Free Community Church
Rev Miak Siew
7 September 2014
13:8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
13:9 The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet"; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, "Love your neighbor as yourself."
13:10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
13:11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers;
13:12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light;
13:13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy.
13:14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
18:15 "If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.
18:16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.
18:17 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
18:18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
18:19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.
18:20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them."
I want to start of today with something that is not in the sermon I prepared. Something that didn’t really fit in, but I still needed to address.
I want to deal with the end of the lectionary passage from Romans. The greek word translated as “desires” can also be translated as “lusts.”
We often misread in the Bible the denigration of desire, but it may not necessarily be there. Desire can be good or bad. It is often only the extremes of desire that is critiqued as bad.
So with that out the way, we begin today’s sermon
Love. We talk about love all the time. We talk about how we are to love God with our hearts, our minds, our souls and strength, and to love our neighbours as ourselves.
In today’s lectionary passage from Romans 13,
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet"; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
So what on earth is loving your neighbour? It is so vague. You can interpret it however you want. Caning your child – just like how I was raised - is a form of discipline that many think is a form a tough “love.” We are doing this for your own good, some would say.
Yesterday, during the retreat, I shared an article by Grant Spanier titled Seat 21A. Grant Spanier was on a flight from Minneapolis to Portland, and really really looking forward to sitting at the window seat – a seat which presents lots of Instagram opportunities (I know too, because I have quite a few pictures of clouds from the window seat)
When he arrived there at seat 21A, there was someone sitting there. Someone took his seat! He was furious, and started typing an angry text to his friend.
When he finished, he read it again, and he felt sad. Sad that he had reacted that way. He deleted the text, decided that since he would spend most of the time working on his laptop, the window seat wasn't a big issue, and let the woman have the window seat.
How often do people tweet, stomp, post of Facebook, when they see something they don't like, when someone annoyed them, or pressed their buttons?
Don't we do that sometimes? Complain about bad service, strangers who have somehow pissed us off on the MRT, or the lift without holding it for us, blah blah blah. Even worse, we complain about the people in our lives - our colleagues, our friends, our partners, our family.
Grant Spanier wrote, "And we make snap judgments, we get flustered and complain, because it gives us power. We’re the ones who’ve been wronged—we deserve to be upset. When the world forces its will on us our initial reaction is to try and force our will upon the world. This was my initial reaction when the woman took my seat."
"When something goes wrong, especially something that seems unfair, we want to be acknowledged. We don’t want to feel alone. We want to be told we’re right and we deserve ____ and blah, blah. This is why I immediately started angrily texting my friend, selfishly groping for gratification.
Later on that flight, the woman in seat 21A asked if Spanier wanted anything from the air stewardess. He was plugged into his earphones and busy working, and did not notice the stewardess coming by. She ordered a Baileys with coffee, and Spanier asked for the same. The woman paid for his as well, and they began chatting a lot more. It turned out that it was not just an enjoyable flight, but it became something even more.
They were talking about that pet peeve - about folk who rush out of their seats to get off the plane. It turned out that the woman's sister passed away recently from a medical emergency on the flight, and people did not listen to the request for people not to block up the aisle so that people can attend to her sister's emergency. She shared vulnerably about her own mortality, and from a deep place.
Spanier wrote, "It freaked me out that I could have ruined such a wonderful occasion. It freaked me out that such possibility was hiding in that situation."
He said that we can choose happiness instead. I don't think that it is happiness - I think that he chose love.
What happens when we are triggered by other people, when these people press our buttons and we react?
Almost always our reactions come from a negative place. We snap at people. We say things we regret later and we cannot take them back. We cannot undo. We cannot load save game.
Yesterday, during the retreat we talked about being hot headed and cool headed. When we are hot headed, we react instinctively. When we are cool headed, we think calmly, and more logically. This does not mean that it guarantees that we make good decisions, but it is certainly a lot better than our instinctive reactions.
How many times we bought something we don't use or need on impulse? Be it instigated by the sales person, or our own impulsiveness? That is hotheadedness.
