Reflections...

Meditations, Reflections, Bible Studies, and Sermons from Kowloon Union Church  

Make Us Healers, O God

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 15 May 2011 by Joram Calimutan. The scripture readings that day were 2 King 5:9–17 and Luke 17:11–19.


As Jesus made his way to Jerusalem, he went along the border between Samaria and Galilee. He was going into a village when he was met by ten men suffering from a dreaded skin disease. They stood at a distance and shouted, "Jesus! Master! Have pity on us!" Jesus saw them and said to them, "Go and let the priests examine you."

On the way they were made clean.a When one of them saw that he was healed, he came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself to the ground at Jesus' feet and thanked him. The man was a Samaritan. Jesus spoke up, "There were ten who were healed; where are the other nine? Why is this foreigner the only one who came back to give thanks to God?" And Jesus said to him, "Get up and go; your faith has made you well."[1]

What does it mean to be a healer? In a context where majority of Asian people suffer from hunger, poverty, forced migration, environmental destruction and widening gap between rich and poor how does a Christian like us become a healer?

Let us pray:
O God of life and history as we collectively make reflections on your word we ask for your presence to enlighten and strengthen us. Let the words that comes from the mouth of your humble servant be your word that will guide and inspire us as we follow the example set before us by Jesus Christ. It is our prayer in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Introduction:
Good morning my dear brothers and sisters in Christ. How are you? It is my fervent hope that all of you are in good health, with unwavering hope, embedded faith in God to bring witness to God’s liberating acts in the history of people.

It was in January 2005, when I first came to Hong Kong as an intern of CCA’s program on Decade to Overcome Violence. The following month was when I attended my first worship service in Kowloon Union Church. After serving one and half year in CCA I returned to the Philippines in May 2006 to serve as a pastor of a local church of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) for four consecutive years.

What is Asia Sunday?
Today we are celebrating Asia Sunday though this year Asia Sunday falls on June 5. It is being celebrated in a flexible way that is why here in KUC we are celebrating Asia Sunday today.

Asia Sunday has been celebrated every year since 1974. It has been celebrated in Asia and ecumenical organizations around the world on the Sunday before Pentecost. The observance is to commemorate the founding of the East Asia Christian Conference, renamed in 1973 as the Christian Conference of Asia.

The theme of Asia Sunday 2011 is “Make Us Healers, O God.” This is drawn from the CCA 13th General Assembly theme which will run for five years (2011-15), “Called to Prophesy, Reconcile and Heal.” The theme is a prayer for us to become healers even as we also pray to be healed of our brokenness and division in our personal and communal life, and in relation to the whole creation.[2]

Concept of healing

To give light on today’s theme let us first be clear about the concept of healing based on the story of Prophet Elisha healing of Naaman’s dreaded skin disease. From the story we learn that Naaman, the commander of the Syrian army, was highly respected and esteemed by the king of Syria, because through Naaman the Lord had given victory to the Syrian forces. He was a great soldier, but he suffered from a dreaded skin disease.[3]

One day his servant girl who was an Israelite said; "I wish that my master could go to the prophet who lives in Samaria! He would cure him of his disease.”[4] To make the story short, Naaman went to Elisha’s house in Israel. Elisha sent a servant out to tell him to go and wash himself seven times in the Jordan River, and he would be completely cured of his disease.[5] At first Naaman was very reluctant to do what Elisha was asking but he was convinced by his servant to just wash and be cured.

Indeed Naaman was cured from his dreaded skin disease and he returned to Elisha to pay back with his gift. But Elisha refused to accept such gift saying; "By the living Lord , whom I serve, I swear that I will not accept a gift."[6]

It is now clear that this healing, based on the Bible as experienced of Naaman, is a gift offered to persons who are willing to follow what God is saying. Self-interest and economic status should not be allowed to intervene. Healing is a free gift given to a person and it should not be compensated with money and rewards. This gives a wider perspective and understanding on what should be the essence of being a person, and affirmation of God’s liberating acts.

In many hospitals that we have right now in order for a sick person to be healed it is necessary to have money to pay for doctors and other medical practitioners. It is no wonder that many poor people in Asia die without proper medical attentions. All too often, healing is a commodity rather than an instrument to restore a person’s essence and dignity.

