MANUSCRIPTS FROM PASTOR DAEKYUNG'S MOST RECENT SERMONS ARE BELOW:
Witness to the Word - August 4
Text: Hosea 11:1-11 Title: What Is God’s Love?
1 “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. 2 But the more they were called, the more they went away from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images. 3 It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. 4 I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them. 5 “Will they not return to Egypt and will not Assyria rule over them because they refuse to repent? 6 A sword will flash in their cities; it will devour their false prophets and put an end to their plans. 7 My people are determined to turn from me. Even though they call me God Most High, I will by no means exalt them. 8 “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboyim? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. 9 I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I devastate Ephraim again. For I am God, and not a man—the Holy One among you. I will not come against their cities. 10 They will follow the Lord; he will roar like a lion. When he roars, his children will come trembling from the west. 11 They will come from Egypt, trembling like sparrows, from Assyria, fluttering like doves. I will settle them in their homes,” declares the Lord.
Good morning. May your heart be filled with the loving presence of God as you listen to God’s Word proclaimed this morning.
There was a man. He had been harassed by his boss for a long time and, one day, killed the boss accidentally. He fled to his widowed mother’s house right away to hide himself. He told her everything that had happened. She assured his son he had nothing to worry about. And, she told him to trust her and hid him in her house. Several weeks passed, and the police came to the house. She kept pretending not to know where his son was. But, uneasy about getting caught by the police, the son suddenly ran away from the house and started fleeing again. Eventually, he was shot and arrested by the police. This is a scene from a movie I have watched before. The mother may be punished for concealing her son. We may have different opinions about whether or not the mother’s behavior can be understood. Her love for her child ultimately didn’t produce good results in the movie. But, before everything else, I felt how strong a mother’s love could be enough to cover up her son’s faults while watching the movie.
Today’s reading also shows such love of God. We are already used to liken God’s love to parents’ one. It is usually depicted as the love of parents who nurture their children or give guidance to them. But, today’s text sets up a particular situation. God is described as a parent who overlooks the Israelites’ faults and forgives them. The Book of Hosea is basically well-known for “its vivid metaphor of marriage for the covenant between God and Israel. […] Hosea is the first biblical work to employ such an image to describe the God/Israel relationship. Although a major one, however, marriage is not the only covenantal metaphor for Hosea. The book’s structure [shows] another important image of the special God/Israel relationship […]. [It is parent/child image.] […] God becomes the loving, caring parent, while Israel in its transgression of the covenant is the rebellious son.”
As we see in verses 1-2, God makes the Israelites realize what their sin is: God says, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and I called my son out of Egypt. But the more I called to him, the farther he moved from me, offering sacrifices to the images of Baal and burning incense to idols” (New Living Translation). But, God reminds them of what God has done for them as seen in verses 3-4: “I myself taught Israel how to walk, leading him along by the hand. But he doesn’t know or even care that it was I who took care of him. I led Israel along with my ropes of kindness and love. I lifted the yoke from his neck, and I myself stooped to feed him” (NLT). And then, God sadly tells them the result of their sin in verses 5-7: “But since my people refuse to return to me, they will return to Egypt and will be forced to serve Assyria. War will swirl through their cities; their enemies will crash through their gates. They will destroy them, trapping them in their own evil plans. For my people are determined to desert me. They call me the Most High, but they don’t truly honor me” (NLT). But, God’s final plan for Israel is not their collapse but restoration. So, as we are told in verses 8-11, God says, “Oh, how can I give you up, Israel? How can I let you go? How can I destroy you like Admah or demolish you like Zeboiim? My heart is torn within me, and my compassion overflows. No, I will not unleash my fierce anger. I will not completely destroy Israel, for I am God and not a mere mortal. I am the Holy One living among you, and I will not come to destroy. For someday the people will follow me. I, the Lord, will roar like a lion. And when I roar, my people will return trembling from the west. Like a flock of birds, they will come from Egypt. Trembling like doves, they will return from Assyria. And I will bring them home again” (NLT).
As we see, this text brings out the sharp contrast between the Israelites and Yahweh in their covenant relationship. God strives to keep the covenant while the Israelites continue to break it. It is here that the unique character of Yahweh’s love is revealed. As we talked last week, God’s love portrayed in the Hebrew Bible “is a love that is so enduring that it persists beyond any sin or betrayal to mend brokenness and graciously extend forgiveness. […] [And, that love] is not just a feeling but an action. It intervenes on behalf of loved ones and comes to their rescue [even risking life]. […] [It] acts out of unswerving loyalty even to the most undeserving. [So, God] is [like] a bone-weary father who drives through the night to bail his drug-addict son out of jail. [God] is [like] a mom who spends day after […] day spoon-feeding and wiping up after her [sick] child. […] [The love of God] is not about the thrill of romance, but the security of faithfulness.”
So, friends, remember that God’s ultimate purpose for you is not a failure but a full recovery. You may have committed a grave sin in the past that you cannot confess to anyone. You may not have been able to love someone even though you love God. You may have thought that you could live without God from time to time. You may have often hurt your family or friends. You may have ruined your life because you hate yourself and the world. You may have broken the promise to follow Jesus faithfully. So, you may be so tired now. Nevertheless, God will never break the promise to be with you forever, the promise not to leave nor forsake you, the promise to love you without any condition. It is God’s enduring and forgiving love that perfectly maintains our covenant relationship with God. Listen to Jesus’ gentle voice saying, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). It’s OK not to be perfect. It’s OK to make a mistake again. Just come to your heavenly parent who is always waiting for you. Get some rest in the Lord and receive a pardon and strength from God. As one of the renowned Japanese writers says, “No matter how hard and messy your life may have been, there is always a road ahead that is covered with untrodden snow.” Yes. No matter how dark your past was, God is ready to tread new paths through the snow with you all the time.
