Reflections...

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

“Human Beings, Not for Sale”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 25 October 2015, Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost, by Dr. Kung Lap Yan. The scripture readings that day were MK. 10:46-52.


According to the Protestant tradition, today (Oct 25, 2015) is the Reformation Sunday. It would be the 500th anniversary of Reformation in the year 2017. What are the meanings of Reformation for today? The Lutheran World Federation suggests ‘Human Beings- Not for Sale’ as one of the themes to commemorate this event, and this is the theme we are going to explore today.

The gospel that we have heard in this morning is about a blind beggar named Bartimaeus being healed by Jesus. Once he is blind, but now he sees. Would you consider to invite him to speak at your church if he lived here and now? If yes, what would you like him to speak on today, the Reformation Sunday? There are two approaches. The first approach is to focus on Jesus’ miracle and Bartimaeus’ recovery of sight, and the chief targeted audiences are non-Christians. First, some churches would probably invite Bartimaeus to speak at an evangelistic meeting (something like Billy Graham’s crusade) and to share his experience of being healed so that more people might be converted to Christ. Second, some Christian organizations would probably design a marketing strategy to reframe Bartimaeus’ story into a very moving story. These two practices are commonly found among churches in Hong Kong. A recent example is Nick Vujicic. His crippled condition with his faith in God is a theme used by the churches to propagandize Jesus Christ.

The second approach to Bartimaeus’ story is to focus on his rich experience of faith and the challenges to Christians and non-Christians. First, it is a story about the tension between Bartimaeus and those quieting his voice. The Bible does not give details here. We are not sure whether anyone is on the side of Bartimaeus and stops those quieting him, and whether anyone directs Jesus to Bartimaeus’ voice. However, Bartimaeus’ keeping on crying out loudly does not necessarily imply everyone should fight for one’s own destiny, but rather we should stop those quieting Bartimaeus, and even be the voice of the voiceless. In this sense, Bartimaeus’ experience challenges us whether we can be a voice of the voiceless. I am pleased to know that KUC supports the asylum seekers, overseas domestic helpers and the church of one body in Christ.

Second, Bartimaeus' experience is a story moving from sitting by the roadside (v.46) to following Jesus (v.52).  After being healed, Bartimaeus no longer sits by the roadside, for he can travel freely, and even may be able to earn his living on his effort. However, Bartimaeus chooses to follow Jesus. Why does he choose to follow Jesus? Does he believe that Jesus is the Son of David, the Messiah (v.48)? Does he want to join Jesus' healing ministry to bring sight to the blind? Or does following Jesus provide him friendship and food? We do not know. However, one of the main differences between sitting by the roadside and following Jesus is about the meaning of life. I am not saying that following Jesus is more meaningful than sitting by the roadside, but sitting by the roadside would never be the purpose of life. Following Jesus is not the necessary result of the recovery of sight. Neither is the following Jesus the purpose of Jesus’ healing.  Jesus’ healing does not stop at physical recovery, and it invites us to reframe our life.

Third, there is a tension between Bartimaeus’ longing for God’s mercy (v.48) and longing for power expressed in the argument of who sits left and right at Jesus’ glory among apostles (MK 9: 36ff). It is not the accountability and responsibility that the apostles are concerned, but greedy and pride. Therefore, if it is accountability that motivates, there is nothing wrong to look for the appointment of the post of pro-vice-chancellor at the University of Hong Kong. Apparently, Bartimaeus is more ‘Christian’ than the apostles, but don’t forget that the apostles in their early stage of following Jesus are longing for God’s mercy also. What makes them shift their focus from longing for God’s mercy to longing for power? This is a very existential question to Christian leaders in whatever sense. A recent example is Pastor Kong Hee, Spring Harvest Church in Singapore. The story of Bartimaeus brings us back to the basic of our faith.

Fourth, it is definitely the power and grace of Jesus Christ that makes Bartimaeus able to see. But Jesus said to him, ‘Go, your faith has made you well.’ (v. 52) Does our faith have a role to play in our salvation? If Bartimaeus did not raise his voice, he might miss the chance to be healed. If it was not his faith in Jesus’ mercy, he would not cry for help. On the other hand, if Jesus did not respond to Bartimaeus, nothing could be happened. Due to this, there is a very common saying among Christians, ‘I do the best, God do the rest.’ I don’t think it is about the division of labour between God and humans. Rather I would say God is pleased to know we have faith in him, and let’s pray to God, grant us faith in his mercy.

At the beginning, I have suggested that there are two approaches to think about Bartimaeus’ story. The first emphasis is on the miracle and his recovery of sight. The second emphasis is on his exposure in faith. These two approaches are not in contradiction. If Bartimaeus was invited to speak on the Reformation Sunday, which approach would you take? I would take the second approach, for the richness and struggles of Bartimaeus’ life is acknowledged and embraced, not being reduced to a single theme. At the same time, Jesus’ response to Bartimaeus reflects that human dignity would never be denounced due to one’s poverty, illness and social status. This is the meaning of Human Beings, not for Sale.

