Meditations, Reflections, Bible Studies, and Sermons from Kowloon Union Church
God of Interactive Relations
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 25th January 2009 by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Jonah 3:1-10 and Mark 1: 14-20.
Our Lord God, we ask for your full presence with us. In delivering and hearing your words, may your holy spirit inspire us and guide us to understand your will and walk in your ways. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Jesus started his ministry by proclaiming “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” In today’s sermon, I am going to focus on the reflection of faith in ‘repentance’ and the interactive relations between God and his people .The word ‘repentance’ in its roots from Hebrew and Greek, it conveys rich meanings, that include: ‘change of mind’, ‘a feeling of regret or remorse’, in the ethico-religious sense that take from a negative perspective it means ‘turn away from sin, disobedience or rebellion’; from a positive perspective, it can mean ‘turn back to God, the beginning of a new religious or moral life’.
After I take up the marriage ministry of Kowloon Union Church, I begin to conduct group briefing session for newly wed couples who have booked our sanctuary for church wedding. The session is to share about marriage from the perspective of Christian faith and the order of service for their wedding ceremony. In a session, a young man shared that he is very self-centered for he is the only child in his own family and thus no one will deny him and only act according to his will and desire. In his encounters with his fiancee, he finds that there are many differences between them due to different family background and perspectives in looking at the same thing. He learnt to make compromises with his fiancee. At first he was very unhappy for he would ask why did he has to give in. But eventually he finds that when he changes his mind and act in another course of action for the sake of loving his fiancee, his fiancee will also change because she feels the love of her fiance. On the surface, it seems the young man has made a sacrifice but because of his willingness to change for his loved one, he gains the love of his fiancee in return and helps to build up their relationship. This young man’s change of mind from being self-centered to focus on other’s need has brought him much happiness and harmony in his relationship with his fiancée.
From the couple’s sharing, we can see that relationship is very interactive, if we change for the sake of love, the other will change also. The fruits that we bored are dependent on the seeds that we sow. The seeds of love blossom into the tree of love, the seeds of hatred begets nothing but destruction.
In a close and intimate relationship, there are constant interactions and some will bound to be negative and may form a seed of conflict. I have a very strong feeling about that for I have been struggling to build up a harmonious and loving relationship with my son all along. He and I always have conflicts over different matters. Whenever we have arguments, in some occasions both of us can be driven mad and very angry to each other. If I keep on focus on my negative feelings towards my son, this is a seed of conflict which will grow and begets nothing but destruction. It will only destroy our relationship. Therefore, I always remind myself to focus on the positive side of my son and try to weed out the seeds of conflict, but find ways to sow the seeds of love in our relationship. Repent and to seek God’s strength to change is an on going spiritual exercise for me, it is an everyday life challenge.
Some may argue, even though we try to repent, change our mindset and take a different course of action, it does not necessary bring forth positive result. And you are absolutely right. Such is human reality in our world, we can be easily frustrated by this situation. As a result we should realize that repentance is completed by faith. Only if we uplift our faith to God would there be a hope to change from the worse to the better.
For now let us move to the narrative of Jonah that we read this morning. The narrative of Jonah has conveyed a very comforting and encouraging message to us. From the narrative, we see that the People and the King of Nineveh who sincerely repented by turning to God through proclaiming a fast and put on sackcloth. These are the ancient liturgies represent people’s repentance. Amazingly, the actions of the people had led to God changed his mind to remove his threat of destruction to the city of Nineveh.
In Jonah, it has helped us to understand our Lord who will change his mind because of his people’s actions to turn away from evil. Therefore, repentance is a precious gift from God for it gives to people the possibility of change. However, on the other side of the same coin, it entails that human beings have a great role and responsibility to make a change possible. From the scripture, it helps us realize that “repentance is a human possibility because it is the result of divine redemption. God has given us the opportunity to change. In Jonah’s narrative, we found that the threats of destruction turn out to be an expression of the merciful will of God, who pardons at the first sign of repentance.