Here is a story from the book “Rich in the Things That Count the Most” by Rev. James W. Moore. We may catch a glimpse of God’s love through the enduring and forgiving love of the parents in the story:
It happened in the early 1970s. Her name was Teresa. She was sixteen years old and having a hard time growing up. One Friday night, she had an ugly fight with her parents. She ran away from home and stayed away for almost two years. Her parents searched desperately for her but with no luck. Finally, they hired a detective. The detective brought back a sordid story that I couldn't even begin to describe in the polite pulpit. Teresa had done everything a girl could do that would break her parents’ hearts – drugs, alcohol, life in a promiscuous commune, participating in all kinds of illicit activity.
Then one morning (it was Good Friday), the phone rang in my office. It was a collect call from Teresa. She was calling from San Francisco. She was crying. “Oh, Jim,” she said, “I have done everything wrong. I have hurt my parents so much. Now I realize how foolish I have been. I want to come home, but I don’t know if Mom and Dad want me back. I wouldn’t blame them if they didn’t. I don’t know how they could ever forgive me. I’m so sorry. I want to come home.” I told her to go to the airport and give her name at the airline desk. I would have a ticket home waiting there for her, and someone would be at the local airport to meet her plane.
When she got off the plane on that Good Friday afternoon, she looked pretty rough. Her hair was dirty and matted. Her clothes were rumpled and threadbare. Her eyes were tired and bloodshot. Her parents rushed to her and hugged her and welcomed her home with love and grace while crying tears of joy and relief.
Two days later on Easter Sunday morning, they were in church together. Teresa sat between her mom and dad. She looked like a new person. She was radiant and beautiful. All through the service, her parents kept touching her, patting her, hugging her. After the service, they came down to speak to me. As Teresa’s mother hugged me tightly, she whispered in my ear, “Jim, I’ve always believed in the resurrection, but never more than right now!”
Friends, God will go to the ends of the earth to save and restore us as the author of Psalm 139 says, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast” (Psalm 139:7-10). God will do so because of God’s everlasting forgiving love which doesn’t give up on us. Amen.
 . Gale A. Yee, “The Book of Hosea,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, ed. Leander E. Keck (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 7:197-8.
 . James W. Moore, Rich in the Things That Count the Most (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2006), 92-3.
Witness to the Word - July 28
Text: Psalm 85:1-13 Title: Love and Truth
1 You, Lord, showed favor to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob. 2 You forgave the iniquity of your people and covered all their sins. 3 You set aside all your wrath and turned from your fierce anger. 4 Restore us again, God our Savior, and put away your displeasure toward us. 5 Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger through all generations? 6 Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? 7 Show us your unfailing love, Lord, and grant us your salvation. 8 I will listen to what God the Lord says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants—but let them not turn to folly. 9 Surely his salvation is near those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. 10 Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other. 11 Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven. 12 The Lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest. 13 Righteousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps.
Good morning. May you know the truth that sets you free as you listen to God’s Word proclaimed this morning.
“Psalm 85 may well have originated as a prayer of the people amid the disappointing circumstances of the early post-exilic era […]. The people has recently been restored [as verse 1 says, “You, Lord, showed favor to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob], but they soon found themselves again in need of restoration [as we are told in verse 4, “Restore us again, God our Savior, and put away your displeasure toward us].” So, the author of the Psalm is asking Yahweh to show Israelites Yahweh’s love and save them once more as we see in verse 7. But still, the author is absolutely sure that Yahweh promises peace to them if they do not go back to their foolish ways and is ready to save those who honor Yahweh (Psalm 85:8-9). It is right here that we witness the author describe what happens in the world restored in a unique way. Verse 10 says, “Love and faithfulness meet together.” What does it mean? What comes to your mind? First of all, we need to know that the Hebrew word translated as faithfulness here basically means truth. So, in other words, the author is saying, “Love and truth join together.” Let’s think about what it means and what implication it has on our lives.
Let’s first look at what love means in this text briefly. The original Hebrew word translated as love is hesed (חָ֫סֶד). It indicates that Yahweh and the Israelites are in a covenantal relationship. Based in such a relationship, “Hesed is a love that is so enduring that it persists beyond any sin or betrayal to mend brokenness and graciously extend forgiveness.” It is this kind of love that will be united with the truth when God’s kingdom comes. We’ll be concentrating on this theme next Sunday. So, let’s pay more attention to what truth means today.
To understand it, let’s find out how differently the Greeks, who had more influence on our way of thinking, and the Hebrews perceived truth. Basically, in the Greek conception, truth is static property. “The Greek word for truth is ALETHEIA. The Greeks understood that word to mean something that is not hidden, not masked, not in a state of concealment and as such something that is in a state of clarity and evident.” In that regard, we usually understand truth as the fact to be revealed or eternal and unchangeable reality.
On the other hand, in the Hebrew conception, truth is dynamic property. “The Hebraic view is grounded in the belief that God created the whole of reality, including the reality of doing. Having been created by God, it is our responsibility to complete the work of God’s creation. Consequently, whenever a person makes a decision that person must also be aware that an account of his/her decision must be rendered to God. […] The truth is therefore not only a question of “to be”, but also a question of “to act”. Being real means to be with the truth, to live in the truth or even more importantly to be a part of the truth. Truth can be likened to a spirit; it is like a fire that inspires and shapes our decisions from within. […] The truth is neither objective nor static; it is not something that could be studied from a distance. The truth is very close. It is a personal way of living, a way of being and, therefore, very relational.”
In this respect, the truth that the author of Psalm 85 is talking about is the God who acts, that is to say, fulfills what God has promised in an intimate relationship with Israel. That’s why the author remembers what God has done for the Israelites first. Verses 1-3 says, “Our Lord, you have blessed your land and made all go well for Jacob’s descendants. You have forgiven the sin and taken away the guilt of your people. Your fierce anger is no longer aimed at us.” And also, the author has trust in God who will still keep God’s promise. In summary, the writer is praising God who has had mercy faithfully on the Israelites and who is going to save them faithfully. That’s why the Hebrew word translated as truth also can be translated as faithfulness.
