Sermon: Celebration of Life in Jesus

January 27, 2018
Third Sunday after the Epiphany

John 2:1-11

Celebration of Life in Jesus

The winter challenge
Last week, we were struck by some very dangerous weather, a blizzard and freezing rains. When it’s snowing and icy outside, nobody wants to leave one’s house. After talking with several members, I had to decide that we must remain safe and worship the Lord from our homes.

Some of you might wonder whether we just violated our Sabbath as we gave up our Sunday Service? In order to encourage you, I posted in our church Facebook page the bible verse from Romans: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39) and gave a little comment: “Wherever we are and no matter what situation we have, let us give thanks to God who always holds us in his constant love. Shalom to you!”

Yes, I have no doubt that God is always with us even if we can’t be always faithful enough… But things happen. The winter cold broke a pipe in the parsonage and my garage ceiling was leaking. Well what I experienced from this accident is that bad things still happen to us although we are in God’s hands; our faith in God would reward us God’s salvation and eternal life but that doesn’t mean that we are free from all kinds of unexpected accidents while living on earth. That’s why we wonder sometimes whether God does really care for little accidents we have to struggle with in our daily lives although we trust that God will bring us to His kingdom as he promised us in the Bible.

Jesus’ concerns in his ministry
When you think about Jesus’ ministry, what kind of concept pops up in your mind? Probably, those of salvation, redemption, cross, sacrifice, resurrection, eternal life, God’s kingdom, etc. Those theological or biblical terms are not the common language we speak in our daily life. In fact, Jesus teaches us in Matthew’s Gospel, “Do not worry about what to eat, what to drink, or what to wear… But seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well…” (Mt. 7:31-33).

Yes, as I mentioned above, Jesus Christ came to forgive our sins and save the world and bring us to eternal life in God’s kingdom… But did our Lord really care about little things that we have to struggle in our ordinary lives? Did Jesus have his own private life just to relax and enjoy his day? Did Christ take a “daycation” to restore and refresh his mind and body?

Yes, he did! He actually knew how to celebrate his life along with his people. And he had paid attention to, not only such a big mission like salvation or God’s kingdom, but also very trivial and small issues in human life. Today’s Gospel story illuminates his care and mercy for our ordinary things. He showed his first miracle in joyful celebration at the wedding of Cana.

Jesus at the wedding
In any Palestinian village of Jesus’ day, as in any family today, a wedding was a great occasion. It is a special moment and the best time for the new couple, and their friends and family, to share their joy.

But an unexpected disaster happened at the wedding reception of Cana: the wine was in danger of running out. According to a Jewish proverb, “Without wine, there is no joy.” Even worse, within the social customs of Jesus’ day, the party without wine was considered an insult to the guests who were invited to the family’s occasion. The Bible does not record the emotion involved, but we can easily imagine how frustrated the hosts must have felt in running out of wine at their wedding reception. It would have been seen as a bad omen.

Fortunately, Jesus, along with his mother Mary and disciples, was there at the wedding reception. Of course, our good Lord solved the problem by changing the water into wine, so the hosts could overcome the crisis and all the guests rejoiced much in celebrating and blessing the young couple’s new life. Later in John’s Gospel he says, “If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it” (Jn 14:14). And just as he responded to those people in today’s Gospel, Jesus always responds to us.

This miracle, turning water into wine, is nothing less than an open declaration that Jesus is the Messiah who has come to change or transform our life: despair to hope, sadness to joy, slavery to liberty, sinners to God’s children, and death to eternal life. However, this Gospel story teaches us that Jesus is not the only resource for our life change. It is also necessary for us to respond to God’s grace if we want to experience Jesus’ transforming miracles in our life.

First, it is very important that we invite Jesus to our troubles. In this Gospel story, the hosts of the wedding were lucky that Jesus was there when they were stuck in that embarrassing situation.

