These days, most cars can diagnose themselves and give us signals if there are any issues. You probably have seen these common symbols at least once on your dashboard. The first one from the left tells you, check the tire pressure; it might be too low. The second one says, check the level of engine oil and fill it. And the third one is scary. It tells you that there’s something wrong with your car’s engine. Because this warning sign is about nothing else but the engine, we better pay careful attention. And I’m sure everyone knows the last one. What does it mean? Yes, your gas is running out… basically. But we take this symbol in different ways. For example, my wife takes it so seriously like God commands her, “Thou shall not pass the next gas station. Go now and fill up thy gas tank.” To me? Well… it says, “You can still drive 30 miles more, so take your time.” Anyway, these dashboard symbols are very helpful for us to keep our cars in good condition and fix issues without any delay.
Reflecting on today’s Gospel reading last week, I thought, it would be great if we have an ability to diagnose ourselves and get some dashboard symbols whenever we have some issues in our spiritual life. It must be convenient for us to maintain our healthy relationship with God, with others, and with ourselves. Just imagine. A traction warning light comes on, when we lose our faith and wander away; a brake warning light comes on, when we can’t stop chasing our desires and ignoring God’s call; a low fuel indicator comes on, when there’s no love, no hope left in us. How about that? I believe, it must be very helpful. But the question here is, how can we clearly diagnose ourselves, our spiritual status quo? True, it’s hard to tell what’s going on when it comes to our spiritual matters. Do you have any good ideas?
Today, Jesus tells us a simple yet clear way to diagnose our spiritual condition and have our issues indicated and fixed. Let’s look into the Gospel reading. Here, Jesus tells us a parable. Two men go up to the temple to pray. The first is a Pharisee, a religious insider who serves a vital role in the spiritual life of the Jews. Like other Pharisees, he meticulously keeps the law to set him apart and be upright religious leader. So, standing by himself, he prays in self-righteousness, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income” (Luke 18:11-12). In contrast, the second one is a tax collector, a collaborator with the Roman Empire; a traitor to his own people. He works for the Roman oppressors and sometimes has to extort revenue for them. So, standing far off, he “would not even look up to heaven, but just beat his chest in self-denial and pray, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13)
While the Pharisee is in self-righteousness, the tax collector is in self-denial. While the Pharisee makes a personal progress report to God, the tax collector just repents before God asking God’s mercy and forgiveness. While the Pharisee puffs out his chest in pride, the tax collector beats his chest in sorrow. And here is Jesus’s conclusion: it is the tax collector, not the Pharisee, who goes home justified. How come? It’s because the Pharisee fails to diagnose himself clearly. His self-righteousness blinds him. He’s so sure about his spiritual condition that he doesn’t even glimpse any warning signs. So there is no chance that his issues get fixed. But the tax collector is different. He knows that he can’t avoid all the troubles and struggles as a humble human being. So he pleas, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” This honest self-denial opens his eyes to see himself before God. From there, he can get to see which dashboard lights are on; he can bring himself to God in his repentance and get himself fixed, forgiven, renewed, and justified.
What is the way to clearly diagnose ourselves, our spiritual condition before God? As an answer, Jesus teaches us the way of self-denial, the way that begins with accepting the unchanging truth of ourselves: we are sinners, and we have issues to be indicated and fixed. Faithful Christians in history practiced this self-denial every day to check themselves and to become more mature Christ-like Christians. Today, I would like to share one of the examples. It’s a time-tested way of daily spiritual checkup. Please look at the hand-out inserted in your bulletin. This is called, the Examen, created by St. Ignatius and used by many Christians even today. Why don’t we read it together?
1. Ask God for light.
I want to look at my day with God’s eyes, not merely my own.
2. Give thanks.
The day I have just lived is a gift from God. Be grateful for it.
3. Review the day.
I carefully look back on the day just completed, being guided by the Holy Spirit.
4. Face your shortcomings.
I face up to what is wrong—in my life and in me.
5. Look toward the day to come.
I ask where I need God in the day to come.
I personally use this Examen when I conclude my day. And I can certainly tell you, this short 15 to 20-minute self-denial and self-checkup will lift you up and deepen your relationship with God.
