother Mary and intercede to her. They talk, cry, spent time with and completely immerse themselves with Mother Mary. This is not church induced but people induced. Understanding such traditions and observances gives a much needed fillip and energy for sagging ecumenical relations between churches.

3. Mere Paas Maa hai- The MOM mission
The assurance of angel Gabriel to Mary is that she will be filled with the Holy Spirit and bear a child who will be holy. It also suggests that the child bearer will be holy. In the 1975 Hindi movie Deewar, the character Vijay played by Amitabh Bachan tells his brother Ravi played by Shashi Kapoor, “Aaj mere paas paisa hai, bangla hai, gaadi hai, naukar hai, bank balance hai. Aur tumhare paas kya hai?” His brother replies “Mere paas Maa hai.” To the statement that one brother has money, a house, a car, a domestic help and a bank balance the other says that he has his mother with him!

The importance of a mother is well said and it reflects popular culture as well. The church believes that Mother Mary has the freedom and the proximity to intercede to her son Jesus. This is the special freedom of a mother. Ecumenical relations between churches are partly suffering because of an Americanised, homogenized, media style spirituality which leaves no space for the expression of local culture in our prayer and relationship with God. The neglect of the East and its spirituality is a cause of concern and a thorn in the flesh of ecumenical understanding between churches.
A New York Times cartoon reflects this refusal to accept India’s growth.

The Mangalyan Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) has been hailed as a success for a country like India. It has been cost effective and speedy and has used local elements in its research and design. Yet the cartoon shows a person with a cow knocking at the door of the Elite Space Club. It also reflects this coat and tie spirituality from the U.S., exported and marketed by a section of people there. This uni-directional, anti-culture spirituality which is against local cultures and traditions poses a grave danger to Christian traditions in India and their relationship with each other.

The Mary Orbiter Mission can give us the opportunity to taste success in relationships between churches. This is a mutually respecting, learning and growing experience which has to be encouraged more in our context. To sum up, we must overcome fear, be non-conformists to wrong approaches and try to widen our belief system so that our prayers and spirituality become more effective. UTC becomes an apt space for us. It is a place to love, embrace and learn from each other. It is a vibrant ground of acceptance and respect. May God through the intercession of Mother Mary give us the opportunity to be good and better followers of Christ. Amen.

(Excerpts from a sermon preached in UTC for the Sunday evening worship on October 5, 2014.)
Picture credits: Calvin Sushit Ambler, Sr. Shruti, and

Friday, September 19, 2014

Celebrating Onam: Why festivals and celebrations should not be shunted out of churches

The festival of Onam is an attribute of inter religious harmony and a fact that Christians exist in society with other people. This realisation brings us to the fact that traditions and celebrations have to be done together. Togetherness can be fostered only when we celebrate it together.

Onam in particular is not the festival of the other, the unknown, the infidel or the pagan. Onam is the festival of all because it talks of a king who fought injustice and encouraged equality. Mahabali’s sacrifice is a reminder that all have to stand up against injustice. It is not an option, as justice can never be an option. Justice can only be attained by fighting collectively. Justice is the precursor to peace. So for peace, we all have to strive for justice.

Further, the usage pagan is archaic, old and uncouth for our times. We cannot humiliate others by using such terms. Luke 10:27 says “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 neighbor as yourself.” The fight of the ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria is also against whom they term infidels, in essence, us. If we have now collectively come together against the inhuman ISIS, we also have to stop inhuman usages and terminologies in our own spaces.

The sanctity given for the church cannot be limited to the church. It only means that the sanctity is Sanctus sanctorum within prescribed limits but sanctity also extends to the outside of the church and further beyond the walls of the church. So every inch of the world is holy because it is God’s creation. We cannot behave in one way in church and in another way outside the church. If we do that, we are lying to ourselves and playing games with our conscience. So to not have festivities in church means we should not have it anywhere. The oft quoted concept of ‘liturgy after liturgy’ reminds us that goodness is not limited to the church and to a Sunday. John 10:10 says “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Purity is a very dangerous concept and has been used to keep out women and people from lower castes, using the purview of holiness. This is profoundly dangerous. One cannot associate and approach festivities with purity. Purity should be broken down to include everything into our domain of spirituality. Galatians 3:28 perhaps mentions that no one is purer than the other while saying “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

Onam festivities also become a problem because we associate it with morality. Morality is one of the biggest sins of religion and Jesus rubbishes it when he says in John 8:7 “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” One should not talk of what is moral and what is not and should instead accept justice, equality and peace as the central pillars of Christianity. Whatever goes along with this can be associated with the church.

Christianity in Kerala has had its ups and downs as is the case with the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church. But the church has also managed inculturation and understanding which is reflected in the church architecture, traditional lamps and minnu or thali used by the bride. Will the church now ask all the married women to break their minnu or thali as it is un Christian? St. Paul in Acts 17 is aware and uses the language and themes of the local culture to speak to people there. It is another thing that he uses this to his advantage.

Christianity has from old adopted to and adapted local culture and has used it to their advantage and given it their own form. Indian religious beliefs have done the same with Jesus. Jesus is very wise when he tells his disciples in Mark 9:39-40 “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.” One has to suspect a resurgent belief to throw everything out of the church as an Americanised, homogenized form of Christianity. Homogenization, as the media teaches us is essential for wide distribution of a message. But this message may not be relevant for all people.

One cannot be a Christian in church, hybrid at work, a Keralite in the house, an ‘anything goes’ with friends and a conservative at rallies. Faith and life go together. It is important for us to stop the ISIS-ization and US-ization of the world, which brands everyone as wrong, sinful, pagan, infidel and impure. As Jesus shows in John 4 in his interaction with the Samaritan woman, one should in the process of maintaining one’s belief respect the belief of others. One should also come together in collectives and co-operatives to root out injustice and violence and encourage justice and peace.

Onam and other festivals are an opportunity to understand each other. This time in our small church in Bangalore we are celebrating Onam and we have invited our Christian, Muslim and Hindu neighbours to come and join us and share our food. They have eagerly agreed because they also want blessings from God and want acceptence from our community of faith. In this process we will undergo a self purification and self correction and allow the real Christ to speak for himself, instead of putting words into his mouth. 1 John 4:7-8 clarifies “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

Churches outside Kerala are sometimes service centres which have services in class rooms, auditoriums and the like. What happens when the sacred steps into the so called profane? If it is a problem when the profane steps into the sacred, the same should apply in the reverse as well! If the understanding to keep the church off limits for certain things is to keep the profane away, what happens when after service one week the altar is again placed at the so called profane in the process of the following service?

Congregations outside Kerala rarely meet each other and the church becomes a conglomeration of everything put together. Birth, life, death, joy, festivities, togetherness, protests, prayer and the world itself becomes the church. The church becomes ‘everything’ for the believer rather than ‘something.’

Flowers, lights, colour and graceful dancing are all part of Christian culture as much as anything else. We think it is un-Christian and pagan because we associate it with the stranger across the road, chanting prayers in a language not understood by us. But our prayers are equally confusing for others. Festivities in church are a coming together, an in between, a strange but comforting place, a thought which says, I am a Christian, you are a non-Christian, but here is something which can bring us together to share a meal on a warm, green leaf.

Picture courtesy