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)
It was one day when I tried to look up some stewardship materials online. I encountered one adjective, which was quite strange to me and made me a little uncomfortable. That adjective was, “God-sized.” This was frequently added to certain words and used in such ways like God-sized dreams, God-sized dedications, God-sized visions and goals, and so on. I was not sure about the exact definition of the word. And the part “sized” especially made me uncomfortable. I felt like the word tries to quantify God and convert God into a certain measurement. But how can we size up God? Don’t we believe that God’s plan and will for us are ultimately unknowable and God’s love and grace towards us are unfathomable? This word also made me uncomfortable because the messages delivered by this word “God-sized” are about pushing us to seek bigger and more ambitious things. You may find some people who say something like “you better pursue a God-sized dream.” And by saying that, they imply that you should dream bigger than what you can possibly imagine. I can’t deny that this message may encourage and motivate people. But for this purpose, do we really need the word, God-sized? I’m not sure. And I basically believe size doesn’t really matter as we dedicate our lives to God.
The questions go on if we look at today’s Hebrew Bible story and Gospel story. In these two stories, we see many expressions about size there. In the Hebrew Bible story, we see “a handful of meal in a jar and a little oil in a jug.” They were the only ingredients left for the widow in Zarephath. With those ingredients, she tried to make the very last meal for her son and herselfbefore they die in the middle of great famine over Israel. But she decided to use them to bake bread for the prophet Elijah. In the Gospel story, we see “the two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.” It’s just an insignificant amount of money compared to the “large sums” that rich people put in the treasury. But the two small copper coins were everything the poor widow had. And she decided to offer them all for God. Today’s Bible readings are actually about very small-sized things. And indeed, we hear about these small-sized things in our Bible, the Word of God.
I believe these two stories give us an important lesson on our dedication. They teach us that the size of our dedication doesn’t really matter. And our dedication, regardless of its size, can be of God. Then, what makes our dedication, our dreams, our visions and goals truly belong to God? Let’s look at the Gospel story in detail. Here Jesus also remarks on the size and quantity of people’s offering. Yes, Jesus is not a size-blind. Sitting downopposite the treasury, Jesus watches the crowd putting money into it. First, he compares the amount of offering on an absolute scale. He notices large sums and small coins. But Jesus values them on a relative scale too. He says, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on” (Mark 12:43-44). Here, what matters to Jesus is not just quantity, but more, quality. And quality-wise, two copper coins given out of poverty exceed large sums given out of wealth. Then, what makes this difference in quality? It is nothing but faith. By her faith, the widow in Zarephath gave her and her son’s last meal to Elijah and witnessed the miracle of God that filled the jar of meal and the jug of oil again and again until the famine was over. By her faith, the poor widow offered everything she had to God and was recognized and acclaimed by Jesus. Yes, the key element that values our dedication is our faith, not size.
Meditating on these Bible readings, I was very grateful to God who measures our dedication not by size but by faith. We see in the Bible many great things done by the prophets, leaders, kings, the disciples, and early Christ believers. They marked their great names in history, transformed numerous people, led some large-scale missions, and directly participated in the course of God’s salvation. However, please don’t forget that in the Bible there are many testimonies to small and ignorable things dedicated to God in faith just like a handful of meal and a little oil, or two small copper coins, which are worth just a penny. The Bible shows all such big and small things because size or quantity is not the main concern in God’s mission, and size or quantity is not really important from the perspective of faith.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, faith truly matters in our dedications, in our dreams, in our visions, and in our goals. Faith matters prior to size in God’s kingdom. God never forgets small things we faithfully dedicate to God—small goals we try hard to achieve, small visions we dream together in the Lord. I know, to our church, all of you have dedicated your time, your talent, and your treasure as much as you can. I know, you all have big hearts for the church and big love for one another, but sometimes what you can do becomes quite limited because of your situations, because of your life. You have your work to do, your families to take care of, and some secret burdens to bear. And also I know, our church, as a small church that has a big passion to grow, have a lot of jobs to do. So sometimes, you may feel bad when you can’t dedicate yourself more. But do not worry about the size of your dedication because our God is the one who recognizes your faith. And just be hopeful in the Lord always, because our God is the one who can work great miracles even from very small things we offer in Jesus’ name.
