Sermon: The Gift of Getting Lost

Date: March 26, 2017

 

Text – Psalm 42, 1 Samuel 3:6-9

 

 

In 2005, it was Thanksgiving week. Most of my friends were planning to go home – Los Angeles, Atlanta, or New Jersey. I thought that I had to go somewhere too. I was tired from all the exams and readings for the seminary. So, I decided to visit my uncle and aunt in Baltimore. Since I did not have a car, I got a rental one. I had never driven in the U.S. so I printed out all the directions from the Map Quest. As I started to drive from Boston, the Map Quest was the only guide I had on my hand. I passed I-90 successfully. I switched to I-84 successfully. I then switched to I-91 successfully in Hartford. But the trouble came as I was passing through the New York City. I though that I was going my way with confidence but I ended up somewhere in Bronx. I did not have any GPS that could easily tell me, “Turn left. Make a U-Turn.” I was pulling my hair in the middle of nowhere.

Our life could be like that sometimes. We thought that we knew where we were going with our life. We figured out what we would do with our works. We invested in our time and life for it but later discover that we are not happy about it. We feel lost regarding why we need to go back to the work the next day. We fall in love with someone, marry the person, and expect our marriage to last till the death asunder. And someday, we discover that our spouse is somehow not happy about our marriage. We feel lost about how to fix our marriage and restore our love. We thought that our value and view are the only legitimate ones but one day wake to a new reality that the world is not the same as yesterday. We feel lost about defining our new role and how to make sense of the world.

If we had a GPS for our lives, we might find our lives a little easier to live in our dramatically changing world. A GPS that says, “Turn left. Turn right. Make a U-Turn.” I think that we Christians, at least, wonder, “What is God saying to us? How can we discern the voice of God?” When we go through unexplainable sufferings or tribulations, we look up to the sky and ask, “Are you really there?” We wish that God would speak to us directly revealing the will of God in audible voices loud and clear. I am sure that there could be some of you here who have heard the audible voice of God. But I think that most of us do not as if the parents tell their children that it is tie to go to bed. Wash your face and brush your teeth. I will read you some bedtime stories. And the question is, “Does God speak to us at all?” Or “Are we actually missing what God is saying to us?”

In Gifts of the Dark Wood, Eric Elens describes what happens to Bruce in the movie Bruce Almighty. After being fired from his job as a television weatherman, Bruce is looking for a sign from God desperately. He is driving down the highway one night and anxiously prays, “Ok, God, you want me to talk to you? Then talk back. Tell me what’s going on. What should I do? Give me a signal.” Then he passes a road construction sign flashing the words, “Caution ahead.” He does not recognize the message but continues to pray, “I need your guidance, Lord, please send me a sign!” A truck full of construction signs suddenly pulls in front of him that say, “Stop” “Wrong Way.” He still misses the sign and says, “Ah, what’s this joker doing now?” Finally, Bruce’s pager rings. He takes the pager off its holster and checks the number. Little does he know but it’s God paging him. “Sorry, don’t know ya.”

The video clip of Bruce constantly missing the sign from God seems insightful to us as we also reflect on the times when we feel lost. When we were lost in our spiritual journey, did God never communicate with us? Or was it that we kept missing the sign from God? Maybe we were preoccupied with the way we thought that God should answer to us with particular answers or particular ways. How about the story of Samuel and Eli from 1 King today? Samuel was a young boy serving the temple priest, Eli in Jerusalem. At night, Samuel hears a voice of God calling him, “Samuel. Samuel.” But he does not recognize it. We do not know exactly why. Maybe God was whispering in such a small voice. Maybe Samuel thought that it was ringing in his head rather than audible voice. So, he went to his master, Eli, and asked him if he was the one who called him. And this goes on twice.

