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Happy New Year! Thank you for joining us to start your new year – and I hope it has been a good Christmas season for you.
Today, instead of a reading – we are featuring the Christmas skit done by our children’s ministry.
While we often associate Christmas with a time of celebration and joy, a time of peace – Jesus’ story doesn’t start off that way. Immediately after his birth, he was identified as a threat to those in power, and had to flee to Egypt with Joseph and Mary and lived as a stranger in a foreign land, a refugee.
This Christmas season has been a mix of celebration and mourning as well –
Just this past week, Archbishop Desmond Tutu passed away. A champion for peace, justice and equality that is anchored in faith, we have lost another giant, another prophet. While we did not have the opportunity to meet him, his life’s work certainly impacted and continues to impact us.
“We are made for goodness. We are made for love. We are made for friendliness. We are made for togetherness. We are made for all of the beautiful things that you and I know. We are made to tell the world that there are no outsiders.”
As we begin 2022, we want to take some time to look back on the year that has passed, and then chart our way forward as we kick off a new sermon series Home is the Way.
<M> I would like to invite you to share how has 2021 been for you?
For me, 2021 has been a year marked by grief and loss.
In November, our friend, Rev Stephen Suleeman passed away. I got to know Stephen, through Rev Yap, when we went to Jakarta Theological Seminary for their LGBTQ Symposium in 2012.
He was an ally – fighting for justice and inclusion for LGBTIQ folks – Stephen understood the risks of being an LGBTIQ ally, yet he boldly embraced them and believed that he was emulating Jesus Christ in doing so.
Many of you may remember Stephen when we went to Taipei to participate in Amplify Conference in 2018. He was featured in one of the videos Amplify made – <<play video>>.
What few people know was that we had to arrange for a dialysis session for him in Taipei – Even as he wrestled with health issues, he continued to tirelessly work to care for the marginalised, to stand up for justice and to speak up on behalf of the voiceless. His commitment and dedication to inclusion of LGBTIQ persons in church make visible God’s love to many LGBTIQ persons, many who have been rejected by the churches we grew up in.
We remember these giants – as well as those we have lost this year – knowing that we will always be connected through God’s love. In the words of St. Paul in the letter to the Romans:
“For I am convinced
that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future,
nor any powers, neither height nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the love of God
that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Many of you have mentioned how isolated and disconnected 2021 has been. To be honest, I don’t think we have recovered from 2020. These 2 years has affected the way we live, work and play – some of us don’t want to hear the word “ZOOM” another time.
We have not been able to connect socially with friends and family, and we are only beginning to reconnect in recent months – especially for those who are separated from their families because of closed borders.
All these – grief, loss, separation and isolation – paint a gloomy picture. Yet, we are in the season of Christmas – the season of God with us, the season of hope, of new beginnings.
As we begin the new year, let us charts the way for a season of beginnings. The 2 years of restrictions have affected the way we live out our spirituality, the way we are community.
Our faith isn’t just a private relationship between us and God. Rabbi Evan Moffic writes in “What Every Christian Needs to Know About The Jewishness of Jesus”:
“Have you ever been in a big group of people, heard hundreds of voices singing the prayers, and felt a deep sense of connection to God? Some megachurches have this every week, but at my synagogue, we have to wait until the Jewish high holy days to gather more than a thousand. But when we do, something extraordinary happens.
The chorus of voices seems to lift us up closer to God. Our prayers resonate more loudly when we say them together. We can pray alone. We can say the Shema alone. Indeed, we are supposed to recite it every night before bed. Yet, Jewish tradition teaches that God seeks the prayer of a community.
A prayer quorum in Judaism – known as a minyan – requires ten adults. If ten people are not present, certain prayers are not said. This custom recognises that the power of faith is not simply found in the words we say to God. It is found in the community we build with one another.” – Rabbi Evan Moffic
That is why we are Free COMMUNITY Church. The power of faith is found also in the community we build with one another. We are certainly not a megachurch, but I certainly miss the times when we can sing out loud in worship!
While there is a lot of uncertainty around how 2022 will turn out, we are definitely opening up and reconnecting. As we reconnect, it is a good opportunity to revisit, reflect, remember the principles and values that shape this community called Free Community Church, FCC.
If you are attending in person, you would have realised that there are many faces you don’t recognise. Not only because we are all wearing masks, but also because in the past 2 years, we have new people join us. Some of the values we take for granted may be unfamiliar to them. And for some regulars, because we have been disconnected when we couldn’t be in community the way we have been for the past 2 years, we want to revisit and remember these values.
This is what Home is the Way is about.
<M> When I say “HOME” what comes to your mind? (word cloud)
How we understand “home” is shaped by our experiences and our contexts. Some of us bring those experiences and have certain expectations of how this “home” should be like. Sometimes there is an expectation for parental figures to discipline and punish those who do not follow adhere the rules or the values of this home.
When we talk about the values of this home, we must keep in mind that we are a home centered on God. How we operate then, flows from our understanding of the character of God. First and foremost, God is love.
“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” 1 John 4:7-8
So this home is relational. We try to put relationships front and center, and yet, admittedly, we often fail. We often revert to how we were brought up, how deeply influenced by the culture around us – culture that is focused not on relationships, but on tasks, performance, achievements, egos. So often we are caught up doing church rather than being church.
Love, therefore, drives all that we do here in this home. We hope that we can make FCC a safe space for everyone. Jesus told the parable of the lost son (or the prodigal son) and we immediately identify the father in the parable with God. We want to model ourselves after this home – we want to be the family where even the older sibling runs out to embrace the sibling who was once lost.
But it is not easy to love. It is not only difficult but also messy. Because life is messy.
