Reflections...

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

Resurrection Love

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 17 April 2016,  the Fourth Sunday of Easter, by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Psalm 23; Acts 9:3643; John 10:2230.


Opening praying
Dear God, may the Holy Spirit dwell and inspire us. May your word transform us to live our life with your love and serve faithfully like Jesus Christ. Amen.

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Today I would like to speak about a woman disciple in the early church. Her name is Tabitha in Aramaic, in Greek, it is Dorcas. I will use the name Dorcas in my sermon.

The book of Acts is to reveal the mission and work of the early church community in outreaching the Gentiles and to show the successful witness of Christianity in the Roman world.

Professor Gail R. O’Day, in her biblical commentary on the book of Acts, said Luke emphasized on the role and works of the Apostle Paul and Peter in the early church movement of the gospel.  She said that the story of Dorcas being raised from the dead was to highlight Peter’s work of miracle.
It is quite true that people in general like to see things that involved super natural power in one way or another. Raising the dead is dramatic and of course may attract a lot of attention.

There’s no wonder then, according to the Acts, that the event about Peter and Dorcas  became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.

People in general like to hear and believe in super natural miracles, typical examples are someone’s cancer healed after prayers, people surviving in an areophane crash or an earthquake.

In reading the story of Dorcas, what really attracted me is not Peter’s power of raising her from the dead. What touches my heart was the weeping of the widows that revealed their deep love to Dorcas. The widows were so distressed and in deep sorrow because their beloved sister was gone.

Dorcas is the only woman explicitly identified as a disciple in Acts. (9:36) The story did not mention if Dorcas was a widow. According to some commentaries, Dorcas was probably also a widow. She was generous to share what she had with other widows. She made clothes for them and provided for them what they needed.

Widows were second class citizens in the earlier church period. Without support from husbands, this group of women was socially marginalized and economically poor.  Dorcas, recognized as disciple, had been serving them wholeheartedly.

Dorcas, amongst other women such as Mary, Lydia and Priscilla, were playing significant leading roles in the early church movement. But they were seldom mentioned in the scriptures. In a male-dominant structure both in society and in church settings, the contribution of female was easily neglected.

In the early church, Dorcas was representing the church community to serve the vulnerable and the neglected. What she did was ordinary – making clothes for the widows. Comparing to the miracle of raising the dead, it seemed nothing. But what she did touch people’s live deeply. This was the reason for the deep sorrow of those who have been helped by her. She had set a very good example for us to follow today.

Dorcas reminded me of many sisters in Christ serving the Lord in a quiet and humble way. Because they do it in a very low key way and are thus quite invisible, people usually do not pay attention. I remember a friend, let me call her Joyce. Joyce is in her 50s. She suffers from heart problem. Her husband is also suffering from chronical illness. What makes her disheartened is that her daughter is a drug addict. Her life has been once shattered because of the health challenge and family problems. She however never gives up. She has strong faith in God. Instead of being beaten down by life’s trials, she focuses her life in the service of God and in the love of people. While she is still taking good care of her husband and praying for her daughter to return to do good, she spends a lot of her time and energy in helping refugees and homeless people in Hong Kong. Rev Lam is a local church pastor, very much concerned about homeless people. Joyce is working together with him behind the scene. Every week, Joyce brings the homeless people who are also refugees to the church that Rev Lam is ministering for worship. She also brings those who are sick to consult doctors. Her service to the vulnerable is very down to earth.  What she does is not noticeable by the public. Rev Lam is well known by the local church of his good deeds. But not Joyce. However Joyce is not doing any less than him. She has been giving great service for the people in need and for God. Joyce has faithfully witnessed Jesus Christ, the shepherd who cares for his sheep.

Like Dorcas, Joyce focuses on what she can give and serve for others. The clothing made by Dorcas the widows showed to Peter is sign of her loving action. Dorcas’ love and care for the widows are very concrete and practical. Love without action is dead.

The life of widows could be miserable. No husband to love, no recognition from society, no adequate means for a living. But Dorcas found a way out for them. She clothed them with protection, with dignity and with love.

Joyce too did not allow her personal misfortunes to ruin her life. She refused to be a victim. Instead she is determined to use her life to serve.