I will share a personal experience here. Many of you would remember, that there was someone who wore a tshirt with a swastika to church one Sunday, and I pointed it out, and tried to use it as a moment to teach everyone that what that symbol meant, what it carried, and how what we wear represent us, our values, and our ethos.
Yes, i was justified. The indignance, injustice, the sense of righteousness. I had good intentions for sure. I intended to point out something so we can all learn. But i didn't think about the individual's feelings.
We all know that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
I reacted. That swastika pressed my buttons. I was there at Auschwitz. I was there where 6 million people were gassed. I was there, where one room filled with the shoes that were found there, another room filled with the hair shaved from the people's head, another filled with their glasses. It still brings strong emotions to me this day. To see one of the people i am called to teach and minister to wear the symbol that represented that evil , pressed my buttons. I needed to teach us so we understand what it represents, and so we do not - consciously or unconsciously - propagate and adverstise for this symbol.
I should have thought more, taken a different approach. I learned through the process that there was a better way. Instead of reacting, I could have done what Paul wrote - "If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone."
Yesterday in the retreat, we wanted to learn more about ourselves, become more self-aware, become more sensitive and empathetic to others, and make changes, and make these changes stick.
One of the things we learned was not to react. How do we not react? How do we learn to do better? By knowing what triggers us, what presses our buttons, and learn to develop a course of action when we are triggered, angered, and when our buttons are pressed.
Sometimes it is by disrupting our own reactions by walking away for a short while. Sometimes it is just by stopping ourselves from reacting and think through what is the best course of action.
We often talk about loving the stranger, loving the other, with the assumption that if we know how to love a stranger, the other, how to love those who are close to us, those we know very well, will automatically follow. I think loving someone who is close to us, someone we know is just as, if not more, difficult.
We make even more assumptions about people who are close to us, because we think we know them a lot better. These may not necessarily be wrong assumptions - I think we would be probably right 8 or 9 out of 10 times. But there is still that 1 or 2 times we are wrong.
I am sure many of us have gone "hana hana" when our family members nag at us. My dad would keep saying "You keep coughing because you sleep so late every day." And then I would go, "hana hana." Most of the time, he is saying it to remind me that I should take better care of myself. But there may be that 1 or 2 times i am wrong. What he said, may be an opening to something else he wants to say, instead of being what the main point he wanted to make. He may want to break the ice to say something even more important, but my "hana hana" just cut the conversation short.
One of my friends had a strained relationship with his mom. His mom isn't that educated, and they had a huge gap in communication. And every time he came home, she would nag. She would pick on small issues and make a mountain out of a molehill. It got to a point it was very bad. He was stressed at work, and he didn't need more things to drag him down at home. So when he gets home, she nags, he goes "hana hana," closes the door so he did not have to deal with her.
He then realized that that nagging was the only opening she had to communicate with him. She didn't have anything else to talk to him about, except for the negative things. So he thought doing things differently. Every day - or every other day - he would buy food back. Whatever that was the flavour of the month. The newest beancurd in town, doughnuts, cakes, muffins - you name it, he bought it. And then someone shifted. Instead of nagging at him, she started talking about the food he bought back. Yes, there were times she still nagged and complained (that the muffins were too sweet), but at least she was complaining about the muffins, and not my friend. Their relationship turned for the better.
Instead of reacting, he thought of how to change his actions. He made a conscious decision and thought through it. Cool headed, instead of hot headed.
The saying goes, "familiarity breeds contempt." I think familiarity also breeds habits. We don't think. We react. It is like we are on auto-pilot. Like when you go into shower, you don't really need to actively think about what you are going to it. All the actions are habitual. Whether you shampoo first, or soap first, or use your facial cleanser first; or if you are a soap-only person, where do you start and where do you end - the entire process needs little conscious effort. You are on auto-pilot.
Just like how we go auto-pilot when we do things that are habitual, we develop habits in interacting with people we are familiar and close to. We don't think. We react. We are not mindful.
