Reflections...

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

“Repent and Believe”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 25 January 2015, Third Sunday after the Epiphany, by the Rev. Dr. John LeMond. The scripture readings that day were Jonah 3:1-5, 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, Mark 1:14-20.


Repent, and believe in the good news.

These words of Jesus shape the Christian identity

Repent…believe…good news

In fact, we usually think of it this way:

Repent, believe in the good news, and…be saved!

Or even simply: repent and be saved

The words themselves do not contain a warning,

But a warning seems to be implied.

In fact, an implied threat accompanies these words of Jesus.

Repent, for…the end of the world is coming.

Repent, for…God is coming to judge you

Repent, or…die an eternal death.

I once participated in a dialogue with a Muslim scholar

And the subject that we both addressed was “salvation”.

We each spoke on the understanding of salvation

Within our own religious tradition.

I talked about the various ways that Christians understand salvation

About the different theological understandings of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

As part of my talk, I briefly mentioned the idea of life after death:

“What’s going to happen to us when we die?”



And even though this was a very small part of my presentation

And I could tell from the faces of those in the audience,

Both Christian and Muslim,

That when discussing the topic of salvation,

This was really what people were interested in.

This was really what they wanted an answer to:

Am I going to heaven or hell when I die?

Later, during the question and answer time

Someone raised this question specifically

The person wanted to know

From a Muslim perspective…and from a Christian perspective:

What is going to happen to me when I die.

When we hear the word Repent!

Our minds and hearts go immediately to this ultimate question.

It is a command that elicits fear

Repent or perish!

We could gain the same perspective

From the readings from Jonah

And from Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth

Jonah walks through the streets of the great city of Nineveh

Calling the people to repentance

He shouts out to them, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.”

Of course, in this story, Jonah wants Nineveh to be overthrown

Even to be completely destroyed.

But he’s afraid that God might not be vengeful enough to carry out this destruction.

And Paul, speaking to his brothers and sisters in the faith

Encourages them to be strong

In the time of testing that is going to come upon them

Marriage, possessions, the regular activities of life

Are all going to change.

Everything that we know and are familiar with

Everything that makes our lives normal

All of this is passing away…to destruction.

Repent…Jesus says…repent!

_______________________

How easily we assume that there is an implied threat is what Jesus says.

How easily we reduce a message of blessing…

Into a black and white choice…

An either/or…of heaven or hell.

How easily we turn good news into bad news.

Let’s read again verses 14 and 15 of Mark 1:

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee,

Proclaiming the good news of God,

And saying, "The time is fulfilled,

And the kingdom of God has come near;

Repent, and believe in the good news."

Surprisingly, there is no mention here of heaven or hell

There is no mention here of the end of time

There is no threat…implied or otherwise.

Unless we take the word “repent” to have threatening connotations

We've surrounded "repentance" with all kinds of ideas about the next life.

But it turns out that the word repent means something very simple and ordinary.

It means to change one’s mind.

To change one’s way of thinking about something.

To repent means to turn around and go in a different direction.

Jesus came, proclaiming the good news of God

What good news?

The good news that the world is coming to an end?

No. 

The good news that…

The time is fulfilled, the time is here, the time is now

That the kingdom of God has come near to us.

The kingdom of God is here.

Look and see!

In fact, look and see the world in a new way.

Everything has changed.

This is good news.

How will we choose to interpret the words of Jesus in Scripture?

Jonah provides us with one example

For Jonah, repent meant: prepare to die

Because God is going to judge you harshly

God will find you guilty

And will destroy you.

Repent…for you are immoral and shameless and bad.



At least, that is the way Jonah would have interpreted repentance…

If Jonah had been God.

Jonah was not God

But he wanted desperately to be God

Or at least to force his own will upon God.

Remember, God said to Jonah

Go to Nineveh and tell them to change

But Jonah fled from this mission

Because he was afraid that the people would change

He was afraid that God really did love them

And would have mercy on them.

He was afraid that God would be God

That God’s love would prevail,

And that Jonah’s condemnation would fail.

Jonah shouted: Repent…for in 40 days you’re all going to die.

God shouted: Repent… and welcome the love and mercy of God.

Repent…and see the world in a new way.

The Apostle Paul understood this new way of seeing the world

He realized just how life changing it can be to change one’s mind,

To turn around and to see the world in a completely new way.

