A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 19th September 2004, the church’s 80th Anniversary, by David Gill. Scripture readings heard during the service were Isaiah 56:1,6-7, Ephesians 2:12-22 and St Matthew 28:16-20
When the Fifth Assembly of the World Council of Churches gathered in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, in 1975, the famous American anthropologist Margaret Mead was one of the advisors. At one point she managed to managed to get to a microphone.
For a moment she stood there, surveying the vast, incredibly varied crowd. Thousands of people, from all over the world, speaking hundreds of languages, wearing the labels of all parts of Christ’s family of faith. People ranging from a Memphis used-car salesman to a Ghanaian high court judge, from the Archbishop of Canterbury to a tribesman from northern Kenya who had walked for three days just to be there, to listen and to pray.
Dr Mead studied the gathering. Then she gave us her professional opinion on us all.
“You people,” she said, “are a sociological impossibility. You have absolutely nothing in common – except your extraordinary conviction that Jesus Christ is the saviour of the world”.
That extraordinary, unifying conviction was what brought Kowloon Union Church into being eighty years ago. It was what held our forbears together, through good times and bad. Yes the faces changed, the international mixture altered, the challenges varied. But that extraordinary unifying conviction -- that Jesus Christ is the saviour of the world -- has always been the secret of this church’s life. It still is.
Of course, we have our differences – of faith and spirituality, of culture and language, of morality and ethics. And let’s not forget the most tricky of the lot, our very different personalities! We do have our differences. But none of them, not one, can ever be as important, as powerful, as decisive, as the extraordinary, unifying conviction at the heart of KUC.
My friends, in recent weeks we have been reminded, again, of how desperately the human community needs unifying. The terrible scenes from Iraq and Russia, from Dafur and Jakarta, have been on all our hearts. We have gazed, again, into the eyes of evil. We have wept, again, for the suffering of the innocent.
We have grieved, again, over the terrible flaw in human nature, in human history, that keeps turning friends into enemies and dreams into nightmares. The streak in us that makes people suspect each other, fear each other, hate each other, yes even kill each other.
That is the world. The world that keeps wanting to build walls between black and white, between north and south, between rich and poor, between male and female, between gay and straight, between citizens and aliens, between “us” and “them”, between those who belong and those who don’t.
At times, that world even invades the Church. It did long ago, when some early Christians wanted to maintain the wall separating Jews from gentiles. It does today, when contemporary Christians want to define boundaries to exclude, build walls to separate. But, as we were reminded a few minutes ago, Christ has brought us – all of us – near by the blood of his cross, breaking down the walls, ending the hostilities, drawing us into his astonishing new community of reconciliation.
In the midst of the world’s madness, his wall-shattering cross still stands. Still it points those with the eyes to see towards a God whose unconditional love embraces all people. Still it proclaims there are no limits to the divine compassion. Still it invites Christ’s followers to put their energy into demolishing walls, not building them. Still it inspires the Church to become a community of sanity amid the madness.
Hong Kong’s churches, today, are well placed to make a fresh response to this gospel challenge.
For one thing, the whole world is here. “Asia’s World City”? Yes we are; well, okay, we’re one of Asia’s world cities. The whole Christian family is here too: Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and just about every kind of Protestant you can imagine. And the whole human drama is here, in all its fascinating, bewildering complexity. Hong Kong is the perfect setting in which to try to embody the inclusiveness of the Gospel, and close by the corner of Nathan Road and Jordan Road is just about the perfect location from which to be doing it.
The gift Kowloon Union Church is called to offer Hong Kong at this time is a continuing, clear, consistent, courageous witness to the One whose unconditional love embraces all our people, whose mercy encompasses all our sins and whose grace overarches all our years. It is a message this city needs to hear.
More accurately, it’s a message Hong Kong needs to see. People will get the message best not through sermons but through lives, and through the shared life of congregations like KUC.
There was a love song on the hit parades a few years back with the words “Don’t just tell me. Show me!” Good advice for the Church! It invites us to live out the divine love. To create congregations in which people encounter the mystery of grace, find unconditional acceptance, discover the joy of forgiveness and experience Christ’s reconciling power.
