Saturday, August 19, 2023

A prayer for those who call upon God

God, be with those who need you at this time. Not just those who are helpless but those who call out your name because they have only you to come to. The world is filled with people who do things in your name but never call upon you for anything. And then there are those who have no wealth and accumulations but their prayers and supplications to you dear Lord. God, make this night and day count for those who have been waiting for you to answer them. Amen. 

Sunday, April 9, 2023

Our Easter

They asked me to take a stone in my hand and keep it ready. Just then I heard him say, “Let the one without sin throw the first stone.” I let go of the stone and ran as fast as I could. My friends were there too. We were out of breath when we stopped. What were we thinking, is this who we were? 

Months later we thought we were smarter and we wanted to see this Jesus who was healing and bringing the dead back to life. We joined those who were welcoming him to Jerusalem. I spread my outer cloth which my mother had stitched for me. Everyone was doing the same and I repeated with them, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” It was such a great atmosphere.

I walked again with my friends and saw how Jesus was caught and accused of blasphemy. We stood together and repeated “Barabbas, Barabbas, Barabbas.” It was like being with the crowd, being cool, being accepted. The collective sound could be heard far. There was a commotion and I saw Jesus being pushed and given a cross to carry. They tore his clothes and spat on him. Why were they doing this? I only repeated Barabbas’ name. I didn’t want them to hurt Jesus. We ran again. We cried and we sat on the ground wondering what we had done. Jesus had helped so many people. Why were they hurting him?

We learnt later that they nailed him to the cross along with two thieves. What did he do? Everything was so gloomy. The sun went down, the moon looked dark and there was an atmosphere of weeping and sadness. Then on Sunday we heard he was alive. He had risen they said. We ran as fast as we could. Earlier we were running away from him but this time we were running to him. We could barely breathe but we reached the place he was buried. We could just collapse on the ground but we wanted to see him. Maybe someone was already there. The stone of the tomb had been rolled away. We took a deep breath and went inside. There was no one. We stared into the empty tomb. The tomb which had Jesus, Jesus our Lord. 

Wishing everyone hope in the risen Lord. Blessed Easter.

No Easter without women

Easter is a reminder to men that for God, men and women are equal. If at all, God will be more supportive of women. If women are not given what is rightfully theirs, the resurrection will remain a secret and mystery, never revealed and never celebrated.

It is fascinating that despite being wiped clean from many stories and narratives in the bible, the women in the resurrection narrative remain intact, refusing to go away. Mary Magdalene and the others survive patriarchy and oppressive systems. There is clear subversiveness of discipleship, leadership and close friends of Jesus. The resurrection of Christ Jesus should prompt us to fight violence against women and sidelining of women from the various levels of ministry in the church. Without that, the resurrection we witness will be myopic and one sided. Christ is risen indeed. Hallelujah.

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Fish in peace, Professor Lloyd

I first met Lloyd Nehemiah in 1997. I was a BD student in UTC, Bangalore and Lloyd’s wife Drecie was doing her Masters in Theology. I along with many of my class mates and friends became friends with Lloyd and Drecie. They invited us home and always made us feel like family. Lloyd was one of a kind. So much that whenever I had a long enough conversation with someone, Lloyd would pop up as an interesting character that we should meet at least once in a life time. He was a wild life enthusiast with a big collection of wild life pictures collected over a number of years during countless visits to the forest, an environmentalist who planted saplings and vociferously defended trees and prevented their felling, a knife collector with over 350 knives and swords collected from several countries and states of India, a person who knew several languages including Garo his wife’s mother tongue, an enterprising person with a wide range of contacts which could make him communicate with any person in a room, a risk taker, a person who supported and encouraged women including his wife and daughters and someone who loved fishing. Many people from UTC and especially the guests from other countries including professors and exchange students would benefit from Lloyd and have the experience of their life after a trip to the forest.

