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Pilgrimage – What kind of legacy will you leave behind?

Date: 17/11/2019/Speaker: Ps Pauline Ong

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John 15:5-17, Matthew 25:31-45

As we continue on this pilgrimage series, there is an important question I feel I need to ask you. As we mature in age and in our spiritual walk, one vital question that would cross our minds is: what kind of legacy will I leave behind? What kind of difference would I have made to leave the world a better place? As cliched as this may sound, I think it is an important question that all of us as human beings should ask. We don’t want to be on our deathbeds, regretting that we didn’t live more intentionally and meaningfully. So we need to start thinking about it intentionally now in the present. And if there are adjustments to be made, we should work on them sooner rather than later. This series is meant to invite us to live intentionally, thoughtfully, consciously, because an unconscious life is not one that is well lived.

For many of us, we want to leave enough materially for our children, our family and loved ones to live a relatively comfortable life, where they don’t have to worry about food or a roof over their heads. But beyond the material, what kind of legacy do you want to leave behind?

Especially as Christians, as followers of Christ, what kind of lives are we called to live? Jesus tells us very clearly in John 15.

John 15:5-17
“I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples.
9-10 “I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love.
11-15 “I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.
16 “You didn’t choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won’t spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you.
17 “But remember the root command: Love one another.

The Old Testament often used the imagery of a vineyard to describe the relationship of the Jewish people with God. The gospels also compared God’s commonwealth or kingdom to a vineyard whose owner hires laborers to tend to it. And Jesus also uses the vineyard as his metaphor where he says he is the vine and we are the branches. Jesus is basically saying, “I am the vine. Lean on me. Draw from me. I will be the source of everything you need to live this life meaningfully. Make your home in me as I make mine in you.”

What kind of lives are we called to live? According to Jesus:

1. Remain intimately loved by God
2. Stay closely joined to Jesus
3. Love others as we have been loved
4. Put our lives on the line for our friends
5. Bear good fruit

Out of these 5 points, how many can you honestly say you are consciously living out in your life right now? Since we are on the pilgrimage series, let me ask you, what kind of travel companion are you? I’m sure many of us have stories about people we have found difficult to travel with.  But as fellow pilgrims, what kind of travel companion would someone say you are? Are you kind, thoughtful, compassionate, willing to go the second mile? Are you someone who stays intimately loved by God and closely joined to Jesus…someone who loves others as you have been loved…someone who’s willing to put your life on the line for your friends? Are you someone who’s bearing good fruit?

I am asking you these questions not because I’m already doing all this in my own life. In fact, I’m not sure how often I bear good fruit and I definitely struggle with being able to truly lay down my life for others. I’m asking us these questions because while these concepts are not new ideas to us but the challenge is real. And it is in really living them out. How are we doing in these areas of our lives? As we progress on our spiritual journeys, are we also progressing in love?

As we seek to grow spiritually, Jesus is inviting us…perhaps even commanding us to challenge the limits of our love. It is no longer about just loving those who love us or loving those who are within our own community. Jesus is asking us to expand and stretch our imagination and our hearts. That’s what spiritual growth is. It’s expanding our circle of who journeys with us on this pilgrimage.

When I think about leaving a legacy, I am thinking how will I leave this world a better place? So what does a better world look like to you? What does a better world look like to God? Truly loving people means we need to pray and discern so we can learn what a better work looks like to God. And as we grow in our understanding of what a better world looks like to God, we can align our idea of a better world to God’s idea of a better world. So what do you think Jesus’ idea of a better world is? Matthew 25 contains a passage where Jesus makes very clear what to him is a better world.

Matthew 25:31-45
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,[g] you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

This is one of the most challenging and in-your-face passages of Scripture in the gospels. Before this passage, Jesus was telling his listeners parables – the parable of the talents and the parable of the ten bridesmaids. But this passage is very different from a parable. It is one of the rare times Jesus is telling the people who had gathered to listen something very directly and in-your-face. And it’s quite harsh. He says the Son of Man will sit on a throne and all the nations will be gathered before him. It’s interesting that the gospel writer doesn’t say this is a gathering limited to Christians or Jews only. He declared that people of all nations are gathered before Christ.

And these people are puzzled as they ask Christ, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”

And Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,[g] you did it to me.” I just love that! “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family…” Jesus made it very clear that the least of these are the members of his family, and because we are all children of God, the “least of these” are our family members too. Who are the least of these? The “least of these” are not people who are the least important. We know undoubtedly that every person is equally important to God. The “least of these” are people who seem to matter the least in our society or are forgotten by our world…people who matter the least to you..people who have the least impact on your life. But what Jesus is reminding us is that they are members of his family and by association, they are members of our family too.

