Meditations, Reflections, Bible Studies, and Sermons from Kowloon Union Church
At the Feet of Greatness
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on 18 July 2004, by David Gill. Two passages from the Christian scriptures were read during the service: Colossians 1:15-28 and St Luke 10:38-42.
When our Muslim friends say their prayers, they often use one particularly powerful expression: “Allahu akhbar” – “God is great”. Like
any religious language the phrase can be misused, and has been. Still, I love hearing those strong, haunting, oft-repeated words.
Why? Because they are a reminder, for all of us, of the glory, the wonder, the dazzling bigness of the mystery we dare to call “God”.
Christians, no less than our Muslim cousins, need that reminder. For it is all too easy, all too human, to forget that God is indeed great, great beyond even our best attempts at understanding.
Nearly thirty years ago a biblical scholar named J B Phillips wrote a book around this theme. It became a best seller. The title was provocative: “Your God is Too Small”. The first part of the book did a demolition job on a series of what Phillips called “unreal gods” – or, more accurately, grossly inadequate but widely held images of God. God the resident policeman, for example. God the parental hangover. God the grand old man. God the managing director. Even, God the heavenly bosom. More constructively, the book went on to offer somewhat more adequate imagery, picture language, for the Almighty.
“Your God is Too Small”. That’s a fair rebuke, I think, for most people, most of the time. And it’s not only a challenge to those of us who do believe in the Divine. It challenges those who don’t, as well.
When an atheist friend tells me he doesn’t believe in God and starts to explain why, I often want to agree wholeheartedly and protest that I don’t believe in that kind of God either. More importantly, nor does the Church. Some concepts of God are grossly inadequate. They deserve to be rejected. Because they are just too small for the mind-boggling mystery of which they claim to speak.
God is indeed great, my friends. So let’s make sure that greatness is acknowledged, not only in the awe of our worship but in the caution, the hesitancy, of our words. Gregory of Nyssa, a great fourth century theologian, had a warning for all who dare speak of the Divine: “Let those who would pry into the mysteries of the life of God, realise just how little they understand of the mystery of the life of an ant”.
Christians do not own God. Never forget it.
Martin Buber, a twentieth century Jewish philosopher, sounded a warning against the temptation of looking on God as something to be possessed, used, held. Treat God as an object, he warned, and you end up holding a phantom. “God, the eternal Presence, does not permit himself to be held. Woe to the man so possessed that he thinks he possesses God!”
And woe to the Christian Church, or any other religion, when it makes the same mistake. The Almighty does not wear a Christian label. Or any other label, for that matter. There is only one God “in light inaccessible, hid from our eyes”, as we sang in the first hymn this morning. It is of that one Reality that we, severally, speak -- in our different accents and with our hesitant, inadequate voices.
Of course, the Christian Church cherishes its doctrines, its teachings. Rightly, we treasure the insights that have come to us through the ages. But our doctrines, even at their best, are not God. There is a vast, yawning gulf between the Divine Mystery and our stuttering attempts to speak of it.
The Bible knows about that gulf. But it also knows the gulf is not the end of the story.
This morning we heard two readings from the Christian scriptures. Can you remember the first? It came from the letter to the Colossians, the first chapter. It’s a wonderful, sweeping, visionary passage, full of the greatness, the majesty, the wonder of God. But full, too, of what God has done to reach out, in love and mercy, to us poor, frail, blind mortals.
In Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth, it claims, we have seen “the image of the invisible God”. Wrap your mind around that one: the image, the full and authentic representation, of the invisible God.
“In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell”. Wow! Not just a little bit of God, not just a hint of God, not 1% of God with 99% left behind. But the whole fullness of God. Wow!
In him is “the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations, but has now been revealed”. In this man, the mystery has revealed itself, has broken itself open, has become transparent before our eyes. Wow, again!
What a claim! What a faith!
Yet, incredibly, so many people today react to the Christian message not with a wow, but with a yawn. Christianity, they think, is boring. Boring!
You can say a lot of things about the Christian faith. Call it mind boggling, if you like. Call it unbelievable, if you must. But never, ever, call it boring.
What does this startling claim mean for you and me? It means we pay attention, that’s what. Very, very careful attention!
