A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 31 July 2011 by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture reading that day was Matthew 14:13-21.
God of Universe, out of love You created everything good. Out of love you sent Jesus Christ to restore life of wholeness and unity. You are God of Miracle, in You nothing is impossible. Lord, bless this time, bless your people who are here to hear Your message, bless your servant to preach Your Word according to Your will. In your holy and loving name we pray. Amen.
Together we care with compassion for others
The story of Jesus feeding five thousand people by five loaves and two fish is familiar to many of you.
As Pearl has shared right at the beginning of the worship, in today’s service, we have picked a theme of ecumenical worship. How does this story of five loaves and two fish relate to ecumenism?
First of all, I would like to go into the context of the story.
From the text that Maggie read this morning, we learnt that Jesus intended to go for a lonely place by himself. Why did he want to retreat to a lonely place (deserted place)? From the text of Matthew 14:8-12, right before the readings we heard this morning, there was a sad story being told. Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist was killed by the Ruler Herold. We can imagine, as a human being Jesus must be very upset. That he wished to leave himself alone to grief was absolutely natural and understandable. Unfortunately the crowd did not let Jesus alone. When they heard that Jesus had gone to the lonely place by boat, the crowd left their town and went to find Jesus by land. When Jesus saw the large crowd, his heart was filled with pity for them, and he healed their sickness. Even though Jesus had his own immediate needs and a strong desire to be alone after hearing the sad news about John, his compassion for others had given him strength to carry his mission to care for others and cured their sickness. Jesus did his best to empty himself and take others’ need before his own need.
The miracle of feeding more than five thousand people began with a compassionate heart in Jesus.
I remembered a real story which is very touching. This is about a young couple. The husband was very enthusiastic to help the poor children living in remote rural areas in China. On and off, he would take clothes, books and learning materials of different kinds to the children in the village. One winter, he was killed in a traffic accident on the way to deliver the materials to the children. His wife was pregnant at the time, she held her tears and transformed her grief into loving action. She continued her husband’s mission by visiting the children on behalf of her dead husband. It was a touching moment when the children received the materials in the loving presence of this woman.
In understand ecumenism, we emphasis very much on the spirit of unity and being together. Togetherness is never abstract, it is a practice of faith in life, to live a life with compassion to care for others.
Together we share with a strong will and a deep sense of responsibility to others
By now I would like to invite you to focus on another scene revealed in the story. When it was the evening, the disciples told Jesus to let the crowd go to the village to buy food by themselves before it was too late. While the disciples found it natural and necessary for the crowd to take care of their own needs, Jesus thought and did otherwise. Jesus said that they did not have to leave and asked the disciples to give them food to eat. Even though the disciples told him that they did not have enough to share with such a large crowd, Jesus insisted. He took the risk to give and he took up such an impossible mission to feed five thousand people by five loaves and two fish. The action of Jesus had revealed his radical commitment to those he cared about. Jesus had demonstrated an extra-ordinary generosity to share with others, and a deep sense of responsibility to others whom he had compassion for. Although Jesus had only little on his hands, his strong sense of responsibility to give compelled him to perform the miracle to feed over 5000 people once and for all. The strong will to give/share with others is powerful. A deep sense of responsibility generates great energy of change and transformation.
I have experienced the power of strong will and deep responsibility to others in my life. It was one of the things that I am proud of myself and thankful to God for what He has done through me.
With a few friends who shared the same vision and mission to care for and serve victims of sexual violence, each one of us took HK$1,000 out of our own pocket, to set up a women organization and the hotline service to serve victims of sexual violence in 1997. After three years of hotline service and advocacy in the community, we were able to receive a total of HK$6 million from the HK Jockey Club Charities to start the first rape crisis center in HK, as a pioneer project. The name of the rape crisis center is Rainlily. This personal experience has manifested the miracle of five loaves and two fish in our context. When a few people, in our case just four women, with such a strong conviction to serve the victims of sexual violence, and together with our willingness to give no matter how small it seemed to be right at the beginning, it has created great impact to the community and to others especially the women victims who are very much in need of this crisis service.
Miracle happens when we practice the ecumenical spirit of togetherness by giving with a strong will and a deep sense of responsibility to others.
Together we are one in God
May be there are friends who find it difficult to believe that giving with strong will can move a mountain. I agreed that miracle and success cannot be fulfilled by strong human will alone. Let’s look at the gospel account of Jesus’ breaking of bread to feed the large crowd of five thousand. When Jesus got the bread and fish from his disciples, the first thing he did was to look up to heaven and gave thanks to God. He then broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples and the disciples gave the bread to the people.
