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Ecclesia & Presence: What does it mean to show up?

Date: 06/06/2021/Speaker: Rev Miak Siew

Odd that I would be talking about presence / showing up during this time when we have suspended in-person service.

How many of you miss in-person worship and can’t wait to be back here at 1 Commonwealth again?

For many of us, gathering here on Sunday is an important aspect of our spiritual life. Really, what is “social” and “spiritual” can overlap.

As Jaime pointed out last Sunday – Eclessia – a Greek word meaning the gathering of people.

We are now gathering online because we are concerned about the well-being of the least among us – the young, the elderly, the immunocompromised, those who cannot be vaccinated because of their allergies. We went above what is required because we believe it is the loving thing to do – that, of course, isn’t without any downsides.

As this drags on, we may become more distant – instead of absence making the heart grow fonder – we have out of sight out of mind. We end up often communicating only when we need to, further entrenching a task-oriented rather than a relationship-oriented culture.

Yes, now you can sleep in on Sundays and join the service at the comfort of your own home in your pyjamas at 10.30. You can literally watch the service on your mobile phone anywhere. You can even catch the service any time you want during the week on Youtube, or listen to it on the way to work during the week on podcast on Spotify.

You can even try out other churches, anywhere in the world.

If attending church means singing 3 or 4 songs, listen to the message, partake in communion, and then head home, then there isn’t much reason to have in-person service.

But there is more to church than just singing 3 or 4 songs, listening to the sermon, and partaking communion.

It is about showing up as a community. Showing up for someone who may need community during a difficult time. It is about being the body of Christ.

Christ is God showing up in our midst – God Incarnate – God in the flesh. So one of the ways we love one another is by showing up.

Jaime reflected in her sermon last week –

“I have also heard of many people disappointed with FCC and left us because that we do not practice what we preach. That we are not truly welcoming, and that while on the surface we are all cordial with each other, there are many broken relationships that remain unhealed. Some individuals and small groups are still being discriminated against (though this may not outwardly apparent).”

Recently, one of our members, Ben, was very broken hearted. His mother passed away, only 3 of us from FCC went down for the wake. He felt as though he didn’t matter. I have to take responsibility here – while I did go down for the wake, it slipped my mind to share the information with the rest of the church.

Many of you have reached out to Ben, and I have also apologised for dropping the ball on passing on the information.
Pauline shared in the final sermon of the Living a Resurrected Life series – “Do you love me? Then feed my sheep. That is the call to every one of us: that the blessing of God should flow through us to a world that is hungry – for bread and for love.” She talked about the failed disciple. That disciple is us.

We have failed Ben. We failed to show up. Ben is heartbroken because FCC means a lot to him, and we disappointed him. I pray that there can be healing and we can help mend his heart – because we are an imperfect community striving to live out what it means to love one another. We will fail, and we will try again.

What were the occasions that you wished that people showed up for you?

Sometimes, the folks who didn’t show up don’t even know – and the opportunity to open up and share these moments can allow us to learn and grow – and crucially – forgive and heal.

 “Forgiveness is to allow the other person not to be God. We are incapable of loving unconditionally on our own; only God can give us that kind of love.” – Henri Nouwen               

Were there occasions when people showed up for you?

When we show up, we are not there to offer answers or solutions. We are just offering our presence and sometimes a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on. It reminds us we are not alone. It reminds us that the church is with us. It reminds us that God is with us. And a phone call, a whatsapp message, a message on Facebook doesn’t convey this as powerfully as our presence.

I am learning as well – very often I tell folks “let me know if there is anything I can do.” I don’t want to impose or intrude. I have told folks during our training earlier this week “ask people what they need, just like Jesus asked Bartimaeus what did he want Jesus to do for him?”  Well, Bartimaeus had been blind for a long time – he knew what he wanted. But for people in crisis, they may not be in the right frame of mind to know what they need, much less ask for it. I doubt that anyone who just lost a loved one will ask me, “Pastor, please help me get dinner while I sort out the arrangement for the funeral” Those of you who were there will recall during a service at the wake of one of our members, a family member fainted because she didn’t eat anything the whole day!

So may we learn to better care for one another – by showing up for each other.

Of course there are folks who are quite clear about what they need and want – Andy was hospitalised earlier this week but he was very clear to me “Don’t visit hor. Cos I got no energy to talk. Cos the tummy will cramp when talking.”

Nick, during his last week in the hospital, told people not to visit because he wanted to conserve his energy and spend it with his loved ones.

But showing up isn’t just about showing up for each other.

It is also about showing up as a church.

I remember one year while I was attending the AIDS candlelight memorial organised by AFA with Rev Yap, when he turned to me and asked “Where is FCC?”

I have rarely shared this story, because I have always held “always by invitation, never by coercion” and I don’t want to be guilt tripping all of you to participate in events. I want to remind that as the body of Christ, we are also called to show up. It matters. It matters because our presence is the physical manifestation of love.

