Reflections...

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

“Possession of Nothing”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 31 July 2016, the eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Psalm 49:1-12; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21.


Opening prayer
Dear God, open our hearts to hear your Word. May Your Word transform our life and draw us close to you. Amen.

Message
Unresolved inheritance issues among family members having to be brought to court have been heard every now and then in Hong Kong. Nina Wong’s case some years ago was one which received a lot of media coverage. One reason was that the amount of inheritance was huge with an estimation of 1000 billion HK dollar. Second, Nina Wong was a famous business woman in Hong Kong. She was the chairperson of the Chinachem Group. She was regarded as the richest woman in Hong Kong and Asia.

In Jesus’ time, he faced this kind of inheritance issue as well. When he was asked by a man to judge, Jesus’ main concerns and teaching to the people was pointing at the problem of ‘greed’. Jesus challenged the man to reflect on their mentality of having possession. Jesus had no objection to holding wealth. What he cared about was their sinful manner on greed and obsession to possess wealth for their own personal interest.

Wealth is good. There is nothing wrong to be rich. The problem is not the wealth itself. The essence of Jesus’ parable of this rich man was his accumulation of wealth for his selfish purpose. If people store their treasures for themselves, this is not God’s way to make good use of wealth.

With regards to accumulation of wealth for future use, Jesus spoke very sharply and directly. He said it was a fool to store up wealth and treasures as everybody would die at the end of the day. No one could bring wealth to the grave! It is thus foolish to save wealth on earth.

What is wealth for and what is wealth all about?

Why do people accumulate wealth for nothing? We all die…one day. We can’t carry our wealth to the grave.

Why do people accumulate wealth?

One of reasons is - They have no security…

I have seen some people accumulate money not because they do not have enough to spend. They keep it because they want to find security from money and/or property. But ironically the more money they have, the more insecure they may become. Like the rich man who had headache in keeping his possession. He needed to build a bigger barn for his crops. For rich people, they are very afraid of kidnap and break in, especially in places where crime rate is high. They would then spend a lot of money to set up security systems to protect their personal safety and their properties. 

Anthony Leung Kam Chung, the former Financial Secretary from 2001 to 2003, once said, only the money that you spent for yourself was your money.

He was kind of advising people not to just save money but they have to spend it for themselves.

Not everyone followed what Anthony Leung said, there was a lady who accumulated a lot of money. She did not use the money for herself. But she used it for others. She found great joy and meaning in making donations.

This was a story about a woman from Taiwan. Her name is Chen Shu Chu, 65 years old. I shared her story in my sermon five years ago. I find that she has set such a good example that is worth sharing again.

Unlike Nina Wong, Chen Shu Chu is not so well known, not so well educated. Chen owned a tiny stall in a market in Taiwan, selling vegetables.

She works very long hours: opening her stall from 4 a.m. till around 9 p.m. She has scrimped and saved, penny by penny. It is amazing to see with such a modest income, this lady managed to donate nearly NT$10 million (2.5 million HK dollars), to various causes, including a children's fund, a library at the school she attended, and a local orphanage.

Chen was honored as one of the 25 heroes in Time Magazine’s "100 Most Influential People Gala" in 2010. Chen was highly praised for her generosity.

When people asked what made her do this generous act? 

Chen shared that --- when she was still in elementary school, her mother and younger brother became ill, but the family could not afford the medical bill. Authorities from her school asked staff members and students to donate money to help the family out. With their assistance, both mother and brother were able to go to the hospital.Chen said because she had been helped by others in the past, she vowed to help the poor. She said that’s how she has found happiness.

Chen has made one remarkable account at the newspaper which I find very impressive.

"Money serves its purpose only when it is used for those who need it."

The purpose of wealth and how we use that wealth is more important than simply talking about the amount of wealth we have.

Chen is an ordinary person that we may have met in our everyday life. Could we also be like her, ordinary but doing extra-ordinary things by sharing with others who are in need?


Why can she do it? She has a thankful and loving heart. Unlike the rich man from the gospel story who stored his wealth for his own use, Chen has led a simple life for herself but unselfishly giving to people in need her money. This is great and genuine generosity.

Chen has grasped also the essence of wisdom that the ancient sage shared from the scripture reading Psalm 42 we listened today. Like other animals, human beings are mortal. People of rich and poor, wise and fool, able and disable we all go to the grave one day. There is no earthly treasure we can bring after death.

The sage from the Book of Jobs gives us wisdom about human condition. Here I quote from 1:21:

He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

We don’t know how much money Chen will leave when she dies. But one thing is for sure, her spirit of love and helping others will continue even after her death. I believe the people who have been helped by her will remember her. She has set a very good example in a world that is so self-centered. That is remarkable.

