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Don’t Go To Church, Be The Church

Date: 22/05/2016/Speaker: Rev Miak Siew

Matthew 16:5-12, 21-27
5 When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. 6 Jesus said to them, “Watch out, and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 7 They said to one another, “It is because we have brought no bread.” 8 And becoming aware of it, Jesus said, “You of little faith, why are you talking about having no bread? 9 Do you still not perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 11 How could you fail to perceive that I was not speaking about bread? Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!” 12 Then they understood that he had not told them to beware of the yeast of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

27 “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28 Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
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Today, we are continuing on the sermon series “Don’t Go to Church, Be The Church.” It is a catchy title that jumped at us when Pauline, Gary and myself discussed ideas for our sermon series.

There are two churches we are talking about here –

A church that is the body of Christ,
And the church that is an institution, a building, a tradition, a thing.
The body of Christ is alive – moving, breathing, being, doing, living.
The other, is a shell. Maybe it is like the moulted shell of a horseshoe crab left on the beach. Or it could be a fossil – something dead that is hardened over time.

When you come to church, which one are you looking for?

It is a reality that sometimes we are looking for a fossil. The cathedrals, the duomos, the basilicas are beautiful relics of our Christian tradition. The songs and hymns we are familiar with bring back memories, feelings and emotions. But while these are great, and can be a way we commune with God, it is the living, breathing body of Christ we are called to be. We don’t stop and remain in the past, but live out in the present of how we imagine the future – the kingdom/kin-dom of God – should be.
The reality is that there are times we are the church that we go to, and there are times we are the Church. So the question is – when are we the church – the body of Christ, and when are the just the church that we go to?

When Nihal and Rupa, a Sri Lankan domestic worker who works for one of the folks who attend FCC, approached us if we could host them on Sundays. They were having trouble finding a place to worship.

Before some of you think of this as an attempt to persuade all of you to support having Rupa and Nihal and the migrant workers use our space of Sundays, let me tell you I am not. I was informed two weeks ago that they are going through some changes and will want to hold off the plans until they got things in order. Perhaps, they would approach us once again some time in the future, perhaps not.

Their request prompted for us to examine who we are as a church. In our discussions, we talked about how there are 500 churches in Singapore that they can go to, and how LGBT folks have only us, so we need to be prioritize supporting LGBT groups.

There can be a reservoir of fresh water somewhere, but it doesn’t quench our thirst like the glass of water right next to us.

There could be many ways we could work around, and work through a solution to support these Sri Lankan migrant workers who are seeking a place to worship.

I share this as a learning moment – not to chastise, not to shame. It teaches us a lot about being church, about deep seated racism that is in all of us, about fear, the attitude of scarcity that holds us back from living out our call as the body of Christ.

When Jesus warned the disciples to beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees, the disciples thought that Jesus was talking about the fact that they did not bring any bread.
And becoming aware of it, Jesus said, “You of little faith, why are you talking about having no bread? 9 Do you still not perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 11 How could you fail to perceive that I was not speaking about bread?
I wonder about what is the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Could it be the fear, the attitude of scarcity that drive these religious people?

When we have the attitude of scarcity, when we believe that there is not enough, then one sure thing happens – we become selfish. We hoard. We hold on tightly to what we have. We do not share. We learn not to give, but just to take. Perhaps nothing encapsulates that more than our uniquely Singaporean attitude of kiasuism and kiasism. For those who are not local amongst us – Kia means afraid or fear, and su means to lose and si means to die. So kiasuism – is the fear of losing, and kiasism is the fear of dying (or getting in trouble).

But what are we afraid of losing out? Why are we afraid of death? Aren’t we followers of the resurrected one?

“We of little faith, why are we talking about having not enough? 9 Do we still not perceive? Do we not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets we gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets we gathered?”

Remember – the loaves and fishes is not meant to be something to hold on to, to hoard, to possess, but something to give away.
Just like manna/bread from heaven that provided food during the Israelites wandering in the desert, it is not meant to be hoarded. They had enough bread for each person – any excess that they collected and tried to hoard, bred worms and grew foul.
We are called to be counter-cultural as the church – and we probably need to examine how we resist kiasu-ism and kiasi-ism.

