Meditations, Reflections, Bible Studies, and Sermons from Kowloon Union Church
KUC Is A Caring Community
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 31st August 2008 by Rev. Kwok Nai Wang. The scripture readings that day were Psalm 51 and Matthew 18:1-22.
The Christian Church was founded by Jesus Christ, based upon his new commandment, “Love one another” (Jn 13:34 and 15:12). Because of this, nobody ever challenged that a local church such as KUC is a caring community.
But to love one another or to care for each other in this highly urbanized world is not easy at all.
First, the urban centres are generally very crowded. We all live in a concrete jungle, so to speak. The lack of physical space is detrimental to our well-being. Insufficient personal space easily makes us imbalanced psychologically. When too many people live in a jammed area, they can easily fall into the pit of fierce competition. As we all know, in any type of competition, there’s bound to have people who fail. Those who fail might not cope well. Some even resort to hate.
In a secularized urban world, people tend to protect their own ego. This undoubtedly would lead to not trusting other people. Instead of a “personal” world, we now live in an impersonal world. People cannot relate to each other comfortably. Indeed this world is full of broken relationships. Two months ago, in the city of Vienna, there was a middle-aged man who hacked his sister, brother-in-law and another brother to death. He felt that he was not accepted by his family members despite the fact that they had lived together for a number of years.
A youth member described to me years ago that most young people treat their home as hotel. They are not aware of their own family responsibilities. They do not feel that family members belong together. So like living in a hotel, they come and go whenever they feel like it.
How about friendship? All of us have friends. But when we get together, do we discuss serious topics or just eat and drink and be merry.
We all have colleagues in work too. But is the colleagueship built on mutual exploitation and benefit or genuine care and support?
Indeed we are living in a highly complex world. Many of us have become indifferent to our loved ones and what’s going on around us.
On June 19, there was an item in the ABC evening news that a 49-year-old woman who went into a casualty ward in a hospital in Brooklyn, New York sat in a wheel chair, waited for her turn to be attended. After hours of waiting, she fell onto the floor and was in coma. Several security guards and nurses passed by her and did nothing. An hour later she was found dead. This piece of news shocked the whole country. Consequently six staff members of that hospital were suspended. It was very unnatural that a patient should die this way in a hospital which was set out to care for patients!
A church is a caring community. Yet often it cannot go beyond being a cozy fellowship. Especially in facing pressure from outside it can easily fall apart.
A case in point was about Jesus and his disciples. According to the Gospel of John, during the last supper together, Jesus had warned his disciples that “he who shares my table has lifted up his heel again me” (Jn 13:18, a direct quote from Ps. 41:9). This was to predict Peter’s denial of Jesus after Jesus’ arrest, and ealier Judas’ betrayal. Indeed after Jesus was arrested, his disciples were scattered: a close community fell apart.
In the course of recent history, in facing totalitarian governments, members of the Church attacked each other instead of caring for one another. They did that in order to save their own skins or worse still in order to enhance their own interests. During the endless political upheavals in the 1950s and especially the cultural revolution, there were a host of such tragic stories within the Church in the mainland of China.
1984 was a memorial year for me. Earlier in the year, I advocated that Hong Kong was an integral part of China and should go back to China in 1997. The Pro-British Pro-establishment Church leaders accused me of being a communist. Later on, when the Siro-British Joint Declaration was initialed in July, I advocated that China should give full democracy to Hong Kong. The same group of leaders who have shifted from Pro-London to Pro-Beijing attacked me by saying that I was Anti-China.
The year 1989 was another unforgetful year. On June 4, there was the military crack down on the Pro-democracy students who had gathered in Tiananmen Square. I decided to turn down all invitations by New China News Agency or NCNA, the defacto China representative in Hong Kong, about their sponsored functions, to express my displeasure over Beijing’s ruthless regime. Consequently, NCNA went around and said that I was unfriendly to China. As a result, many church leaders locally and overseas decided to distance themselves from me.
It was through these negative experiences that I learn the importance of a genuine, and not phoney caring community.
Chapter 18 of the Mathew Gospel (a good part we read this morning), was a Church Manual for the Early Church. The second part of the chapter, verses 21-34, is about Forgiveness.
One time Peter came to Jesus and asked, Lord, if my brother keeps on offending me, how many times do I have to forgive him? Seven Times. No, not 7 times, Jesus answered, but 70 times 7. Yes, 70 times 7 or limitless forgiveness is crucial in any caring community.
First, when we feel that our brothers and sisters have offended us, let us think about whether we should be mad at them or at ourselves. Two months ago, a guest preacher at the last minute wanted to re-write part of our liturgy and requested that he be the liturgist and preacher of that morning worship. I really was upset about him. But in hindsight, I think I really was upset about myself for I did not know how to handle sudden changes in my plan.
Second, I often wonder whether our unforgiveness is due to the fact that we only see a needle in other people’s eyes, but fail to see a big beam in our own eyes.
Third, if God has forgiven us as great sinners, can we not forgive our brothers and sisters who are only small sinners? I urge you to read the rest of Mt. 18, which is about the parable of the unforgiving debtor.
In a caring community, we must learn how to forgive. We must also learn how to share. A caring community is necessarily a sharing community.
The life of the earliest Christian Church, as recorded in Acts 2 and 3 was simple: “all the believers continued together in close fellowship and shared their belongings with one another. They would sell their property and possessions, and distribute the money among all, according to what each one needed.” (2:44-45). Unfortunately, all of us have been corrupted by the so-called capitalism which is synonymous with making profits.