We’ve been healed

Now the question is how to be a healer in the context where majority of Asian people suffer from hunger, poverty, forced migration, natural and manmade disaster, and widening gap between rich and poor.

The Gospel of Luke narrated the story of Jesus healing the ten men with dreaded skin disease. Jesus made his way to Jerusalem, he followed along the border between Samaria and Galilee. He was going into a village when he was met by ten men suffering from a dreaded skin disease. They stood at a distance and shouted, "Jesus! Master! Have pity on us!" Jesus saw them and said to them, "Go and let the priests examine you."[7]

Jesus healed the sick, the leper, the blind, the deaf, the crippled, the bleeding women, the possessed, the marginalized and the downtrodden. Jesus attended to the needs of these people with neither hesitation nor reservation. Jesus did not care what the Pharisees and scribes might say against him; what was important for Jesus then were the justice, honesty, mercy, compassion and love that characterized the reign of God.

And in this particular example of Jesus’ healing ministry is the story of ten afflicted men. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem when he came across the ten men with dreaded skin diseases. And these ten men begged for compassion and for Jesus to heal them. Jesus heeded their cry, and said "Go and let the priests examine you."[8]

These ten men were despised, isolated, and ostracized ‒ not only by the community to which they had belonged, but, and worse, even by their own family. They had been deprived of their sense of belonging.

Jesus not only healed their disease but, more importantly, they were brought back to the community to which they had formerly belonged, and had their human dignity restsored.

On the way they were made clean. When one of them saw that he was healed, he came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him. The man was a Samaritan.[9] But Jesus was saddened and asked "There were ten who were healed; where are the other nine? Why is this foreigner the only one who came back to give thanks to God?"[10]

How does this story relate to us today? Probably every one of us here has experienced healing from physical, emotional and spiritual diseases. Many of us will consult the best doctors or medical practitioners or perhaps counselors to be healed. Many of us adhere to a healthy diet to maintain our strength and healthy bodies.

But after we’ve been healed from the disease, what happens then? Did it bring changes to you, or did you simply revert to your old self? Many who have been sick are aspiring to be healed just to go back from his/ her old self. As we say in Tagalog, Hindi nakapagtataka na sa muli nilang pagkakasakit mas malala pa ito kaysa dati. (No wonder when they get sick again it is worse than the previous one)

This is what actually happened in the case of the nine men. After they had been healed by Jesus, all they did was go back to their old selves‒apolitical, self-centered and unable to follow God’s will of justice, love and compassion. Unlike the Samaritan, who, after he experienced the healing, recognized the liberating acts of God through Jesus. He went back to Jesus to thank and follow him.

The Samaritan knew that following Jesus and acknowledging him as the Messiah was inviting persecution from the Pharisees and Scribes as well as the Roman authorities. However, because of what he experienced he was willing to take that risk, in the expectation that he too would become a healer like Jesus and his disciples.

To be a healer

The challenge for us today is to bring healing to those who are hurting. Hurting because they are wounded and wounded because they are broken physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Still, the challenge for us is to avoid rushing into the world with a “ready made”, “one size fits all” remedy, for the diverse ailments of those in Asia. In our present context, to become healer is to be ready to get out from our own ‘comfort zone’ that blinds the many believers to see the injustices, oppression and exploitation of the many poor people of Asia and of the world.

To become healer is to recognize that the majority of people in Asia is suffering from poverty, hunger, unemployment and government neglect ‒ the main reason why there are 53 million migrants from Asia Pacific region working in dirty, dangerous, demeaning and difficult type of jobs that most local people detest to do.

No wonder here in Hong Kong there are Filipino professionals working as domestic helpers, Indonesians whose numbers have increased drastically these past years, as well as people who come from Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, Thailand among others who brave the exile just so they can provide a better life for their families and children back home.

To become healer is to act with compassion to many foreign domestic workers, asylum seekers and other victims of human rights violations, abuse, exploitation, discrimination, government neglect and xenophobia.

To become a healer is to engage in solidarity with the victims of abuses, exploitations, human rights violations and discrimination in their struggle for justices and human rights.

