Sometimes people ask me if we believe in saints in The United Methodist Church. And I say, “The answer is both yes and no.” On the one hand, the answer is no, because we don’t really have saints in the way that the Roman Catholic Church does. We don’t formally beatify or canonize people. So we don’t have any officially recognized saints in our tradition—not even John Wesley. On the other hand, the answer is yes, because we do use the word “saint.” But the difference is that we use this word to refer to all believers of Jesus Christ, whether they are still with us or already with God. Yes, in our Methodist tradition, saints are not just a few angelic people with haloes behind their heads. Rather, saints are all believers just like you and me, all believers who follow Jesus here and now, or who have already lived their faithful lives and gone before us.
I’m blessed for I’ve known many saints in my life. They have inspired me to be a better believer and to become a pastor. But honestly, they are not very special people. Their lives are hardly perfect or extraordinary. Just like me, they have suffered the same kinds of challenges; they have struggled with the same kinds of sins; they have received the same God’s grace, just as I do. Yet, they all have lived their ordinary lives with great faithfulness and courage. They are saints to me, not because they are so saintly without any blemish, but because they have faithfully walked their journeys of sanctification through all the ups and downs in life. I believe, you can also talk about such saints in your life, some people around you who have inspired you to become better believers.
Then, what about us? Do you think that we are saints too? Not sure yet? You may ask me, “You said, ‘We all are sinners,’ in your sermon last Sunday. Then, today you tell us, ‘We all are saints,’ all of sudden?” Of course, we all are sinners. That’s for sure. We are always inclined to do something wrong, and we are weak and in need of forgiveness. But still, we can be called saints. Why? It’s not because of who we are, our holiness or righteousness, but because of who Jesus is, his steadfast love that saves us, dwells in us, molds us and shapes us into more Christ-like people each and every day. Yes, in Jesus our Lord, we surely are saints of God on our common journey of sanctification.
In today’s Hebrew Bible and Epistle readings, for all God’s saints God promises many great things. Through the vision of Daniel, God says, in the end time, when the judgments is upon the earth, “the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever—forever and ever” (Daniel 7:8). And today’s Epistle reading reminds us, “in Christ, we have obtained an inheritance, the redemption and the promise of the kingdom, and also, in Christ, we are “marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:11; 13). Such grateful words of promise! Thanks and praises be to God who calls us to be saints on earth, who chooses us to inhere the kingdom, and who marks us with the seal of the Holy Spirit.
But for all God’s saints, God doesn’t grant those privileges only. In fact, there are things we should do as saints. Yes, privileges always come with duties, right? Let’s look into the Gospel reading. In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus first assures that we are fully blessed even when we are hungry, poor, weeping, and persecuted, and our reward will be great in heaven. So, God’s saints always have a certain reason to rejoice even in the days of suffering. Second, Jesus also warns us that when we indulge in pleasure and comfort from our richness, fame, fullness, that is the time when God’s woe can be upon us. So, God’s saints always check themselves not to be complacent and lose faith when things are going all too well.
Right after this assurance and warning, Jesus finally tells us the things we should do as saints. Let us read them together. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:27-31).
I know, this to-do list is a kind of impossible-to-do list, or at least, a hard-to-do list. But Jesus is so sure and clear that these are what all saints of God should try and practice in their lives. This list of duties can be summarized in one single sentence: “Practice the love of Jesus”—the love that is unconditional, self-denying, and life-giving. We are saints, because Jesus’ sacred love dwells in us as we believe in him. And as saints, we are called to reveal this love and share it with others. It is not important how much successful we are in practicing love. But we should persevere always. That’s our holy duty. Live out the love of Jesus, and make life more holier, keep relationships more sacred, and change communities gradually into the kingdom of God.
Fellow saints of God, today we are celebrating All Saints Sunday and our 191st Anniversary. Today we shouldn’t forget all those ordinary saints in our church’s history, in the history of First United Methodist Church of Montclair and also in the 186 years of history of Verona United Methodist Church. Indeed, today, in this sanctuary, we are surrounded by “so great a cloud of witnesses” from both churches’ history. Let us remember our saints and their legacy of faith as we celebrate the joining tougher of the two churches today and as we move ahead toward our future. Because of their love for God, for neighbor, for the two churches, we are here to continue the common history of saints today; we are here to share the same love with others.
