A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 17 October 2010 by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Psalm 121 and Luke 18:1-8.
The news of Liu Xiaobo being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize was exciting to me, as it was to people in Hong Kong, the Mainland, and around the world, who have been concerned with the development of a free and democratic China. According to the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Mr Liu won the Prize for his long non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.
My feelings have been mixed since I heard the news. On the one hand, I am very glad, for the prize is a great recognition and appreciation of Liu’s sacrifice for advocating a democratic and free China through a peaceful transformation by means of constitutional reform. It is also a great encouragement to all human rights activists in China and other parts of the world. On the other hand, I feel ashamed of our Chinese government which has brutally suppressed her nationals’ basic human rights. It is a moment of joy and sadness. It is a paradoxical moment of honor and shame to China and her people. Life is full of paradox and challenges.
After Liu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, his wife Liu Xia was placed under close surveillance. Now she is under house arrest by the authorities. Both Mr Liu and Ms Liu have paid a high price of losing personal freedom for winning this prestigious international prize! Because of human sins, we are living in an imperfect world where violence and injustice often prevail.
In the parable, Jesus tells us that the widow keeps going to the judge to seek justice. The judge is annoyed. In order to get rid of this nuisance, he grants the widow justice. Jesus emphasizes that God will grant justice to his chosen ones who cry for help day and night. God, who is the creator of heaven and earth, will never abandon his beloved people, especially those who are in weak positions. Our Lord Jesus Christ, a representation of God of justice, is always standing with and for the powerless. God will help people in disadvantaged and unfair situation without delay.
Jesus realizes that people on earth, his followers included, can encounter difficulties, injustice and unjust leaders in high position like the judge in the parable. Therefore, Jesus shares a key message to his followers -- when they are advancing God’s kingdom of justice, they need to pray always and not to lose faith.
The reality is harsh in many parts of the world. There are autocratic governments that do not hear the cries of their people for justice. They are like the unjust judge who did not fear God nor respect people.
In Burma, the prominent human right activist Aung San Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for fourteen out of the past twenty years. The military government has deprived her and many other dissidents’ basic human rights.
In China, Liu Xiaobo has been engaging in the democratic movement for over twenty years since the popular movement in 1989. His struggles ended him up in jail; both himself and his family has been suffering great pain.
Both Suu Kyi and Liu have been Nobel Peace Prize winners.
I remember another Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela. He was jailed for 27 years because he fought for an end to the Apartheid in South Africa. After his release, he contributed another great effort to resolve the racial conflicts by initiating the truth and reconciliation practice in the post apartheid era, together with Archbishop Tutu in 1990’s.
The commonality for the above three great people is: they have endured immense suffering and long period of hardship for achieving the noble goal for humanity. They have been jailed or kept under house arrest, either way losing their personal freedom. The Nobel Peace Prize does not only honor a person, it is also a great recognition to thousands and millions of people who have been fighting vigorously and courageously for human freedom and dignity in our human history. All people who have been suffering and sacrifice in different ways deserve our salute!
Despite their different religion backgrounds, the Nobel Peace Prize Winners have manifested God’s image of justice and God’s self sacrifice to bring love and peace to the world.
The God of Justice will not leave the world to the unjust judge to rule. There are God-like people who shine this light of hope. We can see that Liu Xiaobo has a strong faith to serve his people in China. He has no fear to the autocratic rulers. The authorities have kept his body in jail, but they can never curb his spirit of love and justice. The universal values of human rights and dignity are spread and shared even wider to the people in China and all over the world, hardly less so when he is severely oppressed. Liu has demonstrated a strong heart to people and non-selfish character.
Liu Xiaobo is admirable for his courage and unselfish sacrifice to build a better China where people may lead a life with dignity. Although Liu Xiaobo is not a Christian, he has demonstrated a strong Christ-like spirituality. His strong compassion to humanity and humble outlook are very impressive. According to Liu Xia, who visited him immediately after Liu’s being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, he felt guilty about receiving the Prize for he said the Prize should be given to the Tiananmen Mothers. Liu Xia further shared that her husband cried when he had thought of those who had died in the June 4th Movement.
In December last year when Mr Liu was tried in court, he defended himself by making the statement ‘I have no enemy’. He said that the security guards who arrested him, his prosecutors, and the judge who declared that he was guilty, were not his enemies. Mr Liu does not demonize his opponents although he has been treated unfairly. He reiterated in his statement that ‘hatred will corrupt human conscience and wisdom. The struggle induced by hatred is a great barrier to a free and democratic nation’. Mr Liu longs for a compassionate and inclusive society which respects all humanity. His ideal of seeking justice is embedded in the universal values of human rights and dignity.
All this shows that even though Mr Liu is kept in a desperate situation, he does not lose heart for peace, justice and compassion. His statement of ‘I have no enemy’ has demonstrated a strong spirituality for love and kindness to humanity, justice and peace to the world. His passion for uniting people for a common cause to universal human rights through non-violent means is altogether in line with the spirit and calling of Jesus Christ to his disciples. One could say that Liu has embodied the strong spirituality that Jesus Christ has taught to his disciples.
