Reflections...

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

What Would You Do?

A radio talk by David Gill, delivered as the "Thought For The Week" programme on Hong Kong's RTHK on 2 October 2005


Good Morning. I’m David Gill.

What would you do if you woke up one morning to find you had suddenly become the Chief Executive of Hong Kong?

What would you do with the job? I don’t mean the routine chores -- attending meetings, dealing with visitors, fronting up for ceremonial occasions, talking to the media and suchlike. I mean the important things. What would you try to achieve, to make Hong Kong even better than it is?

Recently, a number of our religious leaders revealed how they would answer that question. On behalf of the Hong Kong Christian Council, they outlined some hopes for our Chief Executive. When I read their list, I liked it. It makes sense. And it puts in everyday language some of the key concerns of the Christian faith.

The statement talks about developing Hong Kong into “an open international city where human rights are protected, minorities respected, and the gap between the rich and poor is being narrowed, … [where] equal opportunities are offered to all and the rule of law [is] upheld, [where] different religious beliefs, freedom of opinion and expression as well as freedom of assembly [are] safeguarded”.

It wants to take further the democratic process, with a timetable for introducing universal suffrage. It looks for a society where everyone can obtain the basic necessities of life, the poor and the elderly especially. It expects that the Chief Executive will “pursue vigorously efforts to improve the quality of air and water … [and] to protect the natural environment”.

It ends by calling for “leadership in developing an inclusive society with a caring and responsible citizenship, which lives by the virtues of fairness and compassion”. These, what the authors call “spiritual values,” are, they say, the foundation of everything else.

Mind you, there were some things I looked for in the statement and didn’t find. No mention of the precarious situation of asylum seekers, who are not allowed to work here and only allowed to starve. No mention either of the need to legislate to protect the rights of unpopular minorities. But basically the priorities were right.

An inclusive society … caring and responsible citizenship … fairness and compassion. A compelling vision. Worth bearing in mind, in case you ever find yourself feeding the fish at Government House. Indeed, it is a vision worth bearing in mind, even if you never find yourself anywhere near Hong Kong’s top job.

Why? Because it is first and foremost a vision for you and me, for every Hongkonger. “Developing an inclusive society with a caring and responsible citizenship, which lives by the virtues of fairness and compassion” – that’s a job description for each one of us, not just, or even primarily, for a Chief Executive.

Back in the 1970’s, while working for the World Council of Churches, I came to know one of the most remarkable political leaders of post-colonial Africa. Sir Seretse Khama was the wise, much loved founding president of Botswana. “You know,” he said to me on one occasion, “everyone imagines that being president gives me so much power. But they’re wrong. I can change the budget. I can change my cabinet ministers. I can change the law. But I cannot change the human heart. Yet that is where the country’s biggest problems are located.”

What political leaders cannot do, you and I sometimes can.

“Developing an inclusive society with a caring and responsible citizenship, which lives by the virtues of fairness and compassion”. What could be a better project than that, for each one of us? Starting today. Starting now.

So … have a good week. Let’s try to make it a more caring, more compassionate week.

# posted by Kwok Nai Wang : Friday, September 30, 2005

 

All You Need is Love?

This sermon was preached at Kowloon Union Church by David Gill on Sunday 4 September, during a service broadcast by Hong Kong's RTHK. The readings heard were from Exodus 12:1-14, Romans 13:8-14 and St Matthew 18:15-20.
How can we know what’s right?

Most of the time, of course, you and I lurch through life relying, more or less, on that strange moral memory bank each of us has. It’s called a conscience.

But consciences have to be created and shaped. Consciences can be confused. Consciences often collide – we see that happening in the fiery debates stirred up by some current social issues. Consciences can get things badly wrong. And then there are those times when your conscience offers you no help whatever. What then?

In this oh-so-complicated world of ours, in these oh-so-tangled lives of ours, where can we find the clue we need for responsible living? How are you and I to sort out good from bad, right from wrong?

