January 19, 2022

Giving and God’s Presence 07-11-2021

7th November 2021 Pentecost 24
(Twenty Fourth Sunday after Pentecost)
Title: Giving and God’s Presence
(Scripture Reading: 1 Kings 17:8-16; Mark 12:38-44)
By Heeyoung Lim

God told Elijah to go to Zarephath and directed a widow in that place to supply you with food. This was the heartland of Baal worship, but a remarkable place for the prophet of God to be protected. This is a place where the Lord’s power could be seen. The widow was suffering in times of drought and famine. This was hardly the place a person would look for help.
In spite of the strangeness of this command and promise, Elijah obeyed. He asked her for a little water and a piece of bread. The woman was in between the demands of hospitality and her own desperate condition when Elijah requested it. She said to him, “I don’t have any bread, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.”
This was a bold request for a stranger to make, but it was followed by an even more remarkable promise: The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD gives rain on the land.
She went away and did as Elijah had told her. As a result of her trust, she experienced God’s supernatural provision, not just on that occasion but for an extended period. The prophet had learned to trust God, and he invited the woman to trust Him as well. They experienced God’s presence by giving and doing. The widow and her son became rely on the Provider, not the provision. In the process God revealed that He alone, and not Baal, was the Lord of all.
God is our provider. The woman shows us courage that gives all to another. The spiritual courage is the capacity to stand for the Lord and sustained only as we are trained to know Him better and to trust Him more. It comes from commitment to the Word of God. Faith grows as we trust God’s word and see His faithfulness to his promises.
The difficult places of life are God’s training ground, and the Lord trains us under His plan and providence. God is consistently faithful, meeting the need just in time every day. God is generous, giving, loving, forgiving, and gracious, and we are worshipping and trusting God. May we deepen our confidence in God’s power and have spiritual courage in the presence of God.
In the first scene of today’s Mark’s gospel, Jesus taught and said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets.” Jesus warns against religious leaders who would make a show of how great they are. They sought to draw attention to themselves, and their attention was all external show, designed not to give honour to God but to attract it to themselves.
They also acted out their attitudes of superiority by oppressing other people. Because of their great knowledge of the law, they should have done with compassion toward the vulnerable as they knew God did. What can we hear and feel when the two coins hit the bottom of treasury? How do we respond to those who cry out in need? She was not seen by the religious leaders, but she was seen by Jesus. They overlooked her, but Jesus looked at her and recognised the meaning of her giving when the poor woman throws two coins only. Jesus contrasts the greed of the scribes with a poor widow.
In the second scene of today’s reading, the temple is a busy place and there are many events taking place. What does Jesus notice? What events do we give our attention to in our lives? Are our important events truly important in the eyes of Jesus? The widow was doing real action which is based on her faith while the religious leaders were doing empty ceremonies. God sees our actions even when people do not.
In verse 40, they devour the property of widows, and make long prayers without meaning them. Some religious leaders exploited the poor woman’s property and then tried to show what they are praying without meaning. They misused their positions and exploited the poor rather than helping to care for them. The widow’s action is not only an example of faithful giving but also a demand for justice.
Jesus contrasts the hypocritical teachers of the law with a woman who demonstrates true spirituality. Jesus did not condemn the people who put in large amounts of money. His intent was to show the disciples what true sacrifice is. She gave all she had to God and took the huge risk for the work of God. Jesus makes the point that this poor woman has given more than all the others who contributed to the treasury. Jesus draws attention to that which other might easily overlooked. God does not look on the amount of money a person gives, but on the attitude and heart a person has.
If we are consumed and addicted by honour, power, money, social media, and beauty, they will leave us empty. I hope we can seek and have nutritious and healthy spiritual food rather than spiritual junk food. Spiritual courage for giving comes from God’s presence and words. Helping those in need, doing or giving something constructive with all of our resources, not just our money, will be a way to live by the gospel.
Giving to God is an act of worship. Her giving and worship grab Jesus’ attention. In the eyes of God who sees the heart she has put in more than all the rest. God looks at our heart and wants us to trust God with all that we have. Her offering represents total trust and abandonment of herself to God. She exemplifies the attitude of surrender to God in trust.
In Mark 10:45. Jesus said to His disciples, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” In today’s reading of Mark 12, He wants them to see the true faith behind their offerings: the widow’s offering demonstrates her total trust in God. Jesus sees a widow’s attitude of surrender to God and moves toward his passion and death, giving up his life for all of us. He gives his life so our life will change forever. May we focus on faith and its growth in Christ, and we give our Lord the precious things we have with all our hearts. I hope the work of God’s kingdom can be done through us. May we be hunger for God’s word and stay in God’s presence all the time.

Thanks be to God! Amen. 
(Ref. Bible, commentaries, theological books, UCA materials)

The Greatest Commandment 31-10-2021

31st October 2021 Pentecost 23 & Reformation Sunday
(Twenty Third Sunday after Pentecost)
Title: The Greatest Commandment
(Scripture Reading: Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Mark 12:28-34)
By Heeyoung Lim

