7 May 2023
This morning we continue our sermon series “Fully Alive!”
For those who are new to us, we use menti as a way to engage and reflect and build the sermon together. You can scan the QR code or go to the URL fcc.li/menti so you participate.
Last week, Pauline talked about Be-longing. She said
“To come fully alive, we need to know WHO we are and WHOSE we are.
BE-longing is made up of two components: BE (our identity) and our longings.”
She shared her reflections on Psalm 23: Being Before Doing.
The points of action lie with God the Shepherd. We are called to just BE.
“But our spiritual lives do not just stop with Being. It is about getting the order and priorities right first. We need to first BE and then we DO.”
Let me start by asking – how applicable is this statement to you?
“I often don’t trust people, so I end up doing things myself.”
I will share from my experience – i often handle things myself because I have trust issues. The only person I trust is myself. So I end up not asking for help, not relying on other people, because there is a part of me that thinks trusting people only lead to disappointment.
Trust requires us to let go, and rely on someone else.
Faith requires us to let go, and trust God.
That means we learn to rely on God.
The title of today’s sermon is Be-living – it is a play of words, building on Pauline’s sermon last week.
The late theologian Marcus Borg, who really laid the foundations for me in being a progressive Christian in the early 2000s through his books (Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, The Heart of Christianity) said –
“For me, to believe a set of statements is impossible,” Borg says. What is possible, he argues, is to “belove” Jesus and walk in his path.
“For the past 300 years,” Borg says, “faith was a matter of believing a list of beliefs about Jesus. The list varied among Christians — that Jesus was the son of God, that he was born of a virgin, that the tomb was empty on Easter morning.
“But in the pre-modern world, before about 1600, the object of belief was never a statement,” he says. “It was always a person. To believe meant to belove a person.
“To belove Jesus means more than simply loving Jesus. It means to love what Jesus loved. That is at the heart of Christianity. The language of “believing” has been part of Christianity from the first century onward. But it didn’t refer primarily to believing the right theological beliefs. It meant something like the English word “beloving.” To believe in God and Jesus was to belove God and Jesus. Namely, it meant to commit one’s self to a relationship of attentiveness and faithfulness. Commitment and fidelity are the ancient meanings of faith and believing.
Marcus Borg writes
“Even the two most frequently heard Christian creeds, the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed, reflect this understanding. They both begin with the Latin word credo, most commonly translated into English as “I believe.” But the Latin roots of credo mean “I give my heart to.” Of course, both creeds include a list of central Christian convictions. But saying the creed does not mean, “I believe the following affirmations to be literally true.” Rather, it means “I give my heart to God” – and who’s that? The creator of heaven and earth, of all that is. “I give my heart to Jesus – and who’s that? The one we say these things about.
Moreover, believing as “believing the right things” does not intrinsically lead to a changed life. It is possible to have strongly-held beliefs, even more or less right beliefs, and still be unchanged: fearful, self-preoccupied and self-concerned, angry, judgmental, mean, even brutal and violent. Christian history and the history of other religions are filled with examples. Believing has little transformative power.
But Christianity is not about “right beliefs.” It is about a change of heart. It is about the transformation of ourselves at that deep level that shapes our vision (how we see), our commitment (our loyalty, allegiance), and our values (how we live).”
Where have you seen “believing the right things” not lead to transformation?
I want to suggest that “believing the right things” doesn’t lead to transformation because it is still not trusting God – because it is still about us DOING. Because believing the right things is not the same as believing in God and Jesus.
And because we are still “doing,” we are not trusting God, not surrendering and not letting go. We are still relying on ourselves, and not having faith. When we are focused on “believing the right things,” we are not transformed, and we are still “fearful, self-preoccupied, angry, judgemental” because deep down there is still a lack of trust. Deep down there is still a fear that God will punish us for believing the wrong things. Deep down there is a lack of faith. Deep down there is not trust or faith that God loves us, and we are God’s beloved.
We are still not “fully alive.” We are not be-living
Isn’t it ironic? That “believing the right things” reveal a lack of faith?
Of course, we will have doubts. Of course, trust requires time to build up. Many of us have bad experiences that led us to struggle trusting people. I do. Some of you know that I have going for therapy and I have discovered how childhood experiences have affected me. I only came to that realisation when I read “What Happened to You” by Oprah Winfrey and Bruce D. Perry.
“Our earliest experiences shape our lives far down the road, and What Happened to You? provides powerful scientific and emotional insights into the behavioural patterns so many of us struggle to understand.”
In the introduction, Oprah Winfrey described her experiences of corporal punishment as a child.
