Meditations, Reflections, Bible Studies, and Sermons from Kowloon Union Church
Waiting For God ‒ Walking In God’s Path With Hope
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 28 November 2010 by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Isaiah 2:1-5 and Matthew 24:36-44.
Lord, we thank you for your living word. May the Holy Spirit inspire us to understand your truth. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today is the first Sunday in Advent. Advent has marked the beginning of the Church liturgical year. Advent, means "coming" or “arrival”. This is traditionally a season of quiet and joyful expectation for the coming of Christ. Therefore it starts right before the Christmas.
The word Advent in Latin is ‘adventus’, which was derived from the Greek word parousia. “Advent” iscommonly used in reference to the Second Coming. Therefore the season of Advent serves a dual reminder of the original waiting that was done by the Hebres for the birth of Jesus Christ their Messiah, as well as the waiting that Christians today endure for the second coming of Christ.
Advent is taken as a season for prophecy, calling upon us to repent, in preparation and in a constant state of watchfulness.
As Christians today in the 21st Century, how do we prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ? Today and the following three Sundays, I will preach in a series of sermon on this theme.
Today, I will first of all share the message of “Waiting for God ‒ walking in God’s path with hope”.
I think all of us have experienced different kinds of waiting. Waiting for the examination results, waiting for a job, waiting for marriage, waiting for a new born baby, waiting of children returning home, waiting for retirement… We can have a long list.
Waiting can be a time of joy because it is full of expectation. But waiting can also be a time of anxiety and fear, because it is full of uncertainties.
It is equally true that during our waiting for God. In order to make our waiting meaningful and free from anxiety, we need to focus ourselves in God and walk in his path.
The time of waiting allows us to focus in God, and look up to God whole-heartedly, without any attempt of control and manipulate. Many people in our world want to be God and like to predict the end of world and when God will come. As said in the scripture that we heard this morning, “about that day and hour no one knows”. The coming of the Lord is a mystery. We cannot predict and control. What we can do is to submit totally to God’s sovereignty.
Recently a friend of mine asked me to be in touch with a young couple for they are suffering from a very difficult time. Their baby girl was born with internal organs damaged. There was caused by some complication during her delivery process.
Although I did not know the couple, because of my friend’s invitation and the desperate need of this couple, I visited them at their home. The couple was very depressed and in great pain when I saw them. They had expected the coming of the baby with joy and tried to well prepared for that. They moved to a bigger house, employed a helper, and the wife had even quit her job. Since the baby was born, she has been struggling with life and death every day in the hospital. The parents are distressed and despaired. For them, all the joyful expectation turned out to be a nightmare.
This is the darkest time in lives of the young couple. During this hard time, they (especially the mother) asked a lot of theological questions about life, death and suffering. Since the home visit, I have stayed in touch with the mother. She shares with me that the situation of the baby is still unstable and struggling with her life all along. But she prays every day for her daughter. Her current life situation is really tough, yet she feels that God is with her daughter and taking care of her. She leaves the life of her daughter in the hands of God. That makes her feel much relieved. The tough experience has brought her tears and pains, but also it also leads her to experience a deeper meaning of life and love.
The way God comes to us is apt to be quite a surprise, and perhaps totally out of our expectation. Therefore, waiting for God is a time to turn to God, no matter how is our life situation. Waiting for God is to firmly believe that God is with us no matter what.
In waiting for God, we have to be watchful and prepared for anything that happened to our life. Let us try to comprehend the meaning of what has been happening to us and seek understanding from God.
The image of the Lord’s coming and his judgment are sometimes astonishing and scary. No matter how scary the pictures of the coming of the Lord, the judgment the Lord will bring is not division and destruction, but peace and hope. We should not face the coming of the Lord with fear but love, hope and peace. The negative signs associated with the coming of Lord remind us the urgency to turn to God.
Isaiah had prophesized a beautiful sign in the days when God is coming to judge.
This is the word announced by Isaiah
“He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2:4)
The judgment from the Lord and the coming of the Lord is to bring peace, not wars and violence. Therefore, the wait for the Lord to come should not to generate fear. This is never the purpose of God. Fear of human beings could easily generate destruction and manipulated by people with aggression. From the prophesy of Isaiah, we see a clear picture of God’s path. The way that God leads his people to go, is not wars, but a kingdom of peace. It is a peace that allows people to use the tools at hand for productive activities that can bear fruit for peoples’ benefits. People can engage in productive activities that enrich people’s life. The setting down of the sword indicates that there is no more aggression and domination over others. People begin to use their resource for constructive outcomes.
Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. The coming of Jesus into the world reminds us that he came, not to judge people to death but to love and bring life. Our Lord has offered to the world ‘a life giving love’, for Jesus ended up his life on the cross in order to bring new life and peace to the world.
The prophetic sign of Isaiah in the Old Testament, and Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection have given us much promise and hope to face our future, and in here and now.
Christmas is coming. This season has become a big celebration for many people in the world. To be sure, Christmas lightings and overwhelming promotion of Christmas sales and parties are right there in every corner of the cities. But the season of Advent is a different significance; it is a meaningful time for believers to prepare ourselves to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas. Instead of blindly or unconsciously carried by all kinds of highly commercialized celebration of the festival, I hope we all have an urge to open our heart to God. Try to understand the meaning of Christ Jesus coming to the world in flesh, in a form of a vulnerable baby. Think also friends how is the coming of the Lord prepares us to walk in God’s path with hope, peace, joy and love.
The way Kowloon Union Church prepares for the Advent and the new year of the church is very impressive and theologically meaningful. The cleaning of the church and all beautiful decoration is a sign to remind us God is the centre of all life: life of human beings, life of the church, life of all organisms on earth. We are reminded that we are God’s people, walking in the light path of God, bringing him glory forever and ever.
The 1st Sunday of Advent is a memorable day for me and Kowloon Union Church. It is because I was installed as the minister of this church on this day in 2008. That day opened up a new page to my life and that of this the congregation. Many people say Kowloon Union Church is a unique church. It is, the church is unique with her sanctuary, holy and beautiful. The church is unique with her people, multi-racial and multi-cultural. The church is unique with her mission, engaging in God’s world to love and care for others, to do justice and peace for the oppressed. All these uniqueness at the end of day are from God, to God and for God.
Friends, do you agree that KUC is a unique church carrying a special mission of God? Do you find yourself taking a personal role in this church for God? What is your answer? In the coming year of 2011, KUC will face another phrase of change and development. The manse building will be thoroughly renovated. Current ministries will be consolidated and new ministries will come into existence. We have to prepare for all these.
Friends, in this season of Advent, I would like to invite you to open your hearts, keep waiting for God and walk in his path and seek his will. May God keep you and guide you to the light of Christ. Amen.
A Day Fit for a King
"If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself…" Luke 23:36.37
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 21 November 2010 by the Rev. Ewing W. [Bud] Carroll, Jr. The scripture readings that day were Psalm 46 and Luke 23:33-43.
When you were a child and a schoolmate or other child said something unkind or ugly about you, how did you respond? My parents taught me to say, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Lies. Lies. Lies! Children can say the meanest and most cruel things. Their tongues can bring pain and misery worse than a sword. But wait a minute; I’m not talking about little kids. I’m talking about adults, big people like you and me! Church people who sometimes seem to have the longest tongues with the sharpest bite.
Today’s Gospel lesson reminds us how cruel people can be. Jesus is hanging from the cross. Someone has nailed a sign above him: ‘King of the Jews.” The Roman soldiers below make fun of him. Someone cries out: “Hey, if you’re the King of the Jews, come down from the cross and save yourself?”
Remember, the role and power of a king in Jesus time were tremendous. A nation’s safety, prosperity and hope depended upon the skills and power of the king. The calendar years were dated by the number of years a king was in power. “In the fifth year…” Even today the Japanese calendar follows the ancient Chinese practice based on the number of years the Emperor has been on the throne. [21 I believe!].
In 1925 The Roman Catholic Pope, Pius XI declared the last Sunday before Advent as Christ the King Sunday. At the time, much of Europe and other regions were suffering from severe economic crisis; Hitler’s Nazi Party was growing in numbers and strength across Germany; Mussolini was ruling Italy with an iron fist. Pius XI hoped celebrating the Kingship of Jesus in such difficult times would enable and encourage people to work more for God’s justice and peace.
