LENT Tomorrow (Ash Wednesday) once again we enter into another season of Lent. During this season we try to take account of our lives. We try to look into our inner life. To do this we use various means. Fasting is one of the traditional ways of focusing on our inner life. With the same purpose fasting is used in other religions such as by Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists. Do you think we can still use this age-old method meaningfully in the twenty-first century? How can fasting be meaningful? What do we expect to gain by fasting? When we fast we feel hungry. For the food to be digested the stomach produces hydrochloric acid. That’s why when we are hungry we feel something burning in our stomach. That’s why in Sinhala the word for hungry literally means a fire in the stomach. And this makes us contemplate the material needs of others. Often we forget how many people in this world scarcely have the basic necessities of life. Here I am reminded of a saying of the Roman Catholic Archbishop Don Helder Camara. He said Food for my stomach is a material need, but food for my neighbour’s stomach is a spiritual matter. Do you think that it is God’s will for some people to have too much and others to have too little? This is a spiritual matter. Think about it. Some people have too little because others have too much. Secondly, fasting teaches us self-discipline. When we fast we learn to control our emotions. This really helps us in our day-to-day activities. Lack of self-discipline is one of the main problems in our society. Often people try to control others but find it difficult to control themselves. Fasting is a good way of seeing how far we can control ourselves. Thirdly, fasting helps us to realise that our lives do not wholly depend on material things. Perhaps unconsciously we think we depend on material things. Let me ask a question. &Do we live to eat or eat to live?& At times we think we live to eat and forget we eat to live. Do you remember how people wanted to make Jesus a king when he fed the five thousand? Jesus was very unhappy about this and said, “You follow me because I gave you something to eat” Often we don’t realise how much our lives are controlled by material things. We have become slaves of money and wealth. Fasting helps us to liberate ourselves from this bondage. It is necessary for us to understand that although we need money and wealth for everything money and wealth are not everything. Today I would like to draw your attention to these three aspects as subjects for meditation. Just think on these three things and see whether you can get some benefit from fasting. Let me remind you of them. First, to have a taste of the suffering of others. Secondly, to learn to control ourselves. Thirdly, to realise that we do not fully depend on material things. I am sure you can use this as a way towards a higher level of spirituality, both for yourself and for the benefit of others. Take the first step during this Lent and go forward. Let us ask God to give us His grace to understand ourselves so that we will be able to serve him and His creation in His world.
In Roman mythology there was a god called Janus. This god had two faces. From one of this faces he looked into the future because that face was in front of his face. And from the other face he looked back into the past because that face was in the back of his head. The first month of the year January is named after this god called Janus. Today is the first of January and the beginning of another year. Year 2018. As we start yet another year the philosophy behind this mythical god conveys a very important message for us.
Because the beginning of a year is an appropriate time for us to look back into our past and also look forward into our future. Some of us often try to live in the past. We praise our past and complain that our present situation is not like the past. Although these people physically and geographically live in the present time, mentally, psychologically and emotionally they linger in the past. Consequently they speak of today’s matters in yesterday’s language.
There are others who think that the past is not important for them. Often this happens with the unpleasant memories of their past. Therefore they try to look forward to the future ignoring their past happenings. As a result, this group of people often live in a dreamy world of the future of their imagination.
Today not only we celebrate the New Year but also the circumcision of our Lord. By this act our Lord Jesus Christ was sanctified the past but with a future expectation. That’s why once Jesus said that he came not to abolish the Law or the past but to fulfil it. We see in the life of Jesus how he lived and worked live a Jew. But he was able to go beyond his past traditions to fulfil his law or the past.
Therefore as we enter into this New Year this message is very important for us. The past war is finished in our country. The future is uncertain. We are living in the present, here and now. What our responsibility?
We are called to learn lessons form the past and look forward to the future. This should be done by living in the present understanding and getting involved in the present realities. As Christians we not called to live in a dreamy future or a gloomy past. The past and future should be brought together into present time.
This is what Jesus did throughout his earthly ministry. If we try to understand his earthy ministry with regard to our present realities in Sri Lanka we can see how concerned he was regarding ethnic and religious identities of the people of his time. For instance this clear in the parable of Good Samaritan, narrated by Jesus.
Jesus narrated this parable as an answer to a question asked by an expert in the law. Here the question was, ‘Who is my neighbour?’ Although in this discussion both Jesus and the expert in the law accepted that to inherit eternal life it was necessary to love God with our whole heart, soul, strength and mind, neither of them was interested in having a dialogue on ‘who is my God’. Instead the expert in the law was interested to know “who was his neighbour”.
Jesus told this story not as a fairytale but took the material from real life situations of his time. During this time it was dangerous to travel from Jerusalem to Jericho. This road was frequented by looters and robbers. It is clear that to compile this story Jesus chose the personalities very carefully. The characters (the man who was attacked by the robbers, a Samaritan, a priest and a Levite) were active, influential and at times problematic types of figures of that time. When the Samaritan decided to help the fallen man he had to cross his ethnic and religious boundaries. On the other hand in order to stand on his feet once again, the fallen man had to rely on a person who was not of his own group but from a hated group. He had to acknowledge the goodness and the kindness of the Samaritan. Without any doubt the fallen man was forced to compare and contrast the unwillingness of two people from his own group with the willingness of the Samaritan to help him when he needed support.
In our present context this is something that we urgently need to promote if we are to enjoy lasting peace in Sri Lanka. The only effective way to reduce the prejudices of the other group is to get into the other group to help them, and we do this by crossing the narrow ethno-religious identities of my own group. This is not easy because whenever anybody try to do this s/he could be suspected by both groups. But this is the cost of our discipleship. This is where we meet the cross. Jesus crossed his narrow ethno-religious boundaries to redeem and transform the world.
When Jesus crossed his ethno-religious boundaries the leaders of his nation and some of his people found it difficult to understand him. Since the Roman imperial government also did not recognise what he was doing, the Jewish leaders were therefore able to use the Roman imperial power to crucify him. If we ask God to use us to transform our world we cannot avoid this cross. But that’s where we find redemption and liberation. This model is not something of the past. This is what Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa did to transform South Africa into a country where blacks and whites have equal rights. Are we ready to fulfil the will of God in this regards? Let’s keep a moment of silence and reflect on these thoughts.
During advent we commemorate the annunciation of the Birth of Jesus. We remember this with gratitude to God for informing Mary the mother of Jesus that the saviour or the Messiah or the Christ was to be born. Today we celebrate this event in a happy mood. But to comprehend the in depth of this happening it is necessary to have a sound understanding of the background of this occurrence.
This message was given to a young virgin from a village who was engaged to a carpenter. They would have had their own dreams of making a happy family and to have children of their own. Then when Mary received this message from the angel Gabriel all their dreams would have shattered into pieces. This is where we get the climax of this experience. That is the way they faced this challenge.
In that society if a young woman got pregnant before the marriage the punishment was stone to death. Not only in that society even today in some countries they have punishments of this nature. Joseph and Mary took the risk and faced this situation. What was this risk? This risk was the openness to the unknown future. This openness was their faith to fulfil the will and purpose of God to redeem the world.
If we are willing to have faith in God we cannot avoid this risk. We should take calculated risks to promote the will of God in our world. But often we are reluctant to take risks and be open to the future. This cannot be developed at once. First of all we should learn to have our trust in God and our sisters and brothers.
Without any doubt most of you would tell me that we can trust God but it is so hard to trust people. Yes, this is true. But this is where we develop our faith. It is impossible to have faith in God without having faith in our sisters and brothers.
That’s why Jesus said that when you offer your sacrifice at the altar if you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and reconcile with your brother and then come and offer your sacrifice.
Mary had to have faith in Joseph and most probably with some people close to them. Joseph had to have faith in Mary. On this circle of trust and faith God was able to use them to fulfil his will and purpose to bring redemption to our world.
Are we ready to have this faith of Mary? Very often when are called to take risks to fulfil the purposes of God we runaway and try to give all sorts of excuses to justify ourselves. But that rural village girl called Mary is challenging us today to consider taking calculated risks to be part of the redemption plan of God.
Let ask God to grant us his grace to become and active member of his kingdom to fulfil his will and purpose.
We are in the season of Advent. Advent is a season of hope and expectation. This is a season of waiting. At the same time, according to the natural seasons this is winter. Winter is also a time of hope and expectation. Therefore religiously and secularly Advent is a time of anticipation. During this time what do we anticipate?
