Category Archives: SERMONS

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)

121513

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)

120113
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)

112413
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.

The Thankful Leper (10/13/2013)

The Thankful Leper

Luke 17:11-19

11On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

There was a young mother who was preparing a thanksgiving party at her home. She had spent all day in preparations for the big event. She was nervous and wanted everything to be just right for her guests. She had cleaned the house from top to bottom, polished the silver, arranged the flowers, and even made little name cards for each guest. Finally, the guests arrived and were eventually seated at the dinner table. The young mother turned to her daughter and asked her to offer the prayer. The daughter said that she did not know what to pray. Her mother said, “Just pray what Mommy would pray.” The little girl thought for a moment and then prayed, “Dear Lord, why did I invite all these people to dinner?”
I am sure that you have had this kind of experience. Right?, losing the meaning of Thanksgiving.

In today’s text, Luke tells the story of ten lepers who beseech Jesus for mercy, while keeping their distance, as required by law.  They are objects of fear and loathing.  Not just their health, but their homes, their lives, friends, work, family, are gone because of this sickness that has grasped them. Their lives are miserable.

Jesus, who is full of compassion and love, says to them, “Go and show yourselves to a priest,” who has the power to pronounce them clean. They walk on.  As they walk, they realize they are healed. One turns back to give praise and say thanks.  The others keep on going.

Jesus asks the question:  why do nine rush away without giving thanks, and why is this foreigner the only one who does?  Think of the nine lepers. They are finally healed. It is the most wonderful day they have longed for. What are they going to do right after they become cleaned. Obviously, they would go home to see their family, parents, wife or husband, and children. This would be the most important thing they want to do right after the healing. However, there is one more thing they should have done. Thanksgiving to Jesus. They just rush away without giving thanks to Jesus who healed them. Only one comes to Jesus and says thanks.  
Jesus says to that one who came back, “Your faith has made you Well.”

This is a very important point for today’s sermon. Jesus makes a distinction between being healed and being well.  And between being healed and having faith.
Being healed should not be the end of our story in the course of our spiritual life. Jesus came to the world for us to be well in relationship with God and others, not just for healing. 

The curse of leprosy has made the ten a community in which they are joined in suffering and misfortune. They need one another. And because of their misfortune they have no others. They have been separated from their family and friends and other communities. Their prayer is a single voice with many echoes. “Mercy! I Am Unclean.” How miserable. Have you had this kind of experience in your life, crying out to God. “ Mercy, God, I am insecure. Mercy God, I am in huge trouble. Mercy God, I am in pain now.” The mercy they long for is not just the restoration of their flesh, but restoration of their whole lives in relation with others. They long to go home.

The ten lepers were not unacceptable and their lives were miserable without being accepted by others. However, Jesus came to them and healed their disease. Moreover, Jesus made it possible that they could not just be healed but also be well in relationship with others. Jesus came for that.

Thank you is the beginning, because thanks is an act of accepting yourself as “the be-gifted and the be-loved.” We have a very polite culture. We send thank you cards to people who have favored us. This culture is not familiar with Koreans. I, as a Korean, say “thank you,” but usually do not send a thank you card to others. So, I didn’t get used to it. I am pretty sure that for the last 7 years in America, I have missed a lot of chances to send a Thank you card. I am now feeling bad.   

Anyway, thank you cards or notes are such perfunctory cultural acts, nice to get, even nice to write. They warm people’s minds and make them feel connected with each other.
We are a community to say “thank you” to God and to one another. In the last two weeks, we have received four families as professing members. To them, the one thing that I have kept saying was “thank you.” I kept saying to them “Thank you for being professing members.” “Thank you for being part of our community.” I kept saying to God, “Thank you for blessing us to have them into our community.” Saying “thank you” to God and to others is one of the most important and spiritual practices needed to sustain a faith community. We build our relationship by saying thank you. 

There is an old movie, Places in the Heart, a tale of depression era life in the American south.  Did you watch the movie? Murders, lynchings, and betrayals occur in it, and the bond between a white woman and a black man save a family.  But they are eventually torn apart by racial bigots. The final scene takes place in a small country church, where communion is being passed among the pews. The dead are there, sharing pews and bread and wine with the living, shooter and shot, betrayer and betrayed, husband and cockold, bigot and black man. It is a sacrament of surpassing joy.  It is a sacrament full of thanks-giving to God and to others. It is the place to change one’s thought, mind, and even life. It is the place to accept others and to be accepted by them. Chilmark Church is the place to accept people and to be accepted by people by sincerely saying thank you to each other. Now why don’t you say thank you to the person next to you.   

Let me wrap up today’s sermon with the beautiful prayer. Saint Francis of Assisi understood himself as one who had received mercy and who had given thanks to God through his whole life. This is a prayer of Francis, a prayer which has been on the lips of millions.

“Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is error, truth; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.”

These are not only the words of faith, but also the words of thanksgiving.  They make the world well. We are the people who live our lives with the faith in God. We are the people who give thanks to God and to others. Our lives make the world not only healed but also well. Remember! Jesus did not come just for healing. He came to make us well. From now on, let us pray together both for healing and being well. Jesus says to us, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

Let us pray
Loving God, you come to our lives not only for healing but also for making us well. Give us the faith that our lives can be well not just healed. And give us hearts full of thanksgiving to God and others. In your name we pray. Amen.

