Sermon: Advent Hope – “Waiting with God”

December 2, 2018
First Sunday of Advent
1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37
Pastor SeokCheol Shin

Advent Hope – “Waiting with God”

The Season of Waiting
Human life is full of all kinds of waiting: waiting in line at the grocery store, waiting in the doctors’ office or post office, waiting for any appointment, waiting for our children to grow, waiting for graduation, waiting for marriage, waiting for a job interview, waiting for vacation, waiting for retirement, waiting for the birth of a baby, and even waiting for the time of death.… Yes, our life is full of waiting and waiting and waiting.  I don’t know how you like your waiting moment, but I don’t like it because it usually brings a sense of anxiety and pain in my heart.

But I believe that there are some kinds of waiting that give us joy and fun. Let us think about the season of Christmas. I still remember how I was excited during the Christmas season when I was a little child; the closer it got to Christmas, the more excited I became. Waiting to open Christmas gifts, waiting for Christmas pageant, waiting for Christmas cookies and meals — all of these, even though I felt impatient in my heart, were all about fun! Yet if you ask me to give you just one word about why I like Christmas, I would like to say it is “friend!” Christmas is the best time for me to hang around with my friends. Gathering with my friends and playing with them is my happy memory of Christmas!

Waiting with God
This morning, our Gospel lesson leads us to talk about “waiting for the second coming of Jesus Christ;” this is the central theme of the Advent season. For Christians, the first Sunday of Advent is a sign of hope. Yes, it is a hope because we are waiting for “the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory” (v. 27).

When Jesus talked about his own second coming to the world, the disciples were surprised and also excited to hear this event. So they wanted to know when the end of the world was going to come. But Jesus said that “No one knows about that day or hour, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32). Nevertheless, Jesus commanded them to “be on guard,” which means keep awake, watch, and pray, because they don’t know when he is coming back to them (v. 36).

Yet, I am wondering whether this uncertain return would really encourage us to always keep watching and praying in faith and hope. Rather sometime later, we might get tired, bored, and confused about how it is all going to take place. Waiting for Christmas is always fun for us because we can count the time. But waiting for the second coming of Jesus may bring us a sense of tedium because we don’t know when it really happens.

This is exactly how the early Christians of the Apostle Paul’s time felt. When they first believed in Jesus and started their Christian life, they were eagerly looking forward to the second arrival of Jesus. They thought that his return was going to happen soon. They waited and waited and waited until the waiting was almost unbearable. As time just passed and nothing really happened, perhaps they began to look foolish, tired and even skeptical about the delay of his return. Some of them were even losing their faith and left the church. As they left the church, they fell into their secular lives. That’s why the Apostle Paul wrote this letter to the Thessalonian Church, and he tried to call them back to their confidence in Jesus’ promise.

Paul’s main concern in this letter is about “waiting in hope.” For that, he reminds the Thessalonian believers that they are not alone as he points out to God’s abiding grace in their lives: “… continue to stand firm in the Lord” (v. 8). What Paul mentions in his letter is a simple and yet profound truth, which is “God is with them.” Perhaps they had forgotten. Perhaps we have forgotten, too.

“God is with us!” This good news that Paul shared with the Thessalonians is the eternal truth for all Christian believers. As you know, Jesus Christ came to us as our Emmanuel at the first Christmas.  Emmanuel means “God with us,” and that means we have never been waiting alone but always waiting with God. It also means that all God’s gifts we are looking for in our wait have been already given right in front of us. If we are confident of God’s abiding power and grace in our everyday lives, we will not feel discouraged or bored or hopeless, but we may have hope for our future life.

Let us talk about the feeling of waiting for something again. What helps us enjoy our time rather than feel bored or tedious when we are waiting for something? To answer this question, let us think about the time when we are with someone else during our wait. I believe that while talking and chatting together with our company, we don’t feel bored; we may even forget how long we have been standing in line waiting.

As we know, Lorrain’s father passed away last week. When I was there, I saw he was surrounded by his family and friends. All the people in that room were in sorrow while waiting for the time that God took him to eternal peace in heaven. Of course, I shared my sympathy with the family, but I could also feel God’s comforting hands there in the midst of their gathering. I saw they held each other’s hands, shared their emotion and childhood memories, and encouraged each other. As they were all together in that waiting time, their father was deeply blessed by their love; they could endure their sorrow; and they could peacefully accept God’s calling for their father. What I want to point out through this experience is that friendship or companionship is the best way for us to stand in peace and hope during our shared wait.

