Reflection August 25, 2019 by Rev Sunny Kim
Jeremiah 1:4-10/ Psalm 71/ Luke 13:10-17
Pride and Prejudice, and God’s Reign
It is my belief that everyone, with no exception, has prejudice against something and someone. I also believe that bigotry can take such a subtle form that those with privilege cannot feel microaggression happening. Microaggression is a very subtle form of bigotry. For example, when I went to a medical clinic because I needed a doctor (not in Sicamous), one of the receptionists, instead of just telling me that due to the shortage of doctors they were not receiving new patients at the moment, said the service was for residents only. Did you get it? She assumed that I was not a resident because I look like this. Attila didn’t pick up it even though he was there witnessing the whole thing because he looks like that. But as I said, no one is free of prejudice and here’s the one fact about myself for today. I am passionate about social justice issues. Justice for the LGBT people are the closest to my heart. But when I first started theological school, I was once on the other side of microaggression. We had a very attractive professor, who is gay. I said among our small group of classmates, “Too bad he’s gay; he could have made a woman happy.” I am NOT proud of this statement; I was younger and stupider. What I said is microaggression because my statement assumed heterosexuality as the norm, as what the receptionist said assumed being white as the norm of her town, which was also my town.
Prejudice is one of the vices that Jesus constantly challenged his followers to overcome. The gospel story we read today is a typical story of pride and prejudice. According to the Jewish Law, one is not allowed to do any activity that constitutes as ‘work’ on the sabbath. I’ll give you one example, I was once invited to a Jewish Passover meal, which takes 3 hours and required me to sleep over. The family forgot to leave the bathroom light on before sunset because turning on a switch is considered ‘work’; because sabbath and Passover start at sunset on Friday. They had to ask this Gentile to turn on the light at night. Anyway, the point is that Jesus disobeyed the Law by healing this woman. What the leader of the synagogue says to criticize Jesus is technically not wrong. But what is evil about this criticism is that he twisted what is right and good to participate in evil, which in this case is pride and prejudice. The reason why his attitude is evil is in what Jesus says; “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free form this bondage on the sabbath day?” Do you remember the story of Jewish leaders criticizing the disciples of Jesus for picking grain in the field to feed themselves on a sabbath day? Jesus shut them up by saying sabbath was made for people, not the other way around, meaning, “Get your priorities right!”
Which is more important; rules and laws or people they were designed to benefit? For Jesus, people always came first. Law was written to protect the vulnerable. If the law has to be broken to save someone, quoting the favorite Christian question, what would Jesus do? Jesus would not even blink an eye and choose to save and help. Disclaimer; I am not in any way encouraging you to break the law. I’m just saying no law is perfect and without loopholes. Sometimes we have to choose our priorities according to God’s kingdom values. A lot of pious Jews in Jesus’ time abused the loopholes of the Law for their benefit. Jesus always reacted with indignation at the pride and prejudice of the privileged people, leaders of his society. From this we learn that God hates pride AND prejudice. Thinking we are better than others and judging others who are not like us are against God’s principles of compassion and justice. Jesus constantly taught humility; “First shall be last and the last shall be first,” for example.
We are taught to be humble and compassionate to one other. Why do you think God chose Jesse’s youngest son David to be king of Israel? Why do you think God chose the boy Jeremiah to be one of the most important prophets of Israel? Why do you think God’s son was born of a poor family? It’s because God values humility more than anything. Only when we are humble can we completely trust in God’s care and guidance. Only when we are humble can we see each other as God sees us, with compassionate love.
No matter how much power, wealth, knowledge, and status we have, compared to the power of God, we are nothing. We should humble ourselves and confess, “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing. In you, I seek refuge. You are my hope, my trust from my youth; from the time of my birth, I have leaned on you.” Let us trust God as if we were young children relying on their parents for protection and guidance. We know what comes of the foolish children who defy their parents’ guidance and strike out on their own. Read the story of the prodigal son, who thought he could take care of himself just fine. If we can humble ourselves and see one another as God sees us, we will be able to see beyond each other’s skin colour, gender, culture and religion, sexual orientation and gender identity, different ideas and lifestyles, and overcome our impulse to judge each other, considering them wrong or inferior. Judging from the teachings of Jesus, we know that pride and prejudice are against God’s kingdom values. Let us pray and strive to be humble, so that we can treat all God’s children with compassion and work to bring God’s reign of justice to our communities.
Reflection August 18, 2019 by Rev Sunny Kim
Isaiah 5:1-7/ Hebrews 11:29-12:2/ Luke 12:49-56
Run Towards God’s Reign of Justice
Again, I’ll start with one fact about myself; before coming to Kimberley United Church, I was doing graduate studies in biblical studies in Montreal. The concept of the kingdom of heaven from the Gospel of Matthew was the topic of my research, and apocalypticism was the theme. What do you picture when you hear the word apocalypse? The end of the world, I presume. But that’s not what it means. The word apocalypse comes from the Greek word apocalypsus, which means ‘revelation’. Apocalypticism was a minority Jewish idea from desert communities that believed that God chose them to impart an esoteric knowledge about their history and their fate in the future, after the final judgement and in the heavenly realm. Not all contents of the apocalyptic literature were about the end, so we cannot define apocalypticism as such. When you think of apocalypse as the end of the world, you are in fact thinking of another Greek word eschaton, which means ‘the end’. So, in biblical studies, things that concern the end is called eschatology.
In the Old Testament times, judgement and salvation of God’s people concerned delivering the nation of Israel from the many foreign invasions and occupations. The messiah that the Prophet Isaiah talked about was a powerful king from King David’s bloodline to free his people from the foreign oppression. The reason why we Christians believe in personal salvation or heaven and hell is because our teacher Jesus came from one of the apocalyptic communities of his time that believed in esoteric revelations and condemned the mainstream Jewish group for being corrupted. I’m sure in the future I’ll have more opportunities to tell you about the fascinating things I learned from my research, so I’ll stop here for now.
