SPEAKERS – Rev Miak Siew & Pastor Gary Chan
13 Oct 2013
Welcome Home! Welcome to Free Community Church’s Homecoming 10th Anniversary service!
It has been quite a journey – from a small HDB flat at Zion Road, to 40 Zion Road, to Utterly Art, The Attic above Mox, to Yangtze and finally to Geylang Lor 23.
Our journey parallels the journey in Exodus – the Israelites liberated out from Egypt and heading towards the Promised Land. Like many other communities that are oppressed, we hear our own stories in the story of the liberated Israelites. The African American community heard their own story of oppression and liberation in the Exodus narrative.
Karen Armstrong, in her book “The Case for God” writes – “A myth was never intended as an accurate account of a historical event; it was something that had in some sense happened once but that also happens all the time.”
When we talk about Exodus – there are some things we remember – the burning bush that Moses encountered, the plagues that struck the Egyptians, the Passover, the parting of the Red Sea, the 40 years in the desert, the manna from heaven, the water from the rock, the ten commandments, the golden calf, the construction of the Tabernacle.
These events have in some sense happened once, but also happens all the time. The power of this narrative is how it applies to us even to this day, as we see these things anew.
We started out because one of our friends was kicked out of church – ex-communicated because he was gay. He was told to change, or leave. Before that, as Safehaven, we existed as a cell-based group, happy to meet on Tuesdays to fellowship with other gays and lesbians and have our own bible study, and then attend different churches on Sunday.
One can say that one beginning of the Exodus was Moses’ encounter with the burning bush. God spoke to him, and told him to confront Pharaoh “Let my people go!” (Exodus 5:1). Our beginning was not only in that one moment where we decided to start a Saturday service. I think that there are many burning bush moments.
Some of you will notice how some folks here like to lead worship barefoot. I think that parallels Moses being asked to take off his shoes when he encountered the burning bush – you are standing on holy ground.
We all have burning bush moments – the moment you felt God calling your name, and prompting you to come and be part of this community – part of this liberation movement. Every one of you, whether you realized or not, have encountered a burning bush. Some of you have shared your stories with the church, some, with others in your cell groups. There is no Church if you are not here. All of you chose to be here – to be part of this movement, invited to come and see, come and taste, and come and be part of God’s breaking in the Commonwealth of God into the world.
We, too experienced the God who parted the Red Sea. We experienced God who makes a way out of no way. We have certainly not seen the sea parted in any real way, and we only have images from The Ten Commandments, or from The Prince of Egypt to help us imagine how it was like. But i like how Bishop Gene Robinson described his imagining of how the parting looked like during last year’s Amplify Conference.
It took the courage of one person to put one foot into the sea – and the water moved out of the way enough dry land for one foot to land. And then as the other foot is brought forward, more of the water moved out of the way. And step by step, the sea made way for God’s people.
We don’t see the end. I don’t think that things are like how it is depicted in the movies – where the water towered to the left and the right and you can see right to the other side.
We take one step at a time, with the little faith we have, and now we look back and we see the parted waters. But up ahead? Still the sea.
We still need to live out our faith to take that step forward into the unknown, trusting that God will make a way out of no way, trusting God will part the waters as we plant our foot down in the next step.
But all is not always well – the Israelites complained – they did not have anything to eat, and where they were given manna, they asked for meat, they complained that they had no water, they complained that was better as a slave, instead of being free but hungry and thirsty. We too, sometimes complain. It is easier to have a fixed set of doctrines and rules and beliefs we are absolutely certain about. This is right and this is wrong. We must do A, B and C.
It is easy to just follow what we have been told to do.
But we are Free Community Church. We are free because we aspire and desire to develop a vibrant heart relationship with God and a thinking-mind relationship with the Bible. We do not believe in easy answers to life’s challenging questions but in the wisdom of a great and loving God, who surpasses our human understanding. We aim to nurture Christ-centered communities so that members can develop a faith relevant to our times.
We have come 10 years since, and we look back, and we see where we have been. Up ahead, still a little nebulous. We certainly need to plan ahead and Gary will talk more about what it looks like. Jethro, Moses’ father in law, advised him to form structures to govern the people. We have taken some time to formalize our bylaws to govern this church. And we are looking ahead. Ten years in, this journey is a testimony to the miracle of God’s love for each one of us – God’s faithfulness, God’s presence, God’s provision
But we cannot become too self-congratulatory. Homecomings are bittersweet occasions. We celebrate reunion, relive memories, but there is also a bitter side. We remember those who are no longer with us, we remember the broken relationships, the past hurts, the mistakes we made.
We cannot be a church, we cannot be the beloved community if we are just celebrating the good things. At the heart of Christianity is a remembrance of also the things that were not good. To be an authentic community of faith, to be authentic people of faith, we need to acknowledge the bitter moments, even as we celebrate.