This companionship is exactly what Paul talks about to us. We are waiting for the coming of Christ, waiting for something to happen, or waiting for a better life in the future; whatever it is, we are not alone in our waiting time.  We are waiting with our Emmanuel in God’s grace that is always surrounding us, picking us up, and strengthening our faith and hope in Christ. With this ongoing presence and companionship with God, we can always take heed, stand in courage, endure our pains and sufferings, and wait in hope that God will strengthen us to overcome our problems, heal and recover our wounded bodies and minds, provide our journey, and bless our future lives.

No matter what happens in our lives, no matter what situation we may be in, we can always wait and continue our lives in hope because we know that Jesus Christ our Savior and our merciful friend is here with us and among us.

Waiting in Hope
This morning’s Scriptures teach us that our Lord Jesus Christ is coming into the world, and on the first Sunday of Advent, this is our hope. Our waiting for a new world may seem tedious or even discouraging especially with this shaky economy or without our beloved. We may be frustrated by its delay. But we must not give up the hope of a brighter future and the hope of the final fulfillment of God because Christ is indeed coming again!

How long do we have to wait then? We don’t know because Jesus didn’t give us the exact time and date. Yet, Jesus says, “stand up and raise your heads” (v. 28). And in the meantime, let us always remember this simple and yet deeply profound word of hope: God our Emmanuel is here with us, among us, and for us, always accompanying our journey and empowering our life.
Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sermon: Mustard Seed Faith

Mustard Seed Faith
Luke 17:5-6
2 Oct 2016

Former CNN journalist Larry King once told this story of three farmers who had gathered each day to pray in a field stricken by a severe drought. The three men got down on their knees and prayed that the skies would pour forth the much needed rain.  They had done this day after day without any results.  One morning, a stranger approached and asked the three farmers what they were doing. They all responded, “We are praying for rain.”  As the newcomer looked at each of them, he shook his head and said, “No, I don’t think so.”  The first farmer protested, “Of course we’re praying.  Can’t you see we are down on our knees pleading for the rain?”  The stranger then advised them that their efforts would never work.  The second farmer jumped in and said, “We are not asking just for ourselves, but for all the families and livestock in the area.”  The stranger said, “You’re wasting your time.”  The third farmer, now a bit angry, asked, “Okay, what would you do?”  The stranger said, “If I were in your shoes, I would have brought an umbrella.”

My topic for this morning is Mustard Seed Faith. It is the anticipation that God will answer our prayers, and that he can move the unmovable and accomplish the impossible.

My text is Luke 17:5-6.   It is only 2 verses.  The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”  He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you. This is the Word of God.  Thanks be to God.

The mustard seed is about the size of the small letter o, 12 pitch, Times New Roman: o.  It is indeed very small.  For a size demonstration, here is a photo with a mustard seed inside an earring, sitting next to a quarter.

mustard-seed-faith-1

But when you take this very seed and plant it in the ground, it can grow almost 10 feet tall with branches strong enough to hold small birds. The yellowish green flowers have four petals, and some say it is formed in the shape of a cross.

mustard-seed-faith-2

In this passage of scripture, Jesus used the example of a mustard seed to show how faith can move obstacles.

Here is an example of mustard seed faith at work: A number of years ago, a young boy in Edinburgh, England attended a church prayer meeting   He confided to the lay minister that he wished his sister would start reading the bible.  The boy was sure if she started reading the bible, his sister would make her profession of faith and have Christ in her life.  The lay minister asked, “Son, do you really think so?”  The boy replied, “Yes sir I do and the next time there is a prayer meeting, will everyone pray for my sister?”  The lay minister said, “Well it shall be done?”  The next week, the lay minister mentioned to those assembled that this young lad was anxious that this sister would begin to read the Bible, and requested people pray for her.  The boy got up and left.  The next week, when he came back, the lay minister said, “Son, I thought it was very rude of you to get up during the prayer service and leave, especially when we were praying for your sister.”  The boy said, “But sir I didn’t mean to be rude.  I thought I would just go home and see my sister reading her Bible for the first time.”

The boy clearly had mustard seed faith. With that type of faith, we expect to watch and see that our prayers are answered, just as that little boy did and just as the stranger suggested to the farmers that they should carry an umbrella.