Faithful friends in Christ, let us try it from today and check our dashboard symbols. In our self-denial, let us diagnose our spiritual condition every day. We all are in need of God’s graceful repair every day. So let us bring ourselves to God in our prayer of confession, and leave our sins unto the Lord in our honest repentance. Then, our Creator God, who built us and continuously fixes us, will make ourselves anew. Please remember, there’s no expiration date on God’s warrantee, God’ promise. Whether it is a major repair or a daily maintenance thing, we can get all of them for free. God’s grace covers them all. This is indeed the good news. So from today, as we keep our faith and trust in our God, let us take the way of self-denial and experience God’s justifying grace in abundance each and every day. Amen.
William Kamkwamba was born in Dowa, Malawi, and grew up on his family farm. He was a bright child. But in 2001, the year that he moved up from his primary school to a secondary school, extreme famine ruined Malawi. His family couldn’t pay his annual school fees, that was only about 80 dollars. William was forced to drop out of school a few months into his freshman year. For the next five years he was unable to go back to school.
However, rather than accepting his fate, William started borrowing books from a small community library in his former primary school. One of the books was an 8th-grade textbook from the U.S.: Using Energy. The book had wind turbines on its cover. And that picture captured his eyes. Reading the book, he decided to build a windmill to power his home. So he built his first windmill out of junk using a radio motor, a broken bicycle, tractor fan blades and old shock absorber. After hooking the windmill to a car battery for storage, William was able to power four light bulbs.
It was just a beginning of his greater projects. His windmill was later extended to 40 feet to better catch the wind above the trees. He even studied how to use solar power and generated more electricity and served his village to pump clean water, to provide lighting for the six more homes. His windmill project inspired many people, drew visitors from other villages and countries, and made great changes in people’s life. These days, William works with various non-profit organizations and continues to serve underprivileged communities around the world. And this year, a movie based on his story was released by Netflix with the title, “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.” I recommend it if you are interested.
Reading the story, I thought, what we are doing as Christians can be compared to building a windmill like William does. If William finds the power source from the wind, we, Christians find our power source from a different kind of wind, which we call, the wind of the Holy Spirit. We believe, this wind, this life-giving Spirit, has the power to turn on the light of Christ in each person’s life and empower them to love God and love neighbors. But to use this power, we need to do our parts. We need to build our humble windmill. We need to build our church. Then through us, I believe, God surely works for the people around us, for our community. And through our church, the Holy Spirit channels the power of grace to inspire people’s hearts to have faith in Christ, awaken them to follow Jesus, and impassion them to join us to do God’s holy mission.
William’s life could be just another unfortunate life of a secondary school drop-out in a poor town of Malawi. But he didn’t give up. He saw a different possibility. He dreamed of making changes in his village. And he did his part, although it seemed small and insignificant in the beginning. Today’s Epistle lesson also urges each one of us to do our part. “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus…and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching…. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully” (2 Timothy 4:1-2;5). Do your part in God’s mission. Even though your work seems small and insignificant, even though circumstances are not favorable to you, do it with persistence and carry out your ministry fully. Then, what? Then, God will work through you. The Holy Spirit will use our church to empower more people and enlighten many with Christ’s love.
Today is Laity Sunday. This is the day that we celebrate the ministry of all Christians. We embrace our shared vocation, as lay persons and clergy alike, to proclaim and embody the good news of saving love of Jesus Christ. And we reaffirm together the priesthood of all believers, our common call to ministry. As we do, I would like all of us to remember the story of William and his windmill, and faithfully do our own part as we build, nurture, and grow our church together.
When we say our parts, our works, in the Methodist Church, it particularly means two things. They are the works of piety and works of mercy. What are they? Let’s read them together.
