Reflections...

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

From Darkness To Light

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 26 March 2017, the Fourth Sunday in Lent, by the Rev. Dr. Tjeerd de Boer. The scripture readings that day were John 9:1-41.


By reading this chapter of the Gospel, according to John we continue our journey with Jesus through the wilderness, this fourth Sunday of Lent.
 
John chapter 9 is like a sermon, a well-structured sermon in three parts: introduction-elaboration-application.

It is about change/conversion – confrontation – confession/conclusion.

John 9 is a very clear and explicit sermon about darkness and light,
about a journey from dark and light, individual and communal, literal and spiritual, even theological.

It is much more than a sermon: we are witnesses, we are part, of a drama – a real bibliodrama - in seven scenes

First scene 1-7 (6-7) first meeting and healing
Second scene 8-12 crowd
Third scene 13-17 interrogation
Fourth scene 18-23 unbelief
Fifth scene 24-34 second interrogation
Sixth scene 35-38 second meeting
Seventh scene 39-41 conclusion

This drama is the account, the report, of a sign, one of (seven) signs with which the Gospel shows us who Jesus is, the Christ, the Light of the World, the Son of Man, who saves a wedding, feeds the hungry, heals the sick, raises the dead.

It, apparently, is a simple message, Jesus has eyes for the needy, for the marginalized, the poor, he sees this blind beggar, sitting on the street.
He sees, reflects (just because of the theological questions his disciples are asking him) and then he immediately acts,
He, the Christ, anoints and he sends – it is like the Great Commandment and the Great Commission in one – sharing love to God and this fellow man, making him a disciple, baptizing him and teaching him.

See-reflect-act are the main parts of this sermon also: the first part is about Jesus’ seeing, Jesus who séés, the needy, the poor, it is Jesus who sees, all of us, all of us, as we are here, visually healthy and handicapped, young and old, rich and poor, sinners and saints alike.

This a story about a blind beggar, a man born blind, a poor man

The Greek word for poor, ptochos, is a strong word, a strong image, and could be translated as beggar: the poor are the bent over, the cowered, the crouched -  literally the ones who ask to receive, who are having this need, all kinds of need, the poor are the needy, the marginalized.

What dependency, what poverty really is, and really means, we could and should learn from the poor and with the poor themselves (and there are many poor around us, on the streets of Hong Kong). From them we could learn what it is to be dependent on the good will, the grace, of others.

But poverty, in the sense of dependency, is also an option, a way of life, the first step on the way of Jesus, on the way to the Kingdom of God – as the (first and all following) disciples know, leaving all they had behind.

Of God, we depend, like the poor.
Poverty is our option, because poverty it is God’s option, “God’s preferential option” (confirmed, even by the Pope and the WCC, it has become almost an article of our creed)

The poor, whoever they are, the needy, the blind, the poor in spirit, are blessed because they – we – learned how to depend on God, and God’s grace.

That is precisely what we learn here: Jesus is the Light the World, the Son of Man, because he comes to see all of us, without any exception

It is perhaps therefore that the main part of this sermon is theological: reflection, or better: discussion, debate, about sin – not about individual sin, but about the sin of all, the sin of broken relationships – with God, with others, with ourselves, with the world,
It is about God who listens to sinners, listens to each and every one of us

We should not, of course not, ask why this beggar is blind,
we should ask why this man born blind (and his parents) is being been cursed and marginalized, is poor and begging.
We should, before all, ask why there is (still) poverty and lack of access to education and work and healthcare and proper housing for all, why there is violence and hatred, why oppression and persecution.

Jesus does practice what he teaches and preaches: he sees, anoints and heals. When Jesus spreads mud on the eyes of the blind beggar, it is as anointing him (it is a similar verb, in Greek).
Meeting Jesus, the Christ, means being anointed and being healed
Meeting Jesus is encountering the divine

The man born blind is being seen, anointed and sent
Jesus is the first one who is taking him seriously, he speaks to him directly, personally, individually,
he speaks tó him, instead of abóut him (as others do)

Now the man born blind is able to see ánd to speak for himself
“Do you believe in the Son of Man? Lord, I believe !”

