PREACHER – Darryl Tan

22 January 2012
Welcome Home

Good morning! My name is Darryl, and I warmly wish everyone 新年快乐!A happy and joyous Lunar New Year to one and all!

Those of you with long memories will remember that I actually preached during the Lunar New Year weekend last year, which was in early Feb. That was my first sermon after joining the preaching roster, and I was secretly happy I was scheduled that Sunday since many would be
travelling over the long weekend, and there would be fewer people to hear me embarrass myself.

My message then was titled ‘Salt of the Earth and Light of the World’, and drew from Isaiah 58 which we use during Communion, and Matthew 5 which exhorts us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. You probably don’t remember what that sermon was about, but I
ended it with this message:

“So the next time someone cuts you off on the road, or a service staff is rude to you, or when you’re dealing with an unreasonably client, I hope you can remember today’s simple message; to take a step back, breathe, and show that this world can be a better place. Let the love, acceptance, joy, humility and generosity we experience here as a community every week be the flavouring of someone’s day, the light in someone’s unhappy and dismal world. Then not only will Christians show that we can be the salt and light of the world, but also the spark for everyone to begin paying it forward for a more gracious society.”

Please keep this in mind as we go through today’s message.

I actually think that celebrating the new year twice is a pretty cool and unique thing to our part of the world. You get to count down twice, drink twice the amount of booze, have twice as many excuses to stay up late and yet deal with pesky distant relatives only once a year. But most importantly it affords double the opportunity to pause and reflect on our lives a little, as human beings are wont to do on the threshold of new beginnings.

As I was growing up, Chinese New Year was of course a major event every year. I would spend days looking forward to New Year’s Eve. The festivities would begin with spring cleaning and decorations, the gift hampers would arrive, and the garden would be spruced up with new plants and flowers. Then the cooking would begin. Braised pork with buns, five spice prawn rolls, steamed pomfret – a Teochew favourite, braised sea cucumber, stewed leeks, duck with salted vegetable soup, and double boiled gingko with beancurd skin. I would eagerly await my cousins’ arrival and the evening would be well spent satisfying our
pyromaniac streak with sparklers and poppers. The next two days would be spent with family, navigating the complex web of visitations to relatives both maternal and paternal.

However as the realities of life have gradually caught up, the Lunar New Year period has begun, in recent years, to make me a little pensive about life. More specifically, about family. This festival in particular has always been one that is rather more troublesome for us queer folk than others.

The Chinese New Year, being a time of tradition and family reunions, forces us to confront a few aspects of our lives which can be uncomfortable for many, not just for people like us. Those of us who don’t have good relationships within the family feel that sense of loss all the more keenly. Watching our younger relations grow up, get married and have kids, who themselves grow up, get married and have kids (not necessarily in that order), brings home the reality of our own age and mortality. Our eternal singlehood becomes a hot topic of
conversation, and we are reminded of the things others take for granted, but we will never be able to attain. It is no wonder that more and more young, successful and single people now choose to spend the holidays travelling than answering the awkward questions of long
lost relatives.

Much of this angst stems from the fact that this festival specifically celebrates how family-oriented our society is. I would go so far as to say that there is no Western equivalent of this holiday, hence our unique struggle. The entire basis of Chinese New Year is for families to come together, watch the children grow up, start their families and create their own traditions. As I grappled with my singlehood I often wondered why we couldn’t be a little more like the straight community. After all my friends were falling in love with one person, dating that
person, getting married to the same person and staying married that way. Easy and simple. It’s not like they don’t have their share of relationship problems. It’s not like their marriages are all a bed of roses. Why is it we have such a problem with long-term commitment? I arrived at the conclusion that the family unit is very much the basic building block of our society; it is traditionally the glue that binds people together, and those of us who are single are often very much relegated to the side lines.

