Reflection November 03, 2019 by Rev Sunny
Ephesians 1:11-23/ Luke 6:20-31
The Breaths of Our Ancestors
We started today’s worship with the hymn, O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing because today is the day we honour our ancestors, and coming from a Methodist background, I personally honour my Methodist ancestors. Our Methodist father John Wesley had a brother, who was closely involved in the early Methodist movement, Charles Wesley, whom I call Uncle Charles, who wrote a lot of hymns; O for a Thousand Tongues is one of his most famous hymns. Today’s confession about myself is that I hated my history classes at school because it seemed like history was only about memorizing dates and names. Attila is smiling because he is a history buff. But now that I’m an adult, I developed interest in history. Now that I am a little interested in history, sometimes I fantasize about meeting historical figures. You might have noticed this, but I daydream and fantasize a lot. Anyway, I feel connection and intimacy to my favorite people who lived in the past. For example, fantasizing about meeting John Wesley makes my Methodist identity stronger. Sometimes, I sit at my piano in the morning and think of my favorite author Jane Austen because practising piano was her morning ritual. I could go on for another hour, but I won’t.
Today, we celebrate the saints, our ancestors in faith; Methodist father John Wesley, Martin Luther of the Reformation, Martin Luther King Jr. of the civil rights movement, Mother Theresa, and so on. Personally, my spirituality was highly influenced by Henry Nouwen, the prominent Christian author and Catholic priest. Then there are saints in our personal lives; my maternal grandmother whose ring I inherited was a passionate Christian, and my maternal great grandfather was a lay leader in the Korean Christian history who spearheaded the first Korean Bible translation project, whose first Korean Bible and a King James Bible also I inherited. What we inherit from our ancestors may define who we are. In Ephesians chapter 1, Paul says we are God’s inheritors through Christ. The Church of Christ is the legacy of Jesus of Nazareth, and his gospel teachings are a rich spiritual inheritance.
Let us celebrate the rich spiritual inheritance we have received through the gospel of Jesus and through exemplary Christians who came before us. Let us celebrate the wisdom and teachings of our ancestors in faith. In our Call to Worship, we called the names of St. Francis, St. Patrick, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Oscar Romero. St. Francis was a wealthy merchant’s son who abandoned all material wealth to follow Jesus in poverty and humility. Oscar Romero was an Archbishop of San Salvador in El Salvador, who spoke out against poverty, social injustice, torture, and so on. He was assassinated in the end and was declared a saint. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German theologian who participated in the plan to assassinate Hitler out of his Christian ethics. The plan failed and he was executed. And St. Patrick, we are familiar with him because of St. Patrick’s Day. He brought Christianity to Ireland.
I said what we inherit from our ancestors may define who we are because they have influence over us; they influence what kind of people we become. For example, I learned that humility is the greatest Christian value from both the Gospel of Jesus and from Henry Nouwen, my favorite Christian writer. Thanks to their influence, I aspire to be humble. When we hear Jesus say, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God,” or “Do to others as you would have them do to you,” we are hearing the wisdom of our ancestors who teach us how to be the followers of Jesus and the children of God.
Today as we remember our saints, our ancestors of faith, let us listen to their spirits, their breaths that teach us wisdom and guide our paths. We learn from them about God’s reign of love and justice. We learn from them that we should treat each other as we want to be treated. We learn from them there is value and reward in faithfully following Jesus. Let us learn from them and follow their footsteps in working for God’s kingdom on earth. Today, let us give thanks for their gifts and legacy. And let us become ancestors to those who come after us; let us live in such a way that our descendants will be inspired by our legacy. Thanks be to God!
Reflection October 13, 2019 by Rev Sunny
Deuteronomy 26:1-11/ John 6:25-35
As you will already know, I am an immigrant in Canada. It is my goal to become a citizen because I want voting rights. While I was living in Canada, I witnessed two of my close friends go through the process of becoming citizens. One has to take a citizen test, and they told me that the questions have become even more difficult than before. Some of those questions, I don’t think average Canadians can answer. Now, I went to pursue my graduate studies in Montreal because I thought it would be easier to emigrate in Quebec thanks to my French skills. So, upon hearing about how difficult the citizen test is, I started fantasizing telling the immigration officer, “I don’t know all the names of past prime ministers, but I can sing O Canada in both languages!” Now that I’m not in Quebec anymore, I started another fantasy. Whenever I ask Canadians about the Canadian culture, the best they can come up with is hockey and Tim Hortons. Because Tim Hortons is so central to the Canadian life, I got to learn words like “double-double.” So, I imagine immigration officers asking, “How many double-doubles have you had?” “Um, I don’t know. Many. Maybe thousand.” “(Stamp) Welcome to Canada!” But of course, if that’s the case, I’m done for, because I don’t drink coffee.” Maybe I should start eating more Timbits just in case.
