Reflections...

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

“The power of persistency”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 20 October 2013 by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Psalm 121; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:4 and Luke 18:1-8.


Today we have heard of a parable taken from Luke 8:1-8. This parable is about a widow who has been granted justice from an unjust judge because of her persistence to go to the judge.

The parable calls for prayer, persistence and patience.

This parable about a persistent woman leads me to think of my mother.

My father ran a family size factory. He was the owner and also the worker, my mother was the financial secretary. She was the one responsible to collect money from companies who had bought service from my father’s factory. Whenever there were companies which did not settle the bill on time, (and after several calls of reminders but received no reply) she would then go to the office of the companies. She sat in the reception or the boss office, waited for the boss to come and talked to him. When she met the boss or the person in charge, she would then tell him he should settle the bill immediately as she was in need of the money to raise her five small children. If the bill was not settled, she would go to the company everyday to nag and made the people there very disturbed.

My mother said, my father worked so hard. Every single coin was full of blood and flesh, sweat and tear. She therefore never allowed anyone to run away from paying them for the service. In most of the time she was able to force the company to settle the bill and get the money. My mother was a person with high persistence!

Persistence is a key to success!
There is a Chinese idiom to describe the importance and power of persistence:
世上無難事,只怕有心人。
In English is Nothing is impossible to a willing mind”.

While it is clear the gospel account gives an important message about persistency, when we read the parable deeper, we find it important to notice what Jesus said to his people who listen to him.

He asked them to listen to what the unjust judge said:
“Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice so that she may not wear me out by continually coming to me.”

The unjust judge did it because he wanted to free himself from trouble. The reason for him to do the widow justice was out of selfish reason. Like the bosses my mother encountered, they paid her because they were tired of her lagging. They might not necessarily moved by her story for she needed the money to feed her children.

After Jesus said about the motive of the unjust judge to do the widow’s justice, he moved on to say, “will God not grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
From the text we heard, we knew that Jesus tried to compare the unjust judge with God.

To the judge, he granted justice to the widow because he did not want to get into trouble. But to God, God do it out of love and mercy. God cannot wait to grant his/her children what they need.

God’s nature is love, mercy and justice. No one who comes before him/her and cry for God’s help will be neglected. God will grant justice to the people quickly.

My mother had a positive experience when she insisted and persisted to pursuit her rights. She got what she wanted pretty quickly.

While we appreciate the quality of persistence and find it powerful and important to achieve some goals and the persons concerned get what they want, we have to admit a fact that persistent acts do not necessarily bring expected positive results. At least the positive result does not come so quickly.

From our and other people’s experience, we have seen many people suffering a lot even though they have demonstrated their persistence.

Recently I have heard of a real story about a woman, her name is Deborah Denise Peagle, she was also called Debbie. Her extra-ordinary story was taken to develop a film called Crime after crime: the battle to free Debbie Peagle. The Amnesty International HK will show this movie in the HK Christian Institute next week on 24th October.

Debbie was an African American. She was raised up in a family where her mother was abused by her father. She walked in the same path as her mother as she was abused by her boy friend. Her boy even forced her into prostitution.

One day Debbie led her boy friend Oliver Wilson to a place where he met her friends. Oliver was beaten to death by Debbie’s friend.

Debbie was taken to court. The legal system which was supposed to keep justice did not work that way. Debbie was given unfair trial because of the corruption of the District Attorney. In the court trial of that time in the United States, there was no consideration of Debbie’s long time suffering from her boy friend’s severe abuse. Because of her race and her low socio-economic status, Debbie was in a very disadvantaged position. Misled by the office of the District Attorney, Debbie admitted to commit the crime of murder in a deal made she would not be convicted to death penalty but only lighter punishment. But she was cheated. She was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 1983.

Debbie had suffered in silence for almost 20 years until in 2002, two lawyers learned about her case and started to help her to seek justice by bringing her case for judicial review. The two lawyers Nadia Costa and Joshua Safran from the law firm Bingham McCutchen fought vigorously for Debbie. Debbie did also persistently fight for her case for the sake of other women similar to her situation who suffered from multiple disadvantages of domestic violence, racial and sex discrimination in face of judicial trial.

In February 2009, Debbie was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, and her lawyers attempted to win her release on bail. This request was rejected by the judge due to technical reason. But her lawyers did not give up. With the persistent supports by her lawyers, family members and community, her release was granted at the end. But Debbie died at home after 10 months after her release.

