Reflections...

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

“New Life and New Possibilities”


A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 31 March 2013 by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Isaiah 65:17-25 and Luke 24:1-12.


Thank you, sisters and brothers from One Body in Christ, for sharing with us this wonderful drama.

Easter, is a special time when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus who died on the cross.

This year, our Easter drama does not focus on the traditional narrative of the empty tomb in Jesus’ resurrection story. It tried to share the vision of a new heaven and earth taken from Isaiah instead.

In this new heaven and earth, people’s basic needs are met. They are given houses to live, food to eat. People are given fair share for their labour. Children and old people, the lowly of the society are well protected and taken care of. Animals and human beings live together in harmony. Hierarchical relationship is challenged and reformulated as it is shared in the vision from Isaiah 65 that we heard this morning.

During the procession, we brought forth five items, the first was a bowl of fruits – this represents the source of life and God’s provision to his people to satisfy their basic needs. With a grateful heart, people of God returns to God.

The animal toys presented were used to show the harmonious and restored relationship of all creatures.  

The other three symbols we took this morning also indicated the true meaning of Easter as well.

The Cross with lilies – cross is a symbol of pain and suffering. It is a symbol of shame and humiliation. The lilies symbolized that Jesus’ suffering and pain is transformed into hope, his death is transformed into new life through resurrection.

Stone –The stone at the entrance of the tomb was rolled out. An empty tomb signifies liberation -- people of God are no more enslaved by the power of death and darkness, but are set free from oppression and unjust treatment.

The last item, a Jug of Water – water is a symbol for tears. In Jesus’ pain, he takes away the tears of those who suffer. Because Jesus overcomes the power of the death and is risen, the tears is then transformed from pain to joy.

In the drama prepared by One Body In Christ this morning, I noticed one interesting arrangement. The savior, who represents Jesus, goes to give food to the laborer, love and comforts to the weeping woman, friendship to the little rabbit and set free the man who was kept in a prison of isolation and suppression, is a woman. Macy has taken up this role.

Jesus Christ, redeemer of the world was a man in history. But interestingly:

Jesus, son of God, savior of humanity and the world was born by a woman.

Jesus, son of God, savior of humanity and the world, whose resurrection was witnessed by women first. (Luke 24:1-12)

In Jesus’ time, women did not have high status as the society was still a male dominated society. But God chose women to become his first partner to fulfill his salvation plan.

It gives to people, especially to those who regard themselves as less important, less capable, less valuable and worthy of love, a new way to look at themselves.

Jesus came to the world to save everyone. His death and resurrection is for all. Everyone is embraced by the love of God. We are all equal.

In this special time of Easter, we keep remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus. But we do not just remember the old details, but to share new insights and fresh perspectives. It thus enables us to remember what a challenge it still is to look death in the face and trust that ‘Jesus is risen’.

Dear sisters and brothers, what is it in Easter’s narrative that you most remember and that you most trust? What is it in Easter’s narrative that would give you new life and new possibilities?

Closing prayer
Jesus Christ, God of new life,
may your resurrection,
and your breathing again,
anchor us in hope once more.

Dare our minds to dream again,
to believe beyond what this world offers
into something renewed and reborn.

Jesus Christ, God of new possibilities,
deepen our faith to believe that
there are mysteries beyond our knowing.

Strengthen us to trust ourselves as we trust in you.
Empower us to act with courage as in you,
all thing is possible.

May the new heaven and new earth that brings
 joy, peace and hope
dwells in us and this world.
Thank you Lord, for the power of life and loving kindness. Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, March 31, 2013

 

“In Memory of Her”


A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 10 March 2013 by Dr. Hope S. Antone[1]. The scripture readings that day was Matthew 26:6-13.


6Now while Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, *7a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and she poured it on his head as he sat at the table.  8But when the disciples saw it, they were angry and said, ‘Why this waste?  9For this ointment could have been sold for a large sum, and the money given to the poor.’ 10But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, ‘Why do you trouble the woman? She has performed a good service for me.  11For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.  12By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial.  13Truly I tell you, wherever this good news* is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.’  (Matthew 26:6-13, New Revised Standard Version)

Although it is two days after March 8, I would like to greet everyone this prayer and wish, which is not only for International Women’s Day (IWD) but for every day of our lives: May you have a violence free day!!!

The story of a woman’s anointing of Jesus is usually read and preached on during the Lenten Season.  It is very significant for IWD because it is a story of a woman who dared to do something outside the box and against the cultural norms of her time.  All the four gospels have an account of the anointing of Jesus by a woman.  Except in John where the woman is identified as Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, she is nameless in the accounts.  In Luke, she is labeled a “sinner”, “a woman who had lived a sinful life”.

