August 9, 2022

Unity and Harmony in the Church 29-05-2022

29th May 2022 (Seventh Sunday of Easter)

Sermon Title: Unity and Harmony in the Church

(Acts 16:16–34 & John 17:20–26)

                                                                                  By Heeyoung Lim

How and why the shocking tragedy of mass shooting has happened in a primary school in Texas? It’s only 10 days since another mass shooting in New York. Abuses of human worth still occur, and horrible tragedies still arise when unscheduled. There are mistreatment, wars, and unexpected shootings where to be peaceful in the world, many people go through difficult seasons, and struggle to live together. Bound by these difficulties and pain, people ask, “How can these chains be broken?” Challenging situations occur at any time and for any person.

There are layers of authorities and powers in the story of Acts 16. There is a powerful spirit that possesses the girl, who is also controlled by those who own and profit from her. A slave girl and people interrupt Paul’s ministry until he finally heals her. After the healing, she is no longer marketable for her owners. The girl’s masters became angered at this loss of income, and the crowd joined the complaints of local merchants against Paul and Silas. 

With no opportunity to defend themselves, Paul and Silas were beaten with a wooden rod and thrown into the prison with their feet placed in chains. There are civil authorities who mistreat Paul and Silas, and the jailer who imprisons them. New Testament Christians were accustomed to being imprisoned on false charges. However, above all, there is the power of God’s Spirit. 

In today’s text, a slave girl is in chains with the name of spirit, mammon, and power from others, but she is healed by Paul in the name of Jesus. Paul and Silas are in chains, but they act in freedom; they sing and pray even in a prison. This is the message of salvation by grace through faith.

The story testifies to the importance of prayer and praise. The prayer and song serve as their response to imprisonment. Their actions support one another and give witness to those who listen. When an earthquake opens the doors and breaks their chains, Paul and Silas save the jailer from taking his life. Whatever the jailer intended, Paul and Silas directed his focus immediately to Jesus and proclaimed the gospel. Proclamation of the Word held priority over their physical condition and comfort to Paul and Silas. In verse 33, the jailer tends Paul’s and Silas’ wounds, and Paul and Silas baptize the jailer and his household. This is a reciprocal ministry in a new community. The jailer and his family were reconciled to God, then to their former enemies who are two most unusual prisoners. May we be ready to proclaim the gospel to anyone, anytime, anywhere. I also hope that we can make and nurture more beautiful communities of faith through mutual service and ministry.

Sometimes, just when things seem to be going great, the bottom drops out, but may we trust God and sing and pray in the most difficult moments of our life. I also hope that our faith communities can pray and serve harder in Christ for the saints who have suffered.

Many people in the world will have experienced feelings of being trapped in a situation or relationship such as job loss, health challenges, abuse. What testimony can we bring of the Holy Spirit’s action and the power of Risen Christ in freeing us or our community from captivity or bondage?

How can we encourage and support one another amid the challenges of life we face today? What rituals and practices will we cultivate that will or can support people in difficult circumstances? We can pray for a violent world. God’s people can sing in their struggles when they know He leads and blesses each step of their lives no matter how difficult and dark some days may be.

The founder of one of missionary institutions, A. B. Simpson said, “The joy of the Lord is the strength of His people, The sunshine that banishes sadness and gloom, The fountain that bursts in the desert of sorrow, And sheds o’er the wilderness gladness and bloom. The joy of the Lord is our strength for life’s burdens. It gives to each duty a heavenly zest…”

If we lose strength in doing God’s work, it is probably because we are living a life that has nothing to do with the joy of the Lord. If our passion for serving has cooled, it must be because we have forgotten that the joy of the Lord is our strength. The Lord is our strength, and the joy of the Lord is our joy.

In John 17:20–26, Jesus’ prayer for the community and all people defines new freedom-life in relationship with God. The heart of this final part of Jesus’ prayer focuses on unity, and it is the ultimate demonstration of God’s work through His people. We are aware that body unity is patterned after divine unity. The absolute oneness of the Father and the Son will now be spiritually transferred to believers for unity and harmony in the church and community.

Obviously, being one is not easy. However, if we fail to achieve unity in church and faith communities, it means that we are turning away from Jesus’ prayer for all believers and God’s will for us. Jesus invites us to understand unity between the Son and the Father and lead us to walk into the unity and harmony in the church and wider communities.

In Acts, Paul proclaimed the gospel and looked after a slave girl who annoyed his ministry and baptised jailer and his family. When Jailer asked them about the salvation, they replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.” Paul and Silas led a girl, jailer, and his family on the path of restoration, salvation, and reconciliation through proclaiming the gospel and liberating love in the name of Jesus.

In John 17, the last word is love. Jesus does not call for doctrinal unity, organizational unity, political unity, or artificial unity. This prayer is for unity that grows out of the love of God, received, and shared among his followers, leading to an experienced unity in love between Jesus and his followers. This unity in the church and wider communities are based on love of God. Five times within these six verses, Jesus names “love” as the key to divine relationships (vv. 23, 24, 26). Love is the divine gift to the disciples, the grace through which God seeks to attract the world, and the ingredient that the Lord prays for his followers. The purpose of the Father’s indwelling is the imparting of love to the disciples. Now they carry in their community the experience of that love, a power strong enough to remake the world. May we look after others with the love of God and try to remake the world in Christ. 

Unity in Christ and solidarity with those in need are faithful responses to God’s call to community. When love extends compassion, and justice unleashes freedom, unholy chains in relationships can be broken. The good news of God’s liberating grace needs to be delivered to anyone, anytime, and anywhere. The Holy Spirit leads us into the middle of life to do such ministry. 

Jesus prays for all believers. One of Jesus’ current ministries in heaven is to pray for us. As in today’s John’s gospel, Jesus wants us to be united in Christ. Unity and harmony in the church serve as a witness to the world. May we trust God’s protection for our spiritual and physical life and be witnesses fulfilling God’s will for the church by working to keep its unity. May unity and harmony in the church and wider communities be achieved through us in the name of Jesus.

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

My Peace I Give to You 22-05-2022

MY PEACE I GIVE TO YOU

Sermon by Geoff Serpell: Easter 6: John 14: 23-29

“Peace, I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” John 14:27

What kind of peace you may well ask? David Beswick, a retired Uniting Church Minister says that it is a gift of wholeness, being made well, reconciled, saved, and knowing God. Peace and wholeness are brought together in the healing miracles of Jesus illustrated liberally throughout the four gospels. 

From Old Testament times, peace was understood as a general state of wellbeing, and being in a good relationship with God. Peacemakers are the children of God said Jesus in His sermon on the mount. There is evil in the world to be overcome and the way of peace is not always recognized. Jesus paid the price of suffering and death to win a victory bringing peace.

Rev. Kim Cain tells us in his 17 May ‘Love to the World’ Bible commentary that a central theme in John’s gospel is about an advocate, a witness or comforter who will be present after the ascension of Jesus to be present even to us in our time. Abiding in Christ, a central Christian activity takes the form of peace beyond that provided by the world.

People talk about what they are most looking for in life, peace features high on the list. We seek peace and tranquillity from the noise of traffic, Inner peace when we are in chaos, World peace when for example, we are confronted with Russia trying to take over Ukraine in the most devastating manner, whilst just a bit of peace and quiet after a days’ work is much sought after by many.

