A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 14th September 2008 by Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Isaiah 6:6-10 and John 21:15-19.
Holy God, may your Holy Spirit touch our hearts, guide us to your truth, and help us to understand your will. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
I have been with KUC for almost a year and a half. Today an EGM will be held after the Service to discuss and vote on the recommendation of the Council to ordain and appoint me as KUC’s minister.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to share with you my faith journey and my call to ministry especially my caling to serve God at KUC.
My encounters with God through life struggles and crisis
In looking back on my faith journey, my first conscious encounter with God was at a time when I was in troubles and facing crisis in life. I remembered the days when I was struggling with my future. I was at a transition stage whether I should go to work or continue to study. Eventually I was admitted to the Social Work Program in the Baptist University. I was happy with this opportunity as social work was my favorite subject. I thought God had answered my prayer for further study. I realized that God is the one who guides my way in life.
I was converted to Christianity in my first year in the Baptist University. The words of God in Roman 5:8 in particular moved me. “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” Christ’s sacrifice and his forgiving love touched my heart deeply. I am committed to take Jesus Christ as my savior and I leave my life to follow God’s will, and learn to lead a life like Christ.
My training and work experience in social work have reinforced my Christian faith of serving others as God is not only my personal God and yet he is a God of love that He loves all people in the world that he creates. God is a God of justice that he requires his people to serve him to do justice and love kindness (Micah 6:8) From Jesus’ ministry, I have a clear understanding and vision that Christians are called to serve the marginalized and the weak as demanded by Jesus to serve the least, the little one in society. (Mark 5: 25-34; Luke 17:11-19; Matthew 25: 31-46)
My other life transition occurred when I was working in the Polytechnic University as a social work teacher around the year 2000. After working in the Polytechnic University for several years and when I was at my age of mid- thirties, I felt a kind of mid-life crisis. In that couple of years, I kept on asking myself what should I do for the rest of my life? Shall I continue to work in the academia or make a big change? If I stayed an academic the very sensible move was to go for a doctorate degree to pursue my career in academic. But I was moved otherwise, and decided to resign and then take a 3 year full time course. My decision to do a full time course in theology was also related to the service in my mother church at that time. By that time the pastor of the church had left and we had no ordained pastor serving full time in the congregation. I was the deacon of the church and had to take up quite a number of church services and the role of pastoral care at that time. Therefore, I thought my training in theology and the bible will equip me to serve God better being a lay minister anyway even though I did not have a definite call for a full time ministry in church, I thank God for preparing for me a secured financial support from my husband and his steadfast love and patience to my crazy move in life. A move, from a human point of view, would bring me nothing but the loss of a decent job and an uncertain future.
I have no regret for such a choice in life. I enjoyed and learnt a lot from the theological courses. The theological training in Chung Chi Divinity School helped me to deepen my faith, and facilitated me to have greater understanding of ministries, Christian missions and pastoral theology and so on. The courses have also broadened my horizon of different traditions in Christianity and church history. The critical approach with solid teaching of theological and biblical knowledge has helped me to develop a strong base to reflect on life and faith, with an open and liberal attitude. In addition, the liberal and ecumenical tradition of the Chung Chi Divinity School has prepared me to serve in a community with a diverse background.
My calling to ministry
In this session, I would like to share about how I am called by God to his ministry.
After the first year of training at Chung Chi, I began consciously praying for my future ministry after graduation. My call to ministry is revealed through the words of God.
- Gospel John is one of those appeared many times. (John 10:10-18) Jesus is our good shepherd. I was asked to respond to God’s invitation to nurture his sheep, both inside and outside the fold, to bring them to hear the voice of God---to bring people to reconnect with God.
- (John 21:15-17) that you read this morning. I was challenged by God if I love him then go to feed his sheep.
- God through his words talked to me and challenged me to empty myself and follow God in His will to take up God’s mission as Jesus did. The scripture from John 21:18-19 has time and again turned up to me; “Very truly, I tell you, when you were young, you used to fasten your belt and to go whenever you wished. But when you’re grown you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” It was a great challenge to me indeed, to empty myself and to be absolutely obedient to God’s calling. After a hard struggle, I surrendered at the end and am willing to let go of my ego. Jesus’ utter obedience to God and eventually died on the cross to fulfill God’s will is such a strong image to test my commitment and willingness. With all these spiritual encounters, I dare to start my ministry in the church.
Why did I choose KUC for my service to God?
