Reflections...

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


Christmas Message 2018 by Phyllis Wong
“Let the Light Shine”


Jesus said,I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12).

Christmas is more than Christmas trees, Christmas lights, shopping, parties, presents, and holidays.

Christmas is meaningful only when we remember its essencethe birth of GodJesus Christ. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, entered into a broken world, sharing human suffering and pain. God has demonstrated his solidarity with human beings. God becoming human flesh reveals to us the great mystery of life and love.

Christmas is a time to affirm our identity as God’s beloved children, fully known and well received.

Christmas is a time to embrace God’s love to us and all creation.

Christmas is a time to celebrate unity and uphold reconciliation that was brought by Jesus Christ.

Christmas is a time to reflect on our calling to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul and to love others as ourselves.

Jesus Christ came to fulfil God’s promise to set all people free and bring unity to all nations. We are able to fully celebrate and enjoy Christmas if we are able to live a life like Christ to be hope, peace, joy, and love.

The world that we are living in is still full of division, violence, hatred, and oppression. Christmas reminds us that God is with us. We are not alone. Jesus Christ who lived, died, and was resurrected will keep us up. In Christ, we will stand firm and never give up!

Christ is light that shines and casts away all darkness.
Christ is love that empowers and casts away all fear.
Christ is eternal that gives hope that never dies.


Wishing you all a truly happy and meaningful Christmas filled with the Spirit of this season!

# posted by Heddy Ha : Tuesday, December 25, 2018

 

“Rejoice in the Lord!”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 16 December 2018, the Third Sunday in Advent, by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Isaiah 12:2–6; Philippians 4:4–9; Luke 3:7–18.



Opening prayer:
Holy Spirit, come to inspire us and transform us by the words and deeds of Christ. Fill us with Your love and Your joy, O God. Amen.

The third Sunday of Advent traditionally is connected with joy. The candle of joy was lit at the beginning of the service this morning.

I would like to begin my sermon with this song, and please respond to it with action.

“When you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.”
“When you’re happy and you know it, wave your hand.”
“When you’re happy and you know it, stomp your feet.”
You all did very well!

How do you feel after doing this little exercise—feeling warmer, happier and more energetic? Our body has the energy and power to change our mood. That’s why exercises always help people who are suffering from depression.

When I was preparing today’s sermon on joy, I had a little trouble because I don’t really feel it.

Let me tell you why. My health is not so good. I suffer from dizziness, and it is quite troublesome to me. If I read too long from my desktop computer or cell phone, my head will be a bit heavy, and I feel unwell. Moreover, I find that my body strength and productivity are not as good as before—a sign of aging? What to do?!

My heart is heavy when I see some friends who are mourning and suffering from the loss of a beloved spouse and family member.

I am also upset by the political situation in Hong Kong. There is the disqualification of pro-democracy activists from running in the Legco election and the recent ban of Eddie Chu Hoi-dick from running in an election for rural representatives, which is a violation of the right to vote and to stand for election.

A journalist, Victor Mallet, hosted a talk with a Hong Kong independence advocate at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in August. The Hong Kong government declined to renew his work visa as a journalist for the Financial Times. He was not even granted a tourist visa to enter Hong Kong. The action taken by the government is a big blow to freedom of the press and expression.

Like many people in Hong Kong, I am angry, frustrated and worried as we witness the decline of civil rights and freedoms in the city. Where is joy? What is the good news?

The good news is “Rejoice in the Lord!”
Insights and strength are taken from the Word of God through the epistle reading today taken from Philippians 4:4.

“Rejoice in the Lord” allows us to acknowledge and accept:

1.         Joy is not an absence of despair. Joy is not an absence of problems and difficulties. Joy is never an absence of suffering and pain. We know that adversities exist in human reality and in our broken world.

2.         The basis of joy is that we acknowledge our feelings and are not forced to supress them. It is okay to be not okay. We don’t need to hide our true feelings and pretend. What we need is the courage to heal and faith in God to face them.

During Advent, we are preparing our heart to receive Christ, the incarnated God who entered into the world and identified  with our human brokenness. Jesus Christ, Immanuel, is with us and suffering with us.

