Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Give me back my religion/church. Ghar wapsi to mera ghar wapas karo! Sermon

Imagine a scenario where people below 50 years of age are moving out of the church. Churches are becoming empty and won’t have many people worshipping in them. We will in all probability think that of two scenarios. One that this is the case of churches in Europe and two that this is the case of churches in India in 2025. But what if we are talking about the present? What if this is already happening in churches in India? Is it true that the church is growing and that more and more people are coming to church or is this some misfounded reality?

According to figures in the U.S. church attendance is coming down. But does that mean that people don’t believe in religion and the church anymore. Recently I was asked in the course of a bible study as to why atheism is on the rise in India? The PEW research figures in the U.S. reveal a different picture. It is not that people are not interested in religion or the church. It is rather that they don’t like religion and church in its present form. They don’t like corruption, scandals, abuse, high handedness and non churchy things that are happening in religious places and churches.

What could be the reason.
a. They are religious but don’t associate with the church anymore. The church is only a social gathering which they would like to skip.
b. Lot of young people are going to new churches because the gospel is not being preached in the mainline churches.
c. People don’t see the church as a place which practices equality, sows seeds of goodness and unifies people. People also don’t want to be judged about their looks, choices and lifestyle.
d. Youngsters are not taken seriously and their views don’t count. People who head teams taking significant decisions are nobody’s in church.
1. Does my religion or spiritual practice move me towards love or away from love towards fear?
2. Does my religion or spiritual practice promote gentleness and kindness?
3. Does my religion or spiritual practice help me feel more at peace with myself?
4. Does my religion or spiritual practice help me dissolve the boundaries of separation and enhance a feeling of Oneness?
5. Does my religion or spiritual practice inspire humility, generosity and wisdom?
How’d you go with those questions? Often we just continue to do the same thing over and over again without really questioning why we do the things we do. Religions can be like this. One of my favourite quotes is from the Dalai Lama:
“My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”
The story of the lost son follows the story of the lost sheep and the lost coin. Perhaps the usage prodigal son is abusive and wrong.
What are some of the questions that come out of the story of the lost son?
- The usage lost son instead of the prodigal son
- Why did the son leave from the comforts of his father’s son? Did he do something wrong?
- What did he achieve from being away from his father’s house?
- Isn’t losing oneself essential to gain oneself? (The first should be last.)
- What is the role of the elder son? Is he upset with his father? What is the faithfulness that he showed and why did he show it?

Many a time we are not aware of what is happening and what is going on? It is as if we are in a flow.
Once there was a millionaire, who collected live alligators. He kept them in the pool in back of his mansion. The millionaire also had a beautiful daughter who was single. One day he decides to throw a huge party, and during the party he announces, "My dear guests . . . I have a proposition to every man here. I will give one million dollars or my daughter to the man who can swim across this pool full of alligators and emerge alive!"

As soon as he finished his last word, there was the sound of a large splash!! There was one guy in the pool swimming with all he could and screaming out of fear. The crowd cheered him on as he kept stroking as though he was running for his life. Finally, he made it to the other side with only a torn shirt and some minor injuries. The millionaire was impressed.

He said, "My boy that was incredible! Fantastic! I didn't think it could be done! Well I must keep my end of the bargain. Do you want my daughter or the one million dollars?"

The guy says, "Listen, I don't want your money, nor do I want your daughter! I want the person who pushed me in that water!"

