A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 8th February 2009 by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Isaiah 40:21-31 and Mark 1:29-39.
God of Trinity, open our mind to understand your will and open our eyes to see your truth, with a thankful heart we pray, amen.
There are some people who never go to church but when they encounter personal crisis and problems, they may go to the church searching for comfort and a way out. It is very natural to seek help and look for alternatives when people face difficulties in life. Many people encounter God’s might and mercy when they face immense problem that are beyond their capacity to cope.
I know a brother-in-Christ, I call him Lam, who was a drug addict for over 20 years. He suffered from serious lung problem because of this bad habit. During one Christmas he suffered severely and had to be admitted to a hospital. The nurses in the hospital were very kind to him. They gave him soup to drink and offered very tenderly service. During the Christmas eve, the nurses together with some other Christians sang him Christmas songs and brought him presents. He was very touched and felt strongly the presence of God through the loving act of the nurses. As a drug addict he had never been received so warmly by people, not even by his own family. He was converted to Christianity after being discharged and his life has been changed drastically since then. He does not take drugs anymore and instead began working for a Christian drug rehabilitation organization to serve the youth who experienced similar problems like himself.
When brother Lam was healed and cured, with a thankful heart to God, he decided to follow Jesus’ footstep to serve others by using his experience. As is well known in the field of drug rehabilitation program, the relapse rate of rehabilitated drug addicts is high. One of the reasons for Lam’s success to turn away from drug completely is his conviction and actions to serve God by serving people with backgrounds like him. He has changed his life from self-centred, to a focus for God and to God. After he was cured, Lam did not focus on his own problem and sickness, he moved on to serve with God’s love to others. He finds his life more meaningful and fruitful. Later on he had even met a woman in his work setting and got married. Now he has a family with two lovely children.
I knew a sister in a local congregation, who criticized that her pastor had spent too much time serving the new immigrant children and families in the community, but has neglected the pastoral care and needs of the congregation members internally. She stressed that she was in need of pastoral concern from the pastor but was not given enough of it. There are sisters and brothers who regard a pastor’s prime role is to nurture their congregation members. From what Jesus had done, the healing role of a pastor is beyond questions.
I have no right to challenge the sister’s needs for pastoral care and yet I feel sorry for her because she has taken up a passive and victim’s role all along. It is this self-centering on her own need and clinging on too much of the personal problems that make her life so frustrating and unfulfilling. Many people who are sick physically or psychologically, are comforted and healed by the love of God through the care and concerns by pastors, sisters and brothers in the church. The church perhaps has been so successful in this regard that some people enjoy such kinds of concern too much. They stick to this state of comfort and do not want to move on. They want to play the sick role so that people around them will continue to care for them.
Healing is an important aspect of God’s love, it falls upon the people to show our Lord cares. However, the healing from God should never be taken for granted by a sick person. After healing, the person should be able to stand on her or his own feet with self care and responsibility. There are many people including Christians who take up a patient’s role, that is a sick role consciously or unconsciously. The trade off for them to take up a sick and victim role is they feel safe and are able to continue to enjoy the care and love from others without taking responsibilities.
If we cling on to the past and continue to play a victim and sick role, we cannot go very far. Take a look at Simon’s mother-in-law as revealed in the gospel of Mark 1. Once she was cured by Jesus, she began to serve Jesus and the disciples immediately without hesitation. A life of serving others is more fulfilling and joyful. We can lead a life of abundance when we are able to serve others. Brother Lam whom I just shared is a life witness in our time.
What if there are situations when the illness is not cured?
Of course there are times when we ask God to heal and cure, and yet the illness is still there. The health problems cannot be resolved. Audrey Yu Yuet Mei, a barrister in her profession and current Legislative Councilor representing the legal constituency of Hong Kong. Last year, before the Legislative Council election, a tumor was found in Audrey Yu’s brain. The tumor was a risk to her life but it was something outside her control. When she considered whether she should take rest for the sake of her health or go ahead with the election campaign and continue to serve the society, she eventually decided to join the election campaign, not only on her own, she went a step further to support a young woman to run the election as a pair partnership in one electoral ticket so as to groom a political leader for the next generation. When Audrey Yu was asked if she worried for her health, she said she just went ahead to do the right things and tried not to focus on the problem. Audrey Yu has revealed one truth, if we worry too much of the things that we cannot control, it does no good to us and other people. On the contrary, if we have faith and confidence that Jesus Christ our healer is always right here to cure and restore our whole being physically, psychologically and spiritually, we then know that we are saved. God has fulfilled his promise of healing with his might and mercy. For Jesus Christ is the redeemer of all humanity. Those who believe in him has been given the hope of eternal life. It is this eschatology of hope that brings us the possibility of change. It is this hope that gives us courage to go ahead with confidence.
Similarly, when the economic crisis drags on and we are affected adversely, we can stay complaining and live in fear by filling in a victim’s role, or we choose to think and act with confidence that our Lord God who has created the earth and through Jesus Christ lives amongst us with mercy, we are empowered to face our problems and continue our journey with responsibility. When there is a crisis, it is time for us to stay closer to God and pray to understand the will of God on these matters and wait for the renewal. Be sure that we are not waiting for nothing, we wait and act by bearing in mind that our Lord God is there, God is the source of everything. We are his beloved children and will be protected and guided. When we wait and keep our focus in God, we will be regenerated and strengthened.
Being threatened by the global financial tsunami, the United States has been criticized by other nations for their over-consumption and poor monitoring of the financial institutions that induced such a world-wide economic disaster. What is very unacceptable to other governments from the international community is that the United States tried to stay away from their responsibilities and has asked others to pay for their cost. While the American financial institutions and their government should critically examine their responsibilities, we people around the world who are also affected by the world wide economy in nowadays global world, we should also have to sincerely reflect on whether we have taken our responsibilities and not shifting the cost to other people especially those who in less advantageous position to defend themselves. We must remember that our Lord God is the source of the creation and merciful to people especially the weak and the powerless.
Therefore when we move on in the midst of crisis of different kinds, with God’s might and mercy, we have to be aware that we do not move on, just for our own self on an individual basis, but we should have the communal dimension to concern and take care of the weak and less fortunate.
Go back to brother Lam. He was healed and encountered with God in person. But it was the nurses in the communal setting of the hospital that brought him the complete cure of his sickness, both biologically and spiritually. Reading from Mark 1, we see how Jesus’ disciples served in a communal sense by bringing Simon’s mother-in-law, and people who were sick with diseases and captive by demons to Jesus for healing. Without such collaborative and cooperative efforts for mutual care and help, the healing of whole beings can never be realized.
In his recent trip to Europe and speech in Cambridge, Chinese Premier Wen Jia Bao highlighted that confidence, cooperation and responsibilities are the keys for the international communities to face the global financial crisis. To take Wen’s key idea in our Christian context, yes, confidence is important but it is confidence that granted fully in God who is mighty and merciful in nature. Cooperation is important, a genuine cooperation is fostered when people are able to think of other’ needs instead of just self interest, and base on the faith of loving one another in a communal sense. Responsibilities, for Jesus our healer and redeemer who has given people hope of change, that has encourage us to take responsibilities by engaging a life of serving. Our God in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit make a better future possible and promising.
At the end of my sermon, I would like to read once again Isaiah 40:28b-31 for you.
When you are listening to me, I invite you to look at the picture of the bulletin’s front page and meditate on both the image of the eagle and the words of God.
“The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youth will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall walk and not faint.”
May our Lord’s might and mercy give us courage and hope to move on with faith and joy.
Please continue to spend some time of silence to reflect on the word of God. (Iris play the music for 1 verse).