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

“God will provide”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 2 July 2017, the fourth Sunday after Pentecost, by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Genesis 22:114; Mathew 10:4042

Yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China.
The SAR government and many pro-establishment organizations had arranged different kinds of programmes to celebrate this special day in the city. 
How about you? What did you do on this special day? I chose to join the July 1st Rally organized by organization advocating for civil rights and democracy in Hong Kong.

To the many people who take Hong Kong as their home, July 1st is a day to remind our SAR government and the leaders of the Central Government of the desires of Hong Kong citizens, namely to sustain the core values in the city: the rule of law, freedom of speech, respect of civil rights, equality amongst all and care for people especially the vulnerable. Advocating for genuine democracy with one person one vote to elect our Chief executive has been one of the major agendas in the rally. 

Because of the recent news about the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo’s terminal liver cancer, one of the highlight in the July 1st Rally this year was to call for the Mainland Authority to set him free and allow him to go overseas on medical parole. Mr Liu, an intellectual and human rights activist, was detained due to his participation in the Charter 08 Manifesto’ in December 2008. He was tried on charges of "inciting subversion of state power" and was sentenced to eleven years' imprisonment on 25 December 2009. His wife Liu Xia has been under house arrest after his husband was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010.

In the Rally, voices on defending freedom of human rights activists was heard; speeches on advocating labor legislations to protect grass-roots’ dignified life were given. Banners of the rainbow on affirming equal rights for sexual minorities were also seen. I joined the team under the Rainbow banner, walking together with Rev Grace and friends from the Covenant of the Rainbow Network. This is a network formed by Christian organizations and Churches to advocate for equal rights and dignity for the LGBTI community and to build a truly inclusive Church in Hong Kong. Kowloon Union Church has been part of this Covenant since 2013.

The July 1st Rally is a demonstration of the people of Hong Kong to reflect the very diverse needs and concerns of the many little ones who have been oppressed, discriminated and maltreated in the community.

The gospel reading we heard from Matthew this morning on Jesus’ teaching to his disciples on welcoming and caring for the little ones is timely and echoes what the July 1st Rally has been organized for.
The context of Jesus’ teaching on welcoming and caring for the little ones in Matthew is that his disciples were facing rejections, from the synagogues, the Jewish religious community and the Roman authority. In Matthew’s account, the little ones were the apostles and the disciples of Jesus. They were marginalized and persecuted because of their faith in Christ.    

Therefore, Jesus’ assertion about the reward to those who give water to the little ones in the name of a disciple is a great assurance to his followers in times of trials and crisis.

Jesus said, whoever welcomes you, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. (v40) Jesus has identified himself with the little ones. In Christ, we affirm once again the little ones have never been forgotten by God. 

The little one - Link to the OT

Now I am moving to the Old Testament reading today from Genesis 22 about Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac for burnt offering.

Poor Isaac is the little one in this narrative. He has no right for his life and he has no say for his choice. In the ancient Hebrew community, Abraham is the patriarch. In these old days, children are property of their father.

From a human rights point of view that we cherish today, Abraham was committing a crime of child abuse. No one can kill a child in the name of religion. It is morally wrong to sacrifice a child’s life to testify one’s faith. Children should never be maltreated in the name of love. Adults including parents should never use their power to take away children’s basic human rights and dignity. People of faith should have greater responsibility to protect and take care of the little ones.

When we read the scriptures, we need to be a bit curious and critical to address the texts which are unusually violent and against human rights. It is because God’s nature is love, light and life. Jesus Christ, who came to the world in human form has shown us God’s quality.

As Christians, we are nurtured by the living Word of God and the truth of the biblical message helps us to grow in faith. Therefore, we need to take a responsible manner to learn the biblical texts with understanding of the context and purpose in which the scriptures were formulated. We should never read the scripture literally.

I would like to share a bit more about Abraham’s act of sacrificing Isaac as a response to God’s command to test his faith.
Child sacrifice was common  practice in Canaanite but not in Israelite tradition.

The God of Israelites Yahweh forbids this kind of practice. It is clearly shown in the Book of Leviticus 18:21. Here I quote:

You shall not give any of your offspring to sacrifice them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.”

With insights taken from the commentary of the New Jerusalem Bible, lying behind the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac is the condemnation of child sacrifice. The story as it stands justifies the ritual prescription for the redemption of the first born of Israel. Like all the first fruits, these belong to God. They are not, however, to be sacrificed but to be redeemed.

Besides, Abraham’s story is to give an advanced spiritual lesson for the Israelite community about faith in God.

What are the spiritual lessons we may learn from the biblical account of Abraham’s burnt offering of his son today?

Abraham has been regarded as a great leader by the Israelite community. He was God’s chosen one. God promised to make his offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and the sands on the seashore. He was blessed to be Father of many nations. He was taken as the Father of Faith and set good example for the Israelites and Christians.

Letting go – no attachment

Abraham was given a son in his old age. Isaac was his only beloved son to inherit his possessions.  When he was tested by God to take away his beloved son, he was willing to surrender to God’s sovereignty. Having children is good and is a blessing from God. But Abraham was not attached to it even though it was something good and treasurable. From Abraham, we learn to let go and do not become attached to any good relationship and success no matter how good it seems to be. Not only is any attachment a source of suffering, attachment of human relationships, good or bad, and material life, may lead us to separate from God. Ironically many people are separated from the love of God because they are so much attached to the failures, pains and wounds in the past. Letting go is an on-going spiritual practice in our journey of faith.   

Abraham, the Father of Faith has demonstrated a complete surrender to a sovereign God by recognizing the wisdom declared in the Book of Job 1:21

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.”

When we are fully aware that we are nothing without God and all we are and all we have are from God, we will then able to live a life freely with deep trust in God.  

Look up to God

Towards the end of the biblical account on Genesis 22, we find a happy ending. After God affirmed Abraham’s faith, God told him that there is no need to offer Isaac as sacrifice. According to the text, Abraham then looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 

Abraham found the ram when he looked up. Abraham’s looking up conveys a significant spiritual message. Look up is to connect with the Divine. When we uplift our eyes to God above we are able to see the gift He has prepared for us. Sometimes we may be too stuck in our own problems and situation without looking up to God. If we open our heart and uplift our eyes to God, we will find what God has prepared for us.

At the end of the text, Abraham called that place “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided”.

For the phrase - it shall be provided, another version given by the NRSV is ‘he shall be seen’.

The Lord shall be seen. God makes himself being seen by his people.  Sometimes we don’t see God because we don’t look up and refuse to believe.

God will provide for us whatever we need. But it requires our trust in God and our action of faith to look up and connect ourselves with the Source of Life and Love.

“God will provide”  is a statement of faith given by Abraham the Father of Faith.  

“God will provide”  is a promise.  Jesus, the Son of God who sacrificed himself as the lamb of God, has given to the people of faith everlasting life and hope.

“God will provide”  is a mission to the church to serve the little ones faithfully, and to respond to Jesus’ calling by saying, ‘here I am Lord, send me’.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, July 02, 2017

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