At the end of this season we expect new life. Therefore during Advent and Winter we wait for the arrival of new life. We wait for renewal and revival. That’s why Christmas is also called Nativity. It is the birth of new life.
Similarly, in the natural world at the end of winter the whole environment gets new life. The world of plants and animals springs up with renewed vigour. Our surroundings are filled with vitality.
The next question is how do we wait as we anticipate this new life? Do we just wait? No. We do many things to prepare for the season of transformation.
We buy new clothes, decorate our houses and do many other things. Some trees shed their leaves in order to grow new ones. Some animals go into hibernation.
In the midst of all these things we often forget the rhythmic and cyclic nature of life. We assume that life goes from one happening to another. We try to accelerate things in order to get the maximum out of life. We may forget to rest, sleep, eat and do all the other things necessary for our lives. In this process, though we get short-term benefits, in the long run we face many problems, such as illnesses.
This seasons of advent and winter remind us of God’s way of natural renewal, which refreshes us in the long run. This waiting is not time wasted but time well spent in harmony with the rhythmic nature of our lives.
In this present world we depend so much on man-made systems and structures. If we think we are independent and don’t need others to live in this world, the reality is just the opposite. Some may find it difficult to write a letter without a computer. We depend so much on electricity, gas and so on. If these systems were to fail what would happen to us? I am sure we would panic, not knowing what to do. When we had a youth uprising in Sri Lanka in the late '80s many people in towns who depended on technology had difficulty in getting even basic things.
All these man-made systems have increased the pace of our lives and gradually alienated us from the rhythm of the natural world. Today we find difficulty in waiting with patience.
As Christians approaching another Christmas let us reflect how all-powerful God became a man in Jesus. He chose the natural system of becoming a man. He was born of a woman. God did not choose any instant way of becoming a man. Although man-made systems and structures could make our lives easier, we should remember the danger in entirely depending on those things.
Therefore in our present world let’s try to reinvent the importance of waiting patiently. Let us enjoy God’s natural way to enrich our lives and make this world safer for us and for the generations to come. May God bless you, Amen.
We are in the season of advent, and just a few days away from Christmas. We know that advent is a season of hopefulness. Advent reminds us of the need for hope in our earthly life. Hope keeps us going. When we lose hope we get frustrated and at times some may get depressed. When there is no hope some may even think of suicide. Hope is an essential part of human life. this can be found in almost all the religions of the world.
For instance, Muslims are hoping for the coming of Esa Nabi. Hindus believe and hope that from time to time the avatars or incarnations of their god Vishnu will come to the world to redeem it. In this present era or Uga, called Kali Uga, they are expecting the coming of Kali.
Buddhists are waiting for the coming of Martini Buddha. According to their belief Buddhas appear from time to time to proclaim the truth or Dhaka.
We Christians are hoping and waiting for the return of Jesus, which we call ‘The Second Coming’. How should we understand this Second Coming? Let us first look at the background to this.
After the death and resurrection of Jesus His followers expected him to come back soon. The way in which they understood the words of Jesus made them expect this event during their lifetime. According to the letter to the Church in Thessalonica, some people waited without working, expecting the Second Coming very soon.
But if we look carefully at the words of Jesus in the Bible we can see that he clearly said that even he was not aware of the exact day of his coming again. But he said we should be ready at any time. He gave us parables to stress this point. The parable of the wise and foolish virgins is a good example of this.
We know Jesus came to this world two thousand years ago as a baby and after His death and resurrection today is alive in our world. Then why should we wait for His second coming?
Let me give an example. It is something like learning a new language. Think about learning English. I began to learn English some years ago. I am still learning English. I will be learning English in the future. My learning English has three dimensions - past, present and future.
Similarly, the coming of Jesus has three dimensions. He came. He is a present reality. He comes, and the fulfilment is in the future.
So his coming is an ongoing and growing process. As Christians we are called to grow in this process.
I believe in the context of our multicultural and religious society we need to understand this coming in the light of the universal hope of humanity.
As we prepare ourselves to celebrate Christmas let us remind ourselves of God’s coming – how he came to us two thousand years ago as an infant, how he comes to us at every moment, and how he will be coming again in the future.
How should we get ready for his coming? By getting involved in the activities of his kingdom in our world. this is what he taught us to say and expect in the Lord’s Prayer "Thy Kingdom come and they will be done on earth as it is in heaven."
THE REIGN OF CHRIST
Who is a king? What are the things that have been generally associated with a king? When we think of a king usually we think of a throne, a crown, and a king rules a certain land and his rule is limited to a certain period of time. These are the general things that we think of when we think of a kingdom.
But what do we mean when we say Christ is King? Because Christ never had any of those things which have been associated with a king. Then why do we call him a King?
To answer this question let us see what Jesus said at the beginning of his ministry. According to St. Mark’s gospel chapter 1: 15 he said that the Kingdom of God is at hand and that we should repent and believe in the good news. Here Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God. Where do we find this Kingdom? When his disciples asked this question his answer was that the Kingdom is in you, among you and within you. this shows that this kingdom is not confined to time or space. It is a state of being. Wherever there is God there we find the Kingdom of God. Here the emphasis is not so much on the Kingdom but the reign of God. In Greek – "basilia tou theou"
Jesus’ ministry was to make the reign of God a visible reality in this world. That’s why he asked his disciples to pray "Thy Kingdom come and thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." It is clear that his intention was not to take his disciples to heaven by separating them form the world, but to get God’s will to be done in our world as it is in heaven.
Throughout his earthly ministry Jesus encouraged people to enter into his kingdom. In his sermons he narrated parables to explain the Kingdom’s values, attitudes and priorities. In today’s gospel passage we listen to one such parable. The context and the content of this parable of the last judgement are not connected to anything that can be called "religious". It is about the way of life of human beings: whether they are able to fulfil the will of God in their day-to-day life.
this is what Jesus tried to teach his disciples during his earthly ministry. In that process he had to face many conflicts with the Jewish religious leaders of that time. These conflicts became strong enough for Jewish leaders to want to get rid of him. That is why they were determined to have him executed. We know that the main accusation against him was that he claimed to be the King of the Jews.
Therefore, the Jewish leaders of that time and the officials of the Roman colonial rule of that time contrived to have this ‘king’ defeated on the cross. But the place where they thought he would be defeated became his ‘throne’. The crown of thorns used to torture him became the crown for his reign over the whole world.
But when the church became the state religion something very sad happened. The church removed his crown of thorns and gave him a crown of gold. They replaced the cross with an earthly throne. They tried to make him a colonial king. When Christianity was introduced to Asian countries such as my country Sri Lanka this distorted portrayal of Jesus became a real hindrance in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus. Even today, fifty-five years after Sri Lanka gained independence most people in Sri Lanka think Christians are disciples or representatives of the past colonial masters. For them Jesus is the supreme King of the colonial masters.
Today as Christians we have to proclaim that Jesus is not the King of colonial masters but the King of God’s Kingdom where peace and justice prevail. He is especially the King for all who have been oppressed and marginalised by the evil powers.
We should make people realise that the Kingdom of God is not confined to the Christian church, though church exists to proclaim the Kingdom. If the church fails to proclaim the Kingdom others will be used to proclaim the Kingdom. We should remember that the church does not have the monopoly of the Kingdom.
Let us be citizens of the Kingdom here and now by doing the will of God as in today’s parable. Let us proclaim the Kingdom and invite others to become citizens of the Kingdom.
Towards the end of his earthly ministry Jesus gave a new commandment and asked his disciples to love one another. As you know in many religions the believers are expected to love one another. Then what is new in this commandment?
The clue to the answer of this question is given in the next verse in the text. Jesus said the greatest love is to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. What is this love that Jesus is talking about?
In his society there were at least four words for different aspects of love. The word philia was used to denote love between friends. For instance the word philosophy is a combination of two Greek words. Philia is love and Sophia is wisdom – Therefore Philosophy mean love for wisdom. This philia love is the affection between friends. Often feelings and emotions are involved in this kind of love. This is the bond of keeping the relationship of friendship.
Then the love between men and women are called eros. From this word we get the English word erotic. This is the sexual love that attracts men and women to each other. This love keeps man and women together.
Then there is another which is not very much used in the New Testament. This is storge – Which means family love. Love between parents and children and among children themselves. Jesus is mainly talking about another kind of love called Agape. In a way this agape love embraces the other three forms of Love. Agape love is the self-giving love. Love that does not expect anything in return. In the other three forms of love we expect something in return. Among friends, men and women and in a family when we love each other we expect others to show us love in return.