Chen has lived out the virtue of love. This is an important virtue that brings eternal values.

Come back to us, sisters and brothers. How much wealth do you have? By wealth, I don’t just mean money. Wealth can be any gift given by God. They can be our talents, our compassion, and even our time.

Each one of us has inherited different kinds of wealth from God through our parents and family. It is a good time for us to think about how to use them better for God and for others. The accumulation of wealth for our own interest turns us away from God. Equally, if we do not use our wealth for others, it is also a waste.

The letter Colossians we heard also remind us Christians to live a life like Christ – to give and to sacrifice for the sake of love. Jesus who died on the Cross kept nothing for himself. Christ possesses nothing. But Christ is all and in all. With Christ, we have and we are everything in God the Creator.  

From Luke, the Word of Jesus reminds us - “Those who store up treasures for themselves are not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:21)

Wealth is not about how much we possess, but it is all about how much we share. Wealth that is stored up is possession of nothing; wealth, be it our money, our talent, our compassion, our time, used for others out of love is everything! Life is short. Let’s seize the day to lead an abundant life of love.

Closing prayer

Dear God, we thank you for the different kinds of wealth that you have given to each one of us. Help us Lord to use them for you and for others. Guide us to lead a life which is focused in your love and bring glory to your name. In Christ’s name we pray, amen.



# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, July 31, 2016

 

“When We Pray”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 24 July 2016, the tenth Sunday after Pentecost, by Dr. Hope S. Antone. The scripture readings that day were Psalm 138; Colossians 2:6-10; Luke 11:1-13.


“Lord, teach us to pray.” Out of 12 disciples, only one made this request. We do not know his name. He could have been a former disciple of John the Baptist, for he asked, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." His request is a mark of a disciple. It shows a posture of humility and openness to learn from his teacher. It is like saying, “Lord, I am open to learn; please teach me.”

His request can mean several things – to know what to say (appropriate content), how to pray (e.g. appropriate posture); when or where to pray (i.e. appropriate time or place).  

As a seminary student, I learned an easy way to remember 4 main types of prayer through the acronym, ACTS: A – Adoration, C – Confession, T –Thanksgiving, and S – Supplication. We were advised that a good worship service is built on this A-C-T-S movement.

The gospel accounts show different instances, times and places that Jesus prayed. He prayed alone, or publicly. He prayed very early in the morning, during the day, or through the night. He prayed at a solitary place, on the mountainside, among his disciples, or a distance away from his disciples. Although standing was the most common way of praying for the Jews, Luke (22:41-44) mentions that on the night before Jesus was betrayed, he knelt down and prayed. Jesus prayed at different occasions: before meals; before, during or after healing; or before making important decisions. In those instances, he prayed to commune with God and submit himself to God’s will.    

It must be in view of such instances that the disciple asked, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Instead of discussing various types of prayer, or how, when and where to pray, Jesus simply replied: "When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial."  

We have come to know this prayer as The Lord’s Prayer. Some biblical scholars say that the prayer has a similar structure as some Jewish prayers (e.g. hallowing of God’s name, praying for God’s kingdom to come, asking for life’s provision, pardon, and protection). Whether we use Luke’s short version or Matthew’s long version, what is important is to regard this prayer as a framework or sample rather than as a fixed formula to approach God.

Many of us learned to say The Lord’s Prayer when we were small – at home, in church, or at school. We have memorized it that we can recite it anytime anywhere. Young and new learners learn by memorizing. We learn a new language by memorizing words and phrases. But as we grow and learn more, we should be able to construct our own sentences. Likewise, as we grow in discipleship, we should be able to come up with our own prayers/petitions. [I introduced the singing of The Lord’s Prayer for our worship last May 22, which we will sing again today. It is to say that praying can be in different forms – by saying or singing, by crying or sighing, by dancing or through action, by silence or quiet meditation, etc.].   

So what can we learn anew from The Lord’s Prayer?

First, when we pray, Jesus invites us into a different relationship between us and God, and between us and other people. Through The Lord’s Prayer, Jesus shows us a way of addressing God – i.e. in a very personal and intimate manner: as ABBA. Calling God as ABBA countered the old Jewish notion of hallowing God’s name by not even pronouncing it, for it was considered a blasphemy to pronounce God’s name. Addressing God as Abba is like calling God “my dear father” or “Dad.” Some people who did not have a good relationship with their earthly fathers may not find it very appealing to think of God as father. By calling God ABBA, Jesus is not emphasizing the maleness of God, but that God is an awesome, loving parent, who hears our concerns, and answers when we ask, search and knock persistently.

