Reflections...

Meditations, Reflections, Bible Studies, and Sermons from Kowloon Union Church  

The Path of Waiting for God’s Salvation – God’s Promise

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 29 November 2009, First Sunday in Advent, by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Jeremiah 33:14-16, Psalm 25:1-10, 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 and Luke 21:25-36.


Dear triune God,

May your Words guide us to understand your mystery of salvation and your promise of hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. In Christ’s name we pray amen.

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. Advent derives from the Latin word adventus, meaning "coming" or “arrival”. This is traditionally a season of quiet and joyful expectation for the coming of Christ. Advent has marked the beginning of the Church liturgical year.

The Latin word adventus is the translation of the Greek word parousia, commonly used in reference to the Second Comming. Therefore the season of Advent serves a dual reminder of the original waiting of the Hebrews for the birth of Jesus Christ their Messiah as well as the waiting that Christians today endure for the second coming of Christ.

Advent signifies a time of waiting for the coming of our Lord to save his creation from sins and to restore life of all creatures.

Advent begins with a promise, a promise of God to save his people who have a covenant relationship with Him. As the Psalmist has reiterated this kind of relationship, ‘you are my God who save me’ (Ps. 25:5)

I read for you the Psalm 25:1-10

Psalm 25:1-10 “To you, O Lord, I offer my prayer; in you my God, I trust. Save me from the shame of defeat; don’t let my enemies gloat over me! Defeat does not come to those who trust in you, but to those who are quick to rebel against you. Teach me your ways, O lord; make them known to me. Teach me to live according to your truth, for you are my God, who saves me. I always trust in you. Remember, O Lord, your kindness and constant love which you have shown from long ago. Forgive the sins and errors of my youth. In your constant love and goodness, remember me, Lord! Because the Lord is righteousness and good, he teaches sinners the path they should follow. He leads the humble in the right way and teaches them his will. With faithfulness and love he leads all who keep his covenant and obey his commands.”

Promise of God in the time of waiting for God’s coming, for God’s salvation is important. Why? And what does the promise of God constitute?

God has promised to save and promised to call people of righteousness to rule and bring forth justice and peace to his people. Prophet Jeremiah in the Old Testament has clearly proclaimed it. (Jeremiah 33:14-16, “The Lord said, ‘the time is coming when I will fulfill the promise that I made to the people of Israel and Judah. At that time I will choose as king a righteous descendant of David. The King will do what is right and just throughout the land. The people of Judah and of Jerusalem will be rescued and will live in safety. The city will be called, ‘the Lord our Salvation’)

The City that is saved would be called ‘The Lord Our Salvation’. If City is symbolically representing the world, the world under the care and rule of God, we can then call the world --- ‘The Lord Our Salvation’ too.

Promise is important because it gives people hope and courage to go on in times of difficulty and danger.

Trust is important for the fulfillment of promise

Promise can give a sense of hope and encouragement when people have trust in the promise. Promise works only with a condition of trusting the faithfulness of God.

What is the ground of trusting God? We believe in a God who is the origin of the world, the creator of the heaven and earth. We believe in a God who has been involved in the history of humanity. We believe in God because of our personal encounters with God in our lives.

In the path of waiting for God’s salvation, we have to trust in God’s promise. We trust that our Lord, who is the God of the Israelite, God of all humanity, and God of the whole world, Our Lord is God of justice and righteousness.

Promise of God gives hope because promise of a bright future provides a direction for people to move on.

If a person loses direction and objective in life, he would suffer a lot for life becomes meaningless. Sisters and brothers, if you are now in a stage of lost and confusion in life, come to the Lord of salvation for help and alternatives. In the season of Advent, it is a time for us to come to God and quietly wait for his revelation, to understand God’s will, our life in God and areas that we may need to change and transform.

Life situation on earth is never easy. The reality of the world is scary and upsetting. Personally we may face a lot of troubles in life that are yet to be resolved. In the world around us, wars and violence, many people suffer from economic hardship and millions die of hunger and lack of basic medical support, people lose their freedom and even their lives under the rule of dictatorship, global warming that make our earth sick.… endless list of human suffering, we may be very disappointed. But when we trust the promise of God and truly believe that God will fulfill his promise and take responsibility we will then be encouraged and be filled with hope. God is our savior who will transform and bring new lives.

In view of God’s promise to fulfill his plan of salvation to people from an individual and communal level, the path of waiting is not passive as most people may think.

Waiting is not a kind of passive action. On the contrary waiting can be taken as active participation of here and now which have implication for future.

