Reflections...

Meditations, Reflections, Bible Studies, and Sermons from Kowloon Union Church  

A Minister Is A Deputy To Christ

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 30th November 2008 by the Rev. Kwok Nai Wang, Induction Service for the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Isaiah 52:13-53:12 and Mark 10:35-45.
..
..When I first arrived at KUC some 26 months ago, I was told I made history for KUC, because I was the first local minister to be invited to serve at KUC. Not so. I never consider myself as your regular minister. I am here as your Senior Minister and mentor (that’s what’s written in the invitation letter) and I see my major task is to help map out some directions for KUC.

KUC has radically changed in the past decade or so. I remember when I first preached here some 25 years ago as the General Secretary of the HKCC, KUC was mainly an expatriate Church. Indeed all 16 ministers who have served KUC for the past 80 years were ministers from Scotland, England, Australia, New Zealand and the U.S.A. So strictly speaking Phyllis is the first non-Caucasian minister KUC ever appointed. It is appropriate that at this very important moment, I, as her mentor and especially as a passer-by offer her a few pointers as she starts her ordained ministry at KUC.

I remember in considering whether KUC should appoint Phyllis as an ordained minister, a point of contention was that her English is not good enough for an English speaking congregation. Yes, English is not Phyllis’ mother tongue. Her spoken English might not be as fluent as our English-speaking members. But the primary purpose of language is for communication. And indeed communication is important, but communication is much more than verbal communication. Our life style or even more so our whole life is actually the best means of communication.

I also remember very vividly when I first started as a young minister (27 years old to be exact) in a local Church in a slum area in Kowloon, one Sunday afternoon as I was resting, I received a call informing me that the vice chair of the building committee suddenly dropped dead at home while he was playing mahjong. I was naturally very shocked especially because only hours before I saw him and talked with him in Church. Not knowing what to do, I went to his home. His wife was sitting on a bed weeping. I had no experience about how to comfort the bereaved. So I held her hand and said a prayer. Weeks afterwards, this lady member told me my compassion really meant a great deal to her. Later, she became a deaconess and a staunch supporter of that Church.

Another few months passed by quickly. One afternoon, a woman whom I never met called, telling me her aged mother who was a member of the Church was seriously ill, but refused to go to the hospital. In no time, I was at her home, only to find an ambulance waiting downstairs and two medics were trying to persuade the old lady to be taken by them to the hospital. Almost an hour had gone by without results. The reason why this old lady refused to go to hospital was that she as a traditional Chinese wanted to die at home; and she was convinced that she could not pull through this time. When I arrived, I tried to talk with her and assured her she was not going to die with proper medical treatment. Finally, I struck a deal with her saying if she went into the hospital, I would visit her everyday. Finally I succeeded. I did keep my promise; and this lady lived for six more years.

Then it was worldwide communion Sunday. After the service, the Council Chair and a few council members and I were having a conversation about how good it was to invite a mandarin congregation to join us for that important occasion. Suddenly, a mentally challenged person approached me and begged me to serve him Holy Communion. The Council Chair told him kindly that the service was long over; and advised him to come earlier the following month. Without any thought, I held his hand and guided him to the chancel. To everyone’s surprise, I served him the Holy Communion!

At the time when I did all this, I was only thinking about the needs of these members. My Christian presence was not only felt by those in dire need, but also many others in the years to come. Even up to this day, people still talked about those incidents and recollect how good a minister I was. Of course when I did all this, I did not think of any applause in return.

So the very first lesson for a local church minister is to stand present to the person in crisis in the first possible moment disregarding the consideration of whether it is convenient or not.

One time a college student came to see me late at night without prior notice. She wanted to talk with me about the Christian faith. Immediately I sensed she was having a serious problem. I listened patiently and tried from time to time clarify the situation she was plunged into. Her problem was that her boy friend had just left her. After a long conversation, she felt much relieved. When we had finished, I looked at my watch, it was almost 3 in the morning. Then I walked her home, climbed the stairs to the 9th floor where she lived and went home myself. “Calculating” is one consideration ministers must avoid. We cannot calculate whether to spend 6 hours with a person in crisis was worth the while. Ministering unto people is always time consuming; and may not show any results in the short time. That is why most ministers would rather spend time to take care of administrative affairs, projects, buildings and programs!

To be ministers worthy of Christ’s calling, we are on call 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.

One very cold early morning while I was still in bed, my phone rang. A parishioner called and sobbingly told me her husband just passed away. In no time, I got dressed, jumped on a taxi and hurried to Princess Margaret Hospital. There I saw her with her two little children. She got completely lost; didn’t know what to do. It was because the whole thing came so suddenly. After a few words of comfort and a prayer, I talked with her about funeral arrangements, etc. The following days, I spent quite a bit of time helping her. This happened some 35 years ago, but even up to this day, we still keep in touch and not too long ago she invited me and Dorothy to her 70th birthday dinner. Present at the occasion were her 2 sons and daughters-in-law. She would retell her children how grateful the whole family was for my assistance. This lady has become an iron lady, fully dedicated to her teaching, her children as well as to the Church.

So, Phyllis, the primary task for a minister is to serve people with your heart. Secondly, you must serve them with your mind as well.

A minister is called to lead. “All of us were like sheep that were lost, each going his/her own way”, so says Prophet Isaiah (53:6). The minister of a local church is called not only to nurture and unite the congregation, but to guide them in the right path too!

