Let’s imagine that we are opening a new business in Montclair/Verona. And let’s say we want to open a diner. What should we do first? I think we should find a space where we can open a diner. And it’s always better for us to have this space on a busy street with high foot traffic. Facility wise, we must have a well-equipped kitchen and a well-furnished interior to make and serve good food. Also, a catch name with a nice logo and great social media presence is not even an option these days. And absolutely, we shouldn’t forget having necessary permits and inspections. On top of all these, if we want to actually run this diner, we need people to work with. Yes, we need to hire employees. No doubt, the success of a diner truly depends on a good chef and kitchen staff, a friendly manager and well-trained servers. Right?
So, let’s say we advertised the positions and got many job applications. And now we are in the process of reviewing their resumes. What should we check first? Basically, we would like to see who is qualified for the position we offer. And the person’s carrier, experience, education, such information would tell us about the qualification. Perhaps, for better discernment, we may have to interview some of them… Let me stop right here and ask you, “Does this sound easy to you? To open and run a diner?” I don’t think so. True, running a business and making a success are not simple at all. There are lots of things involved. There are lots of things we need to consider.
In today’s Gospel reading, you see a person who tries to start his ambitious business. What he’s trying to do is not exactly a business but more like a movement. And by promoting this movement, he’s not just thinking of bringing some changes only to his town or community. This person is very serious about transforming the whole world. Who is this person with such a wild aspiration? As you know very well, this person is Jesus. And this Jesus is trying to begin a radical movement in history, which is called the kingdom of God. Indeed, what he is trying to do is not just run a local business but bring a new kingdom—a whole new world with a whole new way of life! Can you believe it?
We may assume that a person with such a big dream must have a great blue print of the new world and have the finest human power in the world. Even opening a new local business requires a great deal of effort and careful preparation, then, how is it when Jesus commences a revolutionary enterprise to make a new kingdom? However, against all our high expectations, Jesus’ way of doing his business looks too simple. He just shares a message called the good news. Today’s Gospel reading tells us, “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news’” (Mark 1:14-16). Really? Is this all?
Then, how about the people whom Jesus works with? There must be something very special about them. What kind of qualification does Jesus want from them? We would look for qualified employees even when we try to open a small business, then, how is it when Jesus begins a new kingdom—not anybody’s kingdom but God’s kingdom? His people must be very talented and godly ones, we assume. However, against all our high expectations, Jesus’ search for his co-worker looks even absurd. He doesn’t look for any qualification—no resumes, no interviews, nothing. The Gospel reading says, “As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him” (Mark 1:16-17). On his way to spread the good news, Jesus meets some fishermen and just calls them: “Follow me.” Really? Is this all?
I know it’s such a strange way to begin a movement. It seems that there is nothing ambitious or grandiose, nothing we should pay attention to from the business management point of view. If Jesus showed up in a reality TV show like The Apprentice, he would definitely hear, “You are fired,” on the first round. But… here, what we shouldn’t forget is that the way of Jesus is precisely the way that God transforms the world and saves human lives. Indeed, with this simple message and a bunch of untrained amateurs, the revolutionary movement for the kingdom of God started and has greatly transformed our world until now. To make America great again, someone says we need more investments and jobs in the US, and we need to stop people coming from something-hole countries. But, remember that to make a kingdom of God, no other resource is needed but the good news of God. And no other qualification is required for the followers but the calling of Jesus.
Today, the history of this revolutionary movement, the history of this strange kingdom of God, is still ongoing. And this history is not just a history from the past to be remembered, but it is our story to be continued here and now. It truly is our own story! Even though we are just a bunch of ordinary people, even though we are just same old sinners before God, even though we have nothing special to achieve great things in the world, it doesn’t really matter. When we firmly believe in the good news of Jesus Christ, we already have everything that is enough to change the whole world. And when Jesus calls us as his disciples, we are more than qualified to follow him on his way to build a great kingdom of God.
Today, on this Sunday of baptismal covenant renewal, Jesus is calling you again. Will you be able to follow him leaving behind everything you have, considering them as nothing, like Paul suggests in today’s Epistle lesson? Even though we cannot radically commit like the disciples, let us at least remind ourselves of the call, the life-giving invitation, the life-changing summon of Jesus our Lord. As we come to this baptismal font and as we come to renew our faith in the good news of God and the new life we received, let us remember the good news: Jesus is the Lord! Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life! And let us dedicate ourselves afresh to living out the precious call of Jesus Christ. Follow me! Jesus is calling each one of us. And let all God’s people answer, “Yes Lord, here I am.” Amen.
A couple of years ago, I had a chance to watch a movie called The Tree of Life. It’s a quite abstract movie that touches upon some heavily philosophical questions on human existence, life and death. For sure, this movie is not just for fun. The most unique feature of this movie is that the director continuously counterpoints the events in frail human life against the dramatic splendor of nature. So, in the movie, the story of a middle-class family living in Texas in the 50s unfolds along with the creation story of the universe.
I know it’s hard to imagine. Let me give you an example. At one point, the movie shows the creation narrative that begins with the Big Bang and moves on to display swirling vortexes of exploding gas in the universe, the birth of stars, the newly formed Earth, the first stirrings of life, the development of living organisms, the age of the dinosaurs. And this goes all the way to the birth of a child in a hospital in Waco, Texas. Through this way of storytelling, the stories of the family—their inner struggles, complicated relational dynamics and conflicts—gain a new array of meanings from the weirdly wide and wild cosmic perspective.
The director’s message was very clear to me; which I believe is that although humans seem so fragile and insignificant compared to the magnitude of nature, our lives are still vivid parts of the greater creation narrative of the universe. And this cosmic narrative is indeed our own. So we better see the universe, life and, of course, humanity as a manifestation of something beyond it, something mysterious. Whether this something is just a massive force of nature or divine grace, it carefully interweaves and interrelates all things in the universe in a single thread of destiny.
Reading through the lectionary readings for today, the Baptism of the Lord Sunday, this movie just came to my mind, because I wondered why today’s readings include the creation narrative in the Book of Genesis. This Baptism of the Lord Sunday is the traditional Christian feast day commemorating Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. So today’s Gospel reading is about how Jesus was baptized, and the reading from the Acts of Apostles is about how Paul baptized people in the name of Jesus. How appropriate! But what does the creation story in Genesis have to do with baptism? I didn’t get it at first. Then, I got some clue from the movie.
