Previous weeks’ reflections

Weekly Reflection

Weekly Reflection

7 March 2021

Reading: John 2. 13-22

13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

Reflection

In this reading, we see Jesus’ unusual actions in the temple, overturning the tables and driving out all the merchants and money changers from the temple court. We, who have heard this happening many times, may miss the significance of this incident. But, it was a serious happening, as it was a real challenge to their religion and their authority. However, it is interesting to see their response, that they had less concern about what he did than who did it. In that respect, they were not asking why he was doing this. Rather, they were looking for evidence, whether Jesus had any authority to do that. It sounds like: who are you to cleanse the temple? Who gives you the right to do this? Having ignored their questions, however, Jesus dares them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days’. This may not mean the building itself but more about their attitudes and religious practices, because they were strongly tied up to legalism and ritualism, apart from the real meaning of worship. Jesus might have wanted them to remember the words from Isaiah 1, which read “I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to appear to me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my court? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me.” It seems that it was their hypocrisy or meaningless tradition that Jesus wanted to drive out.

On the other hand, we need to notice that this story of temple cleansing is a story of Jesus’ battle for inclusion: bringing all to God. In those days, Jewish society was strongly based on social hierarchy, which divided people into certain levels and certain groups. People were either acceptable or unacceptable, clean or unclean, in or out, included or excluded. For example, stressing too much on ceremonial regulations, they tried to divide them into the clean and the unclean. It is not just a matter of literal cleanness. The physically disabled, the sick, tax collectors, slaves, Gentiles, and to a degree, all women were considered unclean. And, they were not allowed to access to the temple. Interestingly, therefore, right at the heart of this system of exclusion stood the Temple. That’s why Jesus was so angry, and overturned the market tables. It is his battling against the unfair and unjust regime of the day. And, what he was going to build was not the exclusive ‘Temple’, but the ‘inclusive’ Church, which is far different from any kind of human organisation, the spiritual body, the community of faith and love.

Lent is a time for a ‘Spring cleaning’ of our spirits and souls: the time for driving out of our lives ‘the useless’, ‘the meaningless’, and ‘the destructive’. And, it is a time to invite the ‘angry Jesus’ into our lives to drive out those things that make our lives less than what God created them to be. Amen.

Prayer

Lord our God, help us to drive out of our homes and hearts ‘the unnecessary’ and ‘the useless’ that clutter our lives, and occupy our time. Restore our spirits, Lord, and help us to realize the meaning and purpose of our lives.

May these days of Lent be a ‘Spring cleaning’ of those things that muddy our relationships with you and one another. Amen.

Weekly Reflection

28 February 2021

Reading: Mark 8. 31-38

31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Reflection

The challenge of this passage is that up to this point, disciples were to follow Jesus, by his teachings and miracles he performed. But, from this point, they were to trust him, through the suffering and even death of the Messiah. Then, think of the disciples who had been with him for three years, and out of blue they were told their master was going into a disaster and even death, let alone resurrection. How would they respond? How could they understand what he was saying? We, who know the whole story of Jesus’ resurrection, may easily miss the shock like a bombshell his words have on them. But, we must understand that their great hope was that he would overthrow the Roman Empire. For them, he was their longed-for future and their cherished dream. So, what could be more confusing, more ludicrous and foolish, than the news that he was going to walk into suffering and death?

In that sense, it’s not surprising to see that Peter, in his character, began to rebuke Jesus. I think his reaction was entirely natural from a human perspective. Who of us would have done differently?

But, this poor Peter, who was actually greatly commended by Jesus just few minutes ago, is now seriously told off, even being called ‘Satan’. ‘Get behind me. Satan!’

In this respect, we can sympathise with Peter, who wanted to stop him making a seemingly disastrous mistake. But, what we need to notice is that Jesus goes beyond speaking of his own suffering and death, and goes over to talk about the cost of becoming his disciples. What it means is that they are now entering an uncharted territory, a new stage of faith, letting go of all that they have understood about God’s ways and turning to commitment in faith.

This is a huge challenge, as they are asked to deny themselves and take up their cross. Particularly at such a time like this, given our context of Covid-19, lockdown, and social distancing, etc., we may feel it too much and ask, “Haven’t we had enough of suffering? Enough of loss and grief and loneliness?”

And then, we may rather like to take an easy choice, such as chocolate fasting for Lent, or giving up Facebook for six weeks. But, I don’t think that’s what Jesus means when he tells them to lose their lives for the sake of the gospel.

Taking up a cross as Jesus did is to stand in the centre of the world’s pain. Taking up the cross means recognising Christ crucified in every suffering soul and body around us. It is to see the suffering world as sufferings Jesus endured on the cross, and pour out all our energies and our lives to relieve that pain and suffering. It’s a huge task, by which we may be overwhelmed and discouraged.

But, the good news is that disciples are learners, not graduates. So, as long as we are in his flock, he will guide us, teach us, and lead us. And, we know that Jesus never threw away his disciples, even though one betrayed, the other denied, and most of others doubted. He is the faithful, Good Shepherd, on whom we can fully rely. And, Lent is a time for taking the risk of trusting God, keeping going for the long haul. Amen.

Prayer

Lord Jesus, you took up your cross for us; now help us to take up our cross for you. And, Holy Spirit, guide us on the way of the cross; strengthen us to live to God’s glory. Amen.

21st February 2021

Reading: Mark 1. 9-15

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted[a] by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Reflection

This reading shows us three snapshots of Jesus’ early ministry in a quick sequence: Jesus’ Baptism, his test in the wilderness, and his proclamation of good news. Although these three events are very briefly mentioned in Mark’s gospel, they are closely and interestingly related. For example, baptism symbolises the new covenant with God through the water, and we see God confirm his identity as His Son by the Spirit descending. Then, surprisingly, immediately after the baptism, we see that same Spirit driving him out to the desert, to be tested by Satan.

Obviously, that’s not what Jesus chose, but the Spirit drove him out to that situation. The Spirit of God forced him into the desolation of a wild and unsafe place. Often, we don’t understand why he had to be tempted in the desert. But, if we look at our life it seems to be true to us. Most of the time, we don’t choose to enter the wilderness. We don’t volunteer for pain, loss, or danger. But, the wilderness happens anyway. That’s what we see in our life. Whether it comes as a form of pandemic, or a broken relationship, or a financial difficulty, or whatever, the wilderness is to appear at our doorsteps, unbidden and uninvited.

Now then, does this mean that God wills bad things to happen to us? The answer is ‘No’. Does it mean that God wants to teach, shape, and redeem us even during the most barren time of our lives? ‘Yes’. It’s because in His divine economy, God can make even a dangerous desert holy and reveal His divinity, and He knows we live in a chaotic and broken world. However, sometimes we feel forty days in the wilderness is too long, and too harsh, particularly for those of us who live in impatient, quick-fix cultures. We may ask, ‘Why is this pain not ending? Why are our prayers going unanswered? Where is God?’

But, what is amazing is that from this passage, we find ‘Hope’, that is, ‘angels attended him’. There were angels in the wilderness. Even in the land of starvation, even in the place where the wild beasts were roaming around, God’s agents were there with Jesus. This is really, really comforting truth. We must know that God never leaves us alone in the desert. If we open our eyes and take a look around, we are to see God abide with us. Sometimes, we see, without reason or explanation, help comes, and rest comes. Of course, our angels don’t always appear in the forms we prefer, but they come. And, I am sure you must have experienced it all through your life.

Our God is a faithful God. He is trustworthy, and never changing. He wants us to be thriving, not crushed, so that we may spread the good news to the world, and enjoy our lives with gladness and thankfulness.

And, Lent is a time to practice our journey into the wilderness, and a time to experience challenges. So, I pray that we may enter with courage the desert we can’t choose or avoid and experience the angels attending and the presence of God. Amen.

Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, as you wrestled in the wilderness with temptation, with the nature of your calling, and your ability to meet what it would cost you, so help us today and throughout this time of Lent to hear your voice, and to understand what you ask of us. Fasten our thoughts on you, and direct all that we do, so that we might grow in grace and stand firm in faith, able to resist whatever might cause us to fall. In your name we pray. Amen.

14th February 2021

Reading: Mark 9. 2-9

After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)

Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Reflection

This is a story of mystery, which we find difficult to understand. Therefore, we may need to look at the context in which this event took place. Just before this happening, we see in chapter 8, Peter’s great confession about Jesus. There, Jesus asked his disciples ‘Who do you say I am?’ And, Peter responded confidently, saying ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’. We know this story. Then, we see Jesus take these disciples to the mountain and reveal himself and let them hear God’s voice, which confirms his identity. So, it is God’s response to the question, ‘Who is Jesus?’ But, on the other hand, this story of Transfiguration is all about ‘change’, which may prompt us to react differently, positively or negatively. Where are you hoping to be changed, then? Particularly as we have to adapt to the changes forced by this global pandemic, and as we continue to learn from rapidly changing and developing technology, some of you may find it exhausted and want to bury your head in the sand for weeks, months, or even years. Others may find it exciting and try to catch up all the time. We all respond to the change differently.

Then, in this gospel reading, we see how Jesus’ three disciples, Peter, James, and John, react to the unimaginable, mysterious happening: Jesus’ Transfiguration. As we know, these friends of Jesus have spent years following him around, listening to his teachings, and witnessing his miracles. By the time Jesus invites them to the mountaintop, they are quite confident that they know their Master. They know him as a teacher, a storyteller, a healer, and a traveling companion.  His face and his manners — all are familiar to them. But then, on the mountain, before their very eyes, Jesus changes, and becomes both fully himself and fully strange at once.  The man they thought they knew becomes now a suddenly and completely different one. Then, these terrified disciples find themselves standing on a threshold. A change. What it means is that one chapter of their life and their understanding is ending. Now they have to choose the next. They have journeyed with Jesus the rabbi, the healer.  Will they now journey with him towards the cross?  Or will they insist on remaining exactly where they are safe? These may be the questions we will face as we now prepare for the six weeks Lent. We don’t know what thresholds we’ll face in the wilderness.  We don’t know how God might invite us to change, to grow, and to cross over.  And we don’t know what losses and sorrows will there be in those crossings. Therefore, this is a challenging time, although we see Jesus clearly reveal himself, his identity, to them and God himself clearly declare ‘This is my Son. Listen to him’. With this challenge, now we are moving into Lent. Amen.

Prayer

God of glory, whose voice spoke from the mountain in the day Jesus was revealed in glory to his friends, help us to take seriously your words that day, and listen for the voice of Jesus throughout our lives.

May we be challenged as we hear again his hard words.

May we be strengthened as we hear again his promises.

May we be enabled to live our lives following his examples.

For we pray in his holy name, now and always. Amen.

7th February 2021

Reading: Mark 1. 29-39

29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. 30 Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. 31 So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.

32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered at the door, 34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.

35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he travelled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

Reflection

This passage is describing the first day of Jesus’ ministry according to the Mark’s gospel. It shows us the rapid progress of his ministry and the urgency of his response, as we see this passage start with the words ‘as soon as’. And, we need to notice that this is only the end of the first full day of his ministry – a Sabbath day but no rest for Jesus. In a sense, it shows us what the ministry may look like. It actually started at the last week’s reading, where Jesus went into the synagogue on the Sabbath, teaching and driving out the evil spirit from the demon-possessed man.

And, people were amazed by his power and authority.

Then, after the synagogue, he visits one of his disciples’ house, and there he does his healing ministry to Simon’s mother in law, which is not arranged in advance.

Then, after the sunset, we hear, all the sick and the demon-possessed are brought to him. And, the whole town gathered at the door. And, he did deal with them, and healed them. We don’t know whether he could get some sleep. Maybe not.

However, next day, early in the morning, he just disappeared to have a quiet time with God.

But, the disciples didn’t let him have this precious time on his own. They searched and found him, and exclaimed, ‘Everyone is looking for you!’ We see his popularity having soared up already and him being overwhelmed by the sheer amount of human need and expectations. But, on the other hand, it sounds like ‘Why are you wasting your time here, when there are many people who need you?’

It may sound right. But, we see Jesus reject this, and say ‘Let us go somewhere else.’

Why did he reject the request? There seem to be couple of reasons. Firstly, what they were looking for was his miracles, not the real meaning of his ministry. And, he knew that his vocation was to proclaim the gospel, the kingdom of God, not to stay there with popularity. It doesn’t mean healing large number of people is not his main ministry. It is part of his ministry, but the trouble is people’s misunderstanding of his healing and wrong response to the miracles. And, he didn’t want to stay in that comfort zone, but move on to proclaim the real meaning of the gospel. I don’t think he made this decision lightly. But after a morning prayer and reflection, he recognised and trusted the voice that said, “It’s time to go.”

Challenge to us is: Can we trust that sowing a seed and walking away is sometimes enough? Can we relinquish fame and power, and risk the new and the unknown?

Amen.

Prayer

God of wholeness, we bring to you today, all within us that needs healing: that which is visible and that which is hidden; that which we have shared with others and that known only to you.

Stretch out your healing hands and give us the courage to believe that you can use our weakness and our strength in your service.

And, through your healing power, may we truly understand your gospel and faithfully follow the way to your kingdom. Amen.

31st January 2021

Reading: Mark 1. 21-28

21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, 24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

25 “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” 26 The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” 28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.

Reflection

‘A new teaching, and with authority!’ It was the first response from the synagogue, when Jesus preached for the first time. What would make that positive response, then? What made it so different? To answer these questions, we need to look at two factors, ‘new and authority’.

First of all, think of ‘new’. Why was it new to them? It’s because after Moses, all the teachers of the law and scribes had proclaimed an angry and vengeful God, the God of punishment, and they were strictly sticking on the laws and rules and regulations, which no body found easy. And, their teachings were mostly filled with quotations and legal precedents, such as, Moses said ‘Do this, and do that. Don’t do this, and don’t do that!’ Same lessons for many, many years.

Then, think of how Jesus might have preached, and what he preached to them.

Unfortunately, Mark’s gospel doesn’t give us any detailed information. But, I dare to say, ‘He never quoted Moses’. We’ve never seen him saying, ‘Moses said such and such things’. Rather, he interpreted Moses and his laws. For example, we see, in Matthew 5. 38, Jesus say, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, ‘Do not resist an evil person.’ If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” It’s a completely different teaching and understanding on the law. And, in many places in the gospels, we see Jesus beginning the story with these words: ‘I tell you the truth’.

In fact, it’s such an astonishing declaration, that means ‘I am the one who tells the truth.’ They must have been struck by this, I believe.

And, although we don’t know exactly what he preached at that synagogue, I think we can assume that he must have taught them ‘LOVE’, liberating love of God, which was completely opposite to the religious codes, which bound the people and their lives. And, actually, he demonstrated it in his action, by freeing a man from demon possession. And, this happening was to prove that his teaching was true. And, that was to give him full authority, which didn’t need any other references.

In this healing miracle, I think you may not all agree on the nature of the evil spirit, in other translation, the unclean spirit. Some of you may see it as a first-century way of explaining mental illness. Others may say that such a description would be just literally true. But, I would rather say the evil spirit could be anything against the ‘Holy Spirit’, such as hatred, envy, jealous, or pride, arrogance, selfishness, or complacency. They are all evil. And, we can imagine how destructive, divisive, and distracting they would be! Actually, this gospel writer, Mark seems to emphasise its seriousness that the world is in the grip of fallen powers, and their work is everywhere to be seen. And, that’s why in this story, we see the demon possessed sneaking even into the synagogue and sitting among the worshipping people.