About Reformation Sunday & The Five Solas of Reformation 
(Scripture, Faith, Grace, Christ Alone & To the Glory of God Alone)
Reformation Sunday reminds of Luther’s and other reformers’ efforts in reforming ecclesial duty and responsibility. This day calls to remembrance the cost the poor have paid, the cost people were deceived at the hands of material greed with the name of indulgence. Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the Cathedral door in Wittenberg, Germany. His action sprang from his faith and theology. He began seeing a great truth of Scripture that had been lost to many in the church of that day and he realised and confirmed that we are saved by grace through faith declared righteous in God’s sight by Christ alone.
Today’s Old Testament reading starts “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.” Strength in this passage refers not to a person’s physical strength, but to his/her intensity.
The Lord invites us to “Hear” and “Love” God. Deuteronomy 6:4-5 constitute the core statement of faith. In this context, the command to hear implies “to listen closely for the purposes of obedience.” God wants people to be sincere in their faith and love.
God’s commandments are not to be treated as a list of the acts we perform but as a description of who we are. It is more related to our whole “being” rather than our partial “doing” because God wants us to love Him with all that we are. His truth is to be placed upon the hearts of his people. (6)
As today’s Bible verses, godly parents would impress God’s commandments upon the inner parts of children and each generation. God wants us to talk about His commandments when we sit, walk along, lie down, and get up.
In Mark 12, one of the teachers of the law came and asked Jesus, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” By quoting the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Jesus emphasized that we must give our whole being to God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength when we love God. Jesus then quotes Leviticus 19:18, calling for love of neighbour as self. He is reciting a command from the law of Israel as an answer to a question. The question is “Which commandment in the law is number one?” He is emphasising the idea that what God really wants from us is to live our lives based on love and not based on strict obedience to a bunch of religious laws.
Jesus brings these two commands together in a way that links love and justice. Why is Jesus giving us a command to love? The scribe answered wisely, “loving God and neighbours are more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” It reminds us of Amos 5, “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them.” (21-22)
Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (34) It was meant to encourage the scribe to continue down this path he had described by himself. It may be the equivalent of Jesus’ “Follow me” statement. No one asked Jesus any more questions after this encounter. His enemies seem to be failed to trap Him. An honest seeker in Mark 12 was the only scribe who received a commendation from Jesus. This reminds us of that there are always individuals within any group who are open to the gospel and to God’s movement in their lives. Jesus will not turn away any person who seeks Him with sincerity.
Jesus is giving us a command to love God and neighbours. To love God and neighbours is to be near to the kingdom of God. Love is something where there is always room for improvement. The fullness of love is always something that we hunger for but can never be enough.
However, Christ’s love compels us to love God with all that we are and leads us to love others as we love ourselves. Are we loving God with all that we are? Will we love our neighbours by letting “justice roll down like waters,” as the book of Amos tells us to do? (24) May all of us aspire to grow in love.
We are commanded to “Love” and “Listen”. We can surely respond to a command to love and listen because Christ’s command helps us keep striving to love. I believe that every move of love we make helps to accompany in God’s kingdom of love. Every step of love we take can be a way of reformation. Even our weak efforts at love become little signs of hope in the present and the future. Every single act of love in faith contributes to being a witness for the kingdom of God.
I believe that these ritual expressions of love will grow in the fullness of love and become deeper, richer, and more meaningful as our lives and communities be filled with our growing love. For the scribe and all the characters in Mark’s Gospel, including the disciples, love is not complete until they see the cross of Jesus and the power of God. May we experience the full life of love of God and neighbour when Christ’s love embraces us. Then we will be in joyful obedience and take up our cross and follow Jesus with love.
Today’s text invites us to focus on how our faith draws us into relationship with God and with each other. In John 14:21, Jesus says, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.” In John 8, He says, “the truth will make you free.” True believers become disciples by remaining with Jesus, staying in relationship with Him, and letting His words change us. His presence challenges us when the sins and lies that enslave us. Jesus invites believers to know Him so deeply that His truth sinks into our very being. He calls us to embody his truth in our lives, so that we walk his way of love in the world. It is time for us to transform our lives in faith and reform churches and communities with love. We are reforming ourselves in the relationship of God and sharing the love of God in the world.
Love calls us to invest our whole selves. May we love God with all that we are and love our neighbours as ourselves. I hope we love God with all our mind by listening his Word and learning about him. I pray that we love God with all our heart by allowing Him to heal wounded emotions. May we love God with all our soul and strength by making ourselves available to Him and His work.
Thanks be to God! Amen. 
(Ref. Bible, commentaries, theological books, UCA materials)

Eyes of Faith 24-10-2021

24th October 2021 Pentecost 22
(Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost)
Title: Eyes of Faith
(Scripture Reading: Job 42:1-6, Mark 10:46-52)
By Heeyoung Lim

Truly we need God’s mercy and grace. & Peace be with you.
God speaks to Job of matters beyond his understanding. Job’s suffering remains an unanswered situation, but the encounter with God transforms and Job moves forward in faith. He now sees with new eyes of faith. He recognized God’s sovereignty and retracted his own sin. In the whirlwind, Job’s faith is wide open as he responds to God. (Job 42) He refocused on God’s intimacy and reaffirmed God’s supremacy.
Job said, “But now I have met you face to face. So now I am ashamed of myself.” He knew he was spiritually poor. Job knew that he didn’t know everything, so he knew he needed God’s grace and mercy. In Job 42:2-5, Job confessed, “I know that you can do all things”, and he confided, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you” with deepening repentance. Job had been experienced with a deeper realization of God’s wisdom, power, and care through his suffering and trial. What his eyes had seen of God seems to refer to spiritual insight rather than physical vision. Job’s understanding of God’s awesome character is much greater than before his suffering began.
Job was in agonizing trial, but he was always in God’s providential care at the same time, and his spiritual gain outweighed his temporal and physical loss. Job repents of his arrogance, acknowledges God’s sovereignty, and he renews sight of God.
Is our heart quick to repent when God points out our sin through His words? Today’s text invites us to refocus on a personal and abiding relationship with God and a communion in which we are to grow closer to God. Are we growing in our knowledge of God?
After today’s Old Testament reading, God rebukes Job’s three friends in anger, ordering them to give a burnt sacrifice and directing Job to pray for them. God said to Job’s friends, “My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly.” God restores to Job the great abundance of health, children, and possessions that he had before his tragedy. Broken and humbled Job repents of his view of God and restores his three friends back to God, and he is abundantly blessed by God with more than he had before. May God completely restore and abundantly bless you in your lives.
The cure of two blind men is positioned at the beginning and end of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem between Mark 8 and 10. The two cures play a symbolic role to overcome the spiritual blindness of the disciples regarding Jesus’ identity and mission.
In Mark 10, Bartimaeus was expressing faith in Jesus and begged for mercy. He began to shout, “Jesus, have mercy on me!” He calls out and comes to Jesus. Some people tried to stop Bartimaeus from seeking Jesus, but he shouted more for Jesus to have mercy on him. He had both hope and persistence. His persistence finds its reward in verse 49, a verse that is not only a story of healing, but also a story of calling. Jesus calls him. “Call him over!” We must not hinder anyone from coming to Christ because of our words or actions, because Jesus is calling us to walk with Him.
In verse 36, Jesus asked James and John: what do you want me to do for you? Where they saw only self-interest, Bartimaeus sees hope in Faith when Jesus asked him the same question. Who is seeking to cure the spiritual blindness of his disciples? The disciples want status and privilege while Bartimaeus sees with the eyes of faith and says, ““Let me see again.” Jesus told him, “Your faith has made you well.” This means, “You may go. Your eyes are healed because of your faith.” The blind man regains eyesight through his faith and Jesus’ healing power, but the story does not end with this healing. In Mark’s story Bartimaeus can see Jesus in a way that others do not. He is willing to immediately follow Jesus on the way with sight restored rather than going away.
When Jesus first asked what he wanted, Bartimaeus did not hesitate to tell Jesus that he wanted to see. He was expressing faith in the one who could help him, the expected Messiah, and he begged for mercy. He had eyes of faith. He has precious inner sight and insight about who Jesus is. Bartimaeus knows what he needs and believes that Jesus is the one who can deliver. What do you want Christ to do for you?
In today’s text, Bartimaeus appears as a disciple that cast away his only valuable belonging. According to a theologian, Luis, ” Whereas the miracle starts with Bartimaeus “sitting on the side of the road” (46), it ends with the new disciple “walking, following Jesus on the road” (52) What do we need to throw aside to follow Jesus with faith wide open? Are we ready to follow Jesus immediately without any hesitation when He asks us to follow?
The thirst for faith and the Word can be expressed as spiritual poverty that gives us the capacity to believe when we cannot see. It is what drives us to search out deeper, hidden truths about God. It turns us into a spiritual beggar. When we do listen to God, we will gain a deeper understanding, an in-sight, and a knowing without seeing.
The man was healed physically and saved spiritually, and he followed Jesus on the way and moved from beggar to disciple. The blind beggar becomes a model of discipleship and faith. Jesus calls us to the new way of life and faith opens our eyes to see Jesus and His work in our lives. In the kingdom of God, even the one is sought out and blessed by Christ. The crowd hurried to help Bartimaeus find his way to Jesus when they knew Jesus’ will. All of you are so precious because you are all Lord’s sheep and the one who has something to shout out just like Bartimaeus.
This story invites us to consider how faith is manifested, growned, and restricted within communities. Christians who know the will of the Lord need to bring others to His side as servants of Christ. When we serve others, we serve Christ. In service to Christ, we will find our true greatness, our true wealth. May we serve Christ through loving and serving others in faith. I believe we have faith that sees who Jesus really is. Faith can make us well. It can open our eyes and ears. May we all have this faith to recognise Jesus, to accept Him, and to follow Him on our faith journey. This is the power of Jesus’ word for salvation. We are all invited to accompany Jesus to our faith journey. May we see Jesus with eyes of faith and hurry to bring others to our Lord.

