Meditations, Reflections, Bible Studies, and Sermons from Kowloon Union Church
“Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34)
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 27th April 2008 by Rev. Kwok Nai Wang. The scripture readings that day were Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Leviticus 19:17-18 and John 15:1-17.
About three decades ago, when Donald Coggan was installed as the Archbishop of Canterbury, as well as the head of the 12 million Anglicans throughout the world, he suggested that the world we now lived in was a world of chaos. In terms of priority, people now put themselves first, their neighbours second and God third, rather than God first and foremost, our neighbours second and ourselves last. As a result of this reversed priorities, we as Christians have great difficulty to witness to the fact that God is love. On the contrary, sometimes we may even transmit or spread a culture of hate instead the culture of love. But in reality all the Judeo-Christian faith is about is love: This is what the Shema (or the Creed of Judaism) says, “Hear, Israel: The Lord our God is the one, the only God. You must love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength.” (Deut 6:4-5).
In the Holiness Code as recorded in Lev. 17-26, we find these words, “You will not exact vengeance on, or bear any sort of grudge against, the members of your race, but will love your neighbour as yourself. I am Yahweh” (19:18). Then, “You will treat resident aliens as though they were native-born and love them as yourself – for you yourselves were once aliens in Egypt. I am Yahweh your God.” (19:34).
Later, remembering the Shema and the Holiness Code, this was how Jesus answered the Pharisees when he was asked, “What is the greatest commandment of the Law?”, “You must love the Lord your God with all our your heart, with all your soul and with all you mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second resembles it: You must love your neighbours as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law, and the Prophets too.” (Mt 22:35-40). Jesus had put these two commandments: Love God and love your neighbour into practice all his life. Indeed if we examine Jesus’ work in all the four Gospels, we may easily conclude by saying that Jesus’ work is the work of Love!
In his farewell discourse with his disciples, Jesus specifically gave a new commandment to his disciples who were supposed to continue Jesus’ work after he had departed from them physically: “I give you a new commandment: love one another; you must love one another just as I have loved you. It is by your love for one another, that everyone will recognize you as my disciples.” (Jn 13:34-35).
Love others as yourself is never easy. Jesus had warned his disciples about this in the same farewell discourse. Jesus predicted that for self-protection Peter would deny that he ever knew Jesus, much less he had anything to do with Jesus. Jesus also predicted about Judas’ betrayal: He also shares my table has lifted up his heel again me” (Jn 13:18, a direct quote from Ps. 41:9).
Love is never abstract.
Many Christians say that they love God, but oftentimes it turns out it is only a hollow slogan. Who they really love are themselves. God becomes only an object to enhance their benefits and welfare.
Love is very concrete. It requires you to share with your brothers and sisters who are in need. As the First Letter of John to the 2nd Century Christians, “Anyone who says I love God and hates his brother is a liar, since no one who fails to love the brother whom he can see can love God whom he has not seen. Indeed this is the commandment we have received from Jesus, that whoever love God, must also love his brother.” (I Jn 4:20).
In the O.T. times, the priest and the Levite were supposed to be the people who loved God. But they could not put it into practice, by caring their neighbours in need. But the Samaritan, a non-Jew (probably did not know God) decided to care for the one who fell into the bandits’ hands. In this parable about “limitless” love, Jesus said, go and do the same as the Samaritan” (Lk 10:37).
Acts of love are often done with utter humility. Jesus gave the Commandment of Love to his disciples in the same moment when he washed his disciples’ feet. In the ancient Middle East culture and custom, only students served their teachers and never the other way around. As a matter of fact only slaves in those days washed their masters’ feet and the feet of their masters’ guests before they entered into the house. Jesus washed his disciples’ feet indicated strongly that acts of love have no limits. Just in his parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10, the Samaritan’s love towards the stranger who needed help was limitless.
Yes, acts of love are love without limits. Also, oftentimes they are small and simple acts. But they can be powerful and can touch the lives of many.
Marla Ruzicka was a young and pretty woman from California. She decided to go to the war-torn Baghdad hospitals and homes to offer orange juice to the children who were wounded by roadside bombs; and offered comfort to their parents. She even started single-handedly “The Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict”.
One Saturday in 2005, she became a victim herself by a roadside bomb and died instantly. In a memorial service back home attended by 600 people, a note written by Marla was read, “If only I can do a little to make the life of others a little bit better, it would be a tremendous gift from God. Why should I look for another job?”
Marla only lived for 28 years. But her love and dedication have touched the lives of many.