I have dreamed of living in Canada for a long while and now that I’m living here with a career and a Canadian husband, I am reminded of how blessed I am. I appreciate this country and my new church because I have lived where same sex marriage was not allowed, and the members of the LGBT communities could not be ordained. Some churches even in the Methodist Church refuse to serve you communion for being gay or refuse membership. My point is, you can’t fully understand the life journeys of immigrants. We are eternally grateful for this country for different reasons. This is the promised land for many of us.
The journey of the Israelites was not so different from that of a lot of today’s immigrants. It started from slavery in Egypt. Even after the Exodus, they wandered in the desert for 40 years, which is a long time. A lot of people died. A lot of people were born. They kept losing faith. But God is leading them to their promised land. When that “O Happy” day comes, they are to express their gratitude by offering tithes and some of their first harvest. Because they are grateful that God led them out of slavery and into the promised land, they should offer the first and the best to God, acknowledging that what they own is a gift from God. I express my gratitude by serving God’s people in Canada however I can.
Not a lot of us Christians in Canada give tithes, at least in the United Church. But I hope you brought special Thanksgiving offering today to express your gratitude for God’s providence. Also, because it’s Thanksgiving Sunday, we are making joyful noise in praising God. There are different ways of thanking God; we can say a prayer of thanksgiving. We can also sing the words of thanksgiving, which we are doing with our hymn selection. There is, however, another thing we should do as an expression of thanksgiving. Let us now pay attention to what Jesus says in today’s gospel text.
There are two major points that Jesus makes here; “Seek bread from heaven” and “I am the bread of life.” That’s a lot of analogy that makes our mouths water. I love this saying because I love bread. Usually, I picture regular bread, but since it’s thanksgiving, I am picturing warm and moist corn bread with butter melting on it. Bread is of course a metaphor for sustenance. Remember when Jesus says to the Tempter after fasting in the wilderness for 40 days? “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Bread from heaven is a symbol for spiritual sustenance we can get from our relationship with God, although Israelites in the desert were fed with actual bread coming down from heaven; manna. What we are learning about thanksgiving today, especially from the gospel text, is that what matters the most is the spiritual gift we received from God; bread from heaven, Jesus Christ through whom we experience God. If we are to give thanks to God for the greatest gift of all, Jesus, who inspired a lot of people and worked to bring God’s reign of love and justice to earth, we should do more than thanking God with our praise and material gifts. Then how should be give thanksgiving to God? Because we learn about God from Jesus, and were invited to follow him, we cannot give thanks to God without following the life and teachings of Jesus. We should live by the teachings of Jesus.
Today and tomorrow, there will be a lot of food on our table as well as people who share food and love at that table. We are also likely to overeat. But while enjoying the material gifts of God and the people in your life with whom you share your life and love, I urge you to remember that we who are giving thanksgiving to God are the follower of he who taught God’s reign of compassion and social justice. As we break bread with our loved ones, as we thank God for all we have on earth, let us also promise God that we will live a lifestyle of sharing and serving; of imitating God’s heavenly kingdom, by working towards bringing God’s kingdom in our communities.
Sermon, October 27, 2019 by Rev Gloria Christian
2 Timothy 4: 6-8; 16-18
Luke 18: 9-14
“Humility & Respect”
The extremes of prayer are represented in a parable that Jesus tells on this day. One of the temple goers, the Pharisee who believes himself to be beyond reproach. The other seems to consider himself worthy of all blame and humiliation that comes his way. In the midst of these two extremes, where is God? At one end? At the other? In between? In it all? This parable helps us to explore God’s presence as a sign of our beloved-ness. The Pharisees were a group within Judaism that sought to follow God’s rules as strictly as they were able, according to their interpretations. They were especially concerned with prayer, but typical prayer praised God rather than the accomplishments of the one praying. In this parable, the Pharisee sings his own praises of devotion, which is shown by his fasting and tithing. The tax collector is the other character, one whom the Pharisee would have considered lowly and shameful. The tax collector beats his chest in a sign of deep humility. For the author of Luke, such a sign of meekness and modesty is the way people come to God. The tax collector who comes to know God and God’s presence in this parable; Jesus notes that this person goes home “justified,” just as the widow did in the previous parable of last week. In walking humbly, the tax collector is brought into the divine love that paves the way for humility and respect of the neighbour. In humility, we find an end to shame; we find God’s presence. In God’s presence, we find the satisfaction with life that allows us to enter in, ask for mercy, and know that God kneels alongside us. Like the Pharisee, we can compare ourselves to others but such comparison keeps us from recognizing God in our midst. God is the one who sustains. God is the one who provides, and God’s sustenance and provision are not based on our undertakings. God has promised to be present with God’s beloved children in all circumstances. In a world that likes to boast of its achievements, we would do well to remember this.
