Sustaining the Prayer Life of the Church

In the month of January of every year, we, the church, begin with the 21 days of prayer. We meet every morning from 6 to 6.30 during the weekdays. The members of the prayer team take their time to prepare the prayer points for that day and lead others in a time of prayer. This year was very special since the response was overwhelming. We had at least 15 callers every morning even though everyone did not pray but the prayer time was meaningful and refreshing. The scripture especially the Psalmist reminds us that we need to seek God very early in the morning. “O GOD, you are my God; early will I seek You” (Psalm 63:1a, NKJV). This is great but this seeking God early in the morning may not be everyone. While some seek God in the morning others may seek Him before going to bed. Whatever be the time, seeking God must be our priority.

If there is one thing that Jesus modeled for the disciples and thereafter to the church is this time with God. This is what Mark writes, “very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35, NIV). Jesus did this (prayed) all the time. Jesus was in prayer (according to Luke’s gospel) during baptism while the Holy Spirit fell on Him. Jesus prior to choosing His disciple spent the night in prayer probably asking His Father to help him make that decision so that those whom He did not choose will not get hurt by the choice or whatever could be the reason.

The Apostle Paul continues to instruct the church to pray “all the time,” and for many things. First of all, then, I urge that requests, prayers, intercessions, and thanks be offered on behalf of all people, even for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. Such prayer for all is good and welcomed before God our Savior, since he wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4). Look at how he starts, “first of all.” This reveals the importance of prayer in the life of the early church. The first disciples prayed for everything. When they wanted to decide who should take the place of Judas, they prayed. When they sent people to establish churches, they prayed. They did this not because they were “churchy” people but that was their way of inviting God into their decision-making process and most importantly, they wanted to find what is the plan and purpose of God for the church in the world.

We are off to a great start but how do we sustain this throughout the year is the big question I am wrestling with. I do not have a proper response, but I earnestly want to seek your help to sustain the prayer life of the church. You might say we already have a Wednesday prayer night where we pray for the needs of the church members, the community, and the needs of the world. Some of you might even suggest that we can rework the last Saturday of the month fasting and prayer into the church’s schedule. I agree, but there must be more to sustaining this prayer life.

In the Episcopal tradition and even the Church of South India, there is what is called the “morning prayer.” The Book of Common Prayer (BCP) in the Anglican tradition has a section for morning prayer. If I have not mistaken, there is a Psalm, an Epistle and a Gospel lesson that is assigned for the day. The scripture portion is read and if there is a prayer request it is then mentioned and prayed for. What if we try this beginning in February! It will be from 6-6.15 AM every weekday morning.

I will need the help of so many in the congregation who have a passion to pray for. We can prepare a calendar with the as- signed readings for the day, we simply read it and one of us pray for a particular prayer need or prayer point and close. Remember, the prayer must be short and to the point! In this way, we start the day with prayer just like Jesus did- taking that quality time with His Father. Am I asking for too much? May be. I was prompted to write after our prayer this morning. Let’s try it for the month of February and if this is too much, then we readjust our plan, but we must find a way to sustain the momentum we have gained. We must find ways to “Sustain the Prayer Life of the Church.”

My deepest desire for the church is to sustain the prayer life of every believer. It certainly will come at a cost of losing our snuggly moment in the morning, but I believe it will rejuvenate our prayer life and it will certainly make us better people and better church as we seek the heart of God on behalf of the world.

Rev. Kamalesh Stephen

From Pastor’s Desk: January 2022

TAKING A DIFFERENT ROUTE And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. Matthew 2:12 In Spain and among many South American countries, the visit of the Three Magi to see the baby Jesus is celebrated with much pomp and festivity than Christmas. There is this wonderful tradition in Mexico associated with the visit of the kings. This is what one blogger says, “there are similar traditions in Mexico where Epiphany is known as ‘El Dia de los Reyes’ (the day of The Three Kings). It’s traditional to eat a special cake called ‘Rosca de Reyes’ (Three Kings Cake). A figure of Baby Jesus is hidden inside the cake. Whoever has the baby Jesus in their piece of cake is the ‘Godparent’ of Jesus for that year.” What an awesome responsibility and honor to be the god parent of the most precious baby ever given to the human family.