There is a Sunday School story that highlights the importance of Jesus’ presence in our occasions. One day, a little boy visited his uncle who wasn’t married yet. He told him that he goes to a Sunday School. The uncle asked the body, “What did you learn in your school?” He replied, “we heard that Jesus went to a wedding and made water into wine.” “And what is the lesson in that story?” his uncle inquired. After thinking for a moment, the little boy answered, “If you’re having a wedding, make sure Jesus is there!”

We may say that the boy is so innocent to receive what he was told. But his reply is, I believe, pretty profound advice. It is good to have Jesus at our wedding that God will bless our celebration. Indeed, it is good to have Jesus everywhere in our life, because we don’t know what will happen to us from moment to moment. Whatever problems confront us, whatever crisis threaten our lives, whatever we lack in any situation, Christ can restore us if he is invited there.

Second, we must believe that before he showed his power, Jesus wants to hear first our problems out of our lips. Mary is a symbol of the ordinary believers who have “faith” in Jesus but who still doesn’t know how he handles our problems. When the wine was almost running out, Mary said to him, “They have no wine” (v. 3). And Jesus just replied to her, “What concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come” (v. 4). At first, it seems that Jesus ignored Mary’s request. She may feel ashamed that she wouldn’t want to get involved in the problem, which was actually not her business, anymore.

Yet, Mary didn’t give up her faith but instead immediately told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (v. 5). Following her suggestion, the servants did what Jesus ordered them to do, that is, to fill the jars with water. And as Mary expected, Jesus eventually listened to her and met the crisis with an astounding solution: the water was changed into fresh wine, so everyone in the wedding reception could enjoy it.

The good news in this story is that Jesus cares for our problems when we lift them up to him. Although our little problem seems not related to Jesus’ salvation ministry, eventually he shows his mercy to make things right for us. The lesson we count on in this story is “frustration and despair turn to hope as our faith is engaged.”

A Joyful Friend
After his Baptism, the first miracle Jesus did was to celebrate a wedding feast and cheer people. This occurrence tells us that Jesus is not a gloomy guide with heavy works but a joyful friend who knows how to enjoy life and help others to enjoy it to the fullest as well.

As we started this new year, let us remember that the Lord of life contributed to the joy of a wedding feast, blessing it with his presence and his gift of abundance. May everything that is new and good and joyful be revealed to us in this season of Epiphany as a gift of God so that our joy may be complete. Amen.

Sermon: The Humble Start from Water

January 13, 2019
The Baptism of Christ /First Sunday after the Epiphany

Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

The Humble Start from Water

The celebration of the New Year
The holiday season is all over. I believe that most of you had already put away all the Christmas decorations. You have been already back to your ordinary life and take care of your daily routines as usual. However, it is still early in the New Year, and we want to share good wishes with one another.

If you remember, the world began the year of 2019 with spectacular fireworks and all kinds of exciting concerts. I saw on TV that every square was full of the crowds to celebrate the first day of the New Year. When the bells rang for the New Year, all the people shouted together “Happy New Year,” hoping, hugging, dancing and kissing each other.

Yes, people always get excited at the moment to see the old one out and the new one coming in. Why? It is simply because it is the first day of the New Year. We all want to refresh our mind and start our life journey again with celebration and with lots of hopes and dreams for the entire year. Beginning, whatever it is, is always special and important, and it deserves our celebration and attention.

Lots of people in the world greeted the New Year through all kinds of festivals and celebrations. How can we Christians greet a New Year or a new beginning? What is the biblical guideline about it? In the spirit of this New Year, I want to talk about where to begin and how to start our new journey?

How and where Jesus started
            Before I get into today’s scripture, let me remind you of what we learned from the last Sunday… We started the season of Epiphany with the words from Isaiah “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you” (v. 1). The epiphany of Christ is the spiritual turning point of human destiny: from darkness to light; from death to resurrection. In the light of Christ, the world can see human sinfulness going out and God’s salvation and righteousness coming in. “Arise and shine” is what God has done for those who have received Jesus Christ in their hearts. And “Arise and shine” was what Jesus did for the sake of his salvation ministry for the world.

            Yet let us look at the Gospel and see how Jesus started his salvation ministry. Once again, beginning is always special, and we want to start a new beginning with celebration and attention. Then, what about Jesus Christ? How did he start his ministry?

