SUMMER – A GREAT TIME TO GROW IN FAITH

By the time this issue of Triune comes out, you will be vacationing with your family in India or at your favorite beach or theme park or hiking your best-loved trails. I pray that you will have a safe time with your families. I think vacation can also be a time to grow deep in your faith with some simple, day to day spiritual disciplines. I am not going to suggest serious fasting (but if that is something that you’re considering doing, go for it) or long dedicated time praying but there are other things that you can do to grow spiritually. Here is my #1 favorite thing to do while on vacation, to do prayer walks. This is assuming that you are keeping up with your regular exercise regimen even while on vacation.

Prayer walks simply stated is walking and praying. It is often intercessory in nature, meaning that you pray for the people living in the communities where you walk or praying in general for the needs of the world that God brings to your remembrance. Prayer walk can be interesting and rewarding if you choose a friend to walk with you. Remember, there is no need to carry a Bible if you’re doing a prayer walk in the neighborhood. The C.S. Lewis Institute website (you may read it here) offers some interesting insights as to the things you can do when you do a prayer walk.1 The idea is simple and doable, and it can enrich your prayer life as well as see God at work in the neighborhoods that you often walk. I hope you get to do this over the summer vacation.

The second-best thing that you can do over your vacation time is to commit certain portions of scriptures to your memory. This is one sure way to grow in the faith. The Psalmist says it better than anyone else about the benefits of committing scripture to memory. Your word I have treasured and stored in my heart, That I may not sin against You – Psalm 119:11. I like the reason the Psalmist gives for us to hide God’s word in our heart, and it is simple but often necessary – that we may not sin against God. The Guidepost has a nice article on the 10 Bible Verses to Commit to Memory. 2

I have mentioned this several times over the course of my preaching at the church about how my father will find a church to worship on Sunday even while vacationing. The Apostle Paul would often encourage the believers to not disregard the gathering of God’s people. This is my challenge to you to make every effort to attend public worship. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near (Hebrews 10:25). There is a nice article by the Ligonier Ministries on the importance of public worship. 3 Apart from hearing the Word preached to us, public worship builds community with other believers in the faith. I would encourage you, as much as you are able, to find a place to worship while vacationing.

We are called to grow in the faith both in and out of season. I believe simple disciplines kept and embraced can help us grow in our walk with God. Remember this one truth that God is interested in your walk of faith more than you are. God’s promise is to nurture and grow us so that we may reflect the image of the One who created us for His glory. I pray that even as you enjoy vacation with the family, you may also find time for God and His kingdom.

Blessings on your vacation and as you grow in the faith,

Rev. Kamalesh Stephen

THE TRIUNE GOD – IN A RELATIONSHIP, COMMUNITY, AND HOSPITALITY

The Sunday after Pentecost (May 19, 2024) is celebrated as Trinity Sunday. Trinity is a hard concept to wrap your head around but one that is central to the Christian faith. Trinity is not about three gods, but One God personified in three persons. God the creator is depicted as the Father who sends the Son to redeem the world and the Son leaves the Spirit to complete what has been started by the Son. The three persons are in perfect unity. There is no hierarchy in that relationship just absolute unity, community, and fellowship.

Perichoresis is a Greek term, which refers to the relationship of the three persons of the Triune God. Peri, which refers to the circumference or the periphery and Choresis, refers to the choreography or dance or movement between the three persons of the Triune God. One of them holds the center stage at some point while the other two are in the periphery. No one holds the center stage all the time, which means that there is absolute fluidity to their roles. It is easy to get caught up with trying to explain Trinity as some have tried to do. For example, Trinity is simplified or explained by the three parts of the clover leaf. It is easy to understand but oversimplifies the complex and mysterious aspect of Trinity. Another way we have tried to explain is by telling the three forms of water – ice, water, and steam. Again, a great way to explain but one that does not live into the mystery of the concept. It is better for us to live into the mystery of the Trinity than to explain it away. My favorite scholar and teacher, Henri Nouwen calls Christians to meditate looking at the icon of the early church on Trinity.


