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.