But it is in our relationships with people we care about and we love that we need to be even more mindful, and not simply react.
What if we stop reacting? What if we choose, like Grant Spanier not to react to the woman in seat 21A, to the people around us?
What if we pay attention? Listen? Try to look past our assumptions to understand what is going on? That is a way of loving.
Love isn’t about you. I don’t think being nice, being loving to the other person is to hope for the possibility of some positive outcome, some reward. Then I don’t think that is love. We love, because we are called to love. That is fulfilling the law.
This week, I read that Victoria Osteen, wife of Joel Osteen said t people should, "Just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy."
With her husband Joel Osteen standing beside her, Mrs. Osteen continues that, "When you come to church, when you worship Him, you're not doing it for God really. You're doing it for yourself, because that's what makes God happy."
We need to be clear what is being Christian. Being Christian isn’t about being happy. That is twisting and warping Jesus’ teachings into a form I cannot recognize. Being Christian, following Jesus is about loving God. Loving our neighbor. Fulfilling the law.
We don’t love, because we hope to get a baileys coffee. Or love because that will make us happy. The truth is love can often be painful.
While growing up, my sister had been the favoured one. Maybe it is because I am older, maybe because i am a guy, and she is a girl. Anyway the reasons are not important. The fact was that, everytime we argued, I was in the wrong. She got what she wanted - most of the time.
So a few months ago, we were having dinner. My sister was coming home late, so my mother was putting some of the food aside for her in the tupperware. We were having fish, and my mother exclaimed, "Wah, got fish roe! Peggy sure like!" and she proceeded to put the piece of fish roe in the tupperware.
That pressed my buttons. You see, i like fish roe too. All my 30 over years, i have kept quiet and let my sister have it to avoid having yet another fight. And this time, all these years later, it still pressed my buttons. Part of me wanted to say "i want that piece of fish roe too! Don't you know i also like fish roe?" That sense of indignance and injustice, that hurt was still there.
But i didn't say anything. I let it go.
I let it go because i can get my fish roe in the vegetable rice stall in the coffee shop if i wanted. I let it go because i don't want to come out about my liking for fish roe and make my parents feel bad about the past 30 over years. It is not that my parents didn't love me. They do! They love me in different ways. I mean, hey! I didn't buy that fish, the food they put on the table. I may not have fish roe, but I have fish! I know how to appreciate that. I don't have to bring that up. I learn to deal with my own issues of the past and let it go. They may not set aside fish roe for me, but they certainly set aside durian and chocolate for me.
We make choices. Active decisions instead of reacting. I could have reacted. Yes, it may seem unfair, I certainly want to be acknowledged, and I certainly want to be told I am right, and I deserve to be treated better. But that is the instinctive reaction. I am older, and hopefully wiser. I know I can choose love. Love isn't about me. Love is about us.
So I know, the next time we have roe in the fish, I would just smile to myself, because it is my act of loving, to the people who love me.
I received a message earlier this morning, and though I have not emotionally processed it, I thought it is something I needed to share with all of you. So forgive me if I am not as emotionally grounded.
I am not sure how many of you watched the Youtube video of a young teenager being verbally and physically abused after coming out in Atlanta. It happens in Singapore too. Last week, someone contacted me after the play Let's Get Back Together. Rev Yap and myself were interviewed and what we said were part of the play. It was a very moving and powerful piece, and I hope it gets another run. But back to the person who wrote to me - he was disowned and thrown out of the house a few years back after coming out.
He was going back to wish his mother happy birthday as her birthday was on yesterday (Saturday). This morning he wrote a message to update a few of us who supported him in different ways.
"Dear kind friends, I have finally met my mom tis morning ard 6am after facing a cold door since 9pm plus last nite.
I was silent when my dad scolded me why you good for nothing gay and ungrateful shameless idiot come to a place tat do not welcome me anymore. I stood in silence even as he told the stuff from my hands and threw it into my face.
