Meditations, Reflections, Bible Studies, and Sermons from Kowloon Union Church
Come, Holy Spirit
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 27th May 2007 by Rev. Kwok Nai Wang. The scripture readings that day were Ezekiel 37:1-6 and Acts 2:1-13.
To-day is Pentecost. “Pente” means 50. So to-day is 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection. According to most of the Church traditions, Pentecost marks the birth of the Early Christian Church. This is what we read from the New Testament this morning.
The birth of the Christian Church was linked to the Advent of the Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ farewell discourse with his disciples as recorded in Jn 13:36-16:33, Jesus had promised after his departure, the Holy Spirit will come to dwell among those who believe in him. This promise was repeated five times in 14:16; 14:26; 15:26; 16:7 and 16:12. This promise of the Holy Spirit must be very important. That is the only reason why it was repeated five times. When Jesus left his disciples physically, he expected them to carry on with his work. But knowing that they were ordinary people, his disciples would not have the courage nor the power to do great things. So they needed the Holy Spirit to guide them and give them strength. When we look at all the five promises of the Holy Spirit, we can easily discover that the Holy Spirit does two things: it revealed the truth about God (this is what the first, third and fifth promises says) and it was the helper or counselor to the disciples (the second, third and fourth promises). Therefore, with the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Church should act as the extension of Jesus Christ, his life and his work.
Traditional theologies tell us that God the Father existed in the Old Testament; God the Son in the New Testament and God the Holy Spirit in the Church. Not quite like that. First, as the Prologue of the Gospel of John (1:1-18) pointed out, before the world was created, Jesus Christ as the Logos already existed. He was with God. He was the same as God… (vss 1 and 18).
The Holy Spirit or the Spirit of God also existed in the very beginning. Genesis 1:1-2 says, “In the beginning, when God created the universe, the earth was formless and desolate… the Spirit of God was moving over the water.
Throughout history, the Spirit of God was conceived as the mode of God’s activities.
One of my most favourite hymns is by Thomas Tallis written in 1567. The first stanza or verse reads,
“God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform.
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.”
God’s Spirit is always present and at work, although it may be difficult to detect. As a matter of fact, the word “Spirit” in Greek is “pneuna” which literally means “wind”. The wind blows wherever it likes. Human beings have no control of it whatsoever.
In the Bible, we often read about the Spirit of God worked through selected individuals or groups of individuals. The Spirit of God took control of Gideon and he was able to lead his people to defeat the Midianites (Judges 6:34). The Spirit of God descended upon Saul (I Sam 11:6) and David (I Sam 16:13) so that they became Kings of the Israelites. The prophets as God’s servants were filled with God’s spirit (Is 42:2). The Spirit of God was with the prophets whenever they uttered oracles. For example this was what Micah said,
“But as for me, the Lord fills me with his spirit and power, and gives me a sense of justice and the courage to tell the people of Israel what their sins are.” (3:8)
Likewise with the Incarnate God in the person of Jesus Christ. When Jesus had finished the preparation in the wilderness, he returned to Galilee to start his ministry. The power of the Holy Spirit was with him (Lk 4:14). Indeed according to Luke, when Jesus began his ministry in the synagogue in Nazareth, he declared,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has chosen me to bring the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to set free the oppressed and announce that the time has come when the Lord will save his people.” (4:18-19, quoting Is 61:1-2).
The Holy Spirit or the Spirit of God symbolizes the power which is beyond human capabilities. It is also a life-giving force. This is what we read from the Old Testament this morning.
“The people were like dry bones.
There was no real life.
But when the Spirit of God
Breathed into them, they became alive.”
Perhaps this is a vital difference between existence and living. We all exist in this world. But only when we are connected with God, having God’s spirit, do we really live!
The Early Christian Church was started by Jesus’ disciples and their followers. We recall when Jesus was arrested, all his disciples left him and ran away (Mk 14:50). All four Gospels gave the same account that even Peter, Jesus’ closest disciple, was so fearful of what could happen to him that he denied three times he had anything to do with his teacher after Jesus was arrested (Mk 14:66-72// Mt 26:69-75// Lk 22:56-62// Jn 18:15-18; 25-27). Indeed all Jesus’ disciples were afraid when they saw of what happened to Jesus. They became totally withdrawn and hid themselves when Jesus was tried by the Sanhedrin (the Jewish Supreme Council) and then the Roman Court of Pilate. It was terrifying experience for them.
But these same people changed radically when the Holy Spirit came upon them. They dared to gather in Jerusalem. In front of the gathering, “Peter stood up with other eleven disciples and in a loud voice began to speak to the crowd…” (Acts 2:14). Jesus’ disciples had been transformed by the Holy Spirit. They became courageous and full of power to witness to the resurrected Christ.