We are not all blessed with negotiating skills and sometimes workers and bosses come to loggerheads about agreements on terms and conditions of employment. Our buses did not run last Friday so it was not peaceful on the roads in extra traffic getting kids to school. For too many women, who are living in a violent relationship, fear is normal, maintaining a fragile peace at the expense of their own interests. Speaking out against injustices or whistleblowing is not for the fainthearted and usually safer to keep the peace and keep your mouth shut. This may cause more issues to keep quiet and avoid, so it’s not always a safe option. Would you think it is better to speak out and address somehow about e.g., child abuse?

Jesus offers us peace without troubled hearts or fear. That is what we all hunger for. But in our gospel verses, Jesus is preparing to depart and leave us. Before he did leave, he promised us a Counsellor to be with us for ever, the spirit of truth, being the Holy Spirit. My Bible notes tells me that the Spirit will always stand by Christ’s people. In action and in essence the Spirit is characterized by truth. Jesus brings his people to the truth of God.

A little book written by Holly Wagner called:” Dumb things we do” includes tips on improving relationships between married couples. She gives playful and challenging advice on what you can do today to have a strong, loving, and peaceful relationship together.

One tip says:” do not try to fix your husband: it is not a good idea”. “It is better to honour each other with due respect and not be self-centred.” It is good to practise random acts of kindness. We need to be flexible and adaptable with each other for there to be peace in our homes. Holly asks, see what happens by trying it.

Places and situations where I have found peace include walking through bushland along some track with birdsong audible which I get at Nagambie on our conservation estate. We have built around 50 nesting boxes as your saw one this morning. I do not climb a ladder to put them up in trees any longer.

 A Professor of Pastoral Counselling, Howard Clinebell told me at a conference in Toronto in 1993 that for each of his birthdays he spends the day hiking to the top of some mountain to be closer to God and finding peace. That is a hilltop experience.

Our youngest son, Andrew used to find peace after a hard day at his office, in our workshop, the building being well insulated. He could practise his trombone. each night without causing a revolt among the neighbours. He has gone on to be a professional jazz player in some great Melbourne night spots, whilst I can still see the evidence of his work as a stain from the water out of the instrument still showing on the concrete floor.

Can you recall that sense of relief and peace when you experienced achieving something that was very stressful in preparing? I found peace after singing a solo in front of 1000 patrons in a fundraising concert for Parkinson, Britain, at Pershore Cathedral. The song was called ‘Working Man” about a retired coalminer reminiscing about the lung disease rife in the industry and the arduous work in terrible conditions. I felt so relaxed and peaceful as I walked back to my place in the Victoria Welsh Choir, being so thankful that I had not forgotten the words. 

Back in the sixties and seventies, when I was employed by Prince Henry’s Hospital in St Kilda Road, I attended a businesspersons’ lunchtime church service at Scots’ church Collins Street Melbourne. I do not remember any words said during the 15 years except most times when I was jumping back onto the tram with renewed energy, to get back to work were the peaceful words regularly said by the Minister, Rev Gordon Powell:’ Let Go and let God”!

Jan reminded me that when our three sons were each tucked up and asleep in their beds, it was our turn as parents to have some peace and quiet at the end of the long day. Lately as we face up to a celebration of 60 years of marriage this week, we have our peace, with a cup of tea each on arising accompanied by tuning into FM radio, “Golden Days” music for the over 50’s.and then having the daily reading out of the ‘Friendship Book’. 

I have another little book called “Prayers of Peace” Let us share a few with you: –

“In the practice of daily prayer, we can find the blessing of God’s peace.”

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Matthew 5:9

Where there is peace, God is. -George Herbert

Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.: – Psalm 34: 1-4

The words of wise men are heard in quiet more than the cry of him that ruleth among fools.: – Ecclesiastes: 9:17

And Jesus said to the woman who had washed His feet, thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.”- Luke 7:50

Dear God, Drop thy still dews of quietness, till all our strivings cease; Take from our souls the strain and stress, And let our ordered lives confess Thy beauty of thy peace.: – John Greenleaf Whittier [TIS hymn no 598

Eddie Askew writes in his book:” Disguises of Love”: “Maybe it helps us as we think about peace. The struggle for peace is won and lost, not in the outside world, but in the world within each one of us. It is the struggle to see ourselves as we really are, not only to ourselves but to God. Then we realize that He accepts us and surrounds us with His love. It’s when we come to terms with ourselves, and offer what we are to God, that the seed of ‘peace’ is established.

Let us pray: –

Oh, to find the peace that passes all understanding. The drama and frenetic of today’s average life is enough to make us crazy and bring us to our knees, crying out for peace.

Yet too many times we fail to realize that we have access to the kind of peace that no challenge- no matter how big and insurmountable it might seem- can shatter.

Peace that is deep and everlasting, because it comes from the greatest source of peace there is – the loving heart of God.

The Good Shepherd & Faith Communities 08-05-2022

8th May 2022 (Fourth Sunday of Easter)

Title: The Good Shepherd & Faith Communities

(Acts 9:36–43 & John 10:22–30)

                                                                                  By Heeyoung Lim

Happy Mother’s Day! May the Lord bless your home and the places of your work with His grace and blessing. I hope that today will be a day of blessing for all mothers, and God’s special grace and comfort will be with those who have parted with their mother on earth. 

In Acts 9, Suddenly the topic shifts from the conversion of Paul to Peter’s miraculous raising of Tabitha. In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas). In verse 36, she was introduced by name and called as a disciple. 

When she became sick and died, without telling Peter why, the congregation from Joppa requested his presence, “Please come to us right away!” They lovingly cared for Dorcas’s body. Witnessing to God’s gracious acts can take many forms. When Tabitha died, her friends tried to let Peter know how important and valuable she was. They brought all the clothing that she had made for the widows, tangible symbols of her compassion. Their acts showed how Tabitha demonstrated God’s love each day of her life. They shed tears together and waited prayerfully outside while Peter was with Dorcas. 

Peter entered the room and knelt to pray. Then he told Tabitha to get up, and she did! The Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead brings back to life this faithful woman whose acts of compassion are central to the new reality of God’s reign. Sometimes God may choose to intervene in a miraculous way for His people. May we pray first when faced with a difficult ministry task.

Tabitha was a disciple who devoted to good works and acts of charity. (v. 36) She served others and looked after people who are in need until she dies. The congregation in Joppa was making communal intercession for the healing of one of its members, hoping desperately for her wholeness. The congregation was vulnerable, but they stood together, sharing all they had including spiritual resources and weeping together, hoping together, and celebrating together. They were unafraid to walk into each other’s lives in transforming ways. 

Dorcas or Peter will not live forever on earth. Peter provided a temporary restoration to life for this lovely Christian female disciple at Joppa with the power of Risen Christ. The emphasis of this text is upon a community honing all the spiritual strength and resources passionately upon life and wholeness rather than individuals. May we find ways to experience, energize, and celebrate the marks of a loving and healing community in today’s individualistic culture.

It indicates the expansion of the growth of God’s love from Jewish to Gentile. We know Paul is called by Christ mainly for Gentile, but Peter also proclaimed the gospel to Gentile and showed the love of God to many people. This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. (42) That would be enough to know that the power of God was working through Peter and Dorcas. 

Faith communities are drawn toward healing because brokenness is so much a part of our lives. Christians today are more aware than ever of the power of holistic healing, the intercession of prayer, positive attitude, and the resources of medicine. We are more aware than ever that no one should face disease alone. Prayer, love, and service from faith communities can support us, complementing medical treatment. 