For we who use All Saints Day to celebrate the lives that have been particularly Christ-like, this day provides an opportunity to remember other Christian friends and family who have died. Our simple lighting of a candle provides an opportunity to invite those who have been bereaved during the year to gather to remember their loved ones in prayer. Hallowe’en is coming, the night before All Saints Day. Nov. 1 was originally known as All Hallows’ Eve and, over time, became shortened to Hallowe’en. Tracing its roots to an ancient Celtic day of the dead known as Samhain, it was believed that souls and supernatural beings would wander the night. Various traditions have merged over time, ranging from praying for saints and “lost souls” to children dressing up in costumes and going from door to door in search of treats. The lost saints in our lives have stood for humility and respect for others; at least that is what I was taught; Don’t be like the Pharisee who brags but like the tax collector who asks for forgiveness for his wrongs. We all make mistakes says the wee voice in my head, known as my parents past.
Have you known people in your lives that stand off in the distance in a group? The person who doesn’t think he/she is good enough to be in the circle. Many have often stood off in the distance at a function and just look at the inter-action of the group. For the most part of their life, they may have fought against low self-esteem, perhaps because of the poverty or abuse in their childhood that made it impossible for them to go to places that other children went; school outings, holidays, birthday parties and having loads of Christmas presents under the tree. They know what it is like to be excluded from the group as was the tax collector. There are others in our society who feel outside the circle of norm; the refugee, the poor, the widow, the un-educated, the list goes on…
The image of the tax collector standing far off is important for us today. The first thing it brought-to-mind was this idea of comparison as a burden. Before, I had only thought of the locations of the two men as significant because of where they were in relation to the temple, but with my reflections of how people with low self-esteem compare themselves to others fresh on my mind, I was more aware of the positions of the two men relative to each other. The Pharisee defines himself in contrast to the tax collector. He builds himself up by tearing someone else down. The tax collector did not compare himself to anyone at all. Rather, the text relays that he was “standing far off.” We know that both men went to the temple to pray, but we don’t know whether the tax collector even saw the Pharisee. The tax collector never mentions the Pharisee, because he doesn’t need to. Of course, this is a story about God’s grace—that God would exalt those sinners who humble themselves, but the tax collector’s focus on himself alone and with God is the very place from which he is exalted.
But what can we do to be in that humble place, such that we can identify with the under-privileged in this story? I propose that we can “stand far off” ourselves. In an age of oversharing; of a constant knowing about the lives of others, we can step away. We can make an effort to refrain from comparing ourselves to others. Comparison sows seeds of discontent—often for no reason. No doubt the Pharisee was also a sinner, but he wasn’t going to say so while at the temple. To some degree, every one of us filters the messiness of our own lives when presenting ourselves to others.
The Pharisee told God how good he was and how valuable he was to God. The Tax Collector hung his head and begged God for forgiveness. He could not even look up when he considered what a sinner he was. Jesus said that the Tax Collector went away “justified” because of his humility. Being “full of yourself” is something we encounter daily in the world in which we live. We see politicians who stand as the Pharisee spouting how great thou art and who are “full of themselves.” They cannot see that their self-absorption is so far out of line with the norm that it is ridiculous. Every once in while when we meet up with such people, one might secretly wish that life would take them down a notch or two so they can see themselves a bit more like other see them. Perhaps their ego is their guise that they use for cover from accepting the real person that they are. Maybe they are, actually very insecure, and that outward covering is their protection from considering the way they really are. The humble will be in my prayers and will have my respect. We are asked this day to be meek and modest for this is your path to God. Amen.
Sermon, October 20, 2019 by Rev Gloria Christian
“Persist, Pray, and Come Round Right”
By the time Luke was writing his Gospel a generation or so after Jesus died, people were starting to feel discouraged. They were tired of waiting for Jesus to return and finally bring all things to fulfillment, the deepest hope of their hearts. They were tired of being persecuted as a tiny little minority in a great big, powerful empire. They were anxious and suffering.
Our passage this week from Luke is about that waiting and about not being discouraged, about not losing heart. However, we’ve somehow read it more as an instruction to “nag” God with our repeated requests, so that God, like a weary and worn-down parent, will eventually give in and give us what we want.
Of course, this parable is really a lesson about God, about how and who God is, not just a “nice” little story about prayer. Jesus–the greatest Teacher of all time–uses the creative teaching method of using the opposite of something–or, in this case, the opposite of Someone–in order to make a point about God.
For goodness’ sake, he says, if an unjust, disrespectful judge who’s afraid of nobody and nothing, hears the case of a poor widow just to avoid getting nagged or embarrassed by her constant pleading, well, then, how much more will God–the God of justice and compassion, the God of the ancient prophets, the God on the palm of whose hand our names are carved–how much more will that God hear the prayers of God’s own children who cry out day and night from their suffering and their need?
Certainly, Jesus is teaching us something important here about the nature of the God to whom we pray.
