Reflections...

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

“A Christian Diet of Yin and Yang”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 23 August 2015 by Bruce Van Voorhis. The scripture readings that day were Joshua 24:1–2, 14–18, Psalm 84, Ephesians 6:10–20, John 6:56–69.


Spirit of love and compassion, Spirit of justice and peace, may the meditations of my heart, of my mind and of my spirit be acceptable and pleasing to you, and may they be a faithful witness to the wisdom you have gifted to us. In your Son’s name, we pray. Amen.

My message this morning is actually a continuation of Hope’s sermon last week that was entitled “Are We Really What We Eat?” Even the beginning of today’s Gospel reading may sound familiar as the first two verses—John 6:56–58—were the last two verses of our Gospel reading last week. Thus, in keeping with Hope’s theme of food last week, I would like to talk about a “Christian diet” today and the ways in which we can possibly ensure that our “diet of faith” produces a healthy and energetic person of faith. Perhaps, by the end of my sermon, we will all be ready to eat even more food during our time of fellowship or at least be hungry after all this talk about food!

You may recall that Hope said last week that “the Good News is truly Good News when it confronts or engages the bad news within and around us, i.e., whatever it is that keeps people from living the quality of life that God wills for all.”

She concluded her message to us with these words:

“If we as professing Christians feed on the  flesh and blood  of Christ Jesus as the Living Word, we may become what we eat, i.e., transformed persons who, like Christ, will manifest the love, justice and compassion of God in our lives and relationships. If we feed on the  flesh and blood  of Christ Jesus as the Living Word, we will abide in him and he in us, and we may become bearers of the Good News, filled with knowledge and courage to confront the bad news within and around us. If we are what we eat, let us seek not the food that will pass away; but set our hearts on the food that endures, the food that will show us the true and living way.”

Friends, this week let us focus our attention on the good food of our faith that endures, not on the junk food of faith that will quickly pass away. As you can see in the sermon title, my recommendation for a good Christian diet is a hearty helping of yin that’s washed down with a huge goblet of yang. Mmmmmm, with these “delicacies,” I hope you all don’t immediately run to the fellowship hall!

Let us begin by looking at the first few verses of our Gospel reading today in the sixth chapter of John. In verses 56 and 57, Jesus says, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me.”

Can you imagine the response of the disciples and everyone who heard these words? Indeed, verse 60 tells us that “many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’”

It certainly is a “hard saying”! My first inclination of hearing these words from someone proclaiming themselves to be a religious or spiritual leader today would be that this person is crazy and is the leader of a cult promoting cannibalism!

Jesus, of course, explains himself later in verse 63: “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”

Jesus again seeks a reaction from the disciples in verse 67 in which he asks the disciples if they now “wish to go away.”

Simon Peter in the next two verses replies: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

“You are the Holy One of God”! This statement, of course, is the core of our faith. “You are the Holy One of God” is what separates us from the believers of all other faiths. It is what we proclaim every week when we recite the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed. It is the assertion that makes us Christians.

How though can we be healthy and energetic Christians?

Now, as you might suspect, comes “Dr. Bruce s Christian Diet” offering that delicious yin and that succulent yang! Don t sprint to the fellowship hall yet though. The feast here is about to begin!

In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang is rooted in a balance of what may appear to be opposing forces that, in reality, complement each other and make the whole greater than its parts. I believe we can adopt this principle to our Christian faith. For me, the yin and yang of Christianity rests on a balance of the inner dimension of our faith—our spiritual life—and the external dimension of our faith—our witness in society.

The inner dimension, the yin, is something internal to us; it’s invisible; it’s something we experience, and we may even say that we feel. The external dimension, the yang, is something outside of us; it’s visible; it’s something that others can observe. Both dimensions, however, can be lived out as individuals and collectively as a community of faith.

Our faith is rooted in our relationship with God and with others. Remember the two central commandments of the New Testament in Matthew 22 and Mark 12: “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” The first relationship with God is part of the inner dimension of our faith involving our spiritual life; the second relationship with others is part of the external dimension of our faith and is reflected in such acts as our service to the poor, our work for social justice, our role as peacemakers. Our relationship with others is a reflection of our relationship with God. If we can keep these two simple, but difficult, commandments, what a different world we’d have!

