MANUSCRIPTS FROM PASTOR DAEKYUNG'S MOST RECENT SERMONS ARE BELOW:
Witness to the Word - June 9, 2019
Text: Acts 2:1-4, John 3:5-8, Galatians 5:13-25 Title: The Visible Holy Spirit
1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
-------- 13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. 16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
May you be reminded that you are always called to walk in the Spirit as you listen to God’s Word proclaimed this morning.
Several days had passed since the ascension of Jesus. (Wind Sound Effect starts) “When the Feast of Pentecost came, the disciples were all together in one place. Without warning / there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them” (Acts 2:1-4, Message). (Wind Sound Effect fades out)
How dramatic and spectacular the scene of Pentecost described in Acts 2 is! The promised Holy Spirit came upon the disciples. And, everyone was overwhelmed with joy and awe. But, a question arises. Had the Holy Spirit hidden? And finally, did the Spirit show up on Pentecost after receiving the baton from Jesus? I don’t think so. We Christians believe that “God reveals [God-self] as the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, distinct but inseparable, eternally one in essence and power.” God exists and works as the Trinity forever. Therefore, not a day goes by that the Holy Spirit doesn’t work. Even when God created heaven and earth in the beginning, even when Jesus healed the sick and fed the hungry in a particular region, the Holy Spirit existed and worked. In this sense, Pentecost is not the day when the Holy Spirit began to work, but rather the day when visible signs of invisible work of the Holy Spirit were shown.
Though we are familiar with the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit is still mysterious because we cannot see, hear, touch, smell, and taste the Spirit. Tongues like fire do not appear to us any longer in our ordinary lives. Nevertheless, the Spirit’s invisible work can be visible in a different way. We witness the work of the Holy Spirit throughout the Bible. Who encouraged Noah to keep building the Ark despite the ridicule of others? Who inspired Abraham to believe God’s promise even without evidence? Who helped Joseph to overcome adversity and forgive his brothers? Who gave Moses the courage to lead his people? Who convinced David of sin and granted him repentance? Who transformed the disciples of Jesus into fearless preachers? Who made Paul aware that God loves not only Jews but also Gentiles? Who gave John the vision of the New Heaven and the New Earth? The Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit did. That’s why the Holy Spirit is called paraklétos in Greek (“Paraclete” in English) which means an advocate, intercessor, consoler, comforter, and helper. When we see Moses overcoming fear or Peter boldly proclaiming the Gospel in the Bible, we also see the Holy Spirit working in their lives.
What about us? Who helps us to walk out of the tomb and live the resurrected life? The Holy Spirit. When we find hope in despair, dream a new dream in a lifeless situation, overcome indifference and show hospitality, and realize that we have good friends around us when we feel lonely, we see the Holy Spirit working in our lives. Yes. The key is our life. When our life is transformed, the unseen Holy Spirit can be seen. That’s why Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3:8, “You know well enough how the wind blows this way and that. You hear it rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it’s headed next. That’s the way it is with everyone ‘born from above’ by the wind of God, the Spirit of God” (Message). The Holy Spirit is invisible in that we cannot see the Spirit. But at the same time, the Holy Spirit is visible in that we experience the power of the Holy Spirit who inspires us, pardons us, justifies us, and sanctifies us so that we can keep growing in love.
In this regard, Galatians 5:13-25 shows how the Holy Spirit becomes visible through the fruit we yield in our lives as God became visible through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Jerry Bridges, who was a Christian author, speaker, and staff member of The Navigators, gives us an incredible insight into the fruit of the Spirit. In his book The Fruitful Life, Jerry says, “The fruit of the Spirit is fundamentally relational. Rather than originating with us, it flows to us from our union with Christ, and it flows beyond us to bring us into fellowship with others. The secret of this flow – and of our unity with God and others – is humility.” Let us look at the entire context of the letter to the Galatians to understand more clearly what Jerry says.
Paul sent this letter to Galatian Christians who were facing a particular problem. In Galatians 2:4, the Apostle Paul reveals what it was, saying, “[Some people] pretended to be followers and had sneaked in among us as spies. They had come to take away the freedom that Christ Jesus had given us, and they were trying to make us their slaves” (Contemporary English Version). The false believers continually tried to deceive the Galatian believers by saying that non-Jews have to follow the Jewish law as well as believe in Jesus to be saved. That is to say, the false teachers forced Christians in Galatia to be circumcised as Jews were.
So, in this situation, Paul affirms that “a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16). And then, he calls on Galatian believers to stop discussing whether or not they need to be circumcised and instead embrace and love each other. Galatians 5:6 shows Paul’s conclusion: “[I]n Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” How unique his theology is! He combines faith and love because, for him, all that matters was our faith that makes us love others (Galatians 5:6, CEV). And, it is followed by his famous summarization of the Law: “All that the Law says can be summed up in the command to love others as much as you love yourself” (Galatians 5:14, CEV).
It is right here that Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit. He contrasts it with the acts of the flesh, saying, “The Spirit and [the desires of the flesh] are enemies of each other. They are always fighting each other and keeping you from doing what you feel you should. But if you obey the Spirit, the Law of Moses has no control over you. People’s desires make them give in to immoral ways, filthy thoughts, and shameful deeds. They worship idols, practice witchcraft, hate others, and are hard to get along with. People become jealous, angry, and selfish. They not only argue and cause trouble, but they are envious. They get drunk, carry on at wild parties, and do other evil things as well. I told you before, and I am telling you again: No one who does these things will share in the blessings of God’s kingdom. God’s Spirit makes us loving, happy, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled. There is no law against behaving in any of these ways” (Galatians 5:17-23, CEV).
Though this passage seems to tell us a lot we must not do and we must do, it basically says about one essential thing: When we walk by the Spirit, we will grow in love as a result. In this process, we will naturally produce the fruit of the Spirit. Think about this. To love someone is to have patience with the person, to rejoice with the person who rejoices, to be kind and faithful to the person, and to control your tongue or anger. And eventually, through this fruit of the Spirit, everyone will see the Holy Spirit working in us. On the contrary, when we refuse to walk with the Holy Spirit, it will not be easy for us to grow in love. And, in that process, the acts of the flesh will be seen. As Jesus says in Matthew 7:17-18, “[E]very good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.”
So, this passage always asks us a question: Will you choose to follow the desires of the flesh or walk in the Spirit? Again, the fruit of the Spirit is not what we can produce by our own efforts but what God makes us produce when we are connected to the Holy Spirit. Jesus already told the same thing in John 15:4-5: “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing” (New Living Translation). So, to bear the fruit of the Spirit, all we need to do is just open ourselves to the Spirit, to let the Spirit melt us, mold us, fill us, and use us. Let me read Jerry’s words once again: “The fruit of the Spirit is fundamentally relational. Rather than originating with us, it flows to us from our union with Christ, and it flows beyond us to bring us into fellowship with others. The secret of this flow – and of our unity with God and others – is humility.” Yes. When we walk by the Holy Spirit, we will grow in love, and finally, the invisible Holy Spirit will become visible through our fruitful lives. Amen.
 . The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church (Nashville, TN: The United Methodist Publishing House, 2016), 72.
 . https://biblehub.com/greek/3875.htm
 . Jerry Bridges, The Fruitful Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2006), 47.
Witness to the Word - June 2, 2019
Text: Luke 24:50-53, Acts 1:6-9, Mark 16:15-20 Title: Lord of the Whole Universe
50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
-------- 15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” 19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.
May you be reminded that Jesus is the Lord of the whole universe as well as your Lord as you listen to God’s Word proclaimed this morning.
The disciples of Jesus had to say bye to the teacher they had loved. Not once but twice. First, they saw Jesus hung on a cross and killed. And later, as we see today, they watched him taken up into heaven. But obviously, the feelings they had after those two events were not the same. When Jesus died, their mind was dominated by hopelessness and fears. But, after the ascension of Jesus, their heart was filled with joy as Luke 24:51-52 says, “[Jesus] was taken to heaven. The disciples worshiped him and were overjoyed as they went back to Jerusalem” (GOD’S WORD® Translation). How could they be so different?