By definition, all Christians are followers of our Lord Jesus Christ or we are the little Christs, so to speak. As little Christs, we all must learn to become like Jesus – especially his life style of sacrificial love, the absolute obedience to God and the emptying of himself for the sake of the people with unfulfilled life. But first the minister has to take the initial step. In the Anglican tradition, a local church minister is called a vicar. It is because he/she represents Jesus to serve the sheep which God has given to his/her charge. More than that, ministers are called by God and empowered by the Holy Spirit to continue Jesus’ earthly ministry. Besides preaching the Gospel, teaching, healing the sick, Jesus also spent lots of time with his disciples.

Here lies one of the mysteries of Jesus’ ministry. He worked with his disciples and commissioned them to continue his ministry after his ascension. Phyllis, you must labour tirelessly to build up the leadership or rather the servants of the servants at KUC so that KUC does not have only one, but a group of lay ministers to serve the congregation and beyond. The ministerial group which was started in June 2007 must be continued at all cost.

KUC needs a vision, because where there is no vision, the people go asunder (Prob. 29:18).

When I arrived at Sham Oi Church in Shek Kip Mei, the oldest resettlement area in Hong Kong, the congregation was rather inward looking and self-serving. Members were preoccupied with moving into a new church building; pondering how to increase the membership, how to re-organize themselves, etc. etc. I envisaged that in order to be a Church of God in that slum area, Shum Oi Church had to be turned inside out. It had to become a neighbourhood Church. So with a few dedicated members, we worked towards that direction. I have left that Church for 31 years. People to-day are still talking about the vision of Shum Oi Church. Many local churches have adopted the spirit of the vision and created their own vision.

In the Reformed tradition, ministers pay a great deal of attention to the preaching of the Word of God. Their ministry centres around the pulpit. For the Baptist tradition, the centre of ministry is on the people. Baptist ministers’ primary job is to be pastors to the members. For the more traditional churches, like the Roman Catholic and the Anglican, ministers are called priests. Their centre of ministry is the altar. Phyllis, I suggest you embrace all the three traditions. You are not only the pastor (as you came from the Baptist tradition); the minister of God’s Word (this is KUC); but also the priest. As a priest, you primary concern is to bring people to God through worship. As the priest, you must help people to refocus their life on God.

Phyllis, you must also look at where your mentor failed in his ministry. I was told time and again that I am a minister of utter seriousness. But also I am square and impatient. I have given myself 100% to my ministry, but my first marriage and my health have taken a heavy toll. Phyllis, while you must take your ministry seriously, you must also remember 3 “R”s – namely rest, recreation and reflection. Regular physical exercise is a “must”. You should also spend lots of time to read and reflect. All ministers should be theologians. A theologian is a person who reflects what’s going on theologically. Last of all, you must find time to be with your family.

Phyllis, you have plunged into a humanly impossible vocation. But my golden verse to you on this auspicious occasion is “Not by your might, nor your power; but by the power of the Holy Spirit”. (Zech 4:6). Prayers should also be another centre of your ministry.

Now a few words for the congregation. Minister of a local church is probably the most difficult vocation on earth. Even for a small congregation like KUC, you have some 70 members. 70 members have 70 minds and therefore may have 70 different opinions on any issue. But members, you must try to be concerned on vital issues and forget trivialities. Oftentimes, it is trivialities which divide the congregation which in turn make the life of your minister miserable.

You must not treat Phyllis as an invited guest, much less an employee. No. Phyllis is Christ’s servant who decides to be here to serve you so that in turn you can serve the world more relevantly and effectively. Phyllis deserves your full trust and support.

However the minister, however the congregation. But the reverse is also true. I have had three major positions in my life: minister of a local church; head of the HKCC and HK Christian Service; founder and director of HKCI. By general recognition, I have made significant contributions in all three positions. The major reason was that the board or executive committee of these organizations have given me full confidence and co-operation.

This world is in turmoil. Natural disasters and personal mishaps; wars and conflicts happen almost on a daily basis. As God’s servants on earth, we must try to respond. Let KUC, with one heart, under the leadership of Phyllis and Jelita, your council chair, derives a plan of action.

Glory be to God, the Creator; to Jesus Christ our Saviour and to the Holy Spirit, our Sustainer as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, November 30, 2008

 

Forget Not Thanksgiving

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 23rd November 2008 by Ms Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Deuteronomy 8:7-18, Psalm 65 and Luke 17:11-19.


Prayer
Trine God, may your Words inspire us to understand your love and truth through the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Because of globalization, the world has moved very fast towards inter-dependence. The global financial crisis inevitably affects our society in Hong Kong too. News about the closing down of banks and businesses world-wide and in Hong Kong has created much fears and uncertainties.

Today is thanksgiving Sunday. Being drowned by such a pessimistic atmosphere in HK due to a gloomy forecast of a deteriorating economy in the coming year, what can we give thanks for? What does the celebration of thanksgiving mean to us?

If you are asked to whom and what will you give thanks for at this particular moment of time, what is in your mind? What do you usually remember and what do you easily forget?

I have an interesting observation, whenever there were disasters that resulted in immense sufferings, people would ask where was God? This is a legitimate question. However, this kind of question usually entails a connotation of complaint and accusation of God’s cruelty. On the other hand, when an individual and/or a society experience good time of prosperity, they seldom ask where is God and give thanks to God for his grace. Do you share my observation? Is my observation commonly found in your own life and society where you come from?

As human beings we have our limitations and it is too easy for many of us to complain and identify ourselves as victims. (怨天尤人). On the other hand, for many people when they are successful and yield a lot of profits, they may think that it is due to their own efforts to make things happen and fall into a trap of being arrogant and complacent. Such a phenomenon was fore warned in the Deuteronomy 8 that we read this morning.

