Sermon: God with Us

September 16, 2018, Celtic Worship: Bless to Me #1

 

Text: Psalm 113

Title: God with Us

 

Many of us feel that we are always running. We wake up. We are late for the work or for the school for our children. We hurry to where we need to be. When we are busy, there is always someone who is blocking our way in front. We often grumble, “Why do they have to block the road at this time and do the construction work?” We quickly stop by a coffee house. We hurry to work. As we sit, we quickly go over the agendas for the day. I need to get this done. I need to meet someone. I need to travel to a meeting. We go and shop at the grocery store with so many on the lists. We come home. Our children are back from the school. We have dinner, but we rarely talk. Mother asks her child how his day was at the school. “Fine. I am done with the dinner. Can I just go to my room and play the game?” The couple sit at the table and frustrated with all the bills and mortgage that are due. Everyone is tired. They go to bed.

Every day, it is the same routine. It is about our works. It is about our children. It is about our marriage. It is about our plan for an upcoming vacation. It is about paying the bills. It is about checking with our doctor. It is about driving from one place to another. It is about volunteering here and there. It is about exercising at the gym. It is about planning for the retirement and how my pension will pay all the bills. Although we all come from different places, if you are like me, we tend to fill our schedule with so many to-do lists. After all, that is one of many legacies from the Protestants – the work ethics. We need to work every day and every hour. That is also what we teach our children. If you want to succeed with your career or education, you need to work hard and earn it. And often working hard means being busy.

In our busy schedule, whether retired or not retired, young or old, we often push God to the margin of our time because we just do not have time for God. Well, I go to the church on Sunday and give my time to God through worship. It is like another checkbox. Did I take my medication for today? Check. Did I call my friend for our upcoming dinner? Check. Did I buy the Christmas gifts for my children? Check. With all the lists in our schedule, we might ask, “Did I have time to read the Bible? Did I have time to worship God?” Check. If our daily schedule is like a zero-sum, we try to allocate our time to everyone who deserves our attention with equal piece of a pie. But we often experience that our life does not have time to give full attention to God, our relationship with our Creator. We just don’t’ have a time for prayer.

What if our everydayness is a form of prayer? What if our prayer is immersed in everything we do? We embark on a journey, or pilgrimage, to deepen our knowledge of Celtic Christianity from today for the next seven weeks. When we say Celtic Christianity, we refer to certain features of Christianity, distinctive from Western Christianity including the Catholic Church and Protestants. The word, the Celt, implies wanderers who resided outside the Roman Empire. By region, it covers Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall, the Isle of Man, and Galicia in Spain. While many cities in the Roman Empire became urbanized with the philosophical and cultural influence that tended to rationalize Christianity, many people in Celtic Christianity lived in rural areas, touching the stone and water, overlooking the ocean, feeling the breeze from the hill, looking the sky touching the earth.

We will have more time to learn about these people. But one of the features common to many Celtic Christians was this. They lived their lives in the form of prayer. They considered their waking, breathing, working, resting, cooking, cleaning, or sleeping as a way to pray and please God. They lived their lives in a way that Emmanuel – God is with Us, was not just a statement of faith, but reality. Because they believed that their very being was grounded in the presence of God, many of their prayer words included, encircle, encompass, uphold, and surround. As Christ came through the incarnation and dwelled among people, Celtic Christians believed that God was in every moment of their lives from the morning to evening.

In Psalm 113, the Psalmist sings, “Praise the Lord, Praise the name of the Lord. From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the Lord is to be praised.” We encounter the word “praise” in the Bible so many times. But there are seven different specific meanings to “praise.” The one used in Psalm 113 is Hallal. When we say, “Hallelujah,” it comes from this base word, “Hallal.” While the other Hebrew words for praise are translated as “praise God with extended hands, praise God with a musical instrument, praise God with knees on the ground,” Hallal is this. “To praise, to boast, to celebrate, to be clamorously foolish.” When we often pray, it is often about what we ask of God. “God, I want you to do this for me.” There is nothing wrong with it. But when we speak of Celtic blessing, it mainly our offering of a prayer of gratitude. We bless God for what God has done and given us.