The third and conclusive part of the sermon is action: public confession
and worship, discipleship and service: the beginning of a new life –

which is very clearly the message for all around this new disciple – in that wilderness around him there are many more blind people to be healed

We are on our journey through Lent, these weeks, these forty days and forty nights of reflection and of preparation of the things to come, this journey with Jesus, commemorating all what suffered, on his journey to the cross
 -this journey through the wilderness.

Lent literally means Spring, in my native language is the word for Spring (lente)

Lent is also reflecting and preparing for the new beginning of life, for Easter, and the feast of Resurrection, of the Son of Man, the Anointed One, Jesus the Christ who is going ahead of us to the promised land, the Kingdom of God, where all are being seen, and healed, where there is place for sinners and saints alike.

Therefore, we know and we trust, that, if we experience sorrow and pain, reverse or despair, sadness or perhaps anger and exclusion, on our way through the darkness, there is someone who see us, takes our hand, anoints us and goes with us to the light that shines and breaks through the darkness.

We are invited to share – to write down the ways and the people who helped to encounter the divine, the Son of Man, the Anointed, Jesus the Christ – an important reflection: who helped (saw, heard, inspired, mediated) us in our faith?  Our parents, children, a friend, a brother, a sister, a pastor, a poor, a neighbor, a colleague?

Our journey is always a journey in community, in communion with others, in sharing the light.
We are not supposed to keep the light for ourselves, we are not supposed to blind ourselves with the light.

Being the light of the world, we should put our lamp on the lampstand to give light to all in the house (Matthew 5 : 14-16), to the whole human race (as we sang), to the whole city, to this city of Hong Kong, and in particular today, Election Day.

Being light of the world we should to see going  what’s going on (as we prayed), to see the poor and the rich, and the blind and the disabled, the oppressors and the oppressed, the powerful and powerless, sinners and saints alike, to see the signs of our time

“Let our light shine before others, so that they may see good works and give glory to our Father!”

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.

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

 

Be Yourself

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 19 March 2017, the Third Sunday in Lent, by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were John 4:5-42.



Opening prayer
Holy Spirit, come to us and inspire us to know your word. May Your Living Word flow in us like the living water that renews our life and our faith. Amen.

The worship committee suggested a theme for KUC worship during the Lenten Season this year – “Journey with Jesus through the wilderness”. We have set up a worship space with a wilderness in the church – a barren tree and a brown cloth, symbolizing sand and rock in the dessert.

Every week we add in one symbol signifying the theme according to the gospel reading of that week. The first week Bengseng put a stone when Jesus was tempted by the devil. The second week a pinwheel was put when Jesus spoke to Nicodemus on being born again with new spirit. This week we put a jar as Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman by the well and told her he was the living water bringing eternal life.

The wilderness is a place and moment we need to face our temptations, our darkness, our fears, our brokenness, our failures, our unfulfilled needs and yearning.  At the same time, wilderness could be a place and moment that we encounter the presence and grace of God. Wilderness could be a place and moment we meet with Jesus and are transformed by the Holy Spirit.

Today we journey with Jesus by the well, where we see a wonderful and amazing encounter between Jesus and a Samaritan woman.

The gospel story on the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, taken from John 4:5-42, inspires us to receive the water of life from Jesus Christ that helps us to accept ourselves and others, and to live a life with honesty to accept who we really are - Be yourself.

Be yourself is to accept who you are as God’s unique creation, holy and worthy. Be yourself is to live your true self according to the will of God.
Be yourself is to live a life that God has called you to live.

From the gospel story today we have witnessed how Jesus lived out his true self and did the will of God in bringing salvation to all people, especially the marginalized.  

In Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman, he has broken the boundary of gender, race and religion. He spoke to a woman in public. This was forbidden in his time. A Rabbi never does it. He has broken the boundary of race. Jews hated Samaritans and despised them as unclean people. For Jews, Samaritans were not fully human beings but hybrids. The Jews and Samaritans were enemies. The Jews destroyed the Samaritan’s temple in the mountain of Gerizim in 129 B.C. The Samaritan’s temple was considered as a rival to the Jerusalem Temple. 

