Today’s Gospel passage is usually called “the inauguration speech of Jesus.” After the temptation in the wilderness for forty days, Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee and spoke in front of his hometown people in Nazareth. In his speech, Jesus announced the beginning of his ministry, the beginning of God’s new kingdom on earth. He delivered this speech on the Sabbath day at a local synagogue. It was the place he had been attending with his parents since he was a little boy. And on that day, he was in charge of preaching. He was not a rabbi, but a speaker called darshanim, like a lay speaker in our United Methodist Church.This speaker usually read from the scroll and made some comments on the verses.
So Jesus was a speaker, darshanim, on this particular day. A synagogue leader handed him the scroll. It was the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. And Jesus found the place where the prophet says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18). After he read this brief passage, Jesus rolled up the scroll, returned it to the attendant, and took his seat. It was a custom for a speaker to sit, rather than to stand. So as Jesus sat and everyone was looking at him in expectation of some commentary on this well-known old prophecy. Then, there comes the striking comment from Jesus, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Today? Fulfilled? What does he mean?
Okay. Let’s look at the passage closely. The Bible passage that Jesus read was a very, very old prophecy, the one that dates back at least to the time of Isaiah, about 500 years before the time of Jesus. It was given as a promise to the people of Israel when they were helpless captives in Babylonia. And this promise was so famous that the audience of Jesus, the hometown Jewish people in Nazareth, certainly knew very well. For them, it’s like a dream, a very lofty and vague dream. Ever since the Babylonians held the Israelites captive, they have never been free. They have never become an independent nation again but only undergone great ordeals in history. And now the powerful Roman Empire rules over them. In this situation, there’s no way the promise to be fulfilled, the dream to really come true. But fulfilled today?
Considering that context, I, as a preacher, think Jesus could preach in different ways. He could direct people’s attention to the past history of Israel and the greatness of the prophecy, and encourage them to be faithful, like this: “In the past, our ancestors dreamed of a world of justice, freedom, and healing even under the oppression and suffering. They were faithful to the covenant that God made with Moses. So let us be faithful too.” Or he could empower people to hold a hope for the future, like this: “Along with Isaiah, we wait for the fulfillment of this glorious promise. We should believe that this word of God will be realized one day. So let us be hopeful.” But instead, what does Jesus say? His words don’t point to the past or to the future. He brings the audience attention to the present, saying, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus’ neighbors in Nazareth who gathered at the synagogue must have been shocked and confused by this bold comment. And some of them must have got provoked and even angry at Jesus, this homeboy, gone way too far. “Is today the day? Is this year the year of the Lord’s favor? Is God’s kingdom beginning today? Because Jesus says so?” They would challenge him.
But again, Jesus affirms, not yesterday, not tomorrow, but today, the promise of God has been fulfilled. Why? Because Jesus himself has come to the world and fulfilled the dream of God for the world…today. And this is the truth not only for the people at the synagogue on that day but also for all of us in this sanctuary today. We believe, the Spirit of Jesus is upon us; he lives in our hearts and walks beside us. Then, today is the day that God fulfills God’s dream through this Jesus in us. Today is the day that Jesus brings the good news to the poor, proclaims release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind through our hands and feet. Today is the opportune day that we proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
These days, many churches live with nostalgia for the past glory and a fragile hope for the future. In the past, people were much more religious; in the past, every church was packed. In the future, the church will get better again; in the future, our children will return to the church. How about us as Christians? We sometimes say: in the past, I was confident in God’s love for me and felt blessed every day. Or we say, in the future, God will do something for me, and I will know God’s way for me someday. However, when our attention goes too far with the past and the future, our faith cannot take its root here and now. We think too conveniently, the past promises of God in the Bible will be fulfilled in the future. But then, when is our time to be part of God’s history? What does our faith in Jesus do here and now?
Let us stop wrapping ourselves with nostalgia for the past or vague hope for the future. I hope and pray that we ask ourselves whether we are afraid of struggling with the reality, the present condition of our life and our church, and whether we are trying to avoid God’s call to place ourselves in the middle of God’s work right here. Today, let us remember, through us, God wants to fulfill God’s dream for the world. Today is the day that the word of God is fulfilled. Today is the glorious day that we walk with Jesus on his path to the new life. Today is the day that we be in the ever active, ever loving, ever liberating presence of the Holy Spirit. Today, this day!
Do we believe in the God who is working in our hearts? Do we believe in the God who fulfills the promise here and now? Then make today count with your faith. Do you have people you want to forgive? Forgive them, today. Or do you want to be forgiven? Ask for forgiveness, today. Do you have someone who needs your prayer, care, phone call, or support? Reach out to them, today. Do you want to dedicate yourself to the mission of the church? Dedicate yourself, today. Do it today. Then, through you, the promise of God for the new life, for the new kingdom on earth will come true bit by bit starting from today.
Today is the day that the Lord has made. Today is the day that God’ dream has been fulfilled in our hearing, in our loving, and in our following. So, let us go now with the Spirit of the Lord and make today count with our hands and feet. And make it count with Jesus. Amen.
John Nolland, World Biblical Commentary, Volume 35-A, Luke 1:1-9:20, p 400.
In today’s Gospel story, Jesus performs his first miracle at a wedding party in Cana of Galilee. This is his first public exposure after he called his disciples. So it’s a kind of inauguration event for his upcoming ministry. No doubt, it’s important. But what an weird way to make his debut! At a wedding party? I agree, it doesn’t have to be like a ribbon-cutting ceremony with a long speech and famous people around. I get it. But a wedding party doesn’t really look special enough to build up public enthusiasm and call people’s attention to his ministry. Moreover, what an odd miracle to mark the beginning! Turning water into wine? Giving more wine at the reception to party people? Well, if I were one of his disciples, I would be much worried about people misunderstanding him. They might say, there’s a miracle worker among us! But this miracle really doesn’t tell them who Jesus truly is and what his ministry is about.
