Meditations, Reflections, Bible Studies, and Sermons from Kowloon Union Church
“The Feast of Heaven”
A sermon preached at Kowloon
Union Church on Sunday 28 August 2016, the fifteenth Sunday after
Pentecost, by the Rev. Phyllis
Wong. The scripture readings that day were Jeremiah 2:4-13; Hebrew 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14.
God of love, may your Word inspire our minds, renew
our heart and strengthen our faith.
God of life, may your Spirit dwell upon us and set
us free to love. Amen.
Last Friday night, the Peace Making Program
launched the Refugee Kitchen in KUC Space to engage the refugees and asylum
seekers to share their gifts of cooking in their tradition. The Refugee Kitchen
aimed at raising funds for the Peace Making Program, as well as to build
connections with individuals and organizations that would support the refugee
community. The highlight of Refuge Kitchen last Friday was the Pakistani course.
We had a very good turn out with 37 people. Our guests enjoyed the feast very
much. It was a great meal with good food and good fellowship.
At the event of the Refugee Kitchen, we were sitting in different tables without any
special seats for anyone. All participants are equal.
As I began with the sharing of a meal, I will focus
my sermon today on the gospel reading of Luke - a parable about a banquet
shared by Jesus. The setting for this
parable was Jesus having a meal with the Pharisees on the Sabbath.
The guests attending the meal were probably the
rich and the people with power like the religious leaders.
By sharing the parable of a wedding banquet, Jesus
said to the guests that they should not choose the seats of honour by
themselves. Jesus taught the leaders and the people with social resources and power
to be humble. They should wait for the host to give them seats but not take seats
on their own. This was the way that they may avoid being shamed, but even more
so to receive honour from the host.
“For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and
those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
After sharing about how the guests should behave,
Jesus talked about the host and to whom he should extend his invitation to the
Jesus said the host should invite the poor, the
crippled, the lame and the blind. The poor, the crippled, the lame and the
blind are all nobody in society. The poor do not make an effort to give back
any money. For the physically disabled people, they were regarded as non-human
in Jesus’ time. They were not treated equally. This group of people would not
repay the host anything either. On the contrary, they might even jeopardise the
name of the host because of the social stigma attached to them.
In the ancient Jewish context, the rich and the
powerful were concerned so much with being repaid by guests of kindness, power
and status, Jesus’ assertion to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the
blind (all the socially marginalized people) as guests, is very provocative.
Jesus challenged the religious leaders and the people with power and status to give
generously and unselfishly to the poor and the weak. He advised them not to be
calculative and expect no rewards from the guests of this background. Jesus
invited them to share with compassion for these people.
The seats of honour are decided by the hosts and
not by the guests.
God who is the host of the Feast of Heaven decides what
seats to give and to whom he invites.
From the teaching of Jesus, we know then that how
we treat ourselves and others impacts how God treats us.
Jesus’ parable of the banquet was pointing to the rich
and the powerful – teaching them to humble themselves and be generous to give for
the needy who cannot repay them.
In reading between the lines, I find that this
parable speaks to the poor, vulnerable and the marginalised too. The extension
of invitation to them and include them in the banquet is a clear affirmation of
their importance and dignity. God treated them as equal and received them as
his beloved children. They are part of the Feast of Heaven.
Jesus said, “For all who exalt themselves will be
humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke 14:11
Jesus’ parable of the banquet shows us a
contradiction of human reality.
I am nobody and at the same time I am somebody.
This is a contradictory statement.
The statement ‘I
am nobody’ is to acknowledge imperfection of the human world and the
imperfect human condition of faults and failings. And thus we need to always
‘I am somebody’ is pointing at a true knowledge and feeling of oneself as
one is. This true self knowledge is God is our being, and we are what we are in
Him. Perfect humility is
meeting the mysterious love of God, who is the ground of our being. And thus we
need to affirm ourselves as who we are regardless of our wealth, ability and
social status, race, gender and sexual orientations.
From Jesus’ teaching through this parable of
banquet, I see this deep meaning of humility.
The Feast of Heaven is for the people of humility.
People of humility are both the guest and the host in
the Feast of Heaven.
The Feast of Heaven is for the people of righteousness.
The parable of the wedding banquet reminded me of
my childhood experience.