Faith, the Hope of the World (10/06/13)

Faith, the Hope of the World
A pastor was preaching one of his first sermons in the new church to which he had been called. He did not know too many people yet. He was still in the process of learning names and who was related to whom like in Chilmark. He was in the early stages of accessing the congregation and its needs.
As he was preaching he announced both a biblical truth and a certainty of reality. The pastor said, “Everyone in this congregation is going to die.” After he said this, he noticed that a man in the front row was laughing very robustly. The pastor couldn’t believe his eyes. He stopped the sermon at this point and said to the man, “Sir, I just told the people in this congregation that they are going to die, and you are laughing. Why are you laughing?” The man in the front row composed himself a little and responded by saying, “I am not a member of this congregation.”

Let us be honest about our faith. We are not sure if we have faith enough to believe in Jesus’ teachings in the Bible. So, very often, we, like the disciples before us, cry out, “Lord, increase our faith!”

We believe, as did the disciples, that Jesus is the one to ask for increasing our faith. They came to Jesus with the request. Jesus replied to them, as he probably would have replied to us. “If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamore tree, ‘Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” “If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could tell that sycamore tree to move over, and it would do so. If you had even a little faith you could move mountains.” In Jesus’ eyes, the disciples apparently had no faith at all. Jesus said that they had not as much as a grain of mustard seed.

Can anyone take this teaching seriously? Does any believer truly think that if he or she had faith as a grain of mustard seed, mountains could be persuaded into leaping around like lambs or trees taken for a stroll? I put it to you that even the most spiritual, deeply committed Christian is doomed to despair if we take the words of Jesus literally.

Faith in God is what we long for in our spiritual journey. Faith sees a reality that others do not see, which means that faith sees a new reality. It is seeing the reality of God’s kingdom and working with the Holy One to create a new life.

Let us think about the life of Zacchaeus, the despised tax collector, who made his living by cheating everyone. When Jesus came to town, Zacchaeus, being very short of stature, decided to climb a tree for a better look. Jesus noticed him and then what happened? There are a few options for Jesus to take according to worldly wisdom in that society. First of all, Jesus could scold Zacchaeus for being a sinner. Secondly, Jesus could ignore Zacchaeus because to recognize him in any way gives tacit support to his dishonest dealings. Thirdly, Jesus could laugh at Zacchaeus. He is, after all, a ridiculous spectacle up a tree.
But Jesus selected a forgotten option. He asked Zacchaeus to come down from the tree and invites himself to Zacchaeus’ house for dinner and fellowship. The next day this story was spread around town. “Zacchaeus was changed. Now he is a totally different person.  He is not only giving back what he’s stolen, but he is giving it back four times over!” No one could foresee this result. This is exactly the new reality the people observed in that town.

One more example. When Jesus faced the dilemma of 5,000 hungry people, his disciples came to him and asked, “What shall we do?” Their worldly wisdom would suggest the following three options. First, “tell them to go home.” Second, “Tell them to go hungry.” Thirdly, “Tell them to get a bite at Linda Jeans, Sharky, the Galley or something like that and reconvene at eight o’clock.”
However, Jesus said, “There’s another option. We will bless what we have and feed them now.” We will work with what we have and multiply it.” Again, no one could foresee this new reality.

Jesus teaches us to look at problems differently and, thereby, frees us from the claims and definitions of the worldly wisdom. He invites us to have faith and to live with a God who consistently offers other options generated by faith. I must say that to those who think that our life is fixed, the world is a closed system and there is no surprise, the gospel would not come as good news. Faith in Christ brings unexpected alternatives into our lives.

Here is a story to illustrate our sermon. Once a farmer sought to raise a single baby eagle which he had found in the wilderness. He raised it with his chickens and it grew strong. But alas! this king of birds came to think of itself as a chicken rather than an eagle. Each day the farmer would throw it into the air hoping to see it fly, and each time it would return to the earth to eat the chicken feed thrown on the ground. The eagle didn’t have faith that he could fly.

One day, however, something began to stir in the bird’s memory when it was launched aloft; a strange and fearful excitement surged through its breast. As time went by, the eagle came to have faith that she could fly and once the eagle was sure about that, it stretched its wings and soared, lifted by the rising currents of air.

Many Christians think faith is something otherworldly. However, faith has to do with our world and seeing it in a different way. There is mounting evidence in the field of cancer research, for example. The research data suggest that patients who are terminally ill have a statistically significant chance of getting well if they can imagine the white blood cells as a victorious army putting to rout the invading army of cancer cells. Faith in this sense is an imaginative vision that sees what medical science and others are not yet able to see. Faith is so related to our lives that it influences our thinking, our spirituality, and our health. Faith gives us a new hope, a new vision and a new life. I can tell that faith is the hope we have.

Thankfully, Jesus said that it does not take much faith to shape a new world. We can see wonders of the new reality with as much faith as a grain of mustard seed. It can uproot trees and transplant mountains.
Again the faith of a mustard seed can give us a new vision and a new reality. If mainline churches are languishing today perhaps it is because they have no vision that grips the imagination and because they are not able to see the new reality.

Let us be Christians who have faith. That means we are having a new vision and expecting to see a new reality, in which God reigns over our lives and the world. 
Faith, in any amount – even as small as a mustard seed – is the hope of the world. Let us have faith in God to have a new vision and to see the new reality in our lives. Then, we will begin to think in alternative terms and dare to live in the new reality and the new life.

Let us pray.
Dear Lord, we ask you for faith as a grain of mustard seed. Give us the eyes to see your love and grace in our lives. Grant us faith that the future will be full of your love and grace. We believe this faith is our hope. In your name, we pray. Amen.