Meanwhile, in the other Gospels, we can find some appropriate opening activities of Jesus’ ministry. The Gospel of Luke takes Jesus to a synagogue. There, Jesus proclaims that the promise of God for the new life has been fulfilled at his arrival. It’s such an impressive speech. How about Matthew and Mark? They tell us, Jesus preaches the good news around Galilee and heals many people with great compassion. Yes, these are proper things for Jesus to do as his first ministry. Then, why doesn’t John just tell us about these things? Why does he deliver us this particular story of Jesus about a wedding in Cana on top of all the other stories?
But, for sure, there is something that John wants us to know about Jesus more. And that something is the gift that Jesus brings to the world. In the story, “the good wine” symbolizes this gift. And this gift is the gift of God’s grace—the new life with joy and blessing. From the story, we can discover two special characteristics of this gift. First of all, this gift is free. The wedding reception was running out of wine. The servants and stewards were dismayed. But suddenly, Jesus provides them with the better wine for free. Just because they invited Jesus to the wedding, they were given this good wine for free. Here, John wants us to know the truth: to receive the gift of grace, what we need to do is just invite Jesus to our lives and accept him as our savior. Then we have the invaluable gift of grace that is even packaged with so many other gifts for our new life. The forgiveness of sins, the freedom from death, the assurance of salvation, the right to be called the children of God, and all the other spiritual gifts…all these are freely given unto us in Jesus.
The second characteristic of this gift is that this gift is abundant. The Gospel tells us that at the wedding, there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. And Jesus asked the servants to fill them up to the brim. That’s a lot of water. So Jesus turns all that water for the ritual purification into the good wine for the joyful banquet. Now, the wine overflows, and it’s available for many more people. Here, John also wants us to know another truth: Jesus gives us abundant grace that is sufficient for us to be restored and reconciled to God. So in Jesus Christ, we don’t need special rituals of purification to get close to God. The people who have Jesus in their heart can enjoy the fellowship with God having the wine of grace, the gift of joyful new life of great abundance. For this free and abundant gift of grace we receive in Jesus, we give thanks to God today and every day. Amen.
Tomorrow, we will commemorate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. one more time. And while doing so, we will realize once more, there still is a long way to go until we see his dream finally come true in this world. Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of the world being transformed into the kingdom of God. Especially in the last part of his “I Have a Dream” speech, he uses the words of the Prophet Isaiah to describe his hope for the kingdom. There are many definitions of this kingdom. But from today’s Gospel story, I think, we can imagine the kingdom of God as the kingdom of giving, where God’s gift of grace, like the good wine, overflows into everyone’s life freely and abundantly, where good news is given to the poor, freedom to the oppressed, and compassion to the marginalized, where social system and law ensure everyone right and dignity, love and care, equality and opportunity without any discrimination. I know it’s too ideal; it may be just a dream.
Look around the world. Is it getting any closer to the kingdom of giving? Rather, is it going farther to the opposite direction and becoming the world of taking? Sadly, we still see endless wars, conflicts, violence, divisions, and hatred as people struggle to take more, take as much as they can. In this world of taking, even God-given rights are taken from some people. In this world of taking, even skin color, race, and gender are still the reason to take opportunity, dignity, and equality away from some people. In this world of taking, 1% of powerful people take 99% of wealth produced and all the others fight one another just to take more portion out of that 1%.
Yes, the kingdom of God looks too far away from us. That’s true. Yet, even in this world of taking, we should not lose our hope. We should not, because we have the free and abundant gift of grace in our lives; because we believe, this holy gift can change this life-taking world into the life-giving kingdom of God. So today, believing in Jesus means that we actively join forces to make this gift of grace available for more people, by sharing the good news of salvation, by witnessing freedom and forgiveness in Jesus, and by practicing the unconditional love. Even though the world is not even close to the world we dream of, we still have a reason for hope. And our hope comes in the name of Jesus who is the giver of the free and abundant gift of God’s grace.
Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed, “I have a dream today…I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low. The rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.” Following his legacy, let us be hopeful and faithful in Jesus again and again and share the gift of grace more and more, so that one day, the kingdom of God shall come true in our world, and all flesh shall see the glory of God and enjoy the overflowing joy and blessings of new life in freedom and abundance. Amen.
Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year…through all those holiday seasons, I believe, many of you had a chance to have a family gathering, small or large. When our families get together, what do we usually do? First off, we eat. And what else? Yes, we talk. We share stories about recent events and things to catch up. Then, we also share some stories about the past. Good stories, bad stories, stories that make us laugh or cry… telling those stories, we get closer to one another weaving another common thread of family history.
A psychologist at Emory University did research on how healthy families counteract cultural forces that try to make families fall apart. He found that those families develop a shared family narrative. And while doing so, the family members, especially their children, grow a strong “intergenerational self” and a sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves.True, our family stories have such power to bind us together.
Whenever I visit my mother, I know, at some point, she would bring out old photo albums full of my childhood pictures and tell me the stories that I’ve heard more than a hundred times. I’m not particularly happy to hear those stories again and don’t like to see me as a naked baby in the pictures, but what can I do? Anyway, my mom’s golden globe for the best story goes to…the story of washing me. This story begins with a picture of me sitting in a red plastic tub with a colorful shower cap on my head. When I was little, my family lived in a slum where my father served poor families as a pastor. We had no hot water and no bathtub. So, to bathe me, my mom had to boil some water, mix it with cold water in the red tub, and move the tub into the room. It sounds unbelievably inconvenient, but she always says, that was her great joy and she was happy to see me clean and fresh after bath. Finishing the story, she never forgets adding her classic line to the story, “Oh, I want my baby back. Who is this guy next to me! Won’t you go back to that time?” Well…what can I say?
I know, it’s a simple story, but now I realize that this story is deeply rooted in me. Whenever I think of the story, I feel my mom’s love in a concrete way and the bond between me and my mom shaping my life. I think, if I would have a child in the future and bathe him or her in the evening, I would understand more about my mom’s experience. And I am so sure that I would tell the same story I heard from my mom to my child… someday. Yes, just like this, our family stories bind us together, and moreover, they continue in our lives from generation to generation.