Works of Piety
1. Individual Practices: reading, meditating and studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting,
regularly attending worship, healthy living, and sharing our faith with others
2. Communal Practices: regularly share in Holy Communion, Christian conferencing, and Bible study
Works of Mercy
1. Individual Practices: doing good works, visiting and helping the people in hardships, feeding the hungry, and giving generously to the needs of others
2. Communal Practices: seeking justice, ending oppression and discrimination, and addressing the needs of the poor
Methodism, in all its roots, has a long history of celebrating and recognizing the ministry of laity. In the early days of American Methodism, it was the lay members that served and maintained congregations between visits of the circuit riders. And I think this is true even today. I know, every one of you here, is taking part in our church’s ministry and doing your part by praying, by teaching, by dedicating time, treasure and talent, by serving leadership positions, by cleaning and cooking, by feeding the hungry, by joining various mission projects. I also know, every one of you here is the front line of daily ministry at your workplace, in your home, in your relationships, and within your community. For this, I give thanks and praises to God.
Indeed, you are the builders of this church, builders of the windmill through which the wind of the Holy Spirit generates power to change lives and transform the world. Each one of you is holding this church and keeping the doors of this church open until today. Without the ministry of laity, there is no church. Thank you for being faithful to relentlessly seeking hope and tirelessly putting your efforts in reviving our church. Thank you. Your dedications to this church’s ministry truly build the kingdom of God here and now. May God richly bless you as you continue to do your part—it may look small, but it’s not small, because you are building God’s windmill, God’s holy church, by serving one another, by carrying out God’s mission, today and every day. Amen.
What’s your favorite sport? Do you follow any sports? Some say, October is the best month of the year for sports fans. The Major League Baseball playoffs are going on; the National Football League games are in full swing; the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association officially start their new seasons. So in October, even though I’m a tennis fan, I get to watch many other sports.
Recently, I followed MLB playoffs, especially the LA Dodgers’ games. In the National League Division Series, their opponents were the Washington Nationals. The series tied at 2, and last Wednesday was their final game. The Dodgers were winning until the 7th inning. But the Nationals evened the score in the 8th by back-to-back home runs. So the game went into overtime. And it was in the 10th. The Dodgers bases were all loaded. Then, bam! The Nationals hitter Howie Kendrick hit the grand slam home run. It was the gamechanger. The Nationals won that game and so the series.
Why do we love sports? It’s because there’s a drama like this, a dramatic win. Just one pitch, just one hit, becomes the gamechanger that turns everything upside down. Because we can’t tell exactly at which moment this drama would happen, we continue to watch games cheering and hoping that our team may dramatically win. There should be a winning drama to take place—not a losing game. No other possibility than happy ending. So, even when our team is actually losing, we keep watching, waiting for a gamechanger.
In today’s Hebrew Bible reading, there’s a group of people who are yearning for a dramatic win. I’m not talking about any sports here. But I’m talking about the so-called game of life. In this serious game, they are losing a big time. Who are they? They are the people of Israel. They are not in Jerusalem now but in Babylon, in their exile. What happened? In 587 BCE, Babylonia destroyed Jerusalem, held many people hostage, and brought them to Babylon. In Babylon, they are miserable. They don’t understand why their enemy is winning all the time. They want God to listen to their cries and do something for them. They want God to liberate them from this captivity. Yes, for them, only God can be their gamechanger and the author of their winning drama.
Right then, to the people of Israel, God sends words through the Prophet Jeremiah. They feel like heaven breaks open and a ray of sunlight shines upon them. “Yes, that’s it! Who’s our God? Don’t you know, our God sent Moses and released the Hebrew slaves, our ancestors, from the harsh rule of Egypt? Now it’s our turn!” They expect to win everything back. But the word of God totally goes against their expectations. It begins with a bummer. “Build houses and live in them” (Jeremiah 29:5). “What? Are you kidding me?” I’m so sure that the people of Israel couldn’t believe what they just heard. There’s no gamechanger, no drama as such. The rest of the letter says, in short, “Suck it up!” Live your life fully in Babylon; embrace your situation but still do believe in God’s promise of salvation; God’s time is coming… I feel so sorry for them.
In your game of life, are you winning or losing? Like the people of Israel, for sure, we all want our life to be a winning drama—not a losing game. We all want our God to be our gamechanger and do something dramatic for us right now. But it’s not happening. Then, what can we do? When our life goes into a losing side, when we constantly losing our small battles in our daily life—lose our time and money, lose our chances, lose people we love, lose our hopes and dreams, lose our mind, lose our ways, and even lose our hairs…what should we do to write over our drama from a losing one into a winning one?