From the narrative of Acts, the drama of Dorcas is her resurrection – Peter raised her from the dead.

Dorcas was Jesus’ faithful disciple. She was Jesus’ beloved sheep. She hears the voice of Jesus and Jesus knows her.  Jesus gives eternal life to those who follow him. (John 10: 27-28) She is with Jesus Christ as One.  As spoken by Jesus, ‘the Father and I are One’. Dorcas who is in Christ, may say with confidence - ‘the Father and I are One’. In this light, Dorcas has been enjoying eternal life in God.

As Jesus’ disciples, do you want the supernatural power like Peter? Of course to some people, it is nice to have some supernatural power like Peter. But the supernatural power is not something Christians should seek. It is the grace of God and the power of the holy spirit that achieves anything beyond human work. 

More importantly, what is the significance of such a miracle of raising the dead?

Resurrection is all about love!

The restoration of Dorcas’ life is meaningful to the widows because of the love she shared with them. 

Dorcas demonstrated her love to the widows by her serving acts.

Love without action is dead.

Resurrection without love is nothing.

Resurrection is an act of love.

Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. (John 11:17-44) He did it out of compassion. Jesus cried too when he saw the deep grief of Mary and her people for the death of Lazarus. It is the power of love and compassion that makes this miracle works.

Peter did the miracle after he encountered with the greatly distressed widows.

Jesus himself resurrected after three days and appeared to his disciples. Why did not Jesus just stay in peace with God after his death? Why did he raise and bring with him the broken body to the disciples again? Jesus’ resurrection brought to his fearful disciples comfort, peace and hope.

Resurrection is not only just about the raising from the dead. It is not just about supernatural power. It is not just a single event for us to remember. Resurrection is not simply an event after death but a reality of everyday life. 

Resurrection is a faith given by God through Jesus Christ the transformation of life and breaking through of darkness to light, despair to hope, and sorrow to joy.

Peter and other apostles who witnessed the resurrection of Jesus were called to be the people of resurrection. The church is thus formed to carry the mission to share the gospel of Jesus’ resurrection. Both men and women, strong and weak, rich and poor, homosexual and heterosexual, married and singles who listen to Jesus  are his sheep. At the same time all his followers are shepherds called by Jesus to serve the needed.

Dorcas’ care for the widows recorded in the scripture. Florence Nightingale who went to Crimea to care for the wounded and dying soldiers on the battle fields.  Mother Theresa provided dedicated service to the poor and sick from the streets. Joyce serves tirelessly for the vulnerable homeless people and refugees in Hong Kong.     

These women are all faithful servants of Christ reveal the power of resurrection. They have lived the love of resurrection. Some of these women are well known like Mother Theresa and Florence Nightingale. In reality, there are many invisible women and men working day after day, week after week, year after year, to serve the Lord in a humble way. I am always feel indebted to our brothers and sisters (mostly sisters) silently cleaning dishes in the kitchen after the fellowship on Sundays. I appreciate so much of many of our sisters working in HK as domestic workers taking care of their employers’ family, young and old, able and disable with love.


In the season of Easter, you are invited to reflect more deeply of what resurrection meant to you. How is your life and faith encountered with the risen Christ, our shepherd who knows us and give to us eternal life. Do we hear the voice of Jesus and follow his way of love and service like Dorcas?

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, April 17, 2016

 

“Peace Be With You”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 3 April 2016,  the Second Sunday of Easter, by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Acts 5:27-32; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31.


Last Sunday in church we celebrated the joy and happiness of Jesus’ resurrection. We have loudly proclaimed -- Christ is risen. He is risen indeed! Allelulia!

In celebrating the power, joy and hope that is brought by Jesus’ resurrection, we came to realize, in midst of all these cheers, that after Jesus’ death, his disciples were in great fear, isolation and uncertainties.

From the Gospel according to John that we heard this morning, the author recorded the fear and isolation of Jesus’ disciples. They locked up themselves in the room where they had the last supper with Jesus. They were very frightened. They were afraid of the Jews, the religious authorities who had killed Jesus, their master. As Jesus’ disciples, their fear was very much understood. Who knows if they would be the next to be crucified!

