Meditations, Reflections, Bible Studies, and Sermons from Kowloon Union Church
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union
Church on Sunday 26 February 2017, Radio Broadcast Service, by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that
day were Exodus 24:12-18; Matthew 17:1-9.
Holy Spirit comes to us. Open our heart to receive your word. May your
Word inspire and transform us in Your grace.
May all glory be to you God, the light
of the world. Amen.
this year, my father would have passed away for 10 years.
mysterious encounter with God on the mountain led me to remember my father’s
mysterious encounter with God when he was critically ill in hospital.
suffered from lung problems. Eighty per cent of his lung was damaged. He was
sent to the hospital when he could hardly breathe. One night his condition was
critical and he was struggling with life and death. But he was saved. The next
day when I visited him he shared with me his vision. He said while he was lying
on the bed, a man wearing a white robe came to him. This man spoke to him, ‘you
are a good man and you will not die so soon.’ After saying this he left. My
father could describe very clearly his vision. He said both my sister and I
were also present. He could even remember the exact location we were standing
beside him. After the vision in that critical night, my father recovered a bit
and was discharged from the hospital. He then confirmed his faith and was
baptized a week before he passed away. I witnessed how my father changed after
his mysterious encounter with the man wearing a white robe when he was half
conscious and half sleeping.
encounter, he always mentioned about a word - truth. He said with truth inside
his heart, life becomes so different. At that time I had no idea what he meant
by truth because it was not a familiar word that he used.
period of time, my father was in and out hospital quite often. Whenever I
visited him at home or in the hospital, he was open and ready to share his
feeling. He shared a lot of his past – both successes and failures. In those
days, he expressed his deep appreciation to our mother. He shared with me and
other sisters how our mother supported him when he was struggling hardship in
life. I was amazed by his courage to face his vulnerability and brokenness. When
he was young, he had an accident. Half of his right foot was amputated. He always
wore sock with that foot and did not allow anyone to see it. But now he no longer
hides his broken foot and broken past. He allowed my elder sister to message
his body. This was a breakthrough because he always kept physical distance from
period of time, although my father suffered from illness, he was happy. I
believed that it was the spirit of truth inside him that set him free. He said
it was the happiest time in his life. Can you image an old man of 86, in and
out hospital, suffering from breathless moments saying, this is the happiest
time in his life?
He was relaxed
to face the reality of death. He had even openly talked about how he would like
his body to be buried after death. His wish was to bring his ashes back to his
home town in China. I witnessed the transforming grace my father had gone
through after his personal encounter with God.
and Moses encountered God in the mountain, my father encountered God in
hospital and in his illness. Mountain can
be taken as a symbol of God’s divine presence. We can encounter God’s divine
presence and subsequent transforming grace in a place
that we may not have thought of.
Of course, we may not necessarily have the
dramatic experience like Moses, Jesus, his inner circle of disciples such as
Peter, or like my father. But we still have
the opportunity to encounter with the divine power and
experience God’s transforming grace in Christ.
The word ‘transfigured’ translated in
Greek meaning changes deeply within a person.
The mountain to encounter God’s divine
presence that may bring changes within a person could be in the worships, in the
retreats, in the market, in the kitchen, in bedroom, in the classroom, in the
work place and in the demonstrations… anywhere and anytime that you can think of. But it
requires our attentions and presence.
Transforming Grace – require us to spend time with
and his disciples encountered God in the mountain. Although the mountain could
be taken as a symbol of God’s presence, physical setting however is important
to help us to stay close to God. Our deliberate effort to set aside time and a suitable
venue to retreat, to pray, to speak and to listen to God is extremely important
We live a
very busy life in HK. Our work is demanding. Our family is demanding. The
instant news and massive information flow everyday are very overwhelming. Many
unresolved social problems, social conflicts and divisions are depressing to
many people. The advanced technology in
our hands compels us to respond immediately. Living in such a stressful and
fast moving society, we need to be spiritually aware, to slow down, and let our
soul be still and be connected to God. The Psalmist has reminded us ‘Be still
and know that I am God’. (Psalm 46:1)
Only when we
open ourselves, and prepare space and time for God, are we able to encounter
God’s full presence and receive Christ’s transforming grace.
