Monday, November 18, 2013

Apocalyptic Jigsaw Puzzles (Theva)

Apocalyptic Jigsaw Puzzles!
Isaiah 65:17-25, Luke 21:5-19

Dear friends!

Let me begin my sermon with a little anecdote this morning.  A little girl was visiting her farm and her first stop was the barn. As she looked over the livestock-she exclaimed! Grandpa-What a funny looking cow this is! Where are its horns? Her patient grandfather explained well honey, some cows are born without horns, and others shed their horns and for some others we cut off their horns-so that they will not hurt other cows. There are lots of reasons why some cows have horns and others don’t have. But the reason this particular cow does not have a horn is she is not a cow-she is a horse! Friends! Just as this child was mixed up with the horse and cow identities, we the adults often experience mistaken identities. We do have some mixed up notions of some New Testament concepts such as apocalypse, eschatology, parousia in Greek means the second coming. Apocalypse is a Greek word which means, to reveal or to uncover. The book of Daniel, the book of Revelation, the book of Ezra and one or two chapters in Matthew Mark and Luke have apocalyptic theme and they echo its tone. One of the apocalyptic predictions was that at the end of the world there would be a cataclysmic battle between the forces of darkness and the forces of light. And the forces of darkness will prevail. And there will be darkness all 0ver the world for three days and at the end of the third day the heavens will open for the  kingdom of God to decent from the sky and come down to the earth. This will be called the first day of the new creation. This was a popular concept around 200 years before the CE, and for about 100 years after the CE. Somehow this concept mainly because of the symbols of the darkness and light and the three days, got connected with the death and resurrection of Jesus.. But today many biblical scholars say that the apocalyptic interpretation of the end of the world has no bearing on the death of Jesus story. Now, when you put together the messages of Daniel and the Apostle John who contributed his visions to the book of Revelation from the prison in Patmos Island of Turkey, there are messages of comfort and consolation amidst scary thoughts. The book of Daniel in the midst of the Babylonian persecution has this to say: Blessed be the name of God from age to age, for wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons and disposes and sets up kings. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understandings. (Daniel 2:20, 21) And for those who faced the Roman persecution John the seer of Patmos says. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Lord God who is and who was and who is to come. (Rev 21) I heard a loud voice from the throne saying the home of God is now among the mortals. God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. The apocalyptic message for all times is that out of the ashes of the wreckage, we build new structures. Like in the words of the hymn,
 “IN OUR END IS THE BEGINNING, IN OUR TIME INFINITY.IN OUR DOUBT THERE IS BELLEVING, IN OUR LIFE ETERNITY”.
       In the last several years a few leaders of the vari0us cults from this country have misled many people because of their narrow understanding of the meaning of apocalypse. In 1978 Jim Jones was responsible for the death of a thousand people in British Guiana and in 1993 David Koresh was instrumental in the death of 80 people in Waco Texas and in 1997 a person named Applewhite was the prime mover for the death of 39 persons in Heaven’s Gate cult, at San Diego California. These were leaders who assured their followers a narrow apocalyptic promise, a promise of an eternal bliss after they killed themselves.