Paul knew that this good news that Jesus had preached

Had brought about a profound change in the world

So profound that everything he had thought was normal had changed.

So profound that Paul could say with confidence:

“The present form of this world is passing away.”  Look! See!

Paul says: Imagine the most stable, unchanging, ageless elements in life

Birth, death, marriage, work

And they all disappear

Imagine the things, the possessions, that you most treasure in your life

And imagine all of these disappearing.

Gone. Vanished.

And…that something much more satisfying has come in their place.

That is the good news of the kingdom of God.

Not that birth, death, marriage and work will cease to be

Not that the material things around us will disappear

But that the way we think about those things will change completely

Will change to such a degree

That what we knew before…no longer seems to exist

Something much more fulfilling has taken its place.

_____________________

Jonah was afraid of what God had planned for him…

And what God had planned for others

He was satisfied with seeing our world the way he had always seen it

So, in the end, it was Jonah who would not repent, change his way of thinking.

It was Jonah who would not see the world in a new way

He became angry, and said finally to God—

The God who loved the people of Nineveh

As much as he loved Jonah:

Just kill me. 



I wish with all my soul to die,

Rather than to repent and think of things differently.

We live in this new reality as well…just as Jonah did.

Jesus comes proclaiming to us,

To you and to me,

The same good news of God.

Saying, "Brother, the time is now,

Sister, the kingdom of God is here

It is not far away

It is in you and with you.

It is not something you have to earn

It is something that already belongs to you

It is not a threat or a warning or intimidation

It is a gift.

Repent, and see…that the kingdom of God surrounds you

Open yourself to it.

Think differently, and see, that the love of God fills you

Share it.

Repentance leads not to avoiding an eternal death.

Repentance leads seeing and living life in a new way.

In the unconditional love and grace of God

Repent! For the kingdom of God has come near.

Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, January 25, 2015

 

“The Epiphany”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 11 January 2015, First Sunday after the Epiphany, by the Rev. Dr. John LeMond. The scripture readings that day were Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12.


One of the most interesting aspects of this story

Is something that is unstated but is assumed

The scripture says there were three magi

Or kings; or wise men

They were the people of their civilization

Who looked into the mysteries of the universe.

They may have been considered philosophers

But philosophy during this period was not alienated/separated from religion

In fact, it was very much a part of religion

There was no distinction between religion and philosophy

Seeking after the mysteries of the universe assumed the role of the gods

We don’t know where these people came from

But it is very likely from Persia (what is now Iran)

And that they were priests of the Zoroastrian religion

But it is not especially important that we know exactly who they were

It is important for us to know that they were religious people

To know that they were neither Jews nor Romans

And that they had traveled a very long way to follow this important star

It was believed by many ancient peoples that a bright new star in the sky

Was a sign of the birth of a great leader.

And so it was with the birth of Jesus

The one who the wise men indicated was to be king of the Jews

The shepherd of his people.

The thing that is assumed in this passage is that

The religious leaders from the East had some important information

Some very important information

Information that had not yet been fully recognized

By the people to whom the new king had come.

The people of Palestine had either ignored this information

Or it had been interpreted as a threat to them.

But now, people from a different culture, from a different religion

Were saying to them: God has done something very special among you.

Something amazing.

And we have traveled a great distance, risking life and fortune

To acknowledge this divine work.
Here, in the three magi, we have the first evangelists

They were the first, after the shepherds, to recognize this marvelous new thing

And they were neither Jews,

And they certainly were not Christians

They were, most likely, Zoroastrians.

And perhaps surprisingly, the writer of Matthew does not question this possibility

In fact, the writer uses this as an interesting way of proclaiming a new reality

Look!, he says

This is not only something amazing that has happened for our people

It is something that has happened for the world

For the people of all places and all times

The greatness of God has been revealed to us and among us

Not just a revelation to a small group of people in the eastern Mediterranean

But a revelation to all of humanity

In fact, not a revelation restricted to one religion

But to the people of all religions

Who is it who has proclaimed this amazing thing to us?

Who is it who has brought this good news of an amazing birth?

Who is it who has announced this epiphany, this revelation to us?

Foreign priests.

Priests of a foreign god.

That is amazing.