Let us look at Jesus in today’s Gospel story. His life doesn’t seem like a winning game either. His background? His people were hardly the best. He spent his early years in the poor town of Nazareth. He was a Jew and a carpenter, in Judea—one of the helpless colonies of the Roman Empire. What about current situation? The religious and political authorities and even his neighbors in his hometown are very often hostile to him and never supportive of his ministry. And today, he heals ten lepers, but one, only one of them, comes back and asks for salvation. Jesus asks, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?” (Luke 17:17) Jesus lost nine. Moreover, this one person is a Samaritan, a foreigner, hated by the Jews. It means, Jesus’ own people didn’t appreciate his ministry. It looks like he is losing the game. But did he? Did he actually lose it?
Faithful friends in Christ, if we say life is like a sports game, please know this: we, believers in God, play it in a totally different way than others. Or course, there can be times we lose. There can be times we struggle. But one thing for sure, we play this game on the promise of victory. What we need to do is to believe the promise and live as if we already won the game. This promise has been fulfilled. In history, the people of Israel got released, returned to Jerusalem, rebuilt their temple and worshipped God. And Jesus? The one Samaritan leper was just a beginning. He widened his scope of salvation to all the people on earth. Jesus revealed God’s winning drama through his death and resurrection. Jesus changed the game of life for all of us by making the cross, a sign of total defeat, into a symbol of everlasting victory over the world, over sin and death.
Yes, the victory has already been won. And God promises us this victory through Jesus our Lord. Thanks be to God! So again, what we need to do is to believe the promise and live as if we already won, as if we are writing our winning drama with Jesus each and every day. How? By living out our winning faith. We can pray like Jesus, even when our situation disheartens us. We can love and forgive like Jesus, even when people are not nice to us. We can willingly help others in need like Jesus, even when we are also in need of help. We can forge God’s kingdom in mission and fellowship like Jesus, even when we are busy and tired. We can shine the light of hope upon others like Jesus, even when we only see darkness around us. Yes, we can. We can write our winning drama with Jesus who has won the victory for us.
Last Wednesday, I don’t think the Washington Nationals won because of the grand slam home run. I don’t think that was the only gamechanger. Until the 10th inning, they were building up for their win with persistence. With every swing, every catch, every pitch, they were making the game turn around. Like them, we should also persist in living out our winning faith in our daily life. Even when we find ourselves in Babylon, in captivity, in unfavorable circumstances, on a losing side, our game of life, our battle, isn’t over. So, until the end of the game, let us be faithful to the promise of victory in Jesus, and write our winning drama with him. The victory has been won, says our Lord. And all God’s people say, amen.
 According to “The Bleacher Report” (https://bleacherreport.com/articles/1094743-ranking-the-best-months-of-the-year-for-sports-fans).
Let me ask you a question, “Do you think that you mostly underestimate your abilities or overestimate your abilities?” Personally, I think, I usually underestimate myself. Facing a challenging task, I mostly doubt myself first and worry, “Can I really do that? Am I really able?” So, I’m sometimes a little jealous of my friends who are full of self-confidence and assert, “Sure, I can do that! No problem!” How about you? What type of person are you? Let’s raise our hands. Underestimating? Overestimating? Both at the same time? Not sure how you are? Well…no matter how you are, you are welcome here!
Anyway, we assume that underestimation and overestimation of oneself are two totally different habits of mind. But psychologically speaking, they are the same. How come? It’s because they are the same kind of psychological issue called, “cognitive bias.” This is a systematic error in our thinking that affects our decisions and judgments, including our self-assessment and self-awareness. And because we are not perfect human beings, we all have this cognitive bias to a certain degree.
This morning, the reason that I bring up this issue of underestimation and overestimation of oneself is that they are deeply related not only to our mental health but also to our faith and Christian life. Yes, to have honest self-assessment and self-awareness and to know who we truly are, is quite critical in our relationship with God as well as on our journey of faith.
