Reflections...

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

The Unity of Love

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 29 April 2018, the Fifth Sunday of Easter, by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Acts 8:26–40 ; 1 John 4:7–21 ; John 15:1–8

Opening prayer
Loving God, open our ears and our hearts to receive Your Word. May Your Word of love inspire and transform us. May our life be connected with You like the branches abide in the vine and bear much fruit for your glory.  Amen.

Today I would like to share with you a message about love.

Mother Theresa once said, “The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.”

Dear friends, are you hungry for love? What kind of love are you longing for?

The topic on love leads me think of a love story of a young man and woman who have decided to get married after 15 years of dating. I would like to share their story with you. I’ll call them Jenny and David.

Jenny and David went to the same secondary school. David did very well in his study while Jenny was just average. But David always has full trust in Jenny. David would do everything to encourage Jenny and to build up her self-confidence. Jenny has been fully accepted by David as who she is. She said David has helped her to become the better person God has created her to be. Jenny grew up in a broken family. Her father left her mother when she was very small. Because of this, she has no confidence in marriage and was afraid to engage in intimate relationship. But David’s selfless love has given her light and hope. Jenny in her relationship with David, she realized how love has saved her. She allows love to cast away her fear inside and she is set free. As she has been strengthened by the love of David, she is more courageous to love. In the end, she agrees to get married and start a new family. When I was listening to their story, I was very touched. I felt the deep love of God in them. David in his selfless love towards Jenny has revealed God’s love and kindness. Their love story fulfills the Word of God we heard this morning from the scriptures:

1 John 4:18

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reach perfection in love.” And it continues

1 John 4:19

“We love because God first loved us.”

It is the love of God that nurtures Jenny and David to grow into maturity and binds them together.

Their love relationship echoes the words said by Lao Tzu (Old Master), a Chinese philosopher:

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”

I admire Jenny for her courage to love others and herself.

In reality, I think there are many people like Jenny, having wounds and fear in loving relationships of different kinds. We are living in an imperfect world. We may have been wounded when we love someone so much. They could be our spouse, our partners, our parents, our children, our friends, our sisters and brothers in church, you name it.

There is a song sung by a band called R.E.M. – Everybody hurts. Recently I heard an Irish priest, Father Ray Kelly, sing it in Britain’s Got Talent. I would like to summarize the lyrics and share with you.

Well, everybody hurts sometimes

So hold on, hold on

Everybody hurts.

You are not alone.

Love hurts. Perhaps the more we love, the more we hurt.

Our God has been deeply hurt too. Jesus Christ, the Son of God came to the world for the sake of love. But he was tortured to death on the cross. He suffered great physical pain and great insult. Even his disciples betrayed him.  In his anguish, Jesus cried to God to take away the cup of suffering in the garden of Gethsemane. Love is not something romantic. There is always a cost for love. The deeper the love, the greater the cost that needs to be paid.

Suffering and pain, doubt and fear, darkness and death are all part of life and faith.

According to the church liturgical year, we are still in the season of Easter celebrating the joy of Jesus’ resurrection and the new life given to us and to the world. The salvation that Jesus brought to us has to go through suffering and pain. In Jesus, we know ‘We are not alone!’

The human face of Jesus allows us to accept our weakness, vulnerability, struggles and failures. With his full acceptance, we don’t have to escape from pain and unloving moments but to embrace them with faith and courage. The death of Jesus reveals his greatness, love and kindness. His resurrected love strengthens us to endure suffering and overcome fear.

Jesus, the incarnated God to the world, who died and rose again is forever connected to the Holy One, the eternal God. He is Life and Love. When we abide in him, we abide with God for eternity, the God of everlasting love. 

Look! When we say and believe that Jesus lives in us the human flesh, our human body is sharing God’s life through the Holy Spirit. We are truly human being and at the same time we are truly spiritual beings. That is the mystery of Jesus’ incarnation and the lesson that we learn from today through the metaphor of the vine and the branches, to indicate our identity and our relationship with Jesus Christ.

