Reflections...

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

“The Lost and Found”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 31 March 2019, the Fourth Sunday of Lent, by the Rev. Dr. Judy Chan. The scripture readings that day were Psalm 32, Luke 15:11-32.


Good morning. Let me begin with a story. There was a lawyer who worked in a large office building. He had recently lost one of his cuff-links, a piece of jewelry that men use to secure the cuffs of their shirts. This link was one of a pair that the lawyer greatly prized. He was absolutely sure he’d dropped it somewhere in the building. So he posted a notice: "Lost. A gold cuff-link. The owner, William Ward, will deeply appreciate its immediate return." That afternoon, he passed by the door where the notice had been posted. Someone had written a note. Oh, great, he thought. And this is what it said: “The finder of the missing cuff-link would deem it a great favor if the owner would kindly lose the other link.”

I thought of that joke when I started writing this sermon. Because that’s what happens in Luke 15 to a Father who starts out with two sons. He loses one, finds him, only to be at risk of losing the other son. It’s as if fate’s working against him having both sons where they belong – together with him.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son is of course one of the most famous stories in the New Testament, the 3rd of a trilogy of lost and found tales. Actually, I realized I wasn’t sure what the word “prodigal” meant. Do you know? I had to look it up. It means wasteful or extravagant. Now the word “prodigal” is not actually in the scripture lesson itself. But around the 4th century, the story was given the name the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and it’s stuck pretty much until this day. In the NRSV you see a more accurate heading, The Prodigal and His Brother. That reminds us there are two sons in the story, each with something to learn.

Why did Jesus tell this parable in the first place? It was a response to the Pharisees and scribes criticizing Jesus for the company he kept. If this rabbi is so holy, why does he hang out with the worst kinds of people? Tax collectors and sinners. Tax collectors were Jews who worked for the Roman Empire and cheated their own people by charging whatever amount they could get away with. And sinners? Those were the immoral lowlife in Jewish society like thieves, loan sharks and prostitutes. Good Jews had nothing to do with tax collectors or sinners, but Jesus seemed to spend a lot of time among them. He even eats with them!

So, in response to this criticism, Jesus tells a parable about a prodigal son who wasted his inheritance on wine, women and who knows what else.

Scholars have pointed out that the younger son’s request for his share of the inheritance wasn’t just unusual. It was unheard of. It’s not like today where parents might give some money to their children early. Maybe the children need to pay school fees or buy a bigger house. Maybe they want to avoid inheritance tax. But that’s not the case here. The sons are well taken care of, and besides, the family property should have been kept intact. So, when this prodigal son asks for his inheritance now, it’s like saying he wished his father were already dead. Then to add more insult to injury, the son sells his share of the property, which would be 1/3 of the estate. Not for investment, not to start a business, but to fund his adventures in a far off country. A prodigal son indeed.

So it seems Jesus purposely created a story with the worst kind of son you could have. How is he going to be redeemed? Is he even worth redeeming?

For this son, things have to get worse before they get better. Junior burns through his money, then gets caught in a famine and has to take a job feeding pigs. He’s hit rock bottom. Broke and starving, he realizes he can’t make it on his own. The only thing left to do is to go home and throw himself at the mercy of his Father.

For the Pharisees and scribes listening to this parable, it’s obvious what the Father should do in response. He’s your son, after all, so you can’t totally reject him. But there’s no way you just welcome him back as if nothing had ever happened. This son has to face the consequences of all the pain and suffering he’s caused. He has to pay back in some way all the money that he lost. We can forgive but we’re not going to let him forget. And that’s exactly what the Father does, right? Wrong!

The younger son is just a dot in the distance, when the Father spots him. And he’s so excited, he can’t even wait for his son to arrive. He hikes up his robe and runs to meet him with hugs and kisses. The son stammers out an apology, but his dad doesn’t even need to hear it. The only thing that matters is his child has come home. Bring out the best robe! Give him the family ring! Put some new shoes on this boy! And kill the fatted calf – we’re having the biggest party you’ve ever seen!

Now the parable could have ended right here . . . with a postscript about joy in heaven over one sinner who repents. But Jesus isn’t finished yet.

There’s the matter of the older brother. The one who didn’t ask for his inheritance early. The one who was obedient and hard-working and everything you could ask of a good son. He’s coming back from the field. He hears all the noise from the house. ‘What’s going on?’ he asked the servant. ‘Haven’t you heard, sir? Your lost brother has come back safe and sound. Master is giving a feast to celebrate.’ Well, no surprise that Big Brother is furious. So mad that he won’t even go into the house. So, the Father goes outside to plead with him to join the party. And that’s when Big Brother lets it all out. “I’ve worked my tail off for you all these years, never gave you a moment’s trouble. But have you ever even given me a tea party for my friends? No. Then this stupid son of yours comes back after wasting all your money. And you throw him a feast with the whole neighborhood. I don’t want any part of it!”