The opposite of living in fear, is living in faith. When we live in faith, instead of an attitude of scarcity, we take on an attitude of generosity. When we live in faith, we trust that when we seek out to do what is good, God is with us. We trust that there will be enough. We trust that God will multiply what we offer.
And one value we hold dear runs headlong against kiasu and kiasi-ism. That is sacrifice. Every sacrifice has a cost – and the biggest sacrifice is Christ giving up his life for us. We now are the body of Christ – and there will be times we are called to give up ourselves for others.

To live in faith, and to trust in God, and not live in fear, we need to know what can be lost, and what cannot be lost.

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?”

I know I am a beloved child of God – not perfect, not flawless but still beloved. There are times I am afraid. I fear making unpopular decisions. Many people would think that I am not afraid at rocking the boat – and some might even think I take pleasure doing so. But I do fear. There is often much to lose. But I return to the same place – I trust in God. If I am doing what I am doing for love, for justice, then I should have faith.

We can lose the church – this space, this place, these things. We can get shut down, we can possibly get arsoned (which is not likely) like what the MCC Churches experienced in their early years. We cannot lose the church as long as 2 or 3 of us gather we are the church – the body of Christ. The only way we lose this church, this body of Christ is when we lose our way, when we stop being faithful, when we want to save our life, our church, when we seek to gain the whole world.

When we formed FCC, we stepped out in faith. Our address and service time were posted online. I don’t know if we were foolhardy, courageous, or faithful and trusting in God – I guess it is a little mix of everything. But nothing we feared may happen, happened. Nobody came to disrupt our services. Nobody came here to vandalise. Our sister churches – BMCF in Hong Kong and Tong Kwang in Taipei – only posted their addresses in the past few years. They were afraid. Granted, they have more to be fearful of – their circumstances are different from ours. But to this day, what they fear may happen did not happen.

I learned a Chinese word in Taiwan last year. 憨. It is badly translated as silly, foolish and simpleminded. It is made of two Chinese characters – courage at the top and heart at the bottom. I think it is not just silly or foolish. It is that kind of courage that appears silly to everyone else. It may be foolish to speak up against power, to stand up against injustice, knowing that you would be crushed. But deep inside there is a faith, a trust in God that strengthens us to take up that cross.

I wonder what people thought of Jesus then – stirring up trouble, facing against the religious and Roman authorities. Maybe they thought Jesus was foolish. I wonder what his mother, Mary thought. Maybe she would have told him not have silly ideas and ideals and to lay low and not get in trouble.

He, on the other hand, knew what was to come – the trials, the suffering and His passion. I think he had faith and a deep trust in God. He knew God would be with Him.

I wonder how many of you remember last year’s transgender day of remembrance. I wonder how many of you felt that what I did – inviting the transgender sex worker to preside over communion with me – was too radical and going too far. I don’t know. But I wrestled the night before as I was writing the liturgy. I was writing about the radical love of God that Jesus revealed to us. The thought of inviting our guests to preside over communion just popped into my head, and I went – you gotta be kidding me right? What would the congregation think? This is the most sacred part of the service and…. And I knew I had to do it. If I was to be faithful to this radical scandalous God, I had to do it.

In spite of the fear of what may happen, I chose faith. For what will it profit me to keep the congregation happy, but abandon the radical scandalous love that I experience, believe in and trust?

I didn’t get fired. I didn’t get anyone coming up to me telling me off (maybe all of you are too polite to do that). I do remember Oliver coming up to me saying – I now know what radical love means.

I am going to live – in faith, in trust, in love.

And I pray we all choose to be church – the body of Christ – and live in faith, in trust, in love.

Look around you. We take it for granted often. What is the miracle here? No, not the place. Not the giant LCD screens. Not the sound system. Not the wonderful space. That is the church we go to. The miracle here is the people here. You, you and you. The church. The body of Christ.

Don’t just go to church, Be the church.