I remember my mother took me to an uncle’s birthday
banquets. My uncle was quite rich, and he hosted a birthday banquet almost
every year. When his sons got married, they organized wedding banquets in posh
restaurants. Every time our family was invited. My mother liked to bring me to these
banquets. I was lucky to have good food. Our family was poor at that time.
Obviously, my parents were not able to give a lot in love gifts for the meal
and never could make an effort to host them in a banquet of that scale. My
uncle invited us just because he regarded us as family members. He treated us
equally. From our side, apart from our respect to my uncle, he was repaid
nothing from us, not by money, not by status, not by power, not even by
kindness. We didn’t have the capacity and chance to do that in the way that he
did. However, I believed what Jesus said: he was blessed and repaid at the resurrection of
Jesus said, 13 But
when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the
blind. 14 And
you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at
the resurrection of the righteous.”
Jesus suggested that the host invite those who
could not repay him. But he assured them he will be blessed and repaid at the
resurrection of the righteous.
What does it mean – repaid
at the resurrection of the righteous?
Is it a reward we gain from
God in heaven after we die? Could be.
But I tend to understand
this promise – repaid at the resurrection of the righteous with a ‘here and
now’ perspective – taking it as a ‘present tense concept’.
We Christians are called to live
a life like Christ. Jesus Christ is the righteous and he has risen from death.
He eternally lives in us in every moment.
Therefore, whenever we live out the Word and deeds of Jesus Christ, we
are manifesting a life of resurrection in him.
More importantly, Christ living
in us is the reward itself! When Christ lives in us, we have joy, peace and
love in our heart. The best reward is God himself and having Christ in us.
If we are truly living a
life like Jesus Christ, we don’t even bother to seek repayment and rewards.
Why? It is because Jesus did not expect any reward and repayment from us when
he came to the world and suffered on the Cross to save us.
The Feast of Heaven belongs
to those who seek the love of God and live out the resurrected life of Christ –
being loving, caring, and full of compassion to the needy.
Jesus’ teaching about the banquet is not referring
to any ordinary feast on earth. He is teaching about the Feast of Heaven where
God and his love are the centre.
The foretaste of the Feast
of the Heaven is the Holy Communion. Jesus Christ gave and served us by his
broken body and blood. The Feast of Heaven is the host of God freely and humbly
given without any reservation and any expectation of repayment from us.
In the Feast of Heaven where
Christ is the centre, there is no longer you or me, them or us, host or guest. We are both the host and the guest
at the same time. We are ONE in Christ – we share together willingly,
generously and humbly. We give without expecting rewards and repay from others.
Sisters and brothers, let us
continue to host and attend the Feast of Heaven with delight in our church at Kowloon Union Church and community at large.
Let us together enjoy the
feast on earth as in heaven. Amen.
"FAITH & DOUBT"
preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 21 August 2016, the fourteenth Sunday after
Pentecost, by Pearl Wong. The scripture readings that day were Psalm
71:1–6; Hebrews 12:18–29; Luke 13:10–17.
God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that
this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through
Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart be
acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
Psalm 71, verses 1-6 is the beginning of a prayer that
echoed the voice of the Israelites to Yahweh, their God, for lifelong
protection and help. The first
impression we get from reading the first 6 lines is that, the author of this
Psalm is a person of great faith because God seems to have promised him
everything. The author's faith has
promised him refuge in God, deliver and rescue him from the hand of the wicked.
The author's faith has also rescued him
from injustice and awarded him with hope. It seems that the author's trust in God is unshakable, not for a second did he has
doubt that God will not protect him.
I invite you to read this 6 verses again with new lens, and
to imagine that this is what we call "opposite talk", that we don't
really mean what we say. Imagine what if
the author is in a desperate situation, he has been praying for sometime but his
situation has not improved, and he starts to question why God is silent, why God
is ignoring his prayer. Imagine that the
tone of this prayer sounds like a desperate cry, a plea for help, the author is
praying very loud because he wants to assure himself that God will come to his
rescue, despite the fact that he has been praying for a long time and yet, his
situation has not changed a bit. In
verse 2, the author exclaims, "incline your ear to me and save me." Sounds like he is complaining to God, "why
do you overlook my request, why don't you come and save me?"