1. Lose your church to find it: Ghar wapsi to mera ghar vapas karo!
The lost son did not expect anything while coming back but his father is pretty kind to him. Pastoral care is not something we give to those who have been faithful. Pastoral care is rather a right of every individual who walks into church. The young man almost lost his life. It was when he realized what his life was.
Many philosophers are labeled as non-religious but this may not be true.
According to John D. Caputo in his book The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida:Religion without Religion he talks of Derrida as thus…Still, Derrida says, his mother must have known that "the constancy of God in my life is called by other names," and that even though he does indeed "quite rightly pass for an atheist" with respect to the God of the orthodox faiths, still he has an "absolved, absolutely private language" in which he speaks of God all the time.
Derrida continues “It is this secret that believers have been entrusted with, the secret of the God to come, of an untold and extraordinary future that defies human perception and descriptions, that holds infinite promise for the human race, and that as such, is much better shared in a passionate whisper than trumpeted in triumphant certainty.”
Certainty is much beyond the truth of religion. God and religion cannot be so certain. Maybe for a few but not for everyone. The lost son did not have a definite religion. The elder son thinks he has one. The younger son comes back and in his quiet way tried to claim his religion, his house and his right. It is not a quiet ghar wapsi but a quiet but strong Mera ghar vapas karo!
2. Religion as the lover of truth.
The role of the father in the scene is most interesting. He runs to embrace his son when he draws near. “And when they accuse us of being un-Christian (and they will), we must stand strong and tell them, “You no longer get to own that word. You have used it and abused it and crucified it on crosses of hate, greed, power and control. We are taking our religion back – way back. All the way back to the teachings of Jesus.”
The movie Saath Saath which was released in 1982 and starred Farookh Sheikh and Deepthi Nawal is about a couple who get married because they believe in certain ideals. The husband then gets embroiled in money making and his wife leaves him. He then goes back to his wife and asks her to come back.
In the ending scene when Farooq conveys Deepti his decision to leave the wrong path and join his role model, A.K. Hangal's newspaper, Deepti asks him whether he is doing it just for her sake; Farooq's reply simply touches the heart of the viewer - 'NAHIN, APNE LIYE BHI AUR UN SACHCHAIYON KE LIYE BHI JINHEN HAM DONO NE MILKAR PYAR KIYA THA' (not just for your sake, for own sake also and also for the sake of those truths we had loved together).
What the father does is an ideal thing for the church. It is not just to say that we have to do something for a loved one but to say that we have to do the right thing.
A couple drove several miles down a country road, not saying a word. An earlier discussion had led to an argument, and neither wanted to concede their position.

As they passed some pigs on the way side, the husband sarcastically asked, "Relatives of yours?"

"Yep," the wife replied, "In-laws."

3. Religion as a start up with God as the capital.
Start up is a word being used a lot these days. Young people are starting companies with only their courage as capital. They have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Start up CEO’s are like women drinking wine. They sit quietly and chip away. They are not taken seriously by the older generation but they are so very good. (My generation is the “Be quiet generation.”)
Wife says “I love you so much. I don’t know what I would do without you.” Husband asks if it is her or the wine speaking. She replies that it is her speaking to the wine.

People are getting fed up and would like to start over. Over the years, Jimmy Carter, a devout Christian, has become a very strong proponent of women's rights, to a point where he has spoken out against the falsehoods and extremism we see within the 'religion' of Christianity today. In 2009, he penned an open letter, severing ties with the mega SBC/Southern Baptist Convention, after being a member of the Convention for 60 years. Carter said the decision was difficult and painful, yet 'unavoidable,' after the Convention leaders chose to take bible verses out of context and claim 'Eve' was responsible to for 'original sin,' and thus all women must be subservient to men.
The younger son has nothing with him. He is coming back doubtful whether he can do anything. But his father is very supportive. He believes in him. The elder brother has been around for a long time and he is upset. But the father sees prospect in his younger son.

Dear exam writers and scholars, all three points from the sermon have something to offer you. Losing yourself is essential to write from scratch and write new, if you love the truth and persist with that, your grades will also at some point of time reflect that and finally don’t just stick on to your preparations. There can always be a surprise round the corner. Be courageous and write like you have nothing to lose. Start up, Write more and write well. Luck and God’s grace always favours the courageous. Amen.

(Preached in the UTC chapel on August 23,2015.)

