Braided Bread Fundraiser

Braided Bread Fundraiser
March 3, 2109 to March 31, 2019
$13 each

We will get them in time for Easter Sunday Brunch.

  • Cinnamon
  • Cream Cheese
  • Apple
  • Raspberry
  • Strawberry Cream Cheese
  • Cinnamon Rolls
  • Caramel Rolls
  • Italian Herb Bread

Order forms are available. Ask your friends if they would like to purchase some pastries. Return the order form and payment by March 31, 2019. The pastries will be available for pick-up beginning on April 9, 2019.

Braided Bread Order Form


Trauma and the Impact on Children

“Young children are especially vulnerable to trauma and should be psychologically examined after a traumatic event has occurred to ensure their emotional well-being.”*

Trauma and the Impact on Children
Sunday March 24, 2019
11:30 am

In 2018 Connecticut 8, 134 children were victims of substantiated abuse and/or neglect. How does such trauma effect these children? Elizabeth Dionne, of KidSafe, and Patricia Valle, of The Village for Families and Children, will present “Trauma and the Impact on Children” on Sunday March 24, 2019 at 11:30 am at Rockville United Methodist Church, 142 Grove Street, Rockville, CT 06066. The lecture will focus on the effects on the children and what their organizations are doing to help them. There will be a question and answer session following the lecture. Light refreshments will be served.



Sermon: Advent Peace – “Waiting in Repentance”

December 9, 2018
Second Sunday of Advent

Luke 3:1-18
Pastor SeokCheol Shin

Advent Peace – “Waiting in Repentance”

Ready for Christ
December seems to be the craziest month of the year – wouldn’t you agree? We are so busy and excited with preparing for Christmas. This probably suggests to you; going to the attic and bringing down all the decorations, putting up the tree and all the lights, purchasing the Christmas gifts, doing all the holiday cooking and baking, and maybe a thousand other things that “need” to be done before Christmas… Yet why do you bother yourself with those crazy Christmas preparations? Well, I guess it is because your families are coming home, isn’t it?

We have found that preparing is hard work at our church too. During the past weeks, our members swarmed over the church like busy bees putting up Christmas trees and lights, the Nativity set, and the Advent wreath and candles and banners… As we have well prepared our Christmas decorations, we are also ready to celebrate our Christmas season with our families, friends and neighbors.

But when I meditated on today’s scripture from Luke’s Gospel, I was thinking of this question, “Am I ready for Christ?” Who is coming for our Christmas? Is it our family or Jesus Christ? It’s so exciting to prepare for the holiday of Christmas, but how do you like to prepare for Christ?

Traditionally, John the Baptist always visits us on the second Sunday of Advent and reminds us that Christmas is for preparing for the coming of Christ. For it, he calls us to a deeper kind of preparation – a serious spiritual preparation.

Before mentioning John’s ministry, interestingly, Luke listed the names of the rulers of his day (vv. 1-2). The first one is Caesar Tiberius, who was a strongly anti-Jewish ruler. The next is Pontius Pilate, who allowed the crowd to crucify Jesus Christ. Then there is king Herod, who later killed John the Baptist and took part in interrogating and humiliating Jesus along with Pilate. At last, Luke mentioned the Jewish high priests, Annas and Caiaphas; they were only puppet religious leaders who later handed Jesus over to be crucified. Those rulers were all tyrants and flatterers of the power. Why did Luke describe this list of Roman and Jewish leaders in the opening line? I believe that it is just to show his day was corrupt all the way from the top down.

After naming those rotten rulers, Luke suddenly turned our attention to John’s ministry. According to him, John preached about the impending coming of God’s Messiah to rule all the nations, and he shouted this, not in a secret place, but in public where many people freely come and go. What he spoke was very radical and dangerous around his time.  How did the Roman rulers react to his message about the coming of a powerful King from heaven? How did the Jewish priests accept John’s preaching about “repentance?” His angry voice was not a kind of evangelical campaign but a political revolution or a religious reformation against the corrupt rulers of the world.

John spoke dangerous words against the unjust society of his day. I think that John the Baptist was a great leader of his day like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, or Nelson Mandela, who fought for the social justice of their days. In terms of our language, we can call him “revolutionary.”

Yet, we ordinary people are not comfortable with his political message because he shouted his voice not only over the evil rulers but also over the crowds. According to him, we are like a “brood of vipers” that cannot flee from the wrath to come (v. 7). We are like the “tree that doesn’t bear good fruit and that is cut down and thrown into the fire” (v. 9). He continued to say that the Messiah stands on the threshold, ready to gather the wheat into his granary but burn the chaff with unquenchable fire (v. 17). None would be free from his punishment unless we repent, turn from our wicked ways, and get baptized!

As a prophet, he proclaimed the message of repentance not only to the political rulers of his day but all humanity of the world. Why? It is because God’s Messiah is the Savior and the King of all races in the world. Whoever wants to belong to him and receives his sovereignty must repent and try one’s best to live in a righteous way.

If we only consider ourselves as citizens of our country, we don’t need to repent; our government doesn’t care about how we live and what we do unless we violate the civil rules and laws. But if we consider ourselves as citizens in heaven, we should recognize that God will bring us to account for our personal and private lives. And we know that we are never perfect enough in terms of God’s holiness and righteousness. Although we think we are good citizens of our country, we should repent because we are part of the sinful world.

The Gift of the Holy Spirit
By the way, the theme of this second Sunday of Advent is peace. Then how is John’s message related to peace? Does he talk about peace in his preaching? No, not all… Rather, he seems angry and upset with all of us because we are all sinners and that’s why he only preached “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (v. 3). But I believe he still represents peace today because his preaching pointed to the coming of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.

