Sermon: Participating in Jesus’ Resurrection

April 21, 2019
Easter Sunday

Luke 24:1-12
RUMC, Pastor SeokCheol Shin

Participating in Jesus’ Resurrection

Happy Easter
          Happy Easter! Happy Spring! Last week, the weather reached 70 degrees here in Connecticut. I can see from my yard that trees begin to bud; flowers bloom; and squirrels and birds are competitive on the bird feeders … Yet I could really feel that spring is finally here when I walked through the streets along with you last Friday for our annual “Good Friday Walk!”

          Yes, spring is here in our world, and, more joyfully, Easter is here in our ministry. Easter is, of course, to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection! On the first day of Easter, Jesus rose from the dead, came back to his disciples, and celebrated his resurrection with them. Two thousand years later, we are still happy with his final victory, because it was not a personal victory but a victory for all people in all generations who place their trust in his resurrection.

Who deserves Jesus’ resurrection and victory over the power of death and sin? Well, if Jesus comes again today in power and glory, what kind of people would be invited to greet his coming? What kind of folks would Jesus like to invite to celebrate his victory? Of course, Jesus’ resurrection is for all human beings and whoever believes in him and his resurrection deserves his resurrection and eternal life. That’s what the Bible teaches us!

But the Good Friday Walk made me deeply meditate on the meaning of Jesus’ passion during the Holy Week: how pained Jesus was when he carried the cross and walked toward the hill named Golgotha. Jesus’ resurrection came after his own suffering and death on the cross. When we talk about Jesus’ redemption or salvation ministry, we can’t separate his resurrection from his crucifixion. If we want to join in his glory, then we should first join in his suffering. That is the lesson that I got from our Good Friday Walk.

Participating in Suffering
Who deserves Jesus’ resurrection and final victory? Once again, this Good Friday Walk event taught me that the one who participates in Jesus’ suffering would be the primary person who deserves his glory. One of the Korean proverbs says, “Do not talk about life with the one who has never eaten one’s bread with tears.” This saying teaches us that hardship brings us a sense of fellowship and solidarity. Let us think about the veterans; when soldiers finish their duties and come back to their homes, they may forget their army life as time passes, but they will never forget their comrades with whom they had struggled together in the service or in the war.

My mother has arthritis on her knees. Because of it, she can’t walk as long or fast as she used to. One day she told me that before she got arthritis, she had never seen arthritis sufferers, but now she can tell who are troubled with it. Suffering gives us pain, but it also brings us fellowship and compassion for others who experience that similar suffering as well, so that we can be in solidarity with those who suffer. We refer to such a solidarity as companionship.

Companionship is all about Jesus’ ministry in this world; simply put, he came to the world to join in human suffering. Christ would have come as a noble king if he didn’t want to make friends with the common people, like you and me. But he was a best friend of all kinds of sinners of his day. He joined in human life, went through the bitters of life, and accompanied his people during his life’s journey on earth. Likewise, if we want to be Jesus’ friend, if we want to participate in his glory, then we should first join in his journey as we take up his cross and join in his ministry of companionship with people in pain and need.

Where can we experience the risen Christ and celebrate his resurrection? When I walked with you last Friday, I could hear Jesus’ voice in my heart as follows; “I am always walking on the streets of my neighborhood and meet people there. Do you want to see me, do you want to come with me, do you want to be with me? Then join me in walking on the streets and serving people.” Touching the sick, caring for the broken-hearted, and reaching out to the lost… joining in human suffering is the way we can be always with Christ and join in his resurrection and final victory.

Joining in Jesus’ Resurrection
          God loves all human beings equally and Jesus came to redeem all human beings. But when Jesus was risen from the dead, not all people but only several people were there to rejoice in his resurrection. They were not powerful people; they were just like us. They betrayed Jesus when he was arrested, just like we sometimes turn away from God’s love. They were in deep sorrow when he was buried in the tomb, just like we sometimes feel there is no grace in our lives. They were people who once lost faith and experienced failures in life. Nevertheless, they were privileged to witness to Jesus’ resurrection and celebrate his final victory. They were the people who accepted Jesus as the Son of God and the Savior of the world, and they kept their faith in Jesus’ promise about resurrection and eternal life. They were the people who had joined and shared Jesus’ suffering while following his way of service for many others.

Let us be the blessed saints and disciples who deserve Jesus’ invitation to his final victory. For this, we must hold tight his promise of resurrection and eternal life, and we must endure hardship and even join in the way of the cross that Jesus went through, and then we must reach out to those in need of our day. May God be always with you to bless your life and may you all follow the way of Jesus Christ until he comes in final victory. Amen.

Sermon: Jesus’ Parade for All

April 14, 2019
Passion/Palm Sunday (Sixth Sunday in Lent)

Luke 19:28-40
RUMC, Pastor SeokCheol Shin

Jesus’ Parade for All

Palm Sunday
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” (v. 38) Today all Christians celebrate Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem and into our lives, which we call “Palm Sunday.” But we don’t just watch. Ever since we accepted Jesus as our Lord, we have wanted to follow him. We want to walk with him. We want to join in his parade.

What kind of parade is it? It’s not of a fun, pretty, or patriotic parade like our July 4th parade with people shouting, laughing and singing, and tossing candies to little children. Jesus’ parade on that day caused a trouble to himself and division to the crowds. Only a few days after this parade, Jesus was arrested, convicted, and executed by the Roman and Jewish authorities. So what kind of parade is it? Are we willing to join in his parade?

Refusing to Take One Side
Riding on a humble donkey, Jesus entered into Jerusalem, and people welcomed him with the joyful shouts of Hosanna! They greeted him as their king. They walked with him. They waved and threw palm branches in his path, expecting Jesus would bring them a new era. They thought that he would be their new leader and sit on the throne of Israel. They thought that this man of God with his great powers was an answer to defeat the Romans and lead them out of their bondages. They thought he was on their side.

