“What time is it now?” If someone asks you this question on a street, what would you do? You would look at your watch or cell phone to tell the person the time. Right? No doubt, the time that the person asks is what your clock reads. And that’s what we usually mean by the word “time.” The ancient Greeks called this ordinary time “chronos” (χρόνος). Such time is “the numeric time” measured by the standard solar time, and it is “the linear time” that is in continued chronological progress.
But there was another Greek concept of time in contrast to chronos. It’s called “kairos” (καιρός). Unlike chronos, kairos means the qualitative time, the opportune and crucial time that breaks into the chronos time and reveals different possibilities. People in the ancient world, including early Christians, thought kairos was the divine time, the appointed time of God that interrupts our numeric and linear time. This kairos time teaches us an important theology that our ordinary chronos time is always widely open to the extraordinary possibilities of God’s time. And at any given moment in our lives, God can come, reveal God’s way, change the directions, and turn things upside down.
We can find this theology of time in the liturgical calendar we follow. Last Sunday was the “Reign of Christ” or “Christ the King” Sunday. That Sunday traditionally marked the end of a liturgical year as it provided us with a time to renew our faith in the coming of Christ with his future kingdom. And today we are celebrating the first Sunday of Advent. This Sunday marks the beginning of a new liturgical year as it leads us to the birth of Jesus. Here, we can see that a Christian year always begins with one advent of Jesus at his birth and ends with the other advent of Jesus with his coming kingdom. It means, from the beginning of time to its end, our chronos time, our numeric time, is always open to the advent, the arrival, the interruption of God’s time—the kairos time.
As human beings, we are living in this country, in the eastern time zone; but at the same time, as Christians, we are living in a different time zone, a divine time zone where only God is in control, where our lives are open to the possibilities of God, where the wind of the Holy Spirit blows where it chooses, where the voice of the wilderness changes human hearts, where we have a relationship with the one who is the Alpha and the Omega, where we find new and everlasting life through our faith. Do you believe that we are living in this special time through our faith in the one who is and who was and who is to come? Amen? Then, how would you answer to the question of “What time is it now?”
In this Season of Advent, it becomes very clear to us that now is the time of God. Now is the time when God comes for our salvation. Now is the time when God’s time interrupts our chronos time to intervene. At this very present moment, God is coming to us and God is at work. Then, what does it mean to us? It simply means there comes change, transformation. When God comes in our midst, things can’t be, and shouldn’t be the way they used be and we shouldn’t be the same. Here, change always brings two things; change comes with “anxiety” as well as with “hope.” In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus plainly tells that God’s kairos time will stir up serious anxiety among people, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Luke 21:25-26). Yet Jesus also encourages the disciples to be hopeful, (6) “Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:27-28).
Now is the time of God. And in God’s time, it is good for us to be fairly anxious. We should feel urgent in taking actions to get ready for the coming Christ. According to the modern martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God’s coming is not only a matter of joyful tidings and celebrations but, first of all, “frightening news for everyone who has a conscience.” As the prophet Jeremiah proclaims, Jesus is coming to “execute justice and righteousness in the land” (Jeremiah 33:15). Because the current world is not what God wants, God is going to give us a new world through Jesus. Then, if Jesus were really coming now, what should we do? There is a sense of urgency. Are we ready to welcome him? Are we righteous and just enough to avoid his judgment? Are we willing to risk everything for redemption and for a new beginning?
Now is the time of God. And in God’s time, it is also good for us to remain hopeful. There’s a story I heard somewhere. In a Bible study meeting, a leader asked people to go around and share their favorite Bible verses. People shared famous John 3:16, 1 Corinthians 13, Psalm 23… then, a woman said that her favorite is Luke 21, today’s Gospel reading. She said, I am glad to know that Jesus will come again and burn all things down someday. She said, it’s comforting. Comforting? So weird. Isn’t it? But later, people could understand what she was saying. She had four children but three had died before the age of three from malnutrition. Yes, she hoped for the day when she will finally break free from all the suffering and embrace her children again in peace. Facing many dead ends in her life, she could remain hopeful because she knew that the Son of Man is the Lord of life and death, the beginning and the end. And this Lord will interrupt her time and bring change and transformation.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, what time is it now? Now is the time of God. Our chronos time is always open to the interruption of God’s time—the kairos time. And it is widely open to the advent of Jesus Christ and all the divine possibilities. At any given moment, God can come and transform our whole lives and the whole world. Does this news make you more anxious or more hopeful? Today, I would like you to ask this question to yourself and renew your sense of urgency in this Season of Advent. Be fairly anxious to be ready for the coming Jesus and be watchful for every sign and opening of the coming kingdom. As Jesus says, “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life” (Luke 21:34-35). And be always hopeful for God’s interventions in our lives, for God’s work of salvation among us, because Jesus is the Lord who brings good news to the poor, proclaims release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind. Let’s be ready for him. Amen.
As you may see on the bulletin cover, today is traditionally observed as the “Christ the King” or “Reign of Christ” Sunday. It is the last Sunday in the liturgical calendar we follow. And it means that next Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, is Christian new year’s day according to the liturgical calendar. I think it’s very meaningful to celebrate the kingship and reign of Christ as we close one Christian year, in great anticipation of the coming kingdom of Christ.
But here, let me ask you a question, “how does these words ‘king’ and ‘reign’ sound to you?” For those who live in a democratic society like us, it must be difficult to get the sense of them and feel them close enough. The words are quite strange and archaic to our modern ears. So before we profess, Jesus Christ is our king, today, we better understand what kind of king Jesus truly is and what kind of kingdom he reigns.
The king we usually imagine is the ruler of an independent state, one who inherits the position by right of birth. A king has certain powers to rule over his kingdom, manage lives, judge people, wage war against other nations to earn more territories, and so on. A king has wealth; in history, powerful kings were extremely rich and owned many incredible things. If you go to the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, you can easily find all kinds of luxurious items, opulent crowns and cloths adorned with gold and precious jewels. Also, a king has many servants who follow his order and praise him.
Then how about Jesus Christ, our king? On this Christ the King Sunday, the Gospel reading suddenly leads us to a helpless man at the Roman courtyard in Jerusalem. And the Gospel tells us, this vulnerable man in front of the powerful Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate, is Jesus our king. Yes this king is “Jesus who by now has been betrayed by one trusted disciple, denied by another, and abandoned by all the rest; Jesus who has been shamed by the high priest and who will soon be beaten by the soldiers; Jesus, who will shortly be wearing a crown of thorns and a mocking robe of purple; Jesus, whose cross is now but hours away.”[i]Jesus is our king like no other.