By taking guidance from our cultures? But every culture has its weaknesses as well as its strengths. We may critically respect the traditions of our ancestors. We cannot rely on them.

By obeying the civil law? But an act may be legal without being moral, and vice versa. Goodness is not the same thing as keeping yourself out of trouble. Indeed, doing the right thing may sometimes land you in trouble -- as brave souls like Nelson Mandela have discovered to their cost.

By living according to the teachings of the Bible? But there are some biblical teachings that, in our time, just don’t stack up at all. Take a look at the rules and penalties laid down in the Old Testament’s book of Leviticus, for example. Be it scriptural or otherwise, you can’t assume that a moral code developed for a very different society long ago always provides reliable guidance for us today.

By asking what Jesus would have done? That’s getting close. But Jesus was a man of his time, not ours. He didn’t face some of the issues we face. His society didn’t have some of the insights ours does. You and I cannot just switch off our brains and pretend humanity has learned nothing through the past two thousand years. Being a follower of Jesus means more than being a mindless imitator.

By keeping the Ten Commandments? That’s close too. But the second reading we heard a few minutes ago, from St Paul’s letter to the Romans, pushes us beyond rules and commands towards a radically different way of thinking. It provides the vital clue we’re looking for. Listen again to Paul’s wonderfully liberating advice.

“The only obligation you have,” he wrote, “ is to love one another. Whoever does this has obeyed the Law. The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery; do not commit murder; do not steal; do not desire what belongs to someone else’ – all these, and any others besides, are summed up in the one command, ‘love your neighbour as you love yourself’. If you love someone you will never do him wrong; to love, then, is to obey the whole Law.”

In other words, let love be the center of your being. Deal with others out of a relationship of love, respect, compassion. With love driving you, everything else will fall into place. Then you won’t want to act destructively towards another. Then you will be covering all the commandments – at least, all the ones that matter.

The rest you can leave to one side, as Paul himself was content to push aside many religiously sanctioned rules of his time about food laws, circumcision, special days and so forth.

“All you need is love,” as The Beatles used to sing. “Love is all you need.” Well maybe not quite all. You see, there are a few things about love that have to be watched.

For starters, love is not just a warm fuzzy feeling. It requires that we act in ways that are likely to enhance the wellbeing, the dignity, the human fulfillment, of the other. It needs a clear head, sometimes careful calculation, occasionally courage, always sensitivity. Do not sentimentalise love. Don’t imagine that you will always get it right either. It is fortunate indeed that the God who calls us to love also promises forgiveness. On the road of love, we know, there are many times when we need it.

Secondly, love is not simply a matter of how you deal with other individuals who happen to cross your path. Take love seriously and soon you find yourself thinking about justice, peace, the rights of minorities – not because you’ve become a politician, but because these are the issues we must address in attempting to echo the love motif within human institutions and international relationships. And you won’t just think. You won’t just talk. You will act. Sometimes the things you do, the stances you take, will be controversial. “Love your neighbour” in our kind of world, “love your neighbour” in our kind of Hong Kong, remains subversive doctrine indeed.

Thirdly, we’re not left to sink or swim alone. As Christians wrestling with what love may require, we do so as part of a great, worldwide, centuries old family of faith. We should not be reluctant to draw on that family’s wisdom. For example, many remarked on the near-unanimity of Christian leaders -- Pope John Paul, the National Council of Churches in the USA, the Christian Conference of Asia, many more besides -- when they said the US-led invasion of Iraq was wrong. Their common stance should have been no surprise to anyone. Through many centuries the Church has agonized over the tragedy of war. Theologians have hammered out criteria to help determine when a particular war might be morally justifiable, when not. This particular war, said our leaders, applying the criteria to Iraq, is not morally justifiable at all.

So -- “All you need is love”? All we need, perhaps, is love plus careful thought, love plus courage, love plus a willingness to learn from the wider Church, love plus the insights of the best of human wisdom wherever they may be found.

But there’s something else we need too, something even more important. Something that both precedes love and enables it. Something that sets people free from that fear and guilt and crippling preoccupation with self that so often hold a person back from renewed life with others. What is this “something else”?