        Jesus in today’s gospel is predicting the impending destruction of the Jerusalem temple. “Look at the golden menorah, the ornate altar, the silk purple curtain, the white marble floor-, all these, will be soon be raised to the ground”. They will soon be made into piles of rubbles”. “When will this happen Master” the disciples asked? Isn’t this is our normal human cry. When? When will we be free? When will the winter end? Thank God it has not even begun yet. When will the wolf and the lamb feed together? When will the lion eat the straw like the ox? When will we see justice and peace flow like a river in our nation? The answer my friend is blowing in the wind the answer is blowing in the wind. Let me give credit to the singer Bob Dylan for this. Jesus told them of that day and of that hour no one knows however he urged them” don’t give up on hope”. Hold on to your faith and live a life of justice and mercy.  However in CE 70, about 40 years after Jesus’ prediction, this very temple was completely destroyed. Jerusalem and the Christians in Jerusalem were mercilessly persecuted.
         Friends I have been to some beautiful temples, of Luxor and Karnack in Egypt. I have seen how an emperor’s love and devotion to his wife created a wonder of the world in India, called TajMahal. I have been to the Westminster Abbey a gorgeous building in London, built with human hands and underneath lies the most powerful rulers of the United Kingdom or perhaps the rulers of the world. I have been to the temple of Jerusalem several times, to the temples in Greece, to St .Peter’s basilica in Rome. Three years ago I worshiped with 20 000 people in one of the largest churches in the United States, called the Lakewood church of Huston, Texas. Why did Jesus predict the destruction of a temple?
          When we turn around a house of prayer into a den of robbers it ceases to be the dwelling place of God. Jesus often warned those who built churches and temples for personal glory and personal gains. If a temple or a church has not provided to people a spiritual power that deals with anxieties and fear and help them face strife and tensions in life, then it ceases to be the dwelling place of God. Why are we here in church this morning? Are we here to be lulled by the churches’ music and tranquilized and sedated by the churches’ prayers? Are we here because we have developed a routine habit of following a particular worship ritual?
      Now my concluding story and it is to illustrate how I was caught in the act of playing the game of the apocalyptic jigsaw puzzle. It was the year 1999 and I was serving a small church in the southern tier of upstate New York. We were getting ready to celebrate the dawn of a new century; the women of the church were concerned of the Y2K threat. They almost filled a room in the churches’ basement with the drinking water bottles and soup cans and other dried food stuff. They also exchanged among themselves some hilarious and scary stories as to how this world will come to an end. And as I listened to some of their fairy tales I became anxious and then I composed this title the apocalyptic jigsaw puzzle for a sermon which I preached after a few Sundays in the New Year. However on that New Year’s Eve I had gone through some apprehension and doubt as to how I could I watch the ball fall in time square that night and listen to the singing of AULD ACQUANTAINCE BE FORGOT NEVER BROUGHT TO MIND. With all these disturbing thoughts, as I sat in my chair, the phone rang. It was one of my close friends from Sydney Australia, who wished me happy New Year. For them the New Year has already dawned several hours before. I have now entered the year 2000. And now I do not know when will I play this apocalyptic theological game of jigsaw puzzle again? Amen.