Like the movie, today’s Hebrew Bible reading, Genesis chapter one, pulls our lens back and leads us to overview the grand narrative of God’s creation. It widens our perspectives so we can see our life and its meanings on a cosmic level. Yes, we better understand, the creation narrative is not something irrelevant to our lives. But rather, it truly is our story. This story begins with the creation of the universe when God created the heavens and the earth, and separated light from darkness. Then, it reaches a milestone point when Jesus was baptized and revealed the way of new creation, the creation liberated from the bondage to sin and death, the creation with the restored image of God. Then, where does the story go from there? The story finally reaches its highlights in our very lives. It is in our very lives that this cosmic narrative of creation and new creation is intimately manifested. In our beginnings, God created our life. And through our baptism, God initiates our new life in Christ.
Like the movie, here, the Bible tells us that the cosmic creation narrative is interlaced with our own creation stories. And yes, the Bible also affirms… behind the whole story, there is something beyond us, something mysterious that undergirds all things in the universe in a single history of salvation. Unlike the movie, however, the Bible doesn’t hesitate to give us an explicit answer about this something. And the Bible doesn’t finish the story with an open-ended question. Rather, today’s Bible readings tell us directly about the Spirit of God who brooded over the formless water and brought forth life, the Spirit who descended upon Jesus like a dove, the Spirit who makes new life in the practice of baptism and incorporates our lives in God’s story of salvation.
And now we know… the same Spirit, the Creator and the giver of life, is present among us. From the beginning of the universe until now, this Holy Spirit enfolds all things in the universe in God’s grace. Our story within the power of the Holy Spirit is not the story of creation and destruction but the story of creation and new creation. It is the story of new life, the story of the divine grace poured out for us through the Spirit from the beginning of the universe until its end.
Today, we are baptizing Avery . What a great day to welcome a new son in Christ! Through this baptism, he will be embraced into God’s great story of grace and new creation. And at his baptism, we, as a church, will witness that God’s creation narrative continues and that the life-giving Spirit vividly works among us through the life of Avery. And we will bless and pray for him together so that he can make his own story in the love of Jesus Christ and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
To conclude my sermon, I’d like to read a part from the service of baptism with you. This is from the Thanksgiving over the Water part where I consecrate the water right before the baptismal act. When we witness the baptism of Avery today, I hope you remember in your heart, this beautiful summary of God’s story of creation and new creation, connected by the water of baptism and through the Holy Spirit.
When nothing existed but chaos,
you swept across the dark waters
and brought forth light.
In the days of Noah
you saved those on the ark through water.
After the flood you set in the clouds a rainbow.
When you saw your people as slaves in Egypt,
you led them to freedom through the sea.
Their children you brought through the Jordan
to the land which you promised.
In the fullness of time you sent Jesus,
nurtured in the water of a womb.
He was baptized by John and anointed by your Spirit.
He called his disciples
to share in the baptism of his death and resurrection
and to make disciples of all nations.
And now at this moment Jesus is calling you and me to be the disciples who continue this story of grace within our stories. Let us give thanks to our God. Amen.
 Marcelo Gleiser, “‘The Tree Of Life’: Need We Choose Between Grace And Nature?” (NPR, August 17, 2011: https://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2011/08/17/139680194/the-tree-of-life-need-we-choose-between-grace-and-nature)
When we love somebody, we want to be with that person. We want to spend time and share life with that person. Or at least, we want to stay in touch with the person we love. It’s very natural. My parents-in-law visit Jee Hei and me all the way from South Korea. Even though the flight takes more than fourteen hours and the flight ticket is quite expensive, they come to see us because they love us and want to be with us. Love has such a strong gravity, the force that pulls those in love to one another. Aristotle, one of the greatest western philosophers of all time, found this character of love and thought that god might move the world with this kind of force.
He said that god moves the world as the beloved draws a lover, and as the lover gravitates toward the beloved. It is such a beautiful idea that has inspired many theologians in history. But there is an issue with Aristotle’s worldview, that is, god never moves. For Aristotle, god is so perfect and unchanging that god never changes god’s position. God has to take the ideal and static position as the beloved so that the world only gets motivated and moved as the lover.
Yes, I have a certain issue with this unmoving god of Aristotle. Why? It’s because the God whom we know is very different from this philosophical god. If we reflect on the God testified in the Bible for a while, we can immediately see that God is always on the move. God always comes to God’s people first, when they don’t know who God is, when they are yet sinners, and even when they deny God. And in the Bible, we find more often that God is the lover and we are God’s beloveds. The Bible tells us, God came to Abraham to make a covenant with him. God revealed Godself to Moses to save the Hebrews from the slavery. God spoke to the prophets to turn the people of God back from their wrong ways. Truly, God so loved the world that God came down to earth and incarnated Godself in Jesus to save the world. Indeed, our God is love. This true love doesn’t only stay in a higher or lofty position to be adored, but this love doesn’t mind coming down to lowly places in our midst because God wants to be with us.
Today, we are celebrating the very first Sunday of 2018, as Epiphany Sunday. The word “epiphany” means a manifestation of something divine. And it particularly means an event wherein the divine unveils itself to us. For Christians, this epiphany is about Jesus and the day of his humble birth. On this day, the Magi, the three wise men, followed the starlight, traveled a long way to visit the baby Jesus, and finally, they witnessed the shimmering revelation of something divine in him. What would be that something these three wise men witnessed? It’s still a great mystery with full of wonder. But we do know one thing for sure. The baby Jesus in a manger manifested the heart of God for the world. God loves us and wants to be with us, so God comes and dwells among us. As the Angel Gabriel announced, the name of Jesus is indeed, “Emmanuel, God with us.”
The love manifested in Jesus Christ is not an idealistic or philosophical love like Aristotle said. It is a down-to-earth love, the love incarnate. To be with us, this God of love doesn’t mind taking a human form, having flesh and blood. The true love of God doesn’t mind coming to dwell in humble places among us. Jesus was born in a shabby and smelly stable. There was no crowd and no visit from any family or friends. However, in this shabby and smelly stable that looks farthermost away from divine glory, God’s concrete love is manifested in Jesus. From this we know… even in the lowliest and loneliest places of our lives, God is with us. And God wants to be with us no matter where we are.
