The Season of Advent has begun! In this beautiful season of waiting for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ, may God fill our hearts and anoint our souls with hope, peace, joy, and love. As we prepare ourselves in this season, I’d like to invite you to explore with me the lives of the people we see in the nativity scene. These people usually huddle around the manger and play their supporting roles in the drama of Jesus’s birth. They are Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, and the shepherds. I think it is meaningful to look into their stories that are easily overlooked. Why? Because there’s something similar between their lives and our own. Of course, their lives were quite different from ours. Unlike us, they met the angels who delivered messages from God. And they lived their lives as the firsthand witnesses of Jesus. But, beyond these differences, I believe, we still are very similar to these people because we are also taking part in the grand narrative of God’s salvation history.
Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, and the shepherds…are not the main characters in this narrative; nonetheless, their lives, like our own, ultimately point to the one character whose birth changed the whole world. Yes, Jesus. If they waited for the advent of Jesus at his birth, we wait for the advent of Jesus on the day of the Lord that all God’s promises are finally fulfilled. In this way, Jesus’s light illuminates all of us through centuries. And Jesus’s life weaves all our lives into the common thread of faith. So, the things that Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, and the shepherds did as they were waiting for Jesus two thousand years ago are still very meaningful to us who are waiting for him today. We have so much to learn from them by reflecting on their stories and the messages of the angels they delivered to them. Keeping this in our minds, today, I would like to take you to the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth.
The Gospel tells us that Zechariah and Elizabeth were going through a hard time. They almost lost their faith and hope. Zechariah is a priest, but it is so difficult for him to remain faithful. It’s not just him. His people, the people of Israel, are also hopeless and helpless. God has been silent to them for more than four hundred years. There has been no sign. No angels. No prophets. No messages. The last prophet they had was the Prophet Malachi who delivered prophecies over four centuries ago. Look at today’s Hebrew Bible reading, Malachi, Chapter 4. This passage is the very last chapter of the entire Hebrew Bible; the Old Testament ends with this passage, and this passage is followed by the stories of Jesus in the Gospels, in the New Testament. So in our Bible, the prophecies of Malachi and the stories of Jesus in the Gospels are side by side. But chronologically speaking, there’s a gap of about four hundred years’ time between them.
Making matters worse, during God’s silence, Israel had continued down a path of suffering and persecution, failed revolution and lost war. Most people scattered in all directions of the conquering nations. Some had come back to the land with Nehemiah. But other powerful nations came and savaged the land and the people one after another. And now, the people of Israel are under the rule of the Roman Empire. So every day Zechariah walks in the temple, built by Herod, the ruthless king of Israel, he sees the Roman flag waving in the wind, high above his homeland. Looking at this situation, Zechariah is losing his faith and hope for God’s deliverance. How long, oh, Lord!
His despair is getting bigger and deeper at home with his wife Elizabeth. She has been unable to bear a child. It was especially difficult in the first century, when the fertility was seen as a direct sign of God’s blessing. At this point in their lives, they completely lose their hope. They expects little from God. On the outside, Zechariah may appear to be a holy priest. But on the inside, it’s a different story. His faith has gradually withered away and he just keeps and performs rituals as mere religious habits. This old man and his wife dream no more dreams. They are losing their faith and hope in their private anguish.
But to this broken-hearted couple, into the midst of their despair and sadness, God’s message of hope suddenly comes. One day, as Zechariah enters the sanctuary of the Lord and offers incense, there appears to him the angel Gabriel. And he says, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John…. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:13-17).
For Zechariah and Elizabeth, this is the moment when their days of suffering and doubt are gone. They will have a son. And their son, John the Baptist, will be a forerunner, a prophet who reflects the light of Jesus. God is faithful indeed, they realized. God never forgets them. In fact, the meaning of the name Zechariah is, “God has remembered.” Truly, God has remembered Zechariah and Elizabeth.
And this moment is meaningful not just to this couple but to all God’s people. The angel’s message means that the promise of God delivered through the prophecy of Malachi is going to be fulfilled. In fact, Gabriel’s word to Zechariah clearly repeats the prophecy of Malachi: “Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse” (Malachi 4:5-6). The angel says to Zechariah that this promise of God is going to be fulfilled by his son, John the Baptist. After four hundred years of silence, God’s plan of redemption now begins to unfold. The day of the Lord, the day of new life, is coming with the Messiah. Finally, the light shines through the darkness. Amidst a downtrodden people, a new day is dawning. Truly, the God of Jacob neither sleeps nor slumbers. Zechariah, Elizabeth, and the faithful believers of God praise God for this.
Faithful friends in Christ, from the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, I hope we may remember this one thing today. God is faithful to us and God remembers us. Although we are living our lives in this broken world full of troubles and suffering, God never forgets us. God never overlooks the righteous people’s struggles and their silent sighs and anguishes. Even when we feel like God is silent all the time to us, even when our prayers seem never heard, even when it looks like our lives always go down a path of hardships, we should not give up on God. As God made a way for Zechariah and Elizabeth, and for all God’s people, God is with us today and unfolds history in our lives following God’s own timeline and plan. In this Season of Advent, as we await the coming of Jesus Christ, let us hold onto this truth that our God is always faithful to us and remembers us. May God be with all of us who want to learn how to be patient and yet confident and look for Jesus, the light of the world, the prince of peace. Amen.
For the last seven and a half years, I delivered about four hundred sermons here but among them, fewer than three sermons are about money. You already know, I preached on money when I really had to. And today is unfortunately one of those days. But our faith and money… this is a truly vital topic. Money is one of the most critical parts of our life. And it has power to decide many things and change many things. So it is necessary for us to reflect on our stewardship of God-given treasure, and especially, on our practice of giving. What kind of principle of giving should we hold onto as God’s stewards? Let us look into it together.
Who is the most generous person in the world now? So far, according to Forbes, Bill Gates has donated $28 billion with a net worth of $66 billion. Warren Buffet has donated $17.25 billion with a net worth of $46 billion. George Soros has donated $8.5 billion with a net worth of $19 billion. Isn’t it incredible? For me, those numbers are too big to imagine. It’s just surreal. No doubt, they are truly generous people. Then, who is the most generous person in our church? So far, according to Robert, the chair of our finance committee…I’m just kidding! Relax. I don’t even have access to such records. As a pastor, I keep certain ethical conducts regarding finance of the church, and one of them is not to ask anything about personal offering records. So no worries.