I love to watch musical, one of my favorite musicals is Andrew L. Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera”. In the musical, one of the songs is called the Point of No Return. One memorable line was “…the bridge is crossed, so stand and watch it burns. You’ve passed the point of no return”. It described the Phantom’s irreversible decision for destruction and to satisfy his lust. For our God in Christian faith, God will change his mind to take away the punishment and guide us to righteousness. Therefore, we are blessed to have “the point of return”. Jesus’ calling for repentance and follow him as disciples is the bridge that we can use to return to God and it will never burn!
Our Lord is a God willing to interact with people. His holy presence is to love and not to punish. In God, there is hope and point of returns.
In the past week, many Americans and people around the world are excited to witness the inauguration of Barack Obama to assume the presidency in America. There are very high expectations for him. Obama’s leadership of course is important. But his cabinet, people in America and around the world are also important to contribute a new era of hope over hatred, unity over conflicts, peace over war.
In places where we find the power is in the hands of a few and in situations which we are overwhelmed with our own problems, we may perceive ourselves as ordinary people, very much disempowered and have a feeling of helplessness . The narrative of Jonah we read today informs us otherwise.
In Jonah, it is the people, the ordinary civilians after hearing Jonah the prophet’s warning that took action to repent and turn away from evilness. Because of their commitment and their collective efforts, they have influenced the people in higher position --- the King. The king followed the footstep of his fellow citizens, to put on sack cloths and call on God with all their might; and let everyone renounce his evil ways and violent behaviors. How beautiful we see a bottom up movement in the city of Nineveh!
In the eyes of God, all people are important, all of us are somebody that can make a difference not only for our own lives, but for others. By collective efforts, we know that we are not along, the influence and power of change is great when people are able to join hands to struggle and work together.
Besides, let’s have a look at Jesus’ ministry; we can also see that he called the disciples from the fisherman community. The disciples were ordinary people, like you and me. When people respond to God's callings and respond positively at once, the miracle of God's merciful love manifests. God is interacting with people always. We change, God changes too in his steadfast love.
Tomorrow is the Chinese New Year and the beginning of the Year of the Ox. The Ox signifies patience and hard working, but when facing adversities, the Ox will fiercely fight back. Coincidently, Obama was born in the Year of the Ox. There are people regard the Ox a sign of overcoming any setbacks or obstacles in 2009. To us as Christians in Hong Kong, the beginning of the Chinese New Year is another good opportunity for us to reflect on Jesus’ calling of repentance. Repentance is renewal of life; it demands a new heart and new spirit (Ezek 18:31), to fulfill the kingdom of God. Genuine repentance leads to obedience and unqualified trust in God, rejection of all idols and refusal to lean upon human help.
There is a famous dialogue from a film, ‘I jump, you jump’! Do you remember in which film this dialogue appeared? Right, the Titanic. ‘I jump, you jump’! This commitment between the lovers in the movie conveyed so much of their strong connection and intimate interaction between the two. They cannot be separated. Your life is my life. My life is your life. This is a very romantic relationship. They love and need each other. This has also conveyed a strong interactive relationship between them. One person’s action will affect another person.
For God so love the world that he gave his only son to the world, so that everyone who believe in him may not perish but may have eternal life. (John 3:16) God has clearly proclaimed such a romantic love of life giving to us as God’s people. God has given and shared his life to us through Jesus. But it is only when we take the love of God and respond to Jesus’ calling in our life, that this loving relationship is meaningful to us and God. In fact, I believe that God treasure our life and our love to him.
From Mark 1, we see that Simon and Andrew were called by Jesus and they follow him immediately without any hesitation. Today, Jesus Christ reminds us once again of his calling upon us, to repent and follow him. Are we going to respond to Jesus at once like the disciples in his time?
We thank you for giving us the chance to repent and change our course of life to you, to walk in your righteous way for the Kingdom of God.
Guide us God that we are always sensitive to your calling of repentance and give us courage to follow Jesus’ words and deeds. Strengthen our will power to lead a life of loving and giving. Amen.
Core of Christian Faith
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 18th January 2009 by Robert Lam, Paul Cheung and Rev. Kwok Nai Wang. The scripture readings that day were I John 4:7-21 and John 15:1-17.