Remember this morning’s gospel passage? Jesus is visiting the home of Mary and Martha. Mary is sitting at his feet, listening. It is the position of a disciple, a learner, a student. Martha on the other hand is rushing around organizing the hospitality. She is worried, distracted, bothered by many things. She’s stressed out. She would have been right at home here in Hong Kong! Finally she cracks: Lord, she says, it’s just not fair. Tell my sister to lend a hand!
And Jesus’ response? Gently but firmly, Martha is told that she has got it wrong. That it is time for her to go on strike. Not because the practicalities she was fussing about were unimportant, but because there was something vastly more important. This simple little story was the gospel writer’s way of saying: for God’s sake (literally), copy Mary’s example and listen, very carefully, to this special man.
Yes, God is great. The true measure of that greatness is God come among us. Love incarnate, love crucified and risen, love unearned and unearnable, love without limit and love without end, among us in the one they called the Christ.
Listen to him, my friend. Watch him. Follow him. For it is in the listening, in the watching, above all in the following, that you may discover in your own experience who he is. And may come, with the whole Church through the ages, to say, in awe and gratitude, “My Lord … and my God”.
To him be praise and glory, now and forever, and to ages of ages. AMEN
Pentecost is Forever
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 30 May 2004, by David Gill. The scripture readings that day were Acts 2:1-21, Romans 8:14-17 and St John 14:8-17.
Today – the day of Pentecost – is the birthday of the Church.
As with most births, the birth of the Church was an experience of joy through trauma. Deep trauma. For put yourself in the shoes of those early Christians.
Their leader had left them. Yes, there had been those dramatic resurrection appearances, reinforcing their conviction that what Jesus had embodied was stronger than all the forces that had been pitted against him, stronger even than death. But now the appearances had stopped.
Apparently, it was all over. The curtain had been rung down on the last act. Jesus, on whom they had staked everything, was gone – ascended into heaven, or something, but certainly gone. The God they had glimpsed in him was now as far away as ever. The Word that had become flesh and dwelt among them had become, once again, silence.
Of course they met together, they prayed, they talked over what had happened, they even elected a successor to Judas among the twelve. But still … silence. The aching silence of the bereaved. The despairing silence of those for whom all doors to the future had been slammed shut -- locked, barred and bolted.
Then it happened. Exactly what happened we do not know, but we do know it had decisive significance for those early Christians and for all who were to follow after. Certainly the Acts of the Apostles dresses the event up with vivid symbolism – noises in the heavens, tongues of fire touching everyone present, a crowd gathering, excitement spreading, all of them bursting into a babel of languages to talk about what God was doing, the amazed question: what does this mean? Then an excited sermon from Peter and, finally, the baptism of about 3000 people.
The grim silence had been broken. Their desolation was ended. The door to the future was open. They had discovered that God was with them yet – making Christ known to those who had never met him, giving meaning to the tumultuous events of those days, renewing the faith of demoralized believers, empowering them to face a frightening world, binding them together in a great new family of faith that transcended all human divisions. With that discovery, driven by a power beyond itself, the Church began its long march out across the nations and down through the centuries.
The Church Today
We are heirs to that great discovery. For on this day of Pentecost we do not simply remember something that was, long ago. We rejoice in something that is, now, and will be, to the end. We celebrate the miracle that God is with us yet – opening our eyes to the glory of Christ, giving meaning to the bewildering events of these days, renewing the faith of our demoralized churches, empowering us to face a frightening world, binding us together in the great family of faith that transcends our human divisions.
There are several special days in the Christian calendar. One or two of them, notably Christmas, touch the lives of people not only within the Christian Church but far beyond it. And that’s great.
But Pentecost is very specifically the festival of the Church. Not of individuals. Not of denominations. Not of one local congregation or another. But of the whole Church – that weird and wonderful crowd of people in just about every country on the face of the earth, speaking every language known to the anthropologists, embracing a dazzling variety of cultures and skin textures and lifestyles, organized in many different ways and worshipping according to many different traditions. A vast crowd, the limits of which are known to God alone, the center of which is Jesus Christ its Lord, the life-giving power of which is the Holy Spirit that came upon it at Pentecost.
This day reminds us whose the Church is, what the Church is for, and where lies the Church’s hope.
