Meditations, Reflections, Bible Studies, and Sermons from Kowloon Union Church
The Light Of Christ Shines
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 25 December 2010, Christmas Day, by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Isaiah 52:7-10 and Luke 1:1-14.
May the grace of Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you. Amen
Last night we had a great celebration in church. The church was full of people during the Service and many of them stay for the singing on the steps and the pot-luck supper. It was a great time of joy. I give thanks to God for all these.
Last night was a beautiful Service and celebration. Our church had hosted a big feast to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ by embracing people from all walks of life. The essence of joy to the world is this kind of inclusion, acceptance and people treating each other equally.
The light of Christ shines when we embrace one another regardless of our differences in race, nationality, religion, age, gender, level of abilities, socio-economic status, sexual orientations and so on. We treat each other equally and with respect.
I saw many smiling faces last night. Church members and friends participated in the preparation of the Service and the Christmas celebration afterward. The drama prepared by our sisters and brothers (African brothers took a significant part) were wonderful. Sisters and brothers worked together in the Service for God. People brought food to share for the pot luck supper. We had a great variety of food last night. Many of them were very delicious. Many of you know our son like to eat. He commended that the food last night was the best he ever tried in KUC. We shared food, friendship and love in Christ. It is beautiful. The idea and essence of pot luck supper is the spirit of sharing. We bring what we have to share with other people. The more people bring, the more we can share with each others.
The light of Christ shines when we participate and share
We had a lot of works to do after the big celebration. Last night, our colleague ah Hing, our member Jenny and her friend were working hard to do the cleaning up late at night when people left the church. Jenny’s friend told me that she was happy to do the clean up for the sake of God. The floor shined again after their great efforts to clean the dirt. While we should not abuse the good heart and hard work of our sisters in doing this kind of dirty job, we should learn from these ladies of contributing what they have to serve the church and people in need.
The light of Christ shines when we contribute our gift of time and labor for others and to help those in need.
Today is a day that reminds me of Mr Liu Xiabo. He was jailed last year on a charge of subversion against the State. He was put in jail on the day we celebrate the birth of Christ who comes to the world to set people free. It is absurd. Isn’t it? What is ironic and a great embarrassment to the Chinese Government was, a man charged by the government for his political stand was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
In this time of Christmas, we remember people like Liu Xiabo who have been fighting for social justice and liberation of humanity.
In this time of Christmas, we pray for these human rights activists, their families and their nations where wars and conflicts, human rights abuse and economic exploitation prevail.
The light of Christ shines when there are people deeply engaged and persist in bringing peace and justice to the world.
The reading this morning taken from Gospel John, telling us once again the life of Jesus Christ, manifests the incarnated God. Jesus Christ is the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness.
We are both the receivers and givers of God’s light.
The light of Christ shines upon us and give us new hope, joy, peace and love. Equally we are called to become Christ’s disciples to follow Jesus’ footstep to engage our life that bring light to others who are living in the darkness of isolation, discrimination, poverty and exploitation.
May the hope, joy, peace and love of God with you and all people in the world. Now and forever more. Amen.
Walking With God – To Engage With Love
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 19 December 2010, Fourth Sunday in Advent, by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Isaiah 7:10-16 and Matthew 1:18-25.
Every year we celebrate Christmas, to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Every year we observe the season of Advent by lighting the candles. Advent is a time of the Church year that reminds us to prepare for the arrival of the Lord Jesus Christ, the savior of our life and of our world.
The drama is very creative. Our youngsters tried to translate the biblical account on God’s salvation story through Jesus into the contemporary context of Hong Kong. It is refreshing and helps us to relate the birth of Jesus and his salvation to the world today.
In the biblical account of Matthew 2:1-12, King Herod was the king of the colonized Jews. He represented the imperial power of the Roman Empire. In the drama performed by our youths, Li Ka Shing is a representation of the influential people and corporations with both great economic and political power in the contemporary world of capitalism. They will destroy everyone and everything that will threaten their power and interest.
Both King Herod and Li Ka Shing, are a representation of greed and domination, greed for power and wealth.
For King Herod of the imperial rule and the tycoons of the commercial world today, they are both concerned with their own expansion of power and success.
According to the bible, the birth of Jesus was to save the people from their sins. How can we imagine a poor, vulnerable and weak person can save other people? He may not even save himself!
Jesus Christ, messiah/savior of the Jews, promised by God, came to the world, not with power and high status, but in the form of a vulnerable child. He faced a lot of trial and threats. His life was at risk when he was conceived and born. Paradoxically, the vulnerability of this savior was strong and powerful enough to threaten King Herod. This threat had led to King Herod’s decision to kill this baby boy.