Monday, August 24, 2015

Sunday evening service: Let my people go so that they may worship me; Give me back my religion

Worship order
Opening prayer
Let us worship God by feeling the ever abiding presence of God amongst us. Shall we at this time pray with unceasing fervor that God may accept our ministrations and our prayers. Lord God, full of grace and mercy, we come into your presence for steadying our nerves, guiding our minds and strengthening our hearts. You God have wished our safety, hoped for our success and initiated our recovery. We come Lord Jesus because we have heard and we believe that you will accept us as we are and as we look, with several faults and shortcomings to others but blessed and beautiful in your sight. Help us Holy Spirit to overcome fears and climb the hills before us as if it were small walls. Amen.

Hymn: Standing on the promises of Christ my king (UMH no. 374.)

Thanks giving prayer (Together)
Our God who wants only good for us and out of us, we pray that you sustain the spirit of wellness and goodness inside us. We thank you for the numerous gifts that you have showered upon us and pray that we get the opportunity to use what we possess. Thank you Lord for the knowledge that we have gained and for the friendships we have forged. Our life in its form is your mercy and kindness. Help us to wield our information and knowledge with humbleness and for the use of others and the glory of God. Amen.

Bible reading: St. Luke 15: 11-32

Confession (Together)
Lord God, you know our deepest thoughts, perversions, short falls, fears, anxieties, trouble and cover ups. We pray that you allow us the profound privilege to be in your presence with a mind to confess all our sins and humble ourselves before your assuring presence. We are sorry that we haven’t been able to do to the best of our ability and see the cries of help of others living among us. We have judged quickly while forgetting your deep mercies in our own life. We confess that we have a long way to go and that a beginning is essential to turn the tide. Lord God, we come therefore confessing in full and bowing before your pasture of grace. Amen.

Assurance of pardon
The shepherd rejoiced on finding one lost sheep, the woman rejoiced on finding one lost coin and the father rejoiced on seeing the lost son. What a sight it is and what joy God has in seeing us assemble before God. We have all been on our own journeys, trying to find answers to questions and seeking truth in unfamiliar territories. Help us Lord God to find pardon and forgiveness in your merciful presence. God always rejoices in us coming back to God’s presence. In God’s rejoicing we are accepted and forgiven. Amen.

Affirmation of faith (Together)
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is,
seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven,
was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come.

We pray God for the UTC and its numerous needs. Give strength dear Lord to the principal, faculty, staff and students to carry forward the mission of theological education, pastoral care and human interaction. We ask for your guidance God during the exam week for the smooth conduct of the exams, an atmosphere to write well, perform to one’s optimum and for sustained hope in your grace God. We also ask dear God for travel mercies for those who will travel for their field work at the end of the week and protection and guidance for those who will stay in different parts of India with people to learn from them and bring home the learning. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lord, thank you that you are with us right now. Your love surpasses all fear. We give you the anxiety we feel and surrender all our worries to you. Clear our mind, calm our hearts, still our Spirit and relax our being that we may always glorify you in everything we write, speak and do. Dear Lord, as we take our exams we thank you that our value is not based on our performance, but on your great love for us. Come into our heart so that we can walk through this time together. Help us not only with this test, but the many tests of life that are sure to come our way. As we take our exams this week, bring back to our mind everything we studied and be gracious with what we have overlooked. Help us to remain focused and calm, confident in the facts and in our ability, and firm in the knowledge that no matter what happens you are there with us. Your peace Lord God surpasses all understanding. We ask for this gift and choose to lean upon you at this time. Lord, come and remind us of your unfailing love. Remind us that you hold us safe, you understand us, and you cherish us. We lay down our fears before you. We leave them at the foot of the cross, for you have overcome the world. We choose to give you all our concerns, worries and fears of failure. We trust that your loving hand will hold us through these exams and lead into a bright future. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
(http://www.lords-prayer-words.com, http://www.salesiansireland.ie, http://www.living-prayers.com)