Matthew (like Mark) narrates that a woman with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume (oil or ointment, or nard) has come to where Jesus is reclining at the table, and pours the perfume on his head.     

Extra-biblical sources tell us that alabaster was a semi-transparent white stone (usually from Egypt) and a very costly piece of decoration which people preserve in their houses.  Alabaster jar was mostly used as a decorative piece by kings.  Nard was a very costly ointment from a plant in the Himalayan Mountains, believed to be so valuable since it got better with age.  We are told that an alabaster jar of fragrant nard was usually something passed on from mother to daughter as a family heirloom.

Other sources say it was a custom for young Jewish girls to spend a huge amount on a jar of perfume, which they would break on their wedding day to beautify themselves with.  By doing so, a bride declared to her groom that she was offering her best, her entire life, to him.  We are also told that the ointment/nard/perfume was kept in alabaster bottles that were specially sealed to prevent evaporation.  In order to use it, the neck of the bottle had to be broken and the ointment used all at once.  Used in hospitality, one would gently put a few drops of the ointment on the head of every guest. 

But according to Matthew and Mark, this woman poured the perfume on Jesus’ head!  Some people who were there (the disciples, according to Matthew) got angry, saying, “Why this waste?  9For this ointment could have been sold for a large sum, and the money given to the poor.”  Both Mark and John mention it could have been sold for more than a year's wages (of a common laborer).

Jesus' reply to them was: “Why do you trouble the woman?  She has performed a good service for me.  11For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.  12By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial.  13Truly I tell you, wherever this good news* is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”

We can pick up a few key points from this story:

First, this story is a reminder for all of us on the need to have a sincere heart.  Jesus’ words, “For you always have the poor with you”, have baffled/confused many people.  Some evangelists have used such words as an excuse not to do anything about the plight of the poor.  But I think what is happening here is that Jesus saw through the disciples’ so-called ‘concern’ for the poor.  Concern for the poor can simply become a fashion, an outward form, but the true spirit could still be missing.  We know how politicians running for office would champion the cause of the poor during their political campaigns.  They may sound very convincing but wait what happens when they are in office.  In a similar manner, we church-going Christians may have mastered the language of justice and fairness, of being on the side of the poor; but Jesus can see through all that for what is more important is what’s in our hearts.  Do we have the true spirit that would eventually guide our commitment and action?  As was shown in this story, Jesus can see through our hearts.    

Second, this story is also a reminder for all of us on the need to have a clear understanding of Jesus’ mission.  Just as Jesus could see through the hearts of his disciples, he also saw through the heart of the woman.  You know it is quite lonely for any leader to be so driven by a vision or a passion – which no one from among his or her followers is able to comprehend.  Jesus did his ministry on earth for three years with his close disciples following him, learning from him.  Yet they never did understand him.  Some of them expected him to be a political leader who would make Israel great again, like David did.  Some of them hoped to be seated on his left and right in glory.  When Jesus talked about his impending suffering that would lead to his death and then resurrection, Peter said, “God forbid it, Lord.  This must never happen to you.”  Jesus said to him, “Get behind me, Satan!  You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”  [Mt. 16:23]  For Jesus, only this woman truly understood the meaning of his mission and messiahship and the consequence of his servanthood.   

Third, this story is also a reminder for all of us on the need to take the side of the vulnerable.  Jesus clearly defended the woman’s action as she was being subjected to the disciples’ anger and scolding.  It was not enough that they made such pro-poor statement about the waste that she created.  They scolded her for her action!  Jesus took the side of the woman, who was here a victim of bullying, belittling, and, harassment.  You remember the story about little children being brought closer to Jesus so he could lay his hands on them and the disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them.  I can imagine that those who brought the children were the women (mothers, sisters, and maybe aunts and grandmothers).  By taking the side of the woman, Jesus was declaring, “No more bullying, belittling, devaluing; no more exclusion, harassment, discrimination.  And that is what he expects of all his disciples today – to put an end to anything that violates or denigrates the human being.    

Finally, I think this story is a reminder of the power of memory to connect us to the past, to shed light on the present, and to guide the future.  Jesus declared that whenever the good news is proclaimed in the world, the woman’s action would be told in memory of her.  How do we memorialize the act of this woman whose name we do not know? 

In memory of her means not only the biblical woman, but all the women like her - whose names, services and actions remain unknown, unrecognized, uncelebrated; whose causes and struggles for freedom, equality and human rights have contributed to where we are now.  In memory of her includes the women who continue to be victims of belittling, harassment, abuse, violence, and to challenge tendencies to blame them for their predicament.  Remember 23-year old Jyoti Singh Pandey, a victim of gang rape in India 8 days before Christmas?  The lawyer of the alleged rapists blamed her and her friend for being outside that night of December 16.   

