I remember the very first day I visited our church. From the Bronx, across George Washington Bridge, I drove to Montclair to attend a Staff Parish Relations Committee meeting. At the meeting, Joe asked me, “Are you going to be alright with just ten people sitting in the big sanctuary on Sunday?” Are you not going to be discouraged?” And I answered, “I’ll be alright.” But actually, I was not quite alright at all on my first Sunday. I was so nervous that I can’t even recall how the first worship service even went. It went anyhow. The only part I remember is… after the service, I had lunch sitting next to Gloria trying to continue an awkward conversation. And suddenly, Arlene called me out to take this photo that was to be sent to The Montclair Times.
Since that nervous first Sunday, eight years have passed. And you know what? My journey has been not just alright; it’s been amazing.
For the past eight years, there have been tears and laughter, ups and downs, challenges and accomplishments. There are so many great memories I would like to remark today, but I believe, now it is better to let them be as they may. Yet even so, when I look back upon those eight years that we have lived together and loved each other, there is one thing that comes so crystal-clear to my heart that I cannot help saying out loud. That one thing is this acclamation: “Great is thy faithfulness.” Great, my Lord, is your faithfulness throughout our journey as a church. Great is thy faithfulness… yes, from the bottom of my heart, I feel assured that God has been faithful to us through all those years. And I am sure, God will be the same forever. So thanks and praises only be to God.
How do I know that God is faithful? I can’t be more certain about it, because I have witnessed God’s faithfulness every day through the faithful people of God in our church. I mean no one else but each one of you! Every single one of you has been the living proof of God’s faithfulness to me. It is never easy to serve a small congregation, especially a small yet enthusiastic church that is continuously trying… trying to grow, trying to reach out to more people, trying to do better in ministry. In this case, members have to share more burdens than usual, because they have to do all those new things with limited human and financial resources. Yes, this has been our church’s case. But look at you. And look at our church now. Between eight years ago and now, can you see how many differences we have made? I thank God for you who have willingly shared more burdens and persistently dedicated your life to the church. Truly, you have been the living proof of God’s faithfulness to me. So thank you.
As I leave the church today, my message is also about nothing else but faithfulness. For today, I chose my favorite Bible readings that I have always kept in my heart. One of them is the words of the prophet Isaiah. He says, “All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:6-8). Every time I reflect on these beautiful words, I realize, “Yes, life is short and we are grass.” Then I ask, “So, what is the best and most meaningful way to live our fleeting life?” And the answer comes to me right away. It is to live our life depending on the word of God that will stand forever.
For me, the word of God testifies how the God of grace has faithfully kept the promises made in Jesus Christ. The promise of unconditional love, the promise of new life, the promise of the Holy Spirit, the promise of the new community that breaks down the walls, the promise of resurrection, and the promise of God’s everlasting kingdom. I firmly believe… by God’s grace and through our faith, these promises are already being fulfilled in our life, in our church, and even during this time of crisis. So my friends, stay faithful. “The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.”
As we live our short life, there must be struggles and challenges. There must be the days we can’t feel the presence of God in our life and in the church. Some unexpected tragedies and failures, health and financial issues, may keep you away from God. Some hurtful experiences, emotional wounds, and broken relationships may discourage your spiritual growth. Some burdens you bear for the church may feel so heavy that you want to take them off from your shoulder. And some plans and directions of our church and The United Methodist Church as a whole may look unreasonable to your eyes. But my friends, stay faithful for “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). For by faith, Christians in history lived their lives of dedication and thanksgiving even without any signs, even under persecutions, even in unbearable turbulences.
Stay faithful, my friends. And I will do the same. I will never forget you. I will deeply miss you. You accepted me to be your pastor. Then, you have nurtured and encouraged me to become a pastor. As a servant of God, I am still immature, and I still have a long way to go. But by far, with you and with God, I have walked my journey with joy and thanksgiving. So there’s nothing I should take pride in about my ministry. Like Jesus commands his disciples in today’s Gospel reading, I should say, “I am a worthless servant. I have done what I ought to have done” (Luke 17:10).
Great is thy faithfulness. Whenever I see my favorite photo of our church taken on World Communion Sunday last year, I cannot help praising God. From the photo, I see a beautiful multi-cultural and multi-racial community that reveals the amazing work of grace. I see the light of the world and the salt of the earth. I see the love of Jesus that breaks down barriers and unites all God’s children. I see the church that delivers the prophetic message of peace to this broken world. And I see the living-proof of God’s faithfulness. “Don’t you see? God’s kingdom is already among you” (Luke 17:21). Looking at us, Jesus may say this as he did to his disciples. So stay faithful, my friends. Trust God’s promise in Jesus Christ. Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable work of God. And love one another as Jesus loves you until the day comes. I love you all. Whenever I miss you, I will pray for you. Let us meet in our prayers. May the Lord be with you always until we see each other again and praise our wonderful God together, saying, “Great is thy faithfulness.” Amen.
Pastor Earl Kim