Is that because they witnessed the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection? Well, I don’t think so. They had already seen so many miracles performed by Jesus. Jesus fed five thousand people with only five loaves and two fish, calmed the storm, turned water into wine, raised Lazarus from the dead, etc. etc. The disciples witnessed all these supernatural events before Jesus’ death. So, they could’ve expected Jesus to rise from the dead. But, when Jesus died on the cross, they just lost every hope. Some disciples even returned to their hometowns in despair. Therefore, witnessing a miracle itself is not the reason that the disciples felt differently.
How about ourselves? Have you seen a miracle? And, has that miracle helped you to become a better Christian? If so, I am thankful to God for that. But, many Christians, including me, seek signs and miracles, and then, if they see them, they are surprised but not necessarily transformed.
Nevertheless, in a way, I still think that it is because the disciples experienced a miracle that they had a different feeling after the second farewell. But, that’s not a miracle which occurred outside them but in their hearts. In other words, they experienced inner transformation. They came to understand why Jesus had come to earth. And, they realized what they as followers of Jesus had been called to do. And, they started to feel confident that they could do what Jesus did even without Jesus’ physical presence with them any longer.
Let’s take a closer look at what the transformation was. When Jesus was still with his disciples, he continually told them that he came to the world to heal the sick, feed the hungry, eat with sinners, cleanse the unclean, and deliver people from bondage to evil, brokenness, and death. But, they couldn’t understand what Jesus said. Rather, they mistook Jesus for a person who would free Israel from Roman rule. Was their thought changed after Jesus was resurrected? No. Let’s read Acts 1:6-7 again: “Then they gathered around [the Risen Jesus] and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” [Jesus] said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”
And, Jesus continued to remind them of what he had been called to do and what his followers were also called to do right before ascending into heaven: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight” (Acts 1:8-9). Mark 16:15-18 also shows us what Jesus told his disciples before the ascension: “Jesus said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. […] these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”
And finally, the disciples were changed. We don’t know when, but they were. We can witness their transformation. Luke 24:50-53 say, “When [Jesus] had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.” Also, we are told in Mark 16:19-20, “After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.” They not only witnessed Jesus’ resurrection but also experienced a transformation of the heart. To borrow the expression of The Empty Tomb sermon series, they walked out of the tomb in which they attempted to use Jesus for their own ends and started to adjust their lives to Jesus.
According to tradition, all the disciples were martyred while they were proclaiming the Good News after spreading across the world. I believe it’s because they became fully aware that Jesus came to earth not just for Israel but for the restoration of all God’s creation. They realized that Jesus is the Lord of all people, all nations, all the universe. So, they started to confess that Jesus ascended into heaven and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead, and we also confess the same faith today. Therefore, on Ascension Sunday, we praise Jesus the Nazarene who has become the Lord of the whole universe and inspired all Christians to heal the sick, feed the hungry, eat with sinners, proclaim and live out the love of God all over the world. Amen.
Text: Ecclesiastes 4:7-12, Proverbs 27:6 Title: Not in Loneliness _ The Empty Tomb Sermon Series, Last Week
7 Again I saw something meaningless under the sun: 8 There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. “For whom am I toiling,” he asked, “and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?” This too is meaningless—a miserable business! 9 Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: 10 If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. 11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? 12 Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
6 Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.
May you be reminded that the tomb is empty, and you are called not to remain there any longer but to enjoy the new life with the Resurrected Lord as we wrap up The Empty Tomb sermon series today.
Everyone feels lonely now and then. No one is free from loneliness. When our loved one such as a spouse, parent, or child went to heaven, we are likely to feel lonely. When friends or coworkers betrayed us, we may feel abandoned. When we feel like nobody listens to us or cares about us, we may feel rejected. A long-term illness also can make us feel alone. Even if we have so many friends, we may feel isolated if the relationships are shallow and superficial. Or, all of a sudden, loneliness may overcome us even if it looks like everything is going well.
Even the Bible doesn’t hesitate to show some figures who experienced loneliness. When David ran away from Saul or Elijah from Ahab and Jezebel, they felt alone. Oh, poor Job. He lost everything. His friends kept on accusing him of wrongdoing. Even his wife said, “Why do you still trust God? Why don’t you curse God and die” (Job 2:9, Contemporary English Version)? When Moses heard the people complain continually, he felt like he had no friend who could understand him. How about Prophet Jeremiah? He “wrestled with great loneliness, feelings of defeat, and insecurity. […] known as the weeping prophet, Jeremiah suffered from constant rejection by the people he loved and reached out to. God had called him to preach, yet forbidden him to marry and have children. He lived alone; he ministered alone; he was poor, ridiculed, and rejected by his people.” We all suffer from loneliness in our lives.
Some people point out a positive aspect of loneliness. I heard several Christians say that they could finally experience God more deeply in the midst of loneliness. They commonly said that they might have not realized what is more important and what is less important in their lives without such a hard time. Well, I believe that most of you will agree with that. But, you know, loneliness has a negative influence on us in many cases. People may not be able to focus on work or even an ordinary routine. They may refuse to interact with other people. It is natural that they come to feel like they are alone. Mental illness may cause physical pain. The scary thing is that loneliness can incite us to make a horrible decision.
As I mentioned in the sermon about lifelessness, if you feel you need professional help regarding loneliness, please let me know. I can cooperate with Licensed Professional Counselors for you. But, in this sermon, we are going to think about how to leave the tomb called loneliness we feel from time to time. Or maybe, some of you are living your lives without a huge problem but experiencing chronic loneliness. In any case, we will be encouraged to make a conscious effort on our part to come forth from the tomb.
First of all, it is important to remember that there is always a new hopeful road ahead of us though loneliness looks like a dead end. This is an essential first step we need to take when we are suffering loneliness. We all know that life is not always enjoyable. But, if we feel isolated, we are more likely to think that our life is terrible all the time and won’t get better. Maybe one of the good ways of thinking is to “[t]reat loneliness as an old friend who’s dropped in for a visit despite not having received an invitation.” It won’t be pleasant or comfortable, but you can let the friend named loneliness stay in your mind for a while. While doing so, you can be compassionate about yourself. It’s OK to cry. It’s OK to eat what you like. You can also walk alone in the park or sit on a bench to read a poem. But, after spending time with loneliness, make sure to let it go. It can visit you at any time later. But you can also let it go again. Please remind yourself that a friend named hope, dream, love, or fellowship is also ready to visit you at all times.
Second, if you find some materials about how to overcome loneliness, many of them will include this action item: meeting people. Well, it’s the same old story. But, the way you can walk out of the tomb is to start walking. When we feel alone, we can quickly think that nobody will be our friends any longer. But, that’s not the case. If you have the courage to tell those around you that you are suffering from loneliness and need a friend, surprisingly, you will find many of them ready to help you. Let me share my story. Well, when I moved to Kansas in 2014, it was natural that I had no friend here. Everything was new to me, and it was hard to adjust myself to them. Also, I had difficulty taking the classes in English at the seminary. So, I was discouraged and felt alone. But, I decided not to stay in loneliness. I honestly told one of my classmates that I had felt isolated and asked him whether we could hang out some day. I was not sure how he would respond. But fortunately, he invited my family and me to his house for dinner, and we had a wonderful time with him and his wife. Since then, he made me feel welcomed and loved throughout my school years. Please remember that there are always people around you who are ready to help you to overcome loneliness.
Meanwhile, you can also meet some people to help them. Try to recall someone who also feels lonely. You may conclude that everyone feels loneliness like you. Then, you can also “send them kind and compassionate thoughts. Wishing well to others who are lonely creates a special connection between the two of you. Even more, when you realize that you’re not alone in your loneliness, you’ll feel less lonely.” Whether we are helped by someone or help someone, we will be reminded that we are not alone, which is crucial in overcoming loneliness. “[Loneliness] powerfully highlights what has always been true – we were not created for independent living. […] [Loneliness] preaches that our lives are a community project. […] Everyone needs help and assistance. […] Everyone is strengthened by others.” As Ecclesiastes 4:10 says, “If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.”
Third, we can reconsider our friends’ advice that may challenge us and make us feel uncomfortable. Do you have friends who always support and encourage you? That’s nice. Then, do you also have some friends who make you dream a new dream or help you to become a better person? We usually don’t like that kind of friends. But, one of the reasons that we feel lonely even though we have lots of friends is that the relationships with them are superficial. If we can notice that some friends challenge us not because they dislike us but because they also love us, we will feel more deeply loved than ever. “You can trust a friend who corrects you, but kisses from an enemy are nothing but lies” (Proverbs 27:6, CEV).