The history of the church has continued not only by grand works of our ancestors of faith but also by faithful dedications of numerous ordinary Christians, which may seem insignificant from human point of view. But we know that they are invaluable from God’s point of view. So let us be faithful in the Lord always and keep up the good work of faith as long as we can. And let us dedicate ourselves to God as much as we can like the widow in Zarephath and the poor widow, so that God can make great miracles out of it. Amen.
A History of Faith – 190th Anniversary Sunday & All Saints Sunday (Psalm 124) (Hebrews 11:1-3) (John 10:11-15)
Today we are celebrating the 190th Anniversary of our church on this All Saints Sunday. This is truly the day that the Lord has made, so let us rejoice and be glad in it! Once again, I welcome you all in the name of Christ. But for today, if you expected an awesome guest preacher, I’m sorry. Here’s your ordinary preacher, Earl Kim, again. It is always my great joy and honor to preach on this pulpit every Sunday, but it is such a blessing for me to deliver the sermon today as we celebrate the remarkable journey of this church for 190 years.
This past week was very special to me. I spent much time discovering, reading, and organizing our church’s historical materials, and it was such a meaningful and inspirational time getting to know more about this church’s rich history. I followed the path of earnest Christian endeavors for mission and ministry for the community and also for the world. I encountered great milestones set by the saints who had passionately run their own race before us and passed the mantle of faith on to us. My heart was warmed up not just once but many times. And today I would like to share with you the great stories of the faithful forerunners, extraordinary saints, in our church history.
As I already mentioned in many other occasions, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Dr. John Raleigh Mott (May 25, 1865 – January 31, 1955) was a member of our church.
When I first heard about this from the late Rev. Charles Germany, I was so surprised, because Dr. Mott is one of the most significant Protestant church leaders in the early 20th century. I even wrote a paper on him. I found this Year Book published in November 1919, and you can see his name in the resident membership record. He lived in Montclair from 1900 to 1926 at 75 Midland Avenue, so two blocks up from here.During his days, Dr. John Mott made a great influence on the worldwide mission of Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) as he served the positions of a general secretary and a president for over 22 years. Also, he led the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions, established The World Student Christian Federation (WSCF) and took the position of the presiding officer at the historic World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh in 1910. All these remarkable works generated a great momentum for large-scale mission and ecumenical movement in the early 20th century. Later, he involved in the formation of the World Council of Churches, and the Council elected him as the lifelong honorary President. Because of his extensive influence on world mission and Christian unity, at age 81, in 1946, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Historians evaluate him as “the most widely traveled and universally trusted Christian leader of his time.” How great it is that his spirit of evangelism was nurtured right here in this church, empowered Christian mission movements, and transformed the hearts of many! We shall always remember this name, Dr. John R. Mott.
Another extraordinary saint in our history is Sherwood Eddy(1871–1963). It is not sure whether he was our member or not. But he sent his mission report from China to our church in 1934; I think he could he either a member of this church or supported by the church. He was a leading American Protestant missionary who worked among and for the poor in Asia—India, Japan, and China. Today I brought his letter dated October 24, 1934. Let me read a part to you. “China is tragic and yet glorious in the midst of a vast and stupendous process of transition from the ancient and medieval into the modern world…In the first five cities of North China the total attendance at all meetings has been over 46,000 of whom 1,783 have registered as enquirers to study Christianity or have made decisions for the Christian life…China is staggering today in the midst of a terrific crisis…I am ‘not ashamed’ of the Christian dynamic nor of what it has done and is doing for the moral and spiritual regeneration of China.” How great it is that our church supported this great person of faith and contributed to the Christian mission in Asia! We shall always remember our church’s precious dedication to the world mission.
