September Weekly Notes (Summaries of Weekly Sermons)
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“Jesus’ Table in the Devastated World”
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Sep 5, 2021
Scripture Reading: James 2:1-10
“Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? […] But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”
The lectionary reading today is a painful passage to read because we still see a lot of sins and discriminations in our society and even in our church. The last verse of the reading today says: “But if you show partiality, you commit sin. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” In other words, even if we did a great job for everything, if we fail to love our neighbor or if we fail to overcome partialism and discrimination, all of our good deeds will be vain because of that one fault.
The apostle James warns to his congregation that there is an everlasting discrimination in his church. And he warns that we should not discriminate the poor people. However, when you think about it deeply, this world is created like this. There has not been a perfect equality in this world. There were the slavery and the master. There were the king and the servant. There were the rich and the poor. Some people were born as a rich without choice, some people were just born as a poor. We never lived in a society where discrimination did not exist. All different kinds of discriminations on class, education, gender, race, and ethnic group have been there in our world. Then, how can we interpret this tough passage today if the world is created like this?
In Matthew chapter 5, Jesus once said to us in his sermon on the mountain: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.” Obviously, this bible passage is a hard one for us to interpret. This is because I have not seen anyone who pulled out one’s eye or anyone who cut off one’s hand yet. It is controversial whether Christians should keep this commandment literally. In general, mainline Christians prefer not to read the Bible in a literal way. However, one thing is sure in this passage that Jesus warns for us: we need to think about our sins seriously. It is urgent so that Jesus uses violent and extreme words in the Bible.
While reading the passage today, I thought about a legendary church father John Chrysostom. St. John Chrysostom was an archbishop of Constantinople. The word ‘Chrysostom’ means ‘golden mouth.” People called him so, because he was known for his preaching and public speaking. In the legend, he reconciled the rich and the poor in his city of Constantinople; he transformed his city through his mouth and preaching. According to church tradition, both the poor and the rich followed him and had a unity in Christian faith.
I have looked at his sermons many times to imitate his ministry when I was in seminary. When I read his homilies, I was surprised because his preaching was very radical. He literally says to his audience that it would be better for them to pull out one’s eye rather than ignoring the poor people. He was one of church fathers who followed the straightforward reading of the Scriptures. So, it was hard for me to read his preaching all the way through.
In his “First Sermon on Lazarus and the Rich Man,” John Chrysostom considers the city’s poorest and wealthiest citizens. On the one hand, he says that wealth is from God and people should keep that in our mind if they are rich. On the other hand, he insists that poverty is a kind of temptation from the Lord, a way to examine the God’s people.
Although Chrysostom preached one message to all his congregation, the ways to think about the rich and poor were quite different. First, he convinces the rich by using logic supported by the authority of the Bible. He reminds his audience of that the rich man was cruel and wicked like a beast because he did not feel any empathy from the poor Lazarus. While quoting a lot of biblical passages, he claims that the wealth is for spiritual work, not for their own life or business.
Then, St. John Chrysostom talks to the poor people in a different tone. He portrays Lazarus’ situation as one of huge despairs. However, he quotes scripture passages to remind his audience of the meaning of poverty. By mentioning many biblical passages, he claims that hardship in this life is a kind of temptation for the everlasting life. So, he encourages his poor people to have a hope by introducing Lazarus, who was the poorest man in the Bible.
I think St. John Chrysostom’s sermon has few strong points. First, he understands the state of his period very well. His sermon takes into account the city’s main problem, the gap between the rich and the poor, and discriminations. His sermon is persuasive and timely. Second, he conveys different messages to the rich and to the poor. He argues that the rich should think about the true meaning of wealth; while for the poor, he teaches the reason why there is poverty. Through giving two different lessons to them, he was able to persuade two different groups of people at the same time. Third, he provides a common lesson for two different congregations. He urges them to examine what is to come and not what is present. He does not forget that there might be one common message to all people in Jesus Christ and he tries to reconcile them to one message that we are one in Jesus Christ. So, his sermon seeks to create unity amidst diversity.
I think St. John Chrysostom’s sermon is very powerful as he sticks to the authority of the Bible and recognizes the challenges of both the rich and the poor. Then, how can we reconcile with one another today in our context? How can we make another legendary church story and a unity in Trenton like St. John Chrysostom did to Constantinople? And, how can we overcome everlasting favoritism, unfairness, and brokenness in our world as St. James pointed out to his congregation?
