A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 22 October 2017, Asia Sunday, by Rev. Po Kam-cheong. The scripture readings
that day were Jn. 8:12, 14:6.
and sisters in Christ, peace be with you. Today is Asia Sunday.
It is suggested by CCA, an ecumenical organization with more than 100 members
from more than 20 countries. KUC has an indirect relationship with CCA, because
HKCC is a member of CCA. This year is a special year for CCA. It is her Diamond
Jubilee. Last week, I was in Yangon to celebrate the CCA Diamond Jubilee with
more than 1000 people from all over the world. We came together for an Asia
Mission Conference to reflect on the mission works of Asian churches also. The
theme we have today, “Journeying Together: Prophetic Witness to the Truth and
Light in Asia” is also the theme of the Asia Mission Conference. We read two
verses from the Gospel of John: 8:12 and 14:6.
They are the words of Jesus Christ. The theme has several key words, “Light”,
“Truth”, “Prophetic Witness”, and “Journeying Together”.
8:12 says, “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world.
Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’”
Light and darkness are the most common experience of human beings and every
form of life. One of the earliest experiences of a new born baby is light also.
The first thing God created was light. In Gen.1:2-3: “The earth was a formless
void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept
over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was
all religions use light to symbolize God, the life in God and the final
destination of humankind. Light means life, and darkness means lifeless or
Jesus is the light of the world. He radiates the
light of God and shows us what is the abundant, authentic life. Although people
with power tried to kill him, those who were in darkness rejected him, he
was still himself and could be himself. He used all his energy to love and to
serve those who were oppressed, poor and marginalized. He is the light of the
who follow him will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.
They will become light and shine in darkness, changing the environment they are
in. Just as Jesus said in Mt. 5:14-16, “You are the light of the world. A city
built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the
bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In
the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your
good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” There’s no need to make
the light shine, because light will shine by itself. The only thing one needs
to do is to put it on a lampstand so it will provide the light for the whole
house. Light should be in a dark place, otherwise there’s no need for light. To
be a follower of Christ and light to others, one does not have to do a lot of
things, but to share the light from Christ and be yourself with the image of
God in you.
We found those Christians around us
that shone their light through darkness. I met one in the Asia Mission
Conference who impressed all the participants. She is Sister Sudha Varghese. Her
voice has become the collective voice of an entire community’s women force. She
has emancipated a whole community of girls and women in the Musahar community
in India, facing the worst forms of sexual exploitation and oppression.
Musahars, who subsist on rats, are the most downtrodden among India’s
downtrodden or Dalits - and they would have remained so if it had not been for
the efforts of Sister Sudha who made it her lifelong mission to uplift them. The
Musahar people are landless agricultural labourers who were never paid
adequately for their work; their other occupations include cleaning toilets or
brewing liquor for the dominant caste. Their women and children worked in the
upper caste homes and were often sexually exploited. Schools were out of bounds
for them; the ones who dared to go dropped out owing to the discrimination they
faced from upper caste classmates and teachers.
marriage was common. Girls were married off at age 10 and had 3 to 4 children
by 20 and barely old enough to look after one child. And that was the first
issue that Sister Sudha had to face when she wanted to start a school for
girls: the mothers said that at 10 the girls got married, not started school. Sister Sudha started with 20 girls at
first. They not only learned from books but learned to draw, color, and sew. Then
they went on to mainstream government schools after Class 6. Tuition classes
were arranged to help them pass Class 10 Board examinations.
the two boarding schools for girls, she started “Joyful Learning Centres” for
small children. The elderly received clothes and health care. Her next focus
was the Musahar boys who spent their time drinking and gambling. She found that
they were interested in cricket and got them bat, ball and cricket gear. Soon
they became winner of tournaments with other teams.
helped those women to file a case at the police station for rape by the upper
caste men. She taught them to protect themselves and recognized their dignity. She
lived in a mud house in the midst of the Musahars and received death threats
because of her work. She learned not to show fear. She said, “I have lived a
thousand lives and died a thousand deaths. If you kill me, there will be
hundreds to take my place.” From a young girl who wanted to dedicate her life
in service of the poor, Sister Sudha has become the colossal figure of love and
hope for India’s marginalized people.
the Asian context, there’s a lot of suffering. We hear the groaning of creation.