Indeed, Jesus’ disciples no longer were fearful of possible persecution and the safety and security of their own life. Consequently, James, the brother of John was put to death by the sword of King Herod (Acts 12:1). Stephen was stoned to death because of his preaching (Acts 7). In fact the Acts of the Apostles recorded the courageous acts of Jesus’ disciples, especially Peter (Acts 2-12) as well as apostle Paul (Acts 13-28). Their brave witnesses to and preaching about Jesus Christ and especially Paul’s missionary journeys were incredible. Some of them were considered as humanly impossible acts. Later it was to be understood that these were not merely human acts. It was the Holy Spirit who worked through Peter, James, Stephen, Paul and so on. The Acts of the Apostles were indeed the acts of the Holy Spirit.
Let us go back to the New Testament lesson for this morning. When the day of Pentecost came, people from all over the countries gathered together and they spoke with their own languages. But amazingly they understood each other. It was the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit enabled people to be able to communicate with each other. This is why the Church, a gathering of Christians, is called the fellowship or the communion of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit does not only call us together, it enables us to overcome any cultural or psychological blocks and be able to communicate with each other.
Do we feel sometimes though we are together in worshipping or in fellowship; in a family gathering or a gathering of friends and colleagues, yet we are disconnected. We are not able to talk and share with one another? Do we sometimes feel that we are confused or even have a sense of getting lost? Can it be because the Holy Spirit is not in or life. We wish to take full charge of our life and sometimes the life of others, rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to be in charge.
The Holy Spirit will always guide and direct us so that the old will dreams and the young see visions (Acts 2:19, quoting Joel 2:28).
If we read further in Acts 3, a continuing recording of the day of Pentecost, Peter was able to cure the sick. It would be interested to note that earlier on as recorded in Mark 9, Peter was not able to do so. With the presence and help of the Holy Spirit, everything becomes possible.
The Holy Spirit gives us the power to act and to communicate with each other in love. The Holy Spirit is never vague as many Christians suggest. It is concrete and very real for those who believe and ask for it.
I wish to share with you a story about the golden box.
“The story goes like this. Some time ago a mother punished her five year old daughter for wasting a roll of expensive gold wrapping paper. Money was tight and she became even more upset when the child used the gold paper to decorate a box to put on the mantelpiece.
Nevertheless, the little girl brought the gift box to her mother the next morning and then said, “this is for you, Mommy.”
The mother was embarrassed by her earlier over reaction, but her anger flared again when she opened the box and found it was empty. She spoke to her daughter in a harsh manner.
“Don’t you know, young lady, when you give someone a present there’s supposed to be something inside the package?”
The girl had tears in her eyes and said, “Oh, Mommy, it’s not empty: I blew kisses into it until it was full.”
The mother was crushed. She fell on her knees and put her arms around her little girl, and she begged for forgiveness for her thoughtless anger.
An accident took the life of the child only a short time later, and it was told that the mother kept that golden box by her bed for all the years of her life.
Whenever she was discouraged or faced difficult problems she would open the box and take out an imaginary kiss and remember the love of the child who had put it there.
In a very real sense, each of us, as human beings, have been given a golden box filled with unconditional love and kisses from our children, family, friends and GOD. There is no more precious possession anyone could hold.”
Likewise with the Holy Spirit. Superficially, it is difficult for us to grasp or comprehend the Holy Spirit. However, when we dare to ask, it will be present and fill our hearts and minds.
Oftentimes, we ask and expect God grant us tangible things, good health, a more secure job, a more comfortable home, and so on. But as Jesus said, the best gift God can give us is the Holy Spirit (Lk 11:13).
One of the simplest prayers of the Ancient Church was: “Come, Holy Spirit, descend upon us”. This should be our daily prayer as well as the weekly prayer of this Church.
Traditionally, the Christian year is divided into two halves. The Pentecost marks the beginning of the second half year which is generally labelled as the Year of the Church. In the first half, the Year of the Lord, the Church celebrates and commemorates the life and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. Beginning from to-day, the Church starts to work, to reduplicate the work of Christ in this world.
Finally, you notice that the liturgical colour for Pentecost is Red. Red represents the fire which symbolizes the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:3). It also symbolizes the blood of the martyrs who tried to witness to God’s Love and Justice on this planet earth. Witness in Greek is marturia. Marturia and Martyrs share the same root. It was with their life that our fore-parents of faith witness to Christ who died and resurrected for us. Guided by the Holy Spirit, may be live by the examples of our ancestors of faith.
