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: Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled

Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled
John 14:1-14
May 14, 2017

Years ago, there was a man who was interested in his family history, and to get more information in his research he would visit cemeteries. In one of the cemeteries he noticed one particular tombstone with this unusual inscription:  “Pause now stranger, as you pass by; as you are now, so once was I. As I am now, so soon you will be, prepare yourself to follow me.”
Next to the tombstone, someone wrote this message on a piece of wood: “To follow you, I am not content, until I know which way you went.”

On this fifth Sunday of Easter, I would like to talk about our future beyond the grave, which is our heavenly home. This is pertinent to our church family, because on Thursday of this past week, we held a Memorial Service for David Taft and on Friday of this week, there will be a Graveside Service for Natalie Robertson.

My text is John 14:1-6
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
This is the Word of God.

When Jesus told his disciples that he was going to prepare a place for them, he was speaking to us as well. It is a place that is so wonderful that it is beyond our comprehension.  I hope that the reality of such a place would make us even more determined to live out the gospel.

Now here is an example of what a prepared heart, ready for the heavenly home, is like. Perhaps you have heard this story before:
A woman diagnosed with a terminal illness had been given three months to live. As she began to get her things in order, she contacted the pastor and asked if he would discuss some of her final wishes.  When he arrived, she told him which songs she wanted sung at her funeral service, the scriptures to be read, and what outfit she wanted to be buried in.  She even requested that her favorite Bible be placed in the coffin with her.  As the pastor was about to leave, she said, “There is one more thing, I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand.”  Then she explained, “In all my years of attending church socials and potluck dinners, when the dishes of the main course were being cleared, someone would inevitably lean over and say, ‘Keep your fork.’”  She continued, “It was my favorite part of the meal because I knew something better was coming, like velvety chocolate cake or deep dish apple pie.   So when people see me in that casket with a fork in my hand and ask, ‘What is with the fork?’, I want you to tell them:  ‘Keep your fork.  The best is yet to come.’”

When Jesus said that he was to prepare a place for us, he did not speak of an imaginary “pie in the sky” theme park nor a place for the shut-ins or the sick, but a special place for all who believe. Heaven is not just make-believe; it is the best of creation, the height of God’s splendor.  In heaven all things will be made new.  We will be given new bodies that will not know pain or cancer or blindness or diabetes, or arthritis or heart disease or any physical illness of any kind.

I have read and heard from a number of people who had near death experiences, and the stories are fairly similar. They see a place of peace; those who had been sick or greatly suffered in this life, became a younger version of themselves and well with Jesus present.

In his book on heaven, Evangelist Dwight Moody once said. “When I was a boy, I thought of heaven as a great shining city, with vast walls, domes, and spires with nobody in it except white robed angels who were strangers to me.”  Then Dwight’s little brother died.  That changed everything.  Dwight thought of that great city in the same way except his little brother was there.  As more of Moody’s relatives began to die, the heavenly flock began to grow.  But it wasn’t until Moody’s own son died that he began to think that heaven contained a little bit of him too.  As time went on, he knew more people in heaven than he did on earth, and the place became even more special.

Heaven is a reality; Jesus spoke truthfully about it. When you think about it, Heaven is a prepared place for prepared people.  Life is hard.  We often go through our share of trials and tribulations.  We become active in church, and we can become tired.  There are times when we become so focused on the task at hand, whether it be teaching, cleaning, raising money, fixing, volunteering, giving rides, taking people to the hospital, baking pastries, etc. that sometimes we forget the prize at the end.

That was the problem for one missionary couple who decided to retire after many decades in Africa and return home to New York City. At the time, they had little retirement and were in failing health; naturally they were worried and discouraged.  The only way the couple could get home from the field was by ship; former president Theodore Roosevelt was on the same ship returning home from one of his African hunting expeditions.  While on the ship, no one paid any attention to the missionary couple, but a great fanfare accompanied the president.  During the voyage, the missionary said to his wife.  “Something is wrong.  We have given our lives in service to God in Africa all these years and no one cares.  Yet here is this man who came back from a hunting trip and everyone makes a fuss over him.”  When the ship docked in New York, a band waited to greet the former President.  The mayor and other dignitaries were there.  The newspapers were filled with of news of his arrival, but no one was there for the missionary couple.  They slipped off the ship and managed to find a cheap apartment in the city.  One night, the man said to his wife, “I can’t take this.  God is not treating us fairly.”  His wife told him, “Why don’t you go into the other room and talk to the Lord about it.”  The man took his wife’s advice.  A short time later he emerged, and his countenance seemed to have changed.  The man said, “The Lord settled it with me.  I told him how bitter I was, that the President should receive this tremendous homecoming, but no one was there for us.  And when I finished complaining, it seemed as though the Lord put His hand on my shoulder and said, ‘But you are not home yet’. “

It is true; we have not arrived at our heavenly home. We shouldn’t get discouraged if things don’t work out the way we want it, because we will be okay.  Shortly before David Taft died, he had an “Aha” moment when he realized that he would be able to continue his life’s goals on the other side of eternity, and that was significant.

I would like to close with a poem that is simply called, “Heaven.”

I’ve purchased a town lot in heaven. On the city not built with hands.
I’m sending material daily, to build in that happy land.
I’d like a mansion on Main Street, where streets are all paved with gold.
With a clear view of the pearly gates, where Christ takes care of the soul.
I want to send good material that will stand the test of time.
Prayer is for the foundation, faith and love for the walls.
Good deeds for the reinforcement, that will stand when the Savior calls.
I would like you, for my neighbor in that city so divine.
Maybe just across the street or your home close to mine.
Up there, we will know no sorrow, tears will never dim the eyes.
There we will rest in peace forever in that happy home on high.
So my friends, start to build your home beyond the sky.
Where we can all be together in the sweet by and by.

Many people have the misconception that the only time we should think of heaven is when we are in the ICU or at a funeral. I don’t know about you, but the thought of heaven motivates me to do right so I don’t miss it.

We don’t want to be so heavenly minded that we are not earthly good, and we don’t want to be so earthly minded that we are not heavenly good. It is like taking out a life insurance policy, we don’t dwell because we know everything is in place; we can actually live better and more relaxed.  It is the same with our heavenly home; we live within that promise and hope.