According to the passage from Luke’s Gospel, he only went to the Jordan River and received the Baptism from John the Baptist. That’s it! Unlike our way of starting our new year or new beginning, he started his public ministry without receiving any attention or celebration from the world. When he came to the water, John recognized Jesus was God’s special man who is far better than anyone else in the world including himself (v. 16). But Jesus only knelt down before John and allowed him to baptize him.

            Isn’t it so impressive that Jesus chose to begin his ministry at a site of water? As a divine King, he could have chosen going to the Jerusalem Temple or the Roman government and simply announced that he is the true King or God’s Messiah. But this divine King began at a humble place of water just to bathe his own body.

He started out humbly— being born in a manger to humble parents, Mary and Joseph— and he continued that humble pattern, beginning his ministry at the water without any celebration. Because of his quiet way, no one knew that he was God’s Messiah; the world even didn’t know that God had already sent the Savior. With none knowing anything else, Jesus was preparing himself alone in the water to carry out the most important thing that has been done in human history, which is God’s salvation work.

But there was someone who knew why Jesus came to the River and what he was doing there – it was God! When he was baptized, “heaven was opened, the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice of God came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (vv. 21-22). Those words are the divine signs that God accepted Jesus and blessed his life and ministry.

After his own baptism we will see how Jesus came out to the world and how he rescued people and brought them to God’s grace. As you already know, he healed many sick people and cast away demons; he calmed down storms with several words; he fed more than 5,000 crowds with five loaves and two fishes in the wilderness; he brought the dead man Lazarus back to life; he was killed and buried in a tomb, but three days later he rose from the dead; and by his own death and resurrection, he finally opened the way of God’s salvation to all humanity.

In history, who would dare to be compared to Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world? But before we talk about those wonderful works that he showed us, we must recognize where and how he started his ministry. It was the simple water where he purified his body and mind and offered his life to God. So we can say that his own humble submission to God was the foundation on which he started and fulfilled God’s salvation work.

I am not sure whether God was there in the public squares where people gathered together to celebrate and shout together “Happy New Year and God bless you.” But reflecting on Jesus’ experience at the water, I am sure that God is present in our humble heart longing for his grace and mercy. I am also sure that all of our wishes for this year and the years to come may be provided and fulfilled at the moment when we kneel to pray to God.

Starting New Year
Now we are beginning our New Year, 2019. When we begin something new, we always expect to make a good start and achieve all our wishes successfully. This New Year, I wish and pray that your life may be full of joy; you may be healed and recover your health; all of your dreams and hopes would come true. For our ministry, I wish and pray that we grow our worship and ministry; we may bear much more fruits to glorify God; we may reach out to our neighbors and show God’s grace and power for them, so that our sanctuary will be full of members and worshipers.

But before we start a new beginning with this kind of passion and hope, today’s scripture teaches us that the first step we have to make is to turn and submit ourselves to God who has the power to provide all the steps of God’s servants.

As we are looking forward to this New Year, let us offer ourselves humbly to God through our baptismal spirit and daily prayer. When we kneel down before the Lord, God will open our doors, minds and hearts; God will offer us all the gifts we need for our life journey. Our humble submission to God must be the foundation of our life journey. Amen.

Sermon: Seeking Light in the Dark

January 06, 2019
Epiphany Sunday

Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12

Seeking Light in the Dark

The light of Epiphany
Here we are, already finished with 2018 and ready to start the new year of 2019. It’s hard to believe I completed my first year here at Rockville UMC of serving our Lord with you, yet I have truly enjoyed all of our ministries with you thoroughly. Most of all, I give thanks to the Lord that we could complete the year as we filled the sanctuary without empty pews during the Christmas season.

Of course, the number is not important. Our ministry must be all about love and care in the name of Jesus Christ. Yet I really can say your dedication was the reason why we could have lots of people joining our service and have a wonderful Christmas eve service. So I thank you all that you have done great works for the sake of God’s glory! And because of your faithfulness in God, I am really looking forward to this new year with a hope of growth of our worship and ministry.