The calling of my ministry is related to serving people who are marginalized and vulnerable. The Gospel Luke 4:18 is my guide to serve, like Jesus Christ’s vision and mission. The direction of my ministry is thus to bring the good news to the poor, proclaim the release of the captives, recovery of the blind, and to let the oppressed go free. KUC has a good track record in concerning for social justice and people at the margins who are socially and economically deprived. Well, I thought it is my cup of tea.
I like the ecumenical tradition of KUC. The congregation is great to embrace diversity and differences. Members are from different walks of lives and different denominations. This has demonstrated her capacity to embrace diversities and inclusiveness. The motto of KUC “Where all are one” is very appealing to me as I appreciate ‘unity in diversity’. This is the essence of our faith ‘we are one body in Christ and yet with many members’. Furthermore, KUC is a church with an open and liberal character. There are a lot of potentials to work out different ministries to actualize the mission of God
In a community with people coming from such a diverse background, ‘where all are one’ is however a great challenge, it is easier said than done. Therefore, this motto is not a slogan but a direction for the congregation to practice with utter humility and patience to take Jesus as the center instead ourselves. This is a long spiritual journey we need to struggle and learn from one another with a loving heart and forgiving spirit from God.
Envisioning of ministries at KUC
Last Sunday, Rev. Kwok in his sermon had shared with us the meaning and significance of minister in general and ordained minister in particular. I am very much encouraged by the message. A minister is a servant of God. One of things that I learnt from Rev. Kwok is his teaching and life witness of being a faithful servant of God, to exercise the leadership in Jesus’ servant-hood style that is to empty ourselves and always seeking the will of God.
The chief responsibility of the ordained ministry is to assemble and build up the body of Christ by proclaiming and teaching the Word of God, by celebrating the sacraments, and by guiding the life of the community in its worship, its mission and its caring ministry. Base on the contemporary context of KUC, I would like to emphasize the following for my ministries at KUC.
1) The mission for the minister is to maintain the international and ecumenical tradition, to keep her as an open and inclusive community to welcome all people from diverse socio-cultural background, and to nurture the congregation to be engaged in God’s mission of peace and justice through building up a united body in Christ. I trust that Kowloon Union Church by building up as a worshipping and caring community, is able to perform a unique role in Hong Kong to witness God.
Besides, I will take it as the role of the minister to bring out the best potentials and gifts of each individual to serve each other in the congregation, and serve God in the world. Steps to concretize the visions of KUC should be shared with the whole congregation in general and the church leaders (the lay ministers) in particular.
In addition, to keep KUC in contact and involved with the ecumenical organizations local and international such as the World Council of Church, Christian Conference of Asia and the HK Christian Council are needed.
2) In a world of chaos and troubles, both individuals and the world suffer from different forms of brokenness. To understand and share life with people on individual and group level by providing pastoral care, so as to restore the brokenness and to renew life in Christ, to me is also a prime role as the minister in KUC. Jesus came to give life, an abundant life. As a minister, I am committed to nurture people, to bring the possibility of regaining a dignified life of wholeness. A life that brings reconciliation of relationship at different levels—with God, with others and with ourselves.(John 10:10; 2 Cor 5:16-20)
There are specific roles as an ordained minister to preach, teach, execute sacrament, and heal the wounded in following Jesus’ ministries. To me, ministries are not only about doing but being. Being God’s servant like Jesus, being empowered by God’s compassion to love and forgive. Only then would all ministries be able to fulfill the service of God to bring forth love and hope, peace and justice.
KUC is undergoing a transitional and critical moment. With FAITH, I trust that God will guide and grant those who obey his will the necessary strength and wisdom. God will never leave his people alone. With HOPE, we will join hands, in full communion with Jesus Christ to serve the church and engage in God’s mission in this world with the same heart, mind and soul through the Holy Spirit. With LOVE, we are being embraced by the mercy and grace of God, will be empowered and enlightened to love God, to love our neighbour as ourselves. (Luke 10:25-28)
Today is the Mid Autumn Festival. 19 years ago, it was on this day I left HK for Britain for further study. It opened a new page to my life for the new experience and exposure in a foreign land that I had never been. Today, it is another significant moment that may change the course of my life. This moment belongs not only to me but to you all, the congregation as a whole, as we belong to the same body in Christ.
I am ready to respond to Jesus Christ’s calling to be his servant to bear fruit, the fruit that will last. (John 15:16). How about you my friends?
Dear God, we thank you for your sacrificing and forgiving love. Through Jesus Christ our lives are saved and renewed. God, have mercy on us and help us to be united in our Lord Jesus Christ, empower us to love, to learn, to grow and to serve together in your Church. Bless us Lord to live a life of love, peace, joy and hope. May your Kingdom come and your name be glorified. Amen.