Why Did Jesus Come?
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 20th May 2007 by Rev. Kwok Nai Wang. The scripture readings that day were Isaiah 52:13-53:12 and Romans 5:12-21.
In most of the living faiths, offerings and sacrifices are essential cultic activities. One of the major functions for such activities is for the remission of sins. Most people know that human beings are finite and as such are “sinful”. Our conscience constantly reminds us that we have done the things we ought not have done and have not done the things which we ought to have done. So we turn to God for pardon. In the ancient days, people offered farm produce or material goods to God, hoping God would accept and consequently, their sins were forgiven. Leviticus, the third book in the Old Testament, basically is a book about the Jewish ritual code. Chapters 1-8 of Leviticus gave us fairly detailed explanations on the rules and regulations for various kinds of offerings, such as burnt offering, cereal offering, communion or fellowship offering, etc. But foremost is burnt offering. In the burnt offering, an animal, usually a lamb, was slain. Supposedly, the blood of this slain lamb would join the two separated parties – God, the Holy One and the sinful people together once again. In other words, this burnt offering was performed as an act of “atonement” or at-one-ment. The most famous story of this kind is the story about Abraham who was tested by God to offer his beloved son Isaac to God in an act of thanksgiving offering as recorded in Genesis 22:1-19.
Jesus came only to be sacrificed for the remission of sins for all. So John the baptizer identified Jesus as “the lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world.” (Jn. 1:29).
John the Baptizer did not only baptize Jesus, he was also the forerunner of Jesus. He pleaded people at the time to repent (Mt 3:2// Mk 1:4// Lk 3:6). So did Jesus. Jesus also asked people to repent. The key or golden verse for the whole gospel of Mark was 1:15. It says, “The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.” Matthew followed Mark in 4:17. So calling people, both Jews and non-Jews to repent was the major concern of Early Christianity.
What does repentance mean? If Sin is the turning away from God or the Kingdom of God. Then repentance is to turn back to the Kingdom of God which is the Absolute Sovereignty of God or the realization of the fact that God is our God and we are God’s people. We belong to God! To put it simply, sin is our turning away from God; repentance is our turning back to God!
God became flesh. Jesus came as a Jew. The Jewish people or Israel was the chosen. God had chosen Israel to be God’s servant in the world – to establish God’s justice on earth (Is 42:4) or to be a light to all nations (Is 49:6). But soon, the Israelites had turned inward. They had forgotten God. Look at how the major prophets in the Old Testament levied criticism on them:
“The ox knows its owner and the donkey its master’s crib;
Israel does not know, my people do not understand.
Disaster, sinful nation, people weighed down with guilt,
Race of wrong-doers, perverted children!
They have abandoned Yahweh, despised the Holy One of Israel,
They have turned away from him.
Where shall I strike you next, if you persist in treason?
The whole head is sick, the whole heart is diseased…”
(Is. 1:33ff, N.J.B.)
And especially criticism on their leaders:
“For, from the least to the greatest,
they are all greedy for gain;
prophet less than priest,
all of them practice fraud.
Without concern they dress by people’s wound,
saying, “Peace! Peace!”
whereas there is no peace.”
(Jer. 6:13-14, N.J.B.)
OR: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them, Shepherds, the Lord Yahweh says this: Disaster is in store for the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Are not shepherds meant to feed a flock? Yet you have fed on milk, you have dressed yourselves in wool, you have sacrificed the fattest sheep, but fail to feed the flock. You have failed to make weak sheep strong, or to care for the sick ones, or bandaged the injured ones. You have failed to bring back strays or look for the lost. On the contrary, you have ruled them cruelly and harshly….”
What these major prophets said also apply to our situations to-day. Does the Church of Jesus Christ, as God’s chosen, care for its own welfare more than the calamitous world around it? Have religions, Christianity included, become vehicles of dominance and control of the strong and the powerful?
Indeed, like what Isaiah purported, “people had gone astray like lost sheep, each taking his own way.” (53:6) Have we lost the purpose of life and a sense of direction? We no longer know and care where we came from and where we are going. The deep-seeded problem is that we are alienated from God, the God of history and all of humankind.
Jesus came to show us that no matter how terrible it is, it is not the end. In fact as the Gospel of John argued so eloquently, it was God who chose to become flesh and came to us through Jesus Christ to reveal to us that God cares.
First and foremost, Jesus showed us that he was in unity with God. Because of this, Jesus had the power to change water into wine in Cana in Galilee; and to cleanse the Temple in Jerusalem (Ch. 2).
This indeed is a main theme of John’s Gospel. Jesus was in unity with God and he prayed in his high priestly prayer as recorded in Jn. 17 that we too can be the same. Only when we are in unity with God can we be in unity with each other.