Thanks be to God! Amen. 
(Ref. Bible, commentaries, theological books, UCA materials)

Creator and Creation 17-10-2021

17th October 2021 Pentecost 21 (Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost)
Title: Creator and Creation
(Scripture Reading: Job 38:1-7; Hebrews 5:7-10)
By Heeyoung Lim

Job is a person who underwent a profound “dark night of the soul” without apparent reason. He was blameless and upright, but his life with his family was destroyed. Chaos displaced order: sadness came up instead of joy; despair overwhelmed hope; anger overcame his peace; sickness banished his health. His close friends became part of the problem, for they blamed his troubles on his sin or his fault.
Tragedy strikes and chaos comes knocking at his door. Job loses everything due to heavenly deal between God and Satan. Job knew that he has not sinned or disobeyed God and still he suffers, but he felt it was all God’s doing and he wanted some answers that made sense. Why do bad things happen to good people? What is the reason for Job’s suffering? This question has increased vigorous discussion among Job and his friends during the previous thirty-seven chapters. However, the multiple voices from Satan, Job’s friends, and his wife give way to God when God takes the stage in chapter 38. Meanwhile, suspense has been building as Job keeps asking God to answer his complaint. It was about justice and the absence of God during Job’s suffering.
Job has challenged God. In his suffering, he seeks some answers and some vindication. His words were derived from a false perspective about the positions of God and man. He had confused the truth about who God is. He forgot the truth that God was the Creator and he was the creation.
When Job takes his case to God, God meets him face to face and questions him. God suddenly broke His long silence and spoke to Job in anger. The LORD answered Job out of the storm; it was a divine encounter in a fierce whirlwind. Whenever God speaks in the Bible, the attention shifts.
God’s answer to Job’s dark night of the soul is to challenge him with the wonder and amazement of the universe. His answer to Job is no solution, rather, it consists of questions. God never explains why Job has suffered as he has, but God humbles Job by asking him questions about His creation and He turns Job’s attention away from his own situation and circumstances towards God’s majesty, wisdom, and power. God does not correct Job or teach him a lesson but dazzles him with the divine glory. God stretches Job’s imagination to ponder His majestic creation.
Just as verses 4-7 outline Job’s absence from the creation of the world, verses 8-11 testify to Job’s absence in the establishment of the seas. Job is learning his place in the universe before God. He is assured of God’s presence, and this resolves Job’s problems on a different level. God creates, controls, and rules over the world. After a time of profound questions, Job proclaims his faith in God.
Psalm 104:1 sings, “O Lord my God, you are very great.” We can imagine Job is singing this Psalm that describes the majesty and wondrous deeds of God in creation. When have you experienced the presence of God? When have we found ourselves singing with the realization that no matter what, God is God? The sovereignty of God is expressed through the wonder of creation. May we praise God as our creator whenever we see or look after God’s creation.
We rejoice in the works of God in our daily lives. We live within the limits of human knowledge and unresolved questions, but we are called to trust God and look after God’s creation. May we only hold on to God and care for each other and God’s creation with trust and hope. The wisdom and love Jesus revealed on the cross came in remaining faithful to God and trusting God’s way. May we look to Jesus’ example of obedience in suffering and give Jesus our full obedience and attention in God’s plan.
God is our Creator and Jesus is our Saviour. May we come to Jesus for the strength to overcome our weakness and we be in search of relationship and intimacy with God. It does not mean that we believe in Jesus because of our problem solving, it is because we are God’s creation and Jesus’ disciples. The righteous or God’s people should not lose sight of the exalted position that God occupies. God redeems people who are in trouble, sustains them through the wilderness, and brings them into the promised land. God acts through history, in fulfillment of promises made long before to a particular people, with whom God enters covenant relationship.
God works through our story, fulfills His promises in our lives. Creation and redemption are inextricably linked. God so loved people and the world. God invites us to protect His creation. Our planet is in danger, the causes of this problem seem to lie in the lack of awareness and action. Many people across the world, however, do not save energy and water, many of them do not recycle their waste and send everything to landfill. People therefore are generally unaware of the importance of saving resources and recycling their refuse. Some people are not interested in climate change and climate action even though our planet is in danger due to human induced problems. Despite our pain and loss, God’s creation will support and sustain.
Our role is to recognise God’s work, not just in the exceptional moments, but on a regular basis in our lives. It must be done not only by word and explanation, but by action and experience in the presence of God. May we recognise God’s work, participate in helping people who are in unwanted suffering, and protect our planet by bold climate action each and every day.
If there had been no book of Job in the Bible, it would have been more difficult for us to understand the suffering and pain that the righteous must endure. Like Job, many people want to listen to an explanation and exact answer when they suffer, but God is giving us questions to be identified ourselves as God’s creature and experienced the presence of God. All questions from God intended to reveal the sovereignty of the Lord. God is here represented as the sovereign Lord who guides us and governs all. God leads us to praise God as our Creator, consider God’s creation, and take good care of it.
Today’s Hebrew 5 shows that Christ passed through testing and suffering. This happened during his days on earth and guaranteed that our Saviour could identify human beings’ weaknesses and problems. Christ himself was no stranger to hardship. Jesus’ salvation applies only to those who obey and believe in Him. Obedience is our acceptance of God’s will and love. God’s gift of salvation is open to all.
I pray that we look at Jesus’ example of obedience in suffering for our salvation as we face hardship. I hope we can give Jesus our full obedience and attention. May we stay constantly alert to distinguish good actions from bad practices and discern God’s will even in uncertainty. (Hebrews 5) Christ’s humility in His service forms another invitation to find our place and calling in servanthood. May we obey God and serve God’s people and His creation.
Thanks be to God! Amen. 
(Ref. Bible, commentaries, theological books, UCA materials)