Let me give an example to illustrate. Having a new born baby is a gift and a promise of God to give life. The fulfillment of a new life is the birth of a baby. But before the baby is born and is still nurtured inside the mother’s womb, there are different people contributing to the well being of this baby. How? First of all, the diet, the life styles and the emotions of the pregnant woman are the primary factors affecting the health and growth of the baby. Then it comes to all the people who may interact with this mother. You may then think of the father of the baby. He is of course a significant person to influence the baby’s well being. His love and care to the mother will create positive feeling that in return contribute to the growth of the baby inside the womb. At the community level, families and neighbors of the pregnant woman, as well as the medical service provision and related profession, they all take part and contribute to bringing a healthy baby in future. The fulfillment of promise in future, and the coming of God’s salvation is very much to do with the present.

Promise is about future. That is absolutely true. However, promise is also about here and now. Our attitude and way of doing and preparation at present will greatly affect how God’s promise is fulfilled in future. The waiting for God’s salvation in his promise is open ended. The active waiting for God’s promise is the gift from God that allows God’s people as creature to participate in God’s salvation.


Every year before the 1st Advent Sunday, KUC will arrange the Clean Up Day on Friday and Saturday. I find the tradition of this ‘Clean Up Day’ is theologically meaningful.


Clean up day is an event open to the whole congregation, young and old, of different occupations and level of education gathered to work together for cleaning the church and prepare for the advent.

People coming for the Clean Up have to let go of who they are. They forget about their social status and positioning. Whether they are lawyers, accountant, teachers, domestic helpers, students, asylum seekers, they all come for the same purpose. They come to dedicate themselves to clean and decorate the church to prepare for the new church year. During the time of waiting for God’s salvation, God’s people do not care who we are as the world/the society defines us. What we do is to have to learn to focus ourselves to God and for God.

In the Clean Up Day, people come to do labor work, they all come to participate. People who come to clean up indicate that they may have left all their other worries and demands from work and from home aside at this moment in time. They come to serve God with heart and clear purpose. People come to clean the dirt and bring shining light to the fans, to the lights, to the windows and to the communion table and so all. People (children especially) come to put up Christmas decorations that bring color, beauty and joy to the congregation coming to the church to meet the Holy One. By doing all these, we are able to bring glory to our God of love and justice. The preparation for Advent prepares for the coming of Christ that is open for all people. This is a reflection of God’s Salvation and his promise of hope that they are given to all people.

The clean up day is also significant in terms of building up a loving and mutual support community in Christ. In the 1 Thessalonians 3:11, St. Paul prayed for the church to love one another and for all people, and teach them to grow in maturity in love while they were waiting for the day Jesus Christ comes again to be with all who belong to him. Clean Up Day right before the beginning of Advent signifies a community of faith committing themselves to cleanse our sins and repent through a collective effort. People coming to the Clean Up do not necessarily know each other in person (we have residents from the Bethune House, over 10 people coming; Rose’s students who have been coming year after year even after their graduation from the secondary school where Rose was a teacher). But we are connected in the loving service of Christ. During the work we are supporting each other and working with each other. (Paul climbed up the ladder to clean the fan at the ceiling, Hing cleaned the cloth; Paul Wong held the ladder to ensure the safety of Amour when he was climbing up to clean the top of the panels.) It is through this collective effort that demonstrates people’s caring cooperation and solidarity in Christ. Through this connection and unity in Christ, God’s people are given more power and strength to prepare ourselves for the coming of God’s salvation and Kingdom. If you did not come for the Clean up Day in the last two days, don’t worry. Think of any way that you may appreciate those who have come to work. In addition, if you spot anything in church that requires cleaning and fixing please tell us, or offer your hand would be even better. Love one another through service in Church is a long term practice that require commitment and persistence.

In a chaotic world where despair and disappointment are part of life to many people, the community of faith serves as a significant body to uphold each other and keep our trust and hope in God. When Christians are able to love one another and affirm each other to grow in maturity in time of darkness, it conveys a strong sense of hope. In a community of love, our Lord will strengthen us in the presence of God.

The promise of God relies on a faithful community in which believers are able to practice a life of loving one another.

Advent begins a promise of good future. The Lord has promised to choose people of righteousness to fulfill his plan of salvation. God has come for the first time through the incarnation of Jesus Christ. For the second coming of Christ, God has chosen Church to be agent of salvation to bring forth love and justice to the world.

