Reflections...

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

“Live as children of God having come of age” (Galatians 4, 1-7)

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 30 December 2012 by the Rev. Hans Lutz. The scripture readings that day were Isaiah 63, 7–16, Galatians 4, 1–7 and John 15, 12–17.


Five days ago we have celebrated Christmas. We have heard anew the message of God’s grace as he sent Jesus Christ into this world for us. In the epistle to the Galatians Paul speaks about the fruit of Christmas. The verses 4 and 5 are the core of his message.
When the appointed time came
God sent his Son,
born of a woman,
born a subject of the Law,
to redeem the subjects of the Law
and to enable us to be adopted as sons and daughters.

In order to explain the change brought about by Christ’s birth, Paul talks about what has been before:
An heir, if he has actually inherited everything, is no different from a slave, for as long as he remains a child, he is under the control if guardians and administrators until he reaches the age fixed by his father.
Before Christ’s coming the lives of the Jewish people were regulated by the Old Testament law. Until today every step in the daily life of Orthodox Jews is regulated by all kinds of prescriptions. But being subject to “elemental principles of the world” is not confined to the Jewish people. People in other cultures are similarly confined by rules.
One example is the experience of the Basel Mission in Sabah, in East Malaysia. The local people, the Bumiputra, were prohibited from plowing, because the earth belonged to the ancestors. When they began to face limitations in their way of planting, they turned to the missionaries. They realized that they needed a profound change, including a change of their beliefs. They achieved liberation through the faith in Jesus Christ. We who have experienced the liberation brought about by Jesus Christ do not know what it means to be hemmed in by all kinds of rules.

The coming of Jesus Christ brought about profound change. He came to share our humanity. Paul emphasizes the point by saying “Jesus was born of a woman”. He does not mention Mary as this would set the birth of Jesus apart from other births. He emphasizes that Jesus was born no different from other human beings.
Jesus was subject to the Law as any other Jew. He submitted to it, was judged by the Law and crucified.

Through Jesus Christ we were liberated from the rules and restrictions of the Law. Before his coming humanity was like a train running on given tracks without the possibility to turn left or right. After Christ the field of action was wide open.
In the 1960s the theological debate in the West argued that the process of secularization was the fruit of the gospel, that man and woman had come of age to make his/her own decision before God. Personally I think that the process is much more complicated, but there is one point the debate has made clear, namely that liberation and freedom is given to us in Christ.

Through Christ we are adopted sons and daughters of God. What Jesus Christ has brought about is described in another epistle of Paul; “Remember the grace of our Lord Jesus was: He was rich, but he became poor for our sake, to make you rich out of his poverty.” (2 Cor. 8, 9) Jesus, as the son of God, was condemned under the law for us, so that we may become sons and daughters out of his condemnation.
This adoption is pure grace. It is God who decides to adopt us. We remain passive in the process. We receive the fruit of God’s grace: forgiveness, justice, the glory of the resurrection and eternal life.
The adoption is God’s sovereign act. Scholars usually think that the concept of adoption is taken from the Roman law.  But I think that there is another source. In the Old Testament God promised to David that he would be a father to the kings after him and the king would be like a son to him. In Christ God’s promise is extended to all of us. Through Jesus we are endowed with royal dignity.

The proof or our adoption as sons and daughters of God is the Holy Spirit that cries “Abba, Father!” It is Jesus who taught us to pray to the heavenly father. In the book of Isaiah there are a few passages where God is called father. These are the harbingers of a new relationship between God and man. Jesus himself was in constant intimate dialogue with the heavenly father.
A Muslim who used to show up here in KUC gave me a book written by a Pakistani woman who converted to Christianity. She describes her journey under the title “I dared to call Him father.” For a Muslim it is a step of great boldness to call God father.
One of my worker friends grew up without a father. It is moving to hear him call God “father” as it implies so much for him. By addressing God as our father we express our closeness to God and the relationship of trust and love which is given to us. 

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, December 30, 2012

 

Impossible Possible


A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 23 December 2012 by Roy Njuabe. The scripture readings that day were Isaiah 62:1–5, I Corinthians 12:1–11 and John 2:1–11.