This savior is called ‘Emmanuel’, meaning ‘God is with us’. That is the promise of God and the presence of God that make things different.
God of Emmanuel can transform the powerless to powerful, the weak to strong, the poor to rich. This subversive salvation is possible because God is right there with the persecuted, the poor, vulnerable and the weak.
The biblical narrative and our young people’s drama have led me to think of a second-hand bookshop called “Book Attic”. The owner of this bookshop, Jennifer Li approached me recently. She is looking for a space to keep her second hand bookshop which is currently located in Wan Chai. She has to move out from the current venue because owner has to take back for redevelopment. She cannot afford the high rent for her bookshop. She complains that the property owners and developers are greedy creatures that consumed most of her income generated from the shop. Although encountering great difficulty and at the risk of closing down her bookstore, she does not give up. She has a clear vision to promote an environmental friendly world by selling high quality second hand books. She is a book lover and wishes to share this passion with others. She wishes also to help others to grow their mind through reading books rich in literary and culture. She organizes regular book lovers gathering, children story time, and book and poetry club. She impresses me also with her compassionate heart for people in needs. She has employed physically challenged university students and young people working part time for her bookshop. She tries to spend the penny that she earns to support people in needs. She is therefore unable to earn any income for herself so far although she shared that she wishes to earn her own bread and butter out of her shop in the long run.
This Book Attic run by Jennifer is small with little resources. But it carries a strong vision and spirit to affirm life and culture. She has also demonstrated great respect to the wisdom of this universe by promoting a culture of reading.
The shop can be easily destroyed indeed by property owners and developers when the rent increased rapidly beyond her reach. The situation is even worse for many small shops of this kind after the urban renewal scheme.
Forced to move out from the current location, she received a lot of encouraging support from her club members and even the mass media.
Our church council has also agreed to accommodate the bookshop for 4 months from Feb to June next year in the building at Jordan No2. The Book Attic will use the space currently occupied by the Refugee Advice Center. RAC will move to another bigger office in Tsimshashui by the end of January next year. The timing is just right.
We hope their temporary accommodation in our space can give them more time to find a suitable and affordable space in the long run.
We see how God could prepare the necessary resources for the little and the less resourceful to fulfill good works for the people in the community. The presence of this kind of small shop and individuals with hearts for people and God’s Creation, is a strong reveal of God’s loving and caring presence to the world. Through the support of this kind of shops and people with hearts, God redeems the people from a world of greed, a dire desire for money making and accumulation of wealth at the expense of other people’s survival and rights for a diversified life style.
God has been involving in human history. God’s salvation story through Jesus Christ goes on and on in different generations.
In the life of Jesus, the Lord reveals to us clearly that God’s salvation does not start with the powerful, but with the little, the persecuted and the have-not. God is always there to side with the powerless who would be saved and at the same time would save others.
God’s salvation never comes from the power of domination, exploitation and manipulation. Therefore, our encounter with God is not through the rich, the powerful. Quite the contrary, our encounter with God is through the vulnerable, the persecuted, the little and the weak.
The basis of the Lord’s salvation is love.
Today, Yana lighted the advent candle of love for the world. Love is the essence of God. “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” (1 John 4:15-16)
The name of the savior is “Emmanuel”, meaning ‘God with us’. The phrase “God with us” was a powerful message of hope to the Hebrew people in exile and to the early Christian community.
God of Emmanuel brings to us peace and love. When we are with God and God with us, we would be much empowered. God with us represents God’s greatest love for us all. Love of God is powerful to transforming the world from greed to generosity, from domination to sharing, from despair to hope, from grief to joy, from fear to peace.
When God is with us, we would be strengthened to engage deeply a life of loving God and one another. May the promise of God bring hope, peace, joy and love fulfilled in our Lord Jesus Christ, redeemer of the world. Amen.
Praising To God – To Transform With Joy
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 12 December 2010, Third Sunday in Advent, by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Isaiah 35:1-10 and Luke 1:46-55.
Today, I have opened this pulpit to friends sharing with us the struggles and voices of women who have been suffering from various forms of violence. We have heard the cries for change, a change for a better world in which all humanity especially women to live with respect and equality, to live with freedom and peace. We have heard a call for a just world where women can be protected and being treated equally with dignity. We have also heard a call that women should be given genuine equal opportunities and earn decent salary to support themselves and their families.
The voices of the women victims of violence we hear in the Sanctuary, are as if God’s word is being conveyed to us.
The story of struggles, the plights, the suffering and the pains of the women victims are the word of our merciful and gracious God. Our God has listened to these women and promised to liberate them. God wishes us to listen and to care for them too.