According to John, the result of our repentance will be worth it. He says, “[When the Messiah comes,] he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (v. 11). In other words, he will give us the gift of the Holy Spirit, that is, the power of our lives, the power of revival, the power of growth, the power to sustain, restore, and keep our lives going on!

We all want to celebrate our days and lives; we want to recover and restore what we have lost; we want to live in peace and raise our children in safety. For all those blessings, John the Baptist argues that we should first repent, change our life and get clean, that Christ will come into our hearts and shine and strengthen our lives by the power of the Holy Spirit. Repentance is the way we receive Christ, Emmanuel, the Holy Spirit, who offers us genuine peace!

Peace Comes with Repentance
We are already familiar with his message, “Prepare the way of the Lord” (v. 3), for it is the central message of John the Baptist and also the central lesson for Advent. O yes, we have already set all the Christmas decorations around and inside of our house; a few days ago, we already finished our Christmas shopping and purchased Christmas gifts for our children. But unlike our way to prepare for Christmas, John the Baptist speaks of repentance rather than celebration. Repentance is how we prepare for the coming of Christ.

John says, “I baptize you with water.” Baptism is the sign of repentance and turning around and living with Christ. He continues to say, “The One who is more powerful than I is coming after me… He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” As we repent, the Prince of peace, the Savior of the world will come in, bless and heal our lives, and renew our life’s journey. This is our faith, our hope, and our gift from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sermon: Advent Hope – “Waiting with God”

December 2, 2018
First Sunday of Advent
1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37
Pastor SeokCheol Shin

Advent Hope – “Waiting with God”

The Season of Waiting
Human life is full of all kinds of waiting: waiting in line at the grocery store, waiting in the doctors’ office or post office, waiting for any appointment, waiting for our children to grow, waiting for graduation, waiting for marriage, waiting for a job interview, waiting for vacation, waiting for retirement, waiting for the birth of a baby, and even waiting for the time of death.… Yes, our life is full of waiting and waiting and waiting.  I don’t know how you like your waiting moment, but I don’t like it because it usually brings a sense of anxiety and pain in my heart.

But I believe that there are some kinds of waiting that give us joy and fun. Let us think about the season of Christmas. I still remember how I was excited during the Christmas season when I was a little child; the closer it got to Christmas, the more excited I became. Waiting to open Christmas gifts, waiting for Christmas pageant, waiting for Christmas cookies and meals — all of these, even though I felt impatient in my heart, were all about fun! Yet if you ask me to give you just one word about why I like Christmas, I would like to say it is “friend!” Christmas is the best time for me to hang around with my friends. Gathering with my friends and playing with them is my happy memory of Christmas!

Waiting with God
This morning, our Gospel lesson leads us to talk about “waiting for the second coming of Jesus Christ;” this is the central theme of the Advent season. For Christians, the first Sunday of Advent is a sign of hope. Yes, it is a hope because we are waiting for “the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory” (v. 27).

When Jesus talked about his own second coming to the world, the disciples were surprised and also excited to hear this event. So they wanted to know when the end of the world was going to come. But Jesus said that “No one knows about that day or hour, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32). Nevertheless, Jesus commanded them to “be on guard,” which means keep awake, watch, and pray, because they don’t know when he is coming back to them (v. 36).

Yet, I am wondering whether this uncertain return would really encourage us to always keep watching and praying in faith and hope. Rather sometime later, we might get tired, bored, and confused about how it is all going to take place. Waiting for Christmas is always fun for us because we can count the time. But waiting for the second coming of Jesus may bring us a sense of tedium because we don’t know when it really happens.

This is exactly how the early Christians of the Apostle Paul’s time felt. When they first believed in Jesus and started their Christian life, they were eagerly looking forward to the second arrival of Jesus. They thought that his return was going to happen soon. They waited and waited and waited until the waiting was almost unbearable. As time just passed and nothing really happened, perhaps they began to look foolish, tired and even skeptical about the delay of his return. Some of them were even losing their faith and left the church. As they left the church, they fell into their secular lives. That’s why the Apostle Paul wrote this letter to the Thessalonian Church, and he tried to call them back to their confidence in Jesus’ promise.

Paul’s main concern in this letter is about “waiting in hope.” For that, he reminds the Thessalonian believers that they are not alone as he points out to God’s abiding grace in their lives: “… continue to stand firm in the Lord” (v. 8). What Paul mentions in his letter is a simple and yet profound truth, which is “God is with them.” Perhaps they had forgotten. Perhaps we have forgotten, too.

“God is with us!” This good news that Paul shared with the Thessalonians is the eternal truth for all Christian believers. As you know, Jesus Christ came to us as our Emmanuel at the first Christmas.  Emmanuel means “God with us,” and that means we have never been waiting alone but always waiting with God. It also means that all God’s gifts we are looking for in our wait have been already given right in front of us. If we are confident of God’s abiding power and grace in our everyday lives, we will not feel discouraged or bored or hopeless, but we may have hope for our future life.

Let us talk about the feeling of waiting for something again. What helps us enjoy our time rather than feel bored or tedious when we are waiting for something? To answer this question, let us think about the time when we are with someone else during our wait. I believe that while talking and chatting together with our company, we don’t feel bored; we may even forget how long we have been standing in line waiting.

As we know, Lorrain’s father passed away last week. When I was there, I saw he was surrounded by his family and friends. All the people in that room were in sorrow while waiting for the time that God took him to eternal peace in heaven. Of course, I shared my sympathy with the family, but I could also feel God’s comforting hands there in the midst of their gathering. I saw they held each other’s hands, shared their emotion and childhood memories, and encouraged each other. As they were all together in that waiting time, their father was deeply blessed by their love; they could endure their sorrow; and they could peacefully accept God’s calling for their father. What I want to point out through this experience is that friendship or companionship is the best way for us to stand in peace and hope during our shared wait.