Of course, we often have a hard time of praying to God or praising God in times of difficulties. How can we sing of the glory of God in times of death and sorrow? How can we praise God in times of earthquake and hurricane? How can we celebrate God in times of illness and emptiness? The tradition tells us that Jesus sang Psalm 113 along with his disciples before he went to pray at Mount Olive where he would be arrested by the soldiers and priests. In sensing the imminent danger and peril, Jesus still did not forget to praise God who was surely walking with him. Although we tend to have our own picture of the destination of success, health, and victory, Celtic Christians understood the Holy Spirit who blows where it wills. Jesus’ praise of God stemmed from his trust in God who knows where we come from and knows where we will go.

St. Patrick is one great example, a person who never stopped praising and praying to God, especially never losing his praise under challenging circumstances. In the 5thcentury, Patrick was born in Roman Britain. At the age of 16, he was captured by a group of Irish pirates. He was enslaved in Ireland for six years. In Confession, Patrick says that his time in captivity was critical to his spiritual development. It was during this time of slavery he encountered God and became a Christian while working as a shepherd and praying to God. Later, he escaped from slavery by traveling to a port, two hundred miles away. Although Patrick became a free man, he then had a vision in his dream that God was calling him to go back to Ireland and be a missionary. And he did. And he wrote a poem and prayer right before converting the king of Ireland. It is called “Breastplate.”

 

Christ with me

Christ before me

Christ behind me

Christ in me,

Christ beneath me,

Christ above me,

Christ on my right,

Christ on my left,

Christ when I lie down,

Christ when I sit down,

Christ when I arise,

Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,

Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,

Christ in every eye that sees me,

Christ in every ear that hears me

 

For St. Patrick and many Celtic Christians who have gone before us, prayer was not a practice to be added to our busy schedule. Instead, prayer was the mode of our being. We praise God when we wake up for giving us another day of blessing. We praise God when we breathe for there is air provided by God. We praise God when we drink coffee, for those who worked hard to plant the beans, grew them, roasted them, and brewed them for us. We praise God when we are stuck in the traffic so we can sing a hymn praising God without minding others. We praise God when we sit at the table for a meal, for the day God has given us, for the friends our children met, for the meals that many worked hard. If we believe that God fills the earth with the grace of God, we let God also fill our hearts with gratitude, joy, imagination, love, and peace.

For this coming week, I would like to suggest this as a way of prayer for us. Adam Hamilton is pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection. He once preached a sermon on baptism and invited his congregation to remember their baptism each day. To do so, he prepared a prayer card and encouraged his audience to hang it in their shower and recited each time they stepped into the shower. The prayer goes as follows,

 

“Lord, as I enter the water to bathe, I remember my baptism

Wash me by your grace. Fill me with your Spirit

Renew my soul

I pray that I might live as your child today and honor you in all that I do.”

 

Some of you might think that this is too long. Then I encourage you to say this instead,

“I am a child of God.” Let each morning begin with praise of God who walks with us from the sunrise to the sunset. Let each morning start with gratitude remembering that it is God who gives us another day with purpose. Let each morning also begin with excitement for what God will be doing in this world through us, and with us.

Sunday School @ 9:30 am, Worship Service @ 10:45 am

On September 9, we celebrate Homecoming Sunday with starting the new year of Sunday school.

Our Sunday school is from 9:30 am to 10:30 am. We have several dedicated teachers who are not only parents of young children but teachers with big hearts. Our Sunday school is  offered to Pre-K, elementary, Middle school this year. We have also the adult class that takes place at the same time.

Our worship time changes now to 10:45 am. We welcome anyone who explores their relationship with God and desires to deepen it through passionate worship. Our worship integrates both traditional and contemporary music.

We welcome you to our church. We invite you to find new church home here. We wish to be your church family.

Vacation Bible School

Our church is hosting an exciting VBS this year with the theme of “Rolling River Rampage” Please send your children (Pre-K to Elementary) so that they can learn what it means to adventure in our lives trusting in the hands of God.

