Reflections...

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

“Spirit: set us free!”


A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 27 January 2013 by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Nehemiah 8:1-10; Psalm 19 and Luke 4:14-21


Opening prayer
May the word of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.

Introduction
I have been disturbed again recently by some pastors from the evangelical churches for their stand against homosexuality. I am frustrated and angry not because we have a different stand and understanding on the anti-discrimination legislation on sexual orientations and gender identity. I am frustrated and angry because they gave misleading facts and arguments that may create fear in the Christian community. One of their arguments they raised was that the legislation will limit their freedom of religion and expression. Extreme examples cited include - ‘some biblical scriptures that are against homosexuality may have to be taken away.’ ‘Parentwho do not agree with their children’s sexual orientation and same sex relationship may be prosecuted.’ It has created much anxiety and fear amongst Christians.   

The stand for and against homosexuality, and the legislation of an anti-discrimination law to protect sexual rights have made the churches divided and Christians who have different positions distant from each other. This is very sad indeed.

The debate on homosexuality has taken place in my family too. I had a conversation on this topic with my elder sister last Sunday. We ended up with my intense emotion and I hanged up the phone.  

I was upset by the stand my sister held. Her view basically is same as the conservative evangelical churches and her opposition reveals a fact -- She does not understand the lives and struggles of the homosexuals. Like many others who stand against homosexuality, she holds that homosexual behavior is a sin and God reject it. Another typical response is that they love the homosexual people and do not discriminate them. But due to the fact that their behavior is wrong and against Christian faith, thus they disagree to the enactment and even consultation of the anti- discrimination legislation. 

My hot emotional response to my sister was a projection of the accumulated negative emotion towards the conservative church leaders. I feel bad for my manner towards my sister. Although we have different views, I should still stay calm and communicate with her in peace and with patience.

I called my sister the next day and apologized for my inappropriate manner over the phone.

We then had a good talk. We tried to communicate with each other of our views in a peaceful way. It was not easy.

It does take time for us to understand each other. After all, I must admit that we have gone through different experiences and exposure in life.

My reflection on my intense emotion
I can tell why my emotion was so intense. On the one hand I feel ashame of Church leaders and Christians of their discriminative attitude. The more they talk about loving the sinner but rejecting sins, the more I find it hypocritical. But the deeper level of feeling inside me is a strong sense of sorrow for friends who have been discriminated against and suffering in pains because of their sexual identity.

I have heard many sad stories from friends who are gay or lesbian. Their humanity and basic human rights are deprived because they are regarded as abnormal. The label that homosexuality is a sin has casted them away from the love and from the house of God. The rejection of their families and church community has driven them into depression. Many of them live with guilt and cannot lead a life of wholeness. It is heart breaking to me.

Their honesty to accept their own sexual identities becomes a curse. Why?  Who has the right to deprive these friends from the love of God? Who has the right to deprive their claims of being whole and accept who they are before God?

The sexual minorities that include the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people have been held captives by the heterosexual structure and culture in which we have been living for so long.

We are living in a heterosexual world where over 90 % of population is heterosexual human beings. Only 5 to 7% population is homosexuals. Putting this into perspective, I have no wonder my sister like many other people find it hard to accept homosexuality. It is simply because homosexuality is something out of their experience and imagination as heterosexual relationships is a norm. I have more knowledge and understanding about homosexuality only when I had the chance to meet friends of this background and experience. And I am blessed enough to hear their stories and struggles.

