Reflections...

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

Love God and our neighbor in context

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 23 October 2011 by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Leviticus 19:1–2; 15–18 and Matthew 22:34–40.


Open prayer:

Dear God, out of love, you have given your people the commandment to follow. May your spirit of love dwell in us and open our hearts to receive your Word.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you. Amen.

The greatest commandment declared by God to the people of Israel and reiterated by Jesus Christ to his disciples has been familiar to many of us.

How do we live a faith with this commandment in our context? This is a question I have been thinking about when I prepared the message today.

The film ‘Three Idiots’ I watched recently with Tong inspired me. This is a very good film. I am not going to say too much of the film as some of you may not have watched it but may be planning to do so.

In the film ‘Three idiots’, the main character has shared a key value in life – that is to live with our passion, to do something we love and accept who we are. Everyone should listen to her heart and live with it accordingly.

In reality, we are living in an extremely competitive world. In order to excel and succeed, many people have become more and more tended to live according to the expectations of others and the so called social standard. The world has commonly defined success as– obtain good education by going to famous universities and then find a good job and then become wealthy and assume high social status.

Because of this norm, many young people since their earliest age have got lost. Many children are forced to study and to study something they don’t like. Some of them eventually enter into a career that they do not like. I have come across students in Hong Kong telling me that they don’t like the programme offered by the University. But they went ahead to do it because they consider going to a university and get a degree is a must. Many people think a university degree guarantees a job.

People do well and excel only if they really have the passion in that particular area.



This is one of the challenges the film ‘Three idiots’ wanted to bring up.

God created each of us as very unique according to his image. Each one of us is called according to the purpose of God. God created us in different ways and we are asked to do different things according to our inner passion.

To love God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind meant we live with our whole being and being true to ourselves.

Steve Jobs in his speech to the graduates of Stanford University shared that, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinion drown out your own inner voice. Most important of all is the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.” To me as Christian, our heart and intuition are something from God.

Steve Jobs did not go to university but he was successful. He had a difficult life. He was an adopted child. His biological mother was an unwed graduate student when he was born. He had struggled with his career and deadly cancer for years. But after-all, he was a man of invention. He brought fundamental changes to the world and to many people’s life. He was not God, but he was an extraordinary man. I admire him for his persistence and perseverance to follow his heart with deep commitment to achieve it.

How about us sisters and brothers, do we listen to our heart? Our heart, our soul and our mind are all from God. The call from God to love him is to go back to this source. To love God is to honor his unique and precious creation in us. When we are able to accept our own real self and live according to our inner voice and passion, we are connected to God. We are in full communion with God.

To love God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind meant also to understand God’s will for our lives and obey it. When we obey God’s will with faith and sincerity, we will then be transformed by God to an entire being which would reflect the image of God and God’s glory.

The main character of the Three Idiot is passionate of what he wants to do and confident of who he is. He does his best to achieve it without following the silly rules which create unnecessary competition amongst students. He has no fear of being different and rejected to do things which are against human dignity. He does not only excel himself, he has a loving kind heart to care for his friends. He helps them to recover their own passion and accept themselves as who they are without fear. This fear comes from fear of loss, the rejection by the family, disappointment of others, worries of not able to achieve.

This young gentleman has demonstrated his love to his neighbor by giving himself to other humans to live as God designed life to be lived, so that he helps them in their own transformation.

The biblical background for the gospel reading from Matthew was, the religious leaders had tried to test Jesus and wanted to find excuses to get rid of him. In today’s gospel account taken from Matthew, a lawyer came to Jesus and asked him about the Jewish law on God’s commandment. Jesus knew well the motives and the hypocrisy of the religious leaders. He did not only clearly point out the commandment of God, but also reiterated that these two commandments hang all the laws and the prophets.

The religious leaders in Jesus’ time had been side tracked by many other rules and traditions. Their faith practice had deviated from the essence of the laws of love. They became legalistic.