But to their great discouragement, that was not why Jesus had come. They wanted Jesus to be on their side, but soon they discovered that he came to be on the side of everyone – even on the side of their enemies! “Jesus, you can’t do that in this world. You have to choose which side you want to support, and we want you to be on our side. We don’t want you to be on their side.” But Jesus refused to be on their side and fight against the Romans. They were very disappointed.

Iscariot Judas believed Jesus would be their military commander to lead the holy war. As a member of the Zealots, Judas wanted to fight against the Romans; he probably had many courageous comrades hiding all over Jerusalem, just waiting for Jesus to command his troops to attack. But apparently Jesus had no intention of leading the Zealots. Later on, Judas betrayed Jesus and handed him over to the Jewish hands for thirty silver coins (Mt. 26:14-16).

Peter, James and John wanted a successful outcome to this movement they had joined. They wanted him to lead them in overthrowing the Roman oppressors and restoring David’s throne. But instead of leading them toward the glorious kingdom of Israel, he led them into a dark garden of Gethsemane only to pray. He was sweating in prayer all the night, but the disciples were so bored and tired that they could hardly keep their eyes open. In the end, they all ran away when Jesus was arrested by their enemies.

There were crowds ready to proclaim Jesus as King, ready to follow his lead, and even ready to fight for his sake, but he did not lead! He just stood there when their enemies came to arrest him with swords and clubs. They were disappointed with him that they shouted when Jesus was tried, “Crucify him, crucify him.”

Even Pontius Pilate was also ready, even eager, to save him out of his trouble. But strangely, Jesus rejected Pilate’s favor and even allowed him to crucify him according to the Jewish leaders’ plot. How could you help someone who wouldn’t help himself?

People might wonder why he didn’t use his great powers. Why would he cast away demons, calm down storms, and bring the dead people back to life if he wasn’t going to use his power to help himself? Was he playing them for suckers? He shouldn’t give us certain hope if he was going to let us down like that. Looking at pathetic Jesus on the cross, the crowds mocked him, “He saved others but he can’t save himself” (Mt. 27:41), and the Roman soldiers also mocked him, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself” (Lk. 23:37). But Jesus was only silent.

What is Jesus’ problem here? Why did he choose to be alone as he rejected his people’s welcome, his disciples’ approval, and even Pilate’s help? Why did he give up a palm-carpeted passageway leading to a royal throne, instead choosing a desolate path to a cross? Why? It is because he refused to be on a side of one or the other but tried to be on the side of everyone.

Jesus knew why God sent him to the world. He knew what mission he had to carry on. He came to break down the walls of hatred that humanity had built against each other, and he came to unite people into a fellowship of love, love with God and love with one another. For this great mission, he had to choose the way where he would lay down his life for all humanity. But people just said, “You can’t get along in this world if you won’t choose sides. If you are for everybody, you end up with nobody.”

The Savior of All
So what kind of parade is it? It is a parade that leads us to serve others; it is a parade that brings people to forgiveness and reconciliation with one another; it is a parade that celebrates the love of God who is the Father of all creation. Still, we may turn away because we want our own success and victory but don’t want to get along with our enemies (or someone who doesn’t follow us or belong with us). But it was, and it is and, it will be the Father’s will that He doesn’t want to lose any one of us.

Where are we in this Palm/Passion story? On this Palm Sunday, we are happy to welcome Jesus into our lives because we believe he is on our side. But throughout this Passion story, we learn that he is not going to remain on our side but move on to look after the lost, serve many others, and bring them to God’s love.

Are we also willing to follow him to wash other’s feet? Are we willing to follow him to Gethsemane to pray, not for our own will, but for God’s will? Are we willing to follow him to lay down our lives and pray for the forgiveness of our enemies? As we enter in Holy Week, let us ponder how much we are willing to join in Jesus’ parade that we can also carry on God’s abundant love for every human being.” Amen.

Sermon: An Extravagant Love

April 07, 2019
Fifth Sunday in Lent

John 12:1-8
RUMC, Pastor SeokCheol Shin

An Extravagant Love

Love of Giving
As we are about to move on to Palm Sunday and Holy Week, we are given this last Sunday in Lent to ponder God’s gift of generosity and what that generosity means in our lives with God and one another. John’s Gospel highlights God’s generosity through the story of Mary’s pouring her perfume on Jesus’ feet; she loved Jesus and that’s why she gave her best to him without counting her loss.

Love is giving! It is lavishly generous. It is giving even of that which is most precious to us, if it will in some way honor the one we love. It does not even think of the cost; no sacrifice is too great for love. The focus of the giver is all upon the beloved.

Showing an Extravagant Love
In John’s Gospel this morning, Jesus was on his way to enter Jerusalem. It was just six days before the Passover (v. 1). The chief priests and scribes were plotting against him. Iscariot Judas was about ready to betray him. The crucifixion was less than a week away, and, of course, he was aware of it, of all of it.

Jesus and his disciples stopped at Bethany. Just a few days before, he had raised Lazarus from the dead there in Bethany. Now, as they were having dinner, Lazarus’s sister, Mary came to Jesus and did a memorable thing for the Lord. She brought an alabaster jar of very expensive ointment. She broke open the jar and poured the costly perfumed oil on Jesus’ feet; and she wiped his feet with her hair (v. 3).

Why did she do that? Some say it was an act of gratitude; she was expressing her thanks to Jesus for raising her brother Lazarus from the grave. Some say it was an act of consecration; she was encouraging him to go into the Jerusalem Temple. Others say it was a symbolic preparation in which she was anointing his body for the death he would experience a few days later. Yet, if we find the one motive in all these possible interpretations, that would be Mary’s act of love towards him.

