Reflections...

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

“Presentation of Christ Sermon”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 28 December 2014 by Paul Cooper. The scripture readings that day were Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Galatians
4:4-7; Luke 2:22-40.


Our gospel story today is rooted in the very earliest origins of the people of God. It is a part of the Passover story that is being re-enacted by Mary and Joseph in the Temple; part of the fundamental reason for the very existence of the children of Israel.

Let me remind you of the story. It all happened many years after the time when Joseph went into Egypt, and rose to be the governor of the land. The children of Israel – the Jews – had become numerous, and the Pharaoh of Egypt had become afraid that they would become too powerful, so he enslaved and oppressed them. God told Moses to ask Pharaoh to allow the Jews to go free so they could worship Him. And we all know that Pharaoh refused, and the plagues of Egypt were visited on Egypt until Pharaoh relented. But Pharaoh would not relent until the final, dreadful plague – the killing of all the first-born sons. Only the first-born children of the Israelites were spared, by the sacrifice of a lamb.

From this time onward, from the days of the wandering in the wilderness, the Law of Moses held that all first-born males, both animal and human, belonged to God. Animals were sacrificed, but humans had to be redeemed or bought back from God by a sacrifice.

For every first-born boy, there had to be a sacrifice. The sacrifice prescribed in the Law of Moses is a lamb; the sacrifice in our gospel of two doves was an alternative for those who could not afford a lamb. So, in this reading we have evidence that like a lot of newly wed couples, Mary and Joseph had some difficulty stretching their budget!

A few years ago, I read of a theory that Joseph was a bit more than a humble carpenter – that he was something like a master-builder, or perhaps the better analogy today would be a building contractor. But here we have evidence that, at least when Jesus was born, Joseph was not in a big way of business, as he and Mary had to go for the economy option when presenting Jesus at the Temple.

So far, so good. As the writer of Hebrews says, Jesus had to share in every aspect of our humanity, and on its own, the presentation of Jesus at the Temple is a sharing with all other baby boys of the basics of the faith of the people of God. It is a celebration of their deep roots; it is a sharing with all that makes them the children of God. It is worth thinking about for this alone, and if it had not been in the Gospel, I think we would have assumed that as good Jewish parents, Mary and Joseph would have taken Jesus to be presented, as it is what the Law prescribes. But Luke reports events that we recall every time we attend an evening service. For Mary and Joseph didn't just go into the temple, and do what was necessary and leave.

I don't know if we can picture the events, but going to the Temple wasn't like going to church, where things happen at set times and in set ways. We have the benefit of good communications and of accurate time-keeping; in those days, the priests had to be ready whenever the people turned up! So the Temple was always thronged with people – priests, worshippers, people who simply wished to be near the Holy of Holies, feeling the presence of God.

We can imagine Mary and Joseph pushing their way through a crowd to find a priest whose duty that day was to take care of those presenting firstborn boys. They would have bought the doves on their way; perhaps they bought them from the father of one of those whose tables Jesus overturned 30 some years later!

Perhaps family members like Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist were there too; perhaps the priest was someone known to them through Zechariah, Elizabeth's husband, who was a priest. We don't know and can't know. But we do know that there was no shortage of people to witness and take an interest in the presentation; it is clear that as well as those coming to the Temple with specific needs, there were a lot of people who simply “hung out” at the Temple!

Among them were two elderly people, Simeon and Anna. Obviously both were known to the Temple hierarchy; perhaps they were a sort of equivalent to our greeters!

Anna has some standing as a prophetess; perhaps a bit like a Lay Reader or other Licensed Lay Minister! For being female, and maybe not a member of the priestly clan, she could not be a priest. But in her widowhood, she had found a niche in the Temple, working for God's glory.

Simeon we know less about! Some people wonder if Simeon was the priest to whom Jesus was presented, but we simply don't know. He isn't named as a prophet, but in this one instance – perhaps the only time in his life – he was given the prophetic utterance that we know so well as the Nunc Dimittis, or Song of Simeon.