Indeed, it was love, from the beginning, the love of Jesus. This love grants us the redemption and consecrates us to be saints at our baptism and to inhere God’s kingdom. It still is this love, today, the love of our Lord. This love marks us with the seal of the Holy Spirit and binds us together in the communion of saints beyond space and time. And it will be the same love, in the future, the unconditional love of Christ. This love will always dwell in us, continuously sanctify us on our spiritual journey, and always call us to the duty of sharing that love with others. As we live out this sacred love and our sainthood, let us be persistent. Let us take up our own crosses and follow Jesus, “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:3) May God’s grace and love be with all of us in abundance, as we continue the work of saints with great faithfulness and courage just like the saints who have gone before us. Amen.
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.
Do you believe that God treats everyone equally? Does God create us to be equal, the same? I’m quite sure, our God does not. Look at the emerging California homeless crisis. I heard, homeless population in Los Angeles is reaching sixty thousand this year, mainly because of skyrocketing rent and lack of affordable housings. In Los Angeles, in this city of stars, the city famous for its rich towns and gated communities, this crisis is happening. How about New York City? Annual American Community Survey shows, among the 30 most populous US cities, New York tops in the inequality between the superrich and the extreme poor. And we don’t have to go too far. Look at the children in our church, Amelia, Avery, Jayden, Benjamin, Noah…and think about the children in refugee camps, detention centers, children’s hospitals, and orphanages. Do you still believe that our God is equal to everyone? Well, it’s hard to believe that.
Since the beginning of the world, although in varying degrees, social inequality and economic discrepancy have been unchanging reality of the world. There have been always people like the rich man and people like Lazarus in today’s Gospel story. Yes, Jesus somehow reveals us this unquestionable reality of the world in his story. And what’s more interesting is that he shows us, there’s inequality even in the afterlife between the saved and the condemned.
Let’s look into the story. It goes like a play with three acts. The first act: The Gate. The rich man lives inside the gate of his house, dresses himself in purple and fine linen, and feasts sumptuously every day. In contrast, poor Lazarus lives outside the gate. His famished body is nothing but skin and bones and covered with sores. He fills his hunger with what falls from the rich man’s table. The second act: The Chasm. This act portrays the reversal of their situation in the afterlife. Between the chasm, Lazarus is happily on the saved side with Abraham and the rich man is on the condemned side in flames of agony. The rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus and give him a drop of water but it’s impossible because of the chasm that no one can cross over. Now, the third act: The Rich Man’s Request. The rich man requests Abraham to send a warning to those still living so that they can avoid torment. But the request is denied.
So here, what’s the point? What is Jesus trying to teach us? At least, we get this: equality is not his main concern. In this world and after, everyone doesn’t get the same things anyway—same wealth or same redemption. There’s always unavoidable disparity. There’s the gate of inequality in reality. There’s the chasm of judgment in the afterlife. So what? Does Jesus ask us to turn the world upside down and build the revolutionary world of complete equality? Then, does Jesus ask us to support some kind of communist or socialist ideals? I don’t think so. But from the story, I believe, there’s one thing that Jesus wants us to learn as clearly as possible. That is, God, whom we believe and the Bible testifies, may not be the God of equality, but this God surely is the God of Justice.
Yes, God is just. Therefore, to God’s just eyes, to be rich is not an issue, but it is evil to be careless of other people’ needs and to be indifferent to their suffering and pain. To God’s just eyes, the rich man doesn’t have to be equal to Lazarus. He doesn’t have to eat and sleep next to Lazarus outside the gate of his house. However, it is sinful not to open the gate to Lazarus, not to invite him over to his table, not to share a little bit of his wealth with him. Then, what about us? To God’s just eyes, how would we look like? How would our church look like? And what about our society? To God’s just eyes, wouldn’t it be wrong if our social system hardly opens the gate of privileges and wealth to the disenfranchised? To God’s just eyes, wouldn’t it be wicked if our economic system widens the chasm between the rich and the poor and makes the rich richer and the poor poorer?
