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.