In memory of her means not letting the women’s struggles and causes go in vain.  Like Cristina Morales Jose, who protested against human rights violations in the Philippines – she asked for food for the victims of the typhoon Pablo but she was given bullets; Liu Xia, a poet and artist in China who is under house arrest; and 15-year old Malala Yousafzai who campaigned for girls’ rights to education in Pakistan.     

In memory of her means for us today, being part of the present struggles and advocacies for social change and transformation. 
Last Valentine’s Day, some of us participated and many probably were among the spectators of the One Billion Rising movement – where women (and men and children in support of them) all over the world went to the streets, to sing, dance and demand an end to violence against women.  In celebration of IWD, many of us signed online petitions calling for an end to rape and to every form of violence against women and girls.  These are all important activities to make our voices known that there should be no more rape, harassment, violence!  We always claim that Jesus died once and for all to give us salvation.  That salvation means that by dying for us once and for all, Jesus is declaring that no one deserves to suffer again.  Jesus has already taken and embraced all our suffering – so no one deserves to suffer anymore.  The woman who anointed Jesus must have understood that.  And if we too understand that, then we will also strive to be part of the movement to create a culture of justice and equality starting at our homes, and into our workplaces and communities.          

In memory of her means remembering that the women's movement is not for women alone, should not end with women only.  The struggle of women for recognition, equality and humanization is part of the overall struggle for change and transformation.  It is part of the wider vision of a much better world, the reign of God on earth.   Thus, our vision should embrace the women of other faiths, and all peoples who are marginalized and dehumanized, including those of other sexual orientations, those with disability, and all those who are regarded as different.  This is the reason why I chose the song, “A Place at the Table” (lyrics by Shirley Erena Murray of Aotearoa New Zealand) because it captures the larger vision that we all should uphold and aspire to.  We should all strive to make life more beautiful, more just, more equitable, more embracing, more loving for everyone.  May it be so indeed….    




[1] A sermon for Kowloon Union Church by Dr. Hope S. Antone in celebration of Women’s Sunday on 10 March 2013, following International Women’s Day.   

# posted by Heddy Ha : Monday, March 11, 2013

 

“Turn to the love of God”


A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 3 March 2013 by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Psalm 63: 1-8 and Luke 13:1-9.


Opening prayer:

Dear God,

Thank you for your steadfast love. May your word inspire us to understand the mystery of life and the Holy Spirit leads us to experience the power of love in Christ.

May the word of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, my God, God of compassion and liberation. Amen.

Introduction

The recent hot air balloon blast that killed nineteen people, nine of them from Hong Kong, has shocked the world and many people in our city. The incidence is so near to us. Many people are very upset as we have witnessed such a terrible and fatal accident.

A son of one of the woman victims from Hong Kong, challenges God of his love and care to his people. This man asked some very critical and provocative questions: “how can a God be caring as her mother who is a faithful Christian was not saved?”

Why didn’t God help? Where is God’s love and kindness in the midst of a disaster? These are very common questions asked by people who have suffered from tragedies, directly or indirectly.

I am also a bit disturbed by this tragedy. This incidence reminded me of my brother’s sudden death after a car accident.

Separation from and disconnection with our loved ones is very heart breaking to people who faced the harsh reality of death. 

Accidents happen every day. People die and are seriously injured in different kinds of accidents and natural disasters every day. These unexpected incidents do create great hardship to victims and their loved ones. The Lamma boat crash last October was another example.

The Psalm 63 that we heard this morning is very comforting and timely. The poem has touched on the hope to see God in the sanctuary, it is a sincere praise to God for her steadfast love, and a recognition of God’s loving presence in times of trial.

Psalm 63 reveals the Psalmist’s hope to see God in the sanctuary, and his awareness that God is with him wherever he is. From the context, biblical scholars inform us that the Psalmist was living in a tough living environment and life trial. But with the hope and faith on God’s full presence in his life, he could bear life with courage.

From Psalm 63, verse 3a is a very unique phrase. It says - “God, your steadfast love is better than life”

Isn’t life important to human beings? If we don’t live and lose our breath, we are dead. Why did the Psalmist say to God – your steadfast love is better than life?

When I read the newspaper about the hot air balloon accident, I noticed that a Briton named Michael Rennie survived after he jumped out from the balloon before it exploded. Mr Rennie saved his life, but he lost his wife Yvonne Rennie. According to the news report, Michael kept silent after the accident and refused to talk. Very likely he is very upset and he may not feel the joy of survival. It is not hard to imagine that he is in deep grief as his dear wife died and separated from him permanently. The death of his wife could be a torture to him. A life of loneliness and guilt could be very terrible to him.