Lloyd always encouraged people to do what they wanted. Drecie is a pastor of a congregation, Kitty his elder daughter is a people’s person with deep compassion and Chea his younger daughter is a national climbing champion. The grapevine about Chea was that Lloyd realised she was climbing too many walls in UTC and so channelized her energy by taking her to an artificial climbing terrain at the Kanteerava stadium and the rest is history. As Lloyd’s family, one could chase their dream and that included his extended family too.

One could call Lloyd for anything and everything. To go to a government office, to shift houses, to go for a trip and to eat out. With Lloyd we explored the small eateries of Bangalore in Shivaji Nagar, Cox Town, Mosque Road, Johnson Market and then grilled meat and fish at our houses. The street style Phal (A cross section of meat with masala fried on a tawa), the chicken momos, biriyani from the smallest of shops, and anything on a plate would be relished by Lloyd. I perhaps learnt to eat a variety of food from him. Lloyd was also on the list of the Bangalore corporation numbers which one could call for help with snakes. He would patiently catch them and release them elsewhere. It was a self-acquired skill more than anything else and I always marveled at how he learnt all this. I have also seen personally as to how he helped at funeral homes, going to help for post mortems, making sure that it was done on time and making up for anything short during the post mortems.

We all talk about education and about our alma mater with pride and thankfulness and I am no different. But I have experienced that there are many people who inspire us with their deeds and life. Lloyd has had that kind of an influence on me and on several of my friends. I perhaps learnt more about the need for trees and about caring for nature and all of God’s creation, from Lloyd than from any class room. For me he is a professor just like any of my other professors, to whom I am also thankful.

I will stop with four memories from the numerous memories I have with Lloyd and his family. They once came to Kerala for vacation. I took them to a nice restaurant in Thiruvalla. Drecie, Kitty and Chea liked the food but Lloyd was not impressed. I finally took him to a toddy shop on the Changanachery- Allepy route. I was hesitant at first but then I thought I couldn’t be less hospitable to Lloyd. He loved the food and kept talking about it the entire time. The second story is when I got my knee injured and he kept checking on me to make sure I was okay. The reason for my injury was actually the precursor of a trip to the forest and in a way Lloyd took the blame. But the twist was that the next week many people had food poisoning by eating the food from the hostel and I escaped because I didn’t have food because of my knee injury. The third memory is regarding the few tattoos that Lloyd had. We were having dinner in a house and Lloyd was talking about his tattoos with a lot of pride in the presence of a Catholic priest. He quietly listened. When he got up to leave, the priest removed his cassock and showed his body which was full of tattoos and we all burst out into laughter when he left, looking at Lloyd who had a sheepish grin on his face. The fourth memory is his own favourite story about how he and Drecie fell in love and how he went to Drecie’s village in the Garo hills in the North East part of India, learnt her language, made friends with the people there and finally got married. This at a very young age too. As a youngster I have listened to this countless times wondering how one had the courage to do all this at a time without mobile phones, email and even a proper land line and that too, him being a Mangalorean and Drecie from the Garo hills. 

Lloyd, you taught me to share from my plate. You taught me that I could take food from the plate of a dear friend and allow a friend to eat from my plate. You taught me that getting our hands dirty for someone was the biggest ministry we could do. You taught me that love has no holds and barriers. You taught me well. Thanks professor. Heaven is going to be a fun place with you reaching there. All traditions and rules will be flouted but for the right reasons. Jesus is going to be pretty happy. Fish in peace dear elder brother.

Condolences and prayers dear Drecie, Kitty, Chea, David and family, amma, Shirley and family and all near and extended family and friends. Praying that Lloyd and all of you get justice and peace.

Monday, March 6, 2023

Divided we stand!

Unity is a word used commonly and strongly. Unity of generations, family, community, society and churches. But unity is easier said than done. Diversity is God given and being different is not a sin. Which is why, forced unity can never work and should never be tried.

