August 25, 2019
Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost
Jeremiah 1:4-10; Luke 13:10-17
Pastor SeokCheol Shin
God’s Love for Our Lifelong Journey
Need a Clear Plan for a Journey
It is good to be back from my two-week vacation. If you remember, after my last vacation I talked about my fun trips to New York, Boston, and some local CT places. Those travels kept me so busy and tired, that I shouted “home sweet home” when I got back from my vacation.
But this time I can’t say “home sweet home.” Why? It’s because I traveled to only my own room during my vacation; I spent most of my time just sitting on my couch watching TV. So I have to confess that it was one of the worst vacations I have ever had. Why did I waste my precious time doing nothing? It was simply because I didn’t make a plan of where to go and what to do. That’s why I only slept in my room all day long just like my cat Mimi.
We consider life itself as a journey, a journey from birth to death until we go back to an eternal home in heaven! Life wouldn’t be worth living if we spend our time only sleeping in the room without taking any adventures out in the world. To those who don’t know how to enjoy their life, death seems to be the final destination of their life journey. We should have a plan for our life if we want to make it meaningful and joyful while going through our journey in this world.
Here is the good news: for God’s children, sleeping or death isn’t the purpose of our life’s journey. In Christ, we are promised a meaningful and precious life, and eventually, we get into our Father’s home in heaven to inherit God’s kingdom. Of course, we may sometimes spend our time doing nothing, or even doing sinful things, so that we may feel we don’t deserve God’s grace. Yet, we know that our Lord will look after us and save us from our sins.
In other words, God has a plan for our lives. It’s like Jeremiah’s calling in the Old Testament. Jeremiah says, “Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy” (v. 6). But God replies to him, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (v. 5). God continues to say to Jeremiah, “You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you” (vv. 7-8).
The good news in this passage is this: before life as we know it begins, God already has a purpose for which we were created. God knows who we are, where we are supposed to go, and what we are going to do in the future.
To me, it is good news that God has a plan rather than I have a plan for my life. Why? It is because I know I am weak, but God is strong; I know I am unpredictable, but God is sincere; I know I easily get lost again and again, but God will find me again and again; I can’t say I can do all I have to do, but I am sure that God can do all things for the sake of God’s glory.
The Doctrines of Predestination and Universal Love
Based on this divine providence of God, John Calvin (1509-1564) brought the doctrine of “predestination” in the Christian faith. Simply put, someone is elected to heaven, and someone is dammed to hell. In other words, God already chose who will be in heaven and who will be in hell. This doctrine of predestination may sound right in the sense that God knows everything that has happened and also what will happen. Because God is in control of all things, all we can do is believe in Jesus as our Savior, praise the Lord, and make a holy and happy life as good Christians. That’s it!
But John Wesley (1703-1791), the founder of our Methodist Church, was not satisfied with this doctrine of destination. Although he never doubted about God’s providence, he talked about the “universal love” of God: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). This Scripture is so clear that God sent Jesus Christ, not to certain groups of Christianity, but to all people in the world, and so whoever believes in him deserves God’s grace and love. In our Methodist theology, salvation is not a destiny only limited to certain people; it is God’s grace freely given to all human beings.
Today’s Scriptures reflect the biblical points of predestination and universalism. Are the two concepts in conflict? Is predestination really the opposite of universal love? If so, which one do we need to choose for our Christian life?
To answer these questions, let us get back to the calling of Jeremiah and read it carefully. The Scripture says that before he was born, God had already chosen and consecrated him, which can be considered as “predestination.” And yet, the following passage says that God chose Jeremiah to send over to all the nations to witness to God’s righteousness. In other words, Jeremiah was chosen to be a prophet who was destined to proclaim God’s universal sovereignty all over the world. In Jeremiah’s calling, we can see that God’s predestination is combined with God’s universal love.
In Luke’s Gospel, we see how Jesus healed in a Jewish synagogue a woman who had suffered from an infirmity for 18 years (v. 11). For 18 years she hung around the synagogue, but none in the synagogue paid attention to her suffering. They probably believed that she was destined to God’s curse because she was a sinner according to their law. But Jesus didn’t obey human destiny; he came into her life, touched her body, and transformed her destiny from the curse to God’s beloved daughter (v. 18).
When I meditated on this Gospel lesson, I had to reflect on what kind of relationship I have with God and others. I am proud that I am God’s child (like the Pharisees), and every Sunday (Sabbath), I come to Church (Synagogue) to worship the Lord along with you. In our faith in Christ, you and I believe that we are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a people belonging to God (1 Peter 2:9). Of course, this belief is what the New Testament describes for us.
Yet, today’s Gospel lesson reminds us of our mission as Christ’s followers. Yes, we are destined to be God’s beloved children in Jesus Christ; we are invited to worship the Lord in our church. Yet we are also called to go into the world, face the troubles in our communities, and bring people to God’s salvation.
Destined to God’s Partners
Who is elected to be saved, and who is dammed to hell? The answer to that question remains hidden with God. In other words, God only knows the answer. But what I know in my Christian faith is that as we are destined to be God’s children; we are also destined to proclaim the Good News of God’s salvation to all the nations.
In Christ, God has set us free from bondage; we are destined to inherit God’s kingdom. In Christ, God has made us whole. We are called to look after the lost, touch the afflicted, and set people free from their destiny–from the cursed to the beloved.