The true love of God also doesn’t mind enduring any suffering and danger with us. In the story of the Gospel of Mathew, Jesus’ birth was immediately followed by a great threat and danger. All of them in the stable were overjoyed. But they needed to hide that joy because Herod, the king of Judea, looked for Jesus to kill him. His life was set in a vulnerable and precarious situation. However, in this situation that seems farthermost away from divine blessing, God’s empowering love is manifested in Jesus. From this we recognize, even when our circumstances are unstable and unfavorable, God is with us. And God wants to be with us no matter what we are going through.
Finally, the true love of God doesn’t mind taking up the cross on behalf of us. As we all know, Jesus’ life was not just a happy one. He was not the majority’s favorite at all. He was constantly accused by the Jewish authorities and excluded by his hometown people. He was only a friend of the unfavorable people of the society. Although he healed numerous people and taught the good news to many, at the moment he was dying on the cross, there were few people beside him. Even his disciples betrayed him. However, in the life that seems farthermost away from divine favor, God’s life-giving love for us is ultimately manifested. Jesus on the cross indeed perfected God’s love for us. From this we realize, even when our lives are tough, God is always with us and suffers with us. And God wants to be with us no matter who we are.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, on this first Sunday of 2018, I hope we all keep this Epiphany faith that through Jesus we have this love manifested. Whenever you feel weary, tired, or lonely through this year, I hope you remind yourself of this core Christian faith in God. Our God is love, the true love that is concrete, that is incarnated, that is enduring, and that is life-giving. God, because God loves us so much, comes into our humble lives and stays with us. Upon this divine love, on this foundation, let us confidently build our life and our church in 2018. And in Christ’s love, let us be joyful always no matter what. As John Wesley teaches us, indeed, “Best of it all, God is with us.” Amen.
“See you on Sunday, Lord willing!” When I first heard this expression, “Lord willing,” I just thought it was such an interesting expression. Then, I became wondering about its origin. So I did some research online. As you can imagine, it actually came from the Bible, in particular, from the Epistle of James chapter 4 verse 15 as in the King James Version, “For that ye ought to say, if the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that” (KJV). Lord willing… Indeed, this phrase shows a certain degree of faith in God who has power to make things happen in our lives. And whether that faith is seriously Christian or merely a popular superstition, by saying it, I think people express a certain kind of hope… a hope that something will happen if it is in God’s plan, even though we are not quite sure about what the will of the Lord is.
Lord’s willing… we probably don’t know exactly the will of God for every single event happening around us. But as Christians, we can surely say that we do know the ultimate will of God for the world and for humanity. How do we know it? We know it through Jesus Christ and through the testimonies in the Bible. And this will of God is clear: God wants us to be saved… be free from all human bondage to sin and death, be in a restored relationship with God, and be joyful in the new life. (2) Let us hear the word of Jesus, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17). Isn’t it clear? Yes, God wants us to be saved. So by sending Jesus Christ to us, through this gracious act of will, God gives us the light of salvation as John the Baptist testifies in today’s Gospel reading. Thanks be to God!
And we are also grateful that because of this will of God for us, we can abide in the joy of salvation. Surely, if our good Lord’s will is to save us, if our Good Shepherd’s will is to lead us to green pasture, we have no better reason for joy than this. So we trust in the Lord’s will always, rejoice always, and give thanks in all circumstances. Yes, we know we are called to do so… but do we? In our daily lives, how often do we forget the enduring will of God for us? How often do we forget our utmost reason for joy? Whenever hardships overwhelm us, whenever some problems irritate us, don’t we just lose our hearts and ask, “What is the will of God in all of my troubles? True, it is very hard for us to always hold onto the Lord’s good will and always keep the joy of salvation.
The people of Israel in the days of the Prophet Isaiah were just the same. They went through a horrible tragedy of losing their homeland. And they were taken to the land of the Babylonians. So they questioned and doubted God’s plan and asked again and again about the Lord’s will in all the miseries. Last summer Jee Hei and I travelled Berlin, Germany and visited Pergamon Museum. The most splendid ancient remains they exhibit is The Ishtar Gate, which is a part of the Walls of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
It’s just magnificent. The gate was constructed in the city of Babylon by order of King Nebuchadnezzar II around the time when he conquered Jerusalem and captured the people of Israel. As I looked at the gate that still vividly shows the power and glory of the Babylonian Empire, I imagined how the people of Israel in their exile would have looked at this gate. This could be how they saw this gate at that time. To the eyes of the ancient people of Israel, the gate was even more astonishing. I imagined… for them, this gate of the dominant power, the blue gate, was the gate of despair and the gate of humiliation. Looking at the gate and its overwhelming presence, I believe they asked, “What is the Lord’s will for us? Can we be saved?”
At that moment, they never knew that the Babylonian Empire would be destroyed about 50 years later and they could return to their homeland. In today’s Hebrew Bible reading, we see Isaiah proclaiming to the people of Israel who are now released from the Babylonian exile. They are saved from the hands of Babylonians, finally returning to home, and about to build their new temple from the ruins. How joyful they are! This exhilarating joy is expressed in the Psalm we read today, “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy…. The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced” (Psalm 126:1-3). From this experience, the people of Israel were convinced again with the Lord’s will to save them.
However, their trust in the will of God and their joy of salvation didn’t last for good. As they went through other hardships, their trust and joy faded away. God then revealed the permanent will of God again through Jesus Christ. And interestingly, as he begins his public ministry, Jesus echoes the same message that Isaiah proclaimed. That is, “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Isaiah 61:1-2). From Isaiah and from Jesus, we can see that the Lord’s will never changes. The enduring will of our God is to bring the good news to the people of God, to save them from all their troubles, and to lead them to a joyous life in God. And this will is just the same for us today. Thanks be to God!
Sisters and brothers in Christ, things don’t always go as we want. The blue gate of despair, the gate of hopelessness, may stand overwhelmingly before us and block us from seeing and holding onto the Lord’s will for us. However, as we are waiting for Jesus Christ in this season of Advent, let us once again trust in the everlasting will of God, the Lord who always wills to save us. As Isaiah beautifully says, God wants “to give [us] a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit” (Isaiah 61:3). Let us trust in this gracious God’s will for us. Then, we shall surely have the joy of salvation in our hearts always, Lord willing! Amen.