What kind of king is he? Where is the mighty and wealthy king who can protect us from any harm, who can judge and punish evildoers, who can fight off unjust powers of the world? Why does the Gospel bring us to witness the one who is surrendering himself to the power of the Empire? Did God really send us this man as our king?
Yes. God sent us this man as our king, and there is no other king like Jesus. Why? It’s because this king is the king of God’s kingdom on earth. Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world.” True. His kingdom is not. This king is the Son of God, and his kingdom is not of this world but of God. This king became incarnated, this king was born as a human being to share his life with us, to save us, and to let us have the foretaste of the kingdom not from this world. This strange king traveled around and called the people to teach how to live the life in God’s kingdom. Under his kingship of the cross, the kingship of self-giving love, there is forgiveness, there is reconciliation, there is salvation, and there is peace in this kingdom.
There is no other king like Jesus. It’s because this king is the king of God’s kin-dom. This king initiated his kingdom not by claiming the throne but by becoming one of our kin, our likeness. This king has been expanding this kingdom not by force but by building his kinship with us, making a family, a family of God’s children who call one another sisters and brothers. Through the abiding presence of this king in our life, we, the branches, have been grafted onto the one true vine, and we all have become Abraham’s offspring who heir the kingdom. And through the sharing of this king’s body and blood, we, the church, has become one loving community and become the Body of Christ redeemed by his blood.
There is no other king like Jesus. It’s because this king is the king of the coming kingdom of God. In history earthly kings and powers have been fighting and struggling in the battlefield to make peace by force and terror, by eliminating and suppressing other powers against them. But this king with his followers have been working not only for the kingdom on earth but also for the kingdom that is coming in the future. As it is written in the scripture, this coming kingdom is the fulfilled kingdom of peace and glory, the kingdom where all the saved enjoy the everlasting dominion and kingship of divine love and justice.
Yes, there is no other king like Jesus. Then, who are we to this king? We, as Christians, are his servants who took a solemn oath of allegiance to his rule of love. We profess our faith that we take Jesus Christ as the only authority in our lives. In other words, our relationship with Jesus is the absolute one for us, so all other relationships and all other things in our lives should be relativized and dethroned around it. We affirmed that the crucified and risen Christ is the sole ruler of our lives. So our affirmation of faith calls us to put our earnest commitment to his demands regardless of situation and to radical rejection of other values and priorities.
And we, as Christians, are his kingdom builders who expand his kingdom on earth by love and service, by building up a kinship community. Following the unconditional love that he revealed on the cross, we must embracethe people in hard situations, accept differences, and befriend the marginalized. Make peace with the people sitting next you, and make peace with your own family, friends, and neighbors. Be their kin. Make the kinship of God with the people around you. Preach the good news and build the kingdom not by force but by love that endures everything.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, on this Christ the King Sunday, let us not forget who the true king is in our lives and never forget who we are. On the way of living out our kingdom life following our king, let us also never get discouraged or disheartened because we have a solid promise, hope, and confirmation of our king’s eternal reign. AsRevelation tells us today, our king Jesus Christ is “the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth…who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood and made us to be a kingdom” (Revelation 1:5-6). And this king is “the Alpha and Omega who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty”(1:8). With this king, let us build his kingdom on earth. Let the love begin with you and me. Let the peace begin with you and me. Let the kin-dom of Christ, his peaceable reign, begin with our church. Let Christ’s love and peace like a river flow through our hearts, become a flood, inundate the deserted world, and transform it into God’s kingdom until Christ comes in his final victory and we feast at our king’s heavenly banquet. Amen.
[i]The Rev. Dr. Janet H. Hunt, “A King Like No Other” on Dancing with the Word, http://words.dancingwiththeword.com
This is the signature scenery of modern day Jerusalem. The famous golden dome is an Islamic shrine called the Dome of the Rock. Yes, you might have seen this landmark in any photographs of Jerusalem. It’s beautiful and great.But in the days of Jesus, in place of the shrine, there stood a Jewish temple that was more beautiful and much greater than the Dome of the Rock. That was the King Herod’s Temple. If you look at this small-sized replica, you may understand where the disciples’ astonishment came from in today’s Gospel reading. It says, “as [Jesus] came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’
In the eighteenth year of his reign (20–19 BCE), Herod initiated this grand project to double the size of the Temple’s platform, the so-called Temple Mount, by building supporting structures into the deep valleys surrounding it. The area of this platform was about the size of 24 football fields. And this giant platform was bordered by four mammoth retaining walls of large stones. On this incredible foundation stood the actual building of the temple, which was approximately ten stories high and likely to be adorned with gold and silver. This temple was just massive and impressive. No wonder the disciples got amazed and said, “What large stones and what large buildings!”
Across the age, people are attracted to large things. They are the statements of power and wealth, so in ancient days, they were used as a political propaganda. The large scale of construction represented the ruler’s authority and prosperity. So, the temple in the time of Jesus surely represented the economic, political, and military power of Herod as the leader of Jews. As attracted to look of the splendor and grandeur of this Temple, people in Jerusalem might have felt peace and safety.
When it comes to our very lives, we have the same tendency. We lean towards large things of power and wealth, something we believe that they can secure foundations for our life and our family. What large stones are we searching for to build our stable life on top of it? A steady position at work, a good salary, large properties and money, a solid investment plan and a pension, and so forth. For extra safety and for extra comfort there is no limit to our seeking of the large.
Our inclination towards large things can be in some part justified in the name of human condition. We have a certain innate tendency to be attracted towards the large and the grandeur. Also, we are verysusceptible to the measures of the world and the gauges of greatness set by our society. Yes, in a way, we are helpless about our natural tendency. However, if we are always pulled towards what appears to be better and greater than what we have and who we are, and if we constantly find ourselves quickly and easily mesmerized by power beyond our grasp and prosperity beyond our reach, we should be careful. It’s because that kind of yearning and craving inside us can turn into an idolatry at any given moment…into the idolatry of the large, of the grandeur.