The most valuable human-quality is sharing. In the recent earthquake in the Sichuan Province, there were millions of victims of various degrees; but there were even more people who cared and stepped in to help; and shared whatever they had. People are at their best when they decide to share with the less fortunate.
An Australian Christian named Nick Vujicic was born without the four limbs. But this did not deter him to finish his college education. Upon his graduation, he decided to share his life struggles and preach the Gospel of Hope and Possibilities.
Kristen Elliot, an American girl was discovered that there was cancer in her left leg. In no time, it was spread to her lungs. Her last wish was to share her love with hundreds of African children. Subsequently, she was able to raise sufficient money to build a school and a dozen homes for two hundred displaced children in the war-torn Darfur region.
There is an Old Chinese saying, “A nation would become stronger when it had to face grave hardship” (多難興邦). Invariably in facing difficulties people are more willing to share.
Coming back to our community at KUC, we must be open to each other and candidly share our thoughts and the problems we encounter from time to time in our life. Within a caring community we must build ourselves a primary support system: in that we help each other to stand up as a person. In Chinese 人 (ren) is a picture of a person standing with his/her own two legs up as a human being.
In the Church Manuel in Mt. 18, the Early Church was instructed to care for the weak and young. No one, however little he/she is, should be left out.
The Church is a caring community. But it should not be an enclosed community: members only care for each other inside the community. The Church if it is a truly caring community must be extended – the caring spirit must be extended outside the Church. For God cares for the whole world, not just the Church. God is the God of all humankind.
That is why the Church in nature must be Catholic or Universal.
Members of the church should have the mindset of trying to be open to all and caring for all especially the unfortunate. Martin Luther King, one of the greatest champions of Peace and Justice once said: America will not be free until every person in that land is free.
KUC is a caring community. As such, we all must learn how to care for everyone, even the ones who do not see eye to eye with us on issues of importance. We must also seek ways to extend our caring to some of the people outside this church who need our help. God commanded Adam and Eve to take care of the Garden of Eden. By implication, God also commends us to take care of this world and all that is in it. So we must pay attention not only on the suffering people but also the depleting environment – the land, the air, the water, etc. as well.
Finally as a worshipping, serving, witnessing and caring community, KUC must also be a learning community. We gather to learn: to deepen our faith and to broaden our horizons. We gather to be a sign of Peace and Hope. We gather to be equipped so that when we scatter, when we go back to our home and our work, we can continue to be God’s servants and God’s witnesses. In order to do all this, KUC must not be so concerned about holding onto the past – no matter how well we have done in the past 85 years. God’s Word does not change. But its applications do change, because we are living in an ever changing world.
Many churches sing every Sunday the Gloria Patri: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.”
A colleague of mine used to use it to joke about the mindset of the church leaders who would like to do things in the same way as yesterday, to-day and to-morrow. In other words, they do not like to engage in any kind of change. I have often been told that church people are the worst type of traditionists in the world.
I do hope KUC as a whole and you in particular is open to Reform, so that together we can become better servants of God, serving relevantly in this world.
In concluding this series of sermons on what is KUC, I would like to share with you Apostle Paul’s words, :Do not model your behaviour on the contemporary world, but let the renewing of your minds transform you, so that you may discern for yourselves what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and mature.” (Rom 12:2).
KUC Is A Witnessing Community
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 24th August 2008 by Rev. Kwok Nai Wang. The scripture readings that day were Psalm 86 and Luke 24:44-49.
The Synoptics, namely the Gospels according to Mark, Matthew and Luke all end with Jesus’ commission to his disciples. The tone was the same: Go, to the world; but the contents varied. In Mark, it was proclaiming the Gospel (16:15); in Matthew, the emphasis was on teaching: “Make disciples… teach them to observe all the commands I gave you.” (28:19); in Luke, it was to be witnesses to Christ suffering and resurrection (24:47).
The disciples of Jesus are all witnesses. In fact, in Biblical times, God’s servants were all witnesses to God’s mighty acts of love (c.f. Jn 5:39). For example, in this morning’s reading of Psalm 86, the Psalmists even when they were in times of trial, were witnessing to God’s care:
“But you, Lord God of tenderness and mercy,
slow to anger, rich in faithful love and loyalty,
turn to me and pity me.” (86:15)
John the Baptist, the forerunner or pioneer for Jesus’ ministry, the preacher who baptised Jesus, was the first Christian witness. In fact, in the Gospel of John, John the Baptist played a crucial role in introducing Jesus to the Early Church. The Synoptic Gospels emphasized on the style of this witness: John preached saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down to untie… I have baptised you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mk 1:7-8; c.f. Mt 3:11-12; Lk 3:16-18).
All this brings out the crucial element of a witness: utter humility. John spared no efforts to point to Jesus. Perhaps, this is one of the most greatest blocks or obstacles in our life. All of us are obsessed about our “greatness” in life. Even Jesus’ disciples on their way to Jerusalem – where Jesus was to be crucified – engaged in a fierce dispute about who among them was the greatest (Mk 9:33-37; Mt 18:1-5 and Lk 9:46-48).
Both Mark and Matthew recorded the story about the request of two of Jesus’ closest disciples, John and James. On the road to Jerusalem, they asked Jesus to grant them to sit one at Jesus’ right hand and the other at his left in the Kingdom of Glory. (Mk 10:35-45 and Mt 20:20-28). In a way it was a fair request. John and James had given up their job and their family to follow Jesus. It was legitimate to ask something in return.
However, Jesus did not oblige the request of John and James. But instead Jesus used the occasion to teach his disciples the real meaning of discipleship,
“You know that those who are supposed to rule over the gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mk 10:42-45; Mt 20:25-28; c.f. Lk 22:25-27). In fact earlier on, during the disciples;’ debate on who was the greatest, Jesus had taught them the same, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mk 9:35; Lk 9:48b and Mt 23:11).
