Reflections...

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

“The Journey Partner”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 29 December 2013 by Pearl Wong. The scripture readings that day were Psalm 148; Isaiah 63:7–9 and Matthew 2:13–23.


Let us pray
Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen.

Message
If the book of Matthew were a contemporary novel or present-day film, then the plot development in chapter 2 greatly contributes to it being a best seller or a smash hit. I say this because when I took an elective course in Film and Literature, it teaches us the important elements of successful storytelling, and I learn that a plot must consist of a dramatic conflict. Dramatic conflict can mean struggle between characters, or a character's struggle against society, against other larger forces, or even against something inside herself or himself, for example, feelings, emotions, illness.

So let us now revisit chapter 2 including one of today's Scripture reading Matthew chapter 2:13-23 and see how that dramatic conflict develops and how it affects the main characters in this chapter.

To King Herod, what the wise men tells him is bad news because he feels that his position as king is threatened by the birth of Jesus. King Herod is frightened that he might lose his power and everything he owns. Because of King Herod's struggle against his own fear, he orders to kill all the children in and around Bethlehem who are two years old and under. Herod's struggle has put Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus in danger, suddenly something unexpected happens in their lives but Joseph and Mary didn't see this coming. Verse 11 tells us that the wise men kneels down before baby Jesus and Mary, and offer them treasures, gold and luxury items. Can you imagine how Joseph and Mary must have felt? I would say they were filled with joy, and hope, and probably thought they could live a comfortable and secure life. But this is not what happens next. From verse 13 onward, we learn that this family, after receiving the warning from an angel, has to leave everything behind, run for their lives, and embark on a journey filled with uncertainty, worry and anxiety. This family is disoriented not just once but twice. After Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus have escaped from the danger of King Herod's order and just when Joseph thought that he could settle down to begin a new life, the angel appears suddenly and tells him to leave his comfort zone and get on with his journey, again Joseph is overwhelmed by uncertainty and anxiety. Joseph is afraid that his journey into the future brings him and his family nothing but risks and even death.  

Let us recap how the dramatic conflicts affect the main characters in Mathew's chapter 2. When something unexpected happens in the lives of King Herod and Joseph, they are in a helpless situation that causes disorientation. Both struggle against their own fears and both feel that their lives are being threatened, their present as well as their future represent uncertainty, anxiety and danger. Do we see something similar between the reactions of these characters in the Gospel Matthew and ourselves WHEN SOMETHING UNEXPECTED HAPPENS IN OUR LIVES? Can we relate to the personal struggles against something inside the main characters, and their reaction to the helpless situation? When we are in a similar helpless situation, how do we deal with our own helplessness? Do we not question where is God in this? Does God know what I am going through?

We can try to answer these questions ourselves by reflecting on three aspects of God - the role of God in our lives, the meaning of God's name, and God's relationship with us.

First, we recognize the role of God in our lives by remembering God's promises to us through Jesus Christ, and his teachings as manifested in the Gospels. In Matthew 2: 13-23, God sends an angel to Joseph and his family to deliver them from adversities not just once but repeatedly, and God is their journey partner wherever they go and whatever situation they encounter on their way. God is the faithful journey partner who will not leave us.

We also remember the narrative of the wise men looking for baby Jesus in Matthew chapter 2. The Christmas message is about childlikeness - the quality of being childlike. In Mark 10:15, Jesus tells us clearly that," Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." In our relationship with God, God desires us to return to the trusting simplicity of a child. The child trusts that the parent will walk hand in hand with her or him, and lead the way where he or she needs to go. The child also has faith in God the parent who will protect, feed and shelter him or her.