Lastly, even if everyone leaves us, remember God is always with us. Here are the lyrics of one of my favorite Korean gospel songs: God is my helper. Every time I am tired and want to give up on everything in my journey of life, God supports me and says, “Stand up and walk. I will help you.” God is my helper. Although I easily forget God when my life is going well, whenever I am weary and fall, God reaches out God’s hand and says, “Stand up and walk. I will help you.” God is my helper. Sometimes I feel lonely, so I look around to find God, and God still stands beside me. God smiles on me and says, “Stand up and walk. I will help you.” Friends, let us leave the tomb named loneliness with our biggest supporter. Now I’m going to conclude my sermon by sharing a poem titled “Footprints in the Sand” by Margaret Fishback Powers. You may already know it. I hope this poem reminds you of the best friend who never leaves nor forsakes you.
Last night I had a dream. I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Across the sky flashed scenes from my life. For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand: one belonged to me, the other to the Lord. After the last scene of my life flashed before me, I looked back at the footprints in the sand. I noticed that at many times along the path of my life, especially at the very lowest and saddest times, there was only one set of footprints. This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it. “Lord, you said once I decided to follow you, You’d walk with me all the way. But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life, there was only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.” The Lord replied, “My precious child, I love you and I would never leave you. During your times of suffering, when you could see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”
Are you feeling lonely now? You are not alone. I hope you raise your head and can see so many friends who are ready to listen to you, encourage you, and support you. Amen.
Text: Hebrews 13:1-2 Title: Not in Indifference _ The Empty Tomb Sermon Series, Week 4
1 Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. 2 Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.
May you be reminded that the tomb is empty, and you are called not to remain there any longer but to enjoy the new life with the Resurrected Lord as you listen to God’s Word proclaimed at this time.
“A young man called his mother and excitedly announced that he had just met the woman of his dreams. His mother said, “Why don’t you send her flowers and invite her to your apartment for a home-cooked meal?” The day after the big date, his mother called to see how things had gone. “Mom, the evening was a complete disaster,” he replied. “It was horrible!” “Why, didn’t she come over?” his mother asked. “Yes, she came over. But she refused to cook!”” What a ridiculous hospitality!
I started with a joke because today’s sermon may make you feel uncomfortable. But friends, I love you, and you love me in Jesus. I want to make clear that this sermon is not for upsetting you but for giving you an exceptional opportunity to think about what we may not be concerned about in our ordinary lives. The sermon is neither about politics nor about a complex theological discussion on some issues. Also, it won’t ask you to choose a particular position on such issues or change your existing beliefs or thoughts.
If somebody asked me where I can witness resurrection in human life, I would say, “When people find hope in despair, the resurrection power is at work there; when they dream a new dream even in a lifeless situation, they are experiencing the resurrection; and, when they start overcoming indifference and showing hospitality, there is resurrection among them.”
It is indifference that is the tomb we will be invited to leave empty today. While preparing the sermon, I spent much time reflecting on my life. Just as Harold, Judy, and Paula shared a testimony this morning, today’s sermon is a kind of my personal testimony. In retrospect, I was not all that interested in how the life of foreigners is when I was in Korea. When I attended a seminary, there was an international student in my class. She was from Mongolia. She just looked like a Korean. And surprisingly, she even spoke Korean fluently. But honestly, I didn’t interact with her actively. All I did was just say hello to her with a friendly smile. In a word, I was indifferent to her. Friends, I came to Kansas and became a foreigner around five years ago. It is then that I started to think about how she felt about living in Korea as a stranger. Well, I’m always thankful to God for serving at Burlington UMC and having good friends like you around me. My family and I enjoyed living in Burlington. Nevertheless, you know, it is not always easy to live as a foreigner. That’s why I began to realize how difficult it was for my Mongolian friend to live in a different country and how uncaring I was about her even though she was one of my classmates.
As I realized it, one of my friends at Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas started being intentionally kind and helpful to me. It is he who gave a fresh insight into how to overcome indifference. Soon, we became close friends. We shared lots of theological opinions. And, he always listened carefully to me. Sometimes, we argued with each other on particular subjects, but he respected my ideas. Even after graduation, he first proposed that we start a clergy covenant group. We still have the meeting regularly. What I was surprised by recently was that he called me and said, “Daekyung, if I sent you my sermon manuscript for this Sunday, would you be able and willing to give me some feedback? If you don’t have time, that’s totally okay, just thought I’d ask cause I value your opinion.” I said to myself, ‘I am not a native English speaker. Why is he asking for this kind of favor?’ But anyway, I read his sermon and commented on it. And, he was thankful for it. Yes. I saw him leave the tomb named indifference.
In today’s reading, I also found this intentional hospitality in Abraham. The sender of the Epistle to the Hebrews tells the recipients to continue to love those near them like family, friends, church members, etc. But also, the sender encourages them to give a warm reception to strangers. Back then, the strangers meant the itinerant preachers “who depended on local Christian communities for hospitality.” During that period, what it meant to welcome such visitors? As you know, it was the time when the Roman Empire persecuted Christians. Also, false teachers watched for a chance to deceive Christians. Some of the traveling preachers might have been persecutors or heretics in disguise. For that reason, the churches hesitated to show hospitality to strangers at that time. “Some even used certain criteria for testing strangers before welcoming them.” Doesn’t it make sense? Welcoming strangers meant taking unknown risks at that time. The author of Hebrews also knew that situation. But, why did the author stimulate the recipients to be hospitable to unknown visitors anyway? I believe that the author knew that there could have been the itinerant preachers who can have a good influence on them among the strangers whom they refused to welcome. That’s why the author cited the story of Abraham, who offered hospitality to some strangers intentionally without knowing that they were God’s angels.
The story is found in Genesis chapter 18: “One hot summer afternoon Abraham was sitting by the entrance to his tent near the sacred trees of Mamre, when the Lord appeared to him. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. He quickly ran to meet them, bowed with his face to the ground, and said, “Please come to my home where I can serve you. I’ll have some water brought, so you can wash your feet, then you can rest under the tree. Let me get you some food to give you strength before you leave. I would be honored to serve you.” “Thank you very much,” they answered. “We accept your offer”” (Genesis 18:1-5, Contemporary English Version). When we read the story, we know the three men were angels God has sent. But, from Abraham’s point of view, they were just strangers who looked different and might harm his family and him. So, Abraham could have let them pass him by. He could have been unconcerned about them. But, what was his reaction? He intentionally ran toward them, invited them to his house, and provided them with meals and beds. We are witnessing resurrection called intentional welcome through Abraham, the ancestor of faith.
Remembering this story, let’s read Hebrews 13:2 again: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” The original Greek word meaning “knowing” has the same origin with the word meaning ignore or forget. So, we come to know that Abraham did not ignore the strangers who were angels and gave them warm welcome intentionally. We can show hospitality to those outside our comfort zone once. But, we can easily forget them. So, today’s reading invites us not to forget them, not to ignore them.
In this regard, I thought about whom I used to ignore in my life because they were not similar to me. As I mentioned earlier, I was Korean, and the Mongolian friend was not, so, I was indifferent to her. I kept thinking, and God made me recall some people. I am a heterosexual, so I used to pay no attention to gay, lesbian, transgender people. And, because I was born and grew up in a Christian family, those having different religions were outside my comfort zone. I used to stay in the tomb called indifference. But now, I would like to share with you my story of walking out of that tomb.
The first story is about one of my seminary friends who let us know that he was transgender during the class. We were surprised because we didn’t notice it for the past three years we had spent together. Anyway, we discussed nothing but just hugged him because he was our friend. He still contacts us anytime he wants to share his feelings or thoughts. Whenever I find myself listening carefully to him, I see a resurrection in me.
The second story is about one of my friends in Korea. He and I became good friends with each other at middle school. And we kept in touch with each other even after graduation. Because he and I lived in the same town, we often met and chatted. He was not a Christian and was seeking for truth. So, I tried to bring him to the church several times. But, he finally chose to explore a different religion: Buddhism. And, like I entered a Christian seminary, he started to study Buddhism. We were aware that we were different and believed in different things. We knew I couldn’t be a Buddhist, and he couldn’t be a Christian either. But, we enjoyed listening to each other. We knew we still could be friends. While having a conversation with him, I found myself leaving the tomb called indifference.
