Reflections...

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

“The Use of Wealth”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 25 September 2016, the nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, by Dr. Hope S. Antone. The scripture readings that day were Amos 6:1a, 4-7; 1 Timothy 6:6-12; 17-19; Luke 16:19-31.


Unique to the gospel according to Luke are two stories in chapter16 that are quite challenging to understand. I think some of us were struck by last Sunday’s reading of the Parable of the Shrewd Manager (Luke 16:1-13). For how could a “dishonest” manager, in the face of being fired, receive commendation from his rich master for reducing people’s debts? And what did Jesus mean by saying, “make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes” (Luke 16:9)?

Does this mean that dishonest wealth is alright? What about the ill-gotten wealth that many of our countries’ leaders are known for? Listening to the parable of the shrewd manager brought these examples to mind: wealth gained through corruption, misappropriation of funds, siphoning of people’s money to dubious accounts abroad; or wealth gained through human trafficking, or the illegal drugs trade.

I can only think that Jesus told the parable from a different time and context than what we know now. There must have been corruption then, but the corruption in modern times, characterized by today’s kind of dishonest or ill-gotten wealth, is more systemic, systematic, highly advanced and complicated. 

Taking the context then of that time, one commentary said that when the manager reduced the debts, he was most likely removing what would have been his gain, through commission. We are quite familiar with commission. It is the additional amount that agents add on top of the suggested price, which consumers do not know anything about, nor do owners care much about as long as their product is sold. By cutting or removing the commission, the manager endeared himself to the debtors while giving his rich master the expected price for his products. For such shrewdness of thinking long-term and acting urgently, this former “dishonest” manager was commended.

So how is this connected to the gospel reading for today about the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)?

As the story goes, a rich man lived in luxury, wearing the most expensive clothes and feasting every day. (According to commentaries, the purple dye was extremely expensive obtained from the shellfish murex). Preoccupied with his self-indulgent life, he did not take notice of a sore-covered beggar named Lazarus, who lay at his gate every day, hoping to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. When Lazarus died, angels carried him to Abraham’s side. When the rich man died, he went to Hades where he was greatly tormented. In agony, the rich man saw Lazarus by the side of Abraham. The rich man called out to “Father Abraham,” asking for Lazarus to be sent to cool his tongue. But Abraham said there was a permanent chasm (separation) between his place of torment and the place of comfort where Lazarus was. The rich man then begged Abraham to send Lazarus to his five siblings so they could avoid getting to the place of torment. But Abraham said they already have Moses and the Prophets (i.e. the Scriptures) to teach them these things.

The rich man did not use his wealth to make friends. He did not find poor and sickly Lazarus worthy to be his friend. It was the dogs that took notice of Lazarus, as they came to lick his sores. Now, these dogs were not the pet dogs of today that are so well fed, well dressed, well groomed, which owners like to walk, talk to and treat as their own children. These were wild dogs that roamed around to fend for themselves, scavenging through garbage, including dead animals. This is why in the Bible, dogs are considered unclean.

In the ancient world, Lazarus’ state of poverty and sickness was viewed as a curse, a consequence of sin; whereas wealth was seen as a sign of divine favor and blessing. Jesus challenged that view through the reversal of life situations in the story: the rich man descending from luxury to suffering; Lazarus ascending from suffering to blessedness. It is to say that it is not true that “wealth = blessing; poverty = curse”.

The parable of the rich man and Lazarus has been used many times to pacify the poor: “You may be suffering now, but think of the eternal bliss you will have in heaven.” The parable has also been used by some zealous preachers to scare people about the torment of hellfire and their need to repent. But there is more to the parable than meets the eye.  

The rich man and Lazarus, two contrasting characters in the story, remind us of the ongoing disparities between the rich and poor. But the reversals of their situations teach us that these disparities are not fixed or divinely ordained. Instead, such disparities are there due to the lack of compassion and responsible stewardship especially on the part of those who have wealth and resources. Indeed, a lot is expected from those who have more.