In some ways, we can sympathize with the older son. He has gotten a raw deal, hasn’t he? Or has he? If we see it from the Father’s point of view, this son’s actions are just as heartbreaking as the other son’s actions. For he too rejects his father and his family. He too wants his reward right now. He too shames his Father in front of the whole community. What a waste of his inheritance. Another prodigal son in a way.

For the Pharisees and scribes listening, it’s obvious what the Father should do this time too. Tell this ungrateful, disrespectful elder son to march inside right now and greet your brother. Because if you don’t, I’ve only got one son tonight! And that’s exactly what the Father does, right? Wrong!

Instead of telling off his older son, the Father responds just as tenderly as he did with the younger one. “Dear child,” he says. “Nothing has changed between you and me. You will always be my firstborn, the one who never left my side. Your inheritance is safe. But how can we not rejoice when your little brother has come back? It’s a miracle! We thought he was dead! Let’s just celebrate that he’s safe and sound and home. Won’t you come in?”

We don’t know what happens after this heart-to-heart talk between father and son. All we know is this father is willing to do whatever it takes to bring all his children home. Even if it means sacrificing his power and dignity and reputation. For no proper Middle East patriarch would have allowed his son to take off with part of the estate while the father was still alive. Neither would he have run out to the road to meet his rebellious child, who should have come back crawling on his hands and knees to kiss his father’s feet. And certainly he would not have abandoned the guests at his own party looking for another son who should have been there already. But this is not an ordinary father. In fact, in many ways, he takes a role more like a mother. People sometimes ask “where is the mother in the story, anyway?” I think she’s right there in this sacrificial Parent who will do anything to let her children know they are unconditionally loved. No matter what. “Return as far as you can,” she says, “And I will come the rest of the way to you.”

It’s almost too good to be true, isn’t it? But that’s the message of the Prodigal and His Brother. That no matter how far away you go from God, God will never stop looking for you … waiting for you … praying for you. No matter how mad you may be at God, not understanding divine way or will, God will go out of the way to make peace with you. Because nothing is more important than having you home together safe and sound.

John Buchanan, pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, once said if he could know only one thing about Jesus other than his death on the cross, he would want to know the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The story Jesus told one day about the amazing grace of God that comes to wherever we are, on whatever road we walk, in whatever field we till, and invites us to come home to a banquet.

You know, I think it’s no accident that Jesus doesn’t finish the story. The parable ends with the older brother still outside. Does he come in or not? Perhaps Jesus leaves it that way because it’s up to each one of us to finish the story. To decide whether we will allow ourselves to be found and forgiven and loved by God, over and over again.

“The Lost and Found”: that’s our sermon title. It’s also the name of the place where lost things go to be claimed by their rightful owner. If you think about it, then, that’s the reason Jesus spends so much time with tax collectors and sinners. He’s running a Lost and Found, the biggest Lost and Found department in the universe – running it for God – with his own blood, sweat and tears. And it’s open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for the past 2000 years.

Let me close with words from a song from a movie my family watched during Chinese New Year: Mary Poppins Returns. It’s set 25 years after the original Mary Poppins story. The young children in the story tragically have lost their mother. So, their nanny Mary Poppins sings a song to comfort them. It’s called “The Place Where the Lost Things Go”. It is a Disney song, but more than that. An Oscar-nominated Disney song. And more than that, maybe even a song for all the prodigals out there during the season of Lent. Because, remember, when we lose God, it’s not God who is lost.

1 Do you ever lie
Awake at night?
Just between the dark
And the morning light
Searching for the things
You used to know
Looking for the place
Where the lost things go
2 Do you ever dream
Or reminisce?
Wondering where to find
What you truly miss
Well maybe all those things
That you love so
Are waiting in the place
Where the lost things go

3 Memories you've shed
Gone for good you feared
They're all around you still
Though they've disappeared
Nothing's really left
Or lost without a trace
Nothing's gone forever
Only out of place

4 So when you need her touch
And loving gaze
Gone but not forgotten
Is the perfect phrase
Smiling from a star
That she makes glow
Trust she's always there
Watching as you grow
Find her in the place
Where the lost things go


# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, March 31, 2019

 

Transformation through His Love

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 24 March 2019, the Third Sunday of Lent, by the Rev. Roy Njuabe. The scripture readings that day were Isaiah 55:1-9; Luke 13:1-9; Psalm 63:1-8.


Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ:
            I am so glad to be home. I can see many old faces that I remember, some new ones too. All look good.
            Greetings from the Vine Church, Branches of Hope, greetings from Agape Home Foundation in Cameroon that I will be talking about shortly, greetings from my family, who are not here with me today, because today is my daughter Mizpah`s birthday and she had a date with her friends this morning. You know, as a parent, do not disrupt the plans of your children because of your duties. Yes, I can see some parents nodding their head. I hope you can understand what I mean. They are having fun now.  While they are having fun, I am glad to share with you what God put on my heart.

Let us pray; Lord, may the word of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You my Lord. Amen

            There are so many troubles in our world today. Everyday somebody is killed, either by a bullet, or natural disaster. Over the past weeks, the world had witnessed all kinds of disasters; Mozambique and Zimbabwe were affected by cyclone Idai, that took away the life of more than 200 people and the death toll keeps rising. The plane crash in Ethiopia that killed 158 people.  There is a lot of hate in this world that the word love is like a myth. Is there true love?
            At Christchurch, a white supremacist took the lives of 50 people in a mosque, African migrants killed in Libya and some sold as slaves, those fleeing persecution drowned at the sea trying to reach a safe place. In Nigeria hundreds of Christians killed by extremists. Politicians disappeared, and nobody is held responsible.
            As I am speaking right now to you, people are dying in Southern Cameroon. The military that was stationed to protect civilians are the ones killing them, raping women, burning homes and stealing properties.
            In the mist of all the Chaos, God still speaks love through people. There are people who are working day and night to help those affected. Some provide the resources, others their time and skills. We all need to come together to make a difference. 
            In Cameroon, people are dying every day, women and children live in bushes because of the fear that they will be killed by the military or armed separatist group. In a country where the military is above the law, there are some within the military that will take advantage of their impunity to commit crimes against humanity. A community without a strong legal system always keeps the weak at the mercy of the powerful. Children can be abandoned by family, there is no law enforcement about child neglect. Parent can beat their children, there is no law enforcement about child abuse. Women can be raped, there is no law enforcement about rape. Where can the victims run to when their attackers got the power and money to pay their way out of justice? Yes, nothing will happen to them, so they can do whatever they want; beat that child, rape that girl, kill that politician, oh yes, I got the power and money. When a system is corrupt, we find it hard to bring real justice. When the weak cannot find justice, they stay quiet and buried their hurt, because there is no one to fight for them.

Standing with the vulnerable:
            What can we do with all these problem in our world, in our communities, in our homes? Who will fight for the most vulnerable in countries where the strong can get away with their crimes, who will speak up? Who will stand with the vulnerable?
            God is calling us. Are you ready to move? When God calls you, remember that He want to send you. God is not just interested in calling you or you coming to Him, He is interested in your transformation and you going out to bear witness and stand with the vulnerable. That is why Isaiah prophesied about the Spirit of God that is on Jesus so that He will “proclaim good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn (Isaiah 61:1-2b).

Agape Home Foundation:
            There are people and organizations that God has called, transformed, anointed so that they can proclaim freedom to the captive and bind the brokenhearted. One of these organization Agape Home Foundation in Cameroon. The people of this organization, both staff and volunteers, walked through the streets of Cameroon, enter homes and dangerous places looking for victims; those abused, children abandoned, raped victims, pregnant ladies with no husband, widows abused by family in-law. They took these victims into safe places where they can start to rebuild their lives again, fight for justice and empower others. They provided children with the opportunity to go back to school, young pregnant women to learn new skills in order to take care of their children, and to fight for justice for those abused. Over the past years this organization had endeavored to empower thousands of young women, children and widows across Southern Cameroon.
            However, the last few years since 2016 had been the most challenging time of this organization and other working on the ground to serve the vulnerable. Their work has become even harder because the crisis in Cameroon had caused many children to become orphans because their parent was killed in the fighting. Many women became widows because their husbands were killed, many young girls became pregnant because they were raped, and many families became homeless because their homes were burned down. In the midst of all this chaos, the world is silent and gave the attacker an upper hand to continue the attack on the most vulnerable. When things are going bad, and the world is silent, know that there is God who is never silent. Even when the world was silent God spoke through a mad man as he wrote on the wall “If Biya (President of Cameroon) joke, Me God I don’t joke. He was arrested and later released.