Communities are powerful healing partners in helping us overcome illness and brokenness. This was true for Dorcas, and it remains true for us today. May we, individually and as the church, learn from Tabitha and Peter about life-giving service. Simple quiet service for God is no less important than complex public service. May we be in actions that show the presence and the power of God with us through the acts of love and kindness. 

We experience how everyday acts of love, compassion, and kindness have the power to lift people to life. In today’s text, the life-giving acts were revealed through the example of Tabitha’s loving service and kindness and Peter’s prayer and ministry. We are comforted by the image of a shepherd that protects, defends, leads, and feeds.

In John 10:22–30, Jesus promises that His sheep will be with Him and can never be snatched away. No matter what occurs, we can look to Christ and identify Him as our good shepherd. Christ’s sheep can look to Jesus, those sheep are recognizable because they believe in the Shepherd, they listen to the Shepherd, and they follow the Shepherd. True sheep listen to the shepherd, but false sheep pay no attention. 

The Good Shepherd has purchased our salvation with His blood and now offers shelter and security to all who follow Him. We become a true sheep by placing faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. But once the Holy Spirit implants that nature in us, we respond to the Shepherd because that is what sheep do. There are times in our lives when we are affected by evil and there are times when we are shaken by temptations, but we trust that our Lord, the Good Shepherd, will always protect and guide us. Believers behave like sheep, and the good shepherd makes a sheep feel safe. No one can tear us away from His love. May we trust our lives to the Good Shepherd. 

Jesus calls us “my sheep”, it means the union of Christ. His calling is “listening to His voice”. Jesus knows us, and we follow Him. He also gives us eternal life in grace and love. We all remember the life-giving acts of Jesus.

The voice of the Good Shepherd is a voice that liberates rather than oppresses. It does not say, “Do this, and then maybe you will be one of my sheep.” It says, “You belong to me already. No one can snatch you out of my hand.” Secure in this belonging, we are free to live the abundant life of which Jesus spoke earlier in the chapter: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly”. (v.10).

The abundant life of which Jesus speaks is not necessarily about abundance in years, or in wealth, or status, or success, or accomplishments. It is life that is abundant in the love of God made known in Jesus Christ, love that overflows to others (John 13:34-35). It is eternal life because its source is in Jesus, who is the resurrection and the life (11:25-26).

May we discern the Shepherd’s voice amongst all the other voices that appeal for our attention. May we oppose other voices with all our strength and follow the one who is our good shepherd! No matter what the future holds, God’s hand is holding us, and nothing can snatch us away. May we express our gratitude for the eternal life Christ gives us and follow our good shepherd Jesus in all circumstances.

The Easter season is a call to get up and live in the power of the risen Christ, which can empower us to overcome those things that have harmed and hindered us, and to take the lead in loving service in the communities in which we live. I pray that we can encourage and support others in making their own personal and collective faith journeys and experiencing the living Lord themselves.

God calls us to rise, to live, to seek the welfare of others, and to offer words and deeds that are life-giving. May our lives be filled with the presence of God’s spirit, and we grow as disciples of Risen Christ and followers of the good shepherd.

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

The Risen Christ is Calling Us 01-05-2022

1st May 2022 (Third Sunday of Easter)

Title: The Risen Christ Is Calling Us. 

(Acts 9:1–6 & John 21:1–19)

                                                                                  By Heeyoung Lim

John has recorded three post-resurrection appearances of Jesus here: to Mary, to the disciples that first Sunday night, and a second time to the disciples with Thomas. Now we see the third time appearance as Jesus visited his disciples as they followed their vocation. 

Being with Jesus had been great, and it must have felt wonderful to have him alive again. They have been scattered on the roadside of good intentions for ministry, but they traded God’s call for something else like fishing for a living. They were hanging out and fishing, but they caught nothing. The text says they saw someone on the shore but could not tell who it was. These disciples had seen the Risen Lord twice but did not recognize him. 

John would never forget the words by this stranger to throw your net on the right side of the boat. “Why the right side? Because that was the side they were directed to by Jesus. Jesus disclosed himself to them through a miracle, and John announced to Peter, “It is the Lord”. (v.7) “It is the Lord” is not just a one-time confession, it is our life-long confession and relationship with Jesus. Jesus Is the Lord of our lives. 

Jesus and the disciples enjoyed breakfast together that day. The menu required some of the freshly caught fish in addition to what Jesus had already prepared. What a wonderful morning that must have been. Jesus demonstrated His love at a seaside breakfast with seven disciples. These disciples experienced a new level of rest and comfort with the Lord’s resurrection and presence. Christians often eat together in groups. Their fellowship through eating reflects and shares friendship, followership, and fellowship in Christ. May we experience another level of faith with the Risen Christ. 

After Jesus ate with his friends, Jesus turned his attention to Peter. Three times Peter had denied the Lord, so three times Jesus asked him, “Do you truly love me?” This could reflect the three denials, but whether it did or not, the command was similar each time: “Feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, and feed my sheep.” Whenever Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” Peter answered, “Yes, Lord!”. The reason we must take on this mission is because we love the Lord. Risen Christ tells us to take care of the Lord’s sheep if we love Him. Do we love Jesus? We feed, care, and shepherd people because we love Him.

Why did the Lord change the command after each of Peter’s responses? There are some changes between the noun and verb. Some indicate that lambs refer to children’s ministry and sheep as to service to adults. This second calling would include spiritual feeding and care of the flock for all generations. The point is that Jesus called Peter to shepherding rather than fishing. His future work would involve ministry to people. Jesus’ first call was to become fishers of men. Now the Risen Christ entrusts the mission of shepherding to Peter rather than fishing. The shepherding call is continued. 

Today’s text deals with Peter’s reinstatement to service, because he and other disciples need to shepherd each sheep of the flock of God, of Jesus’ sheep, of the church of God. Jesus asks us repeatedly to show our love and to do what Jesus commands: feed people and the world with grace.

Peter is completely restored by Risen Christ. He has three times denied his Lord, but now he has affirmed his love for Jesus, and he has been commissioned to care for the flock three times. This must have had the effect on the others or communities, whatever had been the mistakes of the past, Jesus was restoring Peter to a place of trust. The one thing about which Jesus questions Peter prior to commissioning him to care for the flock is love. Love is the basic qualification for Christian ministry and service. May we experience the gospel of restoration and love.

Christian community offers even the one who hurt that same community justice and grace in the love of God. Accepting or welcoming people is another example of the resurrection at work in the faith community. Our call is to live by the gospel that accepts in grace and offers justice to those who have been unjust towards that same community. God’s Spirit may bring restoration, renewal, transformation even in places of brokenness. 

There was hurt and brokenness in Peter and Paul’s faith and life. In Acts 9, Paul has been transformed from a passionate persecutor to a courageous proclaimer, in John 21, Peter has been renewed from the three-time denier to a true follower by the Risen Christ. Ananias in his trust, and the rest of the community in accepting and including the one who once persecuted them. To reach out and include someone who once persecuted us is the hard edge of real gospel living. The gospel of love and grace influences the change in one person or in the whole congregation because of the whole believing community. I hope the level of gospel living will grow in the Risen Christ.

Paul and Peter were accepted and welcomed again by faith communities. Paul had to wait for the three days between being blinded and seeing again. Peter had to experience the unexpected three questions given by Risen Christ. Transformation comes from Risen Christ but there would be a time of waiting for resurrection and necessary experiences of renewal. 