Isaiah 65:17-25, Luke 21:5-19

Dear friends!

Let me begin my sermon with a little anecdote this morning.  A little girl was visiting her farm and her first stop was the barn. As she looked over the livestock-she exclaimed! Grandpa-What a funny looking cow this is! Where are its horns? Her patient grandfather explained well honey, some cows are born without horns, and others shed their horns and for some others we cut off their horns-so that they will not hurt other cows. There are lots of reasons why some cows have horns and others don’t have. But the reason this particular cow does not have a horn is she is not a cow-she is a horse! Friends! Just as this child was mixed up with the horse and cow identities, we the adults often experience mistaken identities. We do have some mixed up notions of some New Testament concepts such as apocalypse, eschatology, parousia in Greek means the second coming. Apocalypse is a Greek word which means, to reveal or to uncover. The book of Daniel, the book of Revelation, the book of Ezra and one or two chapters in Matthew Mark and Luke have apocalyptic theme and they echo its tone. One of the apocalyptic predictions was that at the end of the world there would be a cataclysmic battle between the forces of darkness and the forces of light. And the forces of darkness will prevail. And there will be darkness all 0ver the world for three days and at the end of the third day the heavens will open for the  kingdom of God to decent from the sky and come down to the earth. This will be called the first day of the new creation. This was a popular concept around 200 years before the CE, and for about 100 years after the CE. Somehow this concept mainly because of the symbols of the darkness and light and the three days, got connected with the death and resurrection of Jesus.. But today many biblical scholars say that the apocalyptic interpretation of the end of the world has no bearing on the death of Jesus story. Now, when you put together the messages of Daniel and the Apostle John who contributed his visions to the book of Revelation from the prison in Patmos Island of Turkey, there are messages of comfort and consolation amidst scary thoughts. The book of Daniel in the midst of the Babylonian persecution has this to say: Blessed be the name of God from age to age, for wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons and disposes and sets up kings. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understandings. (Daniel 2:20, 21) And for those who faced the Roman persecution John the seer of Patmos says. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Lord God who is and who was and who is to come. (Rev 21) I heard a loud voice from the throne saying the home of God is now among the mortals. God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. The apocalyptic message for all times is that out of the ashes of the wreckage, we build new structures. Like in the words of the hymn,
 “IN OUR END IS THE BEGINNING, IN OUR TIME INFINITY.IN OUR DOUBT THERE IS BELLEVING, IN OUR LIFE ETERNITY”.
       In the last several years a few leaders of the vari0us cults from this country have misled many people because of their narrow understanding of the meaning of apocalypse. In 1978 Jim Jones was responsible for the death of a thousand people in British Guiana and in 1993 David Koresh was instrumental in the death of 80 people in Waco Texas and in 1997 a person named Applewhite was the prime mover for the death of 39 persons in Heaven’s Gate cult, at San Diego California. These were leaders who assured their followers a narrow apocalyptic promise, a promise of an eternal bliss after they killed themselves.
        Jesus in today’s gospel is predicting the impending destruction of the Jerusalem temple. “Look at the golden menorah, the ornate altar, the silk purple curtain, the white marble floor-, all these, will be soon be raised to the ground”. They will soon be made into piles of rubbles”. “When will this happen Master” the disciples asked? Isn’t this is our normal human cry. When? When will we be free? When will the winter end? Thank God it has not even begun yet. When will the wolf and the lamb feed together? When will the lion eat the straw like the ox? When will we see justice and peace flow like a river in our nation? The answer my friend is blowing in the wind the answer is blowing in the wind. Let me give credit to the singer Bob Dylan for this. Jesus told them of that day and of that hour no one knows however he urged them” don’t give up on hope”. Hold on to your faith and live a life of justice and mercy.  However in CE 70, about 40 years after Jesus’ prediction, this very temple was completely destroyed. Jerusalem and the Christians in Jerusalem were mercilessly persecuted.
         Friends I have been to some beautiful temples, of Luxor and Karnack in Egypt. I have seen how an emperor’s love and devotion to his wife created a wonder of the world in India, called TajMahal. I have been to the Westminster Abbey a gorgeous building in London, built with human hands and underneath lies the most powerful rulers of the United Kingdom or perhaps the rulers of the world. I have been to the temple of Jerusalem several times, to the temples in Greece, to St .Peter’s basilica in Rome. Three years ago I worshiped with 20 000 people in one of the largest churches in the United States, called the Lakewood church of Huston, Texas. Why did Jesus predict the destruction of a temple?
          When we turn around a house of prayer into a den of robbers it ceases to be the dwelling place of God. Jesus often warned those who built churches and temples for personal glory and personal gains. If a temple or a church has not provided to people a spiritual power that deals with anxieties and fear and help them face strife and tensions in life, then it ceases to be the dwelling place of God. Why are we here in church this morning? Are we here to be lulled by the churches’ music and tranquilized and sedated by the churches’ prayers? Are we here because we have developed a routine habit of following a particular worship ritual?
      Now my concluding story and it is to illustrate how I was caught in the act of playing the game of the apocalyptic jigsaw puzzle. It was the year 1999 and I was serving a small church in the southern tier of upstate New York. We were getting ready to celebrate the dawn of a new century; the women of the church were concerned of the Y2K threat. They almost filled a room in the churches’ basement with the drinking water bottles and soup cans and other dried food stuff. They also exchanged among themselves some hilarious and scary stories as to how this world will come to an end. And as I listened to some of their fairy tales I became anxious and then I composed this title the apocalyptic jigsaw puzzle for a sermon which I preached after a few Sundays in the New Year. However on that New Year’s Eve I had gone through some apprehension and doubt as to how I could I watch the ball fall in time square that night and listen to the singing of AULD ACQUANTAINCE BE FORGOT NEVER BROUGHT TO MIND. With all these disturbing thoughts, as I sat in my chair, the phone rang. It was one of my close friends from Sydney Australia, who wished me happy New Year. For them the New Year has already dawned several hours before. I have now entered the year 2000. And now I do not know when will I play this apocalyptic theological game of jigsaw puzzle again? Amen.


