Meditations, Reflections, Bible Studies, and Sermons from Kowloon Union Church
God of Peace: The Christian Ministry of Reconciliation
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 29th March 2009 by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Isaiah 11:1-9 and 2 Cor 5:17-20.
Today, I deliver the last sermon of my Lenten series: Repentance and reconciliation: Christian faith in context. In the sermons of the last few weeks, I have touched on various topics and themes in which I attempted to reflect of our God’s nature and how we as Jesus’ disciples and God’s church respond to the call of Lord in our contemporary context. I had shared a sermon on God of Equals, who concerns women’s plight and gender equalities. Another one is about God of Justice who cares for the oppressed and the marginalized, we are thus asked to defend the poor and the needy. God of Creation was my sermon last week to address ecological concerns by challenging ourselves to care for our earth by becoming good steward. All these sermons will be uploaded to KUC’s web-site for readers.
I started my first sermon of the Lenten series on --- God of Mission: repent and believe in the good news. Today, I would like to share with you the good news of peace and reconciliation. As Christ’s followers, we are given the ministry of reconciliation, to manifest God’s mission for peace. It is the restoration of harmonious relationship which reflects God’s beautiful creation.
In time of chaos and conflicts in families and nations, in time of economic turmoil and uncertain future, in time of outburst of hatred and exclusiveness in our world, prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 11:6-8) has offered a beautiful vision of peace in our time.
How nice it is to see in the imagery of a peaceful community where all members may live together without fear, they enjoy each others’ companionship. They lie down together, feed together, eat together and play together. These are the basic requirement of community life that the strong and weak, the great or small, the developed and underdeveloped, harmful or safe stay together in harmony.
In 2 Cor 5:17-20, St Paul pointed to us that Christian and faith community of Christ have been given the promise and hope in Christ for what Jesus had fulfilled. At the same time, he said very clearly that all of us who are in Christ are given the ministry of reconciliation. We are requested and given the important role of ambassador for Christ, to restore relationship and reconnect people with God.
We are given a vision of peace and a mission of reconciliation.
Yes, we live in an imperfect world. However, Isaiah’s vision has given us the possibilities of harmony and goodness because of God. God promises members of the community will not be hurt or destroyed on his holy mountain for the earth will be full of knowledge of the Lord. (11:9) When we return to God and in God, the harmony and beauty of God’s creation will be restored. The vision does not say that we have already achieved it, but it is encouraging to know God has given us a dream to dream and work towards something difficult but not impossible.
God knows well of the limitations and weakness of humankind. God loves us and thus gives us the chance to change and participate in his creation and salvation plan. God has called us to restore relationship with him and all things. Jesus Christ, both human and God has demonstrated radical love and peace in his suffering, death and resurrection. His forgiving love has saved all sinners who turn to him. Jesus Christ has taken away all human shames and guilt. We are thus free persons to reconnect with God, reconcile with God.
Jesus has given a strong model for being a peace maker. While we do not agree with the idea and practice of ‘an eye for an eye’, it is however common for people to defend themselves by using some violence if they are being harmed physically or their lives under threat. Jesus had offered a very extraordinary way to encounter violence and injustice. Jesus is a radical advocate for peace. In 2 Peter 2:23-24, it says “When he was abused, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness…” Jesus had demonstrated his extraordinary commitment to non-violence. He had used his life to resist the death of violence and injustice. Such a non-violence resistance is very powerful. A person becomes strong and undefeatable if she or he is not afraid to sacrifice their lives for the sake of love, peace and justice.
In our world, we witness the power and good deeds of some extra-ordinary people who insist non-violence approach in dealing with threats, conflicts and abuses. To name a few, Burmese human rights leader Ms Ang San Suu Kyi and the Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama. Both of them are Nobel Price winners. Both of them suffer by losing their freedom and their lives have been under constant threatened somehow. But they continue to fight and resist by non-violent approach. There were leaders who fought for dignity and liberty of human kind by sacrificing their lives. Gandhi from India fighting for independence and freedom of his country. Martin Luther King dedicated his life for racial harmony and equality. There are thousands upon thousands of people in the world who have been working silently for the cause of peace. How about us, my friends, living in Hong Kong, a very safe place with low crime rate and materially rich city? How do we contribute ourselves to become the ambassador for Christ to bring forth peace and reconciliation?
The people I mentioned above are prominent figures that we may not be so easy to identify with. Some of us may think I am just an ordinary person and how can I do great things like them? Peace making and the ministry of reconciliation starts with ourselves, our home and our church.
We need to have peace with ourselves. We need to fully accept ourselves and then we will have this capacity to accept others and tolerate others. I have shared in my sermon in ‘God of Equals’ that I was a victim of sexual violence, molested by a stranger when I was a child. I carried the guilt and blame for many years. At the bottom of my heart, there was a deep scar. From the healing story of the woman who suffered from discharge of blood, I was touched by the healing power of Jesus through his unconditional love and acceptance. Besides the words of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit, my engagement in a developmental course had also helped me to restore my relationship with myself. After the psychological and spiritual healing, I did not take the role of victim anymore. Instead of being victimized, I took up a new position of being a survivor. I reclaimed a lot of power and confidence after I reconciled relationship with myself. I felt very much liberated. This liberation released a lot of my energy and enhanced my passion to serve women suffering from similar problems and trauma. That was the background that drove my involvement in setting up the first organization and rape crisis center --- Rain Lily in Hong Kong in the year 1997 to 2001.
Reconciliation starts at home too. As I always said my son is my spiritual director for he always inspires me to reflect, although the process is not always pleasant.
He shared with me that I easily lost temper and became more impatient to him when I was under stress. He even gave a very good justification that I need ventilation when I was pressurized. While I was amazed by his good articulation I also felt sorry for him. It is common that we easily project our anger to our families or those who are close to us. It is not only wrong, but detrimental to relationship. We should not take advantage of our close and intimate relationships with our loves ones, like family, marriage and partners. Beside, we have to be aware that we should not take advantage of our position and power to manipulate relationship for our own benefits and desires.
