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.
Pastor Earl Kim