Nov. 1 2015
The Legacy of Faith
Between my two parents I have 10 uncles and aunts, so I have a lot of cousins and nephew/ nieces. From them, I observed that whatever the children see their parents do, they tend to mimic them. Children learn from their parents. For example, I have a cousin who was a cellist in a symphony orchestra before having her first child. She tutored students when my nephew was a toddler; and whenever a student played good music, he would come out of the room and start dancing and conducting. Needless to say, if a student played badly, he wouldn’t bother. Another cousin worked as a translator when her son was little, so this boy used to sit in front of the computer, stare at the monitor for a while and then pretend to type. I heard that when I was a toddler, my big brother sat me down and pretend to bless me or preach to me (although I’m the one who became a pastor, not my brother).
As an adult, I see a lot of cases of children following their parents’ footsteps, and I do not only mean professionally. Parents influence their children in a lot of different ways. This ring I am wearing is my grandmother’s ring. She was a woman of strong faith who showed exemplary dignity in facing death; when the doctor announced that she had little time left, her face darkened for only two seconds and then she peacefully said, “I guess I’m going to Jesus”. I started wearing this ring whenever I was on a pastoral duty to remember the woman of great faith, who raised my mother, who in turn raised me in faith. This stole and necklace were passed onto me from my father who is a Methodist minister. There is another item I should be presenting to you as a part of my “show and tell” but unfortunately I don’t have it here with me in Canada. It is my great grandfather’s King James Bible that was passed onto my mother when she was starting her studies at the seminary and then to me when I was starting mine. My great grandfather was a lay leader of the early Christian Church in Korea, who also had the privilege to be the first Korean to translate the Bible thanks to his British education. So I could say that I am here preaching in front of you today because of my parents, grandparents and great grandparents; this is the kind of influence we receive from our parents or grandparents, and the kind of influence we are leaving behind. This is called legacy.
Today is All Saints’ Day and we are remembering our loved ones who have departed us, and the saints of the church history that I call “our ancestors in faith”. The gospel text we read today is a conversation between a Jewish scribe and Jesus concerning the most important commandment of God. Considering that the scribe and Jesus were both members of the Jewish religion, we can assume that this is about the Jewish Law also known as the Torah. We call Torah “the Law” or “the Jewish Law”, but Torah doesn’t actually mean the law; it’s more like “the teachings” or “way of life. The Torah is the five books of Moses (and the first five books of the Hebrew Bible). This collection of five books called the Torah is the epitome of the religious legacy in Judaism; it led the Jewish people through everything they went through in history, and then we Christians shared it because our faith comes from Judaism.
Anyway, in today’s gospel story, Jesus summarizes the whole five books of Torah teachings in two commandments; love God, and love your neighbors. “Hear , O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength”… what Jesus says in verse 29 is from the book of Deuteronomy when Moses is kind of summarizing all the teachings they have received; the people of Israel have been in the desert for 40 years and the generation changed, so they needed repeating and reviewing. By the way, have you ever read these five books; Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy? They are long and full of tedious and detailed laws that could put any of us to sleep. I actually don’t understand why the scribe in today’s story didn’t show his exasperation; “What? I have been studying the Torah all my life and you’re telling me that it can be boiled down to two commandments?”
Sounds like a comedy material, but the point is, throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus the good Jew constantly tried to teach that it is not the individual words of the Law that matter, but the spirit of the law. Why did they have all those many tedious rules? Its purpose boils down to these two commandments; so that they can love God and their fellow humans in their lives. The Jewish leaders who attacked Jesus in the gospels all used the technicalities of their law; but the truth is, they may have obeyed the words of the law better, but Jesus WAS an embodiment of that law. In everything he did and taught, he showed the true love of God. While a lot of religious leaders were obsessed with the words of the law, feeling smug about being “good Jews”, and judging and hurting others, Jesus showed the love of God to those who were oppressed and marginalized, which is the essence of the Law.
Both Jews and we Christians received the Bible as our legacy of faith. Jesus and his fellow Jews read the same Torah that their ancestors read for centuries. We are reading the same gospel texts that our Christian ancestors have been reading for centuries (well, for almost two thousand years). On this All Saints’ Day while remembering our biological ancestors and our ancestors of the Christian Church, let us cherish the sacred books that have been passed on to us. Let us cherish the teachings of these books because we are here (both physically and figuratively) thanks to the generations and generations of people whose lives were guided by these teachings. Let us cherish the teachings of Jesus as well as those of the ancient prophets in the Hebrew Bible because they are our legacies; but remember that we are the followers of Jesus, not the followers of the Pharisees and the scribes. While learning and cherishing the teachings of the Bible, let us not be like the Jewish leaders who were obsessed with the words, but instead focus on the spirit of love and compassion that they embody.
On this All Saints’ Day, let us give thanks for the legacy of faith we have received from the departed ones, whether they are biological family or family of the Christian Church. Let us give thanks for the sacred books that we have received to foster our faith, especially the gospel texts where we can learn from Jesus the representative of God. When we say “let’s cherish the Bible”, a lot of Christians think they should treat the book as if it’s an object of worship (by not throwing it or not sitting on it, for example); instead, let us cherish the Bible and show our love and respect for the book by living out the teachings of love and compassion; this is how we can truly honor the Bible and the saints.
Rev. Sunny Kim