A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 24th February 2008 by Rev. Kwok Nai Wang. The scripture readings that day were Amos 5:21-25 and Ephesians 3:1-6; 4:1-6.
Let us pray:
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen (Ps. 19:14)
Our series of sermons for Lent and Eastertide this year is on “Our Faith in God”. Last Sunday, we concentrated to examine our life: as human beings, our life is full of limitations. It is because we are not God. Sadly oftentimes, we like to play God. Hence we fall into the abyss of being separated from God – that is, alienated from our ground, or our reason of existence. Thus, it is high time and imperative that we re-examine our faith in God.
Socrates, the father of classical Greek philosophy once said, “an unexamined life is not worth living.” So is our faith. We need to take time to examine and perhaps re-examine our faith constantly. How does our faith relate to our life? How can it give meaning to our life and empower our life?
There seems to be an upsurge of the number of Christians in Hong Kong in recent years. But for many Christians, their faith is just like a fad. The Christian faith does not really affect their life. Worse still, to many Christians, their faith and life do not seem to fit or match.
Not too long ago, I was invited to lunch after I delivered a sermon in a Methodist Church. I understood it was a regular social occasion for five or six couples after the Sunday service. On that particular Sunday, one couple arrived late. Obviously they were not in Church either. On their arrival, not fully aware that I was present, the gentleman asked one of elders who sat across the big round table from me, “How were your little horses last night?”. Fairly embarrassed, instead of answering the question, he introduced me to the couple, “This is Rev. Kwok, our guest preacher this morning.” I think what this group of Christians believed was that they could talk about horse racing and betting all they wanted, but not in front of a pastor. In other words, they could do whatever they wanted during the week; but not on Sundays. There are plenty of worshippers on Sundays in the 1400 Protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches in Hong Kong. Most Christians go to church on Sundays, though some will only go on important festivals like Christmas and Easter. In a local church I served in the 1960s, we had more worshippers on the first Sundays of the month which were Communion Sundays.
During my over four decades of ministry, I notice that people tend to turn to God when they face crises or turmoil in their life. I began to realize this some 45 years ago when the 35th President of the United States of America, John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. The following Sunday, I was in the Yale Chapel. It was packed with worshippers not only inside, but also outside around that huge chapel. I read from newspapers the day after the tragic event that almost all citizens in America went to church of some sort on that Sunday.
Thirty years ago, during the crisis of the Precious Blood Golden Jubilee School which eventually led to its closure, first-ever in Hong Kong, I was told that the Director of Education was found praying in St. John’s Cathedral every morning before he went back to his office.
But does the Christian faith really help us?
During the Second World War, a United States army chaplain John O’Conner reported that a great many young soldiers who claimed they were Christians since birth were scared to death when they went to the battlefield. He concluded that their Christian Faith never went beyond the Sunday School Bible stories. In other words, they have not really internalized their faith so that it could help them to manage their life and overcome their fear and anxiety. So upon his return Rev. O’Conner started a church in Washington, D.C. He stipulated that anyone who wanted to join that church must go through a two-year training. Then they had to sign a pledge indicating that they had to offer a-tenth of their income and a-tenth of their time for the work of the church.
The Christian faith is never about the faith in any ideology; not in persons in authority or power; and not even in ourselves. It is always about our faith in God. The God we believe in or we have faith in is not an idea or a concept for theologians to investigate. This God is not a supreme being high above us and intervenes the world’s goingonness at his whims: blesses some and punishes others. No, not all this. The God we believe in is the God who acts in history and in this world inceasingly. God cares for all humankind and each and every one of us.
When we affirm that God is the God who made heaven and earth, God is the God of all creation, we do not only experience meaning and purpose in our life, but also we are willing to help others to realize the same. This is the basis of the Christian faith.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the greatest German Christians and theologians advocated a religionless Christianity. Basically what he said was that the Christian faith is not a religion. For in a religion people worship a god or a being which is high above so that they can be blessed by him. In other words, religion is for satisfying the needs of human beings. But the Christian faith basically is for the well being of others. Bonhoeffer concluded that Jesus Christ was a “man for others”. As Christians, we must follow the example of our Lord. We must strive for the well being of other people.