In midst of religious conflicts and tensions between the Samaritans and the Jews, Jesus gave a wider understanding on worship and religious life when the Samaritan woman touched on this topic. She posed a challenge to Jesus, saying, “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus brought the people of different religious faiths and practice together by emphasizing to be truly faithful persons to God. He replied, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

Jesus has broken the religious and cultural norms. Even his disciples found him not appropriate in speaking to the Samaritan woman in public. But their voice remained silent. Jesus never allows laws and customs that prevent him from saving those who are rejected by the community. Jesus lives his true self.

Jesus does not only live himself fully as who he is as God’s Son. He helped the Samaritan woman to live fully as who she was - a person with value and worth. Jesus treated her as a full human being and being equal so he asked her for water in the first place. He offered to her living water that quenched her thirst. Second, he pointed out that she had five husbands and the current one was not her husband. I imagine Jesus’ such direct conversion could be offensive and embarrassing to this woman. But the woman’s reply indicates that she took it positively. Jesus’ power to see and know her so well directed her to say, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet”. She then moved to discuss with Jesus on the theology of worship.

Jesus acknowledged the Samaritan woman’s life, past and present. Although she was a divorcee, he still respected her. He made no judgement on her. He was not bothered by her marital status. He only cared for her well-being.  He cared for her life and whether she received the living water he wished to give.

Jesus’ acceptance of her past and her very being as God’s people had touched her deeply. The way Jesus responded to her question on worship had enlightened her to understand worship with new eyes. Her life and faith were changed dramatically after her dialogue with Jesus. Her eyes were opened to see Jesus was the Prophet and then the Messiah. Her life was transformed and her growing faith made her God’s messenger to bring the good news to her hometown. Her testimony to her people was, “He told me everything I have ever done.

Jesus’ power of knowing her sent a strong message of his full acceptance to her. With Jesus’s embrace of who she was, the woman could live with her true self. She no longer rejected her past. She no longer rejected herself.  She no longer hid herself and isolated herself. She no longer restricted herself to take water from the well at noon, the hottest time in a day. She left the water jar at the well. The water jar could be understood as a symbol of her past history. The water jar could be taken as symbols of her wounds, scars, shame, and things that had kept her from gaining a new life. She left them at the well. She did not need it as she had received the living water from Jesus that quenched her thirst for love and acceptance.

With this freedom, she was able to share courageously her testimony and brought her people to know Jesus the Messiah, and to drink the living water from him that shapes them into a new life with eternal meaning. 

The Samaritan woman is the first evangelist to spread the gospel in Jesus’ time. She can be taken as Jesus’ disciple although she has never been officially recognized. Women have played a significant role in Jesus’s salvation plan and spreading the good news.

I would like to share another reflection on ‘be yourself’ – be mindful of our own values and prejudice.

The Samaritan woman went to take water at noon: this is rare for people living in the Mediterranean region because it would be too hot. There are commentaries suggesting that this woman was an immoral person and so she has to isolate herself. Jesus said to her that she had five husbands and the current one was not her husband. Jesus was only giving a fact. The reasons for this woman to have five husbands were not mentioned. If people think this woman was not a good woman because of her marriage failure, why was she the one to blame?  Could she be a victim of domestic violence? Could she have been abandoned by her husbands because she was barren? Could she be too intelligent and her husbands could not stand it in a male dominant society? When we read the scriptures, we need to be mindful of our own interpretations which are very much affected by our own values and experiences in a particular context.

We need to be mindful of this as well. Quite often people have to hide from the past and cannot live their true self because of other people’s labels, stereotypes and prejudice.

I would like to share with you about a story of a friend.  I called her Angel.