The Nobel Peace Prize somehow serves as godlike authority to remind us that our Lord is a living God. Jesus Christ, who is the liberating Lord, upholds justice and grants peace to those who keep their faith.
There is no easy path for seeking justice and peace. It requires our persistent faith. God, the creator of heaven and earth, is a source of help. God will grant to His people justice and we are encouraged to stay close to God through prayer. In God, we will never lose heart.
As shared by the Palmist in Psalm 121, “The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will watch over your coming and going from this time on and forevermore.”
We trust that the Lord will keep all righteous people from all evil. God will keep their life, and the Lord will watch over their coming and going from this time on and forevermore. Let us keep in our prayers Mr and Ms Liu, and all people who have been seeking justice for the sake of humanity. We ask earnestly that God will protect and keep them in His grace.
At the end of the parable on the widow seeking justice, Jesus asked a question, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
To become Jesus’ faithful disciples, I hope that we will learn from the widow, and the Nobel Peace Prize winners like Liu Xiaobo, Madam Aung Shan Suu Kji and Nelson Mendela, who have lived out the spirit of Christ. Let’s stand firm on our faith to seek justice and peace by remaining prayful and never losing faith in God.
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 10 October 2010 by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Psalm 66:1-12 and Luke 17:11-19.
The gospel account today is about a healing story. Ten people who were suffering from skin disease cried for help from Jesus. Jesus healed all of them but only one Samaritan returned to him, to give praises to God and thank Jesus for what he had done for him. The other nine people who were healed did not return. Jesus commended this Samaritan and further rewarded him by assuring him that ‘his faith has made him well’.
The story once again demonstrates Jesus’ compassion to people who are marginalized and isolated. Both Samaritans and the leper (the skin disease patients) were totally outcasts in the Jewish community during Jesus’ time. They represent people being discriminated and rejected by the society. What Jesus did, was to break the social taboo and took the risk of being blamed by the mainstream society. He accepted the untouchables by addressing their needs and curing them.
Nine lepers who were healed did not come back to Jesus. They did not turn back to bring glory and praises to God. Only this Samaritan did it. The reaction of the nine people reflects a common phenomenon. Many people are used to taking for granted others’ help. Are we also one of those? If yes, we need to reflect and confess.
Jesus responded to the Samaritan’s praise to God by saying ‘his faith has made him well’ (Luke 17:19). In here, Jesus reiterates that true faith in God through him consists of praising God and giving thanks to Him. In addition, a genuine deliverance by God that includes the restoration of a person’s whole life, requires his/her reconnection with God. A reconnection with the source of life and love, our almighty God, is very important.
Truth faith or a practice of faith includes our recognition of God’s work through Jesus Christ our savior. Our praise and thanksgiving to God and God’s agent to heal and to restore our wholeness, is concrete action.
God heals us and redeems us through Jesus Christ. We cannot be fully redeemed unless we recognize it through our praise and thanksgiving whole-heartedly.
In the narrative description, the Samaritan ‘praise God in loud voice’. The description of ‘loud voice’ has caught my attention. The Samaritan ‘praise God in loud voice’ is indicative. This means whenever we appreciate and thank God and people who have helped us, we need to do it very explicitly with words and actions. We cannot just keep it inside without verbal expression. We need to overcome shyness and fear. Some people may find it embarrassing or difficult to praise and thank others for some reasons. In a culture where we are not used to praise and appreciate others, we need to identify alternatives to demonstrate our gratitude and appreciation. To act explicitly with courage, without hiding and without any reservation, in praising and thanking God is a key.
God has saved us, by healing our wounds and restoring our life in full. Through Jesus, God has taken the initiative. However, God needs our response. True love and caring is something mutual. God loves His people. At the same time, God needs our love in response to Him. That’s why in God’s greatest commandment, we are required to love God with all our mind, all our heart, all our soul and all our strength. To praise and give thanks are the concrete act for our love to God. It is like our relationship with our parents who love and care for us. We need to appreciate our parents of what they have done for us since we were born. If we are able to demonstrate our gratitude to others, it would help to nurture a loving relationship which is mutually accepting and embracing. Imagine if people spend more of their time and hearts to appreciate and being thankful to others, they will be less likely to blame and complain one another. How can people not be happy in this kind of relationship?
A life with praise and thanksgiving is a grace and gift from God. Let’s develop ourselves with this virtue of gratitude and appreciating others. We would definitely enjoy more fully in life with joy.
Every year, Wai Ji Sunday is held for staff and clients of Wai Ji to come and worship with us. The time of worship together and in the fellowship embracing each other is a strong sign of praising God and celebrating the love of our Lord Jesus Christ who has never forgotten those who are discriminated and marginalized. I really appreciate this occasion every year. Our active participation is our grateful response to God for His love and compassion, in the past, now and in future.