Sermon: Waiting for the Holy Spirit

June 2, 2019
The Day of Ascension
Acts 1:1-11; Luke 24:44-53
RUMC, Pastor SeokCheol Shin

Waiting for the Holy Spirit

Difficult to Wait
I have never been good at waiting. When I go to attend a meeting, I always take along a book or a magazine. When I come to McDonald’s to buy a cup of coffee and see there is a long line to stand, I move on to Dunkin Donuts or any other convenient store. When I drive my car and stop at a red light, do you know what I do? I pick up my cell phone and check my emails or Facebook messages. Honestly speaking, I am not good at waiting. Waiting in line at the grocery store, waiting in the post office, and even waiting for water to boil, all of these raise my blood pressure! Unfortunately, our life journey is all about waiting, waiting for birth, waiting for graduation, waiting for marriage, waiting for having children, waiting even for death…

The world makes us wait, but God also says “wait.” When we pray to God, God answers us sometimes with an immediate ‘yes’ or ‘no’ based on his will and wisdom of what is best for us. However, I believe more often God answers us with his third response, “wait.” We pray hard but we are still broken-hearted because God says “wait” and we are not good at waiting.

Commandment to Wait
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus called his disciples and commanded them to go out to the world and preach the Gospel to all nations. But just a few seconds later, he told them “to stay in the city of [Jerusalem] until they receive the power from on high” (v. 49). And then in Acts chapter 1, Jesus was suddenly carried up into heaven (v. 9), which we now call “the ascension of the Lord.” Jesus commanded “Go out but stay!” How can we understand this contradiction of Jesus’ commandment?

While meditating on this Scripture, I imagined myself as one of the disciples in the upper room. So after the Lord has disappeared, I see myself shrugging my shoulders, saying “What?” I might look around to see the other guys there, and complain, “He just gave us a job to do, and we are all ready to do it. Then why doesn’t he just let us go and do it? What are we supposed to do in our waiting time?”

More anxiously, Jesus didn’t say how long they should wait. So I am wondering to myself why didn’t he just come right out and say, “I want you to wait ten days until the Feast of Pentecost.” If my Lord said the time period to me, perhaps I would have asked “why 10 days, Lord?” And Jesus would probably answer, “That is just part of my plans, you don’t need to know but just trust and wait.” Well, I might be disappointed and still wondering, but at least I would have known what the time limit was, and so I could wait for 10 days. But the problem is that Jesus didn’t let them know how long they had to wait. That just drives me nuts.

I am not good at waiting, and in this case I don’t even know how long I should wait. So after waiting several days, I would probably do a slow burn about my waiting. I would even think that I am only wasting my time doing nothing. But it is clear that Jesus Christ demanded his disciples to wait, and I’m glad it was them and not me.

The Lord knows I am not good at waiting, and as far as I know the world around me isn’t good at waiting either. In fact, all of us live in a world that teaches us constantly not to wait for anything; “hurry and get it now, otherwise you will lose it.” We don’t like waiting because waiting means denying ourselves and admitting we are not in control.

As a servant of God, I follow the strength God imparted to my heart to do good work for the sake of God’s glory so it may be a win-win for both of us. But it seems that God often directs me to wait, and I have to remain powerless with my anxious heart.

Yet, I believe when God says, “wait,” God doesn’t want us just to remain idle and get lazy. There will be something we need to do to prepare for God’s work. When God says “wait,” our question must be not “Why do we wait or how long do we have to wait,” but “What can we do while waiting on God?”

Waiting in God’s Discipline
Maybe, there is something we need to do during our waiting period: In today’s Scriptures, Jesus Christ calls his disciples to go out and preach the Gospel of God’s forgiveness of sins in his name: “The Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things” (v. 46-48). In other words, Christ gives us authority to forgive sins and set people free from the bondage of their sinful life. What a powerful authority Jesus’ disciples have!

Yet, even though we are called by God to forgive others in Jesus’ name, we know we are not special people; we are not better than anyone else in the world; we are also foolish people before the Lord. Thus, we know we don’t deserve the privilege to forgive any others living around us?