In today’s Gospel story, Jesus puts forward this chilling account on this idolatry in the disciples’ heart, “Do you see these great [stones and] buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” (Mark 13:2) Listening to this foretold end time, the disciples who were amazed at the magnitude of the temple became silent and they privately asked Jesus, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” (Mark 13:4) Then, Jesus begins to warn them about tribulation and persecution at the apocalypse that will happen before the ultimate triumph of God, as it is written in the Book of Daniel. Taking the disciples and us to the stark scene of end time, Jesus directly problematizes our idolatry of the grandeur and our idolatrous practices of having more and grabbing the greater. “Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down,” thus, says the Lord.
In actual history, the Herod’s Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. It was completely ruined and never constructed again. The glorious days of Herod eclipsed. His magnificent power and wealth that seemed to last forever were helplessly faded into futility. His large stones and large buildings were gone. Likewise, the large foundations we seek today will be gone someday. And on the Day of the Lord, such foundations, such stones, will be turned into the sinking sand and will never be able to save us. That’s the warning we have today. And that’s the call of God for us today to take our idolatrous eyes off from the large and the grandeur in the world and look only for the everlasting foundation in God. Yes, we better not to walk on the way of idolatry in our megalomaniac culture but to choose to be faithful in our true foundation.
Then what’s that foundation? The Bible testifies to this true foundation over and over again. I think the Bible is all about this foundation. The Bible calls this foundation, “Cornerstone,” the stone that was once rejected by the builders and still despised by the modern-day builders for the worldly temple of power. The Bible calls this foundation, “the Rock of Salvation,” the rock that hold the unfailing and unbreakable grace of God for us. Yes, this foundation is Jesus Christ who was crucified but has risen for our new life. Through his death and resurrection, he becomes the keystone of our life and our church.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, what large stones are we seeking? On which foundation do we try to build our life and ministry? Reflecting on end time, we need to reaffirm our faith in the bedrock of our life, Jesus Christ. Upon this rock, we should build our life and our church. To do this, let us do two things. First, remove other stones from the foundation and clear the ground for the better construction. If any large and great stones that we’re seeking hinder us from Christ, then they are only stumbling blocks of idolatry. And they should be removed on our way. Power, money, attention, fame, pride, achievement, safety…whatever they may be, they better be gone. Second, build our lives and our church on the foundation by the labor of faith, following the blueprint of hope, and with the cement of love. Brick by brick, stone by stone, let us build up our lives together in God using the prime and unlimited resources from God—faith, hope, and love. Whether our circumstances and situations are favorable or unfavorable, let’s not lose our heart and mind, because the call of God is clear to us today. The Epistle lesson encourages us, “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:23-25) For sure, we cannot predict anything about the Day of the Lord. But thanks be to God for we do have this faith and for we truly know of the most important foundation of our life and our church. So let us remove stumbling stones, build our life, build our church with faith, hope, and love on Christ, the solid rock we stand. Amen.
Karoline Lewis, “What Large Stones” (Sunday, November 11, 2018 11:12 AM) from workingpreacher.org (http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=5249)
It was one day when I tried to look up some stewardship materials online. I encountered one adjective, which was quite strange to me and made me a little uncomfortable. That adjective was, “God-sized.” This was frequently added to certain words and used in such ways like God-sized dreams, God-sized dedications, God-sized visions and goals, and so on. I was not sure about the exact definition of the word. And the part “sized” especially made me uncomfortable. I felt like the word tries to quantify God and convert God into a certain measurement. But how can we size up God? Don’t we believe that God’s plan and will for us are ultimately unknowable and God’s love and grace towards us are unfathomable? This word also made me uncomfortable because the messages delivered by this word “God-sized” are about pushing us to seek bigger and more ambitious things. You may find some people who say something like “you better pursue a God-sized dream.” And by saying that, they imply that you should dream bigger than what you can possibly imagine. I can’t deny that this message may encourage and motivate people. But for this purpose, do we really need the word, God-sized? I’m not sure. And I basically believe size doesn’t really matter as we dedicate our lives to God.
The questions go on if we look at today’s Hebrew Bible story and Gospel story. In these two stories, we see many expressions about size there. In the Hebrew Bible story, we see “a handful of meal in a jar and a little oil in a jug.” They were the only ingredients left for the widow in Zarephath. With those ingredients, she tried to make the very last meal for her son and herselfbefore they die in the middle of great famine over Israel. But she decided to use them to bake bread for the prophet Elijah. In the Gospel story, we see “the two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.” It’s just an insignificant amount of money compared to the “large sums” that rich people put in the treasury. But the two small copper coins were everything the poor widow had. And she decided to offer them all for God. Today’s Bible readings are actually about very small-sized things. And indeed, we hear about these small-sized things in our Bible, the Word of God.
I believe these two stories give us an important lesson on our dedication. They teach us that the size of our dedication doesn’t really matter. And our dedication, regardless of its size, can be of God. Then, what makes our dedication, our dreams, our visions and goals truly belong to God? Let’s look at the Gospel story in detail. Here Jesus also remarks on the size and quantity of people’s offering. Yes, Jesus is not a size-blind. Sitting downopposite the treasury, Jesus watches the crowd putting money into it. First, he compares the amount of offering on an absolute scale. He notices large sums and small coins. But Jesus values them on a relative scale too. He says, “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). Here, what matters to Jesus is not just quantity, but more, quality. And quality-wise, two copper coins given out of poverty exceed large sums given out of wealth. Then, what makes this difference in quality? It is nothing but faith. By her faith, the widow in Zarephath gave her and her son’s last meal to Elijah and witnessed the miracle of God that filled the jar of meal and the jug of oil again and again until the famine was over. By her faith, the poor widow offered everything she had to God and was recognized and acclaimed by Jesus. Yes, the key element that values our dedication is our faith, not size.
