Sermon: They Do Not Know What They Are Doing

Click to listen to the sermon

Date: February 26, 2017

Preacher: Rev. Joyce Whetstone (Retired Elder of UMC)

Scripture – Luke 23:32-38

32 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him.33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”[a] And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him,[b] “This is the King of the Jews.”

 

 

Sermon: All You Need Is … ?

Date: February 19, 2017

 

Text – Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18; Matthew 5:38-48

 

I would like to begin today sermon with a song.

 

“There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.

Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung.

Nothing you can say, but you can learn

How to play the game

It’s easy.

 

Nothing you can make that can’t be made.

No one you can save that can’t be saved.

Nothing you can do, but you can learn

How to be you in time

It’s easy.

 

All you need is love, all you need is love,

All you need is love, love. Love is all you need.”

(The Beatles, All You Need Is Love)

 

All You Need Is Love is a song by the Beatles that was released in July 1967. The Beatles were asked to write a song with a message that could be understood by everyone. So, John Lennon wrote this song to give a message to the world, very clear and simple – love is everything we need. Happy marriage. Happy family. Happy work. Happy world. All our problems would be solved if we can love one another.

 

However, John Jacobs, a psychiatrist, “All You Need Is Love” is one of many lies when it comes to marriage. He shares that many couples come to his office saying, “We love each other so much. Why are we so unhappy?” He says that although the myth “All You Need Is Love” sounds wonderful, it often leaves people unskilled in developing and unprepared to manage sustained intimate relationships. When people get married, they often come to realize the true difficulties and complexities of the married life.[1] The prince comes and kisses Cinderella and wakes her up from the eternal sleep. They fall in love. What the fairy tale does not tell us is what happens after they get married. The prince or Cinderella goes to work and comes home late. They argue over how to spend limited resources or how to get the kids a good education in underfunded, overcrowded public schools. In other words, “All You Need Is Love” often works against our pursuing healthy marriage by not fully embracing the challenges of marriage.

 

When it comes to Christianity, many seem to define what the gospel is about by the similar mantra. “All You Need Is Love.” “Love Your God. You Your Neighbors.” It is all about love. So, let’s love one another regardless of who we are. Then all our problems will be solved. If we just love our God more, we will not have any trouble with the declining number of attendance on Sunday. It we just love our young people more, we will attract more to the Sunday schools. A pastor walks into the finance committee and hears that there would be a big financial hole by the end of the year. And the pastor tells the members of the finance committee, “It is all because we do not love our God enough. We have become so selfish.” The fact of matter is that there is a shifting paradigm of why people give and how people give. People are still generous by wanting to give where their resources can be used in a meaningful way such as orphanage, disaster relief, or hospital. They are just not sure if the church is a faithful steward. Jesus calls us to go deeper in our relationship with God, in our understanding, and in our faith.

 

In today’s passage from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus continues to teach on the mountain. And he challenges our popular notion of “All You Need Is Love” by saying, “When I tell you to love your neighbors, I do not mean just those whom you consider your friend or family. You know what you have heard. “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I am telling you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” I can feel that the Beatle’s song “All You Need Is Love” fades away slowly when we think about all those whom we think did wrong to us. Think about Tom who goes behind your back and spreads rumor about you. Think about Susan who borrowed your money and still has not paid back. Worse, think about those who did wrong not just to you, but also to your children or your family. And what do you do?

 

It is natural that our initial response to someone wrongdoing to us is simply pay it back. “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Such rule was placed in the Israel community so that it could “curb the tendency to unlimited private revenge by incorporating the jus talionis into the institutionalized judicial system. In other words, even before Jesus there was a Jewish tradition calling for restraint and opposing revenge so that it could minimize the retaliation against the party that did the wrongdoings.[2] “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is also what defines our legal system – the retributive justice. But Jesus radicalizes the Jewish tradition by not only opposing the unlimited revenge, but also loving our enemies as our friends or families. And that is not an ordinary love. It is a scandalous love. It is not a love that we can sing with a sentiment that love can unite us all no matter who we are.