If we read further down Psalm 71 to verses 9-12, the author
has expressed clearly his uncertainty in his future.
"Do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not
forsake me when my strength is spent. For my enemies speak concerning me, and
those who watch for my life consult together. They say, pursue and seize that
person whom God has forsaken, for there is no one to deliver. And verse 12,
"O God, do not be far from me; O my God, make haste to help me!" Here
it really sounds like a frenzied petition to God.
So right now, the author is not a person of great faith
anymore, rather, the author is full of doubt about what God can do to save him,
he is full of uncertainties about his future, about what will happen to him
next. Now we wonder, can the author of
Psalm 71 be both faithful and doubtful at the same time?
"FAITH and DOUBT are like sisters, they go hand in
hand." This is a claim I heard from
the Catholic priest Tomas Halik from the Czech Republic, when he was in Hong
Kong few weeks ago promoting the Chinese edition of his book, Patience with God: The Story of Zacchaeus
Continuing in Us.
The Chinese title of his book is
called 擁抱懷疑的信仰, in English it will be something
like, "Christian Faith that embraces Doubt". Tomas Halik is a theologian, psychotherapist,
painter, journalist and has written 16
books on religion and spirituality, few of his books invite his readers to examine
Christian faith in an age of uncertainty. The ambivalent nature of the world today seems
to make no sense, when violence and discrimination dominate, when exploitation
and greed cause so many sufferings, Christians and atheists sometimes share a
sense of God's absence from the world. Life's
many paradoxes produce phrases like , " God is silent, God is hidden, God
is DEAD!" This exactly is the reason for
Tomas Halik to reiterate that FAITH and DOUBT in Christianity is not
contradictory, rather, they go hand in hand like sisters. Many of
us live in a state of tension
between faith and doubt for most of our
lives, and for some, we are in this tension every day.
In Luke 13 verses 10-17,
Jesus, in which God becomes human, notices people and situations in ways that
others do not. Jesus came to save the
lost, the poor, including every kind of marginalized person whom traditional
religion and great leaders of faith, like the Pharisees in this parable, would
put outside the boundaries. Great
leaders from Jesus' time up until today have constructed many rules that they
presume would keep faith in order, or will help the seekers and doubters affirm their faith. However, Jesus challenges these
great leaders, breaks the law, and reaches out to release the woman from her
oppression. This woman, "a bent
over, unable to stand up straight, crippled, overlooked" image can
represent someone who is humble, low self esteem, constantly doubtful
whether anyone, including God, can heal her. Jesus sees her and is filled with compassion,
reaches out to her and sets her free from bondage that afflicted her for 18 years. Here we see that Jesus makes himself a seeker
with those who seek, and a doubter with those who doubt.
We also see that Jesus criticizes the religious leaders who
consider themselves the very faithful. These leaders value the laws above
everything else, therefore, they condemn Jesus of breaking the law by healing
on Sabbath. Precisely because they focus
on the little rules, they fail to see that Jesus has demonstrated THE LAW given
by God, "Love your neighbor" , and that includes, healing, liberating others from oppression,
showing care and compassion, and doing justice.
Some of us, who consider ourselves the faithful, who have attended
Church for a long time and serve in the church devotedly, perhaps pray and read
the Bible daily, we very often follow and implement the rules blindly. We often create boundaries that push people to
the margins. We separate ourselves "the faithful" from the seekers
and the doubters.
And now, let us consider another reading today, Hebrews 12 verses 14-29. First of all,
the author of the book of Hebrews wants to emphasize that Christ is superior to
everything that went before, and God's people can have full confidence in God's
son. What also concerns the author is the possibility that some believers,
under distress and adversity, will let go of Christ; abandon their trust in
Christ and even have doubts about God's presence and Jesus' saving works. Chapter 12 verses 14-29 belongs to the final
part of the book of Hebrews, and this part is all about faithful perseverance.
