2014年11月30日 星期日

Great Revelation of the Truth (極大的啟示和真理)

#2014-1130

Great Revelation of the Truth
              -- by The Rev. Jason Ke (trans. J.L.)

(A Sermon for Sunday, November 30, 2014, at St.James' English Language Service)

First Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:24-37

INTRODUCTION

Good morning, my dear friends in Christ!

In the Season of Advent there are four Sundays.  The Biblical lessons for these four Sundays all have something to do with the coming of God’s son, Jesus Christ.  It is hoped that these lessons from the Bible will help us learn more about the significance of the Nativity of Jesus, that is, the Lord Jesus’ coming into the world.

Only when we know the meaning of the Nativity can we celebrate Christmas in the right way – and with the right attitude! Otherwise, we might just follow secular customs and become “slaves to social conventions.”  If this is or becomes the case, then we will unfortunately disregard the spiritual significance of Christmas and, to make matters even worse, “materialize” what we do in celebration of the Lord Jesus’s coming.

As you will see, the Biblical passages for us to read in Advent are quite serious.  They may be a bit confusing, or very hard to comprehend.  But they are worth reading and pondering.  By reading these passages attentively, we can hopefully get a divine revelation about the Truth.

KEY MESSAGES

I.                  People in Trouble Asking God for Help

From Isaiah 64:1-2 we learn that the people of Israel were earnestly praying for God’s coming from heaven to free them from suffering.

The Easy-to-Read Version of the Bible describes these verses this way: “If you would tear open the skies and come down to earth, then everything would change. The mountains would burst into flames like burning bushes. The mountains would boil like water on the fire. Then your enemies would learn about you. And all nations would shake with fear when they see you.” (Isaiah 64:1-2, The Easy-to-Read Version)

About the eighth century BC, the people of Israel, who had been held captive in the Babylonian Empire for a long time, were allowed to return to their homeland.  They cheerfully returned to Jerusalem, but when they saw that the Temple as well as their homes had been ruined by their enemies, they couldn't help but burst out in tears, crying.  They cried to the Lord God, asking him to come down from heaven and save them.

But the Lord God did not come to them as soon as expected. Instead, the Old-Testament prophets proclaimed that a great, great King would, sooner or later, come to lead and liberate the people of Israel – This King would be the Messiah, or called “Christ.”

The Israelites kept waiting for the Messiah.  Nearly 700 years later, when the Lord Jesus Christ came into the world, the Jews did not accept him, because he appeared to be so very humble, by no means like any powerful king on (the) earth.

Bound by the traditional misconceptions about “the King,” the Jews failed to see the glory and greatness manifested by Jesus Christ, who looked so humble when he came into the world.  The stubborn Jews, indeed, missed the opportunities to welcome Jesus Christ, the Messiah.

But St. Paul clearly stated, writing about Jesus, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name.” (Philippians 2:8-9, NRSV) St. Paul had seen the Lord Jesus’ power and glory,

You see, Jesus was humble, and he walked the path of obedience all the way to death – his death on the cross.  For this reason God raised him to the highest place above, so thatin honor of the name of Jesus, all beings in heaven, on earth, and in the world below will fall on their knees.” And all should “confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10-11, TEV & NRSV)

II.              The Path of Confession and Thanksgiving

There are two ways, or more precisely, a “dual-track” path, or road, by which we can get closer to God.  The dual “tracks” of this path are Confession and Thanksgiving.  In a figurative sense, without following what I call “The Path of Confession and Thanksgiving,” no one can approach God and be reconciled with Him.

The prophet Isaiah made an honest confession.  He said, “All of us have been sinful; even our best actions are filthy through and through. Because of our sins we are like leaves that wither and are blown away by the wind.” (Isaiah 64:6, TEV)

St. Paul, on the other hand, repeatedly expressed himself in his letters, “I thank the Lord,” “I give my thanks to my God…”  He regularly said something like these to express his gratitude to the Lord God.

And, as you can see in The Book of Common Prayer, which we use in our worship services, we have The Confession (認罪文) and we have The General Thanksgiving (總謝文).  Both the confession and thanksgiving are meant for us to heal or mend our relationships between each other and God.

Without confession, meaning “with no repentance,” how can a human being improve himself and be really pleasing to the Lord?