Other disciples couldn’t understand her reaction. In their eyes, it was nothing but a waste of money (Matthew 26:8). According to our common sense also, Mary’s pouring out the perfume and wiping it again seems incredibly wasteful. Surely if Mary carefully considered Jesus’ ministry to give sight to the blind, to heal the lame, and to set at liberty the oppressed, she would have honored Jesus by giving what she had to the poor.

In this regard, Judas seems more righteous and reasonable as he responded, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (v. 5). If we lived strictly by Judas’ mind-set, we would have no flowers on the altar, no art on the wall, no bulletins for the service, no fine organ, no books, no neon cross outside for the night time because those are only accessories. Your daughter would come to you and say, “I’m in love and I want to get married.” And you would respond, “Fine. We are glad for it. But, it would be wasteful to invite people and have a wedding ceremony. Love is all, so why don’t you just elope? It’s much cheaper.”

But Mary’s mind-set says, “Great, let us have a party!!! For the sake of your love, we want to be extravagant to celebrate your wedding and your future life.” To Mary, the perfume was the most precious thing she owned, but she was willing to give it up only for praising Jesus because she loved him so much.

Which side do you think you belong to? Which one do you think is more right? Jesus defended Mary’s prodigal action, telling Judas that he should leave her alone, and let her keep what she had done as a precious memory, a memory of how she had prepared him for his day of burial (v. 7). And then he left a meaningful word, “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me” (v. 8).

Jesus approved what Mary did to him. Is it because of the expensive gift of the perfume that was poured on his feet? Not at all! He was a very humble man who didn’t care about any kinds of worldly desires: in his early thirties he left his family and lived as a homeless guy just to carry out God’s salvation ministry and he even invited many people to follow his way. He wasn’t excited at the gift itself but was deeply touched by Mary’s extravagant love and kindness for him.

Love always gives its best, and it does so at the moment of opportunity. It does so now, today, with the people living around us. Love is an immediate thing and an extravagant thing to the people we want to care for before they may be dead and gone.

This extravagant love is the kind of love that we are called to share. Indeed, it is the kind of love that Jesus himself showed us. On the day after Mary anointed his feet, he moved to Jerusalem and gave his life as a gift to all humanity by dying on a cross. On the cross, Jesus poured out all of his blood, not some of his blood, because he loved us so much. In the same way, we must be also willing to offer our best to our Lord if we truly love him.

The Fragrance of God’s Grace
What are we to make, then, of Mary’s shocking gesture of pouring the perfume on Jesus’ feet and then wiping them with her hair? How is it related to our worship and fellowship in our faith community? When she offered her best thing to Jesus and then when she wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair, John’s Gospel witnesses that “The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (v. 3).

A Few days later, Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples. Like Mary did to him, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. He said to them, “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (v. 14). Then, he moved on to the cross to offer his life to all humanity he loved.

As God’s children, our concern is, how can we make our community of faith full of praise, full of glory, and full of the fragrance of God’s grace? I believe today’s Gospel lesson lets us know how. Like Mary did to Jesus, we must bring our best to Jesus’ feet to praise him; and like Jesus did to his disciples, we must be willing to offer our best thing to the Lord and one another and make ourselves humble enough to wash others’ feet. Through our giving and serving, we can fill our church with joy, peace, love, and grace. Amen.

Sermon: Prodigal Mission in Love

March 31, 2019
Fourth Sunday in Lent
2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3,11b-32
RUMC, Pastor SeokCheol Shin

Prodigal Mission in Love

Rejoice in God’s Grace
Today is the Fourth Sunday in Lent. Here, in the middle of our Lenten journey, the Gospel lesson invites us to celebrate our life in joy. I believe it is a right thing to do because even in Lent, we Christians are always an Easter people who are promised to be given the final victory over the power of death and sin. We have a God who forgives us, loves us, and lets us continue to grow through our own mistakes. That’s why we can always rejoice and be glad even in the middle of our Lenten Journey!

The Parable of the Prodigal Father
In today’s Gospel, we are invited to rejoice with the father of his younger son who was once lost and now found. We are already familiar with this parable usually titled “The Prodigal Son.” The younger son selfishly asked his father for his inheritance, declaring his father dead, and then traveled to a “distant country” to enjoy his life (v. 13). However, he soon squandered all his money drinking, gambling, and stumbling with prostitutes; then he suffered starvation and ended up feeding pigs and eating the garbage thrown to them (v. 15). In the end, he remembered that even his father’s hired labors had enough to eat. So he decided to return to his father and confess, “Father I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands” (v. 19).

Some preachers choose to spotlight the father, who showed extravagant generosity to his prodigal son; I would like to do that now. While he was still in the distance, the waiting father saw his son coming back, and he was filled with compassion; and then he run and put his arms around him and kissed him (v. 20). Without scolding his son, this loving father ordered the son dressed in a robe, ring and sandals, and then he set a big party for him. The father immediately restored him to his family dignity.

This parable is really a story of the “Prodigal Father,” lavish in love, who truly celebrated that his younger son was back home. It points to our Prodigal God whose grace and love is abundant to all of God’s children.

As we examine this story, we should also remember last week’s Gospel story in which we learned that we are thirsty but the world doesn’t give us the living water. We also learned that God is always calling us to his abundant grace, sending out another invitation, and then another, and then another, longing for us to respond to his calling.

In today’s parable, we see how soon the prodigal son came to be dried and almost died of hunger when he left his father (God) and went off to a distant country (world). But when he returned back to his father, he was very much welcomed and revived to life in his father’s house. Throughout this parable, Jesus teaches us again that God is the true source of our life and merciful and compassionate to those who repent and return back to God.