From this perspective, it doesn’t matter if people are in good time or bad time. Whether people are rich or poor, prosper or perish, they would or would not give thanks to God for whatever have happened to them. It is because the key is many people will easily forget about God and neglect the essence of thanksgiving. Therefore, at the end of the day, thanksgiving is an altitude in life and a practice of our faith.

To be fair, there are many believers who do give thanks to God when their prayers are answered and they are led to a good life. God is good and he blesses each one of us. However, we have to be careful not to fall into a trap of ‘success of faith or the theology of success’. This kind of faith and theology emphasizes the blessing of God to an individual due to his/her faith. There is nothing wrong for blessing to fall upon a person. However, we as Christians and church should always move beyond this individualistic level and self-centred mentality. As God is not only our personal God, our Lord is also God of community who cares for the whole creation, that means God cares for you and me as a person, but God also cares and loves all humanity, known or unknown to us.

During the economic meltdown, those who can keep their jobs should be grateful to God. However, we should also keep a heart to those who are laid off and having paid cut. We have to share with people who are under much worries and anxieties, and think of different ways that we as individuals and as Church, the servant of God may able to help with our resources which are from God and given by God ultimately. I heard a story of a medical professional who is willing to share with his less well off clients by reducing medical fees at this time. In time of crisis such as the financial meltdown, it is high time that we do not hold or accumulate our own resources for our own sake but to share with others in particular those who are in desperate need.

For those who live under pressures and difficulties, how do we encounter and keep the altitude of thanksgiving. How does our Christian faith of thanksgiving help?

In Psalm 65, it is a thanksgiving hymn after a good year with plentiful rain, the people thank the Creator. It reminds us that in good years of harvest, we should remember God’s provision and grace, and sing praise and thanks to our Lord. The truth of Psalm still speaks to us today for God is the ultimate provider. God is our creator and he will provide. We have to keep this faith because of God’s promise. It is our almighty and provident God that gives us hope.

In human history, there have been hundreds and thousands of crises encountered by human beings in different era. A lot of natural disasters like floods and storms, earthquake and tsunamis have occurred in every decade. Besides, human beings have suffered from the disastrous impacts brought by the two world wars, the great economic depression in the 1930s and so on. In our community of HK, we have experienced the economic turmoil in 1997 and in 2003 when the whole city was threatened by SARS. You will see, after all these challenges, people in HK and around the world can still survive and stand. As inspired by the scripture that God had initiated the covenant and kept it for his people of Israel. We are of course God’s people and children whom he will take care of and God will never forsake us. Our Lord is our God of liberation. God will save us from inadequacy and poverty. Many people survive and overcome all ordeals at hard time. During the SARS period, many people in HK had joined hands to help one another to build up the mutual support spirit. There are always blessing in disguise in disasters and depressive moments in human history. In the history of the United States, black people have gone through a tough struggle for racial equality. In the 60s, Martin Luther King delivered the famous ‘I have a dream’ speech, his dream is to build up a loving and just society where people of different colors can live together in equality and harmony. After years of struggles against racial tension and inequality in the United States and different parts of the world, this year 2008, Barrack Obama, was elected as the first black president in a predominately white society. The dream of Martin Luther King and many others who have strived for racial equality has come true! Change is possible. Do you believe that in God, nothing is impossible. If we work hard and take our responsibility according to God’s will, God will complete his plan of goodness to human kind. It is a matter of time. True, during the time of laboring, like a mother is giving birth to her baby, it is painful. However, after all those pains, there is hope and joy that life brings forth. The worst of the time can be the best of the time. If we are able to hold a heart of gratitude and keep our patience in difficult times, we may have a chance to find alternatives and possibilities, that could transform negative to positive, a curse to a blessing with the grace and the help of God. Remember that God is living with us in our history. Our Lord is God of the past, present and future. God will lead our way ahead.

In the story from Luke, only the Samaritan leper went back and gave thanks to Jesus for his recovery. Jesus asked why the other nine people who were cured did not return. But Jesus did not condemn them at all. On the contrary, Jesus gave further blessings to the Samaritan who did not forget God’s grace but took action to praise God. The key for this thanksgiving act was not only about this man remembering the good deeds of Jesus Christ. The deeper meaning for such thanksgiving act was this man’s transformation to accept himself as a man, a human being who was valued and embraced by God. This man did not first of all to go to the priest for confirming his purity. According to the Jews’ religious and traditional rules, lepers were required to be purified by the priest at the temple. (Leviticus 14:1-31) By then they would be accepted by the community. The man did not complete this religious requirement, but had taken a very courageous act to go straightly to Jesus. He was by then transformed from a man of unclean to pure, from socially isolated and excluded to be embraced by God.

The lepers who suffered from a kind of skin disease were socially isolated and excluded in their time. The lepers in the ancient Israelite community were nobody, they were discriminated and isolated. (Number 5:2-3) The worth and dignity of this man who was not named, was recognized by God through Jesus. This man was cured by the power and love of God, but not the religious leaders through social and cultural systems. In today’s society, there are people like the asylum seekers, the sex workers, the HIV carriers and the homosexuals etc, experiencing different kinds of discrimination, rejection and isolation. From the story of the lepers, we would be ensured once again that God has accepted the socially marginalized and excluded who are taken as human being with great value. They are somebody in the eyes of God.

For human beings are social animals, every person life is greatly affected by the environment. Therefore, while we enjoy different kinds of equality and rights in society, let us also think of how we can support those who suffer from isolation by promoting an inclusive social environment to enhance loving relationship that these friends can experience love of acceptance, tolerance and kindness. Remember, when we love one another, God is with us.

Reflection and action/ Conclusion
The celebration of thanksgiving helps us to remember that God is our source of everything. God loves, provides and nurture us. God is our prime creator.

