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

“The Word”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 3 January 2016 by Paul Cooper. The scripture readings that day were Jeremiah 3:7-14; Ephesians 1:3-14; John 1:1-18

First of all, grace and peace to you all! If that's a good enough beginning for St Paul, it's good enough for me. It's great to be back at KUC for both Calli and I, with so many friends and so many good memories. But I don't just bring my own greetings; like St Paul, I bring greetings from brothers and sisters in Christ at our own home church; from St George's Church, Littleport. And should any of you be in the area, not far from Cambridge, please drop by and we'll make you welcome. We did try and lock Phyllis up in a Priest's Hole, but we let her out again!

Our Gospel reading this morning is very well-known, and it's likely that you've already heard it this Christmas – it's usually read on Christmas Morning. There's a story about the reading that depends on it being well-known! In the 17th century, King James the first of England and sixth of Scotland, the king who authorized the King James version of the Bible, was very hot on witchcraft. He passed laws against it, and even published a book about how to detect it. And he even sometimes heard witchcraft cases in person. Anyway, someone came before him claiming that a witch had afflicted him with an evil spirit so that he fell down in fits when the beginning of John's gospel – the reading we've just heard – was read. Well, they had to try it, and indeed, when “In the Beginning was the Word”  was read out loud, the person fell down in fits. But King James was a clever man! He then read out “Εν αρχῇ ῆν ὁ λογος”, and nothing happened. But what he'd read was the original Greek version of St John's Gospel! And he dismissed the case on the excellent grounds that he was sure the Devil understood Greek.

So, “In the beginning was the Word” is an extremely well-known passage. But it's also a very complicated passage, and although some of it is easy to understand there's a lot more in it. A lot of it hinges on “the Word”. In Greek, the language John wrote in, “Word” is “Logos”, and it means a lot more than the English word implies. Theologians sometimes call Jesus “the Logos”, to emphasize that calling Him “the Word” is not strong enough. You see, “Logos” implies not just a name, but the understanding that goes with it. My own science, Geology, is named after the Greek words “gaia” and “logos”, meaning something like “Words about the Earth”. Many other sciences are named the same way – anything that ends in “ology”, like zoology, cosmology, metorology and so on. So, “The Word” implies not merely a name, but also an understanding. And there's another strand – in many cultures, naming an object gives power over it. That's why in the book of Genesis, we read of Adam naming all the creatures. So, saying Jesus is the Word implies both that He is the power of Creation, and also that He totally understands Creation. “In the beginning was the Word” links up with the beginning of Genesis “In the beginning, God….” Jesus, the Word of God, is fully God, fully the agent of Creation. And yet we've just celebrated Christmas Day with nativity plays, and stories of a baby born in the poorest circumstances, in a stable alongside the animals. John's Gospel emphasizes that the baby whose birth we celebrated is also the One who was there at the beginning, and will be there at the end. Jesus, the baby, the child we heard about last week, the wandering preacher who said “Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head”, the condemned man dying on the Cross, was also the Word that began everything. Something I saw on Facebook summed it up very well - “There are many babies who become kings, but only one King who became a baby!” But it goes beyond that, because Jesus being the Word implies much more than appears on the surface. You see, “before the beginning” is a difficult idea, and physicists and cosmologists would say it was meaningless – that time as well as space began at the “beginning” - we often speak of the “Big Bang” as the start of the whole Universe. Everything we know about the Universe says that it came into being at a single instant, a very long time ago. But before that instant, not only was there no Universe, but there was no time either. SO God, and especially the Word, the author of Creation, exists outside time and space. The Word is present equally throughout the whole of time and space. Perhaps St Paul had an insight into this when he quoted a Greek poet who said “For in him we live and move and have our being.” The Word, who was the agent of Creation, is not some distant God, seated on a cloud or a mountain top, but is the very element that we live in, just as a fish lives in water. We cannot escape God; God surrounds us. The Psalmist makes that very plain: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” Today, we might add that even if we went to the furthest Galaxy, we would still be in the presence of God.

But this great God, the one who created, supports and fills the whole Universe, is also the one who came to live among us, born as a baby in that stable in Bethlehem. And He grew up, and lived and worked in Nazareth until He was called by God to start the ministry we read about in the Gospels. Last week we remembered that as a boy, He was aware that God was His father, and throughout His life, we are told that He had a constant relationship and dialogue with God – a dialogue only interrupted in those last moments on the Cross; the moments when in agony He cried “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”, taking our separation from God fully on Himself that we might be re-united with God.