James and John could not leap over the idea of being the last, being the servant or slave for God and God’s people. Could we? How often do we put ourselves before others; how often do we think of how to lord over or how to rule other people?
Over the past 42 years of ministry in the Church, I have done a great deal of training, both clergy and the laity. In fact, I was reckoned as a specialist in training. In my experience in working with groups, the most difficult part is to assist members to realize the importance of serving others in a comprehensive way. The word I coined is “De-Business”. People are far more important than “business”, programs and projects. We are here to serve people, to enable people to grow rather than to achieve certain numerical or quantitative goals.
To be a witness is to be a person of no self-importance. The main task of a witness is to point to something or someone. A witness is just like a sign-post, enabling people to find their direction.
John the Baptist introduced or showed us the true Saviour Jesus Christ. He was the preacher, and not the content of a preacher!
Coming back to Jesus’ commandment to his disciples: Be witnesses to Jesus’ suffering and resurrection. It was Jesus’ crucifixion and the resurrection which changed the course of history and the destiny of the humankind.
This is the core of the Christian witness. Jesus Christ had brought forth a new perspective of life for us. While all of us are prone to climb the social ladder, the higher the better; Jesus went down and became a dulos or a slave. We think the purpose of our life is to grab whatever we can, status, connections, power, fame, wealth… etc. Jesus renounced everything he had, even to be with God in the highest.
The fundamental problem of human beings is that we fail to be obedient to God – we do not treasure the life of our brothers and sisters. Oftentimes we do not even care about our own God-given life. Through absolute obedience to God even unto his death, Jesus was able to restore full humanness.
Jesus did not have to suffer. Nonetheless, for our sake, he suffered. This vicarious or representational suffering greatly broadens our life horizons. It gives us new meaning and new strength when facing grief and pain.
We are called to be witnesses to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. In order to be effective witnesses, we must first of all learn to Listen.
We must learn to listen to the voices of the underprileged and the disfranchized as well as the weak and the young. The two Chief Executives and most of their ministers in the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong have done rather poorly in the last 11 years mainly because both Tung Chee Hwa and Donald Tsang listened only to the voices of the rich and the powerful.
In the Biblical times, we learn that God often responded to the cries of the oppressed and the downtrodden. It is also an established fact that God often spoke through a great many people, not just the Hebrew sages in ancient times and “Church” leaders or Christians in contemporary times. I believe God speak through Buddhists, Muslims and even people who follow no living faith.
In recent months, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama has been in the limelight. This is what he said,
“Never give up
No matter what is going on
Never give up
Develop the heart
Too much energy in your country
is spent developing the mind
instead of the heart
Not just to your friends
but to everyone
Work for peace
in your heart and in the world
Work for peace
and I say again
Never give up
No matter what is happening
No matter what is going on around you
Never give up.”
Is this very enlightening?
The second lesson we have to learn is to Be Present.
The Church to-day on the whole, the Church in Hong Kong in particular are very eager to do things – to launch various types of projects: build schools, social centres, church buildings; organize evangelistic meetings, mass rallies, training courses. No, the most urgent task for the Christian Church now is not to do, but to BE.
The people who changed history in the last century were not doers; but instead they were all witnesses. Mahatma Gandhi said I would not eat another bite until India had a new day – the British rulers left and that India became a united country standing on its own feet. India got its independence in 1947. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for almost 27 years because of his belief in Anti-Apartheid in South Africa. He was set free in 1992 and elected President of the Freed South Africa in 1994. Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest for 15 years between 1989-2008 because she said NO to the military junta in Myanmar. I believe a brighter future for Myanmar will come within the next several years. Because of the courage of these witnesses –– their quest for peace and justice in their own country and beyond, they were able to gather crowds of followers and eventually bring forth a new day.
KUC is a witnessing community. We may not be able to do great things. But we can lit a candle of hope and offer a prayer for peace and justice every day. We may not be able to change much in a dark room. But we can turn on a dim light in the dark room so that people may be able to see things a bit clearer.
Solidarity through our presence is what this world desperately needs. In the 1980’s when concerned people in Hong Kong gathered to fight for direct election in the legislature beginning from 1988, many mass rallies were held in Ko Shan Theatre and Victoria Park in the course of 4 years. I was present in everyone of them and offered my support. I was told since there was no other church leader willing to participate, organizers highly treasured my “Christian presence” (as I was the General Secretary of the Hong Kong Christian Council at the time). One time I arrived a bit late, the organizer of the rally, Szeto Wah, a veteran democratic leader in the 1980s and 1990s was concerned and asked my colleagues, where was Rev. Kwok?
Shortly after the changeover of Hong Kong’s sovereignty in July 1997, the Provisional Legislative Council revoked 5 labour laws. Lee Cheuk Yan, a prominent unionist went on hunger strike at the Star Ferry Concourse. I went to sit with him and pray with him. The scene was captured by SCMP with a big photo of me standing and Lee sitting with our hands clasped. I highly treasured this picture and used it as a symbol of Christian presence in many of my classes. Fr. Franco Mella whom many of you know always made his presence felt among strikers.
It is not easy to be witnesses. Witnesses often have to pay a dear price. Gandhi lost his life. Mandella was in solitary confinement for 27 years and Suu Kyi lost her freedom for almost two decades. In fact, the word witness came from the Greek word marturia. Marturia shares the same root as martyr. Witnesses oftentimes have to decide to be martyrs. Indeed the Early Church was built with the blood of numerous martyrs.