 

Jesus is asking us, “Can you sing the song with those who do wrong against you?” When I was the sophomore in college, I was staying at a dormitory that was built by the American missionaries in the 1980s. At that time, there was a conflict between the minister, a retired minister of Korean Methodist Church, for the dormitory and the student council. I happened to be the vice chair of the student body and we were in constant conflict. I was filled with my own sense of justice. My relationship with this retired pastor got worse and worse. We both said something really ugly. We always argued. Our relationship came to the dead end when he filed a lawsuit against me. I was only 19 years old. He even called my father threatening that he was going to talk to the bishop if he did not control my behavior. It was one thing that we had conflict. But he came after my family?

 

But when we are filled with anger to the point that we want to pay back with more violence, we are already destroying our soul. We think that we deserve to pursue justice. But when we recognize the thoughts in our minds, and behaviors of our bodies, we realize that this is not what we are meant to be. We are actually destroying ourselves by forgetting how God created us in the beginning – that we are the children of God created in the image of God. Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” he does not say this because such non-violence brings better result of peace and justice in the world. But his new commandment is concerned with the redemptive work of God in the world. It is for our salvation. It is for salvation of others. He says, “Love your enemies and forgive them so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (v.45)

 

After the incident with the minister, I joined the army in Korea, as it is mandatory for every Korean male. And I was not in peace in my mind as I thought about my life before joining the army. I prayed that God would heal me and forgive me. It was the Father’s Day in Korea. And I took the pen and wrote my letter to the minister with sincere apology. I said to him that I was truly sorry for what happened between us. And I loved and respected him as my father. After a couple of months, I was given a short vacation. I decided to visit the dormitory to see my friends. When the minister saw me from his office through the glass, I still remember that he ran like a wind to give me a hug and said, “You know, son, it is me who should have told you sorry.” We both cried and reconciled with each other. Whenever I think about the moment of reconciliation, I still feel the chill in my body that my burden of anger, violent thought, and revenge was completely liberated from me.
When people say forgiveness and reconciliation, they often misuse to justify their recurring action of misdemeanor. It happens a lot within the marital relationship that a spouse is abused by the other physically, emotionally, and spiritually. “Honey, you go to the church. And I know that God commands you to love your enemy. I know that I have done wrong to you. So, you need to forgive me.” The perpetrator demands forgiveness from the victim, otherwise shaming her that she is not a faithful Christian. However, the true sign of repentance is not only that we confess our sins against God and neighbors, but also we do not sin anymore. God gives us a power and courage to forgive and reconcile. God does not command us to remain as victim by constantly being manipulated. Rather, God shows compassion to those who cry out in suffering and leads them out to the Promise Land.

 

And Jesus tells us why we practice such radical love, or scandalous love in our lives. He says, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (v.48) One of the distinct marks of Methodism is that we believe in Christian perfection. John Wesley does not mean Christian perfection as a status in which we are completely free from sins, free from illness, or free from ignorance. Rather, he means that we are perfect in our love for God and love for our neighbors. It is not a status, but journey that the Holy Spirit empowers us along the way. When we forgive and reconcile with our neighbors and also enemies, we realize that we are growing in our love for God. Just as we smile at our children when they show our own characteristics, God is pleased when we try to be like God in forgiving others and embracing them as our neighbors.

 

With racial tension arising in our society today, many of us still remember the shooting in Charleston, SC. On June 17, 2015, during a prayer service, Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old white supremacist walked into Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and killed nine people. It is unimaginable how this young man was disillusioned to believe that his violence motivated by racial hatred would achieve anything. But the relatives of people slain decided to face the shooter at his first court appearance. The sister of DePayne Middleton-Doctor said, “I acknowledge that I am very angry. But one thing that DePayne always enjoined in our family is she taught me that we are the family that love built. We have no room for hating, so we have to forgive. I pray God on your soul.”[3] Some might still blame his mental illness as the cause of the tragedy. Some might wonder where God was in the middle of such tragedy. But God was surely there when these families and relatives tried to live out the scandalous love of God for our enemies.

 

I am asking you this morning. Whom do we need to forgive in our minds and hearts? Whom is Jesus asking us to offer our forgiveness and be reconciled? I know that it is not easy. But we know that we do not offer forgiveness out of our own good will or righteousness. But we remember what Jesus said on the cross. “Father, please forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:24) And can we offer the same forgiveness to our neighbors and even enemies today? We may not. But God can. And the Holy Spirit will give us the power and strength that we need in this broken and divided world. Amen.