Remember as well that we are called not to obey a set of religious rules but to create and nurture a relationship with God that, again, is reflected in our values and in how we live our lives. In Amos 5:21–24, the prophet, quoting the Lord, offers this stern and uncompromising challenge in the Old Testament:

“I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and cereal offerings, I will not accept them, and the peace offerings of your fatted beasts I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps, I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

How though can we make a tasty dish of yin to enhance our Christian lives?

Let us look to this morning’s psalm, Psalm 84, for a glimpse of what the final dish might look like and a hint at the recipe, for the psalmist seems almost drunk on the Spirit in this beautiful psalm of praise and joy:

“How lovely is thy dwelling place,
O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, yea, faints
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
to the living God.
Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at thy altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in thy house,
ever singing thy praise! [Selah]
Blessed are the men whose strength is in thee,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
the God of gods will be seen in Zion.
O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;
give ear, O God of Jacob! [Selah]
Behold our shield, O God;
look upon the face of thine anointed!
For a day in thy courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
he bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does the Lord withhold
from those who walk uprightly.
O Lord of hosts,
blessed is the man who trusts in thee!”

A hint, I believe, of how we can enrich our spiritual life is contained in the last verse of this psalm in which the psalmist exclaims that “blessed is the man, [the woman], who trusts in thee”; for if we can truly trust in God, then we will know true peace, true joy, true harmony with our God. Trusting in God though sounds simple, but, in reality, it is much more difficult as our ego is afraid to surrender to God, to let go for fear of losing control. We are rarely willing to lose our life in order to find it, to paraphrase Matthew 16:25.

Other paths to deepening our spiritual life are taking place right here, right now, as we worship God and listen to the Word of God. We can also develop the inner dimension of our faith, the yin of our faith, through reflecting on what God says to us during Bible studies and by regularly setting aside time for daily meditation, or contemplative prayer—the almost forgotten Christian practice of listening to the Divine in each of us in the silence of our being.

As for the external dimension of our faith, the yang of our faith, what are we called to do as children of God to witness to God’s unconditional and unceasing love for all who breathe and have life?

I believe that the witness of any person, any Christian, can be in words and deeds that are both seemingly big and seemingly small. Every day is an opportunity to reflect our faith in the world. It may be what we might consider an insignificant act of taking time to listen to the problems of a friend or family member, to comfort them, to express our concern. It may be an act that has implications for the common good of our community and our society, such as signing a petition, attending a forum or marching in the streets. Whenever our motivation is to share our compassion or to seek justice or to work for peace, I believe that God is present in what we say and do even if we don’t consciously act on the basis of our Christian faith and its values. God is love. Acts of compassion and acts for justice and peace are acts rooted in love for others, for someone and something beyond ourselves and our own self-interests. In these moments, our egos are outward-looking, not inward-looking.

If we look at this morning’s Old Testament reading from Joshua and epistle reading from Ephesians, we find some potential targets for our witness as Christians in the world.

In our Old Testament reading, Joshua asks the people who will they serve—the Lord or other gods? This same question might be asked of us today. Who are our other gods? Our answers might include the God of Greed or the God of Wealth, the God of Vanity, the God of Status, etc. There are numerous candidates and temptations. When asked the same question posed by Joshua about who we will serve, we will most likely give the same reply as the people of his time: we will serve the Lord. Like most aspects of our faith, words are easily uttered, but deeds are much more challenging for all of us. Thus, discerning who we will serve is the initial focus of the external dimension of our faith.

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians that we heard this morning, he mentions some forces that the people are facing. In Ephesians 6:11–12, he tells the people to “put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

That’s a whole of lot of bad people! Notice that Paul equates “the principalities, . . . the powers, . . . the world rulers of this present darkness” with the devil. That’s a pretty strong link!

At any rate, we too face the same political and economic powers today. Nothing has changed. Whether or not we equate them with the devil could be the topic of another sermon, but not today. We though are called, just as the Ephesians were, to respond to “the principalities, . . . the powers, . . . the world rulers of this present darkness.” While the context and challenge are different—Paul’s audience was Christians facing persecution for their faith—the challenge for us as a matter of faith still remains nonetheless.

Paul, in the remainder of this morning’s epistle reading, gives us some hints of tools that may be helpful for our witness as Christians today—“gird your loins with truth,” “shod your feet . . . with the gospel of peace,” “take the shield of faith,” “take . . . the sword of the Spirit,” “pray at all times in the Spirit” and “open my mouth boldly.” While taken out of context of this Letter to the Ephesians, Paul’s recognition of the importance to Christians of his era of truth, peace and non-violence, faith, the Spirit, prayer and the courage to speak are also important for us today as we seek to be better witnesses of our faith in the world.