To Christians, fulfillment of God’s salvation through his promise has reminded us that we have to be alert, alert of God’s salvation and that God’s Kingdom is near.

Season of Advent is a time for Christians to reflect on our lives and how our lives engage in God’s justice and serve our Lord in God’s will and walk in God’s truth for hope, love, joy and peace. As a faith community of Christ, we have to learn and grow in loving one another and for all while we are retelling the story of savior Jesus Christ and waiting for the second coming of Christ in the years ahead.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, November 29, 2009

 

Christ the King –

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 22 November 2009 by Joel Brandner, Chenyi Roy Njuabe and Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Psalm 93 and John 18:33-37.


Christ the King – Is Jesus a king? By Joel Brandner

Before I begin lets look at the definition of a king. Kings are rich, powerful, and they rule over a kingdom. They are born into the royal family, are respected and have many educated subjects. But does Jesus have any of these qualities?

No. Jesus was a poor, born in a stable carpenter, he didn’t have a regular home or a stable income. Rather than being served he likes serving people especially poor, homeless or rejected people in the society. Jesus’ disciples were fishermen, tax-collectors and a wide range of other people society would consider unimportant.

When the coming of the messiah was prophesied, people expected a heroic king, such as one like David, who would come with armies and power to defeat the enemy. What they got was a teacher and a servant, someone who complained about the church and lectured the Pharisees, who helped the poor and the needy, who disregarded the rules and healed on the Sabbath, and who died shamefully on the cross, though he had done nothing wrong. Jesus was nothing like what the people at that time expected. So is Jesus a king?

If we are to consider the definitions I have shared today I think not. Being the son of God, Jesus could have been what the people expected, but rather than doing that, he chose to be a servant to the people of Israel.


Christ the King – The Majesty of Jesus” By Chenyi Roy Njuabe

Few recognize Jesus Christ for who he really is. Many have different views of who Christ really was with different expectations of what He will do for his people Hebrews 1:3 tells us that before His incarnation He was the brightness of God’s glory, the express image of His person, He was upholding all things by the word of His power- The one who upheld the universe was the one who Himself came to this world to purge our sins, and then sat down on the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
When Jesus ascended back to His Father in heaven, Angels came to receive the King and to escort Him triumphantly to heaven. This was the One who was in the Form of God, Who was equal with God, One with God, Who was God. He was the one who made himself of no reputation, and took upon himself the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men (John 1:1, Phil. 2:6)

After He had suffered the biggest disgrace in His death upon the cross, because of our sins, Jesus Christ, Who will forever carry His identification with humanity, (the son of man as well as the son of God) was escorted to heaven and exalted as the King of all creatures both in heaven and on earth. There in heaven He took His place with the Father on His throne-- the only one worthy to implement the grand covenant between God and man."

Yes, He took His place upon the throne which is the throne of the father and of the lamb. (Rev. 22:1)

Oh, if the people on earth would have seen Him in His Glory, if they would have recognized Him would they have crucified the King of the Glory? "

When we read from the bible we can see how writers express their views about the servant king, whose kingdom shall have no end, they gave him titles like;

-King Eternal (1 Timothy 1:17), - King of Israel (John 1:49) - King of the Jews (Mt. 27:11),- King of kings (1 Tim 6:15; Rev. 19:16), -King of the Ages (Revelation 15:3) and -Ruler of the Kings of the Earth (Rev. 1:5). You name them. Yet he humble himself not as the type of king the world expected but a king who can wash the feet of his disciples, who can carry our burdens, who will never fight wars nor engage in any violent act.

In general, Christians all over the world use this title in honor of our Lord Jesus Christ. Many denominations including Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and Methodists celebrate, the Feast of Christ the King. This title “Christ the King" is also frequently used as a name for churches, schools, seminaries and hospitals. Many in our society today compare this title to our earthly rulers; that is the kings, queens and presidents of our nations. When we look critically in to the various kingships of the world, that is the circular kingdoms of this world, we could find many kinds of injustice, war, dictatorship, inequality, violent, blaspheming, greed, false accusation, betrayal, unrest, no trust, and corruption. Many if not all obtained their power either by violent, corruption, or false promises.

But Jesus' Kingship is not obtained by violence, but of truth, love and peace "'Christ, has dominion over all creatures, a dominion not seized by violence nor injustice, but by essence and by nature. Christ said “My kingdom is not of this world”. So today let us based our thoughts on Christ the Majesty or Christ`s kingship. But what we should know is that when Christ came into this world, Jewish thinking of “His kingdom” does not refer to a territory but it is an active concept referring to rule. Therefore when we talk about the Kingdom of God we automatically should understand that God is the king not of a territory but of all creatures. In front of Pilate, they called him king of the Jews but today we called him king of the universe, king of kings, Lord or Lord, the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. When we look at the statement of Jesus that his kingdom was not of this world, it did not means that his kingdom had no impact in this world but in that His kingdom is in the heart of those who follow Him.

