Where is the Church?
Acts 2:1-21, Matthew 5:3-11
Pentecost Sunday, 4 June 2017
It is a crazy time.
On the afternoon of May 26, a white supremacist yelled hate speech at two women – one wearing a hijab, and the other was black. Three men – three men — Ricky John Best, Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, and Micah David-Cole Fletcher — stepped in to intervene in an attempt to de-escalate the situation and the white supremacist slashed at them with a knife. Ricky Best and Teliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche died from the injuries, and Micah Fletcher survived. What an irony, that the last name of this white Supremacist is Christian.
On 31 May, A bomb hidden in a water truck has killed at least 80 people and injured more than 360 others in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Wednesday, reports say. At least seven American citizens are known to have been injured in the blast. Both the Taliban and ISIS operate in Afghanistan, but neither has of yet claimed responsibility for the attack.
Pink Dot organisers announced that they would be barricading Hong Lim Park this year to meet the requirements set by the government to only allow Singapore citizens and PR into the park during Pink Dot.
Then we have folks making police reports about Shrey Bhargava’s post about how he felt when he was asked to act as a “full-blown Indian,” saying that he was stirring up racial tensions.
Heavy rain in Sri Lanka over a very short period of time, lead to severe flooding. Almost half a million people have been affected by the flooding, at least 169 people have died, and more than a hundred people still missing.
Then we have the US pulling out of the climate talks in Paris.
Then I heard that on Thursday someone vandalised the boarding around the upcoming Bayshore MRT station – the word “terrorist” was scrawled over an image of a woman wearing a hijab.
This morning, I woke up to news of more attacks in London.
I am very tempted to just tune out. To give up. It is depressing. What can I do? What I have been doing all this while isn’t changing the world. There are people still harbouring distrust of Muslims, racism and xenophobia is on the rise and not on the decline.
It is very easy to look up to the sky and ask, “GOD, WHERE ARE YOU?” But through the week, the question was more “CHURCH, WHERE ARE YOU?”
The Church has been reduced to an institution more concerned with gays in Beauty and the Beast than the important work of justice, peace-making and love. We are more concerned with our own well-being than what goes on with our neighbours.
Today is Pentecost Sunday, when we commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and other followers of Jesus. Gary once described it as “the birthday of the church.”
2:1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.
2:2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.
2:3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.
2:4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
2:5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.
2:6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.
2:7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?
2:8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?
2:9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,
2:10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,
2:11 Cretans and Arabs–in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”
2:12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”
2:13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
2:14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.
2:15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.
2:16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
2:17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.
2:18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.
2:19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
2:20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
2:21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
Where is the Church filled with the Spirit, empowered to transform the world? Where is the light of the world? Where is the city on the hill? Where is the beacon of hope, of love, of justice, of peace? Are we now lukewarm, neither hot nor cold?
Do we cower in fear and / or indifference when we witness bullying, when we witness injustice? Do we turn a blind eye, pretend that we did not see, or say it is none of our business and hurry on, just like the priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan, who passed by on the other side of the road, ignoring the man who was robbed and dying?
Ricky Best, Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, and Micah David-Cole Fletcher did not. It cost two of them their lives, and Micah Fletcher was badly injured. Father James Martin wrote:
“In my opinion, the two men who were killed in Portland protecting their fellow passenger are what the church now calls “Martyrs of Charity,” those who died while trying to save the life of another, or in doing a charitable act. And the other man, who risked his life, and is still hospitalized, surely exemplifies extraordinary charity and great holiness. “No one has greater love than this,” said Jesus, “to lay down one’s life for a friend.” (Jn. 15:13)
I believe the Holy Spirit continues to fill the Church. The question is if we listen, if we submit. There will be a price. There is a cost to discipleship.
Earlier this week, Rev. J. Philip Wogaman, Professor Emeritus of Christian Ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary and pastor of Foundry United Methodist church between 1992 and 2002, voluntarily surrendered his clergy credentials during the clergy session of the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Rev Wogaman resigned his credentials because the conference’s Board of Ordained Ministry did not approve T.C. Morrow, who is lesbian for ordination. He said, “This case in the Baltimore-Washington Conference has brought home how a gifted person of high Christian character can be excluded from ordained ministry because of bad church law, applied legalistically and hurtfully. This person, and many like her, have been excluded from the company of ordained clergy. I had to ask myself, how can I continue to be a part of that company when such people are excluded.”