The love for power and position instead of God and His people, had turned the religious leaders’ heart, from a heart of human flesh to a heart of stone.

The first and the greatest commandment in the law: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind’. The second one is ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

Sisters and brothers, may we all examine and reflect once again today, what are the rules and norms of the world that deter us to live a life of passion and compassion for ourselves and others.

Let us now spend a time of silence to meditate on God’s commandment and the message we heard.

Closing prayer: God we give you thanks for a unique life and calling to each one of us. Help us God to live a life and truly be ourselves as you have created us. May we embrace our whole being to love you and others with a passion and compassion. Enlighten us by the power of the Holy Spirit to love and to serve. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Monday, October 24, 2011

 

Grace in the Face of Grumbling

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 16 October 2011 by the Rev. Bud Carolle. The scripture reading that day was Matthew 20:1-16.


There is one word common to our recent Lectionary readings from Exodus and today’s reading from Matthew – complaining. Complaining. The Israelites complained to Moses about everything imaginable. The food, the wilderness, Moses and Aaron’s leadership; their list was longer than a dragon’s tail. In today’s story from Matthew, the farm workers who were hired first complained to the landowner about their wages. The ones who worked all day understandably believed, “first come, first more.” When they learned everyone got the same pay – regardless of hours worked, they cried out, “It’s not fair.” They seemed to believe length of loyalty and labor deserved more.

Let me ask you – “Where does Scripture ever say that to follow God is a matter of fairness?” When/where does God ever say, “Love and follow me and everything will be fair?” Never. Rather, throughout the Scriptures, God’s only promise is “I will not leave you.” Today’s Gospel lesson says it pretty clearly: “Stop looking for a fair God. Be thankful for the one you have.”

That brings us to the matter of “grace in the face of grumbling.” Or we could say, ”No reserved seating in God’s boat.” Do you know where you are sitting this morning? You’re in the nave – the Latin word for boat. You’re sitting in God’s boat. And only God can determine who will sit in God’s boat! Length and loyalty of service to the church; how much – or how little financial support we provide; how many committees we serve on; how frequently we join church activities, etc. Important? Of course! But they don’t equal the meaning of God’s grace. Remember the story of the man who died and wanted to enter Heaven. St. Peter told him, “Sorry, first tell me about your life on earth. You’ll need 100 points to enter Heaven.”

‘Well, I taught S.S. and sang in the choir.” “Great, ten points.” A little frustrated, the man continued, “I never cheated on my wife…”Great,” said St. Peter. “Ten points.” Now a bit angered, the man continued, “I led a Boy Scout troupe, served as church financial secretary and never stole a penny.” “OK,” replied St. Peter, “I’ll give you ten points for that.” Hmmm. Now, with only twenty points, the man shouted out, “Well, I guess the only way to get into Heaven is through God’s grace!” “Bingo”, said St. Peter. Welcome!”

Whatever ever else, today’s Gospel passage says to each of us, it says, “Quit your complaining, you cannot book reserved seats to enter God’s kingdom.” Now, stay with me as together we look a little closer at this thing about grace and grumbling.

Firstly: A grumbling or complaining spirit has little value or usefulness. A man joined a monastery where monks could only speak two words a year; and those to the abbot – the head monk. When the men had their annual evaluation/review. Normally they would be expected to say something like “Jesus loves” or “Praise God.” At the end of his first year the man’s two words were, “Hard bed.” The second year, “Bad Food.” Third year, “I quit.” Whereupon the head monk said, “I’m not surprised. You’ve done nothing but complain ever since you came here.”

Some people complain before their day begins. They only seem happy when they’re unhappy. Frequently such people want special treatment; special favors; reserved seats in God’s love. Sorry! God’s love is open to all; the quick and the slow; the saint and the sinner; the early and the late; the oppressed and the oppressor, the mean and the sweet.

