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

Frogs in a Well

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 18 March 2018 by the Rev. Ewing W. [Bud] Carroll, Jr. The scripture readings that day were Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33.

     The prophet Jeremiah lived some 500+ years before Christ. I don’t know of any popularity polls during that time.  If there were, his ratings would probably have been very close to zero.   But he did have one very strong supporter; and fortunately it was the only one who really counted – YHWH, God.
     Jeremiah is often called the “The Weeping Prophet”.  The tears he shed were not from the death of a parent or other family member; nor the end of a special relationship.  Rather, because the Jewish people continued to disobey God.  Both the Southern and Northern Kingdoms had suffered defeat from invading armies.  Much of Jerusalem’s so-called finest – probably the most professionally skilled, financially wealthy and politically powerful had been exiled to Babylonia.
     Fortunately, today’s lesson from Jeremiah paints a picture of happier and more hopeful days ahead. No tears; only sunshine and smiles.  Why? God had decided to forgive the Jewish people their Torah scroll length of sinful disobedience and create a new covenant. There’s no reason to suggest Jeremiah was thinking 500 years ahead to the birth of Jesus.  No, Jeremiah was recording God’s choice not to forget, but to forgive the sinful actions and inactions of God’s so-called Chosen People.
     Now, fast-forward to today’s Gospel lesson.  John tells us some Greeks were eager to meet Jesus. They’d gone to Jerusalem to celebrate The Passover.  They’d heard about this young miracle worker; one who was himself 100% Jewish, but was publicly challenging so many Jewish religious customs and practices. Probably out of curiosity, they asked Philip, himself a Greek, to introduce them to Jesus.  In turn, Philip asked the Disciple Andrew to arrange a meeting.
     Every language has words that are spelled alike, but have different meanings.  Over the past two years Pastor Maggie has spent considerable time as a patient in Queen Elizabeth Hospital.  You might have to ask her nurses if she were a patient patient or an impatient one!  The verb “see” has many different meanings:  “Oh, I see” meaning to understand; “Let’s go see a movie,” as to look; “See, she’s not coming after all”; like “I told you so!”  According to John’s account, it seems the Greeks wanted to MEET Jesus; they wanted to SEE him at work; to know something about him.
     Whatever their intention or purpose – the Greeks got more than they asked for.  Instead of some “show and tell” they could talk about following their return home, Jesus gave them an eye-full; an ear-full; and a mind-full; that to “see” him meant to learn a new way of living; not a return to the traditional thoughts and actions of yesterday; but to a life of sacrifice and service
      I think every language has special idioms or expressions; usually only a few words to explain something.  One example:  “I slept like a log last night.” does that mean I’m a blockhead?  No.  Basically I was so comfortable, I probably didn’t move the entire night.  The Chinese language has hundreds of both spoken and written expressions; often only four characters. One of my favorites is Frog In a Well [井低之蛙].  It describes a narrow minded person; someone with very confining views; someone who is provincial; someone who thinks they are always right and unwilling or unable make any changes.”   I recall with considerable embarrassment my own Frog in a Well attitude when I would assertively say, “I might not always be right, but I’m never wrong.
     For Jeremiah, the Jewish people seemed pretty much like a Frog in a Well: very limited, if not narrow-minded views about God and their own importance.  Especially limited understandings about God’s desire to forgive them.  Meanwhile, the Greeks who asked to see Jesus, also reflected a sense of narrowness; especially in terms of who Jesus was and what his ministry on earth included.
     But let’s not stop with just the sinful and disobedient Jews and the curious Greeks.  In this special Lenten Season, we are also invited and challenged to widen our own thoughts, feelings and actions about our faith in Christ.  To say “Farewell to being a frog in any kind of narrow and restrictive well.” Today’s lessons from Jeremiah and John offer us some possibilities:
     1.  Firstly, New Life comes from Death.  Vegetable seeds, like a grain of wheat, left in a packet are just that – a packet of seeds.  It’s only when they are planted, watered and nurtured that they become useful, “new life.” Remember, the Jewish people were keen to have a Messiah who would bring them political and cultural power; financial wealth and respect.  If anyone were to die, they hoped it would be their enemies from neighboring nations.
     When Jesus met the curious Greeks, he turned all this upside down. He offered to them, as he offers to you and me – the Cross, not conquest; servant hood, not royal powers. He invites and challenges us – to climb out of whatever narrow wells keep us from walking closer to him – and to one another:  death to any feelings of national, political, religious, cultural or gender superiority; death to bitter tongues; death to jealous thoughts; and death to closed minds, ears, hands and hearts.  Paul’s words to the Philippians   underscores this:   “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.”
      2. Secondly, new life comes through taking risks.   Close to 60 years ago I was a pastor to 356 mostly elderly people.  An old retired pastor warned me not to make any changes; don’t do anything different. “Be careful, old dogs cannot learn new tricks.”” Well, many of those old dogs taught me you can learn new tricks – if you’re willing to take risks.  Through them I discovered these challenging and encouraging words from Alfred North Whitehead, a famous British mathematician /philosopher: “It’s better to fail in moving ahead, than to succeed in standing still.”  Or as someone has written “better an ‘oops’ than a ‘what if?”   I’m convinced the greatest risk in all of life is the risk of not risking.  Jimmy Carter, a former peanut farmer, governor and American President shared these encouraging words to people fearful to risk positive change: “Go out on a limb, that’s where the fruit is.”
     I shudder every time I see a church bulletin listing the hymn “Take My life and Let it Be”. No way!  That’s a “No pain, No gain, No risk” mind-set. It’s “Take My Life and Let it be Consecrated, Lord to Thee ”.  That, is truly dying to a selfish “Frog in a Well” lifestyle. Death.  Risk. Both are partners in our Lenten journey.
     This anonymous and frequently cited poem is a warning
and welcoming reminder about our fears to be risk-takers:

There was a very cautious man who never laughed or played.
He never risked, he never tried, he never sang or prayed.
And when he one day passed away his insurance was denied.
For since he never really lived, they claimed he never really died.“

          The hymn ”Great Is Thy Faithfulness” is a KUC favorite.  Written by Thomas Chisholm 2,500 years after Jeremiah shared God’s desire to forgive a sinful and selfish Jewish people; and 2,000 years after the curious Greeks asked to “see” Jesus. The hymn beautifully shows how God’s forgiveness offers new joys, new opportunities and new life to any and all who seek them.  But there’s another Chisholm hymn, one of 1,200 he wrote, that’s seldom sung these days.  Entitled “Living for Jesus” the hymn mirrors a life after we have begun to bury whatever has kept us in our narrow, comfortable and selfish ways:
Living for Jesus wherever I am, doing each duty in His holy name;
willing to suffer affliction and loss, deeming each trial a part of my Cross.
O Jesus, Lord and Savior, I give myself to thee;
for Thou in thy atonement, didst give thyself for me.
I own no other Master, my heart shall be thy throne;
my life I give, henceforth to live, O Christ for Thee alone.
My sister and brother Frogs in a Well, Lent is a time to start climbing.   There’s new light and new life at the top!  As we sang earlier this morning, “No turning back.  No turning back!”

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


To Love but not to condemn

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 11 March 2018, the Fourth Sunday in Lent, by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22 ; John 3:14-21.                                               

Opening prayer
Living God, thank you for your Word. May your Word be real to us, your steadfast love and Jesus Christ the incarnated God strengthen our faith. May the Holy Spirit live in us, give us wisdom and freedom. May the word of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you and reveal your glory O Lord. Amen.

The Love of God is for all
The gospel reading of John we heard this morning should be very familiar to many Christians.

The verse 3:16  - “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but may have eternal life.” This verse has been regarded as the Golden Verse of the Bible. It has been widely used by churches in their evangelical activities.

In the Gospel according to John, the author explicitly shared with the readers and the community of faith that God came to the world in human form. Jesus Christ was the incarnated God, the Word made flesh.