Apostle James also warns to the rich people in chapter 5. He says, “Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. …You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.” After warning to the rich people, James talks about the patience and endurance. He continues to say in chapter 5, “Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. …You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” Yes, according to the Bible, there is a clear reason why there are sufferings and unfairness. But, we are the people who believe in a hope that God showed us in Jesus Christ. We are the people who believe that God will transform us.
To overcome partialism and discrimination in our world, I would like to focus on our table today. Today is a very historic day for me because I will give my very first thanksgiving for the Holy Communion as a pastor. Christians can practice embracing other different identities in their practices, while hoping God’s transformation in this broken world. In particular, the Eucharist imprints a new image upon Christians, an image which they impress upon the world. The strength of the Eucharist is that it allows Christians to participate in the Christian form of life through embracing all different broken bodies.
The Eucharist has a performative effect upon participants: “Come and eat! This is my body, broken for you!” This implies that the Eucharist invites Christians to the realization of human finitude and brokenness. In the Eucharist, Christians declare that the body of Christ is broken for us; what we partake of in the Eucharist is a broken body of God. This suggests that the Christian community calls people to participate in a kind of radical hospitality, to embrace broken bodies, broken relationships, and broken realities within God’s presence.
In the table of Christ, Jesus overcomes the brokenness of the world through embracing all different broken bodies. When Jesus had meals, he ate with people who were marginalized, such as prostitutes, the sick, and tax collectors. Even when Jesus invited his disciples to his table, he knew that some of them would betray him soon; nobody was perfect at his table. Therefore, if the Holy Communion is to be observed faithfully, we must reimagine the transformative possibilities of brokenness in the perspective of God. God invited broken bodies and God broke his own body for us to make it holy.
Ironically, the brokenness of the world makes the liturgy holy. At the table, the subject of the liturgy is none other than the Triune God who sanctifies the imperfect to the more perfect. The one who works here is our God who creates goodness out of brokenness, and life out of death. As a result, in this table, our God transforms and overcomes our brokenness and even our death. This is what we believe. And this is why we have a hope in Jesus Christ.
What makes Jesus’ table holy is the brokenness of the world. In the Eucharist, God reveals Godself, because the human realization of finitude transforms to the desire for God’s presence. In our table, we pray for God’s work. Here, it is God who works at the table. It is God who invites and transforms our broken bodies to the fellowship of the Triune love. So, we can put our brokenness up to this table and pray for God’s transformation. We can take our broken body as the body of Christ, and take our soul as the blood of Christ. We offer our broken bodies and souls to this table, while hoping God’s transformation. We bring our broken lands as the body of Christ and bring our polluted heaven as the blood of Christ. And we can consecrate them to God.
At our table, God changes our perspective. At this table, Christians can share and practice God’s divine nature through inviting many different broken bodies. In this respect, the Eucharist is not only a sacrament of our union with Christ, but also a sacrament of our communion as the broken body of Christ in the reality of Christ. In the Eucharist (which is the act of God), Christians share God’s divine nature through inviting broken bodies, relationships, and realities to the fellowship of the Trinity.
Forgiving one’s enemy is impossible in the realm of human ideologies or emotions. How is it possible to forgive your most hatred? However, the Triune God invites all of us and all our brokenness to His table. When we share the body of Christ and the blood of Christ, we can imitate the kingdom of God within the presence of God. God invites all our broken relations to this table, and then God transforms them to be holy again. When we practice this, we can imitate the love of the Triune God.
Although God has three persons, God is one. This means that God’s very nature is relational. The Trinity has three persons in one substance. Likewise, although we are many, we can be one in Jesus Christ. Although we are different, we are all creature of one God. Although we are different, we are all part of the one Holy catholic church, the body of Christ. Although we are different, the nature of the Trinity leads us to have a unity in relational love. Like the three persons of God love one another without interrupting in the Triune Godself, we practice loving one another in oneness at this table.
When we practice this God’s relational radical love, the kingdom of God will be near to us. When we bring our brokenness to God and ask God’s help, God will transform our sorrow to joy and gratitude. Then, we will be finally able to achieve a Catholic Spirit which our denominational father, John Wesley, suggests. Looking at so many conflicts and discriminations, John Wesley preached like this in his sermon Catholic Spirit: “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may.” In this world, there is no magic which can fix all our brokenness at once. Sanctification is a gradual work.
We have to live with pain, sorrow, and anxiety in this broken world. This is how the world is designed. However, when we live with those broken realities, God make our brokenness world holy again because it leads us to bear patience, faith, and love. When we realize our finitude, we finally seek for God’s help; this finite world ironically leads us to unite with God again. This is why Jesus broke his body and gave it to us (to connect us to God again). So, no matter who you are, come to the table of God and encounter God. When we participate into this mysterious table of God, God will transform our brokenness holy. Amen.
