Micah 6:8, Luke 17:11-1
A quick recap from last week’s sermon – last week I spoke about “What is Required of You?” Henri Nouwen’s article “From Solitude to Community to Ministry” served as a blueprint of church and spiritual life back in the days when I was just a cell group member of Safehaven, even before FCC was founded. We continue building upon this foundation – living out our calling as a church.
Last week, we looked at how each of that – Solitude, Community and Ministry – connects with Do Justice, Love Mercy and Walk Humbly with God. We looked at what happens when one of this three tripod legs of spiritual and church life is missing or unbalanced.
Today I continue with the second part – “To Do Justice, Love Mercy and Walk Humbly with Your God.”
You may have come across this list of seven social sins by Gandhi.
1. Wealth without work.
2. Pleasure without conscience.
3. Knowledge without character.
4. Commerce without morality.
5. Science without humanity.
6. Worship without sacrifice.
7. Politics without principle.
This list got me to think about what is solitude without humility, community without love, and ministry without justice.
So what is solitude without humility?
Then our solitude will be about our ego, and not about God. It will be about our will be done and not God’s will be done. We will start seeing what we want as God’s will. We will make demands – as though God has an obligation to do what we want.
Prayer will be about asking for things – though there is nothing wrong in it per se – we will not be able to examine why we want those things, and whether what we want is good for us.
I sometimes ask for things that I want too – I am human! But then I will catch myself and wonder – why do I want this? Is it good for me? If it is something that is good, helpful, then is there something I should do to make the change, to get what I want? If it is not good for me, can I ask God to help me let it go?
Even Jesus asked in the garden of Gethsemane – ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.’
Again I think of Jaime’s sermon 2 weeks ago. She was a modern Job – in the midst of her deflatedness, in the midst of not feeling the presence of God, she continued to try her very best, in her own words, to “continuously make the choice to be Christ like in our lives.”
I wonder how many of us realised what it means to bless the name of the Lord, even when the Lord gives and takes away. It is not about seeing God as the cosmic vending machine, and our prayers are the currency to this machine. It is about knowing the God is God, in our good times and our bad times – when we are blessed, and when we are not. When God is a tool to get what we want, then it is our ego that is on the throne. We, not God, are at the center of our universe. I really appreciate Mark pointing out in his prayer just now that our relationship with should not be transactional. Whatever we have been blessed – the love of God – it is given freely and unconditionally because it is grace. It is not a matter of doing God’s will to get what we want.
Also, when we worship, is it about us, or is it about God? Too often we are so focused on how we “feel” during worship that we forget that it is not about how we feel. We say that we are not connected to the service – be it the worship, the prayer, the liturgy or the sermon.
But is that worship? Has our consumerist culture become so ingrained in us that in worship and the way we do church becomes all about our experience? I am not saying that the experience is not important – after all, many people – the worship team, the prayer team, the AV team, the welcome team, the pastoral team, everybody here – spend time and energy trying to make the experience of worship, of church, to be a good one.
But really – what is the heart of worship?
It is about knowing that God is God. “It’s all about You, all about You.” In the heart of worship, there has to be the letting go of our ego, there has to be humility so that we can encounter God. Moses was told to take off his sandals because he was on holy ground. Last week, MCC Metro Baguio ordained Reverend Myke Abaya Sotero and part of the liturgy – which is part of our rich Christian tradition – required him to prostrate on the ground. It demonstrates humility and total submission to God.
Do we encounter God in humility during worship, or do we see praise and worship just like how we see a pop concert, and so we end up lifting up our egos instead?
When I went to seminary, I was exposed to different ways of worship and praise and I have to often check myself – because I have come to learn to let go of my personal preferences and biases and see how I can encounter God in humility through ways I may not be familiar with or used to. I learned to encounter God in silence, encounter God in unfamiliar ways. I had to open my being to allow the connection to happen, despite and in spite of my discomfort and the lack of
familiarity. Even when I don’t like the songs. I often find male pronouns for God in worship jarring because I don’t see God as male – or female for that matter. I see it often as a replication of patriarchy. I have learned, however, to find that space to allow God to be present despite and in spite of, language that I don’t agree with.
While I was in seminary in Berkeley, the Sufis there invited me to a zikr. It really opened my eyes – even though I didn’t understand the language, even though some elements were new to me – like the whirling dervish – the presence of God was so strong there.
In our solitude and worship, the humility is to allow us to submit and surrender ourselves and open our heats and open our eyes to see the things unseen, to learn to love like how God loves, and to allow what breaks God’s heart to break out hearts.
The second question is – what is community without love / kindness?
In our world today, we are very task-oriented. We are focused on results. Often you are seen as what you can give to or do for the church, and not as a member of the church. But this isn’t a corporation. This isn’t a company. You do not have any KPIs.
While we work on not seeing people as labels based on race, sexuality, gender identity, economic status, religion, and whatever pigeon hole we want to put people in, we often see people as what they are able to do or give. Often, when we find out someone plays a musical instrument, we quickly jump to “You should play for worship!” People should be welcome as they are.