In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the truth.” We can understand it in the same context. “[Jesus] is the Truth, since in Him there was no mismatch between who He is and what He said. He is utterly trustworthy. His actions and speech are one and entirely reliable.”
On the basis of what we have talked about, we can conclude that the fusion of love and truth shown in verse 10 means that God proves that God is love by acting. The writers of the books in the New Testament comprehended it and asked the early Christians to have the same way of living. So, the New Testament resonates with that Hebrew conception of love and truth. Especially, we can find it in the three Epistles of John. 1 John 3:18-19, “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in [God’s] presence.” 2 John 1:1-6, “The elder, To the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in the truth – and not I only, but also all who know the truth – because of the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us in truth and love. It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us. And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.” 3 John 1:3-6, “It gave me great joy to have some brothers come and tell about your faithfulness to the truth and how you continue to walk in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God.” As we see, love and truth are inseparable. To live in truth means to live out love in action. Interestingly enough, even “hesed [itself], which means love, is not just a feeling but an action. It intervenes on behalf of loved ones and comes to their rescue [even risking life].”
Here is a story of a family.
Two weeks after the stolen steak deal, I took Helen (eight years old) and Brandon (five years old) to the Cloverleaf Mall in Hattiesburg to do a little shopping. As we drove up, we spotted a Peterbilt eighteen-wheeler parked with a big sign on it that said, “Petting Zoo.” The kids jumped up in a rush and asked, “Daddy, Daddy. Can we go? Please. Please. Can we go?”
“Sure,” I said, flipping them both a quarter before walking into Sears. They bolted away, and I felt free to take my time looking for a scroll saw. A petting zoo consists of a portable fence erected in the mall with about six inches of sawdust and a hundred little furry baby animals of all kinds. Kids pay their money and stay in the enclosure enraptured with the squirmy little critters while their moms and dads shop.
A few minutes later, I turned around and saw Helen walking along behind me. I was shocked to see she preferred the hardware department to the petting zoo. Recognizing my error, I bent down and asked her what was wrong.
She looked up at me with those giant limpid brown eyes and said sadly, “Well, Daddy, it cost fifty cents. So, I gave Brandon my quarter.” Then she said the most beautiful thing I ever heard. She repeated the family motto. The family motto is in “Love is Action!”
She had given Brandon her quarter, and no one loves cuddly furry creatures more than Helen. She had watched Sandy take my steak and say, “Love is Action!” She had watched both of us do and say “Love is Action!” for years around the house and Kings Arrow Ranch. She had heard and seen “Love is Action,” and now she had incorporated it into her little lifestyle. It had become part of her.
What do you think I did? Well, not what you might think. As soon as I finished my errands, I took Helen to the petting zoo. We stood by the fence and watched Brandon go crazy petting and feeding the animals. Helen stood with her hands and chin resting on the fence and just watched Brandon. I had fifty cents burning a hole in my pocket; I never offered it to Helen, and she never asked for it.
Because she knew the whole family motto. It’s not “Love is Action.” It’s “Love is SACRIFICIAL Action!” Love always pays a price. Love always costs something. Love is expensive. When you love, benefits accrue to another’s account. Love is for you, not for me. Love gives; it doesn’t grab. Helen gave her quarter to Brandon and wanted to follow through with her lesson. She knew she had to taste the sacrifice. She wanted to experience that total family motto. Love is sacrificial action.
This story perfectly summarizes today’s sermon. Only when we love one another not only with words but also with actions and in truth, it is there that God’s love and truth meet together. Amen.
 . J. Clinton McCann, Jr., “The Book of Psalms,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, ed. Leander E. Keck (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 4:1016.
 . Dave Simmons, Dad the Family Coach: How to Build Teamwork and Team Spirit at Home (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1991), 123-4.
Witness to the Word - July 21
Text: Luke 10:38-42 Title: Martha, Mary, and I
38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
I hope you gain new insights from the story of Martha and Mary as you listen to God’s Word proclaimed this morning.
The traditional interpretation of the Bible story of Martha and Mary that we read this morning is as follow: We need to put listening to God’s Word first before working for God. Such an explanation is still meaningful. But, the text also leaves room for different interpretations. Today, let’s try to reread it in the context of Jewish culture. Then, we may be able to witness the two women demonstrating leadership in a milieu in which women were deemed unimportant. And also, we may not need to instigate a fight between the two any longer.
Let’s see first how what Martha did can be reinterpreted. Luke basically describes her as a landlady inviting and serving Jesus and his companions. Verse 38 says, “As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.” More precisely, Luke is describing Martha as a financial supporter of Jesus’ ministry here. We can also find such a description in a different chapter of the Gospel of Luke. Luke 8:1-3 says, “Soon afterward Jesus began a tour of the nearby towns and villages, preaching and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom of God. He took his twelve disciples with him, along with some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases. Among them were Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons; Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s business manager; Susanna; and many others who were contributing from their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples.” Yes. Luke is making a new attempt here to show his readers that not only men but also women played an important role in Jesus’ ministry at a time in which even the number of women was not counted as we see in the miracle of the five loaves and the two fish. Besides, the name Martha means a master. Martha is voluntarily showing hospitality to Jesus and the disciples as a master of a household. She is financially assisting them of her own accord.
