Meditations, Reflections, Bible Studies, and Sermons from Kowloon Union Church
What Kind of Animal Are You?
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 28 February 2010 by the Rev. Hanns Hoerschelmann. The scripture readings that day were Psalm 27, Philippians 3:17-4:1 and Luke 13:31-35.
In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen
Dear brothers and Sisters in Christ
When I was a young boy I used to attend summer camps organized by our church. It was always an exciting time. One or two weeks away from home, without your parents with a bunch of other kids - sleeping in tends, sitting around the campfire and go on adventures. But it was also a scary time – especially the first day. Who would be in my group or stay with me in the same tent? Would I get along with them and them with me?
In order to ease our worries the group leaders always planed special activities on the first day so that we got to know each other better. One year, I remember, we sat down together and had to think of an animal to describe ourselves. Sorry, but I do not remember what I chose and it would probably be different today. Nevertheless the activity helped us to get to know and understand each other better. It took away some of our fears and worries.
Our Gospel lesson for today uses the same method. In it Jesus describes two different persons and their characters by using the images of animals. He describes King Herod by using the image of the Fox and himself or God by using the image of the Hen. Well, you could say what Luke is telling us here is the old and well known story of the Fox and the Hen. The story about an superior and inferior; about somebody who things is clever and somebody who seems to be dumb; about somebody who seems to be in control and somebody who is controlled – to sum it up for me it’s a story about leadership. A story about how we treat each other in our churches, families, work places and or daily relationships.
There are many versions of this old story of the Fox and the Hen. Just go for a search in the internet and you will be overwhelmed. In almost all of them the Fox is characterized as being wily, deceitful, seeking for control. And his method of control involves tricky strategies and power plays. At the end he wants to win and have the benefit for himself. Funny enough though a lot of times he does not get what he wants. The opposite is the fact. He ends up losing his power and also his dignity. At the end he is the dumb one.
One example: The Fox runs around the Hen house in circles. The Hen, watching him, gets so dizzy that she falls of the roost. The Fox grasps her, puts her into his sack and takes a moment of rest – he actually falls asleep being tired himself from running around the Hen house. In the meantime the Hen awakes from her dizziness, escapes from the sack and replaces her weight with some rocks. Unaware of what has been going on while asleep the Fox takes his sack, thinking it contains a delicious treat. Even though having the view of being in control it’s the Fox who is being tricked and the dumb one.
Looking at our Gospel reading and its wider surrounding we also can find these Foxes - people who want to be in control and secure their own advantage. Take for example the Pharisees. They tell Jesus that Herod is after him to get him. But of what we know from them through the Gospels they are not know for their deep concern and love for Jesus, who often challenges and criticizes them. Why this change of attitude towards Jesus? Is there a hidden agenda, a final plot they follow? We do not know but at least we should be suspicious.
Then there is Herod himself, whom Jesus calls a Fox. He is known for is cruelty and longing to stay in power. Earlier on in the Gospel of Luke we hear that he would like to meet Jesus. But why? Is he interested in his teaching or does he just want to check if this young and successful preacher can be of danger for him?
It seems to be quite clear that both – the Pharisees and Herod want to stay in control by pulling the right strings. They are both foxy in their own way.
And it is the same today. There are many Foxes around us - people who want to be in control by controlling us. They long for power by using tricky ways - not only in big business or politics but also in our churches, families, our daily relationships. You can even say that being a fox is part of all of us, part of being a human being.
We long to be in control of what is happening with and around us. Better trust oneself than trust others seems to be our daily motto in life. Leadership, as we know it has to do with being in control. Only those who have great power will be good leaders – that is how the world works. But be careful, the biggest Foxes are those who claim to act in our interest but not in theirs. At the end it’s all about power – that is how we are.
Jesus knows that and therefore it is no wonder that his reaction is quite harsh. “Tell that Fox!” he replies to the Pharisees. There is none of his embracing and loving concern in this answer. It is harsh and direct. Bringing to the point what we all are: Foxes, power seekers, self controllers.