“I do this with a heavy heart, but knowing that Dietrich Bonhoeffer was right about there being a cost of discipleship at every stage in our life as Christians.”
“This was not about me, this is about shining more light on bad church law, applied legalistically and hurtfully and the harm that continues to happen.”
Will we allow the Holy Spirit to lead us? Will we step outside of our comfort zones, our selfishness and be disciples of Jesus? Will we overcome fear and apathy, to be salt that has NOT lost its saltiness?
Jesus said: (Matthew 5:3-11)
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
We need to embark first on a journey to look within and deal with the -isms that we have learned, we have been taught. Racism, xenophobia, sexism, age-ism. We need to participate in the peacemaking and healing work that that really distinguishes us as the salt and light of the world. Where there are conflicts, fractures and differences, we need to be the healers and bridge builders. We may be ignorant, and not knowledgeable – so participate as we learn, we discover. And as we learn more about other faiths, we grow a deeper appreciation of our own.
We need to be more conscious of the issues of race – and learn how not to perpetuate racism and find ways to be loving to our neighbours.
There is much to be done – and if we are to be the Church filled with the Spirit, we need to act.
The Pink Dot video is amazing. It is an example of what dialogue, peace making, bridge building looks like. Alex Serrenti, Christopher Khor and Muhammad Faliqh Abdul Rahman – courageously stepped up and stepped out and allowed themselves to be vulnerable and to be hurt, to open up a space for authentic conversation instead of interactions that are safe behind (or in front of) our computer screens spewing vitriol at each other. The barricades we need to break through aren’t just the ones at Hong Lim Park. There are barricades we need to break down so that we can encounter each other, face to face, and see the people we call names, the people we “hate” so easily and realise they have more in common with us than we are comfortable with.
The world isn’t going to change if we don’t take part in the transformation.
Taiwan’s high court ruled in favour of same-sex marriage. But it wasn’t something that happened overnight. Our friends Tong Kwang and True Light church joined with the LGBT community and allies and really did many things to educate, to have conversations with, to have dialogue with people. They stayed up overnight to put rainbow ribbons around the high court. They set up a booth to talk to people about homosexuality and Christianity.
Our time will come. It is time to sow seeds. It is time to prepare. There is much to do.
The change I can make is to change myself. I want to look at the parts of me that needs to be pushed, needs to be challenged and allow God to change those parts.
I have folks messaging me about how Islam is a violent religion, and asking me to Google to verify the facts. I am fed up with ignorance passing off as knowledge. I am fed up with xenophobia, racism, Islamophobia pretending to be reason. Have you ever wondered why terrorist attacks are getting more common? Have you ever wondered why they were so rare 20 years ago? Have you thought about the impact of the invasion of Iraq, the destabilisation of the Middle East after World War II?
If someone claims that Islam is a violent religion, they can make the same claim about Christianity. Very often, we just gloss over the violent parts of the Bible. Our history is as violent as our Muslim siblings. But are we captives of our past? Do we learn and grow as people of faith?
We are aflame and empowered with the Holy Spirit, to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to be merciful and compassionate, to be pure in heart, to be the peacemakers. For then, we will be called blessed.
So instead of selectively looking online for things to shore up your biased views, ask – what do you think God wants you to be, what kind of person do you think God wants you to be? One who yells hate speech at Muslims and racial minorities? Or a peacemaker?
I have several calls to actions today –
I invite you to get to know our Muslim siblings better – On the 13th June, we are having an interfaith talk. I will arrange for food before that. Come, break fast with our Muslim siblings and get to know them. Ask how you can participate in the work of healing and peacemaking. Join our interfaith projects – come meet face to face and listen, dialogue and allow yourself to be transformed.
I invite those of you who are Singapore citizens and PR to be at Pink Dot this year.
Phra Goh from Palelai Buddhist Temple at Bedok reposted on Facebook recently Mahakaruna Buddhist Society’s request for items to be given to the flood victims – Towels, bed sheets, new clothes (not old clothes please!), toothpaste, toothbrushes, soaps. I hope someone steps forward to volunteer to lead this and coordinate with Mahakaruna Buddhist Society so we can do our part to help the flood victims.
It is a crazy time. And we need to crazy enough to believe we, the Church, can change the world. As the Apple “Think Different” ad campaign says: Because the people who are crazy enough to believe they can change the world are the ones who actually do.