Allowing ourselves to be loved, that’s what. Accepting that we are accepted. Trusting the divine grace that holds us.

Remember when you were trying to learn how to swim? If your experience was like mine you probably struggled hard at it, paddling with your arms, kicking your legs, controlling your breathing, and then – if you were like me – sinking like a stone! All the effort in the world was not turning me into a swimmer. The more I tried, the faster I sank. Then came the magic moment. Someone taught me about floating. I didn’t have to struggle. I could trust the water to hold me up. After that, the paddling and kicking started to produce results. Trust had made the difference.

And it always does. Trust – or, if you want another word for it, faith.

Now we are preparing to approach the holy table of the Lord, to receive again the bread and wine of Christ’s presence. Let us do so with renewed trust in the love that come what may will never let us go. And with the prayer that we in our time may be bearers of that love for others.


* * *



















How can we know what’s right?

Most of the time, of course, you and I lurch through life relying, more or less, on that strange moral memory bank each of us has. It’s called a conscience.

But consciences have to be created and shaped. Consciences can be confused. Consciences often collide – we see that happening in the fiery debates stirred up by some current social issues. Consciences can get things badly wrong. And then there are those times when your conscience offers you no help whatever. What then?

In this oh-so-complicated world of ours, in these oh-so-tangled lives of ours, where can we find the clue we need for responsible living? How are you and I to sort out good from bad, right from wrong?

By taking guidance from our cultures? But every culture has its weaknesses as well as its strengths. We may critically respect the traditions of our ancestors. We cannot rely on them.

By obeying the civil law? But an act may be legal without being moral, and vice versa. Goodness is not the same thing as keeping yourself out of trouble. Indeed, doing the right thing may sometimes land you in trouble -- as brave souls like Nelson Mandela have discovered to their cost.

By living according to the teachings of the Bible? But there are some biblical teachings that, in our time, just don’t stack up at all. Take a look at the rules and penalties laid down in the Old Testament’s book of Leviticus, for example. Be it scriptural or otherwise, you can’t assume that a moral code developed for a very different society long ago always provides reliable guidance for us today.

By asking what Jesus would have done? That’s getting close. But Jesus was a man of his time, not ours. He didn’t face some of the issues we face. His society didn’t have some of the insights ours does. You and I cannot just switch off our brains and pretend humanity has learned nothing through the past two thousand years. Being a follower of Jesus means more than being a mindless imitator.

By keeping the Ten Commandments? That’s close too. But the second reading we heard a few minutes ago, from St Paul’s letter to the Romans, pushes us beyond rules and commands towards a radically different way of thinking. It provides the vital clue we’re looking for. Listen again to Paul’s wonderfully liberating advice.

“The only obligation you have,” he wrote, “ is to love one another. Whoever does this has obeyed the Law. The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery; do not commit murder; do not steal; do not desire what belongs to someone else’ – all these, and any others besides, are summed up in the one command, ‘love your neighbour as you love yourself’. If you love someone you will never do him wrong; to love, then, is to obey the whole Law.”

In other words, let love be the center of your being. Deal with others out of a relationship of love, respect, compassion. With love driving you, everything else will fall into place. Then you won’t want to act destructively towards another. Then you will be covering all the commandments – at least, all the ones that matter.

The rest you can leave to one side, as Paul himself was content to push aside many religiously sanctioned rules of his time about food laws, circumcision, special days and so forth.

“All you need is love,” as The Beatles used to sing. “Love is all you need.” Well maybe not quite all. You see, there are a few things about love that have to be watched.

For starters, love is not just a warm fuzzy feeling. It requires that we act in ways that are likely to enhance the wellbeing, the dignity, the human fulfillment, of the other. It needs a clear head, sometimes careful calculation, occasionally courage, always sensitivity. Do not sentimentalise love. Don’t imagine that you will always get it right either. It is fortunate indeed that the God who calls us to love also promises forgiveness. On the road of love, we know, there are many times when we need it.

