Monday, July 15, 2019

Thinking Highly of God

(The summary of a class I presented in a youth meeting in St.Gregorios church, Houston,  Texas.)

A few days ago I asked a young man of 15 to name someone he looked up to, and right away he told me the name a basketball player. He enjoyed playing basketball, and so he thought highly of a good basketball player. It is natural for young people to have such role models based on their interests and values. If you value music, you look up to a musician. If you value wealth, you look up to a wealthy person. If you value power, you look up to a powerful person. When I was young, I valued knowledge very much,and so I looked up to knowledgeable people.

You meet a lot of people around you, but only a few of them you look up to. When you look up to someone, you greatly admire that person by giving him a very high position in your mind. You dream to become like him/her, and you strive to achieve your dream. You speak highly of that person. You praise him.

Let us imagine that you enjoy playing basketball. One day you get to know that someone in your community you have always known is a good basketball player. Immediately this person rises to a very high position in your mind. You begin to admire him, and begin to enjoy his company.  

Let me site an example from a familiar parable of Jesus -- of the prodigal son. He had always known his father, but when he had a chance to be away from him and to work under a master feeding his pigs, he gained a new understanding of his father. He realized what a great man his father was compared to his master. His father suddenly rose to a very high position in his mind. He was in a hurry to meet his father and apologize to him. The new understanding of his father radically changed his life.

This leads us to our topic today. We have always known God, our heavenly father. What if you gain a new understanding of God today? God will suddenly rise to a higher position in your mind. You will begin admiring God, and you would want to apologize to God for having a misunderstanding earlier.  

If I ask you why we come to church, most of us will say, we come here to pray to God. But a better response would be that we come here to worship God -- to praise God. What do we praise God for?

The prodigal son praised his father for being kind to his servants. What do we praise God for? We praise God for being holy. We started praising God holy about 700 years before Christ. Let me tell you the story of how it happened.

There lived a man called Isaiah in Israel, and he was known as a prophet. One day when he was meditating inside the temple, he had a vision of God, and he came out with a new understanding of God which radically altered his life. In his vision, he saw the angels praising God Holy repeatedly. In order to understand its significance, we need to know the background of this vision. It happened right after Uzia, the king of Judea, caught leprosy and died. Uzia ruled Judea for half a century, and the land prospered under this rule. As he was a good king, people admired him greatly. It was believed in those days that leprosy was a punishment from God, and priests in the temple claimed that the king was punished by God for using censor in the temple. As a result, we may rightly assume that the people in general were very upset and angry at God for punishing such a good king for such a silly reason. Isaiah must also have blamed God. He must have been meditating in the temple seeking a solution. That is when he had the vision of angels praising God. He realized that although the people of the land were blaming God, the angels were not blaming. They were asserting that God is holy.
Isaiah probably thought about it and realized that God, who knows everything, cannot do anything wrong. The king’s illness might not have been a punishment from God. He along with the people of the land had been too foolish to blame God. As soon as he realized his mistake, he openly apologized, and he was forgiven right away. Isaiah came out of the temple and told everyone that God is holy, and that they were foolish to blame God.

The praise of the angels provided a model for our worship. When we gather in the house of God, we stand before God and praise God holy along with the angels. Our forefathers developed an order of worship expanding upon the angels’ worship.

Jesus made the same assertion about God. One day someone addressed Jesus good Lord, and he responded that God alone is good. Paul meant the same thing when he said God alone is righteous. John wrote that God is light, and there is no darkness in God. Speaking about God, holy, good and righteous seem to be synonyms.

The statement that God alone is holy means that we are not holy. Knowing everything, God doesn’t do anything wrong, but with our partial knowledge, whatever we think, speak and act could be wrong. This realization that it is human to err makes it easy to admit our mistakes and forgive others for their mistakes.   
The angels in Isaiah’s vision praised God primarily for being holy.

Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty!

 They made two other assertions too.

God is the lord of the world -- a lord is the owner of land.
God is almighty -- with all the possible abilities.

The angels also claimed that the whole world is filled with the praises of God.

Later our forefathers expanded the praise of the angels further as follows:
Holy are you, O God!
Holy are you, O Almighty!  
Holy are you, O Immortal!