I have heard situations like domestic helpers are abused by their employers because their employers are emotionally upset by the economic problem. It is absolutely wrong to discharge one’s emotion to others and pass our own sufferings to others.
When my son shared with me and I shared with you openly, we were vulnerable for we did not know how others would respond. Peace makers who take up the ministry of reconciliation need to have the courage to stand in vulnerable position. The good news is in the grace of Jesus Christ through his incarnation to the world, we are able to stay close to God. We are healed and liberated in the love of God. The liberation given by Jesus Christ has freed us from any bondage but become a free person to engage in God’s mission of peace.
As a community of faith as church, what are we going to do in the ministry of reconciliation?
In our human history, there are many human abuses and injustice that kill not only human lives but human dignity and left so many scars and broken hearts. The feeling of pains has caused the continuation of violence and hatred. Desmond Tuto, the Archbishop in South Africa who chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), had tried very good effort to bring forth peace and reconciliation amongst abusers and victims after the abolition of apartheid.
There are however, some people who object to such reconciliation and find it unjust. One of the criticisms comes from the family of prominent anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko, who was killed by the security police. Biko's family described that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission had 'robbed them of their right to justice.' The family opposed amnesty for his killers on these grounds and brought a legal action in South Africa's highest court. In general, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been regarded as a success. It is true however, that reconciliation should never be an excuse for the legitimization of violence and or further oppression. In the ministry of reconciliation, we need to be very sensitive to the needs and pains of victims as well as people who possess less power. Furthermore, reconciliation must be based on justice. If there is no justice, no eternal peace can be achieved.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission may have given us insight as church to keep our sensitivity to people’s suffering and unjust treatment, and to act with courage when the time comes.
The church’s mission is God’s mission. The prime role of the church is to fellow Jesus’ footstep. We have to continue the mission of Jesus Christ. Today, we have been reminded once again of our identity, we are God’s children, we are disciples of Christ. In Christ, we are a new creation. Everything old has passed and everything has become new!
In the season of Lent, we repent and turn to understand God’s mission in our contemporary world. God of peace has given a vision of peaceful kingdom and a ministry of reconciliation today. It is time for us to respond and take actions. Church is witness of God to continue Jesus’ mission to share the good news with people in our particular era in face of different challenges of gender inequalities and violence, injustice of poverty and marginalization of the poor, climate change and ecological crisis that threaten the whole creation.
Let’s be a channel of peace, to serve God and his creation together. May our work be delighted in God to bring a better world of love, hope and joy. Glory be to God, now and forever. Amen.
To conclude my sermon, I invite you to join with me a prayer for peace.
This prayer is found in the internet, possibly originated from the Philippines.
Grant Us Peace
Grant us peace that will
BREAK our silence in the midst of violence
then prophetic voices shall resonate
Grant us peace that will
PULL US DOWN from the steeple of our pride
then we’ll learn to wash each other’s feet
Grant us peace that will
EMPTY us of hate and intolerance
then we’ll turn guns into guitars and sing
Grant us peace that will
SHUT our mouths up when we speak too much
then we’ll learn to listen and understand what others are saying
Grant us peace that will
DISTURB us in our apathy
then we’ll dance together under the sun
Grant us peace that will
BURN our lethargic hearts
then we’ll endure burning and let love and justice glow
God of Creation – God saw everything he made was good
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 22nd March 2009 by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Genesis 1:1-26, Psalm 104: 1-24 and John 3:14-21.
God of Creator, grant us a spirit of truth to recognize our human failings, give us the humility to understand your mystery of creation, help us to focus our mind, heart and soul in Your word and in Your will. Amen.
This is the fourth sermon in my Lenten series with the theme --- repentance and reconciliation: Christian faith in context. Today, I have picked up the ecological crisis in our contemporary world as our theme for reflection. What do we need to repent in view of the ecological crisis and the need to reconcile with the earth?
Our family has an 8-seated StepWagon vehicle. Three years ago the car reached the age of 7. We started to have to spend more money in repairing and maintenance. I was therefore thinking of buying a new car in order to avoid the increasing maintenance cost. After discussion with Tong, my husband, we then talked to our children who were 10 and 8 years old by that time. To my surprise both of them strongly objected to our suggestion. The reasons for that were both pragmatic and sentimental. They said the car still worked and it was a waste of money to buy a new one. More importantly, they shared that the car has been with us for so many years. They have developed an attachment to it and find great sentimental value for this car. My son who is always critical, even challenged us by saying ‘isn’t it too cruel to get rid of something that has been serving us and with us for so long, just because it is old?’
My children’s strong attachment to the car and their environmental friendly attitude impressed me. We did not buy a new car. We ended up by paying a higher maintenance cost for the past few years, even now. Our children’s response to the idea of buying a new family and the reminder of my daughter to use less private vehicle, gave me some insights in the reflection of ecological crisis that we face nowadays and how it is related to our faith about God’s creation.
Ecological Crisis In Our Contemporary World
We Christian affirm our faith in God the creator in the first article of the Apostles’ Creed, “Maker of Heaven and Earth.” However, God’s good creation is profoundly challenged by the ecological crisis. The earth and the network of life that it sustains are in peril. In the view of some experts, the damage to the environment is already severe and in some cases perhaps irreversible.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that 20-30 percent of plant and animal species are at risk for extinction and that acidification of the oceans will fundamentally change marine life. Overall, global climate change is predicted to bring increase in flooding, severe storm events and droughts.
There are figures pointing out the serious damages of the world
· Death in the forest– Humans have been cutting down forests at the rate of 120,000 sq kilometer a year. An area of forest equal to 12 football fields is lost every minute.
· Death of the land – The world population is around 6 billion. This is expected to increase to 8 billion by 2030. There will be a steady increase in land permanently occupied by housing, industry and infrastructure.