Secondly, love is not simply a matter of how you deal with other individuals who happen to cross your path. Take love seriously and soon you find yourself thinking about justice, peace, the rights of minorities – not because you’ve become a politician, but because these are the issues we must address in attempting to echo the love motif within human institutions and international relationships. And you won’t just think. You won’t just talk. You will act. Sometimes the things you do, the stances you take, will be controversial. “Love your neighbour” in our kind of world, “love your neighbour” in our kind of Hong Kong, remains subversive doctrine indeed.

Thirdly, we’re not left to sink or swim alone. As Christians wrestling with what love may require, we do so as part of a great, worldwide, centuries old family of faith. We should not be reluctant to draw on that family’s wisdom. For example, many remarked on the near-unanimity of Christian leaders -- Pope John Paul, the National Council of Churches in the USA, the Christian Conference of Asia, many more besides -- when they said the US-led invasion of Iraq was wrong. Their common stance should have been no surprise to anyone. Through many centuries the Church has agonized over the tragedy of war. Theologians have hammered out criteria to help determine when a particular war might be morally justifiable, when not. This particular war, said our leaders, applying the criteria to Iraq, is not morally justifiable at all.

So -- “All you need is love”? All we need, perhaps, is love plus careful thought, love plus courage, love plus a willingness to learn from the wider Church, love plus the insights of the best of human wisdom wherever they may be found.

But there’s something else we need too, something even more important. Something that both precedes love and enables it. Something that sets people free from that fear and guilt and crippling preoccupation with self that so often hold a person back from renewed life with others. What is this “something else”?

Allowing ourselves to be loved, that’s what. Accepting that we are accepted. Trusting the divine grace that holds us.

Remember when you were trying to learn how to swim? If your experience was like mine you probably struggled hard at it, paddling with your arms, kicking your legs, controlling your breathing, and then – if you were like me – sinking like a stone! All the effort in the world was not turning me into a swimmer. The more I tried, the faster I sank. Then came the magic moment. Someone taught me about floating. I didn’t have to struggle. I could trust the water to hold me up. After that, the paddling and kicking started to produce results. Trust had made the difference.

And it always does. Trust – or, if you want another word for it, faith.

Now we are preparing to approach the holy table of the Lord, to receive again the bread and wine of Christ’s presence. Let us do so with renewed trust in the love that come what may will never let us go. And with the prayer that we in our time may be bearers of that love for others.


* * *






How can we know what’s right?

Most of the time, of course, you and I lurch through life relying, more or less, on that strange moral memory bank each of us has. It’s called a conscience.

But consciences have to be created and shaped. Consciences can be confused. Consciences often collide – we see that happening in the fiery debates stirred up by some current social issues. Consciences can get things badly wrong. And then there are those times when your conscience offers you no help whatever. What then?

In this oh-so-complicated world of ours, in these oh-so-tangled lives of ours, where can we find the clue we need for responsible living? How are you and I to sort out good from bad, right from wrong?

By taking guidance from our cultures? But every culture has its weaknesses as well as its strengths. We may critically respect the traditions of our ancestors. We cannot rely on them.

By obeying the civil law? But an act may be legal without being moral, and vice versa. Goodness is not the same thing as keeping yourself out of trouble. Indeed, doing the right thing may sometimes land you in trouble -- as brave souls like Nelson Mandela have discovered to their cost.

By living according to the teachings of the Bible? But there are some biblical teachings that, in our time, just don’t stack up at all. Take a look at the rules and penalties laid down in the Old Testament’s book of Leviticus, for example. Be it scriptural or otherwise, you can’t assume that a moral code developed for a very different society long ago always provides reliable guidance for us today.

By asking what Jesus would have done? That’s getting close. But Jesus was a man of his time, not ours. He didn’t face some of the issues we face. His society didn’t have some of the insights ours does. You and I cannot just switch off our brains and pretend humanity has learned nothing through the past two thousand years. Being a follower of Jesus means more than being a mindless imitator.

