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

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

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