And, it is interesting to see that this evil spirit recognised Jesus first as the Holy One of God, while the other people were wondering about who he was. But, the point is Jesus never allows the evil spirit, but drives it out by his word, saying sternly ‘Be quiet. Come out of him!’

And, here, we need to notice that this is the first miracle recorded in Mark’s gospel.

It would be symbolic, but it is not just performing exorcism, not just healing a man, but, more importantly cleansing the holy place by driving out the evil spirit.

It is to show that driving out evil spirits is one of the main tasks in his ministry.

Prayer

Lord our God, as in the beginning you commanded the light to shine out of darkness, we pray that the power and authority of the Word of Jesus may dispel the darkness of the evil world, and shine into the hearts of all your people, and come alive for us each day. Open our eyes, Lord, to your saving grace and healing love, and to all you are doing in our lives and our world. Amen.

24th January 2021

Reading: John 17. 20-26

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

Reflection

One of the world’s all-time issues would be ‘division’, which, I am sure, has caused so many hatreds and conflicts and violence in history.

Yes, we see divisions everywhere, all over the world. And, church is not an exception, I have to say. You may be surprised that there are hundreds of denominations in this country, apart from six main stream churches. But, in a sense, it’s not surprising. As we have heard from John 17, Jesus already knew that it would be happening. That’s why he prayed for us and for our unity, even though he didn’t know who would be his followers. His prayer is this:

‘Father, may they be one, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me’.

He wants us to be one, as his followers. What does it mean, then? How can we be one? Definitely, it would not mean a natural human unity, which is derived from common ethnicity or nationhood. Rather, it would be like ‘Unity in the Trinity’. In other words, we, as believers, are to participate in the harmony and the love between the Father and the Son, entering into the relationship they share, and forgetting all about any denominational tags or doctrines. So, it would be something spiritual, and something relational. But, it’s not that simple issue. It is to accept the differences, which I think is the hardest thing in unity. Nevertheless, as Christians, we have to accept that Christians cannot all think alike, and therefore they cannot all act alike. They may like different style of worship, or music. They may have different attitudes or traditions. But, the point is, if we believe the diversity of God’s creation, we need to agree to differ. And, we must remember that if we fail to do so, we are to face a serious division and conflict among churches.

One of the examples was ‘church division’ caused by an issue of the Holy Communion. After the Reformation, in 16th and 17th centuries, the church was divided seriously because of an issue of Communion, which had got lots of different interpretations and theological understandings.

It was an irony, that the church had to be divided because of Communion, which must be the most significant symbol of Christian unity. It is unbelievable. But, that is what we’ve been doing as Christians.

And, that may be the reason why Jesus prayed for our unity. But, in a sense, his prayer for our unity doesn’t seem to mean any kind of doctrinal agreement or institutional union. Rather, it seems to be about experiencing and sharing the love of God which keeps us together despite our multiple differences. And, I am sure we do experience and share the love of God, from the work we do together, without the denominational tags, which will inspire us to be one, one in Christ, and draw more to Christ, in his love. Amen.

Prayer

God of variety and eternal oneness, thank you for the excitement of difference and the richness of diversity. Forgive us, Lord, for trying to make everyone into ‘people like us’, ignoring or excluding ‘people like that’, and forgetting that we are every one created in your image, touched by your love.

Help us, Lord, to build churches and communities where difference is celebrated, and your love in us makes us one. Amen.

17th January: Week of prayer for Christian Unity

Reading: John 1. 43-51

43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”

44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.

“Come and see,” said Philip.

47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”

50 Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” 51 He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

Reflection

Can anything good come from Nazareth? It’s a very rude and offensive comment, which might have come out of his prejudice or ignorance, or misunderstanding. Whatever the case it might be, it is not easy to change or challenge people’s preconception. And, there the difficulty of evangelism is. In terms of telling people about the Good News of Jesus, we seem to have a kind of fear or reluctance of sharing our faith with other people. ‘I may not know what to say. They may ask a question which I cannot answer. I might fail.’ Those excuses seem to be fair and reasonable. But, if we think of ourselves, I am pretty sure many of us must have been invited to the church, by our friends or family members.

Statistically, it is said that more people enter Christianity through the invitation of friends than by any other means. However, even if that is the case, the problem is how we can overcome the sense of fear or reluctance or lack of confidence in spreading the gospel. What would be the best way?

I think we can find the answer from the passage in John 1.

Here, we see Philip, who had just become Jesus’ disciple, going out to find his friend Nathaniel, and explain him what he had found. He said, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote –Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” It sounds right, based on the Scripture. But, how did Nathaniel respond to it? We see him make such a discouraging, skeptical and cynical comment on it. Can anything good come from Nazareth? Through this critical and scornful response, we see Galileans’ disgust with Nazarenes and his prejudice issues, because that town had got a poor reputation in morals and religion. So, he wouldn’t come up with immediate faith. That’s actually one of the worries we may have about evangelism. That’s the last situation we want to face. However, what did Philip do? We see him doing the best he could do. He simply, yet confidently says, “Come and see.” I don’t have all the answers, but come and see. Your skepticism will disappear.

In fact, ‘come and see’ is not the policy Philip used first. Just before this passage, we can find that Jesus already used it. When John the Baptist’s two disciples followed Jesus, he asked them, ‘What do you want?’ It means actually ‘What are you looking for?’ What is your motivation? Power? Glory? Fame? Then, they said, ‘Where are you staying?’, which means ‘Where is your home? This world or another?

Then, Jesus said to them, ‘Come and you will see.’ Jesus invited them to his world.

It is a call to relationship. It is a call to discipleship, and a call to have their eyes opened to God’s truth. So, our role is to bring people to Jesus, the Word and the truth. We don’t need to use our own words, but just bring them to the Word. That’s what Philip did. Then, what happened next? As we see in this passage, Jesus covers the rest of the invitation.

When he saw Nathaniel coming, Jesus said to him, “I know who you are. I know what you’ve been thinking about. You are a genuine Israelite. Nothing false in you.” Then, we see Nathaniel surprised and shocked, and without doubt, saying “You are the Son of God, the King of Israel.” That is what only Jesus can do, because salvation belongs to God. Our part is only to bring people to the place where they can meet Jesus, pointing them to Jesus. In doing so, we are privileged to see God working through the lives of his people. Amen.

Prayer

Lord Jesus, you know us better than we know ourselves, seeing us as we really are, with all our faults and limitations, our quirks and weaknesses, yet giving us your all for us in love. Help us, Lord, simply to know you better – glimpsing a little more clearly who you are in all your glory, greatness, love and compassion – so that, in love, we might give back to you in love, offering ourselves, our time, and our discipleship, in grateful response. Amen.

10th January 2021: Covenant

Readings:

Jeremiah 31. 31, 33

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. 33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.

John 15. 1-10

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.

Reflection


We know that in the Old Testament time, God always initiated the covenant with his people, firstly with Noah, and Abraham, and Moses. And, the reason for making the covenant was just to give them another chance for their lives and for their sins to be forgiven. We see Him renewing the covenant again and again, although his people broke it again and again. Therefore, this covenant is all about God’s mercy, and his eternal love, which they didn’t deserve. It is to show them ‘I still love you, no matter what you did’. It is to say ‘I love you, because you are my people, my children.’

It’s interesting to see that the main point of the covenant is very simple. It is simply to say, “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” He just wants us to remember this, our relationship with Him. That’s all. It is too simple to forget. But, we do forget it so often. Why do we fail to keep this covenant, then? It’s not because of its complexity, but because it needs ‘trust’. That may be a difficulty. But, we must know that in this covenant, God gives us a promise that He will be our God and we, His children, and then asks us to trust. We must see that this covenant is based on trust.
And, if we don’t trust it, the covenant is to be broken. So, trust is a very important, basic factor in this covenant.

Then, why are we not good at trusting, and fail. What prevents us from trusting?
I think one of the main reasons would be ‘pride’. Our pride always stirs us up, to go on our own way. It whispers in our ears, “You can do it on your own”. “Trust yourself, not anyone else.” That is the trouble.

In our gospel reading, we see Jesus offer us a new covenant, a true relationship with the Father, saying ‘Remain in me, and I will remain in you’. In other words, ‘Trust me, and stay with me’. It is a personal invitation, asking each one of us to stay in Him and for Him.  And, it is also a strong promise of his love towards us, and for the fruitful future of our lives. In this covenant, what is required of us is just ‘Remain in him’. That’s all. Well, it may sound easy. But, to remain in him, we have to abide by his terms and conditions. Therefore, it is to mean that we need to offer ourselves to him fully, entrust ourselves totally to him.

We’ve just started 2021, and this New Year will be another year in our lives but quite different from any other times, facing more challenges than ever. However, whatever situations we are in, I want you to remember our relationship with God, the one who is faithful and promising, will keep us, protect us, save us, and lead us to the eternal glory, because he loves us. Amen.

Covenant Prayer

I am no longer my own but yours. Your will, not mine, be done in all things, wherever you may place me, in all that I do and in all that I may endure; when there is work for me and when there is none; when I am troubled and when I am at peace.
Your will be done when I am valued and when I am disregarded; when I find fulfilment and when it is lacking; when I have all things, and when I have nothing.
I willingly offer all I have and am to serve you, as and where you choose.
Glorious and blessèd God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours. May it be so for ever. Let this covenant now made on earth be fulfilled in heaven.  Amen.

3rd January 2021

Reading: Matthew 2. 1-12

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Reflection

This Sunday we are to celebrate Epiphany, although the actual Epiphany is the 6th of January. Interestingly it is marked by the visit of the Magi. You may wonder why we celebrate it on their visit, as his manifestation already happened on the Christmas day. However, one of the things we need to remember in this story is that they followed the star, the light, even in the darkness of the world. At the time when Jesus was born, the society wasn’t quite settled politically, and the ordinary people had to live in uncertainty. They might have asked a question, ‘Where is God in this darkness?’ In this sense, having lived through 2020, the year of the unprecedented pandemic, and still living under the fear of virus, we may have the same question. ‘How do we find God’s light, in the darkness, where hundreds of people are dying every day because of the virus?’

Then, the story of the Magi is all about persistent light. It is a story that looks for the light. Even though they were not quite sure about where the light would lead, the Magi followed the star until they found the child, the light of the world. In this respect, it is worth looking into this story more carefully, although not many things are mentioned about them in the gospel. However, there are two things we can be sure about them.

Firstly, they came from the east, following a star. What does it mean that they came from the east? It means they were the Gentiles. In other words, they were not Jews, they were foreigners. And, that is the important point. To Matthew particularly, it was a significant event that God the Son revealed himself to the Gentiles. It was significant, because it was to mean that Jesus came to the world not only for the Jews, but for everyone in the world, whether they were Jews or Gentiles.

And, the other thing we can be sure of is that they brought the precious gifts to the family: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. What’s striking is that not only they made a long journey from afar, but they also offered those gifts to worship the Christ. I think this is something we need to take seriously. What I mean is that they knew how to worship, they knew how to offer. They made all their efforts to find Jesus, the truth, and offered their treasures, not just some from the leftovers. That is what the worship is all about. It needs sacrifice, both in time and in treasure.

And also, we see their obedience and faithfulness from their attitudes.

For example, can you imagine how they would feel when they came into the house where the star stopped, and found a baby in an ordinary family? They might have been disappointed, as the family didn’t look like a worldly royal family. Nevertheless, trusting in God and his message, they humbled themselves and offered their gifts and worshipped him obediently. And, they returned home, not following the Herod’s order, the worldly power, but following the God’s direction, the spiritual guidance.

What we need to remember in this story of Epiphany is that the star shone in the darkness of the night. The Magi looked for it, and they scanned the dark skies and found it. Yes, it was in the darkness that they found the light.

The star is there, leading and directing. And, the Magi are required to keep following and trusting.

Having passed the darkness of 2020, and facing the uncertainty of 2021, I am sure, we believe that God’s light still shines and leads us. Amen.

Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, Light of the world, shine in our hearts, banishing all that obscures your goodness and darkens our lives.

Illumine our minds, light up our spirits, and flood our lives with the radiance of your love, so that it may shine not just in us, but also through us – bringing glory to you. Amen.

20th December 2020

Reading: Luke 1. 26-38

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favour with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be calledthe Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Reflection

This Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Advent, focuses on Mary, the mother of Jesus, who had to accept God’s unthinkable request, taking a risk without knowing what would be happening to her and all her life. It is actually a remarkable decision, which is hardly compared to other cases in the Bible. And, we see how people make excuses to God’s calling. For example, Moses, when he was called, we see him saying ‘Lord, I am an old man and not good at speech. Send my brother, Aaron’.

What about Jeremiah? When he was called, he said, “I am only a child. And, I don’t know how to speak.” What did Gideon say, when he was called? He said, ‘My family is the weakest in the whole tribe, and I am the least in the family’. But, Mary was different in responding to God’s call. She didn’t make any excuse, although she might have not understood what it meant.

On the other hand, we need to notice that it was God’s decision to enter into our world as a human like us, and He put this decision into the hands of a young woman who could freely choose to say yes or no to this strange, unthinkable request. That was a wonder and mystery. But, we need to be aware that all of us are given the same free will. Like Mary, we are to be presented with choices, opportunities, obstacles in this life. We can trust and move forward, or refuse and freeze with fear. It’s up to us. But, sometimes we make a mistake of thinking that ‘saying yes to God’ means not having any doubt, not asking any questions. That is not the case. We wouldn’t be human if we could manage that. And, I do not think God expects unquestioning agreement from us. And, we see even Mary say ‘How can this be?’ She might have doubted it, but she was not told off or rebuked. Rather, we see her comforted by the angel, saying ‘Do not be afraid’. Although God expects us to have faith, it’s not a faith like driving blind, but letting God to take the wheel. And, that is what we need to learn from Mary, who says ‘yes’ to God’s will even if it doesn’t make sense in a logical way. Logic may not work in terms of faith in God, and it may not be logical at all to choose Mary to be the mother of God’s Son. But, God’s kingdom is completely different from the world we live, and the Gospel is all about the upside down stories, which may not be understood with logic.

And, Mary must be the clear image of turning the world upside down. So, she was to proclaim this secret in her song ‘Magnificat’, saying ‘Christ is coming to fulfil the promise of all good things for the hungry and poor, and to give the hope for the oppressed, with mercy and love, with no judgment, nor condemnation’. That is the good news, and that is why we celebrate Christmas, the birth of Jesus, who came as a vulnerable baby, but saved us, and gives us hope. Alleluia! Amen.

Prayer

Remembering Mary, we pray that in humility of spirit and willingness of heart, we may, like her, entrust ourselves to your purposes, and be bearers of Christmas joy amid all the confusions, dramas and messiness of our lives.
May our minds race, our hearts sing, but may we find also a stillness that is your presence, leading us on to Bethlehem, where our spirits can be fully refreshed with the light of eternal love, revealed in the baby Jesus. Amen.

13th December 2020

Reading: John 1. 6-8, 19-28

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said.

24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

Reflection

This week, on the third Sunday in Advent, the gospel reading focuses on John the Baptist, who shouted in the desert to prepare the way of the Lord. In this passage, we see his identity being challenged by the religious leaders from Jerusalem. ‘Who are you?’ they ask. But, interestingly his answer is mostly in the negative: ‘I am not the Messiah, I am not Elijah, I am not the prophet’. They questioned three times, then three times he responded in the negative. They might have been disappointed by his response that he is not the one who they are looking for. But, what we need to notice is that he begins his ministry in humility. He doesn’t claim any identity that doesn’t belong to him. And, he doesn’t make any promise of ease or comfort to his listeners. He simply asks them to prepare themselves for the One who is greater than himself. He knows his position, and stays in his lane, saying ‘I am not the Messiah’.