ABBA was often used for God by prophets who felt a direct connection with God. By showing his disciples to address God as ABBA, Jesus was saying, ‘You, too, have that direct connection with God.’ ‘You too are children of God.’  

Our understanding of God and ourselves shows in how we relate with God and with each other. Many of us have been conditioned to think of God as this great Creator-Judge that we approach with fear and trembling; while we are like the puny, helpless, hopeless creatures with a lot of guilt and shame because of our sins.

This shows when we blame ourselves or someone when things go wrong – like the estranged relationship between husband and wife, or between children and parents. Loving parents would try to understand rather than judge and condemn immediately.    

To call God ABBA is to claim that we are children of God, created and loved by God. And when we claim ourselves as God’s children, we also claim that all God’s people are brothers and sisters to us. If so, we are responsible for one another; and we should not readily judge and condemn the other. The Lord’s Prayer signifies the breaking down of divisions – social, ethnic, economic, cultural, religious, denominational, or gender divisions. We all come to God ABBA, as people who may be different, but still equal in the image of God.           

Second, when we pray, Jesus invites us to a different purpose for praying. For many of us, we pray because we need something. Praying is like an “ambulance” or a “firehose” that we must get hold of when we are faced with a difficult situation. For some, praying is like a magic wand to get a miracle done. For others, praying is like a wish list that is brought before God.    

But as Jesus shows through The Lord’s Prayer, communing with God begins with what is most important to God: God’s reign, or God’s kingdom. The Jewish notion of kingdom was the return of the glory of Israel to be carried out by a political Messiah. Jesus countered this notion by teaching that God’s kingdom is not an earthly, human, political kingdom; rather, it is the reign of righteousness, justice and peace.

We sang the song, “Seek Ye First” which is a timely reminder that when we seek first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, everything else will be added to us (Mt 6:33). With God’s reign of justice, righteousness and peace, people will care more for one another, rather than abuse or take advantage of the other. There will be enough provision for all (bread is symbol of what is necessary to sustain life); there will be pardon (forgiveness) for all – no more harboring of grievances and the desire for revenge which only leads to a vicious cycle of violence; and there will be protection and guidance during times of trial, temptation, or persecution.

Centering on the bigger purpose – God’s great purpose for life for all – helps to keep us from dwelling too much on our own little concerns, which may just be our wants rather than our needs. Centering on God’s purpose helps us from being self-centered and self-serving in our living and in our praying.    

Third, when we pray, Jesus invites us to a different expectation of God’s response. Sometimes we think that after we have made our petitions known to God, we then leave everything to God. In fact, all the petitions – to hallow God’s name; for God’s Kingdom to come; give us each day our daily bread; forgive us our sins; do not bring us to the time of trial – all of them entail a lot of action, commitment and determination on our part.

To have our daily provision, we still have to work (because food does not just appear on our table). In order to be forgiven, we need to learn to forgive, make amends with those we hurt, and work for reconciliation with those who hurt us. In order to be protected from trials or testing, we need to muster our strength to overcome temptation. We pray to pass a school exam, a job interview, or to find a loving partner. But we still need to study for the exam or interview; while we long for a loving partner, we need to learn to be loving and caring too.  

Sometimes we pray expecting particular responses from God. We expect the return to good health of someone who is sick; the mending of relationship between friends or couples; another job for someone who just got fired – and so on. But God’s answers may not be what we expect. Someone said these words:
If our request is wrong, God says, "No."
If our timing is wrong, God says, "Slow."
If we are wrong, God says, "Grow."
If our request is right, our timing is right, and we are right, God (usually) says, "Go!"

But it is not always easy to discern what is wrong or right especially with our honest to goodness prayer. 

My friend, the Rev. Dr. Wati Longchar, a Northeast Indian theologian, shared with me that when his father was sick with cancer, many church people visited him to pray for his recovery. Everyone prayed for his father to get well, and for the cancer to go away. One day, after the group of visitors, his father asked his son why people only prayed for his recovery. For him, going home to God was the healing he was waiting for.

Bishop Elmer Bolocon (of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines) has a different story. When he was diagnosed with bone cancer, he tried various forms of treatment – chemotherapy, alternative medicines. His family, church people and friends kept praying for him. When the doctors said they could not do anything anymore, some people prepared for the worst; a few started working on the funeral liturgy for him. Then one day, he got up from his sick bed and started walking again. And now he is back in the ministry.       

These two stories show that God’s response to prayer can greatly differ from people’s expectations. 

