A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 16th September 2007 by Rev. Kwok Nai Wang. The scripture readings that day were Exodus 19:1-6 and I Corinthians 12:12-30.
The first Church in Jerusalem was a gathering of Jesus’ disciples and followers as well as the followers of his disciples. Later, these followers, both Jews and non-Jews were given a new name of “Christian” (c.f. Acts 11:26; 26:28; I Peter 4:16, etc.). So the early Church was formed by a gathering of Christians or as the name suggests, a gathering of the followers of Christ. Martin Luther, the great German Church reformer of the 16th Century used to call Christians the little christs.
As followers of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, we must be clear about what Jesus did, taught and “Be” so that we can follow his footsteps: try to do the things he did; say what he said; and be what he be, that is, to imitate his life style. What Christianity is all about finally is not about doctrines, but about the transformation of one’s life style; or about following a different life style which is known as the Jesus’ life style.
What did Jesus do and say, and what was his life style? The whole New Testament was centred around Jesus. It is a record of what Jesus did and taught; and interpretations about the meaning of his deeds, his words as well as his sacrificial love on the cross.
First of all, Jesus was a great teacher. Matthew had this to say, “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as their scribes.” (7:28).
Jesus was not so much concerned with teaching his followers about the Law and the Prophets who tried to interpret God’s will and God’s relationship with people. Jesus transcended all this. He concretely expressed in no uncertain terms what is God’s Kingdom or God’s will on earth.
Secondly, jesus was a miracle worker. He healed the sick. He drove out demons who tormented people. He fed the hungry. He walked on the water… He did all this because he cared for the little ones, especially those who suffered. Moreover, he did all this to show that God’s works and power might be revealed (Jn. 9:4). As Mark described all this so tellingly “With mortals, it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible” (10:27). Is this the Gospel or the good news we all want and need to hear?
Thirdly, Jesus came only to be nailed on a cross to die. This selfless act did not only reconcile the humankind to God. Jesus’ sacrificial love has redeemed people from harmatia, the fallout from God. This very act of Jesus has changed the course of history.
This is also the mystery of the Christian Faith. Jesus came as the Incarnate God – God became flesh in and through Jesus Christ. All his life Jesus embodied the Word of God. God’s Word or the Kerygma constitutes the core of the Christian Gospel.
Finally, from the four Gospels, we learn that Jesus came to live a life in full communion with God. “The Father and I are one”, so claimed Jesus as recorded in John 10:30. Because of this communion, Jesus was full of power. He was able to teach like no learned Jewish rabbi could. He was able to perform miracles. Both the Gospels of Mark and Luke recorded how a woman suffering from hemorrhages was healed. She dared not asked but only timidly touched Jesus’ clothes. Immediately, She was healed. But during her touch, Jesus felt that power had gone out from him. (Mk 5:30; Lk 8:46). In a way Jesus did not do anything. But the fact that he was in full communion with God, he had all the power he needed.
Jesus was in full communion with God. He was obedient to God even to the very end when he had to be crucified. This was Jesus’ prayer as recorded in all the Synoptic Gospels, “My father, if it be possible, let this cup pass me by. Nevertheless, let it be as you, not I, would have it.” (Mt 26:39; Mk 14:36; and Lk 22:42; N.J.B.).
Because Jesus was in full communion with God, he had God’s power and authority to do signs and to teach. An important mark of being in full communion with God is Jesus’ absolute obedience to God and utter humility. Apostle Paul later described this as total renunciation of one self or Kenosis in his most famous Christological Hymn found in Phil 2:6-11.
We, and in that regard the whole Church, often ask what should we do? I often wonder whether this is the right question to ask. The question we, the Church, really should ask constantly is: How can we be in communion with God through Jesus Christ? When we are in communion with God, all things will fall into place. We no longer have to worry about what we should do or not do.
Despite we live in a very secularized world, where materialism abound, more and more people join the Church. To many their primary concern is personal salvation. They firmly believe when they believe Jesus, Jesus can save them (whatever that means). To others, to be a Christian is to have a personal relationship with Christ. All these are good, but not quite enough. We need to ask what is the implication after we have built up a personal relationship with Jesus? Are we willing to take up the cross and follow Jesus?
Furthermore, the Church is more than a group of individual Christians gathering together. The Church is a corporate body. It is the Body of Christ, so insists Paul.
One of my hobbies is to watch a soccer game from time to time. For years, my favourite team is Arsenal. Arsenal does not have any world-class players, especial now Tierre Henry has gone to Barcelona. But Arsenal always plays beautiful soccer. It plays as a team rather than eleven soccer stars. Likewise, the Church should act as a body. It is the body of Christ.