Angel is a lesbian and she is a pastor. She knew her sexual orientation and identity since she was a teenager. She was born in a Christian family and her father was a pastor. She was brought up in a church and society that are homophobic. She thus tried her best to change herself. She even got married and gave birth to a daughter. By doing this, she thought she would be a ‘normal’ woman engaging in a heterosexual marriage. It did not work out that way. After struggling for years, she decided to divorce her husband in order to live a life being true to herself. You can imagine the blame and criticism that she has received. She has been under immense pressure. Her family members and her home church were angry with her and rejecting her. The situation was the very worst in the first few years when she came out from her closet. By God’s grace, she managed to find some Christians that understand her and accept her as who she is. In her struggles, she finds that God is present in her life and graciously embracing her.

In her faith journey of ups and downs, Jesus in his words and deeds has opened her eyes to see how he warmly and openly received social minorities and sinners defined by the society. She then experienced God’s healing. The living water from Jesus renewed her life. She has gradually accepted her past and graciously embraced who she is as God’s unique creation and God’s beloved children with a special calling.

When Angel is able to live her true self, she is liberated. She has channeled her new energy to minister those who have been struggling with gender identity crisis. Like the Samaritan woman, she gives her testimony to Jesus’ salvation for all including gays, lesbians, transgender and all sexual minorities. She has been able to embrace these people with God’s unconditional love. As she receives the eternal living water from Jesus Christ, she is able to become the living water that brings people especially those who are marginalized and considered problematic by the mainstream, back to God.

The Samaritan woman and Angel, both socially and religiously rejected by the mainstream, are called by God to reveal his glory and power.  From them we can see God’s unlimited imagination, unconditional love and boundless grace.

Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “But those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

Sisters and brothers, in receiving the spiritual water given by Jesus Christ, may you be cleansed and refreshed, and live freely as who you are. In being your true self, you are able to reveal God’s holy image and bring people close to the God of love and freedom.

For the challenge this week, I would like to invite you to do the following. You may choose one or do them all.

1)      Pray to God for any part in your life that is difficult for you to face and accept. Seek God’s grace to live authentically and to live with honesty.
2)      Share with a friend and convey your respect and acceptance to him or her, and let him/her to live freely and authentically as who he/she is.
3)      Share a story about your faith journey with someone. When you share it, see how it helps you and your friends draw closer to God.

I would like to sing you a song that I learned from the Plum Village – “Breathing in and breathing out”.
Breathing in, breathing out; breathing in, breathing out;
I am blooming as a flower; I am fresh as the dew.
I am solid as a mountain, I am firm as the earth; I am free.

Breathing in, breathing out; breathing in, breathing out;
I am water, reflecting what is real, what is true,
and I feel there is space deep inside of me;
I am free, I am free, I am free.   

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

 

“On The Light”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 12 March 2017 by the Rev. Ewing W. [Bud] Carroll, Jr. The scripture readings that day were John 3:1-22.