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

 

“Sharing of wealth”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 11 October 2015, Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Amos 5:6-7; 10-15, Hebrews 4:12-16, Mark 10:17-31.


Introduction

Good morning sisters and brothers here at KUC and those who are with us by the radio. May the Spirit inspire us to understand the truth and wisdom of God’s words. 

Next Saturday, the 17th of October is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty observed by the United Nations. The theme this year, 2015, is:
Building a sustainable future: Coming together to end poverty and discrimination

The United Nation’s Secretary-General Mr Ban Ki-moon shared about the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, he said:  "On this day we re-commit to think, decide and act together against extreme poverty -- and plan for a world where no-one is left behind. Our aim must be prosperity for all, not just a few."

According to the figures released by the United Nations in Feb 2015, there is a huge population of 1.3 billion living in extreme poverty (that is, these people have less than $1.25 a day)*. Besides, the wealth gap has been widening in the world. In view of this, global resources and economic fruits should be shared more equally. To end poverty is to do with sharing of wealth with the ‘have not’, based on mutual care and justice.

Pope Francis has also mentioned in his recent sharing - “focusing on poverty and sacrificing for the poor are the heart of the Gospel”

The scripture readings taken from Amos and Gospel Mark today are very timely when the world in these days are observing the World Poverty Day and the United Nations is appealing to all people and nations to take action to end poverty and to advocate for a fairer world where everyone can share prosperity not just a few.

Biblical text

The gospel reading of Mark today was about a rich man who went to ask Jesus what to do in order to inherit eternal life. Jesus told him to sell his possessions and give the money to the poor. The rich man was shocked and went away grieving because he had many possessions. Jesus then commented that it was hard for those who have wealth to enter into the Kingdom of God.

This man who had abided all the laws required by the Jewish community was not sure if he might inherit eternal life. Even though he was rich materially, when he was asked to sell them and give to the poor, he was very sad. His possessions did not help him to earn treasure from heaven. His possessions had become a curse taking away his happiness and his freedom to love and to do good at heart for those in need.

When Jesus talked to his disciples he reiterated again – how hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God.

What do you think friends, why is it difficult for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God?

 

I have thought of a few possibilities.

1)         Money is a great temptation to many people. Once you have it, you want to keep as much of it as you can. The sin of greed may then be grounded in the rich. The more the rich people have, the more difficult it is to let go. They become obsessive and possessive.

2)         In the world, money is a sign of power, status and success, people will try to keep it to maintain their power and status.

3)         The rich mistaken wealth as the basis of their security rather than to trust in God. In a way, to give away their wealth is to expose themselves to the changes of fortunes in the world, to become vulnerable.

So I can see three reasons: greed, power and status or insecurities. Can you think of other reasons why it is so difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of God?

 

Perhaps let’s turn the question around, and ask: what does it take for someone to give and to share what they have with others?

 

I remember a story about Mrs Heung, who is now in her 80s.

 

Mrs Heung shared with me that in the 60’s Hong Kong was in general very poor. Many families had large number of children but without adequate means to support their lives. Mrs Heung was one of those poor families in that decade.  At that time she was living in a wooden hut with six small children. The youngest one was just a few years old. She was a widow and had to take care of these children all by herself. She worked very hard to make a living and was poor. One day when she noticed that the two children living next door were starving. Without hesitation nor worry if tomorrow her own family has adequate to eat, she gave a cup of rice to the children’s mother.

 

Despite her inadequacy, Mrs Heung gave and shared with her neighbors who were desperate. She did it out of compassion. She felt pity on the two little children.  At the very moment of giving, she did not focus on her own lacking but on what she had that might help others. She had faithfully practiced what Jesus said, to leave everything and follow him, to show love to the needed for Jesus’ sake and the sake of the gospel.  Mrs Heung has been God’s wonderful and faithful witness.

 

Jesus assured his disciples that those who left everything to follow him will receive abundantly.

 

From Mrs Heung, I can see that richness in life is not a matter of how much you have, but of how much you share. Because of her compassion towards others and her generosity to share, she is rich at heart even though she was once very poor. That’s why I always see smiles on her face. Her heart is filled with joy all the time. As a loving mother, she has very close relationship with her children and her children are all living in harmony. God has blessed her with treasure in heaven, right now on earth.

 

Let me share with you another story. My husband, Tong, loves to watch a TV program called American Ninja Warriors, where participants have to go through the world’s most difficult obstacle course.

 

There was one episode about a participant who loves the game so much that he renovated his big house so that he could practice in his own home.