Meditating on these Bible readings, I was very grateful to God who measures our dedication not by size but by faith. We see in the Bible many great things done by the prophets, leaders, kings, the disciples, and early Christ believers. They marked their great names in history, transformed numerous people, led some large-scale missions, and directly participated in the course of God’s salvation. However, please don’t forget that in the Bible there are many testimonies to small and ignorable things dedicated to God in faith just like a handful of meal and a little oil, or two small copper coins, which are worth just a penny. The Bible shows all such big and small things because size or quantity is not the main concern in God’s mission, and size or quantity is not really important from the perspective of faith.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, faith truly matters in our dedications, in our dreams, in our visions, and in our goals. Faith matters prior to size in God’s kingdom. God never forgets small things we faithfully dedicate to God—small goals we try hard to achieve, small visions we dream together in the Lord. I know, to our church, all of you have dedicated your time, your talent, and your treasure as much as you can. I know, you all have big hearts for the church and big love for one another, but sometimes what you can do becomes quite limited because of your situations, because of your life. You have your work to do, your families to take care of, and some secret burdens to bear. And also I know, our church, as a small church that has a big passion to grow, have a lot of jobs to do. So sometimes, you may feel bad when you can’t dedicate yourself more. But do not worry about the size of your dedication because our God is the one who recognizes your faith. And just be hopeful in the Lord always, because our God is the one who can work great miracles even from very small things we offer in Jesus’ name.
The history of the church has continued not only by grand works of our ancestors of faith but also by faithful dedications of numerous ordinary Christians, which may seem insignificant from human point of view. But we know that they are invaluable from God’s point of view. So let us be faithful in the Lord always and keep up the good work of faith as long as we can. And let us dedicate ourselves to God as much as we can like the widow in Zarephath and the poor widow, so that God can make great miracles out of it. Amen.
A History of Faith – 190th Anniversary Sunday & All Saints Sunday (Psalm 124) (Hebrews 11:1-3) (John 10:11-15)
Today we are celebrating the 190th Anniversary of our church on this All Saints Sunday. This is truly the day that the Lord has made, so let us rejoice and be glad in it! Once again, I welcome you all in the name of Christ. But for today, if you expected an awesome guest preacher, I’m sorry. Here’s your ordinary preacher, Earl Kim, again. It is always my great joy and honor to preach on this pulpit every Sunday, but it is such a blessing for me to deliver the sermon today as we celebrate the remarkable journey of this church for 190 years.
This past week was very special to me. I spent much time discovering, reading, and organizing our church’s historical materials, and it was such a meaningful and inspirational time getting to know more about this church’s rich history. I followed the path of earnest Christian endeavors for mission and ministry for the community and also for the world. I encountered great milestones set by the saints who had passionately run their own race before us and passed the mantle of faith on to us. My heart was warmed up not just once but many times. And today I would like to share with you the great stories of the faithful forerunners, extraordinary saints, in our church history.
As I already mentioned in many other occasions, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Dr. John Raleigh Mott (May 25, 1865 – January 31, 1955) was a member of our church.
When I first heard about this from the late Rev. Charles Germany, I was so surprised, because Dr. Mott is one of the most significant Protestant church leaders in the early 20th century. I even wrote a paper on him. I found this Year Book published in November 1919, and you can see his name in the resident membership record. He lived in Montclair from 1900 to 1926 at 75 Midland Avenue, so two blocks up from here.During his days, Dr. John Mott made a great influence on the worldwide mission of Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) as he served the positions of a general secretary and a president for over 22 years. Also, he led the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions, established The World Student Christian Federation (WSCF) and took the position of the presiding officer at the historic World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh in 1910. All these remarkable works generated a great momentum for large-scale mission and ecumenical movement in the early 20th century. Later, he involved in the formation of the World Council of Churches, and the Council elected him as the lifelong honorary President. Because of his extensive influence on world mission and Christian unity, at age 81, in 1946, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Historians evaluate him as “the most widely traveled and universally trusted Christian leader of his time.” How great it is that his spirit of evangelism was nurtured right here in this church, empowered Christian mission movements, and transformed the hearts of many! We shall always remember this name, Dr. John R. Mott.
Another extraordinary saint in our history is Sherwood Eddy(1871–1963). It is not sure whether he was our member or not. But he sent his mission report from China to our church in 1934; I think he could he either a member of this church or supported by the church. He was a leading American Protestant missionary who worked among and for the poor in Asia—India, Japan, and China. Today I brought his letter dated October 24, 1934. Let me read a part to you. “China is tragic and yet glorious in the midst of a vast and stupendous process of transition from the ancient and medieval into the modern world…In the first five cities of North China the total attendance at all meetings has been over 46,000 of whom 1,783 have registered as enquirers to study Christianity or have made decisions for the Christian life…China is staggering today in the midst of a terrific crisis…I am ‘not ashamed’ of the Christian dynamic nor of what it has done and is doing for the moral and spiritual regeneration of China.” How great it is that our church supported this great person of faith and contributed to the Christian mission in Asia! We shall always remember our church’s precious dedication to the world mission.
Last week I newly found that our church supported two more missionaries who were active in the Chengdu area of China. They are Joseph Beech and James Maxson Yard. You can see their names on the cover of these old bulletins, under the category “missionaries.” From my research, I learned that Joseph Beech served as the president of Chengdu College from 1905 to 1914. And in 1914, he became one of the founders of the West China Union University, along with James Maxon Yard. These two missionaries from our church played a major role in establishing the university that is still standing in China. The university even has a museum for Joseph Beech. How great it is that our church made such fruits and marked a great Christian presence in China! We shall always remember this wonderful missionary legacy that also calls us today to bring the good news to the outside the church walls.
Don’t we have such a great heritage of faith? In celebration of our anniversary, we should be grateful that we have these extraordinary ancestors of faith. They are truly faithful saints of God. But today, I would like to introduce another set of extraordinary people of faith we should not forget. Who are they? I can proudly answer: they are all of you, sitting right here in this sanctuary at this moment. Yes, all of us! You may say, “Pastor, I’m not even close to those giants of faith you just talked about.” Well, I’m not asking you to go out and organize worldwide conferences, move to another country for mission, or found a Christian university now. But I believe, what made all those missionaries extraordinary saints of God was not exactly their achievements, but for sure, their unwavering faith in Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd. Wherever they were, they believed that this Good Shepherd was leading them. Whatever they did, they put their trust in the Lord. And I am glad and thankful that I can see the same faith in all of you, in each one of you.
