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: The Fox, the Furrow, and the Funeral

The Fox, the Furrow, and the Funeral
Luke 9:57-62
RUMC June 26, 2016

Several days ago, I went into the Military Recruiting Office in Manchester just to see what they were offering the new recruits. I picked up some brochures and from what I could see there are great incentives to join: a signing bonus, education assistance, the repayment of college loans, guaranteed salary, paid vacations, retirement benefits, free medical and dental and guaranteed home loans.  But with all these great programs, there is something that is never mentioned.  It is almost like the elephant in the room.  There must be the willingness for the person who signs the dotted line, to risk their life and even die for their country.

It is similar to Christian discipleship. If we are to truly enter into the Kingdom of God, we need to count the cost and make a total dedication, not a halfhearted commitment.

My scripture text is Luke 9:51-62. As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

In our scripture, Jesus had three conversations with those who wanted to follow him. To the first person he said, “Count the Cost.”  To the second, the message was “Leave it Behind,” and to the third he said, “Don’t Look Back.”

Count the Cost
(v57) As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”  It seems the first person had a desire to follow Jesus. I think deep down, he wanted to be part of the adventure of seeing the Kingdom of God unfold in people’s lives, to enjoy the special position of being seen as a disciple.  It is as though he had seen the military travel posters and said, I’ll sign up.

But notice Jesus’ response. Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. It was as if Jesus stripped away the romance and excitement of ministry right before his eyes and showed there was a cost to following the Lord: to leave everything behind.

Jesus also said, “Whoever loses his life for my sake shall find it.”

Counting the cost of discipleship doesn’t mean “don’t go;” Marty Koonce counted the cost and found it acceptable. Marty was married, the father of four boys, and a successful manager at Walmart.  Marty was considered to be on the fast track of success when he felt God’s tug to do more with his life: that is to take God’s good news to people of Togo, Africa.  Marty asked, “How do you give up a six figure income and move your family across the world to live in a third world country?”  He counted the cost, quit his job, and became a missionary for a number of years, and he considers it well worth it.

We may not all be called to be a missionary nor called into full-time ministry, but we can as disciples of the Lord do his will in Connecticut. Again, there is a cost.

Leave it Behind
V59 He said to another man follow me. But the man replied, Lord first let me go and bury my father.  Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God. In this passage of scripture, some would say that Jesus’ response was harsh. However if the man’s father had just died, the son would not have been there.  He would have been at home because it was Jewish tradition to bury a person on the same day they died.

What we believe probably happened was this. It was the custom on the first anniversary of the death of a parent that the son would go into the tomb, gather up the bones, and put them in a special repository.  That was done to make extra space in the tomb.

In this instance, the son requested up to a year’s delay before he was to follow Christ. Here, Jesus does not accept second place, but demands immediate allegiance.

When Julius Caesar was the leader of Rome, he landed his army on the shores of Britain. He then took a bold step to ensure the success of his military campaign. Caesar ordered his men to march to the edge of the Cliffs of Dover, and he commanded them to look down on the water below.  To their amazement, they saw every ship in which they had crossed the English Channel engulfed in flames.  Caesar had deliberately cut off any possibility of retreat.  Since his soldiers were unable to return to the continent, their only real option was to advance forward. So they committed themselves and followed their leader. They went forward and conquered Britain.

When Jesus said follow me, we are called to figuratively burn our ships in the harbor, not to go back to our old way of life. To set ourselves free from any worldly entanglement and loyalties that might come between us and our Lord

Don’t Look Back
(v61) Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.”  On the surface, the third man’s request seemed reasonable, but his farewell was probably a long series of good bye parties given by his friends.  Not just a simple handshake, hug or a kiss goodbye.

Christ does not call us to dishonor our parents or shirk our responsibility to our family. But if we are pressed into a choice between the two, our Lord must come first.  62Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”  In this situation, the one who ploughs the field must look straight ahead and devote their full attention.  In Christian discipleship, once we make a decision for the Lord, we are not to look back at our old way of life, but to move forward.

At the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, the men’s 26 mile marathon had been over for at least one hour.   All the runners except one had completed the race:  John Steven Aquari of Tanzania.  Long after the previous runner, John Steven Aquari was the last marathoner to enter the stadium; his leg was bandaged and bloody.  Aquari had taken a bad fall early on in the marathon, and all he could do was limp the rest of the way.  When he entered the stadium for the final lap, only a small crowd was left, but they stood and applauded.  When he crossed the finish line, a reporter asked, “Why didn’t you quit?  Why didn’t you give up?”  Aquari said, “My country did not send me 7000 miles to start this race.  My country sent me to finish.”

And so it is with our Christian faith. We are to finish the race and not look back.

Let me close. Jesus had conversations with three individuals and we can extend those words to us.  To the first, and also to us, he said, “Count the cost.” To the second, and to us, he said, “Leave it behind.”  To the third, and to us, he said, “Don’t look back.”  Following Christ has a cost; it is a total dedication, not a halfhearted commitment.  We need to accept the cross along with the crown and allow nothing to distract us from following him.