Meditations, Reflections, Bible Studies, and Sermons from Kowloon Union Church
Power to Transform
A sermon preached on Sunday, 28th January 2007 at Kowloon Union Church by Rev. Hans Lutz on Mark 1:40-45. The Bible readings for that day were 1 Kings 17:17-24, Hebrews 1:1-4 and Mark 1:40-45.
The healing of illnesses through the power of Jesus Christ occurs to this day. We hear of occurrences in China where people have been sent home from the hospital because the doctors could not help them anymore. And then – maybe through the prayer of a single Christian – the sick person regained health and a whole village embraced the Christian faith in response to what they had seen.
In Hong Kong, where we have an elaborate medical system, healings by faith may be less spectacular, but they nevertheless happen.
But of course, the opposite occurs too: That despite the prayer of whole communities a person loved and respected by all is taken away from the midst of an active life.
This reminds us that the mission of Jesus is wider than the healing of people. He has come to proclaim the kingdom of God. Accordingly the church is not a health organization, but God’s people proclaiming Jesus Christ as the Lord. Healings are important, but they point to something much bigger, i.e. the renewal of the whole creation.
In Mark 1 and 2 the evangelist tells in succession of four healings performed by Jesus which attract people from all over Galilee.
Among many others a leper came forward. Lepers at the time of Jesus were subject to harsh regime. They had to wear torn clothes and let their hair hang loose. They had to warn healthy persons by shouting “unclean, unclean!” and had to live away from the community.
To this day leprosy exists, although it can be cured at the initial stage. But today AIDS has taken over from leprosy as the most feared illness. Today HIV positive persons and those with AIDS tend to be stigmatized and excluded from the community and be discriminated against.
On that day the leper approached Jesus. He knelt down and asked for help: “If only you will, you can cleanse me”. This man had absolute confidence in Jesus. He trusted that Jesus had the power to heal him. He was humbly aware that everything depended on his willingness to act. The leper had faith, even though he may have not had a full grasp of who Jesus is.
Jesus took pity on him, stretched out his hand, touched him and said to him, “I will, be clean.”
You may have seen from your Bible that some manuscripts read: Jesus became angry. Because this is less easy to understand, it may be the original version. Some scholars explain that Jesus’ anger was directed at the illness as something against God’s will. I would rather think that Jesus was indignant at being cast into the role of faith healer by people who paid little attention to his overall message.
Immediately the leprosy left the man and he was clean.
Jesus then drove him away immediately and warned him sternly not to tell anybody. The leper was to show himself to the priest and to tell his fellow-men that he was clean, but to keep silent about who had healed him.
Jesus did not want to be put into the role of faith healer and miracle worker. His mission goes far beyond this. The full implications of his mission were still hidden und were to be revealed only at his cross and in his resurrection.
This has implications for our prayer for health. No doubt health is very important. But we Christians cannot ourselves to praying for health alone. When praying for the sick and with the sick we must include what God offers to us beyond health, namely salvation. Jesus has advised us, “Seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness, and all other things shall be given to you.”
The leper did not heed the advice of Jesus. He made public what he had experienced and spread it far and wide. Jesus could not show himself in the towns any longer. He stayed in the open country. Even so people kept coming to him.
There was a time when scholars had a tendency to explain the stories of healing away. They were somewhat an embarrassment to them. Behind their efforts was a legitimate concern. For many scientists and people with a scientific mind, healings and other extraordinary things are difficult to accept. The scholars did not want them to become obstacles to accepting the faith.
Against this view I would like to say two things:
1. Jesus – as the letter to Hebrews says – is God and sustains the universe by his word and power. He can transform the world that exists. Those who are united to him in faith share in Christ’ creative power and can become instruments of transformation like the prophet Elijah who called the son of the widow back to life.
2. To me personally a faith which would be confined to spiritual things only is anaemic and incomplete. We ought to be alert to Christ’s power to share in the transformation of the world. A prominent Christian, Christoph Blumhardt, put it like that: “We cannot hope for eternity only. The coming of Jesus Christ gives us the courage to say: Here on earth misery will come to an end! Here on earth God will reveal the justice pleasing to him! Here on earth he gives us his gifts and power! Here on earth you shall become happy!”
Through humility to Unity
A sermon preached on Sunday, 21st January 2007 at Kowloon Union Church by Rev. Hans Lutz on Philippians 1:1-4. The Bible readings for that day were Genesis 33:1-11, Philippians 2:1-4 and Luke 22:22-27.
Today is Unity Sunday. I am taking this opportunity to introduce to you Kinfe and his church. Kinfe has been accepted as a refugee by the UN High Commission for Refugees. He will be leaving Hong Kong in a week’s time for the U.S. We are most happy for Kinfe and wish him God’s blessing in his life in the States.
Kinfe is from Erithrea in East Africa and belongs to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Erithrea. The Coptic Orthodox Church belongs to the Oriental Orthodox Churches, which are different from the Eastern Orthodox Churches of Eastern Europe. For over 1500 years there has been mutual rejection between the two groups of churches, but in recent years they have withdrawn their mutual condemnation.