At this moment of trauma, Jesus the risen Lord came to them and stood among them and said ‘Peace be with you.’

Jesus then showed them his body – the broken body: his hand and his side.

The disciples rejoiced when they saw their Lord Jesus.

“Peace be with you”: these are not just words of comforts from Jesus, but the real presence of the Lord with those who are living in fear.

Peace is the presence of the Lord with a physical body

In times of fear and trial, having someone close and trustful to stay with us physically is good. Jesus did it for his disciples.

Jesus’ act teaches us that our presence is important to our friends who are in troubles and in need of care and support.  Jesus’ full presence in his disciples taught us an important lesson - Don’t just pay lip service! Be with those in need in a concrete and down to earth manner.

Jesus openly showed to his disciples his wounds. He did not hide his trauma. To adopt the phrase by Henry Nouwen, Jesus is the wounded healer. In his wounds we are healed. We learn from Jesus that sharing of our vulnerability may serve others. We, who are committed to be Christ’s followers may do what Jesus did.

Visiting prisoners in jail, homeless people on the streets and seniors in elderly homes; listening to and playing with a child in distress; giving a call to a friend who is sick or has lost his job, are some of the ways to share the peace of the Lord with others. I have some very good friends in life. When I looked back and asked what makes our friendship long lasting? I find out that it was our presence and companion for each other whenever we are in need. To share peace with other people, one of the best ways is to be physically present. People who are in need may see us, speak to us and even touch us.

Peace be with you – the second time

Peace is the presence of the Lord with the Holy Spirit

The disciples rejoiced after they saw Jesus. Jesus could have left at that point, but he stayed and spoke to them again – Peace be with you.

The second time he said peace be with you, he added this – “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” After that, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

It is good to have someone physically present in us when we are in fear, in isolation and in uncertainty. However, in reality, it is not always possible.

Jesus was aware that he would leave his disciples and end his earthly life, going back to his Father. When Jesus said to his disciples – peace be with you. He at the same time gave to them the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the power of God in Jesus. The power of the spirit is eternal and would be living in his disciples forever.

By receiving the Holy Spirit from Jesus, Jesus is forever living in them. This is the profound promise and assurance from Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit in Jesus Christ renews the life of the disciples. The holy spirit in Jesus Christ transformed them and strengthened them to move beyond the physical and human world to a spiritual and eternal world.

The disciples strengthened by the Holy Spirit are given a new world view with spiritual dimension. They are given the power to proclaim the forgiveness of sins in the physical absence of Jesus. They are commissioned to do the work of God like Jesus was called on earth. The Holy Spirit breathed by the risen Jesus is a fulfillment and confirmation of his words he shared with them before he was crucified. You may read Gospel John 14-16.

Peace is a gift and promise. Peace is also a calling to Jesus’ disciples.

He said -  As the Father has sent me, I am sending you. (V. 22)

The disciples were empowered by Jesus’ spirit that lived in them. They fear no more. They began to unlock the door and went out to the world with freedom. They left  their closet and proclaimed the good news openly. From the book of Acts, we learnt that the spiritually filled disciples began to heal the sick, cast out demons and preach the good news of repentance and forgiveness of sins as proclaimed by Jesus. Their preaching in the temple had antagonized the religious leaders. When they were challenged by the religious leaders and asked to stop proclaiming and teaching about Jesus, they stood firm and did not give up. They did not let go of those who put Jesus to death. By the power of the holy spirit, they continued to speak the truth of Jesus’ unjust killing.  They did it with great courage. They had no fear of the authority on earth. They did the will of God, the God of justice and righteousness.

Peace be with you, is carried with the power of the Holy Spirit in Jesus.

The empowered disciples continue Jesus’ mission to call for repentance and to proclaim forgiveness of sins in God’s kingdom of love and justice.

It is heart breaking to hear the horrific news about the suicide bomb in Pakistan last Sunday. Many innocent children and women were killed. The United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries has expressed sorrow to the families of those killed and injured. The General Secretary of the Mission Board expressed outrage and condemned the action. But they prayed too for the perpetrators. The prayer was, “asking God to lead them to the righteousness of non-violence.”