It was a dull thud that I heard from the front porch of the parsonage. I had an ominous feeling about it. I immediately opened the front door to check outside. There I found a box thrown and laid on its side. And I saw a UPS delivery truck leaving. As I was carefully picking up the box and bringing it inside, I was really hopping that the package wouldn’t contain the glass candleholders I ordered for the Advent wreath. But a bad hunch is never wrong. I opened the box and found what?
Yes, the broken glass candleholders. One of them got badly cracked up and barely held its shape, other two were half broken, and the other was almost totally shattered into pieces. Later, I noticed that it was not the delivery issue because there was no fragile warning label on the box. Even though I got enough undamaged ones, it was certainly disappointing.
Anyway, those unbroken ones are now here in our sanctuary, with this Advent wreath, holding the beautiful candles in them.
And even one of them is already bearing a light shining on the altar, as it symbolizes “hope” on this first Sunday of Advent. Then what about the broken ones? What happened to them? As a matter of fact, they are now in my cold garage waiting for the next recycling day to be thrown away. And I feel so bad for them.
Last Thursday, as making this Advent wreath and putting these glass candleholders and candles, I happened to think about those broken ones in the garage. Being broken and losing their original shape and purpose, they lost their possibilities to hold candlelight. Being broken, and sharp-edged and unsafe, they had to be separated and discarded. They cannot hold light, because of their brokenness. As my thought reached this point, I got to realize something… that as human beings, we are not really different. If we are too much broken, we become unable to bear light, the light of Christ within us.
But in our lives, we get to be broken in one way or the other, don’t we? Sometimes, we are helplessly broken by all the brokenness in our world—broken relationships, broken mutual trust among people, broken moral values, broken social, political, and economic systems. And sometimes, we just carelessly let ourselves be broken. We break each other’s heart with our words and deeds. We break ourselves, our integrity, by committing sins and choosing evil. And we don’t carefully tend our brokenness that we get from the hurtful experiences of loss, abuse, harassment, and discrimination, from the hard emotions of grief, anger, depression and so on.
We pretend as if we were strong but in fact, we are not. How fragile we are like glass candleholders! Whether we are badly cracked up and barely hold our shapes, whether we are half broken or totally broken into pieces, yes, we are living our lives today bearing certain fractures and ruptures within us. And being broken, we come to lose our original image—God’s likeness, lose our own purpose of life, and so lose our possibilities to hold the light. Being broken, we come to develop sharp-edges in our hearts and in our personality, and so we hurt others and become unable to share love and trust with open hearts. And if we continue to be like this, I am afraid, someday, that we may be thrown away and completely lost in darkness. Then, is there any way to mend our brokenness?
Yes, there is. Today, we better lend our ear to the prayer of the Prophet Isaiah. And as he did, we need to call upon the Lord who is our Creator, who is the potter, the glassmaker. Isaiah cries out, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence…. O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people” (Isaiah 64:1; 8-9). Like Isaiah, we may cry out to the Lord for our restoration, “O Lord, you are my Creator. You are my potter, the glassmaker. You created me in your image so you are the only one who can remold my broken shapes, who can put together the broken pieces in me and make me whole again. So have mercy on me, O Lord. Come and heal me!”
Sisters and brothers in Christ, today is the First Sunday of Advent. Advent is the season of waiting. But what are we waiting for? One thing for sure is that we are waiting for an answer to our cry for restoration. And yes, the answer is Jesus Christ who renews us. Advent is the time when we wait for this Christ who already came to save us but is also yet to come. So, when we call upon the Lord, we need to remember the Lord, our Redeemer, who gave himself up on the cross, who was broken in order to make us whole and to restore our relationship with God. And as we remember him on the cross, we also need to wait for the Lord who is to come in the future. Through his death and resurrection, he gives us the blessed assurance, the faithful promise, of the Day, the Day of ultimate healing, the Day when there will be no more death and mourning, the Day when we will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory” and wiping every tear from our eyes (Mark 13:26).
As we start off another season of Advent, I hope we don’t forget the true answer, the answer of Jesus Christ, which can heal our brokenness and lead us to hold the true light even in our fragile selves. And as the children of God and as God’s handiwork, I hope we also don’t forget the fact that we have God’s promise of the Day when we are completely transfigured like Jesus and abide in his everlasting light of life. Therefore, let us keep awake. Jesus is coming. Let us keep awake and count the days until we see the Lord. And from today, in the presence of the Advent Spirit, let us call upon the Lord, remember the Lord, and wait for the Lord always. Amen.
Today’s Hebrew Bible reading is from the Book of Deuteronomy. The book’s name, Deuteronomy, is a compound word of deutero, which means, “second,” and nomy, which means, nomos, “the law.” So it tells us that the book is about a “second enactment of the law,” or “recapitulation of the law.” Then, why did people give such title to the book? In the Book of Exodus, Moses receives the commandments at Mount Sinai and the people of Israel affirm them for the first time on their way to the Promised Land. Then, in the Book of Deuteronomy, the people of Israel finally reach the Promised Land after their long, long wandering in the wilderness. But here Moses can’t go with the people because he is dying. Before letting the people go by themselves, this great leader and prophet Moses delivers his last sermon to ensure the people of Israel to reaffirm the commandments for the second time. This is why Deuteronomy has such title.
Then, what’s in Moses’ last word? With his love and care for the people of Israel, Moses not only restates the commandments but also asks them to remember what God has done for them. In many parts of Deuteronomy, Moses emphasizes the act of remembrance… of how God has raised a nation from Abraham and how God has tirelessly worked among them and brought them to the Promised Land. Look at today’s Hebrew Bible reading, “Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments…. then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrible wilderness…. But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth” (Deuteronomy 8:11; 14; 16-18). “Remember the Lord, your God. Remember what God has done for you thus far. And never forget.” This must be the core message that Moses delivers at the end of his life to the people of Israel and to all God’s people for centuries.
But here is the question. What does it exactly mean to remember? Just recognize and memorize what happened in the past like we do in a history class? I think what Moses meant is more than that.