In reality, the picture is of course not as totally bleak as I have painted it. I guess I have distilled the situation to illustrate the simple fact that Chinese New Year is a time when we as a community are often reminded of our fears – of growing old, remaining single, and not leaving a legacy. That’s why gay people are forever trying to remain young, get attached and overachieve in their work. But all it takes is for a well-meaning auntie to awkwardly force a red packet into your hands to remind you that, in their eyes, you still have not come of age.

Let us now take a look at the first of today’s lectionary passages:

1 Corinthians 7: 29-31

“29 What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; 30 those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31
those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.”

Do I hear alarm bells going off already? This is a famously problematic passage of scripture, even for mainstream Christianity. Earlier in the chapter, in verses 8 and 9 Paul says: “8 Now to the unmarried[a] and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. 9 But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”

The person who decided on the lectionary schedule must have had some sense of humour. Isn’t this a brilliant way to stave off those nosy relatives enquiring about your relationship status? “My pastor this Sunday say Paul told us it is good to stay unmarried. I should only get married if I cannot control myself.” That’ll keep them quiet for a while!

But this passage is often used to console the singles in church, that God therefore has their undivided attention. I’m sorry but I don’t buy that at all. Paul’s message actually isn’t about marrying or not marrying. It is about remaining in a state of peace and contentment; he qualifies by saying: “But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.” And “I would like you to be free from concern.”

Perhaps our next lectionary passage will shed some light on our predicament:

Mark 1:14-20

“14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” 16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him.
19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.”

Again, another famous passage where Jesus calls his disciples to follow Him, to be made fishers of men. “Follow me” became a tagline of sorts for Jesus, in his call to make disciples of all men to spread the good word. We as a church also have a tagline. Can anyone tell me
what it is?

Yes! Welcome Home. Something we say with all sincerity at the end of each service. Welcome Home. To a congregation of diverse individuals, where you are loved and accepted just as you are, regardless of ethnicity, social or economic background, sexual orientation or gender
identity, and yes, even religion. We repeat these things week after week, but I wonder how many of you really understand the gravity and honesty behind these two words? Perhaps members who have been with us for some time will get it, but I’m guessing we might all need a
reminder as we begin a new year…

For those of you who have been faithfully attending and paying attention to the sermons in the last 1 year or so, you might have begun to hear a loose overarching theme developing from the messages. This was fairly unintentional, given our rotating roster of preachers, but pretty amazing nonetheless. For me it really began with Su-Lin’s sermon about the Kindom of God being present here and now among us.

Over the course of the last few months a sense of our identity as a community has slowly begun to emerge. I’m not sure if you agree with me, but this is the sense I’m getting. In many of my sermons in the last year I often emphasized how we as a community need to be honest
with ourselves and each other, to fully accept our flaws, shortcomings and differences. Only through community will we be able to face up to the challenges life throws at us.

There was an incident some months back that really got me thinking. As he was making an announcement one Sunday, Geoffrey asked for all FCC members to stand up; I’m not sure how many of you remember this. Of course all the ministry heads and actively serving members readily got on their feet, but what was interesting to me was the somewhat bewildered and unsure looks on the faces of people I felt should have also proudly identified themselves. Well my point is not to say that some people who should have stood up didn’t, but rather it made me
think about how each of us views ourselves as part of this community we call Home.

The phrase ‘Welcome Home’ suggests that we exist as a family of sorts, a family of our choosing. To those of you who have heard me speak about a family that accepts and supports you for who you are, but wondered how to become part of such a community, wonder no more. The answer is simple! This family is yours for the claiming. Just like Jesus offered: “Come, follow me.” It is that simple. This home is open to any who would like to enter. Just like the open communion we practice, there are no prerequisites, or conditions you have to
fulfill before joining us. I think on this point we should all be very clear, and I doubt anyone will dispute this. So to those of us who are still hesitating, hesitate no more. Welcome Home, and make yourselves comfortable. =)

To my sisters and brothers who are already a part of this family, I would like to share some of my thoughts and reflections on how we should live this out. They can be summarized into three points.