I remember many of you showing up at Hong Lim Park to participate in the candlelight vigil to mourn for the victims of the Orlando shooting at Pulse disco five years ago. I didn’t expect to see so many of you there. Perhaps i didn’t want my heart broken because we weren’t “present,” but we were. Next Saturday is the 5th anniversary of the shooting. It is good that while we celebrate Pride month all over the world, we remember that many LGBTQ folks still face discrimination and even violence.

During the vigil at Hong Lim Park, I wasn’t allowed to speak – because the rules for Hong Lim Park didn’t allow for last minute registration of speakers – but Nicholas who organised the vigil read the message on my behalf –

 “This is the time we respond to hate, not with hate, but with love. Even though we are angry. Even though the tears are streaming down our faces. Even though we are afraid. We respond not with hate, but with fierce love. We would be bolder to love even the ones who hate us. We will not run back to hide back in our closets. This is a time to love even more passionately, to love our families – no matter how hard, how difficult, no matter if they have accepted us or not, to love our friends, to love our enemies. Because only love can overcome hate.”

We showed up to proclaim love even in the bleakest moment because that’s what ecclesia – the gathering of followers of Christ does. Because that’s what God is about. Love that is stronger than hate. Love that is stronger than death.

I want to point out that not every time when Christians show up, it is showing up as the body of Christ. Many Christians showed up at the AWARE EOGM in 2009 in support of the “new guard.” That isn’t showing up for God. How do we discern that?

When we show up to perpetuate someone else’s oppression, we are not showing up for God. When we show up, we should be showing up in solidarity, showing up for liberation, and it should not be to perpetuate in someone’s oppression.

I am most proud that every year, we have shown up as a community at Pink Dot, even though we didn’t have a booth at the community tent, and the rules prevent us from speaking about religion at Hong Lim Park. Rev Yap, Mrs Yap and Susan showed up every year at Pink Dot. Even in the midst of the heat, the inconvenience of making their way through the crowd, even the physical pain as they couldn’t sit comfortably – they were there. They showed up in solidarity for us. So did many of our allies. Their presence is an act of love.

Will we show up for other people? Will we show up for anti-death penalty campaign? Will we show up for our migrant worker siblings? Will we show up for our HIV+ siblings?

We cannot just be Christian and not care for these things.

Recently, Angela created a Padlet and invited folks to write in support of the women asatizahs who were targets of being sexualised in on online poll. I am glad many of you wrote notes of support to show we care, and they are not alone. This is one way of showing up.

Liberation is intersectional – we are not truly free till all are free. Our liberation is dependent on each other’s liberation and not a zero-sum game where someone’s liberation comes at the cost of another’s liberation. We can only live into the reality of God’s kin-dom when we see this.

Instead of being focused on ourselves – our self-interest, self-concern, self-centeredness, selfishness, Jesus taught that the God’s kin-dom  is identified with concern for the other – justice, compassion, service, sharing, love. We are invited to show up to show compassion for the least among us – feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting those in prison, caring for the sick.

God’s kin-dom cannot come about through coercion, domination or violence. It can only come about when we have a change of heart and show up to work together to make it happen. Jesus invited us to participate in this transformation when he showed up.

Where do you see Jesus or the Church showing up?

Galations 3:28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female for all you are one in Christ Jesus.

Jesus showed up to break the binaries –

Human and divine, Life and death, Us and them, the personal and the political.

When Jesus said “Give to the Caesar the things that are the Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” Jesus wasn’t separating Church and State. He asked the people to bring him a denarius, and he asked “whose head is this, and whose title?” They replied “Caesar’s.” The image of Caesar is imprinted on the denarius – and so that is Caesar’s. But when he said give to God things that are God’s – what Jesus was saying is give to God things which God’s image is imprinted on.

And what is God’s image imprinted on? Us!

We are called to give ourselves to God – our whole selves!

Being Christian is not easy. It is costly. Discipleship is costly.

Jesus told his disciples “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 

Showing up is risking vulnerability. Showing up has a cost. That is what taking up our crosses mean. Showing up may mean facing shame, humiliation, crucifixion and death but we know God is with us, and we shall overcome.

Because to show up is to love.

Where do you feel God is prompting you to show up?

God, you showed up. You showed up in Jesus. You showed up in people who showed up, loving us, guiding us, teaching us. Open our eyes and show us those who need us to show up for them, and empower us to love them through our presence when we show up.

May we show up and allow you to incarnate in us as the body of Christ and taking on flesh again in this world.

CG Discussion Questions

  1. What does presence mean to you?
  2. What do you understand by Incarnation?
  3. Why do you think God needed to incarnate as Jesus?
  4. Would you share about the times you wished someone showed up for you?
  5. Would you share about the times that God showed up for you?
  6. What does showing up as a church mean to you?
  7. Would you share about the times that you wished you showed up?
  8. What do you think God is inviting you and FCC to show up for?