Once again, Jesus uses a figure from the very edges of society to teach his followers who has no voice; who are silenced. The “word for ‘widow’ in Hebrew means ‘silent one’ or ‘one unable to speak.’ In the patriarchal Mediterranean world males alone play a public role. Women do not speak on their own behalf”
So, this “silent one” is acting outside the social norm when she finds her voice and speaks up for herself. Maybe it’s because she knows that there’s a special place for her in the heart of God, as the Bible often says. Widows and orphans are all very close to the heart of God and the focus of God’s concern.
We might ask ourselves, then, who “the widows” are in our time: the ones without a voice who speak up anyway in protest of injustice. The news is full of Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist, a good illustration of how the highest and mightiest feel threatened by the persistent and righteous protests of this “little ones” they would like to dismiss.
Greta Thunberg is only one example of many however: young people outraged by school shootings in the USA and have marched and organized and spoken up to the powers that be about the risk they take by simply going to school; people who live with disabilities have valiantly protested in the very halls of Parliament over injustice and exclusion; people of color face everyday disrespect and violence, along with economic injustice.
Do we hear the voices of these “widows” in our own time? Are we willing to listen?
The great preacher, Barbara Brown Taylor, gets inside this story and explores the heart of this woman. Society may have told the widow that she was a nobody without a voice, but she knew otherwise, and her persistence helped her hold on to that confidence: “She was willing to say what she wanted–out loud, day and night, over and over–whether she got it or not, because saying it was how she remembered who she was. It was how she remembered the shape of her heart…”
The shape of her heart: it makes us wonder about the shape of our own hearts and the health of our prayer life, doesn’t it?
Why does Luke introduce this story as being about the necessity–our need–to “pray always and not to lose heart”? And why doesn’t Jesus end his little story about the widow finally being heard, even by an “unjust” judge, not with a neat little closing statement about “hanging in there” and continuing to pray when we don’t get what we want right away, but with a question about the lack of faith among those who are waiting for the fulfillment of the promises of God? In 2019, more than 2 thousand years later, many Christians have all but forgotten or in fact, don’t need Jesus to come again in a physical form for he is with us always in a spiritual form. Jesus is always in our hearts.
Why do we pray? Our prayer life shapes us, too, and helps us to remember who, and whose, we are. It helps to align us with the intentions of God.
How would you describe faith? In this little story about human nature and about the nature of God, I hear Jesus teaching us–as always–about justice, about prayer, and about faith, which he talks about a lot. How often have we heard him say, “Your faith has saved you. Your faith has healed you. O, you of little faith!” It makes you wonder just what faith is exactly.
For most of my life I’ve thought faith had to do with believing the right things about God. The faith of our fathers and mothers was handed down in catechisms and religion textbooks and taught to us in classrooms. Keeping the faith was something we did by guarding a treasure of beliefs and handing them down, intact and unchanged, in a kind of lockbox, to the next generation of believers.
Faith was something that you have in your head, when you believe certain, hopefully correct, statements about God.
A little story of an adult who could not swim and the example a child, who has no fear of the water teaching the adult to swim and trying to get her to relax in the water: “It’s okay, just relax. You’ll float, it’s okay.” The child encourages Faith in “trusting in the buoyancy of God. Faith is trusting in the sea of being in which we live and move and have our being”
Do you reminder the person who taught you to float, to trust the buoyancy of the water to hold you up. And I wonder if it isn’t true that we adults, who keep going to our heads to figure things out, need to listen to our children to find our way back to the way of the heart. Trust the buoyancy of God to hold us in our faith. Amen.
Reflection October 6, 2019 by Rev Sunny
Lamentations 3:19-26/ 2 Timothy 1:3-14 / Luke 17:5-10
Holy Communion: Legacy of Faith
Today, I will tell you the history of my piano education. If, by the end of this story I sound like I’m bragging, you’d be right. I’m totally bragging! My mother started my piano education when I was in first grade. Over the following six years, I kept repeating the pattern of quitting and then going back. I didn’t want to take piano lessons, but my mother the pastor’s wife wanted me to be able to play piano at church. Whenever I quit, she said, “You’ll regret it some day!” I said, “I don’t care!” Of course, mother was right; I did regret! Two years ago, when I bought a house with a piano in it, I thought, “well, can’t waste this fine piano, ok piano, I mean “functional” piano.” Since I had a brilliant pianist and teacher in my congregation, I started taking lessons from him. Then, his teaching had a magical effect on me; I started performing at the local performing arts festival and developing a dream I didn’t even know I had. So, I always practise with the festivals in mind, which lights a fire in me. Then a little while ago, during the weekend of my wedding, my teacher told me something really big and shocking; it turns out, through him and his teacher and her teacher and so on, I am a great great great great grand pupil of Beethoven himself! It blew my mind! My sister, who studied classical piano, said that I must be learning Beethoven’s school of music. This information had an indescribable effect on me; I want to be a better performer worthy of my great great great great grand master Beethoven. So, the legacy of Beethoven continues, even through an amateur pianist like me. Very touching.