We pray gracious and merciful God for those who are kept away because of their beliefs and differences. We envisage a church where people can come and be accepted like the lost son. Lord God, let there not be any divisions based on caste, race, colour, class and gender and let everyone be part of the body of Christ, unified for the glory of God. We pray for those who continue to strive hard for India and for the world at large. So many sacrifices are being committed for people to live and enjoy the benefits of technology and innovation. May we come together God to understand one another and undertake our journeys so that we may lose ourselves only to find ourselves. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray for those who are sick and are in need of prayer. We pray for Ivan’s father who had a surgery yesterday and is recovering. We pray for those suffering and recovering from cancer, heart ailments, kidney malfunction, eye problems, dengue, viral fever, back pain, sports injuries, knee pain, mental tensions and family issues. Place your hand on them and heal them O God and allow them a quality of life which is good and satisfying. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lord’s prayer

Closing hymn: Have thine own way, Lord. UMH 382

Closing prayer and benediction

We thank you Lord God for small mercies and grace that you have always gifted us. We are comforted that you accept us as we are and as you find us. Be with us as we venture out into the world and help us to face various challenges in life. Journey with us Lord in spirit and deed and help us to be your witnesses in what we say and do. May we be able to write exams properly and without fear. May our readiness be complete with your presence and guidance. Now may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us and with our families now and forever more. Amen.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Quiet day/retreat worship order

Opening prayer
With all my heart I praise the LORD, and with all that I am I praise his holy name! With all my heart I praise the LORD! I will never forget how kind he has been. The LORD forgives our sins, heals us when we are sick, and protects us from death. His kindness and love are a crown on our heads. Each day that we live, he provides for our needs and gives us the strength of a young eagle. (Psalm 103:1-5) Gracious and merciful God, we congregate again in your presence seeking your guidance for everything that we do. May we come to terms with the difficult times and pain that we have experienced over the last one year. Let this worship be a time to forgive and move on rather than to get stuck in time and be bitter over past experiences. Be with us God as we prepare to take the very difficult step of forgiving others. Amen.

Bible reading




We seek forgiveness from you God for all the ways in which we have gone against your commandments and wishes. We come to your abode of mercy and ask you to forgive us so that we may move on with our lives and do your will. Triune God, we have done unspeakable and unimaginable things to others because of our own insecurities and misunderstandings. Be with us at this time to reassure us that you are with us when we want to take the difficult step of forgiving others for what they have done to us. May our forgiveness not be conditional but be natural and expressive and from the heart. We confess in all faithfulness and sincerity. Have mercy on us O God. Amen.

Assurance of pardon
God is so merciful and slow to anger. God is loving, caring and understanding. God is always present in our lives, minds and bodies. God always sees and appreciates a confessing heart. The big step to confess from our part is now reciprocated with double the intensity by God who loves us in every way and loves us more. May God forgive your sins and make you wholesome, kind and at peace with yourself. Amen.

We pray for the deceased former president of India Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. May his life be an inspiration to many and may people all over the country who are in mourning be assured by the peace of God which passes all understanding. We hope that his life and thoughts live on and that people sacrifice for the sake of the country and the world transcending class, caste and religion. Lord in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

We seek honest, just and inclusive approaches by the government and other ruling dispensations. Let decisions be made on the basis of thorough investigations and compassion. May people share what God has given freely so that poverty, hunger and homelessness will be a thing of the past. God shows no partiality and may we also learn to treat everyone the same. May we all work together for the present and future of people in the church and society. Lord in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

We pray for those who are in need of pastoral care and our time and proximity. We pray that those who are lonely may be visited, those who are hungry may be fed, those who thirsty may be filled, those who are naked may be clothed and those who are sick may be healed. May their problems be ours and may we embrace others into our life and treat them as family. Help us God, son and Holy Spirit to minister to those in need and spare time for those who need our presence, our comforting words and support. Lord in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

We pray for the environment and all that is in it. May we be able to figure out how to share and live in harmony. We are stewards and care takers. Let us not possess land and resources and hoard food to please our own appetites. Instead let us allow God’s creation to breathe, live and survive. The world is not ours to do as we wish. Instead it is God’s and God has given it to us to take care, to water and to let grow. Let togetherness be brought out by sharing spaces with human beings, animals, trees and every living organism. Let not greed but need determine our actions. Lord in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

