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2015 has been quite a tumultuous year in the world, with the security issues faced by government worldwide against the various terrorist groups; the refugee migration issues, highlighting the realities that there are tens of thousands upon thousands of people escaping war and persecution. Countries are reacting to this situation by flip flopping between closing their borders and turning away all refugees, or opening up their country and placing a limit of people they are able to take in as they have to balance the needs of their own citizens and being humanistic in their approach. The photo of 3 year old Syrian refugee Aylan Kurdi washed ashore in Turkey shone a spotlight on this issue for many countries.
For Singapore, it is also quite an eventful year, with us celebrating SG50 (50 years of independence), and mourning the death of our first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. We just had a watershed election, and the haze has enveloped us again like an unwelcome friend coming back to visit. As we are approaching the last quarter of 2015, my mood and spiritual life has also been in a doldrums, especially after the election result.
So what reflection am I able to share with you from the pulpit today given my not so healthy spiritual state of mind? We are continuing to chapter 4 on the book study on We Make the Road by Walking (WMTRBW) authored by Brian McLaren.
One of the bible passage references for this chapter is Genesis chapter 3, verses 1-13, aptly titled as “The Fall”
1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,
3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman.
5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
9 But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”
12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
This is the beginning of the fall of humanity, where Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden. Where no one takes responsibility and each one blames another instead of themselves. Please let me place a disclaimer that I do not take this passage as the literal truth.
Therefore this passage does not give us the license to blame all bad things that happened in the world and trace it back to this one instance of Adam and Eve eating a fruit off a tree.
In WMTRBW chapter 4, Brian McLaren speaks on how we are created in god’s image, and that we should desire to reflect this image of god in us, by imitating god’s good desires to create and bless and give life. And not give in to our own desires to want what others have, to compete and consume, to judge, or even to harm others. On one end of the balance, is all the good desires attributed to god, and on the other end, the bad desires attributed to our human selves.
Though this chapter is entitled “the drama of desire”, I prefer to rename it the art of imitation. There are two layers of meaning to the word imitate, one is to copy and mimic, just like how little children copy the mannerisms or repeat words they hear from their caretakers or from what they watch on TV, and the other is to emulate and follow as a model, not just on the outside, but as a form of living out who we are called to be. In the bible, the word imitate is always used in exhortations, and always in the continuous tense, suggesting a constant habit or practice.
To imitate is not to pretend to be someone whom we are not. We do not have to put on a mask, and pretend to be fine when we are not. Or pretend to be happy when we are sad. We do not have to pretend to be friendly, while complaining about each other behind their backs. Nor do we need to pretend to be straight, when we are not. Sometimes in church, we also play a game of pretense. We pretend that god is always close to us though we may not have been feeling
him/her in our lives for a while. We pretend that god’s desires is always aligned with ours, after all, god only wants what is the best for us right? And we pretend that we are already doing our best for god, just by being in church, in ministries, in cell, and giving of our time, effort and money which we can spare to help out the less fortunate. It is easy to play pretend, because we think by pretending, our real selves will not be discovered, and whomever we are pretending for would then accept us. We think that the people, and maybe even god, will be fooled by us, if
we are able to keep up with our pretense long enough. But the only person we are fooling is ourselves. And one day, we may even no longer know who is the real us.
If on one hand, we are not to imitate by pretending to be someone whom we are not, then how do we imitate god, especially, speaking for myself, when I am not godly. To imitate god, is to choose to follow the example of Jesus. In
Philippians chapter 2 verses 3 to 11 (Imitating Christ’s humility).
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
What is the price?
In Singapore, where we are free to practice our own religion, there is little to no possibility of us being persecuted to our deaths for our faith. I pose you a question: have you asked yourselves what is the price you are willing to pay to follow Christ? It is not just proclaiming Christ as our lord and savior, having our sins forgiven and written off, and everything is hunky dory from then on. We are called to imitate Christ, to emulate his love for one and all (even for those whom we find difficult to love). To be humble, not placing ourselves above others, for all of us are god’s beloved children. To be kind, not only to those who are kind to us, but also to those who are unkind to us. To be patient, when we are squeezing with others on the trains and buses, or stuck on the road in a traffic jam. To be generous, to those who have less than us, and not only when we enough for ourselves and have excess to give. To be faithful, to stick with each other through the good times and bad, and not give up on the first sign of trouble. This is not calling us to pretend to be all these, but asking us to be all these, by following in his example, and continuously make the choice to be Christ like in our lives.
This is not an easy path to take, for even the disciples of Jesus, though they walk with him daily, were also arguing about who will be the greatest among them. (Mark 9: 30—37) It is not easy for us to keep on making the choice to be Christ like, especially when we are beaten down by life’s worries, with trials and tribulations thrown our way time and again, or when we feel like we are just banging our heads against the walls and nothing changes, and we are too tired to carry on. This is how I felt when I go online and read all the complaints about our governing political party, and then the election results slaps me in the face, and I begin to question whether as a minority, would I ever witness a change for the better. This is how I feel when I am in FCC, and seeing people come and go through
the years. They leave when they have gotten what they need out of this space (or perhaps they have outgrown us), or they leave because we are not able to give them what they want. As long as this place continues to exist, there is no need for them to commit themselves to FCC as we will be welcoming regardless and not stop anyone from coming in through the door. After all, there are more important things in life and more exciting happenings outside of these four walls.
I feel that no matter what we do, we are doing things in vain and nothing ever changes. Things may not have gotten any worse in the past decade, but I certainly do not have the confidence to say that things have gotten better either.
Nor will I be able to hope that things will get better in the future.
The irony of this is that Adam and Eve were banished because they wanted to be like God, and now, my entire sharing is exhorting us to be like Christ. Sometimes, I think God has the darkest sense of humor. So, why bother? Why
continue to make the choice to follow Jesus? Can we choose not to follow, the answer is YES, and you can choose to do nothing. It sounds like a whole lot of work, and a hassle to consider Christ in all that we do. Each of us have a choice, some of us makes the choices because of obligations and sense of responsibility, some of us make the choices because we genuinely believe in what we are choosing to do, and that it is all worth it.
I choose to make the choice to follow Jesus, not because this is what Christians professed to believe, nor because this is what we are called to do so in the bible. But because in my heart, this is a faith that I am willing to defend with all that I have, to understand that the ability for me to make a choice is something that is precious, and holding on to the hope that in times to come, the choices that I choose to make, will indeed be the small sparks to make life a better one, not only for myself, but for others around me. When you have something to protect, you
will find the strength to carry on. Maybe some of us have not found our faith worth protecting yet, for we can find a newer, shinier version of religion on sale round the corner. Or we are still protecting our worldly desires (maybe protecting our face 面子 mianzi, protecting our social status, our bank accounts, protecting our physiques), but I hope that as we continue to journey, we will one day, indeed be able to call ourselves real imitators of Christ.
I have to say that I like the title of this book, We Make The Road By Walking. Our journey does not end till we take our very last breath. If you are tired, and need to rest by the side of the road, it is all right. If you are still on your first wind, or caught your second, third or fourth wind and raring to go, it is all right. If you went on a detour, distracted by what is around you, or disillusioned by what you see happening in the world, it is all right. There are indeed different seasons in our lives where we may be on different parts of the road, but I hope that we will be able to meet with each other at the end of the journey.