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Sermon for All Saints Day, All Souls Day and Sunday (2.11.2014)


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November 1, 2014
Saturday

                                            All Saints Day

Jeremiah 31:31-34                                                       Psalm 150
Revelation 7:2-4, 9-17                                                  Matthew 5:1-12

Collect: O Lord, You have wonderfully bound together all Your faithful people in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of Your Son Christ our Lord; give us grace so to follow Your blessed saints in faith and holy obedience that we may come to that unutterable joy which You have prepared for those who truly love You; through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever more. Amen.

Key Verse:  Matthew. 5:6

“ Blessed are those who hungry and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied”

The Roman Catholic Church canonize and declare women and men like Mother Teressa and Father Damien as saints precisely because they did thirst for righteousness sake. Mother Teresa looked for righteousness in the restoration of human dignity in the poorest of the poor and in people at life’s end. So also Fr. Damien took the very difficult decision of caring for the welfare of the Leprosy patients unto his life’s end. Both wanted to establish peace and justice to human beings CREATED BY GOD , whatever situation faced them.They sought for a society that offered SHALOM for every human being. This was their quest. And the Catholic church with all its meticulous requirements found them worthy and deserving to be called Saints.

For the church, it becomes A MODEL in the church history. St. Paul on the other hand calls all the dedicated Christians as SAINTS in all his epistles. For St. Paul, it is both the GRACE of God and His Calling which makes Christians Saints. Therefore , every Christian is called to lead a life seeking the righteousness of God. And we need to seek to create a society with Justice and  PEACE. We are in a society tainted with Corruption top to bottom, a lot of marginalization of people on the basis of caste and economic status. Oppression on Gender considerations. This is not only in society, we find it increasingly happening in the church as well.Therefore we are called to thirst for justice and peace, to seek and to establish it.

Now how do we decide who is a Saint? Are there measurements? Should we appear before  a Forum, to be recognized as Saints? Or is it a Degree to be prefixed or added to our names? How do we discern who is a Saint?

Our Lord has given us Three Spiritual Laws as Laws of Christian Living which will constitute the Life of  SAINTS

The first one is LOVE – agape.( Jn.3:16) We are called to imitate Christ and have the mind of Christ , remember 1Cor. 13 and all the commandments of LOVE in the Bible and be filled with God’s love and love our neighbours. And we need to practice  loving,caring and sharing life.

The second Law is SERVE- diakonia (Mt.20:28) We are called to serve others and meet their needs and be prepared to walk a second mile  and not try to boss over others. Saintly living demands a serving character.

The third law is Self Emptying -  kenosis (Phil 2:7.).Its giving yourself in full for a cause of Justice. There is no room for an ego consciousness. There is no room for nepotism.There is no room to be hurt. No provision for status. You simply give all your resources for the cause, as Jesus emptied Himself of all His glory to be with God. And became a man.

These 3 spiritual laws can help you to grow into maturity of a saintly living. This is why St.Peter calls all the Christians A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD…GOD’S OWN PEOPLE ( Pet.2:9).Therefore on this ALL SAINTS’S DAY, let us thank God for the departed SAINTS who have left a  MODEL to us , that we may follow their rich witnessing way of life. The Bible says, you will be satisfied” . Therefore, let us celebrate this day.

All Saints Day is a day not for mourning but for rejoicing.

Rt. Rev. Dr. D. Pothirajulu



November 2, 2014
Sunday

                                                         Nurturing in Faith

Christian Education Sunday

Proverbs 23:15-26                                                        Psalm 127
Ephesians 6: 10- 18                                                     Matthew 18: 1-6

Collect: God the Great Guru, Who builds and guards the people of God in Your wisdom, Make us obedient listeners of Your Word, mould us to be strong in You, enrobe us with the armor of God, enable us to stand fi rm in boldness to the mystery of the Gospel, so that we may humble ourselves to Your wisdom and turn to become like little children to be nurtured in Your word, to overcome the evils of this world, Through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever more. Amen.