      I first heard the term “on the light” while serving as a pastor of a small United Methodist Church on the island of Saipan.  One day I walked into a darkened room and asked someone near the light switch to please “turn on the lights”.  There was a thunderous silence.  No one said anything.  Then little Mary, a primary student replied,  “Oh, you mean ‘on the light.’  We don’t know how to turn on the light.”
      Today’s Gospel story about Nicodemus is a good example of “on the light.”  But first, look with me again at what John writes about Nicodemus.   He was a faithful, practicing Jew; a Pharisee, and member of the Sanhedrin; financially wealthy; well educated and very learned in Jewish religious law and practice.
     Biblical scholars differ about why, as John wrote, Nicodemus ”… came to Jesus by night”.  Some say to avoid criticism from fellow Pharisees about being seen with Jesus; others suggest both he and Jesus had such heavy daytime schedules this was the only time they could meet.  Why, we’ll really never know.
     Let me suggest another possibility.   Don’t take the words “he came in the night” literally.  Nicodemus had clearly heard about Jesus; his performing miracles; his growing popularity throughout Palestine; and a growing uneasiness among the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders. So Nicodemus went to see Jesus with a mixture of curiosity and need.   Night then, is not about a time of day; rather what a reflection on what Nicodemus must have been feeling, experiencing in his own religion journey.
     Considerable space is given in this Gospel passage to the meaning of being born again; born anew or born from above.  Jesus seemed quite frustrated with Nicodemus who wanted to know how in the world a person could re-enter their Mother’s womb and be born again.  Nicodemus was talking about the human body; Jesus was talking about the human spirit!
     As we continue in our Lenten Journey – trying to walk and live with Jesus in our own kinds of Wilderness and Darkness, what can we learn from this story about Nicodemus?  Let me suggest three things.
     1.  Nicodemus was decisive.  We live in a very divisive world, but Christ invites us to be decisive, not divisive.  To “on the light”.  Nicodemus went to learn more about this miracle worker named Jesus.  Learn he did!  But he also learned more about himself; about his own religiosity; his own faith.  He discovered when face-to-face with Jesus his own life began to change!
     Careful!  I’m not suggesting that in one night or in the traditional 40 days of Lent you and I will be totally transformed and cleansed anew in God’s Spirit.  But Lent IS a time for decision-making. When former American president Ronald Reagan was a young boy, an auntie took him to a cobbler to have a new pair of shoes made.  The cobbler asked him if he wanted square toes or pointed toes.  Reagan had no idea.  The cobbler told him to return the next day.  Again Reagan had no idea.  The cobbler said, “Come back in two or three days and your new shoes will be ready.”  When Reagan returned he found one shoe with square toes; the other with pointed toes.  Then the cobbler told him, “don’t ever let other people make your decisions for you.”
      In the late 1800’s in Assam, India, a Hindu convert to Christianity was told by his village chief either to renounce his faith in Christ or he, his wife and two children would be killed.  He refused and the children were executed.  Again he refused saying, “The world behind me, the cross before me…” and his wife was executed.  Finally he too was put to death for his faith. An old Gospel hymn, “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus,” is based on this experience:   
I have decided to follow Jesus…
Though I may wonder, I will follow…
The world behind me, the cross before me…
Though none go with me, still I will follow…
No turning back, no turning back.
     It’s not terribly likely than any of us will die for our faith.  But all of us are called to live for our faith.  I believe in the night or darkness of his life, Nicodemus discovered the Light of Christ.  And from that time onward, sought to walk with Jesus.  No turning back, no turning back.  “On the light!”
      2. Secondly, Nicodemus seemed determined to follow Christ. I base this on John 7:50.  The chief priests and Pharisees are unhappy with the temple police because they had not arrested Jesus.  People were arguing about whether the Messiah could come from Galilee. To paraphrase John, the Pharisees angrily said, “Surely, no one could believe this man Jesus.  If so, let them be damned.“  Nicodemus responded, “Hey, I thought we Pharisees never judged a person until we gave them a fair trial” to which another Pharisees retorted, “You must be kiddingSurely you’re not also one of those trouble-maker Galileans.” Had Nicodemus not come face-to-face with Jesus in the darkness of his own soul and not determined to begin a life of transformation and change, I doubt he could have dared to speak such words.
    Charles Tindley’s beautiful spiritual  “Stand By Me” is a reminder of God’s desire and determination to always be with us; to strengthen, encourage and yes, to challenge us in our own wanderings through the Wildernesses and Darknesses of our lives:
            When the storms of life are raging
Stand by me
When the world is tossing me like a ship upon the sea
In the midst of tribulation
Stand by me
When the host of hell assail and my strength begins to fail
In the midst of faults and failures
Stand by me
When I’ve done the best I can and my friends misunderstand
In the midst of persecution
When I’m growing old and feeble
When my life becomes a burden                                                     
O though Lilly of the Valley…
Stand By Me.
     We really have only two options:  one is expressed in the Chinese idiom 袖手旁觀  [xiu shou pang guan] just stand by with folded arms and ignore the pains, injustices and cruelties of the world pass by.  The other?  By our thoughts, words and actions, strive to be a servant people. As God continues to Stand by us, Christ calls us to stand with those who hunger and thirst – for whatever keeps them from knowing and experiencing the fullness God’s love.  “On the light.”
     3. Thirdly, Nicodemus seemed greatly devoted to Jesus. Remember.  On the night before his crucifixion and the following day, how did Jesus’ Disciples act?  Basically by denial and betrayal.  But look!  Here comes Nicodemus!  With Joseph of Arimathea, they took Jesus’ body to an empty burial tomb.  John writes [19:39ff],  “Nicodemus… came also bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds.”
     Not family or friends; not the Disciples; no one from Pilate’s Roman army; just two somewhat elderly men:  one, a secret follower of Jesus and the other a  wealthy Pharisee who I believe found new life in Jesus, laid their Master in an empty tomb.  No longer any secrets.  People around them surely saw what was happening.  You don’t carry a 100 pounds of spices in a Park ‘n Shop shopping bag and remain unseen!
      During the coming week, spend some time outside – opening your mind, heart and spirit to God’s Spirit. As you do, recall these words written some 200 years ago:
Breathe on me, Breath of God,
fill me with life anew,
that I may love what thou doest love,
 and do what thou wouldst do.
     As you come face to face with the Living Christ, decide to let his love renew and rebirth you;  determine through your attitude and actions to be a servant people; and devote yourself to the one who brings you out of darkness into light.   What are you waiting for?  “On the light”!

