Sermon: Weeping with God and Praying for People

September 22, 2019
Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1; 1 Timothy 2:1
Pastor SeokCheol Shin

Weeping with God and Praying for People

Prayer Mediates
In today’s epistle lesson from 1 Timothy, the disciple Paul proclaims that “God our Savior desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (vv. 3-4). This is the mission statement of all Christian Churches. But before he gives us this mission statement, Paul urged us first to lift up “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving for everyone” (v. 1). In short, we should pray first if we want to lead people on the path of salvation

The main task of a pastor is to pray for his or her people. The Pastor is both God’s servant and his congregation’s servant. Thus through prayer, the pastor belongs to both sides (God and people). Likewise, the church is also the mediator between God and the world in the sense that we have the Gospel from Christ, which must be spoken to the world. We have to mediate between God and people in prayer for the people’s transformation and God’s mercy on them.

God is Weeping with Us
In the Old Testament, we find a great mediator between God and the people of Israel. His name is Jeremiah. Jeremiah preached from about 628 BC to 586 BC (about 2600 years ago) in Jerusalem. During that time, Babylon took control of Jerusalem. Babylon began taking Jews as captives to Babylon as early as 605 BC. Babylon destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC. In this passage, the people of Israel were in big trouble. The land of Judah and all who lived in it now faced terrible destruction by their enemy, Babylonia. Amid this national disaster, Jeremiah prayed for God’s salvation for his people.

This Scripture begins with one’s grief. “My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick” (v. 18). Who is saying this word; who is in grief in this message? Is it Jeremiah’s voice or God’s voice? This passage doesn’t give us clear information to determine whether the speaker was Jeremiah or God. Jeremiah’s overwhelming sadness is hard to distinguish from God’s grief over what was happening to the people of Israel. In other words, God in Jeremiah was weeping or Jeremiah, with God in his heart, was weeping for the people in the impending doom.

When I meditated on this passage, I was drawn to the prophet’s compassion for suffering people. Confronting this terrible situation, he didn’t look for his own safety. He was only weeping for the people in pain and suffering: “O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!” (v. 1). Because of his compassionate tears for his people, Jeremiah is called the weeping prophet in the Old Testament.

Jeremiah is a prophet of God and also a prophet of Israel. How do you define the role of prophets? Today’s scripture answers the question: a prophet is a mediator between God and people. In light of our Christian faith, he is the model of Jesus Christ, the church, and Christians called to bring God’s salvation to a troubled world. When we are in trouble, we often ask, “Where is God when tragedy happens to us?” Through Jeremiah’s mediating action, we can answer the question. “Through his churches and his servants, God is here with people and even weeping with people too.”

Jeremiah didn’t need to intervene for others. Why did he feel so sad for others? He was a faithful prophet who didn’t need to worry about the sins of others; their future was their fault, not his. However, he had deep pity on their trouble and even took their suffering as his own.

We love God; that’s why we are here in the church to worship and praise the Lord. But have we been in places of sadness for the sake of others? Do we want to get involved in trouble for the sake of others? The secular culture of today often advises us to stay away from those who are in trouble, need, crimes, or sins. Otherwise, we might get in trouble with them too.

We, God’s children, must not think like this. In Jesus’ teaching, there is no mention of “staying away from people.” If we are God’s servants or prophets of this day, our concern must be out in the troubled world as much as we care about maintaining our church and growing more members and ministries. We must realize that God is not only praised in our church, but he is also outside weeping with people in pain and suffering. Where there is suffering, there is God’s grief. Therefore, we as God’s servants must be with people, weeping with them as we take their pains and sufferings as ours.

Jeremiah questions in his grief, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?” (v. 22). His lament over the people of Israel can be read for our lament for the church of this day. The world has been wounded and broken in all kinds of human terrors and natural disasters. But as long as there is a balm, and as long as there are physicians in our communities, people can always have the ability to recover their broken and wounded lives. Where can people find this spiritual medicine? We, the church, are called to be the spiritual balm and the spiritual physicians always available to people.

The Cross of Jesus Christ
How can we have a compassionate heart like Jeremiah weeping for his people? How can we act like Jesus Christ in our communities? Can we weep with people and help them find hope in life?

I want to turn your attention to the cross, the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross belongs to people as the symbol of human weakness. It also belongs to God as the symbol of God’s grace and love. It is the symbol of a mediation between God and humanity. Jesus Christ carried this cross and was hanged on it. On the cross, he prayed to God for his people, “Father, forgive them.” That’s why he could become “one mediator between God and humankind” (v. 5).

When we live by the principle of the cross, we can give ourselves as mediators who carry out God’s peace and reconciliation to those who are in trouble. When we pray for people as Jesus Christ prayed for us, we can become God’s tears and God’s hands. We can weep with people and help them receive God’s healing and saving grace. Amen.

Sermon: Lost and Found

September 15, 2019
Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Luke 15:1-10
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.

Sermon: The Cost of Discipleship

September 8, 2019
Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Jeremiah 18:1-11; Luke 14:25-33
Pastor SeokCheol Shin

The Cost of Discipleship

Mega-Church
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.

Sermon: Cry of My Heart

September 1, 2019
Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost
Jeremiah 2:4-13
Pastor SeokCheol Shin

Cry of My Heart

The Prophecy of Jeremiah
We see Jeremiah again this Sunday. How much do you know about Jeremiah? In the first chapter, we learned that God appeared to him when he was a little boy and appointed him as a prophet to the nations. He was God’s spokesman, called to deliver God’s words to his people. 

In the second chapter, we see Jeremiah begin his prophecy by recalling the Israelites’ journey during their forty years in the wilderness after the Exodus. God gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments during their 40-year journey. The first and second commandments are “do not have any idols before God.” 

