Sermon: Be Persistent in Our Prayer

September 09, 2018
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

James 2:1-10; Mark 7:24-30

Be Persistent in Our Prayer

The Sweet Image of Jesus
“Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so…” This is one of my favorite songs; I like to sing this song when I feel down. When I sing this song, I can think about Jesus as my Shepherd, friend and Savior. Those are images of Jesus to keep in our faith’s journey.  Jesus is sweet, gentle, kind, loving and caring for us. That’s how we want Jesus to be for us. Yet, the problem is that this sweet image of Jesus is not always what we experience in our real life.

Just look around and see what has happened. How can we sing “Jesus loves me this I know” to those who are terrified by wars or terrorist acts? What can we say about God’s love to those who are suffering and dying of diseases, hunger, or any unexpected accident? If Jesus is our Good Shepherd, why do so many people end up with tragedy in their lives? We don’t need to look around the world to figure out how difficult life is. We all have our own stories. We all know what it’s like.

Yes, Jesus loves us. This is what we believe and what we always cling to. But when we finish our worship service and go back to our lives, we happen to experience that the world is not easy and simple and that Jesus is not always there for us. Just ask the Canaanite woman in today’s Gospel. She will tell you all about it.

Insulted by Jesus
When Jesus traveled to the territory near the cities of Tyre and Sidon, which is now called Lebanon, a local woman was eager to meet him because her daughter was possessed by demons. She probably heard that Jesus was merciful to people and he had a healing power; she must have had a high expectation of him. But surprisingly, he didn’t care about her situation in the first place, as he said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs” (v. 27). In other words, he said, “We don’t give dogs human food.” It is very racial words!?!

Is he really the same Jesus we know and believe? As far as we know, Jesus came to the world as the Savior of all humanity and taught us that whoever believes in him deserves God’s kingdom. Then how come he humiliated this Canaanite woman in front of his own disciples, just treating her as a dog? What he spoke to her was totally against his own Gospel of love, forgiveness, reconciliation and salvation of the world.

Many biblical scholars have tried to explain it away. Some says that maybe Jesus had a long day and was now resting from his difficult works. Or he was using her desperation just to teach his disciples something. Maybe he wasn’t yet aware that he was sent to be the Messiah of the whole world, not just of Israel. Others say Jesus was only testing her to have strong faith. They offer some excuses, trying to justify his behavior, in this story. But whatever it is, we don’t like it. How can we understand that our sweet Jesus rejected and insulted this poor mother? That’s not how we want Jesus to be. But unfortunately, that is the Jesus the Canaanite woman got in today’s Gospel. And sometimes that can be the Jesus we may get in our life too.

Although we believe God is good and loves us, we know that life is neither simple nor easy at all. There are times that we are desperate for God’s help, (so we come before the Lord, express our feelings, and wait in our broken hearts) but God is still silent and nothing really happens. It’s like talking to the walls of our room or wrestling with trees in the wilderness. If you have ever felt that way, then you can understand how this woman felt when she talked with Jesus. She was shouting to him, “Lord, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession,” but he was silent and even insulting her.

Move Closer to Jesus
What do we do when we face God’s silence or ignorance? Do we give up? Do we get disappointed and angry? Do we quit the church? Do we blame God? Sometimes people come and ask me, “Why?” “Why does this bad thing happen to me?” “Why is God silent?” “Why is my prayer not answered?”  I wish I knew the answer.  After listening to you, I only have to say, “Let’s continue to pray that God will answer you.” This may sound like a cliché or a truism, but “continue to ask” was what the Canaanite woman did in her situation.

After shouting a few more words, she could have given up and gone home back. Now she had a good reason to blame Jesus. However, she didn’t give up nor step back but moved even closer, fell before him, and really begged like a dog. She even replied with some good humor, “[You may call me dog], but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs” (v. 28). She found a way to be more persistent when it seems everyone and everything was against her. She continued to voice out, not even knowing whether Jesus would really respond to her. But she was just there before the Lord. That’s it!

She was right! As she was persistent, Jesus finally turned around and spoke to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter” (v. 29); “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted” (Mt. 15:28). And that very hour her daughter was healed. She was clearly the underdog who won the prize of highest value for any mother.

So what can we learn from this story? There is nothing we can learn from Jesus in this story. We can ignore him. But I want you to look at the Canaanite woman and learn from her. She wore Jesus down, moved his heart, and let him offer his mercy on her. She was rewarded for her own persistence. Her persistence reminds us of Jesus’s words: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Mt. 7:7).

I don’t know why Jesus acted the way he did in today’s Gospel. Certainly this story is not about Jesus but about the Canaanite woman. And it’s about us. It is about our faith. It is about our world. God may or may not do what we expect him to do, but it doesn’t really matter. What matters is whether we are faithful and patient enough before the Lord, and before the world. To give up is only to deepen our despair. To turn away means we will miss when God finally turns around to us. If we give up, we will never know that Jesus really loves us.

Persistent in Our Prayer
“Your faith has healed you,” This is what Jesus replies to those who come forward to seek his mercy. What kind of situation do we struggle with now? What kind of God do we confront now? Is it “Ignorance?” “Is it “Rejection?” Is it “Silence?” Is it “Failure?” Is it “Despair?” Is it “Broke up?” Is it “Get lost?” Is it “Illness?” Whatever it is, this lesson teaches us to remain strong, faithful and persistent, that we may hear God say “Your faith is great! Your request is granted!”

Yes, God is good and loves us! We never doubt it. But we also know life is not easy and simple at all. Despite our faith in God, we don’t know what to do and where to go. But, remember, God has a plan for us, knows when we are in trouble, and our Lord of mercy comes to us in God’s time. Today’s lesson teaches us that in the tough days of life, we not only say God is good but also need to let God say, “You have great faith!” as we are persistent in our prayers. That is how we draw God’s grace, overcome our crisis, and transform the world.  May God’s love and compassion be poured out to you as you are persistent in your faith and prayer. Amen.

Sermon: The Voice of My Beloved

September 02, 2018
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Song of Solomon 2:8-13; Mark 7:1-8, 20-23

The Voice of My Beloved

Vacation is Over
It is good to be back; I’m glad to see you all after my summer vacation during the last two weeks! I want to thank you all for helping me out and keeping me in your prayers, that my travels were safe.  I had lots of fun during my time out.

We love vacation. It gives us a chance to escape from our hectic lives and recharge our bodies and minds from our labors. During our vacation, we usually go away and see someone or something else that we haven’t seen for a while.  We want to see our families and old friends; we want to see beautiful ocean or mountains; or we want to go to see a baseball game or anything like that. I like to say that vacation is all about enjoying visual fun.

But the problem is whatever we see, we have to leave behind and return home when our vacation is over. We might be even tired from our long trip and feel empty and thirsty in our heart when we come back from vacation. That’s why we are never satisfied with our temporary vacation. Therefore, it’s better to find our satisfaction not from what is seen, but from what is unseen and always present in our lives. What is it? It is not seeing, but hearing the voice of God.

When I meditated on today’s Scripture from the Song of Solomon, I was intrigued by the invitational whisper of the words from the verse 10: “My beloved spoke and said to me, ‘Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come away with me’” (v. 10). From this sweet voice of God, I felt I am not left alone but always in love with my eternal company. I had lots of fun during my vacation, but I really can say that it is God’s voice that has recharged my spiritual battery.