Anyway, let’s change the question a bit. Who would be the most generous person Jesus ever encountered? Have you ever thought about this? Do you think Jesus might regard one of the rich guys I mentioned earlier as the most generous person? I’m not sure. But one thing I am quite sure about is this: for Jesus, the most generous persons were not often some people who were rich or famous. In many times, they were the people whose names never make any headlines. And in most cases, they were quite unexpected people like the poor widow we see in today’s Gospel story. She offers two small copper coins that are worth only a penny. But Jesus praises her, saying, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on” (Mark 12:43-44).
This poor widow clearly shows us: Jesus doesn’t measure the size of one’s generosity by the sum of what he or she gives. However, he measures how much that giving really costs the giver something. In other words, Jesus measures how much sacrifice he or she makes to give to God. So here’s the principle of Jesus. Generosity is not determined by the size of the gift but by the size of the sacrifice. Yes, when we give something to God, it should cost us something, something substantial. Otherwise, it is not a real sacrifice. In our giving, there must be a degree of sacrifice, so it makes our gift valuable. So by this measure, the poor widow deserves praise. While everybody contributes something out of their abundance, she, out of her poverty, puts in everything she has, all she has to live with.
Then, why sacrifice? Why do we have to make sacrifice to give back to God? Can we just give some surplus or leftover? Something that doesn’t affect our finance, our savings? Yes, there may be a lot of questions. But the reason for sacrifice is quite simple and straightforward to us, who believe in Jesus Christ. We make sacrifice to give God what we have, because Jesus made his sacrifice on the cross to save us and give us the precious new life in God. One dictionary defines sacrifice like this: “an act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy.” We all know, what’s more important and worthier in our lives. We all know, our faith in Jesus is the best gift we received from God. So we can give back to God what we value, what we cherish—our time, our treasure, our talents, and even our whole life. We can make our life a living sacrifice to God and God’s vision for a new kingdom of love.
True, there’s no more precious life than the life sacrificed for the purpose of love. There’s no better life than the life of Christians surrendered to the will of God and to the continued life-giving mission of Jesus. And here’s one thing we should also remember. This sacrifice we make for the sake of Jesus and his kingdom isn’t hard or painful. Instead, this holy sacrifice brings us joy. Jesus tells us, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44). For those who don’t understand the value of this hidden treasure, it’s meaningless to make sacrifice to own it. But for those who understand the surpassing value of living in the kingdom of God—the value of worship and fellowship, the value of ministries that change the world, the value of prayers and practices, making sacrifice can be a joyful thing indeed.
Today, we are called to remember the sacred value of God’s unending love, the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross. Do you believe God’s love really matters to you and your life? Yes? Then, you can commit yourself to God, even if it may cost you something. Do you believe the sacrifice of Jesus matters the most to you and your life? Yes? Then, you can surrender yourself to the will of Christ, even if it may cost you everything.
The founder of the Methodist movement John Wesley left us great wisdom on money: “Earn all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.” Until last week, I thought, the emphases in these sentences are on “you can.” Earn all “you can.” Save all “you can.” Give all “you can.” But last week this phrase came to me anew as I realized, it is “all” that Wesley really wanted to emphasize. Earn “all” you can. Save “all” you can. Give “all” you can. To God, who first came to us and made the covenant relationship with us, to Jesus Christ, who first loved us and sacrificed himself on the cross for our salvation, we can give “all” we can; we can dedicate our whole life. From today, let us be more generous. Let us find true joy as we make more sacrifice to God and serve God’s mission. May God bless us more and grant us more heavenly gifts as we give God something that really cost us and as we gladly make sacrifice of our time, treasure, and talent. Amen.
 Rick Ezell, “The Heart of Generosity,” preaching.com (accessed November 13, 2019, https://www.preaching.com)
An American tourist in Italy met a monk. The monk offered him to show around the monastery where he was staying. On their tour, they visited the monk’s room; the tourist noticed there was no TV and radio, but only one change of clothes, a towel, and a blanket. He asked, “How do you live so simply?” The monk answered, “I noticed you carry only enough things to fill a suitcase; why do you live so simply?” To him the tourist replied, “But I’m just a tourist, I’m only traveling through.” To him the monk said, “So am I, so am I.”
This story tenderly reminds us of how short and transitory our life is. And it certainly helps us realize that we have not much time in this life. We are just traveling through. This is what today’s Hebrew Bible reading also poignantly tells us. Isaiah delivers God’s voice to us, “All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it” (Isaiah 40:6-7). Yes, our time on earth is limited, and moreover, we don’t know when God calls us back. True. Our life is just a short-term trip.
But in our daily lives, we are not always mindful of this unchanging truth of human life. Why? Because we are so busy and distracted by so many things we should take care of. Competing-time demands are an inevitable part of modern life. And everyone is combatting their busy schedule. But to make our short-term trip more meaningful and valuable, we better be aware of the transient nature of our life always. The Letter of James teaches us, “Come now, you who say, ‘today and tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.’ Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:13-17).
Like the grass and flower of the field, like a mist that briefly appears and then vanishes, our life is short. So today, the pressing question for all of us is this: “What is the best and most fruitful way to use our limited time?” We can find an answer from Jesus. Here, I am not trying to describe Jesus as the perfect time management expert like in some self-improvement books. Of course, if we look into the Gospels, we can certainly see how Jesus uses his time. But believe or not, what I found last week is that his way of time management is not that different from us. Surprising? Yes, for sure, if you expected a kind of divine or magical way to manage time from Jesus. But the truth is… Jesus did the same thing as we do in time planning.
In fact, Jesus set priorities in spending his time, just as we do. We also spend our time on our priorities right? Look at the grid. Even if we are not aware of it all the time, we try to do the important and urgent things first. We make our to-do list whether we write it down or just keep it in our mind. And we try to keep up with it. Why? It’s simply because we don’t want to waste our time doing not important and not urgent things. Probably for the same reason, Jesus also set his priorities, so that he could accomplish his mission in only three short years of his ministry. Anyway, it is great that Jesus used the same time management method as we do.
But… here comes the difference between Jesus and us. Jesus is different from us in a way that he decided what’s important and what’s not. And here’s an incredible thing. His priorities are not about himself. He prioritized the things that are important to God and to God’s kingdom. But check out our to-do list. We can easily and clearly say that we prioritize the things that are important for us. Yes, Jesus used the same time management method as we do. But his priorities are not quite same as ours.