And it is in the response of these two holy people that we see God breaking through. Jesus isn't just another baby, important to his mother and father, who are doing their best for him and to whom he is the apple of their eyes. Simeon and Anna give us another view; the view of Jesus' real Father in Heaven.
Simeon's song tells us all the essentials, “My own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people; A light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.” In these few words, Simeon encapsulates the wonder of God with Us; the amazement that God can break through into our ordinary lives. And it gives the message that the Messiah is about salvation and that this salvation is not only for the children of Israel but for the whole world.

So much for so few words!.

No wonder we repeat them in our evening services! And Anna, though her words are not recorded, goes round excitedly praising God and giving thanks for the child Jesus. But Simeon knows the darker side as well; he is aware that Jesus will not come into his glory without pain and opposition, and he foretells this privately to Mary and Joseph.

I want us to think about this intrusion of God into an ordinary setting. All of us lead pretty ordinary lives. We work and play much as people always have; we are set in the ordinary world. But God comes into our lives as a flash of lightening, just as the child Jesus came into Simeon and Anna's lives. And the prophet Micah says “Suddenly the Lord will come into his Temple; the messenger of the covenant whom you desire will come”

Yes, our lives are ordinary and often humdrum. Yes, things seem to go on as they always have and it seems as if they always will. But we must make room for God; room for Him to intrude into the ordinariness of our lives and to bring life and light into them. Simeon and Anna are just two ordinary elderly people. They probably thought that their lives would end without any real change. But God intrudes; God reveals and God changes things.

And God showed Simeon and Anna something wonderful; that the child that this poor family had brought; this child for whom the minimum sacrifice had been made , was indeed the one who would change everything.

Are we ready for God to enter into our own lives? Do we see the wonder of ordinary things around us? Are we willing to let Him enter into our lives? In this Christmas season, let us look for God in everything, and let us be ready to be surprised by Him in the middle of the ordinariness of our lives.


AMEN

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, December 28, 2014

 
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Christmas Day, 25 December 2014, by the Rev. Phyllis Wong.


The drama today reminded me of my nativity play for the residents living in an elderly home in the United Kingdom 25 years ago. In the play, I was taking the role of Angel Gabriel. After the play, I was called Angel for a year.

During Christmas, the gospel stories of Jesus’ birth are retold. Every year we listen to the same story. Would the old story inspire us to think something different?

To many people today, Christmas is a time for family reunion, parties with friends, holiday trips and so on. For Churches, Christmas is busy season to prepare different programs. Christmas has been a time of joyful celebration.

When we looked at the birth of Jesus from the gospel accounts, it wasn’t that pleasant. Mary and Joseph could hardly find a place to stay when Jesus was born. He was born in a stable. He stayed with animals. Jesus and his parents were even facing the threat of persecution. The situation wasn’t that peaceful. I can imagine Mary and Joseph being worried and frightened.

Can you imagine a saviour of the world was so deprived and vulnerable?

God came to the world in the form a child: little, weak, poor and vulnerable. This has given us a profound message. God identifies with the vulnerable and the weak. The vulnerable God informs these people, they are not alone! God is with them!

2014 is closing. It has been a difficult year for many people in Hong Kong and all over the world. Family relationship, work and employment, study, health and so on are of concerns of many people. The development of democracy and advocacy for universal suffrage culminating in the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong, the war in Gaza, natural disasters and terrorist attacks in different parts of the world (just to mention a few) are of concerns to many people.

We cannot escape from the hard realities of the world. But Christmas informs us that God is working. Jesus Christ, the full human and divine being is with us – Immanuel: God’s full presence in Jesus Christ will give us strength to overcome all ups and downs in life.

I would like to encourage friends who are in confusion, distress and crisis, don’t give up. Open your heart to God and entrust in Christ, who is with you, will listen to you and guide you to the right way. 

Christmas matters because of Christ – who came to the world to give life and love and be with all creation. This is a gift and grace from God.

Christmas is the divine work of Christ. But Christ is in need of co-workers. He requires people of faithful to engage in God’s salvation.  

The nativity of Jesus reveals to us God needs people like Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds and the wise men to serve as God’s co-workers to carry his salvation plan.

Celebrating Christmas and hearing once again the same story of nativity, would this old story inspire us to think something different? Would this old story invite you to do something different?

