Category Archives: SERMONS

“Walking by Faith!”

“Walking by Faith!”

Joshua 3:7-17 / Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37

 

When I was a high school student, I went on a Summer vacation with my friends. We went to a Mountain called Odaesan which was one of the most beautiful mountains in Korea. There were many valleys in the mountain and one of them seemed perfect to ride an inflatable boat I had. So, one of my friends and I went up along the valley and we stopped at some point because there was a water fall in front of us. We thought that was a good starting point for the ride. It was very close to the fall. I sat in the front of the boat and my friend was supposed to push the boat forward and to jump in it to seat in the back of the boat. But he made a mistake. Instead of pushing forward, he pushed down and jumped in the boat and the boat was capsized. That was the moment that I thought I might die. I was stuck under the fall and at the bottom of the water. The power of the fall was so strong that I couldn’t move at all. On the bottom of the river, I lost my mind and went completely insane. I frantically tried to move my body but it didn’t work. I don’t know how long I was there. Finally, I felt I had no energy to do anything and completely relaxed and prayed, “God, help me!!”

 

Right after that, I felt my body shooting out of the water. I was alive. Out of the water, I saw my friend was happy to see me. He thought he lost me. That day, I learned lessons from the accident. First, do not put your boat in too close to a water fall. Second, don’t push the inflatable boat down and jump in it. It would be capsized. More than those lessons, I have never forgotten the feeling I had from the accident. It gave me a strong message about my relationship with God. When I tried to save myself, it didn’t work but when I left myself to God, I could experience the grace of God saving me from trouble.

 

This experience is one of my Christian formative experiences in my life and this experience tells me how weak we sometimes are before challenges. Have you had any experience like that, the experience that you are not able to cope. How have God worked for you?

 

In today’s Scripture, we can see the people of God who face the challenge they cannot cope and how God works for them in the challenge. Let us take a look at the text. We finally see a pivotal moment in life of the Israelites. Their journey in the wilderness is almost over. They are standing on the eastern shore of the Jordan River looking across to the Promised Land where milk and honey are flowing. The goal of so many years in the wilderness is in sight. God, who called Israel out of Egypt, has been faithful. Even though their faith in God has been up and down in the wilderness, they now face the last step to get to the Promised Land.

 

Can you imagine how they were emotionally touched? They had been through tough challenges in the Wilderness. They had lost parents and family members. These people are not the same people who escaped from Egypt. The men and women who began the journey from slavery into freedom had been buried in the wilderness. The ones who stand on the bank of the Jordan are their sons and daughters, granddaughters and grandsons. Confronting the Jordan River, they might say, “Thank God, finally, we are here!”

 

However, their challenges aren’t over yet. At this last moment of their journey, they face a challenge which threatens their lives. As their parents and grandparents faced the Red Sea, they are being confronted by the Jordan River. According to the Scripture, the river is flowing strongly from the rains of the harvest season (v. 15). They cannot wade very far into the water for fear of being swept away and drowned. It is very dangerous. “God led us into the wilderness and now the Jordan River. We all will be dead soon.” They might say like that. After being happy, they are now discouraged.

 

Now that we know the Israelites face the Jordan River, I would like to invite you to think of what happened at the beginning of the wilderness wanderings. Moses and the Israelites were blocked by the Red Sea. Deep water was before them and Pharaoh’s armies were behind them. All seemed lost. There was nothing they could do to get themselves out of the situation.

However, at that moment, God intervened. That was the moment the Israelites witnessed God’s presence and power, protecting and sustaining them. The waters were parted on the left and on the right. The people crossed on dry ground and escaped Pharaoh’s wrath. God saved the people as they began their Exodus journey.

Forty years later, the people, once again, find their way impeded by water. This time it is not the quiet waters of the Red Sea. It is the raging current of the Jordan River. If the people are going to cross, they, once again, will need to see the hand of God.

The good news in this story is that God, once again, intervenes. Joshua, the new leader of the people, is told to command the priests to pick up the Ark of the Covenant which contains the ten Commandment tablets and to wade into the raging waters. The priests obey with the faith in God. As long as the priests stand in the river bed, the waters stop flowing. When all of the people are across and the priests ascend the west bank into the Promised Land, the waters resume their course. Yes! God intervenes in their trouble.

This story leads us into another key message in today’s sermon. Not only does God intervene and act for God’s people, but the people also walk by faith. Based on this story, we can draw a picture of the scene in which there are raging water and the people walking by faith. Of course, they might tremble. But they are walking in faith that God will be with them. God intervenes in the life of God’s people and strengthen them to be able to walk through the challenges.

 

Let me wrap up today’s sermon with the following text, Psalm 107:1-6 which expreses my feeling when I escaped the water fall. “Give thanks to the LORD, for God is good; for God’s steadfast love endures forever… Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to an inhabited town… Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and the Lord delivered them from their distress.”

We as well as our family, friends, and neighbors have challenges like the Red Sea and Jordan River. We have loneliness, bad habits, uncertainty about the future, addictions, financial strains, and physical pains. You name it. We feel so small before the vastness of the Red Sea and the turbulence of the Jordan River. But here is the good news. God intervenes and makes us able to walk through. The Holy Spirit working within us speaks to us, “Trust me, lean on me. Everything will be alright!” With the power of the Holy Spirit, we can humbly and faithfully walk with God. Our God is greater than the vastness of the Red Sea and the turbulence of the Jordan River.

Let us together be witnesses to the good news from God in our lives. Let us together be messengers sharing it with our neighbors. Let us together walk by faith.

 

Let us pray.

Loving God who intervenes in the midst of our lives and leads us with the power of the Holy Spirit, thank you for your message this morning. Help us believe that you are always with us. Bless us to faithfully walk by faith. And bless us to witness your power and presence in our lives and our neighbors’. In your name, we pray. Amen.

“What Image is in Your Heart!”

“What Image is in Your Heart!”

Matthew 22:15-22 // Matthew 22:34-40

 

Sometimes things happen. The things that push us back to our deepest questions and force us to answer. A marriage breakdown, loss of a job, financial strains, or physical pains, any of these can push us back to asking what it’s all about, what do those things mean in the course of our faith journey?
Two weeks ago, I shared with you the highest point in my life. My current life on the island with my family and Chilmark Church is a high point and I am so happy. After telling this to you, things bad happened which pushed me to my deepest questions and forced me to answer. Thursday before last, my wife had a car accident and the car was totaled. When she had this accident, I was in Rhode Island for a meeting with the Bishop. My wife was very upset and Sieun cried and cried. I couldn’t help them which made me so devastated. There were so much paper work to  deal with. It was hard. And two days after the accident, we went to Westport to meet friends as scheduled and we went to a mall to buy some stuff. At the mall, my wife’s handbag was stolen. She lost everything, a smart phone, credit cards, cash and more. My wife and I were sad. And there was an old car available for my family in Boston. We went to Boston to pick up the car this Wednesday. The car didn’t work and I did everything to fix it for two days but nothing worked. It was raining hard and I was like a wet dog frantically running around. In a week, these things happened. I was very busy taking care of everything and felt burdened with a huge financial loss and physical and emotional stress. I was not happy.