Turn to God:
            When things go wrong, let us turn to God knowing that He does not joke.
That this why David when he was in the desert in Judah cried out to God, God my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you in a dry and parched land where there is no water (Psalm 63:1).
            Why did David cry out to God, because the remembered the power and glory of God that he saw in the sanctuary, he remembered that the love of God is better than life as he said “I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and glory, Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you” (Psalm 63:2-3). What a beautiful way to express agony. Even in the mist of agony we can still trust God and glorify His name.
            The people of Cameroon can still trust God because of His love.

The Love of God:
            God truly loves the world, but Satan has made it a place for killers. As Jesus once said, you turn the house of God into a place of robbers. The world God created and said it is beautiful has become a graveyard for innocent people. However, God still loves the world that is why He send his only begotten son so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. Jesus came to proclaim good news to the poor and bind the wounds of the brokenhearted. Out of an overflow of His Love, He died on the cross so that we can be transformed. Remember that His death on the cross was for free, we don’t need to pay for it. As Isaiah said, let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them and to our God, for he will freely pardon. (Isaiah 55:7b). All we need is repentance as Luke 13: 3 says unless you repent, you too will all perish”. God has paid the ultimate price of our transgression by offering His Son out of love so that we can be free.

Acknowledgment of God`s Love:
            When I look back into my life, I think of the things that I did wrong; the people I hurt, the offenses I committed; the people I betrayed, the hate, jealousy and the cheating. I wonder what kind of life I will live without God. I was so ashamed of myself and wonder what kind of life did I live; am I even worthy to stand before God?  Who can forgive me? I failed so many times, no matter how I tried to be good, I failed, no matter how I tried to trust God, I failed, I failed so badly that I don’t know what to do. Then I think of the cross, I think of the power of the cross, the power of God`s salvation, His love. I listen to Him calling my name saying Roy, my son, come with me. I will show you my love. No matter what you did, yes, it was wrong, yes it was bad, but I am glad you confess them to me and stand firm not to do them again. Of course, my child when you make a mistake, do not hesitate to come back to me because I am your God and will always love you. Do you remember the cross, the one which I died on? It is not just the cross, it is God’s love that make the cross visible. When Jesus said it is finished, it is all gone. Then I realized how much God has done for me, I remember His power and glory, so my lips will glorify His name. Because of His love, I stand with the afflicted, the brokenhearted so that they can experience the love of God. The people of Cameroon and the refugees in Hong Kong and all of us, listen the Lord is calling, come to me those who are thirsty, and I will give you Living water.

Do not give up:
            God called, transformed and sent us to work in His vineyard. Sometime the work can be disappointing. No better result, there is still war, people are still dying, the powerful and wicked people still own the land. Yes, even the refugee crisis never stops, the war in Cameroon is still going on. Why should I waste my time and money? I have worked so hard Lord, it is time to give up. I wanted you to see some fruits of my labor, but there is nothing to show. I just want to stop being a Good Samaritan. Lord for three years you have being coming here and there is no fruit on the tree, oh yes, many years of hard labor, giving out money to organizations, let us stop now, because there is nothing fruitful. Wait a moment, Lord give me one more year, yes that is what Luke told us, the caretaker of the Vineyard asked for one more year from the owner of the Vineyard, yes one more. Yes ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” (Luke 13:8). I will dig around it, add some more fertilizers, yes, I will give more time to it, maybe more money, I will apply more strategy or better still I will pray more. Remember we need to keep taking care of the vineyard even if it does not bear fruits. When you are tired and one to give up, do not stop, ask God for one more year, ask Him for strength. I have been working with refugees for more than 12 years, sometimes I felt tired, nothing changed, God why am I doing all these things. Last year we sent about 12 refugees to Canada, yet we received 20 new more cases, we gave financial support to hundreds of refugees yet we received thousands of them. Are we going to give up? No.
            This scripture reminded us to be resilient- never give up keep working. Say to God give me one more year, keep adding those fertilizers, water, love, money, time and joy, one day you will gain your reward. Though the Bible did not tell us whether the vineyard actually bore fruits or not. I am sure it did because of the caretaker was determined, I am sure the caretaker asked not just for one year but many years.