Whose it is
The Church is not a comfortable club of likeminded people, but a frequently discomforting fellowship of the unlikeminded. Not a group of people pursuing their own interests, but a community drawn by God’s grace into a mission that is determined by his interest. Not the tame servant of any party, ideology or government, but a rebel against all parties, ideologies and governments that stand in the way of God’s life-giving purpose for the world.
How often have you heard Christians talk about the Church’s life, witness and worship in terms of what “I prefer” or “I would like”? The question is irrelevant. What matters is not what you or I would like, but what God’s mission in Christ dictates – which may be a very different matter indeed!
The pentecost-al Church is not ours. It belongs solely to the Lord and takes its marching orders from him alone.
What it is for
Yes, Pentecost is the festival of the Church. But not in any narrow, introverted sense. Only in the context of the world for which Christ lived and died – the world in which human life is built up and broken down, the world where prisoners are tortured and young people commit suicide, the world of young babies crying in their hunger and old men crying in their loneliness.
For the Spirit who empowers the Church is one with the Father who rules the world and the Son who died for it. The God who draws you into the community of faith is the God who draws you further, to share in his self-giving love for all creation.
Some years ago, traveling for the World Council of Churches, I attended a baptism in a remote village north of Chiengmai, in Thailand. The lay leader of the congregation explained that they’d had some serious local problems -- “bad spirits,” as he put it, were affecting the village well and stirring up conflict among the people. Pray, he asked us, that the Holy Spirit may come to cast out the bad spirits and to heal us. His request for prayer was actually an important statement of faith. The well? That was the realm of economics. And village conflict? That had to do with politics. The promise of God’s presence, he saw, had implications for both. It’s not just a matter of what happens within the walls of the church.
Where lies its hope
Five centuries ago, when the movement for reform was sweeping the Church in Europe, the then king of France, Henry of Navarre, was a very worried man. He threatened the reformers with punishment if they refused to fall into line with his wishes. One of their leaders, Theodore de Beze, responded in words that echo even in our own day. “Sire,” he said. “It belongs in truth to the Church of God … to receive blows and not to give them, but … remember that the Church is an anvil that has worn out many a hammer”.
This point seems to have escaped the governments that in our time have been hammering upon the Church, seeking either its conformity or its extinction. For in my lifetime, from Moscow to Seoul to Capetown to Santiago de Chile, Christians have rediscovered that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”.
Where lies the Church’s hope? Not with the approval of governments or public opinion, that’s for sure. Not with the likes of you and me, that’s even more sure. But with the One whose we are and to whose service we are called. The One against whose saving love the gates of hell cannot prevail. He is our hope.
My friends, remember. It is precisely at those moments when we feel abandoned by God – that He bursts forth among us. It is precisely when the silence is deepest – that He speaks. It is precisely when the future seems hopelessly closed – that He shows us the way. It is precisely when we feel most appallingly alone – that we discover He is indeed with us, to the end.
He is our hope. For Pentecost is forever. And the empowering gift of God’s presence is a gift that bears our names.
* * *
More Blessed to Receive
A radio talk by David Gill, delivered as the "Thought for the Week" programme on Hong Kong's RTHK on 14 March 2004.
It was a voice from the crowd. “You speak English, sir?”
Oh no, I thought, here we go again. I had just arrived in Jayapura, in Irian Jaya, for an assembly of the Communion of Churches in Indonesia. It was a sweltering evening and I was tired, spiritually as well as physically. Ahead lay the prospect of yet another meeting. Wandering up the main street to get my bearings, the last thing I needed was the attention of some tout eager to sell me an allegedly Swiss watch or the wondrous delights of some local night spot.
But the truth will out. Yes, I spoke English.
“May we speak English with you for a few minutes, sir?” Plural. There were three of them. Teenagers.
Well, why not, I thought. It has to be more fun than talking to myself. When the inevitable sales pitch comes I’ll push off and leave them to it. But meanwhile, OK, let’s speak some English.
All three, it transpired, were heading home from an evening course in English. They often spoke the language with each other at school, to the bemusement of classmates, and with minds like blotting paper they were mad keen to soak up more.
The leader of the pack, named Lively, told me he hoped to be a medical doctor, or maybe an evangelist. Eko, the Irianese in the trio, was doing work experience with a local travel agency. Stepanus, with eyes set on becoming a tour guide, planned to add German and perhaps Japanese to his linguistic portfolio.
