MANUSCRIPTS FROM PASTOR DAEKYUNG'S MOST RECENT SERMONS ARE BELOW:
October 20 is Laity Sunday. BUMC Lay Leader Stan Luke is sharing the message.
October 13 worship was led by a guest speaker so we have no manuscript to share.
Witness to the Word - October 6, 2019
Text: Psalm 133:1-3 Title: Living Together in Harmony
1 How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! 2 It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe. 3 It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.
Good morning. I hope you remember that everyone around the world is invited to the communion table today as you listen to God’s Word proclaimed this morning.
Every Sunday, we pass the peace at the beginning of worship. It cannot be emphasized enough that we Christians are called to bring about peace where we are. It is a peaceful world that Psalm 133 dreams of. Verse 1 proclaims how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in harmony! How good it is when family members live together in harmony! How beautiful it is when church members dwell in unity. How wonderful it is when the people in a community or country live together in peace!
But, peace is not what is achieved naturally. Think about this. Peace is not what we should make when we are similar. It is natural that people having the same opinions or interests dwell in unity. Rather, peace is what we should make when we are different. It is natural that different people feel difficulty in living together in harmony. That’s why peace is what we need to try to achieve intentionally. As a person who came from a country which is the only divided one in the world because of the war, I am painfully aware that peace is not achieved naturally. We need to make a lot of effort to accomplish peace. So, it is good when family members live together in harmony. It is beautiful when church members dwell in unity. It is wonderful when the people in a community or country live together in peace. But, we need to strive to live together in harmony. We know there are lots of things we can do for peace. We can walk a mile in each other’s shoes, put others first, share what we have, and so on. Well, we are familiar with those things.
But, I want to remind you of one of the fundamental and biblical ways today. That is to be aware that we all are invited to the Lord’s table.
The remaining two verses of Psalm 133 show us a unique image. Verses 2 and 3 say, “[Living together in unity] is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion.” What are the repeated words? What is the most striking image? Yes. It is oil or water running down.
The oil and water touch everything while flowing, which reminds us of the Holy Spirit’s work. The Spirit of God moves among all living things and touches their hearts. The Spirit encourages those who are mourning for their failure. The Spirit weeps with those who are facing family problems. The Spirit comforts the wounded hearts of those who have a bitter relationship with somebody. The Spirit suffers with those who are discriminated against or bullied. The Spirit soothes the souls of those who are sad and painful. The Spirit empathizes with those who are worried and fearful. While running down like oil and water, the Holy Spirit touches everyone’s heart.
Let’s look into the image more. As we see in the text, the oil and water finally reach particular spots. The oil poured on the head arrives at the collar of Aaron’s robe. The dew of Hermon reaches Mount Zion. These two spots represent a place where we can experience God’s presence and mercy. This reminds us of the table of the Holy Communion through which we experience God’s unconditional and nondiscriminatory grace. The Holy Spirit touches everyone’s heart and gathers them at the table like a hen gathers her chicks under her wings (Matt 23:37; Luke 13:34). So, this table is open to everyone without reservation. Whether you are rich or poor, whether you sinned last week or not, whether you are living according to the Bible or not, whether you are baptized or not, whoever you are, everyone is invited to the communion table.
Lastly, the dew of Hermon represents the people of the northern kingdom of Israel, and Mount Zion, the center of the southern kingdom. And, the dew falling from Hermon onto Zion unites the two kingdoms. Therefore Psalm 133 ultimately talks about peaceful unity among different nations, different people, different denominations, etc. Whenever we come to this communion table, we are reminded that we can be united although we all are different. Receiving bread and cup, we can remember everyone is invited to this communion table without reservation. Receiving bread and cup, we can celebrate each other’s uniqueness. Receiving bread and cup, we can decide again to love others the way they are. This table is an important reminder of the possibility of unity. So, for Christians, coming to the communion table is the most fundamental step to peace.
Today we are especially celebrating World Communion Sunday. Remembering they are all one in Christ regardless of anything, every Christian around the world joins Holy Communion today. Thinking of the dew of Hermon and Mount Zion, we prepared some pieces of bread in a basket, which is more popular in Western culture, and steamed rice in a bowl, which is more prevalent in Eastern culture. The two placed on the same table remind us of unity like Mount Hermon and Mount Zion sharing the same dew. But also, each one reminds us of unity. We make bread from flour. But, think of the process. To make bread, we mix flour and water and knead it until flour sticks together. What about steamed rice? The rice that Korean or Japanese people eat is a little bit different from the rice you can easily eat at Indian or Mexican restaurants. It is glutinous rice. So, if we combine water and rice in a pot and heat it, they gradually stick together. We can eat rice even with chapsticks rather than with a spoon. The bread and rice not only represent unity by themselves but also remind us that the Holy Spirit connects north and south, east and west, and invites all the people to this gracious table.
So, friends, at this table, we can dream of a peaceful world. Even though the world in which we are living is not always peaceful, we can still dream of a peaceful day when everyone holds hands and enjoy each other’s uniqueness whenever joining the Holy Communion.
 . J. Clinton McCann, Jr., “The Book of Psalms,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, ed. Leander E. Keck (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 4:1214.
 . Ibid.
Witness to the Word - Sept. 22
Text: Mark 6:1-6 Title: Too Familiar with Jesus
1 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith. Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village.
Good morning. May you experience Jesus working in you in various ways not only as you listen to God’s Word proclaimed this morning but also as you live your daily life.
Something or someone that we are familiar with makes us feel comfortable, which is good. But, in general, we mature in faith when we have to deal with unfamiliar situations, such as when we try new things, when we face unexpected difficulties, etc. Likewise, we usually enjoy fellowship with our familiar Jesus. But, different images of Jesus, which we sometimes don’t even notice, help us understand Jesus more deeply and grow in faith and love. Today, let’s think about this: Aren’t we too familiar with Jesus to expect something new from him?
If somebody asked me, “What is one question we Christians have to ask ourselves in everyday life,” I would say, “Who do I think Jesus is?” One day, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” Jesus asked. “Who do you say I am?” And, Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew16:13-16; Mark 8:27-29; Luke 9:18-20). Then, who do you say Jesus is? Because we are also Jesus’ disciples, such a question is still important to us.
I bet each of you will say various things about Jesus. It’s natural because the experience and context of everyone’s lives are different. But think again. Who do we say Jesus is? Don’t we tend to have some fixed and simplified images of Jesus? And, aren’t we all too familiar with them? So, don’t we ignore a lot of other unique characteristics of Jesus from time to time? It was Jesus’ home folks who did so. One day, they saw Jesus teaching in the synagogue. But, it was a totally unexpected situation for them. All they knew about Jesus was that he was the carpenter and the son and brother of those whom they had known for a long time. And, that’s all. They didn’t want to know more about nor acknowledge the unfamiliar Jesus. They were just upset because of what Jesus was doing.