For non Christian friends, are you ready to receive the love and life given by Jesus Christ?

For Christians, are you ready to continue the faith journey to share the good news of Jesus Christ and bring forth the Kingdom of hope, peace, joy and love on earth?

# posted by Heddy Ha : Thursday, December 25, 2014

 
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 14 December 2014, Third Sunday in Advent, by Abraham Peterson. The scripture readings that day were Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11, Psalm 126 and Luke 1:46-55.


Mary doesnt get enough press, you know?!  At least not in the Protestant world.  Whats up with that?!
She’s an astonishing Advent figure.  As is her nephew, John the Baptiser.
John and Mary - two Advent figures who are astonishing!

Why is John amazing?
We see in John the Baptisers announcements the idea that the paths are made straight for God.  The heights are made low, the low are made high.
What Ive been learning lately is that there is a unity in all things.  I think I am starting to see these verses in terms of that understanding.  The image is that the heights and the depths, to some respect, disappear.  There are not such extreme ups or downs.  Heights fade away; depths fade away - the only thing that matters is God.  From Top to Bottom - only God!  When we get ready for God, we find a unity in all things.

Johns message, then, is that these things all change at the advent of God.  Without God, we still distinguish these extremes in our lives.  With a complete and utter focus on God, we start to lose sight of Good and Evil, Right and Wrong, Heaven and Hell, Sin and Salvation - these bifurcations and polarities that take our focus from the presence of God.  All we see is God.  Our focus should be on God showing up.  So John reminds me - hopefully reminds us - to talk past those things!  John reminds us to go beyond such categories, such highs and lows, and to dwell on God and God alone.

Last week we heard from John the LeMond, not John the Baptiser, about the fading of distinction of time, that we live with God in a holy present, a holy now.  John reminded us that there is no difference, no distinction as we dwell in Gods presence and God’s present.
So, John and Mary… Or 2 Johns.  And Mary.


Mary.  This woman is absolutely astonishing and we just glaze right over her.  Shame on us.
She is who we all should want to bewe talk about asking Jesus into our heart and homes and lives and all these thingsSHE had Jesus insider her very BODY!
She EMBODIES Johns understanding of what happens when you remain focused on God and God alone.  Not only in her life, but truly in. her. body.  Her body that bears God.

The question I kept thinking of while writing this sermon is: Where does Mary end and Jesus begin?” Likewise  “Where does Jesus end and Mary begin?
These questions explain a physical representation of how I think I have begun to see Advent, a way I think that gives us insight into the Good News.  It’s a questions we hopefully have for ourselves - “Where does God end and I begin?”

Mary has a wild story of being chosen by God, of being the vessel for God.  Mary, just before our verses in Luke, goes away from home to visit her cousin.  Surely she was getting more pregnantand things were getting more tense.  So she visits her cousin, whether as an escape from the pressures in her home town, or for some closeness with a family member in a similar situation we dont know.  And the story goes that Elizabeth is filled with the Spirit and praises Mary and then Mary bursts into song, this song, this Magnificatbased on the first word of the Latin text.  Magnificat anima mea Dominum” “My soul magnifies the Lord.

Though scholars agree this is not a verbatim dictation of the words of Mary, like a South China Morning Post article recording the details or video feed on the MTR News, it does demonstrate an intention.  It demonstrates how the early church viewed Mary and quite possibly how Mary viewed not only herself but her role and her Sons role.

Interestingly, the words are ever so similar to what we understand from John the Baptiser.  We find John saying to prepare the way of the Lord, to make straight paths, to see the change in valleys and mountains, to see God showing up.  From Top to Bottom, God!
We find something similar in Mary’s song.

BUT… Its no longer nature that is being changed, it is people.
We see the powerful brought down and the lowly lifted up.
We see the hungry filled and the full empty.
We see the idea that things change when God shows up, that these distinctions start to disappear.
We see things like wealth and hunger, things like power and emptiness start to waver.
We see they shift and take on different roles and meanings.