As a pastor in my first United Methodist parish, our church was preparing to participate in a parade where we were to have a float. The trailer was in the parking lot along with all the materials, but there were no workers to help.  I wanted to panic, but instead I committed it to prayer; I knew everything would turn out okay, and that God would come through.  I just wasn’t sure how.  I made one phone call, and a man with carpentry and electronic skills came over.  He put most of the difficult part of the float together by himself.  We had a successful parade; I believe we won a trophy.

Romans 10:17 “So faith comes by hearing and hearing the Word of God.”

Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

A religious life with a neatly packaged set of beliefs, such as the golden rule or the 10 commandments is not enough. We need to believe.  Mustard seed faith believes God will help us overcome the difficult and the impossible.  For our mustard seed faith to grow, there must be the combination of personal prayer and Bible reading.  With mustard seed faith, we will have to put a lot of effort into feeding our faith; this will give us the confidence to believe God will meet our needs.  But in the beginning, all we need is to start with a little faith and watch it grow.

In 1972, NASA launched an exploratory space probe called Pioneer 10. Its primary mission was to reach Jupiter, photograph the planet and all the moons, gather additional information about the planet’s magnetic field, and send this information back to Mission Control.  The Pioneer 10 space mission was supposed to last 3 years.  Remarkably it lasted about 30 years with a tiny 8 watt radio transmitter still working.

In the spiritual realm, a faint message can go a long way. Our prayers with just a little bit of faith can reach the heart of God.  With Mustard Seed faith, we know beyond a shadow of doubt that God hears and will answer our prayers.

Mustard Seed Faith Quotes:

  • Faith is seeing the light with your heart when all your eyes see is darkness.
  • Sometimes all you need is faith as big as a mustard seed and God will do the rest.

Now we also need to be careful and sensible about this. When we lived in Ft. Knox, KY, we knew a young lady who took her mustard seed faith to the extreme, which didn’t meet the common sense test.  She wanted to get married in the worst way and asked God to send her a husband within the coming year.  This woman bought a wedding dress, rented a hall for the reception, and ordered a cake even though there was no man in her life.  To make a long story short, she got involved with someone who was totally wrong for her.  Fortunately, she broke off the engagement.  A couple of years later, she did get married, but this was in God’s timing.

When it comes to Mustard Seed Faith, answers to prayer will be in God’s will and in His timing. Mustard Seed Faith means to embrace a way of life that contradicts most of life.  As a church we need our mustard seed faith for the following:

  • We need mustard seed faith for adult children to find the Lord and come back to church.
  • We need mustard seed faith for those loved ones to be delivered from certain addictions.
  • We need mustard seed faith to deal with impossible situations.
  • We need mustard seed faith for those to find employment.
  • We need mustard seed faith for those who need a healing.
  • Some need mustard seed faith to tithe or give 10% to the work of the Lord.
  • We need mustard seed faith for a spiritual awakening in this area.

Is there a situation in your life where you need mustard seed faith?

Sermon: The Strength of My Life

The Strength of My Life
Psalm 27:1-9
14 August 2016

In the beginning of Walt Disney’s animated cartoon feature “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” the seven little men had begun to return home, only to see that the lights were on in their log cabin with smoke coming out of the chimney.  Instinctively they knew something was terribly wrong and with crippling fear, they cracked open the door, only to discover that the beast was on the second floor.  With terror in their hearts, they crept up the stairs to the bedroom.  And as they lifted up their pick axes to slay the monster, the sheets were thrown back revealing the lovely Snow White.  Even though this is a well-known fairy tale, we love it because we can identify with the dwarfs and what they had experienced.

My scripture text is Psalm 27 which teaches us how to handle our fears.
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? 2 When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh—my adversaries and foes—they shall stumble and fall. 3 Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident. 4 One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple. 5 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock. 6 Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tents and sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord. 7 Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me! “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, Lord, do I seek. Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation! 10 If my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up. 11 Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies. 12 Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen against me, and they are breathing out violence. 3 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. 14 Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!
This is the Word of God. Thanks be to God.

King David, who wrote Psalm 27, was a man after God’s own heart. As a shepherd boy, he protected his flock of sheep from wolves, bears and lions.  As a teen, he slew Goliath the giant.  As a young adult, he had escaped the grasp of a mad King Saul.  And when he had become king, he himself faced the pressures of enemy armies.  But through it all, with his trust in God, David was able to conquer all of his fears.