Let’s go a litter further. When it comes to verse 40, people think in general Martha just prepared something to eat for the guests. New Living Translation of the Bible accentuates it: “Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” And also, people believe that Luke wanted to tell us that listening to Jesus is more essential than preparing food for him. As a result, the conclusion drawn is that Martha was complaining about her sister who chose what’s more important while she was doing what’s less important. But, that is the way we see the text from a patriarchal perspective. We can find out what Luke intended to say if we read the original Greek text. The Greek word translated into preparation is διακονία, which means service or ministry. The New Testament authors used that word when describing what Jesus’ or the disciples’ did. Here are some examples. Acts 1:24-25: “Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” 1 Corinthians 12:6: “There are different abilities to perform service, but the same God gives ability to all for their particular service.” Thus, as soon as the readers of Luke heard him saying the word διακονία, they may have immediately noticed that Luke was identifying what Martha did with the ministry of Jesus. Martha is described as a more autonomous person than anyone in this story. To put it exaggeratedly, she is even giving Jesus orders. She is faithfully doing what she needed to do in keeping with the Jewish tradition. She is doing something important.
What’s more, Mary is demonstrating a more creative and brave leadership. The text says that Mary sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. As you know, this does not just mean that she listened to Jesus sitting by his side submissively. As “Paul describes himself as having been “brought up … at the feet of Gamaliel” [in Acts 22:3, to] “sit at the feet” of a rabbi meant that one was a disciple of a rabbi. [Thus, Luke wanted to say that] Mary […] became a disciple of Rabbi Jesus.” Luke’s readers may have been surprised at this because, in the first century, Jewish women were not allowed to be educated. “A Jewish woman’s education was limited to learning the domestic arts and helping care for younger children. (Jewish women were) exempt from the study of the Torah. … Educating women in the … first five books of the Old Testament, tirelessly studied by Jewish men, was hotly debated and most women were not so educated.” It was even shameful that a father teaches his daughter the Law of Moses. In this context, it was natural enough that Martha was worried about her sister who was interested in what women of that time were not usually supposed to do. Martha may have been concerned even about her whole family. “In all likelihood she is thinking: This is disgraceful! What will happen to us! My sister has joined this band of men. What will the neighbors say? What will the family think? After this who will marry her? This is too much to expect!” Martha was not angry because Mary didn’t help her. But, she really did care about her sister. People are inclined to think of Martha as an arrogant and rude older sister and Mary as a meek and mild younger one. But rather, Luke is describing Mary as a woman who breaks with tradition and pioneers a new way.
Eventually, Martha came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” Again, Martha was not angry. She just wanted her sister not to engage in what women were not allowed to do any longer. But soon, our merciful Lord knew what she was thinking. Actually, since Mary sat by his side, Jesus had been worried about how Martha felt. So, Jesus tenderly answered her. Some people say that Jesus rebuked her because he called her name twice. “Martha, Martha.” “Yet Jesus is not saying “tsk, tsk, tsk, poor, foolish Martha.” […] the Savior would never [rebuke] anyone diligently trying to obey God’s law. Even when Jesus addressed the “woman at the well” (see John 4:6-29), […] he gently taught her eternal truths while encouraging personal reformation.” Thus, Jesus softly said, “Martha, I know how you feel. I know what you are concerned about. But, it will be OK for your sister to choose what is not traditional. She started to do something that other women hadn’t tried. She is a pioneer. So, please allow her to keep her decision. And, why don’t you step out of your comfort zone as well and try something new?”
Then, what can we learn from today’s story? According to the way we have reinterpreted it, the story is not about two sisters in a strained relationship. Thus, Luke doesn’t ask us any longer whether we will take Mary’s attitude or Martha’s. Instead, Luke commends both the women for the confidence they had to exercise leadership in a society where the role of women was circumscribed. Therefore, we can listen to both Martha and Mary. First of all, Martha tells us that whatever we do for the church, neighbors, community, and world is as good as what Jesus and his disciples did. Not only listening to the Word of God but also serving others is the way we are able to sit at the Lord’s feet, that is to say, to become Jesus’ disciples. We have so many Marthas in this church “who serve quietly in so many ways. They prepare and serve food at funerals and keep the building functioning, they teach children, balance the books, [mow the lawn,] visit the sick, greet the visitors, prepare communion, mail our [Newsletters], lock the doors, send cards, and find the time to organize activities all the while maintaining families and careers.” Thank you, Marthas. Everything you do is crucial. You are doing the same ministry that Jesus did.
Second, Mary tells us that we can create fresh traditions as she bravely got out of her comfort zone to try a new thing even though it was not in accordance with the cultural tradition of the Jews. As Martha’s reaction to Mary’s unexpected behavior shows, overcoming tradition is dangerous. It will demand courage. But, don’t be afraid. Exercise a creative and imaginative leadership to serve God and neighbor without limit. Jesus, our Lord, will say, “It’s OK to try a new thing. You have chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from you.” Amen.
 . Kenneth E. Bailey, Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels (Downers Grove. IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 193.
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, 2 To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ: Grace and peace to you from God our Father.
3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— 5 the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel 6 that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. 7 You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, 8 and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.
9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
I hope you are reminded that you are called to pray for one another as you listen to God’s Word proclaimed this morning.
At the beginning of the Epistle to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul tells them how he is thankful to God for them and how he has prayed for them. When it comes to intercessory prayer, we are good at praying for those who are sick. But, today’s text reminds us that we can ask God for various things on behalf of others. As we see in verses 9 and 10, Paul says that he didn’t stop asking that Colossian believers might be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that they would walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please God in all respects (New American Standard Version). And then, Paul “elaborates on such a way of life”  in the following verses. Let’s see how he interceded for them. And also, let’s try to practice intercession based on each prayer he offered.
First, Paul prayed that the Colossian Christians could bear fruit in every good work as we see in verse 10. When people hear that someone is ill, they start to pray for him or her quickly. Then, what’s their reaction when they hear about or witness someone’s bad behavior? They may just criticize it and then forget it. But, how about praying for them as well like we pray for those who are sick? We can ask God to help our friends, family members, or any other people to turn around, if they are harming others, and instead do good deeds. I believe that this kind of intercessory prayer is based on love. If we cherish some people, we naturally hope that they become a blessing to others. Why don’t we pray for people that they can produce much fruit in every good work in their lives? It can be truly one of the ways you love others.