So what are the priorities of Jesus? From today’s Gospel readings, we can get to know them. Jesus says, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40). For Jesus, love is the number one priority. And he actually used his precious time on earth for the purpose of love—love that forgives us, accepts us, and saves us. And with this love, Jesus asks us to go and make disciples of all nations, and build the kingdom of God, the kingdom of love, peace and liberation, wherever we go. Love God and love your neighbor with all your time. Build the kingdom of God whenever you can. Indeed, these two are the overriding priorities that Jesus focused on in his days.
And it is clear that they should be our Christian priorities as we manage our time. We, the Christians, always say, “We want to follow Jesus. We want to be Christ-like believers,” not knowing exactly what to do. But today, we learn one certain way to follow Jesus. Prioritize what Jesus prioritized and make the priorities of Jesus our priorities.
A couple of weeks ago, one news really inspired me and led me to reflect on my priorities in life. It was the news about former President Jimmy Carter helping people build Habitat for Humanity homes in Nashville. It was just one day after he fell at his home and received stitches above his eye. And he has also had some trouble walking after he had a hip replaced in May. But this 95-year old man insisted on coming out and helping build houses even with his shaky hands. And he insisted on teaching Sunday School regularly. To an interviewer, he mentioned, “I had a No. 1 priority and that was to come to Nashville to build houses!”
What’s your number one priority when it comes to time? In your priorities, on you to-do list today… among many items that are important to us, to our family, to our entertainment, is there anything that is important to God and God’s kingdom? Is there any items that Jesus would have also prioritized?
From this Sunday until the end of November, we are having our annual Stewardship Campaign. This is the right time to reflect on how good we are as stewards of our God-given resources. And among the three important resources, I mean, time, treasure, and talent, I think, time is the most precious resource we have. Then, how are we using this resource? Are we using it wisely enough following the overriding priorities of Jesus? There is no enough time for all things, but I’m sure, there is enough time for the most important things. So from today, on our to-do list, why don’t we include more things that are important to God and God’s kingdom? If you attend worship service once a month, why can it be twice a month or three times a month? If you pray for ten minutes a day, why can it be twenty minutes a day from now on? If you spend an hour for church’s mission weekly, why can it be two hours? Let us use more time to love God and love our neighbors. Let us spend more time building the kingdom of God among us. May we bear much fruits of love as we make the priorities of Jesus our priorities in our short lifetime. Amen.
Sometimes people ask me if we believe in saints in The United Methodist Church. And I say, “The answer is both yes and no.” On the one hand, the answer is no, because we don’t really have saints in the way that the Roman Catholic Church does. We don’t formally beatify or canonize people. So we don’t have any officially recognized saints in our tradition—not even John Wesley. On the other hand, the answer is yes, because we do use the word “saint.” But the difference is that we use this word to refer to all believers of Jesus Christ, whether they are still with us or already with God. Yes, in our Methodist tradition, saints are not just a few angelic people with haloes behind their heads. Rather, saints are all believers just like you and me, all believers who follow Jesus here and now, or who have already lived their faithful lives and gone before us.
I’m blessed for I’ve known many saints in my life. They have inspired me to be a better believer and to become a pastor. But honestly, they are not very special people. Their lives are hardly perfect or extraordinary. Just like me, they have suffered the same kinds of challenges; they have struggled with the same kinds of sins; they have received the same God’s grace, just as I do. Yet, they all have lived their ordinary lives with great faithfulness and courage. They are saints to me, not because they are so saintly without any blemish, but because they have faithfully walked their journeys of sanctification through all the ups and downs in life. I believe, you can also talk about such saints in your life, some people around you who have inspired you to become better believers.
Then, what about us? Do you think that we are saints too? Not sure yet? You may ask me, “You said, ‘We all are sinners,’ in your sermon last Sunday. Then, today you tell us, ‘We all are saints,’ all of sudden?” Of course, we all are sinners. That’s for sure. We are always inclined to do something wrong, and we are weak and in need of forgiveness. But still, we can be called saints. Why? It’s not because of who we are, our holiness or righteousness, but because of who Jesus is, his steadfast love that saves us, dwells in us, molds us and shapes us into more Christ-like people each and every day. Yes, in Jesus our Lord, we surely are saints of God on our common journey of sanctification.
In today’s Hebrew Bible and Epistle readings, for all God’s saints God promises many great things. Through the vision of Daniel, God says, in the end time, when the judgments is upon the earth, “the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever—forever and ever” (Daniel 7:8). And today’s Epistle reading reminds us, “in Christ, we have obtained an inheritance, the redemption and the promise of the kingdom, and also, in Christ, we are “marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:11; 13). Such grateful words of promise! Thanks and praises be to God who calls us to be saints on earth, who chooses us to inhere the kingdom, and who marks us with the seal of the Holy Spirit.
But for all God’s saints, God doesn’t grant those privileges only. In fact, there are things we should do as saints. Yes, privileges always come with duties, right? Let’s look into the Gospel reading. In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus first assures that we are fully blessed even when we are hungry, poor, weeping, and persecuted, and our reward will be great in heaven. So, God’s saints always have a certain reason to rejoice even in the days of suffering. Second, Jesus also warns us that when we indulge in pleasure and comfort from our richness, fame, fullness, that is the time when God’s woe can be upon us. So, God’s saints always check themselves not to be complacent and lose faith when things are going all too well.
Right after this assurance and warning, Jesus finally tells us the things we should do as saints. Let us read them together. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:27-31).
I know, this to-do list is a kind of impossible-to-do list, or at least, a hard-to-do list. But Jesus is so sure and clear that these are what all saints of God should try and practice in their lives. This list of duties can be summarized in one single sentence: “Practice the love of Jesus”—the love that is unconditional, self-denying, and life-giving. We are saints, because Jesus’ sacred love dwells in us as we believe in him. And as saints, we are called to reveal this love and share it with others. It is not important how much successful we are in practicing love. But we should persevere always. That’s our holy duty. Live out the love of Jesus, and make life more holier, keep relationships more sacred, and change communities gradually into the kingdom of God.
Fellow saints of God, today we are celebrating All Saints Sunday and our 191st Anniversary. Today we shouldn’t forget all those ordinary saints in our church’s history, in the history of First United Methodist Church of Montclair and also in the 186 years of history of Verona United Methodist Church. Indeed, today, in this sanctuary, we are surrounded by “so great a cloud of witnesses” from both churches’ history. Let us remember our saints and their legacy of faith as we celebrate the joining tougher of the two churches today and as we move ahead toward our future. Because of their love for God, for neighbor, for the two churches, we are here to continue the common history of saints today; we are here to share the same love with others.