Christ kingdom and the kingdom of this world, the world of secular government, are two different kingdoms which should never be confused. There for the focus point of Christ` majesty is only on the body of believers, who are no longer of the world because of their union with the father, son and holy spirit. This is a kingdom to do with relationship, relationships which are inspired by God`s own presence and manifesting his love in human hearts

When the Jews were waiting for a king, they were expecting a king who will come to fight war, ride on chariots, and kill people in battle to take over the dynasty of David. But Jesus kingship is not based on human power but of the loving grace of God. His kingship is from above, from the father. That is why many did not welcome him because their expectation of a warrior king did not match with the kingship of Christ.

Christ` Majesty is of grace, peace, love, justice, humility, forgiveness, patience, and His kingdom will never end, will be for all who comes under the umbrella of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our king is a servant king, a king we can trust and hope for, a king who will judge with mercy and love, king who sacrifices himself for all his people, and a king who did not killed but healed. Though he was killed, yet he was rise up from the death by his father to conquered death so that we might live again. He was born a king; he died as servant king, and was enthrone a king in the heavenly throne.

In His Majesty let us sing together the hymn… The servant King......


Christ the King – Unity through the King By Phyllis Wong

Joel, Roy and I are different in age, race, nationality, and gender. But we are standing here to share with you messages about Christ the King from different angles and dimensions. In God we are all equal in worth. We are given opportunity by God to serve. We are called by God in different but unique ways.

KUC is a very diversified congregation. We have members and friends coming from different backgrounds. They come from over twenty countries and speak many different mother tongues. Our motto, “Where all are One” reflects a fundamental belief in unity in Christ. We have demonstrated a strong value for unity in diversity. We are able to respect people from a diverse background. The beauty of the congregation is that we treat each other as equal and unique regardless of our race, gender, social class, age, sexual orientation, marital status and so on. We are all God’s beloved children. Everybody deserves respect and enjoy basic human rights.

Christ our King, He was an unusual King. He came to the world not for power, not for honor. He came not to be served but to serve. Christ has called his disciples and the Church to be faithful servants. Christ wanted his followers to be renewed and to bring the world unity and reconciliation as he did to the world. (2 Cor 5:17) In our world where wars and disasters, both natural and human-made, have led to great destruction to human lives and broken relationships, we as God’s church is reminded once again our mission to engage in peace making and proclaim the good news of unity in Christ.

Christ the King, is a King of Unity. Christ has promised to give the world unity. Christ has offered himself, through his life, death and resurrection to break down the dividing walls, the hostility between people, and to create a new humanity of peace. (Ephesians 2:14 – 18) Only when the church and his disciples are able to unite as One, can we be strong body to serve our Christ the King.

Jesus had prayed for his disciples and the church for unity. (John 17:7-21) Let us sing with a prayerful heart and a spirit of unity to follow Christ’s deeds to break the walls that divide.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, November 22, 2009

 

Sacrifice

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 15 November 2009 by the Rev. Hans Lutz. The scripture readings that day were Hebrews 10, 11-18.


I
“Sacrifice”, both as a word and a concept has found its way from ancient religion into our language. Originally a sacrifice was an offering to a deity by which the blood of an animal or a human being was shed. The Old Testament knows a long list of different sacrifices to God. The temple in Jerusalem must at times have resembled a slaughterhouse with animals big and small being killed and burned.

Today we use the word sacrifice in a wider sense for anything people give up in pursuit of a cause. There are sacrifices which are forced on a victim. Millions of soldiers have been forced to sacrifice their lives in wars started by their leaders.

However, there are also sacrifices by persons on a voluntary basis. A supreme example is that of Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan priest, who volunteered to die in the place of a man and father of a family in the concentration camp of Auschwitz. Because a prisoner had escaped, the commander ordered that ten men be killed by starvation. Maximilian Kolbe volunteered to take the place of one of them and died.

When we look at the sacrifice Jesus Christ has made for us, we can find both aspects. Jesus Christ came to this earth of his own free will. He knew that he was going to suffer and he was prepared for it. Yet from the moment of his arrest until his death on the cross he was in the hands of his tormentors and executioners. He became the lamb which is led to slaughter.