The celebration of thanksgiving helps us to remember that our Lord Jesus Christ is our savior, he heals and cures us, and to give humanity new life of hope.

Thanksgiving is a faith, an attitude of life, an action to begin with. I wish you would do something to show your appreciation to someone who care and love you, and demonstrate friendly gesture whom you may not like but he/she has helped you to grow and learn somewhere somehow. The even bigger challenge is to demonstrate solidarity with our nature and people whom we may not know but have desperate needs for other people’s support and care.

The essence of thanksgiving is to focus our life once again in God. We are able to celebrate thanksgiving when we take the gifts of God with gratitude, and in return we have a commitment to love and share our gifts from God with others. When we are ready and commit ourselves to love and serve one another with a spirit of mutual help and support in Christ, then today really is the day to give thanks for. The celebration of thanksgiving also poses a challenge to us today, for in time of current distress and difficulties in our society, we continue to keep our faith and hope in God. May the name of God be glorified, amen.

Closing prayer
Dear God, thank you for your unfailing love to human kind and the whole universe. Grant us compassionate love to take care of your creation and help one and another. God, give us the courage to stand and be your light to witness your hope and joy in our society at this particular time of economic turmoil. In Jesus name we pray amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, November 23, 2008

 

The Christian Gospel Revisited - Mark: The Gospel of Renunciation

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 16th November 2008 by the Rev. Kwok Nai Wang. The scripture readings that day were Isaiah 49:1-6 and Mark 8:34-9:1.


The season of Advent is two weeks away. But I would like to give the first sermon of this year’s Advent series of sermons this Sunday instead of the first Sunday in Advent which falls on the 30th of November. It is because on that Sunday, we are going to conduct a special service to induct Phyllis Wong as the 17th minister of Kowloon Union Church.

I was an active youth counselor in my home church half-a-century ago. One of the games I liked to play with youth groups was called “Tell me what I said.” It was a simple game. Participants were divided evenly into two groups. Each group was asked to line up in a straight line. I then whispered a sentence of around 10 words to the first person on my right and then the same to the person on my left. They were asked to whisper and pass the same sentence to the next person until the very end. Then the last two persons were asked to repeat what they heard. Invariably, both were very distorted from my original sentence.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ has been preached for 2,000 years. The Gospel has been adopted in many different cultures. From Jewish to Greek, to Anglo-Saxon, to Chinese and now to many of us in Hong Kong. Obviously like the game of “What did I say”, there were many intentional as well as unintentional distortions. So from time to time we must go back to the origin of the Gospel: What did Jesus say and do as handed down orally and then in written form by his disciples and the people who were close to Jesus.

Jesus was the first one who preached the Gospel. In fact Jesus was the Gospel (Mk 1:1). But Jesus did not write down anything we know of. Our primary written source about Jesus Christ were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Of these four, the Gospel according to Mark was the earliest.

The person Mark was not a disciple of Jesus. In fact Mark might not have met Jesus in person. But Mark was a follower of both Peter and Paul in Rome. According to Church tradition Peter and Paul were the two most important personalities after Jesus. Peter was the first among equal of Jesus’ disciples. Since his encounter with the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul had become the most faithful follower of Jesus. What did Peter and Paul preach about Jesus? The Acts of the Apostles had recorded five sermons given by Peter in Acts 2:14-40; 3:12-26; 4:9-12; 5:29-32 and 10:34-43; as well Paul’s sermon in 13:16-41. These are generally labeled as Apostolic preaching. As we analyze these six sermons, we can easily detect there is only one thing in common among them: Jesus was put on a cross to die, but “God had raised him to life” (Acts 2:32; 3:16; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40 and 13:30). The crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus Christ had become the core of the Kerygma or the Christian Gospel.

Peter did not write anything to pass on to us. But Paul did. At least he wrote seven letters (Galatians, I Thessalonians, I and II Corinthians, Romans, Philemon and Philippians). From Paul’s writings we could see that he developed his theology around Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice. Thus Paul’s theology was generally labeled as the “Cross theology”.

Peter also subscribed to the utter importance of the Cross. There was one tradition saying that when Peter was persecuted and put to death on a cross, out of respect to Jesus, he insisted that his cross be put upside down.

Anyway, the composer of Mark’s Gospel used the core of the Apostolic preaching as the outline of his gospel. In other words, Mark’s gospel was centred around the Cross. That explains why a-third of the gospel (chapters 11-16) was devoted to Jesus’ last days of intensive suffering in Jerusalem. This is generally known as the extended passion narrative of Jesus. Mark also used 120 verses in chapters 14 and 15 to describe in minute details about Jesus’ suffering: Jesus’ betrayal, his arrest, the trial in the Sanhedrin (the assembly of the Jewish leaders); the trial before Pontius Pilate, being humiliated… and finally nailed on a cross.

Moreover, when we read Mark’s Gospel carefully, we can detect Mark wanted to relate to us the whole ministry of Jesus had centred around the cross. For example, in Jesus’ baptism, Mark quoted Psalm 2 “You are my son, my beloved, my favour rests in you” (Mk 1:11). This alluded to the suffering servant as described in the servant songs in II Isaiah (42:1-4, especially 52:13-53:12). Mark described in detail the execution of John the baptizer by Herod (6:14-29). The other gospel which recorded the same but much shorter was Mt 14:3-12. The reason is obvious. If John as Jesus’ pioneer had to die so tragically, Jesus who followed John’s footsteps could not avoid the same fate. Mark also recorded in detail Jesus’ anointment at Bethany by a woman (14:3-9; c.f. Mt 26:6-13). This certainly was a premonition about the death of Jesus. Similarly Jesus’ transfiguration (Mk 9:2-8 c.f. Mt 17:1-8 and Lk 9:28-36) was a premonition about Jesus’ resurrection. Moreover, Mark recorded Jesus’ own prediction of his suffering three times (8:31, 9:31 and 10:33-34).