Of course, there was friction from the elder son who is another symbolic character in this parable. He had been faithfully working hard on his father’s properties. Hearing the unfamiliar sounds of partying, music and dancing, he asked a servant to find out what was going on. The servant said to him, “Your brother has come and your father has killed the fatted calf for the party” (v. 27). The older son was so angry outside the house, that his father went out and pleaded with him to welcome his younger brother, saying “Son, you are always with me and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found” (v. 31-32). The parable does not tell us whether the elder son joined the party.

The Primary Ministry of Church
With those distinct characters in mind, let us talk about who we are to God and our neighbors. Which of the principles in the story should we, as a church, emulate for the sake of our relationship with God and the people around us?

We believe that the church is the body of Christ where God dwells to meet and bless his people. Then, the church must look like and act like the Prodigal Father in this parable. Like the Prodigal Father, we God’s children need to be prodigal in our relationship with others.

However, we lose the image of the Prodigal Father if we hold Christian doctrines as the only way to be saved and inherit God’s kingdom in heaven. With this kind of doctrinal faith, we may rather resemble the image of the elder son who grumbles at his father’s mercy on his younger brother.

We need to understand the historical setting in which this parable was told by Jesus. As you know, he was always surrounded by the crowds during his public ministry. The problem is, among Jesus’ followers were there tax collectors, prostitutes, and some others who were called sinners of their day, and the religious leaders, such as the Scribes and Pharisees, were disgusted with his community: “He welcomes these sinners and even eats with them” (v. 2). They didn’t understand why Jesus, who was praised as God’s Messiah, liked to hang around with those sinners who deserved God’s punishment.

The Jewish religious leaders were so-called the chosen people of God. They liked to gather in the Temple and synagogues to worship the Lord and study God’s words; they were very good at keeping the Jewish Law. But, in Jesus’ eyes, they were just like the elder son. Why? They only considered themselves as faithful sons to God but didn’t resemble his merciful heart at all.

Likewise, we Christians are faithful in our relationship with God through our worship and doctrines. But how do we like to respond to our neighbors living around us? If we have this elder son’s mind in our faith, how can we truly welcome the lost to our fellowship? How can we respect others whose culture or religion is different from ours? How can we live together in peace with others?

But if we have the heart of the Prodigal Father, we may see those people as our brothers and sisters in God. Then we may feel concerned for their suffering and brokenness; we may be willing to reach out and serve them without asking or judging who they are and what they do, just as the Prodigal Father welcomed his younger son without judgement.

Ambassadors of Christ
This Prodigal Father parable reminds us that we were once lost and now found in God’s grace; we are not the people of law but the people of the Good News. We are forgiven and reconciled with God and even inherited to our Father’s house in heaven.

Because we are given God’s gift freely and abundantly, it is right that we must also offer the same level of mercy and compassion to all others. We should have the heart of the Prodigal Father in our worship and ministry. We should take mercy and compassion as the very Christian doctrines of the Gospel of Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

Sermon: God’s invitation and Our Turning to God

March 24, 2019
Third Sunday in Lent
Isaiah 55:1-9; Luke 13:1-9
RUMC, Pastor SeokCheol Shin

God’s Invitation and Our Turning to God

A Spiritual Tank
I have trouble sleeping at night. I always toss and turn over in my bed at least about one hour before I fall asleep. If I fail to sleep within that one hour, I stay awake all night long… What’s wrong with me? Well, it is simply because I drink too much coffee. I drink at least five large cups of coffee every day. If I drank five glasses of water instead of coffee, I would have no problem sleeping at night.

Why can’t I give up coffee or just drink less of it? According to a biology report, the human body is like a water tank; it is filled with about 70% water. Yet we are constantly losing water primarily via urine, tears and sweat. That’s why we are thirsty and have to drink water every day. But instead of water, I fill my body with coffee. That’s my problem.

The human body is also like a spiritual tank in the sense that we are created in the image of God. So we should fill our spirit with God’s grace if we want to feel safe and secure. Let’s say that you have a flower in a vase full of water and take good care of it for days. But you know it will be eventually dried out because it is already cut off from its own root. Likewise, if we are separated from God and enjoy something else than God’s grace to fill our desire, then we must feel thirsty in our soul, no matter how well we live in this world.

Maybe when God tell us to repent, it’s not just about feeling guilty of what we have done, but it actually refers to our relationship; “Am I rooted to God or something else?” If we think we are not rooted to God, we should turn around and come back to God. That is the true meaning of repentance.

The Uncertain World
According to Luke’s Gospel, there are two stories concerning how fragile and tragic human life can be in this world. Some people had come from Galilee to worship in the Jerusalem Temple. Without a specific reason, Pilate’s soldiers suddenly invaded the Temple and killed the worshipers (v. 1). It is such an awful incident that pagans had killed God’s worshipers in God’s Temple. How could it possibly have happened to God’s chosen people? Some people thought that those Galileans committed sins, so that it was God’s punishment.

We often ask those questions when bad things happen. Yes, it may be true that suffering or punishment is the outcome of our personal sin; rob a bank and go to jail. However, it is also true that bad things happen without any apparent reason. In this Gospel story, Jesus said that the slain Galileans were no worse than anyone else (v. 2). They had not done anything wrong to deserve death. And then he reminded them of another terrible accident, a falling tower killed eighteen people (v. 4). Did Jesus say that it was God’s punishment because the victims were bad people? No, not at all! The tragedy just happened to them.

Throughout those terrible accidents, Jesus probably reminded people that the world where we live is an uncertain place; that’s why we experience unexpected things when we only rely on the worldly things. We are all thirsty, but the world doesn’t offer us the living water. Of course, Jesus said that we should repent (v. 5). Repentance means we should stop seeking illusions from the world and turn to God and live in God’s grace.

