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.

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

January 1 – The Lamentation of Rachel

Date: January 1, 2017

Text – Matthew 2:13-23

 

It is the New Year. 2016 is no more. 2017 has arrived. I am sure that people gathered for celebration yesterday. No more Christmas tree. No more Christmas caroling. People might say, “It is a time to move on.” For those who still have Christmas decoration and tree in their house, let me share with you good news. For Christians, the season of Christmas is not over yet. Christmas actually ends with Epiphany which is January 6. So, if you tell me that you still have Christmas tree and wreath on your door, I believe that you are not procrastinating at all. You are just faithful Christians who understand how Christian calendar works.

So, before the season of Christmas ends next week with the story of how Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, I want to invite you again to the story of how our Savior came to this world and what happened at that time that still speaks the truth to our world today. The three wise men from the East came to pay the homage to the baby Jesus. After worshiping him, they were warned in their dream not to go back to King Herod since he asked them to tell him where he could find the baby Jesus when he actually wanted to kill him. The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in the same way in his dream and told him, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Joseph got up in the dark midnight and brought his family to Egypt. And here comes the trouble. When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under. And the Gospel of Matthew says, “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children.” The lamentation of Rachel.

Some of us might think that Christmas is a season to be happy and celebrate. Lamentation does not fit in with the mood of the holiday. As a matter of fact, when we come to the church, we should not hear any negative message. We only want some encouraging and positive messages. Bishop William Willimon is a retried bishop who ministered in Northern Alabama Conference. He tells when he was pastoring a church in Atlanta Georgia, being approached by a woman in his church after the worship service. She said, “You know, Will? I quite like the message from this pastor in Houston, TX, whose sermon is aired on TV. He always preaches some positive message unlike you.” Bishop Willimon paused for second and responded, “Of course, he can preach a positive message unlike me because he does not know you.”

In Christianity today, it seems that the message that preaches prosperity seems to prevail in many churches. A distorted message that if you just put your trust in God, you will be greatly rewarded with wealth and good health. All you need to do is just to be positive about yourself then God will do all the magical works. Such message does not share any moral challenges in our society. Such message does not recognize that there are unjust suffering and pain in this world especially for those who are vulnerable and oppressed. Such message does not preach the full gospel because it does not include the lamentation. It is not willing to share the pain and burden of mothers like Rachel who lose their children in hunger, famine, war, and illness. But tell them, “If you just switch the mode of your mind, all will work out in God’s plan.” It neglects the pain and cry of the poor and marginalized.

And yet, the wailing and lamentation of Rachel are still here persistently drawing our attentions because they indicate the reality of our broken world today. In the story from Matthew, the lamentation of Rachel is caused by King Herod also known as Herod the Great. I can tell you that King Herod was a vulnerable person who was not supposed to be the king so he exercised violence and manipulation to keep his kingship. He was not born as a Jewish origin. His family was the offspring of Edomite, a foreign country, that later converted to Judaism. In growing up in the Jewish community, Herod was probably mocked by his friends and neighbors that he was not a Jew, but a foreigner who did not belong there. He was treated like an outsider but determined that he would alter the course of his life by becoming a leader of this country.

Later, Herod was initially appointed governor of Galilee because of his loyalty to the Roman Empire in his support for Hyrcanus. However, when Antigonus, Hyrcanus’ nephew took the throne from his uncle, he went to Rome to plead with the Roman council. I guess he was successful in his persuasion because he was appointed as the king of the Jews by the Roman Senate. A foreigner who was mocked and finger pointed by others now came the ruler and king. But he wanted to secure his position not just by the decree of the Roman government but also by the family and blood. So, he abandoned his wife, Doris, and his young son, Antipater, and chose to marry the granddaughter of Hyrcanus. He not only left them for another marriage but also banished them. So, when he heard from the three wise men that a king of Jew was born in Bethlehem, he felt vulnerable and challenged in his kingship. He was determined to do anything to find this baby Jesus and kill him.

The story of Herod tells us that we need to watch out when the people in leadership care more about their privilege and position than the well-being of people they are entrusted to serve. When they are vulnerable and insecure, they are often willing to harm the innocent and weak to cover their weakness. At least, that is what is happening with South Korea today. President Park was recently impeached by the parliament because of her corruption. In the meantime, she was not supposed to become the president of Korea in the first place because she is a daughter of dictator who arrested, tortured, and executed anyone who challenged the government in 1970s. On April 16 2014, a ferry that carried over 500 passengers sunk in the middle of the ocean. And the speculation today is that President Park actually permitted this to happen in order to cover for the rigged election. It is still mysterious what she did for 7 hours after 300 high school students were drowning in the ferry. But the wailings and lamentation of the mothers and fathers who lost their children still continue on today.