Arise and Shine
We are now starting the season of Epiphany. The word epiphany means showing or shining forth. To Christians, Epiphany is the coming of the true Light, Jesus Christ, into the darkness of our world. Our lectionary Scripture leads us to start our epiphany and new year with the words of Isaiah, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you” (v. 1).

“Arise” was the word my mom used to shout when I was a little kid. I mean this is what she told me when she came into my bedroom just to wake me up. I already confessed that I am not a morning person. It is always difficult for me to jump right out of bed when the alarm goes off. My natural desire is to turn off the sound, close my eyes, and take a little more sleep. But if I were to keep on sleeping, I would get nothing accomplished for the day.

Even though it is hard for me to get out of bed quickly, as soon as I get up I am glad I did. By the time I take a shower and put on some clothes, all my fatigue is gone, and I feel refreshed in mind and body and ready for the new day. And I am so proud that I did not decide to stay in bed for a long time.

The same is true in our experience with God. When it’s time to come to worship the Lord, we are sometimes unwilling to come to the church because we are tired with other things. But when we obey and come to worship the Lord, we may see ourselves rejoice in our worship and fellowship in our gatherings.

We have spiritually or physically lingered in the darkness too long. We should remember that Christ our Savior has risen from the dead that you and I might arise: arise from our graves, our beds, our illness, our comfort zones… And we should also use and exercise the power and authority of the Gospel so that we can help others come out of their darkness into the light of God’s salvation.

Our light of salvation has come through the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Now, it’s up to us whether or not to accept the Light in our hearts, or to remain in our own darkness as the children of wrath. If we want to be spiritually alive, we must decide to live in the spiritual light of God. For this, God gives us two direct commands through Isaiah, “Arise and shine.”

Journey with the light of God
In Matthew’s Gospel, we saw an example of several people who saw a bright Star in the darkness; they arose from where they lived and started a new journey as they followed the Star. We know from this passage that they are the Wise Men.

Christian life is often compared to a journey: a journey that begins with our confession of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and ends when we at last meet God our eternal Father in heaven. The story of the Wise Men in Matthew’s Gospel represents our Christian journey in the sense that they traveled from the East (darkness) to find and celebrate the baby Jesus (light), who was born to save all humanity. This story is our own life story because they were the very first Gentiles to meet and praise Jesus Christ.

One of my favorite Christmas cards features a picture of the Wise Men travelling by camels toward the shining Star dominating the night sky. Yes, the bright Star is a good image to have in the Christmas story. It makes the baby Jesus’ birth even more special. Personally, I like this image of the Star as we are beginning this new year. It is the symbol of Epiphany, and it is also a sign of God’s guidance for our new journey in this world.

Yet, if we carefully read the text, we may recognize that the Star was not the only thing that had led the Wise Men to arrive at Jesus. They actually had no idea about how and where to find the baby Jesus. At the first stage, they didn’t discover Jesus at all, until they had done other very important things – until they had consulted the Holy Scriptures, until they came to King Herod, and Herod had asked the chief priests and teachers of the law where the Messiah was to be born (v. 4). What this passage tells us is that they not only relied on the Star but also strived hard to study the Hebrew Bible that prophesizes the birth of the Messiah.

The same thing that was true for the Wise Men is true for us as well. We may have a general idea of Jesus, but until we, like the Wise Men, consult the Bible, we really don’t understand who Jesus Christ is and how to worship him as we would like to.

Based on the Wise Men’s experience, I would like to point out two things that are required for our new journey in this new year. The first must be our willingness to track down the light of God, which I can say is God’s grace. And the second must be our willingness to hear the Word of God, for God’s Word teaches us how to serve and how to follow the Lord. Yes, we always need God’s Word for our Christian journey, as much as we need the light that is always present in our lives. The light is God’s gift, but loving the Scriptures is our attempt. God’s grace and our faith, those two things must be combined if we really want to meet our Savior Jesus.