So today, we shall remember that the history of our church has continued not only by those renowned Christians but also by many faithful Christians including you all who have dedicated lives to God and followed Jesus in their own mission fields—at the church, workplaces, at home, in the communities and neighborhoods. I know all of you have dedicated your life to the church with sincere faith. Every work of faith may not be rewarded by a Nobel Prize or any great recognition of the world, but I surely believe that every work of faith we do in Jesus’ name will be greatly rewarded in heaven.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, we’ve come this far by faith, yes, truly, we’ve come this far by faith. I am so proud of us, and I’m sure, God is so pleased with us. It doesn’t mean that our journey was without struggles, hardships, and ups and downs. Indeed, we faced many of them. But through the wilderness, we never lost our faith. We kept paving our way and kept moving on our journey slowly but surely. I strongly feel like today’s Psalm is our song, “If it had not been the Lord who was on our side.” If it had not been for the Lord on our side, where would we be? Through our journey, we believed that God is always on our side, and the Lord is our Good Shepherd. Without this faith, we wouldn’t be able to come this far. And it is this very faith that is writing a new chapter of our church’s history now because our faith will be the assurance of things we are hoping for and the conviction of things we have not seen yet. Therefore, on this 190thAnniversary Sunday and All Saints Day, let us renew our faithful hearts to Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, who always walks and travels besides us, whose self-giving love even led him to lay down his life for us. And let us reaffirm our faith in Christ’s coming kingdom where we shall all rejoice in the true communion with God and with all the saints at Jesus’ heavenly banquet. Amen.
A miracle. What do you think about a miracle? Have you ever thought about it really seriously? If you look up a dictionary, miracle is defined as “a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency.” Yes, something we all already know. And over the years, I have found that when people talk about a miracle, they tend to describe it in two ways.
Some people understand that a miracle is a pure display of divine power and wonder. This understanding is what we are familiar to as Christians. In so many biblical narratives, miracles happen by divine intervention. People witness in awe to God’s power and glory and come to have faith in God and God’s kingdom. For this group of people, a miracle is always a divine and godly event, something highly improbable and a totally outside-the-world kind of thing.
On the contrary, other people think of a miracle in a more mundane and human way. Have you ever seen this movie, Bruce Almighty? In this movie, Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey) is granted omnipotence by God. He squanders it on petty things like parting his tomato soup like Moses and on many other selfish things. Finally, God pulls him aside and tells him that although God is not against supernatural intervention, God most often choose to work more subtly. God says, “Parting your soup is not a miracle, Bruce. It’s a magic trick. A single mom who is working two jobs and still finds time to take her kid to soccer practice, that’s a miracle. A teenager who says no to drugs and yes to an education, that’s a miracle.People want me to do everything for them. But what they don’t realize is they have the power. You want to see a miracle, son? Be the miracle.” Here, a miracle is an event that can always happen around us, and something we can make in our lives with a gentle nudge of God.
So what do you think now? Do we have to think a miracle in a more divine way or in a more mundane and human way? Which one do you prefer? I don’t think we have to choose a side. And I can tell that both ideas are meaningful, make good sense, and help us understand a miracle better and deeper.
Today’s Gospel story of Bartimaeus is a divine miracle story. Actually, the Gospel of Mark is full of miracle stories, 20 of them in total. They are literally in every chapter until in Chapter 11 Mark begins to talk about Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and his final days. Yes, the story of Bartimaeus is just another miracle story, we can simply say that. However, there’s something very special about this story. It’s special because Bartimaeus is the only person whose name is recorded in the Gospel of Mark among many that Jesus healed. “Bartimaeus, Son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, who always sits by the roadside” (Mark 10:46). Bartimaeus is remembered by name, unlike all the other nameless people that Jesus healed. Also, this story is special because the Gospel writes, when he was healed, Bartimaeus “followed” Jesus. In any other stories of a healing miracle, we don’t see this following. And last but not least, the story of Bartimaeus is special because this miracle paves the way to another miracle, the final and the most important miracle.
The story of Bartimaeus ends with this sentence: “Immediately [Bartimaeus] regained his sight and followed [Jesus] on the way” (Mark 10:52). On the way… which way is that? That is the way to Jerusalem, the way to the cross. And now you may sense which final miracle that I am going to talk about… Yes, this miracle is Jesus’ death and resurrection. As the Son of Man, Jesus died on the cross taking all human suffering and death onto himself. And so, we are saved and freed from the shackle of sin and death. As the Lord of resurrection, Jesus has risen from the grave and shined forth the divine light of new life into the darkness of the world. And so, we have the everlasting life that will never be defeated by the power of death. The death and resurrection of Jesus…this miracle was done once and for all for the transformation of the world and our lives. So we can say that this certainly is the greatest miracle of all.
Then, is this greatest miracle a divine miracle? Absolutely, yes. It’s a transcendent event that reveals the divine power and wonder. And for sure, it’s none of this world; it’s what God did. Yet strangely enough, this greatest miracle is a miracle that is truly mundane and human. How come? It’s because this greatest miracle of Jesus Christ is something that should be lived, realized, and embodied in his followers’ lives. It’s because this greatest miracle always empowers us to be the miracle in this world even on a small scale. Jesus calls us to remember his death on the cross and empowers us to carry our own cross, to practice his self-sacrifice and self-giving love in our lives. Jesus calls us to abide in his light of resurrection and empowers us to shine our light on others so that they can also see the unending hope for the new life in Christ.
Jesus’ death and resurrection…this greatest miracle of all calls us to be like Jesus, to be the miracle. And indeed, because of the miracle of Jesus’ cross, we learn divine compassion and suffer with others, cry with others; we practice self-giving love, and love the unlovable, forgive our enemies…these are the miracles. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, we are not afraid of death and do our best to fight against the power of death and violence. And we always live in the hope for the future communion in God’s kingdom with our families and friend who have gone before us…these are the miracles.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, none of us are really worthy of miracles; we are not any better than Bartimaeus from God’s point of view, yet God graciously wills us be healed and liberated. Therefore, all of us have experienced the greatest miracle of all. And we know that this miracle is still happening around us; we know how Jesus’ death and resurrection change people’s lives even at this very moment. So now is the time for us to share this greatest miracle with others, and let them also experience the love of Jesus, be healed by his power and find true meanings of life in the relationship with him. And now is the time for us to invite others to the love of God and to the new life we live. Let us be like Jesus, and let us be the small, mundane, and human miracles wherever we are. May God’s grace empower us always as we follow Jesus on the way. Amen.
Celebrating new professions of faith in today’s worship service, I think it is proper for us to meditate on the core of our Methodist faith, that is, our faith in God’s grace. The United Methodist Church shares basic Christian affirmations with other churches and denominations, but I believe our understandings of grace and salvation are special and unique. I can personally testify that they are very special… special enough to change a Presbyterian pastor’s kid into a Methodist pastor who is talking to you right now. So, we better perceive, cherish, and embody our special Methodist faith.
