Sermon: Be Clothed with the Power of God

Date: May 28, 2017

 

Text – Luke 24:44-52

Title – Be Clothed with the Power of God

 

The other day, I was visiting a parishioner from our church at Davis Place. When the nurse saw me coming, she seemed delighted. You don’t see many people seem delighted these days to see a pastor or priest walking around. But she asked me if I could spare some time to go and meet an elderly woman. I agreed to do so and walked in to her room. As soon as I entered the room, I realized that I just stepped a farewell moment. She was surrounded by her children and grandchildren who were crying with tears and giving kisses. She seemed half conscious but responsive as the people said how much she meant to all them, how much they all loved her. In the middle of farewell, I was invited to say a prayer for her bidding God to embrace her soul. As I came out of the room, I was also emotional sharing the grief and pain of the family.

Most of us are not fans of farewell. We think that we are ready. But when the moment comes, we tend to be emotional with memories of love. But it is part of our life. It is what it means to be human. As the high school students graduate, their parents need to say farewell to them if they move away for college. It is a farewell. When your family or friend decides to move to another area, it is a farewell. When we retire from our work, we think about our final words and speech for our co-workers. It is a farewell. When our family is ordered to go abroad and stationed for military work, it is a farewell. When a Methodist pastor is called by bishop to move to another church, it is a farewell. When our loving ones depart from this world, it is a farewell. All these moments become emotional with sadness because of the lives shared.

In our scripture reading, Jesus bids farewell to his disciples. The Book of Acts tells us that Jesus stayed with his disciples for 40 days after his resurrection. After reminding them why he had to die and be resurrected, he is about to taken into heaven. In Christian calendar, we call today “Ascension Day.” Although the scripture tells us that the disciples were filled with joy, I wonder if the farewell was just a joyful moment for everyone. I wonder if these was anyone who held onto Jesus’ foot saying, “Lord, you cannot leave us. We are not ready yet. Besides, who would believe that you are resurrected from death if they cannot see you physically? We need you at least another year. Please stay with us.”

The other day, I was working with the Community Café on Friday. As I was doing the dishes in the kitchen, a gentleman wanted to engage in conversation with me. When I told him that I was the pastor, it seemed that he wanted to argue with me why Christianity is all lies. He said, “Who believe such a lie that Jesus came two thousand years ago and died and resurrected? Can you prove it with any scientific evidence?” Well, if Jesus stayed two thousand years more with us till today, I could have easily showed him the physical evidence. I can imagine that there could be no war among religions. But I do not have such so I asked him what he believed. He answered, “Oh, I believe that the aliens came to the earth and created the whole civilization.”

Despite the grief in farewell and solution to doubt about his resurrection, Jesus ascends to heaven in the story today. I think that he does so because he submits to the will of God in love. Jesus submits to the will of God willingly and lovingly. In Christian doctrine, we believe that God is three in one. God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Although they are equal in status, they share one substance which is love. God exists in relationship but submits to the will of God out of love, not out of coercion.

WM Paul Young, the author of The Shack writes insightfully in his book, “Submission can be a beautiful word of relationship or a terrifying word of power and control. God is relational and therefore submits because God’s nature if other-centered and self-giving love.”[1]  As the very existence of God is relational, person to person, Christ shows us what it means to submit to another out of love when he prays at Mountain Olive before being arrested. The gospel of Luke tells us that he was in great pain prayed so sincerely that his sweat fell to the ground like drops of blood. And he prayed, “Father, if you will, please remove this cup from me. But do what you want, not what I want.” (Luke 22:42) He submits to the will of God even sacrificing his own life for the sake of others.

Jesus who submits to the will of God also shows what it means to serve others out of love. The night before he was arrested, he took a towel around his waist and lowered his back to wash the feet of his disciples. It was not a gesture of friend, but servant. Peter certainly could not let him do it because he was his teacher, master, and Son of God. So, he said, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus responded, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” (John 13:8) His submission to God and others is grounded in love, not coercion or obligation. And out of his love for God, Jesus ascends to heaven so that the Holy Spirit would come and empower his disciples and followers.