Jesus said, “I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love…Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends.” (John 15:9,12)

We are loved beyond our comprehension. We are saved by grace. Unconditional. Undeserved. Unlimited. Overflowing. Absolute welcome into the kingdom and God’s family. And that is the same love and welcome we are called to extend to the least of these.

This picture of Christ separating the sheep from the goats ought to get under our skin and compel us to consider the direction of our lives and how that aligns with our faith. And not just the direction of our individual lives, but our lives together as the Body of Christ. Are we – this community of faith called FCC – living up to what Jesus has commanded us to do? Are we serving people in need? Are we showing hospitality to strangers? Are we taking care of the least of these as though they are members of Christ’s family?

When we say “taking care of”, we need to recognize that our task is to go beyond a simple act of charity for “the least of these.” We are called to ask questions of why they are hungry, why they have no clothes, why they cannot afford to pay their bills, why are they being ostracized, why they are have no one visiting them.

To be able to consider those questions, we must have a relationship where we have built trust and understanding of a person’s situation. We cannot just sit in the church and draw conclusions about why they are doing what they are doing. We cannot just donate money and not get involved in a personal way. We are called to get involved in people’s lives.

We don’t have to go far to do this. Today during worship and prayer, we observed Transgender Day of Remembrance. How many of you are good friends with someone who’s transgender or gender queer, and you understand the challenges that they face? We have quite a number of siblings here at FCC who identify as transgender or gender queer, and we should take the opportunity to get involved in each others’ lives and understand each others’ journeys better. And there are many other groups of people too. Remember earlier we said the “least of these” are people who seem to matter the least in our society or are forgotten in our world…people who matter the least to you..people who have the least impact on your life. One example of people who seem to be forgotten by the world are our friends in long-term care at IMH.

When Mark started this ministry under Dirty Hands five years ago, I participated a few times and encouraged all my cell group members to try it out at least once. I enjoyed those visits and learnt a lot about human dignity just from sitting with and spending time doing activities with our friends at IMH. But I got busy and there were so many other priorities in church and ministry. And it was easy to not make these IMH visits a priority. After all, there were so many other people and things that needed my attention. I was guilty of making the “least of these” the least of my priorities.

But a few months ago, Mark spoke with Miak and me, and he asked if we would consider participating in the IMH visits from time to time. And I’m so thankful he asked. I needed someone to kick my butt and remind me that it was time to reconsider the alignment of my priorities. Miak and I both said yes and after a long hiatus, I went on the IMH visit with our team in September. I want to show you some photos in case you’re wondering what we do on our monthly visits. Some of you may be concerned that you don’t know what to do when you’re there but I just wanted to assure you that you will be assigned a buddy if you’re a first-timer and it’s fun. It depends on what our friends feel like doing that day but I got the chance to do some coloring and karaoke-singing when I was there. I must say that coloring in quiet next to one of our IMH friends was personally very therapeutic for me. The other half of the time, I was singing Chinese and Hokkien karaoke songs with another friend who was sitting by and watching us color. Andy knew he liked to sing and asked him if he wanted to sing karaoke instead and I helped him find the songs and we sang together. At the end, we celebrated the birthdays of the September babies and they were so delighted at the yummy cake and birthday song. It was actually a lot of fun! As we were leaving, the head nurse told us our friends at IMH really appreciated our visits because many of them didn’t have any family members or loved ones visiting them, and we were the regular faces that they could look forward to seeing once a month.

I encourage you to go experience a visit at least once if you haven’t before. And if like me, you’ve visited before but this has become a low priority due to other commitments in your life, do take some time to consider if a realignment of your priorities might be helpful. There is another visit in two weeks’ time on 30 November, so if you’re interested to find out more, you can come talk to me later or talk to Mark.

The other day, I was talking with Miak and he said something that made me pause and reflect. He said, “As we grow, we move higher up in terms of risk and sacrifice. Christ dying on the cross was him paying the ultimate price at the cost of himself. And being Christ-like is being willing to pay the price at the cost of ourselves.” Are we willing to pay the price at the cost of ourselves?

This echoes what John Barry, the founder of the movement, Jesus’ Economy, says:

“Jesus’s economy is based on self-sacrifice. Jesus’ currency is love. This idea changed my entire life. I want you to experience the authentic and biblical Jesus who is deeply challenging. I want you to meet the Jesus who calls us to live as part of an entirely different economy, one based on self-sacrifice. Jesus gave up his life so that we can be resurrected with him. Now, he calls us to do the same: give of ourselves for the impoverished, the marginalized, and the outsider; spread his message of love, freedom from sin, and the power to live a better life…Faith in action is what it is all about.

