A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 27 September 2009, Wai Ji Sunday, by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Psalm 139:13-18 and John 9:1-3.
One day, when I was talking to my eleven year old son about something, he said to me, “mum, you don’t understand a child, his feeling and thinking.” I asked him why? He said, “simply because you are an adult and not a child. You think from an adult’s point of view instead of a child’s.”
This conversation made me think of a question. Does our Lord who is regarded as powerful and almighty understand disabled people?
What do my friends here think? Can our God understand the disabled, their needs and thoughts? This is an interesting question. If we think the disabled best understand themselves, and if we believe God understand the disabled, we will then have to ask a question. Is God also disabled somewhere, somehow?
If the disabled are suffering from a kind of brokenness, physically, psychologically and/or mentally, we can see Jesus Christ had experienced this kind of brokenness in his life too. God had incarnated into the world through His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ who was God coming into the world, suffered, and was nailed on the cross till death. Jesus, being innocent, suffered great pain on the cross. He was broken physically and psychologically. He had experienced a strong sense of helplessness, fear, rejection and isolation. What Jesus experienced on the cross was very similar to many disabled people. Because of Jesus’ first hand experience in his brokenness, he can fully understand the struggles and sufferings of the disabled people.
Jesus’ suffering on the cross not only reflects God’s identification with the disabled, and all people who have suffered from different kinds of brokenness. The scars of Jesus revealed that Jesus himself was sailing on the same boat with the disabled. He was a God of the disabled who had deep experience of brokenness in his life. It is through the full presence of Jesus Christ that God heals those who are disabled and fragile in their lives in different ways. Jesus Christ is the representative of God to comfort people in need and bring them the good news of love and hope.
In today’s reading, John 9:1-3, Jesus had clearly answered the question of his disciples of why a blind man was born blind. Jesus said, “neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” How do we understand the words of Jesus in here?
In the social and religious context of Jesus in his time, there was a kind of thinking that people suffered from diseases and disability, it must be related to sins. Sins of the person concerned or their parents or ancestors. Jesus obviously rejected this social norms and tradition.
Jesus’ message to his disciples and the community he lived was clear. To the blind and his family: no one should bear the shame and guilt of the physical impairment. They were perfectly fine and were fully accepted by God. To the public in the community: no one should punish the blind because of his disability. In addition, no one can claim the right to discriminate against the blind. The blind and his family should be accepted and respected.
What Jesus declared was clear. In God’s eyes, the fullness of life is not about physical health and body condition, fullness of life all depends on God. The story of the blind has revealed God’s unconditional love to everybody disregarding their level of ability. (It is very different from the world value in our time, where we measure a person’s worth with their ability to earn money, social status and contribution to others) Equally important is that God embraces the lives of all people. Life is precious to God for God is the source of life. God makes everybody unique and holy.
In our society, disabled people suffer from different kinds of discriminations and exclusion. I wish you all to remember, Jesus has sent a strong message to say no to discrimination against the disabled. Jesus Christ our redeemer has come to free us from oppression. Jesus Christ has come to bring the good news of liberation and freedom to us all.
Jesus experienced great pains on the cross. Jesus Christ is a suffering God and God of disability. Yet, Jesus’ resurrection has given his disciples and all human beings a new hope of life. Suffering and death is not the end and answer to our life, but a life of rebirth. Jesus’ resurrection after his death has given hope and courage to people to continue a life, no matter how hard it is. Today we are celebrating the 30th anniversary of Wai Ji Christian Service. Thirty years ago, a member of KUC, Dr. Bernard Ng put forward the idea of setting up Wai Ji in KUC. It is the resurrection power of God that encourage and empower people in different era to engage in the mission and continue to serve the clients with disabilities. In the past thirty years, the organization has grown from a small training centre serving a small number of mentally challenged clients to an organization of providing a variety of services across the broad to address the diverse needs of clients with different levels of ability. We have witness God’s love and grace to the disable people. We are thankful to God for preparing faithful servants to serve in this important ministry that serve the people with desperate needs.
While we humbly give thanks to our loving God, I would like to take this opportunity to offer our deep appreciation to the staff and volunteers for their dedicated services.
May God bless you and keep you in the years ahead.
Let’s us pray. Dear living and loving God,
We give you thanks for your gift of life to each one of us. In you, we are made unique and holy. You have free us from sins of guilt and pride. We thank you for Jesus’ death and resurrection that give us courage and hope. We give you thanks for the dedicated staff and volunteers of Wai Ji who have committed themselves to provide the quality services to the clients in the past thirty years. We ask for your continue blessings to the clients and the workers, empower the workers to engage in your service through the holy spirit. May your gracious love, hope and peace be with them always. Keep them and guide them in the years ahead. In Christ’s name we pray, amen.
