A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 17 January 2010, second Sunday after Epiphany, by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Psalm 36:5-10, 1 Cor 12:1-11 and John 2:1-11.
Our God of love, may your Holy Spirit dwell in us and lead us into your truth. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
On the first Sunday of this month, Jelita had delivered a message about stewardship. I would like to follow up on this theme today by sharing about using our spirit gifts to build God’s church.
Spiritual gifts could be very diversified. They can be defined as any individual talent and ability activated by the Holy Spirit to achieve common good and bring about God’s glory. How about God’s church? In a micro and narrow sense, God’s church can be referred to a local congregation like KUC as we are right here. But from a wider sense, God’s church refers to the body of Christ. God’s church represents Christ’s presence in the world to fulfill God’s kingdom of love, justice and peace.
Using our gifts to build God’s church can go from a micro and narrow sense to a macro sense, that is from the congregation level to societal level to build God’s kingdom in the world.
The early church leader Apostle Paul had talked to the church members of the Corinthians about spiritual gifts. He taught them to use their gifts for building up the body of Christ in unity. Paul had stressed that the gifts that were used for God and beneficial to others were freely given by the Holy Spirit.
From Apostle Paul we realized that we will never lack the gift to serve God. It is because God will give his people unique gifts to serve through the Holy Spirit to manifest the common good for all. The issues of using gift to build up God’s church involve different dimensions.
First of all, do we know our gifts, our passion and our strength? If we know and recognize it we may have higher chance to use it.
The spiritual gifts mentioned by Paul were very specific. Utterance of wisdom, utterance of knowledge, healing, working of miracles, prophesy, discernment of spirits, speaking of tongues, interpretation of tongues. The gifts mentioned by Paul were needed in his socio-political and religious context.
God will give different gifts to his disciples according to the social context and situation that they are living in. When we have children and youth who need to be nurtured, a building that needs to be maintained, and poor people who require charity and so on, God will prepare people with relevant gifts to take up the jobs. Each one of us has to be sensitive to God’s calling of a special role and task.
The second element related to the use of our gifts to build God’s church is ‘how much do we care?’ Do we care for God’s Church, do we care for God’s concern?
I would like to highlight Jesus’ first miracle in Cana’s wedding for this aspect of sharing. In Cana’s wedding, Jesus performed his first miracle in his public ministry. He turned water into wine.
First of all, this miracle was initiated by Mary, Jesus’ mother. How? It was Mary who told Jesus that the wine was running out. From the text and by making references from commentary, Mary was taking an important role for helping the host to take care of this wedding celebration. She was observant and sensitive to the needs of the wedding. When she noticed that there was no wine, she immediately told Jesus about this. Her approach to Jesus for help has demonstrated her care for the couples and their family who were hosting the wedding. Mary was aware that if not enough wine is served in a feast like this in a wedding, it would be quite a shame and embarrassing to the host. The host was her good friend. The miracle started with a caring heart for friends.
When we looked at the narrative, quite to our amazement is Jesus’ initial response. The way Jesus replied to his mother was not so positive, ‘you must not tell me what to do. My time has not yet come” (Good News Bible). From the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), the text is written as, “woman, what concern is that to you and to me, my hour has not yet come.” It sounds like Jesus did not want to do it. Mary’s response to the Jesus’ reply was to tell the servant to do whatever Jesus instructed them. The response of Mary revealed her total trust in Jesus. Here perhaps what we can learn from Mary is that we should have total trust and patience to Jesus Christ to work in his time. What we do is just to pray to Jesus and share our concerns in the first place.
Now let us look at the response from Jesus. Although Jesus realized that the time has not yet come, he went ahead to try out his first miracle of turning the water into wine. Why? According to the narrative, Jesus performed the miracle for revealing his glory and for his disciple to believe in him.
From a human point of view, Jesus cared for his mother. He might not want to disappoint her. Just like in the narrative when he stayed in the temple in Jerusalem, when his mother was so worried about him. Although he knew his mission, he obeyed his mother by following the parents back home.
Reveal his glory and his disciples believed in him
The author of John’s Gospel tried to let the readers know who Jesus Christ was. The Gospel of John was completed many years later after Jesus’ death. The author tried hard to bring forth the identity of Jesus Christ as the son of God. It was through him, and those who believed in him will become God’s children. By believing in Christ, God’s children will be saved. This miracle has revealed God’s glory through him in terms of his care for his mother. He cared for what his mother cared for. Secondly, he cared for his disciples. He wanted his disciples to know him more and believed in him so that they could be connected to God and be redeemed. To Jesus, to reveal his glory was not for his own sake. It was not his intention to make himself great or gain any adoration from human beings because of this super power. Caring is the essence for his performance of this miracle. Caring for his disciples and his loved ones reflected Jesus’ love to God. Jesus’ love to the whole world has further given us understanding of God’s great and steadfast love without boundary.