One day he met a family with 5 children. They need a big house to stay. As he realized the needs of this family, he moved out from his big house and bought a smaller house for himself. He then rented his own big house to this family but only asking the family to pay what they can afford. He shared in the program that as much as he loved his big house, he can see another family needing it more than he does. As a Christian he found it was the right thing to do: to share what he has with others, with those in need.

 

In these two stories, we see beautiful acts of love, carried out because people identified with those in need, and acted out of compassion; just as Jesus had identified with the poor and had pity on them.

 

As Christians, would you do the same? like the man on the American Ninja Warriors program, or Mrs Heung from Hong Kong, by sharing your possessions, big or small, with people in need for Jesus’ sake and the sake of the gospel?

 

Jesus in the beatitude has shared that "Blessed are the poor in spirit". Shall we Christians try to let ourselves be enriched by the poor, in whom Christ dwells in?  Jesus is with the poor and lives amongst them.

 

Jesus’ response to the rich man and his dialogues with his disciples reminded us the importance of sharing of the wealth with the poor and to leave everything for his sake and the sake of the gospel.  This is exactly what Pope Francis shared -  “focusing on poverty and sacrificing for the poor are the heart of the Gospel”

 

In Hong Kong the legal minimum wage is HK$32.5. With the high living cost in the city, this amount is hardly enough for a family to maintain a decent living. The government has just released a figure: there is nearly 460,000 working poor in Hong Kong. Oxfam Hong Kong has shared in a report on poverty in Hong Kong (2010-2014) – that the top 1% of the richest people possesses half the wealth in Hong Kong. We see then the gap between the rich and the poor is very wide and very serious. Hong Kong is worst amongst the developed countries in terms of the wealth gap.

 

Prophet Amos from the reading we heard this morning has reminded us of the evil of the rich who had exploited the poor when the Northern Kingdom of Israel expanded and grew wealthy. Amos, in the name of God, condemned corrupt city life and social injustice, as well as the deceitful consolations of insincere ceremonial.

 

Therefore, apart from doing charity and generous giving at personal level, churches have to play a prophetic role to denounce social injustice. At the same time, Christians are required to stand against unjust systems that have perpetuated inequality and sufferings amongst the weak and the poor.

 

The battle to end poverty and bring forth prosperity for all and not just a few is tough and full of challenges. 

 

But Jesus Christ who has identified and shared his life with the poor has set a good example for us. His assurance to his disciples --  ‘for mortal is impossible, but not for God, for God all things are possible’. Sisters and brothers, may this living word of God give us the strength and the hope to do our best in sharing wealth with the poor.

 

Amen. 



* United Nations Development Programme. "Sustaining Human Progress: Reducing Vulnerabilities and Building Resilience." Human Development Report, 2014. Web Accessed February 25, 2015.


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

 

“Oneness”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 4 October 2015, Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Genesis 2:18–24; Hebrews 1:1–4, 2:5–12; Mark 10:2–16.


Last Sunday we were celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival in Hong Kong. It is one of the traditional celebrations of Chinese culture. Another name for this festival is the Moon Festival—a celebration of the full moon, a symbol of union and wholeness that generates happiness and joy.

(I shared with you a photo I received last Sunday from a KUC friend, Arthur Chan, who is now living in Australia. He said that no matter where we are we share the same moon on earth—very meaningful.)

The full moon is shining so bright and round. It is beautiful!

As we know, the moon is not always full. Part or all of the moon disappears when there is an eclipse. It is like our life; we are not always living as bright as the full moon. There are times when a total eclipse comes and we live in complete darkness.

In contrast to the full moon, which is a sign of union, the separation and divorce of married couples is an antithesis to the celebration of this special festival.

The Gospel reading according to Mark on divorce reminds me of a friend Mary who divorced her husband because he had an affair with another woman 10 years ago. Mary has a daughter. She was 12 years old when she divorced. Mary was feeling extremely depressed and broken. She felt pain deep inside her heart. She was living in complete darkness for a couple of years with no joy, no hope. By God’s grace, she fell in love with a man who has two young daughters whose wife had passed away. Mary loves the two girls and feels being called by God to take care of them. She then married this man with two children. As a stepmother bringing up her own child as well to form a new family, she tried very hard to foster trust and love among all these relationships.

The process has been full of challenges, however. The challenges were not just from within the family but also from outside.

Not long after her second marriage, for instance, a Christian friend from her home church one day said to her, “You have committed adultery because you have divorced and remarried.” Apparently, this Christian friend was referring to the Biblical text from Mark 10:2–12. This Christian friend had obviously rubbed salt in my friend’s old wounds. Her words not only reflected her insensitivity and misunderstanding of another person’s situation; they revealed also how unloving, if not ignorant, she was when Christians just take the scriptures in a literal way without taking the context of the Biblical world of the time into consideration as well.