However, when they entered the Promised Land after all their disciplines in the wilderness, the Israelites quickly abandoned their faith in God and lived a life that God forbade. They became friends with the local people in the land; they began to interact with their culture. The Israelites began to assimilate the customs of the locals, and they ended up worshiping their idols of wood and stone. God sent his servants multiple times to call the Israelites to repent and return to God. Jeremiah was one of God’s prophets. 

In his prophecy, Jeremiah rebuked their unfaithfulness. He said, “Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods?” (v. 11). The Canaanites or Pagans, whom the Israelites despised, were faithful to their gods, although they were only chunks of wood and stone. But the Israelites, who boasted themselves as God’s chosen people, had abandoned their God for those chunks of wood and stone. 

The Israelites were enmeshed in two evils: they abandoned God, “the fountain of living water,” and they worshiped idolatry, “cracked cisterns that can hold water” (v. 13). Through Jeremiah’s prophesy, God revealed their sinfulness; God punished their idolatry; God punished them for their unfaithfulness.

 Idolatry of today
When I read this Scripture, I understood Jeremiah was talking about God’s warning of their idolatry. I thought, “What does this have to do with us today?” We don’t worship gods of wood and stone today. However, when I kept meditating on verse 7, I realized that it has everything to do with us today: “I brought you into a plentiful land, to eat its fruit and its goodness; but when you entered, you defiled my land, and made my heritage an abomination” (v. 7).

What is idolatry? We know it is putting something else in God’s place! Defined that way, don’t you see idolatry all around us? Don’t you think that our land is full of idol worship? Don’t you also have some idols although you didn’t mean it? 

What are our idols of today? They are so many! Let me point out some of them. Sex is the goddess of our century. It is a favorite subject of movies. It pervades our media and our entertainment. It is now an industry. Not many people consider it as God’s divine gift. It sickens the souls of young people. What about alcohol or drugs? They now one of the biggest crimes in our society. We know how harmful they are not only to one’s own body but to the whole family. And you wouldn’t be surprised if I say money is one of the things that we love more than God. The Bible tells us that the love of money is the root of all evil. It does not condemn money itself but the love of money. The problem is when we begin to put money in God’s place. We spend all our lives making money, and so we have to live as money slaves. That is idolatry. 

Recently, I come to think that health is the most modern idolatry. Personally, I go to a boxing gym where I see all the classes are full of people of varied ages. I wish our worship on Sunday morning, our bible class/prayer meeting, and our Sunday School were full of people like my boxing gym. Our ancestors talked about how to keep the soul healthy, but modern people only talk about how to keep the body healthy. We care so much about the health of our bodies and very little about the health of our souls. Health is the most modern idolatry.

Sadly, the church is not exempt from idolatry. It is all too easy for the church to become captive to the idolatries of tradition, politics, attendance, money, and the beauty of our buildings. We are much more concerned about how to make more money, how to grow more membership, how to maintain our building than how to serve each other, how to get more committee to Jesus’ salvation ministry, and how to reach out to people in need. Even if we don’t aim at those in our worship, we are tempted to make those things more important than serving God.

Idolatry is putting something other than God in first place in our lives and beliefs. We no longer worship the gods of wood and stone today, but we still have lots of idols that defile our land, our church, and our life. Even if they give us temporary pleasure, these idols will betray us, they will destroy us. God gave us a strong and clear warning to keep all the idols away because they make us abandon our faithfulness in God and eventually lead us to ruin. 

 Come to the Fountain of Living Water
In Jeremiah’s prophesy, God rebuked the Israelites for they abandoned their faith in God and worshipped worthless idols, which only destroyed their lives. I can hear God still say today, “My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.”

The cistern is supposed to hold water in it. If it doesn’t hold water, then what is in there? Perhaps it is full of weeds, or frogs or snakes, or cigarette butts that people threw away… Whatever is in it, it is not much good for drinking. If the cistern can’t hold water, it needs to be repaired.

Let us look into the spiritual cistern in our hearts. What is in it? If our spiritual cistern is not holding living water, what is it holding? If our community of faith is not holding living water, what is it holding? What can we do? The answer is, Come to “the fountain of living water” and repair our spiritual life as we submit ourselves to God.

This morning, Jeremiah called the people of Israel to love God and to put him in first place in their lives. Today, I call you and call myself to love God and to put him in first place in our life. God alone is worthy. God alone is the “fountain of living water” that can satisfy our thirst, heal our brokenness, and strengthen our faith journey in the world. Amen. 

Sermon: God’s Love for Our Lifelong Journey

August 25, 2019
Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost
Jeremiah 1:4-10; Luke 13:10-17
Pastor SeokCheol Shin

God’s Love for Our Lifelong Journey

Need a Clear Plan for a Journey
It is good to be back from my two-week vacation. If you remember, after my last vacation I talked about my fun trips to New York, Boston, and some local CT places. Those travels kept me so busy and tired, that I shouted “home sweet home” when I got back from my vacation.

But this time I can’t say “home sweet home.” Why? It’s because I traveled to only my own room during my vacation; I spent most of my time just sitting on my couch watching TV. So I have to confess that it was one of the worst vacations I have ever had. Why did I waste my precious time doing nothing? It was simply because I didn’t make a plan of where to go and what to do. That’s why I only slept in my room all day long just like my cat Mimi.

We consider life itself as a journey, a journey from birth to death until we go back to an eternal home in heaven! Life wouldn’t be worth living if we spend our time only sleeping in the room without taking any adventures out in the world. To those who don’t know how to enjoy their life, death seems to be the final destination of their life journey. We should have a plan for our life if we want to make it meaningful and joyful while going through our journey in this world.

Divine Providence
Here is the good news: for God’s children, sleeping or death isn’t the purpose of our life’s journey. In Christ, we are promised a meaningful and precious life, and eventually, we get into our Father’s home in heaven to inherit God’s kingdom. Of course, we may sometimes spend our time doing nothing, or even doing sinful things, so that we may feel we don’t deserve God’s grace. Yet, we know that our Lord will look after us and save us from our sins.