On June 6, 1964, I was in Indianapolis, Indiana, transitting and had a wait for five hours for the next Greyhound bus to take me to a summer camp. Accidentally, I found a movie theatre showing “The Longest Day”, a movie about the counter attack of the allied forces by trying to recapture the French Normandy. It took place exactly 20 years ago on June 6, 1944 (the date itself bears significant meaning). One of the scenes I saw was when a group of marines who tried hard to land on one of the beaches. In front of them were a four-foot high barb-wired fence. Further behind were the machine gun fire from the Germans. So the first group of marines ran to the fence as quickly as possible and used their bodies to crush the barb-wire so that whoever followed them could run for cover beyond the fence faster. This personal sacrifice of the frontline marines remains a very vivid image in my mind whenever I think of a witness for Christ. A Christian witness has to pay a price so that people have a better future.
So KUC is a witnessing community. Always remember this: Individually, we are witnesses to Christ. We must try to live a Christ-like life, that is, a willingness to share our life with all those in need. Corporately, acting as a body, we lift a sign of Hope and Peace especially in this seeming hopeless world and where there is no peace.
Glory be to the Father, to the son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
KUC Is A Serving Community
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 17th August 2008 by Rev. Kwok Nai Wang. The scripture readings that day were Psalms 146 and Romans 6:15-23.
The Church is God’s chosen servant. So members of any church, that means all of you, individually and corporately are God’s servants on earth. The only purpose why we gather together is to serve God and God’s creation. It begins with worship. Worship links God and His entire creation, inclusive of all human beings. That is why worship in the sanctuary and continuing service in the world cannot be separated. That explains also why worship always ends with a commission. A commission is a dismissal. Dismissal is the end of worship in the sanctuary, but is the beginning of our service outside the sanctuary. The Roman Catholic Church labels a regular worship or a divine liturgy as a mass or missal which alluded to the act of dismissal or sending forth.
A Worship must have a liturgy. The word liturgy comes from the Greek word litourgia which is composed of two words, laos or people and ergon or work. So worship is the work of God’s people. It pertains to God’s people participating in God’s work in the living world.
KUC calls our Sunday morning activity together as Worship; but to many other churches, they would like to use the term Service. Their emphasis is on the Service of God. But as we have discussed before, God and God’s creation are inseparable; so the Service to God, the Creator, and the service to God’s creation must go hand in hand. As God always responds to the cries of human beings and by extension the natural world: as He did with Hagar and her son Ishmael (c.f. Gen 18) and the Israelites in Egypt (c.f. Ex 3). Likewise, today God has chosen us at KUC to serve Him by responding to the cries of people in Hong Kong and beyond.
People from all over the world are struck constantly by natural disasters as well as oppression, exploitation and discrimination partially due to human greed and largely due to poor governance. We all want to control and to lord over people for our own interests rather than to serve the needs of the less fortunate.
When I was growing up, Hong Kong was ruled by the British colonizers at their zenith. I noticed especially the official letters were always signed by “your obedient servant so and so”. Colonial officers no matter how high their positions considered the fact that they were the public servants. Now, no more. The arrogance of the senior ministers, though paid handsomely from the public purse no longer consider themselves as servants to the general public. They have forgotten that their major duty is to protect and enhance the welfare of the wider community, and not just the rich and the powerful.
Our Christian faith has a great deal to offer about this point. Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ was a servant to all humankind. During his brief earthly ministry of about three years, He served the people in need: He healed the sick; cast out demons; fed the hungry; taught and preached the good news to those poor in spirit. He taught his disciples, “whoever wants to be first must place himself last of all and be the servant of all” (Mk 9:35; repeated in Mk 10: 44). This was what Jesus said about himself: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served; he came to serve and to give his life to redeem many people.” (Mk 10:45).
Indeed Jesus set the example of humble service by washing his disciples’ feet (Jn 13) and served God even unto his tragic death on the cross. Apostle Paul called Jesus’ sevanthood style as Kenosis or the total giving or emptying of himself. (c.f. Phil. 2:6ff)
Finally, diakonia or Christian Service is not so much about what you do; but rather how you be. Like Jesus, it is your life style which can transform your own life and the lives of other people. As God’s servant, we must first of all learn to become like Jesus – Jesus’ servanthood lifestyle: his sacrificial love and the emptying of his life.
To learn to become Jesus, as all Christians must do: it is easier said than done. How many of us would work hard to serve but not for self-gain; i.e. to serve for the furthermost of our status, fame and influence? How many of us are willing to be “nobody” so that the lives of the less fortunate will become more livable and meaningful? or that they would become “somebody”?
In order to be true to God’s calling to be His servant or servants in the world, KUC or concretely we must learn to become a Serving Community.
First of all, I have been quite impressed about the spirit of sharing and the spirit of willingness to serve others of this church. Though a very small congregation with about 50 active members only, KUC has done a great deal over the past decades in its various pioneering ministries. Lately, it is its accommodating ministries. KUC is blessed with ample space, other than this sanctuary building, there are a two-storeyed fellowship building and the two storeyed manse. We use all this space well by housing either temporary or permanently half-a-dozen social service organizations. We are never shy of sharing our limited financial as well as human resources to people in need, both locally and overseas. Our MOF has done a tremendous job.
Now we must take an extra step. All acts of charity are vital, but they are never adequate. For however well-intentioned and precisely executed, they are only stop-gap measures at best. Churches all over the world are often labeled as first-aid stations. They treat the symptoms only but seldom the root problem. Just as a mediocre physician, he would give all kinds of antacid pills to his patients suffering from peptic ulcer; rather than make great efforts to dig into the problem of the patient, that is to find out what really is bothering the patient. What are the causes of his stomach or duodenum ulcer?
