Reflections...

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

“The Kingdom of Heaven”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 27 July 2014 by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52.


Prayer
Gracious God, we give you thanks for the Kingdom of love and peace dwelling on earth and in our hearts. May the word of Kingdom inspire us and change us to become more like Christ. Amen.

Introduction
In the Gospel reading taken from Matthew, Jesus continued his teaching to the crowd and his disciples about the Kingdom of Heaven by using parables.

Last week we have heard about this – the Kingdom of Heaven is compared to a field of wheat and weeds – the parable of the good seeds and the weeds. The Kingdom of Heaven, has never been a place where only angels are living. There are a mix of good people and evil people.  In advancing the Kingdom of God, there is great struggle with  evil  coming to destroy. But we know God will judge and take care of his Kingdom at the end of the day.

First of all, let me clarify the terminology - Kingdom of Heaven and Kingdom of God have the same meaning.

Kingdom of Heaven is not about life after death nor a place where you can only find happiness and no sorrow. The theological meaning in the Kingdom of God is rich. It is a prophetic vision of a new heaven and new earth in which God is dwelling. (Revelation 21:1-5)

The Kingdom of God is about church’s mission: to proclaim a new order and transformation according to God’s will. It is good news shared by Jesus’ disciples and active action taken by them to make changes.

The Kingdom of God is a process to engage in God’s mission, and to experience God’s deep love and Christ’ transforming grace in a world of darkness.   

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus used some other parables to talk about the Kingdom of Heaven. He said the Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it becomes a big tree so that the birds come and make nest in the branch to rest.

Another parable of the Kingdom compares it to yeast – the leavened flour made by a woman.

Both parables inform us an important aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven. That it is about change, about transformation in life, a life that may serve others.

From the parable of the mustard seed, it reminds us about a lesson. No matter how small we think of ourselves, if we open up ourselves and are willing to be used by God, we may do great things for God and make contributions to others.

If we are the mustard seed, God is the one who sows it in the field and makes it grow. If we just be ourselves and do what God has called us to do, we may achieve great things. But bear in mind, it is not for ourselves, but for the sake of others, and for the sake of God

 The Kingdom of God is a call for change. (Mark 1:14-15)

The Kingdom of Heaven is central to the mission of Jesus. He regarded it as the core of the Good News. (Mark 1:15)

The Kingdom of God is a call for change.

In his earthly ministry, Jesus proclaimed the good news by saying this to the people --   “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news.”  (Mark 1:14-15)

To seek the Kingdom of God is to open up ourselves, and to commit ourselves to transformation of our inner self – in short it is to live a godly life.

A godly life is to become more forgiving, more sacrificing, more loving and compassionate, more peaceful at heart, more sensitive to seek justice. This is the life Jesus has demonstrated to us.

When human beings are able to formulate new relationships which are more loving and caring, they will form a community and a world that is a better place to live for all creatures. Christians, who are Jesus’ followers, are called to participate in the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom of love.

Change and transformation is easier said than done, for some people who have experienced deep hurt in the past may find it difficult to forgive and let go. There are others who may have fear in their hearts that hold them back in seeking changes. In other situation, it may be self interest and a strong desire to keep material possession that makes changes in life difficult.   

As human beings, we are all imperfect and have our own limitations and weakness. God knows it and understands. But God always gives us chance to change and God the Creator is our source of strength. The seed that grows to become a big tree is the work of God out of his grace. Jesus Christ, who is our savior, never separates us from his love. He has saved and will save us from all temptations. God will work things out when we are ready and commit ourselves to God’s kingdom.

Commitment is another important aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Jesus used two other parables to share about the mystery of Kingdom of Heaven with his disciples.
 
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a person finds treasure and then hides it in the field and a merchant in search of fine pearl. When they find the valuable thing, they both sell all their possession to buy it.

Both the hidden treasure in the field and the pearl are referring to incomparable quality of the Kingdom of heaven. The Kingdom is so good and supreme, that the person who find it is willing to pay the cost. The person who goes to sell all his possession does it with joy. It is a big contrast to the rich man who felt sad when he was asked to sell all his things in exchange for God’s kingdom and eternal life.