 

All of a sudden, this question came to me, “Are you still happy and sure that now is your highest point in your life?” I took this question as a test. It doesn’t necessarily mean that God always tests people with challenges. I, as a pastor, took that as a test based on my faith in God. While preparing this sermon, I have had a moment to answer the question. As this sermon goes by, I hope you can figure my answer out.

 

When we look at our lives, we can say that there have been many tests. Some of them are on going. Likewise, Jesus got through tough tests in his life. Some of the tests came from the religious leaders. One of them tested Jesus with this question, “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” The Jews had over 600 hundred laws for their religious practices. And they might expect Jesus would pick one of them. But Jesus didn’t pick one in the laws they were following. Instead, Jesus gave them two, which are equally important in the way of life. “Love your God and Love your neighbors.”

 

Before this, Jesus had other test from the Pharisees. In Matthew 22, some Pharisees lay out a trap by asking Jesus whether it is right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar. The Pharisees knew this was a very tough question. If Jesus says no, he risks committing a political crime instigating people not to pay taxes. If he says yes, he could get into trouble with the religious leaders because they believed that the Roman Empire was such a great enemy and God would conquer the Empire sooner or later. Also, for the first century Jews, paying taxes to the Roman Empire was a way to support their own oppression. That is, paying taxes to the Roman was an act of shame.

Either way, the Pharisees knew, the power of Jesus will be deflated once Jesus says no to the Roman or yes to the Jews.

Jesus knew their evil intent and said, ‘You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying tax.’

They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, ‘Whose image is this? ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied.

Then Jesus said, ‘So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.’

The Pharisees were amazed by this answer and left him and went away. The trap they set up didn’t work.

 

In this conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees, I found my answer to my question. “Give back to God what is God’s.”
As I told you about my wife’s car accident when I was in Rhode Island, I was devastated. But I got great help from Tim, Pam, Arlene, Ann and neighbors. I was relieved by their help. Without their help, we would be in a huge trouble. My wife and I felt deep care and support which made us feel secure. And here comes the point.

 

Methodists and other Christian groups traditionally believe that human beings cannot do good without God, due to the human’s nature inclined to do evil. But the Holy Spirit guides and leads us to stand against evil things and to do good things. It has been controversial but this has been accepted as one of the core theological doctrines.

 

Based on this perspective, the deep care, concern and support my family and I got definitely came from God, the Spirit working within those people. That is, it was God’s care, concern, and support that took care of my family. What I got was God’s love.

 

Jesus said to the Pharisees, “Give back to God what is God’s.” What is that? I believe it is love. Even though my family has been in trouble, I have been full of God’s love and therefore full of passion to give it back to God. Moreover, no one got hurt which made me more thankful.

 

Jesus asked this question to the Pharisees in Matthew 22, “Whose image is on the coin?” This question leads me into this question, “Whose image is in our hearts? From Jesus’ teaching and life, we can surely say that it is the image of God and the image of love. When this image is in our hearts, the two commandments will be “loving God and loving neighbors.”

I pray we all humbly walk with the Holy Spirit who is continually restoring the image of God in our hearts.

 

Let us pray

Loving God, thank you for gathering us here to worship and praise you. And we thank you for the abundant gift in our live, love. We thank you for the steadfast signs of your loving presence in our lives and world. And now we ask you to bless us to fill your love in our hearts and share it with one another. In your holiest name, we pray. Amen.

 

The Spirit of God Within Us (02/09/2014)

The Spirit of God within Us

1 Corinthians 2:1-12

In his autobiography, Man and Rubber, Harvey Firestone tells an interesting little story which concerns Henry Ford, who was a close personal friend of Mr. Firestone.
Thomas Edison, John Burroughs, Mr. Ford, and Mr. Firestone were on one of their summer camping trips, traveling by automobile. They were camped one evening near the road. They noticed a man walking briskly down the road toward them. On approaching the group he said, “Gentlemen, I am in trouble up the road about a mile. I am on my way to an important engagement, and my car has stalled. It absolutely refuses to go. I have tried everything I know to do, with no results. Do any of you men know anything about a Ford?”
Mr. Firestone spoke up. Pointing to Mr. Ford, he said, “That old fellow over there knows quite a bit about a Ford car.”
“Will you come and help me?” the man asked pleadingly.
“With pleasure,” Mr. Ford replied.
Mr. Ford started up his own Model T Ford which he happened to be driving, and he and the stranger drove back to the stalled car. In a few minutes he had the man’s Ford purring, and both Mr. Ford and the stranger were happy about it.
“How much do I owe you?” asked the man, taking out his wallet.
“Nothing at all,” cheerfully replied the wealthy automobile manufacturer. “It has given me real pleasure to be of some assistance.”
“It is worth a lot to me to be able to get on my way. And you have fixed my car so it runs better than it ever ran before.” I would like to show you that I appreciate what you have done for me.”
“It is sufficient reward for me to be able to be of some help to you.” Mr. Ford said again.
“I certainly do thank you,” the man said. “And do you mind if I say this? If I knew as much about an automobile as you know, I would not be riding around in a thing like that.” He pointed to Mr. Ford’s model T.
Mr. Ford drove back to his friends and told the story, and they all had a hearty laugh. (From God’s Minutes: A Classic Collection of Short Inspirational Stories, p. 18-20).

Mr. Ford made his cars and knew everything about them. This true story today reminds us that God creates us and knows everything about us. Based on this story, I would like to continue this sermon with the same theme as last Sunday.

As we saw last week, the “wisdom” of which Paul speaks is not identical with what we today might call philosophical, theological, or academic thinking. In I Corinthians 1, Paul says, “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Today’s text is the next part of Paul’s letter. Paul says,
“My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.”

In this verse, Paul clearly says that he does not use wise and persuasive words for preaching to the Corinthians. Rather, he preaches with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power. It is because as Paul says in verse 11, “No one comprehends what is truly God’s wisdom except the Spirit of God.”

God’s wisdom is not what we can have with our worldly wisdom. We can only understand it with the power of God’s Spirit. Now given that we can understand God’s wisdom with the Spirit of God, the first thing that we need to know is that we have received the Spirit of God. Many biblical scholars and even many Christians believe that when God created us, God gave us the Spirit of God. According to Genesis 2: 7, God breathed into human’s nostrils the breath of life. By the breath of life, it means the Spirit of God.

We all have the Spirit of God, the source to understand God’s wisdom. So, Paul says, “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.”

With the faith that we have the Spirit of God, we need to speak about God’s wisdom in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit. In Paul’s time, before or later, many of the Greek philosophers were part deep thinker and part popular entertainer whose polished oratory, eloquence, and wisdom dazzled their audiences. Paul also thoroughly trained for those skills under Gamaliel who held a reputation in the Mishnah for being one of the greatest teachers in all the annals of Judaism. Paul, even though he was highly educated, uses the Spirit of God to understand God’s wisdom.

