A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 19 July 2009 by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Jeremiah 23:1-6 and Mark 6:30-34, 53-56.
Dear God, we humbly ask for the presence of the Holy Spirit. May your Spirit inspires us to understand your will and truth. Amen.
Yesterday when typhoon number 3 was hoisted and a higher level of typhoon would be hoisted as warned by the Government Observatory. I started to think of the arrangement for today’s Sunday Service. The first thought that came to my mind was Worship should be continued any way no matter what the weather might be. When I left the church and returned home in the evening, I continued to consider this matter. By that time, I have thought more of the safety of the people coming to the church. I thus called up Council members to discuss and make suggestion for contingency plan. If typhoon signal number 8 has been hoisted and still remained effective by 8:00 am, the Sunday Service will be cancelled. I don’t wish to risk anyone, both sisters and brothers, and also our staff Ah Hing. Thank God, the typhoon signal was lowered and the wind has turned weak. We are able to have the Sunday Service as usual, and we can worship God together.
Worshipping God can be conducted at anytime and in any place. But coming to the church sanctuary to worship together is never something that can be taken for granted. We have to appreciate every opportunity to have a safe place to worship God and treasure time with other sisters and brothers to serve God together.
Today my sermon is focused on the good shepherd. I feel that the words of God from the bible today is very timely reminder for our situation when there was a sudden change of bad weather and potential risk to other people (my sheep) that I serve as minister.
The analogy of shepherd and sheep has been used often in the biblical text to signify God’s servants to serve and God’s people being served.
From the scripture of Mark, it revealed a kind of relationship between the shepherd and the sheep:
- Need of the sheep goes first
From the story revealed in the scripture we read this morning, Jesus Christ has once again demonstrated to us that in his ministry of serving his people, he would take the need of the people as priority. Jesus Christ is the good shepherd of all people, he cares about his sheep. He cares about their health. Thus he would heal the sick. The healing stories of Jesus had been mentioned times and again in the four gospels.
- The sheep will look for their shepherd. And the shepherd will make himself available whenever he was recognized and was needed.
- Jesus will help those who help themselves and have the strong intention to change. If Jesus was ready to serve, but if people do not go to him for help, the presence of Jesus would be useless. Sisters and brothers, let us reflect on whether we have committed our relationship to our Lord Jesus. Do we invite Jesus to be our shepherd and ask him to intervene in our life?
In Mark 6: 34, “Jesus saw a great crowd and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” My first response to this description was, Jesus was good and always have compassion. When I read more carefully, I found that Jesus’ compassion to the crowd was grounded in a fact that the people were like sheep without a shepherd.
What happens if the sheep have no shepherd? They will not be well taken care of and would lose direction. In here, the scripture brings us to understand our Lord Jesus. Jesus cares if we have direction and goal in life. Life goal and direction are important matters to everybody. Life without goals and direction would be terrible. It is because people will get lost.
This episode inspires me to think of a recent social issue about the increasing number of young people taking soft drugs in HK. This has been a headache for the government, teachers, school masters, and parents. In response to this drug problem, the government has recently introduced a new measure by testing students’ urine randomly. The test is to identify if students have taken drugs in school. This is a measure to deter students taking drugs at school. However, the effectiveness of this kind of tests is questioned by some students and social workers. A student in an interview responded by saying such new measure is no use for students would simply change the place to take drugs. Students will not stop taking drugs because of this test but they will change the place in which to take drugs.
Some social workers try to address the drug problem of young people, saying it is more important to help young people identify their life goals. Besides, more support and supplementary services should be provided if the number of cases of identified drug-taking increased. Students’ privacy and the negative impact of labeling are issues that they should be well aware of.
The model of the good shepherd by Jesus has given professionals and parents a reminder that love and care to the youth, and helping them to identify direction and life goals are something more important in the long run. The youth needs life goals and direction, we adults need that too.
