Two Sundays ago, I shared with you a prayer request for my grandmother. At that time, she went unconscious after a stroke. She’s ninety-three, and the doctor said there was not much time left for her. So my family had to prepare for her funeral. But incredibly, she recovered her consciousness and is now fully back to her life. Thanks be to God.
While my grandmother was unconscious, I thought more about her weaving the pieces of my memories of her and her life stories I’ve heard. Like most Koreans in her generation, my grandmother’s life reflects the tragic modern history of Korea. During the Japanese occupation, my grandfather was forcibly taken to a coal mine. And so many people like him died there from harsh conditions of the forced-labor camps. So, my grandmother had to take care of her children by herself. Luckily, my grandfather escaped one day and came back to the family, but soon Korean War separated them once more. Although he survived again, he was not like before with many traumas and inner wounds. With no special skills, my grandmother made her living by cultivating a small farmland with him in a deep rural area. That was her life.
I heard how much she struggled to live—she had to travel by foot village to village to sell some small goods carrying her baby on her back, she helplessly lost her two children during the war, and she fed her family working day and night as a peasant. In my memory, she always toils away in a field; her back is badly hunched for the intensive labor, and her rough hands and feet are deformed. At a single glance, anyone can tell that life has been tough for her.
True, people may see my grandmother’s life as a pathetic life with deficiency, with tragic events, with no desirable achievement. But no matter how they see it, I am so sure that her life has been a great life, a beautiful life, because the life she has lived is the life of genuine faith. Through her uncertain journey, she has learned one thing for sure: how to live by faith—how to trust God, and how to entrust her life to God. It’s been nothing but this faith that has enabled my grandmother to find contentment in poverty, to bear hope in trouble, and to cultivate joy in suffering. And I am also so sure that her faith will continue to let her live her life with gratitude no matter how many days are left for her here, and some day, it will lead her way to the Lord beyond death.
While she went unconscious, I reflected on her life and legacy, and I asked to myself, “What is the most important thing in life?” “What does really matter?” Our achievements, honor, trophies, financial portfolios, the number of publications, the number of zeros in our salary? Not at all, I could easily answer. When we stand before death, none of them really matters. Among many uncertainties in life, the most unpredictable uncertainty of all is death. Our time of death will surely come, and nobody can escape from this last passage of life on earth. So if we look at our lives from the viewpoint of death, what really matters in life is nothing but our faith in God. Indeed, faith is the only thing that matters, and the life most well lived is the life of faith, the life that is entrusted to God by faith.
Then, why? What’s the reason that our faith in God only matters in our lives? I believe, it’s because our God is the one who promises new days and new life when we are in uncertain time and when we confront dead ends in our lives. Let’s look at today’s Hebrew Bible reading. The Prophet Jeremiah is delivering God’s word to the people of Israel living in Babylon for about seventy years. After Babylonia destroyed Jerusalem, many people were held hostage and brought to Babylon. And for the past seventy years, the people of Israel have gradually lost their dignity and identity as God’s people. In a foreign land, as captives, they went through all kinds of discriminations, hardships, and toils we can possibly imagine. To this people, Jeremiah asks one thing: keep your faith in God, because God promises, “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:31-33). Live a life of faith in whatever circumstances you are in. God is the one who will bring new days and new life to you beyond all uncertainties and dead ends in your life… Jeremiah assures the people of Israel in Babylon and assures us living our own troubled life today.
Seeing Jesus in today’s Gospel reading, I find another reason why our faith matters the most in our lives. It’s because Jesus is the one who actually experienced suffering and death as the same human like us and on our behalf. The God who humbles Godself to be like us, shares the same human experience with us, and opens up the way beyond suffering and death in Jesus Christ…I am sure that we can trust this God, this God of incarnate love. In the Gospel story, Jesus knows that his time of death approaching inexorably toward him. When some curious Greeks come to see Jesus, he speaks of himself and his life as a grain of wheat that falls to the earth and dies in order to bear much fruit (John 12:24). Here we find the story of our God who wins victory, not through the conventional means of power and control, but through suffering and death, through the way of the cross. Some people may see this as a shameful tragedy, the complete failure, but Christians know that it is God’s great victory over sin and death; it is God’s incredible way of paving a way to salvation for us. Yes, we can trust God.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, when we are in trouble, when we walk on our lives’ uncertain ways, when we sometimes face the power of death holding dominion over us, let’s keep the faith. Let’s hold onto faith one more time. Truly, faith is what matters, nothing else. Let us trust God and entrust our life to God because God will bring us new days and new life, and because God even suffered and died just like us to open up the heavenward way for us. As we keep our faith, we will be able to see our lives through the eyes of faith. Then we will realize, no matter where life takes us, God is always there even in our valleys of the shadow of the death. And no matter what people see, our lives can be great and beautiful in our daily walking with Jesus. So let us rejoice and be glad as God gives us the gift of grace and enables us live the life of faith. And let us walk by faith not by sight. Amen.
Pastor Earl Kim