But Jesus would not be Jesus if he wouldn’t be able to offer us an alternative type of leadership. It is the core of his good news that there is another way of relating to each other and dealing with each other. He himself stands for that alternative. He is the Hen.
For me it is quite striking that Jesus uses this image to describe his way of dealing with people. He could have choose others, more powerful animals like the Lion, the Tiger or an Eagle. But he chooses the Hen. And with this image he carries the allusion of a loving mother. It is the loving Hen which protects their chicks by gathering them under her wings and exposing her breast to the attacker. But in addition to the love that we can sense in this picture there is also a kind of braveness. When the Hen is attacked there is no fighting from her side, no claws, no tearing of flesh. The only thing she does is to spread her wings and expose her chest. If the attacker, say the Fox to stay in the picture, wants her chicks he has to kill the Hen first.
We know that this is what will happen to Jesus later on. He will go his way all the way to Jerusalem and there it will end on the cross. But by doing so and the way he is relating to others – his preaching, teaching and acting – he sets the example for a different kind of leadership. A leadership that gets its power not out of wily tricks or pure force but out of a caring love and kindness. The love that Jesus has receives from his father and that he then passes on to others – to us.
I wonder if you can think of situations were such love is at work. Where such a leadership is practiced. Most of the times it is not so obvious and seems not so powerful. And sometimes we can even not prevent that people play the Fox game by using power plays or control strategies. What we can do is to stand at the sideline and point to the alternative. Point to the Hen – wings spread and breast exposed. If we chose not to be the Lion, the Tiger or the Eagle in our daily live we ourselves can set examples for a different kind of leadership, for a different kind of relationship between each other. With all the Foxes around there is a great need for such an alternative.
But we also have to be realistic. There will always be the ones who will reject this alternative. Stick to the old power plays and strategies of self control. Today's Old Testament lesson and Epistle reading remind us of times when Abraham and Sarah were suspicions of God's love, and the Philippians had their doubts as well. And we ourselves will find us falling back into the old patters because we are human beings. We are not Jesus and will never be.
But what we have is the experience and hope that there are others ways. We have experienced the loving and forgiving care of God through the gift of faith which enables us to start anew when we have failed – fallen back into the Foxes ways. Through Jesus Christ God invites us to make a difference in this world – in our families, at workplaces or in our church communities. He calls us to stand before the Foxes of this world reminding them, that there is another way of dealing which each other - another kind of leadership. A leadership which takes its strength and power out of Gods loving grace.
Stay Away From Temptations?
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 21 February 2010 by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Deuteronomy 26:1-11 and Matthew 4: 1-13.
Loving God, open our ears to hear your words and draw us closer to you, that the whole world may be one with you. Amen.
Resist Temptations through total trust in God
Today is the first Sunday in Lent. Lent is a time for personal and societal repentance, a time for radical conversion, renewal and transformation.
In this holy season of Lent, we are reminded to repent and draw close to Jesus. We begin our spiritual journey by observing Jesus’ temptations before he started his public ministry for God. As Jesus’ ministry was pointing at the whole world, our reflection and meditation should have to include the social aspect in addition to our personal repentance and conversion.
Jesus, as God’s son, was sent to the earth to save the world. He had a mission to bring God’s kingdom of peace to the earth and free people from all kinds of bondage. With such an important mission given by God, Jesus never stayed away from temptation when he led an earthly journey.
The word ‘temptation’ in the original Greek is ‘peirazein’, which means ‘to test or to try’. This meaning is quite different from the meaning in the English translation. The word ‘temptation’ entails a meaning of leading a person to sin or to commit crime.
Jesus’ temptation came after his praying and fasting for forty days in the wilderness. This should be a familiar narrative account to many of you. Jesus was challenged in three episodes. The first one was the devil asked him to command the stones to become loaves of bread while Jesus was hungry after forty days fasting.
