Sermon: Don’t Stop At Wo Bu Zhi Dao – Rama Ramanathan

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This past Sunday, Rama preached a sermon deliberating on “authority” and “obedience”, as well as how claiming ignorance (“Wo bu zhi dao” / 我不知道: Mandarin for “I don’t know”) is only an interim answer; all based on this past week’s Gospel reading: Matthew 21:23-32.

He has published the text of his sermon on his blog, which is available here.

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Sermon: How should Christians respond to the Allah controversy? – Rama Ramanathan

Last Sunday, Rama explored the week’s lectionary texts to try and answer the question, “How should Christians respond to the Allah controversy?” (If you are unfamiliar with the ‘Allah controversy’, there are some helpful media stories here, here and here; and we have also reproduced the statement provided by the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) on 16 May 2013 – view here or download PDF here)

He has since turned his sermon into a series of blog posts, which you can read here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

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In Part 1, Rama approached the Allah Controversy via Paul’s introduction to his first letter to the Corinthians. His key text was 1 Corinthians 1:22-23: “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” Rama spoke of how we revere our scriptures, how we must beware of idolatrous compromises and how we must remember our mission in the world.

In Part 2 he approached the Allah Controversy via the Beatitudes, Jesus introduction to His Sermon on the Mount. He said the people whom Jesus said are “Blessed” are the bullied, not the bullies. He outlined the 500 year history of translation into Malay by our spiritual ancestors; the reason why Arabic words were chosen; the political motive behind the curbs introduced in the 1980’s; the impact on Christians; the united response of the Malaysian Church 28 years ago; the Allah Judgment.

In Part 3, Rama outlines how he thinks the Prophet Micah and the Messiah would respond and, from there, how he thinks Christians should respond.
The 3 texts then led to this conclusion:
We must obey the call to be model communities, servants and messengers of God. We must trust God for power and wisdom, not men; we should not cave in to fear, neither should we seek favours from men. We follow the way of the Cross. Therefore we cannot turn to violence even when oppressors train their violence against us.We must use every opportunity to show who the bullies are, just as our Lord taught us. Our goal is justice. And reconciliation.

Poverty, Corruption and Injustice Study Group: Seeking wisdom and a model

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Last Sunday, we kicked off our study group on Poverty, Corruption and Injustice.

Background

Every Sunday we stand together and say the Lord’s Prayer. When we do so, we approach God as Father and we declare he is King over everything and everyone.

Disciples are called to live in the world, to be salt and light in the environments in which they live out their lives. Disciples need a common understanding of what their environment looks like, and of the factors which caused it to be the way it is.

The Study Guide used by the Poverty, Corruption and Injustice Study Group is designed to help disciples obtain Biblical insights about poverty, corruption and injustice. Insights are obtained by asking questions of the Bible. Insights are relevant if tested against the situations we live in. Since Africa is the region of the world with the largest number of poor people, the guide uses examples from Africa.

The Guide helps readers think about cause and effect by offering a short (1,600 words) article titled “A Macro Illustration: The Continent of Africa.” In the article (which I will call “Illustration”), John Ridgway lists 7 factors which he thinks helpfully describe the situation in Africa today with respect to poverty, corruption and injustice:

  • The colonial powers.
  • The wealthy nations of today.
  • Major world aid agencies.
  • African rulers of today.
  • Intensified tribalism.
  • Famine, hunger and AIDS.
  • Poverty.

Illustration is shaped by books written both by individual authors (including a journalist-turned-historian and an army General) and by reports and studies published by global organizations. To help readers understand the size and complexity of the problems, Illustration offers numerical data. Here’s a brief selection:

  • 190 cultural groups were divided by national boundaries imposed by colonial powers.
  • The USD 4 billion paid as subsidies to US cotton farmers exceeds the value of the cotton.
  • Over 50 % of 189 World Bank projects audited in 1989 either had ‘serious shortcomings’ or were ‘complete failures.’
  • 40 % of Africa’s private wealth is held offshore.
  • Over 300,000 children died in the Rwandan genocide aside from thousands of adults. Over 37 % of Botswana is HIV positive and life expectancy is 27 years.
  • 62 % of the people of Ethiopia are illiterate.

Illustration is (1) a short article offered as an example of (2) a common outlook on (3) the complexity which lies behind and runs through poverty, corruption and injustice.

Illustration is designed to be illustrative, not to be accurate at a given moment in time. Illustration spurs us to try and produce something similar for our own situation.

PovertyCorruptionInjusticeStudyGroup

The first meeting (Sunday, 10 November 2013)

At the first meeting, after personal introductions, the group listened as the facilitator presented some of Illustration’s content and suggested similarities with and differences from Malaysia.

