Sermon: Advent Peace – “Waiting in Repentance”

December 9, 2018
Second Sunday of Advent

Luke 3:1-18
Pastor SeokCheol Shin

Advent Peace – “Waiting in Repentance”

Ready for Christ
December seems to be the craziest month of the year – wouldn’t you agree? We are so busy and excited with preparing for Christmas. This probably suggests to you; going to the attic and bringing down all the decorations, putting up the tree and all the lights, purchasing the Christmas gifts, doing all the holiday cooking and baking, and maybe a thousand other things that “need” to be done before Christmas… Yet why do you bother yourself with those crazy Christmas preparations? Well, I guess it is because your families are coming home, isn’t it?

We have found that preparing is hard work at our church too. During the past weeks, our members swarmed over the church like busy bees putting up Christmas trees and lights, the Nativity set, and the Advent wreath and candles and banners… As we have well prepared our Christmas decorations, we are also ready to celebrate our Christmas season with our families, friends and neighbors.

But when I meditated on today’s scripture from Luke’s Gospel, I was thinking of this question, “Am I ready for Christ?” Who is coming for our Christmas? Is it our family or Jesus Christ? It’s so exciting to prepare for the holiday of Christmas, but how do you like to prepare for Christ?

Traditionally, John the Baptist always visits us on the second Sunday of Advent and reminds us that Christmas is for preparing for the coming of Christ. For it, he calls us to a deeper kind of preparation – a serious spiritual preparation.

Before mentioning John’s ministry, interestingly, Luke listed the names of the rulers of his day (vv. 1-2). The first one is Caesar Tiberius, who was a strongly anti-Jewish ruler. The next is Pontius Pilate, who allowed the crowd to crucify Jesus Christ. Then there is king Herod, who later killed John the Baptist and took part in interrogating and humiliating Jesus along with Pilate. At last, Luke mentioned the Jewish high priests, Annas and Caiaphas; they were only puppet religious leaders who later handed Jesus over to be crucified. Those rulers were all tyrants and flatterers of the power. Why did Luke describe this list of Roman and Jewish leaders in the opening line? I believe that it is just to show his day was corrupt all the way from the top down.

After naming those rotten rulers, Luke suddenly turned our attention to John’s ministry. According to him, John preached about the impending coming of God’s Messiah to rule all the nations, and he shouted this, not in a secret place, but in public where many people freely come and go. What he spoke was very radical and dangerous around his time.  How did the Roman rulers react to his message about the coming of a powerful King from heaven? How did the Jewish priests accept John’s preaching about “repentance?” His angry voice was not a kind of evangelical campaign but a political revolution or a religious reformation against the corrupt rulers of the world.

John spoke dangerous words against the unjust society of his day. I think that John the Baptist was a great leader of his day like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, or Nelson Mandela, who fought for the social justice of their days. In terms of our language, we can call him “revolutionary.”

Yet, we ordinary people are not comfortable with his political message because he shouted his voice not only over the evil rulers but also over the crowds. According to him, we are like a “brood of vipers” that cannot flee from the wrath to come (v. 7). We are like the “tree that doesn’t bear good fruit and that is cut down and thrown into the fire” (v. 9). He continued to say that the Messiah stands on the threshold, ready to gather the wheat into his granary but burn the chaff with unquenchable fire (v. 17). None would be free from his punishment unless we repent, turn from our wicked ways, and get baptized!

As a prophet, he proclaimed the message of repentance not only to the political rulers of his day but all humanity of the world. Why? It is because God’s Messiah is the Savior and the King of all races in the world. Whoever wants to belong to him and receives his sovereignty must repent and try one’s best to live in a righteous way.

If we only consider ourselves as citizens of our country, we don’t need to repent; our government doesn’t care about how we live and what we do unless we violate the civil rules and laws. But if we consider ourselves as citizens in heaven, we should recognize that God will bring us to account for our personal and private lives. And we know that we are never perfect enough in terms of God’s holiness and righteousness. Although we think we are good citizens of our country, we should repent because we are part of the sinful world.

The Gift of the Holy Spirit
By the way, the theme of this second Sunday of Advent is peace. Then how is John’s message related to peace? Does he talk about peace in his preaching? No, not all… Rather, he seems angry and upset with all of us because we are all sinners and that’s why he only preached “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (v. 3). But I believe he still represents peace today because his preaching pointed to the coming of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.