Second, Jesus ascends to heaven so that the Holy Spirit would come and empower the disciples to go to the world. When Jesus turned 30 years old, he started his ministry publically. For three years, he travelled constantly, performing miracles, teaching the crowd, healing the sick, and proclaiming that the kingdom of God was already here in this world. At the same time, he nurtured his disciples for three years so that they would continue the work that Jesus had done giving the authority and power in the Holy Spirit. Although they all ran away from him, betrayed him three times, and still did not understand why Jesus had to go through death and resurrection, Jesus still gave them the power of God that turned them from people of sorrow to people of joy, people of hopelessness to people of purpose.

In the past, I once met a pastor who said, “Oh, my congregation has grown so attached to me. They tell me that I am the only one who can minister in this church. The bishop better not send me to another church. Because if she does, my church will stop participating in giving the mission share to the conference.” When a pastor elevates himself or herself as the only person favored by the congregation, I am very skeptical that the person is doing what Jesus told us or showed us to do. As the mission of the United Methodist Church is to “make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world,” our job description is to empower people to follow the way of Christ – be loving, forgiving, merciful, reconciling, and pursue justice and righteousness of God.

The Ascension of Jesus, therefore, describes the mission of the Church in the world. Jesus told his disciples, “You are witnesses of these things” (v.48) – who Jesus is and what Jesus did.” Through our faith and work, we are to be the witnesses of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. So, when the person at the Community Café challenged me saying, “Prove if Jesus was really resurrected.” My response to him was, “Christianity is not about proving with scientific fact. It is about living the story.” People whom we serve might come from places of despair, poverty, brokenness, or sickness. But when we serve out of love of Christ, they experience the power of God that transforms their lives. They also wish to follow the way of Christ by finding joy and love in their lives. They also wish to serve others.

And finally, Jesus ascends to heaven so that we become a people of anticipation and hope. In Acts 1:11, it says that the disciples looked up into the sky until they could not see him anymore. Suddenly, two men dressed in white clothes stood beside them and told them, “Why are you standing here and looking up into the sky? Jesus has been taken to heaven. But he will come back in the same way that you have seen him go.” The promise is that Jesus will come again even though no one knows the time. He will come and complete the story of redemption in fullness. Whenever we share the bread and cup, the liturgy reads, “By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world, until Christ comes in final victory and we feast at his heavenly banquet.”

When my parents come, they usually arrive at the Boston Logan Airport. From Korea to Boston, it is about 20 hours trip including the layover. I can imagine how exhausting the trip is. But when we meet them at the gate, they beam in joy and delighted to see us as if they forgot the fatigue from the trip. And I see that is true with other families at the gate. When a soldier comes home, he or she is welcomed by the family and friends with tears being delighted to reunited again. Until then, they can only see each other through video chat on their smartphones. They can communicate through emails. Likewise, we discern the will of God through the Bible. We learn from our ancestors of faith. We encounter Christ from those we serve. But the final day comes when we will see the face of Christ directly in joy.

As we gather to worship, gather to serve others, and gather to wait, we hear the words of Christ who says, “I am sending upon you what my Father promised. But stay here until you have been clothed with power from on high.” I know that some of us struggle today. Some of us doubt. Some of us feel lost. But the good news is that Christ promises to us that God has not forgotten about you. God will send you what God has promised – the Holy Spirit who will clothe you with the power of God. God will give you the strength for today and tomorrow. God will give you the power to forgive and reconcile. God will give you the power to testify to the truth. God will give you the power to serve others and make disciples and change the world. And God will give you the power to wait until Christ comes in final victory over death and enjoined by the communion of the saints. No more tears. No more sadness. May God equip us with the power from on high today. Amen.

[1] W. B. Paul Young, Lies We Believe about God, 47.

Fundraising Dinner for Youth Mission Trip 2017

Please come and support our youth group for mission trip to Philadelphia this year.