Today’s message is very simple. Seek the Spirit of God to understand God’s wisdom, not our worldly wisdom. Of course, to some extent, we might need to use our education and knowledge we have been taught in the world. I don’t mean that we should ignore our reasoning ability. We are people who are intellectual and reasoning. However, as Christians, we need to not to enthrone reason over the Spirit of God.

Once, Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, said, “Christ doesn’t destroy reason; he dethrones it.” I agree with him. Jesus came to dethrone reason.
Paul dethroned reason and enthroned the Spirit of God and spoke God’s wisdom which was secret and hidden to those who were unspiritual and did not recognize the gifts of God’s Spirit. The Spirit of God reveals itself within us.

This is a situation in which we find ourselves today, not terribly different from Paul’s. We are in a world that is in desperate need of the truths of the gospel: the simple truths that love is of more value than hate, that peace is better than war, that we have a responsibility to one another as children of God. The truth that the God made fully known in Jesus Christ is a God of love and compassion, not a God of violence and vengeance. But these truths are, as Paul says in verse 1, the “mystery” of God. This mystery, in the way Paul uses the word, is not like a puzzle that we can master with enough perseverance.

This mystery, the good news of the gospel, is available to all. Any person who believes that God is at work in Jesus Christ receives the gift of the Holy Spirit, according to Paul, that enables them to clearly see this public mystery of God. It is hidden in plain sight, plainly visible to the eyes of faith but hidden from those who do not recognize the Spirit within them.

Let’s get back to the beginning story. Mr. Ford knew everything in his car. He knew how to fix his cars. But this truth was hidden from the young stranger. Of course, Mr. Ford did not introduce himself to the young man and he never had a chance to know of him. Unlike him, we have various sources to know/meet God: the Bible, hymns, spiritual books and this universe, and even we within whom the Spirit of God lives. We must be attentive to the promptings of the Spirit in us, learning from Jesus, growing in our understanding so that we may affirm with Paul that “we have the mind of Christ.” I pray you all would affirm this truth and fully live out your Christian lives with the Spirit of God.

Let us pray.
Gracious and holy God we give you thanks for this day in which we remember your Spirit is within us. We give you thanks for this great gift bestowed upon us by you. And now help us to live more fully with the power of your Spirit. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.

Go and Tell what You See and Hear! (12/15/2013)

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Matthew 11:2-11
Two young boys were spending the night at their grandparents’ house the week before Christmas. At bedtime, the two boys knelt beside their beds to say their prayers. The younger one began praying at the top of his lungs:
“I PRAY FOR A NEW BICYCLE…” “I PRAY FOR A NEW NINTENDO…”

His older brother leaned over, nudged him and said, “Why are you shouting? God isn’t deaf.” To which the little brother replied, “No, but our grandparents are!”

Today is the third Sunday of Advent. How has your journey been? Have you lived in peace last week? Have you hoped big enough to celebrate the coming of Jesus into your lives?
This morning we read Matthew 11 which starts with John’s question to Jesus. He was in prison and sent his disciples to ask this question, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”
For me, it is very odd that John asked this question to Jesus. Who is John? According to the gospels, John was so convinced that Jesus was the one who was to come.

John was a prophet who proclaimed the coming of the Messiah whose sandals he was not fit to carry. He proclaimed that the Messiah will baptize people with the Holy Spirit and with fire. When Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John, he tried to deter Jesus, saying Do you come to me for I need to be baptized by you? We can see that John realized the identity of Jesus as the Messiah for which all Israelites had waited.

However, in prison, John asked Jesus, “Give us more data so that we can believe in you!” Why did John send his disciples to ask this question? There are various explanations. Someone think that John might have a question, “if Jesus is really God’s messiah and good news from God for the world, why am I still suffering and living with pain in this dark prison?”

Or, someone might think that he was in prison and it could be the last moment for him. He might want to make sure that Jesus was the real Messiah. For him as well as the other Israelites, the coming of God’s Messiah was the greatest Good news at that time. John, as the forerunner who proclaimed the coming of the Messiah, wanted to make sure he was correct.

Both explanations are reasonable. Right? But I have another answer to this question, an answer to drive us to look at ourselves in our life situation. Before answering the question, we need to see Jesus’ answer first. Jesus sent John’s disciples to answer the question as follows,
“Go and tell John what you hear and see. The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

Do you see the point of Jesus’ answer?

John was in prison. It was dark and disconnected from the world. This figuratively means that John was blind and deaf in the prison. He couldn’t see Jesus’ ministry or hear any good news from him. The prison made John blind and deaf.

For John, Jesus sent witnesses who saw Jesus’ ministry and heard the good news from God, so that John could open his closed eyes and ears in the prison.
Without being able to see for himself, John could grasp the larger messianic meaning of Jesus’ ministry through his disciples. Jesus responds with a direct appeal to their senses, “Go and tell John what you hear and see.”
John’s question is the question for all of us, who live in the 21st century. We might live in prison where we cannot see the grace and love of Jesus and where we cannot hear the good news from him. We might live in prison where it is too hard for us to keep the good news in our minds. In the prison, our senses become dull.

The challenge for us in Advent is to allow Jesus to restore our senses, to have him open our eyes and ears, so that we can go and tell others what we hear and see. Admittedly, from the darkness of our prison cells, it can be hard for us to grasp the larger messianic meaning of Jesus’ ministry. That is the problem with the darkness; we lose our way, becoming blind and deaf to the fact that the kingdom of God is all around us.

Jesus is coming to light the darkness in order to open our eyes and ears as he did for John. We don’t know what happened to John immediately after this message. There is no record of it. However, we can guess what might have happened to John before he was killed. With the conviction and excitement that Jesus is the Messiah from God, he might have sent his disciples to the world so that they could spread what they saw and what they heard. Based on his life stories in the gospels, I can draw this picture. If my guess is right, then we can imagine our role as Christians in the Advent season.

Obviously, according to the message of Isaiah, the good news of Advent is that “the people who walked in darkenss have seen a great light.” It is the increasing light of Advent that can help us cut through holiday haze and prepare us to welcome the one who is coming.

Today, through the message of Matthew, God invites us to open our eyes to see the light of the world, so that we can see the true needs for ourselves as well as our neighbors. Thankfully, we come to church to see and to hear God’s good news. However, some of our neighbors do not. How can they open their eyes and ears to the good news from God?

Here is an interesting story. In January of 2007, The Washington Post videotaped the reactions of commuters at a D.C. Metro (subway) stop to the music of a violinist. The overwhelming majority of the 1000 commuters were too busy to stop. A few did, briefly, and some of those threw a couple of bills into the violin case of the street performer. No big deal, just an ordinary day. Except it wasn’t an ordinary day. The violinist wasn’t just another street performer; he was Joshua Bell, one of the most famous violinists in the world, playing his multi-million dollar Stradivarius. Three days earlier he had filled Boston’s Symphony Hall with people paying a hundred dollar per seat to hear him play similar pieces. The question the Post author and many others since have asked is simple: Have we been trained to recognize beauty outside of the contexts where we expect to encounter beauty? Or, to put it another way, can we recognize great music anywhere outside of a concert hall?