There are two things which quickly come to my mind. Unity between churches and groups and unity between various generations. There are several churches in India who are at loggerheads with each other and my church is also no stranger to this. Efforts for unity are always welcome and should also be explored whenever possible. But this cannot be forced.
Similarly, many youngsters are migrating from Kerala and India for better opportunities, jobs, life and security. We can force them to stay, but they will never be happy. One cannot always limit someone’s horizon and sacrifices also have their limits.
In both the above mentioned cases, unity is being forced. Might, power, money, emotional blackmail, are all used to force a forging and coming together. St. Mark 2: 21 says, “No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made.” Putting something together can work for a bit, till it is ruined even more than before.
Even though unity is a natural thing which is to be tried, sides different from one another cannot be sewed together. Churches who have grown apart and become different, cannot come together one fine day. Youngsters and elders who have different philosophies, view points and ways of life cannot come together for the sake of family, tradition and blood. Does this mean that this lenten season should be one of breaking than making? Yes and no.
Yes, that we should go our ways and live our life even as we witness to Christ. No, in the sense that this breaking away is not to disrespect the other person or side but to understand that everyone is different and yet can witness to the same Christ. May this lent make us realise that in diversity lies our unity. Respecting and loving one another is more important than unity. Love cannot be forced on anyone. It has to be felt and it has to be natural. Amen.

Sunday, March 5, 2023

My friend's healing is my responsibility

The story of the paralytic is common. We usually think of the paralytic and the bed. The roof and the four friends come in later. So much that we usually design sermons around the “your sins are forgiven” and “rise, pick up your bed and go home.” Yet, St. Mark 2:1-12 contains a very important Christian value called friendship.

The four friends in St. Mark 2:3-4 who carry the bed of their friend and who, when they realise the crowd is too much to enter via the door of the house, lower the bed through the roof and they are a prime example of Christian friendship. The friends expressed their deep friendship in being creative, ingenious, sincere and risk taking. They are not concerned about themselves but about the welfare of their friend.
How many times have we prevented ourselves from going to a hospital or visiting a doctor? The reasons may be many but reality is that we will postpone it as much as possible and even delay it till it is so serious. But when it comes to our family and friends, we become very interested in taking them to the hospital. Even though personal interest in our health would be desirable, we end up showing more interest in another person we value.
This is what happens in the miracle story. Even though the paralytic needed a cure and healing, that doesn’t mean that the four men were healthy beyond any need for cure. But they keep aside their needs and take a risk for a friend. This lent, we should think whether we can be one of those friends? Whether we can carry one of the legs of the bed? We should also think whether we have a friend who will take us to a hospital whenever the need arises. Friendship as a Christian value is to look after another before looking looking after oneself. May our lent offer us the opportunity to be a friend and to have friends. Amen.

Saturday, March 4, 2023

Are you a Christian?

Have we ever wondered how people look at us? It is not that we should always be concerned about this, but rather, it is important and beneficial to know it. How do others see us and how do they see us as a Christian? Do they think that we are truthful, sincere, morally upright and good? Or are we perceived to be the opposite of all this?

It is one thing to have our own church members asking us to pray for them and another to have people from other religions, denominations and churches asking for our prayer. What is the feeling when a total stranger asks for a healing touch and and a comforting prayer? What on the other hand do we feel when people totally disrespect and show disinterest in us and our prayers and rituals?
There was a time when a cassock or priests attire would get respect from others. Now it depends on whether people know you and on how they perceive you. Wearing a religious attire, a cross, holding a bible, all bring with it a great responsibility. So much that our behaviour not only leads to people disrespecting us but disrespecting these symbols which mean something.
In St. Mark 1:27, the crowd is surprised after Jesus rebukes and casts out an unclean spirit. Verse 27 says, “They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even unclean spirits, and they obey him.” People were in awe of Jesus. They respected him and through him, the one who sent him.
All of us have a responsibility of witnessing to Christ. Even though we are in the habit of seeking things for ourselves and praying for our own needs, there will come times when others ask us for prayers. Priests and lay people will be asked for help and comfort. We can give someone a cross, another a bible, a few a prayer and others our presence and touch.
This lent, may people be amazed about us, for the right reasons. May our symbols, dresses and rituals offer happiness to others. And may we become a reminder of Christ Jesus himself. Amen.