But Jesus was a mysterious person. He cannot be defined in a single word. We confess that Jesus is truly human. It means that Jesus lived in a particular time and place and died as we do. But, we also believe that Jesus is truly God, which means that we cannot understand Jesus fully. So, “[o]ne early Christian legend claims that Jesus looked different to everyone who saw him; a handsome boy to one, an old man to another, a [vagrant] to a third. […] it does capture something right: Jesus’ sheer strangeness, the ways in which even those closest to him didn’t understand him.” This tells us that there are always lots of new things we can and should know about Jesus.
In his book “Jesus through the Centuries,” the theologian Jaroslav Pelikan shows how various the understandings of Jesus throughout history were. He introduces 18 different images of Jesus: the rabbi, the turning point of history, the light of the gentiles, the King of kings, the cosmic Christ, the Son of man, the true image, the Christ crucified, the monk who rules the world, the bridegroom of the soul, the divine and human model, the universal man, the mirror of the eternal, the prince of peace, the teacher of common sense, the poet of the Spirit, the liberator, and the man who belongs to the world. All of these images are from the Bible. But, you may not be familiar with some of them. Yes. We still can and should find strange images of Jesus in the Bible.
Let’s go back to the question, “Who do you think Jesus is.” Jesus was tender and caring as we hear him say in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” But, did you know that Jesus uttered curses before saying such kind words? In Matthew 11:21-22, he says, “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you.” Obviously, Jesus was compassionate to all who were tired from carrying heavy burdens. But he was also fearsome from time to time.
Once again, who do you think Jesus is? As we see in the Bible, Jesus cherished his disciples. One of my favorite stories in the Gospels is about Jesus visiting Peter after the resurrection to reinstate him. It shows how much Jesus loved the disciples. John 21:15-17: “When the disciples finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” But, he didn’t always tell them they were right. For example, when people brought little children to Jesus to have him touch them, the disciples saw this and rebuked them. Just then, Jesus, who became indignant, said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:13-15; Matthew 19:13-14; Luke 18: 15-17). Also, were you aware that Jesus rebuked Peter right after praising him who answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”? As we see in Mark 8:31-33, “Jesus then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” Yes. Jesus held the disciples dear but, at the same time, was a strict teacher.
Finally, who do you say Jesus is? He was a Jew and didn’t doubt the importance of the Law. So, in Matthew 5:17-18, he says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” But, Jesus didn’t stop there. He went further. He didn’t repeat the Law like a parrot but reinterpreted it. So, for instance, he continues to say, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:21-22); “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well” (Matthew 5:38-40). We don’t doubt that Jesus came to fulfill the Law. But, we should be careful about what it means to him to fulfill the Law. As the Apostle Paul says in Romans 13:8, “Whoever loves others has fulfilled the Law.”
As we have seen some examples this morning, the Bible shows us conflicting images of Jesus to which we may not be accustomed. But, all those different images help us to be more faithful disciples of Jesus. Recall the people in Jesus’ hometown. If we keep stereotyping Jesus as one or two particular persons, Jesus will not be able to work in our lives in various ways.
So, friends, let’s keep rediscovering who Jesus is. If we are too familiar with a couple of fixed images of Jesus, let’s try to make him strange to us. Elsie Dyer recently shared a Facebook post titled “New Christmas Tradition.” It says, “Beginning December 1st, read one chapter of the Book of Luke in the Bible each evening. There are 24 chapters. On Christmas Eve you will have read an entire account of Jesus’ life and wake up Christmas morning knowing who and why we celebrate!” This is a very good suggestion. Why don’t we start today rather than wait until December? Read the Gospel of Luke carefully. And, find out whether there are unfamiliar images of Jesus there. And, talk about your discovery with your friends or with me. I’ll be happy to hear from you. Let’s be surprised at Jesus continually. Let’s be a village in which Jesus can still do miracles, not be his hometown. Let’s keep allowing him to work in our lives in new ways! Amen.
 . William C. Placher, Jesus the Savior: The Meaning of Jesus Christ for Christians Faith (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 19.
Witness to the Word - Sept. 15
Text: John 12:20-36 Title: The Death of a Seed
20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus. 23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. 27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. 30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up[g] from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. 34 The crowd spoke up, “We have heard from the Law that the Messiah will remain forever, so how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?” 35 Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. 36 Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.
Good morning. I hope you keep living a paradoxical Christian life after listening to God’s Word proclaimed this morning.
If somebody asked me to describe the Christian life in one word, I would say, “Paradox.” We all are familiar with the paradoxical sayings of Jesus in the Gospels. For example, Jesus says, “Many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Mark 10:31; Matthew 19:30), or “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be a servant of all” (Mark 10:43-44; Matthew 20:26-27). Today’s text is one of them as well. In verses 24 and 25, Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
What was his purpose for using paradoxes? It’s not difficult to answer the question. I believe he wanted to tell his followers that they were required to think and act differently. Noted historian Thomas C. Reeves […] wrote: “God did not save us solely so that we could go to Heaven. [God] calls and commands us to have an impact here on Earth as well. Well, there have been different ways in which Christians have a relationship with society. Sometimes, they can ignore it. Sometimes, they can cooperate with it. But, as Thomas mentions, they also can transform it. Jesus’ paradoxes call on us not to be influenced by the world but to change it by living in a unique way. Then, what is the different way of life today’s reading talks about? It says that we can bear much fruit only when we die.
What does it mean to die? When Jesus said to Nicodemus, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again,” Jesus did not mean physical death and reincarnation. Likewise, in today’s text, he does not mean we must die physically. Instead, as Jesus wanted his Heavenly Father to save him but accepted eventually that he was sent to offer his life for all, to die means to sacrifice even though we don’t want to do that, to give without expectation even though we don’t have to do that, to put others first even though it’s easier said than done, etc. Well, of course, we need to take good care of ourselves. We need to set healthy boundaries. We need to cherish ourselves. We need to do that. But ultimately, when does the love of God flow from us to others? It is when we give up something important to us for the sake of others. That’s why we honor those who made a sacrifice. But, we Christians are not just called to remember them but to show sacrificial love to others as well. We are called to die.
While preparing the sermon, two people who lived a sacrificial life in a foreign country came to mind. I want to introduce them to you today. The first one is Henry G. Appenzeller, the first Methodist missionary to Korea.
