Reflections...

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

“Impossible Maths”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 29 July 2018, the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, by Peter Youngblood. The scripture readings that day were Psalm 145:10-18; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1–21.


When I was young, my parents told me a lot of things that turned out to not be true.

Wait, the kids have all left haven’t they? If they haven’t, parents, you might want to cover their ears. Ok, if it’s safe, I’ll continue…

For instance, I was told that big birds called storks deliver babies. I was also told to leave my baby teeth under a pillow and then the tooth fairy would bring me a quarter. Of course, the big one was Santa Claus. Nothing was as exciting as waking up on Christmas morning to see what Santa had brought me. It was also a little scary. What if he hadn’t brought what I’d asked for? What if I hadn’t been a good-enough kid that year? Well-behaved children received presents, but naughty kids got coal. It was all very stressful.

But as kids grow up and go to school, they start to learn things like science, math, and the physical laws of the universe. So when I was around eight- or nine-years-old, I began to think: This doesn’t make any sense. (Final warning! Are their ears covered?) How could Santa possibly visit every child in just one night? Even if you exclude those households that don’t celebrate Christmas, that’s still a lot of homes. Another problem: Why did I never hear about anyone actually getting coal? I knew some pretty bad kids growing up, but they always seemed to get the best presents. Ok, so maybe that part about Santa was a myth. But then there was this most unnerving detail: On the label that said “to Peter, from Santa”, why did the handwriting always look exactly like my dad’s? You can see where I am going with this. As you start to think logically—which you do more and more as you grow—you find many problems and inconsistencies with these stories, and so they simply don’t stand the test of time.

Now compared to Santa Claus, today’s New Testament reading doesn’t seem so crazy. Sure, it is a little hard to believe that just five loaves of bread and two fish fed so many people, but maybe we should give the author of John the benefit of the doubt. After all, this is the only miracle of Jesus that appears in all four Gospels, so it must be accurate…right?

Well actually, when you’re a nine-year-old kid who just found out the truth about your favorite Saint—that is, St. Nick—you don’t want to be fooled again. So, when I heard about this miracle in Sunday School, I was naturally a little skeptical. I got out my calculator and did some math.

I’ll use just use my cellphone for this. I don’t think anyone uses a calculator these days. Ok: Five thousand people. Two fish. Five loaves of barley. For this to work, the fish would have had to have been pretty big. Let’s say they were barbels. Those can get big, and they lived in the Sea of Galilee. We’ll be generous and say they were 12 pounds each, that’s a little over five kilograms. 2 fish make 24 pounds. Plus the 5 loaves of barley. That can’t have been more than 8 pounds, right?

24 pounds of fish and 8 pounds of bread. We’ll divide each by five thousand. Ok, every person could have gotten .0048 pounds of fish and .0016 pounds of bread. Well, on average human beings were shorter two thousand years ago, so they probably didn’t need to eat as much. Oh, wait…actually the five thousand only includes the men! With women and children, there could have been more than twenty thousand people there!

The math—or maths, to use proper British English—just doesn’t work and math is probably the purest, most accurate science we have. Therefore, as a kid, I’m thinking: it either must be some kind of supernatural occurrence…or it’s just a myth. Maybe after Jesus blessed it, the bread and fish started to magically duplicate: two becoming four, five becoming ten, and so on. The only alternative is that it didn’t happen at all. And as I grew up, it became easier to think that it was exactly that: just a myth, a story to make us feel good. Anything that sounds too good to be true is usually too good to be true.

But miracles don’t have to be these supernatural events that defy math or science. Later on, I heard a different interpretation of the loaves and fishes. According to this interpretation, there was actually much more food than just the two fish and five loaves that John mentions. In fact, among the crowd, there were most likely people who had brought a picnic along for themselves to eat. But remember, most of them were the poor and marginalized of Judean society. They had heard of the great things this guy Jesus was doing and had thought: Well, maybe he can help us too. So when the issue of food came up, those who had brought something instinctively thought to keep it for themselves, thus ensuring their own survival.