 

Time

July 27 (Friday) 6:00 pm – 8:30 pm

July 28 (Saturday) 10:00 am – 3:00 pm

 

Place

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

 

Online Registration

 

Small Group Study in May/June

Our small group study will meet to discuss Our Strangely Warmed Hearts. 

Rev. Karen P. Oliveto, the author, was elected as a bishop of the United Methodist Church in 2016. She was the first woman to serve as the senior pastor at Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco, the fifth largest congregation of the UMC. She is also the first openly lesiban bishop.

The United Methodist Church will gather for Special Conference in 2019 in which we as denomiation will set the course for its future especially regarding our doctrinal stance of homosexuality. The Council of Bishops has adopted the suggestion by the Commission of a Way Forward with One Church plan that endorses theological flexibility for each pastor, congregatoin, and annual conference.

While the future of the UMC is unclear at the moment, we encourage our congregation to pray for our denomination first. We also invite our congregation to be equipped and prepared more theologically and spiritually by studying the history, stories, and theological argument of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters within the UMC.

 

Schedule

May 27 (Sunday) 9:30 am – 10:30 am  Chapter 1: The Gay Liberation Movement

June 3 (Sunday) 9:30 am – 10:30 am  Chapter 2: The UMC and Homosexuality

June 10 (Sunday) 9:30 am – 10:30 am Chapter 3: Here I am, Chapter 5: Coming Out While Going In, Chapter 5: Living at the Intercsection

June 17 (Sunday) 9:30 am – 10:30 am  Chapter 6: How Long, O Lord? Chapter 7: Closets No More, Chapter 8: We Shal Be Made Perfect in Love in This Life

 

The book is availalbe in the church. The book price is $10.

 

Laughing with God!

We are celebrating Easter on April Fools’ Day this year. One might say, “Christ is risen.” “Really?” “Well, it is April Fool’s Day.” It is something that does not make sense scientifically. But it is a witness that has passed down to us through the Church from the empty tomb. On this day, the religious authority, military threat, fear, and death became objects of God’s laughter when Christ was risen from death. We invite you to join us for five weeks sermon series and small group study with a theme, “April Fools! Laughing with God”
April 1 (Easter) – Laughing with God at Death
April 8 – Laughing with God at the Impossible
April 15 – Laughing with God at Legalism
April 22 – Laughing with God at Respectability
April 29 – Laughing with God at Life
The small group study is at 9:30 am on Sunday. Our worship starts at 10:45 am. We invite you to join us and laugh with God together.
*The sermon series and small group study are developed by Doug Damron, Jonathon Kollmann, Jim Stauffer.

LaughingWithGod_neon_web

Easter Egg Hunt

We invite you to come and join us for Easter Egg Hunt with your family and children.

ALL ARE WELCOME! 

Place: Parsonage (26 Eden St, Putnam CT 06260)

Time: March 31 (Saturday) 12:00 pm – 2:00 pm

 

Lunch with hot dogs and burgers

We will play some games that are fun and meaningful for the children.

 

If you have any question, please contact Pastor Bob at 508-685-6291 or revbobjon@gmail.com

 

Happy Easter!!

Sermon: What Kind of God?

Date: November 19, 2017

 

Text: Matthew 25:14-30

Title: What Kind of God?

 

Last night, our church hosted Music Concert for the People of Puerto Rico and Mexico. I was surprised that we had many people attending on Saturday evening. I was notified after the concert that we raised about $1700 to be given to UMCOR. My gratitude goes to everyone who performed, sang, shared the stories, and served foods. There is something that I need to confess this morning though. The idea of the concert was not my idea. In September after the earthquake in Mexico and hurricane in Puerto Rico, Ron suggested that we could do some hymn singing and raise the money to help them. When Kathi heard it, she brought the idea to me. I said, “Yeah, it is a great idea, Kathi. Let’s think about it.” But in my mind, I hesitated to go ahead because it is a lot of work. Well, I need to think about the Stewardship Sunday. I need to think about Advent Sundays and Christmas. I just wanted to play safe, convenient. But there are times when you know that the Holy Spirit is pushing you to step out of your safe zone.