I remember very vividly some three decades ago, I was involved in a social work agency. One type of social work it did was youth work. My colleagues and I believed youth work should be more than providing young people with recreational activities. It must be developmental, aiming to develop young people’s intellectual, social and psychological potentials or capabilities. In other words, the primary goal of youth work is to develop young people into whole persons. The philosophy behind: it is important to give fish to the poor who are in need of fish. But it is far more important if they can be taught the skills of fishing as well. Modern days theory goes even one step further. Those who are concerned must also make sure that there are fishes in the river or at sea. That’s why protection of the environment and good governance are also very crucial in solving the poverty problem.
We must constantly be concerned about wider and deeper issues if we are dedicated to make this world a better place for people to live in. Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of El Salvador in the 1970s once made a comment about his experiences of advocating for the basic rights of the poor and the powerless in his own country: If I gave rice to the poor, they called me a saint; when I asked the question why so many people did not have enough rice to eat, they labeled me a communist”. Archbishop Romero was assassinated by the military regime in 1981.
It is never easy to probe into the problem behind the problems. It is because when you do that, you are rocking the boat and the rich and the powerful who want to keep the Status Quo (or keep the things as they are which are to their benefit) are not going to like it.
One of the most serious problems in Hong Kong and indeed throughout the world is the ever widening gap between the rich and the poor. The rich and the powerful always have the upper hand to use the power and influence to get what they want.
Years ago, the President and the CEO of Coca Cola had a private audience with the Pope. The Pope was ailing and was very soft spoken. All his aides saw was when the Coca Cola President said $1 billion, the Pope shook his head; when he was offered $2 billion, he still shook his head; finally $4 billion, it met with the same negative gesture.
After the Coca Cola President departed, the Pope’s aides asked why he should refuse such generous donation. The Pope embarrassingly answered: You know what was the condition for the $4 billion donation; he asked us to instruct our faithful to say “Coca Cola” instead of “Amen” at the end of their prayers!
This is the awesome power of the big corporations in the whole social process. Globalization means an easier way for them to expand or even to lord over in the whole world.
What can we do? Superficially, “nothing”. But please as responsible Christians, we should never take “doing nothing” as an answer. However difficult the situation, there is always something we can do. At least we can and we must keep vigilant on what is going on in the world and especially around us.
This is what Jesus taught his disciples in the parable of the ten wedding attendants (or literally ten virgins) in Mt 25:1-13. The moral of this parable is that we must stay awake to wait for the coming of our Lord. It can be interpreted that we must be on guard of the worldly powers for they would invariably make decisions only befitting to their interests and ambitions.
For example in 1999, the Hong Kong government requested the standing committee of the National People’s Congress to overturn HK’s Court of Final appeal (CFA) decision regarding the right of abode for mainlanders. In order to get the support of the citizens in Hong Kong, the government claimed that if it followed CFA’s decision more than 1.6 million people from the mainland would come and live in Hong Kong and together they would drain HK’s financial resources in the region of HK$ 2 billion.
Many concerned people including churches and Christians in Hong Kong at the time were sleeping and not watching, so the Beijing and HK Governments got what they wanted.
We must be vigilant and dare to speak up. Our voice no matter how weak sometimes can change the course of history.
In 1986, a group of concerned people in Hong Kong gathered together at the Furama Hotel and talked about the future of Hong Kong. A Proposal known as the 190 proposal came out at the meeting. It called for gradual introduction of direct election in HK’s legislature. It was followed by a rally in Ko Shan Theatre in November that year. This triggered off the Quest for Democracy in Hong Kong. There was no direct election in 1988 as demanded. But direct election was introduced in 1991. 18 of the 60 seats in the legislative council were returned by universal franchise.
To speak up means to expose the fallacies of the decision makers; or it means to fight for the welfare of the masses.
Oftentimes, the Church fails to speak up because they have no stand. I have been told by church leader after church leader in the past five decades that the Church should never take side. This is to avoid conflict and schism within the Church. But let us reflect deeply on Jesus’ teaching about the final judgment as recorded in Matthew 25:31-46.
In his teaching, Jesus fully identified with the have-nots: the hungry, the thirsty, the people who have no clothes, the strangers, the sick, the prisoners, etc. Jesus told his disciples that if we serve one of the least of these brothers and sisters, we are serving Jesus himself.
Apostle Paul in the New Testament lesson this morning described the fact that Christ has set us free from sin, that is, from our worldly values and personal ambitions so as to become Christians or followers of Christ i.e. to become slaves of righteousness. As slaves of righteousness, we must not be afraid to stand alongside the weak and the young, the oppressed, the exploited, the marginalized. This is Jesus’ demand on KUC, as God’s serving community on earth to-day. Let us all rise to the occasion and answer Jesus’ call! Amen.
KUC Is A Worshipping Community
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 10th August 2008 by Rev. Kwok Nai Wang. The scripture readings that day were Psalms 33 and Ephesians 3:14-21.
Two months ago, a dysfunctioned Japanese man drove his pick-up truck and romped into a store in a busy shopping area in Tokyo. Then he got out calmly, chopped a dozen innocent passer-bys, killing 7 before he was overpowered by the police. Why? Why this merciless and senseless killing? Is this only a sign or a symptom showing a total breaking down of people’s relationships?
The famous writer John Donne wrote, “Nobody is an island entire of itself: everyman is a part of the main… Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls: it tolls for thee.”
No person is an island. Indeed all of us live in a community of people. We are related to each other. We are interdependent: we depend on one another. Further as Christians, we believe we are all God’s children. We are the keepers of our brothers and sisters. We should care for one another.