From a human point of view, Jesus’ desire to eat at that time must be strong. To fulfill biological needs is so natural and reasonable to a human being. The test here that Jesus had to overcome was using his exceptional power to fulfill his own desire and needs, by turning stones into bread. He knew clearly that the power and gifts given by God should not be used for self interest. With this strong spiritual power, Jesus was able to transform his desire and move beyond his biological needs by staying away from the devil. Surely, Jesus had also demonstrated a total trust to God and his utter faith in God that his need in life would be fulfilled by his Lord God through his words.
In the season of Lent, we need to repent for ourselves and the people who hold authority by using power for their own interest instead of for others’ benefits.
Jesus’ response of ‘one does not live by bread alone’ would be difficult to take for those who are hungry without food and suffer from poverty for a long time, and to them it does not make any sense. This verse from the scripture should never be used to justify poverty and starvation. But we may look at it from a transforming perspective.
Churches around the world have been engaging in different kinds of charities and offering helps to people in need. It is a good witness to serve and give those in need. This is a demonstration of God’s love. But churches should also be sensitive and critical of the unjust systems that perpetuate any injustice of poverty and slavery of the marginalized.
Therefore, we do not just give food to satisfy the immediate need of a person’s stomach. We have to ask perhaps why these people are poor and without food. This gives us an insight for us to engage in social concern ministry in which social problems are caused by social injustice, and we don’t just give tangible service while the root problem is covered up. We need to ask are there any unjust systems that perpetuate the poverty problem. We may have to critically examine if the political, economical, and social systems are too much inclined to the privileged and the rich but neglecting the poor?
For example, in Hong Kong, the wealth gap is the worst in the world according to the figures released recently. We need to challenge our government to enforce social policies that are able to redistribute social resources more to the poor, ‘the have not’. And in terms of political power, the political system should allow one person one vote to ensure the interest of the grass-roots can be fairly represented and addressed.
In this season of Lent, let us repent for human greed for power and wealth, as well as our insensitivity for the powerless and the poor. And pray to God for our conversion to Jesus by learning his compassionate heart and just practice to the poor and the marginalized.
In the fight for social justice and the journey for social concern, it could be very lonely for those involved. I can imagine the feeling of loneliness for those who have been put in jail or kept in house arrest for years or forced to exile to other countries because of their insistence to speak for the truth, and to fight for freedom, democracy and human rights. To name but a few in our times: Nelson Mandela, jailed for 27 years before his release, Ms Anng Shan Suu Kji, still in house arrest in Burma, Liao Xiabo, Wu Jia sentenced to 11 years and so on. Yesterday when I watched the RTHK documentary about Gao Yaojie who is a HIV/AIDs advocate in China to expose the problem of blood sales that caused the spread of HIV/AIDS. She has to decide to leave China in order to continue to disclose this problem to the public. She is very upset because her son does not support her at all for her actions, because of the risk and of the pressure exerted to her family. But her compassion to the poor children and adults in the poor village keeps her going, to continue to take the risk that comes with her work.
The journey of social advocacy and struggles for God’s kingdom is long and lonely. This is very real indeed. What is the hope then? Our hope lies in God through Jesus Christ. Jesus had encountered great challenge by the devil, alone. He was alone in the wilderness to face the test. He was alone before the night he was taken to the priest, the elders and the rulers for trial. He was alone when he was put up on the cross. But Jesus never gave up. He continued his struggles for God’s sake until his last breath. Furthermore, there are many great people in our human history, known or unknown have demonstrated this courage to continue the struggles in the midst of loneliness and isolation. In view of our modern history, great leaders like Mohandas Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Lurther King, Mother Theresa, Sun Yat Sen (the Father of the Nation in China). Their dedication had brought a better world for compassion, equality and freedom.
God is a God of emancipation. God has been participating and taking care of his world. With the grace of God through the presence of Christ, we are able to overcome. Another wisdom from Jesus’ rejection to the devil’s temptation is to recognize that we are only human beings, we have our limitations. In some circumstances we need to accept and embrace our limitation and weakness for we are not God. But we have a total trust in God that our Lord is God of history.