Caring for others is the essence of sharing our gift to build up God’s church.
If we care about something, and we care for others, we will have the power to do something great.
The third aspect of using our gifts to build God’s church is collective participation.
Definitely Jesus played a key role in the completion of this miracle. But we have to notice that without other people’s participation this miracle would not have happened. Mary, Jesus’ mother was the first one to see the need for wine. She told Jesus the wine was running out. She gave her gift of sensitivity in this miracle.
Jesus was able to turn the water into wine only when he got the water. He instructed the servants to put the water into the jar. Without the hard labor of the servants, Jesus could not perform the miracle.
Everybody takes a role and a part in completing the miracle. Equally, building God’s church requires everybody’s efforts by generously sharing their gifts with one another. To build up God’s church with success cannot just rely on the minister and a few church leaders. It must be the participation of all members of the church body.
Do the things we find right and valuable
Last Friday evening and Saturday morning, I went to the LegCo again to join the Christian organizations in the protest against the funding allocation to the Express Rail Link construction. On Friday night, some of our church leaders came to show their support. We had Jelita, the Council Chair, Bruce a Council member and MOE member, Trustee Chair Gabi, Tobias and Roy. Our presence has demonstrated our solidarity to the people who have been fighting for the interest of Hong Kong in terms of a more sustainable development that strikes a better balance between social and economic development, better use of public revenue to address the widening wealth gap, a more democratic process of decision making and for the government to listen to the public views, and so on. We were there to stand for peace and justice by following the footstep of our Lord Jesus Christ.
- The image of the young people and the protest in LegCo in the last two weeks that I personally experienced as one of the participants on site is very different from that portrayed in the media coverage.
- The young people who initiated this protest employed peaceful means through pilgrim walks and five of them even went for a hunger strike for 180 hours. What they demanded was to reclaim their rights to the decision making process of town planning in Hong Kong.
- The young people used their body, to be in touch with the earth in a humble way through the pilgrim walk. Through this holy and humble move, they wish to change the mind of the government and the LegCo members who have the power to vote and decide on the future of Hong Kong.
- Why do they want to reclaim this right? Simply because they love and care for the city of HK. They said this is their land. They care for the environment, the earth, to use the Christian point of view and the Christian language: they care so much for God’s creation.
- Besides the natural environment, they cared also for the livelihood of ordinary citizens.
- They find that the existing political systems and the decision making mechanism do not represent their views. They therefore tried something so difficult, perhaps impossible. Their commitment and courage have deeply touched many people in Hong Kong, including me. The young people are advocating for a better society with justice and compassionate love. Human beings and the earth are not just taken as tools for economic development for money generation. Apostle Paul has told us that ‘the Spirit’s presence is shown in some way in each person for the good of all.’ I have witnessed how the spirit dwell upon these young people and give them various gifts to start and continue this peaceful protest for God’s creation, the environment and God’s people, especially those who have no power and are marginalized in the policy making process.
- These post-80 youth have a strong passion and care for God’s creation and God’s people. We Christian and Church should pay deep respect to them. Besides, we have a lot of to learn from them.
They are so courageous, they do what they think is right by all legal and peaceful means. They are not afraid of the authorities, they are not afraid of criticism, they are not afraid of being arrested by the police. They are right there doing something that is extremely difficult and some say impossible. But they do it for the sake of the common good. It is admirable.
From the courage and utter commitment of the young people in the anti express link protest, we realize a truth. When we care for something, we will do our best to give what we have. In addition, when we care so much we will give more than we have now. We will even go further to expand our horizon, by uplifting ourselves to something that is beyond our control. God, who is the creator of heaven and earth, Jesus Christ the founder of the church will definitely give us gifts through the Holy Spirit for achieving his will. The spirit is always right there to provide gifts and strength for us to act. This is an action for the common good and to bring glory to God.
At the end of the sermon, I would like to invite friends of KUC to engage in building God’s church through KUC. It is a time for you to put your faith in action. To respond to the love and calling of God, please fill in the stewardship pledge form to indicate your offering of gift to the church. There are different areas that you may get involved in. I am sure God has and will give you gifts through the Holy Spirit for his kingdom. Don’t hesitate to give for God will provide. In Jesus Christ, we are able to experience miracles. The church needs you and God is waiting for you.