Using the contrasting imagery of Mount Sinai and the
heavenly Mount Zion here, the author affirms believers their future
certainty. The Christian community
during the author's time is discouraged because of suffering and perhaps, have
doubts about whether Jesus is really the Son of God who would actualize God's
promise of the New Jerusalem. Likewise,
the Christian community of today live in
a world of darkness, chaos, and absurdity, our prayers do not bring us peace or
comfort; our prayers do not help make things better in our society, and we lose our patience with God. The author of Hebrews not only writes to
convince his community " not to lose faith" on Christ, and not to
abandon God; he writes to remind us as well of this important message.
those of great faith who have absolute trust in God's grace and providence?
Or are you
those who are doubtful and uncertain about God as your refuge and your
are like me, living in this tension of being faithful and doubtful every day?
need to humble ourselves and recognize that we, followers of Christ, do not
have all the answers, and definitely, we are not infallible in our faith. What
is more important is to make ourselves seekers with those who seek and question with those who question.
of faith that maintains the spirit of seeking, ongoing questions and
uncertainties, will teach us to live with God's mystery, and not forgetting to
live continually with faith, hope and love.
invite you to meditate on God's promise while I read Psalm 71 verses 19-21.
who have done great things,
have made me see many troubles and calamities
depths of the earth
bring me up again.
increase my honor,
me once again."
“Crossing the Division”
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union
Church on Sunday 14 August 2016, the thirteen Sunday after
Pentecost, by Rune Nielsen. The scripture readings that day
were Hebrews 11:29-12:2, Isaiah 5:1-7, Luke 12:49-56.
“Do you think I have come to bring
peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in
one household will be divided, three against two and two against three…” Jesus’
words in the twelfth chapter of Luke are scary—there’s no doubt about that. The
Jesus who was the gentle shepherd, the man who shone with divine love, the one
who said ‘let the children come to me’—it seems that Jesus is now telling his
disciples that he is leading society towards chaos and destruction. Differences
between people, whether religious, political, or economic, can lead us to
division, a state of tension, distrust, and intolerance. Division is painful.
It can give us feelings of fear, suspicion, rejection, and hate. In fact, the
corresponding passage in Matthew 10:34-36 uses the word “sword” instead of
“division.” Truly, division can wound us
deeper than any cut.
Jesus is no stranger to division. With
every teaching he gave, every act of healing he performed, some people chose to
distrust him or despise him. In the fifth chapter of Mark, Jesus delivers a man
from demons by sending the evil spirits into the bodies of pigs, which then
drown themselves in the sea. The healed man is grateful and becomes a follower
of Jesus, but the other people in the town get bitter about the loss of the
pigs and insist that Jesus leave. Another example of division can be seen in
the fifth chapter of Luke when Jesus heals a paralytic. Jesus forgives the
man’s sins and the Pharisees get angry, accusing him of blasphemy. While the
Pharisees regard Jesus with disgust, the rest of the watching crowd is happy
about what Jesus has done, and praise God. And there are many more stories of
division springing up from the words and acts of Jesus. As stated by a Bible
commentator, in today’s gospel reading “Jesus is not affirming nor encouraging
the division but naming the reality that was occurring around him.” Jesus
challenged religious leaders as well as believers to open their minds and
hearts to his message of love for all people. This upset the status quo, which
led to division.
Jesus did not say we should make
division. He did not teach his followers to avoid anyone who thought
differently. Jesus reached out to Samaritans, people whose practices deviated
from the Jewish standard. Jesus made friends with criminals. He defended people
of low social standing. When some people see differences, they put up social
walls, leading to division. When God sees division, he passes through the
Differences occur as people adopt
different beliefs, but division is not God’s goal. In today’s gospel reading
Jesus is speaking out of a context of anguish and strife as he sees the
division happening around him. This stands in contrast to how at the time of
Jesus’ birth the angels were singing of peace to come, as stated at the
beginning of Luke’s gospel. And when the gospel ends, the resurrected Jesus
greets his disciples not with a message of division, but with “Shalom,” a word
Since the beginning Christ’s followers
have found themselves divided from other people, and so do we today. Some of us
come from divided households where it is not two against three, but four
against one and one against four. Painful, heart-aching division. Is this the
cost of following Jesus? In drastic situations of fierce disagreement, the
people we love may separate themselves from us, and other times we may feel
forced to separate from them. Sometimes we cannot prevent separation, and once
it happens we may feel broken and scattered from the division.
We are aware that in Hong Kong and many
other parts of the world Christians are a minority group. Even if your whole
family is Christian, you likely know people at school or work who are not, and
probably have friends who are non-Christian. How should we view them?