John 15:1, it says “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower” (15:1).

John 15: 5a “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit... ”

Jesus gave to his disciples the teaching of abiding in him. “Abide in me as I abide in you” (15:4) Jesus and I are one. Through Christ we are in union with God. The question is how do we know we are one with God? (pause)

Jesus said when we abide in him we can bear fruit, because apart from him we can do nothing. As Tong shared with us in the children’s talk just now, the fruit Jesus refers to is the spiritual fruit that could nourish people’s hearts and soul. They are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

In 1 John 4, the apostle of the early church enlightened and affirmed us this truth - “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.

The love story of Jenny and David affirms the biblical truth ‘Where there is love, there is God.’

1 John 4:12 is another powerful verse to lead us understand the unity of love in God. “No one has seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us”

Recently I watched a film - The Secret Superstar.

I was in particular touched by the episode on the mother-daughter relationship.

The context of the film is in a traditional Indian family and culture. The husband’s family forced this mother to go for abortion after they know that the baby is a girl. But this woman refused to obey and she left home to keep her girl. Only after she gave birth did she return home. For the sake of her child, this mother tolerated her husband’s violence against her.

When the daughter realized that her mother has sacrificed so much to save her life even before she was born, she gave up her dream of becoming a singer. But she felt very upset. When her abusive father tried to take her guitar, the last and only thing left in her passion in singing, the mother took the courage to stand up for her daughter by resisting her husband’s unreasonable demand. She ended up making a decision to divorce. The deep love between the mother and daughter made them to give up something they valued so much. For the sake of loving her daughter, the mother gave up her fixed beliefs, sense of security and comfort zone to take risk for their future.

The love of one another is powerful indeed to bring changes and transformation of people’s lives. The sacrificing love the mother and the daughter have for each other has given them great strength to strive for a better life with dignity. They reveal the unity of love from the Divine!

It is perhaps easier to love someone you like and have close relationship with. The challenge from the apostle of the early church is to love our sisters and brothers especially those we don’t really like.  1 John 4:20-21 challenged us with this, “Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The Commandment we have from God is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”

These words are straightforward but very remarkable. Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection is to bring new life and new hope to all. This is the unity of love for everyone. When we abide in Jesus and He in us, we know that not only I am abiding in God, but all other people are abiding in God. In union with God, we are one with other sisters and brothers who are also called the children of God. We share the same life and same love in God. In this mystery of oneness, we share joy and sorrow together, we share love and hate together, we share and life and death together. 

From the Book of Acts 8:26–40 we heard a story about an Ethiopian eunuch who is a serious faith seeker and reads from the prophet Isaiah as he travels home from Jerusalem. However, he could not participate fully in the worshipping life of Israel because of his race and his sexual identity.  Guided by the Spirit, Philip meets him where he is, shares with him the scriptures in his questions, and proclaims to him the good news of Jesus the Christ. This Ethiopian court official is baptized and becomes part of the Christian community. Philip has set a good example for us to include and embrace sisters and brothers who are different from us and who are not conformed to the mainstream.

God is Love. When we abide in God and God is in us, we have the great capacity to love and to embrace all.

Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit... ”

Sisters and brothers, in union with God, let us bear the fruit of love and share it with the hungry souls. 

To end my sermon, I would like to share another quote from Mother Teresa:


 “Love is a fruit in season at all times, and within reach of every hand.”

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, April 29, 2018

 

“Peace be with you”?

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 8 April 2018, Second Sunday of  Easter, by Justine Wong. The scripture readings that day were  Psalm 133, Acts 4:32–35, John 20:19–31.


            “May the peace of the Lord be with you.” *We greet each other with this phrase on Sunday, usually not so early, maybe after the sermon and prayer. Have you ever wondered, why don’t we say something else like “May good health be with you”, or “May good fortune be with you”? Why do we “pass the peace”? What’s so special about peace?