Jesus’ salvation is for everyone, not only for a particular race –the Jews nor only for a particular nation – Israel. This message was ground-breaking in the early church era. It is because Jews regarded themselves as the chosen people of God. Jesus broke this tradition and regarded all people could be God’s children through him.

The promise of God revealed in Jesus Christ is great love and very radical because it breaks all barriers and He intended to heal, to forgive and to bring all people to reconnect with God the Holy One.

John 3:16, for God so loved the world. Here the author is referring to the world. There are commentators who say that God’s salvation through Jesus Christ includes not only human beings but also includes the whole creation made by God. So nature and animals are also part of God’s redemption. 

God’s incarnation to the world
For God so loved the world He came to us directly to taste the suffering and pain on earth. He came to live and ended with suffering and death on the cross. Jesus, God in human flesh, has the first-hand experience of humanity.

God entering into the world is a remarkable claim of faith in Christianity. We will never fully understand others’ suffering and pain unless we ourselves experience it directly. Jesus Christ broke the boundary of heaven and earth, spirit and flesh, took the risk to come to the world. We know then how deep is God’s love to us and to the world that He has made. God does not turn his back when he sees the brokenness of the world. Instead He came to partake in it and to restore its wholeness.

To love but not to condemn
The verse 3:16  - “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but may have eternal life” is a statement very powerful to indicate God’s grace to save and to give eternal life. Many evangelists interpret it as only converted Christians will be given eternal life. Those who do not believe in Jesus Christ will perish and be sent to hell after death.

I heard a young person cried when he was extremely disturbed that his mother was not yet a Christian. His mother is a traditional woman believing in popular religion and ancestor worship. This young man is afraid that his mother will go to hell and he will forever separate from her after death if she refuses to become a Christian.

I felt so sad with his sharing. What’s in my mind is this young man and his mother are in hell as he is living a life full of fear and his relationship with his mother is so tense and divisive because of differences in religious belief. I felt sorry for him.

When I got married to Tong 26 years ago, Tong was not yet confessing his faith as a Christian. A sister from my home church called me to rethink my decision to marry a man who is not a Christian. She said he won’t be in heaven after death if he is not a Christian. I was very annoyed with what she said. My response to her was the God that I believed is LOVE.  Jesus came to the world to save. So I trust that God will not send a good and kind person to hell. Besides I said to her the Kingdom of God is not somewhere out there after death, but it lives within our heart. It was what Jesus said. (Luke 17:21) Besides, when Jesus was asked by the Jewish religious lawyers about eternal life, he reiterated that a person can inherit eternal life by following God’s greatest commandment – to love God, to love our neighbor as ourselves. (Luke 10:25-28)

V 3:17 from John says - “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” 

This verse reminds us that Jesus Christ, the Son of God who came to the world, is to love but not to condemn and judge.

The name of God is mercy and steadfast love
Some years ago, two women came to our sanctuary to pray. They claimed they are Christians. They prayed very loudly with spoken words and thus caught my attention. When they saw me, they spoke to me about the issue of homosexuality. They probably know that I am a pastor affirming equal rights and dignity of homosexuals and KUC is an inclusive church which embraces sexual minorities. They are obviously not happy about it. One of them said to me ‘You are pastor, don’t you know that homosexuals will go to hell? You should help them to change.’

Many Christians, even pastors, shared such judgment on homosexuals.  Pope Francis however reacted very differently when he was asked about gays in an interview two years ago in Jan 2016. He said, “If a person is gay and seeks out the Lord and is willing, who am I to judge that person?” He further pointed out that by heart the Catechism of the Catholic Church where it says that these people should be treated with delicacy and not be marginalized.”

He reminded people not to forget that “God loves all his creatures and we are destined to receive his infinite love.” He put it clearly that ‘The name of God is mercy.’

Psalm 107 also reminds us that the name of God is steadfast love. The Lord is the one who heals and saves those who are in trouble.

Pope Francis is a world spiritual leader who demonstrated his compassionate love to the children of God. He reveals the heart of Christ, the incarnated God – that is to love unconditionally.

