(Sermon delivered on 1/1/2017, apparently the only one I ever typed and read out)
In Galatians 2:20, Paul says:
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
“I am loved, therefore I am”
Because God loves me, I am already whole. I don’t have to prove anything. I don’t have to ‘succeed’, I don’t have to ‘perform’, to fight / claw and strive to be accepted, to feel secured.
I am loved, therefore I am. I can never be more loved in the future than at this moment.
Because God loves me, I live, I’m alive─fully, amazingly, joyfully─alive in every sense of the word. Because you are the apple of God’s eye, you have a purpose, the greatest fear of mankind (of not mattering, of not being ‘somebody’) is resolved in a stroke.
One of my greatest joys as an amateur theologian, is working to smash ideas about God which enslave people. Many Christians live in abject fear of God, fearing his condemnation. Worlds away are they from the posture of children who fall with glee and love and delight into their parents’ embrace.
Because God loves us, we can usher in 2017 with a sense of abundance, a sense of joy. To students, you are free to fall in love with your learning, your topic, to enjoy all the wonderful insights and ideas of the world. You don’t have to prove anything. To children, you are loved first and foremost by God; you no longer have to crave to be accepted, to be considered the ‘preferred child’. To parents, the love of God frees you to raise your children with love, discipline and sacrifice NOT to ‘show the wold that you are a good father or mother’, but to show the world how very loved you have been. Career people, executives — praise be to God, we can all stop running, trying to win a race that will cannot end; we can stop being afraid of being branded corporate ‘failures’.
I know people who are constantly upset about what their ‘true worth’ is; so much frustration and hurt that their earnings do not correspond with ‘market rates’, that their peers own so much more than them — all of which (naturally) produces the victim mentality. Someone is to be blame for the diminished personhood that I have, that I am.
But God loves us, therefore we are. I work, not — I repeat NOT — to maintain a certain monthly/yearly amount of earnings in order to ‘sustain a specific lifestyle’ (without which I feel inadequate or even shameful). No, I work because my job is one expression of my boundless joy and thanksgiving to God for His provisions.
As Christians, concerned for our country’s politics, how does unconditional love change the coordinates of our activism? First, everything we do for our nation reflects the love of God. Our rights are secondary, it is in fact the rights of other people.
Last year, a Singaporean netizen mocked me and said that I am nothing but a 2nd-class citizen in Malaysia. In the context of the kingdom of God, in the context of God’s love for me (of giving Himself for me), it hardly matters to me. Why? Because there are many ‘1st-class citizens’ who have no joy, no Christ in their lives.
Most importantly, we can start 2017 with a sense of truth. Truth which exposes the lies we are told, all the time:
“I own, therefore I am”, “I earn, therefore I am”
“I am wealthy, therefore I am”, “I have assets, therefore I am”
“I am attractive, therefore I am”
“I am educated, cultured, tech-savvy, well-networked…therefore I am”
“I eat, therefore I am”
All these lies promote the great lie of scarcity, of insufficiency. “It’s never enough, it’s never enough, it’s never enough.”
This is my problem with resolutions. Resolutions can be a subtle (or not so subtle) way to trap us into ‘Achievement’ mode again. But we don’t need more achievement — we need to more acceptance.
Persuading us that “You don’t yet have enough”, “You need this gadget to be complete (at least until the next version is released, then your present version will be a badge of shame and inadequacy) ”, “You must fly to this location and take yet another pointless selfie.”
Maybe in 2017, as Christians, as the people of God, we should resolve to look more at the poor. In so doing, not only may we develop deeper compassion, we may even reflect on the value of the riches we possess. Why is it that with great wealth hardly comes great joy? Why is it that, in the words of AIA President Mark Tucker, “it’s never enough”?
I recall here the tragic news report of the Singaporean boy who jumped off his apartment building, after failing his Science exam. His mother, weeping over the body, was reportedly murmuring, “I only asked for 70, not 80”
I was very disturbed, saddened and angry at this incident (maybe because so many factors came into play e.g. the boy was about the age of my son, I’m working in education, etc.). This suicide is a symptom of a society which is choking on their own success, which is barely alive.
(It is ironic that sometimes the more wealth we have, the more we tend to behave like the very poor i.e. we go to the forest or the beach, we collect very old things [known as antiques] and we try to ‘understand native cultures’. Whilst there is nothing morally wrong with doing such things, these kinds of actions tend to resemble decaffeinated coffee: we want the form, but reject the substance. Or, like drone warfare, we enjoy the trappings and the ‘glory’ but we refuse the pain and the suffering.)
But it’s not only about education. We must also talk about the consequences of our purchasing habits. Are we complicit in the suffering of the poor, putting ourselves not merely in contradiction to Jesus’ words but also in mockery?
How do we resolve this problem? I venture we will never come close to a resolution without first adopting a mindset of abundance, of adequacy, of contentment. It will never be enough unless we feel and live deep in our hearts the amazing truth that we are loved, that God loves us, that God has gave Himself for us.
This is true blessedness, this is true wealth. “I am loved, therefore I am.”
Perhaps this is why Jesus declared, “Blessed are the poor.”
The poor, more than the rich, recognise abundance. Two fishballs bring unspeakable joy when you have nothing else ─ but may be construed as dull and insufficient if you have hundreds of dollars to spend on lunch. The poor, in other words, recognise that ‘abundance’ and ‘scarcity’ are not always empirical facts, but rather states of mind and conditions of the spirit. Like some miracles, it requires special eyes to detect the presence of abundance.
Like thanksgiving, a kind of heart is required — the kind perhaps that Jesus saw in the poor.
I wish everyone of us a God-filled new year. Empty ourselves, deny ourselves, let us repeat — in Star Wars fashion — “God loves me, I cannot be loved anymore than I am this moment, let me go out and love my family, my church, my community”.
Happy New year, everyone.