I pray that God will open our eyes, as God opened Paul’s, to the new reality created by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The image of light is powerful in this story of Acts 9. It blinds Paul initially, then, when his sight is restored, he has a new way of seeing. It is this vision that he shares to bring others into the light of God’s love. May the light and love of the Risen Christ open our spiritual and cultural blindness and break our social bias. Our faith experience is not only a private affair, but it is also for spreading the gospel and building up the church. 

Saul was called to be a chosen instrument to bring Jesus’ name to the Gentiles, and Peter was called to be a shepherd to people as a restored follower of the Risen Christ. Everything is because there is Jesus’ calling. Jesus called their names and gave commission with love. Jesus is the Lord of our Lives. The Risen Christ is calling disciples and us, “Follow me” as He called Peter and Paul. Risen Christ gives us restoration, renewal, and transformation. May we experience the gospel of restoration and transformation. Feeding the Lord’s sheep is a tangible way of staying in relationship with the Lord, as well as the surest way to express our love for Him, not only with our lips, but in our lives. May we live and serve by the grace and love of God. 

The Risen Christ is calling us to follow Him and shepherd His people. Whenever the Lord tells us to do something, may we do it. May we never forget that love is the centrepiece of ministry to other people. I pray we follow our Lord regardless of what happens in our lives because the Risen Christ is calling us.

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

We are Witnesses 24-04-2022

24th April 2022 (Second Sunday of Easter)

Title: We are Witnesses

(Acts 5:27–32 & John 20:19–31)

                                                                                  By Heeyoung Lim

Acts 5:27–32 begins with Peter and the apostles brought to court for breaking the orders not to proclaim Jesus Christ risen. What moved the apostles to move forward from the uncertainty of the upper room to the confidence of preaching the risen Christ against the Sanhedrin’s orders? The steady growth through the retelling of the story of Jesus is perhaps a reason for their increased confidence. As confidence builds through its retelling and growing, the apostles trust it more and more, which leads them to stand against the authorities. The most important message that must always be conveyed, which does not change over the years, is still Jesus. But in this changing and unstable world, what other messages do we need to convey along with the words to believe in the Lord?

This week’s readings call us to be bold and courageous in speaking of faith and justice. Unfortunately, we still and often hear about war and violence with tragic results. We cannot remain silent in the face of such harm and violence. Tomorrow is ANZAC Day. It is a day designated for remembering and celebrating the sacrifice and loss of the young men and women who protect other people’s freedom. Just as soldiers maintained their faithfulness to that battle, may we maintain faithfulness to our faith in Jesus and the call to that lifestyle he commands us to live. Faithfulness requires discernment, wisdom, and risk. 

We are thankful that we can hear this wonderful record of the courage of the early Christians and sacrificial soldiers. May we find where we might find ourselves speaking up and speaking out in accordance with God’s will. I pray that our faith community’s witness is strengthened through worshipping, learning, and serving together. May we proclaim the gospel in words and deeds without concern for the inconvenience or fear our witness might bring.

This story is repeated and continued around the world as persecuted believers speak out about their faith. It offers an account of real boldness that also speaks into situations of our time: sensitive and inconvenient issues, abuse, prejudice, discrimination, and injustice. Today’s text is a story of a faith community where the faithful few speak out on the side of truth and faith and justice in Christ. For the faith community today, where does that boldness come from? What gives Peter confidence to speak so boldly? What does the word “witness” mean to us?

Christians do not respond with violence when they obey God and work for the Lord. Peter makes no excuses, only testifies as a witness, and offers a message of salvation to even those who killed Jesus. In verses 30-32, there are messages of repentance and forgiveness of sins offered to Israel. There is a free offer of salvation to those who believe. Peter and the apostles are all witnesses, and we are witnesses in the Holy Spirit. May we notice the Spirit comes as God’s gift to those who believe and obey Jesus.

How can we believe today? In John 20:19–31, Thomas needs to witness something to witness, and Jesus meets him in that need. Our call as a faith community is to grow in the story and to witness to what we know. In the repeated retelling of the Resurrection, there is a time when the fear moves over, and confidence begins. May we be sent out in that confidence, where we rest on the authority of the faith rather than of the world and become “witnesses to Risen Christ and His presence.”

In today’s readings, out of fear, the disciples hide in a locked room. In the first group appearance, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” He brought peace to his disciples. In John 16, He had promised to relieve the disciples’ grief by replacing it with joy, and now He fulfilled that promise. Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” He continues to say, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Now he sends his people out to witness. Many theologians believe this reception of the Holy Spirit was temporary for the next fifty days which is the season of Easter before Pentecost. Jesus gave them peace, mission as witnesses, and the Holy Spirit. The disciples had their learning and growing times with resurrected Jesus between the resurrection and the ascension. As a temporary filling of the Spirit was given by Risen Christ to them for their spiritual needs prior to Pentecost, Our Lord gives us what we need when we do the work he has entrusted.

Eugene Peterson has written about the “Resurrection Quartet”. He insisted each narrative is distinct with its own character, but they develop rich melodies, harmonies, and counterpoint when the four accounts are absorbed into the imagination. The four voices from four gospels become a resurrection quartet. Especially John’s gospel provides convincing evidence for dealing with doubting and questions about resurrection. John 20:31 tells us,” These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ.” 

When the disciples huddle in fear on the evening of the resurrection. Jesus appears to them. He reassures them of his resurrection reality by showing them the crucifixion marks in his hands and side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. When they are again together with Thomas who had not believed the report that the others gave. Jesus makes another appearance, offering himself in tangible form. In verse 27, He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands, and put out your hand, and place it in my side.” Jesus did not scold him or condemn his hesitation. He provided him with the evidence and second chance. Only then did He say to him, “Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas moved quickly from a doubting talker to willing worshiper and believer. He said to Jesus, “My Lord and my God.” Our faith in the resurrection is a true blessing.

John’s gospel is full of signs in Jesus’ life that provide self-authenticating data that He is God’s Son, the Saviour of the world. Some people do not listen to the Resurrection Quartet even though the senses of seeing, hearing, and touching are represented in the main stories John gives us. We cannot and do not need to hear all the music. But this Resurrection Quartet must be heard and passed on. Our Risen Christ is with us, and the Holy Spirit helps us do that. Witnessing Christians work with the Holy Spirit to proclaim the message of crucifixion and resurrection.

We often refer to Thomas as “Doubting Thomas”. How many of us have doubts and questions about our faith? Would we be so different from Thomas, given the circumstances? There are many ways we come to believe and understand our faith. Thomas’ need to see Jesus’ wounds and touch them was his way of encountering the risen Christ. Some of us may encounter God in creation, in loving or serving others, participation in worship, learning and meeting, or through music. What do we need to witness to believe? How can those experiences help us share the story of Jesus’ resurrection and love with others?

Christ is risen! It promises a life that has no end. May we move from a state where we lack belief to one where we believe through God’s words and much evidence even in our situations of doubting, fear, and questions. How would you like to spend the season of Easter called the great 50 or Joy of 50 days? Just as we spent the 40 days of Lent participating in the suffering of the Lord in our own ways such as worshiping, praying, doing Lenten Studies, and loving and serving others, may you spend the 50 days with the joy of walking with Risen Christ during the season of Easter. We are witnesses of Risen Christ. May we live as witnesses of the resurrection during the rest of our lives.

Our living Lord has conquered both sin and death, and Our Saviour is forever alive. I believe that we can hope despite trouble and suffering, knowing the ultimate victory is His and ours.

“The peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.” 

