Reflections...

Meditations, Reflections, Bible Studies, and Sermons from Kowloon Union Church  

“The Price of Believing”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 18 August 2019, Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, by Timothy Chan. The scripture readings that day were Psalm 82, Hebrews 11:29–12:2, Luke 12:49–56.


Good morning sisters and brothers. Do you have your bulletin with you? sometimes when I am reading about the prayer concern, I wonder for how long would conflicts and divisions be no more. I wish there can be more good news written in the bulletin. It would be nice if we are all living in a peaceful society, where no one has any complain, no protest, no tear gas, no violence. It would be nice, too nice, unrealistically nice. Then we read about this passage from the Gospel of Luke this morning, saying, Jesus the Cause of Division. I think it’s time for us to renew our understanding of peace and division. Before we dig deeper, let’s pray:
God of justice, God of peace. Help us to understand what it means to follow you. Help us to find peace in you instead of looking for it in the world. May your Holy Spirit come and inspire us, ignite our passion to follow you again. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.
“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” This is how Jesus describes His mission. When we think of fire in an apocalyptic perspective, we would think of the hellfire of destruction, punishment and judgement. That’s why we would be confused of why Jesus is going to punish and judge the earth. But in the context of Luke, or in the wider Old Testament context, fire has a few more meanings. In the Exodus, fire signifies the presence of God, think of how the pillar of fire leading the Israelites in the wilderness and how he shows himself in the fire to Moses. In the prophetic books, fire carries a meaning of transformation and sanctification. In the context of Luke particularly, the image of fire is the continuity of the mission of John the Baptist, which is the refiner’s fire, purifying our sin, and making us holy. If we can expand our understanding of fire here in this context, then we know Jesus is coming to judge and punish, but to make things right, to remove the evil within us, our society and all humanity. 
The second thing he mentions in his mission is baptism. For many of us who are baptized would know the meaning of it. It means we are dead to the world, so we can live for God. Baptism is also a mark we carry, separating us from the world, telling the world and its authority that we are children of God, citizens of God’s Kingdom. For us, it might only be a religious ritual. However, in the New Testament time, it is a political statement. By declaring themselves as the citizens of God’s kingdom, and to recognize Jesus Christ as their King and Lord, Christians were accused of treason. They are labelled as threats to the national security of the Roman’s Empire. At the same time, Christians were also being rejected by the Jewish community for betraying their tradition. These are the reasons why Christians were persecuted in the first few centuries.
Even today, Christians are being persecuted in many countries, such as China, because of the value and belief we hold firm to. Therefore, the mission of baptism is a mission to disturb and challenge the earthly authorities, cultures and spiritual forces which go against the Kingdom of God. No wonder Jesus says: “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” This division can be so close to us that it happens within our families as mentioned in the scripture.
The scripture reading this morning reminds me of the current situation in Hong Kong, where we all experience different kind of divisions. It might happen in our workplace, in our family, among our friends, or even in the church. It is easy to think we are right, and they are wrong. It is easy for us to think that God is on our side, because we are pursuing justice and peace. But I find it unconvincing, for both sides believe that they are advocating for justice, and against violence. So who is right?
Yesterday, there was a gathering in the Tamar park in Admiralty, organized by pro-government group, their group name is “Safe Guard Hong Kong”. They advocated against violence too, but they support the police’s excessive use of force. I also rememfber how these people celebrated when the white shirts beat up citizens in Yuen Long MTR area. It is hypocritic. Today’s problem is how people become selective on what they support and how they misinterpret and abuse the meaning of justice in order to fit their own agenda. People can be divided because of their own selfish motives and benefits. 
What about us then? What we are standing for today? In the midst of division and conflict, we need to have courage to be critical on what we are supporting too. How can we, as Christians, support and follow the values of God’s Kingdom instead of supporting a particular group of people or a political agenda? Are we too overwhelmed by what happened around us that we forget to simply pray and listen to God? We all have our own emotions to deal with, we all feel frustrated, angry, and sometime confused. While we are paying attention to what is happening around us, let us not forget to spend time with God, and to be still, and know that He is God, to seek his will be done, not ours.