Hopefully, by now, our spiritual stomachs are full of yin and yang. Our faith is rooted in a constant cycle of flowing in and flowing out, a constant cycle of inner and outer, a constant cycle of spirituality and witness. Zen Buddhists might tell us to breathe in spirituality, breath out witness, breath in spirituality, breathe out witness. Let us keep breathing in and breathing out our faith and eating our yin and yang to be healthy and energetic Christians. Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, August 23, 2015

 

“Are We Really What We Eat?”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 16 August 2015, Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, by Dr. Hope S. Antone. The scripture readings that day were Psalm 34:9-14; John 6:51-58.


How many of you have heard of the saying, You Are What You Eat? How many of you have watched the TV show, You Are What You Eat? How many of you have read the book with the same title, You Are What You Eat? The simple meaning of the saying that catches my attention is this: ‘What you eat can mean your health or lack of it’. Your show of hands indicates that the saying is not new to many of us here.

Indeed, the idea is not new. Studies on traditional/tribal foods found that the notion, “You are what you eat,” is shared among Native American and eastern traditional communities. I know that the Chinese believe that if you eat a lot of chicken you will manifest chicken energy. [Now I wonder if the muscular energy of my son to climb the iron gate of our apartment even before he could walk was because of my eating a lot of chicken feet when I was pregnant with him.]

Are we really what we eat? If we are what we eat, what does it mean for Christians who claim to eat the living bread from heaven?

Last Sunday, the Rev Ralph Lee gave an inspiring and challenging sermon on the living bread that comes from heaven as the spiritual bread that feeds our minds and hearts, giving us courage and strength to change our lives and those of others. He said the change will be from being self-centered to being full of love, justice, peace and compassion.

In today’s scripture reading, we see a shift in metaphors: from “living bread” to “flesh and blood”. Christ Jesus says, “…unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life… for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.” 

In last Sunday’s lectionary reading, we read that the Jews complained about Jesus’ claim to be the “bread of life” because they knew him to be the son of ordinary parents (John 6:35, 41). Now they challenged how he could give his flesh to eat and his blood to drink for people to have eternal life. “Aionios” (Greek word for eternal life) refers to the quality of life that belongs to God. So the controversy was more than a simplistic accusation of practicing cannibalism; it was more seriously about Jesus’ claim to give the kind of life that only belongs to God.

So today, let us re-visit the whole idea of eating the flesh and drinking the blood of our Lord and Saviour, Christ Jesus. Hopefully, we will become more conscious of whether we are really what we eat, and what that means for our life today.  

A most likely meaning of eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood is of course the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. As we know, Christian denominations have different interpretations or doctrines on the Lord’s Supper. Some take the literal interpretation that during the celebration of the Communion, the elements of bread and wine will change to the real flesh and blood of Jesus. Others take a more metaphorical interpretation that the elements of bread and wine (or juice) are symbolic representations of Jesus’ life, offered and shared with many.  

Another possible meaning requires us to probe deeper and to go beyond the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Let us go for this deeper meaning because Jesus was not only concerned about our celebration of the Last Supper. He was very concerned about how those who “eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them” (vs. 56).

The ancient Jewish law (Leviticus 17) forbade the eating of fat and blood. Instead, the blood of a slaughtered animal must be spilled out on the altar, and the fat must be burned on the altar as an offering to God. Ramban, a 13th century rabbi explained that the life (or ‘soul’) of a creature is in the blood. Since animals have blood, they have soul. If a human consumes the animal’s blood, he/she consumes its soul. By spilling the blood on the altar, the animal’s soul will atone for the human act of killing it. Since it was believed that only God, giver of life, can consume life, the soul-containing blood of the animal should be offered to God. Consequently, to eat what is forbidden and believed to be God’s food is to strive to become like God. That was a big ‘No No!’ in ancient times, the punishment of which was to be cut off from the community. 

In view of such ancient belief, it would appear that Jesus is making such a big offence here. He is not only talking about eating the flesh and drinking the blood of an animal; he is taking the extreme of asking people to eat his own flesh and drink his own blood: “…unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you… for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.” It did not only sound yucky! It sounded insanely crazy!  