Resist Temptations Taking responsibilities
The second temptation episode of Jesus was when the devil asked him to throw himself down and let God save him. Obviously Jesus rejected the devil by saying ‘we should not put God to the test’.
I think God is not afraid to take any test and challenge. God is generous and kind to help. But God does not appreciate at all to take up a task or responsibility that should not be taken by God in the first place because it is an outcome of some people’s own intentional actions.
We cry to God for help to save us in time of unexpected crisis which is out of our control. It is natural and fair. However, if the danger and crisis is somehow created out of our own hands, it is not right to totally rely on God’s intervention. We ourselves have to take the responsibility by fixing the outcome that we have contributed.
The social evils such as wars and violence, unjust economic structure, human greed for power and wealth and so on, should be addressed by us human and this is the responsibility of the society.
Very often people, Christian included, have this kind of irresponsible attitude by asking God to fix and handle a situation that we human beings in the world should bear the prime role.
We need to examine ourselves with honesty to see if we have done anything or have not done something that permits the evils or problems to exist in our own lives and in our society. E.g. when we ask God to restore the creation to harmony, do we consciously take the responsibility to take care of the earth by consuming less for our own desire and to share with others of what we have? Have we done enough to promote peace in our day to day live at the personal level and the community level?
Therefore, if we would stay away from temptation and draw close to Jesus, we have to take up our responsibility and bear the cross of Jesus. The direction of our prayer is no longer asking for God’s miracle to fix the things for us. Instead we try to ask God to give us strength, wisdom and courage so that we are able to take up our responsibility for God’s world and mission.
We are able to stay away from temptation when we take our responsibility fully.
The third temptation episode was when Jesus was given the Kingdoms of the world if he worships the devil.
When we see people suffering we may have an urge to do more and try different means. We are consciously and unconsciously being tempted by the worldly values to follow their ways. Use of force to manipulate and control is the usual means offered and practiced by worldly authorities. Jesus’ response to the devil was: ‘worship the Lord your God and serve him only’, this has reminded us to avoid being righteous and tried to achieve the goals by making deals with world values and staying away from God. There is no compromise in Jesus. In fact, Jesus did not choose an easy way. Instead, he had chosen a difficult way to fulfill the Kingdom of God. Jesus walked in a journey of bearing the cross that was rough and tough.
When we read the narrative of Jesus’ temptations, Jesus was tested when he was spiritually strong to be prepared for God’s ministry. When we feel we are strong, it is also a time of danger that the devil will come to test us to use our strength to become God. There is a great temptation that when we feel strong and capable, we will easily lose our humility and forget that we are human beings. We may want to exert our power and influence on others. And worse still we may attempt to play the role of God. In our own personal life and human history, we may find the tendency of staying away from God’s will and sovereignty.
From Jesus we realized that he had faced temptations all in his earthly life. If we are determined to serve God’s kingdom like Jesus, temptations would never end. They will come time and again. Furthermore, we need to be alert that temptation goes to all people and it is in particular challenging to those who choose to stay with God and serve him with the given gifts.
Today is the first Sunday of Lent. The Hong Kong Christian Council has suggested the member churches to designate any Sunday in Lent as the Social Concern Sunday. When this liturgical season is inter-linked with social concern, there is a special meaning in Lent that believers should spend time and efforts for repentance and conversion of ourselves, our society and our churches, to the Gospel way of justice, non-violence and a reverence for all life and creation. The season of Lent in this time reminds us also the importance of deep reflection of our inner self and stay close to God to seek for His mercy and blessings to us and all humankind.
I wish our Lord Jesus’ retreat to the wilderness for reflection and his testimony to overcome temptations and his persistence to live with struggles have given us encouragement and insights.
God of mercy and justice,
your Son was baptized and tempted as we are.
Guide us through this season,
that we may not avoid struggle,
but open ourselves to blessing,
through the cleansing depths of repentance
and the heaven-rending words of the Spirit. Amen.