By keeping the Ten Commandments? That’s close too. But the second reading we heard a few minutes ago, from St Paul’s letter to the Romans, pushes us beyond rules and commands towards a radically different way of thinking. It provides the vital clue we’re looking for. Listen again to Paul’s wonderfully liberating advice.

“The only obligation you have,” he wrote, “ is to love one another. Whoever does this has obeyed the Law. The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery; do not commit murder; do not steal; do not desire what belongs to someone else’ – all these, and any others besides, are summed up in the one command, ‘love your neighbour as you love yourself’. If you love someone you will never do him wrong; to love, then, is to obey the whole Law.”

In other words, let love be the center of your being. Deal with others out of a relationship of love, respect, compassion. With love driving you, everything else will fall into place. Then you won’t want to act destructively towards another. Then you will be covering all the commandments – at least, all the ones that matter.

The rest you can leave to one side, as Paul himself was content to push aside many religiously sanctioned rules of his time about food laws, circumcision, special days and so forth.

“All you need is love,” as The Beatles used to sing. “Love is all you need.” Well maybe not quite all. You see, there are a few things about love that have to be watched.

For starters, love is not just a warm fuzzy feeling. It requires that we act in ways that are likely to enhance the wellbeing, the dignity, the human fulfillment, of the other. It needs a clear head, sometimes careful calculation, occasionally courage, always sensitivity. Do not sentimentalise love. Don’t imagine that you will always get it right either. It is fortunate indeed that the God who calls us to love also promises forgiveness. On the road of love, we know, there are many times when we need it.

Secondly, love is not simply a matter of how you deal with other individuals who happen to cross your path. Take love seriously and soon you find yourself thinking about justice, peace, the rights of minorities – not because you’ve become a politician, but because these are the issues we must address in attempting to echo the love motif within human institutions and international relationships. And you won’t just think. You won’t just talk. You will act. Sometimes the things you do, the stances you take, will be controversial. “Love your neighbour” in our kind of world, “love your neighbour” in our kind of Hong Kong, remains subversive doctrine indeed.

Thirdly, we’re not left to sink or swim alone. As Christians wrestling with what love may require, we do so as part of a great, worldwide, centuries old family of faith. We should not be reluctant to draw on that family’s wisdom. For example, many remarked on the near-unanimity of Christian leaders -- Pope John Paul, the National Council of Churches in the USA, the Christian Conference of Asia, many more besides -- when they said the US-led invasion of Iraq was wrong. Their common stance should have been no surprise to anyone. Through many centuries the Church has agonized over the tragedy of war. Theologians have hammered out criteria to help determine when a particular war might be morally justifiable, when not. This particular war, said our leaders, applying the criteria to Iraq, is not morally justifiable at all.

So -- “All you need is love”? All we need, perhaps, is love plus careful thought, love plus courage, love plus a willingness to learn from the wider Church, love plus the insights of the best of human wisdom wherever they may be found.

But there’s something else we need too, something even more important. Something that both precedes love and enables it. Something that sets people free from that fear and guilt and crippling preoccupation with self that so often hold a person back from renewed life with others. What is this “something else”?

Allowing ourselves to be loved, that’s what. Accepting that we are accepted. Trusting the divine grace that holds us.

Remember when you were trying to learn how to swim? If your experience was like mine you probably struggled hard at it, paddling with your arms, kicking your legs, controlling your breathing, and then – if you were like me – sinking like a stone! All the effort in the world was not turning me into a swimmer. The more I tried, the faster I sank. Then came the magic moment. Someone taught me about floating. I didn’t have to struggle. I could trust the water to hold me up. After that, the paddling and kicking started to produce results. Trust had made the difference.

And it always does. Trust – or, if you want another word for it, faith.

Now we are preparing to approach the holy table of the Lord, to receive again the bread and wine of Christ’s presence. Let us do so with renewed trust in the love that come what may will never let us go. And with the prayer that we in our time may be bearers of that love for others.


* * *































# posted by Kwok Nai Wang : Sunday, September 04, 2005

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