More / Book of the Month / Philip Kam Thong Cheah Funeral Sermon - Acts 8:26–39 October 27th 2021 / Called, Gathered, Enlightened & Sanctified

Philip Kam Thong Cheah Funeral Sermon - Acts 8:26–39 October 27th 2021 / Called, Gathered, Enlightened & Sanctified




Philip Kam Thong Cheah Funeral Sermon - Acts 8:26–39 October 27th 2021 / Called, Gathered, Enlightened & Sanctified

Funeral Sermon Philip Kam Thong Cheah Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Wednesday October 27th 2021: Season of Pentecost / Acts 8:26–39 "Called, Gathered, Enlightened & Sanctified"

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:

          “Like a sheep He was led to the slaughter

                   and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,

                   so He opens not his mouth.

          In His humiliation justice was denied Him.

                   Who can describe His generation?

          For His life is taken away from the earth.”

          And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.

Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. Lily, Katherine, Charissa, family and friends of Philip Kam Thong Cheah. “Swing low, sweet chariot Coming for to carry me home, Swing low, sweet chariot, Coming for to carry me home.” … “I looked over Jordan, and what did I see Coming for to carry me home? A band of angels coming after me, Coming for to carry me home.”[1] While planning for today I was told this was one of his favourites. And that is very interesting because it is a Christian spiritual and generally speaking Philip wouldn’t have called himself a Christian for most of his life. He also very much appreciated “Amazing Grace” and “How great Thou Art.” This shows something at work in Philip’s spiritual life through the years leading up to today.    

On July 25th after the Divine Service where we had just had a number of adults confirm their baptisms and become members of the congregation I offered an invitation to Lily, an invitation I had made a number of times, I said something to the effect that ‘it would be great if Philip would be a member of the congregation,” it was in the back of the mind that Philip in his younger days had attended Methodist and Roman Catholic Schools and had gone to chapel Services and through his life over and over again in different ways he had heard the message of Jesus preached and taught by Christians. That day Lily said, “He’s very stubborn you know,” and I said, “Stubborn is good if you’re stubborn about the right things,” my encouragement was to mention it again and to let him know that I was ready, as always, to talk with him. 

One thing that we believe teach and confess is that The LORD is gracious and merciful, patient and abounding in steadfast love[2] and that it is not required of us to think our way into eternal life. In fact we would say “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” And that, “In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”[3] Lily described Philip as someone who often needed convincing. Now there is more than one way to convince someone of the truth: as an artist Philip had an eye for beauty and beauty can be convincing yet the beauty of faith is that the ear is more important than the eye. The Holy Spirit, by the Word of God, is the one who does the work of implanting, cultivating and bringing fruit from faith and He is the one who convinces: family, friends, acquaintances, pastors and priests may speak the Word of God, they may sing the Word of God, they may preach the Word of God but the one who does the work of faith in the heart, the convincing, is the Holy Spirit so as St. Paul says in his letter to the Christians of Rome, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”[4] So it would seem that a band of angels were in fact coming after Kam his whole life, “Coming for to carry him home.” The word ‘angel’ means ‘messenger’ and there were many messengers along the way for Philip. And while his last moments in this life may not have included the chariots of fire from the song, “Swing Low Sweat Chariot” that whisked the Old Testament prophet Elijah into heaven[5] but that doesn’t mean that Kam’s final arriving at faith was any less miraculous.

In our reading from the Acts of the Apostles we heard of another Philip, Philip the Evangelist, who under the direction of an angel of the Lord was sent to a desert place and when he arrived this Jewish follower of Jesus who had become a Christian was placed in the right place at the right time to baptize an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. With its wheels on the ground and no fire to be seen, but the fire in the Word of God, the Ethiopian court official rode along his way in his chariot back to Ethiopia from Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit had already been at work on him as he had a copy of the book of Isaiah and was reading it aloud and he had already been worshiping in Jerusalem and would have heard the psalms there in worship just as you have heard psalms this morning in worship. The Evangelist Philip who heard him reading asked “Do you understand what you are reading?” And with lips of faith the Ethiopian said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” He further asked Philip the Evangelist, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip the Evangelist opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And in this interaction the Holy Spirit was at work. For my part I was ready to do the same for Philip Kam Thong Cheah, as Philip the Evangelist had done for the Ethiopian but time ran out on our conversation.

Time however did not run out on our dear Philip’s reception of baptism. In our reading from the Acts of the Apostles baptism came swiftly for the Ethiopian riding in his chariot home, he said to Philip the Evangelist, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?,” and for our dear Philip Kam Thong Cheah when the time was right baptism came swiftly too. First he let the family know he wanted to talk with me once he was out of the hospital, then while in hospital as things grew more serious he texted his daughter Katherine to let her know that he wanted to be a Christian, this came as a happy surprise and after confirming with him that this was indeed what he wanted this information was passed on to me. And through many days of prayers for recovery and for faith and for strength the question surfaced “See, here is water! What prevents Philip Kam Thong Cheah from being baptized?” and the answer is nothing, nothing does remember, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” And so it was for Kam. The Holy Spirit through His life graciously and mercifully, patiently in steadfast love through the Word of God brought Philip Kam Tong Cheah to the waters of Holy Baptism even as he lay in the chariot of his hospital bed. And while he was not able to speak that day the way the Ethiopian did the miracle of Baptism still happened.

