Please join us for our March 29th Virtual Worship Service! You can reach the service on YouTube by clicking the following link: https://youtu.be/UTICweRxu5g
Please join us for our March 29th Virtual Worship Service! You can reach the service on YouTube by clicking the following link: https://youtu.be/UTICweRxu5g
March 22, 2020 – Fourth Sunday in Lent
Keep your eyes on Jesus Christ
Just like you, I am also upset, anxious, and scared about this ongoing global outbreak of coronavirus. Over the past week, I got lots of cancellation texts from my counselor, my dentist, my social discussion group, my cat’s vet, etc. The other day when I went to the gym, I saw a notice on the door that they had closed the gym. Out of my painful heart, I also had to decide to cancel our Sunday worship service and all other activities in our church. What’s even more concerning is that we don’t know when we are coming back to worship again in church. I hope it is just before Easter Sunday, which is only three weeks away, but some of us said that we may not be able to return until Christmas, which is ten months later. Well, I know it was a kind of joke, but it can be a reality. Everything is uncertain and that is our panic.
Along with you friends, I am also concerned about how this corona concern will affect our worship and ministry. If it continues for a long time, no doubt it will cause our membership to decline, financial income to decline, spiritual decline… “Where are you leading our church, Lord?” I had to sigh when I prayed. “Lord, I had been praying for growth of our church, but what is this, why did you let it happen, why did this bad thing happen in this time, why, why, why?” I had to grumble to God.
Keep our eyes on Jesus
When I was struggling with this kind of negative “why” question, I got an email from our District Superintendent, Rev. David Calhoun. In his message, he was trying to give us a pastoral guideline, just like I have sent you my emails and letters just try to comfort you. Let me share with you a part of his message:
“My thoughts and prayers have been with you during this challenging time… In times of pain we often ask the wrong questions, such as, Why me? Perhaps the right questions to ask are, What can I learn from this? What good can come from this? What can I accomplish in spite of it? … We need to hear the important words of hope that are essential, in times such as these… It is my prayer that each of us try to develop a mindset that refuses to give up and become discouraged. No one welcomes pain and discomfort, but with the right attitude we can bring about transformation.”
This is a very powerful and uplifting guideline, isn’t it? It reminds me that Christ’s disciples are called not to shrink in fear but to jump with courage in the crisis of our world and fight the good fight. This message switched my mindset and prompted me to ask God, “What can I do in this time of challenge?” And I hope all of us have this kind of positive question and confront this time of challenge. In doing so, we can turn this stumbling block into a stepping stone!
How can we do that? You know God is much bigger and stronger than the coronavirus. You know when we come before the Lord, God will put a shield of protection around us. Under the shade of his merciful hands, we can always find true peace, true safety, and true life. Perhaps this is the time we must show our faith, our discipleship, and our commitment more, as we seek God’s saving hands.
In today’s scripture from Matthew’s Gospel, we see the disciples were in panic as their boat was battered by the storm. When the disaster happened and they were terrified, who showed up? Jesus was walking on the water. And what did he say? “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid” (v. 27). But Peter looked around and saw the storm coming up to him, and he began to sink again. The key lesson in this story is, don’t look around but keep your eyes on the Lord.
Yes, we live in the time of anxiety and uncertainty. This coronavirus is a global challenge and we are really concerned about our future. Yet if we are honest, we know this coronavirus is not something new. We have been shouldering this kind of heavy burden, stress, and anxiety all the time. The best image to describe about our life-struggle is the “rat-race.” We rush about here, and we hurry over there, and then we see ourselves always tired, hurt, anxious and scared. Perhaps, this coronavirus is just an addition to our rat-race.
The bad news is that if you stay in the rat-race, even if you win, you’re still a rat, always getting stressed and anxious about your future life. The good news is that the Savior Jesus shows up when you are in trouble. But there is one condition if you want to hold his saving hands, that is, you must keep your eyes on him, not look around. If you look around, you will go back to your rat-race full of storms of life. But when you keep your eyes on Jesus Christ, you can always walk on the water.
Jesus’ eyes on us
I need to confess that I sometimes fall into the rat-race. I sometimes feel too tired to answer emails and phone messages… I am sometime anxious about everything… I sometimes feel like bleeding in my heart… I am sometimes tempted to stay alone, away from all of people.
Then I think about my Lord Jesus and I know from the Gospels that he was also very busy with his ministry, often broken-hearted, and even threatened by his enemies. How did he handle or overcome the moment of crisis? Did he give up? Did he run away? Did he close the doors? Did he stay away from all the crowds, just like we are doing now from this challenge of the coronavirus?
In the Gospel of Matthew 12:14-15, we can see Jesus was intimidated by the Pharisees; they tried to conspire against him, so they could destroy his life. It means Jesus confronted a terrible threat. When you happen to hear someone is coming to kill you and you don’t think it’s quite time to die, the first reaction you will have it to escape and hide in a secret place, right? And I believe that is what we are doing today. Like us, Jesus also decided to move away and hide somewhere just to protect his own life. But the following passage says that in his own refuge, he still welcomed people and healed their illness. Even in his own critical situation, Jesus still kept his eyes on others’ needs.
Nothing prevents Jesus from loving and caring for his people. No matter what situation he had to struggle with, he never withdrew himself from people; he never closed the door of his heart; he never ignored people’s need. The cross Jesus took up was pretty heavy and stressful, but his cross was not like ours. If ours is the cross of rat-race, the cross of anxiety and uncertainty, Jesus’s cross is for serving us and giving us salvation.