These two people are willing to give up everything in exchange of the supreme kingdom.

The parable of treasure and pearl has given a challenge to us as Jesus’ disciples.

Do we recognize the supreme value of the Kingdom of God as shared by Jesus in the parable?

Is there anything that blinds us from seeing the ultimate value of God’s Kingdom?

Do we seek God’s Kingdom first and above all other things?

What are the barriers in me?

Do I love the worldly possession and myself more than God?

What has separated us from the love of God and made us refuse to respond to God’s calling to participate in God’s kingdom of love, justice and peace?

There is no easy answer for the above questions.

Tong’s family talk this morning may give us some insights.
We are the treasure of God. We are the fine pearl in the eyes of God. We are all highly valued as we are God’s children created in his holy image. Human lives and dignity are the supreme value in the Kingdom of God. This is the very reason we should give all we have to defend it and regain it. Without life, we have nothing left to embrace.

Facing a world full of violence and abuse of human rights is heart breaking. The bombings in Gaza that have killed hundreds and injured thousands innocent people, and the women abuse in Iraq have reminded our call to seek and engage in the Kingdom of Heaven by offering what we have, with commitment.

The supreme value of God’s Kingdom is life, love, justice and peace.

The treasure represented in God’s Kingdom is not a material object and is not something out there. The treasure, the pearl are right here in our heart and in all suffering faces. In seeing the love and mercy of God behind the suffering people, we see the supreme value of God’s Kingdom.


May God guide us to make the right choice and empower us to take courageous actions to make changes in our life and in the world for the sake of God’s Kingdom. Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, July 27, 2014

 

“The land is filled with weed.”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 20 July 2014 by Dr Kung Lap Yan. The scripture readings that day were Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.


The passage for today is clearly explained. It is spoken to the children of the kingdom represented by the wheat that God’s delayed action against the children of the evil one represented by the weed is for the sake of them, because removing the weed during the stage of growing would uproot the wheat. However, God’s judgment would not be in vain. It would definitely come at the harvest. Therefore, the children of God should keep faith in God and be faithful. This passage is very comforting, especially for those who are suffered unfair treatment from bad guys. At the same time the passage seems to recommend a kind of passive resistance to evil. Should we adopt it as a norm in dealing with evil? Or what are the limitations of Jesus’ parable? Let me suggest three scenarios to articulate my concern.

The first scenario is that Jesus’ comment is right that any uprooting the weed during the stage of growing would affect the wheat growing, but if the field is full of weed and there is less and less space for wheat planting and growing, a responsible farmer is not to let the weed and wheat grow in their own way, but rather is to take an active action to remove and stop the weed in order that there is space for wheat planting and growing. Obviously, this is not the scenario of Jesus’ parable. In Jesus’ parable, it is a wheat field with relatively less amount of weed, but this is not our experience. In Hong Kong, we have experienced the rapid spread of weed in the field characterized by the abuse of power, coercion, lies, threats and irrationality. On the other hand, we have witnessed the decline of justice, respect and equal opportunities. This is why many people exclaim that Hong Kong has been changed, and it is no longer our familiar Hong Kong. We definitely should have faith in God, and at the same time, we should adopt a more active role to resist evil, for evil has no internal mechanism of self-control.

The second scenario is how to distinguish between wheat and weed. For instance, in the eyes of both the Chinese government and Hong Kong government, ‘occupying central with love and peace’ is weed, for it is violence, unlawful and endangers Hong Kong economy. On the other hand, advocates for ‘occupying central with love and peace’ would consider both the Chinese government and Hong Kong government are weed, for they do not keep their promise stated in the Basic Law that the universal suffrage would be introduced in 2017. Who is the weed? Who is the wheat? Perhaps, some would suggest that we should not focus on politics, for politics is changing all the time. They suggest that the church is the wheat, for it bears the sign of Gods’ salvation. But the recent sermon given by Archbishop Kwong on July 6 makes us hesitate to say that the church is the wheat, for his sermon shows no pastoral concern for those who are arrested due to civil disobedience. Ironically, he uses example to humiliate them. Who is the wheat? And who is the weed? Perhaps, one of the possible criteria to differentiate between the wheat and the weed is its attitude towards the other. It is the weed, because it would employ different means to extinguish the so-called enemies in the name of justice and peace. It is the wheat, because it seeks no revenge and no lies. In this sense, I have to say our government is the weed rather than the wheat.