I stood and sat outside my house pray hard and wrote a very long letter on how sorry I was to hurt them and how I was doing the last 4 years plus, Hw much I love them. And I slot the letter under the door around 2am.
Through this process, my teacher who is a loving mother with her husband rooted for me (dun know their FB) by staying near me at the lift landing area. They bought me drinks and food though i had no appetite but really appreciative for that. I seek help
She constantly text me to comfort me and pivot her perspective as a mom had advised. Else I wun know Hw to spend that tormenting wait outside that door.
Finally tat door opened by my mom and I could nt helped it but cried and thank god for that moment in my heart. Thank you pastor Miak Siew for your prayers.
Though it was nt a fairy tale ending and I din not get to hug my mom, my mom passed me an insurance endowment policy that she had been payin all the last aprox 2 decades including the period I was thrown out of their house till the year 2014. That was good enough for me . I know she still loves me but cannot accept my orientation.
She did say if you change to " normal"(non gay ) then I am welcomed home and banged closed that door. I know I cannt change facts that I am gay but somehow this is good enuff for me. My heart is somewhat relieved.
In that policy are 9 cheques I have written to my parents for the last 2 years (never deposited and some expired) . They kept it not tore it. Somehow tat was comforting for me and made my heavy heart lighter....they still love me
Thank you for all ur advices and private messages of encouragement. It was those that gave me courage especially when I was nt ready to face my parents.
I had to cos my mom has last stage cancer.”
I didn't know when he first contacted me about his mom's cancer. I hope it doesn’t take a terminal illness to bring us to the point to reconcile with people we have broken relationships with.
Not all of us have relationships that are as strained as this person who messaged me. Some of us just have rough relationships. But these still need to be worked at. There is always some parts of our relationships that need healing, reconciliation and forgiveness. Working on them is love.
I want to repeat – love isn’t about you. I don’t think being nice, being loving to the other person is to hope for the possibility of some positive outcome, some reward. Then I don’t think that is love. We love, because we are called to love. That is fulfilling the law.
When he asked me to pray for him, I shared with him what I carry with me in my heart. Many folks quote this, but do not realise it is from the Bible.
"Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends."
1 Cor 13:4-8
Sermon by Rev Miak Siew
Free Community Church
20 July 2014
28:10 Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran.
28:11 He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place.
28:12 And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.
28:13 And the LORD stood beside him and said, "I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring;
28:14 and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring.
28:15 Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you."
28:16 Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, "Surely the LORD is in this place--and I did not know it!"
28:17 And he was afraid, and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven."
28:18 So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it.
28:19a He called that place Bethel; but the name of the city was Luz at the first.
I have no words.
I cannot begin, as I wrestle with the tragic loss of human lives - in Gaza, in Ukraine. The ground invasion of Gaza by Israel started on the same day MH17 was shot down.
How can I talk about dreams of stairways reaching to the heavens, and angels of God ascending and descending those stairways? How can I talk of the promise that Jacob's offspring will be like dust of the earth - spread to the west, and to the east, and the north and the south, and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in Jacob and Jacob's offspring when artillery is fired on the innocent people in Gaza? How can I talk about how awesome is this place when books are banned because they depict same-sex marriage (I am talking about Archie here)? How can I talk about gates of heaven when someone I went to school with, someone i called a friend, suggested that i am gay because my mom isn't my biological mom, and i grew up living apart from my family because he, or someone else, misread one of my blog posts from long ago?
I have no words. It is all clouded by despair, by grief, by hopelessness.
Is what i do going to amount to anything? Am I able to change anything? While i try to do what i do, even those i thought were understanding allies say insensitive and inappropriate things.
I have no words.
Yet, on the same night - on Thursday night all this was happening, something else happened. While I was out having dinner, I received a WhatsApp message from my sister. She told me not to be surprised to have 9 people in sleeping bags sleeping in our living room.
They are a group of youths/young adults from Taiwan called 梦想骑士 - translated in English as Dream Riders - the youngest is 16, and the older ones in the group, the organizers - are in their late 20s and early 30s.