Here in FCC, Community is literally our middle name. Community is not just a gathering of people at the same place, at the same time, doing the same thing. If that is the case, a group of people in the same theatre watching the same show is a community.
Community requires relationship. Relationship isn’t just about saying hi to one another when you see each other. It requires commitment, vulnerability, trust, and yes – love and kindness.
It re quires us to take the risk of being vulnerable, trusting, being hurt.
Love and kindness isn’t about just being nice. Love and kindness in community is also holding each other accountable. It is calling out unhelpful and problematic behaviour, so that we can reflect, learn and change.
In my experience, God doesn’t tell us off directly when there is a problem with our behaviour. God tells us through the people around us – the people who care enough and love us enough to point things out to us without shaming us. I have made mistakes in pointing things out in a way that is not as loving as I would have liked. I have learned to do better – to point things out without shaming. But I will continue to point out things that folks need to see.
This place we call home – FCC – is the place we want to be able to be authentic, so we don’t have to pretend, hide or be ashamed. So we can be our true selves, and allow ourselves be open to be edified. When we stop wearing masks, pretending everything is ok, we allow others to help us grow, transform and become more like Christ.
I really appreciate that here, there are folks who call me out when I don’t live up to what I aspire to. I am glad there are folks who see me as an equal and help me see my blind spots. This is how I learn and grow and become more like Christ. This is how we should be community – not just a place we greet each other with fake smiles, and sweep everything under the carpet.
Yes – it requires us to be vulnerable, and yes, we are going to get hurt, get our hearts bruised. But this is what it takes to be authentic, to be real, and to grow spiritually. We cannot become more like Christ wearing masks.
Finally, we ask, what is ministry without justice?
I will read you the account of Jesus healing the 10 lepers from Luke 17:11-13.
11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus[d] was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers[e] approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean.
Jesus didn’t just heal them – he made them confront those in power who continue to marginalise and ostracize them. In Levitical law, lepers are supposed to call out when people come near to them “Unclean! Unclean!” as a way to warn others to keep away from them.
The lepers not only needed healing of the body but also healing of the soul. Jesus asked them to confront the systems – and in this case, it is the religious authorities – that marginalise them. Jesus didn’t just minister to them only through healing, but also through justice.
Recently, some 42 underprivileged children and youth whose parents were or are in prison were taken for a spin in sports and luxury cars yesterday morning, as part of a community event organised by the Industrial and Services Co-operative Society (ISCOS), which helps ex-offenders and their families.
Not to take anything away from the organisers who also has a Yellow Ribbon Fund-ISCOS Fairy Godparent Programme, which helps them in education and family support by providing tuition bursaries and mentoring programmes to break the cycle of inter-generational offending, but what does taking kids in a joyride do to help?
One kid said he was inspired to buy his own car some day. Is that what they wanted to do? Inspire children to more materialism?
I think this event – the joyride for underprivileged kids is ministry without justice.
How do we want to do things in FCC?
Mark came up with a concept paper in 2014 for dirty hands. We have the right hand that is Alleviation, and we have the left hand that is activism and advocacy.
We need to be engaged in ministry with both the right hand (alleviation) and left hand (activism). We need to meet the needs of the people who need help, and we also need to address the problematic systemic issues that cause the situations people are in in the first place.
Take the HIV medication ministry for example. Through the years, we have supported people who needed financial support for HIV medication. But that is Right Hand (Alleviation). Rev Yap and many of us have also been involved in advocacy work – taking part in focus groups and meetings to talk about problematic policies, pushing for change in policies that don’t make sense.
Previously, the prisons do not provide anti-retroviral medications because they considered HIV to be a “lifestyle disease.” That, fortunately, has changed – thanks to the hard work by many people – including Rev Yap – in advocacy work.
I would turn this sermon upside down and ask you Can we do justice without ministry, love kindness without community and walk humbly without solitude?
Of course not. It is all intricately connected. It is the blueprint and roadmap of our faith. It is not something we invented to be the new strategy for growth. It has always been there. Micah 6:8 “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.”
All this – doing justice, loving mercy / kindness and walking humbly with God – has a cost. It requires us to pay a price as a follower of Christ. It is not a transaction – but a response. There are things we have to change, things we have to give up, and things we have to do. It is not easy. It is the cross of our faith. It is not only doing “Christian” things like coming to church on Sunday or saying grace before a meal.
This is in the core of who we are as Free Community Church. It is in our DNA. Free – First Realise Everyone’s Equal – that is where we start with humility in solitude. Community – that is home, the roots that anchor us, that taps into the living water that sustains us. And Church – our ministry of who we are called to be out in the world.
I was chatting with Jaime just now, and I thought – like what we learned from the book “Jesus is the Question” – that Jesus asked who will take up the cross and follow me. Then I checked and realised Jesus didn’t ask a question here. He made a statement. Jesus said, from Matthew 16:24 – “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”