The famous painting by the Russian artist, Andrei Rublev, offers a glimpse at Trinity. The three figures are seated at a table with a cup in the middle and surrounded by trees and mountain in the background. Their place around the table reminds us that no one holds center stage all the time. The person seated on the left is depicted as God, the Father with the translucent blue garment signifying the role of the creator. Both figures, one in the middle and the one on the right is looking tenderly at the Father. The one in the center is obviously Jesus and the one on the right is the Holy Spirit. It is interesting that some scholars have suggested that both figures point to the cup in the middle. In Holy Communion that we do on Sunday, it is Jesus who institutes with the Holy Spirit being fully present in the event of the Breaking of the Bread. We can talk a lot more about this icon but we can keep this for another time.

Here are a few things to take away as we meditate on the theme of Trinity and as we journey thru the month of June. First, it is about the relationship between the three persons of the Triune God. The church is prompted to think about the relationship between the three persons of the Triune God, our relationship to this holy God, who came to be with us in three persons and our relationship with each other. From the beginning of time, we were created for relationship with God, with each other and with the whole of creation. This is the primary reasons that we are to cherish the relationship we have with each other and, be good stewards of God’s creation.

Secondly, Trinity reminds us that we are called to be in community. The idea of community in the Christian faith is to walk alongside with others, encourage them in their low moments and help each other to fully live out the purpose for which God has made us. Finally, Trinity reminds us that we are to extend Christian hospitality. This hospitality must be radical in nature. It will mean extending hospitality to people who will look, talk, and behave different from us. This was the experience of the disciples when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples on the day of Pentecost. In Acts, Phillip meets an Ethiopian ruler, shares the Word with him and even baptizes him after he receives the good news. In another instance, Peter will visit the house of Cornelius, a Roman centurion, who becomes the first Gentile convert to the Christian faith and all happens because Peter was willing to extend this radical hospitality. This story continues and must continue even as we meditate on the role of Trinity in the life of our church.

Rev. Kamalesh Stephen

MOTHERING GOD 

All through the month of April, we celebrated the presence of the Risen Christ among us. Jesus comes thru closed doors, appears to his disciples, and offers them words of comfort in their moments of pain, guilt and ‘locked attitudes’ of their own. Few things that really stood out for me as I read the scriptures in preparation for my sermons during this season of Easter. First, nothing will prevent- fear, guilt, disappointment, anger or doubt – Jesus from coming to meet his disciples. This is the most comforting thought that is relevant today for us as disciples of Jesus, who still deal with all these emotions. We are also disappointed when things don’t pan out the way we had planned; we also fear for the countless number of reasons and finally, we also doubt His presence, promise, and power. Despite all of these, Jesus comes and declares peace then and even now.

The other aspect that I found interesting with the Risen Christ is his deep desire to extend God’s kingdom. From the empty tomb to the Mount of Olives where he ascends to be with His Father, Jesus’ one message is to “go and tell”. He tells the women in the synoptic gospels and then to Mary in John’s gospel to “go tell my brothers and Peter” that he will be waiting for them in Galilee. The most emphatic of the commissioning comes in the gospel of John – “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” As believers and followers of this Risen Christ our task is to “go and tell.” Our excuse about “not being good enough” or “strong enough” to do this task will be met with the words of Jesus “wait until you are clothed with power from on high.” God’s kingdom will march on sometimes with our sincere obedience and other times despite our reluctance.

Two special Sundays falls during the month of May – Mother’s Day and Pentecost. On Pentecost Sunday, we will be reminded of a God who cannot be tethered but is on the loose. God will break boundaries and will charter a new course for the church. The early disciples were sent to places that they did not want to go, meet people that they were reluctant to meet and that is the central message of the season of Pentecost. Pentecost is not an event, but an experience and it is given to all who wait on Him. May we with eager anticipation await the pouring of God’s spirit as we gather on Pentecost Sunday.