When I prepared for the mission trip to Russia in 2004, I heard that children were also exposed to the environment where they could drink alcohol or do drugs. It was proven later when I saw a drunken kid who attended VBS we offered there. And, the more serious problem was that their parents didn’t protect them from drinking. So, we raised awareness there about how dangerous it is for children to drink and continually prayed that adults could create a safe environment for kids. I went to the same cities three times until 2007. Now I don’t know whether or not the situation has been improved. But still, sometimes I pray for them. I miss every person I have met during all of my mission trips. I know I cannot change everything right away. But, I believe that God will answer my prayer. So, I pray that God helps them to keep making better choices in their lives.
Now, I would like to invite you to recall some people who need this type of intercessory prayer. Please close your eyes and take a moment to pray that God helps them to produce every kind of good fruit.
Second, as we are also told in verse 10, Paul asked God to help the Colossian believers to grow in the knowledge of God. We know God. But sometimes, we may find a discrepancy between my understanding of God and others’. Go to a bookstore and pick up a couple of Christian books. They talk about God differently. For example, some people may say God answers every prayer while some others may say God often keeps silent. Some people may describe God as a strict judge while some others may depict God as a benevolent parent. Well, everyone can experience God differently. So, it is natural that people describe God diversely.
Nevertheless, what is the common character of God? How does the Bible basically portray God? Yes. God is love, and God works based on love. So, to grow in the knowledge of God means nothing less than to keep realizing how wide, how long, how high, and how deep God’s love is (Ephesians 3:18). Unfortunately, many people frequently doubt that love of God. That’s why we need to pray for them.
When I was in charge of youth ministry in Korea, there were a group of middle school students who were considered troublemakers. They also knew that they were not fully welcomed at church. I tried to meet them as often as possible. Even when they called me at midnight to talk to me, I was willing to go out to listen to them. While having conversations with them, I found that they had misunderstood God. For them, God was such a scary God who punishes those who sin. So, I did my best to help them to be aware that God is love, which is unconditional and nondiscriminatory. And, I always prayed that God enabled them to know and experience such God’s love. Thankfully, they later started to be involved in various church ministries. Especially, two of them joined me in performing at the concert I gave at church. I lost contact with them now but hope they still grow in the knowledge of God.
Then now, let’s think of whom we need to make this sort of intercession for. Please close your eyes and take a moment to pray that God helps them to realize and experience God’s unconditional love.
Third, as verse 11 says, Paul prayed that God strengthened Christians in Colossae with all power according to God’s glorious might. But, as we see in the text, Paul prayed such prayer for a particular purpose. He asked for God’s power for them so that they could endure all the severe trials they suffered while they faithfully followed Jesus. How many people still need our encouragement and prayer to overcome life challenges in our community and the world?
As you know, my family and I have been distressed by my in-laws’ death and illness over the past two years. But also, we were supported and encouraged by so many people during that period. You guys have been our greatest supporters. And, this prayer concern has been shared in the conference as well. So, we’ve received several cards even from those whom we don’t know. It’s because of your love, prayers, and support that my wife and I did not lose our hearts. Five months ago, the doctor was not sure if my mother-in-law could even have surgery. But, thanks to your prayers, she is scheduled to get one more chemotherapy this month and then surgery in the mid-August. Well, she has lost her appetite as a side effect of the chemo, but my wife is doing her very best to help her mother to eat well. Once again, I appreciate you praying for her.
Now, please let me encourage you to remember those who need this kind of intercessory prayer. Please close your eyes and take a moment to pray that God helps them to endure and overcome hardships they have encountered in their lives.
Lastly, Paul asked God to help the Colossian church members to give joyful thanks to God as we see in verse 12. Honestly, this intercessory prayer is strange to me. Imagine yourself praying like this: “Oh, God. That person does not express his gratitude to you. Please make him give thanks to you.” Isn’t it odd? But, I’m sure that Paul didn’t mean that. “In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.” In that manner, Paul may have believed that gratitude is beneficial to them. Paul mentioned why they always needed to thank God in verses 12-14. He prayed that they would be grateful to God because God let them have part in what God had promised God’s people in the kingdom of light, rescued them from the dark power of Satan and brought them into the kingdom of God’s dear Son, and forgave them their sins and set them free (Contemporary English Version). Paul believed that remembering and being thankful for those facts would help them to live a life that honors the Lord.
We may not be familiar with this kind of intercessory prayer. But, if you know some people who always complain and cannot find joy in their lives, you can pray for them to count their blessings and show their gratitude to God so that they will live a happier life.
Now for the last time, I would like to ask you to recall some people for whom you need to offer the fourth type of intercessory prayer. Please close your eyes and take a moment to pray that God helps them to be thankful to God for what God has done for them.
We all know praying is important for a Christian’s life. We need to pray for ourselves. But at the same time, we are also called to pray for others. And, we can ask God for many things on behalf of them like Paul interceded for Colossian believers. I hope you continue to remember the people for whom you prayed this morning and pray for them as the Holy Spirit also continues to intercede for you. Amen.
 . Andrew T. Lincoln, “The Letter to the Colossians,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, ed. Leander E. Keck (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000), 11:593.
1 Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy. 2 Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. 3 She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” 4 Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. 5 “By all means, go,” the king of Aram replied. “I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. 6 The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.” 7 As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!” 8 When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” 9 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.” 11 But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage. 13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” 14 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.
May you be reminded that you are called to be a blessing to everyone you meet as you listen to God’s Word proclaimed this morning.