Kinfe did not feel confident about speaking directly to you, so I have interviewed him about his church.
Erithrea is a country with a surface of 117,000 sq.km and 4,4 million inhabitants which became independent from Ethiopia in the 90s. There are two dominant religions, the Coptic Orthodox Church and Sunni Islam. Each accounts for about half of the population, but the pressure from the Muslims on Christians is increasing.
In the Coptic Orthodox Church there are two Sunday services, the first one starting from 5 a.m. and lasting until 9 a.m., and the second one from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Everybody above 7 years of age attends church.
Kinfe emphasized the practice of fasting for 40 days before Easter. During that period only grain and vegetables are consumed. All animal products, including meat, eggs and dairy products are excluded.
The Coptic Orthodox Church also has a different calendar from ours. They are now in the year 1999 and will celebrate the beginning of the year 2000 in September this year.
Today we celebrate Unity Sunday. All over the world Christians pray for the unity of the church. During the last century the ecumenical movement has made efforts towards church unity. These efforts have borne fruit. The relations between Protestants and Catholics have undergone major changes. As with the reconciliation between Esau and Jacob, long years of hostility between the two groups of Orthodox Churches have come to and end. And different churches in South India have come together to establish the Church of South India.
Of course there are also set-backs. Many orthodox Christians maintain deep reservations towards Protestant churches and the Catholic Church. Progress towards visible unity have been painfully slow, But we have learned to appreciate the diversity to be found among the different faith traditions.
Church unity requires three things: humility and the readiness to learn from each other. Secondly gentleness that shows in a willingness not to exclude and alienate others, and lastly patience in the face of obstacles to the progress towards unity.
This humility and gentleness towards others is clearly expressed in the 2nd chapter of the epistle to the Philippines. The apostle Paul is urging the Christians to remain united.
At the time of writing Paul was in prison and faced an uncertain future. The Philippians on their part were suffering under attacks. Pressure from outside the church often leads to cracks and splits among the Christian community. We have seen many examples, among them in the church in China during the last decades. So Paul urged the Christians in Philippi to keep the same spirit, to deal with each other in humility and mutual consideration. This unity is rooted in the trinity of Christ, Father and Spirit which is alluded to in verse 1.
Phil. 2, 1-4 is not addressed to the church at large, but to a single congregations. What Paul writes is valid for Kowloon Union Church too. KUC is a congregation of enormous diversity in terms of national background, church origin and faith orientation. It is not always easy to live together in harmony and to keep the bond of unity. At times tensions have existed.
KUC considers itself an ecumenical church, a place where we can learn humility and respect for others. Once we approach others in humility, they will not feel threatened, This in turn will create openness. Three years ago my church has asked me to take care of their social service work on a temporary basis. I have never been an administrator and was very apprehensive regarding the demands of the new task. When I admitted my weakness my colleagues were most helpful and forthcoming so that the task could be mastered.
As Christ himself is among us as a servant, so should we serve each other and in doing so serve the church.
Called to Discipleship
A sermon preached on Sunday, 14th January 2007 at Kowloon Union Church by Rev. Hans Lutz on Mark 1:14-20. The Bible readings for that day were 1 Kings 19:19-21, Colossians 1:3-8 and Mark 1:14-20.
For some years now Kowloon Union Church has welcomed brothers and sisters from African countries who are in Hong Kong and await a reply to their request for asylum. Each of you who have come from Africa has his or her story to tell. You have left your home and your country under different circumstances. Some of you may have nurtured the plan to flee for weeks or months, while others may have been forced to leave abruptly. Either way, there must have been a moment when you made up your mind and took the plunge. For all of you the decision to leave your work and family had dramatic consequences and changed the direction of your life. At the time you made your decision you did not know what was awaiting you. You made a leap into the unknown.
Your experience can help us to understand what happened to the four disciples. It is likely that they had heard of Jesus before and that they had met him. Yet the call of Jesus prompted them to a decision on the spot, which changed the future direction of their lives. What happened to them is comparable to what happened when Elijah called Elisha. The four could not foresee what was awaiting them.
l Peter became a leader of the early church and a missionary. He died as a martyr, most likely in Rome under the emperor Nero.
l About his brother Andrew we do not know much. The story that he suffered on an X-shaped cross seems to have been unknown before the late middle age.
l James became a martyr in the year 44 A.D. under Herod Agrippa.
l John became, like Peter, a leader of the early church. Tradition says that he spent his old age in Ephesus and was buried there.
The call of Jesus led them far away from their life as fishermen on the shores of the lake of Galilee.
Jesus called people to repent. He asks us to break with our past and to accept a new direction for our lives. He calls us, he touches our hearts.
On that day, at the lake of Galilee, Jesus called the four to become his disciples. Not they chose him as one chooses a spiritual advisor, but Jesus chose them. He asked for an immediate, decisive response, for their willingness to give up job and family ties.
