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

Faith is our name

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 25 February 2018, the second Sunday in Lent, by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Roman 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38.

Opening Prayer
Everlasting God, may your word show us your promise of life and love. By the power of the Holy Spirit transform us and renew us. Amen.

Today is the tenth day of Chinese New Year. In the old days, Chinese New Year could be celebrated for up to fifteen days. Living in a busy and efficient city like Hong Kong, we can only afford to have a few days’ holiday for celebration.
During Chinese New Year especially the first few days, there are some taboos that many traditional families try to avoid.
On the first day of CNY, the family should not wipe the floor. Wiping the floor is no good because it means you wipe away your wealth. I always have questions why do they take rubbish as wealth.

The second taboo that I have heard of is not to wash your hair on the first day of CNY. It is the same logic of wiping the floor. Washing your body may be taken as removing the blessing and fortune.

Another taboo during Chinese New Year is don’t mention about death. So families whose beloved ones passed away before Chinese New Year, they would either to do their funeral before or after fifteen days of Chinese New Year.
Death is one of the life crisis many Chinese find it very difficult to take. Many just avoid to talk about it. Death is something bad and unpleasant.

In the Gospel of Mark 8 according to this week’s lectionary, we saw also how Peter, Jesus’s disciple, could not accept that Jesus foretold his own death. Peter did not want to hear about Jesus’ death probably not because it was a taboo. He identified Jesus as the Messiah who came to save his nation. How could Jesus suffer and die? No way!

Although Peter could recognize Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah, he did not fully understand the purpose of Jesus coming to the world. Peter did not understand Jesus in his suffering, death and rising again to fulfil God’s mission.  

In Roman Chapter 4:13-25, Apostle Paul reiterated that the core faith of Christians is to believe in Jesus, who came to live, to die and to be resurrected.

Why is it that important to believe in Jesus’s death and resurrection?

God who came to the world in the form of human flesh was not bounded by the human constraints.  Jesus who revealed God Himself and reflected His glory, lived eternally. He came in human flesh that would die but death was not his last word. He had risen from the dead and living eternally with God. Jesus who was from God and with God the Holy and Almighty could endure suffering and pains on earth. He could overcome death as well. In Jesus we affirm that God is a God of transcendence. Jesus Christ who was the transcendent God broke the boundary of life and death, time and space, heaven and earth.

The faith of God’s transcendence empowers us to understand the mystery about life and death. The faith of Jesus’ resurrection from death gives to us strength and hope to encounter life struggles in physical illness, deep grief in the loss of beloved ones, sense of loneliness in the separation of relationships. All this brokenness and separations are only temporary. At the end, Jesus overcomes pains and death. In and with Jesus, we will not be defeated by suffering and death. This profound faith encourages us to live every day in full and with joy within.
Billy Graham passed away last week. Through the WhatsApp I received this message with words by Billy Graham, “Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now.  I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.” This powerful saying he adapted from the preacher and evangelist of the 19th century Dwight L. Moody  has revealed to us, Billy Graham is indeed a man with great faith.

In the past one year, five men to whom I felt close passed away. They are my teacher on spiritual direction, my father in law, two aged uncles, and our young brother from the church Saimon. To me, it is a year with heavy heart. But at the same time, I learn and reflect a lot about what is faith in midst of suffering and death.

Ekman Tam, my teacher on spiritual direction, demonstrated to me his deep spirituality and his close connection with God. In his teaching and writing, he always said in life and in death, he is always with God. From a spiritual point of view, nothing can take away one truth, we are God’s beloved children. In all places and in all times, good times and bad times, we are in union with God. We are forever connected with God even after our death on earth.
Although Ekman suffered great physical pain caused by cancer, he lived every day with joy, hope and peace. He continued to work and lived cheerfully until his last day on earth.
I found that our young brother Saimon had also lived his life fully by uplifting his life to God. Saimon suffered from his health challenges seven years ago when he was fourteen years old. He seldom complained. His endurance in suffering and pain is amazing. Whenever he was in hospital and I asked him if he had Jesus inside him and felt the peace within, he always nodded his head. Two weeks before he passed away, his condition was improved a bit. He was always smiling and looked cheerful. Amie told me Saimon held the cross Rev Judy brought him and kissed it after praying. This was the last encounter she had with Saimon on Sunday that she saw him for the last time. The image of his kiss on the cross is very touching to me. He could not speak. But his act showed his love and trust to Jesus Christ. The kiss on the cross showed to me his deep connection to God through Christ. In Christ, Saimon has triumphed over suffering and death and is living freely and eternally with God.
God’s Promise Realized through Faith
We took ‘Signs of God’s Promise’ as the theme for Lent this year.
You shall see the banners hung on the wall tell about signs of God’s promise. They were all made by Pastor Maggie with help of some ladies.
Last Sunday, the Old Testament revealed to us that covenant of the rainbow is a visible sign of God’s promise.
You will see in the church there is another banner with the patriarch Abraham on it.
Abraham was promised to be the Father of many nations. Patriarch Abraham is a symbol of God’s promise. In Genesis, we learned that Abraham was a man very faithful to God. He put his full trust in God in the midst of the uncertain promise of having a son when he was so old and his wife was barren. Although he was not so sure of God’s promise to him in making him father of many nations, he took the courage to leave his homeland to a foreign land. It demonstrated Abraham’s full trust in God. 
In Abraham, we learned that God’s promise was realized through faith. This was reinforced by the teaching of Apostle Paul in Romans. 