But the agape love does not expect this. Also agape love is always active. For instance when God so loved the world God gave us God’s son to redeem the world. Agape love is never passive and it is always active. This love is not selfish and self-centered. It does not expect glory. That’s why Jesus said when you give from one hand don’t let your other hand know what you have done.
We cannot have God’s love if we don’t show that love in action. This is pre-requisite. This is essential. That’s why it is written in the first epistle of John that if we say we love God and hate our brothers we are liars.
We cannot possess or cling on to this love because that is selfish. We need to develop this love. This love always allows for the growth of the others by emptying ourselves.
Now you may be thinking that it is impossible to find this kind of love in the world. No this is possible. Think of a person like Mother Teresa of Kolkata, India. She did everything possible to look after poor and destitute people without expecting anything in return. She made arrangements to continue this ministry even after her death.
The supreme example of this love is described in the second chapter of the letter to the Philippians. It says although Jesus had the nature of God he emptied himself and became nothing for the salvation of the World.
This is the supreme bliss that we can enjoy as human beings to develop agape love.
This is the new commandment that Jesus gives us – Love one another as he has loved us. Amen.
What do we mean when we say Jesus the healer? When we go through the pages of the Bible we can see that Jesus healed people in many ways. Let me give you a few examples. Jesus healed people from physical illnesses like Blindness. We know the story of Bartemaeus. Jesus healed people by casting away demons. Where the Samaritan women and Zacchaeus are concerned Jesus was able to heal them from social isolation. Here we see that Jesus’ healing ministry was not confined to one area of life. He was able to grant the healing of body, mind and spirit.
The next question is that why did he heal people? Did he heal people to earn something or to marvel people? You know the answer is NO. Then what was the reason? This is connected to the main purpose of his ministry. Jesus came to this world to proclaim the Kingdom of God. The healings that he performed were the signs of this Kingdom. Because in God’s Kingdom people enjoy healing. This healing is the wholesome healing of body, mind and spirit. As disciples of Jesus we are called to get involved in this wholesome healing.
This is the main reason that Christians throughout the ages got involved in establishing churches, schools and hospitals. Churches for spiritual healing, schools for mental healing and hospitals for physical healing. But today we are called to get involved in another healing ministry. That is the ministry of ethnic healing.
Jesus during his lifetime was fully involved in this ministry. Let’s try to understand the ways in which he performed this ministry. During his earthly ministry he had to deal with the ethnic issue of Jews and Samaritans. Once he contributed to ethnic healing by narrating a parable. This is the famous parable of the Good Samaritan. Traditionally the Church has been telling that Jesus narrated this parable to show “Who is our neighbour”. But it is very clear that this parable shows the importance and the necessity of ethnic healing. The Samaritan had to break the narrow ethnic boundary to facilitate the healing of the fallen Jewish man. The fallen Jewish man had to cross his majority ethnic limitations to accept the help of the minority Samaritan to start his healing process.
What really happened here was the Xenophobia of the Jew and the Samaritan was transformed into Xenophilia. Here the word xenophobia means the fear of strangers, foreigners or others who are not with us. Xenophilia is not in the dictionary. I coined this word. What I mean by Xenophilia is the love for foreigners, strangers and others who are not with us.
Today if we are to become effective members of God’s kingdom we are called to be involved in the ministry of Xenophilia. We are called to take steps to reduce and minimise the fear of foreigners, strangers and others who are not with us but in midst of us. This may be between Sinhala and Tamil people, Christians and Buddhists or Hindus or between any other groups.
You may start this ministry here and now. In our midst we have many strangers, foreigners or others who are not really in ‘my group’. Make every effort to help them by understanding their situations. Be sensitive to their feelings. If we are to involve in this healing ministry, before I have my own way, I must be able to have a good understanding of the repercussions of my actions on other people. Even after my actions I must take every step to make the other comfortable. If we follow this Xenophilia, without any doubt we will be able to contribute to the healing process of the society.
Throughout his earthly ministry Jesus performed this healing ministry of Xenophilia. We know he started his ministry with Jews, his own people. But he kept on expanding his boundaries by getting involved in this healing ministry of Xenophilia. That is why Jesus became the Saviour of the world and not just the Saviour of the Jews.
Let us ask God’s help for us to become active members of this healing ministry of Xenophilia in God’s kingdom here and now. May God bless you! Amen.
New life with Christ
What is the most important thing in life? Some people think it is wealth and there are others who think that happiness is the most important thing in life. Think carefully what is the most important thing in life?
If you think carefully, you will realize that life is the most important thing in life. Without life all the other things are meaningless. As human beings we can’t create life. God the ultimate reality is the source of life.
Life is a great mystery and at times we find it difficult to comprehend this reality. Look at our lives – we are a combination of matter and life of body and soul. Body is tangible – we can touch and see the body, it has three dimensions.
But the spirit is not tangible; we cannot touch or see the spirit. But it is the very thing that gives vitality of ourselves. When a person dies all the tangible things remain in the body. But because of the missing aspect that we cannot touch or see we say that the person is dead.
According to our Christian belief, God created us by using dust and breathed the breath of life into our nostrils. That’s how we became living beings. Because of our dusty nature our lives are mortal and because of the breath of life in us our destiny is immortal.
Does this mean that our bodies are worthless and spirit only is important? No not at all. St. Paul says that the Body is the temple of God. God dwells in our body. That’s how God became a human being in Jesus Christ.
In the letter to the Romans (Rom 8:6) it is said “for to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.
This sounds like that we should work hard to save our spirit without being concerned about our bodies because bodies create carnal desires. But in the same passage in the letter to Romans the writer says “And if the spirit of God, who raised up Jesus from the dead, lives in you, he will make your dying bodies live again after you die, by means of this same Holy Spirit living within you”
How can we and should we understand this passage? Who raised up Jesus from the dead? What was the reason for His resurrection? According to the letter to Philippians although Jesus is God Himself He emptied Himself and became nothing. He was obedient unto death. Therefore God raised Him from the dead.
This spirit should live in us. Always we should be ready to empty our money, wealth, time, knowledge and resources for the growth of other people. Only that will make our dying bodies live again.
Do you know/ what was the metaphor used by the early church to explain the mystery of the resurrection of Jesus Christ? It was a butterfly. The first stage of the butterfly is a caterpillar. Then the caterpillar becomes a cocoon. From the cocoon we get the beautiful butterfly.
See it is not the spirit of the caterpillar that becomes a butterfly. The whole caterpillar is transformed into a butterfly. It is similar with ourselves. If we with our bodies live in the risen Christ we can experience this new life in Christ here and now.
But to experience this we need to die to our old self. That’s why in Baptism it is said that the old Adam in him or her should die and the new human being should be raised up in Christ.
The season of Lent gives us the privilege of experiencing this new and peaceful life in Christ. In all possible dimensions empty yourself for the growth of the other. Then you are not far away from experiencing this new life in Christ. It is up to you and to me is to enjoy this privilege.
Let’s open our hearts and minds and ask God to direct us to experience this new life in Christ.
May God bless you!
All Soul’s day
What is death? This is a question we ask at every memorial service or requiem mass. This is something very hard to explain. Today we remember all our brother and sisters who have gone before us. We are here because we still love them although they are not with us physically. That’s why it is written in the Bible that even the death cannot separate us from the love of Christ.
Do you think that we believe in life after death? In fact we Christians do not believe in life after death. Then what do we believe in? We believe in life after life. What does this mean and how can we comprehend this reality. According to Biblical teachings up to certain extend this can be explained through a growing seed. Seed is different from the plant that it produces. Different in size, shape and functions. But that plant comes from the seed. Plant and seed are inseparable. They are intertwined. Seed is gradually transformed into a plant. Our life after life is something similar to this reality.
We know that the Gospel of our Lord and Master Jesus Christ was the kingdom of God. He wanted us his disciples to become citizens of this kingdom. That’s why in the Lord’s prayer he taught us to say – I quote “ Thy Kingdom come and they will be done on earth as it is in heaven” un quote. Which means that we can be in his kingdom here and now. But it won’t end with our death but it continues. This is something similar to the relationship between the seed and the plant.
In this regard at times people think that the science and the religion are very different. But even in the field of science a scientist called Dolton proved scientifically that no power could be created or destroyed but one power is transformed into another. Even according this scientific theory at the death this power called life should be transformed into another power.