They are to travel from KL to SG and back on foot, and by hitching rides. They cannot spend a single cent and have to exchange labour for food and lodging.
They want to go back to share this experiences with children from single parent families and orphans to let them know that even without a lot of money and resources they can still follow their dreams.
They have their own challenges. Imagine 9 people coming together, most of them do not know each other before. Some of them are embarking on this journey to find themselves. Some of them come from broken families.
They have their own dreams. They want their lives to have meaning. They want to break the cycle of brokenness. They want to learn how to relate, how to connect, how to love, how to accept others, and how to accept themselves.
The organisers were inspired by Jesus instruction to his disciples to go out in pairs to spread the Gospel, and carry very little with them but instead depend on the hospitality and generosity of the people they encounter.
They told me of the times they waited at toll booths for hours under the blazing sun for someone to give them a ride. Then one time they got a ride, it was on a lorry carrying construction materials. It is illegal to be ferrying passengers on the lorry, so they have to be lying down at the back of the lorry, lying on the dust, bumping their heads as the lorry bumped along.
We complain about the airconditioning not working. We complain about the heat when we walk 5 minutes to the hawker centre. Are we able to take it, to do what they did? Are we able to walk a few hours under the hot sun? Are we able to be in discomfort, and step out of our comfort zones – whether they are physical, emotional or psychological ones.
When they arrived in Singapore, they couldn’t find anyone to host them the first night. They slept in the lift landing of a carpark at 4am in the morning.
When I heard they did not find lodging on the first night, my heart broke. Is this city like Sodom? Are we heartless? Are we so preoccupied with ourselves that we fail to love? Are we so fearful of strangers that we don't let them in?
But then, I thought to myself, not many people have the privilege of having a home big enough to host 9 people.
The following day, they went door to door knocking in my neighborhood, and they came to our door. I am glad my mom and dad welcomed them, and hosted them. Hebrews 13:2 – Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.
They thought we were a blessing to them. They planned to stay 2 nights, but they stayed 3. But I wonder if they realized too, they were a blessing to us. They helped my family see who we are, what kind of people we are, and what kind of family we are.
I am glad we were not so fearful of other people we don't let them in.
But there are other ways we don’t let people in.
I was talking to a friend - and he was talking about a group of folks he used to hang out with, that I used to hang out with. He no longer hangs out with them, and I asked why? He said that after all these years, his relationship with the rest of the group has not grown deeper. It is always talking about what the latest trends, where they have recently travelled to, what is fashionable, gossiping about other people. There isn’t any space for going deep, taking off our masks and be vulnerable. He compared them to his friendship with me – saying that in these five years, we have grown closer, we have shared a lot of what we go through – our hopes, our fears, our dreams with each other. We were able to be vulnerable to one another, to open up and speak what is on our minds and on our hearts.
So after that conversation, I went home, and the small group invited me to join them as they shared with me their gratefulness, and what they have learned in the few days staying with us. It was a precious moment – a gift. They were vulnerable and honest. And I realized that I, too had to be vulnerable. I came out to them. I told them I am the gay pastor at the only inclusive church in Singapore. I don’t know why but they didn’t look surprised or shocked. Perhaps in our interactions over the past few days, perhaps because of our willingness in being open and vulnerable to one another, they no longer see me just as a label but they saw me for who I am.
Another friend told me recently, for the muscles to remember an action, it needs to be repeated 100 times. For the muscles to forget bad postures, bad habits, an action needs to be repeated 1000 times. For an action to become second nature it needs to be repeated 10,000 times.
We repeat this ritual - communion - every week. That is 52 times a year. Do we repeat it enough until it is etched on our hearts?
Do we practice love when we return back to our daily lives? Or do we forget and repeat all the bad habits, bad behaviors, do we fail to love the other 6 days?
The dream riders - spend 1.5 hours every day - and usually more - reviewing what they have learned, reflecting on what has happened during the day, talking about their conflicts with others in the group so that whatever they learn will stick. They have a whole month doing this.