The Korean Methodist Church marks the year 2015 as 130 years since Appenzeller arrived at Chemulpo, Korea (now Incheon), with his wife, Ella, on Easter Sunday in 1885.
Appenzeller was born in 1858 to fourth generation Pennsylvania Dutch parents. At eighteen, while preparing for college at West Chester Normal School in West Chester, Pennsylvania (1876-1877), Appenzeller experienced a spiritual conversion during a revival meeting. He met Methodists shortly thereafter. In 1878 Appenzeller enrolled in Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, sent there and financially supported by his father to prepare for the German Reformed ministry. While a sophomore, prompted by a deepening sense of evangelical piety and attracted by the Methodists in Lancaster, Appenzeller decided to switch his membership from the German Reformed Church to the Methodist Episcopal Church. He became an assistant pastor in the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1880, pastoring, appropriately, the East Mission of the First Methodist Episcopal Church of Lancaster. Upon graduation from Franklin & Marshall in 1882, Appenzeller enrolled in Drew Theological Seminary, Madison, New Jersey.
Appenzeller demonstrated his first serious interest in foreign missions at Drew. He submitted a request to the Board of Foreign Missions of the Methodist Episcopal Church for an appointment to Japan, but no openings existed. Instead, Korea opened as a mission field in late 1884 and the Board considered Appenzeller for the assignment. A key member of the Methodist Mission Board selecting the missionaries for Korea, the Rev. John F. Goucher, feared Appenzeller possessed neither the diplomatic skills nor the maturity necessary to build Methodist congregations in Korea. But the Board, noting both Appenzeller’s experience as an educator (he taught in the Pennsylvania public school system from 1878-1880 while attending Franklin & Marshall College) and his training for the Methodist ministry at Drew Theological Seminary, on December 20, 1884 finally decided to send him and his bride, Ella, to Korea. They would join previously selected missionary doctor, William B. Scranton.
Appenzeller founded one of the first Methodist churches in Korea as well as a school for boys and helped to translate the Bible into Korean. He arrived at a time of political struggle, making it hard for missionaries to establish a church or preach in public. People did evangelism secretly. In 1887, public worship was allowed, and Appenzeller began his work in earnest. From 1885 until his tragic death in a steamship collision off the coast of Korea in June, 1902, Appenzeller sacrificed himself in order to let Korean people know that God loves them.
A kernel of wheat named Appenzeller flew to Korea like dandelion seeds and fell to the ground. And, it died and produced countless seeds. One of them was Doo Hoon Jang, the first Korean Methodist missionary to Hopi. In 1991, Doo Hoon, being assured that God had called him to serve Native Americans, flew to the U.S. from Korea though nobody could understand about going to the U.S. for missionary works back then. He served Blackfeet, Hopi, and Navajo. But, whichever village he entered, they didn’t welcome him. Also, because they didn’t have a good relationship with each other, Doo Hoon rarely accomplished anything. In the end, even some churches, which were supporting him financially, started to doubt whether his missionary works would be successful. But, he didn’t give up. He did his best to sow the seeds of the Gospel. But, even until 2002, there was still no outstanding achievement. Then, on March 5th, 2002, Doo Hoon was driving on the way to Arizona from Los Angeles to deliver some relief supplies as he had done. While driving through the Mojave Desert, the car flipped over all of a sudden. The supplies were scattered, and Doo Hoon was killed on the spot. According to an American couple who had supported him, Doo Hoon purchased cheap retread tires rather than new ones because he wanted to spend as much money as possible for Hopi mission. And, it turned out that it was the tires that caused the accident. His body was moved to Korea and cremated. But, the half of his ashes was buried in Hopi village later. His story seems to end there. But, his death started to bring Native American ministry to so many Korean Methodists’ attention. The Korean Methodist Church sent another missionary there, and he served there for several years and came back to Korea. Again, the denomination sent three missionaries there, and they are now serving in each Hopi village. One of them had missionary training with my wife and me in Korea in 2012. So, when we came to Kansas in 2014, we contacted them and went on an outreach trip to Hopi village twice. A kernel of wheat named Doo Hoon flew to the U.S. and fell to the ground. And, it died and produced many seeds.
Both Appenzeller and Doo Hoon served those who could not repay them without condition. That’s why their sacrifice is priceless. In this regard, I appreciate everyone who participated in Community Fiesta Dinner yesterday to share God’s love with those living far away from us. I appreciate our youths who went to Puerto Rico to serve those who cannot repay us. I am grateful to all of you who serve not only the community but also the world without condition. I am thankful to God for you who always put others first though it’s not easy. Your sacrifice will produce a large crop. I remember that somebody says, “You can repay me by helping others.” The Korean Methodists who owed Appenzeller’s gratitude cannot repay him directly. But, they are repaying him by spreading all over the world to proclaim the Good News. Likewise, even if those who are indebted to you cannot repay you directly, they will also repay you by sharing God’s love they’ve received from you with others. So, let us keep dying. Let us keep serving. Let us keep sharing God’s love without expectation. If we die, we will produce many seeds. Amen.
Text: Matthew 14:22-36 Title: On the Water, In the Water
22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. 25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. 27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” 29 “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” 32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” 34 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret. 35 And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him 36 and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.
Good morning. I hope you feel the presence of God as you listen to God’s Word proclaimed this morning.
In our time, it seems that the story of Jesus walking on water can become a reality only in such a funny prank video. Nobody can walk on water literally. Do you wish you could? Well, it would be lovely if we could. But, I believe none of us think that this story challenges us to walk on John Redmond Lake. That’s not what Matthew meant to say.
Many sermons focus on verse 31, which says, “Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught [Peter]. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt”?” Today we are also going to think about this particular verse. What made Jesus call Peter You of little faith? What did Peter have doubt about? The Bible doesn’t mention it. But, we can assume the answers. First, Peter may not have trusted Jesus. Interestingly, while Jesus just says, “Why did you doubt?” in the New International Version of the Bible, he asks, “Why did you doubt me?” in the New Living Translation. Jesus may have asked that question because the disciples mistook him for a ghost or because Peter was not absolutely sure if the person walking on the lake was Jesus. Second, Peter may not have been certain whether Jesus could make him walk on water. Third, Peter may not have believed that Jesus was stronger than wind. Verse 30 says, “[W]hen [Peter] saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Well, I think all of these three answers make sense. And, depending on each answer, a sermon will go differently. But, I bet you all are familiar with those answers. So, I tried to think about another answer. What Peter doubted was not Jesus himself, or Jesus’ ability to make him walk on water, or Jesus who can even calm the storm, but the fact that he could float in water.