Last week I newly found that our church supported two more missionaries who were active in the Chengdu area of China. They are Joseph Beech and James Maxson Yard. You can see their names on the cover of these old bulletins, under the category “missionaries.” From my research, I learned that Joseph Beech served as the president of Chengdu College from 1905 to 1914. And in 1914, he became one of the founders of the West China Union University, along with James Maxon Yard. These two missionaries from our church played a major role in establishing the university that is still standing in China. The university even has a museum for Joseph Beech. How great it is that our church made such fruits and marked a great Christian presence in China! We shall always remember this wonderful missionary legacy that also calls us today to bring the good news to the outside the church walls.
Don’t we have such a great heritage of faith? In celebration of our anniversary, we should be grateful that we have these extraordinary ancestors of faith. They are truly faithful saints of God. But today, I would like to introduce another set of extraordinary people of faith we should not forget. Who are they? I can proudly answer: they are all of you, sitting right here in this sanctuary at this moment. Yes, all of us! You may say, “Pastor, I’m not even close to those giants of faith you just talked about.” Well, I’m not asking you to go out and organize worldwide conferences, move to another country for mission, or found a Christian university now. But I believe, what made all those missionaries extraordinary saints of God was not exactly their achievements, but for sure, their unwavering faith in Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd. Wherever they were, they believed that this Good Shepherd was leading them. Whatever they did, they put their trust in the Lord. And I am glad and thankful that I can see the same faith in all of you, in each one of you.
So today, we shall remember that the history of our church has continued not only by those renowned Christians but also by many faithful Christians including you all who have dedicated lives to God and followed Jesus in their own mission fields—at the church, workplaces, at home, in the communities and neighborhoods. I know all of you have dedicated your life to the church with sincere faith. Every work of faith may not be rewarded by a Nobel Prize or any great recognition of the world, but I surely believe that every work of faith we do in Jesus’ name will be greatly rewarded in heaven.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, we’ve come this far by faith, yes, truly, we’ve come this far by faith. I am so proud of us, and I’m sure, God is so pleased with us. It doesn’t mean that our journey was without struggles, hardships, and ups and downs. Indeed, we faced many of them. But through the wilderness, we never lost our faith. We kept paving our way and kept moving on our journey slowly but surely. I strongly feel like today’s Psalm is our song, “If it had not been the Lord who was on our side.” If it had not been for the Lord on our side, where would we be? Through our journey, we believed that God is always on our side, and the Lord is our Good Shepherd. Without this faith, we wouldn’t be able to come this far. And it is this very faith that is writing a new chapter of our church’s history now because our faith will be the assurance of things we are hoping for and the conviction of things we have not seen yet. Therefore, on this 190thAnniversary Sunday and All Saints Day, let us renew our faithful hearts to Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, who always walks and travels besides us, whose self-giving love even led him to lay down his life for us. And let us reaffirm our faith in Christ’s coming kingdom where we shall all rejoice in the true communion with God and with all the saints at Jesus’ heavenly banquet. Amen.
A miracle. What do you think about a miracle? Have you ever thought about it really seriously? If you look up a dictionary, miracle is defined as “a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency.” Yes, something we all already know. And over the years, I have found that when people talk about a miracle, they tend to describe it in two ways.
Some people understand that a miracle is a pure display of divine power and wonder. This understanding is what we are familiar to as Christians. In so many biblical narratives, miracles happen by divine intervention. People witness in awe to God’s power and glory and come to have faith in God and God’s kingdom. For this group of people, a miracle is always a divine and godly event, something highly improbable and a totally outside-the-world kind of thing.
On the contrary, other people think of a miracle in a more mundane and human way. Have you ever seen this movie, Bruce Almighty? In this movie, Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey) is granted omnipotence by God. He squanders it on petty things like parting his tomato soup like Moses and on many other selfish things. Finally, God pulls him aside and tells him that although God is not against supernatural intervention, God most often choose to work more subtly. God says, “Parting your soup is not a miracle, Bruce. It’s a magic trick. A single mom who is working two jobs and still finds time to take her kid to soccer practice, that’s a miracle. A teenager who says no to drugs and yes to an education, that’s a miracle.People want me to do everything for them. But what they don’t realize is they have the power. You want to see a miracle, son? Be the miracle.” Here, a miracle is an event that can always happen around us, and something we can make in our lives with a gentle nudge of God.