Similarly, if a human being doesn't appreciate the wonderful creation of God, and doesn’t show gratitude for all good things that God and other people have done for him, how can he be truly humble? … I think this kind of person would unconsciously become too much proud, maybe he or she would become so arrogant that he would look down on all others, and yet crave, or yearn, for their respect. Well, I tell you, nobody would respect such a person. Such a person has already committed “pride” – one of the Seven Deadly Sins, according to the Bible. (For information of the “deadly sins,” you may see Galatians 5:19-21, Colossians 2:18-23, Proverbs 6:16-19, etc.)

Regarding confession and thanksgiving, few churches have the particular kinds of prayers printed out for their congregations to use, as we do – We use The Book of Common Prayer.  However, if we read these prayers in a way that “we say but we do not mean” (有口無心), then we will not heal, but harm, the relationship with God.

This is an important point, and I think it bears repeating.  If we read these prayers in a way that “we say but we do not mean,” then we will not heal, but harm, the relationship with God.

This is similar to an unfortunate way that we sometimes say “Thank you” or “I am sorry” to each other.  When we are sincere, we may build a good personal relationship with one another; however, if we do not mean what we say, then saying “Sorry” or “Thank you” will neither do us nor the other person any good at all; maybe it will cause the opposite effect instead.

III.           Jesus Christ Being the Lord of All Beings

Now let us move on to the Gospel reading for today.  In the Gospel of Mark, chapter 13, we see what “horrible things” would happen in the very last days, just before Jesus Christ comes back “with great power and glory.”

The detailed description of those terrifying events before “the end of the world” is to show us that Jesus Christ is the Lord of allall things and all beings.  With the glory of God the Father, Jesus Christ dominates all beings and takes charge of everything.

Jesus’ being humble does no harm to his glory; nor will it diminish his power and greatness.  When necessary, he would even change the natural phenomena; say, he might change the motions of celestial bodies, or stop them from moving!

Jesus said to his disciples, “In those days … the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” (Mark 13:24-25, NRSV)  Such unusual “manifestations” are also a part of the great revelation of the Truth; they all are for the purpose of saving the Lord’s chosen people – including all of us, I think, who are faithful Christians!

Yes, from The Gospel of Mark, chapter 13, we do learn that “Then the Son of Man will appear, coming in the clouds with great power and glory. He will send the angels out to the four corners of the earth to gather God’s chosen people from one end of the world to the other.” (Mark 13:26-27, TEV)

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, I’d like to bring two matters to your attention:

First, we believe that God controls everything.  His great power is beyond our understanding. It is part of the mystery of the almighty and merciful God, which human beings cannot comprehend, but can only believe.

Second, we often say that we live in the period of time between the Ascension of Jesus (around 33 AD) and his “Second Coming” (also called “the Second Advent of Christ”), but none of us really knows when Jesus Christ will come back again. What we can do is “Keep alert” – As the Bible says, “Be on watch, be alert, for you do not know when the time will come.” (Mark 13:33, TEV)

During this period of time – the time between Jesus’ ascending to heaven and his coming back again, is our Lord Christ far away from us?  Is the distance between Jesus Christ and us very long? – No!  He is not far away or a “long distance from us at all.

Quite the opposite is true:

Referring to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 28, verses 16-20, we’ll see that right before Jesus Christ went up to heaven, he told his disciples something very important, something about The Great Commission. And he concluded, “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of age.” (Matthew 28:20b)



2014年11月28日 星期五

Little Shine -- About Two Months Old

#2014-1128

Little Shine is two months and four days old today. Growing bigger and bigger, he is now much smarter . . . and more active in communication with us!

I just want to keep these photos in my personal blog Mookoo's Home (木咕子的家), so that I can easily find them in the future. Well, the first four photos below were taken on November 18 while the other seven were taken on November 27.




以上照片攝於 2014 年 11 月 18 日;
=       =       =       =
以下照片攝於 2014 年 11 月 27 日。








2014年11月27日 星期四

加利利海的回憶 (Something That Is Memorable)

#2014-1111

The photos on this page were taken on February 3, 2009, the ninth day of our 11-day trip in the Holy Land. The location was at the Sea of Galilee (also known as Lake of Gennesaret, or Lake Tiberias). Seeing these pictures I can "retrieve" (or regain? recover? recall? re-collect? take back? get back? fetch back? ...) a lot of beautiful memories!