In the recent snowstorm in the mainland of China – the worst in three decades – millions were stranded on the road, in the countryside and at railway or bus stations as well as airports. The situation was extremely grave. But there were many small acts of love: a policeman tried his best to help clear the snow in highways so that some of the traffic could move again. He had been working around the clock for days. He even passed the opportunity to go home to visit his wife who has just given birth to a baby boy. A university student bicycled along the highways all day long trying to console and give help to the truck drivers who were stranded a highways.
On the hundreds of trains standard, food and water became scarce. Many passengers took out whatever they had to share with others. All these were simple acts of love and sharing. But it was at these moments of caring that human beings were at their very best!
Sometimes, simple acts of love are very powerful. In the 1970s when the two superpowers engaged in arms race, especially on nuclear war-heads, Joan Baez, one of my favourite singers sang a very gentle protest song entitled “Just A Little Rain”. This song was about the nuclear dust fell onto the ground like drops of rain incapacitating or even killing the innocent children and unborn babies. It was the most powerful protest song I have ever come across.
When we engage in the acts of love, we may not get any rewards; far from it, we may be ridiculed. That was what Apostle Paul experienced. Paul went on four great missionary journeys to tell people about God’s love. This was what he and his companions received, “short of water, drink and clothes; were beaten up, and had no shelters. We were treated as the dregs of the world, the very lowest scum” (I Cor 4:11-13). Paul’s endurance bore much fruit for God’s glory!
One of the pivotal points about the Civil Rights Movement in America was the Selma-Montgomery March led by Martin Luther King in 1964. Mrs. Pesbody, the mother of the Governor of Massachusetts, went down to participate. She was arrested and put into prison. She told reporters that she did not understand why she could not walk hand in hand with her black friends. Her highly publicized act of love stirred up the conscience of many people in her home state. Consequently later in 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil rights Bill, giving all black people in deep South the right to vote.
Often we do not want to get ourselves involved because we are very afraid to get hurt.
Two decades ago, the Citadel Military Academy in North Carolina only admitted men. But there was a woman by the name of Shannon Falkner who decided to change this outdated tradition. After many hurdles, she was finally admitted. But from the first day, the officers decided to give her a rough ride, demanding her to go through very vigorous physical exercises which few men could pass. The move was to intimidate Shannon so that she would quit and so that the Academy would not have to change their men-only tradition. But Shannon decided to endure this because she wanted to get rid once and for all this highly discriminatory practice and tradition. Finally she graduated with flying colours. Indeed Shannon’s act is an act of charity. At long last, the whole military establishment in the U.S.A. got rid of all sexual discrimination rules and regulations in the 1990s.
Sometimes we do not want to get ourselves involved because it is not easy to judge whether the act we engage in is right or wrong. Indeed this world is no longer simple. Issues cannot be easily identified as right or wrong. Worse still, oftentimes, we have to choose between two rights or two wrongs.
In 1963, the year when I graduated from HKU, there was a controversial issue which warranted my attention as a philosophy student. In Italy, a medical doctor was charged with committing the crime of abortion (in a Roman Catholic country, abortion is a capital crime). It began with a request from a pregnant woman. She was scanned to have carrying a deformed baby, a result that she had been taking a drug called Thalidomide. The defense from the doctor was that he was sympathetic to the young couple and could not allow this baby to be born. Was the doctor’s decision right or wrong? Was the doctor’s act an act of love?
I took a course on Christian Ethics at Yale. One of the discussions in class was about a true story which happened in 1943. The setting was a concentration camp in Warsaw, Poland. A Jewish woman was incarcerated in that camp. Her husband was seriously sick at home. She was trying desperately to get home to care for him. She knew a camp rule that a pregnant woman could request to be released. So after much thought, she decided to seduce a German soldier. Sure enough, she got pregnant. Subsequently she was freed. She had committed adultery. The question was, was her act justificeble? Was her act good or bad?
Yes, this is highly complex and oftentimes depressing world. Nevertheless, this is God’s world. The people who live in hot waters are God’s children. Is it nothing to us? Can we not try our best to respond to the cries from the people around us and from afar? Please always remember this, the only sign for Christians to-day is not what you proclaim; but rather by your love, or concretely by your acts of love.
Once again, let us hear what Jesus commands us to-day: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Amen.
“Christ has set us free.” (Galatians 5:1)
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 20th April 2008 by Rev. Kwok Nai Wang. The scripture readings that day were Zechariah 4:1-10 and Galatians 5:1, 13-15, 22-26.
Human beings are not free to-day. Tens of Millions are not free from Poverty. They do not have enough food, clean water, a safe-shelter, adequate health care… Tens of millions are not free from war and armed conflicts. All of us are in bondage, not free from the world values of wealth, status, fame and power. We are not free from the seeking of our own interests. We are not free from our unlimited ambitions despite our limited capabilities.