God’s Invitation
This morning God is shouting loudly through the prophet Isaiah, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost” (v. 1). It was God’s invitation to the people of Israel. It’s also God’s invitation to the rest of us in the world today.

God’s invitation in this Scripture is very different from ours. If I happen to have a special event, I would like to invite only someone I know, who is able to celebrate my event. But God invites those who are thirsty, those who do not have money, and those who don’t look like they deserve any attention.

There is another special feature in God’s invitation. It is about God’s anxious heart towards people. When we carefully read the verses 1-3, we can find that God calls out “Come to me” five times. God is begging us to “come to him.”

Why then does God keep on inviting people to him? The answer is that they have never accepted God’s invitations in their lifetime. In other words, God’s invitation has been rejected by their stubborn hearts. Let’s say that you are at your wedding ceremony, but, there is nobody there to celebrate your wedding. How do you feel then? No doubt you will be upset with you friends who simply rejected your invitation, and you don’t want to invite them again and again for other events that you want to celebrate. Likewise, God’s invitation has been rejected, and God’s heart is always broken. How rude we are to the Almighty God!

Yet amazingly, God is not angry with us and doesn’t give up on us. Unlike us, God sends out another invitation, and then another, and then another. Not only just calling us, but God himself came down to the world to bring us to the heavenly banquet. This God is Jesus Christ who became human like us.

The parable of the unfruitful fig-tree is another example to show God’s unlimited love. A man planted a fig tree in his vineyard. After three years, the tree still produced no fruit at all. So, the owner commands his gardener to “cut it down! Why should it go on using up the soil?” (v. 7). This is a very reasonable order, isn’t it? But the gardener answers, “Sir, leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down” (v. 8-9). In other words, “give it time, give a chance again; it may yet bear fruit.” Here in this parable, the owner gives the fig tree another chance to bear fruits. That’s grace! Even though we are quick to reject God’s grace, God gives us another chance, and then another and another… until we finally turn around and receive it.

When I had meditated on this parable again and again, I could apply this to our spiritual journey together as the whole congregation. How can we as the church (the body) grow our ministry? How can we bear much fruit (or more members) in our worship? This is what I am working on as a pastor to our church. This parable teaches us that we should change first and then God will grow us to bear fruit in our worship and ministry!

Change in the biblical point is “repentance.” Repentance in Greek (that is the original biblical language) is “metanoia,” which means a complete and total change of heart, soul and mind. Are we honest about the radical transformation required by the Gospel? Do we love God with all our hearts, minds, and strength, and love our neighbors as ourselves? If so, we may see the world differently, find God’s divine image and holy presence in all creations, and accept everything with gratitude. Then we as the church can grow and bear much fruit for the sake of Jesus’ salvation and reconciliation ministry.

Turning to God
Maybe today some of us are feeling that we have run out of time, run out of chance, run out of hope…. Sometimes, we feel like we are walking on a desert full of uncertainties, thirst, and fear. Sometimes, we want to give up our life because it is too painful to endure.

But today’s Scriptures remind us that we are never late to restart our life, for God’s invitation is always given to us. The gracious Lord is still waiting for us, digging around and fertilizing our ways to give us a meaningful life. What we have to do is to take heart and respond to God’s calling right now.

This morning, God is inviting us in our thirst to come to God and drink deeply of the living water of life that we may be healed, restored, and blessed. Amen.

Strawberry Supper

Thank you for supporting our 2019 RUMC Strawberry Festival!

2019 Strawberry Festival
June 15, 2019
5 to 6:30 pm

Adults: $14
Children 6-12: $6
Children 5 & under: free
Credit Cards Accepted.

Ham, beans, potato salad, and our very own Strawberry Shortcake!

Take-out is available. Walk-ins welcomed.
Call for information/reservations 860-875-6562

Take home a snack from our baked sale. Proceeds will go towards our Mission Shares.

 

 

Sermon: The Lenten Journey with the Holy Spirit

March 10, 2019
First Sunday in Lent
Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13

The Lenten Journey with the Holy Spirit

Time to Meditate on the Mystery of Life
Spring is over and winter is coming back. Of course, I know that March here in CT is still part of a cold winter season and that spring will come a couple of months later. Because the weather had been so mild until the early February, I thought we would never have real winter this year. But I was wrong. I just forgot how fickle the weather is, how hard life is, and how fragile I am in this uncertain world.

Today in Christian Churches is the first Sunday in Lent. On Ash Wednesday, we received the cross of ashes on our foreheads with the Genesis words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” These gloomy words are nothing but the confession that we human beings are so fragile even though we believe in God. Lent is the season for us to look back to our own fragility and also explore in our lives what it means to live in Jesus Christ who also came to the world as a human being.

From the Jordan River to the Wilderness
Luke’s Gospel lesson for this morning begins with an incredible contrast. We are told that Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit, and then suddenly led into the emptiness of the wilderness (vv. 1-2). In the previous account in Luke’s Gospel, we saw he was baptizing at the Jordan River with the Holy Spirit falling upon him like a dove and a voice from heaven saying, “You are my Son, my Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Lk 3:22). Just last Sunday, we saw Jesus becoming dazzling white on a mountaintop and heard the voice of God from the heaven again, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him” (Lk. 9:35). These Epiphany Scriptures are enough to prove that Jesus is the Son of God and the Savior of the world.

But today we have to see that God’s beloved Son Jesus was thrown into the wilderness very much alone. He ate nothing at all during those 40 days, and then he was tempted by Satan. We are amazed with this extreme contrast from the Jordan River to the wilderness; from the glory of transfiguration to the temptation by Satan; from the Beloved Son to the very fragile man who was stripped down to the nothingness of life.