I then begin to understand one truth, the liberation of the homosexuals requires an honest and critical examination of our current heterosexual structure and culture in which the majority has been living since birth. It requires that the people who have been embedded in the heterosexual relationship to open their eyes and take away their blindness to see the realities and needs of the homosexuals and their sexuality. It is through this process of understanding, that people may break the chain of homophobia. The fear of someone and something which are unfamiliar to us is understandable. When this something is about sex, the fear generated is even more intense. The presence of thousands and thousands of sexual minorities in our midst urges us to admit the realities and honor the uniqueness and the mystery of God’s creation in them. As inspired by Psalm 19, like nature, the sexual minorities are the gentle voice speaking about God and manifest God’s glory. In my encounter with friends who are gay, lesbian or transgender, I find that they are God’s revelation to me and gifts to humanity. Sexual minorities give us a chance to relate sexuality and life with a different lens. It is a paradigm shift indeed to acknowledge the existence of the homosexual world. Homosexual relationships do challenge our traditional values and family practices. But it is not necessarily a bad thing. Be honest, many development in the world such as technology and increasing number of divorce have posted challenges to family and society. From a religious point of view, the diversity of sexuality may help us to learn how to embrace one another in differences, but at the same time to live and acknowledge we are all ONE in God.

Jesus’ proclamation of the year of Jubilee is powerful as it gives the hope of life through the holy spirit. The prophetic message of God’s promise to open the eyes of the blind, to set people free from chains and lead a life of liberation is heard today.

The good news of liberation found in Luke has inspired Christians to understand biblical scriptures with light. Together with an open and critical perspective to understand the heterosexual and homosexual worlds that we are living in, Christians are able to employ a different lens to read and interpret the bible.

Some Church leaders and Christians have claimed homosexuality a sin by quoting the six to seven readings in the bible.

But the liberation theology that stand for setting people free from human abuses and discrimination will not take the teaching from the ancient Jewish community thousands years ago as a rigid law for today’s believers to follow.

The scripture is holy and become the word of God only if it embraces lives, gives hope and relevance to the lives of the believers in their context. The word of God is a living word and not words of the dead. The scriptures should never be used to judge people or to ask people to conform according to ancient laws and traditions which in fact are no longer relevant to our life today. As shared in the readings from the Book of Nehemiah we heard today, the people who learnt the laws of God must have understanding. They did interpret the laws according to their life circumstances. They have to make sense of what they heard and learnt in their lives.

The word of God must be life giving and lead people to liberation and to love.
Jesus, anointed by the spirit, has proclaimed the good news of freedom. He further said to the people in his time, “today’s scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”.

Jesus said, “The scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”. What does it mean? I would take it as an invitation and calling from God to us.

Sisters and brothers, God has given us this calling to make the promise of freedom a reality. God has sent us the spirit to do it with strength, courage and wisdom. In God and with God, united in Christ the One body, we are not doing it alone.

With faith, let us receive the spirit. With hope, let us receive the spirit. With love, let us receive this spirit.
May I invite you all to close your eyes and pray to God.
Holy spirit, come to us. Break our chains and give us new vision to see.
Holy spirit, come to us. Comfort our souls and heals our wounds.
Holy spirit, come to us. Lead us to set the world free.

Please open your eyes and sing together the ‘spirit song’ as a response to the message you have heard today.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, January 27, 2013

 

Saving the Best – for First or Last? (John 2:12)


A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 20 January 2013 by the Rev. Ewing W. [Bud] Carroll, Jr. The scriptures reading that day were John 6:56-69; I Kings 8 and Ephesians 6:10-20.


Something always seems to go wrong at a wedding.  Let me give you two examples:  One very personal.  I was privileged to perform the wedding ceremonies for both of my sons.  Older son John [who lives in Hong Kong] and Katie were married in a very small university chapel - filled with classmates, family and friends.  There was tenseness in the air; incredible expectation; a hush across the entire chapel.  As John and Katie stood before me, I looked at them, then to my service sheet – and - I couldn’t see a single word!  No, it wasn’t nervousness on my part.  I had forgotten my glasses!  I had left them in a suit coat.  People know stories where the bridegroom ran away from the wedding service, but never the pastor!  I whispered to John and Katie, “I’ll be right back.”  Within a few seconds I was back to the chancel area.  I could see the audience needed an explanation so I said, “Thanks for your patience with an over-excited father of the groom.  I forgot my glasses.  Now, let’s get on with the service.”