In Hong Kong, 97% of the citizens are Chinese. Many are still bound by the traditional Chinese values – the so-called five basic relationships. But many of these relationships are rather authoritarian and oppressive. For example, if the King wants you to die, you refuse to die, you are disloyal to the King. If your father wants you to perish and you don’t, you are disrespectful to your father.
Furthermore citizens in Hong Kong, especially the older generations were raised in a colonial setting (Hong Kong was a British Crown Colony from 1942-1997). In such a setting, citizens were taught to be obedient to the rulers. Youngsters were taught to work hard, follow strictly the rules and regulations, and cautiously climb the social ladder. By that I mean right or wrong you do not question your superior. You do not criticize. You follow the mainstream opinion. In a word you dare not hold a dissenting view.
Then if you follow any religion, Christianity included, you would only be concerned with your own interests and well being. Salvation for the self, not for the whole world, would be your primarily concern.
But Christ has set us free, declared apostle Paul. We no longer need to be bound by all these bondages. Each and every one of us is a free person. That is the good news.
Dr. Hannah (a pseudonym) was a well-respected senior medical doctor at a Hospice Hospital in Hong Kong. She devoted practically all day long to care for the terminally ill patients. In 2003, the endemic SARS in Hong Kong really shook her up. She felt very helpless. Worse still, soon she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent chemotherapy. The treatment was hard enough for her. It was even more difficult for a change in her role – from a doctor to a patient. In the process, she almost became “insane”. It was hard for her to discover that being a doctor means she was only trained in technical medicine. She was not equipped to deal with issues such as death, suffering and the way to establish connections or rapport with her patients.
Dr. Hannah finally recognized that life is more than her work and her profession. After all this, she decided to work only half-time; and spend more time with her husband and their teenager daughter. For Hannah, cancer was the awakening call. But it was her faith in Christ finally which has set her free.
Christ has set all of us free – free from doubt and fear. Remember the disciples of Jesus Christ were dispersed and perhaps went on hiding after their teacher was arrested and crucified. His closest disciple Peter even denied he had anything to do with Jesus when confronted by a servant-girl of the High Priest, not once, but three times. (Mk 14:66-72// Mt 26:69-75// Lk 22:56-62// Jn 18:15-18, 25-27). But after he encountered the Risen Christ and was filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter was brave enough to stand up and with a loud voice proclaimed openly that Christ had risen (Acts 2:14ff).
Thomas, another disciple of Jesus (called the Twin), doubted whether Jesus had really been raised from the dead. But after Jesus had showed him his body and invited Thomas to touch his body, Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord and my God” (Jn 20:24-29). Reportedly Thomas went all the way to India to establish the Mar Thoma Church. Christ had set free Peter and Thomas, from doubt and fear to faith and courage. Likewise Christ will also set us free!
Christ has set us free from Dogmatism. The biggest problem to-day is not whether people believe in or not believe in God. Rather it is the fact people who follow a living faith, Christianity included, think that their faith is the only true religion in the world and that they have all the answers to problems of the world. When they finally discovered that their belief did not hold the water, they resorted to self destruction.
In September 1981, when I co-led the first church delegation from Hong Kong to visit the mainland in three decades, I was asked twice about why a youth jumped to his death in Hong Kong holding a Bible. Earlier on in the same year, in Jones Town, Guyana, a group of Christians committed suicide. In 1993, in Waco, Texas, more than 30 people from the Sect of David were killed by the F.B.I. when they held out in the compound with large quantities of arms and ammunition. In 1996, in a French town bordering Switzerland, 30 devoted Christians committed suicide. We would say that these were extreme cases caused by Christian fundamentalism. But to a certain extent, many other Christians, perhaps ourselves included, are just as rigid, isolated and dominant.
Oftentimes we are bound by our “tunnel vision”. This is mainly due to the fact that we are being trained to memorize and follow from kindergarten or primary school on rather than to be trained to think independently. Last month, four sex workers working in a one-woman brothel in Hong Kong were robbed and murdered. They made front-page sensational stories. But still little attention was given to the plight of the 2,000 to 3,000 women working under the same conditions. Reportedly there are more than 20,000 sex workers in the territory. So the clientele must be enormous. However, bound by traditional moralistic view on prostitution, few people dare to speak up about the protection of the basic human rights of sex workers. Alas, hypocrisy abound!
But Christ has set us free. We no longer have to hide, to made excuses and be trapped by the “I can’t” mindset.