Today’s text in Isaiah shows us what the Old Testament people believed in. God is disappointed that the vineyard that God had carefully taken care of didn’t yield healthy grapes. God’s chosen people who got into a covenant with God failed to fulfill the conditions of the covenant. Yes, God’s covenant with the nation of Israel was conditional. God would bless them, but only if they are faithful to the commandments. The Jewish Law, which can be found in the Book of Leviticus, as well as in Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, is very long and complicated, but as Jesus said, they all boil down to two principles; love God and love your neighbours. They are filled with the principle of social justice. You should read it some time and learn things like it’s wrong to covet your neighbour’s animal AND wife. Good stuff. Anyway, what God is lamenting in Isaiah chapter 5 is in verse 7; “He expected justice, but saw bloodshed, righteousness, but head a cry.” This is not the only text that talks about God wanting social justice. Very clearly, justice is God’s will.
Today’s gospel text, which pictures something dark and ominous, mentions failure to read the signs of the time. This is like a medical diagnosis. The signs that Jesus is urging us to read is about how well God’s people are doing in their responsibilities. We are created to be God’s stewards caring for all of creation as we heard in the story time. How well have we been taking care of Mother Earth and all of God’s creation? It’s probably as bad as a third stage cancer. What about social justice? Are there bigotry, alienation, discrimination, and oppression in our society? All these questions, you probably don’t have to answer them. We know the answers. We can see them happening everyday. Racism is not even close to being overcome; in fact, extremism is increasing. People of different cultures and religions are discriminated against, homosexuals and trans people get fired from their jobs and youths become homeless because their parents kick them out. Big corporations destroy the environment for profit, and a lot of girls and women in the world get treated like possessions. We should be able to take a look at our world and see the signs everywhere, and hear God’s voice saying, “I expected social justice, but saw bloodshed, and heard too many people’s cries of suffering.” Read about what’s going on at the US/ Mexico border; you can hear people’s cries of suffering. These are the signs we should be reading.
Now, every diagnosis requires actions. If we examined our world that God entrusted to us and found a problem, what shall we do to fix it? Listen to the Book of Hebrews; “Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,” following the examples of “the cloud of witnesses,” which is our ancestors in faith, and following the footsteps of Jesus, not the crucifixion part but his uncompromising faithfulness to God’s kingdom values of compassion and social justice.
So, there it is, our action plan following our diagnosis of God’s world; we who have been blessed with God’s love and grace should get up and go out into God’s world to act. Let us treat each other with kindness and compassion. Let us not ignore God’s people in distress; by feeding the hungry and comforting the sad, by speaking out against bigotry and participating in protecting the marginalized. Let us work to bring God’s reign of justice to our world. Let us run towards God’s reign of justice.
Reflection August 11, 2019 by Rev Sunny Kim
Isaiah 1:11-17/ Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16/ Luke 12:21-34
Seeking God’s Reign
I am revealing one thing about myself every Sunday, and today, I should start by saying, I’m not proud of what I’m about to confess to you. I’m a worrier. Not a warrior, although I am that too sometimes. And sometimes there are people in my life who make me feel ashamed of being a worrier. Now I’m going to tell you about my piano teacher Arne, but first, please promise me you won’t tell him that I mentioned him in my sermon since he is coming this weekend. He’s the kind of person who, although he doesn’t have much, doesn’t shy away from helping people in any way possible. But from what I observed, because he’s such a good person who loves and helps with everything he has, people tend to take care of him. His previous car was a gift and so is his current car. A good friend recently passed away, and his family decided to give his car to Arne. After a church function involving abundant food, our ladies would ask me if I would deliver all the leftover food to him, since he was my piano teacher and we met regularly. He is single and we worry about whether he eats properly or not. He dined with us after my piano lessons. It was wonderful sharing lessons and meals together once a week. Learn from Jesus; eating together creates bonds. Anyway, he’s such a selfless person that I believe God will keep providing for him through the many people in his life, including yours truly.
Today, we read a very familiar gospel text about God taking care of our needs. This text deals with the issues of anxiety and trust. As a worrier, this text feels very personal to me; this is like God saying, “you of little faith” with arms folded. One thing that a lot of Christians tend to misunderstand about this text is thinking that things like what to eat and what to wear are not important; but this is our privilege talking. Those who struggle to provide for their basic needs can’t think like that. Contrary to this belief, Jesus is saying these things are extremely important. The reason why disciples should not worry is because God knows that we need those things, and also because worrying cannot change things. So, the moral of the story is this; “Don’t worry about your basic needs because God already knows you need them. Instead, focus on God’s kingdom and live as faithful disciples. Then God will provide for you.”