The conclusion of the sermon is straightforward. I used to be unconcerned about foreigners, LGBT folks, or the people of different religions. But, I’m trying to come forth from the tomb named indifference intentionally. The action item is to make a friend who is different from me. I wonder whether you also have some friends who are gay, lesbian or transgender people, foreigners, or people of other faiths. Why don’t you join me in making some new friends and starting a conversation with them? Who knows? They may become your best friends whom God has sent. I hope that we all can experience the resurrection by giving warm welcome to those outside our comfort zone. Amen.
 . Fred B. Craddock, “The Letter to the Hebrews,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, ed. Leander E. Keck (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1998), 12:162.
 . Ibid.
 . Ibid.
 . Ibid., 162-3.
May 12th Sermon - Guest Speaker Tyler Burrell: No More Tears
26 As the soldiers led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. 28 Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!”31 For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” - Luke 23:26-31
I want y’all to think about this question: what is the greatest human tragedy? Would it be the tragedy that caused the most suffering, slavery, which still exists around the world? The tragedy that brought the most death, like World War II? The worst natural disaster that brought the loss of human life, like the flood of 1931 that took about 4 million lives? What about the influenza pandemic that cost the lives of 75 million people? When we see or experience great tragedies, they bring tears to our eyes. Think of the pictures and clips used in a commercial for sick or suffering children, asking you to give just a little bit each day to save a life. A lot of people don’t like to see those commercials on TV because those clips and pictures stirs our emotions.
The death of Jesus is a tragedy of unspeakable suffering. Herod and Pilate declared Jesus to be innocent of all crimes, yet, he is on his way to be crucified. To keep the peace, Pilate has sentenced a known innocent man, one he and Herod both declared innocent, to his death, a death by crucifixion. In Luke, it doesn’t tell of what happened to Jesus when he was crucified, but in Matthew 27:24-26, it tells of how Pilate had released Jesus to the people to be scourged:
24 So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” 25 And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” 26 Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified. - Matthew 27:24-26
A Roman scourging was a very intense torture. The victim was stripped of clothing and bound usually bent over so the back skin and muscles were tight. The two soldiers one on each side holding a rod with leather strands and on the ends of the strands were tied bits of bone, sharp pieces of metal and even glass. When the whip hit it actually implanted these sharp objects into the victim’s back. The torturer would then pull back the whip ripping deep into the victim’s back. The scourging of Jesus, by all accounts, was very brutal, but it was truly amazing that he had survived.
I want y’all to imagine that you were there that day and witnessed Jesus coming out of the Praetorium, beaten beyond recognition with a purple robe and a crown of thorns pressed deep into His scalp, wouldn’t you too be weeping and feeling sorrow for him? Jesus has a response to all who would feel remorse and sorrow for Him: ”do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.” Jesus Christ the Teacher and healer, the one who went from town to town preaching the Good News and healing all who were brought to him, was beaten and bloody and about to die.
Jesus wanted us to feel the weight of what he was enduring and that every bit of it was so that he could reconcile us to God. When we begin to understand that a crucifixion was horrific and that Christ was there in our place. We must begin to see just what is involved and what it took for God to forgive us. We learned that repentance must accompany forgiveness. In God’s case, not only is repentance necessary but also restitution. Someone must be punished and for those who place their trust in Christ, he is the one who takes our place of punishment.
The cross according to Jesus is not death or defeat but eternal victory. He wants those who are seeing him suffer in agony to realize that their tears are, in a sense, being wasted on him because unless they repent something worse will happen to them. It’s not easily apparent who these women were. It seems from what many scholars believe, they were women who wept and mourned all Jews who were lead away by the Romans to be crucified. They wept over the fact that Rome was in power. They wept because it was Jewish folks who were often crucified. If this is true, they were not necessarily weeping for Jesus but for all those who were crucified that day. Jesus knows what judgment awaits the inhabitants of Jerusalem. He has already wept himself for them:
41 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” - Luke 19:41-44
The cross according to Jesus is not something that should illicit continual weeping from those in Jerusalem because the cross is the plan and purpose of God to save many. Jesus commands them to take their tears and begin weeping for themselves. The sadness of the cross should and must point to sins yet to be cleansed. Jesus was God so payment for eternal sins could be made. For man to pay for sins committed against an eternal God requires an eternity of punishment. That is why Jesus tells these mourners that they had better start weeping for themselves and for their lost children.
The cross according to Jesus demands that the lost weep over their sin. Not only does Jesus tell them to weep for themselves and their children because of sins eternal punishment but also because of sin’s immediate punishment. Not only is the cross the symbol of salvation for Christians, but because of the cross we must realize there is punishment for sin. The cross is proof that all sin will be punished. Isaiah told us that the cross was planned by God and we can see that God’s hand is at work bring all these events together to produce the death of Christ for sin. Since this is taking place as a payment for sin, then the cross is a symbol that all who are outside of Christ will suffer even a worse fate.
Finally, Jesus draws an allusion from a common proverb or saying of the day in the last verse in today’s scripture:
31 For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” - Luke 23:31
He compares what is going on currently to Himself to what will take place in due time to those in Jerusalem. Here is what I believe Jesus is trying to tell all of us:
The contrast that Jesus is making is between the wet, green wood compared to the dry wood. Think of it like roasting hotdogs over a fire on a wonderful summer evening with your friends or family. You have your fire started, you have your favorite brands of hotdogs and hotdog buns, and all you need to do now is to find good sticks to use to roast them. Green wood makes good hotdog sticks because the wood won’t burn as easily as the dry wood. A lot of people don’t like to use dry wood as hotdog sticks because they burn faster, and in turn, burn the hotdog, and while many people don’t like burnt hot dogs, there are people who like burnt hot dogs. I personally like mine a little bit burnt.
In this sense, think of Jesus as the green wood; he was sinless and innocent of the crimes placed upon him. I also want you to think of all the people in Jerusalem who committed any sins against God as the dry wood: evil and unholy. If God does not spare Jesus (the green wood), then how much more ready the evil, unholy sinners in Jerusalem (the dry wood) will be when their judgment comes?
As we all have read in the Bible, we see that everything Jesus predicted concerning Jerusalem’s destruction took place in 70 A.D., but even the horror of their destruction by the Romans in 70 A.D. will be nothing as compared to the eternal destruction in the last day. We should see here that these words of our Lord, even with his death on the cross reaching closer by the hour, they are not only words of warning, but they are also words of hope.
As Jesus spoke these words, there was a person who had been listening to every word that Jesus spoke, and that person was Simon. Simon would be forced to carry Jesus’ cross. It just so happened that he would end up at the right place at the right time. I’m sure Simon wondered what crime this man was guilty of? I’m sure he thought that whatever Jesus had done had to have been horrible to have a death sentence warranted on him. But then, as he was made to carry Jesus’ cross, he heard Jesus’ words, his own heart began to melt from within himself. Simon had to have told himself that something isn’t quite right. It may very well be that when Jesus spoke to the crowd even then about repentance that Simon also repented and he was converted. Simon, just as he took up the cross and was following Christ, took up his own cross and followed Christ with his life. But it just wasn’t Simon who would be converted, but also his wife and his two sons. His sons would also meet and minister to the Apostle Paul as well.
Some would say that Simon was at the wrong place and the wrong time, or maybe all things work together for those who are called according to God’s purpose, and Simon was really at the right place at the right time. God does truly work in mysterious ways. Even at the point of his death, our Lord cared for the daughters of Jerusalem as well as the man behind him who was forced to carry His cross.
We are all moved by the suffering and death of our Lord, as these women did, but in a much different way. For us, Jesus’ death is not true tragedy as we shed no tears for Jesus. We shed our tears to Jesus because he alone is our hope for salvation. He is the reason we are completely spared the greatest tragedy of all. Amen.
Witness to the Word - May 5, 2019
Text: Ezekiel 37:1-14, Joel 2:28-29 Title: Not in Lifelessness _ The Empty Tomb Sermon Series, Week 3
1 The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” 7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them. 9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army. 11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”
28 “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. 29 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
May you be reminded that the tomb is empty, and you are called not to remain there any longer but to enjoy the new life with the Resurrected Lord as you listen to God’s Word proclaimed at this time.