Secondly: God’s generosity invites our gratitude. Of course we get angry with God! And when our loved ones or we hurt, we ask special favors. We ask for physical healing when we probably should be asking for spiritual and physical strength to face both the hurts and happiness of life. We ask for work when we should probably be looking for work. We ask for help and forgiveness when we may be deliberately dishonest and deceitful. We’re upset when someone who has lived a sordid, sorry, sinful life seems to receive special treatment from God.

Well, one thing is for sure, God’s love shines upon the just and the unjust; and the ready and the unready. We can ask all day and night, “Lord why her and not me?” or “Lord, it just doesn’t seem fair.” But ours is not to ask “why?” or “Why not?” rather to be grateful. - to affirm and celebrate God’s faithfulness to us.

One Sunday a little girl was asked to pray in Sunday School. She really didn’t know what to say, but then she remembered her family’s mealtime prayer. So she prayed, “God is great, God is good; let us thank God for our food.” Appropriate? What better or more appropriate prayer could she have prayed? God is great; God is good; God is ever so generous and gracious. So let us thank God for food. The food of understanding and gratitude; the food of forgiveness and hope; the nourishment of God’s love. Freely available for all – both early arrivals and latecomers.

When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, they ordered two precious ancient Buddhist statues to be destroyed - for Centuries seen and admired by traders along the Silk Road from and to the Middle East and China. They were symbols of Buddhist belief that everyone can achieve spiritual enlightenment and strength. Christianly also has its symbol - not majestic, rather – a rough-hewn cross standing on a hill – in full view of scornful soldiers, mocking crowds and devoted disciples – the cross of Christ. We sang today, “In the Cross of Christ I Glory.” Written by John Bowring, the third Governor of HK. Some think he wrote this after seeing the façade of St. Paul’s cathedral in Macao. Actually, he wrote it before coming to Hong Kong. Never mind, the important thing is that cross stills sends its powerful message – “towering o’er the wrecks of time…” that everyone, the good and the bad, the rich and the poor, the just and the unjust, the corrupt and the clean – we are all welcomed into God’s everlasting grace.

We can complain from sun up to sun down, but there are no reserved seats in God’s kingdom. But if you really want to enjoy God’s generosity and grace- there are still plenty of good seats! Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Tuesday, October 04, 2011

 

Joy and Peace

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 9 October 2011 by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Psalm 121 and Philippians 4:4–7.


Opening prayer:
Dear God, May the Holy Spirit bless us to understand Your Word. Lead us God to experience your joy and peace through Christ. May Your Word of love empowers us to live a life with courage and hope. Amen.

Good morning. I am glad to see so many friends from the Wai Ji Christian Service. Every year, clients from different social service centers, their parents, volunteers and colleagues visited KUC, join hearts and minds together to worship God and share the loving time of fellowship. It is indeed a great moment. It is also a wonderful time for us to give thanks to God for what he has been done.

Wai Ji was set up by KUC in 1977 and became independent after several years. Wai Ji Sunday held in KUC every year is significant. The presence of service users reminds us of the church of her mission to serve the needy and the vulnerable in the community. The Church has to have a clear vision and mission to serve those who are weak and rejected by the society.

I am always impressed by the hymn presentations by the clients and bible reading. Although they have their limitations, learning something new is not as easy and quick, they do try their best. I see God’s wonder in their vulnerability.

From the smile and innocence of the mentally challenged people, I see how God’s love and grace dwell in them. In the eyes of God, everyone is unique and precious as human beings are created in his own holy image.

Wai Ji Christian Service has been developed steadily in the past thirty years. Beginning as a very small NGO, she has expanded her staff to 400 over thirty years.

We would not be surprised to see many clients served by Wai Ji and workers working in the agency have gone through ups and downs. But their presence every year in KUC demonstrates one important fact: by the grace of God, they made it!

They still gather together in the House of God to give thanks and praise to God, and to share the loving friendship with and in Christ.

There is a good news and a bad news in life. The bad news is we all encounter difficulty and problems. No one, no matter how strong you are, will be exempted from trials. The good news however is that there is a God who created the whole universe, is always there listening to us and helping us with his love and grace.