Conclusion:
Prayer is communion with God. Real communion happens when we listen more to God who might speak in a still small voice or in silence. Isn’t it in the stillness and the silence that we get a clearer illumination of what God intends for us? Jesus taught The Lord’s Prayer as a blueprint or model of how to pray: When we pray, we must affirm a new relationship with God as our just and loving Parent (ABBA) and with all people as our brothers and sisters. When we pray, we must affirm a different purpose by starting with God’s reign of justice, righteousness, and peace. When we pray, we must affirm a different expectation of God’s response which may be beyond our imagination.

Some researchers have conducted studies on prayer[1], looking at the tangible or measurable effects of prayer. They were not so much interested in whether the prayers were answered, but on how praying affected those who prayed regularly. They concluded the following, based on the respondents’ answers: (1) Prayer improves self-control; (2) Prayer makes one nicer; (3) Prayer makes one more forgiving; (4) Prayer increases trust; (5) Prayer offsets the negative health effects of stress.

So as someone has said, prayer should not be viewed as something to change our circumstance but to change our character. The more we do it, the better it will improve our relationship with God and with those around us. So when we pray, let us submit our whole beings to God – our body, mind and soul.


[1]A study conducted by Baylor University, on “Prayer, Attachment to God, and Symptoms of Anxiety-Related Disorders among US Adults” with 1,714 volunteers, is published in the journal Sociology of Religion. See also “5 Scientifically Supported Benefits of Prayer”, by Clay Routledge accessed at https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/more-mortal/201406/5-scientifically-supported-benefits-prayer   
  

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, July 24, 2016

 

“Hineini, Here I am !”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 17 July 2016, the Nineth Sunday after Pentecost, by Rev. Dr. Ngeo, Boon Lin. The scripture readings that day were Isaiah 6:1–8; Colossians 1:15–28.


According to Isaiah 6:18

In the year that king Uzziah died, I saw God sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings ; with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said : Holy , holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.

The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.
And I said : woe to me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!

Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said : now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin blotted out. Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, whom shall I send, and who will go for us?

And Isaiah said : hineini , which means here am I , send me!

The scripture I just read is the most famous call of a prophet in the Bible.

The scripture begins with “In the year that King Uzziah died”.  King Uzziah was the tenth king of Judah and according to the Bible, he was a very godly man.  Unlike many other kings, he never totally departed from the worship of God.

Under his influence, the southern kingdom attained power, wealth and successunlike any it had enjoyed since the days of solomon.

Many people were disturbed by the death of the great king. After all, he had reigned for 52 years.

For Isaiah and the whole nation, his death signaled the end the time of great prosperity. In other words, the death of the great King ushered in a time of uncertainty, change and doubt.

It was a year King Uzziah died, just like some people say it was the year Tananmen Square incident happened, it was the year Hong Kong was returned to China, it was the year September 11 happened.

It was the year when things fell apart; it was the year we were confused, when all that had once been familiar now seemed long ago and far away.

It was the year King Uzziah died.

It was a bad time, it was a shaky time, it was a crazy time, it was a frightening time. 

Even though the great King Uzziah had just died, Isaiah saw God and he was called by God.  What must have been a down time in prophet’s life became his most important uptime in his life.

My brothers and sisters, I hope what happened to Isaiah in this event help us to realized what we need to do during the down times in our lives.

We all have down times in life! Those down times can ruin us, can destroy us, or we can grow in those times.

It all depends on us, it depends upon what has our attention, and how do we respond to those down times.

It was the year King Uzziah died, Isaiah saw God in God’s sovereignty.  Isaiah says “I t saw God sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up”. An earthly King may have died, but God still is God. Isaiah saw God in all God’s glory, and it had huge impact on the life of Isaiah.

My brothers and sisters, when life seems to fall apart, we need to remember the God who is in control of it all We need to remember who is in control.  Isaiah experienced the presence of God. The King might be gone, but God was still there.

God had not forsaken Isaiah even during this downtime. Let us remember, we are not alone, and we are never alone, God is always with us and for us.

We all have down times in life, but not all of us confront our down times in the same way. When things didn’t happen or work out as we wish, when our world seems to fall apart, when tragedy happened in our lives,  when life feels stressful, when you have suffered a painful setback after you have worked so hard, what do you do ? Where are you?

Are you hiding? Are you running away? Are you pretending as if nothing had happened?

There is a very famous story of “run away and hide” in the Bible. Which is the book of Jonah. Jonah is not a fanciful fairy tale of a man who was swallowed by a big fish.  It is a true story.  But it is true in the sense that it is a realistic description of human psychological evasiveness and reluctance.