Focus on God’s word
As we begin a promising new year, let us always remember this; good things and bad things are really happening all around us. Let us remember that the light of God is given to us as a gift, but we must strive hard to focus on God’s word. And let us also remember that God always supports us, saves us from evil, and leads us to the right way when we listen to his voice and look for the light in the midst of our challenging world.

As we come before the Lord on this very first Sunday of our new year, may God the Creator, Jesus the Savior, and the Holy Spirit lighten our way, speak to our hearts, and bring us to a life of joy, peace, and love. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sermon: Growth in God’s Favor

December 30, 2018
First Sunday After Christmas Day
1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26; Luke 2:41-52

Growth in God’s Favor

The Spirit of Christmas
Merry Christmas again! Traditionally, the Sundays after Christmas are considered “low” Sundays in our Christian calendar because people tend to take a much needed rest after the Christmas season. But I want to remind you that God our Lord doesn’t have any vacation from God’s own works to sustain, move, and save the world, and God always wants to meet with us all year round, even on “low Sunday” like today. Therefore, even in the midst of our rest, we should be faithful enough to worship and praise the Lord who is always present in our everyday lives.

Tomorrow is the last day of the calendar year. Yet we know in the church calendar that we began a new year already on December 2nd, as we celebrated the first Sunday of Advent. We are now ready to have a new beginning. When we have a beginning of something, we know it will move towards an ending, and that ending brings us a new beginning. Somehow beginnings and endings seem to blend. For example, when somebody has a graduation ceremony from their school, the service is called a commencement. When our beloved ones die, we say they enter into a new life in heaven. Throughout our life we experience other endings that lead to the possibilities of new beginnings. We recently lost a brother in our church who passed away just a few days ago; Lenny now enters into eternal peace in God’s kingdom.

Today’s Scriptures are about beginnings and endings, turning points of life. When I meditated on them, I was caught by the descriptions of two young boys, Samuel and Jesus, whose lives later underwent radical change to save the world around them. But in today’s passages, they both were still little boys who were on the process to adulthood. Between their ending of boyhood and the beginning of adulthood are there growth for their lives: “Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and with the people” (v. 26); “Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor” (v. 52).

Yes, today’s lesson is about growing up but it is not only Jesus and Samuel’s growing up. It is about you and me growing up. Growing up is not about how old we are. It is about moving into deeper and more authentic relationships with God and people living around us.

Jesus’ childhood
The New Testament provides very little information about Jesus as a child. In today’s reading, he was only twelve years old but described as an “exceptional child.” Jesus accompanied his parents, Mary and Joseph, to Jerusalem for the annual festival of Passover: “Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover” (v. 41).

When the festival ended, and they started to return home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem (v. 43). It was after a day’s trip that Mary and Joseph realized that their son Jesus was not with the family group. They just lost the track of their son. I bet this must be parents’ worst nightmare. Shocked, Mary and Joseph immediately went back to Jerusalem to find him, and it took another couple of days to do so. When they did find him, Jesus was still in the Temple sitting among the Jewish teachers, listening to them and asking questions. All the teachers who heard him were so amazed at his knowledge about the Scriptures (v. 47).

When Mary and Joseph saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety” (v. 48). However, Jesus responded simply, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (v. 49). I suspect if any of our parents got an answer like this from their child after being missing for three days, they probably would be very angry with him or her.

But this doesn’t mean that Jesus didn’t care of his parents’ worry. The story continues to say that he returned with his parents and “was obedient to them” (v. 51). As he liked to sit in the Temple to study and honor God’s Word, the boy Jesus also honored his parents with all his heart. In the end of this story concerning the boyhood of Jesus, Luke’s Gospel concludes that “Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor” (v. 52).

Searching for Jesus
What can we learn from the story of Jesus’ missing? What does this have to do with our growth, which is the theme of today’s lesson? Let us notice something else.

First, Jesus continued to stay in the Temple… After the festival was over, Mary and Joseph were traveling away from the Temple but Jesus never left the Temple, which is considered the house of God or the presence of God: “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house” (v. 49). It tells us that the boy Jesus grew up in the presence of the Lord. From the early age in his life, he liked to spend his time being with God, studying Scripture, praying to God, and serving in the Temple. At this transitional period, Jesus was developing his own relationship with God in God’s house.