This companionship is exactly what Paul talks about to us. We are waiting for the coming of Christ, waiting for something to happen, or waiting for a better life in the future; whatever it is, we are not alone in our waiting time.  We are waiting with our Emmanuel in God’s grace that is always surrounding us, picking us up, and strengthening our faith and hope in Christ. With this ongoing presence and companionship with God, we can always take heed, stand in courage, endure our pains and sufferings, and wait in hope that God will strengthen us to overcome our problems, heal and recover our wounded bodies and minds, provide our journey, and bless our future lives.

No matter what happens in our lives, no matter what situation we may be in, we can always wait and continue our lives in hope because we know that Jesus Christ our Savior and our merciful friend is here with us and among us.

Waiting in Hope
This morning’s Scriptures teach us that our Lord Jesus Christ is coming into the world, and on the first Sunday of Advent, this is our hope. Our waiting for a new world may seem tedious or even discouraging especially with this shaky economy or without our beloved. We may be frustrated by its delay. But we must not give up the hope of a brighter future and the hope of the final fulfillment of God because Christ is indeed coming again!

How long do we have to wait then? We don’t know because Jesus didn’t give us the exact time and date. Yet, Jesus says, “stand up and raise your heads” (v. 28). And in the meantime, let us always remember this simple and yet deeply profound word of hope: God our Emmanuel is here with us, among us, and for us, always accompanying our journey and empowering our life.
Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sermon: Come to the Table – “Thanksgiving and Generosity”

November 25, 2018
Christ the King/Reign of Christ Sunday

Matthew 25:31-46
Pastor SeokCheol Shin

Come to the Table – “Thanksgiving and Generosity”

The Season of Thanksgiving and Generosity
Last week we enjoyed the Thanksgiving holiday with our families and friends.  It is a time of joy and a time of saying “thanks” to God for his abundant blessings upon our lives.

Let us look around and look at our life. God has richly blessed us. Although times might be difficult for you, still there is so much for which to give thanks. You have a relationship with our gracious and loving God. You have this family of faith who love you and care about you. You have enough food, nice clothing, and a warm shelter. Your gifts of time, talents and possessions are ways of saying “thanks” for the blessed life you have in God our heavenly Father.

To respond to God’s abundant blessings, we designate this Sunday as a “Commitment Sunday,” and on this special Sunday we want to bring our offerings and pledge cards for the year of 2019. (Just last week, we learned that Christian stewardship is not just a fundraising, but more about our loyalty to God through our time, talents and treasures.)  When we celebrate our Thanksgiving holiday, we know there are still people who have suffered from disease, people who go to bed hungry every night; people who have no medical care; people who have to go to a T-station to sleep overnight. They live without much of the hope we have for our normal lives.  We collect offerings and money, not just to pay the bills of our church utilities, but to support Christ’s ministry for the sake of people in need.

I hope we celebrate this “Commitment Sunday” as a reminder that we are blessed in order to give and share. When we give, we don’t want to give out of obligation, but out of genuine love, for we know “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

Jesus the Shepherd King
Liturgically, today is the final Sunday of the Church’s year. Next Sunday will be the first Sunday of Advent, and we will start the year afresh as we prepare for the coming of Jesus into the world. This Sunday we consider Christ as a King, and as a King we think of him as a Shepherd to his people.

The Shepherd is the most favorite image of our Jesus when we think of what he looks like. Don’t we see Jesus as everything good? He loves us; he heals the sick; he seeks the lost; he forgives and saves us from death to eternal life. When we are in trouble, we think of our Shepherd leading us to green pastures and still waters, and we feel so good. Our Shepherd Jesus is a man of compassion, mercy and everlasting love.

Yet such is not the only image we have from the Scripture today. The Christ in Matthew’s Gospel is shown as a King who is to judge his people; if we love and serve him, then he rewards us; but if we do not love and serve him, he punishes us. Christ is our King, and we must respond to him, or face the consequences. This is what Jesus says to us in his parable this morning.

We need to know where to find Jesus, so that we can reach out and serve him. The answer is written in today’s reading from Matthew’s Gospel: “I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me; I was naked and you gave me clothing; I was sick and you took care of me; I was in prison and you visited me.”

Reflecting on what Jesus just says in this parable, don’t we see so many Jesus walking and passing by us? He is hungry standing in the Food Pantry lines. Or as a homeless man, he is living on the streets and waiting for the gate of the Salvation Army to be opened so that he can get a coat. Or he is in the nursing home, or more likely, he is homebound because he can’t afford to go to a hospital. Or he is in prison, feeling hopeless about his life.

Don’t blame me. I didn’t say it, but Jesus said it; “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (v. 40). Taking Jesus’ message literally, he is more likely to be found in the downtown of our communities, looking for arms from us. And he is not just there to comfort those in suffering, but he is also suffering along with them. That’s where Jesus is.

As our Shepherd, Jesus calls each one of his flock and feeds and nourishes our spirits. That’s why we want to come into God’s house to give thanks to him. Yet we need to remember that as our Lord, he sends his flock (disciples) out to the world and commands us to feed his lost sheep. That’s why we need to bring our generosity to the world. In this regard, Church is the place where we worship Jesus our Shepherd and where he sends us to carry out his caring and serving ministry to all people living around us.

What does all this have to do with our Commitment Sunday? Biblically, thanksgiving and generosity are two sides of the same coin. Jesus just says in his parable what we did to people (generosity) is what we did to God (thanksgiving)! We start our worship with thanksgiving and end it with generosity. When the Israelites of the Old Testament came to their sanctuary to worship their God Yahweh, they brought their offerings and tithe of their produce. It was a way of saying “thanks” to God for his blessings upon their lives. After their worship in the sanctuary, they went out to share their offerings with neighbors in need. Generosity was a way for them to say “thanks” to God.

