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!

Sermon: A Mountain Top Experience

A Mountain Top Experience
Mark 9:2-9
February 11, 2018
Pastor Paul R. O’Neil

In today’s gospel text, the Apostles Peter, James and John had the most amazing mountain top experience; Jesus was transfigured before their very eyes. As a result, it forever defined who they were, and they were never the same.

When we truly experience the Lord in our hearts, it can be like a mountain top experience which will keep us going as we face those valleys of life that come our way. My text is Mark 9:2-9.
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus. 9As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
This is the Word of God. Thanks be to God.

On Monday Feb 19, I will be taking a 9 day sabbatical trip to the Holy Land with Bishop Devadhar and other clergy. While Janet and I have been there before, it seems to have a magnetic effect on me, and I will return once again. Janet prefers to stay home this time.

On a previous trip our tour visited the 1900 foot Mt Tabor, which was the scene of the Transfiguration. I vividly remember our tour bus slowly winding its way around the mountain. Once we got to top, we could see the bluish/green Sea of Galilee, the long windy Jordan River, thousands of olive trees that dotted the landscape. The same view that Jesus saw.

And it was here on this very mountain, our Lord’s appearance changed. His face shone like the brightness of the noonday sun. His clothes reflected the brilliance of the white light. Also present were two other celestial visitors: Moses, who represented the Old Testament law, and Elijah, who represented the prophets.

Even today, as we live in this postmodern and secular world filled with skepticism, the story of the Transfiguration is one that confirms my belief in the Lord Jesus.

The Transfiguration is like a movie entitled “Life after Life.” None of us will ever have an encounter exactly like this, but the next best thing is to experience the Lord in our hearts and see him through the eyes of faith.

Like I mentioned before, the promise of heaven gets us through the valleys. On Friday, February 2, Merilee Thomas died, and it is the promise of heaven and eternal life that is keeps her husband Harry hopeful that he will see his wife once again. Those who have gone through medical issues and suffering, those hard times will be a distant memory once we reach the other side.

One of the well-known painters of the French Impressionist School was a man named August Renoir. As his health began to fail, Renoir was housebound for the final ten years of his life. His good friend and fellow artist, Henry Matisse, would visit daily. Although Renoir was almost crippled with painful arthritis, he continued to paint. His friend saw the struggle said, “August, why do you continue to paint when you are in such agony?” With Renoir’s eyes fixed on the canvass, he said, “The beauty remains, the pain passes.”

Renoir’s statement reminds me of the scripture passage, “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard the wonderful things God has prepared for his children.”

In the Transfiguration, we are assured there is much more in the beyond waiting for us. But to keep that hope fresh, we need that mountain top experience of Christ fresh in our hearts. Periodically read about it so that our spiritual lives do not become stagnant. With the Transfiguration as a reality in our lives, our perspective changes; the fog is lifted and we see more clearly.

The Serendipity Bible has a series of questions that I would like us to consider:

  1. When was your most recent mountain top experience? A. Years ago. B. Quite recently. C. Right now. D. It hasn’t happened yet.
  2. What helps you feel close to God? A. Nature. B. Music. C. Being Alone With Christ. D. Real Christian Fellowship. E. The Lord’s Supper. F. Remembering His Love for Me.
  3. How do you feel when you are on top? A. Like being awed. B. Like the other shoe is about to drop. C. Like nothing else matters. D. Like conquering the World. E. Like staying forever.
  4. How would you describe your relationship with God now? A. On a mountain top. B. Down off the mountain. C. In the valley. D. In a quandary. E. In the desert. F. In the mid climb.

In my life I have had what I would call spiritual mountain top experiences, but today I still need those times of worship in order to feel refreshed and renewed.

Let me close. Using a movie term, the Transfiguration is a sneak preview of better things to come. In the meantime, let us keep our spiritual lives refreshed. As we enter the other side, we will be ready for the good things that God has prepared for us.