“Stop your crying,” she would warn. “You better hush your mouth.” My face settled into stoic. My heart stopped racing. Biting hard into my lower lip so no words would escape me. “I do this because I love you,” she’d repeat her defense in my ear. As a young girl, I was “whupped” regularly. At the time, it was accepted practice for caregivers to use corporal punishment to discipline a child. My grandmother, Hattie Mae, embraced it. But even at three years old, I knew that what I was experiencing was wrong. One of the worst beatings I recall happened on a Sunday morning….
In the rural South, this is how black children were raised. There wasn’t anyone I knew who wasn’t whupped. I was beaten for the slightest reasons. Spilled water, a broken glass, the inability to keep quiet or still.”
After reading that introduction, I had to put the book down for three days before going back to reading it. Because I had similar experiences as a child. I think many of us in my generation were caned when we were children. I thought little of it. But now I know that is not love, no matter what Oprah’s grandmother said. I know that is not love, because I know what is love through my experience of God. God’s love isn’t one that will hurt or harm us.
Through therapy I come to learn that I have experienced pain from the very people who are supposed to be the ones closest to me, the ones who loved me the most in the world. These experiences then taught me not to trust anyone – the only person I can trust is myself.
I think that many of us have similar experiences – and this inability to trust also affects our ability to trust God. And this leads to faith becoming “believing the right things” instead of to know WHO we are and WHOSE we are.
My faith journey, my experience of God, of knowing who I am and whose I am has helped me heal the wounds of the past, and learning to trust all over again.
And that faith journey began with
“To believe meant to belove a person.
“To belove Jesus means more than simply loving Jesus. It means to love what Jesus loved. That is at the heart of Christianity.”
Of course, there are some who keep saying I am misleading the flock. There are some who call me a false prophet.
Well, Jesus talked about this (Matthew 7:15-20)
A Tree and Its Fruit
15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns or figs from thistles? 17 In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will know them by their fruits.
What fruits do we bear?
So what fruits do we bear? Because “But our spiritual lives do not just stop with Being. It is about getting the order and priorities right first. We need to first BE and then we DO.”
What do we do?
In March 2014, Mark sent me a concept paper for Dirty Hands.
Here is a quick, non-exhaustive listing of outreach efforts done since the Safehaven days:
• Painting/cleaning one-room rental flats at Toa Payoh e.g. SPACES Pelangi Project
• LGBT Events – co-organizing Indignation events, Community fairs (@ the old Mox), Pink Dot
• Sista Magdeline / Project X – befriending and support services for sex workers
• HOPE concert – fundraiser concert for HIV medication fund & funds for AfA
• HIV Medication Fund – for those who need financial support for HIV medication
• ‘Stonewalled’ album production – songs to be distributed to affirming churches in Asia
• Migrant Workers – TWC2 Annual luncheon, Christian Service invitations, etc.
• Charity Café – International Transgender Day, World AIDS Day.
• Small-Scale Visits to the homes of the elderly e.g. Kyn + Space + Junior
• Christmas gifting to people in the Geylang area e.g. Plush
• Adopting an Elderly for regular visits e.g. New Wineskins (the Safehaven one)
• Activities at Nursing homes: e.g. Mooncake-making for the elderly organised by Sanctuary
Mark identified issues:
- It demands very little commitment from those involved which means that it cannot really serve as a spiritual practice as that requires a disciplined, sustained involved.
- It also has very limited impact in creating any real change in the communities (conditions of oppression) we serve or within our own congregation for that matter
- We aren’t challenge to reflect on ourselves, critique and feed forward on what more needs to be done. We pat ourselves on the back for a job well done and move on.
Outreach efforts must be accompanied by explicit theological reflection to ensure we seize all the teachable moments where people learn how to articulate a connection between what they do and what we believe in.
Mark suggested we bring together both the left hand (advocacy, fighting for change of the conditions) and the right hand (alleviating, helping people directly)
Over the years we have moved towards what Mark suggested, putting together both right hand and left hand activities in what we do, connecting what we do with our faith through reflection, and inviting people to be more involved in a sustained way as a spiritual practice – from being to doing.
– we have adopted several elderly folks here in Commonwealth – I am really grateful for the volunteers who maintain in contact with them, even through the difficult Covid period.
We have adopted 2 wards in IMH – and I saw how Mark invited volunteers to reflect on their experiences after their visits to IMH.
And we have T-mart. And I want to invite Kyn, one of the leaders driving the project to share her experience.
T-Delivery Sharing – How it started
- T-Delivery was started in 2018. Together with June we ventured into delivering rations to the beneficiaries to test response. We wanted to see if this idea work and we have not looked back since.