Whenever something unexpected happens in our lives, we can also refer to Jesus' teaching on how we should respond, and Christ's assurance that he will be there for us. In Matthew 6:25, Jesus tells us not to worry and not to be anxious about our life. We are almost certain that our lives will not be worry-free or problem-free, however, we are certain that Christ who has experienced extreme suffering on the cross, died and resurrected to life, surely understands our sufferings and distress. Jesus' own suffering makes him our partner in suffering, he suffers along with us. Most importantly, Christ's resurrection symbolizes the overcoming of suffering for us and the overcoming of the power of death. This is a powerful promise from Christ our redeemer.

Second, the meaning of God's divine name and its promise to us. All of us would be familiar with the story of Moses at the burning bush and God's divine name revealed in Exodus chapter 3. When Moses asks God what is God's name, God answers, I AM WHO I AM. The divine name, I AM WHO I AM, reveals God's intention to be present with Israel. God told Moses that God has seen the misery of the people, has heard their cry of injustice, and God also knows their sufferings, and God promises to deliver them out of their struggles. When God appears to Moses in the form of a burning bush, God brings Godself to the same level of a human being. This means God puts Godself in our shoes, by doing that, God understands what we are going through. Going back to Mathew chapter 1:22-23, Jesus is named "Immanuel" and Immanuel means "God is with us." God who becomes flesh through Jesus Christ to live among us, and now through the Holy Spirit is always with us no matter where we are and whatever we go through.

Finally, we affirm God's relationship with us by contemplating on our personal experiences and recall the times when God is with us. I recall my own experience of a loving and caring God who walks closely with me during my father's illness and my grief over his death.

About six years ago, after a long and tough career and only one year into his retirement, my father was diagnosed with cancer and passed away within two years. I suffered inconsolable grief over the loss of my father whom I consider the kindest and most selfless person I ever knew. Recognizing where God is in the midst of my suffering is more important than searching for an answer to the cause of suffering. Theological reflections and life experiences may give explanation to some causes of human sufferings but still fall short of providing answers to every form of suffering.

Our experience plays a major part in assuring that our theological reflections are not just purely cognitive and irrelevant to life situations. Our lived experiences of God’s mercy, the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit, and the life giving spirit that is promised to us through Christ will help us overcome crisis and suffering. I experience God’s presence with my family during my father’s illness. God has shown God's remarkable love for me through my father’s love. I was able to share the comfort I received from God with my family and God’s strength sustained us throughout that difficult period. Although my father did not recover from his illness miraculously, God journeys with me in overcoming my grief, and my acceptance of the totality of life experiences that includes death and dying.

Our critical reflection has no guarantee that everything will make sense to us, especially on suffering; rather, our reflection affirms that God is our faithful partner in our ongoing journey that exemplifies faith seeking understanding. In our relationship with God, we need to recognize that we are in equal partnership, by that I mean, we have to respond to God as a trusting partner and hold out our hands to receive God's grace.

I have just shared with you what we can do when something unexpected happens in our lives. We try to remember the three aspects of God.

First, God plays the role of the faithful journey partner who will never leave us. Christ's resurrection symbolizes the overcoming of suffering for us, and the overcoming of the power of death. This is a powerful promise from Christ our redeemer.

Second, God's divine name means "God is with us." God sees our miseries, hears our cry of injustice, and promises to deliver us from our struggles.

Third is God's relationship with us. Our personal experiences affirm that we are in a trusting relationship with God who promises through Christ that God will help us overcome crisis and suffering.

Three more days and we will say goodbye to 2013. The coming of 2014 symbolizes new beginning. Let us reflect on our life situations and try a different prayer for ourselves, others and the world. May we not only pray for God to grant us good days, joy, prosperity, but also pray that God to be with us, deliver us from all trials, comfort us, empower us to overcome our struggles.

Most importantly, pray that we care for those who have less, and help others to overcome their struggles.

I will conclude by reading a prayer called "Hold My Hand" by the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, Nobel Prize winner for Literature in 1913. I invite you to meditate on the words as I read.