The Lord also knows that we are not perfect enough to forgive and bless others. That’s why he commands us to wait until God touches and purifies our hearts. Before we go out in the name of Jesus, we need to stay and wait until God comes and transforms us first, so that we can go out to help others and lead them to the way of God’s forgiveness and salvation.

For Christian, waiting in the name of Jesus doesn’t mean that we just sit and waste our time doing nothing. To Jesus’ disciples, waiting means daily disciplines. When God says wait or when we feel left alone, it is a time for us to look into our own hearts. We must recognize that we are poor and weak, kneel down before the Lord, and submit all of our powers to him. Confess God is the Lord and I am his mouth, hands, and feet to serve his people. In our waiting, we may deny ourselves, give up our own powers, and completely rely on God’s power and grace, so that we may stand as “witnesses of those things” that Jesus Christ our Lord entrusts to his disciples.

Waiting in Hope
As God’s children we don’t have any doubt in our faith that God is our heavenly Father and Jesus Christ is our Savior. Nevertheless, we still happen to experience the time of wonder, the time of thirst, and the time of anxiety. We feel like we have been only waiting and waiting and waiting, but God’s grace is still far away.

Why? Why do we have to wait, and how long do we have to wait? Maybe God wants us to wait more until we completely submit ourselves to God only. During our waiting time, we may be more desperate for God, more dependent on his power, and more humble and faithful in our relationship with God. Thus, even if we feel left alone as we wait, it can be a time for us to get closer to God; it can be a time for us to experience God’s power and grace.

Waiting is not easy at all, but let us continue to wait in our prayer and hope because the Lord has promised us that he will send upon us the Holy Spirit when we trust and wait in our faith for his promise. Amen.

Sermon: The Holy Counselor

May 26, 2019
Sixth Sunday of Easter

Psalm 67; John 14:23-27
RUMC, Pastor SeokCheol Shin

The Holy Counselor

Emotional Roller Coaster of Life
What a beautiful season we have enjoyed these days! The weather is getting warmer, the days are lengthening, the sky is dazzling blue, the air is fresh, and our yards are shining in green. We are surrounded by all sorts of signs pointing to the beginning of summer, and I am sure that we all have been looking forward to this seasonal change.

One major event of this time of year in our country is graduation— graduating from kindergarten, elementary school, high School, college…. If your family is celebrating a graduation this year, congratulations!!! Last Sunday our church had a special service dedicated to and led by our children and youth from the Sunday School. During our service, we recognized kids graduating from their schools, or promoted by one grade, and we prayed for their next adventures. I am so proud of our kids and thankful of all the teachers who have nurtured them in our Christian teachings.

Yet I believe graduation often brings us complex emotions. You must be so excited with the fact that “you are done,” feeling like you are going up to the top. But when you think about the reality with a question, “now what,” your feeling will be completely turned upside down. Maybe it is like riding a rollercoaster.

I think this “rollercoaster confusion” is a pretty good term to describe the feelings of the disciples in our text from John’s Gospel. Following Jesus, they must feel like they have all things in the world, but suddenly Jesus says that he is going away and that they can’t come with him. Their world is about to be turned upside down. It is no doubt their emotional rollercoaster is now heading down to the bottom.

The Promise of the Holy Spirit
John 14 is the chapter called Jesus’ farewell speech. It is time for him to say goodbye to his disciples and they will never see him again face to face. He knows that all his disciples must feel discouraged, and that’s why he starts with the encouraging message, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me” (v. 1). And then in the following two verses, he is comforting them with an essential promise: he is going to prepare a place for them and will return and take them with him to that place, so that they can be with him forever (v. 2-3). What he promises to them is God’s salvation and eternal life in heaven.

It is always good to know that we have a place to go when we die in this world. When we lose our beloved, we give thanks to God because we know he or she is in a better place with God. But we still wonder how we are going to make it without our beloved. How is it really possible for us to endure all those challenges and trials in the world without our Lord Jesus Christ? This is probably what the disciples were worried about when Jesus said goodbye to them.

As the disciples are deeply concerned about their life without him, Jesus assures them that he is not going to abandon them like a bunch of orphans; he is going to send to them another Advocate who will be with them forever (v. 16). What he promises to them is the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity.