To become healer is to impose no conditions and reservation on the victims of violence and oppression when we help them to be healed and empowered. It is tantamount of saying that to be a healer is not to expect and accept rewards from the victims. Because in doing so, we would be no different from Gehazi the servant of Elisha. We will be cursed with Naaman’s dreaded skin disease and it will come to us and to our descendants forever.

Conclusion:

As I reflect on the healing ministry of Jesus I cannot avoid remembering the twenty-one church people (pastors and lay leaders) from the Philippines who were victims of extra-judicial killings during the administration of ex-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Seventeen of them were my co-workers from the United Church of Christ in the Philippines. They were assassinated and murdered because they tried to heal the wounds of people brought by the unjust and inhuman societal order, and to bring witness to God’s liberating acts in history.

Indeed, to become healers based in the manner of Jesus Christ is inviting danger and persecutions from persons who are infected with greed for power and wealth, lack of concern to others especially the poor, deprived and oppressed. To be healers is to be ready to face the crucifixion as Jesus suffered at the cross.

The only question that we should ask ourselves is: are we willing to be persecuted and crucified for the sake of healing the wounds of people victimized by unjust and inhuman societal order? If your answer is yes, indeed God has made you a healer.

In the name of our God the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Amen.




[1] Luke 17: 11-19
[2] http://www.cca.org.hk/home1.htm
[3] 2 King 5: 1
[4] 2 King 5: 3
[5] 2 King 5: 10
[6] 2 King 5: 16
[7] Luke 17: 11-14
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Tuesday, May 24, 2011

 

Open our eyes to recognize God

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 8 May 2011 by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Psalm 116:12–19; Acts 2:14a; 36–41 and Luke 24:13–35.


Opening prayer:
Dear God of love, may your words inspire us. May the Holy Spirit enlighten us to know you more deeply in our hearts. Amen.

Introduction
In a journey to the village called Emmaus, two of Jesus’ followers encounter the risen Jesus. One of them named Cleopas. They chat all the way to Emmaus. The story does not tell us what they are talking about. By reading between the lines of their conversations and the context, one infers that they are followers of Jesus who are disappointed by His crucifixion and death. They are disappointed, for they have regarded Jesus as the Messiah of the Jews who would save Israel from the rule of the Roman Empire. But their hope has been totally shattered when Jesus did not resist, but died on the cross. Of course, there are witnesses (women and other disciples) that Jesus’ body was not found in the tomb. But a living Jesus is not seen anyway!

Even at the beginning, when these two disciples had met Jesus, they had not realized that this stranger talking to them was in fact Jesus. Their eyes were kept from recognizing him. Jesus did not tell them straight away that he was the Lord who had been risen from death. Instead, Jesus taught and shared with them the Jewish scriptures that concerned him. Jesus stayed with them for dinner, and was invited by these two men to stay overnight. When Jesus breaks the bread at the table, these two disciples opened their eyes and recognized this man as Jesus. They were filled with joy, and returned to Jerusalem at once to share this great news with other disciples.

In this gospel account, Jesus has taken another approach to reveal himself to the disciples. He does not reveal his resurrection straight away to them, by telling them – ‘Hey I am your Lord Jesus. I am risen!’ He does not reveal; to them his broken body by showing them his side and hand (as he does and recorded in the gospel account of John 20:19-27. According to that account, Jesus let the disciples, including the skeptic Thomas, see and touch his wounds when they are behind locked doors.)

On the contrary, in the journey to Emmaus, Jesus has chosen another way to reveal himself. He conveys to the disciples the word of God, and shares the meal with them by breaking bread. While Jesus is breaking the bread, the two disciples’ eyes are opened and they recognize the risen Lord. Jesus is in their midst! The disciples then return to Jerusalem and share this great news with other disciples.

Here are the spiritual insights that we may gain from the story

1 Jesus revealed himself in the first place by sharing the word of God.
The word of God is able to inspire people. In their reflection later in the night after a whole day journey with Jesus, the disciples share that their hearts are ignited when Jesus talks to him about the scripture. One of the important ways for the disciples to know God is through His word. Therefore reading and understanding of scripture are important for us to know more of God.

