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Don’t Go To Church, Be The Church 6

Date: 19/06/2016/Speaker: Rev Miak Siew

*Psalm 42 and 43*
42:1 As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.

42:2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?

42:3 My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, “Where is your God?”

42:4 These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I went with the throng, and led them in procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.

42:5 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help

42:6 and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.

42:7 Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your waterfalls; all your waves and your billows have gone over me.

42:8 By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.

42:9 I say to God, my rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I walk about mournfully because the enemy oppresses me?”

42:10 As with a deadly wound in my body, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me continually, “Where is your God?”

42:11 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.

43:1 Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people; from those who are deceitful and unjust deliver me!

43:2 For you are the God in whom I take refuge; why have you cast me off? Why must I walk about mournfully because of the oppression of the enemy?

43:3 O send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling.

43:4 Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy; and I will praise you with the harp, O God, my God.

43:5 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.

We grieve today – Christina Grimme, the 49 victims in Pulse in Orlando, Jo Cox. We grief at lives cut short. We weep. We mourn. We stand in solidarity. And we must stand in their place – to sing, to dance, to laugh, to change the world in their memory, and say that violence and hate will not have the last word. We, the followers of the resurrected Christ, will not yield to despair.

I wonder why it is only women are disproportionately targeted. 29% of MPs in UK are women.

I wonder why minorities are disproportionately targeted. In 2015, 9 people were murdered in Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. Just last week, 49 people were killed in Pulse in Orlando. Majority of those killed in pulse were LGBT, and Latino.

That is why I find it hard to think about Father’s day today. On top of the grieving and loss, there is an anger inside against patriarchy. And still, I want to wish all the fathers – fathers in the biological sense and the spiritual sense – a happy father’s day. I invite all of you to find ways to express your love to your fathers.

Racism, homophobia, violence against women, xenophobia are all interconnected. It happens when we dehumanise another group of human beings and think that they are lesser beings and that they deserve to die.

Today, we join the Psalmist asking “Why must we walk about mournfully because of the oppression of the enemy?” We join the Psalmist in our weeping – “My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, “Where is your God?”

Why are you still Christian I have been asked? Might as well join the secular humanists and continue the social justice work that I do. Why do I continue to be part of the religion that is one of the sources of conflict and hate? Why do I stubbornly continue? Why not just walk away? Why not be post-Christian?

I remain committed because I don’t go to church. Church isn’t a place. Church is where people come together to discern and do God’s will. To live out Jesus’ teachings of love and peace. To humbly and boldly love and courageously do justice to transform the world.

“As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?”

God is the source of love and life. The inspiration of my words I speak.

When I stood there in Hong Lim Park, joining hands with people during the candlelight vigil, that was church. When some of us gathered on Thursday to bid farewell to Daniel who is heading to Seattle, that was church.

“Hope in God; for I shall again praise her, my help and my God.”

Our work is even more urgent today.

We identify ourselves as an inclusive progressive Church. Some of you may be unconvinced – is being progressive really Christian?

How many of you flinched when I used her instead of him for God?

I don’t do that because it is fashionable. Or it’s cool. It is something that I thought through, studied a lot about. And I think it is very, very Christian. God is genderless and all-gendered. God is father, and mother. God transcends all our thinking about God. The idea of God as father came from a time women were less than men. Women were chattel. Property. Of course they won’t see God as female. Of course they would see as male then.

We must first remember Jesus was constantly challenging the religious and cultural traditions of his time. He constantly challenged the rules in those time – he purposely violated the Sabbath law. In John 9, He could have healed the blind man by just commanding, he healed him by spitting into the ground and mixing and making mud. He purposely violated the law.

Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.’ But others said, ‘How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?’ And they were divided.

Church isn’t perfect. Church and traditions also have to change and evolve to stay relevant. The reformation came about in the 16th century after the invention of the printing press in the 15th century. Books became more accessible and more people started to learn to read. They started to read the Bible for themselves – and started challenging the Church.

In 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Wittenberg Castle church door. He attacked the Catholic Church’s corrupt practice of selling “indulgences” to absolve sin. These “95 Theses,” put forward two central beliefs we are familiar to — Sola Scriptura – that the Bible is the central religious authority and Sola Fide – that humans may reach salvation only by their faith and not by their deeds and started the Protestant Reformation.

The problem today is when both are taken to extremes – Sola Scriptura leads to fundamentalism and the literal reading of the bible and folks even reading the Bible as a science text book and insist the world was created in seven days.

The problems arising from Sola Fide are a little less obvious – but they are there. This is one of the contributing factors to “going to church” and not “being the church.” The doctrine of Sola fide asserts God’s forgiveness for sinners is through faith alone, and not at all through works. I believe in God’s unconditional love and grace – but faith and good works are not separate things. Martin Luther’s criticism comes in part from the criticism of the indulgences that can be “bought” and the idea that salvation can be “earned.” We need to understand that faith and works are two sides of the same coin – like the evangelical theologian R. C. Sproul articulates it – “The relationship of faith and good works is one that may be distinguished but never separated…if good works do not follow from our profession of faith, it is a clear indication that we do not possess justifying faith. The Reformed formula is, “We are justified by faith alone but not by a faith that is alone.”