Likewise, we gather together to worship the Lord as we bring our own tithe, offerings and donations as a sign of our thanks to God. But that’s not all. Just a few minutes later, we are going to put them all together, bless them all, and bring them back with us, so that they will go back into the world, the world where Jesus lives and suffers along with his people. If thanksgiving is the foundation of worship, generosity is a completion of worship.

On Commitment Sunday
I really care about your worship attendance, about your fellowship with one another, and about your commitments here in our church. Yet, what makes me most impressed to you is your own willingness to reach out to Jesus who is out on the streets and to respond to the needs of our neighbors in our communities. I am glad that our Church is full of the sheep, full of the shepherds, full of servants who like to gather together and reach out together to serve Jesus Christ sitting out in the world.

On this Commitment Sunday or Christ the King Sunday, I give thanks for you all who know how to serve God. I give thanks to Jesus our Shepherd who feeds us, leads us, and blesses our lives every day. And I give thanks to Jesus our Lord who is himself joining the people in suffering and calls us to serve him in everything we do and every place we go. Amen.

Sermon: Come to the Table – “Stewardship”

November 18, 2018
Twenty Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 24:1–2; Matthew 25:14-30
Pastor SeokCheol Shin

Come to the Table – “Stewardship”

The Biblical Definition of Stewardship
Stewards are those who are employed to manage assets for their landlords. They receive full authority to run their landlords’ household in the absence and even presence of their landlords. However, it doesn’t mean that they own the property at all. It is the landlords who determine when and how long their stewards would serve their property.

If we read the Bible carefully, we will never miss the fact that God has full right of ownership of all things in the world. Genesis starts with the very first verse: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1), and God entrusted God’s world to the first human beings Adam and Eve and their offspring (cf. Gen. 1:26-28). Today’s Scripture from Psalms says that “The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it. For [God] has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers” (Psalm 24:1–2). Everything we have today comes from God. It is God’s. We are not the owner of the things in our life. We are merely the manager.

Let’s take a simple test to make sure we all understand. If you made $500 last week, and you have come to church on Sunday, how much of that $500 belongs to God? Someone might say, “Let me see, 10 percent of $500 – that’s $50!” No, the principle of tithing does not mean $50 is God’s, and the rest is yours. It all belongs to God.

If I believe that I am the owner, I may be in conflict with God over what I do with the things that I have. But when I understand that the Lord is the Owner, and I am only the manager, the conflict disappears, and freedom overtakes my life as I know how to use the possessions.

How to Manage God’s Possessions:
As I see God as my Owner, I must learn to think and work like God’s manager. “What should I do with all the possessions God has entrusted to me?” This morning I’d like to share three things about how we manage God’s possessions in terms of stewardship.

  1. The manager should know what the Owner (God) wants done with His possessions and then know how to carry out His will. Fundamentally, we should recognize that God is the giver and God gives abundantly, sacrificially and joyfully!

Here in our faith in Jesus Christ, we have the assurance of God’s blessing! None would be saved by the amount of money they give to God or works they do for God’s glory. In Christ’s sacrifice and redemption, we are privileged to inherit God’s kingdom and eternal life in it. Thanks be to God!

Yet, I still want you to think of how much Jesus Christ gave his life for us. Did he give up some parts of his body and blood? Did he give up some of his life? When he poured out his grace upon us, he did not hold anything back but put his entire life onto the cross to pay for our sins and give us eternal life in God’s kingdom.

Jesus’ own life of giving challenges us this morning as we think of our life of giving; “Am I really willing to give my whole life to God just like Jesus Christ who is my Master?” Not part of it… God the Owner of our life is not interested in part of our life, but he wants it all. Abundant, sacrificial and joyful giving can only come from a heart set on our strong faith in Jesus Christ: “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).

  1. The stewards should show good job skills for their owner God! Honestly speaking, no one likes to do a stewardship campaign because we think it is only about money, but it is actually about Christian life. When we think about stewardship and generosity in general, specifically regarding money, I want you to think about these guiding principles (from our sister Judie’s inspirational stewardship letter):
  • Prayers—we promise to pray for people of all ages involved in our church.
  • Presence—we promise to come to the activities of our church that interest us.
  • Gifts—we promise to give a portion of what we earn to our church.
  • Service—we promise to serve those who need help.
  • Witness—we promise to say good things about our church and our faith.

Please think about the commitment or recommitment we are asking of you:

  • Will you volunteer to greet, usher, do coffee hour, or bring someone to church?
  • Will you pray for others in need of our prayers by receiving a phone call?
  • Will you take part in the Sunday morning service?
  • Will you work on the church building; i.e., the Grumpy Old Men? (GOMs)
  • Will you make a pledge or raise your pledge?
  • Are you able to pledge more to help our mission projects at home and overseas?
  1. God (Owner) will hold us (stewards) accountable for what we have done with the things God has entrusted to us. The Owner has complete right to examine what we have done with His property. Each will give a personal account to God. Here are a few areas of inspection:

A) Ourselves
God will check how devoted we have been to God. That’s why the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 12:1, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Paul says a proper and spiritual act of worship is to give ourselves fully to our Owner to be used as God’s servant.

B) Our time
Look at Ephesians 5:15-17: “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” We will be held accountable for how we used each day that the Lord has made and given to us. 

C) Our treasures
God will also hold us accountable for what we have done with the things God has entrusted to us. One of the final parables Jesus gave concerned a master who entrusted his possessions to three servants while he was away. The master, after returning, held each servant responsible for how he had used or invested what had been entrusted to him.

D) Our talents
God will examine what we have done with the gifts and talents God has granted us.  God, our Owner, expects us to take the spiritual gifts and abilities He has handed us and use them for His glory. (read from Matthew 25:14-30).