Firstly, we need to look after our home. Both literally and metaphorically. Keeping this place clean and in order is easy, though sometimes it takes a little reminding. What’s more important is
looking after our home as an institution. In 2011 we ran into a speedbump in terms of our finances, and are still working to close the gap. For the longest time I really avoided thinking about money, and thought that being liberal was a convenient way out of the strict tithing practices of other denominations. But being part of budget talks and hearing the sermon series on giving and tithing has made me look at this from another angle. It is really part and parcel of being a responsible member of this family. We take ownership of what is ours, are proud of this institution and care enough to want to see it grow and blossom. Recently I got to know a member of one of the megachurches, and the issue of tithing came up. He explained that their basis for tithing was so that God’s work could be done, and His will be fulfilled through them. He very quickly followed up with the qualification that they perhaps did not need 20 million dollars to do God’s work effectively, but you get the idea… This is something I hope we can all think about going into the new year, and come to a position of your own.

Of course another way we can be responsible family members is by contributing our time and energy, and this is just as important, if not more, than giving financially. Just as any home needs a breadwinner, a cook, a cleaner, a chauffeur, a disciplinarian, we too need to fill various roles for this to be a functional and vibrant community. I extend a very warm welcome to any who feel called and ready to join us in serving this community, in bringing the joy we
derive from this family to others.

Which brings me to my next point, one that is probably the most important part in this sermon. We need to be family members to each other. Sounds a little silly right, stating the obvious? Allow me to qualify.

Many people often think of love as it is depicted in the movies – grand proclamations of eternity. Or that Valentine’s Day is the only time when you have an excuse to show your feelings. There was something I noticed as I was working in the stroke ward of a hospital as a junior doctor. Men and women who unfailingly showed up every day to care for their ailing, and often crippled husbands or wives. Some of these patients couldn’t even talk or feed themselves. Isn’t that what we all fear the most? Growing old, falling sick and dying alone?
Yet their spouses were by their sides, sometimes even spending nights caring for them. I used to think that such love could only exist between life partners. But more recently I’ve had to re-examine that idea. I’m not knocking relationships, but with good relationships hard to come by, putting all our eggs into that basket may not be the best idea. Why shouldn’t we collectively be the much needed family for those who are ailing and alone among us?

It was something that was said by my cell group that started this whole sermon going. A few of us were going through a rough patch, and were feeling comforted after an uplifting cell meeting. One of us posted on Facebook ‘you guys are like family to me’. The reply? ‘We’re
not like family, we *are* family!’ Aww right? =)

Last week Clarence introduced to us the idea that we as LGBT individuals are at the forefront of creating the kind of community we want to see for the future. Because we don’t form family units in the traditional sense, perhaps we need to redefine how our society is organized. As a close-knit faith community committed to doing life together, there is no better place than here to start this. Sure, we will always have our differences, but can we remain faithful and
gracious in our relationships? Can we aspire to be that forest of redwoods, with roots intertwined, able to weather all storms together?

The last thing we need to do as a family is simple, and doesn’t take many words to illustrate. We need to start caring for people outside of this family who are also in need. This is one aspect of church life many of us have somewhat neglected in the past year, and something we should definitely think about and keep in mind as we press on ahead. Be it the HIV community, the sex workers, the neglected elderly and young, or mentally ill persons, there are needs out there to be filled.

What I have thus far described sounds like a long laundry list of obligations becoming a member of this family entails. Giving our time and money, looking after people and reaching out to the needy. If that’s not enough to scare you off joining us as a member, I don’t know what will. But I hope you can look at this from another angle. That these are but ways we can each live out Christ’s love commandment. Remember what I said about being the salt of the earth and light of the world? In loving our home, each other and those around us, we too are amazingly and inexplicably filled with love. If you have not already experienced this for yourself, then take it from me. The Kindom of God is not without its rewards.

So this Lunar New Year, I hope everyone will be able to enjoy the long weekend, spend quality time with their families, avoid all the nasty questions and feast and grow fat. If you aren’t able to do this, or don’t celebrate the holiday, remember that you will always have a family waiting for you here, and that we have our reunion dinner on the 3rd of Feb.

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