· Death of diversity – Virtually all the earth’s eco-systems have been dramatically changed through human activity. It’s estimated that between 17,000 to 100,000 species vanish every year. Almost a quarter of the world’s mammals face extinction within 30 years.
· Death in the skies - Greenhouse gases caused by human activity play a major role in global warming – activities such as burning fossil fuels, agriculture and the use of chlorofluorocarbons in refrigeration systems. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts a steady rise in sea levels as a result of temperature increases of 1 to 6 degrees C by 2100. The head of the Hong Kong Observatory, Mr Lam Chiu-ying has also pointed out that we will face more extremely wet years and more extremely dry years in the future because our climate is no longer in a state of equilibrium. The equilibrium has been disrupted by human activities emitting carbon dioxide.
Global climate change affects all human populations across the globe, it hits those living in poverty the hardest. It is because they depend on the surrounding physical environment to supply their needs and have limited capacity to cope the climate extremes and variability.
Reflection On Ecological Crisis
In view of the ecological crisis, how have we humans contributed to it?
The causes for the ecological crisis are many and complicated; I would like to highlight two points for reflection. They are unchecked consumerism and misuse of power by humankind.
We live in an era of consumerism where human desire to consume and possess has been greatly driven by the market. People are encouraged to spend more which is in fact not that necessary. I remembered one episode about a friend who brings her children to a popular fast food shop in HK sometimes. One day there was one local newspaper doing a promotion by offering cash coupon of one local fast food shop. Without much hesitation, this friend bought several copies of the newspaper for she wanted to get the coupons. When she was asked why she did this? She just simply felt it was something she gained. The newspaper cost 6 dollars but she can get 10 dollars coupon back. Somehow the gift of coupon had created a want for people which in fact she they did not need. Likewise, there are always promotions in supermarkets like by paying one additional dollar, you will get another piece of the same product. In many occasions, we do not need the extra item. We purchase because it costs just one additional dollar and then we get twice the goods. The market in our highly commercialized world has created this unnecessary consumption. One common phenomenon is people buy and consume more than we really need. In fact, unchecked consumerism is the major factor for ecological crisis. In the late modernity, human beings have come to a point of “I consume, therefore I am”. When the goal to maximize one’s possession and use of the world’s goods are so common in our lives, our environment would be deeply in trouble. We have to be aware that unchecked consumption in some societies could turn out to deprive those of others. While the inhabitants of some countries recklessly consume non-renewable resources of the earth, millions of others lack even the basic necessities.
Therefore, we need to confess that we humans have consumed too much of world resources especially in affluent societies. The poor and the less developed countries suffer more as the ecological crisis and climate change hit them the hardest because they are more vulnerable to natural disasters.
Besides, we have to confess for our sins against human’s selfish desire. We have to reaffirm that God is the creator and everything comes from God. God is the source of all that exists. We human beings have no rights to exploit God’s place. Besides, we should never take things for granted but give praise and thanks to God for gifts in the world that God has given to us.
Human Sins Of Misuse Of Power, The Second Cause For Ecological Crisis
The second aspect I would like to discuss is the misuse of human power.
Obama has recently lifted a Bush Administration ban by using federal funds for human embryonic-stem-cell research. Scientists believe that such research could help treating illnesses like Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s. While there are supporters for Obama’s move, pro-life advocates criticized this act, saying it could lead to the destruction of human embryos in the name of research.
The stem-cell research may do good for humans but that is yet to see. While we admit that modern technology may serve and save lives, it is at the same time modern technology that is used to demonstrate the power of humankind. There is the criticism that ‘at the heart of the ecological crisis is always the misuse of power. The modern scientific enterprise has frequently succumbed to the intoxication of power.’
God has given humans wisdom to perform the role of steward to take care of the world. However, there are times humans have totally neglected and exploited nature and focus only on the welfare of humankind, especially for those who have more power and resources.
Historian Lynn White criticized that Christianity should bear a ‘huge burden of guilt for our present ecological crisis. There is an accusation against Christians at the teaching that human beings alone are created in God’s image (Gen 1:26a) and that they are commanded by God to exercise ‘dominion’ over all the other creatures (Gen 1:26b)
Thomas Aquinas, a 13th Century’s theologian second to none in affirming that the goodness of God is displayed in the diversity of creatures. He however declared that ‘the life of animals and plants is preserved not for themselves but for man.’
To be fair, it is not Christians’ monopoly for such a ‘human-centred view’ or ‘anthropocentrism’. In view of this manipulation and control of human beings towards nature, Christians should represent all humanity to repent for the ideology of mastery and domination over nature and abuse of the environment for human greed and selfishness.
Be God’s Good Steward
It is time therefore, we humankind to reflect on our call commissioned by God in performing the role of good steward to take care of the world created by God.
We have to be critical when we talk about stewardship and their role as human beings. As God’s steward, we are appointed to care for, not to manipulate and exploit the environment. Christians cannot treat the natural environment with a ruthless manner.
To be a good steward, we have to admit the co-existence and interdependence of all created beings. God has created me but God has created more than me. That’s why Martin Luther, the prominent German theologian of the Reformation in the 16th century pointed rightly that ‘God has created me and all that exists’. Human beings exist with animals, soil, sun, water and all forms of life that they produce. God is creator of the world whose inhabitants are profoundly interdependent.
The affirmation of God’s creation is good It is the fundamental basis of respect and admiration of all beings. Humanity is part of the creation and thus human beings are trustees rather than masters of the world. Only God is our master. Domination over the earth is understood in a context of distinctive identification of God – God is a god of grace and covenantal love. Human beings are given the responsibilities to take care of the whole creation as God cares for it. It is a ‘dominion’ of care and protection rather than of control and exploitation. The whole universe is God’s, not ours.