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

Christ is Risen! 17-04-2022

17th April 2022 (Easter Sunday)

Title: Christ is Risen!

(John 20:1–18 & Acts 10:34–43)

                                                                                  By Heeyoung Lim

Christ is risen!

There are stories of people who died being restored to life in the Bible. In each case, the one who died lived again, but still faced death. The Resurrection we celebrate at Easter is testimony to Jesus the Christ who died, was raised, and will not die again.

Acts 10:34–43 tells us about Peter’s witness to the God revealed in Christ. The gospel is universal, and God does not show favouritism. He invites people from every nation to trust in Jesus Christ for eternal salvation. The gospel makes salvation in Jesus available to anyone who believes in Him. Five times in Acts the apostles speak of witnessing the resurrection. People killed Jesus, but God raised him and showed his risen Son in public to certain chosen witnesses. This risen Lord sent Peter and disciples to testify that Jesus is God’s appointed judge of the living and the dead. Peter proclaimed that everyone who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins through His name. This gospel of salvation was not a one-time event; rather God declared that whosoever may come and that will be the very essence of the gospel.

In three other gospels, Mary Magdalene is accompanied by other women to the tomb. In John’s gospel 20, one woman alone comes to the tomb where the body of Jesus is. Mary comes while it is still “dark.” The time of Mary’s arrival may also be seen to mirror both the darkness of her despair and the depth of confusion. “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him”. (13) She grieves and weeps due to the disappearance of his body. We can feel the hurt and longing in a woman who loved a lost beloved. 

Mary Magdalene goes alone to the tomb. In the first 11 verses, “tomb” occurs nine times. The scene is a place of death. From verse 12 on, the tomb is not mentioned. An empty tomb is replaced with the Risen Jesus. Peter and the disciple “whom Jesus loved” go to the tomb after hearing Mary’s witness. The minute the beloved disciple hears Mary’s news, he jumps up to see what has happened, arriving at the tomb before Peter. His actions seem perfectly understandable as he always represents the most appropriate way to respond to Jesus and stayed with Jesus all the way to the bitter end. 

Peter’s reaction to Mary’s news about an open tomb was instant running to the tomb. We may make some guesses for this. Perhaps guilt motivates Peter to run out the door so that he can say he is sorry for denying Jesus after boasting about his loyalty, for not being present at the cross, for running away from the suffering moment. Or maybe Peter felt a hopeful curiosity.

The empty tomb found by the disciples is a place with potential meaning not yet understood but Risen Christ will transform the disciples who run to it. Two disciples have raced to the tomb with curiosity or hope, but Mary has come to pay grief and homage to one she loved. The disciples see nothing within but empty wrappings and the leaves of one who left, but she sees not only the emptiness but the angels who give a message of Jesus’ presence when she looks in.

Peter and John believed Mary’s word that someone had taken Jesus, but they returned home without staying outside the tomb unlike Mary. They found strips of linen and reacted with hesitation and uncertainty. Belief in resurrection does not come from an empty tomb itself, it comes in a restored relationship. When it comes to spiritual truth, may we be prepared to believe what we have not seen. I hope that we can know the difference between noticing something in God’s Word and perceiving it. 

Mary remains at the tomb, outside. When she looks inside the tomb, grave clothes do not grab her attention. The tomb is no longer empty! There are “two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet”. When they ask her why she is crying, she persists in her assumption that a heist has occurred. Mary backs out of the tomb, turns around, and encounters a human figure. She thinks it is the “gardener”, but He is Risen Christ. Her assumption was wrong, but she went to the tomb, turned around from where she was, and finally encountered Risen Christ. In Christ, going, turning around, and encountering are necessary in our lives. 

Jesus calls her by name: “Mary!” Now she is face to face with Jesus. We remember that when Jesus was teaching in Jerusalem before his death, he said, “I am the good shepherd,” who “calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (10:11). They follow him because they “know his voice” (10:4). Jesus called Mary by name for her to recognize Him. Jesus asks Mary, “Whom are you looking for?” Mary meets Risen Christ with great joy, and Jesus tells her to go to the others with a message. (17) Mary spreads the gospel, “I have seen the Lord!” Mary is the first witness to the Resurrection and an apostle as “one sent forth”. Mary was sent by the Risen Christ. The surprise of resurrection prepares disciples for surprising witnesses.

Our story and experience in faith cannot be anchored in the past. Risen Christ calls her by name to announce to the disciples and by extension to all who would believe a new creation, resurrection, and an unimaginable future. The good news that she reports to the disciples is significant, but only the beginning of an ongoing revelation of what resurrection might mean.

Jesus commissions her to go and tell what she has seen. Some theologians and scholars remind us that the resurrection narratives are really commission stories, sending believers out into the world to tell everyone that death is not the last word. Otherwise, no one would ever know what happened, and Easter would be just a reunion story with tears and hugs all around. However, Mary obeys the risen Jesus and leaves the garden to tell what she knows to be true. Mary speaks, and in her speaking, we find our own voice. May we go and tell people about Risen Christ with words and action. 

The scene evidenced God’s work in delivering his Son from death. We are invited to be witnesses of the Risen Christ and have been sent by the Lord to present Him to the world. Faithful followers of Jesus today continue to tell the good news of Easter. Mary Magdalene was first, and we are invited to continue the message. When God sends us to do His work, may we go without hesitation. Risen Christ is among us. Full acknowledgement of the resurrection means taking our eyes off the empty tomb and placing them on the Lord. I hope we can open our hearts to receive the risen Christ with hope in the new life God promised. May our Risen Christ calm our fears and free our speaking of verbal and non-verbal language for all to hear. 

Mary Magdalene went to the tomb to look for Jesus. Where do we find ourselves looking for Jesus? “I have seen the Lord,” Mary tells the disciples. She is the first to announce the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. Today, we are called, like Mary, to share this good news with the world, to help others experience hope and see a new thing happening around us. We have journeyed from the dust of Ash Wednesday to the empty tomb on Easter morning. The Easter season is a time of joy! A time for change! It’s a time when we recommit ourselves to our church community and the importance of serving God and serving others. May we bear witness to the risen Christ in a hurting world. May there be many examples of new life and renewal in our faith community. Christ is Risen.

“The peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.” 

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

Jesus Dying on the Cross 15-04-2022

15th April 2022 (Good Friday Service)

Title: Jesus Dying on the Cross
(Scripture Readings: John 19:17-30)

                                                                                  By Heeyoung Lim

Many of us have experienced a dying family, friend or relative. Many in our congregation are acquainted with grief. Today’s text brings our congregation together as we stand at the foot of the cross, suffer with our Saviour and friend Jesus, and see him draw his last breath. It is an opportunity to share the experience and to get strength from one another. 

None of us would have done what Judas did. Betrayed Jesus? We can say “No”. Have we ever pushed someone in a similar way because of our own impatience and greed? Is there anything of Judas in us?

None of us would have done what Peter did. He promised to follow Jesus to the grave and then denied him because a servant girl asked a question. Who knows what we would really do under the circumstances? Have you ever imagined Peter who sat in that chilly courtyard denying Jesus? Is there anything of Peter in us? None of us would have done what Caiaphas did. Have we never weighed a difficult situation and then chosen the lesser of two evils? 

None of us would have done what Pilate did. He shuttled back and forth between Jesus and his accusers, hoping for an easy answer, and escaping responsibilities. How many times have we listened to the wrong voice when we knew what to do, just because the right thing was neither the easy thing nor the popular thing? None of us would have done what the chief priests did. They shouted out, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Then again, have we never been part of an angry crowd? 

