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Doing A Different Thing

Date: 07/04/2013/Speaker: Rev Dr Yap

Doing A Different Thing
Rev Yap Kim Hao
7 Apr 2013

Now allow me to relate to our situation as we turn the page to a new chapter of the development of FCC.
There are lessons to learn from the reflections that I have made relating to Pope Francis.
Ten years ago when I first preached in FCC my sermon title was “Doing a New Thing.” When I checked I found that sermon along with all the sermons preached in 2003 have mysteriously been trashed. What I want to say today is “Doing a Different Thing.”

With elected leadership in FCC we enter into a different and exciting phase of our development. Each and every member is responsible for FCC’s  life and mission. We are part of the decision-making process.
We must assume the responsibility to determine its destiny. This is now very much our church and take ownership. We have to work together to grow it. What is the direction of FCC?  Together we have to explore it.
Pope Francis has deliberately chose to offer a different face of the Church. He is trying to make a difference. He appears to fancy doing things which are different. He is attempting to break away from
tradition and do a new and different thing.
Unlike the Catholic Church with its over two thousand years of history and tradition FCC is barely ten years. old. We too carry some baggage.
We are fortunate that our load is not as heavy as the Catholics.  We bring in the baggage of our respective churches. We have off loaded some of the baggage and tradition when we left the Catholic church in a series of reformations and renewal movements. The process goes on.
Coincidentally or providentially or provocatively the lectionary reading for today comes out the first mission of the Apostles and their efforts in developing the Jesus movement. Peter emerged as the
leader of the Apostles after the crucifixion of Jesus. They faced the same opposition which was the Jewish religious establishment and Roman political system.They were detained and then warned not to preach and teach. But the Apostles defied them and testified that  “They must obey God rather than any human authority.”
When we look back at the growth and expansion of the Christian movement we are confronted with this question of authority. The councils of the early Christian movement began to define the teaching and formulated the ancient creeds. Then the Bishop of Rome as the most important city in the then known world established the Roman Pontiff

as sole authority and claims that he is the Vicar of Christ. But there were bishops of major cities and those in the Eastern Europe who chose not to submit to Rome. The Great Schism of the one Catholic Church
occurred when in 1053 the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople refused to acknowledge the Bishop of Rome the Pope. The Church was divided between the Latin branch with allegiance to Rome and the
Eastern Branch known as the Orthodox with loyalty to its own Patriarch in the different countries in the East. The division remains to this day.
The office of Patriarch Bartholomew in Constantinople released this statement: “His All-Holiness’ decision to travel to Rome for Pope Francis’ installation as Roman bishop is an extraordinary event in the history of Christianity. And it is significant for reasons far beyond its novelty. First and foremost it is a powerful symbolic gesture for the cause of Christian unity. It demonstrates in unprecedented fashion the extent to which the Ecumenical Patriarch considers the relationship with the Roman Catholic Church to be a priority. For their part, members of the Vatican staff have responded to this grand gesture and have arranged for the reading of the Gospel at the installation to be sung in Greek (rather than Latin) in recognition of the fact that the Ecumenical Patriarch has taken this unprecedented step.”

Further schisms in Western Christianity or Rome took place in the Reformation movement of the 16th Century resulting in denominational churches each justifying its formation claiming authority not of the
Pope but the Word. Not the Pope tells you so but the Bible tells you so. The claim that the Bible tells you so is used to demonize LGBT today.

Given the different interpretations of Biblical teaching and reading from the same Bible, further splits resulted in the proliferation of denominational independent churches who claim the authority of the
Holy Spirit who has revealed to each one of them separately.

Where then is my authority in what I believe? Each one has to make his or her own decision like Peter and John and later Paul, We must obey God rather than man.
The man or human-made religious and political establishment in the time of Jesus’ ministry was led by the religious rulers like the High Priest and the political authorities like Pilate. The collaboration in
collecting taxes for the Temple and for Caesar is documented in the Biblical text. The simple farmers in the rural societies were made poor and Jesus set his face to Jerusalem to oppose publicly the religious and political authorities which led to his crucifixion. It was not just a religious disagreement by a political dispute. Pope Benedict gave up when he found himself confined in the prison of the Vatican. Is it possible for Pope Francis to free himself now like Peter and John and obey God rather than man. The general opinion is that he is unlikely to shake look loose from the powers which hung on traditional teaching all these centuries. At least Pope Francis is showing a new face of the Papacy in his simple and humble lifestyle.
More is needed and we can hope for changes.
When we consider FCC let us be aware that we are to be located in the building which carries the address of One Commonwealth. It is highly symbolic and will always remind us of the word commonwealth. As
Wikipedia defines it: The English noun commonwealth in the sense meaning “public welfare; general good or advantage” dates from the 15th century. The original phrase “the common-wealth” or “the common weal” (echoed in the modern synonym “public weal”) comes from the old meaning of “wealth,” which is “well-being”, and is itself a loose translation of the Latin res publica (republic). The term literally
meant “common well-being.” In the 17th century the definition of “commonwealth” expanded from its original sense of “public welfare” or “commonweal” to mean “a state in which the supreme power is vested in the people; a republic or democratic state.”