Here we are in the third week of The Empty Tomb sermon series. Last week, we talked about hope amid despair. Today, we are going to think about the tomb called lifelessness. Next Sunday will be special. Tyler Burrell will be preaching while I’m on vacation. And, the tomb we’ll be asked to leave empty again on May 19th will be indifference. We’re going to ponder our indifference to the people outside our comfort zone, especially foreigners, LGBT folks, and those of other faiths. The sermon will be composed of my personal stories regarding them and not of various theological arguments, interpretations on the Bible, or political stances. And, on May 26th, we are going to wrap up the sermon series by dealing with loneliness. I hope you keep looking forward to the rest of The Empty Tomb sermon series.
The tomb that we’ll be encouraged to leave empty today is lifelessness. You may feel lethargic if you are in a long-lasting desperate situation. You may be burned out by overwork or stress. You may feel stuck because of a specific trauma in your life. You may feel the lack of energy or enthusiasm since you lost your loved ones. Having no hope nor dream, you may feel lifeless. Friends, it’s okay not to be okay. Of course, we often cannot easily overcome feeling powerless in our actual lives. But, remember that all shall be well. God will not give up on helping us. “No matter how rough your life gets, you can always turn it around.”
There may come a day when we need the help of professional counseling or mental health medications. I hope you don’t feel shame about taking medication. Even pastors benefit from therapy when they need it. If you feel you need such help, please let me know. I am your pastoral companion at hand, but I can also make referrals because I have trust in working with other professionals. So, what I’m about to do is not offering professional counseling but trying to listen with you to how today’s readings can help us to start dealing with lifelessness.
First of all, it is important to look at ourselves and a situation or problem affecting us from a kind of the third-person omniscient point of view to overcome feeling lifeless. To put it more concretely, we should be able to distinguish between the problem or situation and us. We should note that we cannot be “labeled and defined […] by the problem” because our lives consist of various experiences and stories and the potential for change even if we are facing a particular issue or situation. “For example: Consider the difference between saying, […] “[Ed] is a drug addict” and saying, […] “Drugs have a hold on [Ed] and [he] can’t seem to get free.” […] [Ed may be] a brilliant artist and a doting [uncle], as well as a [man] struggling to free [himself] from the grip of drug addiction.” Even if we are affected by a problem, we are not the problem itself. Our desperate situation cannot represent us.
As we see in today’s reading, the first thing God commanded Ezekiel to do is to look at the bones. Ezekiel felt the Lord’s power take control of him, and the Lord’s Spirit carried him to a valley full of bones. The Lord showed Ezekiel all around, and everywhere Ezekiel looked he saw bones that were dried out (Ezekiel 37:1-2, Contemporary English Version). What do the bones Ezekiel saw signify? It means the people of Israel who said their hope was gone and there’s nothing left of them (Ezek. 37:11, The Message) as we are told in Ezekiel 37:11. But, God does not allow Ezekiel to identify the bones with the Israelites. That is to say, God is instructing him to look at the bones from God’s point of view. It is here that Ezekiel begins separating the people of Israel from their problems.
If we can differentiate our desperate situation and us, another important thing is to find a good alternative life story we can start writing. Let’s read Ezekiel 37:3 again: God said, “Ezekiel, can these bones live?” Can these bones come back to life (CEV)? What a completely different story! God inspires Ezekiel here to turn his back on the bones, that is, the long-lasting miserable situation of the Israelites and begin dreaming of another wonderful journey of life. Israel is encouraged to leave the tomb called lifelessness empty and walk out toward a beautiful new life story.
God is always ready to provide a new direction. We are told in verses 12-14, God continually says, “I promise to open your graves and set you free. […] My Spirit will give you breath, and you will live again” (Ezek. 37:12-14, CEV). Here we see the clear image of an empty tomb, don’t we? The God who delivers us from all our troubles is now willing to pour out God’s Spirit upon us that makes us new. So, we can discover God’s new vision for us, a new good life story we can write with God. As the Prophet Joel shouts, when God gives God’s Spirit to us, we will prophesy; we will have dreams; we will see visions” (Joel 2:28). Thus, for example, we will be able to say, “I’m in despair, but that cannot define me. I still have my family and friends who support me. Also, I know the cookies I bake always make people happy. And, I know God is calling me to work with God. There are lots of people with whom I can continually share God’s love.” Friends, I pray that God helps you to find a good life story you can create newly in the midst of a lifeless situation.
The final essential thing is a ‘Just Do It’ attitude. In order to walk out of the tomb or start writing a new life story, we are required to move at least one step forward. Yes. That’s easier said than done. But still, it is important. I believe that a way of prayer called the prayer of command or breakthrough can help us just to do it. It is simply to command negative things to be gone or positive things to take place in our prayers. You may have already found one word repeated in Ezekiel’s text. What is it? Prophesy. God gives Ezekiel a vision of the bones living again and then orders him to just prophesy over the bones. God first said to Ezekiel, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.’” So, Ezekiel did prophesy just as he had been commanded, and the bones began to move, came together, bone to bone, and finally became human bodies. Then, God again said to Ezekiel, “Prophesy to the breath and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” So, Ezekiel did prophesy again just as God told him, and they became alive! Once again, God said to Ezekiel, “Prophesy and say to the Israelites: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them.’” Prophesy, prophesy, prophesy. Prophesy to yourself. Prophesy over the situation and problem. Prophesy to the alternative good life story. God will make you alive. God will help you to overcome the difficulties. God will inspire you to start writing a new life story. This will be an ongoing process. Keep prophesying. To borrow Pastor Batterson’s words, keep circling yourself, the problem, the situation, the stories, the dreams, the hope, the vision, etc, etc. Why don’t we practice the command prayer now? Would you please repeat after me loudly?
• Dry bones, come alive!
• Come, breath! Breathe on me!
• Fear, be gone!
• Depression, be gone!
• Spirit of cancer, be gone!
• A new life story, begin to unfold! Amen.
Let me conclude the sermon. It’s okay to feel lifeless. You are not the problem itself. You are always God’s beloved child. Look at yourself and the situation through God’s eyes. And dream a new dream that God gives to you. Start writing a good fresh life story. Amen.
 . Karen D. Scheib, Pastoral Care: Telling the Stories of Our Lives (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2016), 11.
 . Ibid.
 . Ibid.
 . Mark Batterson is an author of “Draw the Circle” which was the Burlington UMC’s 2019 Lenten devotional book.
Witness to the Word - April 28, 2019
Text: 2 Corinthians 4:7-18, Psalm 42:5 Title: Not in Despair _ The Empty Tomb Sermon Series, Week 2
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
13 It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. 15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
5 Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
May you be reminded that the tomb is empty, and you are called not to remain there any longer but to enjoy the new life with the Resurrected Lord as you listen to God’s Word proclaimed at this time.
Here is a story of a miserable man whom I know. He is twenty years old. He was a successful fund manager. But one day, he made a fatal mistake and ended up being around two million dollars in debt overnight. Only the life in which he has to pay his debt awaited him. Actually, he was not sure if he could clear off his huge debts. What a desperate situation!
We all have faced or are facing circumstances in which we feel terribly or somewhat depressed. First of all, we may experience despair because of the people or the things around us. When our family members are sick, and there is nothing we can do for them, we may feel helpless. When nothing goes our way although we always do our best, we may become depressed. When we realize that we cannot change anything, we may be driven to despair. When we are bullied, we may not be able to find any hope. When we suffer severe financial difficulties, we may become completely discouraged. As the Apostle Paul describes, we may feel like we are pressed on every side by troubles (2 Corinthians 4:8, NLT).
But also, we may feel desperate just because of us. When we are disappointed in ourselves because we encounter the evil aspects of human nature in us, we may sink into despair. When we find ourselves continuing to commit the same sin even if we are sure that God is always ready to forgive us as long as we repent, we may experience hopelessness. When we become fully aware that we cannot justify and sanctify ourselves by our own efforts, we may feel a sense of helplessness. So, we may sigh out like Paul, “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death” (Romans 7:24, NLT)? What if sin or evil didn’t come into the world? Everything on earth may have been in perfect harmony.
Honestly, nobody knows how to be freed from such despair quickly. We easily say, “Put your hope in God.” Well, I believe that it is an ultimately helpful answer because God, without cease, gives us the strength to overcome all difficulties. But, recall the man who is two million dollars in debt. If he decides to put his hope in God, will his hopelessness be eliminated right away? Maybe not. We, who are finite, experience despair necessarily. And, no one is immune from a desperate situation. Although I always pray that you are happy by being released from the situation as promptly as possible, that’s not what we experience in reality. We may have to endure despair for quite a long time. In this regard, it is not outside but amid despair that we can find hope.