According to John, the result of our repentance will be worth it. He says, “[When the Messiah comes,] he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (v. 11). In other words, he will give us the gift of the Holy Spirit, that is, the power of our lives, the power of revival, the power of growth, the power to sustain, restore, and keep our lives going on!

We all want to celebrate our days and lives; we want to recover and restore what we have lost; we want to live in peace and raise our children in safety. For all those blessings, John the Baptist argues that we should first repent, change our life and get clean, that Christ will come into our hearts and shine and strengthen our lives by the power of the Holy Spirit. Repentance is the way we receive Christ, Emmanuel, the Holy Spirit, who offers us genuine peace!

Peace Comes with Repentance
We are already familiar with his message, “Prepare the way of the Lord” (v. 3), for it is the central message of John the Baptist and also the central lesson for Advent. O yes, we have already set all the Christmas decorations around and inside of our house; a few days ago, we already finished our Christmas shopping and purchased Christmas gifts for our children. But unlike our way to prepare for Christmas, John the Baptist speaks of repentance rather than celebration. Repentance is how we prepare for the coming of Christ.

John says, “I baptize you with water.” Baptism is the sign of repentance and turning around and living with Christ. He continues to say, “The One who is more powerful than I is coming after me… He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” As we repent, the Prince of peace, the Savior of the world will come in, bless and heal our lives, and renew our life’s journey. This is our faith, our hope, and our gift from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sermon: There is a Time and a Season

There is a Time and a Season
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
RUMC 1 January 2017

There is the story of a farmer in a Midwestern state who had a strong dislike for Christians and churches. As he plowed his field on Sunday mornings, he would shake his fist at the church folk driving by on their way to worship.  October came and went and the farmer had his best crop ever.  When the harvest was complete, he placed an advertisement in the local newspaper which belittled and made fun of the Christians for their faith in God.  This was the message in the newspaper, “Faith in God must not mean much if someone like me can prosper.”  The response from the Christians in the community was quiet and polite.  In the same newspaper was this comment: “God doesn’t always settle His accounts in October.”

My scripture text is a favorite for many. It is Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 and on this New Year’s Day, I thought it would be appropriate to ponder its wisdom as it relates to our lives.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 2 a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 3 a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 5 a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 6 a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; 7 a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 8a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.
This is the Word of God.  Thanks be to God.

I would like to look at half of the scripture verses and ponder its meaning as it pertains to our lives in 2017.

Verse 2a: A time to be born and a time to die.
The first things mentioned, the events of birth and death, are the two boundaries of life. The birth of a child is usually a joyous occasion, whereas death, in most cases, is unwelcome.  Additionally, the perplexing questions of life and death are difficult to answer, such as the following: Why is it that a certain couple cannot have children?  Why do good people die in the prime of life?  Why did a tornado or a flood claim so many lives?  Why do innocent people die in wars?

I don’t think there are any answers that will satisfy, because the ways or acts of God are beyond comprehension. This may be hard for some, but the best we can do is accept that the Lord knows what is best and His will be done.

In a January 1979 interview with Barbara Walters, actor John Wayne said that he found it difficult to watch his old movies: He said “It is kind of irritating to see that I was a good looking 40 year old and suddenly I look over and see this 71 year old man.  I am not squawking.  I just want to be around for a long time.”

Along these lines, earlier this week, I went into Burger King and got a hot coffee. When I looked at the sales receipt, I discovered that the clerk gave me a senior discount.  That kind of threw me.  All week long, I kept looking in the mirror to see how I look like a senior.

It is inevitable that, though most will grow old, death is an appointment we all must keep. However, for Christian believers, we need not fear.  In eternity, we will be with Jesus and God.  For those who have not made a Christian profession of faith, I would encourage them to make peace with their maker.

Verse 2b: A time to plant and a time to uproot.
One talent that I do not have is the ability to grow things. I know how to use a chain saw and cut trees and trim bushes, but that talent of knowing how and when to bring something alive out of the ground is not my gift.  I admire and appreciate those who have such a gift.  I like to go into a garden shop where and look at the wide variety of plants, trees, and shrubs.  One favorite spot of mine is Elizabeth Park in Hartford to see the all the roses.