 

 

 

[1] John Jacobs, All You Need Is Love & Other Lies about Marriage

[2] NIB: Matthew, 194.

[3] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2015/06/19/i-forgive-you-relatives-of-charleston-church-victims-address-dylann-roof/?utm_term=.1c7c9aace05f

Sermon: Do Your Job

Date –  February 5, 2017

Text – Matthew 5:13-20

 

This past week, I and my family went to IKEA in New Haven (CT) to buy a small table for Daniel. I was wearing my Patriots hood. When I was about to pay, the clerk saw me and snorted, “Look, you are in the wrong neighborhood. When you go home, take off your hoodie and burn it.” It turned out that he was a New York Giants fan. First of all, I love sports but I am not a fanatic enough to tell others to burn their jersey. Second, I thought that New Haven was still part of New England. But I guess I was wrong. Third, I just remembered the painful memory with New York Giants in the Super Bowl 2012. The Patriots was leading the game 17-15 with 57 seconds away from getting the fourth title. But the running back of the Giants, Ahmad Bradshaw, did a touch down that took away the victory of the Patriots. It is known that the coach, Bill Belichick, preaches to his team, “Do Your Job” in order to win the game. Obviously, at the last minute, the defense line could not do the job that they were supposed to do.

In his sermon on the mountain, Jesus seems to say the similar thing to the crowd gathered. “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. So, let your light shine before others.” In a way, I visualize Jesus putting on his headset and gathers his crowd before the game begins. He cheers each player in each position and reminds them of their work, “You all have a job to do. Do your job.” We might have different personalities, skin colors, genders, cultures, family histories, or nationalities. We might have different skill sets and different careers. But we are called to make a church, the body of Christ, and respond to the call of Jesus, “I call you to be the salt and light in the world. Do Your Job.”

But the question seems to be this, “How can we do our jobs and be what we are supposed to be?” “What does it mean to be the salt and light of the world?” In other words, what is the purpose of our lives? Let me ask you a very simple question. “Why did you get out of the bed this morning?” Of course, we got out of the bed today to come to the church. How about tomorrow? We get out of the bed because we need to go to work. We get out of the bed because we need to ready our children for school. But what happens when we retire from our works or when our children graduate from school and move away? According to a recent study, “people who describe themselves as lacking a clear purpose in life are more likely to suffer cognitive decline and develop Alzheimer’s disease. Of course, we know that there is a genetic reason why we develop Alzheimer’s disease. But lacking the purpose of our lives could lead our struggle in experiencing the abundant life.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was a restless soul who was searching for the purpose of his life. He grew up as the son of an Anglican priest, Samuel, nurtured by the strict religious education of his mother, Susanna. He was educated at Oxford University and became the Lincoln Fellow, which was equivalent to professor today. Although he had a promising career as a priest and professor, he abandoned them and decided to go to the colonies in Georgia as a missionary. He thought that he could spread the gospel and make disciples among the colonists and eventually the indigenous people in America. But he failed miserably. It seems that he was deeply struggling to find the purpose of his life. You may have your job. You may have your family. You may have your health. But they do not necessarily fulfill the purpose of our lives.

For Wesley, he realized the purpose of his life when he felt strangely warm in his warm at the Moravian gathering on Aldersgate Street. Somehow, he realized that he was accepted as the child of God. It was the grace of God alone that saved him from all his efforts. It was the love of God that made him realize that he had a purpose in his life. The Book of Genesis says that we are created in the image of God. It does not mean that God has our skin color, facial features, hand, and foot. Just like our children inherit the characters of their parents, John Wesley interprets that the image of God indicates our character as the children of God. As God is love, we are created in the character of God who loves us unconditionally.[1] We are created to love God and God’s people and God’s creation. That is the chief purpose of our lives. That is our job to do in this world – we are called to love.

When we say love, however, we often speak of love in a very comfortable sense. I once met an American missionary from Japan who told me, “There seems to be cultural problem with the way people use the word, “love,” in English. We say, “I love a chocolate.” “I love a vacation.” “I love my car.” What he was saying was that in Japan, people do not use the word “Love” to indicate one’s affection to subject. According to the Japanese etymology, love means to love people through your actions and with your heart. In other words, there is no deep feeling, mutual relationship, between the one that loves, and the other that receives the love. And we use the same word in interrelationship, “I love you.” I wonder if you ever feel that we are losing the depth of love that urges to give ourselves for others. Love in Christian tradition is a very radical word that upsets our status quo and calls us to lay aside our ego and ourselves.