What does it mean to be in unity with God?
First, absolute obedience. This we read from the New Testament this morning. From Genesis 3, we learned that Adam, the man God first created failed to obey God. God had commanded Adam: “You may eat the fruit of any tree in the garden, except the tree that gives knowledge of everything. You must not eat the fruit of that tree; if you do, you will die the same day.” (2:16-17). But Adam did not heed God’s order. Consequently the disrelationship of Adam and God, God and all human beings began. Adam is in all of us. Thus, we are all separated from God.
We disobey God constantly. It is evident that we always attempt to escape from God or to be more precise from the God-given situations. Because we all consider the situations we have to face too tough for us to bear. But Jesus did not. Even in the darkest hour of his life, when he was about to be separated from his loved ones and being put on a cross, he prayed to God, “My father, if this cup of suffering cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done.” (Mt 26:39/ Mk 15:36// Lk 22:42). Only when we take the god-given situations seriously can we see the way to go forward and gain a deeper understanding about the meaning of our life which is also a very precious gift from God.
As Adam and people are separated from God as a result of disobedience, Jesus made it possible for all of us to be reconnected with God through his absolute obedience.
Second, utter humility.
We all want to build our own Tower of Babel, so that we can climb higher and made our name known. Lina Wang, one of the richest women in Asia wanted to build the tallest twin tower in Tsuen Wan so that people would remember her and her husband. This has never materialized. The point is that this kind of mindset is in all of us. Don’t we all want to climb the social ladder so that with it, higher status, better known, more power and more wealth for us?
But Jesus showed us an alternative mindset. Instead of climbing up, Jesus went down. According to Phil 2:6-11, the most famous Christological hymn of six such hymns in the new Testament, Jesus was in the highest, with God. But he did not cling onto his position and status, instead, he came down to be a human being. He came not as a king, but as a slave-servant (dulos). He was rejected by the civil as well as political authorities and finally being put to death. He died on a cross, probably the most humiliating way as well as the most painful way to die. He was nailed and hung on a cross with two robbers for at least three hours before he breathed his last. (Mt 27:45).
The Early Church creeds all added Jesus was buried and descended into hell. Jesus was in the highest in heaven and then the lowest, in the Hades: both beyond our human comprehension. This emptying totally, without any reservation, of oneself so that the life of others may be fuller or better (in Greek it is Kenosis) is the core value of Jesus’ life style. Kenosis has since become the basis for Christian ethics. This was what Jesus said, “for the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life to redeem many people”. (Mt 20:28// Mk 10:45).
So Jesus’ life-style is absolute obedience to God; utter humility in serving the whole of humankind; and thirdly vicarious suffering.
Vicarious suffering is what we read about in the Old Testament this morning. It is the fourth servant song in II Isaiah. It is the most famous and the longest servant song. The people this song referred to were the same people in the story of the Flood as recorded in Genesis 6-9. They were wicked in their actions and their thoughts evil (6:5). In 6:12, it reads, “God looked at the world and saw that it was evil, for the people were all living evil lives”. So God sent forth the flood to destroy the people except Noah who lived in fellowship with God (6:10).
After the flood, God decided not to punish people again in this magnitude. But instead God sent his servant to suffer on behalf of the people who ought to be punished or even perished. The suffering servant as depicted by II Isaiah was chosen by God to bear the sin and suffering of the people.
“But he endured the suffering that should have been ours, the pain that we should have borne. All the while we thought that his suffering was punishment sent by God. But because of our sins he was wounded, beaten because of the evil we did. We are healed by the punishment he suffered, made whole by the blows he received.” (53:4-5)
This is the ultimate meaning of the cross. Jesus took up the cross on behalf of all human beings. Thus, the cross has become the symbol of vicarious suffering, or the most profound meaning of human suffering.
Jesus beckons all his followers to be like him, to take up the cross (Mk 10:34// Mt 16:24// Lk 14:27). What does it mean to take up the cross to-day? It means we live a life of absolute obedience, obey God and what’s been given by God; a life of utter humility, in that we are prepared to go downwards, so that we can serve some of the people in need; rather than to climb upwards, constantly fighting for our own benefits and welfare; and last but not the least, we live a life of always willing to sacrifice and to suffer on behalf of the suffering people.
Which Side Was Jesus On?
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 13th May 2007 by Rev. Kwok Nai Wang. The scripture readings that day were Amos 8:4-14 and Mark 11:12-19.
