Sunday, June 22, 2014

Jesus the confuser-Theva

Jesus the Confuser
 Genesis 21:8-21 Matthew 10: 24-39

Grace and peace are already ours for we belong to the family of Jesus the Christ. With deep awareness of my unworthiness I stand before you to preach my last sermon here today. However in every weak moment of life I have also experienced the power of the transforming grace of God. A well-known poet Leonard Cohen said that “all of us are cracked people, yet it is through these cracks that light shines. I find comfort in St. Paul’s words that the foolishness of God is wiser than our wisdomAnd the weakness of God is stronger than our strength. A word of thanks to Pastor Margaret Scott for the trust she placed on me this past year. Her sense of collegiality and her warmth and friendliness will always be treasured. My wife Malar joined me every Sunday here at worship and I never begged or bribed her to come. She is a member of the Greece United Methodist church and she could walk to that church from our home. She said the music in this church inspired her deeply. And this speaks volumes of your various music programs and the performances of the different choirs. And so to our great music maker of Fairport, Nicole Camilleri, I say well done and keep up your good work.
   Our closing hymn for today was translated by a person named D.T Niles of Sri Lanka. He was my mentor and a great theologian of the previous century. In 1968 at the assassination of the Late Martin Luther King Jr, who was the featured speaker at the 4th general assembly of the world council of churches in Uppsala Sweden, Niles was invited to fill in for the preacher. My dissertation for the Master’s degree was on Niles and it is available in the library of Colgate Rochester Divinity School. The overarching theme of our closing song today is SARANAM. It is a Tamil word which means “taking refuge in God”.
       The Hebrew scripture today deals with stories of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael and Isaac. For Sarah, her greed and jealousy and bitterness overturns the joy of enjoying the gift of children. ”Whose son will inherit all our properties?” Will it be Hagar’s or mine? Friends the innocent little children are forced to lose their innocence today by the shrewdness and the wickedness and the scheming of some grown up adults. Perhaps the fear of the future, the fear of someone else going to get our share of wealth disturbs the harmony and the unity of a loving home. ”Send this slave woman away along with her son Ishmael. That painful ordeal ends with various twists and turns and Ishmael becomes an architect of the Islamic faith. And Isaac turns out to be a great figure in the Jewish religion. Abraham becomes the patriarch of three religions such as Judaism Islam and Christianity. This story is our story and just as the senseless demand Sarah made to Abraham to drive away Hagar and the baby, we create barriers in families and communities with our inhuman demands. There is a lack of kindness, generosity and faithfulness in the tone of our demands. “Send that woman away with the child”. I have heard people saying to me “Pastor Can you send those children to the children worship for they make noises in our worship? “They distract us. We want the illegal immigrants to come and work in our farms with no benefits and with little pay. Then they must go back to Mexico once the summer is over. Jesus often questions our double standard. A few months ago in a British national daily newspaper a question was asked at the readers: What does it mean to be British? This was one of the responses. Being a British is about driving in a German car to an Irish pub for a Belgian beer, and then traveling home, grabbing an Indian curry and a Turkish kebab and to sit in the Swedish furniture and with American shows on a Japanese TV and the most British thing of all is suspicion of anything foreign.
If you have not been confused by Jesus still you are yet to learn the Christian faith. I have not come to bring peace on earth, but a sword. Whoever comes to me and does not hate his father and mother wife and children brothers and sisters yes even life itself cannot be my disciple. He comes to us as a bearer of discord and dissension. How can one develop a sermon expounding this passage? Do you really think it is glamorous to follow this troublemaker ruble rouser and confuser called Jesus? Sometimes it is dangerous to follow him. Sometimes it is costly. Sometimes it is adventurous to walk with him.  Following Jesus those days, 2000 thousand years ago was a life and death choice. The Jesus people were watched under the Roman surveillance camera. He called people for a new way of living. He called people to fight against exploitation and corruption and bigotry even if you became unpopular in your community. Jesus called people to take a stand for the rights of children. This new way of practicing faith often opposed the view of the parents. It clashed with the values of their fathers and mothers. Whenever you upset a complacent society which thrives in falsehood and enjoys pretense you become a heretic. In the name of justice and in the name of truth when you challenge a system of deceit and foul play you bring division in a community and set fire on earth.

        Matthew 10 actually begins with the call of disciples. I am pretty sure those twelve felt honored and humbled at the same time that Jesus had a plan for them. In fact he gave them a detailed job description: Cure the sick raise the dead, cleanse the lepers and cast out demons. Then he gave them some words of admonition: I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
  Let me close this message with two questions. No 1. Who is this Jesus? In the words of the hymn writer Brien Wren “we believe in God, maker of rainbows, spinner of chaos, weaver of stories, and dare devil gambler. We believe in Jesus Christ: Rabi of the poor, carpenter of new creation and we believe in the Holy Spirit, nudging discomforter, midwife of changes. And we believe in the church, as that group of people who have chosen to believe these outrageous and offensive and wonderful truths.
No 2.where is Jesus today? Some time back there was a bumper sticker in some of the cars around here which read WWJD. When I wanted to create something like that I came up with these words: WIJT, which means where, is Jesus today? Where is he? Is he among the Christians or people of other religions or among people without any religion? Is he in the west or in the east? Is he among the straight ones or among the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons? Is he among the rich or the poor persons? Have I excluded Jesus from our closer net working groups and gatherings? Where is he?