Realizing the problem on their hands, the disciples wanted to send everyone away to eat on their own, in their minds fulfilling their responsibility as hosts but avoiding the material cost. But doing so would have allowed many people to go hungry; the poorer people in the crowd would not have brought food, nor would they have had the money to buy it in town. Jesus knows this, but also knows that God will provide, which is why he tells the disciples: “No, you feed them.” And when they go to do it, God does provide. God provides in the form of a little boy generously offering his supper. His bread and fish was given out to just a few people—perhaps the neediest—but then the miracle happened: Others—having listened to what Jesus preached and having witnessed this boy’s selfless act—were moved by the Spirit to offer up their own meals. Those who received offered what they had to others, and this reciprocity continued until all were fed. And thus, the potluck was invented!

Now, I don’t mean to take all the mystery out of this story, nor do you have to interpret it the way I do. John does not explain, specifically, what happens in the handing out of the bread and fish. And the other Gospels don’t even mention a boy. All we do know is that a small amount of food was passed out and viola, somehow all were fed! Not everything needs a rational explanation. But I do think this interpretation helps us to understand how God and Jesus work through regular human beings. While ultimately, the source of all love and abundance is God, God’s love emanates through us. Our power comes from God, but it takes shape through our material efforts. Christ is the very incarnation of Divine love and power manifested in human form.

Therefore, just because a miracle has a rational explanation doesn’t make it any less a miracle. I see a similar kind of miracle sitting right before me. Here at KUC there are human beings from all across the world gathered together in a supportive community. I imagine most of us don’t have a lot of money, maybe just enough to survive in a very expensive city. Many in this community are transplants: immigrants, refugees, and expatriates, some from marginalized and mistreated groups. Hong Kong may be an international, multi-cultural city, but it is also very segregated, full of racism, prejudice, and distrust. Probably a lot like ancient Palestine!

Despite these obstacles and odds, you come to KUC and support one another, sharing what little you have so that the whole community may feel more comfortable, thus making an unwelcoming city a little bit more welcoming. If you read it the way I do, then this church is a lot like the crowd in John 6, who, with the help of Jesus Christ, found abundance in just a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread. And just as there was leftover bread and fish, the generosity of this congregation also overflows. You don’t just take care of yourselves, but also the strangers in your midst. If you were here last week you heard Timothy’s report on the peacemaking program, which provides pastoral, financial, and social assistance to refugees and asylum-seekers. To me a ministry like that one represents God’s call to be unconditionally welcoming to those who need food and shelter, protection, and emotional support.

KUC and its ministries are modern miracles because they show how the humble gifts of individual human beings are amplified in a community. When we offer what little we have toward the common good, that modest wealth is multiplied. This is the miracle of God’s abundance, which makes the impossible possible. This is how churches can manifest God’s love and compassion by feeding each other, sheltering each other, befriending each other, and doing the same for the wider community.

More importantly, this is done without expectation of anything in return (I hope). In some other churches, ministries like the peacemaking program are built as a way to evangelize, their goal being to make new Christians and thus grow their congregations. If that happens, great! But this is not what the miracles of Jesus are all about. He did them selflessly, so that we may participate in them selflessly. He emphasizes that point in John 6, retreating up a Galilean mountainside when the well-fed crowd tried to make him their new king.

That does not mean we can’t celebrate what happens a KUC. In fact, I think we ought to celebrate it, because it is a sign of the continuing presence of Jesus Christ in our world. In communities like this one, Divine love and power is made manifest through “mere” human beings. This is a powerful weapon against cynicism; it’s proof that not everyone acts purely out of self-interest and it shows that all communities—communities as small as churches and as big as nations—can overcome selfishness and act for the common good. More specifically, it shows that there is an alternative to the economic systems that we take for granted. Unconditional hospitality and charity is an antidote to unrepentant capitalism and consumerism. Sometimes it only takes one small act, like offering to share one’s supper, to change our way of thinking.