Today is the
last Sunday of Epiphany. Next week we will start a new season of Lent. Lent is
a season to remind us to pray, to fast and to give. Lent is an important time
for Christians to walk with Jesus, in his wilderness and in his passion.
Transforming grace – Listen to Jesus
of Jesus’ transfiguration is spiritually rich and we could be inspired in many
One of those
is about Peter’s reaction. Peter was amazed by the glorious moment when Moses,
Elijah and Jesus were all together. He wanted to keep this fantastic and
glorious moment by building dwellings. But it was definitely not the idea of
Jesus. After the transfiguration, Jesus went down the mountain with his
disciples. He went back to the community to heal the sick and to serve the
needed. God’s glory cannot be contained into a dwelling. In a similar way, the
church which is built to witness Christ and honor God should never be reduced
to a building. No matter how beautiful the church building, if the Church is
not living a life like Christ to serve the needed and to do justice for the
oppressed, it is nothing in God! Christ has called the church to bring God’s
kingdom on earth as in heaven and transform the world by his grace.
transfiguration vision, Jesus’ appearance was changed and he was filled with
the divine glory. This majestic image revealed Jesus’ divinity. He was fully
divine and fully human. A divine voice from
the cloud asked the disciples to listen to Jesus, God’s beloved son, with him
he was well pleased.
In the past
few Sundays, we have heard many of Jesus’ teaching on the mount through the
gospel of Matthew. To mention a few, Jesus taught us to forgive, to love your
enemy, to give with generosity, to pray with sincerity, to take the cross and
deny yourself .
transfiguration vision today reminds us to listen to Jesus. Listening requires
us to remember and live out Jesus’ teaching with efforts. Jesus in his earthly
life had set a good example for us to follow. We have to listen to his words
and follow his deeds. Sisters and brothers, let us do our best. And let us also
help each other and support each other to make our life and our church bear witness
to Christ. We know we cannot walk alone.
In the vision
of Jesus’ transfiguration, Moses and Elijah appeared. According to biblical
commentaries, Moses represents the Law, Elijah represents the prophet, and Jesus
represents Grace. The divine voice from the cloud spoke to the disciples and
asked them to listen to Jesus. At the end, both Moses and Elijah disappeared.
Only Jesus stayed.
The vision suggests that grace is the most important. The Law and the Prophets must give way to Jesus. Jesus Christ is the new and living
way in replacing the old – He is the fulfillment of the Law and the countless
prophecies in the Old Testament.
Christ, God’s beloved Son who reveals God’s glory and honor came to transform
the world with his grace. Jesus came to love and to liberate. Jesus’
transforming grace reminds us to challenge all rigid rules and traditions that enslave people. For example, the literal interpretation of the bible to justify
women’s second class status and discrimination against homosexuals need to be
revisited and re-examined. As Christians we need to learn from Jesus. Open our
hearts to him, the light of the world and the Holy Spirit that guide us to the
truth and set us and the world free.
transfiguration vision, another episode that inspired was Jesus’ response to
his terrifying disciples -‘Get up and do not be afraid’
When the divine voice from the cloud told the
disciples to listen to Jesus, they fell to the ground and were overcome by
fear. Listening to Jesus was a great challenge to the disciples. Listening to
Jesus requires obedience and follow Christ’s way of life. Christ’s way of life
is suffering, pain and death. Before Jesus took Peter, John and James to the
mountain, he told them he would suffer, be killed but would rise from the death.
The spiritual journey with Jesus is indeed a tough one. It is a narrow road to
that to walk in his way is hard. But he assured his disciples by going to them,
touching them, and encouraging them by saying ‘get up and do not be afraid.’
Christ’ way of life, Christians speak the truth, practice freedom of religion,
defend the weak, forgive and reconcile with your enemy…all these require us to
pay the cost, big or small. Some sisters and brothers have had lost their homes,
freedom or even their lives.
To listen to
Jesus and follow his footstep is a hard way to go. Up on the mountain Jesus
spoke to his terrified disciples, “get up and do not be afraid.” Today, Jesus
speaks to us who are frightened and hesitate to follow him, ‘Get up and do not
be afraid.’ This is the grace given by
Jesus Christ, the One who has deeply changed on the mountain top and revealed
his divinity in God’s glory.
brothers, will you come and receive this transforming grace from Christ, and to
make changes in your life and in your faith journey?