BE AWAKE AND REFLECT THE GLORY OF GOD
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 14 February 2010 by Chenyi Roy Njuabe. The scripture readings that day were Exodus 34:29-35, Luke 9:28-36 and 2 Corinthian 3:12-4:2 .
When I was in the university, we had a course called Plant Physiology. Our professor one day asked us to conduct an experiment with two bean seeds; we planted 2 bean seeds and when they started to grow, we covered one of the plants with a dark cloth and named it plant “B” and the other plant with nothing over it we named plant “A”. Both were exposed to the sun. After few weeks, we visited these plants and guess what the results were, Plant “A” without a cover did extremely well; green leaves, tall, fresh and looked well, but Plant “B” with the cover, didn`t do well; pale leaves, some yellow patches and not tall. The question was why plant “B” not did well. I hope you all know the answer. Because it was shielded from the sun light which is the source of energy for plants to grow well? But once the cover cloth was taken away, a few weeks later we discovered that plant “B” started growing well.
For us humans the same phenomenon takes place within our heart in our relationship with God. God is always there just like the sun was always there for both plants. But there are thing that obstructs our heart not to hear or received the word of God; these are veils around our hearts. What are these veils, As Rev. Phyllis mention last Sunday (I have already requested for copy right) “there are destructive forces that keep us away from God” Such forces might be our fears, pride, ego-centric desire for freedom(as she said about herself), love for money, discrimination, jealousy and hate.
These veils need to be taken away. In our reading today 2 Cor. 3:16 says “but if anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” verse 24 say………. “it is only in Christ it is taken away”. Once the veil is taken, we can see the works of God in our life. If we hate we will no more hate, if we have pride, it will go away, if we discriminate we will no more discriminate. There will be a change in our hearts and minds. The way we think changes, the way we talk to people changes, and the smiles on our faces change. We can feel real joy in our life.
Is that not a wonderful thing in the Lord? I love the word of God, I love to be called God’s child. Whenever I stand to speak God’s word I feel a new, I feel like God is inside me and His voice just come out of my mouth as I open it. We reflect the glory of God.
Paul, reminds us in 2 Cor. 3:18 “and we with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit”.
Doesn’t that sound great; we reflect God’s glory.
Whenever we come closer to God, there is always a big change in our life.
When Moses met with God- His face became radiant. When Jesus met with two servants from God, His face and garments became radiant.
Today we may not see such radiance but we can see actions; that is, love, fight for justice, peace, respect, and charity.
When Paul met Jesus on His way to Damascus, there was a change in His heart.
When Jeremiah talked with God, there was a big change in his life.
When the tax collector met Jesus, there was a change in his heart.
When peter, John and James met Christ, their hearts were transformed.
So here we are today. We walk with Christ, talk with Him and even asked Him question.
Because we love Him and want to be transformed.
We may come from different backgrounds, we may have different color of skin, we may have different age, we may speak different language, we may be of different sex, we may have different gifts and passions, but we all hold one common hope, one common dream, one common future; that is to be with Jesus in His kingdom.
Fear may come, hate may keep us apart, worries may blind our mind, selfish desire may make us self center, but remember the love from God is always there for us.
When Jesus met Elijah and Moses, Do you know what way they are talking about? About His departure; when we talk about departures we think about leaving on a journey, but here they are talking about a final departure from the earth, they are talking about the death of Christ. And why does He has to die; because of our sins, because He loves us so much. But why did Christ need to talk with Moses and Elijah about His departure; you all know how Elijah and Moses left the world, very easy, Moses’ body just disappeared, Elijah just went up to the heaven in a chariot, but Jesus had to suffer pain.
Definitely He might need comfort from brothers. Do we need comfort when we face hard time in our life? Can we stand beside our friends and say I am with you no matter what you are going through? This is the love of God. I am with you no matter what happens in your life.
Even the disciples, the servant of Christ speak nicely to Him. Peter Said to Jesus in Luke 9:33 “master it is good for us to be here let us put up three shelter-one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah”. I can just feel the passion in Peter.