Jonah is a very intelligent person. He hears an intense inner call to go to a place called Ninevah.

 But instead of doing what God is telling him to do, instead of doing what he knows he is supposed to do, he does the two things that most of us tend to do when we are reluctant to show up for what life has in store for us. He runs away, and falls asleep.

How many times, we know exactly what is the right thing to do, but we refuse to do it because we have a super big ego? How many times, we know we should apologize, we know it is right to forgive, we know we should let it go, we know we should not be afraid, we know we should pursue our dreams, we know we should not give up, but we have chosen to do the opposite?

Instead of being fully present or following through on what we know deep inside us is the right thing to do, we run away, hoping no one will know, hoping things will get better naturally.

Life is never easy. I can guarantee you, for the rest of your life, or even for the rest of today, there will be stressful moments and situations.

But what will you do?  Are you going to confront the problems head on ? or you rather numb out and run away? 

In the year King Uzziah died, Isaiah responded to his life’s challenges, and to his God : Hineini. Here I am.  Instead of hiding or running away from the urgency of the current moment, Isaiah responded : Hineini. Here I am.

In Judaism, in the Hebrew Bible, perhaps no single word is more well known, more important, or more powerful than this three- syllabus hebrew word : Hineini ( Here I am ).

When life incidents happen, when our lives call us to do something right, where are you ?
We can choose to run away, or we can answer from our hearts and souls : Hineini. Here I am!

Where are you? In the book of Genesis, Adam hears a silent and invisible voice asking : Where are you.  And Adam says :  I heard the sound of You. But I was afraid and I hid.

When we respond to life’s challenges, to God by saying  hineini, Here am I, it means no more hiding, no more running away, we are fully present, we are opening up our minds, our hearts and our spirits to be present in this moment, to be fully alive, to be fully awake in this particular moment and to connect or align our spirits, minds and hearts with the Ultimate source of wisdom of the Universe, which we call God.
 
At UCLA, Dr Daniel Siegel has written several books on the neuroscience of prayer and meditation. And he shows how the practice of meditation and mindful states can cause detectable physical changes in the brain and improve well being. His research studies at UCLA  have demonstrated that people who have learned how to go into spiritual or mindful states of consciousness  have very different brain images from regular folks, and the practice of mindfulness can  improve clarity, focus and health. 

Everyday, we are given the opportunity to show up more fully or to run away and hide. What do you choose? Where are you? When we answer Hineini, here am I, we declare we want to live each moment more awake, more alive and healthier.

According to Buddhism, liberation lies in the present moment. And it is what we do in meditation. Do nothing, think nothing, just sitting just being there. This is what I do every morning for one hour, just sitting.

Meditation has been intrinsic to most of the great religions of the world, including Christianity. In Buddhist tradition, meditation has been a core element of practice since the time of shakyamuni Buddha, 2500 years ago.

I have to admit, it is not easy to do nothing, and not think. Our minds always think about something, either something in the past or in the future, it is difficult to just be mindful in this moment. 

In Zen meditation, for beginners, in order to help us not to think anything, we always pay attention to our breathing and count our breathing. Zero, One, Two, Three, suddenly I think about what I am going to eat for my breakfast, so back to Zero, again, one, two , three, four, oh, I need to call my mom today, I haven't talked to her for a week. Ok, back to zero again, one , two, three, four, five, six, seven, great, I make it to seven without thinking about anything, but Gosh,   I just failed, back to zero again…. And this is what I do, again, and again, for one hour, every day before I start to pray and read the Bible. This is to practice mindfulness. It is to prepare me to meet God in prayers.

Meditation or being mindful does not remove the ups and downs of life, but slowly it changes how you see and react to the experiences of life, experiences like losing a job, breaking up, struggling in relationship, illness, dying and death. Mindfulness changes our relationship to life. And slowly I have learned that I am less and less bothered by a lot of things. It does not mean I do not make mistakes, I still do, but once I realize, I just admit it and apologize, I do not have to run away, because I am home. 

I realized I needed to practice meditation or Zen Meditation about 4 years ago. Because I had no patience. Not only with others, but even with myself. I routinely blamed myself for not being good enough.

By the way, to realize we need to improve ourselves and to blame ourselves for not being good enough are two very different things.  I have too much too do but have too little time. I couldn’t wait to finish what I needed to say, it is why I talk very fast. I couldn’t wait to get to my destination, it is why I always in hurry and walk very fast. My mother always says to me, you are going to die either from heart attack or high blood pressure, soon and very soon.

So, you can imagine, it is very difficult for me to just sit there and do nothing for one hour everyday.  It is difficult for me to learn that I don’t have to rush, because every step is my destination, I don’t have to rush because I have arrived. 