Friday, March 3, 2023

A lent to be persecuted

Christians in the early church were persecuted and instead of escaping it, they embraced it. Christians now for hundreds of years look for the opportunity to compromise and escape persecution. Adapting to a particular situation or culture and witnessing to Christ is one thing and wilting under the pressure of a particular culture or situation and compromising on witnessing to Christ is a totally different thing. This lent we need to think about how we have compromised instead of adapting.

In St. Matthew 16:21 Jesus revealed to his disciples that he would undergo great suffering, be killed and would rise on the third day. In verse 22 Peter tells Jesus that this must never happen. Jesus was in the prime of his ministry and his disciples were also confident on doing things alone. Yet Jesus is ready for persecution while Peter has not given it any thought. His “This must never happen to you” suggests that at any cost this must be prevented. Christ Jesus is ready for persecution but his disciple is ready for a compromise if it will save Jesus!
We do the same. Everything is a compromise and compromise is glorified. Women and girls are asked to compromise, children are told to compromise, the poor are reminded that compromising will benefit them. Compromise has become a trump card of the church and whenever any news of persecution is heard, the Christian community will huddle together and see how they can compromise with the powers that be and wriggle out of the threat of persecution. Very similar to what Peter and what any disciple of Jesus at the time would do.
Lent calls us to see this differently. Compromise is not a virtue but a sin when it asks us to compromise on witnessing to Christ and undergoing persecution. Compromise is not going to get the Christian community and us as Christian individuals anywhere. We can adapt to the needs of the congregation, of people and of a culture but it is not by compromising and escaping persecution. Amen.

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Two’s company, three’s a crowd

We are obsessed with crowds. So much that we would do anything to bring in the crowds. Shops are inaugurated by celebrities to make people come, churches offer food and snacks to members who attend services, educational institutions offer fee discounts and perks to get more students and offers and discounts rule the day. All for the crowds to come.

A priest is measured in terms of the crowd he can get to church, teachers in government schools end up going to houses to canvas for children for their classes to maintain the minimum number nee
ded to keep the school afloat, and complimentary passes are given for programmes to ensure that a minimum number of people attend. Political parties also get people to attend their election rallies by offering food and a daily allowance. The crowd determines the success of a programme.
Are crowds so important? Is quantity more important than quality? Do thousands of Facebook friends translate to that many people responding if we have a crisis? For those who know, quality is better than quantity. St. Matthew 18:20 says, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” The idiom “Two’s company, three’s a crowd” refers to the fact that two people enjoy each other’s company and a third will ruin it. But in the context of Jesus’ words, we can interpret it as three itself being a crowd. A crowd of quality instead of quantity.
During covid, churches conducted services with no people inside the church. With just two or three, there was breaking of bread and transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. There was a redefining of the word crowd. And there was assurance from the words of Jesus that he would be there whenever two or three gathered in his name. There is a call for two or three, a church of quality rather than a church of quantity.
Lent is a time to re look the word crowd. We usually feel assured with a crowd to the extend that we will even feel emboldened to do whatever. But we need to question ourselves whether the crowd emboldens us instead of Christ Jesus himself. The crowd consists of people like us. We need not under estimate them. But we needn’t over estimate them as well. Christ is in the midst of the few and not necessarily the many. Let us try to be one of the two or three, looking to be transformed while representing the crowd of believers. Amen.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Yes, my child

“Stop acting like a child”, “he is very childish”, “when are you going to grow up?”, are things one hears when one acts immature. The struggle to grow up, to act big, to take on responsibility, are things we strive for from a young age. So much that many grow up too soon.