Grace. What is grace? If somebody raises this question to you, you can simply answer, “Grace is God’s undeserved and unmerited love towards us.” God loves us first, even when we don’t know God, and even when we are yet sinners. God has no obligation to love us and we have no right, no merit to deserve that love. But still, God loves us first in God’s freedom. This loving action of God among us is grace. And by this grace, God opens the way of salvation in which we become God’s children through our faith in Jesus Christ. Today’s Ephesians reading tells us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). As Christians, we accept this as the truth of our lives. And we are ever grateful to God for this grace.
Although all Christians may believe in this basic truth, in Christian history, people have debated on God’s grace and salvation for better and more detailed understandings. One of the main topics is the scope of God’s grace. Some people claim that God’s grace is for those who are elected by God. And some people claim that grace works primarily within the church’s boundary and through its ministry. They make their own reasonable ideas based on the Bible. But we Methodists believe that God’s grace is universally available for everyone and pervades the whole creation. Grace is not the exclusive gift delivered just for some. But it’s God’s unconditional loving action to create, heal, forgive, reconcile, and transform human hearts, communities and the entire creation.
So for the Methodists, the believers of this universal grace, the journey of salvation unfolds in a special way. It can’t be explained by today’s popular term, “plan of salvation,” or by the idea of “order of salvation,” because salvation is not something that can be laid out nicely in a simple plan or something that is just prescribed for some people. Rather, we Methodists see salvation as a journey with God’s grace; we believe, we are on our “way of salvation.” It’s a prolonged experience of “grace upon grace,” or “growing in grace.”
On this journey of grace upon grace, we first experience “Prevenient Grace,” the grace that comes even before we realize we need it. It’s God’s universal provision for everyone. It’s in creation, in natural order, in human conscience. Love of family and friends, our guilty conscience, the desire to be good and righteous, the mysterious drawing towards holiness, and secret inner searching for God…they are all expressions of God’s prevenient grace. On our journey of salvation, this grace works in our hearts and guides us to the point where we embark on that actual journey. John Wesley described this grace as the porch on a house. It is where we prepare to enter the house. But, there is more to a house than the porch. There is more to a journey than our hearts desiring to travel. We must enter the house or begin the journey.
Then, how can we begin the journey? The journey begins by responding to God’s call to the journey. As we respond to God’s call, we see ourselves be chained to the power of sin and death. Even though we want to start the journey, we can’t walk, we can’t move because of the chains. So at the moment of our beginning, it is necessary for us to “Repent.” We repent for the forgiveness of sins and for the release from the captivity of death. And at this moment of repentance, “Justifying Grace” of Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for us, works in our hearts and gives us the assurance of forgiveness and of acceptance into the new life as God’s children. We become free from the bondage to sin and death and able to start our journey of salvation.
Now, the journey has begun. But this journey doesn’t guarantee that we’ll have gold paved roads ahead in our lives. The journey may lead us to a desert, to a dark valley of shadow. But we Methodists believe that in every moment of our lives, through all the ups and downs, through all the joy and sadness, through all the thriving and struggling, God’s grace is with us, nurturing our growth in faith, and making a better and holier person out of you and me. This grace we call God’s “Sanctifying Grace.” On our journey of salvation, we are not alone, God’s grace is always present in our lives. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we are enabled to grow in the love of God and in love for our neighbor. And we are enabled to restore the fullness of God’s image in which we are created. Then we can reach “Christian Perfection,” the holiness of heart and life.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, at the moment of our baptism, we are initiated into Christian church and started our journey. And today, at the moment of profession of faith and confirmation, we affirm that our journey still continues within God’s grace. And we will see, on the journey of salvation, we are not alone. We have our community of believers here in our church. As people achieve fitness goals by participating in a weight loss group or exercise group, we, as a group, help one another grow more to be better disciples of Jesus Christ. As a group on the common journey of salvation, we celebrate our victories together, support one another through struggles, and share wisdom along the way, pray and worship together to be holier, witness to “the true light, which enlightens everyone,”and above all, let us love one another (John 1:9). On our journey of grace upon grace, may God’s abundant grace be with us, transform us into the loving image of God and transform the world into God’s reign of compassion, justice, generosity and peace. Amen.
What are you wearing today? For this World Communion Sunday, I kindly asked you to wear your traditional garments if you have any, or something that can represent your own cultural background. So today, I’m wearing Hanbok, which is the traditional attire of Korea. I got this for my wedding. I didn’t particularly love this pinky pants, but I had no choice because the person who made this was so adamant about color selections for a bridegroom. She said, “It’s the tradition!” And that’s it. From here, I can see many of you wearing different folk costumes, clothes with emblems, and also casual clothes in your own style. Whatever you’re wearing today, you all look great in your beautiful diversity!
Our garments and clothes are special in a way that they express many things about who we are. Yes, we can tell something about people from what they are wearing. The perfect example is me. One day, I had to go to Home Depot in my clergy shirt and collar. People immediately recognized me, especially, who I am. It got so funny. Some people tried to stay away from me. I don’t know why, but whenever I wear my attire in public, it always happens. And some people greeted me, “Hello Reverend, or hello Father, and even, God bless you!” Although I am a bit too obvious example, it’s still true that the clothes people wear reflect who they are—their vocations, cultures, religions, characters, personalities, and even which sports team they root for.
In today’s Epistle reading, Paul speaks of a mysterious garment. According to him, we are also wearing this right now. But very importantly, this garment not just represents us. Rather, it “defines” who we truly are. What kind of garment is this? Paul says, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:27). Yes, Paul thinks that Jesus Christ is what we wear as Christians. Paul says a few times in his letters, if we believe in Jesus, we are clothed with Christ or putting on Christ. But what does it exactly mean? As we talked earlier, what we wear reveals the part of who we are. And in the ancient world, where Paul lived, clothing was more typical, so it represented more things about a person than now. It openly displayed a person’s economic status, social class, ethnicity, and occupation. So it was much easier to identify people—who they are—based on their outfit. Thus, for Paul, if we are clothed with Christ, people should know us by Jesus; people should know who we are by seeing Jesus in us.