God’s Word Calling Us
Basically, this Scripture is about a love story between a man and a woman. This love song was written by Solomon who fell in love with a Shulammite woman; Solomon was a king and the woman was a peasant’s daughter working in the garden. If they only looked at each other, seeing their appearances and social status, they wouldn’t be in love. According to verse 8, their love story begins with “The voice of my beloved (v. 8).”  It was their voices that united them in love.

This passage, “The voice of my beloved,” hints to us how we can make a loving relationship with God, who is unseen and whom we don’t deserve. That is, our relationship with God starts with hearing the voice of God who invites us to his fellowship.

If we read the Old Testament carefully, we realize that the history of Israel had been formed by the voice of God. For example, God seeks out Abraham by calling his name; God also seeks out Moses by calling his name. It was God’s voice that called the people of Israel as his chosen people.

Our Christian history is also rooted in the Word of God. According to the Gospel of John in the New Testament, the incarnate Christ was originally the Word in the beginning, which was God himself. Therefore, to accept Christ is the same as to accept the Word of God. To love Jesus is the same as to love the Word of God. Thus, we realize that our intimate relationship with God is based on hearing and obeying God’s word: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).

Of course, God doesn’t speak to us, like we can speak to each other. But God certainly speaks to his people through numerous ways. He can speak to us through our worship service; he can speak to us through people; he can speak to us through our circumstances.

Yet, I am sure that the surest way we can hear God’s voice is to read the Bible. We believe that the Bible is the holy book containing the living Word of God. We can always meet God and hear his voice when we read the Scripture. If we love someone, we always want to stay with him or her and hear his or her voice all the time. Likewise, if we really love God, we will be eager to hear God’s voice through the Bible.

God’s Word Purifying the Heart and Empowering Our Social Life
In Mark’s Gospel, the Jews struggle to understand what makes people clean and what makes people unclean. Jesus reminds the crowds that the hand-washing rituals have nothing to do with the condition of human hearts. According to him, evils don’t enter from outside but come from within one’s own heart (v. 20).

Jesus insists that our moral attitude should spring from our pure and good heart. In this regard, we can say that our Christianity is the religion of heart, not the religion of laws or rituals. Then how can we make our hearts clean and pure enough, so that the Spirit of God dwells within us?

It is God’s word that has the power to clean our hearts. If we have God’s presence sincerely in our hearts, how can we keep evil in our hearts? Also, God’s word, which is known as the sword of the Spirit, will drive away all kinds of evil thoughts out of our mind: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to God’s word” (Ps. 119:9).

The Word of God not only purifies our individual lives but also empowers our social life. Let us listen again to the text from the Song of Solomon: “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come away with me” (v. 10). This passage is God’s promise that God will accompany us for our life’s journey if we come and rely on God’s Word.

God calls us to arise and come away because he wants to have loving fellowship with us. If we have this Spirit of fellowship within our hearts, we will then desire to reach out to share our fellowship with others as well. We will become the voice of God to others, “Arise, my friends, and come away to God’s grace.”

In Genesis, God’s voice says to Abraham: “I will bless you, that you may be a blessing to others” (Gen. 12:2). It is so impressive that God’s voice combines the act of our being blessed and the act of our blessing others. Abraham’s calling is actually what Jesus Christ has done to us. Jesus calls us to heal us and then sends us out to heal others. He calls us to forgive us and then sends us out to forgive others. God’s voice, God’s calling, God’s Word is the source of our being blessed and of our blessing others.

Hearing God’s Voice
Friends, now we all have come back from our long summer vacation. It’s time to return and meet all the challenges in our daily lives. Are we still tired and so not ready to take up our works? Or are we disappointed at being alone as we are separated from our beloveds? If so, I want to encourage you to hear God’s voice from today’s text, “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come away with me.” This lovely whisper is an unnerving invitation to intimacy with our loving God. The highest King, God our Lord, calls us his darling and promises us that he will accompany us for our life’s journey. Then, what shall we fear and what shall we worry about?

Once again, God is calling us this morning, saying, “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come away with me.” Therefore, let us rejoice in God’s voice, return from wherever we are, come before the Lord, and set out on our life’s journey along with our loving God. Amen.

Sermon: The Best Choice for Eternity

August 12, 2018
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51

 The Best Choice for Eternity

On Our Menu
Ever since my mother came to stay with me, I have been blessed to be spoiled; I don’t need to cook at all. Nevertheless, the menu at my meal table is a lot better and plenty. There are times my mother can’t cook, and it is my turn to cook for her. However, I still don’t cook; I bring her to a restaurant.  I am not fussy or picky about food, but when I sit in a restaurant, I am careful choosing food on the menu because I don’t want to ruin the special treat for my mom.

With our hungry and thirsty souls, we come to our Rockville UM restaurant this morning. What’s on your menu today? What do you expect to get from our restaurant? By the way, I am impressed to see you all to come here this morning. To the ordinary people like us, Sunday is usually a day off; there are lots of other activities you want to enjoy or engage in on this morning, such as oversleeping, doing piled-up laundry, going on a family trip, or just rambling around the house all day long. But among lots of choices on your menu of the Sunday morning, you chose coming to the church to worship the Lord.

I am really grateful for your choice and would like to say that you chose the best on your menu. As you come to our Rockville UM restaurant, I hope today’s lesson will be filling and satisfying to all of your spiritual stomachs.

The Bread of Life
By the way, when I go to a restaurant, I want to order something special or something my mother doesn’t want to cook home. I don’t want to eat something like “chicken soup” there. You know how it smells and tastes; you know what kind of ingredients are in it. If you sit in a restaurant, I believe you want to pass it and look at other options on your menu because chicken soup is too ordinary and you want to enjoy something special for your special day.

“The Bread of Life,” which is Jesus Christ himself who comes down from heaven (v. 41), is the menu we’ve got from John’s Gospel chapter 6. This menu also kindly explains the ingredients in it: “This bread is made by God’s grace and love through Jesus Christ who died on a cross to forgive all of our sins.” And it also explains what happens when we eat it: “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever…” (v. 51).

Is there anyone among us who hasn’t heard about the Bread of Life? Is there anyone among us who doesn’t know why Jesus came down from heaven? Is there anyone among us who doesn’t believe in Jesus’ gift of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life? The Bread of Life is like a chicken soup, which we all know about, for it is one of the famous parables in the Gospels. So are you disappointed at our menu today? Do you want to pass today’s lesson? Do you regret your decision to come to our worship service this morning?

If so, I want you to think about this; life without death or new life after death is something we always desire in our hearts, isn’t it? Whether we like our present life or not, our life never stops but goes on and on. Regardless of how great our lives may be, someday we all come to an end of our earthly life. Due to the reality of our limited life, it’s only our instinct that we want to look for something divine to sustain our life on blessings and even hold it forever.

What kind of food can satisfy our spiritual thirst? Who will forgive our sins and give us new life? Where can we find the gift of eternal life? From time to time, I go to a restaurant to enjoy special meals there. But whether I like my mother’s food or not, I have to confess that it is my mother’s daily food that has raised me and kept me healthy and strong. Likewise, let us not feel bored with the Bread of Life, the Gospel we believe that Jesus is our Savior who came to forgive us and offer us a new life here on earth and eternal life in God’s kingdom.