The Bible does not say that we will never be exposed to despair if we believe in God. Instead, it candidly depicts the hopeless situation that our ancestors of faith encountered. Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers though he walked with God. Elijah’s life was threatened by the wicked king even though he was a messenger of God. Jesus was nailed to the cross despite the fact that he was God’s only Son. Jesus’ disciples were persecuted although they committed themselves to God’s ministries. But, the reason that their lives continue to touch our hearts is that they found the silver lining in such clouds and moved forward by the strength that God supplied.
Having hope does not remove our despair speedily. But, it is, without doubt, the first and most important step to take to overcome despair. Again, think of the man who owes two million bucks. He could have given up on everything. But, he is determined to have confidence in God even in hope against hope and is moving mountains to settle his debt. At the same time, he is also choosing to stop by a coffee house to enjoy the life he has been given, chat with the friends who are continually supporting him, and attend a church to be reminded that God is his rock, his refuge, and his help in trouble. How can he do that? I believe that it’s because he is convinced that all shall be well as the fourteenth-century English mystic Julian of Norwich was.
“Julian of Norwich is an anchoress – a woman who has set herself apart for God and lives isolated in a cell. Like her contemporaries of 1373, she is Roman Catholic and believes that the last rites give special sanctifying grace and strengthen a sick person bodily and spiritually at death. Recognizing her need for a deeper love of Christ, she has appealed to God for […] a sickness unto death while still young, allowing her to experience all that a body and soul experience in death […] but without actual death – so that she might learn to live more mindful of God. […] Julian has indeed become deathly ill. Everyone around her despairs of her life. She also believes she is dying. The last rites are administered to her. Then a wonderful thing happens: Julian experiences what a future generation might describe as a near – death experience. At the crisis of her sickness, between four and nine one afternoon, she receives fifteen “showings,” or revelations. She reports that heaven opens to her, she beholds Christ in his glory, and she sees the meaning and power of his sufferings. […] In her thirteenth showing, Julian receives a comforting answer to a question that has long troubled her: “In my folly, before this time I often wondered why, by the great foreseeing wisdom of God, the onset of sin was not prevented: for then, I thought, all should have been well. This impulse [of thought] was much to be avoided, but nevertheless I mourned and sorrowed because of it, without reason and discretion. […] But Jesus, who in this vision informed me of all that is needed by me, answered with these words and said: ‘It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’ […] These words were said most tenderly, showing no manner of blame to me nor to any who shall be saved.”
Whenever I was in despair, what Jesus said in the vision of Julian always comforted me. It may be necessary that there is a pain, but all shall be well. It may be required that there is a failure, but all shall be well. It may be essential that there is a broken relationship, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. As long as we remind ourselves that all shall be well because Jesus will put everything right, we will be able to find hope amid despair and move forward. It is for all who do not give up on finding hope in a hopeless situation that today’s reading is: “We are like clay jars in which this treasure is stored. The real power comes from God and not from us. We often suffer, but we are never crushed. Even when we don’t know what to do, we never give up. In times of trouble, God is with us, and when we are knocked down, we get up again. […] [W]e know that God raised the Lord Jesus to life. And just as God raised Jesus, [God] will also raise us to life. Then [God] will bring us into [God’s] presence together with you. All of this has been done for you, so that more and more people will know how kind God is and will praise and honor [God]. [Therefore] [w]e never give up. […] Things that are seen don’t last forever, but things that are not seen are eternal. That’s why we keep our minds on the things that cannot be seen” (2 Corinthians 4:7-18, Contemporary English Version).
In his book, The Sickness unto Death, Kierkegaard mentions unconscious despair. It means we are not even aware that we are in despair. Though Kierkegaard gives a different definition of it, we can apply it to the theme of today’s sermon. Sometimes, we may not be able to realize that we are spiritually sick. Or, even if we are in a desperate situation in which we need to find hope, we may think we are OK. Then, we may not be able to be conscious that we are dying. But, if we are conscious that we feel despair, it can be a warning sign about our emotional, spiritual, or physical health. It is right then that we can start looking back upon our lives and asking for God’s guidance and help.
Friends, our old way of life has been nailed to the cross with Jesus. And, our new way of life has started since Jesus was raised from the dead. Jesus is not there in the tomb. The tomb is empty. We are not there in the tomb as well. The tomb called despair is empty because we put our hope in God. You may be suffering deep despair now without anyone around you knowing about it. I pray that you will get through the difficulties. God will bear the hardships with you and help you to overcome everything. Don’t worry anything because all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. That’s what God wants me to tell you today. So, tell your soul whenever you are in despair: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” Amen.
Text: 1 Corinthians 15:42-58, Matthew 28:6 Title: Not Here in This Tomb _ The Empty Tomb Sermon Series, Week 1
42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man. 50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.
May you be reminded what a joy it is to live the new, resurrected life that Jesus shares with us as you listen to God’s Word proclaimed at this time.
There were four friends. They spent a ton of time with each other. They ate together, traveled together, and went through many things together. But one day, one of them died in an accident. The rest were shattered. They buried their friend in deep grief. Next day, it drizzled. They went out to a bar in the night to drown their sorrows and then visited the cemetery. But shockingly, the grave was uncovered. And the body of the friend was not there. All of a sudden, the lightning flashed in the sky. [Thunder & Lightning Sound] Doesn’t this sound like the opening scene from a scary zombie movie? Well, quite frankly, the Easter story is similar to it. How the women felt when they first discovered the empty tomb of Jesus would not have been different from how the three friends felt when they found his friend’s grave dug up. The story of resurrection day is not about what is likely to happen in real life easily. It is as weird, scary and unusual as a zombie story.
My imagination ran away with me while preparing the sermon. So, I found out a similarity and a difference between the two stories. An aspect they have in common is contagiousness. The zombie virus spreads through direct contact with infected people. Christ’s Resurrection power also continues to transform people’s lives. The difference between them lies in what is contagious. Zombies spread death and destruction. But, whoever experiences the Risen Lord shares life and love. Yes! That’s the main point of the resurrection story with which we all are familiar. The story continually asks us whether we are experiencing the contagious power of the Christ’s resurrection in which we become life-giving followers of Jesus.
The resurrection of Jesus is, of course, the foundation of our belief that we will be resurrected even after death. That’s why we are always told at funeral services, “Jesus said, I am the resurrection and I am life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, yet shall they live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25). Someday in the future, we will rise again and be reunited with our loved ones.
But, it is also here and now that we believe that we can experience resurrection. If we are sure of Christ’s resurrection, we are called to respond to the following questions: Again, where do you experience the contagious power of the resurrection from day to day? Where do you see the Resurrected Jesus working in your ordinary life? How does the resurrection power influence your daily thoughts and activities? Have you been transformed by that power? Those questions make us think about whether we who live in the hope of future resurrection also live as a witness to the Risen Christ in the present.
To sum up, Jesus is still resurrected again when we reproduce the life of Jesus in our everyday lives. There was a man who lived with his widowed mother. She did many good deeds in her whole life. But, he was the opposite. Later, his mother passed away. But surprisingly enough, he began to change after the funeral. He looked back on how his mother lived and started to do what she did. He felt that his mother still lived in his heart whenever he did good as she did. While I prepared for funeral services, many bereaved families shared these memories with me: My mother always smiled at those around her, and it made them happy; my father loved to give, etc. Then, in my funeral sermon, I would say, “I encourage all who are gathered here to give a warm smile to others as the deceased person used to do” or “I invite you to be a giver like your loved one who just left this world.” When we do what our loved ones used to do, they will continue to remain a part of our lives. Likewise, when we welcome, love, forgive, share as Jesus did, the Risen Lord will still remain a part of our lives.