Today’s theme is faith, but we will reflect on faith through the Holy Communion, since we are celebrating World Communion Sunday. Our gospel reading suddenly starts with the disciples asking Jesus to increase their faith. What we missed, before this request, is Jesus’ commandment to forgive others over and over again. Think about someone who really gave you a hard time and mistreated you, and you will understand how difficult forgiveness can be. The teaching on forgiveness is the context of what we read about the faith of a mustard seed. Forgiving can be so difficult that we need bigger faith to be able to do it. Now, mustard seed is known for its small size. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus uses mustard seed as an analogy of the kingdom of heaven because the tiny seed grows into a big tree. In today’s text in the Gospel of Luke, the point of a mustard seeds is not its size but the faith of such a tiny seed believing that it is meant to grow into a big mustard plant, and that it achieves it. This teaching reminds us of what Paul says in Philippians 4:13; “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” If a small mustard seed can grow into a big tree because God intended it and it believed in it, what great things can we not achieve for God’s kingdom? Think of the small people who have achieved greatness. Greta Thunberg is a teenager from Sweden who started the climate strike and inspiring all who care about the future of this planet. Rosa Parks was one ordinary woman whose small act of protest in a racially segregated bus started the civil rights movement in the US. Let us never say we are too powerless or too few to change the world; that’s just lack of faith.
The Holy Communion that we are celebrating today is the single most Christian ceremony. Eating together was very important to Jesus because it symbolizes the love of God’s kingdom where all are loved and valued. Starting from Jesus’ time where the teacher and disciples shared food and life together, we Christians have been eating together and celebrating the Holy Communion all throughout history. There are a lot of Christian rituals but sharing bread and wine at the Holy communion, also called the Lord’s Table and Eucharist, is the most powerful one that reminds us that we belong to Jesus and God’s kingdom. This is the greatest legacy of our faith. Timothy, who was one of the most important colleagues and disciples of Apostle Paul inherited his faith from his mother and grandmother. I received mine from my parents and my great grandfather who initiated the first Korean Bible translation project. I inherited his King James Bible that he gave to my mother when she started her theological education. My husband Attila kept his late mother’s prayer book. We are all here because of the legacy of faith we have received from someone. As we celebrate World Communion Sunday and share bread and wine today, let us remember our ancestors in faith and our Christian sisters and brothers who are celebrating World Communion today all around the world. As we receive bread and wine, let the heavenly food strengthen our faith so that we can live out that faith with our words and actions. Let us dream big like a mustard seed and grow into powerful disciples of Jesus. As I strive to be worthy of my great great great great grand master Beethoven, let us strive to live a Christian life worthy of our teacher Jesus and all the good ancestors in faith, so that we can also leave a powerful legacy of faith behind. So, the legacy of faith continues…
Reflection September 22, 2019 by Rev Sunny
Jeremiah 8:18-9:1/ 1 Timothy 2:1-7 / Luke 16:1-13
Good Stewards for the Reign of God
Do you like the story of Robin Hood? It has a lot of elements that attract us; action, capable hero fighting evil, and this said hero fighting for the common oppressed people an unconventional way. It’s quite satisfying to see Robin Hood in action. But this attractive story raises a moral question about whether a good purpose justifies theft. Have any of you ever thought, “Although Robin fights evil, and although a lot of rich people are evil, it doesn’t mean he can steal from them.” We know stealing is wrong, but we can’t help rooting for Robin because it’s not like regular stealing; it’s to help the poor. It’s fun to watch Robin in action, but if it happened in real life, it would be debatable whether we would consider him a criminal or not. The one fact about myself today is that I come from an activist background. There was a time, university students in South Korea fought extra hard. I was a part of this student movement. The government would send military forces to break up our peaceful gatherings, so we had to learn to fight back. My brother was even arrested for throwing a Molotov cocktail. Those in power called our actions illegal and violent; we called it defence. Robin Hood and his gang would also have called what they did “defence”. Let’s get something straight here; I’m not promoting stealing from the rich to feed the hungry or using violence to fight the evil of the society. The reason why I started with Robin Hood and the student activist movement in Korea is because today’s gospel story is morally controversial, not to mention confusing. Moral values are not always black and white and require a lot of reflection.
This parable contains the word “dishonest” so we are not going to debate whether the manager was dishonest or not; the story says he was. The manager was accused of squandering the owner’s property, but this is not why he is called dishonest. He is called dishonest because of what he did after realizing that he would soon be fired. He went to his master’s debtors and forged the document about how much they owed him. This parable is very controversial even among the biblical scholars, and some argue that the manager was not really dishonest because what he was doing was to redeem the interest they owed, which was illegal according to the Jewish Law. But since the story calls him a dishonest manager, it is not debatable. There are a lot of different opinions on what this parable says, from which I will spare you (You’re welcome). Instead, let us compare this parable to the Parable of the Foolish Rich. In the parable about the foolish rich, the rich man had more than he could ever consume, so he decided to build bigger barns. He is called foolish by Jesus not because he decided to build bigger barns but because he thinks he can assure his continued well-being by doing so. The dishonest manager in today’s story is different from the foolish rich because he uses the authority he still has in the present order to prepare for the future order, meaning after he is fired. He was not good or honest, but he was wise; he knew that the present order would not last forever. He used what he had to prepare for the future. He was commended for this wisdom, not for his dishonest act.
