Reflections...

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

Beyond Welcoming One Another

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 26 June 2011 by Dr. Hope S. Antone, Joint Executive Secretary for Faith, Mission and Unity of the Christian Conference of Asia. The scripture readings that day were Genesis 22:1-14 (The Command to Sacrifice Isaac), Romans 6:12-23 and Matthew 10:40-42.


‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.’ [Matthew 10:40-42]

Greetings of peace to all of you, our dear brothers and sisters in Christ at Kowloon Union Church!

It is wonderful to be back to KUC where our children spent a good period of their childhood years. They have very special memories of their time here at KUC that it has not been easy finding a church like KUC in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I thank Pastor Phyllis Wong for this wonderful opportunity to share with you my reflection on the word of God today.

I also thank all of you who have welcomed us so warmly since we arrived in Hong Kong. We have truly enjoyed your warm hospitality and good company these past few days.

Taking our lectionary readings for this Sunday, I decided to draw mostly from the passage in Matthew 10:40-42. However, to properly understand this short passage and glean lessons for our time and context, we have to first of all take it within its wider context. The whole chapter of Matthew 10 consists of Jesus’ instructions for the twelve disciples who were being sent to drive out evil spirits and heal the people of every disease and sickness. Jesus’ words were to prepare them for what to expect when they went on their mission. Their mission was clearly not to go among the Gentiles or Samaritans, but only to the lost sheep of Israel (vvs. 5-6). This note of exclusivity reflects how Jesus understood his calling early in his ministry as being sent only to the Jews. But after Jesus’ death and resurrection (Mt 28:19, Mk 16:15, Acts 1:8) his commissioning statement was for the disciples to proclaim the message to all nations, the whole world, to the ends of the earth.

In this early commissioning statement, Jesus was preparing the disciples for the reality that the lost sheep of Israel would not be quite welcoming – not of prophets, not of disciples, not of righteous people. But he was also assuring the disciples that because he was with them – how they were going to be treated was how he himself would be treated; and that was also how the One who sent him (i.e. God) would then be treated. Pretty straightforward, isn’t it?

But who were the “lost sheep” of Israel then to whom the disciples were sent? How did they become the lost sheep or lost ones of Israel? We need to answer these questions before we can apply this passage to our context today.

To be lost means simply to lose the way; to lose direction. And in Jesus’ time, many people were lost – for they did not have much hope in life when they were pronounced unclean or impure (as when they were sick) or possessed by evil spirits (as when they had some mental or psychological problems). Many were lost because they were proclaimed unfaithful when they could not follow the letter of the law, including the specific rules and regulations of observing the Sabbath, or keeping themselves pure and holy. Many were lost – because they were not recognized and treated as equal human beings due to their gender, occupation, or health condition. Many were also lost because they were too enslaved to the letters of the law (i.e. of their religion), and also to the false and wrongful teachings by those who claimed to know the law.

The reading in Romans 6 (vss. 12-23) then is a reminder to those who believe in Jesus that they are no longer enslaved to the law – but to righteousness, and therefore, only to God. Being enslaved to God however means finding the way – the way to eternal life, the way to grace which comes from God.

I have titled this reflection, “Beyond Welcoming One Another,” because I know that many times, when we read this passage from Matthew 10, we immediately think of how welcoming we are or not as a church – and often times that boils down to improving the ways we welcome one another when we gather together on Sundays or on some special occasions. But I wish to stretch our minds further – beyond merely welcoming one another…

The first point I want to make is this: the call to be welcoming is given to followers of Christ Jesus who have already been welcomed by God with the lavishness of God’s grace. As the reading from Romans 6:12-23 says, God has given us the free gift of eternal life, therefore, we need no longer live under the law but under the grace of God. In the Latin sense of the word “hospitality”, there is very little difference between being a host and being a guest. We become more welcoming because we have already experienced what it is to be welcomed first of all by God. Likewise, we become more forgiving because we have already experienced what it is to be forgiven first of all by God.

What does it mean to be welcoming in our context and time?