All living beings are from God. We human beings must admit our limitations and dependence to God. All creatures are in a web of relationships. We are inter-related and inter-dependent. Take an example of a piece of bread or a bowl of rice that we have everyday. The bread or rice gives us the nutrition to up keep our body and strength. Who and what have been involved for the production of the bread/rice that is finally consumed by us? We need the factory workers to do the packaging, the drivers to bring them to shops, the shop keeper to sell them to us, and of course the farmers and perhaps the cows to work on the farm, the sun, the water and air to make the wheat and rice grow. When we are able to see how all forms of life, including the natural environment, humankind and all kinds of animals are inter-connected and interdependent, working together, we will then realize that it is absolutely wrong and inappropriate for humankind to take up a superior position. On the contrary, we should treat one another with love and compassion for our lives are so closely connected with different people, animals and the natural environment. Take my life as an example, I can see the life the farmers and nutrition from the soil.
John 3:16, the golden verse, ‘for God so love the world he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.’ God loves the world. In here, it is obvious the world that God loves include both humans and non human. God has sent Jesus Christ to the earth to redeem the whole world, not only human beings. In an era our nature is very much damaged and endangered, the world is broken that requires God’s redemption so that God’s creation will be restored. It is time that we have to take a proactive action to restore God’s creation so that the glory of God will be revealed once again.
In the eyes of Jesus, eternal life is not something out there after death. Eternal life is reconnection and restoration of relationship of every kind. These include relationship with God, with others and with our own self. Since God is the source of creation, restoration of relationship should include relationship between humankind and nature.
In facing the global economic crisis, Obama’s Administration has taken a motto for their political strategy, that is “never waste a good crisis”. Similarly, in encountering the ecological crisis, can it be an opportunity to bring a change for a better tomorrow or just a crisis?
Recovery of faith in God the creator and respect for the whole of God’s creation is a matter of great urgency.
Today, I present the following three challenges to you.
1) to lead a simple life that we consume less world resources for the sake of other people in need and the conservation of the environment for our next generation.
2) to lead a life to stand against any injustice towards the vulnerable nature and the poor.
3) to take good care of all living beings including animals and the natural environment, by cultivating a more compassionate heart in us and in the community.
May what we will be doing and have been doing glorify God the highest.
Our gracious and almighty God, grant us a spirit to concern our environment in future. Help us to bring an end to the exploitation of the earth’s scarce resources. Encourage us to be responsible stewards of your creation. Amen.
God of Justice: Defend the rights of the poor and needy
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 15th March 2009 by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Proverb 31:8-9; Psalm 12:5; and Matthew 5:3-10.
God of Justice, we pray for your holy presence and guidance. May your Word of love touch our hearts and your Truth reveal to us through the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I would like to start by sharing with you some life stories.
There was a young man of 20 who fled to Hong Kong to escape from political persecution in his home country in Africa. After 5 years he is still awaiting for his application for refugee status. While living in Hong Kong, he is not allowed to work by law and thus have no choice but to depend on government’s support. Recently he lost sleep again for thinking too much of his future. This young man is only the tip of the iceberg. There are around 3000 asylum seekers in Hong Kong and thousands upon thousands in the world are looking for a safe place to settle and begin a new and secured live.
A Filipino domestic helper named Ester, she worked in Hong Kong to take care of a family with two children. Ester’s own children were left at home in the Philippines. The children were cared for by her mother. In a car accident, her youngest daughter was killed and her husband divorced her. Ester was under great sorrow, pains and guilt. Domestic helpers who left their home to work overseas to bring a better life for their families have bored great cost. Some of them are even exploited and abused by employers.
There are groups of Burmese students doing Master or PhD programs in different Seminaries of Hong Kong. Some of them shared that they were upset with their home country for serious poverty problem and lack of freedom under the junta rule. It is a matter of fact that there are many people in different countries who live in absolute poverty, human right abuses and children are deprived of basic food supplies that led to malnutrition.
Donald works in a bank. In the current economic downturn, he is under immense pressure. Everyday, he lives under great fear: whether he will be the next one to be fired. Many people now live in constant threat of losing their jobs. From statistic we all know that increasing number of people become unemployed.
When we face such a broken and fearful world, where so many people are poor and in need in different ways, how would our God respond? How are we going to encounter it?
Social Ministry in KUC
When I first join KUC’s ministry, one of my major areas of work is to develop the social ministry. As we have a group of asylum seekers attending our church, I began to talk to them and started to have more understanding of their life situations. In one of our congregation forums, we had heard some of brothers sharing their life struggles and needs when they are seeking asylum in Hong Kong. Life is difficult for them, how can they make a better life out of it? Our church has been caring and supporting asylum seekers all along. That is very good. Their needs are always in my mind and I keep on asking how the church can do more to serve this group of friends. Given the Christian faith of Jesus coming to the world to bring life, a life in full, an abundant life to his beloved people, what can we do for our brothers and the wider community through our participation.
Given my social work training background, I tried the empowerment approach by articulating our African brothers God given gifts in singing, drumming and dancing, and invite them to use the gifts to serve others. Drumming and dancing classes were organized for several times. Through their service to the church and people in the community, I am happy to see more joy on the faced of our brothers, more life and dynamics in our congregation, and increasing connection between the African brothers and the local community.
When the African brothers begin to sing in our worship once a month, the worship is very much uplifted by their voice of praise. Now the brothers are not only singing in our church, they sing and praise to God in other local churches as they are invited more often now. Eight brothers have also participated in an outreach peace making program. Sometimes we use the name ‘a world without strangers’ as the theme of the program. Besides singing and dancing, some of them will share with students and young working adults on topics like understanding asylum seekers and their life struggles, racial discrimination, church life in Hong Kong and lives in Africa, in particular Cameroon. Through the sharing, it is amazing to see how people from the local community understand more of and concern more about asylum seekers and refugee issues. The sharing about African culture, political and economic situation etc have also expanded the scope of knowledge and vision of local students. In every sharing of the outreach peace making program, I was touched by the inclusive and friendly atmosphere. Our brothers act like God’s ambassadors to share the gospel of love, peace and justice with the local community in particular the young people. They have sown the very important seeds to build up a harmonious and loving society in HK. It is also very amazing to see the singing, drumming and dancing that our African brothers shared could bring people closely together. The African drumming is a very powerful means to create a warm atmosphere that people are able to break the ice and enhance mutual sharing and friendship. We had a fantastic fellowship every time. I will never forget the smiling faces and joyful atmosphere our brothers have brought to the young people as well as the sincere sharing amongst them.