We intercede for the UTC community of children, women and men. Help us God to use this wonderful opportunity to live with and understand people from different cultures. May we share food, stories, history, love and human hood with one another. When one falls let the other support, when one cries let the other cry along, when one feels excluded from a circle let us make wider and newer circles. In all that we do let it be done knowing that we are a small but significant community, experimenting and strengthening faith, belief and ecumenism. Help us God to help ourselves and in the process help one another. Lord in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

We pray for the sick and those who are in need of healing and help from God. We pray for the bereaved families of those who died in the terrorist attack in Gurdaspur, Punjab. We pray for those who are battling cancer, heart problems, back problems, tumors, neurology related issues, dengue, viral fever and other sickness. We also pray for those studying various courses, looking for jobs, running counseling centers, hospitals and palliative care units. May we pray for each other and offer our support by being present in the day to day struggles of people. Lord in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

Lord’s prayer

Prayer of forgiveness

Triune God we pray that you forgive us for our short comings and give us the strength to forgive those who have hurt us in any way. May we accept those we have to live with and work with and move on, forgetting the past and concentrating on the present and the future. Be with us Holy Spirit as we do what we are uncomfortable to do but which we have to so that we receive inner peace and healing. (Please shake the hand of those next to you and forgive those who you think have done anything against you and say…) “I forgive you in the name of God, Son and Holy Spirit and pray for you and your soul just as I hope you will pray for mine.” Amen.


Closing prayer and benediction

Forgiving is not admitting defeat but healing our own inner beings. By forgiving we are becoming stronger and being freed of any bondage that has bound us for long. Go out from here into the world as agents of forgiveness, touching and healing the lives of people you come across. Laugh, celebrate and accept one another in big ways and reflect Christ in what you do. You are healed and you are being sent forth to be healers and people of God. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit rest and abide with us all. Amen

(First term Quiet day worship.)

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Annual General Meeting worship order

Opening prayer.
God, son and Holy Spirit, thank you for good rest, travel mercies and the opportunity to gather together. Lead us today to submit our thoughts, reasoning and fears before you. You God are our existence, creation and continuity. Our father and mother, our healer and sustainer, bless us today to understand who we are and what we are in association with others. We are your children and wait anxiously for your touch and guidance. We are willing to reform ourselves in new ways which are sometimes unknown and around corners not visible, but nevertheless exciting and necessary. Jesus Christ, new paths are sometimes dangerous and non-existent but with your inspiration we will get the courage to try and create new paths which will offer sustenance for those following. Holy Spirit, fill us with the courage to stand and lead well. Amen.


Bible reading


Confession (all together)

Forgive us gracious God for not looking at each other, understanding one another and travelling closer together. We have slipped into known and easy ways and are standing on the reformations and laurels brought about by people gone by. Allow us Christ Jesus to understand our short comings and submit ourselves in prayer before the comforting and assuring presence of God. Reignite Holy Spirit the flame inside us and may we get up first and account for the sins we have committed rather than looking to justifying our sins by identifying the sins of others. Amen.

Assurance of pardon
Is there anything beyond and impossible for God? We are capable of everything by the one who strengthens us. God assures us of forgiveness when we reform ourselves and come into the presence of God with only our shortcomings to talk about. Feel the peace of God while experiencing the pain of accepting our faults. God forgives us, parting with the grace of God which fills us with food for now and for the way. Amen.

We give thanks to you God for creating us, reforming us and remolding us. As a communion of believers we thank God for the UTC and the various staff, students, council members and church leaders and laity members of churches who work to take this institution forward on a daily basis. We thank you Creator God for the idea which went into the starting of the UTC. We thank you Jesus for challenging generations of teachers, administrators, staff, students and church leaders who have sacrificed their time, resources and ideas for theological education in India. We thank you Holy Spirit for those who have passed on and passed by into a better place. May we be thankful and grateful for what we have got as a gift and a responsibility from God. Amen.

