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

RUMC 2018 Holiday Bazaar

RUMC 2018 Holiday Bazaar
Saturday, November 17th 9 am-2 pm
Luncheon at 11:30 am

Handmade Baked Goods, Fancy Cookies, Silent Auction,
Grandma’s Attic, Christmas tables, Jewelry, books, puzzles, and more!

Details will be updated on our website http://www.rockumchurch.com/holiday-bazaar/.

It is time for our annual Holiday Bazaar at Rockville United Methodist Church–142 Grove Street, Rockville, CT 06066–on Saturday, November 17th from 9 am to 2 pm.  Holiday gifts, silent auction, fancy cookies, baked goods, handmade craft items, …there’s something for everyone! Don’t forget to stop by for lunch during your busy day for a treat that never disappoints.  For more information and updates, check our website at http://www.rockumchurch.com/holiday-bazaar/.

Rockville United Methodist Church is a small but very active church located at 142 Grove Street, Rockville, CT 06066.  Our members volunteer to help the community year round.  Sunday service is at 10:00 am.  Guests are always welcome to our services.  Our Fellowship hall is available for rent; we have full kitchen facilities. http://www.rockumchurch.com/home/.

                          

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.