Introduction:                                         
Pregnancy often comes with lots of joy, love, but sometime pains. A pregnant woman can be happy but sometime emotionally unstable. She often touches her tummy and feels how the baby moves; she will be looking so closely of the changes on her body. Sometimes she will take the baby dress and measure them on her tummy to see if it will fit the baby. My wife did that as well. It was fun time at home as she would sing some beautiful sound without meanings -- yeh yeh yeh, hey hey hey, baby baby baby etc. All these are signs of joy that is in a pregnant woman.
The unborn child can feel the love, they react when you are happy and also when you are sad. Doctors said the unborn children also have emotions, they get angry or happy. They react to voices and emotions. When my wife was pregnant, oh I miss those days. Each time before I went out, or came back home, or went to bed, I would speak to then my unborn child, Peniel and Mizpah. Sometime when I spoke, the baby reacted with a move, it was so lovely. The unborn children can feel your love toward them.

The encounter between Mary and Elizabeth expresses great love between an old woman and a young lady, love between an unborn child and her mother, love between an unborn child with another lady. Where there is love, the Spirit of God is present.

Have you ever met with someone you truly love or some faithful servant of God? You feel a different atmosphere; you can feel how humble and meek that person is.

In the gospel of Luke, we just read, it is clear the Holy Spirit was present. Elizabeth was in 6 month pregnancy at an old age. Her pregnancy was like a surprise to her. However for Mary, her pregnancy was scary since she was still single, what would people say of her? Oh that bad girl, who slept with her husband before married. I guess if Mary was in our world today, she will not just bother about such worries.

Elizabeth may have gone through all kinds of insult as well. People may have call her all kinds of names: you barren woman, you are a witch that`s why you couldn`t have a child, or better put it in modern term -- “bad luck”.

For how long did Elizabeth wait for this glorious day to come? Her entire life!
How long can you wait for God to manifest His glory in your life? Some of us may give up after few days of waiting, and then we will exclaim; “I can`t wait because God doesn`t hear my prayer”.

What do we wait for?
In our lives, we all may have something we are waiting for, sometime things that we need so badly. However, we as Elizabeth may be thinking it is far from being possible. How can it happen?

We may have given up hope that anything good will happen, that the impossible can become possible. Elizabeth had such feelings. She was at her menopause age, according to natural law. At such age, it is impossible to have a child, the womb cannot support pregnancy; nothing good can come out of that womb.

God comes in when human give up.
However, our good God often comes in such scenarios. He often comes in to proof people wrong when they thought he is absent in their lives. What you think is impossible to man, it is possible with God

We may be puzzle of the miracle that happens in Elizabeth’s life. However, it is not a miracle to God, to God it is something normal. As children of God such miracle can happen in your life.

I may not be able to tell you when it will happen because I am not Mayans who predicted that the world will end soon, but what I am sure is that God will do something new in your life someday.

How can something good come out of Bethlehem?
God often used what people had rejected to transform the world around them.
In the book of Micah it said, from a small town of Bethlehem, this very quotation was echo in the gospel of Matthew by the chief priests when King Herod needed an answer of where Christ was born. How can something good come out of Bethlehem a small town, may be with very poor people, bad climate, etc.   

How can Jesus, the son of an Almighty God, the Alpha and the Omega be born in a small poor country? He was supposed to be born at the king`s palace, not in a small town.

Can something good come out of a poor country today?
In today`s world, such classification do exist. We judge people based on which country they come from. If you are from a small country and you want people to see your works, you have to do three times better than those from big countries.
In my entire life, it is when I left my country that I know that I am a black man. Before people were judge by the colour of their skin, but today because of so many inter-cultural marriages, colour is not so much of a problem but which country they come from. It is when I left my country before I knew that to be a black person from Africa is a problem. When people knows that you are from Africa they started treating you differently knowing that nothing good can come out of you?  

Martin Luther said, “do not judge a person by the colour of his skin but by the content of his heart”. Today I will add another phrase to it, “Do not judge a person by the country he comes from but by the content of his heart.”

Africa, that poor continent with war all the time, together with the problems of famine and slavery, how can something good come out of it? If we hear that Jesus was coming from Africa, I guess many people may wonder why from Africa? Why not from America or Europe?