This morning, we are going to experiment with a dialogue sermon.
Traditionally, even from the time of the Early church, preaching is always a one-way traffic: the preacher preaches and the congregation listens.
We have been trying to find ways to enhance congregation participation. You will notice that after the reading of the Ancient Word, viz. the Bible and the expounding of the contemporary word, there is a short period of reflection. This is a golden opportunity for congregation members to go on an inward journey: our own encounter with God, or to think about how does God’s Word come to us in a meaningful way.
For years, I have been wondering whether it may be more interesting if the preacher and representatives of the congregation engage in a dialogue sermon, i.e. to make preaching a two-way traffic. From another angle, this kind of dialogue sermon may intensify the congregation’s encounter with God’s Word; and makes God’s Word even more relevant.
It’s not easy to do a dialogue sermon. I have done it only once in my ministry of 43 years.
However, I have persuaded Robert Lam and Paul Cheung to do a dialogue sermon with me. The topic I have chosen is what is the core of the Christian faith? Robert and Paul will give their witness first, and later I will respond.
A couple of things I would like to mention before they speak. First, the reflection is broadly about Christian faith. Christian faith is seldom taught. It can only be shared. I am very grateful to Robert and Paul to decide to share their faith with us.
Second, Robert and Paul are members of trustees of KUC. As I mention in the Senior Minister’s Corner to-day, it is my wish that trustees should go beyond what the constitution requires, namely, to make sure the buildings of our church are sound and safe and the offerings and other income are appropriated properly. Trustees should particularly be concerned by being the guardians of the faith of this congregation.
It is my pleasure now to welcome Robert and then Paul to this pulpit.
The heart of the Christian belief is God's love.
God the Creator who loved the world and us so much that He sent His Son into the world to die on the cross for our sins so that we who believed in Him will have eternal life.
That is the core of the Christian faith.
Through Jesus' death on the cross and his resurrection, our broken relationship with God has been restored.
We can live the life on earth the way He has always intended, to love Him and to let His love flow through us to the people around, the people that we come into contact with and the world that He has created.
Like all human and love relationship, our relationship with God will only grow through daily and constant contact with our Creator.
We draw our strength from His love, we face the our ups and downs of my life knowing that He is with us throughout in this journey. We will also have the love and strength to love the world He has created, the people in the world and those around us who need His love and our love.
This love journey is not only the journey of a lifetime but one that lasts all eternity.
During the preparation of the sermon, I tried to relate my faith to my life. For me, Christian faith has made my life more fulfilling. The core of Christian faith I would like to share today is living an abundant life. In the Gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 10, Jesus said “I have come in order that you might have life - life in all its fullness.”
Every week, during our Sunday service, we say the prayer of confession in which we ask God to forgive us not only our sins of commission, but also sins of alienation from God, from others and from ourselves. The Christian teachings of love, sharing, caring, forgiving, and respect help us to build up a more harmonious relationship with others and the nature. Christian faith changes our life of alienation to a life of being connected with ourselves, with others, and with God, and such change enriches our life.
Christian faith makes our life more fulfilling as it helps us search the meaning of our life. God does not create something without a purpose. We were created with our strengths and weaknesses. Christian faith empowers us to search God’s purpose in our life and leads us to contribute ourselves in God’s plan. In the gospel of John, chapter 15, verse 4, it reads, “Remain united to me, and I will remain united to you. A branch cannot bear fruit by itself; it can do so only if it remains in the vine. In the same way, you cannot bear fruit unless you remain in me.” To live a life fully is living in Christ. In Him, we can have personal development as the branch gets the nutrient and grows up. In Him, we can offer our talents to help others as the plants become mature and bear fruit for the needy. In Him we can always have the strength and hope to face the difficulties in life like the plants leaving leaves and becoming weak in winter but being rejuvenated in spring. Our faith makes our life complete with purpose, direction, and hope.