1967 was an important year for Hong Kong. For between May and November in that year, there were incessant riots, a total of 1167 real bombs and many more fake ones planted by agitators all over the city almost daily. Life of citizens was seriously interrupted. For those who had the resources, they just left, causing an acute brain drain problem in Hong Kong.
In the aftermath, the government, concerned academics, even a few church leaders try to find out why these riots. Many causes were detected: the spilled over of the cultural revolution in the mainland trickered the anti-colonial sentiment; an identity crisis of refugees and immigrants from the mainland; the youth felt they were neglected… But the fact remained it was the workers from a plastic factory in San Po Kong who were upset about the laying-off of some of their colleagues without any reason given. This exposed a very serious communication gap between the management and the workers.
In order to try to tackle this problem, Hong Kong Christian Council (HKCC) invited Margaret Kane, a specialist in the Sheffield Industrial Mission to serve as the first Director of the Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee (CIC), an auxiliary agency of HKCC. I still remember very vividly in their first general meeting held in 1968. It reflected the stance of CIC. The speakers in that meeting included Harry Daniel, the Executive Secretary of the Urban Rural Mission of the World Council of Churches; Sir Sze Yuen Chung, a prominent industrialist; a workers’ representative and myself. From this you can see that CIC at the time wanted to be the link between the management and the workers. In other words, CIC wanted both sides to sit down and iron out their differences. They tried very hard for two years and got nowhere. So after a careful consideration, CIC decided to change their stance. They decided to stand on the side of the workers and fight for their rights.
In any society, it is not difficult at all to detect that there are roughly three groups of people: the rich and the powerful; the sandwich class as well as the poor and the powerless. In most cases, the middle class would want to maintain the status quo. Hence we can consider this big group of people tend to side with the rich and the powerful.
In the meantime, we cannot ignore the fact that the Rich and the Powerful usually could get whatever they want fairly easily. Invariably power and wealth have the snowball effect. The more you have, even more you can get. On the other hand, the poor and the powerless are always in the receiving end. This is why not only in Hong Kong, but throughout the world as well, as the countries or regions become more and more affluent, the gap between the have and have-nots is ever widening. In Hong Kong, for instance, the gini-coefficent index (an index used to measure the rich and poor gap) in 1977 was about 0.373. Last year, it rose to 0.525! Many economists would tell you when the index has reached 0.5, it becomes extremely serious. Sooner or later it may cause social instability.
Coming back to the CIC case, in Hong Kong in the 1960s there were few labour laws protecting the working conditions of factory workers. There were no decent Labour unions. Even up to this day, corporate bargaining between management and labourers is not legalized. Hong Kong was and still is a rather unjust society. So CIC decided to stand on the side of the workers.
I recall when I was growing up, we had practically no toys at home. So every Saturday afternoon, my mother would bring my brother and me to the nearby Botanic Garden to play. One of the games I liked to play with my brother was the see-saw or the balancing board: with my brother sitting on one side and I the other. But since my brother is two years older than I, his heavier body would make the board tipped to his side. Even if it moved, it would be extremely slowly. There was no fun. So my mother would always stand on my side and used her hands to help. So the balancing board would move up and down at a faster speed.
Like my mother, Amos, an 8th century BCE prophet, stood on the side of the weak. He had this say to the rich and powerful:
“You who crush the needy and reduce the oppressed to nothing.
You buy up the weak for silver, and the poor for a pair of sandals.
Yahweh will never forget what you have done.”
Amos’ harsh criticism on the rich and the powerful was in line with what Yahweh revealed to the Psalmists:
“Yahweh keeps faith for ever,
gives food to the hungry;
Yahweh sets prisoners free.
Yahweh gives sight to the blind,
lifts up those who are bowed down.
Yahweh protects the stranger,
he sustains the orphan and the widow.”
“Yahweh has not despised
nor disregarded the poverty of the poor,
has not turned away his face,
but has listened to the cry for help.”
“God is the Father of orphans, dependents of widows.
God gives the lonely a home to live in,
leads prisoners out into prosperity…”
Jesus, as the God incarnate, carried this whole idea that God never turned his face away from those who suffer. As we read from all the Gospels, Jesus Christ always stood on the side of the poor and the powerless; on the side of the people who are being marginalized, oppressed or discriminated against. In Jesus’ time, the Jewish society was a rather close society. The Jews considered they were God’s chosen and all heathens, Non-Jews, Samaritans would not be saved. Even Jesus’ disciples were very hostile to the Samaritans. When they were not received in Samaria, James and John asked Jesus “to call fire down from heaven to destroy them” (Lk 9:54). Or the Jewish Matthew would say, “Do not go to any Gentile territory or any Samaritan towns to preach” (Mt 10:5).