Therefore today as we give thanks to God for the life and work of our brothers and sisters, we rejoice in the fact that some of our brother and sisters were persons who tried to live as citizens of His kingdom while they was physically alive. As this kingdom is not confined to time or space they continue to be in the realm of this kingdom. This kingdom is a state of being where our brothers and sisters are still alive.
Therefore we have All Soul’s day services for our consolation and not for the sake of our departed brothers and sisters. But we give thanks to God for giving them as human beings to be with us for a period of time. We show our gratitude to God for all what we enjoyed through their lives and services.
And also as we thank God for the lives and ministries of our brothers and sisters we are reminded that their destiny is our destiny as well. Therefore let us commit ourselves to live as faithful citizens of his kingdom here and now. Then when the day comes for each of us to have this transformation called death we will not be anxious to face this unavoidable reality.
May God bless you.
Saints and Martyrs
Who is a saint or a martyr? Often in day-to-day life when a person is very quiet we call that person a saint. When a person sacrifices his or her life for his faith we call that person a martyr. Is this the Biblical and Christian understanding of a saint or a martyr?
To investigate this let’s consider two saints and martyrs, St. Peter and St. Paul from the New Testament. They were very active and noisy people. Then why are they called saints or martyrs? What are the main qualities of a saint or a martyr?
First of all saints and martyrs were men and women of their own time. They had a sound understanding of the societies that they lived in. They always tried to evaluate their societies critically to improve the quality of life for the people who lived in their societies.
Secondly they often made every effort to defeat the self-centred and selfish attitudes and become useful members of their communities. They tried to think and do more for the betterment of other people than for themselves.
Thirdly they were human beings who strived to change the structures of the societies to serve common people very specially the poor in the society.
Fourthly, they were committed to what they believed. In that process some people had to lay down their lives. Actually the martyr comes from the Greek world “marturia”. The root meaning of this world was to witness. Most probably in the early church many people who witness their faith had to lay down their lives. This would have created the present meaning of this world martyr as a person who lays down his or her life for his or her faith.
Do you think that these sorts of people lived long ago and they don’t exist today? Just look around you, then you could find these saints even today.
In fact according to St. Paul all of us are called to be saints. We are called to witness our faith. Often we think to fulfil this calling we need to do great things, which are not possible for ordinary human beings like us. Here we tempt to forget that all the great things start with a small step.
As I told you earlier according to St. Paul all of us are called to be saints. We are called to be men and women who fulfil the will of God for the furtherance of God’s kingdom here and now. In that process we may be called to become martyrs before we die
How can we fulfil this task? We cannot fulfil this task at once. In our day-to-day life it is our responsibility to take small steps, which are expected of saints and martyrs.
We are called to recognise the signs of our time and act accordingly. Look at the life of a person like St. Joseph Vass. Under Dutch persecution in the 18th century he disguised himself and served the Christians and other common people in Sri Lanka.
But real Biblical meaning of saints and martyrs is to set part persons to fulfil the will of God here and now. This is a challenge for all of. We have the example of people who have gone before us. We are called to follow their footsteps by becoming effective and meaningful in our own contexts that we cared called to serve.
This is why our identification with the people who are suffering and effected by war is very important. In those situations we are called to offer our lives as a living sacrifice. We are called to be martyrs before we die. We called to be saints before we leave this world.
Therefore as we remember saints and martyrs let’s commit ourselves to grow in this process to be effective and faithful citizens in God’s Kingdom here on our earth. May God bless you, Amen.
Diocesan Council 2017 – Bible studies
Bible study I
Be my witnesses: Towards a Mission centered Church, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Bible passage - Mark 1:14-20
Jesus began his ministry by proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God. Then he said, “The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe in the Good News!” This Kingdom of God is not confined to time or space; it is the Reign of God where the power of God is a visible reality. For this mission, Jesus called his disciples to follow him. Therefore the mission of the disciples of Jesus is to repent and believe in the Good News of the Kingdom of God and to proclaim this Good News of the Kingdom. When Jesus called his disciples to follow him he invited them to be with Him and to learn from Him. By doing so he expected them to become His witnesses.
Before Jesus started His ministry he had the Baptism of John. When He was baptized the Spirit of God descended on him and a voice recognized his ministry. This was the revelation to the World that he was filled with the Holy Spirit. He performed his ministry by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Therefore as his disciples in the 21st century we need to recapture the mission of Jesus in our churches. The Church exists to work for the Kingdom of God. If the Church does not work towards the furtherance of the Kingdom the Church loses its authority to exist. Hence all the activities of the Church should be mission centered and needs to be done with the power of the Holy Spirit.
As the Church when we get involved in activities such as Evangelism, Social Service and Interfaith encounters we are called to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom, to call people to become disciples of Jesus. We are expected to become witnesses of this mission by getting involved in the activities of the Reign of God.
This is an ongoing and a growing process. If we are involved in this process our entire life should be a “prayer”. For this to happen it is necessary to have an intimate relationship with the Word of God. This relationship should be established with the three modes of the Word of God. We need to listen to God the revealed Word. God speaks to us through the power of God’s Spirit. Then it is required to study the written Word of God the Bible to comprehend the Word of God. With these two modes of the Word of God we should have an intimate relationship with the incarnate word of God, Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour.
Questions for discussion
1. Do we have a sound understanding of the Mission of God in our churches? Discuss the reasons for the present understanding.
2. How can we recapture this mission with the power of Holy Spirit to become witnesses of God’s Kingdom?
3. Prepare a practical action plan to revive the mission of God in our churches.
Bible study II
Be my witnesses: Towards a Mission centered Church in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Bible passage - Matthew 28:16-20
In this Bible passage we get the significant Great Commission of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. In the mission and witness of our Church very often we fail to remember this Great Commission of our Lord. At times we have a partial understanding of this Great Commission. Therefore as disciples of Jesus Christ it is necessary to have a sound understanding of the Great Commission to become a mission centered Church in the power of the Holy Spirit.
In the Great Commission first of all he asked his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations. To make people of all nations disciples of Christ, we need to have a profound understanding of who a disciple is?
Who is a Disciple?
Disco(Latin) - Learner
Matetes - μαθητής (Gk) - Disciple, Pupil, Follower.
Sravaka - One who listens at the feet of the Master.
Shishya - One who is with the Teacher (ගුරු - Guru)and learns from him
Why did Jesus call His Disciples?
To become the active members of the Kingdom of God
What is expected of a Disciple?
1. Disciples are called to CHANGE their lifestyle. This change is a FORCE. Jn.3:3-8
2. This change is a DEMAND- Force of change creates a set of demands. Mk.2:22
3. In the process of change the Disciples face CRISES. Mk.13:9-13
4 This changing force CHALLENGES the Disciples. Jn.12:23-26
5 This change is an OPPORTUNITY to serve God and humankind in a World filled with needs. Matt.9:37
6. The RESPONSE of the Disciples is a necessary aspect of this change. Lk.19:1-10
7. The OUTCOME of this change is God centered or ‘the other’ centered lifestyle. Jn.13:4-5
Therefore our main calling is to make disciples. Then in a way baptism becomes the sign of discipleship. When we baptize infants though the grace of God it is our responsibility to bring them up to become disciples of Christ and prepare them for Confirmation to take up their responsibility as a disciple of Christ. Through baptism we become part of the body of Christ. When we become members of the body of Christ, we acknowledge that we are different yet dependent on each other realizing that Christ is the Head of this body. We need to fulfill this mission in the church through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Questions for discussion
1. Have a discussion on various understandings of the “Great Commission”
2. How can we make the mission of God meaningful through the Great Commission?
3. What are the practical steps we can take to implement the Great Commission?
Evensong – Diocesan Council: 2017
Today from all parts of the diocese we are gathered here to inaugurate the 32nd session of the Diocesan Council of the Diocese of Colombo. We are here to take an account of all our activities and also to take counsel together to go forwards as disciples of Jesus Christ. This year the overall theme of our council is “Be my witnesses: Towards a Mission centered Church, in the power of the Holy Spirit”
What is our mission? Our mission is the mission of Jesus Christ. At the beginning of his earthly ministry Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is at hand and repent and believe in the Good news. His mission was to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Actually what he meant was the Kingship of God. (in Greek - Βασιλεία του Θεού )
Therefore this Kingdom is not confined to time or space. Wherever we get the will of God there we find the Kingdom of God. Jesus reaffirmed this mission in the Lord’s Prayer and taught his disciples to pray “Thy Kingdom come and Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. To become citizens of this Kingdom he asked his disciples to repent.