Then, it is when they ask him ‘Who are you?’ a fourth time that he gives a positive statement as to his identity, that is, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert”, which means “I am just a witness speaking on behalf of someone other than myself”. But, as we know, it isn’t a usual response, rather a countercultural answer, because the world prefers those who amplify and promote themselves. However, in his humble mind, John doesn’t want to be seen as someone great, or someone who is different from what he is called to be. So, we see him define himself as a voice in the desert, and as the one who is unworthy to untie the thongs of Jesus’ sandals. It is to show that he fully understands who he is and knows that he could not be compared to the one, who was born in a stable and would obey his Father on the Cross.

And, what strikes me most is that he continues to bear witness, even though he doesn’t always understand his cousin’s mission and ministry. Of course, we know that there was a time when he was in prison, and he suffered grave doubts about Jesus’ messiah-ship, asking ‘Are you the one who is to come?’. Nevertheless, we see him remain faithful to his task, and stay true to his identity. What we should remember is that John lived his life as a witness to the light, Jesus the Messiah. He didn’t want to get a spot-light, but pointed to the light, the light of the world.

Now then, what would be your answer to the question ‘Who are you?’?

Who are you during this season of preparation? Who are you during this time of pandemic? Are you a voice? A witness? Or, a path maker? John challenges us with his humble service and faithful obedience to his calling. Amen.

Prayer

Lord our God, we are reminded today how, through the prophets and the testimony of John the Baptist, you brought challenge as well as promise, a message that disturbed as much as it delighted, that unsettled as much as uplifted. Help us now and each day, as we strive to follow Jesus, to be open to your voice in the wilderness, your word that probes deep within, searching the thoughts of the heart and confronting us with the challenge of the gospel. However demanding it may be, teach us to hear, to listen and to respond, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

6th December 2020

Reading: Mark 1. 1-8

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way” –
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’”

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Reflection

God speaks to us all the time in various ways, through prophets, or scriptures, or in dreams. What is the loud voice of God to you, today?

You may have missed it because of too many noises.

2000 years ago, to John the Baptist, it was to shout to the people, saying ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him’. What preparation did he mean, then? Actually, he was talking about ‘spiritual cleansing’, with pure hearts, having sins forgiven. What he said was repentance. He was telling them of the baptism of repentance. But, the point was not just a kind of ritual cleansing ceremony, which some might have misunderstood. It was rather a ceremony of leaving their former life styles and entering a new life, getting ready to receive Christ. Here, we need to think of what ‘repentance’ means. It means simply ‘turning around’ But, if you are to turn around, you must acknowledge first you are in a wrong direction. Otherwise, you may not feel like turning around.

And, in our human nature, we don’t usually like to change our direction, unless we are told to do seriously.

In this sense, John’s asking was very strong and straightforward. What he said was, ‘If you want to meet the Messiah, the Christ, you must turn around, and change your direction, and change your life style.’ And, he showed that direction through his life, the way of his living. For example, his ascetic life style, as we can imagine from his clothing and food, must have made a clear contrast with that of the religious leaders.

Now then, 2000 years later, how might he speak to us today? Might he not say the same to us as before? We may need to look into ourselves honestly, and turn around.

Advent is a time to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ.

We need to make it clear that Advent is not a time to prepare for the Christmas party or family celebration. It is actually designed to challenge the world, and to make a contrast to what the world is doing in their celebration of ‘winter festival’, if you like.

Therefore, it is a time to be still, a time of quiet, and a time to discover God’s presence amongst us, waiting for the coming of Christ. In so doing, we are to deepen our relationship with God, although we have to live in between times, from here-and-now to not-yet period.

Prayer

God of faithfulness and truth, you sent your servant John the Baptist to preach in the desert and summon people to repentance. Make us and all things new, that in the wilderness of our hearts we too may prepare a way over which your Son may walk. Amen.

29 November 2020 (Advent 1)

Reading: Mark 13. 32-37

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert[c]! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”


Reflection

This Sunday we begin a new season of Advent, leading us to celebrate Christmas. But this year we are facing a quite different situation which no one would have thought of just nine month ago, wearing masks, staying away from our loved ones, and watching in horror huge death toll every day. In this unprecedented time of pandemic, what does Advent mean to us? And, how do we, or should we celebrate the amazingly good news of the incarnation, the birth of Jesus, God’s Son? It’s a huge question, I have to say. But, what’s clear is that we cannot celebrate Advent and Christmas in some kind of false comfort, disconnected from the world’s suffering, because God is willing to engage with his people in the world. What should we do, then? My answer would be that’s why we need Advent.

Advent is a time to be still, a time of quiet, and a time to discover God’s presence amongst us. And, it is a time to wait for the coming of the Christ child. But, we may need to know that there is something significant behind our waiting, that is, ‘unexpectedness’. Jesus says, ‘No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father’. It is an interesting point, perhaps the only place, where Jesus acknowledges the difference between the Father and himself. In most of the time, we see Jesus saying, “I know my Father. I know what His will is, because I am from Him.” But, as for the matter of the time and the date of his coming, his coming again actually, he admits that it is the area even he cannot approach, the area only the Father knows. Therefore, it is to show us its significance, and the wonder and surprise it will bring, in the end. But, to us, often it becomes a stumbling block in our waiting. That ‘unexpectedness’ seems to cause troubles, because we easily get bored, and forget why we are waiting and what we are waiting for. In this sense, it seems that what we need in waiting is faith. As we live and wait endlessly, without guessing or speculating about the future, we are to be asked only to count on His faithfulness, and the promise He gives.

However, it doesn’t mean that in our waiting, God just wants us to sit back and do nothing. In this time of waiting, God wants us to listen to him, and live out what He speaks to us. He doesn’t want us to live in complacency, but wants us to get ready for the days to come.

Advent is a time of transformation. It is a time to think of how we can transform ourselves for the time to come, and how our traditions and customs should be transformed for that day.

And, I believe, in this time of Advent, in our waiting and watching, he wants us to keep running for our transformation, and be ready for the world transformed. Amen.

Prayer

Loving God, who comes in Jesus, we bring to you all who wait for you,

in hope and faith, or in fear and despair.

We pray for all who wait for peace, for justice, for their voices to be heard.

We pray for all who live in fear, of war, violence, abuse or bullying.

We pray that our Churches may wait on your guidance, so we may serve you faithfully.

May we watch and wait with them, be people of peace and justice, and bring hope, comfort and healing, light in the darkness. Amen.

22nd November 2020

Reading: Matthew 25. 34-40

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Reflection

This Sunday is the last Sunday of the year in our Church Calendar, so-called, Christ the King Sunday. As it is the last, the gospel reading for today is all about the final judgment, which you may want to avoid, to be honest. Whether we like it or not, however, we have to admit that we can’t escape the moment of the final judgment anyway. Although judgment may not be a popular topic nowadays and may not be preached often, it is clearly mentioned so many places in the Bible. In this parable, we see, interestingly, the separation, the judgement being made on the basis of what people did, not even what they believed about anything. In other words, the criteria for judgement are simply how you treated the weak, the poor, and the vulnerable. No more than that.

And, we may need to notice that this is the last teaching in Matthew’s gospel, which tells us of its significance symbolically. It seems to me that Jesus was saying ‘Whatever else you recall of my life and teachings, just remember this!’

What is surprising is that at this crucial moment, both sides, those on his right and on his left, do not understand the reason why they are separated on each side. Even those on his right, seem to be puzzled about it. They don’t understand the grounds on which the judgement is made. Then, the king says to them very simply, “It is because you were very kind to those in need. You gave them food when they were hungry, you gave them drink when they were thirsty, you invited them, clothed them, and visited them when they were sick or in prison.” And, he adds on it, “All you did to them is the same as if you did it to me.”

It is interesting, yet significant that the basis of judgement is simple ‘kindness’, not any great achievement or intelligence. He doesn’t ask us of the biblical knowledge, or the positions in the church, or any titles, but kindness. It can be so little that they couldn’t even remember what they did. They couldn’t think they were doing anything special. They did it just naturally. It was a natural action, springing up from the bottom of their heart.

Kindness doesn’t seem to be a big word, yet it’s not a word far away from us, either. You may remember a story in Acts 4, where Peter performed a miracle by healing a crippled beggar at the temple gate. But, for this incident, the miracle, he had to be brought before the elders and the high priests, with John. There, when they were questioned, Peter boldly stood up and said, “If we are being called to account today for ‘an act of kindness’ shown to a cripple….. .”

He said, it was ‘an act of kindness’, no more than that. He didn’t say ‘It was a miracle’, but an act of kindness. Well, we may not think we can make a miracle. But, we can be kind to others from our hearts. By doing this, we are to meet and serve the Lord Jesus, as he is among the strangers, the poor, the weak, and the vulnerable. Amen.

Prayer

Christ the King, as your hopes are dashed time and again, awaken us and shake us out of our complacency by your quiet, persistent loving. May we reach out to you by reaching out to each other and to those who live in the gutters in our neighbourhoods. Help us to do this without seeking recognition but simply because we can do no other. Amen.

15th November 2020

Reading: Matthew 25. 14-30

14 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Reflection

I think the Gospel reading this week is one of the strangest stories in the New Testament, which we find a bit uncomfortable. Firstly, in this parable, the master, who appears to represents ‘God’, seems to act unfairly as he gives out talents unequally. To the one, he gave five talents, and to the other two talents, and to another just a talent. It doesn’t sound fair at all. So, we can understand how the third servant felt when he was given just one talent, while the others were given much more. And, often we see some people who are born with God-given talent, to play an instrument or a sport, or to create brilliant arts.

Sometimes, I feel it’s unfair, especially when I struggle to grasp the basics of certain techniques or ideas, then only to see those gifted people master them easily in couple of times of trial. It doesn’t seem to be fair. It looks as if they are the ones blessed.

However, what matters is not how much you’ve been talented, but how well you are using them, whatever they are. In this parable, we see the Master rebuke the last servant for not putting the talent into the bank.

Here, he appears to be too stingy to ask for interest. But, that may not be the point. What he actually wanted was his talent to be used. Putting the money into the bank means making it available for others to use. But, what he did was digging the ground and hiding it. That’s what he was blamed for, not the interest he could have earned. It reminds us of whether there are any resources we have, as individuals or as a church, that we cannot use ourselves but which could be available to others? It is something we need to look at seriously, because God wants all the talents to be used for his glory.

This is, I am sure, one of the traditional interpretations of this parable which seems absolutely fine. This way of interpreting seems to be based on the assumption that the master represents ‘God’. But, in this parable it doesn’t give us clear evidence of it. Moreover, the question is whether we believe in a God who would give more gifts to the ones who were more talented already, or who would say ‘to those who already have, more shall be given and to those who have little, what little they have will be taken away’. This certainly doesn’t seem to match with the image of God which Jesus describes elsewhere in the gospels. If that is the case, then, the story goes in a different way. It may be a story about how unfair the world is and how many of us will be cast out by the system if we stand up to greed or are unwilling to follow the worldly way of being rich. Interestingly, couple of days after telling this parable, we see Jesus being cast into outer darkness, by dying on the cross. Like the third servant, he was deemed “worthless” by the people who exercised power. Apparently, in God’s kingdom, there must be a good kind of ‘worthless’. Perhaps, we may need to find it and embody it in our lives. Amen.

Prayer

Lord, we give thanks for those whose gifts and talents bring joy to others; and for those whose talents inspire others; and for those who use their gifts to meet the needs of others. And we pray for your Church throughout the world, pray that all our Christian people may use your gifts generously, lovingly to your glory. Amen.

8th November 2020 (Remembrance Sunday)

Reading: Micah 4. 1-4

In days to come
   the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
   and shall be raised up above the hills.
Peoples shall stream to it,
2   and many nations shall come and say:
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
   to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
   and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
   and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
3 He shall judge between many peoples,
   and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
   and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
   neither shall they learn war any more;
4 but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
   and no one shall make them afraid;
   for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.

Reflection

As we look back at the history, today, particularly the story of the conflicts and the wars in the 20th century, it seems that Micah’s vision of ‘beating swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks’ has still to be realised. In this passage, God continues to challenge us to seek God’s justice and peace for all in the world. Now, as we live in a fast-changing world where many conflicts are still happening, the ways of peace and justice seem to be far away. And we see many individuals still lose their lives in the conflicts and wars, which makes us mindful of how we can work for peace today. We can imagine that the causes of conflict are many in a world divided by inequality and injustice. But, what’s important is that those people with the least are usually the most affected by the conflicts going on around them. 

As Christians, we seek the way of justice and peace as Jesus shares with us and with our world. ‘Greater love has no one than this but to lay down their life for their friends’, he says. We know that there have been, and continue to be, many acts of self-giving in time of conflict. We remember that peacemakers have died in the cause that they were so passionate about, we see some people have taken the place of those who are about to die, and lives have been changed for the better as a consequence of some having given up their lives so that others might live. 

We know that Jesus was also caught up in the politics of his day. He too was brought into the conflicts of his day and was taken to the violence of the cross. To lay down his life, however, was not just for his friends around him at the time but for all of us, for all time, for ever.

Here, as we reflect on Jesus’ acts of self-giving, we may need to go back to Micah’s vision where ‘nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid’. We are not there yet, but today we remember the sacrifice of many people in the past, because they were the ones who brought peace to their world in their time. And, I am sure they will challenge us to work for peace in our lives, the life of our community and the life of the world today.  May we always share the peace which comes from God, and remember all those who gave their lives in the service of others. Amen.

Prayer

As we remember those who have died in past wars,
so we pray too for those still dying today… 
and for those who grieve…..
God of the past be our future peace.

We remember those living in countries
where civil war is destroying communities
and making enemies of neighbours,
where fear and violence dominate every aspect of daily living…
God of today be our future peace.

We remember those who have been injured and traumatised
by the brutality of war,
especially those robbed of their childhood
by what they have seen or been forced to do …
God of tomorrow be our future peace.

We remember those who are peacemakers,
those who negotiate,
those who speak out at great cost to themselves and their families…
God of the future, be our eternal peace.
Amen.

1 November 2020 (All Saints Day)

Reading: Matthew 5. 1-12

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

He said:

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 ‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.


Reflection

It is interesting to see the gospel passage from Matthew 5. 1-12, as one of the lectionary readings for All Saints Day. As we know, it is the first part of Jesus’ ‘Sermon on the Mount’, which declares the paradox or contradictions of the kingdom values. Here, we need to notice that this passage, known as the Beatitudes, is not directives but statements of fact, which invite us to a new way of seeing, a heavenly perspective, that is, a heavenly normality, if you like. At this point, I’d like to add a bit more on this matter of ‘normality’.

Since the Covid 19 pandemic, how many times have you said, ‘When can we get back to normal?’ Yes, we all miss the lives we enjoyed before the virus changes everything. Of course, we want to travel again freely. We want to welcome people into our homes, and of course, we want to worship God, with singing loudly lovely hymns, with all our hearts. And, we want to hug our loved ones without fearing for their safety. Those were the things we did as normal. But now, we are living in a different world, in a new normal world, with the face properly masked, and socially distanced.

But, what exactly is “normal”? Who decides how we define it? And, beyond those questions, we may need to ask a question, ‘What does “normal” look like to Jesus?’ ‘What is normal in God’s kingdom?’ Then, I think the answer can be found in this passage ‘the Beatitudes’. This is a well-known passage. And, perhaps you learned that the ‘Beatitudes’ are ‘Be-attitudes’, that is, certain postures or perspectives you should try to adopt, in order to earn favours from God. But, if that is the case, you may need to notice that this passage doesn’t contain a single word ‘should’ or ‘ought’. There is no commandments. No moral instructions. Rather, what Jesus says is simply describe ‘reality’. “Here are the facts. Here is how the kingdom works.” In other words, ‘Here is normal. God’s normal’.