Last Sunday, I deeply experienced what it means to remember the Lord my God in my life. I was in Boston attending the annual meeting of American Academy of Religion. Boston was the first city that I lived in the US, and I lived there for four years with Jee Hei. Of course I have a full of great memories about Boston, and also memories of struggles and challenges like any other immigrants do. But to me, Boston is like a hometown in the US. Taking advantage of staying there on Sunday, I visited the church that I had visited on the very first Sunday in the US, where I experienced the first worship service in English. It happened to be a Methodist Church.
Union United Methodist Church in downtown Boston, it is. At that time, I went there because of my friend, who is now an Elder in the New England Conference. He preached on that Sunday as a student pastor. And the senior pastor was the late Bishop Martin McLee. It was a beautiful worship service, even though I couldn’t understand most parts.
Anyway, I went to the church quite early (believe me, it was early) and sat in a pew. As soon as I sat down, I felt emotionally overwhelmed. It was a very strange and unexpected experience. There, I encountered my past self who has been long-forgotten…my past self who was sitting there ten years ago, fresh off the boat, confused and afraid, didn’t know how to navigate his life, wasn’t sure where to begin, and was just curled himself up in a corner wishing to be alone. Sitting in a pew, as an Elder in the United Methodist church, I remembered my journey for the last ten years in the US. And it became crystal clear to me that it is no one but God who has guided me thus far, who already had visions and plans for me even when I couldn’t find them, who has shaped my life whether I noticed it or not, and who has raised me to be something from nothing. The Spirit strongly moved in my heart, and I praised the Lord singing with others the hymn, “I will trust in the Lord.” It goes, “I will trust in the Lord, I will trust in the Lord, I will trust in the Lord, till I die, until I die…” That was so powerful and I cried, cried, and cried. Tears of joy and gratefulness sprang up from the bottom of my heart.
In the worship service, I deeply realized what it is to remember the Lord our God. Indeed, the act of remembrance is not just to passively recognize or memorize what happened in our past. But rather, the act of remembrance is to re-member, put our past and the present together in a thread, and see it from the perspective of our faith in God. So this act of remembrance enables us to realize how God has led our ways. We may realize through all those ups and downs, through all those good days and bad days, through all those happiness and miseries in our lives, God has faithfully walked with us and shaped our lives with grace upon grace. And as a result, the act of remembrance leads us to reaffirm our faith in God with our gratitude.
Today we are celebrating our church’s 189th Anniversary. And we want to remember how God has been faithful to our church through all those years and made good disciples for the transformation of the world. Also, today is the commitment Sunday, the last day of the stewardship campaign this year. And we want to remember how God has faithfully cared for us and granted us many blessings even through the vicissitude of the seasons. As we do, let us also re-member, put our history together, and see it through our eyes of faith. Then, we will surely realize the faithful guidance and the helping hands of God. And then, we will gladly reaffirm our faith in God with our deepest gratitude. Hear the message of Moses again for the first time, “Remember the Lord your God and bless the Lord your God!” Remember God’s love and grace in your life. And never forget the presence of the Spirit in your whole life. And all God’s people say, amen.
“Fortune” is the word that originated from the name of the goddess, Fortuna.
Fortuna was the goddess of chance or luck in Roman religion. She was a very popular deity and worshipped all over the Roman Empire. She was believed to be the bearer of prosperity and increase, the giver of fertility to the soil and to women, and the oracle of fortunes in the future. As you can see in the picture, she is often depicted with some items in her hands. One of them is a wheel. And it is called the Wheel of Fortune (Rota Fortunae). In medieval philosophy, this wheel was a symbol of human fate.
All people in the world are hanging on the wheel. On top of the wheel, a fortunate person like a king is enjoying good life. Under the wheel, an unfortunate person is going through suffering. On its left and right sides, one person is going up to fortune and the other one going downhill. The position of people can change at any given moment whenever the goddess, Fortuna, randomly spins the wheel. So this wheel represents the capricious and relative nature of fortune. Fortune comes arbitrarily. And while someone enjoys fortune, others suffer misfortune. Indeed, this artistic rendering of Fortuna tells us exactly what fortune means.
Now you may be curious about the reason that I’m sharing the detailed meaning of fortune with you today, especially before we meditate on Jesus’ words on the Beatitudes—God’s supreme blessings. The reason is simple. It’s because we better examine our understanding, our pre-conceived notion of blessing before we look into the true meaning of blessing that Jesus actually talks about. Yes, in fact, our concept of blessing is sometimes mixed with the concept of fortune. And we often habitually misuse “blessing” when we have to use “fortune” instead.
“Oh, I’m feeling blessed.” “That is a blessing of God.” How many times do we say like this? We also habitually say, “Oh, God blessed me with some good things… my new job, good health, successful children, and so on.” As Christians, we naturally attribute all the good things happening in our lives to God and feel grateful. Yes, I get it. And there is nothing wrong with giving thanks to God always. However, we should be very careful when we say the word “blessing” in those cases. It’s because if we claim that God blesses us with a new job, good health, successful children, those who do not have such things become unblessed. Think about it. Can we say that God especially blesses the multi-millionaires in America and doesn’t bless, or even curses, miserable kids scavenging food on the street in some poor countries? Never. The God, who randomly grants special favor to some people and leaves others to suffer the lack of sufficient food, clean water, or medical care, cannot be the God whom Jesus calls the loving Father. Whenever we misunderstand God’s blessing in this way, we are actually degrading our God of abundant grace just to be the goddess Fortuna who spins the wheel of fortune.
Then, what does Jesus talk about God’s blessing? Who is blessed and what is the true blessing? From today’s Gospel reading, we find the most revolutionary teaching that transforms our perspective on blessing upside down, inside out. Who are blessed? Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit (or just the poor in the Gospel of Mark)… Blessed are those who mourn… Blessed are the meek… Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness… Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake… Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account (Matthew 5:1-12).” Here, Jesus clearly tells us, all these seemingly unfortunate people in the world are actually blessed. They are the blessed regardless of their misfortune or distress. Jesus sharply separates the matter of blessing from the matter of fortune. Jesus also says, “Blessed are the merciful… Blessed are the pure in heart… Blessed are the peacemakers.” We don’t know whether these kinds of people are materially fortunate or not, but again, regardless of their external fortune, they are blessed as Jesus affirms.