Such congregations are not formed by slogans or sentiment. They are what emerge as the people who comprise them learn the delicate art of faith, hope and love. Our greatest need as KUC sets out into the future is not more activity or more affluence. Our greatest need is a more profound, more disciplined growth in grace.
Impossible? Of course. Just as impossible as that assembly Margaret Mead found herself contemplating. Just as impossible as the eighty years we’re celebrating today. Just as impossible as a God who so loved the world that he gave his only son. Just as impossible as a saviour who triumphed over the powers of hatred and division, sin and death.
For the glorious impossibility of the whole enterprise – including all that KUC has been and all that KUC may become – we give thanks this day, to our impossibly gracious God!
To whom be praise and glory, now and ever and to ages of ages. AMEN
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 19th September 2004, the church's 80th Anniversary, by Harold Naylor SJ
Christ, the one foundation of the Church!
Christ is the foundation of the building of the Church in which we are incorporated. We are diverse, yet we are to be united in charity and faith.
How come then there are so many “churches”? Well, we do not all live in the same place, so we need church “meeting points” in different geographical locations. And what is more, we are called by many names (denominations). And so, eighty years ago, Kowloon Union Church began, here in Jordan Road.
Many years of association with your church have given me some wonderful memories.
I had experience as a substitute British army chaplain, 1968-1991, having responsibility for the British military hospital and army Sunday mass for about seven weeks a year when the Catholic chaplain was away. The army considered about 12% of servicemen were Roman Catholics: some Irish, others second and third generation Irish in the UK, together with some from Glasgow and the west Highlands. Then there were the Nonconformists – Methodists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists etc who accounted for about 30%. The rest were C of E, which often meant that they belonged to no church so they were considered part of the established Anglican Church.
Here in Kowloon, there was Rosary Church next to the Gun Club for Catholics since 1901, and for the Anglicans there was St Andrew’s (1917?) on Nathan Road and Christ Church (1949?) on Waterloo Road. What then of the Nonconformists? Kowloon Union Church in 1924 welcomed all Christians.
It was 1968 when I first came into contact with your church. Joining the clergy group for English-speaking pastors I got to know KUC’s minister, Jim Muir, who was the treasurer. There was a tradition that the group’s chairman, treasurer and secretary usually rotated between Methodists in Wanchai, Anglicans from St John’s Cathedral, and Kowloon Union. I became a close friend of Jim Muir, for more than two decades. I also came to know – among others at KUC – the Daleys. Anne Daley was in charge of the play group and active in KUC and her husband Philip was on the board of deacons. He was the government ecologist and I was active in the environmental movement, so we had many interests in common. Moreover, the Daleys lived in a flat in King’s Park, just above the school where I lived. I was invited to their monthly home prayer group, which was charismatic.
I admired KUC because of the variety of meetings of Christians, mostly on social and educational issues, together with interesting ecumenical theological study groups. KUC was in a strategic location even before the MTR arrived in 1979, because of the large number of bus lines that plied its intersection.
I first knew KUC with Australians and New Zealanders and UK people, together with many from Canada and the USA. Some were with government or on missionary work, others in business. There were a few overseas Chinese and some from local Christian schools. And there were always tourists and visitors from many cities of the world. By the 1990s, there were more Asians in the congregation.
The outreach of KUC to severely handicapped children – Wai Ji – beginning in the 1970s, was something I heard of but never was engaged in. Later there was hospitality to Korean Christians. Then the manse, which I knew so well over the years, saw a great change when Bethune House took over the upper floor to help domestic helpers in trouble. Later, about 1986, the minister moved into a flat, and the manse was divided up to take in many service groups like Amnesty International, Green Power and other NGOs.
I have made many good friends in KUC. It has a drawing power far and wide. May it always be a place of fellowship and Christian sharing. Praise the Lord for all that has been! Amen to all that is today! And Alleluia for all that will be!
I would like to end with two prayers:
Heavenly Father, of power and mercy, may the love you pour into our hearts make our efforts, in the name of your Son, bring all humanity into peace and unity.
As we contemplate the saints in their ecumenism of holiness, may we progress to greater unity, not by absorption or fusion but in the encounter of truth and love. AMEN