January 22, 2017 sermon
Power of Community
Often in adventure movies or TV shows, we can see a project or a quest, a leader, and the leader recruiting people for the project. On a TV show called Torchwood, Captain Jack leads an alien catching institute called Torchwood and recruits different specialists to work with him. Among the specialists that he recruits, there is a computer genius, a former police officer, and a medical doctor. With their different expertise, they work together towards one goal; catching and studying aliens, and sometimes fighting alien threats. In every episode, they work together in a project, and when one of them doesn’t cooperate or they experience conflict, they risk failing. When they work well together, they create a synergistic effect with their different expertise and roles they play in the team. There are a lot of stories and proverbs all around the world emphasizing the importance of sticking together as a group.
In today’s gospel story, Jesus comes out and starts his public ministry. He was baptized and went through spiritual training in the wilderness; now he’s ready. John the Baptist preached saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Jesus starts his public ministry after John is arrested, and he starts with the same message about the kingdom of heaven. From this beginning story, we know that the rest of his public ministry will be about the kingdom of heaven. In fact, everything he preached and did was about the kingdom of heaven.
Now the first thing he does after starting his ministry is to call disciples. According to our text, it is Jesus who chose his disciples, unlike in the rest of the Jewish community where followers chose their rabbis. As I mentioned last Sunday, it is obvious that the two brothers Peter and Andrew had a spiritual yearning. Jesus must have recognized it in them; so he called them to follow him. The same goes with the brothers James and John. They were all fishermen. Well, they lived in Galilee; what else would they be? Now when Jesus said to them, “follow me”, what was their reaction? They immediately left their livelihood and family, and followed him.
Now let’s take a closer look at how the first disciples responded to Jesus’ call; First thing we should notice is the word “immediately”. There was a sense of urgency in following Jesus at the time because both John the Baptist and Jesus, along with a lot of apocalyptic people of the time, believed that the day of God’s judgment was imminent. The second thing to notice is that the first disciples abandoned everything to follow Jesus; their livelihood as well as their family. James and John obviously had a father living and working with them, and they didn’t even kiss him goodbye. What an insolent behaviour according to today’s social standard, well actually according to any social standard; but since the judgment day was supposed to be imminent, it was a different story. It was important to “immediately” leave everything behind to pursue God’s kingdom. After 2000 years, we still talk about the judgement day and how we should be prepared because we don’t know when it will come.
Following Jesus and pursuing God’s reign requires a radical commitment involving the words such as “immediately” and “leaving everything behind”. Today, we don’t have the same sense of urgency that the first disciples had; however, following Jesus still requires a radical change in our life. We don’t give up all our possessions and families to follow Jesus like the first disciples, but we should give up on our obsession with material possession and greed. Jesus and his disciples lived together as a community, and so did the Early Church members that we can meet in the Acts of the Apostles. As I often point out, being a disciple, belonging to God’s reign or kingdom is not like checking off good deeds from a to do list; rather it is a lifestyle. Accepting to be a part of God’s kingdom means radically changing our lifestyle; it’s like accepting a different culture. For example, since I decided to live in Canada as one of you, that means I accept the Canadian culture; such as going to Tim Hortons and not disparaging or denigrating hockey and curling. Although we don’t need to abandon all our possession to follow Jesus, we still have to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness”, and believe that all our material needs will be taken care of. We might not have to give up all our possession but we have to love everyone and forgive without limit; these are radical and extremely difficult life choices. The life of discipleship may bring eternal joy and peace to us because of our relationship with God; but it also requires us to “deny ourselves and pick up our cross”.
As I mentioned, the first thing Jesus did after starting his ministry was to gather followers. Why was it so important to gather followers? Because he knew the power of sticking together as a group; the power of community. They say humans are social animals, and that “no man is an island, entire of itself”, quoting John Donne. We are more powerful as a group, both in good ways and bad. But the power of community must be complimented by the power of unity. We have read in 1 Corinthians about division. “Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose”. When we are united in the same mind, we can work towards the same purpose. If we are divided among us, we are distracted from that purpose. If it’s a military mission or an alien fighting mission of the Torchwood team, failure to unite means someone can get hurt or killed; that’s how serious it is.
We are a community of disciples, citizens of God’s kingdom. We share a common purpose and goal to realize God’s reign here on earth. It means we must humbly love and serve one another, especially the marginalized of our society. Spreading God’s unconditional love and justice is our common goal and mission. We can only achieve this goal if we stick together as a community and be united. May the Spirit of God help us to overcome our differences and work together in love and unity.
Rev. Sunny Kim