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 7th September 2008 by Rev. Kwok Nai Wang. The scripture readings that day were Isaiah 50:4-9 and I Corinthians 4:1-5.
As KUC is pondering to ordain our own minister, I would like very much to share with you the idea of the Christian ministry.
The church reformers of the 16th Century (KUC belongs to this tradition), advocated two important ideas: (i) The Absolute Sovereignty of God and (ii) Priesthood of all believers.
I have preached on the Absolute Sovereignty of God many times before. This morning I would like to have all of us to reflect on idea of: “Priesthood of all believers”.
Throughout the Medieval Times in Europe which lasted for more than a thousand years, from around 500-1500, people from within and outside the Church considered that the Church was synonymous with the hierarchy: the bishops and their priests. Indeed, the bishops were so powerful that they did not only dominate the ecclesiastical affairs, but also the socio-political affairs in most of Europe as well.
At the Zenith of the authority of the church hierarchy, it was epitomized by the doctrine of Papal Infallibility. Already in the times of Thomas Aquinas around the 14th Century, this doctrine took its roots. Though Papal Infallibility was only officially formalized and promulgated as a doctrine much later in 1870.
Church Reformers of the 16th Century as represented by Martin Luther, Huldreich Zwingli, John Calvin… protested (that is why all the churches which broke away from the Roman Catholic Church are called Protestant Churches). They advocated that the Church as God’s Church was not only constituted by the bishops and their priests; all believers had a role to play. They should share the responsibility of caring for the Church together with the bishops and the priest.
“Priesthood of all believes” is not only Biblically and theologically sound, but it is essentially practical as well. In this day and age, if only a handful of priests and ministers assume the responsibility of caring for the Church and the world, the job can never be done effectively.
Why then even up to this day, churches do ordain certain members to be “ministers”?
Well, we have to go back from the beginning of the Early Church or the Church in the New Testament. The N.T. Church began with our Lord Jesus Christ. In his brief earthly life, Jesus did not only serve those in need and he did not only sacrifice his life on the Cross, he also chose and called 12 disciples. I guess the idea behind was that after Jesus physically departed from the world, his disciples would and could continue his earthly ministry. Indeed, these 12 or rather 11 disciples of Jesus (since Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus had committed suicide) empowered by the Holy Spirit started to preach the Gospel of repentance: Repent and believe in Jesus Christ 10 days after Jesus’ ascension.
Since these 11 disciples were physically commissioned by Jesus, as recorded in the end of all the 3 Synoptic Gospels, they started to work as apostles. The Greek word “Apostolo” literally means “I send”. Since these apostles were commissioned by Jesus, the Early Church believed in accepting the authority of the apostles, they would have accepted the authority of Jesus as well.
It is interesting to note that since Paul was not a disciple of Jesus, so defacto he was not one of the original apostles.
However, in reading the letters he wrote, we can see easily he was fighting very hard to have the Early Church accept him also as an apostle of Jesus Christ: his trump cards were that he was converted, and called by the resurrected Jesus on his way to Damascus; as well as his zest of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ even to the extent of being persecuted and suffered for Christ.
So the N.T. Church in its very beginning had accepted the authority of the apostles as their leaders.
Years later, when the Church leaders formulated the Nicene Creed in the Council of Nicea in the year 325, the clause “I believe in the Apostolic Church” was included. Even up to this day, churches of most traditions still accept this article of faith.
What does it mean by the Apostolic Church? It can be loosely interpreted as the Church is sent by God, doing God’s mission. But when the Church leaders formulated it, I am pretty sure that they were concerned about the authority of the Church, to be precise, the authority of the church leaders. Their insistence was not without any Biblical basis. Indeed according to the Gospel of Matthew, after Peter’s confession that “Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (16:16), this was what Jesus said, “Good for you, for this truth did not come to you from any human being, but it was given to you directly by my Father in heaven. And so I tell you, Peter: you are a rock, and on this rock foundation I will build my church…” (16:17-19).
So the leaders of the Early Church insisted their leadership and authority came from Jesus himself. Jesus had handed down these to Peter, the head of Jesus’ disciples. Then Peter handed on to his successors by the laying on hands and prayer for the Holy Spirit. This was the origin of ordination. Ordination is a symbol of passing on the authority and the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Church, only bishops can do the ordination. For other churches, it is usually done by the senior ministers or the college of ministers.
Since then, throughout the ages, the Church chooses some of its members who are theologically and professionally trained and who are committed to the ministry of the Church as their primary vocation, ordain them and entrust them with the Word of God and the sacraments.