None of us would have done what the soldiers did. They mocked Jesus, dressed him in purple, and put a crown of thorns on his head. None of us would have nailed him to a cross, or gambled for his clothes, or pierced his side. Then again, good soldiers do what they are told to do. They are commended for it. Sometimes innocent people die because of that kind of wrongdoing. 

None of us would have done what Mary did, would we? Stood there at the foot of the cross and watched a son’s life drain away? Or risked our lives like the disciple Jesus loved, by standing there with her? Some of us have watched as loved ones drew their last breath, painful as it was. Some of us have stayed by the bedside in that last hour. It is not hard to imagine the one who is dying saying to other family members, “Take good care of Mom.” Eventually we can say our good-byes.

Jesus also needed to say goodbye to his mother on the cross. The real meaning of this story is that Jesus was caring for his mother and thus fulfilling the Old Testament commandment to “honour your father and your mother”. (Exod. 20:12) Though this is the first of the “seven last words” recorded by John, it is in fact a third in the recognized seven words.

1. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34)
2. “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43)
3. “Dear woman, here is your son” . . . “Here is your mother” (John 19:26-27)
4. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)

5. “I am thirsty” (John 19:28)
6. “It is finished” (John 19:30)
7. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46)

“Dear woman, here is your son” & “Here is your mother” (26-27)

Looking down Jesus said, “Woman, here is your son.” It means, “I am no longer your son. But then he said to the beloved disciple, “Here is your mother.” “Mother, I’m giving you a new son. Son, I’m giving you a new mother.” Jesus was forming a new family on the cross. Jesus said to His disciples before He completed His mission on earth. “A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another as I have loved you,” 

Jesus tells us on the cross at His moment of deepest grief, Jesus is calling us to live as if strangers are our brothers and sisters. Church is where we are gathered with first time strangers in Jesus’ name and called to look after brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus was telling His disciples about a new family on the cross and He wanted us to love and look after each other as a whole new church family. 

Our families are a wonderful source of love and grace for us, but sometimes tragic stuff happens in our families. Mary suffered from the most painful moment watching her son of the cross. We may also see our suffering family members in our lives. May our suffering family and neighbours be recovered in the love of God. I hope we can remember that we have a new family in Christ looking after each other.

Today is Good Friday. Are we standing at the foot of the cross? Maybe this is where we need to stand. We are not betraying Jesus, not denying him, not judging him, not condemning him, not rejecting him, not mocking him, not cursing him, and not killing him, but we are standing at the foot of the cross with others who love Jesus. May we put our arms around each other for comfort and strength.

There are three last words of Jesus in John’s Gospel: “Woman, here is your son.” “[Son], here is your mother” (26); “I am thirsty” (28); and “It is finished” (30). John’s is the only Gospel that has three Marys standing near the cross, and Jesus entrusting his mother and the Beloved Disciple into one another’s care (25–26). For John, this act signifies more than that of a dutiful son caring for his mother at his death, or even of a Good Shepherd caring for his own until the end. In this simple act, Jesus also sows the seeds of the new family or community to come, in which family is redefined in ways that are not restricted to blood kin and in which members of that family are called to be responsible caretakers of one another.

Thus, all of those who stand at the cross on Good Friday, weeping over all the unjust, untimely, inhumane, and undeserved deaths they have known, may also find comfort and hope in the new community that Jesus provides for them, even in their moment of greatest grief.

Jesus is fulfilling his God-given mission. “It is finished” (30) is more than acknowledgement that Jesus’ life is coming to an end. It is affirmation that Jesus has finished the work God gave him to do, that he has loved his own until the end, and that even in his very act of dying, God is being glorified.

Jesus’ sacrifice is a voluntary self-offering, and by this Lamb’s blood we are welcomed and led into life of abundant and eternal. Though Jesus is betrayed, falsely accused, mocked, and condemned to death, yet God is sovereign. Today, we see and feel Jesus dying on the cross. On this day, Jesus was crucified. On this day, according to John, the Good Shepherd willingly offered his own life for his sheep. On this day, God won the ultimate victory over death and evil, even as death and evil appeared to have the upper hand.

The cross revealed the glory of Christ in his obedience to God, his care for other people, his innocence, and his control of the gates of glory. May we praise God for all He has done for us on the cross. May we commit ourselves to God. I pray that we can trust Jesus no matter how dark the storms. 

May God’s grace, mercy, and strength be with you. 

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

Jesus Rules by Serving 10-04-2022

 

10th April 2022 (Palm/Passion Sunday)

Title: Jesus Rules by Serving
(Scripture Readings: Luke 19:28–40 & Philippians 2:5–11)

By Heeyoung Lim

Lent has been a long journey. Now the long shadow of the cross and the footsteps of Jesus find us waiting at the gates of Jerusalem. Today is Palm Sunday, and the Passion Week will begin. Our journey is still not complete, and there is a deeper journey still to make. The greatest story is still to be told. Come let us gather at the gates of the triumphal entry praising Jesus.

Today’s gospel reading recalls a triumphal entry into Jerusalem followed by suffering and death. But Jesus is not a passive victim. He acts with trust and obedience. Jesus speaks truth to those who wield violence and death and extends grace to sinners. He reveals self-sacrificial love even on the cross.

Jesus has told them, “His identity and salvation will be revealed as the form of betrayal, death, and resurrection.” (Luke 9). He enters Jerusalem riding on the back of a donkey as in Zechariah 9:9; “Your king comes to you…humble and riding on a donkey” It was the messianic promise from the Old Testament. In Luke 19, the king sent two of his disciples on a mission: “Find a donkey that has never been ridden before and bring it to me. If you face questions, just say, ‘The Lord needs it.’” So, the disciples brought the donkey to Jesus, threw their robes on it as a saddle, and set Jesus on it.

In Korea, a Christian musician has described the donkey that carried Jesus on Palm Sunday in one of his songs. The lyrics go as follows; “Lord, I want to be that happy donkey. Untie me, O Lord, who is bound to worldly greed, to many sins and to my own self. Untie me, O Lord, and let me serve You. Let me live carrying You on my back, so that the world sees You rather than me. Lord, I want to be that happy donkey.” Do you want to be a happy donkey serving the Lord?

The gospel tells us that people spread their cloaks on the road and crowds of disciples shout triumphantly because of the deeds of power they have witnessed along their journey with Jesus. The disciples also spread their robes on the street, signifying a royal procession. The

crowd of disciples, indicating a group beyond the Twelve, joined the procession, praising God for all the miraculous signs Jesus had given.

Those who followed Jesus into Jerusalem were living under the destructive power of the Roman empire. They praised Jesus with joy despite of all its risks and uncertainty because their hope is not in the temporary power of Rome, but rather in the endless, eternal power of God revealed in the life of Jesus. They praised Jesus as king, citing Psalm 118:26. Finally, Jesus’ glory was openly recognized. He came as God’s chosen king and showed that the hopes of Israel are being fulfilled. However, the crowds and the disciples were not ready for Jesus’ cross.

Luke 19:38 saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Jesus is the eternal king, the promised Messiah, who comes in the name of the Lord. They praised Jesus, but the religious leaders came to crucify Jesus, not to praise Him. They asked Jesus to silence the disciples. Jesus quoted Habakkuk 2:11 and replied, “If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” If human voices were silent, nature would shout its praise. This is the moment for Jesus to receive praise. The king has come to save us. May we praise the Lord together in our daily life rather than just Sundays.