In other words, God has a plan for our lives. It’s like Jeremiah’s calling in the Old Testament. Jeremiah says, “Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy” (v. 6). But God replies to him, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (v. 5). God continues to say to Jeremiah, “You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you” (vv. 7-8).

The good news in this passage is this: before life as we know it begins, God already has a purpose for which we were created. God knows who we are, where we are supposed to go, and what we are going to do in the future.

To me, it is good news that God has a plan rather than I have a plan for my life. Why? It is because I know I am weak, but God is strong; I know I am unpredictable, but God is sincere; I know I easily get lost again and again, but God will find me again and again; I can’t say I can do all I have to do, but I am sure that God can do all things for the sake of God’s glory.

The Doctrines of Predestination and Universal Love
Based on this divine providence of God, John Calvin (1509-1564) brought the doctrine of “predestination” in the Christian faith. Simply put, someone is elected to heaven, and someone is dammed to hell. In other words, God already chose who will be in heaven and who will be in hell. This doctrine of predestination may sound right in the sense that God knows everything that has happened and also what will happen. Because God is in control of all things, all we can do is believe in Jesus as our Savior, praise the Lord, and make a holy and happy life as good Christians. That’s it!

But John Wesley (1703-1791), the founder of our Methodist Church, was not satisfied with this doctrine of destination. Although he never doubted about God’s providence, he talked about the “universal love” of God: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). This Scripture is so clear that God sent Jesus Christ, not to certain groups of Christianity, but to all people in the world, and so whoever believes in him deserves God’s grace and love. In our Methodist theology, salvation is not a destiny only limited to certain people; it is God’s grace freely given to all human beings.

Today’s Scriptures reflect the biblical points of predestination and universalism. Are the two concepts in conflict? Is predestination really the opposite of universal love? If so, which one do we need to choose for our Christian life?

To answer these questions, let us get back to the calling of Jeremiah and read it carefully. The Scripture says that before he was born, God had already chosen and consecrated him, which can be considered as “predestination.” And yet, the following passage says that God chose Jeremiah to send over to all the nations to witness to God’s righteousness. In other words, Jeremiah was chosen to be a prophet who was destined to proclaim God’s universal sovereignty all over the world. In Jeremiah’s calling, we can see that God’s predestination is combined with God’s universal love.  

In Luke’s Gospel, we see how Jesus healed in a Jewish synagogue a woman who had suffered from an infirmity for 18 years (v. 11). For 18 years she hung around the synagogue, but none in the synagogue paid attention to her suffering. They probably believed that she was destined to God’s curse because she was a sinner according to their law. But Jesus didn’t obey human destiny; he came into her life, touched her body, and transformed her destiny from the curse to God’s beloved daughter (v. 18).

When I meditated on this Gospel lesson, I had to reflect on what kind of relationship I have with God and others. I am proud that I am God’s child (like the Pharisees), and every Sunday (Sabbath), I come to Church (Synagogue) to worship the Lord along with you. In our faith in Christ, you and I believe that we are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a people belonging to God (1 Peter 2:9). Of course, this belief is what the New Testament describes for us.

Yet, today’s Gospel lesson reminds us of our mission as Christ’s followers. Yes, we are destined to be God’s beloved children in Jesus Christ; we are invited to worship the Lord in our church. Yet we are also called to go into the world, face the troubles in our communities, and bring people to God’s salvation.

Destined to God’s Partners
Who is elected to be saved, and who is dammed to hell? The answer to that question remains hidden with God. In other words, God only knows the answer. But what I know in my Christian faith is that as we are destined to be God’s children; we are also destined to proclaim the Good News of God’s salvation to all the nations.

In Christ, God has set us free from bondage; we are destined to inherit God’s kingdom. In Christ, God has made us whole. We are called to look after the lost, touch the afflicted, and set people free from their destiny–from the cursed to the beloved.

Sermon: Set Your Mind on Things Above

August 4, 2019
Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Colossians 3:1-11
SeokCheol Shin

Set Your Mind on Things Above

Discipline for Our Faith’s Journey
Last Tuesday, Rev. Stan and I traveled to Worcester, MA to meet Pastor LyAnna Johnson and see her special “Simple Church” ministry. She does her special ministry, not at a church, but a restaurant. I asked her, “What caused you to leave the church and serve people here in this restaurant?” She simply replied, “I don’t like the institutional church… I don’t want to be bound to the rules of the Book of Discipline or the Conference… I followed where my God has led me and here I am.” I believe that she set her mind only on God’s calling and that’s why she was bold enough to pioneer into that special ministry she wanted to do.

Unlike Pastor LyAnna’s calling, God has called me to serve a local church; that’s why I am here with you. As much as she likes her dinner church ministry at the restaurant, I like my local ministry with you here at Rockville Church. Unlike LyAnna, I didn’t choose it at my will; my Conference appoints me to serve the church. As God’s servant, I also set my mind on God and obey his words, but as a commissioning pastor who is still working on ordination, I am obliged to be loyal to my Conference. 

There are two types of UMC ordination candidates. One group sees it as a long process. They take ordination as a life’s journey, accepting all the evaluations as God’s disciplining. They work hard to nurture their growth in grace. The other group sees ordination as “pass or fail.” If they are not allowed to move on, they consider it a failure. They might show anger and even persecute themselves in bitterness. 

Friends, our Christian belief is not the matter of pass or fail, but a spiritual journey (sanctification) toward perfection. Unfortunately, some Christians think that believing in Jesus is to get a pass to God’s kingdom and not believing in Jesus is to fail to get into God’s kingdom. The key lesson of the New Testament is that believing in Jesus is about being born again, living a new life in God’s grace. It is a life of holiness as we obey Jesus Christ and serve others as he taught us. Once again, our Christian belief is not about pass or fail to God’s kingdom but a spiritual journey toward perfection here in our everyday life. 