Here I wish to emphasize that an ordained minister must be trained theologically. This is one of the ways to enable him/her to set up an antenna to receive God’s Word. This is what Prophet Isaiah in the third Servant Song in II Isaiah tried to share his experience with us:
“The Sovereign Lord has taught me what to say so that I can strengthen the weary. Every morning he makes me eager to hear what he is going to teach me.” (50:4).
To minister to God’s Word is the primary function of an ordained minister. Also, according to the great majority of churches, only ordained ministers can celebrate the sacraments of baptism and holy communion as well as marriages. In some churches, only ordained ministers can pronounce the absolution and the benediction as well as to lead the funeral services. The main reason is that since ordained ministers are trained theologically and professionally, they have a more thorough understanding of all these rites and through their leadership of these rites members can experience fuller and richer meaning in their lives. To me, this makes sense when the Church insists only ordained ministers be given the responsibility of safeguarding the Church order.
So far I’ve tried to follow the tradition of the Historic and Universal Church and explain to you the relationship between ordination of ministers and the Church Order. Through ordination, the Church gives the ordinands the authority to safeguard and expand the Order of the Church. But let me give you another side about the meaning of ordination. Ordination is the recognition by the congregation that the person ordained is a “a servant” to the congregation.
In reality, the word minister means servant. To minister is to serve. The apostles in the Early Church were considered as Christ’s servants. In this morning’s New Testament lesson (I Cor. 4:1-4), Paul gave us the cardinal requirement to be Christ’s servants. It is “Faithfulness to his master.”. Faithfulness means a decision to follow single-mindedness with your whole life. As Christ’s servants we must follow Jesus with all our mind, heart and spirit. Jesus himself came as a servant. In fact, all Pauline and Paulinist epistles (that is all letters written by Apostle Paul or his close colleagues) portrayed Jesus as a servant, or rather a dulos, a slave. As a dulos, Jesus came to this world with one and only one purpose, not to be served nor for self-gain, BUT to serve the whole humankind, to sacrifice his whole life so that all people have the possibility of regaining a dignified and whole life, a life which is related to God and to other people. In the most famous Hymn to Christ as found in Philippians 2:6-11, Jesus Christ was described as emptying himself for the sake of all human beings, so that all of us may have an abundant life.
The Gospel of John specifically included the act that Jesus passed on this ministry to his disciples during the last supper by washing his disciples’ feet. In the ancient Jewish society, a teacher washing his students’ feet was unheard of. Only a slave would wash his master’s feet or the feet of his master’s guests before they entered into the door of his master’s home. But Jesus intentionally did that in order to demonstrate the importance of service in utter humility.
Indeed this had been Jesus’ teaching to his disciples all along. When his disciples argued who was the greatest (Mk 9:33-37; Mt 18:1-5; Lk 9:46-48) and when James and John requested to be in the higher positions of sitting right beside Jesus, (Mk 10:35-45; Mt 20:20-28) Jesus gave them the same answer, “Whoever wants to be the first must place himself last of all and be the servant of all”.
To the secular world, people consider authority as the power to dominate and to control. BUT what Jesus showed us is the power to serve. In fact, this is the only power which may transform lives.
Jesus Christ is not only the Chief Example of being a minister, he is also the most reliable Enabler to his followers. So when we decide to follow Jesus and serve the needy, Jesus will empower us.
Every Christian is a minister. But an ordained minister is a special minister. He/she is a servant of the servants. An ordained minister is called to serve Christians so that they will become truly Christ’s servants. To paraphrase the Apostle’s letter to the Ephesians, “An ordained minister is called to take up the responsibility of preparing Christians so that they grow up and become Christ’s servants (Eph 4:11-16). “Equipping” Christians is the most important task of an ordained minister.
We cannot underestimate the difficulties of this task. The servants chosen by God in the old Testament times were generally called the suffering servants. But rest assured that the suffering they sustained and the dear price they had to pay would not be in vain. Furthermore, during all their hard labour, God would abide by them. Let me conclude therefore by reading the second part of the 3rd servant song which we read this morning. I will read it from the New Jerusalem Bible.
“I have offered my back to those who struck me,
my cheeks to those who plucked my beard;
I have not turned my face away from insult and spitting.
Lord God comes to my help,
this is why insult has not touched me,
this is why I have set my face like flint
and know that I shall not be put to shame.
He who grants me saving justice is near!
Who will bring a case against me?
Look, Lord God is coming to my help!
Who dares to condemn me?”