Then, what is God’s true blessing? The blessings that Jesus list in his teaching are only about having the kingdom of heaven, having comfort of God, inheriting the new earth, having mercy in heart, seeing God, and being the children of God. All these blessings are different from a new job, good health, or successful children. And from the Beatitudes, we find that the true blessing is to know God and be in a relationship with this God… the God who releases the captives, who brings hope to the hopeless, who forgives unforgivable, who loves the unlovable, who comes to the people in the darkness. This God became a human like us, and died on the cross for our salvation. Having a personal relationship with this God, and having God’s saving grace and love, renewing care and comfort through that relationship beyond any measure… this is the true blessing that Jesus is teaching us today. This blessing is not arbitrarily given. It comes to us only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. And this blessing is available to everyone.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, in our lifetime on earth, we may be relatively fortunate or unfortunate from our human point of view. But I hope you to remember today, the absolute truth we uphold is that we are blessed no matter what, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. It doesn’t matter whether we live a fortunate life or not; what matters most is that we live our life with God’s blessing and sharing the blessing with others. On this All Saints Sunday, we commemorate the saints who faithfully walked the journey of salvation before us. Saints are not the people who pursued fortunes in the world, but we know that they had blessed lives in God. Therefore, follow their example, forward through the ages, let us also walk the path of blessings in unending line, in loving communion with saints, and in sacred union with Jesus Christ. May the Lord bless us always. Amen.
What Is Reformation Day?
Reformation Day is a very special day! On this day, we are celebrating the Protestant Reformation. What is Protestant? There were people who wanted to make a new church. A new church? Yes, 500 years ago, the Roman Catholic Church was the only church in the West, but there were people who didn’t agree with the Catholic Church. They wanted a new church and became Protestants. Then, what is the Reformation? It was their movement that actually made new churches. And Martin Luther was one of the most important leaders of this reformation movement.
There is this famous phrase in church history, “The church is reformed, always being reformed, according to the word of God” (ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda, secundum verbum Dei). I think this phrase well captures the spirit of the Protestant Reformation. Yes, the church is always in need of being reformed. Not only by the leaders of the Reformation 500 years ago but also by all of us here and now, the church has to be reshaped and revitalized. Then, why? What’s the reason for this constant reformation?
There are two simple reasons. First, it is “because of who we are.” We are humans. We make mistakes. We have many limits. We are not perfect but sinners before God. And the church is one of the human institutions. Second, it is “because of who God is.” Our God is the living God who is not bound to any human mind or tradition. God’s work of love and grace among us is always unfathomable, and God’s way of leading us always goes beyond our imagination. Therefore, if we want to attune our lives and our church to God’s way and will, there is no other way than constantly renewing us by the living Word and Spirit of God and reminding us of who we truly intend to be.
So then, what is Reformation Day? Reformation day can be everyday. True, reformation day doesn’t have to be just one special day when we commemorate the beginning of the Protestant Reformation that happened in the past. Yes, we can make our everyday as a small reformation day as we try hard to renovate our church to be the Body of Christ where people see God’s love prevails, where people feel the vivid presence of the Holy Spirit.
When Is It Observed?
Reformation Day is October 31 of every year. That is the day in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. He was a respected professor in Wittenberg, as well as the assistant pastor of the Castle Church. So he wanted people to raise their voices with him and started the reformation movement. Luther chose October 31, the day before All Saints’ Day, because he knew that next day, many people would visit the church and read his theses from the door.
Last summer, Jee Hei and I traveled around Eastern European cities. There we encountered the history of the Protestant Reformations.
This (left) is the statue of John Huss (Jan Hus) who is considered to be the first Church reformer even before Martin Luther. I took this photo at Old Town Square in Prague. Huss dedicated his life to the reformation of the Church in Bohemia, the Czech Republic today. He was executed, burned alive at the stake but he didn’t give up what he believed. This Martin Luther’s statue (right) was in front of the Church of Our Lady in Dresden. Dresden has been the capital city of the State of Saxon, the birthplace of the Protestant Reformation where Luther hid himself from his enemies, translated the Bible from Latin to German, the language of the people, and wrote many hymns. Wittenberg is also in the same State.
Other than these two reformers, there were many reformers and Christians who committed their lives to the truth that couldn’t be confined in a church or its dogma. They put their faith into action even enduring great dangers and even death. Today, we are observing the day when Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. While celebrating the day, why don’t we take time to check our commitment to faith in Jesus Christ and think about how we can take our faith into action?
Why Did Luther Post His 95 Theses?
In Luther’s days, there was a document called “indulgence.” What is that? It was a certificate that says, “If you purchase it, you are forgiven and saved by God, and you will have eternal life.” The Pope asked the churches to sell these indulgences to raise money for the construction of Saint Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. Some of Luther’s church members also purchased one and asked Luther, “Pastor, does this really work?” Luther went so mad because it can’t be true. So he wrote his 95 theses to tell others, “There is something wrong with the church and we need to change it!”
With his 95 Theses, Martin Luther helped numerous Christians to understand that the institution of the church is not equal to God. God is God, and humans are humans. No church or no human being can hold any divine authority on the way of salvation, or the authority over the Scripture.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus says, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32 33). Then, people ask him, “What does it mean to be free? We are not slaves.” Then, Jesus answers, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (8:34-36). Yes, if the Son sets us free, we are free. Indeed, Jesus alone is the way, the truth, and the life. So we don’t need any other human way than Jesus’ way of love. We don’t need any other proof of our forgiveness than our faith in Jesus Christ whose truth sets us free. And we don’t need any other way of life than our life in a relationship with Jesus.
When posting the 95 Theses, Luther might have wanted all the people to know this simple and yet easily forgettable truth: God’s grace is boundless, and its free flow cannot be controlled by any human authority. And the good news of Jesus Christ has explosive power, and its liveliness cannot be contained in any institutional practices.
Reformation Themes 1
The first major theme of the Reformation is “salvation by grace through faith.” What does it mean? It means that we are saved not by purchasing indulgences or doing good works. But we are saved only by God’s grace and through our faith in Jesus Christ as the Bible tells us. Yes, by the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God made the way for our salvation. We can accept Jesus Christ through faith.