In God’s kingdom, Jesus is to claim, that “the poor, the mournful, the meek, the hungry, and so on, are blessed. They are the fortunate ones. They are the ones who enter heaven, inherit the earth, receive mercy, see God, and be called the children of God.

This is a huge challenge, and a big question to us. The question is ‘Do I believe this? Do I believe in Jesus’ version of “normal life”?’

It is a challenge, but what we need to remember is that all the saints we commemorate today lived risky lives as fully and as passionately as they could. In a sense, they gambled with their lives.

And, we see in the Bible, so many examples of the ones who lived faithfully, obeying what God said to them, yet longing to enter his upside-down kingdom, despite all the terrible suffering, mocking, and persecutions. And now, they are to be called ‘saints’. Although they lived at different times and in different places, I dare to say what they did in common was to love God with all their hearts, minds, souls, and strengths, and trust Him and His new normal.

On this All Saints Day, we know that we are surrounded by such a great cloud of saints from the Scripture, from the history, and even from our church, who lived their lives to love God passionately. And, we pray that we may also remember that we are all called to be saints, as we love God with all our heart, with all our mind, with all our soul, and with all our strength. Amen.

Prayer

Almighty God, you have knit together your chosen people in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord. Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living that we may come to those inexpressible joys which you have prepared for those who love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (from MWB collects)

Weekly Reflection 25th October 2020

Matthew 22. 34-46

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’

37 Jesus replied: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’

41 While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42 ‘What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?’

‘The son of David,’ they replied.

43 He said to them, ‘How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him “Lord”? For he says,

44 ‘“The Lord said to my Lord:
    ‘Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies
    under your feet.’”[c]

45 If then David calls him “Lord”, how can he be his son?’ 46 No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.


Reflection

“Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” It might have sounded like a genuine question, but it was another testing question, trying to catch out Jesus. Then, we see him say very plainly, “Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbour”. Very simple. They must have been disappointed by this answer. The problem was they didn’t understand the scripture properly, and they were reading the Word of God differently. They never denied God, and their disciplined life-style couldn’t be compared to any other religious groups. Nevertheless, the trouble was they regarded the Word just as the law, by which people were judged and punished. And, they classified over 600 laws from the scripture, and tried to distinguish the more important from the less important. That’s why they asked this question, “Which is the greatest commandment in the law?” But, that was a question, which missed the point. They didn’t have to put them in the order from more important to less important. It’s because they are to be summed up in one sentence, as Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” That’s it. They should have noticed that at the heart of Israel’s law is ‘Love’ which embraces the whole world.

But, they didn’t perceive that point, and they were just reading the scripture backward. It is so important, how we read the Word of God and how we interpret and understand it. People find life and freedom from the scripture, but often we see some people find trouble, and struggle with it by reading it differently. As we see from this passage, for Pharisees, the problem was they knew the Scripture and they learned every word in the Scripture, but they didn’t grasp the point of God’s Word, therefore couldn’t follow the way God had shown to them.

The point is if you know the Word of God, do it, and obey it. I remember when I was at the college, one of the tutors often said, “Don’t struggle with what you don’t understand. Do what you understand.” That is exactly what the Bible says in many places. For instance, James 1. 23 says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” Jesus also says in Matthew 7, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”

The Bible is about transformation, not just information. The word we’ve heard must be applied to our lives, so that they may be transformed. If not, it can be even dangerous, and its result could be disastrous.

Then, how can we love the Lord our God? Jesus says, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.” Yes, by obeying his teaching and doing what he says, we are to prove that we love the Lord our God, and his Son, Jesus. Jesus wants us to be doers of the word, not just hearers. He wants us to obey his word, not just know the word. When we are willing to obey it, God will unlock the real meaning and blessing of His Word, and we will be able to taste the great sweetness of His love. Amen.

Prayer

Lord, we are thankful to you for the gift of your Word to us. We thank you for lives changed through the centuries as people have come to know you, the Living Word. Lord, we are thankful to you for your gift of perfect love. Help us to put on the virtue of love, that you may use us to work towards perfect unity.

Lord, we are thankful to you for your gift of Jesus, the living Word. We pray that as we read the Bible and allow your Word into our hearts, you may dwell richly in us through your Spirit. And we pray that we may have opportunities to share your Word with those in our own communities, and with those around the world, that your kingdom may grow here on earth. And whatever we do, in word or deed, may we do it in your name, Jesus Christ, in the power of the Spirit, giving thanks to God our Father. Amen.

18th October 2020

Reading: Matthew 22. 15-22

Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

Reflection

I think this gospel reading is one of the stories, where we see Jesus making a brilliant counter blow against his opponents with his wisdom and the divine power. It’s wonderful to see them completely knocked out speechlessly. Here in this story, we see the Pharisees and the Herodians teaming up to trap Jesus. But, basically, they were the groups which couldn’t be joined together as a team. Actually, one was the extreme conservatives, the Pharisees, and the other, the extreme liberalists, the Herodians, who were supporting and loyal to the Roman emperor and the king Herod. Even though they were totally different groups with different ideas, they teamed up to confront Jesus. Here, we need to bear in mind that just in the previous chapter, Jesus has ridden into Jerusalem triumphant, and started telling dangerous stories, in which the religious leaders were told that even the tax collectors can be worthy of redemption. Having been challenged like that, they then approached Jesus with a question, which they thought could catch him in his words. The question was this: “Is it right to pay tax to Caesar, or not?”

We know well tax is always a hot issue, and it can cause a trouble any time and moment, if we are not careful. And, here the tax they referred to was the Poll Tax. It’s a kind of ‘Head Tax. Nowadays we do not pay the poll tax in this country. In my understanding, it was replaced by ‘the Community Charge’, and then replaced again by ‘the Council Tax’, which everyone has to pay.

The interesting thing was, in those days this tax should be paid with the Roman coins only. Any other methods of payment were not allowed, whilst the other taxes like the ground tax or the income tax could be paid with shekels, their own Jewish currency. The trouble was the general public, the ordinary people didn’t like to even carry the Roman coins in their pocket, let alone pay this tax, as it was to mean supporting the Roman Empire. But, the Herodians were different and willing to support this tax.

This question might have been an innocent and interesting one for Jesus to engage with, if it were asked in sincerity. But there was an atmosphere of tension, and the questioners were looking for mistakes. They wanted to catch Jesus out legalistically, but we see Jesus respond morally and teach them and us a lesson on perspective: do your duty, obey the law, but remember that you have a higher purpose too, that is, giving to God what is God’s.

Jesus is to instruct the listeners to give to the emperor the coins which bear his image. Those are his. Then, he asks them to apply the same logic as the coin which belongs to the emperor: let everything bearing the image of God be given to God.

What it means is that ‘Remember you are the ones created in the image of God. And, you must have His image engraved somewhere in you. Therefore, you are God’s, not yours. You belong to God. So, you should give yourself back to God.’ It’s a big challenge, demanding a total commitment.

Now then, the challenge to us is: How much are we giving ourselves back to God? In our worship, fellowship, or serving. Amen.

Prayer

Lord of all, teach us as citizens of heaven to live also as citizens of earth, conducting ourselves in such a way as to bring honour to you.

Show us what it means to be your people in the daily business of life; how best we might fulfil our responsibilities and duties to others while staying true to you, recognising your ultimate sovereignty over all.

Speak to us now, and grant us the wisdom, sincerity and faith we need to walk as your people, within your world. Amen.

Weekly Reflection

11th October 2020

Matthew 22. 1-14

Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.

“Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

“But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.

13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

Reflection

This gospel reading seems to be an enigmatic story, of which some points are beyond our common sense. For example, how can we understand the invitation refused, the invitation to the royal wedding? What surprises me is that they didn’t just refuse the invitation. Moreover, they totally mistreated the servants who delivered the king’s message. They seized them and even killed them, which I find hard to understand. Who on earth could do that? It doesn’t sound sensible.

But, on the other hand, what do you think of king’s reaction? It says: “The king was very angry.” We understand that. “so, he sent his soldiers, and they killed those murderers and burnt down the city.” Well, it doesn’t sound true, because we know the king as a king of tolerance and forgiveness. So, this is not an easy parable to understand.

Then, the story goes on to the next round, where the king spotted out a man without a wedding garment in the banquet. We see, the king was so furious and he ordered his servants to bind him, and cast him into the outer darkness. It is again another part, which we find hard to believe, because we know him as a loving, gracious king. We know his patience, generosity and forgiveness. Then, how could he get so angry that he gave such a cruel punishment to that man? If he understood their situation, as they were rounded up on the street, how could he ask them to wear a proper wedding garment? It doesn’t sound fair. Although wearing a proper garment is a way of respecting the host and honouring the occasion, it doesn’t seem to be a serious mistake, for him to be treated like that. It was just a wrong dress.

But, there is one thing we need to look at carefully. If we understand a little bit more about Jewish culture and tradition in those days, I think we can get the picture more clearly. In Jewish wedding, it was their custom that the host provided all the wedding garments for the guests, before they came into the party. But, this man didn’t even make any effort to put on the proper garment. That was the trouble.

It is important to remember that accepting an invitation means accepting the terms of the invitation. We must understand the nature of the invitation, and follow its terms. But, this man without a wedding garment, knew what the invitation meant, and what he should do for the party. Nevertheless, he came to the party on his own terms, thinking his own dress was good enough, and ignoring what the king wanted for the party. That’s why he was punished so severely, although he was invited and attended the party.

We know God loves us all, as we are. And, his love reaches out to us where we are. But, it doesn’t mean he wants us to stay as we are. Rather, he wants us to grow, be transformed, healed and changed. He wants us to be more like Christ, clothing ourselves with Christ. It doesn’t matter how pretty your dress is. It doesn’t matter how much you paid for it. What matters is whether you put on the right one, the one made of Christ, his compassion, kindness, gentleness and patience. Amen.

Prayer

Loving God, we come at your invitation to celebrate, and to eat at your table and be filled. Help us to prepare our hearts and minds to receive all you offer and to clothe ourselves with your gifts of love, joy, peace, goodness, compassion, and humility – whatever is pleasing and honouring to you – freely offering ourselves in the service of Christ, who freely gave so much for us. Amen.

16th August 2020

Reading: Matthew 15. 21-28

21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.’

23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, ‘Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.’

24 He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.’

25 The woman came and knelt before him. ‘Lord, help me!’ she said.

26 He replied, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.’

27 ‘Yes it is, Lord,’ she said. ‘Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.’

28 Then Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.’ And her daughter was healed at that moment.

Reflection

In this reading, Jesus doesn’t seem to be consistent in his mission policy. He clearly mentioned that his mission was only for the Israelites, then granted the request of the Gentile woman. How can we best understand his response to this woman? To do this, we need to look at this Gentile woman. She was a Canaanite, a pagan, and more likely a Baal worshipper. And, she was from the land of Tyre and Sidon. In terms of her background, I don’t think any of them seems to give her a credit.

To the Jews, Canaanite means ‘enemy’, which had got a long history since the time of Abraham. And, even worse, she was from Tyre and Sidon. We know that in anywhere in the world, people have some kind of prejudices on some part of the country, or some part of the world. People tend to have a certain level of regional rivalry or regional favouritism, if you like. In those days, Tyre and Sidon were the personification of wickedness. They were the sin-cities, filled with immorality, corruption, and self-indulgence. So many times in the Bible, they were described as such. That was a terrible reputation. Usually, Jews didn’t have much to do with Gentiles, let alone the people from Tyre and Sidon. They wouldn’t talk to them, wouldn’t eat with them, and wouldn’t do any business with them. It’s because they thought they were the only chosen people, the elected. But, it’s a dangerous idea, not only in those days, but also today.

Jews had a special term to describe their feeling about the Gentiles; ‘koo-ohn’, which means ‘a dog’. But, it is not a pet, but a kind of scavenger, a filthy animal. Therefore, when the disciples saw this woman coming, that’s what they saw, ‘a dog’, and even worse, a dog from Tyre and Sidon, the wickedest land. So, they didn’t have any compassion on her, as she was just a nuisance. And, they just wanted to get rid of her, as she was not worthy of their Master’s attention. And, that troubled Jesus, because he knew what they had in mind. However, it seems so surprising and even strange to hear what Jesus said to this woman. He said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their DOGS.” He seems to act as if he is as good as his disciples. He doesn’t seem to care about this woman who is desperately seeking help to save her daughter. Further than that, we see him calling her a dog.

But, here, we need to carefully notice the word he used, ‘koonar-ee-on’, which means a little dog, a puppy. He didn’t use the word ‘koo-ohn’, a filthy dog. And, we all know how we treat a puppy as a pet. We feed them, shelter them, and care for them. They are like part of the family.

And, that was a crucial moment, and the woman never missed this chance, and wise and brave as she was, she made a brilliant reply, a clean counter punch, saying “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

We see her humbly accept to be called a dog, and humbly ask just a piece of blessing, some crumbs of blessing from God. And, it is granted, because she is also part of God’s family.

And, this is actually what the disciples needed to hear and what Jesus wanted them to know. That is, God loves even this woman they despised. Does this make his mission policy inconsistent? No. it doesn’t.

Rather, he is to fulfil the Word of God, as he comes to seek and save what was lost. Amen.

Prayer

God of Love, how wonderful it is for us all to know that God loves us, no matter our background. Thank You that in the Kingdom of God we find radical welcome and inclusion for all, even ourselves. We delight in our Father’s love. In Your Kingdom there will be justice and peace, but we know that this is not the experience of everyone today. Bring Your Kingdom, Lord. Amen.

9th August 2020

Reading: Matthew 14. 22-33.

22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. ‘It’s a ghost,’ they said, and cried out in fear.

27 But Jesus immediately said to them: ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’

28 ‘Lord, if it’s you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’

29 ‘Come,’ he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came towards Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’

31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’

32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’

Reflection

This week’s story is another miracle story which may provide a stumbling block for some readers. What? Really? But, what we need to look at is not ‘How it happened’ but ‘Why’. In this reading, we see the disciples struggling with a storm, which is not surprising, because we know that storms are coming any time in our lives.  For example, a storm of sudden illness, job loss, financial problems, or relationship break down, and, particularly at this time of pandemic, the loss of the loved ones. In this story, although they were the professional fishermen and they seemed to know the sea and the storm, we see them struggling and unable to make headway against the wind. They were stuck in a storm, despite all their efforts, all through the night.

That is, in a sense, a kind of picture, through which we find ourselves in our lives. In this world, we have discovered so much, and learned so much, and invented so much. We know that hi-technology, computer, internet, scientific discovery, and medical development have made a huge difference in our lives, which we couldn’t even think of just about 10 years ago. It seems we know everything.

However, we’ve got to realise that we are vulnerable human beings, unable to do anything, in the face of a few seconds of earthquake, or heavy rain or strong winds, or an unpredicted attack of virus. We’ve got to admit that we are mortal bodies and we can’t get salvation by ourselves. The disciples in the boat were facing the same situation. Although they were fighting against the storm all through the night, they didn’t know what to do. Desperately, they needed help.

But, it is interesting to see that they didn’t recognise Jesus nearby, who could be their help. Moreover, they were even frightened to see him walking on the water, saying ‘It’s a ghost!’. Now, we see Jesus become a ghost, when we are not able to relate him to our lives. In our poor eyesight, or in our blindness, when we cannot recognise Jesus properly as our Lord and Saviour, we are to make him a ghost, a frightening creature. That was exactly what the disciples did at the boat.