Of course Mark also tried to provide an answer to one of the most vital questions the Early Church asked: “Why must Jesus die?”.

First, the Jewish leadership at the time wanted Jesus to die. It was because the priests, the rabbis, the Pharisees, etc. could not accept Jesus’ challenge to their authority, which was built on their rigid interpretation of the Jewish Law and customs. For example, they insisted on Sabbath, people should not work. But Jesus did. He cured a man with a withered hand. Furthermore, Jesus used this incident to reinterpret the Sabbath law by saying that “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for Sabbath”. In Mark there were 15 such controversies with the Jewish establishment standing on one side and Jesus on the other. Mark specifically recorded in Jesus’ early ministry in Galilee and also when he entered Jerusalem, “they went out and began at once to plot against him, discussing how to destroy Jesus.” (3:7 and 11:8).

Yet, the sacrifice of Jesus had cosmic implications. Just like Job, the servant in Isaiah and Prophet Jeremiah, they suffered on behalf of the humankind so that people got to know the meaning of suffering. Suffering was not in vain, it had a healing power. Precisely, that was why when Jesus breathed his last, the veil of the Temple was torn right down the middle (Mk 15:38// Mt 27:51// Lk 23:45), symbolizing the reconciliation between God and the rebellious human beings.

Jesus’ suffering also unveiled the deep secret of life. Only the cross could have brought forth the empty tomb. Or to put in another way, the resurrected or eternal life only can come about if people decide to live a shared life, a life which is for the welfare of others. This was what Mark summed up about the Gospel of Jesus Christ: If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up the cross and follow me. Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel, will save it.” (Mk 8:34-35). For Mark, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the Gospel of RENUNCIATION.

The gospel which churches like to preach is: if you believe in Jesus, you may have eternal life (Jn 3:16). We must examine carefully what is the meaning and the implication of believing in Jesus, or having a personal relationship with Jesus. It certainly does not mean we accept Jesus as our Saviour notionally or conceptually. Rather, it means we are committed to carry the cross and follow Jesus. It implies that we decide to renounce or give up what we once attempted to seek and to live for for the sake of the people Jesus loves, especially the weak and the young; as well as for the well being of the poor and the marginalized whom Jesus fully identified with.

The Christian Gospel is the Gospel of Renunciation. It is the Gospel of the Cross of Jesus Christ. But unfortunately, the Church to-day has turned it into the gospel for self-benefit or self-possession. The Gospel of Jesus Christ has been privatized.

We are all struck by the recent global financial tsunami which began in the collapse of the affluent property market in the U.S.A. Many experts predict that the effects of it will last for months, perhaps even a couple of years. In Hong Kong this economic downturn will make everyone, especially the poor suffer immeasurably. Small and medium business enterprises will go broke because of fewer customers and worse still banks will not lend them money. Unemployment and underemployment rate will surge. It is predicted that this financial crisis is worse than the SARS endemic in 2003!

Why all this? Is it because of human greed? Is it because the predominant mindset nowadays is “everybody for themselves”? More than ever, this world needs the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

The golden verse for the Gospel of Mark is in 1:15: “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel”. We all need to repent, to turn back from self-centeredness to God-centered, that is from a life disconnected with God to a life reconnected to God again.

To follow Jesus is never easy. Even the disciples failed miserably. Mark specifically recorded after Jesus had given his disciples the meaning of his gospel, they fought among themselves about who was the greatest (9:33-37) and moments later, James and John requested Jesus to grant them high positions, one sitting on Jesus’ right and the other on Jesus’ left (10:35-41)!

Many of us are eager to preach the gospel to the non-believers. But have we grasped the real meaning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Can we sell the gospel of Renunciation to ourselves?

One of the most important world mission conferences was the one held in Melbourne in 1980. I happened to be a delegate in that conference. One of the key points the conference dealt with was “Self-evangelism”. Before we share the gospel with others, we must first of all be able to internalize and live by the same gospel.

Mark’s Gospel was written around 64 A.D. That was the year Peter was put to death. Mark recognized that with Jesus’ disciples departed one by one, there was the urgency to write down what Jesus said and did as handed down orally by Jesus’ disciples. Yet, there must be another reason why the urgency of Mark’s Gospel. It was because in 63 A.D. Rome was burnt to the ground. The Roman authorities blamed it all on the Christians and started to persecute them. There was one theory saying that the Roman authorities had set the fire intentionally so as to give an excuse to get rid of the Jews, including Jewish Christians who were controlling the Roman economy. Nevertheless, Mark would want to help the Christians of the first century to conquer fear and anxiety. Mark insisted that Jesus Christ through his death had opened the gates of eternal life for all human beings. The intention was to empower Christians who faced persecution, even death.

We often think that to live a full life is to seek for more power and influence in order to safeguard our own interests: the power over others, the power to get what we want, such as wealth, status, fame, popularity, success, and so on. This is a very distorted viewpoint of what life is all about. In thinking along that line, we have in fact lost contact with the real meaning and purpose of life.

A fulfilled life as demonstrated by our Lord Jesus Christ is about the cross. The cross is about how to sacrifice or die our death for the sake of others (quoting Paul in II Cor 4:12). The cross is also about how to embrace prosperity and adversaries (“In the days of prosperity be joyful, but in the days of adversity, consider” – Ecc. 7:14). The cross has taught us to embrace the totality of life or the life as it is given by God. This new or resurrected life as brought forth by Jesus Christ is the eternal life or the abundant life.

