at Holy Trinity Church, Kowloon
Sunday 22 September 2002 at 0900
On behalf of all ACC-12 members we are delighted to be with you this morning and to share in your worship. The hospitality of the Province of the Hong Kong Church has been quite unforgettable and we are all so very grateful to your Archbishop and bishops, clergy and people for your care and support.
Although we come from different parts of the world we have one important thing in common I suspect. We all have a home and therefore we all have a place which we call home. I don’t know if you have noticed it but in the letters of St Paul, Paul often begins his letters by referring to the two homes that every Christian has. Consider the letter to the Philippians: 'Paul and Timothy to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi.'
The first address was a shared spiritual home – in Christ Jesus. Wherever we come from, we belong to him: to Jesus Christ. The second address is the church family where we belong geographically. In the case of Paul's readers it was Philippi. In our case you may belong to a church family here in Kowloon or Hong Kong or back home in Kampala or Kingston, Jamaica.
In the epistle read to us just a moment ago Paul brings the two homes together and what he says comes as a challenge to us all.
In verse 21, he says very movingly: 'For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.' But how could St Paul be so sure of that hope? And, for that matter, how may we?
I believe St Paul's strong conviction of eternal life arose from a relationship he enjoyed with his Lord. We know that Paul was a very able and wise man. He was very unlikely to be a Christian follower simply because of emotion or because he clung to a vain hope. No. He was convinced of the truth of the resurrection. He had met the risen Lord and through prayer and a daily walk with God he knew he was embraced by God’s love. So Paul was absolutely sure of this – to die is gain. However, he gave up the greater glory of martyrdom for the lesser joy of belonging with the saints at Philippi. Why? Because of Paul’s desire to assist the Church in Philippi to proclaim the gospel fearlessly.
Just this week in our Conference we have been helped in our understanding of HIV/AIDS through Canon Ted Karpf who assists the Archbishop of Capetown in his ministry.
Ted only came into this ministry through a remarkable experience that happened twenty years ago.
Ted was a priest in the diocese of Dallas in Texas. One night in 1983 a knock at the door revealed a man standing there who had a terribly disfigured face. His face and entire body were covered by the cancerous lesions and sores that one sees in people in the advanced stages of the HIV/AIDS virus. The man explained that he had been to six churches before and each had rejected him. He said simply: 'Will you allow me to come to your church and die here?'
Ted did not know what to do. There were many rumours about this terrible disease and it was said that if you drank from a communion cup that someone with this disease had shared you too would contract the virus. But Ted thought about the gospel and its welcome to all. After that initial hesitation he said: 'My church is open to you. I will stand by you.'
The trouble was, that his Church didn't agree. There was uproar when the man came among them. The people left in droves until within a few months there were only 21 people left. On one occasion only three people turned up to a main Eucharist. But Ted battled on; he realised that the Church must not reject this sad man, already rejected by six other churches. As he got to know the man he found out that when the man had said originally that he wanted to die in the church he meant that he wanted to commit suicide. But as the sick man realised that he was actually loved by Ted he responded to the care and love. He realised that he had found a real home of love and support. And he had his wish – when he did pass away, he died upheld by the love of Ted and a few of those who stood by him.
That is an illustration of a caring church in action which became a real home to a very needy man. Because of who we are – in Christ – we are called to make, wherever we live, bear the marks of our heavenly home where the love of God reigns and Christ is glorified.
But I believe the modern church needs to recover some of St Paul's conviction of the glorious hope of life with God.
Many people, including Christians, are afraid of death. Woody Allen, the great Jewish film producer once said: 'Death? I’m not afraid to die! I simply don’t want to be around when it happens.' But we will be around. And it will happen to us all one day. Let us as Christians start to see death as St Paul saw it: 'For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.' And that conviction is strengthened as we spend time in God's presence; as we deepen out prayer life and as we spend time with other Christians in serving our needy world.
And that takes me into my second point.
Verse 27 is one of the few times when Paul is keen for his audience not to miss the seriousness of the point he is about to make. So, he says, 'Now, the important thing is that your way of life should be as the gospel of Christ requires, so that whether or not I am able to be with you, I will hear that you are standing firm with one common purpose, and that with only one desire you are fighting together for the faith of the gospel.'
Listen to the strong words again: 'Stand fast in ONE spirit, with ONE mind … striving together for the faith of the gospel.' Paul is drawing on the image of the Roman army – which was noted for its discipline and unity. One spirit; one mind; in the proclamation of the gospel.
And we members of ACC need to embrace this great ideal. We must stand together as a disciplined body and defend the precious unity of the Church. I believe that if we want ACC-12 to stand for something very important it must be our interdependence. Not our independence where we say: 'I have no need of you.' But our interdependence where we say: 'I need you and we are committed to stay and stand together.' confident and alert to the needs of our world.
One spirit – that might mean that we are one in our concern for one another. That we be One mind – that might mean that we belong together and try to share the same outlook; adopt a common language in our response to the needy.
Let us note that Paul is keen to encourage the Philippians to fight for the faith of the Gospel side by side with one another. He longs for the unity of the Church. He desires that we fight together for the faith of the Church. After all, that's what armies do, they co-ordinate amongst themselves a common strategy for dealing with the common problems they face.
Notice he says twice in that verse – your focus must be on the gospel. It must show in your behaviour, your conduct and it must show in your overriding concern for the gospel.
Just as the soldiers in the Roman army of Caesar Augustus had to focus on one thing only – serving their Lord, so we belong to the army of Jesus Christ. His gospel, his good news, must be our over-riding concern.
So in our Eucharist today – we are being reminded of the two homes to which we belong to. We are being welcomed to fellowship with Christ at his table and also directed to the world in which we live and carry out our ministries. In the early Church, the Eucharist was often seen as the 'medicine of immortality.' It gives us life. The Father says to us – you belong to me.
But the Eucharist also says: ‘We belong together; we are members of one family. We are embraced by God’s love.
So people of the Province of Hong Kong, members of this congregation, members of ACC – deepen your love and concern for one another. Be like that man Ted in reaching out to all in need. And may all of us know the assurance that was expressed so magnificently by St Paul: 'For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.' That will keep us going when all else fails.