Many Bible scholars say the parable is more about the use of wealth that can lead to either a blessing or a curse.

Wealth itself is not evil. In the words of Paul for Timothy, the “love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (I Timothy 6:10a). Love of money is shown in how money is used: as a means to exercise power over others which can lead to abuse; as a tool of self-indulgence to satisfy oneself at the neglect of others; as a tool to build a name/reputation for oneself at the expense of others. But there is blessing when wealth is put to the right use, e.g. as a resource to serve others. 

In the story of the shrewd manager, the use of wealth/money is linked to the advice to make friends in order to ensure their welcome and help in the future. In a way, this was still very self-serving, but it marked the beginning of a change. The manager was commended by his rich master for his shrewdness, shown in a change of attitude, a change of strategy, a change in the use of resources entrusted to him.

In the story of the rich man and Lazarus, the use of wealth/money is linked to compassion for the needy, which is the expected response of those who know their Scriptures, symbolized by Moses and the Prophets (Old Testament).

Wealth then takes a dual meaning: material resources that we have been entrusted with; and spiritual resources that we have been gifted with.

Material wealth, whether in the form of money, land or other resources, is not something that we can truly own. We are not to hoard it or to squander it in self-indulgence. It is entrusted to us for our need and joy. We simply borrow it from God, the source of all such things. Or, as some Indigenous people say, we borrow it from the next generation. Indeed, we cannot take any of the material wealth with us when we die. As Paul says to Timothy (I Timothy 6:7), “we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it.” Hence, wealth is a sacred trust. As such, responsible stewardship is expected of us in the use of such wealth. And as the parables show, wealth is to be used as a means of generosity, kindness, mercy and compassion especially for those in need.

Spiritual wealth is also something entrusted to us. When the rich man called on Father Abraham for help, he claimed a religious heritage as a Jew, a person of faith. We Christians can identify with him for we also regard Abraham as our father of faith. But claiming a religious (or denominational) heritage is not a guarantee of salvation. Our spiritual wealth of faith does not consist of church membership or attendance in prayer meetings and Bible studies. These are important for our growth in discipleship but they are means rather than the end of our journey in discipleship. Spiritual wealth should show in our living out our faith, inspired by Scriptures which point to loving God by loving God’s people, the likes of Lazarus who are the outcasts, the unloved, the hopeless and helpless...

It is our task to identity the Lazaruses of our day. We have to be very discerning though as to who they are and how we can be most helpful to them. They are not only the beggar we see on the road. Their call for help may come to us through email, a call, or whatsapp. The help they need may not be the spare coins or lose bills we can give. We have to discern how to be truly helpful in a way that would empower them. As the Chinese proverb reminds us, it is not good to give fish, but to teach people how to fish. But nowadays, we also need to teach people to analyze why there is less fish to catch – e.g. because of climate change, pollution and the abuse of the environment – and what should be done about it. Hence, helping the Lazaruses of our day is a more challenging task…

Paul’s advice to Timothy is a good summary of what it means to have wealth: “As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.” (I Timothy 6:17-19)
                      

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we all have been entrusted with some material wealth and spiritual wealth. May we use it to serve God’s people in faithfulness to our calling as Christ’s disciples.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, September 25, 2016

 

The Gift of Prayer

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 18 September 2016 by the Rev. Ewing W. Carroll, Jr. The scripture readings that day were Jeremiah 8:18-9:1; 1 Timothy 2:1-7, Luke 16:1-13.


Maybe you remember last week’s passage from Exodus 32, where Moses asked God, “O Lord, why does your anger burn hot against your people?” The passage from the prophet Jeremiah in today’s Hebrew Scripture recalls another time when God was so displeased with the Israelites. Their worship of foreign idols and neglect of the poor both angered and saddened God.  Listen again to the final verse of this passage: “Is there no balm in Gilead?  Is there no physician there?  Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?”

