A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 20 February 2011 by the Rev. Hans Lutz. The scripture readings that day were Leviticus 19:1–2, 9–18 and Matthew 5:38–48
Possibly no admonition of Jesus is more difficult to accept and to follow than the command not to resist evil and to love our enemy. It defies common practice.
I feel particularly challenged because during my whole work in Hong Kong I have been encouraging people to stand up and defend their rights, be it as workers or as residents in deprived communities.
Here Jesus teaches, “Do not resist one who is evil.” “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
It has been pointed out that the principle of non-resistance is common sense where an individual or a community is in a position of weakness and on the defensive. For example the Christians in Indonesia live as a minority among a Muslim majority. They have experienced over and over again that their churches were burned by militant Muslims. They have not resisted because that would only worsen their situation.
However, Jesus did not intend his teaching as a guideline for special circumstances only. He gave it to each one of us who are his disciples.
We have examples of Christians who have lived the command of Christ. I would like to remind you of Martin Luther King who led the non-violent struggle of the American blacks for civil rights. He insisted that this struggle needed disciplined toughness and tenderness born of love. Martin Luther King is one shining example living out the teaching of Jesus.
A second example which is of immediate concern comes from a traveler to Egypt. He paid a visit to a Coptic monastery in upper Egypt, where the Holy Family is supposed to have rested on their flight from king Herod. Six months before the visit of this traveler two monks had been shot in front of the monastery by Islamist militants. One of the monks recalled: “Fr. Benjamin had come out to talk to a layman who wanted to get married here. Fr. Agabios had followed him to tell him that the Abbot had asked him to lead prayers the next day, The gunmen were waiting in a car in the shadows when they opened fire. The laymen was shot too, as was a thirteen year old boy. He just happened to be passing at the wrong moment… We monks don’t search for martyrdom. But we welcome it when it comes… We lost two good fathers in the attack. But we trust in God.”
At this time we must remember the church in Egypt as it faces an uncertain future.
Jesus asks us not only not to resist but to love our enemies. He asks us not only not to hit back when we receive a blow or not to take revenge but to take positive steps and pray for those who persecute us.
One of our missionaries in Indonesia was made a prisoner by the Japanese in 1944. He was guarded like an enemy. The missionary was able to brake though the hostility when he asked one of the guards about his family. By this simple move he was able to establish a relationship from person to person. Such is the approach of God’s children.
We are asked to love because God loves all. He makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust (Mt. 5,45). God sees us much closer together than we like. His grace goes out to all human beings.
Jesus has the authority to demand that we should not resist evil and love out enemies because he himself lived this command in his passion on the cross. The fate of Jesus Christ is the foundation of his command. On the cross he himself fulfilled it.
We have said that the teaching of Jesus defies common practice. In his teaching Jesus moves beyond the Old Testament to a new ethic. In this he shows that he is the Christ. No ordinary Jew would have had the authority to put his own teaching over against the Old Testament in the way he did: “You have heard that it was said …” and he continues “But I say to you …” Only the Messiah has the authority to speak this way.
Jesus calls us to follow him. “You must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Perfection is not of this world. As a commandment these words are beyond our capability. But these words are not just a commandment, but also a promise. Jesus calls us to a new life. God’s grace can make us advance on this path. By God’s grace traces of God’s kingdom appear in our lives and light up this world. Like they appeared in the lives of Martin Luther King and the Coptic monk in upper Egypt. They also can take shape in our lives.
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 13 February 2011 by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Deuteronomy 30:15-20; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9 and Matthew 5:21-37.
A man caught a tiny bird and held it in his hand. He then asked his friend ‘is the bird alive or dead?’ His friend answered to him, ‘the bird alive or dead all depends on you, my friend.’
The answer of this friend hits the core of the issue --- choice, choice for life and choice of life.
We all have different kinds of choices in our life. Very often, our choice in life would affect others’ lives in one way or the other.
We are given choice in life which God has given to us in the first place. Although we are created by God, God ‒ who is the source of everything, source of life ‒ does not attempt to control us. God does not use his power to manipulate our relationship with Him. God gives His people a choice. When God gives a choice to human beings, God assumes the risk of the possibility that his people will turn away from him. God is loving kindness. Love entails responsibility. God therefore does not only give His people the opportunity to choose, he gives also people instruction and what to do with the choice. God wishes His people to choose a right way and keep the right relationship with him. God tells His people straight away that he requires of them a loving relationship, a relationship that his people will love Him with the hearts, soul and strength.
In the scripture, God told His people the consequence of turning away from God. When the people turned away from God, their lives become difficult. They will perish, as said by the Lord.
