Sunday, September 05, 2010

Sermon: Rojak Spirituality

Rojak Spirituality Sermon

Malaysians are spoilt for choice when it comes to food. Imagine walking into a giant food court where you can find Penang Laksa, Ipoh beansprout chicken, Indian curry, Iranian kebab, Nasi Padang, Western grilled steak, Hong Kong dim sum – almost everything else you can think of under the same roof. You can choose to eat anything you want. You can mix it up – eat a bit of sushi for appetizer, then chicken rice for main course and finish with rojak for dessert. How about that? Are you feeling hungry already?

But for a lot of people, making choices about spirituality or religion is also like eating in a food court. It’s all up to your personal tastes or preference. Some like it hot, others like it cold. It can also be a bit like ‘rojak’ – you just mix up all the ingredients and hopefully it tastes good. “Oh, I like my religion with a pinch of Buddhism, a sprinkle of Christianity, two cups of Lillian Too feng shui and a glass of Hinduism – shaken, not stirred.” What’s your personal religious preference?

So… in today’s society, for someone to even claim that a certain religious practice is wrong or that some religious beliefs are untrue, that would sound arrogant and intolerant. It just doesn’t make sense. It’s as if someone say to you, “You are wrong to choose nasi lemak for lunch today” or “You are a bad person if you chose to eat “char koay teow”. You should have chosen Maggi goreng.” That sounds so intolerant (it doesn’t make sense) because we live in a time of “rojak spirituality”. People choose their faith or spirituality or religion based on personal taste or preferences. You like chocolate ice cream, I like strawberry flavor. You like Islam, I like Christianity, she likes Buddhism. It’s based on what we like. There is no right or wrong answer here.

But truth or reality is not like ice cream. It is more like insulin. When my wife Grace was pregnant with Zhen, she was found to have gestational diabetes. Maybe due to hormonal imbalance, her body does not produce enough insulin to break down sugar in her blood. So what did she need to do? Almost everyday she has to give herself an insulin injection to maintain her health. And she cannot say, “I don’t feel like taking insulin anymore. Let’s see… I think I would prefer to take ice cream instead”. If she stopped taking insulin and choose ice cream, it would be very bad for her health and for the baby. In the same way, we are all sin-sick people in need of a cure that is the gospel. We don’t get to decide what is true based on our subjective tastes. That’s make-believe. Reality is like a solid rock. Just because we don’t like it doesn’t make it false. Just because we like something doesn’t make it true either. When it comes to spirituality or faith, the reason we ought to believe something is because it is true… Truth is like insulin to someone who suffers from diabetes, it’s not ice cream.

And in the passage of Scripture we read just now, Jesus was about to go to the cross. It was just before the Passover feast. He knew His time was near. He had lived the life that we should have lived and now He would face the death that we should have died. He came from God and He was going back to God. He was about to accomplish His mission in the world and return to the Father. So he was having his last meal together with his disciples. But his disciples were worried – “Who is going to betray Jesus? The Master is leaving us but where is He going?”

So Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled; Trust in God, trust also in Me. In my Father's house are many rooms; I am going there to prepare a place for you. I will come back and take you with me. You know the way to the place where I am going."

One of the disciples Thomas asked him: “But Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how do we know the way?” And then Jesus replied with this famous statement: “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me.” Great teachers point us to the truth, but they don't claim to BE the truth. Jesus, however, makes this amazing claim about himself – I am the way, the truth and the life.

So today I’d like to consider THREE implications of Jesus’ unique claim for us, Malaysian Christians, living in a multi-religious, multi-cultural society such as ours:

1st implication: Jesus is the way so walk in Him with confidence.

Some years back, I met a church leader who believed that all religions are valid paths to God. He told me, “Yes, yes, yes… Jesus is the way to God, but there are other ways to get there too.” All roads lead to Rome. But if you come to think about it for just a minute, actually not all roads lead to Rome. You can’t drive to Rome using Jalan Puchong or Old Klang Road or Federal Highway. You just can’t pay the toll at LDP and get to Rome. Not all roads lead to Rome.


Jesus did not claim to be just one of many ways to God. He says: “I am the way; no one comes to God but by me.” That’s quite a big claim to make. A man who makes a claim to be the only way to God cannot be just another religious guru. He is either a mad man, a bad man or He is really who He claims to be. Jesus did not leave us the option of regarding him as just another wise human teacher. Great human teachers point to the truth, but they don't claim to be the truth. And yet, here we are confronted with the unique claim of Jesus to be the way, the truth and the life.