Take Jesus’ yoke
Don’t get me wrong, my friends, I don’t encourage you to open your doors and rush into people right now. We must be reasonable and practical as we follow the advice of the CDC and the medical professionals. But while staying home or wherever you are, I want you to remember this and practice this. That is, when we happen to be in trouble, our Savior Jesus comes to us and gives his hands to save us (remember this); and we should keep our eyes on Jesus (practice this), that we can have a true protection around our lives, and further, we can even give our hands to save others who are still walking around living in fear.
May the God of all graces bless you and keep you all and may you keep your faith tight in Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.
September 15, 2019
Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Pastor SeokCheol Shin
Lost and Found
The Gospel Within the Gospel
How many of you have a habit of losing things, things like a wallet, a key, a credit card, or, a pair of socks or earrings? What did you do when you lost one of those? Did you just say, “Oh well, no problem, I can always get another one?” No, I believe you would search everywhere you had been until you found what you lost. I bet finding the lost is the most important thing in your life at that moment.
God knows what it feels like to lose something. To find the lost, God even sent his only Son Jesus Christ to the world (Jn 3:16). God is always searching for something, not because he can’t remember where he lost it; he knows where it is. He knows who we are, where we are, and what we need. He always finds us and brings us to the fold.
The parables of Luke 15 are called “the Gospel within the Gospel;” they talk about “lost and found!” More correctly, we are lost but found by God! “We are never lost!” This is the Good News for all of us!
Seeking, Finding, and Celebrating
In the first parable, Jesus talked about a shepherd who had a hundred sheep. One of his sheep strayed away from the flock and became lost. Sheep are silly and simple animals; they always look down as they nibble on grass. Later, the sheep can end up in a place where they become the eaten rather than the eater.
When the shepherd knew one of his sheep was lost, he left the other ninety-nine to find the lost one. During his search, the shepherd might confront deep ravines, hidden corners, steep hills, or even wild animals in the wilderness. But he certainly went through a trial to find the lost sheep. When he found it, he was so excited that he called all of his friends and said, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep” (v. 6).
We are sometimes like sheep, not necessarily because we are sinners. We get lost even without meaning to get lost. Like the sheep, we probably never look up; we only look down, just chasing after what we need for our daily life…and before we know it, we are lost! We went too far, and we don’t know how to come back.
However, if we are like sheep, we know we will be found, not because we know how to come back but because a shepherd found us. Jesus is our Good Shepherd who always comes and finds us when we are lost.
In the second parable, Jesus talked about a widow who had ten silver coins. When she lost one coin, she didn’t say, “Well, I still have nine others, so I don’t care about the lost one.” In Jesus’ day, one silver coin was worth a day’s wages. That is to say, one coin could feed the whole family for a week. That’s why the widow turned on every light in the house, swept the floor, and searched everywhere until she found it (v. 8).
We get lost just like the coin. The coin in this parable had been in a dark corner. Likewise, life sometimes takes us away into some dark corners. We feel alone and that nobody cares for us. Perhaps some of you have said in the darkest of moments, “I don’t deserve a happy life anymore; I don’t belong here; I am forgotten; No one is looking for me…” At times like that, we might feel home-bound, shut-in, or isolated from all the social connections in our communities.
But in this parable, Jesus tells us that God comes to find the lost. God knows us, God knows our hiding place where we slip into from time to time, God searches for us, and he won’t stop until we are found. In this parable, the woman turned her house upside down to find her lost coin. Why? Although it was a little coin, it was precious to her. Likewise, every one of us in this sanctuary, everyone in this world, is precious to God. All human beings are created by God, which means all are God’s children, so God would turn the world upside down to find the lost, even if it is only one soul in the world.
That’s exactly what God did. Through Jesus God turned the whole world upside down. The God of the universe came among us as a human baby named Jesus. He lived and died as one of us and stretched his arms out to us from the cross to welcome the lost, the least, the losers, and even the sinners. He sacrificed his life for all human beings, whether or not they deserve it. If we truly love this Jesus and want to follow his way, like Jesus, we’d also stretch our arms to welcome anyone to us, even for one lost person.
Reflecting on this parable, I want to remind you that Jesus Christ built his Church as a welcoming community. We should treat everyone as God’s beloved child! We should welcome everyone to God’s house, no matter who they are, what they do, and where they journey in the world. We should celebrate when someone who has been lost is found and joins our church services.
The woman celebrated when she found her lost coin. It’s significant that she didn’t save it but used it for a party with her friends and neighbors. Doesn’t it sound foolish? She tried hard to find one coin and then used it for a party with many others! The party might have cost more than the one silver coin. Is it nonsense, or is it grace?
If we are like the coins which have been lost and found, then we must be thankful that we are God’s precious ones. We must also realize that God wouldn’t just tuck us away in some safe-deposit box. God would say to us, “Let’s have a party now.” If we see ourselves as God’s precious souls, we will be willing to use our time, money, and energy to celebrate our grace with many others.
Dancing with Christ
There are lots of things that happen only in the movies. For example, when one person starts dancing in the street, then suddenly everyone else starts to dance along with him or her. And they know all the steps! With their joyful dancing, the square turns to a festival field and everybody there is united with each other in joy and jubilation. But we know it happens only in the movies.
Likewise, Jesus’ parables in today’s text are not quite logical to human minds. A shepherd leaving 99 sheep to look for one lost sheep and a woman throwing a party after finding a lost coin does not make sense. Does anyone actually do that? It seems unreal like in the movies.