Nevertheless, we see Jesus never leave them alone, but give them courage, saying ‘It is I. Do not be afraid’. What he says is ‘I am the one who can save you. So, do not be afraid’.

Yes, we need to remember that Jesus is there to rescue us, when we fail and sink. Jesus knows our weaknesses and our failures, but never lets us go to sink. He reaches out his hands to rescue us, because he is our Saviour, our redeemer, and our Lord. He wants us to take courage, and get out of the boat, and feel the thrill of walking on the water, so that we may know and experience the wonder and joy of trusting in him, in this world of chaos, conflict and confusion. Amen.

Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, speak your word now in the turmoil of our world, in the confusion of life, and especially in the hearts of those who find themselves all at sea, tossed about in storms of sorrow, suffering, anxiety and despair. Bring order out of chaos, confidence out of fear, faith out of doubt, and peace out of unrest – the certain knowledge that nothing, not even death itself, can finally overwhelm us. In your name we pray. Amen.

2nd August 2020

Reading: Matthew 14:13-21

13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed those who were ill.

15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so that they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.’

16 Jesus replied, ‘They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.’

17 ‘We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,’ they answered.

18 ‘Bring them here to me,’ he said. 19 And he told the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Reflection

This reading is one of the well-known miracle stories which is mentioned six times in all four gospels. It seems to tell us of the significance of this miraculous event. But, it would be more sensible to look at the meaning behind this event rather than explore the questions of whether it was a miracle or not. In this sense, we may need to look at the background of this story, its context.

Just before this happening, in Matthew 14, we read the terrible story of the death of John the Baptist. He was executed by the king Herod. He had been in prison, then suddenly he was beheaded while the king Herod was enjoying his birthday party. It’s a terrible execution. Jesus heard this shocking news about John, who was a forerunner, his friend and colleague, and personally his cousin. This must have made him terribly sad, devastated in his heart, and made him to think of his future seriously. So, he might have wanted to have a private time in a solitary place. We can understand the feeling he had, as a human being. Maybe he wanted to have a quiet time with God, to be comforted by Him.

However, as we see, the crowd never let him go, so they went ahead and waited for him to come, on the other side of the lake. Can you imagine how he felt, when he saw them? He could have said, “This is my day off!” But, he didn’t say that. Rather, when he saw the crowd, we see his heart go out to them and have compassion on them. Although he himself needed space and he himself was grieving, we see him not caring about himself but going out to meet their needs, whatever they might be. That is compassion. Compassion is not just a feeling of love. It is something, coming out of the gut, even out of the womb. It is something much deeper than love. And, in many stories of the gospel, we see ‘compassion’ always come first, before Jesus heals the sick or performs miracles. So, we need to notice that this compassionate heart is the source of power in performing the miracle.

And, his compassion never stops here. Although he satisfied them with healing and teaching, he never forgot their imminent need, that is, their hunger, not only physical hunger, but also their spiritual hunger. And, he couldn’t ignore this essential, basic need for their lives, even though they didn’t ask. That’s why he told his disciples to give them something to eat, although he knew they didn’t have enough. It may have sounded strange. But he insisted on it. It’s because he wanted to see their compassion. It may be a test to them, a test of whether they see the people as Jesus does, whether they have the same compassion as he has. The disciples might have thought “You’ve done a great job today. You healed them and taught them. That’s enough for today. Now, it’s time to retreat!” It may sound sensible and fair enough, but it’s not something coming out of the compassionate heart. It could be seen as a job done, but not the mission completed. Here, we need to notice that Jesus wants to meet their needs completely, physically as well as spiritually, even before they asked.

It is to show that our job is not just meeting their needs physically, but also feeding them spiritually as well as materially, to save their souls, by doing something extra with the compassionate heart. That was his ultimate goal. Amen.

Prayer

Lord, we bring you our spiritual hunger, our yearning for inner contentment, knowing that you alone can feed our souls, and do so in ways exceeding all our expectations.

So, Lord, may you come now, and reach out to us, filling us with spiritual food – bread of life and living water – so that we may go on our way, nourished, filled, truly satisfied. Amen.

26th July 2020

Reading: Matthew 13. 31-33, 44-52

31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty poundsof flour until it worked all through the dough.”

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

47 “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

51 “Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked. “Yes,” they replied.

52 He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” (NIV)

Reflection

In this week’s reading, we see Jesus tell us five parables, five snapshots of the kingdom of heaven. But, interestingly, we see most of the materials he uses for these parables are not very special ones, and don’t look very impressive. They are just ordinary things, such as mustard seed, yeast, or a fishing net, which can be found easily anywhere around us, and a farmer and a merchant who found a precious pearl are the people just like us. I think Jesus could have used something special, for example, an exotic or beautiful plant, to describe the kingdom of heaven. But, he preferred the mustard seed, very tiny little seed. Therefore, what we can catch from this story is that the kingdom of heaven is not somewhere unreachable, but available to us all amongst our everyday lives. I think this ordinariness is very important, as it gives us hope and comfort. In this sense, we are blessed as ordinary people who meet and worship at the ordinary building (although it is not possible at the moment because of coronavirus). This ordinariness is to lead us into the presence of God, as his kingdom comes little by little, slowly and quietly, as the yeast works in the flour and affects every part of the dough. What’s amazing is that just a small amount of yeast can change a large amount of flour. And, it is about not only the change in size, but also and more importantly the change in quality. Likewise, God’s Word is to change the world slowly and secretly, and surely.

People often say: ‘Where God rules, there the kingdom is’. And, we join that kingdom, when we trust in Christ as our Saviour. I am sure you agree to this definition. But, the trouble is whether or not we obey his rules properly in his kingdom and follow his commands as we should, and therefore, enjoy all the blessings from God. It’s not that easy. What I am saying is that to choose to follow the rules and commands, is not just a matter of choosing a better life, but a matter of choosing life or death, which is much more serious than you ever thought. Once you choose life, then, you are to commit yourself to it totally, as the farmer who found treasures went away and sold everything to buy the field, because it becomes the highest priority in your agenda. Amen.

Prayer

Jesus taught us to pray: Your kingdom come, your will be done.

Let us pray that in our lives God’s kingdom may come –
surprising like the mustard seed; and in secret like the yeast.

Let us pray that God’s kingdom may seem to us as valuable as treasure or an expensive pearl.

Let us pray that we may be challenged, even in these strange times, to be committed to our part in bringing in God’s kingdom, now and always. Amen.

12th July 2020

Reading: Matthew 13. 1-9, 18-23

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered round him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop – a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.’

18 ‘Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 when anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.’

Reflection

The reading this week is one of the few parables of which the meaning is explained by Jesus himself. That may indicate the significance of this parable. What surprises me in this story is the way in which the farmer sows seed. I don’t think this farmer is a rich man. Probably a tenant farmer. And, the seed must be very precious to him. Nevertheless, we see him just choose to cast seed away carelessly, wastefully, and randomly, regardless of the places they fall. The farmer must have known that the seed fallen on the road, or rocky ground, or thorny places couldn’t survive. As far as I know, farmers nowadays sow seed very precisely, keeping the distance properly, in the good soil. Even before sowing, they usually plough the ground, and fertilise it, so that the seed may grow easily and bear more fruit. But, it seems that these basic measures are just ignored in this parable. And the farmer behaves as if this precious seed will never run out. But, this illustration is to show us something important, that God’s word is to be spread to anyone in the world, and His love is not confined to any certain areas. That means we are called to spread his word, the life-changing seed, randomly, wherever possible. But, it is a risky business to offer the chance for life, without the absolute guarantee of success.

Therefore, question to us, or challenge to us is whether we can take a risk of creating the opportunity for life, even if this may open us to failure. Can we risk this randomness in spreading the word of God?

As for this question, we have to admit that we are not very good at sharing the Word of God. We are not brave enough to take this risk. We are too shy or reluctant to share God’s Word with the people around us, let alone the people we don’t know. But, I am sure there are many ways we can try, and if we have passion and enthusiasm, I think we can get over that shyness and create an opportunity of sowing seed.

The other point we need to look at in this parable is soil, and what kind of soil we are. What I mean is that although we have received the seed already, we need to check our field, our heart and mind field. Sometimes we are surprised to see how hardened our heart is, because of busyness and all the burdens of life. Particularly at such a time as this, we may find ourselves locked down not only physically, but also spiritually, and choked up by the worries and concerns about the future. And, there may be no room for the seed to take root and grow in our hearts. Therefore, we need to see things differently and take this as an opportune time for us to plough our heart, and fertilise it, so that the seed may bear fruit a hundred times, sixty times, or thirty times what was sown, as Jesus described. Amen.

Prayer

Forgive us, Lord, for the times we dash haphazardly into your presence, finding it hard to leave behind our cares and worries.

Forgive us, for the times we don’t see what you want us to see and just take things at face value. Forgive us, Lord, for the times when we want our seed planted in neat rows, when our own plans become more important than yours, rather than letting the Holy Spirit prepare the soil of our lives and blow where the Spirit wants to. Amen

Weekly Reflection – July 6th

Reading: Matthew 11. 27-30 New Living Translation (NLT)

27 “My Father has entrusted everything to me. No one truly knows the Son except the Father, and no one truly knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Reflection

Jesus says, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens”.

It is an open invitation to everyone. But, interestingly, it is an invitation to a yoke, a yoke to the tired and already burdened people. It doesn’t seem to be a proper invitation. Most of us who have been in lockdown for several months now may find it not easy. But, here, we need to carefully look at the yoke Jesus is talking about.

As we know, a yoke is a heavy wooden harness, which fits over the shoulders of oxen, so that they can pull a piece of equipment attached to it. In Jewish culture, it is said that usually two oxen are put and tied into a yoke. So, when they are put together into a yoke, immediately they start fighting fiercely and desperately, to take an initiative under the yoke. They fight and fight, until one of them kneels down and surrenders to the other. Then, the loser is to follow the winner all the time obediently. When the winner starts to go one way, the loser should follow it. When he stops, the other stops. When he turns, the other should turn. That is the situation of taking a yoke together.

So, when we are invited to Jesus’ yoke, we must understand that we should follow his way wherever he goes, walk in his pace, and when he dances, we should dance to his beat, and imitate his style, and learn from him whatever he does. That is what it means to take his yoke, through which we can live by his Spirit, walking together with Jesus in his yoke. It is not just following his way in a distance, in my own style, as if I know the steps. It is to live and walk with him humbly, in his yoke, resisting my own will.

And, the church is the place where we can practice our footsteps, which we learn from Jesus. It is the place where we move our footsteps following the tune Jesus plays, whatever the tune the world may play. In doing so, we can tame our sinful flesh, and overcome all the temptations of following the worldly steps.

Now then, have you learned any new steps from Jesus? If so, I just want you to show them, and share them in our church family, so that we all may follow his style and his way.

Prayer

Lord, we pray that in our journey, we all may go together, taking up Jesus’ yoke, and sharing the burdens with each other, so that we may become more like Jesus, walk like Jesus, dance like Jesus, talk like Jesus, and live in his freedom. Amen.

28th June 2020

Reading: Matthew 10. 40-42

40 “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

Reflection

This short passage tells us of all about welcoming, how important it is. Welcoming or accepting here doesn’t seem to be a huge task. But, we see that this simple action can be a channel which connects us with God. And what Jesus says is much more than that. He says, ‘Anyone who welcomes a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward’. It is not just to say ‘By welcoming strangers, you will get favour’. It is, in a sense, building a new community within believers, by receiving and welcoming each other. This new relationship can be understood as something which can replace the family division, as Jesus mentioned earlier in verse 35. And, for this relationship, what is needed is simply welcoming and serving each other, as his disciples. Moreover, the greater thing is, if we receive a prophet, we can also receive the prophet’s reward as well. In other words, we cannot all be shining examples of goodness. Or, we cannot all stand out to the world as righteous. But, if we can help ‘a good man’ to be good, then, we can also receive a good man’s reward as well.

As an example, I am going to introduce a story from William Barclay’s commentary.

There was a lad in a country village who, after a great struggle, reached the ministry. His helper, in his days of study, had been the village cobbler. He had done much for the lad. In due time, the lad was licensed to preach. And on that day, the cobbler said to him, “It was always my desire to be a minister of the gospel, but the circumstances of my life made it impossible. But you are achieving what was closed to me. And, I want you to promise me one thing – I want you to let me make and cobble your shoes, for nothing, and I want you to wear them in the pulpit when you preach, and then I’ll feel you are preaching the gospel that I always wanted to preach, standing in my shoes.”

Without any doubt, the cobbler was serving God as the preacher was, and his reward would one day be the same.

Our service must be all different, as we have been given all different gifts. And, it doesn’t have to be a big thing. A small kindness should be fine. As Jesus mentioned, it could be just ‘a cup of cold water’. Although the church will need a great preacher, a great teacher or a wonderful leader, we must know that the church also needs those who have a warm heart of welcoming and the caring love, and those whose hands are always busy in all their services. These actions may look very simple. But, we see that they are all counted for the final judgement. Amen.

Prayer

In the care and compassion of family and friends,
come to us with joy.
Open our hearts to receive you.

In stretches of boredom or anxious waiting,
come to us with joy.
Open our hearts to receive you.

In uncertainty, loneliness, or desperation,
come to us with joy.
Open our hearts to receive you.

In grief and desolation,
come to us with joy.
Open our hearts to receive you.

In claps of thunder or a still small voice,
come and speak to us.
May we welcome you
into the clutter and chaos of our homes and hearts.
Amen.

21st June 2020

Reading: Matthew 10. 26-39

26 “So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.

34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn

“‘a man against his father,
    a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
36     a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’

37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

Reflection

In this passage Jesus is talking about how much it would cost to be his disciple. But, in a sense, it sounds strange and doesn’t encourage at all to follow him, as if he says “People will hate you, persecute you and even kill you. You must be prepared, and do not be afraid.”  Then, question is why should we get hated and ridiculed and persecuted, when we try to deliver the ‘Good News’? If it is the ‘good news’ to all, why isn’t everybody pleased with it, and doesn’t welcome it? Well, it’s not that simple. It is because this Good News is always preceded by some uncomfortable or unpleasant news, the news people don’t want to hear, that is, the news that we are all sinful and therefore, need a saviour. And, not everyone likes to hear this news. They don’t like it, because in order to accept a saviour, they have to accept their own moral or spiritual bankruptcy. They have to confess it. So, it is not an easy process, and that is why Jesus says in verse 34, “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household”. To be honest, it’s not easy to understand. It seems contradictory, because we know him as the Prince of peace. And, he himself said in John 14, ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you’.

Then, what does it mean, when he said ‘I did not come to bring peace, but a sword? Here, we need to look at carefully the meaning of peace.

What it means is that peace is not the absence of conflict, or being silent as if nothing happened at all. Rather, it is doing something actively to solve the conflict, which will lead to make peace. That is the real peace. Therefore, this peace-making process will probably get us into trouble from all sides. It can be mocking, persecution or cutting off. In that sense, we must be prepared to face all sorts of divisions and conflicts inevitably, and even among household, as Jesus said in this passage. As for this matter of family division, you may find it difficult to accept. However, what is clear is that your Father knows you and he is the one who can count even the hairs of your head. You are worth much more than sparrows. That is his promise, not only for the future, but for the present as well.