This is something that many people find hard to accept. In one of our family conversations about Christianity, my dear relatives told me, “How can you Christians believe that Jesus is the only way? That’s too narrow and exclusive. All religions are lead to God. We are like the ten blind men trying to describe an elephant. One guy touched its trunk and said “The elephant is like a snake”. Another touched its body and said, “No, it’s like a wall”. Yet another touched its leg and think it’s like a tree. As they argued amongst themselves, the King walked by and set them straight, “All of you only got part of the truth. The elephant is a huge animal and each of you touched only a part!”

At first, the story appears to be very humble and inclusive: The truth is greater than any one of us can understand. But the only way you can know that all religions have only part of the truth is if you have the whole truth. The only way you could know that none of the blind men have the whole truth is if you can see the elephant. The only way you can tell this story is if you are the King who sees everything. There is an appearance of humility but actually there is a hidden, almost arrogant assumption that the storyteller has a knowledge that is superior to all others. But how did he get this knowledge? How can he see when everyone else is blind? If I am blind and you are blind, then how can you possibly know what the elephant is really like? You see, the problem with this story is it is actually making a very exclusive statement that no one else got it all correct except himself.

And the funny thing is: the story also contains an important truth. Because the only Person who can see everything and know the complete truth is the King… It’s God Himself. No one else can do that. Like blind men, we humans are all limited and sinful creatures who can only see part of reality. There is nothing we can boast about because we are blind like everyone else groping in the dark. We won’t know what the truth is like unless… unless the King has spoken. Unless the King who knows everything reveals Himself to us and corrects our mistakes. And guess what? That is exactly what the gospel is all about. God has already revealed Himself in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. “I once was blind but now I see…” because God has revealed Himself to us. The only way we can know the truth is because He has made Himself known in Christ. He is not just one of many ways or one of many gods. Jesus is the way so let us walk in Him with confidence.

2nd implication: Jesus is the truth so proclaim Him with humility

A few months ago, the Singapore Internal Security Department called up a church leader, Pastor Tan (not to be confused with our own Pastor Tan), after receiving complaints about two video clips he had posted on his church website that showed him making "insensitive comments about Buddhism." The Ministry of Home Affairs said that his remarks were "highly inappropriate and unacceptable as they trivialised and insulted the beliefs of Buddhists and Taoists." The pastor has since removed the video clips from the website and he apologized to the Buddhist and Taoist communities, promising that such incidents would not happen again. This could easily happen in Malaysia as well and it shows the need for Christians to rethink how we relate to people of other faiths. Do we ever catch ourselves making inaccurate, insensitive or insulting jokes about other religious beliefs or practices?

Indeed, we need to share the truth of the gospel faithfully, without watering down the gospel. But we also need to speak the truth in love, gentleness and humility. We need to respect and honor those who have yet to know Christ as persons who were made in God’s image. They have the right to believe, practice and propagate their faiths even if they don’t agree with us. We should celebrate and not begrudge the fact that people of different religions are capable of great moral integrity and profound wisdom too. When we see what is good, true and beautiful being taught by others, we can thank God that in spite of our sinful natures, this is still possible because of the common humanity we share with them. Although tainted by sin, the image of God in fallen people can still produce something good, true and beautiful. And we can use these common grounds (our shared humanity) as a bridge to dialogue with others and communicate the gospel that only in Christ would the truth, the beauty and the goodness that we all cherish make any sense at all. A missionary in Indonesia Martin Goldsmith wrote, “Sin and the remnant image of God interact both in cultures and religions. So we dare not dismiss all cultures and religions as merely demonic, evil or totally false.” Instead, there is every reason for Christians to listen to our non-Christian neighbors and humbly learn what they believe about God, about life, about truth and about salvation. Seek first to understand then be understood.

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of speaking to a mixed group of medical students at an interfaith dialogue. It was something I have always wanted to do. The topic was on the Purpose of Life. A Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Christian speaker was each given 15 minutes to present their views followed by questions and answers from the students. I felt it was a fruitful time as I learn from the other speakers and students. Interestingly, I also get to (legally and openly) share the gospel in front of a few dozen Muslim students. Open conversation and evangelism should not be seen as mutually exclusive. Instead, gospel witness invites dialogues and questions. And having meaningful dialogue with our neighbors expands and deepens our gospel witness. On a more personal level, interfaith conversations like that can happen at the mamak stall, kopitiam, cafeteria or anywhere. And I’m so glad that some of us in CDPC Puchong organized a visit to the Shah Alam mosque with a team from our partner churches in America. We went there to dialogue with the imam, to learn and ask questions about Islam. You see, this is the kind of dialogue, truth encounter and mutual understanding needed not only for our American mission team, but especially for our Malaysian youths as well. It would be tragic if we spend our whole lives growing up in Malaysia but never know anything about what our neighbors really believe or what worship means to them just down the road.

