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.
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.
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.
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.