Key Verse: "And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them..." (Matt. 18:2,3)

In all the churches established by the early Protestant missionaries formally structured parish based teaching ministry was given much prominence. Needless to say, the missionaries viewed the Sunday School as the nurturing ground for the future leaders of the Indian Church. The children (learners) were passive receipients of all the information loaded into their heads by way of Bible stories, ethical principles, character narratives and songs by their teachers. The popular imagery was that of a factory wherein the raw materials were fed into the machine at one end and the finished product was delivered at the other end. In modern times such a pattern of Christian Education came to be seriously questioned by several re-thinking Christian Educators, so that both in the seminaries and local congregations there developed a strong feeling that instead of mere Bible knowledge, Christian faith should be the primary concern of the Church's teaching ministry. They advocated an alternative imagery - that of a tree. In as much as the tree grows and yields fruit utilising the resources in the soil and fertilizers, the children have to be enabled in nurturing environments to grow as responsible Church members, nay disciples of Christ.  Based on this new understanding of Christian Education today children are regarded not as the objects of the Church's teaching ministry but as the subjects around whom the Church's (1) priority, (2) perspective, (3) pattern and (4) paradigm in educational ministry should revolve.

Priority (Ps. 127:3-5)

The ultimate priority of the Indian Church should be to equip the children, youth and adults in such in way that every local congregation emerges as a vibrant faith community. The imageries used by the Psalmist are that of 'arrows' and 'quiver' of a warrior. Arrows are used both for defense and offense. The daughters and sons like arrows have to be shaped by their parents who are the spiritual warriors, to uphold the credibility of the Church on the one hand and also to extend the boundaries of the Church's ministry and secular witness in the society at large. The challenge before the Church leaders is to view the children as a precious gift or a trust received from God. "Lo, sons are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward".( Ps 127:3). If the present generation should be the foundation for a  vibrant Church of tomorrow to monitor their  Christian faith formation is not only the responsibility but also an important aspect of the accountability of the older generation. Bearing this in mind the Liturgists of The C.S.I. Book of Common Worship - The Baptism of Infants have included a bold question to the congregation - "Dearly beloved, will you be faithful to your calling as members of the Church of Christ, so that these and all other children in your midst may grow up in the knowledge and love of him?". For which the congregation's response would be - "We will, God being our helper; and we welcome them in to our fellowship" (p. 119).

Perspective (Prov. 23:20-25)

 In the epistle portion cited above Paul uses the imagery of an 'armour' and underlines six Biblical concepts viz. truth, righteousness, gospel of peace, faith, salvation and the Word of God. In as much as being armed for a battle is an experience Paul draws attention to prayer, as that which leads the believer through the faith-struggles underlying the concepts that he portrays as constituting the armour of God. In the contemporary Indian society wherein the Church has to wrestle  with the demon of poverty, caste, dowry and greed - truth may be interpreted as genuine commitment to her calling, righteousness as distributive justice, gospel of peace as her bridge-building and reconciliation ministries, faith as her fresh obedience discerning the movement of the Spirit, salvation as enabling the voiceless to regain their voice and Word of God as exposing the idols of power (authority), prosperity gospel and commercialisation of spirituality. If tomorrow's Church should emerge as a prophetic voice in the Indian sub-continent the syllabus that is used in Sunday Schools and the programmes structured for the confirmands, youth, women and men in the local congregations should address the life and death issues of the Indian masses from the perspective of Christian faith.

Pattern (Prov. 23:20-25)

It is often observed by the Christian educators that Religion is taught and Faith is caught. Although it is true that Christian faith has an intellectual dimension (something to think, critique, remember and reflect upon) it is increasingly believed that one's lifestyle is influenced more by the prejudices, biases, interests and dispositions of one's immediate neighbours. This shows the pervasive influence of the informal groups such as family members and peers cannot be under estimated. In the passage indicated above in verses 20 & 21 there is a reference to peer pressure and verses 22, 24 & 25 focus on parents or significant adults. Since several Christian children and youth spend much of their time on school / college campuses on weekdays and interact with students belonging to other faiths, to shape their Christian identity the local congregations have to provide well organised and trained peer groups and structure programmes to channelise their energies and talents creatively and productively. Simultaneously recognising the role of the families in the character formation of the children and youth, family clusters (fellowship groups) and family education programmes (home based Bible study and reflection sessions) may be organised by those responsible for Christian education ministries, along with congregational retreats, picnics and get togethers.