But Jesus differs in St. Matthew 18:3 when he says, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Children have many qualities which they lose upon becoming adults. Children are loving, sincere, trusting, risk taking and accepting. Adults who lose these qualities regain some of them on turning old.
Is Jesus taunting his disciples because they wanted to know who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven? Was he questioning their so called experience, calling and seniority? Or was he being blunt in saying that all of us and not just the disciples must become like children if we harbour any hopes of entering the kingdom of heaven?
This follows Jesus’ pattern of questioning the usual and questioning the pattern of conforming to certain societal norms. There is no seniority, experience and accomplishment in all of this world which can take us to heaven. Rather it is to keep away all that we have and hope that we gain entry. There is a shift from common sense to nonsense. Children don’t have a pattern in hugging each other, playing with each other and just being themselves unless they are trained in a certain way by adults.
Lent is difficult because it asks us to keep away all that we have accomplished and start from scratch. Children rely on someone for their daily needs, their purchases and food. But they trust their parents or family to provide. We are also asked to do the same. Trust that God will provide. Amen.

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

My rich soul

One of the biggest questions a person may have is, “Who does God bless, give to or help? The poor or the rich, the weak or the strong? Ideally we expect God to be on the side of the poor and the oppressed. But what does the gospel say and why?

St. Mark 4:25 says, “For the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” A simple interpretation would be to say that God blesses the rich, over and against the poor. But this does not make complete sense and such a God will confuse us.
Verse 24 gives more clarity. It says, “with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you.” This is a call to do good and to not worry about tomorrow. God will take care of each day, as the Lord’s Prayer reminds us. We keep things, thinking that, we ourselves will need them. But when we do that, our blessings will be limited. Our wealth is supplanted by God’s blessings when our wealth is used for the good of the world.
Chuck Feeney gave away his entire fortune of a billion dollars. By the time Yu Pengnian died in 2015, he had given away his entire fortune. There are so many billionaires in this world. The resources of the earth are in the hands of a wealthy few. And yet there are also those who give away everything, who empty themselves, so that their soul becomes rich.
This lent, we should also heed to the call to become rich. To become rich in our soul. Amen.

Monday, February 27, 2023

My enemy has my ticket to heaven!

Forgiving another person is difficult. We have to give up something, go against our ideals, let down others while forgiving one, and learn to handle the feeling of being defeated. Forgiving is also learning to handle our ego without feeling humiliated.

Now adding one’s enemy into the picture complicates things because without forgiving our enemy, we can’t think of loving them. Jesus is challenging us to find the real meaning of love. Love is unconditional and sacrificial. But for us, practising this with one’s enemy is next to impossible.
We live in a world where we will readily accept a disaster if the same has come upon a neighbour or enemy. It is also a fact that sun and rain come upon everyone and cannot be regulated for a few. Jesus is not only challenging us but being very matter of fact when in St. Luke 6:27-28, he says, “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
Loving our enemy does not mean that our enemy, those who hate us, curse us, and abuse us, have become good or that we must see them as good. Rather, we are trying to love them despite knowing that they are intrinsically bad.
Lent is a time to challenge ourselves to do something which even challenges our very core. When we hate someone so much, we forget that they could be our neighbour in paradise. Imagine God telling us that we have been awarded a place in heaven. The only catch is that the ticket is with our enemy! Amen.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

How I wish!

Jesus’ ministry included reaching out to the unreached and those at the margins. Take the case of the leper in St. Luke 5:12-16. Lepers in those times did not have free movement and close interaction with others. Yet, the person is in close quarters with Jesus. This means that it is not that the person went to Jesus but Jesus perhaps went for ministry in places far from the popular and big towns and villages. This could have been due to the massive crowds too. The leper who would have otherwise been at the margins, gets into close interaction with Jesus because of Jesus’ proximity to the leper’s living space or because no one cared anymore about who was a leper and who was not because of the huge crowds that followed Jesus.