Today is a special day to me. My mother died on this date seven years ago. Her funeral service was held in this sanctuary.

While my family and I were grieving for my mother’s passing, I felt great comfort and joy because I received so much love and care from friends, brothers and sisters from the church. Their love is a great sign of God’s presence and compassion. When you know that there are people who empathize with your suffering and share your pain, you won’t feel alone.

Joy is sharing the presence of love and care with each other, especially in times of loss and sadness.

In the season of Advent, we are listening to the word from John the Baptist who was the one to prepare the way for Jesus. John gave an important message to his followers and those who came to be baptised as recorded in the Gospel of Luke. He told them they have to bear fruits worthy of repentance (Luke 3:8).

When the crowd asked what should they do, John told them to share their extra clothes and food that they have with those without. He told people with position and power (the tax collectors and soldiers) that they should not be greedy and abuse their power for their own personal interests and desires.

John’s message reminds us that we can be a source of joy for others if we share with those in need and make good use of our power and resources to serve, but not to abuse.

Rejoice in the Lord!
The Old Testament reading from the Book of Isaiah 12:2–6 provides us with insights too.

Another key for living a joyful life is to be thankful and grateful. We need to know and remember that God, who is the source of life and all things, will provide for us. The God who took care of the Israelites and all our ancestors in the past will continue to care and bless us and the people today. God is the God of history and of all creation; God will never leave His children alone.

Yesterday I officiated at a very moving wedding. The young couple is from my home church, and I have known them since they were teenagers. They were both raised in a single-parent family. Their mothers worked very hard to take care of them. Both mothers did not receive a good formal education, but they were, and are, very responsible mothers who did whatever they could for their children. Although the young couple has gone through many difficulties in their childhood, they are very thankful to their mothers who have given them the best in the midst of inadequacy. They are grateful for their mothers’ love and sacrifices. Again, the love of their mothers has manifested God’s love. In their tears, I saw their joy deep inside and their grateful heart to God. A life of complaints brings you to nowhere, but a life of thanksgiving gives you fullness of joy.

For Christians and churches, we are joyful because God has given promises of new life to all peoples and redeems the world through Christ Jesus.

“Rejoice in the Lord” is a belief, an invitation, a deep trust in God and an action to be taken.

Pastor Wang Yi, a pastor from the evangelical Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, was detained last Sunday, and his church has been persecuted by the authorities in China. I would like to share his writing after his detention.

He professed that Jesus is the Son of God who died for sinners and was resurrected for us. He affirmed Christ is the King of the World and eternal God of the past, present and future. He declared that he is the servant of Christ. He will stand firm with a gentle heart to fight against all evils that are against God. He will joyfully disobey all authorities that do not obey the law of God.

The Rev. Wang is a man of faith. His trust in God and union with Christ has revealed to us what “rejoice in the Lord” is all about. He has set a good example for us.

I would also like to share quotes from Benny Tai, one of the nine Occupy Movement leaders who has been charged with violating laws related to creating a public nuisance. He was one of the organizers who initiated the Occupy Central with Love and Peace civil disobedience campaign to fight for universal suffrage in Hong Kong.

Here I quote his closing statement at his trial:

If we were to be guilty, we will be guilty for daring to share hope at this difficult time in Hong Kong. I am not afraid or ashamed of going to prison. If this is the cup I must take, I will drink with no regret.

Tai’s firm belief in Christ and his willingness to suffer with Christ for the sake of having a democratic system and just society in Hong Kong are a great witness of God. His courage has given us hope and joy. He is a light that shines in this time of darkness.

To conclude my sermon, I would like to share Charlie Chaplin’s heartwarming statement:

Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.

I would like to modify these thoughts as follows:

Life is real joy in God’s eternality that moves beyond time and space. The suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ have given joy in the midst of all adversities.

In Advent, we prepare our heart to receive Christ. When John the Baptist asked his followers to repent and return to God, the first and foremost thing for us to do today is:

Rejoice in the Lord! Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, December 16, 2018

 

Faith and Human Rights: Being Authentic Christians in a Sinful World

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 9 December 2018, the Second Sunday of Advent and Human Rights Sunday, by Bruce Van Voorhis. The scripture readings that day were Micah 6:68, James 1:22–25, Matthew 22:34–40.