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17) This  verse is a strong statement and message on God’s unconditional love – God came to the world to love but not to condemn.

In reality, many Christians like to condemn others and become God to sit on the judgement seat.

I really like the way Pope Francis suggested treating homosexuals. What he suggested can be applied to others who are regarded as sinners and being marginalized by society and by church. These people could be prisoners, sex workers, refugees, homeless, and people who have contracted HIV/AIDS.

Pope Francis suggested to have these sisters and brothers who have been condemned and judged come to confession, that they stay close to the Lord, pray with them together, advise them to pray, show goodwill, show them the way, and accompany them to walk along it.

Pope Francis has shown to us the way of Christ, the way to Christ, and the way in Christ.

Last week, Dr Hope shared with us in her sermon the Commandment from God is another sign of God’s promise. She concluded that the greatest Commandment is to love God, to love your neighbour and yourself.

This week we received another sign of God’s promise – that is Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. You can see from the banner at your right. The Cross is the symbol of Christ. He lives deeply inside our heart. Jesus’s compassionate love – his death and resurrection on the Cross – reveals to us and the world God’s deep and steadfast love. Jesus Christ, the light of the world, came to cast away darkness and guide his people to live a life of love and do no evil against others.

We live in a world full of trouble and hardship. The readings of the Psalm and Gospel for this fourth week in the Season of Lent deal with real love and real pain. Exclusion is real. War is real. Cancer is real. Abuse is real. Poverty is real. Threats to rule of law in HK is real. And still, God’s love is real. God’s love is everlasting. No matter how devastating and broken the condition of life, God works for healing, wholeness, and redemption. Jesus Christ came to renew all things and bring freedom. Let us continue to walk our Lenten journey with this promise from God through Christ.

Let us pray:
Thank you God for coming to us and living in this world and within us. Grant us faith to receive your promise of eternal life and steadfast love through Jesus Christ, your only son, the Word made flesh. Teach us Jesus to live a life like you, to love but not to condemn. Amen. 

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, March 11, 2018


Another Sign of God’s Promise

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 4 March 2018Third Sunday in Lent, by Dr. Hope S. Antone. The scripture readings that day were Exodus 20:1–17, Psalm 19:7–11, John 2:13–22.

During this season of Lent, we at Kowloon Union Church are on a journey to God’s promise. Although the Worship Committee chose the theme, “Signs of God’s Promise,” we hope that you are with us on this journey. God’s promise is known in different words like salvation, deliverance, freedom from bondage, eternal life, shalom. We also know that the road to the promise is not always smooth, quick or easy. At some point of the journey, one can get confused, frustrated, or distracted. And so we are looking out for signs of God’s promise to help us stay on track.  

For this 3rd Sunday of Lent the sign of God’s promise to help us stay on track is the “Ten Commandments” or what the renowned Bible scholar, Walter Brueggemann, calls “The Big Ten.” According to Exodus 20:1-17, God spoke these commandments at Mt. Sinai after the Israelites left Egypt en route to the promise land.

Usually, the Ten Commandments are understood as rules for a good and godly life. I remember one preacher saying, “Majority of the Ten Commandments are easy to follow because they begin with ‘You shall not…”, which means you do not have to do anything.” Well, I think it is not that simple.

Seen in the context of the biblical Israel, there is a lot to learn from the Ten Commandments. That context is clearly laid out by the words of God’s identification through God’s act of salvation: “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery...”

For the Israelites of biblical times, the Big Ten means that in order for them not to revert to their status of slavery as in Egypt, they have to live by the Ten Commandments as guiding principles. Walter Brueggemann calls them “strategies for staying emancipated.” By looking at the Ten Commandments as guiding principles or strategies, we will understand the context and the spirit in which they were given, rather than focusing on the letters or words in which they were spoken. 