The final scenario is about who the farmer is and who the evil one is. The parable assumes that the farmer is the Son of Man, and the one who sow seeds of weed is the evil one. But as what I have said at the beginning that the world is already a field of weed, then the one who sows the good seeds would be condemned as the enemy of the world. How does this scenario help us to understand the holiness of the church? We Christians are used to understand the holiness of the church as being separated from the weed, but this scenario reminds us that the holiness of the church has to be engaged in the midst of the weed, for we are intentionally thrown into it. In other words, the issue is not about how to avoid being affected, but rather to engage in the dirty world, and even at the risk of getting dirt.

These three scenarios challenge the basic assumptions of Christians, that is, the peaceable of the church, the righteousness of the church and the holiness of the church. We are inclined to emphasize what Jesus said in the Gospel of John, ‘Look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting.’ (4:35) This is very encouraging, indeed. But I would tell you that this is not the reality. The reality is, ‘Look around you, and see how the fields have been changed to the fields of weed.’ If this is so, we are not called to harvest, but to get dirt and remove the weed in order that the good seeds have space and nutrition to grow.









# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, July 20, 2014

 

What Kind of Duck Are You?

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 13 July 2014 by the Rev. Ewing W. Carroll, Jr. The scripture readings that day were Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23.


Someone has said today’s Gospel Lesson is like a lunch buffet at a fancy hotel.  There’s a little bit of everything: a wide assortment of appetizers, salads, heavy meats – lots of carbohydrates and calories; and jam-packed with pastries.  And don't forget multi-flavors of ice cream!  But frankly today’s Gospel Lesson is not about fancy buffets.  Rather, it’s about the ways God sows seeds of trust in you and me.  How God seeks to use us as messengers of God’s abiding love and justice in a world that seems to become more dangerous, destructive and demeaning.   This Parable of the Sower, while not a lunch buffet, does teach us several things about our pilgrimage of faithfulness.

Firstly:  Sowing seeds of faithfulness may not be popular.  Matthew tells us Jesus is sitting in a boat speaking to the crowd.  Before, his preaching was at the synagogue.  Now we find him at the seashore.  The crowd is so large Jesus finds safety and shelter in a fishing boat.  By this time, he’s worn out his welcome among the religious leaders.  The people, who should most likely have accepted, welcomed and appreciated his ministry, have now closed the door on him.  Early in his ministry, Jesus has already become unpopular with both religious and political leaders.

John Wesley knew that feeling back in 18th Century England.  Educated by and ordained into the Anglican priesthood, Wesley soon found he was not welcome to preach from Anglican pulpits.  In sowing the seeds of God’s love; speaking frankly and fearlessly about God’s desire for peace and justice, Wesley was “uninvited” from speaking in his own beloved church.

You’ve probably either read or heard about the controversy regarding Archbishop Paul of the Hong Kong/Macao Anglican Church.  In a sermon preached last Sunday, he suggested Christians should not get involved in the Occupy Central activity or other so-called political activities.  Like Jesus, on his way to the Cross, they should remain silent!  Later one of his priests told the press the Archbishop was just being funny and witty.  Funny and witty?   Yes, there are times when ”silence is golden.”  For me, this is NOT the time.  The Jesus I know was not the silent type.  I just wonder what Bible translation the Archbishop is reading.

I’m reminded again what a leading church member in one of Hong Kong’s Methodist churches once said to me: “We welcome you to preach in our church, but please don’t say anything that might make us uncomfortable.  We’ve had a long, busy workweek.  When we come to church on Sunday, the last thing we want is to be challenged or disturbed.”