I think Jesus wanted to shake people up from their long held belief that they could not get any closer to God. He wanted people to know that they too could eat the food of God, be filled with God, become one with God, and even begin to resemble God. Isn’t this what it means to be made in the image of God? And that indeed is having eternal life, the quality of God’s life.    

There are many of us here who like cooking, or whose responsibility includes ensuring good and healthy food for our loved ones or the people we work and live with. From experience we know that preparing good and healthy food takes a lot of time and careful thought and planning. [Not to mention considering our budget of time and money.] Young children and ageing people need food that is easy to digest. For growing children, we need to strike a balance in terms of the food that will make them go, grow, and glow.

It is the same when feeding on the flesh and blood of Jesus. The assurance of God’s acceptance, forgiveness and love for us is like our baby food, perhaps our Sunday School food. But we need to grow up and realize that such love, acceptance and forgiveness are not just meant for us. They are also meant for the many others who are often condemned, judged and criticized for their being different, dirty, difficult, or even dangerous – these are some terms that are often used for people who are not like us, not known to us, or not one of us. As we grow older, we need to feed on the food of self-critique, and this requires much more responsibility and a bigger effort on our part. If our take on the good news of God’s salvation through Christ Jesus is only centered on our self or ourselves (i.e. the ones we like and love), we may be feeding partially on the Word of God.

The Chinese have a belief that most foods have cooling or warming characteristics. Knowing the condition of one’s body helps in planning for the proper food to take to ensure balance between the body’s yin and yang qualities. Knowing the deficiency in either the yin or yang of one’s body also helps in preparing the right ingredients and amount of Chinese medicines to address the deficiency. Not all good food is good for all people all the time. Some people with health problems may need to avoid certain food or ingredients, and require careful ways of preparing the food.

Again, it is the same when feeding on the flesh and blood of Jesus. We are called to feed on and share the good news. But in fact, the good news is not the same for everyone all the time. What the famous theologian Reinhold Niebuhr advised the ministry students of his time, is still true today: the role of the bearers of the Good News is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” The good news for the poor and the weak is that God wills for them abundant life and strength. The good news for the rich and strong is that God wills for them to share with and care for those who are less privileged. The Good News is truly Good News when it confronts or engages the bad news within and around us – i.e. whatever it is that keeps people from living the quality of life that God wills for all.        

Finally, eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ Jesus does not only happen during the Lord’s Supper; or during our feeding on the words and teachings of our Lord. It happens during all occasions when we get to commune with one another. For many of us from Asian and African cultures, meals are special occasions for communion with one another – from the preparation of the dishes to the actual sharing of the meal, and into the cleaning up after the meal. The breaking of the bread/food and the pouring of the wine/drink are constantly reenacted through our daily ritual of sharing a meal, made possible through the hard work of farmers and fisherfolk. For every grain or seed, meat or plant that we eat, we absorb the gifts of their hard labor as well as the blessings from nature’s soil, sun and rain. By partaking of such gifts, we, like Christ Jesus, then partake of the sufferings of the farmers, fisherfolk, and laborers; we also partake of the sufferings of the earth, now ravaged by human abuse, misuse and overuse. This is the wider and deeper meaning of Communion – i.e. affirming our connectivity with one another and with all in God’s creation.          

My brothers and sisters in Christ, are we really what we eat? If we as professing Christians feed on the “flesh and blood” of Christ Jesus as the Living Word, we may become what we eat – i.e. transformed persons who, like Christ, will manifest the love, justice and compassion of God in our lives and relationships. If we feed on the “flesh and blood” of Christ Jesus as the Living Word, we will abide in him and he in us, and we may become bearers of the Good News, filled with knowledge and courage to confront the bad news within and around us. If we are what we eat, let us “seek not the food that will pass away”; but “set our hearts on the food that endures,” the food that will show us the true and living way.      
 
Let us pray:

When the journey is long, and we hunger and thirst,
Bread of Life, sustain us.
When the road is hard, and our bodies weak
Bread of Life, heal us.
When our spirits are low, and we can’t carry on
Bread of Life, revive us.
When we offer our hand, in love and in service
Bread of life, bless us.
When the challenge is great, and the workers are few
Bread of Life, empower us.
[Prayer was adapted from ©John Birch http://www.faithandworship.com/Jesus_bread_of_life.htm

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, August 16, 2015

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