On Mother’s Day, we will not only honor mothers in our midst but all women with a heart and a desire to care for all people whom God will bring their way. Most importantly, on Mother’s Day, scriptures will point to a God who personifies the mothering spirit. I was pleasantly surprised as to the countless number of references in the Old Testament and the New about a God who is portrayed as a loving mother. In Deuteronomy 32:11-12 God is described as a mother eagle: “Like the eagle that stirs up its nest, and hovers over its young, God spreads wings to catch you, and carries you on pinions.” In Hosea 13:8 God described as a mother bear: “Like a bear robbed of her cubs, I will attack them and tear them asunder…”. In Isaiah 49:15 God is compared to a nursing mother: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” [1] It is my prayer that you will experience the beauty of this Mothering God as you journey through the month of May.

Rev. Kamalesh Stephen

Mark for Everyone

I am glad we are reading through the gospel of Mark for our Lenten meditations. This gospel is one of many favorites. I recommend this to the confirmation candidates as they prepare to be accepted into the full membership of the church. The gospel is like a movie trailer that moves from one scene to the other in quick succession. His use of the word “immediately” several times in the gospel reminds us of the urgent in-breaking of the gospel and the kingdom in the life of Jesus. Probably, Mark has no time to tell all that has happened in the life of Jesus but ones that are necessary for the extension of the kingdom. Jesus has ushered in the kingdom and now it is time for the disciples and us to keep it going. There is urgency and so the church and the disciples cannot wait on it but must get the work done. Does that urgency reflect in the things that we do in church? If no, then we are missing the one thing Jesus came to do.

I am always intrigued by the first words from the mouth of Jesus in the gospel of Mark “Now after John  was  arrested,  Jesus  came  to  Galilee  proclaiming  the  good  news  of  God  and  saying,  “The  time  is fulfilled,  and  the  kingdom  of  God  has  come  near;  repent,  and  believe  in  the  good  news.”  The  word repentance, in my view, is either spoken too much in the church or not spoken at all. Repentance without grace is too much to bear, at the same time, only grace without repentance makes for “anything goes” in the kingdom. The word repent is in the imperfect tense, which means we are called to repeatedly repent of the wrongs we have done. It is not a one-time act but a daily dose of coming before God in humility and with a contrite heart. May be repent is something we need to think about again and again as we journey thru Lent.  

Repent is not only a complete turn around but also, rearranging our priorities so thatChrist still holds a central place in our lives. In our human frailty, pride, and brokenness, we move Christ away from being the center of  our lives. Repentance  calls us to  keep a check  and to put  back Christ in  His rightful place.Once again, Lent can help us do it.

The first week of Lenten meditation allowed us to peek into the identity of Jesus. The ones who are outsiders to the faith have a better understanding of Jesus’ identity beginning with the man possessed by demons, the centurion at the cross and the blind men who are healed by Jesus. Mark will also tell us that Jesus will exert power and authority over everything. He will teach with authority, will drive out demons, calm the storm and raise the dead to life with authority.

 In the coming weeks, we will see Jesus talk about “evangelism.” This word has gotten such a bad rap in the  world  that  the  church  hardly  speaks  about  it.  For  the  Markan  Jesus,  evangelism  is  so  central  to  His work. The church must find creative ways to bring people to the knowledge of God. The gospel of Mark will  challenge  us  to  engage  in  evangelism  beyond  the  traditional  ways  of  preaching  and  teaching.  The demoniac healed by Jesus will be asked to share “what God has done” and that becomes the core of our evangelistic message.

There is so much to the gospel of Mark that we can dig together and find meaning for our lives in this time and space. If you’re interested in watching the video sessions with me, please text or email me and I can share the link to the videos. I hope you will join us for the next 4 weeks as we read, ask questions, and meditate on the good news of the gospel. Blessings on your Lenten journey.

Rev. Kamalesh Stephen

REND YOUR HEARTS AND NOT YOUR GARMENTS

12“Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” 13 Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. (Joel :2:12-13).

Interestingly, this year, Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day, which is on February 14, 2024. As
one devotional points out that both, Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day have a lot to do with hearts. On Ash Wednesday, the prophet Joel from our Old Testament reading will ask us to rend our hearts and not our garments. It was common practice in the ancient world to tear their garments and sit on ashes as a way of repenting for the things knowingly or unknowingly committed. The prophet reminds us that it is not the garments that need tearing but hearts – how telling as we begin this season. On that same day, the Psalter will point us to Psalm 51, where King David pointedly tells us that God does not reject a “broken and a contrite heart.”