A third assertion is added here, that God is immortal. Unlike the world and everything in it that exist within time limit, God is beyond time limit, for God is the creator of time too.

After the crucifixion of Christ, the following assertion was added:
Crucified for us!
In Christ, we received a great revelation of God’s unconditional love. Unlike the popular understanding that God is a judge who punishes us for our wrong deeds, Christ taught us and showed us that God is really our father who gets crucified by us. The father of the prodigal son does not judge his sons, but he gets judged by his sons.

Jesus Christ taught us mainly two things about God: God alone is holy/good, God loves us unconditionally. This was the good news about God that Jesus proclaimed. This good news has the power to transform anyone who understands this good news.

Our order of worship was created by our fathers with the purpose of helping us understand this good news about God thoroughly well, so that we may live a life of love, joy and peace.     

Monday, June 24, 2019

Jesus’ Good News

(A summary of the sermon given at St.Paul &St.Peter’s church, Houston on June 23, 2019)

Today we heard from Matthew’s Gospel the story of Jesus sending his disciples with the good news -- the Kingdom of God is at hand. I have always wanted to know the meaning of the good news proclaimed by Jesus, and recently I have got a very clear understanding of what it means. This is what I am going to share with you now.

In order to understand Jesus’ good news, we need to live in the time and place of Jesus. Although we are far removed from Jesus’ time, we may imagine that we are living at that time and place. Let us imagine that we live in the fist century Israel, and we are among the people who listened to Jesus’ good news.

People had an extremely miserable life there. That place was occupied by the Romans, and under their rule, the Jews had no freedom to live a normal life as they wanted. Their economic situation was very bad, as they had to pay taxes to the Romans in addition to the temple tax. Many of them sold themselves into slavery. There were robbers everywhere, and life was not safe. Contagious diseases spread, and there were lepers everywhere. There were also mentally ill people everywhere, who were thought demon-possessed.
The people believed that they were in such a miserable situation because the world had been ruled by Satan. They had a story that originally Satan was a good angel, who turned evil by rebelling against God. They hoped and prayed that God would soon appoint a new ruler in place of Satan, whom they called the messiah, the anointed.

It is in this context that Jesus proclaimed the good news that God was going to take over the rule of the world from Satan. People were excited to hear the news. They approached Jesus for more details. They wanted to know if the messiah would come in the clouds, if he would do a judgment, and who would be on the right side of the messiah at the judgment.

Jesus made it clear to them that God was already ruling the world. If the people were under the rule of Satan, God was not to blame for it. They were free to remain under Satan’s rule or to escape from there and be under God’s rule. Jesus made his idea clear with the story of the prodigal son. He left his father and worked under a cruel master. When he realized his mistake, he left this master and ran toward his father. He was not kept in bondage by his master. He was free to leave. God, our heavenly father, is like his father, and Satan is like his cruel master. We are always free to leave Satan and go to our heavenly father, who is always willing to accept us.

In order to turn to his father, he needed to have two primary realizations of his father. He needed to realize that his father was right and he was wrong, and also that his father loved him unconditionally. We need these two realizations of God for us to turn to God.
1. We need to realize that God loves us, and God has nothing against us. God is willing to forgive us the worst crimes. God is always there with stretched arms to receive us.
2. We also need to realize that God is the only one who is always right, good and holy, for God is the only one who knows everything. We, with our limited knowledge, do mistakes. If we realize this we will be willing to admit our mistakes and seek forgiveness. We will also be willing to forgive others.

The prodigal son was willing to admit his mistakes, justifying his father, but his older brother justified his mistakes placing the blame on his father.

In the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they had the option to say sorry. But instead they justified themselves and put the blame on others. God, you are wrong,and I am right! That is how Adam said. The prodigal son said in the other way: father, you are right, and I am wrong.

In our Kauma, we say Holy art thou O God, and then we say, Lord have mercy on us sinners. Like the prodigal son we also admit that God is right (holy) and we are sinners (wrong).   

The realization that God alone is holy helps us to seek forgiveness and also forgive others. When we admit our mistakes, and forgive others, the world will transform to heaven-- a place of love, joy and peace.

May God bless us to transform our families, our communities, our workplaces, and our world into heaven!