Sermon: Prodigal Mission in Love

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

Prodigal Mission in Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sermon: 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.