This is a story of stewardship; how we should use what we have. As God’s stewards, we should acknowledge that what we have in this world doesn’t belong to us, that we are just managers, and use it to prepare for the reign of God that we are called to bring to this world. In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the prodigal son used his father’s inheritance money to party and have fun. A wise son would have saved and invested that money instead of squandering it away; that’s what we do if we are future-oriented, isn’t it? Jesus taught us to feed the hungry, welcome strangers, heal the sick, and to speak up for justice. Then that’s what we should be doing with our gifts and possessions. As Spiderman said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” It reminds us that our privileges are to be used for the greater good.
From the Book of Jeremiah, we heard God’s call for healing actions for the cries of suffering. God wants us to be the balm of Gilead and heal the suffering world and its people. God’s people are suffering. God’s creation is suffering. Our greed is hurting animals and plants as well as other humans (the powerless and marginalized ones). There are animals losing their habitat, which threatens their survival. There are animals going extinct. There are a lot of God’s beautifully created people who suffer because we are negligent to their suffering and full of prejudice. Let us listen to God’s call, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?” We should stand up and say, “Here I am, God. I will be the balm, the physician healing your creation.”
From First Timothy, we are also called to pray for everyone, especially those who are in high positions, those who are in power. That’s an interesting lesson to learn, with our election coming. We know that a leader can make or break an organization and its people. We saw how because of one president, poor people gained access to health care. We also saw how because of one president, a lot of people have lost their rights, privileges, and have to fear for their safety. Meanwhile, our youths are fighting for the government to act in the climate crisis, and those in power won’t listen. We need to pray for our leaders and make sure to elect a party that cares about the ordinary people, marginalized people, and the environment.
Let us use our material possessions to help those in need. Let’s use our compassionate heart and the gift of the gospel of Jesus to love God’s people and heal their suffering. Let us use our intellect, privileges, and voices to speak out for justice. Our ministry for God’s reign is the stewardship God needs from us. Let us be the good stewards of God who work to bring God’s new world order, God’s reign to our communities.
Reflection September 15, 2019 by Rev Sunny
Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28/ 1 Timothy 1:12-17 / Luke 15:1-10
God of the Second Chance
I don’t know what your experience of second chances is, but I’ve had two major events of second chances in my life. The first one is when I was called into ministry, which I’m sure I’ll have a chance to tell you some day. The second one is meeting and marrying Attila. When we are younger and less wise, we make foolish decisions. Whenever I talk with people who suffered in their first marriage and then got a second chance with their soul mates, I rejoice in their happy endings and realize how much I appreciate second chances. I love that, in a lot of cases, our bad choices and mistakes are not the end. Because both Attila and I are each other’s second chances, we appreciate our conjugal blessing more and more. Wouldn’t it be so sad if our mistakes end us without a second chance to fix them? Therefore, we should all appreciate second chances and never take them for granted.
In the Book of Jeremiah, as in other prophetic books in the Bible, God is giving the nation of Israel a second chance after their disobedience that led to so many years of foreign invasions, exile, and oppression. After Persia invaded Israel, King Cyrus sent the Israelites back to their land, and Israelites understood it as God giving them a second chance. According to Jeremiah chapter 4 that we read today, God’s people will see desolation of their land because of their acts of evil, “yet I will not make a full end.” Reading about the desolation of the land during this Creation Time brings a gloomy image of an environmental disaster that might easily come our way if we don’t change our lifestyles and policies that result in harming Mother Earth. God created the earth and commanded us to be carers of all creation, and we messed up; but the important lesson we are learning today is that God is giving us a second chance, like God gave Israel a second chance.
This month’s issue of the United Church’s Broadview magazine featured our youths who are fighting for climate justice. High school students are participating in climate strikes from school and protesting to make their governments to change their policies and act to stop the damage done by carbon emission. According to the research conducted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN’s body charged with assessing the science of the climate crisis, we have 12 years to slow down carbon emission before it’s too late. I’m not a scientist and don’t know what “too late” means, but it feels like an environmental disaster that could slowly kill all creatures. What pierces my heart is our youth activists saying, “The adults have failed us,” like the Israelites failed God.
Yes, the Israelites in exile were given a second chance; but it involves serious repentance and changing of their ways. The one sheep that got lost was not lost forever because the shepherd went to find it and brought it home. The coin was not lost forever. The shepherd who lost a sheep and the woman who lost a coin deeply rejoiced when they found what they had lost. We also heard a testimony of the writer of First Timothy, who is grateful for the grace of Jesus Christ for showing mercy for a sinner like him, and for choosing him to be an example for all sinners who repent and come back to God. Like the shepherd who rejoiced at finding the lost sheep, like the father who rejoiced at the return of the prodigal son, whose story is linked to the parables we read today, God rejoices when we turn back from our sinful ways.
