November 13, 2016 Sermon
True Peace and Freedom
As you know, I’m from a country that doesn’t live in peace; because truce is not the same as peace. Both my parents were born during the Japanese occupation period and they experienced the Korean War as children. Now the country is torn apart with only a truce, and the tension never stopped between the two Koreas. I am of course grateful for the foreign troops that came to help end the war because my family is safe and could live a normal life. But the end of the war didn’t mean peace; first, we have continuing tension between the two Koreas, and then we have the problem of American army that stayed and are still controlling us like a bully who keeps blackmailing the weak kid he saved. “We saved you from Japan and from North Korea, so you need to serve us. Oh you don’t want to do what we tell you to do? Well remember that you’d be dead if it wasn’t for our help!” They take advantage of us by pressuring us to do things, and even when they commit crimes against Koreans, we cannot try them under the Korean law. Therefore, somehow I have a hard time thanking Americans for helping us end the war. Therefore, I have mixed feelings on every Remembrance Day. But I am grateful for the Canadian soldiers and those from other countries who fought with us; we remained friends.
My point is, war is ugly, and the matter of peace is complicated. You see how the war ended for my country, yet that doesn’t mean peace. Peace and freedom are complicated concepts; they may not mean what we think they mean. In today’s gospel story, we meet Jewish people who followed Jesus who didn’t quite understand what freedom is. “Why are you saying we shall be free when we have never been enslaved?” “Oh, you think?” is Jesus’ reaction. Jesus was teaching his followers about being a true disciple. “If you continue in my words, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free”. According to some other translations, Jesus is saying, “remain in my words”.
What does it mean to remain in the words of Jesus? What does it entail? It involves knowing and obeying his teachings. Remember last Sunday when we met the Jewish leaders who couldn’t see the forest and tried to trip up Jesus with small trees? Sadducees and Pharisees both did it to Jesus. Their problem was that they knew the Law well, but they were enslaved by the words of the Law. They weren’t free to live out the spirit of the Law, which is the same as the spirit of the gospel; love and compassion. Truth will make us free. It is not enough to know what the Law says, or what the gospel teaching says; if we are obsessed with small details, we won’t be free to live out the teachings we received. The Jewish leaders of Jesus’ time failed to be free because they were so obsessed with the small details of the Law that they couldn’t go out into the real world to live and love as the Law teaches.
Being free as the disciples of Jesus means being free from the enslavement of the law, but also being free from fear, greed, and sin. If as beginner Christians we were driven by fear of punishment, now that we are more mature in faith, we can be free from that fear; we can freely live out the spirit of love. Another aspect of peace and freedom is that they are not possible without justice. The Bible contains so many messages of justice, including the Psalm and the Amos text we read today. This shows how much God and God’s people are concerned with social justice. Imagine a family situation where there is domestic violence and they appear to be at peace only because the victims keep quiet. Is there true peace in that family? Of course not. The appearance of peace is not really peace. In that situation, coming out of one’s shell and stirring up the situation would be a process of achieving peace. Since peace is not possible without justice, we need to work for the marginalized to achieve true peace. As I keep saying, we are created to live interdependently, which means we cannot enjoy true peace and freedom while our brothers and sisters in the world do not have peace and freedom. When one part of our body hurts, it affects the rest of the body; when our brothers and sisters hurt, it hurts us too.
It was Remembrance Day this past Friday and again we remember those who fought for peace and freedom. Last year at the Remembrance Day ceremony, I mentioned that if we want to show our appreciation for those who fought and died, we should participate in peace works. We should work and fight for peace as best as we can as civilians. Still today outside our country, a lot of our brothers and sisters are living in fear or are dying. There are conflicts and wars in different parts of the world while we enjoy our freedom. But we are not truly free and peaceful because a lot of our brothers and sisters aren’t free and at peace. One way of participating in the works of peace and freedom for our brothers and sisters would be donating to projects to help those who live in suffering, but this year, we have a refugee family living among us. We people in Kimberley worked hard last year to prepare for the family; we were able to raise enough money and get volunteers to work hard in this process. We can be reminded of what’s going on outside our peaceful country through them, welcome them, make sure they settle down in our community and start living a new and peaceful life.
Let us remember that being the disciples of Jesus and remaining in his words and teachings should and will free us to live in the spirit of love and compassion. With this love and compassion, we can refuse to be selfish and think of our suffering brothers and sisters, and work so that we can all enjoy living freely and peacefully; that is the gospel truth that Jesus mentions in today’s text that will make us free. And this is how we can honour those who fought and died for freedom.
Rev. Sunny Kim