 John Wesley, Sermon 39, “Catholic Spirit,” in John Wesley’s Sermons, 305.
The Way of the Cross
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture Reading: Mark 8:27-38
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
Christians think that they should follow the way of Jesus Christ and take up their cross. However, Christians barely think about what this really means. Jesus told us that if anyone want to become a follower of Jesus, they should deny themselves and take up their cross. What does this mean for us? How can we deny ourselves and take up the cross? Today, I would like to talk about the meaning of taking one’s own cross in our lives with the lectionary reading from the gospel of Mark.
In the reading today, Jesus predicts that he must suffer on the cross for the first time. In Mark chapter 8, Jesus begins to travel to Jerusalem. On the way, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus already performed so many miracles in front of many people. He healed many people, and he fed many people in many miraculous ways. People must be amazed by Jesus. So, people thought he was not an ordinary man. Jesus’ disciples reply, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” I bet people barely saw a historical figure like Jesus who performed many miracles. So, people who saw Jesus understood him as one of prophets.
However, in the reading today, Jesus implies that he is little bit different from other prophets. Jesus asks back to his disciples: “But who do you say that I am?” Here, Jesus wants to hear some other answers. Then, one of his disciples, Peter replies: “You are the Messiah!” In Greek, you are Christ. In English, you are the savior! I think Jesus’ disciples at that time already realized that Jesus was little bit different from other prophets in the Old Testament. They thought Jesus must be the one who they were waiting for—the one who saves the people from all kinds of oppression and despair. They thought Jesus can stop the oppressions from the Empire, from the broken world, and from false religious systems.
Interestingly, Jesus does not deny nor affirm the title called Christ. Then, Jesus tells his disciples that they should keep this in secret. Why did Jesus have to keep this news in secret? Well… there can be many different reasons why. In biblical criticism, this question was first raised by a German theologian William Werde. He called this “Messianic Secret.” When we take New Testament intro classes in seminary, what we first learn is that the gospel of Mark was written first compared to other gospels. Then, we learn about the Messianic Secret. In the gospel of Mark, Jesus often tells his disciples that they need to keep what they saw and heard in secret and in silence. So, they had to maintain silence about Jesus’ Messianic mission in secret.
Although there are many different explanations on this secret, many scholars think that Jesus disciples who first wrote about Jesus’ ministry put this later in the gospel because many other people who actually saw Jesus argued over that Jesus did not do that and Jesus did not say that. In other to claim that Jesus in fact told them that Jesus was the Messiah and Jesus wanted to keep it secret among the closest disciples, the crowd could not hear or see Jesus’ Messianic ministry. So, this is one of the most popular theories in the scholarship of New Testament.
However, Messianic Secret is not the essential point today. After warning his disciples to be in silence, Jesus explains further who he is more precisely. After Peter’s answer, Jesus begins to teach that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering and be killed by religious leaders to be resurrected. In the gospel of Mark, Jesus often calls himself, a son of Man. In Greek, ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου is a weird word. It literally means the son of man. In the book of Daniel, however, “the Son of Man” is an eschatological figure who contrasts against God and the angels to show the signal of the last days. In other words, Jesus in the gospel of Mark thinks that he is an eschatological figure who is connected to God and the last days.
When Jesus says that he must suffer, Peter rebukes Jesus: “no way, my Lord, you cannot undergo such a thing. You will save us. We will protect you.” I think Peter thought that Jesus was a political or economic savior who can save his country from the political/economic sufferings. However, Jesus scolds back Peter so hard. Jesus says, “”Get behind me, Satan! Don’t think with your human thought on divine things.” Here, Jesus literally says that Peter needs to go behind Jesus. In other words, Jesus asks Peter to follow him. And he even scolds Peter that he is a Satan who tempts Jesus. In this passage, the word Satan was used to describe someone who temps a good person. Jesus here shows that even his disciples misunderstood who Jesus was. Jesus tells his disciples that they should not understand the identity of Jesus with their own thoughts and human desires. Jesus asks them to understand Jesus from the perspective of God.
To talk about the perspective of God, Jesus calls both the crowd and his disciples. Now, Jesus talks about what it is like to follow Jesus. He says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” What does this mean? You should know that Jesus talks about the way of the cross before the event of Jesus’ crucifixion; people must be confused, and they probably had no idea about what Jesus was talking about. But Jesus talked about the way of cross anyway.