The miracle was fulfilled by entrusting in God, and by recognizing everything was coming from God. We believe that, God the creator of heaven and earth will fulfill his purpose of giving life of wholeness and a world of love and peace. Therefore, God will care for and provide everything that people need. We are able to give because God has given us in the first place.
The recognition that the world is God’s household leads us to live a life of faith, praise, and humility. The spirit of humility and reverence to God guides us to embrace people who are different from us. God loves everyone regardless of their sex, sexual orientations, race, religion, social class, and so on. From the life and ministry of Jesus, we have witnessed how Jesus accepted people even the sinners who were rejected by the wider community. They were prostitutes, tax collectors, people suffering from deadly skin diseases, divorced women and so on. Therefore we have no rights to discriminate against anyone such as new immigrant, sexual minorities, sex workers, offenders who have been jailed, HIV carriers and/or friends of different abilities. In addition, we have no right to exploit Nature for our own desires and greed.
The brutal killing in Norway by a killer described as a rightwing Christian fundamentalist who has been rejecting new immigrants who bring with them their own religions and cultures. He accused these new immigrants that they had destroyed the superior European culture and tradition. His anger and hatred has been projected on his own people. The incidence rings an alarm bell of the terror of exclusion and division that could bring in its extreme.
In our worship, we celebrate God’s unity and wholeness in her creation and redemption through Jesus Christ. Today Pearl leads an ecumenical liturgy. The word ‘ecumenism’ derived from the Greek word ‘oikos’, which means household. Ecumenism means the household of God or the whole inhabited world. In the House of God, there is love and forgiveness, justice and peace, respect and equality. People are all equal and deserve basic human rights and dignity.
KUC has identified ourselves as an ecumenical church and has been part of the ecumenical network. We are called by God to live an ecumenical faith. We celebrate diversity and embrace unity. The liturgy and the words of God from the scripture today remind us that the journey of unity is possible. The miracle of five loaves and two fish performed by Jesus has strengthened us to continue this journey of togetherness. Together we care with compassion for others, together we give with a strong will, together we share a deep sense of responsibility to others, together we embrace each other as ONE in God. Amen.
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 17 July 2011 by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Genesis 28:10-19a and Roman 8:12-25.
God of heaven and earth, you are the creator of all things and you bless all things. May your word create in us a new heart to live and to love with hope.
May the word of my month and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
Today, one of the lectionary readings we have heard was taken from the Book of Genesis 28:10-19a. This is a story about Jacob who had to flee from home to Haran seeking refuge from her uncle Laban, his mother Rebekah’s brother. (Gen 27:41) Jacob encountered God in a dream during his journey at Bethel. This is a familiar biblical account of Jacob’s dream on a ladder to reach the heaven.
To give you a bit more the background about this story: Jacob had a twin elder brother called Esau. Jacob’s parents were Rebekah and Isaac. The mother Rebekah loved Jacob while the father Isaac loved Esau. (Gen 25:19-27) One day when Esau was extremely hungry and tired after a day of work in the field, Jacob took advantage from Esau to take his birthright and in return he gave to him a red bin soup to eat. Esau did accordingly because he was so desperate for the food at that moment. The second time Jacob took advantage of Esau was by the help of his mother Rebekah, he cheated and received the blessing from his father Isaac. Both the birthright and the blessing from the father were given to the first born in the ancient Israelite community. Jacob took them from Esau by using trickery in a way. Esau was extremely angry with Jacob and he wanted to kill him. Rebekah advised Jacob to run to her brother’s place to stay away from the threat of Esau.
On his way to Haran, his uncle Laban’s place, Jacob had a sacred encounter with God in a dream. In the biblical world, God used to give message to his people through dreams. In the dream, God promised to give Jacob the land on which he lied. Jacob was also blessed to have multiple offsprings and many families on earth shall be blessed through him and his offsprings. That meant he and his offspring became source of blessings to many people of all nations. God also promised Jacob that He would be with him and never left him alone. The Lord would bring him back to this land, a land that was promised to him.
When Jacob woke up, Jacob was inspired/enlightened by this dream. Jacob fled from his home to seek refuge because his brother Esau threatened to kill him. In times of trial and struggles for survival and looking for a safe place to settle, God promised to bless Jacob. God was the source of blessing to Jacob.
