Reflections...

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

“Never Give Up”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 15 November 2015,  the first Sunday after Epiphany, by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were 1 Samuel 1:420; Hebrews 10:1925; Mark 13:18.


Opening Prayer
Open my lips, O God, to speak your Word. Holy Spirit, come to inspire and transform our life through the Word. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

It was heartbreaking to hear the tragic news from Paris yesterday. The multiple terrorist attacks in Paris have killed 128 people and injured 200. What has made these people risk their own life to kill other innocent people in such a senseless manner? What has gone wrong in our world? What has gone wrong in the hearts of these suicidal killers?

With advanced technology, we are very well informed of the disastrous accidents, earthquakes, storms and floods, wars and terror and economic crises that have been occurring in different parts of the world. We are, indeed, living in an unstable, uncertain and vulnerable era.

Some Christians like to ask, are these tragedies signs of Jesus’ coming and indicate the end of the world?

No doubt, all these life-threatening incidents have generated fear and have shattered the life and faith of many people.

What does our faith in Jesus Christ offer to us in such a troubled world in which we are now living?

The scripture according to the Gospel of Mark today tells us our ancestors lived in similar troubled situations. By reading the stories of the past, we are reminded of the need for perseverance in the face of our experiences in the world we are living in.

In facing the unjust suffering of the innocent, people need God’s loving mercy to heal and comfort them. In facing the threat of widespread terrorist attacks, people need God’s help to overcome fear. In facing tremendous anger and hatred, people need God’s love and peace at heart. In facing the temptation to use violence against those who use violence, people need God to stand on the principle of peace and justice. Revenge and hatred will only perpetuate further violence. Only trust in the Lord’s merciful love and justice may win and bring new hope. The road may be rough and tough, but it is the right way to go. And remember that we are not walking alone: Jesus, who was hung and died on the cross, is with the people who are suffering. Jesus’ forgiving love to save and heal in a sinful world has given those who believe in him strength and light to keep them going in times of suffering and trial.
 
Jesus faced life-threatening challenges, but he never gave up. He stood firm and knew very well that his mission was to forgive sins and bring a new life of joy, peace and hope to the world. In Christ, and with Christ, we are reconnected with God. There is no more separation of relationships. Sins which tempted the people of the world to walk astray have been destroyed in the loving sacrifice of Jesus. In the midst of merciless killing and the destruction of life, may love conquer hatred, peace conquer violence, hope conquer despair and light conquer darkness.

From the scripture today taken from 1 Samuel 1:420, the story of Hannah and her trust in God inspires us. In her despair of being a barren woman receiving no respect and protection, but rather insults and ridicule, she went to the sanctuary to speak to God and courageously asked God to give her a son. When she was misunderstood by the priest Eli, who accused her of being drunk, she bravely defended herself. Hannah refused to be wrongly accused. Moreover, she refused to suffer in silence and take a victim’s role. Instead, she struggled to become a survivor and stand firm to fight for her rights and well-being before God. Indeed, Hannah was able to find the God who is caring and waiting to respond to her cries and to her needs. Hannah did not give up on her life. Her courage and persistence changed the course of her life.

We are living in a world very similar to the Biblical world. There are wars in which nations are fighting against nations. There are people fighting against their own people. During the wars, women are always the most affected victims. Rape and violence against women are prevalent, not only during the war, but in their day-to-day life.

In the past few years, I have tried to fix the third Sunday in November to highlight our concerns about violence against women as an echo to the United Nation’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. This international day falls this year on 25 November.

Let me share with you some figures from the World Health Organization and the United Nations:

-       One in three women worldwide has experienced physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives by mostly intimate partners. In some national studies, the percentage of women who have suffered from physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime is even higherup to 70 percent. It indicates that domestic violence is very serious. 
-       In 2012, one in two women killed worldwide were killed by their partner or family. Only one out of 20 men killed were killed in such circumstances. 
-       In the European Union, 45 percent to 55 percent of women above the age of 15 have experienced sexual harassment.
-       A study conducted in New Delhi in 2012 found that 92 percent of women reported having experienced some form of sexual violence in public spaces in their lifetime. 

The elimination of violence against women is a concern of the church because each human being is a temple of God. The temple is not just a physical place as regarded by the Jewish people; for although it is very true for the Jewish people that the temple is a foundation of their tradition, identity and a sign of power, Jesus reminded his Jewish disciples their temple would be destroyed. But it is not the end of the world, however. God’s dwelling place remains in their hearts through him. 

In 1 Cor. 3:1617, it says, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” 

We human beings, created in the image of God, are holy. We are God’s beloved children, and God dwells in us. God’s spirit dwells in each human body. The violation of one’s body and dignity is a violation of God. Therefore, no one should be abused and violently attacked. Very sadly, many women have been physically and sexually violated.
  