I confess, I’m not terribly comfortable calling Christ my King. Most of us are probably more comfortable seeing Jesus as our friend, shepherd, brother, healer or teacher. One who shows love, grace and goodness. Of course all this is true, but it’s not enough. As Richard Fairchild has noted, “The real issue behind the image of Jesus as King is this: Do I want someone other than myself to be the Lord of my life?”
Well, everyone has a king – or a queen in his or her life. Said another way: Each of us has some thing, person or idea that rules our lives; that attracts our loyalty and obedience; our devotion and enthusiasm; our interests, our time and our energies.
So what is it about Christ the King that brings meaning to our lives. How do we make this Day – or any other day of our lives, fit for Christ our King? Let me share three very simple possibilities.
1. Be thankful for life itself. In John’s Gospel Jesus says, “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” Some of you may have grown up in a Hong Kong Resettlement Estate. Seven-storey walk-up buildings [108 steps!] About 14 square meters for a family of 6-8. No running water – hot or cold; cramped together like a tin of sardines. Maybe you’ve heard this story: A man complained to his rabbi that the room he lived in contained nine persons. Everyone was miserable. “What can I do? He asked.“ The rabbi answered – “Put a goat in the room with all of you. Then come back next week and tell me how things have gone.” The following week the man returned, weary, sleepless and unhappy. “The smell from the goat is awful. What can I do?” “Get rid of the goat and come back next week and tell me what’s happened,” the rabbi replied. The following week in came the man wearing a grin from one ear to the other. “Wow. Since we got rid of the goat, everything is wonderful. Living with nine people is easy!”
How’s your Gratitude Attitude? What things in your lives bring joy and satisfaction? Hopefully we can say, even amidst a world full of inconveniences, injustice, greed, corruption and mean-spirited people, thanks to Christ the King, life can be great. Let us be thankful for the very breath of life.
2. Secondly, be thankful for family and friends. An elderly couple was saddened to learn their children, who lived 10,000 kilometers away, were too busy to be with them for Christmas. So the father called their son: ‘Your mother and I are getting a divorce; 45 years is long enough.” The son quickly replied, “Dad, what are you talking about? You can’t get a divorce.” “Oh yes I can. Your mother and I are sick and tired of each other,” the father replied. And then he hung up. Frantically, the son called his big sister and broke the sad news - their parents were getting a divorce. She immediately called their father, “Dad, you’re not getting a divorce. Don’t do anything until my brother and I get there. We’ll be there early tomorrow morning.” The old man put down the phone and turned to his loving wife of 45 years, saying, “It’s OK sweetheart. The kids are coming for Christmas and will pay their own airfares.”
The poet T.S. Eliot wrote, “There is no life that is not lived in community.” All of us are separated from someone in our immediate family. Maybe a husband or wife; children, grandchildren; parents or other relatives. And yet, Christ the King, Jesus our Lord, calls us into a new kind of family and friends. One based not on blood or hometown memories, but on faith and mutual caring and sharing. In the words of a modern hymn, “I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together…We’re many kinds of people with many kinds of faces, all colors and all ages too, from all times and places.” In Christ the King we are one family. One in the Spirit.
3. Thirdly, be thankful for God’s presence in your life. As a young pastor, I used to print in our Sunday service sheet, “If you haven’t felt the presence of God this past week, guess who has moved!” Celebrating Christ the King Sunday is a reminder of Immanuel, God is with us.
A little boy wanted to see God. He thought he might have to walk a long way to find God. So, one sunny afternoon he packed his knapsack with some potato chips and juice and started out looking for God. He’d only gone a short distance when he saw an old woman in the park feeding pigeons. He sat on a bench and watched her for a long time. He noticed she seemed so sad; so tired and weary. Hungry, he opened his bag of potato chips; then saw the old woman sadly staring at him. So he offered her some chips and she began to smile. All afternoon, the elderly woman and little boy sat silently, eating potato chips and smiling at one another. Not a word was spoken! Then, as darkness came, the little boy started home. But he stopped, ran back and hugged the old woman.
The little boy’s mother welcomed him home, asking, “You look so happy. What did you do this afternoon to make you smile so much?” The boy answered, ‘I had lunch with God. And you know what, she’s got the most beautiful smile.” Meanwhile, when the old woman returned home, her son saw her smiling, something he’d not seen for fifteen years since her husband, his father, had died. When he asked his mother, “Why such a beautiful smile?” she replied, “This afternoon in the park, I ate potato chips with God. And you know what, he’s much younger than I expected.”
