sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 15 September 2013 by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture
readings that day were 1 Timothy
1:12-17 and Luke 15:1-10.
The parable of
the Lost Sheep in the gospel account we heard this morning (Luke 15:1-10) is
familiar to many of us. It reminds us once again of the radical love that Jesus
had for sinners. This love is radical because Jesus cares for the unlovable and
refers to those people who are minorities, marginalized, unwelcome and even
rejected by the community. In the ancient Jewish world, people regarded as
abnormal due to sickness or other conditions poorly understood (illness like leprosy,
woman suffering from non-stop blood discharge), and morally wrong people such
as the prostitutes and divorced women etc., were outcasts.
to love and accept these sinners never changes even in the face of constantly challenges
and attacks by the religious authorities such as the Pharisees and the scribes.
Jesus continues to do what God has called on him to do. He received sinners and
called them to repent. Because of this unconditional acceptance, many sinners
and tax collectors were attracted to Jesus and came to listen to his words.
“The heart of the gospel is God’s reaching
out to the sinner and making provision for their forgiveness” “Liberation of
all sinners free from chains”
are the sinners? Who are these lost sheep in our society today?
attended a seminar on ‘pastoral concern for transgendered people’. I was deeply
moved by a personal story shared by an intersex person at the seminar. She used
a nick name in order to protect her identity and her privacy. Therefore I
called her ‘Unique’ in this sermon. Unique chooses to identify her gender as
female, after thirty years of living as a male. When Unique was born, she could
not be distinctly identified as male or female due to unusual chromosomes and
genital development. As required by the medical setting and social norm, her
parents had to decide which sex they wanted their child to be. Eventually, on
behalf of Unique, her parents chose a male gender identity for her. Since then
she had to endure many injections and go through many operations in order to masculinize
her body. She underwent more than ten operations. The process was terrible and involved
great suffering. More sadly, none of these treatments worked very well; they made
her body very weak.
Confusion in gender
identities, constant fear of rejection by others, uncertain future, and
inconvenience in day to day life has made Unique’s life very difficult, and
indeed quite miserable. She attempted suicide. She decided that God will not
allow her to die. Now she finds that it is her calling to speak and give a voice
for the intersex people. She hopes that more people may have better knowledge
and understanding on intersex people. She especially wants to reach Christians,
for she is a Christian and used to attend church’s service on a regular basis.
But eventually she felt hurt when pastors and fellow Christians prayed for her
without genuine understanding of her situation. Prayers like asking God to stop
the curse due to her ancestors’ sins was awful. Although, in the name of God,
and in the name of love and caring, concern was being expressed by her sisters
and brothers, the way of expressing those well-intentioned sentiments was
hurtful. Sometimes, words just like a knife cut into her heart. She has been “bleeding”
non-stop. This is really a powerful and harsh reminder to us as pastors and all
Christians when we try to share our concern for people with special needs.
Although she has
stopped going to the church which she had attended as a male, her commitment to
God and to the church has not perished. She just needs a
little more space to take care of her inner self at the moment. In the midst of
living in a very difficult situation, Unique has survived and chooses to keep
her life going. I believe it is God’s love that sustains her. Jesus’ radical
acceptance of who she is has strengthened her.
touched by her genuine sharing, a number of participants including lay
Christians, pastors and seminary teachers greeted her and thanked her for the
inspiring sharing. We shook hands with her and gave warm hugs to her. Unique found
it a positive experience, and was
encouraged by the participants. Before the seminar, Unique had not been sure
how people would respond. It was her first time to share in the public. She had
agreed to do it because she had trust in the Christian community. She wants to
increase Christians’ understanding and concern on intersex issues. Still, she could
not use her real name to share and she does not want her face shown in the
media, as her family is not yet ready for any public coming out.
Unique is unique
in God’s creation. Although she is “different”, she, like all of us, is God’s
precious child, loved and accepted. Unique was once
lost and losing her hope as she tried to end her life. Her body was once broken
and her life shattered. She did not even accept
herself. This self rejection was harsh and paining to her. But Jesus saved
her and embraced her. He keeps her going and
calls her to do his work.
Jesus is happy to see the lost sheep repent
and turn to God, God of live and light. God is so delighted to reconnect with
his beloved children. Quoted what Jesus said in the scripture readings today,
“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who
repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” “Just
so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one
sinner who repents.” God is very
pleased to have his sheep turn back to him and restore life in full.
The Old Testiment understanding of
repentance is based on the two Hebrew
verbs שוב shuv (to return) and נחם
nicham (to feel sorrow). The New Testiment version, in Greek, uses for 'repentance’
two words (a preposition and a verb)
meaning "after/behind one's mind", or “to subsequently think differently.”
Therefore the understanding of repentance that comes down to us is “a change of
mind accompanied by regret and change of conduct, "change of mind and
heart", or, "change of consciousness".
religious point of view, repentance also refers to turning to God and re-focus
our life in God. It points to a reorientation to a new life as well.
The power of
Jesus’ forgiving and sacrificing love is immense and beyond measure. The mercy of
God in Jesus has great power to change people’s life. The love of Jesus for
Unique has made her feel more at ease and accepting of herself as who she is.
She is willing and ready make a voice for the intersex people so that they will
be more understood, accepted, welcome and loved by the society.
Look at the
life of St Paul
the great apostle and influential leader of early church. He had once been a
persecutor against Christians. He had been a man of violence, killing the
believers. After his encountered with Jesus in Damascus
, his life completely changed. He
admitted his sins of ignorance and unbelief. By faith and love in the Lord
Jesus Christ, he was forgiven and fully accepted. Graced by Jesus’ mercy, he
was called to become God’s servant by sharing the good news of eternal life and
witnessing Christ’s glory in his suffering, death and resurrection.
selfishness, violence, discrimination, rejection and division have made people
in the world separated from the Creator God. Wars and violence, poverty and
starvation, abuse of power and human rights violations are found everywhere.
These remind us that we are still living in a sinful and lost world. Jesus
Christ does not give up. Our risen Lord Jesus Christ is still finding the lost
sheep and calling his disciples to do it together with him today.
Life and love
is free gift from God. Forgiveness is a grace that we do not earn but freely
given by Jesus Christ to those who turn to him.
I hope and pray that you will be found by Jesus Christ and live in his
forgiving grace. Jesus Christ, the son of God who came to the world to forgive
and find the lost sheep, is great promise of God. By faith and trust in Jesus
Christ, we are able to reconnect with God who is the source of life and source
repentance, let us seek God’s forgiveness once again and respond actively to
God’s calling to live a lives of conversion that transform sorrow to joy,
despair to hope, division to unity, hatred to love, fear to peace.