If we look at nature, we can get a general idea of how life works. Like Ecclesiastes tells us, there is a time to plant and a time to harvest.  If we get the seasons out of sync or in reverse order, there could be trouble.  The normal time to plant is in the spring and then we can enjoy the full bloom of pants and trees in the summer.  In the fall we can see the beautiful foliage or the bounty of the farmer’s harvest.  We can extend this principle to our own lives.  If we live our lives and skip steps in the normal progression of life, there can be problems.  Just as nature demonstrates, there is a proper season or way we should do things.

Verse 3: A time to kill and a time to heal.
Youth is the time of growth. Muscles and abilities increase and coordination only gets better.  As grandparents of 2 year old Anthony, we can see the amazing process of growth; it is a pleasure to watch.  In time I expect that our grandson will surpass us in height, strength and athletic ability.

As we get older, our bodies will begin to break down. The letters and numbers on the computer screens or cell phone will get smaller and smaller.  The steps on the stairs will get higher and higher and we will find that people will speak in lower and lower tones.

Even as it is normal to age, we should do everything in our part to seek healing and improve the quality of life whenever we can. But there will come a time when each of us will need to let go and be ready to go into eternity.  The Christian believer who walks daily with the Lord, knows that when it is our time to leave this life, we will receive our eternal reward.

Verse 4: A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance.
A pastor who once visited a discouraged church member was asked, “Where was God when my child died?” The wise pastor gently answered; “God was in the same place when his own son died on the cross.”

John Locke, the English philosopher once said: “If you dig far enough into the earth, you can come to water. If you bore deep enough into life, you come to tears.”  In this imperfect world, we will experience sorrow; it is during those difficult times we will need the support of others and the comfort of God’s presence.  Through the healing of time, we will once again be able to laugh and be content.

Verse 5: A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.
A young couple from New England had just become engaged when the Civil War broke out. The young woman’s fiancé was called into the army, so their wedding had to be postponed.  The young soldier had managed to get through most of the war without injury, but at the Battle of the Wilderness, he was severely wounded.  His bride-to-be, not knowing of his physical condition, read and reread the soldier’s letters, counting the days when he would return.  Suddenly the letters stopped.  Finally she received one, but it was written in an unfamiliar handwriting.  It read:  “There has been another terrible battle.  It is very difficult for me to tell you this, but I have lost both arms.  I cannot write myself, so a friend is writing this letter for me.  While you are as dear to me as ever, I feel I should release you from the obligation of our engagement.”  That letter was never answered.  Instead, the young woman took the next train and went directly to the military hospital where she found her loved one.   The moment she saw him, she threw her arms around his neck, kissed him, and said, “I will never give you up.  These hands of mine will help you.  I will take care of you.”  That is truly an inspirational story.

Unfortunately there are sad situations on the opposite spectrum. When I was in Physical Therapy training in San Antonio, Texas, several of our instructors told us about the times that certain spouses would go into the Burn Center, take one look at their loved one, take off their wedding ring, leave it on the night stand and walk out.  After that emotional traumatic event, some of the patients gave up the will to live and died.

Let me be positive about the spirit of Ecclesiastes, there will be times when it is appropriate to embrace others and show them our support. Mrs. Phyllis King believes this with all her heart and she makes certain that everyone who walks through the door of this church feels welcome.  And then there will be times, depending on the circumstance or situation that we may need to keep our distance; that calls for discernment as well.

Verse 6: A time to keep and a time to throw away.
Spring seems like the time to clean up and throw away. In the military, we would often move every three years, and with a weight limit of about 10, 000 pounds, we had to stay on the light side of our possessions.  In my time in Connecticut, I have noticed Tag Sales are quite popular especially in the spring and early summer.  When we had our Savers fundraiser in May and June, we would drive all over Ellington and Vernon visiting tag sales.  People would give us the items that they could not sell at their Tag Sale.  We stored the items in our basement and garage at the Parsonage.  The Saver’s campaign was quite successful; we made close to $1000.  It is true what they say, “one person’s junk is another’s treasure.”

Let me extend this to another realm. We need nurture friendships, good relationships and wonderful memories; and throw out any resentments, anger, long standing hurts.