In childhood times, some of my friends and I loved singing the old African-American spiritual, “There is a balm in Gilead.”  But jokingly we would often change the word balm [like Tiger Balm Oil] to bomb So we sang, “There is a bomb in Gilead…Boom!”  Little did we know then that today, such bombs remain present and hurtful – throughout the Middle East, especially in Syria and Iraq.

I doubt any of us want to receive a bomb.  But we do love to receive presents, gifts. Right?   Chinese New Year’s laisee packets; Christmas and birthday presents; and special gifts on special occasions.  Occasionally, you’ve received a gift and said “thank you so much” and then asked yourself “What in the world am I going to do with this?”  So you put it away and forgot about it.  Or gave it so someone else?  Today’s epistle lesson in 1 Timothy is about a gift.   One of the most priceless, precious and useful gifts we could ever receive; the gift of prayer.  And if you are at all like me, one seldom used; and when used, not very well.   In many ways, this gift of prayer, is God’s answer to the question, “Is there no balm in Gilead?”  Yes Mr. Jeremiah there is – and that balm is the saving love of Jesus Christ.   Who in turn gives to us the gift of prayer.

Last month our Revised Common Lectionary reading included the passage from Luke where a disciple asked Jesus about prayer. He didn’t ask, “Lord, teach us to pray.”  NOT “Lord, teach us HOW to pray.” Rather “As John taught his disciples.”  Today’s Epistle lesson begins with strong advice and encouragement to the young pastor Timothy, to make prayer a vital part of his daily life.
Today’s hymn “It’s Me, O Lord, Standing in the Need of Prayer” is a reminder of our need to be more serious about our prayer lives – both individually and corporately.  Not our parents, not the pastors, not the church stewards, choir, S.S. teachers – well, yes them too.  But it’s ME.  You and I - standing, sitting, kneeling, driving, running  - however - are all in need of God’s gift of prayer. Let me invite you to say with “Lord, teach me how to pray.”  What gifts of prayer does God give to us? Let me suggest three.

The Gift of Boldness.  Today’s letter to Timothy begins with these words, “First of all then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for everyone.  That’s real boldness. Today’s Gospel talks about a dishonest manager – who acted so boldly – but dishonestly.  Jesus then urged his listeners [and you and me] to be equally as bold in honesty and faithfulness.  And that includes in being bold in our prayer life.

One afternoon a woman told her office friends that beginning tomorrow, she was going on a diet.  No more cake, pies and puddings.  The next day she came to work with a HUGE chocolate cream cake.  “Wow, what happened to your diet?” they asked.  “Well, when I passed by the bakery this morning, I saw this cake in the windowSo I said  ‘Lord if you want me to have this cake, let there be an empty parking spot right in front of the bakery’.  Well, you know what? I drove around the bakery 14 times; and then on the 15th time there was a vacant spot right in front of the bakery!”   Boldness or an excuse?  You be the judge.

Timothy was reminded that in all circumstances, to be bold in prayer, including praying for everyone – not just the people we know, love, respect or like.  That ALL, includes those individuals, nations, and systems that we find enemies or dislike. Whether it’s one time around the block – or a million times, God invites us to be bold in prayer. 

The Gift of Patience. We live in such a Fast Food world.  News of terrorists bombings, murders, attempted overthrow of governments; natural and human disasters – the list is longer than a dragon’s tail.  There is no longer tomorrow’s news – we see it unfolding right before our eyes, NOW.  Patience now seems to be a sign of weakness or ancient history.  We prefer microwaves to slow cookers – whether it’s food or prayer.

Our prayer, “O Lord, thy will be done.” often includes “and give me patience ---- now.“ Don’t be confused – patience in prayer is not idleness.  It’s not selfishness or disinterest.    Recall John Wesley’s words, “Be patient, God’s not finished with me yet.” God’s gifts of prayer include boldness and patience.  They also include gratitude.