 

Date: June 3 (Saturday) 5:00 pm – 6:30 pm

Place: Living Faith UMC (53 Grove St. Putnam, CT 06260)

Ticket Price: $10 per Adult; $5 per Child

Menu: Lasagna, Salad, and Desert

 

*Take-Out is also available. Please email livingfaith53.umc@gmail.com or call 860-928-9705 for order in advance.

 

lasagna-5660129.jpg

 

Sermon: Follow the Shepherd

Date – May 6, 2017

Text – John 10:1-10; Psalm 23

Title – Follow the Shepherd

In 2006, I joined a mission team from New England Conference and went to Nicaragua for a week. It was a time of spiritual renewal for me as I witnessed how the Christians gathered to proclaim Christ as their Lord, feed the children, and educate them. One day, we visited a small church on the top of a mountain that I cannot recall its name now. I was honestly surprised that people could live in that place because the top of mountain seemed to lack many resources – water, food, and electricity. I still remember the joy on the faces of about 30 children that received some gifts from the mission team.

Several boys took me out to outside the church and showed me a horse tied to a tree. I told them, “I have never ridden a horse before.” But they insisted. Well, I thought that I could ride the horse like I used to watch a western movie with cowboys. As I gave the sign, “Go!” guess what happened? The horse did not even move his foot. The children were giggling watching me struggling on the horse. When one young boy gave a command, the horse started moving slowly. Even the horse knew whom to listen.

In today’s reading, Jesus converses with his disciples with the Pharisees watching them, “I am the shepherd.” Of course, we are used to the image of Jesus as the shepherd who looks over the little lamb in his arms in the drawing. What we don’t think about is that if Jesus is the shepherd, we are the sheep. Our popular image of the sheep is that it is innocent, peaceful, and calm. But sheep is a vulnerable creature.

First, it is vulnerable to the predators. When I was a kid, I used to go and see my grandparents in the countryside. Outside the yard, they had a couple of goats with small horns. Although they were small, they would spot me and ready to attack me with their horns at any time. At least, the goats were able to defend themselves despite their size. But the sheep is different. They have no means to protect themselves. So they tend to herd together for protection. Or, they flee from the predators.

Second, the sheep is vulnerable to itself. In the Highlands of Scotland, a sheep would often wander off into the rocks and get into places that they couldn’t get out of. The grass on these mountains is very sweet and the sheep like it, and they will jump down ten or twelve feet, and then they can’t jump back again. They would also vulnerable to themselves as they would wander from the flock and left behind.

And I believe that is why Jesus uses the image of our relationship between himself and us as the shepherd and sheep. The sheep needs the shepherd not just for guidance but also survival. Without the protection and guidance, the sheep would not be able to survive one day. Moreover, Jesus says that he has come so that we may have the abundant life. The abundant life that overflows with joy and happiness. The abundant life that gives a purpose of our life in this world, and relationship that enriches us.

Of course, some of us might think, “That is not true. I am in control of what happens in my life. I am not a sheep. Rather, I am strong enough to defend myself and guide myself.” I am successful enough with my career. I am not like those who constantly worry where the money comes from tomorrow. I am healthy enough. I am not like those who struggle with addictions. I am well surrounded by my family and friends. I am not like those who feel lonely and vulnerable. We can go on saying, “I have a good self-esteem. I have my principle. I have my education. They are what guide my life. I am a pretty independent person.

But from time to time, we come to a point in our life that what we considered as the foundation of our life comes to an end. When we realize that it is gone, we feel stripped and vulnerable. We feel depressed and feel lost. I can share with you that I went through such times in my life. There was a time when I felt like I was a young handsome man with good education and promising future. But there came a time that destroyed my self-esteem, my health, and relationship. My witness is that those cannot be the shepherd that guide my life.

