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A New Year

Date: 01/01/2012/Speaker: Rev Miak Siew

Happy New Year. I am glad that you made it to church this morning, especially if you have spent last night celebrating and counting down.

It is a New Year. Those of us who still have actual physical calendars change the old one for a new one, marking the passage of time, and the cycle of all things. It is also around this time many of us reflect of the year that has past, and make plans for the year to come.

How has 2011 been to you? I would guess it would be a mixture of things – some good, some bad. There would be tears, laughter, disappointment, joy all mixed together. Some of us will have more of the good stuff, while some of us will have more things we are burdened with.

What do you carry into the new year? Are there regrets of things you have done, and regrets of the things you have not done? Are there blessings and joys? Are there hopes and dreams too, that you hold close to your heart, at the beginning of this new year?

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.”

Each of us will find different parts of this passage from Ecclesiastes significant – some of us have celebrated new additions to the family, some of us mourned the passing of loved ones. Some of us went through transitions in our career, some of us entered into new relationships, while some of us ended relationships.

As we cross into the new year, with new calendars, we look ahead with new hope.

Josiah Royce, a philosopher, wrote in the late 1800s to the early 1900s about the church as the beloved community – a community of memory and hope. As a Christian community, we remember collectively of Jesus’ life and teachings, and his death and resurrection. But memory without hope is nostalgia. We live in the hope of the coming of God’s kin-dom. Like Jorg’s Christmas sermon, the hope of the day where the wolf will lay with the lamb, the dream of the day where all of creation is reconciled. The New Jerusalem. It is not just mere idealism. It is God’s desire of the how the world should be.

Revelation 21:1-6a

21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

21:2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

21:3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them;

21:4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”

21:5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

21:6a Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

The relational God who is with us, in the midst of our celebration, and in midst of our mourning, in the midst of our joys, and in the depths of our despair. This is the God Jesus talked to us about. This is the God who makes all things new.

For many of the early Christians, they expected Jesus would come again very soon – in fact, during their lifetimes. But 2000 years later, we are still waiting. Some people think that the world would have ended – some thought that it would have happened last year on 21 May. Then 21 Oct. Well, we are in 2012 now, and the world is still here.

In the Gospel of Luke (17:20-21), when the Pharisees demanded to know when the Kingdom of God should come, Jesus answered them ‘The Kingdom of God come not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.’

Perhaps the coming of the kindom of God is already here – and we are invited to participate in this kindom, and be part of the transformation of this world.

Today’s third passage is from Matthew 25. Many of you may have heard me preach from it before –

Matthew 25:31-46

25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.

25:32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,

25:33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.

25:34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;

25:35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

25:36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

25:37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?

25:38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?

25:39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’

25:40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

25:41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;

25:42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,

25:43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’

25:44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’

25:45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’

For many people, myself included, this passage could be very literal – we are to feed the hungry, offer drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick and those in prison. Yes we are called to do all these.

But what is the meaning behind it? What is the spirit behind doing all these that Jesus instructs us to do? This is not only something that would be good if you could do this, but it is how the sheep and the goats are separated – it is how we are judged!

I would argue it is not enough that we do what Jesus instructed, but also understand how we are to do it. In a recent email I wrote to the church about giving to HOME, I wrote that I have an issue with the idea of charity – that we give out of a sense of pity. It sets up a position that I am better off than the other person.

Again I want to remind each of us here about what FREE in FCC stands for. First Realize Everyone is Equal. Equality cuts both ways. We, regardless of our gender, sexual orientation, whether we are L, G, B, T or I, Q, Q, S are equals. But so are those migrant workers, the sex workers, those whom Jesus calls us to reach out to, they, too are equals.

Jesus says “’Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” We are not to see them as lesser beings, but to see them as Jesus himself!

This is the odd God of relationality that is at the Heart of Jesus’ Gospel. God is found in the how we relate to one another, how we see the Divine image in each person we encounter, how we love one another. This is the God who is omnipresent, the God who is with us. “”See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them;”

It is not enough that we help, but move beyond that to enter into relationship with them. It is in this encounter that God manifests God’s glory – because it is in this encounter where we are transformed. God’s glory is not found in huge monuments, massive buildings, large banners, but in how God’s kin-dom manifests itself in the beloved community. Like the title of the hymn, “They will know we are Christians by Our Love.”

Perhaps this world where there is “No weeping, no hurt or pain, No suffering, No darkness, no sick or lame” is a world where those who are weeping are comforted, those who are hurt or in pain nursed, those who are suffering embraced, where light and hope and love is brought where there is darkness and despair. This, I think, is the new Jerusalem. The Kin-dom of God is here in us.

This, in my opinion, is why Jesus instructs us to feed the hungry, offer drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick and those in prison. This is the kin-dom of God made real. This is how we live out God’s will – how we struggle to love one another, just like how Jesus commanded us to “love each other as I have loved you.”

Christianity today often is about a personal relationship with God. I think that is shaped by the individualistic ethos of the modern culture of capitalism. Our relationship with God is not only a personal relationship, but also a communal relationship, because it is at the heart of our struggle to love one another that God is most acutely present.

