Reflections...

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

Transforming Grace

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.


Opening prayer:
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.

Introduction

My father
By March this year, my father would have passed away for 10 years.

Jesus’ 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.

My father 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.

After that 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.

During that 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 his daughters.  

During that 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.

While Jesus 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 God

Moses, Jesus 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 and necessary.

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

The vision of Jesus’ transfiguration is spiritually rich and we could be inspired in many different ways.

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.

In the 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 .

The 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.

Jesus 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.

From the 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 go.

Jesus knew 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.’

In following 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.

Sisters and brothers, will you come and receive this transforming grace from Christ, and to make changes in your life and in your faith journey?


God bless!

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, February 26, 2017

 

“Going Beyond…”

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 salvation.

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 his love.

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 with water.”


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.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, February 19, 2017

 

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 new.

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 his teachings.

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.

A story 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 fake.”
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 relationships.

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.  

A 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 distance.
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 the relationship. 

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.

We still 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 words):
“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.              

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, February 12, 2017

 

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 5:13-20.


Good 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 her.

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.

This teaching 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 - “It’s 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 neediest?

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.

In 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. 


I 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.  

I will end this silent time with the sounding of the bell and a prayer.

Closing prayer:

Jesus Christ,

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.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, February 05, 2017

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