But this unreal-looking-ministry is exactly what Jesus did. Jesus goes a long way just to find one lost soul. When he finds the one, he is delighted to waste his money and have a party with people. Throughout these parables, Jesus is calling us, saying “Is there anyone who wants to go with me just to find the one lost sheep? Is anyone willing to stretch one’s arms to welcome even sinners living around us? Is anyone willing to offer one’s time, talents, money, hands, and heart just to have a party to celebrate our rescue mission?”
If we are truly found in God’s grace, we won’t be reluctant to join Jesus’ dancing in the streets. I am sure that we know all the steps to his dance. It is the step of reaching out to one soul, the step of stretching our arms to welcome anyone, the step of forgiveness and reconciliation with sinners, and the step of dedication for the sake of Christ’s prodigal grace for all in the world. Amen.
September 8, 2019
Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Jeremiah 18:1-11; Luke 14:25-33
Pastor SeokCheol Shin
The Cost of Discipleship
Today we celebrate our annual Rally Sunday to welcome our children back and start our Sunday School year. Through this Rally Sunday, our Grove Street Music, pick-up choir, and youth group will come back. I am so excited about the things we are going to do together this fall season. As we are now coming back from our long summer vacation, I believe we will have more attendees to our Sunday worship service.
“How many do you have on a Sunday morning?” We are kind of obsessed with counting numbers. We are envious of so-called mega-churches. Mega-churches look more dynamic than small churches. We feel good when we have lots of people joining our service because we tend to consider a large crowd at our church as a success.
The Cost of Discipleship
Since he was always surrounded by people, Jesus probably was good at mega-ministry. The Gospel lesson for this morning starts with the sentence, “Large crowds were traveling with Jesus” (v. 25).
The crowds were free to come and go. Jesus had a chance to grow his ministry as he got huge crowds following him. If I were Jesus, I would try to meet every person in the crowds, shake hands with them, give my business card, and get everyone’s name, phone number, and home address. Of course, I would have a fun chat with them while drinking a cup of coffee together. I would do my best to make them happy with me, so they would feel good and come back again and again.
But I think that Jesus wasn’t a good recruiter; when he spoke directly to people, he told them how difficult it is to become his disciples and follow his way. Let us hear again what he said to the crowds: 1) “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple” (v. 26); 2) “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (v. 27); 3) “Any of you who does not give up everything you have cannot be my disciple. (v. 33).
If I translate his words in our language, it would be like this: “Friends, thank you for joining in our service today, but I’ll tell you how hard it is to join our membership. First, you’ve got to hate your family. Then, you must carry a cross like condemned criminals. Along with that, you have to give up everything you have worked hard to have. Do these things otherwise you can’t be a member of our community.”
Jesus came to the world to save many people and bring them to God’s kingdom. But I wonder why he spoke those harsh words and made them feel scared of following him. It is because he was deeply concerned about people’s spiritual growth rather than the size of his community. In Jesus’ own word, he was concerned about making disciples in his ministry.
It is important to note why large crowds were always following Jesus. Some followed him because they were curious about who he was and what miracles he brought. Some were spies from the Jewish government; they wanted to see what Jesus might do that they could report back to their headquarters. Some came looking for healing, some looking for bread, and some looking for fellowship. Not everybody who followed him was there for the same reason, but they all followed him because they believed he could satisfy their needs.
Whatever reasons people gravitated to Jesus, our good Lord never turned his face away from anyone who came to him. However, he was also aware that the crowds would turn away from him if he didn’t satisfy their needs (John 6). Jesus cried out those harsh words not to drive people out but to look for disciples among them who could go with him until the end for the sake of his salvation ministry.
Yes, it is the disciples who can go to all the nations to baptize people in his name. Not the crowds but the disciples can even die for God’s kingdom. Not the mega-church but the church who has faithful disciples can carry on the good news of Christ.
So what can we do with those harsh words Jesus spoke to the crowds? Do we need to shout it to convert some people to discipleship? Although Jesus was demanding of people with his message, people still kept following him wherever he traveled. It means that Jesus provided something exciting and something effective to satisfy their needs. Following Jesus’ methods, I hope we can have lots of fun activities in our worship and ministry, so people would like to join us. On the other hand, we should strive hard to make disciples in all our gatherings.
In God’s Hands
I want to take the Old Testament lesson from Jeremiah as a reference to Jesus’ discipleship in Luke’s Gospel. God sends Jeremiah down to the potter’s house to make a point that God is the potter, and we are his clay: “‘O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?’ declares the LORD. ‘Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel’” (v. 6).
Yes, God is the Creator, and we are his creatures. God is the Lord, and we are his servants. The bottom line of our relationship with God is that we are in God’s hands. As we are in God’s hands, we are not the crowds who are free to come and go, but we are disciples who will stay in his community and follow his way until the end. As we are his disciples, we will become his heart to love each other, his feet to reach out to those in need, his hands to touch the broken-hearted, and his mouth to speak the good news to the world.
And friends, believe that our discipleship is not all about hardship but it can be fun! How come? Two thousand years ago, the large crowds were happy to follow Jesus. There must be something exciting in Jesus’ ministry. When we are committed to God’s ministry, we will have the same fun and same authority as Jesus. Discipleship is a demanding thing. Discipleship is a delightful thing. If you would follow Jesus Christ, come with all you are and with all you have. Amen.
