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.