A dialogue sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 20 September 2009, Education Sunday, by Alexanda Mok, Paul Cheung and the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Proverb 2:1-15 and James 3:13-18.
Students and teachers are the two important elements in education. Today, we have three people deliver the sermon. It is invaluable to hear the perspective from a student, representing voices of a young person, and at the same time to hear the perspective from a teacher, an educator who obviously has a significant role to play.
Alexander will be the first one to share with us.
What is education? --- By Alexanda Mok
What is education? As a student, I think that it is the key to wisdom and knowledge. But is the education in Hong Kong providing that to us? The answer is no. From what I saw in the past few years, I think Hong Kong schools can only train students with knowledge but no wisdom.
Why do I say so? That is because the system here is quite marks oriented. I am not saying that marks are not important, but in Hong Kong, good marks mean a better life. And this causes the students to be caring about their marks more than anything. Also, schools here mostly concentrate on passing on knowledge blindly. Take science subject as an example. All they do during lessons is listen to what the teacher says, and then follow all the practical procedures to produce the exact result of an experiments. Seldom do students of HK find themselves doing an experiment completely by themselves. This makes the students to have no critical thinking, which in turn produce no self-reflection and finally, a lack of wisdom. This problem is worsened by the situation in HK. HK is a place full of competition. People here ‘love’ to work. Because HK people generally believe that more work done means more money. And more money means happier life. BUT, to get a good career, you need a good exam results. As many boss thinks that marks equal to ability, rather actual skills and experience.
Not only the system, but also the attitude of the students plays a great part in lowering the wisdom of HK students. Students here love marks and pride. They would do whatever they can to get better marks. Yet, try dumping them to an abandoned island for a week, they would probably starve themselves to death. What I want to say is that, yes, HK students have very high marks, but few can take care of themselves. They are just too dependent. Once, I have seen a mother taking her child’s bag, unscrewing the water bottle, and soaking the child’s sweat. U would probably think that the child is about 5-6 years old. Then, u are wrong. The ‘child’ is studying in a secondary school.
"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.", as quoted from Proverbs 9:10, I believe the key to wisdom for students, especially those studying in a Christian school is to ask God. Just like what Jesus taught us, ‘Ask and you shall receive.’
Gratitude－The Missing Part in our Education --- by Paul Cheung
We believe that education is the cornerstone for the advancement of our society. It is a common understanding that education is the most important for our next generation. We invest heavily on education in order to help our children grow in knowledge, skills, and right attitude. However, in my observation, an important attitude seems losing its value in our education.
A story will be used as an example to illustrate the idea of gratitude.
Gratitude is an attitude that we should hold towards each other. We should be grateful for what we have received from others. The grateful attitude is good for our developing and maintaining a good interpersonal relationship as well as our positive emotion. Having cultivated the attitude helps us build a better relationship with God. Unfortunately, according to my experience in the field of education in the past fifteen years, gratitude has not been a core value that schools, teachers, and parents want to emphasize, nor has it been highlighted in the syllabus concerning civic education. The Education Bureau also has not given particular emphasis on the value of the cultivation of this attitude. Students in the past two decades have developed a strong sense in some areas such as their right, success in examination, personal achievements and so on. The cultivation of the grateful attitude should be an important part of our education. If everyone feels grateful to each other, our world would be very different.
No doubt people who are involved in education like me should do more to help our students develop their sense of thankfulness. In fact, the work of education does not only take place at school. It takes place everywhere such as our home and our church. Let’s help our next generation cultivate their attitude of gratitude through our words and our behaviour. By doing so, our world will definitely be a better one for everyone.
What’s education all about? --- By Phyllis Wong
What’s education all about?
Both Alexander and Paul are being critical of the education nowadays which is too result-oriented and too much geared towards personal achievement. There is no wisdom of critical thinking and there’s a lack of gratitude to one another.
The society we are living in has been moving very fast. The society is highly competitive, commercialized and instrumental. Education, as an institution, becomes more and more technical and fragmented. Education has somehow reinforced the values of individuality and moves away from whole person development and services to community which help to build up a better society. But on the contrary, education emphasizes too much on individual achievement.