I think it is normal that I thought of Arne while preparing this message; his life is a living testimony to the verse, “Strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” I think I should pause a little here to explain to you about God’s ‘kingdom’. The original Greek word that we often translate as ‘kingdom’ is basileia, which mostly refers to an abstract and political realm, and not a physical space. A more accurate translation would be ‘reign’. For example, I could say, “During the reign of King Henry VIII, England broke up with the Roman Catholic Church,” although he also broke up with some wives and broke some of their heads along the way. Anyway, a lot of times, I will use the term ‘the reign of God’ and when I do, know that it means ‘the kingdom of God.” Because basileia means a political ‘reign’ and not a physical space, when Jesus talks about the kingdom of God, it means bringing God reign on earth. It is a subversive message. A lot of people don’t realize this, but the ministry of Jesus was socially subversive in nature. To bring God’s reign of love and equality on earth, inevitably, the unjust social order has to be replaced. As we have read in Isaiah chapter 1, God doesn’t want burnt offerings and other sacrifices from us. To translate this into our context, God doesn’t want our Sunday morning worship services, reading and meditating on the Bible and praying a lot; what God wants from us is our worships, meditations, and prayers to lead us to a lifestyle of loving service and works of justice. Disciples are called to work for this just reign on earth; we have to do the work. When we pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” it expressed the speaker’s will to participate in making it happen. God works through us. There are a lot of sufferings in our world and a lot of people cry out, “Where is God in the lives of the suffering people?” It can lead them to losing faith in God. But read the gospel message and we can realize that the followers of Jesus are called to do God’s will of love and justice. God is all about love, and social justice is what love looks like in public; that is why we should strive to bring social justice. We fight for social justice because we care and love. The love that God requires of us is from Isaiah 1:17; “Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” Orphans and widows are the symbols for the most socially vulnerable and marginalized people. We are told to defend them and help them. That is what it means to seek the kingdom of God, or God’s reign. In Henry’s reign women got replaced and beheaded, but in God’s reign, needy and marginalized people are given basic rights and dignity, no less than any privileged people of the society. Our job is to work for this world where no one has fewer rights than others; everyone has the rights to provide for their basic needs and have basic human rights such as the right to get married and seek happiness, and live as oneself without worrying about being bullied, hate crimes, or being discriminated against in jobs or housing.
Can we trust God’s care and not worry so we can focus on faithfully doing God’s will? What enables us to not worry comes from faith. According to Hebrews chapter 11, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” We heard about the ancestors in our faith who lived by faith, such as Abraham, who left his home at the age of 75 for God’s promised land, who had to trust God’s promise to give him a son and heir while his wife was barren and they were both very old. In 2 Corinthians, Paul says, “We live by faith and not by sight,” reinforcing the idea that faith is trusting something we cannot see. Faith is trusting in things we cannot see and waiting for God to lead us to wherever God means us to be. But we do not NOT see; we just see through the eyes of faith and trust. As I mentioned last Sunday, last Sunday’s lesson is connected to this Sunday’s. The foolish rich person wanted to build barns to hoard his crops. He worried about taking care of himself instead of trusting God. Today, we heard about birds in the sky and flowers in the field without a care for whom God provides.
Can we follow God’s guidance blindfolded even when we are guided toward scary roads? Let us consistently pray that God will give us strong faith that will help us to overcome our anxieties, so that we can live properly and faithfully as God’s children and the followers of Jesus; bringing God’s reign of compassion and justice to our world.
Reflection August 4, 2019 by Rev Sunny Kim
Colossians 3:1-11/ Luke 12:13-21
Who’s in Charge Here?
So far you have been learning one thing about me every week; you learned that I come from a Methodist background and that I have a mentor who wrote an inspirational book about prayer. Today’s one fact about myself is that I love old things; antiques. One day when I shared that I love old things, my stepson said, “Is that why you like my dad?” Anyway, I love old fine china teacups and old books. I usually buy old books from used bookstores for maybe 5 dollars, but I discovered this charming used bookstore in Salmon Arm. One day I got my hands on this beautiful poetry book published in the 1860’s, which cost a lot. I thought, “I need to possess this book.” Luckily, I bought it at half price because I donated a lot of books and they gave me a lot of credits. That day, it seems like a dormant lion or a dragon inside me woke up and I started yearning for more of these. Then I asked myself, “Am I developing an expensive hobby?” Collecting old books might be becoming a thing for me. I don’t buy clothes and shoes like some other women, and even when I do, I buy them at the thrift store; but I want beautiful old books no matter how much they cost. This is a powerful yearning for me, and I try to not let it become an obsession.
Speaking of obsession, in today’s gospel story, we met a man who is obsessed with his material possession. He thinks, by building bigger barns, he can keep all his possession, relax, and enjoy life. Meanwhile, God is thinking, “You fool, I’m taking your life tonight. What good is all that possession then?” This story raises two issues. The first one is called Christopaganism. As you can guess from the name, it’s about Christians acting like pagans. It’s a form of Christianity whose purpose is to manipulate God; the notion that through ones’ good works one can persuade God to open the gates of heaven or like pagans sacrificing a child to appease the gods. This distorted belief is the reason for the downfall of medieval monks. I will explain. In the medieval age, lords and knights went to a lot of wars including the Crusades. If you think about it, good Christians going to war and killing people for faith is pretty ironic. It is said that the soul of a warrior was difficult to save because of the commandment not to kill. After the Battle of Hastings, which brought Normans to take over England, the Church demanded 120 days of prayer for every person killed. William the Conqueror, the first Norman king in England, was responsible for about 10,000 deaths. What is 120 times 10,000? That’s how many days William would have had to pray to be redeemed for all his killings. He would still be praying today. But he didn’t have time to do that. None of the warriors did. So, they paid the monks to do the praying for them. They probably had to go off to kill more people, and the monks were thought to have purer souls because of their dedication to God. So, ironically, these monks who had abandoned the secular world and wealth to focus on God, became stinky rich and ended up becoming corrupted. Look what a distorted belief caused.
The second issue is the material wealth; the foolish man was obsessed with his possession and acted like there was no God. He trusted his wealth and thought he could take care of himself with his wealth. But the truth is, nothing of what we have is ours. We don’t control our lives. We don’t know when God will call us home. We’re not in charge of our destinies. Having a lot in our mortal world can lead us away from trusting God. Our material possessions, political power, or extensive knowledge can be an obstacle in our relationship with God. Why would we trust God when we have a lot of resources? That is why Jesus taught his followers to become poor, spiritually and materially. That is why Catholic priests and nuns make a vow of poverty. It is when we don’t have anything that we can completely trust God’s care; since we don’t have what it takes to take care of ourselves. In the end, Jesus says, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
“Rich toward God.” It is related to what Paul says at the beginning of Colossians chapter 3; “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Choosing to be God’s people by following Jesus means we have our eyes set on the things that belong to God’s kingdom, not to our secular and material world. It inevitably includes abandoning our obsession for material things (feeling guilty for my old books). Now that we belong to God and Christ, we should abandon our old lifestyle driven by basic human nature. Verse 5 says, “Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly.” Lust, greed, and evil desires are some of these things.