To be welcoming means to reach out to people – not only to wait for people to come to our church. The sending out of the disciples is precisely so they can reach out to the lost ones. Now we do not have to think immediately of organizing evangelistic teams to go around Hong Kong in order to find the lost ones (although that might be one way). But right where we are living and working, we can already try to be welcoming as we reach out to people around us who are hurting and in despair; who have been discriminated against; or who have lost their hope. There are many of them even in a developed and affluent place like Hong Kong.

I wonder if you have seen the movie, “The Horsemen” – which while using a phrase from the book of Revelation is really about some bright and dynamic young people who feel so neglected, hurt and even abused by the very people who are supposed to love and accept them for who they are – i.e. their own parents, siblings, teachers. In order to hurt these people back they commit very gory suicides or kill someone they love. In a society where people work so hard, or where people feel they have to cope with their own problems instead of sharing them with others, people can end up not having enough time for others – not even their own family members. In this world of hi-tech communication, which is supposed to connect us more with one another, there is a lot of communication breakdown. Families cannot enjoy quality time together anymore – because there are now the ipad, the iphone, and the computer to which many of our family members tend to be glued. Still, many people feel not accepted or are even discriminated against, both in their homes and in the wider community, because of a different sexual orientation – i.e. the gays and lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people – or because of a different color, political or ideological persuasion. We have to recover the welcoming spirit within our families and to take this same spirit to our work places and to the wider community.

While my first point has to do with welcoming one another, my next point is a challenge for us all to go beyond welcoming one another.

My second point is this: the call to be welcoming involves an act of discernment on how we can be truly welcoming. In Genesis 22:1-14, we read how Abraham wanted to offer the best sacrifice he could ever give to God when he felt called to offer his beloved son Isaac. Sometimes I wonder if our perception, practice or tradition of being hospitable may actually not be the best way of hospitality. I vividly remember very real stories of sincere hospitality by my own people in the very remote parts of my country. Usually, when there are guests or visitors to these remote places, the hosts would offer the best food to their guests and visitors – they would kill a chicken, catch some fish, open their best canned food, and make special dishes for the guests. But their own children would have to wait until the guests have had their fill. One time, some guests felt so guilty because they overheard the little children say to each other from behind the curtain: “Oh look, they are already turning over the fish.”

We have to be very discerning in our ways of hospitality – for while we may be welcoming of others, we may be neglecting our own little ones. There is another story from which we can also draw some lessons about discerning how to be truly hospitable.

You probably know of the fable, “The Arab and His Camel” [1915 book of fables by Horace Scudder]. The story goes that one cold night, as an Arab sat in his tent, his camel thrust the flap of the tent aside, and looked in.

"Please, master, let me put my head inside the tent, for it is very cold," the camel said. "By all means, and welcome," said the Arab. So the camel stretched its head into the tent.

"May I also warm my neck?" the camel said. "Put your neck inside," said the Arab. Soon the camel, who had been turning its head from side to side, said again: "It will take only a little more room if I put my forelegs inside the tent." "You may also put your forelegs inside," said the Arab, moving a little to make room, for the tent was very small.

Then the camel said finally: "May I stand completely inside? I keep the tent open by having half of my body outside the tent." "Yes, yes," said the Arab. "I will have pity on you as well as on myself. Come wholly inside." So the camel came forward and crowded into the tent. But the tent was too small for both. "I think there is not enough room for both of us," the camel said. “It will be best for you to stand outside, as you are smaller; then there will be room enough for me." With that the camel pushed the Arab a little, who made haste to get outside the tent.

How to be truly welcoming needs a lot of discernment especially today, for hospitality can also be abused. The host can even become hostage to the guest’s permanent dependency, even victim mentality.

There is a Swahili (Kenya) proverb that goes: A guest for two days; on the third, give him a hoe. What this means is that a guest should not exceed the hospitality of the host by helping with the work in the home and the farm. We have a similar understanding in the Philippines because I remember that whenever we had a guest who would try to help in the house, my mother would immediately say, “No, you are a guest. You can help only after you have slept in our home.” Being a guest is temporary and being a guest requires also a sense of grateful responsibility.

We ourselves are guests in this world that God created. Indeed, we are guests, temporary sojourners or passersby, who have been so lavishly provided with the gifts of food, fresh air, clean water, land which are all needed to sustain our lives. But we need to realize that we have exceeded, even exhausted, the hospitality of God and the hospitality of creation. In a way we are like the camel that has completely entered the tent, kicking out the real owner/creator of the whole universe, misusing, overusing and abusing creation. How can we undo the harm that humankind has done throughout the generations? And how can we now pick the hoe and take responsibility in caring for God’s creation? This is our big challenge today.