Whether you believe God is male or female [I’ve said before I don’t think men are smart enough to be God!], young or old, be grateful for God’s presence in your life. Be grateful for God’s having given us an “unkingly” king. Jesus Christ: who refused to lead or form an army; who refused to live in a palace; who refused to hate enemies or plot their downfall; who mixed in common crowds without bodyguards or a safety vest; who refused to play political games to increase his power. Yes, Christ the King, God’s sign of justice, hope and peace. A King fit this day and any other day.
Let us pray:
King Jesus: carpenter’s son and friend of sinners, come and rule in our hearts.
King Jesus: washer of feet and healer of diseases, come and rule in our minds.
King Jesus: nailed to a cross and rising from a grave, come and rule in our actions.
King Jesus: you are wonderful, you are the greatest! Forever and ever. Amen.
"Hope for the best, prepare for the worst"
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 14 November 2010 by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Isaiah 65:17-25 and Luke 21:5-19.
In Hong Kong, there are rich people donating money to the universities, hospitals, and social services agencies to erect buildings or setting up research and service centres. In return, the buildings or the centers will be named after the donors or their spouse or parents. Perhaps many rich people wish their names or their loved one’s names to be remembered and recognized. Recently I read something in a newspaper that was unusual and very impressive. The Ng family, the founders of the Wing Lung Bank, donated HK$20 million to the Hong Kong Baptist University for setting up a Research Center for Cancer in the School of Chinese Medicine. The Center is named after NG family’s two former maids. The name of the maids were Shum Hiu Fei (岑堯寬) and Shum Pik Chuen(岑碧泉). They were sisters serving the Ng family for over fifty years following the second war world when the family migrated to Hong Kong. Both of the maids died of cancer in the 1990s. In the interview with the reporter, Mr Ng Bo Kong (伍步剛) who represented the Ng’s family foundation shared that these two maids served their family faithfully and took care of the children with love and care. He had been one of those children looked after by them. The family treated their maids like family members. When they were retired, the family bought them a flat (with lift) near the Ng’s home.
In the interview, the Ng’s family warns the employers that they cannot do whatever they like with their wealth. (有錢能為所欲為)
I am very impressed with the family’s generosity and their kind hearts. They are rich and yet they are respectful to people who are not. They are rich and yet they are grateful to those who have helped and supported them. This Christian family has demonstrated a strong Christian faith of humble love and respect to human beings.
The kind and compassionate gesture of the Ng family is a great sign of God. God reveals his will to us through his chosen people. God speaks to us through different people and in different ways. The key is: Do we listen with an attentive heart.
Prophet Isaiah has revealed to us God’s vision of a new creation of heaven and earth. In God’s new creation, people build houses and inhabit them, they plant vineyards and eat their fruits. This image of God’s new creation is understood in an agrarian context. We are of course not living in an agrarian economy where people labor on their land to yield fruits from the farm. We are now living in a highly industrialized and commercialized world, and the divisions of labor are very specific. But we can still see the prime concern of God’s new creation. God cares for the people’s basic rights and needs on food and shelter being satisfied. God does not want people labor in vain. God wants his chosen people to enjoy the products of their hands. To recognize people’s labor and give enough for them to enjoy and lead a dignified life is fundamental in God’s new creation.
God’s vision of new creation is a timely matter for us to reflect upon here and now in Hong Kong.
The widening wealth gap in many parts of the world, but especially here in Hong Kong, has been appalling. The wealth has been accumulated onto the hands of a few rich people. The grassroots and the poor who have little political and economic power receive little because their bargaining power is weak.
The minimum wage legislation was passed by the Legislative Council and the Executive Council proposed to set the minimum wage at HK$28 per hour last week. The controversy and debate on the level of minimum wage revealed that the labor of many working class has not been properly compensated. Low income workers do not earn enough to lead a dignified life. The hardship for them is, they haven’t been earning enough to meet ends, and the living cost of housing, food and transportation has been increasing far more rapidly than any increase of their salaries. The social policies to address the plight of the poor and regulate the wealth distribution are not effective if not a total failure.