As a matter of fact, Jesus had taken pains to build up his disciples as one single body. This was how he concentrated to do when he brought his disciples from Galilee to Jerusalem. Of all the teachings as recorded in the Central Section of Mark, i.e. 8:27-10:52, two stand out. One was about who was the greatest among the 12 disciples (9:33-37)? The other was about the request of high positions when Jesus was in final glory (10:35-45). Both met with the same answer from Jesus: “Whoever wants to be the first he must make himself the last of all and servant of all” (9:35); “anyone who wants to become great among you must be the servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all.” (10:44).
In the Body of Christ, not everyone is equal but they are all God’s servants (or “dulos”). The whole body exists for one purpose and one purpose only, i.e. to serve God and God’s entire creation.
Over the forty odd years in the Christian ministry, I have seen countless disputes in local churches. Some of these became quarrels of such magnitude that they eventually split. Some of these resulted in some members left the Church entirely. As I reflected on these different situations, without any exception, they were caused by a very few members who insist their idea was the right one and that the whole church should follow his/her way of doing things. In other words, all of them, without any exception, failed to realize what the Church was all about. All members of the Church are servants rather than masters. Jesus Christ is the only master or head of the Church.
In Jesus’ farewell discourse with his disciples as found in John 13-16, Jesus gave them the allegory of the True Vine (15:1-10). Jesus is the vine and all his followers are the branches. Every branch is linked and nurtured by the vine. Only then can the branches bear fruits. In Romans 12 and I Cor. 12 which we read this morning, Paul used the analogy of a body to describe the Body of Christ or the Church. In this body, there are many parts but all the parts are equally important.
Likewise, the Church consists of members of different nationalities; cultures, political and economic backgrounds. We have different gifts. But we belong to the same Body. No matter how small or trivial we are, we are all equally important and useful in the eye of Jesus.
The Early Church consists of both Jews and Non-Jews. But they accepted each other. This was the spirit of the first ever church council held in Jerusalem as recorded in Acts 15. Soon, as a result of the missionary efforts of Paul and other disciples, churches were established in Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth, … Rome. In less than 300 years, Christian Churches were all over Europe, North Africa, West Asia and even India. Following its rapid expansion, the Church simultaneously underwent many cultural transformations, from Jewish, to Greek, to Roman, to Anglo-Saxon… and finally to us in Asia in the 19th century. The Church is now very diversified in culture and history; second to none on this planet earth. In terms of confessional backgrounds, there are the liturgical Eastern Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican or the Episcopalian Church. There are the Word-centred Lutheran Church, the Presbyterian Church, the Reformed Church and the Congregational Church. There are the spiritual fellowship centred Methodist Church, Baptist, Alliance and Evangel Churches as well as the Pentecostal Church. Of course there are also the Salvation Army and the Friends or the Quakers. All these are vital parts of the Christian Church. I am always saddened to hear many Baptists still think the Roman Catholics are the heretics and some Roman Catholics consider other Protestants Christians not members of Christ’s Church. In this pluralistic world, we need to be inclusive rather than exclusive.
KUC is an international, interdenominational and ecumenical church. This is a tremendous gift of God. Let us be extremely humble and manifest or use this gift to the full.
In the beginning of the farewell discourse, Jesus taught his disciples about humility or humble service by washing his disciples’ feet one by one. This was highly unusual in those days. Only slaves washed the feet of their masters or friends of their masters. But Jesus did just that. The intention was clear. Jesus wanted to teach his disciples by example about humility. The Body of Christ can be maintained if and only if every member is humble and be willing to submit his/her will to Christ.
In the same occasion, Jesus also warned his disciples about the worst thing which could happen to the body was betrayal (Jn 13:18-20). Jesus warned, “The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me” (13:18, a direct quote from Ps 41:9).
Indeed in the course of the history of the Church, the most tragic thing which has happened was when facing extreme difficulties or persecutions by totalitarian authorities, in order to safe one’s own skin, members attacked each other. This has happened in almost every country in Eastern Europe. This has happened time and again in China during the endless political movements between 1950s-1970s. This mutual attack was by far the poorest witness to Christ’s love. That explained why in his high priestly prayer before Jesus bid farewell to his disciples, he prayed for the unity of their disciples and gave them the commandment of Love.
The Church as the body of Christ is the extension of the work of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the head of this body. He directs and sustains the whole body. Jesus especially cared for the little ones (Mt 25). He dared to confront the powers which oppressed the little ones (c.f. the 15 controversial stories of Mark). All churches throughout the world, KUC included, must pursue these two points diligently. Only when churches do this would they be worthy to be the Body of Christ.