In this Gospel lesson, Satan tried to make him act like a magician. First, he tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread, so he could eat and satisfy his hungry stomach (v. 3). Then, he let Jesus see all the kingdoms of the world, and suggested that if Jesus bowed down to him, he would give all the glory and authority of the world to Jesus (vv. 5-6). At last, he took Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem and said, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, your angels will catch you” (vv. 9-10). If people really happened to see him carried by angels in the air, no one in Jerusalem would continue to doubt Jesus, God’s Messiah!

I believe that Jesus’ wilderness experience is not only a symbolic lesson but reality. It can be our own story that every Christian experiences in one’s journey of faith in this world. We are called beloved children of God just like Jesus was God’s beloved Son. We see God as our heavenly Father just like Jesus called him “Abba.” Nevertheless, we sometimes have to go through our time of wilderness, just like Jesus had to go through his trial.

This story warns us that as long as we live on earth, we may never be free from all kinds of troubles. Regardless of our deep and strong faith in God, we have to go through a wilderness without anything to eat; without anyone to lean on; without any resource to heal our brokenness.

When we deal with Jesus’ forty-day wilderness experience, we usually focus on what the three temptations mean and how he overcame them. I was also planning to talk about it. But as we are currently in our own wilderness with the results from the General Conference, I found myself thinking deeply, “Why did God allow his beloved Son to be thrown into the wilderness without anything to eat, which could destroy his Son’s life?”; “How could Jesus overcome his trial and remain a faithful servant of God?”; “How can we as the congregation stand strong and shape our discipleship while getting through this trial?” These are the questions that I struggled with when I was meditating on the story of Jesus’ trial in the wilderness.

Going with the Holy Spirit
Surprisingly, the answer to my own questions still came from the same text of Jesus’ wilderness. Before he was thrown into the wilderness, Luke’s Gospel says that he was first filled with the Holy Spirit (v. 1), which means that he was not alone but with his beloved Father God. It is the Spirit that strengthened him to confront the desert for 40 days and defeat the temptation of Satan.

If Jesus was not all alone but with the Holy Spirit, we must not be alone but with the same Holy Spirit as well. Yes, the God we believe is the God who is present in this world; the Christ we believe is Emmanuel, “God with us.”

In the Epistle lesson, the disciple Paul says, “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (v. 10). This is one of my favorite Scriptures; it ensures that God’s salvation comes from our faith in Jesus Christ. But this Scripture doesn’t say that we are all set without any pains and trials simply because we confess Jesus as our Savior. If we dig a little bit more in this word, we can hear God’s promise that when we fall, God raises us again and restores us just like he raised Jesus from the dead.

The Scriptures of the First Sunday in Lent lead us to meditate on the story of Jesus’ trial in the wilderness. I believe it is designed to remind us of our own fragility as human beings. As long as we live on earth, we may never be free from the power of Satan, although we have faith in God. We must remember when we happen to go through our own wilderness time that, as God’s children, we are filled with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit doesn’t leave us alone. The Spirit goes with us into our own wilderness, helps us confront all our trials, and supports us to overcome our hardship and turn back to living the life God calls us to live.

Sermon: From Dust to Goodness

February 18, 2015
Ash Wednesday
Psalm 51-1-17; Joel 2:1-2; 12-17

From Dust to Goodness

“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” This is the word we hear and meditate on from our Ash Wednesday service tonight. We can hear this gloomy word when we participate in the committal service at the cemetery which goes “This body we commit to the ground earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” We can also find this term “dust” in the creation story from the Genesis. When Adam and Eve disobeyed and violated God’s command that they must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God spoke to them, “Dust thou art, and to dust thou shall return” (Gen. 2:19). Following Adam and Eve’s destiny, all human beings arose from dust and shall return to dust. Thus, we can say that human beings are by nature a walking, talking, thinking, and acting dust.

How precious is dust to us? Farmers know that it can be used to help grow plants; potters may need it for their artistic works, but basically it is worthless. We can try to make it look good or smell good by painting it or by spraying perfume on it, but dust is dust, ashes are ashes, and they are largely out of our attention.

Sadly, human life is like dust. We rejoice in our days; we work hard; we are beautiful and shiny; we are striving hard to make things better and right in the world. But all our attempts, all our success, all our goodness will be forgotten soon after we end with death.

So why do we gather on this cold winter night? Why do we bother tonight smearing ashes on our foreheads? Do we come tonight only to recognize how useless and vulnerable our human life is as we hear “ashes to ashes, dust to dust? Well, the answer is that while we gather to remember who we are, we also gather to remember who God is and what God has done for us through his Son Jesus Christ.

God has given humanity a way out of our destiny of “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” We believe and know that it is Jesus Christ our Lord who has transformed and overcome human destiny, from dust to eternity. How did he do that? Did he paint our bodies with his glory or spray perfume on our bodies? No. The way “out” is the way of the cross. The first Adam disobeyed God and thus left us the tragic separation from God our Creator. But Jesus who came as the second Adam was obedient to the point of death that everyone who believes in him is blessed to be God’s child and inherit God’s kingdom. The death of Jesus was God’s way of placing reconciliation and salvation upon our destiny which would otherwise be worthless.

What is then our price for God’s gift? All that God asks of us in this is that we accept his mercy that we remember we are sinners and repent and believe in what Jesus has done for us. The New Testament clearly proclaims that Jesus died for our sins and rose for our righteousness.

As we accept Jesus as our Savior, however, God asks us to do one more thing: try to practice a piety that is based on his love and try to show a righteousness that is based on his goodness. Because we are still dust and ashes while living on earth, we will never be perfect like Jesus Christ. However, because we have the Spirit of Jesus in our mortal bodies, we will never give up, but always strive hard to make our life of dust be the life of love and righteousness until we move to eternal life in heaven.