Therefore the minimum wage legislation is important to protect the low income workers. The law is significant in terms of regulating the employers’ good practice for employment and educating the public, that our society pay respect for human labor and no employers should take people’s hard work for granted. Exploitation of labor unacceptable.
We should treat everybody’s labor with respect by giving a reasonable wage to lead a decent life. God has promised a beautiful vision, “my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain.” Therefore, we as individuals, and also as a church, should examine and reflect on our lives and the society, and always stand up against any exploitation of workers. People need to work in a dignified environment as well. Long working hours across the broad is another serious problem deserving our attention.
Yesterday, Doris and I, together with some young people from the church, visited a grass roots organization serving the low income families and people receiving government’s welfare benefits -- Comprehensive Social Security Assistant (CSSA). The community organizer guided us on a tour around the old urban area in Mongkok and Tai Kok Tsui. Some of the streets in these districts are now marked under the urban renewal scheme taken care of by the Urban Renewal Authorities. Buildings under this renewal scheme will be demolished and new high rise residential and commercial buildings will be built. The visit concluded by a sharing of a single mother with two children, she is a new immigrant from China receiving social welfare from the government.
The visit has helped us to have better understanding of the life and struggles of the poor, grass root people living in old urban area, and those people live on welfare. In the name of redevelopment, the local residents have lost their community networks which have been established for many years. The local residents who work in the same district may lose their jobs, to live with higher living cost for food and accommodation because property values will rise enormously after redevelopment. According to the organizers, many local residents cannot afford and are forced to move to the new territories looking for lower rent housing.
In God’s vision of the new creation, it is stated that “They shall build houses and inhabit them….They shall not build and another inhabit.”
Housing has become an acute problem in Hong Kong as a few big property developers have manipulated the property market and the government’s ineffective land policy. What make the situation worse is the government does not formulate a long term housing policy to address such a basic need for many.
In God’s ideal new creation, it is an image of peace and harmony. When the wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox. (Isaiah 65:25)
What a beautiful picture and imagination of people living together and embrace each other with security and equality. The powerful and the rich do not exploit people who are physically and economically less strong. This is a vision the people would share with one another the gift from God, the provider of everything, and treat each other equally with respect and love.
As God’s people, we are given a hope and are called to live a life and advocate for God’s new creation. But we know we are living in a distorted and imperfect world. A lot of things are more easily said than done.
Jesus Christ our Lord knows well the difficulties, hardship and struggles of his faithful followers may face. Immediately after Jesus’ death and in the early Christian era, many of his disciples were persecuted and marginalized. Therefore, Jesus shared his living words to prepare his disciples for the hardship they might have to encounter after his death on earth. By using signs and images to teach his disciples, Jesus had already foretold the difficult life that would be coming. There are natural and human made disasters like earthquake, famine, plague and arrest of Jesus’ disciples.
Realizing the potential risk of being Jesus’ disciples, Jesus gave a remarkable teaching to them, “make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance.”
Jesus advised his disciples to live in here and now. He taught them “don’t worry for tomorrow.” Secondly, he has also reminded the disciples not to focus too much on their own interests.
Those who follow Jesus faithfully would be betrayed even by close family members like parents and brothers, by relatives and friends. They will be hated by all because of Jesus’ name. It is a horrible scenario. But God is good. Jesus Christ is a living God and a God of courage. No persecution and human-induced pain can hinder Jesus’ determination to live out God’s vision for a just and peaceful world. Jesus ensured his disciples that, in the midst of persecution and desertion “not a hair of your head will perish”. God will protect his people who are faithful to Christ. Jesus gave also another strong message which is comforting and powerful. Jesus said, “by your endurance you will gain your soul.” In NIV version, it says “By standing firm you will gain life”. The evil power may destroy our worldly possessions. But our spirit will remain strong in God. In God and with God, we are given eternal life by sharing God’s vision and making the new creation on earth a reality.
The vision of God’s new creation and Jesus’ foretelling of the future has given us the insight of ‘hope for the best and prepare for the worst.’ We know that God, the creator of the heaven and the earth is in charge. Our Lord is a loving and compassionate God. We have no fear to face our future, but to lead a life with integrity and faith here and now. Moreover, God through Jesus has prepared his faithful to prepare for the worse. This preparation for the worst does not mean we should lead a life of worry. On the contrary, when we are well prepared for anything that might happen to us in any time, we have no fear, for we entrust that God will give us power to overcome. Because of this preparation for the worst, we are not dominated by the fear of uncertainty, loss and pains. Once we are prepared to bear the cross and take up the cost of discipleship, we are free to engage deeply and faithfully in God’s vision and mission. Amen.