Then, who is Jesus? We know, Jesus is the incarnation of divine love, the embodiment of God’s unconditional love. If we have to describe him as an item of clothing, he would be the garment of love. In today’s Gospel story, to the Pharisees who ask about the greatest commandment in the law, Jesus answers, “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). Love God and love neighbor. No doubt, this is the core teaching of Jesus. Here, we become more clear on the meaning of being clothed with Christ. It means that we should be known as Christians by our Christ-like love. We should be recognized as the disciples of Jesus by loving God and loving neighbor.
Then, if you put on Jesus, what happens? Paul continues to tell us, in Jesus Christ, in this single garment of love, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). What are we wearing now? We are wearing all different clothes. We come from different backgrounds, different cultures, different nations, and so on. We are different from one another and highly diverse. But who are you wearing now? I know, at the Hollywood red carpet events like the Oscars or the Emmys, the E-Channel reporters often ask this strange question to actors and actresses. Who are you wearing today? Then, they answer with different names of designers who made their beautiful dresses and tuxedos. But for us, the answer is one; yes, our answer is Jesus. In our faith, we are putting on Jesus, the beautiful garment of love. Therefore, no matter how different we are and no matter how different outfits we are wearing, as Christians, we are clothed with Jesus together. In our diversity, we are one in union with our one Lord. Indeed, by Jesus, we are what we are. And by Jesus, we are one.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, on this World Communion Sunday, we are not only clothed with Jesus but also fed by Jesus at his table. To complete his love, Jesus gave himself up for us. When we feel naked, vulnerable, and unprotected, Jesus puts himself on us and warms our hearts with his love. When we feel hungry, thirsty, and empty, Jesus feeds us with his body and blood, and assures us of God’s unending grace upon us.
We are living in a world where differences become the reason for violence and discrimination. The world is divided by race, socio-economic class, gender, ethnic group, political party, religion, and by social issues on immigration, human sexuality, climate change, foreign affairs, and so on. The stories of separation, division, alienation, and rejection always outnumber the occasions of reconciliation, unification, inclusion, and acceptance. In this world, today, let us invite our neighbors to the table where everyone can be clothed with the garment of unconditional love, to the table where everyone can be fed with the food of grace, and to the table where people from everywhere can find their unity in Jesus Christ.
Today, Jesus is calling us and the whole world to his table. “Come! Come to my table all you who love me. Come and have a seat. Come, put on my love that overcomes any barriers, and live your new life in communion with me and in communion with each other.” As we hear this call of Jesus, let us come to his table and invite, accept, and share love with all the children of God. Then, people see us clothed with Jesus, and they know we are Christians by our love. Amen.
Jesus is a little strange in today’s Gospel reading. Here, he doesn’t look like a loving and kind person we know. He doesn’t gently encourage or persuade us to follow his way. But he only speaks in a very adamant way to enforce his dos and don’ts to us. And he talks straight out about the extreme things like self-mutilation and being thrown into hell in many times. What’s happening here? The first thing we can immediately notice is that Jesus is really serious today. Like in a school, a teacher, who is usually very kind and generous, one day find something wrong in students and come to a classroom with a serious face…yes, today is that kind of day to Jesus’ disciples. And no kidding, Jesus is telling us something very heavy and grave. So what shall we do? Well…we better listen to him carefully.
Today, the words of Jesus are not just solemn but also very difficult to understand. I personally had a hard time to figure out the meanings; I had to read them over and over again to get to the core. In today’s Gospel reading, I think, Jesus majorly talks about two things that I may title, “the two rules of discipleship.” Having this in mind, I remembered a funny meme I saw on my friend’s Facebook post, which is about the two rules of business. And I found it quite useful for us today too. Two rules of business: first, “Mind your own,” and second, “Stay the hell outta mine.” Funny and very sarcastic, isn’t it? I guess, my friend was having a bad day when he posted this. I get that. Anyway, let me use this meme to summarize the two rules of discipleship that Jesus is teaching us today. So here we go, “two rules of discipleship.” First one is the same, “Mind your own,” but second one is a little different, “Stay out of hell.”
Now, let’s look into rule number one. “Mind your own.” Mind your own business and stop meddling in other’s businesses. Jesus is clear on this in today’s Gospel story. Here, the disciples encounter a person casting out demons in Jesus’ name. Where does this person come from? The disciples were so surprised because right before they meet this person, they failed to cast out unclean spirits from a troubled child (Mark 9:14-18). The healing miracle that this nameless person does in Jesus’ name is exactly what they couldn’t accomplish.
Getting so frustrated and jealous, they go to Jesus and tell on this person to him right away, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us” (Mark 9:38). Can you feel them? They are talking to Jesus like, “We are the disciples. That person is not. That person is not authorized to do such healing business in your name. That should remain exclusive, disciples only.” To them, Jesus replies back, “Don’t stop others who perform God’s work in my name. Whoever is not against us is for us and whoever do a little thing in my name will never lose the reward. So don’t put any stumbling block before the little ones who just start to believe in me.” In short, “Mind your own business guys.” Yes, Jesus is asking the disciples and us to be more mindful of our own discipleship. It’s because, in the end, it’s all about us as individuals standing all alone before God—nobody else. So we better not waste our time looking at the others and saying this and that, but we better mind our own ways to follow Jesus. How true it is!
Then, if we try to be more mindful of our own discipleship, what should we do? Where should we begin? Now we may go over to discipleship rule number two. “Stay out of hell.” It’s sounds simple and easy. But for Jesus, staying out of hell means a serious and ceaseless practice to identify and remove any stumbling blocks from us. And these stumbling blocks may be so deeply entrenched in our lives like our body parts that they are very hard to be taken away. But here Jesus definitively says, “It’s better to enter life without one hand, without one foot, without one eye, than to have whole body and be thrown into the fires of hell.”
In the original Gospel text, Jesus doesn’t really use the word, “hell,” but rather he uses the Aramaic name of a place called Gehenna. This was an actual place called the Valley of Hinnom, just outside the walls of Jerusalem. Centuries before the time of Jesus, Gehennahad been the place of idol worship where some of the kings of Judah even sacrificed their children by fire to the Canaanite god (Jeremiah 7:31; 19:2-6). And thereafter, Gehennabecame a place where corpses of criminals, dead animals, and all manners of refuse were thrown to be decayed and destroyed. So by the time of Jesus, it was a kind of the town dump filled with burning garbage and flesh. It was a desolate place utterly filthy and repulsive to nose and eyes of people. Thus, when Jesus mentions hell, he actually talks about the place like rubbish heap of Gehenna.