II
The Israelites of the Old Testament brought sacrifices to atone for the sins committed. The blood of the animals was shed on the altar. God himself intervened in the sacrifice to deflect the destructive consequences of evil committed. So the sacrifice had to do with salvation. The forgiveness brought about by the sacrifice was not automatic, but a result of the grace of God.

Jesus Christ understood his death in a similar way as we can see from his words during the last supper when he said, “This is my blood of the new covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt. 26,28).
In offering himself once and for all Jesus Christ has abolished the link leading from sin to the offering of blood for the forgiveness of sins. So the temple is no more needed. “Where there is forgiveness of sin, there is no longer any offering for sin” (Hebr. 10,18). God does not require blood any more.

III
On the cross Jesus overcame the forces of sin and evil. Death as the result of sin could not hold him. Christ rose from the dead and sits at the right hand of God until all the forces of evil will be subject to him. The reference to Psalm 110 is the most often quoted passage of the Old Testament in the New Testament. It proclaims the lordship of Christ over everything. The certainty that Christ is in command was a great comfort to Christians in Eastern Europe when they were struggling under socialist governments.

In my country there is an old saying that the country is governed by God’s providence and the confusion of humankind. As Hong Kong is preparing for yet another round of discussion on constitutional development, we may be well advised to remember that the ultimate government is in God’s hands.

IV
By his sacrifice Jesus Christ draws us as his people to himself. He reconciles us with God and makes us to God’s children. The salvation through Christ is at the root of the bitter controversy between Jesus and the Pharisees. For the Pharisees the people are only holy as far as they keep the law. Holiness depends on human effort. For Christians holiness depends on the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. The power of the Holy Spirit given to us opens the possibility of obedience in joyful communion with God. The Spirit writes God’s will into our hearts and minds.

We will offer ourselves in his service with everything which this entails. We shall be ready for costly sacrifices. I have always been impressed by some of my colleagues in missionary work, who spend a lifetime away from the civilization we are used to in a remote village.

With the Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds we shall also be ready to intervene when we see other people being forced to make sacrifices. Many of us are extremely uneasy with the way our government shirks its responsibility towards asylum seekers and people claiming protection under the Convention Against Torture. Kowloon Union Church has an important ministry to these brothers and sisters. During the recent consultation of the Hong Kong Christian Council on the work of the church in the coming decade new immigrants, the poor, the unemployed and single parent families were mentioned besides asylum seekers as priorities in the work of the church. We must pray that the Christians in Hong Kong will go beyond good intentions and declarations and live out their calling, so that they offer themselves in God’s service.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, November 15, 2009

 

Gospel for the aged

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 8 November 2009 by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Ruth 3:1-5, 4:13-17; Psalm 146 and Mark 12:38-44.


Opening prayer
Lord, open our minds and our hearts to understand Your truth. May the words from my mouth be a delight to You and serve Your Will. Amen.

Introduction
I wish to do a simple survey. Who are living with elderly parents, grandparents and close relatives at home right now? Who have an elderly in your own family but he or she does not live with you? Which of you have elderly neighbors?

The Hong Kong Christian Council has suggested her member churches to assign one Sunday in November as Elderly Sunday. The purpose of the designated Sunday for the elderly is to raise the concern and care for our elderly at home, in church and in the community. In addition, it is time to celebrate the contribution of the elder to our families and community. Today we have taken this elderly Sunday on board in our congregation at KUC.

Our Lord Jesus Christ has given the Church the mission to share the Gospel to people. Amongst all, for people of the aged, what does the gospel mean to them?

Life situation changes. Look at the life of Naomi. Naomi was a Israelite woman mentioned in the Book of Ruth in the Bible. She had faced ups and downs in life. From the Book of Ruth, we were told that Naomi went to Moab (a foreign land to the ancient Israelites) with her husband and two sons. But all of them died in Moab. When Naomi planned to go back to her home country after her husband and sons died, she asked her daughters in law to leave her and return home. While one of the daughters in law, Orpan, left at her request, the other one, Ruth, insisted to stay with her and followed her back to Ruth’s origin of Israel. When Naomi came back to her home country, she had nothing except Ruth. By the end of the story, this was the part that we read this morning, Ruth was married to the rich relative (Boaz) and gave birth to a son (Obed) that brought Naomi great honor and a secure life. Naomi got a grand-son who was close to her. In ancient Jewish Law, close relatives of the deceased had to take up the responsibility to redeem the dead relatives’ land as well as to marry the widow and give birth to a new born under the name of the dead so as to keep the dead man’s name and avoid his name being cut off from his kindred.

