Reflections...

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

A Glad Heart Is Excellent Medicine, A Depressed Spirit Wastes The Bones Away (Proverbs 17:22)

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 21st October 2007 by Rev. Kwok Nai Wang. The scripture readings that day were Jeremiah 33:1-9 and III John 2-8


The historic and liturgical churches, like the Eastern or Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic or the Latin Church, the Anglican or the Episcopalian Church and so on have long designated October 22 as St. Luke’s Day. This is to commemorate the work of Luke, the gentile (non-Jewish) Christian who wrote the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. Luke was a medical doctor. So even many more churches would celebrate the Sunday which is closest to October 22, Saint Luke’s Day, as the Medical Sunday. On that Sunday, churches will remember the work of the medical professionals and pay tribute to them. Are there any doctors, nurses, para-medical personnel, health workers, janitorial and supporting staff who work in medical establishments in the congregation? Please stand and identify yourself. We want to thank you for your labour… Thank you.

The Christian Church always considers the importance of medical work. Missionary societies set up medical institutions (hospitals and clinics) in the far away lands. Many missionaries were medical doctors and nurses. The London Missionary Society (LMS) which founded our church, built the first hospital in Hong Kong. It was called Alice Ho Miu Ling Nethersole Hospital. The year was 1887. It was simultaneously a teaching hospital. Dr. Sun Yat Sen, the father of Modern China was a graduate of the Hong Kong Medical School of Western Medicine associated with Nethersole Hospital. Nethersole Hospital was most famous for its Obstetrics and Gynecology in Hong Kong until 1970s when it was developed into a general hospital. Now it has moved to Tai Po and is Tai Po’s district hospital. United Christian Hospital in Kwan Tong is Nethersole’s daughter hospital. The staff of Nethersole also helped staffed the Eastern Hospital in Chai Wan when it started. Dr. Ted Peterson, a LMS missionary doctor who devoted his entire work life in Hong Kong from 1952 to 1992 had a hand on all this. So the Church has done marvelous work in the medical field, in taking care of the sick. To-day about 20% of the hospital beds are provided by churches or church organisations in Hong Kong.

When I was a boy, my health was not very good. So frequently my mother would bring me to see a doctor and my father would take me to see a Chinese herbalist who was his friend. For various reasons, I did not think too highly of doctors. I did not think they were very helpful to me. In those days, doctors only concentrated to treat my illnesses. They did not care very much to get me healthy so that I did not have to get sick easily; so that I did not need to go see them again.

When I served as the General Secretary of HKCC from 1977-1988 and as the Director of HKCS (1980-1988), I decided to do something about it. HKCC is the promoter of a dozen or so Special Sundays throughout the year. Medical Sunday is one. Instead of Medical Sunday, I re-named it Health Sunday. Its concern thus becomes much wider. It includes the remembrance of all health workers. It promotes health rather than just medical care.

Health is very important. Without health life can be awful. My father used to say health is very precious that you cannot buy it with a million dollars. True wealth is health, not money.

To-day, more and more people realize this important point. Many professionals spend time daily in fitness centres. A lot more people spend quite a bit of money to buy all kinds of expensive nutrients, from vitamins to Lingzi (靈芝). Some resort to organic produce; others to high protein food such as abalone, shark’s fins, birds’ nests; and yet others decide to become vegetarian.

To-day, any health worker will advise you to maintain your health by a very simple formula – getting enough rest and sleep, a balanced diet and exercise five times a week, each time for at least half-an-hour.

I followed an extremely busy and fast pace of life in 1980s. I was the General Secretary of HKCC and the Director of Hong Kong Christian Service; for four years as Chairperson of two Christian hospitals; three years as the supervisor of all CCC high schools and another four years as the Chair of the Management Committee of all CCC schools; a member of the board of governors, then trustees of Chung Chi College of CUHK and a member of its Theological Council; frequently a speaker as well as a preacher on Sundays. As a result of all this, I paid a dear price. Now and then I suffered from insomnia. I was admitted to United Christian Hospital because of a duodenum ulcer three times: twice I had to be given blood. This had consequence. In 1995, during a regular medical check-up, it was discovered that an anti-body called cold agglutinus is exceptionally high in my blood. Two blood specialists at HKU and another two from the Portland Medical Centre which is world famous for treating patients with cold agglutinus, advised me to closely monitor my lymph glands, making sure the cold agglutinus would not damage them which might cause blood cancer. They thought all this has something to do with my blood transfusion in previous years.

Anyway, back in 1985, my overall health was very terrible and had to rely heavily on medicine. On Christmas Day, I made a resolution. Since the doctors could not help me much, I decided I have to do something to help myself. I decided to go to the YMCA which was close to my Tsim Sha Tsui office to swim every morning at 7 a.m. for 20 minutes so that I still could go back to the office at 7.45. It was tough. I had to force myself to swim every morning which I did not enjoy.

For five or six years, it did not yield noticeable results. Fortunately, I did not give it up. Now that I have been swimming for almost 22 years, I seldom get sick. I feel and I do look healthy. Can you imagine I will be 69 in three weeks’ time?