Who wants to be a Millionaire? 10-10-2021

WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE? Gospel of Mark 10: 17-31 Homily by Geoff Serpell
Whether you like it or not most of us have reached that lofty pinnacle through the prices of real estate going through the roof. The home Jan and I live in is worthless for rate valuation, but the site has escalated from $1500 which I paid around 1958 to be valued at $1.1k today. The improvements, that is the house, workshop and doghouse will all be demolished on our demise, so they are valued at zero.
As a family during the second world war, we were quite poor. Whilst Dad was posted away in the RAAF, Mum, sister, and I lived behind a shop front in Surrey Hills where Mum taught violin to pupils to cover the cost of bread on our table each day.
Pocket money was scarce as a kid. On a few visits to grandma who lived in Sale, Gippsland, my sister and I would scout around the town paddocks collecting empty beer bottles, which recycled would earn us four pennies for every dozen. It was a thirsty town during and just after the War, so we earned enough to buy fishing tackle and ice blocks. Millionaires’ we kids were, well, for a few days anyway.
Gifted a beach house to live in at Sandringham by our grandparents, Mum and Dad got by, but the luxuries did not come easily and then only by inheritance when the Sale grandmother died.
So, at this stage I had better remind you just how privileged we then were and now are. As members of the first world, we have shelter and clothing and running water and medical care and superannuation and books and furniture and many other possessions, even an electric bike. You need no reminder that many people around the world have little or none of these things. I should urge you to think about how you could help other people share in this privilege. This would be a reasonable thing to do.
However, I am not a reasonable person, and we are not reasonable people. We are disciples of Jesus, a most unreasonable man, who views the world in topsy-turvy terms and tries to show us the world through his eyes. He did it again in today’s gospel reading, A man who owned many fields and other possessions came up to Jesus and asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus looked at him, & loved him, and said, “Go sell what you own, give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
When the man heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving. Maybe he went and sulked in his grand old house, called in the accountant, and checked through his rental books. Maybe he made himself a stiff coffee: the story does not say so. Instead, we are told that Jesus turned to his disciples and said:” How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God”.
Notice what Jesus did not say. He did not describe the wealthy landowner as privileged. He didn’t tell him to be grateful, and to find ways to share in this privilege. Instead, he told him to get rid of his wealth, because only then would he be free to follow Jesus. When Jesu said this, his disciples were perplexed. We all know how privileged the rich are, we are. We all know that we are blessed. How can it be difficult for us to enter the kingdom?
Maybe riches do prevent us from entering the kingdom, or the culture of God. We can forget just how interconnected and dependent we all are, Wealth insulates us from knowing our need of others and our need of God. Wealth gives us the illusion of control over our lives, and of our futures. It makes it hard to learn to trust in God’s provision. Wealth can make us blind to the needs of others and blunts our compassion.
As we grow older, and hopefully wiser, we realize that wearing a $3,000 or $30.00 watch, makes no difference as they both tell the same time. Whether we carry a $300 or $30.0 wallet or handbag, the amount of money inside is the same. Whether we drink a bottle of $300 or $10 wine, the hangover is the same. Whether the house we live in is 300 or 3000 sq metres, loneliness is the same. You will realize, your true inner happiness does not come from the material things of this world.
Whether you fly first, business or economy class, you all land at the same time. We need to educate our children to be happy, not rich. When they grow up, they will know the value of things, not the price. You are loved when you are born and loved when you die. In between, you must manage. The six best doctors in the world are: – Sunlight, rest, exercise, diet, self-confidence, and friends. So, maintain them in all stages of life and enjoy a healthy life.
We can be insulated from other’s needs, being complacent, comfortable, and secure. When approached it is easy to direct the needy to government or welfare or to lifelines. God demands that we feed the hungry, clothe the naked and love each other. This in real and material ways.
A friend from the Victorian Welsh choir sent me something I have treasured and now share with you. It is a story of a wealthy man and his son who loved to collect rare works of art. In the collection were included masters from all round the world.
Making a long story short, the son was called up for duty in Vietnam where he died saving the life of a fellow soldier. This soldier later knocked on the mate’s father’s door and handed him a picture he had painted of the wealthy man’s son. This picture of the deceased son was the pride and joy among the whole gallery of paintings, at the father’s home.
Later the father also died and later still a great auction of all the paintings was arranged. Influential people flocked to the auction and were firstly shown the portrait of the late son.
“Who will bid for the picture of the son?” the auctioneer asked. Deathly silence. “We want to see the famous paintings. Skip this one”: said a voice from the back of the hall.
It was a long time before a voice came, being from the long-time gardener of the man and his son. $10 was the bid. No one else spoke. Sold for $10 called the auctioneer and then he closed down the auction.
Amid uproar, it was stated that whoever bought the painting of the son would inherit the entire estate, including the paintings.
“The gardener who took the son’s portrait gets everything!”
God gave His son over 2000 years ago to die on the cross. Much like the auctioneer, His message today is: ‘The Son, the Son, who’ll take the Son?” Because you see. Whoever takes the Son gets everything!
For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, who so ever believeth, shall have eternal life. That is love.
I received a treasured email from a cousin now living in the USA who divorced her husband of some 40 years and is now married to a centenarian. This about the “Mayonnaise Jar”.
When things in your life seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day is not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and 2 cups of coffee. A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. Class began in silence as he filled the mayonnaise jar with golf balls. The students agreed that the glass was full.
The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar and the pebbles rolled into the open spaces between the golf balls. Was the jar now full? Yes.
Now came a box of sand and it got poured into the jar. Was the jar now full? Yes. The professor then produced two cups of coffee and poured them into the jar. After the laughter died down the professor said: “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life”.
The golf balls are the important things including God, family, health, friends, and favourite passions. Things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.
The pebbles are the things that matter like your job, house, and car whilst the sand is everything else-the small stuff. If you put the sand in first, there is no room for the golf balls or the pebbles. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for things that matter most.
Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children, take time to get medical check-ups and take your partner out to dinner [when you are allowed]. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the dripping tap.
Take care of the golf balls first, the things that really matter. Set priorities because the rest is just sand.
One student asked what the coffee represented, and the professor replied: – “It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a cup of coffee with a friend”
In the words of Rev. J Barr from Blacktown, Sydney in “From Love to the World”, the rich rewards we are to inherit from God come in a commitment to faithful, sacrificial living in which the call to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and be the persons Jesus calls us to be, that is the number one priority.
May our prayer be: “Jesus, teacher, give me the humility, courage, and confidence to follow your teachings today and every day”.