This story of the visit of the Magi is part of the lectionary reading in January, referred to as the season of Epiphany. Epiphany simply means a moment of insight or revelation often associated with the heavenly or celestial beings to humans. While theophany is God’s revelation to humans; Epiphany is where God actually catches us by surprise when we least expect it. In some way, Epiphany starts with Christmas when the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth. (John1:14)” The journey continues when God continues to reveal God self to all especially the Gentiles. Matthew tells this story of the visit of the three Magi’s to alert his Jewish audience and us that this Messiah is one for all nations. There is no way we can stop the revealing of God to all nations. It is God’s prerogative and our only response is humble submission to God’s revealing in the world.

This story intrigues me for the following reasons: Why did these wise men leave the comforts of their life and home to seek a baby, who is only a promise of things to come? Why did they go seeking this baby in a palace? Why was Herod and “all Jerusalem” disturbed with this news? Did Herod actually want to pay homage to Jesus, especially knowing Herod’s brutal dealings with his own family? My interrogation intensified as I read this story multiple times.

The story has a very troubling and disturbing ending because after Herod is tricked, there is bloodshed and deep mourning and wailing because of the “killing of the innocent children”, all around Jerusalem. We often don’t associate with weeping during the time of Christmas, do we? May be, the Christmas of 2020 and 2021 was that time of deep mourning when we lost so many to this pandemic.

This is my main point after this long shot at this story. The amazing thing about this story is captured in verse 12 of Matthew 2. It says having been Rev. Dr. Kamalesh Stephen warned in a dream, the Magi took a different route. Every encounter with Jesus often ends with people taking a different route. Think about the way we have lived our lives prior to the encounter with the Lord and the ways we have responded after having met the Lord. Certainly, for me, the ways have been different – not easy but different. I want to take this a step further with the ways we do church. I have alerted the church on several different occasions and I want to unashamedly say this again.

In 2022, I believe God will prompt us to take a different direction and when that happens what will be our response. The amazing thing about the three kings is their humble submission and simple obedience to the prompting of the Spirit. Probably, they had the plans to return the same way, but things changed. The Magi were simply receptive to the warnings and promptings of the Holy Spirit. The early church only had Jerusalem in mind, maybe Judea, certainly not Samaria but ends of the world was never in their radar. The early church had to take “another route” many times as they simply responded to the call of God. And SO, MUST WE.

In 2022, I believe we are in the cusp of taking a different route. It is my humble prayer to the congregation to wait on God; allow for the Spirit to move; become receptive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and when it is time to move, pray for God’s wisdom and strength. May the One who has journeyed with us thus far lead us in new direction as we humble at His feet and become sensitive to the leading of His Spirit Blessings on our journey together.

Pastor Kamalesh

From Pastor’s Desk: December 2021

It is the end of November and I am sitting down to write this note to you. Last week we celebrated Thanksgiving with a timely reminder that we are called to thank God in advance and also, in response. We often think that thanking God in response to what God has done is easier than thanking God in advance. It is not so. We often take the things we receive from God for granted –like the 9 people with skin ailments in Luke’s gospel, who were healed by Jesus. The nine were not bad people but just that they were thankful for the gift instead of the Giver of that gift. Also, they took the healing for granted. Having an attitude of gratitude is a choice we make, and it is my prayer that we be thankful often and for everything we receive from the hands of God. Let me just say how grateful I am for each of you and for your faithful service to this church and the community around us. You have enriched our life with your presence, and prayers and I thank God for you.

Last year, I did an Advent/Christmas series with the title, Christmas Playlist. In that series, I picked the secular songs of this season like Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer and saw its allusions in the Nativity stories of the Bible. I wanted to do something similar this year, but my creative juices were in short supply. After much thought this is my Christmas series with you, and I hope you will help me with your thoughtful comments and suggestions as we journey along.

The old adage is that practice makes perfect. Anything that we don’t practice is often forgotten. For example, if you want to keep up with learning a new language or to master it you must practice the grammar/ syntax of that language or speaking it with someone on a regular basis. It is the same with wanting to play an instrument. The key word in all of this is practice.

During my second semester in seminary, I had to take New Testament Greek as part of the curriculum. It was an intensive course during the month of January and all I did was to practice it every day. As time passed, I didn’t keep up with my practice and now I can hardly remember Greek. It is the same thing with my French.