We are not God, so we cannot walk on water. That’s why we have to learn how to swim. Then, what does water mean? It means our life in which we can naturally experience failure, frustration, conflict, discrimination, etc. But, the more severe problem is that a strong wind sometimes makes us fearful so that we cannot overcome crises. We may choose to ignore such a fierce gale and keep focusing on Jesus. But, even if we do so, the problems don’t go away. They are there. So, we need God’s salvation in the ocean named life like Peter, while beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me” (Matthew 14:30)! But think about this. We actually spend more time in the water, not on the water. We often flounder in the water rather than waltz on the water. So, it is essential to know how to survive even in the stormy sea.
Staying in water is closely related to walking on it. I believe we should seek to walk on water ultimately. So, before considering how to keep safe in the water, let’s briefly think about what walking on water means. There can be various answers too. If walking on water is considered as being in joy, sinking in water may be understood as being in trouble. Or, if we interpret walking on water as being born again, struggling in water may mean that our old selves are dying. But, we can also understand walking on water as feeling the presence of God. We Christians want to feel it all the time. It’s a fantastic thing. When do you most strongly sense God’s presence? You may feel it while praying, talking with your spiritual mentors, walking in nature, etc. Everyone experiences God’s presence differently. It may be important to know when you have a strong feeling that God is with you. Sometimes, you may be able to feel it all of a sudden. When you see the rainbow in the sky, you may hear God whisper, “I love you.” When you see your kids’ or grandkids’ happy face, you may suddenly realize that God has blessed you. If only we all could walk on water without cease.
If walking on water means feeling the presence of God, sinking in water means being not able to discern it. Of course, God is with us all the time. But unfortunately, we do not always feel it. There are lots of reasons for it. It may be because of some worries. You can sense the presence of God when you sing your favorite hymns in the morning. But, in the evening, you may not be able to feel it because you are seized by lots of worries in your life. Also, you may not be able to realize that God is with you because you are angry or hurt. So, you may even feel like you are abandoned. Well, lots of biblical figures felt the same feeling. Even Jesus did so. On the cross, he cried out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Mark 15:34)?
When we feel like we are sinking, we, especially those who are not able to swim cannot help but feel scared. We may not be able to see Jesus near us. We may not be able to believe that we will be rescued. But, the more serious problem is that we may forget that we can float in the end if we relax. We sometimes think we need to pray more eagerly or spend more time reading the Bible when we cannot sense the presence of God. Such an effort is necessary. But, some of our ancestors of faith have suggested another way. You may already be familiar with it or not. It is to learn “receptivity.”
An example of the need for receptivity and relaxing and of our innate resistance to both is found in this description of the birthing process written by a long-term maternity nurse. “The transition stage of labor is the interval during which the cervix goes from 7-8 centimeters to complete dilation (10 centimeters). During this time the mother usually notes a drastic change and may respond by getting very anxious, and if she is not properly supported and prepared, she may feel panic. As in the early stages of labor, she can assist only by relaxing. If she loses control, fights the contractions, she will increase her own fear, which in turn increases her discomfort. For most women, this is the most difficult stage because the interlude seems to threaten the loss of control and, momentarily at least, to be without fruit.
It’s fearful to sink. But, if we can relax rather than struggle to survive, we will finally float in water. So, one of my favorite theologians, Matthew Fox says, “Trust the buoyancy of the water, of the darkness, of the pain, […] of our own body, own air, own lungs, own trust.”
It’s painful not to be able to sense the presence of God. It’s painful to feel lonely. But, to learn receptivity is nothing less than to face the pain as it is and finally let it go. Through the process, we will learn lots of things. Fox continues to say, “[W]e can and indeed must deal with our pain [in this manner]. First comes the embrace, the allowing of pain to be pain; next comes the journey with the pain; then the letting go, but in a deliberate manner, into a fire, into a cauldron where the pain’s energy will serve us. And finally comes the benefit we do indeed derive from having burned this fuel. Pain is meant to give us energy.”
Then, what kind of energy can pain give to us? “First, pain helps us to understand other people in pain.” My pain is my personal one. But, we can choose whether we will see others’ suffering through my pain, or we will focus only on my distress. You may remember that I said it was after I experienced life as a foreigner that I could understand how difficult it was for one of my foreign friends to live in Korea. The process of facing our pain and letting it go is arduous. But, pain can help us see each other’s pain at last.
Secondly, pain allows “us to experience how the true pleasures in our lives are of the simplest, most shareable kind.” I felt lonely and painful during my family’s visitation in Korea for the past two months. But, during that period, I deeply realized that not only my wife and two kids but also you all are God’s greatest blessing and gift to me. One day when I was about to go to bed by myself in the tranquil parsonage, all of a sudden, I became fully aware of how much I have been loved. Yes. Ironically, when we are in distress, we may earn the opportunity to realize how we have been blessed.
The poet Rainer Maria Rilke, who himself underwent a profoundly painful childhood, having been locked in the attic by his mother for long periods of time, and having been sent to a military school even though he was a sensitive child, learned something of praise and pleasure from his journeys into pain. He writes: Oh, tell us, poet, what do you do? I praise. But the deadly and the violent days, how do you undergo them, take them in? I praise. But the namelessness – how do you raise that, invoke the unnameable? I praise. What right have you, through every phase, in every mask, to remain true? I praise. – and that both stillness and the wild affray know you, like star and storm? Because I praise.
“A third way in which pain enlivens us and gives us energy is that embarking on pain and making that journey toughens us up.” Confronting the pain is more challenging than ignoring it. It requires a lot of courage. But, through the process in which we embrace the pain, learn from it, and let it go, we will be more mature. So, Fox says, “It makes us stronger by testing us and demanding discipline of us that we did not know we were capable of.”
Of course, “[w]e are not asked to cling to our pain, to wallow in it, to build our lives around it. What we must do ultimately is to let go of pain.” Yes. As I mentioned earlier, our ultimate goal is to walk on water.
We sometimes cannot feel the presence of God because we are hurt, fearful, or angry. And we even want to give up on everything. But, Jesus still reaches out his hand to catch us and asks again with a gentle voice, “My beloved friend, why do you doubt? Why do you doubt that you can float? Why do you doubt your receptivity? Why do you doubt your ability to face the pain courageously?” Friends, Jesus is still there near you, with you, in you, and among you. Don’t be afraid. You will float in water in the end. Amen.
 . Matthew Fox, Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality Presented in Four Paths, Twenty-Six Themes, and Two Questions (New York, NY: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 2000), 159.
 . Ibid.
 . Ibid.
 . Ibid., 142-3.
 . Ibid., 143.
 . Ibid.
 . Ibid., 144.
 . Ibid.
 . Ibid.
 . Ibid., 147.