Paul said – “For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through therighteousness of faith.”  He further said that promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants who share the faith of Abraham.
Righteousness of faith is to trust in God and believe that in God all things are possible. We do whatever we can and trust in the Lord who will fulfil His will.  The righteousness of faith requires of us to let go of our own will and act beyond pre-assumptions according to social norms and our own human experience.

New names
When God promised Abraham and Sarah to be a Father and Mother of great nations, He gave them new names. The new name given by God is a sign of the Holy One’s presence. In many traditions, a new name given to a person is to symbolize change and a new stage of life.
It is remarkable to see God gave both Abraham and Sarah a new name. In here, God endorsed gender equality. God recognized the importance of both man and woman. In church, we always heard about Abraham who was given a new name and promise. In Genesis 17:15-16, it said very clearly that Sarai was given a new name – Sarah. God blessed her with a son and she shall give rise to nations, Kings of people shall come from her. We see in here the promise of God is given to both men and women.
In Catholic tradition, the baptized person is given a Christian name. He or she may be named after apostles from the Bible such as Paul and Peter, or named after some saints, like St. Theresa, St. Mary.

For many of us here are from Protestant background, we might not be given a new Christian name when we were baptised.

The new name of Abraham and Sarah given by God and Apostle Paul’s assertion on the importance of faith to all believers inspired me to affirm one truth. All Christians who are followers of Jesus Christ are given a new name called faith.

Apart from the promise of great nations, God promised Abraham and Sarah to make covenant with their next generations. God’s promise is everlasting to all generation. We are all heirs of Abraham and Sarah. Therefore, by faith we are able to receive God’s promise.
In the New Testament, God promised to save us and the world by sending Jesus to the world.  
Let us remember and affirm our identity as God’s beloved children and by faith in Jesus Christ who died and rose again from the death, we are given eternal life and forever united with God.
In the second Sunday of Lent, may our ancestor Abraham, our Lord Jesus Christ, our early church Apostle Paul and our beloved brother Saimon remind us that God’s promise is realized through faith.

May our name Faith and our trust in God’s promises of everlasting life and love carry us through an uncertain future and a challenging life journey with hope and joy.  

Closing prayer

Thank you God for your promise to our ancestors and to all generations after them, male and female, young and old, rich and poor. May you strengthen our faith and guide us by the power of the Holy Spirit to return to Christ and be faithful to God.  May the faith within us transform our heart to love and to live our life more like Christ. Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, February 25, 2018


Temptation: Tragedy or Triumph?

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 18 February 2018 by the Rev. Ewing W. [Bud] Carroll, Jr. The scripture readings that day were Genesis 9:8-17; I Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15.