What is enlightenment ?  To attain enlightenment is to see thing as they are.  We recognize them, we embrace them, but we do not attach to them. If we do not like what we see, we do our best to correct them, but at the end we let it go. In other words, we are no longer bothered by them, no more anger, no more frustration,  only compassionate.

Gaining enlightenment is like the moon reflecting in the water, the moon does not get wet, nor is the water disturbed. Practicing mindfulness is the path to enlightenment. It is a doorway to peace, to compassion, to ease, and wellbeing. 

To say Hineini to life, to say Hineini to God, to answer Here AM I with our souls and minds and spirits, is to be mindful of our current moment and situation.  It is not only an indication that we trust God, but more importantly, it is to say that I trust myself, because I know myself deeply, I know my strength, and I also know my limitations, and ultimately I can gain access to my own inner wisdom.

To say Hineini, is to be fully present, responsive and receptive to the other in our lives, whether it be God or ourselves.  In the Hebrew Bible, not only Isaiah, but Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Samuel… in every generation individuals are called, and each responds with the word hineini, Here I Am.

God calls us to serve God and God’s people, we too are challenged to respond Hineini.  Where are you? Where are you? Are you willing to answer Hineini, HERE AM I ?

In the Book of Isaiah, not only Isaiah responds Hineini to God, but God also responds with Hineini!  According to Isaiah 58: 9 , Isaiah says to his people , Then you shall call , and God will answer, you shall cry for help, and God will say , Hineini, HERE AM I.

When we answer God’s calling, when we reach out to God, God will respond to us! God will not only hear our prayers, but will respond to us , Hineini. When we respond to God and to others in the fullness of our beings, when we respond to the needs of others, our needs will be fulfilled by the Divine.  Ultimately, God will say Hineini, HERE AM I, I AM  HERE FOR YOU!

In the book of Isaiah, the people of Israel cry out to God, complaining God was not there for them, complaining that God was remaining Silent in the face of their suffering. They were just like their ancestor's in the wilderness before entering the promised land, they complained bitterly, both to Moses and to God, for bringing them out of Egypt to die of starvation.

My brothers and sisters, don’t you think sometimes we are no different from them, we are just like drama queens , always complaining, but never wanting to cultivate greater intimacy with our own mind and to tap into and develop our deep interior resources for leaning, growing , healing, and potentially for transforming our lives by doing something different? We always look for others to blame.We even blame God for being silent.

My brothers and sisters, God is not silent. God is always calling us, God is always encouraging us to seek God, to do the right things. And God also actively making the Divine Presence available.  A lot of times, we think God is silent, actually it is not God who is silent, but we are not fully present, we refuse to show up!

Because of that,  we fail to hear God. Isaiah in 65:1 says, God says, I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek me. And God says, I said “hineini, hineini” to a nation that DID not call on my name!

God says Hineini, Hineini. But , where are you?  Where are you?

I pray that you will hear the voice of God who speaks in silence, I pray that you will be truly hearing and responding to the call of the other, whether human or Divine.

May peace be with you all.

Amen

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

 

“The Good Samaritan”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 10 July 2016,  the eighth Sunday after Pentecost, by the Rev. Dr. Judy Chan. The scripture readings that day were Luke 10:25-40


Good morning. A month ago when I checked the lectionary readings for July 10th, I found out the Gospel lesson was the parable of the Good Samaritan. My initial reaction was – Oh good, there’s plenty to say about that. Then later I began to panic a bit – Oh dear, what can I say that hasn’t been said a million times already? In fact, I tried to remember if I’ve ever preached on the Good Samaritan in my whole life. I can’t remember, so I figured if I can’t remember, maybe you won’t either, and we just start fresh.

Still, most of us have heard a lot of sermons on this parable in Luke’s Gospel. It’s familiar to those even outside the church. The term ‘Good Samaritan’ is popular around the world. It describes kind people who come to the aid of a stranger in distress. There are Good Samaritan hospitals, charities, missionary societies and even a Good Samaritan Donkey Sanctuary in Australia. Yes, they take care of abused or neglected donkeys, which is a nice extension of the Bible story, because animals can suffer trauma just like humans.

But the focus of today’s story in Luke 10 is not the donkey. The focus is on four characters – a man who was robbed and beaten on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, a priest who passes by the other side, an assistant priest who also passes by the other side, and our Good Samaritan.

The moral of the story seems to be that we should care for those in need no matter who they are. Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? So, we have to ask ourselves, why did Jesus need to tell this parable in the first place? Wasn’t it just common decency to help someone in obvious distress? Wasn’t he talking to people of faith who naturally would help their fellow citizen or even a stranger if it came down to that? Wasn’t he talking to good people like you and me? So what are we supposed to learn?