     

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

 

“Inside Out”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 5 March 2017,  the First Sunday in Lent, by the Rev. Dr. Judy Chan. The scripture readings that day were Psalm 32, Romans 5:12-19, Matthew 4:1-11.


Good morning.
I’d like to start with a story…I may have told it before, I can’t remember, but it’s one that I’ll never forget, so I tell it again (in case you haven’t heard it or in case you have heard it, and don’t mind to hear it again). Over ten years ago, I was studying a course in journalism at the University of Hong Kong. I work in communications for the HK Christian Council, so I thought I should take some sort of training to sharpen my skills. The professor was talking to the class about what it takes to be a good journalist. And he gave this example.

All the applicants for the journalism program at Hong Kong U have to take an entry exam. The test asks a series of short answer questions to see if you know what’s going on in the world. Then there’s an essay portion. You’re given a news item and asked to write a press release about it to get a sample of your writing. Normally you take the test at the university if you’re living here, which is what I did. But if you are outside HK, the school makes some arrangement for you to take it on an honor system. That means, you get sent the questions to your own computer in your country, you take the exam without talking to anyone else or using any other resource. Just like you would if you were in a classroom. Then you send the answers back by computer within the time limit.

The professor told us about one student outside Hong Kong who took the test and sent it back. But there was something strange about his answer on the essay. It was too good, in fact, it looked like the applicant already knew what the question was going to be and had a perfectly-written answer all ready. It even included some quotes that the teacher recognized came from a well-known magazine. The professor could only make one conclusion. The applicant had cheated. So he called the young man and asked whether he in fact knew the question in advance. The student broke down and admitted, Yes. He had found another friend who had also applied and asked her to tell him what essay question was on her test. And he happened to get the same one.

The young man said that he was so sorry. He hadn’t meant to cheat, but he was so worried his English wasn’t good enough, that he tried to get some extra help. He really wanted to be a journalist, he really wanted to study at Hong Kong University. Could they give him one more chance?

What do you think happened? The professor said No. He told us that this was quite sad as the applicant’s writing from the rest of the exam was actually pretty good. The young man probably would have been accepted if he hadn’t cheated. So why wouldn’t he be given a second chance?

My teacher said, “As a journalist, your integrity is everything. Once you lose that, you have no more credibility. You’re finished. We couldn’t accept him in our program after what happened.”

Those were very powerful words to me and my classmates sitting in that room.

Integrity is everything…not just as a journalist, but actually in almost every area of our life, isn’t it? So what is integrity? One definition says “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.” But for Christians, I like a second definition even better: “the state of being whole and undivided.” That means who you are on the outside is who you really are on the inside. Your outside world matches your inside world; your private life and your public life are in alignment or in harmony. That’s what we all aim for, of course, but I think we don’t really know if we have integrity until it’s tested. We don’t know for sure if we’d do the right thing until opportunity knocks at the door to do something else.