A sermon preached at
Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 19 February 2017, the seventh Sunday after Epiphany, by Timothy Chan. The scripture
readings that day were Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18; Psalm 119:33-40; Matthew 5:38-48.
Today we read in the book of Leviticus, the Lord says
“you shall be holy, for I the lord your God am Holy”. Then we read in the
Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father
is perfect”. When I was preparing the sermon, I struggled. For being perfect
and holy is so difficult. Then I realize talking about perfection and holiness
is much easier than being holy and perfect. That was when I started writing my
sermon. I think this feeling of powerlessness and helplessness is actually
helping us to be humble, and most of all, to realize how much we need the grace
and love of God. Before we go into the text, let’s pray:
Loving God, please help us to understand your
holiness and perfection. And teach us how we can be like you. Strengthen us to
love our neighbor as well as our enemies. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.
What does it mean by being holy and perfect? I have a
little story to share. A few years ago, I came to know a girl in a dating app
and she is also a Christian. After chatting for a while, she found out I was
studying theology and was preparing to work in a ministry. Then she was so
shocked and disappointed! She said she could not accept me using a dating app.
For she thought a theology student should be holy, and should not be using any
dating app. For her, obviously, dating app is evil, anyways, I don’t know why
she was using it. And of course, we stopped talking.
Sometimes, when we think of Holiness, we think of a
white cloth, no dirt on it, so clean, so white and shiny. We think if we want
to be Holy, we should try hard to keep ourselves clean. If we don’t drink, then
we can be holy, if we don’t smoke, then we can be holy, if we do not have sex,
then we can be holy, if we do nothing, then we can be holy. Because when you do
nothing, you believe the possibility of making a mistake is ZERO. Sometime we
think God is a hygiene freak, or an Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder patient, that
he cannot tolerate any of our imperfections and wrongdoings. We then perceive
Holiness as not sinning. We see Holiness as something which is measurable and
countable, and it would lead us to fall into a trap of comparing ourselves with
others and to self-righteousness and hypocrisy. “I am holier than you, because
I am heterosexual. I am holier than you, because you sin more than me! I am
closer than God because you smoke and drink!” These are what Jesus condemned
the most during his ministry.
Holiness is not about judging others and comparing
ourselves with others. Holiness is a nature of God. It is not something we can
obtain through our own righteousness, but it is a divine gift God has given to
us and shared with us.
In the scripture we are reading today, being holy and
being perfect is to extend our love to our neighbors and to our enemies. To be
holy and to be perfect, is to go beyond the dos and don’ts, go beyond
the rules and regulations. We can do everything right as a Christian, going to
church, reading the bible, fasting or praying, or offering our tithe, but if we
are not loving our neighbor, or trying to love our enemies, we are still far
away from being children of God. Just as Jesus challenges the Pharisees and
religious leaders taking pride of following the law, Jesus challenges us to live
out the law. Going beyond the law, and participating in what God is
doing, then we shall share the Holiness of God. To be holy and perfect is to
participate in God’s holiness just as we partake of God’s image.
We may not be perfect and holy all the time, but it
is a journey, a journey of becoming and perfection. In Orthodox Church
traditional, they call it sanctification. Salvation is a journey of becoming
like God. In this Journey, there are always ups and downs. There are
moments that we were so angry and we feel so tired to be perfect. Brothers and
sisters, God does not call us to be sinless, for we are all sinners, and we
need God because we are weak. However, when we are trying to love and to
forgive, we are participating in God’s holiness. Old Testament scholar Walter
Kaiser has a good remark on God’s holiness, he said "God's holiness
acts both as model and as motivating force in the development and maintenance
of a holy character."
Being perfect and holy should not be a pressure.
God’s holiness is an example for us, and is our goal. God loves and forgives
our enemies, so can we. God’s holiness and perfection is a sign of hope that we
can overcome hatred and vengeance.
That’s why Jesus challenges us to go beyond
our neighbor, go beyond those who love us, to love our enemies. Jesus
said “You have heard that it was said. ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate
your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who
persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” Loving
those who love us is easy, but to love and pray for our enemies is difficult.
