A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 31 July 2005 by Dr Rose Wu, Director of the Hong Kong Christian Institute. Readings heard during the service were from Genesis 4:1-16, Romans 9:1-5 and St Mark 6:30-44.
In the past month, we have witnessed two contrasting pictures that provide us with two very different directions for the future of humanity.
The first picture was the Live 8 concerts which gathered millions of people and hundreds of the world’s top musicians from Johannesburg to Paris, Berlin to Tokyo, Rome to Moscow and London to Philadelphia for a music marathon to pressure the world’s most powerful leaders to seriously address poverty in Africa.
According to the organisers, Live 8 was part of the Long Walk to Justice, a global network that called on the leaders of the Group of 8—the world’s most powerful countries, including the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia—to act when they met in Gleneagles, Scotland, from July 6 to 9. The goal of the campaign was complete debt cancellation, more aid and a better use of it for such things as health care and education and trade justice for the world’s poorest people.
Under the banner of “Make Poverty History,” people expressed their goals and hopes: “We are not looking for charity; we are looking for justice. This is our moment. This is our time. This is our chance to stand up for what’s right.”
They wanted the leaders of the rich countries to rewrite the rules so poor countries can develop, build their own industries, grow stronger. Rich countries used trade rules to protect themselves as they developed. Now is the time to change the trade rules to end world poverty, the organisers said. They believe that by doubling aid, fully cancelling debt and delivering trade justice for Africa the G8 could change the future for millions of impoverished men, women and children.
As the world was encouraged by this hopeful and inspiring event, an unexpected and appalling terrorist attack struck the heart of London that caused almost 60 deaths and injured hundreds of people. It was no coincidence that the bombings in the British capital came just as the G8 summit was getting under way in Scotland.
It has been almost four years since U.S. President George W. Bush declared a global “war on terror”; but as the recent London bombings demonstrate, terrorist attacks are far from over. As many critiques have pointed out, U.S. military excesses in Iraq have become a rallying cause of radical Muslims everywhere and the best recruitment propaganda for potential Islamic terrorists.
Thus, the counterterrorist approach has not stopped further violence. Instead, it has provoked more fear, anger and hatred among Islamic communities. Similar reactions have occurred in the United States, Britain and other countries where terrorists have struck. Since the bombings in Britain, we’ve been told that many Londoners eye each other nervously and try to work out whether their neighbour might be a suicide bomber or if an unattended bag might contain a bomb. Trust of others has become a casualty of terrorism as well. Meanwhile, caught between the terrorists and the counterterrorist reactions are thousands of others who have been killed or maimed. I’m sure you share my sorrow when we recently learned about the fatal police shooting of a young innocent Brazilian man at Stockwell station in south London.
When then will the terror end? Where will it lead? New York and Washington, Bali, Riyadh, Istanbul, Madrid and now London and Egypt. We may also wonder whether Hong Kong will be targeted during the WTO’s ministerial conference in December.
The same al-Qaeda-linked groups that claimed responsibility for the attacks in London warned that militant Islamists will continue to attack Britain and other European countries until governments pull their troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Michael Scheuer, the man who headed the CIA’s Bin Laden Unit for nine years, sees the prospect of “endless” war if the United States does not change its foreign policies. In order to expose the U.S. leadership’s “wilful blindness” to what he believes needs to be done, he resigned from his post last November.
To me, the above two contrasting movements represent the pronouncement of life and death that is exemplified through the hope of resurrection and the terror of the cross. They are two reactions to our feelings of powerlessness. The first movement, the Live 8 concerts, represents the determination of God’s people who act corporately and humbly to bring hope and love to the present world which is full of violence and suffering.
The second movement based on terrorist attacks as well as the “war on terrorism” represents a culture of violence and revenge. In the eyes of people who subscribe to this movement, the problem in the world is evil people, and the answer is to eliminate them. To this movement’s adherents, the solution to stop violence is to use more powerful weapons and a more mighty force to kill the attackers. There is little distinction in the processes by which terror is sown and reaped.
And thus the anguish of September 11 and the recent bombings are only compounded by this realisation of how very little has changed. Despair attends the awareness that we are confronted, not by a new story, but by a story which is very old—as old as the senseless murder of Abel. It is God who produces the only surprise in this story. It is a surprise, however, which is new and hopeful!
From the reading in Chapter 4 of Genesis this morning, the guilt of Cain is obvious, but God spares him with a mark of protection and a place of refuge. We can imagine what the alternative would be. It could only be an endless cycle of revenge and brutality which would only lead to more death and killing. In the old kingdom of human power, Cain could be marked for death; but in the new Kingdom of God, Cain is marked for life. This is the only surprise in the story of Cain and Abel, and it is the only hope for life and new community.
Faithful action must witness to such hope and must be grounded in it. How easy it would be to instead allow our actions to be governed by fear or anger and to take revenge by killing rather than to seek healing and the transformation of broken relationships. We must move beyond complaining how little has changed. We must move beyond denouncing the hope of justice and peace. Rather, we must move into hope!
I was very touched when I read the story of a Nigerian woman, Marie Fatayi-Williams, who lost her son in a bus bomb on July 7 in London and yet decided to preach a message of forgiveness in setting up a foundation for peace and conflict resolution in her son’s name. She told people at the funeral mass that if this appeal stops one potential suicide bomber she will be happy. In the London square where her son died, she made this impassioned plea: “How many mothers’ hearts must be maimed? Hatred begets only hatred. It is time to stop this vicious circle of killing.” She asked the Lord to take her son Anthony’s death as a sacrificial lamb for peace to reign in the world because we need a turning point.