The psalmist shared with us a hopeful message from 121. Our help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. With a strong faith in God, the gracious Creator who will take care of us and protect us whenever we are in need, we will then take a bold step to seek help from him. We will also take a bold step to move on in life no matter how difficult it is.

Very often, we find it difficult to look up to God for help because of our pride and self-centerness. The clients of Wai Ji who have full trust in their family and care takers have inspired us an important lesson – to have trust to those who love and take care of us, and to seek help from them with a humble spirit and a thankful heart.

I love to see the smile of the clients. They are very innocent and pure. Jesus said, ‘bless are the pure in heart, for they will see God.’

In today’s scripture reading, apostle Paul delivered a message of joy and hope to the early church believers. He said,

“Rejoice in the Lord always; … don’t worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

A humble spirit and a thankful heart is the key for joy and peace. We seek help and acknowledge our limitations. We need help from God and others. We are not God and living in an isolated island.

I strongly believe that the physically and mentally challenged clients and their families have gone through many difficult times. But many of them do not give up and keep on with their lives. We have so much to learn from them.

Now I would like to invite Ms Wong Ms Wong, a family member of a Wai Ji client who received baptism a few months ago, shares her testimony with us.

Testimony by Ms Wong Yuen Wah: She is the sister of a service user in Tin King Center. He brother was baptized July last year. In the eyes of many people, mentally challenged people do not have good understanding of God. But in her experience and her observation of her brother, she finds that God’s steadfast love falls unto everyone regardless of their intelligence. In God, everyone is precious. Ms Wong feels very strongly God’s impartial love and great mercies to all his/her children.

After the testimony:
Thank you Ms Wong for her testimony. From what she shared, we are ensured how the love and grace of God bring joy and peace to his/her beloved children.

May the joy and peace of God dwell in them and continue to bless them to live a life in full happiness. May God bless you all.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Tuesday, October 04, 2011

 

Tell Me About Maria!

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 2 October 2011 by the Rev. John LeMond. The scripture readings that day were Isaiah 5:1-7; Philippians 3:4b-14 amd Matthew 21:33-46.


Have you ever heard someone tell about the sin of another person?
We all have.
But have you ever enjoyed hearing about the sin of another person?
Most people do enjoy hearing
That someone…someone else
Has been caught doing something wrong
It gives us something to talk about.
And it makes us feel a bit superior to those involved in the sin.
“Did you hear about Mr. “Smith?”
“He was caught taking money from his employer.”
“He had been doing it for several years without being caught.”
And we shake our heads and click our tongues…
And ask for more information.
“Did you hear about Maria?”
“It’s so sad.”
“What…what about Maria?!”
“Oh, nothing…I probably shouldn’t say anything.”
“No, it’s okay. I won’t tell anyone else. What did she do?”
“Well, she had an affair with her neighbor…”
“Oh, no!”
“Yes, every day when her children were at school.”
“Oh NO!”
We shake our head, and click our tongue.
We do enjoy hearing about the sin of others…
We even wanted to know about Maria when I just mentioned her…
Even though we knew she didn’t exist!
“How could he do that?”
“How could she do that?”
We like to gossip
But there are other times
When the sin of others calls forth far deeper feelings
For instance, when the sin of the person
Is against us
Then our feeling toward that person is not so gentle.
“Did you hear about Mr. Smith?”
“No, what?”
“He has been stealing money from you.”
“What?!”
Then there is no head shaking or tongue clicking.
There is only anger and a desire to seek revenge.
“Have you heard about Maria, your wife?”
“No, what?”
“She has been having an affair with your next door neighbor.”
“What?”
“Yes, every day when the children are in school.”
“WHAT?!”