That is my understanding about the core of Christian faith. Though I can experience the fullness of life in Christian faith, sometimes I feel a bit frustrated when facing people who are quite pessimistic and always hold a negative view. They find it very difficult to see the positive side of life. The question I want to raise is: How can we help those people see the fullness of life through Christian faith?
Kwok Nai Wang:
Life is a bundle of relationships. Your minister Phyllis Wong is a wife, a mother and an ordained minister. As such, she is related to her husband, her daughter and son as well as you all as her parishioners. Her life is not only defined by all these people, but also her life is enriched by them as well. But sadly, not too many people realize this important point.
As a matter of fact, fewer and fewer people treasure good relationship with their relatives, colleagues and friends nowadays. Almost daily, we read about siblings turn against each other and resort to legal proceedings over inheritance of their father or mother. We try to keep amiable relationship with our friends, but alas soon we find their shortcomings. Our colleagues disappoint us because their performance fall below our expectation, etc.
Sooner or later, we find all kinds relationship do not last. It is because they fail to build on solid foundations.
This morning, Robert and Paul offer us some suggestions.
Robert insists that God is love. Love is not empty words. Love is self-giving. God shows us He loves us so much so that He came to us through Jesus Christ and that He died for us.
Our relationship with other people must be based on this kind of limitless love.
Paul suggested our life relationships must be built on Jesus Christ. We must relate to each other through Christ rather than directly. When we are in Christ, Christ will be in us and vice verse. When we are in Christ we will become like Jesus – especially his sacrificial servant hood style. When Christ is in us, we will feel Jesus’ demand to us: love one another as Jesus has loved us.
When human situations are impossible, our faith in God will make it possible.
In this day and age, it is difficult to express our love to others, even our very close ones. It is equally difficult to keep others to see their lives cannot be separated from God. But difficult as it is, we must try. We must try our best and leave everything else to God. After all we are not God. We are only human. We are not in control of everything. Often the sad fact is that we see the difficulties we have to overcome and the sacrifice we have to make and just give up. In facing any hardship, I suggest we pray the prayer of Peter, “Lord, save me” (Matthew 14:30). Only if we ask, God will never let us walk alone.
God of Loving Relations
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 11th January 2009 by the Rev. Wong Mei Fung. The scripture readings that day were Psalm 29 and Mark 1: 4-11.
Dear God, may Your Holy Spirit comes upon Your People, inspire us by Your Word, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ we pray, amen.
In the church liturgical year, we now fall into the season of Epiphany. Epiphany comes from the Greek word ‘epiphaneia’ or ‘theophaneia’, meaning ‘appearance’ or ‘manifestation’. It is a season for Christians to wonder at the revelation of God to the world in Jesus Christ. The feast of the Epiphany on January 6 symbolizes Jesus Christ, who was the man born to be King, took on the human flesh to be identified with humanity.
Epiphany is the season that honors the public life and witness of Christ, including his baptism in Jordan, the miracles he performed and his unfailing compassion for others. Today is the first Sunday after the Epiphany. According to the church year, today is the Baptism of Jesus. It is a time for us to celebrate, to remember and to reflect on the significance of Jesus’ baptism and how it is related to our life of faith.
Jesus’ baptism was recorded in three gospels, in Mark 1:9-11, Matthew 3:13 and Luke 3:21-22. Jesus was baptized by John the Baptizer. The baptism proclaimed by John was repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Jesus has not sinned, why did he join the crowd and be baptized by John?
Jesus’ baptism revealed the mysterious love of God, for God’s full identification with humanity in its brokenness. Jesus did not sin and yet he received baptism, this reflects that Jesus did not separate himself from the sinners whom he would save.
In the Jewish tradition, baptism is not only an act of ritual purification alone but an act of self-dedication to the God of Israel, involving spiritual factors as well as physical factors with fundamentally sacramental character. According to Jewish law, for people who were chosen to be ordained as priests, they have to be washed by water, an act of purification, to symbolize the change of roles and life commitment. This tradition was recorded in Exodus 29:4 and Leviticus 8:6, when Aron and his sons were ordained to be priests in the rites of Ordination.