Even Peter His servant was so concern about Christ to build a shelter for Him. Are we too concern about our Pastors when they are in crises. Or support our brothers and sisters.
I will like to take you to my little experiences.
When I was a young boy, at that time in Form 6, I told my mother that I want to go to a seminary school to become a pastor, but she refused. She tried to compare certain Pastors and drew my attention to their well beings, she said “can’t you see Pastor Thomas who for many years has been using an old car? Do you want to be poor? You better go to school and think of become a doctor or a pharmacist”. I missed that stage of my life to follow my call. How I wish she was here today to listen to this sermon
I went to the university and I had my degree in Zoology. I started working in veterinary clinic. I didn’t enjoy the job because I don’t like a job that will keep me in an office. I like a job that will bring me in contact with people allowing me to be a part of their lives. This is part of my passion; to talk. When I started talking for those who can’t talk, I stood up for our right, and got involve into the fight for human freedom, freedom from bondage that enslave many of my country mate, fought for justice and I had problems and was forced to flee from my country.
In Hong Kong, God use my agony to transform my heart and reaffirm my call as His servant. When I started to study I decided to call my mother and tell her about my studies at a seminary school and that I want to proclaim the good news. She felt so sad and said to me, “I am not worthy to be called your mother, I don’t care about your desires, indeed the Lord called you but I am so ashamed of myself to disturb your call when you were still a young Roy.”
I think something may have veiled her heart that she didn`t see the glory of God that was me. Money was the veil and fear for a better future was the veil.
What is the veil that COVERS veiled your heart?
Let me draw your attention little bit into both passages that is in Exodus 34:29-35, Luke 9:28-36.
-Moses was on the mountain so too was Jesus.
-Moses was talking to God; Jesus was talking with servants from God.
-Moses face shone, so too the face of Jesus
-some people were waiting for Moses to come down from the mountain, the same can be said for Jesus, some people were waiting for him.
But the thing that strikes me was the content of their discussions. God was talking to Moses about the law. You know what law is? “If you do not do this you will face a penalty or you will die. If you do not do that, something terrible might happen to you.” We are always afraid when we hear about law.
But for Jesus they were talking about His departure. This was about good news, the gospel that we are all free from our sin, gospel of freedom, the gospel of hope, the gospel of no condemnation, no fear, no worries and good news of love.
To be part of His love, to share in His passion, to reflect His glory, to walk in His light and to do what He want us to do, I think it is good for us to be awake. Luke 9:32 “Peter and His companions were very sleepy, but when they become fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him”............Master it is good we are here………”
All these took place when the disciples were awake. If we are in our comfort zone, sleeping spiritually, how can we reflect the glory of God? If we used material possession to veil our heart, how can it be transformed? We should be awake spiritually, pray, read God’s word, listen to sermon, share in fellowship, in charity, and let us grow together and reflect God’s glory.
We go back to the title of my sermon “BE AWAKE AND REFLECT THE GLORY OF GOD”.
Peter thought of building three tents, some scholars said he wanted to keep the memories; he wanted to always be awake of what he saw. Peter was aware that Jesus would die one day (because this was not the first time he talked about his death) but he needed something to refresh his mind whenever he went up the hill, there would be nothing except tents.
Let us be awake in our life, do something that will help us remember the glory of God.
Jesus said, “let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify our Father in heaven.”
In Exodus 34:34-35 “But Whenever he entered the Lord’s presence………35 they saw that his face was radiant”. These words “whenever he entered”… tells me of something, that at certain stage, the rays fade out, but “whenever” he entered the presence of the Lord, he received new glory and reflected it to the Israelite.
We may find ourselves in such situation where our rays may fade out, our joy disappear, our heart turns to hate, our love vanishes, our fear for the future overtakes all our thoughts becomes worst, and we preach the gospel with fear.
But remember to return to God and received His glory, the joy, the love and the boldness to preach and reflect His glory.
Peter had similar experiences. Whenever he fell, he rose up raise and keeps walking with the Lord.