So, we have an amazing picture of God, who is far greater and more wonderful than we are able to understand, humbling Himself to share our life on earth. In Jesus, God accepted all the limitations we exist under, and yet remained God. And yet, as John says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Even though Jesus was fully human, fully like each and every one of us, the glory of God was clearly seen in Him.

Well, thinking of the Glory of God and the amazing fact that for the love of each one of us, God humbled Himself to become a man is all very well, but where what does it teach us? Well, there are many things we can learn, not least that if God could humble Himself so greatly, then we too must be humble. But as a visitor here, I want to suggest something else. You see, looking out from this pulpit, I see a great variety of people. Men and women, people of different races and languages, rich and poor, young and old. St George's in Littleport does not offer quite so much variety! But even there, to celebrate Pentecost last year we read the Bible in many different languages, and managed at least 7 or 8 – Calli contributed Cantonese! I'm afraid we did cheat a bit – two of the languages were Greek and Hebrew, read by Bible scholars! I'm sure that this congregation could manage many more. But the motto of KUC “Where all are one” embodies a very great truth. You see, we are all part of the body of Christ, every single one of us, from the children baptised last week to the elders of the congregation. And the Body of Christ is universal; it is the visible presence of the Word that was there at the beginning and will be there at the end. You are one with the Christians in Littleport, just as you are one with everyone who claims Christ as Lord everywhere in the world. Just as the Word of God exists throughout space and time, everywhere and at every time, so too the Body of Christ – the body of the Word – is universal. Our human limitations mean that we don't see it, but the Church itself recognizes it. We have read the same readings here that will be used in a few hours time in Littleport, and those same readings will be used all round the word – the pattern of readings we use is used by many churches, not just this one. And similarly, we use the same prayers; the Anglican communion always has one prayer called the Collect that is the same everywhere. But we all use the Lord's prayer; we all use the ancient Creeds; we all worship the same God even though history and disagreements about church organization mean that we often form separate congregations. But we agree on far more important matters than those we disagree about!

We are all one in Christ, no matter what the colour of our skin or the language we speak. And we should never forget that unity. We know that right now other Christians in the Middle East, in Africa and no doubt other places are suffering for their faith; their suffering is our suffering, and we should pray for them, and seek, if possible, to relieve their suffering. Here in Hong Kong, we must always remember our unity with Christians near and far. Every church and congregation has strengths and weaknesses, and if we try and go it alone, we find that we cannot do much. St Paul, in 1 Corinthians 12, compares us to a real body, and says “Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?” All Christians EVERYWHERE are part of the Body of Christ, and we are ALL equally necessary to that Body. Just as the Word of God is one, so too the Body of Christ is one, and it is only human sinfulness that separates one part from another. Of course, different parts of the body are different; we have different purposes and different environments. But we all are part of the same whole, which is working towards the kingdom of God.

So, let us always remember that we are one in Christ, and seek to work in harmony with other Christians. Each part of the Body of Christ has its strengths and weaknesses; it is only in working in harmony that we can achieve the things that God wants us to do. I have recently been appointed as the Lay Chair of the committee overseeing our local group of Anglican churches in England; preparing this sermon has been a good reminder for me that churches need to work together to present the kingdom of God to those around us. And so too here in Hong Kong; we all need to work with our fellow Christians, and there are many things where one church's weakness can be met by another church's strength. Above all, let us remember that we are all part of the Body of Christ; when people look for Christ, what they see is us. We ARE the city on a hill, the lamp on a stand, and we cannot be hidden while our light lights the world. Each one of us must work together to be the Body of Christ, just as each church and congregation must also see it's own place in the body of Christ. St George's, Littleport and KUC may be separated by many thousands of miles, but we are united in the Body of Christ, just as we are united with churches nearer to us.

I'd like to end with words from a hymn, “The day thou gavest, Lord is ended”. It's an evening hymn, but the second and third verses express very well the idea of the universal body of Christ:

We thank Thee that Thy church, unsleeping,
While earth rolls onward into light,
Through all the world her watch is keeping,
And rests not now by day or night.

As o’er each continent and island
The dawn leads on another day,
The voice of prayer is never silent,
Nor dies the strain of praise away.


# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, January 03, 2016

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