The Gospel account of Mark 10:2–12 is not simply talking about morals of marriage and whether it is sinful to divorce and remarry.

Jesus, for example, was tested by the Pharisees with a question: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

Instead of answering the question, Jesus asked them what did Moses say accordingly to the law.

The Pharisees could immediately reply that, yes, Moses permitted it as long as a man wrote a certificate of divorce and sent his wife away.

Then Jesus began to give his view. Jesus said that Moses wrote this law because the hearts of the people at the time were hard. Jesus then affirmed that marriage is a holy union of two people in God’s Creation. Couples in a permanent marriage covenant should bond closely and love each other. In Jesus’ time, however, like in the ancient Jewish world, women were of low status, and they were the possessions of men. Husbands could abandon their wives at any time. The Law of Moses regarding divorce was thus meant to protect women. Jesus made a very significant remark on divorce. Divorce is sinful in God’s eyes because it originates in humans’ hardness of heart. It is human’s unloving, unkind and selfish attitude towards another spouse that caused sin. What Jesus cared for was not the legalistic act but the heart of the people who should live according to the will of God.

The subsequent account about Jesus’ welcoming and blessing to children reinforces his love and full acceptance towards the little ones. Children, like the women in his time, were also regarded as a father’s possession. They had no status and significance in the family and in society. That’s why even Jesus’ disciples did not welcome them and sent them away. In fact, Jesus was angry with what they did to those children. Jesus further reminded his disciples that the Kingdom of God belongs to the little children, and he warned them that anyone who did not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child would never enter it.

We see how Jesus in these stories has very much identified with the weak and the little ones.

On this World Communion Sunday, we gather to celebrate what Jesus did and what, by the power of the Holy Spirit, he still does.

We celebrate the Jesus who considered the unity of the family (a family based on marriage and clans or based on faith in God) to be important, we celebrate the Jesus who welcomed little children into his arms, we celebrate the Jesus who took time to bless everyone, no matter who they were and no matter what others thought of them.

Through Holy Communion, Jesus reminds us of our connection with him and with God as One.

The Letter to the Hebrews speaks of Jesus in exalted terms: he was crowned with glory and honor. He was the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of God’s being.

But the way Jesus revealed God’s glory and honor was extraordinary: Jesus manifested God glory in his suffering of death. By the grace of God, he might taste death for everyone. (Hebrews 2:9) The author of Hebrews further says, “Salvation made perfect through suffering.” (Hebrews 2:10)

Jesus came to us and saved the world through suffering and dying on the cross. This is an unusual faith, indeed. This is even contradictory to human instinct too because no one wants suffering and pain.

Whether we like it or not, we are living in an imperfect world where many people’s lives are wounded, broken and torn because of wars, poverty, exploitation and discrimination. Because of human greed and overconsumption, the environment has also been violated. Pope Francis pointed out that the environment has a right to restore her dignity.

In his faithfulness to God, Jesus overcame the suffering and power of death through his resurrection. He did not withdraw from pain and suffering. Jesus, who is one with us, has empowered us by his faith in God. In him, we are given hope.

From my friend Mary, I see how she reveals God’s glory in her suffering. Her love and patience for her children and family, her perseverance of not giving up on herself in the midst of hostility and challenge have redeemed her. I admire her for having a loving and very close-knit family now. I appreciate her too for her dedication to God’s service in working with a Christian organization for a number of years. I believe Jesus, the one who is with God’s beloved children, has comforted and strengthened her all the way in her journey.

Holy Communion means together with the Holy One. Jesus broke his body and shed his blood to share his life with us. World Communion Sunday reminds us and challenges us to be part of Jesus’ body, to live, to suffer, to die and to resurrect with him. Together, with churches of different traditions all over the world, we serve faithfully to God and to witness Christ on earth.  Holy Communion is a visible sign of Oneness with Christ and Oneness with God’s whole Creation.

From the internet, I found someone who has quoted Pope John Paul II’s words about the Eucharist (another name for Holy Communion in the Roman Catholic Church) that I would like to share with you: “The Eucharist is always celebrated ‘on the altar of the world.’”

Jesus’ suffering body links us to a suffering world. All of the Creation is caught up in the moment of Eucharist. With thanksgiving, our task is to love this world, a place full of suffering. To love the suffering world and suffering people is to be ONE with it in the charity of Christ.

To love the suffering world and suffering people is to be ONE with it in the charity of Christ.

The full moon in the dark gives an image of Oneness in Christ as Jesus is the light of the world. Our oneness in Christ is a light that shines in the darkness. May we receive it with a simple heart like a child.


Sisters and brothers, let us take a piece of the round wafer that symbolizes the body of Christ and our oneness for a moment of reflection after hearing the message today.

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

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