The Hebrew Bible tells us, our God of justice has a dream for a just world—the world of jubilee. To make this dream a reality, God gives God’s people the commandment of the year of jubilee, the every seventh year when debts are canceled and slaves are freed. And God asks them to make their land a place where the powerful lift up the week, where the rich share things with the poor. God says, “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land’” (Deut. 15:11).
The New Testament tells us, our God of justice still has a dream for a just world—the world of liberation, the world free from sin and death. To make this dream a reality, God sent the Son Jesus Christ. And Jesus reveals us, God’s justifying grace is greater than our sins; God’s steadfast love is more powerful than death. And finally, with his cross of sacrifice, Jesus built a bridge over the chasm of judgment, and with his power of resurrection, Jesus opened the gate of salvation for all who believe in him.
And today, our God of justice calls us to dream God’s dream together, calls us to join God’s mission to make this dream for a just world come true. God calls us to open our doors so that we may someday tear down the gate of inequality in our society. And God calls us to share with others the good news of Jesus Christ, the good news of justification and freedom, so that all of them may also find the new life across the bridge over the chasm of judgement.
Last Sunday, because of the Rally Day outdoor event, the church door was wide open until the afternoon. And I met two different persons in need who just walked inside the church and found me. I heard their stories of struggles and prayed for them. And because there were no Shop Rites gift cards left at the moment, I had to ask them to come and see me again on Tuesday. One of them came back and took bags of food and gift cards. Anyway, as I sent both of them from the church last Sunday, I realized, by just opening the door, our church had opportunities to serve them, to share something with them. That something may not be significant materially and spiritually. But that service, that sharing, is the reason why we are here… here to make this world a little bit closer to a just world, the world that God dreams of.
The Bible tells us clearly. Our God is the God of Justice, and this God commands us to act justly against social evils like poverty. So let us keep our doors open and share the good news of Jesus Christ with others. Let us participate in the missions of our church, missions of United Methodist Women, Souper Saturday, Irvington Feeding, Thanksgiving Feeding, food drive, cookie drive. And let us join the work of inviting people to our worship service, Bible study, small groups, and to the table of fellowship. Again, faithful friends in Jesus Christ, let us keep our doors open and share the good news of Jesus Christ with others. This is the reason why we are here. Let us make this world more just together. Let us dream God’s dream together… the dream for the world of jubilee and liberation, the dream for the kingdom of God where justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Amen.
Today we are celebrating Rally Day, the day we officially kick off our new season of ministries, especially, the ministry of Christian education. As I prepared my sermon last few weeks looking forward to this Sunday, I asked myself, what kind of message should I deliver? What kind of message can be most vital for us today as we begin this new season? I tried to find an answer one day but it was hard. I ate chocolate and tried. I drank another cup of coffee and tried. I walked around and tried. Still I couldn’t get a good answer. So I stopped thinking for a while and just started to check my Facebook.
There, I saw many friends of mine posted pictures of their children going to their school on the first day of new school year. I found this cute picture of Dana among them too. Browsing through their posts, I wondered: how would my friends feel when they send their children to the schools? How would they feel…when they realize that they cannot be there for their children whenever they need them? Some friends of mine say, it feels so good to finally get some free time after a long summer vacation wrestling with their kids. But I’m also sure, it’s not just a happy-all-the-way kind of feeling. They must be worried somewhat and might be a little anxious as they send their children away…away from their sight, away from their 24/7 care and protection.
Among the pictures, one picture caught my attention. It was the picture of my friend’s daughter who just entered college this year. Under the picture, my friend left a short reflection. While driving his daughter to college, he thought, he would drop her off and then come back right away. But as soon as he got to her dorm room, he couldn’t help inspecting everything top to bottom. He sat on her bed and chair, tapped on her desk, opened and closed the window, turned the faucet on and off in the restroom, turned the light on and off. After the long security sweep, he finally said good bye to his daughter and left. But his heart was heavy and unrelieved on his way back…until he got a moment of grace. While driving, with no specific reason, he found himself humming the hymn, God Will Take Care of You. “Be not dismayed whate’er betide, God will take care of you; beneath his wings of love abide, God will take care of you. God will take care of you, through every day, o’er all the way; he will take care of you, God will take care of you.” That moment he got the assurance that even though he just left his daughter, God will never leave her; God will be with her and take care of her.