Witness to the Word - Sept. 1
Text: Acts 22:1-21 Title: Unforgettable Memories with Jesus
1 “Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense.” 2 When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet. Then Paul said: 3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. 4 I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, 5 as the high priest and all the Council can themselves testify. I even obtained letters from them to their associates in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished. 6 “About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. 7 I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’ 8 “‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked. “‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. 9 My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me. 10 “‘What shall I do, Lord?’ I asked. “‘Get up,’ the Lord said, ‘and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.’ 11 My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me. 12 “A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. 13 He stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very moment I was able to see him. 14 “Then he said: ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. 15 You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’ 17 “When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance 18 and saw the Lord speaking to me. ‘Quick!’ he said. ‘Leave Jerusalem immediately, because the people here will not accept your testimony about me.’ 19 “‘Lord,’ I replied, ‘these people know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. 20 And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.’ 21 “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”
Good morning. I hope you have a chance to recall your unforgettable memories with Jesus as you listen to God’s Word proclaimed this morning.
Paul’s message about Jesus made both Jews and non-Jews feel uncomfortable. Especially, Jews concluded that it had collided with their religious tradition. Eventually, as we see in Acts chapter 21, some Jews from the province of Asia accused Paul, shouting, “Men of Israel, help us! This is the man who preaches against our people everywhere and tells everybody to disobey the Jewish laws. He speaks against the Temple – and even defiles this holy place by bringing in Gentiles” (Acts 21:28, New Living Translation). So, he was arrested. But, Paul gained the opportunity to tell the angry Jewish mob his memories with Jesus. Because he made a speech in face of death threats, we can assume that he selected some of the most unforgettable memories.
It is in today’s text that the speech is found. After briefly sharing his background with the mob, Paul recollects how sinful he was in verse 4, which says, “I made trouble for everyone who followed the Lord’s Way, and I even had some of them killed. I had others arrested and put in jail. I didn’t care if they were men or women” (Contemporary English Version). And then, he recalls the day when he met the Christ. Verses 6-8 say, “One day about noon I was getting close to Damascus, when a bright light from heaven suddenly flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice asking, “Saul, Saul, why are you so cruel to me?” “Who are you?” I answered. The Lord replied, “I am Jesus from Nazareth! I am the one you are so cruel to”” (CEV). Next he remembers that God has sent him a helper as he says in verses 12-13, “In [Damascus] there was a man named Ananias, who faithfully obeyed the Law of Moses and was well liked by all the Jewish people living there. He came to me and said, “Saul, my friend, you can now see again!” At once I could see” (CEV). This is followed by his memory of the Lord who has given him God’s vision through Ananias. Verses 14-15 say, “Then Ananias told me, “The God that our ancestors worshiped has chosen you to know what he wants done. He has chosen you to see the One Who Obeys God and to hear his voice. You must tell everyone what you have seen and heard”” (CEV). Then, he calls up the memory of his baptism as we see in verse 16, in which Ananias says, “What are you waiting for? Get up! Be baptized, and wash away your sins by praying to the Lord” (CEV). And finally, he concludes his speech with his experience of hearing the voice of God through a trance in verses 17-21: “After this I returned to Jerusalem and went to the temple to pray. There I had a vision of the Lord who said to me, “Hurry and leave Jerusalem! […] Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles”” (NIV).
In summary, Paul starts his speech by telling who he used to be and ends it by describing what God has called him to do. This structure of the speech gives us an example of what we Christians should remember in our lives.
Interestingly, Paul starts his speech with the memory of his past sins. If somebody asked me, “What are one or two things you can never forget about Jesus?” I would start with the memory of Jesus, who helped me to overcome some difficulties or who encouraged me to try something new. What about you? No one wants to begin sharing their stories by talking about their sinful life. And I don’t want to ask you to do that. But, this unique opening line of Paul’s speech implies what his understanding of God was. He couldn’t help but mention it to remind people of how merciful God had been to him, how God had changed him, and how God had used him.
As we human beings remember, God remembers. God remembers everything. God even remembers human’s sin as we see the author of Psalm 25 pleading with God not to remember the rebellious sins of his or her youth (Psalm 25:7a, NLT). But, God also remembers God’s people according to God’s mercy as the writer of Psalm 25 continues to say, “Remember me in the light of your unfailing love, for you are merciful, O Lord” (Psalm 25:7b, NLT). Yes, God marks us with God’s sign of love and plans only the best for us even when we still fail to live according to God’s will. Not only the author of Psalm 25 but also many other people experienced such God’s grace which is bigger than their sins. The writers of the Book of Isaiah and the Epistle to the Hebrews confess their same belief that God remembers our sins no more (Isaiah 43:25; Hebrews 8:12). In Romans 5:8, Paul declares that “God showed [God’s] great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (NLT). But, I believe that God’s steadfast love for sinners is best described in the Parable of the Prodigal Son that Jesus told. Because God is always waiting for us with open arms, even though we sometimes fail, we can run into God’s arms anytime. So, why don’t we close our eyes and take a moment to recall the memory of God who came to us and embraced us even when we were disappointed in ourselves? [Silence]
God also remembers what we can be. As I told you last Sunday, God remembers we always have the potential to be better Christians. The Bible writers, who experienced God’s steadfast love and were sure that God had confidence in them, knew what God called them to do as well. So, the author of Deuteronomy conveys God’s Word: “When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this” (Deuteronomy 24:21-22). Peter says, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10). Let’s go back to the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Because God is always waiting for us with a gentle smile, even though we are not perfect, we can keep trying to be God’s sincere servants. Thus, let’s close our eyes and take a moment again to remember what God has particularly called us to do with the gifts we have been given. [Silence]
We celebrate the Holy Communion every first Sunday. As we are told, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me. […] This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24-25), we are invited to recall our unforgettable memories with Jesus every time we receive the bread and cup. As we come to the table, we are invited to call to mind how merciful God has been to us. And, as we come away from the table, we are invited to think of what God has invited us to do to establish God’s Kingdom with us. Amen.
Witness to the Word - August 25
Text: Psalm 71:1-6 Title: What Is Confidence?
1 In you, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame. 2 In your righteousness, rescue me and deliver me; turn your ear to me and save me. 3 Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress. 4 Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of those who are evil and cruel. 5 For you have been my hope, Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth. 6 From birth I have relied on you; you brought me forth from my mother’s womb. I will ever praise you.
Good morning. I hope you become certain that the God in whom you have confidence also has confidence in you so that you don’t have to live in fear any longer as you listen to God’s Word proclaimed this morning.