As we hear from the scripture lesson from Matthew 25, I wonder if you share my trouble that I do not find anything wrong with the third servant. So, the master goes on a journey, calls his servants and entrusts his property to them. He gives 5 talents to the first one, 2 talents to the second one, and finally 1 talent to the last one. My mind tells me that if I were the third servant, I would grumble because it does not seem fair to be given just 1 talent when my colleagues are given more than my portion. So, the master goes away for a trip. The first two servants do a great job with trading and make double of what they have. The third servant buries the talent in the ground. And my question is this, “What is the problem with that?” At least, he did not go out and wasted it. The master comes back home and greatly rewards the first two servants. But he harshly rebukes and punishes the third servants who wanted to play safe, convenient, and certain.

What is the problem with playing it safe? At least, you can predict the future. The first two servants went out and did the trade. It is possible for them to lose all they had and appear to their master with nothing and say, “Sorry, master. We have lost all you have given.” The third servant could at least bring the exact same talent to his master. The result is secure. The result is predictable. Isn’t it what we all want? If you are still working and paying the pension for your retirement, or if you have already retired and received your income from pension, would you want your company to use your pension aggressively with a possibility of losing it or preserve it conservatively?

Our lives as Christians could be also about playing safe, convenient, and predictable. People could just gather for worship service, share some fellowship inside but never dared to go out to the world to face the challenges, hardships, and struggles. When I was working as Teaching Assistant at Boston University, I saw lots of students who were filled with enthusiasm for their ministries. One day, I met one of my former students who looked so tired and even angry. I asked him, “What is going on? How is your ministry?” And he said, “Well, I thought that I could come and turn around this declining congregation. I suggested that we do some programs to reach out to the children in the community, do ministry with the poor and hungry. And they tell me, “Joe, we are not really interested in changing who we are. I know you talking about making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. But our mission is to make sure that we as the church exist in this town even after you are gone.”

When Jesus tells us the parable that the master entrusting his property to the servants, it is insightful to know that one talent is a large sum of money, “equal to the wages of a day laborer for fifteen years.” Some commentators believe that one talent in today’s world could amount to one million dollars. So, when the master gave the last servant one talent, he actually trusted his servant that he could manage such a large money. The Gospel tells us that the master gave his property to his servants according to their abilities. It indicates intimate relationship between the master and his servants because he knows their capabilities. He intimately knows them to the point that one could experience growth instead of break-down when pushed to face challenges.

And Jesus implies God as our master who knows what we are good at and what we are not good at. God who created us in God’s image and calls us God’s children God is the One who knows where we can grow and how we can grow in our love for God and God’s people. And God gives us all talents and gifts. God may not instruct us how exactly to use our talents and gifts. As each servant must decide how to use his time during the master’s absence, we are also called to discern how to use our talents and gifts until Christ comes back in his final glory. Faithfulness is not merely obedience to directions. Rather, faithfulness means responsible discipleship. The grace of God is a gift given to us that we did not earn. But it is our responsibility of what we do with the grace of God. We are saved by our faith in Christ who redeems us from our sins and adopt us as children of God. But it is our responsibility to live as the children of God in this world, not by ourselves, but empowered and strengthened by the Holy Spirit.

If we realize that what we have from God today are gifts from God – whether it is our money, our possession, our family and children, and even our lives, we cannot just play the spirituality of safe, convenient, predictable, certain, and fearful. It is because God who serves certainly did not play safe in God’s terrestrial realm. Instead, God came down to the world, dwelt among us, and gave God’s only Son, Christ, to die on the cross. In our Disciple Bible Study, we discussed how terrible it was to read Abraham commanded by God to sacrifice his own son on the altar. It was because God was testing the faith of Abraham. But we know that when he raised his knife, the angel of God stopped him. One of the members, Linda, then said, “But God allowed Christ to die on the cross.” When we say that we are to love our God with all our hearts, with all your mind, with all your soul, and with all our strength, we are called to love and imitate God who certainly did not play safe, convenient, and predictable. Rather, we see God in Christ who faces challenges, risks, and uncertainty.

