Wholeheartedly: Where We Start
11 Jun 2023
Miak Siew (FCC)
I hope nobody turned up last Sunday on site when we were in Batam for our church retreat! We had a good time with more than a hundred attending – the most we ever had at a church retreat. There was a lot of sharing, praying, worshipping and fellowshipping – We were blessed by Maria and Swee Hong’s wisdom and i only wish we could have everyone there to experience it together!
I need to give a huge shout out to Daniel who really did all the coordination with the hotel, and with each single person, to Raymond, who helped out in the logistics and photography during the retreat, to Pauline who wrapped up the session, to worship team who lead the whole retreat in our powerful worship sessions. At the opening session, when we were singing the last song, I was very moved that the congregation wanted to keep on worshipping – they continued singing even when the lyrics were no longer projected on the screen, even as Gary was playing the closing bars of the song. That was the Spirit moving among us.
During this retreat, i have been blessed with new ideas, new perspectives – i think it was a good segue from what we have been doing in church for the past 5 months and the past sermon arcs to where we are moving towards – not just for the rest of the year, but for years to come.
This Sunday, we will kick off our series “Wholeheartedly,” and i would like to thank many people – and in particular Darryl for his insights shared during the long late night conversations during the retreat that i am happily building on.
For those of you who are new to us, whether online or here on site, we have been using Menti since the Covid lockdown and it has helped us make the sermon more interactive and engaging – instead of just sitting back and listening, you get to be involved and weave your voice into the sermon. It isn’t just bells and whistles but has become integral to the unfolding of the sermon here at FCC. Many visitors have told me that it is something that struck them as innovative, unique and powerful.
To participate, you can scan the QR code or go to your web browser and key in fcc.li/menti. I will be asking questions throughout the sermon, and you can enter your answers through menti. Especially for those of you who are new to us, I want to invite you to try it out – because this allows you to participate in the weaving and unfolding of the sermon.
Will you pray with me?
God, my rock and my redeemer, may the words from my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing to you. Amen.
So, today we embark on a new sermon series – Wholeheartedly with the sermon “where we start.”
Those of you who were at the church retreat will realise that the worship set just now was the same set as the closing worship last week. The background of the slides for this sermon series is taken from the backdrop we had at the retreat. (Thanks Gary for designing them!)
I chose to echo the past because while we are starting something new, they are also continuations from the past. Like the first episode of the fifth season of a TV series, this is the fifth sermon arc for 2023.
So – at the beginning of this year, Pauline laid out the vision for 2023. Do you remember what it is? Walking Each Other As Community Towards Growth and Wholeness in Christ!
This is a good juncture to take stock and reflect – I want to invite you to think about the past 5 months.
<Q1> What specific thing have you noticed about yourself, or what you did, or a specific area that you have grown in that you know is coming out of what you have learned here at FCC, that reflects “how we walk each other as community towards wholeness and grow in Christ?”
Thank you for sharing!
I am grateful that we are walking each other as community towards growth and wholeness in Christ.
This sermon series is titled Wholeheartedly – which is based on Brene Brown’s work in her book “The Gifts of Imperfection.” – “Here’s what is truly at the heart of wholeheartedness: Worthy now. Not if, not when, we’re worthy of love and belonging now. Right this minute. As is.”
Now some people might go – yeah, thanks for this, but we’re here really here for Christian teachings, and not pop psychology and self-help. But Brene Brown’s work is actually very Christian. Even the word she coined “wholehearted” comes from the Book of Common Prayer –
“we confess that we have sinned
in thought, word and deed.
We have not loved you with our whole heart.
We have not loved our neighbours as ourselves.”
When we look at Jesus’ interaction with every single person in the Bible – He saw each and every single one of them as worthy of love and belonging. “Worthy now. Not if, not when, we’re worthy of love and belonging now. Right this minute. As is.”
Yes, Jesus saw even the religious elites, even the hypocrites as worthy of love and belonging – because their worthiness is not connected to what they do (or didn’t do). They are God’s beloved as well.
Being worthy of love and belonging doesn’t mean that we are not held accountable for our actions and behaviours. Jesus addressed their hypocrisy and called them out – without seeing them as less worthy.
I want to read something to you that resonated with me a long time ago. This book is one I liked a lot – and this is a gift from Randy from 1999.
Some of you may wonder – why is Miak reading from a children’s book. I think this book is a parable.
I want to invite you to listen with open ears, open minds and open hearts, and hear what God is speaking through this story to you.
Shel Silverstein’s The Missing Piece meets the Big O
The missing piece sat alone….
waiting for someone to come along and take it somewhere.
some fit… but could not roll
others could roll but did not fit
one didn’t know a thing about fitting
another didn’t know one thing about anything
One was too delicate…
One put it up on a pedestal and left it there
Some had too many pieces missing
It learned to hide from the hungry ones.