Verse 1 begins with a declaration or personal confession: “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?” Because the Lord is our rescuer or deliverer, we can be at ease.  You see, faith in God is not some obscure concept that is found in a theological textbook or some unreachable spiritual quest, ultimately it is a relationship with the Lord.  Because of this, we can be encouraged because we are not alone.  Although our problems and difficulties may not disappear, the fear of what troubles us can be replaced with trust.

There is an old Arab fable that speaks of that: Once there was an evil character called ‘Pestilence’. It seemed when this sinister creature was about to overtake a caravan on its way to the city of Baghdad, an old Arab chieftain spotted the creature and said:  “What are you going to do when you arrive in Baghdad?”  To which ‘Pestilence’ replied, “I shall claim 5,000 lives through sickness and disease.”  When all was said and done, 50,000 people died, not 5,000.  When the Arab chieftain later saw ‘Pestilence’ he said, “You promised to take only 5,000 people, but 50,000 died.  You were unfair.”  ‘Pestilence’ replied, “I kept my word.  I took only 5,000.  The other 45,000 died of fear.”

Many studies have shown that 80-90% of the things that we worry about never come to fruition. I have to continually remind myself of that fact.

  • Winston Churchill once said, “When I look back on all my worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.”
  • Mark Twain-“I have had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”

If we are not careful, worries can cripple us or cause us to act out of fear.

The second part of verse one tells us, “The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?” It reminds me that the best way to live out our faith is to be anchored to the “Rock of Ages.”  If we stay connected, the Lord will give us the inner strength, his Holy Spirit, to face those challenges and the things that we fear the most.  Here are some scriptures that speak to that:

  • Romans 8:31 “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
  • 1 John 4:4 “Greater is He who is in you, than he that is in the world.”
  • Matthew 6:25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink about your body, what you will wear.”
  • Philippians 4:6 “Don’t worry about anything, instead pray about everything.”

Learning to trust God is easier said than done, and I have to learn this lesson over and over again. But once we have the inner strength of the Lord, regardless of what has happened, we can be calm.

There are a number of studies that document what Americans fear most. Many of the studies are found on the internet, and they often overlap.  Let me list some of the common fears; people are…

  • Afraid they will be in a car wreck.
  • Afraid they will be diagnosed with a terminal illness or Alzheimer’s.
  • Afraid that Social Security will run out when they retire.
  • Afraid they will become a victim of violence or identity theft.
  • Afraid to speak in public.

These are the general fears, and certainly there are others. As adults, we may or may not be afraid of spiders, snakes, and mice, but there are countless other things that could paralyze us with fear.  King David gives us good advice and that is not to rely on our own strength, but on the power of the Almighty.

Back in the early days of black and white television, there was a live circus act that featured a couple of Bengal tigers. On this one particular show, the trainer went into the tiger cage to do a live performance.  As the bright TV spotlights zeroed in on the animal act, the trainer skillfully put the tigers through their paces.  Then there was a power outage and the lights went out.  In pitch darkness, the tigers could see the trainer, but the trainer could not them. After 30 long seconds that seemed like an eternity, the lights came back on and the trainer calmly finished the performance.  When asked how he felt, the trainer admitted he had a great deal of fear.  However he pointed out that the tigers did not know he could not see them, so he continued to talk and crack the whip until the lights came on.

The trainer’s experience in that situation gives us a perspective of how fear works. Some people face the terrifying fear of fighting tigers in the dark.  But if we keep our eyes on Jesus, rather than focus on our fear, we will make it.

The way King David channeled his energies is found in verse 4: “One thing I ask of the Lord. This is what I will seek after, that I may dwell in the House of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in the temple.” 

The House of the Lord was a special place to King David; just being in God’s house and the atmosphere that surrounded it, he received an assurance that everything would be okay.

Again if we focus on God as our light and salvation, we will be able to face any situation. When we come into the sanctuary that should lend itself to quiet strength, it doesn’t mean our struggles will go away, but we will not be alone.

Most of you have heard the poem Footprints in the Sand which speaks of the struggle that we face and how the Lord is present. It is below:

One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord,
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.
After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.
This really troubled me,
so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way. But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”
He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”

Let me close. As with the seven dwarfs, our fears can be monsters in our own minds. When things happen, they will not be as painful or as bad as we expected.  Worry is something we all struggle with, but with the help of this psalm, perhaps we can take steps to replace it.