Even our God, the God of history and the God of the universe is never alone. According to Psalm 8:5 and Hebrews 2:7, God is always in communion with His court of angels. In the Creation stories, we read, God said, “…and now we will make human beings…” (Gen 1:26) and in the story of the Tower of Babel, God said, “let us go down and mix…” (Gen 11:7).
In fact, in Hebrew, the word God or “Elohim” is always in plural form. It signifies above all God’s fullness. God as the Creator is always in community with His creation.
In the Biblical tradition, everybody lived and worked in community, the Judges, the Priests, the Prophets, the Psalmists, later the rabbis, etc. This tradition continued in the New Testament Times. Jesus’ disciples turned apostles, the early Church as a community of the faithful… The famous “we” passage found in Acts 16:10 to 20:15 is a good example. Because of the collective efforts, the Christian Church was able to develop full-speed.
Togetherness is key to any organization, KUC included. There is a Chinese saying, when two persons have the same heart, it can cut gold.
To-day corporate power has taken over from individual maneuvers, however powerful the latter may be. The globalization process is tightly controlled by big corporations. Many non-governmental organizations or NGOs want to fight the dominance of these big corporations and their allies, governmental regimes. Yet it has not been very successful. One of the main reasons is that leaders of these NGOs are liberals in the worse sense. Most of them fall into the dungeons of individualism. They treasure individual rights and freedom rather than the common welfare.
I watched some of the final games of the 2007-2008 NBA series of basketball games. The teams from the Western Conference were full of famous stars, but in the end the Celtics of Boston from the Eastern conference won the overall champions. They won Los Angeles’ Lakers by four games to two. In the final game, the team work of the Celtics was most impressive. They won by 40 points. United we stand, divided we fall. Lakers suffered the loss of one of the worst games because it was divided. The team spirit was just not present in that crucial game.
To-day human beings are in quandary. We say the younger generation exists without purpose and direction. But are we not in the same state?
Almost a year ago, David Cameroon, the British Conservative Party leader said that the British Society is broken. It needs to be repaired. But he has yet to offer some tenable solutions. So in the past Easter, Cambridge University invited Roland Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York to offer their view points. According to these two important Christian leaders, the problems the Britishers face to-day cannot be solved politically. They have to look for religious solutions. Indeed the most deep-seeded problem we have to-day is the fact that we are no longer related, related to our friends, colleagues and families. We are not even related to ourselves. All this happens because we are alienated from God, our ground or reason of existence.
Margaret Thatcher, the British Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, years ago made this comment: If people only care for their rights and not their responsibilities, no society (or community) is possible. A society is possible only if people decide to share with the less fortunate.
I think this is good, but not radical enough. People must turn their focus on people to the focus once again on God. We must repent, that is, turn back to God. That’s why the activity of worship is so very vital. In worship, we turn our full and undivided attention to God. In worship, we seek to be reunited with God.
What then is Christian worship?
In Christian worship, we express together our faith in and our reliance on God. In worship we are reminded that we are humans. We are reminded of our frailty turned arrogance – that we do not want to be God’s creation. We have cut-off our relationship with God because of our pride. We forget what Apostle Paul once said, “it is in God we live, move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28). It is in worship that once again we are related to God, that we find the purpose and meaning” in our life.
Yet, the God we have faith in is not a concept for theologians to investigate. God is not a Supreme Being high above us and only intervenes – blesses or curses – us in His Whims. The God we believe in is the God who acts in history as well as in our midst. That explains why in every worship, no matter which church tradition, there are three basic elements: confession, praise and offering. This is to reflect on God’s continuing creating, redeeming and sustaining activities in this world.
The Hebrew Bible teaches us that the God we worship is the God of history. That is why the Hebrew people insist that God is the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob (Ex. 3:15) This God of our forefathers is the same God who calls us into meaningful existence. Indeed from page one to the very last page of our Bible, it asserts that God is the God who acts and intervenes. The very first verse of the our Bible reads, “when God began creating heaven and earth…”. (Gen 1:1). The very last verse of the Bible, i.e. Revelation 21:13 reads, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Indeed God embraces all human history and each and everyone of us as well.
At the same time, every page in the Bible is about worship, the relationship between God and people.
In the call of Prophet Isaiah as recorded in Isaiah chapter 6: first, the angels in heaven praised God saying,
“Holy, Holy, Holy!
The Lord Almighty is Holy!
His Glory fills the world!” (6:3)
Isaiah then confessed:
“Woe to me! I am lost,
for I am a man of unclean lips,
and I live among a people of unclean lips,
and my eyes have seen the King Almighty.” (6:5)
This is Confession.
“Look, this has touched your lips,
your guilt has been removed
and your sin forgiven.” (6:7)
This is God’s Absolution or forgiveness of sins.
The Lord then said,
“Who shall I send? Who will go for us?”
“Here am I, send me.” (6:8)
This is offering; and it is to be followed by a lengthy Commission:
“Go say to the people… and change their ways and be healed.” (vs. 9-10)
The Christian worship pattern is found on every episode or story in both we Old and the New Testaments. Let us illustrate this with a healing story of Jesus as recorded in chapter 5 of the Gospel according to John. This story is about how Jesus healed a man who had been ill for 38 years.
When asked by Jesus whether he wanted to get well, he answered, “Sir I have no one to put me in the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am trying to get in, somebody else gets there first.” This is the confession – confessing the state of the man’s being.
Then Jesus’ Word came to the man: “Get up, pick up your mat and walk.”
The man then responded: “Immediately, the man got well, he picked up his mat and started walking.”