Indeed, it was love, from the beginning, the love of Jesus. This love grants us the redemption and consecrates us to be saints at our baptism and to inhere God’s kingdom. It still is this love, today, the love of our Lord. This love marks us with the seal of the Holy Spirit and binds us together in the communion of saints beyond space and time. And it will be the same love, in the future, the unconditional love of Christ. This love will always dwell in us, continuously sanctify us on our spiritual journey, and always call us to the duty of sharing that love with others. As we live out this sacred love and our sainthood, let us be persistent. Let us take up our own crosses and follow Jesus, “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:3) May God’s grace and love be with all of us in abundance, as we continue the work of saints with great faithfulness and courage just like the saints who have gone before us. Amen.
These days, most cars can diagnose themselves and give us signals if there are any issues. You probably have seen these common symbols at least once on your dashboard. The first one from the left tells you, check the tire pressure; it might be too low. The second one says, check the level of engine oil and fill it. And the third one is scary. It tells you that there’s something wrong with your car’s engine. Because this warning sign is about nothing else but the engine, we better pay careful attention. And I’m sure everyone knows the last one. What does it mean? Yes, your gas is running out… basically. But we take this symbol in different ways. For example, my wife takes it so seriously like God commands her, “Thou shall not pass the next gas station. Go now and fill up thy gas tank.” To me? Well… it says, “You can still drive 30 miles more, so take your time.” Anyway, these dashboard symbols are very helpful for us to keep our cars in good condition and fix issues without any delay.
Reflecting on today’s Gospel reading last week, I thought, it would be great if we have an ability to diagnose ourselves and get some dashboard symbols whenever we have some issues in our spiritual life. It must be convenient for us to maintain our healthy relationship with God, with others, and with ourselves. Just imagine. A traction warning light comes on, when we lose our faith and wander away; a brake warning light comes on, when we can’t stop chasing our desires and ignoring God’s call; a low fuel indicator comes on, when there’s no love, no hope left in us. How about that? I believe, it must be very helpful. But the question here is, how can we clearly diagnose ourselves, our spiritual status quo? True, it’s hard to tell what’s going on when it comes to our spiritual matters. Do you have any good ideas?
Today, Jesus tells us a simple yet clear way to diagnose our spiritual condition and have our issues indicated and fixed. Let’s look into the Gospel reading. Here, Jesus tells us a parable. Two men go up to the temple to pray. The first is a Pharisee, a religious insider who serves a vital role in the spiritual life of the Jews. Like other Pharisees, he meticulously keeps the law to set him apart and be upright religious leader. So, standing by himself, he prays in self-righteousness, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income” (Luke 18:11-12). In contrast, the second one is a tax collector, a collaborator with the Roman Empire; a traitor to his own people. He works for the Roman oppressors and sometimes has to extort revenue for them. So, standing far off, he “would not even look up to heaven, but just beat his chest in self-denial and pray, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13)
While the Pharisee is in self-righteousness, the tax collector is in self-denial. While the Pharisee makes a personal progress report to God, the tax collector just repents before God asking God’s mercy and forgiveness. While the Pharisee puffs out his chest in pride, the tax collector beats his chest in sorrow. And here is Jesus’s conclusion: it is the tax collector, not the Pharisee, who goes home justified. How come? It’s because the Pharisee fails to diagnose himself clearly. His self-righteousness blinds him. He’s so sure about his spiritual condition that he doesn’t even glimpse any warning signs. So there is no chance that his issues get fixed. But the tax collector is different. He knows that he can’t avoid all the troubles and struggles as a humble human being. So he pleas, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” This honest self-denial opens his eyes to see himself before God. From there, he can get to see which dashboard lights are on; he can bring himself to God in his repentance and get himself fixed, forgiven, renewed, and justified.
What is the way to clearly diagnose ourselves, our spiritual condition before God? As an answer, Jesus teaches us the way of self-denial, the way that begins with accepting the unchanging truth of ourselves: we are sinners, and we have issues to be indicated and fixed. Faithful Christians in history practiced this self-denial every day to check themselves and to become more mature Christ-like Christians. Today, I would like to share one of the examples. It’s a time-tested way of daily spiritual checkup. Please look at the hand-out inserted in your bulletin. This is called, the Examen, created by St. Ignatius and used by many Christians even today. Why don’t we read it together?
1. Ask God for light.
I want to look at my day with God’s eyes, not merely my own.
2. Give thanks.
The day I have just lived is a gift from God. Be grateful for it.
3. Review the day.
I carefully look back on the day just completed, being guided by the Holy Spirit.
4. Face your shortcomings.
I face up to what is wrong—in my life and in me.
5. Look toward the day to come.
I ask where I need God in the day to come.
I personally use this Examen when I conclude my day. And I can certainly tell you, this short 15 to 20-minute self-denial and self-checkup will lift you up and deepen your relationship with God.
Faithful friends in Christ, let us try it from today and check our dashboard symbols. In our self-denial, let us diagnose our spiritual condition every day. We all are in need of God’s graceful repair every day. So let us bring ourselves to God in our prayer of confession, and leave our sins unto the Lord in our honest repentance. Then, our Creator God, who built us and continuously fixes us, will make ourselves anew. Please remember, there’s no expiration date on God’s warrantee, God’ promise. Whether it is a major repair or a daily maintenance thing, we can get all of them for free. God’s grace covers them all. This is indeed the good news. So from today, as we keep our faith and trust in our God, let us take the way of self-denial and experience God’s justifying grace in abundance each and every day. Amen.
William Kamkwamba was born in Dowa, Malawi, and grew up on his family farm. He was a bright child. But in 2001, the year that he moved up from his primary school to a secondary school, extreme famine ruined Malawi. His family couldn’t pay his annual school fees, that was only about 80 dollars. William was forced to drop out of school a few months into his freshman year. For the next five years he was unable to go back to school.
However, rather than accepting his fate, William started borrowing books from a small community library in his former primary school. One of the books was an 8th-grade textbook from the U.S.: Using Energy. The book had wind turbines on its cover. And that picture captured his eyes. Reading the book, he decided to build a windmill to power his home. So he built his first windmill out of junk using a radio motor, a broken bicycle, tractor fan blades and old shock absorber. After hooking the windmill to a car battery for storage, William was able to power four light bulbs.