In Five Practices of Fruitful Congregation, Bishop Robert Schanse calls the “Risk-Taking Mission and Service” the practice of church that actively going outward to engage the world and proclaim the good news through the words and actions. It includes “the projects, the efforts, and work people do to make a positive difference in the lives of others for the purposes of Christ, whether or not they will ever be part of the community of faith. I believe that our church in Putnam is strong with Risk-Taking Mission and Service. We constantly push our limits and engage our community by offering foods through Daily Bread and Community Café. We clothe the naked by offering NU2U ministry. We led our youth group to the mission trip in Philadelphia. We offer the love of Christ to our young people not just Sunday school but also Vacation Bible School. What other ministries have I missed? Bishop Schnase says that Risk-Taking Mission and Service is such fundamental activity of the church that failed to practice it in some form results in a deterioration of the church’s vitality and ability to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

I believe that Risk-Taking Mission is critical both to individual and church. As we as individual greet and welcome strangers, we see the face of Christ in them no matter where they come from. As we serve them, we embrace the humility of Christ by lowering ourselves. Instead of becoming the third servant who just goes home and buries his talent in the ground, we are called to use whatever God has given us today to wisely use for the glory of God who calls us to serve others in the name of Christ.

There is one thing that I would like our church to embrace risk and push ourselves to come out of our comfort zone. Everyday, we get the posts from Facebook that people who are arrested by the police officers for misdemeanors or crimes. We can read the comments on those postings that people ridicule those who are convicted and say that they deserve to be punished. First of all, we do not know the stories of their lives. Maybe, someone needed some money to feed his or her little children who were going hungry. I am not saying that their acts should be justified. But I wonder what Christ would tell these people who are locked in the jail with their families facing uncertain future without their husband or wife, brother or sister. There is a correctional facility in Brooklyn with male inmates. Thanksgiving is coming next week. We get together with our families, children, and friends and celebrate with so much food. What can do we about those inmates or their families as the followers of Christ?

Bishop Schnase shares a story of how we might take up the risk-taking mission in our lives. Lucas runs a small business, has a young family, and volunteers frequently at church. After a spiritually powerful experience on a Walk to Emmaus retreat, he prayerfully searched for ways to respond to God’s call to make a difference. He did not feel called to ordained ministry, but he did want his life marked by greater service to Christ. He joined a team of men who met weekly for months to plan a prison ministry, Kairos, to offer spiritual sustenance to those serving time. He and his team received permission, signed waivers, and were permitted to spend seventy-two hours in a maximum-security facility for violent offenders. He describes the experience as nothing short of life-changing for himself as well as for many of the incarcerated and the other volunteers. Their significant engagement, genuine conversation, gracious respect, and active concern broke down barriers and established relationships that would extend for years.[1] And I want us to watch a video of Kairos ministry.

In Matthew 25:36, Jesus says that when I was in prison and you visited me. Let me ask us. What kind of God are we serving? Are we serving God who stays out of the world, who enjoys the lofty status of divinity? God who plays safe and convenient and predictable? Or are we serving God who intermingles with the messy realities of this world, who stand with the poor, the naked, the sick, imprisoned, and oppressed and suffering? Where is Christ calling us out to take the risk-taking mission and service? I pray this morning that God gives us the spirit of audacity to live out the good news in Christ rather than being satisfied with the spirit of safety, predictability, and convenience.

 

[1] Robert Schnase, The Five Practices of Fruitful Lives

Putnam Peace Day: September 24, 2 pm

THERE IS NO PEACE WHEN THERE IS PREJUDICE

PUTNAM

PEACE DAY CELEBRATION

SUN. SEPT. 24TH 2PM

Prayers, Music, Words

Join the Greater Putnam Interfaith Council as we pray,
enjoy company, sing songs and say words to celebrate United Nations Peace Day at the Daughters of The Holy Spirit. Please bring a prayer, poem, or written words about Peace.