These disciples are very much concerned with the fate of their nation --- Israel. Jesus shares with them by starting with Moses and all the prophets -- History of Israel. Jesus let them understand, God is a God of history who cares for his people, and their nation. The word of God does not only reveal Godself, but it is able address individual needs

2 The disciples take the initiative to invite Jesus.
It is notable that the disciples invited our Lord to stay with them. God likes to have our invitation extended to Him. If we wish to recognize Him, our initiation made to God is important too.

How about disciples of Christ today? Do we open our ears to listen to the word of God and let our heart be ignited by the Holy Spirit? Do we invite the Lord to stay with us?

One challenge to us is: are our eyes open to recognizing the presence of God when we see people who share their lives and forgiving love with us?

3 Jesus’ breaking of bread – this is an important moment when the eyes of the two disciples are opened and they recognize him.
Why do they recognize Jesus at this moment of bread breaking?
- Remember Jesus institutes the Lord’s supper at the night when he is betrayed. He tells his disciples to remember him when they share the bread and the wine in the holy communion.
- The action of breaking of bread, reminds them the life of the Lord -- his life giving and sharing nature.
- The breaking of bread and sharing with one another is something very basic in our life, as we all need food to sustain our life. Our God is present in our midst, in our day-to-day life. God has been feeding us the bread of life.

Jesus breaking of bread: feed us the bread of life.
Today is the Mother’s Day. Jesus’ breaking of bread, and his followers recognizing him as Lord, at that very moment, has led me to think of my mother.

When I was a teenager, my neighbors of my age told me that their impression of my mother was she was a cooking mum. They said every time they saw her, she was cooking. My mother, was an ordinary woman, her way to love her children was to provide something basic to keep their biological their life. When I was small our family was quite poor. To feed a family of eight children was never easy. But my father and mother had shouldered this responsibility to take care of us.

I see God in my mother, a woman who led a humble life, a life in which she did her best to share her love with her children. My mother, who gave me a biological life on earth, led me to recognize God, a God of Life who creates this world with many different organisms. I cannot help but give thanks to God for giving me a loving and life-giving mother. My mother has revealed the glory of God. My mother has revealed God’s love to me.

Now I am a mother of two. I have to reflect deeply on the question: How do I lead a life of love so that my children will recognize God through me? This is the challenge for a Christian mother. This is a challenge to everybody who is called by God to be His faithful disciple.

On this day, Mother’s day, I remember many mothers who are not able to celebrate this special day with their children because of their life circumstances.

I feel strongly that Jesus is revealed to us in these mothers. If we open our eyes to see these women, their pains and struggles, strength and courage, we are able to recognize God in them

These women include:
Mothers who stay away from home and work somewhere else to give financial support to their family.

Mothers whose children and husband are jailed because of unjust system, or seeking asylum somewhere but not at their own home. I think of the wife of Hu Jia.
The Tian’anmen mothers who have mourned the death of their children who died in the Democratic Movement in 1989.

The list is long and I am unable to include all here.

Let’s remember and pray for them.

4 The climax of the story is the two disciples going back to Jerusalem immediately after their eyes have opened and they have recognized Jesus as their Lord.
The story does not stop after the disciples recognize Jesus as the risen Lord.
- The two disciples go back to Jerusalem immediate after they recognize the risen Lord.
- They do not care if the road is too dark at night. They do not care the danger they may face when they are going back to Jerusalem to meet other disciples and to share with them this good news of Jesus’ resurrection and their direct encounter with the Lord.
- We witness how they have tansformed their confusion to action;
- They have replaced their disappointment with hope
- Their grief has turned to joy

The basis of hope and joy is their direct encounter with Jesus. They are very much encouraged and empowered after they have encountered Jesus the Lord.
Our courage and commitment to take action to witness God is very important.
Taking action reveals the full recognition of God in the life of the disciples

God has given us the living words. Jesus Christ has revealed to us God’s forgiving, loving and life-giving nature. As his disciples, how do we follow the footstep of Jesus and become his faithful witness?

Sisters and brothers in Christ, let us open our eyes and recognize Him through His words and deeds; by our immediate action let us bear witness to the world. Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Tuesday, May 24, 2011

 

Peace Be With You

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 1 May 2011 by the Rev. Dr. John LeMond. The scripture readings that day were Acts 2:14a, 22-32; 1 Peter 1:3-9 and John 20:19-31.