Discipleship is a long journey, costly and tough. Yet, Jesus asks us to ‘tread the path he trod, live the life he lived, face the death he faced, love the way he loved, and shout the truth he spoke. In return, he offers us no less than everything – to be loved totally, known intimately, and held always before God. Amen.

Prayer

Lord, help us to share the challenges of discipleship. Help us to support each other, and unite us in your steadfast goodness. Strengthen and envision us to face the challenges ahead, and may we faithfully play our part in your mission to this world. Amen.

14th June 2020

Reading: Matthew 10. 1-16

Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

“Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— 10 no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. 11 Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. 12 As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. 15 Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

Reflection

This passage seems to give us a clear guideline for mission: what to carry, where to go, where not to go, and so on. To be honest, mission is one of things we find not easy, particularly at this time of pandemic when travelling around and contacting people are restricted. Not only because of those restrictions, but also because of the multi-cultural context of the 21st century, often we feel it not comfortable to share our faith in Jesus publicly, let alone ‘go out and proclaim’ the good news of Jesus. But, this is one of the most important tasks we are called to do, as Jesus said to his disciples ‘go and make disciples of all nations’. You may argue that this is something the people like disciples can do, rather than the ordinary people. But here, we need to notice that unusually all the names of twelve disciples were listed in detail. They were just ordinary people like us, called by Jesus to do the extraordinary mission. Nevertheless, they were to be sent out like sheep among wolves, which was very risky, yet adventurous on the other hand. Perhaps, that would mean what mission is all about: doing something risky, even dangerous, yet fearlessly trusting God alone. It’s tough. Yes, Mission is tough. And, even tougher, when we look at Jesus’ instructions: taking no purse, no bag, nor sandals. What he says is actually “Travel light, with no extra items.” He didn’t want them to take anything for the journey. What it means is that Christian pilgrim should travel light, not burdened by the kinds of things that make progress slow. It may mean a simple life style, giving away generously, not piling up unnecessarily.

And, the final instruction is very interesting: ‘If you are not welcomed, or if they don’t listen to you, then, you should leave immediately. When you leave, shake the dust off your feet!’ What would that mean?

I think it is to show them a clear sign of separation. You don’t need to look back, or linger, but just forget everything about them. Well, it may sound easy, as it asks us to leave simply, but as human beings, I don’t think anyone finds it easy. You may feel a sense of failure. Although they rejected and did not listen to you, you may feel even guilty. And, you may not want to carry on your work any longer. Rejection may leave a deep scar on your memory. But, the good news is ‘that is not your fault’.

In Ezekiel 2, God says clearly, “Do not be afraid of what they say or terrified by them. But, you must speak my word to them.” What it means is that your job is giving them the message from God. That’s all. Whether they listen or fail to listen is not your responsibility.  Leave it to God. He will deal with it. And, that is why Jesus asks us to pray, to pray for the more co-workers, pray for peace to the house we are to enter, and pray for their hospitality. We have to rely on God alone, and fully committed to him only, because it is God’s mission ‘Missio Dei’, God’s mission for His people. Amen.

Prayer

(This week, I’d like to share with you a prayer written by Chairs of the London District)

God of the persecuted and the bereaved,

Pour Your love upon Your sorrowing servants.

In the sickening and devastating acts of human intent,

Pour out your power we pray, that we may be given hope

and an assurance of Your presence in these tumultuous times.

Open your hand of grace dear God to all the people of the USA

Enable them to find common ground, to yield to justice and to find peace.

Empower them to have compassion through the presence of your Holy Spirit.

Forgive our failing hearts as we allow these tragic events to overtake us,

Forgive our anger as we allow senseless killings to control us

And forgive our fearfulness in remaining silent and doing nothing.

Give us O Lord a glimpse of a hopeful future,

through the presence and life affirming power of Jesus Christ our Lord,

Who reigns with You in the power of the Holy Spirit, now and always, amen.

May justice, peace and love be a symbol of our unstinting solidarity;

The District Chairs,

Jongi, Nigel & Micky.

14th June 2020

Reading: Matthew 10. 1-16

Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

“Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— 10 no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. 11 Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. 12 As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. 15 Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

Reflection

This passage seems to give us a clear guideline for mission: what to carry, where to go, where not to go, and so on. To be honest, mission is one of things we find not easy, particularly at this time of pandemic when travelling around and contacting people are restricted. Not only because of those restrictions, but also because of the multi-cultural context of the 21st century, often we feel it not comfortable to share our faith in Jesus publicly, let alone ‘go out and proclaim’ the good news of Jesus. But, this is one of the most important tasks we are called to do, as Jesus said to his disciples ‘go and make disciples of all nations’. You may argue that this is something the people like disciples can do, rather than the ordinary people. But here, we need to notice that unusually all the names of twelve disciples were listed in detail. They were just ordinary people like us, called by Jesus to do the extraordinary mission. Nevertheless, they were to be sent out like sheep among wolves, which was very risky, yet adventurous on the other hand. Perhaps, that would mean what mission is all about: doing something risky, even dangerous, yet fearlessly trusting God alone. It’s tough. Yes, Mission is tough. And, even tougher, when we look at Jesus’ instructions: taking no purse, no bag, nor sandals. What he says is actually “Travel light, with no extra items.” He didn’t want them to take anything for the journey. What it means is that Christian pilgrim should travel light, not burdened by the kinds of things that make progress slow. It may mean a simple life style, giving away generously, not piling up unnecessarily.

And, the final instruction is very interesting: ‘If you are not welcomed, or if they don’t listen to you, then, you should leave immediately. When you leave, shake the dust off your feet!’ What would that mean?

I think it is to show them a clear sign of separation. You don’t need to look back, or linger, but just forget everything about them. Well, it may sound easy, as it asks us to leave simply, but as human beings, I don’t think anyone finds it easy. You may feel a sense of failure. Although they rejected and did not listen to you, you may feel even guilty. And, you may not want to carry on your work any longer. Rejection may leave a deep scar on your memory. But, the good news is ‘that is not your fault’.

In Ezekiel 2, God says clearly, “Do not be afraid of what they say or terrified by them. But, you must speak my word to them.” What it means is that your job is giving them the message from God. That’s all. Whether they listen or fail to listen is not your responsibility.  Leave it to God. He will deal with it. And, that is why Jesus asks us to pray, to pray for the more co-workers, pray for peace to the house we are to enter, and pray for their hospitality. We have to rely on God alone, and fully committed to him only, because it is God’s mission ‘Missio Dei’, God’s mission for His people. Amen.

Prayer

(This week, I’d like to share with you a prayer written by Chairs of the London District)

God of the persecuted and the bereaved,

Pour Your love upon Your sorrowing servants.

In the sickening and devastating acts of human intent,

Pour out your power we pray, that we may be given hope

and an assurance of Your presence in these tumultuous times.

Open your hand of grace dear God to all the people of the USA

Enable them to find common ground, to yield to justice and to find peace.

Empower them to have compassion through the presence of your Holy Spirit.

Forgive our failing hearts as we allow these tragic events to overtake us,

Forgive our anger as we allow senseless killings to control us

And forgive our fearfulness in remaining silent and doing nothing.

Give us O Lord a glimpse of a hopeful future,

through the presence and life affirming power of Jesus Christ our Lord,

Who reigns with You in the power of the Holy Spirit, now and always, amen.

May justice, peace and love be a symbol of our unstinting solidarity;

The District Chairs,

Jongi, Nigel & Micky.

7th June: Trinity Sunday

Reading: Matthew 28. 16-21

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Reflection

Today is Trinity Sunday, on which we remember God as three in one and one in three, of which the concept is not easily grasped. How can we prove or explain ‘Trinity’, then? Someone says, ‘proving the Trinity is like proving a negative’. Thomas a Kempis, in his book ‘The Imitation of the Christ’, also said “What does it profit you to argue profoundly about the Trinity, if you lack humility, and so displease the Trinity? I would rather feel contrition than define the word.”

So, I’d rather not try to explain it but show some examples of Trinity from the Scriptures which may help to understand what ‘Trinity’ means to us.

For instance, you may remember the time when Jesus was baptised at the river Jordan. There, when Jesus was coming out of the river, we hear the Father proclaiming ‘You are my Son, whom I love. With you I am well pleased’. And then, we see the Spirit descending on him like a dove. What a beautiful picture it is! Wonderful picture of the Trinity. And, this Trinitarian concept and images are continuously coming up all through the gospel. In John 16, we see John emphasise the unique relationship among God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, using the image of abiding in each other, such as Father in me, and I in Him.

And again, at the end of the Matthew’s gospel, we see Jesus give to his disciples the Great Commandment, saying ‘Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit’. This commandment bears a Trinitarian concept, which might have not been understood by any of the disciples at that moment. But, it is still the mystery to us as well, and perhaps that is what the ‘Trinity’ is all about.

So, I am going to conclude my reflection by quoting from NT Wright: “The doctrine of the Trinity, properly understood, is as much a way of saying ‘we don’t know’ as of saying ‘we do know.’ To say that the true God is Three and One is to recognize that if there is a God then of course we shouldn’t expect him to fit neatly into our little categories. If he did, he wouldn’t be God at all, merely a god, a god we might perhaps have wanted…. the doctrine of the Trinity is, if you like, a signpost pointing ahead into the dark, saying: ‘Trust me; follow me; my love will keep you safe.’ […] The doctrine of the Trinity affirms the rightness, the propriety, of speaking intelligently that the true God must always transcend our grasp of him, even our most intelligent grasp of him.’”

Let us pray.

Eternal Father, we praise and adore you.

You are the source of life and truth,

You long for your children’s growth,

And your creative power sustains and holds us.

Lord Jesus Christ, we praise and adore you.

You are the visible evidence of the Father’s love,

You long to raise us to our full height,

Your teaching is our guide and your presence is our hope.

And, Holy Spirit of God, we praise and adore you.

You are the sign of God within us,

You take the things of Christ and show them to us,

And you lead us in the search for truth.

Father, Son, and Spirit: Origin of creation, sign of eternal love, goal of all wisdom, we praise and adore you. Amen

31st May 2020 (Pentecost)

Reading: Acts 2. 1-21

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” (vs. 1-12, NIV)

Reflection

Today, our reading tells us about what happened on the day of Pentecost. Pentecost was actually one of the Jewish festivals, called ‘Shavuot’. On Shavuot, they celebrated the harvest, and also remembered the giving of the law on Mount Sinai, the event when Moses received ‘Ten Commandments’ from God.  And it was to take place fifty days after the festival of Passover. The purpose of this celebration was to remind them of how to live their lives as God’s people, following the law.

Then, what we see from this passage is that fifty days after Easter, the coming of the Holy Spirit is to teach us how to serve God, and how to live as the Spirit-filled people. And, if we compare these two events a bit more in details, we can find some remarkable overlaps between them. On Mount Sinai, for example, there was a loud sound like a trumpet, and fire. And then, we hear, at Pentecost, a sound like a violent wind and see tongues like fire. It’s very interesting that ‘wind and fire’ appear in these two events. These elements are some of the things we, human beings, find difficult to handle, as they are known to us as typical characteristics of divine presence.

While we see some similarities in these two events, we also need to notice that there is one very important difference between them. The difference is: when Moses went up to Mount Sinai, people were warned not to come near. God’s presence could only be encountered by Moses, or Moses and Aaron. In the Old Testament, only a few special people like Moses, Elijah, or Isaiah, could have access to the presence of God. All others were kept away. It was, in a sense, very hierarchical and discriminating. However, as we see from the Acts 2, no one is kept away. We are to see that the Holy Spirit did not just descend on Peter, or on Peter, James, and John, but it did descend upon all of the people gathered there. That is the beauty of this event. Nothing is secret or exclusive. Everything is open to everyone. We should remember that it is one of the vital elements, I can say, that runs through the gospel, although we still struggle to deal with it. To be honest, all sorts of Christian gatherings tend to easily fall into exclusivity: where some belong and others do not; where some feel themselves at the centre and others marginalised or unwelcome. In a sense, it may seem natural to form small cliques in any human society.

But, what we need to notice at the great event of Pentecost is that the Holy Spirit has broken down the boundaries, which separate the people who are in, and those who are out. The coming of the Spirit has flung wide the doors, declaring that all are welcome, and that no one is to keep away. Based on this, a new faith community, the Church is to be born, and the Body of Christ to be built up. Amen.

Prayer

Holy Spirit, sent by the Father, ignite in us Your holy fire; strengthen Your people with the gift of faith, revive Your Church with the breath of love, and renew the face of the earth, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

24th May 2020 (Wesley Day)

Reading: Luke 4. 18-19

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

Reflection

In Bristol, near the city centre, there is a street called ‘Bread Street’. At the corner of that street, there can be found a small, bronze plaque, which reads “This is the place, where John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, first preached in the open air, on the 2nd of April 1739.” And, Luke 4. 18-19 is inscribed on it, as it was the text John preached on. It’s not surprising that he chose this passage for his first open air preaching, because he knew that the good news of salvation should go to everyone, particularly to the poor, the prisoners, the sick, and the oppressed. On that day, he preached to about three thousand people in the Brickfield. Amazing! This must have been his firm belief which was later on developed to the foundation of the Methodist doctrine. As Methodists, we are to agree to follow this doctrine which is kindly unpacked as so-called ‘Four Alls’: All need to be saved. All can be saved. All can know they are saved. All can be saved completely. These Four Alls are what we believe as Methodists. It doesn’t mean, however, we don’t believe what other Christians believe, or other churches don’t believe these four Alls. They may have slightly different interpretations. But, I don’t think they are different from the gospel truth. These Four Alls are the beliefs we are focusing on more in our church life. And, John Wesley articulated them, from his personal conversion experience on 24th May 1738.

But, to be honest, that’s not a new thing. That’s not something he discovered first. That is almost the same as what Jesus said to the crowds, to sinners and tax collectors: ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’ It means, all of you can be saved, if you trust me. And, Paul also said it so many times in his letters. For example, in Romans 4. 5, he says “To the man who does not work but trusts God, who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.” It is to say, “You don’t need to prove your own life’s worth. You are delivered from that pressure. I accept you anyway, as you trust me”. That is so called, ‘salvation by faith, not by any goodness.

And, this is good news for all who struggle for acceptance, struggle for appreciation and recognition for themselves, especially for those who have the feeling that their lives are worthless, because it is God tells them: ‘I love you. You are precious to me. Believe me. I need you’.

This is actually, the most wonderful, the greatest invitation to real life, which we shouldn’t miss out. And, our response should be simply saying: ‘Thank you, Lord, for

your love. Thank you that you said Yes to me. I believe it. Use me as an instrument of your love. I trust you.’

With this conviction, John Wesley carried on going out to preach the gospel to the people who may not have heard it before. He committed himself fully to preaching the gospel, in all the ways he could, and he wants us to follow his example, as Methodists, by all the means we can, in all the ways we can, in all the places we can, at all the times we can, as long as we can, until we can be saved completely. Well, we may find these words depressing as we are all locked down. But, I am sure there must be something we can do in our own places if we try to apply the principle of ‘All we can’ to our everyday lives. Amen.

Let us pray.

Lord our God, as we try to follow with all our hearts the examples of our forefathers, help us to offer to you our true thanksgiving, genuine penitence, sacrificial commitment, and a real hunger and thirst to know and serve you better. Lord, work within us now, as you did with our forerunners, so that what we declare with our lips we may believe in our hearts and display in our lives, to your glory. Amen.