Yes, in worship we rebuild our relationship with God through dialogue with God.
In the Act of Confession: God calls us to turn back to Him. We confess to God our alienated state of existence. God then absolves us.
In the Act of Praise: we praise and thank God. God’s Word comes to us. We acknowledge once again that He is our God.
In the Act of offering: God demands us to care for His whole creation. We rededicate ourselves again for God’s service. This follows with God’s final commission to us.
Worship is To God. In worship we give our full and undivided attention to God. As Prophet Hosea observed, “God is God, not man, the Holy One in our midst” (11:7). So in worship, our mood must be utter serious, solemn, respectful and reverend.
A rather casual and informal atmosphere has no place in worship! Over the past two years, I notice when we begin our worship at KUC, the pews are usually fairly empty. Half of the congregation members tend to arrive late. I often wonder if we go for a job interview, can we afford to arrive late? Worship is the most important activity in our life. Let us decide to arrive at 10:25 and use the five precious minutes to prepare our minds and our hearts to worship God.
Oftentimes, we come to worship God with our own agenda: to hear a good sermon, to meet our friends, to seek for spiritual comfort… This is all wrong. Worship is for God. It is never for ourselves, for our own benefits, according to our likes or dislikes. Worship is for God’s glory. Hundred of years, in ancient times, magnificent psalms, like the one we read this morning; in medieval times, Gregorian chants; and in modern times, different types of hymns were sung in beautiful churches and grand cathedrals. This is the traditional way to glorify God.
Yet God is not only the God within the four walls of any kind of holy places. God is the God of the whole universe. Worshipping God or magnify God’s name in the entire world is just as if not even more important.
To glorify God ultimately means to let people in all corners of the world know that God is our God and we are God’s people.
Kowloon Union Church, just as any church in a locality, must be foremost a worshipping community.
Years back, when a student asked we what is the most important activity of a Christian? I answered, it is to participate fully and faithfully in the Sunday worship of his church. I even quote a famous verse from the Psalm, “I was glad when they said to me, Let us go the Lord’s House.” (122:1)
Since, I have matured and changed quite a bit. Yes, the most crucial task for any church is still to worship God; but the major reason is not for personal joy or gratification; rather it is to preserve or even to enhance humanness. I believe human beings are a lot poorer when they break away from God, the ultimate reality or the ground or reason of their existence. They may then easily become inhuman and cast others in becoming sub-human. Thus, to glorify God is to make human beings more human.
So next time you come to worship, please take it most seriously and respectfully. In a genuine sense, you are representing the whole humankind to worship God, to glorify God, that is to strengthen the God-people relationship.
“Let the whole earth fear the Lord, let all who dwell in the world revere him; for the moment he spoke, it was so, no sooner had he commanded, than there it stood.” (Ps 33:8-9)
KUC is God’s Church
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 3rd August 2008 by Rev. Kwok Nai Wang. The scripture readings that day were Psalms 148 and I Corinthians 1:1-9.
One of the most serious problems of the Church to-day is that its members on the whole fall victims of their narrow and inadequate self-understanding of who they are as a body. In other words, we fail to comprehend on what is the Christian Church.
To the general public, the Christian Church is a religious organization, just like the Buddhist Association or the Islamic Society, and which does good things such as providing welfare for the needy and good education for their children. It also teaches people to be kind to each other.
For Christians, the Church probably means the church they attend. Other than that, Christians coming from different backgrounds have different ideas. For a Roman Catholic, the Church may mean an elegant building where the mass is celebrated; for an Anglican, a parish church (a church serving in a hunk of geography); for a Congregationist, a Christian organization; and for a Baptist, a Christian family, etc.
When Christians are asked why they go to church, they usually give the following answers: for spiritual comfort; for guidance; to hear a good sermon; to sing and to pray; or to meet friends or members of their extended families; etc. A good many Christians go to church because for better or worse it has become a habit for them.
All these are honest answers. But at the same time, they reflect the fact that most people, Christians included, do not understand what the Church is all about. From the answers cited above, we can deduce that people’s ideas of the Church is too narrow: that the church is “my church”, and that the church does good to me. It is also too shallow: that the church has been cut off from its roots. In brief, they lack an understanding that the church is both universal and historical.
In the winter of 1970, I undertook an exposure tour of four weeks in the West side of Chicago where the Ecumenical Institute had launched a community re-development project.
Basically this project attempted to work with the residents who were mostly black people and who lived in the 10-city blocks near the West Congress Parkway, not too far away from down-town Chicago, It was a notorious ghetto in the City of Chicago. Most housing and accomodations were in shambles. The streets were full of street sleepers, alcoholics and drug-addicts. The crime rate was rampant; the school drop-out rate very high. It was discovered that the problem behind all these problems was that most of the residents had a “victim image”. Their self-image was very low. Because of this low self-esteem, practically all felt that they had no hope in the future. So they gave up.
This may be the root problem of the Church including all local churches to-day. We have an inadequate image of the Church. Let me paraphrase Proverbs 29:18, “where there is no vision of the Church, the members go asunder”. This indeed is the case where so many churches to-day have fallen into the dungeons of endless internal conflicts and fights. So the most urgent task of the Church, KUC included, is to re-construct an ecclesiology or an idea of the Church, which is broad enough, relevant and rooted in history.
First, let us start with the word “Church” itself. The word Church comes from the Latin-German word “Kirche” which in turn comes from the Greek word “Kuriakos” or “kuriakon” which literally means that which belongs to the Lord (Kurios). So the Church belongs to God. It is God’s Church. It never is and never should be our own church. Neither is it purely a human institution.