While the sheep is a vulnerable creature, Jesus calls us sheep because it recognizes the voice of its master. It intuitively knows the voice of the shepherd who was there when the sheep was born, fed it, and guides to the green pastures. A group of tourists visited a farm with sheep on the hill in Norway. The shepherd invited the tourists to call the sheep and see if they would respond. They said the same words that the shepherd said. Occasionally, one or two sheep would raise their head but they do not move at all. But when the shepherd calls, they not only raise their head but also run to the shepherd. They feel comfort and love from their master.

This past month has been rough for me and my family as some of you know. The week before the Holy Week, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I honestly felt like walking through the valley of death. My younger brother and sister-in-law in Toronto decide to go back to Korea to help my mother for the surgery and recovery. I felt very vulnerable. For days, I did not even want to call my family in Korea because I was afraid of the next news I would hear. There is a Korean saying, “A monk cannot shave his own head.” I am the pastor at the church providing spiritual care for the people. But I felt really vulnerable at the moment.

But then I realized that while my mother was expecting the surgery, God was also calling me to deeper relationship with God. God wanted me to raise my head and flee to God as God called my name. You read the Bible. And you realize that God who laid the foundation of the world in the beginning knows us better than anyone in this world. And we call our God the Good Shepherd because this God strangely sacrifices His own life for the sake of the sheep. Jesus warns of those who steal, kill, and destroy their flock. Although they might act like the shepherd, Jesus calls them the thief.

Jesus, instead, lays his life for his flock. He gives his life so that we can have new life in him. According to the story from the Highlands of Scotland, when they sheep wander off and stuck in the cliff, the shepherd will wait until they are so faint and they cannot stand. And they put a rope around him and he will go over and pull that sheep up out of the trouble. Some might ask, “Why don’t they go down there when the sheep first gets there?” The answer is that “They would dash right over the precipice and be killed if they did.”

When we feel the most vulnerable, we wonder why our good shepherd is not responding. We complain that there is no God in the midst of trouble and suffering. But I believe that Christ our Shepherd is watching over us right there. It is often when we let go of our ego, our own ways, our own wisdom, then we realize that the Holy Spirit gives us the wisdom where God is leading us as our shepherd.

My mother’s surgery went well. The doctors are taking good care of her for her recovery process. In our phone conversation, my mother said, “You know son, our church lost a person last year to pancreatic cancer. He was only 58 years old. I cannot imagine what he and his family went through. And I feel that God is calling me to be more loving and compassionate toward the cancer patients in the future.” I realized that in the midst of her struggle, she was walking with her shepherd who was calling her into deeper relationship with God.

And I also invite you to recognize the voice of your shepherd. I invite you to realize how much you all mean to your shepherd. If God, the Creator of the universe, is willing to die for us, I believe that there is nothing in this world that can deny how much God loves us. I hope that you give your hand to your shepherd promising to walk humbly and walk in the light and righteousness of God. I hope that you go deeper in your relationship with God always discerning the guidance and voice of your shepherd.

Sermon: Our Road to Emmaus

Date – April 30, 2017

 

Text – Luke 24:13-35

Title – Our Road to Emmaus

 

A man approached a little league baseball game one afternoon. He asked a boy in the dugout hat the score was. The boy responded, “Eighteen to nothing – we are behind.” “Boy,” said the spectator, “I’ll bet you are discouraged.” “Why should I be discouraged?” replied the little boy. “We haven’t even gotten up to bat yet!”

I admire how this boy is hopeful even down by 18 in the baseball game. But if we were talking about the Red Sox game, I guess many of us would walk out thinking that we just wasted our money. We would simply walk away.

In our lives, there are many moments that we feel like that it is over. There is no chance of coming back from it. When there seems to be no hope and despair looms in, many people tend to take mental flight from their reality. Some go to the market and buy a big pint of ice cream. Some spend so many hours watching TV. Psychologists call it “mental escape from reality.”

And I believe that is what the two disciples are doing in our reading from the Gospel of Luke. They are traveling to a village called Emmaus which is about seven miles from Jerusalem. The scripture does not tell us exactly why they are traveling. But my prayerful assumption is that they are trying to escape from their reality because it is disappointing and ugly. I do that with my wife, “Honey, let’s go to Sonic for some milkshake.” She knows that our drive to Sonic in Smithfield gives us enough time to discuss what is happening.