Not everyone made it to the end – not everyone made it to the Promised Land. Yesterday marks the 25th anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death. Our mission as the Church should be that something like this will never happen again. Nobody should die because of violence, because of hate.
We struggle to continue to work towards reconciliation – towards healing, towards wholeness. That is resurrection – restoration and healing and wholeness. It will be a work in progress, just like how we are on this journey of spiritual growth and discovery. We must learn how to forgive, how to reconcile – because they are ways of loving. That is why forgiveness is embedded from the very beginning in the prayer Jesus taught – “Forgive us as we forgive one another.”
We also remember our beginnings – whether it was ten years ago, twelve years ago, or just this year – when we chose to be part of FCC – there may be some breaking of relationships with the churches of our past. We must remember not to see them as the Egyptians who persecute us, but see them as human beings, human, vulnerable and flawed as we are. We must not perpetuate the us vs them mentality, and we must see them as fellow siblings, also creations of our fabulous God.
We must also see – as God commanded the Israelites – that we act justly – not only when we are denied Justice and oppressed, but when others are denied Justice and oppressed. “You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
Homecoming is as much about our return home, as it is about preparing for others to return home. Homecoming is reunion. Homecoming is reconciliation. Homecoming is healing.
Homecoming is the prodigal hospitality that is the love of God poured out for all of us.
Homecoming is Jesus invitation for us to come follow him.
Happy birthday FCC! It has been such a privilege to call this church my home for the last ten years and sharing this journey with all our friends and members that call FCC their home.
Miak reflected on the journey that we have taken over the years and how that paralleled the exodus experience of the Israelites. Over the next ten minutes, I am going to share about where we are heading as a church.
RENEW-VATION – RENEWAL + RENOVTION
Some of you may remember a project that Zihao led back in January this year as we were in the midst of our search for our new home called RENEW-VATION. RENEW-VATION was a combination of two words – renewal and renovation.
The month-long project gave us an opportunity to ask ourselves as a church thoughts and ideas of what we wanted our future home to be – the kind of spaces that we need, the kind of activities that happen in the space.
Hundreds of ideas came in about what we can do and get out of the space. Some of these ideas were simply not achievable due to the physical constraints of the space like a gym or swimming pool.
Some ideas were – you wanted spaces to meet and eat together, comfortable places to hang out with friends and play games, showers, high speed internet, reading areas, a sanctuary for reflection and prayer, space to work in, and importantly – adequate soundproofing, so that the noise outside like the lift opening couldn’t come in, and what was happening in one area wouldn’t spill over to other areas.
These are all certainly elements of what we see as Home to us, and we have incorporated a lot of this into the design of the space, reflecting what we want the church to look like when we renovate our new building at One Commonwealth that we will move into in August next year. I will be showing you some of the work in progress of the space planning in a short while as an output of the RENEW-VATION project.
But while the ideas were coming and starting to be compiled and considered, the real RENEW-VATION process had only just begun.
You see everything we were asking for were like the Israelites wanting to have things their way – it was all for their comfort. Chong Lip shared last month in his sermon about how the Israelites were making complaints about not having food and water (Num 21:5) even though God had provided water from rocks in the desert, and enough quail and manna each day (Exo 16). They just didn’t have their pots of meat, grain, figs and pomegranates.
A process of “renew-vation” had to first begin in the hearts of the Israelites before they could possess the promise land – their promised home as a people.
Not just that, it was a journey that they had to take together as a people – not just one tribe or by one individual.
If you remember when the twelve spies went to survey the promised land that would be given to them in Num 13, they all came back and said that the land was good – that it was everything that God promised it would be. But in their report they also said that the land was filled with “giants”, much bigger and stronger than they were, and that these “giants” were living in large fortified cities.
That day Caleb wanted to possess the land and said that they could certainly do it (Num 13:20), but the other men that had gone with him focused on the size of the problem instead of the opportunity – that they looked like grasshoppers compared to the “giants”, and their enemies saw them as well in the same way.
We know that later on – forty years in fact – that they did successfully possess that land. What changed? Well the change was not outward – they were the same people – a bit older, and some may have passed on, but they were the same people.
You see, the land was ready – but as a people they weren’t – they needed to be renewed. They had to be united as a people with a single purpose and to be in one heart for the people to enter the land together.
Over the last 9 months, we too have begun that process of renewal. I am so glad that when we bought the place that we couldn’t immediately possess the property and move in. We had to wait 18 months before we can move in. We could have chosen a place with vacant possession, but this was the place as a church we voted to purchase.
And thank God for God’s leading, because I think we needed all that 18 months. Not only did it gave us time to fund-raise, we have more importantly been through a series of conversations of what it means to be a member of the church, the purpose of why we exist as FCC, what were the needed systems and structures and support to enable the ministries in the church and how that connects with the purpose of the church.