Today, Lord, may the meditations of my heart, of my mind and of my spirit be acceptable and pleasing to you, the God of life that offers peace to all people, and may they express the wisdom you have given to each one of us. In your Son’s name, we pray. Amen.


As was pointed out last week, our Advent theme this year is “What are you longing for?” Naturally, each of us would answer this question differently. For today’s sermon, however, we’ll focus on our word for today: peace.

Peace is a relatively small word but with many meanings and reference points. We can speak of internal peace or external peace, for instance. Because today we’re celebrating Human Rights Sunday a day before the United Nations and the rest of the international community observe Human Rights Day tomorrow, my message this morning will thus dwell on external peace—peace in our community, peace in our world, etc. There, of course, cannot be peace for people if their human rights are abused and these violations are common and widespread.

Human rights, as we know, is a term that is often found in the media and even occurs in everyday conversations regarding the daily life experiences of people in many Asian countries as well as for people on other continents. At its core, human rights is based on the equality of every person in the world regardless of their nationality, race or ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc. In the workshops of Interfaith Cooperation Forum (ICF) where I used to work before retiring a few months ago, we often used a definition of human rights as “the protection of human equality.” In short, human rights are the basic building blocks that a person needs to live their life with dignity. Attitudes and actions in society that oppose human rights are discrimination, exploitation and oppression that deny people their dignity, their humanity.

With the creation of the United Nations after World War II and the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the U.N. General Assembly on December 10, 1948, human rights attained an institutional platform to promote and protect people’s rights in all of the 193 member countries of the United Nations for the past 70 years through legally binding international treaties that define human rights and that provide a system for monitoring them. This framework is the legal architecture that human rights activists seek to utilize to uphold the rights of people in their societies.

For Christians, it is easy to see the fingerprints of our faith in the principles and values that undergird human rights in what is often regarded as a secular concept. It begins with the very first chapter of the Bible in Genesis:

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’; . . . So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. . . . And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:26–27, 31).

Thus, molded in the image of God, men and women both became a “very good” creation of God; they equally became children of God. The Bible does not tell us that they were created with a certain nationality or a certain race, etc., and that one was more superior than the other; rather, they were created simply as people, as human beings, without any hierarchy.

Consequently, when a person today disappears, when they are tortured, when they are imprisoned unjustly for expressing themselves, when they are denied an education or health care, it is an act done against a child of God, a human being created in the image of God by God.

The Creation story in Genesis also reminds us of the sanctity of life as all life is created by God, all life is a gift of God, all life is precious to God. The right to life as found in article 6 of the United Nations’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) is a reflection of this respect for the blessing of life. Moreover, all other rights, whether they be civil and political rights or economic, social and cultural rights, have no meaning without reverence for the right to life.

Turning to the New Testament and our Gospel reading this morning, the Great Commandment contained in chapter 22 of Matthew has an injunction and challenge for us:

“And [Jesus] said to [the Pharisee], ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.’ ”

Could there be human rights violations in the world today if we all loved our neighbors as ourselves, if we loved God with all our hearts? The message of the passage is so simple, but we find that the practice is so difficult.

This scripture also reveals what is at the heart of human rights violations: broken relationships—broken relationships with one another, broken relationships with God and even broken relationships with myself if I’m the one who abuses the rights of others—for if I deny another person their rights, I am ultimately renouncing my own connection with the life that dwells in me and in every one of us.

There are other passages of the Bible that provide a foundation for human rights, such as Matthew 25:34–40 —the reading that goes “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink,” etc.— that enumerates a number of human rights—the right to food, water and clothing. There is also the well-known story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:2537 that shares with us how to identify who is our neighbor as well as how to respond to human rights violations. If we reflect on our faith, it should be clear that there are a number of scriptural resources in which the Christian faith provides a solid foundation and moral perspective on human rights.