Our brothers are God’s wonderful peace makers. They have played a very unique and an important role in the local community, by educating local people, Christians included, to be more receptive to people of different colors and socio-economic status.
Although life is still tough and struggles are part of life, our brothers still try their best. Not only for mere survival, but they also share their gifts to praise God and engage in God’s mission. I am thankful and grateful to their participation and contribution. I learnt a lot from them and am happy to have such a team to work together.
From my encounter with the African brothers, I discover that no matter how small we think of ourselves, how inadequate of our present life, how desperate our current life situation, God must have given us something to enjoy and lead an abundant life through our life of praise and service. We as God’s people, we deserve happiness and joy in life.
The Word of God
The word of God today helps us to reflect on God’s nature of justice. God identifies with the poor and the needy. God will rise up and act when the poor and the needy cried for help. God in particular care for those who are oppressed and unable to speak for themselves. In here, God teaches us that if the plights of the people are caused by injustice and evilness, we need to “speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and the needy.” (Proverb 31”8-9)
When we are taking a stand and position to help and speak for those who cannot speak, we should be reminded however, we are not any superior to them. The choice for such a stand is out of love and mercy that is based simply on our faith to uphold human dignity and justice. It is also a wish to identify with the poor and the needy, just like what Jesus Christ our Lord has done. In my opinion, it could be even better and more effective if we can create opportunity for the voiceless to make their own voice heard directly in the community. It is good to make the invisible visible and recognized by the society.
In the Sermon of the Mount, it says “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who are hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Bless are the pure heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.” (as recorded in Matthew 5:3-10)
In Matthew, the poor means those who are defenseless and oppressed. For the poor should never lose hope in God. When we lose hope, remember the promise of God, the Kingdom of God belongs to the poor. Remember and count the gifts and grace given by God.
Besides, whenever we suffer and turn to God for mourning, God will comfort us. God creates each one of us, and will take care of us. God will take the responsibility. But we also have to take our responsibility too. At least we are willing to turn to God.
As God’s precious creature, there must be a reason for God to create us. There also must be a reason for the situation that we are now in. God will definitely give us particular gifts and talents to live in this world, to fulfill God’s purpose and to glorify God’s name. In addition, God is with us and carry us to the Kingdom of heaven. God has promised to bless the people and bring them new possibilities and alternatives in life.
The new alternatives and imagination could be something radical as suggested in the Sermon of the Mount. We have to identify with the poor and have the courage to admit we are poor in spirit. We are inadequate somehow but we still deserve the dignity and rights to lead a good and abundant life. In the Sermon of the Mount, God has promised to give the poor and the needy the Kingdom of Heaven.
In a world that emphasizes competition and survival of the fittest, it is somehow difficult to admit that we have limitations. On the contrary, many people have to prove themselves that they are strong and capable. Quite ironic when people have to stand and pretend to be strong all the time, they are also very fragile and vulnerable inside their hearts.
A blessed life as suggested by Jesus in the Sermon of the Mount (Beatitude) is very different from our understanding in a capitalist society where we are living. Whom will be blessed and receive the Kingdom of Heaven? They are the poor, the meek, the merciful, and those who mourn, hunger and thirst for righteousness, pure in heart, and those being persecuted for the righteousness.
When we live in a difficult situation that we find it hard to bear, I invite you to move beyond of what you see right now, but to walk by faith, trusting and abiding in our Lord God.
God who identifies with the poor and the persecuted for his sake has given us hope and strength to keep our lives on.
Whenever I see the African brothers’ singing and praising God, sharing with people, I am touched by their courage to keep their live in God with joy and hope. They never give up. They never lose hope and faith in God. Although they are not rich and may be even inadequate in different ways, they serve God anyway with what they have. I find their power and richness in spirit. They are blessed by God. Besides, their presence reminds us God’s love to humankind and God treat every human being with dignity. Their presence in the church and society remind us to follow the commands of God to do justice for the poor and the needy.
With the hope that have been promised in the Beatitudes, I would like to end my sermon by inviting some of our African brothers to sing. While they are singing, let’s think and meditate on our God’s merciful love and justice, through Jesus Christ, he came to world to liberate the oppressed for freedom and heal the blind to see with new vision and hope.
God of Equals - God created male and female in his image
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 8th March 2009 by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Genesis 1:26-27; Galatians 3:28 and Mark 5: 25-34.
In the beginning was the Word. God, we thank you for giving us Your Word in the bible. Help us to understand You, Your Word, Your teaching, and Your good deeds through Jesus Christ, our redeemer. We ask for the presence of the Holy Spirit to guide us and lead us to Your truth. We pray in Christ’s name. Amen.
Today is the International Women’s Day. In different parts of the world, there are activities and programs celebrating this special occasion. The Hong Kong Christian Council has also designated this Sunday as Women’s Sunday. We have taken a women’s perspective (feminist perspective) to conduct today’s Worship.
Many people may comment that women’s status has been greatly increased in the past century. One of the examples cited could be increasing women leadership--- there are 8 female presidents in the countries of Argentina, Chile, Finland, India, Ireland, Liberia, The Philippines and San Marino. There are 9 female prime Ministers in the world. They are from countries of Bangladesh, Germany, Haiti, Iceland, Moldova, Mozambique, The Netherlands Antilles, Ukraine and the Aland Islands.