 Second example:  while counseling a young couple soon to marry, the pastor found the prospective bride very nervous.  Not knowing the couple very well, the pastor suggested that during the ceremony the Best Man read one of the NT lessons. The selected passage was I John 4:18. The Best Man knew the couple very well, but he knew nothing about the Bible.  On the appointed day, as the nervous bride and groom stood before the pastor and a packed church, the Best Man read – not from I John 4:18, [There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.]; rather from the Gospel according to John 4:18 “You have five husbands and the one you have now is not your husband…”

Jesus, his mother Mary and his disciples were invited to a wedding feast in Cana, not far from Nazareth.  Such feasts were a taste of joy and excitement in people’s otherwise dreary and difficult lives.  They usually lasted nearly a week.  And economically poor as your family might be, you were expected to provide the best food and wine all that time.  But, like my two examples above, something went wrong!  Suddenly, all the wine was gone.  The bride and groom’s families must have been deeply embarrassed.  What in the world could they do to fix this problem?  Jesus provided the answer.

John tells us Jesus turned water in six huge 30 gallon stone jars into the finest wine imaginable. The waiters were grateful to Jesus and noted, “Usually people serve the best wine first, but you’ve kept the good wine until last.”  But when we look more closely, the miracle in this passage is not about Jesus changing water into wine, Ribena, grape juice or soya milk.  The miracle was/is, that through God’s generous and gracious love in Jesus Christ, the “Old Me” and the “Old You” can be changed into something incredibly useful and valuable for God and for society.  And so the question for us today:  “What happens when we allow Jesus to turn us from water to wine?”  Put another way, “What happens when we say, “Yes” to Jesus?”  Let me share two possibilities.

Firstly:  Christ wants to transform – or change our everyday actions in thought, word and deed. The six stone jars had probably been used the same way day in and day out; year in and year out.  But Jesus changed all that.  He not only saved a wedding feast from becoming a social disaster.  To this very day, this very moment, he also brings new hope, new possibilities and new life for all who are prepared to “Just Say Yes” -  and then to follow him.”

In the late 1800’s one of Russia’s last czarist rulers was walking through a palace garden. No matter the time of day or night, he noticed there was always a guard standing watch in one certain place. When he asked the guards, “Why are you standing there?” they replied, “Orders from above, sir.”  The same question was asked to many different army officers.  Finally, one was able to tell the czar, “When Catherine the Great ruled Russia over a hundred years ago, she had a rose bush planted on this spot.  Her instructions wereBe sure to guard my rose bush.’  We’ve been guarding this spot ever since.”  The rose bush was lone gone but nothing had changed.

Some of us are still guarding the same spots in our lives.  Little has changed in our thoughts and attitudes.  We still harbor old fears, old guilts, old angers, old pride and frustrations; old prejudices.  [Look at the recent anti-gay demonstrations held by a large number of HK Christians.    In my view of the Holy Bible, total distortions of God’s Words.  God, my friends, doesn’t make mistakes.] We find it difficult to “Let God and Let God.”  But Christ can change all that.  These words from an old Gospel hymn say it well:  “What a wonderful change in my life has been wrought, since Jesus came into my heart.”  On in the words of a much newer song, “Change my heart, O God…”

In Revelations 21:5 John also refers to the new life made possible by Christ:  “Behold, I am making all things new.”  Note the word “making.”  Not made. Christ is not finished yet!!  In the words of John Wesley, Christ is moving us on towards perfection.  He continues to be at work in our lives; at weddings; baptisms; funeral services, in classrooms and work places; in our homes, and hopefully right here in this church!  Christ comes not to inform us, but to change us.  [Repeat]  He doesn’t come to bring us new ideas; but to make us new people.  He doesn’t come to change our looks, but to change our hearts.

Secondly:  Saying “Yes” to Christ enables us to experience God’s extravagant love.  Sometimes we feel like we’re running on empty.  You who drive automobiles know what I’m talking about – that little needle that tells you the car is almost out of gas/petrol.  I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I have occasion to drive a car, I’m tempted to just keep driving and see how far the car goes before it runs out of fuel.  Do we not also do this in our own daily lives?  But the extravagant love of God in Christ Jesus, keeps us from “Running on empty.”  Call it abundance.  Call it fine wine or whatever – But know it for what it really is: God’s miraculous love at work in our daily lives.