Debbie was released at the end. But she enjoyed her freedom less than a year. She had suffered so much. Her story looks very sad. Although the persistence of Debbie and her lawyers helped her to release from the prison, she had waited for 25 years and suffered so much.

Debbie was a victim of domestic violence, judicial corruption, racial and sex discrimination. But she refused to become a passive victim. While she was in jail, she directed the prison gospel choir and earned two associate degrees. Debbie had made good use of her time while she was in prison. She did suffer but she never perished as she upheld her faith, hope and life. Her persistence had also revealed God’s grace in her life. The persistence of the two lawyers helping Debbie manifested God’s care to Debbie as well.

Persistence is not only an act. It is not only a human quality. More importantly, persistence is a spiritual gift given by God. Persistence is an attitude and determination to choose life and to choose God. Persistence is a faith, a faith in God who is love, care and justice.

Persistence is a faith in Jesus’ word, as he said in the parable of the widow: “will God not grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.”

Where there is God, there is hope. God will not delay to help. While Jesus affirmed God’s promise, he gave a challenge to his people who were listening to him. “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

The implication of Jesus’ question is this: God is committed to his/her people and through Jesus Christ, they will be saved. But they may need to wait for God’s coming with faith. They should pray always and not to lost heart.

Like Debbie, she had suffered a lot in her earthly life – abused severely by her boy friend, loss of her freedom for 25 years and suffered from chronic illness before she died. What a horrible life seems to be for many people. But Debbie fought until the end of her life. Her service to direct the prison gospel choir while she was behind the bars had touched my heart deeply. Her courage to speak up and fight for justice had brought improvement to the judicial system and increased public awareness to the plights of abused women facing court trials Although she suffered a lot, she still kept her life in God and lived a life with praise. Her faith was admirable. Her life very much revealed the glory of Jesus Christ who had suffered and died. Debbie suffered but in Christ she was raised in glory. In her suffering, Jesus suffered with her together and granted to her life of eternality.

Sisters and brothers, we are challenged by Jesus to lead a life with faith in times of trial. Jesus encouraged his disciples to pray always and not to lose heart. God has given his/her people the gift of persistence. Jesus our friend and brother had acquired this spiritual quality and shared with us. By the help of Jesus, we could do the same like Jesus.

When we know that God is our source of help and everything, we shall overcome.

We heard Psalm 121 this morning. This is a very encouraging poem. The Psalmist affirms that God is our source of life and source of help. In God, we shall be fine as we are well protected.

Whenever our faith is shaken and we are facing many challenges in life, may this psalm 121 give you strength and hope in God:

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
Whenever we seek God and place our live back to the centre of God, God will help us to go on with a persistent spirit and act with persistence.

Apostle Paul encouraged his young disciple and spiritual son Timothy to carry on his teaching and ministry with persistency. Paul’s powerful message also speaks to us, servants of God today. I would like to conclude my sermon with Apostle Paul’s words of encouragement to Timothy, taken from 2 Timothy 4:1-2.

“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke and encouraging with the utmost patience in teaching.”

God in Christ who is the ultimate judge of the world encourages us to keep our faith and to work persistently to proclaim God’s good news in words and in deeds.

Acts of persistence reveals our deep faith in God. We believe that God is also a persistent God. In the life of Jesus Christ, we know that God never give us up! We then should do the same as Jesus has called us.

Sisters and brothers: remember that the power of persistence is from God and with God.


May God give us strength to pray always and not to lose heart!  Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, October 20, 2013

 

“Seek God, See God, Choose Life”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 13 October 2013 by the Rev. Judy Chan. The scripture readings that day were 2 Timothy 2:3-15 and Luke 17:11-19.


The inspiration for today’s sermon title came from an article I read by a woman minister in the U.S. She tells the story of what happened to her when she found out she had breast cancer. After the shocking news sunk in, she cried and cried and cried. She had been expecting bad news from the looks on the faces of the medical personnel doing all the testing. Still when she got the results, it was devastating. She forced herself to go to work the next day, but as she sat in her church office, she was paralyzed with fear. She couldn’t cope. Then a colleague knocked on the door and told her Dr. Stone was in the church library. Dr. Stone was not her doctor, but the chances of any doctor stopping by the church library on a Friday morning seemed too good to pass up. So she pulled the doctor into her office as if she’d been thrown a life preserver. And as she described it, “Dr. Stone reached out with compassion and brought Christ the healer to me.”

The following week she met with her spiritual director who invited her to open herself to discover all the ways that God was reassuring her that she wasn’t walking this journey by herself. As she drove home, she formed this prayer for guidance:

Seek God, See God, Choose Life.