Today we are celebrating Baptism of the Lord Sunday. We will have our Amelia baptized, and after that, we will renew our baptismal covenant with grateful hearts. But here’s one question. What do we do in baptism? We know, by the baptism of water and the Spirit, we are incorporated into the church, the Body of Christ; we enter into Christian faith and the journey of discipleship. But definitely, there’s more than that. What’s that? Today, I hope we don’t forget: through baptism, we come to have a story… the great story that binds us together in God’s love. Through baptism, we are born anew by the free gift of God and placed within this family called church.And we inherit a family story, in this case, the history of salvation narrated in the Bible. Yes, through baptism, we become part of this unfolding story of God’s grace. And this story doesn’t just remain as an old tale from the past, but it becomes our own story, the living and life-giving story that continues in our own lives, here and now.
This story is something truly bigger than us. This story begins with the creation when God created humans in God’s image, but humans failed to follow God. The story goes on to tell us that no matter what, this Creator God faithfully loved God’s people even when they were yet sinners. The Prophet Isaiah delivers the voice of this God today, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1). Then, the story reaches a milestone point when Jesus was baptized and revealed the way of new creation—the creation liberated from sin and death, the creation with the restored image of God. At the baptism of Jesus, there was a voice from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). Then, where does the story go from there? The story crosses borders and extends its scope through the ministry of the disciples. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, they shared the good news, baptized people in the name of Jesus, and included them in God’s family. And finally, the story reaches its highlights in our very lives. In our beginnings, God created our life. And through our baptism, God initiated our new life in Christ. This way, the great story of creation and new creation becomes our story and continues in our very lives.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, through baptism, we become part of the unfolding story of God’s grace that binds us together. This story of God’s family clearly tells us who we are. It teaches us that we are created in the sacred image of God and with many blessings. This story tells us how much we are loved. It gives us faith in the unconditional love of Jesus and the assurance of salvation. This story tells us our purpose of life. It calls us to carry on the mission of the disciples: proclaim the good news, live out justice, and above all, love God and love our neighbor.
Today, at the baptism of Amelia, let us, as a church family, witness the moment that this amazing story now continues in her life. And let us bless her and pray for her together so that she can write her own great story of faith in the love of Jesus Christ and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. And today, as we renew our baptism, let us refresh our sense of belonging to the family of God and reaffirm our call to share this good story of salvation with others. May God be with all of us and bind us together as we remember our baptism and be thankful today. Amen.
Bruce Feiler, “The Stories That Bind Us” from New York Times, March 15, 2013 (accessed January 10th2019: https://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/17/fashion/the-family-stories-that-bind-us-this-life.html).
Mark W. Stamm, The Meaning of Baptism in The United Methodist Church(Discipleship Ministries, The United Methodist Church), p 4.
Emmanuel, God with us. The Prophet Isaiah foretold: the coming Messiah, the Savior, will be called by this name. And this name is very special because it reveals one important nature of God. What kind of nature is this? The name tells us, God is the one who wants to be with us; God is the one who seeks a reconciled relationship and a fellowship with us. Why? It’s because this God’s nature is love. We habitually hear and say, “God is love.” And I know, such phrase is too worn-out to our ears. But think about it. Before we found God, before we even knew God, God loved us first and wanted to be with us and walk beside us in our lives. This surely is good news for us. And this surely can be a meaning and reason for living. This might be why, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, said, “Best of it all is, God is with us.”
The Bible in many places testifies to this God who always comes to people first, when they are yet sinners and when they have no idea about God. The Bible tells us, God came to Abraham to make a covenant with him. God revealed Godself to Moses in the burning bush to save the Hebrews from slavery. God spoke to the prophets to turn the people of God back from their wrong ways. And finally, God came down to earth and was incarnated in Jesus. Why? It’s because God is love and the best expression of this love is to be with the beloved. So, the God of true love doesn’t only stay in a higher or lofty position to be adored. But this God doesn’t mind coming down to lowly places in our midst to be with us. This surely is good news for us.
Today, we are celebrating the very first Sunday of 2019, as Epiphany Sunday. The word “epiphany” means a revelation or manifestation of something divine. And 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, the heart abundant in love. 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.”
And the love manifested in Jesus Christ is not an idealistic or philosophical love. 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. 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, right in this stable, which looks farthermost away from divine glory, Jesus manifested the humble love of God. Here, 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. This surely is good news for us.
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 immediately set in a vulnerable and precarious situation. However, right in this situation, which looks farthermost away from divine blessing, Jesus manifested the audacious love of God. Here, we see, 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. This surely is good news for us.
Finally, the true love of God doesn’t mind taking up the cross on our behalf. 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. Most of the time, he was a friend of the marginalized and the oppressed of the society. Although he healed numerous people and taught the gospel to many, at the moment when he was dying on the cross, there were only a handful of people beside him. Even his disciples betrayed him. However, right in the life, which seems farthermost away from divine favor, Jesus manifested the life-giving love of God. Jesus on the cross indeed perfected God’s love for us. Here, we find, 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. This surely is good news for us.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, on this first Sunday of 2019, I hope we all keep this Epiphany faith and all the good news brought by Epiphany to us. God doesn’t want to be without us. No matter what, we are loved with the love that is humble, audacious, and life-giving. We surely know this truth because of Jesus. Whenever you feel weary, tired, or lonely through this year, I hope you remember Jesus again and remind yourself of this core Christian faith.
Today as we continue our worship service, we will have two meaningful rituals that will remind us of divine love. One is the anointing and the other is Holy Communion. Anointing may be not familiar to you. But in the Bible, anointing is a sign of blessing and the presence of the Holy Spirit. Prophets were anointed to proclaim God’s word; priests were anointed to carry out their ministry; kings were anointed so they could rule; many people were anointed for healing and wholeness. So this anointing simply tells us, God is with us and God’s blessing rests on us. Holy Communion is much more familiar to us. Holy Communion is a sacrament that visibly manifests invisible grace of God. By sharing bread and wine, we remember the love of Jesus Christ who gives us all, even his body and blood on the cross for our salvation. Today, in anointing and in Holy Communion, I hope and pray that we may deeply feel the enduring presence of God’s love in our lives, and we may renew our faith in Jesus, so that we all can live out the call to ministry this new year and share his love that overcomes any suffering and injustice the world. Beloved, no matter what, God is with us. Hear this good news! And go, and tell to others in all the way you can, by all the means you can, and as long as ever you can. Amen.