Jesus says more specifically what it looks like to follow the way of the cross. He says, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” Here, the way of taking up one’s own cross is to give up one’s own life. We confess that Jesus is our savior like Peter confessed. This means that Jesus is the Lord of our life; there cannot be more important thing than following Jesus in our life. We believe that when we follow the way of Jesus, we can be saved by God. However, Jesus, our Lord, tells us that we need to lose our life to be saved.
How can we lose our lives by ourselves? In the Greek original Bible, a word for life, “ψυχὴν,” means our soul. Then, what is our soul on earth? Today, I want you to put your most precious things, instead of soul in the text. What is your most precious thing in your life? There can be many different answers: My own pride, my children, my family, my money, my fame, my car, my political opinion, my own philosophy, my stubborn insistence, my emotion etc. We often say that we are the follower of Jesus Christ. However, we sometimes follow our own thought and desire rather than divine thinking.
When we see some disagreements in our society, we just go mad and argue over to change it. The problem is that we want to change the world and someone’s idea without changing ourselves. What is your soul? In other words, what is your idol? We know rich young man’s story in the Bible. One day, a young man came to Jesus and asked, “teacher, what should I do to have eternal life?” Jesus said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said that he kept all these commandments well. Then, Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor.” Unfortunately, the young man went away with grief because he had many possessions. This story shows that the one thing which we think precious can mess up our journey to salvation, even though we might think we are doing pretty good.
When we look at how people make decisions, we can easily find out that people are dumber than what we think. Someone can ask you: “I can give you one thousand dollars. But, if you take it, I will give ten thousand dollars to the one who you hate most in the world.” You know what we would take. Even if you cannot get anything, you do not want to give ten times more money to your enemies. So, we will gain nothing.
In Christian tradition, the biggest sin is unbelief. When we are not attached with the presence of God or when we are not united with God, that is sin. In this sense, we are all already greatest sinners somehow because we are not always connected with God in our life. This is why we need to practice resurrection every day. So, I want to ask ourselves as we proclaim that we are the followers of Jesus Christ: “did we really kill ourselves and our idols?”
In our life, everything can be our idol. If we do not kill our most precious pride, there is no way for us to get into the kingdom of God. Some people die for one’s family or one’s children, or one’s ideology, or one’s money or fame, or one’s religion. I see that they are precious. Some people pray to God for one’s child or one’s own fame, pride, or country. However, we should ask back. Are we praying to God because we love God or are we praying to God because we want to get something we want in our human desire?
When something gets more important than God, they become idol in our life. If we use them well for the glory of God, they can be good. We can utilize what God gave for us for the kingdom of God. I know that many of human tools and ideas can help us to glorify God. However, once they become more important than God, they will be idolatry which make you be thrown away into death.
This is why we need to work and practice everyday to be cleaned. This is why we need to examine ourselves everyday whether we are following Jesus in a right way. Apostle Paul said in 1 Cor 15:30-31, “And why are we putting ourselves in danger every hour? I die every day! That is as certain, brothers and sisters, as my boasting of you—a boast that I make in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Like Paul said, we need to die every day for the journey to the kingdom of God. And our boast should not be our own human ideology or our own works, but Jesus Christ—our Lord who connects us to God again.
Practice resurrection! In order to be resurrected by God, you have to carry your cross like Jesus did. Jesus had to be crucified, dead, and buried to be resurrected. “Practice resurrection” is the same word with “practice to die and kill yourself every day.” We often forget: “Without crucifixion, there cannot be resurrection.” With worshipping one’s own idol, there cannot be one God in our heart.
So, what is our idol today? What do we boast about most? Church event, our passion, our pride, and our ideology can be helpful for our ministry. However, we should not forget that they are not the essence. The only way to be a perfect follower of Jesus is to kill ourselves and follow Jesus Christ.
So, let us go behind Jesus Christ. Let our Lord work for us in our life. Let us put down our tools, passions, and our own thoughts for a moment. Let Jesus guide us first. Let us take up our cross which we do not want to take. Let us listen first before we speak. Let us think from the perspective of God first. Practice resurrection every day. In other words, kill your idol everyday. Otherwise, the kingdom of God will not be ours. Take up your cross and kill your thought and practice resurrection! Amen.
“Are We Peacemakers?”
Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a
“The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.”
After I read the lectionary reading today, I had to admit that Protestant Reformers made a huge mistake. How would you think of getting rid of this precious word of God from our canon? Martin Luther and John Calvin tried to get rid of the epistle of James from the canon although they could not. However, when I read the passage from the epistle of James, I think we should feel strangely warm in our hearts.