The first thing we need as God’s people is to acknowledge that we are not in charge of our lives; God is. We cannot manipulate God to get what we want. As I said last Sunday, through maintaining an intimate relationship with God, we are able to resemble God’s nature and surrender to God’s will. Through resembling God’s nature, our yearnings will align with the will of God. Today’s and next Sunday’s themes are connected. Today we are learning to acknowledge that God is in charge of our lives, so we should keep our eyes on God and Godly things and follow wherever God leads us. Next Sunday, we will learn that we should trust God to take care of us, and trust whatever we receive. Stay tuned. Don’t walk away from God; not too far.
Reflection July 28, 2019 by Rev Sunny Kim
Colossians 2:6-15/ Luke 11:1-13
Prayer of Relationship
Today’s theme is prayer. One of my spiritual mentors, who is a Methodist minister, biblical scholar, and a prominent Christian writer in Korea, wrote a book called Prayer as Fellowship with God. This book taught me what prayer is about and how to pray; his perspective on prayer was a huge revelation for me. The thesis of this book is that the sole purpose of prayer is fellowship with God; to maintain an intimate relationship with God. A lot of Christians think prayer is about asking God for what they need and want and so treat God like Genie in a Bottle. But asking for favours is, or should be, a small part of our prayer life. Think of our relationship with God like any other relationships in our lives. When we have a relationship with someone, sometimes we talk, sometimes we listen, sometimes we ask for favours, and sometimes we just sit together and say nothing while enjoying each other’s company. Likewise, when we have a relationship with God, sometimes we talk, sometimes we listen, sometimes we ask for favours, and sometimes we just sit together and chill. There are many different types of prayers that enrich our spirituality such as repentance, praise and thanksgiving (yes, singing hymns is a prayer), intercessory prayer, meditation, chanting, and silent prayer. Learning my mentor’s perspective on prayer and different types of prayer surely improved my relationship with God.
In today’s gospel story, Jesus teaches his followers how to pray. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us the gist of what should be included in a prayer. Let me highlight one point; asking for favours is only a small part and it’s about asking for basic needs, not selfish wishes. “Give us this day our daily bread.” Then we have to forgive each other because God forgives us our sins, and work for God’s kingdom to be realized in our mortal world. The story that Jesus tells after teaching the Lord’s Prayer is commonly misunderstood as, “If we persistently ask for something, God will give it to us,” as in “Our wish is God’s command.” This is us treating God like the Genie in a Bottle. But if you read it closely, it’s not about asking for our hearts’ selfish desires; it’s about asking favours for someone else. Praying for someone else is called intercessory prayer, and as God’s people called to minister to each other, as a part of ministering to each other, we have to pray for each other. We might pray for a friend who is grieving. We might pray for those who suffer from natural disasters or from being marginalized, such as poverty, racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, and so on. All we need to ask for ourselves is “Give us this day our daily bread.”
Now you might wonder, “Is it wrong to ask for our hearts’ desires?” Of course, there is nothing wrong about asking for what we want. What do you want for your birthday or Christmas? We have our wish lists. Children ask their parents all the time. However, there is no guarantee that your wish will come true. How can we decide what to ask for? We can find the clue from Colossians chapter 2. We are taught to live in Christ. As people who have been forgiven and been born again in Christ, we should live in Christ and receive nourishments from Christ and grow. As people who now belong to Christ and live in Christ, our wishes should be in line with Christ. One of the outcomes of becoming close with someone, like our close friends, is that we start resembling each other. You share the same hobbies, food, thoughts, and maybe you start talking like one another. As we become closer to God, it is natural for us to start looking like God. It’s like one of the best loved spiritual books of all time The Imitation of Christ written by Thomas a Kempis in the 15th century. We are called to follow Jesus and imitate him in our lives; that is our goal as Christians. Our wishes have to be compatible with the will of God taught to us through the teachings of Jesus. Being humble, treating others with compassion, and working towards a just world are the essence of the gospel of Jesus. We talk about loving God and neighbours; justice is what love looks like in public. That is why we cannot follow the commandment to love without working towards social justice.
The purpose of prayer is to have a close relationship with God and resemble God. If we resemble God as a result of a close relationship, we will live out God’s love and kingdom values; we have to live out our prayers. In the context of being in a relationship, sometimes we get to ask for favours; but the real gift that we receive from being in a close relationship with God is knowing that God’s love for us and our relationship with God is the biggest blessing of them all. God’s blessed people rejoice and give thanks to God no matter what God gives them, or doesn’t give them. Blessed people also know what to ask for because their wishes are in tune with the will of God. For the blessed people, prayer is not used for making a wish, but for the joy of spending time with God as with our best friend. Today I urge you to start an intimate relationship with God. I pray that you will find the joy of spending time with God through diverse prayer practices and as a result, imitate Christ in your life. Let us not only spend time with God through prayer, but also live out our prayers by following Christ.