Let us reflect on second chances today from an environmental perspective. We as Canadians and the members of the human race are rethinking our relationship with fossil fuel. We adults are hearing our youths demand actions for their future on this planet. We have failed our children by not passing on a healthy planet for them to live in. Our children are fighting for their future while adults are ignoring their plea and too nearsighted to choose a long-term plan. It is time we accepted God’s invitation for a second chance. Let us repent for our anti-environmental lifestyles. It’s time we started making decisions based on what is good for our descendants and all of God’s beautiful creation in the future, and not based on what is the most profitable now. We have failed God’s commandment to care for all creation and we have failed our children. According to the climate scientists, we have 12 years to fix the problem. We are given a second chance to do what is right for all of God’s creation. Let us repent our failings and turn from our sinful ways. Our youths are urging us to wake up and act. Let us respond to their call by changing our lifestyles to be more pro-environmental and joining them in demanding our politicians to make pro-environmental decisions.
Reflection September 8, 2019 by Rev Sunny
Jeremiah 2:4-130/ Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16/ Luke 14:1, 7-14
You Are Enough, We Are Enough
Today’s one fact about myself is not new to a lot of you, but I am a piano student; I am training in classical piano, which I started last year with a teacher who was a member of my congregation in Kimberley. One of the pieces I am currently practising is of a French composer named Erik Satie, and some of his greatest pieces were influenced by minimalism. Are you familiar with minimalism? In music, minimalists believe that we don’t need many notes for the piece to be beautiful. Listen to the piece I am currently practising. (Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 1) This is one of the good examples of a musical piece with minimal notes being strikingly beautiful. No, I didn’t choose it because it had few notes; but it helped.
Speaking of minimalism, are you familiar with a reality show called Tidying Up with Marie Kondo? In this show, Marie helps people reduce their clutter, downsize, and organize their homes. It’s easy to relate to these people receiving help from Marie because I, like a lot of people, own too much. When we organize our things and try to downsize, Marie’s method asks if something sparks joy for us. If it doesn’t spark joy, we should get rid of it. I am hoping to use her advice to organize my clutter, which gives me headache since I moved from a basement house to a no-basement house.
Anyway, in today’s gospel text, Jesus tells his followers to understand the cost of discipleship before following him. He says a lot of things here, but the essence is that we should abandon our obsession to this mortal world. Those who are too attached to their family, material possession, or anything else in their lives are not fit for God’s kingdom. He said his followers should hate their family and abandon all their possessions, which we should not take literally. It was more literal to his immediate followers 2000 years ago, but that’s because they believed that the end was imminent. We don’t live with their sense of urgency, and only those who join radical cults that teach the end is imminent abandon their families and possessions. But since we need our families, friends, a place to live, and so on, we should understand from this teaching that we should not let ourselves be too attached to anything that belongs to this mortal world. We need a bit of minimalism in our lives. We need to simplify our lives.
I was thinking of why we might be obsessed with anything. Some of us are workaholics, some of us are shopaholics, some of us are addicted to legal or illegal substances. I once had a boyfriend who grew up poor, and now even with a large income, he is constantly in debt. He spends money like it’s a revenge to his past poverty. We might binge eat or shop because we are not happy with our lives. We might try to fill the void inside us with food, substances, or material possessions. Then we can also understand that the solution to being obsessed with these things might be to fill the void inside us with emotional and spiritual fulfillment. Listen to what the Psalmist says in Psalm 139 about our relationship with God. God has searched us and knows us through and through. God made us, and we are fearfully and wonderfully made. If we are aware of this and maintain a loving and intimate relationship with God, we might be able to confess, “I don’t need all these material things because my God, you are enough for me. Your grace and love are enough to satisfy me.” We can confess this because our Creator tells us we are wonderfully made, that we are good and worthy enough, no matter what people in the world think. This knowledge of God’s relationship with us should help us to love and value ourselves. Who are we to say we are not good enough when our Creator said we are fearfully and wonderfully made?
As God’s beloved children, we shouldn’t think about our worth or worry about mundane things; but instead trust God and seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness. God will shape us into lovers and warriors of justice and equality like a potter shapes clay into whatever vessels he or she needs.
There is spiritual value in minimalism. During Lent, for example, the traditional church teaches us to fast, pray, and give to charity as a part of our Lenten spiritual practice. The virtue of fasting lies in emptying our body and preserving mental energy to better focus on God. Do you experience feeling tired and drowsy after eating a big meal? That’s because digestion requires a lot of energy. By fasting, we can use that energy to focus on God. The virtue of giving to charity lies in reminding ourselves that we have more than enough to live, and there are others who don’t have enough. We can share our possession and be thankful for what we have.