The message this morning, however, will center on the words of one of the Old Testament prophets—Micah in Micah 6:8—that was read this morning. In this passage, we are called to be just, kind and humble. Although this one verse is brief, it is rich in meaning as it outlines not only how we should respond when the human rights of an individual or a community or, indeed, the whole society are abused but also what is a root cause of the violation of human rights.

According to Micah 6:8, when our rights and the rights of our brothers and sisters are denied, we are to seek justice; for without justice, can there be respect for human rights?

If we survey the human rights problems afflicting much of Asia and the world today, we can often observe a common phenomenon: widespread human rights violations existing alongside pervasive corruption within a context in which the legal system too frequently renders injustice instead of justice, resulting in impunity for both the abuse of human rights and the repetition of corrupt practices. In such a context, in such a society, the common knowledge among the people is that those with political and economic power are immune from the accountability of the judicial process, which subsequently breeds fear to speak out, and people’s silence ensures that the system with its entrenched denial of human rights and its encouragement of corruption will continue.

It is in such a context that Micah challenges us to act for justice and to support those whose rights and dignity have been assaulted, which are naturally not easy tasks. We may claim that we are not human rights activists or that we do not work for a human rights organization, etc., but our Christian faith makes other claims upon us. Indeed, we are called to be human rights defenders. Moreover, in defending the rights of others, I am also defending my own rights, a view that echoes the insightful words of the Rev. Martin Niemöller, a Lutheran pastor facing the power of the State in Nazi Germany, who said:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out
Because I was not a socialist.

“Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist.

“Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew.

“Then they came for meand there was no one left to speak for me.”

When we work for justice, however, when we work to uphold the rights of others as well as our own rights, we are living out the second challenge of Micah 6:8 “to love kindness,” for our words and actions for justice are an expression of our kindness, of our compassion, like the Good Samaritan in Luke. Through seeking justice, we bear witness in society to our God and the challenge that God gives us to build the Kingdom of God in this world.

These then are the guideposts that Micah 6:8 provides for us to respond to the negation of people’s rights: “to do justice and to love kindness.”

As noted earlier, however, Micah 6:8 also offers us an explanation for why people are deprived of their rights, and this explanation can be found in the last challenge Micah gives us in this verse: “to walk humbly with [our] God.”

Being called to be humble once again appears to be so simple but, like we noted earlier, is, in reality, not so straightforward. First of all, we usually do not like to be humble; and in some cultures, in fact, being humble is considered a sign of weakness, and few people like to be perceived as weak.

More profoundly, however, our inability or unwillingness—our failure—“to walk humbly with our God” is at the heart of human rights violations today and in the past; for if we analyze the root cause of most human rights violations, we find that one fundamental source of our human rights problems is that we fail to humble ourselves before God and to walk humbly even with our fellow human beings.

The cause of many human rights issues is purely greed for power, money, or both. In the process of trying to acquire more power and more money, other people and their rights are disrespected. The power that is exercised to abuse another human being and to deny them of their rights is a reflection of the ego of the one who violates the dignity of another human being and of the person who ordered this violation to take place. There is also the “institutional arrogance,” the “institutional ego,” of the legal and political system that permits this violation to take place and that obstructs any attempt at rectifying this abuse through a process to attain justice.

As explained earlier, Christians too are naturally called to act when people’s rights are abused and denied them. In addition to the challenge that has been highlighted previously in Micah 6:8, the words from our epistle reading this morning in James 1:22–25, that is, to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only,” also beckon us to respond.

In reality, human rights violations are sin. They are a sin against the dignity and humanity of a child of God; they are a sin against the God who created that person. Moreover, they are a manifestation of the root of this sin and all others—a rupture in our relationship with God and with our neighbor. Thus, once again, at the heart of human rights violations are broken relationships. A task of Christians therefore is to respond to human rights violations in order to repair these relationships and to mend our broken world. It is part of the difficult journey of seeking to be authentic Christians, to live out our faith authentically.


May God bless us with the commitment and courage to follow this challenge of our faith, and may God be present with us on this journey for peace. Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, December 09, 2018

 

Our Choice: Sit or Stand?