HOLD MY HAND
Deliver me from my own shadows, O God,
from the wreck and confusion of my days,
for the night is dark and your pilgrim is blinded.
Hold my hand.
Deliver me from Despair.
Touch with your flame the lightless lamp of my sorrow.
Waken my tired strength from its sleep.
Do not let me linger behind, counting my losses.
Let the road sing to me of the house at every step.
For the night is dark, and your pilgrim is blinded.

Hold my hand.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, December 29, 2013

 

“God is with us”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 22 December 2013 by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Isaiah 7:10-16; Roman 1:1-7 and Matthew 1:18-25.


Opening prayer:
Living God, thank you for your Word. May Your Word touch our heart and by the Holy Spirit we are inspired to understand your salvation. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You O God, our savior and redeemer. Amen.  

Essence of Christmas
Christmas is coming soon next week. Many people are busy with parties and shopping. Some people may have even started their holiday and prepared for a trip somewhere.
Last week, I received a whatsapp from a friend: sharing some reminders on the meaning of Christmas

Christmas stands for:
-      C is Christ, not card
-      H is hope, not holiday
-      R is Rejoice, not resort
-      I is incarnation, not indulgence
-      S is salvation, not Santa Claus
-      T is thanksgiving, not turkey
-      M is mercy, not money (moderation, not more and more)
-      A is adoration, not activity
-      S is sharing, not shopping
(sacrifice, not self gratification; Jesus shared his life with us and for us)

Christmas – there are two S
-it represents the essence of Christmas and the heart of Christianity
1)  Salvation through the forgiveness of sins
2)  Sharing/ Sacrifice: a service of love
-          Jesus suffered, died and rose again from the cross
-          Jesus serves as a great model of servant-hood. He is a servant king
Christmas is to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the savior of the world. He came to save and the serve.

Jesus in Hebrew : Jehoshua, meaning – ‘Yahweh saves’. The Jewish people have been longing for their Messiah, coming to the world to save their nation. But Jesus came not only to save the Jews but all humanity and the world.

Salvation - Sins forgiven
In the Gospel account of Matthew, Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father was given a vision in his dream. His fiancée Mary was pregnant and she was conceived by the Holy Spirit. This baby is the messiah sent by God. This is the fulfillment of God’s promise proclaimed by the prophet Isaiah. 7:14.

“Look, the young woman is with a child and shall bear a son and shall name him Immanuel.”

Joseph was told by the angel, “this baby will save his people from their sins”  (Matthew 1: 21b)

The prophecy of the birth of the Jewish Messiah is proclaimed also by the priest Zechariah :
The birth of the Messiah is “to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Zechariah 1:77-79)

The way God save the world by sending the Messiah is not to control and rule over the world. God saves the world by the forgiveness of sins.

“For God so loved the world that He gave his only son, so that everyone who believe 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 may be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17)

The heart of the message of Christianity is God’s provision for dealing with human sin, which is not just individual acts of deceit, immorality and so on, nor is it the sum total of all such acts.  Sin also includes a natural tendency to rebel against the Will of God. This rebellion separates humans from God (Isa 59:2; Rom 3:23; 6:23; Eph2: 1-3) and lies at the heart of all social misconduct and conflict. Jesus came into the world to liberate humans from sin and from the consequent wrath of God, whose very nature is opposed to sin in every form.

People sin when they turn away from God and get lost. We are living in a world full of terror and outraged violence. Just to give a few examples:
-          Many Christians in Syria and Egypt have been persecuted. In Syria, the most recent attack against Christians had killed 50 people. Many of them were children. A Christian man who was taken captive by the rebels, had been cruelly asked “how do you want to die?” This man suffered from a complete breakdown before he was eventually released.

-          Mr Liu Xiaobo, the first Nobel Peace Price winner in China, was tried and sentenced to eleven years in prison four years ago. His wife Liu Xia, who has been under house arrest since 2010. They are punished because they advocated for a humane and democratic China governed by rule by laws. What an absurd world! In China and all over the world, there are still thousands and thousands of people suffering from human rights violations because of the abuse of power by corrupted government. 

