God is not done!

It was when I was about ten years old that we did not have a TV set at home. In fact, we did not even have electricity in the village where I grew up in Korea. But I remember everyone’s ears pricked up to this radio live report: Neil Armstrong was stepping down on the surface of the moon and we got all excited about this historical event of 1969.

But I hear there are people who believe that the Moon landing was just a Hollywood showcase and that the US Government has been lying to us for 40 years now.

We still deal with the aftermath of 9/11 and the wars after that tragedy are still not finished. But if you go online, there are conspiracy theories arguing that the collapse of the twin towers was an act of controlled demolition orchestrated by government officials of this country. Wow…

Also in Korea, there are some people, especially young ones, who do not believe that there was Korean War at all. Again, wow.

Throughout history, the same thing has been true with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There are many people who think the resurrection was fake. Some people have argued that Jesus’ body was stolen by someone. If that was true, how would you explain what happened later on: how did the disappointed disciples after Jesus’ death go back to Jerusalem and later give their lives for the Gospel of the resurrection? Could it just happen? I personally cannot make that connection. What would have been their motivation?

From the very beginning, there have been many folks who did not want to recognize the risen Christ Jesus.

John Lennon of the Beatles once said: “Christianity will go… We’re more popular than Jesus now.” Now, John Lennon has been gone since 1980 but Christianity is still going! And it is going strong in many parts of the world.

Six weeks from today, I will be going to East Africa to do some volunteer teaching for ministers there.

As you can imagine, people’s lives in that part of the world are tough; resources like water and food are so scarce that people are always hungry and thirsty. The living conditions are beyond your imagination.

But one thing I saw last time was this: churches are on fire. People love Jesus. People give their lives to God. People experience the power of the Holy Spirit. People are healed from their illnesses. There are miracles happening in people’s lives.

God is not done with the world. God reveals himself in the works of millions of people who are followers of Jesus Christ in every corner of this planet.

When I was in Uganda six years ago, many pastors had more than one church because churches were growing and there were not enough pastors. The majority of them give their lives with no pay; they want to learn; they have this hunger for education; they have the desire for the Bible and theological education.

By the time I come back from this trip, I know I will be exhausted physically, but I will be much stronger spiritually.

I want to go there not just for the people, but for my own spiritual formation. I want to be challenged; I want to be energized; I want to be empowered by the spirit of God; I want to be refilled by the power of the risen Christ that is among those Christian men and women who, despite all the difficulties they face, never give up their hope and continue to work to spread the Gospel.

I believe they are the true role models of Christian faith in this day and age. How can you give your lives without even getting paid? Do you think it is possible without the conviction of faith? Do you think it is possible without the presence of the risen Christ?

In Luke 24: 13-35, two disciples are on their way home to Emmaus. They were like retreating German soldiers after World War II dragging their feet with their heads down. Even though they had heard from some women about Jesus’ resurrection, they said, “No, it can’t be true.” “No, I don’t believe it.” “Get real; it is done; we are going home.” No hope, no dream; the only thing they had were regrets and disappointments.

But Jesus was not done with them. Jesus was there walking with them even though they did not recognize him. Jesus was reminding them of the biblical promises about himself, the messiah. And it was when they sat down and broke the bread with them that they recognized it was Jesus. Coming right back to Jerusalem, they realized they were not the only ones that Jesus had revealed himself to.

Before, everyone was disappointed; everyone was down; everyone was hurt; everyone was broken; everyone was sad; everyone thought it was all over. Now, after that evening, everyone was joyful; everyone was convinced; everyone was rejuvenated; everyone was hopeful; everyone was ready to do anything even though they would not get paid.

Folks, here is the bottom line: God is not done with us. Our life hangs in the balance of whether we believe in the resurrection or not.

I know American churches are struggling; I know churches here are all dragging their feet just like those disciples who were heading to Emmaus.

But Jesus is here with us; the risen Christ is walking and talking with us in every step of our life.

God is not done with us. Your life and my life can become transformed by the same power of Jesus Christ who transformed the disciples 2000 years ago and many others these days in many parts of the world.

The future of your life and my life, and the future of all the churches can not only become changed but we can also transform this world… Not by our power but by the power of Jesus Christ who is the Lord of all.

God is not done yet. Because of that, God is calling you and me to open our eyes and open our hearts so that we recognize Jesus, the risen Christ, not just with our heads, but in our hearts and minds and in lives and actions.

Every Sunday should be Easter; the joy and excitement of Easter should be our everyday experience. It is what God wants from us; He wants us to recognize His presence no matter where we are.

Church! Before this service, I am sure that some of you came here with doubts and uncertainties about your faith. But now and after this moment, I hope and pray that we have this unwavering faith in the risen Christ so that we not only live a new life in faith but we can also share this good news of Jesus Christ with others in this world.

Christ is not done with us; he is walking with us reminding and empowering us with his presence.