The Gift of Gratitude. Our prayers often express more about disaster than delight; more about grief than gladness; more about sadness than serenity.  How strange: we seem more comfortable praying in times of danger and difficulty; as though the only way to reach God is with a 999 emergency call.  Let’s be clear: however, whenever, wherever we pray, God always hears; always responds; and always provides.  According to God’s will, not ours.  And for this we are grateful.

Martin Rinkart, a pastor in the German Lutheran church, was born in 1586 in Eilenburg, a small town in the mid-eastern part of today’s Germany.   During the Thirty Years War [1618-1648], Eilenburg suffered untold religious, political, physical and economic turmoil.  Famine and disease were rampant.  People were daily dying by the hundreds.  There were four Protestant pastors in Eilenburg; one fled to a safer place; two died from the plague; Rinkart was the sole surviving pastor.  During the War’s latter years, in one year alone, he conducted some 4,500 funerals, including that of his wife!  And yet Rinkart could pen these unbelievable words of gratitude that we sang at the beginning of today’s worship:
Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in whom this world rejoices…
And ending with these words:
 All praise and thanks to God…whom earth and heaven adore;
 for thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.


I wish for you today God’s amazing and incredible gift of prayer. Pray with boldness; pray patiently and always pray with gratitude – with your hearts, hands and voices.  Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, September 18, 2016

 
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 11 September 2016, the seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Exodus 32:7–14 ; 1 Timothy 1:12–17; Luke 15:1–10.


I would like to begin with the gospel reading taken from Luke – a parable of lost sheep and lost coins.

This parable is a familiar story to many about God’s love and we are all the lost sheep that Jesus Christ is wanting to find.  It has been used by evangelists to convert people to Christ.

The context of the parable

The parable of the lost sheep and coin was said when
Jesus was attacked for being with the tax collectors and sinners by the Pharisees, the religious leaders. Jesus spoke to them this parable to show his love and unconditional acceptance to sinners.

Jesus was challenged by the Pharisees because he stayed so close to sinners. The tax collectors were officials who served the Roman Empire. They were wicked people, unwelcomed by the Jews. For the sinners, they referred to the poor, the sick, the prostitutes – nobodies in society. 

With this parable, Jesus is in reverse challenging the Pharisees, the people of faith.

Jesus’ parable is a challenge to us too, as Christians today who claim ourselves as Jesus’ disciples.

Many Christians are only Christians in name. They go to church on Sunday. They are called Sunday Christians. There are Christians attending prayer meetings and Bible study. They have even given offerings. But they do not really believe in Christ because they don’t follow what Jesus did – to love the lost, the rejected and the marginalized, and to go and find them even at the expanse of their life. More importantly they don’t lead a life of repentance.

The parable of the lost sheep challenges us to reflect on this:

Do we live like the Pharisees having no love but hate and rejection of others in our family, our church, and community?

In a paradoxical understanding- whenever we are living in a state of hate and rejection of someone and in ourselves, we become the lost sheep who are suffering from a loss of soul in God’s love.

Rejoice

The journey of returning and going home of the lost is a great joy to God. In the parable Jesus does not mention the joy of the neighbour and community they are living in. He mentions the joy is from heaven and in the presence of the angels. It is remarkable! Bringing back the lost to community may not be a joy to some members. Obviously the Pharisee and the religious leaders are not that happy. That’s the reason they challenged Jesus to eat and stay together with the sinners. But one thing is sure, the Shepherd is happy. The God of heaven and the angels are happy.

Of course, I must say to receive the lost into the community is a challenge to the community. The community is required to prepare and change in their mind set.

Rejoice because of the ‘repentance of the sinners

Luke said, “When he found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, ‘rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (v. 5-7)

“I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (v. 10)

In the return of the lost, joy comes from the ‘Repentance of the sinners’. Repentance of the sinners has been emphasized.

What is repentance meant?

In Hebrew, the word repentance is represented by two verbs: שוב shuv (to return) and נחם nicham (to feel sorrow).

