Reflection 062120 Rev Sunny
Matthew 5:21-24/ Genesis 33:1-17
No Peace Without Reconciliation
Jacob and Esau were the sons of Isaac and the grandsons of Abraham. They were born as twins, but Esau came out first, which means Esau became his father’s heir. It would have felt unfair to Jacob and the mother who loved him more than his brother. This sneaky boy made his brother trade him his rights as the first-born son with a bowl of porridge. Then when it was time for the father to bless his heir, the mother dressed Jacob like Esau and made him pretend to be Esau. According to the Bible, because Isaac was almost blind, Jacob could fool him, although I don’t understand how a father couldn’t tell the difference between his two sons even if he couldn’t see. Anyway, we can imagine how mad Esau would have been when he found out his brother took everything from him. Jacob had to flee. He fled to his uncle’s house, worked for him, and ended up marrying both his daughters because he wanted the younger sister, but younger sisters couldn’t get married before their older sisters. He worked hard, had a lot of children and animals. In today’s story, this guilty younger brother who had been plagued by the guilt and fear for a lot of years, finally confronts his brother Esau. He was scared that Esau might still want him dead and brought a Continue reading →
Matthew 9:35-10:15/ Genesis 18:1-15
Hope of God’s Reign
These days, I am thinking of what George Floyd said as he was being choked by a police officer; “I can’t breathe.” I can’t breathe metaphorically because it is utterly exhausting living daily as a person of colour in this part of the world. Almost 70 years after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus and the civil rights movement started in the United States, we are still experiencing systemic racism, as well as more subtle racism that comes in the form of microaggression. We live in a society where people of colour live as second-class citizens. Of course, since Rosa Parks, a lot has changed for African Americans; but at the same time, little has changed. The trauma from the pandemic got worse by the racial trauma that caused another Black Lives Matter movement. We can’t breathe. We are frustrated. We are exhausted. We are traumatized. In this social climate, I find myself being overtaken by negative thoughts and emotions. It is not easy to keep up our hope and soldier on. I find myself needing more prayer than usual just to keep myself from drowning in frustration and despair.
After experiencing the death and resurrection of Jesus, after receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit for which the first disciples had to patiently wait, we are now reflecting on the hope of God’s reign; the hope that belongs to God. The Bible and our history are full of stories of unlikely dreams and hopes coming true. Today, we start from the story of Abraham and Sarah. They were old and without children. According to the Bible, Sarah was barren. But then, a lot of barren cases in the Bible were supposed to be the women’s fault. God promised Abraham a son from his wife, but since it was not humanly possible, they doubted. In today’s story, Sarah laughed because that promise seemed ridiculous. Listen to what the Lord said to these doubting humans; “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?”
I learned that hope is faith in action. We can hope in unlikely situations because we have faith. Do you think enslaved Africans ever believed their children could become, not only free, but important leaders of the society? Do you think gay people hiding in the closet and loving in secret ever believed that they would one day legally marry each other and adopt children? We’re hearing a lot of rhetorical questions today because the answers are obvious. Nothing is too wonderful for the Lord. No dream is too impossible for the God who loves justice. This is the hope of God’s reign.
In the Gospel of Matthew, we see the disciples of Jesus being sent out to build the kingdom of God in their society. Not unlike us, Jesus and his people were living in a time that felt without hope. “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few,” Jesus said in verse 9. Then he sends his disciples out. If we read on after 10:8, Jesus warns them about the danger of the world into which they are being sent; they are like sheep being sent into the midst of wolves. In this scary mission, they are to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. The disciples are to remain pure in heart, but not so innocent as to become trampled by the wolves; they also have to be wise as serpents. In activism, sometimes, peaceful protesters deal with the police force that uses violence against them. In that case, being wise as serpents might mean, the protesters fight back and demand their civil rights. It’s like peace keeper troops taking arms, not to invade or attack, but to protect the vulnerable.