Amen.

WHAT’S INSIDE

Dr. Paul M. Martin, President and Professor of Pastoral Theology

American Baptist Seminary of the West, Berkeley California

Having come forward now from the greed and avarice displayed during the season of thanksgiving by the commercial world with Black Friday, feeding the profit margin of merchants, to Small Business Saturday, focusing on the needs of Mom and Pop enterprise and through Cyber Monday stuffing the pockets of the internet/online business, we now move to the commercialization of Christmas, the most sacred of days for the worldwide Christian Community.

I am reminded of the sacredness of Christmas in the words of the Gospel writer Luke when he says,

“And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” 

(Luke 2:7 KJV)

I remember from my Sunday School days, my Junior High Class Teacher, Rev. Seth Toney, a mentor and friend of mine saying that this particular text reminded him a big gift in plain wrapping.

In this season of Advent and Christmas I wonder how much attention you and I pay to wrapping paper. As we scurry to get gifts for those we love during this season we will spend a considerable amount of time in the wrapping of these gifts. We spend precious moments in selecting the right ribbons and bows, paper and other accessories that adorn every package. We even ponder a selection of ornaments that suggest the importance and value of the contents. Fine wrappings usually mean that there is a fine gift inside. Poorly wrapped gifts often suggest that the giver was thoughtless at the least and the gift inside shabby at the best.

I have come to understand over the years that beautiful wrappings on the outside don’t always indicate the value of the gift on the inside.

I remember reading some time ago a great little story that will amplify this concept.

The story centers on a mother who had two sons from whom she received gifts at Christmas. She had not seen them for some time. One son was very wealthy and the other was a beggar who made the streets his home and selling of bottles and cans his vocation. One gift was beautifully wrapped in the finest paper. The other gift was wrapped in what appeared to be newspaper.  As she opened the elegantly wrapped gift from her wealthy son, she was surprised to receive a coffee cup. On the bottom was the price tag of $1.98. Upon opening the gift wrapped in newspaper from her beggar son, she found two dollar bills and a note that read, “you gave me your all, now I give you all I have!”

Though wrapped with newspaper, the mother cherished the two dollar bills and tucked them away with joy! One son had much but gave little. The other had only two dollars to his name but gave to a mother who had given him her all, all that he had in return. The moral of this story is “the wrappings couldn’t hide the love.”

My understanding of scripture teaches me that this must have been the way it was when Jesus was born. He came wrapped in swaddling clothes. The shepherds found the King of Kings and Lord of Lords lying in a manger in a barn. He was shabbily dressed living in the worst of conditions. But his swaddling clothing couldn’t hide the love inside. He was a bundle of love and joy to his parents and to the entire world.

Life has been good to us in spite of the circumstances that for many have been extremely grievous. There are many people who continue to be fooled by what’s on the outside, but God is never deceived. He is not impressed by what’s on the outside because he knows what’s beneath the wrappings. This has to be a word of encouragement to all in our society who are being overcome by circumstance. God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power. Power that will liberate us from those chains that hold us captive to our circumstance. I still believe in the power of the Church of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to empower us to overcome injustice in the society. Read again Matthew 16:13-20 to be reminded of why Jesus established the Church.

As we prepare to give gifts to our favorite institutions, special people and loved ones at the close of this year let us be sure that we are giving from hearts of love. When we give with hearts of love, it won’t matter what the wrapping, ribbons and bows might be, if any at all. What will matter is the thought expressed by our gifts. Therein lays the value of all the gifts we give.

As Christian, we thank God for giving us the baby Jesus. He was a big gift of hope, joy, love and salvation, all in one package. Though he was wrapped in swaddling clothes under the shabbiest of circumstances, he proved to be a big gift despite his humble and plain wrapping.

TO GOD BE THE GLORY FOR WHAT HE HAS, IS AND WILL DO!

MERRY CHRISTMAS, HAPPY KWANZAA AND HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Who Do You Say You Are?

Dr. Sangyil Park, Associate Professor of Preaching

This semester, our Middler Class has a very unique situation; we have only 3 students while there are 4 professors to teach that class. Since it is a required course, we cannot cancel it.  

Speaking of this, however, I found an interesting story. Dr. Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, an Indian-American astrophysicist, was a professor at the University of Chicago. In 1947, he was scheduled to teach an advanced seminar in astrophysics. At the time he was living in Wisconsin, working at a nearby research center. What happened was that he found out that only two students had registered for his class. The school administration advised the professor to cancel the seminar. He, however, felt an obligation to respond to the call of the two students. So he made the more than 100-mile round trip every day, all winter long. Ten years later, those two students, Chen Ning Yang and Tsung-Dao Lee, both won the Nobel Prize for physics. And in 1983, so did Dr. Chandrasekhar.

Good students, of course, come from good teachers. But this particular story tells us that only when the students are honorable, may the teacher be honored. The good disciples make their teacher look good.  