I have been asked by many people since I am back – what is FCC called to be? Are we a gay church? Inclusive church? What makes us a place that other people who are not LGBT come? While some of us are able to say our sexuality is a gift from God, some of us do not see it the same way.

I have had many friends drop by here in FCC the past 3 months. I have also spoken to many newcomers. There are many comments – but one thing struck me – all of them have commented how willing we are to be honest about our own personal struggles.

How authentic we are about our struggles and our doubts. And despite all that, we have the faith that God loves us, warts and all.

FCC is special because many of us have wrestled with experiences of pain, rejection, suffering. That doesn’t necessarily make us better people, but that is the starting point how we learn to embrace others who are rejected, who are in pain, who are suffering. It is a heart thing. We know. And we know what it means to be loved by God of grace – and we try our best to love others in our lives.

I have heard several times people, both from FCC and those not from FCC, describing FCC as a “gay church”. I want to clarify that – we are not a gay church. Nor are we a lesbian church, or an LGBT church. We are a queer church that is inclusive and it doesn’t matter who you are – you are loved and welcome regardless. Some of you may not like the word queer, but let me explain more what it means. I have the fortune of meeting Rev Dr Patrick Cheng who teaches theology at Episcopal Divinity School in my time in US. He wrote the book “Radical Love: A Guide to Queer Theology” and he has given a copy of it as a gift to our church library.

He states that there are three meanings of “queer.”

First, queer as an umbrella term that refers collectively to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, questioning and other individuals who identify with non-normative and/or gender identities. It also includes allies who may not identify themselves as LGBTIQA.

Second, queer is reclaiming a word that has previously had ONLY negative connotations. It is a transgressive act. It is an act of defiance to world proclaiming God’s reign.

Third, queer is an act of erasing boundaries. We refused to be boxed in just under a label. We are LGBT, but that is NOT the be all and end all of who we are.

There would be those who will may argue there is no biblical basis. And I do receive mails and notes and comments on facebook once in a while that I am leading all those I pastor to straight to hell.

Well, Queer theology doesn’t come from nowhere. My theology professor, Rev Dr Jay Johnson always argued that Christianity has always been queer.

In Christ Neither male nor female. There is no longer death. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, slave nor free, For we are all one in Christ.” This is the erasure of boundaries and labels. Isn’t that queer too? It is when we stop seeing each other as labels, as categories, but look at each single person as a unique beloved child of God that we may begin to love each other authentically. I need to learn to see you as not just as gay, or lesbian or transgender or straight, but as who you are as a person. Only in that way can we build a true beloved community.

Jesus subverted conventional ideas of what family means – He said, “Whosoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:36) FCC is home, and we are family!

Queer, as the umbrella group of diverse people from different cultures, different backgrounds who come together believing in something bigger than themselves.

Jesus has always been transgressive, rejecting the norms of the day, turning everything upside down. Just like the cross has been a symbol of death, and today it is a symbol of hope, life and resurrection. Christ has reclaimed the symbol, just like how we have reclaimed the word “queer” from being a derogative term to a term that many LGBT folks are proud of.

FCC is special because many of us have wrestled with experiences of pain, rejection, suffering. That doesn’t necessarily make us better people, but that is the starting point how we learn to embrace others who are also rejected, who are in pain, who are suffering. It is a heart thing. We know. And we know what it means to be loved by God of grace – and we try our best to love others in our lives.

We need to recognize that the kin-dom of God isn’t an end point. It has been always a work in progress. It has been always a process. There will be times we disagree how to go about doing what we think we should do. There will be times we stumble; there will be times we will make mistakes. But that’s okay. We endeavor to do what we do in the spirit of love, compassion, justice and humility.

Who are we called to be?

Relationships don’t last or how will my old age be like?

We have no role models.

WE ARE THE GENERATION TO CREATE THAT POSSIBILITY.

We are the ones who shape and mould how the kin-dom of God should look like. This kin-dom of God is the oddly queer community that is deeply rooted in Christianity.

As we begin this new year, we look forward as a community of memory and hope, that we can become the inclusive community that embraces each single person who walks through the door here as someone who has come home, just like how we would welcome Jesus. We look forward to how we can as a community serve the least amongst us, seeing them as equal children of God, each created in God’s divine image, each beloved by God. Let us be that odd community that rejects the worldly ways, and be queer – because that is what we are called to be.

Let us pray.

Our God of relationality
who sees each and every single one of us as a beloved child,
not as gay, lesbian, transgender, bi, or straight
but as who we are.

You call us to build your kin-dom on earth
You call us to love more deeply
You call us to dream of a place
Where all are equal
And all are loved.

Help us be that beloved community
That welcomes all
That clothe the naked, feed the hungry, shelter the shelterless
Heal the hurt and those in pain

Help us always remember
What it means to love
Just as Jesus taught us
Love each other as I have loved you.

And remember
What does the Lord require of us?
“To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”