A Tribute to KC

15 June 2016
Sermon delivered at the funeral service of Rev. Dr. K. C. Abraham in St. Mark's Cathedral, Bangalore, 14 June 2016

We are here to celebrate a life well lived for the glory of God. KC was a senior friend to me before I married his sister. He and I grew up to what we had become through the Youth Movement of the Central Kerala Diocese of the Church of South India. He was handsome, bright and full of promises in worldly terms. He was a student of Mathematics who did his Bachelor of Science with distinction. But, about 60 years ago, he accepted the commission of Christ as found in John Ch. 21 “take care of my sheep.”  KC accepted this specific call to become a shepherd.

KC may have achieved many covetable positions and laurels in life. But first and foremost, he was a good shepherd following the great shepherd of the sheep, Jesus Christ. The Bible is rich with imagery of the shepherd. Yahweh is referred to as a shepherd in Psalm 23: “God is my Shepherd, I shall not want”. Jesus describes himself as the good shepherd who would lay down his life for the sheep. Jesus also narrates the parable of the lost sheep and also comments on his mission as one of leaving behind the ninety nine in the open and seeking after the lost one till he finds it. Jesus also insists on the apostolic ministry as one of taking care of the sheep. KC, the young man, never thought of positions and honors, when he accepted the call to follow Christ as a pastor in the Church of South India in the Central Kerala Diocese. 

He began his career as the Secretary of the Youth Movement of the diocese. He served in many rural parishes. Even after obtaining his doctorate from Princeton Theological Seminary, he was posted to serve in a parish in a remote corner of the diocese. He accepted the responsibility gladly and served that parish. It was then that he married Dr. Molly Abraham. The brightest spot in his several careers was his stint as the vicar of St. Mark’s Cathedral, which many of us have forgotten. He was a good shepherd, pastor, par excellence. It is not accidental that he spent most of his life preparing pastors for the church. His theological thinking, ethical reflections and political posturing and actions reflect this shepherd in him. 

KC was a good pastor to his students, his colleagues, those outside of the church involved in secular movements for liberation. First of all, it is marked by his tender compassion and love, his empathy and willingness to step into the shoes of the other, be it anybody, and act in responsibility to help them; that has endeared him to many from different walks of life. 

Second, his understanding of a shepherd was not confined to helping and serving those who are members of the Christian community. He believed and followed Christ’s insistence on God’s mission to those sheep “that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also.” (John 10:16). His shepherding went beyond the bounds of the visible church. He related to secular groups and movements; he also believed that the church is called to carry forward God’s mission of extending God’s love and grace beyond the boundaries of the visible church. He was always critical and impatient with a self-serving institutional church, and constantly reminded the church of its mission to a broken and suffering world. 

Thirdly, emanating from this self-understanding as a shepherd, pastor, was his commitment to those in the margins of society, whether they be Dalits, Tribals, women, mentally and physically challenged, the differently abled, the LGBT community or the mother earth, who is brutally treated and exploited without any qualm. He became an ardent spokesperson for the concerns of these groups and also brought them into the center stage of his theological and ethical reflection and action. Concern for justice and preferential option for the vulnerable are intrinsic to his theological understanding of the shepherd. The shepherd is not neutral. He is one who would leave the 99 and go after the one that is lost, whether it is willfully or of no fault of its own. God, as the shepherd is one who judges “between the fat sheep and the lean sheep” as we read in Ezekiel, Ch. 34. 

This finally led him to a theological understanding and commitment to the biblical category of those who were described as strangers. It is a biblical refrain addressed to the Israelites that they should care for the widows, orphans and strangers in their midst as they were once strangers in Egypt. Living with and caring for Liza brought this aspect of church’s mission very poignantly to him and Molly Kochamma. They were led to a greater sensitivity and concern for the most vulnerable in our society, strangers in our society. God gave them the opportunity, during the evening of their life, to practice what they preach and devote the rest of their life in caring for Liza and all those who are strangers like her. 

Unfortunately, we all consider the imagery of the shepherd as being neutral and passive. But KC through his life and work made it clear to us the dynamism and radical nature of the imagery of the shepherd. It is this self-understanding of himself as a shepherd, that made him radical in his thinking and action and become a votary of all those who seek liberation and fullness of life. He believed that the calling of the church is not to sustain itself as an institution and render services for its own members, but to be a community that extends its healing touch to strangers in our midst and to a suffering world. He reminds us that as pastors, our responsibility is not only to cater to the needs of its own members, but also become agents of what he describes as prophetic spirituality and extend their ministry of love and healing to those who are outside of our narrow communal entity. 

KC endeared himself to generations of his students, parishioners, friends and colleagues both in the theological field and outside as a loving human being who related to them in humility, warmth and in such deep concern.  Molly Kochamma can be proud and be thankful that she was given the privilege to be a companion to this man, sustain him, and challenge him to live out what he preached. We and the extended ecumenical community can be thankful for the gift of this man and what he has been by nature and grace to all of us and the theological legacy he had left behind which will continue to speak to us. May God give us the courage to carry forward this wider and deeper understanding of pastoral and prophetic ministry that is exemplified in such a beautiful way in the life of KC for the renewal of our church and extending the horizon of our theological thinking and action. We pray for Mrs. Abraham, Liza and their son Ajit who has the burden of carrying forth the legacy of his illustrious father who has left behind much for him to ponder.