What was true of the disciples is also true of you and me of this day. Without the Holy Spirit to strengthen us, lead us, and protect us, we too will not make it. Without the abiding help of God, no one is able to live faithfully and godly. If we have to do it all in our own power, we will soon find ourselves very exhausted and even give up. As little children of God, we need the Holy Spirit who can guide and help our journey in this rollercoaster-like world.

In the yellow page of a telephone book, you can find all kinds of counselors: marriage counselors, wedding counselors, drug counselors, job counselors, school counselors, etc. Of course, you can always go to listen to them if you need. By the way, what is the purpose of counselors? Do they solve our problems or help us to solve our problems? We all have blocks in our paths to maturity. We all have painful trauma in our emotion, or persistent personality problems, or addictions that prevent us from living a good life. As far as I know, counselors don’t fix our problems (they are not like a mechanic), but help us to overcome them and grow stronger.

Sometimes, when we are in a difficult situation, we pray and hope that God just comes down to fix our problems and make important decisions for us. But this is an immature faith. The Holy Spirit does not solve our problems or make any decision for us, just like any good counselor can’t decide for us. Rather, we must see the Spirit as the “Counselor,” who comes to our side and gives us strength, courage, and wisdom, so we can make difficult or important decisions; and with that help we can solve our problems.

Some of you may be wondering, what if we happen to make a wrong decision because we still have to make decisions for ourselves? We don’t want to be deceived. We don’t want to go on the other way. Yet we want to go and be on the right way. For this, we don’t need to worry about our decision because we have the Spirit. Particularly, Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as “the Spirit of Truth” (v. 17). Because He is the Spirit of Truth, He will not lead us astray. If we trust and follow Him, we will arrive at truth. Jesus Christ already proclaimed, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” As we belong to Jesus, we are also in the Holy Spirit who leads into all truth (v. 17).

When we follow this holy guide, we are taking in the Spirit of Truth. This Spirit is what helps us to see and respond to God’s grace and love. The Holy Spirit is the One who will take care of us, strengthen us, and lead us in the way we should go. In the wonderful treasured words of the disciple Paul, we may therefore be sure that nothing, “neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come … will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.”

Peace from the Lord
Often in life, there is a stark contrast between the resurrection in heaven and the actual trials in the world. We see it in a fractured economy, in the poor leadership of our government, in the loss of our beloved, in the struggles with our own health issues. Outside in the world, we have been celebrating the most beautiful days. But inside of our life, we have to struggle hard to survive in this world.

In the midst of this troubled life and this uncertain world, Jesus says to all his disciples and us today, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (v. 27). We can have peace even in the midst of the darkest time because we are not alone, not abandoned, not orphaned, and not deceived by anything false from the world. The Risen Christ is always present in our lives to help guide us by the power of the Holy Spirit. When we are afraid or when we are in want, let us always remember that Jesus sends the Holy Spirit as our Counselor to advise us, and guide and help us. This is what Jesus promises his disciples and what we should believe. Thanks be to God! Amen!

Sermon: The Good Shepherd and His Sheep

May 12, 2019
Fourth Sunday of Easter

Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30
RUMC, Pastor SeokCheol Shin

 The Good Shepherd and His Sheep

The Good Shepherd
Happy Mother’s Day!!! We set aside this day as a special day to appreciate all of our mothers. But I really believe that mothers must be praised on a daily basis and every day should be Mother’s Day, just like our everyday is God’s day. How come? Mothers never stop feeding and caring for their children! Even on Mother’s Day, I am sure that they are still worried that their children are eating well.

There are lots of images about God in the Bible; my favorite is the image of God as a shepherd. Who doesn’t love Psalm 23, describing God as the Good Shepherd: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters…” Just like our mothers, God is constantly feeding, nurturing and giving us his best, whatever our circumstances may be.

Jesus Christ also has lots of images for himself, and one of them is the Good Shepherd. Just as Psalm 23 describes God, we want Jesus to be our Shepherd to watch over us, protect us, heal us when we are sick, and, of course, walk with us when we happen to walk through the darkest valley. We all want this, and Jesus says to us, “You can have it from me, for I am the Good Shepherd. I love my sheep with a love that is stronger than death.”