The facilitator asked the group to propose factors which should be included in something similar written about Malaysia. The group was catalysed through these questions:

  • What 7 factors would you have chosen for Malaysia?
  • Which authors/reports would you have got data from?
  • What makes you angry?
  • Whom do you blame?
  • How can rage be managed?

Through discussion, members increased their understanding of the value of referencing a common framework while seeking wisdom about poverty, corruption and injustice: a practical wisdom sufficient to explain to anyone why disciples think these 3 evils exist in Malaysia, and why disciples work confidently to (1) overcome the effects of these 3 evils and (2) dismantle the structures which create, sustain and encourage these 3 evils.

The Malaysian context

The group generated a first list of factors to include in a useful (sufficient to guide thought and action) and practical (small!) model: sin, identity, pluralism, race, structural, religion, truth, globalization, lack of accountability. This list is just a start.

Malaysia is highly polarized. It’s hard to know what is true of history, current events and data. We have mainstream media, alternative media, local media, foreign media. All have agendas and rarely agree. What can we believe? The facilitator said that in subsequent meetings he would share insights from the following respected sources:

  • T N Harper, The End of Empire and the Making of Malaya (Cambridge: CUP, 1999)
  • Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Wee Chong Hui, Malaysia @ 50 (Petaling Jaya: SIRD, 2013)
  • Edmund Terence Gomez and Johan Saravanamuttu, ed. The New Economic Policy in Malaysia: Affirmative Action, Ethnic Inequalities and Social Justice (Petaling Jaya: SIRD, 2013)

One concern expressed in the group was that approaches such as “7 factors” are linear and limited. A good model should be visual and should include the individual, families, a vision of the future, paths of action, etc.

The facilitator explained that this is just a start in thinking about the problem using factors others have identified in their situations, factors we hear in public discourse in Malaysia and other factors which we think must be added to the discourse.

‘Christian’ aspects of the model will be covered in future studies, which move from the first to the last book of the Bible in 5 sessions. That’s a lot to cover in a short time.

Therefore, in order to achieve the goal of obtaining practical wisdom about the 3 evils, group members must do personal study before coming to the group meetings. The Lion Handbook to the Bible is recommended as a resource.

Next session. The next session is rescheduled to 24 November (5 – 7 pm, The Father’s House). The group will discuss Study 1: Poverty, corruption and injustice in the Pentateuch (Genesis to Deuteronomy). Click here and look at pages 7 to 9 for Study 1.

Note: The “Illustration” article discussed above can be found on pages 4 to 6.

Additional thoughts. The group hoped for a more graphical and comprehensive model. Any suggestions? Also, what factors would you include to explain (1) what we see in our environment and (2) what motivates and empowers us to act against evil in our world?

More info on the Study Group here.

Study Group: Poverty, Corruption & Injustice

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In keeping silent about evil,
in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface,
we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousand fold in the future.
When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age,
we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations.”
– Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

THE NEED FOR THIS STUDY
Lately in Malaysia we often hear the word ‘activist.’

Some Christians participate in BERSIH, which works to expose weaknesses in the electoral process and acts to compel the government to correct them.
Some Christians participate in groups which keep ‘police sins’ in the public eye, e.g. deaths in custody (e.g. Teoh Beng Hock, Ahmad Sarbani, Darmendran), death-by-police-shooting (e.g. Aminulrasyid), victimization of good policemen (e.g. Dato’ Ramli Yusuff).

Some Christians participate in groups which expose and challenge ‘systemic injustice,’ e.g. tolerance of PERKASA while clamping down on Namewee; propagation of falsehoods through Umno’s Utusan newspaper while clamping down on PAS’ Harakah newspaper; eviction of Sarawak natives from their ancestral lands in favour of timber and plantation companies.

Here are some questions many have asked their pastors recently:
What drives Christians, especially the young, to be activists? Are they foolishly mixing Politics into the Church, like mixing poison in water? What does the Bible, Christian history and current day Christian practice in other parts of the world have to say about this?

This study is for you if you’d like to discuss these questions with others:
Is Christian activism ‘new’? Should you participate in activism? How can you explain why you participate? How will your explanation be different from that of a non-Christian?

“It is our duty to be involved in socio-political action; that is, both in social action (caring for society’s casualties) and in political action (concern for the structures of society itself).” – John Stott

The eternal destiny of human beings will be measured by how much or how little solidarity we have displayed with the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, and the oppressed.  In the end we will be judged in terms of love.” – Leonardo Boff

STUDY MATERIAL
We will use a 46 page guide developed by Navigators from Australia, Brazil, Ethiopia, India, the Philippines, and the U.S. The guide says:

“Our suggestion is that this study be completed on a personal level to allow God to impress on you his heart and direction. You might also discuss these questions in your family. And it is very important that you discuss these issues in a believing community so that your responsibilities and application can be implemented on a political, judicial, economic, social and national level in your context.”