In ancient Israel when the Jewish people were exiled to a foreign land and exposed to foreign gods, the religious leaders reminded them to be faithful to their God. The Israelites were reminded of their God, who had saved them and liberated them from the chain of slavery in Egypt. Their God promised to give them new land ‒ a land of milk and honey ‒ if they walk in His way.
In Deuteronomy, God is clear in telling his chosen people, the Israelites to opt for life. This is a life in which one makes the Lord the priority. We as God’s people ‒ how far do we follow the commandment of God today?
To love the Lord, to walk in his way and be faithful is the core faith required of the Israelites. For Christians, Jesus has further elaborated on the commandment and how should it be practiced in his teaching.
The ancient law required the people not commit murder. Jesus added that getting angry and despising sisters and brothers’ and calling them names were wrong and should be punished as well.
That no murder is allowed in the law indicates a principle of respecting life, for life is precious and it is from God. Jesus’ teaching informed us that we need not only respect people’s biological life, but also their human dignity. We should respect people without despising anyone.
In our day to day lives, most people will not kill others because it is against the law. The murderer will be sentenced to jail. But in reality, there are many people discriminating against others due to their social and economic status, racial background and sexual orientations and so on. I have seen more than once how a mini-bus driver treated foreign domestic workers in a rude manner. It is still common for landlords to refuse to let their houses to people of colour. Disrespectful words and actions are hurtful to the people concerned and damaging to the society as a whole.
We see that the demand of Jesus Christ conveys a higher moral standard to Christians and to the world, by preserving basic human dignity and a culture of respecting others regardless of sex, race, class, sexual orientation, intellectual abilities and so on.
To choose life is to respect life. In this regard, we need to preserve all people’s basic human rights and honor them with equal treatment and respect. Because we are God’s people created in His holy image.
A choice in the Church life
The reading taken from 1 Corinthians today inspires us in an area related to the church. As far as the church life is concerned, the Apostle Paul was bitter over the division of the early church. The believers of the faith community were in conflict and they were separated into sub-groups by following different leaders (Apollo/ Paul). Being a leader with a substantial following, Paul was clear in taking a stand of serving Christ the Lord as his focus in life. This enabled him to avoid the temptation of engaging in power struggles with other church leaders. Paul acted in a very responsible manner to keep the faith community in Christ and in unity. He recognized and articulated clearly to the church members that each leader had unique gift and role to play for God’s service. This humility is deemed important for building up the life of individual believers and the life of the church as a faithful community. Paul did his best to avoid further division by focusing his life in Christ. This is Paul’s choice in his life and in his service to God.
When ministries of the church are developed and a church is developing and growing, of course more people will be involved. With more people involved, it is natural to have different ideas and views. Differences can easily cause conflicts. When conflicts arise, our faith is tested. Do we choose a ‘life giving’ faithful practice that would help us to focus our service in Christ? In Christ, we will do our best to resolve conflict with peaceful means. In Christ, we will do our best to live out Jesus’ commandment of loving one another. In Christ, we will do our best to live out the spirit of unity through the Holy Spirit.
We are human beings and full of limitations and weakness. Who can stay away from the temptation of power? We are tempted to satisfy our own desires and needs by taking advantage of others and the situation. We have to be highly aware of this and avoid manipulating others for our own benefit.
The choice for life implies also a life with responsibility. To love God and walk in His way requires the church to bring unity to the house of God. We have to speak and act as One in Christ to serve faithfully with humility.
God has given us choices: Life or death, to bless or to curse, to address adversity or to take the easy way? Friends, how are we going to choose?
As a clever people, I am sure you know what to choose. It is obvious that most people will choose life, blessings and to take the easy way. For such an obvious choice, why does God need to emphasize to his people?
The reason is we need to pay the cost for our choice. Jesus said, ‘whoever tries to save his life will lose it, whoever loses his life will save it.” (Luke 17:33) This is a strong message about sacrifice. The choice of life, is an action to give and to sacrifice for the sake of God and others, but not for ourselves.
Sometimes we find a choice difficult to make because we don’t want to pay the cost. This cost may include loss of face, loss of money, loss of trust, loss of friendship, all kinds of personal loss of interest. God has given us freedom to choose. Equally, God has placed demands on us. But we still have the freedom to choose Him above anything!
While we are given a choice in life, we have to aware that we have a cost to pay for our decision.
Let me go back to the story about the man with a bird in his hand. Imagine the bird is our life and life of other people. Our choice and decision as to how to direct our lives will make a great impact on us as individuals and on others around us.
Therefore, remember: there is always a bird in our hand!
O God, lead us from death to life, from falsehood to truth;
Lead us in life from despair to hope, from fear to trust;
Lead us in life from greed to generosity, from division to unity.
Lead us in life from hate to love, from war to peace.
Let love and peace fill our hearts, our church, our world, our universe. Amen.