While the disciples are walking along, a stranger comes near and starts to walk with the two disciples. He asks, “What are you discussing with each other?” They stopped their walk looking sad and unbelievable. “Don’t’ you know what happened in Jerusalem?” The stranger asks, “What happened?” They say, “Jesus of Nazareth, a prophet mighty in deed and word, was condemned to death on the cross. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”

They say, “We had hoped…” Just like we say, “We had hoped that our job was going to make us happy…” But the statistics say that half of Americans feel unhappy about their jobs today. “We had hoped that our new-born child was going to make our marriage more solid…” John Jacobs, the author of All You Need Is Love & Other Lies, says that child is a serious threat to your marriage. “We had hoped that the doctor would be able to do something for my husband who just got diagnosed with cancer…” “We had hoped that our new president and government would do a better job than the previous one…” We are surrounded by “We had hoped…”

And when we feel that our hope does not meet our expectation, we travel to Emmaus. We try to escape the reality of brokenness and hopelessness. Maybe we think that there is nothing we can do about it. So, we just hope that the time would bring the healing or make some progress. Or we simply think that it is a time to move on.

For many Methodists and non-Methodists, yesterday it felt like walking our road to Emmaus. Karen Oliveto is a Methodist minister who served Glide UMC, the fifth largest congregation in the U.S. for 8 years. Last year, she was elected as a bishop and appointed to Rocky area. But some clergy and laity in South Central Jurisdictional Conference brought a charge on her to void her election. It is because she is a lesbian who has been married to her spouse, Robin, a deaconess in the UMC. Our Methodist doctrine still considers homosexuality as incompatible with the Christian teaching.

After 4 days trial, the Judicial Council ruled that her election as bishop is against the church law. To be honest, it was shocking but not surprising. It is because the Book of Discipline has not been changed yet regarding human sexuality. But many people are disappointed because they hoped that maybe the Judicial Council would affirm her election as a bishop and affirm our church slogan as “Open Hearts, Open Minds, and Open Doors.” And I see that people from other denominations invite Methodist clergy or those seeking ordination simply walk away. Our hope was not realized. It will never happen. So, we find ourselves walking toward Emmaus.

I do not know how many Methodists feel the pain from the decision by the Judicial Council. Maybe many are likely to say, “That is more social issue than spiritual issue. Church needs to talk more about the spiritual issues.” Frederick Buechner interprets Emmaus as “the place we go to in order to escape – a bar, a movie, wherever it is we throw up our hands and say, “Let the whole damned thing go hang.” It makes no difference anyway.” Emmaus may be buying a new suit or a new car or smoking more cigarettes than you really want, or reading a second-rate novel or even writing one. Emmaus may be going to church on Sunday.”[1]

In the midst of despair and disappointment, the two disciples engage conversation with the stranger. As a matter of fact, they realize that they are learning from the stranger when it is supposed to be them who know more about who Jesus is. They urged the stranger strongly and said, “Stay with us because it is almost evening.” They share hospitality with him by offering a table and food. As the stranger took bread, blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them, their eyes were opened and they recognized him. It was Jesus, their teacher who died on the cross in Jerusalem. Before they could say any words, Jesus then vanished from their sight.

The disciples did not even know who Jesus was until then. But they embraced the stranger and invited him to the center of the table. They gave the privilege of breaking the bread and blessing it to the stranger. In the midst of sharing hospitality, they realize that it was Jesus who had been walking along with them in their journey to Emmaus. Hospitality is not just that we act friendly with strangers with gentle smiles and handshakes. Rather, hospitality is to invite the strangers to the center of the table in which we are willing to lay down our own stories and tradition and learning from them.