As God’s people, we are here to end any denial of the existence of violence against women. Today we are called to take up the responsibility to end violence against women, and contribute to building an equal world in which men and women can both enjoy basic human rights, dignity, peace and joy.
The prophetic voice of Isaiah and Mary we heard from the Bible today, has spelled out clearly the vision of liberation and transformation to a just world. They are timely, inspiring the church to bear in mind God’s will, and to enable people to imagine the way ahead to address the issues of violence against women, and to build a free and just world.
The prophetic voice has indicated God’s concern for individuals who are oppressed and exploited. The Lord will redeem them from captive and give them freedom. The Lord will strengthen them and take away their fear.
Today we light the candle of joy. And we heard Mary praise the Lord with joy for the amazing things God had done for her.
Mary’s song of praise is one woman’s profound prophetic vision.
This is a vision that sees God turn the world upside down. God transforms the world radically to bring justice.
“He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed.” (Luke 1:52-53)
God transforms the world by bringing a new power relationship and distribution of wealth. Women are respected and highly valued. Their status is raised and their contribution is recognized. The powerless and the have-nots will be given more. But the rich will be given no more. This is a new order proclaimed in the midst of a male dominant and an unequal power and wealth distribution society. Mary’s message is relevant to us today.
The role of Mary in God’s salvation has revealed also an important message.
Mary was a woman. God has chosen a woman to be co-worker for his/her salvation plan right at the beginning. She gave birth to Jesus, son of God, to bring new life to people and new possibility to the world. The spiritual significance of Mary’s participation in God’s plan of salvation is that, the liberation of the world requires the cooperation of both women and men. The movement to end violence against women, and to bring forth a world of equality and justice, cannot be a success without the genuine participation of both genders.
Still, violence against women and gender equality issue are not women’s only agenda. Mary’s prophetic vision has given us a strong promise and a powerful image of transformation.
Because of God’s mercy, we have faith and know that all victims of violence are not left alone. This is the source of joy.
Because of God’s promise for liberation, we have faith, and know that the world will be transformed to justice. This is the source of joy.
Because of God’s solidarity with people, through and in Christ, we have faith and know that we are given strength and hope to walk in this journey of justice with courage and persistence. This is the source of joy.
Although pains and suffering seem to be part of life, they would never be allowed, to take away our joy, joy of all humanity, women and men. For it is the gift from God.
To conclude my sermon, I would like to read for you two texts taken from today’s readings:
“My soul magnify the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.” (Luke 1:48)
“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing.” (Isaiah 35:1-2)
Sisters and brothers, let us rejoice and praise to the Lord! Amen.
Hearing From God – To Live With Peace
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 5 December 2010, Second Sunday in Advent, by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Isaiah 11:1-10 and Matthew 3:1-12.
Lighting of 2nd candle: Peace
Lord of peace, may your words inspire us, and may the Holy Spirit guide us to your truth. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you. Amen.
Today is the second Sunday of Advent. This is the Sunday of Peace. Gabriel, together with his father Benny, lit a candle for peace in our world this morning.
In the midst of wars and violence in our world, we are desperate for peace.
As Christians and as God’s church, we are called to be peacemakers.
What can we do to contribute to peace on earth?
The Challenge Of Being Peace Makers
At Kowloon Union Church, we started the outreach ministry of peace making program three years ago ‒ 2007. It was started with a group of African brothers. We went to different schools, churches and organizations, sharing the life situations and struggles of asylum seekers and refugees. They shared personal stories with perspective. This is from a human rights and Christian point of view. As our brothers come from Africa, they could also share about African culture. Their presentations employed PowerPoint, singing, drumming and dancing. Actually, simply the presence of our brothers, who come from different cultures, nationalities and races, brought to the local people, young and old, a strong message of peace ‒ peace of unity, for we all are human beings created by God. This is a peace in which people, regardless of their colour, culture, traditions, and social and economic status, are all God’s children who have been given different talents to serve others and to enjoy life. Life is the gift from God. In our peace-making program, we have a vision to share the gospel of peace and justice. Our goal is to share the love and unity in Christ. Our aim is to cultivate an inclusive spirit in our community. We are all equal and one in God. Through singing, drumming and dancing, we embrace one another with respect. Although we are different and coming from different parts of the world, we are no more strangers to one another.
In the course of promoting this ministry, it is ironic to admit that our peace making team did not always live in harmony and peace with one another. It was especially so at the very beginning when the team was just formed. There were times when I found our brothers faced intense emotions and arguments. They would argue with one another over which songs they wanted to select. They would raise their voices when they argued their different views. The journey of peace-making is never straight forward. It is a process of gradually understanding each other by listening respectfully and expressing ourselves. I have seen the group make real progress, and improving group communication over the years.