            In the gospel reading today, we know that after Jesus resurrected from death, He appeared among the disciples. What is His opening line? Jesus greets them and says “Peace be with you.” He actually said this three times in this passage. Today we are going to learn why this is so important, so important that when we greet one another, we follow Jesus’ example. Let’s look first at verse 19.
           
John 20:19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you."

            The doors were locked, because the disciples were afraid of the Jews. They were scared. Let’s imagine we were the disciples. The teacher and leader we’ve been following for three years was arrested, persecuted and crucified on the cross. Even our stronger disciple Peter has denied Jesus three times. Of course we’re afraid! Our teacher is dead now! And this morning, they said the body of Jesus was gone! We’re afraid of the Jews, because they may come and blame us for stealing the body, then persecute and kill us!

            If we put ourselves in their shoes, it actually makes a lot of sense. The disciples were trying to hide and keep the door locked, so the Jews can’t find them.
            And In their fear, something dramatic happened. Even the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them. This is impossible! It’s a miracle, not only because Jesus came through the locked door, He is alive! Jesus showed up when they were most fearful and confused. Jesus knew their hearts, so he said “Peace be with you.” What a great comfort to the disciples. They knew this is their teacher Jesus, because not too long ago, Jesus told them that He is giving them peace. In John 14:27 he said:
            “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

            Jesus has conquered death and resurrected! He is risen! We don’t need to be afraid of what the world will do to us, because Jesus is more powerful than the world. He is leaving His peace for us, and said to us “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Do you have something that’s troubling your hearts now? Are you afraid of something? Jesus knows our hearts, just as He knew what the disciples were facing. He is offering His peace to you and me in our fear.

The story continues:
            20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.

            After the disciples saw Jesus and His broken body, they rejoiced. Jesus said to them the second time “Peace be with you.” Why? Because Jesus is going to entrust them with a mission, sending them out to be His witness. Jesus is not asking the disciples to go alone. He offered them His peace, and gave them the Holy Spirit. This was a powerful and affirming moment.
            However, someone is missing out this big event. Thomas. He wasn’t there to meet the resurrected Jesus. So when other disciples told him about this encounter, Thomas didn’t believe it. He even said, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe."

            So a week later, when Thomas was still in doubt, Jesus appeared again. Guess what was His opening greeting? “Peace be with you.”! Yes, this is the third time Jesus offered His peace. He passed the peace to the disciples when they were in fear, in preparation for a mission, and even in doubt. Similarly, in different situations and difficulties we are facing, Jesus offers His peace to us. Peace is a great gift from God, and it comes with a calling. We are asked to be a witness for Christ, and to share this peace to one another.

            Can you feel His peace in your heart? Or is your heart still troubled? Indeed, sometimes our heart would still be troubled. Why? Is Jesus’s peace not as powerful as He claims it to be? Or is there something wrong with us? Let’s go back to Thomas, and see how his doubt was transformed.

27 Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe."
28 Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!"
29 Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."

            What’s the keyword here? Can you see it? It is “believe”. Believe is the key to fully experiencing Jesus’ peace. Thomas was doubtful and unbelieving, but Jesus did not rebuke him. It’s OK to be in doubt sometimes. Jesus gave room for Thomas to see and to believe. He knows some of us may take a longer time to believe in Him, and He is patient with us. Sometimes God would reveal himself to us according to our needs, and we need to be patient and wait for His timing. Are you making room and expecting God to show up in your life? Are you prepared to see, and to believe? Verse 31 points us to the focus of what should we believe in:

31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

            We need to believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, who is in control of the world. He is the source of all things, and the center of all lives. Only when we acknowledge God is in control in the midst of our problems, we can have true peace. We’re not fighting on our own, but we let God take control. At the same time, we are willing to let Him mold us and transform us.

            But the story doesn’t end here. Do you think the disciples really believed in Jesus? They were so fearful and doubtful, can they really sustain and demonstrate the peace that Jesus is giving them? Can they carry out their calling from Jesus? In our reading from Acts today, it said:

Acts 4:32-33- 32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.
33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.