It was just a beginning of his greater projects. His windmill was later extended to 40 feet to better catch the wind above the trees. He even studied how to use solar power and generated more electricity and served his village to pump clean water, to provide lighting for the six more homes. His windmill project inspired many people, drew visitors from other villages and countries, and made great changes in people’s life. These days, William works with various non-profit organizations and continues to serve underprivileged communities around the world. And this year, a movie based on his story was released by Netflix with the title, “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.” I recommend it if you are interested.
Reading the story, I thought, what we are doing as Christians can be compared to building a windmill like William does. If William finds the power source from the wind, we, Christians find our power source from a different kind of wind, which we call, the wind of the Holy Spirit. We believe, this wind, this life-giving Spirit, has the power to turn on the light of Christ in each person’s life and empower them to love God and love neighbors. But to use this power, we need to do our parts. We need to build our humble windmill. We need to build our church. Then through us, I believe, God surely works for the people around us, for our community. And through our church, the Holy Spirit channels the power of grace to inspire people’s hearts to have faith in Christ, awaken them to follow Jesus, and impassion them to join us to do God’s holy mission.
William’s life could be just another unfortunate life of a secondary school drop-out in a poor town of Malawi. But he didn’t give up. He saw a different possibility. He dreamed of making changes in his village. And he did his part, although it seemed small and insignificant in the beginning. Today’s Epistle lesson also urges each one of us to do our part. “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus…and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching…. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully” (2 Timothy 4:1-2;5). Do your part in God’s mission. Even though your work seems small and insignificant, even though circumstances are not favorable to you, do it with persistence and carry out your ministry fully. Then, what? Then, God will work through you. The Holy Spirit will use our church to empower more people and enlighten many with Christ’s love.
Today is Laity Sunday. This is the day that we celebrate the ministry of all Christians. We embrace our shared vocation, as lay persons and clergy alike, to proclaim and embody the good news of saving love of Jesus Christ. And we reaffirm together the priesthood of all believers, our common call to ministry. As we do, I would like all of us to remember the story of William and his windmill, and faithfully do our own part as we build, nurture, and grow our church together.
When we say our parts, our works, in the Methodist Church, it particularly means two things. They are the works of piety and works of mercy. What are they? Let’s read them together.
Works of Piety
1. Individual Practices: reading, meditating and studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting,
regularly attending worship, healthy living, and sharing our faith with others
2. Communal Practices: regularly share in Holy Communion, Christian conferencing, and Bible study
Works of Mercy
1. Individual Practices: doing good works, visiting and helping the people in hardships, feeding the hungry, and giving generously to the needs of others
2. Communal Practices: seeking justice, ending oppression and discrimination, and addressing the needs of the poor
Methodism, in all its roots, has a long history of celebrating and recognizing the ministry of laity. In the early days of American Methodism, it was the lay members that served and maintained congregations between visits of the circuit riders. And I think this is true even today. I know, every one of you here, is taking part in our church’s ministry and doing your part by praying, by teaching, by dedicating time, treasure and talent, by serving leadership positions, by cleaning and cooking, by feeding the hungry, by joining various mission projects. I also know, every one of you here is the front line of daily ministry at your workplace, in your home, in your relationships, and within your community. For this, I give thanks and praises to God.
Indeed, you are the builders of this church, builders of the windmill through which the wind of the Holy Spirit generates power to change lives and transform the world. Each one of you is holding this church and keeping the doors of this church open until today. Without the ministry of laity, there is no church. Thank you for being faithful to relentlessly seeking hope and tirelessly putting your efforts in reviving our church. Thank you. Your dedications to this church’s ministry truly build the kingdom of God here and now. May God richly bless you as you continue to do your part—it may look small, but it’s not small, because you are building God’s windmill, God’s holy church, by serving one another, by carrying out God’s mission, today and every day. Amen.
What’s your favorite sport? Do you follow any sports? Some say, October is the best month of the year for sports fans. The Major League Baseball playoffs are going on; the National Football League games are in full swing; the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association officially start their new seasons. So in October, even though I’m a tennis fan, I get to watch many other sports.
Recently, I followed MLB playoffs, especially the LA Dodgers’ games. In the National League Division Series, their opponents were the Washington Nationals. The series tied at 2, and last Wednesday was their final game. The Dodgers were winning until the 7th inning. But the Nationals evened the score in the 8th by back-to-back home runs. So the game went into overtime. And it was in the 10th. The Dodgers bases were all loaded. Then, bam! The Nationals hitter Howie Kendrick hit the grand slam home run. It was the gamechanger. The Nationals won that game and so the series.
Why do we love sports? It’s because there’s a drama like this, a dramatic win. Just one pitch, just one hit, becomes the gamechanger that turns everything upside down. Because we can’t tell exactly at which moment this drama would happen, we continue to watch games cheering and hoping that our team may dramatically win. There should be a winning drama to take place—not a losing game. No other possibility than happy ending. So, even when our team is actually losing, we keep watching, waiting for a gamechanger.
In today’s Hebrew Bible reading, there’s a group of people who are yearning for a dramatic win. I’m not talking about any sports here. But I’m talking about the so-called game of life. In this serious game, they are losing a big time. Who are they? They are the people of Israel. They are not in Jerusalem now but in Babylon, in their exile. What happened? In 587 BCE, Babylonia destroyed Jerusalem, held many people hostage, and brought them to Babylon. In Babylon, they are miserable. They don’t understand why their enemy is winning all the time. They want God to listen to their cries and do something for them. They want God to liberate them from this captivity. Yes, for them, only God can be their gamechanger and the author of their winning drama.
Right then, to the people of Israel, God sends words through the Prophet Jeremiah. They feel like heaven breaks open and a ray of sunlight shines upon them. “Yes, that’s it! Who’s our God? Don’t you know, our God sent Moses and released the Hebrew slaves, our ancestors, from the harsh rule of Egypt? Now it’s our turn!” They expect to win everything back. But the word of God totally goes against their expectations. It begins with a bummer. “Build houses and live in them” (Jeremiah 29:5). “What? Are you kidding me?” I’m so sure that the people of Israel couldn’t believe what they just heard. There’s no gamechanger, no drama as such. The rest of the letter says, in short, “Suck it up!” Live your life fully in Babylon; embrace your situation but still do believe in God’s promise of salvation; God’s time is coming… I feel so sorry for them.
In your game of life, are you winning or losing? Like the people of Israel, for sure, we all want our life to be a winning drama—not a losing game. We all want our God to be our gamechanger and do something dramatic for us right now. But it’s not happening. Then, what can we do? When our life goes into a losing side, when we constantly losing our small battles in our daily life—lose our time and money, lose our chances, lose people we love, lose our hopes and dreams, lose our mind, lose our ways, and even lose our hairs…what should we do to write over our drama from a losing one into a winning one?