This social problem of youth taking drugs has given me some thoughts of our youth ministry in the church. Do we have compassion for our children and youth in the community in general and in our own congregation in particular? Rev. Kwok, our former senior minister had persistently stressed the importance of developing the youth ministry. He urged that a congregation must develop and nurture our own young people. We develop and nurture our young people, not only out of concerns for the church to serve the world. It is not only because the church needs the youth to sustain the church and the mission in the long run. This is important. However, the fundamental motive to develop our young people is because we love them and we care for them. To nurture them and the church become their shepherd in itself is intrinsically valuable.
In the past year, there are more sisters and brothers involved in the children ministry such as the Sunday School. This is very good. However, we need more. We need a youth ministerial team that has strong compassion to serve this group of children and youth. With stronger compassion, the leaders will pray for the children and youth more often. They will spend more time with the youth, and to prepare and equip themselves for the service in a more regular and systematic manner. The church is in need of sisters and brothers who care and guide the faith development of the children and youth in their developmental path.
By the end of July and the first week of August, we will organize a few sessions of youth program for the children. We are pleased to have a number of sisters and brothers from the church to come to lead the group and spend time with the children. After these youth programs, there may be more children coming to the church for Sunday School and worship on Sunday. Are we ready to receive these new young friends in our congregation by sharing our love and wisdom to teach them?
Are you ready for this ministry my friend? Maggie our assistant minister and some other sisters and brothers have been involving in Sunday School and youth fellowship. That is very good. I wish you will continue if you have already involved. For others, I invite you to act if God has moved you today.
If we are called by God and committed ourselves to serve God and be a good shepherd, we have to be prepared to give ourselves and pay the cost.
One of the costs that we need to pay is that the more successful we are, the more we have to give. In Mark 6, we saw that the disciples and Jesus had to work for very long hours. They did not even have enough time to eat. We may have to make some personal sacrifice. Yes, if we want to be Jesus’ disciples we have to pay some cost. The sacrificing love is our source of encouragement. As our Lord has done so much for us and all humanity, shall we in return share what we have to God and for God, by serving people in need?
To be God’s servant, follow Jesus by taking up the role of shepherd sounds difficult. But don’t worry, Jesus Christ is well aware of human needs. In Jesus we will have rest and live in peace. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus our good shepherd has given us the most comforting words. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Our shepherd Lord Jesus Christ knows about our needs and life situation. There is time to serve and there is time to rest. He knows and invites us to act accordingly.
In Jeremiah 23, the author has told us clearly that God was unhappy with shepherds who did not do their job to nurture the flock. Instead, God will be the shepherd himself to gather the flock. God will nurture them to grow and build up their life. Moreover, God will raise up shepherds to tender the flock. The flock shall not fear any longer, or dismayed, nor shall be missing.
God will raise the shepherd who is from the righteous branch, this branch shall execute justice and righteousness. The Lord is our righteousness.
God has set a goal for good shepherds to tender the sheep by keeping them safe and live in peace. Are you ready to become God’s shepherds and serve his people?
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 12th July 2009 by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Amos 7:7-15 and Ephesians 1: 3-14.
In July 1st his year, I joined the civil rights rally coordinated by the Civil Human Rights Front in Victoria Park. Right before the rally, I attended the prayer meeting organized by the Christian organizations. I have joined this July 1 rally since 2003. It was the first time that I felt so heavy at heart. When the participants were praying and singing hymns together, I felt tears filled up my eyes and my heart was deeply saddened. It was very hot on 1st July. I was sweating all along. I was sweating under the heat. I had no complaint at all for I remember those who fought for democracy and lost their lives and freedom in some other part of world. What came to my mind, included the Iranian young lady who died in one of the recent demonstration, Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波), he is one of the human rights activists from China. He is also one of the prominent person to support the 1989 Student Democratic Movement and recent drafter of the 2008 Chinese Constitution to advocate for a democratic China. Mr Liu is recently thrown in jail once again. In Hong Kong, the road for fighting democracy has been long and yet we are free to do so without any threat to our lives. Our cost is perhaps our time and energy. But for people in Mainland and some other countries in Asia and Africa, actions to fight for human rights and democracy may come at a great cost of losing one’s life and freedom.
What struck my intense emotion on that particular afternoon was when I heard of a friend whose husband (his surname Mr. Shum) committed suicide just a few days ago.