You should know that how I think about the Protestant reformers. Because I studied under German theologians, the theology of Protestant reformers is something very special for me. Protestant theology is something I should preserve. If you go to German university websites, you will first see Protestant theology faculty. In Germany universities, there are many different schools and faculties. Law school, medical school, the school of art, business school, the school of nurse, the school of engineering etc. However, their first faculty school is always Protestant theology faculty and then Catholic theology faculty. (the call it F-1 and F-2). In protestant theology faculty (where I received my doctoral degree from), professors are so proud of their Protestant legacy and tradition. They think that Protestant theology and the heritage of reformers make them different from other studies and they think Protestant theology made the world different. This is why many German theologians try to repeat what their Protestant reformers taught again and again. Protestant theology is their pride and identity. So, as I.
I think Protestant reformers were basically right to highlight justification by faith first to reform the church and to give the authority to read the Bible toward the normal people. However, I think their way of reforming was not always biblical, because they killed a lot of people during the Reformation. They had to kill one another because of different faiths and different creeds. They even had the thirty-year war. In this war, 5 to 8 million people died, and many areas of Germany lost about 60% of their population in the name of God and in the name of religion. Luther persecuted the poor peasant group of people for having too radical Protestant thinking. When Calvin was a governor and a pastor, he watched different groups of Protestant people being persecuted and hang on the street because of different religious creeds in his reformation city, Geneva. Probably, this is one of many reasons why I am still like to be a Methodist. At least, the last Protestant reformer, John Wesley was not involved with religious persecution, genocide or war. He reformed his country and transformed his people without blood.
Against many Protestant reformers, apostle James today tells us: “Wait a minute! Is your way biblical and right when you do God’s work?” As you know, apostle James was a doer and a worker. He said that faith without work is dead. However, he points out that we often get occupied ourselves with our works to do. This is not biblical. When we work and get occupied by work, we go crazy to do our work because we want to finish our work. Then, we realize that we are missing something important to get things done. When we do our works, there is no time for us to think about peace, love, or many other things other than our work in front of our eyes. We just get occupied and do our work to finish it without peace in our mind. To get things done, we do all different kinds of thing. And, when we get finish our work finally, we feel great. This is how we work. When we do work, we just get occupied by works. So, we miss something sometimes.
Although apostle James was a doer, he points out that we should not be occupied by our duty or our work too much. He says in the very first verse, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.” Apostle James thinks that we have to be wise when we do our work. James was not a just workaholic. He was also a wise man. He says that we need to get things done with gentleness which is born from wisdom. When we do work, are we doing it with gentleness? Are we doing it with God’s wisdom? I think this is the core question we need to face through the message from apostle James today.
According to James, Christians have to bear the fruits of God to be God’s children; our life should be our message. However, James clearly warned us that we should not bear the fruit of God for our bitter envy, selfish ambition, or our own fame in your hearts. If we do good works for our own name or for our own boast, the works we have done would be false and unspiritual. James clearly says in verse 16: “For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.” When we work for our selfish ambition or earthly desire, there comes disorders, confusions, and conflicts in our church. In other words, when we begin to do God’s work and church ministry for one’s own sake, that is the moment that everything gets messed up in the names of God and religion.
What we need to bear is the fruit of righteousness, not the fruit of earthly desire. Here, we need to read the Bible very carefully. The harvest James mentions is not peace. Peace is not our end. It is the fruit of righteousness. However, the way and the method we need to take is peace. James says in verses 18 today, “a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.” In this passage, peace is something we should sow and make to bear a harvest of righteousness. According to James, peace is the mode of action. Peace is the methodology by which we choose to be at work in this world. We sow peace; we make peace; we bring peace; we toss peace around us like farmers sow and toss seeds. This is how Christians work in the church. When we do so, our life can bring right fruit. And when we do so, our life can be right message.
We often pray to God, “Grant us peace.” Jesus said in the Gospel of John, “I give you peace; my peace I give to you. The peace that the world cannot give to you.” Then, what is that peace which Jesus granted us? Apostle James in verse 17 thinks that peace comes from the wisdom from above. This wisdom “is first pure and then peaceful, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy, and good fruits without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” I know. It sounds like a lot of work. This peace is the opposite of what we thought. However, this peace turns the tables of injustice to the right table. This peace brings a sword that cuts through falsehood, prejudice, and oppression without partialism.