Yes, Christ has set us free – free from our pride and promised us the power of the Holy Spirit. This is what this morning’s Old Testament lesson reminded us.
Zerubbabel was the governor of Palestine in the Post-exilic period around 530 B.C.E. He was given the task of rebuilding Jerusalem, the Holy City and the Temple. God’s angel had this advice for him, “Not by your might nor your power, but by God’s Spirit”. (4:6).
Christians are often trapped by the traditional dualistic view of this world and God’s kingdom. Many Christians believe that this world is transient and evil. So despite the fact that they all live in this world, they do not take it seriously enough to try to make this world a better place not only for us, but especially for the future generations.
In the 1964 New York World’s Fair, outside the Roman Catholic Pavilion, these words by Pope Paul VI were inscribed: “Let the world know that the Church looks at the world with profound understanding, with sincere admiration and with a sincere intention, not of conquering it, but of serving it; not of despising it, but of appreciating it; not of condemning it, but of strengthening and saving it”.
Christ has set us free.
Oftentimes, we are bounded by the world’s powers and principalities. We are excessively obedient to the power structures and the people in authority. We follow their views and decisions however unjust and unreasonable simply because we are very afraid to offend them. Our mindset of self protection is actually detrimental to the overall well being and human development.
Some twenty-five years ago, when it became evident that Hong Kong was to go back to China in 1997, the elites in Hong Kong suddenly became “patriotic”. Their sudden change of loyalty from pro-London to pro-Beijing shocked not only the British rulers but also the local people who were concerned about Hong Kong’s future as well. Since the changeover of sovereignty, the academic community and the press corps have adopted self-censorship. They have become more interested to save their own skin or even to enhance their personal interests much more than to search for the truth. As Christians we should realize that we are set free by Christ and therefore must not be afraid to tell the truth at all times and in all places.
Christ has set us free. But Christ has not made us libertines, that is, to do whatever our desires and wants dictate. A decade ago, one of the most damaging cigarette advertisement to our young people was about: just do whatever you wanted to.
Yes, Christ has set us free: free from blind obedience, but never free from responsibility. True, we are no longer responsible to other people for the sake of our selves. But instead we are responsible to God for the welfare of other people. This is what Apostle Paul meant when he said, “Everything is permissible, maybe so, but not everything does good. True everything is permissible, but not everything builds up people. Nobody should be looking for self-advantage, but everybody for someone else’s… Since to the Lord belong the earth and all it contains.” (I Cor 10:24-25, N.J.B.).
Christ has set us free. Christ set us free always for a purpose, namely to serve God and God’s entire creation. This is the meaning and the power of the Exodus Event.
About 1,250 BCE the Israelites who lived in Egypt “were fruitful and prolific; they became so numerous and powerful that eventually the whole land was full of them” (Ex. 1:11) So the Egyptians decided to force them to labour for them as slaves and all the Israelite male babies were killed instantly when they were born. Consequently God decided to set the Israelites free, delivered them out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. After 40 years in the Sinai wilderness, the Israelites finally were made aware that God had set them free for a purpose, namely as God’s Chosen, they had the responsibility to proclaim to the whole world the fact that God is the Only God of all humanity as well as the meaning and implication of such a simple yet profound faith statement.
Throughout our life, we face struggles everyday between freedom and obedience as well as freedom and responsibility. But Christ has set us free. We are free to respond, respond not so much for self-gain, but to God and the needs of God’s creation. Apostle Paul is a living example to Christians all over the world. Paul was a free person, yet for the sake of others, he was willing to be a slave – serving people who are in dire needs. This is what he said, “Though I was not a slave to any human being, I put myself in slavery to all people, to win as many as I could” (I Cor 9:19).
Christ has set us free. “Sin no more”. This was what Jesus said to the adulterous woman as recorded in John 8. In context, what Jesus really meant was not so much to demand the woman not to commit adultery again, but rather to remind the woman that she was reconnected with other people, with society and with herself because ultimately she was reunited with God. So the woman should treasure these relationships.
Finally, Christ has set us free with His sacrificial love. Let us therefore treasure this new relationship with God and with God’s entire creation. Furthermore, let us reset our minds and our hearts so that others may live in this kind of new relationship too!
Hear these words from Paul: “If anyone is in Christ, he or she is a new creation: the old has passed away, behold the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of Reconciliation”. (II Cor 5:17-18).
“Hold fast to the Word of Life” (Philippians 2:16)
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 13th April 2008 by Rev. Kwok Nai Wang. The scripture readings that day were Genesis 1:1-2:4a and Matthew 9:18-26.