Again, on Ash Wednesday, Jesus’s teaching from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6 will point us to prayer, fasting and alms giving. Jesus will ask us to guard our hearts against the desires to accumulate and acquire more. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” (Matthew 6:21). So central to Ash Wednesday is the activity of the heart.

On Valentine’s Day, the emphasis will still be on the heart. This is about the heart that madly falls in love with the person of their liking. I think on Ash Wednesday this heart needs to be reoriented and counter cultural to the one that the world suggests if we want to be a true disciple of Christ. Jesus will ask us to love people not only whom we like but even the unlovable. Just a thought!

Our understanding (the modern human) of heart is more to do with the physical.Human life is centered in the heart and so if the heart stops beating, the person ceases to live. Heart, in the Bible, goes a little further than the physical. In the Hebrew thought, the heart has to do with the physical, intellectual, and emotional.

As one blogger writes, ancient Israel “[They] imagined that all of a human’s intellectual activity takes place in the heart. For example, you know with your heart.”They desired with their hearts and that’s the reason the Psalmist says that if we delight in Him, He will “the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4). So, heart for them “is the center of all parts of human existence. As in the well-known Proverb, “guard your heart because from it flows your whole life.” (Proverbs 4:23).”

No wonder the people of Israel and later, Jesus emphasized the importance of the heart in all human activity. The Shema called for the Israelites to love God “with all our heart, soul, and strength.” This is about loving God with the totality of our being. Will this also mean that we are called to love God even when things don’t happen our way? At times when God seems silent to our pleas, we are called to love and obey Him with all our being. May be that is the call as we enter this season of Lent.

I think it is a great start to think about hearts as we begin and journey through the season of Lent. On Ash
Wednesday, we are called to examine our hearts and to see if we are right with God and humbly seek His forgiveness. During this season, we will be asked to guard our hearts from all the practices that take us away from the things of God. And if have done this examining and guarding well during this season we can come to Good Friday and Easter Sunday, with grateful and joyful heart for the salvation of our souls thru the sinless death of a Savior. In the end, we can journey thru the season beyond Easter with confident hearts knowing of the promised presence of the Risen Savior among us.


Rev. Kamalesh Stephen

TRINITY IN THE CHRISTMAS STORY and BEYOND

The Trinity simply stated is about the three persons of the God head – the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. God is seen as the creator, the Son, the redeemer, and the Holy Spirit, as the sustainer. When one reads the birth narratives in both Matthew and Luke, we only seem to focus on the second person of the God head, which is God the Son. Matthew tells the birth story thru the eyes of Joseph and Luke thru the eyes of Mary. Both the gospels mention the birth of the Son with a slight difference.But John does something interesting in that he mentions the Father as the source of everything. This is what he says: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. (John 1:1-3) This is it! Jesus is the embodiment of the Father. Jesus is God incarnate. In this reference by John the role of the first person of Trinity comes to the fore. 

What came as a surprise to me (maybe not for you) is the role of the Holy Spirit. We often associate the work of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts when God pours God’s spirit on the Day of Pentecost on all who were gathered in the Upper Room. But this is not the case.

I found the work of the Spirit to be so central to the birth stories especially in the gospel of Luke. In chapter one this is what Luke says about the child to be born to Elizabeth. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. (Luke 1: 14-15) John the Baptist will be filled with the Holy Spirit prior to his birth. God giving the Holy Spirit to John is not an afterthought. The Spirit is present in John as he grows and ministers.

Hear what the angel says to Joseph in the gospel of Matthew: “Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to divorce her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

This is what the angel had to say to Mary in Luke’s gospel: The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born[d] will be holy; he will be called Son of God. The Holy Spirit is the prime mover in the conception of Jesus. 