Affirmation of faith (in unison)
We believe in God the Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Almighty; from there he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. We believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy catholic church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.

We pray for the UTC and its teaching ministry. Gracious God, help the president, principal, secretary, bishops, council members, teachers, staff and students to get together and work hard to express theology that is useful for people in the church to worship God and get close to God, and for those outside the church to feel attracted and welcomed into the church. May the UTC move forward in togetherness and genuine love. Lord in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

Merciful God, we pray for church leaders, pastors, lay leaders and church members who are involved with church ministry and working for the benefit of the church and society. Grant strength and eternal hope for them and us to strive hard and go ahead with what we are doing so that we are and become faithful co-workers in God’s kingdom. Fill us with the Holy Spirit and let the Holy Spirit guide us in what we plan and do. Lord in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

Loving God, we urge you to inspire different people in civil society and the grass roots to stand for justice and peace. Allow us to co-ordinate and network with those who stand for the poor, dalits, women and people from several groups who are oppressed. We also pray for people in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Palestine, Nigeria and other places who are suffering from terrorism and religious fundamentalism. We also pray for migrants trying to cross into parts of Europe. May humans stop killing humans and groups stop resorting to violence to achieve narrow goals. We pray that the love of God influence people and may people live together in harmony. Lord in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

Creative and sustaining God, initiate in us the sense of creativity so that we may find solutions where there doesn’t seem to be any. Help us search for new partnerships, friendships, relationships and allow churches to function in one accord so that people and the world at large will see the benefit of a unified church. Let us God come together for common good and with the understanding that the cross of Christ will lead us towards working together under the assuring presence of Christ Jesus, not to fight and go to war but to stand for the poor and the downtrodden. Lord in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

Lord’s prayer

Our God in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For yours is the kingdom, power and glory, forever and ever. Amen.

Closing hymn: Great is thy faithfulness

Closing prayer and benediction
Gracious God, we seek your guidance and thoughts on how to go about the deliberations that will follow. Jesus Christ, allow us to emphasize our framework for discussions on children, women and poor in society and the church. Holy Spirit, speak to us and put apt words in our minds that what we say may lead to action which seeks justice for all and especially for the least and the last. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all now and forever and may God the triune and eternal reality be with the deliberations of the Annual General Meeting. Amen.

(Prepared for AGM held on August 8, 2015 at ERC, UTC.)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Revisiting reformation: Explorations on Religion-State relations Then and Now: Sermon

1 Peter 2:1-5
Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

I thank the organizers of the International Conference on “Revisiting reformation: Explorations on Religion-State relations Then and Now” for this opportunity to preach in chapel. I would like to title this sermon as “Revisiting the Reformation: A chance to reform our spirituality.”

The reformation was born out of good intentions and a desire to express dissent against some practices of the church in the 16th century. The decision by Luther to disagree and protest was to bring about a new form of spirituality where the priesthood of all would be brought to the forefront and more importance would be given to the scripture. The reformation also made use of political fiefdoms to garner support for the new theological articulations which were being proposed. So indeed Luther and others made use of prevailing situations to make the move of starting the Protestant movement and church.
The 500th year of celebrating the Reformation is coming up in 2017 with the countdown having started in 2008. Each year has had a theme and this year has “Reformation: Art and the bible” as the theme. This is to identify the role that communication and technology played in the reformation. The reformation of the 16th century was helped by the invention of the movable type printing press in the 15th century. This was the new media and the facebook of the 16th century used by Luther and others to kick start and push the reformation. The reformation was also helped by art and paintings which engaged the common human with the idea of the reformation. My first point is
1. Reformation: The formation of social networks and the power of the finger-The idea was loosely the same as today. A post was put up and this was seen by some who then posted it on their own wall and shared it with their own friends who in turn liked it and shared it with others. What Luther wrote in one part of the country reached another part of the country and then was further transported to other places through translations. Luther was a modern day blogger and facebook user who wrote his ideas and used social networking to disseminate those ideas. His idea of priesthood of all also makes use of this power to share and disseminate. What the reformation did was to give the power to read and share to the common person. This was hitherto in the hands of an exclusive club. With the power to read, like and share the people got power in their hands and this power they further distributed. The concept is very close to facebooking today where traditionalists see it as a waste of time and against established norms whereas users see it as a spiritual work of spreading the gospel to hundreds and even thousands of friends. Luther managed to use a technological innovation to elaborate the scope of spirituality to common people and make them feel important and part of evangelization and gospel spreading. The reformation was in this sense made possible by the formation of social networks and the power of using the finger. Then the finger and the hand was used to write, read, turn the page if interested and distribute what was read and written.