When I do church work, I see that we do not work in an efficient way. I sometimes talk about a guy who named George with Cat. He was a guy who went to Cat’s mom’s church. He was not a good singer. He barely sings in tune. However, he always wanted to sing a song for offertory. He also wanted to lead his choir. Although it was hard to bear to listen his songs, people in her church had to bear it. Because the church is where we work with love and peace, not with efficiency or perfection. Although it is still controversial whether they did a good job or not in the church. I think the church member their did a right thing at least according to the Bible.
One of my favorite biblical passages comes from 1 Peter 3:14-16: “Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.” I wrote down this passage and I used to put it on my library desk with some other passages. If someone ask why we try to be a peacemaker or if someone ask us why we work in this stupid way, we need to answer why we still have a hope in Jesus Christ. But, when we answer, we need to answer with gentleness and reverence. This is because God’s wisdom brings peace, gentleness, and a full of grace as apostle James points out. This was why I tried to study theology with gentleness and reverence.
Be gentle and be respectful for others, even though you might hate others and even though you may not agree with others When we get occupied by our works, do not forget how we should work. We need to sow peace. We need to make peace with gentleness and respectfulness. And James called it righteousness. When we try to bring peace in our world, what we get is the fruit of righteousness. In other words, Jesus called us to sow peace to the world to bring the kingdom of God.
Sometimes it does not make sense. I know. You know that I am a scholar. I am super-reasonable person. When I got a phycology test, the psychologist was shocked. I think and behave 100% by reason and logic. I do not work with emotion like other pastors. I see so many unreasonable things and inefficient things everywhere, especially in the church. However, many times, that is how we work. We do not pursue efficiency, but peace. Sometimes, we just need to say yes. Then, that will be it. Sometimes we just simply lose. This is how we work. Ironically, God does not want us to win all the time. More important thing is our way. Our attitude. We need to be gentle and peaceable. This is how we work and this is how Jesus works.
If I were Jesus, I would bring peace with violent ways. Jesus saw people betraying him. People, who praised and welcomed him in Jerusalem, cried out to sentence a death penalty on Jesus a week later. If I were Jesus, I would pray to God like this on the cross. “Wait a minute God. This is not alright. I will sweep all these stupid hopeless people and re-start the world.” Jesus had a power to do so.
However, Jesus humbly died on the cross. Although Jesus mentioned about disputes and conflicts that we had to face as the follower of Jesus, he also taught us that we need to bring the other side of our cheek, if someone slap on our right side. This is what Jesus taught us. Jesus was not a tyrant who tries to bring a peace with violent ways. We need to remember. Jesus was not a soldier, nor a radical political leader. He was a peacemaker. He was a Son of God who brought the way of God’s wisdom. Jesus’ way was different from other political leaders so that he could bring genuine peace so that he could bear the right fruit of righteousness, and further he could be the first fruit of resurrection. He had to lose. He had to be beaten up by his enemies. He had to be ashamed. By this way, he ironically won. He was lost by his enemies. Then, he could earn life and resurrection from death and he got final victory.
Now, I would like to ask you again. How can we make the fruit of righteousness when we serve for the church? In my experience, all church parishioners here are so faithful and passionate. We all worship God and serve God’s people, our community, and our world. However, we need to examine ourselves all the time whether we are missing something or not, especially when we get super busy. When we work toward people, we need to think again. Are we working with the wisdom of God? When we have conflicts, we need to ask: are we doing this because of love? Or, are we doing this to make our life simply easier? Are we doing this because we are out of patience? We need to ask again and again.
Sometimes, when we do our work, we just try to get things done; then, we often forget important things. However, we also need to think of our method. The wisdom of God is not a magic which changes the world immediately. That is not how Jesus worked. The wisdom of God comes with brings peace, gentleness, surrender, and full of love. And these elements are from above, our Father. Faith without work is dead. However, work without God’s love is false. Even if we did a good job, if our works were done by our hatred, anger, or our human ideology, that is no use for the kingdom of God. The wisdom of God leads us to answer to the world and even to our enemies with gentleness and reverence. Remember! Jesus was ashamed and crucified by his enemy.
So, my friends. Like apostle James teaches us today, let our work be based on God’s love. Let peace be our way of work. Let us make and sow peace in this world. Let us be ashamed and lost to win a final victory. Let us work like Jesus did. Amen.
Pray! Be Our Hero!
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 26, 2021
Scripture reading: Esther 7:1-6/James 5:13-20
Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.
Who is your favorite female Bible character? Mine is Esther. This is what I first remember for my mother’s Methodist women group name. In Korean church tradition, they divide Methodist men and women groups by age. So, youngest Methodist women group usually called Esther. Then, Ruth, Deborah, Mary, Naomi, Hannah etc. So, that was the first female Bible character in my brain. People called young adult moms, Esther. So, they called my mom Esther when I was young. This is why I personally like Esther. It reminds me of young moms whom I admire a lot. However, when I tried to interpret the book of Esther. I face whole another reality.