“Each night, we secretly huddled around the radio,” she says, “eagerly hoping to receive a signal, a coded message that tells us, ‘The invasion has begun.’” An old Dutch woman remembers the dark days of Christmas 1944 as Holland awaited its day of redemption. She continues, “We scanned the skies, looking for the Allies’ planes. People walked along the dikes, hoping for some ships appearing on the horizon. We desperately prayed. People in Holland were starving. The Jews were already taken away. We asked, ‘Could we endure another year of Nazi occupation?’”
Hearing this story, what we can do is just to imagine. What would it be like to be captives and living under surveillance and oppression? How would it feel, helplessly waiting for deliverance from outside? It’s not easy for us to even imagine, because we don’t really know anything about living in captivity, because we live our lives in freedom. Right? Well…really?
For sure we are not living in such a tragic time like Nazi occupation. But I think, “captivity” comes in different forms these days. We might feel like we are free to change our lives and society whenever we make up our minds. But in reality, we still are powerless captives. We are caught in our personal struggles. There are debts and bills burdening us, illnesses and accidents devastating us, damaged relationships left unfixed, and other problems defying solutions. And we are caught in a broken social system. I feel hopeless, whenever I hear the news of gun-violence and mass-shooting. People send thoughts and prayers to the victims. Then what? Nothing changes; we hear the same news next week. What about the political divide that is getting wider and deeper? What about the growing discrimination based on our race, immigration status, gender and sexuality, and religion? Can we confidently say that we are free from those conditions of captivity? I don’t think we can. True, captivity comes in different forms these days and claims us.
To us living in this modern-day captivity, nevertheless, the good news of Advent is delivered. Like a signal, like a coded message, it tells us nothing but this, “The invasion has begun.” The wait is over. The divine intervention is about to take place. Do not lose your hope yet. God is on your way. And this Season of Advent especially tunes in its frequency to the channel of Luke’s Gospel. The Gospel of Luke transmits a clear herald, the good news about the invasion of God. And today, this good news comes through a song. It’s the song of Mary, which is traditionally called, the Magnificat.
Sung by gentle Mary, meek and mild, this song may seem like a peaceful lullaby that only comforts our fearful hearts in captivity. Sung by the holy virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, the God-bearer (theotokos), this song may look like a praise for the divine favor exclusively given to Mary. But it’s not just a song of comfort or fortune, but a song of the good news. Listen to her song again for the first time today.
Mary begins to sing, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant” (Luke 1:46-48). Here, through her experience, Mary comes to know that this coming God is not for the powers of the world. This God is different. God has no reason to choose Mary, who is humble and lowly. But God does. Then, Mary realizes that this God is the one who is emphatically on the side of the poor, the hungry, the weak, the vulnerable, and the captives. See, she continues to sing, “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:51-53).
Through her experience, Mary understands who God is. And she realizes that this revolutionary invasion of God has been underway. In the coming new kingdom of God, the way things are in this world will be radically transformed. Her son Jesus will inaugurate this new kingdom and announce the good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, and let the oppressed go free. How magnificent is this good news, indeed. Magnificent!
Here we see, Mary’s Magnificat is neither a peaceful lullaby nor a personal praise. Rather, it’s a vigorous battle cryfor the invasion of God; it’s a passionate overture to the revolutionary ministry of Jesus Christ. Especially, to us living in the modern-day captivity, this song is an awakening prelude to the lifegiving ministry of Jesus that has put an end to our captivity. And this song is an alarm sound that wakes us up to join God’s forces and change the world with love and grace.
Today, the good news of God’s invasion has been delivered to us through the song of Mary. But one question still remains, “Can we sing with Mary today…can we?” From the bottom of our hearts? Not just from our lips but also in our action? Mary certainly received amazing grace from God. But the grace of God we have received in our lives is never less than that. God loved us while we were yet sinners. And God wants to work through us, the humble and the lowly, to turn the land of captivity into the land of milk and honey. See, we have reasons to sing the song of Mary, raise our prophetic voices, and share the good news with other captives around us. We cannot just sit back and relax; we cannot just ignore the call and enjoy happy holidays.
Thus, we sing. Sing aloud the song of Mary. Our souls magnify the Lord today and our spirits rejoice in God our Savior, for the Lord has looked with favor on the lowliness of the servants of God, for the Lord has called all of us to be comrades of God’s holy invasion. The Lord has empowered us and anointed us to liberate people from the captivity in the name of Jesus; liberate them from the bondage to sin and death with unconditional love and grace of God; liberate them from social evils by our faithful work of mercy. By our hands and feet, the Lord feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, forgives the guilty, welcomes the stranger, cares for the ill, and loves the unlovable.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, our God’s vision for Christmas is not just to transform the world on a surface level with glittering Christmas decorations. No, it’s not… God’s invasion is to transform the world from its root, from its very bottom. Let us hear clearly the good news today, “The invasion has begun!” And let us sing the magnificent song of liberation until every valley of inequity is filled and every mountain of oppression is lowered down, until all the captives are released from chains and bondages and all the flesh see the salvation of God. You, all God’s faithful servants! Prepare the way of the Lord and make his path straight! Amen.
Will Willimon, Will Willimon’s Lectionary Sermon Resource: Year C Part 1(Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2018), 27.
Today, we are celebrating the third Sunday of Advent. And there’s something special about this Sunday. Look at the Advent wreath there. What’s the color of the third candle? Yes, pink. It’s the only candle colored in pink. Do you know why? The Season of Advent leads us to penitence, to a time of preparing our hearts for the coming Jesus. But the third Sunday of Advent offers us a break from penitence and opens a time of celebrating the joy we find in Christ and his gift of salvation. That’s why the third candle, which is called the rose candle, has this festive color of joy. Also, today’s Hebrew Bible and Epistle readings are not shy about delivering joy to us. In the Hebrew Bible reading, we see the Prophet Isaiah proclaim, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation….Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 12:3; 6). And in his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul exhorts, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). Indeed, today is the Sunday filled with joy.