I’d like to ask a similar question of the Washington Post author. Can our neighbors detect God only when God is surrounded by the walls of the church and the sound of the organ music? Can our neighbors recognize the beauty of living within God’s grace and love? I’m afraid that most can’t. This is why Jesus sent disciples and commanded them to tell what they saw and what they heard.

Let me wrap up today’s sermon with my experience as a student pastor of my last church. Every Christmas, we had a project to support the people in Nicaragua, especially the children who needed clean water. All the children in the church were engaged in making a few hundred cards. We sold them to the church members and raised some money. Then, we sent the money to UMCOR which is an organization of the United Methodist Church, which serve the poor around the world. They are well known as a group to send 100 % of donations to the mission place. The children took part in helping the poor. The church members took part in the mission by buying the cards. And UMCOR, the organization of the UMC, took part in directing the mission to share the light for the world.

The Chilmark Community Church is involved in this kind of mission. We have committed ourselves to our neighbors by fulfilling mission share ministry. We have supported our neighbors by hosting Flea Market and Lobster Rolls. We have served our neighbors through pizza night, soup supper and various ways. I am sure that God has nurtured and supported us so far. We need to give thanks to God for it. God will tell us, “Good job!”

Our mission in this community should be continued in order for us to remain as a church where God reigns. 2014 is around the corner. And we need to be ready to light the darkness. Let us together pray for the future missions of our church. Let us together take action. Jesus tells us, “Go and tell what you see and what you hear.

Let us pray. Dear Lord, we are here again to worship you. We give thanks to you for having supported our missions in 2013. We give thanks to you for having been with us. And now again, we pray to you for granting us faith and your wisdom so that we can continue our missions for our neighbors in 2014. Bless us to be the light to shine in the darkness. In your name, we pray. Amen.

Abounding in Hope (12/08/2013)

Isaiah 11:1-10, Romans 15:4-14

Today is the second Sunday of Advent and I will start this sermon with a true story. There is a book by Victor Frankl, who was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor. His book is entitled, “FROM DEATHCAMP TO EXISTENTIALISM,” and he tells of his life in the death camps and concentration camps of Germany during World War II. For those prisoners in those death camps, it was awful. Rats, freezing weather and freezing rain, and freezing fingers and freezing toes, freezing warehouses and freezing outhouses, and beatings from the guards. The only hope for the prisoners, according to Frankl, was for the Allied forces to come and set them free. And for some unknown reason, that hope became connected with Christmas. The prisoners in one particular camp started to believe that freedom was going to come on Christmas. And so these prisoners clung to life. They struggled with their freezing feet and freezing toes and freezing hands. They struggled with their frost bitten bodies. Why? Because they had hope. Thank God, they had hope. They were waiting for Christmas. They were waiting for freedom. They were waiting for release. And finally, Christmas Day came. And Christmas Day went. There were no Allies. There was no release. There was no freedom. And there was no hope fulfilled. Immediately, on the days afterwards, before the New Year came around, slowly, one at a time, there was first one suicide. Then two suicides. Then three suicides. Pretty soon, people were sleeping through meals and sleeping through exercises and many people were slipping into their deaths. And by New Year’s Eve, many from this camp had died. Six months later, when the Allied forces finally did come to bring freedom to this concentration camp, half of the prisoners had died. Most of them died during that Christmas season, after Christmas Day. Many of them died because of the loss of hope. They gave up too soon.

Last Sunday’s sermon was about waiting in joyful hope. The theme of this Sunday’s sermon is also about hope. Advent is a season to hope for peace, love, comfort, or something like that in our lives. It is a season to fill ourselves with a hope from God who is the source of hope. However, these days, many say that we might find ourselves ashamed at how small our hopes are. Our hopes tend to be small. What about you? Do you hope big or small?

I believe that each of us has one’s own hope based on life situations. I, as a pastor, also have a simple but big hope to lead our church for 2014 so that we can serve our neighbors and spread Good news from God. So, outreach committee will have a very important role in doing this mission next year. God will support and guide us for the missions in which we will engage. My hope is that everyone prays and supports together. 2014 is coming soon. For 2014, I will do my best to organize our church missions for this goal.

What kinds of hope do you have? Today, we will take a look at the Scripture and examine our hope before God. Biblically speaking, we could say that hope is “Paul’s favorite word.” Used only three times in all of the gospels, Paul uses the word 14 times in his letter to the Romans alone. Hope is one of the most important qualities in our faith journey. It always says to us, “Don’t give up too soon, but continue to hope for every good thing before God.”

This morning, we read Romans 15, which is part of the climax of Paul’s letter to the Romans. This passage begins and ends with hope, and it says the character of God is the basis for that hope. In v. 4, “steadfastness and the encouragement of the scriptures” is the source of hope. In v. 5, “the God of steadfastness and encouragement,” to whom scripture witnesses, gives hope. In v. 12 the Gentiles hope in the Messiah and in v. 13, the final and familiar blessing sums up the passage, and indeed, the letter as a whole: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

Here is Dante’s understanding about hope. You might have read Dante in high school or college. In the book, the sign above the entrance to Dante’s hell says, “Abandon hope all you who enter here.” For Dante, hell is a place with no hope. To enter hell is to give up hope.

Let’s go back to the beginning story. The people at the death camp had hope that freedom was going to come on Christmas. They could stand their freezing feet, toes, and hands. They could overcome their fears at the death camp. However, many of them ended up dying and some of them committed suicide. Why? Because after Christmas, they gave up the hope that allied forces would come and set them free. They could stand all of the challenges in their lives because of the hope. But when they lost the hope, they experienced hell on earth.

This morning, St. Paul proclaims to us “May the God of hope give you joy and peace in believing that you will be filled with hope, that you will be abounding with hope, and that you will be overflowing with hope for the future.”
What do these words mean for you? What does it mean for you to be abounding in hope? In the Book of Hebrews, we hear God’s Word which says, “With strong encouragement, seize the hope set before us.” In First Peter, God says, “We have been born to a new and living hope through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Hope in the Bible means to trust that God’s future is for us. Faith means to trust in God in the here and now; but hope means to trust in God’s future. To realize that God is in control of all future history and is in control of our personal history. To realize that God will not desert us in the decades and the centuries ahead of us. That is, no matter what happens in our lives, our future belongs to God.

We live in a season when the sign of God’s hope is the greatest. The coming of Jesus means the coming of hope. Not only is Jesus the prince of peace but also he is the prince of hope. Our hope is coming. Take a look at ourselves. Do we hope big enough to celebrate the coming of Jesus and to receive the power of hope from him? This season abounds with hope. We are filled with hope. We are overflowing with hope that the God, who has taken care of us in the past and today, will take care of us in the future, no matter what the future may bring.

Let me wrap up today’s sermon with a person who had a passionate hope for the future. Her name was Anne Sullivan. She had a driving hope that a young girl by the name of Helen Keller who was deaf and blind would be able to read, write and communicate. Anne Sullivan had a driving hope to teach this little girl, who was untrainable and undisciplined. Sullivan taught her to read, write and communicate. She did not give up hope. She didn’t quit. She didn’t give up hope and say, “This is an impossible job. This is an impossible task.” No, not at all. And now, Helen Keller has become indeed a legend.
What I am saying is that we Christians have a driving hope. We have a living hope. We have a hope for God’s reign of justice, love and peace for the earth. We also hope for God’s reign of justice, love and peace in this little personal world of ours.