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Pentecostal Pandemonium-Theva

Pentecostal Pandemonium!
Acts: 2
Prayer: Spirit of God, may these words bring you closer to us. May your spirit recreate us to be the people of God again. Amen

 The ancient Jewish people gathered on this day for a festival of harvest. It was called the festival of the weeks or the feast of SHAVUOT. This was also a day of commemoration of the giving of the Torah or the Ten Commandments in Mt. Sinai. Today’s Acts story refers to the same festival with many people from all over the world; Egypt and Ethiopia, Galilee and Cappadocia and something inexplicable happened on that day in the temple. They experienced the descending of the Holy Spirit. It was the spirit that moved over the waters in the creation story. It was the spirit that (Genesis 2:7) breathed life into the dust and created the first human being. It was that spirit which blazed with holiness and filled the temple with smoke and cleansed the lips of Isaiah and called him for a vocation of prophecy. It was the Spirit which made a prophet like Amos to rage and roar with a deep conviction of justice “LET JUSTICE ROLL DOWN LIKE WATERS AND RIGHTEOUSNESS LIKE AN EVER FLOWING STREAM. It was the spirit which warmed the heart of John Wesley who pioneered the Wesleyan movement and referred to this whole world as his parish. It was the spirit which endowed Martin Luther King Jr with a dream for freedom and racial justice for all people. And his dream was such an inspiration and it woke up America from the deep slumber of apathy and inhumanity.
        Several years ago when I was walking along one of the sea beaches in Sri Lanka I saw a bunch of children playing with kites. As I passed by them I asked how do you know whether the kite is up on the sky, because it was invisible to my eyes. And the child who was holding the kite on a string said “I know it by the pull. I want to talk to you this morning of the pull of the Holy Spirit. Have you been energized and empowered and sustained and inspired by the Holy Spirit. I believe that I am a spiritual being clothed in this body with mind and heart and veins and arteries. When Jesus was pulled by the power of this spirit he said the Spirit has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind and to let the oppressed go free. The people of Nazareth had never heard a Rabbi explain the word that way before. They were astonished by the attractiveness of the word articulated by one of their own young men from the village. On this day in Jerusalem 2000 years ago the same spirit descended on the people with a mighty sound. The spirit clothed herself with the gushing wind and flame. There was also however a wild uproar and it was a scene of turmoil and it was chaotic. These acts are characterized by a single word according to Webster dictionary and that word is pandemonium.
 It is in the midst of chaos and confusion, uncertainties and ambiguities, life often finds new directions. Failures pave way to success, and defeat to victories. And death to life. This  to me is the meaning of Pentecost.
        Just as when the spirit of the Lord invaded the life of Jesus, he came up with a Nazareth manifesto, so on this day the spirit anointed the gathering and a new community came into being. They were filled with new energies. They received a fresh vision for living. They learned to enjoy life with extended families. When they were enveloped by the spirit, their fears were replaced by faith, they began to sing and to dance and to study the word and to worship. Today we are here to relive that moment. This community then gathered more leaders like Paul and Barnabas and Silas and Titus and Aquila and Priscilla, and branched out to Corinth and Philippi and Ephesus and Thessalonica. Where is that Pentecostal power in the church today? Why are we Holy Spirit shy? A few Sundays ago your Pastor Margaret walked through the center aisle of this sanctuary and asked you to share the different ways the Spirit works in your life and many of you responded to it well. I was impressed.
        I have been part of these spirit filled communities since birth. With close knit groups of people who always gathered in church to worship, celebrate their birthdays, wedding anniversaries and to offer thanks to God for the beginnings and the endings of lives. I have been part of this spirit filled churches where children gathered to sing songs, to play and to pray, where the young people found their mentors, friends, even their life partners within its fellowship. I have been part of this church where people gathered to give a friendly hand to those needed help in the neighborhoods. I have been part of this spirit filled communities where people struggled to dismantle the systems of injustice and oppression. Please don’t tell me that this kind of churches and communities are now pushed only to a distant past. And they live within us only in memories. Why is that only a few churches are claiming that they are the specialists in the work of the Holy Spirit today? In the whole Pentecost story there is an intriguing line: Each one heard the message in his or her own language. In our confusing and conflicting world we need to hear the word spoken to us in our idioms, and our familiar nuances. When this happens we understand other people better and begin to appreciate other cultures. Only when we begin to speak the language of love without any bias a new world will be born.

         Friends I know that this modern world is pulling us in many different directions. When I said I can’t see the kite up there the child said I know by its pull, it is there. How often do you feel the Holy Spirit pull in your soul is the question? 

The little boy Johnny was on the back porch playing sort of rough with a reluctant cat. When they got to making a right sizeable commotion, his mother heard it and yelled out at him, “Johnny, are you pulling that cat’s tail? “No, Mama”, the little Johnny said, “I’m just holding her tail. She is doing all the pulling.”