God has committed himself to us and given to us a sign of that commitment, the cross. Tonight, we come to meditate on and take upon ourselves the cross, the sign of obedience, the sign of endurance, the sign of forgiveness, the sign of reconciliation, the sign of faithfulness in God.

As we take it upon ourselves, let us also remember that we are not just dust and ashes but God’s precious creations. We have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We carry a hope that we are not only invited to eternal life in heaven but also called to build and spread his kingdom of peace and love here in our communities. We are now carrying and practicing the life of the cross on which Jesus forgave all humanity. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory. Amen.

Sermon: Listen and Follow

March 3, 2019
Transfiguration Sunday

2 Corinthians 3:12-17; Luke 9:28-36 (37-43)

Listen and Follow

What Happened at the General Conference of 2019
Lots of members of the New England Conference of UMC have been grieving since last week’s result of the 2019 General Conference. More than 53 percent of the multinational denomination’s top lawmaking body turned down the “One Church Plan” and supported the “Traditional Plan” that reinforces the church’s bans on ordaining LGBTQ clergy and officiating same-sex marriage. This decision is consistent with our denomination’s historic stance on human sexuality, outlined in the Book of Discipline since 1972. It seems likely that we have been stuck in our old doctrine and don’t know how to get out of there.

“Children of God, shake the world, inspire the world, and move the world by the power of the Holy Spirit…” This is a benediction that I heard just a few years ago at our New England Annual Conference. With this powerful benediction, the preacher reminded us that God is the prime author of the world history and we are God’s partners or workers. However, with this biased decision from the GC, how can we say we are working with God to lead, change, move, and transform the world? I think it would be more appropriate to say that our UMC along with other conservative Christian denominations is nothing but a stumbling block to God’s salvation ministry. Do you remember what Jesus said to Peter when he tried to hold Jesus and block his salvation journey? “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Mt. 16:23)

Putting God in a Little Box
What is the course of history God has been working on? What did Jesus come to the world for? What mission did Jesus entrust to his disciples? Speaking of it just in one word, it is “reconciliation,” reconciliation between God and human beings and reconciliation between human races: “God reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Cor. 5:18)

Jesus was aware that reconciliation couldn’t occur in our human world if people remain obsessed with their traditional customs, which would make them see the world only in black and white and judge and curse others based on their own standards. So wherever Jesus went and whomever he met, he strived hard to liberate people as he broke down all the human boundaries and barriers. The Apostle Paul says, “[Jesus] himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph. 2:14); “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).

But look at what the representatives from all the UMC conferences did at the General Conference last week? They put up fencing around our belief; they built a wall of division and hostility in terms of doctrines that say who is the clean and unclean. Just like the Pharisees, they delude themselves into thinking they are righteous and others are sinners. They are trying to lead us in the opposite way from what Jesus did.

“Why do we Christians discriminate in the name of God?” I struggled with this question during the last week, and I left my own thoughts on it at my Facebook account as follows: “How dangerous it is to take the Bible only literally. No matter how conservative or progressive we are, we should admit that God is much bigger than our brain or even the Bible. We must not put God in our little box, which is profanity to God… How dangerous it is to judge others by quoting a few verses from the Bible. We should recognize that God’s words are given to make us realize God’s unlimited love and to help us preach God’s love for all human beings, just like Jesus was sent to save the world but not to condemn the world (Jn 3:17). The best definition of God is the mysterious! It’s Spirit; it’s like wind… We don’t know where it comes from and goes. No one can imprison God in our own standards, not even in the Bible.”

Jesus’ Transfiguration on the Mountaintop
“I can possess God in my belief; I can hold God in my religious experience.” This is what the disciples thought when they saw Jesus’ mysterious transfiguration on the mountaintop. In front of their eyes, Jesus’ countenance and even his robe became dazzling white (v. 29), and they saw Moses and Elijah, the symbolic pillars of Judaism, talking with their Master Jesus (v. 30). Being filled with wonder and awe. Peter tried to capture that fantastic moment, saying “Master, it is good for us to be here, let us make three booths for you and for Moses and Elijah” (v. 33). His suggestion sounded very faithful and loyal to Jesus, but actually deep in his mind is there arrogant and foolish illusion? That is, he thought he could possess Jesus and his glory in his own little box.

But this is not how God wanted the disciples to respond to the transfigured Christ. Before Jesus replied to Peter, there was the voice of God booming through the clouds, “This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him” (v. 35). Then in the following story, Jesus promptly headed from the mountain to the village and encountered the crowds as usual.

If I were Jesus, I would stay on the mountaintop and hold my glory and beauty there forever, which was what Peter tried to do. But unlike his expectation and our expectation, Jesus totally gave up his halo and immediately came back down to the village. Why or what’s wrong with him? He didn’t like the idea of monopolizing God’s glory on the mountaintop or preserving it like an antique in a museum. He knew that God’s glory, God’s will, or God’s grace must not be confined only to a limited group but must be spread to everyone and everywhere in the world. That’s why he came down to the villages. That is why the risen Christ sent his disciples to all around the world.

What kind of folks did Jesus confront in the village? They were all kinds of people: rich or poor, royal or common, Jewish or Pagans… Some of them were banished from their villages because they were unclean or demon-possessed; they were accused of being sinners by the Jewish laws. Yet Jesus didn’t talk about who is right and wrong; he didn’t judge or curse anyone about why they were possessed by demons; he didn’t keep his holy body from people but he touched their bodies, dined with them, and hung around with them. That is why the Pharisees call him “a friend of sinners.” He didn’t set any boundaries from anyone he met but only encouraged them to trust in him for healing and renewing their lives. He even proclaimed that “Many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Mk. 10:31).