Jesus was nailed to the cross. And he died in the end. The disciples couldn’t help but feel devastated. They were seized by fear. All of them were filled with despair and disappointment. They didn’t know what to do. Only a brooding silence descended on them. Some of them just came back to the place where Jesus called them. They couldn’t find a reason to be a part of Jesus’ disciples any longer because he died. Hope had been extinguished. But, after a few days, some women came to look at the tomb very early in the morning. And, they found the entrance stone rolled away from the tomb. In surprise, they walked in. And, the body of Jesus was not there in the tomb. The tomb was empty! They spread the news. And finally, the disciples encountered their Risen Teacher. And, what happened later? They acted like their teacher. They shouted, “God loves you!” They healed the sick and fed the hungry. Jesus was not there in the tomb. And, the disciples also did not remain in the tomb. The tomb was empty! And, since then, Jesus’ life has been reproduced in the lives of his countless followers including us continually.
Today’s reading says, “The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). This is the confession of the Apostle Paul who experienced the Risen Christ in his life. He realized that the tomb did not have the last word. He was convinced that Jesus’ resurrection also made our resurrection possible. Friends, we from time to time don’t know what to do in a desperate situation. We feel like we are in the tomb. But, that’s not the end. We will be resurrected. We may be planted in a state of dishonor but will be raised in a state of splendor (International Standard Version). We may be planted in weakness but will be raised in power. This will be the main theme we are going to think about for the next several weeks. Are you in despair? The empty tomb will remind you of hope. Do you live your life like a lifeless person? The empty tomb will encourage you to have a dream. Are you indifferent to those who are suffering? The empty tomb will invite you to be compassionate. Are you lonely? The empty tomb will help you to recall the good friends around you.
“Little Philip, born with Down’s syndrome, attended a third-grade Sunday School class with several eight-year-old boys and girls. Typical of that age, the children did not readily accept Philip with his differences, according to an article in leadership magazine. But because of a creative teacher, they began to care about Philip and accept him as part of the group, though not fully. The Sunday after Easter the teacher brought Leggs pantyhose containers, the kind that look like large eggs. Each receiving one, the children were told to go outside on that lovely spring day, find some symbol for new life, and put it in the egg-like container. Back in the classroom, they would share their new-life symbols, opening the containers one by one in surprise fashion. After running about the church property in wild confusion, the students returned to the classroom and placed the containers on the table. Surrounded by the children, the teacher began to open them one by one. After each one, whether a flower, butterfly, or leaf, the class would ooh and ahh. Then one was opened, revealing nothing inside. The children exclaimed, That’s stupid. That’s not fair. Somebody didn’t do their assignment.” Philip spoke up, “That’s mine.” “Philip, you don’t ever do things right!” the student retorted. “There’s nothing there!” “I did so do it,” Philip insisted. “I did do it. It’s empty. The tomb was empty!” Silence followed. From then on Philip became a full member of the class. He died not long afterward from an infection most normal children would have shrugged off. At the funeral this class of eight-year-olds marched up to the altar not with flowers, but with their Sunday school teacher, each to lay on it an empty pantyhose egg.”
Jesus is not here in this tomb; he has risen. So, let us not remain in the tomb. Let us leave the tomb empty. And let us walk with our Risen Lord. Amen.
 . https://bible.org/illustration/empty-tomb
Witness to the Word - April 14, 2019
Text: Luke 19:28-44, Exodus 3:5 Title: Prayer: Getting Orders from God
28 After telling this story, Jesus went on toward Jerusalem, walking ahead of his disciples. 29 As he came to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives, he sent two disciples ahead. 30 “Go into that village over there,” he told them. “As you enter it, you will see a young donkey tied there that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks, ‘Why are you untying that colt?’ just say, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32 So they went and found the colt, just as Jesus had said. 33 And sure enough, as they were untying it, the owners asked them, “Why are you untying that colt?” 34 And the disciples simply replied, “The Lord needs it.” 35 So they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their garments over it for him to ride on. 36 As he rode along, the crowds spread out their garments on the road ahead of him. 37 When he reached the place where the road started down the Mount of Olives, all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen. 38 “Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!” 39 But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!” 40 He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!” 41 But as he came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep. 42 “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. 43 Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. 44 They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.”
5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”
May you realize more deeply what prayer is and gain the strength to put it into practice in your daily life as you listen to God’s Word proclaimed at this time.
Today is Palm/Passion Sunday, the very last Sunday in Lent. And, we are about to finish the Lenten sermon series by listening to the voices of Day 39 reading of Draw the Circle titled “Holy Ground” and the third song of the cantata “Hosanna in the Streets.”
This morning, we read two different readings. But, they have an image in common. What is that? Taking off something they wear. First, Moses takes off his sandals. “Moses was shepherding the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. He led the flock to the west end of the wilderness and came to the mountain of God, Horeb. The angel of God appeared to him in flames of fire blazing out of the middle of a bush. He looked. The bush was blazing away but it didn’t burn up. Moses said, “What’s going on here? I can’t believe this! Amazing! Why doesn’t the bush burn up?” God saw that he had stopped to look. God called to him from out of the bush, “Moses! Moses!” He said, “Yes? I’m right here!” God said, “Don’t come any closer. Remove your sandals from your feet. You’re standing on holy ground. […] I am the God of your father: The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob. […] The Israelite cry for help has come to me, and I’ve seen for myself how cruelly they’re being treated by the Egyptians. It’s time for you to go back: I’m sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the People of Israel, out of Egypt”” (Exodus 3:1-10, The Message).
While Moses put off the shoes from his feet at Mount Horeb, what was happening there?
First of all, we need to know what it means to take off shoes. Well, in Korea, we traditionally don’t wear shoes at home because we have floor culture. We typically sit, eat, study, talk, or sleep on the floor though people now have a couch, bed, or dining set at home. I heard that people still wear shoes at home in the U.S. before coming here. But well, it turned out that’s not always the case. In any case, the reason that we remove shoes at an entrance is basically to keep the floor or the carpet clean. But, that was not the reason Moses took off his sandals. As Pastor Batterson mentions in Day 39 reading, “[I]t was an act of humility […]. It was a way of acknowledging absolute dependence on God. It was a way of removing any obstacle that could get in the way of God and Moses.” In other words, while removing sandals, Moses got ready to listen humbly to God.
Now, God is addressing Moses. And, God is giving him orders. Though he first resisted being chosen as Israel’s leader, as we know, he eventually obeyed God’s orders unto death. As a result, this person who took off his sandals on the holy ground is now remembered as a prime example of a person used as a powerful instrument in God’s hands. As the hymn “Blessed Assurance” describes, there was perfect submission, perfect delight, and whispers of love right there. Filled with God’s goodness, Moses was lost in God’s love throughout his life.
Then now, let’s turn our eyes to the “Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem” scene. “As [Jesus rode into the city], the people gave him a grand welcome, throwing their coats on the street. Right at the crest, where Mount Olives begins its descent, the whole crowd of disciples burst into enthusiastic praise over all the mighty works they had witnessed: Blessed is he who comes, the king in God’s name! All’s well in heaven! Glory in the high places” (Luke 19:36-38)!
Here we see the excited crowd who took off their garments and then spread them out for Jesus. What’s going on here? Why did they do so?
“Spreading garments out for someone to walk on was more than an act of chivalry,” said Brian Phillips. “[It] was an act of submission paid to royalty. The only other time this is done in Scripture […] is in 2nd Kings 9:13 – “Then in haste every man of them took his garment and put it under him on the bare steps, and they blew the trumpet and proclaimed, ‘Jehu is king.’” So, did the crowd get ready to listen to Jesus and obey him by taking off their cloaks and spread them out?
I wish they could have done so. Unfortunately, the crowd was not like Moses. They took a different path. Those who praised Jesus who was entering Jerusalem, before long, turned into those who shouted, “Crucify him!” What happened to them in that short time? Jehu whom I mentioned above was the tenth King of the northern kingdom of Israel. He killed a great number of people who rebelled against God. It is for him that their ancestors took off their clothes and spread them out. So, they may have anticipated that Jesus would be like Jehu when they laid down their cloaks. In other words, they mistook Jesus for a general who would save them from the Roman Empire. But later, they realized that Jesus was not the person they had wanted and betrayed him in the end. Judas is a typical example. When they took off their garments, they didn’t want to get orders from Jesus but to give orders to him. Jesus should have been the one who acts on their wishes. They were excited but were not interested in what Jesus was sent to do. They welcomed Jesus but didn’t listen to him.
To sum up the two different stories, even when we take off our shoes or cloaks, that is to say, when we believe that we are ready to rely on and listen to God, we still can choose whether we will receive orders from God or, ironically, give orders to God.