Yes, they knew of our big Christian meeting in Jayapura. Their pastors had told them all about it. Was it true, they asked, that some young people in my country, Australia, did not go to church? Why? How could anyone try to live without God? My fumbling explanation of young Australia’s secular mindset produced polite incredulity.
Nice kids. By the time we went our separate ways Jayapura felt like a much more friendly place, my weariness was evaporating and the Christian faith had begun to seem just a shade more believable.
We collided again a few days later, at a big rally marking the birth of the Evangelical Christian Church of Irian Jaya, and over coffee my education was resumed. Next morning they turned up at the hotel, to escort me to the conference center, and since what they had to say was rather more interesting than the official proceedings inside I ended up playing truant from the first session.
On the last day, as I threw things into a suitcase, they appeared at the door bearing farewell gifts. And a request. Would I pray with them before leaving? From three teenagers back home that might have sounded a bit, well, odd. From them it rang absolutely true. So pray together we did.
I reflected, gratefully, on the kindness of those youngsters who had given so generously, so unselfconsciously, of their friendship, vitality and faith. I remembered how our paths had first crossed, what seemed like ages before, and how chillingly close I had come to telling that voice in the crowd to leave me alone, that I did not want to be disturbed.
Yes I had flown in to attend a Christian meeting, right enough, but somewhere along the way I had lost sight of some basic Christian convictions. Like how not wanting to be disturbed can be the greatest of all obstacles to renewal. And the fact that, sometimes, it is much more blessed to receive than to give.
The Promise of Joy
A sermon preached at a joint service of Kowloon Union Church and the Korean and Cantonese-speaking congregations of the Love and Truth Christian Church, on Christmas Day, 2003, by David Gill. The scripture readings that day were Isaiah 52:7-10, Titus 3:4-7 and St John 1:1-14.
“I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day … a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord”
“Good news of great joy”. That was what Christmas meant to the men and women of the biblical story, long centuries ago.
Joy, though the baby was so small, so weak, so insignificant.
Joy, though most of those involved had no money, no comfort, no security.
Joy, though powerful people of the land were against them.
Joy, though the rest of world neither knew nor cared about just one more child.
Why, then, the great joy? Why?
Because here, they believed, was the Saviour, the Messiah, the Lord.
Here was the God they yearned for, the God they had awaited so long.
Here was the Mystery of the ages, broken open before their eyes.
Think about that word: “joy”.
Not shallow cheerfulness, something we stir up for ourselves.
Not false frivolity, that dies as soon as the party is over.
But joy. Deep, dark, enduring joy.
Something that comes from beyond ourselves; that remains through good times and bad; that endures all things.
Something that doesn’t ask us to play games; to pretend to certainties we don’t possess; to play at being jolly when we’re not.
Something that’s authentic because it is grounded in the truth, in the way things really are.
But take care. The joy of Christmas involves far more than the familiar heart-warming stories of Christ’s birth. For, as a great Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, used to warn: unless you have gazed on the cross of Calvary, you cannot understand the babe of Bethlehem.
This child is born for us. This child will live for us. This child will suffer and die for us. This child will rise for us in glory.
In Christ, the self-giving love of God is for us. Now. Today. Through all our days, and even -- and most especially -- in the darkest of our nights.
God cares, God loves, God understands, God forgives, God heals, God makes life new – and all for us, though we may not know it or even care about it, though we never deserve it, though we barely comprehend it.
God is for us. For each and every one of us, with no exceptions.
Which, my friend, includes you. Today, the great joy of Christmas is a gift that bears your name.
But a gift must be opened. To find out what is inside, you have to remove the ribbons, take off the paper, tear open the package. Lots of people are doing that, today, with gifts that were bought in shops.
If you received a Christmas gift of great value, of great beauty, something that would transform your life -- and if you didn’t even bother to open the package, if you just put it in the corner and ignored it – then, let’s face it, you would be a bit stupid.
That’s the mistake so many people make with God’s great Christmas gift. They don’t bother to find out what it means. They leave the ribbons on, the paper undisturbed, the package unopened.
And the great treasure of the gospel remains hidden from their eyes. Oh they may think they know what Christianity is all about. But usually they have no idea of the gift that awaits their discovery. For there is so much more to the Christian faith than most people, even most Christians, begin to realize.