The Old Testament lesson (Genesis 1:1-2:4a) for this morning is rather lengthy. It was a hymn of creation – it praises God as the Creator – and not a scientific account regarding how the earth and all that is were created. In Genesis, there are 2 “creation accounts” – one was this morning’s. It was usually titled the “P” account. The other follows immediately after the first account. It is found in Genesis 2:4b-25, which began with these words, “When the Lord God made the universe, …” to the very end of chapter 2. This is the “J” account. The first account, the Priestly or “P” account came much later than the “J” or Jehovah account. The whole book of Genesis attempted to affirm the beginnings of God’s creation. It was God who called everything into existence. The word Genesis literally means the beginnings.
A more appropriate translation for Genesis 1:1 is “When God began to create the universe”. This suggests God’s creation continues. It did not end with the order of the universe which God had called into being.
Another point worths our attention is during the process of creation, it was God’s Word which brought things to life. God commanded, “let there be light”, there was light (vs.3)…. God commanded” let there be a dome to divide the water and to keep it in two separate places”. And it was done (vs.6-7)… the same were repeated in vss 9; 14; 20; 24 and 26.
Thus, God’s Word and God’s acts are two sides of the same coin. God’s Word causes things to happen and God’s acts represent God’s living Word. In final analysis, God’s acts always bring forth Life. Hence God’s Word is the Word of Life.
Human beings are called into existence by God. It is therefore only in God’s Word that human beings find meaning and purpose in life. When we do not live by God’s Word or the Word of life, our life becomes hollow and meaningless. Thus, we only exist instead of really live.
In the Genesis story, we also learn that God’s acts are all good. That is why in every epoch of God’s creation, Genesis includes these words, “God saw that it was good.” (vss 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25 and 51 – both NJB and NRSV use these words). In context, the word “good” denotes wholeness or perfection.
Some Biblical scholars suggested that God’s creation was not so much creatio ex nihilo or creation out of nothing; but rather it is the creation from chaos to order. Both the New Jerusalem Bible and the New Revised Standard Version Bible stated clearly that when God began to create heaven and earth, the earth was formless and void… so God put things in order, one by one, from space to time, from plants and animals… and finally to human beings, until everything is in good or perfect order. It is always God’s will to put the entire creation from chaos to order. Much later Apostle Paul would write in his first letter to the Corinthians, “God does not want us to be in disorder, but instead in harmony and peace.” (I Cor 14:33). It is human beings, the centre of God’s creation, who constantly defile God’s will and cause disorder and confusion in this world. From the Word of Life, we turn it into the word of destruction.
God came to us through Jesus Christ to show us once again in no uncertain terms about the Word of Life.
Our ministerial group studied the Bible together every fortnight. On March 11, we studied chapter 9 of John’s Gospel. It is by far the longest healing story ever recorded. It was about the healing of a blind man by Jesus. We all got many Biblical insights from this very interesting healing story. One which stood out was what the blind man said, “One thing I know, I was blind, now I see” (vs. 25). What he meant was that Jesus had made him whole. Yes, Jesus is the Word of Life. Jesus always has compassion on our brokenness – whether physical, psychological or spiritual, and will make us whole again.
I have a graduate student who has been with me for two years. Despite the fact that she was blind, she serves as a preacher in a small local church in East Kowloon. I greatly admire her dedication in her studies. She took notes with her simple machine. She asks questions and fully participates in the discussion during classes and sometimes even after classes. She uses her computer to read her assignments since all my books as well as most the assigned books are in the computer. She would just transmit these into her own computer for blind people. She told me one time that it was her faith in God which helps her to overcome her handicap.
Jesus’ Word of Life also beckons us to live in God’s entire world instead of hiding in our little “secure” corner. Necessarily, sometimes we find life is too tough, too complicated and too depressing. So we tend to build our own small but illusory world and live within it. My father who lived until he was about 96 never flew on a plane. Not only that he was afraid of flying, but also he felt he could not sleep other than on his own bed and that travelling would upset his life pattern he so used to. In his final days, I felt that he regretted a little he had never gone to England to visit her daughter and two grand-daughters!
Jesus beckons Peter to come out of the boat to walk on the water (Mt.14). Sometimes the boat represents the Church and the water, the world. Oftentimes Christians do not want to have anything to do with the world despite we live in it. Many think that the world is evil. So they just want to hide inside the church and build their own close fellowship which is cozy and comfortable.
Jesus as the Word of Life beckons us to come out and embrace the world and all there is in it. After all, this is God’s world. It is a wonderful and sometimes even a very beautiful world despite the various kinds of destructions caused by human beings.