We see the massive destruction of the environment and the fatal endangering of
all life on earth. Global warming and climate change affects all forms of life.
People on the move are increasing in large numbers today in different
categories: war refugees, climate refugees, migrant workers, internally
displaced persons due to conflicts and violence, victims of religious and
ethnic persecutions and the prey of human trafficking. There are those who are
excluded and marginalized, like the dalits in India. Another kind of suffering
is caused by the intensification of poverty and inequality in unjust systems of
societies. Asia is also under the threat of war due to the competition among
nations, like North Korea. Darkness is around us, we need more light to shine
in Asia to expel darkness.
14:6 reads, “Jesus said to him (Thomas), ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the
life.’” Jesus was a man of integrity. He always spoke the truth, even at the
risk of endangering his own life. Those people in power hated him but the poor
people liked him very much. He taught his disciples to be people of truth. In
Mt. 5:37 he spoke about oath taking: “Let your
words be ‘Yes, Yes’ and ‘No, No’; anything more than that this comes from the
evil one.” Following Jesus way is to live a life of truthfulness and that will
lead to an abundant life.
Havel was the former president of the Czech Republic, a famous playwright, poet
and political dissident. In one of his books “The Power of the Powerless,” he
told a story: A shopkeeper hung up a banner on the window of his shop: “The
working class of the whole world unites!” Havel asks, “Why does the shopkeeper
have to do this? Does he really care about the working class in the whole
world? Does he really think of how to unite the working class?” No. He did so
for many years because everybody had done the same. He did so to protect
himself from fault finding by those in power and was ready to say a lie. We
build up a society of mistrust and falsehood if we are going to lie in public
life to protect our own safety. Then, an empire of falsehood and darkness will
rule over us.
you visit Mainland China, you will experience a very different kind of social
and political system from HK. You cannot Google, WhatsApp, send or receive
email, access to a lot of websites. Of course, you cannot bring in Apple Daily, Mingpao or any books that
criticize the Mainland government. There is censorship. Everything is under
control. From childhood, children will be taught to love the country and hate
the enemy. People will conscious about the lines that they should not cross
over, a lot of them don’t need to be spelled out clearly.
the time of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and even before and after that,
people will read the news the other way round. When the news said, “The whole
country is in solidarity,” it meant that something happened and there’s a crisis
within the party. When a banner was hung up on the wall of a community with
words like, “We strictly follow the one child policy,” it meant that a lot of
people had breached the restriction. People believed in rumors but not the
reports in the media. The foundation of this kind of society is shaky because
it is not based on truth.
HK, we enjoy the freedom of speech, assembly and the rule of law, etc. When we
watch the news on the TV or read them in the newspaper, we usually will trust
the media and believe that the news is true. There’s no political censorship. We
try to build up a society that based on truth. However, as the ‘one country’
becomes stronger and is trying to swallow up the ‘HK system’, the atmosphere
changes. HK is more polarized now and it is not easy to know what is true and
what is false. People from different political stands have their own stories
and points of view and are not going to listen to others. We are in a “post-truth”
society. No one cares about the truth but only his/her own point of view.
Emotions drive. This will not benefit HK but ruin it. We need truth in this
kind of situation more than ever before. Let’s speak in truth with love to our
society. As Paul said in Eph. 4:15, “Speak the
truth in love.”
4. Prophetic Witness
we come to “Prophetic Witness.” Prophets are those people who speak truth to
those in power and the society, warning people against evil, idolatry or
destruction and ask them to turn away from their wrongdoings, follow the laws
of God and to do justice in the society. They were social critics in the Old Testament
times, and we found similar kind of persons in the history of China.