But, you know, prayer provides us with a space in which we are changed, not we change God. Therefore, it’s still important for us to stand on the holy ground where we can take off our spiritual shoes. In other words, we need to stop and listen to God in our daily life. The holy ground doesn’t have to be a remote place like Mount Horeb. Also, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a quiet place which has nobody but you. It can be your workplace, home, school, or even the street you walk on because God speaks to us every time and everywhere. You may have already noticed them, but Dawn, Joyce, Darla, Susan, and Luella created the beautiful Stations of the Cross for this Holy Week. Each station can also be the holy ground on which you can take off your shoes. As Pastor Batterson says, the reason that God appeared to Moses particularly in a burning bush is simply “to show that no place is devoid of God’s presence, not even a bush on the backside of the desert.” God keeps talking to us in whatever way. Thus, the holy ground is not what God needs but what we need in order to hear God’s voice. Let us give us an opportunity to receive orders from God in prayers. Day 39 reading provides some examples of what we have talked about. You can read them. Then, what about you? What orders are you getting from God? What does God ask you to do for the family, neighbors, community and the world?
We have spent time studying and practicing prayer during Lent this year. Thank you, Richard for suggesting the book Draw the Circle. I appreciate Christian Education Committee again choosing it as a church-wide Lenten reading. Also, I’m grateful to you all for enjoying reading the book not only alone but also together with others in a small group. Our Lenten journey ends this coming Saturday, and we are going to meet the risen Christ next Sunday. But, our journey of prayer will never end. Why don’t you receive orders from God every moment as C. S. Lewis suggests? “[T]he very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind. We can only do it for moments at first. But from those moments the new sort of life will be spreading through our system: because now we are letting [God] work at the right part of us. It is the difference between paint, which is merely laid on the surface, and a dye or stain which soaks right through.” May the Lord always guide your steps in your daily life. Amen.
 . Mark Batterson, Draw the Circle: The 40 Day Prayer Challenge (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 219.
45 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. 46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). 47 When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.” 48 Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. 49 The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.” 50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. 54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”
4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.
May you realize more deeply what prayer is and gain the strength to put it into practice in your daily life as you listen to God’s Word proclaimed at this time.
Today’s sermon is related to Day 23 reading of Draw the Circle titled “Not Now” and the fifth song of the cantata “King of Suffering.”
We have been told that God’s response to our prayers will be ‘Yes,’ ‘No,’ or ‘Wait.’ We all are familiar with that concept. And, if only the answer were always yes. But, we know that is not the case in reality. Maybe we experience God who says no first but yes, in the end, more than God who always says yes. This is what we are told in Day 23 reading of Draw the Circle: “When God says no to a prayer, it doesn’t always mean no; sometimes it means not yet.” But also, we definitely experience God who only answers no to our prayers.
When God says no, we tend to check whether our motives were wrong. James 4:3 says, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” If we realize we asked wrongly, it will be far easier to accept God’s no.
But, you know, do we experience God’s no because we always ask wrongly? No. Recall what you ask God for in your ordinary lives. Most often, we pray for the needs of our family and community, personal guidance in crises, our health and wellness, safety in our daily tasks or travel, success in our work, school, or relationships, a sense of peace, etc. Are we who pray all those prayers too selfish? No. Those are just daily prayers of all who need God’s help. So, when God answers no to such prayers, we are easily frustrated, disappointed, or even shocked. You may have experienced the followings: We asked God to remove something that makes us stressful. But, nothing happened. We prayed for successful outcomes. But, what was waiting for us was just a failure. You know, when we heard that Jinhee’s father who had been healthy was suddenly diagnosed with cancer, we started to pray for his recovery eagerly. But, after six months, he left us. And, we were lost for words. Did we all ask God for something that we must not ask for? No. Even though we didn’t pray with wrong motives, our prayers were sometimes not heard. As a result, we felt like God had abandoned us. We felt like we were alone.
“The Bible gives us many examples of people who [felt abandoned]. Abram felt that God’s promise of an heir had gone unheeded (Gen. 15:2-3). The psalmist felt ignored in his trouble (Ps. 10:1). Job’s troubles were so great that he thought God might even kill him (Job 13:15).” The death of Jesus on the cross is also a typical example of it. In Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Did Jesus ask for what he was not allowed to ask for? As a person, he also desired not to die but to live. But eventually, Jesus died. Though his death made our salvation possible, he died. God did not save Jesus’ life. God abandoned Jesus.
As farmers wait for the rain, we wait for God’s yes. We look forward to the end of the agonizing wait. But, we sometimes end up facing no rain.
But at this point, why don’t we rethink about waiting? Today’s second reading shows us another image: The wait which leads to God’s creative yes that we may not expect. Day 23 reading of Draw the Circle starts with Acts 1:4 which says, “On one occasion, while Jesus [who rose from the dead] was eating with [the disciples], he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.” This wait does not mean that you will receive what you ask for if you wait. It’s a totally different kind of wait. The disciples didn’t know what would happen later. As Pastor Batterson says, “[They didn’t] plan Pentecost. It’s not like Peter woke up on the day of Pentecost and had “speaking in tongues” on his to-do list. He didn’t plan on baptizing three thousand people that day.” They just waited as Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went by faith, even though he did not know where he was going (Hebrews 11:8). Then, what happened? The Holy Spirit came to rest on them, and their new journey started. Their wait in faith led to an entirely new result that they couldn’t even imagine.
In that regard, we can reconsider Jesus’ death as well. God said no to Jesus’ prayer. But, as we know, that was not the end. Something new took place. The cross which used to be the Roman instrument of execution became a symbol of hope for everyone in the end.
Even if God doesn’t remove something that makes us stressful, we may able to learn how to let go of anxious thoughts. Even if we fail again, we may be able to see the countless miracles that already surrounded us. We are still very saddened by my father-in-law’s death. But surprisingly, looking back upon the past two years, some problems that Jinhee’s family was dealing with have been solved. God may not answer our prayers in the way we hope for. But, God will ultimately say yes to our prayers in God’s unique way.
In Day 12 reading, Pastor Batterson compares a prayer with a seed, saying, “Each prayer is like a seed that gets planted in the ground. It disappears for a season, but it eventually bears fruit that blesses future generations. In fact, our prayers bear fruit forever. Even when we die, our prayers don’t. Each prayer takes on a life, an eternal life, of its own.”  In this regard, again, God’s response to our prayer is ultimately creative yes all the time though it seems to be no at first glance.
I would like to conclude the sermon with the prayer that is known as a prayer an American missionary prayed in Korea around one hundred years ago: “Lord, nothing is visible at this moment. Lord, you have planted us on this barren and poor land, where not even a single tree can grow tall enough. It is such a miracle that we could come to this land across the wide, wide Pacific Ocean. Nothing is visible, though, in this land on which we seem to have been dropped off by your hand. Only stubbornly stained darkness can be seen. Only Korean people chained with poverty and superstition can be seen. They don’t even know why they are chained, what suffering is. They just distrust us and express anger to us as we tell them how to take away their suffering, which is not suffering to them. The thoughts of Korean men are not visible. The mind of this government is not visible. We are afraid that we may not have any more opportunity to see the women commuting on Kama, which is a cart carried by men. And we do not see what to do. Yet, Lord! We will obey. We believe that you begin your work as we humbly obey, and that the day will come when our spiritual eyes will see your work, according to your Words, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). We believe that we will see the future of the faith of Korea. Although we are as if standing on a desert with bare hands, although we are condemned to be Western devils, we believe that the day will come when they will rejoice with tears realizing that they are one with our spirit in Christ, and that we all have one Kingdom and one Father in Heaven. Although there is no church to worship you, no school to study, although this land is filled with doubt of suspicion, contempt, and disdain, we believe that in the near future this land will become a land of blessing.”
The missionary’s prayer was not answered when he or she was alive. But, it didn’t dissipate. It finally bloomed and bore fruit. So, South Korea, which used to receive God’s love from foreign missionaries, has been turned into a country which shares God’s love with so many people around the world. And, I also came here to serve you.
In conclusion, prayer is accepting God’s no. But, that’s not the end. Prayer is looking forward to God’s ultimate, creative yes with faith even after accepting God’s no. Amen.
 . Mark Batterson, Draw the Circle: The 40 Day Prayer Challenge (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 129.