The Word of Life is the Word of Possibility.
One time, when Jesus was in the mountain with Peter, James and John – the transfiguration of Jesus as recorded in Mk 9:2-13, Mt 17:1-13 and Lk 9:28-36 – many sick persons approached the other disciples of Jesus and asked to be healed. But they could not (obviously they tried very hard). So when Jesus came down from the mountain after the transfiguration his disciples asked him, why? Jesus replied, “All is possible for one who has faith” (Mk 9:23).
The human words are often the words of impossibility: I can’t do this. I can’t do that. But Jesus’ Word is the Word of Possibility.
The movie “My Left Foot” is about a very talented artist from Ireland, Christy Brown. Christy was almost completely paralyzed except the left foot. In Taiwan there was a writer name Hsu Shuk Shui. Her conditions were similar to Christy’s. She has learned to use the only one toe she could move to play the piano and to work at the computer. Her autobiography entitled “The Sunflower Angel Facing the Sun” has touched the lives of many in Taiwan and beyond. Both Christy and Shuk Shui live by the Word of Possibility!
Another person who lived by the Word of Possibility is Tanya Liu. Tanya was a popular anchor woman at Phoenix T.V. In May 2002, Tanya and a friend was involved in a horrific rail crash in the train platform in Hertfordshire, England. Her friend died instantly. Tanya was seriously hurt. Nobody at the time thought that she might survive. But she defied many medical experts both in England and in China with an extremely difficult and slow recovery. She wrote during her two years of struggles in several hospitals, “My whole life revolved around just trying to get better. Daily the physical torture starts as soon as I finished brushing my teeth.” Because of her determination, she won against all odds and finally regains her health. Though still very weak and slow, she is now ready to go back to work, perhaps not an anchor women, but a reporter.
Another real life story from Hong Kong. In 1997, Yip Wai Fun discovered that she had cancer in the nymph gland of her neck. This was a big shock especially when she was at the peak of her career. Soon after her doctors administered chemotherapy in the lump in her neck, small lumps were found elsewhere. Her doctors almost gave up on her. But she was determined to fight the battle. So she practiced “Chi Kung” (氣功) several hours per day and followed a strict diet suggested by some experienced Chinese herbalists. Last year, she decided to share her struggles and her experiences with people with similar ailments by starting the “Global Chinese Cancer Support” with a web-site www.chinesecancersupport.org.
Jesus’ Word of Life is not only the Word of Possibility, of Hope; but it is also the Word of Comfort. In the Biblical sense, “comfort” means “to give strength”.
The New Testament we read this morning gave us a very important miracle performed by Jesus (also in Lk. 8:41-56 and Mk 5:21-43). It was about Jairus’ daughter being raised to life.
Jairus was the President of a synagogue. His daughter felt sick. So he went to ask Jesus to come to his home and cure her. At the time Jesus was busy curing a woman with hemorrhage (Mt. 9:20-21). When Jesus had finished and was about to go, he received word that he did not need to go because Jairus’ daughter had already died. Then Jesus told Jairus, “Do not be afraid, only have faith and she will be saved.” These are the words of comfort. Jairus’ faith in life was greatly strengthened. His daughter was eventually raised from the dead by Jesus.
Lo Wai Yeung suffered from cerebral palsy since birth. If not for his mother’s love and care, he would never be able to further his studies at the post-secondary level. In order to care for her son practically 24 hours a day, she quit her job. Her patience and love did not only help bring up her son, but has also encouraged many to cope with similar situations. In a press interview, Wai Cheung said that without the strength his mother gave him, he would not have lived, much less a graduate from Open University. It was his mother’s Word of Life which lives in Wai Cheung which in turn enables him to live!
“Seek God and you will live” pleaded an 8th century B.C.E. prophet Amos (Amos 5:4, 6). According to Amos, it is God’s Word and not the human word which enables people to live a rich and fulfilled life. The human word is the word of success, fame, status and wealth. But the Word of God is the Word of sharing, giving and sacrifice. God’s Word is the only genuine Word of Life.
Job was a good and just man who suffered total disaster – he lost all his children and property and was afflicted with a repulsive disease. But Job did not lose his faith in God. Indeed, he lived by the Word of God. Thus he was able to rationally sensed and emotionally felt the profound meaning of life:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked shall I return; The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21)
May we all live in God’s Word of Life forever. Through Jesus Christ we know that God’s Word is the Word of wholeness, of openness, of possibility and of strength. May we also try our best to share this Word with the people around us, our relatives, our friends and colleagues as well as the people near and afar who need to hear and experience this truly Living Word.