 My Broken Heart
Concerning my ordination track, I am going to apply for it, which means I didn’t get an ordination this year at this Annual Conference. During the clergy appointment session, I could only sit back and watch my fellow pastors’ ordination ceremony. As I shook hands with them and gave my congratulations on their ordination, I was calm in my heart because I knew God didn’t fail me but called me to wait. I knew I am called to be disciplined more until God calls me again. However, my emotions were more complex than that; I wasn’t content with the delay in my ordination. Honestly, my heart was deeply broken, and I said to myself, “Why not me?” My heart was aching with strong emotions-disappointment, shame, resentment, and even fear-because I felt lost. I hate to lag behind. I want to pass all my tasks and exams as fast as I can so that I can relax in my local ministry. 

Two different emotions are fighting against each other in my heart. On the one hand, I could remain faithful and celebrate others’ success. On the other hand, I was pretty upset that I failed my chance. I have one body and one heart but I had to struggle with two different natures in my heart. Where did this emotional conflict come from? I feel conflict in my heart because spiritually I am a citizen of heaven but physically I am still a citizen of this world. 

Just like my emotional experience, the disciple Paul also confesses in Romans that he has to struggle with evil nature in his heart: “I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members” (Rom. 7:21-23).  

How can we overcome this evil nature with which we struggle in our hearts? The Buddhists teach us to empty our minds; the Confucians emphasize self-discipline. They both teach us that we can do it by our own power; it can be the way of negation of ourselves or of nurturing our moral principles. Whatever it is, we can fix our problems by our own free will. 

Unlike the Eastern religion or philosophy’s viewpoint, the Christian opinion of human nature is not positive. Simply put, we human beings are too weak to save ourselves out of sinfulness. We need help from someone else. Salvation comes from outside of human power, that is, God or Jesus Christ. If we want to live well, we should entrust our lives to God, ask his mercy, and trust in his grace. Based on this point, the disciple Paul concludes in his confession, saying “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 7:24-25).

Focus on Jesus Christ
In the epistle lesson for this morning, Paul gives us another way to overcome the evil nature in our hearts: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (vv. 1-2). He admonishes us to look up because we human beings are inclined to look down. When I walk along the street, I usually look down. Perhaps I can find a coin if I am lucky, but there is nothing I can get when I look up.

Looking down means that we are too concerned about worldly things. Simply put, we spend most of our time working hard to survive in this jungle-like world. Yes, without filling our stomach, we couldn’t sustain our lives in the world. If we want to live well, we should have enough money. I know and believe that God is the Shepherd and he will feed me and protect me, but I still need to keep my job and have insurance for any possible accidents in my life. 

However if we spend most of our time only looking down, we become slaves of the world. We will consider others as rivals whom we need to beat for our survival. That is why Paul admonishes us to look up to heaven. As we look to heaven, we can live a human life, not an animal life. Animals always look down to get food for their stomachs, but human beings know how to raise their heads to look for God.  

Yes, it seems that everything we need comes from the earth, but think about this: if heaven doesn’t give sunshine and rain, there is nothing we can reap on earth. So when Paul says “look up,” he tries to remind us of the true source of life, God. God is the Creator, and He is in charge of everything in the world: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father” (Mt. 10:29).

Further, we are inspired to freedom and liberation when we look up to heaven. Heaven doesn’t show any boundaries, divisions, or conflicts. Everything is welcomed to fly in the air. Birds and clouds never fight. Sun and wind welcome each other. People are good at making boundary lines on the land, saying that this is my property and don’t cross over it. However, but nobody can say that this part of heaven is mine, so don’t look at it. People share looking at the stars in the sky with their neighbors. 

Thus, if we set our minds on heaven, we can set ourselves free from any competition from this jungle-like world. As we resemble the oneness of heaven, our hearts may be filled with the spirit of peace, toleration, forgiveness, reconciliation, and love. “Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” (v. 11). 

Looking for God’s Grace
Unlike any other animals, human beings are created to raise their heads to look up to heaven. In Paul’s words, they set their minds on what is above. We human beings are created to look for something divine, something holy, something eternal, something beyond our worldly experience. 

As we look up to heaven, look for God’s grace. We can give up our ego and rely on God as our Lord. As we rely on God, we are given a strong foundation on which we live in confidence. We can endure and overcome the storms of life. We can continue to nurture our growth in God, showing our service to God and people. 

Sermon: Mary and Martha

July 21, 2019
Sixth Sunday After Pentecost
Amos 7:12-17; Luke 10:38-42
Pastor SeokCheol Shin

Mary and Martha

Car-Wash
Yesterday, we held one of our planned summer fundraisers, a car wash. I was a little worried about how the weather would affect us as the temperature reached almost 100 degrees. Some of us met on Friday morning to prepare for the event, and we talked about whether to cancel it or proceed because we were afraid people would be sick in the heat. But we decided to proceed as planned. The weather turned out not as bad as we worried, and nobody was sick or damaged by the heat. In the end, the carwash was a lot of fun.  

Let me share what I saw and learned from our event: 

  1. there is no discrimination in our fellowship and ministry, just as there is no discrimination in God’s love – everybody, regardless of one’s social, racial, sexual, cultural background, is called to come and serve for our ministry
  2. we enjoy our service because we choose to do it on our own decision
  3. we are free souls because we listen to God’s words and follow Jesus Christ as our Savior, who sets us free from the worldly bondages
  4. as free souls or Jesus’ servants, we will use our freedom to fight against all the evil of the world 

“No discrimination,” “Our own decision,” “free souls, and “freedom,” those serious words are the keywords that I also found from the scriptures for this morning.