= = =

The following information is taken from The English Wikipedia and The Chinese Wikipedia, respectively. (以下學習資料分別取自 中文維基百科  英文維基百科。)

耶穌的大部份職事發生在加利利海邊。那時,這裡有繼續沿湖發展的居民點和村莊、大量貿易和渡船。馬可福音(1章14節-20節)和馬太福音(4章18節-22節)描寫耶穌如何從加利利海邊呼召了祂的四個使徒;漁夫聖彼得和兄弟聖安德列、使徒約翰和聖雅各。耶穌的一個著名教導,登山保訓,就是在湖邊的山上。祂的許多神蹟都發生在這裡:在水面行走(但有學者認為耶穌只是在浮冰上走)、平靜風暴、餵飽五千人(在Tabgha)等等。

Much of the ministry of Jesus occurred on the shores of Lake Galilee. In those days, there was a continuous ribbon development of settlements and villages around the lake and plenty of trade and ferrying by boat. The Synoptic gospels of Mark (1:14–20), Matthew (4:18–22), and Luke (5:1–11) describe how Jesus recruited four of his apostles from the shores of Lake Galilee: the fishermen Simon and his brother Andrew and the brothers John and James. One of Jesus' famous teaching episodes, the Sermon on the Mount, is supposed to have been given on a hill overlooking the lake. Many of his miracles are also said to have occurred here including his walking on water, calming the storm, the disciples and the boatload of fish, and his feeding five thousand people (in Tabgha).










2014年11月22日 星期六

談不完的往事! -- Lots of Stories to Share

#2014-1122

這些照片拍攝於今年八月十九,算一算,距離今天 已有三個月又三天。日子過得真快,一溜煙似的。

我想,每個人都有滿滿一籮筐的故事。雖說「往事如煙」,卻有許多屬於「歷歷在目」的,根本忘不了,而且壓根兒不想忘掉。

那些陳年往事,若拿來與人分享,可要看誰有興趣囉!.....

假如當作「秘辛」來珍藏,偶爾獨自賞玩(回味)一番,又得看那是什麼性質的「玩藝兒」。有些 hold 得住,有些 hold 不住。

而那天(從黃昏時刻起,到晚上九點多)所 hold 住的,不僅僅是我個人的記憶。應該是全家人(包括父母親)或好幾家人(指弟妹們都已立業成家)共同擁有的回憶呀!

Everybody has lots of stories to share. The question is, Whom to share with? You don't force other people to listen to your stories, do you? But if they are interested in what you are telling, that'll be best. Otherwise, it would be better to keep it as "personal treasure."

Anyway, the following photos, which were taken three months and three days ago, cannot be my "personal treasure." They must be something shared by my family and me, as well as all of my dear brothers and sisters.

[Note: Under some pictures I have the words "by Shuang-Rong Liang" or "by Miao-Xiang Jiang." Please know that they are my parents' names: my father is Shuang-Rong Liang and my mother is Miao-Xiang Jiang.]





.                                      by Shuang-Rong Liang

.                                      by Miao-Xiang Jiang

.                                      by Shuang-Rong Liang

.                                      by Miao-Xiang Jiang

.                                      by Miao-Xiang Jiang

.                                      by Miao-Xiang Jiang

.                                      by Miao-Xiang Jiang

.                                      by Miao-Xiang Jiang

.                                      by Shuang-Rong Liang






2014年11月16日 星期日

The Spiritual Food for Christians (基督徒的靈糧)

#2014-1116

The Spiritual Food for Christians
         -- by The Rev. Jason Ke (trans. J.L.)

(A Sermon for Sunday, November 16, 2014, at St.James' English Language Service)

Proper 28
Joshua 4:1-7
Psalm 123
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Matthew 25:14-30

INTRODUCTION

Good morning, my dear friends in Christ!

In the Collect for today we can find three key points: (1) the origin of the Bible, (2) how to study and learn from the Bible, and (3) the function of the Bible.

Firstly, on the surface, the Bible was written by human hands and contains many oral traditions, that is, verbal stories passed down from generation to generation.  But in reality it is God’s Spirit that inspired those oral tellers of the biblical stories and each one of the writers of the Bible so that the Bible could be made complete as it actually is.  That’s why the Collect for today starts with these words: “Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning . . .”

Secondly, how should we approach and study the Bible?  As the Collect indicates, we are supposed to hear, to read, to mark, to learn, and to inwardly digest (that is, to think deeply about) the contents of the Bible so that we can understand this Holy Book better.

Thirdly, the function of the Bible is for man to have “the blessed hope of eternal life.”