But in every joyful occasion, there’s a person who crashes the party. And today John the Baptist is the one. Reading today’s Gospel story, we hear, instead of joyful tidings, the furious voice of John the Baptist casting a chill over our joy. He denounces—almost curses—the crowd with very harsh words in his days, “You brood of vipers!Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Luke 3:7). Why is he so enraged at the people who come all the way to the wilderness to meet him and get baptized? They would have traveled a couple of days to get there. To this well-meaning crowd, what an outburst of anger he expresses! Something’s seriously wrong with John the Baptist. And something’s seriously wrong with the Bible readings for today. Why does the lectionary reading schedule we follow give us this particular Gospel reading today, on this joy Sunday? I couldn’t figure it out. Why is this anger in the middle of joy?
Last week, I asked this question to myself again and again. And I could find one answer: if we want to be truly joyful, there must be a certain change in us. As Christians, our ground of joy should be our faith in Jesus Christ whose grace saves us, frees us from our sins, and embraces us as the beloved children of God. So, if we want to be truly joyful, we should be faithful to Jesus, the source of our true joy, and keep away from the sins that block our relationship with him. And if we want our world to become a truly joyful place with peace and justice, there must be a certain change too. In his ministry, Jesus revealed us the kingdom of God on earth. This kingdom of jubilee brings good news to the poor, proclaims release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, and lets the oppressed go free. As the disciples of Jesus, we are called to build this joyful kingdom from within our church for the transformation of the world. Yes, we are called to make change not only in our lives but also in our world for the joy of the Lord.
But making change in our lives may not be done only by our peaceful reflection or silent meditation. Making change in our world may not be completed by a nice conversation over a cup of coffee or a series of reasonable and scholarly discussion sessions. Sometimes the real change comes with a great deal of passion and energy to truly act and do good. And this energy is often found in our feelings of anger. Yes, anger it is. We all know that anger can be dangerous and destructive when it controls us. Anger can cause hostility, aggression, and violence. But how about righteous indignation like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had? How about fury against injustice like the martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer had? From John the Baptist, I learned that there is a certain kind of anger that we Christians must feel, that is, the anger at sins. Not only John the Baptist, but also our Jesus, who is usually meek and mild, got angry at people’s sins. And he didn’t hesitate to address them to make change. The Gospels tells us, Jesus was often enraged at his disciples, especially Peter, and at the Pharisees and the priests; and he even made a whip of cords and drove merchants out of the temple and overturned the money-changers’ tables. Such anger leads people into action, action to make change.
In today’s Gospel story, the righteous anger of John the Baptist drives the crowd to change themselves. John the Baptist warns the crowd, “Bear fruits worthy of repentance… now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Luke 3:8-9). After this scary warnings, the crowd ask, “What then should we do?” Then, John the Baptist teaches them how to make change in their lives and bear actual fruits. To them, he also doesn’t forget to bring good news of Jesus Christ, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16). Even though John the Baptist called the crowd the brood of vipers, now I am sure that the crowd will find true joy in their anticipation of Jesus, their true savior.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, if we want to be truly joyful with the coming Jesus Christ, we better get indignant at our personal sins and make actions to change our unfaithfulness, our hypocrisy, our unloving heart, our greed, our hard heartedness, our hatred, our self-centeredness, and so on. And if we want to build the kingdom of jubilee in our world, we better be angry at pervasive social sins around us and do something to change our society’s racial injustice, gun violence, serious economic inequality, bigotries that deepen divisions among people, and so on. In this Season of Advent, as we wait for Jesus and his kingdom on earth, “what then should we do?” Let us be righteous in our anger at sins; let us be proactive in our faithful actions to make changes; and let us keep anticipating the true joy that is coming with Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let’s say that we are time-traveling like in the movie Back to the Future. We find ourselves in a desperate situation where we have no choice but getting on a time-machine. Soon, this time-machine takes off and enters into a time loop. Suddenly, we see some spark and smoke around us. Something’s wrong. Yes, the machine is broken. What a cliché! Anyway, we have to land at a place in the unknown past. After a life-and-death landing, we finally get out of the machine and wonder how far we’ve traveled. How can we find when and where we are? I think, we would look for a newsstand and pick up a newspaper, because there we may find famous names in history and get some clues to figure out the time and the location.
The Gospel reading for today is just like this newspaper we may pick up in the past. There we can find a few famous names in history. “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas…” (Luke 3:1-2). Reading only these two verses, we can get it. Yes, the unexpected destination of our time travel is the time of John the Baptist and Jesus.
Today, the Gospel of Luke invites us to travel back into a particular period of time in history. The time we are entering is when the Emperor Tiberius was the ruler of the Roman Empire. He was one of the most powerful men in the world and was literally called a son of god (Tiberius Caesar Divi Augusti filius) as the successor of the divine Augustus. But he was actually a dark, reclusive, and violent ruler and a fierce military general. This Tiberius appointed Pontius Pilate as his governor of Judea. And it was when Herod was assigned to be in charge of Galilee in Judea. Pilate watched Herod watching his own people on behalf of the Roman occupation forces. They were effective colony rulers who kept Jewish people silent and crushed any attempts of revolt.
But it wasn’t only their power that kept the Jews underfoot. They had support from the head clergy—high priests Annas and Caiaphas. They worked under Pilate to keep everything as smooth as possible up at the temple. The Romans graciously allowed the Jews to practice their religion as long as it was under the watchful eyes of Annas and Caiaphas, as long as nobody mixed religion with politics, and as long as the God of Israel is not against their son of god, Tiberius, and his mighty power represented by Pilate, assisted by Herod, and backed up by Annas and Caiaphas.[i]
With the names of these powerful men on top, any time-travelers, who made an emergency landing, can track down the exact date. However, the Gospel we are talking about today is not exactly a history book. It doesn’t only invite us to locate ourselves in a certain period of time in history. But more importantly, it also invites us to navigate ourselves across the history of the world and look at it from a different point of view, from the perspective of faith. And from this viewpoint, we all learn that true history is not something we can get by reading newspapers or something that is shaped or controlled by the powers of the world.