Sins of greed, power and control, persecution and oppression against the weak have created a lot of pains and suffering in the world.

Jesus brings people closer to God and reconnects them in the love and life of God. The forgiveness of sins given by God through Christ enables human beings to live a free life. Human beings are no more living in bondage of sins (greed, hatred, fear, power and dominance). In Christ, humans are no more enslaved but live freely in the love of God. 

Christmas: the second S – meaning Sharing, Sacrifice, Service
Look at baby Jesus on the banner handed on the church wall: baby Jesus is sleeping peacefully. This is an image of peace and joy with an innocent baby born.
Please notice the banner is in red. Red is a sign of sacrifice. For we know this baby Jesus grew up to suffer, to die and to rise again from the power of death.

Followers of Christ keep celebrating the birth of Jesus. Why?
We are reminded once and again : Jesus saved the world and transform people’s life by his love and care. It is our call to share this message to the world.

Christmas: a season to share God’s love
Christmas season always lead me to remember a friend I called him Peter. He was a drug addict for over 20 years. His lung had been seriously damaged. He was admitted to hospital for treatment. He was well taken care of by the nurses. They talked to him and brought him soup. At Christmas Eve, when he was lying on the bed, a group of Christians led by the nurses visited him and sang to him Christmas carols. He was very touched and believed that it was God who loved him so much that He sent these angels to greet him in this special time – a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the savior of all humanity.

Peter was a drug addict for so many years. In many people’s eyes, he was a bad guy -- no dignity and no respect from the society, not even from his friends and family.
But the nurses’ unconditional acceptance and loving deeds revealed to him Jesus’ love and grace to him. Although he had done so many wrong things in the past, God still loves him and cares for him.

He then became a Christian and devoted himself to serve God by helping young drug addicts in drug rehabilitation programs. 

The Christian nurses shared with him love and care. They had lived out the essence of Christmas, the purpose of Jesus’ birth and his life.

A lesson to learn from Apostle Paul – he share with his disciples in Roman 1
Paul reminded the followers of Christ in his time --
Jesus Christ saved the world through his sacrifice, death and resurrection.
Through Christ, the believers received grace and apostleship to bring the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. (Roman 1: 5-6)

The life of Jesus is a life of service. Therefore, when we celebrate Christmas, Jesus’ birth, we are reminded that serving others with love is the essence of Christmas.

Challenges and promises

We celebrate Christmas, the birth of Jesus with joy and happiness.
God does not promise us an easy life. Even Jesus, the son of God, was given a hard life on earth. He came to the world not to be served but to serve. He came to suffer, die and rise again from the cross.

God does not promise us a life without pain and struggles, struggles and uncertainty.
What God gives to us is an unfailing promise of love. In God’s unfailing love, we will be saved.

The promise of salvation has been carried throughout human history, from the prophet of Isaiah in the old days and up to now. God’s promise of hopeful salvation has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. In Christ, we have been given eternal life.

The eternal promise given by God in Christ is – God is with us. God will never leave us alone. God was living in his people in the past, God is living in us at present, God will live in us in the future. God is an eternal God.

This trust and fact has empowered us with hope. We know that no matter what happen in us and in the world, God is there with us.

Emmanuel, the new born baby is the sign of God’s presence.

Conclusion
Never reduce Christmas to
-          Christmas card, holiday, resort, indulgence, Santa Claus, turkey, money, activity and shopping.
But focus our life in Christ who has given us hope in his death and resurrection. We rejoice for God’s incarnation to the world to save us through the forgiveness of sins. We give thanks to God for his mercy and we adore again and again for his sacrifice and service of love to us and the whole world. Amen.

Christmas is a time to remind us -- God is the centre of our life and our world.

May the gift from God – Jesus who is called Emmanuel, God is with us bring you hope, joy, peace and love. Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, December 22, 2013

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