 Jesus’ Support for Mary
When Jesus and his disciples journeyed to Jerusalem, they stopped at Martha and Mary’s house (v. 38). While enjoying their hospitality, Jesus continued his teaching ministry. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet “just listening to what he was saying” (v. 39), but Martha worked in the kitchen, perhaps to prepare a meal for their guests – “busy Martha and quiet Mary.”

So who was doing a better service to Jesus, or who’s hospitality did Jesus appreciate more? We tend to show sympathy to Martha because she was working hard in the kitchen for Jesus and his company. How do you feel about Mary’s action in this story? We know people like Mary: just taking a piece of cake, sitting on the couch, watching the TV, and leaving all the work for someone else. It seems that Martha is respectful but Mary is rather selfish and shameless.

Yet, Jesus had a different viewpoint of their attitudes. When Martha asked Jesus to tell her sister to help her in the kitchen, Jesus refused her request, telling her that “Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her” (v. 42). It sounds like Jesus respected Mary’s choice, that is, just to sit beside him and listen to his words. Some biblical scholars view Mary’s devotion in this story as more valuable than any other dedications to God.

However, Jesus didn’t tell Martha that she was doing the wrong thing. He never said that it is a shame to work in the kitchen. After all, Jesus and his company needed to eat. Thus, he should appreciate Martha’s hospitality rather than despise her chores in the kitchen.

Jesus taught us that we must show mercy to others if we truly love God: “Faith without deeds is dead” (Jam. 2:26). Jesus also taught his followers that if they only focus on their religious life in the temple but ignore others in need, they are just hypocrites. We need to combine faith and action, worship and fellowship. Listening to God’s word and serving others always combine. As much as Jesus appreciated Mary’s attending to his teaching, I believe that he also appreciated Martha’s hospitality for his mission trip. 

Then, how can we understand Jesus’s refusal to Martha and support for Mary? Jesus is concerned about Martha’s mind-set to identify herself and even judge her sister with her preconception. In ancient times, women were not included in such social events. This kind of religious discourse that Jesus had with his disciples was generally men’s business. 

When I meditated on this story, I was reminded of my mother’s story when she was young. She was a brilliant businesswoman by her late twenties. She started with a little convenient store and by her mid-thirties ran a factory. Back in the 1960s and 70s, it was very unusual that a woman ran her own business; my mother was kind of a pathfinder in my country. However, she had problems that her society couldn’t tolerate: she was the boss of a lot of men in her company, and she was still a single woman. In Korea, the family would take it as a shame if you were old enough to marry but remained a single person. My mother couldn’t overcome the cultural bias by herself, so she gave up her business, got married to my father, and just became a normal housewife. I see her as a cultural victim. 

In patriarchal societies, even today, there is a strict division between men and women – if you are a boy, you should be outgoing, but if you are a girl, you should be quiet, gentle, sweet, and well-behaved. According to the standard custom of Jesus’ day, Martha was right and Mary was wrong. Martha dutifully performed the so-called woman’s work, cooking and serving in the kitchen, while the men just sat in a room and had a friendly or serious chat together. In the daily routine that she was accustomed to, Martha was annoyed that her sister Mary didn’t act like a woman. Martha was completely submitted to her patriarchal society and accepted her destiny as nothing but a woman of her day.  

By contrast, Mary was the person out of line. She chose to sit close to Jesus by her own will; she didn’t care about how others would judge her. Listening to Jesus, being with him, and following him were the primary concerns that she wanted to focus on in her life. Unlike Martha, Mary wasn’t ruled by the customs of her day; she overcame them through her faith in Jesus Christ. In other words, Mary’s faith in Jesus made her bold enough to break the tradition of her day!

What about Jesus? How did he deal with the customs of his day? If he also remained as a typical man of his day, he would agree with Martha and direct Mary to move to the kitchen. Yet, Jesus was willing to allow Mary to sit at his feet with the men. He didn’t set any boundaries or discrimination between men and women. Jesus didn’t show any favoritism for his listeners or followers. “Whoever comes, come and learn from me,” that is what Jesus said to all people.

Jesus pointed out one’s own choice for one’s own life. Mary was willing to choose her place at Jesus’ feet by her own decision, but Martha allowed her culture to decide her place in the kitchen because she was a woman. As Jesus supported Mary’s decision, he tried to correct Martha’s preconception and give her freedom. “Be free,” and “Do whatever you want to do!” That is what Jesus tried to teach Martha and all of us today.

How can we stand bold enough to do things on our own will? Where can we receive this spirit of freedom? Through the symbol of Mary from today’s Gospel, we learn that we only receive freedom when we sit at Jesus’ feet to listen to God’s word. Even though we are physically living in this world, we are citizens of God and belong to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel Jesus proclaimed calls “to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to create a world where there is no sexism, racism, ageism, or classism. 

If we are the true disciples of Christ, we will not allow human culture to control our identity and social acts. We will no longer judge others by the way society sees them. We will no longer support social evils to oppress human freedom and dignity. Like the prophet Amos, we will be bold enough to fight for justice and break all kinds of artificial divisions, separations, and boundaries and spread God’s liberation and reconciliation with all humanity.

 In the Spirit of Liberation
 “Don’t tell me who I am,” “Don’t tell me what I can do…” Only free souls can say this and practice it. But as we are God’s servants, disciples of Jesus Christ, we will use our freedom for more than just our desires. We will use it for the sake of Jesus’ liberation and reconciliation ministry. So this is what we are going to say. “I belong to Jesus Christ who gives me freedom and I will use my freedom to serve others in need and help people free from their bondage of all kinds of the social evils in the world.” Amen. 

Sermon: Am I A Good Neighbor?

July 14, 2019
Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
Colossians 1:13-20; Luke 10:25-37
Pastor SeokCheol Shin

“Am I A Good Neighbor?”