“Where sin increased, Grace abounded all the more.” (Romans 5:20)
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 6th April 2008 by Rev. Kwok Nai Wang. The scripture readings that day were Genesis 11:1-9 and Romans 5:12-21.
In this season of Easter, we continue to explore our faith in God. God is in the world. God is also in us. We can only find the ultimate meaning and purpose of our life in God and God alone.
One of the duties of Roman Catholic priests is to listen or to hear confessions. In fact one of the centres of the ministry of Roman Catholic priests is confession box. (The other centres are the altar and the pulpit).
In a confession box, the priests do not only listen to the confessions of their parishioners; traditionally, they would also have to pronounce the absolution: “Your sins are forgiven. Sin no more”.
Of course, the priests have to do their own confessions as well. Daily, after their confessions, they would say: “mea culpi, mea, culpi, mea maximus culpi,” or in English, “I am a sinner; I am a sinner; I am a great sinner.”
Do you know when and where did I learn the Latin words, mea culpi? I learned it from a joke some 45 years ago. Professor George Lindbeck of Yale was an observer representing the Lutheran Church of America at the II Vatican Council which was held in 1962-64. He reported to the faculty and students of the Divinity School informally from time to time. He told us how the conservative bishops and cardinals hated a ranking cardinal Bea whose views were very liberal. So when they said confession, instead of saying, mea culpi, they all said Bea culpi, Bea culpi, Bea maximus culpi or Bea is a sinner; Bea is a sinner; Bea is a great sinner.
As a matter of fact, we are all great sinners. How many of us can say that day in and day out we follow strictly Jesus’ commandment, “Love God with all your soul, with all your mind, with all your spirit and with all your strength and love your neighbours as yourself.” (Mt 22:37-39)
In the story of the adulterous woman as found in John 8:1-11, it was not so much about Jesus and the adulterous woman. It was mainly about the scribes, the Pharisees and the crowd who gathered to condemn the woman and try to stone her to death. This was what Jesus said, “Let the one among you who is guiltless be the first to throw a stone at her.” When they heard this they went away one by one, beginning with the eldest, until the last one had gone… Is this story also about us? Are we the double standard Pharisees and scribes or the crowd who is the silent majority?
Beware, Christians in the Church might be the most hypocritical bunch of people. We often point our fingers at other people and say, they are the sinners and we are the righteous. How often do we see a splinter in the eyes of other people, but never recognize there is a huge beam in our own eyes.
Traditionally, churches paid a great deal of attention to the sins of their people. In the Medieval times, the Roman Catholic Church warned its faithful about Seven mortal or human sins. They were: Pride, Envy, Wrath, Sloth, Greed, Gluttony and Lust. Because the times have changed, the Vatican just proclaimed an additional new list of sins. They include obscenely wealthy, polluting the environment, genetic modification, social injustice, drugs and drugs trafficking, abortion as well as pedophilia.
Indeed we are all sinners. We fall short of what’s demanded of us by our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ: to love God and to love our neighbours. Moral or mortal sins are merely expressions of our failure to follow Jesus’ commandment.
Sometimes I fancy it is easier to love God than to love our neighbours. My wife and I live in the top floor of a village house in Sai Kung. Not too longer ago, the floor below us decided to do rather thorough renovation. I was quite upset because in those five weeks the noise, the dust, the wastes they produced really bothered me since I work at home to prepare lectures and sermons. It was even more irritating to me because the people downstairs claimed that they are environmentalists.
At the present moment, it is the turn for the ground floor to do the renovation. They knocked down every inside wall and window as well as the flooring. It has taken them four months and the completion date is not in sight. How can I love my neighbours? It’s very difficult, isn’t it?
Traditionists believe people have to do something good to remit their sins which they have committed either willfully or inadvertently. So in the medieval times, believers spent money in their churches to purchase “indulgencies”. Because they believe their sins would invariably lead to some kind of punishment. That explains why even Jesus’ disciples had to ask this question, “Rabbi, teacher, who sinned, this blind person or his parents?” (Jn 9:2).
Does sin really lead to condemnation? If this is affirmative, the God we have faith in is not the God Almighty, Just and full of Love. Yes, as a Righteous God, God will judge. But as God is the God of love, so even in His judgment, His intention was to “save” us. In other words, God’s judgment and God’s mercy go side by side. The four Fall stories in Genesis 3-11 suffice to illustrate this. When Adam and Eve violated God’s commandment by eating the forbidden fruits in the middle of the Garden of Eden, God had to punish them by expelling them from the garden and made them toil in the land. Yet God sustained them in His own way. (Gen.3).