God has entrusted to our management treasures, time, talents, and even our very being. All we have are to be used for God’s honor. As stewards, we must be accountable for all these things and how we used them. God has high expectations that we will serve God and grow to think and care and love like God does.

Be Faithful in Our Stewardship
If the Owner called us to give an accounting this evening, what would the record say about our giving? Would it reflect a humble belief that we are only managing what God owns? Would joy mark our life as one who gives generously because we have been faithful in our stewardship? We need to rethink how we are spending our resources for Christ and his kingdom.

Once again brothers and sisters, all that we call “ours” is actually God’s. My prayer is that we will properly manage what God has entrusted to us. Amen.

Sermon: Come to the Table – “Dedication”

November 04, 2018
Twenty Fourth Sunday After Pentecost/ All Saints Day
Luke 6:20-31
Pastor SeokCheol Shin

Come to the Table – “Dedication”

Who Are Saints?
Today is “All Saints Sunday.” It is a day when we remember all those who have gone on before us to their eternal homes in heaven. It is also a day when we gather to give thanks for the life and ministry of the saints who have blessed our lives, our communities, and our world in the name of Jesus Christ.

What makes a person a saint? Who deserves to be called a saint? When we think of a saint, there comes to mind a picture of people in ancient costumes with halos around their heads, which make them look “holy.” Is that really right that people called “saints” in the Bible are holy and good enough before God and people?

Today’s prayer for the Holy Communion gives us the list of saints: “God of Abraham and Sarah, God of Miriam and Moses, God of Joshua and Deborah, God of Ruth and David, God of the priests and the prophets, God of Mary and Joseph, God of the apostles and the martyrs…” One of them is King David. As a poet, he wrote many wonderful Psalms that still give us inspiration today. As a king, he protected Israel and led his people to keep the covenant of God. But we also know his sinful life.  He committed adultery with Bathsheba, and to hide his crime David murdered her husband Uzziah.

If we concentrate on the idea that saints are very holy and good people, nearly perfect like Jesus Christ, then we miss the point in Jesus’ teachings and ministry. However positive we may feel about ourselves, who can really say, “I am holy and good enough to be a saint.” The saints I know never show me a halo around their heads but show me their faith in Jesus Christ. The life of saints is not about good enough but about dedicated enough!

Dedication means that you have a special focus on something. It is the sort of emphasis you want to put on your hobbies, your favorite sports, your business, or even perhaps on your personal relationship with someone. You dedicate all your lives to those you love. Likewise, if we really love Jesus Christ, then we will be dedicated enough to serving his teachings and ministry.  That ministry can take many forms, such as our Leap of Faith Concert, Grove Street Music Project, and the Trunk or Treat we open to the children in the community.

Saints in Jesus’ Teaching and Ministry
The ultimate goal of Jesus’ ministry is bringing God’s kingdom on earth. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” This prayer reminds us that God’s kingdom is not only a special place in heaven where we enter after we die but it is also a present reality that we can experience here in our world. Who can lead us and work for the coming of God’s kingdom in our world?

The primary people we can think of might be political leaders of the world. By election, we choose them to lead our country. We give them a right to make all kinds of major decisions and even declare wars and peace in the world. According to their leadership, the world history has been changed. So we tend to think that our national leaders are the movers of our country and the world history.

But this is not true to Jesus’ political viewpoint. In today’s Gospel lesson, he speaks about who deserves and brings God’s kingdom on earth: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven” (vv. 20-23).

Poverty, hunger, sorrow, hatred, exclusion, and persecution – we don’t want to say these are blessings! Listening to Jesus’ sermon, some people may raise their hands in objection and say, “We don’t want to entrust our country to a bunch of those losers. They don’t know the first thing about business, politics, military or what it takes to run a government.”

But Jesus maintains that those innocent folks are the sorts of people to whom the Kingdom of God is entrusted. How and why? They can endure all those sufferings and persecutions because they are dedicated to Jesus Christ. As they are dedicated to him, they can be also dedicated to Jesus’ teachings: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back” (vv. 27-30).

As I am also concerned about how to establish God’s kingdom here in our world, I really support and agree with Jesus’ sermon today. Think about this; if we really can love our enemies, is there anyone we don’t want to love and forgive? If we really have hearts to love our enemies and even bless them in prayer, I am sure that we will be passionate enough to bring peace and reconciliation to this broken and violent world, so that we can make our world better and better and better.

Dedicated to Jesus Christ
So today, on this “All Saints Day,” let us recognize again that we are privileged to be called saints not because we are holy and good enough but because we have Jesus Christ who is dedicated enough for the sake of our forgiveness and salvation. The life of saints begins when we are also dedicated to Jesus Christ and his teachings of God’s Kingdom.

“Dedication” is our first step to make our life more saintly.  Afterwards, we may receive a power to work for God’s kingdom in a way that we forgive and even love our enemies. We can start and fulfill this holy life of saints when we are dedicated to Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Amen.

Sermon: The Mistery: Companionship in the Midst of Trial

October 21, 2018
Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost

Job 38:1-7 (34-41); Mark 10:35-45
Pastor SeokCheol Shin

The Mystery: Companionship in the Midst of Trial

The Question About Suffering:
Over the past weeks, we have seen and experienced certain painful images that we can’t erase from our memories. Why did God allow Satan to persecute his righteous servant, Job, so that he lost everything and even suffered from a terrible disease? What about our own sufferings: suffering from loneliness, sickness, homelessness, unemployment, family problems, etc.?  Some people suspect that God has created an imperfect world. In other words, God has made a mistake, and that’s why all the creatures sometimes suffer.

That is also why Job argued with God in last week’s scripture. In his argument, Job was sure that God’s punishment upon him was a terrible mistake since he didn’t sin against God at all. Like Job, do we really want to believe that God can make a mistake? If so, how can we trust that God is right; God is love; and God will save us and give us eternal life?  In today’s Hebrew scripture from Job 38 and Gospel readings from Mark 10, there is a common theme of how God (or Jesus Christ) is involved in human events.