The fruits:
            Sometime the fruits might be invisible, may be just a few fruits. Know that the way God sees fruits may not be the same as we see. We may look at the fruit in human sense, but God looks at it with spiritual reality. His ways are not ours, we may want to see changes in this world according to human standard but is reminding us that His ways are higher than human ways, His thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8). Listen, God’s ways are powerful. He will surely make a way for us.
            The fruit might be that single mother who can now take care of her child, it may that one raped victim who got justice, the fruit may be that 12 refugees who got a new home in Canada, the fruit may be that refugee who became a pastor preaching the gospel. The fruit may be sitting next to you or running towards you.
            Are you willing to be transformed by God`s love so that you can bless others?
            Yes, God is the one who promised His love to you. As you receive God`s love, love others, and God will draw people closer to you.
            When God transforms you with His unconditional love, people will be running to you, even people you don’t know. As He said in Isaiah 55:5 “Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations you do not know will come running to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor.”
            Yes, many people from different nations will be running to you. Even people you do not know will run to you. Kowloon Union Church has shown God`s unconditional love to many people, you can see how people from different nations are running toward this Church, not because she invited people to come, but because of her unconditional love.
            I am one of those people who was drawn to this church by the love I experienced here. There are a lot of memories in this place: I got married to my wife in this church, my two daughters were baptized in this church, I got my first scholarship to study at the seminary in this church, I got my first paid job in Hong Kong in this church, I got my first experience as a board member in this church when I was elected as a council member, I preached in this church when I was a refugee, I was a liturgist in this church when I was a refugee. This church truly demonstrated what it means to be “Where all are one”.
            I came here as a refugee, broken and hopeless, yet I experienced an unconditional love, I became Hong Kong resident when I was in this church, and today I can say this church taught me how to love and I can move on to love other vulnerable people. 

Conclusion:

God is calling you: come to me all who are thirsty, come to the waters. Come to me all who burden and want to give up, come to the Lord and He will fill you with the power of the Holy Spirit. When the harvest is ready, we will be delighted in the richest things of God.  May God keep us all strong as we labor in His Vineyard taking care of the vulnerable, may we be transformed by His Love now and forever Amen. 

# posted by Heddy Ha : Wednesday, March 27, 2019

 

Transformation Through the Cross

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 10 March 2019, the first Sunday of Lent, by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Psalm 91:1-16; Deuteronomy 26:111; Luke 4:113.


Opening prayer

Dear God, may your word inspire us and transform us.

May the Holy Spirit give us new vision to see and new insight to walk with Christ in His path to the Cross. Amen.

Today is the 1st Sunday of Lent. Ash Wednesday last week has kicked off the Lent season which lasts for 40 days until Easter Sunday. Every year in KUC and in churches all over the world, Lent has been highlighted as a special season for Christians to reflect and renew our faith and life as we remember the pain, suffering and death of Jesus Christ in his earthly journey before we celebrate his resurrection in Easter.

Lent is a time God calls for repentance of all Christians.   

To repent is not merely to regret things we have done or to apologize for mistakes that we have made.  

Repentance is turning to God and refocus our life in God. Repentance also points to a reorientation to a new life. It involves an agreement to a change of direction that is required. This change will help the person to live an abundant life as promised by Jesus for he said ‘I came to give life, a life of abundance’ (John 10:10). This change will help the people of faith to reconnect to the life and love of God. The change will lead us to fulfill God’s greatest commandment: ‘to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves.’
The Worship Advisory Group fixed the theme of Lent this year as “Transformation through the Cross”.

Transformation through the cross. With this theme, I put a cross at the centre of the altar before us.

In Jesus’ time, the wooden cross was a means of punishment to kill those who were convicted of serious crimes. Jesus was nailed on the cross with the charge that he claimed himself as the King of the Jews. This was obviously a political charge.

The cross has been an important symbol and representation of Jesus’ life, pain, suffering and death.

The cross standing before us was made from the Christmas tree some years ago.  It has been part of KUC’s tradition and practice. We used the trunk of the Christmas tree to make a cross for Lent. We will see how a tree has been transformed to the present form – a cross (looked old and tough, but also strong and firm), standing up right here.

Look at the cross before you. What does this cross remind you of? What does this cross mean to you? (After the Worship Service, you are welcome to come forward to touch the cross and have a prayer to God seeking his mercy in your spiritual path of transformation in this special season of Lent.)

Transformation through the cross. What areas of your life and faith need changes? In what ways do you wish to be transformed and need to be transformed so that you will be more connected to God and live a more loving and meaningful life?

I would like to share with you some insights based on today’s lectionary readings.

I begin with the Old Testament taken from the book of Deuteronomy 26:111. 

The author instructed the Israelites in the old days to offer to God the first fruits of the land. The people were asked to bring their offerings to the priests in the Temple and proclaim a statement. Here I quote “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us into this place and gave us this land, flowing with milk and honey. (Deut 26:1-9)

Why is it important to recite this faith statement and historical account of the Jewish community when they offered their first fruit of the land? The statement reminded the Israelites that God was the Creator who provided for them what they needed. This Creator God was the one who emancipated them from slavery in Egypt. God is the Holy One liberating the people under captivity.