June 2, 2019
The Day of Ascension
Acts 1:1-11; Luke 24:44-53
RUMC, Pastor SeokCheol Shin
Waiting for the Holy Spirit
Difficult to Wait
I have never been good at waiting. When I go to attend a meeting, I always take along a book or a magazine. When I come to McDonald’s to buy a cup of coffee and see there is a long line to stand, I move on to Dunkin Donuts or any other convenient store. When I drive my car and stop at a red light, do you know what I do? I pick up my cell phone and check my emails or Facebook messages. Honestly speaking, I am not good at waiting. Waiting in line at the grocery store, waiting in the post office, and even waiting for water to boil, all of these raise my blood pressure! Unfortunately, our life journey is all about waiting, waiting for birth, waiting for graduation, waiting for marriage, waiting for having children, waiting even for death…
The world makes us wait, but God also says “wait.” When we pray to God, God answers us sometimes with an immediate ‘yes’ or ‘no’ based on his will and wisdom of what is best for us. However, I believe more often God answers us with his third response, “wait.” We pray hard but we are still broken-hearted because God says “wait” and we are not good at waiting.
Commandment to Wait
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus called his disciples and commanded them to go out to the world and preach the Gospel to all nations. But just a few seconds later, he told them “to stay in the city of [Jerusalem] until they receive the power from on high” (v. 49). And then in Acts chapter 1, Jesus was suddenly carried up into heaven (v. 9), which we now call “the ascension of the Lord.” Jesus commanded “Go out but stay!” How can we understand this contradiction of Jesus’ commandment?
While meditating on this Scripture, I imagined myself as one of the disciples in the upper room. So after the Lord has disappeared, I see myself shrugging my shoulders, saying “What?” I might look around to see the other guys there, and complain, “He just gave us a job to do, and we are all ready to do it. Then why doesn’t he just let us go and do it? What are we supposed to do in our waiting time?”
More anxiously, Jesus didn’t say how long they should wait. So I am wondering to myself why didn’t he just come right out and say, “I want you to wait ten days until the Feast of Pentecost.” If my Lord said the time period to me, perhaps I would have asked “why 10 days, Lord?” And Jesus would probably answer, “That is just part of my plans, you don’t need to know but just trust and wait.” Well, I might be disappointed and still wondering, but at least I would have known what the time limit was, and so I could wait for 10 days. But the problem is that Jesus didn’t let them know how long they had to wait. That just drives me nuts.
I am not good at waiting, and in this case I don’t even know how long I should wait. So after waiting several days, I would probably do a slow burn about my waiting. I would even think that I am only wasting my time doing nothing. But it is clear that Jesus Christ demanded his disciples to wait, and I’m glad it was them and not me.
The Lord knows I am not good at waiting, and as far as I know the world around me isn’t good at waiting either. In fact, all of us live in a world that teaches us constantly not to wait for anything; “hurry and get it now, otherwise you will lose it.” We don’t like waiting because waiting means denying ourselves and admitting we are not in control.
As a servant of God, I follow the strength God imparted to my heart to do good work for the sake of God’s glory so it may be a win-win for both of us. But it seems that God often directs me to wait, and I have to remain powerless with my anxious heart.
Yet, I believe when God says, “wait,” God doesn’t want us just to remain idle and get lazy. There will be something we need to do to prepare for God’s work. When God says “wait,” our question must be not “Why do we wait or how long do we have to wait,” but “What can we do while waiting on God?”
Waiting in God’s Discipline
Maybe, there is something we need to do during our waiting period: In today’s Scriptures, Jesus Christ calls his disciples to go out and preach the Gospel of God’s forgiveness of sins in his name: “The Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things” (v. 46-48). In other words, Christ gives us authority to forgive sins and set people free from the bondage of their sinful life. What a powerful authority Jesus’ disciples have!
Yet, even though we are called by God to forgive others in Jesus’ name, we know we are not special people; we are not better than anyone else in the world; we are also foolish people before the Lord. Thus, we know we don’t deserve the privilege to forgive any others living around us?
The Lord also knows that we are not perfect enough to forgive and bless others. That’s why he commands us to wait until God touches and purifies our hearts. Before we go out in the name of Jesus, we need to stay and wait until God comes and transforms us first, so that we can go out to help others and lead them to the way of God’s forgiveness and salvation.
For Christian, waiting in the name of Jesus doesn’t mean that we just sit and waste our time doing nothing. To Jesus’ disciples, waiting means daily disciplines. When God says wait or when we feel left alone, it is a time for us to look into our own hearts. We must recognize that we are poor and weak, kneel down before the Lord, and submit all of our powers to him. Confess God is the Lord and I am his mouth, hands, and feet to serve his people. In our waiting, we may deny ourselves, give up our own powers, and completely rely on God’s power and grace, so that we may stand as “witnesses of those things” that Jesus Christ our Lord entrusts to his disciples.
Waiting in Hope
As God’s children we don’t have any doubt in our faith that God is our heavenly Father and Jesus Christ is our Savior. Nevertheless, we still happen to experience the time of wonder, the time of thirst, and the time of anxiety. We feel like we have been only waiting and waiting and waiting, but God’s grace is still far away.
Why? Why do we have to wait, and how long do we have to wait? Maybe God wants us to wait more until we completely submit ourselves to God only. During our waiting time, we may be more desperate for God, more dependent on his power, and more humble and faithful in our relationship with God. Thus, even if we feel left alone as we wait, it can be a time for us to get closer to God; it can be a time for us to experience God’s power and grace.
Waiting is not easy at all, but let us continue to wait in our prayer and hope because the Lord has promised us that he will send upon us the Holy Spirit when we trust and wait in our faith for his promise. Amen.