Second, Jesus also grew up in favor of his parents and neighboring people as well as in favors of God. He was nurtured in deep care and love by his parents. As he received much love from them, he also loved and honored his parents. In the early period in his life, he learned how to respect people living around them. As a result, Jesus grew up in both divine and human favor.

Finally, let us consider Mary and Joseph and learn from what they did when they thought they lost Jesus. (Actually, Jesus wasn’t lost at all. He was right where he was supposed to be. In our spiritual interpretation of this passage, we can understand it is actually Mary and Joseph who were turning away from God.) When they realized they didn’t have Jesus in their journey, they turned around to find him. Based on their reaction, I invite you to consider where you are on your ongoing journey. Maybe you’re just starting out. Maybe you’ve been journeying with Jesus for years, but somehow your relationship with God has grown stale. Maybe you even don’t know where you are going and what you are doing for this new year… The Good News is that Jesus is right where he’s supposed to be: in this room, just waiting for you to find him. Search for Jesus by turning your life around and you will find God. This is the lesson we can learn from Mary and Joseph from this reading.

Our growth in the presence of the Lord
Yes, what we need at the turn of the year is “growth.” On this “low” Sunday, we must commit ourselves to a “high” spirituality. We must be faithful enough to submit ourselves to the presence of God through our daily meditation and prayer, through our radical hospitality and welcome, and through our faithful service in God who gives his servants the power to change the world.

As we keep the birth of Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our Lord in our hearts, may God be always with us in favor and grace and help us to grow and empower our service for the sake of God and for the sake of people in 2019. Amen.

Sermon: The New Born King in the Manger

December 24, 2018
Christmas Eve

Isaiah 9:2-7; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-20

The New Born King in the Manger

Incarnation
One of the amazing assertions about Christmas is that God took human form and came into the world. We call that event “Incarnation.” Speaking specifically, the dark and cold night in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago, God came into the world in human flesh, in the person of Jesus.

I wonder how you like to picture the birth of Jesus Christ into the world 2,000 years ago. And yet, each time I meditate on the Christmas story, I am struck by the fact that our Savior Jesus was laid on a manger in a stable in a small town of Bethlehem. What a strange place for the Prince of Peace and the King of kings!?!

Born in an animal barn
The story of Christmas in Luke’s Gospel actually has angels who appeared to Mary and Joseph and sang to shepherds in the field watching over their flocks at night: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (v. 14). The appearance of the angels definitely tells us that Jesus was a very special and divine baby. But strangely, the angels suddenly disappeared at the moment when Jesus was born in the world. They kept their distance from the birth of Christ.

Matthew’s Gospel chapter 2 starts with the wise men who had traveled far to praise the birth of baby Jesus. According to biblical scholars, those wise men were actually kings of their own countries. The pagan kings made a long trip from the East to Jerusalem just to praise the baby Jesus! That means that Jesus is the king of the kings of all the nations. But interestingly, those royal kings or wise men were not there yet when Jesus was born in the world.

Then, who was there when he was born in a manger? Who received the baby and celebrated his birth? According to the text for tonight, those are Mary and Joseph, simple shepherds, and the animals in the barn (vv. 15-20). No doubt they were very humble and lowly ones in God’s creation.

Luke’s Gospel clearly testifies that the birth of Jesus was far from a grand birth. Rather, it was a very lowly and humble one – no glowing radiance, no kings praising, no angels singing for the birth.

Some animals must be there because it was a barn. In our Christmas nativity, it looks so cute and lovely that the baby Jesus was surrounded by animals. But have you ever thought about the smells and noises in the barn from animals? What kind of mom wants to bear her baby in an animal’s barn? We don’t actually like to think about smells, dirt, pain, blood, and fear of giving the childbirth in a manger. The birth of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel was certainly not a pretty sight. It must have been frightening and disappointing to Mary and Joseph.