Bethlehem, why Bethlehem, a small town in Judea where Jesus was born? People at that time had similar question, they believed that such a great king could not be born in a small town.

Peace-making program:
Sometimes in our peace-making program, we often encounter people who thought that Africa is still in the time of Tarzan, where people live in the forest with animal as their parents. That Africans still eat and live with animals like tiger and lions together in the same house. How can someone who lives with animals be good, he must behave like an animal? They are not educated; all they know is how to fight.   
How can something good come out from a place where people behave like animal and live on trees and in the forest? How can something good come from a poor country?

Can you speak English?
Some time when I speak in English people are surprise and they will exclaim hay!! “keui seq yingmahn ah”

Some people even asked my wife, how can she get married to an African, someone from a poor continent. Some of her friends even came up to me and asked if I may introduce a boyfriend to them, but their request was for a boy from America. Sometime I wonder why people think that it is only from big countries that you can have a good partner. Oh no, people don`t even think to have a kind partner, someone who is caring, loving, but their first thought is where the person comes from. To such people, I often tell them if you want a boy from America, don`t worry I will introduce you to a very special boy. He is from a country far lower than America, He is from Bethlehem, but He is the son of the Almighty, He is Jesus Christ. He will transform you and the world around you.

I ask my wife:
Before I got married to my wife, I asked her, ‘are you not afraid to marry an African?’ You live in a very beautiful city but I came from one of the worst continents on earth? My wife shocked me with her response when she said:  “whether you are from the worst country on earth, no matter what people think about you, what I care is the kindness of your heart, that is what I see in you.” She echoes Martin Luther`s words “the content of a person’s heart”.

She is the lady who makes me to believe that not every person thinks bad about Africa. There are people who believe that something good can come out of Africa.

There are people who believe that even though Elizabeth is old, she can still have a baby. There are people who believe that though Bethlehem is the smallest or may be the worst town, someone great will come out of it.

Classroom experience:
One day at my seminary, we took an exam and after the teacher corrected the papers, she came to class and distributed the papers to us. Before then she said, ‘there is one person in this class who has full make : that is 100/100, if you have any question about this course ask him.’ Everyone was waiting to hear who that person is, she said it is Roy. The important part of this story is that, one male student stood and said: ‘Roy you have proven me wrong, I thought Africans are not educated. Even as I see you at this seminary, I wonder how you could study.’ He may be one among many who have such thought about people from small countries.

Conclusion:
How often do we look at people from small countries that they can`t do anything? How often do we judge people from poor or small countries that they can`t do anything? It is human nature, but as Christians let us hold this Divine spirit and learn from today`s text that even from the smallest and poor country, God can raise up great people. From a barren old woman, God can bring new life.  

While people look at Africa as that land nothing good comes out of it, God looks at Africa as a blessed land. While people look at Africans like the people with no knowledge, God looks at them as people with great potentials. While people thought that Elizabeth could not have a child, God gave her “a blessed child”.

How about you, what do you think? Can God change your life? Do you have the hope that God can do miracles in your life? God has proven to us through this text today that what we think is impossible to men and women, it is possible with God.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, December 23, 2012

 

Joy = present?


A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 16 December 2012 by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Isaiah 12:2-6; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18.


Dear God,

May the word of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable and pleasing to you. Send to us, God, the Holy Spirit to inspire us and lead us to your truth. Amen.

We have come to the third Sunday of Advent. The candle we light today is joy.

The light of the candle reminds us to wait for Jesus Christ with joy. The light of the candle reminds us joy is the present, the gift given freely by God through Jesus Christ.

From the Epistle, Philippians 4:4-7, the author reminds us to rejoice, to rejoice in the Lord always. The word encourages us to “let your gentleness be known to everyone. 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.”

Christmas is always regarded as a season of joy. Indeed we are joyful whenever we have party and meals to celebrate together.  

For the Church and Christian faith, we are joyful because God gives new life to people and redeem the world through Christ Jesus.