In our local community of Hong Kong, for the first time in the last 140 years, the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank appointed her first female Chief Executive, Mrs Leung Ko Mei Yi when Raymond Or retires.
While many people are glad to see some progress in terms of gender equality and recognition of women’s contribution to society in our local community and the world, it is sad however, to see many women are still suffering from different forms of oppression such as violence at home and in war zone, poverty and HIV-Aids problems etc. This year the global United Nations has taken ‘Women and men united to end violence against women and girls’ as the theme of the International Women’s Day.
Gender based violence—a concern of the church
From local and international statistics, over 90% of victims suffering from domestic and sexual violence are women. Gender based violence is a concern to both society and the church. The cause and perpetuation of violence against women is very much related to women’s low socio-economic status and gender inequalities. Why is the concern for women’s rights and equality a matter of the church? Too obvious, for God created both male and female in God’s Holy image. Women were created with equal status as men. Women are not second class citizens. If women are created by God with the same good quality, and are unique and precious creatures, any humiliation and violation of their bodies and their dignity are wrong. They are against the will of God, they are also an insult to God, our creator of the universe. If we keep silence to this evil crime in society, we allow God’s image to be tarnished.
In Galatians 3:28, Apostle Paul reiterated that all people are free and equal. All boundaries created by gender, race and class should be removed. In ancient times, there was a Jewish morning prayer that says, “thank you Lord because you have not made me a gentile (non-Jew), a slave or a woman”. From the prayer, you can see Jewish racial, class and gender discrimination in the old days. Apostle Paul, after being converted and became Christ’s follower, changed drastically. In Christ, we people are all equal, disregarding our background. People will not be categorized and discriminated against because of their colors and sex. In Christ, all are ONE. There is no more hierarchy. We are all God’s creation and we are saved because of God’s grace through Christ, not because of status and position, race, religion, gender and so on.
Jesus cured the woman with discharge of blood
In today’s gospel reading of Mark, it was a story about a woman who suffered from the discharge of blood for twelve years. With an understanding of the religious and cultural background of the ancient Israelite society, the suffering of this woman was more than physical pain. According to the Jewish law recorded in Leviticus 15:25-30, discharge of blood for a woman was ritually impure. This person was prohibited to be in touch with other people and stayed away from all religious and social activities. Such women were forced to be isolated because they were prohibited to make any contacts with other people in the community. The woman who suffered from this disease represented those who were marginalized and discriminated against by the socio-religious systems in her time. Jesus Christ, as representative of God, manifested his divine love to people whose lives were torn and alienated by the religious and cultural systems. Jesus’ public declaration of the woman’s full recovery and Jesus’ recognition of this woman as ‘daughter’, had conveyed a very significant message. This is a message of Jesus’ love to those who are isolated and suppressed by the oppressive system. Jesus has publicly challenged the cultural and religious system and overcame it. His declaration of the healing of the woman was a sign of the liberation for the woman. The woman was no longer under the bondage of sins. The woman is saved from the sins of brokenness in relationship. The woman could now face herself, other people and the religious leaders in her community. She did not need to hide herself but reclaim her dignity as a human being. Jesus’ saving act has moved beyond personal sins but addressed the sins that were caused by the social system and structures.
In the season of Lent when we repent and reflect on our sins, we should also be aware that when we talk about sins as alienation of relationship, as broken relations between human beings and God, between ourselves and other people, and between our own selves. There is a dimension of sins that the broken relations are caused by the unjust social system and structures. I will call it the structural sins, as some theologians suggest. The story of the woman suffering from discharge of blood had clearly given us insights that a person or a group of people whose suffering and brokenness were due to the unjust system.
Sharing of a personal story
Today, I would like to share with you a personal story. When I was nine years old, something horrible happened to me. I was sexually molested by a stranger in a public place. The perpetuator threatened that he had a knife and I was so scared that I did not cry for help but silently let things happened. After this incidence, I kept on blaming myself for not resisting or struggling to escape. I kept thinking that if I had tried to resist I might have had a chance to run away from the assault. I carried this guilt and shame for many years without telling anybody until I reached the age of 30 when I joined a therapeutic group.
One particularly helpful session for me was to recall an incident when I was about 16 years old, I came home late after a Christmas Eve celebration with friends. My mother gave me a lecture to warn me that going home late was dangerous for girls. I was grateful for her care. But what really upset me afterwards was her following words: she said ‘as you had been sexually assaulted before, you should be careful and not put yourself in danger”. I was very angry to hear what my mother had said to me. I said to myself, “Why?” “Why is it so unfair to me, why should a victim of sexual violence bear the blame and all responsibility? I was a victim and yet I am further punished by restricting my freedom and once again being reminded that it is all my responsibility to prevent the assault. If anything happens to me again, it is my fault for not taking enough measures to protect myself. What is the logic? How ridiculous and unfair to woman?! Being victims of sexual assault in the first place, then being deprived of the freedom of movement especially at night because women need to be responsible for their safety! Isn’t it unfair to women and girls?
Since then, I have a very strong sense of injustice. This could be part of the reasons for my passion in social justice concern. Later on I find that my experience was not unique. The notion of ‘blame the victims’ in sexual violence is so commonly found. This is the discrimination against women in a male dominant society where men’s aggression and sexual needs are justified easily. It is also commonly found that victims suffer from low self esteem and self confidence after being raped or sexually assaulted. The reason behind is a kind of patriarchal culture that women should preserve their chastity. Once the women’s bodies are violated, they are less valuable. Too easily, victims of sexual violence will carry this guilt and shame after being raped.
The brokenness and isolations of victims of sexual violence are caused by structural sins of sex discrimination. When we work out the reconciliation ministry for women in general and women victims in particular, the understanding and reflection of the structural sins of the patriarchal culture should be looked into.
In the eyes of God, women are equal and should be treated with dignity, fairness and justice. The systems therefore should be worked out in such a direction.