Reflection for Sunday 17th May

Reading: John 14. 15-21

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” (NRSV)

Reflection: If you really love me,

The gospel reading this week is part of Jesus’ farewell address, which was made just after the Last Supper with his disciples and washing their feet. Final moment is always difficult, but, here, we see Jesus promise them the Holy Spirit who will be with them always, not leaving them as orphans. And then, he asks them to obey his commands as they love him. There are many commandments we need to remember and keep. But, for our sake, Jesus summed them up in one, that is, ‘Love one another’. It’s simple. However, we all know that it’s not that simple. Trouble is we love only those whom we want to love. We do love only those who we think deserve to be loved.

But, we must know that what is meant by this commandment is actually not about our natural liking or fondness, but more about something we have to learn, in loving the ones we don’t like or even hate. But, we know it’s not easy. Often we are told, “Hate the sin, but not the sinner!” But, how can we hate what a man did and not hate the man? It seems impossible! Who on earth can do that? However, on this matter, C. S. Lewis gives us a striking confession, saying ‘There was one person to whom I had been doing this all my life – namely myself’. And, I am pretty sure that we all have done this to ourselves. We do hate what we’ve done wrong, but never stop loving ourselves. This is an important point, because, up to that level, Jesus asks us to love one another and love our neighbours, whoever they are, including even enemies. But, how can we do that, in this self-centred, me-first society? To be honest, we find it difficult. We don’t know where to start. However, in this dilemma, we see hope, the hope from Jesus. We see him saying ‘I will ask the Father to send you another Helper’. And, he will be with you all the time. He will guide you and give you advice and defend you. What it means is that the Holy Spirit will guide you and empower you to love even your enemies, if you are in him.

We see so many times, in the gospel, Jesus, filled with compassion, touch the sick and heal them, and make them whole, with the power of the Spirit. So, when we are willing to move and act with compassion and in love, I believe the same Spirit will come and move and act with us. And, that is his promise, which is affirming and assuring.

And, what’s more is that if you live the life like this, with full of compassion and love, you will be in full relationship with the Father, as Jesus said ‘I am in the Father, and the Father in me, and you are in me’.

It is such a lovely, and such a promising picture we can ever imagine. And, what is guaranteed in this relationship is that we are to be loved by the Father and the Christ. It is such a privilege to be loved by the Father as His children. Amen.

Let us pray.

Spirit of truth, come close to us and unite us into the body of Christ, as we love you and keep your words in our lives. In your love, help us to support and encourage each other, so that we may know and feel your presence in us, even when we have to face the unprecedented time of turmoil. Amen.

Sunday 10th May 2020
Reading: Acts 2. 42-47

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every
day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Reflection

This passage seems to present an ideal which is far from what we experience in our congregation today. This model of community, fellowship and service is perhaps not realistic in our context. In a sense, it sounds like a story of a ‘model church’, the best example of a successful church, as is said ‘their number grew and grew every day.’ Yet, it helps us to
focus our attention on how our daily lives may better reflect the genuine discipleship in this 21st century. In these short verses, we cannot find any particular rules, regulations or structures for Christian living, but it clearly shows us a picture of how the life of a Christian community, the Church, can reflect the glory of God which was proclaimed through the life,
death and resurrection of Jesus.
In this respect, it is interesting to see that their principle was rather simple. They just fully committed themselves to the church. The church was not just part of their life. It was their whole life. It may sound a bit radical, but it seems that they just followed what they were told to do, that is, learning from the apostles, enjoying the fellowship, sharing the meal, and
praying together every day. Actually, all they did, doesn’t look any special. Those are all we are supposed to do as Christians. But, how much do you spend your time on reading or learning the Scriptures. According to a survey, only 27% of churchgoers read the bible during the week. And, we see how generously they shared with one another. It says, “They were
together and had everything in common”. Even further than that, ‘they sold their possessions and goods, and they gave to anyone as he had need’. I wonder how we can follow this example. But, the point is their selflessness, and caring hearts to help one another in any possible way. And, interestingly, in this short passage, we see, ‘breaking bread’ is mentioned
twice. That shows how important it is to have a meal together in the church life, not only in a sacramental way, but also in an ordinary way. It is so important to have a table fellowship generously and cheerfully. We see, all these elements are very basic. But, the point is they devoted themselves fully to these activities: learning, sharing, praying, and breaking bread
together, as they knew that those were the best way of following Jesus, the Way. It is challenging, perhaps more challenging to us, especially as we are in lockdown and not allowed to have any form of social gathering. However, we may need to get aware that these basic elements can be practiced differently in this unusual context and may be exercised
more in a completely new setup, with more prayers and supports. It still challenges us to check our commitment to these elements. Amen.

Let us pray.
Lord our God, draw us together, although we are not able to get together physically. Help us to be united in faith, love, and purpose, and with Christ and one another, having the same
mind among us and same goal: to seek your kingdom and do your will. Teach us what it means to be your children, your people, your family, and challenge us to commit ourselves
fully to the community we belong to. Amen.

Sunday 3rd May 2020

John 10. 1-16

Therefore Jesus said again, ‘Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.[a] They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

11 ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

Reflection

The gospel reading this week shows us a clear image of Jesus as the Saviour, Guide and Protector, through a metaphor of shepherd. Nowadays shepherd is a rare job, not only in this country but also in the Middle Eastern countries. In my visit to the Holy Land last February, I hardly saw sheep in the field, and shepherds either. But, it was an important job in the past and shepherds had got crucial roles and responsibilities in sheep farming, particularly as they had to travel afar with a flock of sheep to find the green pastures. But, it wasn’t a popular job at all, because the work was hard, and the working environment was very tough. Therefore, they were the people who belonged to one of the lowest classes in society, despised and neglected. However, it is interesting to see that in the Scriptures, shepherd is often described as an image of ideal king or leader. We see an example from Ezekiel 34, saying, “I myself will tend my sheep and make them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.”

It is a clear picture, which shows the role of the king through that of the shepherd. We see the image of shepherd is used here to describe the model king, not because of its status, but because of its nature. So, it is interesting to see that the role of the highest job is to be explained through the role of the lowest one. It’s very symbolic, and a metaphor which tells us of what kind of leader he or she should be. And, Jesus never hesitated to use this title ‘shepherd’ to describe himself, saying ‘I am the shepherd, and the gate for the sheep. Whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture’. It is actually what the shepherd does. It is said that in many Middle Eastern sheepfolds, shepherds often lie down at night in the gateway, to stop the sheep getting out, and to stop predators getting in. It is an important job to keep them safe. But, what we need to notice is that Jesus is not just talking about the safety of life by locking them in, but also about the fulfilment of life, as he says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly”.

Well, you may find it not easy to accept this passage as it is, as most of us are just managing to live everyday life in lockdown and find certain items are far from abundant. You may say it is far from abundant life. However, what we need to remember is that Jesus, as the shepherd and the gate, will lead us out to the green pastures, where the abundant life (the life to the full) can be experienced. The only question to us is whether we listen to his voice and follow him alone. One of the issues we face today is that there are too many voices around us, and we are constantly annoyed by the news and information, unchecked or source-unknown. Even in this time of unprecedented pandemic crisis, we are to hear so many voices, of which some are unproved or contradictory, and therefore, we are easily confused or distracted so much. Not only that, but also if we look at the commercials and adverts, what they are saying is too good to be true. The former bishop of Durham, Tom Wright says, “The modern world has discovered how unsatisfying materialism really is, and is looking for something more, something beyond. Many thieves have told lies, and have deceived the sheep, stolen them and left them for dead. The call today to Jesus’ true sheep is to listen for his voice, and to find in him and him alone the life, which is overflowing life indeed”.

Are we listening to the right voice, then?

Let us pray.

Lord Jesus, we thank you that you have called us to be part of your flock. So, help us to continue to hear your voice, to hear your leading: who we should contact, and what we should pray for. And, help us to know that we are not alone, and open our eyes to the abundance of your presence with us. Amen.

Sunday 26th April

Reading: Luke 24. 13-35 (on the road to Emmaus)

28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going further. 29 But they urged him strongly, ‘Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them.

30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’

33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, ‘It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.’ 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognised by them when he broke the bread. (vs. 28-35)

Reflection

The gospel reading this week may be one of the beautiful stories in the gospel, and the finest picture Luke ever painted in his books. It is a brilliant stuff which provides us so many lessons in our faith journey.

Firstly, we can think of their walk down to a village called Emmaus, about 7 miles away from Jerusalem, westward, where the sun set. Although I haven’t got any superstition about direction, it looks a bit doom and gloomy as they walked towards west, where the sun set, as if something’s wrong. And, actually, what’s wrong was their direction.

Here, we need to remember that in the O.T, the book of Numbers 21:11, the Israelites were told to journey towards the sunrise in the desert, not to the sunset. Of course, it is a symbolic message, but the one they should bear in mind, in whatever situation they are. In this sense, they were in a wrong direction, mixed with sorrow and disappointment.

We may understand their feelings, their loss, their shock and bewilderment. But, we know how important it is to keep the right direction in a journey, in any journey. A wrong direction not only leads us to a disaster, but also to a serious danger. Think of driving in a wrong direction. That must be the end. That is why Jesus was walking along with them to correct their direction.

But, we see human beings are so stubborn, and it is very hard to change their mindset. We just accept as much as we understand. Even our imagination doesn’t go over our understanding. In their trapped mindset, therefore, they couldn’t recognise Jesus in his appearance and voice.

In a wrong direction, they couldn’t see the truth, and they couldn’t hear the truth.

Nevertheless, the great thing is that we see Jesus finding them, walking along with them, listening to them, and teaching them again and again through the Scripture, and making their hearts warm, so that they might understand what happened to Jesus and realise the presence of the risen Christ, who was actually with them.

Here, what’s interesting is that although their hearts were warmed, they still didn’t recognise Jesus, the risen Lord.

It seems that they might have understood through their heads what Jesus had taught them, but they didn’t and couldn’t accept it in their hearts. Their hearts were not opened wide enough to receive the risen Christ. It wasn’t until they invited him to their home, and invited him to their table that they could recognise the risen Jesus. The invitation, their hospitality, saying ‘Stay with us, and come to our table’ was crucial, because he had been waiting for this invitation. Then, we are to see the guest become a host, the host of the table, as he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to them. This action of breaking and sharing bread is actually a simple but powerful action which enables us to recognise Jesus, the risen Lord.

And, we need to notice that this amazing experience of encountering the risen Christ doesn’t end at this point. We see, when their eyes were opened, they found themselves in a wrong direction, and immediately got up and went back to Jerusalem, to share with their friends, the good news, the news that Jesus is risen!

This is an amazing story, a beautiful picture, and a wonderful testimony of encountering the risen Christ. Amen.

Let us pray.

Lord Jesus, when things happen that we find hard to deal with, when our head goes down and our eyes see no further than our own feet, help us to be honest with you even if it’s through tears or rage. Help us to trust that you are there even when we cannot see or feel you. Help us to look into you to find there limitless compassion, endless understanding and patience and the courage we need to begin again. We bring to you those who carry forever in their hearts, the pain of losing their loved ones… we bring to you those who are struggling to cope with loneliness at this time of isolation. Lord, we pray that you may grant us strength and courage and re-kindle the flame of hope. In the name of Jesus Christ, the risen Lord, we pray. Amen.

Sunday 19th April

Reading: John 20. 24-29
24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when
Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’
But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the
nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.’
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the
doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with
you!’ 27 Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand
and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’
28 Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’
29 Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those
who have not seen and yet have believed.’ (NIV)


Reflection: My Lord and my God!
Thomas is often known as ‘doubting Thomas’. In a sense, he is stereotyped as such due to the story above. But, it seems a bit unfair to him as all of them actually didn’t believe that Jesus was alive, until Jesus appeared and showed them his scars and nail marks. In that respect, Thomas was not the only one who doubted. So, we may need to see Thomas in a
different aspect, as he was a mixture of doubt and strong belief.
You may remember that he appears three times in John’s gospel. The first time is when Jesus was on his way to raise Lazarus from the dead. At that time, all the other disciples were urging him not to go, because the Jews were trying to stone him. But, Thomas was the only one who insisted they should go with him to his death. Then, he appears again for the
second time, when Jesus was talking about his Father’s house and going there to prepare the place for them, and saying they knew the way. Then, Thomas stood up bluntly with a question, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Here, we see his honesty, his courage, and his passionate belief. Then, this time, one week after
Easter, he appears to be doubtful of the resurrection of Jesus. For some reasons, Thomas was absent from the disciples and didn’t see Jesus that night. Now, the other disciples are sharing the wonderful news with him, saying “We have seen the Lord!” But, what proof do they bring? Only their words. Then, who could believe this kind of news only by the words? It
is too easy to blame him of his doubt. I think it is our very nature to doubt what we cannot see. And, you may be surprised that the Bible is full of stories of doubters, such as Abraham, Moses, David, John the Baptist, and Peter. They all doubted whether God was there or not, or if God had called them to do certain things.
Thomas doubted. Yet, graciously, that was not the end of the story. He was not left alone doubting. The good news is that Jesus appears again before Thomas, because Jesus knows his doubt and what the whole last week must have been like for Thomas, the one wrestling with his doubts. And, in his appearing, we see, Jesus not rebuke Thomas, nor discipline him
for doubting, but show him evidence, nail marks and scars, for him to move beyond his doubt. That is grace, the amazing grace, which embraces all in his care, and never leaves behind anyone alone doubting.
Then, what’s more amazing is that we see Thomas proclaim “My Lord, and my God!” What it means is that he became the first person to recognise Jesus as God, while the others were still working out that Jesus was risen. He got it, understood it, and proclaimed its meaning.
Jesus who was once just Lord has now become Lord and God. That was an amazing discovery in his faith, graciously revealed to him.
Now then, what challenges us in this story is that we have to believe without seeing. Although Jesus said ‘Blessed are those who believe without seeing me, that’s not easy. We so often struggle to get the right picture on Jesus’ resurrection, and we often find ourselves living in the pre-resurrection ways, still thinking that things are impossible, bleak, and without hope.
Particularly when we face difficulties and hard times, we stumble and start doubting. But,living the resurrection is to see the world through different eyes, to see life, where there appears to be only death, possibility in the impossible, hope and renewal in despair.
In our journey, there are times we will be challenged and we may doubt. But, we don’t need to feel discouraged. The very good news is that we will not be left doubting, but will be visited by Jesus in his Spirit, when we continue to search for truth.

Let us pray.
Lord Jesus Christ, meet with us now through your Spirit, reminding us of your living presence and risen power. In a world, where so much questions faith, denies love, and threatens hope, may your resurrection life flow within us, convincing us of your eternal purpose: the blessings
you hold in store – imperishable, unfading, kept in heaven – and may that assurance sustain us now and always. Amen

Reflection for Good Friday

Reading: Luke 23. 32-43

32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals – one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.’

36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.’

38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.

Reflection

Good Friday is a difficult day for us all, as Christians. There seems to be no reason why it is called Good Friday. But, Good Friday is good, only because Christ showed his great love for us on the cross. However, it was a terribly cruel day we can imagine, as Jesus, the Son of God, had to suffer all those cruelty on the cross and died. Here we need to notice the mockery spread out in this horrible event.

We see, at the heart of this picture of the cross is the mocking of Jesus as king of the Jews.  Firstly, being crucified with other criminals was mocking, as it showed that he was dying the death of the criminal. It was in mockery that he was hailed as king at last. And, his royal placard was announcing his kingship, as king of the Jews. But, it was in fact his criminal charge, which explained his cruel death. All these settings were well weaved in mockery. Not only this, but also, we see people around the cross mocking him. Religious leaders, soldiers, and by-passers hurled insults and mocked him, saying ‘If you are the Messiah, if you are the king of the Jews’.