The book of Esther which we read today is a very interesting book. In fact, we cannot find the book of Esther in the early Hebrew Bible canons. Especially, in the Dead Sea scroll, which was preserved by the Qumran community, did not have the book of Esther. The Dead Sea scroll is the oldest full collection of the Hebrew Bible script so far. However, in the Qumran canon, we cannot find any mention about the book of Esther. The collection has all other Old Testament books, but the book of Esther. Furthermore, even Protestant Reformers did not comment on the book of Esther. Instead, Martin Luther condemned the Book of Esther for promoting a spirit of nationalism and bloodthirsty violence. Then, how can we interpret the book of Esther? This book makes our life difficult today as we need to think why people did not like the book of Esther.
Israel people had to struggle with the book of Esther. Probably, one of the main reasons is that the book of Esther does not mention about God at all. It is a just story about an orphan girl who became a queen of pagan empire. In the story, a Babylon king, Ahasuerus, seeks a new wife after his former queen, Vashti who refuses to obey him. Although Esther was a slavery who came from different country, Esther is chosen for her beauty. Although Esther was a little girl, she put on nice costume and cosmetics to seduce the King and she promised to obey to the pagan king. And she did it. However, the king’s chief adviser, Haman, is offended by Esther’s cousin. So, he gets permission from the king to kill all the Jews in the kingdom. Then, Esther foils the plan, and wins permission from the king for the Jews to kill their enemies, and they do so.
The point of Esther is quite clear. The book wants to introduce the origin of Purim, one of Jewish holidays. However, the book does not mention about God at all. Also, the day of Purim does not appear in the Torah; the early Hebrew people struggled with the existence of the book of Esther in their canon.
Even today, the book of Esther is still controversial among scholars. This is because it is very violent and patriarchal book. A girl is marrying to a pagan king. The girl had to put on fancy clothes to seduce their king without choice. A certain group of people could be dead or alive just by their king’s one order. At the heart of Esther’s tale, there is a story of violence and revenge. In order to save their people, the hero Queen Esther secures the Persian king’s approval to issue a countermand that allowed the Jews who were in every city to assemble and defend their lives, to destroy and to kill their enemy. How can we interpret this violent and patriarchal book today?
Nevertheless, I think the book of Esther still tells us something today, especially when we understand its genre and form. It tells us something. When we read this book carefully, we can realize that the book is a kind of political comedy or satire. The Book of Esther depicts a world in reverse: a Jewish orphan girl becomes the Queen of Persia. A villain’s plan to murder Israel people fails to kill the innocent people of Israel; instead, he is sentenced to die. A secular diasporic community establishes the first non-Torah festival for religious Jews. Then, the orphaned girl became a hero who saved her people and her country through overcoming her hardships.
Who does not like hero’s story in politics? I also love Marvel movies. In marvel movies, there are many interesting villains as well as heroes. I think the story of Esther also teaches us something for us through the story of this young national hero, Esther. Our heroes are not perfect. Sometimes they have a huge thorn in their lives. Think about Solomon who had too much ladies and money, although he was wise. Think about the King David. Although he was a great king, he cheated and committed adultery. Think about Samson. Although he was strong, he made many mistakes here and there. Finally, his eyes were pulled out and he got a free hair cut from his enemies. So, he could not use his power anymore. Also, think about spider man, superman, or batman who did not have parents. Sometimes their story carries some political comedies with heroes who had a lot of problems in their own life. Although heroes were weird and weak, they save their people and the world. In this sense, I think the book of Esther is still teaches us something. Although we are weak. Although we have our own problems, we can still be a hero and save other people.
Then, how can we become a hero who saves our people and our country like Esther did? I would like to find a biblical way of being a hero in the last chapter of James. The epistle reading today is the very last part of James’ letter. In the Epistle of James, James warned his congregation that faith without work is dead. Also, he warned that we need to overcome partialism and discrimination. Also, he taught us Jesus’ righteous fruit comes with the method of peace. Now, apostle James finally talks to his congregation that we need to pray one another. That was his final conclusion: pray for one another to be saved.