Feminine images of God
Today, we have tried a creative liturgy for the worship by adopting a women’s approach. The idea is to bring out the message that God loves and stands for women who suffer and are still treated unequally in our society. Our Lord Jesus Christ stands for the weak and marginalized. Today we foster our solidarity with Jesus for his support to women. The liturgy has also helped us to understand the image of God that constitutes both feminine and masculine qualities. For our triune God is God of creator, God of redeemer and God of sustainer. Our God is not only strong and powerful, but also merciful and tenderly. We used to have father figure to project God’s image. Today, in Women’s Sunday, we try to be more conscious to bring out our God in a feminine image as a mother, as a tenderly woman who bears us in her womb, to feed us and nurture us in her loving kindness. Let me read one example for you from Isaiah 49: 14-15, here it says ‘But Zion said, “the Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forsaken me”. Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb?” You may also find God’s feminine image and taking God as mother in the bible quite often. Below are some of them that you may read by yourself in the book of Isaiah 42: 14, 46:3-4, 66:12-13; Number 11:12; Hosea 11:1-4; in the new Testament Luke 15:8-10; Matthew 23:37. In Matthew 23:37, Jesus employed feminine imagery of God like a hen gathering her brood under her wings, to protect them. Both the masculine and feminine images of God help us to understand different aspects of God and experience God’s richness without pre-set gender stereotypes. In our congregation, whenever I see our brothers feed and hold their babies in their arms, God’s gentleness and tenderness manifest fully in them.
Relevance to KUC
One of the aspects that I am always proud of in Kowloon Union Church, is the congregation’s open and liberal character. After my ordination, I was invited for a sharing by the Hong Kong Women Christian Council, an organization that was housed by KUC in Jordan number 2 many years ago. During the sharing, some female assistant ministers and members of the Council shared that there are congregations in Hong Kong, still reserved and rejected to ordain female ministers because of the traditional belief that leadership should be taken by men. The ordination and appointment of female minister is definitely a strong proof of the congregation’s liberal character. One of my goals in serving at KUC is to maintain and nurture the congregation’s progressive and liberal manner. The liberal and ecumenical character of KUC is not just for her own sake, but a reflection of Jesus’ merciful love and justice to promote equality between men and women. The liberation of women is also liberation of all human kind that benefits both men and women. By engaging ourselves in gender issues and advocacy of gender equality, we become God’s living witness to God’s beautiful and harmonious creation. In God’s wonderful creation, we human being male and female are able to lead a life full of grace and truth.
Dear God of grace, thank you for creating each one of us in a unique but equal manner. In your creation of man and woman, we learn and experience your richness and mystery of creation and love.
God, help us to love one another. Grant us the passion and compassion to share the plights of women near and far. God, unite us women and men to serve you and those women and girls to experience your grace and love. Amen.
Repentance and Reconciliation - Christian Faith in Context : God of Mission - repent and believe in the good news
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 1st March 2009 by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Joel 2:12-14, 28-29; Psalm 25:1-10 and Mark 1: 9-15.
Today is the first Sunday of the Lent.
The season of Lent started on Ash Wednesday a few days ago. Historically, Lent is associated with disciples’ self-examination, study, fasting, prayer and works of love.
Lent is a time for conversion, conversion literally means "turning around" or reorientation of our lives towards God. Both as individuals and as a community, we look inward and reflect on our readiness to follow Jesus in his journey towards the cross. Lent last for forty days, it corresponds to the forty-day temptation of Jesus in the wilderness and the forty-year journey of Israel from slavery to a new community.
The Hong Kong Christian Council has also designated this Sunday as Social Concern Sunday.
Mission is central to any historic understanding of the nature of the church. In Latin ‘missio’ means ‘to send or to send forth’. Therefore the Church as a representation of Jesus Christ consists of groups of people ‘sent forth’ to share with others the good news of God’s kingdom of love and justice, social concern is definitely part of God’s mission.
Before Jesus started his ministries, he was baptized and his identity as God’s beloved son was confirmed. After that, Jesus immediately spent forty days in the wilderness. During this time of retreat, Jesus was tempted by Satan.
From Jesus’ path to his ministry, we see clearly the starting point for upholding God’s mission begin with a designated period of time, that is a time to spend with God, to turn to God and to ensure that our focus is always in God.
The confirmation of Jesus’ identity as God’s beloved son did not free him from any temptations and struggles. In the synoptic gospels of Matthew (4:1-11) and Luke (4:1-13), there are detailed accounts of Jesus’ temptations. By observing Lent, Christians join Jesus on His retreat, to demonstrate our solidarity with Jesus. It is also a time for us to understand and realize that struggles and temptations are something Jesus and we as his disciples cannot avoid during his and our preparation to serve God. Jesus’ response to Satan’s temptations however, is rich spiritual resources for our reflection. Jesus serves as a significant model for us as his disciples to engage in the mission of God.
From the accounts of Jesus’ temptations, every time Jesus was challenged by Satan, he would engage in God’s word and majesty. In Matthew’s account, when Satan tempted Jesus to exercise a God-like power, such as by turning stone to bread, Jesus responded by saying ‘One does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ (4:4) Satan then challenged Jesus’ identity as God’s son, saying ‘if you are the son of God, throw yourself down; God must save you, for it was written in the Law’. Jesus responded with wisdom and confidence: ‘Don’t put the Lord your God to the test.’ (4:7) For the third episol of Jesus’ temptation, Satan promised to give power and glory in the exchange of worshipping Satan. Jesus response was: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him’. Thus Jesus, demonstrating his strong spirituality, stood against Satan’s temptation of power. Jesus had also lived out his obedience to God’s sovereignty and his close connection to God. These are the significant elements for us as disciples; from them we learn and hold steadfast in our journey of mission.