Bishop William Willimon describes how stranger determines the vitality and identity of the church. In his former congregation, the people welcomed as a member a woman who was due to her addiction, homeless. As family was assigned to lead the church in receiving Alice as Christ would receive them. They had two years of successes and disappointments, frustrations and wonderful surprises, hard work that stretched patience and finances. When Alice had been off alcohol for a year and was thriving in a new job, Willimon thanked the woman who was instrumental in her recovery. “You should thank Alice,” she responded. “Before she joined Trinity, we were in danger of becoming a club for sweet old folks. Alice made us a church!”[2]

While many churches say all kinds of nice things about them, it is actually strangers who often come from the margin of our society who reveal the true identity of who they are. We welcome you. But here are all the things we want you to follow if you want to be part of our church. We want you to come and join our church but you cannot be the leaders of our church. We want you to come but please don’t stir the water by talking about justice and righteousness. We just want peace in our church family.

As I also struggle with the conflict regarding homosexuality within the United Methodist Church, I come to it not as an issue to be solved, but as my memory of Union UMC in Boston where I attended as seminarian. One Sunday, the pastor invited any strangers to come and join the church by saying, “The door is open.” A gay couple, Bill and Mike, walked to the front and gave their hands to the pastor. Bill said, “We love God. We want to find our church family. But every church we tried, we were told that we could not join them. But here we find our spiritual home. We want to be here with you.” And they wept together in front of the congregation.

Mother Pilgrim, being in her 90s, slowly walked toward the couple and gave them a hug. And everyone including little children in the sanctuary came forward to give them a hug. She said, “Welcome home.” There were tears and laughter as these people finally found a place where they felt embraced as they were, as God embraced them as God’s beloved children. We talk about church doctrine. We talk about what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6 or Galatians 5. But when people who were rejected by the church and community experienced the love of Christ, our theological and ideological debate dissolved.

Many try to find the presence of God from elegant music, praise band, or sight-provoking visuals. People declare that “this is a sacred space” when they feel something majestic that comes across much bigger than themselves. But I felt the presence of God in that moment when the strangers are welcome and invited to the center of the table. When we gather as one community and break the bread together with those who are rejected and denied by our society, that is when the face of Christ was revealed to us and realize that Christ has been walking along with us as strangers.

After the disciples realized that the stranger was Jesus, they got up and returned to Jerusalem. They go back to proclaim that “The Lord has risen indeed!” They were initially escaping from Jerusalem because it reminded them of the death of their teacher. The sign of failure. The sign of disappointment. But now, they go back to the same place to proclaim the good news in Christ. “He is risen! We have seen him!”

Although many of us want to escape the reality of disappointment saying, “We had hoped…” Christ calls us back to the messy place in our life and world. It is because the cross that symbolizes the ultimate sign of failure and death turns into the sign of new life and resurrection. Christ calls us to go back and proclaim that Christ is risen today. And that is why I believe that Christ walks with our church today although it is not perfect and it is often broken in its system. In the midst of brokenness and death, we are called to witness the resurrection of Christ who overcomes alienation with love.

In the midst of frustration and anger within the UMC today, my prayer is that we encounter the risen Christ through the strangers that we never expected. When we realize that Christ has been walking alongside with us through them, we are called to go back to Jerusalem where we can surely proclaim that Christ is risen today. And Christ will give us new life in what seems like death. As my Mother Saints used to sing, I am gonna join them and sing, “I’m gonna stay on the battlefield. I’m gonna stay on the battlefield. I’m gonna stay on the battlefield till I die…”

How about us this morning? Are you also walking your road to Emmaus because you are disappointed? You had hoped something good from your work, your relationship, your health, your church but disappointed that it did not happen? I invite you to recognize who is walking with you in your journey today. Although many of us tend to find some sign through extraordinary things, Christ is already walking with us as ordinary strangers inviting us to open our hearts with them and walk with them together. Maybe, the United Methodist Church needs to change its sign from “We welcome you” to “We need you, strangers.” Amen.

[1] NIB: Luke & John

[2] William Willimon, Fear of the Other, 71-72