Reflections...

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

Seeing God in ‘the Other’

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 5 July 2015, Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, by Rose Wu. The scripture readings that day were Matthew 15:2128


Good morning, my dear sisters and brothers in Christ!

The title of my sermon today is “Seeing God in ‘the Other.’”

From the perspective of postcolonial theory, “other” is the social and/or psychological ways in which one group excludes or marginalizes another group. By declaring someone “other,” persons tend to stress what makes them different from or opposite of another, and this stigmatizing label carries over into the way they represent others, especially through stereotypical images.

Who is “the other” to you?

I grew up in a family of four girls. I am the third. Since I was four years old, I realized that my eldest sister had a different name and a different look. She called my mom “Ah Jei,” meaning “elder sister.” Later I found out that she was the first-born child of my father and his first wife. After her mother died, my own mother became my father’s second wife, and she then became the stepdaughter of my mother. As I recall from my childhood, my eldest sister was the one who did most of the housework. She dropped out of school and started to work in a factory when she was 14 years old while I and my other siblings were encouraged to continue our studies as long as we could. As I look back, even though we belong to one family and lived under one roof, my eldest sister was definitely “the other” to us.

Have you ever experienced being treated as “the other”?

As a Hong Kong citizen, we are constantly reminded that we are “the other” in the eyes of the Colonizer Britain and Native China.

In June 1997, I was invited by Evangelisches Missionswerk (EMW) in Germany as one of the international guests to talk about the response of Hong Kong’s civil society towards Hong Kong’s return to China at a church meeting in Leipzig. At the meeting, a Chinese scholar from Nanjing Seminary commented that Hong Kong’s people are “not Chinese and yet not British.” At first, I felt it was an insult to me and many other people in Hong Kong, but later I felt his comment was quite correct. In fact, Hong Kong’s culture has often been dismissed by the people of mainland China as too Westernized and thus unauthentic. Take the question of language as an example: what is the “proper” language of Hong Kong? It is neither pure English nor standard Chinese. It is a combination of Cantonese, broken English and written Chinese. Such linguistic impurities are also a reflection of the impurities of Hong Kong’s cultural identity.

Who is “the other” to us historically, culturally and spiritually? Do self and other translate inevitably into “us” and “them”? How is “the other” known? Is knowledge of “the other” always a form of colonization, domination, violence, or can it be pursued as disinterested truth? Can “the other” know or speak itself?

When I studied in Boston in 1998, I was told by a classmate about the pain of being a black person in America. He said, “One of the dangers of being a black American is being schizophrenic. To be a black American is in some ways to be born with the desire to be white. It is a part of the price you pay for being born here, and it affects every black person.”

On June 17, Dylann Storm Roof, the 21-year-old South Carolina man attacked Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. There he murdered nine black Christians who were gathered together for their weekly Wednesday night Bible study. The killer had been welcomed by the church members to join them in their Bible study when he walked in, and he sat with them for more than an hour before he pulled out his gun and shot them dead. They were targeted and killed because they were black.

People have tried to make some sense of the underlying motivation behind this tragedy by examining a manifesto written by Dylann Roof, which was found on a web site entitled the “Last Rhodesian” that Dylann Roof had been actively visiting and using. The manifesto’s contents leave no doubt that the shooting was racially motivated as it is full of justifications for white supremacy.

Let me read one quote of the manifesto to you: “Segregation was not a bad thing. It was a defensive measure. Segregation did not exist to hold back Negroes. It existed to protect us from them. And I mean that in multiple ways. Not only did it protect us from having to interact with them, and from being physically harmed by them, but it protected us from being brought down to their level. Integration has done nothing but bring whites down to the level of brute animals. The best example of this is obviously our school system.”

The killings in the church were, indeed, a terrorist act, part of the continuing terror of white violence that has threatened black men, women and children ever since they were brought to the United States to be slaves. From the beginning, racism was a social construct to justify the supremacy and power of white Americans. The killing is not just that of one white man but is violence nurtured by countless national and racial myths which are held deeply.

Racism is perpetuated by national and cultural myths that begin history from a white perspective. As white people ignore their built-in privilege of whiteness and define other people of color as “the other,” the seeds of violence have already been planted.

What now continues to be a worrisome development is that there have been a string of fires at African-American churches throughout the South since the killing in Charleston.

The “us” and “them” division does not only exist between races. It also exists between genders and sexual preferences.

Legislator Raymond Chan Chi-chuen has lodged a complaint with the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) regarding an incident last month in which he was verbally abused by two women on an MTR train over his sexual orientation. Chan said that, since there is no law against discrimination based on sexual orientation, he could only file a complaint regarding sexual harassment.

He said the incident, which occurred during his MTR ride to Po Lam in the afternoon of May 31, was like a terror attack as the two women confronted him and used foul language to insult him about his sexual orientation.

As a theological educator who has been very supportive of the equal rights of sexual minorities in Hong Kong, I have been asked many times by LGBTQ Christians, “Why does God hate us? Do our sexual identities have any purpose, any meaning? Why is there so much suffering, pain and homophobia?”

