Meditations, Reflections, Bible Studies, and Sermons from Kowloon Union Church
Social Concern and Spirituality
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 26 February 2012 by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Psalm 25:1-12 and Mark 1:9-15.
God, in your name we gather today to worship you and to hear your Word. May you lead and bless your servant to proclaim your word with power and faith in you. May your word inspire us and transform us through the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Lenten season has started
Have you noticed that the pulpit fall and the board at the church entrance have been changed to another liturgical color — purple? The liturgical purple indicates we have entered to another church season — Lent.
Lent comes after Epiphany in the church liturgical year.
- Lent is a time for repentance and conversion. “Conversion” literally means "turning around," that is, reorienting of our lives towards God. Lent is a time to face the darkness within and expose it to the light. It is a special season that calls for greater openness to the word of God and a conversion in every area of our lives.
- Conversion is not only for individuals but also for the community. The idea is that we collectively undergo a process of looking inward and reflecting on our life and faith in Christ, re-examine our commitment to advance the Kingdom of God, as well as our readiness to follow Jesus in his journey towards the cross.
Lent lasts for forty weekdays. It starts on Ash Wednesday, and continues up to the Saturday before the celebration of Easter Sunday. The Holy week, and especially Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, are the climax of Lent, as we then commemorate the suffering of Jesus and share the darkest night with Christ’s death on the cross. No Sundays are counted in the Lenten period, Jesus Christ having risen on a Sunday.
Why forty days? It corresponds to the forty-day temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, and also to the forty-year journey of Israel from slavery to a new community.
The Hong Kong Christian Council has designated this Sunday ‘Social Concern Sunday’.
Why is the first Sunday of Lent designated as Social Concern Sunday?
Lent is a time to confront our sins and expel them. Sins are not only referring to individual moral sins. Sins include our alienation from all kinds of relationships: our separation from God, from others (our family members and our friends) and also our separation from our own true self. The alienation of relationships could be generated by greed for power, personal desire and tolerance of unjust systems that cause the relatively powerless to suffer. These individual and structural sins have enslaved ourselves and other people in the world.
Time of contemplation and reflection spent with God, as Jesus had, will enable us to understand more of God’s deep love and compassion for the world. The meditation to Jesus Christ’s life, his death and resurrection can help us to gain greater empathy with Christ, and allow us to be more receptive to the needs of our neighbour.
Before Jesus began his public history, he spent forty days in the wilderness. From Jesus’ path to his ministry, we see clearly that essential to upholding God’s mission is designating a period of time — a time to spend with God, to turn to God and to ensure that our focus is always in God.
Social Concern, a concern for the needy in society, a mission to advance the kingdom of justice and peace is grounded in God. Serving the Kingdom of God, is a spiritual journey that requires us to focus our life in Christ and with Christ always.
KUC as a mission church
KUC has identified herself as a mission church to engage in different social ministries and express her concern and voice against injustice and oppression.
We are, however, not a “non government organization” in the usual sense. We are not an activist group. We are not trade union. Indeed, we should never be reduced to a human organization. We are God’s church; our mission is to engage in God’s mission to advance His Kingdom.
While the church is working on various programs, and sisters and brothers have been engaged in various social justice issues, we should never lose sight of nurturing our spirituality which is grounded in God through Christ.
I am a minister of action, I am a doer. However, as a Christian, I do find it extremely important to every day pursue the inner spiritual nurturing part of faith development. In the midst of busyness, this is of prime importance to keep our spirituality in God. The season of Lent is a great time to remind us of this importance.
The spiritual nurturing is important in our course of actions for social concern. It is because we encounter temptations from Satan everyday, just like Jesus, who was tempted too.
If we act and work without grounding ourselves in God, we will easily get lost and eventually we may be reduced to achieving our own desires and goals but not God’s.
The temptations of power encountered by activists, organizations and even churches advocating for social justice and concern, sometimes may lead them to becoming self-righteous. Without constant reflection of our relationship with God and our calling from Jesus Christ, we will easily be tempted to sin. Some people may regard themselves as God to save the world. By then, they are not servant of God anymore, but evil beings struggling for their interest, power and status. What is worse, they do these in the name of God and God’s kingdom.