When our attention turns toward God, things in the world turn upside down and inside out.  We see differently.  We think differently.  Our understanding changes and our minds change.  You know the word “Repent”?  Well, the Greek is simply Change your mind!
Your thinking changes when you start to see God, when you start to see God showing up EVERYWHERE.  Thats when your mind changes.  Thats when your life changes.

Another questions I continue to ask is, Where is there that God cannot be?” or “What place exists where God is not?”  It seems we so often solidify God, make God a being like us, give God a place like heavenand then limit God to there so that He must become human.  We push God away from our lives, from the close places, from our very heart, our very heartbeat - we push God into heaven and in so doing, we lose a piece of our heart, too.  We lose a piece of ourselves.
In this Advent season, perhaps we regain a piece of ourselves as we realize God is Among Us, when we change our minds, when we repent!

John reminds us from Top to Bottom is God!  Mary reminds us from Creator to Creation, or Father to Son is God.  And later in Jesus’ life we see from Life to Death, from King to Slave - There is no place God is not!  And the story is that God is no longer OUTSIDE but INSIDE and OUTSIDE and SIDE-TO-SIDE and UPSIDE-DOWNSIDE-INSIDE-OUTSIDE Topsy-Turvy…
EVERY SIDE.
EVERY WHERE.
ALL THE TIME.
NOW!

In Advent, we say that God Became Flesh, that God dwelt among us.  But was God more in Jesus Christ than in our presence right now?  How could God be?  Is God more in the baby in the manger than in the babies that run these aisles?  Is God less in our tea and cake than our communion of bread and wine?  Is God less in you than in the baby of our Mother Mary?  You may think that heretical, but for God to be more or less in a certain place or a certain time makes God limited, constrained, makes God WELL... not God.
Psalm 139 asks Where can I go from your presence, O Lord?”  Do we truly believe this?

God is in all places.  In all time.  We hear later in Colossians 3:11 that all distinctions disappear and that Christ is all and is in all.  There is nowhere where Christ is not.  There is nowhere where God is not.  God is All and in all.

And THAT is why I love Mary - because she is that very story of God.  There was a blurry line between her and Jesus.
Where does Mary end and Jesus begin?
There was a blurry line between the Baby and the Mother.
In Advent, it is an important reminder that we are like Mary and there is a blurry line between us and the Christ born in us.  “Where does Christ end and I begin?”
When we imagine the Mother with Child, we hopefully imagine the same God within us, kicking, moving, living. 
When we think of Christ born into turmoil and political instability then, we think of how Christ in us is surrounded by the same.
When we think of Christ being inseparable from the womb of Mary, we are reminded how God in us is similarly inseparable... All and in all.

Mary, like John, shows us what it means to be focused on God, to let all distinctions blur in the presence of the Almighty.  Mary shows us that God touches all of us - rich or poor, lowly or mighty, hungry or fed.
Mary shows us the God born in us.
The God present from Top to Bottom.
The God present in all times, in all places.
The God who is all and in all.
The God born in us today!

Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, December 14, 2014

 

“Live Patiently in the Lord”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 7 December 2014, Second Sunday in Advent, by the Rev. Dr. John LeMond. The scripture readings that day were Isaiah 40:1-11; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8.


In the season of Advent we wait for our Lord to come

But the coming of the Lord is often tied together

With the end of the world as we know it.

Last week, in the reading from Mark

We were told by Jesus to stay awake

That there is something coming that will surprise us

And in the Sundays preceding Advent

We read of the time when there will be a judgment of all humanity.

Laying each of these themes side by side

We come to a clearer picture of the central meaning of Advent.

According to the early Christians,

It was the fullness of time that was coming upon them.

And they expected it at any moment.

It was a time when all the old, bad things would disappear

And a time of complete righteousness would exist…

A time of complete unity, harmony and peace with God.
It would be a new reality,

In which they themselves would be righteous:

Right with God.

It was in this sense that

The early Christians hoped for the end of the world as they knew it.

Of course, they lived in a world

In which they were a persecuted minority.

They longed for Christ to return in power and great glory.

Yes, there would be suffering and darkness and confusion,

But that was only the first stage;

The darkness before the everlasting light of God’s kingdom;

Before the eternal union with God.

