Reflections...

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

“A Tender Love in a Tough World”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 21 February 2016 by the Rev. Ewing W. Carroll, Jr. The scripture readings that day were Luke 13:31-35.


Have you ever been to a place that you hope you will never visit again? Well, you’re not alone.  Jesus had a similar problem.  He loved Jerusalem, but his memories of the city were not so good. Yes, it was the cultural and religious center of Jewish life.  Yes, it was also an important part of the Roman Empire.  However, the New Testament records several stories of Jesus’ difficult and unpleasant experiences there.  These included opposition from many religious leaders; chasing moneychangers out of the Temple; and of course, finally, his cruel death on the cross on Good Friday.

In today’s Gospel lesson we hear Jesus’ painful cry over the city, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!”  But like so many stories of Jesus, the importance of this passage is NOT so much about Jesus’ feelings towards Jerusalem.  Rather, it’s more about the incredible love that God gives to the entire world.  A very tender love in a tough world.  On this second Sunday in Lent, I invite us to look together at two kinds of tender love we see in today’s Scripture lessons.

Firstly, fearless love.  Talk about a tough world!  Some Pharisees warned Jesus that Herod wanted to kill him.  But this was nothing new to Jesus.  Surely, his parents had told him about their escape to Egypt when Jesus was only a few days old.  He would have known that the older Herod had ordered the killing of Jewish baby boys.  Now in the midst of his earthly ministry, Jesus shows no fear of the mighty power of Herod.  Look again at his response, This is how, in his modern version of the Bible [Message] Eugene Peterson translates this passage, “Tell that fox I’ve no time for him now.  …I’m busy…” He was busy casting out demons, healing the sick and bringing new hope and possibilities to the least and lost.

The Biblical scholar William Barclay reminds us that in Jesus’ time the Jewish people had three distinct views about foxes:  1.] sly, sneaky; 2.] the most destructive animal around; and 3.] worthless and insignificant.  Wow!  Describing Herod, the top political figure of Jerusalem like that!  “Herod is no longer around, but there are plenty of Herod substitutes in our lives – anger, jealousy, greed, selfishness, and laziness; wagging tongues; unkind words spoken; abuse of many kinds; - the list in longer than a dragon’s tail.

In today’s Genesis passage God spoke to Abraham in a vision, “Do not be afraid.”  And we know the results – Abraham moved from fear to faith.  That’s what happens when we accept and try to live the fearless love God gives to us in Christ.  To say “NO WAY” to the foxes that may control our lives.  You’ve probably heard the story of St. Polycarp many times.  He was a bishop in the early church – during the time of Roman persecution.  One day he was surrounded by an angry mob that wanted to kill him – because of his faith.  A  Roman official took pity on the old man and urged him to pledge his loyalty to the Roman Emperor.  “All you need to do is say, ‘Caesar is Lord‘ and I will protect you.” Polycarp’s response?  “For 86 years I have served Christ and He never did me any wrong.  How can I lie to my King who saved me.”  Polycarp was stoned to death because of his fearless love for Christ.

Some one has written“Too many of us are not living our dreams because we’re living our fears.”  Listen again to the words we sang in our opening hymn [based on Psalm 27]:
 Since the Lord is my salvation, is there anyone to fear?
  As a citizen of heaven why should I feel worry here?
  In a world that’s lost and broken and where sin and death abound,
 we rejoice for God has spoken:  we are safe, on solid ground.”
         
During this Season of Lent; amidst a growing number of fears about the future of Hong Kong; I believe God is calling us NOT TO AVOID, but to look beyond life’s dangers and challenges – to grasp the opportunity to live more faithfully and fully in the fearless love of Jesus Christ. As 1 John 4:19 reminds us, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear…

Secondly, protective love.  Oh, we love to sing, “A mighty fortress is our God,” or “On Christ the solid rock I stand.”   Somehow, we feel so safe and secure in describing God with words like power, might, majesty, strength and force. All true – but not enough.  Lent is a time to widen our understanding of God’s love; a love that includes, but goes beyond strength and power; to a love that dares to be tenderer.

In today’s Gospel lesson I think Jesus was not only speaking to Herod and the Pharisees, but to you and me. “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings and you were not willing…” 

Years ago, I lived on Saipan – a small American island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  Several times a week I went to the local hospital to visit both patients and staff.  Over a period of five years, every time I neared the car park I could see a mother hen and her babies on a hillside.  She was looking for worms and insects to feed them.  But when she heard the sound of a car, she would gather her babies under her wings  - to protect them from any danger.  I’m sure that if anyone had tried to hurt her children, she would do anything, including sacrificing her life, to protect them. Her love was both fearless and protective.  That’s tender love in a tough world!

There’s probably no more frustrating or hurtful experience in life than to have offered our love to someone and have them reject us.  To say, ”no thanks,” or “go away” or “I don’t want you.” My friends, that’s what you and I often do – to God and with one another.  Dare we admit how often we say “No” to God? I pray that we might see this Season of Lent as an invitation; an opportunity for us; not to avoid but to accept God’s loving presence.  Even if/when we feel insecure, uncertain, unsafe; we will still feel Christ’s fearless and protective love for us.