Many Bible scholars agree that the Big Ten provides 2 basic principles or strategies: The first principle/strategy is honoring God above all else. The second principle/strategy is honoring one another. But in between them is another principle/strategy: keeping the Sabbath holy, which I propose means honoring the self

The first principle/strategy of honoring God above all else is explicated by the first 3 commandments. These commandments require NO other gods, NO graven images, and NO taking of the name of God in vain. Some of us may have used these commandments to judge other religions for their statues of gods, goddesses, or saints; and to refrain from cursing, swearing, or saying the OMG. But in view of the Israelites’ slavery in Egypt, these commandments on honoring God are a strong reminder that the God of Israel who saved them from slavery is the one true God. This is the real God; not Pharaoh who claimed to be god. This true God does not require the making of sculptures, statues, or mausoleums to represent Godself; whereas the pharaoh required such expensive projects to secure his image and empire. Where pharaoh had claimed to be a god, enslaving the people and subjecting them to hard and harsh labor, the God of Israel hears their cries, shares their burden, and offers them deliverance.

Today, the images of idolatry are more complicated than the physical sculptures, statues and other symbols. Idolatry is present through ideas that promote the primacy of something in place of God. For example, nationalism can be a form of idolatry, as nations think first or only of their own kind at the expense of the other vulnerable groups. There is a surge of nationalism today, in a time of so much fear and insecurity. A sense of nationhood is not bad; but promoting it in a way that hurts or harms the vulnerable groups in society is bad. 

The second principle/strategy is honoring one another, explicated by the last 6 commandments. These commandments are reminders that all persons other than oneself are neighbors who deserve respect and humane treatment. Neighbors include parents, other people, aliens or foreigners. In the Israelites’ context of slavery in Egypt, they were the neighbors, the aliens or foreigners who were not respected or treated humanely. Instead, they were enslaved, used as commodities or means to an end. The pharaoh was the prime example of covetousness who always wanted more than what he already had.

Today, we see more images of the lack of respect for the other. The manifestations of the lack of respect for the other – i.e. murder, adultery, stealing, bearing false witness, coveting what the neighbor has – are still here, only in more organized manner. There is a lot of fear and hate towards the other. To address the fear and the hatred, some people resort to violence. The commandments to honor one another are a reminder that life is a gift from God. Hence, life is sacred and must be respected.   

The third principle/strategy of honoring the Sabbath is explicated by the 4th commandment. Just as God rested on the seventh day, after six days of creating the world and all that is in it, human beings who are created in God’s image are also expected to rest. In the context of the Israelites’ slavery in Egypt, the pharaoh did not observe the Sabbath. Instead, the pharaoh subjected the people to hard and harsh labor. 

In his book, Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No the Culture of Now, Walter Brueggemann calls the Sabbath the divine rest on the seventh day of creation which demonstrates that the Lord God, YHWH, is not a workaholic, not anxious about the full functioning of creation whose well-being does not depend on endless work. This is the mindset of God, but not of pharaoh.

To say that “because God rested, human beings also deserve rest” is to say that the fourth commandment is about honoring the self as created in God’s image. Honoring the self is in recognition of God’s divine image. It is also the basis or standard for honoring the neighbor. And this is why this commandment of honoring the self serves as a bridge between the principle of honoring God above all else and the principle of honoring one another. According to Luke (10:27), Christ Jesus summed up the Ten Commandments as: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

As we journey through this Lenten season, may this understanding of the Ten Commandments be a sign for us of God’s promise. Let it be a reminder of our calling to honor and love God above all else, and our neighbor as ourselves. Just as Christ Jesus cleansed the temple from the idolatry of money that violated not only the purpose of religion but also the lives of the poor, we are called to cleanse our own body-selves, as the temple of God, from any idolatry that has replaced the primacy of God in our lives.

Let us remember that idolatry belongs to the pharaoh, not to God. Idolatry is anything that keeps us away from this calling to have healthy and meaningful relationships with God, with our neighbors and with ourselves. Instead, idolatry breeds greed and covetousness (insatiable desire for more than what we already have), anti-neighborliness (fear or hate of the other), rat-race busyness of work (instead of observing the Sabbath), which alienate us from God, our neighbors and ourselves.

May God go with us during this challenging journey. Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, March 04, 2018


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