Geoff Serpell, 10 October 2021.

Becoming as Children 03-10-2021

Becoming as children. – Homily by Geoff Serpell
19th Sunday after Pentecost
[Scripture Reading: Mark 10: 2-16]
I am really pleased to have been invited to lead today’s service, having been out to grass as a lay preacher for such a long time due to this pandemic.
I had to scratch my head when I studied the set topic for today, but although challenging, I hope we all get something beneficial from my presentation.
Today’s passage from the gospel of Mark is about the ethics of divorce. Many of our relatives, friends, including at least one Uniting Church Minster and indeed two of our sons have been through this painful experience. My father was married four times and went through one divorce. With one of our sons the divorce came after thirty years of marriage.
What I hope to present to you is a fuller understanding of what Jesus said about the law down through the centuries and wrap up with the status of children and same gender relationships in the view of our church.
From the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2020, reveals that in 2019, 113,815 marriages were registered, and 49,116 divorces were granted in Australia. The number of same sex marriages was 5,507 which represents about 5% of all marriages in Australia mostly performed by civil celebrants. Almost one half of all marriages end in divorce.
Let me go back to the Gospel of Mark where several passages are duplicated in Matthew. Jesus is replying to a trick question posed by the Pharisees, the largest Jewish sect regarded as hard-hearted legalists and noted for self-conceit and long prayers. They were in Judea, the Kingdom of Herod. The question of the Pharisees was hostile. It was for unlawful divorce and remarriage that John the Baptist denounced Herod Antipas and Herodias. Herodias had been married to Herod’s brother but left him for Antipas. This rebuke cost John first imprisonment and then his life. Jesus was now in Herod’s jurisdiction, and the pharisees hoped that Jesus’ reply would cause those in authority to seize him as they had John.
The Uniting Church Minister, Rev. David Beswick, believes that Moses, reflecting the loving kindness and compassion of God, allowed women a right of remarriage. Without this, a wife could be a slave to her husband or, without him, an outcast from society.
I n his response to the Pharisees, Jesus gave a higher meaning to the loving kindness of God. We humans were made male and female for each other and in fulfilling our potential to become God’s children, we should recognize and honour that gift by living faithfully and reflecting God’s love in the way we relate to one another.
Jesus’ reply is saying that if you treat something like marriage as just a set of laws to be complied with, then you have missed the whole point of what God is on about. Jesus is not making a blanket condemnation of all divorced people at all. Rather, he is criticizing religious teachers who exploit the law to maintain their own veneer of righteousness while behaving abusively towards their wives and children.
Jesus was not so much the opponent of divorce as the champion of women. At that time a Jewish man could divorce his wife for the most trivial of reasons when the discarded woman and their children could be left without means of support.
Our Bible passage now passes on to the disciples trying to stop people bothering Jesus with requests for him to bless the children, so Jesus rebukes them and welcomes the children, telling the disciples that unless they receive the kingdom of God like a little child, they will never enter it.
We should realize that it is God who calls the shots, who reigns on high, so we can relax and put our trust in God’s gracious leadership. We should not try to exalt male over female, or white over black, or rich over poor, or citizen over refugee by victimizing those we designate as lower. We need to find our common sisterhood and brotherhood with one another and with Christ, finding our place as fellow children of the one God. May we choose to honour the leadership of those who are clearly from a position of submission to Christ and stand against those who would usurp Christ’s lordship and attempt to lead us on an opposing path.
In a world where there are always arrogant fools getting themselves elected or seizing power by force, do not despair for the fate of the world lies not in their hands but in the hands of the one who rules overall, and who humbly offers his life for all. To him be all majesty and authority, dominion, and power, both now and always.
Uniting Church National Assembly resolutions: Marriage and Divorce: July 1997
In the case of irretrievable breakdown of marriage, the Church acknowledges that divorce may be the only creative and life-giving direction to take.
The Church has a responsibility to:
[a] care for people, including children, through the trauma of the ending of a marriage;
[b] help people to grieve, repent, grow in self-understanding, receive affirmation, grace and forgiveness;
[c] support them as they hear God’s call for a new life.
The grace and healing of God are available to people who are divorced, which may free them to marry again.

Uniting church Victorian Synod in 1999 resolved: –
To call upon each member of the Church, when engaged in conversation regarding sexual orientation, to recognize the following: –
[a] All people, whether heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual are loved children of a loving God;
[b] Christians are called to reflect this love in their dealings with one another.
[c] Christians should not vilify others, either individually or collectively, because of their sexual orientation and
[d] Similarly, Christians should not vilify people of differing theologies.
16th Assembly: B11 National Safe church Unit
This was established in 2019 as a response by Uca to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
This is to ensure that all parts of the UCA are places where all people can feel safe. In 2020, the Unit provided a suite of resources to strengthen our culture of safety.
Geoff Serpell
3 October 2021