Love and Transformation
Have you ever noticed how often we say and hear, “I love…”; “I love movies; I love my little kitty or doggy; I love sunset over the lake; I love the smell of the brewed coffee in the morning, or I love that dress on you.” We have all kinds of things we love in our everyday life. But can the smell of coffee or the color of a dress we love change our life?

We often use the word “love” in our relationship with others that give us pleasure, but true love has a price. It demands our hearts, tears, hands, and even our properties. I believe that because of its great price, love can change or transform our lives. 

What made us become Christians? Is it our belief in Christian doctrines? We have doctrines of Trinity, Incarnation, Resurrection, Creation, atonement, eternal life, etc. You can say “I love the doctrine of Trinity,” but I don’t believe that doctrine transformed you to be a Christian. “God loves me so much” is the reason why I became God’s child. For his love, Jesus the Son of God paid a great price; he died on the cross to forgive our sins and bring us to God’s salvation. In his abundant love, we have been transformed to be God’s beloved children.  

The Good Samaritan’s Way of Love
The story in the Gospel lesson points this out to us – “true love has a price.” The narrative begins with a lawyer testing Jesus about what doctrines we should keep to inherit eternal life. Jesus turned the question back on him, and he correctly articulated the two great commands of the Law: love of God and love of neighbors as one’s self (v. 27) How do we inherit eternal life? Not by doctrines but by love!  

The lawyer then had a follow-up question, “Who is my neighbor?” (v. 29) It’s such a simple question. Don’t you know who your neighbor is? They can be all kinds of people (black, white, Asian, tall, short, righteous, wicked, rich, poor, etc.). But you may not know who is your neighbor if you never knock on the door of your neighbor’s house. Perhaps there are some people you don’t want to consider your neighbor although they live on your street. 

“Who is my neighbor?” It was a hard question to answer back in those days because it’s not clearly defined in the Jewish Law. According to the Law, there are some groups of people they can get along but there are some other groups they must condemn, drive out, and/or stay away from. With this controversial question, the lawyer tried to test Jesus, assuming he couldn’t answer the question. But Jesus responded again as a gentle teacher and led the lawyer to discover that the question he should raise is not “Who is my neighbor” but “Am I a good neighbor to others?”

Jesus replied to the lawyer’s question with a parable known as “The Parable of the Good Samaritan.” In this drama (vv. 30-35), we can identify four kinds of neighbors: 

  1. The robbers – those who harm others – murders, terrorists, warmongers, people who exploit the weak, domestic abusers, etc.  
  2. The victim – the homeless, the hungry children, people with addictions, people living under oppressive governments, etc. 
  3. The Priest and the Levite – the so-called “good” people- pious, religious, educated, legal
  4. The Samaritan – the outsider, the foreigner, the ordinary

How did the Priest and the Levite react when they saw a man lying bleeding by the roadside. They are so-called the good, pious, holy people according to the Law. But they just passed the victim by on the other side of the road. They didn’t even bother to find out whether the victim was dead or alive. Why? According to their Law, the victim was unclean because he was bleeding. Touching the dead body or the bloody body is against the Law. Or perhaps they were too busy to stop because they were on the way to the Temple to keep their holy service. Whatever reason, the victim was not on the list of their neighbors according to the Law.

“Who is my neighbor?” When the lawyer asked this question, he wanted to define what his boundaries are according to the Law. In his fences, he might include only his family, his relatives, and his countrymen–namely the Jews. Once the fences were set, they didn’t worry about going beyond their boundaries. The outsiders were not their concern. If they were in trouble, it wasn’t their business.  

It was a Samaritan who showed mercy on the victim (v. 33). He didn’t pass by when he saw the victim on the road; “He [got off his donkey,] went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him” (v. 34). Back in those days, Samaritans were always despised by the Jews. They were sinners and pagans, unclean by the Law. Certainly, Samaritans were not on the list of Jewish neighbors. The irony of the story is that this sinner, not included in the Jewish definition of neighbor, is the one who showed himself a good neighbor to the unfortunate Jew. 

After telling the parable, Jesus asked the lawyer, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” (v. 36) The lawyer reluctantly admitted, “The one who showed him mercy” (v. 37). Thus, Jesus changed the lawyer’s focus from “Who is my neighbor?” to “Am I a good neighbor [toward the one who needs mercy]?” 

This episode teaches us that I am “a good neighbor” when I show mercy to anyone in need as the Good Samaritan did to the victim. The root of the Law—“love of God and love of neighbor”—goes beyond the boundaries of the law or doctrines. God’s law will be fulfilled when we show “mercy” (v. 37).

 The Blood of Jesus Christ
 In Colossians, the disciple Paul claims that “[Jesus Christ] is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. (vv. 17-18). In other words, he is special who has almighty power upon all creation. Yes, Jesus Christ is originally God himself. 

Do we honor and worship Jesus Christ because he is far greater than anything else in the world? Paul also says about this almighty Savior, “He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of His beloved Son” (v. 13). In terms of the parable in Luke’s Gospel, he didn’t pass by when we were in trouble or when we were sinners. How did he rescue us? It is not by his holy identity, but by “his own blood, shed on the cross” to forgive our sins (vv. 20).

The blood is a sign of his sacrificial love. Thus, Paul is trying to say that we are forgiven and transformed as God’s beloved children, not because of his authority or holiness but because of his sacrificial love. 

 Go and Do Likewise
 Love isn’t just an inner emotion; it is something concrete-touching, doing, and sacrificing. As I said in the beginning, true love has a price. It demands our hearts, tears, hands, and even our properties. Because love demands our sacrifice, we are careful to give love only to those who deserve it. So just like the lawyer in this parable, do we also want to ask “who is my neighbor?” or “who deserves my love?” Just like him, do we also need to set boundaries between people and say who is right and wrong? And Just like the Priest and the Levite, do we want to pass by when we encounter those in need because they are not our “neighbors?” 