But this is what God has done for us. He died on the cross, surrounded by
people who wanted to kill him, but he chose to forgive and include them in the
In this Journey, there is another hurdle we need to go
beyond, Fairness. “It’s not fair!” When Jesus said “Do not resist an
evildoer” and suggested “if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the
other also!” This is unfair, this is just impossible. Some theologians and
scholars try to justify what Jesus said is to shame the evildoers. However,
what you gain by shaming your enemies? And by not resisting an evildoer, do we
actually give in to evil and injustice? How can we pursue righteousness and
justice, and at the same time, be able to love and forgive our enemy?
During the umbrella movement in 2014, 7 police were
caught kicking and beating up a protestor in a dark corner by a news camera
man, and everyone in front of the television can see what was happening. It
enrages many people in Hong Kong. Last week, they were found guilty, and were
sentenced to jail for 2 years. Many people in Hong Kong are celebrating,
Justice prevails, read the newspaper headline. Many people were teasing them
and cursing them on the Internet. However, do the 7 police feel sorry for what
they did? The Commissioner of Police did not apologize for what they have done,
and the police supporters believe it is wrong to convict them. The 7 police
were found guilty and they are in jail now. However, does the relationship
between the police force and citizens improve? There is no reconciliation. The
tension between the police and citizens is still there.
To love our enemy is challenging us to go beyond
fairness, of course justice is important! we are not saying we can omit justice
when we are pursuing forgiveness. But justice without love and forgiveness
would not bring us reconciliation and redemption. In 1957, Martin Luther King
Jr. has given a talk on nonviolence. He said:
Another thing that we had to get over was the fact
that the nonviolent resister does not seek to humiliate or defeat the opponent
but to win his friendship and understanding… The aftermath of non-violence is
reconciliation and the creation of a beloved community. It is merely a means to
awaken a sense of shame within the oppressor but the end is reconciliation. The
end is redemption.
Only if we can go beyond fairness, we can
pursue reconciliation and redemption for both the evildoers and the oppressed.
When Jesus is talking about loving your enemy, he
says “for God makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on
the righteous and on the unrighteous.” Is it fair or not? But think about why
we would feel unfair? Because most of the time, we think “we are the righteous
and they are the unrighteous; we are right, and they are wrong!” And we think
“God, why you chose to forgive him? He is such an evildoer, Why can’t you just
remove him from our community? So our church can be a better place?” Modern
theologian Miroslav Volf said in his book “Exclusion & Embrace”:
“Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy
from the community of humans even as I exclude myself from the community of
sinners. But no one can be in the presence of the God of the crucified Messiah
for long without overcoming this double exclusion”
One of the reasons why it is so difficult to forgive
is because we exclude our enemies from our community, they are not one of us
and we are eager to exclude our enemies from being part of us. And at the same
time, we exclude ourselves from the community of sinners, we think we are not
one of them, we think we are better.
To embrace our enemies and pray for those who
persecute us is an invitation for us to go beyond our
self-righteousness, to see we also need others to forgive us. If we victimize
ourselves all the time, we would always place ourselves in opposition with our
enemies. Only if we go beyond our self-righteousness, we would see the
common thing we share with our enemies, which is the fact that we are both
consumed by hatred and desperate for redemption and love whether we realize it
or not. Loving our enemies is never easy. German theologian Bonhoeffer gets
right at the heart of this passage he wrote in his book “Cost of Discipleship”:
"By our enemies Jesus means those who are quite
intractable and utterly unresponsive to our love, ... [but] ... Love asks
nothing in return, but seeks those who need it.
And who needs our love more than those who are consumed with hatred and
utterly devoid of love?" "The love of our enemies takes us along the
way of the cross and into fellowship with the Crucified."
If we can love our enemies, I am sure the love is not
from us, only the love of God can lead us to love our enemies. Only the love of
God can be so powerful to break down walls of hatred, and draw us together with
Brothers and sisters, God calls us to be Holy, for he
is Holy, and to be perfect, as our heavenly father is perfect. It is a mission
impossible if we rely on our own strength and love. However, it is always
possible if we surrender ourselves to God and participate in God’s holiness.
Only if we partake in the love of God, we can go beyond rules and
regulations to love our neighbors, and we can go beyond our neighbors,
to love our enemies, and we can go beyond our self-righteousness, to
seek reconciliation. Sometimes the love of God is not making sense to us! It is
not about how hard we try, but how much we surrender to God.
I would like to end my sermon with a Buddhist story.