Listening to the Shepherd
It is easy to believe that Jesus is the Good Shepherd (or God is like our mother who always loves us), but the question still remains for us: “Are we the sheep of Jesus Christ?” Yes, we know Jesus is the Shepherd, but how do we guarantee that we are his sheep?

In the Gospel lesson, the Jews in the temple are becoming very frustrated with Jesus. His teachings and miracles have provided signs to prove that he is God’s Messiah, but they could not understand or did not want to. They ask him that “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly” (v. 24). Jesus answers, “I have told you… and you do not believe because you are not my sheep” (v. 25-26). And then, he gives them a clear clue about who belongs to him as his sheep: “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me” (v. 27). What Jesus is trying to say through this metaphor is that there is a God, and his people are able to hear God’s voice. This is very important. It means that we are born with that ability to sense and listen to the divine voice of God. There are many other voices out there, which sound good and truthful, and we may listen to those. God’s voice is also always there and his voice is recognizable to his people.

I think this is a test, some kind of a spiritual hearing test. Where and how do we hear the voice of our Shepherd, so we can follow his way? I’ve got a book here that brings us God’s voice; it is called the Holy Bible. We can talk with God whenever we pray to the Lord. We also know that God sometimes speaks to us through people or our circumstances.

God gives us a plenty of resources to hear his voice. But honestly speaking, listening to God isn’t easy at all. Let us question ourselves: how much do we like to listen to God’ voice? Are we willing to meditate on God’s word day by day, as we like our daily meals? And then again, how much are we willing to gather together and strive hard to find God’s will, knowing that where two or three are gathered in Christ’s name, he is there with us?

Listening to God generally takes place in a prayerful and humble heart. God speaks to those who take time to listen and God listens to those who take time to pray. When God answers us, we can be fed and nurtured, we can be healed and restored, and we can be brought to life and safety.

Following the Shepherd
Yes, I do pray to God and listen to his voice, so I am his sheep. Well, according to what the Shepherd says today, we need one more thing to prove that we belong to him. After saying “My sheep hear my voice,” Jesus continues to say that “they follow me” (v. 27). Of course, we like to follow our Shepherd because he promises to lead us to green pastures and still waters. Following the Shepherd is all good; there is no reason not to follow him.

But do we also remember that Jesus commands his disciples to “follow me” in another place in the Gospels. Unlike the image in Psalm 23, this invitation seems quite unpleasant to us, “if any want to follow me, let them deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me” (Mt. 16:24). Jesus our Good Shepherd leads his sheep not only to green pastures but sometimes to the bitters of life. You may want to argue that “What’s the point that the Shepherd leads his sheep to the bitters of life? There is no good in it. It only hurts the vulnerable sheep.”

Well, my friends, the Lord doesn’t need to lead us to the bitters of life or a path of trials. Think about this: our world is not God’s kingdom. As long as we live here on earth, from time to time we experience all kinds of tribulations. Our Shepherd doesn’t need to lead us there because we are already there in troubles. The good news is that our Shepherd is always present to rescue the lost sheep, rescue them out of troubles they have gotten themselves into. So when Jesus says “follow me,” it is his invitation for his disciples to join in his salvation ministry for others in need.

If we say that we love God but refuse to help people or support the communities in tribulations, we are not disciples of Jesus but like the hired hands who see the wolf (challenge) coming and run away from the sheep because their loss is not important to us (saying “I don’t want to get involved”). True love requires risk. It demands putting our hearts, tears, hands, and presence in difficult times and situations. This is not what people want at all, but true sheep of Christ will take that responsibility and follow the example of their Good Shepherd.

Are we sure that we are Jesus’ sheep? If so, we must not remain as the little sheep. We must grow spiritually to be good shepherds ourselves who are able to follow our Good Shepherd and join in his salvation ministry.

Belonging to the Good Shepherd
Brothers and sisters, in the eyes of God each one of us belongs to his flock. Parents call their children to themselves so that they might heal them, nourish them, and show them love. Likewise, God our heavenly Mother or Father is calling us to bless our lives.