I know that this group of youths brought hope. Hope when there is so much senseless violence and death all over. Here is a group that seeks to do something to bring hope to children whose family do not fit in the cookie cutter model of one father, one mother, and their children during a time when so many people are parroting the word "pro-family." They, to me, are truly pro-family, because they are pro-love.
I wonder if you can recall, I have said before, "Even the dimmest candle can dispel the deepest darkness." Well, some physicist or pessimist may tell me that won't work with a black hole in space. I wonder if this candle, this hope that this 9 wonderful angels have brought to me, is enough to fight the darkness of despair, hopelessness, betrayal and grief.
And then I recall our song -
"And I will remember when you became real to me
When you will not turn away, you will not turn away
I remember i am an anchor of love
I am a beacon of hope for you"
Many of you have expressed concern because i am visibly burnt out. i am grateful for the reminders that i do not have to shoulder the burden of the world - because i have to trust God to do that. But still, i am emotionally exhausted. The tragedies this week certainly added so much more.
I have been propped up over the past month since Pink Dot by one thing - One Commonwealth. This space is the manifestation of the promise "Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for i will not leave you until i have done what i have promised you." All those of you who have stepped up to help with the move, to chip in here and there, all of you - like Louis who is playing in the worship team for the first time - have helped propped me up.
Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, "Surely the LORD is in this place--and I did not know it!" And he was afraid, and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." Jacob anointed the stone he used as a pillow, the stone he dreamt his dreams on, with oil. He called the place Bethel - Beth - House - El - of God.
We anointed this altar, this communion table last week. This stone we dreamt our dreams on. We anointed this altar in this place called Commonwealth, in this house of God.
This altar is the ritual altar - where we remember the act of love Jesus did, the commandment of love that Jesus gave, and how we are to symbolically embody that love in the ritual of the communion.
But this altar, after we are done on Sundays with our service, is stored in that niche under our kitchen table. That is the real table where we celebrate, re-enact, and live out - love. With family, with friends, with strangers.
Let us celebrate communion - and hope that we allow the elements - the bread and the wine, the emblems of love, make us one in the Body of Christ and etch on our hearts who we are, what we are called to do.
i have no words
no words to console
no words to mourn
no words to grieve
i have no way
whether it is an infant
a child playing at the beach
a health worker
a drug trafficker
i know to well
that they are
i only have
for lives taken
with a press of a button
a squeeze of the trigger
i have one word left
a word i borrow from a friend
and that word is
this poem was edited after i found out that Singapore executed 2 drug traffickers on the morning of 18 July 2014 when i wrote this poem.
it is a hypothetical
an intellectual exercise
of an argument
i am not objective
i don't speak reason
i do not have
of talking objectively
when i am
i do not have
when you keep insisting
on pressing the buttons
all my trauma
all over again.
i do not have the privilege
when i deal with
the pain of those who have been hurt
those who took their lives
those who are thinking of taking
i do not have the privilege
to accept an apology
that was never given.
have you ever
from going into the
because you are not
next of kin?
because her parents
did not approve
of your relationship?
have you ever
someone out there
will be offended
that someone thinks
have you ever
may tell on you
and your life
after you have been
have you ever
they do not have hope
of a future
and they end it
with a step
off the ledge
off the chair
have you ever
who are more
with your sex life
my gay lifestyle.
You were not there
When they held each other
When they received the news
Of the passing of a loved one
You were not there
When they helped
Lay the table
For the family's reunion dinner
You were not there
When they committed to each other
For the rest of their lives
You were not there
When one waited
Outside the operating theatre
You were not there
When one bid the other farewell
Till they next meet again
Yet you are so quick
In telling them
Their love is evil
That they cannot be accepted
Their love less than yours
That their lifestyle is evil
Because all that is on your mind
Is what they do in their bedroom
If you were there
You would see
If you were there
That you cannot see love
When all you are about
The Great Commission : "Teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you"
Sermon by Rev Miak Siew
Matthew 28:16-20, 2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Free Community Church
15 June 2014
This week's lectionary passages mark the beginning of the Bible - Genesis 1:1- 2:4, and the end of the Gospel according to Matthew, and the end of the Epistle 2 Corinthians.