There could be many reasons for Shum’s decision to end his life. But from the last words that he left for others, the main cause for his suicide was financial problems. Shum had faced great economic pressure in supporting the whole family. Mr Shum had a family of 4 to support. His eldest daughter suffers from leukemia (血癌) since she was born. She is now four years old. Mrs Shum quitted her job to take care of their daughters of 4 and 2 years old.
Mr Shum was a responsible father and husband, he took two jobs to support the family. In this time of economic crackdown, he could not escape from income reduction and he could not afford to pay for the installment for his flat. He and his family have to move out from the current flat. What made their situation worse was the family was not eligible for public housing any more for they had applied for Government housing loan before. I strongly felt the immense pressure of Mr Shum. He was definitely one of the victims of the financial tsunami. Perhaps his problem reflects only the tip of the iceberg. It was heart breaking to see a single mother to bear the burden of taking care of her two young children, one of them suffering from a serious illness, and to bear the loss of her beloved husband. What is equally hard to take is our society does not work out for him and his family. It is tragic that this man, a father of two very young daughters chose to end his life for a hope that his wife and children are able to stay in their current flat to lead a stable life. In his written will left to others, he had requested the bank does not force his wife and children to evacuate from their current flat but allow them to stay there.
The tragedy of this family may have brought us to critically examine the distortion of our society and how the government and community groups including the church can work out something to support families at risk in particular, and the inadequacy of affordable public housing units for people in HK in general.
My experience in the July 1st rally this year served as a great source to reflect and understand our faith and practice in our life of praise for God’s glory as mentioned by Apostle Paul in the book of Ephesians that we read this morning.
As Christians and a community of faith, praising God for his glory is very much taken for granted and as a matter of fact. Perhaps the text of the scripture we read today and my experience of July 1st would give us some insights to reflect on our praise to God for his glory.
First of all, Christians praise God not only when they are given good fortune and good life. No and never! If Christians praise God only because God treat them well and act according to their desires, they are just worshiping an idol but not God. The praise to God is nothing more than selfish desire and manipulation of God to command god to do according to their own personal needs.
We praise God not because God satisfies our desires. We praise God for God is God the almighty and God of mercy who is our savior to transform our lives from sins to goodness, and reconcile with God through Christ.
Praise is the condition necessary for our being able to see ourselves and all that is as God’s creation. Praise enables us to appreciate the beauty of God’s world. Praise is God’s gift through which we participate with all creation in the joyful recognition that all there is was to worship God.
Praise therefore is a way to make connection and maintain the loving relationship with God. Praise to God is also an intention and action to stand against ‘sins of possessions’.
We should be reminded that the world is created by God. The world is God’s. We human beings must not possess it just for our own desires and consumption. We need to share but not to possess or dominate. God’s resources should be shared by all humanity and all forms of life. Accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few is thus wrong and against the will of God. The world’s increasing poverty gap is therefore one of the problems that requires church’s concerns and actions.
To praise for God’s glory is therefore, not just a religious activities in the worship inside a church building.
To praise for God’s glory is thus a faith and an action. We are adopted sons and daughters of God through Jesus Christ. We are given a special role and identity to serve God’s purpose and his salvation plan for the universe in the world.
When there is injustice and people suffering from poverty and neglect, we as God’s people should stand and act to illuminate God’s glory. God, who is loving and just in nature never accept injustice in the world that he created. In God’s creation, it is holy and full of glory. Only when people live in peace, and being treated with dignity and respect, and share equality, freedom and resources, is God’s glory manifested.
Therefore, when the poor is deprived of the necessary resources to make a decent living with dignity, we as church should make a voice. To make a strong voice and stand for God’s sake of love and justice. Jesus Christ has given us a great model for that.
