October 2, 2016 Sermon
We Are the Body of Christ
How many of you are familiar with Star Trek? In the Star Trek universe, there is test that Starfleet Academy cadets have to go through; it’s a simulated test called Kobayashi Maru, in which they have to decide what command decisions to make after receiving a distress call from another space ship. The thing about this test is, it is designed to be unbeatable. It’s a trick test. Through this unbeatable test, cadets are supposed to experience fear in the face of a certain death, to be able to maintain control of themselves and their crew, should they become captains of a space ship in the future. The hero of the Star Trek universe, Captain Kirk, cheated at this test when he was a cadet and beat the unbeatable simulation by changing the condition of the test. Well, smarty pants. But this sermon is not about smarty pants out there who can cheat the unbeatable; it’s about the regular people who don’t beat the unbeatable test and learn their lesson. Likewise, in Buddhism (at least in Korean Buddhism), seemingly impossible requirements/ commandments are designed to help its practitioners realize their human limit. As in Kobayashi Maru test, Buddhist commandments should render us humble, because no matter how hard we try, we can never be perfect. The moral of the story is not, “Oh we are useless; we can’t do anything right”. Rather it is, “We should humbly accept the truth that we cannot be perfect, and be a little more generous towards ourselves”.
At the beginning of Luke chapter 17, including the part we read today, Jesus demands something unachievable of his disciples. Before the disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith on verse 5, Jesus warns them not to become stumbling blocks to others and tells them to forgive 7 times a day, implying every single day. This forgiving business of our Christian teaching proved throughout history to be one of the biggest source of stumbling, with our intolerance towards other people, especially of other faiths. Remember the Crusades? Who among you can confidently say that you can forgive the same person who sins against you multiple times every day without going crazy? Now that’s impossible! No wonder the disciples said, “Increase our faith” with an exclamation point! They’re clearly exasperated! So Jesus compares faith to a mustard seed.
Now those of us who have heard Jesus talk about faith and mustard seed would automatically think of the small size of a mustard seed. This is in both Matthew and Mark’s gospels. In Luke’s mustard seed story, in verse 6, it also says “the size of a mustard seed”; but this is another occasion where the translation misleads us. In the original language, it doesn’t mention the size of a mustard seed; it just says, “faith like a mustard seed”. If it’s about the small size of a mustard seed as in verse 6 (faith the size of a mustard seed), we could understand the lesson as, “You can do great things with just a little faith”. But if we read it as “faith of a mustard seed”, it’s a different story. The tiny mustard seed grows up to be a big mustard plant. It knows what it’s supposed to be, and it becomes that thing. There’s nothing little about this little thing determined to become what it’s supposed to become. It’s strong and solid faith. What could one do with such faith? Make the mulberry tree to be uprooted and planted in the sea? Well, Jesus said it would obey if we did! Does this sound ludicrous to any of you? Of course, it does! Why would anyone move a mulberry tree to the sea? A Mulberry tree doesn’t belong in the sea. It cannot live in the sea. It’s like murdering a mulberry tree. Of course it sounds ludicrous! Why would Jesus say something that ridiculous? The thing is, can we be trusted with such faith and power? Are you familiar with this line from a movie, “You want the truth? You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!” Maybe our human weaknesses cannot handle that kind of faith and power. If humans had all the power in the world, or if we had access to Genie in the bottle, what would we do with it? We’re likely to seek money, power, or domination over others, won’t we? Not talking about “we” as in Kimberley United Church people; but humans in general.
Instead of wishing for the kind of faith and power that can make a mulberry tree relocate to the sea and die, let us acknowledge our limits and weaknesses. Jesus demands some seriously impossible things of his followers that make them cry out, “Increase our faith”. It might sound cruel but think of the Kobayashi Maru test. This test is not designed to make the poor cadets despair and quit or something. It’s supposed to represent grace, not judgement and punishment for failure. Know your limits. Be humble. Do the best you can, and it’s okay not to be perfect. As we can see in the short parable that follows, what we have to do is diligently do our duty. We are not worthless slave as it says at the end of our gospel text, but diligent and faithful members of God’s kingdom/ the community of disciples. The Kobayashi Maru test that Jesus gave his disciples/ the seemingly impossible commandments are not a test to trip us and make us fail; it’s God’s grace saying, “It’s okay, I know you’re not perfect.” We don’t earn God’s love and respect by a lot of good works, and we can’t; our good works are a response to God’s love.
Speaking of being members of God’s kingdom/ the community of disciples, today is World Communion Sunday. All around the world, churches that belong to the Holy Universal Church celebrate the Christian unity through the Holy Communion. Participating at the Lord’s Table is a holy mystery, which happens to be the title of the official United Methodist Church’s document on Holy Communion. The Lord’s Table is a place for faith and radical welcome as in God’s reign. Everyone is invited to come to the Lord’s Table, although a lot of Christian denominations don’t practice radical welcome. If you don’t belong to their church or if you are gay, you might not be welcome at their Lord’s Table. Holy Communion is a mystery because we come to this table with faith, and faith is a gift. We accepted God’s gift of love and relationship. At this table, through this ritual, we are professing our commitment to God and to our sisters and brothers. By accepting the body of Christ, we are committing ourselves as the body of Christ. We are professing, “Hey, we belong to the family of God. We follow Jesus. By being in communion with our Creator God, and teacher and saviour Jesus, we are committing our life to the kingdom of God; to realize God’s reign in our world”.
Being one with our Creator also means we are one with God’s Creation. Because of this relationship with God and God’s Creation, we care about the health of the ecosystem; we care about human and animal suffering. We accepted to be a part of God’s kingdom. We accepted to participate in the Lord’s Table. By this, we are committing to live as the body of Christ; to be the body, feet, and arms that work for God’s kingdom. So let us be God’s people and do our best bringing love and justice to our world, to all God’s creatures. All we need is to do OUR best, not THE best.
Rev. Sunny Kim