So what do you think now? Do we have to think a miracle in a more divine way or in a more mundane and human way? Which one do you prefer? I don’t think we have to choose a side. And I can tell that both ideas are meaningful, make good sense, and help us understand a miracle better and deeper.
Today’s Gospel story of Bartimaeus is a divine miracle story. Actually, the Gospel of Mark is full of miracle stories, 20 of them in total. They are literally in every chapter until in Chapter 11 Mark begins to talk about Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and his final days. Yes, the story of Bartimaeus is just another miracle story, we can simply say that. However, there’s something very special about this story. It’s special because Bartimaeus is the only person whose name is recorded in the Gospel of Mark among many that Jesus healed. “Bartimaeus, Son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, who always sits by the roadside” (Mark 10:46). Bartimaeus is remembered by name, unlike all the other nameless people that Jesus healed. Also, this story is special because the Gospel writes, when he was healed, Bartimaeus “followed” Jesus. In any other stories of a healing miracle, we don’t see this following. And last but not least, the story of Bartimaeus is special because this miracle paves the way to another miracle, the final and the most important miracle.
The story of Bartimaeus ends with this sentence: “Immediately [Bartimaeus] regained his sight and followed [Jesus] on the way” (Mark 10:52). On the way… which way is that? That is the way to Jerusalem, the way to the cross. And now you may sense which final miracle that I am going to talk about… Yes, this miracle is Jesus’ death and resurrection. As the Son of Man, Jesus died on the cross taking all human suffering and death onto himself. And so, we are saved and freed from the shackle of sin and death. As the Lord of resurrection, Jesus has risen from the grave and shined forth the divine light of new life into the darkness of the world. And so, we have the everlasting life that will never be defeated by the power of death. The death and resurrection of Jesus…this miracle was done once and for all for the transformation of the world and our lives. So we can say that this certainly is the greatest miracle of all.
Then, is this greatest miracle a divine miracle? Absolutely, yes. It’s a transcendent event that reveals the divine power and wonder. And for sure, it’s none of this world; it’s what God did. Yet strangely enough, this greatest miracle is a miracle that is truly mundane and human. How come? It’s because this greatest miracle of Jesus Christ is something that should be lived, realized, and embodied in his followers’ lives. It’s because this greatest miracle always empowers us to be the miracle in this world even on a small scale. Jesus calls us to remember his death on the cross and empowers us to carry our own cross, to practice his self-sacrifice and self-giving love in our lives. Jesus calls us to abide in his light of resurrection and empowers us to shine our light on others so that they can also see the unending hope for the new life in Christ.
Jesus’ death and resurrection…this greatest miracle of all calls us to be like Jesus, to be the miracle. And indeed, because of the miracle of Jesus’ cross, we learn divine compassion and suffer with others, cry with others; we practice self-giving love, and love the unlovable, forgive our enemies…these are the miracles. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, we are not afraid of death and do our best to fight against the power of death and violence. And we always live in the hope for the future communion in God’s kingdom with our families and friend who have gone before us…these are the miracles.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, none of us are really worthy of miracles; we are not any better than Bartimaeus from God’s point of view, yet God graciously wills us be healed and liberated. Therefore, all of us have experienced the greatest miracle of all. And we know that this miracle is still happening around us; we know how Jesus’ death and resurrection change people’s lives even at this very moment. So now is the time for us to share this greatest miracle with others, and let them also experience the love of Jesus, be healed by his power and find true meanings of life in the relationship with him. And now is the time for us to invite others to the love of God and to the new life we live. Let us be like Jesus, and let us be the small, mundane, and human miracles wherever we are. May God’s grace empower us always as we follow Jesus on the way. Amen.