Reflections...

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

“Make Mine a Double”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 15 February 2015, Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, by The Rev. Ewing W. [Bud] Carroll, Jr. The scripture readings that day were 2 Kings 2:1-12; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Mark 9:2-9.


If you’ve watched any cowboy/Western movies, or detective thrillers you probably remember where the main character, usually a man, goes into a bar, sits up on a stool and with considerable exasperation tells the bar tender, “Make mine a double.”  I’m not that familiar with hard drinks, but know that usually means “Give me a double shot of the strongest whisky you have.”  The bar tender quickly replies and then the cowboy/detective/policeperson gulps down the whole thing before you can say KUC.

     In today’s reading from 2 Kings, Elijah is about to die.  For Elisha, his apprentice, that’s a very frightening thing. Elisha knows there’s no way he can step into Elijah’s sandals; no way.  And so he pleads with Elijah, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” “Make mine a double.”  No, not a double shot of Palestinian whisky, Nazarene nectar or Jerusalem gin.  Rather, aware of his own shortcomings, Elisha is asking for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, in order to be a faithful and useful prophet for God.

     Closely related to this Old Testament reading is Mark’s account of the Transfiguration of Jesus.  Earlier Jesus had told the Disciples about his coming death and resurrection.  Now, he’s taken Peter, James and John with him to the top of a mountain. Not for a holiday outing; rather, to just get away from the crowds and enjoy a bit of peace and quiet. Look again at Peter’s reaction.  Probably a mixture of fear, excitement and wanting to please Jesus, Peter says to him, “Let’s put up three tents here.  One for you; one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Unlike Elisha’s “Make mine a double” Peter seems to be saying, “Make mine a triple.”  But what a difference!

     Back in the late 1960’s and early 1970s, I used to take visitors up to Kowloon Peak [locally know as Flying Goose Mountain].  On a clear day – or night – you could look down on Kowloon City and a-l-l the way across the harbor to Hong Kong Island.  It was an awesome experience;  almost like seeing a miniature toy town; quiet, cool, calm, clear and serene; as though we hadn’t a care in the whole world.  I often thought, “Yes, let’s just stay up here.”

     Maybe that’s how Peter felt. Suddenly, seeing Jesus ablaze in a dazzling white robe and talking with Moses and Elijah, Peter must have felt like what Pastor Judy and I as Southerners, would say is  “being in hog heaven.”   It doesn’t get any better than this!
But then the truth struck home.  The Gospel singer Amy Grant’s song Mountain Top pretty well describes what Jesus may have been thinking that day:  “I’d like to live on a mountain top, but I’ve got to come down to the people in the valley below.”

Transfiguration is a l-o-n-g word meaning transformation or change.  But I don’t think this Gospel story is really about any change in Jesus.  Rather, the change was in the Disciples.  Jesus was inviting them to better understand who he was and what he wanted for and from his disciples. And that, my friends, includes you and me.  And so as we leave the Season of Epiphany – the early years of Jesus’ life; welcome the New Year of the Ram/Sheep/Ewe/Goat and prepare for the Season of Lent, we are called to think anew how we might be transformed, changed, transfigured to become even more faithful disciples of Christ.  Let me suggest two ways – easy to say, but oh, so difficult to follow!

     First: The willingness to change.  Eggs may turn into worms; moths into butterflies.  They have no choice; that’s part of God’s creative process!  But we humans?  That’s another story. Our lives are filled with mountain top experiences.  Truth be told, we often find great comfort in them.  Oh, maybe not hikes up Sunset Peak; Fei Ngor Shan or Tai Mo Shan.  No - more likely they are thoughts, feelings, attitudes and actions that give us a sense of security and protection; or maybe they’re negative experiences like fear; pride; anxiety; frustration; anger; intolerance; a sense of superiority.

     Two factory workers were about to have lunch together.  As one opened his lunch container he complained, ‘Oh no, not again!  This is the third time this week I’ve got fried rice.”  The second said, “Well, why don’t you ask your wife to fix something else?”  The first replied, ”Wife?  I’m not even married.  I fixed that myself!”