Praise be our Lord, Jesus Christ, Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, November 16, 2008

 

A FAITH JOURNEY: Contract to Covenant

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Ordination & Holy Communion Sunday 9 November 2008 by Bishop John Victor Samuel. The scripture readings that day were Jeremiah 31:31-34, Colossians 3:12-17 and John 20:19-23.


Saints of Kowloon Union Church, Peace of God be with you..

Some weeks ago, Rev. Kwok Nai Wang asked me to be part of the process of examining Phyllis Wong, a candidate for Ordination to be appointed as minister in Kowloon Union Church. He also asked me to preach this morning. I am grateful to him for trusting me and making me part of the process. We all give thanks to God for Rev. Kwok Nai Wang’s leadership for inspiring the congregation to depart from the tradition of finding a minister for KUC from the Churches in the English speaking countries from outside Hong Kong. This has been the practice for more than seven decades, which is the entire life of this congregation. To Ordain Phyllis and appoint her minister in KUC, is a real departure from the old tradition. I call this a unique experience of departure from Contract to Covenant. We give thanks to God for the congregation for making a new start. We are gathered here to Ordain Phyllis Wong. She will be set apart by the act of ordination and will be appointed Minister in this Congregation. This is a historic day and a milestone in the life of Phyllis Wong and of this congregation. The congregation must be happy for undertaking this faith journey.

This is the first time experience for this congregation to organize an Ordination 0f a person who will be their pastor. There must be some questions regarding the act of Ordination. What is Ordination? Why are we doing this? Who are we? What is significance of this act for Phyllis and for Congregation? I am sure there must be many more questions in the minds of people present and worshiping here this morning. I believe the act of setting apart {ordination} a person from the faith Community is the act of the Congregation. The significance of this act can only be understood by understanding the identity of the Congregation. What is the essence of a congregation? What is the meaning the Church? What is its identity? We must look at these questions so that we can understand what we are doing this morning.

In the early period of Church, it was perceived that new believers are continuation of Old Israel. Being a New Israel, they perceived themselves to be Chosen by God to live under a covenant with God. Congregation or the Church, conscious of their identity as a chosen people and set apart, are a blessing for the life of the world. St. Paul reminds us that we as Christ believers and as congregation are in the world but not of the world. The setting apart of persons of special talent and quality is the task of the congregation to prepare the faith community to engage as people of God to serve the world.

The Kowloon Union Church is a unique gathering of set apart people by the Holy Spirit from all over the world. Our gathering here represents all those in the world, who speak Sohali, Tagalo, Hindi, Urdu, German, Burmese, Basha, Cantonese and English. We worship in English and communicate with each other in English. Our unity is expressed by our faith in Christ. KUC Congregation is a symbol of the unity of those who believe in Christ and are scattered in the world and represent many cultures and speak many languages of their own.

Today some are sitting in the pews and some are sitting on platform, little higher than where pews are. They are already ordained whom Congregations have set aside. They are the ones who will Ordain Phyllis. But we all belong to one community of Faith, which confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. I mentioned before that our Identity is that we are chosen people as new Israel, we are set apart. Besides every Sunday morning during Worship, We all stand together and confess our faith in the words of Apostle’s creed. In the third article of creed, we say together “ I believe in the Holy Spirit, holy catholic church, Communion of Saints-----“

St. Paul writing to the congregations he visited, addressed them as Saints. Every congregation is a Communion of Saints, founded by the act of Holy Spirit. We are one Holy Catholic Church and a Communion of saints because the Holy Spirit has made us so. Spirit in Hebrew is Ruha and Nephes. It means breath. When God created Adam from clay He breathed in Adam the breath of Life. We as Communion of Saints have a common Identity that we are one, set apart, chosen by the act of the Holy Spirit – We are breathed upon people, separated by the act of the Holy Spirit.

The term Communion is derived from Latin term “COMMUNIO which means SHARING IN COMMON. The corresponding term in Greek is KONONEA. Communion and Kononea is the Essence of the new formed community by the power of the Holy Spirit. Communion of Saints does not come as a finished product. It begins by the power of the Holy Spirit and is empowered by the Holy Spirit to grow in fullness of Communion of Saints so that real taste of Sharing in Common is experienced. Living in the style of sharing in common is the calling of this Communion of Saints and it has a huge implication for the Body of Christ. The Church does not live for itself as Christ did not live for himself. Church’s life is for the life of the world. Our identity as The Communion of Saints/ The Body of Christ – a Church of Jesus Christ is not to live for its own interests and for its own life but live for the life and interests of the world. How can this be done? The congregation needs to become a Communion of Saints and adopt a life style of Sharing in Common- {SIC}.

The Church organizes its life at two levels. Firstly the faith community organizes it’s faith formation. The formation of faith is not only feeding the information to believers but making the information as part of daily experience of life lived as it is lived. The faith imperatives are lived every moment of life. Faith and the World are taken seriously. We live in the World which is changing all the time. In the face of this changing world, the reformation of the faith is required. The second stage is to get involved in the affairs of the world to become the bread of life for the World. The Formation of Faith cannot be done in isolation. The Faith is nourished in the environment provided by the faith community and it is strengthened by the practice in the world. The Formation of Faith is initiated within the environment of faith community but continues by living for the life of the world. It is important for us to recognize that what we do Sunday after Sunday is only relates to our inner life of the community and we remain at the preparation stage. We are setting apart Phyllis by the act of ordination, believing that she is conscious of the spiritual needs of the Communion of Saints and Churches task in the life of the world. We live in a difficult and complex world. The reality of the world are changing all the time.