One day a master is giving a challenge to his pupils. They were all given a big
broken vessel, and the master is asking them to fill the broken vessel with
water. Some of them team up and use all the containers they could find to fill
the water into the vessel, hoping they can fill the water faster than it leaks.
No matter how hard they try, how fast they bring the water, the vessel is never
filled. The other monk tries something different. He then sits himself inside
the broken vessel, and say: I am the water, the water is me, I am in the
vessel, so the vessel is filled with water. The master says “No, stop
pretending to be philosophical”. When they were frustrated and asked the master
how to fill a broken vessel with water. The master picks up those vessels, and
throws them into a pool and watch them sink, then he said “now they are filled
Brothers are sisters, we are never perfect, we are
all broken, but only if we allow ourselves to submerge in the love of God, we
can be filled, so we can be Holy and perfect, not because we can be, but
because our God alone is Holy and perfect. In this journey of becoming holy and
perfect, we are not alone. Let’s walk in this journey together as a community
and as a church. Amen.
Outward Deeds or Inner Thoughts
A sermon preached at
Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 12
February 2017, the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, by Dr. Hope S. Antone. The scripture
readings that day were Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Matthew 5:21-37
These past weeks, our scripture
readings and sermons have focused mostly on the Sermon on the Mount, which
covers chapters 5-7 in the Gospel according to Matthew. The Sermon on the Mount
is not one sermon but a collection of Jesus’s sayings or teachings. In the
Gospel according to Luke, it is the Sermon on the Plain, covering only a
portion of Luke chapter 6 (vss. 20-49). Some scholars have suggested that
situating the sermon on “the Mount” was significant for the community addressed
by the gospel according to Matthew. As a community with Jewish background, they
were familiar with Moses who received and gave the 10 Commandments from Mount
Sinai. Thus, they could readily see the shift from Moses of old, to Jesus of
The Sermon on the Mount is like a
summary of teachings on what it means to live in God’s reign, to be citizens of
God’s kingdom, or to be members of the household of God. One Sunday, we heard
the descriptions of what it means to be blessed in the context of God’s reign –
where blessedness is the opposite to the usual values of the world. Last
Sunday, we heard the reminder for Christ’s disciples to be the salt of the
earth and the light of the world. Today, we are invited to reflect on what this
means in our daily living.
In Matthew 5:21-37, Jesus teaches the
disciples to look beyond or behind outer deeds (external behavior), and into
their inner thoughts (internal attitude). For Jesus, being part of God’s
community does not consist of simply following the commandments. Said in the
negative, the commandments “Do not to murder”, “Do not commit adultery”, “Do
not swear falsely” seemed quite easy to follow – that is, just by NOT doing
anything. So today, let us follow Jesus in trying to see what’s really behind
First, we see Jesus teaching that there is something
stronger than the act of murder; that it is anger that makes one liable to
judgment in the hell of fire. It is like saying that behind the act of murder,
harboring anger against someone, or calling someone names (like “You
fool/idiot/stupid”, or in today’s language, “Son of a bitch,”) constitutes
“murder” in one’s heart.
We all get angry, right? [Is there
anyone here who has never been angry?] People get angry for many different
reasons. Children having tantrum, terrorists, suicide bombers, perpetrators
and/or victims of violence have different reasons for their rage. Even the
60-year old man who threw a Molotov cocktail at the MTR last Friday night had,
according to a news article, “personal reasons” for his action.
Psychology tells us that anger is
natural and the most automatic response to pain. Usually resulting from
rejection, loss, or threat, it occurs when the feeling of pain is combined with
anger-triggering thoughts, such as revenge (hurting someone who hurt me first).
A cardiologist, Cynthia Thaik, wrote that anger and hatred are the most toxic
emotions one can have. The toxin is
not only directed at the person one is angry with; it can also affect oneself.
Medical practitioners have said that when anger and hatred build up in one’s
mind, they affect the body’s organs and natural processes. So when one is angry
with someone, one also hurts oneself. When one harbors hatred or bitterness in one’s
heart, one is poisoning oneself.
is told about the Buddha:
One day, as the Buddha was walking through the
village, an angry young man came up to him and said: “You have no right to be
teaching others. You are as stupid as everyone else. You are nothing but a
Not upset by the insults, the Buddha asked the young
man: “Tell me, if you buy a gift for someone, and that person refuses to accept
it, to whom does the gift belong?”