Our almighty God became flesh – not aiming to be born in a palace, but in a stinky barn. What a humble incarnation it is! However, in that moment, the moment of Jesus’ humble birth, everything in the world has come to change. As the disciple Paul says in the letter to Titus, “Grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all” (v. 11).

Personally, I really appreciate and like Christ’s humble birth in the manger; it is good news to me because I know my existence is much closer to the humble manger than the elegant palace. The world doesn’t care about me; the world doesn’t pay attention to me because I am too little, too poor, too ordinary. But if the Spirit of God was incarnated in a dirty and smelly barn over 2,000 years ago, then the same Spirit of God is surely present within you and me today.

Glory to the newborn King
Over 2,000 years ago, God the highest joined this ordinary, dirty, smelly world of ours. This night, Christ is born within our humble, broken, and even sinful lives as well. The prophet Isaiah already prophesied, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined” (v. 1). What he was trying to say is Christ would be born to bring the light and salvation to the darkness in our hearts and in our world, and this is our belief, our hope, and our witness to the world that still doesn’t know and doesn’t accept the Christ our Savior.

May Christ be born anew within each of us, and may Christ grow and mature within our hearts throughout the year and forevermore. And, because Christ is born anew this night, we join our voices with the angels visiting the lowly shepherds in the field, and we too lift up our voice in singing “Glory to the newborn King.” Amen.

Sermon: Advent Love – “Waiting in Welcome”

December 23, 2018
Fourth Sunday of Advent
Luke 1:39-45

Advent Love – “Waiting in Welcome”

God is with us
Today we gather here to celebrate the fourth Sunday of Advent. As we are getting closer to the coming of the Messiah, I can see how excited we are for our Christmas eve service and Christmas party after it. Although this is a time of celebration, let us not forget that there are people who can’t rejoice in this holiday as it can be a Blue Christmas to them… “How can we welcome and help people to rejoice in their lives” must be our concern for this Christmas season.

While meditating on todays’ scripture, I was thinking of the word, “welcome.” I believe welcome is a very proper term for the meaning of Christmas. The most marvelous event of Christmas in the Gospels is “Lord in heaven came to us as Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.” God is with us because God welcomes us to his eternal fellowship through the gifts of hope, peace, joy and love; God is with us as we also welcome Christ our Savior into our hearts; God is with us as we extend our welcome to people in need.

God welcomes us
Our passage for this morning begins when “Mary visited Elizabeth” and “Elizabeth welcomed Mary” (v. 40). Elizabeth, the older one, was the wife of a priest Zechariah; she had been childless for long years; she must be in a shameful condition for her family and herself. When Mary visited her, she was now six-month pregnant with child (later named John), but at her old age, this must have been embarrassing. The younger one, Mary, was a poor and innocent girl from Nazareth, pregnant but not yet married to her fiancé Joseph. She probably needed time to get away from the eyes and tongues of people who knew her as a virgin, maybe even from Joseph. Anyway, Marry and Elizabeth were women without importance or with troubles in their lives and a far cry from most of the privileged people of all times.

Their social status somehow represents the miserable reality of Israel at their time. The Roman troops were everywhere to oppress the Israelites and thousands of people often appeared along the streets as they begged for food… In short, their times were bad, and everyone thought that they were going to get worse.

(And what is here today in our golden time to celebrate, as we also see many kinds of terrible accidents occurring randomly in our lives? We have to see that people we love get sick and die; our jobs and security are continually threatened; the future of children is uncertain; and the world has been torn apart by wars and terrors. It was then, and it is now, and it might be worse in the future. How can we rejoice in this time of uncertainty?)

In this world of violence and despair, according to our Gospel lesson for this morning, Mary visited Elizabeth, and they shared greetings and praised the Lord in joy and thanks! Considering their time and situations realistically, it might be nonsense or even foolish for them to sing for joy as they did in Luke’s Gospel. But this passage says that when Mary entered the house of Elizabeth, they could sing with joy! They celebrated their mysterious pregnancies (of God’s promise of salvation) inside of their house!