God’s Invitation and Our Act
But I still wonder how we can get this special meal of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Are we here in God’s restaurant because we are so good, smart, faithful and righteous enough to deserve God’s grace? No? If you are worried, we might not be worthy of such a blessing, remember our parents still fed us even if we are not always good to them. For this question, Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him or her” (v. 44). In other words, it is God our Father who has invited us to Jesus that we are blessed to receive the Bread of Life from him. In terms of our belief, we don’t earn God’s salvation by our works but it’s all about God’s free gift! Is that all? Is there nothing we need to do to get God’s gift?

One of my sabbatical resources I enjoy is going fishing during my day off. I always bring my bucket, hoping to put many fish in it. After about 2 hours sitting at the water’s edge, however, I just had to come home with my empty bucket. The problem is that fish never hopped from water into my bucket… Here is one thing fish have to do to after I toss my fishing line, that is, fish have to come and bite my bait, so that I can draw it into my bucket.

Likewise, God’s grace is everywhere in our lives but we have to come and bite it if we want to experience God’s grace. In John’s Gospel, Jesus promises to give us the Bread of Life, but he says beforehand “Come.” … “Invite and give” is what God does for us, but “come and receive” is what we should do by our own faith. We need to dedicate our lives to hearing God’s words and practicing God’s commandment of living a good life as Christ’s servants.

But as the spiritual blinded, we are not always drawn to Jesus. Rather we sometimes choose, by our own will, to turn away from the way of God. Why? It is because we are given many options and God’s calling is just one of them.  The Bread of Life looks like ordinary chicken soup that doesn’t deserve our attention: “Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’ They were saying, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, I have come down from heaven?’” (vv. 41-42).

If you remember, I told you last week about “The Lord’s Prayer” that points to our human reality that we not only need spiritual bread but physical bread – “Give us this day our daily bread.” In order to sustain our daily life, we have to spend time seeking our daily needs and supplies. But how much time do we spend seeking out spiritual meals? How much time and energy do we spend for our prayer, meditation on the Bible, and coming to worship and praising the Lord?

God is holy, faithful, righteous, compassionate, and merciful enough to feed his children. If we want to get closer to God, we must also strive hard to be like Christ our Lord as we discipline our spiritual life. The Epistle lesson from Ephesians give us the list of how we should live and behave as God’s children (v. 25-32). We here at RUMC live that list, volunteering in our community at events such as “National Night Out” last Tuesday, where we gratefully worked together in God’s grace.

 The Best Activity in Our Lives
What do you think is your best activity you have done during the last week? Based on today’s lesson, we might believe coming to God and listening to the Lord Sunday after Sunday is the best we have done among many others.  And why not?  Here in God’s house, we receive the Bread of Life which alone gives us eternal life. Here in God’s house, we are challenged to live a life of goodness. What would be better than this spiritual meal on our menu of life this week and the next?

Grace to you, who chose by your own faith to come forward to receive the Bread of Life from the One God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who is delighted to offer us the bread of heaven. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sermon: The Bread of Life Beyond All Things

August 05, 2018
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Ephesians 4:1-6; John 6:24-35

The Bread of Life Beyond All Things

The Daily Bread
Jesus Christ taught his disciples how to pray together; we call it “The Lord’s Prayer.” When I meditate on this prayer and visualize each line of it, I find that this prayer is so rich and clear for our faith’s journey in our earthly life.

Most of the petitions of the prayer are very spiritual sounding. They have to do with our trust in God. Even that political-sounding petition about “Thy kingdom come” is a prayer for our faith. God’s kingdom will come someday on its own for the sake of God’s final victory even though we don’t seriously seek it in our everyday life. Yet when we meditate on it, we may think about God’s kingdom and humbly submit ourselves to God’s reign.

But in this spiritual prayer, there is a mention about our physical reality: “Give us this day our daily bread.” What kind of bread are we supposed to ask in the Lord’s Prayer? Well, it can be simple bread we can bake at our home or buy at the bakery shop, or it can be anything we eat such as chicken soup, salad, rice, spaghetti, or stake, etc.

If I want to expand the concept of bread, it includes all the necessities that we need for our daily life. If I need to name the kinds of “bread,” it should be things such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, job (materials); garden, nature, neighbors, school, hospital, government (circumstances); upright spouse, good children, companionship (relationship); health, peace, vacation, safety (well-being), and the like. These kinds of bread would be far larger than we can imagine. The bread we eat or we look for is something to sustain our lives. Jesus realizes we need all those things and allows us to seek out them in our prayer. Based on Jesus’ teaching, I encourage you to go on your vacation and take rest there! What you are doing on the beach is to pray for the bread to refresh your body and mind!

But I still wonder how this physical bread has to do with God’s kingdom or God’s reign. Is it also something spiritual to deepen or strengthen our faith in God? It depends on which part you want to focus on when you seek out your daily bread? Are you willing to focus on bread itself or focus on who gives the bread?

The Bread of Life
Following last Sunday, today’s lectionary scripture from John 6 leads us to meditate on the theme, “the Bread of Life.” In today’s gospel lesson, we see Jesus dealing with the crowds who had continued to follow him; they followed Jesus because they saw his miraculous power to feed the multitudes in the desert. They challenged Jesus to show them more signs (v. 30), which means to give them more material blessings and satisfy their stomachs or desire. But when Jesus refused to show a miracle but only talked about something spiritual, they all turned away and never came back to him (v. 66).

What’s the problem with the crowds? They had seen and enjoyed all the spectacular miracles that Jesus had done for them, but they failed to see beyond those things. In other words, they were excited with all the bread Jesus provided for them but didn’t appreciate him as the source of life. I don’t want to criticize anyone in this hungry world who is looking for bread to eat. Nor do I want anyone in this hungry world to miss out on the Bread of Life. The church is available for all to experience the spiritual feast of Jesus.

In this story, Jesus was trying to lead people from the fragments of material bread to the Bread of Life, which is far better than anything else: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (v. 35). It includes everything in it and plus eternal life in God’s kingdom. Thus, the Bread of Life deserves to be our primary and ultimate concern.

Through this symbolic lesson, Jesus was trying to teach us to look beyond something temporal, put the first thing first, or build a deeper relationship with God if we want to be well enough for our daily life. Remember, Jesus says, “Seek first [God’s] kingdom and [God’s] righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Mt. 6:33).

Facing the Giants
This Scripture talking about the Bread of Life reminds me of a Christian movie, “Facing the Giants.” It is based on the true story of Grant Taylor, a high school football head coach. This awesome movie made me laugh, cry, clap and cheer! But most of all, this movie was so inspirational, I was moved to seek out the Bread of Life.

In six years of coaching, Mr. Taylor had never led his team to win a game in every football season. Finally, his school government was considering demoting him to the status of ordinary coach. This wasn’t the only problem he was facing; his car was breaking down, the parents were trying to get him fired, and he discovered that he is the reason that his wife couldn’t become pregnant. Almost all things in his life had failed.

