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 1:4–20; Hebrews 10:19–25; Mark 13:1–8.
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
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
What does our faith in
Jesus Christ offer to us in such a troubled world in which we are now living?
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 1:4–20, 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
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 higher—up 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. 3:16–17, 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— 2015—marks 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
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
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
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.
sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 1
Sunday, by Rev. Christa
von Zychlin. The
scripture readings that day were John 11:1-43 (Lazarus).
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
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.)
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
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
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.
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
Life is rich and
varied in the estuary, providing a shelter for land and sea creatures to feed
and provide food for their young.
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.
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
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
a stream, or a swimming pool or any place there is water and the Word, where a
baptism takes place]
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.
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?
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.
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
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.