May 26, 2019
Sixth Sunday of Easter
Psalm 67; John 14:23-27
RUMC, Pastor SeokCheol Shin
The Holy Counselor
Emotional Roller Coaster of Life
What a beautiful season we have enjoyed these days! The weather is getting warmer, the days are lengthening, the sky is dazzling blue, the air is fresh, and our yards are shining in green. We are surrounded by all sorts of signs pointing to the beginning of summer, and I am sure that we all have been looking forward to this seasonal change.
One major event of this time of year in our country is graduation— graduating from kindergarten, elementary school, high School, college…. If your family is celebrating a graduation this year, congratulations!!! Last Sunday our church had a special service dedicated to and led by our children and youth from the Sunday School. During our service, we recognized kids graduating from their schools, or promoted by one grade, and we prayed for their next adventures. I am so proud of our kids and thankful of all the teachers who have nurtured them in our Christian teachings.
Yet I believe graduation often brings us complex emotions. You must be so excited with the fact that “you are done,” feeling like you are going up to the top. But when you think about the reality with a question, “now what,” your feeling will be completely turned upside down. Maybe it is like riding a rollercoaster.
I think this “rollercoaster confusion” is a pretty good term to describe the feelings of the disciples in our text from John’s Gospel. Following Jesus, they must feel like they have all things in the world, but suddenly Jesus says that he is going away and that they can’t come with him. Their world is about to be turned upside down. It is no doubt their emotional rollercoaster is now heading down to the bottom.
The Promise of the Holy Spirit
John 14 is the chapter called Jesus’ farewell speech. It is time for him to say goodbye to his disciples and they will never see him again face to face. He knows that all his disciples must feel discouraged, and that’s why he starts with the encouraging message, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me” (v. 1). And then in the following two verses, he is comforting them with an essential promise: he is going to prepare a place for them and will return and take them with him to that place, so that they can be with him forever (v. 2-3). What he promises to them is God’s salvation and eternal life in heaven.
It is always good to know that we have a place to go when we die in this world. When we lose our beloved, we give thanks to God because we know he or she is in a better place with God. But we still wonder how we are going to make it without our beloved. How is it really possible for us to endure all those challenges and trials in the world without our Lord Jesus Christ? This is probably what the disciples were worried about when Jesus said goodbye to them.
As the disciples are deeply concerned about their life without him, Jesus assures them that he is not going to abandon them like a bunch of orphans; he is going to send to them another Advocate who will be with them forever (v. 16). What he promises to them is the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity.
What was true of the disciples is also true of you and me of this day. Without the Holy Spirit to strengthen us, lead us, and protect us, we too will not make it. Without the abiding help of God, no one is able to live faithfully and godly. If we have to do it all in our own power, we will soon find ourselves very exhausted and even give up. As little children of God, we need the Holy Spirit who can guide and help our journey in this rollercoaster-like world.
In the yellow page of a telephone book, you can find all kinds of counselors: marriage counselors, wedding counselors, drug counselors, job counselors, school counselors, etc. Of course, you can always go to listen to them if you need. By the way, what is the purpose of counselors? Do they solve our problems or help us to solve our problems? We all have blocks in our paths to maturity. We all have painful trauma in our emotion, or persistent personality problems, or addictions that prevent us from living a good life. As far as I know, counselors don’t fix our problems (they are not like a mechanic), but help us to overcome them and grow stronger.
Sometimes, when we are in a difficult situation, we pray and hope that God just comes down to fix our problems and make important decisions for us. But this is an immature faith. The Holy Spirit does not solve our problems or make any decision for us, just like any good counselor can’t decide for us. Rather, we must see the Spirit as the “Counselor,” who comes to our side and gives us strength, courage, and wisdom, so we can make difficult or important decisions; and with that help we can solve our problems.
Some of you may be wondering, what if we happen to make a wrong decision because we still have to make decisions for ourselves? We don’t want to be deceived. We don’t want to go on the other way. Yet we want to go and be on the right way. For this, we don’t need to worry about our decision because we have the Spirit. Particularly, Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as “the Spirit of Truth” (v. 17). Because He is the Spirit of Truth, He will not lead us astray. If we trust and follow Him, we will arrive at truth. Jesus Christ already proclaimed, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” As we belong to Jesus, we are also in the Holy Spirit who leads into all truth (v. 17).
When we follow this holy guide, we are taking in the Spirit of Truth. This Spirit is what helps us to see and respond to God’s grace and love. The Holy Spirit is the One who will take care of us, strengthen us, and lead us in the way we should go. In the wonderful treasured words of the disciple Paul, we may therefore be sure that nothing, “neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come … will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.”
Peace from the Lord
Often in life, there is a stark contrast between the resurrection in heaven and the actual trials in the world. We see it in a fractured economy, in the poor leadership of our government, in the loss of our beloved, in the struggles with our own health issues. Outside in the world, we have been celebrating the most beautiful days. But inside of our life, we have to struggle hard to survive in this world.
In the midst of this troubled life and this uncertain world, Jesus says to all his disciples and us today, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (v. 27). We can have peace even in the midst of the darkest time because we are not alone, not abandoned, not orphaned, and not deceived by anything false from the world. The Risen Christ is always present in our lives to help guide us by the power of the Holy Spirit. When we are afraid or when we are in want, let us always remember that Jesus sends the Holy Spirit as our Counselor to advise us, and guide and help us. This is what Jesus promises his disciples and what we should believe. Thanks be to God! Amen!
May 12, 2019
Fourth Sunday of Easter
Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30
RUMC, Pastor SeokCheol Shin
The Good Shepherd and His Sheep
The Good Shepherd
Happy Mother’s Day!!! We set aside this day as a special day to appreciate all of our mothers. But I really believe that mothers must be praised on a daily basis and every day should be Mother’s Day, just like our everyday is God’s day. How come? Mothers never stop feeding and caring for their children! Even on Mother’s Day, I am sure that they are still worried that their children are eating well.
