September 6, 2015
Once upon a time, there was a man who went mountain climbing in the winter. He took a fall and was hanging onto a rope for his life. It became darker and colder. Desperate, he started praying. “Please God, save me!” Then he heard a voice from heaven; “If you want to live, do as I tell you”. “Yes Lord, I’ll do whatever you tell me to do. Just save me!” “If you want to live, let go of the rope”. “What???” “Do you trust me?” “Yes Lord!” “Then let go of the rope!” “Lord, I can’t let go of the rope; I want to live!” “Ok then, have it your way!” The next morning, this stubborn man was found frozen to death, hanging onto the rope only 2 meters above the ground.
Today’s theme is faith, and as we have seen in the story, faith is a very challenging thing. We might confidently think we have faith, but when God tells us to let go of the rope, suddenly we’re not sure anymore. First of all, what is faith? In 2 Corinthians, Paul says, “we walk by faith, not by sight”. From this, we can learn that faith has to do with “believing in something we cannot see” or “uncertain things”. Today we are going to think about faith and trust; what kind of faith we’re talking about, and where that kind of faith comes from. Now let’s listen to the story of a Greek woman who could have felt intimidated asking Jesus for help.
Jesus entered the land of the Gentiles and was met with a Gentile woman (Greek) who asked him to heal her daughter. Jesus rejects her with a slightly racist language but the woman doesn’t budge. She refuses to be rejected. “Even dogs have the right to be fed”, she said! That’s when Jesus praised her great faith, and her daughter somewhere faraway was healed. How do you feel about this story? A lot of Christians are shocked by the bigoted language that Jesus uses here, and tend to believe that Jesus was only testing her. That’s certainly one way of reading this story, but we need to understand first that before and during the time the New Testament books were written, both Jewish Jews and Jewish Christians believed that they were God’s primary chosen people. Even though the Gospel of Mark was thought to have been written by and for the Gentile Christians, the author of Mark shows the same belief. In Mark, Jesus starts his ministry in the land of the Jews and then moves on to the land of the Gentiles, like in today’s story. The overall message of the book is that the good news of Jesus Christ is for all people (see Mark 16:15 where it is written, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature”), but Gentiles were still considered as second class citizens. It was during this time that this Greek woman defied the social and religious prejudice and declared her right. She’s like Rosa Parks who refused to get off her seat on that bus and be treated like a second class citizen.
The faith we are talking about today is the firm belief that we are not second class citizens in God’s reign. It is the belief that God chose us to be God’s children and we have the birthright of the legitimate children. As children, we don’t doubt the good intentions of our parents (of course unless you have had bad experience with your parents growing up). Children don’t usually worry about whether their parents will provide for them or protect them, because they know that that’s what parents are for. My cat, which is the only child I have, when she lies down in front of me demanding some love, she doesn’t worry about me attacking her. This kind of trust can only come from building a relationship. Our relationship with God can truly be called ‘birthright’ because it is not based on merit. We didn’t do anything to deserve the reward; it is given to us as a gift. That’s why we call it God’s grace, amazing grace. It is with this firm belief that we can trust God enough to let go of the rope if we are asked to. How we can build this kind of relationship with God is not something we can talk about in a short sermon; it’s a topic for a whole lecture series, so to be continued…
In Psalm 131, King David in his old age declares, “O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. 2 But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.” This is what faith looks like; a child in its mother’s arms, trusting her, just content to be safe and loved. When we have strong faith, we don’t worry about every little thing, and we don’t have to ask God for every little thing. We are content just being with God, like with any other loved ones, trusting and relaxing.
Now that we understand what faith is and how to acquire it, it is time to ask a more important question, “now that we have faith, what do we do with it?” Once we built an intimate and trusting relationship with God, we have to be the witnesses of God’s love to other people. We can believe in God’s love because there are people in this world, being touched by the grace and love of God, share that love in their lives. We have people who choose poverty, persecution, and physical danger to help others. We have rich or powerful people using their privilege not for their selfish purposes but to serve others. We have white people who fight racism, men who fight sexism, and heterosexuals who fight homophobia. There are a lot of people who use their different privileges to make this world a better place for everyone, and not only for themselves.
If we have been touched by God’s grace and love, it is our turn to be the witnesses by loving all God’s people with the same love. I believe the reason why the United Church of Canada actively works for social justice is because of its Methodist heritage. If I were to teach you the Methodist theology in one sentence, it would go like this; “there is no personal holiness without social holiness”. We cannot be holy and pious without showing our holiness with our words and actions. Witnessing God’s love through our good actions is not a condition for being God’s people; rather, it is a response to receiving such amazing and unconditional love. We are called to follow Jesus; Like Jesus, we have to accept and love others as they are instead of judging them, help people in need, and speak out against injustice. This is what people do when they are touched by the amazing love of God.
We are the light of the world. We have to let our light shine before others, so that they may see our good works and know about God’s love too. So let us go out and live as witnesses of God’s amazing love.
Rev. Sunny Kim