While love and forgiveness is the core of the Christian faith, Christians should speak out loudly and say NO to violence against women and should stand firm against human rights abuses, unjust systems and cultures that perpetuate a cycle of violence. Justice and peace are also at the core of the Christian faith. 

This year 2015marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. According to figures from a study in China, up to 400,000 women were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military in many parts of Asia, including China, Korea and the Philippines. 

In September, the government of Hong Kong gave to the people an additional public holiday to celebrate the country’s victory in the Second World War. To me, there is nothing worth celebrating because no one wins in war. All are victims in many different ways. 

On that day, I went to join a screening of a documentary film and forum on “comfort women” organized by the Gender Justice Working Group of the Hong Kong Christian Council. I was very disturbed and distressed by hearing the terrible experiences of the victims. But I was at the same time very moved and encouraged to learn that many women survivors, women’s rights activists and peace advocates continue to fight for the rights and dignity of these survivors who were abused during the war. I was particularly impressed by one of the speakers, a Japanese man who now lives in Hong Kong. He has participated in the advocacy campaign for justice and peace for the “comfort women.” He cares for these women, and he has even gone to visit an abused survivor in Hainan Province, China.  

The Women’s Active Museum of War and Peace set up in Japan is another effort to organize petitions to the Japanese government, seeking justice, compensation and apologies for these women survivors of the war. 

The Women’s Active Museum is a place where the reality of war crimes is recorded and kept for posterity. They have sought to chronicle the historical facts about “comfort women” and to listen to their stories. They have been raising public awareness and have continued to ask why violence against women in wars happened, and are still happening, in the world. 

Their work gives a strong voice that says “Never again—anywhere in the world.” 

With more men and women participating in the movement, I believe the museum’s aim “to bring about a non-violent world where peace and equality are realities rather than dreams” will be achieved. 

I would like to also quote Sister Fa, a Senegalese hip-hop star who uses her music to campaign for human rights and for an end to female genital mutilation. She says, “Once you know that everyone has a right to be free from all forms of violence, and that you yourself have a responsibility to help them achieve that right, you don’t look back.” Sister Fa, who herself was a victim of female genital mutilation, uses music to speak for the rights of girls who are subjected to horrible violence against their will. 

Sisters and brothers, as we witness the violent attacks in Paris and other parts of the world these days, as well as violence against women seemingly everywhere, let us pray and take action to walk with the survivors and participate with determination to end this violence against God’s children. 

May the story of our sister Hannah from the Old Testament, the warning of our Lord Jesus Christ and the encouragement of the apostles in the early church speak to us today to “Never give up.” 

In the midst of threats and crises in our lives and in our world, let us be strong. We never give up to put our trust in God. Like Hannah, we seek God to restore our hope and faith. We never give up to keep our faith in Jesus Christ, who has come to the world to forgive all sins and renew all lives. We never give up to live a life of love and to walk in the righteous way of the Lord. May God bless you. Amen.

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

 

“ESTUARIES OF ETERNITY”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 1 November 2015, All Saints Sunday, by Rev. Christa von Zychlin. The scripture readings that day were John 11:1-43 (Lazarus).


Cemeteries

Which holiday have we celebrated this weekend?

October 31 is Halloween and Nov. 1 is All Saints Day.

Back in the USA, as a young, crazy pastor, around this time of year our youth minister and I would take about a dozen of our high school students up to the church cemetery on the hill in Ames, Iowa.
.
We did this NOT in honor of Halloween but in honor of All Saints Day. We went at night, armed with warm coats, flashlights, and the Holy Scripture, we looked at different tombstones, found names of people we and the kids personally knew (some family members).

Once I overheard one of the girls say to her friend, “Eww, do you know there’s dead people underneath the ground where we’re walking right now?  And they both giggled and squealed a bit.

I didn’t mind her saying that, in fact I was glad.

She and her friend were doing something very important for all of us to do and that’s to acquaint ourselves with the reality of death, and what does it really MEAN to us Christians, when we put a body into the ground?

What does it mean when we put an urn of ashes into a crypt?

What does it mean when we walk by a cemetery?
            (I have many opportunities  to think about this, since there is a cemetery on the walk between my home on Tao Fung Shan Road and the Lutheran Theological Seminary where I work.)

Cemeteries have long been though of as “In between places” … a place where the living and the dead can still somehow meet. At its best, a cemetery can be a peaceful earthly garden that reminds us of the heavenly home for which we are destined.

But back in Ames, Iowa, the teenagers and youth director, and I walked around a little while, read tombstones, worked through a few nervous giggles, then we formed a circle and we read about the promise of eternal life from the Bible. Usually we would read the wonderful words from I Corinthians 15, the chapter on Eternal Life, including these words in verses 51f.:

Lo, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye…”

We sang a beautiful Taize song:

“Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom”

and we prayed in remembrance of those who have passed away.