In the story of Cain and Abel, after Cain had killed his brother Abel, Cain became a wanderer. Yet God protected him so that he would not be killed (Gen.4). Or in the story of the Flood, God promised that “never again will all living beings be destroyed by a flood; never again will a flood destroy the earth.” (Gen 9:11). And finally in the story of the Tower of Babel, God did mix up the language of all people, and from there God scattered them all over the world,” yet it was God’s will for people to learn about the origins of the state of humans beings. (Gen.11).
“Where sin increased, God’s Grace increased much more” this was what Paul experienced and believed. This is what we can experience as well. Grace circumvents sin because sin is human; and Grace is from God. If sin is alienation from God; estrangement with nature and with people who include your loved ones; if sin is not accepting yourself, then Grace overcomes all these separations. Grace is life reunited with life.
We find it difficult to experience God’s grace because we are very materialistic. We tend to chase after whichever is tangible and immediate. Money and numbers satisfy these criteria. Listed companies are not content with their profits unless compared with the previous year it shows a double-digit increase.
This is the dream of an ordinary teenager in Hong Kong: He wants to marry a beautiful wife; have 2 lovely children; a 3-room apartment; a four-wheeled car; at least a five-figure monthly salary; and no less than six-figured in his savings account. Further, they believe God’s Grace would help him to reach those numbers! That’s why a great many people in Hong Kong decided to join the Church.
But Grace is not about numbers. Grace is not about the number of gifts you will receive. It is about relationships. God’s Grace was fully manifested when His only son Jesus Christ was being hung on a cross and the Temple curtains which separated God from human beings was torn into two, from top to bottom (Mk 15:38; Mt 27:51; Lk 23:45).
Sin is a common human attitude. When people take the attitude that my life is miserable, so I must make your life miserable as well. This is sin. When a person lives by Grace, he or she will say yes, my life is difficult, but let me make the life of other people easier.
Once, a school friend of mine brought me to visit his uncle who was terminally ill. He was suffering from liver cancer and was constantly in pain. When we were there, he was busy telling us jokes and make us laugh all the time. He said if he could make the people he encountered laugh for a few moments, that would make his day. My friend told me that he had his funeral all arranged. The music he chose was the Spring in Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. This was the person who lived in God’s Grace, and through him I experienced the same.
Many people think that Sin is the fact that people do not believe in Jesus. Grace is belief in God. But the fact is a great many Christians claim that they do believe in God and are still separated from God and from God’s gift of life.
One time, I visited an elderly parishioner. She told me she put the Bible under her pillow. She believed in this way God’s grace will remain with her through the night.
My wife told me another story. Years ago, when she and another high school principal went to Edinburgh for a visit. They stayed in the same hotel room. One night she had a bad dream. So she prayed the Lord’s Prayer aloud. My wife asked her why did she pray in English. She replied seriously, “we are in Scotland!”
Grace does not change our situation. We do not suddenly become better people (although it may be the consequence). But Grace does change our attitude. It gives us a new perspective to look at things.
When I was at Yale, I have a classmate named Joanne who was a six feet three blond (I am six-two). Because of her height, she would keep her long hair down and always wore a turtleneck. Then when she walked she always stooped. All these were attempts to hide her height.
One time, a group of friends gathered, chit-chatting. One of them suddenly said, “Joanne, you know what’s your problem. You do not want to face the fact that you are tall”. Joanne was very upset and left. Only days later, when I met her, her hair was cut. She no longer stooped when she walked. It turned out that she really was a very beautiful blonde.
Grace enables you to accept the realities of life rather than fighting them all life long.
Grace transforms your life. It turns your guilt into confidence and courage.
Before his conversion Apostles Paul was named Saul. He was a first century Jew who was a persecutor of the followers of Jesus. When he encountered the resurrected Christ near the city of Damascus, his life was completely transformed. Not only did he become an ardent follower of Christ and for Christ’s sake he was persecuted by both the Jews and the Roman authorities. He even became the greatest Christian missionary of all times. Grace has changed Paul’s fate into meaningful destiny.
After the conversion, Paul’s life was dedicated completely to Christ. This is what he said, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who live in me. This life I live now, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave his life for me.” (Gal 2:20). Since then Paul’s life was full of difficulties and tribulations. But in the midst of all this, Paul experienced God’s Grace was enough for him (II Cor 12:9).
Next time when you feel exceptionally lonely, rejected and fed up with your situation, Grace may and will strike you. When that happens do not ask any question; just accept the fact that you are accepted – accepted by God. For God’s Grace always overcomes even the seemingly impossible situations – even the deepest chasms and divisions.
May God’s Grace abound in you. Amen.
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