Jesus was worried about the world into which he was sending his disciples. They were being sent into the midst of wolves. Jesus would be worried about us if he were alive today. No, because the Holy Spirit replaced the human Jesus, we can say that the Holy Spirit is worried about us even as we are sent out into our world to spread God’s love and justice. I can tell you as a person of colour, it is not easy to picture a North American society in which people of colour are truly equal as white people. However, I learned from my university years when I was a student activist, that even when things look bleak today, we carry on guided by the hope for a just society. Today from the Bible, we hear the same message. Let us hope the hope that belongs to God, not to humans. Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? Of course not. With the help of the Holy Spirit, the reign of God, the reign of love and justice is possible; God just needs more laborers for the job. So, today, I invite you to join me in this hope for God’s reign. Let us never stop hoping and working to turn our community into God’s kingdom of love and justice. Come Holy Spirit and make us ho*pe and dream, and act. Amen.
Matthew 10:40-42/ Romans 6:12-23
Radical Welcome of God’s Reign
When I was in the theological school in New Jersey, I did my internship at a Methodist Church in the neighboring town. They prided themselves in being an open-minded and progressive congregation; they had a gay senior minister who had just come out as gay and an African American associate minister. Just like our church, they were renting their building to the local AA meetings. Some members of the AA group started coming to church to worship with us on Sundays. When they did, some old white members of the congregation felt uncomfortable about black and Latino people filling their pews. Then one day, a white old lady, who was walking to church, felt nervous and scared because a black man was walking behind her. She thought he was following her. She called the police, and the black guy, who was a member of the AA group on his way to worship with us, was told by the police that he couldn’t come to church for a while.
This is the reality of the North American society dominated by white people. My old American church proclaimed that all are welcome, Continue reading →
Reflection 060720 (Trinity Sunday)
Matthew 28:16-20/ Genesis 1:1-2:4a
God In Three Persons
In my theological school, we had to take a class on world religions as a requirement to the Master of Divinity program, which is the training program for future ministers. As we learned about Hinduism, the concept of avatar captured me. In our culture today, the word avatar is used as an online character that represents us; it is a representation of us online instead of an actual photo of us. However, the original concept of an avatar in Hinduism refers to someone who is believed to be the incarnation of a god. There are a lot of gods and avatars in Hinduism. Some names we know as Hindu gods are, in fact, avatars. The avatars were believed to be the incarnation of different gods because their lives and thoughts most resembled those gods. Avatars are needed because gods cannot be seen, heard, or touched and thus cannot be understood. Sound familiar? It should because we have one too in Christianity.
When Jesus came along, he was believed to be the Chosen One of God, the messiah, by his followers. There were a lot of prophets at the time who prophesied and performed miracles and were called sons of God; but their followers died out while the followers of Jesus did not. In fact, his followers expanded worldwide and here we are far way from Palestine two thousand years later. The gospel of Jesus of Nazareth stood the test of time, and his followers believe that he was the incarnation of God. Like the Hindu avatars, Jesus is believed to have represented God the best in history. Since today is Trinity Sunday, we reflect on the Holy Trinity, God in three persons which Christians believe. What does it mean to believe Continue reading →
Reflection 053120 (Pentecost Sunday)
John 7:37-39/ Acts 2:1-21
Spirit of Life
In my favorite TV show, Doctor Who, there is one episode in which holding one’s breath is crucial to survival due to the android monsters who can sense a human presence only from one’s breathing. There is another episode in which, in order not to be killed, one should not blink. I know this doesn’t make sense to those who have not watched these episodes… Nevertheless, this week during the scripture readings and reflection on Pentecost, The Doctor Who episode on holding breath came to me vividly. I think it is because we all have an innate fear of dying. While the Doctor’s friend struggled to hold her breath while tears were streaming down her big eyes full of fear, I found myself holding my breath and trying not to breathe. It is an animal instinct to try to stay alive when one’s life is in danger. Life is precious. Life is everything…
The Bible has different analogies for the Holy Spirit. In the story of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descends to the disciples as tongues of fire. In some other books, the Holy Spirit is compared to Continue reading →
Reflection 051720 May 17, 2020
1 Peter 3:13-22/ John 14:15-22
People of the Holy Spirit
This week, I saw a nurse’s post on social media about those who complain and protest about the quarantine. I was happy to read a medical professional’s post shutting down the complainers who don’t have the medical knowledge to decide what is safe or not, because I had been frustrated at the people who don’t heed the medical advice. With some bad language reflecting his anger and frustration at those people, he adds that if they get sick by being stupid and stubborn, he will take care of them all the same because he is a nurse. This bit made me reflect on a lot of things. Think of the US president; he has been ignoring science and failed to protect his people, and a lot of people hate him for it, but if he gets sick and is sent to the hospital, the doctors and nurses who are mad at him or hate him will still take care of him because of their oath.