Therefore it is very clear that if we are not willing to repent we cannot be the witnesses of Christ. At the same time we cannot repent without the power of the Holy Spirit. We fail if we try to repent with our own power. For this repentance we need the power of God the ultimate reality which is the Holy Spirit.
When we are filled with the power of the Holy Spirit we realize the necessity of this repentance. This repentance is change in one's way of life resulting from penitence or spiritual conversion. Through repentance we become part and parcel of the Kingdom of God.
For this mission we get the inspiration through the Word of God. God’s Word is creative and Jews called it dabar. Through repentance when we enter into his Kingdom we are able to listen to his Word. God reveals his Word to us through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Also God speaks to us through His written word the Bible. We are called to read, study and inwardly digest the word of God for our liberation. We need to allow the written word to speak to us.
It is said that Christianity is not a religion but it’s a relationship. Relationship with the incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour.
When we have this intimate relationship with the revealed, written and incarnate Word of God we become witnesses of his ministry of reconciliation in our world.
Therefore as we begin this session we are called to recapture this mission through the power of the Holy Spirit to become his witnesses in all parts of our Diocese. This is the need of the hour. As a country in this post war context it is our responsibility to work for the reconciliation of the people of our country to facilitate them to live and brothers and sisters of this land.
We can see how our people have become slaves of ethno religious identities of our country. Although ethnicities and religions give us sense of belonging through our identities we need to liberate ourselves from narrow collective selfish categories created by these identities. We need to expand our boundaries as a spiritual exercise to accommodate others to welcome them as brothers and sisters of our society.
Jesus was involved in this ministry throughout his earthly life as a responsibility of God’s Kingdom. His association with Samaritans and Greeks of His time confirms how he expanded narrow ethno religious boundaries of his people Jews. Always Jesus created space for the people who were not in his groups religiously or ethnically to accept them as people created in the image of God. Whenever others rejected them he took a stand and accepted them as brothers and sisters.
Today as a diocese we are called to get involved in this mission of reconciliation as his witnesses through the power of the Holy Spirit. this is God’s challenge for us. This us keep a moment of silence and try to comprehend this responsibility………..
God and Caesar
Then Jesus said to them “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” Matthew 22:21
You know the story. When Jesus was asked whether it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar the Roman colonial ruler this was answer given by Jesus. Who came and asked this question from Jesus? They were the disciples of Pharisees and Herodians. Here it is important to remember that usually Pharisees and Herodians did not come together. But because of the fact that both these groups thought that Jesus was against them they came to gather to trap Jesus. They thought the best way to trap Jesus was to ask a political question about Taxes paid to Caesar the Roman emperor of that time.
Jews who were ruled by the Romans of that time generally were against paying taxes to Caesar. But because of the Roman power irrespective of their protests they had to pay taxes to the Roman government. Therefore although Jews were opposed paying taxed to Caesar openly they were frightened to protest against this and say that they should not pay taxes to Caesar.
When Pharisees and Herodians sent their disciples to Jesus to ask this question about taxes most probably they would have had thought that Jesus would openly protest against the idea of paying taxed to Caesar. If he did that would have had been enough to bring charges against Jesus in a Roman court to have a trial against him.
On the other hand if Jesus said that it was alright to pay taxes to Caesar they would have had told the Jewish people that he was a traitor who encouraged people to pay taxes to the Roman Government.
Here the answer given by Jesus was very interesting. He did not give a straightforward answer but gave an answer for people to think and reflect on the whole political issue of paying taxes to those Roman foreigners who occupied their land.
When Jesus Said that Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s, did he mean that one should divide God’s potion and kings or rulers potion and given those to them respectively?
To understand what he meant by this answer it is necessary to comprehend the philosophy of Jesus regarding this issue. As a Jew Jesus believed that the geographical area of Jews belonged to God. Therefore when Romans invaded their land it was not just an invasion of Jewish territory but an attack on a territory belonged to God.
Therefore when Jesus said that Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s indirectly what he meant was that there was nothing that belonged to Caesar in that area. Or in other words what he said was if there is anything that belonged to Caesar give that to him.
Therefore the deep meaning of this answer tells us that everything belongs to God. Not only the things that we particularly give to God. Do you remember the words of our offertory prayer? Everything belongs to God. Even what we give to God belongs to him.
As Christians we can’t have this dichotomy of things belong to God and the king or ruler. Rulers and kings are temporary stewards of what permanently belongs to God. What belongs to God belongs to the whole creation of God. Therefore when we enjoy our lands, money, wealth and so on let’s remember they are not the sole property of my group and me. We have a Christian responsibility to sustain God’s creation for the use of everybody who are part of God’s creation.
Therefore broadly speaking it is hard to divide things into secular and sacred. All so called secular things are sacred and all so called sacred things are secular because they belong to God. Because they belong to God they belong to all of us.
As we get involve in and day-to-day activities let us remember that everything belongs to God including our own lives and that we cannot possess anything selfishly.
May God bless you! Amen.
Today we are celebrating the New Year and the circumcision of our Lord Jesus Christ. New Year links the old and the new. The Old is gone and the new is yet to come. It is not a coincident that we celebrate the circumcision of our Lord and the New Year together. As we celebrate the circumcision of our Lord it is important to know the meaning and background of this custom.
Abraham the father of Jews, or the father of Jesus’ people circumcised his promised son Isaac on the eight day. During that time Circumcision was widely practiced in the near east where they lived. But most of the people in that area did this ceremony when the child was a young person around 13 years old. But as a sign of the convenient made by God with Abraham he circumcised his son when he was eight days old. Therefore the first authentic Jew was Isaac.
Here we see how Abraham started a new tradition with the old custom of circumcision. With this new beginning Isaac was included as a member of the covenant community when he was just eight days old. This shows how Abraham transformed the place of children in their community with the revelation of one true God.
This new beginning transformed the attitude of the descendents of Abraham to create a community including even very small children as the people of God with rights and privileges.
Here it is necessary to understand that this new transformation sprang up from the inspiration that they inherited from the old tradition. I believe that it is helpful to have this attitude as we enter into this New Year. We can get so much of inspiration from the old tradition to face the New Year with courage and determination.
Here we must guard ourselves from to extremes. There are some people who think that the old is gold and try to linger in the past. They prefer to talk and boast about the past and forget that they have to face new challengers in the future.
There are others who think that the old is useless and try to eradicate the past. They like to live in the present and the future thinking that the old has nothing to offer for their future.
Both these extremes are not helpful. We have to learn lessons from the past. For a meaningful future it is necessary to look forward to the future. But always we have to live in the present. We are called to amalgamate and synchronize the past and the future into our present realities.
This is what Mary the mother Jesus did by narrating magnificat. Today as we enter into yet another year we are called to narrate magnificat
Through magnificat Mary highlighted the hope where people would be able to journey from slavery to freedom. This should be our hope as well.
We live in various slaveries such as greed, selfishness and denial of basic human rights. As we enter into this year by celebrating the circumcision of Christ let’s commit ourselves to enable people to have this freedom as human beings.
Let’s always remember that God so loved the world and gave His Son to save the world. Let’s commit ourselves for this task. May God bless you.
The feast of Epiphany
On January 6th Western Churches keep the feast of Epiphany. By celebrating this feast they commemorate the manifestation of Christ to gentiles. The scriptural foundation of this story is the coming of the wise men from the East to worship the Christ. This story of the visit of the men called magi in the Greek text is found only in St. Matthew’s Gospel. This shows that this account is unique to the tradition of St. Matthew’s Gospel. Most probably the writer of St. Matthew’s Gospel would have had a very good reason for including this story, which is not found in other New Testament traditions.
Who were these wise men or magi? How many of them came to worship the Christ? What was the theological foundation of the faith community of this story?
According to some scholars these magi were Zoroastrian priests from Persia. But there are many other traditions concerning these men. According to one such tradition one of the wise men was Gasper peria perumal, a king from Jaffna in the extreme North of Sri Lanka. The Bible claims only that these men came from the East.
It is not clear how many of them came to worship the Christ. Some oriental traditions say that there were 12 wise men. Although Western tradition does not give an exact number, it has preferred three, as these men offered three gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Perhaps this story was included in St. Matthew’s Gospel to convey the message to a Jewish audience that Jesus was not confined to one race, the Jews, but he belongs to the whole human race. The reason for this is that in St. Matthew’s Gospel there are many clues that the book was written mainly from a Jewish perspective. For instance, in St. Matthew’s Gospel the genealogy of Jesus starts with Abraham the forefather of Jews, whereas the writer of St. Luke’s Gospel traces the lineage of Jesus to Adam, the first man according to the book of Genesis in the Bible.