In God’s Hand…:
If you read the chapter 37, you can see how Job was desperately looking for God. As he only found God’s silence in every direction, he cursed the day he was born and even considered God as his enemy… By the time he was struggling with his mysterious and unjust trial, Job’s three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Jophar came to comfort him, but they didn’t help him at all.  Rather, they provoked him to be angrier with God.

What was wrong with his three friends? They were debating why such suffering had been inflicted upon Job. Their conclusion was that Job must have sinned against God and that’s why he ended up with such a terrible punishment from God. Yet Job was sure that he didn’t do anything wrong to deserve this kind of terrible punishment from God.

What was the deepest pain to Job when he was going through a horrible time? I believe it was a sense of being alone in his complete darkness. As you see, he lost all of his possessions; his own beloved children were killed in a single day; his wife had left him; his friends treated him as a sinner. To make it worse, God seemed to be missing from his suffering although he was desperate for God’s answer.  There was no hope, no love, no friendship, no companionship in his tragic life; that was why he cursed his life and even called God his enemy.

The turning point comes from chapter 38 when God finally appeared out of the whirlwind, to give him the lecture of his wisdom and power of his creation: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth…On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?” (vv. 4-7)

If I summarize all the words in chapter 38 in our everyday language, it would be like this: “Job, you don’t know what’s going on in my world, but I know because I am the Lord and I am in charge of everything in my world.”

While listening to God’s lecture, Job experienced the overwhelming awesome presence of God the Creator. Even though the pain did not go away, he suddenly began to understand the God he believed is the God who created everything in the world.  He suddenly was aware that he sat was only a little part in God’s plans.  Job suddenly was able to recognize that God was right there with him and that he had been in God’s hands although he couldn’t understand why these terrible things happened to him. So Job finally admitted that he had every reason to trust God even in the midst of his painful trial.

From this passage, we can also realize that God’s purposes go deeper than human abilities to grasp all that is really happening. Like Job, we may be still thrown back to the incomprehensibility of the mystery of suffering. But like Job, we may have confidence that God is the Lord of all and that everything is in God’s hands.  With this knowledge, we can stand strong in the midst of our trials.

Jesus’ Ransom for Many:
In the Gospel reading, Jesus is confronted with a request from his disciples James and John, the sons of Zebedee. They believed that they were in Jesus’ favor and privileged to be numbered in God’s kingdom, so they came to Jesus, not with a request, but with a demand (like Job demanded God to explain.): “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you… Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory” (v. 35, 38).

As expected, Jesus used their request as a teaching moment for his discipleship: “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared” (vv. 38-40).  Jesus continued to say those disappointing words, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many” (v. 45).

The ransom theory is not a popular subject from the pulpits in the church today. But, we must remember that Jesus himself used the word “ransom.” Ransom means that Jesus paid our debts so that we are free from all curses. More correctly, He has paid our debts as he was joining in our human life and accompanied us by the power of the Holy Spirit until we may be invited to eternal life. Thus Jesus’ ransom ministry refers to his own companionship with God’s children.

Why do bad things happen to good people and what is the purpose of all this suffering? Unfortunately, the Bible doesn’t clearly explain why it happens in God’s creation. Jesus Christ also didn’t come to the world to explain why.  Sadly, unless we make ourselves completely separated from the world, we never escape from pains and sorrows in our lives. That’s why Jesus Christ, even though he was originally the Son of God, also had to go through many hardships.

However, we don’t need to be disappointed.  We should still have confidence in our life’s journey because of Jesus Christ, our eternal companion. He not only went through suffering as a human being but took human suffering on his body and ended it for the sake our salvation. Jesus’ ransom for us reminds us that God the Savoir is here, right here, in the midst of our trials.  He drinks the cup of suffering with us and for us; God will never leave us alone.

Jesus’ Companionship:
At last week’s sermon, I disclosed that the one thing I can say about suffering is that it is a divine connection through which we can rely on God or go deeper for a closer relationship with the Lord.  Here is another point I can say about suffering: It is a mystery beyond our comprehension, but it is not the destiny that we have to be caught in alone forever. Rather, Our Lord Jesus Christ is always present in our life, joining in our life’s journey, sharing our hardship with him, and eventually ending it as a ransom for us, so that we are not confirmed to the world but overcome it.

In Christ’s love and redemption, In Christ’s companionship, we are healed, forgiven, and freed from all the chains of suffering. As his disciples, we will also give ourselves as faithful companions to many others.
This is the Good News of Jesus Christ for the people of God. Amen.

Sermon: The Mystery: Praying in the Silence of God

October 14, 2018
Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost

Job 23:1-9, 16-17; Mark 10:17-31
Pastor SeokCheol Shin

The Mystery: Praying in the Silence of God

Hide and Seek
Little children are good at entertaining themselves anytime and anywhere if they have their mommy and daddy and some toys around them, but do we need to buy them good toys to make them excited? Without any toys, children have a fun time with simple games like “Tag,” “Simon says,” and “Red Light, Green Light.  But perhaps no other game is as well-known to children as the game we call “Hide and Seek.” Even infants giggle with delight when playing “peek-a-boo.”

Interestingly, we can find the play of “Hide and Seek” all over in the Bible. The parable about the Good Shepherd looks after the lost sheep is a good example of “Hide and Seek.”  The hymn “Amazing Grace” speaks of the joy of being found, having once been lost.  When was the last time you played “Hide and Seek” with God?  When we play “Hide and Seek,” it is always a happy ending because God the seeker finds us the hiders. But when God plays “Hide and Seek,” it can be frustrating because God is very good at hiding, which we may call “silence” or “absence” of God. Children get frustrated and even cry when they can’t find their playmates; likewise, what would be scarier to us than God’s absence?