We know well that being mocked is painful. It is another form of torturing, mental and spiritual torture. But, he suffered all those dreadful pains on the cross, agonising humiliation, total abandonment, and horror on his own. He carried them all in his body, and died. Yes, he offered his life freely, and willingly in the conviction that, through his dying, we might truly live. He died that we might live? How on earth this could happen? Who on earth ever did this paradox? And, why?

The answer is:

It was to show us how much he loved us. And, it was to show us how to live our lives if we wanted to follow him. He wants us to take up our crosses and follow him, humbling ourselves, forgiving those who hate us, accepting and embracing those who don’t look like us. It’s because they, too, are the ones whom Jesus loved as much as he died on the cross. He showed no favouritism. He showed no prejudice, but loved us all whoever we are.

And now, as his followers, he wants us to nail down on the cross our greed, our selfishness, our arrogance and pride, and our indifference, and follow him as his witnesses. In doing so, we are not to make his death null and void. Amen.

Prayer of Intercession

Living God, in so many ways this is the blackest of days, recalling the darkest of moments – a day on which hearts were broken and faith tested to the limit, a day of appalling suffering and agonising death, a day when all hell wad let loose and love seemed overwhelmed. Yet we can call this day ‘Good Friday’, for in all of that horror you were there. In the despair, in the pain, in the humiliation, in the sorrow, you were supremely at work, demonstrating the immensity of your love. Living God, as we recall those terrible yet wonderful events, give us new insight into what you did that day, for us and for all, and guide us to pray for others.

So, we pray for all those who suffer today as the result of the actions of others; the victims of greed, violence, warfare, oppression, and injustice.

And, we bring before you our brothers and sisters, from every land and race, who are suffering today. Especially, at this time of the unprecedented crisis of pandemic, we pray for those who have lost their loved ones due to the coronavirus.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lord, we pray for those who know the suffering of total despair: for the terminally ill, and for the depressed and those who are isolated at this time of social distancing.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lord, we pray that you may fill each one of us with the life of your Spirit, so that we may respond to the calls that you give, and follow your Son on his healing, teaching, forgiving, and accepting, until the end of our lives, and into life everlasting with you. In the name of our crucified Saviour, our Risen and Living Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen

Rev Choi’s reflection for Palm Sunday 5th April

Opening Prayer
Today we come into the presence of God. We come to worship in a different way. But we come.
So, draw near to us, Lord. Come and open us to your loving Spirit, and free us to worship you in spirit and truth. Jesus Christ who, by your death and resurrection, opened the gate to salvation for all, we worship you today, recognising that we need you. Holy Spirit, mediator and energiser,
come amongst us. Come amongst our friends and family, so that the gate of heaven may be opened and lives transformed by your power and to the glory of God. Amen.


Reading: Matthew 21. 1-11
They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’
‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the
Lord!’
‘Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, ‘Who is this?’
The crowds answered, ‘This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.’
(Matthew 21. 7-11)

REFLECTION
Palm Sunday is typically known as the Sunday on which we celebrate Jesus’ entering into Jerusalem riding on a donkey. And, we sing and shout ‘Hosanna’, waving palm crosses. What does ‘Hosanna’ mean, then? That word Hosanna means ‘Save us’, but it is, in a sense, a cry
which recognises two things; a need for help and that Jesus is the one who can meet that need.
And, Jerusalem was the city of which the needs were countless and the people were suffering in various ways. It was not a peaceful city, not a prosperous city. And, it had got a history of repeated invasions and attacks, from everywhere. And it is still the same. It was a city, full of
rumours, threat, divisions, and discontent. And, there, the poorest had to suffer most, and cried out for a change. And also, because of their political situation, they all had been desperately waiting for the Messiah to deliver them from that Roman occupation, perhaps thinking of sweeping them away with military forces.
Then, what about the city we live in, and other cities in this world?
It seems that the actual situations people face, haven’t changed a lot. We still see the people with all sorts of problems in the city: homeless, jobless people, powerless and hopeless people, struggling to survive in the endless competition of everyday lives, in their business, in their relationships, or in their social status. And, currently, most of the cities in the world are
struggling with COVID-19 pandemic and experiencing unusual practices, such as social distancing and self-isolation. In this time of turmoil, we see some of the so-called ‘key workers’ suffer more. For example, NHS staffs, those who work in food shops, those who deliver the mail, those who collect our rubbish, and so on.
Now then, in this unprecedented situation, are we all waiting for the Messiah coming into our city? 2000 years ago, many people in Jerusalem, maybe most of them were waiting and waiting for a great leader, a warrior hero, to save them. And, at that time, rumours spread all through
Jerusalem, that Jesus might be that leader. So, they were quite excited about his entry into the city. But, they were wrong! They completely misunderstood who Jesus was, and why he was entering the city. And, even his disciples didn’t understand what he was going to do.
As we move into this week, the Holy Week, we see Jesus give us the New Commandment –
‘Love each other’ at the last meal with his disciples, and we see him arrested and eventually crucified. This picture of the Holy Week seems to challenge us in the present circumstances to love our neighbours in a new way by staying a bit away from them. Amen.

Holy God, as we enter this most solemn week in the Christian year,
in these extraordinary times,
help us to lament with the psalmist.
As we are restricted in what we can do
and must worship in households rather than in church buildings,
help us to remember that the church is not closed –
for church is people not buildings.
We pray for all with whom we normally worship Sunday by Sunday…
God in your mercy,
hear our prayer.
Holy God, we pray for those in authority as they grapple with the unexpected.
Guide those who are giving the world’s leaders knowledge and expertise in these times.
Give wisdom and courage to all in leadership,
and when this is all over may humankind emerge strengthened.
God in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.
Holy God, as we hear and see the news
and exchange thoughts on social media,
help us to remember all those less fortunate than ourselves, among them:
those who are lonely,
those who are angry,
those who are distressed,
those who are at their wits end,
those who are struggling to get home,
those who cannot get the help they need…
God in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.
Holy God, we remember all those who are working to keep things going:
those working in the NHS and those around it helping to keep things working,
those keeping our streets clean and collecting our rubbish,
those harvesting, delivering and selling the food in our shops,
those keeping us secure and our utilities functioning,
those looking after the children of key workers,
those helping to care for the elderly and vulnerable,
clergy of all religions seeking to minister in difficult times…
God in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.
Holy God, we remember those who have died,
whether from Covid-19 or from other causes.
We pray for their families and friends
especially as they arrange funerals so different from what they expected.
We pray that they and we may come at the last to find peace in your presence.
God in your mercy,
Hear our prayer. (Prayer, written by Dudley Coates)

Sunday 29th March

Opening Prayer

God of new life, God of risen hope, as we worship together, may we know your resurrection power in our lives. May our spirits be renewed. May our bodies be restored. Amen.

Bible reading: John 11. 1-45

38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 ‘Take away the stone,’ he said.

‘But, Lord,’ said Martha, the sister of the dead man, ‘by this time there is a bad odour, for he has been there four days.’

40 Then Jesus said, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?’

41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.’

43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth round his face.

Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go.’ (vs. 38-44)

Reflection

This story, the raising of Lazarus, is one of the highlights in John’s Gospel, as it signals the great event of Jesus’ resurrection. But, what we hear is that this miraculous happening eventually caused Jewish leaders to seek Jesus’ death. Ironically we are to see Jesus under threat because of bringing life to someone else. Yet, in a sense, that is what the message of the Gospel is all about.

In this story, we see Jesus perform this miracle very carefully, like a well-planned drama. He does not rush to rescue his ill friend. He deliberately delays his journey for two days, to see him. Why didn’t he rush right over and save his friend? Isn’t that his definition of friendship: a friend is someone who cares enough to drop everything, even his life. What was Jesus doing that was more important than helping a friend in a desperate need?

In this respect, it’s not surprising to see Mary and Martha grumbling about his late turning up, saying ‘Our brother would have been saved if you had come earlier. He’s been dead for four days.’ Martha stresses on four days. Why do you think she was stressing on four days? It is because in Jewish culture, they thought and believed that the spirit was to leave the body after three days of being dead.

Therefore, it means that although they had seen Jesus raising the dead, healing the sick, and driving out the demons, they were still stuck and bound to their own mind-set, their tradition and their limited human understanding.

They might have thought, ‘life-giving miracle could be happening within three days’.

But, they should have known that Jesus is not bound by death, or death’s timetable. Rather, they are subject to Jesus. And, the time is in his hands. God only knows the right time. And, we need to make it clear that in this story, Jesus didn’t take ‘death’ lightly. He didn’t mean ‘death is nothing at all’. Jesus knew the reality of death. Death is real. However, in God’s hands, death is the raw material of resurrection, if you like.

That’s why Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life”. As we believe this in our hearts, we are to see him at work, amongst us, through us, with the word given to us.

And, what we see in the raising of Lazarus is just a foretaste of that hope, which is offered to us all through Jesus’ own death and resurrection.

With this hope, we are to look beyond death to the new life promised by God. Amen.

Prayer of Intercession

Lord, our God, in this time of uncertainty and fear, time of challenge, help us to stand firm, trusting you and your never-changing love. Guide us and strengthen us with your Spirit, so that we may continue to serve you and your people, particularly those who are vulnerable, those who have lost their jobs, those who find it more difficult to stay isolated. Yes, Lord, being alone is hard. We were created for community, not for confinement. But, we are grateful that no matter how alone we may feel, you never leave or forsake us. So, Lord, give us strength to endure this difficult time, and deepen our connection with you and your people. Empower us with an extra amount of your love, peace, hope, and joy. And, Lord, give us your wisdom to continue to worship in different ways, and to continue to be the church, as we support each other and share your love with one another. And, bless each one of us, as we live in your promises. Amen.

Sunday 22nd March

Opening Prayer
Here we are Lord, we have come –we have come in body,
mind and spirit, to worship you this day, even if we are
worshipping in a different way from our usual Sunday. We
have come, needy, hopeful, tired, joyful, broken and
optimistic. However we have come, we have come to meet
with you. We have come, Come Lord Jesus. Amen.


Bible Reading: Exodus 2. 1-10
“Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite
woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son.
When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three
months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a
papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then
she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along
the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to see
what would happen to him.” (vs 1-4)
Reflection
This is a wonderful story, through which we can see the
great courage and wisdom of a mother, Jochebed, and
God’s plan in there. And also, we are to see her great faith in
God. Unless she had believed God would save him, she
wouldn’t have put him in the basket and let him go into the
crocodile invested Nile River. And then, we see a wonderful
reversal happening, that this boy, Moses is to be saved and
adopted by an Egyptian princess, and therefore to live his
first 40 years under the royal protection. Jochebed didn’t
understand God’s plan, but she trusted God with her son.
And, its reward was enormous, and unbelievable. By her
faithful determination, we see, not only Moses was saved,
but also she was paid to care for him until he was weaned.
It’s a double blessing, if you like. If she was not brave
enough, or faithful enough to let him go, Moses couldn’t have
survived the baby massacre ordered by the Pharaoh. It’s a
great story of a brave mum.
But, we often see mum’s great deal of love and sacrifice from
the ordinary mothers, and our own mothers. In their every
day lives, they do everything for their children.
So, I just want you to think of your mother, what she has
done for you, and still does for you. If she is no longer with
you, just think of what she did for you. And, think of this
question ‘What is a mother?’
In my definition, she is the one who does all things you don’t
like doing or can’t be bothered doing. She is the one who
does things for you that no one else would do.
But, more importantly, mother is the one who loves you, and
loves you more than she loves herself. Amen.


Thanksgiving Prayer
Loving God, father and mother of us all, hear us as we give
thanks for mothers, and for mothering, on this special day.
We remember before you with deep gratitude our own
mothers.
We also give thanks for all in our immediate family and in our
wide circle of friends and relatives, both women and men,
who shared in our nurturing and growth.
We thank you that we can offer a motherly care like yours to
others: loving them unconditionally, meeting their physical
and emotional needs.
Loving God, we thank you that in Jesus you have come
close to us like a mother. Amen.
Prayers of Intercession and Blessing
In these uncertain times, dear Lord, we pray for peace. We
hold before you all those who are putting others before
themselves. We pray for those who are worried about their
financial situation, not knowing how they will cope in the
coming weeks. We pray for the people and situations close
to our heart… We pray for those who feel more isolated by
not being able to attend and act of worship today. We hold
before you the governments and leaders of the world, those
making many difficult decisions… So in these uncertain times may we reach out to support each other, our families,
our friends, our neighbours. May we speak using words of
grace and comfort. May we reflect your love for all of
creation. And may we be a reassurance and a blessing to all
we speak to this week.
And may the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be
with you this day and forever more. Amen

Weekly Reflection

Sunday 3rd May 2020

John 10. 1-16

Therefore Jesus said again, ‘Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.[a] They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

11 ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

Reflection

The gospel reading this week shows us a clear image of Jesus as the Saviour, Guide and Protector, through a metaphor of shepherd. Nowadays shepherd is a rare job, not only in this country but also in the Middle Eastern countries. In my visit to the Holy Land last February, I hardly saw sheep in the field, and shepherds either. But, it was an important job in the past and shepherds had got crucial roles and responsibilities in sheep farming, particularly as they had to travel afar with a flock of sheep to find the green pastures. But, it wasn’t a popular job at all, because the work was hard, and the working environment was very tough. Therefore, they were the people who belonged to one of the lowest classes in society, despised and neglected. However, it is interesting to see that in the Scriptures, shepherd is often described as an image of ideal king or leader. We see an example from Ezekiel 34, saying, “I myself will tend my sheep and make them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.”

It is a clear picture, which shows the role of the king through that of the shepherd. We see the image of shepherd is used here to describe the model king, not because of its status, but because of its nature. So, it is interesting to see that the role of the highest job is to be explained through the role of the lowest one. It’s very symbolic, and a metaphor which tells us of what kind of leader he or she should be. And, Jesus never hesitated to use this title ‘shepherd’ to describe himself, saying ‘I am the shepherd, and the gate for the sheep. Whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture’. It is actually what the shepherd does. It is said that in many Middle Eastern sheepfolds, shepherds often lie down at night in the gateway, to stop the sheep getting out, and to stop predators getting in. It is an important job to keep them safe. But, what we need to notice is that Jesus is not just talking about the safety of life by locking them in, but also about the fulfilment of life, as he says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly”.

Well, you may find it not easy to accept this passage as it is, as most of us are just managing to live everyday life in lockdown and find certain items are far from abundant. You may say it is far from abundant life. However, what we need to remember is that Jesus, as the shepherd and the gate, will lead us out to the green pastures, where the abundant life (the life to the full) can be experienced. The only question to us is whether we listen to his voice and follow him alone. One of the issues we face today is that there are too many voices around us, and we are constantly annoyed by the news and information, unchecked or source-unknown. Even in this time of unprecedented pandemic crisis, we are to hear so many voices, of which some are unproved or contradictory, and therefore, we are easily confused or distracted so much. Not only that, but also if we look at the commercials and adverts, what they are saying is too good to be true. The former bishop of Durham, Tom Wright says, “The modern world has discovered how unsatisfying materialism really is, and is looking for something more, something beyond. Many thieves have told lies, and have deceived the sheep, stolen them and left them for dead. The call today to Jesus’ true sheep is to listen for his voice, and to find in him and him alone the life, which is overflowing life indeed”.

Are we listening to the right voice, then?

Let us pray.

Lord Jesus, we thank you that you have called us to be part of your flock. So, help us to continue to hear your voice, to hear your leading: who we should contact, and what we should pray for. And, help us to know that we are not alone, and open our eyes to the abundance of your presence with us. Amen.

Read previous week’s reflections here