In recent days, many people across the world are commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday. They were recalling his remarkable life:  how, in a highly oppressive and violent world, he lived a life of non-violence. We give thanks for the sacrificial ways he preached, promoted and pursued God’s sense of racial equality; again, in non-violent ways.  Perhaps more than any other person in recent history, Dr. King’s dreams and actions continue to help change water stored in old stone jars of power and prejudice, control and cruelty, stubbornness and selfishness, into new wines of equality, justice and opportunity.  Because MLK, Jr. said “Yes” to God in the face of seemingly never-ending difficulties, you and I – and countless persons across the face of the earth, are now more able to experience God’s extravagant love.

A little girl’s visiting Auntie asked her, “What did you learn in Sunday School today?”  She said, she’d learned about Jesus’ miraculous changing of water into wine.  Her auntie then asked, ‘”So, what do you think is the meaning of this story? “ Without blinking an eye she replied, “If you’re going to have a wedding, make sure Jesus is there?” [Repeat].

You know, she was right.  Whether it’s a wedding, or the struggles, joys and difficulties of daily life, in whatever you are doing, make sure Jesus is there!  Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Wednesday, January 23, 2013

 

New Year Offerings to God


A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 6 January 2013 by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Psalm 72:17, 1014  and Matthew 2:112.


Opening prayer:

Dear God of life, we thank you for your steadfast love. Open our hearts to receive Your Word. May the Holy Spirit inspire us to dwell in Your truth of sacrificing love.

May the word of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable and pleasing to You. Amen.

Introduction

Good morning and happy New Year!

As Christians living in HK, we are lucky and blessed to have three New Year. We celebrate the church New Year in the first Sunday of Advent. We celebrate the Chinese New Year around February.

Today, we celebrate the New Year of 2013.

A good beginning is half way to success. I wish all to have a good start in 2013.

With the pulpit fall in white put in place, we have entered into another liturgical season after Christmas – the Epiphany.

Epiphany – in Greek it is ‘theophaneia’, meaning ‘appearance or manifestation’. Epiphany is a time in the Christian calendar when we wonder at the revelation of God to the world in Jesus Christ. The unfolding season of Epiphany reveals and honors Jesus’ life and his ministry in the world.

The offering of the magi

God came to the world in human form through Jesus Christ. God incarnated in human flesh with limitations and vulnerability, and lived in a world full of brokenness. God’s incarnation is a great mystery of God to reveal his love to humankind in general, and to the little, the weak and the vulnerable in particular. Jesus Christ, the savior was born as a baby in a humble stable facing harsh living condition. 

In the midst of inadequacy and threats, God was fully present in Jesus, his incarnated Son. God inspired the magi, the wise men from the East to pay tribute to this new born King. King of the Jews.

The word “magi” refers to people with leading position and scientific knowledge in ancient time. They are not Jews but are gentiles from the East. Their tribute shows that the birth of Jesus has universal significance.

The magi brought with them treasure chests and offered to infant Jesus precious gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

These gifts have their own symbolic meanings.
Gold is precious and has high exchange value. Gold is offered to someone who is important. In ancient time, Gold was offered to the king and used by royal family for decorations and dining instruments.

In referring to Jesus’ identity, gold represents his kingship.

Gold also represents worldly possession which is precious and highly valued – these may refer to money, properties, jewelry, professional qualifications, and position that bring you power and status. People need such worldly possession for physical survival. People with wealth may lead a decent and comfortable life.

The second gift the magi offered was frankincense. Frankincense is a kind of incense which is derived from the gummy resin of the tree called Boswellia. The gum produced a sweet odor when burned. Frankincense was used on the altar for God.

It represents Jesus’ priesthood and his deity.

Frankincense represents holiness, divinity and spirituality. Something is connected to God, the holy one.