Job’s Response to Trial:
Last week we saw Job was thrown into a heap of ashes, the very picture of misery. All of his possessions, his children, his own health, all had been taken from him as Satan tried to demonstrate that Job would give up his faith in God if God removed grace from him. But amazingly Job still praised the Lord, saying “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” He kept his integrity in the midst of his unfair trial. Very good!  Is keeping integrity all we can learn from Job?

In today’s passage, we see Job’s patience was at an end, and he was now anxious to know why bad things happened to him. To make it worse, he was treated as a sinner by his judgmental friends. In the time of the Old Testament, such a terrible disease was thought to be a sign of God’s punishment on sinners. Yet Job was sure that he didn’t do anything wrong to deserve this kind of terrible punishment from God. Thus, he wanted to present God in their debates as a witness and let him judge what he had to end up with suffering (v. 4).

Unfortunately, as much as he sought, Job found God only absent, silent, and careless about his unjust suffering. He could see no sign of God’s appealing to his innocence before his friends. That’s why he lamented: “If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him” (vv. 8-9). Job felt God was the only one to witness to his integrity, but God didn’t seem to respond to his argument. Just like little children who are frustrated when they fail to find their playmates, Job must have felt deserted in his own darkness (vv. 16-17).

Isn’t this how we feel when we are faced with such trials? “My life has been ruined because I lost my job; I feel hopeless since I am alone and getting older; my heart is broken because my child got a serious disease; but I really don’t know what to do, where to go, and how to resolve my problem… Where are you, O Lord? Please talk to me and answer the reason for my suffering.”

Once again, Job’s patience was at an end. The next reaction he showed is his desperation for God. He was complaining, arguing, shouting to heaven, “where are you Lord? … why are you silent from me? … come and answer my question…” Unfortunately, Job failed to understand why bad things happened to him. Instead he was complaining as he prayed to God in the midst of his trial!

Like Job, have we ever been desperate for seeking God’s presence? What made us cry to God? Was it a time when we were in a normal or happy life? Or was it a time when we were beaten up by the storm of life? In the chapter 1, Job was introduced as a blameless and upright man, and he was wealthy with abundance, which was considered God’s blessing in this ancient time. But there is no mention that Job was praying or seeking God like he was doing now in the midst of his suffering.

No one wants to enjoy pain and sorrow, but one thing that I really can say about it is that suffering stirs our hearts and makes us desperate for God. In other words, suffering is one of the surest ways we long for God’s hands.

A Rich Young Man’s Response to Trial:
In Mark’s Gospel today, Jesus met a rich man who was looking for God’s kingdom. Like Job, he was a morally good man, and Jesus loved him. But in Jesus’ eyes, he needed to do one more thing to inherit God’s kingdom. Jesus admonished him: “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor… and then come, follow me” (v. 21). When he heard Jesus’ command, this young man was startled. What Jesus asked was too much. He couldn’t abandon all of his wealth.

And like the man in this story, we may not feel comfortable with Jesus’ strict order. In order to get into God’s kingdom, do we really have to give up all our possessions and make us completely poor? If that were so, how many of us are willing to give up everything that we have just to get into God’s kingdom?  “Who can be saved” among us? (v. 26). That was the question of the disciples and ours today as well.

To relieve our worry, I want you to read again Jesus’ command carefully. He didn’t just tell him to give up everything he had. In his final instruction, Jesus told the man to “come, follow me.”

This young man actually ran into Jesus to ask about how to inherit God’s kingdom. Interestingly, Jesus already taught his followers in the previous lesson that “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it” (v. 15). The rich man was a good man, but in Jesus’ eyes, he wasn’t like a little child. As you know, children could live or survive only when they rely on their parents.  When Jesus asked him to give up his wealth, perhaps he was simply requiring him to be just like a little child before the Lord, so that he might rely on God rather than his own wealth and find true and better security in the Lord.

Jesus’ command seems too radical for this rich man to take up. Yes, it was a risk; it challenged him to leave his comfort zone; it could cause him pain and sorrow. He might be even upset in thinking that “I have been faithful with God’s law although I am rich. So what’s wrong with my money?”

He misunderstood the purpose of Jesus’ trial. Following Jesus is not to give up all our happiness and joy in our world. Jesus Christ actually came to bless us more in this world. In his following message, he promises his disciples who gave up everything and followed him that they will receive a hundredfold now in this age and in the age to come, eternal life (vv. 29-30). Yes, God is our heavenly Father who loves us and wants to bless our lives. Whoever comes to the Lord, he or she will be healed and restored and blessed by God’s mercy and compassion.

If God wants to bless his children, why do bad things happen to us? I can’t fully explain why God allows God’s people to experience those pains and sorrows. But one thing I can say about suffering is that through this we can rely on God and have a true security in God. Thus, suffering to God’s people is not only a trial itself but the divine connection between God and us.

Not Why, But How…
Where is God when life hurts? Why do bad things happen to good people? This is one of the major questions raised in the book of Job. This is also the question that we sometimes struggle with in times of our sorrow. This book helps us to ponder on not why but how.

When suffering comes upon us like a storm, how do we want to respond? Will we be grieving and turning away from the Lord, like the rich young man in the Gospel, or will we be more desperate for seeking or praying for God’s help, like Job? Through our meditation on Job’s trial, I want to encourage you to see suffering not as a bad thing itself but as a time for us to rely on God or go deeper in close relationship with the Lord. Amen.

