How are you all feeling today?
I will be honest with you – I have not been at my best for a while.
News of fires that ravage rainforests all the world – not just the Amazon, but also in Africa and Asia, news of inhumane treatment of people who are different, news of a world slipping into spiral of despair.
Some of you may be anxious about what is going on in your own life. Very often, the more we know, the more we realise how little we do know, and how little control or impact we can have.
And it is times like this we gather. We gather to discern, we gather to remember, we gather in faith.
This week’s lectionary passage from Hebrews 13
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
13:1 Let mutual love continue.
13:2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
13:3 Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.
13:4 Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers.
13:5 Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for God has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”
13:6 So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”
13:7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
13:8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
13:15 Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess God’s name.
13:16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
The Apostle Paul quotes from the Book of Joshua – God saying to Joshua “I will never leave you or forsake you.” Is it something we believe in – that God will never leave us or forsake us? In our trials, in times of little hope, do we believe that God would not forsake us?
If Jesus, at the moment of deepest despair and hopelessness, shouted out Eli, Eli lama Sabachthani (My God, My God why have you forsaken me?) (Matt 27:46), then we should not beat ourselves up when we doubt. The point is not to remain in despair, but to move from despair to hope, from doubt to faith.
Are we able to say confidently – “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” Paul was addressing the audience of this Epistle to the Hebrews who were facing trials and persecution.
Persecution may be a stretch to describe what we may be facing, but the reality is that there are anxieties and fears that weigh us down. The future looks bleak. The fate of the world looks uncertain.
I sat down in reflection this week, trying to wrap my mind about what was going on. I felt as though all I was going nowhere. The world is at a worse place now than when I started on journey to answer my call. I thought that have not made a dent.
In a conversation with one of the new parents in our community, I said, “I am concerned with what is happening globally. Almost feels like we are helpless, and we are leaving a future that is bleak for the generations to come.”
The reply was the one that gave me hope – gave me the confidence to say “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.”
“I think it’s hard to spend much time paying attention to the news without getting sad, angry, frustrated and/or fearful. Part of this is by design: those feelings are easier to sell.
It’s also hard to determine where the line is between sticking one’s head in the sand and paying attention but being overwhelmed by the outside world. I try to accept that there’s a lot I disagree with, but instead of getting angry and spending all my emotional energy there, I just try to do what I can in my little sphere to make the world a tiny bit better. Or at minimum not worse.
Knowing I have a safe community I can rely on and seek shelter from is very important to me. Such a community also reinstalls my faith in humanity.
Ultimately if we’re doing Christ’s work we don’t need to worry about what’s happening in the outside world. God takes care of that. And Christ’s work is pretty simple, especially in a world that is still in pain: providing to those in need, the downtrodden, those rejected by society.
Which you do.”
I won’t go as far as to say we don’t worry about what is happening in the outside world because that can make us an insular community. We need to be aware of what is going on in the world so we can be open to God’s invitation to participate in Christ’s work.
We are involved in many ways in the community. We have been providing provisions to T-project, the transgender women shelter through our T-mart ministry; we have adopted 2 wards in the Institute of Mental Health and we visit them monthly; we have volunteers who teach English to domestic workers.
We have been participating in Christ’s work. We may not do it perfectly. We may wander off and get distracted, but we have been doing Christ’s work.
Next week, we would be holding our EOGM to decide whether to put this property up for sale. There are many questions that will spring up – just like it did for me when it was first proposed. I hope in the past couple of months, we have addressed these questions with you. If you do still have questions, please do step forward and speak to a member of the board, or approach Pauline or myself. Even if you are not a registered member of FCC, which means you don’t get to vote on the decision, we are still happy to answer your questions.
This decision isn’t just about making a decision about 1 Commonwealth, but also about who are called to be as a community.
One of my first question was “where are we going to worship then?” We are privileged to have a space here that is near the MRT, and while not perfect, has become home for us.
While this is not Brexit – it is still a major decision for us. We don’t have an ugly divide across folks who want to sell, and folks who want to remain. We all desire to make this decision wisely and as a community.
This is not only about having a place to worship. Too often we just quote Hebrews 13:15 about continually offering a sacrifice of praise to God without any mention of the following verse – “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”
Worship isn’t the only thing God requires of us – indeed the in Isaiah 58, it is declared
“Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
2 For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?
You will be familiar with the rest of Isaiah 58 because we use these verses in one of our communion liturgies.
6 Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator[a] shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and the Lord will say, Here I am.
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10 if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.
13 If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,
from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
if you call the sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs;[b]
14 then you shall take delight in the Lord,
and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
What is a yoke – what are today’s yoke?
An unjust burden on people. Injustice, inequality, oppression.
nobody is free until all are free.
Whatever the decision made next week – whether we sell, or we remain – our call remains the same. We need to keep that in mind as we discern and decide.
We need to remember the Lord is our helper and not be afraid. We cannot allow fear to dictate how we decide.
We gather every Sunday to worship. We gather to remember, we gather in faith.
If we are faithful and seek out God’s ways, and God’s will, and not our own, If we put Christ at the heart of our lives, at the heart of our community, then love, justice, compassion, will be central to our work. And we shall step out in faith – “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.”
We know that when we call, the Lord will answer; we shall cry for help, and the Lord will say, Here I am.