Let us look at Jesus in today’s Gospel story. His life doesn’t seem like a winning game either. His background? His people were hardly the best. He spent his early years in the poor town of Nazareth. He was a Jew and a carpenter, in Judea—one of the helpless colonies of the Roman Empire. What about current situation? The religious and political authorities and even his neighbors in his hometown are very often hostile to him and never supportive of his ministry. And today, he heals ten lepers, but one, only one of them, comes back and asks for salvation. Jesus asks, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?” (Luke 17:17) Jesus lost nine. Moreover, this one person is a Samaritan, a foreigner, hated by the Jews. It means, Jesus’ own people didn’t appreciate his ministry. It looks like he is losing the game. But did he? Did he actually lose it?
Faithful friends in Christ, if we say life is like a sports game, please know this: we, believers in God, play it in a totally different way than others. Or course, there can be times we lose. There can be times we struggle. But one thing for sure, we play this game on the promise of victory. What we need to do is to believe the promise and live as if we already won the game. This promise has been fulfilled. In history, the people of Israel got released, returned to Jerusalem, rebuilt their temple and worshipped God. And Jesus? The one Samaritan leper was just a beginning. He widened his scope of salvation to all the people on earth. Jesus revealed God’s winning drama through his death and resurrection. Jesus changed the game of life for all of us by making the cross, a sign of total defeat, into a symbol of everlasting victory over the world, over sin and death.
Yes, the victory has already been won. And God promises us this victory through Jesus our Lord. Thanks be to God! So again, what we need to do is to believe the promise and live as if we already won, as if we are writing our winning drama with Jesus each and every day. How? By living out our winning faith. We can pray like Jesus, even when our situation disheartens us. We can love and forgive like Jesus, even when people are not nice to us. We can willingly help others in need like Jesus, even when we are also in need of help. We can forge God’s kingdom in mission and fellowship like Jesus, even when we are busy and tired. We can shine the light of hope upon others like Jesus, even when we only see darkness around us. Yes, we can. We can write our winning drama with Jesus who has won the victory for us.
Last Wednesday, I don’t think the Washington Nationals won because of the grand slam home run. I don’t think that was the only gamechanger. Until the 10th inning, they were building up for their win with persistence. With every swing, every catch, every pitch, they were making the game turn around. Like them, we should also persist in living out our winning faith in our daily life. Even when we find ourselves in Babylon, in captivity, in unfavorable circumstances, on a losing side, our game of life, our battle, isn’t over. So, until the end of the game, let us be faithful to the promise of victory in Jesus, and write our winning drama with him. The victory has been won, says our Lord. And all God’s people say, amen.
 According to “The Bleacher Report” (https://bleacherreport.com/articles/1094743-ranking-the-best-months-of-the-year-for-sports-fans).
Let me ask you a question, “Do you think that you mostly underestimate your abilities or overestimate your abilities?” Personally, I think, I usually underestimate myself. Facing a challenging task, I mostly doubt myself first and worry, “Can I really do that? Am I really able?” So, I’m sometimes a little jealous of my friends who are full of self-confidence and assert, “Sure, I can do that! No problem!” How about you? What type of person are you? Let’s raise our hands. Underestimating? Overestimating? Both at the same time? Not sure how you are? Well…no matter how you are, you are welcome here!
Anyway, we assume that underestimation and overestimation of oneself are two totally different habits of mind. But psychologically speaking, they are the same. How come? It’s because they are the same kind of psychological issue called, “cognitive bias.” This is a systematic error in our thinking that affects our decisions and judgments, including our self-assessment and self-awareness. And because we are not perfect human beings, we all have this cognitive bias to a certain degree.
This morning, the reason that I bring up this issue of underestimation and overestimation of oneself is that they are deeply related not only to our mental health but also to our faith and Christian life. Yes, to have honest self-assessment and self-awareness and to know who we truly are, is quite critical in our relationship with God as well as on our journey of faith.
And interestingly, in today’s Gospel story, it looks like Jesus is trying to correct the cognitive bias of his disciples. In the story, the disciples ask Jesus, “Increase our faith!” Why do they ask such a thing? The reason is quite simple if we understand their situation. Now, the disciples are on their way to Jerusalem with Jesus. Their journey is almost reaching toward the end, and Jesus is about to enter into his final days on earth. On their way, Jesus already told them a couple of times about his impending suffering and death on the cross. That is so overwhelming. They don’t know how to handle this upcoming crisis. They are not ready. And they are not confident enough to continue Jesus’ ministry after he’s gone. The unforeseen future, the uncertain situation, their daunting tasks, their humble social status, their inner doubts…all these factors surround them, press them, and belittle them to “underestimate” themselves.
To those intimidated disciples, Jesus replies, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you” (Luke 17:6). Here, we should carefully listen to Jesus. Jesus is not blaming them for their lack of faith at all. He’s not judging them. Jesus is not assuming that they don’t have enough faith. But rather, Jesus is assuring them that they do have faith and it has a huge impact because even through their small faith, God can do amazing things. In short, Jesus means, “Do not underestimate yourself. Remember, you have faith. And this faith is the access to the power of God that is able to do all things through you.” What a wonderful encouragement it is!
But right after this uplifting and promising message, Jesus adds a little bizarre lesson that seems a little unnecessary. Here, he even uses a slave-and-master analogy that bothers our 21st century ears. Jesus tells that no master rewards their servants or thanks them for doing what they are assigned to do. So when the disciples have done all that they were ordered to do, they just have to say, “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!” (Luke 17:7-10) Why does Jesus say such bold words? I think Jesus’ point is this: “You know you have faith. But do not overestimate yourself. Remember, your faith leads you to be a servant.” With your faith, what do you want to do? Perform wonders and miracles? Wield power and authority? Jesus tells us, “Please make sure. Having faith means to be a servant of God, to surrender your will and make God’s will be done in you, to follow God’s commandment and humbly serve others.”
Today, Jesus points out our cognitive bias. Do not underestimate yourself. Remember, you have faith. But at the same time, do not overestimate yourself either. Remember, your faith leads you to be a servant. Know who you truly are.