When we look at the world, we know our
Christian lives are different. Our beliefs are different. Our practices are
different. Considering all of that, is it the fate of Christians to shut
ourselves away from non-Christians? To flaunt our differences and only associate
with people who believe the same things we do? Should we retreat behind the
line of the divide in our own societies? I’ve met a Christian family in Hong
Kong who only allows their children to associate with other Christians. Their
children, who go to Christian schools, are not allowed to have non-Christian
friends or go to social activities where non-Christians are present. When they
see a doctor or dentist, they only choose ones that are Christian. Clearly,
they are afraid of non-Christians. They use the differences between them and
others to build up division.
But differences don’t have to lead to
When I went on a study trip to
Indonesia last summer, I met a woman who lived in what could have been a
divided household. She and her parents were devoutly Christian, and living with
them were her devoutly Muslim aunt, uncle, and cousins. The Muslims did all the
things devoted Muslims do—they worshipped at a mosque, fasted during Ramadan,
prayed to Allah five times a day, and so on. The Christians did all the things
devoted Christians do—they attended services at a church, read the Bible, and
prayed to God. And all of these relatives live peacefully side by side,
enjoying their life together. They respect each other and do not let their
differences tear them apart into division. The Christian woman told me her
views on her Muslim relatives. “We pray for them, as we would pray for all
other people we know, both Christians and non-Christians. And we keep living
our Christian lives in a display of God’s love for all people.”
Although not all families of mixed
faiths are able to live in harmony like that, the example of the household in
Indonesia reminds us that differences do not have to drive people away from
each other, whether at home or in broader society. It also highlights the
importance of prayer, taking your concerns about division to God and trusting
God. While interacting with non-Christians you might not see conversions, but
that doesn’t mean God has abandoned our non-Christian relatives, friends, and
In today’s gospel reading and in our
lives, differences themselves are not the real problem. According to the
preacher Erick J. Thompson, we would be mistaken to focus on the differences we
face. There will always be differences in all areas of life because people will
disagree with each other and have different opinions. The real issue at hand is
how we respond to division. Some Christians have a zeal for bringing people
from one side of the divide to the other. Of course we want everyone to know
God loves them! But if we are forceful about God’s message, we will only widen
the gap. Thompson says that “the gospel preached into the life of an individual
person will do its work, and we are left to trust that it is God at work, and
resist our attempts to control the outcome.”
Of course, being Christian does not
make us perfect. Jesus alone is the perfecter of our faith, not ourselves. At
times we Christians are like the ancient Israelites spoken of in the book of
Isaiah. Through Isaiah, God said that they were like a vineyard expected to
produce edible grapes but instead produced wild ones. The Israelites were God’s
chosen people, yet even they were not perfect. Christians are not superior to
other people. In our own religion we worship within differences—Orthodox,
Protestant, Catholic. Yet despite these differences, we have been able to
cooperate to do great things. Every year on Unity Sunday representatives from
different churches in Hong Kong come together for a joint worship service. Speakers
from Orthodox, Protestant, and Catholic churches all contribute to the
Christian radio programs overseen by the Religious Broadcasting and Television
Advisory Committee. And some churches are carrying out joint volunteer efforts
at Christian NGOs. If we can work together with people who have denominational
differences, then surely we can also work together with non-Christians.
Being around non-Christians can provide
us with opportunities to reflect on our own faith. It makes us ask important
questions we need to answer for ourselves and those we share our faith with.
Questions include: What do I value about Christianity? Why have I chosen
Christianity instead of another religion? How can I communicate Christianity to
other people? When we answer these questions, we can find that the sacrifice of
Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit are bringing
us closer to God.
Yes, there is division, but it doesn’t
have to prevail over us. We can overcome division from God’s perspective, a
perspective of peace for all people and prayer for reconciliation. The divide
is not impassible and it is not permanent. God passes through the division and
cares for Christians and non-Christians alike. On the other side of any
division, Christ is also there among the nonbelievers, acting in their lives,
and patiently waiting for them to follow him. God does not give up on
We are not always in control of
division, but God’s love has no boundaries. Let us live in that love and share
it with all.
*idea taken from
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