But for some Malaysians, interfaith dialogues like that are strictly forbidden and feared. There are loud voices in our society that say: “Only my religion is true, so how can I sit side by side with these other religions? What’s there to dialogue about? Interfaith dialogues will threaten and confuse our faith. No way! ”

But as a Christian, I have a different take on this. I don’t want to shut myself out from mutual learning because that only shows that we are not confident in what we believe. If we know what we believe is true and why we believe the things we believe then we can be confident that the truth will withstand any test. And the truth will be shown to be true no matter what others may say. The truth does not need to fear falsehood. Light is not threatened by darkness. Just the presence of light dispels darkness.

So there is no place for arrogance or insensitive jokes when it comes to speaking the truth. If people want to reject the gospel, let them do so because they refuse to accept the claims of the gospel, and not because they are turned off by our offensive or insensitive behavior. The truth is not an abstract list of dos-and-don’ts or a religious experience. The truth is personal and historical. Jesus is the truth so let us proclaim Him with humility, gentleness and respect.

The last implication: Jesus is the life so live with grace for others

There is a good reason why the idea that all religions are equally valid or “rojak spirituality” (as I call it) is so popular today. In a global village where we live so close to each other, people want to avoid religious violence and conflicts. After the September 11 attack, the ‘war on terror’ or closer to home, the cow-head incident in Shah Alam and the pig-head incidents at Old Klang Road, the world is desperately looking for ways in which different religious groups can live in peace, harmony and tolerance. That is a very noble and sincere motivation that we all share. But the thinking goes like this: “If you claim to have the truth and others don’t, that will lead to conflict and oppression. You will look down on others, right? My faith is better than yours. The followers of my religion are more holy than yours. You unclean people cannot come inside my place of worship.”

We know only too well how religion can be used by some politicians to divide, exclude and control people, don’t we? Recently there was a controversy in Penang about whether Muslims can pray for their non-Muslim leaders in the mosque. And there was another hoo-haa in Selayang over non-believers stepping into a mosque. For some, that’s strictly forbidden. You can’t even pray for those who don’t share your faith.

So wouldn’t it be nice if everybody thinks all religions are the same, then there is nothing to fight about rite? Sounds nice, but only if everybody in the world thinks like that… The problem is: You can have peace if and only if followers of all faiths play down their own beliefs and exclusively agree on another ‘faith’ different from their own. A superficial unity is achieved at the cost of ignoring genuine differences. But tolerance itself implies disagreement. You cannot ‘tolerate’ people who agree with you. They are on your side! Tolerance implies that you don’t agree on the same thing. If every person believes in the same thing that all religions are equal, then what room is there for tolerance and respect?

So on one extreme we have people who believe in absolute truth but promote conflict and separation; on the other extreme we have people who want to promote peace but they give up on the truth. Maybe there is another way. Because Jesus is the resurrection life, He can empower us to live as agents of peace and reconciliation in the society. How can the gospel do that? Well, if you believe that God accepts you because of your good works and salvation depends on how holy and righteous you are in obeying laws and regulations, then it’s very easy for you to look down on those who are not as good, holy and righteous. “Hhmph! Those are unbelievers, I want nothing to do with them. They are sinful and unclean.” Or you will look at the religious people and think, “Hmmph! Those religious fanatics, I want nothing to do with them. They are exclusive, crazy and violent!”

But the gospel says you are not saved by your performance, wisdom or morality. You are saved when you admit that you are never good enough so you need Jesus the Savior to save you from your sins. Not because of what you have done but what Christ had done on the cross for you. You are saved by grace. It’s a gift that you don’t deserve… Tim Keller said it this way: The gospel humbles you (you’re not better than others) and leads you to expect that those who don’t agree with you may be morally better than you. You would expect to find nonbelievers who are much nicer, wiser and better than we are. So you can’t look down on others. At the heart of the gospel is the life of a man who died for his enemies, prayed and forgave those who opposed and slandered him. If you follow Him, if your life is modeled after His Life, then how can you be violent to others? You can’t. His Life will release and empower you to be a peace maker, to be generous and sacrificially serve and pray for those who are different and even opposed to you. That’s what the world desperately need today. Won’t you like to be part of it?

We have just celebrated 53 years of independence. At such a time as this in Malaysia, we desperately need citizens who are committed to the common good of all and not just the interests of our own race. Perhaps there is no better time for Christians to be peace makers, to intercede for the well being of non-Christian leaders, sacrificially serve those who are different than us and sincerely invite them to our place of worship for fellowship and conversations… Perhaps that’s what it means to be salt and light in our context here in Puchong… Jesus is the Life so let us live with grace for others.

6 comments:

kahyaw said...

thanks for the sermon. Good sharing.

Hedonese said...

A pleasure to meet someone with common passion, Kah Yaw! Look forward to more chats with you in church

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