How do we make sense of this faith? How does Jesus Christ redeem the world and bring joy to his people today? The story of Jesus’ birth has been retold every year. But our world is still in chaos. Take a look in the recent events:

-  In the United States, a young man, just 20 years old, shot 27 people to death, many of them are children, he then killed himself.
-  Liu Xiao-bo (劉曉波), the Chinese intellectual and democracy activist was sentenced to 11 years of imprisonment in 2010. His wife Liu Xia (劉霞) is under house arrest after Liu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
-  Bombing and violence in the Middle East has taken thousands and thousands of life every year. Many communities have been destroyed.
-  The Word Bank estimated 1.29 billion people were living in absolute poverty in 2008.
-  Disasters in poor countries have taken away many lives and homes. Worse still, it takes years to rebuild.
-  The deteriorating nature due to human exploitation of the environment.

In view of all these chaos in the world, where is joy and peace? How do people experience joy and peace in their life of struggles?

A few days ago, I received an email calling for joining a petition, asking the new Chinese leader Xi Jinping (習近平) to release Liu Xiao-bo and Liu Xia. This on-line petition is initiated by Desmond Tutu, the Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, South Africa,. Archbishop Tutu in fact had joint 134 Nobel prize winners across different Nobel disciplines to make such a request to the new leadership in China in early December. 

Although Liu and his wife are still not free and under persecution, when there are people around the world sharing their plight and struggle, I hope their pain and suffering can be transformed to hope and peace as they are not alone. The solidarity from people around the world would be taken as a source of joy, a deep joy kept in the heart.

I always remember Ding Zilin (丁子霖), the key organizer of the Tianaman Mothers fighting for clearing the names of the victims who died in the Democratic movement 1989 and supporting the victims’ families to request for compensation from the authorities. Her son was one of the students who died in the movement. She has been a fighter for democracy in China since 1989. She however pays a great cost for this. She said to the media, the solidarity of people from Hong Kong as demonstrated in candle-lit vigils held in June 4 and the marches around that time every year, has given her a lot of comfort and hope.

My mother passed away on December 16 last year. Today is the first anniversary of her passing. Yesterday, when I was in the church office, Maggie came to me and gave me a big hug to share her love with me and my family for this special time of remembrance.  When I went home and checked my emails, I received an e-card from Maggie. I am very touched and greatly appreciate what she did. When we were hugging each other and when I opened e-card and listening to the music that comes with the card, I felt strongly Maggie’s presence and my mother’s presence in me. This is a great present to me. This is a present of love that grant to me deep joy at heart.

Present means a gift. Present also means being together. Present also means here and now. Being together is a present. It is a present of love, a present of joy and a present of peace. This present is from God. We have joy and peace because God is with us.

In times of pains and loneliness, it may be due to the loss of loved ones or loss of freedom, or loss of good health, or loss of human dignity, any act of love and care, such as a simple presence, a hug, and a card would reduce the suffering and bring deep joy and peace to the person.

Joy is not an absence of problems and difficulties. Joy is not an absence of despair. Joy is the present of love and care share with each other.

In the Season of Advent, we are listening to the word from John the Baptist who was the one to prepare the way for Jesus.

Today John has given his followers an important message when we hear from the Gospel Luke. He told them they have to bear fruits worthy of repentance.

When the crowd asked what should they do? John told them to share clothes and food that they have extra with those without.

John also gave suggestion to people the way to bear fruits. He mentioned that people in high position should not be greedy and abuse their power for their own personal interests and desires. He used tax collectors and soldiers as examples.

We are playing different roles in family and in society. We are parents, elder brothers and sisters, carers of an animal in the family. We are teachers, school student leaders in school. We are employers in companies and at home with a domestic helper. We are boss of an organization. Many different roles, you name it. No matter in which roles you are playing, we have to make good use of our position and power given to serve others but not to manipulate and control.

Jesus had come to the world in the form of a baby two thousands years ago. He came to redeem God’s people and transform the world.

In celebrating Advent, we are expecting Christ’s second coming to bring God’s Kingdom of hope, peace, joy and love. We wait with expectation. We wait with thanksgiving and praise. We wait with prayerful actions.
God’s servant John the Baptist was the chosen one to prepare the way for Jesus’ coming. He had baptized people and preached God’s word to them.