When we talk about transformation, one aspect is liberation from slavery, emancipation from oppression. In our society and in our world, we may still find slavery, may be in different forms. Migrant workers and grassroot workers who are not given decent salary and adequate legal protections to safeguard their basic rights and dignity are considered slavery in a modern form. Recently I heard a petition in Hong Kong, to advocate for better legal protection for female workers. The campaign was launched due to a case of a lady’s work contract not renewed after her boss realized she was pregnant.   

The problem of slavery happens in society. It also exists at a personal level. Are we enslaved by our life situations at work, in family, in relationships in which we have been kept like slaves without freedom? A strong fear of adequacy and worry about the future could be considered as another kind of slavery because we lose our autonomy and freedom to control our own lives. If that happens, going to seek God and receive his grace to make a change and be liberated is a good choice in considering transformation.  The faith statement from the Israelites in their thanksgiving offering reminds us that all land belong to God. God is source of all things and all lives. In God we lack nothing. With this strong belief that God the Creator will give to his people and beloved children enough to keep our lives and more than enough to share with others, we will be more generous and happier to share with others especially those who are in need.

In Deuteronomy, God instructed His people who were given the gift of land, to celebrate the bounty with the Levites and the aliens. It is easy for us to share what we have with our families and beloved. God, however, instructed his people to share with the aliens who were consider strangers and outsiders. In God’s eyes, everybody is regarded as important. In God, no one should be excluded. Everyone’s need will be attended.

In this regard, we can be generous giver and cheerful receiver at the same time. For people receiving help in times of need is never a shame but shows courage and full trust to God’s love and grace. 


Trust in God
To many people in our midst, life has never been easy. No work opportunities, or too much work, and constantly working under stress. Some are forced to separate from families because of different reasons. Some are suffering from illness and worried about family members whose health is poor. In facing an uncertain future, some are living in constant fear. Life challenges are still part of life and seem never ending.

The reading taken from Psalm 91, very beautiful poem, gives great comfort, assurance and hope to those who are struggling, worrying and in fear. The key however is to trust in the Lord.

God promised that those who love and seek God, God will protect. Transformation is a choice and a decision to give full trust to our Lord God.

When we entrust in God, transformation is made possible: 
From sadness to joy;
From worries to peace,
From fear to love and hope

Jesus is our example
In the trust of God, Jesus has set a great example for us to follow. In today’s gospel reading taken from Luke, it tells us about the temptations Jesus has gone through.

In his temptations, Jesus had given to God his full trust, full understanding and full love. He was so closely connected to God and he is so sure of his identity as God’s Son.

The devil tested Jesus three times. The first time was when he asked Jesus, ‘If you are the Son of God, you can turn stone to bread.’ Then the devil promised to give Jesus all the honor and glory if he worshipped him, and the third time was when he said, ‘If you are the son of God, you jump and let your God protect and care for you.’  Jesus did not fall into his trap at all, he kept his focus on God and not on his bodily needs, nor his ego, nor does he need to test if God loves him.

Transformation through the cross. Jesus Christ is at the center of the cross. Let us follow his footstep. Let us always remember we are God’s sons and daughters, fully loved and embraced.

God reveals Godself through Jesus Christ. He came to the world to live, to die and to resurrect. God is changing and transforming in different times and space. The video Tong showed to the children about the image of God this morning is inspiring. It showed us once again God is so creative and God reveals Godself in different images and in different forms.

In this connection, transformation through the cross is not only possible, but a gift given by God whose nature is ever transforming and changing. With DEEP FAITH and DEEP LOVE in Christ, let us move forward and walk the journey with Christ - the suffering God.

To end my sermon, I would like to invite you to spend a moment of silence to meditate on the cross and pray to God what are the areas you wish to change. Seek God’s mercy and strength for the power of transformation.

(Music)

Closing Prayer:

God, thank you for your presence in the cross, in Christ and in all things that you have created. May we all journey in a meaningful Lent that bring to us transformation. May the love you share with us stay and empower us to love you and others more and more.
In Christ’s name we pray. Amen. 

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, March 10, 2019

 

Meeting Rahab Once More

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 3 March 2019 by Dr. Muriel Orevillo-Montenegro. The scripture readings that day were Joshua 2:1-14 (22); 6:21-25.


Introduction: Re-Reading Rahab
Good morning! Today is Transfiguration Sunday, and churches reflect on the story of Jesus’ appearance becoming so radiant while praying up in the mountain and being “visited” by Moses and Elijah.     

However, I am tasked to share a reflection that anticipates the International Women’s Day. March 8 was declared by the United Nations (in 1975) as UN day for women’s rights and world peace.     