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 7 November 2010 by the Rev. Kwok Nai Wang. The scripture readings that day were Deuteronomy 6:20-25 and Hebrews 11:1-4; 17-40.
To-day is Remembrance Sunday.
In the Colonial Days, Remembrance Sunday was one of the most important occasions for “Pomp and Circumstance”. This solemn ceremony held at the Cenotaph in Central on the first Sunday in November was to remember and honor the soldiers who fought and gave their lives during the First and the Second World Wars. In that morning at 10 a.m. the Governor, the Commander of British Armed Forces, The Chief Justice, the Chief Secretary and other dignitaries would lay wreaths on the East side of the Cenotaph. It was a religious or rather a Christian ceremony. I remember when I was the General Secretary of the Hong Kong Christian Council in the 1980s, the two Bishops or at times their representatives and I would lead the procession with a cross in front. We would offer prayers, lead the Lord’s Prayer and pronounce the benediction.
The real meaning of such an occasion was actually more than honoring the deceased. Remembrance Sunday was an occasion for all those present to pray for world peace.
This was oftentimes the set prayer:
“Almighty God, from whom all thoughts of truth and peace proceed, kindle, we pray thee, in the hearts of men, the true love of peace, and guide with thy pure and peaceful wisdom those who take counsel for the nations of the earth; that in tranquility thy kingdom may go forward, till the earth be filled with the knowledge of thy love; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.”
It’s very important that we, as Christians, should always remember that we are peace-makers (Mt. 5:9) and that God is the only source of all peace.
The world to-day is far from peaceful. There are wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ethnic cleansing, big and small scale are still taking place in many parts in Africa and in Asia. Many corners in the Middle East are still in armed conflicts. It is estimated that more people, both civil and military, who died in wars in the past 65 years, were more than those in the 1914-18 and 1939-45 world wars altogether.
Moreover, terrorists’ acts abound. There are the oppressed who did not think they could solve the problem of dominance by the West, especially by the United States of America and the European Union as well as their supporting nations except by acts of violence. Yet oftentimes, because of these terrorist acts of suicide bombing and the like, civilians, women and children became the victims. Violence could only breed more violence!
This world is far from peaceful, because it is not a just world. We often hear wise saying like: Peace is not an absence of war; but the presence of justice.
What is justice?
Justice is more than a fair distribution in economic, political, social and cultural gifts and resources. It is about in whatever situations, everyone enjoy equal opportunities. It means all people would be free from dominance and oppression by the rich and the powerful. Justice can only be achieved if people throughout the world as Paul said, “take their proper place (Col 1:17). This state is under girding by people’s right or appropriate relationship with God! That is when all people in the world recognize and accept God is their God and all are God’s children. As God’s children we are all brothers and sisters and should love one another. Sometimes I wonder whether in to-day’s context, the opposite of “love” is not “hate” nor unlove; but it is “greed”. We always want more than we need; we always covet the things which do not and should not belong to us!
About five years ago the head of the British conservative Party, now the British Prime Minister, David Cameroon said that this is a lost world. It drew a discussion at Cambridge University by the Archbishop of York John Sentamu and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Roland Williams. The conclusion was that the problem of the world cannot be solved by military or political means. Leaders of the world have to seek solutions from “religions”. All religions or rather all living faiths of the world are about “remembering”. Every living faith helps people to remember the roots of their existence.
The Judeo-Christian faith is especially about remembering – remembering our ultimate relationship with God. God is not only the source of our life, which means the meaning of our existence; our value system and our life goals are sprung from our knowledge of God. This is what the Bible tells us.
The Old Testament lesson we read this morning is a recital of faith or a creed. This is one of the most important Jewish creeds. The major aim was to let the Jewish people of generations to remember that their God is the God who brought them out of Egypt, the land of bondage. Through God’s saving acts, the Israelites or the Jewish people have become a people of faith – from faith to faith.