The read passage in 1 Peter 2:1-5 calls us to identify ourselves as living stones and built ourselves as spiritual houses to be a holy priesthood. This is indeed a call to understand the liberating aspect of communication and technology instead of being held up in the debate of who can do what and how. God’s communication does not have hierarchy but gives the poorest of the poor the right to communicate. This can be through sign language, exchange of traditional knowledge, reading and exchanging books and using new media. A computer won’t literally give you food three times a day but technology can give you an advantage of writing your own future and changing your destiny of imposed poverty. Literacy in all forms is essential to be part of the social network and use the finger. This is not to impose language supremacy but to come to common languages which can be used and to include everyone in the network.

We conducted a computer literacy programme for elders in the church. Most of them who turned up were above 65 years of age. In two sessions they started using smart phones and started facebook accounts. A 45 year old son of a 72 year old mother came and asked “Pastor, why did you do this to me?” The pastor enquired what happened and the son said that his mother who used to watched TV serials at home sent him a friend request on facebook and is now liking his photos and putting her own photos. The son said “It’s not that she has an opinion about everything. She is now putting that opinion in public and embarrassing me.” The pastor asked him “Why should sons have all the fun?” What the church unknowingly gave the woman was the power of the finger and the power to lead a spiritual house on her own. This is the power of the reformation brought about by innovation. The priesthood of all believers as suggested by Luther should not be seen as only limited to the church but should be seen in the natural realm of people, which is their household. Being part of networks can initiate and strengthen reformation in churches. My second point is
2. Reformation as mission at the doors- The 95 theses of Luther were his explanations against what he thought were corrupt and unacceptable practices in the church. His explanations which were also sent in letter form to church leaders were then printed and distributed among many. The legend of having his 95 theses nailed to a door of a church also brings into discussion the value of the door and the essence of various doors in the form of churches and houses. In the Syrian Orthodox church there are seven ordinations for priesthood. Interestingly the first two, which mean Ulmoyo (the Faithful) and Mawdyono (the Confessor of Faith) are for all the faithful. Mission at the doors would then mean that the official sacraments in church should be substantiated by sacraments at home and the public sphere. So everyone is in that sense ordained to take forward the mission of the church in their own spheres. Symbolic and real acts in church can and should be sustained by real acts outside the church. Mission at the doors invites us to live the gospel when we visit a house or place and are on the outside of the door and to live the gospel when people come to our doors and we happen to be on the inside.

Mission at the doors also seeks an outside involvement in association with others where we reform the areas we live in. Whitefield Rising in the Whitefield area of Bangalore is one such group. Their motto is “Mooh bandh, kaam chalu” meaning “Mouth shut, start the work” or close your mouth and work. They have managed to make clinical and effective interventions with regard to cleaning lakes, solving traffic problems, fixing road potholes, cleaning open drainages and educating people on local body elections and the right to vote. As woman and man, daughter and son, sister and brother, wife and husband and members of various churches we are called to live the gospel in its fullness. By being living stones we should convert and reform ourselves into spiritual houses and a priesthood which offers spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God. This definitely cannot be limited to churches. It has to extend outside the church and its vicinity and for this, all who belong to the church and would want to associate with the church have to minister in their own places of work and stay. Amen.

(Preached in UTC chapel on August 4, 2015.)