In Hong Kong, some Christian organizations and churches have been actively involved in the campaigns of anti-homosexuality and anti-obscenity in recent years. They oppose the enactment of anti-discrimination legislation to protect sexual minorities, and strongly advocate stricter rules to control obscenity. The recent debates of the revised Domestic Violence Ordinance and the Anti-obscenity Legislation have aroused once again the very hot debate and divisions between groups, especially those who favor and oppose sex rights and tolerance of homosexuality. I am not trying to go in details of the debate and the differences between the two camps. I would like to share some spiritual reflections of such a phenomenon, and shed light on Church’s engagement in God’s mission in the world.
There are Christians regard the battle over sexuality as a matter involving the defense of the truth of God and the bible. My reflection on this kind of mentality is: Does God need his people to defend Him? Who are we represent God and defend His truth? Are we able to comprehend God’s truth fully so much so that we can claim the representations? God our Creator is so great that only he can reveal his truth to us and let us understand him. In God’s mystery of creation, we human being must admit that what we comprehend now are temporary and limited. We are able to comprehend part of the truth only. We should be humble enough to admit that there are many things that we don’t know. In fact, God reveals his truth to us in many different ways and from different people’s life experiences. I always think homosexuality issues that have aroused so much controversy in Hong Kong and abroad could be God’s way to reveal to us the truth of God’s diverse creation in sexuality. Sexuality is never just about sexual behavior such as intercourse or the gender of our partner, sexuality is all about humanity, about human dignity for we people are sexual beings. Sexuality is about relationship with God, with ourselves and with others. In addition, sexuality is not only about physical body, but also closely related to spirituality. It is in our life journey that we should focus on, searching and understanding God’s truth with wisdom given by God in a humble way. It is in this search for God, the church and disciples will get closer to God, and to know more about the mission God wants us to do.
There are Christians and church leaders who justify their position against homosexuality by citing a few biblical scriptures to justify themselves. They challenge Christians who hold alternative views on sexual orientations. As honest and responsible Christians we need to study the scripture with reference of the socio-political and religious cultural context. We should not just read the bible literally on the surface of the words. More importantly, Christians should not use bible as weapon to fight for their own position, and leaders should never take the bible as weapon to claim their own religious hegemony. In interpreting the bible, the Church representing Christ should have the openness to accept different perspectives and traditions. Obviously, there are different interpretations of the bible. Biblical scholars and theologians would have different understanding of some biblical accounts according to their theological discourses and perspectives. Therefore, it is important and more valuable if Church can be open and learn and allow space for sincere dialogues to facilitate mutual understanding and to address differences.
In some churches, there are Christians who stand for gay or lesbian rights or do not totally object, who will be challenged by their pastor in church or some other sisters and brothers who are opposed to sexual minorities. They may be labeled as unfaithful to God and, worse still, being judged as immoral. The spread of this kind of ‘political correctness’ in the church is very unhealthy. Jesus’ challenge by Satan of His identity has given us a very good reference point to assert our right to trust in God and not being shaken by others’ unreasonable allegations. Christians and the Church, who have committed time and resources to God’s missions for certain social causes, should be careful about judging other people according to our own morals and perspectives. It is absolutely destructive to label, categorize and demonize people whose positions are different from us.
During the course of debates, it is upsetting to see antagonism, divisions and hatred between different camps in society, and especially within the Christian communities. Jesus has given us the ministry of reconciliation to bring people together, and to reconnect people with God and one another. The hostile attacks obviously bring division rather than harmony and unity in both the Church and society. As Christ’s disciples, how are we going to address differences with openness and respect, so that sincere dialogues made possible? It is an area we can think about in future.
In Lent, we turn back to God with our hearts and focus our lives to God. We will then be reminded once again that God is the creator and we people are only human beings created by God in his mercy. We are all created in God’s holy image and yet we are full of limitations. Whenever and wherever we engage in God’s mission, we should be aware that we are only God’s servant. We should never try to play the role of God. Let God be God. Let the truth of God be revealed to us through all sincere encounters with the complex and diverse human experiences. Let’s also accept that God will not speak identically to everyone through the scripture, and an individual can make sense of God’s words according to his/her life situation. That’s why we refer to the Word of God as living words.
Jesus Christ proclaimed the good news by coming to the world in flesh, and bore the pain of human sin. The Church needs to be involved in the world, to hear the cries of the people near and far. Only if we understand people and share their realities, are we able to bring Christ’s good news of reconciliation in a way that is relevant to their lives.
In the season of Lent in March, I am going to deliver a series of sermons on Christian Faith in Context, with a theme repentance and reconciliation.
Last Sunday, Ms Maggie shared with us the message of transfiguration and transformation. Being called by God to be his disciples and engage in the faith community, transformation of individual life like Christ, and transformation of the world to fulfill God’s kingdom on earth are needed. In the Lent season, we are reminded once again by the life and words of Jesus. We have to repent and change for Jesus’ sake. Only when we are fully connected in God through Jesus Christ, we are able to transform in God’s way and in God’s grace.
Jesus had demonstrated his obedience to God, willingness to follow the will of God, and commitment to fulfill God’s kingdom. He paid his great price--dying on the cross. It is a choice made by Jesus in his time. Today, though these are different times, we face struggles and challenges just as Jesus did. But the good news is: God is merciful and upright. Our Lord will instruct all us sinners in his righteous and humble ways. God’s steadfast love and faithfulness enable us who believe in him to continue the struggles with joy and hope. The resurrection of Jesus has also overcome violence, injustice and death. Death never claims the last word, but life does. This is the life of love and justice that Jesus has demonstrated to us.
When we are able to admit our sins, to face our limitations sincerely and return our hearts to God, God will send his spirit to empower us to have visions and dream dreams, regardless of who we are and what we have. All of us are given the grace to share and own the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ.
God, we thank you for your good news given to the world through Jesus Christ. We ask Lord for your full presence and guidance in our life. Give us the patience to wait for you, an open and renew heart to listen to you, and a will to follow your step. Lead our congregation to share your mission by turning to you our Holy God and transform the world with courage. May your kingdom come to earth as in heaven. Amen.
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