The form can be taken from the table at the church entrance and a box to collect the filled forms is placed on the same table. May God give you the courage to act. God bless you!
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 10 January 2010, first Sunday after Epiphany, by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Isaiah 43:1-7 and Luke 3:15-17; 21-22.
God of love, may your word inspire us and the spirit leads us to your truth. Amen.
Have you noticed any change in the altar that is different from last week? (What are missing? --- bingo: yes, the Christmas tree, the Poinsettia 聖誕花, the wreath of candles) The removal of all the above from the altar indicates that the Advent and the Christmas season is over. The season of Epiphany begins this week according to the church liturgical calendar.
Epiphany comes from the Greek word ‘epiphaneia’ or ‘theophaneia’, meaning ‘appearance’ or 'manifestation’. Epiphany reveals the divine presence of God through human flesh in Jesus Christ. The feast of the Epiphany on January 6 symbolizes Jesus Christ, who was the man born to be King, took on the human flesh to be identified with humanity. This is also an unfolding season that honors the public life and witness of Jesus Christ. Epiphany starts with the baptism of Jesus by John in the River Jordan.
Today is the first Sunday after the Epiphany and the Baptism Sunday to celebrate and remember our Lord Jesus’ baptism and to reflect on how it is related to our life of faith. Our church has also arranged baptism sacrament for sisters and brothers who wish to receive baptism on this special day.
The meaning of baptism and its significance
Christian baptism is the sacrament of initiation into a life in Christ. It marks the beginning of the journey of faith and discipleship that lasts throughout one’s life.
The person who is baptized is usually called a ‘born again Christian’. In today’s Gospel reading from Luke 3:22, a dove was used to symbolize the Holy Spirit. When we read the ancient biblical text, dove was a symbolism pointing to Noah in the Old Testament (Genesis 8), who sent out a dove to search for dry land after the flood. Dove is thus a symbol of re-birth. Therefore, baptism has a meaning of rebirth. The rebirth of Christians in baptism is completed by Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Baptism is significant to a person who has decided to be baptized. Baptism induces a commitment for a start of a new life. That’s why we used to call people who are baptized born-again Christians. They are new creations with a different life path which is engaged fully in our Lord Jesus Christ. In 2 Cor 5:17, it says “so if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see everything has become new!” Baptism is thus an important sacrament for the baptized to declare a life commitment to God to follow Jesus’ words and deeds, to obey God and fulfill his will and mission.
A new life in Christ through baptism
Baptism is also symbolized as the washing of sins in life. In Luke 3:3, it described a scene in which John the Baptist went to the region around Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. From Apostle Paul’s teaching in his early church ministry, he had also highlighted to his followers that God’s forgiveness has washed away our sins for those who are truly repent. (1 Cor 6:11) Those who are cleansed and pardoned by Christ receive in baptism a fresh start in life and a new ethical orientation. Christians have to reflect always on their own attitude and behavior. Self critical examination and a willingness to seek forgiveness and to change is important when a person begins to engage in a new life in Christ. In Hong Kong we live in a very busy world we therefore have to make additional efforts to reserve some time for silence with God, to hear his word and understand his will to us and to the world that we live in.
Baptism is portrayed as a rebirth by the Holy Spirit and the baptized Christians receive this gift of Spirit. (John 3:5; Acts 2:38) The descent of the Holy Spirit in baptism gives the baptized power to lead a life in Christ. We Christians have to remember and live in faith of the Holy Spirit.
Baptism also goes with the joining of the baptized to the church as a new member. Incorporation is another indication of baptism in the New Testament. The baptized Christian is united with Christ and Christ’s body the church. The newly baptized will then be united with other members of the body. (Eph 2:19, ‘so then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God) Members in the community of faith are all equal and should receive each other with respect. (Galatians 3:28) The joining of new members to a faith community is a great joy as they are new blood to the body of Christ that bring life and energy. While the new members find way to involve deeper in the community of faith, the current members receive them warmly and help them to grow in Christ.
Jesus’ baptism: I would like to talk about Jesus’ baptism
Jesus has no sins but he took the initiative to let John baptized him like other people who seek forgiveness of sins through baptism. Why? The participation of Jesus has demonstrated his full identification with humanity which is broken and difficult.
.A new life in Christ through baptism, the very first thing that we learn from Jesus was his incarnation to the world and identification with humanity. In Jesus’ ministry, he healed the sick, befriended with the outcast, preached the good news of liberation to people who were enslaved. Jesus never stayed away from people. All his words and deeds had given us good examples to follow.