“Of course, it would belong to me because I bought
the gift,” the man replied.
“It is exactly the same with your anger,” the Buddha
smiled. If you become angry with me and I do not get insulted, the anger falls
back on you.”
Jesus reminds us, it is not enough to
deal with acts of murder. We must deal with the anger that leads to broken
relationships. And to do this, much more is expected from those who belong to
God’s community, who have already been embraced by God’s grace: “when you are
offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister
has something against you, leave your gift before the altar and go; first be
reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift”
(5:23-24). This means that the kind of worship and praise that God prefers is
the healing or restoration of our relationships, not simply our offering of
gifts at the altar. And who is our brother or sister? It is everyone in God’s
community, all in the household of God!
Second, we see Jesus teaching that more than committing
adultery, looking at someone lustfully also constitutes “adultery” in one’s
heart. Jesus gives a very strong warning that if one’s eye caused one to commit
adultery, it is better for it to be cut off and thrown away. Although this
teaching about adultery is made in reference to marriage and divorce and is
addressed only to men, it could actually apply to everyone and all human
What is the difference between lust and
love? A website described lust as generally a deep physical attraction for another
person, while love includes an emotional engagement with the person. Lust comes
on strong and quickly; whereas, love is nurtured, built on trust, loyalty and
emotional/mental attachment. Lust is a romantic infatuation, while love keeps
people together long after the infatuation has faded. Other people say that
there is a thin line between the two; or that lust can grow into love. But I
think the root of Jesus’ teaching is fidelity in relationships. Without
fidelity, lust and anger can easily seep in.
story is told about a Hindu sage who taught his disciples the
difference between people who are angry and people in love. He said:
When two people are angry at each other, their hearts
are far apart. To cover that distance they must shout to hear each other. The
angrier they are, the louder they will have to shout to cover that great
When two people are in love, they talk softly because
their hearts are very close. The distance between them is either nonexistent or
very small. When they love each other even more, they do not speak but only
whisper. Finally they even need not whisper; they only look at each other. That
is how close two people are when they love each other.
The teaching on divorce comes closely
with the teaching on adultery. This was at a time when men generally treated
their wives as property that they could get rid of easily. Jesus’ teaching is
therefore counter-cultural, a reminder to bring in fidelity and commitment in
Third, we see Jesus teaching something beyond the act of
making vows and oaths. In those days, the Jews swore by different kinds of things (gold,
earth, beard, the head, the temple, God, heaven). When they really meant
something, they would use strong language, involving God. The act of saying a vow or an oath aloud gave it a
binding force (Numbers 30:3) in traditional Jewish law. If they didn’t intend to keep
the vow, they would swear by lesser things (beard, hair, the earth). It seems
that Jesus finds the act of swearing an indication of people’s tendency to lie
or break promises. For Jesus, making an
oath with no intention of doing or fulfilling it is a big NO, NO. He says, “Do
not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is God’s throne, or by the earth,
for it is God’s footstool…
Now what is behind this teaching? What
is the inner intention or inward attitude that Jesus was trying to drive at?
There is more to making the vows or oaths. What is at stake is the integrity
and honesty of those making them. The citizens in God’s kingdom/God’s community
should have honesty and integrity to say what they mean, mean what they say,
and do what they say and mean. If one is honest and has integrity, one’s word can be
trusted without having to make a vow or an oath.
do have swearing and oath taking to this day. We make an oath or swear to God who serves as witness that we are
speaking the truth (an assertory oath) or intending to fulfill a vow (a
promissory oath). Depending on the predominant religion of the country, new
leaders make their oath on a cross, the Bible, the Quran, or what have you.
Different careers have their own oathtaking (e.g. Hippocratic Oath for doctors;
Nightingale Pledge for nurses; Promise of Obedience for pastors/priests;
Teachers’ Pledge for educators, etc.). Since marriage is a civil contract, the
making of the vows is also part of any wedding.