Therefore the coming of wise men to worship Jesus has a very important theological significance in the Christian gospel. By the birth of Christ the exclusive ethnocentric boundary of the revelation of God, the Ultimate Reality in Judaism, was widened. The writer of St. John’s Gospel was inspired probably in the latter part of the first century or beginning of the second century to pronounce that God so loved the world and gave His Son to redeem the world by taking the precedent from the theological message of the coming of the wise men.
As men and women of Sri Lanka this coming has a very important message for us. Often, perhaps without our knowledge, we think that we have the monopoly of God or the ultimate reality. But this coming of wise men whose origin is still not certain reminds us that God can be recognised and worshipped by unrecognised and unknown human beings.
Today as Christians in Sri Lanka are we ready to recognise God or the Ultimate Reality acknowledged by people other than Christians? Or are we so proud to say that God is only revealed to Christians and not to anybody else? As we celebrate the feast of Epiphany let us ask this question from ourselves.
May the Ultimate Reality help us to wrestle with this important question in order to be a blessing to the whole world.
Today all over the world Christians reflect, meditate on and contemplate unity. What do we mean by unity? What do we expect when we say we want unity? At least there could be two meanings and two expectations when we say that we want unity. Firstly, it can mean that we want everybody to be similar. For example, something like a school uniform. When girls or boys of a school wear the school uniform they look alike. Often when we say we want unity we expect others to be like us. Actually this is not really unity but uniformity. This kind of thing is possible up to a certain extent in communities where people speak the same language, believe in the same religion and are involved in the same trade or work.
But today in our societies, in the context of people becoming increasingly diverse in many ways such as culturally, linguistically and religiously, this kind of uniformity has become almost impossible. In fact as Christians we are not expected to be uniform. God is not uniform, he is a unity. He is a unity in trinity. He is a unity in diversity. Yet he remains One. The nature of God is the best example of unity in diversity.
To explain this unity in diversity St. Paul has used the metaphor of the human body. Where Christian unity is concerned he has stressed three important points. Firstly, to have unity he has said we must acknowledge that we are different. We are different from each other in many ways, just as the human body comprises many parts such as hands, legs and ears. Secondly, he has mentioned that although we are different we must realise that we depend on each other or we are interdependent. For example, if I want to take hold of something I must use my brain, hand and legs. Thirdly, he has said that we have common dependence on Christ as the head, just as our head controls our whole body.
How can we achieve this unity? This is the most important question. In this regard we in Sri Lanka have learnt two important things from our Buddhist brethren. Actually these two things are half-forgotten Christian legacies. Do you remember the prayer of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane where he said ‘Father, take this cup away from me, but not my will but your will be done’. Here Jesus renounced himself in favour of the will of the Father. That is how God the Father and God the Son remain as one. Because the Son always fulfils the will of the Father and the Father glorifies the Son.
The second aspect is impermanence. In our day-to-day life the idea of impermanence sounds negative and pessimistic. But think carefully: that is the nature of our life. We are ever-changing. Just now I am here. In the newt moment I am not here: because I have changed. Do you remember one of the things that Jesus said before His death? He said that a seed has to die for it to become a tree and bear fruit. A seed must change in order for it to produce fruit.
Therefore as Christians it is necessary to renounce our life for the growth of others. As Jesus said, if we want to gain our life we must lose it and if we lose it for Christ’s sake we gain life.
If we don’t understand the impermanence of human life we will keep on craving for things as though we can live forever. If we really understand these two things this will help us to promote unity and harmony in human society.
Let us ask God to give us His grace to understand these truths so as to make our lives meaningful for others and for us in society and to live in unity and peace.
God bless you, Amen.
Today once again we enter into another season of Lent. During this season we try to take account of our lives. We try to look into our inner life. To do this we use various means. Fasting is one of the traditional ways of focusing on our inner life. With the same purpose fasting is used in other religions such as by Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists. Do you think we can still use this age-old method meaningfully in the twenty-first century?
How can fasting be meaningful? What do we expect to gain by fasting? When we fast we feel hungry. For the food to be digested the stomach produces hydrochloric acid. That’s why when we are hungry we feel something burning in our stomach. That’s why in Sinhala the word for hungry literally means a fire in the stomach. And this makes us contemplate the material needs of others. Often we forget how many people in this world scarcely have the basic necessities of life.
Here I am reminded of a saying of the Roman Catholic Archbishop Don Helder Camara. He said "Food for my stomach is a material need, but food for my neighbour’s stomach is a spiritual matter." Do you think that it is God’s will for some people to have too much and others to have too little? This is a spiritual matter. Think about it. Some people have too little because others have too much.
Secondly, fasting teaches us self-discipline. When we fast we learn to control our emotions. This really helps us in our day-to-day activities. Lack of self-discipline is one of the main problems in our society. Often people try to control others but find it difficult to control themselves. Fasting is a good way of seeing how far we can control ourselves.
Thirdly, fasting helps us to realise that our lives do not wholly depend on material things. Perhaps unconsciously we think we depend on material things. Let me ask a question. "Do we live to eat or eat to live?" At times we think we live to eat and forget we eat to live. Do you remember how people wanted to make Jesus a king when he fed the five thousand? Jesus was very unhappy about this and said, "You follow me because I gave you something to eat."
Often we don’t realise how much our lives are controlled by material things. We have become slaves of money and wealth. Fasting helps us to liberate ourselves from this bondage. It is necessary for us to understand that although we need money and wealth for everything money and wealth are not everything.
Today I would like to draw your attention to these three aspects as subjects for meditation. Just think on these three things and see whether you can get some benefit from fasting. Let me remind you of them. First, to have a taste of the suffering of others. Secondly, to learn to control ourselves. Thirdly, to realise that we do not fully depend on material things.
I am sure you can use this as a way towards a higher level of spirituality, both for yourself and for the benefit of others. Take the first step during this Lent and go forward. Let us ask God to give us His grace to understand ourselves so that we will be able to serve him and His creation in His world.
May God bless you , Amen.
Why do we have harvest festivals in our churches? Is it necessary to have these harvest festivals? I am sure most of you will say that it is necessary to have a harvest festival in our church. Then we should ask the question “what is the meaning of harvest festivals?”
From very ancient times human beings noticed that they have to live on harvest. Because what they ate for their survival (things such as meat, vegetables and fruits) were the harvests. Later on to build their houses and make their clothes again they had to get necessary materials from the harvest. All these things made human beings realize that it is impossible for them to live without harvest.
Then naturally they had to ask the question how do thy get the harvest or from whom do they get the harvest. Then most of them came to realize that they get their harvest from a higher authority that was not visible.
Then they started worshiping natural phenomena such as the Sun and the Moon. Even today there are people who worship in this manner. Gradually in some cultures they began to believe that there is a power, which is behind and beyond all those powers.
Our Christian liturgical calendar is integrally connected to our harvest. For an example Easter or the resurrection of Jesus Christ took place in the context of Jewish Passover. Jewish Passover is connected to the feast of unleavened bread which was originally a harvest festival.
In this scenario we can see how our liturgical colours have been derived from the agricultural background in the context of harvest. For instance in the seasons of repentance we use purple as the liturgical colour. During the seasons of growth we use green as the liturgical colour
Theologically speaking all our Eucharistic services are harvest festivals. Because we offer fruits of the earth and of human labour at every Eucharist. Bread is made out of wheat flour. People work hard to get the harvest of wheat. Wine is made out of grapes. Again people have toil hard to get the harvest of grapes from the creeping plant of vine. Here we see how God offers the flesh and blood of his son through our harvest for our spiritual nourishment.
When we go a step further we can learn that all our worships are harvest festivals. The theological word for worship is called liturgy and this word is derived form 2 Greek words called Laos(laos) and ergon(ergon). Laos is people and ergon is work. The result of work of people is harvest. Therefore in our worship we offer to God the harvest of our God given time, money and resources etc.
It is the belief of Christians that every Eucharist is a small Easter. Whenever we celebrate the Eucharist we are living in the resurrection of the Jesus Christ. Beginning from the early Christians up to date we meet the resurrected Christ in the Eucharist.