In one of the Hollywood movies in which Jim Carrey starred, the Grinch tried to steal Christmas by taking from the villagers all their Christmas decorations, all their trees, all their presents, and all their food that they enjoyed so much. And yet Christmas continued despite this theft because the villagers had Christmas inside them. As it was with the villagers in the film, so it was with Mary and Elizabeth, and so it can be and should be for us today as well.

In our history, those Grinches, those evil powers have kept on trying to steal our Christmas by looking at all the bad things, by destroying peace and joy in the world, and depressing our lives with shaky economy, high crime rates, and uncertain leadership in our country. But there in one thing that they couldn’t, cannot, and will never steal; that is our memory and faith deep in our hearts that “Jesus Christ our Savior was and is born in a broken and hopeless world to save his people from troubles.” No matter how bad our times are, nothing and nobody can steal our Emmanuel from our faith, even if we live in the worst of times. Halleluiah!

We welcome others
Back to the passage… Mary visited Elizabeth, Elizabeth welcomed her, and they could celebrate their time together inside of their house. As expected in any culture, it is always a happy time when our families come to visit. We hear the bell ringing and our kids run with excitement to the door, shouting, “They’re here…” You are also happy to open the door and welcome them in your house. As everybody gathers in, you move on to have a Christmas party inside of your house!

Interestingly, when Elizabeth welcomed Mary at the door, her baby in her womb was also excited with Mary’s visit. Elizabeth shouted, “For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy” (v. 44). Elizabeth already knew that the baby carried by Mary is her Lord and Savior. Let me apply this powerful Advent image to our Sunday service… When we see people entering our church and joining in our worship, aren’t we excited to see them? The one who has Christ in one’s heart is coming in… don’t you feel your heart leap for joy?

Yet I still wonder what made Marry visit Elizabeth; what kind of emotion did she have when she visited Elizabeth? We know what happened to her before she went to see Elizabeth; she had a life changing encounter with an angel: “The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God’” (v. 35). How overwhelmed, frightened, anxious, confused, thrilled, awed, or even hopeful she was!!! Based on her mysterious experience, we can assume that it caused her to hurry to meet her cousin Elizabeth, so at least she could share her complicated emotion with a trusted confidant.

Mary entered the house. Probably she hoped that this was a place where she would be welcomed and comforted. Every Sunday, people walk through the door of a church probably because they hope they will be welcomed. When we welcome any visitors, however, we should know that they don’t just walk up to a church for no reason. They come because they are in need; they come because they have something in their hearts or in their lives and they want to be touched by our greetings and God’s words.

Throughout the images of those two unprivileged women, “Mary and Elizabeth,” the Gospel of Luke emphasizes God’s concern for the lowly, the disadvantaged, the broken-hearted… and it inspires us to become more mindful of ministries with and for the excluded. I hope we take this lesson as a way to acknowledge and warmly welcome those who visit our church, those we meet in our paths, those who are thirsting for love, fellowship, help, and counsel.

God enters into our hearts
Mary entered the house of Elizabeth and Elizabeth welcomed her. Welcome is the way we celebrate our Christmas! The Good News is that those Grinches out there, no matter how evil they are, can never steal our Christmas from us, and rather we can give birth to hope, peace, joy and love in this broken and hurting world waiting for God’s salvation and healing mercy upon it.

Yet, to make it more meaningful, we as recipients of Emmanuel should welcome our neighborhoods, especially those who are suffering the most during the holidays. God is with us because God enters into our hearts; God is with us as we also welcome Christ our Savior into our hearts; God is with us as we extend our welcome to people in need. Amen.

Sermon: Advent Peace – “Waiting in Repentance”

December 9, 2018
Second Sunday of Advent

Luke 3:1-18
Pastor SeokCheol Shin

Advent Peace – “Waiting in Repentance”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sermon: Advent Hope – “Waiting with God”

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

Advent Hope – “Waiting with God”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew 25:31-46
Pastor SeokCheol Shin

Come to the Table – “Thanksgiving and Generosity”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sermon: Come to the Table – “Stewardship”

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

Come to the Table – “Stewardship”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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