It’s easy to be angry about the suffering of humanity and point fingers at God or others, until we realize that the problems of humanity are truly rooted in all of us. Solving our problems – the absence of basic sanitation, dirty water, hindrances to addressing curable and preventable diseases, corrupt governments, poor infrastructure, and a lack of job creation, to name a few — means looking to God for wisdom and then realizing that God is looking directly back at us to act.

God empowers us to do the work. As broken as humans are, we are still Jesus’ hands and feet in the world. We have to take ownership of our responsibility to help those less fortunate than ourselves, to truly love our neighbour.”

-John D. Barry, Jesus’ Economy: A Biblical View of Poverty, the Currency of Love, and a Pattern for Lasting Change

There are many ways God may be challenging you and me to take care of the least of these and I wonder who God may be placing on your heart.

A few days ago, I saw this article about a newlywed couple, Abraham and Cheng Yu, who chose to invite their friends from a homeless outreach ministry to be part of their celebrations. They are both involved with Homeless Hearts of Singapore and instead of splurging on a lavish wedding package with professional photographers and expensive gowns, the couple spent most of their money on the buffet catering and throwing a carnival for their guests to enjoy.

The couple’s original plan was to hold their wedding in Chinatown, where most of their friends from Homeless Hearts would congregate every day. The idea was to “bring the wedding to where the people are” but this did not materialize as the venue was already booked for the chosen date.

For the couple, their greatest concern during the wedding preparations was their friends from Homeless Hearts feeling out of place. There was an incident where they were handing out wedding invitations, and a few homeless friends were hesitant to attend despite repeated assurances to come in whatever outfit they felt comfortable in. “They still felt quite embarrassed, and for us who never had to experience having a lack of clothes, we will not understand how they truly feel,” said Abraham.

Fortunately, their friends from church offered to pay for the guests’ wedding clothes and help them shop for the outfits before the wedding. Cheng Yu said, “The ‘uncle’ was looking all dapper and everyone was so well-dressed. You will never be able to tell one apart from the other. This is how God’s kingdom should look like, no divisions and everyone coming together as one.” The couple also opted for long tables instead of round table seating for their guests so that everyone could eat together and mingle freely in a community setting.

They invited the homeless because these were people they already had a relationship with. What about us? As you consider what Jesus is calling us to do, I ask that you prayerfully discern the group of people – “the least of these” — that is your people to reach out to and get involved.

As we continue on our pilgrimage in life, how is your life impacting the world? How are we transforming the communities that we come into contact with?

It’s no coincidence that yesterday was the second anniversary of Rev Yap’s passing. When we talk about leaving a legacy, without a doubt Rev Yap is someone who embodied what it means to change lives and to leave the world a better place. He felt God’s irresistible call to marginalized groups of people, and he entered into our worlds and became a part of it. For us as a faith community, we are forever indebted to him for his friendship, his solidarity, his love, his wisdom, his advocacy and his sacrifice. I know what Rev Yap hoped dearly for us is that we will rise up and do the same for others. I don’t think he ever wanted us to admire him for what he had done and think “I could never be like him”. He would have wanted us to think, “If Rev Yap could do it, I can and should do it too.”

I happened to be looking through the Dirty Hands Facebook Page and chanced upon a comment that Rev Yap wrote in March 2017:

“Visiting IMH and befriend the lonely and not forgetting to engage in advocating in the issues relating to those who are mentally challenged is the way of mission and service. Be the voice of those who need to make their lives better.”

This is a timely reminder about the importance of advocacy and being a voice for the voiceless. One of his favourite verses was Micah 6:8, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” So are we doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with our God?

Are you ready to go out and love as you have been loved? Are you ready to ask God what group of people is upon God’s heart for you? And are you ready to take a step of faith in courage and trust?

Too often, we Christians separate things that were never meant to be separated. Faith and action are meant to go hand in hand. They work together like the two sides of a pair of scissors: loving God and loving neighbor are one command. Yes, we pray, but we also get up off our knees and we go take care of the people and things that God cares about.

To grow deeper spiritually, we need a both-and, not an either-or mindset. This is what some spiritual teachers call a non-dualistic mindset. When we are able to embrace both-and, we are expanding our minds, our hearts and our souls. I’ve listed a few pairs of both-and words here:
Structure and Creativity
Law and Freedom
Justice and Love
Faith and Action

Take structure and creativity for example. We realize that we are maturing when we are able to recognize the value of the structure and mature beyond it to understand the heart and spirit at the core of life. And as Christians, when we can understand the purpose of the law, that’s when we are able to experience freedom fully. As for love and justice, Cornel West said, “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” And faith and action is like a pair of scissors, working hand in hand.

Choose one pair of these words to study, meditate upon and apply in your life. As we near the end of 2019, how do you want to realign your life and priorities so that you can leave a better world behind? Will you take a step of faith and reach out to someone who is the least of these? May the legacy we leave reflect God’s relentless love and compassion for all.