Monday, November 11, 2013

matter of life and death



Matter of life and death 111013
Haggai 2:4-9   Luke 20:27-38
As we continue to follow Jesus towards Jerusalem, the tension is mounting, and those who are threatened by his message are looking for ways to trap him into saying something damning….sort of like politics in an presidential election year!
There are questions about his authority, questions about taxes, and here a question about resurrection.
Sadducees, like Pharisees, were a sub group of Judaism.  The Sadducees held only to the authority of the Pentateuch —that’s where all that’s to be known about God is to be found, whereas the Pharisees saw God as continually being revealed and at work.  The Pharisees were theological innovators; they added books to the canon, and developed new theology as the culture evolved and changed.   This horrified the Saducees, and they thought that this idea of a general resurrection to life after death was a new fangled idea that was not orthodox.
The idea of resurrection has its genesis, in Judaism at least, in the oppression suffered by the people in the inter=testamental period.   They believed God to be loving and just, but God didn’t seem to be acting as such, so the idea of ultimate justice at some future date, if necessary after death, began to take root.
So they want to know where this Jesus guy stands, if he’s orthodox and ok, or one of those new liberals.
So, they cook up this utterly ridiculous question—posing a hypothetical question that makes a mockery of the idea of resurrection, exposes it as far fetched nonsense.   Much like many of us who’re skeptics do today.   It can’t be proved and it’s unbelievable, so you’re foolish if you believe it.
Jesus, however, not only refutes their narrow theology, he exposes its unimaginative assumption that life in the next world will mirror the conditions in this.  He exposes the injustices of current belief, like women being owned by men and worthless unless they bear children. He’s saying, as one blogger I read said, “ marriage is not of eternal importance.  It does not define you in God’s eyes.” (Dylan’s lectionary blog).   Nor does childbearing.  Nor does gender.
All your prejudices and expectations don’t belong in the new life, in the kin-dom, he says.  Those are all things that current society assumes to keep order and make themselves feel secure.   In God’s realm, all that need is gone, for our deepest security is in God, not in belief systems and social order.
 For the Sadducees, this concept of resurrection of the dead was a deal breaker breaker.  You had to discount that or be a heretic.
Which led me to wonder, is that still the case?  What’s the deal breaker for people today?   You must believe this to be a Christian, you must NOT believe that or you can’t be a Christian?
CS Lewis once wrote, after his wife died, “ You never know how much you believe until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life or death to you.”
And pretty soon for Jesus what he believed did become a matter of life and death….and resurrection!
What’s the life and death question upon which YOUR faith stands…what of your faith is that important that you cannot let it go?
For me, lots of so-called Christian beliefs are not life and death….some even seem ridiculous and unprovable.  There isn’t really any way to prove life after death, and what its like, inspite of all the books that have become very popular recently.  But ultimately, for me, that doesn’t matter.  What does matter, and is experientially true, is that Jesus and his way of life is real, not speculative, not untestable or uncertain…….that God is trustworthy, and keeps promises…..and that promise that I cling to is found over and over in scripture and in the worst and best days of my life:   from today’s Haggai reading, as the Jews returned from exile and wondered if they could ever rebuild their lives……a question that is incredibly current for our congregation:
Can this place rise again?  There’s not enough money, there are too few volunteers, there is a lack of leadership resources, bemoan Haggai’s people.  Hmmm.
And God says, Take courage, work, for I am with you.
We draw our very life from the living God, who is present with us, and that won’t stop after we’re dead.  But what matters most to me is how I live my life now, how I draw my life from God, how I live as a “child of the resurrection”. Ultimately, resurrection is about trust in the goodness and presence of God. 
As we move forward into an uncertain future, whether its first time parenting for our baptismal family, or the uncertainty of a difficult diagnosis, or our congregational future,
let us hear God say, take courage, and work, do not be afraid, for I am with you. 
Thanks be to God! Amen.