But Jesus had nothing to do with all this. In fact Jesus admonished the Jews to learn from Samaritans. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the person who decided to be the neighbour of the man attacked by robbers was not the priest, nor the Levi, but a Samaritan. Jesus said, “go then, do the same as what the Samaritan did” (Lk 10:30-37). When Jesus cured ten lepers, (Lk 17:11-19) only one came back to thank Jesus. He was a Samaritan.
We read from Numbers (the 4th book in the Torah), when the Israelites conducted a census, only men were counted; women and children were excluded. Even centuries later, Paul was in favour of women keeping quiet in meetings; they should not speak and should not be in charge” (I Cor. 14:34) and “women should also cover their heads in public (I Cor 11:3ff). Even up to this day women are treated as non-persons in may parts of the world.
Jesus considered women just as important as men, if not more. Jesus taught that Mary and Martha had set a good example of serving God and people (Lk 10:38-42); Jesus praised the widow who was persistent in trying to find a lost coin (Lk 15:8-10); another widow who set the good example of offering: “For others offered their gifts from what they had to spare of their riches; but she, the widow, poor as she is, gave all she had to live on.” (Lk 21:1-4).
The poor were and still are being looked down always. But Jesus demanded those who gave lunches or dinners to people to always remember to invite the poor (Lk 14:13, 23) and to his followers, “Sell all your belonging and give it to the poor.” (Lk 12:33). To the rich Jesus had this to say, “Watch out and guard yourselves from every kind of greed; because a person’s life is not made up of the things he owns, no matter how rich he may be.” (Lk 12:15). He then went on to tell the parable of the rich fool. (Lk 12:16-21). The rich person thought that with all his possessions he had nothing to worry. But Jesus pointed out that he could not even control his own destiny nor when his life would end.
Finally, the sinners and the tax-collectors in the days of Jesus were also considered as outcast. But again not Jesus. Jesus insist that “I have not come to call respectable people to repent, but outcasts” (Lk 5:32). In the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the prodigal son, Jesus stated clearly that God did not want to lose anyone of the least. Jesus was house guests of a sinful woman (Lk 7:36-50) and of Zaccheaus, a tax collector (Lk 19:1-10). Jesus said the prayer of a “sinful” tax collector is a better example than that of the self-righteous Pharisees. (Lk 18:9-14). Even on the cross, Jesus assured the forgiveness the robber who confessed (Lk 23:39-43).
According to Luke’s Gospel, Jesus stated clearly the purpose of his coming: He came to bring the good news to the poor and the afflicted; proclaim the liberty to the captives; recovery to the sight of the blind as well as to set free the oppressed (Lk 4:18-19 quoting Is 61:1-2).
Jesus fully identified with the weak and the needy as we see so clearly in the parable of the final Judgment found in Mt 25:31-46: whenever we serve one of the least of brothers or sisters in need, we are serving Christ!
Though difficult it may be, in the course of history, the Church sometimes did choose to stand on the side of the poor and the powerless. We may also subscribe to this very important idea. But do we know the implication of choosing side, especially in choosing to stand alongside the poor and the powerless? It means that we have to stand on the opposite side of the rich and the powerful. It is very uncomfortable. It may even cause your life.
According to the Gospel of Mark, this was what happened to Jesus. Mark specifically gave us 15 controversial stories; with the priests, rabbis and Pharisees who represented the Jewish socio-religious establishment stood on one side and Jesus on the other. The pro-establishment always tried to maintain the status quo. But Jesus had come to set free the common people who were oppressed and exploited by all kinds of social norms, rules and regulations. Jesus brought in a new era, replacing the one which was oppressive, unjust and obsolete.
Coming back to the N.T. reading for this morning. Jesus went into the temple and saw how the priests, Pharisees as well as their business friends had corrupted the temple. So Jesus drove out all those who were buying and selling; overturned the tables of the money changers and the stools of those who sold pigeons; and would not allow people carrying things to walk through the temple courtyards. In so doing, Jesus offended the Priests and all their cronies. So they decided once again to look for some way to kill Jesus (11:18). It was not surprised that the establishment hated Jesus for Jesus had come to point out what they did was not just and fair. They were self-seeking and self-righteous, disregarding the welfare of the people they were supposed to protect and promote. No wonder shortly after Jesus started his ministry in Galilee, “the Pharisees left the synagogue and met at once with some members of the Herod’s party, and they made plans to get rid of Jesus” (Mk 3:6).
As all human beings bear the image of God (Imago Dei), all Christians should also bear the image of Jesus (Imago Iesus). As the Incarnate God, Jesus came to make God’s love and God’s justice in the most concrete way. Jesus fully identified with the poor and the powerless as well as the weak and the young. To do that, Jesus had to confront the rich and the powerful; finally he had to pay the price with his life.