The phrase: God’s steadfast love is better than life, has given us insight.

In face of unpredictable life circumstances and the reality of pains, suffering and death in the human world, our hope is rooted in a firm belief and determination to focus our life in the steadfast love of God. There is one truth, in the oneness of God, we are all connected in life and in death because God is eternal.

Ten years ago, my brother died three days after he crashed in a traffic accident. Although he is no longer a living human being on earth, I feel his presence whenever I turn to God and her eternal love. It is only after his death, I began to realize how God loved my brother and guided him to engage in a rich earthly life that related to me and others.

My brother was a very good photographer. When our family tidied up his boxes of possessions after his death, we discovered a lot of beautiful photos he took from Tibet and Mount. Everest. Although he was not a Christian, he had used his talents to manifest God’s beautiful creation. I was amazed by the wonders and holiness revealed by many of his photos.

I was deeply connected with him at that moment when we shared the natural beauty which I believe is from God, the creator. 

All lives are created by God. All lives are connected in and with God. Therefore when we live in God, we are able to connect to other lives who are also God’s creation.

I sincerely pray and hope that Mr Michael Rennie and people who are facing similar life challenges, will affirm the love of God and become more aware of God’s presence in their life in every moment and every places. With this belief and understanding, they will find that their loved ones are not far away from them. Quite to the contrary, they are closely tied in the web of life.
Let’s move to look at the gospel reading today.

The passages taken from Gospel Luke and Psalm today seem quite different and contradictory in looking at God’s image.

In Psalm 63, God is a god of steadfast love and her presence gives hope and peace to the people. In Luke, it emphasizes God’s judgment on human sins. 

The scriptures we heard from Luke 13:1-9

The passage with a fig tree metaphor, is a reminder of the urgency to turn to God and to reconnect with her: the God of eternity and God of love and kindness.

The Jews in the ancient Israelite community had a traditional understanding about sins. Those who were suffering from tragic accidents or terrible treatment, it was because the person or family or community concerned sinned. They believed this was the judgment and punishment of God to them.

But Jesus said otherwise. He explicitly told the people the importance of repentance.

“Unless you repent, you will perish just as they did”

Jesus had urged the people of his time to repent. Jesus had a strong sense of urgency and he wished God’s people would sin no more but turn to God and to bear fruit to bring out the richness of life.
Jesus warned the people in his time and to us today:  repent and turn to God. What does repent mean?

To repent is not merely to regret things we have done or to apologize for them or to recognize wrong has been done. Repentance is not an emotion.

Repentance, is turning to God and refocus our life in God. In the context of the Gospel, such a turning involves responding to Jesus’ teaching, his life, suffering and death.

Repentance also points to a reorientation to a new life. It involves an agreement to a change of direction that is required. This change will help the person to bear fruit so that lives would be enriched.   

The key reflection of the Lenten season is to return to God and refocus our life in God by remembering once again the suffering, pain and death of Jesus Christ.

Lent is also a prime time for us to reflect on how Jesus’ pain and suffering related to our life and our world today.

Jesus was mercilessly nailed on the cross. He suffered a lot. But he did not suffer and die for no reason. His suffering revealed his identification with human brokenness. His pains had shown his great compassion with those who are in deep sorrow and grief. I firmly believe that Jesus Christ dwells in those who are suffering in great pain from the balloon accident and other similar tragedies. When we share the sorrow and grief of the victims, we are then all connected in God and in love.

The metaphor of the fig tree gives us one important message today. God has an expectation from us. God would like her people to bear fruits like Jesus. This demand is out of love. When a tree can bear fruit, its life would be much more meaningful and enriching.

The caretaker of the tree has done her best to nurture the fig tree which is weak and bears no fruit. May we learn from this caretaker to share the gospel of love with those who are in need of support and nutrition to heal and to grow, so that they may bear fruits in their life?

From the tragic hot air balloon accident, we realize once again:

Life is fragile and unpredictable. The length of life is out of our control. Jesus’ call to repent and seize the day to bear fruits by leading a meaningful life is like a bell rang aloud today. It is a call of urgency.

God’s steadfast love is ever present in our life. And yet, it is up to us whether we recognize and affirm her love. It is our willingness to seek her full presence and her guidance in our lives that lead us to a life of love that may bear fruits for her glory.

Sisters and brothers, if you are still thinking to wait for another time and another chance to make changes in your life, it may be wise to wake up and take action right now.

May the love of God empower you and give you strength. Amen 

# posted by Heddy Ha : Tuesday, March 05, 2013

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