I love what Soren Kirkegaard, the great Danish philosopher, said about hope. His definition of hope is “hope is the passion for the possible.”
When the God of hope lives inside of us, God gives us peace and joy in believing, and we abound in hope. We are filled with hope, we are overflowing with hope, and we are imbued with hope. We will experience our lives filled with a new hope from God.

Let us pray, Loving God, we give thanks to you for your Word. We believe that we are living with the hope that the Lord will come in peace. Now help us to prepare the way of the Lord and to make a room for God in this mysterious season. And bless us to enjoy this season within your love. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, we pray. Amen.

The Coming of the Son of Man (12/01/13)

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The Coming of the Son of Man

Today is the first Sunday of Advent and the beginning season of the church calendar. In Medieval times advent was a fast during which people’s thoughts were directed to the expected second coming of Christ. However, in modern times, it has been seen as the lead up to Christmas, and in that context the Advent Wreath serves as a reminder of the approach to Christmas.
As you already know, Advent is a time to prepare ourselves for the birth of Jesus with patience. It is a season of “waiting in joyful hope.” Today we lit the first candle of the Advent Wreath. The Advent Wreath teaches us patience. These days, my son everyday asks me this question, how many days are left to Christmas? Obviously, he is waiting for Santa so he can get a gift from him. Whenever my son asks this question, I reply “Wait a little more” and “Prepare yourself for the moment.” “You should eat well, study well, and play well with your sister.” That is, “be a good boy and then, Santa will get you a gift.”
This is very similar to the historical story of the origin of Advent. A German priest who lived in the 19th century, founded a home for poor children in Hamburg. The children kept asking him how many days were left until Christmas. As a response, he developed the Advent Wreath with its candles to give the children some idea. As one of the candles was lighted, their expectation for Christmas was getting bigger and clear.

We use the Advent Wreath for a similar purpose – to learn patience. To wait, not nervously, but patiently. For sure, things sometimes seem dark, but the Advent Wreath says that the light of Christ will come – and that it will grow. We need to learn God’s time – to avoid impatience that causes so much harm. If we wait patiently, God will give us every good thing. We pray to God, “Teach us, Lord, to wait patiently until the proper moment. Teach us, Lord, to wait in joyful hope.”

This Advent I invite you to examine your conscience in terms of your patience. Father Edward Hays, who is a contemporary writer on spirituality defines Advent as follow, 
 ”Advent is the perfect time to clear and prepare the Way. Advent is a winter training camp for those who desire peace. By reflection and prayer, by reading and meditation, we can make our hearts a place where the birth of the Prince of Peace might take place (A Pilgrim’s Almanac, p. 196).”

In addition, he says,
 ”Daily we can make an Advent examination. Is there a lingering resentment, an unforgiven injury living in our hearts? Do we look down upon others of lesser social standing or educational achievement? Are we generous with the gifts that have been given to us, seeing ourselves as their stewards and not their owners? Are we reverent of others, their ideas and needs, and of creation? These and other questions become Advent lights by which we may search the deep, dark corners of our hearts.”

Advent is a moment to take a look at ourselves and prepare ourselves for the coming of baby Jesus with hope that he will reign in our lives.  Last Sunday was Christ the King and Reign of Christ Sunday. I preached that the rule of Jesus occurs within the hearts and minds of all who follow Jesus. Christ’s kingdom is within us.  Repeatedly Jesus described a realm of rule dramatically different from a kingdom controlled by the powers of the world. Jesus taught us that the kingdom of God’s rule is within a person. Do you remember? The season of Advent is to feel Christ within us, working for us to be healed from various sufferings in our lives and to have peace. Also, the season of Advent is a moment to happily affirm the reign of Christ. As we renew our commitment to the reign of Christ, let us plead for the renewed submission to the rule of Christ within the lives of all of us. Then we could affirm the altered values, changed thinking, new visions, and priorities of redemption that prevail where Jesus rules. Then I encouraged you to together declare with impassioned conviction, “The kingdom of God’s rule is among us. Jesus Christ reigns over our lives!” I am sure you remember this.
Christ is coming. That’s the Good News of Advent. We’ve met and we know the person who is God’s appointed one, and it’s Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth, the carpenter, the healer, teacher, founder of the feast and friend to tax collectors and sinners.

Today’ lesson is from Matthew. The point of the text is very clear. “Be ready for Jesus’ coming.” I think that Matthew paired the last two parables in that series deliberately in a way that makes clear just why Jesus’ coming is Good News and what it is that we do to be ready for it.

The first parable is Matthew’s version of the “Parable of the Ruthless Master.” This parable illustrates how earthly masters can misuse their power causing hatred, greed, pride, or social injustice in our lives.
In Matthew, this parable is immediately followed with a description of what it will look like when Jesus’ work among us is completed, “when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him” (Matthew 25:31). It will be opposite of what happens when the “Ruthless Master” is in charge of the previous parable is ruling. The hungry will be fed. Those without clean water to drink will be given clean water. The strangers will be welcomed. Those without clothes will be clothed. And the prisoners will be visited. All of the people will be gathered in to the center, to enjoy God’s kingdom. That is, to those people who suffer from injustice, hatred, greed, and pride, God gives freedom and peace. 

This season of Advent proclaims the Good News. The Ruthless Masters do not have the last word; Jesus does.
Jesus is coming. Will we recognize him? The best way to know, deep down, is to get lots of practice. Whatever we do for “the least of these,” we do for Jesus. If we want to see Jesus and know Jesus, if we want to experience the Good News that Jesus is coming, we need to listen to the stories, the hopes, and the concerns of “the least of these.” If we want Jesus to recognize us as a neighbor, we must become neighbors to “the least of these, building real community — shared bread, shared dreams, shared vision. That shared vision is Jesus’ vision. That shared hope is what makes the certain news of Jesus’ coming Good News. That shared dream is coming true among us, and Jesus invites us to make it our own.

In Matthew’s gospel, we hear quite a lot about Jesus as “God with us” (1:23), present with us in tough times (18:20) and for the long haul (28:20). We have the presence of Jesus with us even before he comes again in glory. “Lo, I am with you always,” he said. His presence heals, reconciles, calls to account, opens the door to the banquet, pays workers all the same, and on and on, ahead of the time of his return. Paul’s words in Romans are all about living “ahead of time,” anticipating with our lives that way of life that will be ours when Christ returns.
Maybe the surprise, when Christ returns, will be that he was here all along. Maybe the surprise will be that, ahead of time himself, he has been calling, gathering, enlightening and sanctifying the meek and all the rest of those who bear his name. Come, Lord Jesus.

 Let us pray.
Loving God, we give thanks to you for the lesson this morning. And we give thanks to you for Jesus who is coming to reign over our lives. Give us wisdom and faith to follow Jesus and bless us to experience Christ throughout our lives. In your name, we pray. Amen.