In today’s Hebrew Bible reading, the prophet Habakkuk tells us, “But the righteous will live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). And Paul in his letter to the Romans repeats, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith…. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith’” (Romans 1:16-17). Martin Luther, as reading this Word of God, he would’ve deeply realized that we are saved by grace through faith. It means that our good works and our righteousness cannot be the reason for our salvation. But it is the work of Jesus Christ and his righteousness that is the only ground for our salvation and new life. Indeed, Jesus Christ has done it all, and there is nothing more to be added by us to commence our journey of salvation.
Reformation Themes 2
The second major theme of the Reformation is “the priesthood of all believers.” What is that? It means that all Christians can personally meet God and have a direct relationship with God. We do not need anyone to help us with that. In this sense, all of us are priests who serve God and meet God through reading the Bible, praying, and participating in worship service.
The Protestant Reformation opened people’s eye to see that every Christian can enter into the direct relationship with God and nourish the relationship through personal or communal practices of faith. Faith is no longer controlled by the priests or any kind of gatekeepers. It is freely available to everyone. However, this privilege of being in communion with God comes with responsibility. Every Christian is now responsible for one’s faith, and the fruits they bear.
If there would be a difference between Lutheran or the Reformed tradition and our Methodist tradition, it would be our Wesleyan emphasis on “the Christian life” where faith and love are put into practice and where we bear fruits on the journey of sanctification. Once we freely receive grace, then, we respond to that grace with our actual works of piety and works of mercy. The Holy Spirit’s ongoing sanctification of us is a gift for us as individuals and as a church. On this way of salvation, today, we are called to reform our lives and our church to be more Christ-like, to be holier, to be more fruitful.
Reformation Day can be everyday. We try to renew us always. We are the next reformers. We put our faith into action and keep the faith until the end. We make sure that people get the good news straight, “You are saved by the grace of God and through your faith in Jesus Christ. And you don’t need any intermediary to be in a relationship with God.” After all, we are called to bear fruits worthy of God’s reforming grace, in our practices and on our journey of sanctification. May this day be the day we rejoice in the Lord who grants us unconditional grace and guides us with everlasting love. Amen.
 “Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda,” Anna Case-Winters (Presbyterians Today, May 2004).
 The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church 2016, ¶102: Our Doctrinal Heritage
It’s been a few weeks since I started putting this bandage on my forehead. As many of you already know, I’ve been receiving laser treatments to remove my birthmark here. My birthmark the size of a thumb was just so noticeable when I was little. The birthmark is quite visible. So as soon as I was born, my parents began to worry. They were concerned that growing up, my friends would make fun of me about my birthmark, and I would dislike my look. Then, all these would negatively affect my personality and self-esteem. Since there was no such thing like a laser treatment, my parents figured out a simple solution. And it worked out very well for me. The solution was to tell me over and over again that my birthmark is God’s fingerprint! It sounds funny now, but at that time, I took it very seriously. And I really believed it. My mother said that when I was in her womb, God especially chose me and marked me with God’s thumb saying, “Earl, you are mine, and you are very special to me.” I totally bought that story.
Having treatments to remove my birthmark these days, I recalled the story that my parents made for me. But interestingly enough, I don’t think that my parents told me a total lie or a fake story to just make me feel good. It’s because there is a certain measure of truth in that story. As a pastor and a Christian, I believe that I am, and all of us, are created in God’s own image as the Bible testifies. And as God created us, I guess, God might leave God’s fingerprint on us. I also believe that through the Holy Spirit, God always tells us, “You are mine and you are very special to me.” Yes, how important it is to affirm this truth and to realize whose we are. We can say that it’s the ground of Christian faith and life. So I’m thankful that I got to know this truth very early while listening to my parents’ story about my birthmark.
Today’s Gospel reading tells us another good story that leads us to see once more whose we are. Yes, as you may have noticed, today’s story of Jesus revolves around a question asking what belongs to whom. Let us look at the story closely. The Pharisees come together with the Herodians to Jesus in Jerusalem. This is an interesting situation, because these two groups of people really didn’t get along with each other in Jesus’ days. On the one hand, the Pharisees, who were the Jewish religious leaders, did not want to give money to the Romans, the pagans who occupied their land by force and oppressed them. So they opposed to paying taxes to Rome. On the other hand, King Herod and his people, the Herodians, had a great interest in keeping the Roman taxes paid properly, because they wanted to sustain their power with the Roman Empire. Therefore, when the Pharisees and the Herodians come to Jesus together and ask, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not,” they are really throwing Jesus a no way out situation (Matthew 22:17). If Jesus would speak against the tax, the Herodians would go mad and charge him of treason against Rome. And if Jesus would speak in favor of the tax, the Pharisees would publically denounce him as a betrayer of Jewish people. Yes, the Pharisees and the Herodians seem to successfully trap Jesus in a very difficult situation.
But then, Jesus asks for a coin, “Show me the coin used for the tax” (22:19). People bring him a denarius. Look at the picture.
On the coin, there is the image of Caesar Tiberius, the Roman emperor of Jesus days. And the inscription around the image means, “Caesar Augustus Tiberius, son of the Divine Augustus” (Ti[berivs] Caesar Divi Avg[vsti] F[ilivs] Avgvstvs). And on the reverse, there is the image of a seated woman. She is Livia, mother of Tiberius, described there as “Pax,” the goddess of peace. And the inscription around her says, “the highest priest (Pontif[ex] Maxim[us]),” one of the many titles that the Roman emperor had. As you can see, the coin in the time of Jesus was not just a coin. It carried the political and religious propaganda of the Roman Empire in people’s everyday life. And it continuously reminded them of who is the legitimate and divine ruler and to whom they should remain loyal.
Showing the coin to the Pharisees and the Herodians, Jesus asks, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answer, “The emperor’s” (22:20-21). Then, Jesus says to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (22:21). With this amazing yet simple conclusion, Jesus draws the people around him into further questions. “Yes, the coin belongs to the Empire anyway, so who cares if we give the emperor back his coin for the tax? But, ‘give back to God the things that are God’s?’ Then, what exactly is God’s that we are supposed to give back to God?” At this point, people might stop and think back on Jesus’ initial reasoning. Jesus leads them to confirm that the coin with the emperor’s image is what belongs to the emperor. According to this, what belongs to God should have God’s image on them. Then, what are those things that have God’s image on them?