Last week, Beng Seng and I attended the
wedding of my nephew in the Philippines. I watched him grow from a baby until
he left home to study medicine and now he is a medical doctor. It was
interesting that aside from the set vows of the church which he and his bride
said by repeating after the pastor, they also had their own personal vows which
they read to each other at the wedding service. I was struck by my nephew’s
down-to-earth promise, which somehow went like this (though not in these exact
“I promise to disappoint you, Fiona, when I will
leave a shirt on the floor, delay cleaning the toilet, or miss an important
occasion; but I promise to pick myself up after every failure and strive again
to be a better husband…”
“Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No,
No’.” Read in our context today – given the many demands for our time and
commitment from work, family, civic engagement, or hobbies – this statement is
a word of caution. We need to learn to prioritize, observe time management, and
have the ability to say YES or NO, appropriately.
Our Lord, Christ Jesus, said in Matthew
5:17, “Do not think that I have come to
abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” We
saw this by looking at his teachings in Matthew 5:21-37. Christ Jesus taught
that behind the act of murder is internal anger or hatred; behind the act of
adultery is lust; behind the act of swearing is the tendency or propensity to
lie. May we strive to check and transform these inner thoughts and internal
attitudes, so that, together with our outer deeds and external behavior, our
lives may truly glorify God forever. May it be so.
Be the Salt and Light
A sermon preached at Kowloon
Union Church on Sunday 5 February 2017, the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture
readings that day were Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 112:1-9; N.T. Matthew
morning sisters and brothers. Happy Lunar New Year! May I wish you all good
health and good spirit.
In the past few months, I went pretty often to
two places. One is to the hospital as a few of our brothers and sisters from
church suffered from different health challenges.
All friends whom I visited at the hospital
appreciated the medical service but complained a lot about the food. They also
said the food in the hospital is awful because it is tasteless. Perhaps it is for health reasons, they put little
or even no salt in the food.
Food without salt is difficult to take. Salt
helps to bring out the flavour of the food and make it more tasty. Good and tasty food makes people joyful and
healthy. Because patients in general don’t like the food provided by the hospital,
no wonder during the visiting hours, patients are brought food by their family
members and friends. The ward during the
visitation hour is usually full of people, full of love and full of joy.
Salt is cheap and ordinary today but when it
is used properly, it brings goodness and joy to others. Some people may be
thinking: “I am small and ordinary”. I am only a small potato in family, in
work and in the community I belong to. With Jesus’ calling each one of us to be
God’s beloved children, we should never look down upon ourselves. We are God’s
precious gift that could live a life with meaning and bring meaning to others
like the small salt crystal.
In the past few months another place I went
pretty often was the funeral home. I
attended several funeral services, one was for a friend’s mother, Mrs Yau. I
was deeply touched by a message shared by an old lady in remembrance of Mrs Yau
at the service. Mrs Yau was her auntie. This old lady is in her 70s. She said
with grief that the love of her auntie urged her to speak. This old lady was an
orphan when she was a child. Mrs Yau was her only close relative. She said her
auntie treated her like her own daughter, deeply loved and cared for her. Even
after Mrs Yau bore her own children, she still treated her equally and no less
love was given. Even after she got married and has her own children, her auntie
continued to care for her whole family. Therefore she was so much in debt of
Mrs Yau was a full time housewife for most of
her life, taking care of her family, children and grand-children. Her life may
be considered ordinary. But she lived her life in full by sharing love and care
to her own children and to another child who did not have her own parents. Mrs
Yau was deeply respected and loved by her children who grew up into mature
people with good education to make contribution to the society both in Hong
Kong and overseas. Mrs Yau had shone her life with success because of her
unselfish love and generosity to others.
Mrs Yau leads me to remember my Indonesia
domestic helper Mimi. She was with me for eight years helping Tong and I to
take care of our children when they were young, and with all the house works. I
am very grateful to have Mimi spending her youthful years to support us. She
was faithful to our family and loved us so much. Her relationship with my
children has been so deep. My son Daniel had once said Mimi was like her mother
taking care of him. No wonder when Mimi left for Indonesia and to start her own
family, Daniel cried for over half a year. Mimi may be an ordinary woman but
she lived a life extra-ordinary for us. She has been a light shone in our
family and in our life. She continues to shine her life as she lives with love
for her own family and gives the best of her gifts to others. I would never
forget this sister in my life.