We really are creatures of habit!  It’s so easy to stay where we are; keep watching the worries and woes of the world from our little mountain tops of security and stability.  Just keep on eating fried rice every day! Hopefully these words from James Baldwin can encourage us to become more willing to change: “Not everything that is faced can be changed.  But nothing can be changed until it is faced.”  And those words from Amy Grant keep coming back and back to haunt and challenge us – “…I’ve got to come down to the people in the valley below.” Not change for change’s sake.  Rather changes, in the words of the prophet Micah, that enable us “to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.”

      Secondly, The willingness to listen.  Mark tells, us as a cloud overshadowed Peter, James and John, a voice came saying, ”This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him.”  The author Mark Twain wrote, “If we were to talk more than we listen, we would have two tongues and only one ear.”

     Last night I took a self-skills assessment test on the Internet. My communication in groups skills scored 90% - way up at the top.  My listening skills?  38% - way at the bottom!   I’m not alone.  You’ve probably heard about the man who claimed his hearing aid was the best ever made.  A friend asked him, “What kind is it?” the man replied, ”It’s about 2:30.”   Yes, kind and time are different!

     Actually, it’s really not that difficult to listen with our ears.  The problem is “listening” with our hearts, minds and brains.  Hey, no one said listening to God or anyone else is easy. Far from it!  It takes great loyalty and daring; a greater sense of urgency; a willingness to come down from whatever mountain top experiences keep us from being more faithful followers of Christ.

     Have you ever been in a hospital in Mainland China?  The dozen or so I’ve seen, all have a HUGE ground floor room for intravenous feeding.  I call it a “drip room.”  40-50 people all sitting around for two or three hours, with a needle in the top of their hand, receiving “sugar water” and goodness knows what else. Some see the Transfiguration of Jesus like that -him being injected into our lives.  Drip.  Drip.  Drip! No way!  The beauty and joy of Jesus’ Transfiguration is what it can do for us! Not putting the love of Christ IN us; rather, drawing the love of Christ OUT of us.

     Christ’s Transfiguration is an invitation for us to “come down” from our mountain tops into the beauty and beast of daily life; into the glory and gory of human relationships; and into the mourning and majesty of God’s love and justice.


     Come, Lord Jesus.  Make mine a double!  Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, February 15, 2015

 

“An Awesome God”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 8 February 2015, Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, by the Rev. Dr. John LeMond. The scripture readings that day were Isaiah 40:21-31; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39.


There is a popular Christian song that says,

“Our God is an awesome God.”

Awesome means causing feelings of amazement

Feelings of power and strength.

It means all-powerful and almighty.

Our God is an awesome God.

And that’s what we hear from the book of Isaiah:

There is no God more powerful than our God

God is great, high above the earth…

And we, Isaiah says, are like tiny grasshoppers

Another translation says “locusts,” which is not only a small insect

But a dangerous one.

God is high up above the earth.

If you have ever flown in an airplane

You know what this means.

Up high, above the clouds,

Everything below seems very small and insignificant

The tallest buildings in the world

The highest mountains in the world

Seem like nothing when we fly over them in an airplane

That is the picture we have here

God sees everything from a high position above the earth

Higher than we can even imagine.

The heavens are nothing more than God’s shelter

God spreads it out and manipulates it

Just as one would a tent.

In fact, everything…everything…is subject to God’s will.

Everything is subject to God’s likes and dislikes

If God likes something…it can live and prosper

If God doesn’t like something…

God’s hot breath blows over it

And it withers and dies.

God causes strong winds to cover the earth…causing destruction and suffering

God’s hand is dipped into the ocean

And tsunamis roll across islands destroying everything in their path.

And…God never grows tired.

Our God is an awesome God.

But isn’t our God also a terrible God?

Awesome can also mean “terrible.”

Striking terror in the hearts of those who encounter God.

Isaiah says we are like insignificant grasshoppers before God.

Grasshoppers are small, vulnerable insects

How do we really feel about that?

Do we like being called small, vulnerable insects?





Isaiah says that God makes the rulers and the princes of the earth “nothing.”

If God can do that to rulers and princes

God can certainly make us nothing as well.

Are we nothing to God?

Do we really like the possibility that God might look at us and consider us nothing?