To understand just how radical the parable of the Good Samaritan is, we have to remember some of the details.

Jesus is responding to questions from a lawyer, an expert in religion. The lawyer asked what must he do to inherit eternal life. And Jesus says, “You tell me.” The lawyer answers, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.” “Good,” says Jesus. “Do this and you will live.” But the lawyer can’t let go of it. He needs to be sure, maybe about himself, maybe about Jesus. So he asks a follow up question: “And who is my neighbor?”

It is in response to that question that Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan. Now you remember for the Jews, there was no such thing as a ‘good’ Samaritan. They were all bad, theologically and politically, and no self-respecting Jew would have anything to do with these sworn enemies of their people. Even Jesus’ disciples felt the same way. So when Jesus starts telling a tale of a poor man robbed and left half dead on a dangerous road, his listeners are likely expecting the hero to be an ordinary Jewish layman. That’s the way Jewish stories always went – a priest, a Levite and an Israelite. Imagine their shock then when the worst person they could think of turns out to be the savior of the day!

Do you see what Jesus is doing here? He’s taking the lawyer’s question and turning it around. Instead of telling the lawyer who he has to love as much as he loves himself, he tells the lawyer (and us) what that kind of love looks like.

            A love that stops to help even when no one else does.
            A love that is costly, not only in terms of time and money, but personal safety.
            A love that promises to return again and again until we are completely healed.

When Jesus puts it like that, we realize this ‘loving your neighbor’ business is a lot harder than we thought. And, you know, for the Samaritan it was an even greater risk than for the priest or the Levite. In order for the Samaritan to get this man to an inn, he’d have to go to Jericho, which is Jewish territory. He could have been beaten up or even killed when he arrived in town. In other words, the Samaritan put his own life on the line to care for someone he didn’t even know, someone who might not even be thankful once he found out who had rescued him.

That risk we take to love our neighbor still exists today. That’s why some cities and countries have what are called “Good Samaritan” laws. These laws protect ordinary citizens from being sued if something goes wrong when they help a stranger during an emergency. Good Samaritan laws have been in force in many Western countries, and more recently in mainland China because of some famous or infamous cases. In one situation in Nanjing, a student who helped an elderly woman in an accident was sued after she claimed he had knocked her down on purpose. The facts in that case remain a bit unclear. In another situation in Foshan, a two year girl was run over twice by vehicles in a busy market area. 18 people walked past the dying toddler before someone ran into the street to help her. When the others were asked why they didn’t stop to help the poor child, their response? “I was afraid of getting into trouble.” 

I think fear is big part of what stops us from coming to the aid of a stranger. Martin Luther King, Jr said the first thought that likely came to the mind of the priest and Levite in Luke 10 was: “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?" Dr. King applied the parable to the situation facing his own people during the height of the Civil Rights movement in 1968. He was urging his audience to support black sanitation workers on strike in Memphis by joining a citywide work stoppage in protest. It was a dangerous thing to do. But Dr. King challenged his listeners to seek the moral high ground. “That's the question before you tonight,” he said. Not, ‘If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to my job?’ Not, ‘If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?’ The question is not, ‘If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?" The question is, "If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?"[1] If I do not stop to help, what will happen to them?

That’s the question at the heart of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. That’s our claim to the moral high ground. But, you know, even those who may have written this parable on their heart might falter under certain circumstances. I heard of a study carried out among theological students in the 1970s. Students at Princeton Seminary were paid a few US dollars each to participate. They were gathered in a room and told their assignment was to prepare a short talk on the Parable of the Good Samaritan. When it was time for each student to go deliver the talk, the researcher said, “We’re a little short on space in this building, so you have to go to the other side of the campus to record your talk. But you don’t have much time. They’re waiting for you over there. Here’s a map and good luck!” One by one, the aspiring preachers were sent out of the building. But little did they know that the researchers had planted an actor in the alley between the two locations. The person was dressed in shabby clothes, slumped on the ground near a doorway, and obviously in some kind of distress. Did our future men and women of the cloth take this opportunity to be a Good Samaritan in real life?

I’m sorry to say, folks, most of the seminary students did not stop to help. In fact, a few even were seen stepping over the man to get to their appointment on time! Later the students were told what the experiment was really about. Most of them were a bit embarrassed, but to their defense, they said meeting the requirements of the test overwhelmed everything else. After all, they were being paid and the researchers were counting on them. The study concluded that thinking about the Good Samaritan didn’t appear to increase helping behavior, but being in a hurry certainly decreased it!