As Christians, we are called to become like Jesus. As such we have no other option but to follow Jesus and stand on the side of the people who are less fortunate and the people who are being marginalized and oppressed… In a word, the people who suffer because of this unjust and violent world are the people we ought to remember in our prayers. They are the people we must attempt to serve. May God grant us the wisdom and courage to take this faith stance.
How Could Jesus Heal?
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 6th May 2007 by Rev. Kwok Nai Wang. The scripture readings that day were Hosea 11:8-11 and Luke 7:11-17.
It is believed that the Gospel composer of Luke was a doctor. So Luke’s Gospel put a great deal emphasis on the healing ministry of Jesus. There are 16 healing stories in Luke; compared with 12 a piece in both the Gospels according to Mark and Matthew. Of Luke’s 16 healing stories, five are not found either in Matthew or in Mark. They are: the healing of the Centurion’s slave (7:2-10); the raising of a widow’s son from death in Nain (7:11-17); the healing of a crippled woman on a Sabbath (13:10-17); the healing of a man with swollen legs and arms (14:1-6) and finally the healing of ten lepers (17:11-19). In other words, these five healing stories are unique and very special in Luke.
In the 4 gospels, there are altogether three stories about Jesus raising people from death: the first one is the bringing of Lazarus to life. It is recorded only in John. The second one is the bringing of Jairu’s daughter to life. It is in Luke 8:40-41, then continuing in 49-50 as well as in Mark 5:22-24, then 35-43. The third one, Jesus raised the widow’s son in Nain which is only found in Luke 7:11-17 This was what we read in the New Testament this morning.
The raising of the widow’s son to life is one of the most moving stories in Luke. It certainly was extremely sad that the widow had lost her only son. Many people felt sorry for the widow. So the funeral possession drew a big crowd from the town. When Jesus saw this, his heart was filled with pity for the widow. He consoled her, “Don’t cry”. Immediately, he walked over and touched the coffin. Then Jesus ordered the widow’s son to get up. He did and started to talk…
This is a miracle. A miracle is defined as a human impossibility becomes possible. It is a sign of God’s work. Jesus performed many miracles. He could perform miracles because Jesus was God incarnate. He was called God’s son. So what he did was also God’s work. This is what John recorded, “Jesus said, my father still goes on working, and I am at work, too.” (5:17, N.J.B.). The Gospel of John emphasized repeatedly that God and Jesus are in unity. That was why Jesus was full of authority and power: He drove out demons; he fed the hungry; he walked on the water; healed the sick and brought the dead to life…
However, as we look deeper at the healing stories or in that regard many other miracles Jesus performed, we can discover the words “he has pity on him/her”, “he felt sorry for them” etc. appeared often. Jesus felt sorry for the 5000 hungry people in the wilderness who came to hear him preached and taught, so he fed them with five loaves and two fish. He had pity on the widow who lost her son, so he raised him from the dead…
In some versions of the Bible, the word “compassion” was used instead of “his heart was filled with pity” or “he has pity”. Jesus had compassion on those who suffered. So he decided to do something to alleviate their pain and suffering. The word “compassion” was often used in the Old Testament to show God’s love for people.
One of the most moving passages of the Old Testament I think is the few verses we read from Hosea this morning. Let me read it to you again from the New Jerusalem Bible;
“Ephraim, how could I part with you?
Israel, How could I give you up?
How could I make you like Admah
Or treat you like Zeboiim?
(both towns were destroyed, c.f. Gen. 14:8)
My heart within me is overwhelmed,
Fever grips my inmost being.
I will not give rein to my fierce anger,
I will not destroy Ephraim again,
For I am God, not man,
The Holy One in your midst,
And I shall not come to you in anger.”
God always has compassion on the entire creation. The Story of the Flood as found in Genesis 6-9 described the pain of God when he saw the wickedness of human being.
The word “passion” means suffering. Hence the word “compassion” literally means suffering together with those who suffer. Jesus identified with those who suffered, so much so that he suffered with them. Consequently he decided to help those who were suffering. In John 11, we read about the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. When he saw how sad were Mary and Martha, Lazarus’ sisters, Jesus wept (11:35). This was the shortest verse in the whole Bible. It has only two words, “Jesus wept.” But it said it all: Jesus identified fully with the sorrow of Mary and Martha. He had compassion on them. So he decided to bring Lazarus back to life.
