August 26, 2018 Reflection
Isaiah 41:8-13, 18/ Acts 9:1-19
God Who Takes Charge
Today, let’s start by thinking about something that we do well, but something that we acquired through training. Let’s think of when we were learning how to do those things. Did we make a lot of mistakes? You bet, we did! And sometimes we were frustrated and lacked confidence because we were not skilled. I remembered when I was learning French, how I drilled my new vocabulary words and sentences everywhere in the house pretending I was having conversation with someone. Then when I went to France, during the first several months, I was met with a desperate situation where I had to overcome my fear and lack of confidence to survive. I left my purse in a bus; I think my passport was in it too. I was scared, but I pushed myself to get on the next bus and explain to the driver about my situation. I went to the terminal, explained again, and found my purse. Live and learn… This experience gave me courage to risk making a fool of myself with mistakes, and eventually, I could speak French fluently. Once, I made an embarrassing mistake. I was with a guy friend from China who spoke French quite fluently. I meant to say, “I envy you” but being confused by the subtle difference between the two sentences, I said, “I want you” instead. He didn’t even correct me at the time, but some time later when I learned the difference between “I envy you” and “I want you”, and protested why he didn’t correct me, he just smirked. It was so embarrassing that I never forgot it.
When we are training in something, we probably need to train for a long time to master the skills and gain confidence, making a lot of mistakes along the way. But with our relationship with God, often, we cannot just try hard to get there, wherever “there” is. In today’s three scripture readings, we met with God who takes charge, commands, and guides us. In Acts of the Apostles, we read the story of Saul’s conversion. This Saul is our Apostle Paul. A lot of people think that Saul changed his name to Paul after his conversion, but it’s not absolutely true; Saul is his Hebrew name, and Paul is the Greek version of the name Saul. The reason why it makes sense to believe that he changed his name to Paul after the conversion is because before the conversion, he was a devout Jewish leader and only dealt with the other Jews, but afterwards became an apostle to the Gentiles and had to deal with Gentiles. Jews and Gentiles all spoke Greek at the time. Among Jews they could speak Aramaic, but to Gentiles, they had to speak Greek; therefore, Saul’s Gentile Christians would have called him Paul. Anyway, Saul was a stubbornly self-righteous man, dead serious about persecuting the followers of Jesus because their belief was a threat to Judaism. How can a stubborn man of the Jewish faith become a follower of the man despised in his religion? You get struck by lightning, or in this case, light bright enough to blind you. This light is a symbol of God’s power. God has spoken. Only God’s power can change a man like Saul. His temporary loss of sight is symbolic because this experience marks the radical change in Saul’s life. Before he was struck by the light and became temporary blind, he was a serious Jew who despised the followers of Jesus; after this experience, he would not only become one of the people he used to despise, but one of the most important early Christian leaders; and with his many letters left to us, the most important Christian Father to us, greatly influencing our beliefs. The gospel of Jesus Christ that we know and believe today is the gospel filtered through Paul’s theology, not the raw and coarse gospel that his first disciples learned from him. Anyway, my point is, this kind of powerful change in someone can only come from God’s power. During my conversion experience, which was actually the call into ministry, there was nothing I could do but to pray, “Lord, speak to me. I have a feeling that you are trying to say something to me. What is your message? What do you want from me?” After probably several months of prayer, God opened my eyes, or spiritual ears, to hear God’s voice, so that I can follow wherever God would lead me from then on.
God’s voice has power and authority. God’s voice can change us. As we have read in today’s Psalm, “God’s voice forks into tongues of fire, God’s voice shakes the wilderness, sets trembling the wilderness of Kadesh. God’s voice causes the oaks to whirl, stripping the forest bare.” God’s voice has power and majesty because God is our creator and we are God’s children. If we look at the Isaiah text we read today, among the powerful encouragement and comfort to the nation of Israel in exile, we can read God repeating, “I.” Who does the comforting? Who promises to be with us and strengthens us? God says, “I.” God is the one saying, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you. I will strengthen you. I will open up rivers. I will give fountains of water in the valleys. I will fill the desert with pools of water.” There is a strong sense of authority and power there. Think of a general giving a pep talk to the soldiers before a battle. What will make the soldiers be filled with courage and motivation to fight and win? If the general cannot show power, confidence, and charisma, it would be difficult to motivate them, don’t you think? “I think we’re going to be massacred, following this chap in battle!” Just like a powerful and charismatic general, God is powerful enough to inspire our trust.
Today is the last Sunday of the summer months. Although Christian year doesn’t begin until the end of November with the Season of Advent, according to the secular mindset, it feels like September is the beginning of a new year, probably because of the school year. As the Church, we are faced with increasing secularism where a lot of people claim to be “spiritual but not religious”. In this secular age where more and more people are abandoning the church, we must radically change our mindset about what church is and should be. This is a daunting task for everyone in the church, even for the most experienced and knowledgeable leaders. As we in Kimberley also try to transform for the future, the right mindset is to look to God’s power. Who will transform the church? God will. At the beginning, we talked about training and making mistakes to acquire skills; if God is the one doing the transforming, what training do we need? We need spiritual training to become more spiritually tuned to God, so we can hear God’s voice and discern God’s will. Spiritually training ourselves to be closer to God and to become more sensitive to God’s voice will also train us to follow God’s will. Following God’s will in our lives requires us to have more love and compassion for others, and the courage to not shy away from doing the right things. At the end of this summer season, I urge all of us to become closer to God through spending a lot of time in prayers and meditations; spiritual training. Let us become closer to God so we can learn God’s unconditional love and compassion for God’s people, wisdom and knowledge that will guide us in the direction of being the church a new way, to spread the gospel of humility, love, and justice in different ways than what we have learned from the Church of our ancestors. We will need to do more praying and learning to acquire God’s wisdom. In this new school year, please join me in embarking on this new journey of the Christian Church, to take up the challenge of becoming the embodiment of God’s love in this increasingly secular and ever-changing world. Let us trust God more and receive the divine guidance for us disciples.
Rev. Sunny Kim