As we all know, Jesus was surrounded by terror throughout his life. At his birth, Herod pursued him in order to kill him; and during his crucifixion, he shared the fate of condemned criminals and others of low esteem. But Jesus was not contained by terror; for at his birth and at his resurrection, messengers from God proclaimed to all who would hear: “Do not be afraid.” It is with these words of reassurance that we might be empowered to live our lives in witness to the love of God and the hope of a world rooted in peace and justice.
For Jesus, the hope of this world does not rely on using military power to stop killing. Rather, it is more important to examine how do we, although we are one humanity, participate in the betrayal of others and violate our right relation. How do we split ourselves off from God and from one another? How do we generate oppositional, dualistic images to maintain our fear of the other? How do we accumulate wealth to make us feel secure while at the same time neglect the basic needs of our neighbours?
In the familiar Gospel reading of Jesus feeding the multitude of 5,000 people, the aspect of the story which touches me most is the compassion of Jesus towards the people and his approach of solving the problem of human hunger and the distribution of resources.
The first indication of his compassion is when Jesus got out of the boat and saw this large crowd. His heart was filled with pity for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and thus, he began to teach them many lessons about life and living.
The second response is when his disciples tell him that, since the time is late, it is better to send the people to nearby villages to buy themselves something to eat. To me, the solution of the disciples reflects our present individualistic and capitalist-centred culture in which each person takes care of their own needs and the only answer for feeding the hungry is to depend on those who have money. Surprisingly though, Jesus insists on adopting a very different moral ethnic and solution for his disciples to solve this problem.
First, Jesus rejected the individualistic approach and asked his disciples to find what resources were available among the people.
Secondly, Jesus asked them to divide the people into groups, enabling them to learn to care for each other’s needs.
Thirdly, Jesus took the loaves and the fish which were offered by the humble child from the crowd. Then he lifted them up to heaven and gave thanks to God, broke the loaves and divided the fish, then gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people. By celebrating this ritual, he demonstrated to the crowd that the beauty and meaning of life is based on human sharing and our compassion for others.
The agenda before us today is critical. I am convinced that our future as people on this planet rests on our commitment to reach over the walls that divide us—rich and poor, Christians, Muslims and those of other religions, women and men, white, yellow, tan, brown, red or black—not by pretending that we do not live different lives and not by attempting to dilute or diminish the structures, practices and beliefs peculiar to our people, not by seeking false peace, but rather by addressing one another, listening to one another and committing ourselves—without losing ourselves—to a common task: the making of justice and peace in the world.
As I end this morning’s message, I want to share with you a personal experience which inspired me to continue seeking an alternative path to liberation and peace which is key to not only my own survival but the survival of all of us I believe.
Since our government in Hong Kong proposes and prepares to consult the public about enacting the Anti-discrimination Ordinance on Sexual Orientation, there has been heated debate and intense responses within the Christian community. The differences among Christians on this issue have created much tension and internal divisions.
Meanwhile, conflicts between the two camps—those for and against the legislation—were heightened when gay and lesbian activists protested at a Mongkok bookstore because the bookstore owner threw out hundreds of their publications that were meant for free distribution to the public. Another incident that created friction was the opposition of Christians to the decision of the Civil Human Rights Front for sexual minorities to walk at the front of this year’s July 1 march with the women.
Since the Hong Kong Christian Institute has been involved in supporting the equal rights of sexual minorities and this legislation, we have shared very closely the fear and anger of both communities which has put us in a very difficult position.
On one occasion, I was confronted by a young woman activist who asked me, since the Church is anti-gay and anti-lesbian, why do I have to maintain my Christian identity. Although she had joined a church previously, she now declared that her position is anti-Christian. This brief conversation made me realise that on this issue some people in Hong Kong have adopted President Bush’s attitude of responding to the “war on terrorism,” i.e., you are either with us or against us. How horrifying it would be if we all adopted such a rigid position.
In order to ease this tension in Hong Kong and create an alternative space of dialogue and reflection, we organised a Christian concern group on the Sexual Orientation Discrimination Ordinance in May and issued a prayer petition entitled “No Fear in Love.” We invited individual Christians to join these activities and express their acceptance towards sexual minorities and their expectations towards our Church. We were surprised to see that the prayer not only drew support from Christians but also received affirmation and appreciation from the gay and lesbian community. We hope this is the first step towards the healing of Hong Kong’s broken community.
In closing, I believe our suffering today is greatly increased by our collective failure to accept the suffering that is rooted in the incompleteness of God’s Creation. Terror today is really the division of “us” vs. “them”; we are not part of each other. This “us” and “them” is the seed of violence. As long as we see others as a potential threat, we feel justified in destroying them. The hope to find our way beyond violence and terror is to commit ourselves to each other as one human family, that is, wherever we find ourselves we are at home in a womb of compassion. The solidarity required by the preferential option for the poor and the marginalised forces us back to a fundamental Christian attitude: a grasp of the need for continual conversion. We are then able to break with the old story of the murder of Abel and move to a new story of sharing of loaves and fish which brings true peace for all of us.