“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me” (v. 27). Let us listen and follow him, and we shall not be in want. Let us listen and follow him, and we may lie down in green pastures. Finally let us listen and follow him, and we may serve many others, so that we may become like little shepherds who belong to the Good Shepherd our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sermon: Looking for God’s Voice

May 5, 2019
Third Sunday of Easter

Acts 9:1-6, 7-20; John 21:1-19
RUMC, Pastor SeokCheol Shin

Looking for God’s Voice

God’s Voice
Have you ever heard God’s voice? There are times we are desperate for God’s voice or the sign of God’s love in our life. We really believe there is God and God loves us, but we can’t hear God’s voice as we can hear our families’ or friends’ voices any time.

The common key word from our Scripture readings is a “voice” from God. In Acts, Saul heard the Lord calling his name from heaven. In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ disciples heard the voice of the risen Lord from the beach. Those mysterious voices had changed their lives forever.

Like those people in the Bible, we as God’s people of today also want to hear God’s voice, so that we know God is in control and we can feel much more confident on our faith journey. So where can we hear God’s voice? Where can we see God’s vision for our lives? This is the question we will talk about this morning.

God’s Voice Through Supernatural Ways
In the first Scripture reading from Acts, we read the story of Saul’s conversion. On his mission trip to arrest Christians, ironically, he was arrested, impeded, by a strange voice from heaven: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me… I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (v. 4-5). It was the voice of Jesus, whom he had persecuted. As he heard this voice from heaven, his life was changed forever; Saul the persecutor of Christ became Paul the Apostle of Christ.

You may argue that this kind of mysterious event is only found in the Bible but never happens to our actual life; “I also have a passion for God, but God has never called my name or spoken to me as God did to his servants in the Bible.” In today’s world, if we are told that someone heard God’s voice or saw God’s angels, we would rather suspect that that person must have a mental problem. Nowadays folks don’t even expect to hear God’s voice from heaven.

I wonder why we can’t hear God’s voice anymore or why God just stops speaking directly from heaven. As far as the Bible is concerned, God is the same yesterday and today and forever. Then, God should still speak to us from heaven as God used to do it in the ancient time.

Yes, God does. He has spoken to us all the time, but maybe we just don’t notice it. Why? One of the reasons is because of our preconception that hearing Gods’ voice must be something supernatural; we tend to believe that God will speak to us or meet with us in flashes of light or loud thundering sound from heaven. Because these supernatural things are not seen this day, we suspect that God no longer speaks to us in the ways He used to communicate with his servants in the Bible.

But maybe God’s voices and visions are still right in front of us, but we just don’t notice them. Let us carefully examine how the risen Christ spoke to his disciples in John’s Gospel and figure out whether it was really something supernatural.

God’s Voice in Our Ordinary Lives
In the Gospel, Peter and his fellows encountered the risen Lord when they were fishing at the Sea of Tiberius. Jesus’ voiced to them gentle advice to cast the net to the right side of the boat, so that they could catch more fish (v. 6); it was a simple request to share the fish they caught (v. 10); it was an invitation to them, “Come and have breakfast” (v. 12). It was an ordinary conversation.

What a scene it is! The Savior of the world was now sitting on the beach, making breakfast for the fishermen. There was no flashy light or thundering sound around them when the Lord spoke to them. This conversation between the risen Christ and his disciples is what we ordinary people usually can experience in our everyday life. Indeed, we need to work; we need to eat; we need to take care of our daily obligations.

I want to see this Gospel lesson in light of the Incarnation. The Messiah, whom the Jewish people had long waited for, appeared where they would never expect it. It started with Jesus’ birth in the smelly manger in a barn. It continued with his friendship with ordinary people like us. Even at his transfiguration on a mountaintop, he gave up his glory and came back down to the villages to take care of the common people. After his resurrection, he could have entered the Jerusalem Temple in glory with his angles. He could have easily amazed the crowds as he showed his resurrection to the world. But he didn’t. Instead, he kept entering into a small house where his disciples were hiding.

In today’s text, the risen Christ came to the disciples’ working place to help them catch fish, make breakfast, and eat together. Isn’t it amazing that the Son of God always remained grounded in people’s daily life? It shows us that Jesus Christ is part of everything we do. Reflecting on God’s incarnation, then, why don’t we believe that God’s voice may be heard from our earth, our homes, our working places, and our friends and neighbors, not just from heaven?

