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 22:1–14; Mathew 10:40–42
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 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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
Besides, Abraham’s story is to give an advanced
spiritual lesson for the Israelite community about faith in God.
are the spiritual lessons we may learn from the biblical account of Abraham’s
burnt offering of his son today?
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
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
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.
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
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.
provide” is a
statement of faith given by Abraham the Father of Faith.
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
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’.