However, throughout the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus questions the lawyer and us, “Who is the good neighbor?” The lawyer grudgingly replies, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus directs him and us to “Go and do likewise” (v. 37). In other words, “Get off your donkey and serve your neighbor.” Amen. 

Sermon: The Spirit of Gentleness

July 7, 2019
Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
Galatians 6:1, 7-16; Luke 10:1-11
Pastor SeokCheol Shin

The Spirit of Gentleness

Grace as a Free Gift
“May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers, and sisters. Amen” (v. 18). This blessing is the last word that the disciple Paul says to the Galatian Christians in this letter. And these words have been spoken for centuries as a benediction at Christian gatherings.  

Our Christian life is not just living; we should receive God’s grace in our hearts so we also have a spiritual life. And I believe that our spiritual life must be distinguished from that of the world. As a teacher to Christians of all generations, the disciple Paul always gave his listeners some instruction about how we should live by God’s grace and what it means to live in a spiritual life.

 A Spirit of Gentleness
At the beginning of chapter 6 of Galatians, we hear Paul speaking of “a spirit of gentleness” (v. 1). It is actually a very popular theme in the Bible; Paul also talks about it pretty often in his letters to the churches. In chapter 5, Paul said that gentleness is one of the fruit that we bear if we possess the Holy Spirit in our hearts (v. 23). 

The disciple Paul knew that a gentle word turns away wrath and melts a person’s heart. He wrote, “My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness” (v. 1). We may be right and the other person may be wrong, but if we really want to open someone’s heart and guide him/her to grace, we need to speak to him/her gently. In other words, you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

By the way, what does “gentleness” mean? What kind of person can be described as possessing this virtue? No doubt such a person is kind, mild, polite, sweet, and always smiling when they speak. I would like to describe this kind of gentle nature as a “welcome doormat” – we put a welcome doormat in front of our door to invite people in and put them at ease. 

I believe that it is gentleness that brings us together and makes us all one body in God. As I often mention in our meetings, the “team-ministry” is where I meet and work with our congregation for the sake of God’s ministry. To make a good ministry team, I have focused on the gifts of communication, openness, flexibility, mutuality, presence, and willingness to learn; I am your partner and consider everyone as my co-workers in Christ. I believe that gentleness is the foundation to sustain and enhance our team-ministry; it makes us all one body in God. When we become one body, we can be strong enough to grow our mission and bear all the fruit God wants us to have.

 Reaching Out to Communities in Gentleness
This same spirit of gentleness is needed for our mission to the world. In Luke’s Gospel chapter 10, we see Jesus sending seventy-two others, two by two, ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go (v. 1). What kind of mission trip is it? We are shocked at Jesus’ direction at the following verse 3, “I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves” (v. 3). Imagine the picture that lambs are now entering the pack of wolves. Primarily, the lambs must have brave hearts! However, it seems to be an impossible mission. No matter how bold and brave the lambs are, they are just prey to wolves! If we take this scripture literally, Jesus is making his followers a suicide squad, just to fulfill his dangerous mission. 

Through this metaphor, Jesus probably points out how inhumane the world we live in is and how we, as his believers, deal with it. We live in a culture of violence, hatred, selfishness, indifference, alienation, distrust, discrimination, and injustice. We don’t want to let our children play outside because we don’t know who lives in our towns. Our daily news always shows us lots of troublemakers like drug dealers, sex offenders, or those murderers or thieves. Our solution is to close the door and stay away from them, protected. The world is dangerous, like the wolf in Jesus’ metaphor. 

But this Gospel lesson teaches us that our mission as Christians is not to avoid but to enter into the world filled with wolves (selfishness, hatred, discrimination, indifference). When Jesus sends his people into those troubles, he doesn’t want us to go to judge, blame, argue, or break those wolves by another violence or force. If so, I believe Jesus would have sent us out like “tigers” or “lions.” But for his salvation ministry Jesus still calls his disciples “lambs,” and the lambs’ mission, when they enter a house of wolves, is to announce “Peace to this house” (v. 5), to cure the sick (v. 9), and to proclaim “The kingdom of God has come near to you” (v. 9). 

Our mission as Jesus’ disciples is to seek God’s kingdom here amid all the brokenness and sinfulness in our communities. How can we do that? According to Jesus’ teaching in today’s Gospel lesson, we should act like “lambs” – the symbol of non-violence, purity, innocence, peacemaker… As Paul instructed in his letter this morning, we should treat people in the spirit of gentleness. The gentle spirit is to melt the violent and discriminate cultures in our world, transform our communities into God’s kingdom where we heal people. People will then live in freedom, peace, and harmony. 

Jesus says, “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals” (v. 4). If you are good Christians, you may argue, “Lord, you always teach us to give to others what we have. But if we don’t carry anything for our mission, how can we bless others?” We tend to believe that our mission is usually to give people something like food, money, programs–practical help. There is nothing wrong with these practical programs (dinner ministry, GSM, VBS, food and clothing donations, etc.); we are called to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. 

However, for their risky mission, Jesus sends his followers without having anything to defend themselves or attract people’s attention. He only directs them to enter a family and then eat and drink with them (vv. 7-8) To share our meal, we first have to see others as our dear brothers and sisters. In this regard, Jesus’ command is simple: just go, encounter, and love. Our mission must be simple as well: welcome everyone and see each other as our own brothers and sisters so that we can eat together with them. It’s to treat people in gentleness and love.

This is difficult to put into practice. Who would be comfortable with entering the house of wolves and dine with them? When someone is known as a trouble-maker or assailant, our response is simply to close the door and stay away from him/her. If I am offended by someone, I don’t want to talk with him and even don’t’ want to see him again in my life…

What does it mean that we live in a spiritual life as we receive God’s grace?” In his letter today Paul says, “My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness” (v. 1). Do we want to experience reconciliation with our friends? Do we want to have a peaceful relationship with our neighbor? Do we want to make our church one body of Jesus Christ? Do we want to stop all violence and discrimination and change this world into God’s kingdom? Those are the final goals of our Christian ministry, but the very foundation of all our ministry must be the spirit of gentleness. Upon the spirit of gentles, we should sow peace and joy in our relationship with others. Paul continues to say that “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (v. 9).