What is surprising for me here is that the message is not actually for Samuel. The message is actually for Eli. But God does not speak to Eli, the temple leader, respected by his whole community as the reverend. The one who went to the seminary and wrote all the papers on the Hebrew Bible, history of Israel, worship of Jewish ritual and finally graduated with high honor. The one who would get up to speak in front of his congregation on the Sabbath and people would attentively listen to his message as if God had some message for them for that week. But no… it is not Eli who hears the voice of God, but Samuel, the young boy who does not have any seminary education, does not have any ministerial experience, does not have the certificate of ordination. God speaks to Samuel so that he would deliver the message to Eli.

If God would speak to us directly, or even if indirectly through someone else, would you be happy to hear the voice of God or be fearful of it? Most of us might think that if God could speak to us, God would praise us for our faithfulness in times of trouble and challenge. God would praise us for feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and volunteering so many hours when other people seem pretty preoccupied with their own lives. But many of us would be fearful because we cannot control what God might have to tell us. And the fact that God knows deeply what we think, the words we may not tell others but what we think. God knows the times when we are fragile, failing, and unfaithful to our marriage, to our bodies, to our relationship with neighbors, and our God through our words and thoughts.

I am sure that Eli would have been fearful to hear the words of God. It is because his two sons were embezzling the money from the temple, sleeping with women who came to the temple, and committing despicable sins against God and their community. And somehow, Eli, the father to these two sons, have not been able to correct them. I do not know if it was out of the parental love for his prodigal sons. Or fear of losing his two sons if he spoke the truth against them. We think that we often do not hear the signs from God. Maybe, we keep missing them because we only hear what we want to hear – affirming words, kinds words, encouraging words, the prosperity gospel that we put our trust in God, God will repay our faith and deeds with good health and possession. But we do not want to face our ugly reality.

But Eli boldly overcomes the fear of facing his reality by encouraging Samuel to speak to him what God told him. Eli wants to be attentive to the will of God rather than denying the truth and being kept in his own world. Despite its difficulties, Eli seeks to be guided by God to show him the way when he felt completely lost with his two sons. And that is what I find remarkable about the church as the body of Christ. Although all of us are not perfect in our thoughts and acts, we are called as the church that confesses our sins and brokenness before God and others. We are baptized into the community in which the Holy Spirit strengthens to grow in our love for God and love for God’s world. It is in the church we often hear the voice of God telling us how much we are loved by God, and we need to turn around.

As Eric Elenes explains, we might not have the Map Quest that lists all the direction from the beginning to the end. We might not have the GPS that immediately corrects our route when we feel lost. But the Spirit of God reveals and meets us like the second of thunder lightening so that we can see just a little further. As we do so, we learn to trust in the guidance of God who constantly walks with us in this spiritual journey, even if we cannot clearly see with our eyes yet. When we are willing to face our reality and follow the guidance of the Spirit, God would show us the way even through the others or the marginalized or unqualified that we expected the least.

 

 

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

 

– Thomas Merton

Movie Night on April 23

Come and join us with your families and children for a move night.
We will watch the BFG and share supper afterward. All are welcome.

 

Time: April 23 (Sunday) 4:00 pm – 6:00 pm

Place: Living Faith UMC (53 Grove St), Fellowship Hall (basement)

 

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“An orphan little girl befriends a benevolent giant who takes her to Giant Country, where they attempt to stop the man-eating giants that are invading the human world.” (- imdb.com)

Sermon: The Gift of Being Thunderstruck

Date: March 19, 2017

Text – Job 37:1-5

 

When I was in the middle school, I often rode my bike to the school. My house was in a countryside where the bus came only 7 times per day. Most of the kids had to walk to the school for 1 hour and 20 minutes. It is a wonderful time of fellowship speaking with one another. But from time to time, I was late in the morning and had to ride my bike, which only took me 25 minutes to the school. The trouble was that it would rain in the afternoon involving thunder and lightning. My trip back home riding on the bike which is mostly metal was basically a praying time. “Lord, I was not a good son to my parents. I did not treat my younger brother, as I should. I was thinking about the pretty girl from youth group while my father was preaching. But I have so many things to do in this world. If you spare my life this time, I will try to be a better son, brother, and Christian.” Somehow, I took the thunder and lighting as a sign of God’s speaking to me.