The study guide can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/kkwkca6

COURSE DETAILS & YOUR COMMITMENT

  1. First session. No commitment, just come and see if this is for you. There will be an overview of the course and a chance to interact with others who may choose to participate.
  2. Subsequent 5 sessions. You must read and respond to the materials before you come to each session. Each session will be 2 hours in duration, comprising presentations and facilitated discussions. The sessions will cover
    1. Guidelines in the Pentateuch about poverty, corruption and injustice.
    2. Israel’s response during the period from Joshua to Esther.
    3. The poet’s heartache, covering Job to Song of Solomon.
    4. God’s response to failures, covering Isaiah to Malachi.
    5. The response of Jesus and the early church.
  3. Final session. We will recap, commit and celebrate!
  4. General. Door closes at 5 pm. Dinner at 7 pm is optional.

Dates:

  • Session 1:  Sunday 10 November 2013
  • Sessions 2-6: 17 & 24 November; 1, 8 & 15 December.
  • Final session: To be decided by the group

Time:   5 – 7 pm, dinner optional. Door open from 4.30 – 5.00 pm.

VenueThe Father’s House (Bangsar Lutheran Church), 23 Jalan Abdullah, Bangsar.

Facilitator:
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Ramanathan M, lay member of Bangsar Lutheran Church. Over the past decade and more, Director of Quality (Asia Pacific) for Colgate Palmolive and for Becton Dickinson. Contributor to Bible and the Ballot (Graceworks, 2012)
Maintains the blog Rest Stop Thoughts at write2rest.blogspot.com.

Contact Us
Ramanathan M
The Father’s House 23 Jalan Abdullah, Bangsar
Tel: +6012 288 7147
Email: Ramanathan[dot]blc[at]gmail[dot]com

Sermon: The Cannon Parable: Jesus’ story about Income Inequality – Rama Ramanathan

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Speaking from this morning’s Gospel lesson in Luke 16:19-31 this morning, Rama walked us through the Parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus.

Rama has very kindly shared the details of his sermon this morning in his blog, which you can read here.

The parable doesn’t commend poor Lazarus for not organizing against the rich

The parable doesn’t teach that the poor automatically go to heaven. We know this because of other teachings of the Messiah, e.g. his command to love our neighbours; his teaching that we should observe all the Ten Commandments, etc.

The parable doesn’t teach us details of the next life, e.g. those in heaven and hell can see and can communicate with each other, the temperature in heaven is high, etc.

The lessons are many:

  • The once-rich man continued thinking of Lazarus as a man to be ordered around.
  • Being wealthy doesn’t always mean “blessed by God.”
  • Being poor and sick doesn’t mean “not blessed by God.”
  • What we do on earth with our wealth determines how we spend eternity.
  • Some will always find reasons not to hear: but others will hear and will change.

Earlier Luke told us that when a prominent man asked “who is my neighbour?” (Luke 10:25-37), the Messiah responded by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan. The answer was “everyone in need is your neighbour.”

The video that he wanted to share this morning is available for viewing here:

Sermon: Seeking A Homeland – Rama Ramanathan

This morning, Rama preached a powerful word from this week’s lectionary texts on “seeking a homeland”. He has also posted the text of his sermon on his blog, “Rest Stop Thoughts.”

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The words of Isaiah the prophet are collected in the book named after him in the Bible. The prophet spoke the word of God from 740 – 700 B.C.E., during the reigns of 4 very able kings of Judah. [The Bible scholar Alec Motyer says “None of the 4 kings under whom Isaiah ministered were fools politically, economically or militarily.”]

The first chapter of the book of Isaiah is one of the set passages for today (Sunday 11 August) in the lectionary. It tells of the terrible state of affairs in Judah, with the people feeling helpless and hopeless.

The prophet issued his rebuke and command in the capital, Jerusalem, where animal sacrifices and other signs of religiosity such as fasting were a daily affair

The prophet said: Stop this nonsense! God is repulsed by your fasting and your sacrifices. Speaking in the voice of God, he said:

“When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” (Isaiah 1:15-17)

The prophet was livid. He ranted and raged. He pleaded. He threatened. He said “God hates hypocrites! You are hypocrites! God hates what you are doing! God will punish you! Unless you admit you are hypocrites and begin to do the right things, God will not listen to your prayers. He will listen only if you show you care about justice and about the marginalized.”