Very briefly, I like to refer to our first lesson from Jeremiah 31: 31-34. Prophet Jeremiah lived in a most difficult period in Israel’s history. He chided his people in a harsh manner and prophesized against them. He chided them because he loved them. HE also saw the vision of a new covenant with God as Israel went through suffering and slavery. Words we read in the new covenant are of promise of recovery from the unsettled period of slavery and unfaithfulness to Yahweh. We hear Jeremiah telling people that Yahweh promises a new covenant with his people. In the New Covenant there will be three elements: Firstly God’s spontaneous forgiveness of sins, that begin a new start in God and Israel relationship. Captives will be brought back and a new beginning will be made. Secondly each member of Israel will be responsible for his/ her deeds. Thirdly the law will be written on their hearts. The law is no longer regulating the outside life only but religion becomes the ordering of Soul. It is the order of the soul which helps create a new order and a new heaven, a new earth and a new world. The life of the Communion of Saints is not only to vision this new world but give their life for this vision.

I want to re-read what was read this morning from St. Paul’s letter to Colossian church. “ as chosen people of God, then, the holy people whom he loves, you are to be clothed in heartfelt compassion, in generosity, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive each other if one of you has a complain against another. The Lord has forgiven you; and you must do the same. Over all these clothes, put on love, the perfect bond.” Is it not the new covenant, the Law of Christ written on the hearts of those who are called “Communion of Saints”?

The congregation, a breathed upon community of faith, by the Spirit of God, a communion of saints and conscious of her ministry to herself and to the world is set to organize herself by setting apart Phyllis to work full time.

I would like to say few words regarding the world in which we live. It is true that we need to be conscious of our existence, our identity and our task in the world. We also must understand the existence and nature of our world. Our World exist because God created it and said it is good. We are part of created order. We are responsible to keep this world good. We also must know that world is constantly changing and therefore our responsibility also is changing all the time. Our faith community has to deal with the changing world and therefore it is imperative that change also reflect in our being as we deal with the world. The primary work of this community will be the formation of the faith and keeping its hope alive. I believe the formation of the faith of the congregation remains an important task for the existence of the Congregation and its maturity. The world in which we live today is a new world with its brand new realities. The new realities keep challenging the faith community every day. The issues of Justice, peace, and environment are not new issues. In the name of freedom and human rights the order in society is shattered. The new order which hopefully needs to be humane, is not in sight. Pluralism is our reality. How do we deal with this? How do we create an order without oppressing the weak? The marginalized? Did any one expect that the emergence of militant Islam would cause disorder of serious nature in the entire world. How would the faith formation of the congregation be done so that the faith community be enabled to share the good news of Jesus Christ and build peace in our world.

Phyllis Wong will be set apart and ordained to take the leadership in this congregation to assist in formation, help congregation to witness, challenge congregation to deal with the issues as we face and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I pray that Phyllis Wong together with each member of the congregation become an active Communion of Saints in Kowloon Union Church.

In the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, November 09, 2008

 

Good News in Bad Times

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 2nd November 2008 by Ms Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Psalm 107:1-9; 33-37 and Luke 1:46-55.


Prayer:
Dear God,
May your living words give us wisdom to understand your truth in our contemporary world where we have faced so many troubles and uncertainties. May your Holy Spirit strengthen our heart and give us the courage to live in your love. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Introduction
In recent months, the global financial crisis has affected different parts of the world. These crises have induced much anxieties and fears in people across the board. The huge loss in the stock and property markets and loss of jobs due to the closing down of businesses or redundancies have driven many people to mental and psychological problems. There were people even committing suicide.

At this time of trouble both in our local and global community, what is the good news (or what we also call the gospel) that our Christian faith can offer to the people in our times?

The presidential election of the United States will be held on the 4th of November. The election slogan of Barack Obama is CHANGE.

I would like to borrow this slogan to share the message of today’s sermon, the good news of change.

The change I am going to raise is about the change of mindsets.

I would like to start with the story of Mrs Leung. Mrs Leung was a widow who had to take care of 4 children. She was very poor and could only afford to live in a slum area. One day she discovered that the children of one of her neighbors were starving because their father lost his job. Their mother had no rice to cook for them. Out of mercy, Mrs Leung gave the neighbor two cups of rice from her limited rice storage at home. She did not think about whether she would have enough for her own children a few days later. She just acted accordingly to give and share because of the dire needs of her neighbor. She shared that in the 60s, when most people were poor and yet they were more inclined to help one another. She felt happier in that period of time because the spirit of care and support in people was more prevalent.

When Mrs Leung shared this kind of mutual help in neighborhood, I remembered also my mother-in-law and her neighbors. Every time my mother-in-law, Mrs Tong, meets up with her old neighbors who became close friends in life, they would share how they helped each other in the decade of 60s. They would help each other to move houses because they could not afford to use a removal company, and when they gave birth to children and had no money to buy good food, they would lend money to each other to meet these most difficult moments. The mutual support during their time of hardship has bonded them closely together. They have found real friendship during bad times.

From the story of Mrs Leung and that from my mother in law, we see that one can achieve joy and inner peace even during hard times. For us to learn from them in order to cope with our present financial tsunami, the essence is to change our mindset and to focus on what we have and do our best to share, as opposed to focus on what we lack and be led by fear of inadequacy. Although Mrs Leung and Mrs Tong all lacked good material living back in the 50s and 60s, they used their time, energy and limited money to help one another. By this unselfish giving, they gained the joy of mutual help and their needs were being satisfied.

In today’s economic turmoil, there are people worrying that their wealth has dropped drastically. But the richness of life counts not how much we own, but how much we share with others.