The Prayer and Service of Faith 26-09-2021

26th September 2021 Pentecost 18 (Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost)
Title: The Prayer and Service of Faith
(Scripture Reading: James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50)
By Heeyoung Lim
We can communicate with God by praying. James 5 invites us to pray both in times of trouble and in times of joy. Trouble includes physical and emotional stress arising from both ordinary trials and special difficulties. We can pray in all of life’s situations such as sickness, confession of sin, seeking God’s will, the recovery of broken hearts, and the revival of spiritual stagnation. In times of joy, may we sing songs of praise to God instead of complacency in life or worldly contentment that can cause people to distance themselves from God. It can be expressions of our thankful responses. We are to keep on praying to God as the creator during tough times too.
Christians who face difficulties often lose their awareness of the presence of God due to their anxiety and gloom. Christians who are in the joy of abundance tend to forget God. May we pray and praise God in both the darkness and sunshine of our lives.
The prayer offered in faith is based on confidence that God is our healer. In accordance with today’s text, the prayer of faith will make the sick person well and the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective, because the Lord will raise them up. God hears the prayers of righteous people who pray with passion. Effective and powerful prayer comes from righteous person and the heart of a believer whose passion is to see the will of God worked out in life. May we remember that believers have a right to faithfully respond to God in all of life’s situations.
However, this does not imply that if a person has a strong faith, God will answer the prayer the way they want. God does His will and work in the ways best for the kingdom of God. Prayer can bring healing, but lack of healing does not show that the one praying lacks faith. It does not mean that God is incapable of healing, or the prayer is invalid. Verses 14 and 15 refer to physical healing and not to spiritual deliverance and verse 16 teaches us to confess our sins to each other so that we will be forgiven and pray for each other to be healed. It is confession to dedicated, trusted prayer warriors who will intercede for us with God. If we have sinned, we will be forgiven through our repentance and confession. God hears the prayers of penitent people and forgives sin. May we offer faithful prayer support for struggling or stumbling Christians as trusted spiritual friends.
Elijah in verse 17 was able to perceive when God wanted to begin and end the drought. The example of Elijah challenges us to seek a closeness in our walk with God so that we know and follow His will. Those prayers which accord with the will of God will be answered. May we walk in God’s will that we love what God loves and reject what he rejects.
Verse 19 focuses on the spiritually sick and outlines how to restore them; Whoever will save them from death and cover over a multiple of sins if someone bring sinners or wanderers back to Christ. The act of bringing someone back is not about conversion, it is about reclaiming a Christian who has wandered into sin. Today’s text invites us to do our best to bring wandering believers back to full commitment to Christ.
We do not want someone will experience eternal separation from God. Christians who encourage straying believers back to Christ obey God and lead the sinner to forgiveness. For restoring wanderers and finding the lost, we would expect the starting point to be prayer for the repentance of wanderers and a ministry of love in supporting and encouraging them.
The world is still full of sin, tragedy, and those who wander, but Jesus’ disciples can continue to engage the world in hope for a time when faith community can be reunited, and the kingdom of God can be extended in and through prayer. We pray for others who are in need and the wider world. This allows us to see the image of God embodied in others, to share in their suffering, and to add our prayer for the good of the world. I believe that the power of prayer is seen most clearly in the praying church. The prayers of the community build up community and allow the people to become more like Jesus. The faith community is empowered to carry out Christ’s mission through prayer. It is a faith expression and response in which all ages can participate from children to the elderly. Prayer changes relationships, lives, and communities, and the prayer of a righteous person works powerfully. May we pray in strong faith to God both in times of trouble and in times of joy and we be truly to walk with Jesus.
A faith community enhances the lives of its members, shapes values, and provides protection and support. It is a place of identity, where people have a sense of worthiness and sense of belonging because they are recognized and cared. There is a constant tension between being inclusive and being exclusive. When John sees a man healing people and overcoming demonic forces and claiming to be doing it on the authority of Jesus, John knows that this man is unknown to Jesus, so he tries to have the man stopped. (Mark 9)
However, Jesus doesn’t treat the Good News as his exclusive matter. He wants other people to hear about it and to live by it. Can we use someone else’s name without their permission? I do not think we can use someone else’s music, writings, art, and inventions without their permission due to the copyright. Jesus gives people the credit when they serve others in the name of Jesus.
In Mark 9:41, Jesus pointed to service again as he told his disciples that humble acts of service when done because of Christ will be rewarded. Jesus tells us about the service of “a cup of waters”, which was a great act of hospitality and kindness in the dry climate of the Middle East. Our actions and our words carry significant weight.
Jesus warned His disciples and us about the risk that we may stumble ourselves, and these words were spoken not to everyone but to those who were seeking to follow Him. He talked to the disciples about the salt and saltiness, the qualities that would purify, preserve, and enhance their community. Their saltiness involves being humble in their relationships, giving of themselves for others, reaching out people around them. Jesus tells His disciples, “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another,” (50) In Matthew 5:13, the disciples are called to be the salt of the earth, but they must be aware of losing their flavour and so becoming worthless. Jesus wants us to have salt among ourselves and be at peace with each other. May we live in peace with one another.
God hears the prayers of His people as they cry out for peace. The Love of Christ encourages Christians to pray for others and to love others. I hope we can be righteous people who pray with passion, and I pray we live at peace in Christ. May we be passionate praying church.
Thanks be to God! Amen. 
(Ref. Bible, commentaries, theological books, UCA materials)

True Glory in Service to God 19-09-2021

19th September 2021 Pentecost 17 (Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost) Title: True glory in Service to God
(Scripture Reading: James 3:13-18, 4:7-8; Mark 9:30-37)
By Heeyoung Lim
As Christians, we often fail to recognize the presence of God and the meaning of His gifts, but we desire intimacy with God. We saw in verses 9-10 that Jesus talked about his death and resurrection and that the disciples did not understand his teaching. In verse 31-33, the scene shifts to a house, a confined area where avoidance is harder to get away with. Jesus does not let His disciples stay on the comfortable outside when they did not want to hear about suffering Messiah. Their comfort zone was a place where they lacked understanding of Jesus, and a place where they rejected Jesus’ words. This shows not only that the words of Christ give us hope and strength and the fact that He leads to take ourselves to our limits, step outside our comfort zones and go the extra mile to achieve greatness in the name of Jesus Christ.
Jesus begins to talk about the signs of his betrayal, death, and resurrection, but He explains nothing. When Jesus predicted His death, the disciples argued over who would be the greatest in His kingdom. They were still thinking of Jesus as a conquering Messiah. When Jesus asked the disciples what they had been arguing about among themselves, they remained silent. They ignored and denied what they hear for the second time. Jesus did not focus on their arguing about who was the greatest. Jesus called the twelve and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” (35)
Jesus tells us that if we want to be first, we must be last. The theme of servanthood echoes throughout Mark’s Gospel. Jesus said that the greatest in the kingdom will be the person who serves. He stated again that human values are not necessarily kingdom values. Jesus took a little child and placed the child among them. “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” Jesus Christ has become our servant.
Jesus shows the preciousness of every human life in the sight of God, no matter how small, how insignificant. When have you been like the child whom Jesus embraced? I believe we can find comfort, aid, and security in Jesus’ arms by welcoming Jesus. When have you been brought to the true glory from the frustration and disappointment?

We are all in our weakness and vulnerability, but we will be warmly hugged by God. Brooks states, “To ‘welcome’ or ‘receive’ means ‘to be concerned about, to care for, to show kindness to.” To accept the outcasts and oppressed is a way of accepting God’s will. Who is the greatest? Greatness in the kingdom of God consists not of position or power but of ministry or service.
In the ancient world children were precious to their parents, but they had no social status or value. They were considered among the lowest element in the society of that time. We have seen how Jesus treated the sick and outcast; we have seen how he treated women. Now we see His treatment of children. (36) Our commitment to Christ demands that we serve the weak and the outcasts of society as well as the powerful. May we welcome children and care for them as special members of our congregation. I pray we feel the peace of the Lord in Jesus’ arms and serve each other.
Today’s text shows how little the disciples understand Jesus and his mission. We remind that the disciples had been talking about which one was the greatest instead of understanding Jesus or serving others. The pain and frustration that goes along with the loss of status and honour are perhaps akin to that experienced by the disciples of Jesus as they struggled both to hear and resist what He was saying. After all, they had seen miraculous things, they had been with the Lord, they had performed great deeds. I believe that there will be changes in our faith and lives that please God. May we be all on the way with Jesus.
When we spend time with God, we can surrender our life agenda to him and ask how He would want us to live and serve. Jesus shows the disciples the source of their true glory and what is to be the Christian’s glory. When we are faced with trials, may we remember there is a deeper glory than what we can see in this world. I hope we can get in the habit of seeing things from an eternal perspective though we are on the earth.
James encourages us to submit ourselves to God. James 3 reminds us of our need to demonstrate genuine wisdom. The Bible calls on all of us to show the presence of God’s wisdom in our lives by deeds of humility and goodness. Believers with true wisdom avoid envy and selfish ambition and produce peace and righteousness in Christ. The wrong response by false wisdom destroys unity, but the right response by true wisdom can contribute to peace.