Being guests and hosts are two sides of our responsibility as co-stewards with God, entrusted with all of God’s creation. Like the yin-yang principle, the two are not opposed to each other, but rather they complement one another. Welcoming one another is a very important dimension of our calling – and we do need to reach out to the lost ones among us. But we also need to think and go beyond just welcoming one another. For the household of God is not just our small community of faith – it is the whole universe – in which we must remember that we are guests but also called to be hosts.

Gracious God, you have been a very lavish host – giving us all the needed provisions so we can live fully in your world. Entrusting your creation to us, you have also called us to be your co-hosts. Forgive us for failing to live up to what you expected of us. Help us to remember our being guests as well as hosts – so we will not only work towards welcoming one another in this community, but also welcoming of every member and part of your household, the whole universe. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Tuesday, June 28, 2011

 

From Brokenness To Wholeness

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 19 June 2011 by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8 and 2 Corinthians 13:11-13.


Opening Prayer
Dear God of Trinity, we gather in your name.
God, the Creator, we give you thanks for your wonderful creation and for your generosity to share it with us.
God, the redeemer, we thank you for your loving presence in our midst, sharing your words and deeds with us.
God the sustainer, we thank for your wisdom in nurturin our lives. In the unity of the triune God, we ask for your guidance. Lead us to know you more and to love you more dearly.
Oh Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of my spirit be acceptable and pleasing to You. Amen.

Introduction
Have you ever heard of a story that really struck you? I have a few in my life and I would like to share one with you today.
A lady, let’s call her Grace, was a single child in her family. When she was about forty years old, her 65 years old father told her that he had had a daughter with another woman in an extra-marital relationship. Grace’s father wished to find this lost daughter. With the request from her father, she took action to help his father by approaching the Red Cross.

Amazingly, Grace and the Red Cross were successful in finding his father’s daughter. Let’s call this other daughter of Grace’s father, Susan. When Grace and Susan met, the first thing they agreed to do was to go for a DNA test. When Grace was asked by Susan if she wanted to do the test as well, Grace stopped and thought a bit. Eventually she agreed to do so.

But then another amazing thing happened. When the DNA test was reported, it proved that Susan was the biological daughter of Grace’s father while Grace was not! You can imagine how astonishing it was to Grace! Grace cried a little bit of course after hearing this shocking news.

But after a while, she felt very thankful. She was grateful to her parents who, were not her biological parents and did not have any blood relation to her, had treated her like their own child. She realized how blessed she had been by the Holy One who had taken care of her, even though her biological parents gave her up and did not nurture her. There were still some people right there to take care of her. Moreover, she was able to grow up in a home with parents loving and caring for her.

While Grace was contented and live with thanksgiving and inner peace, Susan, the biological daughter of Grace’s father, did not respond so positively. The reconnection with her biological father did not bring her much joy. She found her life so broken and shattered. She is unhappy with what she had gone through in life.

Why do they have this difference? What make them different?

Today is both Father’s Day, and (according to the Christian Church liturgical tradition) Trinity Sunday.

On Trinity Sunday, the Christian Church ponders with joy and thanksgiving what the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have done to accomplish the salvation of sinful humanity. It is celebrated in remembrance how Christians should respond to the love God has shown us, praising Him and giving Him glory. We remember the Father as our Creator, the Son as our Savior and the Holy Spirit as our Comforter.

The story of Grace and Susan leads me to think of our connection with our God the Father who is regarded as the Creator who created all things on earth. The concept “Father” is used as an image of God, the Creator. In Genesis 1 to 2, God’s creation has been regarded as good. So logically, we being part of God’s creation means that we are good too!

In Psalm 8, the psalmist affirms the status of human beings and how God loves and cares for humanity. “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortal that you care for them?”

The Psalmist affirms the sovereignty of God and praised the Lord: “How majestic is Your name in all the earth!”

God the Father, the Creator of the universe, has a tender and loving character. God the Father is not one to control, certainly not like the authoritative and violent father found in many homes. God the Father is caring and does not try to control others and dominate.