Bruce preached last week and in his sermon - ‘No one but you and me’, has encouraged us to act for God’s kingdom of justice and peace.

Today we are called as God’s servants to prepare Christ’s coming to redeem the world, we have to take a proactive role and faithful actions to prepare the way for Christ to redeem and liberate the world.

This Sunday we share the message of joy as a present from God. While we share the joy of the prophet of Isaiah for God’s salvation to God’s people, and rejoice and give thanks to God as suggested by the early church leader, let us prepare ourselves for becoming God’s present to share the joy with others according to their needs and what can give.

Sisters and brothers,
God has given a big present in Jesus Christ, shall we present to God our present by bearing fruits of joy with our family members and friends who are in need of care and support in this season of love?

Let us pray:
Dear God, thank you for giving us the present of joy. May we share this joy with others in your name and by the power of the Holy Spirit lead us to love and care for others with sensitivity and generosity.

Help us God to have a meaningful Christmas this year by living in the present, here and now, do not worry about tomorrow, but to bear fruits by sharing with others the essence of Christmas in bringing hope, deep joy and deep peace in the love of God. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Monday, December 17, 2012

 

No One but You and Me


A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 9 December 2012 by Bruce Van Voorhis. The scripture readings that day were Genesis 1:2627, 31; James 1:2225 and Luke 10:25–37.
               

O Creator God, may the meditation of my heart, mind and spirit be acceptable and pleasing to you, and may it be faithful to the wisdom and teachings you have gifted to us. In your Son’s name, we pray. Amen.

Today we are observing Human Rights Sunday, a celebration of life and a sermon topic that is relevant to all of us; for as I look around the church this morning, I see only human beings, human beings all with the same equal rights simply because we are human. This understanding, in essence, is the basic definition of human rights.

Today we are also observing the second Sunday of Advent on which we are focusing on the word peace as we await the arrival of the Prince of Peace during that wonderful birthday party that we hold every year on Dec. 25 for the birth of God among us. It is fitting that we emphasize peace today on Human Rights Sunday as it is largely the absence of inner peace and peace around us that fosters the conditions for the human rights problems that we face today.

We remember our human rights today because tomorrow, Dec. 10, is International Human Rights Day, the anniversary of the date in 1948 when the U.N. General Assembly unanimously passed, with the exception of eight abstentions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or UDHR, through which the international community began the process of articulating various human rights principles, such as the principle of non-discrimination, and defining specific human rights. As you know, these rights include freedom of speech, of assembly, of association, of the press, labor rights, women’s rights, child rights, the right to education, to health, an adequate standard of living, etc. This process was initially undertaken in response to events in Asia and Europe during the 1930s and 1940s—tragedies that took millions of lives and caused hardhearted suffering and an immense degradation of human dignity, an assault on humanity that includes the Rape of Nanjing, the Holocaust, the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan and other callous incidents associated with the Second World War. In the intervening six decades since the UDHR was passed, the United Nations, in addition to defining what are people’s rights, has sought to monitor these rights and in especially the past few years to emphasize the implementation of these rights. As you know, however, from reading the newspaper or listening to the news every day, the ability of the United Nations to promote and protect people’s rights has, at best, been limited.

This overview is an understanding of human rights from a legal and political point of view. It is largely the perspective of human rights groups and forms the foundation of their work every day.

What, however, does human rights have to do with our Christian faith?

If we reflect on our scriptures, the teachings of Jesus and the values of our faith, it is difficult to divorce ourselves from being Christians and from being human rights activists, for there is just as much a faith-based or moral underpinning to human rights as there is a legal basis.

Let us begin by looking at our Old Testament reading today. Paraphrasing the scriptures in the first chapter of Genesis, we heard today in verses 27 and 31 that God created men and women in God’s own image, in the image of God we are all created, and that God looked at everything he had created, including us, and saw that it was all very good. We are thus all creations of God; we are thus all children of God. When a person disappears, when they are tortured, when they are imprisoned unjustly for expressing themselves, when they are denied an education or health care, it is an act done against a child of God, a human being created in the image of God by God. Consequently, as Christians who worship this God and are followers of this God, can we allow this violence and this negation of the dignity of a child of God, our God, to take place?

Let us look deeper at who is this God and what this God requires of us.