There are places in the world where this would result in the death of Maria…
And the death of the next door neighbor.
No head shaking or tongue clicking.
Just swift and final violence.
Jesus tells the story of a vineyard owner who rents out his vineyard to others
It’s an interesting story of injustice and sin
When the owner asks for his share of the harvest
The renters kill his slaves
So finally, he sends his son to them,
Expecting them to respect him.
But they kill the son as well.
The listeners pay attention to every word of Jesus
Because they know exactly what should happen, legally.
They know the law.
They know that the land owner deserves part of the harvest,
And the renters must in law provide it to him.
They know that if someone kills your slave,
That the person will suffer greatly
And a great deal of money must be paid.
But to kill a son.
That was the worst that could possibly happen.
Jesus builds the story step by step.
And at the death of a son: the listeners are extremely angry.
Oh, how could these terrible people do such a thing?!
And so Jesus asks them: “When the owner comes, what should he do to those renters?”
What he is really asking them is, “What would you do to such people?”
And the answer comes immediately,
“Kill them.”
“Not only kill them, but do it in a way in which they suffer.”
“Because they have not only sinned against our law…”
“They have sinned against God…”
“Kill them!”
There is great anger and great self-assurance among the listeners.
And then Jesus tells them what they didn’t expect to hear.
You are the unrighteous renters.
You are not the one sinned against…
You are the sinner.
And you are right.
What you deserve death.
And it is death that God will give you.
Your inheritance in the kingdom of God will be taken away from you.
And given to strangers!
Now everything has changed.
This is not what they expected to hear.
This is not what they wanted to hear.
They thought they would hear about the sin of others
But it was their own sin that Jesus revealed.
“Have you heard about Mr. Smith?”
“No, what?”
“He just discovered that you have been stealing money from him?”
“Have you heard about Maria?”
“No, what?”
“She knows that you are having an affair with your next door neighbor.”
Everything changes.
We thought we wanted to hear about sin.
But now we’ve changed our mind.
We are caught…and everyone knows about our sin.
It is we who are the object of the story.
How did this happen to us?
The Apostle Paul asked the same question.
He was ready to pass judgment on Mr. Smith
And on Maria
Because he knew that he was truly righteous according to the law.
He knew that if anyone could judge the sin of others, it was he.
Circumcised on the 8th day.
A child of the Hebrew people.
A member of the tribe of Benjamin
A Pharisee.
Completely blameless
So…tell me the story of Mr. Smith
Tell me the story of Maria
Tell me the story of the renters of the vineyard
I am ready to shake my head, and click my tongue

I am ready to pass judgment on them
Even a judgment of death.
Cruel death if they deserve it.
Now, tell me the story…
I’m listening.
And then Jesus says to him:
“You are that one.”
And you surely deserve to die.
It was this realization that struck Paul like a lightening bolt on the road to Damascus.
“It is you Saul.”
“The person you seek to persecute for their sins is you.”
And Paul fell to the ground, and could not speak or see or eat.
In medical terms, we might say that he had a traumatic experience.
That he experienced a kind of hysterical blindness
A psychological reaction to something that his brain could not make sense of.
But in theological terms we would say
What he experienced was the truth.
And it was so overwhelming that it changed his life.
Not only the truth about his own sinfulness.
Not only the truth that he deserved death.
But the truth that, amazingly
Inexplicably…
He was forgiven by God
Not only forgiven but loved.
Not only loved and forgiven, but chosen by God
And this is a message that he spent the rest of his life proclaiming.
______________________
Did you hear about Mr. Smith?
He deserved judgment, but he was forgiven.
Did you hear about Maria?
She deserved punishment, but she was forgiven.
Did you hear about Paul.
He deserved death, but he was forgiven.
Did you hear about you?
Jesus Christ embraces you in your sin
And calls you to a new life.
There is no shaking of heads or clicking of tongues…
There is only silence
Because the story ends where we never expected it to end:
It is we who have been condemned
Yet we who have been saved.
It is we who have been judged
Yet we who have been loved.
We who deserve death,
Yet we who are offered life.
Have you heard about Maria?
Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Tuesday, October 04, 2011

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