Devastated by his miserable situations, Mr. Taylor was now looking for solutions. He didn’t seek out any supplies or daily food but tried to build his own relationship with God, based on the Scripture, “God is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer in whom I take refuge” (Ps. 18:2). He then, along with his boys, he created a new coaching philosophy, that is, “if we win, we will praise the Lord; if we lose, we will praise the Lord.” From that point on, he experienced lots of changes in his life: all of his players respected him and followed his direction; their parents came to trust in him; and he even got a brand new car from an anonymous donor.

Yet, the real miracle happened in the football season. His team had never won even in the regional league, but they were now starting to win games. At the final match, his team made a dramatic reversal and won the game. It was the first State Championship that his high school won in their history. But this was not the end. His miracles continued; he and his wife had two children of their own.

We are like Grant Taylor facing the giants, facing all kinds of crisis in life. When we feel like we’ve hit the bottom of life, we don’t know where to start or how to rebuild our life again. This movie reminds us that our daily (temporary) bread can’t keep us from troubles, but the Bread of Life (our faithfulness in God) has the power to restore us, fill us up, and bless all of our life.

Labor for the Bread of Life
What kind of bread do we want to seek out? No matter what it is, there is nothing free. We have to pay for all the supplies and necessities we want to have. Likewise, the Bread of Life is not free. We have to “buy” it as we seek out God’s grace and power. (next Sunday, we will talk about what we can do to earn God’s grace).

If we really know that God is the true source of our life, then, let us labor for the Bread of Life which does not perish but endures to eternal life (v. 27), through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit now and f

Sermon: Christ’s Compassion and Our Hands

July 29, 2018 [Green]
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21
Pastor SeokCheol Shin

Christ’s Compassion and Our Hands

The Mission Week with Youth
During the last week, I was privileged to meet our youth and work with them as we reached out in downtown Hartford. It was a lot of work. I can’t count the hours and efforts that our teachers put into this deal of youth ministry. I am so proud of our youth who were willing to serve people on the streets; they are faithful disciples and our hope for the next generation.

More than a miracle
Based on our youth ministry, I had meditated on today’s passage from John’s Gospel, which is about Jesus and his disciple’s feeding ministry. Over the next few weeks, we will continue on this theme of “the Bread of Life,” and I hope we can find how we can share of God’s abundant love and lavish grace to all humanity.

Jesus feeding more than 5,000 people is one of the well-known passages in the Gospels. If we include their wives and children, the crowds would be about 20,000. Jesus did it only with five loaves and two fishes. Our preachers tend to focus on Jesus’ compassion and power to bring out a miracle to feed the hungry. Yes, I never doubt that Jesus Christ is the bread of life and whoever comes to him will have enough for their lives!

But, I’d like to point out that this story is more than a miracle. Good Christians tend to take the Bible literally, and if we consider some of Jesus’ teachings and miracles as parables or signs or symbols, they will say that we are less faithful to God. Still people want to raise a question, “how is it possible?” We know there are things in the Bible that we can’t explain with human reason or science. But we have a very nice answer for all the mysterious events in the Bible. That is, “God can do it!” And we want to shout to those who are still in doubt, “Just believe!”

By the way, if God is the same yesterday, today and forever, why do those amazing miracles written in the Bible never happen in our actual life? If it is all about Jesus’ miracles, why do we talk about discipleship; why do we respond to his command as his disciples? Why do we want to nurture our children and youth and bring them into action?

In terms of miracle, I have no problem saying that miracle is everywhere in God’s creation: God has already given us a world out of nothing, already provided sun and earth, water and wind, seeds and materials everywhere. Everything we have is divine because everything comes from God!

The Old Testament highlights that God provides something out of nothing. That is how God created the world and everything in it; God provided manna for his people when they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. But this Gospel story is different. Jesus didn’t make something out of nothing here. Rather, he took what God already provided from people’s hands. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, when the disciples turned to Jesus and asked how to feed the crowds, Jesus turned back to them and said, “You give them something to eat.” That means they already had enough resources to resolve the problem there.”

Of course, feeding the large crowds would be impossible. That’s why Philip complained, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little” (v. 7). As Andrew points out, all they could find is “five barley loaves and two fish” belonging to a little boy in the crowd. And then just like Philip, he also complained, “[What can we do with this little lunch?]” (v. 9)

Our society tends to believe that bigger is always better. Unfortunately, the church has bought into the same philosophy. We think that the bigger church is the better and more successful church. (Honestly, I am not exceptional – talking about how I responded to my new appointment here in Rockville and how the Vermont congregations responded to it). Does Jesus command us to make a mega church? Does Jesus call the greatest to accomplish his salvation ministry?

Let us think about some of the small things that God used to do incredible things: God called a young man David to defeat the giant Goliath; Jesus chose twelve ordinary men to change the world; Jesus even taught us that we have to be servants if we want to follow him… Small things in the hands of Christ can accomplish amazing things.  This congregation accomplishes amazing things every week through the small actions of a few people.  If everyone did a small thing to help, we would make the world a better place to live.

Today’s passage is another example that Jesus used a small thing to do a great thing. He took the modest lunch from a little boy, gave thanks to God, broke the bread, and started to share with people. And what happened? There was enough to throw a big party. This would be like a backyard cookout with everyone spread out on the grass, enjoying the sunset and the cool evening breeze. What Jesus showed in this miracle is that whatever God has already given us, no matter how many or little, how big or small, whatever we have is always enough, if we decided to share with others. And when we share our resources, there is always plenty for everyone, and more left over besides.

Some of you would want to argue that they could have a party because Jesus multiplied the little food; without his power, there is nothing like a party in our lives. You still want to believe that this is nothing but a miracle (but not as a parable) and only Jesus can do this. Yet here is one thing you and I have to agree on although we have a different perspective on how to interpret the Bible. That is, Jesus worked this miracle through ordinary people.

The food was not suddenly dropped from heaven but was offered from a little boy among the crowds. Thus, the boy’s small contribution or sacrifice of what he had was the first step toward Jesus’ miracle. After Jesus blessed the bread, it was his disciples who distributed the meals. Even though the miracle did not take place through their power, they were participated in sharing the meals and feeding all the people in the wilderness. Therefore, we can say that the disciples’ hands for distribution were part of the vehicles of God’s grace.

Some scholars think it is possible that the real miracle of feeding the crowds was that the people were so inspired by the little boy who offered his own lunch, that they all shared what they had—and it was more than enough to feed everyone!

I like this interpretation even if it tends to diminish the reality of God’s unlimited power in Christ. Let us look around our world. The world already produces more than enough grain to feed every human being. But one billion people are now hungry. God has provided enough for all humanity, but the problem is, it is not being shared with all. Why couldn’t we experience all those amazing miracles written in the Bible? It was probably because we might not share or sacrifice what we have; we might not give our hands to serve those who are in need.

The hands and feet of Jesus
With a little boy’s contribution, Jesus fed more than the 5,000. What we have, what we bring to Jesus’ table (or Food Pantry in terms of our ministry) seems too little to meet all the needs we see around us. But let us realize that it is not the amount of our supplies but the power of Jesus working in our sacrificial and serving hands that can transform this world into the world where all the hungry are satisfied. Last week our Youth Ministry worked to feed the hungry and helped the homeless obtain some of life’s basic needs.  They gave of their time and energy to provide for others.