Shannon Adler writes, “The most glorious moment you will ever experience in your life is when you look back and see how God was protecting you all this time.”  But even if we don’t always feel safe, we can always feel Gods love.

As we greet each new day of this Lenten Season, let us keep before us in thought, word and deed, these words from George Matheson:
 O love that wilt not let me go,
 I rest my weary soul in thee;
 I give thee back the life I owe,
 that in thine ocean depths its flow
 may richer, fuller be.”


A Tender love in a touch world!  Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, February 21, 2016

 

“Tempted As We Are”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 14 February 2016,  the first Sunday in Lent, by the Rev. Judy Chan. The scripture readings that day were Luke 4:1-13

 
Good morning.

The traditional reading for the 1st Sunday of Lent is the Temptations of Jesus. It’s found in 3 of the 4 Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke. This year it comes from the Gospel of Luke, where Jesus has just been baptized, declared to be God’s beloved Son and filled with the Holy Spirit. You could ask then, why does Jesus have to be tempted, or tested, before he even begins his ministry? Is this the equivalent of ‘boot camp’ or military training before he starts his work in earnest?

In a way it is. After all, don’t we want those we trust to protect our lives to be properly tested and qualified? Of course! I think it’s important for Luke too that we have no doubt from the very beginning about Jesus’ qualifications. That he’s worthy to be the Son of God, worthy to be the Savior of humankind, worthy of honor and our allegiance. And not just after the crucifixion and resurrection. But from the very start, for in his temptations, we see a foreshadowing or preview of all the things that will tempt him in his ministry. And the fact that Jesus was able to resist these temptations gives us hope that we too can resist the devil, not of our own strength but through the Lord’s strength in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Let’s think a moment about what temptation is…one definition is “the desire to do something, especially something wrong or unwise.” That’s the way we normally talk about it – the urge to do something we know we shouldn’t because it’s not good for us. Like spending too much money, or eating too much rich food, or cheating a little here and there, or telling a small lie to save face, ours. Somehow though, these don’t seem to be things that would tempt Jesus, do they? Yes, he was always doing something that got him into trouble with religious leaders or political authorities. But we would never call his actions wrong or unwise. Quite the contrary.

So, we have to understand that these three temptations in the wilderness are in a way unique to Jesus. Because only he was tested as the Son of God. Only he needed to prove that he would not fall as Adam fell, that he would not fail as the Israelites failed. He would be faithful from beginning to end, as it says in Hebrews 4:15, our high priest who has been tested in every respect, yet without sin.

Let’s look now at these three temptations and see what each one teaches us as we begin our Lenten journey.

The setting of the temptations is the Judean wilderness. The time span is 40 days. The bible says Jesus ate nothing during those days, so he was very hungry and exhausted. And it’s just at that moment that the devil begins his attack. “If you are the Son of God,” he says, “command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Well, even the devil acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God. So what the devil’s doing? He’s trying to get Jesus to use his divine power to satisfy himself. On the face of it, there’s nothing wrong with that, is it? If you are starving, what’s wrong with getting something to eat?

But see how Jesus responds…with Scripture. He quotes Deuteronomy 8:3, recalling the testing of the Israelites in the wilderness where they grumbled about not having enough to eat. And they blame God. Jesus would not make the same mistake. “One does not live by bread alone,” he says. God knows that we need food to survive, but even more we need God to survive. Yes, Jesus could have performed a miracle for his own benefit, but only at the cost of denying that he trusted his Heavenly Father to provide his daily bread.  Jesus 1, Devil 0

Then the devil cranks it up another level. If Jesus won’t be tempted for his own benefit, what about for the world’s benefit? He is taken up to where he can see all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil tells him, “MINE is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory. I can give it all to anyone I please, and I can give it you right now.” Well, that might be more of a temptation, even for Jesus. For the Son of God did come to earth to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of the sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free. If Jesus could do all that without further delay, why not? Why not? Well, because there one little catch…he’d have to acknowledge that Satan is the boss, his boss. And for Jesus there could only be one boss – his Father in heaven. So again, he quotes Scripture from Deuteronomy, this time Chapter 6:13, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”  In other words, there are no shortcuts to salvation when we pray Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done. Jesus 2, Devil 0

So, the devil tries one more time. If Jesus can’t be tempted for his own benefit or for the world’s benefit, what about for the benefit of his own people? So the devil takes him to Jerusalem. And he puts Jesus on the highest point of the Temple and dares him to jump. After all, doesn’t the Scripture say in Psalm 91 that God will protect His own, that He will send His angels to keep your foot from even getting a bump?

Now the devil is doing more than quoting Scripture before Jesus beats him to it. The pinnacle of the Temple is where the Jewish High Priest stood to announce the beginning of morning prayers and daily sacrifice. Some say it was also the place where the Messiah was to appear before all the faithful. Imagine then if Jesus were to be in that very spot. He throws himself off the edge, and lo and behold, he lands without even a scratch. Wouldn’t that be something? If I were Jesus, I might just do it to prove to the devil like the children’s song says: “My God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do (clap, clap).”