Today, as we begin our new season of ministry and new chapter of our life, I believe no other message can be more foundational than this. God is with you. God never leaves my friend’s freshman daughter; God never leaves our children; God never leaves you; God never leaves our church…God is with you always. Even though you cannot be there for your children, or for your family and friends all the time, even though you are all alone, God is always with you. And God will take care of you.
This faith in our ever-present God doesn’t come out of nowhere. The whole Bible testifies, God is love, and out of this love, God seeks a reconciled relationship and a fellowship with us. The Bible tells us, God came to Abraham to make a covenant with him. God visits Moses in the burning bush to save God’s people from slavery. God spoke to the prophets to turn them back from their wrong ways. And finally, God came down to earth in Jesus. And after Jesus, the Spirit of Jesus abides in us. Hear the Psalm for today, how beautifully the Psalmist sings the love of God in God’s everlasting presence. “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast (Psalm 139:7-10).
Out of love, God comes to us and abides in our lives. This surely is good news for us. And this surely gives us a meaning and reason to live in confidence, live without fear. Paul proclaims, “If God is for us, who is against us?.... Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?.... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us (Romans 8:31;35;37). In this inseparable love, in the inescapable presence of God, we know and believe, we can do all things, and we can triumph over any troubles and any challenges in life. What a grace it is! This might be why, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, said, “Best of it all is, God is with us.”
One day an inspiring Christian writer, Henri Nouwen received a letter from a man who desperately wanted to know if humanity would survive the century. It’s so funny because Rev. Nouwen is a priest—not a disaster-prediction expert. Does this man know to whom he is writing? Anyway, to this broad and a little wacky question, Rev. Nouwen answers in a beautiful and meaningful way. You can find the whole letter here in this book, Love, Henri: Letters on Spiritual Life.
I really don’t know if our civilization will survive the century. Considering the growing threat of a nuclear holocaust, there certainly is a reason to wonder. But important for me is not if our civilization will survive or not, but if we can continue to live with hope, and I really think we can, because our Lord [Jesus Christ] has given us his promise that he will stay with us at all times. He is the God of the living, [Jesus] has overcome evil and death and His love is stronger than any form of death and destruction. That is why I feel that we should continually avoid the temptation of despair and deepen our awareness that God is present in the midst of all the chaos that surrounds us and that that presence allows us to live joyfully and peacefully in a world so filled with sorrow and conflict. Please be sure of my prayers for you in these tempting times.
Our lives are uncertain. We don’t know what will happen next. We can’t see what kind of untrodden road will unfold before us, before our children, before our family and friends, and before our church. A nicely paved road? A rocky road? A treacherous cliff-side road? Facing this uncertainty, we are worried and anxious. And in the world, there are full of reasons to fear and despair. Mass shootings, bullies, hate crimes, racism, sexism, natural disasters, and accidents…there are so many things letting us down and fret. But as Rev. Nauwen tells us, for the believers of Jesus Christ, the important thing is not if we can survive uncertainty, but if we can live with hope, deepen our awareness that God is with us in the midst of all the chaos that surrounds us, and reject the urge for worry and despair.
And we are able do this as the believers of Jesus Christ, because Jesus has given us his promise that he will stay with us at all times. At the very last moment of his ascension, Jesus tells his disciples and us, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). Today as we begin our new season of ministry, new chapter of life, let us remember just this: nothing can separate us from the love of Jesus Christ our Lord, and nothing can move us away from the everlasting presence of God. So go now with deep confidence in the presence of our God in your life and talk to your children, talk to your family and friends, and talk to yourself every day, “God loves you. God is with you. God will take care of you.” Amen.
 Henri J. M. Nouwen, Love, Henri: Letters on Spiritual Life (New York: Convergent Books, 2016), 45.