When we see the lightning and hear the thunder, we are often filled with awe or even fear. There are about 10 strike of lighting on Earth’s surface every single second. And every bolt can contain up to one billion volts of electricity. A lightning bolt can be 54,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is about five times hotter than the surface of the sun. And the lightning involves the thunder that is so loud shaking our ears. There is something about the thunder and lightning in a way that human history has often interpreted them as an instrument to convey the voice of God. Zeus, the god among the Greeks, is the god of thunder. Tahundi and Ivriz among the Anatolian cultures, and Baal among the Canaanites. One of the popular movies these days, Thor, also depicts a god that controls thunder. Thunder and lighting are powerful, majestic, loud, and out of control.

In the Hebrew culture, thunder and lightning were also seen as the voices of God. In Job 37, one of Job’s friends, Elihu, says, “Listen, listen to the thunder of God’s voice and the rumbling that comes from God’s mouth. God thunders with God’s majestic voice and God does not restrain the lightning when God’s voice is heard.” Although many Hebrew Bible scholars still debate, the consensus is that the story of Job is more like a saga to struggle with theological question, “Why do bad things happen to good people? Where do we find the presence of God in the midst of evil?” After Job lost his children, his property, and even his health, his three friends came and comforted him by staying silent for seven days. And the theological debate comes here. Elihu argues that human beings cannot fathom God because God is great in power and justice.

While thunder and lightning are mysterious even to the scientist, there are people who are struck by lightning. According to National Weather Service, there are about 318 million people in the U.S. in 2016. For the past 10 years, there are 310 people who were struck by lightning. (31 died and 279 injured) So, the odds of being struck by lightning are about 1 in million. It is very unlikely to happen to any of us but when that happens, I am sure that the impact is so deep and life-changing. And fro time to time, I believe that being thunderstruck happens to us in a mysterious way. I still remember Ted, a gentleman who was in his 90s, from my former church. Everytime I went to see him, he would tell me how he met his wife, June, in Toronto, Canada, how they rode the bus together, fell in love with each other, and gave her the first kiss. His body was aging. But his mind was sharp enough to tell the first moment of meeting his wife. It was electrifying for him.

Just like lightning can split a tree causing it to die in flame, when we are thunderstruck, it changes our lives completely. It alters our identity. In Gifts of the Dark Wood, Eric Elnes believes that being thunderstruck is like a sudden flash of insight or awareness that rocks our whole world. God may speak to us in audible voice. God sometimes could call us through our inner voice. But when we sense that, it is so electrifying that it changes who we are. It can be overwhelming in the first place. It can be seen as altering our life course. But we realize that being thunderstruck can call us to be authentic to whom we are meant to be. Faithful to what God calls us to be. It may not be possible to prove it scientifically with numbers. But being thunderstruck by the Holy Spirit goes beyond individual and impacts the community and world.

When Saul was struck by the light on his way to Damascus, he heard the voice of Christ saying, “Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He answered, “Do I know you?” “It is me, Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” While Saul was struck by the light and having conversation with the risen Christ, his company did not see anything or hear anything. But he was completely changed with new name – Paul. He became the apostle for the gentiles spreading the Good News in the world. Such is the history of Methodism. When John Wesley was attending a Moravian meeting on Aldersgate in 1738, he felt that his heart was strangely warmed. He felt converted in his heart and started to preach boldly that Christ is the One who forgives us our sins and reconciles us with God. The movement of Methodism started spreading not only in England, but also Europe and America.

Being thunderstruck did not happen to Paul or Wesley because of their effort. Rather, as lightning strikes first, the Holy Spirit comes to us, strikes us, and dramatically changes who we are. When black slaves suffered under oppression, they knew that they were nobody. They were stripped down their names, separated from their families, and suffered heavy york. But when they secretly got together in the woods to worship God, they knew that God touched them and gave them new identity – they were sons and daughters of God who created them in God’s image. So, one of the black gospel music goes like this, “I know I’ve been changed I know I’ve been changed I know I’ve been changed Angels in Heaven done signed my name.” Despite the thorny and rocky road ahead, they knew that God was not done with them but certainly lead them through the wilderness to finally arrive in the Promised Land.