(The photograph of KC posted in this blog has been taken from the Facebook wall of Ting Ting Lee)

Jesus Christ is Risen! Halleluiah! Yes, He is Risen Indeed!

03 April 2015
I read a humorous story from one of the blogs in the net about a pastor who took his pastoral responsibility so seriously that he would move around seeking his lost sheep. This pastor once entered a pub and found three men sitting at the bar. He asked the first, "Do you want to go to heaven?" The man said, “yes”. The priest said, "Then go stand against the wall." He asked the second if he wanted to go to heaven. The man said, “yes”, and the priest told him to stand against the wall. He asked the third, "And you, do you want to go to heaven?" The man said, "no." The priest was taken aback; he asked, "What? When you die, you don't want to go to heaven?" The man said, "Well, yes, when I die. But I thought you were getting a group to go right now!" Many of us are like the third person in the story. We want to go to heaven when we die, not today.

What is the resurrection of Christ all about? What is Easter all about? Has it got any significance here and now, while we live on this earth? Or is it significant only after our death? Resurrection of Christ is not about a heaven after our death, but it is about living a life victorious over sin and death today. What are the implications of Christ’s resurrection for our life in the world, here and now?

First, it assures us that it is not all over yet. We are living in a world of sin and death. Satan and the princes of this world seem to have their free reign over this world; they seem to trample upon human lives and God’s beautiful creation. We feel hemmed in, unable to make any headway, lost and surrounded. Resurrection announces that they do not have the final say; the final say is for Christ and his people; it is for God’s kingdom. God, by raising Jesus, His son, from death, has unleashed the forces of a new life that works toward peace, justice and fullness of life. We have been given victory over sin and death. We read in 1 Peter 1:3, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead …” (1 Peter 1:3). We are filled with a living hope. It is not all over yet. In a world of sorrow, pain and ultimately death, it’s not over yet. Easter is indeed a forceful reminder that the human spirit cannot be confined. It does not deny the reality of death, but it offers us an assurance that death or death dealing forces do not have the final word.

With the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the world has been shaken up, the new rule of God has been proclaimed, so that despite appearances, the world is in fact a different place, full of new possibilities, previously unimagined. Paul explains in Colossians the reality of being raised with Christ, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (3:1-4) Even while we are on this earth, we can be part of this resurrection life of Jesus Christ, we have been given this experience of being raised with Christ,  so that our minds and hearts are set not on earthly things, but on things that are above. We are controlled and guided by heaven; our citizenship is in heaven.

Second, resurrection provides us with a new meaning for our life. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his “Letters and Papers from Prison”, writes about the meaning of Easter, “Good Friday and Easter free us to think about other things far beyond our own personal fate, about the ultimate meaning of all life, suffering, and events; and we lay hold of a great hope.” Life has a purpose and meaning beyond our personal successes and failures; God has a plan, a purpose for you and his creation. It may involve privations and disappointments, but whatever the cost, it will be worth it. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. Eternal life begins now. "I am the Resurrection and the Life." You are part of a new reality, new life in Christ. While in that horrible prison, Bonhoeffer wrote, "As I see it, I am here for some purpose and I only hope I may fulfill it. In light of the great purpose, all our privations and disappointments are trivial." Life takes on a new meaning. Without this meaningfulness, we are as good as dead.

Death is not physical cessation of breath, but it is a state of having no meaning and purpose for living. If you are possessed with this meaning, death ceases to have any control over your life. Hence, in Paul’s first letter to Corinthians, he writes, ““Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (15:55-57) The sting of death is our fear of death. It is the fear of death that causes us to hold on to life and become selfish; it causes us to be forgetful of and indifferent to the sufferings of others; we try to secure our life in panic by hoarding and accumulating. We move away from our God given destiny; that is sin. But ultimate meaningfulness of life, which enabled Christ to declare on the cross, “it is finished”, drives away all fear of death; and death’s sting has been taken away, and we can now live a life victorious over sin and death. That is the experience of eternal life. That is the experience of true freedom.

Lastly, resurrection of Jesus provides us with the assurance that the way of the cross is the true path to all human and cosmic quest for liberation. We tend to think that the cross was a temporary defeat and that the resurrection was the real moment of victory. But, the cross was the victory and the resurrection was merely the visible proof and public vindication of the victory on the cross.

Resurrection does not do away with cross but rather, it affirms that the way of the cross, the way of suffering love, the way of being responsible for ones fellow human beings and creation, is the most legitimate way for living meaningful lives, for solving the problems of this world and for the liberation of this world. God, by raising Jesus from the dead, has given his stamp approval to the way that His Son, Jesus Christ, has opted, a way of dying to give life. Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” Cross embodies this way, the way of dying to give life for others. It is a very costly way; it is not the way of miracles. “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed… but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”(1 Peter 1:18-19).