The principle of not paying back evil with evil is the foundation of Christian faith and the Christian love taught by Jesus, and the most challenging part of following him. That is why we learn this lesson in 1 Peter chapter 3. “Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit,” (1 Peter 3:16b-18)
As a woman of colour, I often experience sexism and racism in different forms. I meet people who mistreat me, hurt me, and make me hate them. We all do. Between bigotry and experiencing toxic people in my life, I have a lot of reasons to hate someone or be angry, which is why the Christian teaching to not pay back evil with evil is so challenging. It almost seems humanly impossible. The focus is on the word “humanly.” What seems humanly impossible, we are being told to do as followers of Jesus Christ. What we cannot do as humans, God’s spirit can help us do. Let us take a look at John chapter 14. As I mentioned last Sunday, here, Jesus is giving his last teaching before his arrest and death. How is this teacher to trust that his clueless disciples will do well in spreading his message of God’s kingdom after he is gone? He tells them that the Holy Spirit will come to them and be their helper. Jesus will not be there physically to guide them, but the Holy Spirit will. We belong to him and he belongs to us. How lovingly intimate! Because of Jesus’ teaching, we know that all those who follow him are the people of the Holy Spirit. Through the Holy Spirit, we can communicate with God and receive guidance. What is “humanly” impossible, we can achieve it with the help of this “Helper”, the Holy Spirit. For example, when I was dating Attila, his ex-wife, who is psychologically troubled, gave us such a hard time and did everything she could to delay the divorce process. “Humanly”, I hated her. I was angry. I had to pray for compassion… very hard! Eventually, I stopped hating her because I understood she has an undiagnosed psychiatric condition, which was the source of my compassion.
We are the people of the Holy Spirit. We belong to God through Jesus and his Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our guide and helper. Jesus taught us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:43-47). It seems humanly impossible, but we can do it because we belong to God and the Holy Spirit is our helper and guide. During this pandemic and the economic crisis that comes with it, we see a lot of people being selfish, and people who hold power being oppressive. This collective trauma is affecting all of us. This is a great time for us to be the people of the Holy Spirit and shine the light of Christ. Let the Spirit abide in us and guide our feelings, attitudes, words, and actions. Let us become bigger people in the face of collective trauma with impatience and emotions rising. Let us embody the compassion of God’s kingdom during this difficult time. Let the peace that only comes from God that surpasses all human understanding, be with us.
Reflection 051020 May 10, 2020
1 Peter 2:2-10/ John 14:1-14
The Ordinary Chosen for the Extraordinary
Today’s confession about myself is that I am an early childhood educator who is bad at arts and crafts; I have little artistic talent, which was my biggest weakness as a teacher. I do love looking at beautiful things, such as pieces of art, but I just have to admire those with talent. However, what amazes me about the world of arts or arts and crafts is not the greatest paintings of Van Gogh or Monet. It’s how a lot of artistically talented people create either artistic or useful things with garbage, recyclable materials. Have you ever seen art works created with used can lids or soda bottles? They are amazing. In the movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory based on the children’s book of the same title, young Charlie collects deformed and useless toothpaste lids from his father’s toothpaste factory and builds a model of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. All these examples teach us that seemingly useless things can become useful.