Jesus came to Jordan for baptism was an indication of his commitment to God and his readiness to engage in God’s mission. When Jesus was baptized, an amazing scene appeared. According to the description of the scripture in Mark, it emphasized that it was Jesus seeing the vision and hearing the voice of God that spoke to him directly. In Mark, the author emphasized it was Jesus who received the call directly from God and it was God and the Holy Spirit that spoke to him straight away. The vision and voice that Jesus saw and heard were also confirmation of Jesus’ roles and identity by God, as God’s son, the chosen one. A son who was given a mission on earth to fulfill God’s will. In Mark 1:11, it says ‘You are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased.’ This entailed a very personal and close relationship between the holy God, the Father from heaven and the Son Jesus. The relationship of Jesus Christ with God is a very intimate one that is based on love and full acceptance.
From Mark 1:9-11, there are theologians who regard the full presence of God, the voice from heaven, the Holy Spirit through the dove, and Jesus Christ, as manifestation of the Trinitarian nature of God. This Trinitarian nature of God reveals the essence of God in terms of relationships, relationships built on mutual love. God of Trinity has a strong theological meaning of ‘mutual in-dwelling’ or ‘being-in-one-another’. The idea and faith of ‘relation of mutuality’, is particularly meaningful for us in a world where use of power to dominate others is so prevalent. Violence in families, in tribal villages, in nations and in the world, is a manifestation of the human desire to dominate over others and even over nature. In our world we have witnessed many abusive relationships between fathers and sons. In the Christian faith of Trinity, God the Father and God the Son is grounded in a loving, deep and inseparable relationship with one another. In the faith of Trinity, as the essence of God ‘being-in-one-another’, relationship of dominance is replaced by relationship of honor and respect among equals. It has formed the basis in the divine way of life. The Trinitarian faith reflects divine love that freely gives of itself to others and creates community, mutuality, and shared life.
The understanding of God’s nature of relationship gives us great insight to lead a life according to the will of God and follow the good deeds of Jesus Christ.
From the news, we heard a number of blunders in medical settings recently, cases like the loss of a baby’s body which was suspected to have been misplaced and dumped in a landfill, another blunder involved a man suffering from heart attack just outside the Caritas Hospital but was refused help until it was too late and ended in his tragic death just yards from the emergency ward. It is really ironic. I agree with a writer of an article in a local newspaper on this particular blunder. The writer shared that if the receptionist at the hospital counter who was asked to help, tried to treat the man with the heart attack as her father, her brother, her friend, or someone who is close to her, she will never respond in such an aloof way. The writer continued to say that the receptionist would not just work according to hospital guidelines but to offer anything possible to save life if the patient is her loved one.
It would be horrible if we treat other people as strangers without sympathy. If we take other people as enemies, the situation could be of course even worse. When there is no love and concern in the relationship, the world is a horrible place to live. Just look at the wars around the world now, we are pretty sure of it. Right?
Dear friends, if we look at the world from the perspective of the God of Trinity, a God that treasures so much of mutual and loving relationship. Jesus as son of God, the beloved one, has shown to us we people are holy creation of God too, we are all children of God. Every single person in the world near and far is linked in God’s world. If we take everyone as our fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, good friends and neighbors, I think the violence and conflicts will be greatly reduced. Try to imagine we are being in one another, to stand in each other’s shoes, we will have a sense that other people’s suffering is our suffering, their problems are our problems, we will then be less violent but more tolerant and compassionate to each other.
If we are sensitive to the needs and problems of our family, our colleagues, our students and teachers, members of the church, the society and the global world, and take them as ours and do something about it. I am sure the world will be much brighter and more beautiful and peaceful.