There are lots of images about God in the Bible; my favorite is the image of God as a shepherd. Who doesn’t love Psalm 23, describing God as the Good Shepherd: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters…” Just like our mothers, God is constantly feeding, nurturing and giving us his best, whatever our circumstances may be.
Jesus Christ also has lots of images for himself, and one of them is the Good Shepherd. Just as Psalm 23 describes God, we want Jesus to be our Shepherd to watch over us, protect us, heal us when we are sick, and, of course, walk with us when we happen to walk through the darkest valley. We all want this, and Jesus says to us, “You can have it from me, for I am the Good Shepherd. I love my sheep with a love that is stronger than death.”
Listening to the Shepherd
It is easy to believe that Jesus is the Good Shepherd (or God is like our mother who always loves us), but the question still remains for us: “Are we the sheep of Jesus Christ?” Yes, we know Jesus is the Shepherd, but how do we guarantee that we are his sheep?
In the Gospel lesson, the Jews in the temple are becoming very frustrated with Jesus. His teachings and miracles have provided signs to prove that he is God’s Messiah, but they could not understand or did not want to. They ask him that “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly” (v. 24). Jesus answers, “I have told you… and you do not believe because you are not my sheep” (v. 25-26). And then, he gives them a clear clue about who belongs to him as his sheep: “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me” (v. 27). What Jesus is trying to say through this metaphor is that there is a God, and his people are able to hear God’s voice. This is very important. It means that we are born with that ability to sense and listen to the divine voice of God. There are many other voices out there, which sound good and truthful, and we may listen to those. God’s voice is also always there and his voice is recognizable to his people.
I think this is a test, some kind of a spiritual hearing test. Where and how do we hear the voice of our Shepherd, so we can follow his way? I’ve got a book here that brings us God’s voice; it is called the Holy Bible. We can talk with God whenever we pray to the Lord. We also know that God sometimes speaks to us through people or our circumstances.
God gives us a plenty of resources to hear his voice. But honestly speaking, listening to God isn’t easy at all. Let us question ourselves: how much do we like to listen to God’ voice? Are we willing to meditate on God’s word day by day, as we like our daily meals? And then again, how much are we willing to gather together and strive hard to find God’s will, knowing that where two or three are gathered in Christ’s name, he is there with us?
Listening to God generally takes place in a prayerful and humble heart. God speaks to those who take time to listen and God listens to those who take time to pray. When God answers us, we can be fed and nurtured, we can be healed and restored, and we can be brought to life and safety.
Following the Shepherd
Yes, I do pray to God and listen to his voice, so I am his sheep. Well, according to what the Shepherd says today, we need one more thing to prove that we belong to him. After saying “My sheep hear my voice,” Jesus continues to say that “they follow me” (v. 27). Of course, we like to follow our Shepherd because he promises to lead us to green pastures and still waters. Following the Shepherd is all good; there is no reason not to follow him.
But do we also remember that Jesus commands his disciples to “follow me” in another place in the Gospels. Unlike the image in Psalm 23, this invitation seems quite unpleasant to us, “if any want to follow me, let them deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me” (Mt. 16:24). Jesus our Good Shepherd leads his sheep not only to green pastures but sometimes to the bitters of life. You may want to argue that “What’s the point that the Shepherd leads his sheep to the bitters of life? There is no good in it. It only hurts the vulnerable sheep.”
Well, my friends, the Lord doesn’t need to lead us to the bitters of life or a path of trials. Think about this: our world is not God’s kingdom. As long as we live here on earth, from time to time we experience all kinds of tribulations. Our Shepherd doesn’t need to lead us there because we are already there in troubles. The good news is that our Shepherd is always present to rescue the lost sheep, rescue them out of troubles they have gotten themselves into. So when Jesus says “follow me,” it is his invitation for his disciples to join in his salvation ministry for others in need.
If we say that we love God but refuse to help people or support the communities in tribulations, we are not disciples of Jesus but like the hired hands who see the wolf (challenge) coming and run away from the sheep because their loss is not important to us (saying “I don’t want to get involved”). True love requires risk. It demands putting our hearts, tears, hands, and presence in difficult times and situations. This is not what people want at all, but true sheep of Christ will take that responsibility and follow the example of their Good Shepherd.
Are we sure that we are Jesus’ sheep? If so, we must not remain as the little sheep. We must grow spiritually to be good shepherds ourselves who are able to follow our Good Shepherd and join in his salvation ministry.
Belonging to the Good Shepherd
Brothers and sisters, in the eyes of God each one of us belongs to his flock. Parents call their children to themselves so that they might heal them, nourish them, and show them love. Likewise, God our heavenly Mother or Father is calling us to bless our lives.
“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me” (v. 27). Let us listen and follow him, and we shall not be in want. Let us listen and follow him, and we may lie down in green pastures. Finally let us listen and follow him, and we may serve many others, so that we may become like little shepherds who belong to the Good Shepherd our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
May 5, 2019
Third Sunday of Easter
Acts 9:1-6, 7-20; John 21:1-19
RUMC, Pastor SeokCheol Shin
Looking for God’s Voice
Have you ever heard God’s voice? There are times we are desperate for God’s voice or the sign of God’s love in our life. We really believe there is God and God loves us, but we can’t hear God’s voice as we can hear our families’ or friends’ voices any time.