The power struggles and internal conflicts in many human services organizations, NGOs advocating for human rights and even churches have revealed the sinful nature of human beings. This kind of struggle and internal tension within human service organizations and community groups are familiar to me. I have sadly witnessed how the human sins (weakness) such as fear, pride, arrogance, greed for power and personal interests turned a good course of work to a nightmare.
That is the whole point why we human beings need to repent and turn to God. God is good as S/He knows our limitations. God always gives us chance to return. The season of Lent is a bell to ring for this awakening.
Christians’ social concern cannot be sustained and fulfilled without God’s backup. Without constant and reflection on the word and the will of God, without identifying Jesus’ suffering, sacrifice and death in our course of action, we are not able to carry the essence of social concern that Jesus Christ has called us to do.
Therefore, nurturing our spirituality in Christ is the key to social concern and to sustain our life of service to God.
Lent has been a church tradition for intensive spiritual disciplines by prayers, fasting and almsgiving. The churches with the liturgical tradition – the Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran churches – have great emphasize on this practice. It is a good church tradition that we should uphold in here at KUC.
I would like to share with you that we are to encourage our sisters and brothers to practice the spiritual disciplines during the special season of Lent in KUC.
Lent is associated with Christian disciplines of self-examination, study, fasting, prayer and works of love. Some suggestions:
- Daily devotion to read the word of God, the bible; the ONE Daily Devotion booklet has prepared for you; it contains useful material. Of course you may choose your own materials that serve you.
- Spend more time in prayer and deep meditation. I would encourage you to participate in our Friday Lenten Prayer gathering held at 7:00 pm, it takes forty-five minutes.
- Fasting: a voluntary abstaining from some of our physical desire so that we can concentrate more on the spiritual matters and redirect our life to God. You may take different approaches that suit your situation. For example, you may intake less meat or no meat during this period in remembering.
- Pray for the animals and the environment. The outrageous bear farm industry is one example; we may pray for the immediate cessation of this cruel treatment of the bears.
- You may skip one meal a week. In your hunger, pray and remember the poor and those who are in need of love and care. Fasting is a means to help us to better know God and God’s will, and our communion with Christ. We will try the collective fasting on Friday evening by sharing a simple meal of just having bread, fruit and water together after the prayer gathering. For those who are beginners of fasting discipline, I encourage you to join us on Friday.
- Almsgiving: we encourage our congregation to make a special donation to those in need. You might take that money out of your savings. Or perhaps donate at least part of the $6000 citizens received from the Hong Kong government You may also do this by giving the money you have saved by skipping a meal or consuming less on unnecessary items such as snacks or soft drink. We will collect the offering on Easter Sunday. The donation will be given to the Mission, Outreach and Ecumenism Committee to support projects both local and overseas.
Living in a city like Hong Kong, which is extremely fast moving, busy and has a high level of consumption, the season of Lent is a great time to be reminded to slow down and deliberately spend more time to focus our life in and with God by reading God’s word, prayers and meditation, and fasting.
But it is also a big challenge for many of us. It is difficult if we do it as individuals. If we do it collectively in a community and with support to one another, we will have greater chance of success. We would suggest that you all to fill in your pledge and return to us. Our ministerial team will then pray for you.
Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near. Repent, and believe in the good news.”
Dear sisters and brothers, the good news is proclaimed today by Jesus Christ for you. How are you going to respond to his invitation? What are the areas in your life that require change and transformation? Let us take concrete action right now.
God, we thank you for the Word given to us. May we all journey through this year’s Lenten season with a deeper understanding of God, and a closer relationship with Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Give us strength, God, to render us Christian disciples, that we may renounce evil, be transformed and be decisive in following the footsteps of Jesus Christ to bring the good news to the world for your glory. In the name of Christ we pray, amen.
"Living In The Valley"
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 19 February 2012 by the Rev. Ewing W. [Bud] Carroll, Jr. The scriptures reading that day was Mark 9:2-9.