That prayer is what the story of the 10 lepers in Luke 17 is all about. It’s the not the first story about healing lepers in the Gospel of Luke. You may recall in Luke 5, there was one leper who came up and begged Jesus to heal him.

There Jesus spoke the word and the man was healed. But Jesus warned him don’t tell anyone, only go to the priest to be declared clean. In those days, the priest was the one who examined you and declared you to be cured.

In today’s story there are now 10 lepers needing help. They have heard about Jesus, at least enough to know that he might be able to do something about their horrible condition. Scholars are not sure that what these men had was the same as what we know as leprosy today, what we call Hansen’s disease, which can now be cured by medicine. I was told that Hong Kong once had a leper colony in the outlying island of Hay Ling Chau. Probably some of you remember it. From what I know, it opened in 1950 and had over 500 residents at its peak, and it closed in 1974 with the remaining patients being sent to Lai Chi Kok Hospital.

So whether the 10 men in this story had Hansen’s disease or some other kind of skin condition, the results were the same – you were considered toxic, you were sent away from your family and community, and you lived in poverty in the company of people who had the same hideous condition as yourself.

If healthy people happened to be coming near, you had to cover your upper lip and yell out “Unclean, unclean” so they would be warned not to come close. You also wore rags and let your hair grow long and be unkempt so no one would mistake you for a normal person. Lepers had to beg in order to survive, so even as you shouted unclean, unclean, there was always the possibility that some kindhearted soul might throw a few coins your way.

In short, having leprosy was a miserable, condemned existence. But perhaps the worst part wasn’t even the disease itself, though that was very bad. The worst part was being cut off from your family, friends and community. You couldn’t see them and they couldn’t see you, unless they chose to join you in the leper colony. But who in their right mind would do that?

So, when 10 lepers hear that Jesus is coming by, what do they do? They seek him out as he approaches the village. Keeping their distance, they call out – not “unclean, unclean” – but “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” And Jesus does. Without even uttering a word of healing, he tells them to go and show themselves to the priest. And as they went, they were made clean. As they went, they were made clean. His power was that great.

Can you imagine the absolute joy those 10 lepers must have felt? They were cured of this curse. They could go back to be with their family and friends again. Who wouldn’t be running to be first in line to see the priest and get the all-clear? And that’s just what they did, all except one.

The Bible says one leper, seeing that he was healed, turned back. One leper, praising God at the top of his lungs, fell down at Jesus’ feet. One leper, the only leper to give thanks, was a Samaritan.

Now you will remember from other Bible stories that Samaritans were a despised people in Jesus’ time. They were considered infidels and enemies of the Jewish people. No respectable Jew would have anything to do with them. Yet, the only one of the 10 who came back to say thank you was the one who was least expected to do so. Even Jesus seems to be astonished. But because of the Samaritan’s faith, Jesus not only gave him mercy, he gave him mercy beyond mercy.

Now you may say, what is this mercy beyond mercy? After all, weren’t all 10 cured of their leprosy? Yes, but only one truly saw the miracle for what it was. It was more than the healing of their physical disease. It was more than the restoration to their former life and place in the society. It was more than any declaration a priest could make. What Jesus offered was a chance to seek God, see God and choose life.

And that’s what the Samaritan did. Instead of running away from Jesus, he turns around to run to Jesus. Instead of rejoicing in his good fortune, he praises the one who has given him the blessing. Instead of going to the priest to be declared clean, he presents himself to the Great Physician who declares him not only clean, not only healed, but declares him to be well. The Greek word used here is sozo and it literally means “saved.”

It may not be so obvious at first reading, but this story is much more than a story about being thankful for all the good things in our lives. In reality, it’s a story about being thankful that God is in our lives, that God in Jesus Christ has come into this world not only to heal us but to make us whole.

Seek God, see God, choose life.

I began this sermon with a story about a woman minister facing cancer. She shared the story behind that prayer in 2004. I googled her name and found out that she has apparently made a full recovery and has a flourishing ministry in high places in the Methodist Church. Praise God. But I wondered what about those that don’t make a full recovery? What about those who pray for healing but don’t get the results they wanted? You and I all know situations like that.

Let me share two stories I know, one from the U.S., one from Hong Kong. When I was working at a church early in my ministry, there was a woman who developed cancer when she was only in her 40s. She was such a vivacious woman so this news was heartbreaking. Her husband was a well-respected doctor and they had two teenage children. The couple weren’t regular church goers but their extended family belonged to the church where I served so everyone knew about them.