In the whole Biblical tradition, God calls His people to be His servants, to serve Him and His entire creation. For instance, God chose Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt to be moded later as God’s chosen people, to be a light to all nations and to bring justice to all nations (Is 42:6; 49:6 etc.). God chose the Levites to serve the altar (or the centre of worship) (Leviticus). God chose David and the kings to serve God’s Law and commandments (I Kings 11:34). God chose prophets to serve God’s Word (hence, the classical prophets in the Old Testament often began their oracles or teachings by saying, “Thus saith the Lord” or “The Lord says…”) and so on.
This line of thinking is consistent in the New Testament as well. In the New Testament reading this morning, Paul clearly indicated that not only himself, but the Christians at Corinth, were called by God to be God’s partners in this world.
So the Church is not only God’s Church, but especially it is God’s servant in this world.
When I first arrived, I was told that KUC is just like a family: members are very closed to one another. This is fine, as a start. We must go to a higher level. From homo-centric (or human centred) to theo-centric (or God centred). For KUC, just as all the local churches, belongs to God. KUC is a servant of God in Hong Kong and beyond.
God’s Church consists of all people who have faith in God. God is not only my God or your God. As what the Psalm we read this morning described God is the God of the oikoumene (or the whole inhibited earth).
Given its small size, KUC is very likely the most international church on earth. Our Sunday worshippers come from at least a dozen nationalities. It is itself a world in miniature. It is an ideal place where we can learn to be tolerant, inclusive and embracing.
God is not only the God of the whole world, He is the God of all history as well. This is why in the Hebrew or Jewish thinking, “God is the God of their ancestors, of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob” (Ex 3:15) so very important.
KUC is a church of some history. It was founded some 85 years ago in 1923 by a British missionary called Horace Johnston. Rev. Johnston was from the London Missionary Society (or LMS), one of the earliest missionary societies founded two centuries ago. LMS was congregational in background. Though KUC has become an interdenomitional church, its church order or polity is still pretty much congregational based. But let us not forget that God’s Church or to be precise the Church of Jesus Christ had a history of 2,000 years. We owe a great deal to Jesus’ disciples who founded the Jerusalem Church. Let us not forget, but instead embrace the tremendous gifts the Byzantine Church and the Latin Church bequeathed to us through the Orthodox Church as well as the Roman Catholic Church.
When I first arrived almost two years ago, one or two core members often told me not to change things, warning me that this was what KUC had been doing. I often wonder whether though this was only the way they were accustomed to do things? Who can interpret the best of KUC’s tradition? How is all this in line with the tradition of the Reformers or the early Protestants of the 16th century?
It is only human that we make all efforts to preserve our cozy fellowship. It is because however imperfect, it gives us a sense of security. But from the Bible and from the history of the Church, we know that it is always God’s will to call His people to turn things inside out. God calls His people to go out to His world and serve Him there, that is to serve His people in need. So an inward-looking church is never God’s Church. God’s Church is always outward looking.
Soon, KUC’s Council and Trustees will look seriously in reviewing the future direction of KUC. Concretely, the question is: what is the mission of KUC? For the past months, I have cautioned myself repeatedly and our ministerial group that we may want to go to a higher level or to dig deeper and ask the question what is God’s mission or the Missio Dei in the world to-day? As God’s Church, we do not have “our” mission. The mission of the Church is always God’s mission. As we read from Apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthians this morning, the Church is God’s partner. The Church should never be concerned to do its own thing. But instead, it must seek God’s will and fully participate in it.
Daily, we are bombarded with information that this world is in dire need. Just in the month of May, there was Typhoon Nargis which hit Myanmar; an earthquake measuring 8 in the Richter Scale in Central China; a dozen powerful tornadoes wiped through many towns in Central United States of America… These were natural disasters. But there are millions of people who also suffer as a result of poor governance.
God demands us to try our best to respond to all these human sufferings. We at KUC must stop all kinds of squabbles and bickering over trivial things and be together and answer God’s call.
As God’s Church, and as God’s servants in the world, every church must be reformed constantly. True to the reformed tradition, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) founded in 1983 (by a merger of the two major Presbyterian Churches in America – one in the North and the other in the South) adopted this as their motto: ecclesia reformata semper reformanda or in English the Church reformed, ever reforming. The Church needs to be renewed constantly if it wants to be a co-worker of God in this world.
The world is ever changing rapidly. The Church of yesterday cannot meet the challenges of the world to-day. A Church which does not want to change cannot serve the world relevantly.
From 1870 to 1970, many churches in Canada supported by the government financially had forcibly removed around 150,000 native children from their homes and put them in boarding schools far away. The aim was to try to eventually integrate the native Indians into the white “civilized” Canadian communities.
For the past 20 to 30 years, more and more information came to light. These children were often abused mentally, physically and sexually. Conditions in many of these boarding schools were so terrible that as many as half of the children died of tuberculosis. One leading Canadian academic labelled this as a cultural genocide. Consequently, the Canadian government had to pay HK$15 billion as a settlement with 90,000 school survivors in May 2006 which ended years of lawsuits. In the end of May this year, a truth and reconciliation commission has started to travel across the country and hold hearings on the abuses. Hopefully it will take five years to complete its work.
Churches in the past 2,000 years have committed many serious errors or even crimes against humanity. We must be vigilant about the mistakes the churches have made and are making. But the most devastating mistake churches throughout the centuries have committed was that they have made God’s Church to be their church. Instead of a church serving the world, they have made it to serve their own interests. Is this also the same mistake we have fallen into?
As a church, we must constantly ask for God’s forgiveness. We must all turn back to God: let KUC be truly God’s Church again!
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