And yet, in the Gospel of Matthew

It is taken for granted that this could be so.

And we take it for granted as well.

Yes, the three wise men

How beautiful, how perfect, how natural

How many manger scenes, or crèches, are put up every Christmas?

In home and churches and even in public places

And in nearly every one of them…there in the front row

Are the three wise men

And that is how we think of them

The three wise men of our religion.

Not three foreign priests

Not the priests of Zoroaster

Not the priests of the religion of fire

But as our three wise men



They are so naturally a part

Of the traditional scene with Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus

The shepherds and the animals

Naturally…just the way it should to be

But, in fact, they don’t really belong there naturally

They are not part of culture of Palestine

They are outsiders, strangers

They are the most foreign element that could possibly have been added to this scene

On the children’s television program Sesame Street

There is a segment in which several pictures are shown to the children

For instance a car, a bicycle, a skateboard and a cat

And the children are asked, “Which one of these is not like the others?”

“Which one of these doesn’t belong?”

(The answer is cat.)

That is what should immediately come to mind

When we see the Christmas scene of the people around the manger with the baby Jesus.

Which one of these doesn’t belong?




The writer of the Gospel of Matthew knew

The priests from the East

Their presence signals to us that something new has happened

Something unexpected

Something very unexpected

We did not expect foreigners,

Priests of a foreign god

To be the one’s to announce the arrival of the king.

That isn’t the way it was supposed to happen

The insiders, Jesus’ own people, were supposed to recognize the king’s arrival

But, in fact, the presence of the foreign priests

Is an indication to us that nearly everything that we expected

Has turned out to be different.

These strangers announce not only the birth of a king

But a new reality for the world.

We didn’t expect to be informed of the Savior's birth by the followers of a foreign religion

But we also did not expect the Messiah to be born to a simple, ordinary couple

We did not expect the Christ to be born into such humble beginnings.


And we certainly did not expect this baby to grow up

And to be arrested, beaten and executed.

We expect to meet God in the usual places

We expect our religion to comfort us with the expected answers

But right from the beginning the three wise men tell us

This is not going to happen

God breaks all the rules

The king is humble and poor

The liberator is peaceful and meek

The savior does not save himself…he dies

That is what the three wise men represent

The unexpected, wrong side up, upside down presence of God among us.

They shouldn't be there, but they are.

God shouldn't be a baby in a manger, but God is!

And the wise men stand next to the others in the manger

And in manger scenes in churches and homes around the world

Shouting out: Something new has happened

Something so new and unexpected that it may frighten us

Frighten us as it did Herod.

Or…it may set us on a path of discovery, as it did the wise men.

Today, is the first Sunday after the Epiphany

The star of the Christ child lights up the sky.

Where will God's star lead us?

Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, January 11, 2015

 

“A life of light and love”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 4 January 2015, Second Sunday after Christmas, by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Jeremiah 31:7-14; John 1:1-18.


Opening prayer:

God of light, may your word enlighten us to enter into your grace and to understand your truth in Christ.  Holy spirit, please come and inspire us. Amen.

In the last few weeks we have heard gospel stories about baby Jesus, of his birth and presentation to God as the first born child in his family.

Jesus has been regarded as the son of God, a savior sent by God to the world in the form of a baby.

In Gospel John, the author tried to address Jesus’ divinity and his divine identity as God’s son who breaks into the world.

Jesus was regarded as the Word.  The Word became flesh. He is with God and Life of the world.  He is the light of all people; shines in the darkness and enlightens everyone.

John 1:1-18 is a beautiful hymn which consists of rich theological meanings about God the Father and the very essence of Jesus Christ.

This prologue has been widely suggested by commentaries as a later addition to affirm the identity of Jesus Christ as God’s son and being with God right at the beginning before the world was formed.

In the Gospel of John, the authors asserted very clearly Jesus’ divine being and his close connection with God the Father. Jesus Christ, a full human being and full divine being came to the world to love and save, and to reveal God’s glory.

I would like to share some insights taken from reading according to the Gospel of John we heard this morning.

The Word became flesh. God, holy and divine, became flesh and lived among us through Jesus Christ. It is very ground breaking and radical move of God. In God’s action, we see the grace and truth of God’s salvation in Christ. God’s love is very down to earth. God does not just talk but walk with his people. God does not just speak but act and participate fully.