So what are good people like you and me to do in this fearful, hurried world we live in? Will we be the one who always stops when no one else does? Will we be the first to sacrifice our time, money and personal safety when someone needs help? Will we keep returning again and again no matter how bad the situation is? It seems a lot to ask, doesn’t it?

If it makes you feel any better, Christians have always struggled to live up to those demands in this parable. So maybe it helps to know how the early Christians understood this story. By and large, those who converted to the faith didn’t initially see themselves as the Good Samaritan. They saw themselves instead as the wounded man, someone in such desperate straits that if help hadn’t come, they surely would have died. Because that was their real life experience.

You have to remember that the whole Mediterranean region where Christianity was born constantly suffered from drought, famine, disease, war. There were huge migrations of people going from rural areas to urban centers. If the Church hadn’t been there saving Christians and non-Christians alike, many more would have been left stripped, beaten and all dead by the roadside.

That’s why when the early Christians read this story, they saw Jesus as their Good Samaritan. He’s the one who stopped when everyone else passed them by. He’s the one who sacrificed everything so they might know God’s mercy. He’s the one who came and will return again so they might inherit eternal life. And he does the same for you and me today.

Rev. Luke Powery says, “It took the rule of mercy, not judgment to save you and me. God’s mercy seasoned his justice, so that we might live to ‘go and do likewise’, to extend the same mercy to others that’s been extended to us.” “The rule of mercy,” says Powery, not only keeps us neighborly… it keeps us human, close to the ground like the naked and robbed man on the road …It reminds us where we have come from and to where we will go.”[2] May the Lord have mercy on us all.

I’d like to close with a story that I may have told you before. As I mentioned at the beginning, I can’t remember what I’ve said from one sermon to the next these days. But I share this story because it can help us remember some very basic things about our being God’s Good Samaritan in this day and age.

There was an examination given by a professor in a local university. I don’t know what class it was but it must have been something like philosophy or religion, because the final test had only three questions:
1. What is the most important time?
2. Who is the most important person?
3. What is the most important work?

Can you imagine the poor students who had to take this examination? How could the teacher grade it? Wouldn’t there be as many answers as there were pupils? If the students had ever taken a literature course, however, they might have recognized the questions were very close to the ones asked in a famous folktale by Russian writer Leo Tolstoy. He poses three similar questions in his story of a king searching for answers so he might never fail in anything he undertook.

The king offered a reward to anyone who would teach him what was the right time for every action, who were the most necessary people, and how he might know what was the most important thing to do. All sorts of people tried to give him answers, but the king wasn’t satisfied. So he went in search of a hermit who was widely renowned for his wisdom.

The hermit lived in the woods and would only allow common people to see him. So the king put on plain clothes, left his bodyguards at the edge of the woods, and went to see the hermit by himself. When he approached the hermit’s hut, he saw the old man digging the ground in front of his house.

The old man greeted him and kept right on digging. The king told him why he had come and asked the three questions. No reply. The old hermit kept digging and looked tired. The king offered to take over for a while. After several hours of both of them digging, the king began to get impatient. “I came to you, wise man, for an answer to my questions. If you can’t answer them, tell me so, and I’ll go home.”

Just then the hermit said, “Here comes someone running. Let’s see who it is.” It turned out to be a bearded man coming out of the woods with blood pouring out of his side. The king promptly attended to him. He dressed his wound and carried the injured man inside the hut. When the man was revived, he revealed himself as the king’s enemy. He had planned to kill the king when he returned from visiting the hermit.

But the king didn’t come back as scheduled, and the man was discovered and wounded by the king’s bodyguards. The man thanked the king for saving his life and asked to make peace between them.

The king went back to the hermit after this eventful day. He asked once more the three questions. “You have already been answered,” said the hermit. “Do you not see?”

There is only one important time – now! It’s the most important time because it’s the only time when we have any power. The most necessary person is one you are with, for no one knows whether he or she will have dealings with anyone else. And the most important business? To do that person good, because for that purpose alone were we sent into this life.

So the answer to the examination questions:
The most important time – now.
The most important person – the one next to you.
The most important work – the good deed right at your hand.



[1] Martin Luther King, Jr., “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” Speech at Bishop Charles Mason Temple, April 3, 1968, http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/documentsentry/ive_been_to_the_mountaintop/


[2] Luke Powery, “The Rule of Mercy,” Sermon delivered at Duke Divinity School Chapel, July 13, 2013, https://chapel.duke.edu/sites/default/files/A%20Rule%20of%20Mercy%2007-14-13.pdf

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, July 10, 2016

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