So do not stop at unwrapping the gifts bought in the shops! On this day of Christmas, above everything else, focus your attention on the gift that comes from above. Contemplate again the limitless generosity of our self-giving God, the amazing grace of One who so loved the world that he gave his only son.
Tear open the package! Glimpse anew the wonder of God’s love! Receive afresh the strange gift of joy!
And hear again the angels sing!
* * *
Beware the Numbers Game
A radio talk by David Gill, delivered as the "Thought for the Week" programme on Hong Kong's RTHK on 12 October 2003.
My dentist was looking at me accusingly. “You’ve been grinding your teeth again,” he said.
I started to point out that if he’d spent a lifetime working for the church he’d probably grind his too. “Aaarrgh,” I said, through a mouthful of dental hardware.
“Yes, these must be difficult days in your line of business,” went on the man in white. “Maybe the church needs a new product”.
That really did provoke choking noises from the chair. But I could follow his thinking. Whether your specialty is teeth or religion, offer people what they want and the world will beat a path to your door.
OK, let’s admit it. These are difficult days for the churches, in Europe and North America at any rate.
For example, in the Netherlands, a century ago, 99% of the people belonged to a Christian church. By 1991 that had dropped to 42% and, in the 21 to 30 age bracket, to 28%. Since then, membership continues to dwindle.
Church statistics in many traditionally Christian countries point the same way: down.
But falling numbers is not the main problem. After all, history is full of such fluctuations. Through the centuries the strength of religious institutions has waxed and waned for all kinds of reasons, most of them having little to do with religion. Church people who know their own history will avoid getting too excited about numbers and trends, whether the direction be up or down.
No, the danger is not in the numbers as such. The danger lies with how the North Atlantic churches might respond to their current shrinkage.
By all means ask, as did one of the bishops during the Second Vatican Council, “What have we done to Christ’s Church that makes people not want to belong to it?” Certainly look for ways of embodying the gospel more clearly, more compellingly, in the context of the contemporary world’s search for meaning.
Beyond that, take care. The great temptation is to become more concerned about institutional well-being than the integrity of the gospel. That is a trap into which the church has fallen again and again in times past.
It would be so perilously easy to trim the faith we’ve received to make it a more saleable product, to modify the message we’ve been given in order to get the customers in.
Easy, too, to play up our socially acceptable welfare role and sidestep that awkward stuff about transcendence, those embarrassing truth claims about a God who so loved the world that he gave his only son.
Guard especially against being demoralized by the graphs, distracted by the numbers, mesmerized by the budget projections.
As Britain’s United Reformed Church reminded its people recently, “For a church to be anxious about its size is like our being anxious about food and drink to keep you alive and clothes to cover your body”. Jesus’ response to that one, you remember, was to say: set your mind on God’s kingdom and his righteousness; the rest will look after itself.
For slightly nervous Christians pondering their statistics two thousand years later, that’s still sound advice.
One Lord, One Cross, One Family of Christian Faith
A sermon preached by David Gill and broadcast on Hong Kong's RTHK, on 26 January 2003, marking the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
My friends, churches throughout the world have just concluded their annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Here in Hong Kong there were several special events, and many congregations paused to reflect on how Christians have been rediscovering one another as brothers and sisters within the one family of Christian faith.
What an amazing rediscovery it is proving to be! When future historians go to work on the Church of our time, they will surely marvel at this astonishing saga of transformation we call the modern ecumenical movement.
You and I have the enormous privilege of participating in what must be, by any measure, one of the most dramatic, rapid and far-reaching movements of renewal the Church of Jesus Christ has ever known.
So much has happened.
Long centuries of silence separating churches of the Orthodox east from those of the Catholic/Protestant west have ended.
Deep disagreements over issues like baptism and the eucharist (or the Lord’s supper) – disagreements that once saw Christians literally shedding each other’s blood – have given way to mutual learning, deepening understanding, indeed something close to consensus.
Churches of Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, the Caribbean and the Pacific have established new relationships with those of Europe and North America and become major players on the world stage.
And how the atmosphere has changed.