We can see how Naomi’s life of ups and downs, moments of joy and sorrows. When she had come to a critical and desperate point in life, her daughter in law demonstrated to her unfailing love. Ruth was able to bring hope and honor to Naomi. As said in the narrative, Naomi’s women friends said Naomi was blessed by the Lord, she had a daughter in law so in love with her. Ruth was more to Naomi than seven sons.

We can imagine or we may actually recognize our elderly at home and in society experiencing different kind of difficulties and turmoil in life, like Naomi. What is able to sustain them perhaps is the unfailing love of those around them.

From the story of Ruth, we find that the faithful love to our elders is all important. That’s no matter how bad the situation is, we will still stay with them and love them. We never let them face the crisis and problems alone. In all circumstances, we just stand by them!!!

The gospel to the aged is the faithful and unfailing love by their loved ones. We stand by them always!

Sometimes we may not be able to live near to our elderly parents/grandparents/and close relatives for some reasons. My friend was a case in point. While she lived and worked in Canada, her father lived alone in Hong Kong. When her father’s health was deteriorating, she took him to the elderly home. For elderly who do not receive care from immediate family members, they need others’ helps and support. In reality, this is very common in our society and different parts of the world. For examples many families in HK have to employ domestic helpers to take care of their elderly or take them to elderly homes. If our work is related to taking care of elderly or if we know there are aged neighbors living next door, perhaps we can take this opportunity to demonstrate our love and care to them. If everybody in the society takes every single elderly as our parents and grandparents, this world would be a better place to live. Although the elderly whom we serve in work setting, whom we meet in church or who are living next door to us do not have a blood relationship with us, in God we are all God’s children. We are created by God and connected in the love of God. In God’s world, we are one family.

The gospel to the aged is that we take them as our family. We love each other for we are all God’s children.

Some of us may think we don’t have the patience with the elderly; and some of you may say ‘I am too busy’. It is also true that not all elderly are easy to communicate. They are all good reasons for walking out from caring for our elderly at home and in our community. The offering of the widow that we read from Mark 12 this morning has given us some thoughts about the sharing of our possessions or what I call gifts. Jesus praised the widow for her offering of the two small copper coins. It was not the face value of the coins that Jesus treasured, it was the heart and commitment of that widow to God. The widow had given all she had. She did not keep anything for herself. This has reflected a strong message of giving and sharing of what we have to God and for God. The widow was poor and inadequate, but she still offered. The challenge of God to us through the deed of the widow is that, we give and share of what we lack and not what we already have abundantly. When we offer something that we find ourselves lacking, it involves a great risk indeed. This kind of offering requires great courage and commitment to God and those we care about.

In caring and supporting our elderly, if we find ourselves being inadequate in love, patience, and time available, try to emulate the widow and give out of this shortage and see how God make miracles out there.

The gospel to the elderly is that people around are willing to give and share love with them.

In Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Council of Social Services has advocated community concern for the elderly. They have initiated an annual “Elderly Day” which is coming soon next Sunday. The theme for this year is ‘Aging well, living well’.

Elderly has the right to dignity. They should be entitled to basic health care, welfare service and retirement protection provided by the government and community. Besides the basic need of food and medical service, elderly people’s need of social participation that make their life whole and full are another important aspect. Elderly citizens should not be regarded as passive and weak, they are a group of people full of wisdom, experience and fun which can be shared with the next generations. Due to longer life expectancy nowadays, educational and social programs provided to elder can enrich their lives after retirement. The image of the elderly should not be just old and sick, dependent and miserable.

The gospel to the aged is that their contribution to the society should be recognized. And their needs of different dimensions should be recognized and addressed. Aging would be a process of blessing to themselves and others. “Aging well, living well”.

Now, I would like to talk about the subject of concerns – the elderly themselves. Gospel to the aged. For our dear elders, what does the gospel mean to them?

From Naomi, she was able to lead a life with perseverance. Although she had lost her husband and sons, she did not give up. She was a very tough woman with the wisdom to face the hardship in life. In addition, Naomi was a very kind and loving person. Out of love and concern to her daughters in law, she asked them to leave her and start a new life that may be good for them. The unselfishness of Naomi in return gave her the faithful daughter in law –Ruth who declared to stay with her no matter how bad the situation was.

The Elderly are able to lead a life in full and with joy if they are able to love others and have strong faith in God who is kind and gracious to all people especially those who in special needs.