According to the theology in the letter of James (James 1:18) resurrected Christ is God’s spiritual harvest and the first fruit of all he created.
Therefore as we celebrate a harvest festival let’s remember that we are a people of the harvest. Let’s experience and comprehend our God through our harvest who is the “power beyond all powers” in the universe.
Let’s commit ourselves to use the fruits of the earth and of human labour for his glory and for the furtherance of his kingdom here and now. May God bless you. Amen.
Displaced and migrant people
In our world people have been migrating due to various reasons. Among these people some of them migrate in search of better life. For instance to get better jobs, properties or prestige people go from place to place crossing their geographical, psychological and emotional boundaries. These sorts of migrations are optional and people make conscious decisions before they migrate.
But there is another group of people who are forced to migrate due to various other reasons beyond their control. According to the Bible Jesus’ parents had to migrate due to one of these reasons. When the king Herod ordered to kill infants to get rid of Jesus his parents had to migrate to Egypt to protect Jesus. Here we see that because of a political reason they had to migrate.
If you look at the life of Jesus carefully we can see that he was a double displaced person. Although his parents came from Bethlehem they lived in Galilee. We don’t know the exact reason why they had to live in Galilee instead of Bethlehem. Most probably due to a political reason such as a civil war they had to be displaced and were forced to live in Galilee.
Up to date there are many displaced people all over the world due to these political reasons. I consider it is important to have a good understanding of these political reasons for us to pray for these people and to get involve in this issue to liberate them from their bondage.
If you analyse this carefully we can see that these political issues are integrally connected to their various boundaries such as religious, cultural and ethnic category.
Among these categories ethnic and religious identities have become decisive in forcing them to be migrated and displaced.
Jesus had to migrate as an infant and was crucified as a young person because of his ethno-religious identity. Very often people assume that we have ethno-religious identities to isolate other people who do not belong to our identity. All of us have what is called xenophobia or dislike of strangers, foreigners and who to not belong to our group.
But our Lord and master Jesus Christ always challenges his followers to go beyond their boundaries and create xenophilia which is love strangers and others who are not in our group as a spiritual exercise. This is what he did throughout his ministry. His encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well and his dealings with Greeks can be given as examples.
This is our Christian responsibility towards displaced and migrant people. We are called to make these people comfortable and accepted.
In our country in this post war context there are many people who are displaced in their own country. As Jesus did and encouraged his disciples to do we must broaden our boundaries to accept and respect these people to restart their life with esteem and dignity.
Are we ready to do this?
May God bless you, Amen.
All Saints Sunday
Last Tuesday we celebrated the feast of All Saints and today is called All Saints Sunday. Therefore today for our meditation I would like to concentrate on the All Saints in our societies. Who is a saint? Often in day-to-day life when a person is very quiet talks and walks slowly we tempt to call that person a saint. Is this the Biblical and Christian understanding of a saint?
To investigate this let’s consider two saints, St. Peter and St. Paul from the New Testament. These two saints don’t come under that category that I mentioned earlier. They were very active noisy people. Then why are they called saints? What are the main qualities of a saint?
First of all saints were men and women of their own time. They had a sound understanding of the societies that they lived in. They always tried to evaluate their societies critically to improve the quality of life for the people who lived in their societies.
Secondly they often made every effort to defeat the self centred and selfish attitudes and acts to become useful members of their communities. They tried to think and do more for the betterment of other people than for themselves.
Thirdly saints were human beings who strived to change the structures of the societies to serve common people very specially the poor in the society.
Do you think that these sort saints lived long ago and they don’t exist today? Just look around you could find these saints even today.
In fact according to St. Paul all of us are called to be saints. Often we think to fulfil this calling we need to do great things, which are not possible for ordinary human beings like us. Here we tempt to forget that all the great things start with a small step.
Just think about the link that you started with Sri Lanka 20 years ago. Isn’t it hard to think that we have been having this link for 20 years?
May be you have not realised but this link is alive today because the basic principles of this link have been in line with the three qualities of saints that mentioned earlier.
This link was started to be in touch with what is happening in another part of the world, which is different from so many ways. Today this has enabled you to have a critical evaluation of your own life and to take steps to improve the lives of a group of people in another part of the globe.
Undoubtedly this link has contributed to think more about other people, which in turn would have helped you to reduce selfish and self-centred tendencies of your lives.
The very fact that you started this link has changed the structure of this parish, which has widened your horizons.
This shows that by starting this link you have obeyed the call to be saints in the modern world. This link has enabled us to realise that to be saints as St. Paul has called Christians in the early church, is not one off thing but an on going and a growing process.
Therefore as we keep this all saints Sunday let’s commit ourselves to grow in this process to be effective and faithful citizens in God’s Kingdom here on our earth. May God bless you, Amen.
Christ the king
Before Jesus was crucified, at the trial, Pilot asked Jesus whether he was a King.
Then Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
Before giving this answer Jesus told Pilot that his kingdom is not of this world. Here it is important to notice that he did not say that his kingdom is not in this world but of this world.
According to St. John’s Gospel everyone on the side of the truth is in his kingdom. Which means that he is the king of the truth.
What is this truth? According to St. John’s gospel the Spirit of truth leads us into all truth. This is not something that we could explain with one world or one sentence. Everybody who accepts the kingship of Jesus is called to discover the truth with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
As the king of the kingdom of truth Jesus defended the truth by sacrificing his own life. We know that in other worldly kingdoms kings and rulers defend the geographical boundaries of their kingdoms with weapons at time killing other people. But God’s kingdom is not confined to a geographical limit and in this kingdom weapons are transformed into instruments to protect life.
Therefore as citizens of God’s kingdom we are called to protect and preserve life. In this process we are called to work with everybody who are committed to this task.
We should always remember that God’s kingdom is not confined to church. Church is supposed to be a place where the kingship of Jesus is accepted. But it does not have the monopoly of the control of God’s kingdom.
Therefore as citizens of God’ s kingdom it is our responsibility to get involved in the places where God’s kingdom prevails. It can be anywhere. When we go about doing our day-to-day activities let’s look for the places and situations where the will of God takes place to work for the promotion of his kingdom here and now.
Here at times we find difficult to accept and admit the fact that God’s kingdom is active in places where we don’t expect it to be. Here we get a challenge to humble ourselves to obey the will of God. This is well explained in our today’s gospel passage. In that parable of the last judgement the things done and not done by the people in the right and left respectively were not so called very religious things. They are very ordinary things that we do in our everyday life. When people are hungry to give them something to eat. When we come across people without cloths to provide them with something to wear. To go and visit people in the prison.
Here there is something very important. The people who were in the right and did not know that they were doing something for a reward. That was their nature. In their day to day life when there were situations that their services needed they just got involved. This is what is needed if we accept Christ as our king. Not to destroy life. But to protect and preserve life. This is the truth. W are called to celebrate life. To do every thing possible to sustain of life
Are we ready to do this? Let me great you with our traditional greeting which means, “ May you have abundance of life” .
May God bless you, Amen.
What is death? This is a question we ask at every funeral. This is something very hard to explain. Today we have gathered here to celebrate the life of our sister Hester. We are here because we still love her although she is not with us physically. That’s why it is written in the Bible that even the death cannot separate us from the love of Christ.
Hester akka was an energetic person who got involved in many aspects of our parish life and the activities of the community. For instance she was a Sunday school teacher for long time. She was an active and faithful member of our mothers union.
She looked after her husband and children and their children with love and care. She was a friend to many in her community. At the time of trouble she was there to help many people. She always tried to show God’s love to other people. Now she has finished her earthly pilgrimage. We say that she is gone and she is dead.
Do you think that we are here because believe in life after death? In fact we Christians do not believe in life after death. Then what do we believe in? We believe in life after life. What does this mean and how can we comprehend this reality. According to Biblical teachings up to a certain extent this can be explained through a growing seed. Seed is different from the plant that it produces. Different in size, shape and functions. But that plant comes from the seed. Plant and seed are inseparable. They are intertwined. Seed is gradually transformed into a plant. Our life after life is something similar to this reality.
We know that the Gospel of our Lord and Master Jesus Christ was the kingdom of God. He wanted us his disciples to become citizens of this kingdom. That’s why in the Lord’s prayer he taught us to say – I quote “ Thy Kingdom come and thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” un quote. Which means that we can be in his kingdom here and now. But it won’t end with our death but it continues. This is something similar to the relationship between the seed and the plant.