Willem Visser ‘t Hooft, the first general secretary of the World Council of Churches, told in his Memoirs of his first nervous encounter with Cardinal Bea, who had just been appointed head of the Vatican’s new secretariat for promoting Christian unity. It was September 1960. Visser ‘t Hooft dared not even tell his wife where he was going for the weekend. The concierge of the Milan convent where they met was under strictest orders on no account to ask the name of the mysterious visitor from Geneva. It was all very hush hush, very delicate, very risky.
Today, only four short decades later, the Roman Catholic Church is an enthusiastic member of more than half of the world’s 103 national councils of churches, and three (Pacific, Caribbean and Middle East) of the six regional ecumenical bodies, as well as cooperating closely with the World Council. And it feels not risky, but wonderfully right, to all of us.
That, however, is only the tip of the iceberg. More important than such structural developments is the qualitative change we have witnessed in relationships between Christians. Remember the bad old days of prejudice and bigotry? They weren’t so long ago.
“We have become a community of trust,” a Lutheran leader told me in Brisbane a few years back, commenting on what his friendship with other heads of churches had come to mean to him. It’s a statement many of us could echo, for the miracle of ecumenism is not, thank God, restricted to the ranks of church leaders.
How far we have come.
But we’re not there yet.
Disagreements over some major issues still block the way to mutual recognition and full communion. Indeed, new points of contention, within as well as between the churches, are now complicating their relationships.
Inevitably, some feel frustrated. They want progress to come faster. So many of their dreams are yet to be fulfilled. Councils of churches, always underfunded, find themselves in some places struggling. Patience wears thin. “The winter of the ecumenical movement” is how one of my friends describes the present climate.
I know how he feels, but I think he is wrong. Things may not move fast enough, but they do move. Organisations may have their problems, but the movement itself, within and between the churches, continues apace. The climate today is not bleak. By the same token, the climate in years past was not always one of untroubled sunshine.
It would be more accurate to label this a continuing springtime of the ecumenical movement – with occasional clouds, to be sure, and every so often a thunderstorm to make life interesting!
Of course there are frustrations. And there will be failures. Indeed, at times the churches may be tempted to wonder whether the ecumenical movement is worth the effort, whether the benefits really outweigh the costs.
When that question arises, we must be ready to question the question, to restate quite clearly what motivates the churches’ shared quest to become, visibly, the one, holy, catholic, apostolic Church of which the creed speaks.
We did not set out on this journey because of some vague notion that it is nice to be nice to other Christians. We are not driven by the merger mentality of big business. We are not in the game because of a desire to see the more efficient use of ecclesiastical resources, for the sake of a better public image or even because of what it might do for our shared mission.
We have taken this road simply because the logic of the gospel demands it. As Bishop Lesslie Newbigin once remarked, a divided Christianity has about as much credibility as a temperance society the members of which are perpetually drunk. The good news of God’s reconciling power in Christ requires a manifestly reconciled community of faith, nothing less, to embody it.
Indeed, the gospel demands not just a united faith community, but a renewed one. That’s why ecumenism is not just an exercise in ecclesiastical joinery, trying to glue together the various bits of the churches as they are, or a takeover bid by one denomination of another. It is the churches wrestling with the call to renewal – aggiornamento, Vatican II called it -- as they ask: what is it we must together become in order to be faithful to Christ’s call today?
The churches set out on this ecumenical pilgrimage because they became convinced that renewal in unity is God’s will. It would be ridiculous for a Christian’s faith, hope and love to rest on some calculation as to whether or not such qualities are worth the effort. It is no less ridiculous to attempt a cost/benefit analysis of the merits or otherwise of seeking the visible reconciliation of Christ’s fractious people.
Obedience transcends calculation.
And what inspires our journey is far stronger, far more enduring, than any obstacles we may encounter.
Ecumenism’s driving power is God’s amazing grace, nothing less.
For the good news of the gospel is that God accepts us – not because of the precision of our doctrines, the elegance of our liturgies, the enthusiasm of our commitment, the vintage of our histories, the scope of our programs, the good works of our community services, or the zest of our assorted varieties of religious experience. Under the cross, all our churches stand empty-handed.
No, the good news is that God accepts us – fullstop. Warts and all. Notwithstanding the inadequacies that mar our mission, the failures that warp our witness, the infidelities that litter the centuries. We are accepted! Forgiven! Loved! We are, against all the odds, embraced by the amazing mystery of grace.