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

 

“KUC as the Household of God”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 22 July 2018, the Nineth Sunday after Pentecost, by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Psalm 23; Ephesians 2:11-22; and Mark 6:30-34, 53-56.


Opening Prayer

Dear God,
Grant us the wisdom of knowledge and the gift of grace.   
Make us be like Christ and follow His way.
May the word of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be from you and with you.  Amen!


Last Sunday Pastor Maggie organized the KUC Quiz for the congregation. Those who had participated in it found it great fun. Following this great game, I would like to do my sermon today with some questions. All who can give the right answers will be rewarded. I work that out on a trust system. You may come to me for the reward after the worship.

Be ready. What is KUC stand for? (waiting for the congregation to answer…)

Bingo – Kowloon Union Church

KUC is the short form of our congregation.

KUC is the name of our church.

If KUC is called as church by Christ and is regarded as the Household of God, K.U.C, these three letters would have a broader and deeper meaning.

I now start my second round of question.

For K – apart from Kowloon, what would you say? What does it stand for? (KING, KIND…)

In making reference from Psalm 23, K stands for King.

Psalm 23 begins with ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.’ (another version uses - The Lord is my shepherd,  I lack nothing).

In the ancient Near East, the shepherd was a central image for the king. Throughout the Old Testament this royal metaphor is used to portray God’s protective and guiding grace.

K stands for King. This King is not the ordinary one. Unlike the kings on earth that are concerned more on power, control and status, the King in the Household of God is loving and kind. Kindness, is another word begins with K. Kindness is another quality in the household of God.

The household of God is where Christ the King dwells. This King is full of kindness.   

The Church which is called to be the Household of God will have Jesus Christ sit right at the center.

Christ the King who is our shepherd offers protection and assurance in times of crisis and trouble. Christ the King gives to His people comfort and strength. Christ the King leads his people to walk in the righteous path with courage. Christ the King empowers his people to overcome fear, to encounter evil and their enemy with strong faith and hope. The promise of the shepherd, the King who is full of power and yet very gentle and kind has been beautifully said in Psalm 23.

The great king, the great shepherd has given us great assurance and has invited us to stay in the house of the Lord for a whole life long.


Sisters and brothers, if you are feeling weary and facing crisis in life, come to dwell in the house of God. The Household of God is in this space and in this time.
The household of God refers also to our inner heart where Jesus and the Holy Spirit dwell.
Let your wounds be healed and your soul rest in the love of our great shepherd, Jesus Christ who is King of the world and head of God’s household.
I will now read Psalm 23 to you, please listen deeply and attentively. After listening, please spend some moments with God and receive His grace in silence. I will end the silence with sound of bell.


1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
3he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
4Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
5You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6Surely
goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the
Lord
my whole life long.

(Silence by 1 minutes and end by the sound of the bell)

Bearing this peace and silence, I now move to the second

letter – U (K.U.C.)

In the household of God, what does U stand for?

A tip for you is to make reference from the epistle’s reading of Ephesians that we heard this morning.

U for unity, Union, United…. 

Jesus Christ, Christ the King is at the Centre of the household of God.

Christ is Unity.

In the early church, there were tensions between the Jews and the Gentiles. The Jews have regarded themselves as God’s chosen people. Their religious rules and cultural norms on circumcision have created division and conflicts with the Gentiles.  The radical love of Christ, however, has broken all human made barriers. 

In the epistle of Ephesians, the message of unity brought by Jesus Christ is clear.

In his blood, in his sacrifice, Jesus has made both the Jews and the Gentiles into one. He himself has broken down the dividing wall and the hostility. No more human rules and traditions can separate people from the love of God. There are no longer strangers and aliens. No one is discriminated against. The unity in Christ brings peace and wholeness of life.  In Christ, all are equal and treated with respect. In the household of God, everyone is included as member, and as children of God.

We know unity is easier said than done.  To achieve the goal of unity is still a long way to go in our earthly journey. We have witnessed so many conflicts and divisions at home, in work, in church, in society and in the world. Unity and peace is never an easy task. But we have to keep this calling and work together towards that goal.

