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We Got It All Wrong

Date: 02/09/2012/Speaker: Rev Miak Siew

Psalm 15
15:1 O LORD, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?
15:2 Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart;
15:3 who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;
15:4 in whose eyes the wicked are despised, but who honor those who fear the LORD; who stand by their oath even to their hurt;
15:5 who do not lend money at interest, and do not take a bribe against the innocent. Those who do these things shall never be moved.

James 1:17-27
1:17 Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
1:18 In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.
1:19 You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger;
1:20 for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.
1:21 Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.
1:22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.
1:23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror;
1:24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.
1:25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act–they will be blessed in their doing.
1:26 If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.
1:27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Today’s sermon, I hope, will disturb you. Because I believe that all sermons should disturb us. They should shake us up from our stupor and drowsiness and awaken us. That is how God speaks to us.

I wonder how many of you read Foo Keong’s blog post “The Coffee Shop.” Let me read you an excerpt that Rev Yap posted.

“The Gay/inclusive Christian churches that I went to probably only fit the young intellectual and highly educated couple in the early 20s. We may claim we are inclusive, but our sermons perhaps catered narrowly to the liberal intellectual. We wouldn’t be the show case for inclusivity anyway for many of us are middle class or higher, a part from a very few which we would gladly do our act of charity to help out.

Gay/inclusive churches in Singapore are terribly like mainstream Methodist, High Anglican, for all intention purposes except for their sexual orientation in time for which nobody will care too much. The Audis, BMWs, the Jaguars, etc lined the car park much the same as these churches.

Our Queer theology actually doesn’t matter that much for gays in their small numbers would never be the spearhead of any mainstream liberal Christian movement. We are often too focused on our partner and we should be for they have become the source of strength and survival in a difficult and lonely world. We only have our partner in this world, for our families have rejected us.

Sadly we are not the revolutionary radical activist that some paint us to be, but we are so loving that we wouldn’t even hit back when we get abused and kicked out of the churches or called evil names! May God bless our enemies!

Gay churches often failed miserably when we imposed some sort of liberal emphasis to love thy neighbour to minister to the least. That was never our domain, for we are the folks in the city centre drinking our coffee, shopping for bags and the latest fashion, and minding our business and struggling just to survive.

Our domain and talent is in the areas of plays, singing, writing, acting, film making, photography, arts, architecture, design, fashion, legal profession, medicine, and that’s what a cross over from gay Christendom to the World would look like. We are perfect for the glamour of Hollywood and Orchard but not for the slumps of the former wall city of Hong Kong with her drug addicts and prostitutes where even the angels would not dare visit.

God visits us where we are – at the Coffee shop in the city centre where we reside most of the time and camp often. He doesn’t barge in to ask us to love our neighbours by going out to Geylang to help the prostitutes, or visit the construction sites to help out the foreign workers being ill-treated, but would instead asks us to buy Him a cup of coffee.”

Does this disturb you? It should. It is an incisive critique of Church today. I think Foo Keong is right – we got it all wrong.

We got Jesus all wrong.

We have made Jesus out to be is just like Buddy Christ from the movie dogma – the guy who cheers us on from the sidelines, whom we can lean on when we are worn out – and stripped of everything Jesus taught and stood for and died for.

Jesus did not want a church. Jesus wanted make the Kindom of God happen. Jesus didn’t want a safe place for people to hide in. Jesus wanted a world where there is no need for a place to hide. That is the Kindom of God. Jesus did not want us to believe in Him so that we are saved. Jesus wanted us to follow Him so that the world is saved. Jesus did not want to build a Christian Empire. Jesus wanted to destroy the empire and bring to fruition the Kindom of God.
We got church all wrong.

We proclaim Welcome Home every Sunday, so much so that we have all become comfortable in our little piece of sanctuary, away from the hate and the haters, away from the homophobia and the homophobes, away from our troubles. For many of us, this home is our closet. Comfortable and safe. But I cannot help but feel uneasy about being so comfortable – I remember both Bishop Flunder saying that if we are not causing trouble, we are not following Jesus.

Rev Yap posted this earlier this week on our list something by James MacDonald –
CHURCH WAS NEVER MEANT TO BE SAFE.
Or comfortable. Or predictable.
God isn’t any of those things.
Church is supposed to arrest our pride.
Church is meant to crush our selfishness.
Church was created to carry our heartache and comfort our affliction.
Church is where we find community, express compassion and engage in mission.
But church without God does none of that.
Make the change that changes everything and learn how to go Vertical.
Let’s stop making church all about us.
The church today is not one “that is pure and undefiled before God” and that is “unstained by the world.” Instead, it is tainted by the world.

The role of the church isn’t to be a safe place for people to hide in. It is the place where we break in the Kindom of God and resist the Empire of the World.
We got the Empire all wrong.