      You may have heard the story about a young man who came to Hong Kong to work, leaving his girlfriend behind in the Philippines.  Soon after his arrival, she began texting him asking if he still loved her.  She had heard about all the beautiful and available young women in Hong Kong:  Filipino, Thai, Indonesian and Southern Asian domestic workers; women from Africa, many local women and hundreds from Mainland China.  The woman began to doubt her boyfriend’s loyalty to her; but he regularly told her, “Don’t worry; it’s very, very tempting, but I am only faithful to you.”
     A few weeks later, he received a small package from her:  a harmonica and a note.  The note said, “I'm sending this harmonica so you can take your mind off all those pretty girls.”  He replied, “Thanks so much.  I’m learning to play the harmonica.  Don’t worry.  I practice every night and think only about you.”
     That Christmas he returned to the Philippines for the holidays.  When he saw his girlfriend waiting for him at the airport, he hurried to her, anxious to hug and kiss her.  “Wait a minute,” she said.  “First I want to hear you play that harmonica.”
     The Gospel story about Jesus’ temptation is found in Matthew, Mark and Luke.  Today’s passage from Mark is briefer than the other two, which include the part about turning stones into bread. Mark tells us Satan tempted Jesus for forty days in the wilderness. During that time Jesus fasted and ate nothing.  If like us, there were probably times when he thought, ”I’m so hungry I could eat a bear.” There were probably times when he thought the idea of turning stones into bread probably sounded pretty good.  Well, he didn’t have a harmonica to practice.  But despite all the temptations he faced, Jesus remained loyal and faithful to God.
     Some people believe God intentionally puts temptations in our way; like broken glass in front of our feet; that God tries every mean or cruel way possible to test our loyalty and faithfulness.  I don’t buy such views for a minute!  I simply cannot think of God acting in such an unloving and unkind way.
     But let’s be clear:  Life is full of temptations.  However, temptation alone is neither sinful nor bad.  In fact, many times temptation can help strengthen our character; feed our souls; and nourish our spirits.  The question is not ”Why are there temptations in life?”  Rather, ”How do we deal with them?”  Do our temptations become tragedy or triumph?
     On this first Sunday of Lent, Christ invites us to find ways to strengthen our loyalty and faithfulness to God.  Throughout our Lenten journey; no matter what kinds of temptations come our way; whatever wildernesses we find ourselves in, we hope and pray they will lead to Triumph, not Tragedy.  How might we best do this? Let me share two possibilities, two words.
     First – the word identity.  One cold winter afternoon I was walking down a small back lane in Xian, China.  The sun was about to set.  Two little boys passed by; arm in arm, on their way home from school.  They were laughing and talking with one another.  Suddenly, they stopped and turned around and one boy shouted to the other, “Look, there’s a foreigner.”  I jokingly replied, “No, little friends. I’m not a foreigner.  I’m an American. You guys are foreigners to me.”  Then the one who shouted to his friend, straightened his back, looked up at me and proudly said, ”I am not a foreigner.  I’m Chinese.  Stupid.”  He was correct on both counts:  I was stupid and he clearly knew who he was…”I’m Chinese”!
     How many of you have a Hong Kong I.D. card? Are you like me, and on one or two occasions lost it?  You may have lost your card, but you never lose your identity.
     Jesus knew who he was.  He already knew the pain and agony of the Cross were ahead of him.  He knew that in God’s power, he could turn stones into bread.  But he also knew the difference between evil temptation and Godly encouragement.  Like Jesus, we need to be clear about our own identity: both who we are and whose we are.  In the face of temptation – of whatever kind, we need to remember – we belong to God. Human hunger, of whatever kind can best be satisfied by feasting on the Bread of God’s abiding love; not by stones of selfishness, personal power, spiritual indifference or feelings of pride and ambition.  
     Secondly, the word trust.  Today’s passage from Genesis is a beautiful example of trust. Thanks to modern technology [just joking!], I’ve been able to translate some of Noah’s conversation with God:  “God, you want me to do what?  Select some animals and put them on a boat that I’m supposed to build?  “That’s right.” “Lord, I can’t even swim, much less build a boat.”  “Hmmm. Have you ever tried?” “And keep the windows closed for 40 days?  I know you created everything, but do you remember what it would smell like after 40 days?”   “Noah, I’m not talking about your nose, I’m focusing on your ears.  Listen to what I’m commanding you to do.  Trust me.  Trust me.”
     Just forget about the boat, floods, stinky animals and Noah’s alleged age.  Focus on the Rainbow! The writers of Genesis were trying to remind Israel – and us – about the importance, joy and beauty of trusting God.
      An old African folk story tells how ostriches came to have long necks.  One day, a crocodile saw an ostrich walking along a riverbank.  Then ostriches had short necks.  The crocodile was hungry and thought the ostrich would make a delicious lunch.  The crocodile told the ostrich, ”I have a toothache and need your help.  Maybe you could look inside my mouth to see what’s the problem.”
     Many other animals had warned the ostrich, “Don’t ever trust a crocodile.”  But not trusting their wisdom, experience and judgment, the ostrich stuck its head into the crocodile’s mouth.  The crocodile quickly closed its jaws and the two struggled and struggled.  The crocodile’s teeth were strong and powerful.  The ostrich pulled and pulled, trying to get it’s head and neck out.  Eventually, the crocodile was so tired; it gave up and let the ostrich go.  But by that time, the ostrich’s neck had stretched longer than a bamboo pole.
     Jesus not only knew that he belonged to God, but he trusted God.  He understood that regardless of whatever difficulties or struggles he faced, he was in God’s hands
     In my native land of America, February is celebrated as Black History Month:  a time to recall both the sweet and sour ways white Americans treated persons of black African heritage; to commemorate the richness of their cultures and their own contributions to the nation’s development.
     Marian Anderson was a renowned opera singer in the latter half of the 20th Century.  Sadly, because she was black, she was not welcome to perform in America’s opera houses. She gained her fame in Europe’s opulent opera halls.  Towards the end of her career, her manager tried to book a performance in Washington, D.C.’s Constitution Hall. [I believe still owned and operated by the Daughters of The Confederacy.] The Hall’s white manager replied, ”No black person will ever perform in this Hall as long as I’m the manager.” Interestingly, Anderson probably remains most remembered for her renditions of “He’s Got the Whole World in His hands”! Anderson was clear about her identity as a Black woman and popular opera singer.  She also knew she belonged to God and despite all the unkind injustices thrown her way, she trusted fully in God’s love.
     If you think there are no temptations in life, you’re like a short or long necked ostrich!  Life is not, as an old song says, ”Just a bowl of cherries; so live and laugh at it all.” We face numerous temptations every day.  And while God doesn’t promise safety or protection from these difficulties, Lent is a time to more intentionally, more willingly and more joyfully place our lives in God’s hands.  In both prayer and action to say/do, ”Lead us not into temptationandYour will be done.” By trusting God, we too can turn our temptations from possible tragedy into joyful triumph. 
    By the way-how long is YOUR neck?

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, February 18, 2018


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