People fear a lot of things. Some are apprehensive of failure. Some live in fear of rejection. Some are afraid of newness, unfamiliar things, or change. Some are scared of others or difference. Some are fearful of condemnation or hell. Fear is one of the natural emotions. We have such an unpleasant feeling because we are finite. But, nobody wants to let fear keep controlling themselves. Everyone wants to overcome it. Some people may think they will not suffer from fear any longer if an object of fear is removed. But, we know that’s not the case. We know that something which makes us frightened doesn’t disappear quickly. We feel like it’s gone. But it’s still there.
I’m sure each of you has your own way of dealing with fear. But today, we are going to think about the confidence that can help us to overcome it. The author of Psalm 71 is apparently in a fearful situation but does not look discouraged. Rather, the author has the full assurance that he or she will overcome fear and finally praise the Lord as always. How can the author be so confident? The text shows us that the author has trusted the Lord from childhood even in the midst of fear. So, as you all know better than me about two different meanings of the word confidence, I believe that the author’s steadfast trust in God resulted in the self-assurance.
This self-confidence is based on the fact that God also trusts God’s creation. In this regard, if somebody asked me what it means to have confidence in God, I would say it means that we have trust in God who has trust in us. So ultimately, we can gain self-confidence. God keeps trusting us and offering us unconditional support so that we feel loved, accepted, and secure. It is then that we can let our guard down. It is then that we can gain the strength to face our fears bravely. It is then that we can realize that they can also have a positive effect on us. It is then that we can let ourselves open to everything around us that may make us afraid. In brief, we become flexible when we feel secure in God who trusts us. Through this process, we become mature. We grow up. We grow “by joy and by pain as well as by sin and by forgiveness.” To borrow the expression of Methodist theology, we keep moving on to perfection.
Then, let’s take a moment to think about how our assurance that God trusts us can help us to overcome some types of fear. First of all, those who are convinced that God has confidence in them continue to grow in love. Their Christian faith is not based on fear of condemnation any longer. Unfortunately, many Christians try to live according to God’s will because they are fearful of being condemned by God if they don’t. Some also believe in Jesus because they are afraid they are going to hell if they don’t. More seriously, they also think God will get furious at others who fail to live up to some particular standards. This is how Christianity has traditionally made people fearful. And people have misunderstood God in that way. As long as we mistake God for an angry judge, the reason that we become Christians cannot help but be fear. These kinds of Christians always live in fear. They don’t have freedom. But, salvation is not just to avoid going to hell by believing in Jesus. Instead, it is to keep growing while having confidence in God who keeps supporting us unconditionally like a baby keeps growing up in parents’ unconditional love. We are born under God’s blessing, not under condemnation. The author of today’s Psalm was convinced of it. Verses 5 and 6 say, “O Lord, you alone are my hope. I’ve trusted you, O LORD, from childhood. Yes, you have been with me from birth; from my mother’s womb you have cared for me. No wonder I am always praising you” (New Living Translation)! And, though we didn’t read this morning, verse 18 of Psalm 71 says, “Now that I am old and gray, do not abandon me, O God. Let me proclaim your power to this new generation, your mighty miracles to all who come after me” (NLT). These verses “introduce the theme of youth […] and old age […]. While the language may be metaphorical, it expresses the psalmist’s conviction that he or she has belonged to God […]. For those who know their lives belong to God, praise is not just an occasional liturgical act. Rather, it is a lifestyle offered continually […], even in the midst of adversity.” When we are sure that we all are blessed, loved, and trusted by God, our lives will be filled with joy and freedom rather than fear and coercion. It’s OK to fall down. Because we all are the ones in whom God has confidence, we can always stand up and keep walking hand in hand with God.
Those who are certain that God has confidence in them also do not live in fear of but in fellowship with others because they are clearly aware that God has the same confidence in others as well. Goethe says, “If you treat a person as she appears to be, you make her worse than she is. But if you treat a person as if she already were what she potentially could be, you make her what she should be.” This is how God sees us. God always sees enormous potential in us even when we fail. It is in the same way that God sees our neighbors. And, God invites all the churches to see people in that way. We are all different and unique. And now and then, a difference can be an obstacle to friendship. But, if we are convinced that God trusts others as well as myself even though none of us is perfect, we will become more flexible so that we can allow ourselves more easily to be open to anyone who is different and celebrate and welcome each other’s uniqueness. And, when we finally realize that we all can become friends regardless of differences, we will find ourselves staying one more step away from the fear of others. Jesus shows us several examples of it as we witness in the New Testament. He visited with a Samaritan woman even though Jews did not associate with Samaritans back then. He stayed at Zacchaeus’ house though a tax collector was regarded as a sinner. So, as we know, Jesus’ nickname was “a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 7:34, Matthew 11:19). How could Jesus do that? I believe it’s because Jesus had the utmost confidence that the Heavenly Father loved him and trusted him.
Lastly, those who are sure that they are trusted by God are not afraid of newness. One of the biblical figures who have exceptionally absolute confidence in God is David. Some of the psalms known for a Psalm of David prove it. For example, in Psalm 32:10, he says, “The Lord’s unfailing love surrounds those who are confident in the Lord.” Psalm 34:8, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed are those who trust God.” “But the biggest struggle David has with trust […] is coming to the realization […] that he is trusted by God.” So, the theologian Matthew Fox says, “What God does first and best and most is to trust [God’s] people with their moment in history. [God] trusts [God’s] people to do what must be done for the sake of [God’s] whole community.” Having this assurance, David was also one of the most innovative persons. For example, he became the leader of about four hundred men who were in distress or in debt or who were just discontented (1 Samuel 22:2). Also, “he went into the house of God, and he and his companions broke the law by eating the sacred loaves of bread that only the priests are allowed to eat” (Matthew 12:4, NLT). Besides, David invited Mephibosheth, son of Jonathan, to live in his palace after King Saul’s dynasty fell even though he was a descendant of Saul. We only pointed out David, but the Bible keeps telling us lots of innovative people of God. So, the scholar Bruce G. Epperly says, “[T]he Bible is an adventure story, describing a people’s experience of an adventurous God, who calls forth the universe, liberates a nation, challenges reluctant spiritual leaders, provokes controversy with new images of faithfulness, overcomes race and ethnicity, and invites followers to get out of their comfort zones and launch out into the depths of life.” God continues to invite us to take on a new adventure with the adventurous God. It’s possible because God trusts us.
Again, the God in whom you have confidence also has confidence in you. So, you don’t have to live in fear any longer. You can keep growing in love. As Jesus says in the parable of the talents, don’t bury your gifts out of fear but expand them. “Invest your passion not in keeping things the way they are but into our growing and expanding.” Amen.
