A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 25th May 2008 by Ms. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Isaiah 49:8-16 and Mathew 6:14-24.
Today is Asia Sunday as designated by the Hong Kong Christian Council. Asia Sunday was originally set up in 1974, for churches and ecumenical partners around the world to join with the Christian Conference of Asia to express their solidarity with the churches and the people of Asia in their struggles and hopes.
In May we have been closely connected with the struggles of people in two Asian countries, Burma and China who were seriously hit by the worst Cyclone Nargis and the earthquake in Sichuan Province. The huge loss of life, missing, homes and houses destroyed are horrifying and disheartening.
In the past two weeks after the Sichuan earthquake on 12 May, the news on this terrible disaster were covered in newspapers and electronic media everyday. There are three episodes that I would like to share with you this morning.
The first one is about a man named, Chan Kin, 26 years old. He was rescued after 73 hours. While the relief aid workers were trying to release him from the debris, he kept on speaking to a reporter. He shared that he would not give up his life and he would continue to struggle for the sake of his pregnant wife and the unborn baby. He fought for his life for the sake of his loved one. Eventually he was taken out from the collapsed concrete walls. Unfortunately, after 10 minutes he fell unconscious and passed away. The reporter and the whole rescue team who had tried for five hours with every effort to save his life were very upset and all cried for his death.
The second story is about a 60-years old woman. She survived for 7 days, the lower part of her body was buried and stuck between two big stones. According to the news report, it was the rain that provided the needed water for her and two dogs accompanied her. The dogs used their tongues to clean her face, kept her awake and barked for help.
The third story is about two babies, both survived after the earthquake because they were under their mothers’ protection. Both of their mothers sacrificed their lives in return for the lives of their children. One of the babies was found with her mouth still suckling her mother’s breast. The mother was breast- feeding her when the earthquake occurred. Another baby boy was given a text message by his mother, saying to him, “son, if you stay alive, you must remember that I love you.”
Whenever there are serious natural disasters that cause so much human sufferings, it is natural for us human beings to ask ‘why’? My elder sister asked me once why did the earthquake happen to China and why do the Chinese people suffer so much. Have our people committed sins and God is punishing us? To be honest, I don’t have a ready answer for such a difficult question.
Instead of looking for answers to the question ‘why’, I tried to find out what we can learn from the disasters and God’s grace upon humanity. Human beings and the whole world are the holy creation of our God. As in Genesis 1, God creates everything that is good in his eyes.
Life is a mystery. It is often beyond human comprehension. It is also not by our own efforts that can make us to breathe a bit longer. From the life of Chan Kin, I can see while we have breath, we live out the best of life. Although Mr. Chan died eventually, his desire for life, his spirit of never giving up and pure love for his dear ones was admirable. He had touched many human hearts and gave encouragement to many. His earthly life was finished and yet he was saved by his conviction to struggle for life for the sake of his loved one. It was a life-giving witness. Mr. Chan has somehow lived out the meaning of life by giving hope to other people who are still struggling at the edge of life and death.
For the 60 years old lady, her survival is a miracle that demonstrates our Lord is God of mystery. Life is a mystery. In the critical moment of life and death struggle, the lady is given rain drop and two dogs to save her life. God is God and we are creatures. In front of the great, great holy other, we are nothing. What we can do is to lead a life with respect to life and humbly following Jesus Christ our Lord. Jesus teaches his disciples to set their heart to God’s kingdom. Therefore, for no matter what our life situation is, let us live out the best potentials that God has given to us. In addition, it is important to do our best for God, with faith, trusting that God is our holy creator, Father of Jesus who knows our needs and will provide everything we need for us.
In Isaiah 49: 15, it says, “can a woman forget her baby at the breast, feel no pity for the child she has borne? God as our mother gives birth and nurtures us, is always there to give us unfailing and steadfast love. God’s love to her children was not only recorded in the history of the Israelite, but even today, in the horrifying earthquake, the dead mothers tell us once again how God does not forsake her children. In addition, our Lord is God of history and God of humanity. She will never leave us alone.