Therefore, all human beings have no reason to look down upon themselves or each other. No one has the right to despise us. No one has the right to take away our dignity. No one has the right to take away our God-given love and joy. As human beings we are worthy of God’s love and respect because we are all God’s good creation and His beloved children.

The mystery of God in trinity inspires us to lead full lives. God created the world and gave us lives that are precious. Jesus has redeemed us to a new and an abundant life, the Holy Spirit has strengthened us with hope.

We live in a world that is full of chaos and brokenness. Many people from war zones are seeking asylum elsewhere. Millions of workers working hard in their home countries or overseas are still suffering from poverty. Thousands and thousands of women, children and elderly people are suffering from domestic violence. The list of brokenness could be endless…

How about ourselves, friends? Our lives could be shattered in one way or another. Our hearts may have been broken for different reasons. How do we deal with our brokenness? How can we be healed by God of Trinity? How can we lead a life of hope, joy and peace as promised by Jesus and blessed by the Holy Spirit?

If we focus on the darkness of the world and brokenness of lives, we have no hope. But if we are able to engage our life in God of unity and in His wholeness, we are able to face our broken lives and our broken world.

We will have a different life if we accept and embrace all brokenness and, then move on and give thanks to God and people who have loved us and nurtured us in good times and bad times.

As human beings, it is very true that when our lives are so shattered and broken, it is difficult for us to praise and to be thankful. But from the experience of Grace, a life of thanksgiving, we see that even under such circumstances one can rejoice. Although she does not claim to be a Christian, I see the spirit of Christ in her. She is humble enough to connect with the Holy Other, the mother earth. She was grateful and greatly appreciated her father’s unconditional love to her although she was not his biological daughter. She recognizes how blessed she was by the Creator.

One thing that is fundamental for us to understand and remember is: We are holy and good in the eyes of God. We need to have a strong faith so that we can be healed by the love of God if we open up ourselves to the Lord. In the triune God, three but One, has affirmed one important truth: we are able to restore our wholeness by acknowledging our brokenness and our sense of separation. This is a great healing process. By the grace of God, we take the courage to take these broken pieces back to our inner being and embrace them to be part of us. With a thankful hearts and forgiving spirit, we may be able to discover how this brokenness has strengthened us. Have you ever thought of brokenness as being part of the wholeness? Jesus Christ, in his broken body, made the world join together as one and made reconciliation possible.

Trinity Sunday is to celebrate God of unity. In this unity, God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are equal and closely connected. God of Trinity indicated God’s essence of being in relationship. Therefore, keeping a close relationship with other people especially our loved ones and with ourselves is vital. Very often, brokenness and bitterness in life come from our self rejection and separation with other people. We need to embrace ourselves and fully accept as who we are. As community of Christ, let us hold on to one another. Let us remain connected with God and encourage each other to live a life of wholeness, with forgiveness and thankful hearts.

To live a life from brokenness to wholeness, I would like to share with you the final greetings and benediction given by Apostle Paul to the Church of Corinthians, taken from 2 Corinthians 13:11-13.

“Dear friends, put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.”

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you. Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Thursday, June 16, 2011

 

Connectedness

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 5 June 2011 by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35; 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11 and John 17:1-11.


I would like to begin my sermon today with a story that I heard recently. This was in fact an episode from the popular science-fiction series called the Twilight Zone. A man, let’s call him David, was alone in his room and was worried about money. Then there was a knock on the door, and a strange man in a suit, rather like a salesman, made him a very strange proposition. The “salesman” presented David with a box and said that he would leave the box with David for a week. If he does not do anything, then after a week, the salesman will come back and take the box away and nothing would happen. But if David wants to make some money, all he has to do is to open the box and press the button inside the box. Then the salesman will immediately come back to take the box away and at the same time give David one million dollars! This was too good to be true and David asked: what’s the catch? What would happen if I press the button? The salesman said, well, if you press the button, someone in another city will die as a result of your action. But don’t worry, this person is not related to you in anyway, he would be a total stranger to you. After that, the salesman left. David struggled for the whole week. He didn’t want to cause someone’s death, but he is tempted by the money. After all, he needs the money, and it’s a complete stranger, not related to him in anyway, and of course the whole thing could be a joke, he doesn’t think pressing a button would really kill anybody from another city. So after a long week, on the last day, he couldn’t resist the temptation and he opened the box and pressed the button. Immediately, there was a knock on the door, and the salesman presented a case full of money and asked for the box back. David was very surprised but also very happy with the money. But he asked: did someone really die after I pressed the button? The salesman answered firmly: yes. David asked: so what are you going to do with the box now? The salesman looked at David with a strange grin, and then said: I am going to another city, and find someone unrelated to you, a total stranger to you, and make the same proposition to him!