Man and nation and even church has the tendency to cater to self-interest, private good. We will be reminded constantly in our new home to be concerned with the good of others and the common good of
all.
We have been able to address the welfare of the LGBT who found their way to our home for the past ten years and have felt the welcome and stayed on. There is still the challenge as we face the larger LGBT
community in society and seek for their well-being outside. We must be aware that it not be possible to form a mega-church as a few harbour that wish. There are successful independent churches around and we try to emulate them. Some have viewed us to be a weaker version of the megachurch church life and mission. LGBT will always be a minority.

A number of the LGBT who come to FCC have been expelled, rejected and condemned officially by the churches around us – mainline and independent. They no longer feel welcome and do not want to be
closeted as they worship in such congregations. They find a religious home in FCC that welcomes them. We have established a safe, secure and increasingly welcome sanctuary. But some feel that they are not
spiritually fed and continue to depend upon the dramatic worship and remain closeted. How can one be nourished by a theology and church life which condemn LGBTQ?

The few straight people who come to FCC do not sense the difference except for the fact of the presence and acceptance of the LGBT. The life and mission of the Church is not much different from the churches
they belong and they are not convinced to remain too long.

What is essential is to be a open and more willing to doubt as the other lectionary reading in John conveys in the story of the Doubting Apostle Thomas. He wants to be convinced himself and not by hearsay from others and even by the leadership. Each one of us has to make our individual rational decision and act in faith and set ourselves free from the religious imprisonment to obey God rather that human beings.

There is the wider human community in society whose welfare and good we must seek. How different are we from the mainline and independent churches if we put aside the fact that we welcome LGBT? It is being shown even now that denominational congregations in the United States are increasing dramatically in gay-affirming and churches that exclusively minister to LGBT are declining slowly. Statistics show that membership even in charismatic and pentecostal churches are decreasing in recent years. There is the rise of the NONE who are spiritual but not religious. We see that to be true even in FCC. Where
are those I have met ten years ago today?

The future for each Christian congregation is to cater to the spiritual needs of all regardless of sexual orientation, race and economic status. We are challenged to do the new thing ten years ago.
The further challenge is to grow a distinctive Church different from what we have been used to and see around us. We must be open and ready to obey God and transform the worship, life and mission of FCC as an community used by God for our Common weal.

FCC must move beyond our narrow religious interests, serve the interests of the LGBTQ community including gay rights. Can we revive our to service to the aged poor years ago in Tanglin Halt and we
moving close to them? Can we extend our concern for the issue of poverty. Can we implement our HIV/Aids medication fund to seek out those who need medicine? Can we extend to promote health care for all? Can we do more than donate money to migrant workers but deal also with the population issue in the country? The Christian community is strangely silent. But they are very vocal in their anti-gay campaign.
I is essential for us to explore more opportunities to serve, to witness and do more.
FCC must demonstrate a better Christian responsibility for the well-being of people. God calls us to be involved in shaping a responsible human and humane community in our midst. This is the Christian love that we proclaim. It is cry for equality –  equal opportunity and equal rights for all of God’s people.

I want to repeat what I mentioned earlier about Pope Francis’ hope and dream. He acknowledged however that it would take “extraordinary Christ-liberated courage” to tackle the challenges presented by the economy, environment and global poverty… Courage is released in a society that is under the authority of God, so that we may become the fully human community of which we all dream.”

Pope John fifty years ago opened the window of the Vatican to allow fresh winds to come in and deal with the mustiness within. Pope Francis today has opened the door of the Roman Basilica to step out to
shed light in the world and bring peace with justice. FCC needs to break out of our cave-like existence and go into the open to shape a different community which seeks for common good.

Together in FCC we interact and be open to one another to free ourselves from merely obeying the religious and political authorities and strive to obey God rather than man and to seek for the common good for all of God’s people on earth. Welcome Home for the gay and straight. Create Community of freedom with justice for all regardless of race, sexual orientation and religion. This is our hope and our
vision in a pluralistic world. This is the challenge that the spiritual communities and especially FCC have to face as we begin to make the move to One Commonwealth.