In accordance with today’s text, Jesus is the expected messianic king who came to bring peace. God has sent the messianic king to bring peace that only heaven can establish and that cannot be denied on earth. The multitude’s praise and joy suddenly turn to great sorrow when Jesus weeps over Jerusalem, because even though the multitude sings of peace and glory in heaven, it fails to recognize the price of true peace. Jesus is their peace and the peace of the world, not any peace, but the peace that only He can give, and that peace cannot be found apart from the journey of cross.

May we confess Jesus as king of our life and of the universe. God’s holiness and justice made the cross an absolute necessity. Events at the crucifixion happened as they did so “the scripture might be fulfilled” (v. 24). No fewer than twenty Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled within twenty-four hours at the time of our Lord’s death. Jesus fulfills what the prophets have said, and His acts and the events in his life fulfill what he has said.

Kings serve by ruling, but Jesus rules by serving, even to the point of suffering and death. In Mark 10:45, speaking of Christ, declares: “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.” The example of Jesus’ humility and service is well expressed in Philippians 2.

Jesus is the supreme example of humility, love, and selflessness. When believers are united with Christ, they can have the same attitude of humility as Christ. Paul expresses the same thought in Ephesians 4:2: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Today’s text invites us to share this humble, selfless mindset of Christ in our lives.

Jesus was willing to leave his high position in heaven temporarily and to give himself over to serving our needs. Although he set aside the rights and privileges of being God to save people, he remained God. (6) Jesus made himself nothing or emptied himself. (7) Jesus chose not to use some of his divine attributes during the time he was on earth. For God to become a man was humbling enough, but he was willing to go even further. Christ could have come to earth in his true position as King of the universe, but He took the role of a servant. The Creator chose to serve His creatures, and the King chose to serve His people. Our King Jesus rules by serving.

He humbled himself to the extent of being willing to die like a common criminal on a cross. As we have known that crucifixion was the most degrading kind of execution that could be inflicted on people in those days. People who died on the cross paid the penalty for their crimes, but Jesus died not for what he had done. He was sinless but died for others. He died to pay the penalty for the sins of the world.

Following Jesus’ humility and obedience, God the Father exalted him to his rightful position of honour and glory. Through the miracle of resurrection from the dead, God gave new honour to the obedient, humble Son. God bestowed upon Jesus the name that is above every name. The exalted Christ, seated at God’s right hand, was called “Lord.” He became the object of worship for the church. We call Him our Master, and the church confesses the humble and obedient Son as their Lord. Now we are waiting for Passion Week and Easter in faith and hope.

Jesus humbled himself and became obedient to death. May we have the same attitude that Jesus did, who humbled himself and became a

servant to others. May we spread joy by spreading God’s love to someone today. God calls us to love and serve others humbly. Sacrificial love is the result of God working in us. May we thank God for Christ’s model of humility and seek to repair the strained relationships in our life with humble attitudes and acts of love.

On Palm/Passion Sunday, as we approach Holy Week, may we remember who we are and to focus on having the mind of Christ, whom we worship and adore, the one who gives us our vocation – calling us as Christ’s church and sending us out in Christ’s name to serve others.

“The peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.”

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

Gracious Ministries for the Lord 03-04-2022

3rd April 2022 (Lent 5)

Title: Gracious Ministries for the Lord
(Scripture Readings: John 12:1–8 & Philippians 3:4–14)

                                                                                  By Heeyoung Lim

All four gospels tell a story of a woman anointing Jesus, but only John names this woman. Along with Mark and Matthew, John sets the scene in Bethany. The place is the site of the conspiracy of Jesus’ death, the place where Mary prepared for the Lord’s death through expensive perfume and devotion, and the place where the Lord was later ascended into heaven.

When Jesus arrived at Bethany, a banquet was held for Jesus. It was a feast prepared by Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. Lazarus died a while ago and was in a state of rotting, but now he is alive and having a lively feast. This scene shows that there is no need to despair over death. On the other hand, Jesus does not away from such a feast as He is approaching His Passion. His power to overcome death and be resurrected makes us not despair.

John began with the story of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume. He tells us we have come to the last week of the Lord’s life before the cross. John has spent nearly half of his Gospel narrative on events of that crisis-filled week. Through the John’s gospel we will see our Lord facing several crises such as crises of values, confrontation, timing, and faith. 

In Luke 10:38–42, Jesus contrasts Mary’s doing of the “needful thing” with Martha’s distraction over her tasks. Along with Luke, John associates the woman’s action with an extravagant act of hospitality. However, Mary anointed Jesus while Martha served. The Greek verb translated as “served” means ministering. Service and ministry for the Lord have been done by both Mary and Martha here. Jesus is graciously ministered to by the actions of both women. 

Mary was pointed out by Martha in Luke’s gospel and by Judas in John’s gospel. Pouring that expensive perfume on Jesus would have been difficult for others to empathize with. Judas immediately criticized sharply, but Jesus recognized Mary’s heart. 

In John, as Mary generously anoints him, Jesus tells her critics, “Leave her alone.” & “You will not always have me.” Here is Jesus’ clear defence of this woman, and she was no longer attacked by others. Deuteronomy 15:11 commands care for the poor. Justice is a critical tradition Jesus inherits from his Jewish culture. John 12:8 does not reject that tradition, rather a central theme in John’s gospel is what “time” it is. It can be expressed as an approaching hour. Verse 8 contains Jesus’ assertion that Mary’s action was timely since His time draws short. The inevitable hour had come.

John makes clear the market value of the nard of 300 denarii, and it is roughly equivalent to the yearly wage for a day labourer. But there are other values than the market. The opportune moment to minister to Jesus leads Mary to move outside of still-valued traditions and censure. It aims to engage in this highly relational and devotional act. What Mary does in ministering to Jesus is a gracious act and ministry beyond all else services and a path to prepare for Jesus’ cross. Mary who sat at the Lord’s feet did needful things for herself listening to the word of the Lord, but now, Mary, at the feet of Jesus, anoints for the Lord. And at the feet of Jesus, and at the table where He eats, Mary and Martha both minister to Jesus.

God has had grace and given his Son Jesus on the cross for our sin, raised Jesus, declared us righteous and justified, adopted us as His children, and promised us resurrection and eternal life. The human part in all this, in faith, is to accept what God has done. There is abundance wherever He is present.

Who are the recipients and providers of gracious ministries? We expect God’s new and gracious actions in our lives. We continue to hope and pray for God’s restorative grace. Paul personalizes the priority given to a relationship with Christ that empowers ministry. As for Paul, the things of the world are viewed as rubbish in comparison to gaining Christ. His eyes were on Christ. All that matters is his relationship with Christ.

What had formerly been Paul’s sources of pride gives way to Paul’s source of hope. Everything now hinges on an ever-deepening relationship with the risen Christ. The Damascus Road experience transformed him. This changed Paul’s aim in life. He wanted to know Christ and the power of His resurrection. To know Christ meant much more relational and depth than just knowing about Him in his mind. To know Christ in this way meant he was ready to share in Christ’s sufferings, even if that meant sharing his death.

His goal is to win the prize for which God had called him in Christ Jesus. This is the driving force that moves him forward through his gracious ministries in Christ. Paul’s longing to share with Christ comes through strongly in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” We have not attained completion as a Christian but press on toward maturity in Christ.