For those of you not familiar, this week's reading from the Gospel according to Matthew is also known as the Great Commission. For many people, this emphasizes missionary work, evangelism and baptism.
Many of you would have heard me repeatedly say - sometimes dividing the Bible into chapter and verse is not helpful because often when we quote the Bible, we lift verses out of their context, or in this case, leave an important part out.
The Great Commission is often truncated to be just verse 19 - " Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." I have had a few people ask me how many people have been baptized at FCC, as though baptizing is the KPI (Key performance indicator) of a church. I often give my signature raised left eyebrow in reply.
I hope FCC does not become so focused on baptizing people that we become a production line. I am concerned that behind the question how many people we have baptized lies the idea that baptism is the ultimate goal - everything else is periphery.
When I was younger, I have been asked many times when I told older folks I am Christian, "Are you baptized?" It seems to them that is the be all and end all of Christianity. I think that is the wrong idea. Baptism is just like a wedding. It is the ceremony to celebrate and honour the relationship between the two persons before the community and before God. The relationship existed before the wedding, and there is even more work for the couple after the wedding. Likewise, our relationship with God existed before the baptism, and baptism doesn't signal the destination of our journey, but rather a milestone. Baptism, to me, is the celebration and honoring of our relationship with God.
Too often we have focused on baptism as the finishing line. I think what is more important than baptism is in the very next verse - "Teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you."
What did Jesus mean by "everything I have commanded you?" What did Jesus command? What do we try to here at FCC?
"Love God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul and all your strength. And love your neighbour as yourself."
If you have been here at FCC for a while, you will hear us repeat this often. Jesus said that "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
We say it often enough. We know it by heart (I hope). But do we carry it out in action? How do we love?
I had a little disagreement with a very good friend this week. I had posted about being passive aggressive because this friend told me something having issues about what another friend is doing. And I just asked, in my direct, no-nonsense, almost self-righteous way, "Why don't you just tell it to that person directly?" And the reply I got was, "I don't care enough to let him know."
I was stunned for a moment. And in my time doing the Prayer of Examen that evening, a thought came to me. I hope I would never not care enough to let a person know about an issue that bothers me. If I love someone, I would let them know.
In one of the lectionary passages today - 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 - also the end of the Epistle, the Apostle Paul wrote the church in Corinth "Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you."
Very often, we are told to keep the peace, to agree with one another for the sake of the community, for the sake of the church, for the sake of the family. While i think sometimes it does make sense - especially when folks make mountain out of molehills, i don't think burying everything under the carpet works all the time.
How I wish I can say to you "Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you" and tell all of you to do exactly what I say. You have to agree with me, since I am the pastor. That would really make my life easy. But I think that is not the circumstance and situation that Paul is addressing.
Yes, there are times we need to put things in order. The church is where we hope that there is love, but we are still human, and we often fail as the church. We often end up with a lot of broken relationships and friendships because of our disagreements and our differences. I often struggle to tell people - we often fail to realize that we are forgiven when we ourselves do not learn to forgive others. We keep thinking that God has not forgiven us because that is how we are with the people in our lives. I think this is important - Jesus taught this in the simple prayer he taught us - forgive us as we forgive one another.
But forgiveness does not mean that we just gloss over what happened and pretend that it never happened. I believe that very often, we have to disagree with one another, to point out what is wrong, what can be improved, what needs to be change and hold each other accountable. I think that only when we hold each other accountable and be honest about the issues we have that we are able to grow individually, and as a community. That is the way to build relationships that have deep roots. It is friends who trust each other who are able to offer criticism honestly and constructively.
I know my friend meant when my friend said "Your tone was self righteous." I know that is my flaw very often. I am learning to soften my approach and offer my views in a loving manner. Trust me, I am not there yet. But I am learning and growing because of friends who are able to tell me in the face. I am grateful that instead of just being angry at my facebook post, my friend texted me to tell me. Because it mattered. Because we love each other enough to matter.