Love is a dangerous and even upsetting word that connotes act of mercy and compassion. When people compare between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr, they are likely to dismiss the former because he advocated the use of violence in protecting the black lives. They quickly jump to Martin Luther King Jr. who advocated the non-violence and support the idea of loving one another. But we should know that MLK’s understanding of love is grounded in the biblical understanding of love – agape. The sacrificial love of Christ. When Jesus tells us, “Love your enemy,” MLK acknowledged, “Hate for hate only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe. If I hit you and you hit me and I hit you back and you hit me back and go on, you see that goes on ad infinitum. But the strong person is the person who can cut off the chain of hate, the chain of evil.”[2] In other words, love is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of power of forgiveness.

And that is what Jesus calls us to live out today. Do your job. Love your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. And love your neighbors as yourselves. It is love that goes beyond the self-interest of our existence that we offer ourselves for God and neighbors. When we board on the flight, the flight attendants tell us that in case of emergency, we are to put the mask of oxygen ourselves before we help our children or others. People often talk about this illustration to indicate the importance of self-care. However, the problem is that we often forget to help others after we put on our own masks. We are loved, welcomed, embraced by God so that we can love, welcome, and embrace others. M. Eugene Boring, the commenter of New Interpreter’s Bible, also points out that when Jesus says that we are the salt, the salt does not exist for itself, nor do the disciples; their life is turned outward to the world.[3]

In Super Bowl 2015, I am sure that many Patriots fans were remembering the nightmare from Super Bowl 2012 with 74 seconds left and the Patriots clinging to a 28-24 lead. The Seahawks receiver Jermaine Kearse just caught almost impossible pass despite excellent defense from Malcolm Butler. The touch down was only 1 yard away. As Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson threw his pass Butler streamed back and intercepted the pass. The game was over. The undrafted rookie, Butler, finished the game because he did his part. Butler recounted later, “I wasn’t feeling to well but you know my teammates tried to cheer me up. They said I made a great play. When I got back out there I just had to make a play.” Bill Belichick said, “We prepare for that situation as part of our goal-line package.”[4] Butler did his job because he knew exactly what he had to do. But I also believe that he was able to make the play because of the cheer from his teammates – a purpose bigger than himself.

Today, the Patriots are playing in the Super Bowl competing for another cup again. It is just a game. We can win or lose. But the lesson is this. We all have our jobs to do as the children of God in this world – that we are called to be the light that drives away darkness, the darkness of fear, hatred, and evil. We are called to be the salt to sacrifices ourselves for others. Do your job. The job that Christ calls us is bigger than our own sense of happiness in the world. But our happiness is a fruit that we bear when we faithfully respond to the call to love our God and neighbors – not just our families and friends, but also our enemies and those whom we disagree and dislike. It is such a difficult calling. But you know what? When the players fail to do their jobs in the football, they are either discontinued in their contract or traded to another team. We also fail to love God and love others as Christ calls us to do. But when we do so, Christ does not trade us to another team but comes down to us and sacrifices his life on the cross for us so that we can gain victory in God’ name.

So, no matter what you are going through, you feel beat, tired, frustrated, or worn out, please know that we are here as Christian brothers and sisters to cheer you up and point to the love of Christ who never fails and who tells us that the game is not over yet. We shine the light of Christ – the light of love, compassion, mercy, and justice in this world. Will you pleas arise and sing with me?

 

This little light of mine

I’m gonna let it shine

Let is shine, let it shine, let it shine.

 

Hide it under a bushel? No!

I’m gonna let it shine

Let is shine, let it shine, let it shine.

 

Don’t let Satan blow it out,

I’m gonna let it shine

Let is shine, let it shine, let it shine.

 

This little light of mine

I’m gonna let it shine

Let is shine, let it shine, let it shine.

 

 

[1] John Wesley, Sermon: “New Birth”

[2] Martin Luther King Jr. Sermon: “Loving Your Enemies: 17 November 1957.

[3] M. Eugene Boring, NIB: Matthew, 182.

[4] http://blog.masslive.com/patriots/2015/02/malcolm_butler_feature.html