God refuses to abandon his creation. God refuses to accept that his beautiful creation falls in a sinful state. God had and will call his people to do something to restore the creation to its original state of peace and justice. God is God of history, he has been fully present amongst his people. As in the time of Amos’ prophesy, who lived under King Jeroboam II, 783-743 B.C. This was a time that the North Kingdom of Israel was very glorious and wealthy. However, God was angry with the people and the kingdom because the rich had exploited the poor. There were injustice and corruption in people’s life. Prophet Amos was sent by God to deliver God’s words of judgment. The vision that Amos delivered to the people has upset the leaders who were in position, the priest of Bethel, Amaziah. Amos took up the calling from God to go and prophesize to God’s people without fear. Amos was challenged and threatened by the great priest not to prophesize any more. But Amos continued to take up such a role for it was God’s calling.
Obviously the mere presence of Amos and his words was to make the powerful and those in position understand what they did was not to the delight of God. Amos who revealed God of justice had become a threat to the powerful. God will never compromise with the evil of social injustice. Amos, representing God to deliver words of judgment, has revealed God’s uncompromising attitude. God will not let the evil power takes advantage. In Amos’ vigorous speech to challenge the people who have power and condemn the oppression of the poor, he had demonstrated a great praise for God’s glory on earth as in heaven.
As a result, when we do justice and loving kindness, we are praising God of his glory.
Let me come back to talk a bit about the July 1st rally. The overall theme for this year was to fight for direct elections for the Chief Executive of HK, the Executive and Legislative Councils. Improvement of people’s livelihood such as addressing the poverty problems and the widening income gap are other major concerns. All along in the rally, four groups of people caught my attentions. The first group was the foreign domestic workers. They fight for equal rights and demand that the minimum wage legislation should include them. The second group was a group of young people of different ethnicity. They asked for rights of translations to facilitate their education and job seeking. The third group was the elderly parents who have asked for the government to grant the right of abode to their children in China so that they can come to HK for family reunion and take care of parents who are getting old and weak. The fourth group was the environmental concern group asking for sustainable development and protection of the earth.
In this July 1st rally, God’s glory was revealed and filled the earth and amongst people. God as creator of the whole universe, his glory reigns everywhere and for all people, both Christians and non-Christians. There were many people and groups from a very diverse background joining the rally. They came to advocate for change and arouse concerns from the community and the government. The rally was extremely peaceful. Many of the people in the rally did not know each other. They have however demonstrated a strong solidarity and unity as citizens of Hong Kong. July 1st is a platform where marginalized people give voice to their needs and problems. It is a platform to challenge those in power to listen to the weak and the marginalized. Through the voice of the civil societies, the government and many big corporations in Hong Kong who have power and huge economic resources should not neglect the need of the mass. They should address the problems and social ills caused by uneven distribution of power and resources. Besides, Hong Kong people deserve a government of better governance.
The beauty of God’s glory is manifested in people’s solidarity with the weak, oppressed and the marginalized. The beauty of God’s glory is revealed in people’s courage and efforts to challenge the power by giving the voice of the powerlessness. Jesus Christ who reveals God’s glory has fostered solidarity with the poor and the captives. Jesus had committed his life to liberate the oppressed and bring them new life and light.
As a result, when we stand on the side with the poor, we are praising God for God’s glory.
When we give voice on behalf of the voiceless, we are praising God for his glory
When we act and walk together with the oppressed, we are praising God for his glory.
People who dare to challenge the powerful who have been abusing their power and in domination over other people’s lives, they are praising God for God’s glory. Activists who are jailed for the cause of democracy, freedom and human rights for people in their home countries like Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波) in China and Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma for example, have given us light and hope that God the creator has called these people to serve in this world to achieve God’s will of peace and justice. We Christians and Church should be well aware that by demonstrating our support to them, is to live a life for the praise of God’s glory.
God needs our participation in the praise of his glory. God’s salvation through Christ is not history, it is an ongoing salvation by the participation of God’s people.
The Psalmist in Psalm 85, said loud and clear of how God’s glory will be fulfilled and we as God’s people praise God in our daily life by realizing:
“Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; faithfulness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky. The Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase. Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.”
Christians are children of Christ and church as representation of Christ on earth have been given a special identity and calling. Let us pray to God for a clear vision and guide our congregation Kowloon Union Church to engage in the daily life of praise for God’s glory through service to the needy.
May God bless you all and give you a strong will to act and the courage to engage in God’s calling with faith. Amen.