What happened to this hope of the early church?

What happened to the expectation

That everything will change

Suddenly and soon?

In fact, much of the once Christian world

Has now lost this hope of a coming savior.



The kingdom of God,

An earth of peace and righteousness

Have not materialized.

It’s an old dream, an old story,

Seen by many to be the worn-out belief of a past age.

But what about us?

As we sit here today

We seem to be saying by our very presence here

That we do see the world differently.

We might not expect the second coming of Jesus Christ

To happen tomorrow…although we think it might,

We aren’t sure.

And we aren’t sure what it will mean if Jesus does come again.

What would unity and harmony and peace with God look like?

The truth is, even we,

Who come together to worship the Lord of Advent,

Rarely spend time thinking about the second coming of Christ.

We are content with, or at least we accept,

Life as it is now.

We’ve learned to live with life as it is now.

Death concerns us far more than the second Advent of the Lord

Because death is constantly a part of our lives.

We see it, we experience it,

And so what we want to know desperately is:

What happens after death?

The Second Coming…is not a desperate question for us.

Of course, we do have hope that it will someday take place.

And that’s enough.

Hope is, after all,

The certainty of something that we have never seen.

In fact, it is the certainty of something

That our ancestors have never seen;

Something that our grandchildren for many, many generations might not see.

It might be another 2,000 or 10,000 or 100,000 years

Before the Second Advent of Jesus Christ.

Does it really make any difference?

No…and yes.


Peter says: No

It makes no difference to us how long before the expected reign of God

For, he says, with God one day is like a thousand years,

And a thousand years is like one day.

This is one of those scripture passages

That we sometimes quote when we need to.

It’s easy to remember,

But it often makes little or no impact on our lives.

What does it really mean?

What Peter is telling us is this:

That with God, time does not matter

Time is only a reality for us, and not for God.

It is not just that time is kind of strangely mixed up for God:

One and a thousand, a thousand and one.

No. It is that time itself has no meaning for God.

For us…it is everything.

What time is it?  What time should we meet?

How long did you live in that place?  How old are you?

Am I late?  Am I early?  Am I on time?

There were celebrations all over the world

When we entered into the 21st century,

As though some great boundary of time had been crossed.

When is Christ coming again?

When is the end of time coming?

When will God reign?

Will it happen before I die?

These questions concern us because time concerns us

We are obsessed with these questions because

We are obsessed with time.

But Peter assures us: God is not concerned with time

For God, one day is like a thousand years,

And a thousand years is like one day.

So, Jesus lived 2,000 years ago

Would that be 2 days for God

Or would it be 2 million years.

To ask an illogical question like this almost makes sense to us,

Because time makes sense to us.



But when time makes no difference

When there is no distinction between yesterday, today and tomorrow

When, in fact, there is no distinction

Between one day and one thousand years

No difference between 2,000 years ago and this present moment

No difference between 2,000 years ago—and 2,000 years from now

Then, we begin to see

That we live, not in anticipation of the coming of Christ,

But in the presence of Christ…at every moment.

We live in the presence of the crucified and risen Christ…now.

We experience the coming Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ…

At every moment.

And once we have understood this

Peter asks an important question:

If this is true…how should we live?

Does it make any difference that we have not seen the coming of God in our time?



In terms of time, Peter says, no.

But in terms of the way we live our lives

Yes.

It makes a difference,

Because we are called to live without seeing in time.

We are called to live

As though Christ’s death and resurrection are now

To live as though…

Christ’s second coming is now

To live as though…

God’s kingdom is now.

Peter reminds us

That we live in hope: believing without seeing

Knowing without understanding.

Trusting without demanding.

A life that reflects the time-less reality of God’s kingdom







Peter encourages us: Live in peace

Live in peace…

Because you live, right now

In this moment…

In the presence of…

Jesus born, Jesus among us, Jesus crucified and Jesus come again.

That is what we celebrate at Advent.

The timeless coming of God into the world.

The salvation of God is timeless…

Or as Peter puts it

The salvation of God is patient.

Live patiently in the Lord.

Live in peace.

Amen. 

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, December 07, 2014

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