Prophets like Isaiah, Hosea and Amos
all spoke on judgment and hope to the Israelites, pleading for social justice
and transformation of inequalities in the society.
They are heroes because they had to face the
danger of their own lives. They responded to the call of God, took up their
responsibility and spoke the truth. Their words were recorded in the Bible and
in history. Those prophets will be remembered and their influence lasts longer
than those kings and emperors of their time.
churches in Asia often have a prophetic voice in their situations. For example,
Donald Trump, the President of the United States, after winning the election,
said that he would concentrate his time and energy on internal issues. But, for
certain, the U.S. could not escape from international affairs. Since the new
leader in North Korea is continuously strengthening their military power and
has conducted nuclear tests, the U.S. had to react and the tension between
these two countries has heightened. They threatened each other that they will
destroy their enemy. South Korea is the nearest country to North Korea and they
are afraid of war but their only choice is to follow the stand of the U.S. In
this situation, the South Korean Church voiced out for peace and continuously
tried to develop relationships with the North Korean Church, although it is
against the law of South Korea. They urged the governments on both sides to use
all their efforts to solve disputes. To be a peacemaker and to have a prophetic
voice is not an easy job in difficult times. In polarized situations, those who
advocate for peace often will be seen as weak and even treasonous. The church
in those situations needs to have faith and courage.
serve in the Hong Kong Christian Council. One of our important tasks is to
voice out on important social issues, either in response to government
consultations or actively express our views on social policies. The Church is
not the government, we don’t need to endorse what the government had done. The
Church is not a political party, we don’t have to gain the votes from the
citizens. The Church cares for the people because this is a concern originating
from our faith. The work of the Council to speak out on social issues is like a
fire alarm, to alert the society to take suitable actions. Of course, there may
be false alarms and we were all frightened. But if we dismantle the alarm
system because it’s too noisy, when there’s a fire, we will not escape. This is
also a prophetic voice.
5. Journeying Together
should we join hands with on the way to justice and peace for the realization
of the kingdom of God? Christians only? How about people with goodwill? How
about those who also fight for justice? How about those from other faiths?
Dr. Wesley Ariarajah, an ordained minister of the Methodist Church of Sri
Lanka, former WCC Director of Inter faith Dialogue for 16 years, said to us at
the Asia Mission Conference last week: Asian churches inherited the mission
theology from the missionaries who came with colonialism and military power,
using a lot of resources to ‘conquer’ and ‘occupy’ the souls in Asia, preaching
a gospel of the only way and only truth. In their eyes, all other religions are
idolatrous. This kind of mission theology refuses to accept other faiths and
neglects the value of the existence of other faiths. It seriously hampered the
relationship between the Christian faith and other faiths. Dr. Ariarajah argued
that this kind of mission theology needs to go through a process of
decolonization. Christian churches in Asia should respect other faiths as the
search for the mystery and meaning of human existence. In many Asian countries,
Christians are in a minority. We should not have a mentality to become the
majority of the society through mission work. Otherwise, it will create
religious tension and social instability. We can and should journey together
with people of other faiths for the realization of the kingdom of God. Buddhism
spread all over Asia peacefully and did not endanger the existence of other
faiths. It became an indigenous faith of many Asian countries although it was
foreign in her origin. Christianity should learn from them.
Jesus said, “Those who are not
against me are with me.”
are on a journey to the kingdom of God. Christians from different denominations
and traditions should go hand in hand to seek justice and peace in our own
society and in the world. We should follow the footsteps of the prophets and
Jesus to witness to the truth and become shining lights in our context. We also
could join hands with people of goodwill and other faiths, to stand with those
who are poor, deprived and marginalized and seek for a better society.
God bless us with His strength and joy, use us as an instrument of peace, so
that the world will know that you are God of all. Amen.
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union
Church on Sunday 1 October 2017, World Communion Sunday, by Bruce Van Voorhis. The scripture
readings that day were Exodus 1:8–2:10, Romans 12:1–8, Matthew 16:13–20.