James warned that people who had envy and selfish ambition could boast about it or deny the truth. Those who choose to deny the truth can end up rejecting the truth of the gospel. Selfish ambition and envy prove that a person is following the route of false wisdom that does not come down from heaven but is earthly or demonic.
Unfortunately, we Christians are often guilty of using this twisted wisdom, but we can get in another habit of seeing eternal things from heaven even when we are faced with trials. God wants His people to control their tongues and to display true wisdom. He values humility, peace, and righteousness more than self-centred zeal and ambition. May we be consistent in the use of our tongues and not to deny God’s truth. May we ask God to help us develop true wisdom as the dominating characteristic of our lives.
Verse 17 and 18 tell us, “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” Full of mercy is revealed by offering compassion to those in distress and full of good fruit is shown by kind actions and helpful deeds to others. True wisdom results in a harvest of righteousness, an experience of peace, and harmonious relationships between human beings. May we bear fruit, which is godly, righteous, or helpful to others. Our commitment to Christ demands that we serve the weak and the outcasts of society. I hope and pray that we find true glory in service to God and others.
In James 4:7-8, God wants us to come near to God, submit ourselves to God, and purify our hearts. I hope that we can be of people that search for His voice and listen out when He tells us “Come to me”, “Purify your hearts”, and “submit yourselves to me”. Greatness on Jesus’ terms means being humble, lowly, and vulnerable as a child. It seems to be risky, but His way of greatness is the path of life. The love of Christ will cast out all fear. May we serve God and others in the love of Christ and walk with Jesus in our faith journey.
Thanks be to God! Amen.
(Ref. Bible, commentaries, theological books, UCA materials)

Our Responses to Jesus’ Identity 12-09-2021

12th September 2021 Pentecost 16 (Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost)
Our Responses to Jesus’ Identity
(Scripture Reading: James 3:1-12; Mark 8:27-38)
By Heeyoung Lim

If the relationship develops, there are other insights to be gained. With further share and experience between relationships, an acquaintance may turn into a friend and a friend may become a life companion. But there are limits to how much we can know about another person. In everyone there are secrets and surprises of the heart and deed that will not be revealed or that cannot be discerned. In relationships between Jesus and disciples, the disciples’ knowledge of Jesus was growing and their understanding becoming greater.
Jesus asks His disciples what they have heard about Him. Then Jesus questions the disciples about His identity. “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answers, “You are the Christ.” It seems that when Peter calls Jesus the Christ, he has the right title but the wrong understanding of what the title means for Jesus. When Jesus declares that he is going to suffer and be rejected and be killed, Peter does not want to hear about a suffering Messiah. He seems to be looking for a Messiah who will establish God’s kingdom with authority and power, and who will bring His followers glory and reward. Popular messianic hopes of that day awaited a militant character who would bring deliverance to the nation and freedom from Rome.
Jesus told the disciples not to tell anyone about this event. He knew the disciples did not have a full understanding of who the Messiah was or what he would suffer. (30) When Jesus spoke about his upcoming passion, death, and resurrection for the first time, Peter told Him to stop talking like that.
However, Jesus told and corrected Peter, “Get away from me, you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (33) Peter was thinking like everyone else. Jesus led Peter to be reconnected to discipleship by the correction. In Christ God enables us to find a way that is different from the way of the world, leads us to discern God’s will in our lives, and invites us to live by God’s wisdom that are not embodied in the normal course of human life.
James 3:1-12 speaks of the power of the tongue for ill or good. The risks associated with the responsibility of speaking is found in Peter’s attempt to stop Jesus. The tongue is a small organ, but it can control and influence major events in life. Those who misuse the tongue receive God’s condemnation. (James 3:1) James warns against the chaos our tongue can cause. Verse 10 highlights the inconsistency of one mouth between praising and cursing. People are inconsistent if they bless God and then curse those made in God’s likeness at the same time. When they curse those whom, God has made, they are effectively cursing God. God tells us that such a double standard is outrageous, and this should not be.
We have lots of opportunities to think about self-awareness, the degree about caution of speaking, and the possibility to cultivate of wisdom in our faith journey. Colossians 4:6 provides a conclusion about speech, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
In seeking to control our tongues we must admit to God our weakness, seek his help, and place relentless guard on our tongues. God’s grace can enable us to use our tongues and our words for blessing and encouraging others. (11) Fear of the Lord is the beginning of the wisdom. God wants His people to control their tongues and to display true wisdom. By nature, the tongue could serve as a divisive instrument of evil, by grace, the tongue can become an instrument of positive blessing.
While Peter was not possessed by Satan, he was temporarily used as an instrument of Satan in this situation, even though he was the one who confessed Jesus as the Messiah. Because we are children of God who believe in Jesus, we do not belong to Satan, but we can be affected by it temporarily when we fall into temptation. May we always be awake in the Lord and follow Jesus.
Jesus wants us to interest in the things of God and He leads us to accept His mission and demands for discipleship. In this passage, Jesus tells the listeners, what it means to be a true disciple of His. He tells everyone about the cost of being a follower of His.
Jesus said to His disciples and the crowd, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” (34-35) The phrase “deny himself” implies that we must seek God’s will just like Jesus and submit our will to His. Take up his cross might have been an offensive statement to the listeners. Today’s text tells us that Jesus’ disciples are to take risks in serving, giving, and sacrificing for people and the world in the perspective of God’s wisdom which can be expressed as risky wisdom.
By denying oneself, taking up one’s cross and following Jesus, a disciple acknowledges that he/she is submitting to Jesus’ authority. Taking up our cross is about a willingness to pay the price of following Jesus and living out the gospel. When people lose their lives by taking up the cross, they find life in Christ. Christian growth is a process. May we, Jesus’ disciples, follow Jesus through denying oneself, taking up one’s cross, and submitting to Jesus’ authority in our lives.
We can answer Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?” We confess Him Christ, Messiah, Lord, Saviour, Master, Friend, Son of God, etc. Our experience of Jesus is all precious, but it is limited because we have experienced some, not all. Jesus wants us to set our mind on divine things and respond to Jesus. Our responses to Jesus’ identity are not perfect, but we can follow Jesus by seeking God’s will in our lives and utilize our memory of how Jesus has worked in the past to make it through our tough times.
We are in the chaos between isolation and connection, silence and too much talk, inclusiveness and exclusiveness, and openness and closeness. However, I believe God’s word and our words of encouragement will build us up and send us back to our life with renewed enthusiasm and a tongue committed to God can be used as a positive tool for building hope and strength in others.
God’s wisdom often calls us to turn and follow unexpected and risky paths. Jesus invites us to speak, encourage, and bless by grace. I hope our culture of speaking will be transformed in God’s hands. We live between great confessions and shameful ones. All our words should be illuminated by the word of the Lord and embodied through practical action. May we walk right paths and live by the gospel trusting and hoping in God’s presence. May we deny ourselves daily and submit to Christ’s authority over us. I pray we confess who Jesus is with depth of understanding of Him and share warm blessings and graceful words each other in the love of God.
Thanks be to God! Amen. 
(Ref. Bible, commentaries, theological books, UCA materials)