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 2 December 2018 by the Rev. Ewing W. Carroll, Jr. The scripture readings that day were Jeremiah 33:14-16, Luke 21:25-36.


     Sometimes when checking into a hotel motel or guesthouse the receptionist will ask you, “Do you need a wake-up call?”  My first experience of this was so strange.  It was a bright, beautiful sunny afternoon; not a cloud in the sky.  I thought to myself, “Why would I need a wake-up call in the middle of the afternoon?”  Then it dawned on me what the receptionist was asking, “Do you need a wake-up call tomorrow morning?”
     Today’s Old Testament and Gospel Lessons are about a wake-up call.  Not from a guesthouse receptionist.  Rather, from God.  Writing from some kind of prison, the prophet Jeremiah dared to tell the King of Judah that in time, God would overturn his kingdom and the Jewish people would be freed from captivity and return to Jerusalem.  Luke was writing to Jewish converts to Christianity.  Like most Christians of that time, Luke wanted them to be prepared for the imminent return of Christ.  Today.  Not tomorrow.
      Many modern day Christians like the earliest Christians, still believe Jesus will return this week; this day; or maybe this hour. You may remember an experience I shared with you a few years ago. While riding in a taxi from the airport to downtown Seoul, Korea, the taxi driver asked me, “Are you one of them?”  I replied, “I’m sorry who is them?”  “Well,” he continued, “There’ve been lots of people coming here this week.  They talked about some guy named Jesus.  They said he was coming to Mt. Walker this Saturday afternoon around 4:30.  So, they gave me their watches, wallets, purses, handbags and jewelry.  They said since Jesus was returning they wouldn’t need any of those valuable things.  I was just hoping you were one of them and would give me your watch, your money, and jewelry.
      Advent is a time of hope and expectation; a time to re-live and to experience anew the beauty of God’s coming to us in the birth of a tiny baby.  A time to sing “Come,Thou Long Expected Jesus” and then “Silent Night, all is calm, all is bright.”  But that seems so unreal; so untrue; so unbelievable.  In today’s world, where is there calm, brightness, peace, hope or joy?  The Middle East, the birthplace of Jesus, is ablaze with destruction.  Natural and human-made disasters continue to bring great harm all across the world. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that we live in very dangerous and difficult times.
     But then these words of Jesus’ strike us like a thunderbolt: When life seems so difficult; so chaotic; when everything around us seems to be falling apart – “stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”  “Heads Up!”  Regardless of the pains and problems of the world, Immanuel!  God is with us.  In Jesus Christ, our redemption – our wholeness is possible.  So wake up!  Prepare yourself for his coming!
     Some people spend more time worrying about dying than living.  Many Christians spend more time arguing about when Christ will return instead of celebrating the fact that he’s already with us.  We ignore the chance and opportunity to live both in his presence and in his future coming.
     Advent is a wake-up call; a time of hope; a time to prepare.  Not looking out the window to see if Christ is coming – like he might be coming with Santa Clause, Rudolph and the other reindeer!  No.  It’s a time to look inwardly; at ourselves – to insure that our own lives reflect something of God’s love.  To live in ways which show care and concern for others; to be signs and servants of God’s hope for a hurting and broken world.
      A little girl asked her mother, “How come every year the Nativity Scene still shows Jesus as a little baby boy.  Doesn’t he ever grow up?”  How about us – especially in our own faith journeys? Advent is a time for us to choose – to sit [stay the same as usual] or to stand; to change; to grow in God’s gift of hope.
     The challenge God offers us today- is not a warning or a wish to frighten us.  No.  It’s an invitation – to stop and look at ourselves; to see how we live; the ways we speak to others; the ways we use our financial resources; the things we seek to do to make this a better, safer and more loving world.  And yes, to prepare ourselves to again welcome not just the Baby Jesus but also Christ our Savior.

     Do we need a wake-up call tomorrow morning?  Absolutely……No.  We need it today!  The choice is ours:  to just keep on keeping on or dare to move ahead both IN and WITH the hope God gives.  Come, Lord Jesus.  Help us to stand up and raise our heads because our redemption is drawing near. Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, December 02, 2018

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