Increasingly, humanity is impacted by materialism and market economy. Globalization has caused a general feeling of insecurity. There is a tendency of mistrust among people which include sometimes friends and the closed ones. “Everybody for themselves” is the predominant midset. Subconsciously, we believe our wants and desires are more important than the needs of other people. Our opinions and our views are superior to yours. Consequently the Christian faith has also been privatized – in the sense that only if I believe in God, I shall be O.K.
That explains the fact that in Hong Kong immediately after the Second World World, there were only less than 100 local churches. But because Christian churches responded to the needs of the influx of refugees from the mainland of China by providing them with the much needed relief in rice, noodles and all kinds of canned goods, many recipients eventually became Christians. They were labeled as “rice Christians”. Consequently, in 1980, by one count there were 900 local churches and parishes. Then, in the 1970s and 1980s churches in Hong Kong responded to the call of the government. They began to build schools and social welfare centres. Many students, teachers and social workers became Christians as well. This marked the second surge in the increase of Christians. According to some statistics in 2005, there were 1400 plus local churches. Many argued that with the increase in numbers, the quality will follow. That did not turn out to be the case. On the whole Christians to-day are more self-centered than those in the 1960s.
I wrote a book about the interpretation or reinterpretation of the Christian Gospel. I used the thinking of Apostle Paul which was labeled as the “Cross Theology” and one of his followers who compiled the Gospel of Mark and argued that the Christian Gospel is basically the Gospel of Renunciation. A very senior Baptist theologian reviewed my book. His final conclusion was “This is too heavy. Is there a lighter way to interpret the Christian Gospel?”
Indeed only when the Gospel is the Gospel of Heaven and not the Gospel of the Cross can the Christian Church attract people to join! But the truth is only the Gospel of Renunciation or the Gospel about the Cross is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
God is never just the God of my own life. God is the God of all human beings, indeed of His whole creation.
In the 1960s, there was a very popular book written by J.B. Philips entitled “Your God Is Too Small.” The name of the book itself is rather explosive. What Philips asserted was that in a rapid changing world, many people not only failed to cope, but they created a faith which they felt comfortable and a God which gave them a false sense of security. To them, God exists only in the Bible and in their mind.
But No to all this. God is very Real. God is the God of the whole world and of our life. As the letter to the Ephesians affirmed, “There is One God. He is the Father of us all, above all, through all and in all.” (4:6). If we truly believe in God, we have to first of all eliminate our narrow-mindedness. We have to embrace all people disregarding of their beliefs, race and life styles.
Sadly it is a fact that Christians generally accept only likeminded people, but tend to marginalize the people whom we disagree with, whether in thought or in their behaviour.
Christians also tend to worship God in the sanctuary as if God is only the God of the sanctuary; but neglect totally that God is the God also outside the sanctuary, indeed in the entire world. We simply cannot ignore to serve God and God’s creation in the world.
Let us hear once more God’s Word through Amos, an 8th century B.C.E. prophet in Israel,
“I hate, I scorn your festivals.
I take no pleasure in your solemn assemblies
When you bring your burnt offerings…
Your oblations, I do not accept them
And I do not look at your communion sacrifices of fat cattle.
Spare me the din of your chanting,
let me hear none of your strumming on lyres,
but let justice flow like water,
and uprightness like a never-failing stream.”
And God’s Word through Hosea, another prophet contemporary of Amos:
“Faithful love is what pleases me, not sacrifice;
knowledge of God, not burnt offerings.”
We all know that a boat, any kind of boat, is built not to be stored in a shipyard or put inside a harbour. Rather a boat is built to sail out into the open sea. Likewise when we say we have faith in God, we must venture out into the world, and especially reach out to those who need our help and encouragement. Our faith in God invariably drives us to share our life with the people within and outside the Church, especially to the less fortunate.
Glory be to the triune God: God the Creator, Jesus Christ our Redeemer and the Holy Spirit our Sustainer. Amen.