 . Matthew Fox, Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality Presented in Four Paths, Twenty-Six Themes, and Two Questions (New York, NY: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 2000), 85.
 . J. Clinton McCann, Jr., “The Book of Psalms,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, ed. Leander E. Keck (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 4:959.
 . Fox, 84.
 . Ibid.
 . Ibid.
 . Bruce G. Epperly, Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God (Gonzalez, FL: Energion Publications, 2014), Kindle edition, 266-9.
 . Fox, 84.
 . Ibid., 85.
Witness to the Word - August 18
Text: Hebrews 11:29-12:2 Title: What Is Faith?
29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned. 30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days. 31 By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient. 32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. 39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Good morning. I hope you have an opportunity to rethink about what kind of faith we should have as you listen to God’s Word proclaimed this morning.
We Christians talk a lot about faith. What is faith? Before starting a sermon, let’s take a brief moment to see what comes to our mind about faith. [Silence] The replies will vary. But today, we are trying to find an answer in the Epistle to the Hebrews chapter 11 and 12 that we read this morning.
Then, before finding out how the text explains faith, let’s see what it does not say about faith. First, faith is what we need to have in Jesus, in whom God’s love was revealed through the power of the Holy Spirit, to have an eternal loving relationship with the Triune God. But, today’s text does not mean it. It does not mention the object of faith. It only utters “by faith.”
Second, faith is what we affirm as Christians. The Apostles’ Creed, which we regularly recite, typically shows what Christians have believed. But, today’s reading also has little to do with the doctrine or creeds. It only says, “By faith.”
Third, faith may be to believe that we will finally get what we want. But, as you read this morning, today’s text does not tell us that our ancestors of faith eventually achieved their goals or that God made their wishes come true. Furthermore, it rather says about what Christians lost rather than what they earned by faith.
Then, how do Hebrews 11 and 12 describe faith? First of all, it points out that we should have faith in God as the rewarder of those who search for God. Hebrews 11:6, which we didn’t read today, says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to [God] must believe that [God] exists and that [God] rewards those who earnestly seek [God].” The writer of Hebrews indicates that a great number of God’s people have tried to do something for God while believing that they would be given what God promised them.
But, did everyone having such a faith receive a reward from God after doing God’s works by faith? It is here that discrepancies exist.
On the one hand, in the first half of chapter 11, we can find the author looking back upon the past and listing the names of several people, such as Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses, who did something with God by faith and, as a result, experienced something new. And, today’s reading starts at the end of the list. Verses 29-31 say, “By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days. By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.” Whatever situation they were in, we can easily imagine that they were seized with fear when they needed to take another step. So, they could have given up, for example, on passing the Red Sea, conquering Jericho, or hiding the Israelite spies. But by faith they decided to do such things and found themselves moving one step forward. That is, they were rewarded by God after doing what God ordered them to do by faith.
On the other hand, the second half of chapter 11 shows us those who were not necessarily related to a visible reward from God. Verses 32-40 say, “What else can I say? There isn’t enough time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets. Their faith helped them conquer kingdoms, and because they did right, God made promises to them. They closed the jaws of lions and put out raging fires and escaped from the swords of their enemies. Although they were weak, they were given the strength and power to chase foreign armies away. Some women received their loved ones back from death. Many of these people were tortured, but they refused to be released. They were sure that they would get a better reward when the dead are raised to life. Others were made fun of and beaten with whips, and some were chained in jail. Still others were stoned to death or sawed in two or killed with swords. Some had nothing but sheep skins or goat skins to wear. They were poor, mistreated, and tortured. The world did not deserve these good people, who had to wander in deserts and on mountains and had to live in caves and holes in the ground. All of them pleased God because of their faith! But still they died without being given what had been promised. This was because God had something better in store for us. And he did not want them to reach the goal of their faith without us” (Contemporary English Version). OK. We understand that God is preparing what is better for them. However, it is apparent that they didn’t receive a reward from God in this life even though they did what they were called to do by faith.
It is here that the author points out Jesus, who was in the midst of those unrewarded. In Hebrews 12:2, the author says, “He endured the shame of being nailed to a cross, because he knew later on he would be glad he did” (CEV). Jesus wanted the Heavenly Father to take his cross from him as we know. God could have done that. But, Jesus voluntarily decided not to receive a reward but to endure the cross by faith to suffer with all who suffered, are suffering, and will suffer and to show them God’s unfathomable love. And, Jesus finally died on the cross. He was not rewarded by the Heavenly Father in this life even though he spent his whole life obeying God.
Now, we can explain faith addressed in today’s text more concretely based on what we have found out: some people were rewarded while some others were not although all of them did God’s works by faith. There’s no doubt that every follower of Jesus should believe that God rewards those who seek God. But honestly, they may not be rewarded in reality even if they do what they are called to do by faith. This makes us sad. Tragedies can come even to those who commit themselves to God as well. In this harsh reality, what is the alternative faith that we can have?
Maybe the Christian faith is not necessarily related to a reward. In Hebrews 12:2, inviting us to fix our eyes on Jesus, the writer calls him the pioneer and perfecter of faith. In other words, we are asked to focus on what Jesus did by faith again. He voluntarily refused to receive a reward and carried the cross. When Jesus said, “Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” in Luke 14:27, he didn’t promise his followers anything. Instead, he continually told them what the kingdom of God looked like and invited them to work with God to establish it. That is to say, Jesus encouraged his followers to focus on what change would come rather than what they would be rewarded by when they did God’s work by faith.
Concluding the sermon, I just would like to remind you that today’s text does not give a clear definition of faith “for the writer rather describes it in its effects than in its essence.” [In other words, faith] is described by what it does.”  We may not be able to define faith easily. But at least, we know that faith will help us to have an adventure with God even when we are filled with fear and want to give up. And, faith will keep encouraging us to pay more attention to the kingdom of God to come than a reward which we may receive or not. And in the end, faith will make a difference in our lives, our community, and the world. Friends, let us focus on what amazing changes God will bring into this world when we work with God by faith. Amen.
1 The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
10 Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the instruction of our God, you people of Gomorrah! 11 “The multitude of your sacrifices—what are they to me?” says the Lord. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. 12 When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? 13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. 14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. 15 When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood! 16 Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. 17 Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. 18 “Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land; 20 but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
Good morning. May you be reminded of the ultimate purpose of worship as you listen to God’s Word proclaimed this morning.
Last Sunday, we talked about God’s love. It is an enduring and forgiving love which doesn’t give up on us as the Bible says. The Christian faith is based on this love. Not fear of condemnation but God’s unconditional and nondiscriminatory love is the foundation for the Christian life. It is the God of this love whom we praise and worship. We can give varying definitions of worship. But simply put, to worship God means to interact with God of love. And, the interaction enables something to happen to us. What should happen to us through worship? In other words, what is the purpose of worship?