According to the authors of Ministry among God’s Queer Folk, “The most common negative burden that LGBTQ people carry is shame. Shame does not come when you understand that ‘I made a mistake’; shame settles in when you know that ‘I am a mistake.’ ‘Something essential is wrong with me’ is the message that creeps into the young LGBTQ soul. Very often this shame will develop into a sense of self-denial and self-hating. Shame and internalized homophobia are closely related. Carrying the feelings of hurt and anger are invariably companions of shame.”

The decades-long debate about whether same-sex marriage should be allowed in the United States was finally settled on June 26 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled gay and lesbian couples can be legally married anywhere in the country.

Justice Anthony Kennedy closed his opinion with a beautiful passage.

“No union is more profound than marriage,” he said, “for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

Just days after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, the Episcopal Church in America voted to change its liturgy to allow for homosexual weddings. The reform, approved at the denomination’s General Convention meeting in Salt Lake City, eliminates gender-specific language on marriage. Instead of “husband” and “wife,” the Episcopal Church now will refer to “the couple.” Although the resolution still includes what amounts to a “conscience clause” for bishops and priests who disapprove of same-sex marriage to opt-out of performing unions, they are required to accommodate couples in some way in every diocese.

While the ruling of the highest court in the United States set off celebrations in many parts of the country and the world, not everyone was full of joy.
Some evangelical Christians in the United States immediately issued a statement to express their objection: “We dissent from the court’s ruling that redefines marriage. The State did not create the family and should not try to recreate the family in its own image. We will not capitulate on marriage because biblical authority requires that we cannot. The outcome of the Supreme Court’s ruling to redefine marriage represents what seems like the result of a half-century of witnessing marriage’s decline through divorce, cohabitation and a worldview of almost limitless sexual freedom.”

On the other hand, Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago called on Catholics to offer a “real” welcome to LGBT people while restating the Church’s position that sacramental marriage is the union of one man and one woman.

Gays and lesbians, said Archbishop Cupich, “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. . . . For this reason, the Church must extend support to all families, no matter their circumstances, recognizing that we are all relatives, journeying through life under the careful watch of a loving God.

Today’s Gospel story reminds us once again that God’s hospitality to every creature is a biblical proclamation and is the Good News that we preach.

The story of the Canaanite woman has been interpreted and used throughout the centuries to shape the Christian faith in various ways. Today I will focus on the Canaanite woman as “the other”one is dispossessed but who deserves the right to be treated as a human being and not as a dog. Although she is a Gentile, she is not ashamed of being different, and she demands that Jesus respect her as an equal subject.

From a postcolonial feminist’s perspective, the Canaanite woman crosses the border of social correctness in Matt. 15:22 when she first approaches and addresses Jesus to help her daughter. Her boldness carries a significant meaning for those who have been defined as “the other” in the eyes of colonizers, whether they have a different color, different ethnic or national identity, different gender, different sexual orientation, different class or different religious and cultural background. Here the “border” is not merely a geographic category but is, more profoundly, a category of social segregation.

The image of Jesus turning away a woman who is seeking healing for her sick child is not the image of Jesus that I was taught in Sunday school. It is troubling, disturbing and challenging. Yet I also find hope in this story because it contains a powerful message of inclusion, of determination, and of Jesus’ own growth in his vision of ministry and hospitality.

In Jesus’ own understanding of his mission as well as the perception of mission of the early Church, there was much controversy regarding mission beyond the Jewish world to the Gentile world outside of Israel. From this story, it is clear that at this point in his public ministry Jesus had very distinct boundaries for his mission, but this woman was the first to argue publicly that Jesus’ mission and compassion should go beyond the boundary of Israel and the Jewish people.

From the example of the Canaanite woman, we can view and appreciate the people who are excluded or ignored by the Church as agents for change, as agents to change us!

In this story, Jesus shows us what it means to encounter someone quite different from ourselves. As a community of believers, a faithful response to Christ’s message requires us to move beyond prejudices and judgments, beyond easy categorization and stigmatization. It requires us to take the next step to see beyond the barriers of race, gender, class, sexual orientation and the myriad of other categories into which we place and divide people. It calls us to have the courage to step through these barriers to see “the other” on the other side.

The unnamed Canaanite mother is a reminder to us not to give up on someone because they are in some way different from us. With unconditional love, we are called to accept all people on their own terms of who they are. God’s hospitality is not restricted to one category of people. This assurance is God’s promise to us.

Seeing God in “the other” is to affirm and celebrate the Good News of God’s hospitality and welcome to all. As a Church, our mission is not to convert or conquer the different Other, but rather, it is to seek mutual conversion and to transform our relationship with the different Other from that of a stranger, or even an enemy, into our friend and neighbor.

We live in the abundant life of God’s welcoming love. Let us invite others to share in the feast of God’s salvation.

God has welcomed each of us.
You don’t need to become someone or something else.
Just live in the welcoming love you already know.
You have it.
Now claim it, share it, and give thanks to God.

Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Tuesday, July 07, 2015

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