Monday, December 13, 2010

It's Monday morning and a chance to catch up after an especially busy weekend!  A highlight was the Graduation Ceremony and Eucharist at Ming Hua Theological College where I teach Christian Ethics.

Last Sunday at Christ Church was Pledge Sunday, the Sunday when we ask church members to commit themselves and their resources to God for the year ahead.  I was preaching and below is the text of the sermon I preached.  This is produced from the sermon notes and hasn't gone through too much editing.

The epistle for the day was Romans 15:4-13 and I used this as the basis for the sermon.

Pledge Sunday - Sunday, December 5, 2010

Two dates are especially significant in the history of Christ Church: dates, which, I think are of some significance for us as we celebrate Pledge Sunday today.  The first date is September 2, 1933 and the second, October 29, 1938.

September 2, 1933 first.  Many people do not realize that Christ Church has a history that goes back before the Church was founded in Kowloon Tong.  Christ Church is a rebirth of another Church: Saint Peter’s, West Point.  St Peter’s had been built in 1872 as a mission church for seamen.  It was supported in its work by large shipping companies.  Their support for this work stopped in the years after the First World War.  As many of its congregation had moved to the newly developing area of  Kowloon Tong, the decision was made to open a church in Kowloon Tong and close St Peter’s. 

A church house was acquired at 3 Duke Street.  Worship at St Peter’s stopped in August, 1933 and the church house was consecrated by Bishop Hall on Saturday. September 2, 1933.  Worship took place in a large room in the house.  The altar and furnishings were those of St Peter’s.  At this stage, the church was known as the Kowloon Tong Anglican Church.

Secondly, October 29, 1938.  Subsequently, the decision was made to build a church.  The site of the present church was chosen in January, 1936 and, with government assistance, a church was built.  The consecration service was held on October 29, 1938 and the Kowloon Tong Anglican Church became Christ Church.  Our church bell came from St Peter’s and it is rung before every service and at the moment of consecration during the Eucharist.  The bell is a reminder to us of our origins.  In the mission to the Seamen’s Club in TST, the Mariners' Club, there is the Chapel of St Peter: a reminder and a continuation of the work of the former church.

Since then, both Kowloon Tong and Christ Church have been through many changes.  What has not changed has been our commitment to serve Christ here in Kowloon Tong.  That we have been able to do so has been because of the commitment of members of Christ Church over the past 77 years.  Today it is important to pause and say thank you to God for all those who have both pledged their support and honored that pledge in the past. Their faithfulness has enabled us to be here today.

Our epistle this morning describes God as the God of steadfastness and encouragement.  Some versions translate the Greek word for steadfastness as endurance.  Christ Church illustrates this.  Our ministry endured even when Christ Church was taken over by the Japanese army during World War II and used as a stable for their horses.  It has endured during huge physical, geographic, political and economic changes in Hong Kong.  And from this we gain great encouragement.

At this point, doubtless, you are probably expecting me to encourage you to pledge your financial support to Christ Church today so that we can continue this ministry.  And yes, I will do that, of course, but first I want to ask what it is that we are pledging to.

Turning to our epistle again, I would like to read the verses which come before the set passage, that is, the first four verses of Romans 15.  Paul is writing to the Church at Rome, which, like Christ Church at the beginning, did not meet in a church building, but in a house or rather several houses.  These were pioneering Christians and Paul speaks enthusiastically and positively about them.  As is common and understandable, these Christians tended to get on better with some rather than others.  As a result, the Church could be divided roughly into those from a Jewish background and those from a Gentile background.  Again, as is common and understandable, those in one group argued for what they thought was right and how the church should behave, and the other group for what they thought was right.

This is typical, not only in churches, but in any human group or institution.  There are always going to be decisions to be made and problems to be dealt with.  There is nothing wrong with this: it’s just inevitable.  The way that these decisions are normally made is by one side campaigning for what they want, and another for what they want.  We have seen this just this week with the decision about where the World Cup will be held in 2018 and 2022!  You see it in schools, businesses, clubs, even the family.  It’s what democracy is all about!

In Rome, the Gentile Christians were arguing their case; the Jewish Christians theirs.  Today we would settle such a dispute by taking a vote at the Church Council or a church meeting.  Paul, however, argues for a much more radical way of tackling the issue: ‘We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.  Each of us must please our neighbour for the good purpose of building up the neighbour.  For Christ did not please himself …’

Paul tells them that instead of trying to get what they want, even what they think to be right, they should instead ask what will build up and strengthen my neighbour: my fellow Christian in the body of Christ.  We do this to follow the example of Christ.  For the Church is not ours, but his, and his way of doing things is different to that of the world.

Paul prays, ‘May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus …’

The Church is to solve any disagreements and make any decisions, not by one side getting its own way, nor even by popular vote, but by a coming together in harmony.  By asking, not what do I think is best, but what is best for the Church and my fellow Christian in it?

Now unity is not the same as unanimity, nor is it the same as uniformity.  We are all different with different likes and dislikes, outlooks and opinions.  This is what enriches our life together.  It is not whether we are different, but how we handle those differences.

Paul tells the Romans: ‘Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you.’  Rather than letting our differences push us apart, we are to use them to bring us together.  We are to welcome and accept one another even if there are times when we don’t particularly like one another!

When people come to Church, they should come to a place where people accept one another and so accept them.  We are not to be a place where people feel judged, but welcomed: everyone is welcome because Christ welcomes everyone.

This is an important reminder to us of what the Church really is.  The Romans met in a house just as our first members did.  ‘We are the body of Christ.’  Not the building or the place where we meet, but us, the people.  We need to get this right first.  Yes, the building matters.  Yes, we value and thank God for it.  But it is not the building that is holy; it is the person sitting next to you: your fellow member of the body of Christ.

But this is not all.  Our harmony, unity and acceptance of one another are not an end in and of itself.  It isn’t so we can feel nice when we are come together on a Sunday or whenever.  Paul does indeed write:  May not the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, but why?  He continues:

‘So that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (v6)

And this brings us to what today is about.  Pledge Sunday is not in the first place about money.  First and foremost, today is a challenge to us to pledge that we won’t seek to please ourselves, that we will take Christ as our example and welcome and accept one another so that together we may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ here at Christ Church, Kowloon Tong.

For unless we have this as our goal and pledge, then instead of being the Kowloon Tong Anglican Church, we will simply be the Kowloon Tong Anglican Club.  And there is already a perfectly good Club in Kowloon Tong!

Having made this Pledge to seek together to serve Christ and glorify God, God, of course, also invites us to commit our resources: our time, our abilities, and, yes, our money to make what we have committed ourselves to happen.

As your Vicar, today I want to pay tribute to all those who have given in the past so that we can worship together today.  I want to thank you for all you have given in the past year, and invite you on this Pledge Sunday to go on giving that we may indeed with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Chris.

Our service will include an Act of Commitment, please take it seriously!  We will close our service today with the hymn by Charles Wesley that expresses what it is we are committing ourselves to:

            ‘Ye servants of God, your master proclaim,
            and publish abroad  His wonderful name;
            the name all victorious of Jesus extol:
            His kingdom is glorious and rules over all.’


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