Reflections...

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

“The grace of forgiveness”

A 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 untouchable.

“Sinners here 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.

Jesus’ commitment 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”

Who are the sinners? Who are these lost sheep in our society today?

Recently I 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.

After being 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’ μετάνοια (metanoia)--likewise 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".
From a 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.

Sins of 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.

Dear friends, 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 of love.

In 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.


Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, September 15, 2013

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