            This group of believers were boldly proclaiming Jesus, and fully living out their calling. They were no longer hiding. Their lives were transformed. They were living a new way, sharing possessions and starting the early church community. This is the beautiful picture described in Psalm 133: How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!
            What was different since that time they were fearful? Their fear and doubt have now turned into peace and power, because they believe in Jesus, who is the Messiah and the Son of God.
            Sisters and brothers, our God is truly powerful and can turn things upside down. Are we believing in this same powerful God, or do we tend to put God in a box, not truly believing that He can deliver and transform us? Do you believe that Jesus can offer you peace, in all situations?

            Having “Peace” doesn’t mean that everything is smooth with us. No. Having “peace” means your heart is not troubled, even when you are in difficulties. And if you believe in Jesus, and live out the peace in you, you may be able to bring an impact to the gloomy situation you are in. The process may still be painful, and you may need to give up part of yourself. Are we ready to be transformed by God, even in our hard times?

            Let me conclude with a story. A daughter complains to her father that life is too miserable, and she is full of fear and doubt, like the disciples. She is tired of fighting all the time. It seems like as one problem is solved, another follows. What is the meaning of life? 

            So her father, who is a cook, brings her to the kitchen. He takes some potatoes, eggs and coffee beans. He then boil three large pots of water, and puts the three items in each pot. After a while, he puts the potatoes in one bowl, the eggs in another and pours the coffee into a cup.

 “What do you see?” he asks. Potatoes, eggs and coffee,” she says.
He asks her to touch the potatoes. They are soft. He asks her to break the shell on one of the eggs. The egg inside is hard. Finally, he asks her to smell the coffee. It’s a nice coffee smell. “What does it mean?” she asks.
            Her father explains that the potatoes, eggs and coffee beans all faced the same adversity, but each reacted differently. The potatoes went in strong, but came out soft. A thin shell protected the liquid interior of the egg, but once it’s cooked, the inside of the egg became hard. The coffee beans were different. When they were exposed to the boiling water, they changed the water and created something new.
“Which are you?” he asks his daughter. This is also my question for you.
           
            It’s true that adversity or difficulty happens to us and around us. It’s how we react and adapt to it that can make a difference. We can rely on ourselves when we face a problem, just like the potato and the egg, it changes itself, maybe from hard to soft, or soft to hard. But the change is only within itself, and it cannot influence the surrounding.

            The coffee bean is different. Apart from changing itself, it also transforms the water into coffee. Just like the disciples, who received the peace from Jesus, not only changing themselves from fearful to faithful, but also leading a new way of living – building a community with unity, and professing Jesus with power.

            The song we sung last week serves as a nice closing reminder for us:
“Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone.
Because I know He holds the future. And life is worth the living, just because He lives”

            Jesus lives and brings us peace. Peace is a gift, and we receive it with a calling. We are called to profess our faith, and to pass the peace to others.  


            “May the peace of the Lord be with you.” And may we believe this peace that Jesus offered us from the bottom of our hearts, so we can live out the true essence of this greeting, and share it with one another. 

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, April 08, 2018

 
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 1 April 2018, Easter Sunday, by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were  Psalm  118:1-2, 14-24; John 20:1-21.


Thank you so much UCCP choir for the powerful song  - ‘Gone, the tomb is empty’, and friends of OBIC for your interpretive drama with the song ‘He’ sung by Wintley  Phipps.

Both of your groups have shared the great message about Easter through the arts of singing and creative acts. You really help me to keep my sermon short.

The song “Gone, the tomb is empty” goes so well with the gospel story we heard today. 

The empty tomb is a powerful image of God’s transforming power. Jesus, the risen Lord defeated the power of sin and won victory over death.

In the empty tomb, death has no more power. The empty tomb inspires us to know this. It is life that speaks. It is joy that speaks. It is hope that speaks. It is the grace of God that speaks.