I believe this is such a fruitful message that Jesus gives us today on this World Communion Sunday. Yes, we shouldn’t underestimate ourselves. We have faith in Jesus Christ. This precious faith gives us the access to God’s power that works among us right now. It’s evident. Look around. God unites us as sisters and brothers overcoming any human-made barriers and walls. In spite of different colors, different cultures, different backgrounds, we are here together in one faith. On a Sunday, on this most segregated day in the United States, on this day when blacks go to black churches and whites go to white churches, here, right now, can you witness that our small mustard seed faith is changing a little corner of the world? Let us not think that we have nothing special. Let us not underestimate ourselves because, through our faith, God can do amazing things.
But at the same time, we shouldn’t overestimate ourselves. We shouldn’t think that “we” are good and able enough to do something by ourselves. But our faith is not about us, not about our power or our will. It’s about the power and will of the Lord. This faith calls us to be servants, to be the hands and feet of Christ. What does the Lord require of us? Love God with all our hearts, with all our souls, with all our strength, and with all our minds, and love our neighbor as ourselves. Share the table of communion with all the people in remembrance of Jesus who died for us all and broke down the dividing walls. Share God’s love and serve one another to build a kingdom of God, even though there’s no visible or material reward.
Today we are celebrating World Communion Sunday. The faithful servants in every corner of the world come to the Lord’s Table, and we, together, remember who we truly are and who our Lord truly is. Without underestimating ourselves, let us remember our mustard seed faith. This faith is the access to our God who is able to do all things through us. And without overestimating ourselves, let us remember our servanthood. We are called to make God’s will be done in this world by serving one another like Jesus served us. Faithful servants of the Lord, let us be confident for we have precious faith that leads us into the new life. And let us be humble at the same time as we do what we ought to do. May our Lord, who became a servant for us first, lift us up and use us for his mission today and on, always. Amen.
Do you believe that God treats everyone equally? Does God create us to be equal, the same? I’m quite sure, our God does not. Look at the emerging California homeless crisis. I heard, homeless population in Los Angeles is reaching sixty thousand this year, mainly because of skyrocketing rent and lack of affordable housings. In Los Angeles, in this city of stars, the city famous for its rich towns and gated communities, this crisis is happening. How about New York City? Annual American Community Survey shows, among the 30 most populous US cities, New York tops in the inequality between the superrich and the extreme poor. And we don’t have to go too far. Look at the children in our church, Amelia, Avery, Jayden, Benjamin, Noah…and think about the children in refugee camps, detention centers, children’s hospitals, and orphanages. Do you still believe that our God is equal to everyone? Well, it’s hard to believe that.
Since the beginning of the world, although in varying degrees, social inequality and economic discrepancy have been unchanging reality of the world. There have been always people like the rich man and people like Lazarus in today’s Gospel story. Yes, Jesus somehow reveals us this unquestionable reality of the world in his story. And what’s more interesting is that he shows us, there’s inequality even in the afterlife between the saved and the condemned.
Let’s look into the story. It goes like a play with three acts. The first act: The Gate. The rich man lives inside the gate of his house, dresses himself in purple and fine linen, and feasts sumptuously every day. In contrast, poor Lazarus lives outside the gate. His famished body is nothing but skin and bones and covered with sores. He fills his hunger with what falls from the rich man’s table. The second act: The Chasm. This act portrays the reversal of their situation in the afterlife. Between the chasm, Lazarus is happily on the saved side with Abraham and the rich man is on the condemned side in flames of agony. The rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus and give him a drop of water but it’s impossible because of the chasm that no one can cross over. Now, the third act: The Rich Man’s Request. The rich man requests Abraham to send a warning to those still living so that they can avoid torment. But the request is denied.
So here, what’s the point? What is Jesus trying to teach us? At least, we get this: equality is not his main concern. In this world and after, everyone doesn’t get the same things anyway—same wealth or same redemption. There’s always unavoidable disparity. There’s the gate of inequality in reality. There’s the chasm of judgment in the afterlife. So what? Does Jesus ask us to turn the world upside down and build the revolutionary world of complete equality? Then, does Jesus ask us to support some kind of communist or socialist ideals? I don’t think so. But from the story, I believe, there’s one thing that Jesus wants us to learn as clearly as possible. That is, God, whom we believe and the Bible testifies, may not be the God of equality, but this God surely is the God of Justice.
Yes, God is just. Therefore, to God’s just eyes, to be rich is not an issue, but it is evil to be careless of other people’ needs and to be indifferent to their suffering and pain. To God’s just eyes, the rich man doesn’t have to be equal to Lazarus. He doesn’t have to eat and sleep next to Lazarus outside the gate of his house. However, it is sinful not to open the gate to Lazarus, not to invite him over to his table, not to share a little bit of his wealth with him. Then, what about us? To God’s just eyes, how would we look like? How would our church look like? And what about our society? To God’s just eyes, wouldn’t it be wrong if our social system hardly opens the gate of privileges and wealth to the disenfranchised? To God’s just eyes, wouldn’t it be wicked if our economic system widens the chasm between the rich and the poor and makes the rich richer and the poor poorer?
The Hebrew Bible tells us, our God of justice has a dream for a just world—the world of jubilee. To make this dream a reality, God gives God’s people the commandment of the year of jubilee, the every seventh year when debts are canceled and slaves are freed. And God asks them to make their land a place where the powerful lift up the week, where the rich share things with the poor. God says, “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land’” (Deut. 15:11).
The New Testament tells us, our God of justice still has a dream for a just world—the world of liberation, the world free from sin and death. To make this dream a reality, God sent the Son Jesus Christ. And Jesus reveals us, God’s justifying grace is greater than our sins; God’s steadfast love is more powerful than death. And finally, with his cross of sacrifice, Jesus built a bridge over the chasm of judgment, and with his power of resurrection, Jesus opened the gate of salvation for all who believe in him.
And today, our God of justice calls us to dream God’s dream together, calls us to join God’s mission to make this dream for a just world come true. God calls us to open our doors so that we may someday tear down the gate of inequality in our society. And God calls us to share with others the good news of Jesus Christ, the good news of justification and freedom, so that all of them may also find the new life across the bridge over the chasm of judgement.
Last Sunday, because of the Rally Day outdoor event, the church door was wide open until the afternoon. And I met two different persons in need who just walked inside the church and found me. I heard their stories of struggles and prayed for them. And because there were no Shop Rites gift cards left at the moment, I had to ask them to come and see me again on Tuesday. One of them came back and took bags of food and gift cards. Anyway, as I sent both of them from the church last Sunday, I realized, by just opening the door, our church had opportunities to serve them, to share something with them. That something may not be significant materially and spiritually. But that service, that sharing, is the reason why we are here… here to make this world a little bit closer to a just world, the world that God dreams of.