The entire gospel of Mark is about discipleship—how we as the disciples of Jesus Christ should live. And I believe that today’s text sets the tone of Mark’s Gospel. This is where Jesus makes sure that his students understand what it means to be his followers. Unlike other Gospels, Mark really portrays Jesus as a human being; he was a man of character, a perfect human being with love and compassion for others. More importantly, he was a great teacher. And the teacher wants his students to behave in a way that people know who they belong to: Him. That way God is honored by their living.

Now, as Jesus and His disciples make their way through the valleys and hills of northern Israel, Jesus turns to His students and gives them this somewhat strange quiz, “Who do people say I am?” Well, the answer was not that hard. They easily replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” But Jesus comes right back to them saying, “Who do you say I am?”

“Who Is Jesus?” “Who is the man we call Jesus of Nazareth?” This is the question people have been asking for the past 2000 years! Who is Jesus? Many people go to seminary to have this question answered; many people wrote books and articles because they have burning desires for this important question. “Who is this guy?” “Who do you think I am?

Poor Peter… he was bold enough to raise his hand to answer that question. But, 15 seconds later, he ended up being called “Satan”

One thing is clear: at least in Mark’s Gospel, they are not sure about the identity of Jesus; not only Peter, but all the disciples were confused. But don’t say that it was only those fishermen who were with Jesus 2000 years ago. There are many of us who are confused even NOW. We all have our own ideas about God and many different answers to Jesus’ question. Conservatives have theirs; liberals have theirs too; and they do not even talk to one another.

Many of us know what has been happening on in the Middle East and Africa for the past few days. People have been killed in protests over the anti-Islamic video that led to a deadly attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya.

I had a chance to see the video and read some of the comments people made regarding the video. As I was reading through some of those comments, I was just shocked; the world is totally divided into two. There are so many negative comments about Americans; there were so many negative words that were exchanged between Christians and Muslims. Thinking about all these and today’s scripture lesson, what would Jesus say to those who say they are Christians and put all those negative comments out there? Jesus would say to us, “Who do you think you are?”

Loving Christ does not mean hating people of other faiths. Loving and following Christ means we take the cross; we may not be able to take the cross Jesus took literally; but we can show our compassion and love toward others no matter what.

St. Paul says “Live your life in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ.” He wants us to bring honor to His name.

Self-denial is at the heart of Christian discipleship. John Calvin, in the Institutes of the Christian Religion, says, “We are not our own; therefore neither our reason nor our will should predominate in our deliberations and actions. On the contrary, we are God’s; therefore let his wisdom and will preside in all our actions.”

Jesus asks us: “Who Do You Say You Are?”

Sharper than a Sword?

As preachers we all believe that the sermons we preach carry the words of God; but what do we mean when we say ‘the words of God’? What makes our words ‘the words of God’ in preaching?

As a way of answering this question, I would point to Hebrews 4:12 which says: “The word of God is sharper than any double-edged sword; it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow.” What about the word of God makes it appear to be sharper than a sword? Can we have an example or two that exemplifies how a word could divide soul and spirit, joints and marrow?

In Mark 10:17-31, a rich man comes to Jesus asking this huge theological question, “Teacher, what should I do to have eternal life?” Jesus says to him, “You know what the Bible says: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not lie, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'” Hearing all this, this young man did not think a second and said, “Teacher, I did all.” Jesus looked at him and said, “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor. Then come, follow me.” The text says this man was shocked and went away grieving. To the man, what he just heard from Jesus was like a sword that pierced through his conscience.

In John 8:1-11, a group of people brought in a woman. They said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery.” What would you do? Jesus said, “If any one of you is without sin, let him throw a stone at her.” Hearing this, the text says, everyone went away ashamed. It was a moment of spiritual surgery to those whose hearts were hardened. The word was nothing but a sharp sword.

In a Discovery Channel documentary, I saw this Japanese family that has been making sushi knives for many generations; all that the featured man does is put his sweat and soul into a piece of metal meticulously every day. After the entire process, they eventually showed us his art work; the blade was dazzling! Now, they took this knife to a sushi restaurant to see how it worked; and I could not believe my eyes—the knife was so sharp that the sushi man was able to make slices of fish look like sheets of paper. They said that they had to wash the blade each and every time they cut a slice; otherwise, the blade would rust.

What makes our words the words of God, which are shaper than a sword, so that our audience may be shocked, grieving, rejoicing, or even transforming in their hearts, minds, and lives? Simply raising your voice or citing different texts from here and there will only make sermons dull. Sharp sermons always need new insights to break the spiritual numbness of this age. For that, good sermons need the same diligence, meticulous skills, and artistic craftsmanship a good sushi knife requires.

Sangyil (Sam) Park, PhD
Associate Professor of Preaching
and Director of D. Min Program
American Baptist Seminary of the West