Sermon: The Mystery: Keeping Integrity in the Midst of Trial

October 7, 2018
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Job 1:1; 2:1-10; Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Pastor SeokCheol Shin

The Mystery: Keeping Integrity in the Midst of Trial

Why Bad Things Happen:
Four weeks from this Sunday we will encounter in the Book of Job, an incredible story in which the most righteous man had to experience suffering and trial for no clear reason. When we talk about Job’s trial, the preachers usually talk about “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

In the case of Job, we are told in the opening line that “[Job] was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (v. 1). Yet all of a sudden, he lost all his children and all his possessions and then just next day he lost his health and suffered from a terrible skin disease. Why did God allow these terrible things to happen to his best servant?

Well, the story of Job’s trial was written many thousands of years ago. Can we find this kind of tragedy in our experience in our time? Yes.  Look at what happened in Indonesia after the Tsunami swept through. Thousands of innocent people were killed, and thousands more, including little children, were still missing.  Recently my colleague pastor shared his concern about a couple in his parish who had a new baby named Sophia.  A few months after her birth, Sophia got an infection that damaged 90 % of her brain cells. According to her doctor, she will be in a continual vegetable-like state if she survives. Sophia is surely innocent, yet God allowed this to happen to her and her parents.

The Possible Theological Answers:
If God is good and in charge of everything, why do bad things to happen to good people?  Why do the innocent suffer?  Why do little children get sick to death?”  Here are some theological answers I can share with you this morning.

1) The first response is “Who is really good?” The disciple Paul says that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Therefore, all human beings deserve punishment and suffering. If Paul’s point is right, bad things actually don’t happen to good people because there are no good people in the world (cf. Mark 10:17-18).

Well what about Job? In this passage, God admitted that he was a blameless and unrighteous man. But does it mean he really was a perfect man before God? Maybe he was just as morally good as anyone could be. But remember, Jesus says if we covet in heart, we have stolen; if we hate someone, we have killed. By those standards we are all thieves and murderers. Job could be blameless by human standards but not by God’s standards. Thus he deserved his suffering as punishment.

Yes, there is punishment after our sin or crime. Rob a bank and go to jail.  However, this answer falls woefully short.  Can little infants (like Sophia) commit sin by their own will, thus deserving their suffering as God’s punishment? We know some people are born with disabilities in their body or mind.  To just say “we all sin and deserve punishment” isn’t a good answer to the question.

2) We may think that God allows bad things because God wants to test or discipline our faith. This might be a background story in the chapter 1 and 2. God was so proud of Job but Satan suspected his integrity; “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has and he will surely curse You to Your face” (vv. 9-11). And so God permitted Satan to destroy everything in his life to see whether he was still faithful or not in the midst of his calamity.

But we don’t like this interpretation, for it only makes God an “abuser.” What kind of parents really want to give their children those terrible tests to see how much they love them? (Think about Sophia and her parents… Does God really give infection this little infant to discipline her or to test the parents’ faithfulness in God?) We must see this story of Job as a parable or drama, not history. We don’t know when this book was composed, but it is intended for the readers to ponder about God and our faith in the midst of extreme and undeserved trials.

3) Another answer might be this: bad things happen to good people because we human being have free will. We have freedom to turn away from God (disobedience) and even to choose to do whatever we want to do. It’s our free will that probably causes suffering, not only to oneself, but to many others. For example, we choose to drink and drive and kill innocent pedestrians. We choose to fire a gun into the air so that innocent people might get injured or killed. We choose to cut trees and build toxic chemical factories that cause people to get cancer. Human free will would explain the destruction of the ecosystem or the global warming we have encountered today.

However, this still doesn’t explain natural disasters in the world, like all the earthquakes and tsunamis. Most of all, how come our righteous God allows someone’s freedom to destroy the lives of the innocent and the little children? It’s completely against the God of justice… Again the result of our free will still doesn’t give us an obvious answer.

I have shared several theological answers to this question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” You can listen to many other philosophers and search other books that deal with this complicated issue.  I have to tell you that those answers are only human ideas, not God’s own answer.

This book of Job starts with the question of “why,” but does it give us an answer? Yes, it does.  Near the end of this Scripture, chapters 38-41, we find God finally intervened in Job and his three friends’ debates and answered them.  But God still didn’t give a clear explanation; instead He asked Job a series of questions: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? … Were you there when I put the stars in the sky? … Can you tell the sea where to go? … Do you understand the ways of the creatures of the deep? Can you control them?” … In the end Job replied, “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” (42:3).

Basically God’s answer is like this: “I am God, I know what I am doing but you don’t know what I am doing. I am in charge but not you…” As God is the mystery, we should see that all things happening in the world are mysterious as well, and no one is able to understand how God operates his creation! That’s why Job at the end of this book confessed that “Therefore, I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). It tells us that God is working beyond our capacity of understanding.

I began by asking the question “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Perhaps the more adequate question is not “why” but “how.  How should we respond when bad things happen? When Job lost everything in his life – his children, his possessions, and his health, his wife told him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die” (v. 9). Remember that she, too, had lost her children. But Job’s response was “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” (v. 10) Those two characters (Job and his wife) show different perspective on the mysterious trial. Which one do we belong to?

Well, one of my duties as your pastor is to encourage you not to curse God in the days of your trial.  I must help you even more in your worship of God.  I must help you understand and bless Him although you happen to struggle with the question of “why,” “why me,” or “why this?”

Keeping Integrity
What should we do when bad things happen to good people? How could we explain when the innocent end up with tragedies? What do we look for when the little children suffer from disease? Do we curse and say there is no God? Is that kind of skeptical answer helpful when we encounter any kinds of mysterious hardship, suffering, or trial?

So what does Job’s trial in this chapter 1 and 2 teach us? 1) It’s a mystery to tell why bad things happen in God’s creation. 2) Trust that God is ultimately in charge although we can’t understand how he controls. 3) As we trust in God, we should keep our integrity in the midst of trial. After all, God is the One who created this universe, and God is our Lord and Father who is in charge. We should keep our trust in God who has wisdom and power. Amen.