God of life and of love, may the
meditations of my heart, of my mind and of my spirit be acceptable and pleasing
to you, and may they faithfully express the wisdom you have given to each one
of us. In your Son’s name, we pray. Amen.
Gospel reading in Matthew this morning, Jesus asks his disciples a number of
questions, among which is, Who do people believe is the Son of Man? They reply with
a variety of answers that some people say it’s John the Baptist, Elijah and
Jesus asks them the most significant question in today’s scripture readings: “But
who do you say that I am?”
responds that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Peter’s reply
is based on his experience of being part of Jesus’ ministry and Peter’s relationship
with God, for it was because of Peter’s relationship with God that he
recognized the Divine in Jesus.
“But who do
you say that I am?” is an important question for us today as well, especially
on this World Communion Sunday. Because we’ve come to church on a regular basis
and have possibly grown up in the church and attended Sunday school since our
childhood, etc., our response would most likely echo that of Peter. However, we
have not had the privilege of physically being with Jesus and of experiencing
him and his life and his teachings. For us, the New Testament, our relationship
with God, our spiritual life, become “our experience” of Jesus and our
understanding of God.
other fundamental questions for us today on this World Communion Sunday as a people
who are removed by more than 2,000 years from the life of Christ are, What does
God call us to be and to do today, and how will others know that we are
A story I
heard when I worked at the CCA Center many years ago offers perhaps a response
to this last question. In this story, a Christian woman in a rural village in
Thailand was always helping others because of her sense of compassion and
kindness. One day a Buddhist woman in the village wanted to change her faith
and become a Christian.
this woman, she said, pointing to her Christian neighbor. If this is what being
a Christian is about, then I want to be one too.
behavior is one way that others know, or should know, that we are Christians.
however, does God call us to be and to do today, especially in our chaotic
epistle reading today, Paul provides an answer for us. In the first two verses
of Chapter 12, Paul writes to the Romans:
“I appeal to
you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your
bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your
spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the
renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good
and acceptable and perfect.”
telling the Romans, and us, that our being, our actions, our words, are our
spiritual worship to God, like the Christian woman in the rural village in
Thailand. We are told not to conform ourselves to this world but to be
transformed and, if we are transformed, to express to others what is God’s will,
to exhibit what is good, what is acceptable, what is perfect.
three to six of our reading from Romans today, Paul also asks us to live our
lives with humility, and he notes that everyone has different skills and how
our different abilities complement each other:
“For by the
grace given to me, I bid every one among you not to think of themselves more
highly than they ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each
according to the measure of faith which God has assigned to them. For as in one
body, we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function,
so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of
another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us
Testament reading in the first chapter of Exodus today also shares insights as
to what God calls us to be and to do. In this story about the oppression of the
people of Israel, the king of Egypt is concerned that the population of the
Israelites is growing rapidly, but the more he oppresses the Israelites, the
more their population increases. Thus, the king orders the Hebrew midwives to
kill all of the male Jewish babies, but they disobey, and their actions
eventually lead to the birth of Moses.
In verses 17
to 19 of this story, we can see how clever the Hebrew women were and how
midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but
let the male children live.
“So the king of Egypt called the midwives, and said to them, ‘Why have you done
this and let the male children live?’
said to Pharaoh, ‘Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for
they are vigorous and are delivered before the midwife comes to them.’ ”
for me indicates that in times of oppression, in times of war, of human rights
violations, of corruption, etc., we as Christians today are called to be clever
and perhaps even disobedient as well. The challenge for us is to discern when
is the time to cleverly be disobedient. In our present context of Hong Kong in
which we seem to face a dead end in our democratic development and all avenues
for greater political reform seem to encounter numerous roadblocks, is this
such a time? The answer, of course, is a personal one, but the invitation today
is to take the time to reflect and discern and then, if so moved, to act.