Although Jacob was not a good guy, strictly speaking, God promised to give him land and offsprings. God promised to keep him and never abandon him. When Jacob was aware of God's gracious promise and blessing in the dream, he was enlightened and acknowledged the presence of God.
Jacob said this after the he woke up from the dream : “Surely the Lord is in this place --- and I did not know it!” He also realized that the place with God’s presence was a sacred place. “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” He then named the place Bethel, which meant the ‘House of God’.
The House of God is a place to aware the divine presence of the Lord. The House of God is a place where God promises to give his blessing to his chosen ones. The House of God is a place to acknowledge that the source of blessing is from God.
We can imagine that Jacob was alone, distressed and uncertain of his future on his way to his Uncle. The House of God where Jacob encountered the divine God, is also a place to serve as a source of blessing to others who are distressed, lonely, and uncertain of their future. God provides and blesses them with love and hope.
The House of God assures that all God’s people be blessed no matter who you are and what you have done before.
Let me share with you the House of God at KUC and this place is a blessed place to others in her marriage ministry.
The church has been a blessing to many wedding couples especially to those with special situations and life experience. A man who had divorced became a Christian later. His life has been transformed after his conversion and became Christ’s follower. In his darkest time in life, he did not only encounter with God but also he met a lady who has given him a lot of support and encouragement. When they decided to get married, this man wished to marry in a church because he wanted to witness the love of God openly, to make a solemn vow before God, and receive blessing from God. From the internet he was able to find over 50 churches he could approach. Unfortunately, he was rejected straight away on the phone by many churches. There were occasions that he was rejected at the church office when he went there direct to submit the application. Many churches rejected his application for church wedding because he was a divorcee. Even his home church did not accept him to marry in their denomination church. He was very upset, disappointed and frustrated. When this man found Kowloon Union Church, he was relieved for his application was accepted.
In the interview I had with this man and his fiancées, he was touched because he felt he was accepted. He realized how God loved him and prepared for him a church for his wedding. On his wedding day, he cried at the end of the ceremony when he shared the words of thanksgiving to the guests. Being rejected by many churches for his application for church wedding, he was deeply sadden and frustrated at the beginning. But God never left him alone. At the end of the day, God prepared him this place at KUC, a beautiful church that he was able to have their sweet and memorable wedding. He shared that their church wedding at KUC revealed God’s great blessing to him. He felt the deep love of God in him and his wife. The tears he shed at his wedding was a sign of joy and rejoice to the love and grace that God dwelled in them.
We all have our history. We may have committed mistakes and did something unwise that hurt others, ourselves and God. Like Jacob, he was not an honest guy and tried in many ways to take advantage from others that hurt his brother and parents. In spite of what Jacob did, God blessed him. God promised to give him land to settle and abundant offsprings. God promised Jacob to give him a bright future with as many offsprings as the dust of the earth. God even blessed and called Jacob and his families a blessing to many families of the earth.
In the House of God, we are blessed regardless of who we are and what we have done before. God will bless those who are in distress and lost. Of course, everyone has to take responsibility for what he or she has done. God would never add salt to those who are wounded. The nature of God is love. God is the source of blessing to all people.
In our congregation, many friends come to and stay in Hong Kong for different reasons. Some of us are local. Jacob named the place he encountered with God in a dream ‘Bethel’. Bethel meant ‘the House of God’. If we move beyond the ‘House of God’ from church to Hong Kong, how do we encounter with God and receive God’s blessings in this place?
There are friends coming to HK seeking asylum. Many of them shared with me that they find Hong Kong a safe place to live. They enjoyed the peace that they did not have in their home countries. Many friends work in Hong Kong as domestic helpers, doing business, and professional missionaries. In spite of many hardship and difficulties, have you seen any blessing from God that were revealed in your life in HK? I trust that God manifests his blessing to each one of us in a unique way, like Jacob. We may need to take time to discover and acknowledge in a humble way.
God is the source of blessing to everyone in His House. When He blesses us, he too call us to be a source of blessing to others. When we are able to encounter our sacred Lord and acknowledge his presence, we will make a difference in our life.
To some friends, their lives are still difficult and they are still suffering. May the word of Apostle Paul give light and hope to them. “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed.” (Roman 8:18)…”For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen is not hope. … But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Roman 8:24-25) We entrust that the Lord of Abraham, the Lord of Isaac and the Lord of Jacob, who is the God of history, source of blessings to all people from the earth will keep and guide us no matter what. May Jesus Christ, the son of God and the Holy Spirit the gracious gift from God will lead us forward with a transform life. Amen.