Meditations, Reflections, Bible Studies, and Sermons from Kowloon Union Church
“The Lost and Found”
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
Psalm 32, Luke 15:11-32.
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.
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.
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
response to this criticism, Jesus tells a parable about a prodigal son who
wasted his inheritance on wine, women and who knows what else.
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?
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
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!
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!
parable could have ended right here . . . with a postscript about joy in heaven
over one sinner who repents. But Jesus isn’t finished yet.
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!”
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.
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!
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?”
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.”
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
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
Transformation through His Love
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
55:1-9; Luke 13:1-9; Psalm
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
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
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
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.
When things go wrong, let us turn to
God knowing that He does not joke.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Transformation Through the Cross
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 26:1–11; Luke 4:1–13.
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
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
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 26:1–11.
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 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.
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 fear to love and hope
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.
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
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.
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
In Christ’s name we
Meeting Rahab Once More
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.
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
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.
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
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)
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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