But Jesus is not me. And however much he longed for his own people to follow him, he would never do it in a way that forced God’s hand. “Do not put the Lord your God to the test,” he tells Satan, quoting Deuteronomy 6:16. And he might have added, “While you’re at it, don’t misuse Scripture for unholy purposes!” Jesus 3, Devil 0

The testing is over and the drama comes to an end. And when all is said and done, we are confident that Jesus will withstand every temptation that comes his way throughout his journey to the Cross. The temptation to do miracles for the wrong reason. The temptation to save the world in the wrong way. The temptation to save his people with the wrong understanding. Time after time, Jesus will be tested yet still his prayer is this: “Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done.”

That is what our Lenten journey is all about. To make that prayer our own. To seek God’s will for our life and find the strength to follow through, even if it leads to sacrifice and suffering. The Church throughout the ages has wisely understood that this is not easy, that Christians need help in this task. So we too observe 40 days of Lent in remembrance of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness. We too are expected to spend more time in prayer; we are asked to fast whether that be giving up certain foods or giving up a habit; and we traditionally remember those in need with a special offering or service.

I am happy that Christians in Hong Kong have made these Lenten disciplines easier this year. You know we have the Pray for Hong Kong Lenten initiative. It lists one international church and one local Chinese church each day to pray for, and I know some congregations are also contributing to projects of the HK Church Network for the Poor. At the Hong Kong Christian Council, where I work, we are also running a Lenten campaign called “Skip 5 Meals, Give Some Help”. The idea is to skip 5 meals on 5 Tuesdays during Lent, and donate the money you saved to our Council’s international program for the needy, Five Loaves and Two Fish.

My co-worker Jeff came around and personally gave each staff member one of the brochures and asked for our support.

So between KUC and HKCC, I should have no problem praying, fasting and serving others during these 40 days...but you know what?  I usually do have problems. OK, let’s get real, I almost always have problems. I start out with the best intentions, but don’t always finish with the best results.

So, I ask myself, is there anything I could do differently this year? When I look at the Gospel story for today, I find some helpful points.

One is that Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness. Out of his ordinary place, away from his daily routine and comfort zone. Can I find a place to pray during Lent that is not my usual place? Perhaps a church that opens early every day or a bench in the park during lunch. It would take some effort to break my normal routine of doing things, and I guess that’s the point. To go somewhere I ordinarily would not be in order to experience God’s presence in a new way.

Another lesson for Lent is that Jesus relied on Scripture. He knew it by heart. So when temptations arose that might lead him astray, the Word of God was right on his lips to fend off any attack. Whatever my daily Lenten practice might be then, it should always include reading the Bible, and even memorizing a verse for the day. I did that in Sunday School when I was a child, and Jesus must have too. So if Jesus needed to rely on Scripture to get through those 40 days, so do I.

And a third lesson. Even after Jesus finished every test, the devil waited for another opportunity. He just doesn’t give up. So no matter how well I do with my Lenten exercises, I still will fall short in some way. I will fail. I will sin. But I take comfort in the words of Spencer Holman who reminds us,

Waiting at the end of Lent is Holy Week, and at the end of Holy week waits the cross. And it is there that all of our failings rest; it is there that all of our sin reside; it is there with the blood of Christ that we find our true comfort. There on the cross, we receive the greatest gift ever -  freedom for the burden that rests on our shoulders, freedom from the sin that taints our souls, and freedom from the penalty of death as a result of all of our failings. Christ takes them all, and as the Son of God takes the hard road and dies for you and me.

Christ took the hard road, and because he did, we know we are not alone whatever trials and temptations we face in life. Christ has already gone before us, and he is right beside us now if we only call upon his name. As it says in our epistle reading from Romans 10: No one who believes in him shall be put to shame.

I’d like to close with something from the Orthodox Christian Church. Because as you know, Lent often overlaps with the Lunar New Year so we have two contrasting seasons to observe. However, I learned that in the Orthodox theological tradition, Christians are invited into the season of Lent as a time to prepare for joy.

Yes, joy!

Listen to what they say in worship:

Let us begin the Fast with joy.
Let us give ourselves to spiritual efforts.
Let us cleanse our souls.
Let us cleanse our flesh.
Let us fast from passions as we fast from foods,
taking pleasure in the good works of the Spirit
and accomplishing them in love
that we all may be made worthy to see the passion of Christ our God and His Holy Pascha,
rejoicing with spiritual joy.

For the Orthodox Church and really for all churches,

“The Lenten season is meant to kindle a ‘bright sadness’ within our hearts. Its aim is precisely the remembrance of Christ, a longing for a relationship with God that has been lost. Lent offers the time and place for recovery of this relationship. The darkness of Lent allows the flame of the Holy Spirit to burn within our hearts until we are led to the brilliance of the Resurrection.”

Let us pray:

O Lord, as we begin again the Lenten journey we have traveled so many times, walk with us. Be with us as we think and pray and struggle with issues of life and death and love and rebirth. Lead us, O God, to the light of resurrection, but first lead us into the wilderness–and there, startle us with your truth and your love and your promise to be with us always: in Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. (credit: John Buchanan)

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, February 14, 2016

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