Let us remember that Jesus himself is the hope of our life. Christ’s compassion for the hungry world will be our hope. And we as his servants should be his hands and feet to share and distribute God’s abundant love, and when we participate in sharing and serving others, we can always bring forth God’s mysterious miracle to our hungry world. Amen.

Sermon: Servanthood in Diversity

July 22, 2018
Ordinary Time/Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Genesis 1:24-28; Mark 10:42-45
Pastor SeokCheol Shin

Servanthood in Diversity

Cross-cultural/cross-racial ministry
One of the beauties that I can say about our communities is “diversity.” It’s not only diversity with many different ethnic groups but also diversity with wild animals. But my first impression of diversity here came from the invitation to Richard’s graduation party. There I saw little kids, young adults, early twenties and thirties, and some adults and some old folks. Regardless of age, or racial, or social differences, we all just had a wonderful time. For that, Richard in the midst of the whole crowd was so busy hosting the party all day long and making everybody connected to each other, feeling comfortable and enjoying the party all together.

The worship and ministry we are doing together is called “cross-cultural/cross-racial ministry.” I cross over the bridge to serve you and you also cross over the bridge to welcome me and work with me in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. The most important task of this ministry is how to keep or manage peace and harmony among us.

When I was in Vermont, I was only one (as an Asian man) in my white community. Truly, I am now feeling much more comfortable here in CT because I am just one of a lot. But I can tell my rural ministry brought me a wonderful lesson about diversity, not from people (because they are all white folks) but from the green mountains in Vermont. Let me share my previous experience in Vermont, based on my sermon theme, “diversity and harmony.”

Diversity in Vermont
When I said, “I came from Boston,” some of the parishioners questioned me back, “Why?” That question of why sounded like “What’s wrong?” Well, I understand why people wondered about my moving to Vermont. It’s such a radical change, isn’t it?

Since I was born in the world, I had been always a city boy who knows about a traffic jam, a nasty smell and a loud noisy from the streets. But all of a sudden, I had to learn how to deal with black flies and bugs, how to get along with a lot of trees everywhere, how to survive a winter, and how to drive down on country roads during the winter season. Of course, I had enjoyed hiking, going fishing, and kayaking on the lake.

One of my joys in that small country was to see animals. Before I moved there, the animals I was familiar with were only dogs and cats. But after I moved there, I could see lots of wild animals and domestic animals like chickens, cows, goats, horses, and so forth. Most people in my congregation had those animals just for pleasure or pastime after their retirements. But it’s still a lot of work to feed and take care of animals.

When I visited an old couple from my congregation, I saw their two goats and four chickens in their little farm. The wife introduced her goats as her babies. I was little nervous and even scared when I got close to them. Who knows if they would attack me because I was a stranger to them? But unlike my worry, they were very friendly to me. A while later, she gave me a little bowl that had corn kernels. When I put those corn on my palm, the goats came to me right away and licked my palm to eat the corn. It was my first time touching goats, and I was feeling great! “Wow, people and animals live together like a family here in Vermont!” That was my impression after I looked around their farm.

Diversity in God’s creation
What made me most marvel at in Vermont was the glory of God’s creation in the earth, sky, mountain and lake, and soon I came to humble myself by the reality that God cares for all creatures so insignificant as humankind. When I got to the top of Elmore mountain, I just spoke to myself with delight, “It is good.” (I never forget my shock to see the fresh greenness all over the land.) “Indeed, it was very good” (vv. 21, 25), this is what God proclaimed when God created all things in the beginning. God also blessed each of them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth” (vv. 22, 24). This passage teaches us that it is God’s will for all the creatures to thrive on earth.

Yet I believe there is some other deeper reason why God said his creation was good. I believe it’s about harmony. Although they were many and all different, all of the living creatures were not in competition or conflict but in harmony and peace. God created all creatures in huge swarms, in great diversity, and in perfect harmony with one another. Harmony in diversity is the beauty of God’s creation!

Living in peace and harmony must be the question we have to take seriously as we live in very diverse communities. How do we like to see other races? How can we communicate with other cultures? How can we live together and get along with them in our diverse world? For those questions, I got the answer from the parishioners’ farm. That is “feeding.” They fed their animals and they got along together and their farm was full of peace and harmony. In terms of our Christian ministry, it’s service that brings us fellowship and reconciliation.

Dominion as stewardship
Now I want to address human creatures. The good news is that God created humans in the image of God. God was even pleased to give us a special authority – to exercise dominion over other creatures, so we are like a God to them; “God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth’” (v. 28). Thus, it seems like humanity is the pinnacle of God’s creation, right?

Yes, we have dominion over all kinds of animals in the world. That’s why we can have pets for pleasure. That’s why we can have cattle farming as a business. But when we have pets, don’t we know we are also responsible for them? At least, we have to feed them every day; we have to give them some shots and sometimes bring them to animal hospitals; we also have to walk our dogs in order to help them stay healthy. Many people even consider their pets as their own children. When we have pets or cattle, we are responsible for serving their needs.

Now I want to talk about Noah’s Ark. Noah was a special man that God entrusted creatures to him, so he had dominion over all the animals that joined his Ark. So what did he do to the animals with his dominating power? He had to feed them, remove their wastes, and make sure all the companions got along with each other in the Ark. This Savior Noah had to work hard as a servant to all of the creatures.

If we understand the definition of dominion in Genesis as stewardship or servanthood, we are to delight in other creatures, as God does, and to take responsibility for them. (think about Jesus who is the eternal Lord buts lived as a servant to all). Jesus our Lord says in today’s Gospel lesson, “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (v. 43-45).

Probably our communities and our world are like Noah’s Ark and as we have the Gospel from Jesus Christ, we are like Noah to whom God entrusts all things. How can we preach the Gospel to all the creatures; how can we restore God’s creation back to peace and harmony with each other? If we understand our Christian vocation as stewardship or service, we see others as our companions in our journey; we can welcome all human races as our brothers and sisters in God. It doesn’t matter who they are or what they do, but it matters to us how to let all people come together, reconcile with each other, and live and thrive together in peace and harmony. Servanthood is the way we bring God’s kingdom on earth.

The GOM’s service and fellowship
We have some very dedicated men serving our church through their works.  The Grumpy Old Men (GOM’s) meet every Wednesday morning to provide maintenance work on our church building and grounds.  Their (often unseen) actions keep our church in good condition and support our church events and services.  The men break for coffee, doughnuts, and fellowship about half-way through the morning. Friendships are formed and strengthened among these men over a cup of coffee.

What’s the secret of our coexistence with others in our diverse communities? In our GOM’s dedication and service, I saw the greatest serve the least; I saw the image of God and the image of Jesus the Shepherd who feeds his flock and cares for all creation. In your serving hands to others, I saw God’s redemption and reconciliation with all of creation. Amen.

Sermon: Focus on Nothing But the Gospel of Jesus Christ

1 Corinthians 1:26-2:5
RUMC 15 July 2018
Pastor SeokCheol Shin
Focus on nothing but the Gospel of Jesus Christ

 In time of transition
Each summer brings a number of transitions in our country. Some families celebrate their kids’ graduations; young couples have more weddings in June and July than in any other time of the year; many people are looking forward to vacation right about now; people living in the sunbelt are at the beach or in the mountains during the weekends, and a number of older families starts heading north to find cooler breezes. All of these changes, all of these transitions are happening about right now.