There was a man who was suffering from a serious disease. He had seen many doctors, but nobody could cure him. So, he felt hopeless. But one day, one of his friends, who came from a neighbor country, told him that she heard that there is a rising star doctor in her country who is renowned as an expert in his disease. So, he made an appointment right away and flew to the country to see the doctor. But, this doctor was weird. He didn’t talk about a course of treatment nor schedule surgery for him. All he did was just prescribe medicine. The man was totally bewildered. Is this doctor insulting me, he thought. So, he decided to come back home without receiving the medicine. But, his wife gently said to him, “Why don’t you try it? It’s easier to take medicine than to get surgery, isn’t it? Who knows if the medicine is effective? Please.” So, he changed his mind. He stayed there longer and took his medication as directed. And, to our surprise, he was healed of his disease.
Isn’t this story strange? But, I just retold the story in 2 Kings chapter 5 that we read today. It’s about Elisha’s healing of Naaman, the commander of the army of the king of Aram. Naaman had been afflicted with a grievous skin disease. His wife had a maid, and one day, she said to her mistress, “Oh, if only my master could meet the prophet of Samaria, he would be healed of his skin disease.” So, Naaman went to Israel and finally could meet Elisha. But, Elisha just sent out a servant to meet him with this message: “Go to the River Jordan and immerse yourself seven times. Your skin will be healed and you’ll be as good as new.” Huh! Naaman lost his temper. He turned on his heel saying, “I thought he’d personally come out and meet me, call on the name of God, wave his hand over the diseased spot, and get rid of the disease. The Damascus rivers are cleaner by far than any of the rivers in Israel. Why not bathe in them? I’d at least get clean.” He stomped off, mad as a hornet. But his servants caught up with him and said, “Father, if the prophet had asked you to do something hard and heroic, wouldn’t you have done it? So why not this simple ‘wash and be clean’?” So he did it. He went down and immersed himself in the Jordan seven times, following the orders of [Elisha]. And, his skin was healed; it was like the skin of a little baby. He was as good as new (The Message).
This story is interesting, isn’t it? It contains many things to ponder. Focusing on Naaman’s obedience and conversion, Elisha’s miracle of healing, or brashness of Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, I may be able to give a couple more sermons based on this text. But today, as you see in the title of the sermon, I would like to pay more attention to the people who helped Naaman to be healed. One is a maid of Naaman’s wife, and the others are Naaman’s servants who accompanied him on the trip to Israel.
When I tried to imagine their lives, the first emotion I sensed was sadness. Let’s try to envision how their lives were. First of all, the text tells us where the servant girl came from. Verses 1 and 2 say, “Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy. Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife.” The girl was captured by the Aramean troops. She had been separated from her family and perhaps treated inappropriately. So, while Naaman was important to his country, he was just an enemy to the Israelites from her perspective. There was no reason for her to feel good about Naaman and his family. Personally, I got saddened because this reminded me of countless Korean girls who were mobilized to military brothels to serve Japanese soldiers sexually during World War II. They literally suffered in hell. Their lives were miserable and hopeless. The life of the little captive maid in Naaman’s story would not have been different.
But, how does the text describe the girl? She is the first person who played a decisive role in Naaman’s recovery. She said to her mistress, “If your husband Naaman would go to the prophet in Samaria, he would be cured of his leprosy” (2 Kings 5:3, Contemporary English Version). This suggestion became the beginning of Naaman’s healing process. If I were her, I would not tell anything about Elisha.
How about the Naaman’s servants who traveled to Israel with him? They were just servants fearing their master. They had to do whatever Naaman ordered them to do. They were not in a position to advise their master.
But, they played another crucial role in Naaman’s healing. When Naaman got mad at Elisha’s absurd instruction and was about to leave, his servants went to him and said, “[My father,] if the prophet had told you to do something difficult, you would have done it. So why don’t you do what he said? Go wash and be cured” (2 Kings 5:13, CEV). Though we are enjoying reading this passage, they may have been killed by their furious master. How dare you order me!
But, in the end, thanks to his servants, Naaman obeyed Elisha’s words and was healed. And, more surprisingly, he decided to worship Israel’s God. Let me read verses 15-19: Naaman and his [servants] went back to Elisha. Naaman stood in front of him and announced, “Now I know that the God of Israel is the only God in the whole world. [So,] would you please accept a gift from me?” “I am a servant of the living Lord,” Elisha answered, “and I swear that I will not take anything from you.” Naaman kept begging, but Elisha kept refusing. Finally, Naaman said, “If you won’t accept a gift, then please let me take home as much soil as two mules can pull in a wagon. […] from now on I will offer sacrifices only to the Lord (CEV). What a nice ending!
Of course, we can assume that “Naaman and his wife [were] a benevolent master and mistress. Both [the maid and the] servants […] cared about their master’s health and were proactive in trying to rid Naaman of leprosy. The servant girl was comfortable enough with her mistress to share her belief that an Israelite prophet could cure Naaman. Naaman’s servant[s] considered it safe to suggest an action that the furious Naaman had previously rejected. [These servants] must have been with Naaman a long time and had a close relationship with him. For a servant to address a powerful war commander as “Father” is exceptional. Many war commanders were mentioned in the Bible […]. [But, nowhere] in the Bible is there a tender conversation between them and a servant similar to that described between Naaman and his servant[s] and nowhere else in the Bible do we read that servants called their master “Father.”
However, that is how we see the story from Naaman’s perspective. Even if Naaman and his wife were kind and gentle to them, they were only captives who were missing their families and hometowns and servants who were to obey. So, even if the servant girl didn’t want his master, who was actually her enemy, to be healed, we can totally understand it. Even if the servants didn’t take the risk of giving advice to their angry master, we would not blame them. But, it is the girl’s love, the greater love, and the servants’ courage that made Naaman’s recovery possible. I believe that they didn’t just think Naaman as an enemy or master but a friend. That’s why the title of today’s sermon is “Naaman’s Friends” rather than “Naaman’s Servants.”
