A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Asia Sunday, 30 May 2004, by
Dr Ahn Jae Woong, General Secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia.
Text: John 17:20-23
I am grateful to Rev Dr David Gill for inviting me to deliver a sermon here at the Kowloon Union Church. Today, we are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Asia Sunday, which has been observed year after year since 1974 in order to commemorate the formation of the Christian Conference of Asia.
The theme of Asia Sunday this year is "Serving together beyond boundaries." In Asia, we live within so many boundaries. We tend to live compartmentalised lives. They include geo-political boundaries, religio-cultural boundaries, ethnic-racial boundaries and many different shades of ideological boundaries. We seem to limit ourselves within these boundaries so that we find it difficult to cross over them, much less breaking them down.
Through this focus of Asia Sunday 2004, we wish to share that serving together is a step towards breaking down all kinds of boundaries. By serving together, we build a kind of solidarity with others, which is a collective witness to our God. By living together, we build communities of peace for all God’s people. By serving together, we build a chain of network with people of other faiths or no faith and civil society groups so as to overcome all forms of violence. By serving together, we build unity in order to seek God’s grace to live in peace and harmony among our neighbours. This year, we remember Lao Evangelical Church in Laos for their struggle to witness our God in a socialist country.
Today, we live in a world full of uncertainties. Is the world becoming a killing field? The everyday happenings in different parts of the world make one think so. Human lives have become so devalued. We start our day by listening and reading about killings of innocent people in the name of war on terrorism, torture and humiliation in prisons, illegal occupation of countries by those who have military and economic power. There is a general apathy towards human rights and dignity. It is time people came out of their boundaries and reach out for others to build together communities of peace everywhere.
A Korean story
Let me share with you a story about the late Rev Moon Ik Hwan. Rev Moon was a highly respected Presbyterian pastor, Old Testament scholar, well-known poet as well as a democratic and unification campaigner. One of his great achievements was the translation of the Bible in 1970 in collaboration with the Roman Catholic Church in which he was the chief translator.
He became a committed human rights advocate in the 1970s under the Park Chung Hee military dictatorship. He also became a national leader in the unification movement in the 1980s and 1990s. One day, he decided to visit Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, to meet with the great leader Kim Il Sung. Of course, it was an extraordinary decision. He made it to Pyongyang and met with Kim Il Sung and discussed about the peaceful unification of the Korean peninsula. The news received wide media coverage. It received front-page treatment in the Korean press. It was also a shocking news to the Korean people.
On his return, he was interrogated by the Korean CIA, put behind bars, made to stand for trials and sent to jail for a couple of years. Because of one man, for his commitment and action, for breaking down ideological boundaries, the way was opened for others to visit North Korea. Later, famous writers such as Hwang Suk Young, Kim Ha Ke and Member of Parliament Suh Kyung Won followed in Rev Moon Ik Hwan’s footsteps. Young South Korean female college student, Im Soo Kyung, became well known internationally when she visited Pyongyang to participate at the international youth festival. When they returned, without exception, all of them paid a heavy price by serving prison terms. Since then, the interaction between the people of the north and the south has become closer and has grown. Today, family re-union programs by the Red Cross of both the north and the south, sports and cultural exchanges, several visits by religious leaders, humanitarian aids by Christian organisations and civil society groups and so on still continue.
Rev Moon Ik Hwan, a pioneering leader of the unification movement, who frequently went in and out of Korean prisons, passed away ten years ago.
I am sure, you may have similar stories of people who have demolished all kinds of boundaries in Asia. They are the ones who make a difference in our history. In fact, without demolishing boundaries we are unable to live as good neighbours.
"They may all be one"
Let me reflect on our biblical passage today. According to John 17:21 (NRSV) Jesus prayed that "they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us." When we talk about ecumenism or ecumenical movement, we often cite this particular passage as a biblical source of foundation.
If we closely look at the passage "they may all be one" we will see that it means God in me and I am in God, and equally everyone else also be in God. After all, “they may all be one” is a clear statement that there is no boundary at all. It reminds us of the theology of trinity, where three persons are all in One.
Paul’s letter to the Galatians tells us the same. "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus" (3:28 NRSV).
Those who have minds and hearts like Jesus, who try to cross boundaries if any, breakdown boundaries if any, demolish barriers if any and accept our neighbours far and near as one, are sisters and brothers in Christ. This is the meaning of the ecumenical movement and this is what the ecumenical movement is all about.
Without such a mind and a heart, it is not possible to have a person like Rev Moon Ik Hwan. All we have to do is to serve together beyond boundaries in order to live in peace and harmony with our neighbours whoever they may be so that we all may be One.
May God bless us all, Amen