Christ Our King (11/24/13)

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Christ Our King
Colossians 1:11-20

A man died and went to heaven. As he stood in front of St. Peter at the Pearly Gates, he saw a huge wall of clocks behind him.
He asked, “What are all those clocks?” St. Peter answered, “Those are Lie-Clocks. Everyone on Earth has a Lie-Clock. Every time you lie the hands on your clock will move.”
“Oh,” said the man, “whose clock is that?”
“That’s Mother Teresa’s. The hands have never moved, indicating that she never told a lie.”
“Incredible,” said the man. “And whose clock is that one?”
St. Peter responded, “That’s Abraham Lincoln’s clock. The hands have moved twice, telling us that Abraham told only two lies in his entire life.”
“Ok! And where’s my clock?” asked the man.
“Your clock is in Jesus’ office. He’s using it as a ceiling fan.”
He is definitely doomed. Right?

On the last Sunday before Advent, we celebrate Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday. The earliest Christians identified Jesus with the predicted Messiah of the Jews. The Jewish word “messiah,” and the Greek word “Christ,” both mean “anointed one,” and came to refer to the expected king who would deliver Israel from the hands of the Romans. Christians believe that Jesus is this expected Messiah. However, unlike their expectation, Jesus came to free all people, Jew and Gentile not from the Romans, but from sin and death which are the two greatest enemies in our lives.

Christians have long celebrated Jesus as Christ, and his reign as King is celebrated every Sunday and especially, in Advent, Christmas, Holy Week, Easter, and the Ascension. However, Pope Pius XI asked the church to specifically commemorate Christ as king, and instituted the feast in the Western calendar in 1925.
In the 21st century many Western Christians, Catholic and Protestant, celebrate Christ the King Sunday. Today, I would like to invite you all to think of this expression, Christ the King.

We believe that Jesus came to accomplish redemption and forgiveness of sin for the world. Through his life, he loved and served people. Based on his life, we honor him as the head of the church and his resurrection provides hope for the people in the world. Also, we believe that in Jesus all the fullness of God is please to dwell. Through Jesus, God is pleased to reconcile all things to himself.

Now I am going to ask you two questions. First of all, “What kind of king is Jesus?” He holds no scepter for recognition but a towel for service. Rather than demanding that people bow before him, Jesus stoops before people in order to wash their feet, cool their fevered brows, touch their sores, and ease their pains. Instead of commanding a well-armed militia to advance his message by might, Jesus commissions a straggly group of common people intoxicated by his love to spread the gospel of peace. Jesus prefers giving away everything that he has to the poor. And the only throne on which he reigns is a cross.

Then, here is the second question, “How does Jesus rule as king?” The rule of Jesus occurs within the hearts and minds of all who follow Jesus. The kingdom is within. Repeatedly Jesus described a kingdom dramatically different from a kingdom controlled by the powers of this world. He spoke of people’s inability to define the location of the kingdom of his rule, explaining that the kingdom of God’s rule is within a person. Again, the kingdom is within us.

On this last Sunday of the Christian year, let us happily affirm the kingdom of Christ. As we renew our commitment to the reign of Christ in our lives, let us plead for a renewed submission to the rule of Christ within the lives of all. With the submission, we affirm the altered values, changed thinking, new visions, and priorities of redemption that prevail where Jesus rules. Then together we can declare with impassioned conviction, “The kingdom of God’s rules is among us. Jesus Christ reigns forever!”

Let us pray.
Christ our King, we give thanks to you for the lesson this morning. And we give thanks to you for Jesus who reigns over our lives. Give us wisdom and faith to follow Jesus and bless us to experience your kingdom throughout our lives. In your name, we pray. Amen.

Holy Communion, the Sign of God’s Grace (11/03/2013)

Holy Communion, the Sign of God’s Grace

Luke 24: 13-34

Today, I would like to deal with one of the most important symbols and rituals in the church. It is Holy Communion. Before starting this sermon, I warn you that this sermon is very biblical and theological and thus greatly boring. But I think it is very important for us who do a monthly Holy Communion. Please don’t fall asleep. I beg your deep attention to this sermon.

Our church has a monthly Holy Communion and we believe that the church’s faith is nurtured and strengthened at the Lord’s Table. At the table, we continue to experience, believe, and celebrate God’s love and grace through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Through the practice, we experience the defining stories as disciples of Jesus Christ.

First of all, at the Table, recognition and renewal happen. Here is the story from Luke 24. When Jesus was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to his disciples. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road…” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed.”

The focus of this story about Jesus walking to Emmaus with two disciples is in the last verse of the story. The disciples walked with Jesus but they did not recognize who he was. However, when Jesus sat at the table and broke the bread, their eyes were opened and they realized that it was Jesus. So the disciples returned to Jerusalem and told the others “what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. (v.35).”

 As the bread is broken, something important happens. Recognition. The breaking of bread in a faith community comes as an eye-opening experience. The breaking of bread strongly reminds faith communities of the life and teaching of Jesus who loved people. This is the symbol and sign of the greatest love toward all of us. We are graced by the sign we did not recognize a few minutes before. That is what we are thankful to God for. And there is something more in the story than recognition. 
 

When Jesus’ disciples arrived at Emmaus, Jesus appeared to be going on. But the disciples encouraged him to stop, eat, and spend the night with them because it was almost evening and the day was nearly over. Before they experienced the presence of the resurrected Christ, it was late and getting dark. But we need to know what happens after the recognition at the table. “That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem (v.33).” After they realized he was Jesus Christ, darkness did not matter. Their spirits were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and they couldn’t stay home. So they returned to Jerusalem and took action to spread what they had experienced. That is, they became the witnesses of God’s good news. Not only is Holy Communion an eye-opening experience, but also it gives an energizing effect to faith communities, so they can take action as God’s witness for the world. Sometimes we may feel that our day is nearly over, but at the table we find the renewal we need to get back on the road of our spiritual journey and again we might be filled with faith and courage to tell everyone the news: “We have seen the Lord.” (Joseph R, Jeter, Jr. Re/Membering: Meditations and Sermons, 1996, p. 49-50).

Secondly, I believe that at the Lord’s Table, faith community finds their life’s center in the living presence of Jesus Christ (Foundation Document, Vital Congregations Faithful Disciples: Vision for the Church, p.134). As we faithfully seek our Lord by sharing the bread and wine at the Table, we are made “one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world.”

At the table we come to commune intimately to become part of the body of Christ combined with faith and love. One of my most powerful experiences at the table is intimacy with Christ and the congregation as well. I believe that the Table is a place to break all of the classes and stereotypes. One of my challenges in this community is that my family alone are ethnically Asians and culturally different from the congregation. Sometimes, I come to feel isolated from the congregation. 

However, at the table, I experience the breaking of the walls I have in relationship with the congregation. As a pastor, it is very important to feel oneness with the congregation. We, despite of our differences, have been transformed as one body by our intimacy with Christ and each other. In this respect, I believe that the center of our community is the table where we come together to be embraced by Christ and to embrace each other (Edited by Dorothy D. France, At Christs’ Table: Meditations and Prayers for Communion, 1997, p. 7). In repeating the sign at the Table, faith communities are united with Christ anew.  