Friends, the maid of Naaman’s wife and Naaman’s servants tell us not just about forgiving but about blessing those whom they couldn’t help but hate. I am talking about challenging thing. I’m not forcing you to do this right away. I cannot do that either. But, I would like to invite you to recall those whom you cannot easily love at this moment. And, why don’t you ask God to help you to bless them wholeheartedly? Maybe, there is no reason that you need to bless them. And so, it may be totally understandable that you don’t bless them. But, remember the servants of Naaman. Even if there was no reason that they needed to help Naaman, they blessed him, directed him into God’s way, and encouraged him to obey the prophet’s words, which finally led Naaman to worship the Lord. Friends, it is while we were still sinners that God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us (Romans 5:8, New Living Translation). Likewise, when we bless those who are unlovable, God will use us to fulfill God’s unimaginable plan. Amen.
Text: Acts 2:1-4, John 3:5-8, Galatians 5:13-25 Title: The Visible Holy Spirit
1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
-------- 13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. 16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
May you be reminded that you are always called to walk in the Spirit as you listen to God’s Word proclaimed this morning.
Several days had passed since the ascension of Jesus. (Wind Sound Effect starts) “When the Feast of Pentecost came, the disciples were all together in one place. Without warning / there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them” (Acts 2:1-4, Message). (Wind Sound Effect fades out)
How dramatic and spectacular the scene of Pentecost described in Acts 2 is! The promised Holy Spirit came upon the disciples. And, everyone was overwhelmed with joy and awe. But, a question arises. Had the Holy Spirit hidden? And finally, did the Spirit show up on Pentecost after receiving the baton from Jesus? I don’t think so. We Christians believe that “God reveals [God-self] as the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, distinct but inseparable, eternally one in essence and power.” God exists and works as the Trinity forever. Therefore, not a day goes by that the Holy Spirit doesn’t work. Even when God created heaven and earth in the beginning, even when Jesus healed the sick and fed the hungry in a particular region, the Holy Spirit existed and worked. In this sense, Pentecost is not the day when the Holy Spirit began to work, but rather the day when visible signs of invisible work of the Holy Spirit were shown.
Though we are familiar with the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit is still mysterious because we cannot see, hear, touch, smell, and taste the Spirit. Tongues like fire do not appear to us any longer in our ordinary lives. Nevertheless, the Spirit’s invisible work can be visible in a different way. We witness the work of the Holy Spirit throughout the Bible. Who encouraged Noah to keep building the Ark despite the ridicule of others? Who inspired Abraham to believe God’s promise even without evidence? Who helped Joseph to overcome adversity and forgive his brothers? Who gave Moses the courage to lead his people? Who convinced David of sin and granted him repentance? Who transformed the disciples of Jesus into fearless preachers? Who made Paul aware that God loves not only Jews but also Gentiles? Who gave John the vision of the New Heaven and the New Earth? The Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit did. That’s why the Holy Spirit is called paraklétos in Greek (“Paraclete” in English) which means an advocate, intercessor, consoler, comforter, and helper. When we see Moses overcoming fear or Peter boldly proclaiming the Gospel in the Bible, we also see the Holy Spirit working in their lives.
What about us? Who helps us to walk out of the tomb and live the resurrected life? The Holy Spirit. When we find hope in despair, dream a new dream in a lifeless situation, overcome indifference and show hospitality, and realize that we have good friends around us when we feel lonely, we see the Holy Spirit working in our lives. Yes. The key is our life. When our life is transformed, the unseen Holy Spirit can be seen. That’s why Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3:8, “You know well enough how the wind blows this way and that. You hear it rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it’s headed next. That’s the way it is with everyone ‘born from above’ by the wind of God, the Spirit of God” (Message). The Holy Spirit is invisible in that we cannot see the Spirit. But at the same time, the Holy Spirit is visible in that we experience the power of the Holy Spirit who inspires us, pardons us, justifies us, and sanctifies us so that we can keep growing in love.
In this regard, Galatians 5:13-25 shows how the Holy Spirit becomes visible through the fruit we yield in our lives as God became visible through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Jerry Bridges, who was a Christian author, speaker, and staff member of The Navigators, gives us an incredible insight into the fruit of the Spirit. In his book The Fruitful Life, Jerry says, “The fruit of the Spirit is fundamentally relational. Rather than originating with us, it flows to us from our union with Christ, and it flows beyond us to bring us into fellowship with others. The secret of this flow – and of our unity with God and others – is humility.” Let us look at the entire context of the letter to the Galatians to understand more clearly what Jerry says.
Paul sent this letter to Galatian Christians who were facing a particular problem. In Galatians 2:4, the Apostle Paul reveals what it was, saying, “[Some people] pretended to be followers and had sneaked in among us as spies. They had come to take away the freedom that Christ Jesus had given us, and they were trying to make us their slaves” (Contemporary English Version). The false believers continually tried to deceive the Galatian believers by saying that non-Jews have to follow the Jewish law as well as believe in Jesus to be saved. That is to say, the false teachers forced Christians in Galatia to be circumcised as Jews were.
So, in this situation, Paul affirms that “a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16). And then, he calls on Galatian believers to stop discussing whether or not they need to be circumcised and instead embrace and love each other. Galatians 5:6 shows Paul’s conclusion: “[I]n Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” How unique his theology is! He combines faith and love because, for him, all that matters was our faith that makes us love others (Galatians 5:6, CEV). And, it is followed by his famous summarization of the Law: “All that the Law says can be summed up in the command to love others as much as you love yourself” (Galatians 5:14, CEV).