Have you ever been up to Kowloon Peak? How about the Peak on Hong Kong Island? Up on the Peak tram and down on one of those double-decker busses – sort of like a roller coaster. I first came to HK 46 years this week. At the time my family lived in Kowloon City. Whenever we had opportunity, we would get someone to drive us up to Kowloon Peak. There was basically nothing up there. But what a magnificent view! You looked down on the old Kai Tak airport; next to it jet fighter planes of the Royal Air Force; the lights of Kowloon and on some good nights, you could see all the way across to the Peak on HK Island.
An incredible feeling. Like, “I think I’ll just stay up here.” I suspect that’s what Peter must have been feeling. Along with James and John, the three had followed Jesus up to Mt. Hermon . Five times higher than our own Peak, about 3,00 meters; surely an amazing view. But I doubt it was the view that so moved Peter. No. It was the experience; seeing Jesus in dazzling white – like bright headlights blinding you. The three also had a vision of Moses and Elijah. Peter was so excited he suggested to Jesus, “Rabbi, let’s just stay up here. We’ll erect three tents in honor of Moses, Elijah and you. OK?”
I suspect each one of us has had at least one “mountain top” experience. Those kinds of events when we say, ”Wow. Nothing could be better than this.” If only life could be like this every day, every place, every time. And maybe we weren’t even atop a mountain. But then, just as with Peter, James & John, comes a voice, “Listen to my son!’ Come down from the mountaintop into the world of reality.
Mark is telling us this was the voice of God speaking to Peter, James and John. But put aside the description of the dazzling clothes, and bright lights. They’re not the center of the Gospel story. What is? That Jesus – the Babe of Bethlehem; the young man who astonished the temple priests with his wisdom and maturity – was transformed. Changed from life in a carpenter’s shop to both servant and savior of the world. Jesus was preparing his Disciples for the inevitable – the entry into Jerusalem; an unjust trial before Pilate and Jewish religious leaders; a fool-hardy crowd that within a few days changed from shouting, “Hosanna in the highest” to “Crucify him;” onward to a Last Supper with his Disciples; Judas Iscariot’s betrayal and then the final pain and agony of death on a cross – as a common criminal.
So what do we make of this story, Jesus’ transfiguration- or transformation? As we come to Ash Wednesday -the beginning of Lent – and the days leading up to Easter, God is both calling and challenging us to come down from our own mountain tops, as wonderful as they may be, to join Christ, living in the valley. The same voice that spoke to Peter, James and John, is calling to us-“Listen to him, my son”. Do as he says – and more importantly, as he does.” Don’t waste your time debating how Jesus was transformed; rather, what his transformation means for you and me. Our challenge and opportunity is to leave behind our experiences of safety and comfort and ourselves transformed, walk with Christ. I don’t know what kinds of valleys you live in, but let me share two that seem to reflect the meaning of this Gospel passage.
Firstly, the valley of fear. 5-year old Lucy’s Mom asked her to go down to their basement storage room and bring back a can of tomato soup. “But I’m afraid of the dark,” Lucy cried. Trying to comfort her, her Mother said, “It’s OK sweetheart. Jesus will be there with you.” So down she went. But just as she reached the basement door, Lucy had a bright idea. So she yelled into the dark, “Jesus, if you are in there, would you please hand me that can of tomato soup.”
Not all of us are as clever as little Lucy! We are often imprisoned by a wide range of fears. Instant TV news coverage is telling us that people of many nations around the world, are living in great fear. When Nikita Khrushchev was Premier of the Soviet Union he conducted several meetings to condemn and censure many of the cruel things Joseph Stalin had done. One day in such a meeting, someone in the audience shouted out, ”Why didn’t you stop Stalin?” Khrushchev replied, “Who said that?” Not a single person moved. Not a sound from anyone. Then Khrushchev said, “Now you know why.” Fear. Fear.
It’s so easy from the comfort of these church walls – from our own safe and secure mountaintops, to sing:
“O Young and fearless prophet of ancient Galilee,
your life is still a summons to serve humanity;
O young and fearless Prophet, we need your presence here,
Amid our pride and glory to see your face appear;
Once more to hear your challenge above our noisy day,
gain to lead us forward, along God’s holy way.