The horrifying earthquake does not scare people away to strive for self-interest. Instead, this worst disaster since the establishment of the communist government in 1949 has successfully united the hearts of the people in China and Hong Kong, to work together to serve the survivors by taking different initiatives to save and rebuild lives as well as the aftermath tasks. There is also analysis that the earthquake has given a fertile soil for building up a civil society in China, where the citizens themselves have taken strong initiative and collective efforts to achieve social goals for people’s benefits. Setting up of homes to take care of the orphans is one of those initiatives I have heard from the media. People are mobilizing themselves to have different kinds of citizens’ participation in society. There is also a rise of underground non-government organizations providing effective services for the community.
For the central government, they are able to adopt an open and highly transparent approach for media to report about the disasters and relief aids works. In addition, Premier Wen Jiabao went to the disaster region within five hours immediately after the earthquake has occurred. His direct and active participation in the planning and coordinating the life saving actions had won national and international applause for the government’s humanitarian concern for her people. The national mourning day on the 19th of May, marked a new page of China for a government who takes the lives of ordinary people seriously. The national mourning for the earthquake victims and concerted efforts in solidarity with those who suffer in pain, however, should not be an opportunity to arouse ‘patriotic sentiment’ or ‘nationalism’, but a genuine respect of human dignity and concern for human life.
Thousands upon thousands of death and suffering aroused immense compassion and this love of people towards other human kind is a beautiful manifestation of human solidarity. People put aside their differences and self-interest, joining hand in hand with a willing heart to give and share what they have. This is a touching and sacred moment.
While the earthquake in China gets much concern and widespread fund raising actions in the community of Hong Kong, we have to pay attention to the situation in Burma. The suffering and desperation of the Burmese people’s are no less than that of the Chinese people. In yesterday’s South China Morning Post (May 24, 2008), it reported that the effects of Cyclone Nargis are continuing to intensify: the official says 134,000 people are dead or missing while aid agencies estimate that the number of dead could be even far higher. A million people are currently homeless and some 2.5 million people are at risk of starvation and disease. The situation in Burma and the suffering of the people are getting worst because of the brutal government who does not care for the people but their own power and position.
The junta government does not fully allow the international emergency aids to go into the country. Visa to grant foreign aids experts access to the country are still restricted. It thus impedes the full operation of life saving and reducing hardship for the people.
While we appreciate the Chinese government for their immediate emergency relief for her own people, we should expect her to do more for people of other nationality who are also suffering from natural disaster and ‘man-made’ mistakes of the Junta military rule in Burma. It is the responsibility of a country that is one of the members in the international community.
In Matthew 6: 33 (New Jerusalem Bible), Jesus asks the disciples to set their hearts to his kingdom and saving justice. When we witness that in Burma there is such an inhumane and unjust treatment of the Burmese people, how can we keep silent? Therefore we as disciples of Christ, should get involved in this justice issue, by requesting the Chinese government to respond proactively to reduce the plight of the Burmest people and address their needs and rights. China, as a member of the Security Council of the United Nation, should support the international intervention efforts by exerting pressure upon the Burmese military government to open up the country for emergency international aids and emergency relief. It is important to let the affected victims to get access to all basic necessities of food, water, medicine and shelter as soon as possible. Equally important is the request of setting up a people oriented democratic government, to safe guard the human and civil rights of the people. We should be aware that a government is set up for serving people and not for their own power and position. Human rights are a concern in Jesus’ kingdom as he treasures the life and dignity of each person. Solidarity with people who suffer is across nationalities and national bounders because people are all equal and one in God’s creation and salvation.
When natural disasters occurred, people with the holy image and hearts of God have launched different humanitarian assistance. It is a demonstration of God’s compassion and love richly fall upon to her people, Christians and non-Christians. In the old lady’s case mentioned earlier, even animals were involved in the life saving acts. The aftermath reconstruction is a long journey for both countries, continue prayers and concrete support are needed by people from all parts of the world.
As Jesus’ followers, our Lord Jesus Christ has a noble demand from us today for setting our hearts to his kingdom and saving justice. In Jesus’ life of ministry, he has demonstrated his solidarity with the poor, the disadvantaged and marginalized. Are you willing to response to God’s calling today and follow the way that Jesus had done?
God, may you bless and keep all creatures in the world that are precious to you. Give us wisdom to understand your good deeds and grace. God, may your gracious love comfort the broken hearts. God, we ask for strength and grant us the courage to respond to your calling and to live out your commandment of loving you, ourselves and our neighbors in needs. Amen.