The New Testament lesson we chose this morning is about a host of Israelites who, despite their frailties and failures have kept their faith in God. The Israelites remembered Abraham, Isaac Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rehab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, many prophets… These were their heroes and heroines who by their faith have helped shaped the Israelite people as God’s chosen people.
The Israelites have gone through many travesties in their 4,000 years of history. Quite unlike Chinese, many of whom like to go overseas to seek for better living, the Jews were being forced to leave their land which was destroyed time and again. The Jews are known to be a people in “diaspora”. In the 1930s and 40s reportedly 6 million Jews lost their lives and many more million lost their homes as a result of senseless genocide by the Nazis. Outside the memorial Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, these words were inscribed:
"Forgetfulness leads to destruction;
What the Jews need to remember is not only the ordeal and the senseless massacre in the concentration camps but also how to prevent that from happening again. This is the way to move forward. But, unfortunately it seems that the Jews remember only the bad things. That explains why they are so insistent of trying to dominate all of Palestine in the name of national security; and behave as if Israel is the only super-power in the Middle East and that all neighboring countries must be subservient to her! As long as they choose to remember in this way, I’m afraid peace will never come in the Middle East.
The future of the humankind depends on our remembrance of the past, especially on what human beings could do for the well being of all; that is on the goodness of human beings who are created by God and having God’s image.
To-day is my 72nd birthday. All last week, I tried to remember my past 72 years. I can comfortably join Apostle Paul by saying that “God’s grace is enough for me” (II Cor 12:9) Rather than dwell on my frailties and failures; trials and tribulations, I tried to recount how God used other people to shape me. I remember the secretary of my deputy director at Hong Kong Christian Service who migrated to Australia with her family in early 1980s. When she departed, she wrote me a card saying how I have changed her work attitude (despite the fact I never worked directly with her). I remember when I left Hong Kong Christian Service, a clinical psychologist gave me a very nice card which said “I am the nicest boss one can ever have”. They have shaped the person I am – relatively kind, selfless and absolutely serious.
I remember the former assistant chaplain of Yale University, after his visit to me in Shek Kip Mei Resettlement Estate, told me he has never seen a local church pastor who was so committed to the renewal of the local church. I remember the former associate dean of the Arts Faculty of the Chinese University of Hong Kong who confessed how much I have influenced him. Because of them, I remain devoted to work in local churches and work with local church pastors (despite being a local church pastor is the most difficult job for anyone).
This year I was selected to receive the Yale Divinity School Alumni Award Lux et Veritas. This award is giving annually to “someone who has demonstrated excellence and distinction in applying Christ’s compassion to the diverse needs of human conditions…” I was honored and yet humbled. This award, though says something about my past, definitely sets the standard for my future: that I must try to become like Jesus in applying his compassion to everybody in every situation!
Kowloon Union Church will soon celebrate its 90th birthday. It’s high time for us to sit down and corporately recall how God has been good to this Church. Some of us may not like; but there have been radical changes in the past several years. I have preached at KUC once in the 1970s, once in the 1980s and once in the 1990s. I have been your Senior Minister for 2½ years between 2006 and 2009. I have witnessed the radical changes KUC has gone through. It was basically a British cum American Church in the 1970s. Now it’s truly an international church, with members coming from a score of countries. For almost 8 decades, your ministers were all male and expats. Two years ago you were very brave to break this tradition. Phyllis Wong becomes your first female and local Chinese minister. You are lucky to have Phyllis. Of the hundreds of ministers and preachers I have worked with, Phyllis certainly ranks the very top. She is committed, compassionate and professionally well qualified. KUC should also be very proud to have a good group of trustees and council members who are committed to serve.
KUC must remember all this and move on. As God’s Church we should remember that we are gathered here not for our own good. From self-preservation, we must strive to answer God’s call to reach out. KUC as a body and as individuals have much to offer. We are in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is far from being a just society. The rich-poor gap is ever widening. Is there anything we can help? We live in this world. This world is full of conflicts. As peace-makers how can we help?
This morning, we celebrate Eucharist or Holy Communion. In front of our communion table, it is inscribed with these words: “Do this in remembrance of me.” This is also what the celebrant will say in some point of the liturgy. What does it mean? It means every time we come before the communion table, we should remember Christ has died for us. In remembering his sacrificial love, we too must do likewise. We must follow Jesus’ footsteps and live for others.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son; and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
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Archived sermons by the Barksdales