If the elderly realize that at the end of the day, God of this universe is right there to protect them and bless them, the elders would then be at ease and at peace. Psalm 146 is a great piece of spiritual prayer to remind all elderly of the gospel that God has given and promised. Let me read it once again for you.

“Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob. Whose hope is in the Lord of their God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry.”

This is the promise of God and our faith in God that keeps us to face an uncertain life, a world of changing where we find nothing strong enough to cling on to. But only God can fulfill our needs and desires.
Gospel to the aged is the unfailing love of God who care and fully presence in their life.

At the end of my sermon, I would like to share a personal experience of encountering with an elderly.

This was my father.

When my father reached his last stage of earthly life, I had quality time to talk to him and listened to his life story. Three months before he died he was very sick and had to be admitted to the hospital frequently. There was one occasion when he was sent to the emergency ward and needed to take an x-ray. I found that his vest was full of holes when he took off his clothes. My first reaction was ‘how come father, you are not that poor, why don’t you put on a new one. Surely you can afford it!’ I guess I was a bit embarrassed seeing this in a public place, that makes me feel bad. My unhappiness changed when my thought shifted to think of my father’s past life experience that he had once shared. My father was born in a fairly well off family. Because of the civil war and the change of political sovereignty to the Communist government in Mainland China in the late 40s and 50s, he moved to Hong Kong. Life in Hong Kong was never easy for him and he had suffered from hunger when he came to Hong Kong without a job. In addition to this, his pride was hurt when he went to borrow money from a friend to feed his stomach but was rejected. He was a responsible father and did his best to raise a big family of 8 children. Having lived in poverty, he was therefore very conscious not to waste anything but keep them. Very often he would keep the things that he did not need, and thus became source of conflict between himself and his daughter in law who lived with him. When I saw the holes of my father’s vest, I remembered all these life experiences that he had gone through. By that very moment, I felt no more unhappiness and embarrassment, but a deep sense of respect and gratitude to him from the bottom of my heart. My father was a humble man and had led a simple life, which I should honor and appreciate.

Understanding of our elderly in our families and community through listening is very powerful. Knowing their life struggles help us to understand why they are who they are now. This helps us to increase our acceptance and remove obstacles of loving them.

When my father was very sick, he had a chance to meet with God directly. I had seen my father’s pure heart to God for his total trust in our Lord Jesus Christ. He handed over his life to God and let go of everything that happen to him. He experienced a great inner peace and joy in Christ. That was an amazing and gracious moment to him and to our family.

Gospel to the aged is a process of listening and understanding. This is gracious and unconditional love from God, and practice of Jesus’ commandment of loving one other. May God empower us to love and bless the elderly amongst us. May God bless all elderly and lead them a life in full happiness and peace. Amen

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, November 08, 2009

 
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 1 November 2009 by the Rev. Hanns Hoerschelmann. The scripture readings that day were Deuteronomy 6:1-9, Hebrews 9:11-14 and Mark 12:28-34.


O Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of our heart be pleasing in your sight. Amen

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ

It was a lively atmosphere in the courtyard of the temple in Jerusalem. People were walking from one point to another. Some were on their way to prayer; some on the way back. Some came to offer some goods on the altar; some to talk to one of the teachers or scribes. And than there were those who wanted to sell goods for the offerings or just souvenirs.

In the middle of all of these lively and sometimes hectic atmospheres we find groups of people standing, debating and talking to each other. They talk about the word of God, a theological problem or just about common things which happen on the street.

Jesus and his followers are in the midst of all this. They have been involved in discussions and arguments about subjects like:

- It is OK to pay taxes to the Caesar the Roman emperor?
- Is there something like a bodily resurrection?

There are all kinds of questions and issues to be discussed. Sometimes the discussions are done in a friendly way, but sometimes one can here a harsher, more aggressive tone. This may be related to the subject of the discussion, which is often no less than the Kingdom of God itself. With such an important issue the tone can be rough at times and the discussion seams to be more a disputation.

In general this kind of discussion and dispute is fine and can be quite fruitful. The only thing which has to be there is a common respect for each other. It has to be clear that everybody involved, is in search for the ultimate goal – the Kingdom of God. Nobody involved should actually think that he has already achieved the goal and only wants to test the others. If the dispute is done in an open way, with a common respect one could surprisingly discover that people who were counterparts a minute ago are actually much closer to each other.