Her husband was so desperate to save his wife that he took leave from his medical practice, and threw himself into cancer research trying to find a cure. Sadly, the treatments didn’t stop the disease from spreading. Towards the end when she was in the hospital, some church members encouraged me to go visit her. They said she was really depressed and maybe I could help her. Well, I was pretty young at that time, without a lot of experience, but of course I said I’d go.

I went to her hospital room and knocked gently on the door. She looked up at me, but not with surprise or gratitude. No, it was definitely a look that said, Oh, you. She recognized me as one of the ministers from the church. The visit was probably one of the worst ones I’d ever had. I didn’t know what to say, and she seemed to resent that I had come. Perhaps she was in pain or exhausted. It would be understandable. But I felt I needed to do something because that’s what ministers are there for, to do something. So I asked, is there anything I can do for you? She glared at me, and shoved a Bible towards me. “You can read something from that.”

So I opened the Bible to the 23rd Psalm, read it as reverently as I could, and then asked if I could pray with her. I don’t even remember whether she said yes or no, or whether I prayed or not. I just remember leaving the hospital and feeling like a failure.

Looking back now, I realize I was probably thinking more about myself than about her. Still I’m not sure what I could have done differently. She was obviously angry and afraid because she was dying. And maybe she had every right to be angry and afraid because she had so much to live for. I was only sorry that at that moment I could not bring her comfort and hope from God. Perhaps someone else did.

I compare that visit with another situation of a cancer patient I heard about. I never met him, but I knew his wife. Her husband was a brilliant student, doing graduate work in theology overseas. He was only in his 30s when he found out he had cancer. They came back to Hong Kong to get treatment. But the cancer was fast-growing. The wife stayed with her husband in the hospital as much as she could while also caring for their young child. And eventually he died. Years later, when I got to know the wife, we were talking one day and she shared something with me. She said when her husband was near the end, as he lay dying in that hospital bed, he told her, “I’ve never felt so close to God as I do now.”

Wow. For most people, that doesn’t make sense. Shouldn’t you feel closest to God when things are going right in your life, when you get the miracle you want? Well, maybe not, if today’s Gospel reading is any indication. The success rate there was only 1 out of 10. And even that one still faced an uphill battle. He was going back into a society where religiously he was still an outcast, a foreigner so his problems were far from over. I think that’s why Jesus’ words were so powerful to him. They’re almost like a benediction: get up and go on your way, your faith has made you well.

“Your faith has made you well.” That’s what Jesus promised to the Samaritan leper and that’s what He promises to each of us, anyone who comes to him not only asking for healing but for the healer, not only for a miracle but for the miracle worker, not only for a better life but for everlasting life. Seek God, see God, choose life.

As I thought of how to close this sermon, I recalled what Aime said last week about the importance of sharing testimonies of God’s faithfulness. That brought to mind a song called ‘Blessings’ by a Christian singer named Laura Story. Have you heard it? I first heard about it through one of our radio speakers on RTHK.

Laura Story wrote the song after her husband developed a brain tumor and she almost lost him. She described “Blessings” as a song about worshipping when life is hard. Through all her hard times, ups and downs, in and out of hospital, she often wondered "Why didn't you just fix it, God? You're all powerful and all loving… just fix it." Later she told her sister she just wished things would return to normal, to which her sister wisely replied, "You know, I think the detour is actually the road." The detour is actually the road.

I’d like to play the song “Blessings” for you. Laura Story sings it on her own album, but actually I am partial to the version I heard first by Hong Kong singer Frances Yip. I had some hesitation to play it today because I’m aware there is a danger of glorifying suffering. But when I read the lyrics again, I was reassured as I heard echoes of St Paul’s words to his brother Timothy: “The saying is sure: If we have died with Christ, we will also live with him. If we endure, we will also reign with him. If we deny him, he will also deny us. If we are faithless, he remains faithful.”

Blessings by Laura Story, sung by Frances Yip.

(Lyrics)

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
And all the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

'Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears?
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You're near?
What if trials of this life
Are Your mercies in disguise?

We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt Your goodness, we doubt Your love
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough
And all the while You hear each desperate plea
And long that we'd have faith to believe

'Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears?
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You're near?
What if trials of this life
Are Your mercies in disguise?

When friends betray us, when darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not, this is not our home
It's not our home

'Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears?
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You're near?

What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst
This world can't satisfy?

What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are Your mercies in disguise?

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, October 13, 2013

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