The Bible tells us clearly. Our God is the God of Justice, and this God commands us to act justly against social evils like poverty. So let us keep our doors open and share the good news of Jesus Christ with others. Let us participate in the missions of our church, missions of United Methodist Women, Souper Saturday, Irvington Feeding, Thanksgiving Feeding, food drive, cookie drive. And let us join the work of inviting people to our worship service, Bible study, small groups, and to the table of fellowship. Again, faithful friends in Jesus Christ, let us keep our doors open and share the good news of Jesus Christ with others. This is the reason why we are here. Let us make this world more just together. Let us dream God’s dream together… the dream for the world of jubilee and liberation, the dream for the kingdom of God where justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Amen.
Today we are celebrating Rally Day, the day we officially kick off our new season of ministries, especially, the ministry of Christian education. As I prepared my sermon last few weeks looking forward to this Sunday, I asked myself, what kind of message should I deliver? What kind of message can be most vital for us today as we begin this new season? I tried to find an answer one day but it was hard. I ate chocolate and tried. I drank another cup of coffee and tried. I walked around and tried. Still I couldn’t get a good answer. So I stopped thinking for a while and just started to check my Facebook.
There, I saw many friends of mine posted pictures of their children going to their school on the first day of new school year. I found this cute picture of Dana among them too. Browsing through their posts, I wondered: how would my friends feel when they send their children to the schools? How would they feel…when they realize that they cannot be there for their children whenever they need them? Some friends of mine say, it feels so good to finally get some free time after a long summer vacation wrestling with their kids. But I’m also sure, it’s not just a happy-all-the-way kind of feeling. They must be worried somewhat and might be a little anxious as they send their children away…away from their sight, away from their 24/7 care and protection.
Among the pictures, one picture caught my attention. It was the picture of my friend’s daughter who just entered college this year. Under the picture, my friend left a short reflection. While driving his daughter to college, he thought, he would drop her off and then come back right away. But as soon as he got to her dorm room, he couldn’t help inspecting everything top to bottom. He sat on her bed and chair, tapped on her desk, opened and closed the window, turned the faucet on and off in the restroom, turned the light on and off. After the long security sweep, he finally said good bye to his daughter and left. But his heart was heavy and unrelieved on his way back…until he got a moment of grace. While driving, with no specific reason, he found himself humming the hymn, God Will Take Care of You. “Be not dismayed whate’er betide, God will take care of you; beneath his wings of love abide, God will take care of you. God will take care of you, through every day, o’er all the way; he will take care of you, God will take care of you.” That moment he got the assurance that even though he just left his daughter, God will never leave her; God will be with her and take care of her.
Today, as we begin our new season of ministry and new chapter of our life, I believe no other message can be more foundational than this. God is with you. God never leaves my friend’s freshman daughter; God never leaves our children; God never leaves you; God never leaves our church…God is with you always. Even though you cannot be there for your children, or for your family and friends all the time, even though you are all alone, God is always with you. And God will take care of you.
This faith in our ever-present God doesn’t come out of nowhere. The whole Bible testifies, God is love, and out of this love, God seeks a reconciled relationship and a fellowship with us. The Bible tells us, God came to Abraham to make a covenant with him. God visits Moses in the burning bush to save God’s people from slavery. God spoke to the prophets to turn them back from their wrong ways. And finally, God came down to earth in Jesus. And after Jesus, the Spirit of Jesus abides in us. Hear the Psalm for today, how beautifully the Psalmist sings the love of God in God’s everlasting presence. “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast (Psalm 139:7-10).
Out of love, God comes to us and abides in our lives. This surely is good news for us. And this surely gives us a meaning and reason to live in confidence, live without fear. Paul proclaims, “If God is for us, who is against us?.... Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?.... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us (Romans 8:31;35;37). In this inseparable love, in the inescapable presence of God, we know and believe, we can do all things, and we can triumph over any troubles and any challenges in life. What a grace it is! This might be why, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, said, “Best of it all is, God is with us.”
One day an inspiring Christian writer, Henri Nouwen received a letter from a man who desperately wanted to know if humanity would survive the century. It’s so funny because Rev. Nouwen is a priest—not a disaster-prediction expert. Does this man know to whom he is writing? Anyway, to this broad and a little wacky question, Rev. Nouwen answers in a beautiful and meaningful way. You can find the whole letter here in this book, Love, Henri: Letters on Spiritual Life.
I really don’t know if our civilization will survive the century. Considering the growing threat of a nuclear holocaust, there certainly is a reason to wonder. But important for me is not if our civilization will survive or not, but if we can continue to live with hope, and I really think we can, because our Lord [Jesus Christ] has given us his promise that he will stay with us at all times. He is the God of the living, [Jesus] has overcome evil and death and His love is stronger than any form of death and destruction. That is why I feel that we should continually avoid the temptation of despair and deepen our awareness that God is present in the midst of all the chaos that surrounds us and that that presence allows us to live joyfully and peacefully in a world so filled with sorrow and conflict. Please be sure of my prayers for you in these tempting times.
Our lives are uncertain. We don’t know what will happen next. We can’t see what kind of untrodden road will unfold before us, before our children, before our family and friends, and before our church. A nicely paved road? A rocky road? A treacherous cliff-side road? Facing this uncertainty, we are worried and anxious. And in the world, there are full of reasons to fear and despair. Mass shootings, bullies, hate crimes, racism, sexism, natural disasters, and accidents…there are so many things letting us down and fret. But as Rev. Nauwen tells us, for the believers of Jesus Christ, the important thing is not if we can survive uncertainty, but if we can live with hope, deepen our awareness that God is with us in the midst of all the chaos that surrounds us, and reject the urge for worry and despair.
And we are able do this as the believers of Jesus Christ, because Jesus has given us his promise that he will stay with us at all times. At the very last moment of his ascension, Jesus tells his disciples and us, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). Today as we begin our new season of ministry, new chapter of life, let us remember just this: nothing can separate us from the love of Jesus Christ our Lord, and nothing can move us away from the everlasting presence of God. So go now with deep confidence in the presence of our God in your life and talk to your children, talk to your family and friends, and talk to yourself every day, “God loves you. God is with you. God will take care of you.” Amen.
 Henri J. M. Nouwen, Love, Henri: Letters on Spiritual Life (New York: Convergent Books, 2016), 45.
Pastor Earl Kim