Our church has been in transition as you are now getting a new pastor. We have been waiting in anticipation of what comes next. Some of us may want to move forward. Others may want to stand still or move backward. So how do you like change? How do you face it when everything around you is shifting and changing?

Time of confusion
Basically, we don’t like change. In many cases, it brings us confusion as we are not familiar with new environments. I am still organizing things in my new parsonage after moving. It’s a lot of work! But I believe my cat Joey has more problems with moving; until recently, he has been hiding under my bed. Usually when I give him a can of food, we have reconciliation and get along quite well, but Joey just licked the food and crawled under my bed and never came out of it. Last week, he finally jumped on my couch and sat down in my lap as he used to. I think he is now adjusting to our new house. I said to him, “Joey, I know you have been confused with all of this sudden change, but I am the same yesterday, today, and forever and my lap is always for you. Trust in me!”

Have you ever felt hopeless like my silly cat? In this life it seems like we will never be set free from all sorts of stresses and hardships. People we love pass away. Divorce occurs. Children move away. Friends abandon us. Situations change. The pastor we love has to move out and a new pastor comes in… You may wonder, “Is this new minister the right person for me?”  Or if you are really disappointed about the pastoral transition, you may want to stay on your sofa, just like my cat.

When everything is in change and we are in confusion, let us be reminded of the good news we have in Jesus Christ, who also goes by another name, Immanuel (God-with-us). We have a God who knows every fear, every doubt, every thought we have. Remember what Jesus told his disciples before he was arrested? “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me” (Jn 14:1). And in First John we are told that “God is love and that there is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear” (1 Jn. 4:18). God is perfect love and God is always with us. Jesus said, “I will not leave you…I will never forsake you.” (Jn. 14:8). If we trust in our Immanuel God and his promise, what shall we fear or worry?

Time of excitement
Yet, change is not always bad to us. Somehow it brings us feelings of excitement and anticipation for something good. There are things we look forward to with not only anxiety but also curiosity. People wait in anticipation for celebrations like graduation, or marriage, or having a baby, or retirement…  Waiting in anticipation is a part of life and there are often mixed emotions.

I really can tell change is God’s gift. Ever since I moved here, something happened to my heart; I feel like I am born again and my lifestyle has been changed. I came to love flowers, I wake up early in the morning, I am more passionate in my fellowship with people…. During my transition I get to set up my new office, explore the Meditation Garden, and get used to working with the church secretary.

I really appreciate my parsonage… If I just live in it for sleep, it’s really unfair to this wonderful house. Definitely, this house deserves people’s attention, so I started planting flowers in my yard. On July 4th, I drove around my surrounding towns to see what our communities look like. What a beautiful and wonderful area!!! After several hours of my tours, I figured out what I need to do if I really want to be a member of our communities. You know when you join in a certain organization, you have to pay the membership and you are responsible to keep it up. To be a member of our communities, 1) you have to plant lots of flowers around your house; 2) you have to set bird feeders near your windows; 3) you have to mow your own lawns every week in the summer. Last Monday, I mowed my lawn for about three hours. It was a lot work, but I was proud that I could ally with my neighbors.

Yet my real joy comes from you all:

  • The gift (brand new bed) from Jack and Judy.
  • The graduation party at Richard and Rebecca’s house.
  • Meeting with “Grumpy Old Men” (GOM) and chatting with them.
  • Visiting the homes of Phyllis and Ray Clark and talking about how to renew the ministry of “Seekers.”

I have only been hanging around this church for a couple of weeks here and there. But in that short amount of time I have had opportunities to meet some of you and hear your life stories. In our conversations, you have expressed to me how important this church is to you and how much you love the people here and how much you want to do for God’s sake. What a great church this is!!!

And I can tell it is – you all are already putting your faith into action:

  • Sunday School and VBS
  • Youth Ministry
  • Music Ministry – Grove Street
  • GOM
  • Seekers
  • Visitation Ministry
  • Feeding Ministry

Rockville UMC is the Body of Christ, the hands and feet of Christ in this community!

Thank you for your kindness and hospitality; thank you all for your dedications to the church. I really want to let you know that I am so thankful to be here with you, and I can’t wait to work with you as we seek together for God’s vision for us. And the most important thing is that God loves you; God loves this city and Rockville UMC is God’s special vessel in this particular place and time to transform many people around us. It’s my privilege to join in your family parties and listen to your life stories and go on a lifelong journey with you!

Time of worry
While feeling blessed living in this beautiful community with these wonderful people, however, I am also feeling uneasy in my heart. What’s wrong with me? Do I need more signs? Do I need more gifts? Do I need more parties? Or do I need more flowers in my garden? No, what I receive from you is more than enough. My uneasy feeling is this, “Can I be a good gift to this church?”

There you are; and you are wondering – “Will this new pastor take time to listen to my story? Will his ministry be adequate to meet my needs? Will he keep me interested on each Sunday in a sermon? Will he make my children behave? Will he attract more young couples to our church? Will he make our church well known to our communities?” … In this early stage of our transition, you wonder what I can do for you.

And here I am wondering – “Will my talents be adequate to their needs? Will I succeed in keeping their eyes open during my sermon? Will I bring more young people that I can grow the church? Will my sermons earn their respect? … In this early stage of our transition, (just like you) I also wonder how you respond to my leadership… In this time of change, we are both putting each other on trial.

Before it gets too late, I need to confess to you how young I am in ministry, not only in my age but in every way.  I am continually working to improve my poor talents for children and youth ministry; for music ministry, for counseling, for finance and administration.… By the way, after three hours mowing my lawn, I came to doubt that I really can keep up well my membership of our communities… All of a sudden, I feel like I am taking risk in the midst of this wonderful change of my life. “Lord, I am not sure I can satisfy all those great people…” While confessing my weakness, I felt the power of God touching my heart and bringing me to this passage from Saint Paul:
Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’ (1:26-31).
“When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God” (2:1-5).

And here I am, Rockville family, just a plain and ordinary pastor.  When I came to Rockville Church, I didn’t come preaching lofty words of wisdom, or impressing you with fancy spiritual stuff, or enjoying my golden membership here in our communities. I am here only to preach nothing but Jesus Christ and his Gospel of God’s love and grace.

Nothing but Jesus Christ
Let me remind you of my question, “How do you face change and handle it when everything around you is shifting and changing?” In this early stage of our transition, you and I are in confusion, but why don’t we stop wondering or judging who I am and who you are, but decide to know nothing among us except only Jesus Christ and his love and his presence in us! From there, we can look forward in anticipation for the wisdom and power of God for the sake of God’s salvation ministry through Rockville UMC. Let’s exclaim all together: Amen!

Sermons: Life’s Journey with Jesus’ Yoke

Matthew 11:28-30
RUMC 08 July 2018
Pastor SeokCheol Shin

Life’s Journey with Jesus’ Yoke

Greetings
          Today is the day of new beginnings for Rockville United Methodist Church and for my life’s journey as well. For the past 5 years I was given the privilege to serve two lovely congregations in Vermont. Now God has brought me here to serve Him through serving you.