The third gift from the magi was myrrh. Myrrh consists of a mixture of three different kinds of substance – resin, gum and the oil myrrh, which produces its characteristic odor. Myrrh was used to bury dead body.

Myrrh is thus a symbol of Jesus’ sacrificial death and burial. It implies Jesus Christ is a king who lives to love and to die. 
Therefore, myrrh represents sacrifice, a life of giving for the sake of love.

Story – James and Carol

Let me share with you a story. It is about a young couple --. James and Carol. They were newly married. They were poor and yet they loved each other deeply.

Both of them wanted to give the best to their spouse.

In the first Christmas they celebrated together after their marriage, they wanted to give a Christmas gift to their dear one.

But they were too poor to buy any precious gift. Each one of them, however, had a possession which was precious and valuable. Carol had a bunch of long hair, black, shiny and very soft. She loved it so much. And she knew James loved it too. For the sake of her husband, she decided to cut it and sell it for money so that she could buy a gold chain for her husband. Her husband had a very nice and valuable gold watch without a gold chain. This gold watch had special meaning to James because it was a gift given by his father. This gold watch in fact was James’ family treasure passed on from one generation to another.

What did James do for his wife Carol? He wanted to buy his wife a tortoise comb as he appreciated her hair. More importantly, he knew that Carol loved her hair very much and she wanted to have a nice comb for a long time. He thought a special tortoise comb would give her much happiness. As a result, he sold his only valuable possession – the gold watch for money so that he could buy Carol the comb.

When they presented the gift to each other, they embraced each other in tears. If you are James…, what would be your response? If you are Carol, what would be your feeling?

On the surface, it seems that their sacrifice and giving away their best possession were in vain as both of them cannot get what they need but have lost their precious and personal possession/gift.

Materially speaking, both of them gained nothing they need. They have even lost what they considered valuable and important. But when we look at the story and their relationship deeper, we will think otherwise. Out of love, they gave up the best of their worldly possession. In this act of unselfish giving, they received great and deep love from each other. This self-giving love is more valuable and nothing can compare with it. At the end of the day, they received more than they gave.

God loves the world and all humanity. As heard from the familiar biblical verse taken from Gospel John 3:16, “For God so loved the world he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in  him may not perish but may have eternal life” “Indeed, God did not send the Son to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved.”

God came to the world in the form of human and broke into human history to save and to give new life. God has shared with us the precious life through Jesus Christ. Christ Jesus came not to rule as a powerful king but a humble servant to heal the sick, to care for the poor and to embrace the excluded. Shall we in return respond to God’s forgiving and life giving love with love?

Love without action is nothing. In the New Year, I would like to invite you my dear sisters and brothers to think of our offerings to God.

God has given us the best. Are we willing in return to give  to God our best?

Would you try to lead a life of giving in response to God’s
invitation for his disciples to become faithful stewards?

What are the worldly possessions that you have and are willing to give to build up God’s church and kingdom on earth?

Would you offer to God your heart and spirit so that you can always be connected in his divine love, and your life  be enriched?

Are you prepared and ready for sacrifice and move beyond your own needs but focus more and more in God and for God?

Stewardship is a response to God’s generous giving to us in the first place. In the past few weeks, we have launched the stewardship campaign at KUC. We have kept on asking for your prayers and appeal to your participation to serve in KUC. It is our hope and prayer that together we develop KUC into a strong faith community to witness Christ in the community of HK and beyond.

Today, we will uplift our pledge of service at KUC to God. I invite you to spend some time to reflect on the word we heard from the bible and from the pulpit today. You may take this time to fill in the stewardship pledge form if you have not already done it. You are also welcome to write on the back what and how you wish to offer to God in this year of 2013. We will collect it later.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

We thank you for the gift of life given to us. You are the source of the universe and everything is from you. In You we lack nothing. We thank you for the gift of love. In your sacrificing love, our sins have been forgiven and our lives renewed. May the Holy Spirit empower us to love you more and take concrete action to serve with courage and commitment. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Wednesday, January 23, 2013

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