That’s talking the talk. Not walking the walk! Living in the valley is never so easy, convenient or comfortable. As we begin the Season of Lent, I pray it will be a time of ridding ourselves of whatever fears control our lives. Remember Jesus’ words to Zacchaeus – the corrupt tax collector sitting in a sycamore tree – “Come down now…” Christ is calling us today to let go of our fears and doubts; our anxieties and frustrations; our self-centeredness and doubts; our privileges and comforts – and follow him in living in the valley.
There’s a second valley – the valley of determination or perseverance. Could Jesus have avoided his cruel and painful crucifixion? Not and still be Jesus. Remember, on his last night, while at prayer and even from the cross, his words, “Not my will, but thy will be done.” Like us, Jesus experienced and enjoyed mountaintop experiences. But he also knew his purpose on earth was to be obedient to God’s will.
You may have heard about a man who learned there was a white gorilla in a zoo near his hometown. He eagerly visited the zoo and was so amazed to see such a special animal. He persuaded the zookeeper to let him sit in the cage with the white gorilla. “OK,” the keeper said, “but don’t touch him.” Shortly after, the man was so tempted that he actually touched the white gorilla. Suddenly the gorilla began to chase him. Fearing for his life, the man ran out of the cage; out of the zoo and hailed a taxi and hurried home. But as he reached his front door, there was the white gorilla. The man screamed for help, certain the gorilla would kill him. Suddenly, the gorilla smiled at him, touched his arm and said, “Tag. You’re it.”
Let’s be clear – I’m not comparing Jesus to a white gorilla! Rather, to remind us that God never gives up on us. Through Christ, God continues to run and to run – to hound us; to chase us; to call to us; to plead with us – “come, and follow me.” God in Christ, has gone beyond the second mile; to do all possible, even giving God’s son to death on a cross, to “‘touch” us. Yes, in a sense to say to us, “Tag. You’re it. Now it’s your turn.” To remind us that a life of faith is lived in the valley, not on the mountaintop.
Someone has penned these words, “The greatness of a person is determined not by what it takes to keep them going, but what it takes to stop them.” Can we see this? The greatness of Jesus was/is his determination; his perseverance. It is no surprise that the author of Hebrews could write, “Therefore we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
Scripture reminds us that when the day came for Jesus to be taken up, “He set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Today we are faced with at least two different types of valleys – two different directions to follow: One, the valley of fear; the other, the valley of determination. Which will it be for you?
Choice and Cost
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 12 February 2012 by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were 2 Kings 5:1-14 and Mark 1:40-45.
God of compassion, may your words enlighten us and transform us. May the Holy Spirit strengthen us to lead a more faithful life to love you and to serve your world. Amen.
We make various kinds of choices every day. Should I have come to church, or stay home and sleep this morning? Which clothes should I wear today? What kind of food to take for breakfast? Then, there are the more far-reaching questions. For parents, they may have to think which school should they choose for their children? Young adults who have just finished school have to select career. For those who are ready to get marry, they have to think whom to choose as a spouse? The list is endless. There are choices in life that are relatively easy to make. And then there are those choices which are really difficult. There are choices in life that will involve great burdens once we make then.
Indeed, every single choice entails cost and consequences we have to bear.
In today’s lectionary readings taken from 2 Kings and the gospel according to Mark, we have heard about two healing stories. I would like to focus on the story recorded in Mark, though the same healing story of a leper has been recorded in Matthew 8:1-4 and Luke 5:12-16. According to the gospel account, a man who suffered from leprosy asked Jesus to heal him. Moved by pity, Jesus took a concrete action to heal the man. He said to the man who asked him to heal, “I do choose”. The story did not end there; it went on to tell us more about the man who was healed. He did not listen to Jesus about keeping the whole thing low profile. Instead he went out and made a big commotion. Jesus had warned him. What the man did was against the will of Jesus. He just wanted to heal and help the man but not to make himself well known. The result was that Jesus had to stay out in the country and could not serve publicly in the country.