Our God of love is always there to prepare angels for us to overcome turmoil. How we prepare ourselves and be ready to give and share are our decisions and actions.
We also trust that God will use his unique way to help those in need. For those hungry and thirsty, God has promised to give them good things as revealed in Mary’s magnificent and in Psalm.

The third story I would like to share is about a sister, I call her Susan. She is 60 years old. She is a single woman and has retired for a number of years living on interests and investment returns. She is one of those who suffer greatly from the crash in the stock market. But recently she shared with me that she praises the Lord that she is not too worry of her situation although she lost a lot of money. She can still sleep well and stay happy. She shared that her peace comes from her faith in God. She has a strong faith in God that she will be well taken care of. She is also very aware that all that she has are gifts from God. What she does with her money and possessions on earth is to take good care of it for God. In Luke 1: 50, it said that God’s mercy is for those who fear him. I can see the pure mind and heart of Susan who have full trust in God’s almighty power and steadfast love that sustains her to face the economic hard time right now.

So what’s the lesson for us? We should change the mindset that we still take our responsibilities in life, and instead leave our security and vulnerability to God, and have faith that God as our creator and protector, he is good and his steadfast love endures forever. (Psalm 107:1) We will then be less anxious of what we have lost. The process is also to learn ‘letting go’.

So far I have shared how an individual can make a difference by a change of mindset. Individual spirituality is important in handling troubles in bad times. We however, have to understand the crisis from a macro perspective and examine critically the injustice of the systems that add suffering and pains to the people, especially those who lack the power and resources. As criticized by the General Secretary of the United Nation Ban Ki-moon, the global financial crisis has reflected the greed of people, the poor financial regulations and monitoring system in the financial institutes. Ban Ki-moon has already commented that the economic turmoil has made the food crisis of the developing countries even worse. In Hong Kong, there are also news of exploitation of employees who lost their jobs and some cannot get their salaries because their employers shirked their responsibility to pay and compensate their workers. We have to be critical of systems of injustice.

God has promised to bless and change for the deprived and powerless. As shared by Psalmist in Psalm 107 and Mary’s songs of Praise from Luke 1:46-55 that we read this morning. “He turns a desert into pools of water, a parched land into springs of water. And there he lets the hungry live, and they establish a town to live in; they sow fields, and plant vineyards, and get a fruitful yield. “(Psalm 107:33; the New Revised Standard Version) ‘He has filled the hungry with good things…’ Luke 1:53.

The financial crisis could worsen the life of the poor because of the uneven distribution of power and wealth. In Time Magazine, an interview with Obama quoted him saying: ‘when everybody is sharing in our prosperity, everybody wins.” A more equal share of resources and wealth, which is as a matter of fact, a gift of God to all humanity, should be the good news that we have to advocate in society.

We have to stand and serve those who are not given enough care and resources by the society. We should never keep silence when we see that the wealth distribution is too uneven and governments are more incline to keep the interests of the rich and neglect the plights of the poor. As a church of God, we have to speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Proverb 31:9) This is a mission from God to bring and live out this good news to the world that we live.

Change can be for the better or for the worse. In God, the good news about change is definitely God will bring fruit and blessings to the people especially those share less.
The essence of CHANGE based on the Christian gospel should be:

Change from human centre to God centre
Change from possession to sharing
Change from greed to care
Change from unjust to just
Change from fear to peace
Change from sorrow to joy
Change from complain to praise to God of his almighty and love.

Amongst all the changes that I have listed, there may be a specific area for you. The good news may work differently for different persons in their own context and life situation. The essence of the change is in facing difficult times we take this as a great opportunity to reflect and make changes accordingly with principles so as to serve yourself and the people that are close to you as well as those you may not know in the community.

In the darkest hour God blessed those who are in trouble and cried out for help and are willing to change according to God’s gospel of love and justice.

Closing Prayer
God, grant us the strength and courage to face changes. Guide us to live in hope and joy by sharing what we have and envision by your holy spirit. God, strengthen our sensitivity to our inner needs, the need of the poor and the weak. Lord, empower us to serve you and our neighbors for your love and justice with the best in us. We pray in our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, November 02, 2008

Archives

May 2004|July 2004|September 2004|November 2004|December 2004|April 2005|July 2005|August 2005|September 2005|October 2006|November 2006|December 2006|January 2007|February 2007|March 2007|April 2007|May 2007|July 2007|August 2007|September 2007|October 2007|November 2007|December 2007|January 2008|February 2008|March 2008|April 2008|May 2008|June 2008|July 2008|August 2008|September 2008|October 2008|November 2008|December 2008|January 2009|February 2009|March 2009|April 2009|May 2009|June 2009|July 2009|August 2009|September 2009|October 2009|November 2009|December 2009|January 2010|February 2010|March 2010|April 2010|May 2010|June 2010|July 2010|September 2010|October 2010|November 2010|December 2010|January 2011|February 2011|April 2011|May 2011|June 2011|July 2011|October 2011|November 2011|December 2011|January 2012|February 2012|March 2012|August 2012|September 2012|November 2012|December 2012|January 2013|February 2013|March 2013|April 2013|May 2013|June 2013|September 2013|October 2013|November 2013|December 2013|February 2014|March 2014|April 2014|May 2014|June 2014|July 2014|August 2014|September 2014|October 2014|November 2014|December 2014|January 2015|February 2015|March 2015|April 2015|July 2015|August 2015|October 2015|November 2015|December 2015|January 2016|February 2016|March 2016|April 2016|May 2016|June 2016|July 2016|August 2016|September 2016|October 2016|November 2016|December 2016|January 2017|February 2017|March 2017|April 2017|May 2017|June 2017|July 2017|August 2017|September 2017|October 2017|November 2017|
Archived sermons by the Barksdales

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?