This is a frightening thought

The chasm between God and me is vast.

God is all powerful…and I am powerless.

God is everything…and I am nothing.

God is up high…and I am down low.

Our God is an awesome God

And I…am a pitiful, sad, insignificant creature.

Someone who can be destroyed by God at will.

Thanks be to God…right?

But wait…

This is not the end of Isaiah’s message.

Near the end of this passage Isaiah says something else

He says there is hope for us

There is hope for everyone

Isaiah says, “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,”

“Those who wait for the Lord shall mount up with wings like eagles,”

“Those who wait for the Lord shall run and not be weary,”

“They shall walk and not faint.”





So, I may be small and insignificant

I may be powerless and down low.

But there is hope for me

Yes, there is hope for me.

There is hope that all of this can change

There is hope that I can be powerful and high up too…

Like an eagle!

There is hope that my strength can be renewed…

And I can fly up high into the air…and look down on the small things of the earth

I can run and run and run and not get tired.

I can have strength and muscle and power

I can be awesome

I too can be…like God!

That's awesome!

Our God is an awesome God…

And I can be awesome, too!

According to Isaiah, to have all of this

To be up, not down

To be important, not insignificant

I only have to do one thing:

Wait for the Lord.

Hope for the Lord, look eagerly for the Lord

Serve the Lord,

All I have to do is believe in the Lord

And I can have all the things that God has

Power and the wings of eagles!

High instead of low

Fast instead of slow

Big instead of small

I can be like God.

______________________________


We are attracted by this image of an “almighty” God

We are attracted by it because…

We want a God who can protect us and answer our prayers

And we ourselves want to be like that kind of God ourselves

This is the kind of God we want on our side.

Our God is an awesome God.

If our God is powerful…we can be powerful.

We can be powerful believers; powerful Christians

And that only makes sense:

No one wants to follow a powerless God

No one wants to believe in a helpless God

No one wants to trust a vulnerable God

No one really wants to proclaim…a crucified God.

But, it turns out, that is who our God is

And if we have been waiting for the Lord,

As Isaiah instructs us to do,

That is the kind of God that we have been waiting for all along.




“Wait for the Lord,” Isaiah tells us

So, we did wait for the Lord.

The world waited,

All of creation waited.

And when he came…he was not high up above the earth at all.

He walked the dusty and dirty streets of Palestine

He was not powerful and almighty

He was an ordinary man who was subject to the rulers of the earth just as we are.

And the rulers and powerful had him arrested and killed.

He was not a destroyer,

He was a healer.

This isn’t who we thought God would be

This doesn't seem to be the God Isaiah promised us.

The God we have been waiting for,

Was the God we thought would protect us and make us powerful along with him.

But this God:

Calls us to walk a very different path

Calls us to follow him to places we never wanted to go

Calls us to be people we never really wanted to be

Calls us to be people who embrace death.

Wait for this Lord…

And your strength will be renewed

It will need to be renewed

Because it will be depleted and you will be weak



Wait for this Lord…

And you will fly like an eagle

But you will also walk and crawl.

Wait for this Lord,

And you will run with strength,

But you will also be tired and exhausted.

And long for the Lord to renew your health.

__________________________________________________________


When Jesus went into the house of Peter’s mother-in-law

He entered into the very heart of the world

Into a place that was unclean and on the margins

He touched the sick-bed of an elderly woman

In his culture, that was about as low as he could be

And it was not he who rose up as an eagle

But the sick woman…who had now been made well.

Those who came to see him

They were not the fast runners and the powerful

They were those on the bottom of the social ladder

And they found Jesus…they found God

At the bottom of the ladder with them.

He was the God they had been waiting for

This was the God who for them was awesome.






Have you not known?

Our God…the one who sits above the circle of the earth.

Comes to us. Lives with us and among us.

Have you not heard?

The one who stretches out the heavens

Stretches out his hand to a dying woman and to a suffering world.

The one who is more powerful than princes and rulers

Moves easily among the sick, the hopeless, the powerless.

He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.

The God we wait for is an awesome God.

The God who comes is a crucified God.

And that is awesome.

Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, February 08, 2015

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