As I live with my dog, Eco, one of the major challenges I have to deal with on a daily basis is her shedding. Eco has a silky coat with smooth hair. And she sheds a lot every day. So I have to vacuum my house regularly, and always carry a Scotch roller with me to remove her hair from my clothes. There are a couple in my car all the time. Does it bother me? To be honest, it’s annoying sometimes. And I think, to those who have a higher standard of cleanness and hygiene than me, it could be a real issue.
Among many people I know, there’s one person who has the highest standard of cleanness and hygiene. And that person happens to be my mom. One day, Jee Hei and I got the news that she would visit us for about a month. It meant, she was going to meet Eco for the first time. We were so worried. So before she came, we not just sanitized our house but almost sterilized it from top to bottom. The day came at last. My mom arrived. As soon as she entered the house, I could see she was scanning every corner. Then, Eco came to greet her. My mom immediately noticed her shedding. And we were so scared waiting for her judgement, her verdict. But to our surprise, she was alright with that! And she had such a good time with Eco during the entire stay.
How come? It’s because my mom fell in love with Eco. Yes, it was the power of love. Of course, she complained about her shedding sometimes. But above all, she enjoyed staying with Eco. Since then, every time we talk on the phone, she asks me, “How is Eco doing?” And these days, she is even considering adopting a dog. That surprises me so much. Love changes many things. Doesn’t it? Once my mom began to love Eco, the joy of companionship she found with Eco overcame the annoyance of picking up her hair all day long. True, love has a power… power that enables us to find joy over judgment.
In today’s Gospel story, Jesus is hanging out with sinners. The so-called sinners are gathered around him and listening to him. Looking at this, the Pharisees and the scribes, the religious leaders in Jesus’s days, grumble, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” They don’t understand Jesus’s behavior. But here, the question is, “Doesn’t Jesus know that the people he’s hanging out are sinners?” What do you think? I am so sure, Jesus knows it, and he knows much better than the Pharisees and the scribes about their sins. But he’s different. The Pharisees and the scribes only judge those people as sinners, and that’s it. But Jesus, even though he knows and judges their sins, he still stays with the sinners. How come? It’s because Jesus loves them. With love, Jesus finds joy over judgment, finds a way of joyful relationship beyond judgmental exclusion.
To the Pharisees and the scribes, Jesus tells two parables about this love finding joy over judgment. In the first one, a shepherd leaves his flock of ninety-nine to look for one single lamb that is lost. He searches until he finds it, and when he does, he carries that one lamb home on his shoulders, invites his friends and neighbors over, and throws a party to celebrate. The shepherd says, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” In the second parable, a woman loses one of her ten silver coins. Immediately, she lights up a lamp and sweeps her entire house, looking carefully for the coin until she finds it. When she finds it, she calls together her friends and neighbors to celebrate. She says, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.”
These parables clearly teach us today, with his amazing love, Jesus finds the lost, the sinners like us. Here in this church today, is there anyone who can confidently say, I’m blameless, I’m not a sinner at all? I think no one can say that. Jesus knows and judges our sins. But above all, he still loves us. And this love changes many things. Although we sometimes go astray like the sheep and get lost like the coin, Jesus seeks us again, turns us back to his love, and rejoices with us. And until he finds us, he desperately searches for us like the good shepherd, like the woman sweeping her entire house. His love doesn’t just give us up for our sins. Rather, his love always looks for the joy of having us back, the joy of acceptance and relationship, the joy of forgiveness and salvation, over judgmental rejection and punishment. This is the good news!
So as the followers of Jesus, who have this good news, what shall we do now? How should we live our lives? The answer is very simple and straightforward. We should love like Jesus. In detail, we should love one another with the love finding joy over judgment. I know, as humans, we can be judgmental to one another and pick up small things from one another. We often say, “That’s wrong. Why does he or she do that? That’s not right.” And I know, we come to church to be better human beings. So sometimes, as we try to be good, we apply a quite high moral and ethical standard to one another. And in this way, the church can become a judgmental place. Yes, it’s natural for us to be judgmental. I get it. But if we stop there, if we stop at judging others and don’t do more than that, we become just the same as other groups of people, just the same as the grumbling Pharisees and the scribes in today’s Gospel story.