Today, the Gospel of Luke invites us to see history from the perspective of faith, and moreover, join that true history, God’s history. Right after the list of all the powerful names and their territories, Luke writes, “the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness” (Luke 3:2). Here Luke tells us, it was famous people like Tiberius, Pilate, and Herod who had powers to make world history. But when it came time for God to make history, God came to none of them. It’s famous people like Annas and Caiaphas who had the legitimate authority to proclaim God’s word. But when it came time for God to reveal the way of God, the word of God came to none of them. Instead, God’s word came to almost nobody, John the Baptist, son of Zechariah. And God set out the new beginning of history not from the lofty palace in Rome or the awe-inspiring temple of Herod in Jerusalem, but from the wilderness. It may not look like the most efficient and common way to make history, but we know this is God’s work of grace when we see it through our faith.
In the wilderness, the word of God is proclaimed for a new beginning of God’s history with the coming Jesus Christ and his kingdom. “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God’” (Luke 3:4-6). John the Baptist proclaims, Jesus is coming and the whole world is going to change. He is going to reshape history into the history of his peaceable reign that levels out the valley of inequity and lowers down the mountain of oppression. He is going to reform history as the history of love and life that conquers the power of death. And he is going to restore the history of salvation, the history of grace for “all flesh” by his death and resurrection. Then, what? We have to repent, renew our heart and mind. Prepare the way of the Lord, and join this history of grace.
In this Season of Advent, we are invited to be time-travelers who journey across history. First of all, we are invited to visit the days of Jesus and understand his time as we wait for his birth. But above all, we are invited to look at history through the eyes of faith and take part in the true history, the history of God’s grace that is still in progress. To participate in this history, Luke suggests us to do one thing: walk into the wilderness. Well, for us, the wilderness can’t be a physical wilderness like a Palestinian desert. But we can find the wilderness in our soul, a time of solitude and a space away from our familiar routine, an environment where we cannot cover us with external things like position, honor, wealth, or power, but expose our bare and vulnerable selves before God. It can be a room in our house, a silent space at your work place, or a time on a public transportation. Let us walk into such wildernesses in our daily lives and renew our hearts and minds through sincere prayer and repentance. Then, I believe, we may hear the timeless word of God more clearly. Then, we may become able to prepare the way of the Lord and join God’s history of grace on earth.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, today, the invitation from God has been delivered through the voice of one crying out in the wilderness. And now, it is our turn to make our commitment to that invitation. Are we ready to see through the history of the world and navigate our lives with faith in our coming Lord? Are we ready to join his kingdom history and work for the transformation of the world? I hope and pray that we prepare the way of the Lord in our own wildernesses through this Season of Advent. Amen.
[i]William Willimon, Will Willimon’s Lectionary Sermon Resource, Year C Part 1(Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2018), 20.
“What time is it now?” If someone asks you this question on a street, what would you do? You would look at your watch or cell phone to tell the person the time. Right? No doubt, the time that the person asks is what your clock reads. And that’s what we usually mean by the word “time.” The ancient Greeks called this ordinary time “chronos” (χρόνος). Such time is “the numeric time” measured by the standard solar time, and it is “the linear time” that is in continued chronological progress.
But there was another Greek concept of time in contrast to chronos. It’s called “kairos” (καιρός). Unlike chronos, kairos means the qualitative time, the opportune and crucial time that breaks into the chronos time and reveals different possibilities. People in the ancient world, including early Christians, thought kairos was the divine time, the appointed time of God that interrupts our numeric and linear time. This kairos time teaches us an important theology that our ordinary chronos time is always widely open to the extraordinary possibilities of God’s time. And at any given moment in our lives, God can come, reveal God’s way, change the directions, and turn things upside down.
We can find this theology of time in the liturgical calendar we follow. Last Sunday was the “Reign of Christ” or “Christ the King” Sunday. That Sunday traditionally marked the end of a liturgical year as it provided us with a time to renew our faith in the coming of Christ with his future kingdom. And today we are celebrating the first Sunday of Advent. This Sunday marks the beginning of a new liturgical year as it leads us to the birth of Jesus. Here, we can see that a Christian year always begins with one advent of Jesus at his birth and ends with the other advent of Jesus with his coming kingdom. It means, from the beginning of time to its end, our chronos time, our numeric time, is always open to the advent, the arrival, the interruption of God’s time—the kairos time.
As human beings, we are living in this country, in the eastern time zone; but at the same time, as Christians, we are living in a different time zone, a divine time zone where only God is in control, where our lives are open to the possibilities of God, where the wind of the Holy Spirit blows where it chooses, where the voice of the wilderness changes human hearts, where we have a relationship with the one who is the Alpha and the Omega, where we find new and everlasting life through our faith. Do you believe that we are living in this special time through our faith in the one who is and who was and who is to come? Amen? Then, how would you answer to the question of “What time is it now?”
In this Season of Advent, it becomes very clear to us that now is the time of God. Now is the time when God comes for our salvation. Now is the time when God’s time interrupts our chronos time to intervene. At this very present moment, God is coming to us and God is at work. Then, what does it mean to us? It simply means there comes change, transformation. When God comes in our midst, things can’t be, and shouldn’t be the way they used be and we shouldn’t be the same. Here, change always brings two things; change comes with “anxiety” as well as with “hope.” In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus plainly tells that God’s kairos time will stir up serious anxiety among people, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Luke 21:25-26). Yet Jesus also encourages the disciples to be hopeful, (6) “Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:27-28).
Now is the time of God. And in God’s time, it is good for us to be fairly anxious. We should feel urgent in taking actions to get ready for the coming Christ. According to the modern martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God’s coming is not only a matter of joyful tidings and celebrations but, first of all, “frightening news for everyone who has a conscience.” As the prophet Jeremiah proclaims, Jesus is coming to “execute justice and righteousness in the land” (Jeremiah 33:15). Because the current world is not what God wants, God is going to give us a new world through Jesus. Then, if Jesus were really coming now, what should we do? There is a sense of urgency. Are we ready to welcome him? Are we righteous and just enough to avoid his judgment? Are we willing to risk everything for redemption and for a new beginning?