Quite often, even though we try to do something good to others, there may arise some negative consequences that we may have to bear. A good intention of helping others can turn out to be a trouble to the helper. A compassionate heart to serve others can turn out to be nightmare to the people with commitment and righteousness. I remember a friend told me when she was a teenager, she took a child who was begging on the street home and gave him food to eat. But this young beggar in return stole many of her family possessions. She was very frustrated.
Recently I watched the ‘The Lady’. This is a film about the life of Aung San Suu Kyi, focusing on her personal struggles in the relationships with her husband and children in the course of fighting for freedom and democracy in Myanmar.
Ms Suu Kyi is a mother of two boys. She loves them of course. But she does not only love her own children and family. She loves also her people in Myanmar. When she witnessed the brutal repression of the young people fighting for democracy by the junta during her trip back home in the late 80s, her heart was filled with compassion to her people. Perhaps her family background made her who she is as well. She is the daughter of General Aung San, the father of Burma who led the country to independence, Suu Kyi has a strong calling to serve her country and her people. When she was asked by her people, the National League for Democracy to lead the democratic movement, she accepted the mission with courage.
Aung San Suu Kyi has paid a great cost for her commitment to fight for a free and democratic Burma by non-violent means. As a mother and wife, Ms Aung San found it very hard not to be able to see her own children and husband for over ten years.
When Michael Aris, Aung San Suu Kyi’s husband was very sick and about to die, Ms Suu Kyi was told by the military officer that she could leave Burma and to go back to UK to see her husband. But she knew very well that she would not be allowed to come back to Burma once she left. She therefore stayed on. As a result she was unable to see her husband before he passed away.
Aung San Suu Kyi has made her choice for her country and her people. She has made a huge sacrifice. She was under house arrest and lost her freedom for nearly twenty years. When we look at it from the point of view of her family, not only did Suu Kyi pay the cost, her family, both her two children and her husband paid the high price too. They were deprived of the presence of Suu Kyi, a dear wife and a dear mother.
Out of sympathy and her love to the country, Suu Kyi has chosen to stand with her people, to fight for freedom and democracy in Burma. While she has paid an immerse cost for her choice, she has contributed to bringing new life and new hope for her country. Her release last year and the recent release of thousands of political prisoners are all positive sign of the country’s development.
Besides, I feel strongly that her love her her husband and her sons never dies. Love binds people together even though they are physically separate. In the film, when she mourned the death of her husband, it was a painful moment. I felt deeply for their sorrow. But when I go deeper to think of their relationship and their love for each other, I find the sacred love dwelling in them fully. Their hearts were so closely connected in the midst of human made separation. When they are truly in love, nothing can separate them apart. Their love for one another and their love to the people of Burma transformed their relationship, and their human love has been transmuted into love divine.
For an ordinary person, it is difficult to take any choice that is against our interest and require us to bear a cost that may take away our freedom and even take away our lives. It is only those who have strong compassion and faith will go ahead to risk themselves by making a choice that may go against their own interest. Jesus was definitely this kind of person.
Aung San Suu Kyi is a devout Buddhist with, yet in her I find the spirit of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was put death on the cross. Jesus did not choose to die. He chose to love. He chose to live a life with love and peace, and to adopt a non-violent approach in the midst of violent attacks against him. He did however, pay for his choice of love and peace. Suu Kyi has manifested God’s strong compassion and justice to the people in our time.
Similar to our suffering Christ on the cross, Aung San Suu Kyi, who looks very soft and vulnerable in her sacrifice by choice, has carried an immense power to transform the world and lives of many, in Burma and many different parts of the world.
Out of love, Jesus paid a great cost to care for all humanity and to save the world. Does the self-giving love of Christ ever touch your heart? As Christ’s disciples, would you choose the way that Jesus had taken and have the courage to bear the cost?
Every day we are making different kinds of choices. Every choice entails a cost and a consequence. I pray and hope that you are able to make a wise choice, a choice that allow you to be connected to God, a God of compassion who always makes her choice with mercy.
I would like to invite you to meditate on Jesus’ healing on the leper. “Jesus was moved by pity; he chose to heal the leper and bring back to him a life of wholeness.”
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