God has taken initiative to love, heal and save.  It is this God who approach us and invite us to reconnect with God’s eternality through Jesus Christ. God has never forsaken us. God never gives up the world even when his people turn away from him and do not receive the light.

With this unconditional and unfailing love, we should not give up; rather, we should receive the light of Christ and renew our life in God. 

In coming to the world sharing our humanity, God had inevitably experienced limitations and constraints in human life. But God dared to let go of his power.  

The text informed us a harsh reality:  “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him, yet the world did not know him… and his people did not accept him” (1:10-11) We see then God has taken risk of being rejected. God has put himself in a vulnerable position. Although God knows that he will be rejected, out of love, God is willing to do so.

God’s courageous move has empowered us to take risk in our life for the sake of love.  

Treat one another equally

Jesus, who was life, was the light of all people (v4). He is the true light that enlightens everyone (v9). It gives a clear message: God loves everyone, even those who reject him. 
God treats everyone equally. Everyone is given equal opportunity. We are all loved by God. We have no reason to discriminate against others. It is wrong to reject people who are different from us and marginalize the disadvantaged and the weak.

Be Hopeful and strong

God became flesh allows us to see the divine in human.
The breaking in of divinity into humanity has indicated God’s strong desire to make connection with humans. God has broken the boundary that prevents human beings from being united with God. The divine in human is a lavish gift and a great promise from God.

God has invited us to receive him and reconnect with the divine God.

God does not force us to comply, but give us freedom to choose. But are we wise and brave enough to make the right choice?

Are we ready to let go of our own ego and receive Jesus Christ as our savior and allow him to live in us?

If you are full of questions and worries in receiving Jesus Christ and find it hard to take him to your heart, remember that for those who determine to accept Jesus Christ, God will give them power and strength to overcome darkness. As assured by the word of God, let us hear again these verses from Gospel John

12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

A complicated world we are living

The world we are living is full of uncertainty, destruction, violence and wars, hatred and division. The missing Malaysian airplane, the rise of extremist militants, the increasing number of refugees and migrant workers, the widening gap between the rich and the poor, global warming and climate change, job insecurity, broken relationships …the list seems endless. All these world-wide and personal issues offer us not good future, but worries, anxieties and fears.  

It is the incarnated Christ who is the son of God closely connected to the divine Creator, source of life and light, that gives us hope. God who breaks into human history will take care of us and never leave us alone.

The breaking in of Jesus Christ in the form of human being also gives us new imagination. Nothing is impossible in God. The transforming power in God and with God give us hope: change is possible.

Jesus’ life and ministries on earth has shown us how the incarnated God worked in the world. He healed the sick and opened the eyes of the blind. He received the marginalized and accepted them as part of the community. He also suffered, died and rose again.

 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. (1:18) Jesus was witness of God.

For those who have experienced the love of Jesus Christ are willing to share with others the love of God.

For those who have believed in Jesus Christ and received him have become God’s children. They follow God’s will and God’s way. It has been these children of God who continue to share the good news of God’s incarnation and his loving salvation.

I remembered a friend. His name is David. He had been a drug addict for over 20 years. Even his family had given up and separated from him. When he was so sick and desperate struggling in the hospital, a group of Christians visited him, bought him hot soup, sang hymns for him and shared with him about God’s love. David was deeply touched by these Christians. He experienced God’s healing love and forgiving grace through these Christians.   He saw God in them. These Christians have revealed God’s glory in their loving acts.

Mother Theresa who had tirelessly serving the poor and the very sick people in Calcutta India had revealed God’s glory in her compassionate acts.

Before Jesus left the earth and returned to heaven, he told his disciples to do what he had done and even greater than what he did.

As Jesus’ followers, the incarnated Christ today calls us to continue his mission by affirming once again his unique identity of God’s son who is the light of world dwelling in us full of grace and truth.

Dear sisters and brothers, in the beginning of a new year, shall we formulate our resolution by focusing our life in Jesus Christ and to declare that we are God’s children who have been given power to be the light of the world and manifest God’s glory?

This is an invitation from a loving God who breaks into humanity for our life and for our world.


May the light of Christ shine and guide each one of us and our church to make a right and wise decision. Amen. 

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, January 04, 2015

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