Now is the time of God. And in God’s time, it is also good for us to remain hopeful. There’s a story I heard somewhere. In a Bible study meeting, a leader asked people to go around and share their favorite Bible verses. People shared famous John 3:16, 1 Corinthians 13, Psalm 23… then, a woman said that her favorite is Luke 21, today’s Gospel reading. She said, I am glad to know that Jesus will come again and burn all things down someday. She said, it’s comforting. Comforting? So weird. Isn’t it? But later, people could understand what she was saying. She had four children but three had died before the age of three from malnutrition. Yes, she hoped for the day when she will finally break free from all the suffering and embrace her children again in peace. Facing many dead ends in her life, she could remain hopeful because she knew that the Son of Man is the Lord of life and death, the beginning and the end. And this Lord will interrupt her time and bring change and transformation.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, what time is it now? Now is the time of God. Our chronos time is always open to the interruption of God’s time—the kairos time. And it is widely open to the advent of Jesus Christ and all the divine possibilities. At any given moment, God can come and transform our whole lives and the whole world. Does this news make you more anxious or more hopeful? Today, I would like you to ask this question to yourself and renew your sense of urgency in this Season of Advent. Be fairly anxious to be ready for the coming Jesus and be watchful for every sign and opening of the coming kingdom. As Jesus says, “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life” (Luke 21:34-35). And be always hopeful for God’s interventions in our lives, for God’s work of salvation among us, because Jesus is the Lord who brings good news to the poor, proclaims release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind. Let’s be ready for him. Amen.
As you may see on the bulletin cover, today is traditionally observed as the “Christ the King” or “Reign of Christ” Sunday. It is the last Sunday in the liturgical calendar we follow. And it means that next Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, is Christian new year’s day according to the liturgical calendar. I think it’s very meaningful to celebrate the kingship and reign of Christ as we close one Christian year, in great anticipation of the coming kingdom of Christ.
But here, let me ask you a question, “how does these words ‘king’ and ‘reign’ sound to you?” For those who live in a democratic society like us, it must be difficult to get the sense of them and feel them close enough. The words are quite strange and archaic to our modern ears. So before we profess, Jesus Christ is our king, today, we better understand what kind of king Jesus truly is and what kind of kingdom he reigns.
The king we usually imagine is the ruler of an independent state, one who inherits the position by right of birth. A king has certain powers to rule over his kingdom, manage lives, judge people, wage war against other nations to earn more territories, and so on. A king has wealth; in history, powerful kings were extremely rich and owned many incredible things. If you go to the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, you can easily find all kinds of luxurious items, opulent crowns and cloths adorned with gold and precious jewels. Also, a king has many servants who follow his order and praise him.
Then how about Jesus Christ, our king? On this Christ the King Sunday, the Gospel reading suddenly leads us to a helpless man at the Roman courtyard in Jerusalem. And the Gospel tells us, this vulnerable man in front of the powerful Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate, is Jesus our king. Yes this king is “Jesus who by now has been betrayed by one trusted disciple, denied by another, and abandoned by all the rest; Jesus who has been shamed by the high priest and who will soon be beaten by the soldiers; Jesus, who will shortly be wearing a crown of thorns and a mocking robe of purple; Jesus, whose cross is now but hours away.”[i]Jesus is our king like no other.
What kind of king is he? Where is the mighty and wealthy king who can protect us from any harm, who can judge and punish evildoers, who can fight off unjust powers of the world? Why does the Gospel bring us to witness the one who is surrendering himself to the power of the Empire? Did God really send us this man as our king?
Yes. God sent us this man as our king, and there is no other king like Jesus. Why? It’s because this king is the king of God’s kingdom on earth. Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world.” True. His kingdom is not. This king is the Son of God, and his kingdom is not of this world but of God. This king became incarnated, this king was born as a human being to share his life with us, to save us, and to let us have the foretaste of the kingdom not from this world. This strange king traveled around and called the people to teach how to live the life in God’s kingdom. Under his kingship of the cross, the kingship of self-giving love, there is forgiveness, there is reconciliation, there is salvation, and there is peace in this kingdom.
There is no other king like Jesus. It’s because this king is the king of God’s kin-dom. This king initiated his kingdom not by claiming the throne but by becoming one of our kin, our likeness. This king has been expanding this kingdom not by force but by building his kinship with us, making a family, a family of God’s children who call one another sisters and brothers. Through the abiding presence of this king in our life, we, the branches, have been grafted onto the one true vine, and we all have become Abraham’s offspring who heir the kingdom. And through the sharing of this king’s body and blood, we, the church, has become one loving community and become the Body of Christ redeemed by his blood.
There is no other king like Jesus. It’s because this king is the king of the coming kingdom of God. In history earthly kings and powers have been fighting and struggling in the battlefield to make peace by force and terror, by eliminating and suppressing other powers against them. But this king with his followers have been working not only for the kingdom on earth but also for the kingdom that is coming in the future. As it is written in the scripture, this coming kingdom is the fulfilled kingdom of peace and glory, the kingdom where all the saved enjoy the everlasting dominion and kingship of divine love and justice.
Yes, there is no other king like Jesus. Then, who are we to this king? We, as Christians, are his servants who took a solemn oath of allegiance to his rule of love. We profess our faith that we take Jesus Christ as the only authority in our lives. In other words, our relationship with Jesus is the absolute one for us, so all other relationships and all other things in our lives should be relativized and dethroned around it. We affirmed that the crucified and risen Christ is the sole ruler of our lives. So our affirmation of faith calls us to put our earnest commitment to his demands regardless of situation and to radical rejection of other values and priorities.