John Wesley’s model, on which Methodism is based, is a further refining of Reformation – not just Sola Scriptura, but a quadrilateral – Prima Scriptura, but including tradition, reason AND experience.

Jesus oddly said when he was asked what was the greatest commandment, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” It is based on a very important verse from the Torah – Deuteronomy 6:5 “*5 *You *e*shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. “ But why did he add on with all your mind?

I think that Jesus had a very different idea of a follower. He resisted the institutionalised religion of his time. He didn’t give another long list of instructions, of dos and don’ts – he left us with many parables. He left us with more questions than answers (for those who are new, we did a sermon series based on the book – Jesus Is the Question: The 307 Questions Jesus Asked and the 3 He Answered by Martin Copenhaver)

He exposed the religious leaders who controlled the people and how they think. There will be people who want to control how you think. Because not all leaders want you to think. If I am kind about leaders who do not want you to think, I would say that they don’t want you to think because thinking people are harder to manage. But if I am honest, I would say it is because thinking people are harder to manipulate. I want to invite you to think.

We are progressive not because it is cool We are progressive because we believe that in our collective questioning, exploring, challenging, we would not fall prey to corruption and temptation to do our will and not God’s will. We would be able to resist being manipulated by people who serve their own self-interests. We constantly want to progress – to become better Christians individually and a better Church collectively. We are progressive because like Martin Luther, we continue to address the problems with an imperfect Church.

Those of you weren’t here last week for FCC Connect – this is what we are up to for the rest of the year.

Many of you joined us after our move here. Many of you are new here. We have many straight people joining us, and we need to live out urgently as an inclusive AND progressive church. We want a reboot – a reboot not to start all over again as if we did something wrong. But a reboot so that folks who just joined us in the recent years get to know who we are, and why we are who we are. It is like watching a TV series – it is hard to follow when you start watching Game of Thrones from the current season.

In the coming weeks – we would be exploring and having our membership series sermons. We would look at our Past, Present, Free, Community, Church. Membership Sunday. Then the Arise and Shine shine – focusing on different ministries of FCC and aspects of Church life, and understanding why we do what we do, not just going through the motions. (changing lyrics, using male AND female pronouns for God, spilling the juice during communion) that culminates in our 13th anniversary service

We need you to participate. We need you to commit. And to be honest, we need your money to finance what we do.

There have been many concerns – we want to employ Pauline full-time, but we struggle doing it because we are in the red. Let me tell you we have tried our very best to contain our costs. Perhaps some of you think my trips overseas to serve our sisters and brothers was financed by FCC. There was only one trip to Jakarta last year that was funded by FCC. My upcoming trip to the General Conference? Not funded by FCC. The nice dinner I brought Rev Elder Nancy Wilson to? Not funded by FCC.

I wrestle with how to put this. I don’t this to be about me, or about my pay. I struggle how to be open, transparent and how I feel. During many discussions, there were suggestions that I make a sacrifice as the leader so that we can bring Pauline on board. So we can be in the black and not in the red.

I wonder how much you think I am paid. My salary is about $4200. I take home after CPF about $3300. How much do u want me to sacrifice so that we bring Pauline on board?

I don’t need a pay raise. I am grateful Geoffrey suggested a charity cafe to start a pastors’ fund so FCC can pay for the both of us. I am very moved by that gesture. But as I reflected – that is in a way saying folks don’t trust how the general fund is being used. I stand with the board here – while I appreciate what you are offering to do, I hope you can consider putting the money into the general fund instead.

I need the church back in the black. I want money in the building fund to pay for our mortgage. I want Pauline to be paid fairly for the work she is doing for the church. We wanted to bring her on board quarter time, but because of our move here, that got delayed. We wanted to bring her on half time this year, but because of finances that got delayed. I want to be able to focus on what I need to do, and not worry how we are going to go about raising money.

I need FCC being able to finance the work that is so desperately needed – the counselling work that Pauline and I do, the activism, the social justice, the mission work.

I hope that in the course of the next few months, everyone can think about they want to contribute to FCC. I hope that those of you who are not members consider seriously becoming a member of FCC. I hope those of you who are not pledging to FCC consider pledging to FCC, and I hope those of you who are already pledging consider pledging more to FCC.

I want this church to grow not for my sake, but so that we can be salt and light of the earth, a beacon of love and hope for all God’s people. Because this is what my faith is all about. This is the work that is so tied to my faith.

O send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling.

Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy; and I will praise you with the harp, O God, my God.

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.

Hope in God for I shall again praise her, my help and my God.