In this regard at times people think that the science and the religion are very different. But even in the field of science a scientist called Dalton proved scientifically that no power could be created or destroyed but one power is transformed into another. Even according this scientific theory at the death this power called life should be transformed into another power.
Therefore today as we give thanks to God for the life and work of our sister we rejoice in the fact that our sister was a person who tried to live as a citizen of His kingdom while she was physically alive. As this kingdom is not confined to time and space she continues to be in the realm of this kingdom. This kingdom is a state of being where our sister is still alive.
Therefore we are having this service for our consolation and not for the sake of our departed sister. But we give thanks to God for giving her as a human being to be with us for a period of time. We show our gratitude to God for all what we enjoyed through her life and service.
And also as we thank God for the life and ministry of our sister we are reminded that her destiny is our destiny as well. Therefore let us commit ourselves to live as faithful citizens of his kingdom here and now. Then when the day comes for each of us to have this transformation called death we will not be anxious to face this unavoidable reality.
May she rest in peace and rise in glory.
John the Baptist
During the season of Advent we commemorate the life and ministry of John and Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus. Who was John the Baptist? He was a cousin of Jesus and came from the line of priests. His father Zachariah was a Priest who offered sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem. Although John had the privilege of becoming a traditional priest he in a way gave up that privilege and decided to follow the prophetic tradition.
When we look at the life of John the Baptist he was a combination of priest, prophet and ascetic. Over and above he was a ‘radical’. I am aware that some people are scared of the word radical. What is the root meaning of radical? The root meaning of the word radical comes from the Latin word Radex. Radex means roots. Therefore the true meaning of a radical is a person who goes to the roots. John the Baptist encouraged people to go to the roots of their issues.
How did he do this? He asked people to repent. Before he requested people to repent he went to a desert and led a very simple and basic lifestyle. In a way he renounced all the earthly comforts and asked people to be close to nature and God.
To understand the ministry of John it is necessary to have a sound understanding of the context of the society that he lived. During his time this area was under the Roman Imperial Government. Therefore Jews expected a Messiah or a Saviour to come and redeem them from the Romans.
In that society many Jews expected a glorified Messiah who would defeat the Romans and bring liberation to the Jews. Their expectation was that by killing their enemies they would enjoy freedom. But John invited people to repent and wait for God’s Kingdom. In a way John wanted people to get ready to accept the Messiah by developing the concept and philosophy of ‘Avihimsa’.
What is this Avihimsa? This is to nurture the nature and understand the true nature of human beings to enjoy freedom. By inviting people to repent, John directed people to understand the true nature of their lives.
In all these things the uniqueness of John was that he always emphasized that he was not the Messiah. Because during this time there were many people who claimed to be the Messiah. To stress this John said that even he was not fit to untie the sandals of the Messiah.
As we commemorate the life and ministry of John the Baptist, let us ask from ourselves, what is the way in which we should prepare ourselves to accept the coming of the Messiah? Let us look in to this important concern as individuals, families, a church and a country. To prepare ourselves we have carol services, we do charity, colourwash our houses and etc.: as a country after the war we are concerned about many material things.
I don’t deny the fact that these things are necessary as human beings. Do you think that these things alone will bring us lasting peace, prosperity and freedom?
Some time ago I attended a consultation convened by an institute to discuss a research report on development of the Eastern province of Sri Lanka. In the course of the conversation we discussed about the infrastructure facilities such as roads, schools and hospitals. But then gradually we realized that the main issues were the relationships and interactions of and between the people in the area.
Still people are unable to repent and understand the true nature of their lives. They are not willing to renounce at least certain things for the growth of others. Everybody wants to be a winner. We have a huge responsibility in this regard. Some of you would have heard of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa, where people came forward and openly accepted all the killings and atrocities done by them. If they acted in that manner they were pardoned. This became a very effective exercise to start the reconciliation between the blacks and whites in South Africa.
This is an important lesson for us in Sri Lanka too. When are we going to start a process of this nature? What is our responsibility in this regards?
May God bless you!
Woman with an issue of blood
Mark 5: 21-43
During his earthly ministry Jesus healed many people. Why did he heal those sick people? He healed those sick people as signs of God’s kingdom. That’s why right at the beginning of his ministry he said that he came to give sight to the blind, release the oppressed etc and proclaim the year of the Lord. Therefore he did not heal people to surprise people or to advertise his ministry. They were integrally connected to the main purpose of his ministry.
In our today’s gospel passage we listened to two such healings done by Jesus. Let’s look at these two healings carefully. First of all an influential Roman officer came to Jesus openly and asked him to heal his daughter. Then before he went Jairus’s house in between we get another interesting incident of a healing.
This time it is not an influential powerful person but a woman with an issue of blood. This woman has spent all her wealth to have healing. Now she is poor. She is helpless and hopeless. In this desperate situation she approaches Jesus.
When she approached Jesus she had to face a big issue which is not elaborated in the text. In that society woman with an issue of blood could not come openly and tell her problem to Jesus. Because she was considered unclean. Now what can she do? On the other hand if she touches another person that person also becomes unclean. She hasn’t got any option to approach Jesus.
I am sure she would have contemplated on this issue. Finally she decided to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment. Did Jesus ever ask people to touch his garment to get healing? Then how did she learn this. Touching a powerful person or a holy object to get consolation is a very old custom still practiced in our society. I am sure you have seen this in your society.
According to this ancient custom when this woman with an issue of blood touched the hem of Jesus’ garment he accepted that act an encouraged her. Why did Jesus accept this act?
Jesus accepted this act because of the helpless and hopeless situation of this woman. In this story the writer tries to give the mindset Jesus in an indirect manner. After listening to the request of Jairus Jesus created space for this desperate woman to have courage to face the society.
As his disciples through this account we have an important message from Jesus. Often we are busy with powerful and influential business. These businesses often alienate us from the hopeless and helpless people of our society.
As Jesus did it is our responsibility to create space for those people to come out of their desperate conditions to face the society with courage and determination. As we deal with these people sometimes we find that their way of thinking is different from our way of thinking. At times these thinking patterns can even contradict each other.
Here we should remember that the most important thing is to understand them and their way of thinking to redeem them from various bondages.
Therefore let us ask God to give us his grace to expand our boundaries to understand others to enable them to face their future with courage and determination.
In the recent past some Christians and Christian groups have been saying that as Christians we need to be born again. Some have said that if we are not born again we are not proper Christians. Is this true? What is our understanding of this?
To understand this we need to study today’s gospel passage, which is the third chapter of St. John’s gospel. Only in St. John’s gospel do we get this concept of being “born again”. We don’t find this in Matthew, Mark and Luke, the synoptic gospels. Why only in St. John’a gospel? Were the writers of the synoptic gospels not in favour of this concept of being born again?. Or was there another reason?
St. John’s gospel was the last canonical gospel to be written. If we analyse it carefully we see very clearly that the writer of the gospel tried to explain certain realities of the synoptic tradition. In a way this gospel is a commentary or theological reflection on the synoptic tradition.
In the synoptic tradition we get stories of miracles performed by Jesus. In St. John’s gospel we get seven miracle stories or signs with theological interpretations and reflections.
We should understand today’s gospel passage in the light of the character of St. John’s gospel. Chapter three, which is the appointed passage for today, is a theological reflection on Christian baptism.
In the background of Christian baptism this story highlights the shift from the old religion of Judaism to a new religion or a new way of life. Nicodemus represented the old religion Judaism, and he came to Jesus in the night. Then Jesus says that we must be born again if we are to see the Kingdom of God. Jesus symbolically shows what happens when a person is born again in the story immediately before this passage in St. John’s gospel, which is the cleansing of the Jerusalem Temple. In the synoptic tradition of the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple is mentioned towards the end of each gospel. In St. John's gospel the writer gives the meaning of Jesus’ cleansing of the temple by connecting it to Christian baptism.
The encounter of Jesus with Nicodemus reminds us that our baptism is not just a ritual but requires us to change our lives. In this passage Jesus says, “ I tell you the truth, no one can enter the Kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the spirit.”
During this season of Lent it is important for us as Christians to take this saying seriously. Are we ready to be born again? If so, just as Jesus cleansed the Temple, we should be ready to clean our lives. Our life is the temple of God. Which means we must be ready to give up all the corrupt things of our lives.
But if we are not ready to cleanse our lives we will keep on collecting a huge pile of rubbish, which eventually makes us stink in society.
Just think about this. Are we ready to cleanse are lives and be born again?
May God bless you , Amen.