The disciples are alone
Very alone.
Scripture says they are afraid of the religious leaders
Afraid that they might have to suffer the same fate as Jesus
But we have to wonder about their fear
After all, Peter and one of the other disciples
Have seen the empty tomb
And Mary Magdelene has actually seen Jesus himself.
And she has reported this event to the other disciples
But they obviously are not convinced
Or at least, they are not convinced that enough to venture outside
Fear can have amazing power over us
We don’t want to be humiliated
We don’t want to loose our health
We don’t want to suffer
We don’t want to die
The thought of these things cause such fear in us
It is not the humiliation, or the suffering or the death that binds our hearts
It is the fear of these things.
And our world can become immersed in fear.
I received some emails from an old friend recently
And she was explaining to me her fear of Muslims
Following the tragedy of September 11, 2001
And then the war in Afghanistan
And then the war in Iraq
With bombings and terrorist attacks being reported daily in the media
With increasingly stringent security checks at airports
I think I can safely say that she has been overcome by fear
She is afraid that all Muslim people, or at least a good percentage of them
Have only one thing on their mind
The destruction of the United States
And the imposition of Islam on all American citizens.
She fears not only for herself,
But for her children and grandchildren
In a sense, she has locked herself in a room
Hoping that the people she fears will not find her.
We may not have experienced fear to this degree
But we know what it is to fear
So we can identify with the followers of Jesus
As they hid themselves
Or more precisely…as they allowed fear
To lock them away.
But the Gospel of John tells us simply:
Jesus came and stood among them,
No grand entrance, no knocking on the door
Just his quiet presence
And he said to them, “Peace be with you.”
Then he showed them the holes in his hands and his side
And he said again, “Peace be with you.”
“As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
Interestingly, we are not told how the disciples reacted to Jesus’ presence
Nor are we told how they reacted to his commission to them.
It must have been a shock
They must have felt great joy
They must have been confused
They must have rejoiced
We don’t know for sure
But one thing that must have remained even after Jesus’ visit
Was their fear
Jesus had just given them an assignment that,
If they thought about it seriously
Would not only not ease their fear
But might in fact increase it.
Peace be with you
Look at the holes in my hands and side
These wounds are the result of my Father’s will for me
Now…just as the Father sent me
So, I send you into the world
Before the appearance of Jesus in this little room
They were afraid,
But there was a chance that they might escape the religious and Roman authorities
There was a chance that they could go back to living ordinary lives
Lives that centered on doing the ordinary things of life.
If they could remain hidden long enough
Things would die down
And they could walk away…blend into the local scene
Deny they ever knew Jesus
But now even that slim possibility was denied them
Jesus had not come to them with a plan for escaping to a safe haven
He had said to them, in effect
Leave this place
Unlock this door and leave this place
Go out into the world
Meet people; eat with them; drink with them
Make friends with them
Become one with them
Enter into the most intimate, and difficult and common aspects of life
With a message of peace
And I can tell you now
If you do this
This will be your reward:
And he showed them his hands and side.
Peace be with you.
Now…Jesus’ friends had no choice
Running away was no longer an option
If he was really alive…and he was.
If they decided to continue to follow him…and they did.
Then they knew at that moment what their future would be.
They knew, from that moment, that they would suffer
Even while they were proclaiming a word of peace
They knew that they would die
Even though they spoke a message of life
And in that moment, perhaps,
Fear ceased to have power over them
Fear of the unknown was eliminated for them by Jesus’ words
They knew what would happen
The fear of death
Was replaced by a certainty of death
So fear lost its power.
Jesus comes to us when we are least expecting him
When we want more than anything to control our world
When we want more than anything to protect ourselves and our loved ones
When we want not to die
And says to us: Peace be with you!
Share this good news of peace with world
And in doing so…
My mission is now your mission
My wounds are now your wounds
My death is now your death.
And as the writer of the Gospel of John concludes:
Believing this, strange as it may seem
Fear and death are defeated
A resurrected life is ours as well.
Peace be with you.
Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Tuesday, May 24, 2011

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