He entered the kingdom of God as a child, as all do in the Christian faith because faith itself is a gift that is not merited by works. It is freely given. Jesus our Good Shepherd who leads us in life, who accompanies and comforts us through the valley of life’s challenges and the shadows of death, who follows us all the days of our life,[6] this Jesus as He was heading to His crucifixion on the night when He was betrayed said the words we heard in our Gospel Reading this morning, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”[7] This Jesus promised all those with faith that He would personally take them to Himself when their hour of death arrived; this again is a gift for in death we cannot travel to Him by our own strength or will. He says this on the same night He gave them the Eucharist, His Holy Communion where He promises to be with the living, Jesus is always giving Himself as a gift to us, always perfectly coming to us. A child, more accurately an infant, cannot care for itself; it simply receives the gift of care given it. This is the state Philip was in when as he received the gift of life from Jesus in Holy Baptism. In the Gospel of Saint Luke hear how “they were bringing even infants to [Jesus] that He might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to Him, saying, “Let the children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”[8] The Ethiopian Eunuch while able to speak for himself could not give to Himself what he received in Holy Baptism, just as each of us baptised into Christ Jesus cannot give to our self what we received there, just as our dear Philip could not give to himself what he received there, in this way we baptised all come into the kingdom of God like a child.

Yes, “when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, [God] saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by [the grace of Jesus] we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”[9] Elijah could not make chariots of fire and angels come down to escort him to heaven any more than we can give ourselves eternal life. Do not forget the gift you have received in Holy Baptism, it is a miracle, and remember the gift of faith has an object. The object of the Christian faith is Christ Jesus. When a person wants to be a Christian they want to be in Christ Jesus, they want to be tucked away into the one who was in death crushed to pay for our release[10] from sin; to be the brother or sister of Christ Jesus who on that first Easter Sunday was risen from the dead; to be a follower of the one who in His resurrection brought peace.

… “I looked over Jordan, and what did I see Coming for to carry me home? A band of angels coming after me, Coming for to carry me home.” We have a verse of another hymn that shares the same sentiment, verse three from “Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart,”  

Lord, let at last Thine angels come,

To Abr’ham’s bosom bear me home,

That I may die unfearing;    

And in its narrow chamber keep

My body safe in peaceful sleep

Until Thy reappearing.         

And then from death awaken me,

That these mine eyes with joy may see,

O Son of God, Thy glorious face,

My Savior and my fount of grace.

Lord Jesus Christ,

my prayer attend,

my prayer attend,

And I will praise Thee without end.

In Psalm 91 we hear words that first point to Christ and for those in Christ Jesus they become words of hope and promise for us too, “For [the Lord] will command His angels concerning You to guard You in all Your ways. On their hands they will bear You up,”[11] Today with words like theses, and the other words from the LORD we have heard, we contemplate the blessed repose, the rest and peace which our dear Philip Kam Thong Cheah has been brought into by Christ Jesus and His holy angels but what is a blessed rest without a time to awaken with vigor to live life in all its promised fullness. Jesus says in the Revelation of Saint John “Behold, I am making all things new.”[12] He says this after Saint John writes, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.”[13] Dear ones, when morning has broken on the new heaven and new earth like it broke upon the first morning at the beginning of creation and all things by the Word of God spring forth when this life is over and eternal life begins a new Philip will likewise with all the faithful enter into that new creation as ones made new.[14] And I’m sure it won’t take long before you find him with a paintbrush in his hand at peace and rejoicing in the unimaginable beauty that surrounds him there.

The promise of baptism, the inheritance promised there transcends the spiritual encompassing the body, the mind and the soul, the spirit all made new and regenerated: A blessed gift one cannot attain by works, given to all who hear and believe as Philip did, a gift for him and a gift given to you by the Holy Spirit, and the work of Christ Jesus, under the providential hand of God the Father. Peace to you this day and always. Amen.      

Let us pray: Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

[1] "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" African American Spiritual first published by J. B. T. Marsh in The Story of the Jubilee Singers, with their Songs, London, Hodder And Stoughton 1876.
[2] Psalm 145:8
[3] Creed 3rd Article Explanation, Luther’s Small Catechism, Concordia Publishing House 2017, pg 17.  
[4] Romans 10:17
[5] 2 Kings 2:1-12
[6] Psalm 23
[7] John 14:2-3
[8] Luke 18:15–17
[9] Titus 3:4–7
[10] “What is this Bread” Lutheran Service Book, Concordia Publishing House 2006, #629 verse 1.
[11] Psalm 91:11–12
[12] Revelation 21:5
[13] Revelation 21:1
[14] Lyrical allusion to verse 1 of the hymn “Morning Has Broken” (1931) by Eleanor Farjeon another favourite of Philip’s.

Photo Credits: Main Photo provided by Mount Olive Lutheran Church; Viking Sod Church at Norstead Newfoundland painting by Philip Cheah; Detail of Prairie Grain Elevator painting by Philip Cheah; Ancient Chariot from freeimages; Hands from pexels; Water from unsplash; Photo of Philip Kam Thong Cheah from family; Adirondack Chairs painting by Philip Cheah; Gentle Brook painting by Philip Cheah; Bears in Water painting by Philip Cheah. 


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