The common key word from our Scripture readings is a “voice” from God. In Acts, Saul heard the Lord calling his name from heaven. In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ disciples heard the voice of the risen Lord from the beach. Those mysterious voices had changed their lives forever.
Like those people in the Bible, we as God’s people of today also want to hear God’s voice, so that we know God is in control and we can feel much more confident on our faith journey. So where can we hear God’s voice? Where can we see God’s vision for our lives? This is the question we will talk about this morning.
God’s Voice Through Supernatural Ways
In the first Scripture reading from Acts, we read the story of Saul’s conversion. On his mission trip to arrest Christians, ironically, he was arrested, impeded, by a strange voice from heaven: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me… I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (v. 4-5). It was the voice of Jesus, whom he had persecuted. As he heard this voice from heaven, his life was changed forever; Saul the persecutor of Christ became Paul the Apostle of Christ.
You may argue that this kind of mysterious event is only found in the Bible but never happens to our actual life; “I also have a passion for God, but God has never called my name or spoken to me as God did to his servants in the Bible.” In today’s world, if we are told that someone heard God’s voice or saw God’s angels, we would rather suspect that that person must have a mental problem. Nowadays folks don’t even expect to hear God’s voice from heaven.
I wonder why we can’t hear God’s voice anymore or why God just stops speaking directly from heaven. As far as the Bible is concerned, God is the same yesterday and today and forever. Then, God should still speak to us from heaven as God used to do it in the ancient time.
Yes, God does. He has spoken to us all the time, but maybe we just don’t notice it. Why? One of the reasons is because of our preconception that hearing Gods’ voice must be something supernatural; we tend to believe that God will speak to us or meet with us in flashes of light or loud thundering sound from heaven. Because these supernatural things are not seen this day, we suspect that God no longer speaks to us in the ways He used to communicate with his servants in the Bible.
But maybe God’s voices and visions are still right in front of us, but we just don’t notice them. Let us carefully examine how the risen Christ spoke to his disciples in John’s Gospel and figure out whether it was really something supernatural.
God’s Voice in Our Ordinary Lives
In the Gospel, Peter and his fellows encountered the risen Lord when they were fishing at the Sea of Tiberius. Jesus’ voiced to them gentle advice to cast the net to the right side of the boat, so that they could catch more fish (v. 6); it was a simple request to share the fish they caught (v. 10); it was an invitation to them, “Come and have breakfast” (v. 12). It was an ordinary conversation.
What a scene it is! The Savior of the world was now sitting on the beach, making breakfast for the fishermen. There was no flashy light or thundering sound around them when the Lord spoke to them. This conversation between the risen Christ and his disciples is what we ordinary people usually can experience in our everyday life. Indeed, we need to work; we need to eat; we need to take care of our daily obligations.
I want to see this Gospel lesson in light of the Incarnation. The Messiah, whom the Jewish people had long waited for, appeared where they would never expect it. It started with Jesus’ birth in the smelly manger in a barn. It continued with his friendship with ordinary people like us. Even at his transfiguration on a mountaintop, he gave up his glory and came back down to the villages to take care of the common people. After his resurrection, he could have entered the Jerusalem Temple in glory with his angles. He could have easily amazed the crowds as he showed his resurrection to the world. But he didn’t. Instead, he kept entering into a small house where his disciples were hiding.
In today’s text, the risen Christ came to the disciples’ working place to help them catch fish, make breakfast, and eat together. Isn’t it amazing that the Son of God always remained grounded in people’s daily life? It shows us that Jesus Christ is part of everything we do. Reflecting on God’s incarnation, then, why don’t we believe that God’s voice may be heard from our earth, our homes, our working places, and our friends and neighbors, not just from heaven?
After they ate together, Jesus put Peter to the test. Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him. The third time he asked the same question, Peter was hurt. But he had denied his Master three times, and so he needed to make amends for his denial of Christ.
Peter had come a long way since his life as a fisherman. Through teaching and rebuking, Jesus had nurtured him to be a faithful disciple. Jesus even gave him a new name “Rock” on which the Church will be built (Matthew 16:18). Even so, he abandoned Jesus and denied him three times. Why did he fail? It was because he only expected a glory and power from heaven; he only appreciated something supernatural in Jesus Christ. Thus when Jesus was arrested and died on a cross, he came to lose his faith in Christ.
As Jesus hurt Peter by asking “Do you love me” three times, he was rooting Peter in his serving ministry: “Feed my lambs” (v. 15), “Tend my sheep” (v. 16), and “Follow me” (v. 19). Jesus’ ministry isn’t about glory; it is about people living on earth. It’s about feeding and caring for souls; it is about our daily life and about how to love and serve others in our world.
In other words, the way to love Jesus is the way we go on our life journey. Live a good life, and take care of all people with the love of God, as our Lord has loved us. This earthly life is the way we follow Jesus, hear God’s voice, see God’s vision, and live in God’s presence and grace.
God’s Presence in Our Lives
Life itself is a miracle because God is with us. All things we can see around us are divine gifts because God is present in all creations. If we truly recognize God dwells here in our very earthly lives, then we know where we can hear God’s voice. We don’t need to look up at heaven; it’s always among us and here in our communities. It’s here in front of people who are living around us.
Therefore, let us turn our attention to the world where we live with God. Let us look around to see who lives around us and try our best to welcome people, and serve and feed them. This loving and serving life is the Christian miracle that we can experience in our daily life and must carry out in the name of Jesus Christ who is risen from the dead and dwells in our world. Amen.