I want to
return now to the passage from Romans and to emphasize once again that we are
called not to conform to this world but to be transformed and then, I would
add, to transform others and our society. Thus, the call and the challenge is
to change, but not change for the sake of change. No, the change that we seek
is rooted in reflecting the will of God. It’s naturally not easy to know what
is the will of God, but I believe if our words and actions reaffirm the values
of our Christian faith as taught to us through the life and teachings of Jesus,
such as unconditional love for others, compassion, a reverence for life, peace
grounded in justice, etc., then we are on the right path.
I also want
to draw our attention to another portion of the message in Romans today, that
is, that God has given each of us different abilities and different skills. The
question is, How do we use them?
society, and in many societies around the world, we often use our different
abilities and skills to compete against one another. Competition, consciously
or unconsciously, has become a bedrock of our society. We compete for places in
schools, we compete for jobs, we compete for promotions and higher salaries,
etc. We may also compete sometimes in even less evident ways: who is the most
beautiful? who is the most handsome? who is the best cook? and so on. Competition
in our lives, it seems, is endless, and it appears as if competition is a
natural part of our life cycle. We must also acknowledge that competition is entrenched in
our ego, not in the humility that allows us to grow closer to God and to better
discern God’s presence in our lives. Although competition often pushes us to excel and therefore
can result in improving society, I would like to suggest today, however,
that God calls us to cooperate more and compete less.
illustrate the point I want to make, I’d like to share with you the story of a
Swedish woman, Helena Norberg-Hodge, who lived among the Ladakhi people in
northern India. She arrived in Ladakh in 1975; and over the course of 20 years,
she watched the transformation of the people and their society through
first arrived, she describes the community coming together every night to sing
and dance; but after “development” arrived, the people, she said, only wanted to
watch the “experts”—perhaps Michael Jackson—sing and dance on TV.
recounts another story from her experience:
“In one of my
first years in Ladakh, I was in this incredibly beautiful village. All the
houses were three stories high and painted white. And I was just amazed. So out
of curiosity, I asked a young man from that village to show me the poorest
house. He thought for a bit, and then he said, ‘We don’t have any poor houses.’
The same person I heard eight years later saying to a tourist, ‘Oh, if you
could only help us Ladakhis, we’re so poor!’ ”
stories, I want to highlight two points. First, are we called to be spectators
in life or participants? It’s perhaps easier to be spectators, but is it as
much fun as participating? More importantly, if we choose to remain as
spectators instead of participants in decisions that affect our lives, then others
will decide the outcome of many decisions that impact us, such as those, for
instance, related to housing, health care, education, employment, etc. Part of
our quest in Hong Kong for democracy, I believe, is a desire to be participants
in the decision-making process.
point I’d like to share from these stories about Ladakh is how consumer goods
came to define the worth of a person. People became valued for what they owned,
not for who they were. Tension and conflicts even arose in the community as a
that if we’re going to transform ourselves and to eventually work toward
transforming our world we need to recognize the power and role of competition
in our lives. An unwritten goal in our lives today is to make as much money as
possible and to perhaps get rich if we’re fortunate. Those who successfully
accumulate money receive praise and status within society—people like Lee Ka-shing, Bill Gates, Warren
Buffet and Jack Ma, for example.
if the unwritten aim in society was to distribute more money instead of make
more money? What if those who acquired great wealth were considered social
outcastes instead of economic heroes? The difference in perception is based on
what is considered acceptable by society or even what is the social and
economic objectives of one’s life—the norms of society.
If we want to transform our world today, we need to alter some of the norms
at the foundation of our world. By embracing cooperation and curtailing the
importance of competition, we can use the different skills and abilities with
which we’ve been blessed by God to contribute to the common good, to work
together to address today’s problems, to build relationships and our
communities instead of destroying them. In this process, our being, our actions, our words, become
our spiritual worship to God, and hopefully, people will come to know that we
are Christians, not just on World Communion Sunday, but throughout the year.