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: Salt of the Earth Christians

Salt of the Earth Christians
February 12, 2017
RUMC Matthew 5:13-16

A Peanuts cartoon once showed this conversation between Peppermint Patty and Charlie Brown: Peppermint Patty:  “Guess what Chuck. Today was the first day of school and I got sent to the principal’s office.  It was your fault, Chuck.”
Charlie Brown said: “My fault? How could it be my fault?  Why do you say everything is my fault?”
Peppermint Patty then said, “You’re my friend, aren’t you Chuck? You should have been a better influence on me.” 

While Peppermint Patty tried to pass the buck and put the blame on Charlie Brown for all of her troubles, she did have a point. All of us should be a good example for others.  I would like to look at four verses of scripture where Jesus showed his disciples how they could essentially affect their world in a positive way.

The scripture is Matthew 5:13-16.
You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot.14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
This is the Word of God.
Thanks be to God.

In this passage of scripture, Jesus talked about salt and light. My focus will be salt; there are many varieties to choose from.  For example when I was recently in the Big Y this past week, I saw the following:

  • Morton’s Iodized salt.
  • Diamond Crystal Premium All Purpose and Kosher Salt
  • Iodized, Natural and Mediterranean Sea Salt
  • Garlic Salt

At the Ellington Agway they sell:

  • Salt Blocks for deer
  • Rock Salt for snow

If you go into Walgreens, there is was an oldie:

  • Epsom salt.

In Bible times, 2000 years ago, people didn’t have the variety if salts that we have. It was a food preservative.  For example, when the disciples caught their fish on the Sea of Galilee, they would clean it, rub salt inside and dry it so it would not spoil.

When Jesus spoke of “salt” he used it as a metaphor; he likened it to the type of believer who would make a positive impact on our world. In our United Methodist Church, we have a vision statement that maintains who we are and what we should be: “Transformed by the Holy Spirit, united in trust, we will respond to God’s call to proclaim Christ boldly to the world.” Those are lofty ideals, and the only way we can do all these things is to become “Salt of the Earth” Christians.

In the May 2000 issue of Decision magazine, there were two youth leaders who had a “salt” like quality in their Christian witness. The title of the article was called “I Saw Something different in Those Guys.”  Carl Cothern, the author of that article wrote:
Gavin and I were helping my pastor guide thirty lively teens through an all-night lock in at the church. Early in the evening, Gavin challenged me to a game of table tennis in the fellowship hall.  Our game quickly heated up.  With the score tied and only three points to go before the end of the game, Tracy an eighth grade girl, grabbed the ping pong ball and kept it from us.  My first impulse was irritation.  But then a scripture passage, 1 Corinthians 13, one that our group had read that afternoon came to mind which said: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking.  It is not easily angered; it keeps no record of wrongs.  The two youth leaders joked with Tracy until she finally tossed the ping pong ball back on to the table.  We thanked her and finished the game.  Hours later, after a spiritual film, Tracy and six others prayed to receive Christ as their Savior and Lord.  Later that night, when gathered for testimonies, Tracy said, ‘I grew up in a family where nobody goes to church. I have learned to get attention by making people mad at me.  But earlier this evening I saw something different.  When I stole the ball from those guys, they didn’t get mad at me.  They didn’t fight back.  I decided right then that I wanted whatever it was they had.’
Let me say this, those “salt of the earth” qualities made an impact on Tracy.

In Bible times salt was highly valued, and, remarkable as this sounds, Roman soldiers were sometimes paid with bags of salt. In fact, our word for salary comes from the Latin word salarium, which referred to the payments with salt.

Now when you think about it, salt is a substance that does not draw attention to itself. It is silent and does not make noise.  It works best when it is not seen.  It exerts its influence in the background.  When Jesus refers to believers as “salt of the earth” he means that our presence could positively be used to purify, to heal, to nurture, to thaw, to preserve and to season others in the name of the gospel.

Modern day hospitals as we know them began their existence under the influence of Christianity. The same can be said for the Red Cross, orphanages, adoption agencies, and mental health facilities.  Additionally a number of colleges and universities had their origins through the ministry of Christian believers.  The aid and education were seen; the Christians behind the scenes provided the spice that shaped their framework.

Some time ago, I saw a movie called “Molokai;” if you go to the library they can get a DVD of it for you. It is the story of the Roman Catholic priest, Father Damien, who ministered to exiled lepers on a remote Hawaiian island called Molokai.  Like salt, Father Damien preserved the faith of lepers and gave them hope.

For salt to be effective, it has to be placed into or on the food. In order for Father Damien to properly do his work, he had to live among lepers.  Although it ultimately cost him his life, Father Damien had no regrets.  When we become part of people’s lives or simply live the gospel, we become like salt in a good way.

Someone once asked Mahatma Gandhi, the great Indian leader, “What was the greatest hindrance to Christianity?” He answered, “It is the Christians.”  You see Gandhi’s exposure to Christianity first began when he was a young lawyer in South Africa, and it was not positive.  At that time period, he studied the Bible, especially the teachings of Jesus.  There was one watershed moment in his life, when he decided to attend a Sunday morning worship service in a South African white’s only church.  It was there that an English man approached Gandhi in a harsh tone of voice.  “Where do you think you are going kaffir?”  Now Kaffir is an offensive racial term for a colored person.  Gandhi replied, “I would like to attend worship here.”  The church elder snarled and said, “There is no room for kaffirs in this church.  Get out of here or I’ll have my assistants throw you down the steps.”  And that was it.  The damage was done.

Although salt is beneficial, it can lose its flavor, just as it had done with that South African church usher or elder. How different do you think our world would be today, if Gandhi had been shown proper Christian respect?

Salt is not useful if it just sits in a salt shaker. We need to spread it.  We do that when we live according to the gospel, when we nurture our spiritual lives, when we share our faith.  If we keep our faith bottled up and fail to be kind, merciful or a peacemaker to others, we could become stale.

When Jesus said we are the “salt of the earth” He meant we should nurture those around us.  Notice Jesus did not say, “You are the Pepper of the Earth.”  Why?  Because pepper is loud and draws attention to itself.  But as salt of the earth believers we will make the world a better place.

Let me close. May God be with us as we spread our salt this week in all the places where we go and give our faith and deeds a good shaking.