Again, what shall we do as Christians, as followers of Jesus Christ? We should love like Jesus. In detail, we should love one another with the love finding joy over judgment. Even though we see others’ mistakes, faults and shortcomings, even though we sometimes get hurt by others’ wrongdoings, please remember, we are called to love one another over our judgement. And we are called to rejoice with one another as we follow Jesus together. With our love, let us make our church a place of joy, the joy of acceptance and relationship, the joy of forgiveness and salvation. And let us make our church a place for sinners where all can come and listen to Jesus, a place for the lost where all are found by Jesus again. When we were yet sinners, Jesus loved us first, found us, and shared the heavenly joy with us. And in spite of all our sins, he still loves us. What a grace it is! So today, let us love like Jesus. Love one another in spite of their sins, find joy over judgment, and say, “Jesus loves you no matter what. So do I.” Amen.
On our vacation, Jee Hei and I visited Acadia National Park in Maine. It was already our third time going there, but it was beautiful and refreshing as always. Every time we go up there, we see a special welcoming sign entering the border of Maine. It says, “Welcome to Maine, The Way Life Should Be.” Have you ever seen this before? I don’t know what kind of life they’re talking about, but it’s quite an attractive slogan. Isn’t it? The way life should be…the words always make me smile. And it takes me back to the beautiful coastlines and mountains of Maine and brings me the memories of great wild life, outdoor activities, lobsters, and so on.
This year, I also passed that sign again. And of course, I got very excited. As we were about an hour away from Acadia, Jee Hei and I stopped by our friend’s house for lunch. He’s a United Methodist pastor who started serving a church in Maine last year and recently had twins. So it was really great to see him and his family. While catching up, he talked about many things… you know, things good and bad, happy and sad. He also shared some hardships he had gone through there. One of them was the winter season of Maine. He said it was the longest and coldest winter he had ever experienced. He even got a little depression so decided to go to a gym for some physical activities. And it wasn’t easy for him to live in a small rural town with no close friends, no other family members living near him. But he had endured them all for his ministry.
Listening to him, I felt like I got a reality check. Maine can be a wonderful place for people like me who visit there for a vacation, but it’s not always refreshing and beautiful for those who actually live there and make their living. Yes, we all know, life ain’t all sunshine and rainbow, not like a vacation. “Welcome to Maine, The Way Life Should Be,” the slogan proudly told me, “life in Maine is great. You will love it.” And it totally got me for a while and made me only see nice things about Maine. But leaving my friend’s house, the slogan began to sound a little different to me. How should our life be anyway?
Through his ministry, one of the main missions Jesus carried out was to show people the way life should be. Many people got fascinated by Jesus. They witnessed amazing miracles and wonders. They saw Jesus silence religious leaders and cast out demons with divine authority. No wonder, large crowds traveled along with Jesus wherever he went as today’s Gospel reading says (Luke 14:25). The crowds believe that Jesus is the true savior, the king, the Messiah. With him, their days of suffering and pain are over and they are going to walk a rosy and shiny way of glory. Yes, with Jesus, that’s the way life should be. They are quite sure about this, but indeed, they misunderstand Jesus a big time.
So in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus looks like giving the crowd a moment of reality check and clarifying the way of life he’s been talking about. So, what kind of solution is offered for this reality check? One thing for sure, Jesus’ solution is not a pep talk, not even close. “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple,” Jesus tells the large crowds. “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (14:26-27). If these two warnings are not frightful or bold enough, then here comes the third one: “None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions” (14:33).
Isn’t it strange? Here, Jesus looks like trying so hard to not only disillusion the crowds but also scare them away. We understand, Jesus wants not fans or spectators but disciples. And we know, Jesus wants followers who understand the cost of discipleship—its commitment and its cross. But his words are unnecessarily strong. Needless to say, those hyperboles of Jesus must have frustrated the crowds and scattered them away. No doubt, most of them must have returned home. But then, what happened in reality?