Matthew says that when Rachel was weeping for her children, she refused to be consoled. There is a saying in Korea that when you lose your parents, you bury them in the grave. But when you lost your children, you bury them in your heart. Many of us were shocked to hear the death of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds this week. “Singing in the Rain” was the first Hollywood I watched as a kid. I fell in love with Debbie Reynolds – her beauty and her singing and acting. In growing up as her daughter, Carrie Fisher shared that it was not easy to live as her daughter. In her memoir, she says, “I think it was when I was ten that I realized with profound certainty that I would not be, and was in no way now the beauty that my mother was.” Fisher had started smoking marijuana at 13, and became out of control with her drug use in hear early 20s. When her daughter tried to estrange herself, Reynolds never gave up on her daughter. Only one day after Fisher died from heart attack, Reynolds passed away. Her son, Todd Fisher said, “She didn’t die of a broken heart. She just left to be with Carrie.”

Even as I speak at the pulpit this morning, I would never understand the tragedy of mother who loses her child. When we lose our child, there is nothing that could possibly compensate. There are no words to comfort. But people come and tell you, “It is a time to move on. It is not good for your health.” You often wonder if it is because they really care about your health, or because they are not comfortable with the situation in which they do not know what to say. Sometimes, it is better not to say anything but just be present in the midst of tragedy and loss. But because people are uncomfortable not being able to say the right words, they say the wrong thing. But Matthew says that Rachel refused to be consoled because they are no more.

When we share the sorrow and sit with those who grieve and suffer today, we sing the song of lamentation. We may not be able to answer why something like happened to the innocent children in Bethlehem. But when we sing the song of lamentation together, we come to realize that we are not alone but surrounded by the presence of God who surely does not abandon us alone but walks with us in this journey. In the midst of the tragedy, we witness how God works in this world in God’s grace. God warns the three wise men, the foreigners who had a different religion, different ethnicity, and different culture not to return to King Herod. God warns Joseph, the step father of the baby Jesus, in his dream not to go home but live as refugees. God chose the most unlikely people to protect the life of this new born baby who would redeem the world from its sins later.

The lamentation of Rachel wound become the lamentation of Mary, as she would watch the death of her son on the cross bearing the sins of the world. But in the midst of tragedy and despair, we find the hope arising in God. Singing the song of lamentation is not an act of distrust in God. Rather, it is deeply grounded in the faithfulness of God who would surely step in and help us in times of trouble. Someone said that the opposite of love is not anger, but indifference. When we completely lose our love for someone, we suddenly realize that we are not even angry with that person anymore because there is no more hope. There is no more expectation. But when we still have hope for amendment, we express our anger with those in relationship. Walter Brueggemann, Hebrew Bible scholar, says, “The laments are refusals to settle for the way things are. They are acts of relentless hope that believes no situation falls outside of Yahweh’s capacity for transformation.”[1] The song of lamentation is a sign of our hope in God.

If you still wonder why we speak of the song of lamentation on this first day of New Year, I believe that God calls us to sing the song and pray the prayer of lamentation because that is where we will find the grace of God at work today. Still, there are hundreds of children in Aleppo, Syria, being bombed watching their parents and siblings die. Instead of avoiding the cries of their mothers, we sing the song of lamentation with hope that we will indeed lay down the weapons and live side by side together. Still, there are over 14,000 death every year in this country who die from gun violence. Among the casualty is over 3,000 children and teenagers who are victimized by the gun policy.[2] As children of God, we should not avoid the lamentation of their mothers but sing with them together.

There is an all-time favorite hymn for many people. Great Is Thy Faithfulness. The hymn is actually based on the song of Lamentation – Lamentation 3:22-24. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great if your faithfulness.” It was written by Thomas Chisholm. Born in a log cabin in Franklin, Kentucky, Chisholm became a Christian when he was twenty seven and entered the ministry when he was thirty six. However, his poor health forced him to retired only after one year. While working as a life insurance agent, Chisholm still wanted to find a way to praise God’s goodness. He says, “My income has not been large at any time due to impaired health in the earlier years which has followed me on until now. Although I must not fail to record here the unfailing faithfulness of a covenant-keeping God and that He has given me nay wonderful displays of His providing care, for which I am filled with astonishing gratefulness.”

 

If you are able, would you please stand with me and sing “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”?

 

 

 

[1] Walter Brueggemann, Old Testament Theology, 29

[2] http://www.gunviolencearchive.org/past-tolls