What Empire you may ask? The American Empire? The British Empire? The Roman Empire? No. The Empire is bigger than that. Like the Beast in the Book of Relevations, the Empire has many heads and many horns. I have talked often about the Kindom of God that is the opposite of the Empire of the world, but I realized I have been very vague in describing what is the Empire of the World.

Let me read you an excerpt from George Orwell’s 1984.

“How does one man assert his power over another, Winston?“Winston thought. “By making him suffer”, he said.
“Exactly. By making him suffer. Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing. Do you begin to see, then, what kind of world we are creating? It is the exact opposite of the stupid hedonistic Utopias that the old reformers imagined. A world of fear and treachery is torment, a world of trampling and being trampled upon, a world which will grow not less but MORE merciless as it refines itself. Progress in our world will be progress towards more pain. The old civilizations claimed that they were founded on love or justice. Ours is founded upon hatred. In our world there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph, and self-abasement. Everything else we shall destroy – everything. “Already we are breaking down the habits of thought which have survived from before the Revolution. We have cut the links between child and parent, and between man and man, and between man and woman. No one dares trust a wife or a child or a friend any longer. But in the future there will be no wives and no friends. Children will be taken from their mothers at birth, as one takes eggs from a hen. The sex instinct will be eradicated. Procreation will be an annual formality like the renewal of a ration card. We shall abolish the orgasm. Our neurologists are at work upon it now. There will be no loyalty, except loyalty towards the Party. There will be no love, except the love of Big Brother. There will be no laughter, except the laugh of triumph over a defeated enemy. There will be no art, no literature, no science. When we are omnipotent we shall have no more need of science. There will be no distinction between beauty and ugliness. There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always – do not forget this, Winston – always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever”

Does this sound familiar?

Make him suffer. Obedience is not enough. . Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing. Do you begin to see, then, what kind of world we are creating?

I cannot help thinking of Jesus’ crucifixion. “Make him suffer.”

“Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation.” – I cannot help thinking of the nails that pierced his hands, and the spear that pierced his side. I cannot help thinking of the inscription above his head “Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews”This is the power of the Empire. The power that the world understands. the power that is violent, cruel, merciless. The power of the boot stamping on a human face.

But we know the ending of that story. The boot on a human face was not the end of the story.
Jesus reveals a power greater than the power of Empire. We believe in, and we trust in the power of God that is not about control, the power that is not about possessing. We believe in the power of love that is stronger than death, the power of resurrection that cannot be crushed by suffering or pain or humiliation or death. We believe in the power of love that can overcome all things. We believe in the power that is power with not power over.

Since the Christian church became the state religion of the Roman Empire in the year 380 AD, the church got derailed from the mission to follow Jesus. The Empire began twisting the Church – after all, once we become comfortable, it is more difficult to follow Jesus and give up our comforts. The Church started to focus on idolizing Jesus instead of following Jesus.

Because following Jesus is dangerous, subversive and disruptive. Following Jesus means that you have to disturb the status quo. Following Jesus means rejecting the ways of the world. Discipleship comes at a cost. Following Jesus means that you don’t subscribe to the power of the Empire of the World, but the power of love, the power of resurrection, the power of God. Following Jesus means you have to keeping shaking things up until the day the Kindom of God is here.

George Orwell wrote 1984 in 1948 – 64 years ago (thanks to Simon who told me why it was titled 1984 – it is 48 backwards). He was chillingly accurate in describing what we observe today. There is one point I think he was off though – about the abolishment of the orgasm, the eradication of love, the eradication of pleasure.

I think instead of eradicating, eliminating pleasure, desire and love, the Empire has corrupted it.
Have you ever stepped into a supermarket, and ended up buying a lot of things you didn’t need, or you didn’t intend to get in the beginning?

Is there something that you didn’t have, and you were somehow convinced that you wanted it, and when you finally got it, you realized you didn’t really want it in the first place?
Is there something that you had for just a year or 2, and something new has come out and you just have to have it?
Is sex all about how good it feels for you?
The Empire of the World has deployed its greatest weapon – the corruption of desire. The culture of consumption. Everything becomes something to be owned, possessed and consumed.

We need to recognize our place in the scheme of things, and that we are meant to live an abundant life. But abundance does not mean excess – it means enough.
Just like it was with the Israelites in the desert – everyone is to gather as much manna as they need, an omer for each person in the tent. When they measured it by the omer, those who gathered much did not have too much, those who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed.

Is it possible that if we learn to we learn to share – to give of ourselves to others, to share of what we have with others, there is abundance? “Live simply, so others may simply live,” Gandhi said.

And could that story about some Israelites who disobeyed Moses, and kept part of the manna until morning, hoarding the manna, and it became full of maggots and began to smell tell us something about how we are not to hoard things for ourselves?

I am not telling you to stop consuming – but rather be aware of what you are consuming, and are you consuming in? Be aware and pay attention to the question – is what you are consuming satisfying? Does what you consume dull your awareness to what is happening around you? To the needs of others around you? Does it create in you the need to work harder to get more money so you can consume more? Are you sharing what you have with others? Or are you hoarding things for yourself?