Peter was the one who tried to walk on the water with Christ, but when he lost eye contact he sank later sink.
Peter was the first to say Jesus you are Christ, later was rebuke by Jesus.
Peter was the one who said Jesus, I would never deny you yet he denied Jesus not only one time but 3 times.
Yet Peter was the one who leads the disciple, who reflected God’s glory
Brothers and sisters let us be awake and let the world see God’s glory in us.
Leave everything and follow Jesus Christ
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 7 February 2010, fifth Sunday after Epiphany, by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Isaiah 6:1-6 and Luke 5:1-11.
On the right hand side of the altar, a banner is hanged up against the wall. This is a banner with a design of a net and a boat, with the words ‘come, follow me’. This is the image of today’s narrative of the Gospel reading from Luke 5:1-11 ---- Jesus’ miracle catching huge amount of fish and called his disciples to follow him.
Do you remember when was this banner hanged up for the first time? The first time this banner was hanged up was on the 9th November 2008. That was the Sunday when I was ordained at KUC. This has been a year and two months since then.
In this banner, we see clearly two key words ‘follow me’. But in the narrative, when the disciples Peter, James and John were called by Jesus, they did not just follow Jesus, but also they left everything, as described in the narrative, “they left everything and followed him”. Leaving everything is a key action in following Jesus.
What do you think Peter, James and John had left when they followed Jesus? Two things were perhaps obvious: the fish which was their harvest, their source of income and wealth, the other were the fishing tools, include the nets, the boats and so on.
Besides the physical materials, something that we can see mentioned above, what else did Peter leave behind when he followed Jesus?
Don’t you find Peter’s response to Jesus interesting and strange? Instead of giving thanks to Jesus for his miracle to bring him an unexpected harvest, Peter was astonished and humbly fell down at Jesus’ knee saying, “go away from me Lord for I am a sinner.” Interestingly, the power of Jesus made Peter stay away from Jesus for He was too great and superior to him. Peter could not stand in front of this great man, the son of God. Why is that?
Peter’s response may help us to understand the deeper meaning of the narrative. I would say that Peter had left asides some kind of sins when he followed Jesus. To leave everything, this everything included the sin of pride, guilt and doubts. Peter might have been aware that he had doubts on Jesus’ instruction to let the net down into the water. He might have this pride for he had much experience in the fishing profession. Peter used his experience to judge. It was fair and reasonable from our human point of view. But it was Peter himself who realized his own dark side and limitations in front of this great man, the son of God, holy and powerful. Equally, Jesus’ response to Peter’s astonishment was touching. He said to Peter, “don’t be afraid, from now on you will be catching people”. Peter’s humility and self critical reflection might have also impressed Jesus. Jesus gave Peter the important assignment of catching people. Jesus’ power and tender love had obviously touched the heart of Peter and others. They immediately left everything and followed him after they had brought their boats to shore. This was a beautiful encounter between Jesus and his disciples.
Peter’s personal encounter with God was amazing and touching. Peter’s experience with Jesus’ in his response to God’s calling has reminded me of my own experience in encountering God.
Before I decided to take up the ministry in KUC, I went to Tao Fung Shan for a day retreat. I prayed to God and meditated for this decision of joining KUC to begin my full time ministry in church. My worry at that time was that I understood that working in a church full time is never easy. It requires a lot of commitment, personal adjustment and sacrifice. I am a kind of person who needs a lot of personal space and freedom. Working in a local congregation where people come from diverse backgrounds, with different personalities and views, is very difficult indeed. I have to be accommodating and patient to different kinds of people. I had much struggles for such a decision as I wanted to keep my freedom and do whatever I like without much constraints. When I was praying in the Crypt, the small room inside a cave, I cried to God for the Lord’s guidance. While I was looking at the cross and meditating, I was deeply touched by the love of God through the Holy Spirit. I talked to myself and to God that ‘OK, I will do whatever God leads me to do. For God’s sake, I am willing to leave behind the desire for freedom.’ After this prayer of my surrender from the desire for this ‘self-centred’ freedom, something quite unusual happened. I had a strong sense of relief. I felt so liberated and free at that moment. This was a sacred moment that I would never forget. My willingness to give up the desire for personal freedom for God’s sake has brought me a strong sense of liberation. This is the genuine freedom, a truth from God that I had never experienced before. When I let go of this struggle for personal freedom, I experienced a strong sense of inner peace at the bottom of my heart. Tears rolled down across my face nonstop. These were tears of gratitude and joy for I was embraced and connected fully in God’s love and his calling.