Apart from all these references to the work of the Holy Spirit in the birth of Jesus, this is the one that really took me by surprise. It is the time when Jesus is brought to the Temple after he is born, probably on the 8th day for circumcision. Here, Jesus is being brought into the Temple and Simeon bursts into praise on seeing the Messiah. But see what Luke says, Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.[f] 27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon[g] came into the temple, (Luke 2:25-27). In a matter of 2 verses, the role of the Holy Spirit is mentioned three times. Holy Spirit rests, reveals and guides God’s people to do the extraordinary.

What I liked in this and the one that is relevant as we start the new year is the reference to Simeon being guided by the Spirit. This guiding is also known as the nudging of the Spirit. The time when you are prompted to go and visit someone or to pray for someone or to walk alongside someone is the work and nudging of the Holy Spirit. We cannot do this on our own by we are enabled to do this because of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. So the next time when you are nudged to do something caring for someone don’t resist the work of the Spirit, just allow Him.

It is my prayer that we will be guided by the Holy Spirit as we enter the New Year. May the Third Person of the Trinity richly abide with you and your family as you journey through 2024.

Pastor Kamalesh

ADVENT SEASON

There are 4 Sundays in Advent. Every year, the Sunday after Thanksgiving is observed as the first Sunday in Advent. This year, however, the first Sunday of Advent falls on the first Sunday in December. Advent simply means “coming.” For us as Christians, it reminds us of the second coming of God at the end of times. However, with every Advent we are reminded of our place between the first Advent, which came to us in the birth of Jesus and second Advent with the coming of the Lord in all His glory. Preachers, not only in this season but also, during other times speculate the coming of God with precision. They even offer us exact dates of Christ’s coming while looking at the signs that surround us. We are not called to speculate or predict but to live in faithful anticipation as if the coming will happen today. This, living in faithful anticipation for the coming of the Lord amid all our Christmas preparation and celebration, is the central message of Advent. Do we live our lives in faithful anticipation? Every scripture reading during this time will call us to live watchful lives.

I like to read the stories that surround the birth of Christ and look for details that invite us to do something or ask of God while we wait for the coming of the Messiah. Matthew and Luke are the ones that record the birth of Jesus. Matthew, like a photographer, keeps Joseph as the subject matter in all his narratives. I think we would have missed Joseph’s struggle to believe and finally accept the child to be born if not for Matthew. For Luke, Mary is the center piece and everything that Mary says and does is his way of telling the story. Both Matthew and Luke tell us about the other characters that surround the Christmas story. They (like the Magi, the soldiers, Zechariah, Mary etc.) ask thoughtful questions as they wrestle with the deep things of life. I hope you will find yourself asking the same as you go through the different seasons of your life.

On the second Sunday in Advent, we are introduced to John the Baptist who is on the banks of Jordan. He is calling people to repentance and embrace a new way of life because the Messiah has come. The crowd that comes to hear is a mixed one. Luke says that there were tax collectors, soldiers and others. After hearing the message, the crowd, the tax collectors and soldiers ask, “What should we do then?” John answers, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” (Luke 3: 10-14). So, as you begin this season of Advent ask yourself what are the amends that we will make to prepare the way of the Lord. What are the things that we will refrain from doing and what are the things that we will do more to make God’s name known to others who do not know or follow this God who came to us in Jesus.

Let me offer one more question and leave you to find the other questions that surround the birth stories of Jesus. Sometime during this season, we will also meet Zechariah, the husband of Elizabeth. Elizabeth is the cousin of Mary, who is somewhat older and the only one who understands the struggles of Mary, who conceives out of wedlock. This is a serious crime but Elizabeth shows “radical hospitality.” Zechariah and Elizabeth are old, and the scripture says that they were way beyond the “childbearing” age. Given all of this, God thru the angel Gabriel offers this hopeful message: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. (Luke 1:13) In response to this message, Zechariah asks the angel this question, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” (Luke 1:18). If we are in this season of facing impossible situations and asking God questions of this nature, be assured that questions of this kind is not new to God. God knows your fearful and doubtful heart and will journey with us during this season of Advent.

It is my prayer that you will consider reading thru the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke and make note of the questions surrounding the Christmas story and make them yours. Remember, God knows your sincere wrestling, hears, and will meet us in our anxious moments thru the person who is called Emmanuel, God with us.

Rev. Kamalesh Stephen