The Holy Spirit helps believers to discern and proclaim God’s forgiveness of sins in a careful manner, with the perspective of justice.

Peace be with you – the third time

To the doubtful and to the believers

Jesus said to his disciples for the third time, ‘peace be with you’ when he saw them with Thomas’s presence this time. Thomas was not in the room when Jesus first appeared to the disciples. Thomas insisted that he would believe the Lord has risen only if he saw Jesus’ broken body and touched with his finger the mark of the nail and in his side.

The first time I learnt about this gospel account in a bible study, Thomas was criticized because he did not have faith and trust. But to me Thomas had his point. Other disciples already had a chance to see the risen Jesus. Why not him? To find out the fact before you believe in something is reasonable and a responsible manner for an adult. Isn’t it?

Jesus was very considerate and had good understanding in Thomas. He appeared to him and asked him to touch him. This act obviously touched Thomas deeply.  The account did not mention if Thomas touched Jesus or not. But it highlighted Thomas’s response to Jesus -  “My Lord and my God.” Again the presence of Jesus must have been overwhelming to Thomas.

The third time Jesus said “peace be with you”, in the presence of Thomas, the one who doubted, inspired me to think about this.  

The peace that Jesus gave is to those who have doubts in their hearts. Jesus Christ allows people to have doubts and questions. Jesus goes and stands amongst those who have questions or are even suspicious. Quite often believers are asked to trust and obey in God. It is good to have trust in God. And yet, it is not healthy to discourage believers to ask questions with reason. Worse still is the teaching and practice of blind obedience to so called religious authorities.   From the conversation between Jesus and Thomas, we realized that the God revealed in Jesus is open and confident enough to allow questions and challenges from believers.

Jesus’ words at the end of his conversation is equally interesting and worth our attention.

He said to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe. ”

While Jesus addressed Thomas’ concern, he acknowledged those who have a pure heart and pure faith. It is particular important for believers who don’t have a chance to meet with him directly after he leaves the earthly world.

Jesus’ words - “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” probably is speaking to us and many who do not see his physical appearance. We believe because of the words and deeds of Jesus Christ shared in the bible. We believe because we see witnesses of Jesus’ disciples in their good works.

Jesus’ third “Peace be with you” – is speaking to those who have not seen Jesus and yet have come to believe. This is a gift promised and given for all generations.

Peace be with you is a gift and a calling from Jesus, our risen Lord to his disciples and to the world God created.

In the last two weeks, like many people from Hong Kong, from Pakistan, from  Brussels and from the world, I was very disturbed by the news of the horrific killing of a four year old girl in Taiwan, the merciless destruction of lives by suicide bombs in Pakistan and Brussels. Jesus’ greetings - Peace be with you is so much needed in a troubled world that we are living in.

While anger, frustration, helplessness, depression, hatred, division and retaliation are burning many people’s souls, may Jesus’ peace given in the Holy Spirit renew the hearts of the faithful and give hope to the world.

Tomorrow is 4 April. It is a day to remember Martin Luther King Jr, the American Baptist minister and civil rights activist. He was assassinated on 4 April 1968. Martin Luther King was a great man of the world. He was God’s faithful servant witnessing Jesus’ love, justice and peace on earth.  Tomorrow will be a date to commemorate his death, to celebrate his life and his contribution in advocating equal rights for all and an end to racial discrimination in the United States and in the world.

Amongst all his powerful speeches, I have a dream is probably the most famous, but I would like to quote one that is related to the theme of peace that I share today.

Martin Luther King once said, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.”

I would like to echo by saying:

True peace is not the absence of tension, sorrow and violence.
True Peace is the presence of God, this God is eternal and holy – this God is with her people and the world in the past, present and future.
True Peace is the presence of God – to all people – to the righteous and the wicked; to the victims and the perpetuators, to the saints and the sinners.

True Peace is the presence of God – in our life and in our service, that manifest God’s presence.

Sisters and brothers,

 ‘Peace be with you’. May you be the peace.

‘Peace be with us.’ Let us be the peace.


Amen.

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

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