Today is the first Sunday of the Creation Time. Starting from today until Thanksgiving Sunday, we will reflect on God’s beautiful creation that includes God’s wonderfully made people. We learned from Genesis chapter 1 that God commanded humans to care for all of God’s creation. Today, we reflect on God’s creation from the perspective of minimalism. Our greed resulted in harming Mother Earth. Our desire to own more and better things resulted in the amount of garbage that we cannot handle. Minimalist musicians create music with few notes. Minimalist eco-warriors consume little and produce little garbage. Let us begin our responsibility as the carers of God’s creation by simplifying our lives. Let us reconsider our material possessions. Whatever doesn’t spark joy in our heart has to go. Jesus told us to abandon our possession to follow him. Let us abandon greed and find joy in simple and non-material things. Let us maintain a loving and intimate relationship with God, who created us wonderfully and calls us worthy. Let God’s love fill us so that we don’t become obsessed with material possessions, and that we can confess, “God, you are enough for me.” With our faith in God’s love, instead of obsessing with material things, let us use our time and energy bringing God’s reign on earth with our service to God’s wonderfully made people and our only home, Mother Earth.
Reflection September 1, 2019 by Rev Sunny
Jeremiah 2:4-130/ Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16/ Luke 14:1, 7-14
God’s Reign of Humility
I think everyone has a personality trait or a type of person that rubs them the wrong way. For me, it’s self-centered and arrogant people. I’ve had a lot of people in my life who hurt me and made my life more difficult with their selfish and arrogant attitudes. I need people in my life to be humble and open minded. When one of us inadvertently hurt the other’s feeling, we need to be able to openly talk about it and have the humility to say, “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize what I said hurt you. I’ll be more attentive and considerate from now on.” Humility and open mindedness make our relationships less toxic and healthier. And as I keep mentioning, according to God’s reign or kingdom that Jesus taught, humility is the highest value. Today’s gospel story is also a very obvious lesson about humility, but before we get there, let us see in what way the nation of Israel was arrogant to God.
In the Book of Jeremiah, we hear God rebuking Israel for going far away from God, not seeking God, forsaking ‘the fountain of living water’ that is God and digging out cracked cisterns that can hold no water. Israel’s biggest sin against God was thinking they could live without God; that is a form of arrogance and pride. Remember the foolish children I mentioned last Sunday and the prodigal son as an example? I think I just described the majority of our teenagers; they think they know everything, don’t they? Anyway, through Jeremiah, God is rebuking Israel’s arrogance and foolishness acting like the prodigal son, or our teenagers.
A lot of Jewish leaders from Jesus’ time were arrogant in a more obvious way. First, as God’s chosen people, they despised Gentiles, and second, as the leaders of God’s chosen people, they believed that their heavenly reward was a sure thing. Using the parable, Jesus tells about being invited to a wedding banquet, where these leaders would be those who assume that the place of honour is for them. What Jesus is teaching here is this; “You think the place of honour is for you, but if you sit at the place of honour when you go to God’s heavenly banquet in the future, you might be ridiculed because God might push you away. Wouldn’t that be humiliating?” On the other hand, if we are humble and sit at the end of the table for lowly people, and God moves us to a better seat, we would be honoured in front of all the guests, wouldn’t we? Jesus taught humility as the greatest virtue in God’s reign. “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted,” he said in verse 11.
But how can we be humble in our lives? In the Book of Hebrews, we can find some practical advice on living a humble life. Mutual love and hospitality to strangers were mentioned. Now, what does THAT look like? It says in verse 3, “Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.” To translate it to our context, “Remember the refugees and asylum seekers as though you were there at the US/ Mexico border or on the boat with them hanging on for your dear lives. Remember the homeless as though you were there, outside in the cold. Remember the poor in your community as though you go hungry and can’t buy shoes or winter coats for your children.” You get the gist. This past week, I was listening to the CBC radio story of music teachers who sexually abused many students over the years, and listening to the testimonies of the victim students, who are now in the 40’s, 50’s, and even 60’s, my heart broke because I could almost feel their pain and suffering. What we read in Hebrews is teaching us to feel other people’s pain and suffering as if we suffer the same things with them. This is the essence of the humble and compassionate love with which we are taught to love one another in God’s reign. Yelling “Go get a job, you lazy whatever” at a poor person or a homeless person is not compassionate love.
To repeat last Sunday’s message, let us see one another as God sees us. Let us treat each other with the compassionate love we learned from Jesus. Let us see the suffering people in our world as though we are participating in their suffering till our hearts break and we are compelled to do something to change things such as donating to the food bank, welcoming refugees into our country, and speaking out against bigotry. As we share bread and wine at the Lord’s Table today, let it be a reminder of the principle of justice and equality of God’s kingdom and let us ream of God’s reign coming to earth through our faithful service.
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.