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).