Alexander in his sharing mentioned that students work hard to gain higher marks so as in the long run to get a better life. There is a certain logic to this thinking: high marks, more education opportunities, more qualification, better job opportunity, then better life in future. When people (students, teachers, and parents) strive for better life in future, they may have forsaken the quality of life right now. We see many students are unhappy about the heavy load of homework and suffer from immense pressure from tests and examination. In general, the achievement of a student is defined narrowly by his/her grades. There is no wonder that children who do not achieve good academic results turn out to be less confidence.
Alexander is being critical of students strive for good marks mean a better life. To be honest, there is nothing wrong to seek for a better life. God who creates life and everything has a desire to let His creatures to enjoy. The issue is whether this ‘better life’ is shared among people or it is just something individualistic, just for the benefit of a few.
Here, I would like to bring forth insights that are drawn from the Proverb.
How would our life be different if our education and learning focus in God?
In Proverb, the authors emphasized wisdom. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
What does it mean by “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”?
Fear of the Lord. The word "fear" in the phrase "fear of the Lord" comes from the Hebrew word YIRAH (transliterated). This word has different meanings. It means "to be terrified" (Jonah 1:10), "to be awe" (1 Kings 3:28), and "to have respect" (Lev. 19:3). In Proverbs, the "fear of the Lord" – means honor and respect for the Lord – this is wisdom and it is the beginning of knowledge.
When we honor and respect the Lord, it means we will have this sense of humility and gratitude. When we admit that the source of life is from God and everything good given to us is from our Lord, it would then be very natural that people will not take things for granted. People would be more likely to appreciate what have been given as a gift which we may not be deserved in the first place.
Have a reverence to God will also help people to have a respect to life. Reverence and respect to God is closely linked with life: life enhancement. From Proverbs, the fear of the LORD prolongs life, but the years of the wicked will be shortened. (Prov. 10:27) The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, that one may avoid death. (Prov. 14:27) The reward of humility and the fear of the LORD are riches, honor and life. (Prov. 22:4)
The insights that we may gain from Proverbs are that the essence of education should be life enhancement. When we take life as precious, we will then less likely to narrowly judge a person with his/her grade and academic achievement. We will then recognize all people are unique in God’s creation and have different talents.
Life is a gift from God. God is the source of everything. Wisdom is also from God. God has created human beings with reason and ability to comprehend God’s mystery of creation in this earth. It is through Jesus Christ that God revealed to us how much God cares about relationship, a kind of loving and life-giving relationship.
‘The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding’. This God has given human kind wisdom, knowledge and understanding. It is our responsibility in terms of how we take it and use it in our lives to make a better life. In God’s eyes, this better life is never a kind of selfish personal endeavor. A better life should belong to all creation, human beings and nature included.
As our God is God of upright and justice. When we stay close to God, our God will guide us to understand righteousness and justice, and walk in every good path which is full of equity, righteousness and justice. With this social aspect of concerns, people will then understand that we should not live in a selfish way, or we should avoid to be too individualistic, but to lead a life to care for others and contribute our knowledge and life so that the community as a whole can benefit. This is the social significance of education in the world that we live.
There is the Chinese saying about education:「十年樹木、百年樹人」, in English it means it takes ten years to grow a tree but it takes a hundred year to build up a person. It is an analogy to emphasize that education, in terms of nurturing a person’s personality and attitude, is a long process. It is a matter of time and also a matter of process.
In today’s bulletin, I have chosen a picture of a ‘tree’. You can see there are a lot of people standing under the tree. This is a symbol of the ‘tree of life’. This tree of life involves the participation and hard labor of people working together, with commitment to build up lives for the communities.
Education involves different parties in different spheres of learning. There is formal education in schools but there is also informal education in the community that is equally important in terms of convening important values to the young generation. Family and church are two obviously important spheres where different kinds of values are passed on and people learn through the process.
In this Education Sunday, this is a special day for teachers and students, and perhaps parents also to reflect on the meaning and process of education. If we say education involves values transmission and life enhancement, this Education Sunday is a time for each one of us, as a community of faith to reflect on how God’s teaching about wisdom as an important perspective to lead our life of faith.
God of wisdom, you have created everything good in your sight. You are the source of life and every gift is from you to enrich our life on earth.
You have been teaching us your words of wisdom and grant us reasons and spirit to understand your will and purpose.
We ask for your guidance to lead a life of honoring and respecting God. Help us to use our mind and heart to understand your truth of love and peace.
Lord, give us strength through the Holy Spirit, that we are able to stand for God’s wisdom to uphold life and righteousness, to glory your name our Lord.
In Christ’s name we pray, amen.