Joining in Jesu’s Reconciliation Ministry
In today’s Gospel, Peter, James, and John climbed the mountaintop with Jesus Christ where they happened to experience a holy moment that had changed their lives forever. Likewise, we Christians today can also have this kind of holy mountaintop experience on our faith’s journey. It can come from our worship service, from our bible study, from our prayer meeting, from our choir practice, from our GSM concert, from our participation in the sacraments of baptism and communion, from our own meditation on the Bible… The sacred experiences that are recounted in the Bible are still needed today, and they still occur today.

But that doesn’t mean that we are the only children whom God chooses to love and save throughout the world. This Transfiguration episode teaches us that if we really experience something holy or divine from our relationship with Christ, we should follow in his footsteps towards our villages where we meet all kinds of people. We serve these people with the unlimited love Jesus has shown to us. In doing so, we can avoid the arrogant and foolish illusion that we are special, we are holier than any others, or that we can possess and hold God only in our little box. In doing so, we can work with God to lead, change, move, and transform the world. In doing so, we can carry Jesus’ reconciliation ministry to the world. Amen.

Sermon: Rest In and With Jesus Christ

February 24, 2019
Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany
Matthew 11:24-30

Rest In and With Jesus Christ

Vacation
It is good to be back after my vacation during the last two weeks! I want to thank you all for keeping me in your prayers during my time out.

I believe vacation is a gift from God. It’s God’s will for us to take a break from our labors so that we can recharge our spiritual or emotional battery to sustain and strengthen our life’s journey. Even God had a Sabbath from His creation work: “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work” (Gen. 2:1-2). During his public ministry, Jesus Christ also withdrew from his followers to a remote place alone to have meditation and rest: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (M. 1:35)

Now I just came back from my two-weeks’ vacation… You probably expect that I am now full of energy for the work… Honestly, my answer is yes and no…

Problems with Vacation
How did I spend my vacation? Just like any people, I was planning to spend all of my free times only satisfying myself although keeping you in my regular devotion time. So I slept a lot, woke up very late, traveled to several places, and visited my old friends-spending long times chatting with them.

While I got to relax a little bit on vacation, I learned a lot about myself. Much of it I didn’t like… I also realized that vacation is not easy. It is a lot of work, it can be a time consuming task, and it is a costly endeavor. You always need more money than you have because of unexpected expenses, and it doesn’t go as planned.

Vacation is a hard work and even can add stress to our life. When I came back home from my trip to Boston last week, I just told myself, “Home sweet home.” And I had to lie down on my bed for two days just to recover my energy. I was looking forward to seeing you a lot, but I didn’t know how to start again for my coming back to you. Honestly, it was not easy for me to prepare this sermon for today because I was physically and emotionally exhausted from my travels. The goal of my vacation was just to relax and recharge my body and soul, so that I can show you my good looks, but because I was exhausted from my vacation, I am sorry but I felt like I need one more vacation.

What was wrong with my vacation? Why couldn’t I be satisfied with it? Vacation indicates rest, and that’s why we want to take it when we feel burdened from our daily works. But the problem is that these vacations are only temporary. We have to come back to our reality, and when we come back, rest ends and trials begin again.

The Invitation from Jesus
Although I was tired from my vacation, I couldn’t stay in my bed all day long because I knew I needed a message to share with you for this morning. So from time to time I prayed to God and kept thinking about what to say to you. However, I couldn’t stop feeling sorrow from my temporary vacation. Maybe God had pity on me as I was still hoping to take a rest. That’s probably why I heard God whisper to my heart through the words of Jesus from Matthew’s Gospel, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (v. 28).

“I will give you rest…” Yes Lord, that is what I want! … Meditating on this sweet invitation from Jesus, I came to recognize that he is now inviting me to take another vacation. So I started packing my traveling bag to go on vacation again… No, I am kidding… I didn’t go anywhere but just stayed in my room to work for my sermon, but strangely my heart was full of strength and confidence that I am now on vacation!!! How come? It is because I recognized that Jesus Christ, who is now with me in my life, is itself my vacation and rest! All I can do is to come and give my life to Him.

Friends, we are living in tiresome and burdensome times and our external pressures are going to intensify as time continues. We want to take vacation from all those heavy burdens, but no matter how further we are away, and no matter how crazy and fun the time is we spend during our vacation, we have to come back to where we live. When we come back, we may soon find ourselves struggling again with all the heavy burdens and worries we have carried on and on. In order to experience peace and rest in our daily life, it’s better to find how to rest here in our daily life.

Look, Jesus just promises us that if we come to him, we may partake of rest in him and with him. It’s not like a temporary vacation where we get to rest for limited amount of time and then have to come back to our hardship. No, this is a supernatural vacation that does not end. This is not temporary but everlasting rest in us.

We are all on a life’s journey; we are on a journey to receive a prize. Our journey is from earth to glory, and we get tired and burdened along the way. As a human being, Jesus also got tired on his earthly journey, so he took a time out to rest: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (Mk. 1:35) Yet, his way of Sabbath teaches us that true rest or vacation comes from our spiritual relationship with God, the source of life.

Rest In and With Jesus
Friends, now we all have come back from our long holiday seasons. Nevertheless, do we already feel tired from our routines? do we still miss our vacation? Do we want to stay away from our daily life? … If so, let us realize that we can be always on vacation wherever we live if we come to Jesus Christ our Lord, who imparts the spirit of healing, who knows all we need, who has deep mercy and compassion for his people.

May we come to him and learn to rest in His grace more and worry less. May we let Jesus teach us His way and how to find His rest. When we get so tired that we don’t think we can continue, may we find rest in Jesus Christ. Amen.