In our community in HK and many parts of the world, we have seen many Christians engaged in different missionaries by leaving their home countries and go to a foreign land to serve the local people over there. Mother Theresa is one of those who is so familiar to us. The compassionate love of Mother Theresa to the poor and the sick has moved many people. There is another example closer to us that I would like to share this morning. He is our friend, Tobias Brandner, Gabi his wife is our member in KUC. Tobias was my teacher when I took my theological course at Chung Chi Divinity School. Tobias obtained a PhD in theology and comes from a developed country --- Switzerland (a place where many people including myself dream of going). Tobias is teaching in the Chung Chi Divinity School right now. But he is very passionate to serve in the prison’s ministry. When he first came to Hong Kong, as far as I knew he served full time in the prison ministry. Now he still goes there regularly. I had once joined a visit to the prison led by Tobias when I was his student in Chung Chi. I observed that the prisoners were very pleased to see Tobias visiting them. Tobias’s friendly visit demonstrated his love to the people. His mere presence indicates his acceptance to the prisoners who have been discriminated and despised by many people of the society. The prison is a long way away that takes an hour and a half hour for a single trip. For a return trip, it takes three hours. You can imagine it is quite tiring. But Tobias does that regularly. He does not only go by himself but he also organizes theological students to go together, to bring love and joy of God to the friends in prison. Therefore, a simple presence is a great recognition and support to others especially those who are marginalized and neglected. The presence of love requires efforts and heart to give, of course.
Last Friday, a demonstration was held outside the LegCo building to stand against a vote for funding the Express Rail Link from Guangdong to HK. Several Christian Organizations, such as the HK Christian Institute, the Justice and Peace Committee of the Catholic Diocese, and the Justice and Social Concern Committee of the HK Christian Council were involved in this action. (I was recently elected as the chairperson for the Justice and Social Concern Committee of the HK Christian Council) Therefore I went there to show my support. The way the Christian groups participated was to set up an ‘add-oil counter’ by providing free water, bread and spring roll to people coming to support the action. Bruce went to the LegCo in the evening as well. I expected the evening on Friday could be very cold. But it was less cold than I expected. I saw a woman who brought a big container of hot red bean desert to the ‘add oil counter’. She said the weather was cold and she thought that people might need something hot to eat so as to keep them warm. I was moved by her generous ad thoughtful action. The Christian groups were also social witnesses to God for bringing love and care through the distribution of food and drink. The presence of the Christian community has indicated the church’s stand for justice, in terms of a stand on the side of the vulnerable and the marginalized people such as the residents from Tsoi Yuen Village: some of the residents who came to the demonstration that evening were elderly. They came to fight for keeping their homes and refuse to move because they take Tsoi Yuen Village as their home. Evacuation of residents from Tsoi Yuen Village is only one of the issues related to the construction of the Express Link proposed by the government, there are other issues like the huge budget for such construction and the routes that were chosen. The proposed budget is 66.9 billion. There are many queries from the public for this rail construction. There are different views for the Rail Project, one of those is not to construct Express Rail at all, while an option by another professional network offered an alternative proposal that costs less financially and creates less social cost. But the government wants to get the funding approved as soon as possible by the LegCo. The support and presence of people from diverse backgrounds for a common purpose of public good and justice that have impacted another miracle in HK, namely, that the LegCo meeting has to be deferred, again.
This Rail Link Project induces a lot of controversial issues and problems yet to be resolved, they include the proper use of public fund, suffering of the mother earth as the natural environment may be damaged when the construction is carried out, vulnerable residents who have little bargaining power when they are asked to move their homes for the rail construction. Churches in Hong Kong should be concerned about this and take actions for justice.
When we say people start to engage their life in Jesus through the baptism. Baptism is therefore never a simple individual gain for a better life. On the contrary, it is a life of giving to others and a concern to the community as a whole. Jesus’ baptism reminds us that Jesus took up the call from God to engage in the world fully and to save all humanity.
A new life in Christ is not something that remains in theory or just kept in the mind. Change requires our willingness and prayerful actions.
James 2:26. “so faith without works is dead.” We have a good model in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is given to believers and it is a powerful sign to help Christians to revive and grow. The pulpit fall today is white for this is to commemorate our Lord’s baptism. The liturgical color white implies newness and hope in the year to come.
Today, we have three candidates to be baptized. Amongst us, there are many sisters and brothers who had been baptized some time ago. For baptized Christians, we had all responded to God’s calling with commitment in our baptism sacrament.
To conclude my sermon today, I would like to quote a teaching from a leader of the Reformation in the 16th Century, Martin Luther. He said Christian should live each day with the same calling and grace as the day he or she was baptized, to dutifully carry out his or her life commitment at the baptism.