WHERE: DAUGHTERS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT Auditorium, Provincial House 72 Church Street, Putnam, CT

Food or Monetary Donations to Daily Bread Accepted.

Sponsored by GPIC

Sermon: Do Not Be Afraid

Date: August 13, 2017

 

Text – Matthew 14:22-33

Title – Do Not Be Afraid

 

In 2006, I went to Nicaragua for a mission trip with both clergy and laity from New England Conference. We opened every day with devotion, visited churches, and served those who struggle with atrocities of poverty especially women and children. One day, we visited Masaya Volcano. There was a zip lining over the mountain with caldera and crater. Our group leader said, “Well, why don’t we have one of us do the zip lining?” People looked at me since I was the youngest of the group. One retired clergy said, “My insurance does not cover this.” After giving the instructions in Spanish, the staff asked me in English, “Ok?” Even before saying, “No,” I was pushed over to the top of the mountain, screaming all the way. You know what the worst of the story is? I struggle with acrophobia.

Some people feel thrilled when they deal with the fear that often risks their lives. That is why some people jump out of the airplane. Some people jump over the cliff with only wire hanging on their leg. My wife, Sungha, tells me that she did it in New Zealand. Some people will go to Woodstock Fair in September trying to enjoy some extreme rides. There is a TV show called Fear Factor that tests the participants with many gross things to eat. What kind of extreme activity have you done in your life that put you on the line between life and death? But not many of us would dare to jump into the water in the midst of storm because we believe that we can walk on the water?

The Gospel story tells us that people followed Jesus wherever he went. In seeing that they were hungry, Jesus performed a miracle of feeding five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish. After the miracle, the disciples got into the boat and went to the other side and Jesus stayed behind and went to the mountain by himself to pray. But the disciples struggled with the storm all night long. Peter, Andrew, John, James, they were all fishermen who knew the water. But there was nothing they could do in the midst of the storm just rocking from left to right and right to left. When they were stuck in the middle of the water, they saw Jesus walk toward them on the water. They were terrified and said, “It is a ghost.” They cried out in fear.

But Peter somehow took the courage and said, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He got off the boat in excitement. One step. Two step. Three step. He started walking on the water. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became afraid and started to sink. As I imagine myself being Peter, I am even amazed that he even got off the boat in the first place. How many of us would say, “I am perfectly fine staying on the boat, Jesus.” But Peter responds to Jesus by asking him also to walk on the water. In zip lining, you hang onto the wire. When you jump out of the airplane, you have the parachute. But Peter has nothing to hold onto. All he has is his faith in Christ and jumps into the water.

And he is now sinking because he was terrified by the strong wind. Fear comes in and makes him fall from his trust in Christ. Although many of us were taught to have faith in Christ unlike Peter, how many of us actually sympathize with him as we recount many times when we felt like we were also sinking into the deep water with nothing to hold on? When I was a kid growing up in the countryside of Korea, we had many farmers that came to worship with us. One woman who was from Seoul married a local farmer. They were blessed with twin – boy and girl. One day, a hurricane came and swept the whole town devastating most of the farms. So devastated, the husband took his own life in front of his two children. I remember the wife came to the church every Sunday in tears as she just became a widow with twin children, not knowing anything about farming. I am sure that she felt like sinking in the water.