Reflection July 21, 2019 by Rev Sunny Kim
Colossians 1:15-28/ Psalm 52 / Luke 10:38-42
Choosing the Better Part
Today, let us start with the topic of multitasking. Have you heard the rumor that women are good at multitasking and men are bad? I used to agree with it and rather prided myself for being good at multitasking. I would say things like, “In high school, I studied while listening to rock music,” not realizing that is why I didn’t get better grades! But now that I am older and wiser, I think multitasking is a myth; a delusion. Here’s exhibit A; have you seen in a comedy, someone pouring tea or coffee into a cup, then they hear something shocking and freeze, letting the cup overflow and the hot liquid pouring onto the lap? With some simple things, it might be possible to do two things at the same time perfectly, but not all tasks are so simple. Exhibit B is my personal story. I have no artistic talent whatsoever, but I find knitting very relaxing. Since I have no talent and only know how to knit and purl, I knit simple scarves. It seems like such a simple and repetitive activity that I tend to watch something while knitting. Then I miss a stitch, lose track, and ruin the whole scarf because I don’t know how to fix it. I had a lady named Donna who would come to my rescue and undo the damage I had done. I am proof that the ability to multitask is a myth. Focusing on something needs focus.
Today, we met someone who couldn’t focus on one important thing. Sicamous, meet Martha; Martha, meet Sicamous. What Martha was doing in today’s story is normal; it was expected of the host to prepare food for the guests and show good hospitality. Mary, who was in her older sister’s house was expected to help with chores; it was what Mary did that was out of the ordinary, not what Martha did. But Jesus rebuked Martha. What for? For not getting her priority right; not according to the society’s expectations but according to those of God’s kingdom. She was so obsessed with the social expectation for good hospitality that she took her frustration out not only at Mary but also at Jesus, her guest and friend. By rebuking Martha and praising Mary, Jesus teaches us about what our priority should be. If the Great Teacher Jesus comes to our places, our focus should be learning his wisdom; preparing food for him should not be our priority. Martha couldn’t multitask; she made the wrong choice. Mary couldn’t multitask; she made the right choice.
Learning from what Jesus taught Martha and Mary, what about us as the Body of Christ? As the Body of Christ and disciples of Jesus, our focus should be on bringing God’s reign on earth, which is what the gospel of Jesus Christ is about. While we are too busy with our individual ministerial projects, sometimes, we can lose focus. We might let our preoccupation for our activities, our pride, or the differences of opinion get in our way of working together in love. We might let these things disrupt our loving relationships. I’ve known pastors, young adult group leaders, and lay leaders who did all the work by themselves, or get into arguments and conflicts with their colleagues. Martha was so preoccupied with and distracted by what she thought was important that she didn’t realize it was affecting her relationship with Jesus and her sister. The most important thing in God’s kingdom is relationship and collaboration. It is better to work together and achieve only a little than one person doing everything and achieving a lot. The latter misses the point of the gospel message.
If we have been distracted in our ministry goals, let us take this opportunity to refocus on Jesus and his kingdom message for which he lived and died. God’s kingdom is all about relationships. Establishing a healthy and right relationship is the priority in God’s kingdom. That is why we are not only taught to love and serve one another, but also to work for social justice; because social justice is about socially establishing a right relationship.
From the Book of Colossians, we learn that Christ is the cosmic reconciler between God and all of the creation. He is the firstborn of all creation, which makes him our big brother. I don’t know about you but when I was young, I idolized my big brother and followed him, both literally and metaphorically. As our big brother and head of the Church, we are to follow Jesus and everything he stood for. We are daily guided by the Holy Spirit who helps us grow in faith and transforms us into faithful and strong disciples. Only when the relationships are right and healthy can we properly function as the Body of Christ in the world. First, we should set our priorities and focus; second, we dedicate our lives to live out that priority. We should focus and dedicate. But this journey, we don’t have to take alone. Today, we proclaimed along with the Psalmist that we would trust in God’s faithfulness. Let us look to Jesus and not get distracted. In Matthew’s account of Jesus walking on water, Peter also walked on water, going towards Jesus who beckoned him. He was alright at the beginning, but started sinking after his eyes got distracted by the storm and fear kicked in. Let us not take our eyes and focus off Jesus. Let us trust that the Holy Spirit will be with us always, guide and strengthen us as we strive to live as faithful disciples building God’s kingdom. And let’s get our priorities sorted out. I have the hope and ambition to make our congregation more visible and more visibly BEING the Body of Christ in our community. And in the process, it would be awesome if our congregation can grow in number too; but increasing our number should not be our priority. We should love and care for one another first. We should strive to work together with respect instead of pursuing bigger and better results while hurting our relationship with each other.
Jesus praised Mary for choosing the “better part”. For us as God’s church, the “better part” is being faithful to God’s kingdom values of compassion and justice. We shall evaluate our ministry with these criteria, not by how much money we made or how many people we brought in. Did our ministry improve our relationships while no one got hurt along the way? Did we grow together no matter how slowly? Let us choose “the better part”; let us choose to work together, no matter what we do. Let us properly focus on “the better part.”
Reflection July 14, 2019 by Rev Sunny Kim
Colossians 1:1-12/ Psalm 82 / Luke 10:25-37
Christian Is as Christian Does
A lot of you may not know this about me, but I come from a Methodist background. My father is a Methodist minister and I was brought up and ordained in the Methodist Church. As a proud Methodist, today I will start by introducing you to a little bit of Methodism and our Methodist father John Wesley. John Wesley was a priest in the Church of England. The Methodist movement started because he started the Holy Club at Oxford University. Its members followed a strict lifestyle of prayer, Bible study, and serving the poor. The name ‘Methodist’ was originally a derogatory nickname for the members of the Holy Club to mock their strict lifestyle. Who knew? The joke’s on the mockers. Anyway, if you ask me to explain the Methodist theology in one sentence, this is what I would say; there is no personal holiness without social holiness. In other words, if our beliefs and close relationship with God aren’t translated into a lifestyle of living out the teachings of Jesus, we are not legitimate Christians. That is the centre belief of Methodism. Then there is the doctrine of sanctification that teaches that everyday we should become better and go towards perfection, knowing that we’ll never become perfect.