And interestingly, in today’s Gospel story, it looks like Jesus is trying to correct the cognitive bias of his disciples. In the story, the disciples ask Jesus, “Increase our faith!” Why do they ask such a thing? The reason is quite simple if we understand their situation. Now, the disciples are on their way to Jerusalem with Jesus. Their journey is almost reaching toward the end, and Jesus is about to enter into his final days on earth. On their way, Jesus already told them a couple of times about his impending suffering and death on the cross. That is so overwhelming. They don’t know how to handle this upcoming crisis. They are not ready. And they are not confident enough to continue Jesus’ ministry after he’s gone. The unforeseen future, the uncertain situation, their daunting tasks, their humble social status, their inner doubts…all these factors surround them, press them, and belittle them to “underestimate” themselves.
To those intimidated disciples, Jesus replies, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you” (Luke 17:6). Here, we should carefully listen to Jesus. Jesus is not blaming them for their lack of faith at all. He’s not judging them. Jesus is not assuming that they don’t have enough faith. But rather, Jesus is assuring them that they do have faith and it has a huge impact because even through their small faith, God can do amazing things. In short, Jesus means, “Do not underestimate yourself. Remember, you have faith. And this faith is the access to the power of God that is able to do all things through you.” What a wonderful encouragement it is!
But right after this uplifting and promising message, Jesus adds a little bizarre lesson that seems a little unnecessary. Here, he even uses a slave-and-master analogy that bothers our 21st century ears. Jesus tells that no master rewards their servants or thanks them for doing what they are assigned to do. So when the disciples have done all that they were ordered to do, they just have to say, “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!” (Luke 17:7-10) Why does Jesus say such bold words? I think Jesus’ point is this: “You know you have faith. But do not overestimate yourself. Remember, your faith leads you to be a servant.” With your faith, what do you want to do? Perform wonders and miracles? Wield power and authority? Jesus tells us, “Please make sure. Having faith means to be a servant of God, to surrender your will and make God’s will be done in you, to follow God’s commandment and humbly serve others.”
Today, Jesus points out our cognitive bias. Do not underestimate yourself. Remember, you have faith. But at the same time, do not overestimate yourself either. Remember, your faith leads you to be a servant. Know who you truly are.
I believe this is such a fruitful message that Jesus gives us today on this World Communion Sunday. Yes, we shouldn’t underestimate ourselves. We have faith in Jesus Christ. This precious faith gives us the access to God’s power that works among us right now. It’s evident. Look around. God unites us as sisters and brothers overcoming any human-made barriers and walls. In spite of different colors, different cultures, different backgrounds, we are here together in one faith. On a Sunday, on this most segregated day in the United States, on this day when blacks go to black churches and whites go to white churches, here, right now, can you witness that our small mustard seed faith is changing a little corner of the world? Let us not think that we have nothing special. Let us not underestimate ourselves because, through our faith, God can do amazing things.
But at the same time, we shouldn’t overestimate ourselves. We shouldn’t think that “we” are good and able enough to do something by ourselves. But our faith is not about us, not about our power or our will. It’s about the power and will of the Lord. This faith calls us to be servants, to be the hands and feet of Christ. What does the Lord require of us? Love God with all our hearts, with all our souls, with all our strength, and with all our minds, and love our neighbor as ourselves. Share the table of communion with all the people in remembrance of Jesus who died for us all and broke down the dividing walls. Share God’s love and serve one another to build a kingdom of God, even though there’s no visible or material reward.
Today we are celebrating World Communion Sunday. The faithful servants in every corner of the world come to the Lord’s Table, and we, together, remember who we truly are and who our Lord truly is. Without underestimating ourselves, let us remember our mustard seed faith. This faith is the access to our God who is able to do all things through us. And without overestimating ourselves, let us remember our servanthood. We are called to make God’s will be done in this world by serving one another like Jesus served us. Faithful servants of the Lord, let us be confident for we have precious faith that leads us into the new life. And let us be humble at the same time as we do what we ought to do. May our Lord, who became a servant for us first, lift us up and use us for his mission today and on, always. Amen.
Pastor Earl Kim