What do you think of the story? Does it help you to realize that everything we do may have serious consequences for people from other parts of the world, and vice versa? Thus there are no total strangers, for we are all inter-connected by our actions and their effects on one another. Taiwan’s plastic can be our carcinogenic noodles, Japan’s nuclear power plant can be our radioactive rainfall, and our air conditioners can be the world’s global warming.

Today is June 5, it is the World Environment Day. It is a day designated by the U.N. General Assembly to deepen public awareness of the need to preserve and enhance the environment. In the Christian community, the Hong Kong Christian Council has designated today as Environment Sunday and call for Church’s concern on environment issues and Church’s role in this important aspect. Our church has thus designated this Sunday Worship as Environment Sunday. The environment matters to Church for the earth is God’s creation.

We are connected in One World
From Genesis, God inspires us to understand the origin of this universe. We know that God created the world and regards everything he created as good. God has created the natural environment, the animals on land and in the sea. God also created human beings in his holy image and they are called to be God’s stewards to take care of the earth. We human beings are thus only a part of God’s creation and we have no rights to dominate over other organisms, nor over nature. We don’t have the rights to pollute the air, the water and the land. It is also absolutely wrong to mistreat animals.

Not only do we have no rights to control the world and all kinds of organism for our own personal desires, the world created by God is holistic. Everything in the world is interconnected. After the earthquake, the tsunami and the subsequent nuclear crisis in Japan, when I went to supermarket with a boy of 13 years old, he was very conscious not to buy any food products from Japan for he feared that the radiation problem will cause health problem. From the case of Japan, we will then realize that we are living in a world in which everything and every human being are so interconnected. All people and organisms, as well as the environment are interconnected and interdependent. We are like a body, a symbol of Christ’s body, in which all our activities will affect one another.
In John 17:1-11, it was emphasized the close relationship and connectedness between Jesus Christ and his Father, the Creator of this universe.

Jesus Christ, helped the world in general and his disciples in particular to be connected to God. Jesus was sent by God to the world to reveal God’s glory.
God had sent Jesus Christ, his only Son to the world so that we may know God and be united and connected once again with them.
Jesus loved his Father and the Father loved him. In this great love and connectedness with God, Jesus will do whatever necessary for the benefit of the disciples who were God’s chosen ones.

Jesus’ connectedness with God and in God, is an important spiritual insight to help us to realize the significance of the inter-connected of human beings and the world.
When we realize and feel we are connected to the world, we will then generate more love to look after and to take care of our environment.

When we love the environment, we don’t want to see her sick and in pain. If we know that people in the world are all our sisters and brothers created in the holy image of God and loved by Christ, we may stop taking advantage of the poor and the vulnerable.

The connectedness is grounded in the loving relationship with God. The promise of Jesus Christ who has prayed for us and left us in God's hand has given us hope. Jesus prayed for us to keep us and protect us from the world’s temptations. The communion with God through Christ and be part of the Body, is a key to live a green life and to cultivate churches which are agents of building a sustainable world for the benefit of all both in our time and for our future generations.
Gabi, a church member, has been concerned with environmental issues. She has great passion in preserving Mother Earth and has taken concrete actions in her daily life. I would like to invite her to share with us now.

Conclusion
- When are connected with God in love, we will love the environment which is God’s creation.
- In love, we work together with faith and unity. We will support each other.
- Our suffering Christ who had died on the cross and endured the pains, has given us, as individuals and church community the courage to stand against the world values of greed and selfishness. Christ helps us to stand firm for our Christian values of charity, compassion, humility, simplicity, justice and peace.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Monday, June 13, 2011

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