I often advise my colleague ministers, students and friends that they should exercise for at least half-an-hour five times a week. Persistent exercise will bring them immense benefits as it does to me. Exercise will not only enhance our physical wellness, but mental well being as well. For those of us who are Christians, we can even use that half-an-hour to do spiritual exercises of meditation, contemplation and prayer as well.

In response to my earnest plea; please exercise regularly, their standard answer is, “I know I need to exercise, but I have no time. I don’t even have enough time to do my work, to take care of my children, and above all to sleep, let alone to spend an hour a day to exercise”. I then try to explain to them by spending a bit of time to exercise, they would gain back a great deal – their minds are more alert; they are more energetic and spirited. They would get sick less often; and thus eventually become more productive. Of course deep down with most of the people it is a matter of poor time management.

I decided to swim when I held several important jobs at the time. I still found time to swim daily. I think it was a matter of prioritization and a matter of good management of time.

To-day is Health Sunday rather than Medical Sunday. Medicine, medical technologies and medical skills can help people a great deal when they are sick. In U.S.A. for instance, a recent report indicated that because of the advancement of medical knowledge, Americans enjoy a life expectancy of 78, compared with 73 30 years ago. But I think the concept of health is even more embracing and vital. You get medical treatment when you are sick. But if you maintain your health well, you do not even have to go see a doctor.

There is a saying both in Chinese and English, “Prevention is better than cure”.

Since the first successful heart transplant by Dr Chris Barnard in South Africa in 1968, there have been extremely significant progress in the medical sciences. Most of these new discoveries have a lot to do with how to cure different kinds of diseases. Comparatively speaking, little has been done in the Prevention side. As the curing of diseases have become more and more expensive, government and concerned people just have to spend more time and resources in trying to enhance “Prevention”; and in trying to help people not to get sick.

Some 25 years ago, when I served on the boards of two Christian hospitals, the hospital leadership advocated Primary Health Care and launching a pilot project of Community Health Project in the Kwun Tong District. Both drew quite a bit of attention from the World Health Organization (WHO). Unfortunately, without sufficient support from the Government as well as the community, they have been dwindled off. Now the general trend is that hospitals are for the sick, rather than for the healthy; or rather to enable people not to get sick and stay healthy.

When I was the Director of Hong Kong Christian Service, my pet project was Infant Stimulation and Parents’ Effectiveness Training Project (ISP). This is a pioneering project. A team consisting of a clinical psychologist, a social worker and two nurses get together and took care of 10-12 infants born with some form of disabilities. These highly trained and motivated professionals did not only train the babies but also the babies’ parent(s). The idea was that from early intervention and training, these babies would improve significantly. A study has indicated many severely mentally retarded babies after appropriate and sufficient training would become mild grade; and those from the mild grade would become normal. It was a very expensive project. But in the end of the day, it could save lots of human as well as financial resources. Can you imagine how expensive it is to take care of a severely handicapped person for the rest of his life?

Health is more than an absence of sickness, but rather it is about all rounded wellness of a person. To-day we spend too much valuable resources on diseases of physical nature, but little on the mental or psychological well being of human beings. The fact is that many kinds of illness are related to our mental state, for instance from our failure to deal with stress in daily life or pressure from our occupation. That explains why many illnesses are psycho-somatic (psycho is mind and soma is body). So when we talk about health we cannot just concentrate to deal with our physical health, but mental health as well.

Yet our Jewish-Christian foreparents have taught us centuries ago that there is a third dimension in our well-being. This is the spiritual dimension.

“A glad heart is excellent medicine, a depressed spirit wastes the bones away.” (Proverbs 17:22).

I have chosen this wisdom saying of the Jewish Sage to be the theme of this morning’s sermon. Indeed, Joy or Happiness is the best medicine. When people are happy all their life, they would be healthy. They do not get sick easily and therefore do not need any medicine.

One of the earliest Church leaders, the author of the three letters in the name of John related to us the simple fact that Happiness is tied to our Spiritual well being; and the secret of spiritual wellness lies in the fact that we are faithful to the truth and always live in the truth. The truth is: God is our God and we are God’s people and are under God’s care.

The Old Testament reading for this morning is about the Jews who were in exile in Babylon from 586 BCE for half-a-century. God did not forget His Chosen, but instead through Prophet Jeremiah promised them the eventual return and the rebuilding of the Holy City Jerusalem into a city of Joy.

Is Hong Kong a city of Joy? Far from it. Tin Shui Wai has been branded as the City of Sadness because of many mishaps in recent years. But neither is Hong Kong a city of Joy. Generally speaking, people in Hong Kong are not happy because we worry too much. We worry far too much. We worry about how to be happy. We misplace the priorities in our life. Furthermore, we do not know how not to worry. Let us listen once again what the early church fathers told the Christians who were under severe persecutions, “Leave all your worries with God, because God cares for you.” (I Peter 5:7). Do we have to relearn once again how to put our trust in God, who is the source of our joy and peace?

# posted by Heddy Ha : Monday, October 22, 2007

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