In verse 12 the leper says, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” Stigma i
s one of the biggest curses of society. The stigma of something or the other puts people down and prevents them from coming out in the open. In this case it was the stigma faced due to leprosy. Whether it was leprosy in total or a serous skin ailment is another thing all together. But the person had definitely experienced stigma. Why or how then does he manage to get close to Jesus and ask what he did?
Did the faith in Jesus give strength to the person to overcome stigma or didn’t he care anymore? He either succeeded or he just had to continue living the life he had. There was nothing to lose. He chooses to engage in a conversation with Jesus. The conversation becomes a request. Interestingly, the request is not cure me or help me but “if you choose”. Is this the sign which tells us that the person was talking about the stigma he faced, the exclusion he experienced and the pain he underwent. So he tells Jesus, “…if you choose”. His existence thus far was not just because he had leprosy but because people and society chose to keep him away. Jesus is asked whether he would like to do something else.
During lent, one thing becomes clear. Society is not going to change and neither are people. No one is necessarily going to choose good over evil or justice over injustice. It is our fight. Jesus is willing to say yes and touch and accept us. But we have to break through the hurdles and lunge forward to Jesus. We have to ask him to support us and stand for us. Lent is not going to change stigma and exclusion in society. But lent can get us the support of the one who matters, Christ Jesus himself. Let us garner the courage to ask him and to lobby him into saying “Yes I choose/wish..” Amen.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Wedding sermon for Tanya and Deepak's wedding

Tanya and Deepak's wedding sermon Sermon for Tanya and Deepak's wedding - YouTube
Above is the youtube link of the sermon for Tanya and Deepak's wedding conducted on December 27, 2021 at the Marth Mariam Church (Valiya Palli), Kothamangalam.
The three points of the sermon are
1. The tune/music of marriage.
2. Timing in marriage.
3. Jesus as a model for relationships/marriage.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Archcorepiscopa Dr. Kaniyamparambil achen: A spiritual father who overcame disabilities


Today is the 5th death anniversary of Archcorepiscopa Dr. Curien Kaniyamparambil achen, fondly known as Kaniyamparambil achen. The Simhasana Church in Thiruvalla, where I now serve, has a long and deep relationship with achen as he touched the lives of several generations of families here. He was a scholar without parallel in the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church and respected among people from all denominations and religions. He was known for his scholarship, humility and hospitality. But I would like to touch upon a topic seldom discussed with regard to achen. He was a priest who overcame disabilities, the lack of hearing being primary among them.

Looking back, I feel that we never discuss the struggles and hardships of our ancestors and straight away harp on their achievements as if no struggles were involved or that they were so talented that they did not have to try too much. But achen had to overcome his hearing disability which then expanded to tremor (uncontrollable shaking of hands) and later on to finding it difficult to walk. Our communities want us to believe that priests and ministerial candidates are perfect and should be perfect. Medical check ups before bishop elections are only one example of this. But the most perfect of ministries are done by imperfect men and women and achen is a prime example of that.

I have heard other priests and people making fun of achen’s hearing disability and calling him a mute (pottan in Malayalam, which also has a derogatory meaning of being an idiot). All because he could not hear properly and one had to strain their voice while speaking to him! But instead of being bogged down and faltering under the weight of ill timed and unjustified jokes, he wrote and spoke like a man guided by the Holy Spirit. Many of us learnt to speak for long by listening to him. Achen made his disability into his ability. While we were being influenced by the sounds and temptations of the world, he sat for hours to read and write.

His major achievement of translating the Peshitta Syriac bible into Malayalam was done with these disabilities. He found the strength to overcome his tremor when he wrote and it came back when he had to do something else. He offered hundreds of prayers and services by reading lips and the actions of those around him. For me he has shown that one does not have to be ashamed of their disability but can rather embrace it and make it their biggest ability and asset.

I am reminded of St. John 9:3 where Jesus answers his disciples and says that “neither the man nor his parents have sinned, he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” The St. George Simhasana Church in Thiruvalla is indebted to achen for showing us that we can overcome our disabilities and to know that our disabilities have opened our eyes to see our abilities. There are so many children and youngsters who think that they are not good enough and wont make the cut or mark in an examination or test and that they are not perfect enough as their family and society would want them to be. May God and achen be a source of inspiration so that we never feel bogged down and dejected. We thank God for his life and contributions and pray that several people will get the courage and strength to do their education through achen’s blessed intercession. Dear achen, pray for us, your beloved children.