I don’t know whether the solution of Jesus was successful or not, but one thing I can tell you is that although the large crowds disappeared, the disciples still followed Jesus. It seems nothing special. But the disciples still followed Jesus. After the shocking reality check, they must have been also confused and overwhelmed like the crowds. Nevertheless, they kept on following Jesus. We know, Jesus’ disciples were not noble people. They were a group of people including even a rebel, a tax collector, and some Galilean fishermen. Nevertheless, they simply accepted, Jesus is the way. And they followed him as disciples, because they believed, that’s the way their life should be. The disciples failed Jesus many times; they still didn’t fully understand Jesus’s mission; they often argued with one another who’s better. Nevertheless, they followed Jesus. And they took part in Jesus’ ministry and eventually, prepared the way of the Lord—the way of the cross.
Listening to Jesus’s scary warning today, we may get disappointed too. We may feel like it’s truly hard to be a disciple… almost impossible. But let us think about these disciples of Jesus one more time. To be a disciple… perhaps, it all begin with simply not leaving Jesus after the large crowds went away. Perhaps it all begin with simple decision to follow Jesus from where we are now. Who are you today coming all the way from home and joining this worship service to reflect on your life and faith? Who are you today burdened and distressed yet wanting to find God’s peace and grace? Who are you today waking up early on a Sunday morning and bringing your family to this church? Who are you today facing all the challenges in life yet trying hard not to be away from Jesus? Who are you? Are you the disciples? Yes. You. Are.
Although our life is not all sunshine and rainbow, not always like a vacation, although our life is more like a race that requires our commitment, sacrifice, struggle, and fight, can we still follow Jesus? Faithful friends in Christ, let us keep on following Jesus and walking with him the way of cross. Keep on loving. Keep on serving. Keep on believing. Keep on forgiving. Keep on gathering. Keep on encouraging. Keep on struggling. Keep on hoping. Keep on praying. Keep on running the faithful race no matter where we are. Then, by God’s grace, I believe, our life becomes the life in the kingdom of peace and justice, the life in the presence of the Holy Spirit, the life in the power of Jesus Christ our Lord who always leads our life into hopes and wonders, forgiveness and liberation, joy and thanksgiving. Let us follow Jesus. It is the way disciples’ life should be. Amen.
In today’s Gospel story, Jesus looks like a manager and his disciples like his interns. He groups his disciples in pair and sends them to every town and place where he himself would like to visit. For this field education with hands-on practices, Jesus gives detailed instructions to his disciples. Jesus teaches them what they should do and say, when they visit houses and share the good news. Why does he do that? I believe, he does this to train his disciples and get them ready before he leaves them. In fact, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to go through his final days. So it’s about time for him to conduct a midterm evaluation on his disciples’ performance to see how much they have grown to be the trustworthy messengers of God’s new kingdom.
Yes, it looks like Jesus is fitting well into this picture of an internship manager. It’s quite convincing to me too…until I got to reflect on the following words of Jesus, “Go on your way. See I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves” (Luke 10:3). Honestly, I hadn’t paid much attention to these words. But here, Jesus doesn’t sound like a manager. Apparently, these words show Jesus’s sincere concern, from the bottom of his heart. And the one who can say such compassionate words to somebody must be more than just a manager, more like a parent who cares for the children.
And it’s so true. As he often describes himself, Jesus is the good shepherd who searches for the lost lambs and even lays down one’s life for them. He sees his disciples not just through the eyes of judgment and evaluation but more through the eyes of love and compassion. Then I realized, I had focused too much on what Jesus asks the disciples to do—the tasks, the things that we are in charge as disciples. But I had never focused on how Jesus would have felt when he sent the disciples away.