Have you also been thunderstruck? Just like the odds of being thunderstruck literally, it may not happen on a daily basis. But when it happens, it completely changes who you are. If it is God who strikes us with thunder and lightning, we feel closer to God and understand what purpose God has in our lives. I have such an experience. When I was junior in college, I was still clueless not knowing what to do with my life. I was at seminary studying theology but did not have conviction that I was at the right place. My father, at that time, happened to minister to a struggling congregation in urban setting. He asked me to work for him as assistant pastor mainly working with the Sunday school. Every Sunday, I was supposed to lead the worship service for little children and preach to them. What a misery it was for me! I felt that I had nothing to offer because I was not even sure that I believed in God.

And then I felt thunderstruck. One day, I and my family went to visit my younger brother who was serving in the military. On our way back home, we had a terrible car accident. Our car crashed the car in front of us. And the car behind us crashed us at the speed of 70 miles per hour. Just one split moment, I thought that we all died that afternoon. But miraculously everyone survived the horrible car accident. After reporting the accident to the police officers, we got into the car. My father said, “Let’s pray. Dear God, thank you for sparing our lives today. You have a reason to give us another day. Let us not take our lives for granted but count our blessings everyday.” His voice was trembling and I really felt that some miraculous power saved my life that day. I felt that my life changed completely.

I started to read the Bible not because I felt judged by God. But I wanted to. I started to pray to God because I felt deeply connected with God. A month later, I was sleeping in my room. At dawn, I felt that my heart was beating so loudly. And I said, “God, help me.” And out of the pounding, a voice came to me calling my name. “Song Bok, Song Bok.” For the split moment, I intuitively knew that this was the voice of God that I had been waiting for so many years. I answered, “Here I am, Lord. Please speak to me.” And the voice responded, “You know, son? I love you very much.” And I responded back, “I love you too, Lord.” “Don’t worry. I will be with you until the end.” I still do not know if it was a vision or dream. But that completely changed who I was. That Sunday, I went to the church and stood before the Sunday school children and said, “Hey, kids. I met God last night.” And I could see that the eyes of children were filled with wonders and excitement.

I confess with you that from time to time, I wonder what I am doing as pastor when I feel tired, goes through conflict, or lack in ministerial skills. But just like thunder reverberates, my personal encounter of God always brings me back knowing that it was God who first sought me and changed me. And I invite you to think about your own moment of being thunderstruck in your life journey. It could be the audible voice of God. It could be inner voice, or even insight that completely changed who you are. Although we cannot understand clearly how it happened to us, we discern that we were thunderstruck at the moment so that God could meet us, speak to us, and call us. It might have been a time when you felt resolve about a decision, an “a-ah!” or it may have been simply a time when you were awed by God’s presence through nature, through a person or an incident and you experienced peace and joy, if only momentary. Take about 2 minutes each to share. If you would prefer simply reflecting inwardly or journaling, you are welcome to do that.

 

Lenten Small Group Study

During Lent, our church will use Eric Elnes’ Gifts of the Darkwood as the guide for the worship and small group study. If you wish, you can purchase the book through our church at $12.00.

 

  • Ash Wednesday – Where We Find Ourselves
  • Lent 1 (March 5) – The Gift of Uncertainty
  • Lent 2 (March 12) – The Gift of Emptiness
  • Lent 3 (March 19) – The Gift of Being Thunderstruck
  • Lent 4 (March 26) – The Gift of Getting Lost
  • Lent 5 (April 2) – The Gift of Temptation
  • Palm/Passion (April 9) – The Gift of Misfits
  • Maundy Thursday (April 13) – The Gift of Disappearing
  • Easter Sunday (April 16) – Where Do We Go from Here?

 

 

Small Group Study Schedule

  • Sunday Morning – 9:30 AM (starting from March 5)
  • Wednesday Morning – 10:00 AM (starting from March 8)
  • Wednesday Evening – 5:00 PM (with pizza) (starting from March 8)