I have chosen to reflect on the story of a one, who, I imagine, was caught in a dilemma of making a difficult decision. Her name is Rahab. I first “met” Rahab when I wrote a paper many years ago. Her story is like a suspense movie. She lived in a small dwelling between the double walls of Jericho. That location enabled her to save Joshua’s spies. When I first met Rahab, I said she simply did a heroic act without qualms. She lied and misled the soldiers of Jericho, to protect the Israelite spies. Of course, she wittingly gave a condition: she will help them if she and her family will not be killed when Joshua’s contingent attacks Jericho.   

New Lenses for Reading
But now, I want to meet Rahab once again, and re-read her story. It is because I find my interpretation of the story so simplistic. I failed to bring out the complexities of the text’s pericope. I am called to "discern between oppressive texts and liberating ones.” And I hold that only the liberating texts deserve a place in the proclamation. This text is a prototype, an example of a text that opens itself to examination in order to allow the emergence of new revelation. I meet Rahab again, but this time, I am more conscious of the complexities of her story. And so I struggle to understand her situation and make sense out of her story.    

First, in her vulnerability, Rahab's concern was focused only on saving her family and to find a way out of her predicament. Rahab was located in the margins of Jericho geographically. In her poverty, she was vulnerable socially, economically, and politically. Rahab had to gather stalks of flax for its fiber, dried them on her rooftop to weave and make her own clothing. She had to support her family through a self-degrading business – that of selling sex as a prostitute, according to the writer.

The spies took advantage of Rahab’s vulnerability. They played up on her dreams, promising her liberation from her difficult life. The Rahabs of today, when in problematic situations, are also susceptible to the promises, mostly of wily individuals and groups. They would tend to grab any opportunity that offers them the desired better life. Rahab of Jericho just did that. This kind of story continues today. Many disadvantaged women [and men] from the so-called “underdeveloped” countries, Filipinas included, are duped into different kinds of risks and dangers just to look for greener pastures for their family’s sake. Some women saw their hopes and dreams shattered. Some became drug mules, like Mary Jane Velasco, who is now languishing in jail in Indonesia. Some became victims of trafficking in persons. Not a few of them are abused by recruiting agencies or by their employers, by drug syndicates and individuals who “use” these vulnerable women for their own ends. (It was good Erwiana Sulistyaningsih got justice.)  In Rahab’s case, she had to take the possible but difficult option for her family’s survival. She was a risk-taking woman.

Second, while Rahab had wits and guts; she also had deep fears. I suspect that because of fear, Rahab entered a deal with the spies: “I will help you, but do not kill my family when you attack.” Perhaps, her painful experience of being scorned as a prostitute by her own community made her uncaring about the safety of her neighbors. This could be sweet revenge. “So what? They can go to hell.” She could have probably said that to herself. She turned her gaze away from the consequence of the impending invasion: of genocide to be carried out by Joshua’s men in the name of Israel’s masculine God. After all, she already heard about the assaults done by Joshua’s men to the neighboring cities. And so fearfully, Rahab said to the spies: “our hearts melted and there was no courage left in us because of you.”(v. 11)

Third, Rahab came to believe that the military prowess of Joshua’s men was God’s display of power. In that context, one may affirm Rahab’s decision. While neighboring cities had put up a fight, she was made to believe that the only way to survive, as a Canaanite, was to surrender.  She said: “I know the Lord has given you the land, and that dread of you has fallen on us, that all the inhabitants of the land melt in fear before you.”
At a time when people believed in a warrior God, Rahab easily yielded to the idea that the land of Canaan, was to be given to Joshua’s people. This reminds me of the story that some natives of the archipelago, which was later named the Philippines, surrendered to Spain because they thought these white, tall men who carried with them sticks that spit fire were God’s emissaries.

Insights and Reflections:
What new insights, and what good news do we gather from Rahab’s story for us today?

The first insight is a caveat, a caution: that the story is dangerous if we will not acknowledge that writing and telling a story is a political act. We tell stories for many reasons – to pour out our pains and fears, to share our joys, hopes, and faith, to entertain, and to share the burden of others. Some tell a story to sway and win over people’s sympathy and favor. A story is a powerful tool to empower. But stories can also be a powerful tool also to destroy. Sometimes we tell stories to influence the decisions or of the views of others. We tell stories to profit from whatever. Some people tell stories to malign or to hurt others. Among us Cebuano-speaking Filipinos, if we suspect the intention of someone in telling a story, we protest by saying: “Estoryahe!” It is a sarcastic way of saying, “Come on, tell me more lies!” In Rahab’s time, there were no trolls yet, but there were people who already spread fake news.