After they ate together, Jesus put Peter to the test. Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him. The third time he asked the same question, Peter was hurt. But he had denied his Master three times, and so he needed to make amends for his denial of Christ.

Peter had come a long way since his life as a fisherman. Through teaching and rebuking, Jesus had nurtured him to be a faithful disciple. Jesus even gave him a new name “Rock” on which the Church will be built (Matthew 16:18). Even so, he abandoned Jesus and denied him three times. Why did he fail? It was because he only expected a glory and power from heaven; he only appreciated something supernatural in Jesus Christ. Thus when Jesus was arrested and died on a cross, he came to lose his faith in Christ.

As Jesus hurt Peter by asking “Do you love me” three times, he was rooting Peter in his serving ministry: “Feed my lambs” (v. 15), “Tend my sheep” (v. 16), and “Follow me” (v. 19). Jesus’ ministry isn’t about glory; it is about people living on earth. It’s about feeding and caring for souls; it is about our daily life and about how to love and serve others in our world.

In other words, the way to love Jesus is the way we go on our life journey. Live a good life, and take care of all people with the love of God, as our Lord has loved us. This earthly life is the way we follow Jesus, hear God’s voice, see God’s vision, and live in God’s presence and grace.

God’s Presence in Our Lives
Life itself is a miracle because God is with us. All things we can see around us are divine gifts because God is present in all creations. If we truly recognize God dwells here in our very earthly lives, then we know where we can hear God’s voice. We don’t need to look up at heaven; it’s always among us and here in our communities. It’s here in front of people who are living around us.

Therefore, let us turn our attention to the world where we live with God. Let us look around to see who lives around us and try our best to welcome people, and serve and feed them. This loving and serving life is the Christian miracle that we can experience in our daily life and must carry out in the name of Jesus Christ who is risen from the dead and dwells in our world. Amen.

Sermon: Seeing and Showing Jesus

April 28, 2019
Second Sunday of Easter

John 20:19-31
RUMC, Pastor SeokCheol Shin

Seeing and Showing Jesus

Spring Comes
“What a beautiful day!” This was my greeting when I visited some of our congregation members during the last week. Well, I know it had been raining during the weekend and it was a little chilly, but I like to see this rain as God’s gift for our gardens in our backyards. Sooner or later, we will get busy during our day-off as we plant flowers and vegetables and mow the lawns. After spending the cold winter season with lots of snows, finally we can open our windows, celebrate spring cleaning, and come outside to rejoice in the spring breezes.

Today’s Gospel also brings us a joyful greeting of spring. In this account, all the disciples look so terrific and excite, and I can almost hear them shout all together “What a wonderful day!” What’s going on in this story? They saw the risen Christ again coming into their gloomy upper room. Well, we need to go back a few days before Jesus was risen and see what happened to them, so that we can better understand why they were so excited to see Jesus Christ again.

Jesus’ Appearance in the Upper Room
On Thursday, Jesus and his disciples gathered in an upper room to share a meal together, which we now call “the Last Supper.” During the supper, Jesus knelt before his disciples and began to wash their feet one by one; he told them, “As I am your master, I have washed your feet; then you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” It was Jesus’s invitation and lesson for them to serve others

After the meal, he went to the Mount of Gethsemane with his disciples, and he prayed that God would empower him to obey God’s will as he confessed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Just after this prayer, he was arrested and handed over to the Roman power, and he was tried, beaten, and nailed to a cross with the title of King of the Jews written on a placard placed above his head. That was on Friday, the day he died.

On Sunday, Mary Magdalene and several women went to Jesus’ tomb to wash his dead body according to the Jewish custom for the dead. However, they could not find his body there because the tomb was empty. It was empty because Jesus was risen and came back to life.

In the meantime, all the disciples had run back to their upper room; they locked the door because they were afraid of the Jews who killed their Master Jesus. They were probably spending the most terrible weekend, worrying about their future life without Jesus. The women brought to them an unbelievable word that Jesus was alive. But they couldn’t understand it because they didn’t see what happened to the tomb where Jesus was buried.