 Also, the bread and cup are the gifts to the people from Christ. They remind us of the manna in the wilderness. The manna could be received and shared as a gift to sustain the Israelites for their journey. Likewise, at the Table, we receive the bread of heaven and this bread feeds and sustains us in the journey of faith in God.

Moreover, Christ invites to his table all not only those “who love him but also who earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with one another at the table of redemption (Word and Table: Service I, The United Methodist Hymnal, p. 7).” In eating this food, all become “partakers in the divine nature” and rise to “newness of life” in Jesus Christ (A Service of Word and Table IV, The United Methodist Hymnal, p. 29-30). By this meal the people of God are transformed into part of Christ’s body alive and active in/for the world.

Finally, there is one more important meaning of Holy Communion in the CCC. I believe that the Lord’s table is not only a sharing of food but also a sharing of our lives. That is, the table is a miracle of sharing, a miracle as God fed the Israelites with manna in the wilderness and Jesus fed five thousands with five loaves and two fish. The bread and wine are the gifts given to the world. These gifts feed and sustain our faith community to grow in relationship with God and neighbors. At the table, we are given a new life by the love of Christ and then, Jesus commands us to go forth to the world to share the new life. That is, this table is the center of a sharing ministry and we are empowered to share a new life given to us at the table with our neighbors. 

 Our congregation is a little old and one of our missions is to invite young people and to educate and to nurture them to be disciples of Christ. However, it is honestly not an easy mission for elderly people to invite young people these days. Many of them have their own children and they do sports or another program for their children at every Sunday. This is not only our challenge but all the other churches in America.

The CCC needs to figure out strategies for this mission to invite the people. And I believe that Holy Communion could be the center for this mission. The CCC should be a church to share with the people not only food but also the new life we have been given in Christ. As I mentioned above, the Lord’s table is a miracle of sharing. At the table, Jesus’ disciples were filled with faith and courage to tell everyone the news: “We have seen the Lord.”

Likewise, we will be filled with faith and courage to be witnesses for God’s good news to the world. Then, Jesus Christ will work for us as he did for 5 thousand people with five loaves and two fish. In this respect, I believe that Holy Communion is the place “where the body and spirituality of Chilmark Community Church are nurtured, and where our vision to share a new life with our neighbors is formed.
Let us pray
Gracious God, we believe that you gave us a great means of grace, Holy Communion. We give thanks to you for that grace. From now on, help us to participate in the Communion with our whole hearts. And fill us with courage and faith when we willingly join the table. We pray in your name. Amen.

Near to the Heart of God (10/27/2013)

Near to the Heart of God

2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18;  Luke 18: 9-14

A pastor went out one Saturday to visit his church members. At one house, it was obvious that someone was home, but nobody came to the door even though the preacher knocked several times. Finally, the preacher took out his card, wrote out “Revelation 3:20″ on the back of it, and stuck it in the door.
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with me. – Revelation 3:20
The next day, the card turned up in the collection plate. Below the preacher’s message was written the following notation:
Genesis 3:10- I heard your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.

I began today’s sermon with a funny story about pastoral visitation. This week, I started pastoral visitation wanting to meet every member of our church and our neighbors face to face and so far no one has hidden themselves from me. I must say that I have had a meaningful and enjoyable moment with each one of you. And I pray to God for us to build a great bond as one family of Christ combined with faith and love. 

I believe that we are the people who daily struggle to come to the heart of God. We call that a faith journey. However, we know that coming to the heart of God is not easy. Life is often filled with unexpected problems or crises. Unrest and despair will darken the way of even the strongest saints. Yet many Christians should strive to maintain composure and stability in spite of stress and difficulties in the course of their lives. We cannot escape the pressures and dark shadows in our lives. This is why the writer of Psalm says “O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me. Many are saying to me, ‘there is no help for you.’” Sometimes, we feel depressed and hopeless.

However, we, as Christians, still believe that those pressures and dark shadows can be faced with a spiritual strength that our Lord provides. We believe that as we are held securely near to the heart of God, we find the rest, the comfort, the joy and the peace that Jesus promised. Because of this, we can live every day with an inner calm and courage. This is why we strive to get to the heart of God.

In today’s lesson, we meet Paul whose life was totally filled with crises and problems but always held securely near to the heart of God. Let us look at the text. Paul says in 2 Timothy 4, “As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
Paul said that his life was poured out like a libation. What does it mean? Libation in
this context means a life poured out in the form of costly sacrifice like wine spilt on the altar. Therefore, this text emphasizes Romans 12 where Paul admonishes the faithful to present their very “bodies as a living sacrifice to God (12:1).” His life was in the center of the heart of God. Now that he faces the final moment of his life and the fulfilled missions given to him, he boldly confesses that he did his best.

Martin Buber once said, “The good is the enemy of the best.” In a world that will put up with “that’s pretty good,” Paul challenges us to do our best, to pay up personally even to the point of pouring out our lives as a living sacrifice. Paul lived as a living sacrifice to God to get to the heart of God. For us to get to the heart of God, we also need, like Paul, to do our best.
As a living sacrifice to God, he tells us of his accomplishments; “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” What a wonderful confession, especially at the last moment of one’s life! “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” And now he awaits the crown from God. 

Consider the ending of Second Timothy, which refers to payback in connection to God’s final reckoning. I summarized the ending part of Second Timothy in the following three points.
• First of all, Paul’s life nears its end. As that life is being poured out like a sacrificial drink offering to God, and as he dies as one who has “kept the faith,” Paul awaits “the crown of righteousness.” (2 Timothy 4:6-8)
• Secondly, others, too, await this crown, others “who have longed for Jesus’ appearing,” not the first appearance in Galilee and Judea but the coming one. (4:8)
• Thirdly, even the Lord can expect some payback, in a sense. The One who has brought Paul safe thus far deserves the praise, “the glory forever and ever.” (4:18)

Let us think of the four points. The Lord will give Paul and other believers the crown of righteousness. This reward is not Paul’s to seize. The Lord is the one who has accompanied, strengthened, and preserved Paul along the way. Paul didn’t earn it, necessarily; but his faithful service buttresses his confidence that the Lord will prove faithful in providing it to all who faithfully await his appearance. A confidence about future rewards — this is one more virtue commended to Timothy and others by Paul’s example.

Throughout the letter, Paul has been the example to imitate. But it has been the Lord who makes such faithfulness possible. The Lord makes perseverance a reality and not only a need.
While studying this lesson, I have looked at myself. I asked myself this question, “Am I doing my best for this church?”

Last Monday, I had an interview to recertify my local pastor license. There were about 10 interviewers and I was very nervous. They could reject my request for recertification if they think that I am not qualified. If that happens, then there would be a serious problem. However, they read the documents I sent in advance of the meeting, and they collected various data from my mentor, from D.S, Seok Hwan Hong, and from others. They were impressed by your support of the church ministry. I really thank you for that. Also, they were sure that I, as a pastor, was doing my best.