We have to remember too we are not alone. Christ is our unity. Christ will continue to guide us. In Christ, we are united with God and with each other. In this oneness, we are very much interconnected. Your happiness is my happiness, your sorrow is my sorrow. To achieve unity, we need to communicate with deep listening and do our best to understand each other without bias. We need also to learn and have the courage to say sorry and take responsibility of what we have done wrong, and to seek forgiveness. Unity requires also deep healing and reconciliation. But we need to be careful not to ask victims of violence (physical or sexual) to forgive the abusers too easily. It is wrong and could be a form of religious violence to victims and doing injustice to them. True unity is to bring liberty and set people free of bondage and oppression.

Whenever we walk humbly with Christ and live a life with love and respect to one another, we are able to make not only our church, but our own family and the world a dwelling place for God.

Now we come to the last letter – C. What does it stand for in the Household of God?

Compassion, Care, Community….. They are all good and important quality for building the household of God.

The gospel reading from Mark today shows to us Jesus’ compassion.  I would like to pick the word - compassion. (care and community are also good)

 34When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.So he began teaching them many things. (Mark 6:34)

Jesus demonstrated his love and compassion to those who are in need of him by spending time with them, to teach them and to heal their illness.

Love without action is not love. As we know, Jesus did not only give time to the needy. He had even sacrificed his life for the sake of love.

Today, Jesus’ love in action once again encourages us and reminds us in the household of God, compassion is a quality that we can never miss.

Conclusion
KUC – the household of God.
The scripture readings today remind us to build the household of God with KUC.
K: King - putting Christ the King, the Servant King at the centre of the House. People who are living in the House - being kind.
U: Unity - Christ is unity that breaks all division and brings love and liberty.
C: Compassion, Care, Community...
In the congregation of KUC, we have been doing our best to build the household of God by centering our mission in Christ the servant King, to bring unity and peace with a compassionate heart for the poor and the vulnerable.  Timothy will share the peace making ministry later in the Mission Moment later. You will then be updated on our work.
For the household of God, it is not only external.
It is also important to make our life and our heart a dwelling place for God to live in. Let us live out K.U.C in our daily life.
May God bless us and guide us to be more and more KUC - be kind, united, compassionate and caring in Christ!


# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, July 22, 2018

 

“Being servants of God, praying for mercy”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 8 July 2018, the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, by the Rev. Dr. Tjeerd de Boer and Kathleen Ferrier. The scripture readings that day were Ezekiel 3 : 1-5, Psalm 123, Mark 6:1-13.


Dear sisters and brothers of KUC

He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him (Mark 6:1)

The disciples followed Jesus
The Gospel tells us about Jesus, tells us about following Jesus, tells us about the disciples following Jesus
Jesus had said to them: follow me – and the first disciples immediately had left what they were doing and had followed him.
Then Jesus called those whom he wanted to be his disciples, and they came to him.
Then he appointed twelve (of them), whom he also named apostles, to be with him and to be sent to proclaim the Good News

So, here we are, at KUC, reading about these very first followers,
as followers of Jesus ourselves, because Jesus has called us to be with him, and to be sent, to proclaim the Good News, that is to go Jesus’ way, to go in his name.  
One of the first names used for Christians is ‘those of the Way, ‘people of the way’, that is: people of the way of Jesus, people on and in the way of Jesus,
-in his way of Mission and Diakonia (one of my favorite courses I taught at the Lutheran Theological Seminary) – being sent and serving,
-in his Way of Church and Society (a course at LTS we had the privilege to teach together) – being sent and serving.