So, how would Jesus feel when he had to send the disciples “like lambs into the midst of wolves?” Not just close “to” wolves but “into the midst” of wolves? I don’t have a lamb. But I have a different kind of animal in my house living with me. Yes, Eco, my dog. She is so gentle and affectionate. She never has done any harm to anybody. When she meets other dogs outside, although they are smaller than her, she gets scared, curled up between my legs and sometimes begs me to pick her up. Anyway, I imagined, if I send Eco into the midst of wolves, how would I feel? I wouldn’t be just worried but I would be terrified to death. Think about your children and family members. Imagine that you send them into the midst of such a threat. How would you feel? Even when your children leave home for college, or for even a short-term trip abroad, you must be worried. But sending them into the midst of uncertain dangers? It’s hard to imagine.
Then, how about Jesus? Jesus must be deeply concerned and so much worried as he sends his disciples to the world full of challenges and risks. Later, he says, he even watches “Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning” as soon as the disciples hit the road (Luke 10:18). He sees Satan come right away to capture them, tempt them to go astray, and turn their way against God. His heart must be so troubled.
Then, as Jesus sees the dangers loom large, does he give the disciples something to overcome them? Something to depend on? We know, he has power to do so. He may give them some divine warrantee to protect them and provide them with some good supplies to carry out the mission at least without having to worry about what to eat and where to stay. But to our surprise, Jesus orders his disciples something totally unreasonable and absurd. “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road” (Luke 10:4). Here, Jesus basically asks the disciples to take nothing and to make no relationship with someone who may help them on their way. This sounds quite harsh. If he watches Satan let loose and prey on the disciples like wolves take down lambs, why does Jesus not give anything and do anything for them? Is he truly the good shepherd with the sympathetic heart of a parent? What’s the reason?
As today’s Gospel story concludes, we see the reason. Through the perilous field education, Jesus wants the disciples to learn one thing, only one thing. That is the way to depend on God. Depending only on God—nothing else. The disciples are like lambs. They are weak and unable. They have no worldly power to show off. And their weakness cannot be overcome by some things they bring. But in their weaknesses, paradoxically, they have all the power. As long as they depend on Jesus and the one who sends him, the power of Christ dwells in them. This is why the Apostle Paul says, “for whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). We are weak but he is strong. We are unable but he is able. So if we depend on and trust in his power, our good shepherd will provide us with all the strength to overcome any hardship and the gifts to make wonderful fruits in the world. That’s the whole point.
After the disciples return from towns, they report on their progress with joy, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” (Luke 10:17) They now get it. Although they feel powerless and helpless on their way, they finally come to realize that they actually have the true power in the name of Jesus. Likewise, it’s time for us now to get it too. On our life’s journey, we better depend on our good shepherd who loves us. If this Jesus is for us and with us, then who can be against us? Whenever we feel weak and unable in the face of challenges and difficulties, we can always gain power in the name of Jesus. And we shall overcome.
But here’s one thing we should be mindful of. We should depend on “Jesus”—not “ourselves.” Sometime when things are going well with us, we tend to depend on our power trusting in ourselves. And as humans, we naturally crave worldly powers; we want to be stronger and richer, more influential and popular. But if we goes on this way too far, we may not remain as lambs of the good shepherd anymore. We may become like wolves in the world. One of the most important early Christian fathers, John Chrysostom said this, “As long as we are sheep, we overcome and, though surrounded by countless wolves, we emerge victorious; but if we turn into wolves, we are defeated, for we lose the help of our shepherd. He, after all, feeds the sheep not wolves, and will abandon you if you do not let him show his power in you.” This is what we should keep in mind.
Faithful friends in Christ, we are blessed to have the good shepherd in our lives. This is the one who is deeply worried about us with a compassionate heart and who always searches for us and even lays down his life for us. “Go on your way. See I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” The good shepherd tells us today that our lives, especially as Christians, may not be easy. But he also gives us a promise, “See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you” (Luke 10:19). To us, Jesus has given the authority to win this battle against any power of tribulation in the world. So let us depend not on us, not our power, but on Jesus and his faithfulness.
Is there anything that discourages you and distresses you? Is there an ongoing or upcoming challenge you need to deal with? Is there anything in your life that makes you feel vulnerable and helpless? Let us look up to our good shepherd who is the source of all our power and blessings. There is a power in the name of Jesus. Because of him living in us, we know, although we are unable, we shall overcome. And whenever we are week, we are strong. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Pastor Earl Kim