It is right here that Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit. He contrasts it with the acts of the flesh, saying, “The Spirit and [the desires of the flesh] are enemies of each other. They are always fighting each other and keeping you from doing what you feel you should. But if you obey the Spirit, the Law of Moses has no control over you. People’s desires make them give in to immoral ways, filthy thoughts, and shameful deeds. They worship idols, practice witchcraft, hate others, and are hard to get along with. People become jealous, angry, and selfish. They not only argue and cause trouble, but they are envious. They get drunk, carry on at wild parties, and do other evil things as well. I told you before, and I am telling you again: No one who does these things will share in the blessings of God’s kingdom. God’s Spirit makes us loving, happy, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled. There is no law against behaving in any of these ways” (Galatians 5:17-23, CEV).
Though this passage seems to tell us a lot we must not do and we must do, it basically says about one essential thing: When we walk by the Spirit, we will grow in love as a result. In this process, we will naturally produce the fruit of the Spirit. Think about this. To love someone is to have patience with the person, to rejoice with the person who rejoices, to be kind and faithful to the person, and to control your tongue or anger. And eventually, through this fruit of the Spirit, everyone will see the Holy Spirit working in us. On the contrary, when we refuse to walk with the Holy Spirit, it will not be easy for us to grow in love. And, in that process, the acts of the flesh will be seen. As Jesus says in Matthew 7:17-18, “[E]very good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.”
So, this passage always asks us a question: Will you choose to follow the desires of the flesh or walk in the Spirit? Again, the fruit of the Spirit is not what we can produce by our own efforts but what God makes us produce when we are connected to the Holy Spirit. Jesus already told the same thing in John 15:4-5: “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing” (New Living Translation). So, to bear the fruit of the Spirit, all we need to do is just open ourselves to the Spirit, to let the Spirit melt us, mold us, fill us, and use us. Let me read Jerry’s words once again: “The fruit of the Spirit is fundamentally relational. Rather than originating with us, it flows to us from our union with Christ, and it flows beyond us to bring us into fellowship with others. The secret of this flow – and of our unity with God and others – is humility.” Yes. When we walk by the Holy Spirit, we will grow in love, and finally, the invisible Holy Spirit will become visible through our fruitful lives. Amen.
 . The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church (Nashville, TN: The United Methodist Publishing House, 2016), 72.
 . https://biblehub.com/greek/3875.htm
 . Jerry Bridges, The Fruitful Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2006), 47.
Witness to the Word - June 2, 2019
Text: Luke 24:50-53, Acts 1:6-9, Mark 16:15-20 Title: Lord of the Whole Universe
50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
-------- 15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” 19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.
May you be reminded that Jesus is the Lord of the whole universe as well as your Lord as you listen to God’s Word proclaimed this morning.
The disciples of Jesus had to say bye to the teacher they had loved. Not once but twice. First, they saw Jesus hung on a cross and killed. And later, as we see today, they watched him taken up into heaven. But obviously, the feelings they had after those two events were not the same. When Jesus died, their mind was dominated by hopelessness and fears. But, after the ascension of Jesus, their heart was filled with joy as Luke 24:51-52 says, “[Jesus] was taken to heaven. The disciples worshiped him and were overjoyed as they went back to Jerusalem” (GOD’S WORD® Translation). How could they be so different?
Is that because they witnessed the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection? Well, I don’t think so. They had already seen so many miracles performed by Jesus. Jesus fed five thousand people with only five loaves and two fish, calmed the storm, turned water into wine, raised Lazarus from the dead, etc. etc. The disciples witnessed all these supernatural events before Jesus’ death. So, they could’ve expected Jesus to rise from the dead. But, when Jesus died on the cross, they just lost every hope. Some disciples even returned to their hometowns in despair. Therefore, witnessing a miracle itself is not the reason that the disciples felt differently.
How about ourselves? Have you seen a miracle? And, has that miracle helped you to become a better Christian? If so, I am thankful to God for that. But, many Christians, including me, seek signs and miracles, and then, if they see them, they are surprised but not necessarily transformed.
Nevertheless, in a way, I still think that it is because the disciples experienced a miracle that they had a different feeling after the second farewell. But, that’s not a miracle which occurred outside them but in their hearts. In other words, they experienced inner transformation. They came to understand why Jesus had come to earth. And, they realized what they as followers of Jesus had been called to do. And, they started to feel confident that they could do what Jesus did even without Jesus’ physical presence with them any longer.
Let’s take a closer look at what the transformation was. When Jesus was still with his disciples, he continually told them that he came to the world to heal the sick, feed the hungry, eat with sinners, cleanse the unclean, and deliver people from bondage to evil, brokenness, and death. But, they couldn’t understand what Jesus said. Rather, they mistook Jesus for a person who would free Israel from Roman rule. Was their thought changed after Jesus was resurrected? No. Let’s read Acts 1:6-7 again: “Then they gathered around [the Risen Jesus] and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” [Jesus] said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”
And, Jesus continued to remind them of what he had been called to do and what his followers were also called to do right before ascending into heaven: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight” (Acts 1:8-9). Mark 16:15-18 also shows us what Jesus told his disciples before the ascension: “Jesus said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. […] these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”
And finally, the disciples were changed. We don’t know when, but they were. We can witness their transformation. Luke 24:50-53 say, “When [Jesus] had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.” Also, we are told in Mark 16:19-20, “After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.” They not only witnessed Jesus’ resurrection but also experienced a transformation of the heart. To borrow the expression of The Empty Tomb sermon series, they walked out of the tomb in which they attempted to use Jesus for their own ends and started to adjust their lives to Jesus.
According to tradition, all the disciples were martyred while they were proclaiming the Good News after spreading across the world. I believe it’s because they became fully aware that Jesus came to earth not just for Israel but for the restoration of all God’s creation. They realized that Jesus is the Lord of all people, all nations, all the universe. So, they started to confess that Jesus ascended into heaven and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead, and we also confess the same faith today. Therefore, on Ascension Sunday, we praise Jesus the Nazarene who has become the Lord of the whole universe and inspired all Christians to heal the sick, feed the hungry, eat with sinners, proclaim and live out the love of God all over the world. Amen.