With his hell-talk, Jesus radically confronts his disciples. “If your life would end up being dumped out in the place like Gehenna, what would you do to avoid it? You would do whatever you can do. You may even choose to let go of some part of your body, than to be thrown into the cursed dump. Your life is precious. You are created in God’s image and not destined for the ash heap of the world. So what can you discard in order not to risk of discarding your entire life? Dump whatever that makes you stumble before your whole life gets dumped. That’s how you can stay out of hell.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, to be true disciples of Jesus is not easy. There are many distractions on our way. We sometimes get tired of getting no reward; we sometimes don’t like our fellow disciples; we sometimes compare ourselves to others and become frustrated. At these moments, let us remember discipleship rule number one, “Mind your own.” Yes, we better be mindful of our own discipleship always, because discipleship truly is about the personal relationship between us and Jesus, and because in the end, you and I will stand all alone before God—nobody else.
On our way to be faithful followers of Jesus, we also get to find many stumbling blocks embedded in our lives. Our big or small addictions and negative habits, our unresolved anger and emotional wounds, our troubled intentions misled by the spirit of our days, and our desire controlled by culture of this world…physical, mental, spiritual, social, and cultural stumbling blocks keep us from moving forward. At these moments, let us remember discipleship rule number two, “Stay out of hell.” We better choose life in Jesus and try our best to discard the stumbling blocks rather than to have our whole life discarded. We better keep battling against them.
Mind your own discipleship and stay out of hell…as we strive to keep these two rules in our lives, I hope and pray that we may get closer to Jesus day by day; we may be liberated more and more from the things that block us; and we may become more alive and more able in Jesus Christ. May God bless us all and lead our ways to be true disciples always. Amen.
If you are a sports fan, you may have heard about the word, “GOAT.” What does it mean? I can tell you, it has nothing to do with the animal we know. And it is not the bad name to label some players who cause a team to lose a game. Actually, it’s quite the opposite: GOAT is the acronym of “Greatest Of All Time.” Yes, this word is a really honorable title bestowed only on a handful of excellent players who are widely considered the best in sports history. For example, in basketball, Michael Jordan is always listed as the GOAT. In soccer, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo can be the GOATs. In tennis, people call Roger Federer and Serena Williams the GOATs. In baseball, maybe the Hall of Famers can be the GOATs. True, the word “GOAT” sounds a little funny, but no doubt, it’s a very hard-earned title. Sports media or magazines sometimes have debates on the GOAT-ness of some players. But some players are indisputably recognized as the greatest of all time by most people.
Not only in the world of sports but also in different fields of our life and work, we can find some people who also deserve the title “GOAT.” They are the ones who have aspired to be the best in what they do and finally become true professionals in their respective fields. Great artists, acclaimed writers, excellent chefs, pioneering engineers and scientists, good-hearted civil officers, inspiring leaders of social movement, and all the great experts in big or small areas in our lives. I think we can call them the GOATs too. Then, I thought, if we want to find the GOATs in the church, who would be qualified for the title? Who can be the Christian GOATs, the greatest of all time?
In today’s Gospel story, it looks like the disciples are already into the discussion to figure out the GOAT among them. They were heading to Jerusalem, and the disciples were obviously in a heated debate through the long walk. And Jesus is interested to know what it was all about. So when they have arrived in Capernaum and have settled into a house for a meal and a rest, Jesus asks: “What were you arguing about on the way?” (Mark 9:33) But there is no response. The Gospel says, the disciples were silent, because on the way they argued with one another about who is the greatest (Mark 9:34).
Here, their silence tells us many things. Why don’t they tell anything back to Jesus? Do they feel embarrassed because as grown-ups, they shamelessly raised their voices against one another claiming, “I’m greater than you and here’s why?” But in Jesus’ days, social class or rank was much more important and visible than now, and it’s how people ensured their social order. So in their context, the disciples’ debate is not something totally absurd or unacceptable. Then, what’s the reason of their silence? Are they just afraid of telling Jesus about the truth because Jesus doesn’t like the idea of greatness at all? I don’t think so. As far as I know, Jesus never condemns our quest for greatness. Then, what’s the reason? I think, for Jesus, the disciples pursuing to be the greatest is okay, but “the way” they try to be great is not okay. The disciples are silent probably because they are somehow aware of the way of Jesus, even though they deny it.
Jesus takes this way to Jerusalem, takes his steps forward to fulfill his mission, that is, to obey God to the point of death. And Jesus knows, there is only one way to be the greatest victor and savior who can liberate people from the power of sin and death. And this way is the way of the cross, the way of humbling oneself and sacrificing oneself for the sake of others.
But walking on the same way, the disciples have totally different visions for their way to be the greatest. So far they have witnessed Jesus’ divine power and his great miracles: healing the sick, feeding five thousand, and even making the dead alive. On their way to Jerusalem, therefore, they expect that Jesus will finally turn the world upside down and build the glorious kingdom of God where they will be the greatest and enjoy high positions and power next to Jesus. And this lofty aspiration leads them to deny Jesus who predicts his passion and death again and again: “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” (Mark 9:31-32).
To the disciples who dream of being the greatest in God’s kingdom, Jesus tells the true and simple way to be the greatest of all time: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). Yes, Jesus doesn’t mind the disciples and us being the greatest and the first. But he radically transforms the way to be the greatest. Jesus tells us, “Do you want to be the greatest, the GOAT in your life? Go ahead and pursue your quest for greatness. But be very sure that the way you should take will never be the way up, but the way down; the way you should walk will never be the way of triumphal procession but the way of the cross.”
How can we become the greatest? By taking the way to possess power and elevate ourselves for self-focused and self-serving purposes? No. We should take the other way around, the way to love others in the life-giving power of Jesus and to serve others for the self-giving and self-sacrificing purposes. And how can our church, First United Methodist Church of Montclair, become the first and greatest church in God’s sight? Our church’s motto clearly tells us the way: “Love First. Serve First.” Yes, that’s the way we become the true first church in this community. True greatness comes in loving others and serving others.
The GOAT, the greatest of all time, I hope and pray, we all walk the way of the cross with Jesus and with one another every day, so that Jesus may bestow that honorable title onto us, the faithful servants of God, someday. Until the day comes, let us love others first and serve others first as our Lord Jesus Christ showed us. Amen.