If you read the story from the perspective of the Israelites as I did before, you will surely say that Rahab is a hero. But if you are a native of Canaan, you would tend to accuse Rahab of treachery! She is a traitor of her people. Reading Rahab today makes my heart ache. My heart breaks because I want to see women as heroes and not as villains, as faithful and loving beings; not liars, not as corrupt creatures. But unfortunately, that is not always the case.

So, I go beyond Rahab and interrogate the narrator: Did Rahab, a vulnerable woman in the margins really yielded readily to the interest of invaders and abandoned her own people? Or, was Rahab put under duress that she declared in Joshua 2, verse 9-11, to the spies, that “the Lord your God is indeed God in heaven above and on earth below?”  Who knows! God knows!

This brings me to think that when we tell or write our stories, we must be mindful of our intentions and of our accountability for it.

And for us, as listeners or readers, what story and whose story do we privilege or honor? Whose story do we value? Is it the story of the victims? Or, is that of the aggressors? Remember, telling a story is a political act; and a story is dangerous if we, as narrator, will not acknowledge our accountability for such an act.

The writer has put words in Rahab’s mouth to make her story serve as a justification for the project of taking over the land of Canaan in the name of God. This is a ploy used by the colonizers then and now. My Kenyan friend, Maritim, once said that the strangers from Europe taught the Kenyans to pray with closed eyes. But when they opened their eyes, they only had the Bible in their hands, and the strangers had already taken their land away from them.  

Second insight: we cannot and should not romanticize violence, even if it is found in the sacred text – the Bible and is supposed to be mandated or allowed by God. Violence is violence. Rahab was terrified before a violent God who orders the burning of the cities and the killing of the inhabitants of the land (6:24).  If you were in her place, what will you do? Can we blame her? Unfortunately, there was no General Luna in her time to tell her: “Choose!  Bayan? O Sarili?” “Country? Or self? In the past, I cheered for the Israelites’ victory over Jericho. It was like how I glorified the cowboys for victoriously killing all the Native Americans. But then I realized I turned blind and deaf to the cries of women and men, young and old, donkeys and oxen whom the Israelites “devoted to destruction by the edge of the sword all in the city” (6:21).  We should not celebrate conquests, even if the writer-narrator told us Rahab’s story to convince us that such violence is “holy” because God willed it against the non-believers.  And these atrocities continue to happen today: modern Israel continues to encroach into Palestinian territory and grab Palestinian lands. We must not turn our gaze away from violence happening there and anywhere.
  
Third insight: we should wrestle with the issue of lying and its implication in our personal and community life. Who among us here has never told a lie? Or much worse, deceive? In the Philippines, lies are now thriving abundantly, with government officials leading - especially as the mid-term election is coming.
Certainly, there are occasions pointed out by the Greek philosopher, Epicurus, who said that “ethics deals with things to be sought and things to be avoided, with ways of life and with the telos (the chief good),” as an end. One may say, Rahab lied to attain the chief good – that of saving the spies and her family. But must Rahab must tell a lie in the name of her faith in God! “Some circumstances warrant a lie,” some would say. But, are the lives of the natives – the women and men, young and old not counted as “chief good?” Was it the most loving thing to do in Rahab’s situation? If you were Rahab, will you do the same? Martin Luther, in his letter to the landgrave Phillips, said that “if a man told a good strong lie for the sake of the good and for the Christian church . . . a lie out of necessity, a useful lie, a helpful lie; such lies would not be against God, he would accept them.” Hmm. . . not helpful!

But what will be the long-range effect of chronic lying in communities?  What is the long-range effect of lying in our family, in the church, in our schools, in society, in our government system? Immanuel Kant is more helpful when he tells us that “by a lie, a person throws away and, as it were, annihilates one’s dignity as a human being.” 

Conclusion: A Call to Adjust our Lenses to see more in the story
Rahab faced a difficult situation. Rahab’s story has layers, and such layers must be re-examined. What is the interest of the writer? Why did he choose to portray a woman as a hero/traitor? I call on you to check your reading glasses or get a new pair of lenses in order to see these complexities. We cannot be naïve and ignore interpretations that condone lying, and violence supposedly mandated by God.  


Today, we will approach the table in memory of Jesus who was a victim of state violence. Let us also remember Rahab, for her story challenges us to resist violence – of the colonization of land, bodies, and mind, in telling lies and deception, and many other forms of violence that destroy us, other people and God’s creation. Instead, let us live out a faith that does not glorify a war-freak, patriarchal God. Let us worship the God of love, righteousness, mercy, justice, and peace. This is the God who calls us to discern how to live out a liberating faith. Listen, all you who have ears. Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, March 03, 2019

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