So, here we are, being sent and serving.
Here we are, as members of this one body of Christ,

For as in one body we have many members, …so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members of one another,
each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned,
each with gifts that differ according to the grace given to us…’ as Paul repeatedly emphasizes in his letters (this is from the one to the sisters and brothers in Rome, Romans 12) 

Here, in this community  of Kowloon Union Church, we have found that body: a wonderful, colorful, beautiful body, with members from all over the world, with different backgrounds and cultures, speaking different languages, coming from different situations, having different orientations, in this wide diversity all being member of one another.
Another kind of difference I learned here in Hong Kong is the difference in faith biography, related to ‘tradition and conversion’, to traditional and converted Christians.
Some of us, like myself, are traditional Christian: children of many generations Christians - and some of us are new Christians: the first Christians in their families, that is the story and testimony of most local colleagues at LTS, most local students, many pastors and students from the mainland, many are first generation Christians.

It is the difference between those baptized as an infant:

Born on a Friday, I was baptized on the following Sunday, two days young – without even my mother being present, because she was still recovering from giving birth to me. Baptism as an expression of tradition

and those baptized as an adult, often without any family member present, as the conclusion of a process of conversion, of becoming a Christian.

That is not easy. Being the first. Being misunderstood, like Jesus, like the  disciples, in proclaiming the good news, encountering disrespect, unbelief, rejection.

But, against all odds, they started to make the way, and here we are, together as Christians, new Christians or Christians of tradition. It does not matter. As followers of Christ, as equal members of his one body, we are all alike, we are all born again in Christ, with all our different histories and backgrounds, all our different stories and testimonies,

Being people of the Way, called by Him who is the Way, Truth and Life, following his Way as disciples, we are being sent to serve as his apostles, to share this one story and testimony to all those mentioned in today’s Gospel (in Mark 6): both with those who in their unbelief, thínk that they know who Jesus is (wherever they are, in our hometown, and everywhere) and with those who need to be healed (wherever they are, in our hometown, and everywhere).
The only option is to go, not our way, but His way and to go as followers: disciples, apostles, members of his body. All we have to do is to open our hearts, to our brothers and sisters, and to open our hearts to listen what the Lord tells us to do: ‘to think with sober judgment, to hate what is evil, to hold fast what is good, to love another with mutual affection’ (Romans 12).

(Tjeerd de Boer)

Sober judgement, holding fast what is good and to love one another with mutual affection is what we have found and experienced here at KUC: a diverse, international body of Christ as was already said.
Therefore, KUC sets an example of how people from all walks of life can walk together, really, following Him and thus respecting each other.
KUC sets an example of how we can have a true and honest and respectful interest in the differences, -even enjoy them, as we do in the Refugee Kitchen-, knowing that what binds us together is stronger than our differences. We are followers, people of the Way. 

As some of you might know I studied Spanish and one of my favorite poets is the Spanish poet Antonio Machado. I especially like his poem in which he says: Traveler there is no way. The way is made by going, just by going you make the way, and when you look back, you see the path that you have left behind.
We are here together at KUC as people from the way. We come from far away and from near by, but we all come with the desire to make this place a better place. That is what we want to leave behind: a better Hong Kong, a better China, a better Asia and a better world. And by coming together here as this diverse body of Christ, we go His way, the way of love and the way of respect and the way of equal rights and opportunities for all. And even if we do not see now, how this is working out here in HK, or in China, or in Asia or in the world, we as believers know, that we may have faith that one day it will happen.

Our traveling in this region, China, Myanmar, Indonesia, Laos and Cambodia, has taught us so much and strengthened our faith, that the better world is on its way. Our years in Hong Kong, with you, with students and faculty from LTS and from HKBU, with students from the Asian University for Women in Bangladesh and people who work with migrant-communities and with modern slaves have given us hope for this more equal world to come. Because we have seen the strength and the faith of people who - sometimes under the most difficult, if not inhuman circumstances - keep hope following Him, keep opening their hearts and listen what He wants them to do. This has been extremely encouraging and we are grateful for that. We have also experienced that there are bonds between sisters and brothers that go beyond time and place. Therefore, we know, that even if we return now to the Netherlands we will remain united to you, our sisters and brothers at KUC. Because we are people of the Way, travelers together, making the way, following our hearts, following the Way He shows us, following Him. Amen.
(Kathleen Ferrier)

  

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

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