If division is unavoidable, we have to understand why. Today, we are divided not because we are supporting democracy or not, we are divided not because we are supporting the police or not. Today, we have to remind ourselves that Jesus is the cause of division, which means, in order to follow Jesus, we must make decisions to separate ourselves from injustice and evil. That is why in the midst of chaos, we must turn our eyes to Jesus, to ask God where we should stand in the context God is placing us. God is not asking us to be indifferent, or to turn a blind eye and run away from what is happening around us. Instead, God is inviting us to engage, so we can be the light and salt of the world, to testify his love and justice.
I like the word Division used here. It is a process, it is not trying to erase the difference, but to highlight the constant struggle in the context. Instead of retreating and running away, division actually offers hope for those who are oppressed. So, let us not be afraid of division. I thank God for division, because it means we have a choice to make, to follow his way, or to follow the world, even sometime following God would give us more trouble and may put us in danger. I thank God for division, for it means God still cares, and he doesn’t ignore sin and compromise to evil. Only if we have faith in God’s judgement and promise, we would have the courage to embrace division. This is what our ancestors in faith has demonstrated to us.
If we choose to believe and follow the way of God, we must be ready for the consequence and the choice to make. In Hebrews chapter 11:29 to verse 12:2. The author listed out the faith of Israelite heroes. It reads:
29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. 30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. 31 By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.
In these situations, the people of God has made the decision by faith. The Israelites could have stayed in Egypt to be enslaved, instead, they have faith in God for the Promised Land. They chose to leave Egypt, a place where they have inhabited for a few generations. They might be suffering, but Egypt was also their comfort zone. But then, they made a choice to leave that place of oppression and slavery, to rebel against the will of the Pharaoh. They disobeyed their government so they could receive the promise of God.  They made the first move to leave, and God was helping them to pass through the Red Sea.
Rahab, the prostitute is also listed among the people of faith. We are not sure why she became a prostitute in the first place, but we know the ancient society has the least respect for them. According to the scripture, she is convinced that God has promised the city Jericho to the Israelites. She decided to hide the spies sent by Joshua from her people, in another word, she had to disobey her people to receive the promise of God. There are many more people mentioned in the scripture who received the promise of God through faith. They have all made a choice, a choice which might not be welcomed and agreed by the majority. They chose to act up against injustice and confront evil. They chose Jesus over their own life, for they have faith in the judgement and promise of God.
Friends, not all of us are lucky to have received the promise right away. Some of us might be making the right choice to stand up for justice and confront evil, but because of it, being persecuted. This reminds of me of a refugee friend I have met in KUC. Other than having fellowship every Tuesday in KUC, I would bring a few members from our fellowship to different schools and churches to share their experience in Hong Kong and their testimonies. I remember one time, there was a student asking one of our friends, “Do you regret involving in political movement, and speaking against the government? If you have not done all these, you wouldn’t become a refugee now”. Without a single thought, my friend said “No.” he continues “If I am given another chance, I would still do what I have done, for it’s a matter of justice and what is right or wrong.” Even though now he is separated from his family, and living a difficult life in Hong Kong, he did not blame God and has no regret of the choice he has made. For he follows the way of God’s Kingdom, to stand up against injustice and evil.
Sometimes I wonder what is the price for us to believe in God in Hong Kong. What is the price for us to do what is right? Do we have the courage to make the right decision, to help those who are weak and oppressed? We are living in a time where it is easier to judge than to reflect what we are standing for. I hope we can all remember the mission of Jesus, who sends fire and baptizes the earth. The fire is not only for retribution, but also for purification and transformation. This fire is not only for those who are wicked. It is also prepared for those who believe and follow him. We are all called to be representatives of God in the world and be part of his mission. May we be conscious of the roles God has given us, to bring true peace to where we are living even it may result in division. For peace without justice is tyranny. (William Allen White)

Friends, let us put our faith in Jesus, who is “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” Our choice to follow God and pursue goodness may result in persecution and division, but compare to the promise of God, they are all temporary. No matter what you are struggling with now, I believe God is inviting us to make a choice and decision to follow His way. Let us set our sight on his promises and goodness, for even we are in the darkest valley, he is there with us, for he is our shepherd, our savior, and our liberator. Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, August 18, 2019

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