This is where the word “covenantal” comes in. Home is covenantal.
It is not something we talk a lot about FCC – because many of us are afraid of commitment.
<M> Why are you afraid of making commitments?
Fear that I am not enough, Fear that I am not able to live up to them, fear that I will fail.
But that is not the right way of seeing a covenant.
The way the world sees commitment is through a transactional lens – the commitment is a contract. If you break the contract, you will be punished. The basis of a contract is distrust – that’s why a contract is needed. It assumes that the parties involved are not to be trusted.
But the way we should see commitment here – is through a relational lens – the commitment is a covenant. The basis of a covenant is trust – it is based on the trustworthiness and character of the parties involved.
We will explore more about covenants through this sermon series – because it is a fundamental requirement for us being a community that is loving, that is a safe space, that is relational, that is healthy.
Finally, “Home is the way” highlights one key aspect of FCC – Being comfortable with uncertainty. When home is the way, home is no longer something that is rigid, fixed, certain. The way is not something that remains the same. The way changes. The way is uncertain. The way will surprise us – sometimes in good ways, sometimes in not-so-good ways.
I came across this tweet recently – Christianity should feel like “my love for others continues to deepen”, not “my beliefs are more correct than anyone else’s.”
It is far more comforting to be certain about things – that is why people open argue so much about theological and religious beliefs. But the point of Christianity is not about being right! The point of Christianity is about being loving.
I came across this post just this morning “The Nicene Creed does not offer one word of hope for liberation of the poor and oppressed in this life. Empire approved Christianity directs all hope for liberation to life after death.”
When we really read the Bible – and we see that throughout the Bible, God is concerned with the well-being of the poor, powerless and oppressed of society. In Mary’s Magnificat in the Gospel according to Luke, always part of the readings for the season of Advent, Mary proclaims:
“God has shown strength with God’s arm;
God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
God has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.”
The “preferential option for the poor” refers to a trend throughout the Bible, of preference being given to the well-being of the poor and powerless of society in the teachings and commands of God as well as the prophets and other righteous people. Jesus taught that on the Day of Judgment, God will ask what each person did to help the poor and needy: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”
Jesus taught “upon these 2 commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:40) And what are these 2 commandments? “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. “This is the first and great commandment. The second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-39)
Rev Chuck McQueen – “God cannot be found “out there” in a set of religious beliefs. That is not how God makes God’s self known. God can only be found “in here,” in our most loving, caring, compassionate, best Self (capital S because that is where God is). People resist this because the journey within is fraught with danger and many unknowns.
And yet it is the only path to true liberation where we can become who we already are. Those who push religious beliefs knowing nothing of this journey (that is, knowing nothing of God) do more damage and harm than good. Pushing beliefs without awareness of what God is really like is not just a waste of time, it is the worst use of time.”
James F. McGrath –professor of Religion at Butler University shares:
“One member of the class mentioned feeling frustrated at not always having good responses for a friend who is conservative and likes debating theology. I said that, even if I could run circles around the friend theologically, doing that would in and of itself be counterproductive. I would much rather ask the friend in question why they are persuaded that being a Christian is about being right.
This cartoon that recently appeared on a mostly random blog illustrates the point:
What I took from this cartoon, in light of our recent Sunday school discussion, is that one will always lose if one allows the framework provided by one’s opponent to define the rules of interaction. If might is defined by soldiers, then the person with a pen will lose. But the whole meaning of “The pen is mightier than the sword” is not that the pen will win against the sword on the sword’s terms, but that the nature of might itself must be reconsidered.
If we allow conservatives to define the terms of interaction, then some of us may be able to outdo their theological acrobatics and their prooftexting. But actually playing that game is already surrendering what is most important to us: the belief that being right, having all the answers, is not what matters most.
I disagree with inerrancy because it doesn’t fit what we actually find in the Bible. But that isn’t the only reason. It is also a highly toxic teaching, in my opinion. Inerrancy is really about being able to say “I know I’m right.” An allegedly inerrant text, which one is confident one has interpreted correctly, allows one to avoid learning, to sidestep challenging conversations, and to practice an arrogance and pride that are ironically at odds with key teachings of that allegedly inerrant text.”
What we really need – if we are to be spiritually growing – is to have humility to constantly learn, to engage in difficult conversations, to change our perspectives when we find them lacking – especially when they are lacking in love.
So I invite you on this journey, this sermon arc – Home is the way – as we explore the values and principles core to who we are, who we want to be.
One thing central to every home – is the table where the family gathers to eat.
At FCC, we celebrate communion at this table every Sunday.
Some of you wonder why we do communion the way we do?
Why every Sunday? Some churches do it once a month. Why do we celebrate an open table?
I want to take this opportunity to tell our story.
Have you attended a church service before, and requested – politely – that you do not partake in communion? How did you feel?
Of course we understand each church has a different understanding of communion, based on their theology and interpretation of scripture. I am not here to say that they are wrong, and we are right.
Rather, I want to tell you why we do communion the way we do. We do it because we are less concerned about being right, and more concerned about being loving.
We cannot welcome someone home, and invite them here, and at the most important part of the service – we tell them that they are not welcome. I think it is like inviting someone over to our home, and then tell them they cannot join us for dinner.
FCC started as a community made up of mostly lesbian women and gay men. Some of us were denied communion when we came out – and our understanding of communion is that Jesus is the host of this table, we are just facilitating this occasion. All are invited to this feast. All are equally beloved, All are loved, and no one is turned away.
Do you remember the last supper, the first communion? Where they all gathered with Jesus in the upper room? Even Judas, the one who would betray Jesus, was fed at that table.
So we gather today, to remember.
“Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for[ you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
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