Verse 7: A time to love and a time to hate;
When Abraham Lincoln worked on the Mississippi River as a barge operator, he saw black men, women and children sold at the slave auction in New Orleans. With that first-hand experience, he saw the injustice of that terrible institution and felt hatred rise in his heart.  From that hatred, Lincoln resolved that if he ever got a chance, he would do away with slavery.  Lincoln’s hatred of slavery was entirely appropriate.  As President of the United States, he was able to end it.  A good rule of thumb, hate what is evil and love what is good

This morning I covered half of the verses from Ecclesiastes; they are a good reminder of what we could face in 2017. In our life’s journey, we will face many new situations, and we will experience both joys and sorrows.

Sometimes John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist church, would close his sermons with this thought. As I do the same, consider these words for your life in 2017. “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”

Sermon: Christmas Eve Meditation

Christmas Eve Meditation
RUMC 2016

It was Christmas Eve 1914; soldiers from the German and English armies had fought for 5 months in the First World War. Both sides were in a stalemate as they shivered in the water logged trenches.

Graham Williams, aged 21, of the London Rifle Brigade was on night watch when he saw lights all along the German army trenches and said loud enough to be heard, “By God, the Jerries have Christmas trees!” Then he and his comrades heard a chorus of German voices began to sing, “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht” or “Silent Night Holy Night.”

In response, the soldiers of the London Rifle Brigade cheered and they in turn sang “The First Noel.”  For over an hour, German and English soldiers in opposing trenches sang carols.  In between songs, there were calls for each side to come over and visit, but no one dared to make a move.

Finally on Christmas morning, German soldiers, with hands in their pockets, came out of the trenches. British soldiers did the same.  They greeted one another and shook hands, and peace had begun to spread through that no man’s land.

They all promised to keep the unofficial ceasefire throughout the day. It was truly an incredible sight as a multitude of soldiers walked arm in arm and took photographs.  Several soccer matches with tin cans were played, and if a man got knocked down, the other side helped him up.

All during the day, soldiers paid mutual trench visits and exchanged gifts of tobacco, jam, sausage, and chocolate. They traded names and addresses.  An English barber gave free haircuts while a juggler from the German side entertained the troops.  Soldiers from both countries respectfully dug graves side by side and held joint funerals.

When the Generals of both sides heard what had taken place they were alarmed. They were concerned what this open display of friendship might do to the war effort.  Unfortunately the truce did end, and shots were fired into the air.  Men scrambled back into the trenches to the cries of “Go back Tommy” or “Go back Jerry.”

However Christmas 1914 will always be remembered as the time in history of the most famous military truce. It was even made into a movie called the “Joyeux Noelle.”  That extraordinary event illustrates the powerful effect Christ has on history.

In the first Christmas so long ago, when the baby Jesus was born, a multitude of angels proclaimed to the shepherds: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth goodwill toward all.”

In time, the baby Jesus grew up to become the Son of God; one of his divine names is “Prince of Peace.” When we invite Christ into our hearts, it is like God coming into our time, our space, our lives, to be spiritually recreated in a new way. One term I like to use, is “born from above.”

So tonight on this Christmas Eve, this is truly a time for the heart, more so than for the mind. In our worship service we have images of the Nativity through the tapestry on the wall, the songs, and the videos that remind us of what happened.  There is the bright star that shines in the East that leads the wise men to Bethlehem; there is the heavenly host that sings praises to God to the fear and amazement of the shepherds and finally there was the special baby boy who was born in a stable wrapped in swaddling cloth, cared for by Mary and Joseph.

Tonight, we come, not necessarily wanting to hear the proofs and reasons for some great truth or mystery of God. We want to feel and experience the warmth, love, softness and wonder of God that is with and among us.

This is a night where we want to feel what we believe: to celebrate the birth, not only of a wise man, a great teacher, a prophet, but of God in the flesh in the form of a baby.

In a few hours, families and friends will exchange gifts, but perhaps the best Christmas present we can give ourselves is to invite Christ into our hearts and live for him. Someday this little baby who grew up to be a man, will return as the Prince of Peace, and what happened on Christmas of 1914, will be like a foreshadow of greater things to come.  So in the meantime, let us keep Christ in our hearts, not only during this Christmas season, but every day of the year.