The beginnings of worship can be traced to various offerings described in the Hebrew Bible. What was the purpose of the offerings? Leviticus 17:6 says, “The priest is to sprinkle the blood against the altar of the LORD at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting and burn the fat as an aroma pleasing to the LORD”; Ezra 6:10, “so that they may offer sacrifices pleasing to the God of heaven and pray for the well-being of the king and his sons.” The purpose of the ancient Jewish worship was to delight God. Then, could people please God if they did nothing but offer sacrifice as directed? Unfortunately, no.
The Israelites interacted with Yahweh through various kinds of offerings as God instructed. But, for some reason, today’s text shows that Yahweh was unhappy about the offerings. Yahweh regarded them as meaningless. Isaiah 1:11-13 says, “Your sacrifices mean nothing to me. I am sick of your offerings of rams and choice cattle; I don’t like the blood of bulls or lambs or goats. Who asked you to bring all this when you come to worship me? Stay out of my temple! Your sacrifices are worthless” (Contemporary English Version). Wow! This text shows that offering sacrifice in itself didn’t delight God. Why? In order to understand the reason, we should look at why God ordered offerings.
The Hebrew Bible tells us that the fundamental purpose of offering animals is that people repent their sins and change their behavior. One of the persons who pointed out this most clearly is the Prophet Samuel. When King Saul disobeyed God’s instruction and then offered a sacrifice as he pleased, Samuel said, “Tell me. Does the Lord really want sacrifices and offerings? No! He doesn’t want your sacrifices. He wants you to obey him” (1 Samuel 15:22, CEV). Yes. Not a sacrifice itself but a transformation of the heart and life did matter to God.
Midrash, which is an ancient Jewish commentary on the Hebrew Bible, tells us an interesting story about animal sacrifice. Why did the Israelites have to build an altar and sacrifice animals to God?
One day a Jew sinned against God, King of kings. It was not a small but mortal sin. An angel in heaven said to God, “Take his soul.” But God said to the angel, “Kill a beast for him.” So the guilty Jew put his hand on the head of the beast that would die for him and said, “I am sorry. I have sinned greatly against God. But, God will accept you instead of me.” And, killing the beast, he said, “I’m supposed to die, but you’re dying for me.” And, burning it, he again said, “You’re supposed to live but are burning for me.” It’s when God saw the guilty Jew feel sorry for killing the beast that God forgave his sins.
This story tells us that the purpose of offerings is not to kill an animal but to change our heart and behavior.
Some laws in Leviticus place more emphasis on this transformation of life. According to the laws, if people sin against neighbors, they must not only offer sacrifices but also reimburse them for their losses. Admitting a fault is not enough. They have to show that they’ve repented their sins through their actions. For example, Leviticus 6:2-6 says, “If anyone sins and is unfaithful to the Lord by deceiving a neighbor about something entrusted to them or left in their care or about something stolen, or if they cheat their neighbor, or if they find lost property and lie about it, or if they swear falsely about any such sin that people may commit—when they sin in any of these ways and realize their guilt, they must return what they have stolen or taken by extortion, or what was entrusted to them, or the lost property they found, or whatever it was they swore falsely about. They must make restitution in full, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the owner on the day they present their guilt offering. And as a penalty they must bring to the priest, that is, to the Lord, their guilt offering, a ram from the flock, one without defect and of the proper value.” We can witness this law still observed in the New Testament era. Zacchaeus is representative of it. As we see in Luke 19, transformed after meeting Jesus, Zacchaeus says, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (Luke 19:8). Jesus also mentions it in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:23-24, he says, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”
So now, we can find out the reason why Yahweh considered the offerings to be meaningless in today’s reading. The Israelites got accustomed to the ritual but forgot the primary purpose of it. In other words, their hearts and lives were not changed even though they regularly sacrificed animals to Yahweh. Thus, the concept of offerings is dramatically changed in Isaiah 1:16-17. God is reinterpreting the sacrifice the Israelites must offer in this way: “Wash yourselves clean! Stop doing wrong and learn to live right. See that justice is done. Defend widows and orphans and help those in need” (CEV). This is the sacrifice that they should have offered.
The Book of Leviticus shows one thing that is repeatedly stressed concerning offerings. Leviticus 1:3 says, “If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he is to offer a male without defect”; 3:1, “If someone’s offering is a fellowship offering, and he offers an animal from the herd, whether male or female, he is to present before the LORD an animal without defect”; 4:3, “If the anointed priest sins, bringing guilt on the people, he must bring to the LORD a young bull without defect as a sin offering for the sin he has committed.” What do they have in common? Yes. An animal offered to God must be flawless. Then, why did God want unblemished animals? Was it because God cannot put up with imperfection? I don’t think so. As we have seen, once an animal is selected as the sin offering, it starts to represent the selector. In other words, an animal that is offered becomes the equivalent of a person who offers. Hence, God’s request to sacrifice a flawless animal contains God’s hope that the person who offers it also will live a holy life.
The Apostle Paul grasped this point. So, in Romans 12:1-2, he says, “So then, my friends, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to [God’s] service and pleasing to [God]. This is the true worship that you should offer. Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God – what is good and is pleasing to [God] and is perfect” (Good News Translation). Paul urges every worshiper to allow God to change the way they think and act. It is when we are transformed by the renewing of our mind that we can truly please God in worship.
Today’s sermon is not about what we should do in our worship or whether it is to be a traditional worship or a contemporary one. Instead, it is about how we can assess whether or not our worship delights God, in other words, what the purpose of our worship is. Let’s go back to the question I threw at the beginning of the sermon: What should happen to us through worship? The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews provides a good summary of the answers. Hebrews 13:15-16: “Our sacrifice is to keep offering praise to God in the name of Jesus. But don’t forget to help others and to share your possessions with them. This too is like offering a sacrifice that pleases God” (CEV). We share announcements and joys and concerns, pass the peace, sing praises, give tithes and offerings, pray, read the Bible, listen to a sermon during our worship service. And, the purpose of doing all of them is to let God change our heart and life, to borrow Wesley’s words, to grow in love of God and neighbor so that we can please God. Amen.
 . Munho Gang, ed., Midrash, vol. 3, Leviticus, (Seoul, South Korea: The Dream, 2016), 27-30.
 . Keemun Sung, Key Word Series, vol. 2, Leviticus (Seoul, South Korea: Seumbooks, 2016), 71.
 . Ibid., 46.
 . Ibid., 47.
 . Ibid., 48.
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.