The ideas or concepts mentioned above are nothing new; the three key points of the Collect for today are not surprising at all. However, if we reflect on the history of the Church, we might be able to understand the purpose of this Collect.

About 500 years ago, the Roman Catholic Church (led by the Pope) was the only Church in Europe. Its power and influence was greater than that of the governments at that time.  The Bible was, then, written in Lingua Latina, the Latin language.  Ordinary people were unable to read the Bible, and nobody was allowed to translate it into other languages – If anyone did, he would be sentenced to death! Only the top leaders of the Church, such as the Pope, had the right to interpret the Bible.

In point of fact, the Church at that time had seriously deviated from the Bible’s truth.  So a number of brave “warriors of the faith,” for example, the well-known Catholic priest Martin Luther, proposed that the Church should make changes to what they were doing.  But none of their reform proposals was accepted by the church authorities and, as a result, there occurred what became known as The Protestant Reformation.  In the meantime, the Bible was successfully translated into different languages and published in great quantities – by those who risked their own lives to get out of the Roman Catholic Church!

Now, reviewing this part of the church history, we do have mixed feelings about why things happened in that way.  We feel sad about those unpleasant or cruel things that have taken place, yet we can rest assured that there always has been a powerful hand, God’s invisible hand, sustaining the faithful fighters of the Truth and pushing the world and the Church forward into a better status or situation.

When we recall the brave deeds and many achievements of those “Truth fighters” in the past, let us not forget to cherish and value the Bible, which we can easily get to read today.

Remember that by reading the Bible regularly we can not only improve our knowledge of the Holy Scriptures but also enhance our personal spiritual life.

KEY MESSAGES: Regarding the Biblical Readings for Today

I.                  Before Jesus Came, God’s People Repeatedly Went Astray

In the Old-Testament times, the people of Israel sinned against God again and again, when they forgot about the Word of the Lord.

In the land of Canaan there was a primitive religion that had existed for a long time.  It was a so-called “fertility religion” or “fertility cult”, with Baal and Asherah worshiped as the most important deities – Baal was a male “god” while Asherah was a “mother goddess.”  Those gods and goddesses were extremely popular with the Canaanites!

After Joshua led the people of Israel into Canaan, he died at the age of a hundred and ten. (Joshua 24:29, Judges 2:8)  From then on, the Israelites had no powerful leaders to lead them for about 400 years.  So “the people of Israel settled down among the Canaanites, the Hittites,” and so on.  “They intermarried with them and worshiped their gods. (Judges 3:5-6, Today’s English Version)

The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, forgetting the Lord their God, and worshiping the Baals and the Asherahs.” (Judges 3:7, New Revised Standard Version)  This made God very angry, so he let the Israelites be conquered by their enemies.

After the Israelites were mistreated for years, they “cried out to the Lord, and he sent someone to free them.”  This kind of thing happened again and again.  You may see Judges 3:9, 15, 4:3, 6:7-8, etc., for just a few instances.

In The Book of Judges there is a detailed description of how the Israelites repeatedly forgot the Lord God and worshiped other gods.  The Israelites committed the same sin over and over again throughout history.

How about us?  Do we often make the same mistakes in our lives? – Now, if we look carefully at the primitive religion of Baal, especially from the modern point of view, we would find that it was a kind of “Money Worship,” similar to the “materialism” that is quite popular nowadays in this “economy-centered” society!

Simply speaking, worshiping Baal and Asherah was a religion of “fertility” which highlighted “riches on earth” rather than “riches in heaven.”  Note: The Gospel of Matthew, 6:19-20, teaches us: “Do not store up treasures for yourselves on earth . . . but store up riches for yourselves in heaven.

Living in this economy-centered society, people tend to strive for “mammon” only. – “Mammon” means “money” or “wealth,” more specifically, “material wealth.”  For many people, to make money or to increase material wealth is the main goal of their lives.  Some money-oriented business owners even try to make excessive profits by hook or by crook.  They are “black-hearted merchants” (黑心商人), so to speak, doing illegal things in secret.  And what they do will inevitably cause serious damage to the whole society, the entire country, and even affect many other parts of the world.

We, as followers of Jesus Christ, must always be aware of the “dark side of the world.”  But we should not be over-anxious or pessimistic.  There is a Chinese proverb, saying, “A crisis is a chance.” (危機就是轉機)  We have seen a lot of good and honest businessmen who do their best to provide quality products and excellent services.