God’s calling for us to follow Jesus requires us to leave everything. This everything includes our denial of our own self interests and desires. As we are all different, we may have different desires in life. They can be the desire for getting rich, a desire to win prestige from others, a desire to take power and to control, a desire to have a sense of security and so on. We need to be honest to ourselves and learn from St. Peter of his high level of self awareness and reflective ability. These are the qualities that help us to stay close to God and let God transform our lives and become more like Christ.
As expected, full time ministry at KUC was not plain sailing even though I had an affirmation from God. The first barrier for me in KUC was the language. As I am not a native English speaker, I have to make lots of efforts to adjust to the ways of communication and overcome many difficulties while I serve in this international English speaking church. In the first few months, after a day of work especially on Sundays, I would feel very tired and exhausted. There were also times of up and downs in the first two years of service. The fear of rejection and the feeling of inadequacy came up time and again. Frustrations sometimes come from others and some times come from myself.
In the narrative of Luke, Peter described himself as a sinful man and asked Jesus to go stay away from him. Sin is defined as a state of alienation, alienation with oneself, with others and with God. Separation of relationships is regarded as sin. Self- doubts and self negative criticism are very destructive. This sinful state will lead a person to stay apart from God and God’s will. I did come across this kind of state and questioned myself if I was suitable for the job and for the ministry. Therefore, we have to be sensitive to this destructive force that draws us to stay away from God. We need to be alert of our sins of self doubts and all kinds of inner fear. We then ask for God’s forgiveness and mercy. We have to be assured that our Lord Jesus is forgiving, full of love and glory. This very essence of God gives hope to those who are humble and turn to God for her mercy. From Isaiah 6, we have witnessed also how God’s glory empowered his servant Isaiah who turned to the Lord and was ready to be sent by God for his mission.
Friends, what do you have to leave or let go if you give your life to God and follow Jesus? For we are from different age, gender, nationality, socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, we may have different things to consider.
For Peter, James and John, they left their business of catching fish. They had changed their vocation completely. In one way or the other, they had let go of their sense of security in life for they did not care how they would support their lives after they left their job as fishermen or stop doing the fishing business.
Today, the calling from God does not necessarily ask you to change your vocation. Instead, our Lord God would like to challenge us to think and make a change.
1) Identify anything that would hinder you to stay close to God and follow Jesus’ way, and then try to let them go by the grace of Jesus Christ.
2) For God’s sake, to move on in life by doing something that you may find unfamiliar. To put it simple, try to go beyond your comfort zone.
3) Thirdly, the message “to leave everything and follow Jesus” has pointed to us one important thing, we have to focus our life in Jesus and avoid being side-tracked by other things.
To leave everything and follow Jesus requires commitment. If we do not leave everything behind, we can only follow Jesus half heartedly. Jesus in his earthly journey had demonstrated his obedience to God to advance the Kingdom of God. Jesus had also demonstrated his immense courage to face all kinds of challenges for the sake of love and care for others.
The loving encounters with the merciful God who is full of glory through the disciples in the New Testament and the prophets in Old Testament (Isaiah that we heard this morning), have conveyed to us one truth, God has called up God’s people to serve in the world. It is always a mutual relationship that God allow people to respond to his invitation for engaging in his ministry. Today, if God tells you to catch many people, would you reply to God with confidence and commitment, ‘I will leave everything and follow you’?
The invitation is now opened to you. God has been patiently waiting for your reply and love to our Lord. Amen.
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