When Jesus calls us, it is an issue of his Father’s kingdom, not of our kingdoms. It is an issue of God’s ultimate future, not of our short-term plans. We shall reckon with him, but we cannot foresee where he will lead us. We can learn from these four fishermen, that everything we knew and had been used to, even if it was good, comes to an end in him. He calls us away from what we think, plan and do to what he thinks. Plans and does.
When I look back onto my on journey which brought me here today, I can identify such a decisive moment which shaped my life. In 1965 I was a pastor in Geneva. At that time I was thinking of joining missionary work overseas. The Basel Mission expressed an interest and mentioned possibilities in Ghana or Hong Kong. The matter rested there for several months until I received a call from the mission board asking me whether I would be willing to join them. They said they had another candidate but would prefer me. So I traveled to Basel where I was formally asked whether I was willing to go to Hong Kong. I agreed on the spot, I must admit with a pinch of vanity. It is nice to be given priority. When I said yes, I knew I was going to spend a number of years in Hong Kong as the time for learning the language had to be justified. But I could not imagine that I would spend my whole working life here. I do think that the members of the mission board were instruments of God in calling me to a new and different life.
Jesus called Peter and Andrew and promised to make them fishers of men. Jesus called them to become his co-workers, preachers and witnesses of the kingdom of God.
Catching men and women means drawing them out of the waters of this world into a new life with Jesus. He calls us to work with him and bear fruit.
It is for this reason that participation is so important in the church. When we participate we contribute and have a share in what is going on. Last week I received the latest issue of the Letter on Evangelism from the World Council of Churches in Geneva. It tells about the experience of congregations in the Eastern part of Germany, where 44 years of Communist rule have estranged 90% of the population from the Christian faith. Young people may not even have heard of Jesus. Through invitations to participate in activities and events such as choir singing they can again find joy and meaning in the church. Kowloon Union Church is a congregations offering many avenues for participating. Jesus does not want us to be passive consumers, but disciples who come forward to contribute and share, to be involved.
Solidarity with Sinners
A sermon preached on Sunday, 7th January 2007 at Kowloon Union Church by Rev. Hans Lutz on Mark 1:9-11. The Bible readings for that day were Psalm 85, Philippians 2:5-11 and Mark 1:9-11.
In Mark’s gospel the baptism is the first thing we hear about Jesus. Mark’s gospel says nothing about the birth of Jesus and events surrounding it. So the baptism of Jesus is very important. Through it we learn who Jesus is and what ministry he is given. He is the beloved, the only son of his heavenly father, and he is going to fulfill the ministry of servant of God outlined in the book of Isaiah.
The baptism of Jesus is told devoid of any details in a single sentence. The emphasis is not on the baptism itself, but on what God is doing in connection with it. At the moment Jesus came out of the water, he saw the heavens open. God was about to reach out to Jesus and act towards him. God’s Spirit, like a dove, descended on Jesus. The descending of the Spirit means the legitimation of a person, his or her empowerment for a task.
Jesus confirmed this later when he read from the book of Isaiah the words “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to announce good news to the poor, to proclaim release for prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the broken victims go free and to proclaim the year of God’s favour”, and added “This text has come true.”
When the Spirit descended on Jesus, a voice spoke from heaven, “Thou art my Son, my beloved; on thee my favour rests.” It is agreed that these words are taken from the book of Isaiah 42, 1, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight.” The word for “servant” can also mean “son”. With these words God the Father designated Jesus as the one who was going to fulfill the ministry of God’s servant, who will be the light of the nations, who will suffer and die for others.
Why did Jesus ask to be baptized by John? The baptism of John the Baptist is in repentance and for the forgiveness of sins in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. Jesus is the Messiah and has no sin. Why then does he undergo the baptism for the forgiveness of sins?
Baptism is part of Jesus’ becoming man. By undergoing baptism Jesus enters into solidarity with us sinners.
What is the meaning of solidarity? It means doing something for others on a voluntary basis, something which I do despite not having to do it, and to do it even if it costs me.
Solidarity is an important virtue of the labour movement. Workers have been known to go on strike in support of workers from another industry or even another country. For example Australian dock workers have gone on strike in support of Indonesian seaman whose working conditions violated international labour conventions. They gave up their own wages in order to help others.
During Second World War priests from France joined French workers who were sent to Germany in order to work in factories there. The priests did so incognito and at high risk to themselves, because to do so was strictly forbidden by the German authorities. Their experience was the origin of the workers priests.
We express solidarity by signing petitions, taking part in vigils and marches.
By undergoing baptism Jesus entered into solidarity with us who are sinners. He did not have to do it, but he did so out of his own free will. And he paid the price for his choice. The gospel of John lets John the Baptist say, when he saw Jesus coming towards him, “Behold the lamb of God that carries the sins of the world.” Jesus is the suffering servant who is going to die for our sins.
He who is without sin lowered himself to receive the baptism of sinners. At that moment he received the Spirit and was declared Son of God. The humiliation is followed by exaltation.
The early church has expressed this in the hymn which is found in the letter to the Philippians : “He assumed the nature of a slave. He humbled himself… Therefore God raised him to the heights and bestowed on him the name above all names….”
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