Paradigm (Matt 18: 2,3 & 4)

The dominant paradigm in Christian education from time immemorial has been to keep the teacher/instructor as the key figure, with the power to determine the Christian faith perspectives and the lifestyle of the children. Irrespective of her/his credentials the teacher was given the responsibility to select the curriculum material,  methods and teaching aids. The parents were happy when their children recited Bible verses, sang choruses and repeated the stories heard in the Sunday school classes, without paying attention to their grasping capacity and their level of understanding the Biblical concepts. Jesus the Master-Teacher in the passage given above advocated a child-centred paradigm. He wanted the adults to see not just the physical appearance of the child but also the child's way of relating to the world, nay the Kingdom of God. For the children learn things through their sense perception rather than critical analysis. Jesus wanted to impress on His audience that the Kingdom of God which He had inaugurated is something to be experienced, as it challenges people to change their ways. Whenever a change is necessitated humility to accept the new learning/pattern of behaviour is an essential requisite. Jesus highlighted not only innocence or the grace to learn but humbleness as the great possession of little ones that needs to be emulated by adults. Such a paradigmatic shift is the need of the hour in Church education.

Conclusion

"Nurturing in Faith" in the final analysis is an ongoing process. It is from infancy to old age. If faith has to nurtured then attention needs to be paid to the environment in which the children and youth are growing. Faith being a gift of God the Sunday school teachers instead of adopting a 'school-master' approach need to play an enabling role in the lives of their clientele. What is needed is a human touch to all the educational efforts inside and outside the classrooms. Besides training in handling the curriculum material the facilitators should have an exposure to group dynamics, counselling and leadership practices. For, nurturing has more to do with likes and dislikes, interests and needs and also attitudes and aptitudes of the learners, more than loading their heads with mere knowledge or information.

Illustration

Some years ago the writer of this sermon during one of his overseas visits was taken to a school of general education run by one of the partner churches of the C.S.I. As he entered the main building it was engraved on the wall in bold letters - "Handle with care - Children inside". On his return back to his congregation when he shared this experience with the Sunday school superintendent the latter suggested that there should be a board at the venue of the Sunday School Ministry stating - "Handle with care - God's children inside". It is more important to bear this reality in mind rather than to hang a board in the Sunday school venue.

Rev. Dr. Arun Gopal (Retd)
Madras Diocese



November 2, 2014
Sunday

                                     Commemoration of the Faithful Departed

                                         All Souls Day

Isaiah 25:6-9                                                   Psalm 118:14-15, 17-21
2 Corinthians 5:1-10 / Heb.12:1-2                     Gospel John 11:21-27

Collect: Eternal God, Maker and Redeemer of all believers, pour out upon Your whole Church in paradise and on earth the fullness of Your light and grace; and grant that we, following the example of those who have served You here and are now at rest, may at last enter with them into Your unending joy; through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever more. Amen

Commemoration means to remember. Today we have come together to remember all those who have departed from us. Who some way or the other, have contributed in our lives. 

Why should we remember the departed? Of course, the most direct and simple answer to this question is. That they are not dead but they are still living with us. Physically they are departed but living in our hearts and memories. 

As Christians, we believe in the truth of resurrection.  That life is transformed but not ended. Rather they have entered into another phase of life. The departed are now living a life with God. Therefore, we thank God for their life and witness. In addition, we acknowledge their virtues and examples, which they have left for us.

This passage    John 11: 21-27  speaks about the message of All souls Day. Martha was bitterly disappointed at the death of her brother Lazarus while her sister Mary and other relatives mourn the death of Lazarus. Martha marched right out to the edge of town as she heard that Jesus was coming. When Martha met Jesus she said, “ If you had come when we called you, My brother Lazarus would not be dead”.  .

When death strikes we feel hurt and disappointed the pain and agony remains forever. Similar pain was under went by Martha when she had missed her brother.

 At this point of time Jesus said to Martha, “ I am the resurrection and the life.” 

These words of Jesus filled Martha with hope and comfort .Her faith and hope was renewed. , she said to Jesus “yes lord, I believe “.This   statement of Martha was a courageous one. Which inspired her to lead a life with a hope? The same inspiration we too receive in our lives at times of pain and agony. 

Friends as we remember this day, our dear ones who have departed from us. Let us renew our faith in Christ like Martha. Let us strengthen our faith and reaffirm that life can be living forever.  As we pray for the departed soul, they are remembered forever in our lives. Amen.

Prayer: Merciful God hear our prayer as we renew our faith in your son, Whom you have raised from the death, strengthen our hope that all our departed souls will share in their resurrection, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. 

 Rev. N. Usha Rani, KCD





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