He had not “arrived.” Not yet mature, he was still very much in the race of the Christian life. He had to deal with his sinful body and was aware of the need for further spiritual growth. He is willing to press on as he had not attained the intense knowledge of Christ that he desired and had not become all that Christ wanted him to be. A fact of the Christian life is that the more we mature the more we realize how much further we have to go to become like Christ.

Paul uses the image of a runner in a race who hopes to win the prize. He cannot look back or cloud his mind with memories. His eyes focus on the finish line. Paul faced so many difficulties, sufferings, and frustrations, but he looks ahead to see the resurrection, where he will meet Jesus face-to-face.

We live our lives in the shadow of the cross, but we also live in the presence of the risen Christ. So here is an invitation to daily companionship with Jesus, at the Table, in acts of compassion and generosity, in moments of worship and prayer, and in our gracious ministries.

Mary did not pour out the expensive perfume on Jesus in anticipation of Jesus’ death. But in the end, she became the person to prepare for the imminent death of Jesus. Mary’s good intentions were more preciously used by God. We can easily see our dedication, services, and devotion to each other in our faith community. All things all of you are doing for the Lord are so precious. I believe that God knows our hearts and joyfully uses our gracious services and ministries. May we live in a mind-set of abundance and minister to Jesus in faith. Like Lazarus and Paul, being with Jesus is sometimes risky and accompanies suffering, but may we glorify God through our gracious services and ministries for the rest of our lives.

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

Welcoming Grace & Lost and Found 27-03-2022

27th March 2022 (Lent 4)

Title: Welcoming Grace & Lost and Found
(Scripture Readings: 2 Corinthians 5:16–21 & Luke 15:1–3, 11b–32)

                                                                                  By Heeyoung Lim

Jesus had described heaven as a banquet for the poor, crippled, blind, and lame. He had told the rich banquet hosts to invite such people to their feasts, not seeking repayment. Such people wanted to hear more and to see what Jesus would do for them. Meanwhile, the religious experts also maintained their watch, hoping to trap Jesus. Chapter 15 begins with a complaint made by the religious leaders regarding Jesus’ willingness to welcome and eat with sinners.

Jesus attracts sinners who need salvation, but religious leaders are too self-righteous to associate with sinners. Jesus associated with sinners because he knew they recognized their need of salvation and would respond, bringing joy to heaven. God and His people pay attention to the lost or sinners, seeking to find the lost and bringing them to Jesus. God waits patiently and lovingly for people to return to Him.

Sinners followed Jesus eagerly. Self-righteous religious leaders constantly blamed Jesus for having fellowship with such sinners. Finally, Jesus told three stories to show what it means to be lost and how a loving Father waits for the sinner to come home and be saved. God’s love restores sinners to the right relationship with Him.

In today’s text, Jesus turned to the family setting for his concluding parable to illustrate why he associated sinners. A younger son demanded his share of the estate and got it. There is no indication of why he wanted it or why the father so quickly gave it to him. The younger brother’s portion was only a third of the estate if the entire estate were divided. By law, the older brother got a double portion (Deut. 21:17). 

The younger son wanted to be on his own. He distanced himself as far as possible from the family. He also took up a new lifestyle. Untrained in money matters, he quickly had many expenses and no income. The result came quickly, then a famine hit the land. No one had food or work. He found a job and fed pigs in a pigpen, but he was starving. “And I am about to die from hunger,” he said. “I will go back to Daddy and tell him I have sinned against him and against heaven.” After his mind went to work again, he could quit his riotous living and come home. No longer are we using animals or objects to talk about the lost. People are lost here. 

In verse 20, focus shifts from son to father. Son is on the move, and his father is still standing and waiting to see his son. It is certainly not given that a sinner will repent. However, the son had repented and returned. What would fill the father’s heart? The old legs started churning, arms stretched out, and lips reached for a kiss. The family conflict was over and forgotten.

Even in the joyful welcome, he repeated the plea he had rehearsed. However, now it is a special party time! The son must be properly dressed for the party. Servants dashed off as they were commissioned to get the best robe, a ring, and sandals. Other servants ran to the kitchen to prepare the menu the father ordered.

How could the father act like this? Did he not know what the son had done? He was lost, and the lost sheep is back. Certainly, a lost and found son is worth much more than a coin or a sheep. This is one of the pictures of the Father in heaven. He does celebrate when the lost are found and when sinners repent. We can feel the compassion and love he shows. Why does Jesus associate with sinners? Because heaven loves them and waits patiently for them to return and repent so the celebration can begin.

While the younger son is welcomed by the father who had waited for him through anxious days and months, he is discarded by his older brother in a jealous rage. His older brother who had spent his time working and being dutiful says to his father, “this son of yours”, but the father responds, “this brother of yours.” Life and faith are not about just doing the right thing but about being in relationships that are real, good, and capable of bearing hurt and being put back together again. There was reconciliation, love, and restoration between the father and the lost son. It is a call for warm hearts and deep emotions, and an insight into the passion of God. Everything has become new in the love of God. 

“Listen a minute, my beloved son,” his father replied. “You are with me forever. I can count on you. Everything I now have will go to you. Your younger brother was dead, but now he is alive right here with us. Come celebrate with heaven.” The father invites him to the joyful party, but the elder brother does not respond. 

In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul’s ministry was compelled by the display of Christ’s love on the cross. Paul had been united to Christ in his death and resurrection, and thus had been inwardly renewed and regenerated. The apostle truly was a new creation. In this changed state, he began to look at people differently. He saw believers as new creations in Christ and unbelievers as people in need of Christ. This dramatic change was a work of God in his heart. 

He repeated the Greek terms for “reconcile” and “reconciliation” five times throughout today’s text. Reconciliation is the establishment of harmony and peace between enemies. People are reconciled when mutual love binds them together. God established peace between himself and Paul through Christ. This act of divine love and grace transformed him. Paul said that God gave him and his company the ministry of reconciliation. A ministry is a service to others on God’s behalf. God had called Paul to be an instrument of reconciliation; his life was devoted to making peace between God and humanity through the preaching of the gospel.

2 Corinthians 5 says, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new.” (NRSV, v.17) & “In Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself.” (v.19a) We are a new creation in Christ, and we can hear, “Come on in and join the party which is bringing joy to heaven.” What does reconciliation mean? It means to be or make friendly. Are we close to God? Do you feel that God is near? Are we living with Jesus who is the centre of life and faith during the season of Lent?

Please do not give up on people when they turn away from family and from God. May we show God’s patient love when they return. I hope we can practice forgiveness, as we want God to forgive us. I pray that the work of reconciliation will be done throughout our lives.

Jesus is right in the middle of the party which is a joyful celebration. May we follow Jesus’ example, minister to the lost, search for the lost, and bring them back to Jesus. Heaven is populated with the lost who were found, the sinners who repented, and the saved who believed in Jesus. The church’s task is not only to protect the saved, but also to find the lost. When we are in the joyful party with Jesus seeking the lost on the earth, joyful celebration would be held in heaven beyond all our earthly experience or imagination. The church joins heaven in rejoicing over the lost when they are found. May we share God’s joy whenever the party begins. 

Everyone needs to be welcomed in the love of God who watches over and waits for them. Are we part of Jesus’ mission, coming to seek and to save that which is lost? May we share welcoming grace just as the father embraced his “lost and found” son, and Jesus accepted tax collectors and sinners and welcomed their existence. Suffering continues to come in life, but God will embrace us and welcome us as we come to the Father. 

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