Some look too closely
Others rolled right by without noticing
It tried to make itself more attractive
it didn’t help
it tried being flashy but that just frightened away the shy ones
At last one came along that fit just right
But all of a sudden the missing piece began to grow
“I didn’t know you were going to grow”
“I didn’t either” said the missing piece
“I’m looking for my missing piece one that won’t increase”
And then one day one came along who looked different
“What do you want of me?” Asked the missing piece
“What do you need from me”
“Who are you?” ask the missing piece
“I am the big O” said the big O
“I think you’re the one I’ve been waiting for” said the missing piece
“Maybe I’m your missing piece”
“But I’m not missing a piece” so the big O “there’s no place you would fit
“that’s too bad” said the missing piece
“I was hoping that perhaps I could roll with you
“you cannot roll with me” said the big O “But perhaps you can roll by yourself”
“By myself? A missing piece cannot roll by itself”
“Have you ever tried?” asked the big O
“But I have sharp corners” said the missing piece
“I’m not shaped for rolling
“corners wear off” said the Big O “and shapes change.”
“anyhow, I must say goodbye. perhaps we will meet again…”
and away it rolled.
The missing piece was alone again
for a long time, it just sat there.
Then, slowly, it lifted itself up on one end
and flopped over. *plop*
then lift…. Pull.. flop… it began to move forward
And soon its edges began to wear off
Liftpullflop lift pull flop lift pull flop….
and its shape began to change
and it was bumping instead of flopping
and then it was bouncing instead of bumping
and then it was rolling instead of bouncing
and it didn’t know where and it did not care
it was rolling!
<Q2> What struck you about this story?
Of course, for many, including my younger self, this is a story about how we often seek romantic relationships to “complete ourselves.”
But more than 24 years later, I read this story with another perspective.
I have heard this quote from Pascal ““There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each man which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God the Creator, made know through Jesus Christ.”
The problem with the idea of filling up this vacuum, or this empty hole, is that we don’t need to change. We just need to fill up this hole with something. In doing so, we also see God as a thing – an idol to meet our needs. I prefer to see God as the very essence of something that permeates us –but spreads through every part of us, not just the filling up this vacuum or hole, so we soak in God like a sponge soaking in water.
So I don’t see God as filling up this vacuum I have, but restoring me to wholeness in Christ.
I see Jesus as the Big O. The Big O who leads the missing piece to growth – through all the lift pull flops – to wear out the edges and change its shape so the missing piece becomes more and more in the likeness of the Big O.
Jesus encountered people where they are – then invited them on a journey of growth and transformation. A journey that is often difficult, challenging and a journey that definitely requires each person to participate in the process – to roll by themselves.
There is one particular encounter in the Bible that means a lot to me. And that encounter is where I started.
In July 2005, I started a support group for gay men who want to find out more about what the Bible says about homosexuality.
I named it Living Water in honor of the warm and honest encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman from the 4th chapter of the Gospel according to John.
Truth be told, I saw myself as the Samaritan woman.
My own encounter with Christ paralleled Jesus encounter with the Samaritan woman. It was one where I felt embraced by Him as worthy, beloved, even though I thought fell far short of being deserving of love and belonging. There was a lot of shame, and feelings of unworthiness in me, just like the Samaritan woman.
Jesus spoke truth in love with the Samaritan woman, naming her situation without judging her. She felt safe enough to ask Jesus questions because Jesus didn’t dismiss her. She felt seen by him, and he treated her with dignity.
And that was my journey too.
Because when I felt my calling – I remember thinking to myself when I was printing out notes for the support group one Friday in 2007, “I see the impact I have spending 3 hours a week doing this, what if I dedicated my life to this?” And then I went, no, no, no. Not me.
I am the one with a string of relationships like the Samaritan woman, and I am certainly not what anyone would consider pastor material.
No, no, no, you are crazy. Send Gary. Send Jean. Not me.
But God kept speaking. In that next month, the story of the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan Woman kept popping up – it was preached from the pulpit, it was done as Bible study, and I decided to speak with Rev Yap.
You see, I saw myself as the missing piece. Lacking everything. But I didn’t see myself like how Jesus saw me. “But perhaps you can roll by yourself” “By myself? A missing piece cannot roll by itself” “Have you ever tried?” asked the big O
But Jesus saw that I was deserving of love and belonging. Beloved. Worthy. And my journey since then was the lift pull flop lift pull flop, and my edges wore off as I learn and grow towards wholeness and becoming more in the likeness of Christ, just like the missing piece became more like the Big O.
<Q3> Have you been taught that you are unworthy in church?
For many of us who are LGBTQ, the answer would be “yes.” And we are wounded and hurt and harmed because we are told we are unworthy. Not only that, some of us are called abominations – people that God despises and hates. There is little wonder that many of us arrive here at FCC, wounded.
In my sermon Walking Together: Resilience earlier in February this year, I spoke about how we are influenced by Calvinism. (and how we see ourselves, is also how we see others)
One key doctrine of Calvinism is Total Depravity. ” Calvinism teaches that human beings are totally depraved, meaning that every aspect of their being is corrupted by sin and unable to please God on its own. This emphasizes the need for God’s grace in salvation.”