God will have no truck with the illicit marriage between religious observance and hypocrisy. The people of God know God is often explicit about his hatred of unholy alliances. Here’s one example:

I will not accept a bull from your house or goats from your folds.
What right have you to recite my statutes or take my covenant on your lips? For you hate discipline, and you cast my words behind you. If you see a thief, you are pleased with him, and you keep company with adulterers. You give your mouth free rein for evil, and your tongue frames deceit. (Psalm 50: 9, 16-20)

The state of the nation of Judah/Israel and the city of Jerusalem was not much different from that of Malaysia and Kuala Lumpur today. In the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen these things happening:

  • Despite denunciations of the Shiite sect of Islam (Malaysian Muslims are Sunnis) by the government, our Deputy Prime Minister went to Iran to attend the installation of the new President of Iran, a Shiite nation.
  • Despite the dismantling of preventive detention (read “indefinite detention without trial”) laws after years of study, the government now proposes to bring back such laws.
  • Despite assurances of freedom of speech, the government has repeatedly used sedition (read “inciting rebellion”) laws against many, most recently Alvin Tan and Vivian Lee for their Bak Kut Teh Ramadan greeting and Maznah/Chetz, the Muslim dog trainer.

If those 3 are not examples of hypocrisy, I don’t know what that word means.

Additionally, despite official indicators, we are sensing an explosion of crime:

  • Dr Delilah, a much-loved gynaecologist had her thumb and fore finger sliced off in the course of an armed robbery.
  • Children have been abducted.
  • The founder of Arab Malaysian Bank was shot in broad daylight.
  • The founder and head of MyWatch, whose goal is to expose corruption in the police force, was gunned down – and the Home Minister, before any investigation had been conducted – claimed the police were not responsible.
  • The Pope’s country is Catholicism, an expression of the Christian faith. Our Prime Minister invited the Pope to install an envoy in Malaysia. And when the envoy spoke on the subject of the name of God in the voice of Catholicism, voices linked to the government brayed that the envoy must be kicked out.

We know our nation doesn’t have to be like that.

We long for a better nation.

Yet when we raise these issues, some government-linked voices are saying “Chinese go back to China” and “Indians go back to India.” When Ambiga raised the long list of faults in the conduct of elections, people high up in Umno, including politicians holding office, wanted to cancel Ambiga’s citizenship!

We long for a better nation.

We do not long to leave. We long for reform. We long for death to hypocrisy and restoration of good neighbourliness. We long for the kind of city and nation which pleases God not only in ritualistic observances but also, and more so, in behaviour.

Another set text for today is Hebrews 11, which commends to us the faith of Father Abraham, our ancestor. This text tells us that like Father Abraham, we must live in faith; we must obey our call and trust the promises of God.

We have been called to move out of darkness into the Kingdom of God, to live under God’s reign, and to proclaim it.

We have been called to be ambassadors of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20), we have been called to be priests for God (1 Peter 2:5).

We, who make up 9 % or more of this nation’s population, have been called to stay and to work to usher in peace and justice. We have no other homeland. This side of heaven, this is our homeland.

We long for our homeland to be better, more like our final homeland, heaven, that domain of peace and flourishing. And our longing is fulfilled by our active engagement in the public square, which is already filled with so many players, including (see graphic):

    • Public institutions: the police, the elections commission, the Islamic authorities.
    • Civil society, non-religious: SABM, Suaram, the Bar Council, United Voice.
    • Civil society, religious: Sisters in Islam, Perkasa, Pembela, Islamic Renaissance Front; NECF, CCM, MCCBHT.
    • Political parties: Umno; DAP, PSM, PAS, PKR.

There is a Tamil proverb which says: if the roof of your neighbour’s house is on fire, beware; your house is next.

We need to be watchful, because what we have to say is unpopular, like what Prophet Isaiah had to say: God hates hypocrisy.

We often feel like we are swimming in the opposite direction from others in our pond. We need constant reminders that we are not alone.

We must support and challenge one another to actively do good. We can only do this by making time to meet each other more regularly, outside of Sundays. Or at least to call and chat and encourage one another.

We must constantly remind ourselves that our longing, energy and passion comes not from our assessment of competing voices and alliances and throwing our lot in with one or more of them – though we certainly should. We must beware of the “wisdom” of the 4 “very able” kings of Judah.

As Psalm 33:17 says, “The warhorse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue.”

Our confidence comes from the knowledge that we are believers in whom the Spirit of God dwells (1 Corinthians 3:16). On that basis, we pray, listen and obediently serve, even in unpopular ways, even in unexpected places and groups.

As we name, abhor and denounce hypocrisy in the public space, let us never forget to look in ourselves first. As we seek to make our homeland better, let us pray regularly for watchfulness, protection and forgiveness.