I once had a very difficult time with one of the members in the team. In several conversations with this member, both he and I were very frustrated and exhausted. We tried to communicate but still we failed to understand each other. I felt strongly my anger inside. How come this guy was so stubborn. In fact, I was very frustrated and disappointed for my failure to make him understand me. At the bottle of my heart, I wish I could be accepted. I wish also to prove that I was able to understand him. While we were both so disappointed and helpless, I suddenly had a strong feeling to stop arguing with him or trying to ‘talk’ verbally. By that very moment, I said to the brother ‘I am so sorry that we cannot fully understand each other even though we both try hard. Let’s stop right here and pray to God for help. Let’s take time to understand each other. Let’s not rush.”
At that very moment, I felt very peaceful at heart. We both shared a time of liberating peace. What a miracle by admitting our own limitations and give up fighting to be understood. It is also a great liberating peace by realizing that we don’t have to pretend we understand. We should try to understand others and not try to let people understand us. In this way, what we need to do is to listen to others. Very often, we wish other people to understand us and thus we try to talk and talk and talk. Very often we wish other people would just accept our view and agree with us. We would then argue, argue and argue. Real peacemaking is the other way round, we need to listen, listen and listen. We should try our best to understand. But when we fail to understand others, we humbly accept it and try again.
I am sharing this experience because if we wish to take part in the peace making mission, we need to be at peace with ourselves. The peacemaking ministry is for all of us, as God’s people and God’s church. Only when we are bold enough to face our limitations and vulnerabilities are we able to let down our defenses and refrain from hurting others. Only when we have peace inside and are we peace itself, we are able to live a peaceful life with others, and to bring peace to the world.
Many of us may find it hard to accept our limitations and vulnerabilities. It is especially for men and people taking leading or authority positions. Because of this, we fight in order to try to hide our own weakness from others. But we should remember that limitations and vulnerability are part of human nature.
God came to the world in a human form through Jesus Christ. Jesus is identified with humanity fully. Therefore, can we imagine that limitation and vulnerability are also part of God.
The Isaiah vision of a peaceful kingdom is powerful. – ‘the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them’. In this vision, the strong and the weak stay together in harmony. It is amazing! In this kingdom of peace, there is no more aggression, no more hierarchy. Instead of being manipulated and used, the little one takes the lead. The little one is not ignored. How radical! The beautiful possibilities boggle the imagination!
This vision is not easy to achieve. We are living in the real world, that is in great contrast of this peaceful kingdom. But we are given great promise by God. In Isaiah 11, the people of God and the whole creation will not hurt or destroy on his holy mountain. Whenever we are living in God and our hearts turn to Jesus Christ bearing the fruits worthy repentance, we will be strengthened to live with peace.
John the Baptist, the one who came to prepare the way for the Lord, faithfully did what God called upon him to do. John the Baptist reminded us to repent and bear fruit worthy of repentance. He also reiterated that Christians who had been baptized, their sins were cleansed. Jesus Christ has given us a renewed life through the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, we should not pretend to be disciple of Christ, nor should we be a superficial disciple who has come to worship God and yet our life does not change much for God.
What Jesus hated the most was the hypocrite. John had also warned that Jews should not be complacent. Just like us in KUC, we should not just think that our church has obtained a good reputation of involving in different kinds of justice and peace ministry. We are then feeling good and find no areas for reflection and improvement. No, we need to be self-critical to examine our inner self and hearts. We need to examine ourselves if we have been carrying the emotion of anger, hatred, jealousy, rejection to others and character of aggression inside us. If we do, we have to be bold enough to admit it, to ask God for forgiveness and make changes accordingly.
Here at KUC it is a great challenge to engage as a church of peace. Peace is not just a ceasing of wars and conflict. Peace is not an absence of tensions. Peace is not the disappearance of disagreement. Peace is getting our inner self free from hatred, jealousy, destructive anger and insecurity. Peace is a state of wholeness that leads us to a life with humility without any attempt to control others. Peace is a state of compassion that leads us to treat one other equally, with respect and kindness.
God of Peace, Emmanuel, we pray to you, send your light into our hearts. Help us to be ready for the day and the hour of Christ's appearing. Work in our hearts at this time and help us prepare ourselves for the peace that he brings ‒ the inner peace that tells us that we are united with you and the outer peace which will come when he returns to judge the world. Bless our service in the community, that it may be pleasing unto you, and bless us that we may prove to be your faithful witness of Jesus Christ, the prince of peace. Amen.
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