God’s Restoration Plan 05-09-2021

5th September 2021 Pentecost 15 (Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost)
God’s Restoration Plan
(Scripture Reading: Isaiah 35:4-7; Mark 7:24-37)
By Heeyoung Lim
Happy Father’s Day!
“The Season of Creation” has begun, which is defined as: “It is a time to renew our relationship with our Creator and all creation through celebration, conversion, and commitment together. During the Season of Creation, we join our sisters and brothers in the ecumenical family in prayer and action for our common home.” It is an invitation to discipleship that faithfully seeks to partner with God in caring for God’s Creation.
The international theme for the 2021 Season of Creation is “A home for all? Renewing the Oikos of God.” Oikos is the Greek word for “home,” or “household.” UCA President Rev Sharon Hollis has shared a message “We show our love of God by caring for the earth and by being passionate advocates for this broken, beautiful, scarred and glorious creation.” Care for creation is a spiritual and theological imperative embodied in Christ. God’s creation needs to be restored.
Today’s text shows God’s restoration plans and actions. He shows his plan to redeem His holy people and His world and to heal all human weaknesses. Isaiah chapter 35 starts with brightness against the dark background of chapter 34. Even the most barren desert or wilderness will blossom with flowers in the day of salvation. Through the prophet Isaiah, God has given His people a word of hope that He will transform a barren wasteland. The land can be glad, and the desert shall rejoice because God reveals his glory. (Isaiah 35:1)
God’s appearance would destroy the enemy but bring salvation to the people of God. Such salvation is not limited to a spiritual realm. God will heal all human hurts and restore justice to his world on his time schedule and in his ways. The prophet, Isaiah, was called to encourage the weak and feeble and to proclaim God’s Word. Their reason for fear would vanish. God’s purified people would pass over His highway, the Way of Holiness, and enter Zion in accordance with God’s word. Only the people whom God had redeemed from captivity would be allowed on the road.
Although we are often isolated in COVID lockdown and captivated in uncertainty, I believe our Father God will lead us to the joyous journey safely and the joy will be everlasting. The day of redemption will come, and sorrow and sighing will flee away. The best was yet to come. I hope our life become a festival of praising God. May we praise God for every sign of His saving work in our lives rather than complaining about our weaknesses and feeling sorry for ourselves.
God is on schedule to carry out His plan for the world. He saves His people to reveal His glory. God expects His people to be holy and His plan is to bring everlasting joy to His people. I hope we give our fears to God. May we trust God to know our plight and to have a plan to deliver us.
Mark wanted to emphasize the mission and inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s plan of salvation. The gospel of God’s love and His kingdom are not limited to Israel, it is open to all people. When Jesus was looking for a place to rest with His disciples as well as to escape the persecution of the religious leaders who were always following Him, a Gentile woman sought Him. (24) She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.
Mark shows the cultural and gender boundaries that existed between Jesus and the woman. The Gentiles and the Jews had not always treated each other kindly, and there was a gender issue too because men dominated women during this time. Also, a rabbi or teacher was not supposed to have any direct contact with a woman.
However, the Syrophoenician woman’s desperate need of her daughter and faith in God’s goodness caused her to humble herself before Jesus and risk crossing all these barriers. (25) She had a strong faith that refused to believe she was excluded and said to Jesus, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” She pleads on be half of one who is vulnerable and suffering. This shows she has persevering faith in God’s grace and goodness. The barriers of race, culture, and gender are surface issues.
Then Jesus told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.” She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. This woman’s faith must have pleased and surprised Jesus. When true healing on the inside is necessary in our lives, only the gospel can cross these barriers to bring such healing. Jesus teaches that our relationship with God is based on a sincere faith that transcends all barriers.
Then some people brought to Jesus a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and Jesus looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” or “Be opened!” At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened, and he began to speak plainly. Jesus demonstrates the grace and goodness of God through the healing of a deaf man. Jesus even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak. His word ends the individual’s separation from sound, from community, and from communication. Our healing Jesus wants our ears and mouth to be opened. Only Jesus can restore us to the position and purpose for which God created us.
Jesus lay down his life for the whole world and all people. There were no exceptions, no favourites, and no discrimination in His salvation. In Jesus Christ, God is reconciling the whole world to Godself and to each other. It doesn’t matter who we are, or what our life experience is, or what our cultural background might be. We are all embraced in God’s generous love, and all welcomed into the one precious group rather than individuals in Christ.
In this season of creation, may we join God’s restoration plan and action and renew our relationship with our Creator and all creation. In what ways have you witnessed God bringing justice into your life? As I have already mentioned before, I believe God will heal our hurts and restore us on his time schedule and in his ways. We have all been gathered up in God’s extravagant grace; that we are all invited to the place of reconciliation with God. We are called to live by the gospel. May we participate in God’s restoration work as faithful followers of Jesus. I hope we strive to love God’s creation the way God loves us. May we ask God to help us see people and nature as Jesus sees them, and we cross all barriers and serve with the Lord.
“Be opened” Jesus wants us to hear God’s voice and speak His word clearly. I believe our ears are opened and our tongues are released when we respond to the gospel. Once we acknowledge that there are no walls separating us, love and mercy flow unfettered, and all people are deemed equally valuable. May we cross boundaries to serve and work by word and deed and be a part of ecumenical family who look after God’s creation by prayers and actions.
Thanks be to God! Amen. 
(Ref. Bible, commentaries, theological books, UCA materials)