Last Thursday night a similar thing took place at Tao Fung Shan, with students from Mainland China, Hong Kong, Myanmar and Cambodia. I hope next year some of you will join us…

One of the people who joined us was a young daughter of a friend, who said it was her first time at a cemetery. She also said the experience was (and I quote) “kinda spooky.”

That’s okay. I’m glad she was honest. I’m glad she came because I do believe she is beginning to learn that for Christians, cemeteries don’t have to be scary or threatening places. For those of us who believe in Eternal Life through Jesus  Christ, cemeteries can be like an estuary of eternity.

Estuaries

Some of you will remember learning about estuaries when you were in school  An estuary is a place where a coastal river and an ocean meet, it is the place where fresh waters and open sea come together.

Life is rich and varied in the estuary, providing a shelter for land and sea creatures to feed and provide food for their young.

The aboriginal people of the northeastern USA, American Indians, called the estuaries the “between Land” not quite land and not quite water, not quite fresh water and not quite salt sea. They had yearly gatherings and banquets there, recognizing  that their own lives were closely linked to that meeting place of different life forms and physical forces of earth, water and the tidal pull of the moon.

In today’s gospel of John we find our selves in an estuary, not of the ocean, but of eternity. Jesus’ friend Lazarus has died. This is no make- believe death, this is the real, stinking thing. In the scriptures we can see how the river of tears is unleashed, Lazarus’ sisters Mary & Martha are crying, their friends gathered for the three day funeral are crying. Even Jesus himself, did you catch it? Even Jesus himself cries. Death stinks. Death is awful. Death breaks your heart. Death is an enemy.

But then Jesus, with the full force of Eternity in his voice says: “Lazarus Come out.” And the dead man comes out. Only he’s not dead anymore! At that moment, the tidal power of God overcomes even the river of death & tears.

 We Christians also have access to estuaries of eternity today, places where earth & heaven intersect. These are also known as “thin places” where the veil between heaven and earth is momentarily stripped away.

The Baptismal Font

For a Christian that place is NOT primarily the cemetery. From ancient times, Christians have believed one of those “thin places” is the baptismal font
[or a stream, or a swimming pool or any place there is water and the Word, where a baptism takes place]
when our individual lives flow into the Life of the Church. In the pouring waters of the sacrament of Baptism, the word of God says that both death & life happen right there, right then.

The Eastern Orthodox Church calls the baptismal font the tomb and the womb of the Church – it is a tomb, because here death happens. Here we are drowned to sin, We are buried with Christ. We are washed. And there is a kind of violence about it all… in seminary I was taught to welcome a child’s cries at baptism, and to use plenty of messy water at older child and adult baptisms…

And it is okay if people are a little shocked by it all, because something traumatic is taking place – every person is born into a world of sin, and the sin of this world has to be repudiated and must be turned down. Death must die, and so the baptismal font is a TOMB.

But then it is also the womb of the Church, where we are brought into new life; here we enter the kingdom of Heaven, the great adventurous Ocean of Life with God. And birth, too is messy, isn’t it?

Face to Face in Diakonia

And another estuary of eternity?

A place I have learned more about since moving to Hong Kong. A place I have learned more about as I have taken courses in Diakonia at LTS seminary and as I have learned from churches such as Kowloon Union Church… in places such as KUC Space, where rich and not so rich, asylum seeker and asylum giver, listen to each other. Take turns being needy and needed. Serve each other. Receive from each other.

In Christian service, face to face with the one who is so different from myself, and still, utterly and holy (wholly), God’s beloved child. There in prison, in the kitchen, at the courthouse, at the tutoring center, in acts of mutual diakonia, we are bathed in an estuary of eternity, and united mysteriously with those persons – maybe who have already passed on – who were models of mutual service to us.

The Communion Table

And one more most holy place I want to mention this morning:
the Communion Table. During the sacrament of the altar. When we sing the great Sanctus: Holy, holy, holy, we are taught that all of earth and heaven is united in praising God. When we come forward to the communion Table to receive the body and blood of our Lord, we are like a living river flowing  into the Ocean of God’s grace. Members of the one, holy catholic Church believe that at the time of the Eucharist, we are mysteriously surrounded by the saints who have gone before us into eternity.

This is where we are surely the closest to those who have gone before us: not at the cemetery, not at the gravesite, but when we on earth are receiving the communion bread, we are also receiving a foretaste of the feast being celebrated by ALL the beloved of God.

Isn’t it a grand mystery, that we can welcome each other this morning on All Saints Sunday, into an estuary of eternity.


Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, November 01, 2015

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