- Back then the process was:
a) FCC manually purchased the ration and have them delivered to T-Shelter @ Geylang
b) T-Shelter will do the packing for collection and delivery to the beneficiaries
- Then 2020 COVID struck and T-Mart needed to adapt fast. The best and safest solution was to go online and a web “buying” inventory tracking solution was created.
This helped streamline FCC’s purchasing and stock checking process.
a) T-Shelter moved and no longer has an office location for storage and packing
b) Same time, June’s (the founder of T-Project) mum fell ill and she needed time off to look after her. So she asked if FCC could step in and take over the whole pack and deliver process
- Spoke to Miak about it. He was open and happy to take over! He said this was part of his vision for the church. Thanks Miak!
[Slide #1 – show slide of the our first delivery]
- So FCC took over the pack and deliver process in early 2022 and this was our first delivery!
- By God’s grace, T-Delivery has been blessed with the many willing hearts of our sisters and brothers serving and contributing to this initiative. Their commitment and love, time and perspiration laid and build the foundation of this initiative. We even have trolley sponsors! Big thank you to all our volunteers, donors and supporters!
[Slide #02 – show slide of the names of the volunteers]
- In 2023, we hope to reach out beyond the Trans community, planning and praying in progress. And if you know anyone within the LGBTIQ community who may need our ration, do let the pastors know so we can reach out to them.
Miak asked me to share on what I’ve learned and experience. Here goes:
Over the years, I actually saw a transformational change in some of these beneficiaries. When I first met them, they looked down and defeated. Over the years their energy slowly transformed. Now when I meet them they look happy and hopeful. For most, our love and donations rekindled their sense of worth in life.
— Start beneficiary story —
Recently, one of our beneficiaries passed away .
[Slide #03 – Road scenery]
During one of the deliveries, she shared when she was homeless, her sister found her and provided a roof over her head in her government rental flat.
All those years she felt helpless and indebted to her sister. Because of an accident, she was not able to work and contribute to the household. She shared she was hopeful and proud that she was able to contribute and bring food to the table with the grocery donations she received. She was able to hold her head up in the family again.
At the last delivery, she was already hospitalized. One of our volunteers, Liwen, updated and we immediately informed June who followed up thereafter. Unfortunately her condition worsened and when the beneficiary passed on, June updated us.
For condolence money, we collected $210. $100 from the church and $110 amongst the volunteers in the ministry (non-obligatory). Brought the money to her sister and spoke to her for a bit.
When I was with her, she talked about the late beneficiary. Then I asked about the food ration and she shared how much it has helped the family. Spoke to Miak about her situation and the church will continue delivering the rations to her. God bless FCC!
— End story —
Last week Pauline asked, “What gives you meaning and purpose?”
Serving God gives me meaning and purpose, obedience to God gives me life. Every decision I make,
God needs to filter first.
End of 2021, I was thinking of taking a break from delivery. Prayed about it and while waiting for
God’s confirmation, June asked if FCC could take over. In my heart I was thinking, “God, what a
perfect answer. You win!”
Initially I thought to try it out and see how it goes. By God’s amazing grace and provident, T-Mart
grew and tripled in size! The response was beyond expectation. So much love in this church!
Disclaimer: This is all God not me. I cannot control or move people’s hearts to serve. Only HS can.
This is God’s Ministry.
Pauline also said, “To come fully alive, we need to know WHO we are and WHOSE we are.”
I know who I am. I am a beloved child of God and the Lord is my Shepherd. And I know if I listen to
his voice and follow his teachings I will be on the right path.
My ministry lesson is, “We can only see Jesus if we see Jesus in everyone”.
“For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to
drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited
Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.” Matthew 25:35–36
We bless because we have been blessed.
We love because we have been loved.
Thank you and Shalom!
Thank you Kyn, and thank you all the donors and volunteers with T-Mart.
Our spiritual lives do not just stop with Being. It is about getting the order and priorities right first. We need to first BE and then we DO.”
When we do, we are be-living.
“To believe meant to belove a person.
“To belove Jesus means more than simply loving Jesus. It means to love what Jesus loved. That is at the heart of Christianity.”
What we do, naturally follows from who we are.
And when we be-live, we belove Christ. We love what Jesus loved. We love others like how Jesus loved. And in doing so we, and those we love, become fully alive in the process.
Believe, belove and be fully alive.
Those of you who are sharp-eyed would notice that the symbol for this sermon arc (and the background image) is a bowl restored by kintsugi.
That’s how we understand our faith and our journey and next week I would share about how kintsugi is a metaphor for our faith.