Jesus did not shy away from any situation of human disfigurement and disintegration of life. Jesus acted in responsibility to his fellow humans and the earth; he refused to budge before the death dealing forces of his time, whether be it from religion, culture or politics. In this, he remained resolutely in solidarity with the poor, those who were pushed to the margins of our society. He brought them wholeness and healing. In short, “he took up our pain and bore our suffering”; He showed us love in action, not love in the abstract. This style of life, way of life, made cross inevitable. The cross remains as the embodiment of the power of love and its victory over all that disfigures God’s beautiful creation. Resurrection of Christ is God’s way of declaring the way of the cross as the only way to liberate this world. This message is powerfully encapsulated in the poem/hymn written by James R Lowell, titled “Once to Every Man and Nation”. The last stanza concludes as follows:

Though the cause of evil prosper, Yet the truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold, And upon the throne be wrong;
Yet that scaffold sways the future, And behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, Keeping watch above His own

Yet that scaffold sways the future’—Yes, Resurrection bears witness to it. Successive generations of Christians bore witness to it and even faced the gallows singing praises to God. And we, who are given the privilege to be part of this resurrection faith, are called to bear witness to this reality and experience its power to transform the world.

What is a world without finer expressions of love!

08 November 2014
The essential concern is one of freedom of individuals to hold their views and pursue their life style, whether it is sexual orientation, attitude to religion, having a drink of their liking, the question of who to love and how to express ones love. Modernity with its associated cultural phenomenon of enlightenment brought a new sense of individual rights and freedom; they brought freedom from the tyranny of the church in controlling all aspects of people’s lives, including that of science and intellectual thought. It is this consciousness of individual rights that became the bedrock of modern democracy and secularism. This is being assaulted from all direction. And, this is happening in a state that touts of its literacy, development and exposure to the global community. 

Religious fundamentalism is raising its ugly head and all sorts of communal outfits are calling the shots and dictating terms to the political class both of the right and left persuasions. Both the political class and the religious obscurantists pay obeisance at the altar of mammon, the god of wealth. They cannot appreciate love, its finer manifestations, its tenderness, its giving in total self-abnegation; they only know violent intrusion with callous disregard for the other. That is what they call love; and in the dark of night they seek their illegal gratification. Since they do not know love, they become intolerant of all true and genuine expressions of it.

Is it a sin for two people to fall in love with each other? Is it a sin to be in a legitimate public space like a restaurant and share intimate conversations and enjoy their togetherness? Will driving them out of such public spaces to seek the privacy of a closed space in a filthy place sanitize our society and solve the moral degeneration that we face? Kerala is facing a rapid degeneration of values in all walks of life, much of them facilitated by those who pretend to be custodians of all moral virtues - the religious communities. Hypocrisy is their hallmark; their self-indulgent life style is masked by a veneer of religiosity; while they remain engrossed in individual piety, the public space is totally disregarded and left littered with moral ineptitude and turpitude. They take particular interest in keeping their private space clean; but they have no qualm in littering and dirtying the public space. 

The Kerala society also suffers from sexual repression. They cannot acknowledge and appreciate one’s own sexual urges. Repressed sexuality does not remain idle. It expresses itself in such perverse behaviour including extreme religiosity, fundamentalism and sadism, in ways that we cannot often fathom. Intolerance and jealousy of all expressions of sexuality are such manifestations of repressed sexuality. To appreciate love, sex and many other finer aspects of life one should have a different sensibility than that of pure material calculations of life. This is fast disappearing from the social psyche of the Kerala society. The younger generation is more honest and are better equipped to appreciate friendship among sexes. Unfortunately, the older generation is still caught up in their repression and unable to guide them to more sublime expressions of love. Intimacy when enjoyed in lasting commitment to one another becomes a sublime spiritual experience.

Justice: The Biggest Casualty on the Cross

27 March 2013
Subversion of justice continues and many more sons of men are “crucified”. Afzal Guru is one of the recent instances of such perversion of justice and crucifixion.

The religious fundamentalists and nationalists who looked for a scapegoat to vent their malicious hatred, the law and order forces that connived with the powers that be to frame him, the judges of the highest court in India who finally made a verdict to hang Afzal to appease the “collective conscience of society”, the general public who had no qualm in hanging this man in the name of national security and patriotism, and the media that made a scoop out of this perversion of justice and celebrated his hanging and those law and order forces that clandestinely executed his hanging are condemned in the cross of Christ.

We are all implicated in the cross of Christ for our active collaboration with an unjust society, our apathy in the face of gross violations of human rights and natural justice, our opting for expediency when we should have squarely dealt with realities, bending our knees before wealth and power and indulging in religious exercise and piety that are meant to hood wink the public.

How often Christians realize that they are followers of the one who was condemned a criminal and a traitor? Our rituals associated with the Holy Week can only mask this reality of the cross and make it more aseptic.