I do not want a community of false peace, where everyone smiles at one another, but all have issues with one another that prevent them from building deeper and stronger relationships. I want to build a community of love that is so strong that we can give and receive criticism, we can argue and disagree, we can hold each other accountable, and yet love each other and live in that kind of peace that is not the lack or absence of conflict, but rather the peace that comes from knowing our love for each other is unshakeable.
"Love each other as I have loved you." Jesus says. Jesus does not hold back his criticism of his disciples. He criticises not to put people down, but to offer them the opportunity to reflect, to learn, to change, to grow.
But love isn't just about being honest with people's faults. It is also about being honest about their strengths. We are somehow as stingy with our face to face acknowledgement of the good in people, as we are with our face to face criticism of the bad in people. Yes, we can badmouth someone when we are not in their presence, but we can't tell them in the face. And we also can keep saying good things about someone, but maybe our Asian culture keeps us from saying it in their presence.
Otto Fong commented - Similarly, when some people do right, we are also unable to acknowledge them directly. My own experience was that I did not acknowledge the contributions of my dad and mom to them, but tel everyone else how I felt about them. The result of which is a loss of connection between me and my parents. Our relationships became that much more meaningful when I finally was able to speak my heart to them. Indeed, our way of not talking directly to the people responsible cost us much in terms of our daily connections.
We need to put to practice what we say. Love isn't just a feeling. It is an act. To become loving people, we need to continually practice how to love. Sometimes we will screw up, but that doesn't mean we stop trying. Are we able to communicate honestly and authentically how we feel to each other.
Half the year is almost gone. For the rest of the year, I want to challenge you to do this - to practice love. We keep talking about love. Talking about loving God with all our heart, mind, souls and strength and loving our neighbours. I have seen folks on facebook with the 100Happydays challenge. Some folks have quite interesting ways about being happy - but most of them are all about me, me, me.
So I want to challenge you to do this - get a notebook, or your mobile phones or your computers - and journal down every day 2 things - how have you loved God, and how you have loved your neighbour. Do this until the end of the 2014. Practice love until you get almost perfect at loving.
On the last Sunday of 2012, Su-Lin brought us through a ritual of gratitude at the end of her sermon titled "A Grateful Heart."
Su-Lin said "Gratitude starts with an awareness, an intention and with practice becomes an attitude."
Each post it that is up there is what somebody is grateful for then. We are moving to One Commonwealth, and this is the penultimate service (just love that word) here at Geylang. So I would like to invite you - please don't feel obliged - to come forward and help take down one of these post its, and read its contents and pause to reflect on what is written. Then, pray for the person who wrote it, for yourself - because the content may stir up something for you - and for FCC. Then i invite you to paste the post-it on the pulpit.
This pulpit is a gift from the late Rev Dirk Davenport. It has served us well through the years, but it is time to decommission it as it does not fit in with the space in One Commonwealth. As you paste the post-it on the pulpit, i invite you to do it slowly and meditatively - and think about all those who have come before us who have made FCC possible. How those people answered God's call one way or another to journey as part of our community.
i want us to practise remembering. Remembering how God has be faithfully accompanying and guiding us, just like how God accompanied the Israelites as the pillar of cloud and fire.
Practise, practise, practise. Until remembering, loving, becomes second nature to us.
So how are we going to practise loving for the rest of the year?
i, like many others,
you would have
from whence we come
there we return
till we meet
Owes us nothing
Nor does the rain
Nor does the weather.
They just are.
If it rains
The birds do not
They just adapt
So self centered
That the sun shines
And the rains pour
It is not
Is it a tango
A cha cha
Or is it a solo
For a dance
And how often
Should you ask
Am I too strong
Is my embrace
Should I go faster
Or should I go slow
How gentle should I be
Should I lead
Or should I follow
When the dance is over
Will there be one more