We can support or join them in one way or another, in order that the world will be, step by step, turning from darkness into light, and so becoming a better place for human beings to live.  Above all, we have to rely on the Lord God, whose power and mercy will help us triumph over whatever gloomy situation in which we might find ourselves.

By the way, Psalm 123, which we have just read this morning, can be used in our spiritual life as a very good prayer.  I encourage you to pray often with the words “Have mercy upon us, O Lord …” because the Lord our God knows what you are looking forward to.  God knows what we need, and he’ll come to us with compassion and mercy.

II.               People Should Prepare for the Lord Jesus’ Coming Again

The believers who lived in Thessalonica knew very well that Jesus Christ would come back before long.  Now, if a man died before the Lord Jesus’ coming again, what would happen?  Would he or she no longer share the glory when the Lord Jesus comes again from heaven? – The people living there in Thessalonica asked St. Paul this question.

And St. Paul’s answer is seen in his First Letter to the Thessalonians, chapter 5, verses 9-10. “God did not choose us to suffer his anger, but to possess salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us in order that we might live together with him, whether we are alive or dead when he comes.” (TEV)

Let’s be reminded that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again – All of these three are part of the mystery of the Faith.  They cannot be fully explained by logical reasoning.  In the history of the early church, there was a lot of discussion about them, some being very persuasive, yet some coming from heresy.

Luckily for us, quite a number of Early Christian Fathers had testified and proved that Jesus’ death, resurrection, and his Second-Coming are all very true and correct, though we still have to profess that these three things are mysteries.

Well, let’s prepare for our Lord Jesus Christ’s coming again!

III.           We Should Make Good Use of What the Lord Has Given Us

In the Gospel reading for today, Matthew, 25:14-30, we are told a fascinating story, The Parable of the Three Servants, which teaches us something about stewardship.

My interpretation of this story is that “Our Lord Jesus wants us to make good use of what the Lord has given us.”

Every one of us should be God’s “servant” (僕人) or “steward” (管家) whom God trusts with a certain amount of spiritual “capital” to do business.  With that amount of spiritual capital, we are expected to work hard as God’s servants and, in a way that pleases God our Master, make as much “profit” for Him as we can.

Some day in the future, our Master (that is, the Lord our God) will ask us to report to him how much we have earned for him.  Those who have earned a lot will be rewarded; those who have earned nothing will be “thrown outside in the darkness” – where they will “cry and gnash their teeth.”

In other words, those who do not make good use of what the Lord has given them will be expelled from the Kingdom of God.

The lazy servant in the Parable for this morning was severely punished just because he didn’t make use of the “capital” entrusted to him by his master.  He returned the “one talent” to his master.  If he had wasted the entrusted money and gave nothing back, how severely, then, would his master have punished him at the end of the story?

In our society I see many people wasting their time and energy, harming their eyesight and, possibly, their brainpower, by plunging themselves into the virtual world (for example, in computer games) or indulging in something worse.  I am very concerned about those people who are “servants” of the so-called “3C products.” – Generally “3C” means “Computer, Communication, and Consumer Electronics” but here I’m talking especially about the electronic products just for fun, for entertainment only!  Those “servants” of the 3C products are really wasting what the Lord our God has given them.

CONCLUSION

Advent (降臨節期) is coming soon.  Are we preparing to greet this new season?  What shall we do to really get ready to face our Lord Jesus Christ when he comes again? – We need to practice pondering on this.

Yes, we need to make good use of what the Lord has given us, and we need to learn more about the Word of the Lord, which is the spiritual food for Christians.

In just two weeks, we’ll have the first Advent Sunday on November 30. That Sunday will be the beginning of the new “church year.”  According to our church calendar, we are now in the final part of Year A, and we’ll begin Year B on November 30.  May you have a prosperous New Year!  May you be ready to greet this coming New Year with hope, with love, and with joy!

Amen.



2014年11月6日 星期四

Little Shine 一個月大又十三天!

#2014-1106

看來還是奶奶的照相技術比較好,小孫子 益宣 也很能配合演出,這七、八張照片我要轉分享!

最後一張是「祖孫對話寫真圖」。

The pictures below were all taken this evening by my wife, who seems better at photography than I am. But our second grandson, Little Shine, was definitely the best actor here with us. Without his cooperation, neither of us could make such a wonderful album as you can see below -- Please enjoy our works!

By the way, the last picture is Direct Communication between Grandpa and Grandson.