A great many concerned people would say that the world to-day is hopeless. The rich and powerful spare no efforts to promote their own interests. The poor and the powerless are oppressed, exploited and discriminated. This world is full of gross violations of human nights, armed conflicts and genocides as well as abuse of nature and the environment. But I believe the most serious problem we face to-day is people’s indifference. We are so indifferent that we ignore totally the massive suffering of people all over the world, which include those at our doorsteps.
Twenty years ago, I conducted a workshop for a local church in Sau Mau Ping. Right across the street from the church was a squatter area from the hillside. To my surprise, many members did not know of its existence much less to care enough to pay a visit to the people who were their neighbours!
Just last week, in a seminar for senior students, the discussion was on the democratic development in Hong Kong. It was suggested the fact that Hong Kong has a government by a few and for a few. It may be major contributor for the growing rich and poor gap. A student who is a minister of a local church objected vehemently. According to him, Hong Kong does not have a poverty problem. He further hinted that it is only fair for those who have the capability to get more than those who are less capable. How isolated is this minister from the realities of Hong Kong! According to government statistics, to-day in Hong Kong about 1.03 million people have less than $4000 to spend a month. Of those who have gainful employment, 310,000 earn less than $5000 or less per month. 620,000 households have less than $10,000 to spend a month. A single person received only $1605 from public assistance a month. 154,000 were unemployed in February and 88,000 were under-employed. From these figures, who can say that Hong Kong does not have a poverty problem. Worse still, Hong Kong has a very serious problem regarding the gap between the have and have-nots. The rich-poor gap continued to widen in the past 30 years. Gini-coefficent (an index used to measure this gap) showed that in 1977 it was 0.375. Now it has raised to 0.525! How can Hong Kong have a harmonious society when there is such a big gap between the rich and the poor? So many suggested there should be a more open, participatory and caring government. I agree. But that is not enough. The value system of the people of Hong Kong should be radically changed. “Everybody for themselves” mindset can get us nowhere. Hong Kong should aim to become a caring community, the sooner, the better.
Where do we start? It should start with us. It is because as Christians we care. We need to transform our hearts and minds so that we become like Jesus who has the compassion on all those who suffer. Only compassion – the deepest kind of love can conquer all ills and problems.
Compassion: the decision to suffer with those who suffer can go a long way. Only compassion can play the trick of turning impossible situations into new opportunities and possibilities.
Upon my return from my theological studies, I was invited to take up the pastorate in a church located in a resettlement area. I was very young, barely 27 at the time. Very soon after I took up my job, one Sunday evening, I received a call saying that one deacon had dropped dead in the midst of a game of mahjong in the early afternoon. I was shocked because only a few hours earlier, he was in church, talking with me about how we should furnish the new church building. My first reaction was to rush to his home, only to find his wife lying on their bed crying. Not knowing what exactly what I should do or what words of comfort I should offer, I just held her hands and prayed with her. I really felt compassion for her. Years later, the widow became one of the most dedicated deaconesses in the church. She would recall that my compassion on her when she encountered the saddest day in her life has helped to transform her life!
Coming back to the miracle story about Jesus raised a widow’s son. Jesus said “Young man! Get up, I tell you!.” Immediately the dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother” (7:14b-15).
This was the usual way Jesus healed and took care of people. No medicine. Not even the laying on of his hands. Jesus used his words to heal people. Jesus’ words came from the Word of God. Jesus is the Logos. He is the Word of God.
It is true that doctors can cure many kinds of disease and can alleviate sick people’s physical pain and discomfort. But we know that many diseases are psycho-somatic. It is the psycho side that doctors find it entirely helpless. But Jesus can deal with all our problems in entirety. Jesus’ words are the words of comfort or strength; “Do not be afraid; for love cast out fear.”
But there is also the social dimension in all illnesses. When a person is sick, he/she is separated from other people or even the whole society. For example, in Jesus’ time, lepers were not allowed to go into any town. When Peter’s mother felt ill, she was not able to serve Jesus when he was a house guest in her home… A deep sense of separation persists for those who are sick as well as sick people’s colleagues, friends and relatives. Jesus’ healing is for the wholeness of a person and even the wholeness of the society.
As disciples of Jesus, we must learn to follow what Jesus said, did as well as his life style.
When I was a boy, I got sick often. My father forced me to learn Tai Chi. So twice a week, early in the morning, he brought me to a Tai Chi master. The Tai Chi master taught me how to move my hands, legs as well as the whole body. I imitated every single movement of his. Jesus is our life master. Do we want to imitate his life like what I did when I learned Tai Chi?
The Christian Gospel is this: Become like Jesus. Jesus had compassion on people, especially those who suffer and were in great pain. This we must learn. After all, a little compassion is what this world needs the most.
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