Mimi is a Muslim. She is very faithful to her
religious belief. She prayed six times every day, much more diligent and
religious than me! Mimi is my first Muslim friend. I am thus very upset and
angry with the United States President’s recent executive order on travel ban against
Muslims. Trump’s proposals of constructing walls against Mexicans and stop
taking refugees from Syria, are again very much contradictory to the Christian
values of loving our neighbour as ourselves. All these policies that are
turning the poor, the weak, the vulnerable and the strangers away are a
complete opposite to what Jesus taught to his disciples: to be salt and light
of the world.
In Jesus’ teaching today taken from Matthew 5,
the Sermon of the Mount, he challenged his believers to live out the law with
sincerity and honesty. He iterated, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness
exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of
heaven.” (Matthew 5:20)
Pope Francis made it crystal clear in his message
shared with a group of pilgrims from Germany last October. Here I quote:
“the sickness or, you can say the sin,
that Jesus condemns most is hypocrisy,” which is precisely what is happening
when someone claims to be a Christian but does not live according to the
teaching of Christ.” He further said,
“You cannot be a Christian without
living like a Christian. “You cannot be a Christian without practicing the
Beatitudes. (Pastor Maggie preached about this last week) You cannot be a
Christian without doing what Jesus teaches us in Matthew 25.” This is a
reference to Christ’s injunction to help the needy by such works of mercy as
feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and welcoming the stranger.
echoed the prophetic reading today taken from the Book of Isaiah. Prophet
Isaiah reminded the Israelites what the Lord required of them - to share bread with
the hungry with generosity, to bring the homeless poor and strangers into your
house with warm hospitality, to cover the naked with respect, and to treat
everyone like our own kin without discrimination.
Pope challenged Christians
hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee or someone
seeking help, someone who is hungry or thirsty, toss out someone who is in need
of my help.”
It is worthy of our time and effort to
reflect on ourselves if we are hypocritical Christians or not.
It is very true that Trump’s order to
build a wall is crazy and outrageous not only to the Mexicans but also to many
people within the United States and other parts of the world. A wall that
divides and separate people is unacceptable indeed. When I reflect on this order
of building walls, I realized that perhaps there are already walls in the heart
of some people. Even though they don’t say and do anything nasty and obvious
like Trump, they have built walls inside their hearts. There are thousands and
thousands of Christians in the United States supporting Trump’s policies and
his administration. There are Christians rejecting others who are different
from them in race, religious beliefs and sexualities. When Jesus challenged the
religious leaders and the Prophet challenged the people of the faithful if they
were living their faith and Law genuinely, we should also examine ourselves
with an open and humble heart. Are there any dark sides in us hindering us to
become faithful witness of Christ? Are there any prejudice I have that prevent
me from accepting and loving others as my neighbours? Is there any shortcoming
in me that prevents me from shining as Christ’s light to others especially the
Immediately after Trump inaugurated as President of the United
States, the Women’s March, a worldwide protest began to protect legislation and
policies regarding human rights to women and sexual minorities, racial equality
and religious freedom. It was estimated that at least 500,000 people joined the
march in Washington, and nearly 5 million participated in other parts of the
world. This morning, the International Migrants Alliance launched rally and
march in Hong Kong protesting against Trump’s recent executive orders in
rejecting Muslims, refugees and immigrants.
the last few days, Federal Judges from Washington State declared their opposition
to their President’s Immigration order. The CEO from Amazon also issued
statement to share the same stand as he embraces the American core values of
inclusivity and diversity. All these acts of resistance give light to
Christians on how women and men of righteousness join collective efforts in
striving for human dignity and equality. They are the light that shines to
reveal God’s kingdom of love, justice and peace to all.
Jesus taught his disciples to be light of the world and that light needs
to be visible and shines before others. Our Lord Jesus Christ, and many people
close and far, have set good examples to serve as the light. As highlighted by
the letter of James 2:14-26, faith without works is dead. In the same equation,
love without action is dead. Sisters and brothers, in this new beginning of the
year, let us respond to Jesus’ call – be the salt and light of the world, with
deep faith and concrete actions.
would like to invite you all to spend a few minutes of silence to reflect and
pray to God what are the things you need to change and do to become the salt
and light that may serve others and glorify God.
will end this silent time with the sounding of the bell and a prayer.
Thank you for your teaching and your calling today. May
your love empower us to be the salt and light of the world. May the Holy Spirit
strengthen the faithful of God, and brings
light over darkness, hope over despair, peace over restlessness and love
over cold-heartedness. Amen.
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