In 1 John 4:7–11, an epistle from the New Testament that we did not read today, it says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this, the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

When a person is shot and killed while waiting for a bus, when a woman is beaten, when a child is sexually exploited, when a person loses their land and home in the name of development, this is not loving one another. What, as Christians, should we do?

An answer comes from the well-known injunction of the prophet Micah in chapter 6, verse 8:

“He has showed you, O man, what is good,
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice and to love kindness
and to walk humbly with your God?”

These words from the Book of Micah contain several relevant points regarding our discussion of human rights today. First, when our rights and the rights of our brother and sister are denied, we are to seek justice. Moreover, this response is a way in which we love kindness, in which we express our compassion, in which we bear witness in society to our God and the challenge that God gives us to build the Kingdom of God in this world.

Lastly, the prophet Micah calls us to walk humbly with our God. Our failure to do so, however, is at the heart of human rights violations today and in the past; for if we analyze the root cause of most human rights violations today, we find that one fundamental source is that we fail to walk humbly with our God and with our fellow human beings. The power that is exercised to abuse another human being and to deny them of their rights is a reflection of the ego of the one who violates the dignity of another human being, of the person who ordered this violation to take place and of the legal and political system that permits this violation to take place and that obstructs any attempt at rectifying this abuse through a process to attain justice.

In short—and this is no unexpected revelation—human rights violations are sin. They are a sin against the dignity and humanity of a child of God; they are a sin against the God who created that person. Moreover, they are a manifestation of the root of this sin and all others—a rupture in our relationship with God and with our neighbor.

I want to now expand on this notion of relationships and to underline the way we are all connected to each other through sharing a number of points that are made in the documentary film I Am that is directed and narrated by Tom Shadyac and that was shown at our KUC Movie Night in November. In this film, Shadyac asks two basic, but significant, questions: what is wrong with the world, and what can we do about it? He seeks answers to these questions through interviews with a variety of religious leaders, authors, scientists and academics.

One of the overriding messages of this film is that we are all connected with each other and with the natural environment on which we depend for life in ways we are most likely unaware. The film uses the field of science to explain the links that connect life by noting that we are all part of one gigantic energy field. For example, the film describes two electrons flying in different directions into infinity. When one changes direction, however, the other makes the same identical movement at the same time.

In another experiment in the film, Shadyac sits in front of a dish of yogurt that has two wires connected to a meter. Shadyac is connected to neither the dish of yogurt nor the meter. He is then asked to think of someone that stirs his emotions. When he mentions his lawyer and his agent, the meter immediately swings to the end of the scale.

The air we breathe is also dissected to illustrate the links between us. Naturally, in this room, we are all inhaling and exhaling the same air, but did you realize that we are also breathing in the air, or more accurately a part of the air, that Jesus breathed, that Muhammad breathed, that Buddha, Confucius and other historic figures breathed? Argon, the film explains, is an inert gas that does not mix with any other gas and that comprises 1 percent of the air we all breathe. Thus, the argon that we exhale eventually travels around the world after being inhaled and exhaled by billions of people linking us with people of the present but also people of the past and people of the future.

Now that we understand the connections that scientifically bind us together as a human family, let us look at human nature. If we think of the writings of Charles Darwin, we most likely remember his phrase “survival of the fittest.” However, Shadyac’s film reminds us of Darwin’s conclusion that sympathy, not survival, is the strongest instinct of human nature—an observation that for some reason has become lost. Thus, cooperation is at least as much a part of our nature, the film notes, as competition, and consequently, to be human is to be egalitarian and democratic, to be the keeper of our neighbor, to respect one another and to live in community. In the film, Desmond Tutu states: “We are because we belong.”

Those who abuse people and their rights, however, reach a different conclusion. In their eyes, they belong, but others do not—a reflection again of their ego. They thus break the relationship between themselves and others.

What therefore are we as Christians to do about human rights violations?

First, we can heed the words of James 1:2225 that we heard this morning:

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who observes his natural face in a mirror, for he observes himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But he who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer that forgets but a doer that acts, he shall be blessed in his doing.”