Somehow, I can do better. Since I have only been here 10 months, and am still learning, I plan to do my best. Now we are running the race to get to the heart of God. During this race, we face pressures and dark shadows. However, we should keep our faith in God. God will accompany, strengthen and preserve us along the way to the heart of God.

I am now doing pastoral visitation. It is not just a social meeting. It is for supporting and encouraging you who are on the race to the heart of God, so that you can do your best to keep your faith in God on the journey of faith. God be with you all in this journey. 

Let us pray.
Dear Lord, we give thanks to you for the lesson given to us this morning. Now we ask you to give us courage and faith to keep our race. Sometimes, dark shadows blind us in the race and make us depressed and distracted. However, we believe that they can be removed with a spiritual strength that you provide. We believe that as we are held securely near to the heart of God, we find the rest, the comfort, the joy and the peace that only you can give. Be with us and guide us. We pray in your name. Amen.

The Bible, Useful for Teaching (10/20/2013)

The Bible, Useful for Teaching
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Luke 18:1-8

A boy was sitting on a park bench with one hand resting on an open Bible. He was loudly exclaiming his praise to God. “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! God is great!” he yelled without worrying whether anyone heard him or not.
Shortly after, along came a man who had recently completed some studies at a local university. Feeling himself very enlightened in the ways of truth and very eager to show this enlightenment, he asked the boy about the source of his joy.
“Hey” asked the boy in return with a bright laugh, “Don’t you have any idea what God is able to do? I just read that God opened up the waves of the Red Sea and led the whole nation of Israel right through the middle.”
The enlightened man laughed lightly, sat down next to the boy and began to try to open his eyes to the “realities” of the miracles of the Bible. “That can all be very easily explained. Modern scholarship has shown that the Red Sea in that area was only 10-inches deep at that time. It was no problem for the Israelites to wade across.”
The boy was stumped. His eyes wandered from the man back to the Bible laying open in his lap. The man, content that he had enlightened a poor, naive young person to the finer points of scientific insight, turned to go. Scarcely had he taken two steps when the boy began to rejoice and praise louder than before. The man turned to ask the reason for this resumed jubilation.
“Wow!” exclaimed the boy happily, “God is greater than I thought! Not only did He lead the whole nation of Israel through the Red Sea, He topped it off by drowning the whole Egyptian army in 10 inches of water!”

How much do you know about the Bible? And how do you understand the message of the Bible? I was not telling you the sotry for fun.  Through the story, I presented two ways to understand the Bible. Christians have argued forever with each other about the Bible. Some people are convinced that the Bible is totally inspired by God and one should never tamper with any of those inspired words. On the other hand, some people are not sure that the words in the Bible are all inspired by God. What do you believe?
Last year, Nick Page, who is a writer of many Christian books, published a book titled “God’s dangerous book.” It is a book about how the Bible was put together, where it came from and who decided what went in there in the first place. Also, the book presents how the Bible has always been a dangerous text. His main point is that the Bible is more than just a piece of literature. However, these days, many people treat the Bible as if it is nothing more than a piece of literature.

Once, Gandhi read the Bible and said, “You Christians look after a document containing enough dynamite to blow all civilization to pieces, turn the world upside down and bring peace to a battle-torn planet. But you treat it as though it is nothing more than a piece of literature.”

What do you think? Do you think the Bible is a piece of literature or an extraordinary text? If you think it is extraordinary, do you treat the Bible as it is extraordinary in your life? I am not telling you that the Bible is extraordinary because it is inspired by God. I am telling you that it is extraordinary because it is “useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” This means that the Bible has the power to change one’s life and even the world. And that is extraordinary.

Let’s get back to the text. 2 Timothy 3: 16 tells us “All scripture is inspired by God.” The word “All” used in this context has been a troublesome word for the church. The ongoing debate regarding the divine inspiration of scripture has often greatly misused this text. Some believe and teach that every word in the Bible is inspired, as if to say God guided the pen in the hand of the writer and sort of breathed onto the page. Then we are admonished to neither add to nor take from the text.

Here is a question. Why did Paul use the word “all” in this letter? There is a valid reason for speaking of the divine inspiration of the scripture. At the time the text was written, the norm of the society was pluralism. All kinds of religious experiences and options were available. There was something of a religious smorgasbord to choose from. Focus was needed. Paul might believe that the people had wandering minds and had moved away from sound doctrine. In Paul’s time, it would be a reasonable excuse.

However, today, the word “all” in this way can get Christians into real trouble. For instance, what of the ending of Psalm 137:9, “Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!” How terrible is this! Somehow that slip of the pen by an obviously angry psalmist seemed less than inspired by God. In this respect, Raymond Brown, who is recognized as a leading scholar of the New Testament, reminds us that the emphasis in verse 16 should be placed not on the inspiration of each word, but on the utility of the text. That is, all scripture is “useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”

As Brown claims, we tend to focus too much on the nature of Scripture–as if “inspired” means it has some holy property. However, we should focus on the nature of the Bible as a useful tool for teaching. God reaches down and uses the Bible to be profitable for teaching. I believe that the message of the Bible always focuses on our life. Life! The messages of the Bible focus on teaching us how to live well in relationship with God and our neighbors.

Here is the challenge we face today. The Bible focuses on teaching us how to live well. The process of being taught is tough. This teaching includes reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. We face a lot of reproofs and get through continual corrections and lifelong training in righteousness. It is tough. And this is why many people give up following the teaching of the Bible.
Unhappy experiences tempt us to give up on the messages of the Bible. This morning, Jesus encourages us not to give up by telling a story from Luke 18. This parable has the most unlikely heroin, a widow. It would have been difficult to find a more powerless person in those days. However, she is held up as a model of persistence, prayer, and patience for never giving up or losing heart.
In those days, she had every reason to give up. Everything was against her. Even the name “widow” in Greek is “chera,” which means “empty.” She was a nobody to everybody. But she had a sense of dignity and self-worth. She never gave up on herself.

Also, she would not even give up on the judge, as unfeeling and corrupt as he was. She was not going to stop pestering him until he did the right thing by her. Her persistence and prayer made the corrupt judge do the right thing. She never gave up.

Moreover, neither did this widow give up on God. I believe that this is why she could not give up on herself or even this judge. Maybe she could have given up on God, because she was a miserable widow. In those days, to lose one’s husband might be seen as punishment from God for sins. But she did not see it this way. She had faith that God cared for her and would somehow help her.
Some people reach the point where they think about giving up on God because it is very hard to follow the teaching of the Bible and the reproof is so uncomfortable. Even we don’t want to be corrected. Moreover, the training in righteousness seems not necessary in these days.

But Jesus teaches us this morning through the story of a widow. Jesus would say to us, “Do not give up on yourself, your neighbors, or God. Have faith in God who cares for and helps each one of you. Use the Bible to teach yourselves for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness so that you may be complete and equipped for every good work to build the kingdom of God in the world.”

Let us pray. 
Almighty and gracious God, we thank you for the gifts–the Bible, Scriptures–and ask that you use it to teach us, to reprove us, to train us in righteousness so that we may be complete, know you, and serve you.  In Jesus’ name, we pray.  Amen.