Reflections...

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

“Journeying Together: Prophetic Witness to the Truth and Light in Asia”

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.


1.Introduction
            Brothers 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”.

2. Light
            Jn. 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 light.”
            Nearly 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 death.
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 world.
            Those 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.
            The 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.
            Child 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.
            After 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.
            She 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.
            In 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.

3. Truth
            Jn. 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.
            Vaclav 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.
           If 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.
            In 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.
            In 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
            Now 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.
            Many 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.
            I 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
            Whom 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?
            Rev. 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.”

6. Conclusion
            We 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.
            May 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.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, October 22, 2017

 

They Will Know That We Are Christians

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 1:82:10, Romans 12:18, Matthew 16:1320.


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.


In our 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 other prophets.

Then Jesus asks them the most significant question in today’s scripture readings: “But who do you say that I am?”

Peter 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.

Perhaps 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 Christians?

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.

Why? someone asked her.

Because of 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.

Thus, our behavior is one way that others know, or should know, that we are Christians.

What, however, does God call us to be and to do today, especially in our chaotic world?

In our 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.”

Paul is 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.

In verses 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 use them.”

Our Old 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 disobedient:

“But the 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?’

“The midwives 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.’ ”

This story 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?

In our 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.

To 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 so-called development.

When she 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.

She 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!’ ”

From these 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.

The second 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 result.

I believe 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.

What though 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. Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, October 01, 2017

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