The word Practice is the key word for the next 4 Sundays in Advent, and I call this sermon series, the Christmas Practice. The lectionary readings from the gospel of Luke during this season of Advent and Christmas Eve is a great place to start.

Luke’s gospel (Luke 21: 25-36) for the first Sunday in Advent is tricky. The readings are apocalyptic in nature. Apocalyptic literature, according to Britannica is a “literary genre that foretells supernaturally inspired cataclysmic events that will transpire at the end of the world.”But why this kind as we begin the season of Advent and Christmas. The word advent simply means coming and so the readings point to the idea of the second coming of Jesus and how believers must act until He comes again. However, if you look at the readings carefully, Luke is not trying to scare us with his predictions instead he wants to tell us that even as we wait for the second coming, God is coming to us now. Therefore, don’t lose sight of God’s sighting in the world, now. For the first Sunday in Advent, the key verse was Luke 21:36 -Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”Our task as believers and the church is toPractice Mindfulness or Watchfulness.God is coming to us even now and we must practice mindfulness.

The readings for the next three Sundays in Advent and on Christmas Eve are taken from the gospel of Luke. In Luke 3, which is the reading from Advent 2, we meet John the Baptist who screams his head off to the people who are coming to be baptized by him. His call to the people is to repent. Later in that same chapter, which is Advent 3 reading, he answers the questions the soldiers, and tax collectors are posing to him about what they should do in keeping with repentance. I think John the Baptist is up to something; he is asking the church and the believer to engage in some sort of practice. If you get an “aha” moment, please share it with me.I believe if we consciously keep up with these practices during this season of Advent and throughout the year, we will have a meaningful Christmas to celebrate and an amazing walk with the Lord. I invite you on this journey.

– Rev. Kamalesh Stephen

From Pastor’s Desk: November 2021

On the 1st day of November, the church worldwide celebrates what is called as All Saints Day. Even though it is high holy day in the Roman Catholic church, some Protestant denominations even after Reformation still solemnly remember this day. In the Methodist church, they see “it as a day of giving God earnest gratitude for the lives and deaths of saints.” Saints (at least in the Protestant tradition) do not necessarily mean men and women who have been canonized by the Roman Catholic church; saints are also people who see themselves set apart from the ways of the world. The apostle Paul in his epistles often referred to the ordinary people in the church as saints. In that sense, you and I are saints –those who have been set apart to live lives that are holy unto God. We are called to live in the world but not of the world. As someone stated, we are both sinners and saints at the same time. Sinners because of our fallenness and saints because we have been clothed by the righteous-ness of God –this is not our own making but by the amazing grace of God!

Hebrews 11 is often referred to as “Faith Hall of Fame.” These were ordinary people who did some extraordinary things with the power of God. They stood up for something even when their life was in jeopardy. The author of Hebrews in the very end of this chapter quotes a list of names and in it he includes Rahab, the only woman outside of the covenant to be mentioned. If you carefully read the names, you will see that they were ordinary people, yet you see God redeeming them in the midst of their weak and broken selves.

What do we make of the millions of people whose names have not been mentioned in that hall of fame? These folks, women and men are the unsung heroes of the faith. The unsung heroes can be your Sunday school teacher who introduced you to Christ and the ones who took the time to pray and prepare in order deepen your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It can be your parent who cared for you and witnessed to the faith by their exemplary lives. It can be a friend who stood with you in your moments of deep distress. And the list goes on.

With every All Saints Day we are reminded of a few things about the Christian faith: first, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses and these are ordinary people, the unsung heroes of the faith. They are the cheerleaders who keep us encouraged when we face challenges in this life. They may not have been mentioned in the history books but their life of witness matters. Secondly, the Christian faith must be passed on to the next generation and even to those yet unborn. If we shrink from this responsibility, we stall the kingdom from moving further. So do your part and see the faith germinate and flourish in someone else.

In addition to All Saints Day, Thanksgiving remains so central to the month of November. Giving thanks to God is not something that we do instinctively especially when we are facing difficult moments in our life. Those difficult moments overshadow the need to give thanks for the many gifts that we so graciously receive from God. A friend of mine who wrote a blog recently talked about the difference between being grateful for and grateful to. While we are being grateful for the things that we have received from God, the focus seems to be on us. It is aninward focus. Our thankfulness must be “grateful to”, which means that we are outward focus and we are not the center of attraction but people whohave enriched our lives and ultimately God. It is Sir Isaac Newton who made this most famous statement: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants”. There are many who have contributed to our success and we need to be grateful to each of them.