The gist of Methodism is that we have to live out what we believe. The gospel message, like love, has to be lived out and proved with our lives; merely saying it is not enough. We receive a similar message from today’s gospel parable; the Parable of the Good Samaritan. In this parable, someone got mugged and beaten half to death on a road notorious for being dangerous. He was half dead, so probably not moving. A priest and a Levite passed by without helping the man, partially because it is very possible that they thought he was dead, and according to the Jewish Law, touching a dead body makes you temporarily unclean, and partially because they must have feared for their lives too. It was a well-known strategy for bandits to lure their victims with an injured person. You stop to help, and they strike. Some criminals still do that today. It is a great strategy, and also a reason people hesitate to stop to rescue someone in distress. Anyway, back to our parable… the priest and the Levite, both of whom are chosen people of God saved their own skin and left the distressed man vulnerable. Then came the Samaritan, the people that Jews despised, and he was the only one who helped the man in distress. He not only helped him, but went out of his way to properly care for him.
We are familiar with the storyline. But the moral of the story is not merely, “You gotta help people; they are all your neighbours”; the most crucial part of this story is that the only man who cared for the man in distress and proved to be his true neighbour was from a group of people that Jews considered as unworthy; as their enemy. A little piece of history about the Jews and the Samaritans. The Jewish national identity formed after they came back from the exile and started rebuilding the Temple; the only legitimate temple, which was in Jerusalem. When the Jews came back home thanks to the Persian emperor Cyrus, they were met with those who had never gone into exile. Those who came back from exile didn’t consider the others properly Jewish and started excluding and bullying them. This reminds me of the mandatory military service to which young men are subject in my home country; those who served in the military come back all pumped up and arrogant and treat those who got exempt from the service like they are not real men.
Anyway, that is why Jews and Samaritans became enemies; Jews excluded, bullied, and oppressed the Samaritans. The moral of this parable is that we are called to love even our enemies. In today’s context, we are not talking about the Nazi Germany or the Communist Russia. Let’s quietly think of the kind of people who make us feel uncomfortable or we might have prejudice against; Muslim women covered from head to toe, Sikh men wearing turbans, big men covered in tattoos on a motorbike, people covered in rags and smelly, or immigrants who can’t speak English very well. Whoever it may be, we all have prejudice against some people. Think about them for a minute and listen to Jesus say to you, “Go and do likewise.” We are called to love and serve even those who make us feel uncomfortable or we have prejudice against. We are called into a life of action.
Paul explains to the Colossian Christians that the gospel they have received should grow and bear fruit. The teachings of Jesus are like a seed; we received it and planted it in our hearts, but it is crucial to keep watering it so it may grow and bear fruit. The essence of the gospel message is that in God’s reign/ God’s kingdom, the principle of equality and justice rules and no one is oppressed. Justice is not only the centre theme of the gospel of Jesus Christ but also for the God in the Old Testament. Today’s Psalm also sings of the God who judges the world and rescues the weak and the needy. What we are learning today is that God wants justice, and God wants us to be God’s hands and feet in the world; instruments of God’s work of love, peace, and justice. We cannot pretend to be good Christians without living out the gospel messages. Christian is not as Christian says; Christian is as Christian does. Are you familiar with the movie Forrest Gump? Forrest is slightly retarded, and whenever someone asks him, “Are you stupid or something?” he answers, “Stupid is as stupid does.” Likewise, Christian is as Christian does.
Today as we hear God say to us, “Go and be my agents of love and justice,” let us think of the minority groups in our country; people from different cultures and religions, people from different genders, sexual orientations, abilities, education levels, and social classes. Let us think of the migrants and asylum seekers at the southern US border being treated like animals. There are people in our own community who need our love, friendship, and help; no matter who they are and where they are from. God calls us to be the body of Christ that brings God’s love to the world. Jesus says that love is action and that we should love even our enemies. Let us pray for our gospel seed to grow into beautiful fruit. Let us stop only talking about loving our neighbours, but instead just go and live out the love of God we learned from Jesus.
Reflection July 7, 2019 by Rev Sunny Kim
2 Kings 5:1-14/ Galatians 6:7-16 / Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
New Beginning with a Humble Heart
While preparing to move, I realized that my whole life has been a never-ending process of moving. My parents moved a lot when I was a child, and as an adult, I have moved around a lot, from countries to countries, and from towns to towns. I’m sure you would agree with me, but whenever I move, I notice how many things I own! Moving process is a constant reminder of how many things we own, and I feel bad. Do I really need all of these? Probably not. Anybody else feeling guilty about this too? I think it is difficult to live on a minimum if we are used to owning a lot of things. So tired of this lifestyle, a lot of people choose minimalism. I’m not quite there yet.
I started by sharing my reflection on moving and realizing I own too much, because today’s theme is humility and carrying little in life, trusting that God will provide for us. We first read the story of the Syrian army commander named Naaman who suffered leprosy. He was sent to the Prophet Elisha for healing, and Elisha told him what to do through a messenger, which enraged the commander because, one, his instruction seemed ridiculous, and two, Elisha didn’t even have the courtesy to address him in person. “Who does he think he is, sending a messenger? Does he know who I am? How impertinent! And there are better rivers than Jordan, so why would I wash myself there?” If we think in a normal human perspective, his expectations for a more respectful treatment from Elisha and his disappointment are understandable. He was a man in a high social standing, and Elisha was a poor and lowly prophet. But it was only when he humbled himself at the persuasion of his men, that he was healed. Humility is the key here.