April 28, 2019
Second Sunday of Easter
RUMC, Pastor SeokCheol Shin
Seeing and Showing Jesus
“What a beautiful day!” This was my greeting when I visited some of our congregation members during the last week. Well, I know it had been raining during the weekend and it was a little chilly, but I like to see this rain as God’s gift for our gardens in our backyards. Sooner or later, we will get busy during our day-off as we plant flowers and vegetables and mow the lawns. After spending the cold winter season with lots of snows, finally we can open our windows, celebrate spring cleaning, and come outside to rejoice in the spring breezes.
Today’s Gospel also brings us a joyful greeting of spring. In this account, all the disciples look so terrific and excite, and I can almost hear them shout all together “What a wonderful day!” What’s going on in this story? They saw the risen Christ again coming into their gloomy upper room. Well, we need to go back a few days before Jesus was risen and see what happened to them, so that we can better understand why they were so excited to see Jesus Christ again.
Jesus’ Appearance in the Upper Room
On Thursday, Jesus and his disciples gathered in an upper room to share a meal together, which we now call “the Last Supper.” During the supper, Jesus knelt before his disciples and began to wash their feet one by one; he told them, “As I am your master, I have washed your feet; then you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” It was Jesus’s invitation and lesson for them to serve others
After the meal, he went to the Mount of Gethsemane with his disciples, and he prayed that God would empower him to obey God’s will as he confessed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Just after this prayer, he was arrested and handed over to the Roman power, and he was tried, beaten, and nailed to a cross with the title of King of the Jews written on a placard placed above his head. That was on Friday, the day he died.
On Sunday, Mary Magdalene and several women went to Jesus’ tomb to wash his dead body according to the Jewish custom for the dead. However, they could not find his body there because the tomb was empty. It was empty because Jesus was risen and came back to life.
In the meantime, all the disciples had run back to their upper room; they locked the door because they were afraid of the Jews who killed their Master Jesus. They were probably spending the most terrible weekend, worrying about their future life without Jesus. The women brought to them an unbelievable word that Jesus was alive. But they couldn’t understand it because they didn’t see what happened to the tomb where Jesus was buried.
It was these broken-hearted disciples to whom Jesus appeared. The first word that the risen Lord spoke to them was “Peace be with you” (v. 19). Right away, they came alive with rejoicing when they saw him speak to them in front of their eyes.
Yet, “Peace be with you” wasn’t the only message that Jesus proclaimed to them. He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (v. 22). He was breathing new life and new power into their souls. They became new creations, sustained and empowered by the presence of the Holy Spirit in their hearts.
So what happened to the disciples who saw the risen Christ and received the Holy Spirit? They were no longer coward but bold enough to open the door of their house; they came out to the world to proclaim that Jesus is risen and he is the Lord of all. For that, they were put in prison and tortured by the Jewish officials, but none and nothing could stop them; they continued their teaching in the city of Jerusalem, and from there they went out into the Gentile countries and all over the world.
They were now totally different people. Until recently, they were afraid of the Jews, but now the Jews were afraid of them. What a big change it is! What motivated them to stand bold enough to challenge and change the world? The answer is in the story. That is, the risen Christ appeared to them and they saw him alive in front of their eyes.
But interestingly, there were some other disciples who didn’t believe the resurrection of Jesus Christ. They only considered it as a rumor. Poor Thomas was one of them. We have given him a nickname, “doubting Thomas.” His doubt was very simple, that is, he wasn’t there when Jesus appeared to the disciples. He left this famous word in John’s Gospel, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it” (v. 25).
Yet, Jesus didn’t leave Thomas stuck in his own doubt. A week later, he appeared to them again, and this time Thomas was there with his fellow disciples. The first word Jesus spoke to them was also “Peace be with you.” Then, right away, Thomas overcame all doubts and came alive with rejoicing and confessing, “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28).
We tend to laugh at Thomas and blame his unfaithfulness. But I don’t believe he was weaker than any other disciples or that the other disciples were more faithful than Thomas. They were all hiding in the upper room; they were all worried about the world; they all didn’t believe the resurrection of Jesus until they really saw the risen Christ in front of their eyes. Thomas just saw him little later than his friends.
Of course, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (v. 29). This blessed one is Jesus himself. Jesus trusted his own resurrection and that’s why he allowed people to crucify him. But we are not like Jesus; we are like Thomas. Just as he needed to see the risen Jesus to believe, we also need to see, experience, and feel the risen Jesus first, so that we might believe in the power of God and all the promises of Jesus Christ.
Once again, seeing is believing. The disciples overcame their fear and doubt when they saw the risen Jesus in front of their eyes. Likewise, as we see Jesus, we can rejoice in our life, and as we show Jesus, we can challenge and change the world.
Showing the Risen Christ
How can we see Jesus, and how can we show Jesus to others? Do we see ourselves out of peace and out of hope in life? Do we feel like we are still caught in the power of darkness or sinfulness? Then, let us come forward to see Jesus Christ who is present in our gatherings. Christ comes in wherever his people gather in his name. Do we see people out there who still close their hearts, who are struggling in fear and loneliness, who don’t know God forgives and loves them? Then let us reach out to show the risen Christ as we touch their brokenness, wash their feet, and bless their lives in the name of the risen Christ who is delighted to offers us peace.
“Seeing Jesus” and “showing Jesus,” that is the point of today’s Gospel and that’s what we disciples are called to do for our worship and ministry. May the risen Christ come and breathe his peace and power into our hearts and may God empower us that we go to the world to become the Good News of peace, hope, and joy of life to all others. Amen.
April 21, 2019
RUMC, Pastor SeokCheol Shin
Participating in Jesus’ Resurrection
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.