We can also learn from the familiar story of the Good Samaritan in the Gospel of Luke that was also read today. We all know this story quite well. It offers a good illustration of how we should relate to our neighbor. We must remember though that the central figure in this parable, the Samaritan, was from an ethnic group that was despised by the dominant Jewish community of that day—a relationship that makes this story even more powerful as the victim was a Jew. If we frame the Good Samaritan story in our contemporary context, especially one set once again in the Middle East, today’s Good Samaritan would most likely be a Muslim.

Moreover, there is the example of Jesus in Matt. 20:28 to guide us, for “the Son of man came not to be served but to serve.” Phyllis emphasized this point in a recent sermon when she reminded us that we should use our power, not to dominate others, but to serve others.

The film I Am provides some answers for us as well, for, if you remember, the film also seeks to answer what we can do to address the problems of the world of which daily human rights violations are naturally one of them.

Thus, another important message of I Am that springs from the conclusions of a number of people that Shadyac interviews is that we need to change our consciousness. If we begin to base our words and actions, not on what we can get out of doing something, but on how we can bring out the good in other people, then this different consciousness can alter our relationships with each other. This change though has to begin with me. I, of course, cannot determine the attitude of others, but I can determine my own attitude, and I can influence the attitude of others. When a large number of people begin to think, act and speak differently, then we can begin to transform the behavior of society, such as what occurred during the civil rights movement in the United States and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. The academic activist Howard Zinn explains that everyday small acts over a period of time—acts and words and incidents that may seem inconsequential when they occurred— created these strong social movements after they touched and moved an ever greater number of people. Archbishop Tutu offers once again his insight to this discussion. “Change happens,” he says, “because you are concerned.”

Not only must we as Christians become concerned and act to promote and protect human rights and transform society, but we must also work to transform those who oppress and violate the lives, dignity and rights of others. This challenge in the film comes from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who told his African-American followers that people persecuting them are damaged human beings and that they have the power to set their oppressors free from their damaged souls, for following the path of love allows their oppressor to become fully human again. These words, while not easy to heed, encapsulate the power and spirit of forgiveness.

As Christians, we have been presented with a huge challenge this morning. It is not easy; and in Hong Kong, we are blessed that we do not face the human rights violations of so many of our Asian neighbors. We can, however, remember the words of Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma: “Please use your liberty to promote ours.”

It is natural to feel overwhelmed and powerless in the face of the enormity of today’s human rights issues, whether in Burma, China or elsewhere in the world. However, we must remind ourselves that we are not alone in this struggle. A Presbyterian pastor in the United States in a sermon many years ago described the way in which the Grand Canyon was formed that is helpful to appreciate this point. He explained that this massive canyon was created by the Colorado River, which, he said, is nothing more than millions of drops of water all moving in the same direction. Over the course of time, these drops of water wore away the rocks that appeared to be so solid and impervious to being reshaped and changed. Today we are those drops of water. We just need to all move in the same direction.

We may protest though and claim that I’m not a human rights defender. I believe though that everyone is a human rights defender. We may not march in demonstrations or sign urgent appeals or lobby on behalf of others, but almost every day an opportunity is presented to us to reach out to another human being, to another child of God. It may or may not directly relate to helping that person enjoy one of their human rights; but when we reach out to another person, we are helping to strengthen the relationships that bind us to each other, to strengthen our humanity through the care, compassion and love that we express for another human being who may be a total stranger to us but who is not a stranger to God. It is in showing respect to that person that we are acknowledging their value as a person, their humanity. This act is the work of a human rights defender because it emphasizes the equality and importance of all of us.

In helping to protect the rights of others, we are also working to protect our own rights. These words from the Rev. Martin Niemöller, a Protestant pastor in Germany, that were uttered at the end of World War II have always reminded me of this point and our relationship with each other regardless of our identity:

“In Germany, they first came for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me;
and by that time, no one was left to speak up.”

As Christians, as I noted earlier, it is difficult to be true to our faith and not be a human rights defender, for God constantly beckons us to be witnesses of his love in this world—an invitation that Archbishop Tutu simply, but clearly, reminds us of in I Am: “God says, I don’t have anybody else except you [and me]!”

Who can refuse God?

Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Monday, December 10, 2012

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