So, this morning, I’d like to suggest that integrity is what the Story of the Temptations of Jesus in the wilderness is all about. It’s a test, an entry test to see whether Jesus is the same man on the outside as he is on the inside. Whether his private life and his public life will be in alignment. And the only way he and God will find out is to put it to the test and see the results.

Now, as I’ve said before from this pulpit, the Temptations that Jesus faced are not the same as what you and I have to deal with. His three temptations in the wilderness are unique because only he was tested as the Son of God. Only he needed to prove that he would not fall as Adam fell in garden, that he would not fail as the Israelites failed in the wilderness. And we know that Jesus passed his test with flying colors, A+ A+A+ or 5** as we say in the Hong Kong school system. Yet, even if these three temptations are unique to the Son of God, we still have much to learn from his experience, year after year on the first Sunday of Lent.

Now, preachers are prone to come up with all kinds of explanations of what these three temptations mean. And there are many ways you can legitimately interpret what the stones or jumping off buildings or the kingdoms of the world represent. There’s more than one sermon to this bible text. So today, I offer my own explanation: these three temptations as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew are tests of integrity in terms of (1) our survival, (2) our protection and (3) our reputation.

·         Our Survival: Turn these stones to bread, says the devil, because you’re hungry. God wouldn’t want you to starve, right?

·         Our Protection: Jump off the top of the Temple, because you’re nobody’s fool.
God’s not going to let you get hurt, right?

·         Our Reputation: Grab the glory while you can, because you may not get another chance. God wouldn’t deny you this blessing, right?

Well, you can see three wrongs don’t make a right here but that’s Satan’s favorite strategy. He makes that which is sinful appear desirable and good. And that’s why temptations are so hard to resist. Because they present themselves not as something you don’t want, but as something you do. Take for instance, food. For most people, oatmeal is not a temptation, except maybe being tempted not to eat it. But chocolate…hmmm. And our online habits. How many of us spend too much time looking at religious websites? Maybe only if we get paid for it. But other kinds of programs? Click, click.

Yes, temptations are real and seductive and can even be dangerous to our Christian life. Because the standards that might be OK in someone else’s life, in the commercial world, or the political arena are not OK for followers of Jesus Christ. God’s desire is for you and me to be people of integrity, not to prove we are better than others, but to show others the difference that Christ makes. As Romans 5:19 says: For just as by the one man’s disobedience, the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience, the many will be made righteous.”

So, where does that leave us? What are we ordinary mortals to do in the face of so many temptations past, present and future? Let me offer some advice from the Revd M.K.O. Akanni, an Anglican priest in Nigeria. He says the best ways to avoid temptation are:

1.   Flee! You don’t cat-walk when there is temptation, the best strategy is to flee the situation.
2.   Turn your back against it. Sometimes our greatest temptation are those we think are our friends.
3.  Pray. When you are tempted turn to God for strength, make your temptation a constant focus of prayer and rebuke the tempter if possible – get off me!
4.  Memorize and meditate on scripture that combat your specific weaknesses.
5.  Find another believer with whom you openly share your struggles and call this person for help when temptation strikes.

This is all good advice straight from the bible. And I’m sure they’re helpful in avoiding temptation, but what if we’ve already given in to temptation and are living with the consequences now? What if we’re too embarrassed by our temptations to let anyone else know? What if we’re not even sure we want to give up the temptation because frankly we really enjoy it?

When we find ourselves in this kind of wilderness situation, don’t lose heart. Remember that we serve a God who does give second chances – remember King David, the Prophet Jonah, the apostle Peter. We serve a God who promises in the Psalms to be our hiding place, to preserve us from trouble, to surround us with glad cries of deliverance.

So this morning, let me end with the challenge. This week, choose one ‘wilderness’ area in your life – perhaps a place where temptations – physical or spiritual – seem to creep up on you. Invite God into this wilderness and depend on God when you are tempted.


Depend on God, not to condemn you but to send angels to come and help you, to build up you and me to be the persons we were meant to be, created in God’s image, saved by the blood of Christ, a man, woman, child and a church that are glory to God – inside out.

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

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