And we, as Christians, are his kingdom builders who expand his kingdom on earth by love and service, by building up a kinship community. Following the unconditional love that he revealed on the cross, we must embracethe people in hard situations, accept differences, and befriend the marginalized. Make peace with the people sitting next you, and make peace with your own family, friends, and neighbors. Be their kin. Make the kinship of God with the people around you. Preach the good news and build the kingdom not by force but by love that endures everything.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, on this Christ the King Sunday, let us not forget who the true king is in our lives and never forget who we are. On the way of living out our kingdom life following our king, let us also never get discouraged or disheartened because we have a solid promise, hope, and confirmation of our king’s eternal reign. AsRevelation tells us today, our king Jesus Christ is “the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth…who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood and made us to be a kingdom” (Revelation 1:5-6). And this king is “the Alpha and Omega who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty”(1:8). With this king, let us build his kingdom on earth. Let the love begin with you and me. Let the peace begin with you and me. Let the kin-dom of Christ, his peaceable reign, begin with our church. Let Christ’s love and peace like a river flow through our hearts, become a flood, inundate the deserted world, and transform it into God’s kingdom until Christ comes in his final victory and we feast at our king’s heavenly banquet. Amen.
[i]The Rev. Dr. Janet H. Hunt, “A King Like No Other” on Dancing with the Word, http://words.dancingwiththeword.com
This is the signature scenery of modern day Jerusalem. The famous golden dome is an Islamic shrine called the Dome of the Rock. Yes, you might have seen this landmark in any photographs of Jerusalem. It’s beautiful and great.But in the days of Jesus, in place of the shrine, there stood a Jewish temple that was more beautiful and much greater than the Dome of the Rock. That was the King Herod’s Temple. If you look at this small-sized replica, you may understand where the disciples’ astonishment came from in today’s Gospel reading. It says, “as [Jesus] came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’
In the eighteenth year of his reign (20–19 BCE), Herod initiated this grand project to double the size of the Temple’s platform, the so-called Temple Mount, by building supporting structures into the deep valleys surrounding it. The area of this platform was about the size of 24 football fields. And this giant platform was bordered by four mammoth retaining walls of large stones. On this incredible foundation stood the actual building of the temple, which was approximately ten stories high and likely to be adorned with gold and silver. This temple was just massive and impressive. No wonder the disciples got amazed and said, “What large stones and what large buildings!”
Across the age, people are attracted to large things. They are the statements of power and wealth, so in ancient days, they were used as a political propaganda. The large scale of construction represented the ruler’s authority and prosperity. So, the temple in the time of Jesus surely represented the economic, political, and military power of Herod as the leader of Jews. As attracted to look of the splendor and grandeur of this Temple, people in Jerusalem might have felt peace and safety.
When it comes to our very lives, we have the same tendency. We lean towards large things of power and wealth, something we believe that they can secure foundations for our life and our family. What large stones are we searching for to build our stable life on top of it? A steady position at work, a good salary, large properties and money, a solid investment plan and a pension, and so forth. For extra safety and for extra comfort there is no limit to our seeking of the large.
Our inclination towards large things can be in some part justified in the name of human condition. We have a certain innate tendency to be attracted towards the large and the grandeur. Also, we are verysusceptible to the measures of the world and the gauges of greatness set by our society. Yes, in a way, we are helpless about our natural tendency. However, if we are always pulled towards what appears to be better and greater than what we have and who we are, and if we constantly find ourselves quickly and easily mesmerized by power beyond our grasp and prosperity beyond our reach, we should be careful. It’s because that kind of yearning and craving inside us can turn into an idolatry at any given moment…into the idolatry of the large, of the grandeur.
In today’s Gospel story, Jesus puts forward this chilling account on this idolatry in the disciples’ heart, “Do you see these great [stones and] buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” (Mark 13:2) Listening to this foretold end time, the disciples who were amazed at the magnitude of the temple became silent and they privately asked Jesus, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” (Mark 13:4) Then, Jesus begins to warn them about tribulation and persecution at the apocalypse that will happen before the ultimate triumph of God, as it is written in the Book of Daniel. Taking the disciples and us to the stark scene of end time, Jesus directly problematizes our idolatry of the grandeur and our idolatrous practices of having more and grabbing the greater. “Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down,” thus, says the Lord.
In actual history, the Herod’s Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. It was completely ruined and never constructed again. The glorious days of Herod eclipsed. His magnificent power and wealth that seemed to last forever were helplessly faded into futility. His large stones and large buildings were gone. Likewise, the large foundations we seek today will be gone someday. And on the Day of the Lord, such foundations, such stones, will be turned into the sinking sand and will never be able to save us. That’s the warning we have today. And that’s the call of God for us today to take our idolatrous eyes off from the large and the grandeur in the world and look only for the everlasting foundation in God. Yes, we better not to walk on the way of idolatry in our megalomaniac culture but to choose to be faithful in our true foundation.
Then what’s that foundation? The Bible testifies to this true foundation over and over again. I think the Bible is all about this foundation. The Bible calls this foundation, “Cornerstone,” the stone that was once rejected by the builders and still despised by the modern-day builders for the worldly temple of power. The Bible calls this foundation, “the Rock of Salvation,” the rock that hold the unfailing and unbreakable grace of God for us. Yes, this foundation is Jesus Christ who was crucified but has risen for our new life. Through his death and resurrection, he becomes the keystone of our life and our church.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, what large stones are we seeking? On which foundation do we try to build our life and ministry? Reflecting on end time, we need to reaffirm our faith in the bedrock of our life, Jesus Christ. Upon this rock, we should build our life and our church. To do this, let us do two things. First, remove other stones from the foundation and clear the ground for the better construction. If any large and great stones that we’re seeking hinder us from Christ, then they are only stumbling blocks of idolatry. And they should be removed on our way. Power, money, attention, fame, pride, achievement, safety…whatever they may be, they better be gone. Second, build our lives and our church on the foundation by the labor of faith, following the blueprint of hope, and with the cement of love. Brick by brick, stone by stone, let us build up our lives together in God using the prime and unlimited resources from God—faith, hope, and love. Whether our circumstances and situations are favorable or unfavorable, let’s not lose our heart and mind, because the call of God is clear to us today. The Epistle lesson encourages us, “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:23-25) For sure, we cannot predict anything about the Day of the Lord. But thanks be to God for we do have this faith and for we truly know of the most important foundation of our life and our church. So let us remove stumbling stones, build our life, build our church with faith, hope, and love on Christ, the solid rock we stand. Amen.
Karoline Lewis, “What Large Stones” (Sunday, November 11, 2018 11:12 AM) from workingpreacher.org (http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=5249)