Before I give you my message, I want to say how grateful I am to your previous Pastor Paul O’Neil for all he has done for me to have a smooth transition. He has had a wonderful ministry here with you, and I know he will be greatly missed. We have had a number of conversations since April and he has shared with me what a great congregation you are. I know you will continue to pray for him and Janet as they make their new beginning in New Hampshire.

I am thankful that I have Rev. Stan Culy in our congregation. I met him at the Annual Conference a month ago. Like our Good Shepherd, Rev. Culy first reached out to me and gave me a warm hug; I almost called him “Dad.”

I also want to express my appreciation to Sandy Gallup and the transition team as well as all who have helped me to feel so welcomed. Through our emails, facebook chats, phone calls, and prayers you encouraged me to cross over into my “Promised Land!” Yes, I am willing to be in ministry with each of you as we seek to serve God our Lord.

Finding rest in Jesus
Yet, I still can’t believe I am here in Connecticut. Until two weeks ago, I had served very rural communities, and today I am here to serve very diverse communities. What a radical change! Life is often compared to a journey. We never know where life takes us from one moment to the next.

Let us suppose that you are planning to travel to Korea, and this is your first visit there. How would you like to prepare for it? I believe that before you get on that airplane, you will try to get many kinds of information about Korea through internet, traveling books, or friends who know about Korea. Why? It is simply because you want to have a safe and fun time there.

Likewise, it’s better to entrust our life’s journey to someone who knows where we are going and what we are doing. That is our Lord Jesus Christ. Some people may argue, “Why do I have to depend on him? It is my own journey not Jesus’?” For this human question, I have two clear answers to share with you.

First, unlike our physical travel, our life’s journey is unpredictable. As you know, things don’t always go the way we plan, and we never know what happens next. We sometimes struggle with bumps and jostles on our roads. It is such a painful truth that bad things can happen anytime to anyone without any clear reasons, that, we are sometimes afraid of our journey.

Second, we human beings are weak. Let me ask you how strong you are. Can you try to pick up this pulpit? You can try. But how many of us think you can pick up the piano or a car? None can do it! There are many things we can move, but there are many more things that we can’t move or control by our own power and wisdom.

My brothers and sisters, some of you may have some pretty heavy burdens in your lives, and yet, you think that you have to carry them alone. Perhaps, you may have a physical ailment that makes your life hard; perhaps, someone in your family has serious illness and you are worried about it; or you may have been out of work and your family is having financial difficulties. Some others might face the prospect of living life alone after the death of a spouse. I don’t know yet what kind of burdens and worries have been depressing your heart, but it is true that we all labor in our everyday lives, and we are weary physically, mentally and emotionally.

Don’t we want to find a cure for our anxiety and weariness on our journey? Does anyone exist to help us to carry our burdens? Jesus says this morning, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest” (v. 28).

If I say to someone, “come to me, my friend, I will take care of all your problems,” then people would laugh at me because they know that I don’t possess any power to resolve all of people’s problems. Then what about our Lord Jesus Christ? Can we count on him to make a good promise for us?

Yes, indeed! We can count on him because he is our Lord God who created all things in the world. Plus, he knows how hard human life is. As the Son of God, he also went through a life’s journey while taking up sufferings and pains during his public ministry in our world. So when Jesus, who knows everything about our life’s journey, makes such a promise, it is not a pep talk but a sure guarantee.

Jesus’ yoke on us
Yet, interestingly, Jesus also says in the following sentence, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me” (v. 29). Well, yoke is a farm machine to reign oxen and draw them to plow the field. So, it is actually for working. He just promises to offer rest and then suddenly speaks of taking up another burden in the next moment. What we need is a vacation, not more labors. Isn’t it a contradiction?

I think that Jesus uses this parable to explain how he can help us to carry our loads. Jesus’ yoke means his lordship upon us; he is our Lord and we are his servants, and as our Lord, he can lead us and control things that we face in our journey.

Don’t get me wrong, dear friends. Jesus Christ doesn’t only send me here to take it easy with everything. If I am only here to take a vacation, sooner or later I might look for another location. He drew me to work here along with you, and as his servant, working for God is my joy and my rest!

If all we need is physical rest, we can always take a nap. If we need only emotional rest, we can always go on a vacation. But where can we find our spiritual rest? Where can we find true peace and joy? Jesus promises this morning, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest… Take my yoke upon you… and you will find rest for your souls.”

Ready for our new journey
My dear brothers and sisters, I want you to know that I came to you not by my own will but guided by Jesus’ yoke in my heart. I am thankful for my new appointment here along with you, my new family in Christ. So, reflecting on his message for this morning, I would like to say to you, “Come to me, my sisters and brothers, and I will give you God’s love.” And please, welcome me and show me God’s love. As we come together in the name of Jesus Christ, we may have rest and peace for our life’s journey together.

Thanks to God’s grace and love, we are now ready to start our new journey and new ministry together. May God bless all of you here today as we welcome each other in God’s love, submit our lives to the Lord, and work for Christ’ saving ministry to the world. Amen.

 

Sermon: Palm Sunday 2018

Palm Sunday 2018
Mark 11:1-11
RUMC
25 March 2018

On December 4, 1977, the world witnessed the coronation of his Imperial Majesty, King Jean Bedel Bokassa I of the former Central African Republic.  The price tag for this very poor African country was a whopping $25 million dollars.  At precisely at 10:10AM, the procession started with the blast of trumpets and drum rolls.  The first to walk down the red carpet was eight of the king’s twenty-nine children.  They were followed by the heir to the throne, the king’s eldest son; Jean Bedel-Bokassa II who was dressed in a white admiral’s uniform.  Queen Catherine, the favorite of the king’s nine wives, was next in line.  She wore a $73,000 gown laced with pearls.  Now when the selected family was in place, the king arrived in his imperial carriage drawn by six majestic horses.  As the Marine Band played “The Sacred March of His Majesty” the king walked down the red carpet where he was cloaked in a thirty-two pound royal robe that was embroidered in gold and pearls.  As he sat on his $2 ½ million dollar eagle throne, the golden crown worth millions of dollars was placed on his head.  But this was all for naught, because the king was deposed a couple of years later.

Today’s scripture text is also about a procession, but it was not as pompous as the one I described above.  Jesus’ triumphal entry was more significant in that it started the events that resulted in our Christian faith, where it has changed the lives of countless numbers of people down through the ages.  And when we keep Christ’s word in our hearts, praise him with our lips and our lives all during the week, we truly honor him.

My text is Mark 11:11-11.
When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”  11Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

The first Palm Sunday procession really marked what we know as the beginning of the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

  • It culminated in his death.
  • And his death led to the resurrection.
  • And his resurrection led to his ascension.
  • And his ascension led to a spiritual kingdom.
  • And someday he will take his rightful place as the King of Kings.

But on this first Palm Sunday, Jesus’ choice of transportation was a young donkey.  In Biblical times, the donkey served as a symbol of peace.  For instance, if a country were at war, ambassadors would travel on that particular animal to a certain location and work out a peace treaty.  On the other hand, victorious kings and generals would enter the conquered city on a majestic horse.

As modern day disciples, most of us know the Palm Sunday story, but there is a question that needs to be asked.  Has Jesus received a welcome or a hosanna in your life?  Is he truly the king of your heart?