In today’s reading in 1 Peter chapter 2, Jesus is compared to a stone that is rejected but was chosen by God. Also, we, his followers are living stones used Continue reading →
Reflection 050320 May 3, 2020
Psalm 23/ John 10:1-10
The Lord Is My Shepherd
I have a confession to make; when I was younger, I wanted to adopt children instead of having biological ones because I believed procreating extra human beings while so many children in the world are without homes was wrong. Well, when my best friends adopted Cedric and Sophie and made me their mom, I thought to myself, “Careful what you wish for!” Now I am middle-aged, haven’t procreated, and ended up becoming an adoptive mom through my best friends, for which I am extremely proud. While I was reading today’s scriptures about the shepherd, it reminded me of a photo that I took while visiting my godchildren for the first time. It’s a photo of my friend Mike lying on his back with little Sophie on his belly, all cuddly. It was a surprise because Sophie is not a very affectionate child. She is emotionally independent. Mike said it was the first time Sophie was cuddly. Even to this day, this image is stuck in my Continue reading →
Reflection 042620 April 26, 2020
Psalm 116:12-19/ Luke 24:13-35
How We Experience the Divine
Today’s one fact about myself is that, every day, I receive a daily devotional material from the United Church of Christ, our sister church in the United States. This week, I was surprised to find a reflection of Jonah in the whale’s belly. Why suddenly Jonah’s story during this Season of Easter? Jonah was a prophet whom God told to go to Nineveh to convert its residents. Since he didn’t want to go there, he took a ship going in the opposite direction. However, a storm hit, the sailors found out that it was Jonah’s fault, and he was thrown overboard. A whale swallowed him, and he stayed inside the whale’s belly for three days and three nights, during which time Jonah had a spiritual awakening and prayed earnestly. By the time the whale threw him up, he was ready to do God’s work. The minister who wrote this reflection said Jonah’s three days inside the whale was like a time out. Just like Jonah’s time out inside the whale, our quarantine is also like a time out, during which time we should experience a spiritual awakening like Jonah.
Our current situation being stuck at home is a bit like Jesus in the tomb for three days or Jonah inside the whale’s belly for three days. As we saw last Sunday, the first disciples were stuck behind locked doors after their teacher was killed. Just like Jonah had a spiritual awakening and conversion of heart inside the whale, our social distancing period could be a good time for self-reflection and spiritual conversion, a time to transform more and more into the image of Christ.
In today’s gospel story, we met two of the disciples who felt like they were inside the tomb, a whale’s belly, or quarantined from a pandemic. There are certain elements from this story that deserve our attention. The first one is that they did not initially realize that their travel companion was their teacher. So, when did they realize it was Jesus? If you remember our Easter story from the Gospel of John chapter 20, Mary Magdalene recognized Jesus when he called her by her name. In today’s story, the two disciples do two things before they recognized Jesus. First, they invited Jesus to come into the house to stay the night. Second, they broke bread and ate together. This is how one meets the divine; by taking an active measure reaching out to the divine, and then sharing bread with God’s people. Of course, sharing bread is an analogy for sharing our resources, hearts, and time with others. The first step to experiencing the divine is about our relationship with God. We should reach out to God and spend time with God through prayer and meditation. The second step is about our relationship with each other. We are called to be the people of God’s reign; caring for those in need and sharing God’s love with one another. To experience the divine, we should maintain a healthy relationship with both God and God’s people.
Until this pandemic is over, let us safely stay at home like Jonah inside the whale’s belly, and work on our relationship with God. As our relationship with God becomes more and more intimate, the Holy Spirit that lives in us will guide our hearts to reach out to God’s people more. We, who are called to live in God’s kingdom, experience the divine by living by God’s love with all God’s people. Peace be our journey of social isolation in God’s company…
Reflection 041920 Sunday, April, 19, 2020
1 Peter 1:3-9/ John 20:19-31
Believing Without Seeing
Have you ever persevered hardship thanks to the hope and faith for a solution or a relief? When I think about this topic and read today’s gospel story about the disciples meeting the resurrected Jesus, there is scene from my favorite TV show Doctor Who that pops into my head. In this scene, the Doctor and his companion Clara are facing an android race that harvests human body parts to form their bodies. The Doctor disappears, and Clara is left alone to fend for herself. Even in her terror, Clara bravely tries to bluff her way through the imminent threat of death. She tries to tell them that they are in trouble because the Doctor always comes to her rescue, and extends her hand behind her expecting for the Doctor to miraculously appear and take her hand. In that moment, her eyes look like she has 95% faith in the Doctor with 5% of fear and doubt; “I trust him, but what if he doesn’t come on time?” I had a similar experience when I was in Montreal searching for a church position. My study permit was about to expire, so I needed a job and a work permit. After 6 months, I was like Clara in that scene; 95 % of confidence that God will send me a job before my study permit expires, with a 5% fear and doubt. Kimberley United Church offered me a job in the nick of time. Praise be to God! I think a lot of us are similar Continue reading →