Today’s gospel text deals with another aspect of humility. Jesus sent out seventy disciples to preach the message of God’s kingdom and to heal the sick, and instructed them to not bring anything with them. They must rely on the hospitality of the people who are willing to receive the Good News. If you think about it, it is unnerving going somewhere unprepared; but the truth is, our wealth, knowledge, and power prevent us from trusting God. We want to take care of ourselves with what we have. It can be unnerving to go about life empty handed, opening ourselves up to the possibilities. God may prepare surprise gifts for us, but our hearts are too busy worrying about being prepared and equipped. But it is only when we let go of our worries and obsessions in life that we can let God work wonders in our lives. This ability requires humility; acknowledging that, no, we don’t know what’s best for us, and that in front of God’s majesty, our power is nothing. This is humility.
The Good News of Jesus Christ constantly teach us to be spiritually poor. That is why monks and Catholic priests, brothers, and sisters take a vow of poverty. Think of St. Francis of Assisi; he was the son of a rich merchant but he gave up all material possession and became homeless to be closer to God. As Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew, our heart is where our treasure is. We cannot serve two masters; it’s either God or what belongs to the material world. As the Apostle Paul said to the Galatian Christians, “If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow by the spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.”
As I start my new ministry in Sicamous, as you start having me as your ministry partner and leader, I am filled with great hope as well as worries. Speaking of carrying little and owning little, we are a congregation that doesn’t have a lot. But it is thanks to this fact that I am filled with great hope and expectation because we can trust God’s power and see what God can do through us in our community. Bigger is not better. Just like the three servants in the Parable of the Talent who received different amount of money from their master, we have all received something from God to work with. Some have more than others, but what is important is how we use what we have to the fullest potential. My message to you on my first day as your minister is this; let us see what God will do through us. Let us work together and combine our resources and ideas to the fullest to bring God’s reign in our community. I will be thinking out a lot in front of you, and invite you to do the same, so that together we can come up with ideas on how to be God’s church in this ever-changing world. Let us find new ways to serve God and God’s people in our society and lives. Let us be the reason the residents of Sicamous experience God’s love that knows no partiality and have a taste of God’s kingdom of compassion and justice.
Sermon, June 30, 2019 by Rev Gloria Christian
“Every Morning is a New Day”
Every morning is a new day and every new day is a resurrection from the past. I am using this image as a transition from the old to the new. Day to night; old wine skins to new wine skins, old ministry to new ministry. It is all about letting go of what we knew to make room for something new.
Things change. Someone once said the seven last words of the church are these: “We never did it that way before.” It is a fact of life: people resist change.
- A Chevy driver is not interested in test driving a Ford
- A John Deere man wouldn’t think of getting an International Harvester Tractor
- A Blue Jays fan who was raised rooting for that team isn’t going to root for the Yankees. The same thing is true in the church. Those who have had their hearts lifted by Juanita’s worship will resist new forms. Those who have found comfort and strength from a, particular version of the Bible will remain suspicious of modern translations. Those who have been raised in a different denomination will find it difficult to get used to the grace-governed church family in the United Church. When we hold something dear and precious, like our religious faith, we resist change. The more precious the tradition, the more we dig in our heels against change. Sunny is coming with a different background which is similar in many ways as to our tradition; however, there will be differences.
This new ministry that begins July 1, tomorrow might help you understand the difficult time that the Pharisees had with Jesus. They had been raised in the church and steeped in its tradition. The routine was majestic and comforting. There was security in the familiar. Ritual and faith, were seen as one and the same. They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking and he told this parable: “No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better.’”
There are people all around us who would like us to also conform to their standards. Here are some examples,
- the way we dress (do Pastors need to wear robes or a collar? do men need to wear ties to worship? Do women need to be in a dress? Should women wear make-up? Should women wear hats? Should they wear gloves . . . at one time or another these were all accepted practice.)
- the kind of amusements we enjoy (is it wrong to play cards, is it wrong to dance, is it wrong to watch a movie, is it wrong to play sports on Sundays?)
- the way we express our worship. (Do spirit-controlled believers always raise their hands in worship, never raise their hands in worship, only sing choruses, never sing choruses, have an altar call, never have an altar call)
There is nothing wrong with giving thought to your style of worship, your attire in the house of God, your practice of the sacraments, your preferred Bible translation, and on down the list. It is good to think about these things. Sunny will no doubt change the format of worship. I kept your format because my job was to keep the status quo and not rock the boat.
Jesus points out that it is foolish for those who are recipients of grace and joy to spend their time in mourning for the past. It is silly for those who are with the wonderful Savior to spend their time seeking God. He is in their midst! They should enjoy Him!
When Sunny comes into your life many things might change:
- Your relationship with God might change. She will no doubt have her own relationship with God and bring it for you to examine.
- Your view of yourselves might change. We are people who have been wonderfully forgiven. We are children of God! We know that we are loved. We know that we are forgiven. We know that we are headed to Heaven. That changes our view of who we are. God sees value in us. We should not mourn past expression of God we should be joyful in Sunny’s new expressions of God.
- Your motivation for mission might change. Now we are not seeking to gain God’s favour, we are living in gratitude for God’s favour and love. We should not mourn . . . we should be joyful. New community endeavours might arise. Your approach to hard times might change.
Jesus tells us that New Life in Christ is inconsistent with worn out tradition, old wine skins. New ministry is inconsistent with the way it has always been, thus the parable new wineskins. In those days new wine would be poured into animal skins rather than in bottles or barrels like they would be today. As this new wine would mature or ferment, the gases in the skin would cause the skin to expand. These skins had the requisite elasticity. However, if you used an old skin it was already stretched out. When the wine began to ferment it would eventually burst the worn skin. Jesus wants us to understand that the way it has always been here at Sicamous is incompatible with the gospel of grace. A new kind of relationship with God demands a new way of doing things. Understand, that your life will change. But it will change as a result of the relationship that you have with Sunny.
Next Sunday, you might adapt Sunny’s methods. In other words, may your goal be to teach the truth of God to those around you, as Sunny brings her ministry to you. You might find the most effective way to do that rather than trying to force yourselves into a familiar mold is to listen to a new way of being a church. Traditions come and traditions go. We need to know when to let go.