This culture of consumption seeped into even the Church. Church becomes an experience that is consumed. The focus is not on God, but on ourselves – our experience of church. Did I like the songs we sang today? Did the message do anything for me? What do I get from coming to church today?

It is all about me.

It is this culture of consumption and individualism that numbs our senses and dulls our minds, and puts us in a state of drowsiness – as though we are on drugs – conscious enough to experience things, but not enough to realize what is really happening.
Perhaps that is why like how Simon pointed out, we could be texting during communion, we can be checking facebook during the service. We are dulled by all these stuff that we consume, all these gadgets that we are connected to, that we are not connected to God, we are not connected to each other.

We repeat our rituals week after week, not realizing the power that lies in the heart of our faith, not realizing the power to awaken us from death, the power to change, the power to make present the Kindom of God. The power that is within us.

We have the power to change things. That is how the Kindom of God breaks into the world through the Church. There are many moments that do break in the Kindom of God – “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”We need to reclaim desire from the Empire. We need to reclaim the goodness of desire that was there from the very beginning.

The lectionary reading today is from the Song of Songs –

It is an interesting book, one that is rarely read in church because it is rather explicit content – those of you who remember SK’s stand up act during our Christmas Service will remember “I would give you spiced wine to drink, the nectar of my pomegranates”.

The Song of Songs is a poem of courtship, love and sex, and in attempts to reconcile its presence in the Bible, it has often been interpreted as a allegory of the relationship between God and Israel or Christ and the Church.

I read it as the affirmation that Desire is good. That God created us to desire one another, for companionship, for relationship. Like a lover who longs for consummation, God desires human fulfillment in communion with God and with one another.

Desire has usually been viewed by the Church as something that is bad. I would argue that there is a difference between desire and twisted / corrupted desire.
David Jensen, professor of constructive theology at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary offers an alternate interpretation of the fall.

“Adam’s and Eve’s failure is not the desire for knowledge, not the breaking of a divinely given rule, but their perception that the tree has something they lack which they simply must have for themselves: knowledge of good and evil apart from God. Their culpability is believing the serpent’s lie that God wants to withhold something good from them. The “fall,” read thus, is not about disobedience or the seeking of knowledge but about Adam’s and Eve’s refusal to partake in the abundance of the garden that allows desire to flourish, falsely believing that they can obtain a scarce resource outside God’s provision by holding it and keeping it for themselves…. Almost as soon as human beings become participants in God’s desire, they begin to think that it is meant for possession, not sharing. In its twisted from, desire turns in upon itself and becomes insatiable” for the fruit, in the end does not satisfy, but only leaves the two ashamed, seeking satisfaction elsewhere, in work that degenerates into toil, in unjust relations between man and woman.”

Who is the serpent today? Who is the serpent lying to us about what we need to have, what we should have, what we should hoard and keep for ourselves?

I believe that materialism and consumerism and individualism seeps into our personal relationships as well – when we start seeing people as objects that help us achieve our own ends, that satisfy our own needs. That kind of corrupted desire is twisted, and turns on itself and is insatiable. It leaves you unsatisfied, it is not fulfilling, and leaves you empty – and sometimes emptier that you started off with.

To resist this corruption of desire, we need to take is to recognize that we are not number one. God is. We are reminded again and again it’s not about us.

We need to recognize that desire should not be directed inward, to our selfish needs and make it all about ourselves, but directed outwards, to the other.

Just like Divine love – the love of God is not directed at God Herself/Himself, but rather directed at us.

Song of Songs
2:8 The voice of my beloved! Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills.
2:9 My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Look, there he stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice.
2:10 My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away;
2:11 for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.
2:12 The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.
2:13 The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance.

Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.
That desire, isn’t about me. It is directed at the other person.
“God saw everything that God has made, and indeed, it was very good.”
How do we get back on track? How do we, as a church, break in the Kindom of God?
By going back to basics.
Jesus, when questioned by one expert in the law as to what is the greatest commandment, replied “The first is, “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:29-30)

This is basically the Sh’ma Israel, from Deuteronomy 6:4-5.
“Sh’ma Israel Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad.”

There is a significant difference in Jesus’ reply and the Sh’ma. The Sh’ma reads “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul and with all your strength.”

Jesus includes loving God with all our mind. We are not to leave our brains at the door when we come into church. We are to question, critique and think about issues, about our beliefs, about what we are taught.

What is Loving God with all of your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength?

Loving God with all your heart – Listening
Loving God with all your mind – Understanding
Loving God with all our soul – Dreaming
Loving God with all our strength – Acting

And this would be the theme of our retreat this year.

I will close with the reading from the Epistle of James again.

James 1:17-27
1:17 Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
1:18 In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.
1:19 You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger;
1:20 for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.
1:21 Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.
1:22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.
1:23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror;
1:24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.
1:25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act–they will be blessed in their doing.
1:26 If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.
1:27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.