Let’s come back again to the scenario of Jesus’ baptism in Mark 1. In verse 10, Jesus saw the heaven torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him when he was coming up out of the water. The dove was used to symbolize the Holy Spirit. When we read the ancient biblical text, dove was a symbolism pointed to Noah in the Old Testament (Genesis 8), who sent out a dove to search for dry land after the flood. Dove is thus a symbol of re-birth. Therefore, baptism has a meaning of rebirth. The rebirth of Christians in baptism is completed by Jesus’ death and resurrection. Baptism induces a commitment for a start of new life. That’s why we used to call people who are baptized as born-again Christians. They are new creations with a different life path which is engaged fully in our Lord Jesus Christ. In 2 Cor 5:17, it says “so if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see everything has become new!” Baptism is thus an important sacrament for the baptized to declare a life commitment to God to follow Jesus’ words and deeds, to obey God and fulfill his will and mission. According to Martin Luther, a leader of the Reformation in the 16th Century, a Christian should live each day with the same calling and grace as the day he or she was baptized, to dutifully carry out his or her life commitment at the baptism.
When we read further of Jesus’ life after his baptism in the gospel readings, we know that Jesus began his ministries to God and for God. He ended up sacrificing his life, crucified on the cross for the sake of humanity.
Baptism is therefore never a simple individual gain of a better life. There are some Christians who think from this self-interest perspective. They find security in being baptized and having gained the ticket to heaven after death. Jesus’ baptism and his ministries on earth has informed and reminded us clearly that God loves us. God revealed his love through Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice to save us from sins. Yet, God’s grace does not stop in personal gain or a kind of individualistic mentality of faith. Jesus’ baptism reminds us the relational nature of God, fully engaged in a mutually loving relationship. We Christians who have been baptized, empowered by the Holy Spirit and embraced by the love of Christ that we should relive our life that is fully engaged in God. That’s why we are called disciples of Christ.
Recently I attended a sacrament of baptism. I was touched by a testimony of a young man in his 20s, a University student. He shared that he was very aloof and cold to others, even to his family and friends. He confessed his state of alienation with others and openly committed to make a change. He then stepped down and walked towards his parents and hugged them. This was the first time that he has ever hugged his parents and it was very moving to see them in warm embrace with tears of joy. His change of attitude to his parents follows his taking a new course of life like Jesus Christ to bring forth reconciliation, his relationship with his parents is much improved. The loving relationship in the family is set to grow and grow. I think many of us here listening to this sermon might have experienced similar joy of life-changes empowered by the Holy Spirit. However, as time goes by and our experiences of frustration accumulate, we may have lost our enthusiasm as before when we were newly converted and baptized. I hope that the baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ is speaking to us today to remind us of our covenant of love with Christ in our own baptism. We are called the children of God, the beloved one, with you, God is well pleased with us.
We live in a chaotic world, a sinful world. We could be discouraged, dismayed and disappointed. The Baptism of Jesus reminds us that God does not forsake the world. God’s plan of salvation through Jesus Christ is still valid in our contemporary world. Jesus Christ reveals God’s love and through baptism God has demonstrated his commitment to save us from our sins. But God needs our response to repent for the forgiveness of sins. Our sins may be obvious or hidden, big or small. It does not matter in the eyes of God. The sins of the world are shared by all of us human beings because we are all inter-connected, what we have done or what we have not done all contribute to the state of affairs in this world today, this is globalization with a vengeance!
In a recent TV programme called “My 2008”, it was said that financially, 2008 was Annus horribilis (a horrible year), but that if we prepare ourselves well in 2009, 2010 will be full of hope. I am no expert in finance and I don’t know how true this is, but I certainly agree that at the start of the new year of 2009, we should take the opportunity to reflect and begin anew.
In baptism, we are given the Holy Spirit which has set us free and helps us to walk in the Light. Jesus promises life to all, he died to save those who are lost, Jesus’ love heals our wounds. The Spirit sets us free. Free from worries and anxieties. Free from hatred. Let us use our freedom wisely, and to respond positively and courageously to our Lord Christ’s calling to follow him as disciples, and to lead a new life that glorifies our living and loving God.
God of relations, there at the Baptism of Jesus, declaring, anointing, and speaking loving words. May the Holy Spirit come to touch us, inflame us and claim us as Your own.
God, strengthen our commitment to follow the way of Christ, and deepen our faith and communion of your church. At the start of 2009, God, guide us individually and as a community of faith in your will that we serve your Kingdom on earth to bring love and peace. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.
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