Mark 12:28: One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"

Hearing this verse and thinking about the situation I have just described, one can get a little suspicion. Shouldn't the teacher of law know the answer to his question? Even if one does not know much about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – he or she should at least know the highest of all commandments – or not?

His question seems to be a typical teachers’ question. A question which is only asked to test the knowledge of the component. And if he or she does not know the answer, one can show of with his or her knowledge and present the correct one.

But maybe we are already putting to much suspicion and thoughts into the question of the teacher of law. Maybe he was asking seriously. Maybe we ourselves can remember or think of a situation, where facts which had been self-evident became questionable. Questionable due to wrong guilded thinking; due to experiences of life which do not fit into the common answer; due to better arguments from others.

It is one thing to know something, but sometimes a totally different matter if we hear the same thing from somebody else. Somebody with higher authority. I can name several situations where I have tried to tell my children to do things without success, but when the teacher in school or in kindergarten would say it, it was a totally different matter. Therefore let’s take the question of the teacher of law as serious as Jesus did it:

Mark 12:29-30 "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'
Jesus quotes the so called “Shama Isreal” – the “Hear Israel” . He gives the answer everybody around the two man knows. This quote of the bible is one of the basics of the Jews religion. It is the foundation of the Torah, the five books of Moses, and has been learned by every Jew from childhood on. Therefore Jesus answer seems to be a matter of course.

But is it really? Is it really a matter of course that God is one, is the only God in our daily life? Sure, we love God, but there are so many other things that we love too – or even sometimes more then him: money, status, gadgets etc. I guess everybody has his or her own hidden God. Martin Luther once said: God is whatever your heart is linked too. I think this observation is simple but true until today. God on Sunday (for the Jews on Saturday and the Muslims on Friday) – that is OK. But during the week there are other Gods we just have to add.

But Jesus answer is clear: God is one and he demands undivided attention. With all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. This leaves no room for anything else but God.

But Jesus is not finished yet. He must have known that a wrongly understood love to God could lead to human destruction. He must have know the danger which lies in Gods demand to totally neglect the love for oneself, which could lead to a loss of self esteem. Over centuries theologians and the official churches have told us that we ourselves do not matter – just God and the love to him. And therefore Jesus continues:

Mark 12: 31 The second is this: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."

With this second part of Jesus answer he seams to god further than the common belief. But is he really? Shouldn't it be a matter of course to love oneself as I love God? God loves us and he also has created us in his image. Therefore loving oneself is also loving God. I know what you might say now: isn't this a bit too far? Could such an approach not lead to selfishness and the idea that I am God myself? Well, the line is very thin. As thin as the one toward self denial, which I have mentioned earlier. But how can I love without being loved? How should I say yes to God without saying yes to myself or without having experienced that somebody else saying yes to me?

Therefore it is important to pay attention to both sides of the answer Jesus gives. They form a balance between the love towards God and the love to oneself.

And this balance gets even more stable when we add the third direction of love that Jesus is talking about – the love towards the neighbour. But again, if we would only emphasis on this direction, we would miss the real meaning of love. We would put all efforts into the love towards others but neglect ourselves. It is actually a common phenomenon in churches and Christian communities, that people give up all self-esteem by pointing to the so called servant hood of Christ, which we should follow. Again here the line towards self-destruction or self-denial within a wrongly understood love towards our neighbours is very thin.

And therefore the highest commandment is not only one but actually three: the love towards God, the love towards oneself and the love towards our neighbour. If we try to separate them we will easily loose our balance and fall.

Let me try to put it in a picture: The there aspects of love act like legs of a chair. It would be impossible to sit on a chair with only one leg. You would need to be very acrobatic to do this and the danger of losing your balance is quite high. It gets little better with two legs but still you can easily fall backwards or forward. A chair finally gets stable and becomes a real chair with three legs.

In this way we can say: we become truly human in Gods image if we realise all three dimensions of love – towards God, towards ourselves and towards our neighbours.

Mark 12:32-33 "Well said, teacher," the man replied. "You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."

This answer of the teacher of law echoes all excitement which he felt when hearing the answer on Jesus towards his small question. It echoes what a rightly understood dispute is all about: a question and a counter question, an answer and a counter answer and at the end an agreement on the discovery of a new answer. An answer which might have been there all the times but was covered by ones one thought, habits and customs. Sometimes we need such disputes to get a step further.

Mark 12:34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

Why should they? With the answer of Jesus the question was answered. In the dispute between Jesus and the teacher of law the answer was found for him, the people standing around them and for us – for this time at least. Amen

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, November 01, 2009

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