The questions we must ask of any form of being church is not “Is it new?” or “Is it old?” Those are irrelevant questions. The questions we should ask are: “Is it honoring to God?”, “Does it point to Jesus?” and “Is it effective in communicating Jesus’ truth?”
The Pharisees and the Disciples of John the Baptist missed the point. They focused on the traditions and missed the significance of the one who stood before them. They lectured Jesus when they should have been listening to Him. They tried to get Him to conform to their ways rather than seeking to conform to Him. It wasn’t a very smart thing to do. God help us to learn from their mistakes. I believe that Sunny will be a wonderful minister for you folks and now, our day has ended. May God’s grace abound as you get to know each other. Amen.
Sermon, June 16, 2019 by Rev Gloria Christian
3×1=1 is a formula for the Trinity. How can it be? Christians have always been taught that this is so. It is very easy for me to understand if I think of it as a love story between God who is love and Jesus who is God’s lovechild and the Holy Spirit within whom is loves power. The Trinity is about a love relationship that we get to enter-into by the Holy spirit.
My favourite story for Trinity Sunday is a story of three priests and a lay brother who welcomes pilgrims at a monastery. The story unfolds by revealing how the gentle monk and gatekeeper, Gregorio, chooses which priest to send on a pilgrimage seeking inspiration and nurture. As pilgrims come and are welcomed, we discover that each of the three priests seems to embody one of the persons of the Trinity. Robert Wilhelm tells the story of “The Lesser Monastery on Mount Athos”. This is a beautiful story that illuminates the idea that one can enter-into the heart of God through any of the “faces” of the Trinity. Three priests and a lay brother are the only inhabitants of the monastery in Greece. Yet it is known for the quality of spiritual guidance a pilgrim receives within its walls. Listening to the oral telling can be a meditation and prayer experience for our soul if we ever go to Greece for a retreat. We can be any-one of the faces of the trinity; God, a creator, a child of God and love’s power in the world.
The doctrine of the Trinity is a human construct illuminating our understanding of the three “faces” of God we encounter in the New Testament God the Creator, Jesus, Son of God and the Holy Spirit. There are numerous theological explanations and constructions of the Trinity. Personally, my image of the Trinity is a circle of light rather than the triangle image of doctrinal history. It comes from my own theological imagining that these three “faces” of God that generate the Love that makes up the very fabric of the universe and all creation. The circle of light is always flowing with Love between Creator, Christ and Spirit. And overflowing into all creation. We can enter the circle at any point, through any of the “persons”, to be held in this Love. It is a never-ending flow of communal Love that creates, redeems and sustains ALL. I think that trying to explain a mystery of the faith is a bit like trying to explain how electricity works or why a plane can fly or a boat can sail even though both are heavy and should not be able to go in the air or the water without falling or sinking. There are just some concepts of the faith that are inexplicable. They just are.
The idea of the Holy Trinity is a bit like that. Some like to think about God the Father, as an old man in a big chair and he has a long white beard and white hair and he is very stern. You cannot get anything past him. Then, Jesus is a young man with long brown hair and a brown beard, and he is very pleasant, and kind looking and smiles a lot. The Holy Spirit is right there with them, but she is a bird, a white bird, hovering in the air above the other two. Sunlight shines on all of them and they sit, stand, and fly always as they look over humans and the mess they are making of the world, wanting to do something about it but not able to because of the free-will they granted everyone at creation. If your idea of the Trinity is a bit like this, then it is because we have all been shaped by the paintings that artists made of religious figures during the Medieval period or afterwards. Religious art and, also, religious media that followed in the age of technology has made many of us think about God in humanistic ways. We have made God in our own image, in other words. One might really think that God is only one being, the Holy Spirit, of which all three persons are a part, actively involved in the lives of humans on, a daily basis. Jesus taught his followers that the Spirit would come to be an Advocate, a Comforter, a Guide, to assist all who would call on God to find healing, hope, and help in their time of need. I think that Jesus is already here, not sitting on a cloud waiting for the cue from the Heavenly Father to come to earth to bring about some cataclysmic era that needs to happen. I think that Jesus came already in the form of the Holy Spirit on that day of Pentecost and all of those things that Peter preached about happening in the universe happened as the Spirit brought energy and a divine spark where it was needed for humans. The Holy Spirit is involved in the daily lives of human beings who ask for divine intervention. The Spirit is the Spirit of Truth whose mission it is to remind us of all that Jesus said and taught while he was a human being on earth. The Spirit is meant to bring peace to persons who need peace in their lives in the midst, of distress. The Spirit is present to everyone, everywhere on earth all at once taking the place of Jesus who was bound to a human body, as we are, so that we can all find help in our time of need, even if it is in the middle of the night in China or in the lunch hour in New York City or here in Sicamous. God is an ever-present help in the time of need.
So, the idea of the Trinity is bound up in the working of the Holy Spirit, bringing to our lives what we need to live and learn and grow and help one another on our paths of life. The Spirit is a mystery, not to be understood but to be trusted to show us the love of the Father and Son when we need it most. So perhaps a trinitarian community bears witness to the peace of God in Christ and responds to the needs of the neighbour. God doesn’t need our good works, our neighbours do. When we turn our eyes outward and extend the peace of God that allows us to transform suffering – into endurance, character, and hope because we experienced God’s love, then the Spirit of Christ is surely present.
Think of the Trinity as a love story in which we can enter. As this is Father’s Day, Father’s who love like Jesus might enter-into the Trinity. Think of the Trinity as a circle of light that shines in the darkness of suffering. In this circle of light love’s power is ever-present. Welcome the Holy Spirit, Holy Mystery into your lives so that life can be richer and filled with healing. Amen.