The Gospel of Matthew says that fear drove Peter to sink in the water. As I reflect on the scripture for today, fear came and drove Peter to death when he lost the sight of Christ. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian and preacher said that fear drives us to the death of our relationship with God and our neighbors. He said, “Fear is, somehow or other, the archen­emy itself. It crouches in people’s hearts. It hollows out their insides until their resistance and strength are spent and they suddenly break down. Fear secretly gnaws and eats away at all the ties that bind a person to God and to others, and when in a time of need that person reaches for those ties and clings to them, they break and the individual sinks back into himself or herself, helpless and despairing, while hell rejoices.”[1]

And I believe that we are witnessing how fear can drive us to death not just personally but also socially and politically. The recent sanction by U.N is driving North Korea to threaten the U.S. with a nuclear war. And the U.S. government promises North Korea that any military threat will be met with the retaliation of fire and fury. Fear drives us to demonize North Korea that is ranked as one of the poorest countries in the world with 24 million living in extreme poverty. And the evangelical pastor is telling the government that it is the will of God to nuke the poorest country in the world. As there is the alteration of threats by the politicians, the people are the ones sinking in the water, drowning in the water of sins and brokenness.

Fear is also tearing this country apart from inside. Yesterday, there was a rally of white supremacists in Charlottesville consisting of Neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan armed with machine guns. We are talking about the 21st century in which many believe that we are living in a Post-Racial era where there is no racism or segregation anymore. White supremacists gather in a rally because of fear that they project on Jews, blacks, Catholics, immigrants, and women thinking that they are losing their power over to them and need to claim them. And as we remain silent thinking that this is free speech, we are all sinking in the deep water driving us to death of our morality and belief. This is not a bipartisan issue of whether you are Republican or Democratic. It is a serious challenge to our identity as a citizen, and as a believer in God.

Although Germany was labeled as the evil during the World War II, the country has been trying to confess its sin against the world and not to repeat it by establishing laws against Holocaust denial. It is labeled as a criminal law when anyone incites hatred against a national, racial, religious group, or assault the human dignity of others by insulting, or approves or denies an act committed under the rule of National Socialism.[2] While some people see it as so called “free speech,” I am reminded of what George Santayana, a Spanish philosopher, said, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” And when many Christians and churches remain silent today because of fear to stand up and raise their voice, I tell you that we are sinking in the ocean either because we are afraid of the strong wind that might threaten our lives, safeties, and privileges.

But the good news I hear in the Gospel is that when Peter is drowning in the water because of fear, Jesus reaches out and pulls him out of the water. And Jesus tells him later, “I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” (Matthew 16:18) As Eric Elnes creatively describes in “Gifts of the Dark Wood”, I can imagine that other disciples are laughing at Peter saying, “He surely knows how to sink.” Jesus knows that it is by our nature that we sink all the time. When challenges come in our lives financially, physically, emotionally, when challenges come questioning our belief and morality, we often sink in fear. But Christ comes to us and says “Take courage.” Our courage comes not from ourselves but by staying focused on Christ.

A few weeks ago, people who volunteer at the Community Café were invited to Pastor Judy’s house for a pool party. I brought Daniel with me. He is usually very excited to be around the water and fear always gets in the way. He usually dips his toes in the water but would not go into the water. All he would do is just scream. As I was in the water, I stretched my arms to him and said, “Daniel, it is ok. I will not let you go. Come to dad.” All of sudden, he jumped into the water. That was the best feeling ever as a father. It was because I realized that although he was fearful of the water, he still trusted me as his father.

As the protests in Charlottesville progress, there are Christian brothers and sisters who interlock their arms in front of people with machine guns and weapons asking, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble, hardship, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” They proclaim in peace and love, “There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” In the midst of fear and threat, I believe that they are not drawn by the fear of the strong wind but focused on Christ who reaches out to them.

I am sure that some of us are struggling with some forms of fear that pull us away from our relationship with God and others. And today, I believe that our troubled society reveals that we are struggling with the fear that leads to demonizing those on the margins of our society. And we Christians are struggling with the fear that makes us hide in the walls of the church and reserve from speaking the truth. But in the midst of our fear, Christ tells us to stay focused on him because our redemption comes from him. Yes, we might sink in fear from time to time. But Christ who calls us as his sheep would never let go of our hands. As he builds his Church on the sinking rock, he is also calling you and me, even though we are not perfect in our faith, in our words, in our actions, to follow him all the way. And how would we answer to him as God’s children today?

 

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sermon “Overcoming Fear”

[2] Laws against Holocaust Denial, Wikipedia