Monday, November 04, 2013

saint making (Theva)

Psalm 32, Luke 19:1-10
Saint Making!
The month of November is made up of numerous Christian festivals and celebrations. We have the all souls and the all saint’s days just to name two which follow each other from Nov.1 to 2. As a child I remember gathering around the country church yard for worship on these occasions. I stood around the head stones of the tombs, sang songs read passages of scripture, lighted candles and the minister offered prayers for the departed souls. The terminologies of soul’s days and the saint’s days were all confusing to me then. And even today I am mixed up about them. However as a child I imagined that the minister had the magical powers to transform souls into saints. I imagined that during that worship the souls buried underneath the tomb stones flew into the sky dome called heaven. And I imagined they were transformed into some extra-terrestrial beings called saints. This concept remained with me unchallenged till I reached my confirmation age of 13.And now you know why I chose this title for today.
      How do we make saints? Do we make saints like how we make furniture and fire places, automobiles and the air planes, pastries, pizza and ice cream?  Saints are men and women who lived a great exemplary life and excelled in ministry with a deep sense of humility and faithfulness. In the Roman Catholic Church the selection of saints involves a laborious research and scrutiny of individuals by the Vatican. It takes many years perhaps fifteen to twenty years to canonize a person, a saint. I have two pictures in the power point today. One is the picture of the existing and the prospective saints in the Catholic Church. There are hundreds of them but we may remember at least some such persons as Peter and Paul, Anselm and Augustine, Benedict and Francis, Helena and Ann, Patrick and Michael. How about the prospective ones? I have a long list of names and the Vatican will not consider them for they are not of the Roman Catholic faith. Albert Schweitzer and Amy Carmichael, Gandhi and Nelson Mandala, Dag Hammarskj√∂ld and Bonheoffer, Dali Lama and Martin Luther King, Eva Peron, Susan B Anthony are some of them. The other picture in the power point is our gospel for today, the Zaccheus story.
        Saints in the Catholic Church; are supposed to be interceding for all of us who are on our way to perfection. However in the united Methodist Church we uphold the notion that all God’s children are saints.  Paul writes to almost all the churches whether the church in Corinth or Philippi, Rome or Thessalonica, that every believer of Jesus the Christ is a saint. So when our Roman Catholic friends pray to the saints, we pray for the saints and today in our church we have already prayed for those who have left behind a memory, something sacred and honorable and something praise worthy and loveable.
        Every saint is an imperfect human being. Every saint perhaps may have a holiness DNA mixed with a few skeletons in his or her closet. Saints are not angels. Just like any of us they struggle, they doubt, they believe, they love, they serve and they die. Saints are not perfectionists for somebody defined a perfectionist as one who takes infinite pains and give them to others.
       Here is a children song coming to us from England about saints. (No.712 in our hymnal) “I sing a song of the saints of God, patient and brave and true, who toiled and fought and lived and died for the Lord they loved and knew. And one was a doctor and one was a queen, and one was a shepherdess on the green, they were all of them saints of God, and I mean God helping, to be one too.” A stranger one day visited a church on a Sunday morning, looked around the building and then entered the sanctuary. There the people and Minister were standing and praying together. The stranger heard their prayer “Lord we have left undone the things we ought to have done and have done the things we ought not to have done”. The stranger then sat in one of the pews and said with a sigh” Thank goodness, I have found my people at last”.
         The secret of saint making is to take our humanness seriously and learn to live life fully and serve humanity without any reservation. The secret of saint making is to learn both the grandeur of the joys of life as well as the sorrows in walking through the shadows of deadly valleys. Friends! I began this sermon today with an imaginative story of saint making. And now here is a real one in which Jesus was involved. And the other person’s name was Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax man which means he earned a high salary and lived within high fences. Even today high salaries and high fences go together. In other words he was filthy rich and became rich by receiving money from people illegally. One day when Jesus was passing by he wanted to see him. So he climbed up a sycamore tree to see Jesus. However Jesus had seen him from afar. When Jesus got near to the tree he invited zacchaeus to come down and invited himself to his home for a meal. We don’t know everything happened during the dinning and wining session. But we do know what zacchaeus said during the conversation with Jesus. Half of my goods I will give it to the poor. And all the bribes I received from people I return four fold. This is today’s gospel story. Zacchaeus was a lonely man an alienated man an isolated man, a rich man and a short man. However after his encounter with Jesus, we are told he is a changed man. He is now at the center of his community. He has reconciled with his people by giving back their wealth taken away forcefully. At the end of the dinner party Jesus says that today Zacchaeus has experienced salvation. How? He has regained his humanness. He has regained his respect and dignity in the community. He is no more in bondage to greed and selfishness and false values. He is liberated from pride and pretenses. Are the Saints born as saints? No my friends! They are made and re made by the renewing power of the Holy Spirit. Amen!