It was these broken-hearted disciples to whom Jesus appeared. The first word that the risen Lord spoke to them was “Peace be with you” (v. 19). Right away, they came alive with rejoicing when they saw him speak to them in front of their eyes.

Yet, “Peace be with you” wasn’t the only message that Jesus proclaimed to them. He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (v. 22). He was breathing new life and new power into their souls. They became new creations, sustained and empowered by the presence of the Holy Spirit in their hearts.

So what happened to the disciples who saw the risen Christ and received the Holy Spirit? They were no longer coward but bold enough to open the door of their house; they came out to the world to proclaim that Jesus is risen and he is the Lord of all. For that, they were put in prison and tortured by the Jewish officials, but none and nothing could stop them; they continued their teaching in the city of Jerusalem, and from there they went out into the Gentile countries and all over the world.

They were now totally different people. Until recently, they were afraid of the Jews, but now the Jews were afraid of them. What a big change it is! What motivated them to stand bold enough to challenge and change the world? The answer is in the story. That is, the risen Christ appeared to them and they saw him alive in front of their eyes.

But interestingly, there were some other disciples who didn’t believe the resurrection of Jesus Christ. They only considered it as a rumor. Poor Thomas was one of them. We have given him a nickname, “doubting Thomas.” His doubt was very simple, that is, he wasn’t there when Jesus appeared to the disciples. He left this famous word in John’s Gospel, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it” (v. 25).

Yet, Jesus didn’t leave Thomas stuck in his own doubt. A week later, he appeared to them again, and this time Thomas was there with his fellow disciples. The first word Jesus spoke to them was also “Peace be with you.” Then, right away, Thomas overcame all doubts and came alive with rejoicing and confessing, “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28).

We tend to laugh at Thomas and blame his unfaithfulness. But I don’t believe he was weaker than any other disciples or that the other disciples were more faithful than Thomas. They were all hiding in the upper room; they were all worried about the world; they all didn’t believe the resurrection of Jesus until they really saw the risen Christ in front of their eyes. Thomas just saw him little later than his friends.

Of course, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (v. 29). This blessed one is Jesus himself. Jesus trusted his own resurrection and that’s why he allowed people to crucify him. But we are not like Jesus; we are like Thomas. Just as he needed to see the risen Jesus to believe, we also need to see, experience, and feel the risen Jesus first, so that we might believe in the power of God and all the promises of Jesus Christ.

Once again, seeing is believing. The disciples overcame their fear and doubt when they saw the risen Jesus in front of their eyes. Likewise, as we see Jesus, we can rejoice in our life, and as we show Jesus, we can challenge and change the world.

Showing the Risen Christ
How can we see Jesus, and how can we show Jesus to others? Do we see ourselves out of peace and out of hope in life? Do we feel like we are still caught in the power of darkness or sinfulness? Then, let us come forward to see Jesus Christ who is present in our gatherings. Christ comes in wherever his people gather in his name. Do we see people out there who still close their hearts, who are struggling in fear and loneliness, who don’t know God forgives and loves them? Then let us reach out to show the risen Christ as we touch their brokenness, wash their feet, and bless their lives in the name of the risen Christ who is delighted to offers us peace.

“Seeing Jesus” and “showing Jesus,” that is the point of today’s Gospel and that’s what we disciples are called to do for our worship and ministry. May the risen Christ come and breathe his peace and power into our hearts and may God empower us that we go to the world to become the Good News of peace, hope, and joy of life to all others. Amen.

Sermon: Participating in Jesus’ Resurrection

April 21, 2019
Easter Sunday

Luke 24:1-12
RUMC, Pastor SeokCheol Shin

Participating in Jesus’ Resurrection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sermon: Jesus’ Parade for All

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

Luke 19:28-40
RUMC, Pastor SeokCheol Shin

Jesus’ Parade for All

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sermon: An Extravagant Love

April 07, 2019
Fifth Sunday in Lent

John 12:1-8
RUMC, Pastor SeokCheol Shin

An Extravagant Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sermon: Prodigal Mission in Love

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

Prodigal Mission in Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sermon: God’s invitation and Our Turning to God

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

God’s Invitation and Our Turning to God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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