The Book of Genesis says, “And God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness… So God created humankind in his Image, in the image of God he created them” (Genesis 1:26-27). Yes, all we are, who created in God’s own image, are God’s. That’s what Jesus wants people to see. “Give coins to the Empire. The emperor claims his divine rule, but what he can get from you is just coins. But remember your Creator. You belong to God. So you shall give your life to God. Give your mind, heart, and soul to God.”
Sisters and brothers in Christ, we are created in God’s own image. This image includes many things. In our heart, we have God-created love and mercy, compassion and kindness, sense of justice and righteousness…all these can be the image of God imprinted in us. These can be the unique fingerprints left in our hearts as God created us. Therefore, to give ourselves to God is to live our life conforming to this image and the likeness of God.
Like the Roman Empire in Jesus’ days, the world tries to impose false images on us and claims our loyalty and our life. And we sometimes find our hearts occupied by those false images and claims, and we consciously and unconsciously dedicate our life to something other than God. However, in this world full of struggles, temptations, and challenges, if there is one simple thought that brings us back to the right relationship with God, that should be about the truth we believe in: we are God’s children born in God’s sacred image, and we are God’s handiwork that have beautiful fingerprints of God. So let us remember whose we are and who we truly are. And let us listen carefully. Through the Holy Spirit, today, God tells each one of us, “You are mine and you are very, very special to me.” May we give to God the things that are God’s always. Amen.
What happened in Las Vegas last Monday was something too overwhelming and too shocking to give it some thought. Fifty-nine people were killed…fifty-nine people! And about five hundred were injured by this vicious shooting. What’s really disturbing is that the perpetrator had no clear reason to do so. He had no criminal records. He was financially stable. He was just one of the seemingly normal people we could meet on the street. And the fact that he was able to purchase more than thirty guns over the last twelve months just terrified me. All these bring us to a fearful awakening that anyone in this nation can be a victim of this kind of horrendous massacre at any given moment by anyone. What’s going wrong?
In this frustrating and fearful situation, people sometimes blame God. Why does the good and all-powerful God allow such evil things to happen in the world? Why?
To this question, we may be able to find some answer from today’s Hebrew Bible and Gospel reading. In those readings, there are two stories about the vineyard owner, referring to God. The owner of the vineyard works so hard and takes good care of the vineyard in anticipation of harvesting good grapes. But strangely, this owner fails to harvest grapes from the vineyard. Isaiah tells that the owner “had a vineyard on a very fertile hill,” and he “dug it,” “cleared it of stones,” “planted it with choice vines,” and “built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it” (Isaiah 5:1-2). But after doing all these onerous jobs, he only gains wild grapes.
The vineyard owner described by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew even gets the worst possible result. He does everything good for the vineyard too and leases it to the tenants before he goes to another country. When the harvest time comes, this owner sends his slaves. But the wicked tenants decide to take over the vineyard from the owner. So they beat the first slave, kill the second, and stone the third. Then they do it all over again and even end up killing the owner’s son. What’s wrong with these vineyards where these unfortunate and tragic things happen? If we were the vineyard owner who toils so much for good fruits but eventually loses many slaves and even a son, we would be just outraged and frustrated. Sure enough, the Bible tells us that there comes a grave judgment upon the ill-productive vines and evil tenants.
Let us go back to the question. Why does the good and all-powerful God allow evil things to happen in the world, in God’s vineyard? According to the two stories, God is not the one who allows or disallows evil things to happen. It’s not what God is up to. God just works hard and does everything good for the vineyard. God truly is the owner cultivating the vineyard and nurturing vines with great care. And God sent the prophets, the leaders, and even the Son, Jesus Christ to us as the owner did in the story. However, the choice vines yield only wild grapes against the intention of the good owner. And the evil tenants of the vineyard choose evil and reject the Son. Indeed, it is us who don’t remain faithful to God and fail to love God in return. Because of us humans, the beautiful vineyard of God becomes deserted and turns into a place of extreme violence. Then, why do we blame God about the existence of evil in the world?
Look around the world. See what is happening now in God’s vineyard. The Las Vegas massacre can only be a tip of the iceberg. The world we’re living in truly is a vineyard full of wild grapes and evil tenants. All God’s hard work for our wellbeing in the vineyard seems to be in vain. In this seemingly hopeless vineyard, the real question should be actually about us—not about God. In all seriousness, we need to ask to ourselves, “Are we still able to bear good fruits as the vines chosen to grow in God’s vineyard? Are we still able to make the vineyard a better place and make it produce good grapes as the tenants chosen to live in God’s vineyard? Are we able?
Living in the vineyard that has been ruined and barren, we may fall down and lose our hope. And we may find ourselves in the pit of skepticism and pessimism. However, the two stories of God’s vineyard assure us of one simple truth. That is…the faithful vineyard owner is still working hard for the vineyard and will continue to toil until the end of the world. The owner will never give up on the vineyard until the Day of Judgment. And until the day, the most incredible thing we can experience is that the graceful owner forgives our fault and gives us the new chance. His Son died for our sins, but he even brings the new life out of the death of the Son for our salvation, for our new life.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, let us not forget that we are the vines chosen to bear good grapes as our faithful owner grows us. Let us also not forget that we are the tenants, the stewards of God, chosen to keep the vineyard in a good condition. There is so much work for us to do in God’s vineyard. Whenever we feel discouraged, whenever we feel negative about the world, let us remember our Lord, Jesus Christ who is our only hope. By the work of amazing grace, God always leads us to see the resurrected Jesus Christ who becomes the first good fruit of the vineyard and who becomes the everlasting cornerstone on which we may confidently build the kingdom of heaven. Let us follow Jesus’ example and abide in him. Let us nurture and nourish our world with God’s grace to bear fruits of faith, hope, and love.
Are we still able to bear good fruit as the vines chosen to grow in God’s vineyard? Are we still able to make the vineyard a better place and produce good grapes as the tenants chosen to live in God’s vineyard? Are we able? Yes, we are. Yes, we still are with the everlasting grace of our God, with the steadfast love of Jesus Christ, and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. So as Paul tells us, let us also “press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). And through our life, let us continue to make God’s vineyard beautiful and fruitful again. Amen.