The empty tomb reminds us of the essence of Easter:

The resurrection of Jesus triumphs over darkness. He affirms for us that no one can take away our life, joy and hope in the midst of uncertainty, insecurity and persecution.

The song ‘HE’ and the drama of OBIC are so touching. They helped us to revisit the spirit of Easter. Easter is not just about holiday, Easter eggs and parties. The celebration of Easter takes us back to Jesus Christ, the one who came to the world to forgive and to give new life for the sake of love. Jesus came to calm the sea. If you are in the storms of doubts, of stress, of uncertainties, of sadness, of brokenness, come to Jesus, the risen Lord, he calms your storms of all kinds. Jesus, the risen Lord who has overcome sin and death has the power to help us and save us.

Jesus came to listen to the prayer of a child. God cares for everyone, the strong and the weak, the rich and the poor, the sinners and the saints. Jesus came to bring us back to God, the Holy One who has created us in his holy image. God cares about us and He wants us to reconnect with Him. God loves us so much that He has even given up his life and suffered for us.

When Jesus called the weeping Mary Magdalene by her name – ‘Mary!’, she immediately recognized the man before him was Jesus, her master whom she loved and respected. The resurrected Jesus who called us by our name has asked us to see him with a new perspective. The Easter gospel reminds us to renew our faith and life. Let us not try to find the living God in a dead person. The risen Jesus inspires us to seek a faith of life that lives in the present, and not a faith of death that lives in the past.

The living Christ is no more living in the tomb.  Too often we are too attached to our old thinking, old habit and old pattern in our faith, in our relationship with God and others, as well as in our life. We need to be changed. We need to grow in our faith and in our life – to be a more mature Christian, to be a more reflective person that lives in the present and see God with new eyes.

When we celebrate Easter and embrace the joy and hope Jesus brings to us and the world, we need to make it meaningful by living here and now, no more attachment to the past, no matter how good and sweet it could be. Neither do we allow the wounds and misery in our past hinder us to move on, Jesus the risen Lord encourages us to let go and have the courage to heal in the midst of pain.

Easter is about change and doing new things for the sake of God, for the sake of love - for God, for your good-self and for others. The recent massive demonstrations led by students in the USA, have courageously asked for change, for stricter gun control to prevent mass shootings. They challenged politicians to pass legislation for gun control because it can no longer be delayed. Some young people shared with tears in the demonstration because they suffered from gun violence in one way or another. Some are survivors who managed to escape from the shooting scene. Some lost their beloved family members or friends. But they refuse to let these terrible events destroy their lives. They refuse to suffer in silence and let the powerful politically and economically to get their way. They stand and live out the Easter spirit of change – no more innocent death and unjust suffering, but justice, love and peace!

Every year we celebrate Easter. What is new and special for you this year? Change and be transformed for the sake of love are what I ask of you.

To end my sermon, I would like each one of us to pray silently and make a pledge before Jesus one or two things that you wish to change.

It could be about forgiveness and reconciliation with someone you love and care about, it could be about healing of past wounds, it could be a more courageous life, more love and caring to your family and the community you belong to, more study to equip yourself for a more fulfilling life and engage in the mission that God has called upon you.

Sisters and brothers, let’s seek God and ask Jesus for the power of change and transformation. I will end the silence with a bell and a prayer.  

Closing prayer
Jesus Christ, God of new life,
may your resurrection,
anchor us in hope once more.
Jesus Christ, God of new possibilities,
deepen our faith to believe that
there are mysteries beyond our knowing.
Strengthen us to trust ourselves as we trust in you.
Empower us to change and transform with love.
Grant to us everlasting joy so we can be glad and rejoice in Jesus’ salvation in all times and in all places! Make our life reveal the presence of God and so we may for the rest of our life proclaim - Christ is risen and He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
With a grateful and hopeful heart we pray, amen.  

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, April 01, 2018

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