But that’s exactly what happens when we take seriously the words and life of Jesus. That’s what happens when we seriously hear and seek to live the Gospel God sows in our hearts and minds.  Christians in the early church learned this lesson very quickly – to speak out for Christ can easily mean speaking against political, social and religious narrowness.  Daring to sow seeds of God’s grace, strength, hope and salvation can easily get us into trouble.  Not with God, but with other people, usually church leaders; and in Hong Kong it’s often with government leaders and the police.

Secondly:  The seeming wastefulness of the farmer.  In Jesus’ time, farmers planted seeds in two different ways: one was to “broadcast” – scatter the seeds, knowing that some of them would grow; some would quickly wither and die.  Another was to put a sack on the back of a donkey and let the donkey walk up and down the field. The sack had a hole in the bottom and the seeds would scatter from the sack.

But let’s be clear:  this Parable is not about farmers, donkeys or how to plant wheat, cotton, organic herbs or mango trees. No, Matthew is trying to tell us:  God is the Sower.  And what God is sowing is the precious gift of God’s abiding love.  God doesn’t give up on us.  Never, never, ever. God keeps sowing.  How many times have you heard – or said – “Don’t waste your time on that person.  They’re hopeless.  They will never changeTrying to help them improve is like scattering seed on hard, rocky soil.  Forget it.”  Some of us grew up on an old Gospel Hymn “Bringing in the Sheaves”.  I love these words, “Sowing in the sunshine, sowing in the shadows, fearing neither clouds nor winter’s chilling breeze; by and by the harvest, and the labor ended, we shall come rejoicing, in bringing in the sheaves.”  It may seem that God is being wasteful, but both God’s love – and God’s demands, are poured out for all people.  There’s nothing wasteful about such love!

There’s a third thing about this Gospel Lesson that intrigues me.  Regardless of the kind of soil, there’s always some kind of harvest.  People hear – and respond - to the Gospel in different ways.  Billy Sunday was a famous American professional baseball player-turned-evangelist. He held revivals all across America in the late 1800s/early 1900s.  A woman once asked him, “Sir why do you keep holding these revivals?  People’s conversions don’t seem to last?”  Sunday replied, “Why do you keep taking baths?”

Some of us profess a faith of closed minds – hardened hearts, if you will.  Our thoughts are glued to the past.  Yet others are such activist-minded, God hardly has a chance to be heard, much less followed.  This kind of harvest is more about convenience than commitment.

Painful as it may seem to us, God does not just depend upon you or me in order to bring about God’s Kingdom of love and justice.  Someone has written, “The Kingdom of God [the Reign of God] is not advanced by filling the church with people; it’s filling people with God.”   I believe God would greatly like us to cooperate in sowing seeds of love and justice.  But God’s will is not dependent upon us.
 
Now, finally!  The question, “What Kind of duck are you?”  Like people, ducks vary in size, shape, color and attitude.  Like us, their eating habits are also different. Puddle ducks – like a Mallard duck, only eat what they can conveniently find along the water’s edge.  They put very little effort or energy into finding food.  On the other hand, diving ducks go to great lengths to find food, even diving deep, deep, deep down to the bottom of a river or lakebed, where they might find food.  Their feathers may get torn; their bodies filthy with mud; they dive with great risk, but the results are wonderful.

God is both anxious and determined to sow seeds of love, justice, peace and righteousness.  That’s part of the nature and purpose of God.  Our response?  As I see it, there are two:  We can be like the puddle ducks; float along the surface, reacting, responding through what is comfortable or convenient.  Never stretching too much; never pushing ourselves too hard; just go with the flow; just enough to make it through another day.  Or we can be like the diving ducks – willing to risk.  Prepared to go to great depths; to challenge ourselves - and others; to struggle amidst difficulty and danger; to move beyond the comfort zone; daring to go to the edge of life.


So what’s your answer?  Puddle duck or diving duck?  Jesus said, ”Let anyone with ears hear.”  Come, Lord Jesus, help us to hear – and to live and grow as the kinds of seeds you want us to become.  Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, July 13, 2014

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