As you enter this month, remember the unsung heroes in your life, give thanks for each of them and most importantly pass on the faith that you have received from them.

Happy Sharing,

Pastor Kamalesh

From Pastor’s Desk: October 2021

CHURCH – DRESS UP… I am reminded of a few things when the month of October rolls in. The change of weather and the fall colors. With the change of colors on our trees comes our deep praise and adoration for God’s amazing creation. The words of the Psalmist in Psalm 8 make us stand in awe of the Creator – the One who spoke into being everything we see and experience and that out of nothing (ex nihilo).

Hebrews 11 is often referred to as “Faith Hall of Fame.” These were ordinary people who did some extraordinary things with the power of God. They stood up for something even when their life was in jeopardy. The author of Hebrews in the very end of this chapter quotes a list of names and in it he includes Rahab, the only woman outside of the covenant to be mentioned. If you carefully read the names, you will see that they were ordinary people, yet you see God redeeming them in the midst of their weak and broken selves.

We are certainly reminded about Reformation when we are ushered into the month of October. On October 31st of every year, the Protestant church celebrates Reformation. While speaking to a friend, who is catholic, he simply reminded me that Reformation is not favorably viewed within the Roman Catholic church. He jokingly says that we protested and hence, referred to as Protestants. Let me refresh your memory, Reformation reminds us of three things, Scripture Alone, (in other words, Sola Scriptura) Grace Alone (Sola Gratia) and Faith Alone (Sola Fidei).

“Sola scriptura meant Scripture was the supreme authority over the church. It did not mean Scripture was the only authority. Luther, Calvin, and the other reformers used other authorities like reason and tradition. Sola scriptura also means the sufficiency of scriptures. The third element is the one I liked; sola scriptura is the clarity of Scripture. This meant that every believer could read the scripture for themselves and understand God’s plan of salvation. The scriptures are no more in the sole possession of the clergy but also in the hands of the lay people in the church.

With regard to Sola Gratia, we are simply reminded that every individual is redeemed by grace alone. It is not what we can do for ourselves but what Christ has achieved on our behalf and we are simply to appropriate that in our lives. Grace is the single most important word in all of scriptures and also the one that is widely misunderstood. In the words of the famous theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “grace is free, but it is not cheap.” We are redeemed by the grace of God, but this was achieved by the costly death of His son.

Faith alone or Sola Fidei solely rests on the idea of the object of our faith. I like what this blogger says, “Faith is only as good as its object. This is the danger of misunderstanding Sola Fide: that we would focus on faith in and of itself, and forget about the object of faith. We would then spend all our time talking about our faith, bragging about our faith, and worrying about the strength of our faith, all the while forgetting about the One in whom we have faith: Jesus Christ.”2 Abraham, the scripture says, believed and it was counted as righteousness. He believed in the One who made the promise. It is the object of Abraham’s faith that makes it special. In spite of all the odds that Abraham faced, he believed in he one who is able to keep the promise.

Having said all of that, this is what I want to impress on you as you enter the month of October. We cannot ignore the fact that in this country and even all over the world, Halloween (All Hallows Eve) is celebrated with such passion and vigor. I am not so much concerned about the decorations outside the houses in your neighborhoods, I am focused on the things that we clothe ourselves or the money we spend on the costumes.

Costumes and masks, which is so central to this celebration is a reminder that we hide our true selves behind these paraphernalia. We put up a face or an identity that does not really express who we really are. It is easy for us to do this than to be true to the way God has designed and created us. It is no wonder that the apostle Paul says to the church in Colossae “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Col 3:12-15). These are true virtues, which everyone of us must earnestly desire. We must make every effort to passionately pursue these noble qualities.

You are a people “called out” (holy) by God and so we must clothe ourselves with all the amazing qualities that God has endowed in us. The Fall and the sin have marred the image of God in us but it has not taken that image of God away from us. We are once again restored by the life, death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. So as a church and as believers, let us clothe ourselves or in our common lingo, dress up..

Happy Dressing Up,

Pastor Kamalesh