As people of faith, we are wired to worship, which is really an innate longing to connect with God.  John 4:24 tells us, “God is spirit and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”  Psalm 103:1- “Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.”

At our Sunday morning church service, we try to sing praises to God and thank Him for his blessings.  But what about the rest of the week?  What about when we are in the car, or at home, or on the way to appointments?  Do we honor and thank Him or at least think of Him?

I would like to bring to your attention a person whose life was the epitome of prayer, praise and worship.  He was Nicolas Hermann who lived a long time ago in the country of France.  When he was older, he entered a monastery in Paris where he changed his name to Brother Lawrence.  Now Brother Lawrence was an unusual monk.  He didn’t care for theology or long prayers.  He had difficulty following theological discussions and was usually bored with all of that, but he felt very much at home in the kitchen.  And it was while he cooked or washed pots and pans that Lawrence would have conversations where he would praise and thank the Lord.  This may sound odd for a monk, but Lawrence was concerned with knowing God, not trying to understand the complexities of theology or the deep mysteries of the Bible.

Though Lawrence has been gone a long time, he does teach us that worship can be done anywhere and anytime.  It doesn’t always have to be in a church.

Here are some meaningful quotes:

  • Worship means to feel in the heart.
  • Without the worship of the heart, liturgical prayer becomes formal routine. ~Aelred Graham. 

Palm Sunday is about how we honor and praise God.  When we receive this palm, which is in the shape of a cross, think of it as a symbol of Christ’s victory over death and how we are to honor him in our hearts.

I have some thoughts on how we can do that.

  • Try to speak non-memorized prayers from the heart like Brother Lawrence did in the kitchen. Have a conversation with God.  For example:
    “Dear God, it is nice you are here today and taking this time to listen to what I have to say.”
    “Jesus, as I drive down this highway, I need to talk about some things that bother me”.
    “God in heaven, I have not lived the way I am supposed to, but would you hear what I have to say.”
  • Another thing we can do to improve our worship is find a place at home to be your place of prayer.
    My favorite spot is in the living room where I take out a small cross and set it on a table.  You may want to light a candle or have an empty chair as an invitation for Jesus to sit in.
  • Borrow a Hymn book from our library. Read some of the hymns and use it as your devotional.  It would truly bless your heart.
  • Take this palm home and put it in a place as a reminder to honor the Lord with your prayers and your life. Let it be a reminder as a Christian that you can do small and helpful things for others, as your life honors the Lord.

Let me close.  Earlier I had spoken about King Bokassa’s pompous coronation ceremony, but it is Christ’s legacy that continues.

May this Palm be a reminder that we are to honor and praise the Lord.

  • Here at church
  • In our homes.
  • In our schools.
  • In our place of employment.
  • In all the places we frequent.

May God help us this week as we honor and praise the Lord.

Sermon: Sir, We Would See Jesus

Sir, We Would See Jesus
John 12:20-26
RUMC
18 March 2018

When I was in US Army Chaplain’s school, we had to complete lots of written assignments.  One exercise my instructor graded with the word “BLUF” in big red capital letters.  Does anyone know what that means?  I certainly did not at the time.  I later found out, this stands for Bottom Line Up Front; it is thing we want people to remember or the most important idea.

In today’s gospel text, we have an example of BLUF; Jesus told his followers what he thought was worth remembering or most important.

My text is John 12:20-33: Jesus’s words is a message for us on how we are to put him first in our lives and truly live out the gospel.
20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

It was the final week in Jesus’ life and the time of the Passover; when thousands of pilgrims had converged on Jerusalem to celebrate this important Jewish festival.  Among this number were certain Greek speaking Jews who wanted to see Jesus.

Now I suppose the reason they wanted to see Jesus was that they could tell he was different.  He was nothing like the teachers of the law or for that matter, Greek philosophers. While at the same time, it appeared that Jesus had the answers to life.  And it was here, our Lord told present and future believers the BLUF, Bottom Line Up Front, that true discipleship is costly when he said, “those who love their life will lose it and those who hate their life will keep it for eternal life.” 

2 Corinthians 5:20 tells us that we are Ambassadors for Christ and because of this special relationship with God; we can point people in the right directions.  Let me give three examples of those lived out these words and placed the kingdom of God ahead of their own interests.

The first involves an incident that took place on May 29, 1914.  This was when the cruise liner, the Empress of Ireland, accidentally collided with a coal freighter and began to sink.  Like on the Titanic, there were not enough life preservers.  However, there happened to be 167 members of the Salvation Army on board.  Realizing the grave situation, they all gave up their life preservers to others saying, “I can die better than you can.”  The reason they could confidently say that was because they were confident in their relationship with Christ and not fearful of eternity.

My hope for all of us that as we live out our lives to the Lord and do it with confidence as we seriously commit Christ’s words to our hearts.

My second example was an individual who put the gospel before his own personal needs and comfort. Dr.  Thomas Lambie had a dream and saw a man with an extended a leprous hand; the message from the dream was, “Take that hand.”  When Dr. Lambie awoke, he knew this was a sign from God and accepted the call.  Once in the country of Ethiopia, Dr. Lambie realized that a leper hospital was needed, but Ethiopian laws would not allow land to be sold to foreigners.  So he gave up his American citizenship to buy the needed land and built the hospital.  Later in life, his American citizenship was restored because of his great work among the lepers.

In Dr. Lambie’s discipleship he gave up comfort, prestige and country for those in need.  And the thought came to me, could we do the same?  Again this goes back to losing one’s life for the gospel.

The third example was someone that I knew.  Her name was Sybil, and I first met her at the San Antonio Ft Sam Houston Army Chapel while I was in Physical Therapy training.  There were two things unique about her: one, she was confined to a wheel chair, and the second thing was that she had a certain glow about her.  I would attribute her glow to the close walk she had with the Lord.  Because she had that special spiritual presence, I would bring my Army friends over to her house, and she could talk to them about their faith.  Though she was physically handicapped, she wasn’t spiritually.

To me it was obvious that Sybil had given up her old way of life (any type of sin, any negativity, and the self-centeredness she might have had) in exchange for a personal relationship with Christ.  Just knowing her, she has inspired me, to the same.

These are three examples of those who put the Kingdom of God first.  There are countless others down through the ages who had done the same.

Consider this story.  Once there was a hen and a pig who were in deep conversation when they walked past a church.  The pastor’s sermon -“How can we help the Poor?”- was written on the outdoor sign.   After a moment’s reflection the hen said, “I know what we can do.  We can give them a ham and egg breakfast.”  But the pig protested and said, “The breakfast would be only a contribution for you, but for me, it would mean total commitment.”

Let me close.  This week, as we go through all of your daily activities, consider our individual walk with the Lord.  Ponder what it means and how we are to lose one’s life for the gospel.  What kind of a change in attitude would that be?

  • Perhaps make peace with your Maker or someone you don’t like.
  • Confess your sins to the Lord.
  • If an opportunity for service comes your way, and you know it’s from God, say yes.
  • Dive deep in your faith and let the peace of God rule in your hearts.

When you do this, other people will begin to notice.  Our scripture text at face value seems absurd, but if we want fulfillment, we need that change in attitude to follow Christ.