I do believe we need God’s grace in salvation – but I disagree that every aspect of our being is corrupted and unable to please God on its own.
Even here at FCC, we have been influenced by church tradition – We have been taught that “Lord I am not worthy, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” That line is in one of our communion liturgies!
So it should be 100% yes to this question!
But let’s examine the passage that it is drawn from Matthew 8.
5 When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him 6 and saying, “Lord, my servant[b] is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.” 7 And he said to him, “I will come and cure him.” 8 The centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only speak the word, and my servant[c] will be healed.
<Q4> What do you realise?
Jesus actually said, “I will come and cure him” It is the centurion who saw himself as unworthy.
God doesn’t see us as unworthy – it is us, taught by society, taught by church tradition – that we are unworthy. I believe God sees us like how the parent sees their child in the parable of the Prodigal. All throughout the parable, the parent demonstrated nothing but love and acceptance towards the returning prodigal.
What did the prodigal say to the parent when the parent ran and put their arms around the child and kissed the child?
the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’[c]
And what did the parent say?
22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate, 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’
It is important that we need to know where we start – we are not wretched, undeserving, unworthy, and certainly not abominations.
That may be what we have been taught, that may be how we feel, but that’s not how God sees us.
So here at FCC, one way we walk each other as community towards growth and wholeness in Christ is to see ourselves as how God sees us. Beloved. Worthy.
Seeing ourselves as worthy of love and belonging is important.
During the church retreat, I had a long talk with Darryl, and he had a very good analogy I want to share with you.
When we see ourselves as unworthy we are like a cup that’s empty. (or half full). So we will go around trying to find ways to fill up ourselves up.
Some of us may seek it through our achievements, some of us may seek it through being liked by people, others may seek it through success, others may seek it through being right about anything and everything, some of us may seek it through recognition from other people.
Remember the quote from Pascal?
“There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each (hu)man which cannot be satisfied by any created thing?”
But we are filling the cup up with the wrong stuff.
And as we fill it up, and it does not satisfy, just like drinking salt water when we are thirsty, we will want more of what does not satisfy hoping that more of the wrong thing will be make us full.
In the past, I thought that recognition, being right, being smarter than other people will make me worthy somehow, when I didn’t get recognition, when I was wrong, I get very affected negatively. I have encountered people who have made their worthiness their careers, their talents, their work, that when they received negative feedback about their work, when they get criticised (even constructive criticism) they react very badly.
Even now, I am still a work in progress. I have to pay attention what happens inside when I feel unworthy, and there are times I react badly to criticisms – even when they are offered with the best of intentions, even when they are offered in love.
What we have been trying to do here at FCC is to help everyone realise that they are equal – equally beloved by God, equally worthy of belonging and love – “Worthy now. Not if, not when, we’re worthy of love and belonging now. Right this minute. As is.” Just like how God sees us. This is especially for LGBTQ folks who have bear the wounds and often these wounds drive us to find unhelpful ways to cope and try filling ourselves up with the wrong things.
We want to fill ourselves with the right stuff. We want to be wholehearted people. People not afraid of being vulnerable, knowing the God has our back, God loves us like the parent in the parable of the prodigal.
That helps us become more and more in the likeness of Christ.
We are not as affected when we things don’t go our way, when we fail, when we make mistakes because we are anchored in the love of God, knowing we are worthy, knowing we are beloved. We are able to live wholeheartedly –
This is how we unpack how we understand faith, not works. We serve, we do what we do, not because that is how we earn salvation. Because salvation is based on God’s grace, and all we need is to have faith that we are God’s beloved and God sees us as worthy.
That is why we have come to a point where we want people to be part of community first, then serve. So that they serve from a place of not filling up the void, but from being wholehearted, knowing they are beloved. So when they fail, when they make mistakes, they know we won’t abandon them, we won’t stop loving them, because that’s not where we start.
There are times the production team make mistakes. I always assure that, God isn’t pissed – God looks at our heart, not at our mistakes. In the past there are many who are afraid of stepping up to serve because they feel they need to be perfect. Is that you? I hope that we can help you become a wholehearted person, so you are no longer afraid of being not enough, and know that you are enough. And I hope we help each and every person be wholehearted and we love each person as they are. Worthy now. Not if, not when, you’re worthy of love and belonging now. Right this minute. As is.
This sermon series will dive deeper into how to become wholehearted, and address some things we have been taught, some things that may be unhelpful to our journey to become wholehearted people.
So come, know God loves you.
Then, slowly, lifted yourself up on one end
and flopped over. *plop*
then lift…. Pull.. flop… and move forward
And soon your edges will wear off
Liftpullflop lift pull flop lift pull flop….
and your shape will begin to change, more and more in the likeness of Christ
and then you are bumping instead of flopping
and then you are bouncing instead of bumping
and then you are rolling instead of bouncing
and then you didn’t know how, you are rolling like the big O, in the likeness of Christ