 Peacemakers in Gentleness
“The fruit of the Spirit,” according to Paul, “is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). After listing the fruit of the Holy Spirit, Paul is bold enough to say, “Against such things there is no law” (v. 23).

Our Lord of peace makes us instruments of his love, peace, and gentleness this day and always. Brothers and sisters, the world is always on fire. The wolves are around the corner. Let us open our eyes and truly focus on where the brokenness and sickness are. Let us go there and embrace those who are in trouble or in need, and say to them, “Peace.” In the spirit of gentleness, let us sow the seed of God’s mercy and salvation, so we can reap the kingdom of God among us. Thanks be to God. Amen. 

Sermon: VBS-Nurturing Children in Discipleship

June 30, 2019
Third Sunday After Pentecost
Luke 9:51-62
Pastor SeokCheol Shin

VBS – Nurturing Children in Discipleship

Vacation Bible School
What a wonderful week we had last week at our Vacation Bible School! It’s always fun to see little children come, sing and dance in our gatherings, isn’t it? I believe that our kids were excited about everything we provided for them and their parents were thankful for our programs as well. I was so thankful that our church was full of people coming from many communities. In my prayer for Family Night on Thursday, I said that as we have kids in our family, in our church, in our communities, we always have hope for the next generation.

But VBS is not only a fun time; it is also a lot of work. I can’t count the hours and efforts that our teachers and volunteers put into its preparation. If you stopped by our church last week, you must have been surprised to see how beautifully our sanctuary and fellowship hall were decorated. Some of our teachers took time off from their jobs to volunteer their time with the kids.

Why do we want to do VBS every year; what does VBS accomplish? If you ask me, I would say that it is “youth discipleship.” Our 2019 VBS reminds me of this old proverb: “The wise father doesn’t give his child a fish but teaches him/her how to fish. VBS director, Linda Shivers said, “We have taught our youth how to run the VBS programs so that they can serve Sunday School or youth group when they grow up.” Throughout our VBS program, we have nurtured both our kids and young adults to grow as disciples.

We Christians are called fishers of people in the world, for Jesus called his disciples fishers of people. Jesus doesn’t say “Follow me and I will give you fish,” but says, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of people.” During his three-year public ministry, Jesus nurtured and taught his disciples how to fish the souls of men. Our secular vocations can be varied, but our spiritual vocation is to catch people and bring them to God’s love.

The Field Education of Discipleship
In today’s Gospel lesson from Luke, we can see Jesus went on a mission trip with his disciples. He decided to go to Jerusalem because he knew that the time drew near for his return to heaven (v. 51). In other words, he was aware that it was almost time for him to die in Jerusalem for the forgiveness and redemption of all humanity.

In the face with his coming death, Jesus reflected on what to leave to his followers before he died, so they could continue his salvation ministry. As the Son of God, he had marvelous power: healing the sick, casting out demons, making storms calm with a few words; feeding thousands of people in the wilderness… Jesus could have given his supernatural power to his disciples so they could also show many miracles to attract people’s attention.

But Jesus never directly gave his disciples power. Instead, he taught them how to serve people as they traveled. Simply put, Jesus was trying to teach them how to fish people.

On this mission trip, Jesus meets several people eager to follow him, but he doesn’t look like a good recruiter. Someone says that he wants to follow him wherever he goes. Jesus replies, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (v. 58). To another, Jesus invites to follow. This one, as any good child would do, says, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus’ response is not positive: “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (v. 60). Another person has a perfectly reasonable request: “Let me first say farewell to those at my home.” This time, Jesus says the one thing that allows me to make sense of all the crankiness: “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (v. 62).

Jesus is pretty harsh with these fellows. What does he expect? To my perspective, what he is doing is not recruiting but turning away willing volunteers!

Now let us be reasonable. Burying one’s father or going home to say goodbye to family and friends are perfectly normal things anyone wants to do. But why is Jesus so negative about those ordinary things? I believe that Jesus is not against burying the dead, nor is he anti-family values. He, too, left his parents. He, too, went away from his hometown Nazareth and all his friends. He too left everything behind when he decided to follow God’s calling. When he left everything behind, he made God’s Kingdom his top priority. He had counted the cost.

When Jesus is so harsh with those who want to follow him, I believe Jesus wants to make clear with them that the cost of following him is high. The point of his demand is total commitment – seeking God’s kingdom must be a top priority.

Signing on discipleship means that everything becomes secondary to serving God’s kingdom and sharing the Gospel of Christ. Jesus tells us that if we decide to follow him, we should keep in mind that we will be less secure than foxes and birds. Discipleship will cost us.

As modern-day followers of Jesus, unfortunately, are challenged by so many options in our daily routines. If we want to follow Jesus, we have to make a decision, and, before we make a decision, we should know our journey with him will not be easy at all. There are so many things that we need to give up against our desire. Nevertheless, if we feel more secure than foxes and birds, perhaps we are spending too much time burying our dead, chatting with friends, and looking back over the plow.

Discipleship
If we only focus on salvation in heaven, then we might expect God to just give us “fish.” But if we focus on discipleship, then we can strive hard to live a good life and fish the souls in the name of Jesus Christ. For that, we must decide to “put our hand to the plow and do not look back.”

Friends, we are called to follow Christ with a firm determination of no turning back. Following Jesus is 24/7/365. It is always forward and never easy. However, it doesn’t mean not doing anything else; it means doing everything else with our face set toward Jerusalem with all hearts, minds, and powers invested in God, through the power and witness of Jesus Christ. Amen.