Apostle James is aware of that there are many people in suffering among us. He already knows that there are many sick people in our church. He says in the beginning verse, “Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and let them pray over them.” The younger brother of Jesus, James understands all our hardships already. He had seen all hardships people brought to Jesus. And his final conclusion is this: “pray for one another.” He promises to us in verse 15, “The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.” The last words of apostle James reminds us of that the Lord listens to our prayers. Then, he gives an example of Elijah. Elijah was a human being like us. However, when Elijah prayed, God made heaven open and gave rain. And, God made the earth yield its fruit. James tells us. “Why not us? God will also listen to our prayers also. So pray for one another when you see people suffering.” It will save you and your people.
Now, I would like to ask you again. How can we save our people like Esther did? I first need to say that we need to pray like James taught. We first need to pray before we think about the fact that faith without work is dead. We need to pray when we look at this broken world. We first need to pray when we face different opinions. We first need to pray when we try to sow peace. Although we are all weak. We can still be a hero who save our people. We can still pray.
I need to confess that one of the biggest reasons why I still breathe is because of my mom’s prayer. Without their every morning prayers, I would not be able to breathe every day. When you pray for your children, they know. And, it will change their life.
I know many of you have some family members who do not fear the Lord. When we have them, we need to pray. Think about St. Augustine, the bishop of Hippo. I bet you have heard St. Augustine because he is very important person in church history. He is one of two angelic doctors in church history. However, when Augustine was young, he fell into Manichaeism. He also had a child without marriage. He was a man who was out of control. His mom, Monica, was so sad because she could not do anything for his son. One day Monica visited a certain bishop to talk about his son. Then, the bishop said, “the child of those tears shall never perish.” This famous word changed her life.
Monica followed her wayward son to Rome, where he had gone secretly; when she arrived, he had already gone to Milan, but she followed him. Here she found St. Ambrose, the bishop of Milan. She kept praying and she ultimately saw her son, Augustine convert to Christianity after 17 years of resistance. And later, Augustine became one of the most important bishops and theologians in history. Here, his mom, Monica, never gave up praying for her son. This made her son great. So, Monica became one of church heroes.
God promises you. Although you are weak, you can still change the world through your prayer. Even though you are sick and isolated at home, you can still pray for you and others. And it will save your family, your people, and your country.
Today, I would like to share my grand mom’s story. I think her life story is quite amazing. She couldn’t even finish elementary school because she was poor and she was a woman long time ago in Korea. But, She fell in love with my grandfather. My grand father cheated on her and passes away earlier. She became a widow so that she had to raise her four sons by herself. Her friends always asked her to let rich people adopt one of her sons since she was extremely poor.
My father and my uncles tried to look nice by themselves in order to get adopted to other family because of hunger. What she only had was her Christian faith. So, she prayed to God every morning. She rang the church bell every morning. I think that changed her life. Every time when she had troubles, she prayed; she experienced so many miracles. When my father couldn’t breathe after he fell down from a tree, my gradma couldn’t bring him to the hospital but prayed and he got healed. Every day when she had no food, she prayed. And God fed them in many ways. The weirdest thing is that she always smiled because of God although she was one of the poorest in her town.
Well…I guess her prayer works well for sure. All of her family members became Christians because of her prayer. Now, even one of her grandchildren became a pastor. She still shouts out everyday to us: “God is good! Thanks be to God! We can do everything in God.” I think God still loves her. In other words, she still has small and big problems here and there. However, she keeps praying. And she became a hero of my family. She saved all my family members with her prayers of tear. Because of a generation gap. I sometimes find difficulties to talk with her. But, she is always happy. So, I call her “the hero of my family.”
I know that God sometimes seems like do not listen our prayers. However, God promised with us. This is why we need to pray one another like James taught us today. When we do so, we can bear the fruits of righteousness. Where you are, who you are, are not important. Even a gentile orphan like Esther could save her country with a word. Why not us? God promised that God will be with us.
Look at Job and Jesus. Job was cursed. He lost his family, he got sick, and he was betrayed by his friends. Even in this desperate situation, he could still pray to God. And God gave him answer. Look at Jesus on the cross. Even in the most desperate situation on the cross, he still could pray to God, and he prayed for us. Even though Jesus was always busy, he always found a spot to pray alone in the mountains. He prayed for his people and himself. Jesus was a person who prayed a lot. Even in the most desperate situation, you can still pray like Jesus did. Please do not give up praying for one another.
Please be our hero. Even if you are far away from someone. You can still pray for someone. And God will listen. Even when you are in desperate situation, you can still pray like Jesus on the cross. Let us love one another and pray. God will help us. Let’s read the last passage from James again from verse13-16.
“Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”
My friends, do not forget to pray. We can be heroes of prayer too. Like the hymn’s lyrics, “In seasons of distress and grief, my soul has often found relief in the sweet hour of prayer.” Be our hero.