A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 22th February 2009 by the Rev. Kwok Nai Wang. The scripture readings that day were Deuteronomy 30:15-20 and John 15:1-17.
This is my 60th and the very last sermon I shall deliver as the Senior Minister of KUC. During my nearly 43 years in the Christian ministry, I always consider Preaching as the most important task of a minister. As the word “minister” suggests, the primary function of a minister is to serve – to serve the Word of God; or in more concrete terms, to serve people with God’s Word.
Ministers always preach on God’s Word. As the Bible was the very first faith documents of two faith communities, namely: the Israelite people around 1,000 B.C. to about 100 A.D. and the Early Christian Church around 35 to 120 A.D. to expound on God’s Word; therefore preaching has to be based on the Bible. Preaching is always Biblical preaching. However, preaching does not stop there. Preaching has to link-up the Biblical faith and the human situations to-day. In other words preaching makes God’s Word alive and relevant to all of us.
The apex of God’s Word is God in Jesus Christ. As the Apostolic Preaching, i.e. the preaching of Peter and Paul as recorded in Acts have shown us, Jesus, as the Incarnate God, was put on a cross and God had raised him to life on the third day. Christ’s sacrificial love, as epitomized by his absolute obedience to God, even unto death as well as his humble service to the humankind, has become the nucleus of God’s Word. We have seen how God’s Word comes to us in every page of the Bible as well as in all of history. It comes to us always as the Word of Possibility and Hope; Comfort and Strength.
The Word of God is the Word of Possibility. The Old Testament gave us many and various conditions of human life: deceit, jealousy, pride, oppression, greed, wars, conquests and defeat, etc. But in all of these situations, good or bad, life goes on. In the midst of impossibility, there was always possibility. The Israelites were in Egypt since Joseph was made a chancellor by Pharaoh. They became numerous and stronger than the Egyptians. So the Egyptians decided to suppress them, treat the Israelites as slaves and infantilized all the male babies. It became an impossible situation for the Israelites. God then sent Moses to lead them out of Egypt, the land of bondage and instructed them to become God’s chosen people.
The Word of God is also the Word of Comfort.
“Comfort my people, comfort them says your God. Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and cry to her that her period of service is ended and that her guilt has been atoned for”. (Isaiah 40:1-2)
The word “comfort” in Hebrew means to give strength or to strengthen.
The Israelites were forced to exile to Babylon. The Holy city and their holy temple were destroyed in the 6th Century B.C.E. They became a powerless and hopeless people. But in the midst of all this the Word came to them through Prophet Isaiah. This Word did not only predict the deliverance of the Israelites and their return home. Later, it became known to the faithful that this Word was about the coming of Jesus Christ as the Messiah who came to save the oikoumene or the whole inhibited earth from self-destruction.
Jesus came as he ultimate Word of Possibility and comfort. Members of KUC must live by this Word individually and corporately. Further, you must try to witness to this Word to the wider community in Hong Kong and beyond. This is God’s calling to you!
How to do it?
First, you have to set your focus right. Your focus should ever be on God and God alone; and never, never on yourself. You owe your existence to God. So whenever you gather, your primary function is to worship God: to magnify God’s name, that is God’s relationship to all humanity and indeed to His entire creation. God is our God and we are God’s people.
When I first arrived at KUC, I have often been told this is not KUC; that is not what KUC has been doing. I did a lot of soul searching. What I tried to guide KUC is nothing else but to enable the congregation at KUC to be God’s people or to put in other words, to be a truly worshipping community. In order to do that I have to do away a lot of idols in our hearts – the biggest of these of course is the “self”.
Every Sunday, I arrive at KUC at least half-an-hour early before the worship time. I would spend a few minutes to make sure that things on the chancel are in proper place. I robed. Then I would stand and look out the window. I see the buzzing world in miniature outside. Hundreds of people walk by in a hurry. My question is: what is the relationship between what we are doing inside the Church and these passers-by who go around minding their own business? Superficially no relationship whatsoever. But as I reflect on it deeper, I feel what we are doing inside the sanctuary must have some relationship with these passers-by and indeed all people around the world. Because ultimately we worship God not for ourselves. Rather we worship God on behalf of all humanity. I just could not imagine what it would be like if the human race live completely apart from God. For without God, human beings will not be human beings. For human beings as truly human beings cannot be separated from God. God as the creator and human beings as the created must co-exist. So whenever we worship God, we are trying to maintain the humanness that is within human beings. In other words, we represent the passers-by and all the people who are outside the church to worship God. This “representational” kind of act is awesome. You must accept this task graciously and seriously. Worship at KUC should not be ordinary business. Worshipping God is of utmost importance; for God is the centre of our being! Quoting from the Acts of the Apostles: “In God we live, we move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28).