Like Jethro, Moses’ father in law, advised Moses to form structures to govern the people. So as we made the purchase of our new property in March, we have since taken time to formalize our structures, systems and accountability to manage our church.
This is the same journey that the Israelites undertook on their way to the promise land, forming themselves as a community and organizing worship, civic and community life.
And through these conversations over the last 9 months, we saw something more importantly begin to happen.
Conversations about hardware and what was missing were starting to be replaced by conversations about the heart-ware and the opportunities we had in the church.
Conversations about what the board or pastors should do better to serve the church were starting to be replaced by conversations about how each person can have their ministry enabled in and through the church.
Conversations about what is not working well were starting to be replaced by what one wanted to do to solve these issues.
And I realized how important this part of the journey was as a community on the way our promised land.
You see, in talking about the RENEW-VATION of the space, the thing that had to happen first was a RENEW-VATION – renovation and renewal – of our hearts.
God is so much more concerned about our call and our character than our comfort and convenience.
For many of us, we have just stopped at comfort. We have found FCC, a place where we are accepted, a place where we find community and then we stop and then make it all about us.
But as the Israelites prepared to enter the promise land, they were given in two separate passages of scripture one important instruction.
You are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt
The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.
So when we say “Welcome Home”, we need to move from only being a place we call home, but a place where we call OTHERS home.
If you have been here for a while, you know that “FREE” in Free Community Church is an acronym for “first realize everyone is equal” – a reflection of Gal 3:28 of being one and equal in Christ Jesus where all are welcomed.
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
But not just welcomed, but celebrated and freed from the yoke of slavery of oppression based on the pattern and value of the world where your worth is earned instead of received by grace by anchoring ourselves in the identity we have in Christ.
We needed as a people to move beyond seeing ourselves as categories or labels like race, gender identity, sexual orientation, social-economic class, educational level, religion, – and see ourselves, and each other – as beloved people created in the image of God.
When we move beyond these labels and categories, we no longer see the “us” and “them”, the “us” and the “others”.
We began to see in each and every person, no matter how different in appearance, culture, vocation, action, the same identity as the beloved children of God and in them, the image of God that needs to be recovered and redeemed.
As we prepare to enter the space to move into next year, it is so much more than a place that we are promised.
This church is both our community as well as the enablers that makes church happen (the structures, the systems, the ministries, the support) with the objective of making the church more effective, personal and relevant to the people we are called to reach.
God is giving us an opportunity to join in what God is already doing to bring the reign of God close to a generation typically on the margins of religion and the church.
And in the process we will continue to allow God to transform us as we move from being inward looking to reflectors of Christ love, grace and mercy.
From just being comfortable to join what Christ is already actively doing in the world to give others an opportunity to be welcomed home in God’s love.
We are planning to take over and move into our new church at One Commonwealth next August, right next to the Commonwealth MRT station
In overall space, it is 50% bigger than this place we are in. But size alone is not important – what is important is who we the church will become in the space.
As we close, I am excited to share with you the work in progress we are making on the space planning to enable all of these things at One Commonwealth.
This incorporates already many of the ideas have you have already brought forward and answered many questions such as:
How do we go from doing the church on Sundays to being the church throughout the week?
How do we enable ministry to our community and to connect over geographical boundaries to other communities?
How do we become witnesses of Christ’s love, and bring forth justice issues to those who are marginalized?
How do we engage and support the LGBT community and other communities on the margins?
How do we utilize communications through the Word, music and videos to reach and impact others who are outside the church?
How do we create spaces to commune with others and build relationship?
How do we train disciples (followers of Christ), raise leadership, teach the Word?
Ultimately, how do we make FCC your church for the sake of the world?
I am pleased today to reveal the space plan for our new church.
Are you excited?
You see, we are the ones that we have been waiting for. This renew-vation must begin with you and with me.
The journey of our own homecoming is the realization that we exist to call others home.
Whatever your own call is to BE the church – whether it is to reveal God’s love, grace and mercy to the other, whether it is to restore relationships, to recover lost identity, to redeem others from oppression, or to rejoice and celebrate the abundance of God’s blessings and love. Your own journey of transformation, your ministry, your gifts, your ideas will be released in and through this process of RENEW-VATION as we prepare ourselves for this Homecoming.
As we celebrate our tenth anniversary, we look back in thanksgiving of this miracle that is FCC, God’s continued abiding love, provision, presence and faithfulness in our lives.
We also look also forward to unite together to achieve the vision our church “to be an inclusive community that celebrates the diversity in living out God’s love and promise of abundant life for all.”
Let us now together commit to the journey ahead as a people to not just say, but to live out “let Your Commonwealth come, Your will be done, in our through our lives and the life of this church, for Your glory.”
Happy birthday church and welcome home. As we have found a place we now call home, let us now make this place a place we can call others home.