Repentance in Greek - Metanoia is therefore meaning primarily – to think differently after; “a change of mind accompanied by regret and change of conduct, "change of mind and heart".

Repentance in Chinese – Fui Kui (悔改) Fuiconsists of the word – heart & every time/often; and the word Kui  change – change your heart every day.

Repentance is a change of mind and heart every now and then. Repentance is a life-long faith journey!

From a Christian religious point of view, repentance is turning to God and refocusing our life in God. It points to a reorientation to a new life as well.

Repentance is God’s nature

In the scripture reading of the Old Testament taken from the book of Exodus 32, we saw an angry God who was very unhappy with the Israelites who were set free from Egypt by Him. But these people turned away from Him and created their own god to worship. God judged them harshly and planned to destroy them. But after Moses spoke to him and convinced him not to punish his people, God changed his mind. From the biblical account of Exodus, we find that God changed his mind. God is not an iron board without room to change. No! God does change.  God did change his mind after dialogues with his servant Moses. God turned his destruction to a focus on life. God turned his anger to mercy. God turned his rejection to embrace. God reflects his mercy to his people. He is willing to give chances to his people to change. 

If God changes his mind, why not us? If God changes his mind for the sake of his people, why not us? Moses interceded for his people. He asked for God’s change of mind on behalf of his people. Will we do the same?

God changes. Repentance is God’s nature!

Repentance is very important in living a Christian life. It is a life-long faith journey.

The power of repentance

The Apostle Paul from the letter of 1 Timothy shows us the power of repentance in his life.

Paul was a person with a high position who persecuted Christians in the early church era. He became a converted Christian after a very traumatic experience in encountering the love of God in Jesus. He was then called to serve the Lord with great commitment. He set up churches for the gentiles and was devoted to nurture the early churches and Christ’s disciples. He had even given his life in his course of serving Christ.

The biblical account of Paul’s experience informs us of an important message: We are all sinners graced by God’s love and forgiveness in Christ. 

There is no sin that is too great to forgive. There is no sin that is too mild to ignore. Jesus eats with the sinners. It is not the sins that matter. It is the grace of repentance that endures.

Sisters and brothers, we are all lost sheep requiring repentance in our lives.  Like Jesus and Paul, we are called to be shepherds at the same time.

As disciples, we are all called to be the shepherd to find the lost sheep and bring them back to the love of God. In doing so we have to be a humble sheep in the first place, being found by God and return to his home of love.

Last week, Pastor Maggie shared her message on discipleship. She shared that the provision God makes for us when we answer that call. And that in doing so we are made new and can try again and again.

We are made new and can try again and again only when we are willing to repent every now and then.

We are made new only when we are humble before God to seek forgiveness and change.

We are made new only when we are taking actions in a new course of life path which God delights.

Conclusion

In Moses’ dialogue with the Lord, he asked God not to kill the Israelites and God changed his mind in the Book of Exodus.

The Apostle Paul’s repentance account and assertion of Jesus Christ, the son of God who came to the world to save sinners, in 1 Timothy.    

Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep from Luke, of God’s radical love to the marginalized and vulnerable.

All these scriptures today inspire in us one important message:

Repentance is God’s nature and is God’s gift for his beloved children.

Repentance is a life-long faith journey for all believers.

The bad news is we are all sinners. We are living in a sinful world.

But the good news is we are all God’s beloved children and He is calling us home to be reconnected to the source of life and source of love.

Although the world is sinful, God does not give up and do his best to save. Jesus Christ is pointing the way for us .

In repentance, we seek God’s grace again and again, to live a life of conversion that transform sorrow to joy, despair to hope, division to unity, hatred to love, fear to peace.

Sisters and brothers, in living an eternal life, we need to take action like the shepherd and the owner of the coin – go and find, and then bring back the lost to the community, to rejoice before the angels of heaven.


Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, September 11, 2016

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