Second, a church is not an ordinary human organization. A church, any church, belongs to God. It is God’s church. KUC as a church of God stands under God. In God we trust. In God we live and in God we act.
God is not an abstract concept. The God we believe in is always the God in Christ.
Jesus Christ came to us as a sacrificial lamb. In eucharist or holy communion, we celebrate the reality that Christ’s body is broken for us. When we partake in Christ’s body, we too must be prepared to become like Jesus and sacrifice our body for the well being of the less fortunate and those in dire need. Every time we celebrate Christ’s body broken for us; we must decide that our body be broken for others, so that like us, the body of many others might have the possibility of becoming whole again.
For this is the ultimate meaning of the holy communion. In this sacrament, God’s invisible grace is made manifest to all of us. The church, as a visible body should thus remember always that it has the responsibility to manifest God’s grace whenever and wherever it may be. In other words, KUC should never forget to show to the world that God is the God of Grace and Love.
How does KUC go about doing it?
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to serve in two very distinguished local churches. One was my field work church, the United Church of Christ in New Haven, Connecticut, or generally known as Centre Church on the Green. The other was my first parish church, Shum Oi Church of the Church of Christ in China in Shek Kip Mei, the very first Resettlement Estate in Hong Kong.
Centre Church founded in 1634 is a very historic church. During my days there between 1965-1966, twice a week there were guided tours at this church. Many visitors came to see its crypt especially where many famous personalities in New England were buried. But to me, Centre Church is not only an historic church, it is a model church of what a local church should be. Though with very few members and worshippers, for years it engaged (with a bit of federal funding) in the renovation of houses in the inner city of New Haven which was very run-down. Centre Church cared for the inner city where it was located. It stood for urban renewal. What does KUC stand for?
When I started my ministry at Shum Oi Church, its brand new building has just completed. But at the time, this grand and spacious church building had nothing to do with the dilapidated and crowded resettlement estate. We got to work. We wanted to change Shum Oi Church from a self-serving church to a neighborhood church. We worked with a group of young people in the parish. We published an informative quarterly. We organized Christian carnivals for the children. Annually we produced a calendar with meaning for every home in our parish of around 8,000 residents. We opened our buildings as study rooms for high school students who lived nearby, and so on. In a word, we wished to turn the church into a church existed for the community rather than existed for self-interests and preservation of members. Even up to this day, Shum Oi Church, literally means Deep Love Church, remains a model which church people still talk about. How about KUC?
This world is full of animosities and self-deceit. We no longer trust one another. Also wars and conflicts abound in the world, even in Hong Kong as well as in our midst. This world desperately needs signs of Peace and Reconciliation. Can KUC be one?
To-day, almost all local churches are rather inward-looking. Only when we look at their annual budgets, programs and projects will suffice to make the point. We do a lot of things, but how are these things relevant to the human cry all over the world? We must try to turn KUC to be an outward looking church. KUC exists in and for the world!
This is a choice we have to make. Do we gather together just for the sake of protecting and enhancing members’ welfare? In other words is the emphasis of KUC to look after the members’ physical, mental or spiritual needs? Or we will honour the fact that we are called by God and gather together and be a body of servants in the world? There is a vast difference between the two. One is that we are an in-group, only trying to satisfy our needs and then secondly to do a few good things. The other is that we do not look at our wounds and our needs as much. Rather, we concentrate to be faithful to God’s calling and look at where and how God wants us to serve Him in this world.
Oftentimes, we are too preoccupied with satisfying our own needs. As a result, we worry too much. We will be in trouble if we are only concerned about ourselves. For along the way of self-serving only, we lose ourselves. We will be disconnected with God, with other people as well as with ourself. Always remember how the Christian Gospel comes to us: “anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for Jesus’ sake, and for the sake of the Gospel, will save it. What gain, then, is it for anyone to win the whole world and forfeit his own life? And indeed what can anyone offer in exchange for his life.” (Mark 8:35-37// Matthew 16:25-26// Luke 9:24-25// John 12:25). The Christian Gospel is ultimately the Gospel of Renunciation. Jesus beckons us to become like him: “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me”. (Mark 8:34// Matthew 16:24// Luke 9:23).
May every member of KUC live by this Gospel and may KUC as a church try to live by this Gospel and share it with many people in Hong Kong and beyond.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end; Amen.