It is that gospel of divine acceptance that inspires us to pray, to think, to dream, to work like mad, to find a way towards the full acceptance of each another as brothers and sisters within one family of faith gathered around the one cross of the world’s one redeemer.
For so great a gift of grace, so great a calling set before us, thanks be to God.
_____The Revd David Gill is pastor of Kowloon Union Church. Previously he was general secretary of the National Council of Churches in Australia (1988-2001) and the Uniting Church in Australia (1980-88), and served on the staff of the World Council of Churches in Geneva.
This War is Wrong
The following statement was made by David Gill, at an interfaith prayer vigil in Kowloon Park, Hong Kong. It was Sunday 16 March 2003, and the invasion of Iraq had begun.
As followers of Jesus Christ, who taught people to love one another, we say:
this war is wrong.
Echoing church leaders all over the world, we say:
this war is wrong.
In solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters, we say:
this war is wrong.
With people of goodwill everywhere, we say:
this war is wrong.
Tonight, those of us who are Christians want to reach out afresh to you who are Muslims, in friendship and hope.
For both our faith communities acknowledge God, the holy One, the all-merciful, as sovereign over human history.
God's compassion, we know, embraces all people, all nations, all races, each and every human being, with no exclusions. All are God's children. Every life is precious, every death a tragedy.
So let the uncertainties of these days bring out two communities, Christian and muslim, closer together. Not only because we have so much in common, but because the challenge of these times is so great.
Let uswork together
to build bridges of understanding between our two faith communities.
Let us stand together
against the voices of suspicion, of fear, of prejudice.
Let us strive together
for a more just, peaceful and compassionate world.
Let us pray together
to God, the compassionate One, before whose glory both Christians and Muslims bow in wonder. May he cleanse hearts everywhere of the poison that makes for war.
May he look in pity on all his children, in all places.
And may he have mercy on us all.
When Drums of War are Beating
A radio talk by David Gill, delivered as the "Thought for the Week" programme on Hong Kong's RTHK on 23 February 2003, as events were moving towards war in Iraq.
Truth, they say, is the first casualty of war.
Truth usually becomes a casualty even before the shooting starts, as each contending government sets out to persuade its own people and the world at large that it is on the side of the angels and its opponent, therefore, is the very devil incarnate.
That’s why, when the drums of war are beating, we should all cultivate the art of suspicion. We must become skeptics, doubters. We need to ask questions, lots of questions. And the heavier the flow of rhetoric from governments, the more searching our questions need to be.
When my government claims its stance is just, I will wonder, and I will suspect my country’s cause may not be quite as virtuous as the propaganda back home would have me believe. When it claims an opposing government deserves utter condemnation, to the point where even killing is justified, I will wonder again, suspecting that the so-called enemy may not be quite as demonic as they want the world to think.
Asking questions, of course, is no way to win friends. It can make you very unpopular when passions are running high. But it needs to be done – and now, not ten years hence, after the bloodbath, with the luxury of hindsight.
Sometimes, in what must come close to the ultimate blasphemy, even God gets dragged into the rhetoric of war. It is asserted, or more often hinted, that God is on one side, not the other. Or quasi-religious imagery is invoked, likening the conflict to the ultimate struggle between good and evil, between light and darkness, between God and Satan – and we’re left in no doubt which side is which.
It’s an old tactic, of course, and a clever one. As Bob Dylan sang during another war, over thirty years ago: “You don’t ask no questions, when God’s on your side”.
When even the Most High is made complicit in carnage, we must protest. Religious communities, in particular, will object when the name of God is taken in vain; when the merciful One, the compassionate One, is coopted by the politicians and exploited by their propaganda machines to serve partisan causes.
The true God carries no passport, wears no uniform, salutes no flag, and certainly supports no killing machine. The divine love embraces all people, all nations, all races, each and every human being, with no exclusions. All are God’s children. All therefore are, indelibly, brothers and sisters. Not even the worst fratricidal conflict can change that.
It has been encouraging, at this crucial time, to see Hong Kong’s religious leaders joining hands in prayers for peace, and committing themselves to work together for harmony within and between the nations.
As, once again, we hear the ominous beat of the drums of war, let us all pray that this madness may soon pass from us.
Meanwhile, remember that God does not cheer for one side or the other. He weeps for both.
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Archived sermons by the Barksdales